Learning to Pronounce the Psalms

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms
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.
31 Dec, 2019

Curiously, ‘how to pronounce Psalm’ was in the Top 4 most Googled terms this year in the UK. Sadly, the reason for this was not a renewed interest in Scripture, it was the name of a baby born to a celebrity couple. It reveals, of course, the extent of biblical illiteracy in the land. But when we turn to the Church, we may know the pronunciation of the word but how much are the psalms pronounced in our services? Are they heard? Do they have a pronounced role? The clear, repeated biblical instruction “sing psalms” is quietly ignored. What do we lose by this and how can we learn to pronounce them better?

When we learn to pronounce the Psalms in sung praise to God we are making use of words that God’s people have cherished for this purpose for 3,000 years. Not just this, they are the Word of God. These are Gods own songs (1 Chronicles 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 137:4). 

The command to sing psalms is not just in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 105:2) it is in the New Testament also (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15; James 5:13). Christ sang them with his disciples (Matthew 26:30). Paul and Silas praised God with psalms in prison (Acts 16:25). The Psalms are the book of the Old Testament most quoted by the apostles. Thomas Ford expands on this important point in the following updated extracts.

1. Learning to Pronounce the Psalms in Song 

We may and must read the psalms but why not sing also? It is more useful and helps to more sweetness in meditation. Singing will affect us more than reading, as praying with the voice (audibly) affects us more when we pray. Lifting up the voice is a great help to enlarge the heart when it is well affected.

You read these psalms, and you think you read them with profit, and why may you not sing them with profit? Sing with sweet meditation on the content, for your admonition, comfort and instruction. We read the history of the Bible for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. What God did then He does now, the people of God are as they were then. They have the same afflictions and temptations, are in the same conditions, hated and persecuted in the world, and have the same experience of God’s goodness. All Scripture concerns us as much as it concerned the people of God in those times. Every Christian that has wisdom and grace may use them for the edification of their own souls.

 

2. Learning to Pronounce the Psalms Together 

Colossians 3:16 mentions speaking to yourselves and teaching one another out of the psalms. David’s psalms are a choice part of Scripture, and Christians may and must teach one another out of them, as well as out of other Scriptures, since they are all written for our learning, (Romans 15:4). Christians in singing psalms together, should teach and admonish one another, and speak to one another for mutual edifying as they do by joining in prayer, or similar duties. So when Paul and Silas sang together (Acts 16:25) they spoke to themselves for their mutual encouragement and comfort. When Christians sing a psalm together it is an excellent way of speaking to themselves and one another.

3. Learning to Pronounce the Fulness of the Psalms

It is true that the Psalms were written at a particular time and relate to the needs of God’s people then. Yet this is the same with the rest of Scripture. It relates just as much to us now as it did to the people of God when first written. In Hezekiah’s time, the Levites were to praise God with the words of David (2 Chronicles 29:30). This shows that the Psalms were to be used by God’s people in praise after the time that they were written. This would include all kinds of circumstances.

What circumstances do God’s people have now, have ever had or can have for which David’s Psalms are not suitable? They are better than any songs composed by an ordinary poetic gift. What glorious things are spoken of Christ’s Kingdom and His great work of redemption! Who can admire and adore the infinite perfections of God in better phrases and words than the Holy Spirit has given us in David’s Psalms? Where can we find more heavenly meditations to refresh our spirits or prepare them for spiritual duties? If we want to magnify the power, wisdom and goodness of God for any mercy we receive–how can we do it better than in the words of David? If we do not find them suitable, the fault is our own.

William Perkins said that the Psalms remain relevant because the faith of believers in the Church in all ages is always one and the same. All who lay hold of God’s promises are like each other in grace. Their meditations, inclinations, affections, desires, spiritual needs in enduring trials are the same. Their moral duties to God and man are the same. The same Psalms are equally suitable for the Church in these days. When they are sung they yield the same benefit for the Church in these days as when they were written.

If we reject David’s Psalms because they were written for God’s people in the past must we not discard the rest of Scripture for the same reason? There is no condition in which the people of God either are or can be that the Holy Spirit could not foresee. He has prepared and recorded Scripture Psalms suitable for it. When these Psalms are sung with new hearts by God’s people in new circumstances they will always be new songs. Someone has said that words of eternal truth are ever new and never old. Daily and hourly mercies are new mercies to renewed hearts (Lamentations 3:23). When they praise the Lord for those mercies, there’s a new song of praise put into their mouths. God has provided us with Psalms, songs made by His own Spirit for this purpose. Surely it is shameful ignorance and irreverence if we fail to make use of them.

 

4. Learning to Pronounce Christ in the Psalms

How can you better admire and adore the attributes and perfections of God and His Christ than in singing David’s Psalms? Do you wish to admire the work of God in exalting Jesus Christ to be a Prince and a Saviour? Sing Psalms 8, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99. Do Christ’s sufferings and their saving benefits belong to you? You can sing Psalm 22 (see Matthew 27:35, 39, 43, 46).

What a vivid description of Christ’s death and resurrection we have in Psalm 16 (see Acts 2:25-28)! In singing that Psalm Christians rejoice with triumph in the glorious conquest of Christ over death and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55). Psalm 21 helps us admire the glory of Christ’s kingdom which is great through God’s salvation. The passages in David’s Psalms that relate to his rule and government point forward to the kingdom of Christ.

In Psalm 45, we can behold the King (Jesus Christ) in His beauty. We also see the Church, His royal bride beautifully adorned with the perfections which He has bestowed. Most glorious things are spoken of Christ and the Church. Thus, Christians may sing that Psalm in holy rejoicing and thanksgiving.

 

5. Learning to Pronounce Our Experience in the Psalms

Do you experience God’s support, supply, protection and direction? Then you may sing the 23rd psalm along with many others. Should we not admire the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in the works of creation and providence? Why should we not sing the first part of the 19th psalm and the whole of the 104th psalm? Do you have any affection to the Word of God due to your experience of its power on your soul? Why should you not sing the latter part of the 19th psalm and any part of the 119th psalm? Are you conscious of sin and wrath due to it? Sing the 6th and 38th psalms.

 

The Songs the Holy Spirit Wants You to Sing

This leaflet is an updated extract from Thomas Ford on this subject. The songs that the Holy Spirit commands us to sing are Psalms (Psalm 105:2; James 5:13). These are His songs (1 Chronicles 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 137:4).

You can download a free PDF of the leaflet or order hard copies here.

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What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019
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.
26 Dec, 2019

​According to the Bible App, the Bible verse most engaged with around the world and throughout the year was Philippians 4:6. It seems to indicate an uptick in concerns and anxieties in the midst of a year of tension. This has been a trend across recent years. It’s said that 14,000 google searches a month look for bible verses to address anxiety. But this verse also speaks about what to do with such concerns. Philippians 4:6 is commonly summarised like this: worry about nothing, pray about everything and be thankful for anything. But how can we make best use of the spiritual wisdom of this verse?

James Fergusson points to the fact that the reference to worry and anxiety in Philippians 4:6 literally speaks of heart-cutting concerns. These may be about the things of this world and the success of what we do in our work or other aspects of life. In seeking to serve God conscientiously in our daily concerns we need go to God in prayer. We are to pour out our hearts before God in thankfulness and confession as well as asking for the things we need. In this way we commit all things to His will. In the following updated extract, Fergusson helps us to grasp the full extent of this verse so that it exhorts as well as encourages us. 

1. We Need to Avoid Excessive Concern

There is a lawful concern about the things of this world. In fact, this kind of carefulness is frequently commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:11). Yet such concern is unlawful when it is excessive. This is especially the case when we care about nothing except the world (Psalm 49:11). This kind of concern keeps us on the rack continually, in fearing lack of success in the things we engage in (Psalm 37:5). It can tempt us to make use of anything (however sinful it may be) that will preserve or bring about the thing for which we are anxious (1 Timothy 6:9). This excessive anxiety is sinful and forbidden in this verse.

2. We Need to Have Moderation in Our Outward Dealings

This excessive concern hinders us from displaying the moderation we ought to have. Philippians 4:5 speaks of the moderation or gracious gentleness we ought to show. But anxious concern can drive us to be inflexible and harsh in all our dealings with others. This is because we fear that by giving way in the smallest way we undermine our own interests. Nothing contributes more to make us merciful and gentle than keeping the heart above anxious, heart-cutting worry. It will help us in accommodating to the needs and good of others, even though it may seem to harm our own interests. Previously, Paul exhorted them to make their moderation known to all. He now adds the counsel to worry about nothing as something that will help.

3. We Need to Take Our Burdens to God

The best remedy against excessive concern is not to go to the extreme of abandoning all lawful careful diligence in the things of this world (Matthew 4:7). We are rather to be conscientious in our duty but in the midst of this to pray to God. We should ask Him for the success we desire and thank Him for favours already received. In this way we leave the burden of all our concerns on Him. This is what the apostle prescribes here for us to do “in everything”.

4. We Need to Pray According to God’s Will

All our prayers should be composed in such a way as that they may be “known to God”, that is, approved of Him. They must come from the sense of our need, (1 Kings 8:38), be offered in Christ’s name (John 16:23) and be for things that are according to His will (1 John 5:14).

5. We Need to Use All Kinds of Prayer

Various kinds of prayer are mentioned here in three distinct terms. The word “requests” is a general term that relates to all kinds of prayer. The other words used for prayer are:
(a) Prayer, where we seek from God the things which we lack, acknowledging how unworthy we are of them.
(b) Supplication, where we pray about afflictions and chastisements that we either feel or fear. We also acknowledge our sins which bring these things on us.
(c) Thanksgiving, where we thank God for favours already bestowed

6. We Need to Be Thankful Not Just Wishful

It is necessary to combine thanking God for favours received with prayer and supplication. This is because there are constant reasons for thanksgiving in every condition we experience (Philippians 4:11). Thanksgiving suppresses the discontented, fretting and complaining spirit which often vents itself against God in our prayers and supplications. This can happen if we neglect to combine with such prayers thanksgiving to God for favours received (compare Psalm 77:7 with verses 10-11). This is why the apostle commands “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God”.

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Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2019

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2019

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2019
Matthew Vogan

There never seems to be any shortage of books being published. Thankfully some among them are genuinely excellent. It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. It can be a useful exercise. Here are the best books published during 2019 from Second Reformation authors. 

Naturally, we could highlight more than one or two Reformation Scotland resources but we will look at what others have produced instead.

1. Be Reconciled With God

These 12 rare sermons have not been printed for almost 300 years. But they still communicate the fervour of a young preacher who made the deepest possible impact within the two years of ministry he had. They are packed with both simple and profound thought communicated with almost tangible passion and highly recommended. There are sermons with evangelistic appeal as well as those that reach the hearts of believers with a uniquely penetrating power. 

They display an unusual spiritual maturity in handling the matters of eternity and how  things ought to go with our souls.

We have obtained the following special discounts exclusively for Reformation Scotland readers.

UK Customers: Buy it for £24.95 £14.36 using the code ref.scot2019.

North America: Buy it for $30 $15 using the code BERECONCILED50OFF.

2. The Sum of Saving Knowledge 

 ‘The work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me. How gladly would I renew the reading of it, if that change might be carried on to perfection’ – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

This book offers is a clear brief statement of key truths that relate to salvation followed by a rich and warm practical application of them. Every professing Christian, whether possessing or lacking assurance, and all ministers should know the key points of saving knowledge, and they should know where to turn for such instruction. Anyone may benefit from The Sum of Saving Knowledge. Ministers will find it helps them better declare the fulness of salvation. 

 Too often people in all kinds of churches assume that professing Christians have a firmer and clearer grasp on such truths than they really do. The Sum is a sure guide in relation to the matters of salvation, and anyone can return to it regularly with great benefit. To grow in both appreciation and appropriation of it is to grow in ‘the life and marrow of religion’. 

The Sum of Saving Knowledge is frequently overlooked because it has been included in editions of the Westminster Confession. It stands on its own here with an extensive introduction and is highly recommended.  

3. Hope during desperate times

We live in desperate times—in moral and in other concerns. Things are also collapsing in on themselves spiritually in terms of widespread decline in what the professing Church believes and the standards by which it lives. But William Guthrie shows that our problem is not just living in a time of destruction, but self-destruction. We may be concerned about moral deterioration in society, but also need to see ourselves as personally implicated. Where can we find hope? It is only in that God is able to help those who have destroyed themselves. As Guthrie puts it: ‘the Church of God in her lowest condition may warrantably look and wait for help from God’.

This book provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It’s spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context. 

 

4. Advancing Christian Unity 

In John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church. Yet today, we tend to accept disunity as inevitable. In this book, Anthony Burgess calls us to addresses the spiritual and visible unity that Jesus desires for His people. 

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

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

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

 

5. Preparing for eternity

‘make timely preparation for death and judgment’ – Alexander Nisbet

The signs of bodily decline in ourselves and others are a call to young and old to prepare for eternity. There may be sudden degeneration through severe illness or gradual deterioration. It reminds us that the best time to prepare for our long home is now when we have a measure of strength and health.

This is a book for young and old, whether in good or poor health. We must prepare for eternity and we cannot put this off until we think it is imminent. We cannot guarantee that we will have the ability to do this in the time of sickness or old age. Ecclesiastes 12 urges this wise instruction through striking pictures of physical decline. Alexander Nisbet draws out the way in which this spiritual wisdom applies urgently to each one of us.

Intended as a brief exposition for the ordinary reader. Nisbet prepared his exposition of Ecclesiastes for publication during his final years.

Stop Press! The Covenanters

This has literally just been published. Subtitled ‘A History of the Church in Scotland from 1540 to 1690’ this is the classic and definitive history of the period. It comes in two large volumes of painstaking research but the story is told in an accessible way. It is accurate and carefully weighed history not mere hero worship. If you are looking for something to progress to having read other shorter books giving an overview of the period these volumes are a must have.

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?
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.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis

Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis

Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis
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.
13 Dec, 2019

“Existential” is the word of the year according to Dictionary.com. Apparently “it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse.” It is frequently accompanied by the word crisis especially when connected with Oxford dictionary’s word of 2019 “climate emergency”. Aside from panic about threats of doom we are also in existential crisis about identity. The singular pronoun “they” was selected as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. It is used to describe those who consider themselves neither he nor she, opening up a linguistic as well as identity crisis. It is a crisis of confusion within western culture about who we are and where we are going. How did we get here?

From a biblical perspective existential angst is the inevitable consequence of shutting God out of our minds and lives. Our culture has denied what the light of nature clearly teaches us about God’s being and existence and refused to glorify Him as God. The consequence of this is a darkness of heart that makes us fools, however much we may claim to be wise (Romans 1:20-21). We have imagined that we are progressing to new heights of knowledge when it is in fact empty delusion. This imagined progress is in fact a progressive decline. When shut out what the light of nature teaches about God, we start to shut out what it teaches about ourselves.

The apostle Paul returns to this theme in Ephesians 4:17-18. He shows the extent of the impact of rejecting God. He calls the mind of the unrenewed vain because it is empty of the knowledge of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14). The knowledge it has of God, or right and wrong, is nothing but empty notions (Romans 1:21).

Rejecting God has an inward effect on the understanding and affections and impacts outwardly on life and conduct. The understanding and ability to reason are entirely blind and darkened in relation to God and heaven (1 Corinthians 1:21). This leads to a deeper darkness in the understanding than even what they have by nature.

This ignorance flows from a blindness or hardness of heart, whereby their heart obstinately refuses the light of God offered to them. They become wilfully hardened by themselves (Exodus 8:15). In the following updated extract, James Fergusson reflects on how this unspeakably sad and solemn process takes place.

1. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITHOUT PURPOSE

The way of life of all unrenewed people is empty and fruitless. They are spending their money for that which is not bread and their labour for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2). Paul says that all the unconverted Gentiles “walk in vanity”.

2. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE CORRUPTED LIVES

Whatever vanity or wickedness is in the outward life of an unregenerate person flows entirely from the vanity of their mind and understanding. As the mind is, so will be the conduct. Even the mind itself, the primary place of reason, is corrupted and vain. It is so vain that corruption and vanity flow from it to the person.

The way the Gentiles walked in this world was the result of the vanity of their mind. It is the root of everything else in every unrenewed person (1 Corinthians 2:14). Every such person is increasing towards all the wickedness described and would reach the utmost height of it if restraining grace did not hinder him (Genesis 20:6).

3. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITH DIMINISHING KNOWLEDGE

Everyone by nature is entirely unskilful in being able to discern the things of God. They cannot make best use of the principles of the knowledge of God and right and wrong that have remained after the fall (Romans 1:20). They cannot draw solid conclusions from them for rules to direct them in relation to worship and the way to salvation.

This unskilfulness and darkness increase daily. The longer they live and only use the direction and guidance of natural light, the further they are from the mark. Paul speaks of a further darkening of their understanding, than what they had by nature. Their understanding is darkened due to the ignorance that is in them.

The longer they live in their unrenewed state, the more they are estranged from right knowledge. Every sin they commit makes them less capable of knowing it. They become still further from the life of God, than they were by nature. This comes from their ignorance and hardness of heart.

4. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITH HARDENED HEARTS

Hardness of heart is a terrible evil and the source of several other evils. When someone obstinately refuses light and walks contrary to it in hardening their heart to commit sin, they provoke the Lord to give them over to ignorance. They will then lose the small measure of knowledge they formerly had (Romans 1:28).

Hardness is the cause of ignorance. Being thus both hardened in heart and blinded in mind, they are further removed and estranged from the life of God (the saving knowledge of God in Christ, John 17:3). Their understanding and reason become more unskilful in discerning between what is truth or error, right or wrong. The common principles remaining in them after the fall concerning such things have been almost completely obliterated by continuing obstinately in sin. Blindness or hardness of their hearts is mentioned as the cause of the ignorance which was in them. Both hardness and ignorance are the cause of their alienation from the life of God, and the darkening of their understanding.

CONCLUSION

The sin of rejecting God and His truth is the existential threat to our culture. We are descending into further confusion and bewilderment as we continue in this sin. The existential crisis is an inability to define ourselves and our purpose in a meaningful way. We are being abandoned to further futility of thinking and living. The singular pronoun “they” has only been in prominence for a matter of a couple of months. This shows that we are diminishing in our ability to know basic realities on a weekly basis.

The priceless alternative that the apostle Paul points us to is, however, to learn Christ (Ephesians 4:20). To be delivered from the darkening influence of sin in the understanding, we need a saving knowledge of Christ. We need the life of God within. This is what the gospel offers to us.

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Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?
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.
6 Dec, 2019

70% UK adults think that it’s important for people to have a moral framework in their lives according to a recent BBC survey. Yet only 29% say “I must live by my values all the time”. Why is that? If my values are only defined by me then they are just personal preference. If morality is not objective, we are not accountable to anyone else when we break our own moral code. The same survey revealed that people’s behaviour often contradicts their supposedly strong morals. Half of those who believed it was never acceptable for them to lie admitted they did. Almost half who believed it was never acceptable for them to take illegal drugs had done this. In the midst of such moral confusion we need an objective God-given standard of right and wrong and analysis of the human heart.

Clearly, this is what we need. Despite the contradictions we have noted, 50% of those responding to the survey believed most people are essentially good, with just 4% disagreeing. In the book of Romans the apostle Paul makes unmistakably clear the sinfulness of the human heart. This is why we sin with our fingers in our ears against an accusing conscience. We need a new heart.

In Romans 7 Paul goes on, however, to show how remaining sin still affects those who have been regenerated. It does this to the extent that they even do that which they hate and condemn (Romans 7:15-16,19). They are not immune from a contradiction between the mind, will and the actions either. This is due to the influence of remaining sin within the heart of the believer. Yet it is a different contradiction to what we see in the life and heart of those who have not been regenerated. There is a renewed part within believers that delights in God’s law as holy, just and good. John Brown of Wamphray explains the nature of this contradiction in the heart of believers.

1. A DIFFERENT CONTRADICTION

Those who are strangers to their own hearts and not acquainted with examining themselves usually have too good thoughts of themselves. Serious and sincere consideration of our own hearts will, however, brings us to a right view of our natural corruption. The unregenerate may gain some distant view of their natural corruption but only grace will give a thorough, clear, heart-affecting and soul-humbling sight of it. Paul does this when he says no good thing dwells in his flesh (his remaining sin).

The ungodly may have some willingness to do that which is morally good. Yet they are altogether averse from any spiritual good or even doing moral good in a spiritual way. This is unique to the child of God, only a good tree brings forth good fruit. The love and desire to what is spiritually good is not counterfeit simply because they cannot accomplish their intentions. They may be a will to do that which is good without being able to carry it out.

Although unregenerate people have enough natural conscience within to oppose them when their lusts are carrying them away headlong, they do not have a renewed spirit in their minds resisting. They may have some shadowy knowledge of the principles of righteousness through what it written on their hearts by nature (Romans 2:15). There may also be many within the visible church who are utter strangers to the work of grace who may still have much knowledge of the law of God. Neither have any heart delight in the holy law of God not welcome it heartily as good when it speaks against their corruptions. This is unique to those regenerated that they “consent unto the law that it is good”. It is not a forced necessity but flows from the heart complying with the things commanded or forbidden by the law.  

2. A CONSTANT CONTRADICTION

Since these principles of grace and sin are contrary to each other in their very natures and can never agree, they aim to clash with one another in every action that the poor believer endeavours. What the one wants to do the other will not have done (Galatians 5:17).

Although grace and corruption are irreconcilable enemies and grace constantly seeks to eat away corruption it will still be present in the best to keep them exercised. Sin does not however, reign in them tyrannising and oppressing them as a constant presence but is like a traveller coming and going.

3. A HUMBLING CONTRADICTION

It is evidence of grace within the soul that we get a right view of the corruption within us. This will keep the soul humble and diligent in seeking to exercise and grow in grace. Grace is a heart-humbling thing: the more the soul has of it, the more they are willing to acknowledge their own shame.

4. A MOTIVATING CONTRADICTION

Believers have no cause to be secure but should rather be on their guard because even at their best times when they seek to good “evil is present” with them. It is useful and necessary to consider frequently this conflict in those who are regenerate. We ought to consider how often the worst side prevails over the better in particular skirmishes. This will keep our spirits humble and drive us nearer to Christ to get more grace to subdue and battle with our corruption. It makes us long for the day when we will be beyond its reach. We should also be thankful for any little victory obtained and take it as a foretaste of the ultimate full and final victory.

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The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service
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.
28 Nov, 2019

How do we measure the outcomes of serving Christ? Lots of activity? Large offerings and attendances? Many conversions? Our focus may be drawn to things that are commendable to a greater or lesser extent. But are they the main thing? Are we forgetting that any true growth only comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:7)? Overvaluing ourselves or other people and what we can do comes from undervaluing Christ. Are we in danger of getting in the way of people being able to see no one but the Saviour? This misses the whole point of serving Christ, there is no real progress unless we are brought low and He is lifted up.

When we look at our own personal service to Christ—is it about us or about Christ? Do we have the selfless attitude of Christ in what we do (Philippians 2:3-8)? It’s easy to measure ourselves by others and what they do—but that is wrong (2 Corinthians 10:12). We have nothing but weakness to contribute (2 Corinthians 11:30). Even when we have done everything that it was our duty to do we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).

There is a biblical way to measure our service to Christ. It is the extent to which Christ is magnified. This was Paul’s approach (Philippians 1:20). Everyone would acknowledge this. But we cannot magnify Christ and ourselves at the same time. The way to magnify Christ more is that we should diminish. The motto of John the Baptist’s ministry was “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must be constantly decreasing, and He must be constantly increasing. It is fatal to undervalue Christ, but impossible to overvalue Him.

John the Baptist’s role was to point to Christ and prepare the way for Him. This meant taking attention away from himself. As George Hutcheson describes it, he was like the morning star which is increasingly obscured by the rising sun. Even though John was a burning and shining light, that brightness had to give way to the full glory of the Sun of Righteousness who was to shine ever more brightly. John did not stop being what he had been, but he was increasingly less esteemed as Christ was truly seen. This is how it should be.

As we reflect more on John the Baptist’s motto “He must increase, but I must decrease” we can see how it is the true measure of what it is to serve Christ. In a man-centred and man-pleasing age, attracted by what impresses us superficially, there is a strong temptation to eclipse the spiritual glory of Christ by letting someone else get in the way. As George Hutcheson explains in this updated extract, John the Baptist’s statement gives us the right perspective.

1. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS KNOWN

When Christ is not known, He will not be thought much of and not duly acknowledged. This means that others are esteemed too much. John implies that since Christ was not fully manifested, He was not properly esteemed. He implies also that He himself was esteemed too greatly by many. Indeed, some thought that John himself was the Messiah due to their ignorance of Christ.

2. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS GLORIFIED

When Christ shines in His glory, He will obscure the excellence of other things. This is the case with ministers in particular, not in respect of the purpose for which Christ has appointed them (to preach Himself). Such preaching will be in request even more as Christ becomes more glorious. But any pride or thinking of themselves too highly must vanish. When Christ shines in His fulness the light and glory belonging to ministers is seen as merely borrowed from Him, as the daystar borrows light from the sun. Christ’s splendour and light will obscure and swallow up their borrowed light as the rising sun does in relation to the daystar. The minister’s light and shining must be considered as only subservient to leading people to Christ and not to be rested on for itself. All this is implied when John says, “he must increase, but I must decrease”.

Proud envy will never be satisfied and those who indulge it will find they are tempted to it more and more in all kinds of ways. John tells those of his disciples who wanted to see him exalted that they were going to see him even less and Christ much more esteemed. “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

3. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS REVEALED

Where Christ manifests Himself and is truly known our estimation of Him will increase. It will be as the light that shines “more and more unto the perfect day”. There is such an excellence in Him that it cannot be fully comprehended at once. The more He is seen, the more He will be esteemed and accounted excellent. His kingdom and glory will continue to increase. “He must increase,” not in Himself, but as He is revealed and esteemed.

4. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH WE ARE CONTENT TO BE NOTHING

The purpose of the ministry of faithful servants of Christ is to commend and present Him. They will therefore be content to be abased and obscured, providing He is exalted and in request. They will be satisfied to see their Master esteemed more highly than themselves as merely the servants. This is why John speaks of this outcome as something with which he was content.

CONCLUSION

John goes on to say that Christ is “above all” (John 3:31). He is not only above John the Baptist but everything and everyone. Christ must increase and we must decrease, because He is above all. He comes from above, but we are of the earth and prone to speak and think in earthly ways (John 3:31). We need to remember how far below His majesty we are and to be humbled by any service we may be permitted to do for Him. The greater sense we have of His surpassing glory, the more we should be humbled and brought low in our own estimation. He must increase but we must decrease.

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Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
21 Nov, 2019

Like many other things modern friendship has changed dramatically. Electronic communication has expanded our circle of friends and made maintaining contact easier. But its limitations can also stifle deeply connected bonds. And, the modern world seems friendless for too many.     We need to value and deepen friendship in a greater way for the spiritual good of others and ourselves. It demands time, a desire to benefit others and undivided attention. God Himself extends to us the greatest and deepest friendship and we need to learn how to value that above all.

Andrew Gray considers what it means to be “called the friend of God” as Abraham was (James 2:23). It is the highest possible privilege and yet Adam threw it away. Christ, however, has “found out the precious way of making the blessed and more durable knot of friendship between God and us”.

The great goal of the everlasting gospel is to reconcile sinners and make them friends with God. How do we become such friends? “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me” (Isaiah 27:5).

But, asks Gray, do our lives and prayers make plain that we are friends of God? What are the evidences of a true friendship toward Christ? How is it the deepest friendship there is? In this updated extract Andrew Gray also outlines the blessings of friendship with God so that we may truly value it.

1. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE TRUE FRIENDS

(a) A true friend maintains constant friendship to Christ at all times (Proverbs 17:17). No matter what trials we have or what He requires of us, we will be faithful.

(b) A true friend has the highest esteem for Christ (Song 5:10 and 16). Is Christ matchless to you? Who had your thoughts first today? Was it Christ (Psalm 139:18)?

(c) A true friend finds everything in Christ exceedingly lovely (Song 5:16). There is nothing in Christ that will not be lovely. Christ’s rebukes will be lovely, His convictions will be lovely, His visits will be lovely. There is nothing that Christ can do but you will cry out, “This is lovely.” There is not a commandment that Christ can give but it will be lovely. If you be a friend to Him, you will cry out, “I have a respect to all the commandments of God.”

(d) A true friend obeys all Christ’s commands (John 15:14). A Christian must be all-inclusive in their obedience to be a friend to Christ. If they do not love the duty for itself, yet will he love it because it comes from Christ.

(e) A true friend tells Christ their secrets. There are some things that a Christian will tell Christ, which he will not tell to anyone in the world. It does not offend your precious friend when you tell Him all your secrets.

(f) A true friend is burdened by Christ’s absence. Is it not the true kindness of a friend to long to see one’s absent friend?

(g) A true friend delights in fellowship with Christ (Song 1:2).

2. CHRIST’S FRIENDS FEAST WITH HIM

Christ invites His friends to feast with Him (Song 5:1). The great Master of the feast invites them. It is a royal feast (Isaiah 25:6); it is a glorious,
purchased feast to be valued by the price that was paid for it (Matthew 22:3–4). Only friends are invited to come to the feast of the Lord’s Table because only they can fellowship with Christ in the banquet of love. Only they can exercise the graces suitable for this feast. Can an enemy exercise the grace of love? An enemy cannot exercise the grace of sorrow for offending Christ, and yet that is a qualification of one that would approach the table of the Lord. No one is able to discern the Lord’s body except friends.

3. CHRIST’S FRIENDS LEARN HIS SECRETS

The person who is a friend to the Most High is a person who will be brought in to know the deep secrets of the Lord (John 15:15). He will let you know whether you are in the state of nature or in the state of grace. (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:32). He will communicate unknown truths to His friends (Matthew 13:11). Paul says of himself, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

There are excellent secrets of duty that Christ will unfold to His friends. He will tell His friends the duty of the times in which they live (1 Chronicles 12:32). There are many secret duties that are made known unto the friends of God that are not made known to others who are strangers to Him. Christ will also make the secrets of providence known to His friends (Psalm 36:9).

4. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY WITH BOLDNESS

The soul who is a friend of God may come with boldness to God to seek anything from Him. Is God your friend? Then you may say, “God is my friend; I may be bold with Him.” Yes, when you approach to God in prayer, if you could introduce it with this, “O my friend,” you might pray with much confidence and boldness of faith.

5. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY CONFIDENTLY

A friend of Christ may come to God with confidence. If Christ is your friend, you may go to Him with great persuasion that He will deny you nothing and is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Did you ever have such a precious friend as this?

6. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE STRENGTHENED IN DUTY

This precious, matchless friend sharpens you and stirs you up to do your duty (Proverbs 27:17). A sight of your precious friend Christ would make you swift in your duty.

7. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

A friend of God has much communion with God and dwells and walks much with God. He walks much with God (Amos 3:3). If you are friends to Christ, you will have much of His heart (to long after you), His hand (to help you) and His mind (to reveal precious secrets hidden from the world).

8. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE COUNSEL IN DIFFICULTY

God will give counsel to His friends in all their dark and difficult distresses (Proverbs 27:9). If you were a friend to God, you would sometimes sing of Him giving you counsel (Psalm 16:7; Psalm 73:24).

9. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE SYMPATHY

If you are a friend of God, Christ will sympathise with you in all your anxieties (Proverbs 18:24).  Christ is more afflicted with our circumstances than we are afflicted with them ourselves (Zechariah 2:8).

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart
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.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

If we stopped to look at it we would see how they weave themselves into our everyday thoughts and actions. We don’t admit it to ourselves but they do get more attention than God and seem to offer us more meaning and happiness. Some things are more obvious: success, work, image, material possessions, even smart phones. But heart idols go even deeper than you think. They are bound up with the deepest emotions and instincts of our heart and that is what keeps them hidden. If we are serious about putting God first we need help in diagnosing what is taking His place.

James Durham explains the subtle ways in which we commit heart idolatry and helps us to diagnose it. The heart Idolatry need not be an avowed conviction that we should worship something or someone other than God. Neither is it restricted to letting ourselves fixate on sinful things. We can be committing idolatry when we let ourselves love or value lawful things–things which are good and legitimate in themselves–to an excessive degree.

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

There are five things which indisputably belong to God: respect, love, confidence, reverence, and service.

It’s not that we should give no honour, love, etc, to anyone other than God, but that we should not love or serve anyone or anything too much, i.e, more than God.

When we veer away from giving God these five things, we are in effect committing idolatry in our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-7). What does this mean?

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

We commit idolatry when anything – even any good and legitimate thing – gets too much of our respect, so that our happiness depends on it. We can’t do without it, while we can do without communion with God. If something happens to deprive us of this thing, and then by comparison all our other comforts, including the promises of God and God himself, are of little value to us, this shows that that thing had too much of our respect.

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

We commit idolatry when we give our hearts away to created things – we’re addicted to them, we pursue them with excessive energy, we dote on them, or we sorrow immoderately when we lack them. A covetous person, who loves the world (1 John 2:15) is called an idolater (Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:5). Ahab loved Naboth’s vineyard so much that he could not rest without it (1 Kings 21). Demas idolised the world, when for love of it he forsook his service with the apostle (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are three ways to tell if your love to created things is excessive.

  • If your contentment depends on them to the extent that you fret when you cannot enjoy them, as Ahab did with Naboth’s vineyard, and Rachel when she had no children (Genesis 30:1).
  • If your love for created things competes with God, so that respect and love to the world shuffles out your duty to God, as it did with Demas.
  • If love to the world undermines your zeal in doing your duty towards God. This was the case with Eli (1 Samuel 2:24). Eli honoured and loved his children above God (1 Samuel 2:29). Not that he tolerated their wicked wrongdoing entirely, but because he did not intervene as sharply as he should have (and likely would have, if they had not been his own sons). By contrast, Abraham is commended for showing his love for God, because he did not hold back his only son when God called for him.

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

Putting our confidence in humans or human thing is idolatry. If we place our protection in humans, even in princes (Psalm 146:3) or in crowds, or in horses and armies, we are idolising them. Rich people may “make gold their confidence and fine gold their hope” (Job 31:24). They regard themselves as safe, not because God has a providence, but because they have these resources. Asa trusted doctors and not God for the cure of his disease (2 Chronicles 16:12). The rich man based his rest for his soul on his full barns (Luke 12:19).

You tell that some people’s confidence is misplaced because of the course of action they take when trouble comes. Some people do not hesitate to make use of sinful means to get things sorted. Or, because of the fuss they make when disappointment comes. Or, because they rely on their resources in a way that spoils their resting in God and his providence.

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

We may fear people, or events, more than we fear God. Fear can make us sin, or at least keep us back from doing what we should, either in little things or important things. Some, for fear of the Jews, did not confess Christ (John 12:42). This makes an idol of our actual enemies! We have more fear for “the one who can kill the body”, than for “him who can destroy both soul and body”! In this way great and important men in the world are idolised. In fact, the same thing can happen to good and well-qualified individuals, if we become addicted to them and their words and opinions, not so much because of the truth or reasonableness of what they say, but because of the personalities themselves.

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

When we are brought under the power of any thing, to serve it, that is idolatry. Every person or every whim that we set out to please is in this sense an idol. We cannot serve two masters, both God and mammon, and if we “serve men”, we are not “the servants of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

You can identify this kind of idolatry by seeing, for example, what people are most excessively taken up with, and most careful to accomplish. Or, by looking at what people will go to greatest lengths to attain. Or, by what gets most of their time and energies. Or, by what most sways, and overcomes, and overawes them most, so that they cannot resist it, even supposing they have to thrust aside a duty to God, or it puts them out of sorts for duties of worship.

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

It would be hard to speak of all the various different idols which may be loved, feared, and rested on too much, and so put in God’s place. Let us look at only a few.

1. THE WORLD

The world is the great clay idol that both covetous and hedonistic people hunt after, calling, “Who will show us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). This idol keeps thousands in bondage. An excessive desire to have the world’s goods, and so to have a prestigious reputation in the world, is the idol of many.

2. THE BELLY

The belly is a shameful god (Philippians 3:19), yet one worshipped by the majority of people, who labour for nothing more than for enough in this life to fill the belly (Psalm 17:14). They only want to earn their living and provide for their families. The fear of want captivates and enslaves many.

3. THE SELF

In some ways, the self includes every kind of idol. Your self, your reputation, your good name, people’s approval–your own will, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions. People are said to “live to themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15), in contrast to living to God, when respect to self influences them to be “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4), and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (Titus 1:7) and “self-willed” (2 Peter 2:10).

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

Gifted or influential people, who have the power to do us considerable good or evil, are often made into idols when people put too much fear, love, or trust in them.

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

Things which can lawfully be used as comforts and contentments–such as houses, spouses, and children–we can be too much addicted to. We can become absorbed in these things–even though they are in themselves very little–and so they turn out to be our idols.

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Our prayers, repentances, blameless living, and so on, are often invested with more of our confidence than they should be. We rely too much on them for our salvation and eternal peace (Romans 10:3).

7. CHURCH

The purity of our worship, the forms of our worship, our church membership, can become idols. When we rest on these forms of godliness, and do not press on towards the power of godliness, they become our idols. This was the problem with the Jews, who appealed to the temple of the Lord and the covenant between him and them, and their external relationship to him (Jeremiah 7:4).

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

When we lay too much weight on God’s gifts (such as beauty, strength, intelligence, learning), or think too much of them, we make them into idols. In fact, we may put grace itself, and the sense of God’s love, and inward peace, into Christ’s place. We may sometimes seek for these things more than for Christ himself. When things like these are rested on, and delighted in, and Christ is slighted, or when we miss them and do not delight in him, then they are idols.

9. AN EASY LIFE

Ease, quietness, and our own contentment, can often be a great idol. This is how it was with the rich man, who told his soul to take ease (Luke 12:19). His ease was his idol, seeing how he rested on it, and made it the chief end of all his buildings and the goods he had to store. But his riches were his idol, seeing how he grounded his expectation of rest on what he possessed. Similarly, many idle people, who frame their life so that they will have no trouble, even though they are not being or doing anything profitable, make this the drift of all they do–to have an easy life. If this was not their chief end, it would be profitable, but when they neglect many necessary duties, only to avoid hassle, it is their idol.

10. ESCAPISM

Sometimes our minds please themselves with things which never exist except in their own imagination. Solomon calls this “the wandering of the desire”, as opposed to “the sight of the eyes” which others delight in (Ecclesiastes 6:9). Some people spend their gifts and skills on writing novels, romances, stage plays, and comedies. Even more subtly, yet perhaps even more commonly, people concoct imaginary and fictious scenarios where they get the revenge, delights, or prominence they desire.

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

The means which God normally works by, are often trusted in and relied on to such an extent that they become idols. These could be doctors, armies, or ministers–or inanimate natural causes. Worse than that, astrology and palm-reading are much prized but the Scriptures treated as antiquated and largely discarded.

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

In order to honour God truly and have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3) we need a right response to Him. God must be esteemed, loved, trusted, feared, hoped in adored, honoured, served and obeyed above all else. In a word, He must be the supreme purpose of all our actions.

We must also depend on God and submit to Him. We must rest believingly on Him and express our faith and repentance in prayer.  There must be delight in Him and constant fellowship. We must also meditate on God and diligently use all of the means He has appointed for us to deepen our response to Him,.

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When the Gospel Goes, What Else Goes?

When the Gospel Goes, What Else Goes?

When the Gospel Goes, What Else Goes?
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.
7 Nov, 2019

Atheists like Richard Dawkins have come round to the idea that getting rid of Christianity is a bad idea. It would “give people a license to do really bad things”. In other words, secularism fails to provide a coherent moral framework for good and evil. Douglas Murray recently admitted that the idea of human rights cannot long survive being cut off from its Christian roots. Western society has been living on the inheritance of a Christian heritage but now the capital is running out. This is what Murray describes in his book The Strange Death of Europe. These benefits derive not just from Christian influence but from the gospel itself. The Bible warns that when a people send the gospel into exile, it will not be long before their own exile follows.

Thomas Brooks drew attention to this at a time when he along with thousands of other gospel preachers were being silenced by the state. He asks the question: “When the gospel goes from a people, what goes?” He also helps us to go beyond the bleak reality of answering that question. He highlights both encouragements and challenges that arise from this. It should make the gospel even more valuable to us. We also need courage and zeal to proclaim the gospel faithfully in the face of opposition.

1. PROSPERITY GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

In the northern kingdom of Israel, they were without the law and the true God. They had no teaching priests, only Jeroboam’s false priests (compare 2 Chronicles 15:3 with 2 Chronicles 13:9). The following verses go on to show that there was no peace in the nation but rather disorder, destruction and adversity (2 Chronicles 15:5 and 6).

2. SAFETY GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

When the Ark was taken away, their strength and safety was gone (2 Chronicles 15:6). When the Jews rejected the gospel, the Romans came and took away both their place and nation. About forty years after Christ’s crucifixion, Titus and Vespasian took away the Jews’ city. They had cried, if we do not deal with this man [Jesus] the Romans will take away our nation (John 11:48). But to do so was the quickest way to bring the Romans on them.

3. CIVIL LIBERTY GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

When the Jews slighted the gospel and turned their backs on it, they quickly became bond slaves to the Romans.

4. NATIONAL HONOUR GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

When the gospel goes, the honour, glory, splendour and beauty of a nation go. It is the gospel that is the honour and beauty of a nation. When that goes, all the glory goes. When the Ark was taken away, the glory was departed from Israel (1 Samuel 4:22). When a people exchange the true worship of God for things that do not profit (the traditions of men) they abandon their glory (Jeremiah 2:11-13).

What is it that lifts up one nation above another, but the gospel? Our nation has been lifted up to heaven above all nations of the earth because of it.

5. TRUE HAPPINESS GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

When the gospel goes, all soul-happiness and blessedness go. The gospel is the means appointed by God to bring souls to acquaintance with Christ, to acceptance of Christ, to a claim to Christ, to assurance that He is theirs and they are His. Now when this goes, all soul-happiness and blessedness go.

6. GOD’S SPECIAL PRESENCE GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

When the gospel goes, the spiritual presence of God goes, for that always goes with the gospel. There is a general presence of God which the Psalmist speaks of (Psalm 139:7-8). This presence of God reaches from heaven to hell; in that sense God is included in no place, nor excluded out of any place. But what is the benefit of this general presence when the gospel goes? When it goes, the special presence of God goes.

THE GOSPEL HAS NOT GONE YET

(a) The Gospel cannot be taken out of our hearts.

It is in the understanding, affections and consciences of sinners as well as saints. It has got so deep a root in the hearts of many thousands that it is beyond the power of hell to pull it out.

(b) The Gospel still has preachers.

There are many of God’s servants in this nation to preach the everlasting gospel. They would be glad to preach it on the hardest terms. They will keep God and a good conscience to preach it freely as the apostles did. God has deposited this treasure for a purpose.

(c) The Gospel has not been destroyed.

All previous attempts to destroy the gospel have been ineffective. They have only helped the gospel to advance, flourish and spread.

(d) The Gospel does not go till a people reject it.

God never takes the gospel away from a people until the body of that people have thrust the everlasting gospel away from them. Although God’s messengers were abused, He continued to provide the Jews with the everlasting gospel until they thrust it away from them (2 Chronicles 36:15-23; Jeremiah 25:1-14 and Acts 13:45-47).

(e) The Gospel is promised to the children of believers.

Will God not fulfil His engagements to them (Deuteronomy 30:6; Psalm 112:2)?

THE GOSPEL MUST BE PERSONAL

(a) Make sure of your salvation.

Make it your great business, your work, your heaven to make your claim to salvation in Christ sure and secure. This is not an age or hour for someone to be between fears and hopes, to be between doubting and believing. Do not depend on outward practices or privileges. Make Christ and Scripture the only foundation for your souls and faith to build on (1 Corinthians 3:11; Isaiah 28:16).

(b) Rejoice in the Gospel.

Rejoice with trembling (Psalm 2:11). Rejoice that God has done your souls good by the everlasting gospel. Rejoice that He did not leave you until He brought you to accept it and to commit your souls to Christ. Rejoice that you have had the everlasting gospel in so much light, purity, power and glory as you had had. Rejoice in the riches of grace that has brought it to you in such a way. But weep that you have provoked God to take away the gospel and that you have not made best use of it

THE GOSPEL FACES OPPOSITION

Brooks also addresses the issue of why there is such opposition to the gospel that people want rid of it. People hate plain, powerful and faithful preaching of the gospel. This is because it shows up the nature of their lives. They hate the light and do not want to come towards it because their sinful actions and lifestyle will be exposed (John 3:20). Sinners also hate the gospel because their sin is restrained where the gospel shines in power and glory.

The gospel also requires things that sinners consider too hard. They must abandon darling sins to live according to it. This is hard for them even to hear (John 6:60).

The effect of the gospel is different. It softens one and hardens another sitting right beside them. It wins one and enrages the other. It is like the sun which has different effects on the things on which it shines (living things flourish, corrupt things increase in corruption).

Opposition to the gospel ultimately comes from Satan himself. He knows that the tendency of the gospel is to shake his kingdom. Thus, he and those of his kingdom do all they can to oppose and show their hatred against the everlasting gospel. This makes them to be in such a rage against the gospel.

CONCLUSION

This brings an implicit challenge to us. Is the gospel we proclaim faithful enough to stir up inevitable opposition? Or have we toned down the aspects that stir up such antagonism? Are we in danger of helping those who want rid of the gospel because we do not present it fully? Have we prized the gospel or just taken it for granted? Is it so personal for us that we rejoice in it and live in the light of it?

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When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
1 Nov, 2019

We are drowning in personal debt. It’s recognised as a crisis. With growing insecurity one small change can often send individuals and families into tragic unsustainable debt. Overall debt in the UK is expected to reach £2 trillion by 2020. How should we think about debt? When the Apostle Paul says that we are not to owe anyone anything it seems unmistakably clear (Romans 13:8). But then he goes on immediately to make an exception. In fact, he urges us to take on the biggest possible debt: “to love one another”. What are we doing about this personal debt?

In explaining this verse, John Brown of Wamphray emphasises that it is important for Christians to fulfil their obligations. They should be faithful in relation to the agreements and debts they contract. They should not give anyone legitimate reason complain about them. They should seek to manage the little money they receive from God in a wise and careful way so that they can pay off their debts (2 Kings 4:1-3; Proverbs 3:27 and 6:1-3).

The debt they cannot free themselves from but must constantly pay is to love one another. Paul goes on to show that this is what God’s law requires. It is something that we must be reminded about constantly (1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Corinthians 14:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:22).

1. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED FROM EVERYONE

The duty of Christian love is a duty required of every kind of person. It is a mutual Christian duty (John 13:34; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Colossians 3:14).

2. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED DAILY

This is a debt required of us daily and which we can never be freed from. It must continue (Hebrews 13:1). It is a debt we are constantly obliged to pay to our neighbour.

3. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED FOR EVERYONE

We should desire the best for everyone: eternal life, peace with God etc. This same principle of love ought to extend to everyone whether they are saints (Colossians 1:4) or strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19-20). It includes anyone who is called our neighbour (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19). We are to love one another and our neighbour (Romans 13:8-9; 1 Peter 2:17).

Believers are indeed bound to have a special respect and love for those who are fellow children of grace and children of the same Father (Galatians 6:10). The same has love us and commanded us to do this (1 John 4:11 and 21). This will prove that we do indeed know and love God and He dwells in us (1 John 4:8, 12 and 20). It will show that we are of God, dwell in the light and have passed from death to life (1 John 2:10-11 and 3:10 and 14).

It is of course true that in terms of frequency, effects and degree of delight we may love some more than others. These include those to whom we are related or are friends with or those who have shown us kindness (1 Timothy 5:4; Proverbs 18:24; Galatians 6:6).

4. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS OUR MORAL DUTY

Although believers are out of the reach of the condemnation of the law they are under its direction. The more the law urges a duty the more believers ought to strive to fulfil it. In urging this duty of love Paul says that it summarises the second part of the Ten Commandments. He calls this “the fulfilling of the law” (Matthew 22:39; James 2:8; Galatians 5:14).

5. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED IN EVERYTHING

This love for our neighbours should preserve us from wronging them in terms of their honour, person, reputation and possessions. It would urge us to use all lawful means to secure their spiritual and outward good. In a word, it would keep us from transgressing any commandment of the second part of the Ten Commandments in thought, word or deed (Romans 13:9 see Galatians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24). We must labour in this love (1 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10). We ought to serve our neighbour in love (Galatians 5:13).

Where this love is found we do not devise, contrive or seek anything that harms our neighbour. We will not even so much as take up a bad report against our neighbour (Psalm 15:3). Love does not envy but bears long and is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It does not think any evil but covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

CONCLUSION

Romans 14:8 is simple in its wording but it includes a very great deal indeed. Love for others so motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about it. 
When the Christian is changed their behaviour is also changed. This is so much the case that without this love – the Christian with all their knowledge and profession is nothing, it is merely an empty sound (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

But how do we show that love to all fellow-believers, what is our duty towards them? Any breach in fellowship and the love we ought to have should be truly distressing to us. Christ spoke of how reconciliation ought to take preeminence over other duties such as worship (see Matthew 5:21-26). It is easy to make professions, to parade zeal and orthodoxy but our obedience matters. This is the test of whether our love is genuine (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We may well have spoken the truth to another person faithfully and without leaving them in any doubt as to where they have gone wrong. But did we speak the truth in love? Or did we give them such a volley of truth as will inoculate them lifelong against the Biblical principles we are defending due to the way in which we have done it? Of course a failure to say or do what is right can also lead others to sin and error. It does not mean that we abandon any truth or principle; it means that we are unwilling to value it above Christian love. We value both love and truth enough to want to lovingly and patiently exhort our fellow Christians to be of one mind with us.

It is often in our use of the tongue and how we speak about other Christians that we fail to fulfil the requirement of love. We should always seek the good and not the harm (even indirectly) of others. 

We need to pray for much grace in order to fulfil this perpetual debt of love.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

No one has written on this subject in a more spiritual, biblical and powerful way than Hugh Binning in his book Christian Love. It is brief but needs much careful pondering and prayerful practice. 

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Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
25 Oct, 2019

We are witnessing an evident increase in people being health and fitness conscious. Bodily exercise does indeed have a certain limited benefit for us in preserving our health and life (1 Timothy 4:8). But Paul tells us that exercising or training ourselves to godliness brings every kind of benefit (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The comparison is clear. Just as bodily exercise brings benefit so our spiritual health requires spiritual exercise. Part of Christian growth is exercising and strengthening faith. How can we do this?  

Andrew Gray explains the benefits of exercising and strengthening faith. Faith must constantly go out to Christ depending on His Word and promises. It becomes stronger the more it is exercised in this way. This is vital for the Christian life. 

1. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith keeps our soul in the most constant fellowship with Christ. He dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). It is through exercising the grace of faith Christ that becomes our husband, our householder, and the one who dwells within us. It is a most sweet and desirable thing to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and our souls dwelling with Christ by love. It is a sweet connection.

2. CHRIST’S PRECIOUSNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith can make Christ more precious to a Christian than feelings can. Faith’s estimate of Christ is based on His person but feelings look to what Christ does. Faith looks at what Christ was before the world began, but feelings only look at what Christ is at the present time. The grace of faith looks to the love in Christ’s heart: feelings only look to the smiles of His face. Faith’s estimation is more constant than that of feelings especially when Christ withdraws His felt presence. When faith needs wisdom, it consults with Christ, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor. Faith is like a sinew which when it is cut, all our strength goes from us. Faith is heroic; the crown of martyrdom is set on the head of faith.

3. HUMILITY INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

A Christian who excels in this grace, is the most humble Christian. By what law is boasting excluded? By the law of faith (Romans 3:27). Faith shows a Christian the excellence of God, and humbles them in the dust. Faith makes a Christian both ascend and descend, so to speak. It keeps all the graces of the Spirit in motion.

4. SIN DECREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith likewise puts sin to death. When Christ is revealed to a soul, it will cast away its idols as filthy rags and will cry out that it has none in heaven besides God (Psalm 73:25). The soul is drawn more to where it loves than where it lives.

5. PATIENCE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Being justified by faith, we glory even in what we suffer (Romans 5:3). Faith holds out the crown on the right hand to a Christian with this motto written on it: “He that perseveres to the end shall he saved”. Moses never arrived at patience until he got to the top of the mountain from which he saw the promised land. Faith brings home the promises of eternal glory to a Christian.

6. SPIRITUAL FRUITFULNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a grace that sanctifies our lives. Faith has a sweet influence on our fruitfulness to Christ by helping us to abide in Him (John 15:5). Faith is the mother grace that bears good works as its children and as it moves so all the other graces move with it.

7. UNDERSTANDING INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an intelligent grace, understanding the “mystery of God” (Colossians 2:2). Faith raises the soul to the highest level of reason.

8. PEACE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith pacifies the heart. Peace is the daughter of faith, Faith is the dove that brings the olive branch of peace in its mouth.

9. SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS INCREASE AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an empty hand that receives the precious free gifts that come from Christ’s merits. It is the channel through which the blessed streams of life flow to us from Him.

10. PURITY OF HEART INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a heavenly plant which will not grow in an impure heart. Faith is a heart-purifying grace (Acts 15:9). It can only grow in a pure and heavenly soil.

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