Four good responses to the good news

Four good responses to the good news

Four good responses to the good news

When the Lord Jesus came to do His work of redemption, it cost Him dearly. He suffered in His body and in His soul and indeed died for the sake of sinful people like you and me. Preaching on Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities …” John Welsh of Irongray showed first the depth of Christ’s sufferings. He then asks, how should we respond? The following updated excerpt gives his four suggestions as to appropriate responses, concluding with a reminder of who should especially recognise themselves as summoned to act on the gospel call.

Now that I have spoken of the suffering Saviour, I desire this of you. Rouse yourselves up to be suitably affected with what I have spoken from these truths. There are three or four ways you should respond.

Wonder

And the first thing I would exhort you to be taken up with is wondering. What man or woman is there among you that can hear these things spoken of, and not wonder at it? That Christ should have suffered all this for the like of you and me! That He who is the Son of God should have quit heaven, and that the Son of God should have become man, that He should have been put so sore to it as to die — for sinners!

I cannot tell what calls for wonder from us, if this doesn’t. O the height! O the breadth! O the length! O the depth of this mystery! That the Son of God should have been put so sore to it as to die for sinners, and not only to die, but to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath! Who can hear this declared, and not wonder at the hearing of it? O wonder! O wonder at it! Wonder at the hearing of it!

Detest sin

Did our Lord Jesus Christ have to suffer such great sufferings? Well then, see how you should look on sin. Should not sin be very detestable to you, and very abominable? Should not be at very much pains to forsake sin, when it was sin that brought our blessed Lord Jesus Christ to undergo such great sufferings, sufferings which would have brought you to such sad condemnation, and to lie under the wrath of God eternally and eternally?

Sinners, I think that supposing there was nothing else to motivate you to forsake your sins, and to hate every false way, and to hate the very least word and thought of sin, that this might be a motive — that it brought our Lord Jesus Christ to undergo such great sufferings.

Love to Him will call for this. “All ye that love the Lord, hate evil” (Psalm 97:10).

Don’t disappoint Him

Our Lord Jesus Christ was brought to so many and so great sufferings. And He has undergone them so cheerfully. Has He not? And He is satisfied to see the travail of his soul.

O do not yet then do what you can to disappoint Him, while He is making offer of His blood to wash you! Do not do anything that will make Him regret that He shed His blood for the like of you! For when you do not give him a suitable meeting, you give him good reason to regret it, for you are doing what in you lies to make His sufferings of none effect.

Believe

But what I mainly want to exhort you to is what our Lord Jesus Christ exhorts you to. Remember, after His resurrection, when He came out of the grave, when His disciples were gathered together in a room for fear of the Jews, He came in there among them, and said, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:21). Remember that in the beginning of that chapter there was some word of His resurrection. Some of them affirmed that He was risen, yet others still thought it was only imaginary and a mistake. (Although angels came down from heaven and gave testimony that He was risen, yet some of them could not believe that!) When He comes in among them, what does He say to Thomas? Just the same as He says to us today. He holds out His hands and the hole in His side, and says, “Be not faithless, but believe!” That is the thing. “Reach hither your hands into the hole in My side, and be not faithless, but believe.”

That is the thing I have come here for today as a messenger of the living God. It is to let you see this day the wonderful, condescending love of Christ, and to say to you, “Reach hither the hand of your faith, and take a look at this bloodied Saviour who was crucified. Come, put in your fingers, put in your hand in the hole of that bloody side of His, and be not faithless, but believe!”

That is the great thing that Christ calls for. That is the great reason why He wants His sufferings told us. Why? So that it would bring His people to unite with Him — to give Him credit, and to believe in Him.

That is why I now come here, and say this to you, and bid you reach hither your hand, and be not faithless, but believe. The great reason why He wants His sufferings told is — so that you would close with this suffering Lord Jesus Christ. Come to Him, and be no more faithless, but believe! Say with Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!” As soon as Christ’s hands and His side were presented to him, Thomas could no longer stand out. If the same argument does not prevail with you, I wonder what will! Thomas said, “My Lord and my God! I can stand out no longer, for now I have seen the wonderful love of God! Now I see the wonderful love of Christ, which made Him undergo all these great sufferings! Now I have seen the wonderful excellency of the Saviour!”

Remember who this message is for

Allow me to emphasise this a little here, for this is the great goal which Christ has in mind in keeping up the preached gospel — so that you would believe, so that you would be saved, and brought to close with Jesus Christ.

So I here summon all of you, of all ranks of persons, to a serious frame. Compose your spirits suitable to the message that I am to declare to you. Men and women, I come to you now, and I present before you a bloody Christ, a suffering Saviour. I come to you, as He did to His disciples, and I say to you, “Reach out your hands to a bloody Saviour. Take a look of Him believingly. Look to Him, and close with Him. Look to Him. He has said, ‘Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved!’ O come and take a look at this suffering Christ! Take a look at Him!”

You older people, maybe you have even been professing faith all your days, yet you never actually closed with Him. You have even thought it fashionable to believe in Jesus Christ, and yet to this day you have never done it. I summon you this very day at this present time to come and take a look of this suffering Jesus Christ, and stretch out the hand of your faith and close with Him, and come and say, “My Lord and my God!”

Secondly, I summon those who are outside of Christ — those who have never yet been hankering about to do it, and those who have made many attempts, but never came cleanly off in the doing of it. I summon you to come here, and stretch out your hands, and be not faithless, but believe. I summon you, whoremongers, adulterers, drunkards, or whatever you may be. Come to him, sinners! Come here and reach in your hands, and be not faithless, but believe, and close with this suffering Jesus Christ.

Will you let Him go away and not take the offer off His hand? and give Him no thanks for it? Shall He have that to say, that you would not take the offer, and that you would not give Him much thanks for His sufferings? Will you not take the benefits that He offers to you by His sufferings? I come here in His name, and offer you peace — will you not take it? I offer you healing in His name, and will you not take it off His hand?

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

How to get a good conscience

How to get a good conscience

How to get a good conscience

Sooner or later, our conscience will do its work of passing a verdict on us, so as to produce either shame (when conscience blames us) or comfort (when conscience approves of us). Those who have been regenerated can legitimately take comfort from knowing that the blood of Christ cleanses them from all sin. But how is this comfort possible, when even the regenerate still keep sinning? Samuel Annesley published a sermon on the conscience, in which he describes the ‘good conscience’ and, as the following updated excerpt shows, gives a list of ten suggestions as to how to get a good conscience.

What kind of conscience should we desire?

Two kinds of conscience are desirable, and cannot be commended too highly.

A good honest conscience. Conscience is good in respect of its integrity when it gives a right judgement of everything according to the Word of God. I grant that the law of nature binds, ecclesiastical laws bind, and political laws bind, but the Word of God is the principal rule, which precisely binds the conscience, because of its author. “There is one law-giver, who is able to save and to destroy …” (James 4:12).

A good peaceable conscience. Conscience is good in respect of its peace when it excuses, absolves, and comforts as it should — that is, when it is pacified by the blood of Christ. There was once a dying man, and it is said that the devil appeared to him, and showed him a very long parchment, where his sins were written on both sides, and they were many. Three quarters of the words he had spoken in his life were idle words, and all his actions were classified according to the ten commandments. Satan said to the poor sick man, “Do you see this? Behold your virtues! See how you will be judged!” But the poor sinner answered, “It is true, Satan, but you have not included everything, for you should have added here below, The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all our sins, and you have also forgotten, Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Why do we need a good conscience?

1. You cannot possibly get rid of your conscience, therefore be persuaded to get a good one. The unconverted do what they can to extinguish conscience. They flatter it with worldly reasoning, they bribe it with mock devotions, they wound it with heinous provocations, they scar it with habitual wickedness, they trample it underfoot by sinning in spite of it; they run away from it by diversions, and will not endure to hear it. Yet they can sooner turn their souls out of their bodies, than conscience out of their souls. Indeed, even amongst all these indignities, their conscience is as fresh and active as if it was not being abused in these ways. It is only waiting its opportunity to be heard, and then it will make what was done perhaps 40 years ago as if it had been but yesterday. A conscience you must have, and sooner or later it will do its job.

2. Your own conscience will be either your best friend or your greatest enemy (of all created things), to eternity. There’s no greater riches, no greater pleasure, no greater safety than a good conscience. However great may be the pressures of the body, the hurry of the world, or the intimidations of Satan, they can’t reach the conscience. A good conscience uniquely cheers the dying body, joyfully accompanies the departed soul to God, and triumphantly brings both soul and body to the tribunal to come. There’s no more profitable means, nor surer testimony, nor more eminent conveyer of eternal happiness than a good conscience. On the other hand, there is no greater torment than an evil conscience. Though its gentler checks may be disregarded, its louder clamours will make you tremble. What will you do, when conscience shall reproach you with your abuse of mercies, incorrigibleness under judgements, contempt of Christ, and hatred of holiness? If you can’t endure to hear what conscience has to say now, how will you endure it to eternity?

How can we get a good conscience?

But how shall we get such good consciences? Here are some suggestions.

Count no sin small

Screw up your obedience to every command to the highest. Ferret out every sin to the most secret corruption. When you have set your watch against the first risings of sin, beware of the borders of sin. Do not venture on temptations to sin, for you will find, like children on the ice, there’s always danger, never any good.

Repent immediately

There’s not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not, therefore, without delay, set about the healing duty of repentance, and on every slip into sin renew it, speedily renew it. If only I could snatch you out of your state of impenitency, and persuade you to daily actual repentance!

Compose yourself to live as under God’s eye

Live as in the (more than) tangible presence of the jealous God. Remember, all things are naked and bare before Him. You cannot deceive Him, for He is infinite wisdom; you cannot flee from Him, for He is every where; you cannot bribe Him, for He is righteousness itself. Keep therefore fresh realisations of God in your thoughts. Speak as knowing that God hears you. Walk as knowing that God is nearer to you than you are to yourself. Read through Psalm 139. Christians, do nothing but what you are willing that God should take notice of.

Be serious and frequent in the examination of your heart and life

This is so necessary to the getting and keeping of a right and peaceable conscience that it is impossible to have either without it. We have a thousand matters to think on all the day long, the night too, the week, the year — but who questions with his own heart, “What am I? what am I doing? how do I live? is the course I follow good and lawful? is that which I omit my duty, or not? Is God my friend? Am I His? What hope do have I of heaven? Say I die tomorrow, today, this very hour, where is my assurance I shall be saved? what reply can I make against the accusations of Satan and my conscience? will Christ be my advocate, when I shall stand in judgement? Have I grace, or have I none? do I grow in grace, or do I decay? Am I better this year than I was last year? what sins have I conquered now, that held me in combat then? what graces have I obtained now, that I did not have then?” Review each day whether your hearts have been intent upon religion, and indifferent to the world. Have special care of two portions, of your time, i.e., morning and evening — the morning to fore-think what ought to be done, and the evening to examine, whether you have done what you ought.

Pray

Be much in prayer — in all manner of prayer, but especially in secret prayer. Do not dismiss your own appeal by the love of sin, and you shall certainly be heard when you pray for grace. Believe it, Christian, it’s not your inevitable weakness, nor the spiritual dullness you feel, nor your lamented rovings, nor your distractions, nor your mistaken unbelief — not any of these, nor all of them together, can shut out your prayer. If you do “not regard iniquity in your heart,” then be encouraged. It is the voice of your beloved that says, “Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.”

Let every action have reference to your whole life, not only a part

The emphasis of the apostle’s exhortation is very great, “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” Let your whole life be a preparation for heaven, like an athlete’s preparation for victory. Strip yourself of all encumbrances, so that you may attend to piety. Pleasures may tickle you for a while, but they have a heart-aching farewell.

Live more on Christ then on the graces in you

Do not venture to sin because Christ has purchased a pardon — that is a most horrible and impious abuse of Christ. For this very reason there was no sacrifice under the Old Testament law for wilful wickedness, lest people might think they knew the price of sin. But so that no one will be overwhelmed with the sense of their unworthiness, know that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and our salvation is better, safer, more for God’s glory, and our comfort, in His hand then in ours.

Be in every way nothing in your own eyes

It is the humble soul that thrives exceedingly, and alas! what do we have to be proud of? Whether you look at our constitution, or our conversation [lifestyle], our conception is sinful, our birth is penal, our life is toilsome, and our death we know not what. But all this is nothing to the state of our soul. A convert, when he comes to be conscious of sin at all, sees more cause to be weary of his life than proud of his graces. To rise and fall, to confess sin and commit it, to see others outrun us, when they set out after us, to recover the time for communion with God which we trifle away in unobserved trivialities — surely for such persons to be low and vile in their own eyes hardly deserves to be called humility! Use Agur’s words about himself (or some think they are Solomon’s), “Surely I am more brutish than any man. My knowledge of holy mysteries is very little, and in comparison with my ignorance, nothing.”

Think good thoughts of God

Think good thoughts of God, whatever He does with you, whatever He requires of you, whatever He lays on you. We never arrive to any holiness (or peace) worth mentioning, till we lose our selves in God. Once we can unriddle God’s methods of grace, and decode God’s methods of providence, getting a good spiritual use out of both, then we are not far from having a good conscience.

Yet there’s still one thing lacking, and it’s implied in thinking good thoughts of God, but it must be eminently expressed.

Do all you do out of love to God

Spiritual love-sickness is the soul’s healthiest state. When love to God is both cause, means, motive and end of all our activity in the business of religion, then the soul is on the wing towards its rest. Our love to other things is properly regulated when it is the goodness of God that moves us to love them. We ought to love God in such a way that with Him or under Him we love nothing else, but all things only in Him, because otherwise we do not love Him with our whole heart. When husbands love their wives, and wives their husbands — when parents love their children, and children their parents, it is a rare pitch to love all these in God, i.e., to advance our love to God by them, and so far as any of them draw away our love to God, to say to them, as Christ said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me.”

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

How (not) to discern God’s will

How (not) to discern God’s will

How (not) to discern God’s will

Where do we find God’s will for us? It could be His will for what doctrine we believe, or it could be His will for our life. Theoretically Christians will consult the Bible for this, but what place does this leave for getting guidance through dreams or impressions, or even God’s providence? William Bridge, a member of the Westminster Assembly, preached a set of three sermons on 2 Peter 1:19 titled “Scripture Light the Most Sure Light.” As the following abridged excerpt shows, he builds a case that Scripture is clearer and safer than all other sources, and all the light they can give us is only borrowed from Scripture.

Revelations or visions

Scripture light is a full light. Though God did sometimes speak by revelations and visions [in Old Testament times], now in these last [New Testament] days, He has spoken His full mind by His Son.

The stronger any Christian is, the more he walks by faith; and the more he lives by faith, the more he chooses to walk by the Scripture, the written Word of God, the object of faith. It’s in Scripture we have Christ pictured to the life before our eyes, not in revelations and visions.

Imagine that right now you had a vision. How would you know that this was the voice of God, and not a delusion of Satan? Obviously, by the truth that is communicated in the vision — but how do you know the truth, except by Scripture? Or maybe because the vision reveals some future thing which then comes to pass? Then read Deuteronomy 13:1–2: God may permit a revelation to come to pass, and yet it may not be from the Lord, but to test you, whether you love Him, and will cling to Him.

There is no danger in following Scripture light. But if people follow revelations and visions, they may easily be drawn to despise the Scripture. Indeed, what is the difference between an atheist, or an infidel, and a Christian, except that the Christian adheres to Scripture, and the other does not? Take away the Scripture from me, and there will be little difference between me and an infidel.

But, you will say, may God not speak by extraordinary visions and revelations? Yes, without all doubt He may. God is not limited. I’m not going to argue about what God may do. But though God may do this, yet it is a bad sign if I hanker for it, because such hankering implies that a person is not content with the Scripture.

Though God may sometimes work by extraordinary means, yet if that person’s heart is drawn off from the ordinary means by what is extraordinary, it is not right. It is possible for there to be visions consistent with the Word, but if you are more impressed by them than by the Word itself, then your faith is suspicious.

Dreams

Dreams often involve vanity, says the Preacher, “but fear thou God” (Eccles. 5:7). That is a check on paying too much attention to dreams. But the apostle says, “Let the word of God dwell in you richly,” and there is no check on that.

Dreams are also uncertain. It is hard to know whether a dream is natural or supernatural. Say it is supernatural. Then it is either from the devil or from God, and it is hard to know which. Say the dream is from God, yet it is hard to know its meaning and interpretation. Pharaoh had a dream, but all his magicians could not interpret it; that was a work for Joseph. The same with Nebuchadnezzar. Anyone may have a dream from God, but it requires no less than a prophet to interpret it. However, are we at such uncertainties in reading the Word? Can no one but a prophet understand the Scripture? No — the Word of the Lord is a lantern to the feet of all of us, plain in all things necessary to our salvation.

But may not God speak to us by a dream now, if He chooses? Without doubt He may; God is free. But Scripture does not indicate that dreams are an ordinance of God now.

Even if God did speak to me by a dream, yet if I made that a sign of my own godliness, or of God’s special love to me, then I am under a delusion. Even wicked men have had their dreams from God (Balaam, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and others). If I dream a strange dream, and conclude that therefore I am in God’s love, because He speaks to me this way, then I am deceived.

Who in the world dares to venture his soul and salvation on a dream, or the interpretation of it? But we may and must venture our souls and salvation on the Scripture.

Impressions on the soul

Impressions (with or without a word of Scripture), even when they are good, are not our daily food. Our appointed daily food is the written Word of God (whether it comes with or without impression).

Good people are very prone to walk and live by impressions, but it is dangerous. It fosters ignorance, and keeps people unsettled in their spiritual state; for if a word comes, then they have comfort; but when none comes, then their comfort fails. Or, dwelling on the sweetness of the impression, they lose the sweetness of the very word which was impressed on them. But now take the written Word of God, and there is no danger in living and walking by it; indeed that is our duty.

Is there no use then of impressions? Yes, much, for they comfort in time of difficulty. When someone is in the dark, or does not know which of two ways to take to do God most service — or sees the way clear and yet many difficulties in the way — then God sets some word with power on his soul, it is much comfort to him.

But although God speaks by impressions sometimes, giving much light and comfort, yet if I make an impression the judge of doctrines, then I am greatly deceived. We are to judge doctrines by the written Word of God.

Although much comfort may be had from impressions, yet if the Word is not impressed on the heart according to its true sense, the impression is likely not of God, but an illusion of Satan. God only ever sets a word on the soul in its true sense. So, do I have an impression with a word? The impression may be God’s, yet the application may be my own. The Lord gave Abraham a word, that his seed should be as the stars; but Abraham made a false application of it when he went to Hagar for the fulfilment.

The safest, surest way is to keep close to the written Word of God, which is both the judge of all our doctrines, and the only rule of all our practices.

The light of grace in the saints

The light and law within us here is imperfect. “We see only in part, and know only in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). But the written Word of God, the Scripture and its light, is perfect.

The light of grace within us is not able to convince others. But the Scripture, by the breathing of the Spirit of God with it, is able. How are “gainsayers” to be convinced (Titus 1:9)? By the light within? No, but by sound doctrine fetched from the faithful Word.

Is there, then, no use of the light within us? Does God not direct people this way? Yes indeed. This inward light not only exposes evil in us, and inclines us to good, but also enables us to good.

But it is a principle of good, yet it is not the rule of our goodness, or our lives. If it was, why would we need the Scripture? But Scripture is settled in heaven, and endures for ever (Psalm 119:89). Timothy had the light, and law, and Spirit of God within him, yet he was to be ruled by the written Word of God (1 Tim. 6:14).

Someone might say, “The Spirit in me is the same Spirit who wrote the Scripture, so why do I need to be ruled by the external Word instead of the inward Spirit?” The reason is that the Spirit is sent to open the Scripture to you, not to take away the Scripture from you. He is not sent to be your rule, but to be your help to understand the rule.

Even assuming you have the same Spirit who wrote the Scriptures, yet you do not have the same inspiration of the Spirit. Because people do not understand this, they think that if they have the same Spirit, they may set aside the Scripture as to their rule. But if something in me is my rule, then I am effectively my own rule, and so I am God, and what is this but horrid blasphemy?

Though the law, and light, and Spirit within, may be a great help to us in our way to life, yet they must be tested by the written Word.

Christian experience

The written Word of God is more excellent than Christian experience. Whatever light there is in experience, it is borrowed from the Scripture, the Word of God written. Though experience is a great help to our faith, yet take it alone, abstracted from the Word, and it cannot heal our unbelief. The walking stick in someone’s hand is a good help, but it cannot heal their lameness. Experience likewise will be a good help in my way, yet it cannot heal the lameness of my unbelieving heart. But the written Word can, and does.

Is there then no use of our experiences? Is there no light in them? Yes indeed, for experience brings forth hope. “Experience worketh hope” (Rom. 5:4–5). But though experience is the parent of hope, yet it is not the ground of our faith. It is a help to faith, but not the first ground of our faith. The Scripture is, and the promise under Christ (Rom. 15:4).

Though we have much experience, yet if we do not trust in the Word, over and beyond all our experience, we do evil.

Divine providence

God sometimes tests us by His providence. He lays a providential dispensation before us, to test and see what we will do (Deut. 8:2). But the Scripture is the rule of our doing.

The providence of God extends to everything, including all our sins. When Jonah fled from God, there was a ship right there that heading for Tarshish: here was a providence! And when Joseph’s brothers wanted to get rid of him, who came by but some merchants who traded in Egypt: here was a providence! So we cannot make our decisions from a bare providence. You may, however, make your decisions from Scripture, the Word of God written.

Does God never speak by providence, or sometimes guide and direct by providence? Indeed He does. But though the Lord does sometimes guide us with His providence, yet if I make the providence of God the rule of lawfulness or unlawfulness, then I am in a great error, and I expose myself to all kinds of sin. When two lawful things are before me, then when providence opens a door to one, and shuts the door on the other, it is directing to that one, not the other. But the providence of God does not make lawful something which is in itself unlawful. Providence is not the rule of lawfulness or unlawfulness. But the Scripture is. The written Word of God is the only rule by which I may and must make up my judgment of lawfulness and unlawfulness.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When heathens were fervently praying to their false gods, who couldn’t possibly help them, Jonah, the servant of the living God, was fast asleep. The Covenanting minister Alexander Wedderburn draws on this historical event to reflect on how the Lord’s people can be put to shame by the diligence and commitment of idolaters to their false worship. The following updated and abridged sermon is on the words of the ship’s captain to Jonah. “The shipmaster came to him, and said, What meanest thou, O sleeper?” (Jonah 1:6).

Jonah prophesied in the days of Jeroboam II. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, where he is called a prophet and servant of the Lord. Though he prophesied of prosperity, yet it was with small success in such a corrupt time. So the Lord sends him to Nineveh, the chief city of the Assyrian empire. This he is loath to do, and resolves to flee by sea to Tarshish. But the Lord follows him with a storm. Then, when all in the ship are busy praying to their gods, he is asleep. For this the captain strongly rebukes him, saying, “What meanest thou, o sleeper?”

Although these are the words of a heathen, yet they contain a deserved rebuke of a prophet of Israel. “What meanest thou?” A short, emotive utterance, expressing anger in the speaker, and unreasonableness in the one he is addressing.

How do we treat our God?

The worshipers of the true God are sometimes outstripped in worship, and may justly be criticised for their neglectfulness, by idolaters.

How much reverence?

Their gods were no gods at all, but devils, falsehood and vanity. They had eyes and could not see, ears and could not hear, yet they highly esteemed them, and reverenced them. They “walked in the name of their God” (Micah 4:5), and they boasted and triumphed in their gods. The Ephesians all with one shout cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19). Idolatrous Micah, though he made his god himself, yet he called it “my god,” and said, “What have I more?” (Judges 18:24).

Now compare this with the worshipers of the true God. Who triumphs in God, or makes their boast of Him? Do we exalt Him as God? Do we confide in Him as God? Do we walk in the name of our God?

How much diligence?

As they revered their idols, so they were painstaking in worshipping them. Jeremiah notices their diligence. “Whom ye have loved, whom ye have served, whom ye have worshiped, and after whom ye have gone …” (Jeremiah 8:2). So many words to express their unwearying idolatry.

Compare this with the worshipers of the true God. Certainly our principles teach us the necessity of diligence in worship. But who runs, strives, fights, labours, according to their principles? Of whom can it be said in reference to God, “whom ye have loved, whom ye have served, whom ye have worshiped, and after whom ye have gone …”? It is just some feckless thing we do, and rarely we do that.

How fervent?

As they were diligent in their worship to their gods, so they were very zealous and intent on it. In Isaiah 57: 5, Israel is challenged for, among other things, inflaming themselves with idols. The ancient Greek religious leader Pythagoras forbade sacrifices to be offered when doing or thinking about any other thing.

Although we should be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, yet how often our heart in His worship goes staggering between that and something else! In worshipping Him, we are like someone looking at a star through a telescope with a shaking arm — sometimes he has a glance of it, and straightaway loses it again. Who prays as if they were making intercession for their life? or hears as the hungry man eats his food? Who sings, making a melody in their hearts to the Lord?

How self-sacrificial?

The idolaters prioritised the worship of their gods over their dearest and sweetest enjoyments. They made their children pass through the fire to Molech. This was a dreadful thing. Certainly, these parents were not lacking in natural affection to their young ones, yet they postponed that to the worship of their gods.

Compare this to the worshipers of the true God. A tiny speck appears an insuperable mountain in the way of His worship! Some will not come because they have a yoke of oxen to look after, etc (Luke 14:16-21). What would we risk for His honour or worship?

How much reliance?

The heathen depended heavily on their gods for everything. If they were at sea, they had a god to depend on for safety; in their harvests they had a god to depend on for fruitfulness. The Romans went never out to any war without multiplying sacrifices.

Do we acknowledge the true God in all our ways, that He would bring it to pass? Do we in everything make our requests known by prayer and supplication? What a sweet life we would lead, if every difficulty gave us an errand to Him with a petition, and every deliverance a song!

Why should we outdo the heathen?

If idolaters may justly reprehend the worshippers of the true God, it serves for lamentation and self-humbling. Especially if we consider things like these.

The excellency of our God

Our God is the Lord who made heaven and earth. Our God is in heaven, and does whatsoever He wills. Who is like the Lord among all the gods? Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands, but how excellent is our Lord’s name through all the earth! So excellent a God and yet worse served, how lamentable this is!

The infallible certainty of our principles

The basis on which we walk, and which obliges us to diligent, zealous worship of our God, is infallibly sure. Whatever human ingenuity could imagine, to demonstrate the certainty of our principles and obligations to worship, we have it. The Son coming down from the Father’s bosom and revealing our duty to us. A voice from heaven witnessing to the truth of His being His beloved Son. So many miracles, and such divine doctrine, proceeding from Him. It is ridiculous to hear of the origin of some of the heathen gods, to whom they offered sacrifices. Often they were the work of their own hands, or some of the creatures which God had made to serve them!

The sweetness of our duties

An idol signifies sorrow, but the duties we are called to create a bit of heaven on earth. “In keeping of thy commandments there is great reward” — not only for keeping them, but in keeping them. What ease to a burdened mind is prayer! What joy in praises! What refreshing consolations from meditating on God as reconciled through a mediator! Similarly in all other parts of worship. “I rejoiced when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord.”

The greatness of our debt

It never entered the mind of idolaters to worship their gods for the reason that we owe worship to ours. They thought they gave them corn and wine, and victory over their enemies, yet they never even claimed that any of them died for them, to prevent their eternal ruin. But this is the unspeakably great obligation we are under to worship. When our loss was desperate, He was broken for our iniquities, and in His stripes we are healed, and one of the goals He had in this was that we would be zealous worshipers of Him (Tit.2:14). “Ye are bought with a price, and are not your own, therefore glorify God in your bodies and souls” (1 Cor. 6:20).

The eternal weight of glory ahead of us

We have encouragements in our worship from the expectation of a far more excellent reward than idolaters could ever dream of or hope for. The philosopher Seneca comforted himself with the Elysian fields as he was dying. These were only imaginary, but supposing they were real, what a low reward they are when compared with the excellent, exceeding great, and eternal weight of glory that awaits the worshippers of God!

The assistance we are given

The heathen never dreamed that their gods would give them assisting influences to help them at their worship. All they did, they did in the strength of inherent virtue, either natural or acquired. Philosophy might make you patient and bear reproaches — or despise riches and delight in poverty. Aye, but we have the influences of assisting grace secured to us by the word of Him who cannot lie, to help us at our worship. If we do not know how to pray, or what to pray, the Spirit helps our infirmities. There is a spirit of faith, and a spirit of love, and a spirit of a sound mind. Idolaters get their water out of broken cisterns, that can hold no water, but the Rock follows us, and the Rock is Christ.

How can we outdo the heathen?

Some things about their worship, we should imitate.

Awe

They were kept in much fear and awe of their gods. They were constantly afraid that if they neglected their worship, their gods would avenge it. It is true, this is too servile a principle of gospel worship. Fear should not be the pace that should make our wheels go, it should be love (“If thou love me, keep my commandments”). Yet where fear is lacking, usually worship is lacking also.

Dependence

Also, they judged that they had need of their gods for everything they enjoyed — corn, wine, water, success in war, peace, childbirth, wisdom, or whatever else — and therefore had a god for each of them. This impression would contribute much to help us in worship. If we seriously believed that both our doing and our receiving depended on Him, our addresses to Him could not but be more frequent and fervent.

Receptivity

They were also much heartened in their worship by the responses they had from their oracles. These responses were often ambiguous, so that whatever way things fell out, the response could be made to hint at it. Certainly, if we took notice of the answers God gives to prayer, we would have more delight in it.

If we could imitate them in these things, we would readily outstrip them.

I shall only add two things they omitted, which make our worship, not only in its nature, but in its manner, far exceed theirs.

Grace

Though they were diligent and intent in their worship, yet they never dreamed of any gracious qualification in the person who presented the worship. Nature’s ladder was too low to scale the fort of a natural heart. But if you can be born of water and of the Spirit, it will give your worship a lustre theirs could never have.

The Mediator

Though their sacrifices were numerous, and sometimes costly and cruel, yet they never dreamed of a high priest who stands with incense in His hand, which is the prayers of the saints.

This is the great ground of a believer’s hope in Christ, that He sits a high priest, not only to make intercession for the iniquity of his holiness, and to cover the imperfections of his worship, but to present it, and to second it before the throne of God. He knows that broken words and groans and such-like sacrifices, performed with the incense of righteousness of such a Mediator, can have acceptation. Therefore to outdo them, put your sacrifice always in Christ’s hands, pray in His name, praise in His name, and do all through Him.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

Nine ways to protect yourself from false teaching

Nine ways to protect yourself from false teaching

Nine ways to protect yourself from false teaching

Souls are saved, settled and sanctified through the truth. When there is so much false teaching around, it brings spiritual damage and it is dishonouring to God. Those who are susceptible to false ideas need to be established in the truth. False teachings can be very enticing, but we need to resist them. Stability in the truth and opposition to false teaching are clear and recurring priorities in the writings of the Apostles. Indeed, the purpose of Scripture is to give us certainty in the truth (see, e.g., John 20:31). The theologian George Gillespie had a great concern to protect souls from error. In the following updated excerpt from one of his treatises, Gillespie gives nine positive ways in which we can protect ourselves against false teaching. He calls them “preservatives against wavering, and helps to steadfastness in the faith.”

Grow in knowledge and discernment

Do not be simple, as “children in understanding”. There is such a thing as the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. That is how the apostle describes those who spread diverse and strange doctrines (Eph. 4:14). In Romans 16:18 he warns us that “by good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple.” You therefore have need of the wisdom of the serpent so that you will not be deceived, as well as the simplicity of the dove, so that you yourself would not be a deceiver (Phil 1:9-10). Do not rashly commit yourself to any new opinion, much less get involved in spreading it. With the well-advised is wisdom. Pythagoras wanted scholars only to hear, and not to speak, for five years. Be swift to hear but not to speak or commit yourself. Prove all things, and when you have proved, then be sure to hold fast that which is good (1 Thess. 5:2; Matt. 7:15-17). There was never a heresy yet broached, but under some attractive, plausible pretence, “beguiling unstable souls,” as Peter puts it (2 Pet. 2:14). “The simple believeth every word” (Prov. 14:15). Do not be like the two hundred who went in the simplicity of their hearts after Absolom in his rebellion (2 Sam. 15:11).

Grow in grace and holiness, and the love of the truth

The stability of the mind in the truth, and the stability of the heart in grace, go hand in hand together (Heb. 13:9). David’s rule is good, “What man is he that feareth the Lord? Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose” (Psa. 24:12; see also Jn. 7:17; Deut. 11:13, 16). Similar to how Elisha healed the unwholesome waters of Jericho by throwing salt into the fountain (2 Kings 2:21), so must the bitter streams of pernicious errors be healed by the salt of mortification, and true sanctifying grace in the fountain.

Cling to your teachers who are faithful and sound

The sheep that follow the shepherd are best kept from the wolf. I find that the exhortation to stability in the faith is joined with the fruitful labours of faithful teachers (Phil. 3:16-17; Heb. 13:7-9). Likewise, in Ephesians 4, the apostle moves from the work of the ministry (v. 11-13) to draw the consequence “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (v. 14). The Galatians were easily seduced, as soon as they were made to take against Paul.

Watch against the first beginnings of declining

Be vigilant against the first seeds of error. It was while they slept that the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and when he had done, went his way (Matt. 13:25). Therefore, “watch ye” and “stand fast in the faith” go hand in hand together (1 Cor. 16:13).

Avoid and withdraw from those who start and spread heresies and dangerous errors

This is clear from Romans 16:17; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 John 10-11; Philippians 3:2. Those who want to be godly should not usually be in ungodly company, and those who want to be orthodox should not usually be in heretical company. Chrysostom in various places warns his hearers how much they endangered their souls by going into the Jewish synagogues, and there was a great zeal in the early church to keep Christians who were orthodox away from the assemblies and company of heretics.

Get church discipline established and duly exercised

Church discipline is ordained to purge the church from false doctrine (Rev 2:14-20).

Do not depend on your own reason

“Lean not to thy own understanding, and be not wise in thine own eyes” (Prov. 3:5-7). Let reason be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). What made the Anti-Trinitarians and Socinians fall away from believing in the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, and the union of the two natures of God and man in the person of Christ, was because their reason could not comprehend these articles of the faith. Their own reason is the basis of their opinions they profess. When I say reason must be captive, I mean that the eyes of my understanding must be opened by the Holy Spirit so that I may know that this doctrine is presented in Scripture to be believed, and therefore I do believe that it is true, even if my reason cannot comprehend how it is.

Count the cost of discipleship

Count the cost to yourself, and be well resolved beforehand what it will cost you to be a disciple of Christ, and to be consistent in professing the truth (Lk. 14:26-34). “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). This is safer than to confirm ourselves in the hopes of a golden age of prosperity in which we shall feel no affliction.

Search the Scriptures

This advice is given in John 5:39 (see also Acts 17:11). Do not take new light on trust from anyone, be they never so eminent for gifts or for grace, but go to the law and the testimony.

Conclusion

The upshot of all this is that we ought to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, and be steadfast and even unmoveable in the truth, and not give place to the adversaries, no, not for an hour (Gal. 2:4-5). I do not mean perverse obstinacy in the least error, nor a vain, presumptuous, overweening conceit of our knowledge, to make us despise any light which others may give us from Scripture. Obstinacy is an evil on the one hand, and holding too tenaciously to our own opinions. But fickleness, inconstancy, or wavering is an evil on the other hand. “Be not soon shaken in mind, etc” (2 Thess. 2:2). Fickleness is an epidemic among the sectarians of this time. Their word is “yea and nay,” not unlike what Sallust accused Cicero of, “He says one thing sitting, and another thing standing!”

Yet it may be sometimes observed that those who are the greatest sceptics in reference to the common and received tenets, are the most obstinate and tenacious in tenets invented by themselves. Socinus set at nought the church fathers, church councils, and the whole current of ancient and modern interpreters of Scripture, yet vainglory made him stiffly and tenaciously maintain any opinion or invention of his own, as if he had been infallible.

People are drawn from truth sooner than they are drawn from error. Yet some are unstable in the truth, and unstable in error too. They are of a new faith, and a new religion, every year, if not every month. Remember Reuben’s reproach, “Unstable as water, thou shall not excel” (Gen. 49:4). Indeed, there are even some who do not commit themselves to believing any thing, but are known by believing nothing. These pass now under the name of “seekers,” but we might as well call them atheists.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

What do we need elders for?

What do we need elders for?

What do we need elders for?

The elders in a congregation are primarily there to watch over the flock, and their work includes both engaging with people one-to-one and collaboratively working with fellow elders. In his helpful treatise on elders and deacons, James Guthrie sets out what responsibilities elders have. As shown in the following excerpt from a recent edition of his treatise, Guthrie makes no attempt to play down the weightiness of the work, but highlights for us the importance of having the right people in office.

The duties of a ruling elder are watching over and ruling the flock, and they are of two sorts. Some duties they are to perform by themselves alone, and so may be regarded as more ‘private’ duties. Other duties they are to perform jointly with the rest of the overseers of the household of God, which may be called more ‘public.’

Elders acting individually

The duties of their calling which they should perform by themselves individually are all the duties which all Christians, office-bearers or not, are required to perform to each other by the law of charity and love.

  • To instruct one another (John 4:29; Acts 18:26).
  • To exhort and stir up one another, to provoke each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  • To admonish and rebuke one another (Leviticus 19:17). We should first speak to an offending brother or sister privately, and if they will not listen, then before witnesses. If they still will not listen, then we are to tell the church; and if they will not hear the church, then let them be to us as heathens and publicans (Matthew 18:15-17).
  • To comfort the afflicted, and to support the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • To restore those who have fallen (Galatians 6:1).
  • To reconcile those who are at variance (Matthew 5:9).
  • To pray one for another (Jude 20).
  • To visit the sick, and those who are in bonds and distress (Matthew 25:36).

All these duties elders are to perform towards the various individual members of the congregation, by virtue of their calling. The Scriptures expressly mention some of them as incumbent on elders, namely, admonishing those whom God has set them over (1 Thessalonians 5:12), visiting and praying over the sick (James 5:14), and feeding the flock by instruction, exhortation, rebuke, and comfort in such a way as is competent to their station (Acts 20:28).

The rest we may warrantably gather by analogy and proportion from these. If individual Christians who are not office-bearers are obliged to do certain duties, much more are Christian elders in a special way obliged to do them, considering they have the responsibility of caring for souls. These things are expressed well in the sixth chapter of the Second Book of Discipline.

From what has been said concerning the duties of ruling elders acting individually, these three things follow.

1. Firstly, elders ought to be men who are in some measure able to instruct, exhort, admonish, rebuke, comfort, pray, and do these duties we have mentioned.

2. Secondly, elders need not only to have some measure of ability for these things, but also to have some measure of dexterity, wisdom, experience and tenderness in carrying them out.

3. Thirdly, elders ought to be well acquainted with the condition of the congregation and its members. They should therefore be careful to observe how they live their lives, and frequently visit and evaluate what progress families are making, so that they may instruct the ignorant, exhort the negligent, admonish the slothful, rebuke those who walk disorderly, comfort the afflicted, establish those who waver, visit the sick, encourage these who do well, promote piety and godliness in families, and see every one edifying each other in love, walking in the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost.

In order that elders may more conveniently discharge their duty it is convenient that the congregation should be divided into so many parts and that some competent part be assigned to the more peculiar care and inspection of every elder — yet in such a way as he would not neglect to take heed to all the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost has made him an overseer.

Elders acting jointly

Elders also have duties which they are to perform jointly with other elders. These duties lie on them in the assemblies or courts of the church which are made up of preaching elders, teaching elders, and ruling elders.

These assemblies are of four sorts in our church.

  • Assemblies of the elders of particular congregations. These are known as the church session or the kirk session.
  • Assemblies of the elders of more than one congregation from the same geographical area. This is known as the presbytery.
  • Assemblies of the elders of more than one presbytery. These are known as the provincial synod.
  • Assemblies of the elders commissioners from all the presbyteries in the land. This is known as the general or national assembly.

To these we may add a fifth sort, namely, the assemblies which are made up of elders from all or many different nations professing the faith of Jesus Christ. This is known as a council.

When we speak of the elders of which the assemblies of the church are made up, we mean all sorts of elders: ministers, doctors and ruling elders. However, it is true that, in the congregations of our church, there are few or no doctors or teaching elders distinct from pastors or ministers (who perform the duties both of the preaching elder, and of the teaching elder). Doctors or teaching elders tend to hold office only in seminaries or theological colleges.

In all assemblies of the church, ruling elders have power to sit, write, debate, vote, and conclude in all the matters that are handled.

The things which are handled in the assemblies of the church are either matters of faith, matters of order, matters of discipline, or that which concerns the sending of church office-bearers. Accordingly, church assemblies have a fourfold power.

  • Dogmatic. By this power an assembly judges truth and error in points of doctrine, according to the Word of God only.
  • Diatactic (relating to external order and policy). By this power an assembly discerns and judges the circumstances of things that belong to the worship of God, like times, places, persons, and all the details in ecclesiastical affairs which are not explicitly determined in the Word. The assembly judges in these matters according to the general rules of the Word, i.e., its rules concerning order and decency, not causing stumbling, and doing all to the glory of God and the edifying of the church.
  • Corrective (or critical). By this power, an assembly gives out censures on those who cause stumbling and who obstinately refuse the admonition of the church, and the assembly readmits those who are penitent back into to the ordinances, fellowship and society of the church.
  • Exousiastic (wielding authority). By virtue of this power an assembly sends, authorises and gives power to church office-bearers to serve in the household of God.

Not all these assemblies are to exercise all these powers, but they are to keep themselves within their due bounds, with lower courts leaving things that are of wider concernment to the higher courts. But in all these powers ruling elders have a share, and they exercise these powers according to the measure that belongs to the assembly of which they are members. However, some decrees of church assemblies, such as the imposition of hands, pronouncing the sentence of excommunication, readmitting penitents, deposing ministers, and such like, belong to ministers alone.

If these are the duties and powers of ruling elders in the assemblies of the church, it is requisite that elders should be endued with the abilities and qualifications which are needful in order to exercise them.

Nevertheless, in particular congregations it may happen that men may be chosen as elders even though they do not have a large measure of all these qualifications. This is because all ruling elders are not always called to sit in all these assemblies. Instead it is sufficient to have one elder from every session for the presbytery and provincial synods, and a few from every presbytery and from larger congregations or burghs in that place for the general assembly, as also a few from the whole church throughout a nation would be sufficient for a more universal council.

Therefore, although it is to be wished and endeavoured that all elders would have the due qualifications for all these things, and although special care is to be taken everywhere to choose the most qualified, yet in particular congregations men may be chosen as elders even when they lack a large measure of all the requisite qualifications, as they are otherwise men of blameless and Christian walk, and they have a measure of knowledge and prudence which is fit for governing that congregation, and judging the things that are handled in its session (which for the most part will be disciplinary cases, and examining and admitting penitents).

But if there are any who are not of a blameless and Christian conversation, and do not have some measure of the qualifications required by the Word of God in a ruling elder, no congregation ought to choose someone like that to be their elder. Nor should any session or presbytery admit them to the charge of elder, for it is not seemly that the servants of corruption should have authority to judge in the church of God. And if any men like this have been admitted to the office of elder, the session or presbytery should endeavour to remove them from office, knowing that they do not want to partake of their sin, and be found guilty before the Lord of the blood of souls, for souls cannot but be disadvantaged through the negligence or bad guiding of such men.

This updated excerpt is taken from the book titled Ruling Elders and Deacons, by James Guthrie, published by Reformation Press (2017).

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

When our words about each other attack God

When our words about each other attack God

When our words about each other attack God

When James wrote his letter to Christian believers, he included a section on our words. Our words have immense potential for either good or harm, but sometimes it’s not a case of either/or. Sometimes, out of the same mouth comes both blessing and cursing — and this is something which simply shouldn’t happen. Can a fig tree produce olives, or grape vine produce figs? The startling incongruity of these examples is nothing to the sheer wrongness of using our words both to praise God and to curse those who are made in God’s image. This point is developed by Thomas Manton as follows, in an updated extract from his commentary on the Epistle of James.

“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God” (James 3:9). Here James shows the good and bad use of the tongue: the good, to bless God; and the bad, to curse men — as well as the absurdity of doing both with the same tongue, using the same part of your body for the best and worst purposes.

Our words should bless God

The correct use of the tongue is to bless God: “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise” (Psalm 51:15). Since God gives the gift of speech, he must have the glory; we owe it to him. This is the advantage we have over the other creatures, that we can be explicit in praising God. “All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee” (Psalm 145:10). The whole creation is like a well-tuned instrument, but man makes the music. Speech, being the most excellent faculty, should be consecrated to divine uses. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). So then, go away and say, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). This brings heaven on earth. Some birds sing in winter as well as in spring. Stir up one another (Ephesians 5:19), just as one bird sets a whole flock singing.

We praise “our Lord and Father,” that is, Christ (see James 1:27). We bless God most cheerfully when we consider Him as a father. Thoughts of God as a judge do not bring comfort. Our meditations on Him are sweet when we look on Him as a father in Christ. But not everyone can learn the Lamb’s new song (Revelation 14:3). Wicked men can howl, though they cannot sing. Pharaoh in his misery could say, “The LORD is righteous” (Exodus 9:27).

Our words should not curse each other

“And with the tongue we curse men” (James 1:9). The same tongue should not bless God and curse men; this is hypocrisy. Acts of piety are empty when acts of charity are neglected. “God saith, ‘What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? … Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and your tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slenderest thine own mother’s son’” (Psalm 50:16, 19-20).

Hypocrites are the most censorious, but true piety makes people meek and humble. Some people can curse and bless at the same time (Psalm 62:4); other people curse, pretending to be pious. The evils of the tongue, where they are not restrained, are inconsistent with true piety. With this tongue I have been speaking to God, and shall it presently be set on fire by hell.

Our words should reflect our high status as God’s image-bearers

Man is made after God’s own image. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We may catch glimpses of God in His works, but in man we see God’s very image and likeness.

God’s image in man consists in three things.

(1) In his nature, which was rational. God gave man a rational soul, simple, immortal, free in its choice; indeed, even in the body there were some rays of divine glory and majesty.

(2) In those qualities of “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10), “upright[ness]” (Ecclesiastes 7:29), and “true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

(3) In his state — all inward and outward blessings combined, as he enjoys God, exercises power over creatures, etc.

But this image is defaced and can only be restored in Christ. This was the great privilege of our creation — to be made like God; the more we resemble Him, the more happy we are. Remember your original height. We have the custom of urging people to walk worthy of their origins. Plutarch says of Alexander that he used to strengthen his courage by remembering that he came from the gods. Remember that you were made in the image of God; do not deface it in yourselves, or make it open to contempt by giving others opportunity to revile you.

Our words should not attack God via His image-bearers

We are dissuaded from slandering and speaking evil of others when we consider that they are made in God’s image.

We might ask, How can this be a motive, since the image and likeness of God is defaced and lost by the fall?

The answer is, in part, that James is speaking about new creatures especially, in whom Adam’s loss is repaired and made up again in Christ. “[You] have put on the new man, which is [being] renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:10). “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). God is sensitive about His new creatures; intemperance of tongue against saints is dangerous. Take care what you say: these are Christians, created in God’s image, choice pieces whom God has restored out of the common ruins.

The other part of the answer is that James may be speaking about all people, for there are a few relics of God’s image in everyone. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). There would be no force in this reason if there were nothing of God left in man after sin, albeit much deformed. So this saying in James argues that there still remains in people some resemblance to God, such as the simplicity and immortality of the soul, some moral inclinations (instead of true holiness), ordinary evidences of the nature and will of God (instead of saving knowledge). Although these cannot make us happy, they serve to leave us without excuse. There is also some pre-eminence over other creatures, as we have a mind to know God, being capable of divine illumination and grace.

What is the force of the argument, that we ought not to curse people seeing they are made in God’s image?

For one thing, God has made human beings His deputies to receive love and common respect. Higher respect of trust and worship are to be reserved for God alone, but in other things Christians, even the poorest of them, are Christ’s receivers. “He that despiseth you despiseth me” (Luke 10:16). “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45).

For another thing, God Himself is wronged by the injury done to His image, just as, among us, contempt and spite for the king’s image or coin is taken as done to the king himself. In Matthew 23:18, to swear by the altar, which was the symbol of God’s presence, was to swear by God Himself.

Also, this is the fence God has placed against injury: “For in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). This is referred not to the murderer, as if he had sinned against those common ideas of justice and right in his conscience, but to the victim, who is the image of God. God has honoured this lump of flesh by stamping His own image on him; and who would dare to violate the image of the great King? To speak evil against him is to wrong the image of God. All God’s works are to be looked on and spoken of with reverence, and much more His image.

So then, in your behaviour toward people, let this check any injury or impropriety of speech: this person is in God’s image. Though images are not to be worshipped, yet the image of God is not to be splattered with reproaches, especially if they are new creations: these are vessels of honour. Consider who the sin is against: it is spiting God Himself, because it is done to His work and image. Solomon says, “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5).

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

Making spiritual progress

Making spiritual progress

Making spiritual progress

The Christian walk is characterised by newness of life and closeness to the Lord. Yet as time goes by, those who are in the way can grow conscious of distance from the Lord as well as a degree of lifelessness and lack of energy for the journey. At significant milestones, it can help to refocus on our priorities and remind ourselves of the things that will assist our progress and reduce hindrances. Samuel Rutherford is a pilgrim who shared what he himself had learned on the way to help those coming behind to make better progress. The following updated excerpt comes from a recently published book called Daily Walking With God. It was originally titled “Some Helps for a More Exact and Close Walking with God.”

Set aside time for the Word and prayer

Give some hours of the day, maybe more, maybe less, to read God’s Word, and to pray. Prefer these activities to the greatest affairs and employments of your calling, even if you spend the shortest time in them. Let the firstfruits of your morning thoughts smell of such religious duties, excluding all else till they have taken possession.

Have occasional spiritual thoughts during work

In the midst of worldly employments let there be some thoughts of sin, judgment, death, eternity, and God’s free love, with a word or two of prayer to God.

Avoid discouragement in prayer

Do not grudge it even if you come away from prayer without sense, or downcast, or a sense of guiltiness. Instead let this sharpen your appetite for another hearing, and do not rest on what you have already done.

Keep the whole Lord’s day holy

Spend the Lord’s day from morning till night always in private or public worship, even taking account of the smallest thoughts, as this day is set apart from the rest of the days of the week for the Lord’s worship only, as not being lawful to have our own thoughts

Avoid idle thoughts

Observe and avoid wandering and idle thoughts, as they are the harbingers of unsavoury speech, and ushers to profane actions.

Avoid wandering thoughts in prayer

Beware of wandering of heart in private and public prayer to God. In private, make your heart go along with your tongue, and in public have hearty joining, as if you felt the present necessity pressing you to it. Also join in praises with a feeling heart, proceeding from a principle of love, to exalt His glory.

Avoid all known sin

Eschew all revealed sins and whatever things are against the conscience, as most dangerous preparatives to hardness of heart. Always be governed by your conscience, rather than conscience being governed by you.

Have integrity in dealings with others

In dealing with others, whether in agreements or business, have a regard for sincerity, and make conscience of idle words and lying. Let us behave in such a way that they shall speak honourably of our sweet Master, and not in any way that would damage our profession. The life we live should correspond to the outward show, so that not only in appearance but in reality we may be true Christians.

Spend time in spiritual company

Frequent most the company of those with whom the soul may be most benefited. Develop all conversations in a way that contributes to spiritual usefulness, striving to edify one another in mutual confidences, cherishing heavenly thoughts, and sympathizing with the sufferings of our mother the church. In all your prayers hold up her (the church’s) condition to the Lord, and the condition of one another.

Avoid godless company

Eschew the company of the profane and “those who are without,” unless it is for the purpose of bringing them into the knowledge of Christ, by convincing their judgments. In no wise abstain from challenging their erroneous vices, as choosing rather to incur their wrath than to let God’s glory suffer in the least measure. Better to suffer in vindicating His cause than to be guilty by participating in sin that dishonours Him, for what you suffer in that, you suffer as a member of Christ.

Meditate frequently on the Word

Do not content yourself with morning and evening reading of God’s Word and sacrifices of prayer. Rather, whatever you read or hear, digest it by meditation, and turn it over in praises oft-times a day, as occasion offers, not sparing your most important activities.

Keep daily accounts

Every night call your thoughts, words and actions to a strict account. See where you have omitted, gone back, stood still, or come short. With sorrow, promise and purpose to amend what has been amiss. Let this possess your night dreams, and then awaken with a desire to pray and praise.

Submit to God in affliction

In afflictions or crosses, whether on body or mind or friends, often practice submission by acknowledging that nothing happens by accident, but by an overruling providence. Gather sweetness out of the bitterest portions, as things that serve to make you more heavenward, and do not drag Christ’s cross, but bear it cheerfully.

Avoid hatred even towards enemies

Keep well clear of vehemence, envy, hatred, desire of revenge, even against those who persecute the truth; for we often mix our zeal with our wildfire. Maintain charitable thoughts of those that are without, not being a slave of your passions, but commanding them, and let them express themselves most against your own corruption.

Daily examine your growth in grace

Daily assess your growth in grace. If you do not see it grow daily perceptibly, yet by testing you must find imperceptible growth [over time], otherwise doubt yourself. For as standing water goes bad, so grace not growing must decay, and then you would come short of your mark.

Suppress idle thoughts

When idle thoughts enter your heart, suppress them quickly, for they are like the thief that will open the door to the rest to break in till they become the strong man, and then act in a way which cannot be so easily resisted. It is best to smother them in the birth before they come to infancy, and far more before they come to such full strength that they can hardly be rooted up.

Be consistent in resolutions

Do not content yourself with flashes of good resolutions, before or after the sacrament, or in the heat of public or private ordinances, which are suddenly choked. These are like the seed among the corn, which spend their life in their birth. On the other hand, do not be discouraged with the clouds of God’s absence. Rather judge for yourself what occasions it, still waiting patiently, not idly, under the cloud, till He break forth with the beams of His countenance to enlighten your deserted (but not rejected) condition.

Daily examine every thought

What if, if it were possible, you were to write every thought of the day, both good and bad, and, in order to make more conscience of them, you were to summon them before thee at night to be censured according to their demerits, persuading yourself to be so strictly examined before God’s tribunal in the day of the Lord?

Deny self in order to be Christ’s

Do not let idol-self have such a reigning power in you, but rather dismiss it in disgrace, so that Christ may take possession. To be less your own is to be more His. This will oblige you to be more painstaking about mortifying your sin and putting on the new man.

Resist doubts and unbelief

Strive against doubting. If you lack feeling of faith, complain bitterly for the lack of it, and seek out where the sin that hinders it is lurking. Use all means by which you can get the Lord’s countenance, and no less to entertain it.

This updated excerpt is taken from the book titled Daily Walking With God, by Samuel Rutherford, published by Reformation Press (2022).

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

Living our fleeting lives

Living our fleeting lives

Living our fleeting lives

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we persist in assuming that our lives here on earth will continue indefinitely, and that we are free to plan whatever we like. Everyone knows that life is short and uncertain, but we tend to treat it as a truism and we don’t let it impact us personally. James wrote in his epistle about the folly of this approach — it comes from misplaced pride and it must end in dreadful disappointment. It’s not me who’s in control, but God. Instead of rebelling against this, it would bring us contentment and safety to believingly and thankfully embrace it. In the following extract from his commentary on James, Thomas Manton shows that the wise response is to recognise God’s right to direct all things in His providence, and to use the short time we have to prepare for endless eternity.

Many passages in Scripture show how brief our life is. It is compared to “the flowers of the field” (Isaiah 40:6–7), the “wind” (Job 7:7), a leaf before the wind (Job 13:25), and a “shadow” (Job 14:2).

There is a heap of similes in Job 9:25–26 — “Now my days are swifter than a post: they flee away, they see no good. They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.”

The Word uses all these similes so that every fleeting and decaying object would remind us of our own mortality, as well as to check those proud human desires for an eternal abode here, and lasting happiness in this life. In that passage in Job human frailty is displayed in all the elements: on land, a runner; on water, a swift boat; in the air, an eagle.

The figure of speech used here by James is that of a vapour. “What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” This is simply to show how quickly life passes, and because human life is just a little warm breath coming in and out by the nostrils — a narrow passage, and soon stopped up (Isaiah 2:22).

Our lives are undependable and brief

We have no assurance of our lives and comforts, or the events of the next day. This is a common observation. Well then, let every day’s care be enough for itself; live every day as the last day. Ludovicus Capellus tells us of Rabbi Eleazer, who advised people to repent only the day before their death — that is, right now (for it may be the last day before we die). It is a sad thing to promise ourselves many years and to have our souls taken away that night — to measure out our time and years by our worldly projects, then all of a sudden our whole thoughts perish.

Human life is very short. It is a vapour that soon appears and just as soon disappears — dispersed as soon as it is produced. “Surely every man walketh in a vain show” (Psalm 39:6). Though they toss to and fro, yet the whole course of their lives is just a fleeting shadow, a little spot of time between two eternities. Augustine is not sure whether to call it a dying life or a living death.

We should adjust our behaviours accordingly

This checks those who pass away their time, rather than redeem it. They waste their precious time, as if they had too much of it. Our moment is short, and we make it shorter. It is time for all of us to say, “The time past of our life is more than enough to have wrought the will of the flesh” (see 1 Peter 4:3); or, as Romans 13:11 puts it, “It is high time to awake out of sleep” (this was the verse that converted Augustine).

Seeing how short life is, moderate your worldly care and projects. Do not encumber yourselves with too much provisions for a short voyage. A ship goes more swiftly the less burdened it is; people take in too much cargo for a mere passage.

Devote yourselves more to spiritual projects, so that you may lay up a foundation for a longer life than you have to live here. Do a lot of work in your little time. Shall we lose any part of what is so short? Will our short life only make way for a long misery? The apostle says, “I will put you in remembrance, knowing that shortly I must put off this tabernacle” (2 Peter 1:13). We will all shortly put off the outer garment of the body, so let us do all the good that we can. Christ lived only thirty-two years, or thereabouts, so He “went about doing good, and healing every sickness, and every disease.” You only have a short time, so be all the more diligent.

God’s providence should be in both our heart and our words

Now that James has exposed the false confidence of the worldly, he proceeds to rectify their attitude by urging them to a holy and reverent remembrance of God’s providence and their own frailty. “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).

Here the question arises, Must we always and necessarily use this form of speech, or some similar explicit reference to providence, “If the Lord will …”?

It is good to accustom the tongue to holy forms of speech, including such explicit and clear references to providence, e.g., “If the Lord please,” “If the Lord will,” “If it please the Lord that I live,” etc. Pure lips are appropriate for a Christian, and it is useful for stirring up reverence in ourselves and for the instruction of others. Such forms are confessions of divine providence and the uncertainty of human life.

The children of God use phrases like these frequently. “I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will” (1 Corinthians 4:19); “I must tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit” (1 Corinthians 16:7); see also Romans 1:10 and Philippians 2:19. The children of God know that all their goings are ordered by the Lord; therefore they often make references like these to His will and power.

However, when we use these forms, the heart must go along with the tongue. Using God’s name in common sayings is only profanity if the heart is not reverent. The words are common, but it is the meaning that matters.

It is not always necessary use these terms explicitly, but there must always be either implicitly or explicitly a submission to the will of God. Holy men of God have often expressed the intention to do things and yet not formally expressed such conditions — for example, in 3 John, “When I come, I will remember his deeds,” and Romans 15:24, “Whensoever I take my journey to Spain, I will come to you,” etc.

All our actions should be referred to the will of God

All our undertakings must be referred to the will of God — not only religious ones, but secular actions too. For example, our journeys: “O Lord God of Abraham thy servant, send me good speed this day” (Genesis 24:12; see also Genesis 28:20). If this is neglected, no wonder you meet with so many frustrating things — they do not come from your hard luck, but your profane neglect.

But what does is it mean to submit all our actions to the will of God?

Measuring all our actions by His revealed will. That is the rule of duty. We can look for no blessing on anything except for what is consistent with God’s revealed will. We must submit to His secret will, but first we must conform to His revealed will. Worldly desire has its own will (see Ephesians 2:2), but we are to serve the will of God until we fall asleep (Acts 13:36).

Acting with confidence when we see God leading us. We must have all the greater comfort and confidence in undertaking any action when we see God in it (e.g., like Paul when he gathered that God had called him to Macedonia; Acts 16:10). When we see God guiding and leading us, whether in the sweet means and course of His providence, or by inward instinct, we may walk in the way He has opened to us with all the more encouragement.

Not restricting God’s plans. In our desires and requests we must not bind the counsels of God. “Not my will, but thine be done” (Matthew 26:39). In temporal things we must submit to God’s will, both for the mercy itself, for the means of getting it, and for time of obtaining it. Creatures must not prescribe to God, and give laws to providence, but must be content to have or go without as the Lord pleases. If anything does not have good success, the Lord did not will it, and that is enough to silence all discontents.

Constantly asking His leave in prayer.

Always remembering that God reserves the right to do His will. We must continue to reserve the power of God’s providence. “If the Lord will,” “If the Lord permit.” God does not want us to be too confident in a worldly way; it is good to get the soul used to things changing.

We should remember God’s sovereignty and our frailty

There are two things we should often consider in this connection.

The sovereignty and dominion of providence

However much wisdom and skill you use in your enterprise, the Lord can bring it to nothing. He can nip it in the bud or stop it in the very moment you try to put it into effect. I have observed that God is usually very sensitive about His honour on this point, and usually frustrates those proud people who boast of what they will do, and think up unlimited plans, without any thought of how providence may stop them. “A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). We make plans, but carrying them out depends wholly on God’s will and providence. When we make resolutions on our own authority, there is a contest between us and heaven about will and power; therefore, in such cases the answer of providence is more clearly and decisively to our loss, so that God would be acknowledged as Lord of success, and the first mover in all means and causes, without whom they have no force or efficacy.

The frailty and uncertainty of your own lives

Our being is as uncertain as the events of providence. “If we live,” and “If the Lord will,” are the caveats in the text, and together they imply that we must have a conscious awareness of our own frailty, as well as of the sovereignty of providence, so that our hearts will submit to God the better. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4). Frail as we are, we are full of thoughts and projects. We will do this, and we will do that, and we will go to that city, and we will promote our interests by this alliance, and we will gain so much by this purchase, and then we will raise up some stately building which will continue our name and reputation to the generations to come — and all because we do not think of the earth we carry about with us, and how soon the hand of providence is able to crumble it into dust. Certainly we will never be wise until we are able to number our days, and have sufficiently grasped in our souls the uncertainty of our stay in the world (Psalm 90:12).

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

Why are we still waiting for the second coming?

Why are we still waiting for the second coming?

Why are we still waiting for the second coming?

The first coming of the Lord Jesus was unobtrusively in Bethlehem, some two thousand years ago. He then died at Calvary and ascended up to heaven, promising to come again. There are plenty people who entirely miss the point of His first coming and entirely ignore what He achieved on the cross. If the thought of Him coming back again ever crosses their minds, they only scoffingly dismiss it. But even the Lord’s people sometimes flag as they wait for Him to come again. We know He will “come again, without sin, unto salvation,” but it seems to be taking such a long time. In his commentary on 2 Peter, Alexander Nisbet reaches the point where Peter has countered the foolish opinions of those who mocked at the idea of Christ’s second coming. In the following updated extract, he explains Peter’s three reasons why the godly do not need to worry about the apparent long wait. Instead, the certainty that it will eventually happen should inspire us to persevere in Christian living in preparation for it.

The Lord’s eternity should mould our perception of time

The first reason, which is in verse 8, is that the delay ought not to be judged of according to our sense or apprehension, but according to the duration of God. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v.8).

The godly to whom Peter is writing either had taken, or were at risk of taking, some bad impression of God from the bold assertions and apparent logic of the mockers. There is so great affinity between the hearts of the godly, who are but in part renewed, and the vilest temptations to the greatest blasphemies or errors, that when these errors are expressed boldly with pretence of reason, there is great risk that there be some impression left on the hearts of even the godly, inclining them to these errors.

It has pleased the Lord to condescend so far to our shallow capacity as to set forth His duration to us in Scripture in our own terms, and to give us leave to describe it in our own terms, while He calls Himself, “Yesterday, and today and for ever” (Heb. 13:8), “He which was and is and is to come” (Rev. 1:4), “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9), “He whose years have no end” (Psa. 102:27). Yet all these differences of time, which to us are longer or shorter, are all alike to Him, whose duration admits of no beginning, succession, or ending. Instead it consists in a constant presentness of all that seems to us past, or future. “For one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Ministers of Christ ought to have a far different view of those who mock at the truth of God and scoffingly vent their errors contrary to it, and of those who through infirmity may have some inclination toward error and therefore stand in need to be guarded against it. Accordingly they will behave differently toward the one and the other. Of the one the apostle spoke with indignation and contempt (as they deserved), calling them “scoffers, walking after their ungodly lusts” (v.3). But to the other he speaks with love and tenderness, calling them “Beloved,” and advising them, “Be not ignorant of this one thing…”

Some things revealed in Scripture concerning the Lord must be understood by faith, even though they cannot be comprehended by us to the satisfaction of our shallow reason. We should not be ignorant of this one thing, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” yet this is a truth that no one within time can well comprehend. Only faith can assent to it and make use of it, in judging as He judges, that many years’ delay to us of the performance of a promise is but a very little time compared with eternity. It may though foster a holy longing to be with Him, when we shall partake of His duration as well as of His glory, when there shall not be such a thing as any sad reflections on past sweetness, or any painful langour for sweetness to come, but a constant present possession of it.

The Lord’s patience takes time to accomplish His purposes

The second reason to reassure the godly concerning the delay to Christ’s second coming is that this delay does not proceed from any such thing in God (whatever may be thought) as usually makes people slow in performing their promises, but only from His patience toward His elect, whose temperament requires time and effort for working grace in them, that they may be fitted for glory. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v.9).

We ought not to frame our thoughts of God as we do one of another, especially when we think of how long it takes for Him to perform His promises, as if that delay flowed from lack of foresight for possible difficulties, weakness, forgetfulness or fickleness — the reasons why there are ordinarily delays among us. All such thoughts of Him, though our hearts are very apt to entertain them (Psa. 50:21), we ought to remove far from us, and to persuade ourselves of the opposite — that He is most mindful of His promises (Psa. 111:5), and so swift in performing them, that He will not wait a moment after He has wrought what is necessary before the performance (Mal. 4:2). Constructions like this, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise,” which deny something about God, in Scripture convey both that we are wrongly apt to imagine this about Him, and also that the contrary of what is denied is superlatively true. The Lord is the opposite of slow about His promise.

The true and satisfying explanation for the delay to Christ’s second coming is the Lord’s longsuffering toward His own elect. In order for them to be converted they must be dealt with in a way suitable to their temperament. It requires time and pains to work on each elect soul who comes into the world, and to the years of discretion, by commands, threatenings, promises, and alluring motives, every one of these being multiplied after another. By these same means, every elect person is brought to that measure of grace which God has determined to work in the converted, in order that they may be fitted for glory. The Lord does not soon or easily win His point even with His own elect, but after many refusals of His renewed offers and slighting of His pains. His love is patient and powerful and overcomes all opposition in them eventually.

The Lord’s day will come when least expected

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall he burnt up.”

The day of judgment will be very unexpected and terrible to complacent sinners, just as the coming of a thief in the night brings sudden terror to a sleeping family. On that day there will be a great change and the dissolution of the whole frame of nature, and of all the things in which most people place their happiness. The inference from this is not stated explicitly but we can gather it — that it is the wisdom of the Lord’s people to prepare for that day, rather than to complain of the delay, or to be anxious concerning it.

Christ’s coming at the last day will be a great surprise to the majority of people, who refuse to be wakened out of their complacency by the Word in order to make preparation for it. Scripture does speak of prior signs that this day is coming, such as the destruction of Antichrist, the conversion of the Jews, etc. But some of them may be done in so little time, and so immediately before the judgment day, and others of them may be so little noticed, or recognised as signs of that day, that, notwithstanding them all, the majority shall be surprised at it

That day of judgment will be a most terrible day to all who do not expect and prepare for it. There will be a strange sight, and a dreadful noise, when the great workmanship of all creation, being on fire, shall all rush down, and all the delights of wicked men shall be burnt up before their eyes. By this the Lord testifies His displeasure against people placing their happiness in these things, and defiling them by making them subservient to their lusts, while at the same time signifying His purpose to give a more cleanly and glorious mansion to His own to dwell in. “In that day the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up.” Rather than raising questions about this, it is much safer for us to direct our time and energies towards being found of Him in peace at that day.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

Problems, laments and warnings

Problems, laments and warnings

Problems, laments and warnings

For Jeremiah the tragedy of Jerusalem being destroyed was that nobody had listened to the warnings God had given. He cannot escape the sense that this devastation was something his people had brought on themselves, and that God was right to be angry. In his commentary on Lamentations, David Dickson reminds us that we too need to share God’s view of our sins as churches and communities. In the following updated extract from his commentary on Lamentations 3, Dickson draws attention to the fittingness of God’s responses to our behaviours. If we have not listened to Him, and treated His message with contempt, it is not at all incongruous if He does not listen to us, and lets us be treated with contempt. Will we register the warning in time and honour Him as He deserves?

In the first few chapters of Lamentations, we have heard a pitiful lamentation from the prophet, a man exercised with troubles all his days. He preached in grief of heart to this people for the space of fifty years. When they were in a good condition, he requested them to be reconciled to God. They scorned and mocked him, and set light by his words, yet he fought on with them year by year, telling them that the Lord’s judgments were at hand.

And now when the judgment which he foretold was come, it breaks his heart to see so many thousands of them cut off by famine, sword, and pestilence, and to the pitiful state of those who were left alive, carried captive, and made slaves to pagans.

So all his days were spent in sorrow, and he wrote this book of Lamentations to stir up those who would come after, to mourn with him, and to make it known to the church in subsequent ages that sorrow would be at their heart, and that similar judgment would overtake them, unless by laying to heart they would prevent it.

God does not hear their prayers

‘Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through’ (Lam. 3:44). Jeremiah laments that God would not hear their prayer, but had drawn a curtain over heaven, and hid His gracious face. They prayed for God’s help and assistance, deliverance from trouble, and especially from the hand of their enemy, yet God did not hear them, and permitted them to be in the hand of their enemies. Although they were the people God had chosen for Himself, and had a house among them for the God of heaven, and were populous, large, strong, wealthy, yet the Lord lets it all be sacked, burnt, demolished, by profane soldiers, the majority killed and the rest taken captive.

But in our times, we don’t think of this. It’s as if God’s judgments are dead and He does not send any trouble for sin. Therefore, just as God carried out all hat the prophet warned the people about, so we may certainly expect similar judgments to overtake us, for we are guilty of following the same way as they did, and despising mercy as much as they did.

God will not hear every prayer, especially not prayers for judgments to be removed, when they are made too late, after people have refused the offer of mercy and refused to turn.

If God is not able to avenge contempt of the gospel, then don’t turn to Him now. But if He is a righteous God, He will not fail to reckon with you, for your abuse of mercy as much as for your faults.

But although God did not hear their prayers, yet the prophet prayed on in the name of the church. Although God rejects prayers, yet we should pray on! Although He will not hear belated prayers to stop temporal judgments, yet He will not refuse prayer for the removal of sin or for graces to the soul. Supposing Noah, Job and Daniel would pray for removing temporal trouble, they would not be heard (Ezekiel 14:14). But you could be the most unworthy and wretched person there has ever been, and if you pray for removing sin, you cannot fail to be heard. God grants relief for the soul when there is none for the body.

They are treated with contempt

‘Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people’ (Lam. 3:45). Here Jeremiah laments that God had made them contemptible, like what is swept out of a house and thrown on the dunghill. Although these were the most honourable people under heaven, yet a nice looking Jew, man or woman, would not have fetched the price of a horse or a cow. Nobody would even buy them as slaves except for the most servile work.

But Jeremiah says it is God who has done this. ‘Thou hast made us …’ This is how the Lord gives a rejoinder to people for the contempt and disparagement they gave to His prophet, His Word, and His ordinances. He makes His own saints to be disparagingly thought of. As people regard God’s ordinances, let them expect to be regarded themselves.

You who let the Bible lie mouldering on the window ledge, you who content yourself with turning up to church without caring how much you profit by coming, but go home jesting at the Word and the preacher, be sure that God will despise you as you despised Him. If a temporal despising does not humble people in this life, they will be sure of a great despising in the day when God shall say, ‘Depart from me …’ The Lord shall say, ‘I rose early and late and sent my servants to pray and to preach to you and to offer reconciliation to you, but you rejected my offer and my word. I came and taught you from house to house, but you would not be taught. Therefore, go your way from me to the pit prepared for you. You and I shall never meet again.’ These people drew as near to God as any, but you see how for despising the offer of grace they are made as contemptible as any.

God is also just now, as He was then, and can do no less now in justice to us than He did to them, seeing we have given His Word and His messengers as great contempt as they did.

The Lord’s people are more honourable than any when the Lord is for them, but of all people they are the most contemptible when they defile their own glory by their sins, and procure at God’s hand exposure to shame. When someone makes a sincere profession they are most honourable, but when that same person belies their profession and defiles it by a lewd life, then they are most contemptible of anyone. Nothing is clearer among us than a torch or a candle, but nothing smells worse when it is put out. A professing Christian is beautiful when his holy life shines before the world, but he is the most stinking creature when he brings his profession to an end.

You who are professing Christians, be careful to keep your garments clean. Enjoy your place, your dignity, your honour, for you are called to be the sons of God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, citizens of the new Jerusalem and of the congregation of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. But if you dishonour God by an evil life, you will be made more vile than the basest servant. If the spouse of Christ defiles His bed in following her own desires and affections, what wonder if she is made more contemptible than anyone else under heaven?

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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

How effectively do we tell the difference between right and wrong?

How effectively do we tell the difference between right and wrong?

How effectively do we tell the difference between right and wrong?

Conscience is our ability to decide whether something is morally right or wrong according to some standard. Conscience needs information in order to judge accurately, but we are not always good at evaluating the information available to us, or indeed assessing whether we have done right or wrong ourselves, so as to take legitimate peace and comfort for well-doing and appropriate shame and trouble for evil-doing. Samuel Annesley published a sermon on the conscience with the aim of helping people come to the peace which comes from a good conscience. Conscience is basically either ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ but Annesley provides a further breakdown of different kinds of conscience. The four kinds discussed in the following extract from his sermon can belong to either the converted or the unconverted. Helpfully, Annesley provides an analysis of what causes each of these problems and how the troubling conscience can be remedied.

The erring conscience

An erring conscience is one which judges otherwise than the thing is. Conscience is sometimes deceived through ignorance of what is right, by taking a false rule for a true, or an error for the will of God, and sometimes through ignorance of the fact, by misapplying a right rule to a wrong action.

A wrongly informed conscience takes human traditions and false doctrines, put forward under the guise of divine authority, to be the will of God. A famous instance of this is the case of Jeroboam, who was afraid that if the people went up to sacrifice at Jerusalem, he would lose his kingdom. So a council is called, flattering prophets come, and they have dreams and visions suitable to their purpose. A decree is made: “You have in the past gone up to Jerusalem, but now, behold your gods! These calves are just like the cherubim of the sanctuary!” This seems to the people to be a satisfactory warrant for them to readily follow the king’s commandment.

Much discussion has been had over whether we are bound to follow our erring conscience. The plain truth is that error cannot bind us to follow it. An erring conscience may bind us in such a way that it may be a sin to go against it, but it can never bind in such a way that it is a virtue to follow it. The violation of conscience is always evil, and the following of an erring conscience is evil, but there is a middle way that’s safe and good, and that is, to have conscience better informed by God’s Word, and to follow it accordingly.

What causes an erring conscience?

Of course there is original sin, which blinds the understanding, and there is also the just judgement of God on persons who do not receive, obey, and love the truth as it is in Jesus. But here are three causes besides these.

Negligence about learning the will of God, through slothfulness, and love of ease, and low esteem of the ways of God (Ecclesiastes 4:5–6).

Being too proud to consult others and to be taught by them. Even the sincerely conscientious are not free from a kind of ‘proud modesty,’ in being too shy to make inquiry into practical cases. The ungodly arrogate so much to their own judgment, that they know as much as anyone can teach them.

Having inordinate affection about things of which we are ignorant. This warps our consideration, for anyone who seeks truth with a bias will run counter to it when he comes near it, and not find it though he comes within striking distance of it.

What is the remedy for an erring conscience?

You may gather the remedies from the opposites to these causes of error. Be industriously diligent to know your duty — be humbly willing to receive instruction — and do not let your affections outrun your judgment.

There is one further rule I shall commend. Do what you know to be your present duty, and God will acquaint you with your future duty when it comes to be present. Make it your business to avoid known omissions, and God will keep you from feared commissions. See the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 25:4–5 ‘Show me thy ways, O Lord …’ and the answer in verse 9, ‘The meek will he guide in judgment …’

The doubting conscience

A doubting conscience is one which with trouble and anxiety suspends its judgment, not knowing which way to determine. It is an ambiguity of mind which consists in a standing (or rather, a wavering) balance, neither assenting nor dissenting.

In fact, strictly speaking, a doubting conscience is not really a functioning conscience at all, because by definition conscience actually judges what has been done, or what is to be done, but where there is no assent, there is no judging.

When the apostle says, ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin,’ by ‘faith’ there we must understand that persuasion and security of mind by which we believe and judge that this thing either pleases or displeases God (it does not refer to justifying faith). In all duties we must be unweariedly diligent to perceive the truth, so as to drive away doubtfulness, for the more certain our knowledge of the things we do, the more confident we may be in doing them, and the more joyful afterwards.

What causes doubting?

Lack of reasons, or equally weighted reasons, so that when we weigh things most impartially, yet we are not able to come to a determination, but the mind is still in suspense.

Specific reasons. General reasons are not sufficient to make a conscientious doubt; the mind must be fixating on some particular reasons that need to be duly weighed. A doubting conscience is bad anyway, but people make it worse when their doubts lurk in generals — they only have some cloudy notions from without, or foggy mists from within, and they take no due course to clear any of them.

How can you answer a doubting conscience?

About lesser matters, take the safest course. In doubtful things, ordinarily one way is clear, so take that. But this rule will not reach all cases.

So, secondly, establish where your doubt lies. Be sure that it really is a case of conscience — not of self-interest, or of prejudice, but of conscience, such that you are unreservedly willing for it to be resolved, and you can in prayer bring God a blank cheque to write whatever He pleases. Pare off all those quibbling demurs and worldly reasonings which may puzzle you, but can never satisfy you.

Then, write down your case as plainly as you can, with the reasons for your hesitation. Make two columns. On the one side write those reasons you judge cogent in favour; on the other side, put the reasons you judge weighty against. Weigh these impartially. You will find that your perplexed thoughts look different when written down than when floating, and that your own ink will ordinarily kill this fetter.

If this does not resolve your doubts, it will at least make you ready for advice. When you consult others, ask with sincerity what was said to Jeremiah, ‘Pray for us, that the Lord thy God may show us the way wherein we may walk …’ (Jer. 42:2–6), and request of them especially scriptures and reasons. One case thoroughly resolved like this will be singularly useful for scattering all future doubts in all other cases.

The scrupulous conscience

A scrupulous conscience determines that a thing is lawful, yet scarcely to be done, lest it should be unlawful. There is anxiety, reluctancy and fear in the determination. A scruple in the mind is like gravel in your shoe, vexing and hurting the conscience, and disturbing the soul in performance of duties.

What causes scrupulousness?

I shall name only two causes (forbearing to mention our ignorance and pride).

Natural disposition. Some people are naturally timorous or fearful and their imagination takes a sad view of things, making the person timid.

Temptations. This is the chief cause. If Satan cannot keep the heart a secure prisoner, he will do his utmost to overwhelm it with fears and suspicions, and he suits his temptations according to our natural temperament. He does not tempt the riotous with rewards, nor the glutton to the glory of abstinence.

How can we help a scrupulous conscience?

Firstly, while you should not be discouraged with your scruples, yet I plead with you, do not indulge them. Scruples naturally tend to do much spiritual damage. They are occasions of sin; they make the ways of God seem too restrictive; they hinder the work of grace; they hinder cheerfulness in the service of God; they quench the Spirit; and they unfit us for duty. These are all reasons to strive against them.

But yet, do not be discouraged, for God through His over-powering grace can make good use of them — to further the mortification of sin in us; to restrain us from worldly vanities; to abate pride; to make us more watchful; to make us strive to be more spiritual; and to almost force us to live more on Christ.

But, secondly, if you want to have these benefits, you must use this other remedy. Do what you possibly can to get rid of your scruples. If you cannot get rid of them, act against them. It is not only lawful but necessary to go against a scrupulous conscience, otherwise you will never have neither grace nor peace. Should you avoid praying, or receiving the sacrament, every time your scrupulous conscience tells you that it’s better to omit the duty than perform it in such a manner? You would soon find to your sorrow the mischief of your scruples. Be resolute therefore, and tell the devil that as you do not perform your duty at his command, so neither will you omit it at his bidding. By performing your duties, your scrupulous fears will vanish. Meanwhile act against them by disputing them down, and opposing their reasons, and not hearkening to them.

The trembling conscience

The trembling conscience is disquieted and distressed with the (perceived) hazard of the soul’s condition, and does nothing but accuse and condemn and frighten the soul.

What causes a trembling conscience?

The twin cause of a trembling conscience is sense of sin and fear of wrath. ‘Never was there sin like mine! Never a heart like mine! Never a case like mine!’ Such are the constant complaints of a troubled spirit.

What is the cure for a trembling conscience?

It goes without saying, never take the devil’s advice. Break through all carnal reasonings to acquaint yourselves with some faithful spiritual physician, or experienced Christian, who may show you the methods of divine grace, and what has been successfully done by others who have been just in your condition.

In the midst of your saddest complaints, bless God that your conscience has been awakened while there is still hope of a cure. We should not be too quick in administering comforts, but we cannot be too quick in provoking ourselves to thankfulness. If you can at present be thankful that you are out of hell, you shall before long be thankful for assurance of heaven. This rule may seem strange, but (by experience) practicing it will show the excellency of it.

Observe that it is God’s usual method to bring the soul through these perplexities to the most solid spiritual peace. Augustine excellently expressed his spiritual conflict, how God followed him with severe mercy, till He made him insistent on thorough holiness. Believe it, Christian, God is now storing you with experiences which will be a useful treasury throughout your life. Only hold on in the vigorous use of all the means of grace.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

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