Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
13 Apr, 2021

Whether or not we call it a secondary or parallel pandemic, there is no doubt that there has been an upsurge in mental health issues during the past year. Some fear it will have a long-term impact, especially on younger age groups. It is a silent issue at the best of times, it is easier to ask about physical than mental health. We all know people who have trials in this area to a greater or lesser extent and Christians are not immune. It can be difficult to distinguish between spiritual and mental trials and the impact they have on each other. Medical and other assistance is of course often needed but with whatever the case we must bring our situation before God. Scripture shows us how to go to God for comfort and strength in such afflictions. It does not give us glib platitudes; it plumbs the depth of mental distress to lift up the troubled and cast down.

The bleakest lament from a distressed condition is found in Psalm 88. As David Dickson notes, this is the experience of a ‘wise and holy man…under the heaviest condition of a wounded spirit of any that we read of.’ Heman the Ezrahite was one of the four wisest men in all of Israel (1 Kings 4:31) yet here he prays for comfort in wrestling by faith and pouring out his soul to God. It is the heaviest possible condition we can imagine for a believer. He does not seem to find the comfort he seeks, yet he clings to God. This deep trouble of a wounded spirit is recorded here for our understanding and spiritual benefit. Perhaps our situation or that experienced by others is equally bleak or less so. Or perhaps meditating on this psalm can help prepare us for future affliction. C H Spurgeon was perhaps reflecting on this psalm when he said the following:

The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.

Those who find their assurance of God’s love and comfort is clouded by their experience in their heavy affliction can still find comfort here. As David Dickson remarks, ‘those who flee to God for reconciliation and consolation through Christ, have no reason to suspect themselves, that they are not esteemed of and loved as dear children, because they feel so much of God’s wrath.’ Here is a saint who has drunk as deeply of that cup of sorrow as any who will read this Psalm. ‘Yet here is one so much loved and honoured of God’ that he is used in writing Scripture ‘and a pattern of faith and patience unto others.’ He could still call him the God of his salvation. Dickson draws further help and comfort in this updated and abridged extract.

1. Clinging to God by Grace

He fastens his faith and resolution to pray constantly to God until he receives and answer. Those have fled to God for grace and have received the offered reconciliation in the Messiah have entered into covenant with God for their everlasting salvation. They ought to stand fast in holding onto this covenant, however hard their condition may be.

When a believer has laid hold on eternal life, they may by the same right ask and expect comfort in and deliverance out of every trouble. Heman does this here (v1-2). God can love a person and keep praying in faith for a long time without an answer to comfort them. Yet this is all in love, wise love.

There is a difference between the lamentation of the worldly man and the believer. The worldly person sighs and cries, to whom they know not. But the godly present their lamentations to God. We must pray to God again and again patiently, until we know it is answered.

2. Clinging to God in increasing Troubles

There are nine deepening troubles that add to each other in misery.
(a) His soul is full of troubles, so full it can hold no more. Soul troubles are the most pressing troubles (v3)
(b) The sorrows of the mind are able to waste away the body, which cannot but shrink and pine away when the soul is sick with anguish (v3)
(c) His soul’s condition seems desperate like those that go down to the pit. Whatever strength of soul or body a person is soon emptied when God puts them in distress. Without fresh supplies they are as those that have no strength (v4). I am as a man that hath no strength.
(d) He is like the living among the dead, no longer fit for any duty of the living. The believer may sometimes be so burdened with trouble of spirit, that they can neither think, nor speak, nor go about any duty of the living for a time (v5).
(e) He is like someone killed violently, thrust out of the world suddenly with a deadly wound. A soul dear to God may experience such a condition (v5)
(f) He is deprived of the comforts of life and is it were left under the power of death. The believer may sometimes lose sight of the everlasting promise and seem to be rejected by God (v5).
(g) He seems to be deprived of all light of consolation, in the gulf of desperation without deliverance. The believer may feel themselves to be in such a condition, the lowest pit. Whatever trouble we are in, or however great danger we seem to be in, the believer’s wisdom is still to look to God. This may add to grief and fear, yet it prepares the way for the remedy and keeps the believer on the right terms with God.
(h) He has the felt wrath of God pursuing him, overtaking him, lying heavy on him, tossing him with new fears and assaults. These are like the waves of the sea when they come one after another, and endlessly dash on what they find in their way. Such may be the case of a beloved soul in its own felt sense (v7).
(i) He is deprived of all comfort, even any consolation from his friends or fellowship of the godly and wise (v8).

3. Clinging to God in Faith

He wrestles in prayer using four reasons to strengthen his faith and hope of being comforted.
(a) He earnestly seeks comfort only in God with tears (v9).
(b) He must not perish without an answer to his prayer to edify others and glorify God’s name (v10-12)
(c) He is resolved not to cease praying (v13)
(d) He cannot be cast off from God even though His face is hidden (v14)

4. Clinging to God in Grief

The psalmist presents his misery before the Lord, persuaded that he must experience the Lord’s compassion in due time, although he has been afflicted since his youth (v15). When we have tried all means for receiving comfort from God, it is safest for us to lay our grief before God, until He is pleased to show pity.

5. Clinging to God in Fear

The weight of present troubles, is accompanied with the fear of worse to come. Some of God’s children are more tried in their consciences than others. Some souls may experience this all their days. Severe trials may sometimes make faith stagger with doubting, and perplex our reason so that we are like someone that is beside themselves. But although the godly experience doubt, they are not driven to despair; they may be cast down, but they are not destroyed. The terrors of God in the plural number are upon him, that is, frequent terrors, and multiplied terrors (v16-17). They are compared to waters enclosing someone before they are aware.

6. Clinging to God in Isolation

There is no one who is compassionate toward him (v8 and 18). There was none to pity him, none to counsel or comfort him, none to whom he might impart his mind fully for ease. His old friends, and such as loved him before failed him and forsook him. He must sit solitary in darkness. Such a heavy and comfortless condition may be the lot of a beloved child of God.

The fact that he ends the psalm without any comfort for the time being does not make this psalm any less comforting than any other psalm. It shows that he was being supported for the time being even though it was without comfort. He had comfort given to him afterwards since he was able to turn this sad complaint into a song both for himself and for the Church.

This teaches us that seeing God can sustain a soul by secretly supporting faith, though without a felt sense of comfort. This may be even under the heaviest and most grievous felt sense of wrath. A believer in God must therefore lay hold on God’s goodness, promise and covenant. They must continue to trust in the Lord even though He seems to slay them (see Job 13:15). The example of Heman the Ezrahite here teaches us this.

Conclusion

If we have never experienced the deep emotional and mental distress of Heman the Ezrahite we have great reason to be thankful. If we have known these depths, we are not alone. It is a great blessing that the Bible records such anguish to show us how to express ourselves in the midst of it. The Holy Spirit as the Comforter is able to draw near and apply the Word to the deep griefs of the mind. We need the same compassion for those who are going through dark valleys in their own experience

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Contending for the Truth Lovingly

Contending for the Truth Lovingly

Contending for the Truth Lovingly
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
13 Apr, 2021

We are not to be doctrinally indifferent and anaemic but neither are we to match false or unloving ways of maintaining the truth (Ephesians 4:14-15). True love rejoices in the truth, but it does not rejoice in the sin of anger and bitterness (1 Corinthians 13:6). It is essential to contend for the whole truth (Acts 20:27) but if we lose love in our valiant defence we have lost too much (Revelation 2:2-4). We show our intense love for the truth and for the souls of others when we maintain what is right with compassion. We need constant reminders of this sadly and the following words by the field preacher John Blackadder show that it was even needed during times of persecution.

That holy and necessary duty of faithfully and zealously bearing testimony to the truth and ways of God, and against error and sinful courses, is such a duty as needs to be managed with as much solidity, circumspection, fear, and trembling, as any I know. For the truth is greatly concerned in this, especially when we have to contend with such (of whom several are and otherwise have been) eminent and pious. The conduct of some who are pious and well-meaning has in various things more irritated and stirred up strife than edified. The church in former times has and will have, so long as she is the church militant, many imperfections. In such times of trial she has had, and readily will have, some that, either out of ignorance, carelessness, or worse, go to extremes and excesses on the right as well as the left hand. There is great need, in our days also, to take heed that the way of God and that which is our good, is not evil spoken of.

– John Blackadder

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God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity

God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity

God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
8 Apr, 2021

Self-pity is all-too tempting, even attractive. We can see it in others, even in the victimhood culture around us but not so much in ourselves. It flies under the radar because it is often expressed with a sense of righteous indignation or false humility. It is easy to move from feeling that things are not going the way that they should (according to what is right) to the settled conviction that they are not going the way we think they should. It then comes to be about our importance and how we are ignored and perhaps not listened to. Nobody understands and gives us recognition. So, a sense of spurned entitlement arises, surreptitiously allowing pride a foothold. When we think things are not going as we know they should we can also be tempted to question God subconsciously. Self-pity warps our perspective. If we had the right view of God’s sovereign wisdom, goodness and justice we would see who He is and what He is doing and express our thankfulness. We would turn to His pity away from our own. We need to better be able to recognise the temptation and dangers of self-pity to seek God’s way of deliverance from it.

Self-pity loves to respond to a crisis. We can see this in Jonah chapter 4. After all that he has experienced, Jonah sits down to nurse his fears, discontent and grievances. Here we encounter Jonah complaints at God’s dealings with Nineveh and his wish to be dead (v1-4). We see how self-pity fuels sin, especially anger, resentment and bitterness. He thinks that he knows how God should act and is greatly displeased that He does not comply. We see how self-pity is a kind of inverted pride that seeks to justify ourselves no matter what. Self-pity is so deeply rooted that it is not easily removed. The Lord must show Jonah how warped and self-centred his perspective has become, He does this through first providing and then removing a small plant with its welcome shade. The prophet has more pity on a plant than a vast city of needy souls. Ultimately his self-pity is silenced by the clear declaration of God’s infinite pity towards sinners. But it is such a serious disease that it can only be cured by thoroughly exposing its danger and purging its corruption. George Hutcheson draws much practical teaching from this chapter in the following updated extract.

1. Self-Pity Often Fuels Sin

Corruptions may lurk and remain alive in those who have gone through many crises and so might have had them mortified. Jonah after many difficulties, is still angry and impatient. It is a great sin to seek to have God’s dealings shaped according to the mould of our mind. Jonah’s sin is that he is very angry and exceedingly displeased with what God did (Jonah 4:1).

Corruption may sometimes so prevail with the children of God, that it will not just be a temptation within the heart that is quickly suppressed. It may even break out with their own consent against God for a time. Jonah vents his anger in prayer to the Lord and much of what goes under the name of prayer may involve letting loose our corruption and temper. What is called prayer here is in effect is a bitter expostulation with God and venting of Jonah’s vehement desire to die.

The people of God may have been corrected for and brought to condemn their own past sinful ways and fall into them again though temptation. Jonah now approves his former way of rebellion which he had previously condemned (Jonah 2:8). He now thinks he had done well in fleeing from God (Jonah 4:2)

2. Self-Pity is Self-Willed

As the fallen children of Adam, we are often tempted to presume we would guide things better than God if we our way. Jonah shows that he thought it would have been better to have gone to Tarshish than to have come to Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). When someone is tempted in this way, they will not lack plausible pretences to justify themselves and make their preference seem reasonable. Jonah has such good reasons that he even dares to appeal to God Himself. Did Jonah not anticipate this accurately in his own country? He could see that God’s mercy would make his words of threatening to be in vain and bring his ministry into contempt. Thus, he did the right thing in fleeing he says. But our reasonings must submit to God’s sovereign will and give way to His infinite wisdom.

3. Self-Pity Diminishes God’s Pity

The mercy of God toward lost sinners is so far beyond human mercy, that it may sometimes make His dearest children unhappy that He is so merciful. God’s mercy to Nineveh because He is so gracious and merciful was offensive to Jonah (Jonah 4:2). God is so gracious, that He is not easily provoked by sinners. When He is provoked, He is easily reconciled to them again. Jonah knew this in his own country and now saw it verified.
It is a great mistake to think that mercy manifested to humbled sinners should make them despise God or His servants. Mercy is rather a most effectual means to produce the fear of God, and respect to His ordinances and messengers (Psalm 130:4). Jonah’s reasoning against God’s mercy is based on a mistake and is evidence of his being carried headlong with his vehemence.

4. Self-Pity Leads to Extremes

It is clear evidence of an embittered spirit when any condition (however bad) seems better to them than the present situation. Thus, Jonah thinks it better to die than live, not because he desires glory but rather seeks rest from his present troubles. It ought rather to have made him afraid to think of going out of the world in such a bitter spirit (Jonah 4:3).

The children of God in their temptations may very ardently express the dross of their own heart in seeking that which is altogether wrong. In his bitterness Jonah asks the Lord to take away his life. The saints have great mercy in having a Mediator to correct their prayers.

It is a sign of great corruption and self-love when we seek our own contentment and satisfaction in dying or living, rather than being subject to the will of God. It is mean cowardice angrily to seek to be out of this life because of any trouble we encounter in it through following God. Jonah’s sin is such that he gives this reasons in his bitterness that it is better for him to die than to live.

5. Self-Pity Requires God’s Pity

The Lord reproves Jonah’s anger and appeals to his own better judgment whether it was fitting to complain in this way. The Lord bears with the weaknesses of His servants in great meekness and patience while they are in such a condition and there is hope of recovery. We learn this from the Lord’s gentle reproof of great anger and stubbornness. The mercy of God, which he resented being shown to Nineveh, is the cause of his own safety (Jonah 4:4). Gentle reproofs from God and His tender dealing with His children, ought to make the deepest impression on them. The Lord chose this way so that Jonah in seeing God’s goodness toward him (who was so often off course) might be the more deeply convicted. When the children of God calm down from their anger, they will be most severe against themselves for their impatience and misconduct. The Lord therefore appeals to Jonah to judge his own way in such a frame of mind as being the fittest judge to pass hard censure on himself.

6. Self-Pity is Stubborn

It may be very hard to convince a child of God of their error when they are under this temptation. They may even go on in their way when God reproves them for it (Jonah 4:4-5). Inordinate affections may not only bring people to show themselves in opposition to the will of God, but also easily draw them into delusion. If people will not believe truth but seek it to be according as they wish, they will still expect that things should be so. The forty days had expired and Jonah had been informed of God’s will, yet he still expects to see what he wants to happen. He went to see what would become of the city considering it possible they might yet perish yet, turn from their repenting; or that God would change His purpose of mercy.

Even the children of God have so much of old Adam unmortified that they may in temptation, vent fearful attitudes. There is great need to pray that we are not led into temptation. Jonah, as a prophet, ought to have rejoiced at the success of his ministry and the repentance of sinners. But his mind is only bent upon the destruction of these penitent sinners and grieves to see that city still standing. He sat to see what would become of it, as though he was daily wishing its destruction, and grieving that he did not see it.

7. Self-Pity is not Easily Cured

A spirit once broken and imbittered with troubles is easily grieved and stirred up. Jonah responds bitterly to the heat that he experiences (Jonah 4:6). In healing His people’s sin, the Lord must first lance their boil and expose more of their corruption before He applies any healing plasters. Jonah’s anger is kindled even more before the disease can be healed.

When we give way to bitter discontent it will soon make us furious and illogical. Jonah wanted to die when he no longer had relief from the heat of the sun as if he should be exempted from bearing anything. People are scarcely themselves in a fit of passion.

8. Self-Pity is Discontentment with Providence

To be excessively discontented at Providence especially for small matters is entirely unfitting for the servants of God. This is implied here, it was not right for him as a prophet, to be angry (exceedingly angry, as the words may be read) for the gourd or plant (Jonah 4:9).

9. Self-Pity is Pride

The pride of the human heart is such that in temptation it will justify itself and even resist the verdict of God. Jonah’s answer to the Lord’s question teaches us this. He justifies his anger and says that nothing will please him except death which will rid him of these troubles.

10. Self-Pity is often Self-contradictory

Self-love easily blinds people so far that they will justify doing worse things than those they condemn in others. Jonah would not allow the Lord to be merciful even though it was for a just reason. Yet Jonah could permit himself to indulge in selfish rage (Jonah 4:10-11).

We ought to allow God more latitude in His way of working than we take for ourselves. The Lord shows Jonah that though blinded with caprice he had pity on a plant and should not the wise and sovereign Lord, spare Nineveh. He was willing to reason Jonah out of his folly despite being He to whom absolute submission of spirit was due.
The Lord can easily remove and expose the plausible pretexts advanced by selfish people. Whatever Jonah might pretend to be the cause of his grief for Nineveh being spared, the Lord shows that his bitterness flowed indeed from self-love to himself, as could be seen in the matter of the gourd or plant.

11. Self-Pity is Answered by God’s Pity

The Lord is so constant in His goodwill that He will not only show mercy but defend His doing so against all who will oppose it (Jonah 4:11). The Lord by teaches us by this example to devote our affections to things that have worth in themselves. He reproves Jonah’s pity on the gourd (a thing of so small worth that it came up in one night and perished in another) as far worse than God’s mercy in sparing the great city of Nineveh.

12. Self-Pity can be Healed

The children of the Lord will at last be satisfied with all the Lord’s dealings and will submit to His way in them as only right and wise despite all their complaints under temptation. The Lord gets the last word in this debate and it is evident from Jonah’s silence and not answering again that he submitted at last. The testimony of this and of his unfeigned repentance for his misconduct is that these things are recorded here for the edification of the Church and for the glory of God.

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How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
29 Mar, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What good affections are required?

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

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

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

(d) Humility.

(e) Meekness.

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

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

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

3. What is required for the preservation of peace?

(a) Care to avoid offences.

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

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

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

4. What inward sins are condemned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. How should we resist these?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. What is forbidden in our words?

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

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

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

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

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

9. What is required in our words?

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

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

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

Further Help

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

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Battle Discouragement by Encouraging Others

Battle Discouragement by Encouraging Others

Battle Discouragement by Encouraging Others
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
23 Mar, 2021

It is never difficult to find reasons to be discouraged within us and around us. And we can be particularly adept at dwelling on them and sharing them with others, whether in a spirit of murmuring or otherwise. Uncertainty, criticism, division and a growing tide of ungodliness seem to surround. And if you feel that way, it is more than likely your fellow Christians do too and (perhaps even more so) your pastor. Whether it is for these reasons or a general weariness, fatigue or dissatisfaction, heavy-hearted discouragement is real. No doubt it is not helped by reduced contact with other believers. Many of the “one another” duties to which the New Testament exhorts us have been greatly curtailed. If we seek out reasons and opportunities to encourage others it is bound to help encourage ourselves.

Paul emphasises the importance of encouraging one another frequently in 1 Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 4:18; 5:11 and 5:14). Paul uses a word that means to comfort and strengthen, to draw alongside. It means to be called to come alongside and often means exhort (as in Hebrews 10:25). Often, we are to do this with the words of Scripture. This builds up and edifies and that is the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Believers should comfort themselves together in response to God’s dealings with anyone in particular that calls for comfort. It is not just a general warm positivity, they are to exhort one another to make progress in the life of grace. Exhortation stirs us up to our duty and sometimes that may even mean loving instruction and rebuke, it does not always what we think of as comfort. Indulging our failings would not be edifying. James Fergusson explains the fuller application of this verse in the following updated extract.

1. All Believers Need Encouragement

All Christians of all ranks stand in need of exhortation, consolation and to be edified and furthered in the way of grace by all lawful means. Thus, both pastors and people ought to make conscience of discharging all those duties. Pastors should do this not only privately but also publicly in the congregation (1 Timothy 5:20). It is an important part of their particular calling, office and authority to do this (Titus 2:15). Believers should do this privately in their families (Ephesians 6:4) as well as among their friends and neighbours (Acts 18:26). They do this because of the bonds of Christian love they should have towards all the members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:25). Paul shows us that everyone stands in need of being exhorted, comforted etc. It is clearly the duty of all to do so, because he says to comfort, or exhort and edify one another.

2. All Believers Need Encouragement to Be Watchful

Making conscience of these duties among Christians is a unique means of keeping people in a lively and watchful spirit. Negligence in them, however, necessarily brings great deadness along with it. It leads to complacency and the decay of life and vigour in the exercise of any saving grace and obeying any commanded duties. This duty is connected with being sober and watchful as well as being a help in exercising faith, love and hope (see connection with verses 6-8)

3. All Believers Need to Resist Discouragement

There are many discouragements which people must encounter in the path of duty. These include the small progress they have made in the way of duty, the unwillingness of their own spirit to engage in it (Romans 7:18); the great opposition from outward and inward trials in relation to it (1 John 2:16). They often, therefore, need as much consolation and encouragement, as they do exhortation and admonition to make them advance in it. Paul therefore urges them to do this.

4. All Believers Need Encouragement to Grow

No believer is so far advanced or so diligent in the exercise of any grace, that they do not need the spur of exhortation, at least to make them persevere. The best are ready to faint (Jonah 2:7; Galatians 6:9). They need this to make them do better, seeing even the best come far short of what they ought (Philippians 3:13). He exhorts them to this duty, even though he commends their present diligence in it since they are already doing it.

5. All Believers Need Encouragement to Keep Encouraging

A prudent minister should stir up the Lord’s people to do their duties in such a way that does not ignore the good beginning or progress they have already made. He should let them know that he takes notice of that and this may prove to be a strong encouragement to some to make faster progress and guard others against discouragement. Nothing is a greater enemy to diligence in duty than discouragement. Paul takes notice of how they already edify one another in exhorting them to continue.

 

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Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
18 Mar, 2021

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

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

1. What Do We Mean by Self?

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

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

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

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

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

2. How Far Does Self-Denial Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Why is Self-Denial Necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. What Does Self-Denial Look Like?

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

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

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

6. How Do We Engage in Self-Denial?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sometimes You Need to Stand Still

Sometimes You Need to Stand Still

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

Standing still may not sound right when we are used to throwing ourselves into a whirlwind of activity and our desire is to make progress. Of course, standing still in spiritual things in the sense of indolence or complacency is not healthy. But there are times when God in His providence forces us to stand still. We cannot move forward due to the circumstances no matter how much we wish to. We are not to make haste (Isaiah 28:16; Ruth 3:18). Our strength is to sit still and wait on God as an act of obedience (Isaiah 30:15). Being still and waiting on God brings hope and strength to us (Psalm 27:14; Psalm 62:1,5). The Israelites were like this when they were hemmed in at the Red Sea, they were told to stand still and see the Lord’s deliverance (Exodus 14:13). It is a lesson we still need to learn.

While we are in a great tumult or fear or outrage, we cannot see things as we ought. We cannot see our duty; our minds are clouded by emotion. This is why we need to be still and depend on the Lord. We need to lift our minds away from the troubles to focus on Him and receive what we need from Him. In the following updated extract Jeremiah Burroughs applies the lessons we can learn from the counsel of Moses to Israel in Exodus 14.

1. Standing Still is Necessary for Troubled Minds

God’s people may be greatly troubled in their difficulties. It was so here in Exodus, in every predicament they grumbled and were disquieted; this was especially so at this time. Stand still (says Moses). They were all in a state of confusion and trouble. This is also the case many times for many of God’s saints. It was so for Heman who wrote Psalm 88. You will find in that psalm that he was disquieted and in woeful perplexity when he was brought into troubles.

Many of God’s saints, whom He has delivered in a most glorious way in the past, will find that at other times they have been so complacent that their hearts have been in complete confusion and they were not able to stand before the difficulties they met with. This was so with Elijah in 1 Kings 19 despite the spirit he had and what he experienced in the 18th chapter. And yet, in the 19th chapter, Jezebel merely threatens Elijah, and he takes to his heels and runs away at her threat — even though he had such a brave spirit in the previous chapter. So it is, truly, with many that sometimes their courage makes their adversaries afraid, and at other times, their cowardice makes their friends ashamed. Many have been so; they have been a terror to their adversaries one day, and a shame to their friends another day.

2. Standing Still is Necessary Because of Our Weakness

We still have a great deal of the flesh in the best of us and are greatly led by our feelings. We are not thoroughly skilful in the ways of God because the fear of God is so weak in us. This is why the fear of man is so strong, and we know so little of God’s secrets. The secrets of God are with those who fear Him. If we feared God more, we would know His secret ways, and not be troubled so much. There is also a great deal of guilt in the best. This will make anyone afraid. Great guilt in the heart is exceedingly troublesome to the soul.

3. Standing Still is Necessary Because of Our Self-Confidence

We are far too confident in ourselves. This is why God withdraws Himself from us and why when we are afraid we cannot trust God. David was able to say, however, that whenever he was afraid, he would trust in God (Psalm 56:3). Many think they can trust in God at present but when the time comes that they are afraid they cannot do it. When anger is stirred up you make no use of your faith to trust in God. Many a man or woman can be meek and quiet, until they are tempted. But when your anger is stirred up, can you be meek then, and rise and beat it down with the contrary grace? So, when the emotions caused by your fears and troubles rise up, can you then trust in God?

Because we trust so much in ourselves, when the time comes that we should trust in Him, God withdraws Himself from us, and we are most afraid. It is true, God’s people may be so, and you are so; and therefore, be ashamed of it, and labour to prepare for such times. If you have been disquieted in times of trouble, store up something that may help in those times. A great deal must be laid up for times of extremity. You must (a) store up encouraging promises; (b) store up encouraging experiences, that may help you against such times of fainting and trouble.

4. Standing Still is Necessary to Quieten our Spirits

As the Israelites were to be delivered out of this Egyptian bondage in that way, so they were to be delivered out of the Babylonian bondage in the same way. See what God says for that deliverance. He tells them plainly in Isaiah 30.15, “in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength”. Yet they would not follow this way. So, when you come to many people who are in great extremities, to some women and others — when they’re wringing their hands and hanging about their husbands’ necks — tell them their confidence must be in quietness, and they will be ready to throw you off a cliff.

5. Standing Still is Necessary No Matter How Great the Trouble

So too, we read in Isaiah 30.7, “their strength is to sit still.” After we have used all the means we can, we are to sit still, and look up to God for salvation. It was their great fault, that they did not do so in their deliverance out of their captivity (Jeremiah 31:21-22). Perhaps you will say, “There was never a crisis like the one we are in.” Well, God has such mercy as He never showed the likes of before. Many cry out “O my affliction, and my trouble is such as there never was before in the world!” Yet, is there no comfort for them, to support them? Yes, Isaiah 64.4 says that it was never known since the beginning of the world, what God has laid up for those who wait for Him. Only wait for Him, and there was never such mercy shown in the world as God has laid up for you.

6. Standing Still Focuses Us on God

It makes us ready to look to the wisdom, faithfulness, and power of God. We are not able to see God’s wisdom, faithfulness, and power, nor to make use of them unless we get our spirits to be quiet. First, get them quiet, and then we can look up to God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). There is a God in heaven who can help and succour us in time of great troubles and extremities. But for all this, people are in a hurly burly; their spirits are disturbed, and they are wringing their hands, and crying. They cannot know that God is God, they can have no use of all the power, and goodness, and faithfulness, and mercy of God. First get your hearts still and quiet in your families, and in your own spirits, and then you will know that God is God. God will not appear until you are first still.

7. Standing Still Enables Us to Exercise Grace

We are not able to make use of our own graces, until we are quiet and still. If God had bestowed graces when we are in a hurly burly, we have no use for them at all. Therefore, it says in Psalm 4:4 that we are to be still and commune with our own hearts. Commune with your own hearts: you have something in your own hearts, perhaps, that may quiet you. You are not fit to commune with your own heart until you get it quiet. Many of you are stirred up to anger at all other times; and that is the reason that in such great extremities, you are so overruled with it. You are so overruled with your passion of anger at other times and so you are overruled with the passion of fear now. But if at other times you would strive to rein in your spirits, God would help you now.

8. Standing Still Enables Us to Submit to God in Reverence

Without this stillness, and quietness, we cannot manifest that subjection to God that we owe to Him. There is still a great deal of sin and pride against God without this. Our reverence towards God also depends on being still. If your hearts were possessed with the fear of God, you would not be in the great stir you are in times of great danger. We are to sanctify God in our hearts (Isaiah 8:12; 1 Peter 3:15).

9. Standing Still Enables Us to Listen to God

Fear and trouble makes people unfit to listen to anything that is spoken to them. Let anything be spoken to them that is of use, and they cannot hear it or make use of it. When Moses came to tell them of their deliverance, the people of Israel would not listen because of their “anguish of spirit” (Exodus 6:9). How many in trouble of conscience and in other times of extremity, have their spirits in such anguish that they never listen to anything that is delivered to them? This is why they come up with the same objections over and over again.

10. Standing Still Helps us to Help Others

Without this quietness of spirit, you will greatly hinder others. You will discourage the hearts of others. Many times, the cause does not succeed merely because of the unquietness of the hearts of men and women in times of danger. You must be quiet and look up to God for salvation. Faith is able to bring life out of death, light out of darkness. Genuine faith has a mighty power in times of extremity, to behold God’s salvation, and make use of it. When David fled from Saul and was in the cave, he says he is trusting in the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 57:11). Poor David had got into the shadow of the cave and the sun did not shine on him; but he looked at himself in the cave, as being under the shadow of God’s wings. If you are godly, you too are under God’s wings by faith.

11. Standing Still Demonstrates Faith

There is a great deal of talk of faith in the world at present; let us see what it can do. The proof of genuine love is when I can love God for Himself without His gifts. When I can trust God merely on His word, I show the excellence of my faith. When Christians must have outward helps and former experiences, they call to God for guarantees as if they would not trust God on His mere word.

Conclusion

Standing still in times of trouble has great benefit. As Burroughs points out we must stand still in order to stand fast and strong (Philippians 1:27; Ephesians 6:13). He notes that we are called to stand four different times in Ephesians 6 and the exhortation is when you have done all, stand. We live in times when many things are turned upside down and there may be many difficulties currently and feared for the future. Yet in standing still and looking to God in faith there is great strength to sustain us through all that we may experience.

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The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
25 Feb, 2021

Sometimes we can learn spiritual lessons by making comparisons with natural and spiritual realities. We can even do this with the symptoms of Covid-19. This is merely an illustration, the fact someone contracts this virus is not directly connected to their spiritual state. Nor is this meant to diminish the reality of the illness experienced by those who have suffered badly from it and even died. It is certainly not meant to replace sound health advice either (see www.nhs.uk). The fact is, however, that the Bible uses the metaphor of disease when talking about sin (Mark 2:17; Psalm 38:3; Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6). This shows that we can think in these terms. How can we identify the symptoms of a spiritual virus and where can we find the remedy?

How might we diagnose spiritual Covid? We might think about symptoms such as a loss of taste for spiritual things, the oxygen of prayer running low in our souls and excessive temperature in spiritual things which might be charging God foolishly or a zeal not according to knowledge. We may pass spiritual disease to others without being aware of it because we can easily stir up sin in others through our words and actions.

But we can think more generally about spiritual diseases also. David Dickson helps us to do this through an extensive book he wrote (Therapeutica Sacra or Sacred Healing) about how to deal with spiritual disease, especially diseases of the conscience. This article seeks to summarise some of the spiritual diseases that can afflict the soul, together with the remedy which is to be found in Christ.

1. We can have spiritual disease without being aware

The condition in which the convert is best pleased with themselves is not always the best. Neither is the condition in which they are least pleased with themselves always the worst. The best condition is that in which the Holy Spirit prevails most against the power of sin and advances the work of holiness. The worst condition is where sin prevails most. It is possible to abuse divine comforts and become complacent and negligent in spiritual duties just as it is not to be truly humbled for grieving the Spirit. But the worst conditions of the regenerate can by the wisdom, mercy and power of God be turned to God’s glory and our deliverance (Psalm 116:3-4).

2. We need to distinguish spiritual disease

We need to distinguish between:

  • sinful diseases in themselves as opposed to conviction of sin that drives us to Christ
  • experience temptation or testing as opposed to yielding to temptation under affliction
  • grief of mind, or heaviness in affliction as opposed to anguish of conscience for having committed sin

3. We need to understand the causes of spiritual disease

There are a variety of things that cause our spiritual condition to change:

  • whether grace or sin prevails
  • whether Satan’s temptations are successful or resisted
  • whether the Lord hides His face from us for His own sovereign reasons

4. We can have spiritual disease in our conscience

Conscience may be mistaken when it fails to assess our spiritual condition accurately. It can take a bad condition for a good one, or a good one for a bad one. Or it may not discern a condition partly good and partly bad or is confused about its state.

5. We can have spiritual disease in our love

It is possible that we and others may identify outward fruit in our Christian life, even when our love for Christ has actually cooled. Either we do not observe this cooling of love to Christ, or we are pleased enough with our condition as enough to carry us to heaven. Christ reproves Ephesus because they had left their first love and did not take this sin to heart to repent of it and seek to recover the first love (Revelation 2:4-5). This condition is very dangerous, as is manifest in the experience of the Galatians, who falling from their first love left themselves open to superstition and error by their defection from the faith of the gospel.

We must firstly see how reasonable it is that we should return to our first love. Secondly, we must consider how necessary it is to have love for Christ fresh and growing. Love to Christ makes us think and frequently of Him and seek closer fellowship with Him. Thirdly, we need to remember the delight we had in our first love an see how may spiritual comforts we have deprived ourselves of and what miseries we have brought on ourselves. Christ, Himself tells us the remedy, we need to humble ourselves before Him and flee to His rich grace as a true penitent (Revelation 2:5,7).

6. We Can cause spiritual disease in Others

It is not loving to indulge the sins of others (Leviticus 19:17). Yet some of the Lord’s people sometimes think have done their duty sufficiently as long as they themselves profess the truth and in their own personal conduct do what they conceive to be right. If we have influence over others and do not seek to curb those who lay a stumbling block before others, we not only permit the infection of error and wickedness. we protect and advance its spread. We must lament the sins of those who destroy themselves and infect others, and mourn for the sins of those who should repress the contagion. If we do not, we make ourselves an accessory to this evil being spread. This was the sin of the Church of Pergamos and the Church of Thyatira, which did not take action against those who promoted evil (Revelation 2:14-15 and 20).

To avoid causing spiritual disease in others we must:

  • know what God forbids and requires, lest we mistake virtue for a vice, or vice for a virtue
  • beware of censuring rashly the failings of others (James 3:1)
  • earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) so that the Lord’s people are not drawn away from the truth of Christ
  • consider our responsibilities and opportunities to seek to amend the faults of others wisely
  • confront with resolution any difficulties in curbing error and sin. It is much better to displease others for their good than to displease Christ and make ourselves partakers of the sins of others.

7. We can have spiritual disease through carelessness

Sometimes remaining sin prevails against the work of the Spirit in converts that they are not only overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1) but also are taken captive for a time by the lusts of the flesh. It is possible for them to lie sleeping in this condition until God awakens them. Many things can cause this but usually, it is neglected duty and sinning against conscience without true repentance. We fall into this by various degrees. At first, we engage in God’s worship and obedience in a formal way within earnest desires. We read Scripture without seeking to profit from it and make a profession without zeal and fruit. We then go on to be careless in our speech and do not care about edifying or corrupting others with our tongues (James 1:26). Sin may then break out openly with schism, contention, envy, drunkenness, lasciviousness or other things. This seems to have been the condition of the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2).

This deadly sickness of carelessness may be cured in these ways:

  • the conscience must be awakened with a sense of sin
  • any spark of faith, hope, repentance, or desire of returning to God, and resisting sin must be encouraged so that it is not extinguished
  • remember the word by which you were first moved to turn unto God and strive for nearer fellowship with God
  • be on your guard and watch over your heart, lest you are enticed by the world, flesh and devil to provoke God again
  • consider the rich promises Christ makes to overcomers (Revelation 3:5).

8. We can have the spiritual disease of lukewarmness

We can become lukewarm through being negligent and at ease. This was the condition into which some converts in the Church of Laodicea fell (Revelation 3:15-19). The conscience must be awakened to see how
the Majesty and excellent worth of Christ hath been slighted by this lukewarmness. The spiritual riches of Christ have been despised. They must see how Christ hates lukewarmness and will spew such out of his mouth unless they repent. They must be humbled for glorying in their self-sufficiency when they are really devoid of all they need. They must lay hold on Christ’s love in calling them to repentance and take the offer of renewed, more intimate communion with him in the precious promises made to the victorious overcomer (Revelation 3:17-18).

9. We can have the spiritual disease of delusion

Delusion is when an error is embraced, especially some dangerous error tending to the damage of the Church and endangering souls. Satan is active in using all possible means to obscure and darken the truth and spread the most pernicious errors. Meantime he is not idle in sowing and spreading lesser errors that stir up contention in the Church. Through this means precious time which should be spent for mutual edification is idly wasted in needless disputes, and the minds of some prepared to receive worse errors. There may be pride, folly, schism and obstinacy in such errors.

It is possible for true Christians to be delivered from such delusions (Galatians 5:10). It requires patient teaching of sound doctrine to do so (1 Timothy 4:6 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The deluded person should be exhorted to examine their own conscience to see how much of the flesh is in their maintaining such errors. They should be exhorted to be humbled for the sins they acknowledge and to flee to Christ for pardon, pity and help against them. If they do not repent of known sins, how can they expect to have any light on their errors? They should be solemnly reminded of how the Lord gives those in error over to further sins (2 Timothy 4:1).

10. We can have the spiritual disease of mistaking vice for virtue

It is possible to mistake our covetousness for diligence neglecting dependence on God. We may also mistake our vengefulness for a concern for truth and honour. We can also mistake our excess in outward things for lawful provision and enjoyment.

11. We can have the spiritual disease of deceiving ourselves

Many think their souls to be in a good condition when they can pray much and with freedom of spirit even though they do not watch over their hearts and ways as they should. They find a sort of eloquence in their prayers and assume they have this because God is well pleased with them and their prayers. Many go on confidently in maintaining schism and error, persuading themselves that their conduct and condition are good because they find freedom in prayer.

But it is one thing to pray much, and another thing to be heard and to have our prayers and persons accepted (Isaiah 1:15). The flesh can easily creep in and stir up a fervency in prayer (James 4:3). We may pray earnestly for that which God will not grant (1 Samuel 16:1). Prayers expressed from a heaviness of spirit and difficulty are no less pleasing unto God than when there is freedom (Psalm 61:1). We may not know what to pray for as we ought and express ourselves in words but the Spirit can help (Romans 8:26). If we have a sense of our sins and needs, are daily going to Christ, are careful to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, are praying for what is promised, with submission to God’s time and wisdom we may be sure our person and prayers are acceptable (1 John 5:14-15).

Conclusion

We need to be able to diagnose spiritual disease in order to treat it. We also need to be on our guard against the things that cause spiritual disease such as being run down and careless in relation to our spiritual health. It is dangerous to neglect it. The remedy for spiritual disease in general and for what we might call spiritual Covid in particular is Christ. His grace and promises together with fellowship with Him through His Word.

 

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Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?

Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?

Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
18 Feb, 2021

Marriage is in continued decline, falling to an all time low in many nations according to the latest statistics. And it’s not yet clear what impact the current crisis will have on the institution of matrimony. Despite studies that show marriage is good for society, its relevance is widely undermined. Marriage is vital for the future of the church as well as society as well as for the glory of God. It gives us a picture of Christ and the church. Research shows that while rates of marriage are higher amongst evangelicals, they are following the same downward trend. The Future of Christian Marriage is a book that examines the trends among young people identifying as Christians across different nations. It reveals that marriage is seen as more of a nice to have aspiration than a need to have essential. It seems that our view of marriage needs to be changed if we are going to preserve it. Not only that but we need to change. And that change is something we all need (married or unmarried) as we will see.​

In The Future of Christian Marriage, Mark Regenerus writes, “As a researcher, studying the demise of marriage has been like watching an invasive fungus slowly destroy a stately old oak tree.” What is the disease that is attacking marriage? The same pervasive disease that is attacking the church and society. It’s the prevailing principle (indeed idolatry) in our culture: expressive individualism. It proclaims that the highest good is individual freedom and self-expression. Its chief purpose is therefore to glorify and enjoy ourselves as we choose, resisting anything that would constrain.

It influences us in subtle ways and more than we care to admit. Its impact on marriage is clear. Marriage is either delayed or abused by pursuing individualist goals. We need more than some light touch teaching about the benefits of marriage and what it will bring us in fulfilment. We need to have the spirit of loving self-sacrifice that Scripture puts at the heart of marriage and all relationships. This is why it is so counter-cultural. “The oak will not perish” says Regenerus. “In fact, marriage will increasingly become ‘a Christian thing,’ which means the church will bear increasing responsibility for an institution with an uncertain future.” But this will only be carried out faithfully as we implement the challenging teaching of Scripture in this area.

The classic passage to go to in relation to marriage is Ephesians 5:21-33. The last verse sums up in two succinct statements the key responsibilities that Paul has expanded on. The key principle is self-denial in the fear of God, because we have already given ourselves first to the Lord. This is to be expressed in their love (Titus 2:4; Colossians 3:19), sharing in what they have and living together (1 Peter 3:7), mutually bearing one another’s burdens and weaknesses (Galatians 6:2). In other words they are to live out Christian character and grace in the context of marriage. The husband must not seek his own and love himself more than his wife, he must love her as himself (Ephesians 5:28-29). The wife must equally deny herself in respect and submission to her spouse (v22).

The verse that opens this section outlines this key principle of mutual submission and self-denial (v21). He gives a general exhortation that applies to all members of families. As James Fergusson observes, the submission Paul speaks of here is that service of love which everyone owes to each other for their mutual good and benefit in their respective roles and relationships (Galatians 5:13). It is submission to others that flows from a principle of love to them, and actually intends their good and advantage. It must be done with a humble spirit, being willing to debase ourselves not proudly thinking our duty to others is beneath us. It is to be done in the fear of God because humbling ourselves in this way is an evidence of fearing God and because it is the reason why we do it (Colossians 3:22-23). The fear of God defines the extent of our submission to others, since we are not to submit to more than or in opposition to God. In this updated extract there are lessons for all of us.

1. Denying Ourselves Glorifies God

We are not to neglect the duties of our calling and those which we owe to others by pretending that we have to engage in the worship God instead. God allows us time for both, we are to take time for both. It is consistent to have a conscientious regard for both. The apostle instructs both duties of worship (v19-20) and towards others (v21ff) as it were in one breath. This is clear from the grammatical construction of the words in the original “giving thanks always….submitting yourselves one to another”.

2. Denying Ourselves Manifests God’s Grace

Conscientiously discharging the duties we owe to our neighbour in our various responsibilities (in a way acceptable to God) requires an abundant quantity of the saving work of God’s Spirit in the heart. It is no less necessary in these duties that in those of God’s worship and service. Verse 21 depends on and is constructed with verse 18, so that we read it “Be filled with the Spirit…submitting yourselves”. [i.e. These verses belong together in one connected thought showing the effects of the Spirit’s influence, “be filled with the Spirit …Speaking to yourselves…Giving thanks always…Submitting yourselves”].

3. Denying Ourselves is For Everyone

There is no-one living whom God allows to live only to themselves. Everyone is obliged to inconvenience themselves in their respective employments for the good and benefit of others. Even those in authority must do this for the good of those under their responsibility. This command is given to everyone without exception: “submitting yourselves one to another.”

4. Denying Ourselves is Mutually Beneficial

As God has obliged us not to live to ourselves alone, but also to others (whose good we are to aim at in our place and position) so He has provided for a mutual benefit or reward. In this way there is a kind of equality. He has obliged others to live to us and in one way or another do things for our good and advantage also. Both this command and the obligation on which it is based are reciprocal; “submitting yourselves one to another”.

5. Denying Ourselves Pleases God

Where the fear of God is rooted in the heart, it will make a person conscientiously careful and sensitive in relation to their duty towards others. They will not only do their duty, but also do it from a right principle and motive. This will keep them from overdoing things and displeasing God, while they endeavour to please others. The fear of God is the fountain, motive and rule of that submission which is here prescribed “submitting one to another in the fear of God.”

Further Reading

Worldwide Statistics on Marriage and Divorce 

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Is the Christian Family Disappearing in a Post-Familial Age?

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

 

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Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials

Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials

Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
11 Feb, 2021

Trials are never far away, but sometimes we experience them in multiple form in what we might call a cascade of trials. Afflictions or other events in providence descend on us one after the other in successive stages. That may be true of us individually or as churches. It may be that medical, family, employment afflictions all come together. In the nature of things, afflictions seldom come alone. When one thing happens after another in that way it can feel as though the load is heavier and more difficult to bear.  It can seem as though the period of trial will not end. We cannot bear them ourselves, but Christ can bring us through them. As we reflect on what we still receive from God’s goodness we see another cascade descending on us which is full of mercies. There is still further hope and comfort amid many trials as we will discover.

Psalm 66 expresses thanksgiving for God’s people being delivered from various trials which were intended to try and refine them like silver (v10). One severe calamity after another came upon them as is described in verse 11. They were brought into the net like beasts who are hunted down and then killed. Affliction was laid on them like a heavy burden. Men were able to ride over their heads, trampling them down in an oppressive subjection to their will. They also had to go through fire and water. In Scripture, this refers to exceedingly great troubles of all kinds as these two represent all sorts of extreme miseries and dangers. But there is a deliverance out of all these troubles and afflictions. In this updated extract Zachary Boyd helps us understand further what we can learn from this.

1. God’s People Have Many Trials

The troubles of the righteous are many (Psalm 34:19). When they have passed through the fire, then they must also pass through the water. The ending of one affliction is only the beginning of another. This made Jacob say to Pharaoh when he enquired of his age, “my days have been few and evil” (Genesis 47:9).

Let God’s Church learn that when one trouble is past, they are not to be complacent. If they have passed through the fire, they must also pass through the water. We have passed through many troubles in past years. Well may we say, “we went through fire and through water.” We must not dream of being the church triumphant here where all tears shall be wiped from our eyes and all troubles from our heart. Only a foolish pilot thinks that because one storm is past and the weather is now fair the winds will not blow any more and that the surges will never again be like mountains and make them reel and stagger (Psalm 107:27).

2. God’s People Endure Despite Many Trials

This is the stability of the Church, they abide both the fire and water. Eleazar showed the men of war how to purify the spoil they had taken from the enemy. He ordered that such things as silver and gold that might abide the fire to go through the fire and also be purified with water (Numbers 31:23). But that which could not abide the fire, would be made to go through the water. The godly here (Psalm 66:11) went both through fire and water. They abide all sorts of trials because the Lord upholds them. Observe here that the Church is pressed under a great number of afflictions, yet passes through them all. But the wicked perish by the way, whether in fire or water. Pharaoh and his army sank down like lead in the water (Exodus15:10), but Israel passed through. Nebuchadnezzar’s executioners that cast God’s servants into the fiery furnace were consumed by the flame of fire coming from the furnace (Daniel 3:22). But Shadrach and his companions went through. If the wicked escape one fire, they are consumed by another (Ezekiel 15:7).

3. God’s People Have Comfort Despite Many Trials

Let this comfort God’s children in their greatest calamities, the Lord shall give them a pass. Either He will make judgments pass over them, as He made His destroying angel pass over the Israelite’s houses marked with blood (Exodus 12:23); or He will make His servants pass through the danger, as here (Psalm 66:11).

Only God’s children come out of their troubles. In the Revelation John saw a number all clothed in white robes. While he looked, one of the elders said to John, what are these (Revelation 7:13)? John could not tell. Then the elder said, these are they which came out of great tribulation (Revelation 7:14). They came out and went through fire and through water. The end of the righteous is always peace (Psalm 37:37), they pass through at last.

4. God’s People Are Delivered Out of Many Trials

The distresses of God’s people are described in four ways in this verse but there is also a most thankful acknowledgement of God’s most merciful deliverance. They are brought into a wealthy place overflowing with abundance as David experienced (Psalm 23:5). After many troubles and calamities they have all sorts of comforts in great abundance both spiritually and outwardly. When the Lord makes a land spiritually rich, whatever outward things they have, it may indeed be called a wealthy place. There is no wealthy place except where the Lord is in mercy.

Wealth is no wealth where God’s love is not present. Bags of silver and gold without His grace are merely burdens of dirt on the back. ·But whatever the righteous man has with God’s blessing is wealth. His dwelling place will be found to be a wealthy place. The Lord shall make his cup run over so that he has no lack of anything (Psalm 23:1). That which seems little in a worldly person’s eyes is wealthy for a godly man because the little has possesses has a blessing on it (Proverbs 15:17; Proverbs 17:1). Continue in serving God even though it means many losses and afflictions. The Lord who is God all-sufficient will still provide.

Ordinarily God’s people have hard beginnings, but at last they get a peaceful conclusion. Their life is like Isaac’s three wells. The first was called Esek, that is strife, because the men of that place strove with him (Genesis 26:20). The second was called Sitnah, that is hatred because the men of that place continued to strive with him (Genesis 26:21). The third was called Rehoboth, that is room. The Lord made room for him so that they would be fruitful in the land (Genesis 26:22). They had now come to a wealthy place.

This should teach us not to be displeased when we meet with hardship at the beginning in God’s service. We must drink of the well of Esek and Sitnah before we look for room at Rehoboth. It is true that the troubles of the righteous are many (Psalm 34:19). But this is as certain, the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34: 17). It may be the lot of God’s children to weep in the evening, but God will send comfort to them at the dawning of the day (Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 17:14). God’s children come through fire and water and then at last come to their wealthy place. If any do not experience that here their loss will be made up in heaven which is properly speaking the only place of wealth where there is nothing lacking for soul or body (Acts 3:19).

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

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

What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
4 Feb, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Those Who are Not of the World are Christlike

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Thinking About the Wonder of God’s Thoughts Toward Us

Thinking About the Wonder of God’s Thoughts Toward Us

Thinking About the Wonder of God’s Thoughts Toward Us
Alexander Henderson (c. 1583 – 1646) was the most influential of the Covenanting ministers in the Church of Scotland who took the leading role in all major events, co-drafting the National Covenant (1638) and authoring the Solemn League and Covenant (1643). A three-time moderator of the General Assembly, he was one of the Scottish commissioners sent to the Westminster Assembly.
29 Jan, 2021

There is a popular quotation that does the rounds on the Internet: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Most of us care too much what others think of us. It’s possible to be so consumed with the opinion of others so that something that we cannot control comes to control us. And of course, you never know what people really think, you can only guess. The treadmill of seeking to win approval leads us nowhere. The Bible tells us that there is a snare in the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). But indifference to the opinion of others can be just as self-obsessed as hunting approval. We should care what people think of us, and it should influence how we live in a good way. It is not about pleasing them so much as doing them good (Colossians 4:5; Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12; 2 Corinthians 8:21; 1 Timothy 3:7). But our primary concern must be God’s thoughts toward us. Here we move from the narrow focus on individuals to an infinite and eternal perspective. We wonder at the grace of a God who knows us better than ourselves and knows the worst about us and yet has such infinite mercy and patience towards His own.

We can easily be more taken up with the plans of purposes of people (influential and otherwise) than those of God. Certainly, we must take account of how they affect us, but this should not make us neglect the overarching thoughts of God. Scripture speaks frequently of God’s thoughts and David often wonders at the multitude and majesty of God’s thoughts (Psalm 139:17-18; Psalm 92:5; Psalm 40:5). In this updated extract, Alexander Henderson reflects on the fulness of David’s meditation on the mercies of God in His thoughts in Psalm 40:5.

1. Wondering at the Majestic Goodness of God’s Thoughts Towards Us

David directs his speech to the One he calls, “O Lord my God.” It is only He who is the fountain of all goodness. I would have you take very earnest heed to these two words. The first title he gives Him is “Lord.” This is a word of greatness and majesty. The second, “God,” is a word of goodness and mercy. The one declares to us the power of God; the other declares His loving kindness to all, but especially to His Church. The first name declares to us that He is able to do great things for His Church. The second declares that He is willing to do great things for her.

We should consider that this is a blessed conjunction in God, often divided in men. Some have greatness (though not an absolute greatness), but they do not have goodness also. Rather they employ their greatness for afflicting the children of God. Then there are some who are not able to do good, though they would be very willing to do it. Although they would help, yet they cannot. Greatness and goodness are therefore often divided, but even when they are joined they are not comparable to God’s greatness and goodness.

It is best, therefore, for us to make the Lord alone our refuge, both greatness and goodness in perfection are found in Him. We must run to God continually for help, who has both greatness and goodness in abundance. If we always had good men who were also great to support us we would be ready to overlook God. It is good and necessary for us that these things should be divided in others, so that we may run to God alone for help.

Whatever the thoughts and works of men towards us may be, we ought to be concerned to see what the works and thoughts of the Lord are towards us. We need to see how He who has so great and so marvellous thoughts is disposed towards us. They are far more than the thoughts and works of all people in the world. There is good reason to do so: because there is none so great as the Lord.

This name, “The Lord,” has some things added to it in Scripture so that we may see it to be the greater and see His works and thoughts toward us. He is “Jehovah-Shammah;” that is, God is always present in His Church as well as everywhere. If God is everywhere and at all times present, this should make us concerned to see what His works and thoughts towards us are. Rulers do not see us at all times and in all places. We need not, therefore, be so concerned what their works and thoughts are towards us; but rather to know how the Lord’s works and thoughts are disposed towards us.

He is called “Jehovah-Jireh,” “The Lord will provide;” that is, the Lord has a providence over all things. In comparison with that. the greatest providence that any person can have is not worthy to be mentioned. Moses calls Him “Jehovah-Nissi” that is, “The Lord is my banner.” He is a banner and a shield to His own, we should, therefore, consider what His works and thoughts are towards us. Gideon calls him “Jehovah- Shalom” that is, “The Lord send peace” and so it is the Lord only who gives peace to any.

There is much thinking and speaking about what the thoughts of such and such people are towards us. If we were to search aright into what are the thoughts of God towards us, we would trouble ourselves less with these. I grant that we should be concerned to know what the works and thoughts of others are towards us, but our principal concern should be to know God’s. Do not, therefore, be so anxious as to what the works and thoughts of the greatest on earth are towards you, as what the thoughts and works of such a great Lord are towards you.

2. Wondering at the Eternity of God’s Thoughts Towards Us

Whatever the Lord thinks before all time, He has intended to work in time, and in His eternal counsel has decreed it to be. When He is pleased to work it, He does so, for there is none who can impede or hinder Him.

God’s thinking implies His unchangeable nature. He intends a thing beforehand, and when He has intended and thought it, He does not change it again. Whatever He intends will happen, even though people work to the contrary by all their might and cunning to hinder it from happening. And therefore, do not judge God according to men, for men will work a thing, but their thought will be contrary to that which they work. And men at other times will have thoughts and purposes to do a thing, which they cannot get brought to pass. But it is not so with God. What He intends He brings to pass, and whatever He works, He has intended it before He works it. Think about this, there are many great things to be thought on in relation to this.

Strive to see what God’s thoughts are towards us, for from all eternity He has decreed such a thing, and in His own time, He makes it evident that He has decreed it. Joseph desires his brethren not to fear, “For,” he says, “your thoughts, indeed, they were evil towards me, but the Lord has turned them to good”(see Genesis 50:20). And may we not say the same also, that God has turned men’s thoughts, which they had for evil, into good thoughts towards us? Men, indeed, had thought evil thoughts against us; for they thought before now to have the face of our church changed, and the glory of religion taken away, and idolatry set up in the land [a reference to the events surrounding the National Covenant of 1638 which was the time when this sermon was preached]. These were evil thoughts, but we may see that God’s meaning and purpose in them have been good to us, and our posterity after us.

3. Wondering at the Multitude of God’s Thoughts Towards Us

In speaking of the multitude of God’s thoughts he calls them “many.” He can say no more, he says they are many, but cannot tell how many, for it is not possible for him or any other to do that. They are usually, indeed, brought under several headings, but in every one of these headings, they are so many that they become innumerable.

The first heading is the work of creation. This contains many things, for in creation the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea. Then He made all the creatures that are in these. And then if we take even one of the least of these creatures, we see how many intricate workings are contained in it.

A second heading is His providence in upholding all these creatures, caring for them, and ruling them all so wisely. See how many works of providence there are every day, (not to speak of all the days from the beginning to the end of the world). How many different providences there are during a person’s life. Then see how many particular works of providence there are towards your own body and many things that come on you. You cannot tell how they come, but all of them come by the providence of God.

The third heading is that great work of our redemption, which surpasses all the rest. Christ is promised for our redemption. How many works there are in that! How many works there are in His being sent to the world! How many great works He did while He was here on the earth. Then there are His sufferings, death, resurrection, ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father etc.

And then in your calling by grace how many works there are. In sending the gospel for your calling and making it effectual, and in the works of your justification, repentance, comfort, sanctification etc here. And then also in your glorification hereafter.

And then, in the Lord’s work of providence for His Church, how many wonderful works are to be seen there! So that, indeed, David can well say that the works and thoughts of God are many toward us. He can not only say they are many to us, but they are many also to me. And if someone can say concerning themselves that God’s thoughts and works are many towards them what can they say concerning the whole Church? They can indeed say that they are many but they cannot tell how many.

4. Wondering at the Magnificence of God’s Thoughts Towards Us

He also speaks of the quality of these thoughts that they are “marvellous” or admirable. Every one of them is marvellous. Not that every one of them is a miracle because miracles are things that are done in an extraordinary way. Yet many of the works of God are done in an ordinary way. But all of them are marvellous in two things.

(a) No one can tell the course and manner of their production. The forming of a child in the mother’s womb is an ordinary work, yet no one but God can tell how it is formed. It is marvellous, although not a miracle. And then when the child is brought into the world, it is marvellous how it is made to grow and come to strength. And, indeed, all the works of God, are wonderful in this respect.

(b) No one can create any of them. A man cannot create so much as a fly, nor when it is dead can he put life into it. So that although each one of the works of God is not a miracle, yet all of them are marvellous: and there are some of them which surpass all the rest.

Conclusion

David wonders with praise and confesses his own weakness and inability to express the greatness and majesty of God according to His worth. Yet he does what he can. Even though he cannot fathom the greatness. This is what we must do and when we cannot comprehend or fully express it all, we then stand still and admire it. We ought to be concerned with God’s thoughts not only to ourselves but to others and especially to the Church. We should not live only for ourselves, but our principal aim should be to get our hearts and our thoughts enlarged to think upon God’s dealings towards others, even towards the children of men, but especially towards His Church.

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