Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust
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.
27 May, 2020

A crisis is fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish. Many rumours and ideas with little supporting evidence can circulate rapidly. At times these theories do not change people’s lives much. But if it changes behaviour in relation to protecting life and health it becomes different. Some theories are related to the Bible or are shared by Christians. Others function like religious beliefs. In this, as in all truth claims, we need the grace of discernment. We need to know the Scriptures well and accurately to test what we hear. How much is it someone’s personal opinion or does it have the authority of the Bible? In other matters we need to apply the principles of Scripture. We need to be very careful about preserving and promoting the truth (Zechariah 8:16). This involves avoiding rushing to hasty judgments about doubtful things in case we are spreading false rumours, especially if it could be slander (Proverbs 6:19 and 29:11). We need to consider what impact our opinions may have on others. Yet we also need to avoid evil suspicion since even some truly biblical beliefs are widely ridiculed and this does not make them wrong. We should not be gullible about mainstream opinions either. When online sermons, teaching and discussions are everywhere, we also need to know what we can trust. How do we discern true biblical teaching and weigh carefully claims that we encounter?

1 Thessalonians 5:21 helps us with understanding our duty of discernment. It speaks of testing or proving all things, including what we hear. As James Fergusson observes, it belongs in a list of instructions for living as Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11-22). 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Fergusson clarifies that not despising preaching (v20) does not mean Paul requires obedience without question to everything which ministers preach. He commands them to prove and test accurately what they hear by the written Word (Acts 17:11). The word in Greek implies testing something by a standard as goldsmiths test gold using a touchstone. 

To hold fast literally means to hold tightly with both hands, against all who would withstand it. They must hold fast that which is good, or what testing has shown to be good doctrine firmly grounded on the Word. They are consequently to abstain from that which is found to be evil or unsound. Fergusson goes on to make the following observations.

1. Christians Must Discern

Most people are naturally so foolish and unthinking that when they are running from one sinful extreme, they are in no small danger of going to the other unawares. The evil they are fleeing from is always in front of them. Thus, while they are so greatly intent on avoiding it, they do not notice the snare behind them. Paul implies this in dissuading them from the extreme of blind obedience to their ministers after having dissuaded from the other extreme of despising preaching (v20).

2. Christians Can Discern

All Christians may not have received an equal measure of gifts (Romans 14:1). The Lord has, however, given a spirit of discerning, in a greater or a lesser measure to all. If this is diligently and carefully made best use of through searching Scripture (Acts 17:11) and prayer (Psalm 119:19), they may be enabled to evaluate what they hear in preaching. In doing this they will choose and embrace what is sound and nourishing, and refuse and reject whatever is erroneous and hurtful. If they did not have such a spirit of discernment given them by God, it would have been pointless to instruct them “to prove all things” and “hold fast that which is good”.

3. Christians Must Discern Carefully

The spirit of discernment that God gives to Christians, should be exercised in evaluating their minister’s teaching. This does not mean they pass judicial sentence on him; they are not his judges (1 Corinthians 14:32). Neither does it allow them to vent disparaging censures against him, making his ministry repellent to others in all things. It means discerning how to regulate their own behaviour in choosing what is right and refusing what is wrong in what they hear. He instructs them to exercise discretion in relation to their own practice so that they may “hold fast” what is good.

4. Christians Must Test Their Opinions

A fixed resolution to maintain any opinion constantly should flow from a rational conviction (after careful search) that the opinion we hold is true and sound. Otherwise our constancy and fixed resolution is only self-willed pertinacity (Jeremiah 44:16). So, when truth is discovered after careful enquiry, we ought to be so fixed and absolute in our resolution to maintain it that we may not waver or be tossed to and fro with any contrary wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Before they are resolved, he urges them to prove or test and then hold fast without wavering what they have proved to be good.

5. Christians Must Not Abuse Their Freedom

Christians must abstain from and avoid not only that which is really and in itself evil and sinful, but also any appearance or representation of evil (v22). They must avoid anything (unless commanded by God) that may give just grounds of suspicion to unprejudiced onlookers. These are those who are not malicious (Galatians 2:4-5), even though they may be weak (1 Corinthians 10:28). They may have just reason to suspect those practising such things as being guilty of wrongdoing. This might include dangerous phrases of speech in preaching even though they are not plainly heretical (1 Timothy 6:3). Other examples include eating at a feast in an idol’s temple (1 Corinthians 10:21) or close and unnecessary company with ungodly, immoral persons without a call (Luke 22:55). Close company in private suspicious places with persons of a different sex, especially if he or she has a bad reputation must also be avoided.

A conscientious, sensitive Christian must consider the eye of men as well as the all-seeing eye of God in abstaining from evil. They must not only abstain from what their own conscience will condemns as vile in itself and in God’s sight. Anything that has the appearance of evil to others and by which his good name might be justly wounded by others is also to be avoided. Conscientious Christians will not only strive to walk without falling. They will also seek to avoid being the occasion of others falling by their careless use of Christian liberty. They will strive to be on their guard against all, not just some temptations. They will not do this merely at some times, but always. This is required as the highest point of a spiritually sensitive Christian walk, to abstain from the appearance of evil. They abstain from that by which someone’s reputation might justly suffer or his neighbour be made to stumble. They will abstain not only from some but from all appearance of evil.

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Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
22 May, 2020

This seems an almost ludicrous question. Evangelicals scarcely stop talking about God and do so much for God. How can you call that forgetting God? But it depends on what you mean by forgetting God. We can talk much about the things of God. Yet do we talk more about our work for God, ourselves and each other than about God Himself? How much do we engage with God directly? Has there been a subtle change from the vertical to the horizontal? We may come to think that the end of serving God justifies the means of doing what we want. This often means doing what we want to do rather than being concerned about what God wants us to do. Is God something of an after thought? It is possible to pursue a certain type of experience or spiritual feeling for our benefit rather than focussing on God Himself. Let’s consider this question positively and indirectly by asking another one. What does it mean to set God always before us?

A recently published book asks When Did We Start Forgetting God? The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future. Mark Galli has written this book from the perspective of having edited for many years the leading evangelical periodical Christianity Today. No doubt, like everyone, he has his own bias but it would be foolish to jettison such a fundamental question because we don’t like the messenger.
Galli speaks of forgetting God as maintaining activity for God without a single-minded desire for God. We can have words, activities and doctrines that all relate to God but not this passion that should energize all we do. This desire for God did indeed characterize the evangelical movement in the past. Today evangelicals are known for our activism, social values, mission, focus on conversion, church planting techniques and so on. Yet while the passion is here and there in some individuals, it’s not what we are known for. We live in a world that excludes the transcendent, there could not be a greater tragedy than to become of that world without realising it.

There are many in the world who reject or merely neglect God altogether. They do not consider that God is all-present, all-just, all-holy and all-powerful. They do not set God before them; they do not remember God as they ought. But this may also be true in a measure of those who profess God.

We cannot hope to consider the full extent of practically forgetting God and its impact. Perhaps it is something to return to on another occasion. We can, however, address some basic considerations. What then does it mean to set God always before us in our everyday life? In this updated extract, Archibald Skeldie briefly covers some valuable points in relation to this.

1. Set God’s Will Before You as the Rule of Your Actions

Those who set God before them look to the will of God as the rule of their actions. As many as follow this rule will have mercy and peace on them Having regard to God’s will involves the following noteworthy things.

(a) Seek to Please God Rather than Man

A Christian should so look to please God that they have no regard to pleasing man. That is to say, they must not do anything offensive to God in order to please man. They must not omit anything that may please the Lord even though by doing it, they greatly offend man.
It would have been good for Joab if he had so deeply considered the matter of Uriah as not offend God in order to please his king. This was better considered by Peter and John, who asked the Jews to judge whether it was better to obey God, than men. For seeing none can serve two masters, it is the best and wisest course to serve the best and worthiest master. The early Church father Gregory asked how can you give like service to those that are so unlike each other; mortal men and the eternal God?

(b) Seek to Conform Your Will to God’s

Those who do the will of God and makes it the rule of their actions, should not be desirous to conform God’s will to theirs. Rather they should strive to conform their will to God’s will. If this is how earthly employees should conduct themselves towards their earthly masters, how much more ought it so to be towards God, their heavenly Master. Augustine says that we are God’s true servants if we are ready to will what we hear rather than hear what we will.
A Christian must carefully consider this, not only in abstaining from things that ought to be avoided, but likewise in doing things that ought to be performed. They should avoid the one because they are forbidden and do the other because they are commanded of the Lord. By this means a Christian gives testimony of sincere obedience in the sight of God. Augustine also said that they are truly obedient who do not enquire into what sort of thing is commanded but are merely content to know that it is commanded.

2. Set the Glory of God Before You as the Goal of Your Actions

In order that a Christian may set God before him, it is not only required that they consider the will of God as the rule of their actions. They must also consider the glory of God as goal of their actions. This manifests the faithfulness and sincerity of God’s servants. They are those who will obtain their master’s approval in the day of reckoning. A Christian may be said to set the glory of God before them as the end of his actions, when they are so zealously protective of the honour of God, that they will not do anything to dishonour Him. Even though it would bring them the greatest profit and benefit possible they will not do it. Neither will they omit anything by which God should be honoured, even though by doing so they would incur both harm and shame.

In the parable of the talents, they servant respected their master’s honour so much that they gave into his hands both the talents they had received and those they had gained. They left the distribution of their rewards to their master’s discretion. Happy is the Christian who can say with Christ that, in finishing the work which God has given them to do, they have glorified God on earth. They may be well assured, that just as those that dishonour God will come to shame, so those that honour Him will be honoured by Him (). Augustine says, in commenting on John 12:26, that the Father of Christ will honour the servant of Christ with that great honour, that they will be with His Son. This happiness will never fail or fall away.

3. Set the Light of God’s Word and Spirit Before You, to Lead You

Those that set God before them must be led by the light of His Word and Spirit. The Word of God is a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths. It gives light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. David requests the Lord to teach him His ways and to lead him in a right path, because of his enemies. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the anointing that teaches us all things. He leads us into all truth. This is not to be understood of extraordinary but ordinary revelation. This is when by illumination He makes us understand the true meaning of the written Word of God so that we may flee the evil to be avoided and follow the good which is commanded.

4. Set God’s Divine Attributes Before You

Those that set God before them must remember God in His attributes of being all-present, all-just and all-powerful. They must consider that God is present everywhere, to take notice both of the inward and outward conduct of all people, whether it is good or evil. Augustine says that God is all eye, to see all things; all hand, to work all things; and all foot, to walk everywhere.

You must likewise remember that the righteous Lord will not allow neither the evil doings of individuals to be unpunished, nor the good doings of individuals to be unrewarded. The Church says in the book of Lamentations, “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled” (Lamentations 1:18). The apostle says, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10).

Remember also the power of Almighty God. He does whatsoever He wills in heaven, and earth. Indeed, He can do all that He can will, without limitation. He can punish sinners for their iniquity no matter how great they may be and no matter how great a multitude they join with in sin. By His power, God protects His Saints in their greatest danger and difficulty. He comforts and strengthens them in their greatest trouble and calamity and is able to satisfy their desire exceeding abundantly.

Why Should We Strive to Set God Before Us?

There are three reasons why a Christian should carefully strive to set God before them in this way.

(a) This is the great evidence of God’s people

Spiritual people like David always set God always before them, but the wicked and worldly, like the enemies of David, do not set God before them at all. They live in the world without hope, and without God, and by their conduct they declare to the world that they are devoid of the fear of God. Yet when Christians set God before them, it is evidence of their effectual calling. They have been turned from the power of Satan to God and from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. They are called out of darkness into the marvellous light of Christ.

(b) This is the great happiness of God’s people

Consider the happiness of those who set God before them against the misery of those who do not set God before them. The happiness of the one is that as they set God before them, so He sets them before Him. In those things which are mutually done by God to man and by man to God, the Lord is always the one who begins. If we do our part, we may know for certain that God will do His. There is mutual love between God and His saints, but God begins first. As the apostle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And those that love God may know that they are beloved of God. God has already chosen the person for His portion that chooses God for their portion. God seeks us before we can seek Him.

The Lord sets before Himself anyone who sets God before them by doing His will, seeking His honour, following His light and remembering His attributes. He sets them before Him by a high estimation of them; tender and earnest love towards them; and by a fatherly, providential care about them (Isaiah 49:16).

But the misery of those who do not set God before them is correspondingly as great as the happiness of those who do. In a word as they were careless about walking as in His presence while they live, so they will be for ever banished from the presence of God and the glory of His power.

(c) This is the great activity of God’s people

This is required in relation to our living and walking in a spiritual way. Christians must not walk like the Gentiles who do not know God (Ephesians 4:17). Rather they must walk like Zachariah and Elizabeth in all the commandments of God (Luke 1:5-6). This is called walking worthy of the Lord, walking in the Spirit and after the Spirit. It is walking with God, as Enoch did. It is walking before God, as Abraham enjoyed (Genesis 15:1). It is impossible for anyone to walk in this way unless they set God before them. Only by this will they know the path in which they must walk, the way they should walk and the destination towards which they ought to walk. In all these respects we may make conscience of walking in the sight of God by walking in His commandments with a perfect heart. Such walk from strength to strength towards Zion where they will see the Lord of Hosts. They walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing Him in all things, seeking to be fruitful in good works and increase in the knowledge of God.

Conclusion

Skeldie expresses the desire: “May God in His infinite mercy bring all our souls, for the sake of Jesus into this heavenly and holy condition”. This is what we should want for ourselves and for othersfor the glory of God. We need to set God in Christ before us in everything. The engrained habits of virtually forgetting God are not easily broken. They have influenced so much of what we do and think but setting God constantly before us helps to address the problem at its root.

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
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.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?
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.
7 May, 2020

Has the coronavirus prompted more concern about spiritual things? To some extent, yes. Google searches on prayer for 95 countries during this crisis have increased to the highest level ever recorded. The Danish author of the study, Jeanet Sinding Bentzen said she found that “search intensity for ‘prayer’ doubles for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19.” The Pew Research Center also reported increased prayer in the USA. 44% of Americans have also said that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a “wake-up call for us to turn back to faith in God.” One of the UK’s largest online Christian bookstores, Eden, has seen physical Bible sales rise by 55 per cent in April. It is too early to say how significant this is or how the impact of this will be sustained or if it is a window that is already closing. But it should spur us to prayer ourselves. Perhaps you have heard of other indications of increased interest. Whether or not this is a window of opportunity for the gospel, it is helpful to consider what Christ means by an open door and its relevance to us. In these days of disruption for churches there is tremendous encouragement in it.

Scripture speaks about an open door in a number of places but especially in Revelation 3:7-8. It gives the encouragement that Christ is Head over His Church and opens doors that no one can shut. He has all power and authority in relation to His Church. It uses the language of Isaiah 22:20–22 and the authority given to Eliakim. As James Durham points out in the following updated extract, we can draw great reassurance from this.

It encourages us that Christ Jesus, as Mediator, has special oversight and government of the church He is completely sovereign so that when He shuts no one can open and vice versa. None of His orders can be obstructed, He has an exalted name above every other (Philippians 2:9) and no one can compete with His authority. He is holy and true (v7) and therefore cannot wrong any, nor fail in fulfilling His promises.

Ministers and churches can (like the church in Philadelphia) wrestle with great difficulties, weaknesses and distresses and these reassurances are given to encourage them. It shows them that Christ will support and comfort them in their trials. An open door is God giving opportunity to do good by the gospel (1 Corinthians 16:9; It is not only freedom to preach the gospel, but also God’s blessing on it (2 Corinthians 2:12).

It is as if Christ says the following to the minister of the church in Philadelphia who is said to have only “a little strength” (v8). “It is not for nothing that I have the key of the house of David, and open and no man shuts. I have given you commission to preach My gospel, and given you access to labour in My work of the ministry with some measure of success for doing good to souls.”

By assuring him that no one can shut this door, it is as though Christ is saying the following. “No one will hinder My work in your hands; no enemies or difficulties that you can meet with shall stop you. I have sent the gospel among you and given you ability to preach and the people ability to benefit. As I have sent the gospel among you, I will keep it among you, so long as I think good; no matter who may oppose it.”

1. What is an open door?

By an open door, Scripture usually means the Lord making way for the beneficial preaching of the gospel. This does not mainly consist in having ability and freedom, without any external restraint, to preach the gospel. It especially refers to God giving inward liberty to the preacher His blessing the Word, making it effectual and successful on the hearts of hearers. This is called, a door of utterance in Colossians 4:3, when a minister is not restrained in preaching the gospel, but as it were, the door is thrown open to him. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 it indicates God sending him in a special way and removing difficulties out of the way to make his ministry successful there. In 1 Corinthians 16:9 an effectual door is opened even where there is much opposition.
2. What does an open door imply?
It implies several things

(a) Ministers have their limitations
That there is a limitation in ministers who cannot make the gospel as productive as it ought to be. They cannot make the gospel as effective as it will be when the Lord sends forth the Spirit and enlarges a man to speak it with boldness. In this respect a door of utterance is opened to him, as clear from Colossians 4:3.

(b) Congregations have their limitations
That there is a further hindrance in that the ears and hearts of hearers are so locked up that the Word has no entrance but is repelled. The Lord opens this door, when by the work of His Spirit on hearts (like Lydia, Acts 16:4) He makes the Word to be received and admitted. Thus, Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, urges them to pray that the Word may have free course, that is, that there be no shut doors to hinder its progress. Both liberty for the minister to speak and blessing and success among the people are meant here.

(c) Providence maintains the Word
An open door also includes God’s providence in keeping the Word ministered and ordinances in a place with liberty in preaching and hearing. This may be despite many malicious opponents. No one can shut it.

3. Why does Christ open the door at certain times?

Christ is supreme and sovereign in giving gifts to men as well as liberty and inward freedom to make best use of them He also gives a blessing on them in making them successful. Gifts will not make a man able to preach unless the Lord gives a door of utterance. Even the great apostle Paul needs this (Colossians 4:3). Merely having utterance will not produce fruit among the people if the Lord does not open an effectual door and give the Word free course among them. Where there is most of the gift of utterance, there may be less success than where there are fewer gifts. This is because He whose privilege it is to set doors open, opens the door of utterance more fully to one, and the effectual door to the other, and does not open both equally to all.

4. What happens when Christ opens a door?

When Christ opens the door in this way, success cannot but follow necessarily and inevitably. No person or devil can shut out or impede it when He pleases to bless His ministers and commend the Word to the hearts of hearers. The meaning particular for the angel or minister here is. “I have called you to this ministry, and have given you some measure of utterance, though you do not have much ability. I have especially ordered matters so as the Word from you will have free course and success. No matter who rages against it, this will not be obstructed.”

This shows us that gifts and success in the ministry are different things. There is a little strength here (in relation to gifts) yet an open door (in respect of success). We find throughout Paul’s Epistles that a distinction is made between his liberty to preach on the one hand, and God’s opening an effectual door to him on the other.
Christ makes the Word successful, He gives both the gifts and the success. Not everyone experiences the same blessing. An open door is set before some more than before others or not at all before others. This is clear from comparing this and other epistles together.

5. How do we recognise an open door?

An open door cannot be discerned from a man’s gift alone. A door may be shut where there are great gifts. Paul did not always have this door open to him, at least it was more in one place than another. We cannot conclude there is an open door from a man’s freedom from external afflictions in a place, or the great following he may have. There may sometimes be many adversaries where this effectual door is opened (1 Corinthians 16:9) which is not the case where there is great peace and praise. Here are some ways in which it can be discerned.

(a) When a minister gets the door of utterance opened and the ears of the people are opened to it which is not a flesh pleasing desire to have ears tickled but with someone’s gifts but a simple, diligent love to be edified and receive good.
(b) Where there is real change and much solid work; the people are made humble, serious, spiritual sensitive, fruitful, etc. rather than merely opinionated
(c) When the devil attacks and opposes the ministry of one more than of many others.
(d) When the devil and ungodliness are defeated in a place by the preaching of the Word.
(e) Where there are new converts.

6. How should we make best use of an open door?

(a) Diligently, as a man that is to reap corn that is already ripe.
(b) Humbly, with self-denial, lest his pride robs the Master of His glory with dire consequences for himself.
(c) Watchfully. He should make use of it with fear, lest he or any other bring about a miscarriage in this birth because of unskillfulness. He should also proceed with watchfulness, lest the devil sow tares while he is sleeping, and it prove to be false without reality in many hearers. This is Paul’s concern; he was conscious of his own and their weaknesses (1 Corinthians 2:3).
(d) Zealously, so that the authority of Christ may appear in His ordinances both to adversaries and friends.
(e) Solidly, by making the foundation sure and giving solid food to souls such as the substantial gospel truths and the plain duties of holiness. It is dangerous to bring such a people too soon to the new wine of the most sublime things in doctrine, or the highest practices of mature Christians. It is better that they are fed on milk and what is healthy and nourishing than to please their appetites by diverting them with useless questions.
(f) Dependently, God is the Master and He has appointed a great Steward over the house, who has the keys laid upon His shoulder. The minister has no inherent right to such blessing but is subject to the Master’s good pleasure. Christ must be acknowledged in every step of the
work as it is has been done, or is being done.
(g) Single mindedly, this is the great aim of all preaching in public and private i.e. the edification and salvation of the people, and forming Christ in them by travailing, as it were, in birth for that purpose.

Conclusion

Here is some helpful biblical insight in discerning true opportunities and blessing provided by Christ. We can identify when Christ is at work by His Spirit in a more extraordinary way. If we feel discouraged about the prospects of the gospel and preaching being blessed, we can see that Christ can work in the most unlikely of circumstances. He can make use of anyone who is serious and faithful in serving Him and who does not seek to take the glory to themselves.

This is an encouragement to those ministers who feel that their gifts are nothing special compared to others. They may actually witness greater blessing than others. It is also an encouragement to congregations to be faithful to their minister whether or not they think that he has the gifts of a more prominent preacher. They should greatly value the preaching they hear if it is faithful to Christ and His Word. If Christ chooses to bless it, the more humble ministry may possibly be more fruitful. be more blessed. Christ shows both ministers and people that as mere men they are insufficient for any such thing, they must look to Him. It is not gifts that commend a minister to Christ, but faithfulness in making best use of what he has received (Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

It should encourage us to pray for the success of the gospel and the ministry of the Word. May the Lord open many such doors in our generation.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This updated extract has been taken from the first volume of James Durham's exposition of the book of Revelation covering the first three chapters. It has now been republished. It also includes many valuable essays offering unique insights. The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript and an appendix contains texts and full lectures that are significantly different than the published edition of 1658.

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8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Apr, 2020

From financial struggles and other anxieties and fears in the midst of uncertainty to quarantine fatigue, this is a crisis with many added difficulties. And it affects those worst who struggle with some of these things at the best of times. Then there are the deep spiritual burdens as we seek to understand and respond in a sanctified way. We hear the mantra “Everything will be all right”. All kinds of strategies are recommended. But at best they merely distract from rather than engage with our concerns. Sometimes it seems that the coronavirus has changed everything. But there are some things that are still the same because they are enduring, unchanging and unshakable. We can find solid encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.

People feel the need to share messages of encouragement at this time. One man in Barcelona is even projecting messages of encouragement on the facade of a building every day. Many take their encouragement from the strength and resilience of others. We are certainly to be thankful for the selfless sacrifice and dedication of many individuals. There are many mercies received in the midst of trying circumstances. We trust also that there are some who are being brought to consider eternal realities more. We can be thankful that God is in various ways restraining open sin and humbling the pride of those who neglect and reject Him. Where, however, can we find the greatest messages of encouragement?

Edmund Calamy, preaching before the House of Lords in 1643 in a time of war needed to find encouragements for the leaders of Parliament. They were engaged in formal thanksgiving for the thwarting of an armed uprising against Parliament. But Calamy went much higher than the people and events around them in seeking encouragements. They were facing a war and the current crisis has often been compared to a battle. In this updated extract, he gives us an enduring example of where we should look for encouragements in difficult times.

1. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING GOD

I think I hear God say to you as He does to Joshua “Be strong and of a good courage…strong and very courageous”. He promised that He would be with him everywhere he went (Joshua 1:6-7, 9). Joshua encouraged the people of Israel the Lord was with them and they should not therefore fear their enemies no matter how great they were (Numbers 14:7 see also Exodus 14:13-14). The God whose cause you manage is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, He has not brought us into depths to drown us, but to wash away our spiritual filthiness. It is not to destroy us, but to manifest His power in our deliverance. He will deliver us by weak means, and by contrary means. He will strike straight strokes with crooked sticks; as He made the treachery of Joseph’s brethren to be a means to advance Joseph, and the falseness of Judas to be a way to save all His elect children.

2. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING PROMISES

Here are six promises like six pillars to undergird our spirits from falling into discouragements. Cast yourselves into the bosom of these promises. (Exodus 23:22-23; Leviticus 26:6-8; Deuteronomy 28:7; 1 Samuel 25:28; Isaiah 41: 10-17; Isaiah 54:17). The last promise belongs to all God’s people, because it is said to be the heritage of the servants of the Lord.

3. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXAMPLES

We cannot be in a lower condition than Jonah was when he was in the whale’s belly. It was like a living grave. Yet God commanded the whale to deliver him safe ashore. We cannot be in a worse condition than Jeremiah was when he was in the dungeon. He sank in the mire so deep that thirty men could hardly lift him up. We cannot be in a worse condition than Peter was when he was ready to sink, or than Moses when put in an ark of bull-rushes. Or than the children of Israel in Babylon, who were like dry bones in the grave, so that Ezekiel himself could not tell whether they could live. Or as Peter when put in prison by Herod.

Yet God sent an Ethiopian to deliver Jeremiah. Jesus Christ reached out His hand to keep Peter from sinking. God sent Pharaoh’s daughter to preserve Moses. He sent Cyrus to deliver Israel out of Babylon. And He sent his angel to deliver Peter out of prison. Indeed, Peter himself did not believe it any more than the Church that was praying for him. God sent them an answer to their prayers, while they were praying, but they did not believe it.

God has often done so for us. Comfort one another with these examples and take this home for your everlasting consolation. God never permits his children to meet with a huge unmovable difficulty such as the stone before the door of the sepulchre without sending some angel or other to move it away.

4. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING CAPTAIN

Jesus Christ came into the world, when the Jews were in the saddest condition, in the depth of slavery (for the sceptre was departed from Judah) and in the depth of divisions, for they had so many different sects, as they could hardly tell what religion they were of. In this sad condition Shiloh came. Let us implore Jesus Christ to come to our nation in this low condition and to bring peace with Him.

Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth for our sakes, and whose love is a depth that cannot be fathomed (Ephesians 3:17-18). The depths of our misery call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national.

5. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING COMPANY

You have the Lord of Hosts to accompany you and God’s people.

6. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING WEAPONS

These weapons are prayers, tears, fasting and humbling ourselves. Ambrose encouraged Augustine’s mother that a son for whom so many tears were shed could not be lost. So I say, and I hope prove to be a true prophet, that a nation for whom so many prayers and tears are made shall not be destroyed. God never yet destroyed a nation where there were many of his children praying, fasting, and humbling
themselves.

7. YOU HAVE THE ENCOURAGING PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The great and wise God, who is our Father, has from all eternity decreed what the outcome of these troubles will be. There is nothing done in the lower house of parliament upon earth, but what is decreed in the higher house of parliament in heaven.

All the lesser wheels are ordered and overruled by the upper wheels. There is a story about a young man at sea in a mighty tempest. When all the passengers were at their wits end for fear, he was only cheerful.  When he was asked the reason, he answered that the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would care for him. Our heavenly Father is our pilot, He sits at the stern and though the ship of the kingdom is ready to sink, be of good comfort our pilot will care for us. Are not five sparrows (says Christ) sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God? One sparrow is not worth half a farthing. You will not have half a farthing’s worth of harm more than God has from all eternity decreed.

It is no great matter (in Christ’s opinion) to have the body killed. The body is only the cabinet, the jewel is the soul. And if the jewel will be safe in heaven, it does not greatly matter to have the cabinet broken.

8. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXPERIENCES

It is observable that when Moses went up to the mount to pray, he took the rod of God in his hand. The reason is because by that rod God had previously done wonderful things for His people. The very sight of that rod encouraged Moses to trust in God from the experience of His former goodness. Let us never go to our prayers without carrying the rod of God in our hand and heart. I mean the solemn and serious contemplation of God’s former wonderful goodness. Let us say with the apostle, “Notwithstanding the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the LORD shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

CONCLUSION

Here are many encouragements to continue in prayer and not give up. We need to search out the promises that can properly be used in prayer on behalf of Church and nation. We need to cry out of the depths to the Lord. As Calamy says the depths of our misery need to “call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national”.

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Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning

Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning

Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning
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.
22 Apr, 2020

Over recent weeks rainbows have been appearing all around the world. It was first started in Italy and Spain as a sign of hope and solidarity, and has spread to other countries. Children have been encouraged to paint rainbows and put them in their windows. They can then follow “The Rainbow Trail” as they go out on walks. The purpose is to hold out bright hope in the darkest of times. It is very welcome to see rainbows better connected with their original meaning rather than made a political symbol of an unbiblical lifestyle. There is much more to the rainbow, however, than a general symbol of hope in stormy times. God made it for a purpose and gave it a particular significance. It has a lot to teach us when we reflect carefully on its meaning as given in Scripture.

The rainbow is not just mentioned in Genesis 9 after the flood, it is also in the symbolic visions of Christ in Ezekiel and Revelation. William Greenhill draws out the fuller significance of the rainbow as it appears in the vision given to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:28. There is a description of that brightness or glory surround the One that sat on the throne (v26-27). When we compare it with a similar description in Revelation 4:3, it seems clear that this is a vision of Christ Himself. He Himself is glorious, robed with the brightness of glory and has a brightness surrounding Him that resembled the bow in the cloud, or as we call it the rainbow. The following is an updated extract. Perhaps there is much that we can encourage ourselves with here as we apply it to our present circumstances.

1. The Rainbow Speaks of God’s Faithfulness

The first mention of the rainbow is in the ninth chapter of Genesis (Genesis 9:13). Here God puts a double honour on it: (a) He says it is His, “my bow”; and (b) He makes it a token of the covenant between Him and the earth.

The rainbow is meant to remind us of the great flood that drowned the world, and to assure us that God will never do so again (Genesis 9:14-15). When we see the bow therefore in the heavens, we should: (a) be led to consider divine justice against the iniquities of the world, which He punished most severely, so as to destroy all people. (b) to remember the rich mercy of God to our forefathers and ourselves. He has bound Himself to us by covenant. This bow is the sign of that promise that He will never destroy the world again in that way.

2. The Rainbow Speaks of God’s Glory

The brightness that Ezekiel saw seems to surround the whole throne and person of Christ. We read in Revelation 4:3, where Christ is on the throne, that there is a rainbow round about it. This suggests that the rainbow mentioned here was also round about the throne.

God’s glory is always greatly evident in creation but when the rainbow is in the cloud something is added which is not to be neglected. God has added something glorious with various glorious colours in it. It is beautiful and attracts the eye at that moment more than all the other glory of the skies.

(a) God’s glory in creation

The glory of God shines in the heavens. The rainbow, as you know, has its origin and being from the beams of the sun. Although it is glorious, yet it is a borrowed glory. Thus, it teaches us that the glory in all created things is from another, from Christ. By Him kings reign. He gives gifts to the sons of men. He enlightens every man that comes into the world (see Proverbs 8:15; Psalm 107:8; John 1:9).

(b) God’s glory in providence

It speaks also of the glory and beauty of Divine Providence in its various dealings with the wicked and the godly, (as in the flood). It punishes one and rewards the other. When this is done there is so much glory in it that angels and men are deeply affected by it.

3. The Rainbow Speaks of Mercy

It is a token of mercy and favour. It is a bow without arrows and the back of it points towards the heavens and ends downward. Thus, it is a sign of mercy. When someone shoots arrows, he holds the back away from him (but here it is not directed towards the earth but rather upwards).

Scripture shows how it is a sign of grace and mercy. In Isaiah 54:8-10 the covenant made with Noah is applied to the covenant of grace made in Christ. In Revelation the rainbow is also a sign of grace. Christ sits on the throne with a rainbow round about it (Revelation 4:3). This shows that the throne of Christ is surrounded with mercy.

In Revelation 10:1 Christ is presented in a vision, crowned with the rainbow. There He is presented as a messenger of grace and peace. He is the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6) and His crown is the rainbow, an emblem of peace (Genesis 9:13-14). The rainbow has a variety of colours and is all glorious. Thus, it can appropriately represent the mercies of Christ which are various and glorious.
This symbol therefore signifies grace and mercy offered to those that were godly or who would repent of their wickedness. The glory of His justice formed into a bow is a token of mercy.

4. The Rainbow Speaks of Grace in Christ

Mercy and grace come to us through the human nature of Christ. In Ezekiel’s vision the brightness and the beams that make the bow come out from Him and surround Him (v26-27). When the Word was made flesh, glory and grace emanated (John 1:10 and 14). That was the most glorious rainbow that ever was or shall be in the world. He was not merely a sign of peace but is Himself our peace (Ephesians 2:14) because by His blood we are brought near.

5. The Rainbow Speaks of Mercy in the Midst of Judgment

The Lord Jesus Christ in wrath remembers mercy, He mingles mercy with judgment. He sits as Judge upon the throne, pronouncing His sentence against a sinful kingdom, executing the vengeance written against sinners. Yet here He is surrounded with the rainbow. This was to show the people of Ezekiel’s time that He would not utterly destroy the Jews, a remnant would be spared. When the great flood was drowning the world Noah and his family were saved; there was mercy in the midst of judgment. Here is a Judge with a rainbow over His head, to assure the godly they would not perish in this flood of wrath being poured out on the Jews at this time.

When Christ sits in judgment with the rainbow round about him, the godly may know that they will not perish by the wrath of God. If the glory of His majesty, stateliness of his throne, terror of His
justice and the greatness of His power ever discourage us, we must look at the rainbow round about Him and remember His throne is surrounded with mercy.

It was said of the Jews in the past that when they saw the rainbow, they went out to confess their sins but would not look at the rainbow itself. Confession of sin, or indeed any other duty, will do us no good unless we look at the rainbow, the mercy of Christ. Justice and mercy surround the throne of Christ. There was brightness round about, and the rainbow was round about. Go to Christ’s throne, there is nothing but justice there for the sinner unless they are repentant and believing, yet if they are such, there is then nothing but mercy there for them.

There was a storm at this time yet in it there was also a rainbow for the prophet and godly to look at. It is “the bow in the cloud in the day of rain.” God rains snares, fire and brimstone, and horrible tempest on the wicked but even then the rainbow is in the cloud and the righteous should look for it and look at it. They should remember the covenant and its mercy. Is the present time not a rainy and stormy time, is this great Prince not angry with the kings and kingdoms of the earth ? Does He not frown, chide and smite in many places? Let us look at the rainbow now and know that if a deluge of wrath comes on the world, yet God’s Noahs will be safe in the ark. The righteous will be hidden, Christ will manifest mercy to them.

John says that it was when he was in the Spirit that he saw the throne and the rainbow (Revelation 4:2). Let us be in the Spirit and look with eyes of faith, we shall see the throne and He that sits on it with the rainbow round about Him. Even though kingdoms are swamped by floods of errors, superstition, and ungodliness, even though they are drowned in troubles and blood we will still be able to see God and Christ with love and mercy towards us.

Conclusion

When we consider the original meaning of this symbol in Scripture it is bright with even greater, more enduring and more certain hope than most people appreciate. The rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and mercy, and it reveals much to us of His grace in Christ. Though the skies may be dark in many ways under present troubles yet there is a bright expectation of God’s mercy and faithfulness being fulfilled towards His people. He is working for His glory and the good of His people. He refines them in their faith during times of affliction. There are also many ways in which those who do not believe are no doubt being brought into contact with God’s Word and gospel. They have this mercy of God in Christ and an eternal hope revealed to them. God reigns and we may see by faith a rainbow of mercy surrounding His throne.

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How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
17 Apr, 2020

Does God intend us to learn from events? Some people react strongly against this as bizarrely mystical or arrogant. There is no doubt that people can be confidently wrong in their interpretation of certain events. But they can be self-assured in mistaken interpretations of the Bible too and that doesn’t make us give up on trying to understand Scripture. The very same passage that speaks about God revealing Himself in creation, also shows how He reveals His wrath in events (Romans 1:18, 20, 27-28). Christ warns against simplistic and arbitrary interpretations of events, but He affirms that we are to learn from them (Luke 13:1-5). God’s ways are often truly mysterious. It’s certainly sometimes challenging to try to learn the right lessons from providence and it requires much humility, but does this mean we are to give up? The Bible tells us that if we are wise, we will seek to understand events and connect them with the character and purpose of God (Psalm 107:43; Hosea 14:9). We are meant to at least ponder these things rather than say that they can never be known (Psalm 143:5). The question is not so much whether God speaks in events but how we can understand what He is saying through them.

We do not have to have a specific Bible verse that predicts a specific event to understand what God is saying. As with other ways of using Scripture in our daily lives, we apply general principles. Every time we apply Scripture to our lives and our world, we are trying to understand events in terms of the Bible. This is no different. The Bible must be our supreme authority for interpreting these things not simply what seems plausible to us personally. God doesn’t give a different message in events to the one He gives in Scripture it’s the same message but amplified because we are not listening.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that there is a purpose for every event and that there are always general lessons that we are meant to learn (v17-18). It can be difficult to understand certain things, but it is possible (Psalm 73:16-17; Micah 6:8-9; Amos 3:1-8). We are meant to seek to understand God’s purpose in good times and in difficult times (Ecclesiastes 7:14). We are meant to identify God’s goodness and lovingkindness in what we experience, and this should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Scripture also gives us principles such as we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7; Hosea 8:7). This leads us to expect that actions have future consequences in unfolding events.

There are some general rules that we can apply in relation to carefully observing events in providence. Just as when we see a rainbow, we are reminded of God’s promise, so we can identify other promises of Scripture being fulfilled in our own or other’s experience. We are able to depend on Scripture promises and principles and connect them with the events we witness (Romans 8:28). We can draw comfort from what happens in providence (Psalm 41:11; Genesis 24:45). We are also meant to be watchful for answers to prayer in the events we witness and interpret them according to God’s promises (Psalm 65:5; Micah 7:7; Ezekiel 36:37). In Matthew 16:1-4 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for not interpreting the signs of the times in the way that they could interpret the weather. We need to have understanding of the times to know what we ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

In a culture that sneers at the idea of God intervening or being in control it’s tempting to suggest that we just can’t know what God’s purposes may be. It is in the trying rather than encouraging circumstances that people often feel uncomfortable with trying to understand what God is saying. Yet we are still to enquire from God’s Word what we are to understand from them (2 Samuel 21:1). As David found, God will not always give advance warning of why something happens. We are meant, like Job, to ask why (Job 7:20; 10:2).

In Micah 6:9 we are told that the voice of God will sometimes sound in events. God may chastise through events as His rod, especially when we neglect what He requires of us (v8). If we are wise we will seek to “hear the rod” and the one who has appointed it. In expounding the meaning of these words, Andrew Gray shows how we are to seek to understand what God is saying through events. He shows that we may not always find an answer easily or we may indeed be mistaken. Surely, if Paul used the word “perhaps” in suggesting a reason for events (Philemon 15), we should be humble about our interpretation too. The following is an updated extract from Gray’s application of Micah 6:9.

1. Ways of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Reflect prayerfully.

Make serious application to the throne of grace that God would give you light concerning such a rod. This is remarkably clear in Genesis 25:22. Rebecca, did not understand God’s purpose in a particular “rod”. Therefore, she went and enquired of the Lord and received a particular and distinct answer to her condition.

This was also clearly practised by David (2. Samuel 21:1). Israel was under a great rod of famine. David went and enquired of the Lord concerning the meaning of it and he received a distinct answer. This is likewise clear in Job 10: 2 where Job, being in the dark concerning the meaning of the rod asks God to show him.

(b) Reflect on your condition at the time.
If it comes at a time when your heart was at a great distance from God. The meaning of the rod is probably that it is good for you to draw near to God. Or, if the chastisement is at a time when a Christian, is much taken up in pursuing after the things of the world. If you are engaging in spiritual activities in a merely formal way then, the voice of the rod to you is to stir up yourself to take hold on God. So, if a Christian wants to know the meaning of the rod, let them compare their present spiritual condition with the timing of the rod.

(c) Reflect on the nature of it.

This is certain, the sins of a people or person may be engraved on the rod in very legible letters. Sometimes the rod preaches our sins so plainly, that we do not need to interpret it. In Judges 1:6-7 there is such a direct relation between Adonibezek’s judgment and his sin that he might read his judgment as he did his sins. Sometimes God punishes those who do not listen to the distress of others by not listening to them in their trouble (Proverbs 21:23; Zechariah 7:13). You can see a divine proportion between the rod and the sin.

(d) Reflect on Scripture.

Observe what has been the Lord’s purpose and what He calls for from His people in Scripture when they were under a similar rod and dealings. Search our God’s purpose to the godly in Scripture under a similar rod and by all appearances this will still be His purpose. This is applying the general rule of Romans 15:4 that these things are for our learning.

(e) Reflect on the circumstances.

There may be circumstances by which a Christian may attain great light on what is the Lord’s intention by such a rod. Observing the circumstances will help a Christian to discover these three things:

• that such a chastisement is from the hand of the Lord.
• that God in the midst of wrath remembers mercy
• to know the voice and language of the chastisement. Sometimes a Christian cannot read love in the rod itself and yet read very much love in the circumstances

(f) Reflect on the general purposes.

All the rods and dealings a Christian encounters have one of three general purposes. They are sent to help them

  • Put to death their predominating sins and idols.
  • Be stirred up to exercise what ought to be their predominant grace
  • Be stirred up to do what ought to be their predominant duty.

It is easier to patiently endure a rod which is intended for us to exercise our predominant grace than one which is for putting to death our idols. There is no rod which a Christian can endure worse than that. A proud man can bear any affliction better than reproach; a worldly-minded man, can endure any affliction better than poverty. Are there not many that, when their idols are struck, cry out like the man in Judges 16:24? Sometimes in this situation we cry out with Jonah “it is better for me to die than to live”.

The affliction we least want to encounter is ordinarily best for us. Our will and welfare are seldom or never joined together; but Christ’s will and our welfare are often joined together. Ordinarily there is some comparison between our chastisements and our sins. If the Egyptians killed all the male-children of the Israelites, God likewise kills all the first-born in the land of Egypt. If Nadab and Abihu offer strange fire and if the Sodomites are taken up with the fire of lust, God will bring down fire from heaven and consume them.

2. Mistakes in Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Thinking it speaks wrath, when it speaks love. Some think that love and the rod cannot go together at all. God may never love a person more than when He is correcting them (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-6).
(b) Thinking that God can never answer our prayers while He is chastising. This was Job’s mistake (Job 9:16).
(c) Thinking it means they are not truly God’s people. When some do not see why God contends with them, they are tempted to cast away their hope.
(d) Thinking that serving God is pointless because of affliction. This is found in Psalm 73:13-14. It is hard for a person not to cast off religion, when God is contending with them. It is hard to have great respect for the ways of godliness under affliction.
(e) Thinking that God is not with them (Judges 6:13). The Christian may cry out, “I cannot reconcile God’s heart and His hand, I cannot reconcile love in God and His being with me, and this affliction and chastisement.

3. The Goal of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

The goal of understanding what God is saying in events is that a Christian may be helped to obey the voice of the rod or chastisement. The following will help.

(a) Hate your sin. If the chastisement calls for putting to death a particular lust and idol, bring your hearts to a spiritual hatred of it. If God is punishing you for your idols, cry out, “What have I any more to do with idols?”
(b) See the danger of your sin. Consider what danger there is by keeping your soul constantly joined to it, when the voice of the rod is, “Abandon such an idol”.
(c) Stir up and exercise grace. Strive to know that there is as much spiritual advantage in the real and spiritual exercise of a particular grace, as you can lose by any chastisement. Job gained as much (much more indeed) spiritual advantage by the exercise of his faith and patience than in all the things that he lost? There will be a glorious outcome and peace.
(d) Do the duty that is called for. Ensure that all hindrances to that duty are laid aside. If an affliction calls for us to exercise faith or prayer, remove everything that hinders this. Strive to see the beauty of that duty e.g. prayer.

4. The Difficulty of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

If we cannot find out what God is saying, here is some counsel.
(a) God is just, even though you do not know why He contends with you.
(b) Pray to God seriously to know the distinct meaning of a chastisement. We should go to God and say, “I have sinned, I will do so no more, show me my offence” (see Job 10:2).
(c) Try to know why God is not revealing the reason for a chastisement.
(d) Seek to have a tender heart. Sometimes we do not understand what God is saying because we are not spiritual.
(e) Have your heart most united to Christ. The devil fishes most when you are ready to fall because that is the Christian’s troubled waters. The devil never gets any greater advantage over a Christian as when he does not know the meaning of a chastisement. The devil will tell you a false meaning.

Conclusion

We need much grace and wisdom to have a right understanding of God’s Word so that we can a proper understanding of God’s Providence. Some things are clear but other answers are not necessarily quick. It requires prayerful patience and humility because the truth may well be painful and uncomfortable for us. If we either fail to cope with or despise God’s correction we will fail see the danger of our sin. This will harden our hearts and damage our relationship with God. We will miss out on much spiritual advantage in Christian growth and life (Hebrews 12:5-6). God’s correction is loving. As Gray points out, it may in fact be that God never loves a person more than when He is correcting them (Revelation 3:19). When God chastises believers, it isn’t punishment, it is pruning to help them grow. If we are wise, we will seek to “hear the rod” and the one who has appointed it (Micah 6:9).

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Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken
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.
10 Apr, 2020

The current crisis is impacting every nation of the world. The extent and duration of that is uncertain but it will impact on almost everyone’s lives. Everything seems to be shaking: companies and economies, political systems, health provision, entertainment, social norms and churches. It is a troubling time when foundations are exposed. A time of shaking should lead us to consider the things that cannot be shaken. There is a purpose in shaking all things so that those things that cannot be shaken remain (Hebrews 12:17-28). Most of all it directs us to Christ.

That passage in Hebrews chapter 12 refers to Haggai 2:6-7 which speaks of how the nations would be shaken to make way for the coming of Christ to His temple. He is called there “the desire of all nations”. he is the light, life, and desire of all all that will put their trust in Him among the nations. There were great shakings and changes with the way that the Old Testament Church and its ceremonies were removed. It is Christ Himself that says “I will fill this house with glory as is clear from (Hebrews 12:24-26).

The world has been shaken by the transforming power of the gospel having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Such things will happen from time to time, from nation to nation to establish Christ’s glory and kingdom. Christ comes in power in many ways not necessarily in person. He comes in revival, reformation and judgment. He comes in power in the preaching of the gospel. We do not have any special insight into what is happening and why but we know that the purposes of God are prospering in Christ’s hand (Isaiah 53:10). His ultimate purpose is His own glory and the establishing of His kingdom. We do not intend to second guess how and when this will happen but we know that this is Christ’s ultimate purpose whatever we may witness in the immediate future.

George Hutcheson explains more of what we can learn from Haggai 2:7 in the following updated extract. As we consider it may we be encouraged to pray expectantly for Christ’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can certainly pray that even during this crisis many will be brought into contact with the Word and gospel of Christ for their eternal good.

1. The nations are shaken to establish the glory of Christ

Christ manifested in the flesh, is in Himself the only desirable and lovely one. If He were known He would be seen to be desirable and the only choice of all. His own in all nations will be made to desire and flee to Him until the time that the fulness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). He is described here as the desire of all nations as well as the Lord whom the Jews sought (Malachi 3:1). This is in relation to His excellence and His purposes concerning them. It also refers to what would be the outcome of His manifestation according to the prophecy in Genesis 49:10.

2. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s worship

The way of God’s worship and of the Church, established by Christ at His coming in the flesh is unalterable in its own nature.  It is to continue without any new forms or ways until God once for all shakes and dissolves heaven and earth. There may be many commotions even until the end of the world. This is for it to get a footing where it had none and restoring where it has been dispossessed. The ceremonial law was removed to make room for the gospel way of worship, yet this was “once” (v6) with no alteration after that.

Christ manifested in the flesh and His presence in His Gospel make up for the lack of outward visible glory amongst a people and the lack of external grandeur in worship. It is promised, “the desire of all nations shall come” and “I will fill this house with glory”. 

3. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s kingdom

The Lord will shake and overturn all things rather than His Word fail and His people lack promised help. As all nations have their own time of shaking and commotion, so every such situation does not declare ruin.  Sometime it is the fore-runner of Christ’s coming in a gospel reformation, especially where Christ becomes precious and desirable to a people. He declares His power would be employed for fulfilling His promises. He would “shake all nations” and then “the desire of all nations shall come”.

4. The nations are shaken to remove opposition to Christ 

There is much opposition in the way of Christ’s kingdom and gospel in the world. There is especially much opposition in people’s own stubborn hearts. Christ both can and will remove this where He has a special purpose of good. There must therefore be strange shakings of nations and individuals before Christ and the gospel can have their due place or use. He therefore shakes heaven and earth and all nations before this great mercy can be put in place or they are prepared for it. This so  that the desire of all nations will come.

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Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble
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.
6 Apr, 2020

It’s a time for constant, earnest prayer. There are special promises for calling on God in a time of trouble (Psalm 50:15). We are being given plenty of opportunity for secret prayer by being confined to our houses. We can “enter into our closet” and enter the strongest refuge we have through private prayer. It is through private prayer that we strengthen our faith in the Lord Himself who is the ultimate refuge.

Thomas Brooks wrotes about how essential and urgent private prayer was at the time of the plague in London. He wrote a whole book The Secret Key to Heaven to encourage this. Here is an updated excerpt from one section.

In times of great trouble and trials, in times of great afflictions and persecutions, private prayer is the Christian’s food and drink. It is their chief city of refuge or shelter and hiding place in a stormy day. When the saints have been driven by violent persecutions into holes and caves, dens, deserts and howling wildernesses, private prayer has been their food and drink. Under Christ it has been their only refuge.

When Esau came forth with hostile intentions against Jacob, secret prayer was Jacob’s refuge (Genesis 32:6-9, 11). He recalls God’s promises, they must be prayed over in private. When Jacob and all that was near and dear to him, were in eminent danger of being cut off by Esau and the men of blood that were with him, he takes himself to private prayer as his only city of refuge against the rage and malice of the mighty.

When Jeremiah was in a solitary and loathsome dungeon, private prayer was his food and drink, it was his only city of refuge (Jeremiah 33:1-3). God encourages him by private prayer, to seek for further revelations of those choice and unique favours, which He purposed to confer on His people in future times.

When Manasseh was in chains, in his enemies’ country, when he was stripped of all his princely glory and led captive into Babylon, he takes himself to private prayer as his only City of refuge (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). By this means he prevails with God for his restoration to his crown and kingdom.

Private prayer is a city of refuge that no power nor politics, no craft nor cruelty, no violence nor force is ever able to overcome. Though the joint prayers of the people of God together were often obstructed and hindered in the times of the ten persecutions (of the early Church), yet they were never able to obstruct or hinder secret prayer.

When men and devils have done their worst, every Christian will be able to maintain his private trade with heaven. Private prayer will shelter a chri∣stian against all the national, domestic, and personal storms and tempests, that may threaten him.

When a man is lying upon a sick bed alone, or when a man is in prison alone, or when a man is left on the dunghil alone like Job. Or when a man is like John banished for the testimony of Jesus into this or that Island alone, private prayer will be his food and drink, his shelter and hiding place, his heaven. When all other trades fail, this trade of private prayer will hold good.

FREE BOOKLET

Many Christians ‘do not clearly nor fully understand the necessity, excellency, and usefulness of this subject’. In this short (18 page) booklet, Thomas Brooks shows why private prayer is the urgent need of our souls, families, churches and nation. Usually available for £1 hard copies can be posted within the UK to those who are committed to reading and acting on it. An electronic version is also available for readers from other countries.

“The power of religion and godliness lives, thrives or dies, as closet prayer lives, thrives or dies. Godliness never rises to a higher pitch than when men keep closest to their closets”.

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What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?
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.
2 Apr, 2020

Recent weeks have forced us to define what is essential. What are essential grocery items? What is the “non-essential” travel and contact with others we have to avoid? Much of socio-economic life has coasted to a halt in response to the definition of essential. Countries, communities and individuals may all have different definitions of essential. “Recent events clearly demonstrate that the process of designating ‘essential services’ is as much about culture as any legal-political reality about what is necessary to keep society functioning,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University. Some of the readjustment may indeed make us reassess lifestyle and consumption. These microscopic organisms against which we have neither prevention nor cure are paring back a great deal of the bloated decadence of our culture to the very essentials. But take a step backward and consider the widest possible perspective. What in this world is truly and absolutely essential? It’s easy to miss it.

There are many essential things for maintaining life and preserving our safety and health. We do not want in any way to minimise the practical emphasis given to these aspects of loving our neighbour as our moral duty. Yet the thing that is absolutely essential above all things is studiously ignored by so many, including most of our leaders. Other things are merely temporary and will leave people at some time or other. But this one thing and this only, will stay with them forever if they have it.

This is why there is only one thing absolutely essential and necessary. Jesus Christ has identified this one supremely essential thing (Luke 10:42). Clearly it is related to the eternal good of our souls in relation to God. James Durham explains further what it is. He speaks of peace with God through Christ and Godward living. This is living in fellowship with God, glorifying and enjoying Him.

1. What cannot be absolutely essential

(a) No created or temporary thing can be absolutely essential.

It must be something which cannot be taken away from us, something spiritual, eternal and entirely satisfying.

(b) No mere form of religion can be absolutely essential.

We can be sure that this mere outward profession can and will be taken from us (Luke 19:26; Matthew 7:21).

(c) No particular aspect of religion can be absolutely essential in itself.

Happiness is not promised to only one aspect but to uninhibited godliness and obedience to God’s will in general. Mary sat at Christ’s feet and heard His word (Luke 10:42). She was justly commended by Christ on that account. Yet it is not for that in itself but as it evidenced her love to the Saviour, her respect to godliness and her eager and earnest desire to get her soul saved by Christ.

2. What is absolutely essential

It can be summarised in the following way. Peace with God through the Lord Jesus with a view to the salvation of our souls. The sincere practice of true godliness, communion and fellowship with the Father and His Son.

This is not the mere hearing of the Word (though it is our indispensable duty). Rather  it is using the Word as a means of our daily progress in holiness and godliness, and of our peace and reconciliation with God. And therefore this one thing can be nothing else except the life, power and practice of godliness. It is all one and the same thing, whether we call this one necessary thing Christ, religion, or the salvation of the soul. The eternal salvation of our souls is the goal of godliness. Our union and communion with Christ is the means of attaining this. It is always inseparably connected with the practice of sincere piety (1 Timothy 4:8). This one thing then is godliness in its spirit, power, and substance.

This is what the psalmist desired (Psalm 27:4). Not to attend God’s outward appointed worship only but to be lively in religion, to have communion with God in His sacred institutions, and to have the amiable and desirable hope of enjoying God in heaven. This is the one thing, which comprehends many other things, the making of our peace with God, through Jesus our peace-maker and Mediator, and the study of the power and practice of godliness, that our spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord.

3. Why it is absolutely essential

This one absolutely necessary thing does not encompass every kind of necessity. Food, drink, clothes, health, strength, and other things are also necessary in their own way. But there is nothing absolutely necessary except this one thing. The believer may lack other things, but cannot be without this.

(a) God commands it

We may please God and have His approval even though we are not rich in worldly goods, or in reputation, or do not have health and strength. We are not commanded to be rich, but we are commanded to be godly, to be at peace with God, to be sincere in fulfilling every commanded duty.

(b) It makes us truly happy

True religion is the one thing necessary to make us happy here and hereafter. There is only one thing absolutely necessary inseparably connected with our welfare and happiness. It is not the many things some are troubled and anxious to obtain. It is this one thing, the practice of godliness and our peace with God, which can make us happy.

The meaning of Luke 10:42 is as though Christ had said, “Martha, your mind is taken up with many things and you are troubled with them. That is all the benefit you get from them. Trouble yourself as you will, to get all things right, they will not be governed by you nor can they satisfy you. But there is one thing necessary for the saving of your soul—namely, the practice of godliness and peace with God. This is absolutely necessary for your blessedness; but the other things you are anxious about, are not.”

There is nothing absolutely necessary for the happiness of men and women, but godliness and peace with God. This is  making sure of our own salvation and holy calling through Christ Jesus.

A person may have all other things but if they lack godliness they cannot be happy. A person may lack all other things but if they are godly and have peace with God, they cannot be miserable. No other thing can mar his happiness. If then the possession of other things cannot make people happy, and the lack of them cannot make them miserable, then surely no other thing is absolutely necessary to promote our welfare but true religion.

  • It must be spiritual. That which concerns someone’s happiness must be spiritual,  incorruptible and immortal. The soul of man is spiritual and it must have a spiritual source of happiness.
  • It must be perfect. No imperfect thing can make anyone happy.
  • It must be eternal and unchangeable. One cannot be happy today and miserable tomorrow. If it is a thing that is subject to change, it cannot make us happy.

All the idols in the world put together have none of these three things. They are not spiritual, and cannot satisfy the soul; they are not perfect, but have some defect. They are merely temporal and not eternal: a man may be taken from them or they from him. 

(c) It ensures our spiritual welfare

Without godliness, a soul will never be well. Godliness is not only commanded, but useful and profitable for all things, and so absolutely necessary. This may commend godliness to you above all other things: it our happiness consists in it, and this cannot be said of any other thing in this world.

The godly man has the most contented and cheerful life and the most joyful and comfortable death (2 Corinthians 6:10; Philippians 4:11-13). Godliness brings God’s favour, friendship and peace. His promise and covenant is that they can lack no good thing or happiness, though they lack the things of the world. All those who are blessed in heaven have perfect happiness without the things of this world.  

Conclusion

It would be a great blessing if we were in these times to return to what is absolutely essential; glorifying and enjoying God. This is the essence of true godliness. Perhaps some other things (although perhaps necessary in their own way) have been distracting us from this. Or perhaps we have been content with an outward appearance of godliness while in practice denying its real spiritual power (2 Timothy 3:5). We now have the opportunity to ensure that our primary focus is what is most glorifying to God and for our own true spiritual happiness. Let us not lose it.

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The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter
Donald Cargill (1627 – 1681) was the minister of the Barony Church Glasgow who was dismissed for a protest against the celebration of the restoration of Charles II in 1662. He went on to preach in Covenanter field meetings until he was eventually captured and executed.
24 Mar, 2020

Many countries are now under a stay-at-home order. We must hope and pray that a successful lockdown builds the capacity of the health system, slows the rate of Covid-19 infection and reduces potential deaths. It is an unprecedented experience that changes everything in society. A similar order given in the USA is sometimes called a “shelter in place” warning. The basic principle and purpose of safety is the same, but it carries additional associations of shelter from storm or violence. As we draw on the truths of Psalm 91 in prayer, these thoughts ought to draw our minds to the only absolutely safe place of shelter. It is not physical shelter but spiritual, found under the shadow of God’s wings. We can have strong confidence there. That is the only place of security and safety for our souls.

A different storm (one of persecution) surrounded those who listened to Donald Cargill preach his final sermon in the Pentland hills. The verse he had chosen was both striking and “soul-refreshing”. Isaiah 26:20-21 is God’s invitation to His people to find shelter in Him from the coming judgment. Faith responds to God’s call to enter into the place of spiritual refuge in a time of judgment. Cargill therefore directed them to trust in Christ and His promises.

The Lord was going to come “out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:21). “He will not only go through Scotland, but He will go through other nations also”. “God is coming not only to judge for every oppression and bloodshed, but also for every hidden iniquity in the heart. The Judge is coming to judge, and it is for all iniquity. It is a wonder that men will not believe this. It will be found that many are sleeping in their sins and living quietly in their iniquity, and are not striving against it”. Even if we are in the most secure physical shelter with enough food to survive the crisis we are not safe from God’s judgment unless we hide in His mercy. We need a spiritual shelter from a spiritual threat.

Cargill shows how this verse is God’s call to His people in such times. They must make their “refuge under the shadow of His wings, until these sad calamities pass over, and the dove come back with the olive leaf in her mouth”.

One of those who heard him said that the sermon was full of the preacher’s concern for the souls of those before him. “He preached from experience, and went to the experience of all that had any of the Lord’s gracious dealing with their souls. It came from his heart, and went to the heart…his words went through them”. The following is an updated extract from the sermon.

1. God’s Call to His Shelter

(a) A call to get out of the way of judgment

“Come, my people.” God is sensitive to His people’s spiritual safety. But, sadly few of them are so sensitive to it themselves as to hear God. He is speaking kindly to them, to make haste into their “chambers” [i.e. God’s shelter]. This is His counsel and command to them. He commands you to set aside all other things and to strive to get a place of refuge near God. He has a great work to do and He would have you make provision in view of an approaching storm.

(b) A call to enter into God’s shelter

Enter into your chambers, He says. That is a warning. But they are also to “shut” the “doors” around them and make it all secure front and back. Leave no open doors because divine justice will make an astonishingly close search, and will pry into the least recess.

(c) A call to hide ourselves in God

It is good for us and for our advantage to be there until the wrath is over. We are never to come out of these “chambers” of God’s presence. It will be well forever with those who have entered into these divine “chambers” of safety.

2. What is God’s Shelter?

(a) God’s providential care

It is the soul committing itself to God’s providential care. We are all likely to meet with a storm. There are few who commit themselves to God. There is too little committing ourselves to God. When they are overtaken with temptations, many think their own intelligence or wisdom will help them but indeed it will not. This is why so many yield to the enemy. They are not taking themselves to God’s shelter. Their heart fails them and they forget to flee into them.

(b) Safety, pleasure and delight in God

For delight, these chambers are a palace. For strength, protection, and defence, they are castles. They are chambers of both safety and pleasure. They are God Himself who is all in all to the believer. They are a palace of defence from the wrath of God, for it never pursues a man within these chambers. They are places of delight, safety, security, and strength.

It is no wonder, then, that a soul desires to be near God and within this shelter. There they have all their soul can desire. There is nothing can frighten or terrify the soul of a believer, when they have entered in. These chambers of God’s presence are for “a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest” (Isaiah 32:2). Safety, pleasure and delight are to be found in them. Happy is the soul delighted with them! There is nothing to harm him when a storm of wrath is outside on the world.

3. How Does God’s Mercy Provide Shelter?

The safety of man lies in the mercy of God. Man’s safety in a time of indignation lies in God’s mercy, and your duty is to take yourselves to it.  A soul must take itself to the mercy of God,  if it would put itself into these chambers. But when we speak of God’s mercy and taking ourselves to it, we do not mean that these two have an equal share. No, the mercy of God comes before duty, for it is the love and mercy of God that stir us up to duty. The Lord must both do His own part, and stir us up, and enable us to do our part too. It is the mercy of God, properly, that does the whole work; and though He enables us to be doing, yet we must do all in His strength. It is God’s mercy when He does it alone, and it is His mercy when He does it with us. In what way does mercy work?

(a) Warning us of judgment before it comes

We all need much warning from God to flee out of the way of His wrath. Those who have their soul hid are happy. It is great wisdom to be out of the way of wrath. They are happy who cannot think to be one moment out of such a safety and  life. Sometimes they delight to draw sweetness from Him.

We have received much warning but it is little taken notice of. God summons and warns us. He assures us that wrath is approaching, but sadly these warnings make so little impression on us. They are lost to many of us. Woe to us that we have not made better use of them. God has warned us sooner and later, but it has had little or no effect, if it has not made us more complacent.

(b) Causing us to believe the warning

You who believe and accept warning, it is the mercy of God which gives you a new heart to do so. It causes you to make provision against the day of wrath. Those are happy who come before the judgment seat of God having made their acquaintance and peace with the Judge. They have got near to God and made peace with Him, the Judge is their friend. Have you made sure of everything and provision for defence?

(c) Providing shelter for us

His people have no more to do except flee to these chambers and hide themselves from wrath. The Lord will not execute judgment until chambers have been provided, and then the people of God need not fear. Chambers are provided for all that will flee to them. Will you die among God’s enemies? You are seen complying among the rest of God’s enemies, and those who do so have no reason to look for these chambers of protection from Him.

4. How Do We Enter God’s Shelter?

What will put a soul into these divine chambers? Nothing but faith. Faith both opens and shuts the doors. It opens the doors for us to enter in, and it shuts the doors behind us when we are entered into these chambers of God’s presence. No soul can enter in without faith. No soul can be in safety except within these chambers. None can enter in except by faith.

(a) Enter

There must be an entering in. This is committing ourselves to God and covenanting with Him by faith. You must commit yourselves to Him in time and not go back any more to the entanglements of the world.

(b) Shut the doors

Make all secure behind you. Wrath will pursue you, and if you take too long to flee to these chambers, wrath will overtake you. The wrath of God will never come to any person who has got into these chambers and got the doors shut behind him. Well, then, shut the doors, and make all sure behind you by engaging yourself to God in covenant. Justice will examine you strictly; if you leave merely a window unshut He will find you. Therefore make everything sure in time.

(c) Hide

Hide yourselves. Enter in. Hiding and entering in are the same. This makes everything sure with God. Where will you hide yourselves? In Him; for there is no other hiding place than in Him. “A man shall be a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of waters in a dry place, and as a shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). These are chambers of defence and well furnished. Be serious for yourselves and make all secure. Shut the doors behind you, and God will never tell you to go out again. Rest there till the dove come to the ark with the olive leaf in her mouth.

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Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?
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.
20 Mar, 2020

Almost all churches have become empty overnight. The public worship of God has been removed across many nations. If you are kept from attending public worship, are you mourning over that as David did (Psalm 42:2-5)? Why should it cause so much distress? Worship is the highest activity we can engage in and God places special emphasis on public worship (Psalm 87:2). What is more important than the public worship of God? This is the purpose for which souls are brought out of spiritual darkness (1 Peter 2:9). The intention is not to make people feel guilty because they are prevented from attending public worship. Sometimes there are things beyond our control that stop us. The crucial question is: are we weeping over such an extraordinary and solemn removal of public worship across the face of the earth?

Some will say that they can worship privately at home and this can make up much of the loss. Connecting distantly as a spectator to an empty building is not the same as public worship. Private worship is a great privilege and benefit, it can bring us much edification. But, by definition, it is not, public worship. It is there that we most want to praise God (Psalm 22:22&25). Thus, the Westminster Confession says that God is to be worshipped “more solemnly, in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto” (WCF 21:6). The Lord promises a special blessing for public worship (Exodus 20:24). David greatly desired that and so should we (Psalm 27:4; 63:1-2).

What about the public glory of Christ? The public glory of Christ is vital–His glory in the Church and in society. One great means of this is public worship of God (Psalm 29:9). God is more glorified by public worship than any other worship. It is possible for us to glorify God in the secrecy of our hearts and the privacy of our homes. Surely we want God’s glory manifested publicly as well as privately? Usually this is what is meant when we read in Scripture about the glory of the Lord being revealed. We want as many people as possible to see that glory and to join in praising God together (Psalm 96:1-3; Psalm 66:1). “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Scripture never envisages the removal of public worship as being anything less than disastrous (read Psalm 74 for just one example). It is no light thing, it is not “just one of those things” that are unusual and regrettable but nonetheless merely “unfortunate”. Many interpreters have concluded that the beginning of gathered public worship is described in Genesis 4:26. It would be solemn to look back and identify the present moment as a time when people began not to call on the name of the Lord, because of the removal of public worship.

The book of Lamentations is for just such a time as this. It brings events into perspective. Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of everything. He pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. His tears flow freely,  especially concerning the spiritual losses such as the destruction of the temple. “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate” (Lamentations 1:4).

It is noticeable that he traces it back to God’s warnings through the prophets that this would take place. Thus, it is ultimately the Lord who has “cast off his altar” and sanctuary. He has “violently taken away his tabernacle…destroyed his places of the assembly” and “caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lamentations 2:6-7). The following is an updated extract from David Dickson’s exposition of that verse.

1. God Removes His Protection

Another point of his lamentation is that God has taken away the hedge of His protection from His Church. It is as if a man would pull away his hedge from his garden
and let all the beasts in. He has taken away His tabernacle, as any would pull away his hedge from his orchard. He has destroyed her places of assembly, so that they did not have a place to meet in. He has caused their solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten, that is, there is no memory left of public solemnities. The fact that God violently pulls away His tabernacle shows us that there is no place so holy that God is held to unles it is visited in a holy way. Although He said of Jerusalem, “this is the place of my rest forever,” (1 Kings 8:13 and 9:13) yet when they abused it He forsook it.

2. God Removes His Presence

Jerusalem had this promise, yet God removed His presence because His worship was abused. How will then any place without such a promise affirm that God is held to it? There never was a place that God was more strictly held to than Jerusalem. Yet when they abused it He left it, for He is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). Let no one think they will enjoy the Word and gospel unless they walk in the light of it. Will the Lord expose His Word and ordinances to mockery and cast His bread to those that are not hungry?

But seeing the Lord is pleased to maintain a tabernacle among us, let us not defile the place of His rest by our sins. Do not stir up our love till He pleases (Song of Solomon 2:7). Do not provoke Him to be driven away from us and go His way. For if we do, although we may be dear to Him and also as near to Him as the signet ring of His hand (Jeremiah 22:24), He will pull us off and cast us away. He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but will do to us as to His Church in former times.

3. God Removes the Visible Church

God “destroyed the places of the assembly.” This shows that the sins of professing Christians will provoke God to remove the face or outward appearance of a visible church. If we do not make better use of our meetings in the church, God will make them like filthy lavatories. There was no visible church on earth except Jerusalem, yet when it was abused by idolatry, He scattered it. Although some stones here and there were reserved for a new building, the face of a visible church was abolished. It is as great folly to say there will always be a visible church in a place, as to say that a church cannot offend God.

Judah’s solemn feasts were the equivalent of our communions. If we do not make use of our solemn meetings, frequent preaching and communions, they will go out of remembrance. The public ensigns (i.e. military flag) by which we should follow our Lord will cease to be displayed.

Conclusion

These are truly solemn considerations that we must take to heart. They are very applicable to our own time. It is easy for us to take public worship for granted until we have it removed. Have we treated it as we should, have we benefited from it as we ought? Have we been too glib in assuming that God would not cast off the professing Church in the west? Could it be that (as with Old Testament Israel) we have actually corrupted God’s worship to suit ourselves rather than His commands and therefore God is taking it from us?

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