The True Focus of Preaching

The True Focus of Preaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?

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

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

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

1. We Need Dedication to God

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

2. We Need Saving Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. We Need to Trust God

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

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

4. We Need to Walk Before God Continually

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

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

5. We Need to Believe God is a Rewarder

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

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

6. We Need to Diligently Seek God

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


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




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

The Devotional Value of the Westminster Confession

The Devotional Value of the Westminster Confession

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

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

Clear understanding

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

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

Personal Commitment

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

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

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

The embodiment of the gospel

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

Knowing God

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

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

The Christian experience

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

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

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

Earnest and intelligent devotion

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

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


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



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

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

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

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

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

A day of rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day of work

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

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

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

A day apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day remembered

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

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

A day ahead

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

Something to think about

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

Personal reflection

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



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

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

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

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

1. Pressures Can Help Spiritual Growth

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

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

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

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

2. Pressures Wean Us From the World

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

3. Pressures Help Us Grow in Understanding

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

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

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

4. Pressures Draw Us More into Our Own Hearts

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

5. Pressures Drive Us Nearer to God

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

6. Pressures May Bring God’s Presence 

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


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



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. How Should We Engage Our Words in Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. How Should We Engage Our Thoughts in Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

(b) Thoughts of God’s Fatherly Relation

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

(c) Thoughts of God’s attributes

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

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

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

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

3. How Should We Engage Our Affections in Prayer?

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

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

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

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


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




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

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

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

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

1. What Do We Mean by Honourable?

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

2. Marriage Was Honourable in its Institution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Marriage is Honourable in its Purposes

There are three main purposes.

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

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

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

4. Marriage is Honourable in its Privileges

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

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

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

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

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

5. Marriage is Honourable in What it Represents

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

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

Further Help

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





Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

How Christ Taught Us to Pray for Reformation

How Christ Taught Us to Pray for Reformation

How Christ Taught Us to Pray for Reformation
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.

To reform is to be shaped by the Word of God into God’s own pattern and design. We need that individually and corporately. We need Christ to rule in our hearts and in His own kingdom. We also want to see Christ’s kingdom extended and grow in stability and purity. In a time of confusion, we need the clarity that comes from the Word. In a time of apostasy, it is far easier to decline and fragment than it is to reform. Ultimately reforming is the work of God’s grace and Spirit. But that only increases our responsibility to pray for it and to search God’s Word to see how we need to change personally and collectively.

Christ has given us a prayer for reformation which is as extensive as possible while also being as brief as possible (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). Simply to pray that His kingdom would come, is to desire that it would come in as many places as possible and in as many ways as possible. The Larger Catechism Q191 indicates something of this fulness.

In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him for ever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

When John Calvin wrote a defence and manifesto of church reformation, he focussed on four main topics which he called the soul and body of the church. The soul of the church is worship and salvation. The body is the sacraments and church government. Any errors had to be removed and a right understanding and practice, according to the Word of God, put in place (see The Necessity of Reforming the Church).

These four topics are at the heart of what it means to pray for reformation. The kingdom comes when the gospel is declared and the external means of establishing this kingdom are in place through mission. These are the ordinances Christ requires, including the Word, sacraments and government or discipline. But even when they are established there can be a temptation to diminish or corrupt them in many ways. And even if this is not the case we need the blessing of the Holy Spirit to make them effectual so that the church is inwardly and spiritually changed and not just outwardly. Indeed, it is a prayer we all need every day, personally as well as collectively.

Henry Scudder (a member of the Westminster Assembly) indicated the same perspective in expounding this part of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that “the Holy Spirit of God would effectually accompany the outward means of gathering, and building up the elect, to the enlightening and translating them from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his dear son. And that they may increase in knowledge and every good grace, according to the mighty working of his glorious power; that the Word, sacraments, and discipline, the weapons of this warfare, may be mighty through God to pull down strongholds, and cast down imaginations and high things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, and may bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”.

Christ’s kingdom comes the more the means of establishing it increase, especially where the Word of the kingdom is proclaimed (Matthew 12:28; 13:19; Mark 4:15). The more that heart obedience is given and grace increases, the more this kingdom comes (Romans 6:17; Matthew 13:18). The following updated extract is drawn from James Ussher’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer which influenced the Larger Catechism.

1. How is this a Prayer for Reformation?

We pray that:

  • God may reign in our hearts, not sin;
  • the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ both by the inward working of his Spirit, and also by the outward means may be enlarged daily, until it is perfected at the coming of Christ to judgement;
  • the kingdom of sin and Satan being more and more abolished (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13) Christ may now reign in our hearts by grace (Colossians 3:15-16) and we with Him for ever in glory (2 Timothy 2:12);
  • Christ’s government in the Church may be here in this world enlarged;
  • it would please God to gather His elect out of every part of the world.

2. How is this a Prayer for Personal Reformation?

We pray that God would give His Holy Spirit, as the chief and principal means by which our Saviour Christ gathers and rules His Church, conveying His spirit of knowledge and good inclinations into His people. Consequently, we also pray against the influences and temptations of Satan, and of our own flesh.

We are like poor captives who are always creeping up to the prison door and labouring to loose their bolts. Out of a sorrowful felt sense of the spiritual bondage we are in to Satan and sin, we pray that the kingdom of Christ may come and be advanced in every one of our hearts in justice, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). That the Lord by His Word and spirit would rule in the hearts and lives of His Saints (Colossians 3:15-16). Thus, as kings unto God, we may subdue within us all those opinions or affections that rise up and rebel against God.

That it would please God every day more and more to increase the holy gifts and graces of His Holy Spirit in the hearts of those whom He has already called effectually.

3. How is this a Prayer for Church Reformation?

We pray concerning the means by which the Spirit is conveyed; namely, the Word (and the ways it is declared), the sacraments and church discipline.

(a) Word. We pray that as it is the sceptre of Christ’s kingdom (Mark 1:13), the rod and standard of His power (Psalm 110:2; Isaiah 11: 4, 10; Isaiah 44:4, 10) and the Word of the kingdom (Mark 1:13; Matthew 13) it may have
free access everywhere (2 Thessalonians 3:1). That it may be gloriously lifted up and advanced and have sole pre-eminence so that everything that does not agree with it and all traditions and inventions of men may be rejected.

(b) Sacraments. We pray that, as they are the seals of God’s promises and the whole Covenant of grace, they may be both administered and received in the purity and sincerity which is according to His Word, and that all false sacraments rejected.

(c) Church discipline. Our desire is that not only private persons but the whole Church may be ruled by the line of God’s Word. Thus, well doers may be advanced and evil doers censured and corrected, according to the degree of their fault. Also that any tyranny of conscience would be taken away.

We also pray that God would supply His Church with all such office-bearers as He approves. That being endowed with special gifts, they may be both able and willing to carry out their responsibilities diligently and faithfully. That God would gather His elect by raising up faithful and diligent ministers in every part of the world. That all unfaithful and negligent ministers would be
removed (Isaiah 56:10-11) and that faithful and able watchmen may be set over the flock of Christ (Matthew 9:38).  That with sufficient help and protection etc. the Word of God may be freely preached everywhere (2 Thessalonians 3:1). That it would please God, with the blessing of his spirit, to accompany the word, so that it may be of power to convert those that belong unto him.

4. How is this a Prayer for Increasing Church Reformation?

We pray that where these things are only begun, they may be perfected.  That every Church may be polished and garnished, that Sion may appear in her perfect beauty. We pray that the Jews may be called and so many of the Gentiles as belong to Christ, and the enemies of the kingdom may be either converted or confounded.

We desire that the eyes of all, especially governments, would be opened to see the true beauty of pure religion, and of the spouse of Christ (Isaiah 60:3).
We pray that God would banish and root out of His Church all those things which may hinder the advance of His kingdom in the hearts of those that belong to Him.

Finally, we pray that God would finish the kingdom of grace, calling His elect (Romans 9:27), confirming those who stand (2 Thessalonians 2:17), raising the fallen (James 5:15-16), comforting the afflicted (Isaiah 61:3) and hastening the kingdom of glory.


What is the best way to make it our own and not simply think about praying for reformation but actually engage in it? Do we care enough about these concerns to make them the subject of earnest and constant prayer? How can we summarise this expansive prayer for reformation so that we can do this? One way is simply to use the Larger Catechism Q191 as a guide. Another option is to use a slightly fuller summary, drawn from similar thoughts expressed by John Ball (a member of the Westminster Assembly).

(a) Mission. Pray that God would plant His Church inwardly and outwardly in places where it is not established. Pray also that God would send forth His word to those in darkness and powerfully accompany it by His Spirit. That He would give them pastors according to His own heart to feed them with knowledge and understanding. That He would establish His own ordinances, and establish a holy order amongst His people, linking them together in mutual love and holy profession of the faith.

(b) Church Reformation. Pray that God would supply existing Churches with what is lacking and mercifully continue and increase what good they enjoy. Pray also that He would preserve purity of doctrine, as well as the Word being preached purely and freely, with power and authority. We pray for faithful seminaries that train those who will preach the Word.

Our prayer is that the sacraments may be administered purely according to the institution of Christ, that the house of God may be governed according to the heavenly form for governing that kingdom. We pray that comely order may be observed among the saints, each with all diligence, patience, meekness and zeal, doing the duties of their sphere.

We pray that the censures of the Church may be rightly carried out so that the good may be encouraged, the evil shamed and brought to repentance or else cut off from the communion – all to the advancement of the kingdom of Christ Jesus.

Again, we ask that God would supply His Church with office-bearers who might both govern and assist according to His will. We ask for men supplied with wisdom and grace to discharge their duties. Those who have blameless lives and will be examples to their flocks in good works, whose hearts are set on the building of God’s kingdom.

(c) Spiritual Transformation. Pray that the Holy Spirit would work effectually by His outward ordinances, for the building up of those already called and the effectual calling of those who are not. The powerful work of the Spirit in everyone’s soul and conscience is the most evident demonstration of the glorious presence of God. The mighty and wonderful works of the Holy Spirit include: pricking some in the heart, humbling others at the sight of their vileness, converting, quickening, comforting, revealing the thoughts, inflaming with burning zeal, assuring the heart of the truth received. All this is an infallible witness of the most gracious presence of Christ amongst us.

(d) Personal Reformation. We pray also that the graces and fruit of the Spirit may plentifully grow and increase. Our prayer also is that God would bless His people with inward and outward peace and prosperity, that being freed from clashes, contentions, and external persecutions, they may walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit and mutually edify each other in their most holy faith.
We pray that they may live together in love, being of one mind and one judgment, yielding free and willing subjection to the sovereignty of Christ Jesus, accepting the service and labour of His faithful messengers and walking in holiness without offence.

The image of the Reformation wall in Geneva depicts John Knox preaching reformation before the court of Mary Queen of Scots. It also displays the Geneva Bible rendering of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11. The photographer was Rokus Cornelis, more details here.



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

What Authority Do Civil Rulers Have in Church Matters?

What Authority Do Civil Rulers Have in Church Matters?

What Authority Do Civil Rulers Have in Church Matters?
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.

Church and state are clearly distinct, but their roles and relationship have not been without controversy down through the years. It is easier to state the distinction sometimes than to apply it. It has often proved to be a thorny and complicated issue. Understandably many people like to avoid dealing with that but failing to think clearly about it has often produced practical problems when situations arise. Ultimately, it is about the glory and the authority of Christ. As Head of the Church, He has provided clear principles to apply so that it can advance His glory in the world.

In this updated extract, some of the members of the Westminster Assembly explain from Scripture how Christ preserves His own authority in His Church. As Mediator, He has given spiritual authority those who exercise government within the church. But He had given no spiritual power at all to civil government or secular institutions in their civil function. It is still necessary to apply these principles in specific contexts but it is vitally important that we establish the core truths from Scripture as to what authority civil rulers have in the spiritual matters of the church, whether preaching and teaching, what we believe, how we worship or decisions about church matters.

1. Christ Never Gave Civil Rulers Any Authority in Church Matters

Whatever proper power of church government Christ gives to any is somewhere to be found in the Old or New Testament. This is because (a) The Scriptures are a perfect rule for all church affairs (2 Timothy 3:16-17). (b) There are places in Scripture where Christ commits authority to His own church officers (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10 etc). But nowhere in all the Old or New Testament does Christ give such power of church government to civil rulers.

2. Christ Only Gave Authority in Church Matters to Church Rulers

Civil rulers as such do not have any office within the church and therefore cannot have authority within the church. It is to church rulers that Christ gave the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” with the actions that belong to that (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; John 20:21-23) well as authority for edification of the church (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10). But no civil ruler as a civil ruler is any of those whom Christ has given office within the church. Civil rulers are never counted in the catalogue, list, or roll of Christ’s church officers in Scripture (Ephesians 4:10-12; 1 Corinthians 12:28, etc.; Romans 12:6–8).

When Christ gave the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” He makes no mention at all of civil government directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, as the recipient of them (se Matthew 16:19 and 18:18; John 20:21–23 with Matthew 18:18–20).

In Christ’s giving the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” He makes explicit mention of officers belonging to the church, which are really and essentially different from the civil ruler, i.e. Peter in the name of all the rest (Matthew 16:18–19), and of the rest of the apostles receiving the keys with him (Matthew 18:18). All the disciples except Thomas were together when He gave them the same commission in other words (John 20:20–24; Matthew 28:18–20). Now, if Christ had given the keys or any power in relation to them to civil government in so far as it is civil government He must have given them solely to civil government for how could His apostles being officers in the church be really distinct from the civil ruler in that case?

Jesus Christ in giving the “keys of the kingdom,” did not give one sort, act, part or piece of the keys, but the whole power of the keys, all the sorts and acts belonging to them together. Therefore, it is said, “I give the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23). It is not merely a “key” that is given here but all the “keys” given at once, i.e.., key of doctrine and the key of discipline; or the key of order, and the key of jurisdiction—not only binding or retaining, but loosing or absolving of sins, i.e.., all acts together conferred with the “keys.” Now, if Christ gave the keys to the civil ruler, then He gave them all the sorts of keys and all acts. If so, civil government may as well preach the Word and dispense the sacraments, as exercise government. (Christ joined them all together in the same commission, and by what authority are they disjoined?). And if that were so, what need would there be of pastors, teachers, etc., in the church? Let the civil ruler do it all.

If we take church government more broadly as containing doctrine, worship, and discipline, it is the whole power of the “keys.” It is not simply discipline otherwise, it would have been said “key,” not “keys”; church government, therefore, is at least part of the power of the “keys.” The word “key,” denotes a stewardly authority (Isaiah 22:22) which includes governing, ordering, and ruling the household, as well as feeding it (see Luke 12:41–49).

3. Civil Government and Church Government are Essentially Different

Church and State are distinct societies.

  • The society of the church is only Christ’s, and not the civil ruler’s. It is His “house,” His “spouse,” His “body,” etc.; and Christ has no vicar under Him.
  • The officers of the church are Christ’s officers, not the civil ruler’s (1 Corinthians 4:1). Christ gave them (Ephesians 4:8–11); God set them in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28).
  • These officers in the church are both elected and ordained by the church, without authority from the civil ruler, by virtue of Christ’s ordinance, and in His name. Thus, the apostles appointed officers: “Whom we may appoint” (Acts 6:3–4). The power of ordination and mission is in the hands of Christ’s officers (cf. Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14 with Acts 13:1–4).
  • The church and the various governing bodies within it do not meet as civil courts for civil acts of government (as making civil statutes, inflicting civil punishments, etc.), but as spiritual assemblies for spiritual acts of government and discipline: such as preaching, baptizing, receiving the Lord’s Supper, prayer, admonition of the disorderly, etc.

4. Civil Government and Church Government are Mutually coordinate not subordinate

Subordinate powers are of the same kind; coordinate powers are of distinct kinds. Now, the fact that the power of the church is coordinate with, and not directly and properly subordinate to the civil power, may be evidenced as follows:

(a) The officers of Christ, as officers, are not subject to the civil power. The apostles and pastors may preach and cast out against the will of the civil ruler, and yet not truly offend civil government; thus, in doing the duty they have directly received from God, they must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19–20). And the apostles and pastors must exercise their office (having received a command from Christ) without attending the command or consent of the civil ruler for the same; as in casting out the incestuous person (1 Corinthians 5:5), telling the church (Matthew 18:17), rejecting a heretic (Titus 3:10).

(b) Any acts of power that civil government cannot do or do not belong within their God given authority rare are not subordinate to it. Thus, the kings of Israel could not burn incense (2 Chronicles 26:18–19). Likewise, none have the power of the “keys,” except those whom Christ has commissioned to go “into all the world and preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19). But Christ did not speak this to civil rulers, only those that are “sent” (Romans 10:14). So those that are church governors are placed by Christ in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28).

(c) The officers of the church can pass church censure on the officers of the state (as individuals not in their office). Officers of the state can inflict civil punishment on the officers of the church, (as individuals not as officers in the church). The church rulers may admonish, excommunicate, etc., the officers of the state, as members of the church, and the officers of the state may punish the officers of the church, as the members of the state.

(d) Those that are not sent by civil government as their deputies are not subordinate in their mission to civil power. But the ministers are not sent as the deputies of civil government but are “set over the flock” by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). They are likewise the “ministry of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2); they are “over you in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:12); and exercise their jurisdiction in His name (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).

(e) If the last appeal in purely ecclesiastical matters is not to civil power, then there is no subordination; but the last appeal properly so taken is not to civil authority. It appears from these considerations:

  • Nothing is appealable to the magistrate, but what is under the power of the sword; but admonition, excommunication, etc., are not under the power of the sword. They are neither matters of dominion nor coercion.
  • If it were so, then it follows that having the sword gives a ruler power to the keys.
  • Then it follows that the officers of the kingdom of heaven are to be judged as such by the officers of the kingdom of this world as such, and then there is no difference between the things of Caesar and the things of God.

(f) The church of Antioch sent to Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). And the synod there, without the authority of civil government, came together (v6) and resolved the controversy with their authority (vv28-29). And we read, the “spirits of the prophets, are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32)—not to the civil government as prophets. So we must “seek knowledge at the priest’s lips,” not at the civil ruler’s (Malachi 2:7). And we read that the people came to the priests in hard controversies, but never that the priests went to the civil power (Deuteronomy 17:8–10).

(g) It makes civil government Christ’s vicar, and so Christ to have a visible head on earth, and the civil ruler is an ecclesiastico-civil pope, and so there would be as many visible heads of Christ’s church as there are civil rulers.
h) Civil and church powers are both directly received from divine authority: one from God the Father, as Creator, the other from Jesus Christ, as Mediator.


It is clear from this brief biblical survey that Christ has given His Church distinct and exclusive authority in its own matters. We need wisdom, grace and courage to apply these matters and maintain Christ’s glory and authority.

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.

Further Help

To explore these principles further, you may find it helpful to read the article Church Government is All About Christ. Many people neglect or treat church government with contempt. But that is a great mistake because (according to Scripture) it is essentially all about Jesus Christ.





Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted
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.

Social Stability means the extent to which a society and its infrastructure, including its institutions are able remain reliable and predicable. Much of everyday life runs smoothly with a great deal happening that we do not see. Fair elections, medical care, stable government, economic stability, public services, transport and infrastructure, law and order, community relations and much more are things we can take for granted. But they are easily challenged as events of the past year have reminded us. We do not know what the future holds in relation to them. These outward necessities are blessings from God and while spiritual concerns are our key priority, we ought to be thankful for the outward benefits of this life. It is part of God’s providential care and we must not take it for granted. That is why Christ teaches us to make it a matter of daily prayer.

If we are thankful for these things, we will express that in prayer and if we feel our need these things, we must also bring that to the throne of grace. When we ask for “our daily bread” we are not just thinking about the food on our tables but also everything that makes that possible. We ought to be mindful of all the benefits we are daily loaded with. This is why the Larger Catechism widens the scope to “all the outward blessings of this life”.

It says “we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them; and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them, and contentment in them; and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort” (Q193).

In this updated extract, Henry Scudder, a member of the Westminster Assembly, explains further how “our daily bread” includes all the blessings of this life.

1. Social Stability and our Daily Bread

Bread in Scripture refers to all kinds of food (Psalm 147:9; Job 23:12 and Proverbs 30:8) whether food or drink. In James 2:15. the words translated daily food are the same in meaning with daily bread and are expounded by James in the sixteenth verse as things necessary for the body. It also relates to whatever is necessary for preservation of life, such as clothes, houses etc. It also means the causes and effects of bread e.g. fruitful seasons, good temperature of air, health and cheerfulness (Acts 14:17).

In a word, it refers to all things which may preserve life, or restore health, such as medicine and skilful and faithful doctors. It also includes peace and good order, and all good means to maintain it: as a wise and courageous government, a strong, populous, loyal, and loving people. Anything contrary to this such as famine, disease, wars, sickness, pain etc are prayed against when we ask for our daily bread.

Our needs require that we should have supplies for this life, that we may have a right mind in a sound body. Otherwise, we can neither enjoy anything nor do good to our neighbour, nor do the service and works which the Lord appoints. We cannot benefit others nor serve God. It is hard for those who are have problems of mental health or who are dumb and deaf to help others compared to those who have the full health or mind and body.

We need are healthy air, food, drink, clothing, houses and whatever will keep from bodily infection and afflictions. They may serve to quench thirst, or satisfy hunger, or preserve from extremities of heat and cold, or to restore defects in nature.

These things cannot be had unless the Lord gives fruitful seasons and causes the earth to be fruitful. We must request these things from the Lord to satisfy human necessities. Yet when all these things are granted, such is human frailty that if we are not willing or able to make use of corn, wool, medicine etc we will be destitute of their use. Therefore, we seek that God would give gifts and skill to men for that purpose.

We may have all this but if we are exposed to the fury of enemies our life and welfare cannot be sustained. A good commonwealth, consisting of wise, just, and valiant governors, and of numerous, peaceable, loyal, and courageous subjects, is to be desired and everything contrary to all these prayed against.

2. Social Stability is the Gift of God

Having and being able to enjoy all the necessary things of this life, is the free gift of God (Job 36:32; Psalm 104:28; Psalm 145:15; 1 Chronicles 29:14). The earth is the Lord’s (1 Corinthians 10:26) and although he made it for our use, we have it only as stewards, who are accountable to Him as their master. We are merely tenants. The Lord must give us the things of this life to have and to hold, else they cannot rightfully be held by anyone.

We may have everything necessary as the rich fool did but not have the blessing of continued life to enjoy it (Luke 12:20). We may taste, and eat, and put on clothes, and yet be neither warm nor satisfied. They can do us no good without God’s blessing. This is why we must be exhorted and persuaded to ask them of God, whose gift they are. When they have received and enjoyed, we must acknowledge this as God’s gift with all thankfulness.

3. Social Stability and the Glory of God

Christ first taught His disciples to ask for the things that concerned God’s glory in the three first petitions. He then instructs them to ask for the things that concern their own good in three further petitions. When anyone has unfeignedly desired and sought the things which pertain to God’s honour and glory they may then with good warrant pray for and expect all good things both for body and soul (Matthew 6:33).

God has promised to give all good things to all such. God has promised to give to His children temporal good things as well as spiritual. Godliness has the promise of the present life (1 Timothy 4:6). A good condition of body and soul is a good means to encourage and a person to still glorify God. But it is presumption to think that God will bless us if we do not glorify His name in doing His will.

We may lawfully desire the things of this life. We must therefore pray and use all good and lawful means to live in this world. But this must be done after we have sought God’s glory. Also, it must be considered from whom, by what means, for whom, for what time, in what right, and in what measure and how we would have our needs supplied. And we must always remember that we asked for these things as far as they are consistent with God’s good will.

4. Social Stability and Intercession

Every Christian should desire and procure the bodily welfare of their neighbour. The law of charity binds us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore, we must pray for them and procure their good, as we do our own. It is not “every man for himself” but “every man for his neighbour as for himself”.
This should move everyone to commend the condition others to God in prayer. And distribute and to those that need, giving more or less, according as God has made them able, and as their brethren’s necessities require. Humanity and Christianity both call for mercy from us. Doing good to our brethren, is only lending to the Lord and He will repay with advantage.

5. Social Stability and Contentment

This is no prayer for abundance, but for daily bread: neither too much nor too little, but according to need. The desires of the things of this life, must be moderate. The quality and quantity of things desired, must be only such, and so much, as is convenient for our person and condition. We are to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). Our life does not consist in the abundance of what we possess (Luke 12:13). Abundance is dangerous both to soul and body; it can lead to disregard of God and His works and even denying Him (Proverbs 30:9).

It is not a sin to have abundance; for Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon abounded in riches: but it is a sin to desire to be rich and If riches increase, we must not set our heart on them. We must not be high minded or trust in them.

6. Social Stability is Not the Primary Concern

In the Lord’s Prayer there is only one short petition for the things that concern natural life but two larger petitions that concern spiritual life. Though God allows His children to ask first for earthly things, yet He wills them to seek chiefly for heavenly things (Matthew 6:33). The desires of Christians should therefore, be fewer, and less vehement for the things of this life, and their principal concern is to be how their sins may be forgiven and the strength of sin diminished as the two petitions that follow emphasise.



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?
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.

This is not about what you might expect. We have heard so much about the sixth commandment and preserving life over the past year—a very necessary emphasis. But there are other dimensions to the commandment as well. Showing love for our neighbour through this command is not simply about what we do or do not do. Scripture shows us that it reaches to our hearts also (1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:22). Our heart attitude and thoughts are expressed in our words and behaviour towards others. If there is an attitude of animosity in the heart or abusive words are used, we are not preserving the spirit of this commandment. It is a constant issue but perhaps more obvious in a time when there may be many conflicting opinions. How do we respond to others, especially when we disagree or feel they have failed us in some way? The natural tendency is to let our irritation show. It is easy to bottle up resentment as well as erupt when provoked. What sort of words should we use if we need to point out where they have gone wrong? How do we avoid responses that cause lasting spiritual damage in our zeal for the truth? We need to positively cultivate and put on the graces of love, humility, patience and forbearance to do this. And if we think this is a good message for someone else, we probably need it more than we realise.

The Larger Catechism draws on the rest of Scripture to help us understand this aspect of the sixth commandment. If we are to put off anger then part of doing this involves putting on patience, kindness and forgiveness. The Larger Catechism shows that we pursue “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…by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness, peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behaviour, forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil, comforting and succouring the distressed” (Q135). So also, this command forbids “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge, all excessive passions…provoking words, oppressing, quarrelling” (Q136). Some Bible passages which support this are as follows.  The sixth commandment requires us to:

  • subdue passions which tend towards unjust destruction of life (Ephesians 4:26-27)
  • avoid all temptations which tend towards unjust destruction of life (Matthew 4:6-7; Proverbs 1:10-16)
  • maintain a serene mental attitude and cheerful spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Psalm 37:8-11; Proverbs 17:22)  
  • show kindness and love in thought, word and deed (1 Samuel 19:4-5; 22:13-14; Romans 13:10; Luke 10:33-34; Colossians 3:12-13; James 3:17; 1 Peter 3:8-11; Proverbs 15:1; Judges 8:1-3).

It is possible to have a holy zeal and yet think, speak and act charitably. This means having compassion for others, grieving over where they have erred and seeking the best and most effective way to have them restored or for them to be saved. Holy zeal will focus itself against what is wrong rather than the person who has done what is wrong (Psalm 101:3). It is not focused on how we have been harmed or wronged personally but on whether God has been dishonoured. It is motivated by the honour of God not our own pride.

Righteous anger without sinning is certainly possible but all too rare (Ephesians 4:26). But we must be very careful as to whether this it truly has this holy zeal. If we are not careful our sinful anger will give room for the devil to exploit any conflict (Ephesians 4:27). He will use it to stir up sinful attitudes and responses in ourselves and others. He will also use it to make us unfit for spiritual activities and so rob us of the benefit (Matthew 5:23-24).

We can have the best of intentions, but we all know how difficult it is to keep our cool when we encounter an irascible hot-headed person.  We resent unfair implied accusations and are ready to show it. How do we respond to words and behaviour that only seems to rile us up? There is no easy answer that is quickly learned. It requires great wisdom (Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; 19:11). We are battling the most powerful of enemies (Proverbs 16:32). We need to avoid being quick to speak if we are going to be slow to become angry (James 1:19). We need much patience and grace to turn away wrath with a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1).

These thoughts have been helped by Thomas Ridgeley’s commentary on the Larger Catechism. One of the books that influenced the Larger Catechism was A Body of Divinity by James Ussher. The following updated extract is drawn from his treatment of the sixth commandment. In a helpful question and answer format he shows how the commandment requires a loving spirit.

1. What inward duties do we owe to our neighbour?

To love our neighbours as ourselves, to think well of them, to be charitably affected towards them, and to strive to do them good. We are all the creatures of one God, and the natural children of Adam. For this reason, we are to cherish all good affections in our hearts.

2. What good affections are required?

(a) Humility and kindness, proceeding from a loving heart to a fellow human being because they are human (Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32).

(b) Contentment to see our brother pass and exceed us in any outward or inward gifts or graces and giving thanks to God for endowing him with such gifts.

(c) Compassion and fellow-feeling of their good and evil (Romans 12:15-16; Hebrews 13:3).

(d) Humility.

(e) Meekness.

(f) Patience, long-suffering and slowness to anger (Ephesians 4:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

(g) Easiness to be reconciled and to forget wrongs done to us (Ephesians 4:32).

(h) A peaceable mind, careful to preserve and make peace (Romans 12:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Matthew 5:9).

3. What is required for the preservation of peace?

(a) Care to avoid offences.

(b) Construing things in the best sense (1 Corinthians 13:7).

(c) Giving up our own rights sometimes (Genesis 13:8-9).

(d) Passing by offences and suffering injuries patiently lest they break out into greater mischief.

4. What inward sins are condemned?

Consenting in heart to do our neighbour harm together with all passions of the mind, which are contrary to the love we owe to him.

(a) Anger when it is either rash or without cause; or when it is excessive in a just cause (Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:26, 31).

(b) Hatred and malice, which is murder in the mind (1 John 3:15).

(c) Envy, by which one hates his brother as Cain the murderer did, for some good that is in him (James 3:14; Proverbs 14:30; 1 John 3:12).

(d) Grudging and repining against our brother, which is a branch of envy (1 Timothy 2:8).

(e) Unmercifulness and lack of compassion (Romans 1:31; Amos 6:6).

(f) Desire for revenge (Romans 12:19).

(g) Cruelty (Psalm 5:6; Genesis 49:5, 7).

(h) Pride, which is the mother of all contention (Proverbs 13:10).

(i) Uncharitable suspicions (1 Corinthians 13:5, 7; 1 Samuel 1:13-14) yet godly jealousy over another is good if it is for a good cause.

(j) Stubbornness and not being easily intreated (Romans 1:31).

5. How should we resist these?

We should kill such affections at their first rising and pray to God against them.

6. What are the outward duties we owe to our neighbour?

They respect the soul principally, or the whole man, and the body more especially.

7. What duties are required of us for the preservation of the souls of our neighbour?

(a) Ministering the food of spiritual life (Isaiah 62:6; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28).

(b) Giving good counsel and encouraging to well-doing (Hebrews 10:24-25).

(c) Walking without offence. This is required of rulers and ministers as well as everyone else in their calling. The apostle’s rule reaches everyone, give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32).

(d) Giving good example, and thereby provoking one another to love good works, (Matthew 5:16; 2 Corinthians 9:2; Hebrews 10:24).

(e) Reproving our brother’s sins by timely admonition (Leviticus 19:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Psalm 141:5).

(f) Comforting the feeble minded and supporting the weak (1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:14).

8. What is forbidden in our words?

(a) Speaking evil of someone, even although the matter is not in itself false is still wrong if it is not done with a right purpose or in a right manner and at the right time. False accusations are also condemned (Luke 23:2; Acts 24:5).

(b) Bitter and angry words or speech uttered in wrath or using evil or vile terms (Matthew 5:22) are condemned by this commandment.

(c) Mocking in general is sinful (Psalm 22:7-8; John 19:3). Mockery of a disability (Leviticus 19:14) or especially mocking others for godly behaviour (2 Samuel 6:20) are condemned. Sometimes, however, God’s children may use mocking in a godly manner as Elijah did to the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27).5. When we complain about one another and grumble with malice (James 5:9).

(c) Brawling and angry shouting are sinful (Titus 3:9; Ephesians 4:31). Threatening, insulting and provocative speech is also condemned (1 Peter 3:9; 2 Samuel 16:5,7; 2 Kings 2:23-24;1 Corinthians 5:11 Psalm 57:4 Psalm 52:2 Psalm 64:3-4 Psalm 140:3)

(d) Spiteful, disdainful and harsh words are sinful, especially when they are uttered contemptuously (Proverbs 12:8; Proverbs 15:1).

9. What is required in our words?

That we greet our neighbour gently, speak kindly, and use courteous amiable speeches; which according to the Hebrew phrase is called, speaking to the heart of another (Ephesians 4:32; Ruth 2:13).

According to Paul’s counsel we should see that edifying words rather than “corrupt communication” are found in our mouths (Ephesians 4:29. Our speech should be always seasoned with the saltiness of grace so that we know how to answer every one in the right way (Colossians 4:6). If meat is not sprinkled with salt, it will smell. It will be so with those who do not have their hearts seasoned with the word of truth.

If we are not careful the words proceeding from our mouths will be angry, wrathful, and loathsome speech against our brother. Scripture compares such words to juniper coals which burn most fiercely (Psalm 120:4) or to a sword or razor cutting most sharply (Proverbs 12:18; Psalm 52:2). James therefore says that the tongue is an unruly evil, set on fire by hell (James 3:6, 8). We ought therefore to govern our tongues by the Word of God and beware of vile speech.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article The Mark of the Christian. Christ’s disciples are to be recognised by their love for one another. What does that look like and what if it’s not there?



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry
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.

Expressive individualism drives our culture. This is the idea that we find our ultimate meaning only when we express our own feelings and desires. We are thought to be most authentically ourselves when we perform outwardly what we are feeling inwardly. Anything that restrains or restricts our ability to do this is seen as the great enemy. The very idea of moral authority denying what we choose for our happiness and freedom is viewed as repressive, even morally wrong. If self and personal fulfilment are the ultimate-if they are sacred, then the very idea of self-denial is utter heresy. Yet it is exactly what Christ calls His disciples to. We cannot avoid it simply because it goes against the grain of our culture. If we really want to be salt and light, we need to take self-denial seriously, however uncomfortable it may be. What do we mean by self-denial and how do we pursue it?

Nothing could be more counter-cultural than living in a way that is God-centred. Manifesting obedience to God, rather than the great idol of self, displays our real purpose. It shows others what we were meant to be. Our culture says that the ultimate failure and sin is not to be true to yourself. But the gospel shows us that sin has corrupted our view of what we are meant to be, and grace enables us through union with Christ to live as we were designed to. When we speak of self-denial it does not mean that enjoyment is rejected as sinful, rather we are able to enjoy God Himself as all that will truly satisfy. Our culture is pursuing happiness and purpose in that which will never satisfy. That is why we must turn from the false god of self to the only true and living God. It is only in this way that we can find that happiness and purpose, indeed have our self renewed and restored. Thomas Manton (who had an important role at the Westminster Assembly) explains much of what Christ’s call to self-denial means in this updated extract.

1. What Do We Mean by Self?

In the original the words have the emphasis “let him utterly deny himself.” Whatever is ours, so far as it stands in opposition to God or comes into competition with Him must be denied. This can include all our lusts, all our interests and relations. Life and all the appendages of life aggregated together are called self in Scripture. In short, whatever is of himself, in himself, belonging to himself, as a corrupt or carnal man, all that is to be denied.

Some aspects of self are absolutely evil, and must be denied without limitation such as lusts and carnal affections (Titus 2.12). They are called “members” (Colossians 3:5) that must be put to death. Sin is riveted in the soul, and it is as irksome to a natural heart, to part with any lust, as with a member or joint of the body.

Other aspects of self are only evil as far as they prove to be idols or snares to us. Life and all its benefits, comforts and conveniences – liberty, honours, wealth, friends, health – these are all called self.

Self is a bundle of idols. Since God was laid aside, self seized the crown – everything that we call our own. Everything before which we may put that possessive “ours” may be abused and set up as a snare, all the excellences and comforts of human life, both inward and outward.

That self which we must hate or deny is that self which stands in opposition to God or competition with him, and so competes with him for the throne. Self is the great idol of the world, ever since the fall, when men took the boldness to depose and lay aside God, as it were, self took the throne.

2. How Far Does Self-Denial Go?

All people are to do this in all things, at all times, and with all their hearts.

(a) All people. Everyone is required to do this, all kinds of people (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8.34). There is no calling, no sex, no age, no duty, no condition of life excluded. One way or another, self-denial is an obligation.

No one can exempt themselves. No Christian went out of this world without God at some point or other trying them in some prominent aspect of self-denial (Genesis 22:1).

(b) In all things. It must not be partial. Many can deny themselves in many things, but they are loath to give up everything to God without reservation. Herod denied himself in many things, but could not part with his Herodias.

(c) At all times. It must not be temporary; in a good mood we can give up and renounce everything and be humble. Ahab humbled himself for a few days. It is not enough to deny ourselves in those things that we do not take any pleasure in. We must have this as a constant duty.

(d) With all our heart. It must be out of a principle of grace and out of love to Christ not mere constraint. Self-denial must not be self-seeking, that is abominable to God.
We must deny ourselves what we desire as well as what we enjoy (Titus 2.12). All sin is rooted in a love of pleasure more than of God; we sin, because of the contentment we imagine to be in sin, that draws the heart to practice it. But if we cannot deny ourselves and rule our spirits in this, we are nothing (Proverbs 25:28).

3. Why is Self-Denial Necessary?

(a) God must have our dependence and trust. Man wants independence, to be a god to himself, sufficient for his own happiness (Genesis 3:5). Nothing can be more hateful to God. Self-denial takes us off other things we depend on to trust in God alone.

(b) God must have the highest esteem. When anything is honoured above God, or made equal with God, or indulged against the will of God, Dagon is set up, and the ark is made to fall.

(c) God must be our law-giver. Self is not to interpose and give laws to us, only God’s will must stand. The great contest is, whose will shall stand, God’s will or ours? Self-will is betrayed by murmuring against God’s providence, rebellion against His laws, and obstinate obedience to self (Jeremiah 18:12; Jeremiah 44:17).

(d) God must be our highest purpose (Proverbs 16:4). But the unrenewed person sets up self as the purpose for every action and pushed God out. All the actions of life are only a kind of homage to the idol of self, if they eat and drink, it is to nourish self, a meat-offering and drink-offering to appetite. If they pray or praise, it is but to worship self, to advance the reputation of self; the crown is taken from God’s head, He is not made the highest purpose.

4. How Does Self-Denial Make Us Salt and Light?

(a) It makes us Christ-like. We cannot be conformed to our great Master without this. Jesus Christ came from heaven with the purpose of teaching us the lesson of self-denial. His birth, life, death were a pattern of self-denial (Romans 15:3). It is ridiculous to profess Jesus Christ to be our master, and not be conformed to His example. What is our self to Christ’s self? The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord (Mark 10:25).

(b) It makes us like the disciples. Christ set the example and all the saints have followed after it, some better, some worse (Romans 14:7).

(c) It shows our devotion to Christ. All respect shown to what is regarded as divine in any kind of religion is marked by self-denial. Worldly people can deny themselves to achieve their ends (Psalm 127:2; Ecclesiastes 4:8). A covetous person shames many a godly person. Will lust do more with them than the love of Christ with you? Certainly, we should have a stronger impulse, for we have a better reward; we are influence by a mightier spirit. In reality is not self-denial in worldly people so much as the obstinacy of self-will. The kingdom of Satan is divided; self-will is set up against self-delight or ease. People can deny themselves for their pleasure, they sacrifice their reputation, possessions, conscience and all to that great idol.

(d) It shows we are not our own but the Lord’s (Romans 14:6). Our will should not be our own law, nor our profit our aim, because we are not our own. We cannot say that our tongues are our own, to speak what we please, nor our works our own, nor our interests our own.

5. What Does Self-Denial Look Like?

(a) When every purpose and choice is swayed by reasons of conscience rather than by reasons of interest. When we are content to be anything, so long as it serves for God’s glory and Jesus Christ may be all in all (Philippians 1:23). A child of God does not consider what will most gratify the flesh but how they may do most work and service and glorify God on earth.

(b) Humble submission to God’s will (2 Samuel 15:25-26; 1 Samuel 3:18). The children of God consent to give up their souls, possessions and friends if providence so orders it (Job 1:21). They can see as much reason to bless God, when He impoverishes them as when He enriches them. This is being like the great example Christ Himself who said, “Not my will”.

(c) When a person is vile in his own eyes because of their sins. None pass a severer sentence than the children of God do upon themselves when they have sinned against God. They need no other judge than their own consciences to pass a sentence upon them. By nature we are apt to favour ourselves and censure others more than humble ourselves. But God’s children are different (1 Timothy 1:15; Proverbs 30:2; Psalm 73:23). If these things are truly spoken out of a deep felt sense, it is an encouraging sign that self is dethroned in you.

6. How Do We Engage in Self-Denial?

(a) Reduce your esteem and affection for worldly things. If you would deny yourself for Christ, you must prize the worst of Christ before the best of the world. Moses could deny himself because he “esteemed the reproach of Christ to be greater riches, than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:25). Moses’ had his esteem right.

The greater our affection for something the greater our trouble when we have to part with it. When this is so with the things of the world, it troubles us to part with them for Christ’s sake. When anything begins to sit too close and too near the heart, it is good for a Christian to be wary, and ask how will I deny this for God so that we are not brought under its power (1 Corinthians 6:12). What you possess is not who you are (Luke 12:15). You can say of anything, “I can still be happy without this.”

(b) Seek self in God. There is a lawful self-seeking when we seek it in God (John 5:44). If you desire pleasure, remember, there are no pleasures like to the delights you can enjoy by communion with God, the pleasures which are at His right hand for evermore. If you desire riches, turn your heart towards the good treasure God has opened in the covenant, to be rich in grace, rich towards God.

(c) Be resolved to experience the worst, to please God even though you may experience the displeasure of the whole world. A person never comes to Christ in the right way, unless they give up everything and allow Christ to take it all.

(d) Do not confine your wellbeing to outward things, beware of binding up you life and contentment with created things (Habakkuk 3:17-18). Your happiness does not lie within yourselves, nor in any other created thing, but only in God.

(e) Exercise faith often. A person will leave what they have on earth more easily when they have strong expectations of heaven (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16).

(f) In all conflicts of conscience and self-interest, observe God’s special providence to you. Ask yourself where did you receive the thing from that you are so unwilling to part with if not from the Lord? Distrust is the basis of self-seeking. We find it hard to deny ourselves because we do not consider the providence of God to us and that all things are in His hands (2 Chronicles 25:9

(g) God has a right to all that is yours. He made it and He gave it to you. You have given yourself and all you have to God (Romans 12:1).

(h) Understand what sins you are particularly tempted to more than others so as to deny that sin (Psalm 18:23).

(i) Consider the times in which you live and how they call for self-denial. If they are times of affliction we must seek to sit looser to the things of this world (Jeremiah 45:4-5). When we are likely to put a stumbling-block in the way of a new convert (2 Kings 5:26). In prosperous times we must deny ourselves in charity (Mark 10:31). A persons needs to fear their heart more in prosperous times than in times of persecution lest they are only lovers of themselves with a mere “form of godliness” ( 2 Timothy 3:1).



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.