What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It

What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It

What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It
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.
4 Feb, 2021

The words are simple in themselves but it still seems hard for many Christians to understand how their daily lives should be “in the world but not of it.” They have heard the phrase so often and on face value it seems simple. But how does it apply in practice? Many seem genuinely confused by the constant dilemma between engaging with the world and fleeing from it. They have a calling to follow in this world in which they can glorify God and this means they cannot retreat from life. They need to be distinctively salt and light. Although the words are simple it is difficult and so some want to limit its impact. They try to reinterpret it or define only specific things as “of the world.” The phrase belongs to Christ and in using it He shows us we have to imitate Him in applying it (John 17:14). Let us find out how.

Much could be and needs to be said about how to apply this truth but first of all we need to have a better grasp of its meaning. We need to have a deeper sense of the spiritual principle being revealed in these words before we start putting them into practice. There is an attitude here that we need to embrace before we can start thinking about what it means in the details of life. Anthony Burgess helps us understand what this phrase means in the following updated extract.

He defines what “of the world” means. It means to partake of the life and lifestyle of the world, to have the spirit of the world in us as opposed to the Spirit of God and heavenly things. If we are of the world both the inward inclination and outward behaviour are wholly worldly. As Christ says, those who are of the earth are earthly (John 3:31). A soul that is controlled by worldly principles sets it mind only on earthly things (Philippians 3:19). To be in the world is a different thing to being of it. Christ and the disciples were in the world, but not of it. Burgess illustrates it like this, a person may be in the water for a good reason, but fish are properly of the water because that is their element. Having considered this we can address what it is not to be of the world.

1. Those Who are Not of the World Believe Heavenly Truths

Those who are not of the world receive those heavenly truths that the world cannot grasp but rather scorns and derides. Peter had not received the truth about Christ from flesh and blood but from heaven (Matthew 16:16-17). There is a worldly religion and worldly doctrines which are suited to the principles and interests of the world and these are readily embraced. The world loves such preachers and doctrines, those who are of the world hear them (1 John 4:6). The Spirit of the world and the Spirit of God are completely opposed, it is only by the Holy Spirit we come to know the things that God has given us (1 Corinthians 2:12). When God enlightens our minds by faith to assuredly believe those truths God has revealed in His Word we are clearly not of the world. We are so persuaded that neither corrupt reason nor the opinions of the greatest number or the greatest influence will make us go against it. It is because people are so worldly in their understanding that their lives are also so worldly. When this is the case they receive their religion not as it is revealed by God, but so far as they can use it for their corrupt objectives.

2. Those Who are Not of the World Have Been Born Again

We must have another nature (qualitatively) than that with which we come into the world (1 Peter 1:4). A person must be born again, or from above, and made a new creature, old things have passed away (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This is to be above the world, not of the world, and indeed seeing the soul is not naturally of the world but created by God, why willingly debase it to serve every worldly object? Why love the world, delight in it and be ensnared by it? Pray for this new nature and regeneration, otherwise you are as earthly as a worm because your love, heart and thoughts, and you all is nothing but earth.

3. Those Who are Not of the World Have Their Hearts in Heaven

You are to live as one whose heart is with Christ already in heaven. It is not enough to be born again, the progress of our lives must be spent on heavenly motives and considerations. The birds of the air light on the ground to eat their food, but immediately fly up again. Thus, it is with the godly, although they take the lawful comforts of this world, yet their hearts are presently off ascending to God (Philippians 3:20). Because we are risen with Christ, we set our affections on things above (Colossians 3:1–2). Christ was not of the world and He showed that by the way He lived, it was His food and drink to do His Father’s will. He was always either praying to God or preaching to the people? Although you are in your family, in your employment and calling, yet do not be of the world. They best part of yourself is from God. Say, what are all these things compared to the favour of God?

4. Those Who are Not of the World Have Other Joys

They have other comforts than the world knows about and other joys. Therefore, it has not even entered into the heart of man to conceive of this (1 Corinthians 2:9). It is called “joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8). David acknowledged that God had put more joy in his heart than worldly men could have in all their abundance (Psalm 4:7). What is carnal joy and delight compared to that admirable and unspeakable joy which the godly find in God? This is a joy that will continue in trials and death itself, when in such a drought the wicked man’s stream is completely dried up.

5. Those Who are Not of the World Have a Different Lifestyle

They are not conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). They go in opposite directions. Their words and language are different, their actions are contrary. What the righteous love, the wicked abominate, and what the wicked loves the godly abhors. The godly move quickly towards heaven, while the wicked make as much haste to hell.

6. Those Who are Not of the World Have Their Treasure in Heaven

Remember you are not of the world, therefore beware of worldly affections and worldly hearts, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If it is in God and heaven your heart will be there, if in earth and earthly things it will be there it will be. If you are not of the world, the troubles of the world cannot hurt you, the losses of the world will not grieve you, the vexations of the world will not disquiet you. But because part of us (remaining sin) is still of the world, we are not completely and perfectly free from disquiet and so we remain in the midst of combat and conflict so that heaven may be the sweeter.

7. Those Who are Not of the World are Christlike

They are not of the world as He is not. He who is the God of all the earth, and has all things at His command, came to be in the world to be hated, scorned, and at last crucified. Christ adds “as I am not of the world.” He does this to forewarn us that we will experience from the world the same hatred, misery, and trouble He grappled with. It also brings much comfort that it however bad it is with us, it was worse with Christ.

We must imitate Christ and resemble Him in our lives. We must endeavour to live as He lived. It is impossible for us to do what He did as God, yet in those things which He did as being under the law, we are to be conformed to His example. We are to be humble , meek, and patient as He was. We are to do God’s will and to seek God’s glory as He did (Philippians 2:5). Paul urges them to be followers of him as he was of Christ (Philippians 3:17). Stop yourself when you are impatient, discontented and grumbling at what you suffer and say, “did Christ do this?”
It was necessary for Christ to suffer and then enter into glory. It is necessary for every godly person to into the kingdom of heaven through many tribulations. As Christ had a crown of thorns before a crown of glory, as He had to drink of the brook, and then lift up His head, so it must be with all His disciples. This should bring us comfort even though it is grievous to flesh and blood.

We may be loved of God, even though we are greatly afflicted in this world. Christ (though dearly beloved of His Father) was still delivered up to the cruel mocking and rage of men? We read of only one son of God who was without sin, but we do not read of any who are without chastisement, even Christ Himself drank deep of that cup. Christ was a man of sorrows, and yet God from heaven said, “This is my well beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”

No trial will separate God and us, for Christ has undergone these conflicts as our head. He has taken the sting out of all of them. They are not judgments to destroy, He was afflicted and troubled to sanctify these things to us. If no troubles or afflictions could overcome Him, neither can they overcome us. He is able to help and pity us (Hebrews 4:15). Consider it an honour to be made like Christ in His sufferings. Be like Christ in His graces as you are like Him in His trials and you will be like Him in glory.

Conclusion

Perhaps we can see that not being of the world goes deeper than avoiding certain practices, it reaches into our attitudes, goals, thoughts and words. How far are we influenced by the world in these things and how far are we in conformity with Christ? 

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Amen Has a Meaning

Amen Has a Meaning

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

As many are aware, a Democratic congressman in the USA ended an opening prayer to “the monotheistic God” on the first day of the new Congress by saying not simply “amen” but “amen and a-woman.” The phrase of course is a Hebrew word with no connotations of gender. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, responded by saying that it was intended to be “a light-hearted pun in recognition of the record number of women” serving in Congress. Clearly it was a mockery of a prayer. But it certainly got people reaching for the definition of Amen as “so be it”. Yet few perhaps realised just how far it cheapened such a vital word. There is far more meaning to the word than we may realise. Since we use the word so often, ought we not to know something more of its fuller significance?

The Shorter Catechism crisply summarises aspects of the significance when it says “in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen” (Question 107). As Thomas Manton (member of the Westminster Assembly) observes, it is a word that functions like a seal on our requests. It is “an expression of our faith and hope” as well as “the strength of our desire”. “There is the Amen of faith, and the Amen of hearty desire.” These are the two key things required in prayer. The word can mean “so let it be, or so it shall be”. Sometimes it affirms the truth of something and other times it expresses a hearty desire that something will be so. When we use it in prayer it expresses both “our hearty desire that it may be so; and our faith, that is, our acquiescence in the mercy and power and wisdom of God concerning the event.” Another member of the Westminster Assembly, William Gouge explains further the fulness of what this word means in this updated extract.

1. How is Amen Used in Scripture?

It was usual for the apostles to add Amen when they made a prayer, or gave thanks, or pronounced a blessing (Romans 16:24,27; 1 Corinthians 16:24; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Peter 5:14; 1 John 5:21; Jude 25). It was usual for the people of God also to say Amen when they heard this, whether it was only one (1 Kings 1:36) or many together (Nehemiah 5:13). There are many are kinds of speech to which Amen is added in Scripture.

  • Petitions. (Romans 15:33)
  • Benedictions and Praise (Nehemiah 8:6)
  • Curses (Nehemiah 5:13)
  • Exhortations to Duties (1 John 5:21)
  • Declarations and Promises (Revelation 22:20)
  • Denunciations of Judgment (Revelation 1:17)

2. What Does Amen Imply in Scripture?

(a) True assent. The apostle directs the Church to pray, read and preach in a known tongue so that even the unlearned hearer may say Amen, that is, give assent to what he hears with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:16).

(b) Earnest desire. When the prophet Jeremiah heard the prophecy of Hananiah concerning the return of the king of Judah to his kingdom, and the other captives to their land, and of the vessels that were taken away to the temple, he knew it to be a false prophecy. Yet to show how earnestly he desired that it might be so (Jeremiah 28:6), he says Amen. And fully to declare what he meant by that, he adds, “The Lord do so.”

(c) Steadfast faith. Where Christ give a promise of his second coming, saying, ‘Surely I come quickly’: the Church, to show her steadfast faith in that promise, says, Amen, which implies, ‘Lord, I believe this: Even so, come Lord Jesus’ (see Revelation 22:20).

The proper reason for saying Amen is to manifest assent, desire and faith. Whoever says Amen, must understand what he says Amen to. In this case, two things must be understood: the words that are uttered and the meaning of those words (1 Corinthians 14:9).

3. Why is Amen Used in Scripture?

(a) Although the apostles wrote and spoke in Greek, they used this Hebrew word (Romans 1:15). We, therefore, have a clear justification for retaining this word in another language even though Hebrew is not spoken and understood.
(b) Continual use has made this word familiar to all persons, of all languages, in all nations. It is everywhere like a vernacular word. Similarly, these two titles Jesus Christ, though one is Hebrew, and the other Greek, have become so familiar, that they are retained in all languages.
(c) No other single word is so fitting for this purpose as Amen and no other language can invent such a word. It is not therefore without reason and just cause that it has been included as a word in all languages. It comprises under it whatsoever is expressed or understood in and by the speech to which it is added. The people were to add their Amen to the full extent of the law and the curses for not keeping it (Deuteronomy 27:26).

4. What Does Amen Require Of Us?

(a) As speakers it requires us to:

  • speak intelligibly in a known tongue (1 Corinthians 14:2)
  • speak audibly, so that those who are to say Amen may hear what is said
  • speak distinctly, so that those hearing may observe every petition and every particular point for which thanks is given. If prayer or thanksgiving is uttered too fast hearers cannot properly observe the several parts and their Amen cannot be to all that is said but only some parts.

(b) As those who hear it requires us to

  • listen diligently to that which is uttered. The people that said Amen to Ezra’s blessing stood up while he spoke, a gesture that implies diligent attention. If our minds are wandering, and not attentive to that which is uttered, what assent, what desire, what faith can there be? And if there is none of these, why is Amen said? Surely it is a plain mockery of God.
  • to give assent. If there is no assent in the heart it is hypocritical to say Amen. The apostle implies assent is essential when he asks how we can say Amen if we do not understand (see 1 Corinthians 14:16).
    to manifest assent. Such a sound of Amens from the congregation would enliven a minister’s spirits, and put a kind of heavenly life into the people themselves.

(c) As speakers and hearers it requires us to

  • know that all that is uttered is grounded on God’s Word and agreeable to His will. This is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He will hear us (1 John 5:14).
  • have the mind fixed. All must hold their mind steady on what is said or else they will be as those who “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me (Isaiah 29:13). This is an abomination to God.
  • retain, as well as we can, in our memory all that is uttered because Amen applies to all that is said. That which is forgotten is as though it was not heard, understood, or given attention to.
  • be affected by the prayer. This will make men double their Amen, as the Jews did when Ezra “blessed the Lord. All the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands” (Nehemiah 8:6). Their speech and gesture both declared great affection of heart. Without this inward affection Amen will only be uttered coldly.
  • believe God’s gracious acceptance of the prayer. Amen ratifies all that has been previously uttered. But how can the heart ratify what it does not believe (Matthew 11:24)? As the apostle says concerning prayer, “Let him ask in faith” (James 1:6).

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You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy
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.
24 Dec, 2020

We seem to have an in-built need for joy. Many direct us to look within us to find joy. We are told to navigate our lives by asking whether things will bring us joy. But Christian joy is not a self-centred principle offering false, short-term happiness that leaves us empty and frustrated. It comes from outside of themselves, from Christ Himself and He does not give it as the world gives. Because it is His joy it is true and lasting and has a vital impact. It has an altogether different quality, because it is heavenly. It is vital for living the Christian life in this world with all that this means.

Christ’s great prayer for His people was “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). What is the nature of this joy? Anthony Burgess says that it comes from God only as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is centred on God through knowledge of Him and faith in Him as He is revealed in His Word.

As a person is so is their joy. We must be spiritual and heavenly people to have spiritual joy. The heavenly heart delights in heavenly things. The soul must be renewed and sanctified before it can delight in that which is good. The people of God being made new creatures and made partakers of the divine nature, they now come to love and delight in the things they once hated. God is now their delight (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:25). They already possess something of this joy. Even in this life, God is the God of His people. They are said to have Him and enjoy Him. Christ is said to dwell in their hearts; the Father and the Son are said to be in them and dwell amongst them. Thus, even in this life they may have unspeakable joy.

But Christians often experience sad trials, it cannot be their duty to be always rejoicing can it? There are particular times when God calls us to mourn (Isaiah 21:12; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalm 126:5). In such cases it is our duty to be humbled and to mourn under His hand. They may make us abstain from the natural and lawful joy we might take in created things (such as in fasting), but not to abstain from spiritual joy. In days of humbling ourselves it is a duty to rejoice in the Lord, and such joy will like fire melt and thaw the heart. This joy is so useful that it must not be laid aside. Spiritual joy may abound most when the soul is humbled and there is godly mourning. No grace of God’s Spirit is contrary to another. The same Spirit that works joy is also the Spirit of supplication and mourning. Joy and trembling can go together (Psalm 2:11) as can joy and fear (Acts 9:31). So godly sorrow and joy are also consistent with each other. It is never unlawful to rejoice in God any more than it is to love or to believe in Him.

In this updated extract, Anthony Burgess shows the remarkable effects of Christian joy.

1. It enlarges the heart

The saints glorified in heaven enjoy more of God than ever they could here because their hearts are widened and prepared. Our souls are narrow until joy expands them. A person of a joyful spirit is like a vessel with a large opening. They receive far more of God and Christ than someone who is dejected and unbelieving. We are commanded to open the doors of our heart that the Prince of glory may enter into us. Joy will prepare us. Many of God’s children complain of their narrowness of heart. Fears and worldly cares fill the heart so that they have no room for Christ. They have great difficulty in praying or doing any heavenly duty. Joy is excellent at opening and removing these sinful obstructions. This should make you endeavour after a joyful life; it will make you increase in all dimensions of grace. You will be a Christian in a higher degree.

2. It makes us useful to God

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Weak hands and feeble knees (by which we act and move) are caused by fear. On the contrary, joy makes strong hands and firm knees. Any service done to God which is accompanied with dejections and sorrow has a kind of uncleanness in it, as it was with mourning in the Old Testament (Hosea 9:4). All sinful sorrow and dejection, makes your duty unclean, it pollutes you. God not only loves a cheerful giver but cheerfulness in all duties (Deuteronomy 28:47). You may say, “God is of such infinite purity and holiness that because I am full of infirmities I have reason to tremble before Him”. Granted, but remember the psalmist’s advice, “rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). You complain of your lukewarmness and lack of liveliness in God’s service. Consider whether your lack of heavenly joy is the cause of this. Consider whether you might have fulfilled all relations and opportunities more fruitfully, if this joy had been fulfilled in you.

3. It weans our heart from the world

It will make you undervalue all those earthly things which the world admires so much (Psalm 4:7). If then the soul has more joy and gladness in God’s presence and favour than in all earthly contentment whatever, no wonder if the heart sits loose to the one and is fixed on the other. The heart that has been ravished with the sweetness and glory that is in God and Christ, does not know how to stoop to these inferior fading joys. No one sits so loose in their heart from earthly comforts as those who have this heavenly joy.

4. It expels sinful joys

Those that rejoice in the Lord cannot rejoice in sin, because they are so contrary to each other. If you complain of the proneness of your heart to rejoice in earthly and worldly things; there is no medicine like heavenly joy to cure that. What made David express so much joy in God except the heavenliness of his heart. This greater joy must put out the lesser. Pray and endeavour that the joy of the Lord may take up your heart, when this sun is in your soul, the stars cannot be seen. Those who have this heavenly joy may be said to be in heaven while here on earth. No life comes so near to that of the glorified saints in heaven as a holy life accompanied with this joy.

5. It facilitates holy activities

Heavenly joys make us think that the time serving God is short, and to grudge that the work of God is over so soon. The sabbath is their delight (Isaiah 58:13), they are not like worldly people who ask when it will be over so they can go back to the world (Amos 8:5). Nothing makes the duties of holiness so burdensome as lack of joy. If they were your delight you would with joy wish that the sun would stand still and be grieved to stop. The worldly man thinks the day or week is not long enough to enjoy his delights, the godly man thinks the time for enjoying God is too short. Eternity will not make the saints in heaven weary of God.

6. It will sustain us through all afflictions

They are to account it all joy when they fall into trials (James 1:2). It is possible to greatly rejoice in manifold trials with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). How happy it is when your trials do not devour your joy, but your joy takes away the sting of your trials. If we had the joy the martyrs had it would be no more for us to endure their sufferings than it was for them.

7. It increases our desires for heaven

If we have not been able to completely enjoy anything in which we delight our appetite is stirred up to have more of it. David’s incomplete enjoyments of God made him restless and impatient for further communion with Him. Thus, David exhorts us to taste how good God is, if we tasted by experience the sweetness of the excellency of His love, we would still be breathing after Him like David (Psalm 119:20). Heavenly joy makes us look for the coming of Christ and seek to hasten it by our prayers and desires. This is because it is that which will complete our joy. Here sorrow and joy will always be mixed together, but there there is pure and unmixed joy to all eternity.

Conclusion

Spiritual joy is the life and marrow of religion, it is the spur and goad to all holiness. How deceived the world is in looking for joy and consolation any other way whether through reputation and honour, wealth or greatness. These will not give you true solid joy, all these things will become bitter. Whatever joy is treasured up in reference to heaven will always abide, it will never forsake you. But joy that only has reference to earthly things will vanish.

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How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World
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.
11 Dec, 2020

Politicians, medics and scientists constantly appeal for our patience in the midst of a challenging pandemic. We are encouraged to “look to the future with a mixture of optimism, determination and patience.”  Even with hopeful developments such as vaccines, patience is required since it will take time to roll-out. But in a high-speed instant culture, patience has been in short supply. Patience is not simply about waiting, it is about enduring with perseverance and actively trusting. True patience is more than a virtue; it is a grace that cannot truly be exercised unless we are united to Christ by saving faith.

In 1665 the great plague of London swept away over 68,000 of the inhabitants. Certain godly ministers remained to minister to the sick, dying and the all-too-terrified healthy. Among them was Thomas Goodwin. The plague had not yet run its course when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. The wind carried the flames to the destruction of more than 13,000 homes and nearly ninety churches. As the fire neared Goodwin’s home, he wanted to save his priceless library and moved half of it to a friend’s house. But the wind changed so that this house was burned and not Goodwin’s own dwelling. His response was to write a book expounding James 1:1-5, published as Patience and its Perfect Work under Sudden and Sore Trials. Out of the ashes of all those valuable books arose a much more valuable one which we will seek to summarise in the following updated abridgement. We can still benefit from it. How does patience have its perfect work in us? Goodwin helps us to understand that it is not through our own resources but through the work of God’s grace within us.

1. How Does Faith Work Patience?

The testing of our faith works patience (James 1:3). All that the soul needs to support it in trials is brought into it by faith.

(a) Faith empties the soul of all its own worth, and righteousness, and excellence in its own eyes.
It gives the soul a thorough sight of the sinfulness of sin and its spiritual sins. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).

(b) Faith brings home to the soul God’s sovereignty and dominion.
David was greatly distressed, he had lost everything and the people spoke of stoning him, but he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). This strengthened him against everything. All the means to support life and nature (such as food and clothing, possessions and livelihoods) may be lacking. Yet it is still possible to say “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). First rejoice in the Lord, what the Lord is in himself: a God blessed for ever. “If God is blessed for evermore, I cannot be miserable”, says the soul. Secondly, he is my God, the God of my salvation.

(c) Faith brings love into the soul.
The love of God brought into the soul by faith will help it bear any condition (Romans 8:31). As faith has everything in God to rejoice in which helps the soul to patience; so especially it has love, in all sorts of distresses.

(d) Faith tells us of a good outcome.
Christ spoke of some of the worst calamities but encouraged them that not a hair of their head would perish (Luke 21:18-19). The outcome would be such as would make amends for every hair. Faith looking at these things, brings relief to the soul. You may well possess your souls in patience, because the outcome will be most blessed and glorious.

(e) Faith shows heaven as the reward of patient enduring (James 1:12; Romans 5:2).
Those believing Hebrews might well suffer the spoiling of their goods with joy when they found in their hearts a credit note to receive it all again in eternal treasures in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). This will be your experience to if you exercise faith and patience in relation to your losses. The following verses speak of the reward of patience (Hebrews 10:35-36).

2. How Does Love Work Patience?

Because faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) it is clear that love also works patience as we see in James 1:12. Love to God makes us cleave to God, and so follow Him through all weathers and endurances. The apostles rejoiced to suffer for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41). If love for others makes us endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), how much more will love to God? It is for His sake also that we bear so much with our brethren. He can do us no wrong nor hurt but is holy and righteous in all His works. All His ways to us are mercy and truth. He has loved and given His Son for us.

3. How Does Patience Help Compose Us?

Patience works a holy contentment (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6). It also produces joy (Colossians 1:11; Romans 5:3; James 1:2-4). Faith by patience helps us remove the turbulent emotions that are its opposites. It expels excessive poring over our misery and trials by which our minds are chained and tied to those things (Luke 24:38). When troubles sink deep, they send thoughts up fast. Patience helps us possess our own souls (Luke 21:19).

(a) It expels excessive grief.
Job’s response to all that he lost is complete patience and submission to God (Job 1:21).

(b) It expels envy and anger.
Envy is apt to rise when we compare ourselves with others who have no such afflictions.

(c) It expels excessive fear.
When too much trouble comes on us, we tend to fear too much because we do not know the worst, nor when or where it will end. But Christ says we should not fear (Revelation 2:10). He says that faith and faithfulness unto God, or constancy in enduring unto death are opposed to fear. Faith works patience, and patience eats out fear.

(d) It expels complaining against God.
Job would not charge God foolishly (Job 1:22); this was the patience of Job. It was the patient frame of spirit that God had wrought in him, which the Scripture so extols, that enabled him to do this (James 5:11).

(e) It expels excessive anxiety.
Anxieties distract the soul and scatter it into wild thoughts. Christ in exhorting us to patience warns against this also (Luke 21:19).

4. What is Patience?

(a) It is doing the will of God (Romans 2:7).
There is a difficulty that accompanies every duty and grace, so that we need patience to perform the duty constantly. The difficulty is not only from our own corruption but from the times, places, and we people live in and among. We need patience for every step of Christ’s way in doing as well as in suffering (Hebrews 12:1 and 11). But patience is not only such difficulties, it is also enduring affliction in any way.

(b) It is waiting on God and His will.
Waiting is an act of faith continued or lengthened out (James 5:7; Micah 7:7- 9).

(c) It is waiting with quietness (Lamentations 3:26-27).
Faith quietens the heart in God (Isaiah 26:3; 30:15, Colossians 1:11). As far as faith and patience strengthen the heart,  we are able to bear everything with quietness (John 14:1) Faith will cause trouble to fly away.

(d) It is bearing up without discouragement (2 Cor 4:16).

(e) It submits to God and His will (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; 1:6).
Patience in the soul brings the heart to submission to God’s will (Psalm 39:9). Even before there is hope (Lamentations 3:26 and 29).

(f) It endures the absence of hope as to the things of this life.
The apostle gives no specific hopes for this life when he urges patience to the end of our lives (Hebrews 10:36-37).

(g) It makes us sanctify God in our hearts.
Job “fell down on the ground, and worshipped” (Job 1:20). When all he has is gone, the first thing he does is to fall down and worship.

5. How Does Patience Have Its Perfect Work?

(a) When we do not have to force ourselves to do these things
When we do not have to chide or force ourselves to be patient it has a readiness for it. Paul’s heart was so fully prepared to suffer that it was a heart-breaking to him that his friends should seek to dissuade him. He was so used to endurance and patience it was not difficult for him (Acts 21:13).

(b) When we are consistent in doing these things
Patience had its perfect work in Moses. He exercised that grace constantly and was therefore the meekest man on earth. This was not his natural temperament or even virtue but a spiritual grace of meekness and patience produced by the Holy Spirit. He learned this by suffering. He points to Christ who says, “Learn of me, for I am meek” (Matthew 11:29). How constantly Moses bore with that rebellious nation with an invincible patience and still interceded for them. This is what Christ is toward us. Only once we read of the impatience of Moses (Numbers 20:10-11 compared with Psalm 106:32-33).

Patience is perfect when it continues to the end (Matthew 24:13). “Strengthened unto all patience and long-suffering” (Colossians 1:11). Patience relates to the weight, grievousness and heaviness of the affliction we are under. Long-suffering refers to the duration and time (1 Timothy 2:10). To carry a great burden for a quarter of an hour requires patience, but to carry it for a day or more, or for a week requires long-suffering. When you have done the will of God, you have need of patience (Hebrews 10:36). This is because still, in the last part of your life, after an active life for a long while, even then when you are near the promise, your patience may be required most.

(c) When we do them in all kinds of circumstances
When a person has been tested in every way and has passed through all sorts of trials and still have patience in a good measure it is perfect. A person’s natural spirit will help them to be patient in some things, but in other things their heart is weak, and cannot bear it. As God tried Abraham in his Isaac, so God will try the sons of Abraham in what is dearest to them, and yet enable them to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

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Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow
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.
2 Dec, 2020

Why doesn’t God immediately take His beloved ones to Himself out of this world of sin and sorrow? It’s a real question that occurs to many at some time or other for various reasons. Why the affliction and troubles? Perhaps it is an abiding question for those who are lingering in this world when they would long to be out of it. Yet the Lord still has a purpose for their prayers and testimony however small they feel their contribution may be. Others are worn down and wearied with the constant reminders of sin and sorrow. What a world it is where this is brought before us wherever we look. Perhaps they mourn over the pitiful progress they seem to make in spiritual things. Wouldn’t it be best for them to be taken from this world? Yet it is Christ’s purpose for them to be here, He has prayed for them to be left in the world (John 17:15). He has eminently wise reasons for that. What are those reasons? Let us consider some of them.

This was a question asked by Anthony Burgess in one of his sermons and he seeks to answer it for the benefit of those hearing him. He is expounding Christ’s prayer for His people not to be taken out of the world (John 17:15). Some people like Enoch and Elijah did have a sudden and glorious call away from this world, but that is not ordinarily the case. Although God loves His people, this does not necessarily mean He must keep them from all misery in this world and give them immediate happiness with Himself in heaven. We think that God ought to give us what will provide us with most happiness, especially seeing as He can if He is willing to do that. Human reason says, “How can God love me, when He keeps heaven and eternal glory from me?” But God’s love, and His children’s hardship in this world may be consistent with each other.

Our Saviour intended the greatest good for His disciples in His prayer, yet He corrects and moderates it. It is not as if He would have them immediately taken to glory. He is content they should be in the fire for a while, to have their dross purged away. God could do many things for His people, which He will not do. He could immediately crown them with eternal glory when they are converted. Or else He could give them perfect and thoroughly sanctified hearts. He could make the world a paradise for them, so that the way to heaven would be no longer straight and narrow, but broad and easy. God could do this, but it pleases Him in His wisdom to follow another course, and appoint a wilderness for us to go through before we can enter in Canaan. Why does God’s love not immediately take the godly out of this world? Since God loves them and they love God, we would think that love would not rest until it had the nearest union possible. But God has reasons for leaving them in this world. Burgess explains what they are in the following updated extract.

1. They have a work to do

Godly men must be present in the world so that they may promote the kingdom of God and bring others to the knowledge of God. This is especially true of the apostles, as apostles, and so of all those that have any office and ministry in the church of God. These are as necessary as the sun is to the world, as the stars in a dark night, as salt to season and preserve from putrefaction. All believers are to use their gifts for others and by their example should give such a glorious light, that others may glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
If the apostles had been taken up to heaven immediately, where would have been the leaven put into the three measures of meal? Where would the mustard seed be sown, that would grow up into a great tree? If the apostles were the planters and founders of the church, it was necessary that they should continue for some time in the world. The world was a wilderness, that could not immediately be made a garden. It was the devil’s habitation; he could not suddenly be dispossessed.

Since God has service for His people to do, no wonder they must continue in this valley of misery. Paul speaks about this fully, it was necessary for them that he would remain although it was better for himself to depart and be with Christ. (Philippians 1:23). It is certainly better for the people of God and ministers of the gospel especially (at the forefront of the battle and exposed to more hatred) to be with Christ in heaven. There they shall be free from all this virulence and the opposition of the ungodly. Yet if we consider the world and the people with whom they live, their life and presence is very necessary. God’s people have work to do, a course to finish, and so they must not look to have the wages before they have laboured in the vineyard.

2. They Need to Exercise Grace

God will not immediately take them out of this troublesome world so that they may be exercised, and made stronger in their graces. God did not immediately put the Israelites into Canaan. Rather, He led them into many dangers and assaulted them with many enemies, so that their valour in themselves and their dependence on God might be more apparent. God will not train up His children to be idle. No sooner does He make them His than He lets the world and the devil loose on them. Why? To draw out their graces, to teach them all spiritual military discipline. They are to fight as the good soldiers of Christ and put on the whole armour of God, because they “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities, against powers” (Ephesians 6:12). The world is a field, in which spiritual battles are to be fought which the Lord beholds. It is also compared to running a race, where there is no time to be idle or sit still, but to focus all their thoughts and the whole heart on the crown they strive for. Expect therefore to have experiences that draw out faith, zeal and heavenly fortitude.

3. They need to Esteem Christ Even More

God does not take us immediately out of the world but leaves us here in combat with the relics of sinful corruption. This is so that being humbled by it, we may better esteem Christ and His righteousness. When we read of Paul taken captive by his lusts and crying out with misery, what does he do? See how powerfully this drives him to Christ, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

It is necessary that we should be kept in this conflict here below. This is so that we might be conscious of our unworthiness and groan under our corruptions. This makes long after Christ, we magnify His love and all that He has done for us. Everything within us cries out for a Christ and the grace of God through Him when we feel ourselves sinking. It makes us importune the favour of God. God wills that we find out by experience the bitterness and weight of sin, so that we may love Christ more, who bore God’s wrath for us.

4. They Need to See More of Himself

God will not take His people immediately out of the world, that so His goodness, mercy and providence, His wisdom and faithfulness may be the more discovered to us. In heaven there the church is at rest, it is out of all danger, there are no waves, no rocks. So that the wisdom and providence of God in keeping His church there, is not at all discovered. When the waters were dried up, Noah had no more necessity for an ark. The Lord therefore wills that we experience these dangers and temptations, so that His care and love may better manifested. The greater the dangers are, the more His faithfulness is revealed. Is it not an admirable thing to consider how God has preserved a church and people to serve Him faithfully, when hell and the world have conspired to destroy them? By this means God has been made known to the world. The craftman’s skill in relation to the metal is seen when it is in the fire. The pilot’s art is manifested, when his ship is on rocks and waves, and under many tempests. Though the world is a place of dangers and temptations for us, yet it is the mirror to display the glorious attributes of God to His children.

5. They Need to Desire Heaven More

God purposes to have His people in this world, so that heaven may be all the more welcome. It is so that they may desire that eternal glory all the more earnestly. The labouring man who has worked hard, is glad of his rest at night. Scripture calls heaven a rest (Hebrews 4:9). How welcome it will be after all your troubles, calamities and miseries, at last to have rest! Here in this life, you have no rest, sin troubles you, the world troubles you, your own heart troubles you, but there remains a rest. And how happy that must be to you. We are pilgrims, whose blessedness it is to get home at last. God therefore will have you experience all kinds of conflicts, spiritual and temporal. He will create one trial after another so that you will say, “we have no abiding place here”. Never did those endangered passengers in Paul’s ship desire more to get to the haven out of all their dangers, than we are to get out of all these troubles into heaven.

6. They Need to Serve God More

God does not immediately take us into heaven, because it is fitting that since we have served sin in this world, we should serve God as much in this world. Your life has been a reproach and a dishonour to Him. It is fitting it should bring glory to His name. Though it is your loss to be kept from heaven, though every day is your great hinderance, yet you are to deny yourself for God’s glory. Remember you gave yourself to serve sin, remember how much service the devil has had from you. So that if you love God’s glory more than your own, you are to be willing to spend yourself for Him, as you have done against Him.

7. They Need to Help Others

God does not remove His immediately out of the world, because of the relations they have. Children need their godly father, the wife needs her godly husband. Although it would be better for them to be in heaven, yet not for their’s. We must be resigned to God’s will when they are taken from us (John 14:28). We all ought to rejoice when our friends are taken out of this world into glory, but in so far as their presence was a comfort and necessary to us, we may grieve. In the law of Moses God forbade the mother bird being killed with her young ones. How much more will He show kindness to His people than the birds of the air. It is true that God in His wisdom does often take His own children out of the world too soon (as we think) when they are in the prime of their service. It is too soon also for their children and dependents, but God is even merciful in this though we do not at present see it. God has determined in mercy the time of our abode in this world (John 13:36).

8. They Need to Wait Until the Best Time

It is not always best to have the best good immediately, but in its time. It is true that to be with the Lord and be freed from sin is best in itself absolutely considered. But when other things are considered it is not best. God makes everything beautiful in his time. None could be more loved of the Father, than Christ Himself, He came from the bosom of His Father, yet until He had finished His course, He is kept from Him. The child’s duty is not to learn the best book first, but what he is most capable of. Though heaven and glory are best, yet not it is not best at this time for us to partake of it. So that when it is best to go out of this world, must be left to the wisdom of God.

SPECIAL OFFER

Christ’s Prayer Before His Passion: Expository Sermons on John 17 by Anthony BurgessSPECIAL 10% discount for Reformation Scotland readers. Use the follow coupon code at checkout:  RST-Burgess-2020. The extract above comes from these two volumes of 145 sermons on John 17.

 Anthony Burgess expounds such topics as God the Father and God the Son, the love of God, providence over death, election, the deity of Christ, the Mediator as teacher and priest and king, union with Christ, the knowledge of God, eternal life, justification, sanctification, obedience, separation from the world, faith, prayer, perseverance, worship, Christian unity, gospel ministry, and the glory of heaven. 

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What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
19 Nov, 2020

In the midst of restrictions that keep many people in their houses more than ever, home may be both sanctuary and prison. It has been the experience of many during 2020. For some people making the home a sanctuary means spending more to create greater luxury, calm and comfort. But if we have nothing more than what is material, it can never of course give true peace. If it is a sanctuary because it is a place devoted to the worship of self, it will ultimately prove to be a prison. We can seek sanctuary in many things in this world outside of the Creator but we will not find the true rest our souls crave. It is the presence of God that makes a little sanctuary for us. He has promised it to His people in all circumstances, even in the midst of trials and afflictions.

The people of God in exile from Jerusalem were inclined to reflect on the sanctuary they had lost in terms of the glorious temple built there (Ezekiel 7:20; Psalm 137:1). They had lost something irreplaceable, but God promises that He Himself will be “a little sanctuary” or a little temple to them (Ezekiel 11:16).  God had not been taken from them. The affliction had come from God Himself, He had scattered them in His providence using various means. He promises to draw near to them in the affliction while encouraging them to see Him at work in His providence (Isaiah 45:6-7). He was afflicting them and bringing them through trials in love (Proverbs 3:12). He loves His people too much to deny them the medicine of affliction when they require it. In this updated extract, William Greenhill draws out more of the comfort of this promise. He shows what it means for God to be a little sanctuary to us. As we give ourselves to Scripture and prayer and walk in a humble and holy way with God, we may know much of His presence.

1. God is a Sanctuary for Defence

The sanctuary was a place of refuge and defence. It was a place to defend holy things, for such things were stored up in sanctuaries. The sanctuary was deemed a privileged place, from which no thing or person might be taken away without sacrilege. Joab fled to the tabernacle of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar for this reason (1 Kings 2:28). God would be a sanctuary to him in this sense (Isaiah 8:13-14; Jeremiah 42:11). God would deliver them, He was a sanctuary to them in this place. When the fiery furnace was heated so hot and they cast into it, Daniel’s three friends found God a sanctuary to them (Daniel 3).

2. God is a Sanctuary by His Special Presence

In the temple the people had God’s special presence. Zion, where the temple stood, was called the habitation and rest of God (Psalm 132:13-14). God’s goings and ways are said to be in the sanctuary, Psalm 77:13; Psalm 68:24). David says He had seen God in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2). God would be a sanctuary to them in this sense, they would have His special presence. He had left the temple at Jerusalem, the glory was gone, and now He was with them in Babylon. Ezekiel had the heavens opened to him by the river Chebar and saw visions of God. God manifested Himself in a special way to him, and to Daniel in Babylon. God had no church elsewhere, and now He was with his people there, and calls them His flock four times in one verse (Ezekiel 34:8) and twelve times his flock in the whole of chapter 34.

3. God is a Sanctuary for Acceptance

Their persons and prayers were accepted in the temple. This was why they went to the temple so much for prayer (Acts 3:1; Luke 18:10). David says in Psalm 20:3 that the offerings and sacrifices in the temple were accepted (see Psalm 18:1). When they when they had corrupted the worship of God, He tells them there that burnt-offerings were not acceptable nor their sacrifices sweet when they had been before (Jeremiah 6:20). It was prophesied that in the future, they would come to God’s altar with acceptance (Isaiah 60:7), this was where they could find acceptance. But they could also have this in Babylon. When Daniel made his prayer to God for himself and his people in Daniel 9, Gabriel comes and tells him that he was greatly beloved of God. When Mordecai and Esther fasted, their persons and prayers were regarded and accepted in Babylon.

4. God is a Sanctuary for Encouragement and Help

Help came from the sanctuary and strength from Zion (Psalm 20:2). “Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary,” (Psalm 96:6). There they had counsel to direct them, ordinances to sanctify them, and promises to comfort them. They would not lack these in Babylon, God would be to them a sanctuary for help. This is why He stirred up the spirit of Jeremiah to write to the captives and counsel them what to do (Jeremiah 29:5-7). God gave them prophets in Babylon: Ezekiel and Daniel by whom He counselled them from time to time. He also made Babylon an ordinance to cleanse them. They had many promises, various in this chapter and others (see Ezekiel 34 and 36). It is full of sweet, gracious, and comforting promises.

5. God is a Sanctuary in All Conditions

Whatever others think or say of God’s people, wherever they are driven, whatever they lose or suffer, God will be a little sanctuary to them. These Israelites were rejected and condemned by those at Jerusalem, carried captive into Babylon. They had lost country, comforts, city privileges, temple ordinances, possessions and liberties. They had hard slavery. When they were now in this situation, God was a sanctuary to them. He preserved them, gave them His presence, accepted their persons and prayers, gave them counsel, sanctified and comforted them. He was a special sanctuary to them, and in place of all ordinances.

If you understand “sanctuary” to mean the land of Canaan as some think (see Exodus 15:17; Psalm 114:2), God would be a land of Canaan to them. Or take it to mean sanctification or heaven (Psalm 102:19), God would be a heaven to them. However the Jews in Babylon might appear in the world, either to those in Zion or Babylon, they were glorious in the eye of God. He calls them His glory and they would be a sanctuary unto them.

This should give comfort to those who are deprived of ordinances, possessions, liberties, friends, country, and who suffer very hard and sharp things. If they are godly, God will be a sanctuary to them. Has He not always been a sanctuary to us, and a stone of stumbling unto others, and for a rock of offence? If God has been a sanctuary to defend us, to give us His presence, to accept our persons and prayers, to send us help, counsel, comfort, deliverance, let us sanctify this God Himself in our heart, make Him our dread and fear, and He will still be a sanctuary to us. “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).

6. God is a Sanctuary in All Places

There is no place can hinder God from taking care of and showing kindness to, His people. They were in Babylon, a profane, polluted land, they were scattered throughout those countries, and yet God was a sanctuary to them, and said he would be so in the countries where they would come. When they were in Egypt, God was a sanctuary to them there, and now was so in Babylon also. ” God is no respecter of persons” or places (Acts 10:34-35). He accepts those who work righteousness and fear Him wherever they are. God’s people fear Him and work righteousness wherever they are cast: into foreign nations, as these Jews); the dungeon, as Jeremiah; into the bottom of the sea, as Jonah; into the fiery furnace, as the three youths; into the lions’ den, as Daniel. God is a sanctuary to them. If a person is godly, they will have the praise as well as the protection of God (Romans 2:29).

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Church Government is All About Christ

Church Government is All About Christ

Church Government is All About Christ
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
21 Oct, 2020

The general distrust of institutions and authority within society affects the church and its government. So does an individualism that sees nothing in it of personal benefit for us. It’s not hard to see why church government is out of fashion and treated with contempt. Many see it as something barely necessary for what’s really important. But church government is not about some kind of detached institutionalism, it’s all about the authority and the ministry of Christ. And its purpose is, in fact, our edification and growth in the Christian life. ​In another article we can look at how it edifies us, but here we want to focus on how church government is truly Christ-centred.

In this updated extract, some of the members of the Westminster Assembly explain from Scripture how church government is indeed all about Christ as Mediator. People can abuse it and get it wrong, but if we treat the whole matter with contempt because of that we are in danger of mistreating Christ’s own authority in His Church. When we fail to see this there is a danger that mere men get the place and authority that is reserved for Christ alone.

As Scripture is the rule of church government, so Christ is the sole root and fountain from which it originally flows. Jesus Christ our Mediator has all authority and power in heaven and in earth for the government of His church committed unto him from God the Father. This is clearly evident from the following.

1. Christ Has Been Given the Government of His Church

Plain testimonies of Scripture declare that the government of the church is laid upon His shoulder, to which end the Father has invested Him with all authority and power. “The government shall be upon his shoulder,” etc. (Isaiah 9:6-7). “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” etc. (Matthew 28:18–19). “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). All things, including all authority and judgment is given to the Son (John 5:22, 27; John 3:35). He has the key of David to open and no man can shut (Revelation 3:7). “God raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come”. He has put all things under his feet, and given Him to be “the head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:20–23).

2. Christ Has Been Given the Titles of Government of His Church

Eminent princely titles are attributed to Jesus Christ our Mediator with authority, power, rule, and government in reference to His church. A Governor which “shall feed” (or rule) “my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6). “That great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). “That Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). “One is your Master, Christ (Matthew 23:8, 10); “Christ as a son over his own house” (Hebrews 3:6). “The head of the body, the church” (Colossians. 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). “Head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). “To us…but one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:6), “made of God both Lord and Christ” (Acts 23:6); “Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36); God’s king set on His “holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6); “David their king” (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24; Hosea 3:5); “King of kings” (Revelation 19:16).

3. Christ Fulfils the Work of Government of His Church

Certain fundamental acts of power and supreme authority in the government of the Church are especially ascribed to Jesus Christ our Mediator, as appropriate to Him alone above all creatures. These include the following.

(a) Giving laws to His Church

“The law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2); gave commandments to the apostles (Acts 1:2); “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12); “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver” (or statute maker), “the Lord is our king” (Isaiah 33:22).

(b) Instituting ordinances for His Church to be edified

These include:

  • preaching the Word (Matthew 10:7; 1 Cor. 1:17; Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15);
  • administering the sacraments: Baptism (John 1:33 with Matthew 3:13 and
    28:18–19) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20, 23, etc.; Matthew 26:26, etc.; Mark 14:22,
    etc.; Luke 22:19–20);
  • administering censures (Matthew 16:19 with 18:15–18, etc.).

(c) Ordaining and appointing those officers who are to administer His ordinances in His Church

“He gave gifts to men … and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:7–11. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Acts 20:28).

(d) Administering Christ’s Ordinances in Christ’s Name

Christ’s ordinances are not administered in the name of civil governors, ministers, churches, councils, etc., but in Christ’s own name. The apostles spoke and taught “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:17–18); “Whatsoever you ask in my name” (John 14:13–14; 16:23); “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son” (Matthew 28:18–19); “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5); “In the name … with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:4[–5]). Assemblies of the church are to be in Christ’s name. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name” (Matthew 18:20).

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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Comprehensively Loving the Truth: Our Urgent Necessity

Comprehensively Loving the Truth: Our Urgent Necessity

Comprehensively Loving the Truth: Our Urgent Necessity
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.
15 Oct, 2020

In this postmodern age, there is a desperate need for churches to state unequivocally what they believe the Bible teaches. We live in a truth-starved post-truth world. The Church is the one place where truth should be true – true for everyone not just for you. It should be counter-cultural rather than blending in with the norm. If we give the impression that truth is changeable, elastic and customised to our needs we are robbing our culture of what it needs. We fail to be salt and light and a city set on a hill. It’s possible to do this by omission, simply failing to articulate and teach the truth clearly and unambiguously. We can still believe the truth and have it written down somewhere. Yet by not actively holding it forth but giving all our emphasis to the practical, we don’t display a full-orbed love for the truth. But this is a biblical priority as well as an urgent necessity as we will find it out in this article.

In 2 Timothy 1:13 Paul instructs us to “hold fast the form of sound words”, he even tells us how to do this (“in faith and love”). As Carl Trueman points out, the word for form or pattern “describes a model, form, or standard that is intended to function as a trustworthy or reliable guide.” It is not simply the content of the message but the actual form of words the particular precise vocabulary by which the truth is defined. We have benefited from vocabulary over the years that help us define the truth, words such as trinity and infallibility. Thomas Case was a member of the Westminster Assembly who spent many years helping define the truth in precise language. In this updated extract he shows why comprehensively loving and embracing the truth means comprehensively defining it.

1. The Importance of a Comprehensive statement of truth

In the Greek “form” means a frame of words or things, methodically arranged. Just as printers set and compose their “types” or letters, in a table. By “words” we are to understand “doctrine, evangelical truths, the principles of the Christian religion.” They are called “sound words,” from their intrinsic nature when they are purely taught without mixture. They are then the principles of religion in their purity and simplicity; the truth and nothing but the truth.

Timothy heard this from Paul, probably a collection of some principal points of religion, which the apostle had methodically summarised and either preached in Timothy’s hearing or drawn up in writing. It was committed to Timothy as a trust and treasure, not only for his own help and direction in preaching, but to transmit to others. It was for the use and benefit of succeeding generations in the church of Christ. In the next verse it is called “that good thing which was committed” to Timothy (verse 14; 1 Timothy 6:20). He was to commit this form of sound words to faithful men who would be able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).

To hold fast means both to have and to hold. He must have this form of sound words and also hold it fast. He must not swerve from it in the course of his ministry; but tenaciously adhere to it. He must no allow it to be corrupted by men who believe error. He must not part with it for anything but stand by it, and own it, against all opposition and persecution of any kind. The word “keep” in the next verse explains it. Keep the form of sound words as in safe custody, as under lock and key. The purpose of having is keeping, and the purpose of keeping is using. We cannot use, unless we keep ; and we cannot keep, unless we have.

It is of great use and advantage therefore both for ministers and individual Christians to have the main, fundamental truths of the gospel collected and summarised into certain forms of words. Such forms are very carefully and faithfully to be kept. Faith and love are, as it were, the two hands by which we may “hold fast” gospel truth.

2. The Benefit of a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

(a) It beautifies the truth

Every truth single is very precious, and indeed of infinite value, as purchased with, and ratified in, the blood of Christ ; but to see the truths of the gospel linked together in their proper union, is very glorious. In the creation of the world, it is said of every single day’s work, “God saw that it was good”. But when the whole structure of heaven and earth was set together into one entire fabric and creation, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Thus gospel-truths have a rare beauty in their variety and uniformity when seen together. They are no less glorious and admirable than heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, in all their order and ornament.

(b) It helps the understanding

As a constellation of stars gives greater light, so it is in the understanding. A constellation of gospel-principles shining together into the understanding, fills it with distinct and excellent knowledge. It “gives us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). One truth irradiates and expounds another.

We know redemption by Jesus Christ aright, when we know the guilt and power of sin, and man’s total inability to save himself from either. We know salvation aright, when we know it in the extent and power of all Christ’s offices: king, priest, and prophet. Saving us from the reign of sin as a king, from our ignorance and blindness as a prophet and from hell and wrath as a priest.

(c) It helps the memory

It is easier to remember things when they are summarised in a more orderly way. The reason why people do not generally remember more of the sermons they hear, is for lack of catechising. Order is the very glue of memory.

(d) It defends against error

People would not be so easily drawn into heresy, if they were acquainted with how the chain of gospel-doctrines interconnects. When a chain of pearls is broken, a single jewel is easily lost; divine truths mutually preserve one another.

(e) It helps us grow in grace

Lack of distinct knowledge in the mysteries of religion is a great obstruction to growth in grace. The great cause of the believing Hebrews lack of proficiency was their defect in the foundation, the “first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). “Unskilfulness in the word of righteousness” made them mere “babes in grace.” (Hebrews 5:12)

3. Holding Fast a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

(a) Ministers

Ministers are to “hold fast this form of sound words;” for they are God’s witnesses to the present age, and trustees for the future (1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:20). They are to keep it, by catechising and instilling these principles into the hearts of young ones. They also keep it by assiduous preaching. They explain and apply these principles and maintain the remembrance of them in the church. God has appointed pastors and teachers to explain and apply the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:2). They do this by solid explanation without novel content and expressions; strange words make way for strange doctrines. They also counter false teaching (Philippians 1:17; Titus 1:9).

(b) Believers

Christians of all kinds are to hold fast the form of sound words in their understanding, memory, practice, and in contending for the truth.

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In the Understanding.
Every Christian should have a firm basis of sound doctrine; not only some scraps and fragments of knowledge, but a distinct and clear delineation of gospel-truth. This will mean that they may know things, not merely randomly, but in an orderly way; how they depend on and relate to one another. Too often Christians are content with warm affections without knowledge. So they are like a blind horse, full of energy, but always stumbling. Or they may be content with loose notions, without seeing the truths of God in an orderly and accurate way. They are never stable and rooted in the faith. Christians should seek to have the “riches of the full assurance of understanding” in the mysteries of godliness. (Colossians 2:2)

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In the Memory.
Christians are also to remember the form of sound words. The Spirit of Christ Jesus is given, not only to “teach us all things,” but to “bring all things to our remembrance: ” (John 14:26). Scripture is written to maintain old truths in our memory (2 Peter 3:1; Philippians 3:1). We are slow to understand and believe and apt to forget so we must take extra effort to retain these things (Hebrews 2:1; 2 John 8).

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In Practice.
We are also to hold fast the form of sound words in practice. To live the truths which we know, is the best way to hold them fast. Unholy Christians live against the faith, whilst heretical Christians dispute against the faith. Whilst others live error, you must live the truth; whilst others deny the gospel, you must live the gospel (Colossians 2:6; 1:10.) Without this, a man forsakes the truth, while he professes it (Titus 1:16).

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words To Others.
“Holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16; see Matthew 5:14) like a lighthouse in the dark. It is a blessed thing, when the lives of Christians are practical models of gospel truths, walking Bibles (1 Peter 2:9)

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words By Contending for It.
Contend for and publicly own the truth, whatever it costs you. By the flames of the martyrs, future generations were able to see the truths of the gospel more clearly.

4. Believing a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

Faith gives reality to spiritual things. Knowledge gives lustre, but faith gives being; knowledge irradiates, but faith makes real. Knowledge gives light, but faith adds life and power (2 Timothy 1:12). Faith obtains strength from Jesus Christ, to do, to suffer, to live, to die for Jesus Christ, and the truths which He has purchased and ratified by his own blood. Faith “can do all things through Christ” and His strength (Philippians 4:13). The verse says hold fast “in faith and love” and “in Christ Jesus”. Jesus Christ is a fountain of strength and that strength is drawn out by faith (Psalm 71:16).

5. Loving a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

If you desire to hold fast the truth, love it. Those who did not receive the love of the truth were ready to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:10 and 11-12). Receive the truth in the power of the truth, in the impressions of the truth on your hearts, in the love of the truth. Love the truth, even when the truth does not seem to love you, when it is against your interests.

CONCLUSION

We live in a frozen age, in which men have learned to hold fast everything (possessions, superstitions, errors). Everything except the truth. No doubt this is true as much now as when Thomas Case made that observation. He spent much time along with others to produce in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms a form of sound words that was accurate to Scripture. They did the heavy lifting. But unless we take up a form of sound words and make use of it, we will not hold it fast for ourselves or for others. Transmitting the truth to future generations requires holding it fast in order to hold it for them. We have produced two volumes Our Faith and Bible Truth Explored to make it as simple as possible to hold fast the form of sound words today in the current generation.

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Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God

Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God

Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is 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.
11 Sep, 2020

Surveys of Evangelical belief ought to be straightforward, but Ligonier’s State of Theology research has uncovered a consistent pattern of error and confusion over recent years. The following answers are from those who profess profess core evangelical beliefs about the Bible and salvation in the USA. 62% claim to believe the heresy that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God”. 30% also agree “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God” with a further 8% unable to reject it absolutely. Other worrying trends are that evangelicals are evenly divided in response to “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature”. Similar results were found in a survey of UK evangelicals in 2018. If this is even remotely accurate it reveals at the very least catastrophic confusion about core doctrine. Clear teaching cannot be taken for granted. We need to remind ourselves often of the glorious deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and just why it matters so much.

This not a matter of mere theological interest for those who study such matters. It is a matter of eternal life and death; it concerns our salvation. Why indeed is it so important? This is a question that the Larger Catechism asks (Q38). “Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?” The answer is very full, it shows that our salvation depends on it entirely. “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favour, purchase a peculiar [special] people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation”.

How do we know that Christ is God and how does it affect us? It affects the faith, worship and obedience we owe to God. Knowing and believing that Christ is God are the two vital matters that Francis Cheynell (a member of the Westminster Assembly) helps us to do that in this updated extract. We need first of all to establish clearly from Scripture that the Lord Jesus is truly and eternally God, equal with the Father and Holy Spirit.

1. Christ Has the Same Nature as the Father

Jesus Christ is over all God blessed forever (Romans 9:5). God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). The blessed and only Potentate, who only has immortality etc and to whom everlasting honour and power are ascribed (1 Timothy 6:16). He is the great God (Titus 2:13). The true God (1 John 5:20).

Which of the saints or angels did God at any time call: my Son, the heir of all things, the illustrious brightness of my glory, and the express image of my person? His throne as God is forever and ever, and all the angels of God worship Him (see Hebrews 1:3-13). These things are so clear and plain, that I am even almost ashamed to write more in arguing this case. Yet I am encouraged and even provoked to proceed. Jesus Christ was the Wonderful Child; a Child, and yet a Father, the Father of Eternity; a Child, and yet a Counsellor, the wisest of all Counsellors, for he is Wisdom itself; a Child, and yet a God, a mighty God (Isaiah 9:6).

The same Godhead subsists in the Lord Jesus, who is equal to the Father because He subsists in the nature of God (Philippians 2:6). The word translated “being” or “existing” in Philippians 2:6 could be best rendered by “subsisting”. This is because there is a comparison there between two subsistences or persons, the Father and the Son. The Son counts it no robbery to be equal with the Father because He subsists in the nature of God.

He has the same Divine nature, the same Godhead with the Father and “all the fullness of the Godhead” dwells truly, really, bodily in the Son (Colossians 2:9). Body is the opposite of shadow, so it might be rendered: the Godhead dwells personally in the Son and is often translated as person. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells really in the subsistence or person of the Son. Christ is the illustrious brightness of His Father’s glory, the express living image or character of His Father’s subsistence or person (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is not the character of His own subsistence, but His Father’s subsistence. The Son, therefore, has a special subsistence distinct from the subsistence of His Father. Christ is the express image of His Father’s person, and therefore the person of the Son is distinct from the person of the Father; for no person is the image or character of itself.

2. Christ is Eternal

The Godhead subsists in Jesus Christ, who was before the beginning (John 1:1). The word “was” indicates what is past. Therefore, He had His being before the beginning of time. It is clear that His eternal being is a divine being both because it is eternal and because it is not only said that He was with God before the beginning, but He was God. It clearly follows that Jesus Christ is the same eternal God with His Father; for it is impossible that there should be more than one God.

3. Christ is Jehovah

Jehovah is a title unique and special to God (Isaiah 43:11-12). Jehovah is the only Saviour, the only God. His name alone is Jehovah, the Most High over all the earth (Psalm 83:18). But the Lord Christ is Jehovah, and therefore the Lord Christ is God. Jehovah sits on a throne in majesty and glory (Isaiah 6.:1, 3, 5, 8) but the Lord Christ is this Jehovah, as the apostle, assures us (John 12:41-42). The Lord Christ is that Jehovah to whom every knee must bow; as appears by comparing Isaiah 45:21-25 with Romans 14:9-12 and Philippians 2:6, 9-11.

The same is clear by comparing Psalm 102:19, 22, 25-26 with Hebrews 1:10-12. Once more, compare also Numbers 14:26-27 with 1 Corinthians 10:9-10 and Numbers 21:6. Thus, Christ is so gloriously described in Revelation 1:5-8 as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. And therefore, He is Jehovah. For the apostle there and to the end of that chapter uses these and similar expressions which comprise the sense and meaning of that divine and glorious title of Jehovah.

I might further argue this by showing that the title of Lord so often given to Christ in the New Testament corresponds with the title of Jehovah in the Old Testament. The apostles most likely purposely used the title of Lord, not to offend the Jews with frequently pronouncing the word Jehovah. The word Jehovah in Deuteronomy 6:13 and Deuteronomy 10:20 is rendered Lord when the verse is quoted in Matthew 4:10 (compare also Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37).

4. Christ is God With Us

Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is that God who took flesh and blood (1 Timothy 3:16) and that God who redeemed the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The Early Church Fathers frequently pointed to John 16:15 compared with John 10. 30 and John 10. 37. From this, they concluded that Christ has the same divine nature and Godhead with the Father. Both have the same divine and essential titles and attributes and perform the same inward operations in reference to all creatures. They inferred from this that it was reasonable to use the word “consubstantial” [that the Father and Son share the same divine substance]. Even though the word is not in Scripture, the sense and meaning are. It is orthodox and scriptural because it is evidently deduced from these verses and others previously cited. I will add one more to make it even clearer: compare John 17:10 with John 16:15. Whatever belongs to the Father as God, belongs to Christ (in terms of essential rather than personal properties).

For the clearer demonstration of this truth, let us now come down to specific matters. The attributes of God; the works of God and the worship of God are all ascribed and given to Jesus Christ. This is so that we may confess and acknowledge Him to be God, the true God, the mighty God, the self-same only God with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

5. Christ has the Attributes of God

(a) Christ is Eternal
“In the beginning, was the Word” (John 1:1). The word “was” denotes some former duration. Therefore, we conclude that He was before the beginning, before any creation or creature. It is said that He was God in the beginning and His divine nature by which He works is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). He is the First and Last (Revelation 1:17). He is called the first-born of every creature, because He who created all and upholds all, has the power to command and dispose of all (Colossians 1:15-17). This is just as the first-born had the power to command the family or kingdom (compare Isaiah 44:6with Revelation 22:13 and Proverbs 8:22-23)

(b) Christ is All-Powerful
He is able to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). He is called the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). He is the Almighty (Revelation 1: 8). He made all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; Psalm 102:26 compared with Hebrews 1:8-10 and John 1:10. He upholds all things (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17).

(c) Christ is Unchangeable
See Hebrews 1:12, a quotation from Psalm 102:26-27.

(d) Christ is All-Knowing
He knows what is in the heart (John 2:25). He is the searcher of hearts (Revelation 2:23). He knows all things (John 21:17). He is the wisdom of the Father (1 Corinthians 1:24). He knows the Father of Himself (Matthew 11:27) and according to His own will reveals the secrets of His Father’s bosom as the Word. All the treasures of wisdom are in Him (Colossians 2:3).

(e) Christ is Infinite
He is not contained in any place, He was before there was any place, and created all places by His own power (John 1:1, 3). While He was on earth in respect of His bodily presence, He was in the bosom of the Father – which must be understood of his Divine Nature and Person (John 1:18). He came down from heaven yet remained in heaven (John 3:13).

6. Christ Does the Work of God

Christ performs the works of God, those divine and supernatural works that are special and unique to Him. Those such as none but God can perform. He raised the dead by His own power at His own will (John 5:21, 28-29; John 11:25). He is called the resurrection and the life because He is the author of both. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise (John 5:17, 19). He wrought miracles, He has the same Nature and power with the Father, and therefore does the same works. He regenerates our Souls, pardons our sins, saves our souls. He has appeased the wrath, and satisfied the justice of God, by His divine mediation. He gives temporal, spiritual, eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 6:38, 40).

7. Christ Receives Divine Honour

(a) All the glorious angels are commanded to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6).

(b) All true Christians are described by calling on and believing in the name of Christ (Acts 9:14; John 1:12).

(c) All are obliged to give the same honour to Christ which they are required to give to God the Father (John 5:23).

(d) There are many examples of this being done in Scripture which confirms these commands (Acts 7:59-60; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 22:20).

(e) Baptism is administered in the name and to the honour of Christ (Matthew 28:17-20).

(f) At the Day of Judgment, every knee must bow to Him and acknowledge Him to be equal to His Father (Isaiah 45:21-25 compared with Romans 14:10-12 and Philippians 2:6, 9-11).

(g) All that are justified believe in Him and those who believe in Him shall not be ashamed (Romans 3:25-26; 1 Peter 2:6-7).

(h) The apostolic benediction so often repeated in the epistles includes the Lord Jesus Christ in a divine blessing.

Because God is true, He will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 48:11), and He because He is just He cannot do so either. Though Christ is a distinct person from His Father, He is not a distinct God but one and the same God with Him, God blessed forever.

8. We Must Believe in Christ as God

God the Son is the object of our faith (John 14:1). The whole gospel was written for this purpose, that we might be persuaded to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31). Believing this is necessary and effectual to salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:11-13; 1 John 5:20). We are to believe in Christ as a Mediator, that our faith and hope may be settled in God (1 Peter 1:21).
The great encouragement to believe in Christ as an all-sufficient Mediator is this, Jesus Christ is the natural Son of God. If Christ presents us to His Father, we are confident that the Son of God, His only begotten Son will prevail with His Father for us. His relation to God assures us that the intercession of our High-Priest will be irresistible and undeniable (Hebrews 5:5-6; Psalm 110:1, 4; Psalm 2:2,7-8; Hebrews 7:25, 28). All the offices of Christ are based on His Sonship. His kingly power (Psalm 2:6-7); His prophetic office (Matthew 17:5) and His priestly office (Galatians 2:20).

We must believe in Christ as God, the self-same God with the Father. When we know Christ to be God, we must glorify Him as God by believing in Him. When Peter preached to Cornelius, he told them that Jesus Christ was Lord of all (Acts 10:36), judge of all (Acts 10:42) and that all the prophets gave witness to Him. Also that through His name, whoever believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43).

We must abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). Every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). The Father is glorified in the Son (John 14:13). The Son is to be glorified in all them whom the Father has given Him (John 17:10). And Christ is to be glorified by their believing in Him (John 17:23). And the Father Himself loves them because they believe in the Son (John 16:27). If we do not honour the Son, we do not honour the Father (John 5:23). There is also the great mystery of uniting the soul to Christ by Faith (Ephesians 5:32) and making of it one Spirit with the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Conclusion

These truths are not mere items of information. They are food for faith to feed on, they are reasons for love to wonder and adore, they are encouragements to persevere in obedience and dependence on Christ. A failure to teach people clearly the core truths of Christ robs them of the fulness of these things and means that they are not learning Christ as they are meant to. Cheynell gives us a final way to apply these truths.

We may then look upon the Son, admire and bless the Father, look upon the Father and bless the Son, look upon Father and Son and bless the Spirit, look upon all three, admire and bless, adore and love, know, believe and obey all three coequal persons, subsisting in the same most single Godhead, and have access to the Father through the Son, and by the Spirit with reverence and confidence, zeal and love.

Note: the Ligonier survey results can be found at https://thestateoftheology.com/

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Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture
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.
31 Jul, 2020

Covid-19 has disrupted everything, including (for some people) their engagement with Scripture. According to a recent study in the USA, the first half of 2020 witnessed a fall in Scripture engagement. The largest changes were in the groups classified as “Bible Centered” and “Bible Engaged”. Another new poll indicated that many found it challenging to understand the Scriptures on their own. Whether or not these surveys indicate a widespread reality we must acknowledge that we need constant help to engage with Scripture. This is not merely a matter of discovering a new method, technique or tool. One of the reflections on the survey results is that Christians need to be reminded about why they need to regularly engage with the Bible. But it may be that this should include a reset in the attitudes we bring to Scripture and how we approach it.

The Larger Catechism gives some clear biblical guidance about the right way to approach Scripture in reading it. It shows how to read it so that we may understand it and get the most spiritual benefit. This article summarises and abridges the comments by Thomas Ridgeley and J G Vos on the following question in the Larger Catechism.

Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A. The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God; and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey, the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

1. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE CHARACTER OF SCRIPTURE

We must read the scriptures with a high and reverent esteem of them and a firm persuasion that they are the Word of God. (Psalm 19:10; Nehemiah 8:3-10; Exodus 24:7; 2 Chronicles 34:27; Isaiah 66:2).

As we read Scripture, we see the glory of the perfection of God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness. Its unerring wisdom and infallible truth bring its own authority. We ought to approach Scripture with a different attitude to any other book. Scripture is the only source of saving truth; it reveals sin and the only way of obtaining forgiveness. Other books may draw from its teaching, but the Bible alone is the standard by which all other books are to be judged. It completely equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Those who speak of Scripture in the page of the Bible itself do so with a high and reverent esteem of it (Psalm 119:97; Psalm 19:16). We must read the Scriptures with a firm faith that they are the very Word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).

2. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE

We must, in reading the word of God, be conscious that God alone can enable us to understand it (Luke 24:45; 2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

We will get no benefit from reading the Scriptures without understanding them. But we need divine help for this because our understanding is darkened and clouded by sin by nature (Romans 1:21, 28; 1 Corinthians 2:14). The Holy Spirit must enlighten our understanding at the new birth. Yet we also need His work of opening and illuminating our minds to understand the Bible (Luke 24:45). All spiritual wisdom comes from God and therefore we are dependent on Him in this also (Ephesians 1:18). We need His blessing to open the wonders of the Word in all their beauty and glory to us (Psalm 119:18). We may have the highest intellect and powers of reason but still be strangers to the mind of God in His Word.

3. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WILL IN SCRIPTURE

We must read the Word of God with a real desire to know, believe, and obey His will contained in it (Deuteronomy 17:19-20).

If we do not read the Bible with the right motive of submission to God’s will, we will find fault with it and be ready to cast aside what it teaches if it does not suit us. Approaching it merely as literature or history fails to handle it as it is meant to be handled. It must first serve a practical purpose, we must apply it to ourselves personally in relation to our own soul. We must read the word of God with a desire to have our faith established and any doubts about its truths removed. We ought to desire, not only to believe but also give constant and cheerful obedience to everything that God requires of us in it.

4. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DILIGENTLY

We must be diligent in reading the Word of God (Acts 17:11).

The Bible is extensive and contains many things that need careful study. If we do not give ourselves to it, we will not have an adequate understanding of it. Anything worthwhile demands constant effort. We are meant to progress from milk to strong meat and not remain children in our understanding (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:14).

5. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD CAREFULLY

We must give attention to the matter and scope of the Scriptures in reading them (Acts 8:30,34; Luke 10:26-28).

We must read the matter or content of Scripture carefully, noting important things such as who it is that is speaking, the occasion and circumstances. The context must be respected so that we note how the words relate to and connect with statements before and after and the chapter as a whole. We must also consider the overall scope or purpose of what is written in terms of the purpose of a book of the Bible as a whole and goal of the whole Scriptures themselves.

We must not remove verses from their context, or we will not understand their true import. When we read “there is no God” in a verse we must note that the speaker is “the fool” (Psalm 53:1). We must also note that the verse goes on to say that those who say such things in their heart are declared to be “corrupt” and to “have done abominable iniquity”. Similarly, we read that a man will give all he has for his life (Job 2:4). Quoted out of its context it would be very misleading but when we realise that Satan, the father of lies has said it we can discern its true import.

6. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DEEPLY

Our reading of the Word of God ought to be accompanied with meditation (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119:97).

Meditation means thinking carefully, seriously and deeply for a time. It is a focussed effort and application to the words of Scripture. It is necessary because we cannot expect to gain the real riches of the truth of Scripture by a hasty skimming of its surface. It is true in Bible study as in all other fields that serious thinking requires time. The Bible is not a modern supermarket with its wares all packaged and arranged on shelves ready to be checked out with the least possible effort. The Bible is a gold mine that has to be methodically and patiently worked if we are to gain possession of its treasures. The haste and complexity of modern life, with its many activities which make demands on people’s time, have resulted in many Christians who have only an elementary and superficial knowledge of the Bible, and who live from one year to the next with virtually no increase in their understanding of Bible truth. There is no shortcut to success in Bible study: meditation is needed, and that takes time.

Our thoughts should be wholly taken up with its subject-matter; we ought to apply the greatest intense earnestness in seeking to know things that are of the highest importance. As we do so our profiting from this will appear to ourselves and others (1 Timothy 4:15). Meditation is not considering Scripture with a coldly intellectual approach, rather it is a spiritual prayerful activity that engages fully with its truth so that it warms our affections and hearts. For more on this see
Opening the Door from Our Head to Our Hearts  and You Are What You Digest (Spiritually). 

7. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PERSONALLY

We must read the Word with application, applying it to our own selves by seeking to discern its bearing on our own lives and needs (2 Chronicles 34:21).

The Bible is not a merely theoretical or abstract message, but a personal message suited to the needs of those who read it. A person might study geometry or astronomy out of sheer intellectual interest and curiosity, without any intention to make any practical application of these sciences to his own life. But to study the Bible in such a way would be to miss the real meaning and importance of the Bible. Unless we apply its teachings to ourselves personally, our Bible study not only will do us no good but will actually add to our guilt at the Judgment Day.

8. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD SUBMISSIVELY

We must read the Word with self-denial. This means being willing to give up our own opinions, preferences and prejudices and to accept and obey the will of God instead of our own ideas (Proverbs 3:5; Deuteronomy 33:3).

We must deny ourselves by giving up our own opinions, preferences and special ideas and to accept and accept the teaching of the Word of God as our standard for faith and life. We are to accept all the teaching of the Bible not merely those which commend themselves to us as reasonable, desirable, or helpful. We are to deny ourselves by surrendering our own reason as our supreme standard of truth and become as little children, accepting God’s Word on God’s authority. All the contrary reasonings our carnal minds are prone to suggest against the subject-matter of divine revelation are to be laid aside. If we are resolved to believe nothing but what we can comprehend, we ought to consider that the gospel contains unsearchable mysteries, that surpass finite wisdom. We must, therefore, be content to acknowledge that we know but in part.

We must pay deference to the wisdom of God that eminently appears in everything He has revealed to us in His Word. We must adore the divine perfections displayed in it and maintain a humble sense of the imperfection of our own knowledge. It is not that reason is useless in studying Scripture rather we must desire that it may be sanctified and inclined to receive whatever God is pleased to impart. We are also to exercise the grace of self-denial, with respect to the obstinacy of our wills. By nature, they are not inclined to approve of and yield obedience to the law of God. We need to be entirely satisfied with everything He commands in His word, as holy, just, and good.

9. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PRAYERFULLY

The word of God must be read with fervent prayer (Proverbs 2:1-6; Psalm 119:18; Nehemiah 7:6,8).

If we lack wisdom, we should pray to receive it (James 1:5). As we have seen, a real understanding of the Bible is dependent on the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. It follows that we must pray for the continuance and increase of this illuminating work in our hearts and minds. Profiting from Scripture is the gift of God and therefore we are to humbly pray to Him for it. There are many things in His Word that are hard to understand; therefore, we ought to pray for help whenever we take the scriptures into our hands. We may humbly acknowledge the weakness and the blindness of our minds, which makes it necessary for us to desire to be instructed by Him, in the way of truth.

The Word is to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths therefore we seek His help that it may be so lest we walk in darkness. We may also plead that our Lord Jesus is revealed to His people as the prophet of His church, therefore we seek that He will lead us by His Spirit into His truth. We may also plead the impossibility of our attaining the knowledge of divine things, without His assistance.

Prayer is not a shortcut that avoids the need to study the Word diligently and carefully, it is not a substitute for that. Rather we are to pray that the Holy Spirit would bless our diligent use of the best available helps and guide us into the real truth.

CONCLUSION

We need to engage with Scripture in the right spirit with a desire to know the mind and will of God in it. Any prejudices which would hinder us from receiving any benefit from it should be discarded and we must exercise those graces that the nature and importance of the duty requires. We ought to depend upon God by faith and prayer so that we may come to know the divine truths contained in His Word.

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10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?
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.
24 Jul, 2020

People have been offering lessons to learn from the start of the coronavirus crisis. They range from social, public health and economic concerns to personal life lessons. With the benefit of hindsight some query how it has been managed. Debate about whether these lessons will be learned is likely to be ongoing. What about the spiritual lessons we ought to take from this crisis? How have we responded and how ought we to have responded? It’s not over yet of course, and so we still need to apply these ten lessons amongst others.

We can learn from those in the past who have reflected on the spiritual lessons we need at such a time. Thomas Brooks wrote a book during the plague year in London called The Privy [Secret] Key to Heaven. In a lengthy introduction he covers twenty special lessons that we need to learn.

The first ten relate to an application of Micah 6:9. He counsels us to cling close to God in affliction. We must acknowledge God’s sovereign role and voice in it. We must also humble ourselves in response to such an event and engage in sincere repentance. We will look at the last ten in this updated excerpt.

1. Do Not Be Discouraged in Affliction

Do not be discouraged under the rod of affliction (Jeremiah 27:13; 2 Samuel 24:10,17; Hebrews 12:5) because:

  • it is a rod in a Father’s hand
  • God will do much good by the rod
  • you could not have been without the rod

This affliction is not according to the greatness of God’s anger, nor according to the greatness of His power, nor according to the strictness of his justice, nor according to the demerits of your sins, nor according to the malicious desires of Satan. It is not according to the designs, plots, and contrivances of wicked and unreasonable men. It is not according to the extensiveness of your fears—for you have feared worse things than you feel. Nor is it according to that sharp rod which has been upon the primitive saints, nor according to that sharp rod which many thousands of the precious sons and daughters of Zion are under in other parts of the world. Therefore do not faint under the rod, do not be discouraged under the rod.

By fainting under the rod, you will gratify Satan, reproach religion and render yourselves unable to serve. You will make work for future repentance. Do not therefore faint under the rod. 

2. Wait for God’s Deliverance from Affliction

You must be patient and quiet under the rod of affliction until the Lord will either give you a gracious, or a glorious, deliverance from it (2 Chronicles 32:25-26; Leviticus 26:40-42; Micah 7:9; Lamentations 3:30). What is the rod and the raging pestilence compared to the horrors of conscience and  flames of hell, or everlasting separation from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)? Put your mouths in the dust therefore, and be silent before the Lord.  

3. Glorify God in Affliction

Fully justify the Lord and think and well of Him under the rod of affliction. Study these Scriptures (Psalm 119:75,137; Nehemiah 9:33; Ezra 9:13; Lamentations 1:3,5,7-8,10; Lamentations 4:15,18; Daniel 9:12,14; 2 Kings 20:16-19; Jeremiah 12:1-2; Psalm 119:17-22; Psalm 22:1-3; Psalm 97:2).

4. Personal Reformation in Affliction

When the rod smarts, and the pestilence rages—God expects that everyone should repent and turn from the evil of their doings (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). This verse is saying “I will remove the judgments that are on the land, and I will confer on my reforming people all those favours and blessings that they need.” Study these Scriptures, (Ezra 10:14,19; 2 Chronicles 30:8-9; and 2 Chronicles 29:8,10,15-16).

5. Find Refuge in God in Affliction

Make God your habitation, shelter, and refuge. Ponder these Scriptures seriously, (Psalm 91:2,9-10; Psalm 90:1; Psalm 71:3; Psalm 57:1). Those who dwell in God under the shadow of the Almighty lodge their souls in the bosom of eternal loves every day. They dwell most safely, most securely and most nobly.

6. Fear God in Affliction

Make God the great object of your fear (see Psalm 119:119-120; Isaiah 8:7-8,13-14).  When the judgments of God are either threatened or carried out, feared or felt—it greatly concerns us to lift up God as the main object of our fear. We should fear the hand which uses the rod more than the rod itself (Job 13:11; Jeremiah 36:24). When God takes up the rod, it concerns us greatly to fear before Him with a child-like,  reverential fear. This is a fear that fortifies the heart against sin. It is a fear which fits the soul for duty, it draws and even drives the soul to duty. 

7. Find God’s Presence in Affliction

Expect God’s unique presence with you and protection over you. Study these Scriptures, (Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25; Genesis 39:39-40; Psalm 23:4-5; Psalm 91; Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 26:20-21; Ezekiel 9:4,6). God is above His people and beneath them (Deuteronomy 33:25-27). He is under them and over them (Song 2:6). He is before them and behind them (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He is on the right hand of His people, and on the left hand of His people (Psalm 16:8; Psalm 121:5; Psalm 118:15-16; Exodus 14:22,29). God is round about His people, (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 125:2). God is in the midst of His people (Zechariah 2:5; Psalm 46:5; Psalm 12:6). O the safety and security of the poor people of God.  

8. Exercise Grace Daily in Affliction

Live every day in fresh, excellent, and frequent exercise of grace. Study these Scriptures, (Psalm 91:2-4; Jeremiah 39:17-18; Micah 7:7-9; Psalm 40:1-2; Habakkuk 2:1-4; Jeremiah 30:21). The person who lives in daily exercising grace lives every day in heaven on this side of heaven, whatever affliction they may experience.

9. Pray More in Affliction

Stir up your hearts to seek the Lord in extraordinary ways: namely, by fasting and prayer. Study these Scriptures, (Numbers 16:46-50; Psalm 106:23,29-30; Isaiah 22:2-5,12-13; Jonah 3:5-10; 2 Chronicles 12:2-7; 1 Kings 21:21-29; Joel 2:12-17).

10. Prepare for Death Because of Affliction

You are to learn by the raging pestilence or rod to prepare for death. This means to be in actual readiness to die. Every ache, every pain, every disease—is one of death’s warnings. There is not a headache,  toothache, fever, pain, fall, wrench or plague-sore which is not a divine warning to man to prepare to die. It is a solemn thing to die, we need therefore to prepare to die. It is a work to be done once only and so we need to prepare to do it well.

We listen to sermons often, pray often, read often, and meditate often in this world. We eat and drink often and what is worst, we sin often. Yet we must die only once (Job 14:14; Hebrews 9:27). Death will prove all our graces, experiences, evidences, comforts, attainments and enjoyments. We need to prepare to die therefore. There is nothing more certain than death but there is nothing more uncertain than the time, place, and manner in which we will die.

Preparing to die does not make us die sooner but rather much easier and better. Unless we prepare to die, all other preparations will do us no good. Death is a change, a great change; it is the last change until the resurrection. It is lasting, indeed it is an everlasting change; for it puts a man into an eternal condition of happiness or misery. It is a universal change; all people must pass under this flaming sword. It highly concerns us therefore to prepare for death.

Conclusion

After outlining these lessons that we should learn, Brooks expresses a desire for his readers. It is our souls may experience such a fresh, excellent, full, and constant operation from the Holy Spirit that will enable us to benefit from the lessons.  This is what we need and why earnest prayer is so critical at this time.

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How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?
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.
14 Jul, 2020

The Bible clearly teaches that God continues to look after and oversee all that He made. Scripture makes clear that His power is as necessary to maintain the world as it was to make it (Hebrews 1:3). Some believe that God created everything but then left creation to continue by itself with no continual involvement. But this is not what the Bible teaches (Psalm 103:19). Let’s explore Bible Truth on this subject.

This is an extract from the recently reprinted book Bible Truth Explored. It uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. Its simple and straightforward approach make it well suited for all ages in group, family and individual study. The following extract relates to Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism.

Q. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

God’s providence preserves

God sustains the whole creation in existence moment by moment, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). He does this by constantly providing for them (Psalm 36:6).

People sometimes talk about the ‘laws of nature,’ often forgetting that it is really the
Lord who is providing for His creatures. He constantly provides what is necessary
for them to survive and flourish. He controls the seasons, the water cycle, and all
the features of ecosystems (Psalm 104). If God ever suspended His preserving work,
everything would simply go out of existence.

God preserves “all his creatures, and all their actions.” In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Every breath we take and all our ways belong to Him (Matthew 6:26-34, Daniel 5:23)

“The Lord rules and directs all His creatures…just as surely as He preserves them.”

God’s providence governs

Psalm 66:7 asserts that God rules “by his power for ever”. The Psalmist was reflecting on the truth that the Lord rules and directs all His creatures and all their actions, just as surely as He preserves them. The sun, moon, stars and all celestial bodies are under His hand. The wind, rain and snow are at His command. Kings, prime ministers and presidents do not reign and govern by chance. It is by His power and authority that they come and go (Proverbs 8:15–16).

God’s providence is holy

God is holy in all His ways and works. He governs His own creation in holiness
and in such a way as will promote holiness. Because we see so much evil and
wickedness happening, we can sometimes struggle to see the holiness of God in
His providence. For example, the fact that God governs all the actions of His
creatures includes even the sinful actions of sinful creatures. God is nevertheless
still holy and acting in holiness when He permits sinners to have evil thoughts
and gives them good health and energy to put wicked ideas into action.

At the same time God remains holy. He is not the author of sin and He is not responsible for the sins of sinful beings. His governing in providence includes setting limits on people’s wickedness, and limits on the damage their wickedness causes. His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions and when He converts notorious sinners into dear saints. God’s holiness can also be seen in His justice, when He brings bad consequences on sinners for their bad actions. For example, the conspirators who wanted innocent Daniel to be destroyed were themselves soon punished by being thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:24).

“His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions.”

God’s providence is wise

Think of the history of Joseph in Genesis. His life was full of sadness and difficulty, but at last it became clear that God had a wise plan in it all and worked it out perfectly. “But God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The reason for many things in life may not be clear to us but we are to trust in God’s purposes (Romans 8:28).

We see wisdom in action when somebody uses the best tools and methods to reach the best outcome, even when we don’t initially understand what they are doing. It might seem strange, for example, to infect people deliberately with cowpox, giving them unpleasant lesions and fever, but once someone has had cowpox they are protected from smallpox, a deadly disease. God is using the best methods even when our limited wisdom prevents us from seeing how His methods will ever achieve a good outcome.

God’s providence is powerful

Do you remember proud King Nebuchadnezzar? He thought that there was none as important or powerful as he himself. But God humbled him and taught him that the King of Heaven has power beyond any mere men. Nebuchadnezzar put it like this: “none can stay his hand,” meaning that no one can interfere with or alter His powerful oversight (Daniel 4:35).

When God announced that He was going to set the Israelites free from Egypt, there was nothing that cruel Pharaoh could do to stop them. He might have thought he had survived the plagues which God had sent, and he must have thought the Israelites were at his mercy when his armies cornered them on the brink of the Red Sea. But he was no
match for God’s power in providence. In preserving, managing, arranging, and governing, God is not only capable but invincible.

Something to think about…

  • God is constantly in control of all His creatures and all their actions. Can you
    think of some examples (from the Bible or your own observation) where God
    demonstrates either His holiness, wisdom, or power as He preserves and
    governs (a) something tiny, (b) something enormous, (c) a living creature, (d)
    an inanimate force of nature, (e) a notorious sinner, (f) a godly believer?
  • Someone has compared the operation of God’s providence to a clock which
    has lots of cogs and wheels. They may go in opposite directions but they fit
    together and all work together to make the clock keep time. How can we see
    this in the life of Joseph?

Personal reflection

  • How should the fact that God’s providence is simultaneously holy, wise, and
    powerful make us willing to accept whatever happens to us in our lives?

Get it Now!

There is so much to learn about God and ourselves from the Bible that we need an accurate summary. We need a guidebook to what the Bible says we must believe and how we must live. This resource uses the Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. 

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