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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Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word
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.

We’re so used to hearing sermons that it becomes ordinary and routine for us. Yet it is meant to be a life-changing and world-changing activity. Christ has sent someone to declare His Word to us in a special way. No words outside of Scripture are more significant than those we hear from the pulpit. The Spirit of God makes “the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation” (Shorter Catechism, Q89). We should therefore be longing and waiting for the sermons we hear.

In what follows we will hear the heart-cry of a flock to a shepherd to come and feed them with God’s Word. This was a congregation who would experience one of Scotland’s most richly blessed ministries – ever. The parish of Fenwick, Ayrshire were calling a young man called William Guthrie. Writing a call to a pastor can seem to some like a procedural technicality or in some cases a fairly casual approach but in this case the document breathes spiritual earnestness.

 

1. Longing Expressed

The congregation write to Guthrie as “Reverend and well-beloved” recalling first of all their struggles to get a church building newly erected. They mention “how (after many prayers and difficulties) by the great mercy and good hand of God upon” them, they had a church building “erected to the honour of His name and for [their] edification”. They describe themselves as a “hungry people” full of spiritual needs.

They are “bound in conscience and pressed in spirit to make use of so fair a mercy by begging from God and looking out (in the ordinary way) one who may break the Bread of Life” to them and “watch for [their] souls”.

It has pleased the Lord to incline all our hearts as one man towards you as the man of God sent unto us and kept for us by special providence

They urge Guthrie through the compassion of Jesus (the great and chief shepherd), beseeching and charging him in His name” to accept their call to ministry in that place.

You are the first after whom the eyes and hearts of us all have been carried with a holy violence and this is the first call that ever came from this place, we rest assured that you neither dare nor will refuse the burden

So they seek that he will “refresh the hearts of a waiting longing and languishing people by a ready condescendence”. They close the call describing themselves as those who are resolved to be “your very affectionate friends and flock”. It was dated 27 September 1643. The original call is displayed on the wall of Fenwick Parish Church.

 

2. Longing Fulfilled

These prayers were not just answered in Guthrie accepting the call. It was a ministry that would truly transform the parish. Being the first pastor there, Guthrie found a great spiritual ignorance as well as a general neglect of the house of God and the way of salvation. The Sabbath was profaned and family worship neglected. The young minister’s zeal and desire for the salvation of his flock overcame all discouragement in his way and his preaching was sealed with the genuine conversion of most people in the parish.

Like most Covenanting ministers, Guthrie was very diligent in visiting his people, teaching the young and insisting on family worship. In this way the Word of God had a daily place of honour in the home. One minister said that almost everyone in the Fenwick parish was “brought to make a fair profession of godliness, and had the worship of God in their families”. The parish experienced true revival during that time.

What was Guthrie’s preaching like? It was faithful and fearless. It distinguished between those who really needed comfort and those who needed rebuke. Matthew Crawford, minister at Eastwood, said that William Guthrie “converted and confirmed many thousand souls, and was esteemed the greatest practical preacher in Scotland”.

William Guthrie is most famous for the valuable little book that he wrote called The Christian’s Great Interest. This deals with the way of salvation and how we can be sure we are saved. The word “interest” means a legal claim. The theologian John Owen said that there was more theology in it than in everything he had ever written put together.

 

3. The Close of a Fruitful Ministry

By 1663, more than 400 ministers were forced out of their pulpits for refusing to be re-ordained under episcopal government and for refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of the king over the Church.   They were told they must leave their parishes and not live within 20 miles of them or within 6 miles of Edinburgh. Guthrie was able to stay for a little longer but was finally forced from his pulpit and his physical health collapsed shortly afterwards. He suffered a complication of diseases and returned to the place of his birth never to preach again.

Looking back, he was able to give this testimony to the man who came to remove him from his congregation: “I bless the Lord He has given me some success, and a seal of my ministry upon the souls and consciences of not a few that are gone to heaven, and of some that are yet in the way to it”.

 

Conclusion

Many today see the ordinary means of grace, including preaching, as too ordinary. They are looking for something extraordinary. Yet it was the ordinary methods of preaching, catechising and pastoral care that the Lord used to bring revival to Fenwick. He blessed the means that He had ordained to fulfil the longings of a people above all that they were able to ask or think. God is also able to bless our longing expectations in the next sermon we hear.

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Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride
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.

Do we take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as we ought? Communion is not high on the list of trending issues in evangelicalism today. Some have a casual attitude towards it. In many evangelical churches the Lord’s Supper is tacked on to the end of a service and quickly dispatched. In some cases perhaps the congregation has forgotten it would be administered before they arrived at the service. Do we take it as seriously as God does? Should we give it any less importance than a bride gives to her wedding day?

Perhaps that it is a startling comparison to many. This is the striking and unusual picture used by William Guthrie. He unfolds it in a way that takes us into a serious consideration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorable way of thinking about how we should prepare for it and what we should expect in it.

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace that nourishes the soul. We do not mean by this the unbiblical notion that mere eating and drinking automatically bring grace. Rather, like the Word it is an appointed means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to us so that we grow in grace. Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper involves communion with Christ enjoyed in the present (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is not just a remembrance of what took place in the past, though there is more to such commemoration than some assume. Remembering in Scripture involves not just a mere act of recollection but affectionate remembrance of something/someone with ongoing application of its significance.

 

Christ’s People are His Bride

We are familiar with believers being described as the bride of Christ in Scripture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). In his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest William Guthrie makes use of this in relation to faith in Christ. “A man must be sincere, and without guile, in closing with Christ…not hankering after another way”. It must be a heart and not only a head matter: “the man not only must be persuaded that Christ is the way, but affectionately persuaded of it, loving and liking the thing…so that ‘it is all a man’s desire’, as David speaks of the covenant”.

If a man be cordial and affectionate in any thing, surely he must be so here in this ‘one thing that is necessary’. It must not be simply a fancy in the head, it must be a heart-business, a soul-business…not, a business in the outer court of the affections, but in the flower of the affections, and in the innermost, cabinet of the soul, where Christ is formed. Shall a man be cordial in any thing, and not in this, which comprises all his chief interests and his everlasting state within it? Shall “the Lord be said to rejoice over a man as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride,” and to “rest in his love with joy?” and shall not the heart of man go out and meet him here? The heart or nothing; love or nothing; marriage-love, which goeth from heart to heart; love of espousals, or nothing: “My son, give me thine heart.”

 

The Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s Bride

Thus Guthrie describes in Scriptural language how the soul enters into a marriage contract or covenant with Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a renewal and confirmation of that covenant and our vows. It is natural, therefore, to think of the Lord’s Supper as one of the special ways in which the heavenly bridegroom enjoys fellowship with His bride. As Thomas Watson puts it: “the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ”.

The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!

1 Corinthians 11:29 speaks of the danger of “eating unworthily” i.e. in an unworthy manner. This means that we must give serious attention to the way that we partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Larger Catechism in Q174 deals with how the Lord’s Supper should be received. It stresses reverent attentiveness, those who partake should: “diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings”. Vigorously stirring into activity graces within such as love and resolute faith also involves:

judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

William Guthrie addressed some of these aspects in describing the believer’s approach to the Lord’s Table in terms of a bride on her wedding day. He has given a memorable picture with which to associate some of these things. A bride is not only full of love and anticipation on her wedding day, she is fully prepared for and engaged in all that takes place. The following are some of the comparisons Guthrie makes.

Would a bride be careless about whether she and her dress are clean? Any bride wants to look her best. In the same way a believer should not be going to the Lord’s Table careless about unconfessed sin in their lives and not seeking to leave them and put them to death.

Would a bride be sleepy at her wedding ceremony? It is too important to her to be only half-awake to what is taking place.  The very excitement of the occasion makes it impossible. This is how it should be for a believer approaching Christ in the Supper.

Would a bride be distracted and give her attention to anything other than her bridegroom and the significance of the ceremony? It is even more strange for a believer to be distracted from the heavenly bridegroom and all that is offered in the Supper. What more important thing could the mind and heart consider?

Would a bride be diffident and reluctant to come to be married or to look at her bridegroom? Yet some believers draw back and are reluctant to come to Christ’s Table because of doubts about themselves and their salvation. But as the Larger Catechism shows in Q172, the Lord’s Table is for weak and doubting Christians so that they can be strengthened.

 

1. A dirt-stained bride is unbecoming

In appoaching to the Table of the Lord, remember it is unbecoming that in the day and hour of espousals the bride should be dirty. It is not becoming for her to have known spots on her which she does not attempt to put off. It is true, at first Christ taketh a dirty bride by the hand, and often has to wash her afterwards. But now in this solemn confirmation of marriage, a filthy bride with known iniquity cleaving to her (with her consent) is a dreadful thing.

 

2. A drowsy bride is shameful

A drowsy bride is shameful when so solemn a transaction is being carried out before so many witnesses. It is not a good sign to be sleepy and drowsy. It is true that the three disciples slept and were very heavy very soon afterwards in a great crisis. But that was the forerunner of a sad defection.

 

3. A distracted bride is unseemly

To be distracted and have your attention diverted on such a solemn occasion is a sign of rank corruption. It shows little awe of God and small esteem of Christ Jesus. How unseemly it would be  for a bride in the presence of her bridegroom to dally with other things – even if they were gifts received from the bridegroom himself! She is going to give her marriage consent, or ratify it before witnesses.

 

4. A diffident bride is very unseemly

It is very unseemly to be diffident towards the Bridegroom at the very time when He has called all His friends together to be witnesses of what He has done and said for her. He is communicating to her the highest, clearest and surest pledge of love He can, putting His great Seal to all the charters of the Covenant which are read over and over. After all this to look down and be jealous and to say in your heart, “He is but mocking me” is a great provocation. Be not therefore unbelieving but believing.

 

5. A prepared bride is essential

The Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and due preparation (1 Corinthians 11:28). Any bride makes great preparation for her wedding day, she plans for nothing else so fully and thoroughly as this. Does the Lord’s Supper in its special communion with the Heavenly Bridegroom not require more preparation than we commonly give it? These considerations about repentance, love and careful attention apply to preparation also.

The Larger Catechism dwells on how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper as well as how to receive it. In Q171 it stresses preparation through examining ourselves in relation to various matters:

  • Whether we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5);
  • Our sins and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 5:7);
  • Whether our understanding is true and adequate (1 Corinthians 11:29);
  • Repentance after examining ourselves by God’s requirements (1 Corinthians 11:31);
  • Love to God (1 Corinthians 10:16);
  • Love to others (1 Corinthians 11:18);
  • Forgiveness towards others (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Desires for Christ (John 7:37);
  • New obedience (1 Corinthians 5:7-8);
  • Renewing the exercise of grace (Hebrews 10:21-22,24);
  • Serious meditation (1 Corinthians 11:24-25);
  • Fervent prayer (2 Chronicles 30:18-19)

 

Conclusion

Guthrie’s analogy is helpful in encouraging higher views of the Lord’s Supper and how we should best profit from it spiritually. It reflects the Scriptural emphasis of the Larger Catechism on reverent attentiveness, repentance, love and faith amongst other spiritual exercises. It is a means of blessing for grace being stirred up into activity. Surely there would be a higher spiritual temperature amongst believers if we took these things to heart and put them into practice.

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Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion
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 has certainly self-destructed–morally speaking. Values have been turned upside down. We can also discern things collapsing in on themselves spiritually. This is because sin constantly pushes towards self-destruction. These are times when nations and Churches seem to have destroyed themselves just like Israel (Hosea 13:9). Will the Church survive? Will we and our children come through it with the same faith and values? Other generations have been here before us. We can learn much from those in the past who brought God’s truth to bear on their situation.

The period following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 was marked by spiritual self-destruction. The Covenanters in Scotland faced a tyrannical attack on the spiritual independence of the Church. These were times of persecution for those who sought to remain faithful. Along with hundreds of other faithful ministers, William Guthrie of Fenwick was forced out of his pulpit. His ministry had been accompanied by true revival.

The Wednesday before his final service was observed as a day of humiliation and prayer. Guthrie preached about Israel’s self-destruction from Hosea 13:9. The point was clear: Scotland had reached the same point of self-destruction. Years later, while being hunted down by soldiers, Richard Cameron preached at a hill-side gathering from the same text.

we have it in commission to say to the Church of Scotland: “Thou hast destroyed thyself, O Church of Scotland, O ministers of Scotland, O commons and people of all sorts in Scotland, ye have destroyed yourselves”

 

1. Is it Really that Bad?

In our generation, which champions self-esteem and self-confidence, this is not a palatable message. Not everyone can see the reality of moral self-destruction. As Guthrie observed: “No doubt there are many, who think there is no wrath on Scotland. They think that we are in a good condition and have not destroyed ourselves”.

Guthrie referred to the force raid on the Church which dismantled its biblical worship and government. “All our precious things are taken captive by the adversary”. Ministers had been banished, imprisoned or prevented from their work. Godless men had taken their place. “Do you not yet see, how the land is ruined and destroyed, and the flocks of the Lord’s people scattered? And are these things and many more no evidences of God’s wrath?”

 

2. What Can We Do About It?

Guthrie observed much prayer but not much evidence of being “humbled and weeping”. “The Lord’s people meet and pray, and there is no answer returned, but one ill upon the back of another”. Sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond to such violent moral changes. Perhaps we feel wearied by the onslaught and at times even confused.

Guthrie believed that our weakness and lack of understanding results from sin. “Why are God’s people so faint hearted and weak? Are there not many of you faint-hearted? Is not your spirit and courage and ability to be valiant for the truth gone? And is that no evidence of wrath?” “Israel has sinned, and therefore his heart is faint and his hands feeble. He has fled from the pursuer”.

Why is there such weakness? It is due to sin and lack of real conviction about our sin. We must see that we have much for which we should repent. We must abandon the idea that we are completely immune from the moral self-destruction around us. This is the only way to survive a time of moral self-destruction in the nation and professing Church. Guthrie poses some searching rapid fire questions about our response to moral self-destruction.

  • have we been silent before the Lord under our conviction?
  • have we been busy in searching out the sins by which we have destroyed ourselves and others?
  • have we been quick to turn from the sins we have discovered?
  • have we diligently pled at the throne of grace for pardon and peace with God and the loosing of our bonds?
  • have we been ashamed at every new declaration of wrath because of our responsibility for it?
  • would we be satisfied with no release or deliverance unless the Lord frees us from the yoke of our sins and heals our backslidings?
  • have we been brought to submit to God afflicting us in any way He sees fit?
  • have we been zealously stirred up against sin when newly exposed by God’s judgements?

 

3. What Have We Done to Bring it About?

Guthrie’s message is unusual. His reflections on the moral implosion affecting the land are not detached social commentary. Neither were they merely a passionate denunciation of social evils. It is easy for us to consider moral self-destruction within the Church and nation in a detached way. We observe God’s sovereign judgements and discern the intentions of those who are enemies to the cause of truth. We might be able to acknowledge that sin has had a ruinous impact on the Church of God. Yet it is difficult to be truly and thoroughly convicted that we personally have any responsibility.

We need to go beyond even a generalised conviction about our sin and its consequences to being sorely convicted in an abiding way about particular sins we have committed. Guthrie observed that few had arrived at this point.

Guthrie speaks directly about the sins of different groups within society. He addresses the specific sins of ministers in their office. Then he speaks to elders and deacons about their omissions. He addresses leaders in society, servants and people in general. Lastly, he comes to make solemn charges against professing Christians.

  1. I charge you with falling from your first love, evidenced by falling away from your former diligence.
  2. I charge you that all your religious duties are a matter of form.
  3. I charge you with slothfulness, in giving to the Lord the refuse of your time and serving Him by fits and starts.
  4. I charge you with worldly-mindedness.  Covetousness has overwhelmed everyone.
  5. I charge you with inordinate affections to every idol that comes in your way.
  6. I charge you with pride and self-conceit, and despising those who do not come up to your standard
  7. I charge you with unbelief and ignorance of God and his Word.
  8. I charge you with a decay of the substance of true religion. This includes lack of tenderness of conscience, prizing the promises, zeal for the glory of God and against sin. Christian fellowship has been abused and neglected.

 

4. What Hope is There?

It is clear that Guthrie believed that the pressing need was to set time aside to mourn over such sins and seek for grace to help against them. The message of hope was that the Lord will hear and give some help and deliverance, if not their condition would only get worse. Hosea 13:9 does not just speak about the Church and nation destroying itself.  It also offers the hope that their help is in God alone.  This is truly encouraging and bright with hope: “notwithstanding we have destroyed ourselves, yet there is hope of help in Him”. “If Israel was thoroughly convicted that he has destroyed himself, there would be hope that God would be Israel’s help”.

The people of God should not despair even though their condition seems to be irrecoverable.  It seems so to you, but it is not so to God. The things that are impossible to men are not impossible to God. What though God smite us all down, if He does good to our souls and teaches us out of His law? What though we lie under these folk’s feet for a time? He will make our worst condition best.  What though we lack public ordinances for a while, if He prove a little sanctuary to us? What though He shatters all outward worldly helps (showing their emptiness) since He can help either by ordinary or extraordinary means? Let us never be discouraged and lose heart. If the heart is gone, all is gone.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

The book from which this updated extract has been selected has now been published. It’s spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context. It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended. Purchase here.

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What Spiritual Fruit Have You Produced This Year?

What Spiritual Fruit Have You Produced This Year?

What Spiritual Fruit Have You Produced This Year?
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.

We need to be challenged by this type of question. Spiritual fruit ought to be visible. Sometimes we need to be unsettled from our complacency. But it is easy to be cast down when we take an all-too-realistic view of our spiritual progress. It can even make us question the reality of our profession. Encouragement follows for any who take this question seriously.

What sort of fruit should we expect? The Shorter Catechism describes some of the fruit that should be evident. If we have been justified, adopted, and are being sanctified there are certain benefits. There is “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end”.  Increase of grace includes growth in holiness. It also includes the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice that it does not speak of intellectual knowledge or outward activity. These have their place but are not spiritual fruit. If this is the true fruit then has this year been a fruitful year for your soul?

There is a common caricature that self-examination is like uprooting a plant all the time to see if it is growing. Spiritual self-examination does not dissect the roots but discerns the fruits. If there is fruit then there is evidence of growth and reality. This is how we are to obey Scripture’s command to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5).  This is how we recognise and avoid a mere “form of godliness” which denies its “power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

 

1. Where Does Spiritual Fruit Come From?

William Guthrie touches on some of these points towards the end of his classic book The Christian’s Great 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.

“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.

As he concludes this book, Guthrie deals with various objections relating to lack of assurance. One of these is the lack of fruitfulness. We are to expect sincerity but not perfection. He says that “these things will keep a man in work all his days”. God’s people have all “had their failings and shortcomings”. Their  “backslidings” and “dangerous unbelief” are evident. Even after they had sincerely trusted God in Christ. In the following updated extract he deals with common mistakes in relation to spiritual fruitfulness.

Many look for fruitfulness from themselves. They seek it in their own Christian walk, strength of faith and sincerity in dealing with God. They seek it from themselves rather than from the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. They fix their hearts on their own honesty and resolutions, and not in the blessed root, Christ Jesus. Without Him, we can do nothing, and are entirely vanity in our best condition.

People should remember, that one piece of grace cannot produce any degree of grace. Furthermore, nothing can work grace but the arm of Jehovah. It would fare better with them if they were to lean on Christ alone… If, at least, they would look to Him alone for the suitable fruit.

Blame your unfruitfulness on your unwatchfulness and your unbelief. Blame your lack full assurance on an evil heart of unbelief, helped by Satan to act against the glorious free grace of God…Resolve from now on to abide close by the root and you will bring forth much fruit. And by much fruit, you open yourself to the witness of God’s Spirit. He will testify with your spirit that you have sincerely and honestly embraced God’s offer. Also that the rest of your works are wrought in God and approved by Him.

 

2. Much Fruit by Abiding in Christ

Further encouragement is available from another great classic on assurance. The Sum of Saving Knowledge by David Dickson and James Durham offers concise counsel. This is drawn from John 15:5 where the Lord Jesus Christ says “I am the vine”. They show that we must abide in Christ and He in us in order for us to bear “much fruit”.  What does abiding in Christ involve? The following updated extract answers this question. Abiding in Christ presupposes three things:

  1. That we have heard the joyful sound of the gospel offering Christ to us as lost sinners by the law;
  2. That we have heartily embraced the gracious offer of Christ;
  3. That by receiving Him we have become the sons of God (John 1:12). We are incorporated into His spiritual body. This is so that He may dwell in us, as His temple, and we may dwell in Him as the residence of righteousness and life.

Abiding in Christ also means three further things.

  1. Making use of Christ in all our dealings with God and in all service and worship to God.
  2. Being content with His sufficiency. Not seeking righteousness, life, or spiritual resources outside of Christ. Not seeking this in any way or at any time in our own worthiness or anyone else’s.
  3. Steadfastly believing in Him. Steadfastly making use of Christ. Being steadfastly content in Him, and cleaving to Him. In such a way that no allurement, no temptation from Satan or the world, no terror nor trouble, may be able to drive our spirits from firm adherence to Him. So that nothing may drive us from constantly avowing His truth and obeying His commands. He has loved us and given himself for us. Not only is our life in Him, but also the fulness of the Godhead bodily through the union of His divine and human natures.

Thus, every watchful believer should reason in the following way to strengthen themselves in faith and obedience:

“Whoever makes daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse his conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable him to obey the law in love,  has evidence of true faith within himself”

“But I do make daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse my conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable me to obey the law in love”

“Therefore, I have the evidence of true faith within myself.”

The slothful and negligent believer may also reason in the following way to stir himself up:

“I must be diligent to do whatever is necessary to show evidence of true faith. Unless I wish to deceive myself and perish”.

“But to make daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse my conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable me to obey the law in love is necessary to show evidence of true faith”

“Therefore, I must be diligent to do this unless I wish to deceive myself and perish”.

God willing, we have the prospect of another year before us. Here is how it can be a spiritually fruitful year.

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