What Does Revelation Reveal?

What Does Revelation Reveal?

What Does Revelation Reveal?
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.
19 May, 2022

Revelation is perhaps the one book in the New Testament that Christians are most likely to find dauntingly inaccessible. Occasional verses are familiar, but as a whole this is a minefield of hard to follow allusions tangled up with other people’s outlandish speculations about the end times. Yet by taking this approach we miss Christ’s purpose in giving us this book, and correspondingly we miss out on the encouragement and instruction we should be getting from it. When James Durham embarked on his massive commentary on Revelation, he began by picking out the clearest themes of the book and pointing out why we should find it more accessible than we do. In this updated extract from his commentary, Durham shows the very plain and encouraging truths that Revelation reveals.

It may look very presumptuous to read this book, or attempt to explain it. Indeed there is need of much humility and soberness in going about such a work, and much need that the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who has given this book as a benefit to His church, would help us to take it up rightly.

Reasons to read Revelation

Yet its subject matter is very profitable and comforting to the church, to the end of the world. And when Christ gave it, as His last will and word to His church, his aim in doing so was to give a revelation, to make known His mind to them. This is why John is forbidden to seal it up – so that it would remain open for the good of His church. There is also plenty to motivate us and encourage us to read and search into it, for example the blessing in verse 3, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy,” a saying which is repeated again after the prophetic part is immediately closed (chapter 22:7,14).

These all add up to notable encouragements, not only to try to read and seek to understand the Book of the Revelation, but also to lay it on us as a duty. We therefore resolve, through God’s grace, to attempt it, so that it will not be altogether useless to the “servants of God” to whom it is sent, according to verse 1.

It is true that many things in this book are obscure. It is also likely that we cannot expect them to be fully cleared up till God opens them up in some singular way.

However, there are many clear, edifying, and comforting passages of God’s mind in it. The Holy Ghost mixes these in for us to feed on, and to sweeten the passages that are more obscure, and to encourage the reader to search for the meaning of these more obscure parts.

Additionally, even in the passages that are most obscure, we may identify doctrines about the disposition of the church’s enemies, and how God gives His people victory, preservation and deliverance. The very obscure passages are after all things where there is little risk to us of being ignorant, compared to the danger of ignorance in fundamental truths, and yet they are things which God allows folks to search out by wisdom (“Here is wisdom,” he says, as in chapter 13:18).

Revelation’s introduction to itself

The whole style and shape of the Book of Revelation is by way of an epistle. It is Jesus Christ, by John, writing His last will to His church. And if any Scripture displays the sovereignty, majesty, justice, mercy and truth of God, for the comfort of His people, and in a way that makes the hearts of His enemies quake, this does.

It seems clear that the writer is John the Apostle, honoured here to bear Christ’s last message to His church. In chapter 1 he is simply called John, without any further designation, implying that he was the John so well known and famous for an infallible and extraordinary measure of the Spirit. This John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, which, from the ancient famous story, is clearly John the Apostle, as he was banished there under the persecution of Emperor Domitian. The description of him in verse 2 matches how he describes himself in his Gospel (John 21:24). Of course, this book (being prophetic) differs somewhat in style from his other writings, yet the style is not so unlike his, for there are many words and phrases in his Gospel, and in several chapters of this Book, which are very alike (such as, calling Christ the Word, and the Lamb, phrases which are distinctively John’s).

In the first verse of chapter 1, this book is called The Revelation, that is, the making open and unfolding of some things which had previously been obscure. Although they may still be obscure to us, yet they are no longer obscure in themselves, nor are they now as obscure to us as they were before.

It is also called the revelation of Jesus Christ. Partly because it was given out by Jesus Christ, the administrator and great prophet of His church. And partly also because so much of this revelation concerns the governing of His church.

It is the revelation which God gave unto him (that is, to Jesus Christ). This denotes the order of the persons of the Godhead in their subsisting and operations – the Father works from Himself, by the Son. It denotes too the way that Christ works as Mediator – he does the will of Him that sent Him: for, as God, the Son understands all things essentially by Himself, but as Mediator, things are given and communicated to Him.

The purpose of giving this revelation is to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass. This revelation must not be kept suppressed, but made forthcoming to His servants. His servants are not all the creatures, nor everyone in the visible church, nor even only those who are special servants by office (as John was, as an apostle), but those who were and are His followers, His subjects, and those who believe in Him in the visible church.

The subject of this revelation is things which must shortly come to pass – not things in the past, and not so much things in the present (although these are mentioned in chapters 2 and 3), but mainly, things to come. And it’s said that they must shortly come to pass, because, though the full accomplishment of them will not be till the end of the world (so these events cannot be confined within some few years), yet they began to be fulfilled instantly on the back of this revelation.

The way we receive this revelation is, He sent and signified it by His angel. Jesus Christ made use of the services of His angel to communicate this revelation, both to set out His dignity and grandeur, and to win the greater credit for the message.

The person it is revealed to is, His servant John. John was His servant by special delegation and office, in a special employment, as a steward in His house. Beyond all others, Christ’s servants have this great advantage and benefit, the privilege and prerogative that Christ writes His letters to them. Not a word is written to kings and great men, but this revelation is for Christ’s servants. To be Christ’s servants is to be God’s freemen, and they are the ones who manage to get the furthest distance into his secrets and mysteries.

Observe Christ’s way of working. Though this revelation is sent to His servants, yet it does not go to them directly, but first it is given to Christ, and He gives it to His angel, and the angel gives it to John, and John brings it out to the churches. Jesus Christ must have His own place. The first notice of anything concerning the good of the Church comes to Christ as Mediator, and He does nothing but He first reveals it to His servants the prophets (Amos 3). They are His servants of state to make known His mind to His people.

Blessings to the reader of Revelation

This book is commended in verse 3, Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy. This is to stir up folks to make use of it, because he knew many would be apprehensive about it, and readily put it to one side as useless and unprofitable. However, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable, etc. (2 Timothy 3:16). So this is added, Blessed is he that readeth.

This book is not a thing to be spoken of only, without being read and studied. Its seals are opened, and blessed are they that read it. It is a happy and a good thing, soberly and humbly to read, and to seek to understand it.

He adds, And blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy. Not only private but also public reading and hearing of this book is commended, i.e., when it is read and expounded in public worship. By Christ’s own ordinance, this book is to be brought forth to His people.

Of course, people are ready to grow vain and complacent, and liable to rest on reading and hearing. So he adds another word, and keep those sayings that are written therein. It’s not the reading or the hearing simply, that will bring the blessing; but the observing and making right use of it.

Then he adds a reason why it should be read and heard, and why its sayings should be observed and made use of: because the time is at hand, when the things in this book will be fulfilled. Time is hastening on to when folks will be called to a reckoning as to what use they made of these sayings – the time when he will pour out His wrath on His enemies, and be very kind to His church and people.

Conclusion

Observe what a good thing it is to be studying the Scripture. It is a mark of the blessed man (Psalm 1). It makes the man of God wise to salvation. Particularly, it is good to be reading this book, and hearing it read. Those who are good at reading, let them use this gift well; and those who do not have this gift, let them take and make good use of other opportunities that will bring them to the knowledge of Christ’s mind. Blessedness is given to only six or seven sorts in the Book of Revelation, but twice or thrice over to those who study it (Revelation 22:7, 14).

Yet observe too that it’s not enough to give yourself to reading and hearing the Word, and you must not rest on reading and hearing. Rather, join practise with both. “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28). It is not the reader, or the hearer, but the doer, who is the blessed one. Indeed, supposing you were able to unfold all the mysteries in Revelation, if you do not conform yourselves to their intended meaning in your practice, you are just like the man in James 1:23-24, who, beholding his natural face in a glass, goeth his way, and forgetteth what manner of man he was. He that is a hearer, and not a doer, deceives his own soul. The hearing and reading that does you good, is what is put into practice.

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Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
12 May, 2022

You can see it and feel it. Some call it a post-Covid spiritual malaise in the Church: weariness and an exclusive focus on maintenance that leads to inertia. No doubt we feel some of it personally too. How much energy do we have for God and holiness? We don’t want to be superficial in our enthusiasm or activity, but when we look deeper inside us, how much liveliness can we see in our faith these days? Admittedly these are difficult times to be a believer. There are so many things that leave us perplexed and disheartened, and we have so many sins in our own lives to confess. God can seem so distant, as if he is putting us off when we try to approach Him, or turning away from us. But we can hope even in this kind of situation. There is a remedy for our spiritual lethargy.

According to Hugh Binning, challenging times when everything seems so much of a struggle are exactly the circumstances where faith should be prompted to be most active. “At such a time there ought to be all the more exercise of faith, and laying hold of the grounds of consolation in God.”

Challenges in a strange way can even strengthen faith, and certainly they give us ample motivation to keep seeking God until we know we have got through to him. How can we get out of our spiritual inertia? In this updated extract from a sermon on Isaiah 64, Binning tackles the question, When and how are we stirred up to spiritual activity?

1. Difficulties call for strong faith

As difficulties grow, faith should fortify itself against them so much the more. The greater the storm, the quicker faith should flee into the chambers.
Faith in a calm day gets no trial. Faith gets lazy when it does not have much to do. But without fresh and new supplies of grace, faith cannot hold out in a temptation. It is a singular sign of a noble and divine faith that it can lay hold on God and keep him when he makes to go away—that can recognise the kindness of Jesus even when he acts as if he does not know us —that can stand on the ground of the promises when there is not a foot-breadth of a hopeful sign in the circumstances to build on.

2. Difficulties demand a sure faith

The most pressing time for making sure of your part in God is a time when there is no external advantage to beguile you, a time when the only happiness is to be one with God. Therefore, anyone who, in time of calamities and judgments, is not awakened to put their eternal estate out of question, is in a dangerous position.

3. Difficulties call out a focused faith

The Lord loves faith in a difficulty best. Then it is the most single-hearted and focused, and the cleanest. That is the kind which honours him most, and which most glorifies his truth and faithfulness, and sufficiency and mercy. In this way it is most purely elevated above created things, and pitches most fully on God. It is when people say, ‘No help for my soul, but thou art my portion.’ God is most commended when he is set alone. Prosperity brings him down among the creatures, and undisturbed, complacent faith makes little distinction. But awakening faith grips strongly and singly, and puts God alone.

4. Difficulties require special seeking

Often, when God is departing, “none stirreth up himself to lay hold on him.” Although there may be plenty praying, and doing many duties, yet it is nothing beyond the ordinary. The varieties and combinations of new reasons for supplications results neither in greater frequency nor more fervency in our appeals to God.

5. Seek with diligence

There is very little diligence in seeking God, even when God seems to be saying farewell to the land, and going away. Still nobody comes in as an intercessor. They keep on in their old way of praying, and never add to it, come what may. Does anyone rise above their ordinary ways, however high the tide of God’s dispensation rises?

Instead the impression made by God’s change of countenance should make an effect that would be visibly seen on how his people behave. There should be such a distance between your ordinary and such times as between sleeping and waking, that whatever access to God you normally have, you would stir up and go beyond it according as matters call.

Will God count your public fasts a performance of this duty? Unfortunately, we fast sleeping, and no one stirs himself up to these things! Is there any difference between your days of humiliation and any other sabbath? And is there any difference between a sabbath and a weekday, save the external duty?

Is not this palpably our case? Is there any wakening among us? No, complacency is the universal disease and complaint. Do any of you pray more in private than you used to? Or what edge is on your prayers? Alas! It seems like the Lord would readily get leave to go away from us. I am afraid that we would give Christ a testimonial to go away overseas. Hold him, hold him! Many would be gladly quit of him. They cannot abide his yoke, his work is a burden, his word is a torment, his discipline is bands and cords, and what heart can they have to keep Christ? What will you do to him to hold him still? All your entreaties may be fair compliments, but they would never rend his garment.

6. Seek with faith

What the Lord Jesus is doing warns us that it is now high time to stir up faith and lay hold on him. Will conjectures carry you through difficulties? The multitude think they have plenty faith, but any temptation proves their mistake. The most part of Scotland would deny God and his Son Jesus Christ, if they were put to it. This is not a time to linger outside of your stronghold. It is only faith that unites you to Christ, so if you would want to be kept safe in any trial, stir up faith.

7. Seek with prayer

Faith expresses itself in prayer. Consideration of God, and the grounds of confidence in him, must both make prayer acceptable, and carry the stamp of Christ’s name on it. Also it must make much prayer, for when a soul has pitched on God as its only blessedness, and made choice of him, it finds in him all-sufficiency – all things for all things. There is no need, but faith finds a supply in God’s fulness for it, and therefore faith sends us to the fountain, to draw out of the wells of salvation. Nothing can be so sweet and refreshing as for such a soul to pour out itself every day in him, to talk with him face to face. Faith engages the heart to come to God with all things, whereas the complacent soul or the unsettled heart would have gone for help in as many different ways as there are different difficulties. Faith lays hold on God, Faith knows but one God, and brings all problems here.

And again, how can prayer be acceptable as long as faith is not its principle? It is only like an animal groaning under a burden. Laying hold on God himself makes our duties acceptable, because we speak and ask believing that we shall receive. We trust God and do not tempt him. The oil of the wheels is affection, or heart-activity, but if lively faith is not entertained there cannot be much affection. In bitterness of spirit there may be much vehemence, but that is not a pure flame of divine love that burns upward to him. It is soon extinguished, and lasts no longer than a fleeting emotion, and then the soul grows harder, like iron that has been in the fire.
When there is not much prayer, faith cannot be strong and violent, for prayer is the exercise of faith. If your prayers wear out, faith will go rusty. There may be much quietness with little prayer, but there cannot be much, with strong and lively faith, for where faith does not get continual employment it flags.

Prayer is a special point of holding God fast, and keeping him. Therefore join prayer with diligence and faith, if you want to thrive in any one of them. Your unbelieving complaints are not prayers and calling on his name, because they are not mixed with faith.

8. Seek to lay hold of God

If it seems that God is angry, then we must lay hold on him. We ought to hold on to a departing Lord, by wrestling with him in supplication, and not let him depart till he blesses. The prophet Hosea makes this application of Jacob’s victory over the angel: “Turn ye to the Lord, and wait on him,” (Hosea 12:3-6).

When the circumstances seem to tell us, “The Lord has gone,” and when our condition seems to say, “He is gone, or going,” then we ought to wrestle against it. Let there be no submission to such a departing! I mean, no submission that sits down content with it, and does not care how things will turn out.

If only you would realise that the Lord is only seeking employment, and if you would only deal with him, you would turn both the present calamities and future calamities to good opportunity.
It is God himself who should be your principal target. Praying should be laying hold on God – it should meet with himself. Most of the time, when things are going well, we are not able to meet with God solely, because we have so much to do with created things. We are so punctual in our dealings with created things that we cannot keep close to God. We have so many things in our affections and thoughts, that God cannot get a place. In the throng of our busyness God cannot get us at leisure. So we lose God by catching at shadows.

Well then, we are called in a time of difficulty to come in to God himself, to draw aside the veil of ordinances so that we may have communion with God himself. And this is right praying, when the soul gets such direct access to God, as it were, to handle him, and see him, and taste him, to exercise its senses on him.

Ordinances have been for a long time covering his face, as he does not now much unveil himself in the sanctuary, to let us see his glory. God has departed from preaching and praying, so that we do not meet with God. Instead we lay hold on the shadow of an outward ordinance, but not on God himself. Therefore, Christians, take advantage of this time! You cannot count on always having the ordinances. Lay hold therefore on himself who is the substance and marrow of them. You may be denuded of outward comforts and accommodation here. Lay hold therefore on himself in much prayer. If affliction would only blow away the cloud over his face, or scatter our idols from us, and make us single alone with God, as Jacob was, it would be worth it.
Take hold on God by faith. If you want to make peace with God, be much in direct acts of grasping hold of God himself in Jesus Christ. Travel continually between your own need and something in God that corresponds to it.

Conclusion

It may seem counter-intuitive, but if God is warning us that he is leaving us, that itself is a hopeful sign, because it means there is still opportunity for us to hold on to him and hold him back. “He made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us… And he went in to tarry with them” (Luke 24:28-29).

 

 

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Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming
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.
5 May, 2022

Perhaps we do not often pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Perhaps it seems a difficult thing to ask. It is the final prayer of Scripture but does it appear in our prayers? Maybe we are even afraid to think or hear of Christ coming. For some people Christ’s second coming is associated with speculation and fear to some extent. For others it is not something that enters their thoughts very often. Still others only think about it when they are sick of the sin and suffering of this world. For whatever reason, few seem to be longing for that day. This can happen if our spiritual life is at a low ebb. Sometimes believers decline in watchfulness, their faith is not acting, and their love is not lively. So they are not in a fit posture for Christ’s coming. Yet the emphasis of Scripture ought to lead us to love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”:  John Willison put it in this way: “Be frequently looking out and longing for Christ’s coming: as Abraham stood in his tent-door ready to go forth to meet the angels that were sent unto him, so should the believer keep himself in a waiting posture at this time. He should be like the loving wife, that longs and looks for the coming of her absent husband, according to his letters to her”. How can we increase our longing for Christ’s coming? Here are some ways.

James Durham helps us with this in the following updated extract by outlining ways we can increase our longing for Christ’s coming. First of all, he observes that for some who lack assurance or know they are not what they should be there are times we would like Christ to come, but they are afraid that we have not made peace with him properly. Believers like this want to be clear that they are friends with Christ, and to be in a better condition, before he comes. This is not a case of fearing Christ’s coming as such, but of desiring to be in a better state of readiness for his coming. The fear is about something in themselves, and yet there is a desire that Christ would come. These are entirely consistent.

Then again, perhaps there is love in our hearts to Christ and his coming, but we think nothing of it. It means so little to us. This will make us afraid of his coming. We are convinced theoretically that Christ’s coming is so desirable that they would choose it ahead of anything else, but in practical terms, our love is not as it should be. This should stir us all up to have our love more fresh and fervent, and avoid complacency.

For it is a bad sign when Christ’s coming is not valued, when there is no longing for it, and the heart is not desirous to hear of it. Do the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ but our hearts say, ‘Go’? This is certainly evidence of a poor spiritual health in believers, and of lack of love in unbelievers who altogether neglect to love Christ and long for his coming.

There are other bad signs too. For example, if we never think of Christ’s coming in a way that leads us to pray for it or long for it. Or if the thought of him coming back is distasteful and uncomfortable to us. Our soul would never go out to meet him spontaneously and joyfully, but would have to be hauled out. Believers are supposed to be ‘looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord’ (2 Peter 3:12), so that when he comes, there is nothing left to do but to embrace him. But instead there is a widespread problem – people live without any reference to Christ’s coming. They are not setting their affections on things above, nor seeking to make their peace with Christ, or obtaining clarity on their relationship with him, or walking so as there would be no quarrels between Christ and them.

Nor do we make much effort (whether by praying or by other means) towards the things that have to happen before he comes, such as the enlargement of his kingdom. Neglecting this reveals our lukewarmness. If there was love to Christ’s coming, his kingdom would be close to our hearts, and we would be more public-spirited, and not so selfish. A selfish mind will never desire Christ’s coming. Neither will those whose hearts are not quit of the world. We are exceedingly addicted to the things of the world. The level of complacency and the amount of temporising among us tells how much we are wedded to the world.

Here are ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming.

1. Grow in faith

The reason we don’t take much interest in Christ’s coming is because we have such little faith in the great advantages that accompany his coming. We do not believe that his appearing will be as glorious and advantageous, and so full of happiness. We do not believe that at the dissolution of all these things there will be a full victory over all enemies, and no sin nor sorrow any more for believers. There is a faintness in the faith of believers which spoils the longing for his coming.

2. Grow in assurance

We have little longing for Christ’s coming because we have little assurance that Christ will appear for our own glory and happiness. While souls are under doubts whether they will get good from Christ at his appearing, they cannot long for it. If folks were clear about their relationship with Christ, and grasped that all the promises will be performed to them at his coming, they would long for it much more. When people have little desire for Christ’s coming, it suggests that what they think is faith is more like complacency than real peace with God. If you believed in Christ’s coming, and your own involvement in it, it is impossible but that your soul would cry out, ‘When shall the day dawn? When will he rend these heavens and come down?’ You would have a longing to be through time, and a holy impatience at any mishap that you thought might prolong the wait.

3. Increase your dissatisfaction with life here

We do not look ahead to Christ’s coming because we are too busy settling down as if our rest was here. This shows that we do not primarily place our happiness in Christ’s second coming, but instead expect our good things here and now. People have some plan about their creature comforts, and want that to come to fruition before Christ comes. They do not consider that the coming of Christ is the most noble plan, and that preparing for Christ’s coming lays the groundwork for a better portion to them and their children than all their attainments in the world.

4. Have more communion with Christ

We have little longing for his coming at the last day because we have little experience of his coming now, in the felt manifestations of his Spirit and presence to our souls. If people were clear about their relationship with him, and frequent in communion with him, they would long to see his salvation perfected. When we get fresh proofs of Christ’s sweetness and fresh views of his excellence, then we have longing desires to enjoy him immediately. Little of this makes little crying out for the living God, or for appearing before God. It must be that you don’t taste that God is gracious, otherwise you would long for his coming. If only you would taste and see how good he is! If you had even a little experience of his ravishing sweetness! When a taste of him is so delectable, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, like hidden manna, what must the full harvest be? What must the completing of the bargain be like, when the down-payment is so sweet?

It should be natural believers to long for Christ’s coming

It is unsuitable in everyone, and especially in believers, that there should be so little desire for Christ’s coming, so little praying for it. Is it in keeping with the great advantages we profess to expect when he comes? Is it in line with the many promises we have, and our profession to have a right to them? No sooner does Christ promise, but John, or the Bride, has an echo for the fulfilling of it. Is it consistent with professing love to Christ, not to desire union with him, and the full coming of his kingdom?

Our desires should also be in proportion to our admiration for what Christ has done in order to make way for his second coming. He came in the form of a servant, and did what he did, and suffered what he did, to make way for his coming again, to take believers to glory.

So failing to desire Christ’s coming implies great weakness in our faith, great lack of love, great uncertainty in our hope, and great disrespect for Christ. We make no good use of the promise of his coming, and we do not know what it is to be comforted in it.

Let us then stir ourselves up to desiring Christ’s coming, both as a duty that is required of us and as a frame that is requisite in us. This is what I would urge.
(1) Love Christ’s coming so much that you would neither rise in the morning nor lie down at night, without expressing some desires for it.
(2) Put up more prayers for it. It may be a cause of his delay, and of delaying many things that are to happen before he comes, that there is so little diligence in praying for his coming, or the things that must happen in order for him to come.
(3) Take it more seriously as something so closely connected with the Lord’s honour and the thriving of his kingdom, and something by which we evidence a kindly sympathy with our Lord. Do not content yourselves to pass over it with a dry wish. Consider that it is presented here as a frame of heart that is of the Spirit, ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.’ To the extent that you want yourselves to show signs of being the natural branches of this vine, and members of the body of which he is the head, and a part of his Bride, to that extent, I urge you, say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’

The coming of Christ is a ground of notable consolation to believers. Our Lord has said and confirmed it, that he is coming, and that he is coming quickly. Among all the many dark, obscure passages in the Book of Revelation, this is clear. He says he is coming quickly to judge the world, to raise your bodies, to make up the union between him and them, to solemnise the marriage, to bring you who love his appearing to the wedding. All that you have heard spoken of it shall be made good.

 

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You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace
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.
28 Apr, 2022

We know that saving grace brings us into a relationship with God. But what is the nature of that relationship? We don’t understand that properly until we grasp the significance of covenant, a word and idea that carries forward the progress of God’s purposes of grace in the gospel and salvation. Covenant is the way that God relates to His people and makes promises to them. It helps us understand the full depth and riches of what God has planned and provided for His people.

David Dickson explains more of the rich blessing of the Covenant of Grace in this updated extract.

1. The Covenant of Grace Runs Through Scripture

Immediately after the breaking of the covenant of works by Adam, it pleased the Lord to lay that new ground of a new covenant of grace in His Son, in that promise in the garden. The seed of the woman shall tread down the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And God renews the promise in form of a formal covenant to Abraham and his seed which is Christ, and all the faithful through Him (Genesis 17:7). The same covenant is repeated in the person of David and his seed (2 Samuel 7:14-15).

This is more fully explained Psalm 89:3-4. Where the Lord swears to the throne and kingdom of Christ who was to come from David unto all generations, and under the type of David and his successors, and his children, that is, all those that believe in Christ:

  • protection and defence against all evil;
  • provision of strength for every good employment;
  • freedom from the voluntary slavery of sin;
  • turning of everything to our good;
  • fighting for us, against our foes;
  • giving us all the good things that He promises to us;
  • to forgive us our sins;
  • to make us partakers of His eternal kingdom:
  • faith itself and the spirit of adoption, whereby we may call God, “Abba Father”. And
  • last of all, which of all is most wonderful, although the devil had so far prevailed as to make them forsake the law of God, and neglect the commandments, and transgress the statutes and ordinances; yet if you return to the Lord your God, and lay hold on the covenant, you may well be plagued with worldly judgments for your correction, but you shall not be excluded from the mercy of God, and His loving kindness. “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.” (Psalm 89:30-32). But observe that which follows: “Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” (Psalm 89:33-34), etc. O the wonderful love and goodness of our God in His Son Christ towards poor sinners! who, although we change every moment, He never changes.

This is the new covenant which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself did preach, and sealed with His blood, and left in legacy to us, under the broad seal of His own sacrament. For the last cup that ever He drank, He took the cup and giving thanks, He gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink ye all of it: For this is my blood of the new covenant, or new testament which is shed for many, for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). This is the covenant in which all the promises of grace are contained both in the Old and New Testament; for this cause it is called, the New Covenant of promises.

2. The Blessings of the covenant of grace

The excellence of it shall appear in considering its properties.
(a) It is a new covenant, for that it makes us free from the covenant of works; yea now under the gospel twice, because it makes us free from the ceremonies of Moses’ law, with which the children of God were burdened before the coming of Christ (Hebrews 7:22).

(b) It is a complete covenant of all mercies and graces in abundance (Isaiah 55:1 and Isaiah 44:3). For what spiritual graces you stand in need of, you shall find it promised here. Faith, repentance, remission of sins, sanctification, the spirit of prayer, knowledge, the fear of God; and in a word, all is promised here.

(c) It is a free covenant, wherein (i) all is freely gifted, without money or price on our part; (ii) The most miserable and unworthy sinner that desires to be reconciled to God, is not excluded from it; but the poorest and most needy, hungry, thirsty and beggarly souls are most welcome to have it. (iii) Whatsoever it craves of you who lay hold on His covenant (Isaiah 56:1-2), it also promises to you e.g. faith, repentance, sanctification, etc. . “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” (Hosea 14:4).

(d) It is a sure covenant and firm, because it is not grounded upon anything that is in us, or can be in us, but upon the free love of the unchangeable God, and the truth of God’s Word and the oath of God, who has sworn to keep it “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David” (Psalm 89:34-35 and Genesis 17:7). It has Christ Jesus for the Mediator of it. “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15). And likewise, He is the preacher of it. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1). The witness of it, “Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, etc.” (Isaiah 55:4). The surety and guarantor of it (Hebrews 7:22). And the sealer of it by His blood unto His Father (Hebrews 9:14), and His sacrament, and Holy Spirit to us (1 Corinthians 11:25).

(e) It is an everlasting covenant enduring forever in the Lord’s part, which of all the rest is most comforting: For howsoever our part of the covenant be broken from time to time by our manifold transgressions. Yet the Lord keeps His part whole, and does not take away His loving kindness from us, but gives us liberty to renew our part of the covenant by daily repentance; and to come to that fountain that is opened up in the house of David for sin and uncleanness, that we may wash and be made clean (Zechariah 13:1). “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” (Isaiah 55:3). “I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (Genesis 17:19). “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40 and Ezekiel 16:60).

If this covenant pleases you well and your heart receives it, both to be saved and sanctified by it, and you are content to enter into this covenant with the Lord, of purpose to pursue the promises of sanctification no less than the promises of justification and salvation: In a word, if you say with your heart to the Lord, “Lord, I embrace the offer of Christ Jesus and all His graces, Lord I embrace this gracious covenant offered unto us all in the gospel, that I may be sanctified and saved by it,” and will follow unto it by the Lord’s grace, believing in His goodness and truth; then blessed are you, and more and more blessed will you be daily.

The Lord Himself  called them blessed that lay hold on the covenant (Isaiah 56:2, 4-7), whether you be rich, poor, man, woman, were you never so great a stranger from God, and has no grace in your own estimation, were you like a dry tree empty of all sap, that is void of all goodness and grace in yourself, you shall get a place within God’s house, and an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-4, 9). You shall be joyful in the Lord’s house of prayer, and your sacrifice and service shall be accepted of the Lord (Isaiah 56:7).

3. Make Use of the covenant of Grace

It remains only to make use of the covenant in all your life, that you may live the life of faith, and Christ may live in you: and out of Christ, by virtue of his promises, you may draw every grace which your soul desires.

And to this end, look what necessary grace you would have. Search to see if there is a promise for it in the Scriptures, in which the main parts of this covenant are written. Labour to believe humbly the promise when you has found it, and in that measure of faith which the Lord bestows upon you, present your supplication in the name of Jesus for that necessary promised grace which you would have, patiently pursuing your request from day to day, till God satisfy you, which He will not fail to do in His own time. Only believe, and you shall see the glory of God; for faithful is He who has said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9-10) For if men who are evil, can give gifts to their children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:13). He that has given his Son to death for us, will He not with Him us all things also? (Romans 8:32). 

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We were made to enjoy God for ever Q1PT5 – BTEP010

We were made to enjoy God for ever Q1PT5 – BTEP010

We enjoy God as a consequence of glorifying Him. Amazingly, God has joined together his glory and our good. His glory is absolutely the most supremely important goal there is. When we aim at his glory, we won’t fail to enjoy him for ever more. We conclude our reflections on Question 1 of the Shorter Catechism by see how it draws from passages like Psalm 16:11 which speak of everlasting enjoyment of God.

In this podcast we will give some short reflections on the meaning of the Shorter Catechism. These short episodes may be especially helpful for older children and young people. They can be used in conjunction with specially prepared worksheets and the Bible Truth Explored book.

We were made to enjoy God for ever Q1PT5 – BTEP010

Glorify God by doing what pleases him Q1PT4 – BTEP009

What can I do to glorify God, in practical specific terms? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16. As we explore this we discover another facet of Question 1 of the Shorter Catechism and how it reflects the teaching of Scripture. We glorify God by doing good works. Good works are the various things God commands in the Bible. This in turn is a prompt and an invitation to those who see this to glorify God themselves

In this podcast we will give some short reflections on the meaning of the Shorter Catechism. These short episodes may be especially helpful for older children and young people. They can be used in conjunction with specially prepared worksheets and the Bible Truth Explored book.

We were made to enjoy God for ever Q1PT5 – BTEP010

Glorify God in everything Q1PT3 – BTEP008

1 Corinthians 10:31 shows us that glorifying God enters into the most basic and ordinary activities of our everyday lives. Whatever we do, we should do it to God’s glory. That is exactly what Question 1 of the Shorter Catechism teaches too. We should give glory to the Lord. There is nothing more important for us. God’s glory should be our overriding consideration in every aspect of our lives.

In this podcast we will give some short reflections on the meaning of the Shorter Catechism. These short episodes may be especially helpful for older children and young people. They can be used in conjunction with specially prepared worksheets and the Bible Truth Explored book.

We were made to enjoy God for ever Q1PT5 – BTEP010

We were made to glorify God Q1PT2 – BTEP007

Dwelling on Psalm 29:2 we can understand another facet of Question 1 of the Shorter Catechism and how it reflects the teaching of Scripture. We should give glory to the Lord. There is nothing more important for us. One way of glorifying God is to worship Him.

In this podcast we will give some short reflections on the meaning of the Shorter Catechism. These short episodes may be especially helpful for older children and young people. They can be used in conjunction with specially prepared worksheets and the Bible Truth Explored book.

Where is the post-Covid drift taking us?

Where is the post-Covid drift taking us?

Where is the post-Covid drift taking us?
James Guthrie (1612-1661) was one of the most prominent Covenanters. Nicknamed “Sicker Foot” (Sure Foot) for his steadfastness and he was vocal in criticising the future Charles II and Oliver Cromwell. He was the first of the Covenanters to be sentenced to public execution by hanging.
20 Apr, 2022

How should we respond to the massive upheavals that have taken place nationally and internationally over the last couple of years? If we think about it in the abstract, perhaps it seems obvious that after a time of turmoil and distress, we would re-dedicate ourselves to the Lord and more earnestly seek his grace to put more energy into serving him. Now that restrictions on social and church life have eased, we have many opportunities to do this. But instead of being re-energised as we emerge from the pandemic, many believers feel they are struggling to shake off a kind of spiritual lethargy. They feel they are doing little more than just drifting along. Could the Lord be leaving us to cope with the aftermath more or less by ourselves? How then can we possibly cope? Why does he not intervene mightily to invigorate his weary church?

In this updated extract, James Guthrie shows he was familiar with this same problem. He looks first at where God is going – is he coming towards us to bless us with more of his presence, or is he withdrawing? Then he looks at where we are going – turning inwards on ourselves or reaching upwards for God’s help? What progress are we making?

What direction is God going?

When the Lord is present with us in society, this is manifested in what we call the common operations of the Spirit. For example, he gives people the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, fortitude, temperance, justice, courage and so on.
When the Lord is present with us in the church, this can be seen in one of two ways. One way is in the ordinary gifts of the Spirit (ordinary as distinct from saving grace). These include the gift of ministry, or teaching, or exhortation, or church-ruling, which he uses to enable the saints to grow, and to edify the body of Christ (Romans 12:6,7; Ephesians 4:8,11,12). The other way is in the special operations of the Spirit, when he gives sanctifying and saving grace, and by his continued influences makes his people more and more renewed in the inward man day by day. To the extent that God gives or withdraws his presence in these things, so his people prosper or decay.

Whichever of these we think of, we have to admit that God has to some extent or another departed from amongst us. He has left us under a cloud of desertion.

In society, wisdom and understanding, courage, strength, and success have been taken from us. He has mingled a perverse spirit in the midst of us that causes us to err in every work.

Likewise in church and church administration, the Lord is not showing his presence. The unity and authority of pastors and church courts is gravely weakened. He has divided us in his anger, and though we have attempted to heal our wounds and recover our strength, yet our endeavours up to now have for most part been frustrated by the Lord. There is bruising instead of binding up, and much bitter contention and strife in many of our meetings. Instead of the sweet fruits of edifying unity and peace, whilst we should pull together in unison in the work of the Lord, some pull one way and others another, rendering our endeavours almost useless to the church, comfortless to ourselves, and despicable to others.

In the ordinances, the Lord is restraining and withholding the blessing which should come from them. Plenty is sown, yet little is harvested.

The word of salvation is only rarely blessed in the hand of ministers to the converting of souls. Faithful ministers across the land feel that they labour in vain and spend their strength for nothing. Many souls who claim to be converted and have a real union with Jesus Christ are suffering a dreadful withering and decay. Tenderness is gone. Influences of the Spirit are withheld. Prayer is restrained and shut out. Faith fails. Love has grown cold. Hearts are hardened like stones. There is little or no delight in God or in his Word or in the fellowship of his people. Corruptions are rife, and heart plagues abound. God hides his face and is like a stranger to his people, leaving them to wrestle alone in their duties and difficulties.

And yet while the Lord’s people would admit all this, they make so little fuss about his departings! Maybe we have some remembrance a better condition, when we enjoyed his fellowship, and some sense of our loss and its bad consequences. This brings some sort of desire to recover our former state – but how faint and feckless these desires are! We are effectively content to live without God, and to let him go without even attempting to take hold of the hem of his garments.

If the Lord’s gracious influences were strong on our hearts, we would not, we could not, easily contemplate his departing. We would not, and could not, hold our peace, night or day, until he returned and revived his work. The fact that we sit, almost satisfied, and silent under his withdrawings suggests that many of us, though we have a name that we are living, are actually dead, and that the spiritual life which remains in others is ready to die (Revelation 3:1-2.).

What direction are we going?

1. Going on without basic gospel truths

Multitudes of people go on in a profound lack of familiarity with the gospel and the necessary truths of God. Light has come amongst us, but many love darkness rather than light. Often too this ignorance is unforced and perverse.

2. Going on in routines

Formalism – that is, a form of godliness without the power of godliness – abounds and prevails among us.

3. Going on fruitlessly

Even when we know and obey the gospel, we are barren and unfruitful in our spiritual life. Our outstanding sin is that in spite of the fact that the Lord waters us plentifully with the dew of heaven and the sweet rain of the gospel day by day, yet most of us are still only an empty vine, which brings forth fruit to ourselves, but not to God.

4. Growing weary of the things of God

We have grown weary of the precious things of God, and the blessed opportunities they bring us. Instead we prefer our own worldly advantages. Many are tired of the ordinances. Many are tired of the Lord’s Day, and halve it between God and the world. Many value our blessed Lord Jesus and the inestimable treasure of the gospel at a very low rate, much less than thirty pieces of silver.

5. Going on without listening to God

We refuse to hearken to God. Are we not a rebellious and gainsaying people? We neither fear the threatenings of God to repent, nor embrace his promises to believe, nor listen to his commandments to obey.

6. Going on with unfaithful ministers

Although there are many precious ministers who study to divide the Word of God aright, warning the wicked to turn from the evil of their ways, and encouraging the godly in godliness, yet not all ministers are like this. There are others who heal the hurt of the daughter of the Lord’s people slightly, and speak peace to these to whom the Lord does not speak peace. They bite with the teeth those who ought to be encouraged and comforted (Micah 3:5).
The goal of some ministers is not to commend themselves to every man’s conscience as in the sight of God. Instead they handle the Word of God deceitfully, so as to make the hearts of the righteous sad (by turning the edge of their doctrine against them, referring to them as hypocrites and narrow-minded), and on the other side to strengthen the hands of the wicked to persist in his wicked way.

7. Going against our commitments

We keep dealing treacherously with God in the matter of his covenant. We have all made covenants with God (at least the covenant of our baptism). The terms and intentions of these covenants include walking close with God, zeal for the kingdom of Jesus Christ and against his open enemies, and reforming ourselves in our various roles and capacities. Yet surely we must acknowledge that most of us have not only come exceedingly far short in these, but we have palpably transgressed. The sinfulness of this is greatly heightened by the greatness of the Lord’s mercies and his wonderful works on our behalf.

8. Going away from our first love

We have forsaken our first love (Revelation 2:4). Even if we compare ourselves with ourselves – what we are now with what we were, perhaps even a very few years ago – we will see this. But what is worse, we seem to have fallen further from our first love than the church of Ephesus. Jesus Christ acknowledged some good points about Ephesus. ‘I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil, and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted’ (Revelation 2:2-3). Do we deserve a testimony like this? More likely, we come far short in all these things. Where are our works, and where is our labour and patience, and where is our zeal against those that are evil? The reality is that we are a barren and fruitless people. Our way is full of murmuring and fretting. We allow many who say they are pastors, and are not, to go on without investigation. We decline to take up the cross of Jesus Christ, and refuse to endure and labour for his name. We either faint or turn aside to crooked ways. And shall we fall so far short of Ephesus in all these things, and yet not fear the removal of our candlestick?

Conclusion

Are we and our God drifting apart? Of course the Lord never leaves any of his people completely, or lets any of them leave him completely. But relatively speaking, there can be times when we back away from God and turn our backs on his ways and his grace. Correspondingly God can hide his face from us instead of shining on us the light of his countenance. Then the last thing we should do is let things go on as they are. Instead we need to battle the inertia and shake off our lethargy. If we follow the advice to the church at Ephesus, we will remember our first love, repent, and do the first works.

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Pleasing God: How Important is Pleasing God? – Episode 1

Pleasing God: How Important is Pleasing God? – Episode 1

Pleasing God is supremely important. It’s the most beautiful and impressive honour we can have. This episode explores what the Bible has to say about this and draws from insights by Hugh Binning on why we should seek God’s glory above everything else.

In these episodes we take a long look at what it means to reform our lives according to God’s revealed will and why that is so important. As you explore further the issues we address you can use some questions provided to help delve into the meaning and application of key Bible passages. Further reading material drawn from a rich past heritage of spiritual wisdom will also help you to continue to think about the points raised.

Please subscribe to the podcast to stay with the conversation and explore these questions with us.

Bible Study Questions

Hebrews 11:1-6

1. Verse 1 gives a description of what faith is. Use your own words to name the following three things about faith. (a) Instead of things in the here-and-now, what does faith deal with? (b) Instead of things we see, what does faith deal with? (c) Instead of being airy-fairy, insubstantial, or doubtful, what is faith like?

2. According to verse 2, God’s people since long ago have been commended. Who gave them their good report, or commendation? What are they commended for? What does this mean for us, if we want God to be pleased with us and give us a good report?

3. Verse 3 tells us a bit about what God has done. (a) What do God’s works reveal about what God is like? (b) There is plenty of evidence and revelation about what God is like, both generally in

creation and specially in the Bible. Can people interpret the available evidence just using their own powers of reason, or do we need something else?

4. Verse 4 gives a historical example of faith in action. (a) What did Abel do by faith? (b) God accepted Abel’s offering and testified that he was pleased with it. Would Abel’s offering have been acceptable to God if Abel himself was not a person who God accepted? (c) What made Abel, and therefore the things he did, pleasing to God?

5. (a) Let’s assume that Cain wanted to please God, brought him the best he could lay his hands on, and sincerely thought his idea for an offering was a good one. Why was God nevertheless not pleased with Cain’s offering? (b) Unbelievers can sometimes do very impressive things as offerings to God, whether charitable work, using their gifts for music, etc. What does Cain show us about God’s view of the performance of the work compared to the principle that motivates what we do?

6. Verse 5 gives another example of faith in action. One of the very few things we know about Enoch is that ‘he walked with God’ for many years in his long life (see Genesis 5:21-24). What does it say about your relationship with someone when you are happy to keep walking a long distance with them? From this description of Enoch’s relationship with God, what can we conclude about (a) how pleasing Enoch was to God and (b) how pleasing God was to Enoch?

7. Faith characterised not only Enoch’s life but also the way he departed from this life to go to heaven. (a) What was unique about Enoch at the end of his life? (b) How does the same faith also characterise the experience of death for believers who die in the ordinary way? Think of verses such as Psalm 48:14, Psalm 56:13, etc. (c) Whatever way the end of our life comes, what testimony or commendation do we need to have beforehand?

8. Looking at verse 6, what makes it impossible to please God? If someone spends their life failing to please God, what are the consequences (a) for their life? (b) for after their death?

9. Still looking at verse 6, there are two things that we must believe if we are going to please God. (a) Believing that God is, doesn’t just mean believing that a God exists. It means believing in the one God who truly does exist. Who is this God? (b) What kind of reward(s) does he give? (c) Seeking him doesn’t just mean finding out facts about him. It means seeking himself personally until we find him. In what ways is the reward a good match with the seeking

What is Christian Watchfulness?

What is Christian Watchfulness?

What is Christian Watchfulness?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
13 Apr, 2022

At times governments issue the stark warning to “stay vigilant” concerning some threat. Other groups remind us of the ever present potential for abuse of power and the slogan “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Vigilance is watchfulness and the Scriptures warn us repeatedly of the need to stay awake to spiritual dangers (1 Peter 5:8; Mark 13:37; Acts 20:31). We neglect it at our peril (1 Corinthians 16:13–14). People who are watchful know there a present danger that threatens something valuable. But it is not merely a negative duty it has positive implications for us also. How then are we to be watchful?

The world and the evil one are powerful enemies that assail us but part of the difficulty is that the dangers are not only from outside of us. We have hearts that we need to keep a watch over because they are ready to deceive us through sin (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 26:41; Galatians 6:1; 2 John 8). We need not just self-examination that monitors our spiritual vitality, we also require prayer (Colossians 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:7). But in it all we need to be looking to Jesus and have a watchfulness for every way in which we may serve Him and be like Him (Colossians 3:1–2; Hebrews 12:2). Hugh Binning explains in the following updated extract what watchfulness is and how it is a duty for all of us.

1. Watchfulness is for Everyone

A Christian should watch. A Christian is a watchman by office. This duty of watchfulness is frequently commanded and commended in Scripture (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 5:8; Colossians 4:2; Luke 12:37). David waited as those that watch for the morning light (Psalm 130:6). The ministers of the gospel are described as watchmen in Scripture and every Christian should be to themselves as a minister is to his flock, they should watch over themselves. This implies the Christian’s condition in this world and expresses their activity in it.

2. Watchfulness Implies Warfare

Watching is a military posture and indicates the Christian’s situation in this world. They are encompassed about with enemies, and therefore must be a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3). The Christian has a warfare to accomplish in this world, and therefore the church here is militant, and in heaven triumphant (1 Timothy 1:18). Every Christian should war a good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.

Christ has drawn battle and appointed warfare to all His followers. In the strength of their past victory in Him, they may be made more than conquerors so that there may be a perpetual song of triumph and victory in heaven. He has made the saints strong and has made the strong weak.

The Christian’s heart and grace are like a besieged city blocked up on every side. There are enemies without and false friends within. Its enemy is great principalities and powers etc. (Ephesians 6:12) and these go around continually to look for a breach. All the things of the world besiege the heart and every sense is a gate to let the enemy in. All our dealings and trading in the world are as dangerous as inviting the countryside around a town to a public market within it when the enemy is surrounding it.

There is a desperately wicked heart within, that has deceived many thousands, and would surrender the city upon any occasion. There are fleshly lusts which war against the soul, (1 Peter 2:11) temptation to sin and unbelief. There is a heart within that can conceive and bring forth sin, and does not need any temptation, a heart within that can seduce temptation itself. When a foreign power is added to all this, who can stand? Christ Himself was tempted, but Satan found nothing in Him, and had nothing in Him, but when Satan comes, he finds everything in us, and we are like gunpowder to the flame. We can even tempt ourselves as well as be tempted by another.

3. Watchfulness is the Opposite of Sleeping

The Christian keeps a house that the enemy surrounds, and if they sleep the foe will enter. The Christian is a pilgrim here and not yet come home. They have to proceed through a dirty and dangerous way. The Christian is like a servant that left with appropriate provision by his master (who will come home when he pleases, Mark 13:33; Matthew 24:32). But woe to him if his master finds him sleeping. What then should his activity and posture be? He should be a watchman.

Watching is the opposite of complacency and sleeping. The Christian must keep their eyes open, or else they are gone. They must be vigilant or else the devil will attack them (1 Peter 5:8). The sluggard’s destruction comes as an armed man, because of his “little sleep” and slumber (Proverbs 6:10 and Proverbs 20:13). Complacency is the Christian’s night when they cease from their labour and the adversary does as he pleases with them. But the Christian is in a better condition when they are wrestling with temptation and getting heavy blows. When they are at peace and dwell securely (like the people of Laish, Judges 18:7) they are not troubled with anything but are in a dreamy state, but that is a condition of decay.

4. Watchfulness Requires Being Observant

To watch, is to observe everything (1 Samuel 4:13; Luke 6:7). This is a watchman’s special duty, to let nothing pass by them without observation. Whatever comes in they ask where it has come from and where it is going. The heart is a highway that everything travels along. If the Christian does not exactly know what comes in and what its purpose, they may be overcome before they are aware. They Christian should observe all the movements of the enemy and be well acquainted with all the subtleties of temptations. They must know their own spirit and thoughts and observe all the Lord’s dealings with his spirit. They must be concerned to know what is an enemy or friend. Therefore, the Christian should get up on the watchtower of the Word, and look through the telescope of faith round about them, that they may know what their spiritual condition is.

5. Watchfulness Requires Giving Warning

The watchman gives warning while it is timely and the enemy is far off. He raises the alarm so that everything is in readiness. This is how you ought to be. Come to Jesus Christ with all that you observe, inform the Captain of your salvation whose soldiers you are. It is best dealing with temptation far off, and resisting the first movements of sin because when it comes near it gets many friends within. They watchman’s duty is not to give his judgment of what he sees but only to report it. Do not sit down to pass sentence on whether anything is good or evil, sin or not, but come to Jesus and let Him speak. Often we reason according to flesh and blood.

6. Watchfulness Requires Constancy

There must be no interruption in this watching. The Christian must give diligent heed to it (Mark 13:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:6). It is a very laborious activity for a Christian to watch, all their senses are exercised. They must look up steadfastly, they must stand, and when they have done all they can, still stand. When the Christ has overcome they must continue to watch, lest they enter into temptation. They are in greater danger after victory than before (Ezra 6:13). They must watch when they have come out of one temptation lest they enter into another. Armies often get their greatest disadvantage after they have some victory, when they were at ease. Therefore, we ought to give all diligence, and not love sleep, lest we come into poverty.

Application

From what has been said we see how few are in a warlike posture against Satan. Many serve under Satan’s flag and the strong man keeps the house. They do not watch against him but for him; they fight for him, and not against him. Many even watch for their sin, how to achieve it. Many seek every advantage to get their own heart’s desires, they watch against God’s Word, to keep off conviction. These are the children of darkness, in whom the devil reigns.

We also observe from this that even the children of God are seldom found watching. There is much woeful complacency among them. Who of you walks as if you were among enemies? You walk as if you were in a peaceful city without any gates, like the people of Laish who dwelt securely (Judges 18:7). You have no friend in all the world, and yet what fearful negligence and sleeping there is among you. The flesh is so weak that you cannot watch even one hour for Christ. And the neglect of one hour’s watching has brought down many strong ones. This made such a breach on David that could hardly be repaired ever again.

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Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling
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.
7 Apr, 2022

We are all buyers and frequently we also seek to sell things. Whether this is part of our work or personal life, we need to consider what Scripture says. It is easy to be drawn into separating matters of faith and finance. Perhaps especially during a time of financial pressures we may be tempted to increase our personal benefit at the expense of others. What can we do to keep integrity in our spending behaviour? According to research done at London Bible College in recent years the pressure to be dishonest is also one of the greatest on Christians working in secular business. Subtle deception and concealment can be ordinary tools of the trade in some places. Taking a stand in that context can mean employment prospects suffer. There are limits to what we can honestly and honourably do in our financial transactions, whether we are buying and selling items or services. 

Such concerns are not new, they are as old as buying and selling themselves. We can learn a great deal therefore for biblical principles on the subject. In this updated extract, Christopher Love sets out some scriptural principles to follow, whether as businesses or individuals. It would be a mistake to avoid having our conscience informed by Scripture in these matters for any reason. No doubt a very great deal more could be said and further qualification, explanation and application is needed but there is much here to prompt our reflection. 

BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES For HONEST Buying

1. Honesty about value. If you are about to buy something, first take heed that you do not talk it down, in order to bring down the price, and get it for less than it is worth. In Solomon’s time, people were so wicked that when they came to the market to buy anything, the buyer would criticise the commodity, saying it was nothing, when it was in fact very good and saleable. Then when the seller was gone, the buyer would boast of what a good bargain he got (Proverbs 20:14).

2. Honesty about what you will pay. If you are prepared to pay a certain sum, do not make protestations that you will give no more than what you have first offered, when you know that afterwards you will give more. It is a very common thing for the buyer to say he will not give a penny more, and for the seller to say he will not take a penny less, and yet in the end both the buyer gives more, and the seller takes less. So this is nothing other than a palpable and downright lie.

3. Honesty about currency. If you know you have counterfeit money about you, or worthless coins (perhaps in a foreign currency), and yet use it to pay for commodities, you sin in doing so – even if you yourself were given it as part of your payment. When Abraham was to buy the field of Ephron the Hittite in Machpelah for a burying place, he said he would give ‘four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant” (Genesis 23:16).

4. Honesty about value. If you attempt to acquire something for less than what you think in your conscience is its due value and worth, this is an open form of oppression. When Abraham was to buy the cave in from Ephron, he said he would give ‘as much money as it is worth’ (Genesis 23:9). Similarly, when David was to buy the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he said, he would buy it at its full value (2 Samuel 24:24).

5. Honesty about debts. If you are already able to pay for what you have bought, do not take a long time to make the payment. There is an excellent saying for this in Proverbs 3:27-28. This text refers to works of mercy, but it is also relevant to buying and selling and trading in the world. If you owe someone money for something, you ought to pay him. Do not let him come day after day for it and go away without it, when you have it by you (2 Kings 4:7). In Scripture it is the badge of a wicked man that he does not pay his debts (Psalm 37:21).

6. Honesty about monopolising. Do not buy up all of a commodity so that it all comes into your own hands alone, if you are intending to sell it at your own, inflated price. This is sheer oppression, destructive to society, and to all trading. Scripture condemns this in Proverbs 11:26. When corn was cheap, they would go and buy all the corn in the country, and then sell none till corn was very dear. It is no sin in itself to engross a commodity in order to sell it the cheaper, but to engross it merely to raise the price is such an oppression that the people shall curse whoever does it.

7. Honesty about mistakes. If the seller has made some mistake or oversight, do not take advantage of them. For example, you might go to a shop to buy so many yards of cloth, and the seller perhaps gives you more than you have paid for, or takes less money than is his due. You should take no advantage of him in such a situation, but restore it again. If you take anything more from him than you bought from him, it is theft; and if you give any less for the commodity than you bargained for, it is theft. When Joseph’s brothers found their money in their sacks again, their father Jacob told them, ‘Go back again and take double money in your hand, and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hands, for peradventure it was an oversight’ (Genesis 43:12).

8. Honesty about the Lord’s Day. If it is the Lord’s Day, do not buy anything. It is true, in urgent situations to maintain life either in man or beast, this is lawful, but to buy anything that you can easily go without till Monday, is sinful. ‘And Nehemiah entered into an oath, and the people with him, that if any of the people of the land brought wares, or any victuals to sell on the Sabbath day, that they would not buy it of them’ (Nehemiah 10:31).

9. Honesty If the seller is poor and in need of the money, do not exploit their desperation. It is a great sin in those who know that a poor person needs money, and has to sell his wares otherwise he cannot buy food for his family, and therefore they refuse to buy the commodity unless he will sell it cheaper then he can afford. This is a great oppression (see Leviticus 14:25).

10. Honesty about lawful goods. If something is not fit to be bought or sold, do not buy it. For example, do not buy stolen goods. If you know they are stolen, they must not be bought but restored. As the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the buyer is as bad as the thief. Also, do not buy idolatrous or superstitious things, such as crosses, rosary beads, images, crucifixes, and the like. And do not buy people for slaves, for the Lord reproves this in Amos 2:6 and Deuteronomy 24:7.

Biblical Principles For Honest Selling

1. Honesty in salesmanship. Do not multiply words in selling. When Ephron told Abraham that the piece of land was worth four hundred shekels of silver, Abraham presently gave him that much (Genesis 23:15). God Himself takes upon Him to be a seller. ‘If you think good,’ says God, ‘give me my price; if not, forbear’ (Zechariah 11:12); multiplicity of words is needless.

2. Honesty in trade descriptions. Do not over-praise a commodity, when you know in your conscience that there is a fault in it.

3. Honesty in weights and measures. Do not sell your commodities by false weights or by false measures. This is condemned in Amos 8.5, ‘They make the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsify the balances by deceit’ and also in Proverbs 10:20. The Lord gave a special law for this in Israel (Deuteronomy 25:14-15; see also Micah 6:10).

4. Honesty in bargaining. Make sure, not only that you do not speak falsehoods, but also that you do not speak in an equivocating manner. Commenting on the words, ‘Let no man defraud his brother,’ Luther observes that there are many shopkeepers who will not lie, but they will equivocate. To sell off a commodity a tradesman will offer one person a certain amount for it, and then he will tell the next person that comes that someone offered him so much for it. Or they will say it cost them a certain amount, when maybe they bought other things along with it of a greater value and price, and maybe they had a great deal of time given them to pay for it, whereas the buyer is paying ready money. Equivocating is as bad as lying.

5. Honesty with everyone. In selling a commodity, do not take advantage of the ignorance or naivety of anyone who comes to buy it. If you discern him to be unskilful, treat him better rather than worse. God says, ‘I will punish all those young men that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit’ (Zephaniah 1:9). ‘Let no man (says the apostle) go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter, for the Lord is the avenger of all such’ (1 Thessalonians 4:6; see also 2 Peter 2:3).

6. Honesty about quality. Do not debase a commodity from its original worth and goodness, and yet sell it at the full price, as if it were good, just to get the more by it. This the Scripture condemns in Amos 8:6, ‘They sell the refuse of the wheat,’ referring to the practice of those who picked out the best of their wheat, and yet sell the worst at the full price of the best. Likewise in Isaiah 1:22, ‘They mingle wine with water, and dross with silver.’

8. Honesty about the fourth commandment. Do not be so eager to sell your commodities that you cannot content yourselves to sell on the six days of the week, but you must sell on the sabbath day likewise. Do not be like those in Amos 8:5, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, that we may sell corn, and the sabbath be over, that we may set forth wheat?’ See also Nehemiah 13:15. Many think nothing of selling small trifling things on the sabbath day, but this is a great sin.

9. Honesty about failures. If you are found out to be deceitful in your dealing, do not justify your deceit. Many, if you come to them, and tell them that they sell dearer then their neighbours, will tell you that they do not. Or if you tell them that the commodity you bought from them has some defect, they will say it is as good as they can afford for the price, or something similar. Ephraim is condemned for this in Hosea 12:7-8. ‘Ephraim is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand.’

 

 

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