Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction

Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction

Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
29 Jul, 2021

A recent survey focused on questions of work and identity found quite a high level of dissatisfaction with employment. Only 16% said “I feel that in work I’m doing things that are really meaningful”, and just 10% “I believe my current work is part of my calling and vocation”. 30% said “I feel insecure about how long I will be able to hold on to my current job.” (January 2021 YouGov Poll for Theos). It is easy too make too much or too little of gainful employment. Job satisfaction is a modern concept in many ways but that is not to say it is not to some extent a biblical principle. Work is positive but it is still under the curse of the Fall and provides much weariness and vexation of spirit. Our problem is that we often tie our identity and status to our work, and this adds to our troubles. We need to find our satisfaction and contentment in working to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ecclesiastes shows the trouble that work along with other things can bring. When we seek our ultimate purpose in these things in themselves, we are quickly disappointed and frustrated. It presents these truths to wean our hearts from finding our highest good and purpose in the things of this world. But the book also presents a positive message of resting satisfied in living our lives before God to His glory. One of these passages is in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Amid the changing events of God’s providence, we can steer a steady course by seeking contentment in submitting to His will and doing all to His glory. Even the best circumstances should encourage us to follow our duty to our Maker and live for eternity in the midst of time. In Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 we are to respond to God’s goodness towards us by rejoicing in His gifts with a spiritual joy. We should enjoy God’s blessings (including work) as the good of all our efforts in our labours and we should do good (that which is well pleasing to God). Even this ability to enjoy them is the free gift of God (see How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way).

In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we are counselled to pursue the duties of our calling vigorously in the appropriate time and way. This comes in the context of pursuing life to the glory of God, including a lawful vocation (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). We are to exert the utmost of the ability which God gives, using the strength and comfort received by the use of His benefits to carry out our personal duties and responsibilities. Since time is short and we cannot pursue these things to the glory of God once body and soul are separated in death, we should make use of all strength and comforts to follow our calling now. Since our opportunities for work are limited we cannot make it our ultimate purpose for living. Rather we must make it serve our ultimate purpose, which is to glorify God.

Whatever our hand finds to do, we must do it with all our might. It is not about whether we find work that enhances our self-worth but about how we can best glorify God in all we do. We can do that now and do not need to wait for an opportunity to come up that we feel would better help us to maximise our gifts. That is true job satisfaction. Alexander Nisbet applies these principles further to gain the right Godward perspective on our calling in the following updated extract.

1. Job Satisfaction is the Gift of God

We should make best use of the Lord’s generosity in the variety of the outward comforts of this life. This is by being serious and diligent in the duties of our calling, watching every opportunity and exerting all the strength and cheerfulness of spirit acquired by the good things of God in doing Him service. If we do not do this, our table will become a snare to us and our comforts will be turned into curses. This is inferred from urging us to make cheerful use of the generous provision from God mentioned in Ecclesiastes 9:7-9.

2. Job Satisfaction IS IN EVERY OpportunitY

Men often have both the opportunity and power to do good but through neglect and carelessness are ready to let it slip. This is a very bad return to God for his generosity.  The Spirit of God therefore finds it necessary to stir us up to take hold of every opportunity of duty, as a proof of our thankfulness to God for His bounty.

3. Job Satisfaction is in Exerting Our Utmost

The utmost of our ability is to be shown in the discharge of every commanded duty, considering the danger of doing the work of the Lord negligently (Jeremiah 42:10). The more fervent, serious and vigorous we are in walking in the ways of the Lord, the more our strength will increase (Proverbs 10:29).

4. Job Satisfaction is in Glorifying God Now

The opportunity for these duties in which we can honour God and advance our own and other’s salvation is confined within the bounds of this life. Considering this should sharpen our minds to devise ways of honouring God and doing good to our own souls and others with the utmost of our abilities. This is a reason for diligence in our duty, while we have opportunity. There is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave.”

5. Job Satisfaction Has an Eternal Perspective

Everyone is in a continual journey towards their long home. Whether we are active or resting we are hasting towards that. We should see ourselves from this perspective and be moved to employ our time and strength to the utmost, in honouring God and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This verse speaks of everyone as being in a constant motion towards their grave. There is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave” to which they are going or hasting (as it may be translated).

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God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
21 Jul, 2021

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

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

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

A day of rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day of work

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

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

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

A day apart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day remembered

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

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

A day ahead

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

Something to think about

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

Personal reflection

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

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Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible

Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible

Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
13 Jul, 2021

It is not difficult to trust God when we can see how the promises can be fulfilled. We have outlined the future in our minds and think we know what God will do and when. But when all this changes and circumstances seem to make it impossible our minds are thrown into confusion and despair. Our fears take over and because we cannot see how God can glorify Himself in such circumstances we almost conclude it cannot happen. We wonder why He does not choose what seems to us the quickest, simplest way. It is because He is choosing the wisest way to bring most glory to Him and our faith is being tested and refined in the process. We are reminded that God’s glory, and not our personal preference, matters most.

Mary and Martha were in this situation. It seemed clear that if Christ came in good time Lazarus could be healed. They cannot understand why He would delay until after their brother had died and the situation was now impossible. Christ fully sympathised with them, but He intended to show them and others a greater view of His glory. His purpose was to strengthen and draw forth their faith (John 11:40). George Hutcheson explains more of this in the following updated extract.

1. God’s Glory is His Ultimate Aim

God so orders the affairs and conditions of his people that His glory may be manifested in and about them. This is His chief aim and end in all He does. Therefore, He describes the miracle as a manifestation of the glory of God, because this was His ultimate aim.

2. God’s Glory Should Matter Most to Us

It is the duty of the Lord’s people, to be more affected with the glory of God shining in His works, than with any particular advantage that they may receive from them. He declares, therefore, that the glory of God is more to be seen and to be taken notice of by her in this miracle than the raising up of her brother.

3. God’s Glory is Greater in the Greatest Difficulties

God’s people may be encouraged to expect His promise to be fulfilled, however impossible it may seem. They are encouraged by the fact that in doing so, He will not only do them good, but will get an occasion to show His own glory. His glory is, therefore, engaged to do them good. Since His glory is thus engaged, Martha does not need to be so anxious. The miracle is therefore, described as a manifestation of the glory of God.

4. God’s Glory is Anticipated by Faith

The way prescribed by God for saints to experience the manifestation of His glory for their good and comfort, is, first to give Him glory by believing Him and His Word. Where this is lacking it justly provokes Him not to display Himself. Martha is told that if she would believe she would see the glory of God (see Mark 6:6; Matthew 13:58; Luke 1:20, 45; John 1:50).

5. God’s Glory is Anticipated by Trusting His Word

Although faith may have many difficulties for the present to grapple with, the sweet fruits that follow from believing encourage us to believe so that we may partake of them. Although the stinking body of her brother now mars Martha’s faith, yet the outcome of faith pleads strongly for it. If in that situation she will venture to believe, her believing shall lead her to see the glory of God. God’s Word not carnal reason is the basis on which faith may thus venture itself and expect this lovely fruit. Martha is reminded that Christ had previously said to her and therefore she should believe to see.

6. God’s Glory is Denied by Unbelief

There are just grounds for sharp rebuke and conviction where God has given His word and it is not believed. Christ rebukes her by reminding her that she had been told that if she would believe she would see God’s glory (see Numbers 23:19).

Unbelief may often go under the disguise of a fair show of humility or a similarly commendable disposition. Yet, in Christ’s esteem it is an evil not to be tolerated but sharply reproved. It is an evil that should be removed quickly so that it does not get chance to take root. This is why He rebukes it so sharply and speedily.

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Why Reformation in Africa is a Key Priority

Why Reformation in Africa is a Key Priority

Why Reformation in Africa is a Key Priority
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
13 Jul, 2021

Africa’s population growth is exponential, it is doubling every thirty years and expected to surpass 2 billion by 2038. By 2060, six of the world’s ten largest Christian countries will be in Africa. Of course, the question is, what sort of Christian will that be? In 1910 there were 2 million identifying as Christians in Africa, today there are 650 million but 200 million of these are evangelicals. There are many opportunities for biblical truth but there are also many challenges. Scripture indeed holds out specific hope and promise for those labouring to bring greater reformation to Africa.

We are well aware of many challenges such as extreme poverty, conflict, corruption and disease among other challenges. There is also great spiritual poverty. Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training and biblical illiteracy and heresy wreak havoc. In some places Christians face persecution from Islamist extremist groups. These challenges are also opportunities and Scripture offers great encouragement in seeking to meet them with the truth of God’s Word. One particular passage is Zephaniah 3:9-10. This speaks of how God will make pure doctrine, worship and profession spread to many people both Jews and Gentiles in New Testament times. They will combine together in serving Him and helping one another in His obedience (v9). This unity and common profession is described as “a pure language” (see Isaiah 19:18). The Lord promises that He will gather them from the furthest parts of the world to seek Him and offer service to Him (v10). This promise is accomplished, partly in His gathering together in Christ His people dispersed throughout the world and its remotest corners (see John 11:52). The regions beyond Ethiopia are especially mentioned. These peoples will be included among the rest in a time of great blessing. George Hutcheson comments further on these verses in a way that is helpful for us.

1. The Lord Will Gather His Church in Africa

It is cause for praise to God and of encouragement to the godly that however it goes with nations, God will not lack a Church. He may gather it from among pagan Gentiles and those of whom there is little apparent hope. He will get many people, even from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.

2. The Lord Will Reform His Church in Africa

Purity of doctrine, worship and profession is the glory of a gospel Church. It is a glorious work of God to make it so and keep it so. The Lord says, “I will turn to the people a pure language” or pure doctrine and profession instead of their idolatrous and blasphemous imaginations and ways.

3. The Lord Will Reform His Church in Africa Thoroughly

Purity of doctrine, worship and profession do not consist in a lawless liberty or a toleration to think or say whatever people want to. Rather it is conjoined with and carried on by a united uniformity. This is the rich fruit and recompense of much trouble, so it is to be expected in the Lord’s time and measure. After much trouble (v8) they shall have a pure language, they will serve Him with one consent (literally shoulder) even in that pure language (see Jeremiah 32:39; Zechariah 14:9).

Unanimity in the matters of God and the free access of Jew and Gentile to serve God is a great mercy of the kingdom of Christ. When those who seek God are of one heart and all put their hands to help one another without obstructing or lying idle it is a sign of thriving in serving God. This is also included in the promise as a great blessing and a means of much good, “they shall serve him with one consent.”

The true marks of a converted and spiritual people are being much in calling on God, making use of Him in all things, and giving up themselves entirely to be His servants. To testify their subjection and thankfulness they put their hands to His service as far as they are called to do so. They will do everything as service to Him and bring their worship, themselves, or others, as they are able to offer them up to Him. They described here in this way “they all call on the name of the Lord”, when they get the pure language, they are suppliants, they serve Him, and bring His offering.

4. The Lord Will Reform His Church in Africa in His Time

The Lord will not lose any of His elect, however far they are scattered throughout the world. He will recover His own, when their condition shows they are afar off and driven into exile, without hope or probability of return. The Lord will in due time seek after and recover His ancient people, now for a scattered long time. This will lead to a reviving of His service in the world. For “from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, he will seek the daughter of his dispersed, and cause them to come”. At this time there will be suppliants and offerings brought and serving Him with one consent.

Conclusion

Reformation in Africa should be a key priority for our prayers and endeavours. There are many church and mission endeavours that can be prayerfully supported, among them Reforming Africa Ministries, The Liberia Project and The Gambia Partnership.

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Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
8 Jul, 2021

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

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

1. Pressures Can Help Spiritual Growth

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

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

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

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

2. Pressures Wean Us From the World

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

3. Pressures Help Us Grow in Understanding

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

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

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

4. Pressures Draw Us More into Our Own Hearts

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

5. Pressures Drive Us Nearer to God

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

6. Pressures May Bring God’s Presence 

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

Conclusion

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

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Learning From God’s Care for the Unborn

Learning From God’s Care for the Unborn

Learning From God’s Care for the Unborn
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
7 Jul, 2021

During the time when we were making every effort to protect the lives of the vulnerable in society, greater numbers than ever of the most vulnerable perished. It was not any accident but entirely intentional. Abortion rates have only increased in the UK during the past year. In Scotland, more than twice as many lives were lost to abortion during 2020 as Covid or excess deaths. It is a heart-breaking reality that ought to grieve us. Worldwide, one in four pregnancies (25%) ends in abortion. Thankfully, a proposed amendment by one MP to decriminalise abortion entirely was withdrawn this week. It would have allowed abortion for any and every reason or none. We need to remind ourselves of how God reveals His care for the unborn to increase our concern for them.

David praises God’s care for him in the womb in Psalm 139:13-17.  We are helped to meditate on this in the following updated extract from David Dickson.  Dickson shows how David wonders at God’s exact knowledge of and power in relation to him. He formed him in the womb in an amazing way.

1. An All-Knowing and All-Powerful Care

God made us in the womb, and we live and move, and subsist by His power. It is impossible therefore for God not to know our words, works, thoughts and everything so that He has us always in His sight and under His power.

2. A Constant Care

The knowledge of God and His management of the creature is not like a man’s, who sets himself for a while on this object and then turns off to another object. God’s knowledge and management are a settled possession of His own workmanship. He does this by constantly beholding and settled regulating His work, by constantly maintaining and judging the most secret motion of a person’s spirit.

3. A Protective Care

The Lord in framing our bodies in our mother’s womb covered His tender work with His mighty power as with a shield from all troubles.

4. An Amazing Care

The right sight of God’s workmanship in our very bodies will force us to praise God’s unspeakable wisdom. David praises God because he is fearfully made. When God is seen in His glory in anything, His majesty becomes terrible to the beholder, His glory is so bright. We are “fearfully made.” When we do not consider Lord’s rare works aright they seem very common, so when His common works are thoroughly considered, they become very wonderful, “I am wonderfully made.“ The right sight of any one of God’s works gives light on all His works and shows them all to be wondrous or marvellous.

5. A Thought-Provoking Care

It is profitable for our soul when God’s work in our bodies is well grasped through careful consideration. As the Lord acquaints us with His works, we should observe them well, and bear witness to what we observe for His glory. David does this by saying that his soul knows these things “right well.”

6. An Intricate Care

God knows what He is making in His framing of our bodies. Neither darkness nor the distance of heaven from earth, nor any other impediment hinders Him in working. Making a person’s body of so many bones, arteries, veins, sinews etc. is a most intricate piece of work.

7. A Comprehensive Care

God sees things before they are made, and His purpose to make has no less clarity of knowledge of the thing to be made, than when it has been made. God in His decree to do, knows the thing to be done, as fully as when it is done. The Lord’s decrees concerning things to be done are so clear, so determinate, so certain as if the description and history of the thing were written in a book has something that had already happened. David uses the comparison of a written book to show the nature of God’s decrees.

8. A Precious Care

Rare wisdom can be learned from God’s decrees and works. The efforts that anyone takes to search them out is well recompensed with pleasure and profit, as David’s experience teaches us. He finds all God’s thoughts towards him to be precious. We should study this wisdom until we find it to be sweet, and then lay it up like a precious jewel in our mind when we have found it. All God’s revealed decrees are the substance of a believer’s comfort and joy, however harsh they seem to the unbeliever and unregenerate person. David says they are “precious to me.” The innumerable particular aspects of God’s purpose and decrees which are fulfilled daily towards His own children come to light from time to time. David says, “How great is the sum of them? if I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.”

Conclusion

We ought to be humbled by the Lord’s minute care for us from the very beginning of our existence until now. If God has exercised such care towards us in our unborn state, how great ought to be our concern and care for those that are unborn in their most vulnerable condition. It ought to grieve us that any should perish wilfully. Scripture tells us to open our “mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction” (Proverbs 31:8). Our wonder at God’s care for us ought to be a motivation to do what we can for such. It should also provide us with reasons to open our mouths in prayer on behalf of the unborn.

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How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Jun, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. How Should We Engage Our Words in Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. How Should We Engage Our Thoughts in Prayer?

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

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

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

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

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

(b) Thoughts of God’s Fatherly Relation

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

(c) Thoughts of God’s attributes

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

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

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

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

3. How Should We Engage Our Affections in Prayer?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

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Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
29 Jun, 2021

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

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

1. What Do We Mean by Honourable?

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

2. Marriage Was Honourable in its Institution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Marriage is Honourable in its Purposes

There are three main purposes.

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

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

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

4. Marriage is Honourable in its Privileges

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

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

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

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

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

5. Marriage is Honourable in What it Represents

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

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

Further Help

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

 

 

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How Christ Taught Us to Pray for Reformation

How Christ Taught Us to Pray for Reformation

How Christ Taught Us to Pray for Reformation
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
24 Jun, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. How is this a Prayer for Reformation?

We pray that:

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

2. How is this a Prayer for Personal Reformation?

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

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

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

3. How is this a Prayer for Church Reformation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

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

Meaningful, in-person interactions have certainly been less plentiful in recent months. With some exceptions, it seems like maintaining conversations has been a challenge in the distancing circumstances. Quite a few report they now feel more awkward in interacting in this way. Having less to talk about and difficult issues to navigate does not help greatly. Arguably this was difficult enough before in an increasingly fragmented community. The most meaningful conversations are those that build us up and help us make progress in the Christian life. It may be a good time to remind ourselves how important those interactions are and how we can make best use of this kind of fellowship.

In the past godly conversation was given greater emphasis. Private gatherings took place where people discussed spiritual things and offered advice to help each other grow in grace. People like Richard Baxter were very practical in offering conversation starters. It might be a sermon heard, something read, some difficulty or other experience. James Durham said that Christ’s worth was a great subject to be taken up with by Christians in their fellowship together “to be spending their mutual conferences on that subject for one another’s instruction”.

Such conversation was encouraged by men like David Dickson, Samuel Rutherford and John Livingstone. During the times of persecution in Scotland people could only attend field preaching when it was available but at other times they might gather in societies of up to a dozen people. Here they could discuss spiritual things as well as read and pray. One student for the ministry, Walter Smith drew up some guidance for these gatherings and the following is an updated extract. present Some of this is still helpful more generally for spiritual fellowship. It is notable that when he was put to death on the scaffold, the very last word he spoke was one of mutual encouragement.

“I have one word more to say, and that is, to all that have any love to God, and His righteous cause, that they will set time apart, and sing a song of praise to the Lord for what He has done to my soul, and my soul says, to Him be praise.”

1. EDIFYING Conversation is Required

It is the duty of private Christians to meet together for their mutual edification by prayer and conferring together (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25). This has been the laudable and much commended practice of the people of God in all ages, both under the Old and New Testament. We find it in Malachi 3:16 and it seems to have been the practice of the Lord’s people in their captivity at Babylon (Psalm 137). For what other purpose did they go and sit by the rivers of Babylon but to remember Zion, both in their prayers to God and in their conversation?

Likewise we find frequently in the Acts of the Apostles that it was practised by the earliest Christians. Beyond all question this duty has been attended by remarkable benefits both to the work of God publicly and to the private condition of individuals. They have found to their comfort many blessed fruits and effects following upon their conscientious performance of this duty. It has frequently been observed that true and serious religion thrives most in the places within the churches of Scotland where this duty is most practised. Such individuals are ordinarily the most useful members both in Church and community.

The wilful neglect of this duty is no small sin therefore. Such a neglect tends very much to discourage those who are seeking to do this duty conscientiously. It is greatly to be wished that both ministers and experienced Christians, were more active in stirring up themselves and others to do this more diligently and constantly. This is especially necessary in such a day of trial, in which the Lord, by His holy and wise providence is giving His people very loud calls to be serious and diligent in all commanded duties.

2. EDIFYING Conversation is Easily Diverted

Beware of being diverted from this by talking about worldly affairs or public news, except as it may be useful for stirring up to prayer and thanksgiving.

3. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Dismissive

All undervaluing or giving the least appearance of slighting others in their conversation must be carefully avoided (Philippians 2:3). A person may be weak in knowledge and other things yet more real and solely devoted to God’s glory in their heart, this is what is most acceptable to God. Beware in particular of disdainfully slighting any answer given to a question event though it may be weak and not so . but let the more judicious and expert make the best use of it they can, for the person’s and the rest’s edification.

4. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Controversial

(a) Let nothing be brought up which tends only to satisfy curiosity.

(b) Let no question be brought up about any high point of theology, in which there are great difficulties, such as the decrees of God, predestination, election.

(c) Be very sparing in asking questions about the exact meaning and interpretation of Scriptures, especially passages which are harder and more difficult (2 Peter 3:16). It is the role of ministers to expound or explain the Scriptures and individual Christians should not presume to do this (Hebrews 5:4). Christ has appointed pastors in His church as a distinct office for interpreting and applying Scripture for the people’s edification. Where individual Christians have sought to be expositors it has brought dangerous consequences, including error, contention and division into the Church of Christ. Yet it may tend to promote knowledge and understanding if everyone imparts any light they have received either by reading, hearing, or in any other way. This will serve for the mutual good and edification of the rest by way of conversation. They should still beware of getting entangled with obscure passages of Scripture.

(d) Beware of bringing up any subject for discussion about this that are a matter of controversy among godly ministers and professing Christians.

(e) Let nothing be brought up that may cause needless animosities, contentions and debates. These tend mar love and edification. Rather make the questions such as concern practical matters and how to order our lives. They will then be holy and not a stumblingblock and have the greatest tendency to stir up the grace of God, put to death corruptions, and preserve each other from snares and temptations.

5. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Contentious

If contention or debates are likely to arise about any subject you converse about, it is dangerous to persist. It is rather the best godly prudence to stop and go to prayer.

6. EDIFYING Conversation is Faithful

There is an expectation that those who profess more than others should do more than others. Therefore, our lives must be consistent with the gospel and our profession. This will commend the way of God to those with whom we have everyday contact and discourage sin. In particular, guard against vain and idle conversation (Colossians 4:6) which is very stumbling and hardening to the wicked and tends very much eat out the life of religion. If someone needs a timely reproof from another for any fault they may be guilty of, it is certainly their duty to take the reproof kindly (Psalm 141:5).

7. EDIFYING Conversation is Discreet

Beware of divulging or revealing anything said or done to the offence or prejudice of another Christian. Rather we ought to sympathise kindly with one another (Ephesians 4:12; Romans 12:15-16).

8. EDIFYING Conversation is Prayerful

But more especially, they should love, sympathize, and pray for one another in secret and weep when anyone weeps, and rejoice with all such. They should be importunate with the Lord to go with them and meet with them before they meet together, that it may be for the better and not for the worse.

The Lord in His sovereignty manifests Himself to whom He will, when, where, and as He will. Sometimes He will withhold the influences of His Good Spirit, so that there is a darkness in their minds, and deadness upon their spirits, that the duty of prayer and conversation is not refreshing to them. Let everyone earnestly search out the causes; be humble and mourn, long and pray for His return.

At other times the Lord may be pleased to manifest himself and give light, life and liberty so that prayer and conversation are refreshing and reviving to them. They should then be humble, and express their great thankfulness, and bless his gracious name and pray for it to be continued. They should seek to steer a steady course at all times, places, situations and company, abounding in all the duties of Christianity so that all may notice that they have been with Jesus.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

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The Church has a Debt Problem

The Church has a Debt Problem

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

Problem debt in society is only increasing in our culture. Future generations will also incur significant national debt as a consequence of current decisions. When we think of the church having a debt problem it is something other than financial. In spiritual terms, we owe a debt of glory and love to God. We owe a debt of truth to others in testifying to grace and the revealed will of God. This is something required of us as individuals as well as a body. We owe it to everyone now and in the future, indeed if we fail to do it properly now it will affect coming generations. We need to present this to them in the most faithful, winsome and compelling way we can. That is a debt of vast consequence, and have we even maintained the minimum payments on it? Ignoring this debt will not make it go away, in fact, it will only increase.

If you have a debt problem the advice is sound and clear. First, make a list of all you owe; second, list them in order of importance and third, start to work out how you can pay them off. Although it is different, the same advice is sound for the spiritual debt we are thinking of. Robert Fleming explains more in this updated extract about what this spiritual debt involves and how we are to pay it.

1. We Owe a Testimony to the Gospel

It is clear, that those who believe and receive the testimony of Jesus Christ, set their seal to it to certify that He is true. They subscribe (as it were) to the truth and doctrine of the gospel (John 3:33). There is a special debt on each Christian to bear witness that God is true. Those who have an assurance of grace confirmed to them owe a special debt to the truth and faithfulness of their God (often confirmed to them) to give Him the glory of His faithfulness (Psalm 89:1).

2. We Owe a Testimony in Our Lives

It is also clear that manifesting the power of godliness and the virtues of He who has called them is required through the whole course of a Christian’s life as a living and visible witness to these things.

3. We Owe a Testimony to Others

The converted person with their new discovery of the truth on first entering the Christian life is like someone who has come into another world. They have a special call and advantage for engaging in such a duty. They can commend by testimony to others what God has so marvellously commended to their own soul? They lack no opportunity to let the world know and wonder at such a change. Though once they were blind, now they see. They know assuredly that the truth is the power of God to salvation, not just through the report and testimony of others since now they see it with their own eyes. Their duty after being converted is to strengthen their brethren (Luke 22:32).

4. We Owe a Testimony from Experience

When a Christian has received a new seal of the faithfulness of God they have a new debt to give a good report and witness to the truth especially if they have harmed it in any way by fearful doubts and fainting from it. Their testimony will have the special benefit of confirming others in the way of the Lord because their formers fears were so obvious. Hezekiah after such a remarkable fall and fainting testifies in this way (Isaiah 38:15) as does David (Psalm 31:22).

5. We Owe a Testimony When the Truth is Attacked

There is a debt to the least truth of Scripture owed by those who profess it. This is especially so in a time of suffering when they have a special opportunity to witness to it and confess it by adhering closely to it. Some have a more special call and greater opportunity to do this than others. But sealing and confirming the truth is like a great public treasure store and the least Christian does not lack an opportunity to cast into it their mite. When we see atheism abounding public and the truth and faithfulness of God are challenged, this calls loudly to the godly person to attest it by some more obvious testimony than at other times. When it is the lot of a Christian to be amongst a generation of mockers, they will not lack opportunity and a special call to own the truth by a Christianly weighty and prudent witness. They are obliged to seal the truth even though no one else will. It is a call when the faithfulness of his God so often proved in their experience is brought into question by others. To David, this was like a sword that thrust him through, and he could not bear it when they said unto him, “Where is your God?”

6. We Owe a Testimony After Trials

After a time of remarkable trial, when the Christian comes safe to land after a storm, there is a new debt to bear witness to such a new manifestation of the truth and faithfulness of God. They make known the benefit received by the affliction and by their testimony may endear the way of the Lord to others. Job, after a long-continued storm of being afflicted, comes at the end to pay his debt to the truth by his seal and testimony (Job 42:5). Many after the storm can testify to the help of the Lord (Isaiah 48:21).

A Christian’s experience of the faithfulness of God is a special trust and debt owed to the truth, a talent put in their hand to manage (Psalm 66:16). This practice would greatly enrich Christian fellowship (Malachi 3:16) in mutual joy and establishment in the truth in a time when the benefit of serving the Lord is in question. We should not be hindered from it because others do it with an empty show and counterfeit.

When we have experience manifold trials and troubles we must let others who observe us know that we are satisfied with God and can rest securely on His Word when we have no resting place elsewhere. The apostle pays his debt in testifying that he is “persecuted, yet not forsaken; cast down, yet not destroyed” and saying “having nothing, I possess all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

7. We Owe a Testimony in Death

This Christian is specially called to this duty at the close of their days. Then they must pay this debt by commending the way of the Lord and confirming others in it. Would it not be an excellent appendix to the last will and testament of a dying Christian to seal with their last breath the faithfulness of God. Their words carry more weight then than at other times. They can witness that through the various steps of their life they know that God is true and has helped them until now. It is the last service of a dying Christian to their generation, to deliver to them the truth received and often proved. This is an excellent legacy to bequeath to others.

8. We Owe a Testimony to God’s Faithfulness

Christian wisdom can direct us on how to testify as we have an opportunity in our present circumstances. But is certain that each Christian is a witness on behalf of the faithfulness of God, to attest that God is true. There is an implicit seal by believing, but something more explicit is called for in times when the reality of godliness is so explicitly assailed as fanaticism. Throughout Scripture, believers are concerned to maintain a remembrance of the faithfulness of God and convey a lasting testimony to it (1 Samuel 7:12). No mercy is so small that God’s faithfulness is not engraved on it (Genesis 32:10).

9. We Owe a Testimony in Suffering

When the Christian is called to suffer for a particular truth they are also called to confess the faithfulness of God. They bear witness to the world that they are not ashamed of the cross of Christ because they know whom they have believed (even though others may choose sin, rather than affliction and so make God a liar).

10. We Owe Future Generations Clear Truth

There is a public debt on the Church in every generation to seal the truth to the ages to come and witness to the faithfulness of God. Scripture is clear on this and explicitly prophecies that it will happen (Psalm 145:4-6). One generation after another should seal the truth to another and thus carry forward a witness to it. Each time has some special debt to pay to posterity arising from a new addition to the great and remarkable works of the Lord. The greater the things witnessed by His works for the Church in one age more than another, the greater the debt. The Church must record and transmit the works of the Lord and the memory of His goodness to future times.
This is even more so when we live in times in which many seek to shake and unsettle people as to this great foundation. It would be desirable if the records of every age as they concern the Church, were clearer in recording a history of the verification of the truth and the way in which Scripture has been notably confirmed. In this way, one age would declare its faithfulness to the next, an excellent service if it is done carefully and wisely.

11. We Owe Future Generations Pure Truth

The Church owes posterity a debt to transmit the truth purely without damaging it. The oracles of God are committed to the Church and she is responsible for this in every generation. The truth of God has been more sharply assaulted with the greatest opposition and this makes this debt the greater. In every age, there are some to testify to the truth and each Christian is bound to do so. But no private activity can make up for a public witness. The enemy is not private but public and so a more solemn, authoritative and united testimony is then called for by the Church. This witness will be of benefit to the generations to come to see how their fathers held out and wrestled to keep their ground in defence of the gospel. It is like setting up another barrier to guard against a further breach when the enemy comes in like a flood. The confessions of the Church in every age in giving public testimony to the truth, although followed by clear danger and suffering have been more effectual in conserving the truth than all disputes. They overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:7).

12. We Owe Future Generations the Whole Truth

The Church also has a special debt to posterity to contend for the truth once delivered to the saints (which cannot be altered during this period before the second coming). This is not only true concerning more fundamental matters, we cannot profess such a zeal to these as makes us indifferent to other concerns of the truth. Can a piece of truth held forth in the Scripture be of such low value, to warrant abandoning or surrendering it if brought in question? One line of the truth is of more inestimable worth than the crowns and sceptres of all the monarchs of the earth. God who declares heaven and earth should fall before one tittle of his word perish gives it a different value. Can those be faithful in greater things who are not in those which are little? It is all too clearly seen, how a small surrender makes a great breach. Truths which are comparatively small may be great in their own time when they are the word of Christ’s patience. The lesser its value is with many, the greater testimony required by a Christian’s adherence to it. The truths of God declared in Scripture are so closely connected together that one part cannot be attacked without special harm to the whole. Every corruption of the truth aims at the very soul of religion.

13. We Owe Future Generations True Godliness

The Church has a debt to transmit truth and godliness to posterity not in a bare form only, but in with its life and power. Throughout a large part of the reformed Church the truth once shone brightly with much glory and warmth in many places. The truth and worship of God may still indeed be professed there, but the power and spirituality of it is a strange and unknown thing. We might ask whether the influences of the Holy Spirit are experienced there. Is there such a thing as real fellowship and converse with God in public and private worship?
There is great cause to fear that the shadow and form will soon be gone when the power of it is so great a mystery. The tide seems to have gone back so far with little expectation of its return. Only the faithfulness of God gives us hope for the Church of Christ. Fervent prayer in the most dark and dismal times of the Church’s condition has brought marvellous help in extremity. The least of the saints have an opportunity in this way to do great service to the whole Church and to seek to recover the power of godliness now so far gone.

Conclusion

Prayer is essential to seek wisdom to identify the opportunity and manner in which we ought to testify to God’s truth. We also need wisdom to see any ways in which we are passing by the opportunity to give clear witness on the Lord’s behalf. Although we may never meet them, we owe future generations in Christ’s Church a debt to convey to them as much as we possibly can of the truth and reality of the faith. That is a very large debt but there is sufficient grace in God to meet its demands. 

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What We Give and Receive in Gathering Together

What We Give and Receive in Gathering Together

What We Give and Receive in Gathering Together
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
1 Jun, 2021

What are some of the unique blessings of gathering together for worship? What have we missed when it was not available? It is not simply a matter of what we have not received personally. Our responsibility is to give just as much as receive. Primarily we give worship to God and also receive spiritual blessings. The Lord’s people are also meant to strengthen one another as one body, we are not meant to “go it alone”. One coal taken out of the fire cannot preserve its heat like those that are together in the fire. We need each other and there are many mutual duties we owe to one another as we gather for worship more publicly and fellowship more privately.

Much has been written recently about the importance of gathering together physically, there are many aspects to consider. One of these is our mutual duty, giving and receiving from one another. There is a lot more involved in coming together than simply occupying the same location as individuals. We are able to consider one another and edify one another in provoking each other to love and good works as we obey the command to gather (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are required to be helpful and a support to each other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). 

Gathering together also strengthens us in a time of difficulty, darkness and discouragement. We read of this in Malachi 3:16-17 and of God’s special approval, reward and promise. As John Brown of Wamphray asks, “would not this encourage Christians to meet together? What will do it, if this will not do it?”

As John Brown also observes gathering together for worship has often brought rich spiritual blessings in the experience of believers. When the Holy Spirit blesses such gatherings in this way they receive “life and quickening grace” and have often “found their souls revived and their hearts enlarged, their eyes enlightened, their drooping spirits encouraged, their feeble knees lifted up, their doubts answered and cleared, and their souls lifted up in the ways of the Lord, and strengthened to turn the battle to the gate and to stand against corruption”.

John Brown goes on to speak of some general comprehensive “one another” duties required of Christians, which will necessarily require their meeting together or show it to be necessary.

  • They are commanded frequently to love one another (John 13:34 and 15:12 & 17; Romans 13:8;1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 3:11 and 4:7 & 12; John 13:35; 1 Thessalonians 3:12). Just as love in other communities necessarily effects frequent assembling together, Christian love draws Christians together for the ends and purposes which love spurs them to do to each to other.
  • They must be kindly affectioned one toward another (Romans 12:10) as parents to their children. Is it not an ordinary thing to see parents and children together?
  • They must be of one mind and of one mouth (Romans 15:5-6; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27 and 2:2, 10; 1 Peter 3:8). And how is this possible unless they meet together to communicate their minds to each other and to pray to God for light in any point of difference?

Gathering together therefore helps to nourish union, standing fast in one Spirit, striving together for the faith of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27). No doubt we can encourage one another by engaging together in the same worship but these duties also require an individual interest in each other. In the following updated extract John Brown of Wamphray focuses on twelve “one another” duties emphasised in the New Testament need us to come together and interact with each other.

1. Giving and Receiving Encouragement to Love and Good Works

They must consider one another so provoke unto love and to good works (Hebrews 10:24). And this will necessarily imply their familiarity with other and assembling together frequently to provoke to love and good works.

2. Giving and Receiving Exhortations

They must exhort one another (Hebrews 10:25 and Hebrews 3:13). Can this be done if they cannot confer together and assemble for this purpose?

3. Giving and Receiving Comfort

They must comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11). They must meet together and speak together for this purpose and pray that God would bless the means and press home the words of comfort.

4. Giving and Receiving Edification

They must edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And is it possible for them to do this duty and live as strangers to one another? This duty of edifying one another is a very comprehensive thing. It necessarily implies the saints assembling frequently together so that one may be helpful, strengthening and encouraging to another.

5. Giving and Receiving Instruction

They must admonish one another (Romans 15:13). This means to press or urge a thing on the mind of another and so instruct them aright as children are instructed. This requires that they must often be together for this purpose.

6. Giving and Receiving in Singing Praise

They must teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16) and can this be done unless they assemble together?

7. Giving and Receiving Practically

They must be kind (literally useful or profitable) one to another (Ephesians 4:32) and this requires that they must not be strangers to each other.

8. Giving and Receiving in Serving One Another

They must serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). That is, they should in love spend themselves for one another for their spiritual advantage and does this not require assembling together?

9. Giving and Receiving in Accepting One Another

They must receive one another (Romans 15:7). that is, receive with affection and embrace, one another: And must they then be frightened of the company of one another? And not rather receive other into their intimate fellowship?

10. Giving and Receiving in Submission

They must be subject to one another (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5). Everyone should be ready to give, and to take reproofs to and from one another as well as to do service to each other as we are called to. This requires that they must not live as strangers to each other.

11. Giving and Receiving in Prayer for Each Other

They must confess their sins to one another and pray for another (James 5:16).

12. Giving and Receiving in Spiritual Gifts

They must minister their gifts to one another (1 Peter 4:10).

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article How Can Your Church Have More Loving Fellowship? It summarises a brief book that presents updated guidance from John Owen. It helps us answer the question: what are some practical biblical steps we can all take to increase loving fellowship in our congregations?

Rules for Walking in Fellowship gives you 22 guidelines for biblical church life. This book will help you identify and understand key biblical passages about fellowship. Its concise counsel will also motivate you to want to live out these principles. You will learn how to: foster true gospel fellowship; better support your pastor and have better relationships with fellow church members.

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