The Beauty of Christian Unity in a World of Division

The Beauty of Christian Unity in a World of Division

The Beauty of Christian Unity in a World of Division
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
18 Oct, 2019

Living in a western culture that is ever polarising in terms of values, ideas and political views, we get used to division. The sheer multitude of diverse contributions seems to highlight the absence of unity. Divisive rhetoric is the norm in a cacophony of voices and opinions. Christian values are frequently attacked with uncompromising hatred. Reconciliation and harmony seem unthinkable as well as unattainable. The fault lines can sometimes seem so deep that they are compared to a kind of civil war. The Church can also be the battleground of polarising notions and methods. Where we might most expect to see unity, we see division. How can we display the attractiveness of true unity in a world that is more divided than ever?

Anthony Burgess ministered in just such a period of division. He became involved in a project to unite the whole of the British Isles in the same doctrinal standards and church order. It was a unity that prioritised the truth. Besides the Westminster Assembly, he engaged in important defence of vital doctrines such as justification, original sin and the moral law.

In expounding John chapter 17 Burgess emphasises both the spiritual and visible unity that should exist within the Church. It is not a man-made unity that compromises the whole counsel of God. Burgess deals realistically and honestly with the divisions that exist amongst Christ’s people and the reasons for them. He does not accept that lack of unity is inevitable but boldly calls it what it is according to Scripture: sin.

Burgess gives practical counsel in this area in demonstrating the spirit that Christians ought to have one to another. He will not allow us simply to show regret and concern but do nothing about the divisions of the Church. We are under the strongest obligations, not only to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6) but also to do what we can. In the following extract from his sermons on John 17 he shows the attractiveness of unity.

UNITY IS SPIRITUALLY HELPFUL

Unity is necessary, because by this means a serviceable and beneficial helping one another in spiritual things is preserved. The people of God are compared to living stones built up together. While the stones keep in the building, they support one another, but if they are removed, it falls down. They are compared to members in the body. While they are joined together, there is a mutual ministration to each other, but when divided from the body, no part can receive any nourishment.

So it is here. While the people of God are in union, oh the wonderful help they are to one another! They provoke one another to good works and they stir up one another’s graces. But take these coals away from one another, and then the fire goes out!

And this may be the reason why our Savior does not mention the sanctification and holiness of believers, but their unity, because unity is a special means of preserving and increasing holiness. ‘Two are better than one,’ because of heat and of help, says the wise man (Ecclesiastes 4:10). So it is in this work of grace, two are better than one to warm one another. How greatly your zeal might help against another’s lukewarmness, and your faith against another’s diffidence! If it is so great a sin to see your brother in temporal need, and not relieve him, how much more is it a sin to see him in spiritual need, and fail to help him? He is to be restored (Galatians 6:1). Put this bone in joint again.

Experience tells us that where there are divisions and discord, there is no love, no compassion, no watching over one another. If this unity were established, a man would then strive for the growth of grace in others, as in himself. And therefore, observe that the power of godliness greatly abates when differences arise. There is not that heavenly communion, nor hearty concurrence in the ways of holiness, nor that mutual help of one another, as at other times.

UNITY SANCTIFIES

Unity amongst the godly is so necessary that God many times permits sad and heavy persecutions to befall them. This is so that their discords and divisions may be removed, and they may be more endeared to one another. Times of prosperity in the church produced the greatest heresies and schisms, but the times of bloody persecution made the godly more united. Thus, the martyrs, some of them in Queen Mary’s days, bewailed their differences and the contests they formerly had with one another, but prison and persecution made them highly prize one another. Joseph’s brethren in their plenty envied and fell out with one another, but in their distress they were glad to cleave together.

If sheep are scattered one from another, when a sudden storm arises, it makes them all huddle together. It may be that although just now the godly are so censorious, so shy, so strange to one another, God may in time work so that they will be glad to enjoy one another, glad to have communion with each other. One godly man’s company may then be worth more to you than the gold of Ophir.

If love and godliness do not unite you, take heed lest God sends some out-ward trouble and affliction to put you together. If you do not embrace one another willingly, He may bind you in His chains together. His promise to Judah and Israel, of making the two sticks one, was after the cruel enmity and opposition which had been amongst them.

UNITY STRENGTHENS

Unity confirms and establishes the church. The old rule is that strength united is stronger. Sunbeams united together send out greater heat. It is union in an army, in a nation, in any society, that preserves it. As a wise man said, public societies are immortal, if they do not kill themselves by division. Our Savior confirmed this, when He said, ‘No kingdom divided against itself can stand’ (Matthew 12:25). He brings this in as an argument to show that He did not cast out devils by the help of devils, but by the Spirit of God. Thus, if the people of God cast out error and profaneness by God’s Spirit, then they will not entertain error and profaneness themselves; for this would be to set a kingdom at variance within itself. The old rule is, ‘Divide and conquer.’

It was a unique providence that Christ’s bones should not be broken, to demonstrate by this (some say) that though Christ died, yet He did not lose His strength. We must justly fear that God has some heavy scourge on the godly when they are first divided. If their bones are broken, their strength is weakened, but their evil and misery will not stop there.

Thus, it is a very foolish and weak thing in the godly to continue in their divisions. Do they not have mighty and numberless enemies? Does not the whole world hate them? Is not the world as wolves to the godly, who are as sheep? Now if not only the wolf and the fox, but also one sheep shall devour another, must not this bring utter ruin? The apostle Paul speaks fully of this danger (Galatians 5:15). Observe the notable expression, ‘biting and devouring one another.’ How unnatural this is to sheep! It is dogs that do this! And further, by this means you will consume one another. What the devils of hell, and all your wicked adversaries could not do, you will do to one another. Do not look not on your differences as mere sins, but as heavy omens of God’s wrath. When the veil in the temple rent in pieces, this was a presage of the destruction of the temple.

UNITY IS BEAUTIFUL

Unity is a most comely and beautiful thing to see. It is a ravishing thing to behold such a harmony amongst the godly! Therefore, its completeness will be in heaven. There those many thousands will all have one heart and one tongue to praise God. There will be no difference. One shall not have one way of seeing God, and another, another way. There will be no censuring, such as using reproachful terms one against another. Now the nearer the people of God come to this on earth, the more similar they are to glorified saints in heaven, and to those innumerable companies of angels that do God’s will. The angels have no jarring and contests, one angel is not of one opinion, and another of another. We ought to do God’s will as the angels do it, not only in respect of zeal and purity, but unity also.

One of the Songs of Degrees is entirely in praise of unity (Psalm 133). Unity is compared to the precious ointment that was to be composed so carefully that no one was permitted to presume to make similar oil. It was only to be poured on the high priest. The psalmist also compares unity to the fruitful and pleasant dew on the mountains. The whole psalm is remarkable:

(a) Unity is for us to ‘behold’. The psalm begins with ‘behold’ to draw others to admire it. As if to say, ‘You have seen by bitter experience what disputes and differences produce, now look at this!’
(b) ‘It is good and pleasant.’ Profit and pleasure win everyone. By this we can see our aversion to such unity, that we need those low arguments to draw us. The psalmist does not say it is just, holy and acceptable to God, but simply that it is good and pleasant.
(c) It is ‘for brethren.’ He does not say men but rather ‘brethren’, because sinful discord is apt to creep in amongst them.
(d) It is ‘together.’ He does not speak togetherness of location but of soul. The sweetness of this unity is represented by the oil that was poured on Aaron and then ran down. It must be a peace grounded on Christ our Head and High Priest, which then should diffuse itself to others. Its profitableness is described by the dew. It is from heaven and so sanctifies the barren ground. This concord is God’s gift only and if received it wonderfully blesses the church.

Who would not have rejoiced to live in the days when all believers were of one heart and one soul? What a comfort it would have been, to hear no grudging or repining at one another! But the devil (that envious one) quickly sowed tares amongst them. Ulcers and sores appeared on that body, which once was as beautiful as Absalom’s body. So the apostles urge so greatly that all things should be done in charity, that they fulfill the royal law by loving, that they do not even grudge one another. This unity and peace is so glorious that the apostle makes it a goal. ‘Study (or be ambitious) to be quiet’ (1 Thessalonians 4:11). There is a great deal of carnal and worldly ambition after things that are fading and transitory. Here is godly and spiritual ambition, to be a peacemaker. To be a peace-preserver is the greatest glory God puts on us.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This article has been drawn from the new book Advancing Christian Unity by Anthony Burgess. It is lightly edited and in the Puritan Treasures for Today series. Burgess speaks of how union and communion with Christ and His people are “the life and comfort of believers.” Giving careful consideration of what Christian unity should look like, Burgess excels at uncovering common causes of division and promoting means to advance unity among God’s people.

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The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
10 Oct, 2019

Many people know that their prayer life suffers at the expense of a busy life. But no one is too busy for spontaneous prayer. This isn’t about unwritten as opposed to written prayers. Neither is it asking someone to pray with you on the spur of the moment. Spontaneous prayer is like a reflex reaction to something rather than a deliberate act of getting on our knees to address God. It’s woven into the fabric of life. A silent and brief cry, groan, plea or breath. It expresses our dependence on God. 

It is an earnest cry not a casual, lazy wish (Nehemiah 2:4). Spontaneous prayer is not just an emergency cry but a necessary duty. We need to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and with all kinds of prayer at all times (Ephesians 6:18). It is something that can be part of our everyday life and duties. It expresses our dependence on God and keeps us in a spiritual condition. There are thousands of opportunities that we have for this kind of prayer and it helps us make best use of our time. James Durham explains the benefits of spontaneous prayer as well as showing the type of opportunities we can make use of for this.

THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

(a) It keeps our heart in the right condition

It makes us sensitive to spiritual things. It keeps the heart from wandering from God.

(b) It helps prevent gross sin

How many sinful thoughts and unadvised words this might prevent.

(c) It helps us in our spiritual duties

It keeps us fervent and lively in formal prayer. When we find it difficult we can send up a short request to God for life and help. It also helps us in hearing the Word aright, when we ask that ministers may get liberty and all boldness and those who listen do so with love, faith and meekness.

(d) It helps us have a peace of mind that passes all understanding.

We cn take delight in fellowship with God. Spontaneous prayer gives us a sight of God now and then and a right perception of Him in our minds.

(e) It is often clearly successful.

Jacob, Moses, David, and many other saints obtained what they sought from God when they prayed in such a way.

(f) It helps us make best use of our time.

We are kept from being idle by being spiritually exercised and have great peace and comfort. It helps us in our business and employment.

THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

We should watch out for all kinds of opportunities for this type of prayer in our daily lives. The following is general guidance about such opportunities as it would be hard to give specific directions about all the possible opportunities for spontaneous prayer.

(a) When You Cannot Pray Formally

God may give you an opportunity for this kind of prayer when you do not have opportunity engage in formal prayer. You may be travelling, walking or hearing someone else speak. It is a kind of prayer that will not mars not obstruct your ordinary employment. You may pray in your shop, at your door, or when you are walking in the street or when you are in company with others, or when you are lying on your bed. All these are precious opportunities that might be best used for this important purpose.

(b) When You Are Engaged in Momentous Things

When you are about any business of great weight and moment. Nehemiah had such when he was before the king. If any of you are witness to the solemn administration of the sacrament of baptism or involved in it. If you are employed in something that concerns your life or concerns, then you should offer some reverent requests to God.

(c) When You Experience Difficulties

When there is any difficulty in something we are engaged in, as when David was among the Philistines, or when he was before the king of Gath.

(d) When you are Tempted to Sin

When there are temptations in your way, and you are in danger of sinning you need this kind of prayer. If you find yourself in bad company, or if you engaging in anything that is delicate or dangerous such prayers are necessary. Pray when you encounter trials or temptations in any calling or company. Before you speak a word or give an answer, send to God a request for direction.

(e) When Sin Rises Up

When you find any impulse rising up in your heart to do wrong, when you are provoked or anger or revenge is stirred up. Moses evidently prayed to God in Exodus 14:15-16 when he was answering the murmuring of the people.

(f) When Something Unexpected Happens

When some very extraordinary thing occurs which you had not anticipated beforehand you need such prayers. When Ahithophel joined Absalom against David he prayed that God might defeat his counsel (2 Samuel 15:31). Something may happen to you in relation to your family or friends, which may discompose your minds. This is a fitting opportunity to cry to God.

(g) When You Are Engaged in Spiritual Activities

When you are called to engage in spiritual activities: to read God’s Word, meditate upon it, pray to or praise God you should offer some desires for God’s help. Or when you meet with others, before you open your mouths to speak, seek to be guided aright of God (Genesis 49:18). When you have to speak reproof, comfort or advice to a friend it would be very proper to have a word or thought sent up to heaven that it may be effectual.

(h) When You are in Trouble

When you are in some great suffering or affliction which requires greater than your own strength to bear cry to God.

CONCLUSION

Here is a type of prayer that we can make use of anytime and anywhere. We cannot say that we are too busy for it. It will not interfere with what we are doing and the busier we are, the greater our need of God’s help. We must be careful to maintain a reverent spirit and use expressions that are suitable for expressing to God. But it will do much to maintain a sense of spiritual things in our minds. Durham asks some searching questions. Is it not entirely unsuitable that we profess continual dependence on God but spend most of our day without acknowledging Him? Should we not have God’s company all day long if we want to know fellowship with Him? What do we put in place of such prayers? What things do our minds run after–are they not often things that cannot benefit us?

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Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
4 Oct, 2019

Christ’s message to your Church is a call to reform. It’s about spiritual reformation as well as outward reform.  It is easier to be consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. Activity is highly visible; our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is largely invisible. The big danger for us all, when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity, is that we neglect our inner spiritual health. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of outward faithfulness, yet inward decay. We have to be prepared to ask ourselves, “Have we done that?”

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a challenging letter to Ephesus in the second chapter of Revelation means that this is a matter of primary concern to Him. James Durham says that we should consider this as if Christ were writing a letter to our Church. He explains that, “our Lord Jesus is the faithful witness” and shows us that when Christ says that He knows their works (Revelation 2:2), He is saying: “I know all your inward and outward works”:

 

  • what you have done in the church,
  • your way of administering all things in the church,
  • all your outward conduct in all these things,
  • your spirit in going about them,
  • the manner in which you are doing them,
  • the aims you had before you in doing them

“I know them perfectly, exactly, and thoroughly”.

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

He has been identifying what was very outwardly commendable in the Church in Ephesus. He commends their zeal, faithfulness, hard work and patient endurance for the sake of Christ’s name. They had not flinched from defending Christ’s truth.

(a) Their Labour
Christ identifies the painstaking concerns and labour of the ministry in the Word and doctrine. He also takes notice of and approves the conduct of the respective members of this church in reference to their duty.

(b) Their Perseverance
They had suffered. Christ knew very well all the persecution and suffering they were enduring. There was the ill-will of some within the church against them and all the malice of others outside it. Christ knew all the troubles Satan and those whom he uses had caused. He saw how patiently, submissively and constantly they had borne it all.

(c) Their Zeal
They are also commended for their zeal in carrying out church discipline—they could not bear with those were evil. They were courageous, and zealous against corrupt individuals trying them, condemning them and not tolerating them. They tested their doctrine and teaching and whether those who taught it had a true calling from Christ.

“Christ does it all lovingly. Because He loves us He does what is necessary for our spiritual growth.”

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

What could be wrong with them? For all that there is to commend, Christ has something very serious against them. They had left their first love.

What does leaving their first love mean? It is something inward. It is the grace of love in the heart and, as far as their Christian life was concerned, they had left it.

(a) Though they were outwardly zealous in the form of religion, yet they had fallen away from the inward spirit of tenderness that they once had. They were more taken up with duties that concerned the wellbeing and condition of their church, than with the inward duties of holiness. They had an outward zeal for religion, and an indignation against corrupt teachers that came in to corrupt it. They also had perseverance in suffering for it, but they had a coldness of affection in doing these things.

(b) They had not fallen away from grace itself. They still had grace but they had fallen away from exercising it to the extent and degree that they once did. They had fallen away from their first love rather than love itself. Believers are at first warm in their love in doing duties to God and to another. Christ’s reproof can be summarised as follows. Despite all I have commended you for, there is something in you that is not right. Though you are zealous in outward things, you come short in duties of mercy and in your love to one another. You are not as warm in your love to me, nor so single-minded in doing things for me as you once were.

Christ’s charge against us is defection

Defection inwardly. Not an outward defection from the truth and purity of doctrine, nor from the outward duties of religion, but an inward defection, declining in the way we exercise grace. We have not been so careful to maintain the way we exercise grace before God, as much as we have been to be seen of others.

Defection in love. Especially defection in love to God, and love to one another. This may be seen in our lack of love and sensitivity.

Defection in spirit. This is a defection in the way we do our duties. The duty may be commendable, but the principle from which it flowed may be grounds for rebuke.

Therefore, look at this epistle as if Christ were writing a letter to Scotland. In his letter, He is saying, that despite whatever purity and zeal you may have, yet you have fallen from your first love. Much of your love, warmness and tenderness has gone away. There is a decline and defection from the way grace is exercised. The sin is ours; the duty is ours; and the threatening also belongs to us. If there is anything commendable, it is more in outward form than reality. Believers are liable to decline from their first love, if not from their steadfastness.

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

He counsels them not just to repent but tells them how to go about repenting.

Christ never convicts us of sin without giving directions about recovery together with it. His direction here is in these three steps: remember, repent and do the first works. The goal of repentance is to be stirred up to reformation and steadfastness in well doing. Remembering brings us to repentance, and repentance brings us to reformation.

If Christ were charging us with a sin, it would be for falling away from first love. If He were calling for a duty from us, it would be to remember from where we have fallen, to repent and do our first works. We have not only fallen away from love but from that awe of God that should be on the heart. Remember this and other things, repent and do your first works.

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

He warns them in the most serious terms of what will happen if they do not.

He threatens the removal of the candlestick or lampstand. The candlestick is the church of Ephesus (see Revelation 1:20). This was not simply the people who made up the church but them professing, submitting to and living according to what Christ had appointed in the church, especially the means of grace. Removing the candlestick is God’s threatening to make them no longer a church. It implies removing the means of grace, the gospel and the ministry from them (see Matthew 21:43 and Acts 13:46).

Christ removes the candlestick from a people when He lets loose error which corrupts purity of doctrine (an essential mark of the church of God, and the foundation on which the church is built, Ephesians 2:20). He removes the candlestick by allowing disorder so that they abuse the freedom that the gospel has given them. They begin to show a secret desire for novelty and give themselves up to delusion. We have reasons to fear God’s threatening to remove our candlestick all these ways.
There is no greater judgment a church can be threatened with than the removal of the candlestick. There is no more serious threatening that can be given to a church or people in a church.

FURTHER REFLECTION

We have developed a resource, based on James Durham’s insights into the passage, to help you reflect more deeply on how Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus applies to you and to your church. It is called Outside In: Four Sessions to Help you Recover Your First Love for Christ. It will help you to think through carefully all of the many lessons that Christ wants the church to put into practice. 

“The way forward spiritually is to look back first.”

Outside In

Four sessions to help you

recover your first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

The material in this article has been extracted and updated not only from the Commentary on Revelation that Durham published but also from manuscript notes that have not been published. There is a project to re-publish Durham’s book on Revelation with its many helpful essays which will incorporate these manuscript notes.

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Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?
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.
26 Sep, 2019

​Our troubles just keep increasing as a nation. Conflict is everywhere you look, even between the critical institutions within the fabric of our society. Indeed, that’s true of many other nations too and their political crises. Why is that happening? Could it be that God is leaving us to the consequences of our national sins? If that’s the case then the solution will not be found in anything else except repentance. This is where the hope lies, there is mercy in God exposing our sin. The judgment of God is a call for us to return to Him.

Scripture has a lot to say about nations overcome by sin, error and judgment–other nations as well as Israel. In Joel chapter 2, the Lord calls on Israel to make right use of the warning He gives about the judgment they can expect. He does this with two exhortations. They should engage in sincere repentance and humbled themselves through fasting and unfeigned sorrow (Joel 2:12. They must also strive to have their spirit afflicted for sin more than performing outward actions out of pretence (v. 13). The reason given to encourage them to repentance is that God is merciful and gracious and not easily provoked (Joel 2:13.). He is rich in kindness and ready not to carry out His threatenings when there is repentance.

Since God is gracious in Himself, He may avert the judgement so that the people will survive. Who knows but that He may “leave a blessing behind him” (see Jonah 3:9 and Zephaniah 2:3) if there is repentance? George Hutcheson reflects on the significance of these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE TO LEAD US TO REPENTANCE

No matter how much terror there may be about feared or felt judgements, it is all pointless if it does not stir people up to repentance. Those who are in such a condition and yet do not repent must be mad. After all the warning of judgment on the nation they are called to this as the only remedy and way to be delivered. If they are seriously affected with their condition, they cannot but take this seriously. God calls on them to “turn” (Joel 2:12; see Psalm 106:44 and Jeremiah 31:18- 20).

 

2. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE INVITATIONS

When God threatens most severely, He is still inviting us to repentance by judgements and warnings. He is willing to accept repentance. The same Lord who threatens, exhorts with the word “therefore” to show the connection with the judgment previously warned of (Joel 2:12).

Those who have abused God’s patience for so long that the situation seems without remedy should not think that repentance is now too late. Judgment may be imminent, but it is still good to engage in repentance. It will do good however matters turn out. Even though they were in this sad plight, God calls on them to repent.

Those who take repentance seriously (especially when God declares Himself angry) must not delay engaging in it. This is implied in God emphasising the word “now” in calling them to “turn” (Joel 2:12).

Those who are humbled by God’s judgements may have doubts that their repentance will not be accepted. But God issues an invitation to such in His name, to remove all doubts. He expressly states that this is said by the Lord (Joel 2:12).

 

3. GOD’S JUDGMENTS CALL FOR TRUE REPENTANCE

Repentance for particular sins in response to judgment will not be acceptable as long as there is no conversion to God. There must be a change of state by regeneration.

In turning to God they must beware of being pretended. They must strive to be sincere even though they cannot achieve perfection.  The call to turn with all their heart is a gospel call.

They must seek to be deeply affected for past sin which has brought these judgments. They should prove this by sorrow and humbling themselves (Joel 2:12). Such repentance should not be passed over lightly. The heart should be broken for sin (Psalm 51:17).

We are prone to hypocrisy and ought to beware of playing with God even when we are in greatest distress. They are therefore told to rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:13). God is not pleased with mere outward signs of repentance.

 

4. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE GRACIOUS

God’s graciousness, compassion and readiness to show undeserved mercy assures those who truly repent of acceptance. Seriously reflecting on this may invite sinners to engage in repentance with hope. He “is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:14). God’s long forbearance, waiting sinners to repent before He judges proves that He is willing to embrace those who repent. He is slow to anger. The Lord’s people are dealing with One who so delights in mercy and is so affected with their distress that He is willing to draw back from judgment if they repent (Joel 2:13).

 

5. GOD’S JUDGMENTS POINT US TO HIMSELF

Those who truly repent have their hope fixed on God alone. They are focussed on God’s turning and change–not their own turning and repentance.

 

6. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO TRULY REPENT

God will mitigate His judgments to those who repent, so that at the very least they are turned into fatherly chastisements. Repentance will not always keep away judgment when sin has come to a great height (calling on God to vindicate His glory in punishing it). Neither will it prevent judgment when God wants us to be stirred up to even more repentance. God may increase the concern, diligence and humility of those who repent by keeping them in suspense. This is the reason for the question as to whether He will return and leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

7. GOD’S JUDGMENTS DO NOT HINDER HIS BLESSING

No uncertainty about this should discourage us from repentance. However things may go we are in God’s way for attaining blessing for good when we repent. The question as to who knows if God will leave a blessing is therefore an encouragement to repent.

When God is judging a nation, it does not hinder Him blessing those who repent. There may be rich mercies waiting for them, both in the time of affliction to help them survive and afterwards, to rebuild them up. For there is hope that upon repentance, God will leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Hope During Desperate Times is a book that provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It's spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context.

It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended.

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9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ

9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ

9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ
Richard Cameron (1647-1680) was a famous Covenanter preacher during the times of persecution, preaching to thousands at religious meetings in the fields, known as conventicles. He was killed by government dragoons at Airds Moss, Ayrshire and his supporters went on to form the Cameronian Regiment.
19 Sep, 2019

It’s not difficult to say, “I love Jesus”–some people even claim this while quickly confirming that they are not religious. Others profess their love for Christ while disclaiming the label “Christian”. It’s easy to shape the Christ we want and then claim to be a follower of Jesus. We also live in a world where it is easy to segue from saying “I love Jesus” to saying whatever else you love without losing a beat. But the reality of loving Christ is far more demanding than mere profession. We need a life and heart that demonstrates love for Christ.

Richard Cameron preached about love for Christ in the context of persecution. People were suffering due to loving Christ enough to honour His sole authority in the Church. Hearing a sermon preached in the hills about love for Christ meant walking many miles to be there. But simply listening to the sermon could mean imprisonment, banishment, loss of everything or indeed execution. We can, to a limited extent, listen along with Cameron’s congregation to the message that they heard. Cameron gives a gospel-centred view of who Christ is and what He has done and still does for His people to stir their hearts with love towards Him. Those who can say that Christ has heard their prayers and that all their sins are forgiven cannot do other than love Christ. In this updated extract Cameron goes on to describe the ways that true believers express their love for Christ. 

1. Think Much About Him 

These who love Christ will be thinking of Him much. If someone loves a person or object much they will not readily let that person or object be out of their mind for long. The blessed man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord”(Psalm 1:2). He meditates in it “day and night”. Now the person that loves Him will be thinking much on Him. They will be constantly striving to get much love towards Him. I know some men in the world that do not think of Him much, nor of what He has done. But they deceive and cheat themselves. Strive to think of Him much and to get more love to Him. There are some persons who, the more they are loved, the less they care for those who love them. But it is not so with Christ.

Oh, how few they are who hate vain thoughts but love the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:113). How few hate vain thoughts, they would rather entertain them. But do not entertain vain thoughts of God, of Christ, of what He has done and what an excellent one He is. I believe many of you have your thoughts running out after other things but seldom have a thought of Christ. All this declares that there is little love to Him. The wife loves her husband although he is away from her. The spouse loves Christ though He is for the present absent from her. Her love to Him still rises up, leading her to ask for the one her soul loves (Song 3:3). 

2. Speak Much About Him 

Those who love Christ will speak much about Him. But there are many folk among whom there is not one word of Christ to be heard. I tell you, there is much talk about religion and religious matters but little talk of Christ. There is much talk of other men’s faults and failings. It is sad that we should have so many of these to talk of. But, believer, you should not spend your time so much in this. When you are met together do not let not your discourse about controversies crowd out speaking about Christ and love to Him. Do not let the esteem of His worth and excellence go down amongst you. But I believe you may be among professing Christians for a long time before you hear much talk of this kind. 

Oh, sad, sad, that the defections of the time should be the only talk of professing Christians. There are many who, if they are met together in company, and if one asks them a question about Christ, will just look down. If they can, they will bring in another subject to put it out of head and heart. But when anyone starts a conversation about the divisions of the times, they will not let the conversation fail from their side. But I am sure that the man that ever met with Christ, that ever was united with Him, and has any impression of that on His soul, cannot be long in company without high and honourable thoughts of Him. If he lacks Him he will pursue after Him, especially if he has love in activity; he will be longing for Him. But sadly, religion is likely to wear out these days. 

3. Bring Others To Him 

Those that have love to Christ will do what they can to bring others to Him. The spouse who seeks Christ finds Him and says, “I held him and would not let him go” (Song 3:4). And then she says to others to go and behold Him crowned (Song 3:11). 

She had met with Christ herself and had much love to Him. She therefore invites her companions to go out after Him, to go out from a lost world and behold Him with the crown on His head. Oh, then take a view of our Lord Christ with the crown on His head with which His mother crowned Him. There are not a few ministers and professing Christians who do not think little of themselves. There are almost none now except those who are saying, “Do not go out and behold Him.” 

I believe there are many professing Christians up and down the country that have cast off what God has commanded in His word. Many have endorsed this but away with them! No matter who they are, it would be better for us if we were rid of those that urge us to abandon the good old way for which our ancestors lost so much before they would abandon it. They parted with relations, estates, and all things for it. But there are many folk that cry, “Away with both Christ and His ordinances!” They have us cast off even the most pure and living ordinances. But now says the spouse, “Go forth, and behold the king.” So, I would have you go forth that you may obtain salvation to your souls from Christ. This is no cruel advice. Love Christ, and get salvation from Him, though you would lose all you have in the present world. 

4. Fear to Offend Him

 Those who have true love to Christ will be loath to offend Him. Thus, they will abhor all sin. They will love Christ’s “commandments above gold” and “hate every false way” (Psalm 119:127-128). These always go hand in hand. Away with the love of that man who says he has love to Christ yet does not hate every false way! Sadly, you may see that there is little love to Christ in Scotland. Iniquity abounds, and the love of many grows cold. Those who comply with Christ’s enemies have little love to Christ—at least not in exercise. 

5. Do Not Help His Enemies

Those who have complied with Christ’s enemies—whether they are godly men or whatever they are—do not have love towards Christ in exercise. Wherever this love is in exercise, people will be loath to offend Christ. They will be afraid that He may stand at a distance from His ordinances. David says that he hates those who hate God (Psalm 139:19-21).

I tell you, I do not like those who are familiar with the stated and avowed enemies of our Lord and Master Christ and are fond of receiving favour from them. Away with them! Whatever they have been, they do not have love in exercise at present. Whatever they have been before, this declares to the world that their love is now gone. And when it is recovered again, such conduct will grieve them. Indeed, the lack of love to Christ portends a sad case. Therefore, beware, all of you, of being cheated and drawn out of God’s way. Beware of being too familiar with those who have taken away the royal prerogative of Jesus Christ to the harm of religion. Do not beguile yourselves. 

But you may say, “Should we not love our enemies?” True; we should love our enemies, but as they are the stated enemies of Christ, and going on in a state of enmity and defection from Him, they are more than our enemies. They are enemies to Christ, and going on in persecuting God’s cause, enemies to the gospel, and to a covenanted work of reformation. In this view we should hate and abhor them (Psalm 139:19-21). We declare against them,  all that comply with them, and all that stand upon their side. A sad day awaits them. They are worse than those of Laodicea, who were neither cold nor hot, whom for this reason Christ threatens to spew out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16). They have done more hurt to the work of reformation by their compliance than all other open and avowed enemies.

6. Respect All His Commandments

Those that love Christ have a great respect to all His commands. They have a great love and respect to His tabernacles (Psalm 84:1). We would not want you to show repugnance towards ministers who strive to keep the ordinances of Christ pure and entire. If they really have love to Christ they would have the tenderest possible respect for Him and hate every wicked way. They would love the saints—the excellent ones in whom is all His delight (Psalm 16:2). There is little love to Christ where there is so little love and sympathy for one another. 

7. Be Ready to Lose Anything For Him

Those who love Christ will always be ready to lose and leave all other things for Him. Christ Himself says, anyone that loves anything “more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). They are not for Christ. They prefer other things to Him, when it comes to this that they must leave one or the other. You must leave all and buy that pearl of great price. Those who do so will not be losers, they will have “a hundredfold now in this time…and in the world to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30).

I assure you, if you had love to Christ you would think it much to get an opportunity to give Him proof of it. You would even thank God for this opportunity, and say, “Although I should lose all, yet I have got an opportunity of giving a proof of my love to Him in this evil time”. And it is the best time that many ever saw, because they have had an opportunity to give a proof of their love to this excellent Prince and ever lovely One.

8. Hate Sin

If you want to have love to Christ, see that you keep your sins ever before you. The reason for this is that there is always a conviction and sense of guilt in relation to your danger. One sees the danger he is in by his sins, there is a concern to run to Him and make use of the blood that speaks better things than that of Abel. In this case you have recourse to that fountain that is opened to the house of David and inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. Think always on the wrath due to us for sin.

I assure you, those who keep their hearts under the greatest sense of their sins will have much love to Christ. The lack of this is one reason that so many have so little love to Him and so much love to other things. If you had a true sense of sin, wrath and judgment, you would have much love to Christ, and He would be above all in your hearts. You would exalt Him in your souls. It is through faith in Him that we stand and rejoice in trials, as the apostle expresses it (Romans 5:2-3). And the apostle was conscious of this. It is in Christ that we have the hope of the glory of God. We can rejoice in trials knowing that they produce patience. Patience works experience, and experience hope. Hope does not make us ashamed or disappointed because “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts” by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Be much in the grace of repentance.

9. Pray Much to Him 

Be much in prayer and much in exercising true love to Christ in an evil time, when the Lord is calling us to exercise this in all these duties. But above all, I exhort and charge you to be much in love. Have the love of God “shed abroad” in your hearts. Fix on Jesus Christ by faith. Strive to be much in love towards Him, for He is an able Saviour to bring about deliverance to the Church in the saddest condition she can be in.

 

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How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?
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.
13 Sep, 2019

​More than a few churches lament that commitment is in short supply. It often seems to be the same people who are involved in most things. Thankfully it’s not always the norm. There may be many reasons why people are on the fringes of church life. But there are those who prefer to sit on the sidelines. They are ready with excuses about how busy they are and the amount of things that take up their time. It’s true that the pace of modern life presents challenges in meeting the demands of work and family life. No church should expect burnout. But God has given us sufficient time to meet our responsibilities. Are we merely including church alongside a number of other personal interests and hobbies?

​The apostle Paul lamented the same trend in his own time. Everyone, he said was seeking their own things and interests, not Christ’s (Philippians 2:21). “But”, you say, “church isn’t the same as Christ’s interests”. What does he mean by the interests and things of Christ? He is speaking about their service of faith, holding forth the word of life, serving in the gospel and caring for those in the church and serving one another as part of the work of Christ (Philippians 2:3-4, 16, 17, 20, 22 and 30). Edmund Calamy lamented the same half-committed Christians in his time too. In this updated extract, he explains further how the things of Christ are the things of the Church and how we can know if we are putting Christ’s interests first.

1. Why are the things of Christ’s Church the things of Christ?

  • Because Christ is the husband of the Church, and the things of the wife are the things of her husband.
  • Because Christ has purchased them for us by His death
  • Because of the great love that Christ has to His Church. It is so great that the Church’s interests are His interests, and her injuries His injuries (Acts 9:4).

Those who neglect the things of the Church therefore, neglect the things of Christ.

2. What are the things of Christ?

In general, they are nothing else except the preservation and propagation of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. They involve building up the Church of Christ in truth, purity and unity. But more particularly, the things of Christ are:

  • Christ’s pure worship in Christ’s way
  • Christ’s gospel and its precious truths
  • Christ’s Church governed according to the pattern of Scripture
  • Christ’s day
  • Christ’s godly ambassadors
  • Christ’s Church reformed when corrupted in doctrine, worship and government

3. How do I know if I’m putting my own interests first?

(a) If we seek our own interests and do not care about Christ’s

This is when a Christian seeks their own interests and does not care at all what becomes of Jesus Christ and His cause. They make themselves the principle, rule and purpose of all they do: acting from self as a principle, by self as a rule, for self as a purpose. The people of Meroz were self-seekers in this way and therefore the Israelites were commanded to curse them (Judges 5:23).

(b) If we seek our own interests before Christ’s

This is when a Christian seeks the things of Christ as well as their own, but seek their own things before the things of Christ. They seek their own things first but the things of Christ afterwards. The prophet Haggai complains of the same situation (Haggai 1:2-5, 9-11).

(c) If we seek our own interests more than Christ’s

This is when we seek our own things first, not only before, but more than the things of Christ in terms of what they value and esteem in their love and affection. It is when we prize our own profit and advantage and love our own praise and glory more than the profit, praise and honour of Christ and His gospel. The Gadarenes preferred their pigs before Christ. Those in the parable made light of the call of Christ and preferred their business before Christ and His gospel (Matthew 21:3). Demas forsook Paul and embraced the present world. The Pharisees loved the praise of men, more than the praise of God (John 12:43).

(d) If we seek our own interests when we seek Christ’s

We may seek our own things in seeking the things of Christ. Jehu pretended a great deal of zeal for the Lord of Hosts. But it was only pretended, his zeal was to secure the kingdom for himself. Balaam pretended that if he was offered a house full of gold and silver he would not go beyond the commandment of God. But he loved the wages of iniquity and desired that Balak offered him.

(e) If we seek our own interests when they conflict with Christ’s

When our own interests are in competition with or in opposition to the things of Christ which do we choose? What if we must either part with possessions, liberty, and life, or with Christ and a good conscience? If we choose to part with Christ and a good conscience, rather than liberty, possessions or life, it is sinful self-seeking. The young man in the gospels who forsook Christ rather than part with his great possessions was like this.

(f) If we seek the interests of our body rather than our soul

This is when we bestow all our time, strength, concerns and endeavours in providing for our body which is perishing while we neglect to provide for our eternal soul. It is when we lay up all our treasure on earth, but have no treasure laid up in heaven. It is when we are anxious to live comfortably in this world, but strangely neglect to be concerned about living happily in the other world.

4. How do I know if I’m putting Christ’s interests first?

(a) If you seek them first, best and most

Does seeking your own things take up your time first, best, and most? Are the things of Christ the one thing necessary to which you give your energies or are they only given a little left over time? Does seeking your own things make you neglect the things of Christ or seek after them negligently? If so, it is a sign that you over-value and over-esteem your own things, and undervalue and love the things of Christ. If you pursue the things of Christ first and most, you are putting His interests first.

(b) If you mourn more for the afflictions of Christ’s cause

If you mourn more for personal miseries than for the distress of Zion it is a sign you mind your own things more than the things of Christ.  This frame of spirit is opposite to the true spirit of Ezra, Nehemiah, David, Daniel and Jeremiah who were more afflicted with the miseries of the Church than with their own. If you mourn more for Church desolations than personal miseries, you are putting Christ’s interests first.

(c) If you have courage for Christ and His cause

If seeking your own things takes away your courage for Christ and His cause. If the more you have of the world, the less you stand for Christ and His gospel. If the more honour you have in the world it makes you more fearful. If preserving your own things makes you betray the things of Christ by sinful silence or cowardice, it is a sign you prefer your interests to Christ’s. But if the more wealth you have, the more courageous you are for God, and are glad to have something to lose for Christ’s cause, you are putting Christ’s interests first.

(d) If you are prepared to defend Christ and His cause

If seeking your own things makes you seek out excuses to hinder you from defending Christ, it is a sign of self-seeking. The times in which we live are very sinful and dangerous: the truths and ministry of Christ are trampled underfoot, religion and reformation are neglected. God is calling you to defend His truths and His ministers and ordinances.

Conclusion

It’s easy for the cares and concerns of this world to take over (Luke 21:34). It’s possible to become so involved in things that are not sinful in nature, but still get in the way of commitment to Christ and His cause. If we do allow this, it is to our own spiritual detriment as well as that of the church. As Calamy has shown, the relationship between Christ and the Church is so close (as husband and wife, head and body, king and subjects) that their interests are the same.  Christians may, and ought, to seek their own things in a secondary way to the things of Christ (1 Timothy 5:8). But they must not seek their own things in opposition to the things of Christ. Timothy (Philippians 2:20) was willing to deny himself and exert himself for the church at Philippi. We need to learn from this zeal in correctly aligning our priorities.

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A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis
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.
6 Sep, 2019

Understandably, sometimes we want a break from the wearying sorry saga of political conflict. Brexit dominates everything. But the more prominent events are, the more we need to seek a biblical perspective on what we can learn from them. Sometimes we need to leave aside political opinions and allegiances and take a step back to understand a situation. It’s a wider problem that may well become an enduring reality in various countries. The clash of populism and mainstream politics may lead to a growing trend of fragmentation. Where does a biblical perspective come from? It comes from the knowledge that God is reigning and that these things are not outside His sovereign purpose (Romans 11:36).

The Bible actually speaks of political paralysis a great deal. It speaks of how God may bring those in power low by removing their authority and wisdom (Job 12:16-24). It is God who changes times and sets up rulers and brings them down; He gives wisdom (Daniel 2:21; 1 Kings 3:9; Proverbs 8:15; Psalm 75:7). Those who are famed for their wisdom and prudence in managing matters with skill may be brought to helplessness (Obadiah 8; Amos 2:14-16). Well-contrived plans may come to nothing in a way that humbles those who trust in themselves. It is a solemn time when it is as though it is every man for himself amongst those in power and every man against each other (Zechariah 11:6; 14:13).

Anyone who has an eminent position of power or reputation for wisdom can become helpless and foolish. They are in confusion like someone in the wilderness who does not know what to do or where to go (Job 12:24). The end of Psalm 107 contains a very similar passage, but it also tells us how to reflect on such matters and gives us promises. In the following updated extract David Dickson draws out the implications of those verses (Psalm 107:40-43).

1. God Makes Rulers Perplexed

It is God who gives wisdom and prudence for ruling states. When their ability is employed for their own earthly interests, He can take their wisdom from them. He can give them a cup of giddy wine, and put them in such perplexity that they do not know what to do. He can banish them out of their country and send them as vagabonds throughout the earth. He causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way (Psalm 107:40).

2. God Must be Honoured by Perplexed Rulers

Rulers only keep their place, power, and esteem among men because God invests them with dignity. When they lose their dignity and are despised, they must look to God as the one who has done it and search for the reason.  For God will honour those who honour Him, and those who despise Him shall be lightly esteemed (1 Samuel 2:30). We are told in this verse that it is God that pours contempt on princes (Psalm 107:40).

3. God Will Lift Up Those Who are Repentant

Although the Lord casts down the mighty and puts the wise to perplexity He will not deal with them further than bringing them to be humbled. If they acknowledge their sins, seek reconciliation with God as His Word prescribes, and depend on God as needy poor souls, He will lift them up again.

Pride goes before a fall. Self-importance due to riches, power, wisdom, or any other earthly reason goes before ruin.  Humility goes before a lifting up. Lowliness of mind, being humbled with a sense of our sin, unworthiness and weakness drive us to depend on God, as a beggar for aid. God comforts the afflicted and raises them out of the dust to a better condition after they are humbled with a sense of their own poverty. He sets the poor on high from their affliction (Psalm 107:41).

4. God’s Works Fulfil His Word

Those who are justified by faith and seek to order their conduct righteously will witness the Lord fulfilling His Word. “The righteous shall see it” (Psalm 107:42). There is joy in believing the Lord’s Word, but there is even more joy in seeing it fulfilled. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice” (Psalm 107:42).

One of the many mercies given to the righteous is that God reveals the counsel of His works. He explains His providence by His Word to them, teaching them to compare God’s Word and His works. He makes them testify that God is as good as His Word. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice” (Psalm 107:42).

5. God’s Works Show His Goodness

The wicked will not have the good that they hoped to have for themselves. They will find themselves mistaken about the godly, whose ways they reckon to be folly. “The righteous shall rejoice, and all iniquity shall stop her mouth” (Psalm 107:42).

The works of the Lord’s goodness, justice and mercy are done so that people may observe His way and remember it carefully. The wisest of people are those who observe God’s providence best. They compare it with the Lord’s Word so that they may understand it rightly. Those who are wise will observe God’s ways (Psalm 107:43).

There may be very few wise observers of God’s dealings in justice or mercy, but those who are His disciples and students of His Word will observe them. They will live in a way that shows this and will never lack ways to observe God’s kindness toward themselves (Psalm 107:43).

Conclusion

We need to look beyond the immediate fast-moving drama of bewildering circumstances to our greatest needs as a nation. Of course we certainly don’t know what the future holds; our duty is to pray for God’s glory whether that fits with our personal preferences or not. We do not know all of God’s purposes though we must try to observe what we can. We know that however humbling they may be–God’s purposes are for our ultimate good. How much we need to be humbled for our sins as a nation. Our political rulers need our prayers more than ever.

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The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith
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.
30 Aug, 2019

Two high-profile professing Christians recently announced that they had lost or were losing their faith. As well as great sadness it should prompt serious questions. Some of those questions might be about evangelical celebrity culture and image. Are people sometimes catapulted to a position beyond their spiritual maturity? Are we socialising people into the faith rather than discipling them? Other questions might relate to whether evangelicalism is prioritising feelings over objective truth. What is being taught? Are unsettling and hard questions about truth being passed over in silence? These are all valid questions but first we need to focus on some that are extremely personal to ourselves.

One recent reflection considers not so much what those leaving the faith say as what they don’t say. There is an absence of mention of Jesus Christ in their announcements. This speaks volumes because it is everything in true religion. We read something similar in John 6:66, when many went back and left Christ’s teaching. They were leaving Him and no longer walking with Him. What we think of Christ’s teaching is one test of the reality of our profession. They did not find in Christ what they expected.  In this updated extract from an exposition of John 6:66-69, George Hutcheson draws attention to the questions that arise when others leave the faith. It shows that Scripture tells us to expect times of trial when people abandon the profession they have made.

1. What Does Leaving Christ Imply?

It is the duty of all professing Christians to maintain fellowship with Christ and converse with Him. They must confess Him publicly in the midst of a rebellious generation. Without this, the greatest pretence of secret friendship is of no avail (John 12:42-43). Thus, when people abandon this and do not attend the ordained means as previously, it is an undeniable sign of woeful apostasy, whatever they pretend to be. It was proof of their apostasy who walked no more with Christ that they did not publicly confess Him nor attend His ministry any longer (John 6:66).

2. Would We Leave Christ Too?

When many are defecting from Christ it may shake even the soundest so much that they will need warning and to be strengthened. Therefore, Christ asks if they also would go away (John 6:67). Even the godly have seeds of the same evils which draw others away. An evil example can have very great force, especially when it is widespread. Sin is very infectious, especially when it is maintained with plausible pretexts. It is no wonder therefore if some people are in danger in such a situation. Besides the guilt of their own defection, backsliders are guilty of weakening others.

In one sense Christ does not have an absolute, essential need of any followers, neither does He need to be anxious though everyone would forsake Him. But He still goes to considerable effort to confirm and keep those who are His own. This is why He deals with the twelve disciples in this way, asking a question that will establish them further. However many there may be who defect from Christ and think little of His company, some of a different stamp will still be found. We see this here in Peter (John 6:68).

3. To Whom Else Can We Go?

Since the fall we are so empty and poor that we must have something outside of ourselves to delight and rest in for happiness. If we do not choose Christ, we will put something else in His place. Peter’s question implies that if they went away from Christ, they must go to someone else.

Those who are minded to abandon Christ need to consider first where they will get a better master. If they will change Him, they will surely change for the worse. Nothing better can be found elsewhere. True disciples who know Christ’s unique excellence cannot endure to hear of any separation from Him. Peter’s question implies his abhorrence of going away from such a Lord to any other. All who seek to truly walk with Christ, should strive to learn to know Him to be the best and most excellent of choices.

4. What Do We Believe About Christ?

It is the duty of those who truly profess Christ to stick closely to all truth. In particular they must avow all the truths being opposed in their time; however important they may be. Besides confessing the excellence of Christ’s teaching Peter also confesses His person and office as Messiah. These were the truths being opposed then. They are fundamental truths, but they were reckoned small by those who opposed them.

The more we know of Christ, the more ties we will find binding us to Him which will preserve us from defecting from Him. In particular, the true knowledge of His office and person help us stick fast to Him no matter who may forsake Him.

Christ is the only true Messiah promised to the fathers and appointed by the Father to exercise the office of a king, priest and prophet to His Church. He is anointed with the Spirit without measure for this purpose. His people can expect benefits from all of this, to have fellowship with Him and receive of His fulness. This ought and will make Christ dear to all true disciples.

Christ is the Son of the living God having the same essence by eternal generation. He is therefore able to fulfil all that is required of Him and to give infinite worth to His sufferings. He has received a fountain of life from the Father and can produce and preserve life in His people. All this is implied in His being the Son of the living God.

Mere intellectual knowledge about Christ is not enough in itself to tie our hearts to Him. We must embrace what we know by faith. Peter confesses Christ and this is the reason why he will not go away. When the truth of Christ is confessed on the basis of a resolution to go to no one else it is an act of saving faith. Firm faith in the person and office of Christ, receiving and resting on Him is saving faith in operation. Mere reason does not take to do with the mysteries concerning Christ’s person, incarnation, and offices. Faith must receive them on the basis of divine revelation. Peter therefore says, “we believe and are sure”.

5. Where Else Can We Have Eternal Life?

Those who seek to stand fast in times of defection should have frequent thoughts of eternity. They should think of the life that is stored up there for those who are truly Christ’s. Peter fixes his eye on eternal life, what leads to that and where it may be found.

The doctrine of Christ and of the gospel is the only teaching of eternal life. It not only manifests and brings to light that there is an eternal life. It also offers it and shows the only way to receive it. It is the means of regeneration and producing faith. When embraced it gives a right to eternal life and its first fruits until full possession is reached.

Christ teaching rises above the teaching of all the philosophers as well as the corrupted religious teaching doctrine of the times in which Christ lived. It even rises above the law of Moses when asserted in opposition to Him or without Him.

Those who are seriously about eternal life will cleave to the true doctrine that leads to it. They will not abandon it nor its messengers. Not even in times of greatest defection. The disciples will not leave him, not only because He is the Messiah, but because He has the words of eternal life.

Christ not only the one who taught eternal life with His own authority and power in the days of his flesh. He is the one who has purchased this gospel and gives commission to all that preach it. He makes them effectual as the power of God to salvation.

Conclusion

In contrast to those who leave the faith, our resolve should be to “consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) is the essence of all of the happiness and duty of the Christian. We should not make it anything less. We should not merely socialise people in Christian things but seek that they would be firmly established in “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). It is evident that we have been savingly united to Christ when we hold fast to Him to the end (Hebrews 3:14). We are to hold fast our profession against the opposition that the world, the flesh and the devil make against Him. Christ gives us no reason to throw away our confidence in Him and receiving eternal life through Him alone (Hebrews 10:35).

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
23 Aug, 2019

If a fulfilling life is a degree of success and a certain standard of living why are those that have achieved this still unhappy? It seems that the more happiness is pursued in itself, the more unhappy people become.  Moments of happiness can be elusive. It’s clear that meaning and purpose are necessary for a fulfilling life–something that is higher than ourselves. It cannot be merely self-defined. But unless that ultimate purpose is the right one it will not truly fulfil our reason for living. How can we know?

Our ultimate authority for answering this must be in God’s Word, which is Truth (John 17:17). Ecclesiastes is the Bible book that deals most with true and false approaches to meaning and purpose for life. There is a contentment in outward things that goes along with the soul enjoying good as coming from “the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

He goes on to speak about other gifts that God gives to the man who is good or pleasing in His sight.  These include wisdom, knowledge and joy (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Only those who are freely pardoned and made righteous in Christ are pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight. These gifts of wisdom and joy do not just relate to outward things of this life but spiritual things also. Spiritual joy flows from being accepted in Christ. But those who neglect God and rebel against Him continue seeking true happiness in the wrong way and the wrong things. For them there is unsatisfying toil and an absence of meaning and fulfilment.

In the following updated extract James Fergusson draws out the implications of this for a fulfilling life as defined by God.

1. A Fulfilling Life is Found Through Understanding God’s Ways

Everyone should be moved to choose God’s way of seeking after happiness when they consider how He gives this freely and abundantly to His people. This description of God’s generosity in giving such blessedness to His own is intended to be a motive for others to seek His way to happiness. God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are good and pleasing in His sight.

The blessedness of God’s people and the misery of others are best seen when they are compared together. One is illustrated by the other here in terms of God giving wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are accepted in His sight but futility and lack of meaning to the sinner (Ecclesiastes 2:26). (The word “sinner” is used here in contrast with those who have been declared righteous by God in a similar way to 1 Peter 4:18).

2. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Acceptance with God

Before someone can expect that full and satisfying provision which God gives to His children they must first be made good in God’s sight. This is only by reconciliation with Him, having Christ’s righteousness imputed, and the renewal of their nature. This is necessary so that they may aim at what is well pleasing in the sight of God.

3. A Fulfilling Life is Found through God’s Free Grace

Whatever the best of men receive from God has not been procured by them or merited by any goodness they have. It is all a free gift. This is true even of these who are accepted as righteous in His sight and whose character and way are most sincere. For even those who are good in God’s sight are given wisdom. Every further degree of grace is a new gift to such a person.

4. A Fulfilling Life is Found through the Wisdom Given by God

There must be wisdom and knowledge before there can be true comfort. People must see their misery and peril together with the remedy provided and how to make use of it. They need to understand their duty and how to fulfil it. They may then be sure that joy will result from such practical knowledge which affects the heart.  There is a relevance in the order in which these gifts are mentioned: first wisdom, then knowledge and joy.

The wisdom and knowledge God gives relates not only to spiritual things but also the ability to manage outward things aright. It is not confined to the first saving grace received, it includes the principles of all grace and every act of grace. It does not just include the things that bring comfort and joy, but joy itself, or the ability and desire to take joy and comfort. These things are a free gift of God. The wisdom, knowledge and joy here include all kinds of approved wisdom, every degree of knowledge and grace. It includes God’s gift of the ability to take comfort in what we know to be true. This provides reasons for rejoicing.

5. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Fellowship with God

People will never find what they are seeking for in earthly things, even though they weary themselves in the pursuit. These things are only truly found in God. Solomon has shown before that during his estrangement from God he was seeking satisfaction for his mind in the study of wisdom. After this he was seeking it in an abundance of earthly pleasures. But he declares that he has been disappointed by all of this. He did not find satisfaction till he came back to his first love, who gives him (and promises to others who choose His way) wisdom, knowledge and joy.

6. A Fulfilling Life is Not Found in Outward Things in Themselves

Those who seek happiness in earthly things may have success in getting an abundance of them: we are told here that they do gather and heap them up.  Yet they are still as far from satisfaction as they were before. They are constantly toiling in gathering and heaping up but never attaining to contentment.

The great toil in obtaining worldly things, the great agony of spirit which results from seeking happiness in them and the great disappointment of not enjoying true satisfaction in them should draw our hearts away from them. This way of life, labouring to gather and heap up, is condemned as futile. It fails to deliver that which those who are accepted before God enjoy.

Those who seek their happiness in things other than the Lord imagine themselves the only free men and that they have much joy in their way of life. But the truth is they are merely slaves to Satan and their own lusts and lack true comfort. The travail or task they have literally means the work and affliction of a slave.

Conclusion

We must not settle for anything less than the fulfilling life that God holds out to us in the Scriptures. When we seek first His kingdom and righteousness all other things will also be added. It does not guarantee a trouble-free life not does it guarantee prosperity. But it supplies the only meaning and purpose that makes life worth living.

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How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
16 Aug, 2019

Did I mean it? How sorry was I? Do I really want to change? Many have nagging doubts over their repentance. That’s often valid. Paul tells us that there is true and false repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Paul also makes clear that repentance isn’t just sorrow; that can also be genuine or false. Repentance involves our feelings. But if we only ever assess it by our feelings our conclusions about whether it is genuine will always be subjective. How do we get beyond this?

It’s important to have a serious attitude about this. If we aren’t confessing our sin, what are we saying? That we have no sins? That we haven’t sinned? Then we are making God a liar (1 John 1:8). It would also mean neglecting the blood of Jesus Christ that continually cleanses us from all sin. We need to keep coming in repentance because we keep sinning. If we keep sinning without repenting we harden ourselves in it and cannot have true fellowship with God.

It helps to establish first what we mean by repentance. James Durham gives a helpful definition. Repentance is a work of sanctifying grace, arising from the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy. It makes the heart both indignant against past sin and warmed with desire and love towards the mercy they expect. This repentance goes along with faith, which acts to attain the hoped for forgiveness with a thorough impression of the freeness of forgiveness alongside the person’s felt sinfulness. This is the godly sorrow which is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:11 and in other places where repentance is required in order sin to be forgiven. It also involves turning from sin and seeking to obey God.

In the following updated extract, Durham goes on to speak about how we can identify genuine repentance. It isn’t simply about what kind of feelings we have and to what extent they are experienced. There are more objective ways to identify whether repentance is the real thing or not.

1. Genuine Repentance is Not a Particular Degree

The Lord does not require some categorical degree of repentance, but He does require sincere repentance together with the fruits that naturally accompany it.

2. Genuine Repentance is Not a Particular Emotion

You cannot judge the sincerity of your repentance only by the sorrow, horror or grief that sometimes accompanies it. Nor can you judge it by how long you continue in such emotions while repenting. Repentance can be genuine even when there is little sense of these things. Experience demonstrates this. Repentance may be unsound when there is a great deal of felt sorrow, even over a long period of time.

3. Genuine Repentance has the Right Causes and Effects

The best way to judge the sincerity of repentance is by its causes and its effects. It is a good sign if repentance is caused by a concern about God’s honour. The effects of this concern are that: sin becomes hateful to you, you are humbled in yourself and you value and esteem God’s grace in Christ Jesus so highly that you are in love with it. This is turning, properly understood, and it includes all the essential features of repentance whatever may be the degree of sorrow.

4. Genuine Repentance May be Explicit or Implicit

Repentance is explicit when people know that specific things are sins and that they themselves are guilty of these sins. They then expressly and explicitly acknowledge this and turn from these sins. Other times, repentance is implicit. This is when people are moved with the sense of their sinfulness in general. They may still be guilty of some things which they do not realise are sins, or they do not realise they are guilty of these sins.  There are also many matters of fact which people forget, or did not notice, or do not think about. The psalmist prays to be cleansed from secret sins (Psalm 19:12). Implicit repentance is necessary for pardon, but it is not necessary that repentance should be explicit for every particular sin someone is guilty of.

5. Genuine Repentance May be Actual or Implied

Sometimes repentance is actual for particular sins. For example, when Peter repented of his denial, and David repented of his murder. Other times, repentance is implied. Someone may have a heart concern about some particular sin and for the corrupt inclination and body of death which it sprang from. Yet there may be other particular sins which they either do not realise are sin or they are not particularly thinking and repenting about. They do have an implied repentance for these sins. This is because: (a) They repent of all sin in its root and seed. This implies a loathing for all the sins which branch out from this root; (b) The sins they do repent of are repented of due to what is common to all sin–lack of conformity to the law of God. They detest the essence and defining characteristic of sin as such, and in this sense they repent of all sins by implication. It is this principle that is necessary for true repentance.

6. Genuine Repentance May be Passionate or Perceptive

Repentance may be impassioned when the heart experiences a high degree of sorrow. Other times, repentance is perceptive. This is when sin is seen and acknowledged and (although there may not be such intense sorrow) sin is still regarded as something to sorrow for. Indeed the heart is sorry that its sorrow for sin is not deeper and the person realises they are so far under the power of spiritual deadness that they cannot even repent as far as they see they should. This perceptive repentance has the essential effects of repentance (namely, that the person hates sin, is humbled, and loves God’s mercy in Christ). Intense passionate feelings may not always, however, have these effects.

7. Genuine Repentance May be Complete or Confined

Sometimes repentance is all-encompassing, taking up the whole person in their affections and actions. This can be seen in David’s experience in Psalm 51. Other times, repentance is limited to the renewed (regenerate) part of the person. The renewed part may be lamenting sin and the tyranny of the body of death, even while it is kept in bondage by it. This constrained repentance is what Paul shows in Romans 7:15, where he condemned what he did but was overcome by his own sinfulness. Despite this he like Ephraim bemoaning himself (Jeremiah 31:18) was a true penitent.

8. Genuine Repentance May be Obvious or Hidden

Repentance may obvious to everyone or to the person themselves, because they have been clearly recovered from sin. This was the case with the repentance of David, Peter, and Manasseh. Other times, repentance is known only to God. Even when there are no visible evidences to others, or indeed even any change of which the person themselves is conscious, repentance may be genuine. This may be said of Solomon and Asa, their change is not very discernible because the Lord has left them under something of a cloud in His Word. Yet we cannot doubt that they did genuinely repent because they were pardoned.

This has been ordered by the Lord in His deep wisdom: (a) partly to chastise their backsliding; (b) partly to terrify others from their backsliding path and (c) partly to make all men cautious about passing judgement on the state of others despite their condition. For the Lord Himself alone must make the sovereign and infallible decision about whether they are truly penitent and believers or not. He can produce faith and repentance and recover and renew as and when He pleases.

Conclusion

We don’t want to think we have repented while actually just putting our conscience to sleep while we continue in sin. We want a repentance concerned about God’s honour and glory. We want genuine repentance that hates all sin in principle, that humbles us and values God’s grace in Christ above all.

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Does Church Discipline Matter?

Does Church Discipline Matter?

Does Church Discipline Matter?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
9 Aug, 2019

Who these days wants authority–especially if it might restrain your freedom? Church discipline won’t be high on the checklist of many Christians looking for a new church. And ministers and elders worry about driving people away by seeming negative. Does anyone worry about church discipline any more? Isn’t it just up to the individual and their conscience? Church discipline may not matter to many people but it matters to Christ. And that ought to make us think. At the Reformation they said that discipline was one of the signs of a true church. Why? Because it’s one of Christ’s main tests of whether a church meets His approval.

James Durham reflects on how when the Lord Jesus Christ emphasises the matter of discipline when He writes to churches in Revelation 2-3. The following is an abridged and updated extract from Durham’s discussion of this theme. He also mentions the great benefit of church government and discipline to individual believers in the Sum of Saving Knowledge. Christ has ordained this gift for His Church so that they are hedged in and helped forward towards keeping the covenant.

What do we mean by church discipline? It’s one of Christ’s gifts to His Church to prevent and correct open disobedience to His Word (2 Corinthians 10:8; Matthew 18:15-20; Matthew 16:19). It involves doctrinal error as well as matters of behaviour (Titus 3:10). Church discipline arises from Christ’s love to His people (Revelation 3:19). Its purpose is Christ’s honour and the Church’s good by avoiding others being tempted to sin in the same way or being harmed spiritually. The spiritual good of the person involved is also in view, it is intended to bring them to repentance.

Discipline may involve private correction or more public rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20). Other cases may involve removing some of the privileges of church membership such as participating in the Lord’s Supper. At its most serious it may be excommunication from the Church (1 Corinthians 5:13). We are always to hope that it will be temporary because it brings the person to repent (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 2:6-10)

1. Church Discipline Matters to Christ

The topic of church discipline is very prominent in the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3). When a church is commended or rebuked, it is often largely down to whether they are faithful or defective in administering church discipline.

This shows not only the lawfulness of church government and discipline but also its usefulness, and how necessary it is to the church of Christ when it is faithfully exercised. It is a special means and ordinance appointed by Christ to edify the church. It is not something indifferent which church officers can exercise or not exercise as they please. Rather they have the responsibility to exercise church discipline.

Ministers and elders need to be faithful in this if they want to receive Christ’s commendation on the one hand, and avoid His sharp reproof on the other. They need to be faithful in this for the sake of the people over whom they watch over (and for whom they must give account). Faithfulness in this will prevent people from stumbling and being destroyed. It will also help see them edified and built up in the faith instead.

2. Church Discipline Matters to Satan

It is therefore no wonder that the devil is so busy trying to oppose church discipline or undermine it. In the early church he represented church government as inconsistent with civil government and a threat to it–leading emperors to persecute the church. Then he perverted church government into something that tyrannised church members, making even the concept of church authority seem harmful or repugnant to believers. More recently he has been insinuating into people’s minds the idea either that Christ has given the church no distinct form of government at all, or else that the church should be governed in another way from what Christ has appointed in His Word.

Often, those who oppose the scriptural form of church government and the scriptural nature of church discipline do not oppose the truth of the gospel. Nor do they intend to sow confusion in Christ’s church. Nevertheless failure to exercise scriptural church government and discipline are very advantageous to Satan’s kingdom and very detrimental to Christ’s.

3. Church Discipline Matters to the Church

Failure to exercise church discipline matters greatly to the wellbeing of the church. Neglecting church discipline:

  • obscures the beauty and excellence of Christ’s church and leads people to undervalue it
  • makes it harder to restrain or remove errors in doctrine and stumbling others
  • excludes the opportunity for edification which church discipline provides. The penalties available to civil authorities only extend to making people socially acceptable, not spiritual. But if someone is at fault in some way and they are given a church censure, it edifies others and brings greater conviction to the individual’s conscience about the sinfulness of their fault. This is because church discipline flows immediately from Jesus Christ. It reminds people more directly of His authority and the fact that they are answerable to Him. A verbal church censure (which is in itself only a very light thing) carries much more weight and makes much more impression in terms of edification and conviction than a severe civil penalty would
  • makes it look like it does not matter to the church that there are church members who believe or behave in perhaps very ungodly ways. If the church used the authority that actually belongs to her, to purge out unfaithfulness in doctrine or practice, there would be no grounds for anyone to say, “What sort of persons would those church members be, if there wasn’t some other authority restraining them?”
  • casts aspersions on the wisdom and holiness of our Lord, as if He has left His church incapable of dealing with these problems on her own authority
  • weakens and obstructs the other ordinances of the church. It breaks down the boundary marker for the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. It makes church offices such as elder and deacon useless and it makes preaching contemptible. If you deny that the church has the authority to administer discipline, then either the minister has to carry out the disciplining arbitrarily by himself or discipline must be left undone altogether
  • allows the devil to succeed in making religion seem like something you can use to advance your own self-interest

4. Church Discipline Matters to Believers

Upholding and submitting to church authority is a necessary duty which concerns all of us (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). If what we have said about church authority is true, then submission must follow. It is the duty of ministers and elders to discipline (even those who have caused others to stumble). Since this is so, it is also the duty of those who are disciplined to submit and the duty of the church to acknowledge these decisions. Hebrews 13:17 says that we are obey them that rule over us, and submit to them.

People are often very suspicious of ministers and elders, suspecting that they grasp at power for its own sake. They fear that they will be authoritarian and abuse their power. Church authority has always been regarded by the unconverted as bondage, and church officers are always regarded as too proud and rigid etc. But people should seriously consider the following.

  • Is that the fault of the ordinance of church discipline itself or of the individuals who hold office in the church? If the fault is in the individuals, why should it be imputed to the thing itself in this case, more than in other cases?
  • Is there anything in a church office which prompts this authoritarianism, more than in any civil office? It seems unlikely on the face of it.
  • If we look more closely at ministers and elders, there is less reason to be so suspicious of them. No one else’s position and qualifications are so specifically regulated in Scripture as the office of minister or elder. No other office is so deliberately filled by conscientious and qualified individuals. Nor is anyone else so circumscribed by beneficial rules when they exercise their authority.
  • Think of what these individuals are like in themselves, even if they were not church officers. They are men of tenderness, conscience and gifts; just like people in any other position. Looking at their qualifications and manner of life, you could well imagine that they might hold other positions, such as judges or rulers, without anyone being suspicious of them more than anyone else in that position. If that is the case, then why should a church office make them more liable to suspicion, rather than less?
  • Who fumes most at church authority? It is those who are inclined to looseness in practice or error in doctrine and cannot abide any such restraints. Those who are bitterly opposed to discipline are also also against preaching that rebukes and spiritual authority in general.
  • It is often the most faithful and zealous church officers of whom people are most suspicious. This has always been the case. Think of how Elijah and John the Baptist were treated, for example. Yet this really only reflected how people found the doctrine and power of the Word unbearable.
  • Suspicions about church authority tend to arise mostly when church officers are serving Christ, and people tend to entertain such suspicions mostly when they are least spiritual. No one has been able to take comfort from their opposition to the faithful exercise of church authority when on their deathbed, although contempt for it has often lain heavily on their consciences in such circumstances. What advantage indeed comes from opposing church authority? Only greater freedom to sin and the fewer ways to reclaim people from sin. And if censures are administered in a way that only lets people laugh at their sin, without reaching their consciences to convict them, how does that benefit anyone?

Conclusion

The right exercise of church discipline has never been detrimental to anybody. Godliness and church discipline flourish hand in hand. Congregations are best placed when church discipline is most vigorous. And the sad effects of the lack of church discipline evidently demonstrate how necessary it is.

 

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Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
2 Aug, 2019

This false religion is generally welcomed into the home many times in a day and influences the whole family. This isn’t the cults that only knock on the door nor the major religions studied at school. It helps most people understand and define themselves, providing value and meaning to life and the world. All of life can be influenced by it. It seems to guarantee happiness and fulfilment–without Christ. It’s the false religion of consumerism and it is preached by many of the media messages we are presented with each day. Brands do not sell products but self-image: “You are what you consume”. From newspapers and magazines to TV and the internet–it is inescapable.  The cult of choice can easily dominate our lives.

Secular observers have often recognised the way that excessive and obsessive consumption or consumerism has become the new national religion. “Consumerism has shouldered aside other ways of understanding the world—real political visions, organised religion, a pulsating sense of national identity” writes Andrew Marr in A History of Modern Britain. It’s no accident that advertisers exploit spiritual themes such as the brevity of life; even the most mundane products can be marketed as having spiritual value.

Consumerism has pushed further into our whole way of viewing the world. Choice and freedom are the absolutes. Whether it is relationships, identities, genders, philosophies or anything–just choose and try it out. See what suits you, there are other options to experiment with. But in an age of Starbuck’s services, church shopping and limited commitment, where many prefer relevance over reverence–we needn’t think that evangelical Christians are in any way immune from it. In fact the whole approach to church growth movement has, ironically, often mandated a consumerist approach.  Is consumerism the Achan in the camp?

The Bible plainly tells us that consumerism is a false religion. Covetousness and greed are idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). It captures our heart (Matthew 6: 19-21). Consumerism is insatiable and will demand all of our service and devotion; it will not share anything with God (Matthew 6:24). It’s a deceitful false gospel (Matthew 13:22). It makes us discontented while promising a contentment that will never be attained. This is the reverse of what the Bible teaches (Hebrews 13:5). Consumerism reverses the biblical perspective by focussing our attention on the temporary rather than the eternal, the present rather than the future, the earthly rather than the heavenly (2 Corinthians 4:18).

It’s not of course that owning or buying things are wrong in themselves, it’s the impact that this has on us and the time and energy we devote to it. We are constantly, implicitly told each day that Christ was wrong about the value of life not consisting in what we consume (Luke 12:15). Which message do we really believe? How do we live godly in a world of relentless consumerism? In this updated extract James Fergusson has some wise counsel drawn from what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:3 and 5.

 

1. What is Consumerism?

Covetousness is an immoderate desire (Hebrews 13:5) to acquire (Micah 2:2) or to preserve worldly goods (Proverbs 11:24, 26).

 

2. How is it a False Religion?

Whatever thing someone gives the outward or inward worship and service due to God alone is that person’s god. They are guilty of idolatry and giving divine worship to a false god even though they may not think they are doing this. The covetous person is called an idolater (Ephesians 5:5) and consequently riches are their god. This is because they devote to these things their prime affections of love and confidence to an extent that is due to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16; Proverbs 18:11).

The covetous person believes that possessions are a universal good which will completely satisfy (Luke 12:19). But this is only true of God Himself (2 Corinthians 9:8). A covetous person’s desire and attitude towards possessions keep him from making use of them (Ecclesiastes 6:2). Covetous people serve possessions with their heart in the same way as some god is usually served (Matthew 6:24).

Covetousness consists in an immoderate desire to acquire or keep worldly riches. It is not just a sin that provides oil to make all other sins burn, it has a kind of idolatry in it. This is because it draws away our love, trust, fear and joy, from God and from serving Him. Instead we are taken up with and expend ourselves on wealth and riches.

 

3. How Bad is it?

In both Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 covetousness is singled out together with sexual immorality as being especially loathsome and contradictory to a Christian profession. They are corrupt lusts and affections which are said to be on the earth (Colossians 3:5), because they draw the soul down towards earth. He mentions those which are sensual as tending to fulfil our unlawful pleasures.

There is a great affinity and similarity between the lusts of filthiness and covetousness. When someone yields to the former it requires the lecherous person to thirst after and by indirect means purchase worldly goods, to maintain in a special way this lust of uncleanness.

 

4. How Do We Root it Out of Our Hearts?

(a) Put it to Death

Putting sin to death means that a sinner who is conscious of the evil of sin (Acts 2:37-38) honestly resolves (Job 34:31) and endeavours (2 Corinthians 7:11) to subdue sin thoroughly–root and branch–or put it to death. It is not putting to death only one sin but all known sins (Hosea 14:2).

This is done by carefully avoiding the things that give occasion to sin (Job 31:1). It means using every means which may help to subdue it: prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8); hearing the Word (1 Peter 2:1-2) and in some cases, fasting (Mark 9:29). But the primary means is exercising faith in Christ for strength (Philippians 4:13). This is such a necessary activity that the life of glory to be manifested at Christ’s second coming cannot be attained without it. He connects their appearing with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:4) with this by using the word “therefore” (v5) to show that putting sin to death is essential. Putting sin to death is not completed instantly. The best of Christians must make it their daily task to put sin to death.

(b) Avoid Things That Stir it Up

We are set against sin in reality when we pursue it to the den and labour to pull it up by the very roots. We do this by withdrawing from the things which add fuel to it. Paul wants them to go beyond addressing the outward acts to the inward root of evil desire. They must also set themselves covetousness which feeds and nourishes lust.

(c) Don’t Tolerate it

Paul says that sexual immorality and covetousness must not even be named among believers (Ephesians 5:3). This means that they should not name them with delight and without disgust.  It  is of course lawful to name them in order to reprove them, as the apostle does here. He urges this as necessary in those who were saints–separated from the world and dedicated to God. It was therefore most unfitting for them to defile themselves with such filthy lusts.

It is not enough for saints to abstain from practising gross sin outwardly. Their outward abstinence must flow from detesting them inwardly. Outward abstinence may well make someone outwardly respectable but not a sincere Christian.

(d) Value Your True Identity

The only life that is fitting for saints is to keep themselves pure in heart, tongue and hand from the pollution of fleshly lusts and the immoderate love of worldly goods. When professing saints yield to these things they walk unworthy of their high and heavenly calling; they stain their profession; and declare themselves unworthy of the name of saints (Ephesians 5:3).  Paul shows that the behaviour that befits saints is not practising those evils and inward detesting them; this is made evident not speaking of them.

(e) Look Heavenward

Paul exhorts that, being risen with Christ, they would earnestly seek, know and (from knowledge), delight in things which are above (Colossians 3:1-2). Things above are heaven, happiness, and all spiritual graces. They are not to seek and delight in things earthly, such as riches, honours and pleasures. This is because Christ is their Head, their Husband and He is above at the right hand of God. He is completely glorified and entrusted with full power to distribute all things for His people’s good (Ephesians 1:20, 22).

The saving graces of God’s Spirit are things above as well as heaven and glory. These graces come from above (James 3:17) and elevate the heart of those who have them above earthly things. They raise the heart to seek communion with God now so that they may live above with God forever (Philippians 3:20-21).

Heaven and the saving graces which lead us to it are to be sought diligently.  The original word means a diligent search by those who have a vehement desire to have what they seek for  (see 1 Peter 5:8; Mark 12:12). If we seek heaven and heavenly things with this kind of diligence, it will be because we know something of the worth which is in them and know how to value them. We are to set our minds, affections and will on things above  We are to know them, and knowing them to desire them and therefore seek them.

Earthly things and heavenly things are in two opposite sides of the scales:  the more the heart is given to the one, the less it is to the other. We are to set our hearts on things above, not on things on the earth. 

(f) Use the Things of This World Carefully

We may use the world and the things in it and seek after them in a moderate way (1 Timothy 5:8). But we must not pursue these things in opposition but rather in subordination to heavenly things. They must not be sought as our ultimate goal and purpose (Psalm 49:11). They must not be sought by unlawful means (Ephesians 4:28) or by neglecting God’s worship (Matthew 6:33). We must also submit to God when He brings about disappointments in relation to them (Job 1:21).

Since believers are dead to sin (Colossians 3:3) they are not to place their happiness in earthly things or to be sinfully eager in seeking after them. This is a strong argument for not enslaving our affections to earthly things. If this was the case it is proof that sin is still reigning and being kept alive rather than put to death.

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