Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
9 Jan, 2021

It is easy to be cast down in relation to the difficulties and trials that Christ’s Church faces. Yet Christ is over and above every event and circumstance. There is nothing that is beyond His foreknowledge or decree. He has a special overruling providence concerning all things that concern His Church. No one holds it dearer than He does and this brings unique comfort and encouragement. One particular part of Scripture can help us appreciate this in a deeper way, let us consider it together.

In Revelation 5:1-7 the apostle John sees in a vision a scroll in the right hand of the One that sits on the throne. It is sealed with seven seals and evidently contains the purpose and secret counsel of God concerning His people. Yet no one in heaven or earth is found worthy to open the scroll and reveal the secrets which cause John to weep. But his tears are short-lived. Christ who is the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David can do what no one else is able to do.

The scroll is full in being written on the both sides, it is complete and there is no room for any further decrees to be added. There are no new and unexpected occurrences, all is known beforehand. As James Durham observes this shows “the absoluteness, determinateness and particularness of God’s decrees in all events that concern the Church: which with Him are, as it were, written in a sealed book.”

It is sealed with seven seals so that it is not discernible to anyone else. Here are His decrees concerning the special events that will befall His gospel Church. It also shows that Christ has access to “His Father’s secrets” and without Him there is no access to this knowledge. Yet He reveals as much to the Church “as is useful for her”. No wonder John weeps when it is not opened. Yet he is comforted by one of the Lord’s people, represented by one of the elders before the throne. James Durham in the following updated extract provides much comfort and encouragement in applying this part of Scripture.

1. Christ’s Overruling All Things for His Church Comforts Our Sorrows

(a) The strongest of God’s servants may have great fits of heaviness and weeping and mistake His dealings. They may be ready to count things to be much more desperate than they are.

(b) The Lord deals tenderly with His people’s heaviness, even when it is due to weakness and mistakes.

(c) The Lord’s comforts are applied in a timely way and often they are they nearest and most refreshing when people think things most desperate.

(d) Christ may make use of anyone to comfort another. When the strong are overmastered with heaviness, He can stir up weak believers to give comfort to them.

(e) Weak believers may sometimes be more comforted in making us of Christ’s offices and in exercising faith on Him, than great teachers. Sometimes those teachers may have many disappointments in seeking to exercise their light, abilities and reason to satisfy themselves in things that are difficult to understand. They will have a sorrowful heaviness so long as the Mediator is not made use of. But the simple spiritually tender believer, that looks to Him first of all for answering all difficulties, may have much peace and cheerfulness.

2. Christ’s Overruling All Things for His Church Strengthens Our Faith

The Lord has a special overruling providence over all things that concern His Church. There is nothing that happens which is new to Him, but it is what He has determined and written down, as it were, before the beginning of the world. This is a great consolation to His Church. No enemy can rise up against her, no heresy can break out among her members and no event can encounter her that was not fully determined by the Lord before the beginning of the world.

This Lamb is placed in the midst of the throne. He is a partaker of the same glory, dominion and authority with the Father as He is God. He is admitted to His right Hand and to a glory and majesty far above every name that is in heaven and in earth, as He is Mediator (Revelation 3:21). He is in the midst of the four beasts or living creatures and the twenty four elders. This does not just show that He has a dignity and glory beyond them, it also shows His presence in the Church.

He is on the same throne with the Father to make His people more bold in their approaches to God by Him. They never lack a friend always present in that court. He is also said to be standing, in part to declare His readiness to carry out what may tend towards His people’s edification and consolation. As a painstaking shepherd, He stands to feed the flock (Micah 5:4).

He is also said to have seven horns and seven eyes, the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. This cannot be any created thing. The Lamb’s power or horns must be omnipotent, so His eye must be Omniscient. And that which goes through all the earth must be Omnipresent.

Conclusion

We need to look to Christ above events, including our interpretation of them and our fears about them. We need to see that He is ruling all things for His glory and for the good of the Church. His Church is the apple of His eye and He will protect it. He will still rebuke and chasten her because He loves her but it is all part of a sure purpose for His glory. This does not take away our duty and responsibility. Neither does it mean we should not seek to understand events. Rather, it means we should not allow our sorrows and fears about events present or future to rob us of the fullest view that faith can take of Christ in His glorious all-powerful majesty.

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How Christ Reforms His Church

How Christ Reforms His Church

How Christ Reforms His Church
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
30 Oct, 2020

It’s good to appreciate the history of the Reformation and what it recovered. But we would be mistaken in thinking this is merely a past event. The best way to appreciate what it achieved is by being committed to reformation in the present. Reformation means making the Word of God the only rule and principle in matters of religion. Wherever this is not faithfully applied in principle and practice, the Church needs reforming. At the Reformation, John Calvin explained that there were two great areas in which the Church needed reforming. Firstly, “the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly…the source from which salvation is to be obtained”. He emphasised the importance of worship because it is the goal of salvation. This is also one of Christ’s key priorities in reforming His Church. It includes the spirit in which we offer that worship as well as what we offer. 

The Reformations under Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat and Josiah were marked by a return to biblical worship and a zeal against idolatry. These biblical histories also show us the challenges of such a work. Calvin was well aware of the difficulty of involved in this work of reformation. “I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word”. Yet it is ultimately a work that Christ undertakes for His own glory in using those who serve Him in this. Christ must be as a refiner’s fire to purge the Church’s dross (Malachi 3:2). He purges His people, His public worship and ministers so that their worship may be pure and acceptable, all things being restored to their integrity (Malachi 3:3-4). In this updated extract, George Hutcheson helps us to understand how this prophecy of Christ applies today, even to the purest of churches. Reading it should bring us to pray that Christ will do this work, however hard it may be.  

1. Christ’s Reforming is Very Trying

Christ’s coming to His Church in the ministry of His gospel and to carry on a reformation, makes such a time prove very winnowing. “Who may abide? who shall stand?” (Malachi 3:2). It is a trying time and therefore it is hard to endure, so that it is a wonder to see any get through it. It is no wonder when we consider the many hypocrites in his Church, and the great hypocrisy and dross of His saints which He cannot endure.

Great vicissitudes and shakings often accompany a time of reformation; many errors and delusions usually prevail then. The ministry of the gospel is effective in exposing sin but if people do not amend their ways, they become worse. The respectable become godless, the formalists become careless, and the ungodly become rebellious. How speedily may a people under the gospel fill up the measure of their sin and become ripe for many judgments. It is for these reasons that Christ’s coming is declared to be such a terrifying day; “Who may abide? who shall stand?”

2. Christ’s Reforming Removes the Church’s Dross

There is not only much unsoundness in Christ’s Church but it is also difficult to discern until Christ exposes it. It is then seen to cleave so closely that it is difficult to remove. No less than “a refiner’s fire, and fuller’s soap”, can either reveal or remove this dross in the metal and filth in the cloth. Only Christ’s fan can reveal the chaff and take it away. Christ has sufficient power to purge His Church and reach the dross. He is so zealous that He will not spare at all. He will either consume everything together or separate the dross. For “He is as a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap”.

3. Christ’s Reforming is Needed by the Purest Church

The purest Church of Christ is so ready to contract pollution within time, that purging is necessary. God’s chose people who are not to be destroyed need purging because they have much dross. However hot the furnace may be it is their comfort and purging that He intends. He is a refiner to His Church and He will purify it.

4. Christ’s Reforming is for the Church’s Good

Christ’s purging His Church, by His Word, Spirit and rod, speaks of His love and a purpose of much good. He sits at it as a task on which His heart is set. He “purifies as gold and silver”; precious metals refined for honourable use. Thus, the godly must submit to His way of purging in its duration, even though He sits at it as a work that is not soon finished. They must submit to the degree of purging as silver and gold in the fire, knowing that He sits at the furnace. He will make it apparent that His refining is not with silver in relation to the heat and extremity of the trial (Isaiah 48:10).

5. Christ’s Reforming Purifies THE CHURCH’S Worship

Pure ordinances and “an offering in righteousness” (according to the rule of Jesus Christ and through His righteousness) are a special mercy for Christ’s Church. The mercy is completed when it is joined with personal reformation; when there are purified Levites and “an offering in righteousness”. It is personal renewal and reconciliation that enables people to engage in pure service; right service must begin there. “He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer an offering in righteousness”.

We are not to please ourselves as to what we do in service to God unless He has declared He will accept it. Thus, the only way of acceptable worship is through Christ. When He takes any in His hand and brings them out of their polluted condition, He makes them and their service (in itself abominable) well-pleasing through Him. When He comes and purifies His people, “then shall the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord”.

6. Christ’s Reforming Purifies THE CHURCH’s Ministers

Christ’s coming under the gospel does not tend towards the destruction of a ministry, though indeed they often need to be purged. “He shall purify the sons of Levi”. A holy ministry is a special blessing to the Church for keeping ordinances pure and promoting purity among people, especially a pure and acceptable way of worship. When the sons of Levi are purified, they offer in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem are pleasant to the Lord’.

7. Christ’s Reforming Restores the Church

Christ is the restorer of all things by His coming in the flesh and by His death and gospel. He is the substance of all that is excellent to those that close in with Him by faith. To be “pleasant as in the days of old, and as in former years”, means not only that their service will be acceptable as of old when most godly men offered. It also implies that all the remarkable evidences of favour manifested toward them and wondered at in their fathers’ days as the free reward of their service, will really be given to the godly in and by Christ.

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Church Government is All About Christ

Church Government is All About Christ

Church Government is All About Christ
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.
21 Oct, 2020

The general distrust of institutions and authority within society affects the church and its government. So does an individualism that sees nothing in it of personal benefit for us. It’s not hard to see why church government is out of fashion and treated with contempt. Many see it as something barely necessary for what’s really important. But church government is not about some kind of detached institutionalism, it’s all about the authority and the ministry of Christ. And its purpose is, in fact, our edification and growth in the Christian life. ​In another article we can look at how it edifies us, but here we want to focus on how church government is truly Christ-centred.

In this updated extract, some of the members of the Westminster Assembly explain from Scripture how church government is indeed all about Christ as Mediator. People can abuse it and get it wrong, but if we treat the whole matter with contempt because of that we are in danger of mistreating Christ’s own authority in His Church. When we fail to see this there is a danger that mere men get the place and authority that is reserved for Christ alone.

As Scripture is the rule of church government, so Christ is the sole root and fountain from which it originally flows. Jesus Christ our Mediator has all authority and power in heaven and in earth for the government of His church committed unto him from God the Father. This is clearly evident from the following.

1. Christ Has Been Given the Government of His Church

Plain testimonies of Scripture declare that the government of the church is laid upon His shoulder, to which end the Father has invested Him with all authority and power. “The government shall be upon his shoulder,” etc. (Isaiah 9:6-7). “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” etc. (Matthew 28:18–19). “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32–33). All things, including all authority and judgment is given to the Son (John 5:22, 27; John 3:35). He has the key of David to open and no man can shut (Revelation 3:7). “God raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come”. He has put all things under his feet, and given Him to be “the head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:20–23).

2. Christ Has Been Given the Titles of Government of His Church

Eminent princely titles are attributed to Jesus Christ our Mediator with authority, power, rule, and government in reference to His church. A Governor which “shall feed” (or rule) “my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6). “That great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). “That Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). “One is your Master, Christ (Matthew 23:8, 10); “Christ as a son over his own house” (Hebrews 3:6). “The head of the body, the church” (Colossians. 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). “Head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). “To us…but one Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:6), “made of God both Lord and Christ” (Acts 23:6); “Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36); God’s king set on His “holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6); “David their king” (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24; Hosea 3:5); “King of kings” (Revelation 19:16).

3. Christ Fulfils the Work of Government of His Church

Certain fundamental acts of power and supreme authority in the government of the Church are especially ascribed to Jesus Christ our Mediator, as appropriate to Him alone above all creatures. These include the following.

(a) Giving laws to His Church

“The law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2); gave commandments to the apostles (Acts 1:2); “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12); “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver” (or statute maker), “the Lord is our king” (Isaiah 33:22).

(b) Instituting ordinances for His Church to be edified

These include:

  • preaching the Word (Matthew 10:7; 1 Cor. 1:17; Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15);
  • administering the sacraments: Baptism (John 1:33 with Matthew 3:13 and
    28:18–19) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20, 23, etc.; Matthew 26:26, etc.; Mark 14:22,
    etc.; Luke 22:19–20);
  • administering censures (Matthew 16:19 with 18:15–18, etc.).

(c) Ordaining and appointing those officers who are to administer His ordinances in His Church

“He gave gifts to men … and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:7–11. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Acts 20:28).

(d) Administering Christ’s Ordinances in Christ’s Name

Christ’s ordinances are not administered in the name of civil governors, ministers, churches, councils, etc., but in Christ’s own name. The apostles spoke and taught “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:17–18); “Whatsoever you ask in my name” (John 14:13–14; 16:23); “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son” (Matthew 28:18–19); “They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5); “In the name … with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:4[–5]). Assemblies of the church are to be in Christ’s name. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name” (Matthew 18:20).

This has been extracted from a pastoral book on church government called Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici: The Divine Right of Church Government which has recently been republished.

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Comprehensively Loving the Truth: Our Urgent Necessity

Comprehensively Loving the Truth: Our Urgent Necessity

Comprehensively Loving the Truth: Our Urgent Necessity
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.
15 Oct, 2020

In this postmodern age, there is a desperate need for churches to state unequivocally what they believe the Bible teaches. We live in a truth-starved post-truth world. The Church is the one place where truth should be true – true for everyone not just for you. It should be counter-cultural rather than blending in with the norm. If we give the impression that truth is changeable, elastic and customised to our needs we are robbing our culture of what it needs. We fail to be salt and light and a city set on a hill. It’s possible to do this by omission, simply failing to articulate and teach the truth clearly and unambiguously. We can still believe the truth and have it written down somewhere. Yet by not actively holding it forth but giving all our emphasis to the practical, we don’t display a full-orbed love for the truth. But this is a biblical priority as well as an urgent necessity as we will find it out in this article.

In 2 Timothy 1:13 Paul instructs us to “hold fast the form of sound words”, he even tells us how to do this (“in faith and love”). As Carl Trueman points out, the word for form or pattern “describes a model, form, or standard that is intended to function as a trustworthy or reliable guide.” It is not simply the content of the message but the actual form of words the particular precise vocabulary by which the truth is defined. We have benefited from vocabulary over the years that help us define the truth, words such as trinity and infallibility. Thomas Case was a member of the Westminster Assembly who spent many years helping define the truth in precise language. In this updated extract he shows why comprehensively loving and embracing the truth means comprehensively defining it.

1. The Importance of a Comprehensive statement of truth

In the Greek “form” means a frame of words or things, methodically arranged. Just as printers set and compose their “types” or letters, in a table. By “words” we are to understand “doctrine, evangelical truths, the principles of the Christian religion.” They are called “sound words,” from their intrinsic nature when they are purely taught without mixture. They are then the principles of religion in their purity and simplicity; the truth and nothing but the truth.

Timothy heard this from Paul, probably a collection of some principal points of religion, which the apostle had methodically summarised and either preached in Timothy’s hearing or drawn up in writing. It was committed to Timothy as a trust and treasure, not only for his own help and direction in preaching, but to transmit to others. It was for the use and benefit of succeeding generations in the church of Christ. In the next verse it is called “that good thing which was committed” to Timothy (verse 14; 1 Timothy 6:20). He was to commit this form of sound words to faithful men who would be able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).

To hold fast means both to have and to hold. He must have this form of sound words and also hold it fast. He must not swerve from it in the course of his ministry; but tenaciously adhere to it. He must no allow it to be corrupted by men who believe error. He must not part with it for anything but stand by it, and own it, against all opposition and persecution of any kind. The word “keep” in the next verse explains it. Keep the form of sound words as in safe custody, as under lock and key. The purpose of having is keeping, and the purpose of keeping is using. We cannot use, unless we keep ; and we cannot keep, unless we have.

It is of great use and advantage therefore both for ministers and individual Christians to have the main, fundamental truths of the gospel collected and summarised into certain forms of words. Such forms are very carefully and faithfully to be kept. Faith and love are, as it were, the two hands by which we may “hold fast” gospel truth.

2. The Benefit of a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

(a) It beautifies the truth

Every truth single is very precious, and indeed of infinite value, as purchased with, and ratified in, the blood of Christ ; but to see the truths of the gospel linked together in their proper union, is very glorious. In the creation of the world, it is said of every single day’s work, “God saw that it was good”. But when the whole structure of heaven and earth was set together into one entire fabric and creation, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Thus gospel-truths have a rare beauty in their variety and uniformity when seen together. They are no less glorious and admirable than heaven and earth, sun, moon and stars, in all their order and ornament.

(b) It helps the understanding

As a constellation of stars gives greater light, so it is in the understanding. A constellation of gospel-principles shining together into the understanding, fills it with distinct and excellent knowledge. It “gives us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). One truth irradiates and expounds another.

We know redemption by Jesus Christ aright, when we know the guilt and power of sin, and man’s total inability to save himself from either. We know salvation aright, when we know it in the extent and power of all Christ’s offices: king, priest, and prophet. Saving us from the reign of sin as a king, from our ignorance and blindness as a prophet and from hell and wrath as a priest.

(c) It helps the memory

It is easier to remember things when they are summarised in a more orderly way. The reason why people do not generally remember more of the sermons they hear, is for lack of catechising. Order is the very glue of memory.

(d) It defends against error

People would not be so easily drawn into heresy, if they were acquainted with how the chain of gospel-doctrines interconnects. When a chain of pearls is broken, a single jewel is easily lost; divine truths mutually preserve one another.

(e) It helps us grow in grace

Lack of distinct knowledge in the mysteries of religion is a great obstruction to growth in grace. The great cause of the believing Hebrews lack of proficiency was their defect in the foundation, the “first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). “Unskilfulness in the word of righteousness” made them mere “babes in grace.” (Hebrews 5:12)

3. Holding Fast a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

(a) Ministers

Ministers are to “hold fast this form of sound words;” for they are God’s witnesses to the present age, and trustees for the future (1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:20). They are to keep it, by catechising and instilling these principles into the hearts of young ones. They also keep it by assiduous preaching. They explain and apply these principles and maintain the remembrance of them in the church. God has appointed pastors and teachers to explain and apply the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:2). They do this by solid explanation without novel content and expressions; strange words make way for strange doctrines. They also counter false teaching (Philippians 1:17; Titus 1:9).

(b) Believers

Christians of all kinds are to hold fast the form of sound words in their understanding, memory, practice, and in contending for the truth.

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In the Understanding.
Every Christian should have a firm basis of sound doctrine; not only some scraps and fragments of knowledge, but a distinct and clear delineation of gospel-truth. This will mean that they may know things, not merely randomly, but in an orderly way; how they depend on and relate to one another. Too often Christians are content with warm affections without knowledge. So they are like a blind horse, full of energy, but always stumbling. Or they may be content with loose notions, without seeing the truths of God in an orderly and accurate way. They are never stable and rooted in the faith. Christians should seek to have the “riches of the full assurance of understanding” in the mysteries of godliness. (Colossians 2:2)

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In the Memory.
Christians are also to remember the form of sound words. The Spirit of Christ Jesus is given, not only to “teach us all things,” but to “bring all things to our remembrance: ” (John 14:26). Scripture is written to maintain old truths in our memory (2 Peter 3:1; Philippians 3:1). We are slow to understand and believe and apt to forget so we must take extra effort to retain these things (Hebrews 2:1; 2 John 8).

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words In Practice.
We are also to hold fast the form of sound words in practice. To live the truths which we know, is the best way to hold them fast. Unholy Christians live against the faith, whilst heretical Christians dispute against the faith. Whilst others live error, you must live the truth; whilst others deny the gospel, you must live the gospel (Colossians 2:6; 1:10.) Without this, a man forsakes the truth, while he professes it (Titus 1:16).

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words To Others.
“Holding forth the word of life” (Philippians 2:16; see Matthew 5:14) like a lighthouse in the dark. It is a blessed thing, when the lives of Christians are practical models of gospel truths, walking Bibles (1 Peter 2:9)

Hold Fast the Form of Sound Words By Contending for It.
Contend for and publicly own the truth, whatever it costs you. By the flames of the martyrs, future generations were able to see the truths of the gospel more clearly.

4. Believing a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

Faith gives reality to spiritual things. Knowledge gives lustre, but faith gives being; knowledge irradiates, but faith makes real. Knowledge gives light, but faith adds life and power (2 Timothy 1:12). Faith obtains strength from Jesus Christ, to do, to suffer, to live, to die for Jesus Christ, and the truths which He has purchased and ratified by his own blood. Faith “can do all things through Christ” and His strength (Philippians 4:13). The verse says hold fast “in faith and love” and “in Christ Jesus”. Jesus Christ is a fountain of strength and that strength is drawn out by faith (Psalm 71:16).

5. Loving a Comprehensive Statement of Truth

If you desire to hold fast the truth, love it. Those who did not receive the love of the truth were ready to believe a lie (2 Thessalonians 2:10 and 11-12). Receive the truth in the power of the truth, in the impressions of the truth on your hearts, in the love of the truth. Love the truth, even when the truth does not seem to love you, when it is against your interests.

CONCLUSION

We live in a frozen age, in which men have learned to hold fast everything (possessions, superstitions, errors). Everything except the truth. No doubt this is true as much now as when Thomas Case made that observation. He spent much time along with others to produce in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms a form of sound words that was accurate to Scripture. They did the heavy lifting. But unless we take up a form of sound words and make use of it, we will not hold it fast for ourselves or for others. Transmitting the truth to future generations requires holding it fast in order to hold it for them. We have produced two volumes Our Faith and Bible Truth Explored to make it as simple as possible to hold fast the form of sound words today in the current generation.

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Is Church Government Worth Suffering For?

Is Church Government Worth Suffering For?

Is Church Government Worth Suffering For?
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
15 Oct, 2020

Few people want to hear about church government today, let alone suffer for it. Of all principles and truths it is perhaps one that people are least likely to want to suffer for. They may even think that Scripture doesn’t really require anything very clear about how the church should be ordered. They just think of it as a kind of administration and that there are many ways of “doing church”. We need to consider the matter more carefully, however. To be punished for resisting state control over the church would be to suffer for church government, for instance. Is that worth suffering for? Perhaps, at face value, this issue seems very remote from Christ and the main things. But it does in fact concern us with Christ Himself.

Thousands of Covenanters suffered torture, banishment, imprisonment, loss of goods and execution. Why? For liberty? Yes, in an indirect sense. Certainly for Christ but in relation to a specific matter. The reason they suffered these things was their steadfastness on a matter of church government. George Gillespie was one of many who had in earlier decades suffered for church government. Many had suffered more than he, including imprisonment and loss of possessions. In this updated extract, Gillespie shows that the question of whether the state should control the church is not a side issue. It concerns the glory and authority of Christ Himself. This was the key controversy he was seeking to help resolve.

Christ Himself Suffered for Church Government

This controversy highly concerns Jesus Christ Himself in His glory, royal prerogative, and kingdom which He has and exercises as Mediator and Head of His Church. The crown of Jesus Christ or any part, privilege, or piece of that must be a noble and excellent subject. This truth that Jesus Christ is a king, and has a kingdom and government in His Church, distinct from the kingdoms of this world and from the civil government, has a commendation above all other truths. Christ Himself suffered to the death for it and sealed this truth with His blood.

For it may be observed from the story of His passion, this was the only point of His accusation which He Himself confessed and owned. It was aggravated, prosecuted, and driven home most by the Jews and prevailed most with Pilate as the cause for condemning Him to die. It was mentioned also in the superscription or sign written on His cross. Although in reference to God and providing satisfaction to divine justice for our sins, His death was a price of redemption, yet in reference to men who did persecute, accuse, and condemn Him, His death was a martyr’s testimony to seal such a truth.

This kingly office of Jesus Christ (as well as His prophetic office) is not only administered and exercised inwardly and invisibly by the working of His Spirit in the souls of particular individuals. It is also exercised outwardly and visibly in the Church, as a visible body politic, in which He has appointed His own officers, ambassadors, courts, laws, ordinances and censures. All these are to be administered ministerially in His own name as the only king and head of the Church.

Herod and Pilate (like many princes, potentates, and states) looked on this with so much fear and jealousy, as another government co-ordinate with civil government. But what was dark on their side has been light on the other side to those servants of Jesus Christ who have stood, contended, and sometimes suffered much for the ordinance of Church government and discipline which they looked on as a part of Christ’s kingdom. John Welsh (of Ayr, my countryman of precious memory) suffered much for the same truth and was ready to seal it with his blood.

It is indeed no new thing for the most faithful ministers of Jesus Christ to be reproached and accused of being guilty of Treason. This was not only the lot of David Calderwood, Welsh and those that suffered with him but of John Knox before them. Likewise many martyrs, confessors and the apostles themselves. Yet (if we will judge righteous judgement, and weigh things in a just balance) we do not rob the government of that which is their’s, by giving to Christ that which is Christ’s.

We desire to hold up the honour and greatness, power and authority of government against all that despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. We hold that it is proper for kings, princes and governors to be called lords over their subjects over whom they exercise civil government.  But only Christ may be called Lord and Master in the spiritual government of the Church. All bear office in it ought not to usurp dominion, nor be called lords, but only ministers, disciples and servants. We acknowledge and affirm that civil Government in empires, kingdoms, dominions, and cities is ordained by God for His own glory and for the great good of mankind. Any who are enemies to civil government are enemies to mankind and the revealed will of God. Such persons as are placed in authority are to be be loved, honoured, feared, and held in the greatest respect and esteem because they are the lieutenants of God, in whose seat God Himself sits and judges.

The Lord guide you and all His people in ways of truth and peace, holiness and righteousness. The Lord grant that this controversy may (I trust it shall) have a happy end to the glory of God, to the embracing and exalting of Jesus Christ in His kingly office, to the ordering of His house according to His own will, to keeping the ordinances pure, to the advancing of holiness, and shaming of profaneness. And finally to the peace, quiet, wellbeing, comfort, and happiness of the churches of Christ.

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Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?
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.
20 Aug, 2020

A recent survey conducted in the USA indicated that 7 out of 10 self-identified evangelicals agreed that “women should be allowed to preach on Sunday morning”. The results showed that these figures are not reduced when frequency of attendance and attitude to the Bible are taken into consideration. Three-quarters of those who claimed to believe that the Bible is literally true and attend services multiple times a week agreed with women preaching. Age did not seem to make a significant difference in people’s views either. We do not know what arguments these people consider strongest in favour of this view. Popular arguments are, however, familiar enough from the wider debate on this issue. If we claim to take the Bible as literally true, we must consider what it says on this subject. Whatever most evangelicals support we need to know what the Bible itself supports. Let us consider some of the passages that speak clearly on this matter.

Many books have been written on this subject, but shorter articles can still be useful. It is also helpful to consider how previous generations have understood Scripture in relation to this debate. Did they have clear biblical reasons for their views? It is helpful to do this because sometimes we are especially influenced by being so close to our own cultural perspective and current debates. Some want to claim that the New Testament’s assertions are merely cultural and can be bypassed. Yet who decides what is cultural and how far this approach goes? Others want to redefine what “teaching” means. A technical in-depth refutation of that kind of redefinition can be found in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner.

The question is not whether men are allowed to preach and teach publicly but women aren’t. The question is rather who is qualified according to Scripture to preach and teach. “Are all teachers?” (1 Corinthians 12:29) asks Paul. Clearly not. Not all men are qualified for office in the church. Only some men and not all are among those qualified and called to preach. This issue does not downgrade the important contribution of woman within the church any more than it downgrades male members who are not in office.

Arguments in favour of women preaching have been made in the past as well as in the present. In the more distant past, those who were promoting this practice were various groups and sects such as the Quakers. John Brown of Wamphray responded to these arguments and the following is an updated extract. Beginning with the passages that deal with this most explicitly he makes the following blunt observation. Some plead for women speaking or preaching in the public assemblies of the Church notwithstanding the fact that Paul has in two distinct places, expressly prohibited it.

1 Corinthians 14:34-38

One passage is 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Let your women keep silence, in the churches”. We might think, that this was indeed enough to satisfy us; but see what the apostle adds further to enforce this, “for it is not permitted unto them to speak”, i.e. in the churches. This is as if he had said “they have no permission to do so”. And as if all this were not enough, he adds all that is permitted to them i.e. to be under obedience as the law requires. By this he wants us to understand that women speaking in the churches is inconsistent with the obedience that the law of God has laid on them. He implies that speaking by teaching in the churches is an authoritative thing, and therefore not allowed to women in any way. Their proper behaviour according to the institution and law of God, is to be under obedience. He will not even permit them so much as to ask questions for the sake of learning in the churches lest this would make way for usurping authority and beginning to speak with authority. He adds in verse 35 that if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. He adds that it was contrary to that modesty that is the ornament of women in saying that it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

What the apostle adds to confirm this injunction concerning women in the verses that follow  is also notable. They may be considered along with his previous directions which he had given to regulate the abuses of that church. He asks them if the Word of God came out from them or to them alone. In other words, are you the first, last, and only Christians there are? Or must you give laws to all the churches of Christ? And must they all follow you? It is as though no previous church has had the Word of God in relation to this. In verse 37 he goes on to say that if any man thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. Those who defend women preachers must take notice of this. When they contradict this express injunction of the apostle, they declare themselves (whatever they want to say to the contrary) to be neither prophets nor spiritual.

We also see that what Paul spoke concerning this silence of women in the church was the commandment of the Lord. Therefore it is obligatory for all churches who seek to own any relation to Christ as their Lord and Head. Those who reject this commandment of the Lord renounce (in this area) their relation to the Lord as their Head and Lawgiver. The next verse (v38). “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” also have their own weight. It is as if he had said, if anyone still will not (despite all this) accept this let him do so. No more needs be said to convince him because he is wilfully ignorant and must remain so. Thus, we must say in this particular matter that if people will remain ignorant, we cannot help it. We must follow our rule and declare them unable of being convinced on this and so leave them to it.

1 Timothy 2:11—14

Another explicit passage against women preachers is 1 Timothy 2:11—14. This requires the women to learn in silence with all obedience and not to teach nor to usurp authority over the man. We can see from this that teaching publicly is an act of authority and that inconsistent, with the silence and obedience required from women. The apostle, as a faithful servant of Christ, will not therefore give way to it. He makes this known to Timothy so that he may suppress any such practice where it exists or hinder where people want to establish it. He adds his reasons; saying, for Adam was first formed, then Eve. By this he teaches us that such a practice is contrary to the law of creation, the law written on the Creation, and the way and method of creation which the Lord chose to follow. This made an express declaration of His will to mankind.

The apostle also adds that Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. That is, the woman being immediately and first deceived by Satan was the cause and occasion of Adam’s transgressing. Her submission to the man was further laid on her as a more grievous weight and burden, as a part of her punishment. Those who seek to have women usurping authority and teaching in the church seek to annul the sentence passed on women by the just Lord for Eve’s being the cause of Adam’s sin. Such declare in a way that that sentence was unjust; and that Eve was not the devil’s instrument to cause Adam to sin.

Galatians 3:28

Some say that women can be preachers because male and female are one in Christ. “Seeing” (they say) “God gives His Spirit to one as well as to another, when the Lord moves in women by His Spirit, we do not think it unlawful in any way for them to preach in the meetings of God’s people”.

The following is the answer to this:
(1) There is neither male, nor female just as there is neither Jew nor Greek but all are one in Christ. This is true in reference to the privileges of the Covenant under the present New Testament administration. It is different from what was the case under the Old Testament. This is what Paul is speaking of in Galatians 3:28. But it does not follow from this as a consequence by any clear connection or appearance of reason that women as well as men may therefore preach in the assemblies of the church

(2) That God gives His sanctifying Spirit to women, as well as men, is very true. But that He moves them to preach is not. If the Spirit of God moves in women, He will prompt them to duty i.e. to keep silence in the Church and not teach there or usurp authority. Rather she will learn in obedience, remembering what her sex is called to by the law of God, and that punishment on all women due to Eve’s conduct.

Acts 2:17

Some think the passages we have cited out of Paul’s Epistles do not oppose their practice of women preachers. Yet a more explicit contradiction is not imaginable. They appeal to the fact that women have prophesied in the Church to counter this.
In answer to this, the Lord has indeed made use of women to be prophetesses, He is free to make use of whom He will. His rare and extraordinary acts are no rule to us, however. His Law is our rule, and we must go to the Law and to the Testimony. He is absolute and is not bound by the rules and laws, He prescribes to us,

Some point out that Peter applies Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17 which speaks of women prophesying. But how does Peter apply it? Were there any women preachers among the company converted through Peter? During the particular time in which Peter applies Joel’s prophecy we do not hear of the least appearance of any women preachers and this manifestly declares to the contrary.

1 Corinthians 11:5

Some say that Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 11:5 gave rules how women should conduct themselves, in their public preaching and prayers. The problem with this is that makes the apostle contradict himself in the same epistle. Is it not safer for us to say that whatever rules he gave, they were such as must be consistent with the plain, absolute and enforced prohibition of their preaching, teaching, or speaking in the public meetings of the church? But what were the rules he gave concerning women? He said that every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonours her head. Some assume this refers to how they should conduct themselves when prophesying or praying publicly before others in the assembly. But the apostle is only showing what should be the conduct of both men and women when present in the public assemblies at the time of public worship. He shows how they should conduct themselves while the Word was spoken and explained and public prayers was being made, not by themselves but by others appointed for this.

Philippians 4:3

Some appeal to Philippians 4:3 where Paul speaks of women that laboured with him in the gospel. The question is, in what way did they do this? Some imagine it was by public preaching in the assemblies but what grounds are there for this? What hint is given of this? Is there no labouring in the gospel, except by public preaching? Some point out that Philip had four daughters that prophesied (Acts 21:9). But where do we read that they preached in the public assemblies of the church?

Arguing from Experience

Some argue that God has converted many to Himself by the means of women and frequently comforted the minds of His sons. They say that this manifest experience puts the matter to us beyond all controversy. The following answers may, however, be made.

(1) God may make use of women in a private capacity for this effect and has often blessed their honest endeavours to this end. We most willingly acknowledge this, but the question is not about their efforts and labour in private in their particular place and capacities, but about public preaching in open and public assemblies of the church.

(2) If people mean preaching in the public assemblies when they speak about God using women, it is suspect.  Such experiences, being false and falsely founded, can provide no evidence against the standing and binding laws of Christ in His Church. Otherwise we make experience our Bible from which all arguments are brought to defend all erroneous and irregular practices. It is safest to examine experiences by a standing rule; if they do not agree with this they are at best the result and acts of the power of people’s own vain imaginations. If people will steer their course by such a compass, we think it little wonder if they dash on the rocks and make shipwreck of truth.

Conclusion

Other points could be made but this survey of the key passages covers the main points in a concise way. Many of the arguments are not necessarily new, it is just that they are coming from a new source. There are many other treatments of this issue, some of which go into considerable depth. Yet for some the matter is settled by the clear words of Scripture themselves. If these words do not mean what they say they mean then how does that affect other clear passages? If we believe the Spirit is apparently saying something new to us about these verses then why is it so contradictory to what others have believed (1 Corinthians 14:36)? The debate on this question relates to a wider question of whether we accept the plain language of Scripture and its authority. Are we willing to let Scripture have supreme authority or is our submission to it conditional on culture or experience?

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What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
7 May, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. What is an open door?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What happens when Christ opens a door?

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

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

5. How do we recognise an open door?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

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

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Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
20 Mar, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. God Removes His Protection

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

2. God Removes His Presence

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

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

3. God Removes the Visible Church

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life

Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life

Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
25 Feb, 2020

Controversy has been swirling around the recent term spiritual abuse. It’s about the spiritual harm that comes from misuse of spiritual authority. This may mean using spiritual motivations to manipulate and coerce behaviour. Clearly it is wrong and against Scripture to manipulate. But with such a loose definition, some may perceive spiritual abuse in the plain communication of law and gospel or the biblical exercise of church discipline. If we only identify spiritual harm taking place where an individual has a perception of being abused spiritually, we may also be ignoring the bigger picture. Great spiritual harm comes from the neglect as well as the misuse of authority. Others question whether it is fair to spotlight emotional and psychological coercion and control in a spiritual context more than elsewhere. Even experts on “spiritual abuse” say a separate category is not needed. Whatever we make of the term spiritual abuse, spiritual harm is real. Rather than the framework being set by the secular definition of spiritual abuse we need to think about this issue biblically.

Without minimising the distress of those who have been in situations of coercion, we need a wider view of the subject. No-one includes under spiritual abuse teaching that condones a sinful lifestyle (Jude 1:4) or preaches a false gospel. Yet these cause the greatest spiritual harm. Spiritual relationships can also be misused in many ways. Sometimes there are harmful pressures and unbiblical expectations that congregations use to control their pastors. Or there may be harmful interactions between fellow church members that may or may not lead to extreme situations. If we think that spiritual manipulation couldn’t take place in our own context we only need to look at similar types of churches when it has.

Scripture rejects manipulative teaching (2 Corinthians 4:2). It warns against leaders who impose burdens for their own benefit (Matthew 23:4) and those who use their status for personal gain (Ezekiel 34:1-3) or lust (1 Samuel 2:22). There are harsh words for those who make the church their own empire and abuse their position (3 John 9-10). But spiritual harm is also connected with sheer neglect of duties (Ezekiel 34:4-5; Matthew 9:36). We are not dealing with outward things but the lasting good of souls that will never die and have an eternal destiny. Neglecting to care for souls is the most serious neglect there is.

How do we prevent such patterns marring the life of the church? It is a very large subject. For now, however, we can focus on biblical teaching that sets the right standard for those in positions of spiritual authority. Everyone can learn from these principles and apply them.

The apostle Peter speaks of the duties of those who have the oversight of the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2-3). They are to feed the Lord’s people with His truth and rule them by His discipline. In order to do this, they need to pay diligent close attention to the condition of the people and their way of living. He urges them to take the oversight willingly not as if they were forced to it. Rather it should be from an inward inclination to serve their Master and profit His people not their own personal gain. They should do their work with a ready mind and heart prepared by Christ.

They must not pretend to have any dominion over the Lord’s people. Instead, their whole way of life should provide an example of holy humility. It is a passage that emphasises humble service for Christ and His people’s sake, not serving self by lording it over the flock. This example helps provide a model of how we should relate to one another and so prevent patterns of spiritual harm. Alexander Nisbet draws some practical principles from it in the following updated extract.

1. Feed Christ’s Flock

Every minister of Christ ought to be able to feed His people with His saving truth (Jeremiah 3:15). It needs to be rightly divided and applied (2 Timothy 2:15), to every one of them, according to their varying conditions (Matthew 24:45). This is no less necessary for cherishing and increasing their spiritual life than ordinary food for their bodies at the right time (Job 23:13). They need wisdom, authority and equity for ruling the Lord’s people by the right exercise and application of church discipline. Feeding and ruling are expressed by one word in both Hebrew and Greek, to signify that they are equally required of every minister. Their duty is mainly emphasised here when it is said “feed the flock”.

2. Watch Over Christ’s Flock

It is not enough for the ministers of Christ to declare sound and saving truths to His people in their teaching and rule them by church discipline. They must also pay diligent close attention to how their live and their varying conditions and needs. They do this by frequently conversing with them and visiting them. This is what “oversight” means. They cannot apply either the truth or discipline to the flock of God as they ought without this.

3. Remember it is Christ’s Flock Not Your’s

Ministers should be stirred up to greater faithfulness and diligence in their calling when they consider that the people for whom they are responsible are the flock of God. He will provide for them (Isaiah 40:11) and be fearful to those who neglect or wrong them (Ezekiel 34:2,10 etc)..In order to stir elders to be faithfulness and painstaking in their duty, the apostle describes the people they have responsibility for as “the flock of God”.

4. Serve with Earnest Spiritual Desire

Anyone with a sense of their own weakness and of the weighty responsibility of caring for souls will be reticent in one sense to thrust themselves into that work (Exodus 3:11, Jeremiah 1:6). Yet once they have been called to it and engaged in it, they should not carry out the duties constrained by their fears. They may be fearful of revealing their own weakness, or lest they fall under the censure of others. They may also fear that their own conscience may trouble them for neglect of their duty. The apostle is aware of this danger and seeks to dissuade them from it because it would harm the way in which they go about their duty without a sense of constraint or compulsion.

Every faithful minister should have a strong inclination and inward desire in his spirit towards his duty. There should be so much love to Jesus Christ arising from the sense of his personal obligation to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14) that it produces this. His desire for the salvation of souls (1 Corinthians 10:33) should also be so great that he is not motivated by any outward consideration of gain or glory etc. These desires will keep him in the work and not allow him to neglect it.

6. Do Not Serve for Personal Gain

Christ’s ministers have His authority to receive from the people (according to their ability) a sufficient means of outward subsistence, (1 Corinthians 9:14). Yet for any of the ministers of Christ to make worldly gain their great incentive to undertake that calling, or their primary motive for its duties is a shameful and filthy frame of mind. This is most obvious when they exert themselves to the utmost to please those most from whom they expect most gain (Numbers 23:1). It can also lead them to oppose and discourage others from whom they expect least (Micah 3:5). This evil is abominable to God, detestable to faithful ministers, and something that disables them from doing their duty in the right way. Thus, the apostle warns them against filthy and shameful gain.

7. Be Prepared for Any Duty

A minister of Christ who seeks to carry out his duty in the right way must wait for every opportunity for doing it. He must keep himself in some fitness of spirit for every part of his calling. He should be ready whether or not the opportunity of fulfilling specific duties are immediately available. This is implied by the requirement that they should be of a ready mind, eagerly awaiting opportunities.

8. Do Not Usurp Christ’s Lordship

All faithful ministers should abhor the idea of usurping amy lordship over their fellow-labourers (3 John 9) or over the people under their charge. This is apparent whent they seek to compel rather than persuade the people to be obedient to the gospel. This is contrary to the apostles’ practice (1 Corinthians 4:21,2 Corinthians 12:20). It is also shown when any make use of the Word, or discipline, to pursue their own private revenge or to achieve their purpose through mere force and wearing down those who oppose them (Ezekiel 34:4). This is contrary to the apostle’s commandment (2 Timothy 2:24,25). They are not to be “lords over God’s heritage”.

The church and people of God are His inheritance. He has purchased them to Himself with His blood (Acts 20:28). He is the only Lawgiver within it (Isaiah 33:22). God will never therefore cast off or hand it over (Psalm 94:14). This should make everyone afraid to lord it over His people. Neither should they call themselves alone “God’s heritage” since it is a name given here to all the Lord’s people. [Nisbet refers to the word kleron here which is translated heritage or charge. The word “clergy” was derived from this and applied to ministers alone to distinguish them from the laon – the people or laity. Nisbet and his contemporaries objected to these terms as unbiblical]. This is given as a motive to overseers to be diligent and to avoid usurping dominion over them.

9. Be an Example of Humble Self-denial

Ministers of Jesus Christ are complete when they have an attractive outward life combined with their abilities to teach and rule and other inward qualifications. Such a pattern of living allures the flock to follow them because they see it as worthy of imitation. Their behaviour should demonstrate the graces of God in their heart. These include faith and love (1 Timothy. 4:12) and patiently enduring personal wrongs (1 Corinthians 4:16). They should demonstrate humility and self-denial for the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:33). They are to be examples to the flock and all the rest of the apostle’s counsel to elders depends on this.

Conclusion

Patterns of spiritual harm can be prevented the more that positive examples of doing as much spiritual good as possible are displayed by those with oversight of the flock. The more humble self-denial and focus on the spiritual good of others there will be, the less spiritual harm will take place. The greatest spiritual harm happens when we want ourselves to be heard and obeyed more than Christ and when we refuse to submit to His authority and Word. What spiritual good indeed would be evident if we were content to decrease in order that Christ might increase?

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure. It shows you how to support your minister through prayer. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons for ministries ending are burnout and moral failure. The two are not unconnected. Sometimes moral failure follows on from burnout but they arise from the same causes. Burnout often occurs due to chasing outward success and the approval of others. Success means focusing on what is visible and attracts attention, even if it means neglecting the inward life and cultivating personal godliness towards others. Moral failure begins with the neglect of the inward life. The origins of such failure are hidden and it may take time before they become more visible. How can you prevent what you cannot see?

 

 

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Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides
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.
31 Jan, 2020

One of the unspoken assumptions in the Church today is that doctrine divides while action and love unites. It’s assumed that a focus on doctrine not only makes the body of Christ introspective but also divisive. Who wants conflict and division? But the difficulty is that people want to act and do certain things driven by their doctrinal understanding. This then leads to differences and may well divide. It ignores the fact, however, that doctrine is supposed to divide. We are meant to divide from those who teach false doctrine (Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9). One of the slogans of the ecumenical movement has been that “Christ unites but doctrine divides”. When we look at Christ’s teaching, however, we find that His doctrine created divisions (Matthew 10:34). If we take a closer look at an example of when His teaching created division it will cast significant light on this issue.

There is a division among the people in relation to Christ’s doctrine in John 10. Similar divisions are recorded on three separate previous occasions (John 6:52; John 7:43; John 9:16). This is why in John 10:19 it records that the people are once more divided in their opinion about Him. Many slander Him as being possessed and mad. According to them, He is should not therefore be heard (John 10:20). Others maintain that His doctrine and miracles sufficiently refute such a false charge (verse 21). George Hutcheson draws the clear lessons for us from this incident in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Doctrine Does Not Always Have A Positive Impact

Christ’s doctrine will not fail to have an effect or operation among those who hear it, whoever they are. All of those present at this time have an opinion about these sayings.

It is not to be expected that Christ’s doctrine will have the same effects in everyone. As it gains ground with some, so others will harden themselves the more that they are dealt with. This is what we see here in the different opinions about Him and His doctrine.

2. Christ’s Doctrine Divides Because of Sinful Opposition

When Christ’s doctrine meets with various kinds of dispositions, it ordinarily occasions division or schism. This is due to the perverse obstinacy of some in opposing the truth which others maintain: “there was a division (or schism) therefore among the Jews for these sayings”. This is not to be attributed to the doctrine itself nor to those who maintain the truth. It is only due to the corruptions of those who oppose true doctrine. The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

As Christ’s doctrine ordinarily finds people as they were, if not worse, so they often relapse into the same opposition to Him and His truth. There was a division again after similar debates (John 7:43 and 9:16). They were still the same and He noticed that this was so.

3. Christ’s Doctrine May be Opposed by the Majority

When divisions and schisms take place due to Christ and His doctrine it is no strange thing to see the majority on the wrong side of the controversy. There are many who slander Him and only few who take His side.

4. Christ’s Doctrine May Stir Up Malicious Opposition

Those who oppose Christ and His truth are ordinarily so possessed with prejudice and malice that they will not so much as hear Him. Neither can they endure others listening to Him patiently. They asked others why they listened to Him (v20).

The strongest arguments that prejudiced malice have against Christ and His truth are only slanders against Him, the truth and those who convey it. Their argument is that He has “a devil” which explains why they think He is mad and therefore ought not to be heard (v20).

Malice is so prejudiced and blinded that no reason may be expected from those who are possessed with it. They will most unjustly and obstinately slander, if it were possible, even Christ Himself. Although He came to destroy the works of Satan and is the wisdom of the Father, they said He had a devil and was mad. Although they had often reproached Him with this (John 7:20;8:48) and Christ had refuted it, yet they still cast it at Him again.

5. Christ’s Doctrine Speaks for Him

Malice may be as prejudged and violent as possible, but Christ will still get some who will justify Him and His doctrine. There are others who contradict these slanders.

Christ’s doctrine and works are sufficient to plead for Him and to refute adversaries even to their face. Their reply went home against these malicious people that these were not the words of someone with a devil. “Can a devil open the eyes the blind?” (v21)

Those who would own Christ especially in a time of opposition ought to study His doctrine and works to esteem His Word. They first of all commend His words as not the words of a devil and then commend His work: “Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (v21)

Conclusion

It is clear therefore that Christ’s truth will divide especially when His Word is categorically denied and resisted. When the doctrines concerning Christ and His work are denied and set aside there will always be division. When the authority of Christ’s Word is rejected, division is a necessary thing.

Doctrine is also, however, a unifying thing. Christ’s intention was that His doctrine would unite His people. The truth is crucial to His prayer for their unity (John 17:8,17,19, 23). If we do not have “the unity of the faith” we will be tossed about with every wind and wave of doctrine and unstable (Ephesians 4:13-14). Differences inevitably arise but we are to strive after unity of understanding. Paul identifies a unity in truth as essential to a unity among the Corinthians. He urges that they “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you”. They are to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). We must not separate Christ and His Word. His sheep hear His voice and they know Him (John 10:14 and 27). We need to continue in His Word (John 8:31).  

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Does the Future Have a Church?

Does the Future Have a Church?

Does the Future Have a Church?
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.
9 Jan, 2020

Perhaps you have heard that question before. In the midst of a generation of radical change we ask, what is the Church’s future? We are moving into 2020, so what will it look like in say 2050? What direction is it likely to take? Will attendances in the UK indeed drop by 90% as predicted? We can make educated guesses based on current trends but ultimately it is unknown. Does the future have a Church? When we ask that question, it often tends to assume that the world of the future is more certain than the church of the future. In fact, the reverse is the case. We may not know all that will happen to the Church but we know that it will endure.

At the end of Psalm 102 the psalmist is wrestling in prayer for the Church. He also has a sense of his own mortality and prays not to be taken away in the midst of his days on earth. His faith is strengthened by various arguments drawn from Christ’s eternal, omnipotent and unchangeable being (Psalm 102:24-27 is applied to Christ in Hebrews 1:11-12). This passage shows that our grief for the afflictions the Church experiences is not fruitless. Our prayers are heard and answered. In this updated extract, David Dickson explains how these truths provide great comfort for us. They give us a solid assurance that the Church will endure from one generation to another (Psalm 102:28). The foundation for this is Christ’s eternal, omnipotent and unchangeable being.

1. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Eternal

The eternity of Christ is the consolation of the believer in their mortality. The eternity of Christ as God is the pledge of our preservation and of the fulfilment of God’s promises to us. The Church will both endure and be established (v28). We can draw this solid conclusion from the unchangeability and eternity of God.

2. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Omnipotent

Christ’s omnipotence is a rock for the believer in covenant with God to rest on. This may be seen in the works of creation, for what can He not do who has made all things out of nothing (v25)?

3. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Unchangeable

The immutability of God provides notable comfort for His afflicted people. Because He does not change, they will not therefore be consumed (Malachi 3:6). The heavens will perish and be changed like a garment but Christ remains the same (Hebrews 1:11-12).

Whatever change may happen to the visible Church from the world’s perspective, from God’s view it is as fixed, stable and “established” as a house built on a rock.

The Church will never be barren, but from generation to generation will produce children to God (v28). The true members of the Church are not the children of the flesh simply, but the children of the same faith and obedience with the godly teachers and servants of God of the past. That is how the promised children of the Church are described here. 

Conclusion

We can have complete confidence that the Church Christ is building will endure. This does not necessarily guarantee its future in any particular location or expression. But it gives us the confidence to commit ourselves entirely to Christ’s Church and seek to have it established only according to His revealed will for it.   

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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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