The energetic activity of waiting

The energetic activity of waiting

The energetic activity of waiting
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

All our safety and wellbeing depends on keeping close to the Lord. Yet our sinful hearts keep drifting away from Him, to our own cost as well as His dishonour. When we then come to our senses and realise He is far away and we are in a desperate place without Him, what can we do? In the following updated extract, William Guthrie’s advice to helpless, sin-stricken people is not to give in to a passive, lethargic, despairing kind of inactivity, but to “wait” on the Lord by rejecting unsafe alternatives and by persisting in the expectation of grace from Him.

While Isaiah speaks for himself, he speaks for all the godly, when he says, “I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him” (Isaiah 8:17). In these words you have the duty of the people of God: to wait on the Lord until He pleads their cause, and executes judgment for them.

One of the doctrines we can deduce from this verse is that when people are shaken out of their self-confidence, it is their duty then to wait on God.

Reasons why we should wait on God

We are to wait on God for several reasons.

  • Because we are commanded to. “Wait on the Lord” is often commanded in Scripture.
  • Because of the promise that is annexed to waiting. “Those that wait upon the Lord shall never be ashamed.”
  • Because it is the most acquiescent and composed posture one can possibly be in. In an evil time, “it is good to hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
  • Because it has always been the work and practice of the people of God, even in the days of old. Says the Psalmist, “My soul waits for the Lord, more than they that do watch for the morning.”
  • Because it always has a joyful outcome. “Lo! this is our God! we have waited for him, we will rejoice in him!”

But so that you may better know when it is your duty to wait on the Lord, I shall in the next place show you three things. Firstly, what precedes, or goes before, waiting on the Lord. Secondly, what it means to wait. And thirdly, what follows a right waiting on the Lord.

Things that come before waiting

[In order to wait on the Lord, these things should be firmly fixed in our hearts.]

It really is our duty. The duty itself is fully set out in this chapter. “Say not, ‘A confederacy!’ with them to whom this people shall say, ‘A confederacy’;” that is, “Do not let their words make you afraid.” “But only sanctify the Lord in your hearts;” that is, be only afraid of offending Him.

There is a promise held out to those who make Him their fear. “He shall be for a sanctuary unto them.”

A threatening is pronounced against those who fall away from Him. There is a threatening pronounced against the common multitude who decline and join with the times. “He will be for a stone of stumbling unto them.” It is only a promise held out to those who walk aright, while it is a threatening against those who go wrong and comply in an evil time.

What does waiting on the Lord mean?

Exclusively on God

Waiting on God means that the heart terminates on Him, with an expectation fixed only on God for help, and on none else. “My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him.” That is, “Wait on God, and on no other.” Similar is that word, “Help us, Lord, for vain is the help of man.”

Pre-eminently on God

Waiting on God also signifies that your expectation is more on God Himself than on any created means. God can give you means, but if you don’t get Himself, it doesn’t matter what else you might get. He may send back your means for a plague to you and not for your good. Therefore plead with Him, and be blunt with Him, and say, “Go with us, Lord, or else carry us not up hence.” So I say, you should plead more for God’s presence than any other means under heaven.

Whatever it costs

Waiting on God means submitting to the seasons of deliverance from your present condition, and to the ordering of it and all that concerns you, while under the trial.

For as long as it takes

Wait on God means resolving to remain at the duty of waiting, until He shows you what else you should do. For waiting on God is still your duty while you are in the dark, and can use no other means for your relief.

What follows after waiting

These things follow after waiting, and are clear from the text.

Stigma. You must resolve to be “for signs and wonders in Israel.” If ever you resolve to be someone who waits on God, you must resolve to be mocked, reproached, banished, imprisoned, and every other way persecuted for Christ.

Pressures. A great many temptations follow when you wait on God.

Isolation. There will be few left to preach the gospel or to consult with in that dark time. He says, “Go to the law, and to the testimony.” You must then make use of your Bibles instead of your ministers.

Eventual vindication. The manifest vengeance of God shall be on those who turn aside. That will be the lot of those who oppose the work and people of God.

The implications for us

Have you been given your work and duty in a dark time? Then go to God. Don’t plead ignorance, saying, “What shall we do?” Instead, I say, wait on the Lord, and judge yourselves happy, that the thing which is your duty cannot take from you by enemies (though they may take your life from you).

Face temptations squarely. Before temptation comes, be resolved that they will not cause you to turn aside. Make the effort to be clear in your understanding as to the honesty and justness of the cause, and for that end be well acquainted with the Scripture, and there see what is your duty.

To conclude, believe this, that God’s wrath abides on those who turn aside from Him. All that they previously took pleasure in shall forsake them, or shall be embittered to them, in the day when those who waited shall enjoy what they waited for.

 

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What to do when the Lord seems absent

What to do when the Lord seems absent

What to do when the Lord seems absent
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

Sometimes it can seem that the Lord is ignoring His people, whether individually or as a church. Their prayers go unanswered and the Bible does not seem to speak powerfully into their situation. We know of course that the Lord never forsakes His people completely, yet these periods of apparent silence and withdrawal on His part are troubling and wearying for His beleaguered people. William Guthrie confronts this situation in a sermon on Isaiah 8, updated and excerpted below. Recognising frankly how we do not deserve the Lord to keep smiling on us, Guthrie nevertheless insists that the Lord remains committed to His people and actively concerned for their interests. The response Guthrie recommends can be taken both by individual Christians and, just as importantly, collectively as congregations and churches.

Sometimes the Lord seems to hide His face

In Isaiah 8:17–18 there is both the sad situation of the church of God (“He hideth His face from the house of Israel”) and also the duty of the people of God (“Wait upon the Lord that hideth His face”).

Saying that the Lord is “hiding His face” is a way of showing how the Lord seems to stand aloof from noticing the situation of His people. “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).

It also includes how He refrains His Spirit from the ordinances, or withholds His influences from them, so that the Word of the Lord does not have that kindly effect and operative power on the heart as it previously had. Instead your hearts are hardened from His fear.

He also refrains the spirit of prayer. “There is none that calleth upon thy name; that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee” (Isaiah 64:7). We do not have a heart to pray.

The Lord also keeps His mind hidden from His people. He doing strange things, but His people do not understand what He is doing. I confess that when the Lord conceals His mind in the public ordinances, it is the saddest of all these ways of the Lord hiding His face from His people.

How we should respond when the Lord hides His face

In a situation when the Lord hides His face from His people, they should search and try their ways, and turn unto the Lord. This is dismissed as a commonplace truth, yet it is a good old truth. Many look for vain things to be done as their duty, but what we must do is to acknowledge our sins, and the evil of our own ways.

The Lord’s people should also justify Him in all that He does, and judge themselves to be guilty. Lay aside your ornaments, then, and lie in the dust. It is not a time now to dress up in a gaudy manner, but to sit in sackcloth and be humble before Him. Many are ready to say, “The king, the nobles, and ministers are to blame for all of what is now happening in the land.” But nobody says, “What have I done?” However, every one of us must look at what we have individually done, and justify the Lord, and acknowledge that He has done nothing contrary to the covenant.

The Lord’s people also have the duty of strengthening what remains. Is there anything left? Go, I beg you, and strengthen that. Is there nothing left but words? Then make use of these. “Take with you words, and return unto the Lord,” and speak all the more often to one another. Is prayer all that is left? Then ply it well. Can you pray better with others than by yourself alone? Then make good use of social prayer. Whatever duty you are most successful in, make it your care to go about that duty. Whatever remains, you should strengthen that.

Then, when the Lord’s people are doing these three things, their duty is to wait on the Lord and expect good from Him, both for themselves and for the church. “Let Israel wait upon the Lord, from this time forth, and for ever. Wait upon the Lord, and be of good courage; and He shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, upon the Lord.”

Even when the Lord is hiding, He is still there

Even when God is hiding Himself, yet He is still indoors, so to speak. Our text calls him, “the Lord that dwelleth in Mount Zion.” That is where He has His abode—in His church.

So we should remember that the Lord does not dwell in His church as if He is unaffected with her condition, whether good or evil. No; He is mindful of her concerns, and she is still “the apple of His eye.”

Remember too that as long as God dwells amongst His people, He always has some work to work amongst them. He is not there as an indifferent spectator.

Also remember that although He is in the church, yet He is not confined to any particular church in the world. Since the true ordinances of God are yet amongst us, we are then a people and a part of the church of God. And seeing God is in the church, He is not far off if we will seek Him. Seek Him therefore seriously, for He is most willing to be found by you.

When we lose self-confidence, we should keep confidence in God

When we are shaken out of all self-confidence, it is our duty then to wait on God.

“Wait on the Lord” is often commanded in Scripture. And a promise is annexed to waiting: “Those that wait upon the Lord shall never be ashamed.”

To wait on the Lord is the most quiescent and composed posture one can possibly be in. In an evil time, “it is good to hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

And waiting on God always has a joyful outcome. “Lo! this is our God, we have waited for him, we will rejoice in him.”

Our focus should remain on the Lord

In order to wait on the Lord, we must not be afraid of anyone or anything else apart from the Lord. We must focus on the promise held out to those who make Him their fear, “He shall be for a sanctuary unto them.”

Waiting then involves our hearts fixing on God, and none else. “My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from Him.” Similarly, “Help us, Lord, for vain is the help of man.”

Also, let us have our expectation more on God Himself than on any created means. God can give you means, but if you do not get God Himself, then, no matter what you get, the means may turn into a plague, and not for your good. Plead with Him, therefore, and be positive with Him, and say, “Go with us, Lord, or else carry us not up hence.” Plead more for God’s presence than any other means under heaven.

Waiting also means submitting to the seasons of deliverance from your trouble, and how it and all your concerns are ordered, while you are under the trial.

It also means resolving to continue in the duty of waiting until He shows you what else you should do. Waiting on God is still your duty while you are in the dark, and can do nothing else for relief.

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Seven ways true humility shows itself

Seven ways true humility shows itself

Seven ways true humility shows itself
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

When one woman came to Jesus asking for His help, He apparently tried to send her away unanswered. But that woman was as humble as she was trusting, and humility prompted her both to accept what Jesus had against her and to persist in waiting for Him to bless her. In his sermon on this incident, William Guthrie explores the features of true humility, like this woman had, which distinguish it from the false kind. As the following updated extract shows, he identifies seven ways in which true humility manifests itself.

True humility accepts what God says about sin

True humility complies with God in all His accusations of sin. Let God charge you with whatever He wills, true humility accepts it all. If the Lord calls us a dog, we respond, “It is true, Lord; we are justly called this, for we come of a bad kind, and we ourselves are far worse, and likely to grow no better. We are guilty of all these things.” In this way true humility grants everything, and yet is never a bit the further from obtaining its goal [of receiving blessing from the Lord]. Comply with Him therefore today in what He says about sin. If there is anything in your way when approaching to Him at His table, and you cannot tell whether it is a sin or not, treat it as a sin, and be ready to let go of it.

True humility accepts what God says about corruption

True humility complies with God in all the charges He brings of corruption.

God says, “You have an evil heart.”

“I know it very well,” you say in humility, “that’s true.”

“You are not likely to amend, for all the work I’ve done with you.”

“I agree, Lord, I have made such little progress.”

“Your heart is as ready to do evil as it ever was.”

“That is certainly true.”

“I think there was never something bad that came from any of your people, but probably it came from you.”

“True, Lord.”

“Your heart is inclining to some bad way right now.”

“That’s as true as the rest.”

This is how true humility accepts all the charges of corruption that are brought against the soul.

True humility accepts God’s remedy for sin and corruption

But true humility also complies with God as to the remedy both for the pardon of sin and for the power of sin. True humility is not too proud to submit to the righteousness of God.

True humility grants that it is a slave to many a lust, but it will grant more than that — it will grant that Christ is “made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption.”

“My heart faints and fails,” it is true, indeed, “But God is the strength of my heart, and portion for ever.” That is true too.

If God says, “There is life in my Son,” true humility is just as ready to say, “That is true; I shall get life.”

If God says, “There is no way to destroy corruption but by abiding in Christ,” then humility replies, “Well then, I will cling to Him just as the branches abide in the vine.”

If God says, “There is a fountain opened to the house of David for sin, and for uncleanness,” then true humility says, “That’s true,” and it complies with this as the only remedy for corruption to be purged away.

True humility grasps God’s gospel

True humility complies with God by continuing to wait on Him, and that in spite of much boasting, and many difficulties. It does not give the Lord short shrift on first appearances, so to speak. Humility says, in other words, “Even if God will not give this thing, at this time, let Him do as He pleases.” It is simply pride to leave God when His first appearances seem to turn you away. This woman is a pattern of true humility for us to copy.

“Thou art a dog,” was what Jesus said at first.

“I grant,” says she, “I am a filthy one.”

“Thou art none of mine,” is what He says next.

“I grant,” says she, “I was never worthy to be called one of thine. That is true, Lord, but we must not part like this. I will wait until I reach God’s real purpose,” which was to save sinners.

All His hard sayings were never intended to put away a poor sinner, but rather to stir up their desires into more life, and to bring them nearer to Himself.

True humility will grieve that it gets no more, but yet it still takes what it can have.

Take good heed: this aspect of true humility consists primarily in these two things:—

1. It is thankful for Christ. It takes the essentials of life and peace, i.e., Christ Himself, and although it still complains of the lack of those precious things which He usually distributes to His people, yet it will solace itself in effectual grace. It sees Christ the essential treasure, worth everything in the world. It accepts Him thankfully. With awe of God on the heart, those who have humility will be conscientious about their way of life, but still there will be much sorrow at their hearts that they cannot get the love of God more abundantly shed abroad in their hearts, or the awareness of His presence and access in prayer. Sure, but these things are not food. They are beautiful rings and jewels, but you cannot eat them. They are good and delightsome; but you cannot be kept alive by them. It is Himself that fills the humble, and is all in all to them.

2. It is conscious of what it lacks. True humility will be taking what is essential, and yet it will know itself to lack many things. It will be constantly grieving or complaining for lack of other essentials. True humility will be blessing God, and yet loathing itself for what it has done. It will be very low because it cannot get heart-breaking contrition, self-loathing, and self-judging for sin. It loathes itself because it cannot love and take thankfully from God’s hand anything that in love He bestows. It would gladly have more love. Although the humble person’s heart is not what he would like it to be and not what it ought to be, yet he will take it thankfully from God’s hand that He has brought him at least to offer up his heart to Him, and also to His whole law. But still it breaks that person’s heart that he cannot attain to practical obedience to all God’s commands. Yet since God has said it is an evidence of love to have some respect to all His commands — “Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect to all thy commandments” — the humble person will bless the Lord for all He has given him until he gets more. Some will get permission to stand at the King’s table, and some to share the same bowl as Him, while others are placed at a side table with a piece of dry bread, and yet all are fed with the same substantial food — the one who gets the crumbs as well as the one who sits at the table.

True humility leaves God to sort things out

True humility takes the things in the bare promise, and leaves the performance of them to God’s own time. Give true humility a promise, and it will rest satisfied.

It gives much glory to God, and is well pleasing in His sight, that we should hang everything on the promise. It is what God has designed, that we should all hang on His word. True humility says, “If He will give me a word, that will save me. Let Him do with me as seemeth Him good.” True humility prays, “Give me the promise that Thou wilt break the dominion of such and such a lust, or idol; then I will leave it to Thee to do it when Thou wilt. Though I am impatient of how this sin rules in me, yet I will not be so peremptory as to say that I must have it done at this communion or else never look for it any more.”

You must not limit Him to such and such a time. You must not limit the Holy One of Israel. He has said, “It shall be well with the righteous.” And, “The foot of the wicked shall slide in due time.” Then wait for it. It shall be accomplished, since He has said that He will do it.

True humility turns to God for help

True humility does not dare to help to bring about the performance of the promise in any way, except in the way that God has allowed. If the Lord commands a duty, humility doesn’t dare to dispute with God about the outcome, whatever cross or difficulty may follow from it. Humility is more interested in getting Christ to remove wrath by the cross than the stroke in the cross. It embraces Him as the only remedy, whereas false humility would shake off the cross and take some nearer way. True humility will wait on a while, for it continues to expect good at God’s hand.

If He commands me to go to a particular communion, then even if I lack the proper frame for it, I must go there. And then I am to grasp Himself, and exercise the faith of holding on to Him, till I get more. Even if I am not in a good frame, I am not to stay away from the communion; for where is a good frame to be had if not in His way? True humility does not dare take any sinful way to bring about God’s promise, neither does it dare venture on anything not commanded by God.

True humility takes God’s side

True humility takes more liberties with its own things than with the matters of God. Hence, when my own interest and God’s interest come in competition, humility stands up for God’s side and lets its own interests slide.

For example, there may be a thing which it would be sinful for me to do, but if I don’t do it, I shall be made to suffer. “Well,” says the humble one, “but I will rather suffer before I sin. For on the one hand there is only suffering, but on the other hand there is sinning.”

“Ay,” the false replies, “but there may be sin in suffering consequently.” Yet that is only a maybe. The one may or may not be, but the other is clearly and manifestly sin. Even if my suffering comes to be sin consequently, yet I am not called to venture on what is manifestly guilt, just because my suffering may be sin consequently.

True humility will take more risks with the body than with the soul, and in this it complies with God, for God regards the soul more highly. Take this example for a proof: God cut down Job’s children and all his worldly substance, and actually, all he had, just so that Job might get a little more grace. Oh, but God will squeeze a man strongly in his body, interests, and goods, to increase his grace.

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Two ways we argue with God

Two ways we argue with God

Two ways we argue with God
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

The welcoming Saviour occasionally seemed to push people away. This was what appeared to happen to the woman who came to ask for His help in Matthew 15. He made a seemingly dismissive comment counting her as one of the dogs instead of one of the children belonging to the family. Amazingly the woman didn’t take His words at face value but perceived the welcome disguised behind them. In humility she actually turned His words to her own favour, pointing out that even the dogs would eat the crumbs that fell from the meal table. She perceived that a crumb of grace was as good as a whole loaf. In the following updated sermon, William Guthrie takes a closer look at humility. Unlike this woman whose faith and humility were genuine, we can sometimes say apparently humble things which in reality expose our lack of faith and indeed our pride.

True humility does not argue with Christ Jesus, but sweetly complies with Him. But let me show you what way false humility works. False humility is always at one of two extremes. It is either lower than God would have it, or it is higher than God can tolerate.

1. False humility goes lower than God wants

Leaving our responsibility to God

For example, there are many of you who will leave it to God whether to save or damn you. That is false humility, because He has declared His mind peremptorily to the contrary. People are to keep pressing to get into heaven, until they are actually cast into hell. They will get no thanks from God for that kind of humility.

Giving a latitude to God where He takes none

False humility leaves it up to God to save you whether you believe or not. “We know,” say some, “that people should believe; but He may save us in any way. He may bring folk to heaven equally well without faith as with it.” Do you imagine that God will bring people to heaven if they do not believe? You are making a great mistake. “He that believeth not shall not see life. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

Putting you lower than the reach of free grace

When a man takes such a look of his guilt that he thinks himself below the free grace of God, it is false humility. Though he does not want to say that he has sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost, yet he thinks God cannot pardon him. But it is a sin to think like this, when God has said, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven.” In this way false humility justles out the whole of God’s arrangements in the covenant of free grace.

Taking more care of the glory of God than He does Himself

It is a strange sort of humility when someone stands up and says, “I think it would be an encroachment on the holiness of God to show mercy to me. He may show mercy to whoever He pleases, but He cannot pardon me.” That is a strange thing. You do not need to worry about encroachments on His holiness, when He has declared that He has found a ransom. Will you be wiser than God? He will never regard that as humility! It is enough to us that He has made a declaration through the world, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you Him.” As if to say, “I shall satisfy myself in myself. Don’t trouble your heads about that. I am satisfied.”

Thinking it is a mistake to take little problems to God

False humility goes lower than God allows when it treats it as a faux pas to put little things into God’s hand. Many think it would be injudicious for them at such a time as this to ask God to heal their sore head which incapacitates them from hearing the preaching, or to help their faint heart that hinders them from profiting by the Word. But this is the devil’s humility, for the Lord counts all the hairs of your head. Some think it would be some sort of gaffe to ask for a bag of meal from God, and a coat to put on their back at such a time as this – but He has commanded you to put all your needs onto Him, from your salvation to your shoe-latchet.

Thinking it a mistake to come to God often about the same thing

This humility justles with the majesty of God. This is the case with many of us. You have told God often what you are. You have frequented many communions, and yet you are not the better. You have come often with one and the same thing, and now you blush to come to Him again.

But in this you are humble overmuch. Really you should be ashamed that you have not come again and again about one and the same thing! Never account it a mistake to come to Him repeatedly (though the world would think it was), while He has told the brother to forgive the brother seventy times seven in a day. How much more will the great God of heaven forgive us in one day!

2. False humility rises higher than ever God allowed it

“I’m not good enough to be saved by Christ”

False humility goes higher than can be tolerated, in refusing to go into debt to God. This is when people are still seeking for some qualification before they dare approach Christ in believing. They say they would not hesitate to go to Him if they could only get their hearts so and so broken—that is, if they could endure some penance for their sins. But this is to justle with God, for He sings this one note, “Come without money, and without price.” Many are playing upon this string, “If only I had such and such a measure of sorrow for my transgressions”—i.e., “I’m not willing to venture on Him absolutely.” But you won’t get anything but God’s curse or displeasure if you don’t change your tune. If you stick out over any qualification, you spoil the market of free grace wholly.

“I’m too much of a sinner for Christ to save me”

A false humility is unwilling to be absolutely in Christ’s debt. Those who have it resolve to be only a very little in His debt, even though they realise they must be in His debt to some extent. “For,” they say, “He may show mercy to any other sinner, but not to such a sinner as I am. I know He can pardon sinners, but I don’t want to assume that He will pardon the kind of sinner I am.”

But remember what distance is between you, the creature, and God; and between sin and free grace. The difficulty here is, to make God stoop to man, when there is such an infinite distance between God and the creature. But there is no comparable disproportion between your sin, and the sin of anyone else. Has free grace stooped to pardon the sin of any? Then the hazard is past. So your humility is proud humility, because you don’t want to be absolutely in His debt. You would dare to venture the pardon of one sin on Him, as long as it was only a bad thought, or suchlike, but you dare not venture the pardon of a great sin. That is strange ignorance! Since free grace has stooped to pardon any sin, then if you have the heart to venture the pardon of one idle word on Him, then you may also venture on Him the pardon of drunkenness, covenant-breaking, and indeed, every sin. No sin can stand in the way, because the disproportion is between sin and grace, and not between grace and a particular sin.

“I can’t go to God until I’ve got a broken heart”

False humility also justles with God about sin after conversion. Many, when they come first to close with Christ, realise they must resolve to take Him on His own terms, and to be absolutely in His debt. But afterwards they think they cannot come if they don’t have such and such a stock of grace. “Am I supposed to go to God,” they say, “in such a frame as this, before I get my heart humbled?”

But don’t you agree that all your exercises of faith, repentance, etc., are from God, and absolutely from God? Then you have to be in His debt for repentance and a broken heart, as well as for the pardon of sin. This is not the time to be haggling with Him. You must be absolutely in His debt now after conversion, just as much as when you first closed with Him. It is true you ought to be in a better frame, yet you must be always in His debt. Since you lack a better frame, and cannot get it, you must always be in His debt – for new debt, as well as for the old. I grant it is your duty to seek for a good frame of spirit, but if you cannot get it, you are to cast all on Himself together, for He cares for you.

“All my experiences are worthless”

False humility will not acknowledge crumbs to be real and true bread. Because people don’t have the special experiences that others report – because there is something they’ve never had, because they never knew a remarkable answer to prayer or a wonderful sense of God’s presence – therefore they despise everything they have experienced. Truly that is very proud. You think nothing of heart conviction – but someone may have something worse than that. You think it nothing that you see Christ to be a precious jewel; you think it nothing that your desire runs towards Him. But indeed I think very much of it. You think nothing of it that you account all His commands to be right, and that you have a respect to both small and great of them. But that is a miserable humility, since the Scripture has said, “They shall never be ashamed who have respect to all his commandments.” The crumbs are really bread just as much as big loaves. The woman in Matthew 15 was prudent; she could make do with little crumbs until she got more.

“I’ll make do without the things that God can give me”

This high-handed humility says it won’t hold God to some promise, on condition that He will perform other promises. Some would not ask God for bodily health, or the life of their wives or children, provided He would save their souls and keep them from the troubles of this time.

But is it fair, do you think, to set such limits to the free bounty and holy majesty of God, so that you do not deal liberally with Him according to His own Word? Does He hold back anything from you? He is of a liberal heart, and allows His people to devise liberal things at His hand. Is He going to be in your debt, so to speak, if you let Him off from performing one promise as long as He makes good another one? Absolutely not, and in fact He allows you to seek your salvation and your health, and the health of your children, with food and raiment to you and them, and every other thing that may be for your good. I grant that if the Lord calls you to give up these things, you are to submit them all to Him, but when He is not expressly calling you to that, then you are not to do it, but to hold Him to His promise.

Has He not promised, “Thou shalt have bread, and thy water shall be sure”? Then you may seek it from Him, for He can well spare it. He will never thank you for not asking a temporal benefit, even if it was just the cure of a sore head, or sickly body. I say, Seek health, food, and raiment, and as much means as may carry you through the world without being burdensome to others. He hates the manner of a churl. “The liberal man deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things he shall stand.”

 

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Breaking the cycle of intergenerational perversity

Breaking the cycle of intergenerational perversity

Breaking the cycle of intergenerational perversity
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

A failing health service, the social care timebomb, disregard for the safety of women and children, economic stagnation, the aftermath of the pandemic, immigration woes, a crisis in law and order, the deficiencies of our energy policy – yet even the boldest politicians seem to offer little more than sticking plasters, if not proposals that will positively make things worse. Even secular commentators are talking in terms of Britain’s “fall from grace” and expressing frustration at how little yield there is for our efforts. We seem to have inherited problems from the previous decades and generations which we cannot solve, while inheriting opportunities which we fail to exploit to our advantage. At the national level it is as if something is preventing us from achieving what we could.

Yet this is not a new experience. In the 1600s commentators such as William Guthrie were keen observers of national trends and their analysis moved beyond the political and economic to also take into consideration the spiritual dimension. In Guthrie’s view, national stagnation and failures were the price the nation paid for collectively forsaking the Lord and loosening their commitment to His ways. In the 1700s Thomas Boston, sharing essentially the same outlook as Guthrie, elaborated further on the perversity of his generation. It was a perversity which seemed to actively incite God to thwart their attempts to better themselves.

The following pair of updated extracts from their writings show Guthrie’s self-accusation of the nation and Boston’s earnest exhortations to “save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Although politicians will always disappoint us with the limited solutions they can offer to the nation’s problems, it is not inevitable that we keep sinking into ever worsening decline. If we accept Guthrie’s and Boston’s analysis and advice, we can break out of the cycle of intergenerational perversity and thrive under God’s blessing.

God is right to be angry with us when we refuse to be humbled by His chastisements

By William Guthrie

We have responded with deep-rooted complacency, impenitence, obstinacy and incorrigibleness under all the dreadful chastisements of God.

Although God has visited us with dreadful chastisements, we have responded with complacency and incorrigibleness. God has also given us tokens of his indignation against us because of these attitudes, yet our attitudes do not change. So while he continues to smite, we are so far from humbling ourselves and turning to him that we grow worse and worse, and sin more and more.

This is surely undeniable. We only need to observe the condition of the land, and the present character and behaviour of the people. Virtually everyone is crying out for their afflictions, but almost no one is mourning for his sin.

What kind of generation is this?

By Thomas Boston

“Save yourselves from this untoward generation” is part of Peter’s advice to his hearers in his sermon in Acts 2. What kind of generation was this?

A generation that has become impervious to the means of grace and the glorious gospel of Christ.

And is not this the case of the present generation? We have long enjoyed the gospel, and now we are like those who are made deaf by the continual sounding of many waters. To whom shall preachers now speak? Who now believes the report of the gospel? Some who once trembled at the Word, now sit like brazen walls against it. Some whose consciences were once touched, are now apparently seared with a hot iron. What can be expected, but that God will change his messengers, and try sharp rods after a slighted word?

A generation in which corruption of life and manners is become universal, having overspread all ranks of society

Alas! is not this our very case? Is not profaneness and wickedness like a flood gone over all its banks? If we look at the congregation, what profane swearing, drunkenness, biting and devouring one another, and uncleanness abound among us, even in the midst of gospel-light! Is this the fruit of plenty, fulness, and thriving in the world? If we look abroad through the nations, religion is truly fallen under contempt. Looseness and licentiousness are become fashionable, the flood-gates of debauchery are set open, and there is no stemming of the tide. The generation has not stopped at ordinary crimes, but they have proceeded to an open defiance of heaven by atheism and blasphemy. What prodigious blasphemies have been heard of, of late! The foundations of Christianity are sapped by damnable heresies. The principles of true religion are in hazard of being lost, not only among people, but pastors. What a dreadful conjuncture this is, when in England and Ireland the supreme Godhead of Christ, and His equality with the Father, is denied, while in Scotland legalism, by which the purity of gospel-doctrine is corrupted, prevails and is countenanced so much!

A generation deaf to the calls of providence, who are not drawn by mercies, and not driven to repentance by lesser strokes

Our generation has met with a great variety of providences. Uncertainty as to who the new monarch would be – but God gave us King George and not another Stuart monarch. Civil unrest in the Jacobite Rising of 1714 – but God stopped it from filling the whole land with blood. Impoverishment following the failure of the Darien Scheme. The threat of pestilence, which rages in France – but so far God has averted it from us. What is the fruit of all these mercies, strokes, deliverances, and long-suffering? Are we bettered by them? So far from it, that we are visibly growing worse and worse. We take one bad step after another, so that the reasons why God is angry are still multiplying.

A generation resistant to check, control, or reproof in their sinful courses, but determined to have their own way

People cannot endure reproof. Church discipline is despised. Personal interventions are apt to incense the reproved against the reprover. Ministers challenging people in the preaching of the Word, people are not able to bear, if they are too close to the bone. Everyone cares more about reputation than conscience.

How can we save ourselves from this generation?

As a first step, we must open our eyes, and look.

1. Look around you, and observe the generation, and consider seriously the way they are going, and the perversity which this manifests. Otherwise you will never bestir yourself to save yourself from it.

2. Look above you, to God. Take notice how the course of the untoward generation is displeasing to Him, how it dishonours Him and robs Him of the glory that is due to his name. God is the governor of the world, and He is not an idle spectator of what people do on earth. Since He looks to us, let us look up to Him.

3. Look within you, and see what perversity exists within your own heart, and appears in your own life and way (Isaiah 6:5). Nobody saves themselves from an untoward generation without beginning here.

More particularly:

1. Return to God by Jesus Christ, in the way of the everlasting covenant held out to you in the gospel. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Be stiff-necked no longer, but yield yourself to the Lord. Take salvation closely to heart now at last, and enter into the covenant, if you are still a stranger to Christ. And if you are the friend of Christ, renew your covenant, give a renewed consent to the marriage-covenant between Christ and your soul.

2. Endeavour to walk closely with God in your personal capacity, as Noah did (Genesis 6:9). Strive to be acquainted with the life and power of religion in your own souls. When the church is going through a dark and cloudy day, it is hard to keep fast to a religion you don’t feel. When the winds of error and delusion are left to blow, they will hurt anyone who doesn’t know God. In a time of general calamity, anyone who cannot live by faith will find it hard to live.

3. Beware of and stand at a distance from the sinful ways and courses of the untoward generation. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). Let it not encourage you to sin, that you see others take liberty to themselves to do so, for that way you only enter into the conspiracy against God with the multitude. If you are ever to save yourselves from this untoward generation, you will be instructed of God (as Isaiah was), that he “should not walk in the way of this people” (Isaiah 8:11).

4. Mourn over the sins of the untoward generation, as well as over your own, otherwise you are not free of them (Ezekiel 9:4; Psalm 119:136). “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes,” said David, “because they (the wicked) keep not thy law.” God is dishonoured, His name is profaned, His ways, truths, and ordinances are trampled on by this untoward generation – and we stand by as unconcerned spectators, or else join in! What? is God our Father? is Christ our elder brother? are we on heaven’s side or are we not?

5. Make the welfare of Christ’s church a matter of your own personal concern. Take a personal interest in how it fares with the church of Christ in this untoward generation.

There has been much contending in Scotland, even unto blood, for all the parts of our covenanted reformation. Few of the Covenanting generation remain now, but in this current generation the work is at risk of going to wreck at our hands. It is much to be lamented that church members generally are very easy and complacent about the matter. They do not see the danger, they do not perceive the weight of it, and they are not inclined to take much interest in it. Hence no wonder they are not busy wrestling with God about it. But you are called to bestir yourself on Zion’s behalf. Our Lord takes notice how people behave in times when His interest is sinking. He will look after His own interests Himself in due time, but those who stand aloof from it are in a dangerous position, according to what Mordecai told Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed” (Esther 4:14).

Now is the time to save yourselves. God is still on a throne of grace. He is calling to you, however far you have gone on with the untoward generation, to save yourselves now from this generation.

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The wrong kind of fear

The wrong kind of fear

The wrong kind of fear
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

​Anxieties are rising as people are struggling to respond to a complex combination of problems. The cost of living crisis, fuel costs, the war in Ukraine, the discontent that has led to so much strike action, the weaknesses of the NHS and the social care system – there are plenty reasons for concern.

Fear is an instinct which can sometimes helpfully prompt us to avoid danger, yet other times damagingly paralyses us. In spiritual terms, fear can get the better of us when we forget both how great and how good God is. According to Matthew 14, the disciples in the boat in the storm cried out for fear. In the following updated extract, William Guthrie discusses the debilitating effects of fear in the Lord’s people, before suggesting ways to avoid being wrongly fearful.

The people of God are very prone to the wrong kind of fear, when new difficulties appear to them.

What is the wrong kind of fear?

God’s people are troubled with a fear that is sometimes called “slavish fear.” It arises from various sources, including the misbelief of what God has said, and forgetting what He has said concerning them. It flows also from fixing on His providence [instead of His Word], and putting the worst possible construction on it.

Another source it flows from is despondency of spirit and heartlessness. That weakens their hands in the use of lawful means for bearing their own trial and working for their own deliverance. Their faith and hope and all goes to wrack and ruin. Then there often arises an inclination to follow some unlawful means for deliverance, and even if they do not actually follow it, still the heart is naturally laid open for such a temptation. Ordinarily, complaints are the fruits of slavish fear.

To summarise, slavish fear consists in an atheistical putting of created things in a channel of independency on God, as if the creature could come and go of its own accord without commission from Him. “It is God who comforteth: who art thou that art afraid of a man that shall die, &c.?” (Isaiah 51:12). The truth is, the Lord’s people had forgotten the omnipotent power and sovereignty of God, and thought that mere humans could do with them what they pleased without God. When you are so minded, it is a hundred to one if you don’t attempt to get out from under the trial in some unlawful way.

Why do God’s people have this fear?

First, there is the great ignorance of God’s care for His people.

That is the cause of all their slavish fear, and it is what He challenges His people for. “Thou hast feared every day, and hast forgotten me: who art thou that art afraid of a man that shall die?” (Isaiah 51:12–13) We imagine ourselves as standing alone without God. “There feared they, where no fear was.”

The second reason is unbelief.

Thirdly, there is atheism, a growing sin, i.e., when His people think of God as like some creature, and created things like God, as if created things can work what they wish without Him. They put God above the creature in some things, and the creature above Him in some other things.

The fourth reason is, because his people yield to this fear too soon. You think that you never have a fear without reason. Yes, but you are obliged to shut out those things that look like reasons, when they come in on you. When slavish fear begins to mutter in our bosom for us to harbour it, it makes it prevail.

Why is this fear so damaging?

This fear weakens the hands of God’s people in all duties. When they begin to fear out of measure, they lose all, and grow indifferent whether they do duty or not. No one will bide by their duty when their faith fails them; or if they do go about any duty, it will be just as if they are doing it by rote.

This fear also brings discouragement of soul. Nothing can comfort the people of God, where this fear prevails.

Also it brings discomposure of their countenance, which damages the reputation of their religion. Whenever slavish fear gets the upper hand, it makes people look as if they served a hard master, who makes his people undergo things that he will not allow them expenses for.

This fear also disobliges God to work for their deliverance from whatever it is they are afraid of. As it says, “He could do no mighty works, because of their unbelief.”

This fear makes them incapable of understanding their own mercy, when it begins to appear. This is what left the Israelites in Egypt unable to understand what Moses said about their deliverance. When people succumb to this fear, all duty is a burden to them.

Although God may do anything for His people in His sovereignty and mercy, there is no promise we can look to in the Bible that God will help someone who has yielded to slavish fear. James 1:6-7, “Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord, because he asketh not in faith.”

How can this fear be cured?

The thing that cures the disciples’ fear in Matthew 14 is Christ approaching to them in favour. Behold, he is coming, but they mistake him. Only bring Christ and the believer together, and whoever they are, He will heal them of all their disputes and diseases. Christ approaches the disciples, and speaks friendly to them, until they heard the words, “It is I, be not afraid,” together with His approaching. What completely allays all their fear is Christ coming in to them, and nothing else does it.

What can we do to avoid this fear?

All the people of the Lord should be aware that they have this kind of infirmity. Then, when difficulties are renewed against you, and slavish fear labours to take possession of you even though you have fled to Christ, guard against it, and know why it is so damaging, and encourage yourselves against it.

In a cloudy and dark day, when your fear grows, remember what a care God takes for His people. They are set as a seal upon His heart, and written upon the palms of His hands. He has said, “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” Would we be afraid, if we believed that any who trouble the people of God, it is as bad as if they took on God?

Believe this also, that whatever the Lord does, or allows others to do, it shall work together for the good of His people. It is a common truth in everybody’s mouth, certainly, but I may say the least believed truth in all the Bible! You may not question the truth of the promise, but yet you stop short of applying it to yourselves. I offer you that promise, and you put it to yourselves, and solidly acquiesce with it in your heart, that all the distresses and afflictions His people are under in Britain and Ireland shall work together for their good. If it is so, why then do you not believe it, and find peace from fear?

Believe also that nothing befalls His people, except what comes by His providence. You say, “That’s true, but there are many things that we meet with, that God does not allow.” I say there is nothing you meet with, but it comes either by His active or permissive providence. There is no evil done in the city but what the Lord knows. That the ministers in Britain and Ireland are put out of their houses, kirks, and lands, and banished out of the country, is all His providence, and shall work together for their good. If so, then your fears can be quieted.

Know that there is nothing to be feared, except God and an evil conscience. As a man in Ireland said to a bishop, when he threatened to imprison him, he answered, “I know no prison worse than an evil conscience.” If you resolve to fear nothing but the God of heaven and an evil conscience, you need not fear people, for the fear of these will quiet all your other fears.

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Sensitivity to spiritual insensitivity

Sensitivity to spiritual insensitivity

Sensitivity to spiritual insensitivity
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

The 2021 Census for England and Wales has shown that only 46% of the population now identify themselves as Christian, making Christianity now a minority religion in England and Wales. The most concerning thing about this is not so much that Christianity is losing political influence in the nation, as if all that matters is our voice and social prestige, or as if Christ’s church is only valid with popular approval and credibility. Instead, it gives us reason to mourn the emptiness and hopelessness that people consign themselves to when they don’t know Jesus Christ, as well as the disrespect and dishonour we collectively do to God when on the national level we are so rapidly turning our backs on Him and His ways. But do these concerns really register with us? Are we alive to the tragedy of these things? Perhaps at one time we cared about the eternal destiny of our fellow-sinners and God’s reputation and public glory, but now our eyes glide over the bad news and a malaise of apathy paralyses us from even turning to the Lord about the situation. In the following updated extract, William Guthrie meditates on the prayer in Isaiah 63 which confesses and laments hard-heartedness in the Lord’s people when confronted with societal and moral problems.

These are very sad words, “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” (Isaiah 63:17) It is one of the heaviest and saddest troubles from the hands of God on men and women, to have their hearts hardened from His fear. And yet things are not desperate, or past remedy, so long as there is enough softness of heart as to perceive the hardness of our hearts, and to be capable of regretting it before God. Hard softness, as we may call it, is not the worst kind of hardness, or at least it is not the greatest degree of it. The Lord had graciously bounded their hardness so that it had not gone the full length that it could have done. This is how they notice it, and say, “Why hast thou suffered our hearts to be hardened from thy fear, and to be so hard that we should not fear thy name?”

Hardness of heart is something for us to confess

Whenever it is said that the Lord hardens, it is not meant that He does so by infusing any sinful qualities into the heart (James 1:13). God is incomprehensibly holy, and infinitely removed from being accessory to anything that is sinful in the creature. But it is said that He hardens when He permits and leaves someone to the hardness of their own heart (which is natural to the offspring of fallen Adam), but also when He withholds or withdraws something of the grace given to the creature, on which hardness of heart follows. But seeing as the majesty of God is under no obligation to give grace to the creature, that hardness of heart cannot be charged on Him, nor can He be blamed for withholding abused grace from them.

You must therefore look on the complaint as not being spoken in a way of proud or ill-natured expostulation laying all the blame on God, and evading or shifting it off themselves. No, the words point to how the Lord was interacting with the church members who are speaking here. Nor are we to think that these words are spoken irreverently, in a way of complaining about God, but only in a way of expostulation with themselves. It is as if they said, “Lord, what have we done that has provoked Thee to deal with us in this way?” There is the hint of a desire to know what sin in them it was that had brought on this plague of hardness of heart, which was grievous to them beyond anything in their external condition and captivity.

It seems to be one of the evils of our time, that many, even good folk, are largely strangers to the condition of their own heart. More particularly, hardness of heart is an evil incident to the people of God. It is by the people of God that this complaint is made, “Why hast thou made us to err, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” We think it is made with much bashfulness, spoken by those who were ashamed that they could hardly claim that God was their Father. Yet they are necessitated to lay claim to God. They give Him much credit, as if merely the look of His eye could redress their condition.

Symptoms of hardness of heart

Here are a few symptoms and evidences of this hardness.

  • When challenges for sin do not easily make impression on us. Though his own situation was particularly pointed out in the parable Nathan used, David took little notice of it in the way of applying it to himself.
  • When we acknowledge our sins, yet without being affected by this so as to be made better.
  • When the impression of a sin wears off easily. I think if we had spiritual dexterity in sinking challenges for sin in the blood of Christ, there would be no harm from that! But when the challenge is thrown off through deadness, or simply passes away somehow or another, or else is forgotten before we get any satisfying views of pardon, then our case is not right. This only hardens the heart still more.
  • When we have troubles in providence, yet our ability to pray is restrained.
  • When we become rash, heedless, precipitate, and fearless in worship and in walking, rushing forward without ever considering our own condition, walking as if there were no hazards in our walk and conversation, without fear of being indisposed for worship or any kind of duty.
  • When we cast off the reverential fear that we ought to have, as if we did not live in the midst of snares and manifold temptations, or as if we did not have hearts ready to comply with every snare and temptation. Walking in the fear of the Lord all the day long is become a rare thing among Christians nowadays.

The seriousness of having a hard heart

That felt hardness of heart is, in the account of God’s children, one of the heaviest and greatest of strokes that come upon them from the hand of God. It is picked out here as the worst of judgments. I think their hearts were at their mouths, and the tear in their eyes, when speaking out these words, “Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” They do not complain about their outward calamity, though it was more than ordinary; the stroke that most affected them was hardness of heart. “And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us because of our iniquities.” And, “all this is come upon us; yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.”

Now, the reasons why the people of God look upon this as a sad stroke are these.

  • Because, of all the things that God could send us, hardness of heart has most of God’s displeasure in it.
  • Because it borders very near to the condition of the reprobate.
  • Because it prevents us from tackling the things that keep us labouring under it. We know that we are in the wrong, yet we cannot mourn for it before God. We sin, and cannot repent.
  • Because it means we do not profit under any of God’s providences. However He smites us, our hearts do not grieve.
  • Put the question to yourselves:—What do think about the problem of hardness of heart, and how does it affect you? Do ye feel it one of the heaviest and saddest things that God could send you? Do you seriously think you would be content to take any other rebuke from Him, if only this hardness of heart was removed?

Things to beware of because they have a hardening effect

If hardness of heart is your burden, I recommend that you would take it as a favour from God that it is actually a burden to you. Perhaps the fact that it is so little your burden makes you question if there is anything at all promising in your case and condition. Therefore search into the causes of it.

  • Failing to take notice of conscience and convictions, and trying to quench the motions of the Spirit, gradually harden the heart. Where conscience tables a challenge, oh, then, let it speak out.
  • Taking no notice of God’s entreaties. Sometimes the Lord’s calls are very urgent and pressing on us to entertain grace, communion, and fellowship with God, yet the soul does not listen but lets them pass by. This is why people who live under an entreating gospel, yet do not get God’s grace, or evade the offer of it, are the most hardened of all people.
  • Allowing sin to sit on the conscience unrepented of. As every act of sin strengthens the habit of sin, and disposes unto more acts of sin, so it hardens exceedingly, thrusts out from God, and keeps the soul still under its dominion.
  • Formalism in worship, i.e., a continual custom of worshipping God formally, either in public, in the family, or in secret.
  • Acknowledging a problem but omitting to wrestle with God for pardon and victory over sin.

The Lord convince us more thoroughly of the evil of hardness of heart, and teach us to make use of the right remedy through Christ Jesus. Amen.

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How grace takes us by surprise

How grace takes us by surprise

How grace takes us by surprise
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

Our thoughts are programmed to expect certain consequences from certain circumstances. But God’s thoughts are not like ours. Where we would expect doom and judgment, God’s way surprises us with forgiveness and mercy. Sometimes as we look at other Christians too, our prejudices too often come into play and we don’t leave space for the powerful grace of God to bring disproportionately good effects from sources we tend to dismiss and overlook. We don’t even understand the appearances that God gives of His work, like when Jesus seemed to actually ignore the woman of Canaan who petitioned Him to help her daughter. Defying our expectations, Jesus was in fact drawing her increasingly closer to Him and preparing to pour out His blessing on her at the point when it looked least likely. In the following updated extract from his sermon on Christ’s interactions with this woman in Matthew 15, William Guthrie develops this theme of the unexpectedness of grace.

God’s grace often confounds our expectations

Variations in grace and gifts are not due to people’s natural characteristics. Often those who do not look very promising, and who are very young or weak in the faith, come through a time of testing just as well as those who are of a greater stature. Shrubs will sometimes stand, and even small plants in God’s garden, when the tallest cedars will split, fall, or break in pieces before the wind of temptation.

It is very consistent with the nature of grace that where least is expected most should come forth to the praise of God. Grace runs in that channel, “Not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty.” This is most congruous to what Christ said, “Many that are first, shall be last; and the last shall be first.”

In the experience of the people of God in all ages it has turned out that most good was found in the hands where little was expected.

What seems likely to us is often irrelevant

What then are these things that make us expect little at some people’s hands?

Maybe they come from a bad background and are poorly taught, like the woman of Canaan would have seemed to the disciples. But it is a small matter with God to make someone like this profitable. The woman of Canaan was as wise as any in all that country.

Perhaps they live in unfruitful soil, and do not have access to better instruction. But that is no sure sign, for there is many an open-hearted Christian that no one can tell where he got his knowledge from, for you would think that in his spiritual pastures he could not get so much as one full meal.

Or this person does not make a very impressive claim to be a Christian. This makes us suspect them and we do not look for much good from them. Nothing much was ever heard of them. But this means nothing to God’s grace.

Perhaps they fell so easily into some temptation that you would never expect any more good to come of them. But what would you have thought of Peter, who was so shamefully put out by a simple girl? Well, Peter would be hanged for the same thing afterwards for all that. There may be many like Nicodemus, who do not dare make much public confession for Christ, and yet they are richly forthcoming afterwards.

The surprising effects of grace

However, these unlikely cases will often bring forth much fruit.

In a time of difficulty, they may well make a solid acknowledgment and witness to the truth, when others who have greater knowledge and gifts slip up badly and disappear. Those who never knew a tenth of what they knew will stand out to the utmost.

When they encounter opposition, those we might least expect will cling to the faith and pure gospel ordinances. It is easy professing the truth as long as you are not called to account for it. But wait till trial comes, and then you will see someone who never dared to profess much unexpectedly cleave fast to pure gospel ordinances, when many who now profess much draw back and fall behind in the truth.

In terms of practical expressions of Christian love, much will be forthcoming where little was expected. There is much talking of religion, but how well do you evidence your religion by works of love to God’s people who are in straits for His sake? Many who make no great profession are liberal in love and kindness to the people of God. And I assure you that this is no small piece of religion. True love to Christ’s friends when they are in need for His sake is not one of the least parts of religion.

Finally, in terms of patient suffering for Christ, some of whom you expect little may yet be as free and frank as can be, and even go beyond others that more might have been expected of.

Some reasons why grace works this way

What makes our Lord Jesus Christ take that way?

God loves to take a way of His own with all His works. We see ordinarily that whenever we hit on the way that we think is most fit, suitable, and convenient for doing anything, it is a hundred to one if God ever takes that way!

Also, where there is much, people are ready to idolize the stock of grace they have and trust much to it. But where there is little to hand, we have to rely much more on God by faith in duty.

How can we use these facts?

Avoid boasting

If you have made a great profession of Christianity, the more is expected of you. If you come short, there will be greater loss and disadvantage to the cause of God, and to yourselves also. Failure on your part will be more shameful than many others. Be careful too of how you anticipate a time of trial. People say they will do this and that and the other thing, and what not, when they are not put to it. Away with such foolish fantasies. Suffering for truth will be very different in reality from what you think. Some think they will do great things because of what they have received, and because of their former resolution and great gifts. But this is only trusting to their own strength. Truly if you expect to stand firm like that, it is a hundred to one if you do not fall, shamefully. You must never reckon on your steadfastness in even one trial, or your resolutions and engagements, or the fact that other folk think well of you. Ordinarily in the time of trial God stains the glory of all flesh. If others think much of you, think little of yourselves.

Keep close to God

If you want to keep your feet in a time of trial, keep up a constant trade with heaven for fresh supplies from God, for that will do it. Be content to be amongst those who have the least respect from others, for we always hope that the Master will have the most praise from the faithfulness and honesty of those who have least help or hope in themselves.

Then pray for those of whom we have little expectation, for their standing will be greatly for the Master’s praise. For it has pleased the Father to reveal these things to babes and sucklings, and hide them from the wise and prudent.

Be willing to sacrifice social status

Those of you who are gentlemen, great folk and respected church members, I would like to engage you to bear testimony for the truth. Please do not think it foolishness to commit yourselves wholeheartedly to God. Don’t think that we expect little of you when it comes to faithfulness and being valiant for the truth. Do not be overly concerned to comply with people’s sinful wishes. Commend the truth, including the truths that are now under attack, to your families and to those you have any influence with. Keep yourselves free of sinful compliance. Say, “I have resolved to give up what I have, just like others, before I sin. I will be as self-denying as anyone, and maybe I shall go to prison like others, before I deny the work of God and break the Covenants.” Do not give way to despondency, but leave room for God’s promises when push comes to shove, for God will bear your costs and pay back your expenses.

Live up to the name of Christian

If you have made a profession of faith, take care to do as much as you can to the Master’s praise, both in word and deed. Think carefully how you do in faith, in doctrine, in temperance, and in holy walking with God. His glory is closely connected with your being faithful. His glory and your standing are twined together, and that connection is of much value.

If you are to stand in these evil times, it is an accomplishment of the great gospel promise in the Word for your comfort. Further, you have the prayers of the people of God with you for your consolation. There is many a beautiful cloud of prayers going up on behalf of those who remain faithful to the truths of God. Even if you are not praying yourself at any given moment, yet there will be someone still praying for you.

Then behave yourselves honestly. Has God given you Christ? How much more will He give you with Him every good and perfect gift? So, have you got Christ? Truly, then, all other things will be very little beside that. Faith is the more precious for enduring temptations – faith that dares cleave to Him against all opposition. Faith and patience are no empty things. The woman of Canaan found this. She got no bare compliment from Jesus, but an effectual word. “Her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

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Why are there differences in grace?

Why are there differences in grace?

Why are there differences in grace?
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

Every believer has their own strengths and weaknesses even in the graces that the Lord has given them. Some are known for the grace of wisdom, others stand out more for their grace of love, while yet others are clear examples of the grace of patience. The woman of Canaan in Matthew 15 distinguished between those of the Lord’s people who seem to enjoy His close company (just like children are part of the family meal table), and others who only seem to catch the crumbs and leftovers that fall off the table. It is legitimate to wonder why the Lord chooses to do things this way, instead of giving each of His people the same (large) amount of grace to see them through their life in this world. William Guthrie examined exactly this question when he preached a sermon on the woman of Canaan. In the following updated extract he shows some of the Lord’s reasons, as well as some responses that are appropriate from us.

Why does the Lord keep or make these gradations and differences in His way of dealing to His people? You would think it would be much better for God to give a large stock of faith, love, patience, etc., to all His people, and that this would be more for their comfort than when they are kept at such a great distance from Him, and with such a scanty measure of gifts and graces.

We may think so, but He is much wiser than we.

To enhance the fellowship of the saints

The Lord has resolved to give out diverse administrations to the body of which He Himself is the Head. He wants His body to have different members, and He wants them to serve Him with different qualifications. In the body He wants eyes, hands, feet, etc. And yet they are only the one complete body! They are still just the one communion of saints. But this would not be possible if they were all alike. “You know more than I do,” says one, “and have greater understanding in the matters of God.” “Well,” says another, “but I love more than you do. You think you would do more for Christ than I would do, but it may be if there was something to do for the cause of Christ I would fight better than you would for all that.”

To make us value Christ’s intercession more

By this varied manner of His administration, the Lord keeps the ransom still in request, and the intercession of Christ in heaven still in request. For if we had it in our own hand, Christ would soon be out of work for all the employment we would give Him, and we would soon lose respect to the ransom. But now when infirmities appear from day to day it keeps the ransom still precious to the soul. Oh, is not Christ precious to the soul when the soul realises, “I have had much from Him, but I need much, and I need to have more from Him!”

To accommodate what earth can bear

The Lord knows that the earth could not bear grace in its perfection. This is why the Lord has given out grace in small measures. Only in Immanuel’s land is the full and uninterrupted breathing of the Holy Ghost. That is where the Lord has determined to transplant all the trees of grace eventually. Created things while here cannot bear perfection.

To sharpen the difference between earth and heaven

The Lord intends that there shall be a clear difference betwixt earth and heaven. And oh, how sweet will heaven and Christ be, and the fulness of joy that is at His right hand, to the poor creature who never could be satisfied with Him here on earth! If folk could get a satisfying sight of Christ here on earth, they would lose interest in heaven and eternal glory. Oh, but heaven and perfection will be sweet to those who could never get their corruptions mortified here in this world, but were trampled on by them day by day; and many a sigh they heaved and many a groan for their redemption while on earth. Oh, but heaven and glory will be sweet to them! since the hopes of it are sometimes so sweet and comfortable even now in this militant state.

How can we make best use of the measure of grace we have?

Given these differences in the administration of the graces, please see that you do not misunderstand the Lord, or go away with an evil report of Him, though you do not find in yourselves the degrees of grace that others have.

Be thankful for it

Whatever crumbs of grace you have, always account them essential bread and do not despise them, even supposing you get no more at present. Never rest, though, until the reality of grace exists within you. Make sure of this, and then have a respect to all His commands. Acknowledge God in this, and thank Him for it, although you cannot attain to a greater degree of grace.

Although I wish you would covet the best things, yet I want you to be thankful for the least things you have received. Be thankful, even if you have not attained to such a frame of heart as you would have desired.

Don’t be jealous of other believers

I pray all of you that you do not judge others because they are not the same size as you. It is a miserable evil in these times that a dreadful spirit of jealousy prevails against those perceived to be below us in understanding in the things of God that are now being debated. Yet when it comes to the point, those may be as particular in their confession of the truth as you will ever be, and may perhaps abide by it better. Neither on the other hand are you to think that those who can speak better in these things than you can are under a delusion.

Keep looking to the Lord whose grace it is

Remember too that it is not your grace that wins the day, but the sovereignty of God’s grace. If those who have a great deal of grace are often foiled by corruptions, what will happen to those who have only a small degree of grace? If someone who only has a third degree of grace resists a temptation and comes honourably through it, how much sin and shame belongs to you who are soiled and snared by corruption, when you have received grace in the sixth degree?

You have to realise that it is not the degrees of grace that hold out against corruption and enable you to resist temptations, but the sovereignty of grace. Therefore trust much to Him and His sovereignty, and trust only little to grace received even in the highest degree, for often those from whom least is expected prove most forthcoming for the glory of God. Who would have expected this of the Canaanite woman? But she proves an astute and wise woman! “She worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

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How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt

How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt

How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

Our culture promotes the idea that self-worth and self-belief are essential and that we need to overcome the self-doubt that holds us back. The idea is that we simply ignore what self-doubt tells us, develop self-belief and draw on our personal resources. But the gospel gives us a realistic understanding of ourselves and that we cannot depend on our own resources. Yet it offers to us the greater, inexhaustible resources of Christ. Spiritually, there may be much self-doubt and it can be hard to see it as a bad thing. After all, we cannot depend on ourselves and we are not in doubt about God and grace. But these things are not so easily separated because when we are dealing with self-doubt concerning the work of God within us. Sometimes we can be discouraged with a deep sense of our weakness and doubt whether we have grace at all. This kind of self-doubt can be very hard to overcome. We need to hear God’s covenant promises speaking into such a condition.

We should be careful of mistaking weak grace for no grace. There is a world of difference. William Gurnall in The Christian in Complete Armour says that even if you have the very least grace that any ever had to begin with you have something of infinite value. God has done more in putting that grace within than in giving perfect grace to believers who are now in heaven… “There is a greater gulf between no grace and grace, than between weak grace and strong; between a chaos and nothing, than between a chaos and this beautiful frame of heaven and earth.”

William Guthrie patiently applies the covenant promises of Hebrews 8:10-12 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 to twenty-seven different doubts and fears. He represents God as doing this directly with the individual through the words of Scripture in the following dialogue. God makes a covenant with rich promises. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people…they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. He shows how these promises are to be embraced and depended on by faith alone, discarding all trust in our own resources. In this updated extract from an unpublished sermon, we find numerous doubts and objections graciously disarmed and laid aside, one by one.

1. How can I have mercy when I am an enemy to God by nature and the thoughts of my heart are only evil and wicked continually?

Answer. The Lord says, “I will make a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31) with you. Hold your peace; do not let that thought about being an enemy to me trouble you seeing that I purpose to bind a bond of friendship with you in my Son Christ.

2. Although God would make a thousand covenants with me, yet I am unable to keep (or fulfil) any condition the Covenant requires. But what conditions can I a sinful creature fulfil towards the Lord who is holy?

Answer. “I will make a new covenant” in which I promise to fulfil all that I require of you. I will put in you a new mind and a new heart (Hebrews 8:10), and I will bind my Son as surety that I will do this.

3. But how can I know I if I am one of those with whom God will enter into covenant? I know there is a people in covenant with God, but I doubt if I am one of them.

Answer. I will make the covenant “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:11), or, in other words, with the visible Church consisting of Jews and Gentiles (the partition wall being now taken away). Now you have been born into the Church and baptised, and so are already within the outward scope of this covenant.

4. I know that the Church is called the Israel of God. But what God promises is to the sincere and upright Israelite. I fear that I am only an Israelite outwardly in the letter and not in the spirit. There is nothing in me except what is to be found in all professing Christians who have merely been baptised.

Answer. My covenant shall be with those who have nothing of my law written in their inward parts. If you lack my law in your heart, I will put it there (Jeremiah 31:33). I will make you an Israelite, in whom there is no guile (John 1:47), and whose praise is not of men but of God (Romans 2:29).

5. Although God would put his law in my heart, yet I am blind and incapable of apprehending spiritual mysteries. No matter how long they were taught and explained to me, yet I would remain ignorant of them.

Answer. I will put my law in your inward parts (Jeremiah 31:33), as the apostle expounds it, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10).

6. But I find after everything only weak desires of knowledge in my mind. My love to God is very cold. My hatred of sin is very little or nothing. My heart is not affected towards heavenly things but is occupied with vain and sinful things. It is sometimes set on the world, and sometimes on my lusts and pleasures and those ways that lead to destruction and perdition.

Answer. I will put my laws in your mind and write it in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). If your heart is wicked, you will have a new heart. Your lawless heart will yield to the law, for you will have a loving heart, and love is the fulfilling of the law. Your blind mind and stony heart will be taken away, and a single and sincere heart will be given to you.

7. My heart is averse to God and godliness and inclined to all evil. If any godly motive arises in my heart, it does not abide. It is as though written on water, or on sand that is blown away with the wind. It is as the morning cloud, or as the early dew which soon vanishes away. (Hosea 13:3).

Answer. I will write my law in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). A written testimony is constant and enduring. As the law written in a book remains, so also when it is written in a renewed man’s heart.

8. But my heart is harder than the millstone, harder than the adamant so that the Word preached does not move me.

Answer. I will write my law in it (Hebrews 8:1). I will make it like a polished and prepared writing tablet so that the fingers of the Lord will make deep letters in it. Although it may not appear like this to you, yet love and obedience to the law will be seen by others. Sin, bit by bit, will be rubbed out and disappear, and the law of the Lord more and more clearly read.

9. These promises are to the believer and those who have new obedience begun in them. But I find little faith, repentance, or obedience in me. Indeed, I often doubt if any of those things are in me.

Answer. I will put my law in your mind and write it in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). Now, what is faith but receiving of the law into your mind and heart? If then, you are pleased to covenant with God and will say so, you will answer to Him that it is the chief desire of your heart to be reconciled, then be sure He will give you faith and repentance.

10. If I take hold of these promises, I know that I will be exposed to a thousand dangers because of many temptations.

Answer. “I will be their God” (Jeremiah 31:33). Now, if God is yours, what do you lack? Should this promise not satisfy your trembling heart? As long as God endures, you will endure and enjoy all that He is to his own.

11. I have no reason to doubt that God will do all that He says of Himself. My only doubt is that I will not get my part done to Him in an acceptable way and manner.

Answer. “They shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33), i.e., I will make you one of my people when I consecrate you to serve me and to be a diligent subject and careful honourer of me.

12. Although I were among God’s people, I would slip out again. I am afraid that I would not persevere, and so the bond would not continue.

Answer. You “shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33), i.e., you will remain my people, my special people, and none will be able to pluck you out of my hand. (John 10:29)

13. I wonder how this can be, how God can promise so much to me? I am so unworthy and have so many disqualifications and cannot give him a good reception. Will a king covenant with a beggar or draw up a contract with a poor, unprofitable person? Far less can God covenant with me.

Answer. “I will be their God,” (Jeremiah 31:33) i.e., of my own accord I am pleased to be so. It is not a covenant of works but a covenant of grace that I make, and it is made with the unworthy. If they were worthy I would bid them obey my law perfectly in their own strength; but now, although they are unworthy, yet I am pleased to be their God. And what have you to say against this which is my purpose and my pleasure?

14. What if a change of religion should come, heresy arises, and teachers from whom we have received the truth swerve and fail or fall away? What if teachers change their theme, and take out of our hands what once they have taught us? I even fear that I myself may become an apostate.

Answer. “They shall not teach… ” (Hebrews 8:11). If any teacher does not teach so, you will not be taught by him, but I will teach you myself. You will learn to lean on me and not on them. Although their teachers may be learned men and of great repute, yet (if they do not teach so) you will not acknowledge them. Although they are in the Church, they are not of the Church, they are apostates. But as for you, I promise to teach you myself, and you will receive no man’s doctrine except what I have delivered by the mouths of my prophets and apostles.

15. What if all true teachers were to be driven away by persecution. It would then be with me as in the days of the prophet Amos (8:13) when they wandered from sea to sea to seek the word of the Lord and did not find it? What if we are so dispersed by persecution so that we cannot meet together, and even the Bible taken out of our hands so that we cannot even read it?

Answer. “They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45). If I take away the means I will supply the lack of them myself. I will be a little sanctuary to you (see Ezekiel 11:16).

16. “I am only young,” says one. “I am unlearned,” says another. “I am a weak helpless woman,” says another, “and they may make me believe anything they please”. “I am poor,” says another, “and do not have the means that others have to obtain knowledge.”

Answer. “All shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11). It is the duty of all to learn to read; but, although you are unlearned, here is a promise that God will teach you as much of Himself as will save your soul.

17. I cannot attain to the knowledge which others possess, neither have I capacity to take in matters of so much consequence as are set down in Scripture.

Answer. “All shall know me,” that is, all shall come to the saving knowledge of the Lord Himself, your teacher and friend. Although your calling may be such as to make the attainment of learning impossible, although your capacity may be weak, and you lack means to receive instruction, although there are many things, of which you will still remain ignorant, you will know Him whom to know is eternal life.

18. But, when I consider my natural disposition, I fear that, although I were even now pardoned and cleansed, I would immediately defile myself again.

Answer. I will be merciful to your unrighteousness. (Hebrews 8:12). What else do you wish but mercy? If your nature is rebellious, know that the Maker and Surety of the Covenant is also your Advocate (1 John 2:1).

19. I would trust for grace not to sin wilfully for the time to come, but when I think of my past sins I am afraid and know not what to answer.

Answer. Your “sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12)

20. These things are all good. If I could be sure that they would be made good to me I would be joyful in spirit.

Answer. Four or five times “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts” is repeated in this Covenant. As if He had said, “I the Lord of hosts am Surety that whatever is promised will be fulfilled”. God’s curse on everyone who does not continue in doing the things of the law (Galatians 3:10) makes you afraid and disturbs your peace. Why does His saying in the gospel not restore your peace again, seeing you have His Word in the one case as well as in the other?

21. If I could remember that sweet promise I would be rich, for it satisfies me now. I can say nothing against it; but, when my adversaries assault me, I am afraid I will forget again.

Answer. The sun and moon, heaven and earth, are witnesses of the Covenant, and they shall never depart out of your sight. But, even, if you were blind, the earth under your feet would remind you of it, for this Covenant is as securely established as the earth.

22. But I am so changeable, I never remain one day in one condition. What if the Lord calls me away when I am in the worse case? How can I have any steadfastness?

Answer. The day and the night have their changes but not the ordinance of the day and of the night (Jeremiah 33:25). It is an article of the Covenant that the ordinance should remain sure. So, although you are changeable yet the Covenant made with you will not change, for the Covenant is not of you but of God. He says, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).

23. I am like Peter when he was ready to sink in the Sea of Galilee. Everything seems to terrify me. There are fightings within and fears without, and I have little or no steadfastness.

Answer. The Lord stills the sea when the waves arise. Can he not quiet the tempest of the heart?

24. How is it possible for a saving work to go on steadfastly in the heart of one so unworthy and so fickle?

Answer. The Lord gives the sun for a light by day and has made all things out of nothing. He can as easily complete the work of your salvation. Is anything too hard for the Lord?

25. But I see the whole Church of God is harassed, what then can I expect who am but one? When the ship wherein I sail is ready to perish what shall become of me?

Answer. “The seed of Israel shall not cease being a nation before me for ever” (Jeremiah 31:36). Sun and moon, heaven and earth, shall all soon perish, but the Lord will reserve a people to himself.

26. There are so many against the Church and so few on her side. The King of Babylon has a hundred provinces, and how shall Judah and Benjamin, a parcel of poor, naked captives, deliver themselves? The king who should be a defender of the faith is its persecutor.

Answer. The height of the heavens and the depth of the earth is also unsearchable to you, but not to God. Leave the fulfilment of what He has promised to God Himself, and He will find a way for it. Is His hand shortened that He cannot save, or has He no power to redeem?

27. Well, then, I see by all these promises I will have an easy life. I may be secure and indifferent. It may encourage sin in me to tell me of a Covenant by which any person that pleases may be saved.

Answer. There is nothing so good but men may abuse it. Grace is grace, although some may turn it into licence. This Covenant is made with the true Israel of God. If any, then, will abuse this doctrine let them answer for it. If they will draw near to the devil because God has drawn so near to them, or be more wicked because God has been so good, let them see to it. If any will be more licentious because God is ready to forgive, and allow that which should be an anchor of the soul to draw them away from God, let them know that their punishment will be all the more dreadful at the last.

It is a sure token of a damned soul when it grows the more wicked the more it hears of grace. But the more the sons of Jacob hear of grace, the more they will wrestle for it. The more loving and gracious a father is to his children, the more ready they will be to obey him. But if a child is more rebellious because the father is good, he deserves to be put out of the door. If you are a good child, you will out of love pursue after God when he pursues after you with kindness. But if you will abuse this doctrine against God and your own soul, and will harden your heart because God has spoken good things to you, you will draw swift destruction on yourself.

And now if anyone says, “let the minister preach as he pleases, and we will do as we please”, I have only to say that the benefit of our preaching is to another and not to him, and that the more he hears of such preaching the worse it will be for himself. Let him, however, rather recall his words and return now to God. For it is God Himself who says, “Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:3).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

William Guthrie wrote a famous book to help doubting and seeking souls. It describes in a clear and attractive style what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. This book is all about Christ and how we must embrace Him by faith on the basis of the promises in the Word. 

In the first part, he looks at how someone is drawn to Christ, what the evidences are of true saving grace, and the difference between a true Christian and a hypocrite. In the second part he describes how to ‘close’ with Christ, and deals with various objections, difficulties, and doubts.

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Overcoming Spiritual Distancing

Overcoming Spiritual Distancing

Overcoming Spiritual Distancing
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

Our secular age and culture require by definition that spiritual things must be kept at a distance. Religious matters are shut out of public discourse and must not influence public policy. A technological order controls our world and it has apparently eliminated any need for God. In contrast to past eras where belief in and spiritual things was natural and normal, we live in a secular age in which such belief is presented as unnatural and abnormal. Living in this atmosphere it is easy for our lives and heart to be shaped by it without realising. It is not easy to walk with God in a world that has shut Him out. In every age there is a sinful tendency in the heart to depart from the living God. How can we overcome these influences by God’s grace to draw near to Him constantly?

Psalm 73 describes someone who found it difficult to live in the light of God’s presence in the midst of those who rejected Him. They seemed to prosper by doing so. This became a real trial to the psalmist. Yet he reaches the point where, in the context of worshipping God, he can understand something of the divine purpose. Ultimately, he can say “it is good for me to draw near to God”. It is helpful to meditate on the fulness of what this means and, in the following updated extract, William Guthrie helps us to do that.

1. What is it to draw near to God?

(a) Seeking deeper peace with God

A person should make their peace with God in and through the Mediator Jesus Christ. Until that has been done, they may be said to be far from God. There is a partition-wall standing between God and them. It is the same with that advice given by Eliphaz to Job to be at peace with God (Job 22:21). Be friends with God and all will be well with you. You must come up to some measure of conformity to the blessed will of God and quit that life of estrangement from Him. If you draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). This drawing near is explained in the words that follow in the same verse, “Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts”. Leave that filthy life of estrangement from God by being more conformed to Him and His will, as He has revealed it to you in His word.

(b) Seeking deeper fellowship with God

To draw near to God is to seek more after communion and fellowship with God, and to pursue after intimacy and familiarity with Him. It is to have more of His blessed company with us in our life and walk (Psalm 89:15). This is to walk through the day, having a good understanding between God and us; to be always near Him, keeping up communication with Him.

(c) Seeking deeper assurance

Drawing near implies confirming or making sure of our relationship to God. It assumes someone’s peace to be made with God already. The author of this psalm goes on to say, “I have put my trust in the Lord”. That is to say, I have trusted my soul to God and made my peace with Him through a Mediator. It is good whatever comes; it is always good to be near to God in that way and to be made sure in Him.

(d) Seeking deeper conformity to God

It implies to be more and more conformed to the image of God. His nearness to Him is as opposed to being far from God. “It is good,” he says, “to draw near to God in my duty when so many are far from Him.”

(e) Seeking deeper dependence on God

It implies laying aside all things in the world to seek fellowship and communion with God. It means to be more set apart for His blessed company and to walk with Him in dependence upon Him, as the great Burden-Bearer, who is to be all in all unto us. In a word, to draw near unto God is to make our peace with Him, and to secure and confirm that peace with Him. It is to seek conformity to Him and to be near to Him in our whole manner of living.

2. Why is it good to draw near to God?

It is good and advantageous to draw near to God. It is good to take good in that way. It is good concerning the blessed consequences that it brings.

(a) It is a pleasant good

Wisdom’s “ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Although many of you think that the people of God have a sorrowful and sad life of it, this is not due to their nearness to God but because they depart out of His way, or step aside from following Him.

(b) It is an honourable good

Is it not good to be at peace, and in good terms with God? Is it not also good to be conformed to His will (the supreme rule of all righteousness) and to have intimate fellowship with Him? We would think it a very honourable thing to be in favour and on good terms with a man that ruled over all nations (assuming he was a good man). But it is quite another thing to be in favour and on good terms with He who rules over all laws and all people.

(c) It is an eternal good

It secures a man’s soul and eternal well-being. It keeps him in perfect peace. It has many experiences of God’s countenance, which is better to him than barns full of corn, or cellars full of wine and oil. God is all good. “The Lord will give grace and glory, and will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly.” Who are they? Those who are near unto God. Thus, it is a good thing to draw near unto Him. Would you be forever happy in the enjoying of that which is supremely good? Well then, draw near to God.

(d) It is the highest good

Everyone readily pursues something they think to be good. Many say, “Who will show us any good?” Most want some visible or apparent good. But this is a more sure and permanent good. Then go and acquaint yourselves. Seek to have communion with Him, to be confirmed and conformed to Him.

3. Have you drawn near to God?

(a) Have you known anything of His voice?

If you do not, you are yet far from Him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” What God speaks in this gospel is foolishness to many, but those who are His sheep know His voice, and to them, this gospel is the wisdom and power of God.

(b) Do you know His face?

Do you know anything of the difference between the smiles and frowns of God? Do you know what it is to have your hearts and souls warmed with the heat and light of His countenance? Has your soul ever been made to weep within you with His love? If not, it is a bad sign; for the people of God know His face; and whenever they hear Him named their affections go out after Him.

(c) What dealings do you have in your ordinary way and walk with God?

Do you acknowledge Him in all your ways? Do you venture on nothing without God’s counsel? Do you keep your eye on Him in your ordinary business? Do you give an account of what you have done to Him? If it is so, it is well. But if you forget God apart from a little time to pray and lose any thought you have had of Him all day long it is a bad sign that you are yet far from God.

4. Overcoming Distance from God

(a) Remove anything in the way

If you want to have your relationship to God made clear to you, draw near to Him and be resolved to do what will be well-pleasing to Him. Remove whatever stands between Him and you. When you go to prayer, or when you would lay claim to any promise; do not regard sin in your heart. Put away all idols of jealousy. Let none of them come in with you before the Lord. If you do, He will never regard your desires in prayer. This is a time in which many are careless about this.

(b) See where you should be

Strive to be convicted that you are far from God in your life and walk and from that communion with Him that you might attain to, even while here. If you were convinced of that you would think it your unquestionable duty to draw near to God in all these respects we have mentioned.
But where are that labour of love, unweariedness in duty, and readiness to suffer everything for Christ? Are not all these, in a great measure, gone? What fainting, failing, and taking fright at the cross? Where is that appetite and desire after Christ, and His righteousness, which folk pursued so vigorously before? Where is that esteem and enquiry for marks of grace in the soul? Where is longing to know your duty and submission to reproof you once had? Are you not rather afraid to hear your duty laid out before you? And where is that happiness people had in hearing the Word when they were not so skilled in evading it except what pleases their fancy? They would not allow the convictions of conscience to continue all night without mourning for it before the Lord until it was removed? Many can maintain an accusing conscience all night, and not be troubled with it? Where is that tenderness of conscience that would have made people abstain from every appearance of evil? That would have made them walk circumspectly for fear of offending and mourn for it before God? Where is that true zeal for the interest of Christ there once was? Is that not gone, and are there any rightly exercised when they see the matters of God going wrong ? You should draw near to God in all these things.

(c) Pursue nearness to God

Time was when you would not have been satisfied if God had not been drawing out your hearts after Him. But is this not almost gone? Draw near to Him and return to your old practice.

Let someone be as near unto God as he can imagine, it is still good to draw near to Him and seek nearer fellowship and more intimate acquaintance with Him. The psalmist was near, yet he seeks to be nearer to Him to have his arms full of God, so to speak. This is because the life of true religion in the world is a strong appetite and heart hungering after God. Hunger still, therefore, and seek after more from Him. You cannot keep what you have already attained unless you are still in pursuit of more. You lose what you have got, and scatter as fast as you have gathered if are not still making progress and increase. Thus, we pray “hold up my goings” (Psalm 17:15), i.e. take fast hold of me otherwise I will suddenly go wrong. You will not come to much if you do not draw nearer and nearer to God.

Where experience is real, the soul will still look for more. Strive to go forward; otherwise, you will hardly keep what you have already. Open your mouths wide, and the Lord will fill them abundantly. There are treasures of good things with Him, that you have never yet seen. There are sweet fills of love, peace, joy; perfect victory over sin; self-denial, and dying to the world, being alive to nothing but Christ, being filled with all the fullness of God. All these and much more are to be had through seeking after them.

Conclusion

These meditations should encourage us to overcome any distance that has developed between God and our souls by drawing near to Him. John Owen wrote many profound things but a very simple observation he made is that “Friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits”. “Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”

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How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?

How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?

How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.

Could there be any question more important? But you don’t hear a lot of people asking it these days. Some people think it’s unhelpful, unsettling and unnecessary to ask such a question. But if we are wrong on the matter of greatest personal concern to us––wouldn’t we want to know? Sometimes people think it’s just a case of believing the gospel and seek to convince struggling souls to do this. But you can believe these things to be true and still not be assured they apply to you. Perhaps we are also functioning at a low level of assurance. The truth is that we cannot expect to have high levels of assurance while we have low levels of obedience. The more we find the evidences of faith working by love in our lives and hearts, the more assurance we can enjoy.

One book in particular has been of supreme help in this area: William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest. The subject of the book is assurance of salvation and it seeks to give various tests by which someone may know that he is a Christian and in doing so also sets out very clearly the way of salvation.

“Great Interest” doesn’t just mean that the book deals with the matter of greatest importance to a Christian and his chief concern. It is a legal term and means to have a valid stake or share in something to our benefit. Guthrie’s book deals with how the Christian may know whether he has a valid legal claim. The claim that matters is one within the Will and Testament or Covenant that the Lord Jesus Christ graciously makes with His people. Guthrie helps us to put ourselves in a courtroom trial where we are under Scripture as a judge to determine if our claim is true.

Guthrie opens the book with a concern that there are many “pretending, without ground, to a special interest in Christ”. On the other hand many others “who have good ground of a claim to Christ are not established in the confidence of His favour, but remain in the dark without comfort, hesitating concerning the reality of godliness in themselves”. This state of affairs prompts two questions – 1. How can someone know if they are in Christ and whether or not he may lay genuine claim to God’s favour and salvation? 2. What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest?

Guthrie’s book was highly commended by John Owen. He said that it contained more theology than everything he himself had written. Thomas Chalmers said it was the best book he had ever read. It was the favourite book of Scottish homes for many generations. Here is a video of someone explaining how it was helpful to them personally.

1. Assurance is Possible

It is important to be clear that assurance is possible, and more easily attained than many realise. It is of the utmost importance to be “savingly in covenant with God”. Scripture must be the rule by which we are able to judge whether or not this is so.

Only a few, however, seem to reach this assurance. There are many different reasons for this:

  • Far too many are ignorant of the different ways in which God works.
  • Others deal deceitfully with God and their own conscience in holding on to sin.
  • There is also a lazy apathy that resists the effort of examining ourselves, but it is “a work and business which cannot be done sleeping”. Assurance must be laboured after, it is not something that falls effortlessly into our laps.
  • Many are ignorant concerning what evidence will satisfy the quest for assurance, despite the fact that it is clear in Scripture.
  • Some are looking for entirely the wrong evidences, such as attaining sinlessness or continuous rapturous prayer.
  • Many that are struggling to attain assurance can make the following mistakes: (a) they think that all who are in Christ know that they are; (b) they think that all who have assurance have the same degree of certainty; (c) they think that this persuasion should be continuous; (d) they think that a person must be able to answer every objection against their assurance.
  • Others believe that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost and put themselves beyond pardon. Guthrie defines what this is (and what it is not) very carefully and helpfully from the Scriptures.

Guthrie speaks of the different ways in which people are drawn to Christ. Some indeed may be drawn lovingly or called suddenly in a very direct way. The “ordinary” way involves being humbled by conviction during which the conscience is awakened till the soul is full of concern about salvation and driven from resting in anything of themselves, to casting their all on Christ for salvation. This is carefully distinguished from the temporary convictions of those that fall away.

 

2. Faith and the New Birth as Evidence

The first evidence that Guthrie calls for in this trial is faith. Faith is vital in the matter of assurance – indeed all other marks are worthless without it. Yet it can be mistaken. It is not as difficult or mysterious as men sometimes think; the Scriptures speak of it as a simple trusting, resting, and looking. It can be found in various marks of submissive obedience and devotion to Christ. “If men but have an appetite, they have it; for they are blessed that hunger after righteousness”. Thus Guthrie identifies the marks of true faith but also distinguishes it from false faith.

The second set of evidence called upon relates to the new birth. There is a total renewal when a man comes to saving faith in Christ. In mind, heart and will he is changed from being self-oriented and self-serving to serving and glorifying God. Attitudes to all aspects of life are renewed whether it is work or worship, relationships, recreation or eating and drinking. There is a respect to all of God’s commandments, submission to and valuing of Christ alone that hypocrites never have despite the outward similarities with believers that they may seem to possess.

 

3. Getting Assurance

The great question in the minds of many, however, is why some believers doubt. Guthrie opens this up in considerable depth dealing with God’s sovereignty and our own responsibility in these matters. He speaks of twelve areas where different levels of experience may be enjoyed but where assurance may be obtained.

Part Two of the book also proceeds to deal with the second question raised: What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest? Many may believe that they have closed in with Christ in the gospel very few, however, really have. Yet there is a duty that lies on all under the terms of the Covenant of Grace as it is preached to all. There must be a “coming” on our part. “God excludes none if they do not exclude themselves”. “It is a coming on our part, and yet a drawing on His part”. What is it to close with God’s offer of salvation in the preached covenant? It means to recognise the full guilt of sin, our need of salvation and the impossibility of any salvation outwith God’s appointment in Christ. We must “quit and renounce all thoughts of help or salvation by our own righteousness”. Faith is humble though resolute, hearty rather than mere mental assent though it must depend upon knowledge.

4. Personal Covenanting

The Covenanters and Puritans found great benefit in personal covenanting with God. Usually this involved explicitly accepting of Christ and confessing sin and expressing satisfaction with the gospel way of salvation. The covenant was often renewed at Communion seasons and times of difficulty or desertion. Guthrie counsels those who lack assurance to make a covenant explicitly with God, writing down and speaking their acceptance in order that they may return to it in times of doubting. The author patiently removes any obstacles or objections that readers may have about covenanting, showing that it has clear scriptural warrant. The covenant was to be no mere decision card that was signed off unthinkingly. It was a solemn holy vow before God dealing with our never-dying souls to be taken with due meditation and consideration. Guthrie compares the covenant to marriage vows between the soul and Christ, as a way of formally confessing with the mouth the same covenant that the believer makes in the heart.

 

5. A Summary of the Book

The following is a helpful summary of The Christian’s Great Interest prepared by William Guthrie himself. The language has been slightly updated for the benefit of understanding.

Q. 1. What is the great business a person has to do in this world?
A. To make sure of a saving interest in Christ Jesus and to live in a way that is consistent with it.

Q. 2. Do all the members of the visible church not have a saving interest in Christ?
A. No, in truth only a very few of them have it.

Q. 3. How will I know if I have a saving interest in Him?
A. Ordinarily the Lord prepares His own way in the soul by a work of humbling and shows you your sin and misery. He makes you so concerned about it that you long for Christ Jesus, the physician.

Q. 4. How will I know if I have got a true sight of my sin and misery?
A. A true sight of sin makes a person take salvation to heart above anything in this world. It makes them reject all relief in themselves, seen in their best things. It makes Christ who is the Redeemer, very precious to the soul. It makes a person afraid to sin afterwards and makes them content to be saved on any terms that God pleases.

Q. 5. By what other ways may I discern a saving interest in Him?
A. By the heart going out seriously and affectionately towards Him as He is held out in the gospel. This is faith or believing.

Q. 6. How will I know if my heart goes out after Him aright, and that my faith is true saving faith?
A. Where the heart goes out aright after Him in true and saving faith, the soul is pleased with Christ alone above all things, and is satisfied with Him in all Him three offices, to rule and instruct as well as to save; and is content to cleave to Him, whatever difficulties may follow.

Q. 7. What other mark of a saving interest in Christ can you give me?
A. Those who are in Christ savingly are new creatures. They are graciously changed and renewed in some measure in the whole man, and in all their ways are pointing towards all the known commands of God.

Q. 8. What if I find sin now and then prevailing over me?
A. Although every sin deserves everlasting vengeance, yet, if you are afflicted for your failings and confess them with shame of face to God, honestly resolving to strive against them from now on, and seek pardon from Christ, you will obtain mercy and your interest stands sure.

Q. 9. What will the person do who cannot lay claim to Christ Jesus or any of those marks spoken of?
A. Let them not rest until they make sure of a saving interest in Christ.

Q. 10. How can someone make sure of an interest in Christ if they never had a saving interest in Him before?
A. He must take his sins to heart and the great danger into which they have brought him. He must take to heart God’s offer of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus and heartily accept God’s offer by retaking himself to Christ, the blessed refuge.

Q. 11. What if my sins are especially heinous and worse than the ordinary?
A. Whatever your sins may be, if you will close with Christ Jesus by faith, you will never enter into condemnation.

Q. 12. Is faith in Christ only required of men?
A. Faith is the only condition on which God offers peace and pardon to men; but be assured, faith, if it be true and saving, will not be alone in the soul, but will be attended with true repentance, and a thankful pursuit of conformity to God’s image.

Q. 13 How will I be sure that my heart does accept God’s offer and Christ Jesus?
A. Go and make a covenant explicitly and speak it all by word to God.

Q. 14 How will I do that?
A. Set apart some portion of time, and, having considered your own lost condition, and the remedy offered by Christ Jesus, work up your heart to be pleased and close with that offer, and say to God expressly that you accept that offer and for Him to be your God in Christ. Give yourself up to Him to be saved in His way, without reservation or exception in any way and that from now on you will wait for salvation in the way that He has appointed.

Q. 15 What if I break with God afterwards?
A. You must resolve in His strength not to break, and watch over your own ways, and put your heart in His hand to keep it and if you break, you must confess it to God, and judge yourself for it, and flee to the Advocate for pardon, and resolve to do so no more. You must do this as often as you fail.

Q. 16 How will I come to full assurance of my interest in Christ, so that it may be beyond question?
A. Learn to lay your weight on the blood of Christ, and study purity and holiness in all kinds of conduct. Pray for the witness of God’s Spirit to join with the blood and the water. His testimony added to these will establish you in the faith of an interest in Christ.

Q. 17. What is the consequence of such closing with God in Christ by heart and mouth?
A. Union and communion with God, every good here and His blessed fellowship in heaven forever afterwards.

Q. 18. What if I slight all these things and do not lay them to heart to put them in practice?
A. The Lord comes with His angels, in flaming fire, to render vengeance to them who do not obey His gospel. Your judgement will be greater than that of Sodom and Gomorrah and so much the greater that you have read this book, for it will be a witness against you in that day.

 

Conclusion

Thomas Chalmers gave a good summary of the book in his commendation. He spoke of Guthrie’s “intimate acquaintance…with the spiritual life, and his clear, affectionate, and earnest expositions of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel”. It is also full of “powerful and urgent appeals to the conscience” that awaken concern about this matter of “infinite importance”. It seeks to avoid the possibility of the reader continuing to deceive themselves while constraining them to seek after full assurance. Guthrie himself closes this plain yet deep and short but full little book with a sublime crescendo.

O blessed bargain of the new covenant, and thrice blessed Mediator of the same! Let him ride prosperously and subdue nations and languages, and gather in all His jewels, that honourable company of the firstborn, that stately troop of kings and priests, whose glory it shall be to have washed their garments in the blood of that spotless Lamb, and whose happiness shall continually flourish in following Him whithersoever He goes, and in being in the immediate company of the Ancient of days, one sight of whose face shall make them in a manner forget that ever they were on the earth. Oh, if I could persuade men to believe that these things are not yea and nay, and to make haste towards Him, who hasteth to judge the world, and to call men to an account, especially concerning their improvement of this gospel. ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus.’

You can read William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest online for free at the CCEL.org website.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

All of Guthrie’s teaching and pastoral experience were poured into The Christian’s Great Interest – his only book. The remarkable fact that is has gone through more than eighty editions and been translated into several languages testifies to its value. This book describes in a clear and attractive style what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. In the first part, he looks at how someone is drawn to Christ, what the evidences are of true saving grace, and the difference between a true Christian and a hypocrite. In the second part he describes how to ‘close’ with Christ, and deals with various objections, difficulties, and doubts.

 

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