How can we honour God in our promises?

How can we honour God in our promises?

How can we honour God in our promises?
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.

Queen Elizabeth was noticeable for the seriousness with which she made and kept her vows, including personal pledges to her people and the official coronation oath. Being true to your word seems to be an increasingly rare characteristic both in private life and public office. It adds an extra dimension to a commitment if you promise to do it while calling God Himself to witness what you are saying. It is not simply a form of words intended to make it more impressive. It actually invites God to judge what you do against what you have said. Some oaths are sworn calling God to help us in carrying out what we have promised. This is a way of honouring God, by acknowledging our need of His help. In the following updated extract, Francis Taylor, a member of the Westminster Assembly, explains the seriousness of making a vow and the importance of remembering to keep it.

Making a vow is a serious thing

God is deeply offended with those who do not perform not their vows. This is apparent from Ecclesiastes 5, where we are told that anyone who makes a vow must not defer the payment of it. Those who do defer to pay their vows are called fools, and God has no pleasure in them (verse 4). It says too, “It is better not to vow at all, than not to pay” (verse 5), and then calls it “sin” in plain terms (verse 6). God refuses to have this covered up as if it was just a mistake, “Neither say thou … that it was an error” (verse 6) In fact we are told expressly that God is angry at this (verse 6) and we are in danger that He will destroy the work of our hands (verse 6).

One reason why God takes this so seriously is because God is a great king, and will not be dallied with by His subjects. But also, His name is “dreadful among the heathen,” and therefore must not be dishonoured by His own people.

God keeps covenant faithfully Himself. He will ever be mindful of His covenant (Psalm 111:5). God’s covenant is called an everlasting covenant (2 Chronicles 13:5). “Therefore thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head” (Ezekiel 17:19).

There is a kind of perjury in failing to perform our vows. I do not say that oaths, vows, and covenants are identical in every detail, but certainly they are closely related. “I have sworn,” says the psalmist, “and I will perform it” (Psalm 119:106), and was not that oath a vow? God is called to bear witness of the covenant between Laban and Jacob, and the heap of stones they made was also a witness, yet with a great deal of difference. The heap of stones was a witness that remained as a token of the covenant. But God is properly called to witness, as one who heard all their words, and could testify the truth to consciences on both sides, and by bringing judgements on whichever side might break it. “He that vows and pays not, is a perjured person,” said Bernard. Especially in things that we ought to do anyway, this perjury makes our sin greater than if we had never vowed them.

We may forget our vows, but God does not

God will eventually stir up the memories of His servants, and put them in mind of their vows.

He may do this by troubles, calamities, fear of wars, etc. Or, if they are not so intelligent as to understand His meaning by these blows, He will open their ears, and tell them in His word.

This is what He did to Jacob, in Genesis 35:1: “God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.” He tells him his fault, but very gently. He does not accuse him of perjury, nor call him a vow-breaker. Indeed, He does not so much as mention his vow, but only insinuates it. This was so that Jacob would see that God was not trying to shame him, but to amend him.

We must not look for direct revelations now, but God often meets with us in the ministry of His Word. In the preaching He makes us see faults in ourselves which we little dreamed of, including covenant-breaking among the rest. Many wicked men marvel to hear God’s ministers call out their secret faults, as if they could actually see their hearts, but good men, I hope, will learn more than they marvel.

God has good reasons for reminding us of our vows

God’s name and honour suffers in our forgetfulness. Vows are made for the honour of God. But if they are not performed, God is not honoured by them, but the opposite – He is dishonoured, and for that matter He is being slighted by His own people.

But also, God desires and delights in the good of His people. The psalmist sings, “Let the Lord be magnified, who hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant!” God knows that our forgetfulness and unthankfulness are barriers which prevent us from getting much good, and things which bring many judgments on us. To prevent this, God will remind us of our vows and covenants.

God must come first in our vows

When we perform our vows, God looks for His part first.

In Genesis 35, God does not tell Jacob to go and make the best he can of the situation for himself in this troublous time. He does not even tell him to go and negotiate with the Shechemites to restore their goods to them. Instead He tells him to go and build an altar to God. Jacob accordingly goes about it.

This is the method of God’s commandments – the first table contains duties to God, the second, to ourselves and our neighbours.

This is the method of our prayers – our Saviour teaches us first to pray for the honour of God’s name, kingdom and will, before we pray for our daily bread, pardon of sins, or power against temptations.

This is the method of most of our creeds and confessions – we first profess what we believe concerning God, and then concerning ourselves.

It is also the method of our Covenant – the preface looks first at the glory of God and the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and then at our own privileges; and the two first articles refer to religion, and the following ones to our liberties.

God must come first because God is more worthy to be regarded then ourselves. Love to God is called the first and great commandment. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, but ourselves and our neighbours in a lower degree of love. From God we have all that we have here, or hope for hereafter.

And God must come first because that is our care, properly speaking, to honour God. It is God’s care to provide for our souls and bodies. Obviously we may use means for the good of our souls and bodies, looking for a blessing from God – just not in the first place. Our prime care must be for God’s glory. When a master enters into covenant with a servant, he expects that the servant will take care of his work, and leave the care of provisions to his master. God expects likewise from us. First obedience to God, then faith in God.

How to live in the light of our vows


We should mourn, among our other sins, our sluggishness, in not remembering things like this which concern our own safety. I am afraid, lest like Jerusalem, we “know not the things that belong to our peace.” Our forgotten vows should fetch sighs from our hearts, and tears from our eyes. I doubt not but every one of us, even the greatest and the best, may find something in ourselves that hinders the reformation we have vowed, if we would only look closely into our own souls. The Lord show it to us, whatever it may be, and give us grace to repent of it.


We should think often of our vows and covenants. The reason why people, especially good people, neglect to carry out what they have vowed is because they do not think of it often and seriously. God often called on the Israelites in the wilderness to remember the things they had seen, and not to forget the great things God had done for them. Surely, we need to call often on our own souls, to think of the vows we have made to Almighty God. We would be loath that God should forget His covenant to us (for our enemies would then soon swallow us up), but why do we then forget our part of the covenant?

Be single-minded

We should impute any continuance of our troubles to our neglect of our covenant. Very few have mended themselves as they vowed, fewer their families, and fewest of all have endeavoured to amend things in the public sphere according to the trust reposed in them. Something of ourselves is sought after by most, even in the very work of reformation. Our plough goes along with God’s; we look for a share of honour in the work, and do not act with a single eye out of love and respect to God. And hence come many hindrances to the great work of personal, family and public reformation.


We should praise God that He will not let us perish by neglecting to honour Him by performance of our vows. He knows that our forgetfulness and unthankfulness would ruin us, so He reminds us of our vows to preserve us. Indeed, let us praise God that by His ministers He admonishes us about them so that we would perform them, and prevent further troubles.

Go further

If you are in a position of authority, my petition to you is that you would begin with a particular and personal reformation, and end with a general and public reformation. Count piety your greatest ornament. The higher your position in state, let the beams of your piety shine the brighter! You owe the most to God, and you must do the most for God. God has entrusted you with the greatest talents, and He expects the greatest account from you. Esteem honour without piety, as you would a body without wisdom, or a house without a foundation.


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Is the law for the righteous?

Is the law for the righteous?

Is the law for the righteous?
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.

Because of the various ways we are out of harmony with the law of God, something in us always chafes when we encounter God’s law. Sometimes people respond to God’s law as if it’s a challenge – they feel they would be able to keep it adequately, if they just try harder. Other people respond to God’s law as if it is irrelevant – they assume that because they cannot keep it, therefore they don’t have to keep it. In this updated extract from his commentary on 1 Timothy, the Puritan Anthony Burgess mainly tackles this second type of response. Burgess refers to Paul’s paradoxical statements about how the law is not made for the righteous, yet only the righteous can use the law rightly. What did Paul mean when he said that the law was not made for believers? What relationship does God’s law have to the believer? What is the role of love in the believer’s attempt to live to God’s glory?

In verses 8 and 9 of 1 Timothy 1, Paul joins together two things which seem to be contradictory. Augustine put the conundrum like this. “If the law is good when used lawfully, and none but the righteous can use it lawfully, how then is it not made for the righteous?” According to Augustine, when Paul writes like this, he is provoking the reader to find out the answer to this puzzle. Using these words, “we know” and “knowing,” Paul implies what understanding all Christians ought to have in the nature of the law.

What law does he here speak of? Some have understood it as the ceremonial law. Because of Christ’s death the ceremonial law was to be abolished, and all the ceremonies of the law were convictions of sins, and hand-writings against those who used them. But this cannot be what Paul intends, for circumcision was commanded to Abraham, a righteous man (and likewise to all the godly under the Old Testament), and the persons who are contrasted with the righteous are those who transgress the moral law. Instead we may understand it of the moral law generally.

What kind of person is “righteous”?

We must not interpret the “righteous man” as someone who is absolutely righteous, but one who is righteous as to effort and as to desire. The people of God are called righteous because of the righteousness that is in them, although they are not justified by it.

Even secular writers say this much of the righteous man – he does what is righteous for love of righteousness, not for fear of punishment. Aristotle says that a righteous man would be good even supposing there was no law. Seneca and Plato said similar things. Their sayings are not altogether true, yet they have some kind of truth in them. Some of the Church Fathers said similar things. Chrysostom speaking in hyperbole said, “A righteous man does not need the law, no, not teaching or admonishing …” It is like a musician, who has his art within him – he scorns to go to look at the rules. But of course this is a hyperbolic way of speaking. What godly man does not need the Word as a light? Who does not need it as a goad? Of course in heaven the godly will not need the law, but then again they will not need the gospel, or the whole Word of God.

How do the righteous relate to the law?

There are three interpretations which come very near one another, and all help to make clear what the apostle means.

1. The law is not a burden to the righteous

Some learned men lay an emphasis on the word “made.” They take Paul’s words to mean, “The law is not made to the godly as a burden, they have a love and a delight in it; it’s not like a whip to them.” The wicked wish there was no law. They say, “I wish this was not a sin!” The righteous man is more in the law then under it.

Of course this is to be understood as far as he is righteous, for in another sense the things of God are many times a burden to a godly man. Yet let us not think the works of the law [done by the godly] are in conflict with the works of the Spirit, grace and gospel. The same actions are the works of the law in respect of the object, and the works of the Spirit in respect of the efficient.

2. The law has no power to curse the righteous

The second interpretation is of the damnatory and cursing part of the law. Then the meaning would be, “The law is not made to the believer so as he should abide under the cursing and condemning power of it.” In this sense the Scriptures frequently deny that believers are under the law. It’s true that the godly deserve the curse and condemnation of the law, but they are not under the actual curse and condemnation. Note too that it does not follow that there is no law [to the believer], because it does not curse [the believer]. The law is not there to curse or condemn the righteous.

3. The law was given to expose the unrighteous

The third interpretation is, “the law was not made because of the righteous, but unrighteous.” If Adam had continued in innocence, there would not have been such solemn declaration of Moses’s law, for it would have been engraved on their hearts. Although God gave Adam a positive law, in order to test his obedience and so that he could show his homage, yet He did not give him the moral law by outward prescript (though it was given to him in another sense). This interpretation renders Paul’s phrase like the proverb, “Good laws arise from evil manners.” Or as the Roman politician Tacitus said, “Excellent laws are made because of other men’s delinquencies.” Certainly laws, in their restraining and changing power on people’s lives, are not for those who are already holy, but those who need to be made holy.

The righteous delight in the law

These three interpretations come very much to the same thing. There are also some parallel places of Scripture, such as Galatians 5:23 and Romans 13:3. These expressions show that that the godly, so far as they are regenerate, delight in the law of God, and it is not a terror to them.

We cannot literally say that because the godly have an ingenuous free spirit to do what is good, they do not need the law to direct or regulate them. Then it would follow as well that they did not need Scripture as a whole, or that they did not need the gospel that calls them to believe, because there is faith in their heart! Chrysostom, who spoke so hyperbolically about the law, speaks just as highly about the Scriptures themselves. “We ought to have the Word of God so engraven in our hearts that there should be no need of Scripture!”

The law directs the righteous

There are two things which make it apparent that the law must needs have a directive, regulating, and informing power over the godly.

We need the law to direct us how to live to God’s glory

We cannot, for example, discern the true worship of God from superstition and idolatry except by the first and second commandment. It is true, many places in Scripture speak against false worship, but to let us know when it is a false worship, the second commandment is a special director. How do the orthodox prove that images are unlawful? how do they prove that setting up any part or means of worship which the Lord hath not commanded is unlawful? Only by the second commandment. Certainly it is the lack of exact knowledge in the breadth of this commandment that has brought in all idolatry and superstition. The decalogue is not only Moses’s ten commandments, but it’s Christ’s ten commandments – and the apostles’ ten commandments as well as Christ’s.

We need the law to discern our own sinfulness

We must compare the depth of the law and the depth of our sin together. There is a great deal more spiritual excellency and holiness commanded in the law of God, the decalogue, than we can attain. That is why we must study it and delve into it more and more. “Open mine eyes, that I may understand the wonderful things of thy law,” David prayed, though he was already godly, and his eyes were in a great measure already opened by the Spirit of God. And as there is a depth in the law, so there is a depth in our sin. There is a great deal more filth in us than we can or do discover. “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret sins” (Psalm 19). When there is such a world of filth in my carnal heart, what need there is of the spiritual and holy law, to make me see myself so polluted and abominable! The godly grow partly by discovering the pride, the deadness, the filth in their soul that they never thought of.

How the righteous use the law

The practical use that we are to make of this Scripture is to pray and labour for such a free, heavenly heart that the law of God and all its precepts would not be a terror to us, but sweetness and delight. “Oh how I love thy law!” David cries. He could not express it! And again, “My soul breaketh in the longing after thy judgements.” In another place, he and Job value God’s law more than their necessary food. You do not drag a hungry or thirsty man to his bread and water! We ought to have such filial and child-like affections to God and His will that we would love and delight in His commandments, because they are His.

There is this difference between a spontaneous motion and a coerced motion: the spontaneous is done for its own sake; the coerced comes from an external principle, without the person helping it forward at all. Well, do not let praying, believing, loving God, be coerced out of you. Where faith works by love, all duties will be relished, for faith working by love overcomes all difficulties. Pray therefore that the love of God would be shed abroad in your heart.

And consider these two final things.

When the law was laid on Christ to die and suffer for you, it was not a burden or a terror to him. Think with yourself then, “If Christ had been as unwilling to die for me, as I am to pray to him, to be patient, to be holy – what would have become of my soul?” But if Christ said, to be a mediator for you, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God, thy law is within mine heart,” how much the more should you show willingness in anything thou might do for him! You do not have as much to part with for him, as he had to for you. What is your life and wealth, compared to the glory of his God-head, which he laid aside for a while?

Sinners love lusts for lusts’ sake – they love the world because of the world. Now evil is not so much evil, as good is good. Sin is not so much sin, as God is God, and Christ is Christ. If therefore a profane man, because of his carnal heart, can love his sin, although it costs him hell, because of the sweetness in it, will not the godly heart love the things of God, because of the excellency in them?


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Eight reasons to pray every day

Eight reasons to pray every day

Eight reasons to pray every day
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.

Taking some time each day to pray is a familiar expectation for Christians. Jesus actually gave His disciples something to pray for “this day”. What are some of the reasons why He might have done this? Thomas Manton gives some suggestions in the following updated extract.

When Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray for our daily bread, He teaches us at least two things. One, that we are permitted to pray for temporal things as well as spiritual things. And two, that we are to do this every day.

What is the reason Christ says, “Give us this day”?

1. Every day God wants to hear from us

It is not, “Give us this month, or year,” but “this day,” because every day God wants to hear from us. God does not want to have us too long out of His company, but by frequent interactions He wants us to be acquainted and familiar with Him. This is required, that you should not let a day pass over your head but God must hear from you. Your patent lasts only for a day; you have a lease from God of your comforts and mercies, but it expires unless you renew it again by prayer. It is very different from the heart of God’s children, to be contented to come to the mercy-seat only once a year! The Lord wants us to come every day to the throne of grace.

2. Every day there should be family prayer

All who eat their food together are to come, and say to God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is not, “Give me,” but “Give us.” Therefore you see how little of love and fear of God is there, where, week after week, they do not call on God’s name.

3. Every day makes way for our thankfulness

Our mercies do not flow from God all at once, but some today, and some tomorrow, and we take them day by day. All together, they are too heavy for us to wield and manage. “Who daily loadeth us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19). Our mercies come in greater number and a greater measure than we are able to acknowledge, make use of, or be thankful for. Therefore, this is the burden of gracious hearts, that mercies come so thick and fast we cannot be thankful enough for them, but to help us, God distributes them by parcels. He loads us daily, some today, some tomorrow, and every day, so that we would not forget God, but would have a new reason to praise him.

4. Every day we can renew our dependence on God

There is no day but we stand in need of the Lord’s blessing, of sanctification, of comfort, and that they would not be a snare, so every day there is still need of new strength, new grace, and new supplies.

5. We can take every day as it comes

We pray, “Give us this day,” so that we may not burden ourselves with overmuch thoughtfulness, and so that we might not solicitously cark for tomorrow. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34). Every day affords business, trouble, care and burden enough; we need not anticipate and pre-occupy the cares of the next day. God does not want to have us overborne with solicitude, but to look no further than this day.

6. Every day avoids excess

Christ is teaching us that worldly things should be sought in a moderate proportion. If we have sufficient for a day, for the present need, we would not be grasping at too much. Ships lightly laden will pass through the sea, but when we take too great a burden, the ship will easily sink with every storm. We have sore troubles to pass through in the world, and when we are overburdened with present things we have more snares and temptations.

7. Every day reminds us of our life’s uncertainty

“Say not, This and this I will do to-day or to-morrow: What is your life? it is but a vapour” (James 4:13). Someone was once invited to dinner the next day, and replied, “For these many years I have not had a tomorrow,” meaning that he was providing every day for his last day. We do not know whether we have another day, but we are apt to sing lullabies to our souls, and say, “Soul, take thine ease, thou hast goods laid up for many years” (Luke 12:19). We are sottishly complacent, and dream of many years, whereas God tells us only of today.

8. Every day awakens us to heavenly things

When we seek bread for the present life, then give us “this day.” “But now come to me,” says Christ, “and I will give you bread that shall nourish you ‘to eternal life,’ bread that endures for ever.” “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). There is food that will endure for ever, but for the present we beg only for this day. As Peter says, we have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). That is an eternal state, but this earthly state is only short and of a small continuance.

You see what need you have to go to God, that He will most plentifully provide for you.


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Why luck cannot make you happy

Why luck cannot make you happy

Why luck cannot make you happy
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.

How do you explain the success and happiness you have in your life? Some would say it’s because they’re lucky. But does believing in luck – random happenings over which you have no control – actually help you to be happy? A recent scientific study has found that a personal belief in ‘luck’ as an entity which determines your outcomes is linked with pessimism and negativity, rather than with cheerfulness and optimism. Christians would explain their success and happiness with reference to God providing for them. Although of course we cannot control God or God’s actions, yet Christians have a solid basis for happiness because they know that God can be trusted to do what is right and beneficial for them. This is after all why they confidently pray to Him to grant them each day their daily bread, and thankfully receive whatever He provides. In the following updated extract, the Puritan and Westminster Assembly member Thomas Manton provides a variety of reasons for optimism, gratitude and thankfulness when we believe in God’s providence instead of capricious luck.

Thankfulness comes from the family relationship

When we pray, “Give us this day,” we are asking on behalf of others – those who can be regarded as being all in a family together. Those who can call God their Father by the Spirit, may come with the most confidence to God about their daily supplies.

It is the Lord who bestows on us freely and graciously the good things of this life. God has a hand in all the ordinary mercies we enjoy. Everyone, high or low, rich or poor, affluent or just about managing, and even those who have the greatest store and plenty of worldly accommodations, must come from morning to morning and deal with God for daily bread.

Anxiety is avoided by knowing God’s particular interest in us

God is the absolute Lord of all things both in heaven and in earth, and whatever is possessed by any creature is by his indulgence. ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein’ (Psalm 24:1).

And He not only gives the earth in general, but He makes allocations to particular individuals. The particular designation of every individual’s portion in the world, is of God. These things do not come by chance, but by the particular special designation of God’s providence.

Whatever way they come to us, we must acknowledge God in our possession of them. Whether they come to us by gift, purchase, labour, or inheritance, yet they are originally from God, who by these means bestows them on us. If they come by the gift of others, it was God who disposed them to be generous to us. If they come to us by inheritance, it is the providence of God that we are born to the rich and not to beggars. If they come to us by our own labour and purchase, still God gave it to us. ‘Take heed that thine heart be not lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth’ (Deuteronomy 8:14-18). He does not leave second causes to their own power and force, as if He were only an idle spectator in the world. No, He gives the skill and industry to manage affairs, and success to lawful undertakings. It is all from God.

Fretting is unnecessary when we have a covenant right

As God gives us the possession of what we have, so he gives us a right and title to them.

There is a twofold right to these common blessings – a providential right and a covenant right. Our civil right to things is founded on God’s providence, but our gospel, covenant right to things is founded on God’s grace.

The covenant right belongs only to believers. They have a right to creature comforts by God’s special love. So, ‘The little that a righteous man hath is better than the treasures of many wicked’ (Psalm 37:16). We have this covenant right by Christ, who is ‘heir of all things’ (Hebrews 1:2). Christ has the original right to them, and we by him come to have a covenant right. ‘Things present, and things to come, all are yours’ (1 Corinthians 3:23). All the created things are made for those who believe (1 Timothy 4:5).

If we believe, we may enjoy them as the gifts of God’s fatherly love and compassion to us. We may take our bread out of Christ’s hands, and look on it as swimming to us in His blood, and all our mercies as wrapped up in His heart of compassion. They are sweet and enjoyable to a gracious soul, because that soul not only tastes the created thing itself, but the love of God in the created thing. The worldly are like swine, who gobble up the acorns, but do not look up to the oak they dropped from. But in the Song of Solomon, the spouse’s eyes are compared to dove’s eyes. A dove pecks, and looks upward. So, with every grain of mercy, we should look up to the God of mercies. It is not enough to taste the sweetness of the created things, but also to acknowledge God, and His love and generosity in them.

Enjoyment comes from seeing God’s free grace

The Lord freely and graciously gives these good things to us, that is, merely out of His generosity and goodness. It is not from His strict remunerative justice, but out of his grace. The very air we breathe in, the bread we eat, our common blessings, be they never so mean, we have them all from grace, and all from the tender mercy of the Lord.

In Psalm 136 you have the story of the notable effects of God’s mercy, and the psalmist concludes it like this: ‘He giveth food to all flesh; for his mercy endureth for ever.’ Notice that he ascribes not only mighty victories, and glorious instances of God’s love and power, to His unchangeable mercy, but also our daily bread. In eminent deliverances of the church we will acknowledge mercy, of course! But we should do the same in every bit of food we eat, for the same reason is given all along.

It is not only mercy which gives us Christ, and salvation by Christ, and all those glorious deliverances and triumphs over the enemies of the church, but it is mercy which spreads our tables, it is mercy that we taste with our mouths and wear on our backs. When there were just five barley loaves and two fishes, our Lord Jesus lifted up His eyes and gave thanks (John 6:11). Though our provision be never so homely and slender, yet God’s grace and mercy must be acknowledged. God gives these mercies to those who cannot return any service to Him, to those who cannot deserve them even at our best, and to those who deserve exactly the opposite.

Confidence in second causes is misplaced

Let us not place our confidence in second causes, but in God, by whose goodness and providence over us all temporal things come to us.

Without Him all our worry and work is nothing. We cannot change the colour of a hair by all our anxious thoughts. We cannot make ourselves stronger or taller. Many a one is pierced through with worldly cares, and still the world frowns on him, so all his care comes to nothing. In Proverbs 10:4, it says, “The hand of the diligent maketh rich.” But compare it with verse 22, where it says, “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” Typically those who are diligent thrive with their diligence. That is certainly true, but if that is all – if they do not have the Lord’s blessing – then with all the abundance they have acquired, they do not have sweetness and peace. Oh, therefore, let us place our confidence, not in second causes, but in God.

Contentment comes from God’s good providence

If the Lord is the giver, then we can be contented with the portion we have. Why?

1. Because God is supreme, and He will not be controlled in disposing of what is His own, even if this means that others have better trading, and nicer clothes, and are more amply provided for than we are.

2. Because we deserve nothing, and therefore certainly everything should be kindly taken.

3. Because God knows what proportion is best for us. It is the shepherd who must choose the pasture, not the sheep. Leave it to God to give you what is suitable to your condition of life. A garment, when too long, turns into a dirty rag.

4. Because God not only gives what is suitable to our condition, but the portion that we are able to bear. He proportions everyone’s condition according to their spiritual strength. “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). If you set God the task that He must maintain you at such and a rate, that ends in mischief and distrust (see Psalm 78, from verse 19 onwards).

5. Because simply having things does not show so much of God’s love as when we are satisfied. When we have contentment in the thing, that is the greater blessing. Your happiness does not lie in abundance, but in contentment. It does not make a man happy that he has plenty, but that he is contented; he has what God wills to give him. All spiritual miseries may be referred to these two things: a war between a man and his conscience, and a war between his wishes and his situation.




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What is so spiritual about church government?

What is so spiritual about church government?

What is so spiritual about church government?
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.

There is no shortage of books and conferences and blogs and even movements on the church. But how often do we hear talk of church polity? If anything, many avoid the topic. After all, church government is said to divide Christians, not unite them. Why pay any heed to it at all? Is it that important for the average Christian and for Christian discipleship? If so, how? Does the Bible speak decisively in this area? And if we think it does, how firmly should we hold our convictions when other Christians disagree? But if the gospel is about being governed by Jesus, maybe church government matters more than we like to tell ourselves. Far from being a luxury, or a fundamental threat, or even a boring technicality, the running of the local church in my life is the very place where I get to experience the good news of Christ Jesus’s shepherding care over me. In this updated extract, some of the members of the Westminster Assembly show how every aspect of church government is spiritual – and therefore deserves our thankful respect.

The power or authority of church government is a spiritual power. It is not so perfectly and completely spiritual as Christ’s supreme government, for He alone has absolute and immediate power and authority over our very spirits and consciences, ruling us by the invisible influence of His Spirit and grace as He pleases (John 3:8; Rom. 8:14; Gal. 2:20). But church government is purely, properly, and merely spiritual enough that it really, essentially and specifically differs from civil government, and is contradistinguished from the civil, secular, and political power in the hand of the civil magistrate. The power of church government is properly, purely, merely spiritual, in its rule, fountain, matter, form, subject, object, end, and all.

The rule-book of church government is spiritual

What reveals and regulates church government is not any principles of state-policy, parliamentary rolls, nor any human statutes, laws, ordinances, edicts, decrees, traditions, or precepts whatsoever. By human policies, cities, provinces, kingdoms, empires may be happily governed, but not Christ’s church. It is in the Holy Scriptures—that perfect divine canon—that the Lord Christ has revealed sufficiently how His own house, His church, shall be ruled (1 Tim. 3:14–15) and how all His ordinances (Word, sacraments, censures, etc.), shall be dispensed (2 Tim. 3:16–17). This Scripture is “divinely breathed,” or “inspired” by God—holy men writing not according to the fallible will of man, but the infallible acting of the Holy Ghost (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20–21).

The fountain of church government is spiritual

The fountain or derivation of this power, from whence it originally flows, is not from any magistrate, prince or potentate in the world, and not from any man on earth, or the will of man. Instead it comes only from Jesus Christ our Mediator, Himself being the sole first receptacle of all power from the Father (Matt. 28:18; John 5:22), and consequently, the very fountain of all power and authority to His church (Matt. 28:18–20; John 20:21–23; Matt. 16:19 and 18:18–20; 2 Cor. 10:8).

The matter of church government is spiritual

Church government is called the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” not the keys of the kingdoms of earth (Matt. 16:19). As Christ professed, His kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). When someone requested that Christ would speak to his brother to divide the inheritance with him, Christ utterly disclaimed all such worldly, earthly power, saying, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (Luke 12:13–14).

The kinds of these heavenly spiritual keys are doctrine and discipline. The acts of them are binding or loosing. So whether you consider them in their kinds or their acts, the keys are wholly spiritual.

  • The doctrine which is preached is not human, but divine. It is revealed in the Scriptures by the Spirit of God, and covering the most sublime spiritual mysteries of religion (2 Pet. 1; 2 Tim. 3:16–17).
  • The seals administered [i.e., by the sacraments] are not worldly seals confirming and testifying any earthly privileges, liberties, interests, or authority. Rather they are spiritual, sealing (for example) the righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:11), and the death and blood of Jesus Christ, with all its spiritual virtue and efficacy unto His members (Rom. 5:6; Gal. 3:1; 1 Cor. 10:16–17; 11:23– 24).
  • The censures dispensed are not pecuniary, corporal or capital, such as taxes, fines, confiscations, imprisonments, whippings, flogging, stigmatizing, or taking away of limb or life. Church government takes nothing to do with anything like that, but leaves it all to those who wield the civil sword. Instead the censures are spiritual—they only concern the soul and conscience. For example, they include admonishing the unruly and disorderly (Matt. 18:18–19), excluding the incorrigible and obstinate from the spiritual fellowship of the saints (Matt. 18:18–19; 1 Cor. 5), and receiving the penitent back again into the spiritual communion of the faithful (2 Cor. 2). The binding and loosing, which are the chief acts of the keys, are interpreted spiritually by our Saviour to be the remitting and retaining of sins (Matt. 18:18–19; John 20:21–23).

The manner of church government is spiritual

Not only the matter but also the manner and the form of church government is spiritual This power is to be exercised, not in a natural manner, or in the name of any earthly magistrate, court, parliament, prince, or potentate whatever (like all secular civil power is). Nor is it even done in the name of saints, ministers or the churches. Rather church power is exercised in a spiritual manner in the name of the Lord Jesus, from whom alone all His officers receive their commissions. The Word is to be preached in His name (Acts 17:18), the sacraments are to be dispensed in His name (Matt. 28:19; Acts 19:5), and censures are to be applied in His name (1 Cor. 5:4, etc.).

The ones who exercise church government are spiritual

Those who are entrusted with the power of church government are not any civil, political, or secular magistrate. Rather they are spiritual officers, in offices which Christ has Himself instituted and bestowed upon His church, such as apostles, pastors, teachers, elders (Eph. 4:7–11). These are the only ones to whom He has given the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19; Matt 18:18–19; Matt 28:18–19; John 20:21– 23; 2 Cor. 10:8). These are the ones whom He has made governments in His church (1 Cor. 12:28). These are the ones to whom He wishes us to give obedience and subjection (Heb. 13:17) and double honour (1 Tim. 5:17).

The objects of church government are spiritual

The objects about which this power is to be put forth and exercised are not about things, actions, or civil persons, as such, but things and actions which are spiritual and ecclesiastical, as such. Church power will deal with injurious actions, not as they are considered as trespasses against any statute or political law, but to the extent that they are scandalous to our brothers or to the church of God. For example, the incestuous person was cast out of the church because he was a wicked person himself, and because he was likely to leaven others by his bad example (1 Cor. 5:13, 16). Thus, the persons whom the church may judge are not the people of the world, outside the church, but those who are within the church (1 Cor. 5:12).

The purpose of church government is spiritual

This power is spiritual in its target, aim, and purpose. The Scripture frequently inculcates this. A brother is to be admonished either privately or publicly, not so that we may achieve our private interests, advantages, etc., but so as to gain our brother—so that his soul and conscience would be won round to God and to his duty, and so that he would be reformed (Matt. 18:15). The incestuous person is to be delivered to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved on the day of our Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). Indeed, the whole authority given to church guides from the Lord was given to this end—for the edification of the church, not for destruction (2 Cor. 10:8 and 13:10). All these, and the like, are spiritual ends.


Thus, the power of church government is wholly and entirely a spiritual power, whether we consider its rule, root, matter, form, subject, object, or end. So that in this regard it is really and specifically distinct from all civil power, and in no regard encroaches upon, or can be prejudicial unto the magistrate’s authority, as that is properly and only political.

This has been extracted from a pastoral book on church government called Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici: The Divine Right of Church Government which has recently been republished.



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Life is Worth Preserving

Life is Worth Preserving

Life is Worth Preserving
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.

Why is life worth preserving? Sometimes there are so many problems and so much suffering that people wonder: “what’s the point of it all?” They may even imagine that putting an end to life will put an end to suffering. Last week the House of Lords rejected a new move to adopt assisted suicide legislation and it is being considered by the Scottish Parliament. It is argued that assisted suicide fails to protect the terminally ill and disabled people from feeling worthless and a burden on others with the added pressure to take this option and end it all. The quality of end-of-life care we provide needs to demonstrate that we value life enough to preserve it. Each person is valuable, not worthless, no matter what struggles they face. In addition to caring for people’s physical, psychological and social needs, there are also godly principles and the promises of God to help on the spiritual level. Reinforcing these spiritual truths is a reminder that when we, or a loved one, have to deal with suffering (or dread what may be ahead), we can respond in a way that respects our intrinsic human dignity and honours our Maker in His loving provision. People who have suicidal thoughts, whether due to illness or disability or pressures, need to be cared for, not helped to kill themselves. 


In the earliest full length book about suicide, the Scots-born Puritan John Sym details the sort of views that fed into the Westminster Assembly’s discussion of the sixth commandment. The Larger Catechism speak of careful and “lawful endeavours, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any” (Proverbs 24:11-12; Acts 16:28; Proverbs 31:8). Things that help towards this are “patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit… comforting and succouring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent” (Q135). It also shows how the sixth commandment is against “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life… and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any” (Q136). Sym’s book Lifes Preservative Against Self-Killing (1637) came firmly to the conclusion that even with sufferings and afflictions, life is better than death. To think otherwise is a sign that there are deeper problems than the suffering itself. Yet these deeper problems can themselves be addressed in order to support and protect people in their need. Sym’s careful discussion of these issues can be seen in the following updated extract,

1. What is so special about life?

Our natural life consists in the soul being united personally with the body.

Admittedly we live in a frail body, subject to sin and to manifold troubles and infirmities. This is a fading and temporary life, as James tells us, comparing it to a vapour that vanishes away (James 4:14).

Yet even this natural life is sweet. Nothing in the world is more dear to a person than their own life. “All that a man hath will he give for his life” (Job 2:4). Because of its excellency and usefulness, Solomon calls it the precious life (Proverbs 6:26). Once we have lost it we can never redeem it, or recover it again from death. Life is especially precious for three reasons.

(a) Because by it the person is preserved in its essence or being, by the personal union of soul and body, which would otherwise be dissolved and undone. Between being and not-being there is such vast a distance that we instinctively prefer to live miserably, than not to live at all. The loss of life is not only irrevocable, and unmatchable in worth, but also, it includes all other worldly losses in it, and therefore it is by far the greatest loss that anyone can suffer.

(b) Because it is by life that we are able to have any use or benefit of the good things that God gives us to rejoice in, in this world. Once we are dead, all this world and the pleasure of it is gone. Likewise all the miseries and calamities that betide us here are less evils than death, since partial evils are always less than those that are complete and full. Evils that afflict are less than those that extinguish.

(c) Because of how we can put our life to good use. We can live to God’s glory, spending our life according to his holy Word. We can do good to others, whether spiritual good in the church or civil good in the commonwealth. And we can use it to prepare ourselves for heaven, by working up our salvation here in this life, adorning ourselves with the graces of God’s Spirit, and by holy acts of obedience and performing our duties to God.

This is why the departure of the soul from the body is ordinarily so horrible to contemplate, and can only be thought of with pain and grief. It is not only because it involves the parting of two companions as sweetly united as the soul and the body, but also because it means the utter destruction of our natural, personal life, and being cut off from all the comforts that depend on it and make it better. Consequently we naturally endeavour to preserve our life against all dangers, and we abhor self-murder, which deprives us of so much good.

2. Why should we value our bodies?

There are three things to consider about the human body.

(a) The body is not only an integral part of the human person, but an essential part, something which constitutes the person. Without the body there cannot be a person. Therefore, if the body is killed, the person is destroyed, in the sense that it ceases from existing or subsisting in this world.

(b) The body is the organ, or instrument, by which the soul works. Therefore, killing the body destroys everything that the soul would have done in it. These include activities that would advance God’s glory in this life, or be useful towards our own moral and spiritual good, or promote the good of others in the church or society. So that, by killing himself, the person wrongs God, himself, and the church and society.

(c) The body, with the soul, makes the person, and so, in that respect, it is where God’s image resides. Therefore, by killing his own body, a person not only dishonours God, but also, in a way, does what he can to kill God himself, to the extent that by similitude God is in him.

3. What are the obstacles to enjoying life?

Sad and strange as it is, there are some who come to a place where they feel that their life is no longer worth living, and they entertain thoughts of ending their life. What reasons might there be for this?
Sometimes people fall into thinking that they should be free from the suffering and misery that fallen mankind is liable to, and feel that they have neither the support nor the strength they need to bear much suffering.

These sufferings are either genuine or only imagined, and either current, or feared. Whatever they are, the person despairs of being able to bear them, or dreads that God will not uphold him in them, or deliver him from them. Therefore he resolves not to endure them, but to remove himself by self-murder from that which he cannot remove from himself.

For example, there are illnesses which involve continual, grievous painfulness. These seem unbearable, for their magnitude, and also for their multitude, or unintermitted continuance. They may include gout, gallstones, strangury, racking aches, furious fevers, gangrenes, and other such desperate diseases.

Or sometimes people are afraid of disgrace, either public shaming, or the fear of being unable to cope with some trouble in a dignified way in front of others. In this case, fear of the precursors of death makes them cast themselves headlong into what they would most of all want to avoid.

Alternatively, sometimes people face the loss or lack of basic necessities for survival for themselves or their families. The consequent hunger, cold, oppression and neglect can seem unbearable. Some have killed their family members and then themselves in order to avoid what they might have to suffer in this way. But this only means that the suffering and death that they cannot endure to see or suffer inflicted by other means, they inflict on themselves unnaturally and wickedly.

Then again, there are difficulties to do with property and finances. Perhaps someone has been rich and well to do, but they have come down in the world. Or perhaps after careful toil, working hard to get on in the world, they encounter crosses and losses, or their goods are embezzled, or wasted, and they go into debt. They are unable to keep up their current lifestyle, or to repay their debts. Here we have a situation where one has to be poorer than he wishes, and another cannot be as rich as he wishes, and both of them resolve to kill themselves, as if to help themselves by a mad kind of remedy. The one, because he cannot have as much as he wants, takes a course to lose all that he has; the other, because he has so little, takes a way to have nothing at all!

Attempting to free themselves from their present (or feared) situation, they madly cast themselves into something worse.

There are also troubles of mind which can occasion thoughts of self-murder. People can be excessively discontent when their wishes are contradicted or disappointed. Either they lack some good thing (real or apparent) which they have expected, or they have to put up with some suffering which they did not desire. Maybe some injustice is done to them, or they have too many troubles in their families, or things are going so badly wrong in church or society. Yet none of these things would be persuasive to anyone as a reason to kill themselves, if only they would consider (a) that it is God who permits and regulates all these evils, and brings good out of them, if only they would see that their own will is not supreme, and (b) that it is not by dying, but by living, that matters are improved. Self-murder increases problems, rather than preventing or amending anything.

4. How can we fight against our fears?

Any of these fears of these ways of suffering is insufficient as a justification for someone to end their own life. Although they may be the reasons that people cite, yet there are likely to be more deep-seated and latent reasons underlying these. Being more aware of these should help us face down our fears more effectively.

(a) Fight unbelief with faith.

We need to believe in God, from whom and by whom we would have power in Christ to stand fast in all circumstances. We need to firmly believe and credit God in the Scriptures – to take seriously the directions of his Word, rest on his promises, and be persuaded that God has a gracious intent in dealing with us in our afflictions, and that these troubles will have a blessed outcome eventually. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.’

(b) Fight the feeling of being unsupported by accepting God’s comfort.

The person perceives himself to be overburdened with miseries, beyond any means of deliverance that he can see, and beyond the strength he has in himself, conceiving his afflictions to be excessive, above his strength and more than he deserves. But we should try to realise that our afflictions come from God. They ordered by our wise, powerful, and loving father for our good. Others have had to endure more than this, and these sufferings are less than what we deserve. And if we are God’s people, God turns our troubles to make them blessings. He assists those who in the midst of afflictions trust in him. In the end these difficulties shall be recompensed with a far greater and eternal weight of glory.

(c) Fight pride with willingness to let God be in control.

We will not buckle to be willingly in the situation in which God has placed us, but we will rather risk breaking the mast altogether than lower our sails in a storm.
In general, pride is an over-estimation of what we deserve, or of our own wisdom and intelligence (in that we think that the circumstances we want are better for us than what God has provided for us). We prefer our own wills before God’s, and accordingly, to get our own way, we are apt to use the means of our own foolish devising, however wrong they may be.

Instead we should come to a thorough knowledge by the Word of how unworthy and insufficient we are, with a realisation of how merciful God is towards us in his thoughts and dealings. We should keep our eyes fixed on the promises of God to support us. We should also hand ourselves over to God, letting go of our own wisdom, will, and ways, and allowing God to make our choices for us.

(d) Fight fearfulness by finding satisfaction in God.

If we in Christ enjoy our good God, and if we possess the peace of our consciences in well-doing, and keep ourselves taken up about heavenly things and holy employments, then it is not in the power of any creature to make us miserable, or weary of our lives. If we are wronged by anyone here on earth, that should make us cleave the more close to God (1 Cor. 7:29-31). Our lack of certain things, or our suffering by them, we may care about the less, considering what little assurance we have of them at any time, and the fact that at all times they are accompanied with their own problems.

5. What can help us think more clearly about this?

Affliction is insufficient to warrant anyone to take away their own life.
Consider for one thing that while people intend to rid themselves from afflictions, afflictions are much less bad than self-murder. It is not rational for anybody knowingly and willingly to cast themselves into a greater evil, in order to free themselves from a lesser.

Consider too that the person is going to part from their life, in order to be freed from troubles. But all the good things in the world are far inferior to the worth of their life. No one’s chief happiness consists in the good things in the world, and therefore, no one should kill himself for such things. Nothing, not even poverty, is so horrible, or so much to be feared, besides sin. Therefore, why should anyone make such a bad exchange as to give away his life in order to get away from something, when at the same time he may well precipitate himself into endless misery?

Consider also what a mistake it is for someone to expect to be delivered from troubles by killing himself, when by doing so he only casts himself into infinitely greater miseries. When it comes to persecution, for example, our Saviour bids us flee from it, or patiently to endure it, but nowhere allows that we should kill ourselves to prevent or escape it.

And consider finally that if someone thinks to kill himself, in order to free himself from troubles and afflictions, that person is resisting the will of God, by shaking off the burden which God has laid on him to bear. We must fulfil the will of God by obedience, including suffering, when we cannot do the contrary without offending God. The saints of God never used self-murder to free themselves out of troubles. Of this we have neither precept nor commendable example.

6. How can we respond better to adversity?

People in trouble and adversity are under a double burden – not only the afflictions which they suffer, but also the strong temptations with which Satan assaults them. In distress people ordinarily feel things worse than they otherwise would, which makes their circumstances seem more unbearable. So if we are ever in times of affliction, we should beware of drawing hard, uncharitable conclusions against ourselves, either in accusing ourselves of being forsaken of God, or anything like that, or in making rash decisions about what we will do with ourselves or to ourselves, without warrant from God.

Again, in times of adversity, we should take heed of concealing our troubles too closely from those who may be able to help with advice and support. Concealed grief is most likely to sink us, but telling someone gives ease, and procures help.
We are to be observant when others are in adversity, and be helpful to them. Listen to them, counsel them, and give them assistance, as far as you can yourself, and speak up for them so that others can help them too. A burden is more easily borne, when it is borne by many.

When someone is in distress we should help them respond as best becoming their present situation, so that they will not be overcome by it.

(a) Be careful to live by faith, and not by feelings. Ride by the anchor of hope, cast upward within the veil.

(b) Be humble under the mighty hand of God, with obedience which includes suffering. It is better to cut our masts of self-will and pride by the board, than to risk being over-set by a high sail in the storm of troubles.

(c) Show endurance, and stand fast.

(d) Do not worry about future events, but keep walking in the good paths. Instead we should commend ourselves by prayer to God, and rest confidently on him, meditating on the gracious promises and dealings of God towards those who depend on him.




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Planning for Uncertainty to the Glory of God

Planning for Uncertainty to the Glory of God

Planning for Uncertainty to the Glory of 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.

A different approach to planning has been forced on us in recent years. It is unsettling to experience instability that throws all our plans up in the air. Even more so because we have a natural tendency to proud self-sufficiency. When this is thwarted we sometimes go to the opposite extreme of despair. But it is good for us since it reminds us that we are not in ultimate control, God is. This is part of the mindset we need, not fatalism but responsiveness and submission to God’s providence.

Thomas Manton asks the important question about planning for uncertainty to the glory of God: what is it to submit all our actions to the will of God? He shows how uncertainty reminds us of that God’s will is ultimate not ours. In expounding James 4:13-15 he says that everything we do must be subject to the will of God, not only spiritual but also secular activities. Manton says it is no wonder we meet with difficulties if this submission is neglected “they do not come from your hard luck, but your profane neglect.” What then does it mean to submit all our actions to the will of God in the face of uncertainty? Manton explains in this updated extract.

1. We Must Have the Right Kind of Plans

Worldly hearts are all for worldly plans. They plan how to spend their days and months in buying and selling and getting gain (Luke 12:17-18). This takes up all their thoughts (Philippians 3:19; 2 Peter 2:14); how to promote their gain and earthly aims. A gracious heart is for gracious plans, how to be more thankful (Psalm 116:12), more holy, more useful for God, more fruitful in every good work. They ponder what they shall do to inherit eternal life. This is a better concern more suitable to the purpose of our creation and the nature of our spirits. We were sent into the world, not to grow great and pompous, but to enrich our souls with spiritual excellences etc.

Godly people (called to be co-heirs with Christ) are pre-occupied with the bliss of their future condition, and so in a manner feel what they expect. So also worldly people charm their souls with whispers of vanity, and feed themselves with the pleasant anticipation of that fleshly delight which they look for. It is a sure sign of worldliness when the world runs in your thoughts so often and you always anticipate some outward enjoyment.

3. We Must Not Have a Worldly Presumption

Observe the confidence of future events here: “We will go, and continue there a year, etc.” (James 4:13) Note that worldly affections are usually accompanied with, and encouraged by, worldly confidence. They are doubly confident: of the success of their endeavours, “We will get gain” and of their lives being continued: “We will continue there a year.” Lust cannot be nourished without a presumption of success: when men multiply endeavours, they think little about God or the changes of providence. The world steals away our affections, and then it intercepts our trust; there is not only adultery in it, (James 4:4) but idolatry (Ephesians 5:5). It is not only our darling, but our god; and that is the reason why worldly people are always represented as secure and presumptuous (Luke 12:9; Job 29:18). They think now they have enough to secure them against all chances. Where does the assurance of your contentment lie, in the promises, or your outward welfare?

4. We Must Submit to God’s Will Prayerfully

It is a vain thing to promise ourselves great matters without the leave of providence. To say, “We will go,” “we will do thus and thus,” is vain (James 4:13). We are not lords of our lives, nor lords of our own actions (Psalm 31:15; Proverbs 27:1). ,To-day we are here, and to-morrow not: we cannot tell what may be in the womb of the next morning. It is the same for our actions (Ecclesiastes 9:1). We need counsel and a blessing to do them and for them to succeed (Jeremiah 10:23). When do people promise themselves great matters without the leave of providence?

(a) When they undertake things without prayer. You may speak of success when you have asked God’s leave (Job 22:28).

(b) When they are too confident of future possibilities and events, without any submission to the will of God (Exodus 15:11; Judges 5:28 30; 1 Kings 20:10,-11).

(c) When men’s endeavours are set up in God’s stead, we think all depends on the course of earthly causes, and so neglect God.

(d) When people promise themselves a later time to repent. Many think within themselves, “I will follow my pleasure and profits, and then spend my old age in a devout and retired privacy.” Foolish man decrees all future events as if all were in his own hands. It is useful for princes and men employed in counsels for public welfare. How often do they prove unhappy because they do not seek God! We should ask counsel from the oracle before we take it from one another.

5. We Must Acknowledge Even Tomorrow is Uncertain

James goes on to observe that tomorrow is uncertain (James 4:14), as if he had said, “You talk of a long time, and you know not what shall happen the next day.” Every day brings new providences and events with it. But you will say, “Is it simply unlawful to provide for tomorrow, or for time to come?” I answer—No; Solomon bids us learn from the ant (Proverbs 6:6-8; see also Proverbs 30:25). It is only wise foresight to secure ourselves against foreseeable inconveniences. Joseph is commended for laying up food in the cities against the years of famine (Genesis 41:35). And it was the practice of the apostles to lay up in store for the brethren at Jerusalem against the famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:29). Only remember this must be done with caution; such provision must not arise from distrust, or thinking that prejudicial to the care divine providence bestows (Matthew 6:30). It must not hinder us from the great concern of our lives, provision for heaven (Matthew 6:35). It must be with submission to God.

6. We Must Acknowledge Our Life is Uncertain

“For what is your life? It is even a vapour” Brevity of life is demonstrated by many comparisons in scripture: by the flower of the field (Isaiah 40:6-7); by the wind (Job 7:7); a leaf before the wind (Job 13:25); by a shadow (Job 14:2). The Word uses so many comparisons so that every fleeting and decaying object might remind us of our own mortality. It also serves to restrain our proud desires for an eternal abode and lasting happiness in this life. If life is short, then moderate your worldly cares and projects; do not cumber yourselves with too much provision for a short voyage. The ship goes the swifter the less it is burdened.

Give yourself more to spiritual projects, that you may lay up a foundation for a longer life than you have to live here. Do much work in a little time. We are all shortly to divest ourselves of the upper garment of the flesh; let us do all the good that we can (2 Peter 1:13). Christ lived only thirty-two years or thereabouts; He went about doing good therefore, and healing every sickness, and every disease.

7. We Must Measure Our Actions By God’s Will

God’s revealed will is the rule of duty and we must measure all our actions by this. We can look for no blessing except on ways that match with that. There must be a submission to His secret will, but first a conformity to His revealed will. Lust has its wills (Ephesians 2:2) but we are to serve the will of God till we fall asleep (Acts 13:36).

8. We Must See God’s Will in an Action

We must undertake any action with greater comfort when we see God in it; in Acts 16:10 Paul gathered that God had called him to Macedonia. So, when we see God, in the sweet means and course of his providence, or by inward instinct, leading us, we may with more encouragement walk in he hath opened to us. When we see God leading us by means of His providence or by inward instinct, we may walk in the way He has opened to us with greater encouragement.

9. We Must Be Content with God’s Will

In our desires and requests we must not bind the counsels of God but say “Not my will be done” Matthew 26:39). In temporal things we must submit to God’s will, for the mercy, the means, and time to attain them. Creatures, that cannot ascribe anything to themselves, must not prescribe to God and give laws to providence. Rather we must be content to be in need or have what the Lord pleases. If anything does not succeed well it was not the Lord’s will—that is enough to silence all discontents.

10. We Must Ask God’s Permission

We must constantly ask His leave in prayer. Our journeys must not be undertaken without asking His permission as Jacob and Abraham’s servant did (Genesis 28:20 and 24:12).

11. We Must Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

We must still acknowledge the reserved power of God’s providence [reserve power is a power that may be exercised by a ruler without the approval of another]. We must say “If the Lord will,” “If the Lord permit.” God does not want us to be too confident in a worldly way; it is good to get the soul used to change.

However much wisdom and skill you are able to exercise in any enterprise, the Lord can nip it in the bud, or stop it at the very moment it is being carried out. I have observed that usually God is very sensitive about His honour in this and usually frustrates proud men that boast of what they will do, when the conceive their purposes are unlimited and have no thought of the limits they may receive in providence. It is a flower of the imperial crown of heaven and the bridle God puts on the rational reasonable creature that He manages the success of human affairs. God intends that He will be acknowledged (Proverbs 16:9).

We make plans but the implementation depends wholly on God’s will and providence. When we make absolute resolutions there is a contest between us and heaven about will and power. In such cases the answer of providence is more express and decisive to the creature’s loss. This is so that God may be acknowledged as Lord of success, and the first mover in all means and causes, without whom they have no force and efficacy.

12. We Must Acknowledge the Frailty of Our Lives

Consider the frailty and uncertainty of your own lives; our being is as uncertain as the events of providence. If we live and God wills, are the exceptions stated in this verse. They imply that there must be a conscious impression of our own frailty, as well as of the sovereignty of providence in order that the heart may submit to God better.

Frail men are full of thoughts and projects (Psalm 146:4). They will do this and they will do that. They will go to such a city, promote their interests by such an alliance, gain so much by such a purchase. They will then erect some stately building which will continue their name and memory to succeeding generations.

All this is because they do not remember that they carry the earth around them and how soon the hand of providence is able to crumble it into dust. Certainly man will never be wise till he is able to number his days, and sufficiently possess his soul of the uncertainty of his abode in the world (Psalm 90:12).

“We shall live and do this or that.” It is not enough that God permits us to live, He must also by the same will permit us to do or act. God’s will must concur to ensure not only with our lives, but actions. We may live, and yet not be able to do anything for the promotion of our plans. If God does not permit it, the creatures cannot act at least not with any success. Many think that prosperity is to be sought from God, but wisdom is to be gained by ourselves. But in Scripture we are taught otherwise, not only to seek success of God but direction. He gives abilities to perform and a blessing when the action is finished.

We can do nothing without the efficacious as well as permissive will of God. He must give us life and all things necessary to action. We must not only look up to Him as the author of the success, but the director of the action. It is by His direction and blessing that all things come to pass. Our very counsels and wills are subject to divine government, He can turn them as it pleases Him (Proverbs 21:1). We must therefore, not only commit our ways to His providence, but commend our hearts to the tuition of His Spirit In short, all things are done by His will, and must be ascribed to His praise.

13. We Must Have a “God Willing” Approach

James says we ought to say, “If the Lord will.” Must we always of necessity use this form of speech, or such an explicit qualification concerning providence?

(a) It is good to accustom the tongue to holy forms of speech; it is a great help: the heart is best when there are such explicit and express qualifications concerning providence: “If the Lord please”, “If the Lord will”, “If it please the Lord that I live”. A pure lip is fitting for a Christian so that they may be distinguished by their holy forms, as others are by their oaths, rotten speech, and unholy solicitations. Besides, it is useful to stir up reverence in ourselves, and for others, instruction. Such forms are confessions of divine providence and the uncertainty of human life.

(b) The children of God use them frequently (1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Romans 1:10; Philippians 2:19). The children of God know that all their goings are ordered by the Lord; therefore, they often use these qualifications concerning His will and power (see also Genesis 28:20 and Hebrews 6:3).

(c) Even the very heathen of old through having the light of nature were accustomed to use these forms of speech with some religion and would seldom speak of any purpose of theirs without this (see Plato, Socrates and others).

(d) When we use these forms, the heart must go along with the tongue: common ways of speaking in which God’s name is used are profanations if the heart is not reverent. Augustine says, learn to have in your hearts what everyone has in their tongue. The words are common, but the meaning is useful.

(e) It is not necessary to always express these forms of speech explicitly. There must be always either implicitly or expressly a submission to the will of God, yet we cannot make it a sin to omit such phrases. The holy men of God have often purposed things to come, and yet not formally expressed such conditions (3 John 10; Romans 15:24).




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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.

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?


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.

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.

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”.


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.

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.

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”].


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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