We Must Not Miss Opportunities to Do Good

We Must Not Miss Opportunities to Do Good

We Must Not Miss Opportunities to Do Good
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.
20 Oct, 2021

It’s not difficult to find discouragements and even be ready to give up. Everything just seems to make us worn down. But Scripture directs us to the grace and power of God rather than ourselves and the situation around us. There is a time for sowing and a time for reaping and we are not to wish away the one for the other. The darker and the more uncertain the times appear to be the greater the urgency to seize every opportunity to do all the good we can. Opportunities are not always what we expect them to be, indeed they may seem costly and risky at face value. They may be found in the most unlikely of places and times. Wisdom, as well as courageous faith, will seek them out for the glory of God and the good of others.

Paul encourages the weary Galatian Christians to persevere in not only doing the good in which they were already engaged but also in seeking out opportunities for doing as much good as they could. There is a real danger of becoming “weary in well-doing” (Galatians 6:9). As James Fergusson points out, this does not just mean what they were doing but how they were doing it. Despite all discouragements to the contrary, he assures them that God’s appointed opportune time of reaping will come. Paul goes on in the next verse to exhort them to seek out opportunities to do good to as many as they could. Time is short and opportunities are not always forthcoming. The focus is on all kinds of good but especially providing for others who are in need. We should be careful of spiritualising away our duty to the practical needs of others but no doubt it applies to spiritual needs as well. Fergusson explains it further in this updated extract.

1. We Must Not be Discouraged in Taking Opportunities to Do Good

All by nature are exceedingly backward from entering the course of well-doing (and especially doing good towards those whom God commands Mark 10:21-23). So, considering the many discouragements which arise concerning doing good to others there is no small propensity in all to halt in that course of action and to give it up immediately, or soon after they have begun in it. These discouragements may arise from our own corruption or the unworthiness, ingratitude and multitude of those to whom we might do good or from the cold-heartedness and bad example of others who are equally if not more able. Paul seeks to guard against this in saying not to grow weary in well-doing.

2. We Must Continue Taking Opportunities to Do Good

It is not enough that people subject themselves to the authority of God speaking in His Word by merely once entering the way of obedience and enduring in it for a time (Mark 4:17). Perhaps they only last until they attain a name for piety (Revelation 3:1) or meet with some unexpected discouragement or trial (Mark 4:17). They must, however, persist in what they have begun so long as they have any being (Psalm 104:33) and not be weary in well-doing.

3. We Will be Blessed in Taking Opportunities to Do Good

Christians may look to the promised reward as a motive to obedience and perseverance since the Holy Spirit encourages them that in due time they will reap. God has promised a rich reward from free grace in response to His people’s sincere and willing obedience. But He has kept to Himself the date and time for actually bestowing that reward. Yet, even though it is delayed for a long time believers do not have grounds to accuse Him of breach of promise. It is true, however, that sometimes even His dearest saints under strong temptations have gone very near to doing this (Psalm 77:8). He says that they will reap, but when? Not immediately, but in the due and proper time (as that is determined by God).

God does not limit himself to a specified time when He will make His people enjoy the longed-for fruits and comfort of their laborious, costly and long persisted in obedience. Yet His chosen time for this (whether in this life or immediately after death) is always the due and proper time. It is clearly the right and most fitting time beyond all other times for bestowing His mercy after all circumstances have been well considered. It is said you will reap in due, or proper time. The word translated time literally means an opportune time, the very point of time which determines the fittest opportunity for doing any action. Adding the word “due” shows this meaning is intended as if he had said the most opportune time.

4. We Have Good Motives for Taking Opportunities to Do Good

We have just grounds to confidently expect the good thing offered and contained in a conditional promise. But this means that we put into practice the condition that the promise requires. Thus, the apostle exhorts them not to become weary because the promise of a reward includes not wearying as a condition. You will reap if you do not faint, fainting does not mean every slackening in our activity for this can sometimes happen to even the finest saints of God (Psalm 73:2-14). It is the kind of fainting that makes the person totally and finally abandon the ways of God, which will not happen to the real child of God (Matthew 24:24).

5. We Easily Excuse Ourselves from Taking Opportunities to Do Good

Ministers should urge others to engage in the duty of doing good in a way that does not exclude themselves since they should be examples to the Lord’s people in this as in every duty (1 Timothy 4:12). Since people are more averse to such demanding duties than any other, they more readily snatch at everything which may excuse their neglect. No excuse is more plausible to them than that even their ministers neglect all duties of that kind. The apostle, therefore, both in the former verse and in this, includes himself in the exhortation; let us not weary, and let us do good.

6. We Will Not Always Be Able to Take Opportunities to Do Good

There are some fit opportunities offered to us by the providence of God for doing our duty in any way, especially doing good to others. Such opportunities include times when we meet deprived people whose need calls for our help (Isaiah 58:7) and when we have the ability to do them good (2 Corinthians 8:14). Because those opportunities are in passing and being past will not possibly return; we are to look on them as a pressing call from the Lord to set about the duty. We ought to respond to that call without delay. This opportunity relates in part to some portions of our time in this life in which we have a better opening for the duties of doing good than at other times. This has the force of an argument to urge the duty, as it supposes it will not always last.

All opportunities of this kind are confined within the narrow precincts of this present life so that there is no possibility of doing good or being beneficial to others after this life in the way in which we can do it now. The time of repentance, of making sure our election by well-doing, of making our peace with God, is then past. Where the tree falls, there it lies (Ecclesiastes 11:3). Because the time of this life is uncertain (James 4:14) we ought, therefore, to stir ourselves in making use of the present, since we do not know how soon our time may end and all opportunities of doing good come to an end with it. This is implied in the apostle’s words, opportunity may refer to the whole time of this life i.e. while we have the opportunity, let us do good.

8. We Must Take Opportunities to Do Good to Everyone

This duty of doing good is to be extended to all, even our very enemies as their necessity may require (Exodus 23:4-5) and our own ability may enable (2 Corinthians 8:12). This is because of God’s own example, Mat. 5. 45. and the bond of a common nature between them and us (Isaiah 58:7).

9. We Must Take Opportunities to Do Good for the Church

The Church is God’s family and household, He Himself is the head and master (Ephesians 3:15). His ministers are stewards to distribute the bread of life (1 Corinthians 4:1) and individual Christians are members of this family bound together by the profession of one common faith in Christ Jesus. The Church is only a small number-a family-even a handful in comparison of the world (Luke 12:32). As Christ’s family, they are cared for and provided for by Him (1 Timothy 5:8). The members of this family are, therefore, in a special manner obliged to love one another and evidence their love by being beneficial to one another in their needs and difficulties. God often permits even those of His own family to experience these trials for their own good (1 Peter 1:6). Besides other reasons, they are closely related to one another like children belonging to one family, the Lord’s.

10. We Must Take Opportunities to Do Good in Due Order

We must observe an order in doing good to others:

  • first it is to be exercised to those of our own family (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • secondly, to our parents (1 Timothy 5:4);
  • thirdly, to our wider family (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • fourthly, those who profess the same faith with us (among those to whom we are not related) and among them those who evidence most the reality of their faith by the fruits of a good life (1 Timothy 5:9-10);
  • lastly, to all without exception when an occasion offers itself.

The apostle is only explicit here about the last two. But this gives us grounds for searching out the rest from other parts of the Scriptures. He says to do good to all, but especially to those of the household of faith. The comparison between them is among those to whom we are not related.

Conclusion

It is easy to be discouraged from our duty and to pretend our opportunities to do good are not actually opportunities. Much wisdom and grace are required to discern our duty. Some people are, for instance, inclined to see the arrival of immigrants or refugees with a different religion as purely a threat and not an opportunity. We need to ask ourselves more what we can do for others materially and spiritually. Perhaps the opportunity to show kindness will provide an opportunity to do spiritual good.

Our tendency towards a bleak reading of the times and potential opportunities may not always be as accurate as we think. For instance, the recent Sevanta ComRes Survey suggested that a third of UK adults pray and attend church regularly. In particular, more than half of 18-34-year-olds were spiritually engaged in terms of praying and attending church compared to only a fifth of those over 55. Many caveats need to be put around this, but it does not seem to reflect a society where secularisation is inflicting creeping death. We have the motive, opportunity and means to do good when many others are using them to do harm.

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How to Heal Rather than Deepen Divisions

How to Heal Rather than Deepen Divisions

How to Heal Rather than Deepen Divisions
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.
13 Oct, 2021

We live in a time of deepening and widening divisions. The church is not exempt from this. Churches were not without their conflicts before 2020 but fractures have only accelerated since. It is obvious that COVID-19 and the measures used to contain it have caused major disruption to individual and congregational life as with most other things. Anxieties, distance, fatigue and uncertainty easily facilitate misunderstanding and mistrust. Beyond this, highly polarised and political differences can separate people once united on almost every other issue. Vaccines, masks, government requirements – we are all too aware of the pressing issues that currently impact on church life. There may also be potential or actual divisions on other deeply held concerns that do not arise from the current crisis. What can you and I do, not only to avoid deepening divisions but also to start to heal them?

Probably no one has written more on this subject than James Durham, certainly there has never been anything wiser and weightier.  He takes the issue as seriously as possible, and he is very realistic about the difficulties involved. Yet he brings biblical counsel to bear on a truly difficult area. He points out that divisions are not easily healed, even among the best (Proverbs 18:19). It is easy to deepen divisions by the way we contend for what we believe to be right and by putting labels on those with whom we disagree.  What language do we use about those with whom we disagree? Is it dismissive disrespect that harms their reputation or do we still seek to have others think respectfully about them? Here are some of things that deepen divisions according to Durham:

  • Heat and contention. Division engenders heatedness, strife and contention, and in this way, makes people carnal (1 Corinthians 3).
  • Division breeds alienation in affection and separates the fellowship even of those who have been most intimate.
  • Division breeds jealousy and suspicion about one another’s actions and intentions.
  • Harsh language. Division leads to harsh expressions and reflections on each other
  • Personal attacks. Divisions can come to the point that people do not spare to publish even personal attacks on each other.
  • Abuse of church discipline. Division has sometimes been followed with discipline as extreme as deposition and excommunication.

Durham’s book, A Treatise Concerning Scandal, maintains that division is a great evil, indeed that no greater evil can befall a church.  At one point Durham seeks to tackle the following great perplexing question. What should an orthodox church do, when it is divided in itself in what we may call some circumstantial truths or in contrary practices and actions, when still agreeing in the fundamentals of doctrine, worship, discipline and government, and having mutual esteem for one another’s integrity? What are they called to do for healing that division? Durham gives his answer in the following abridged and updated extract. Healing division according to Durham is not about ignoring problems and hoping they will go away by refusing to discuss the differences. Neither is it about one side having to concede to the other. It requires mutual concessions and genuine reconciliation. The following are the considerations we need to address before we start to implement the principles or practical solutions and methods that will heal division.

1. Recognise the dreadful plague of division

All, especially ministers, should have a deep impression of how terrible the plague of division is. If we thought of God as angry at a church and at ministers in a time of division, it is likely that people would be in a better condition to speak concerning healing.

Some time should be bestowed on this, therefore, to let this consideration sink down in the soul, so that the Lord’s hand in it is recognised. The many sad consequences of division should be brought before the mind and the heart should be seriously affected and humbled with this – just as if sword, pestilence or fire were threatened. Indeed, it is as if the Lord were spitting in ministers’ faces, rubbing shame on them and threatening to:

  • make them despicable,
  • blast the ordinances in their hands,
  • bring to nothing their authority among the people,
  • remove the hedges of the visible church to let in boars and wolves to spoil the vines and destroy the flock;
  • and, in a word, to remove His candlestick.

Ministers, or other persons who are involved in the division, do not only have to look to human opponents who are angry with them. They also have to look to the Lord as their opponent, for it is the Lord’s anger that has divided them. Failing to register this makes people more confident under the judgment. Rather, seeing it is a plague, even those who suppose themselves innocent as to the immediate origin of the division ought to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God on account of this plague, just as they would with other plagues.

2. Recognise division as a fearful snare

People should also view division as a snare. How many temptations accompany divisions (especially for ministers). How many afflictions, crosses and reproaches come on the back of them. Might it not make a minister tremble to think that now, due to the division, there is a snare and trial in everything (besides all his former difficulties and troubles).

In every sermon that he preaches, the temptation is that his own affection will steal in to make him hotter and more vehement against those who oppose him in the current controversy than he ordinarily is in things which more directly concern the glory of God. The snare is that he will make his ministry despicable before others if someone might provoke him by contradicting him. Even supposing no one would contradict him, he is in danger of laying less weight on what is edifying, because it is spoken by someone who differs from him on the controversial points.

When he sits in any meeting of a church court there is a temptation waiting in the least hint of the controversy, to discompose everything and make the meetings stumbling blocks to edification and burdensome.

Because of division all conversation almost becomes disheartening and comfortless. The most intimate brother is either suspicious or suspected. All constructions put on people’s sincerity in anything comes to be based on their interests. There is a failing of sympathy among brethren.

May not these considerations and many such like, make ministers circumspect, so that they would be slow to speak what may foment division, and wary in hazarding on snares. Alas, the opposite happens when people act with more confidence and liberty in attributing motives, speaking and acting, and with less sensitivity in times of division than at other times. Yet if people were impressed with the fear of sinning due to divisions, they would be much more disposed to speak of union.

3. Recognise our personal responsibility

Ministers and others should take time in secret before the Lord to take a sober view of their own spiritual condition and see if they have kept their own vineyard. They should examine things such as these:

(a) How have I prized union with the Lord? Have I striven to be, and to abide, in Christ, and to keep myself in the love of God?

(b) Is there any ground of quarrel in current trends or bygone practice, that might provoke the Lord to smite us in general?

(c) Have I been an accessory in any way to bring this evil of division in, for example by negligence and unfaithfulness, imprudence, heat, passion, tenaciousness, addictedness to personalities and too much reluctance to displease them, prejudice against others, uncharitableness to others, or the like?

This should include a view both of the sins that procure division, and the evils which create a breeding ground for it and increase it . It also requires impartiality and thoroughness. For it is preposterous for someone to begin removing differences when they do not know how it stands with themselves.

4. Recognise it in repentance before God

Once they have taken stock, there should be repentance appropriate to what is found, in special humbling and secret prayer to God. This should be not only for themselves and for their own condition in particular but for the whole church. In particular, for healing the division so that by healing the breach God would spare his people, and not allow His inheritance to be a reproach. It is no little furtherance to union to have people in a spiritual and mortified condition. For we are sure that even if it does not remove the difference, it will in a great part moderate the division, and restrain the carnality that usually accompanies it. It will also dispose people to be more impartial to hear what may lead further towards unity.

5. Do what you can to recommend unity

People should not stop here, but should seriously endeavour by speaking, writing, imploring and in other ways, to commend union to those who differ. Indeed, even those who differ should commend union to those who differ from them! We see the apostles do this frequently in the New Testament, not only in general to churches, but also to persons who are particularly entreated by name (Philippians 4:2).

People should encourage others with whom they agree, to be conciliatory , and should seriously entreat them. When they go to extremes, they should rebuke them for the good of the church. This is often of great weight. Often also, those who are most prominent in a difference will be hotter and carry things further than others of the same opinions will allow. Those who are less involved in the controversy ought not to be silent in this case.

6. Make unity the priority

Serious and single-minded thoughts of union should be laid down, and union should be purposely driven at as the great duty, so that endeavours would not principally tend to strengthen a side, or to let anyone exonerate themselves, or get advantage over others, etc., but to make one out of them both. Therefore, when one means or opportunity fails, another should be attempted. Neither should they be weary in this, although it often proves a most wearisome business.

7. Act with sensitivity and respect

All this should be attempted with sensitivity and respect to people’s persons, actions and qualifications. For often when division occurs, people are alienated from each other in their affections, which then disposes them to put bad constructions both on their opinions and their actions. Indeed, this is often the sticking point, that people’s affections are not satisfied with one another and that prevents them from trusting each other.

We see in Scripture that commending love as well as honouring and preferring others above ourselves, is ordinarily subjoined to the exhortations to union, or reproofs for division (Philippians 2, Ephesians 4, Matthew 18, etc.). This giving of respect could or should be manifested in ways like this.

(a) Being respectful when mentioning them and their concerns, whether in word or writing, especially those who are are most eminent among them.

(b) Putting good constructions on their aims, intentions and sincerity, even in such actions as are displeasing.

(c) Refraining from loading their opinions and actions with palpable absurdities and high aggravations, especially in public; because that only tends to make them odious, and it stands in the way of a future good understanding, when one has represented another as so absurd and hateful a person.

(d) Abstaining from all personal reflections, as also slighting answers, disdainful words and greetings, and such like. Instead, there should be love, familiarity, and tenderness. If there has been any reflection or bitterness which has occasioned misunderstanding, and even if it has been unjustly understood, there should be willingness to back down to remove it. I have heard of a worthy person who had been led away in an hour of temptation. Many of his former friends disapproved of him and discountenanced him, which only led him to defend what he had done and resent them for losing respect for him. It almost ended up in a division. But then he encountered one who, although he was most opposed to his present way, nevertheless, as lovingly and familiarly as ever, embraced him, and did not mention anything about it. It is said that his heart melted instantly with the conviction of his former opposition. And so any further drift towards a division was prevented, when he saw that he still had a place in the affections of the most eminent of those he differed from.

(e) Expressions of mutual confidence in one another. These should be apparent not only with respect to personalities, but also with respect to the ministry of those they differ from, endeavouring to strengthen and confirm it.

(f) Supportiveness towards them and confidence that they are trustworthy and fit to hold leadership positions in the church. This is a way of not only engaging with a particular person, but all who have the different opinion or practice, and it demonstrates confidence in them notwithstanding the difference. Whereas the contrary is disobliging and irritating to all, because it proposes that all who follow that opinion or practice are unworthy of office-bearing or trust, which is hard for anyone to stomach. And in a way, it forces them in their state of division to endeavour some other way of holding office, and to increase their reservations about those who manage matters so partially (in their esteem at least), and prefer the strengthening of a side, to the edification of the church (as any different party cannot but expound it, seeing they seem to themselves to have some persuasion of their own integrity in the main work).

(g) Mutual visits and fellowship, both in everyday things and specifically Christian fellowship. If this has been happening already, it should be increased even more. For if people have some confidence that others love their persons, respect them as ministers, and have a high esteem of them as Christians, they will be easily induced to trust the others in these ways also.

(h) Treating pejorative terms as unacceptable . In debates, if anyone uses bitter terms or casts aspersions (as even good men are too ready to grant themselves a liberty in debate to exceed in this), they should not be included in such fellowship visits and meetings .

8. Stir each other up in the things that matter

Ministers should not only in their own practice, but in their teaching, and in other ways, stir up others to the practice and life of religion. We constantly find the apostle Paul, on the back of his exhortations to union, urging them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, etc. And in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, when he exhorts ministers to stay away from foolish and jangling questions, strifes and contentions, the remedy is stated either previously or subsequently, that they should press the believers to be zealous of good works, and careful to maintain them (Titus 3:8-9); and that they would follow after love, righteousness, faith, peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22-23).

For when either ministers or church members are exercised and taken up with these things, there is little opportunity for other things! Then also they discern the necessity of union the more, and are the more disposed for it themselves, and others are the more easily induced to unite with them. Besides, it is never in such things that the godly and orthodox differ, but differences arise when they are diverted away from these. That is why so often much heat in particular differences carries with it a decay and lukewarmness in more practical things, while on the contrary, zeal in these material things ordinarily allays and mitigates heat and fervour in the other.

9. Appeal to God

There should solemn appeals to God for directing and guiding in the way to this end. For he is the God of peace, and ought to be acknowledged in removing the great evil of division. Hence the apostle subjoins prayers for peace to his exhortations to peace. Indeed, we are commanded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (i.e. church peace) no less than civil peace.

It may be that the neglect of these appeals to God is the reason why those who love the welfare of Zion  and are sound, godly and peaceable still continue to be divided and cannot find any means of healing the division. Perhaps (a) the necessity of the Lord’s intervening may be discerned by this inability, (b) so that we would purposely appeal to the Lord for this thing, and also (c) so that people would not underestimate the seriousness of division, whether by:

  • failing to recognise it as a rod (seeing it is God with whom they have to do);
  • being content to live with it without seeking to have it removed by Him, just as we would plead with Him for the removal of any temporal plague; or 
  • fruitlessly expecting a blessing on the gospel in the absence of peace.

BOOKLET RECOMMENDATION

A different excerpt from Durham’s book is available as a booklet for £1.00. 

It includes Durham’s positive and practical biblical counsel on how to restore union when division exists.

Never did men run to quench a fire in a city, lest all should be destroyed, with more diligence, than men ought to bestir themselves to quench division in the church” – James Durham

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10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times

10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times

10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times
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.
5 Oct, 2021

The word crisis is attached to many things and events these days. It signals alarm and urgency and often a perceived lack of leadership. Crisis is originally a Greek word that speaks of using one’s judgment to make a decision at a particular turning point. We have been placed in a particular generation with particular advantages and challenges. It is pointless wishing it was any different, we need to understand our times to serve our generation (Acts 13:36). In our time of crisis, we need those with wisdom to discern our time (Ecclesiastes 8:5-6) and avoid its particular pitfalls (Ecclesiastes 8:12). We need those like the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Taking the pulse of the times helps us remain watchful to take proactive or evasive action as we discern their impact and influence on the Church.

Robert Fleming said that it is possible to take the pulse of the times just as you can monitor the body’s heart rate, it makes us aware of the current condition of the Church and how it is responding to health threats. He was particularly concerned with the dangers that any particular time may present. We can have a blind spot for either the unique advantages or threats for the Church at a particular moment in time. It is important not to lose sight of the opportunities and reasons for encouragement and we hope return to this another time, but sometimes the threats of our times are less obvious so we need to know how to discern them. Fleming gives his counsel as to how to identify particular snares for the Church in the following updated and abridged extract.

1. When Suffering is Unavoidable

Each time has its unique diseases and dangers accompanied with special power and prevalence. The godly must observe this watchfully. The temptations of the time go along with the diseases that reveal themselves either by a hot boiling fever or a deadening lethargy. The temptations follow the diseases that are in that time most contagious. These are those which carry away the multitude and are incubated under the warm favour of those who are influential. Yet their greatest assault is on the godly. The danger lies in the evils which promise some outward advantage and security from trouble when the choice is between sin and suffering. This is where the present snare lies. The godly have a special duty to keep their distance from acceding to it in the least way. Next to the salvation of their soul, they must be solicitous to have their garments kept from the smallest stain and spot. A touch, a small defilement from a publicly prevailing evil can impact more deeply on the conscience and be more difficult to escape than that of many other personal failings.

2. When Truths are Questioned

There is some aspect of the truth of God in each period of the Church, that is more questioned and debated than at other times. This helps us know with greater clarity where the danger lies. Error will direct its aim at the godly man to assault and entangle them in his duty to contend for the truth. If one keeps their eye well on their present duty, they will find out more easily where the particular snare of the time is and how it seeks to obstruct them from doing that duty.

3. When Duties are Questioned

We may also discern a danger that is prevailing and gaining ground by the increasing tendency in a day of testing, to question and make new investigations about duties that were once clear and unquestionable. They were not questioned in the past because their opinions were not influenced by any outward pressure. This questioning suggests they are looking for a sad reason to be rid of their conscience. Seldom do any take this course without succeeding all too visibly in it to their further ruin. Balaam tried this and was successful in it. Hesitation and fainting in the heart due to lack of resolution to suffer for the truth will not long lack a doubt in the head to begin a debate about. It is then easy for a snare to enter. How tenderly we should guard the light of truth; it is like the apple of the eye which may be hurt by the least thing and not easily healed. People easily find the previous strong impressions about matters of duty without realising. Before they are aware have their judgment by a judicial stroke determined in that, which was before their desire. Those who are not jealous concerning a change of convictions in an hour of testing know little of the depth of the heart. The natural tendency is to spare ourselves at such a time.

4. When the Godly are Divided

We may also discern a snare by the way the adversary uses it to his advantage to divide the godly. It is easy to enter through such a division and throw the bait into such muddy waters. It is far too obvious how far a snare can prevail where jealousy and bitter strife and quarrelling between individuals take their eyes off the public danger. It also blunts the edge of contending for the truth in their smiting one another. There may often be a necessity for the godly to withstand their friends to their face. It may even need to be done to the most eminent in the Church such as Peter (Galatians 2:11) when the truth is concerned. But this should be done with the greatest caution and tenderness to avoid a division or quarrel which is like a flood (Proverbs 17:14).

The adversary is watching and waiting to get his advantage at such a time. It is all too sadly known, how a small wedge driven in with this tendency makes way for a further snare to come in (see 1 Corinthians 11:16-19). What a sad connection there is between a time of division in the Church and a further departure from the truth. But we must always take heed, that we pursue union among ourselves in such a way that Christ and His cause are not left alone [i.e. we do not abandon His truth].

5. When Enemies Change Tactics

Present danger may be seen by the sudden change of known adversaries and the friendly insinuations of those who previously threatened. There is an ambush in this, it is merely a change of weapons for advantage. This should be grounds for fear and caution and being much alone with God to know the voice of the shepherd, lest they follow after a stranger. It is more usual to be swept off our feet in calm weather than blown down by a storm. It is hard to stand before the flatteries of men where that sweeter peace with God is not maintained in the soul. It is a special means of making the ear deaf to the most charming voice of the enchanter. It is often obvious that adder’s poison is under their lips, while wrath is boiling in their heart (Psalm 140:3-5). The cruel man can change his demeanour when it is convenient to lay a snare, and like Joab embrace those in their arms whom they intend to smite under the fifth rib.

6. When Fear of Man Prevails

A snare can be discerned by the degree to which the fear of man prevails in that time. It has an unusual command at particular times over the spirits of even those whose former zeal and resolution for the truth have been prominent in other times of testing. There is cause for watching at such times for there is a snare in the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) which will take its advantage when it finds people now fleeing men. The godly have a breastplate, but no piece of armour for their back when their turn their face from resisting. It is sad when the adversary is taught to pursue us by our fainting. It is sad also when the spirit that seems to be on the ascendant in the world prevails even over the spirits of the godly. It then makes them debased and contemptible in the eyes of those enemies whose hearts would have previously trembled at the authority of God evident on them. This becomes too obvious in a time when the Church is humbled and tried until the hour of her trial has passed.

7. When Sin Succeeds

A snare is to be feared and watched against when success accompanies a sinful course; especially when this lasts for some time. New queries will then be raised and strange reports spread undermining the Lord’s way with great subtlety and seeking to make the godly question it. The Psalmist found it was not easy to stand before this. It made him begin to debate his principles and the benefits of his convictions (Psalm 73:13). The adversary knows how to assault the followers of the truth and attack them at their weakest at such a time. The scandal of the cross causes many to offend. It is hard for those to suffer who do not know the fellowship of the cross of Christ which is part of the greatest and closest fellowship with Him on earth. The Church may endure more danger from some of her friends than from the professed adversary at such times. It is often in this way that a prevailing snare is assisted. It cannot but be a searching and dangerous time when many are turning aside. Even some who have understanding may be permitted to fall and be ready to press their sin on others as their duty. Such seldom fall away without being more active to engage others in the same course. Sometimes they are more energetic in this than they were in holding their former integrity to the truth. We have seen this and it happens, let us, therefore, hear this and be aware of it for our good.

8. When the Church is Harmed

A snare of the times may be discerned by its tendency to produce corruption in the Church. It still produces the same effects, whatever people pretend, when it manifests itself by the hands of Esau though it has the voice of Jacob. Does not the ruin of many who have been dashed on such a rock, put a sad marker on it? Scripture and observing the Church’s experience show us warning beacons that (unless we shut our eyes to it) will make any snare obvious. We can see clearly what a sad tendency had for making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. It is also clear how hard it is to dance about the fire and not be burned or to stand in the way and counsels of ungodly men and not be ensnared.

9. When Circumstances Alter

A snare seems to be threatened when people enquire about the duty of the times without considering it in the light of present circumstances. A snare can be in things that are at other times indifferent, yet in other circumstances neglecting them may mean abandoning duty. Or by the same token doing something indifferent which is lawful in other circumstances may be morally wrong in other contexts. Something indifferent in itself which is merely around sacred things and the worship of God may be required by civil government by virtue of their sole command. This may bring the godly into subjection in things in which they are not to be subject and harm the separate jurisdiction of the church. To enquire into this as a general principle without making particular application to the present complex situation is dangerous.

It may be said a snare is entering when the prophet’s consideration “Is this a time for such a thing?” (see 2 Kings 5:26) is not regarded much in the present questions. It was innocent in itself for the disciples to refresh themselves with sleep, but that they could not watch at that one hour with their Master in His sufferings must of necessity alter the situation since it was in that case deserting Him.

10. When Spirituality Declines

Is it not evidence of a snare getting an advantage when private concerns and outward interests have a prevailing influence on our spirits? A snare does not come in without an opportunity and its greatest strength and advantage is within us. Conformity to the world together with an unperceived decline in tenderness of soul too often breeds a tendency to conform to an evil course in a downhill motion. The snare will follow in after this worldly conformity that has the mastery over them. How many in embracing the world have fallen from the truth at the next step? No weapon has ruined more and has been more made use of against the Church. Where other snares have killed their thousands, this has slain its ten thousands. Where this appears at a time of testing for the Church it is like the appearance of grey hairs. It is not easy for any to stand, resist or keep their feet from a snare when they gone backward so far that the truth has ceased to have command over their heart.

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What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?
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 Sep, 2021

Some people dismiss the idea of pleasing God, they think it is the idea of trying to curry God’s favour by our actions. They point out we can never reach a perfect standard so we are condemning ourselves to an exhausting treadmill chasing after something we cannot attain. We need simply to trust God and give up the idea of pleasing Him they say. It’s certainly possible for some kind of reliance on our own works to creep into the Christian life. Others know that sin taints all we do and so it can never be perfectly pleasing to God, we are just not able to do that. So should we give up on the idea of pleasing God? Not according to the New Testament, which has a lot to say about it as our great aim (2 Corinthians 5:9) in everything (Colossians 1:10). We are to live in such a way as pleases God (1 Thessalonians 4:1) constantly trying to learn what is pleasing to Him (Ephesians 5:8-10). In an unrenewed state, we are unable to please God (Romans 8:8) but that implies that we can please Him (Luke 1:30; Hebrews 11:5). This is the whole purpose of sanctification that God works within us so that we do that which is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 13:20-21). We do not need to pit pleasing and trusting God against each other since trusting God enables us to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). It is because we are accepted in the Beloved (if we are true believers) that we seek like Him to always do what pleases God out of love. But what does pleasing God involve?

One passage tells us a lot about this because it presents us with someone who did indeed please God from a renewed heart transformed by saving faith. We do not know much about Enoch but this is the great thing we do know. William Gouge explains what we need to please God from Hebrews 11:5-6 in this updated extract.

1. We Need Dedication to God

The particular person here commended is Enoch. This is a Hebrew name, derived from a verb that means to dedicate, and may be interpreted, dedicated. His condition fitly corresponded to his name; for of all the patriarchs he was most especially dedicated to God. The testimony of his walking with God and of God’s taking him to Himself gives evidence of this. Others had the same name, such as Cain’s first son after whom he named a city that he built (Genesis 4:18). Abraham’s grandchild by Keturah (Genesis 25:4 and Reuben’s eldest son also had this name (Genes 46:9). But it is clear the one meant here is the one which was the seventh from Adam and was taken by God. The same faith previously spoken of-a justifying faith, resting on the promised Messiah-is certainly meant here.

2. We Need Saving Faith

Hebrews 11:6 has a special reference to the last clause of the previous verse, “he pleased God”. The main point is that Enoch pleased God by faith. The argument is made from the impossibility of its opposite. It is impossible without faith to please God. Therefore Enoch, who had this testimony that he pleased God, had faith. Faith in this place is to be taken as it was in the first verse and in the other verses following after it. In all those places it is taken, as here, for a justifying faith, as the effects of it in this verse prove.

We are so corrupt by nature in soul and body, in every power and part of either, and so polluted in everything that passes from us that it is not possible in and of ourselves to do anything that is acceptable to God. But faith looks on Christ, applies Christ and His righteousness, and does all things for God in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Thus, by faith, we please God. Out of Christ, which is to be without faith, it is impossible to please God. This manifests an absolute necessity of faith.

To please implies that something is done that finds acceptance with the one to whom it is done either in the action or the person doing it. God is the One whom we all ought to please. There are four things required to please God; all of them are accomplished by faith and nothing else.

(a) The person that pleases God, must be accepted by God (Titus 1:15; Genesis 4:4).

(b) The thing that pleases God must be in harmony with His will (Hebrews 13:21). The apostle exhorts us for this reason to “prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” (Romans 12:2).

(c) The manner of doing that which pleases God, must be with due respect to God as follows:
– In obedience to God: because He has commanded it. We must say like Peter, that we do it because He has ordered it (Luke 5:5) This is to do it “for conscience’ sake,” and “for the Lord’s sake,” (Romans 13:5; 1 Peter 2:13).
– In humility, denying ourselves, and all self-conceit as Paul who said “Not I, but the grace of God which is with me,” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
– In sincerity, as having to do with He that searches the heart (Isaiah 38:3).
– in diligence: like the two faithful servants with whom the Lord was well pleased but not like the slothful servant (Matthew 25:20)
– in cheerfulness (2 Corinthians 9:7).
– in our callings (1 Corinthians 6:17).
– in constancy (Hebrews 9:38).
– in assurance, that God, who accepts the person, accepts also the work that is done. This is how Manoah’s wife inferred that God was pleased with what they did (Judges 13:23).

(d) The goal, which is God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Faith is the means by which all these four aspects of pleasing God may be effected and accomplished.
(a) Faith in Christ makes the person accepted by God (Ephesians 1:12). (b) Faith makes men subject themselves to God’s will. (c) Faith makes people seek to do what they do to God in obedience, humility, sincerity, diligence, cheerfulness, orderly, constantly and with an assurance of God’s acceptance. All these may be exemplified in Enoch.
(d) Faith, of all graces, aims at God’s glory most. Abraham, was “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

3. We Need to Trust God

The apostle proves the assertion that it is impossible to please God without faith. His proof is that those who come to God must believe that He is. The proof is applied to such as come to God. To come is used in a metaphorical way and includes those who have to do with God in prayer, in praise, or in any other service. That which is required of such as come to God, is, to believe that God is. It is vain for any to go to one whom they do not believe to be. But this is not simply and barely to be taken of believing in the being of God. It may be demonstrated that there is a God, and that God is by reason, and philosophical arguments.

This is an act of faith and it must, therefore, be more distinctly understood. It means that they believe He is the true God, the only true God, such a God
as He has revealed Himself to be. If we add the word God afterwards i.e. those who come to God must believe that He is God it will become clearer. God must be believed to be as He is, or as He has manifested Himself to be. Thus, Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6). To believe God in any other way is to make Him an idol (Romans 1:21), to believe Him to be nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4). We must be informed about God as He has made Himself known to us in His Word. “Search the Scriptures;” they testify of Him (John 5:39). This includes the nature, persons, properties, and works by which He is made known to us in the Word. Otherwise, it will be altogether in vain to come to God.

4. We Need to Walk Before God Continually

Enoch pleased God. The word here is made up of the verb to please (Galatians 1:10) and a preposition that means well which adds emphasis. It implies that Enoch was very circumspect over himself and careful in all things to do that which was acceptable to God. That was pleasing Him well. This word is used in Hebrews 13:16 to show God’s approval of works of mercy. Enoch pleased God because he “walked before God,” continually (as the grammar of the Hebrew in Genesis 5 indicates).

Enoch always had God in his eye, whether alone, or in company, doing duties of piety or other affairs. This moved him to carefully and conscionably avoid what might be displeasing to God, and diligently do what was agreeable to the will of God. He had the testimony of men bearing witness to him and highly esteeming him. He had the testimony of God, by an inward witness of God’s Spirit in his conscience and by God’s approving him. Enoch in his lifetime prophesied of the coming of the Lord to judgment, Jude 14. This makes it clear that he had the day of judgment in his mind and in considering that, he was moved to seek to please the Lord well in all things.

5. We Need to Believe God is a Rewarder

Before God took him, Enoch did that which moved God to take him. It is in the past tense, he had pleased God. In his lifetime, before he received any reward, he did that which was acceptable to the Lord. Work must be done before the reward can be expected (see Hebrews 10:36). Faith brings a reward. Those who walk with God please Him. Those that please God will not lack testimony of it and will surely be rewarded. The evidence of his reward is that he was taken and was not found. The best livers are not the longest livers.

Believers can be sure of their reward. God is faithful (Hebrews 10:23); He will not fail to perform what He undertakes (Ephesians 6:8). God in His rewards considers what is fitting for His excellency to give, and accordingly proportions His reward. As a king in rewarding a faithful servant is not content to give him a little money but rather gives high honours and dignities (Genesis 41:41).

6. We Need to Diligently Seek God

Those who may expect reward from God, are those who diligently seek Him. Literally, this word means to seek out, to seek till one finds; to seek earnestly and diligently. This is how people are said to “seek after the Lord,” (Acts 15:17) and how the prophets sought after the salvation promised (1 Peter 1:10). To express the emphasis of this word the word “diligently” has been added in English. We are to seek Him with all our heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29) and those that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing (Psalm 34:10). None but such should expect a reward from God. This should stir us up to use our best endeavours to find the Lord in such a way that we may rest on Him and make Him our reward (see Hebrews 4:11).

Conclusion

We please God by faith, submitting to His Word and will and believing what He declares, and He is who reveals Himself to be. We please Him when we glorify Him by faith We want to have access to Him, to experience His presence and to live as much as possible coram deo (before God’s face). So we seek Him out diligently until we find Him. We use the means He has appointed for us to seek Him. We want to please Him as much as possible. Paul says that when we are in the married state, we want to please our spouse in all things, not because we are fearful they will stop loving us but simply because we love them (1 Corinthians 7:34). It is the same spiritually for those who are joined to Christ in loving faith. We seek Him and seek to please Him because we believe that He is the rewarder of such and the reward we look for is more of His presence and ultimately that is in heaven itself, as Enoch found.

 

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The Subtle Snare of Fearing Others

The Subtle Snare of Fearing Others

The Subtle Snare of Fearing Others
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.
21 Sep, 2021

It is possible to be restrained from doing good by the fear of what others will think. Some people who are ready to make their views known are those whom we fear displeasing. Those people we would prefer to impress than upset may be influential whether that is because they are innovators, conservative or simply widely admired. We must certainly act carefully and with wisdom. It is important (and too often a neglected principle) that we should have regard to the impact of our words and actions on others. We should respect those that are godly and we do not wish to stumble anyone. So this seems like a real dilemma because we are being careful about offending these people. But displeasing someone is not the same as stumbling them. It is still possible to edify them even if we displease them. When we stumble others, we are causing them to sin or impeding their spiritual progress. In such a dilemma we should choose the best edifying rather than the easiest option. But perhaps we don’t want to be seen to get things wrong, we don’t want to lose reputation with others. It’s a real temptation or indeed a snare (Proverbs 29:25), as even an apostle found out.

This is what happened with Peter in Antioch. He was happy to fellowship with the Gentiles until some important and strict fellow believers came from Jerusalem. Out of fear for them he stopped having fellowship with the Gentiles altogether (Galatians 2:12). The power of the fear of man was so strong that he was ready to compromise the very gospel itself. Through this bad example, the other Jews at Antioch did likewise, even Barnabas (verse 13). Just like a hunter’s trap that captures and paralyses animals this is a real but subtle snare. James Fergusson shows us the many lessons that can be drawn from this in the following updated extract.

1. Fearing Others Can Ensnare in Serious Sin

This incident shows us the importance of the circumstances that concern our actions. An action considered simply in and of itself may not be sinful. Yet due to its accompanying circumstances, it may indeed become exceedingly sinful. Peter’s action was not simply abstaining from certain kinds of meats, to avoid offence to the weak as with Paul (Acts 16:3 and 21:26). It was exceedingly sinful in the circumstances which accompanied this abstinence:

(a) He withdrew from the Gentiles in eating as if they had not been true members of the Church with whom it was lawful to have complete fellowship; He withdrew, and separated himself.
(b) He abstained not at Jerusalem where the Jews came from but at Antioch where he had openly done the contrary in using his Christian liberty a little while before. He ate with the Gentiles before but when these Jews came, he withdrew.
(c) He withdrew not as though it was indifferent to do so and therefore doing it for a time for the sake of the Jews; but as if it had been in itself sinful to have eaten with them, contrary to what he knew and had been informed of by the heavenly vision. This is why it is called dissimulation
(d) His abstinence was not for the sake of weak Jews to get the opportunity to inform them of the annulment of these Levitical ordinances. Rather it was out of fear of losing esteem with and incurring the hatred of, those who were spying out their liberty. These would doubtless make bad use of his abstinence to confirm themselves in and draw others into their errors.
(e) By his example he harmed the other Jews who were beginning to be informed concerning the annulment of the ceremonial law and therefore had been eating with the Gentiles
(f) This practice of his (as is clear from verse 14) tended to compel or force the Christian Gentiles to take on the yoke of the ceremonial law to regain fellowship with Peter and the church. This would have been most sinful for them because they had never been under it.
(g) He gave a great blow to Paul’s teaching and that of the gospel concerning Christian liberty and the annulment of the ceremonial law. His behaviour implied it was still in force.

2. Fearing Others can Ensnare the Best

The best of men are so weak and inconstant that, being left to themselves, the least blast of temptation will make them break off their course of well-doing in the very middle. Without respect either to conscience or credit they openly desert what they were doing. Peter having begun well in his use of Christian liberty by eating with the Gentiles now gives evidence of great inconstancy in that for fear of offending others he did immediately moved away from this.

3. Fearing Others can Ensnare Dangerously

To separate from and break off communion with a true Church and its members cannot be attempted without sin. We cannot do this even to avoid the offence and stumbling of many. This separation from the Church of the Gentiles made Peter blameworthy. His separation was as though it was unlawful to maintain communion with them (even though the Jews would have been offended if he continued to do so).

4. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Leaders

It should be of great concern to men of grace and gifts, who are in a public position and enjoy the praise of many to be men of both courage and self-denial. Even when they enjoy the praise of everyone, they must be dead to it and die to it. Otherwise, if they think more of this than they ought, through their fleshly fear of losing reputation and incurring hatred from others they may venture to dishonour God. Even Peter sinned against the Lord because he feared the loss of his esteem among the Jews too greatly.

5. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Us Despite Our Principles

Sometimes good men under a violent temptation will in practice condemn that which they accept in their understanding. For any to sin against their light in this way highly aggravates their guilt still further. The guilt of Peter’s sin and dissimulation is aggravated by this. By his practice he now professed that fellowship with the Christian Gentiles was unlawful but he had been instructed to the contrary by the heavenly vision (Acts 11:9).

6. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Us Despite Our Piety

The bad example of those are eminent, gracious and learned can be of such great force that not only the weak but even those who are strong and richly endowed with grace and gifts will sometimes be corrupted by it. We usually (without being aware of it) esteem such to be something more than others and once this is so we do not examine their actions as closely as we would those of others. Thus, not only the other Jews but even Barnabas himself an eminent apostle (Acts 13:1-2) was carried away with Peter’s bad example. Barnabas was carried away with the dissimulation of the other Jews. His example in turn had a kind of compulsion towards the Gentiles to make them do as he did (verse 14).

7. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Many

A flood of bad examples, especially if they are otherwise devout, can be so strong and of such force that it will carry others along in their conduct. So much so that even the very best of men can hardly stand against it at all. The dissimulation of Barnabas is not only due to Peter’s bad example, but also, if not mainly, to the influence which the bad example the other Jews had on him.

8. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Others With Us

It is of great concern to all in authority, especially those who are eminent for piety and talent, to take diligent heed lest they give a bad example to others. The sins of others (which are occasioned by the bad example of any) will be justly charged on those whose bad example they follow. The dissimulation of the Jews and Barnabas is mentioned as something that adds to the seriousness of Peter’s sin since it brought such dreadful consequences.

Conclusion

Perhaps we do not think we are as invested in our own reputation as we really are, we scarcely question our motives. In its worst form it can lead to unacknowledged but powerful forms of control within the church. We need to take action about our fear of others because as Peter shows us, those whom we fear we obey. This can even lead us to disobey God or to reject others and their spiritual good. It can lead us to care more about what other people threaten to do than what our conscience or God’s Word says. To be fearless in this context isn’t the same as being careless, it’s not being reckless and inconsiderate. Rather it is caring more about how to edify as much as possible rather than being restrained from this out of fear of disapproval.

AVOIDING SPIRITUAL HARM

In The Scandal of Stumbling Blocks, James Durham helps us to consider the matter deeply by defining the nature of stumbling as well as showing its serious consequences. He looks in considerable detail at different kinds of stumbling and identifies the ways that people can stumble and be stumbled. Durham provides practical advice for avoiding and preventing offense.

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How Will We Help Generation Z Keep the Faith?

How Will We Help Generation Z Keep the Faith?

How Will We Help Generation Z Keep the Faith?
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.
14 Sep, 2021

Generation Z (aged 9 to 24) is the least religious, most post-Christian generation. Even many of them who have a religious affiliation report that they are not committed to it. Yet this does not mean a lack of interest in faith and spirituality. According to some UK surveys, they are more open and positive about faith than older generations, though spiritually illiterate. They are living in a different world, with different pressures and different rules. It is a confused generation growing up in secular age, a rapidly changing culture where what matters most is the individual and their feelings. What matters to this generation are authenticity, diversity, fluidity, inclusion and activism – how do we reach them with the truth? How are we to train our children not just to survive but to serve their generation?

Generation Z have grown up with the internet in their pocket, saturated with information but starving for truth. As a generation, they seem to want to be protected and insulated from ideas that make them uncomfortable or “unsafe”. There are real challenges in raising children in a generation that seems completely disconnected from Christian truth and values, as well as difficulty in reaching that very generation. We need to prepare young people for the world around them rather than a world that no longer exists. They need more than mere church attendance, they need to know what they should believe and why.  It can be intensely hard to be “the only one” who stands apart amid such trends.

We have to take seriously what it means to pass on the faith, fully and intact to the rising generation. The key sphere for this is one that many young people in Gen Z profess to value a huge positive influence. They value relationships, not just with friends but also with their family. In a 2017 Youth for Christ Survey, 82% of young people said that making their family proud was their number one priority, and 73% who believed in God said their family was the main influence on their faith. In a generation that knows the fragility of families and pressures on them more than ever, they need families where living and believing the faith are central.

The beginning of Psalm 78 speaks of the need to pass the faith from one generation to another. God has given us His Word for this purpose (v1 and 4). There may be ancient things that are mysterious in it and foreign to contemporary thinking (v2), yet we are to know, understand it as well as to praise God for it (v3-4). He has given it to us to believe and obey (v5-6), we are also to show the next generation how to do this (v7) and avoid all examples of disobedience and backsliding (v8). This is shown from the example of Israel (using the name of Ephraim, the most mighty and numerous tribe). They were deserted by God in battle because their confidence was in their own resources and strength rather than believing in God. They disregarded the covenant they had entered into with God, disobeyed His commands and did not make use of the works He had done (v9-11). The resources they depended on could become useless to them; God could take away their wisdom, courage, strength, and success in chastising them. In the following updated extract, David Dickson shows what it means to pass on the faith to another generation.

1. We Must Give Them Scripture Truth

Those are worthy of the name of fathers in the Church who transmit to posterity the truth of God contained in Scripture, such as is here prescribed in this Psalm. This is the only infallible sort of tradition, which delivers to posterity what God delivered to the prophets or their predecessors by Scripture.

The godly in every age ought to have the same care to transmit the Word of truth to their posterity, which their ancestors had to transmit it to them. Thought ought to pay the debt they owe to their faithful ancestors to succeeding generations; they will not hide them from their children.

The Word of the Lord has true antiquity; divine doctrine is no new doctrine, it is “of old.” And for this reason should we hear it attentively and believingly. Although the Word of the Lord is a mystery and “dark sayings” to the unbelieving multitude of the world, yet it is understood, received and believed by the true members of the Church from age to age. The prophet, speaking of himself and the godly in his time, says that their parables and dark sayings are those “which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” Although the Word of the Lord is plain to the attentive believer, to the inattentive unbeliever it is a hidden mystery. For this reason, we need to hear attentively and believingly.

2. We Must Show Them the Glory of God

The subject matter of sound and saving doctrine is to declare the glory of God in His attributes and wonderful works for His people (v4).

3. We Must Teach Them to Obey God’s Word

One of the greatest mercies that can be bestowed on a people is to give the Holy Scriptures to them and to reveal to them the way of salvation as well as the way of serving God that He requires. This is put in the first place here: “for he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel” (v5).
God’s words and ordinances appointed in Scripture are witnesses for Him of His wisdom, power, holiness, mercy, and justice and against those as do not make use of them. They are a fixed rule for our faith and obedience; therefore, it is said, “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel” (v5).

The Scriptures were not only appointed for a rule to those to whom they were first directed. They were also for use by the Church in all ages following. Everyone must strive to understand and obey these themselves. They must also teach their children and those for whom they have a responsibility to understand and obey them. God gave this testimony and law that “they should make them known to their children, that the generation to come might know them” who would “arise, and declare them to their children” (v6).

4. We Must Teach Them to Trust God

The purpose of revealing and teaching God’s Word is to bring about and increase faith in God as well as dependence on Him. The Word was to be declared to their children “that they might set their hope in God” (v7).

5. We Must Teach Them to Remember God

The way to foster faith and hope in God is to observe, consider and keep in a sanctified memory, how God has already confirmed His Word by His works. Such are evidences and pledges of His power and purpose to perform what He has said. Therefore the duty of not forgetting His works is combined with the duty of setting their hope in God. This implies that if His works were forgotten, His Word would not be believed and faith and hope in God would not remain constantly fixed on God (v7).

6. We Must Teach Them to Honour God’s Commands

The faith and hope which God desires His people to have fixed on Him are such as may produce obedience to His precepts. He, therefore, adds keeping God’s commandments to hoping in God and not forgetting His works. This, therefore, is the summary of true religion:

  • to have faith in God on the terms of grace offered to us through a Redeemer;
  • to hope for and expect the accomplishment of all His promises;
  • to foster our faith and hope by considering what He has done for His people; and
  • to commit ourselves to keep His commandments uprightly.

7. We Must Teach Them to Avoid Disobedience

The example of fathers is not to be followed except in the ways they have followed the Lord. Where their conduct does not conform to God’s Word we must not be like them. He says therefore that they must follow God’s Word that they “might not be as their fathers … stubborn.”

The natural inclination of corrupt mankind is to go on in our sinful course obstinately no matter how much God forbids us. We go contrary to His commands and flatly to refuse to obey Him. If at any time we seem to serve Him while we remain unreconciled to Him, we do it out of corrupt principles and for corrupt ends. Where this is the case, whatever we oblige ourselves to do by covenant we do it as double-hearted persons, dealing deceitfully and turning back from it. This was the case with the unregenerate Israelites: “A stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.”

Nothing can take us from this natural course and sinful inclination unless faith and hope in God and obedience to His commands are begun and maintained in us by the Word of God. The connection between these duties mentioned previously and this example teaches us this.

The Lord will have His people heed His reproofs obediently and not reject His yoke. They must meekly submit to His government and not rebel. They must strive for real affection towards God and steadfastness in His covenant. We are taught this by the way these carnal Israelites are condemned for the faults to the contrary.

The cause of general calamities coming on God’s people is to be found in their sins which have provoked the Lord against them. God will convict them by judgements when they will not be convicted otherwise. The Israelites “turned back in the day of battle.” Why? They did not keep the covenant of God and refused to walk in His law.

The sanctified and thankful remembrance of God’s dealings with His people is the way to keep our hearts in love, faith and obedience to God. Thus, to let His works (especially those that are remarkable and wonderful) slide out of our memory and affections is the source of defection from God. It is the cause of falling into carnal ways and confidences, it brings God’s judgments on us.

Conclusion

We need both to teach the rising generation and to give them an example of faithful obedience. If they see us putting our trust in people or resources and disregarding God’s Word and works, they will detect hypocrisy. We need to have confidence in the Word of God rather than clever techniques. Also, if they see the church turning back rather than facing the battles of our day, they will wonder about the reality of our convictions. Generation Z has unique challenges on top of those faced by those growing up in previous eras. If we do not equip our youth for them with the Word we have received – we will fail them, the future of the Church and ultimately the Lord Himself.

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Bible Truth Explored provides a helpful resource in seeking to teach and explain the faith to young people.

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How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World

How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World

How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World
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.
10 Sep, 2021

It’s hard even to buy shoes these days without being surrounded by prominent messages about diversity and expressive individualism. From advertising to social media influencers and other media messages, we are not just being persuaded to buy or adopt something – we are also being told how to think. In a context of woke capitalism and cancel culture, celebrities and organisations are jostling with one another in virtue signalling. It manifests apparent moral certainty and religious zeal. Some messages are more subtle, playing on our desires and emotions and sowing questions in our minds about biblical truth. Whatever goes near our hearts, engaging our energy and affection easily becomes a thorn to choke the word and let error grow (Matthew 13:22). We are being catechised by the world, possibly without being aware of it. How can we and others be best prepared to resist it?

The apostle Paul wrote to people surrounded by false religion and philosophy, including dangerous heresies. Arguably, woke values are a kind of Christian heresy. They often present concerns of compassion and justice within a moral framework that subverts Christian teaching. It is often a gospel without grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. People clearly derive some comfort, security and a lot of self-righteousness from being “on the right side.”

Paul was concerned for those who were susceptible to false ideas. He wanted to see them established in the truth. This was especially so with the Colossian Christians, he had a great struggle and conflict for them (Colossians 2:1). He wanted them to know the comfort of being firm in the faith and to be able to resist false messages that could be very enticing (Colossians 2:4). We need to be deeply and firmly established in the truth if we are going to resist the world’s catechising.  We cannot rest satisfied with the bare minimum, we need the fulness of knowledge that Christ intends us to have. Gospel truth is not a few basics but the truth as it is in Jesus leads us to a fresh and deeper appreciation of who He is the more that we explore it. The better we know the truth, the better we will discern error even when it is very subtle. In the following updated extract, James Fergusson shows what practical spiritual help we can derive from Colossians 2:1-4.

1. Gospel Truth Produces True Comfort

Everyone is naturally destitute of solid comfort. Even the people of God, when driven to extremities find their comfort greatly shaken (chiefly when the truth of the gospel -from which they draw their consolation – is questioned). For the time being the Colossians had their comfort shaken when the truth of the gospel was being questioned by these teachers of error (v2).

Only the teaching of the gospel best establishes a disconsolate and afflicted spirit. Comfort and stability result from having that teaching established when erring spirits would call it in question. To know also that others who are dear to God, sympathize with us in our troubles contributes greatly to our stability and comfort. The apostle has a concern and endeavour to have them established in the truth of the gospel (which was then being questioned) so as to contribute to their hearts being comforted (v2).

2. Gospel Truth Produces True Unity

Unity of heart and affections in the Church is so necessary that the lack of it greatly obstructs the solid comfort which might otherwise be reaped by the gospel. Their comfort depends on their being knit together in love, literally (in the original) as a piece of timber joined together by a carpenter (v2).

Unity of heart and affections also greatly depends on union of understanding and constancy in truth. Where there is discord in the understanding about main and substantial truths, there can be no through and lasting concord of the will and affections. Paul makes their being knit together in love one fruit of their constancy in truth (v2).

3. Gospel Truth is Deeper Than We Realise

Christians are not to rest contented with the knowledge of the common and easy principles of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1). We are to grow in the knowledge of other more difficult truths, such as those that relate to various spiritual difficulties and the defence of truth against adversaries. Growth in these follows from perseverance in truth. Such a growth is meant here by the riches of understanding and it is another fruit of constancy in truth (v2).

Neither are they to rest on simple knowledge of gospel truths (Matthew 7:21), they are to know them with affection and love to these truths. They are to know the reality of them from experience. This is implied in the word “acknowledge”, which means literally to know again with more than ordinary knowledge (v2).

4. Gospel Truth Produces True Stability

They are not to rest on a fluctuating, doubting knowledge but rather strive for a full persuasion and assurance, both of the truth of the gospel in general and the reality of their own individual claim to its promises. This is also attained by stability in the truth, the full assurance of understanding is spoken of here as another fruit of constancy.

5. Gospel Truth Deepens Our Knowledge of God

God is the author of the gospel, devising it in His eternal wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). Christ was the Father’s Ambassador to preach and reveal it (Matthew 12:18). So “God, and the Father, and Christ” are the prime object of the Gospel. The gospel plainly reveals the great mysteries of the unity of the Godhead, the distinction and order of the persons, the incarnation of Christ, His person, natures, and offices, His saving benefits and love to sinners. Thus, the gospel is called “the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (v2).

6. Gospel Truth Deepens Our Knowledge of Christ

Christ is the storehouse that contains all saving knowledge imparted to those who strive to know Him. There is in Christ and the gospel, sufficiency of knowledge in all things necessary to salvation.  Christ is the very way to life (John 14:6) and the gospel is that teaching that shows this way completely (John 20:31). Christ is equipped with all knowledge and graces as Mediator to bestow the grace of saving knowledge on all the elect in a sufficient way (John 1:16). Notwithstanding all that is revealed of Jesus Christ, His worth is unsearchable. The ablest of created understandings cannot reach the depth of it. In Him are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v3).

7. Gospel Truth Guards Us Against Persuasive Error

Satan endeavours to sow the seed of error wherever the gospel is preached.  Ministers should therefore guard people against error in opinion, as much as against ungodliness of life. The one will damn us as much as the other (2 Peter 2:1). Paul is aware of the beguiling of false teachers (v4).

Ministers should labour to instruct their people well in the grounds of Christian truths. They should especially instruct them in the knowledge of Christ and the fullness of sufficiency which is in Him. This is a most effectual antidote against all those errors which tend to draw the minds of people from Him. Anyone who would engage with the study of disputed truths with good purpose and without incurring danger ought first to drink in the knowledge of those grounds.  The apostle proceeds in this method, first, instructing them in them and then dissuading them from contrary errors.

Satan labours to engage the ablest intellects to promote errors. When such are engaged they spare no efforts for seducing others by abusing their otherwise useful intellects and gifts for that end. They use them to try to blind people’s understandings with sophistry and the kind of arguments which do not prove not what they seem to. They lead the affections of others captive by deceitful and insinuating persuasions. Thus these seducers against whom the apostle seeks to guard were men endowed with logic and eloquence which they abused to seduce people to accept error. They abused logic by using false arguments, the word “deceive” literally means to deceive by distorted reasoning which seems plausible. They abused their gifts of eloquence by using subtle persuasions, which are called here “enticing words.”

Conclusion

It’s easy for us to have our thinking shaped by our culture, it creeps into our very assumptions and outlook. The world is very good at catechising in a way that is appealing and sounds clever. It uses a kind of emotional reasoning and language that seems persuasive and ear catching at face value. It knows how to sow questions and prompt well-crafted and memorable slogans for answers. But the more that we allow these messages to filter in unchecked (and the less we seek to grow in the knowledge of the truth) the more we are at risk of being led astray by them. We may not yield some convictions but without realising certain unpopular and uncomfortable biblical truths become eroded to the point where we have no clear grasp of them. If only the church knew how to catechise as effectively as the world. There is a fulness and sufficiency in the knowledge of Christ and the gospel that we should seek to experience in a richer, deeper way. It will truly strengthen, comfort and satisfy us – the world promises this but can never accomplish it.

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A Contentious Choice

A Contentious Choice

EPISODE 05

9 Sep, 2021
A Contentious Choice

Anticipation and enthusiasm surrounding a mini-renovation to the church building quickly descends into acrimony. People are  taking sides about design choices and proposals. Discussions are heated with a lot of personal pot shots being exchanged and relationships very strained. Is there any way of repairing the ever increasing damage?

It’s not just angry confrontations, people are genuinely hurt and have trouble in their consciences about principles they feel are involved. There are stumbling blocks everywhere. It’s tempting to try to bury it and try to move on without addressing it but the damage won’t be repaired. Sadly, churches often experience deep differences about comparatively minor things. If we can learn how to handle this situation, it will guide us when similar things happen in our own experience.

The Concerning Scandal podcast applies the biblical principles of avoiding spiritual harm by looking at the real-life scenarios in which stumbling blocks arise. We can use the spiritual wisdom of James Durham’s classic book in situations we are all too familiar with.

To find out more, visit www.concerningscandal.com

FURTHER HELP

In the Bible offence not the same as making someone displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to stumble in their spiritual progress or offend against God’s Word. We can do this without meaning to do it. It also happens when we do and say the right things in the wrong way or at the wrong time and so turn people against what is right. To explore this issue further, you may find it helpful to read the article The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture.  George Gillespie describes as briefly as possible the various dimensions of the biblical principle of not causing others to offend against God’s Word.
 

 

 

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In The Scandal of Stumbling Blocks, James Durham helps us to consider this vital issue deeply by defining the nature of stumbling as well as showing its serious consequences. He looks in considerable detail at different kinds of stumbling and identifies the ways that people can stumble and be stumbled. Durham provides practical advice for avoiding and preventing offence.

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?
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.
2 Sep, 2021

There is one word that the whole world seems agreed on in relation to the western withdrawal from Afghanistan – humiliation. Whether we are truly humbled or only temporarily disgraced depends on how our nations respond. We ought in all humility, to ask why this has happened. To do so does not minimise the heart-rending distress experienced by those abandoned in Afghanistan. Nor does it reduce the courageous sacrifice of our troops. Asking why this has happened gives us a window into our real state as nations. This is not just a military and strategic defeat but a failure of the mission to remake Afghanistan in the image of the West and its values. The decline of the West is due to its moral decay.

As western nations we thought we could export to Afghanistan the benefits inherited from the Christian heritage we have rejected, without also giving them the framework of belief and morality that produced them. The US army were so afraid of doing that they even burned Afghan language Bibles sent to them.  It appears that British involvement commissioned fatwas calling for converts from Islam to be killed.  As one writer has observed, the West in its decadence has lost its virtue, it has squandered the moral capital bequeathed by a living faith.

The emptiness of our pride as nations and the fatal complacency it produces have been exposed for all to see. The Old Testament prophets frequently show us such decadent pride in nations, with the implication that we are to learn from it. The small book of Obadiah is largely taken up with the nation of Edom who manifested proud contempt towards Judah. They were proud of their prosperity, resources and wealth (v3-6); allies (v7); wisdom (v8) and military might (v9). But judgement is threatened against the, ultimately their pride would be brought low and every one of these things in which they put their confidence pulled down. They would then be exposed to misery and contempt. As George Hutcheson observes the prophet shows how “the Lord would diminish their number, power, wealth, and reputation, and put them beneath all other nations and load them with contempt and ignominy.” In the following updated extract Hutcheson draws out the meaning of Obadiah 2-4 in teaching us the fearful danger of pride, the sin that God hates so much.

1. Pride Can Bring the Greatest Down

The Lord in pursuing for sin, can bring down the greatest person and people in the world, lay them in the dust, and pour contempt upon the most honourable. The Lord says He has made them small, and greatly despised.

The Lord’s showing mercy to any makes way for others also to show mercy towards them for their good (Jeremiah 42:12). In the same way, when the Lord becomes an adversary in anger, the affections and respect of others will dry up towards them. For however Edom was esteemed before by others, when God deals with him he is greatly despised.

2. Pride in Outward Advantages

A natural heart together with outward advantages and benefits usually produces pride, self-confidence and insolence. Edom is proud of their high and secure location and says in his heart, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” But though a renewed heart has all these benefits, they are poor and depend on God.

3. Pride of Heart is Known to God

The Lord does not judge people’s pride by their outward conduct (which may be masked over with an appearance of humility) so much as by looking at their heart and discerning the conceit and lofty imaginations that reign there. He sees the pride of Edom’s heart.

4. Pride is Self-Deceit

Self-deceit is one of the greatest of all deceits. In this they are given up to delude themselves with vain imaginations and confidences so that their heart deceives them. However much pride and conceit musters up people’s excellences, it merely deludes them and makes a pretence of what will prove nothing. Either it is an evidence of what is nothing in reality or that what they are conceited about becomes blasted and withered. However much presumption may promise great things to make sinners secure and despise God’s threatenings, it only deceives them and feeds them with vain hopes. It will prove a deceiver in the end when they have greatest need of what they seemed to promise.

5. Pride is God’s Enemy

God looks on pride in the creature as an enemy against Himself. It strikes pre-eminently at His glory in failing to depend on Him and seeking to usurp His throne. It therefore provokes God, though there were no other aggravation or enemy, it engages Him to prove His power in abasing it. Therefore, that general defiance, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” is answered by God as being His special concern. He says that He will bring them down.

The Lord is able to reach man and bring him down in even though he has the maximum imaginable strength and greatness. He can make strong holds a vain refuge in a day of vengeance and is even able to overturn more confidences then man can build up for his own security. To dwell in the clefts of the rock was but a small thing for God’s power to reach, and yet that was the utmost of what Edom could boast of.

Conclusion

It is easy to be proud of many things, even spiritual privileges. We need to take this to heart ourselves, how can we see this in our national life without living more humbly before others in our personal life? Perhaps the West is as it is because the Church has not been what it should be. We also need to make it clear to others why the West has lost its virtue. The more moral decay we see, the more we need to shine as lights in the darkness and the more we need to plead with and intercede on behalf of our rulers and nations. We need to be a clear voice for the truth as well as salt and light that has a restraining influence.

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Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises

Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises

Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises
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.
1 Sep, 2021

We are naturally more drawn to the promises of Scripture than the commandments. Our prayers make use of the promises as strong arguments. But as many have noticed down through the centuries one aspect of the harmony of Scripture is that the same truth is sometimes expressed as a precept, other times as a promise and elsewhere as a prayer. There is a command to obey, an offer of help to obey it and a request for help. This threefold cord is very helpful in prayer that depends on the promises. It helps us to avoid setting up a conflict between what God requires and what He promises by showing us how grace and divine help connect the three. If we lack wisdom for instance, we may connect the command of Proverbs 4:7 with the promise of James 1:5 and the prayer of 2 Chronicles 1:10.  Scripture is full of this. We will always find a promise that matches the precept and prayer that is based on both. Hugh Binning explains this beautiful arrangement further in the following updated extract.

 

All things in Christianity have a close conjunction. It is such an absolutely complete thing that if one link is loosed the whole chain falls to the ground, and if one is well fastened on the heart, it brings all along with it. All parts of religion are so closely conjoined together that they may mutually enforce one another.

Precepts and promises are thus linked together, that if any soul lays hold, indeed, on any promise of grace, they draw along with it the obligation of some precept to walk in a way suitable to such precious promises. There is no encouragement you can indeed fasten on which will not join you as closely to the commandment. And there is no consolation in the gospel, that does not carry within itself an exhortation to holy walking. Again, on the other hand, any precept should lead you immediately to a promise. And any exhortation is surrounded before and behind with a strong consolation, to make it pierce the deeper and go down the sweeter.

It is usual for the Lord in His word to turn His precepts into promises. This shows us that the commandments of God do not so much imply an ability in us or suppose strength to fulfil them as declare that obligation which lies on us and His purpose and intention to accomplish in some, what He requires of all. We should therefore accordingly convert all His precepts into prayers seeing He has made them promises. This gives us grounds, as it were, to return his commands by way of requests and supplications. In Scripture He has often made His command a promise. It is then in the nearest capacity to be turned into the form of a supplication.

 

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Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk

Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk

Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
26 Aug, 2021

Each day almost seems to bring further news of ways in which biblical values are being subverted. In society, government and education we witness the advance of an agenda bulldozing remaining Christian values and silencing opposition. The headlines are a source of great grief and perhaps weary silent questioning. What are the prospects for the future? Why is rebellion against God prevailing? It seems only to be increasing at an ever-rapid rate. Others have been in similar circumstances, and we find similar concerns in the book of Habakkuk. God’s people were suffering under the oppressive rule of pagan conquerors. Habakkuk wants to know how this is consistent with God’s purpose and promises. He discovers that things will in fact get worse but that he must also take the long view and understand this in a much bigger context of God’s holy and wise purpose. In reading the headlines with Habakkuk we find that there are answers to the troubling questions we are reluctant to voice.

In chapter 1 of his prophecy Habakkuk pours out his distressed prayer concerning the degree to which sin was prevailing around him while the Lord seemed distant. God’s forbearance was only being used to increase in sin. The Lord would use the Babylonians to work out His purposes and to punish sin. He would chastise but not destroy His Church. The Lord is everlasting (Habakkuk 1:12) and this means His purposes are unchangeable towards His people (Psalm 102:27-28). Habbakkuk shows us what it is to be concerned for God’s glory and the future of the Church in a time of trouble. He shows us how to take refuge in God’s glorious attributes in bringing our burdens to Him. Since God is the holy one, He must show His disapproval of it in His people as well as His enemies (Habakkuk 1:12). Yet Habakkuk is still troubled by the very holiness of God. How can He who is so pure then tolerate the enemies of the Church and allow them to prosper (Habakkuk 1:13)? Ultimately the prophet is answered that though there is a delay in working out the full purpose of God he must wait humbly and live by faith (Habakkuk 2:3-4). The just must live a life of grace and walk by faith not by sight. They look to the promises rather than headlines and events. They seek to live out and contend for the just requirements of God’s Word no matter how hard the times may be. George Hutcheson draws some helpful reflections for us from Habakkuk 1:13 in this updated extract.

1. God’s People Often Question Events

Such is the weakness and instability of the spirits of the Lord’s people, and such is the great variety of things that exercise their graces, that there are few things in time their hearts do not take issue with. We read of the prophet previously complaining in his zeal, that God did not take action against the sins of his people but when he gets an answer, he is not satisfied. Rather his compassion finds new reasons to be troubled and complain.

2. God’s People Often Struggle to Understand His Role in Events

The clearest sighted saints may be so bewildered as not to be able to reconcile God’s dealings with His nature and attributes. They are rather ready to think they are opposed to one another. The prophet here cannot reconcile God’s holiness with His toleration of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).

We are so weak and selfish, that when providence does not work according to our mind and understanding, we are ready to succumb to temptations of atheism and question Providence. The prophet looks at God, as though He were only looking on and holding his tongue like a spectator when He tolerated the Chaldeans.

3. God’s People Seek to Justify His Role in Events

It is the duty and concern of all the godly to justify God and clear Him from any charge. Even though their weakness cannot see through all the deep mysteries of His Providence concerning His Church and her enemies. To this end they should prevent the arguments of unbelief and temptations with those of faith. The prophet, in the midst of his dark mists, therefore begins with this as an unshakeable foundation (whatever his heart said) that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity (see Jeremiah 12:1).

4. God’s People Pray About How to Understand Events

The only best way to refute temptations and dispel mists is not to debate difficult and unclear situations when our own hearts are overcome with weakness and fears. Rather we should vent the matter and our situation to God and seek His resolution of it. The prophet experiencing this temptation therefore cries out to God.

5. God’s People Will Be Chastised for Their Sin

However much the Lord has just indignation against the gross iniquities of those outside the Church and will in due time punish them, He will also chastise His people. This is necessary considering the many factors that increase the guilt of lesser sins within the Church, God’s jealousy over His people, and His concern to have them reclaimed from every evil course. It is no wonder then to see the Church’s sins punished (although they may be less in their own nature) even when more gross sins committed by those outside the Church escape for a time unpunished. The prophet complains that God holds His tongue when the wicked devours those more righteous than they. This indicates that God does indeed do so and that it proves to be a righteous act, however, much we may quarrel with it.

The Lord makes use of wicked instruments to punish His people so that in the very foulness of the rod He uses He may show to them the vileness of their sin. This is the reason the Jews are devoured by the wicked and those more vile than themselves (see Ezekiel 7:24). The prophet complains that they deal treacherously and devour, yet are permitted to prosper.

6. God’s People Know He Will Deal with His Enemies

Although God is righteous in punishing His Church by wicked instruments, yet the holiness of God compared with their wickedness, gives grounds of hope that He will at last reckon with them. This remonstration of the prophets indicates this truth, that while the holiness of God may not always seem to fit with this in the end it will be seen to do what is right (Psalm 50:21).

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What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?

What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?

What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
18 Aug, 2021

Afghanistan has suddenly become an extremely dangerous place for everyone, but especially for the small number of believers there. Reliable sources report the Taliban demanding mobile phones and if they find a Bible or Christian content on it, the person is killed immediately. One Christian has had his 14-year-old daughter ripped from his arms and taken into forced “marriage”. The Taliban have raided the home of a church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature. Another leader received a letter from them, “We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.” By the time the Taliban were at his door, he had gone into hiding. It was already a brutal place where it is impossible to live openly as a Christian and where conversion has been punished with death or being certified insane. According to Open Doors, the only place more dangerous for a Christian is North Korea. “How we survive daily only God knows. He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us,” one Christian has said. Facing chaos, repression, disease, violence, food shortages as well as persecution, what hope is there for Afghan believers? Scripture does in fact take account all of these terrible experiences and guarantees them strength and hope. It should inform our prayers for them.

The apostle Paul takes a fully realistic view of such a condition. He gives a list of some of the most extreme sufferings that believers have faced and will face in Romans 8:35. John Brown of Wamphray explains them. Tribulation means all the affliction which is likely to oppress and break a person (John 16:33). Distress means being so hemmed in and crushed as to suffer pain and being so surrounded that in their anxiety they do not know where to turn. Persecution is the tyrannical violence that drives people from the land of their nativity and forces to wander in unfamiliar places. Famine is the extreme and intolerable scarcity of all the necessities of this life. Nakedness is shame and disgrace as well as such extreme poverty that they can scarcely be clothed. Peril is having their life in jeopardy and being in fear of danger. Sword means any kind of violent death. This is often the experience of believers as the quotation from Psalm 44:22 shows.

This describes exactly the current experience of Afghan believers. Yet no matter how grievous such calamities are to flesh and blood and how hard to endure, Paul says they cannot separate them from the love of God. Indeed, he says that in all these they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them. They are not overcome but overcoming. John Brown goes on to apply the passage further in the following updated extract.

1. Believers Are Strengthened Despite Their Weakness

Believers are conscious of their own weakness and inability to endure storms. They are often afraid that sore and sad calamities will make them turn their back on Christ. So they dread such sharp afflictions and why it is God’s will in His wise providence that they experience them. It is for this reason that the apostle strengthens believers and says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (verse 35).

2. Believers May Experience Extreme Calamities

They are not exempt from various sorts of hardships in a world in which Christ suffered (verse 34). The afflictions that believers may expect to meet with in a world are not light in themselves but so sharp that they will be squeezed (so to speak) as in a wine press. They will meet with tribulation and be painfully pressed in and crushed. They will not only have outward afflictions pressing them but at the same time may expect to have their spirits so hemmed in on all sides that they can see no possible way of escaping. They are in danger of concluding themselves to be dead and gone (1 Samuel 20:3) and so surrounded with trouble as not to know to where to turn (2 Samuel 24:14). They may be filled with anguish and vexation of spirit in their distress.

3. Believers May Experience Extreme Persecution

The wicked are so enraged and embittered against the godly that if they have any power they will not permit them to live in peace and quietness. They will use force and violence against them and believers may expect no less than open persecution if the Lord does not restrain. If the Lord sees fit, they may have to leave their home and wander in deserts, mountains, caves and dens of the earth (Hebrews 11:38). Persecution is such a possibility that is good for us not to look on this world as our home but rather as the place of our exile. Our portion is not in this present world so we need not expect much of it. They may even experience famine

The persecutors of the godly are so savage and cruel that sometimes they will not only banish them in deserts where they shall have no livelihood but also strip them naked and expose them to the injuries of wind and weather. They may experience nakedness, or they may be exposed to shame and scorn.
Their life may be so hard in this world that they hardly know what peace means and may be daily in danger of their lives and so spend much of their time in jeopardy. They may be in peril (see 2 Corinthians 11:26). Besides such dangers and perils, they may even experience the worst that men can do. Such will be satisfied with no less than the death and utter destruction of the people of God. But this is the utmost that persecutors can achieve (Matthew 10:28).

4. Believers Cannot Be Robbed of Christ’s Love by Anyone

No matter how sorrowful the experiences of believers, none of them cloud the beams of Christ’s love nor evidence lack of love towards them. They will not separate us from the love of Christ. When believers view Christ in His incarnation and exaltation doing all for poor unworthy sinners they see unspeakable love in every aspect of it towards them that nothing can quench. This will so encourage the believer that they will be able to endure the worst of storms and not be shaken or dismayed. The apostle triumphs and cries out: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ etc” in response to his believing considerations of Christ dying and rising again.

5. Believers Commonly Experience Persecution

Believers may be assured that they have reason to expect a hard lot in this world when they consider God’s children in former generations. It will help greatly to allay their sorrow when they consider that their case is not unique. The apostle proves it by quoting from the Psalms where the church and people of God are shown in a condition as bad if not worse (verse 36). It is no strange thing to see the followers of Christ persecuted and abused by wicked men. It has been the lot of the church of God in all ages from the beginning to wade through a sea of tribulation, She has often been persecuted even to the death. The followers of Christ must be resolved to die and not save their lives when Christ calls on them to lose them for His sake. The malice of the church’s enemies is not soon at an end. It is lasting and growing rather than decaying and will continue to do so long as there any of the seed the serpent are to the fore.

6. Believers Should Have a Fellow Feeling With the Persecuted

All the children of God ought to have such sympathy for each other that whenever some of them are suffering under the feet of persecutors it should go to the heart of all. Being members of one body if one part is wounded, all should grieve and feel it. They should sympathize as fellow sufferers and so weep with them that weep (Romans 12:16). They should remember those in bonds as bound with them and them that suffer adversity as also in the body (Hebrews 13:2).

7. Believers are Often Hated for their Allegiance to Christ

The wicked have no cause against the godly except that they sincerely serve their Lord and adhere to His worship. Yet this is enough on which to base their malice and persecution. The wicked in their rage against the godly value their lives no more lives than if they sheep appointed for slaughter (see 1 Corinthians 4:13).

8. Believers Are Conquerors Through Christ

Though Satan in raising persecution and tribulation against the godly seeks to shake them loose from Christ the bond shall still hold fast. When the wicked have done their worst to them and their lives believers victorious and are as close to Christ as they can be when taken up to glory. In affliction of any sort they are glorious conquerors – in all things they are more than conquerors (verse 37). This strength and stability of the children of God is not from any strength in themselves but only from Christ their head and husband. They are more than conquerors “through him” (verse 37). Their victory does not come from themselves but only from the love, free grace and good will of Christ. Our hearts should be warm with love towards Him and stirred up to thankfulness. This is why Paul says “through him that loved us” (verse 37).

Conclusion

We should have a fellow feeling with those who suffer for Christ’s sake and remember them (Hebrews 13:3). How earnest in prayer we ought to be for them. One believer who has already spent time imprisoned for his faith in Afghanistan says, “We can trust that our Lord is mighty and will care for his children”, “our hope is not in politics but in Jesus who is the King.” Scripture gives them promises in their extremity and Christ gives the strength, grace and assurance of His love not only to endure but to be more than conquerors through Him. There is therefore the brightest spiritual hope for Afghan believers despite the worst circumstances.

 

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