Six ways that sin disguises its power

Six ways that sin disguises its power

Six ways that sin disguises its power
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.

Am I under grace or under sin? In one of the epistles, sin is personified as a tyrant that keeps us under its cruel dominion. This tyrant is cunning enough to disguise the shackles that bind the sinner, so that we may imagine we have escaped when in reality we have never been set free to serve righteousness instead. In the following updated extract, Obadiah Sedgwick (who contributed to the Westminster Assembly) exposes six of the lies that we tell ourselves about our sin, which lull us into a false sense of freedom. It should make us highly value the divine work of making us free from sin to serve God, resulting in sanctification and eternal life.

People may delude their own hearts, and deceive themselves about the dominion of sin. Therefore it is convenient to test ourselves whether or not sin really has dominion. There are many things we may erroneously think are good signs, and so deceive ourselves that sin does not have dominion over us. Here are six.

I don’t feel my sin is very powerful

One is being unconscious of the power of sin. A man may feel no violent sinful inclination, no stirrings, no opposition, no commands, but there is a calm and quietness in his spirit and in his way, and he thinks this would not be possible if sin had dominion over him.

But this is a deceit. For one thing, it is most probable that sin has the strongest dominion, where the heart is least aware of the rule and demands of sin. When the strong man keeps the house, all is quiet, said our Saviour. Where subjection is peaceable, there the dominion is (in all likelihood) most absolute and complete. What is certain, is that where Christ sets up His sceptre (which casts down the dominion of sin) is the greatest stir. The law of the mind will war against the law of the members (Rom. 7:23), and the spirit will lust against the flesh (Gal. 5:17).

For another thing, this unawareness and quietness may arise, partly from the uniqueness of sin, and partly from our ignorance of our sinful condition, and partly from the habitual custom of sin. Whether the sun is shining or not, there is still the same number of motes flying in the room. There they are really, though we are not aware of them till the light comes in to make them manifest. So someone may be utterly unaware of sin for lack of saving light and the holy experience which arises from a new nature.

The hand which is used to iron, and nettles, does not feel them. So the frequent actings of sin may suppress the inward sense of sinning. Much sinning adds to the strength of sin, and disables the sense of the sinner, sears their conscience, and makes their mind reprobate, and as it were without feeling.

I don’t do many very sinful things

Another thing that may deceive us may be that we are free from many kinds of sinful behaviours. Someone may not live in all sorts of wickedness, and indeed, their ways may seem to keep clear of various iniquities.

Yet, though you do not do all evil, and your ways or patterns of behaviour are not universally spreading in all the kinds of sinning, still sin may rule in you, and have dominion.

Being subject in one detail is sufficient to establish that you are under dominion. A servant has only one master, and is not the servant of everyone in the parish, yet he is a true servant in respect of that one master. A subject does not obey every prince in the world, yet if he obeys any one, it is enough to prove that he is a subject. So, though the sinner is not at the command of every lust, yet if he is the servant of any one lust, sin has the dominion over him. It is not the multitude of sins which absolutely and necessarily concur to dominion, but subjection to the power of any one.

One person may do all the service to one sin which others do to many sins. That person may devise ways to fulfil it, cheerfully and greedily receive its commands, heartily love it, and go on in it, and for its sake oppose the sceptre and dominion of Christ, and consecrate all their strength to the obedience of it.

As in politics, there are several forms of government, such as democracy, and aristocracy, and monarchy. Sometimes the dominion is exercised by many, sometimes by one alone, yet subjection to any of them is true subjection, and sets up dominion. So though in some people, many sins rule, and in other people, one sin only, yet whether the heart obeys many, or few, or one, it is enough to say that sin has dominion. Subjection to no sin, indeed, denies dominion, but if the dispute is over many sins versus few sins, then either way, subjection to any shows that sin has dominion.

There are plenty sins I’m opposed to

Someone may also think, ‘I’m actually opposed to many sins — this cannot possibly be consistent with being under the dominion of sin.’

Yet there may be notable deceit in this also, for it is not so much the greatness of the sins as the power of sin which means it is reigning. The least sin granted house room, loved, served, is sufficient to mean that you are under sin’s dominion.

Also, there are different kinds of opposition to sin.

In your professional life you may be opposed to certain kinds of sin, but indulge them in private life. A justice of the peace may oppose many sins on the bench, yet lie in those same sins at home in his own house and dealings.

Or, it is one thing to be opposed to sin simply because it is sin, and another thing to be opposed to sin because it is shame. This latter may well befall someone who is under the dominion of sin.

Once more, it is possible to be opposed to sin because it is against God’s will, rather than because it is against another sinful way and inclination. All sin has a contrariety to the law of God, yet some sins have a contrariety among themselves; prodigality is contrary to covetousness, for example. It is possible for someone to oppose a sin, not on account of its natural vileness, but on account of his own personal inclination, because it is a way of sinning that would overthrow that other sin which he loves, and in which he is resolved to walk.

In a word, it is not opposition to particular sins, but universal opposition to all known sin, which shows that you are not under the dominion of sin.

I have grievous heart-trouble after I commit a sin

Something else that may deceive us depends on the troubles which we may feel after some sinful actings. A person’s soul may be grievously heavy and perplexed, and on this basis he may conclude that sin does not have dominion over him, because he thinks that the dominion of sin excludes all trouble for sin.

Nevertheless, although hardness of heart after sin is just as bad a symptom of wickedness as impudence before sin, yet trouble for committing sin is not an infallible argument of sin’s dominion.

Even the worst of men may have after-troubles for former sinnings, and partake of great anguishes and troubles of conscience. I refer you to Ahab and to Judas, and to those of whom he speaks in Job, that “the terrors of God did drive them to their feet.”

Trouble for sin in respect of the conscience only, is only a judicial act, part of the wages of sin. Trouble in the affections (which theologians call ‘godly sorrow’) is indeed an effect of grace, but not mere trouble in the conscience, which consists in the sense and accusation that God brings on the sinner for his transgressions. God awakens the conscience after sin to accuse for sinning, even though the directions and checks of conscience could not avail to prevent that person from sinning. This is how a person whose heart is in no measure changed by grace (and is therefore of necessity under sin’s dominion) may be filled with extreme bitterness; the very terrors of hell may shake and confound his soul. Although grace is required to raise godly sorrow, yet conscience, awakened and actuated only by light and divine command, is abundantly sufficient to accuse, condemn, vex and trouble the sinner.

I only sin occasionally

There may be spaces, or interim periods, between sinning. People do not every moment, or every day, indulge in their sin, but there are often some pauses and distances of time between sinning and sinning. They may therefore conjecture that sin does not have dominion over them, thinking that where sin has dominion, then the person sells himself to sin, and wallows in sinning, and makes it his trade, at which he spends his life and strength.

But sin may yet have dominion, though there are some respites between sinning and sinning. Some respites do not arise from a nature which refuses to subject itself to sin, but only from lack of opportunities to sin. A thief may not steal because he is sick, and there is nothing convenient to take.

So we cannot identify the dominion of sin by an uninterrupted propagation of sinful acts — the drunkard is under the power of drunkenness, although he is sober from time to time — but by the disposition of the heart. If sin is the main thing you intend, and what you yield up your heart to, then it is immaterial whether you are always or only sometimes committing it.

In fact, to give no respite to your sinful actings would go against the wisdom of the flesh. Though the propensity to sin is constant, and the love of sin is great, yet the actings of sin may often vary, and depend on private reasons and considerations (such as safety, or quiet, or profit, or pleasure, etc).

I do plenty things which are good

Finally, someone may practice some actions which are contrary to all outwards sinnings. Let’s say a man is perhaps a constant church attender, and has a course of duties (such as they are) in his family, and makes many vows, and can condemn sin effectively. Surely sin has lost its dominion in that man?

Not necessarily, because the dominion of sin is inward. It may coexist with many visible acts of piety. A hypocrite may step out into all outward conformities, yet there is no visible act of impiety which a hypocrite either does not, or may not, perform.

Although acts which are materially good are formally opposite to sinful acts, yet we identify a Christian and a sinner alike more from the affections than from the actions. Indeed, it is the disposition of the heart which defines and decides what has dominion — the heart may be really rotten and false, and the true harbour of a sin, though the person manages to perform some visible duties of piety. There must be more than external performances in duty to show that sin does not have dominion over you.



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Can arguing about theology ever be helpful?

Can arguing about theology ever be helpful?

Can arguing about theology ever be helpful?
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.

Assuming that there is such a thing as truth versus error, how can we ever distinguish them? Some are afraid of discussing theology because it’s so easy to be taken in by subtle arguments, or because they believe it’s too difficult to explain sacred things to ordinary people. Others at the opposite extreme will argue about everything, even things as pointless as how many angels can dance on a pinhead. The Westminster divine John Ley of Solihull, Warwickshire went into print on multiple controversial issues as well as contributing to the discussions at the Westminster Assembly. He also wrote a discourse ‘On Disputations’ where he conceded that there is wisdom in avoiding religious disputes and highlighted the risk of being addicted to arguing for its own sake. Yet, as shown in the following updated and abridged excerpt from this discourse, he insisted that out of concern for people’s spiritual welfare, it is unloving to leave them to be choked with the chaff of error instead of ensuring that they get the finest wheat to feed on spiritually.

Some are too averse to disputes

There is a danger that disputations in religion will be inconsiderately undertaken, or indiscreetly managed. As [the scholar] Ludovicus Vives put it, “The truth by too much scratching and alteration may be lost; and error by artificial arguments and ornaments may have such a glorious flourish and varnish set upon it, as to make it to be taken for the truth.”

This is not unlikely, for copper (he says) can sometimes have a more glorious lustre than true gold. Nothing, as Cicero observes, is so incredible, but by eloquence it may be made to appear probable; nothing is so horrid, but by a garnish of words it may be made to shine. This imposture is easily put on simple, ordinary people; for it is very easy with volubility of tongue to deceive. What people do not perceive with understanding, they receive with admiration; nor can they put a due difference betwixt garrulity and authority.

Ordinarily too, people are more affected by what is said by those who contradict solid and long-believed truth under pretence of new discoveries of truth, and more taken with error than with what has warrant from the Word of God and the consent of all the Christian churches of the world of both ancient and later times. Sometimes the fallacy is all the more attractive because these promoters of novel doctrines make an impressive profession of self-denial, refusing the advantages of a comfortable living, which their opponents enjoy, and they position themselves boldly against authority.

It is therefore wiser to be unwilling to give too much leeway to religious disputations (or rather, disputations of religion), partly because of the subtilty of some of unsound principles and partly because of the naivety of others of a better belief. They suspect no deceit, and they have confidence in the strength of truth, and so they are easily entangled with invitations to dispute. This brings the greatest disadvantage to their cause, for they do not forethink how their adversaries may be equipped for assault, and what liberties they will take when they report the outcome, either to make show of victory, or to shadow a foil.

There are also two great groups, which are opposites to each other, and which are too opposed to all disputations, namely the Muslims and the Pope.

Mohammed (that famous impostor and false prophet, the founder of that impious and impure sect of the Muslims) not only forbids all disputes about the religion of the Koran, but if any are disposed to dispute, he instructs his deluded disciples to answer them like this. “Say unto them,” says he, “‘God alone knows all thy acts, and at the last day will discuss all controversies.’ Again, to incredulous men say, ‘I follow not your law, nor you mine; therefore let me alone with that which is mine, and I will let you alone with yours.’”

Meanwhile, Pope Gelasius decreed against disputing with those who are of another communion, and Azorius the Jesuit in his Moral Institutes says that it is not lawful for laymen to dispute publicly about the faith. If there are any disputes of matters of faith between Catholics and heretics published in any mother tongue, they are forbidden in their Index of prohibited books.

Some are too addicted to disputes

Others are diverse from and contrary to these, in that they are too much addicted to disputation. They are too forward to make or accept offers to debate, and too ready to multiply needless and presumptuous questions in matters of religion.

Some have such a high opinion of their own giftings for knowledge and communication that they think their eminence cannot be sufficiently known, nor they enough admired and honoured, without public ostentation in a polemical debate. Perhaps by the imitation of heathen philosophers, or perhaps by natural corruption, various Christians been puffed up to high degrees of vain glory. They are proud of those preeminences for which (according to the apostle’s caution) they should rather be humble and thankful (1. Cor. 4:6). Paul expostulates with pathos with those who think too well of themselves, and disdain others: “Who maketh thee to differ from another, and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why boastest thou as if thou hadst not received it?” (v. 7), that is, as if it were your own of yourself, without being beholden to another — especially to God, who could just have easily made the one you despise glorious, and you contemptible.

Felix, the Manichean heretic, was so forward as to provoke Augustine to public dispute. But he was so unqualified for it that the one who published the report of the debate wondered which was more astonishing, the impudence of Felix braying rather than disputing, or the patience of the people, hearing his absurd arguings without tumult, or the stomach of Augustine, who so patiently continued to long to address his unlearned follies!

Said a wise and learned statesman, “The itch of dispute is the scab of the church.” Ludovicus Vives uses a similar expression: “When you scratch an itch too much, you draw blood, and the momentary relief is succeeded by raw soreness. So, those who scratch the truth too much by disputation, wound it, and only put it in need of further curing and healing.”

As some have itching ears (in the apostle’s words, 2 Tim. 4:3), so some have itching tongues, and some itching fingers and pens. The Scholastics, for example, multiplied the number of needless questions far beyond the limits of sober, reasonable and respectful inquiries in religion. The early church father Gregory Nazianzen accused some of being so wretchedly affected that they make it their delight to make trifling disputes over divine matters, and are just as presumptuous in resolving their curious questions as they are rash in putting them forward for debate. Such precipitateness and temerity Gregory thought needed to be bridled and restrained.

They are “men of corrupt minds,” too prone to perverse disputings, and the apostle reproves them for this (1 Tim. 6:5). By their disputings, questioning and resolving, they aim to be wise above what is written (1 Cor. 4:6), and so betray their egregious folly to all the world. They are neither as wise nor as holy as they should be. Not so holy, because they are so bold as to put up for debate undoubted principles of divinity, lacking the humility which is essential to true holiness. And not so wise, because the extent of your pride is the extent of your folly.

Disputes may still be profitable

Disputations on matters of religion are however warrantable by Scripture and reason, and not only lawful, but sometimes also expedient and profitable.

For the undoubted duties of morality, the apostle prescribes present and prompt obedience, “without murmurings or disputings” (Phil. 2:14). Yet for matters of faith and conscience he requires no such thing either in affection, or in fact. Instead he gives leave, and advice, to Christians to bring both people’s spirits and their speeches to the test (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21). He requires of Christian believers that they be “ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh a reason of the hope that is in them” (1 Pet. 3:15). If this is required of a Christian, much more of a minister, who should be “able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 9:11), just as Apollos “mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scripture that Jesus was Christ.” This may stop the mouths of some adversaries, in the same way that if a light is hung over the lake where there are frogs, the frogs will stop croaking.

Nevertheless some are so contumacious against the truth, and so malicious against those who powerfully plead for the truth, that they prefer to use violence to stop the mouths of those who have overcome them by the power of truth (like they did with Stephen; Acts 7:54, 57, 59), rather than confess themselves convinced or satisfied with the clearest evidence produced in the plainest cause that can be debated. This is not the fault of disputation itself, but the perverseness of the disputants, who persist in disputing though they do not have one wise word to say in favour of their foolish and false opinions. We must, said the ancient great theologian Hilary of Poitiers, “not flee from erroneous doctrines, as afraid to encounter them, but must repel and conquer them by disputations.”

As the philosopher Picus de Mirandula said, “Dispute is the sieve to separate the fine flour of truth from the coarse bran of error.” This is for the honour of the truth and, at least equally, for the benefit of those who embrace it, for when truth and error are clearly distinguished, it is not only more beautiful to the eye, and more pleasant to the taste, but more nutritious, because it provides better and purer nourishment to the soul. As it is a duty of love that those who have the responsibility of caring for souls are to feed them with the finest of the wheat and to satisfy them with honey out of the rock (Psalm 81:16), so is it also an act of love not to allow these souls to be choked with the bran of error and heresy, which many are too forward to force down the throats of poor people who don’t know any better.

Indeed, being seduced into heresy is even more dangerous than that, for the apostle said of heretics such as Hymeneus and Philetus that “their speech will eat like a canker, or gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:17), which is easy to catch, and hard to cure. We know that canker and gangrene are very dangerous diseases, and those who are spiritual physicians ought out of love to do their best to keep their flocks from such infective and destructive mischiefs. If debate is a means of doing so (as it can be, when done wisely), it may be expedient that way to curb and discourage heretics from corrupting the flocks, and may serve also for an antidote to preserve them from the venom and poison of heretical tongues, which, if they are left without opposition, will go on to subvert “whole houses” (Tit. 1:11).



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Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves
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.

Most of the time Christians are actively living out their faith, looking upwards to serve God and around themselves to serve others. Yet there should also be periods for quiet reflection and self-analysis, when we put our hearts under the microscope and see how we measure up to God’s requirements. Knowing that we will never be perfect in this life, we still need to ascertain that we are honest, upright, and sincerely walking with integrity. Whereas a Christian genuinely pursues God’s interests rather than their own, with a hypocrite, it’s the other way round. In the following updated extract, the Westminster divine Obadiah Sedgwick takes an unflinching look at the ways our own hearts betray us, yet ends on the conviction that sincerity is truly attainable. Warning us against hypocrisy he offers eight considerations which should stir us up to test the uprightness of our hearts.

The danger of deceiving yourself about yourself

There is no deceit or error in the world which has more dangerous consequence, than to deceive yourself and err about the calibre of your soul. You may make mistakes about the depth of your riches, or the altitude of worldly friendship, or the latitude of your intellectual qualifications and abilities – you may think yourself rich, and popular, and learned, when perhaps you are not. But these mistakes are about nostra, not about nos – ours, but not ourselves, and the danger may be only a tempest, but not a shipwreck.

But to deceive yourself about your heart, about your soul – what more do you have? what do you have that are like them? This is a fundamental error. If a builder lays a rotten foundation instead of a sound, all his building eventually sinks into the ground. If a traveller sets out in a beautiful ship, whose bottom is unsound and leaking, he loses himself in the voyage.

Maybe you’ve spent many years in a form of godliness, in respectable behaviour, in courting God by some external performances. Then you come to die, and then your conscience rises up and opens up the secrets of your heart and life, and makes you to know and feel that notwithstanding all your claims and conceits, your heart had continually harboured many known lusts, and you weren’t thinking of God but basely thinking of yourself in all that you did.

What a fearful day that will be! How it will make your soul tremble, when you have no more time left now, except to see, and to eternally bewail your own errors and deceits! “O Lord, I have deceived my own soul, I thought myself to be this or that, but my heart has deceived and beguiled me!”

Hypocrisy is a very natural and common thing

Secondly, consider that hypocrisy is a very natural and common thing.

There are three sorts of persons in the world.

  • The openly profane. They go wrong both in the matter and in the manner. They are neither really good, nor do they look like it. They are really wicked, and declare themselves so to be.
  • The hiddenly hypocritical. They don’t go wrong so much in the matter as in the manner. They are wicked but seem good. They perform some good, but love more wickedness.
  • The truly upright, who are upright both in the matter and manner of God’s worship.

Now I say that hypocrisy is very natural, and it has been and is a very common sin. Job 15:34 speaks of a congregation of hypocrites, as if there were whole assemblies of them, or at least some of them in every congregation. Isaiah complains that in his time, everyone is a hypocrite – scarce a man but he dissembled with God (9:17; likewise 29:13). David tells us often that the Israelites flattered God Himself with their mouths – gave Him (in their distress) mournful, submissive, promising words (O what would they be! and what would they do! if God would deliver them!) and yet their heart was not right in them. Jeremiah accuses the people of his time of this very thing too. Many, indeed, most, of them cried, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” and yet committed adultery and lies. When Christ was in the world His greatest contestation was with scribes and pharisees, hypocrites. Paul speaks bitterly against those who took on them the form of godliness, but denied the power thereof, and in 2 Timothy 4:12 he foretells of much lying hypocrisy in the latter times.

Take us in the general tenor of our best ways. The good God be merciful to us, what a distance there is many times, when we profess to serve God, between our tongues and our hearts, between our eyes and our hearts, between our ears and our hearts, between our bodies and our hearts! Our tongues are praying, and our mouths singing, and our eyes are looking at the minister, and at the same moments our hearts are plotting, projecting, arranging our own domestic affairs, or (which is worse) basely contemplating and practicing some abominable lust within us. Do you call this uprightness? If this is not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.

Go a little further. Take us in our best performances, when we bring our thoughts and intentions, and some affections, and some workings to our work. Yet tell me seriously whether in it you are not looking besides God. You pray long and with much emotion in company, though when you are alone, a little is good enough. Are you not somewhat like the chameleon? Aren’t you a bit like Jehu, “Come and see my zeal!” Isn’t it the pharisaical spirit of vain-glory, “to be seen of men”? And is this not hypocrisy, directly and intentionally jostling God aside, to serve our own praise in a pretence of serving Him, so that others would admire us, and speak well of us?

I could add one thing more (which perhaps may make some of our hearts to tremble). There are some who explicitly and deliberately, with much studious art, take to themselves a look, a way of speaking, a facade of holiness, for no other end in the world, but to blind their secret sins from the eyes of the world. This is a most execrable kind of hypocrisy, yet some do abuse the name of Christianity only to satisfy their own beastly and damnable lust.

You can go far in religion without being truly saved

Thirdly, a hypocrite may go very far. In general there is no external part of religion into which the hypocrite may not only step, but perhaps (for show) exceed the sincerest and most upright Christian.

Does the true Christian hear? So do I, says the hypocrite. Does the true Christian pray? So do I. Does he shed tears? So do I. Does he fast? So do I. Does he give alms? So do I. Does he show respect to the minister by greetings and invites? So do I! Is he forward? I am zealous. Does he reprove? I thunder. Does he speak some words in prayer? I speak many. Does he do any good? I do more, in hearings more, in fastings more, in discoursings more, in outward actions more, every way more!

List and categorise duties every which way – for object, for place, for time – still the hypocrite keeps up religious duties, praying privately, praying publicly, hearing, reading, preaching – and in all these he may even have some joy. The hypocrite may be as sociable, as just, as fair, ingenuous, affable, generous, compassionate as any one I know. The Pharisees were the most punctilious of their times. No person living was more exact. Hear one of them speaking for all the rest, blessing and commending himself, “I am no extortioner, no adulterer, not like this publican, I fast twice in the week, I give alms of all that I possess …”

An impressive appearance may hide a rotten heart

Yet there is some secret lust which coexists and persists notwithstanding all this. Perhaps Herod’s sin, or Demas’s sin, filthiness or worldliness; or the wondrous covetousness of the Pharisees.

And the hypocrite’s ends are base. A pirate may rig and trim and steer, and order his ship as skilfully and exquisitely as any pilot who is the king’s most faithful servant, only their hearts and their ends are different. One is disloyal and the other is true. One goes out to catch a prey and a booty, a prize for himself; and the other sails for his master’s honour and service.

Lack of integrity is utter folly

It is certain that you cannot be a hypocrite without putting some effort into it. You need to be very officious in pretences and duties. It has to cost you some money to give alms, and much time to pray, etc. Yet when all is done, nothing comes of it.

The hypocrite has no reward with God. There is no reason to give wages to someone who bestows no service on us: but the hypocrite serves himself and not God, his own praise and not God’s glory, and therefore he can expect no reward from Him. He cannot say, “I prayed for grace so that I would honour Thee, and for abilities so that I would glorify Thee.”

And if someone is known to be a hypocrite, then he loses on all hands. The wicked hate him simply for the show of goodness, and the good scorn him for his base dissimulation and rottenness.

Or if he can conceal his hypocrisy, then all the reward he ever gets from other people is just an airy applause (Matt. 6:5). They get what they look for, the applause of men, and that’s all. Isn’t this a sad thing, when someone’s reward is only from man? – when all his reward is in this life, and no rewards are reserved for him hereafter?

Insincerity deserves greater misery

Hypocrisy is a most perilous sin. “You shall receive the greater damnation,” said Christ. Damnation! That is the eternal grave of the soul! That is misery enough – everlasting separation from God, and everlasting flames of wrath in hell. Yet that is the portion of the hypocrite (Isa 33:14). An ordinary hell is not enough for a hypocrite. The lowest and deepest punishment shall fall on the one who presumes to put on the fairest show with the foulest heart.

And do not think this strange, for what is hypocrisy but a mocking of God? The hypocrite tries to trick God, and thinks to deceive omniscience, and has such a low opinion of Him that he thinks mere shows would satisfy Him. In fact, he jostles God out of His prime place, by referring all his services to himself, and not to God, and so adores his own name above the name of God. Hypocrisy is so diametrically opposite to uprightness.

Uprightness is difficult

Again consider, that it is a very difficult thing to be upright.

Partly because the deceitfulness which is in our heart is “above all things” (Jer. 17:9). There is nothing so cunning thing as our heart, not a thing in all the world which can delude us so easily or so often as our own hearts. It is not easy to do good just because God commands it, or only because He may be glorified.

Also uprightness is difficult because it requires spirituality. The very soul itself must act, if the heart or way is upright. Not only your lips but your spirit must pray. Not only your ear but your heart must hear. You must not only speak against sin, but your soul must hate and abhor it. All this must be spiritual and not carnal, from God and for God.

Uprightness is attainable

Nevertheless, to be upright is a possible thing. It is possible to attain it. Indeed, everyone who is good does attain it. Noah was upright and walked with God, Abraham was upright before Him, David served the Lord in uprightness of heart, Hezekiah walked before Him with an upright heart, Paul served God in all good conscience, willing to live honestly in all things.

Though no one can say that he does all that God’s commands require, yet he may say he has respect to them all. Though no one can say that he has nothing, or does nothing, which the law of God forbids, yet he may say, “I hate every false way,” and, “Search me, O Lord, if there be any way of wickedness within me.” This is uprightness.




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Seven ways to combat secret sins

Seven ways to combat secret sins

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

It makes big news when a prominent leader in church, business or politics is exposed for committing sins behind closed doors. Inappropriate relationships, misuse of funds and bullying all thrive under cover of secrecy. Technology now offers everyone many previously unimagined opportunities to sin without anyone else needing to know what we’re doing. Sinning in secret also includes the sins which remain in our thoughts or our attitudes. Unspoken they may always remain, but they are not unseen from God’s vantage point. Nor are they innocuous simply because they do not come to outward expression. As the Westminster divine Obadiah Sedgwick points out, secret sins are sometimes more harmful to our souls than what we do openly. In the following updated extract from a set of sermons he preached on Psalm 19 (“Cleanse me from secret faults”), Sedgwick offers seven suggestions for what we can do to combat our secret sins. Although we cannot change our own nature and give ourselves integrity, this is something that God can and does do in regeneration and sanctification.

Sins may be called secret either when they are disguised with some semblance of virtue, or when they are kept out of public view, or when they are kept within the thoughts or the heart so that they are not visible to anyone.

Beloved, there are two sorts of people. Some are dissembling and evasive: their concern is not not to sin, but to be cunning in sin. Others are conflicting and agonizing against inward impulses, outward opportunities, and strong temptations: the desire of their soul is to fear the Lord and to do no iniquity.

Secret sins are in some ways more dangerous than open sins. By artfully keeping your sin hidden, you deprive yourself of help for your sinfulness, like someone who keeps their wound covered, or who bleeds inwardly. Help does not come because the danger is neither described nor known. If someone’s sin breaks out openly, there is a minister at hand, or a friend near, and others to reprove, to warn, to direct. But if a person sins inwardly, they prevent all public remedy and work towards their own damnation by covering their secret sins with some plausible varnish.

But, you will say, it is fearful to sin in this way! What means can be used to get and keep my soul away from secret sins?

What I would commend to you are the following.

Be humbly penitent for what you’ve done

If you have been guilty of secret sins, be humbled and repent. You will hardly stave off a new sin, if you have not been humbled for an old sin of the same kind. Future carefulness seldom manifests itself without former sorrow. If you have been a secret adulterer, fornicator, thief, backbiter, oppressor, liar, drunkard, then, O hasten, hasten in by speedy sorrow, by speedy repentance. Bewail your secret wickedness deeply – to the extent of tears of blood, if that were possible! if you do not judge yourself, God will surely judge you, and don’t think that because your sinnings were secret, therefore your compunctions can be small. You ought rather to abound in self-reproach, and be in more floods of tears, and of bitter contrition, considering you dared to provoke God in this way.

Avoid opportunities to keep sinning

Why are you saying, “O this bad nature of mine, O this heart I’ve got, O that wicked tempter Satan”? Yes, you’ve shed many tears, you’ve felt many sorrows and troubles, you’ve made many vows and resolutions, you’ve put up many prayers and petitions. Yet you are still continuing in your secret sinnings. Why? What could be the reason? Do prayers do nothing against sin? Do tears do nothing? Troubles? Vows? All of these will indeed achieve something, as long as something else be added: if the leak is stopped, if the windows are shut and the doors are locked. I mean, if occasions and provocations are conscionably and carefully avoided. Otherwise they are pointless. If you pray and then test your strength against what draws you into your secret sin, what are you doing in effect but seeking God one minute, and the next rising up and tempting Him? Keep close to heaven, and keep away from the opportunities, and then tell me whether God will not keep you from your sinnings.

Crush temptations at the root

Although you can turn away from opportunities and the things which prompt you to sin, yet you cannot get rid of your self. There is something in the self which can fetch in an opportunity to sin by representation, by inclination, by contemplation. Sometimes someone else provokes you to sin, which happens when you are in company. Sometimes your own heart provokes you to sin, which is when you are solitary. One moment the thoughts steal out, now imaginations confer with your mind, with your will, with your affections. So if you want to free yourself from secret actings, you must free yourself from secret thinkings. David prays, “Let the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Two strategies will never fail you in your attack on secret sinnings. One is to dig up the root of all sinnings. The other is to stifle the first conception of sins.

Beloved, to tie Samson’s arm was pointless, because his strength didn’t lie there. It was only if the hair of his head was cut off that his strength would be gone, and he became weak. To tamper only with the acts of sin is not the way to be rid of sinful acts. The one and only way to be rid of bad acts is to be rid of a bad nature.

If you could only get a holy nature, which would be at defiance with sin in its throne! Don’t you realise that a new nature and daily combat will greatly help against secret sinnings? The sin which is most of all combated within the heart is the sin which is least lively of all, for sin has least practise where it has most opposition, of all oppositions those that are inward are most weakening to sin.

Hate sin

Get a hatred of sin, the kind of hatred which will oppose sin in all kinds, and all times, and in all places.

Fear the sin-avenging God

Get the fear of God implanted in your heart. This fear will preserve you against three kinds of sins. (1) Pleasant sins, which entrap your senses with delight. (2) Profitable sins, which entrap the heart with gain. (Although, what shall it profit me to win the whole world and lose my soul?) (3) Secret sins of either kind. Joseph was tempted to a sin that could have been kept secret, and which could have resulted in him being promoted. But he didn’t dare to sin that great sin of uncleanness, and why? Because the fear of God kept him away from it. He had an awe-filled regard for God, he knew the greatness of His holiness and His power. “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

Brothers and sisters, if we fear the Lord, it is not the night which the thief takes that will prevail with us, nor the twilight which the adulterer takes, nor seasons of secrecy or places of obscurity. Instead our prevailing principle will be, “But God sees me.” “The great judge of heaven and earth, the holy one, the God who hates all sin, whose eyes are brighter than the sun and purer than to behold sin, who is mighty in power and just in his threatenings – He sees and beholds, therefore I dare not.”

Believe in God’s omniscience

Believe God’s omniscience and omnipresence. Believe that the Lord is everywhere, and that all things are naked and open to His eye. You can’t intend to think – you can’t whisper out your thoughts – you can’t finger the closest bribes – you can’t incline yourself to the most abstracted kind of secrecy in the world – but God sees you clearly, perfectly.

If you could believe that God is always right here with us, and that there are two which constantly go around with us, both the judge and the recorder, God and conscience, and that God is acquainted with all our thoughts, paths, ways, this would put an awe on you. Would a wife cheat on her husband in his sight and presence? would a servant filch out of the box if he saw his master’s eye on his hand?

Be upright in your heart

Get your heart to be upright. Uprightness is an inward temperament, while hypocrisy is an outward complexion. Psalm 119:2–3: “Blessed are they that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity …” Sincerity makes the inward self its business, it employs itself in forming and fashioning the heart. Sincerity knows that God delights in truth, and indeed truth in the inward parts: it endeavours to please God in all things, and to be most to God in the very place where others can observe the least, that is, in the secret and hidden frame.



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How can we honour God in our promises?

How can we honour God in our promises?

How can we honour God in our promises?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.

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

Making a vow is a serious thing

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

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

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

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

We may forget our vows, but God does not

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

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

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

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

God has good reasons for reminding us of our vows

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

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

God must come first in our vows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to live in the light of our vows


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


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

Be single-minded

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


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

Go further

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


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Is the law for the righteous?

Is the law for the righteous?

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

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

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

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

What kind of person is “righteous”?

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

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

How do the righteous relate to the law?

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

1. The law is not a burden to the righteous

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

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

2. The law has no power to curse the righteous

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

3. The law was given to expose the unrighteous

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

The righteous delight in the law

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

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

The law directs the righteous

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

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

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

We need the law to discern our own sinfulness

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

How the righteous use the law

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

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

And consider these two final things.

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

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


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Eight reasons to pray every day

Eight reasons to pray every day

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

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

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

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

1. Every day God wants to hear from us

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

2. Every day there should be family prayer

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

3. Every day makes way for our thankfulness

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

4. Every day we can renew our dependence on God

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

5. We can take every day as it comes

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

6. Every day avoids excess

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

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

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

8. Every day awakens us to heavenly things

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

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


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Why luck cannot make you happy

Why luck cannot make you happy

Why luck cannot make you happy
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.

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

Thankfulness comes from the family relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fretting is unnecessary when we have a covenant right

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

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

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

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

Enjoyment comes from seeing God’s free grace

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

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

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

Confidence in second causes is misplaced

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

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

Contentment comes from God’s good providence

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

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

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

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

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

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




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What is so spiritual about church government?

What is so spiritual about church government?

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

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

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

The rule-book of church government is spiritual

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

The fountain of church government is spiritual

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

The matter of church government is spiritual

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

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

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

The manner of church government is spiritual

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

The ones who exercise church government are spiritual

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

The objects of church government are spiritual

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

The purpose of church government is spiritual

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


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

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



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Life is Worth Preserving

Life is Worth Preserving

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

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


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

1. What is so special about life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Why should we value our bodies?

There are three things to consider about the human body.

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

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

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

3. What are the obstacles to enjoying life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. How can we fight against our fears?

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

(a) Fight unbelief with faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(d) Fight fearfulness by finding satisfaction in God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. How can we respond better to adversity?

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Show endurance, and stand fast.

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




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Planning for Uncertainty to the Glory of God

Planning for Uncertainty to the Glory of God

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

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

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

1. We Must Have the Right Kind of Plans

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

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

3. We Must Not Have a Worldly Presumption

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

4. We Must Submit to God’s Will Prayerfully

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

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

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

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

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

5. We Must Acknowledge Even Tomorrow is Uncertain

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

6. We Must Acknowledge Our Life is Uncertain

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. We Must Be Content with God’s Will

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

10. We Must Ask God’s Permission

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

11. We Must Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

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

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

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

12. We Must Acknowledge the Frailty of Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

13. We Must Have a “God Willing” Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Do We Know the Whole Truth about Evangelical Half Truth?

Do We Know the Whole Truth about Evangelical Half Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Half truth gospel

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

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

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

2. Half truth gossip

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

3. Half truth doctrine

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

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

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

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

4. Half truth suspicion

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

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

5. Half truth godliness

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

6. Half truth opinion

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

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

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


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


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