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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The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
28 Nov, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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When the Gospel Goes, What Else Goes?

When the Gospel Goes, What Else Goes?

When the Gospel Goes, What Else Goes?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
7 Nov, 2019

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

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

1. PROSPERITY GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

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

2. SAFETY GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

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

3. CIVIL LIBERTY GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

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

4. NATIONAL HONOUR GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

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

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

5. TRUE HAPPINESS GOES WHEN THE GOSPEL GOES

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

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

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

THE GOSPEL HAS NOT GONE YET

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

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

(b) The Gospel still has preachers.

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

(c) The Gospel has not been destroyed.

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

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

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

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

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

THE GOSPEL MUST BE PERSONAL

(a) Make sure of your salvation.

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

(b) Rejoice in the Gospel.

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

THE GOSPEL FACES OPPOSITION

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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The Beauty of Christian Unity in a World of Division

The Beauty of Christian Unity in a World of Division

The Beauty of Christian Unity in a World of Division
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.
18 Oct, 2019

Living in a western culture that is ever polarising in terms of values, ideas and political views, we get used to division. The sheer multitude of diverse contributions seems to highlight the absence of unity. Divisive rhetoric is the norm in a cacophony of voices and opinions. Christian values are frequently attacked with uncompromising hatred. Reconciliation and harmony seem unthinkable as well as unattainable. The fault lines can sometimes seem so deep that they are compared to a kind of civil war. The Church can also be the battleground of polarising notions and methods. Where we might most expect to see unity, we see division. How can we display the attractiveness of true unity in a world that is more divided than ever?

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

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

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

UNITY IS SPIRITUALLY HELPFUL

Unity is necessary, because by this means a serviceable and beneficial helping one another in spiritual things is preserved. The people of God are compared to living stones built up together. While the stones keep in the building, they support one another, but if they are removed, it falls down. They are compared to members in the body. While they are joined together, there is a mutual ministration to each other, but when divided from the body, no part can receive any nourishment.

So it is here. While the people of God are in union, oh the wonderful help they are to one another! They provoke one another to good works and they stir up one another’s graces. But take these coals away from one another, and then the fire goes out!

And this may be the reason why our Savior does not mention the sanctification and holiness of believers, but their unity, because unity is a special means of preserving and increasing holiness. ‘Two are better than one,’ because of heat and of help, says the wise man (Ecclesiastes 4:10). So it is in this work of grace, two are better than one to warm one another. How greatly your zeal might help against another’s lukewarmness, and your faith against another’s diffidence! If it is so great a sin to see your brother in temporal need, and not relieve him, how much more is it a sin to see him in spiritual need, and fail to help him? He is to be restored (Galatians 6:1). Put this bone in joint again.

Experience tells us that where there are divisions and discord, there is no love, no compassion, no watching over one another. If this unity were established, a man would then strive for the growth of grace in others, as in himself. And therefore, observe that the power of godliness greatly abates when differences arise. There is not that heavenly communion, nor hearty concurrence in the ways of holiness, nor that mutual help of one another, as at other times.

UNITY SANCTIFIES

Unity amongst the godly is so necessary that God many times permits sad and heavy persecutions to befall them. This is so that their discords and divisions may be removed, and they may be more endeared to one another. Times of prosperity in the church produced the greatest heresies and schisms, but the times of bloody persecution made the godly more united. Thus, the martyrs, some of them in Queen Mary’s days, bewailed their differences and the contests they formerly had with one another, but prison and persecution made them highly prize one another. Joseph’s brethren in their plenty envied and fell out with one another, but in their distress they were glad to cleave together.

If sheep are scattered one from another, when a sudden storm arises, it makes them all huddle together. It may be that although just now the godly are so censorious, so shy, so strange to one another, God may in time work so that they will be glad to enjoy one another, glad to have communion with each other. One godly man’s company may then be worth more to you than the gold of Ophir.

If love and godliness do not unite you, take heed lest God sends some out-ward trouble and affliction to put you together. If you do not embrace one another willingly, He may bind you in His chains together. His promise to Judah and Israel, of making the two sticks one, was after the cruel enmity and opposition which had been amongst them.

UNITY STRENGTHENS

Unity confirms and establishes the church. The old rule is that strength united is stronger. Sunbeams united together send out greater heat. It is union in an army, in a nation, in any society, that preserves it. As a wise man said, public societies are immortal, if they do not kill themselves by division. Our Savior confirmed this, when He said, ‘No kingdom divided against itself can stand’ (Matthew 12:25). He brings this in as an argument to show that He did not cast out devils by the help of devils, but by the Spirit of God. Thus, if the people of God cast out error and profaneness by God’s Spirit, then they will not entertain error and profaneness themselves; for this would be to set a kingdom at variance within itself. The old rule is, ‘Divide and conquer.’

It was a unique providence that Christ’s bones should not be broken, to demonstrate by this (some say) that though Christ died, yet He did not lose His strength. We must justly fear that God has some heavy scourge on the godly when they are first divided. If their bones are broken, their strength is weakened, but their evil and misery will not stop there.

Thus, it is a very foolish and weak thing in the godly to continue in their divisions. Do they not have mighty and numberless enemies? Does not the whole world hate them? Is not the world as wolves to the godly, who are as sheep? Now if not only the wolf and the fox, but also one sheep shall devour another, must not this bring utter ruin? The apostle Paul speaks fully of this danger (Galatians 5:15). Observe the notable expression, ‘biting and devouring one another.’ How unnatural this is to sheep! It is dogs that do this! And further, by this means you will consume one another. What the devils of hell, and all your wicked adversaries could not do, you will do to one another. Do not look not on your differences as mere sins, but as heavy omens of God’s wrath. When the veil in the temple rent in pieces, this was a presage of the destruction of the temple.

UNITY IS BEAUTIFUL

Unity is a most comely and beautiful thing to see. It is a ravishing thing to behold such a harmony amongst the godly! Therefore, its completeness will be in heaven. There those many thousands will all have one heart and one tongue to praise God. There will be no difference. One shall not have one way of seeing God, and another, another way. There will be no censuring, such as using reproachful terms one against another. Now the nearer the people of God come to this on earth, the more similar they are to glorified saints in heaven, and to those innumerable companies of angels that do God’s will. The angels have no jarring and contests, one angel is not of one opinion, and another of another. We ought to do God’s will as the angels do it, not only in respect of zeal and purity, but unity also.

One of the Songs of Degrees is entirely in praise of unity (Psalm 133). Unity is compared to the precious ointment that was to be composed so carefully that no one was permitted to presume to make similar oil. It was only to be poured on the high priest. The psalmist also compares unity to the fruitful and pleasant dew on the mountains. The whole psalm is remarkable:

(a) Unity is for us to ‘behold’. The psalm begins with ‘behold’ to draw others to admire it. As if to say, ‘You have seen by bitter experience what disputes and differences produce, now look at this!’
(b) ‘It is good and pleasant.’ Profit and pleasure win everyone. By this we can see our aversion to such unity, that we need those low arguments to draw us. The psalmist does not say it is just, holy and acceptable to God, but simply that it is good and pleasant.
(c) It is ‘for brethren.’ He does not say men but rather ‘brethren’, because sinful discord is apt to creep in amongst them.
(d) It is ‘together.’ He does not speak togetherness of location but of soul. The sweetness of this unity is represented by the oil that was poured on Aaron and then ran down. It must be a peace grounded on Christ our Head and High Priest, which then should diffuse itself to others. Its profitableness is described by the dew. It is from heaven and so sanctifies the barren ground. This concord is God’s gift only and if received it wonderfully blesses the church.

Who would not have rejoiced to live in the days when all believers were of one heart and one soul? What a comfort it would have been, to hear no grudging or repining at one another! But the devil (that envious one) quickly sowed tares amongst them. Ulcers and sores appeared on that body, which once was as beautiful as Absalom’s body. So the apostles urge so greatly that all things should be done in charity, that they fulfill the royal law by loving, that they do not even grudge one another. This unity and peace is so glorious that the apostle makes it a goal. ‘Study (or be ambitious) to be quiet’ (1 Thessalonians 4:11). There is a great deal of carnal and worldly ambition after things that are fading and transitory. Here is godly and spiritual ambition, to be a peacemaker. To be a peace-preserver is the greatest glory God puts on us.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This article has been drawn from the new book Advancing Christian Unity by Anthony Burgess. It is lightly edited and in the Puritan Treasures for Today series. Burgess speaks of how union and communion with Christ and His people are “the life and comfort of believers.” Giving careful consideration of what Christian unity should look like, Burgess excels at uncovering common causes of division and promoting means to advance unity among God’s people.

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Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your 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.
4 Oct, 2019

Christ’s message to your Church is a call to reform. It’s about spiritual reformation as well as outward reform.  It is easier to be consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. Activity is highly visible; our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is largely invisible. The big danger for us all, when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity, is that we neglect our inner spiritual health. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of outward faithfulness, yet inward decay. We have to be prepared to ask ourselves, “Have we done that?”

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a challenging letter to Ephesus in the second chapter of Revelation means that this is a matter of primary concern to Him. James Durham says that we should consider this as if Christ were writing a letter to our Church. He explains that, “our Lord Jesus is the faithful witness” and shows us that when Christ says that He knows their works (Revelation 2:2), He is saying: “I know all your inward and outward works”:

 

  • what you have done in the church,
  • your way of administering all things in the church,
  • all your outward conduct in all these things,
  • your spirit in going about them,
  • the manner in which you are doing them,
  • the aims you had before you in doing them

“I know them perfectly, exactly, and thoroughly”.

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

He has been identifying what was very outwardly commendable in the Church in Ephesus. He commends their zeal, faithfulness, hard work and patient endurance for the sake of Christ’s name. They had not flinched from defending Christ’s truth.

(a) Their Labour
Christ identifies the painstaking concerns and labour of the ministry in the Word and doctrine. He also takes notice of and approves the conduct of the respective members of this church in reference to their duty.

(b) Their Perseverance
They had suffered. Christ knew very well all the persecution and suffering they were enduring. There was the ill-will of some within the church against them and all the malice of others outside it. Christ knew all the troubles Satan and those whom he uses had caused. He saw how patiently, submissively and constantly they had borne it all.

(c) Their Zeal
They are also commended for their zeal in carrying out church discipline—they could not bear with those were evil. They were courageous, and zealous against corrupt individuals trying them, condemning them and not tolerating them. They tested their doctrine and teaching and whether those who taught it had a true calling from Christ.

“Christ does it all lovingly. Because He loves us He does what is necessary for our spiritual growth.”

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

What could be wrong with them? For all that there is to commend, Christ has something very serious against them. They had left their first love.

What does leaving their first love mean? It is something inward. It is the grace of love in the heart and, as far as their Christian life was concerned, they had left it.

(a) Though they were outwardly zealous in the form of religion, yet they had fallen away from the inward spirit of tenderness that they once had. They were more taken up with duties that concerned the wellbeing and condition of their church, than with the inward duties of holiness. They had an outward zeal for religion, and an indignation against corrupt teachers that came in to corrupt it. They also had perseverance in suffering for it, but they had a coldness of affection in doing these things.

(b) They had not fallen away from grace itself. They still had grace but they had fallen away from exercising it to the extent and degree that they once did. They had fallen away from their first love rather than love itself. Believers are at first warm in their love in doing duties to God and to another. Christ’s reproof can be summarised as follows. Despite all I have commended you for, there is something in you that is not right. Though you are zealous in outward things, you come short in duties of mercy and in your love to one another. You are not as warm in your love to me, nor so single-minded in doing things for me as you once were.

Christ’s charge against us is defection

Defection inwardly. Not an outward defection from the truth and purity of doctrine, nor from the outward duties of religion, but an inward defection, declining in the way we exercise grace. We have not been so careful to maintain the way we exercise grace before God, as much as we have been to be seen of others.

Defection in love. Especially defection in love to God, and love to one another. This may be seen in our lack of love and sensitivity.

Defection in spirit. This is a defection in the way we do our duties. The duty may be commendable, but the principle from which it flowed may be grounds for rebuke.

Therefore, look at this epistle as if Christ were writing a letter to Scotland. In his letter, He is saying, that despite whatever purity and zeal you may have, yet you have fallen from your first love. Much of your love, warmness and tenderness has gone away. There is a decline and defection from the way grace is exercised. The sin is ours; the duty is ours; and the threatening also belongs to us. If there is anything commendable, it is more in outward form than reality. Believers are liable to decline from their first love, if not from their steadfastness.

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

He counsels them not just to repent but tells them how to go about repenting.

Christ never convicts us of sin without giving directions about recovery together with it. His direction here is in these three steps: remember, repent and do the first works. The goal of repentance is to be stirred up to reformation and steadfastness in well doing. Remembering brings us to repentance, and repentance brings us to reformation.

If Christ were charging us with a sin, it would be for falling away from first love. If He were calling for a duty from us, it would be to remember from where we have fallen, to repent and do our first works. We have not only fallen away from love but from that awe of God that should be on the heart. Remember this and other things, repent and do your first works.

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

He warns them in the most serious terms of what will happen if they do not.

He threatens the removal of the candlestick or lampstand. The candlestick is the church of Ephesus (see Revelation 1:20). This was not simply the people who made up the church but them professing, submitting to and living according to what Christ had appointed in the church, especially the means of grace. Removing the candlestick is God’s threatening to make them no longer a church. It implies removing the means of grace, the gospel and the ministry from them (see Matthew 21:43 and Acts 13:46).

Christ removes the candlestick from a people when He lets loose error which corrupts purity of doctrine (an essential mark of the church of God, and the foundation on which the church is built, Ephesians 2:20). He removes the candlestick by allowing disorder so that they abuse the freedom that the gospel has given them. They begin to show a secret desire for novelty and give themselves up to delusion. We have reasons to fear God’s threatening to remove our candlestick all these ways.
There is no greater judgment a church can be threatened with than the removal of the candlestick. There is no more serious threatening that can be given to a church or people in a church.

FURTHER REFLECTION

We have developed a resource, based on James Durham’s insights into the passage, to help you reflect more deeply on how Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus applies to you and to your church. It is called Outside In: Four Sessions to Help you Recover Your First Love for Christ. It will help you to think through carefully all of the many lessons that Christ wants the church to put into practice. 

“The way forward spiritually is to look back first.”

Outside In

Four sessions to help mature Christians

recover their first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

The material in this article has been extracted and updated not only from the Commentary on Revelation that Durham published but also from manuscript notes that have not been published. There is a project to re-publish Durham’s book on Revelation with its many helpful essays which will incorporate these manuscript notes.

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Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
26 Sep, 2019

​Our troubles just keep increasing as a nation. Conflict is everywhere you look, even between the critical institutions within the fabric of our society. Indeed, that’s true of many other nations too and their political crises. Why is that happening? Could it be that God is leaving us to the consequences of our national sins? If that’s the case then the solution will not be found in anything else except repentance. This is where the hope lies, there is mercy in God exposing our sin. The judgment of God is a call for us to return to Him.

Scripture has a lot to say about nations overcome by sin, error and judgment–other nations as well as Israel. In Joel chapter 2, the Lord calls on Israel to make right use of the warning He gives about the judgment they can expect. He does this with two exhortations. They should engage in sincere repentance and humbled themselves through fasting and unfeigned sorrow (Joel 2:12. They must also strive to have their spirit afflicted for sin more than performing outward actions out of pretence (v. 13). The reason given to encourage them to repentance is that God is merciful and gracious and not easily provoked (Joel 2:13.). He is rich in kindness and ready not to carry out His threatenings when there is repentance.

Since God is gracious in Himself, He may avert the judgement so that the people will survive. Who knows but that He may “leave a blessing behind him” (see Jonah 3:9 and Zephaniah 2:3) if there is repentance? George Hutcheson reflects on the significance of these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE TO LEAD US TO REPENTANCE

No matter how much terror there may be about feared or felt judgements, it is all pointless if it does not stir people up to repentance. Those who are in such a condition and yet do not repent must be mad. After all the warning of judgment on the nation they are called to this as the only remedy and way to be delivered. If they are seriously affected with their condition, they cannot but take this seriously. God calls on them to “turn” (Joel 2:12; see Psalm 106:44 and Jeremiah 31:18- 20).

 

2. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE INVITATIONS

When God threatens most severely, He is still inviting us to repentance by judgements and warnings. He is willing to accept repentance. The same Lord who threatens, exhorts with the word “therefore” to show the connection with the judgment previously warned of (Joel 2:12).

Those who have abused God’s patience for so long that the situation seems without remedy should not think that repentance is now too late. Judgment may be imminent, but it is still good to engage in repentance. It will do good however matters turn out. Even though they were in this sad plight, God calls on them to repent.

Those who take repentance seriously (especially when God declares Himself angry) must not delay engaging in it. This is implied in God emphasising the word “now” in calling them to “turn” (Joel 2:12).

Those who are humbled by God’s judgements may have doubts that their repentance will not be accepted. But God issues an invitation to such in His name, to remove all doubts. He expressly states that this is said by the Lord (Joel 2:12).

 

3. GOD’S JUDGMENTS CALL FOR TRUE REPENTANCE

Repentance for particular sins in response to judgment will not be acceptable as long as there is no conversion to God. There must be a change of state by regeneration.

In turning to God they must beware of being pretended. They must strive to be sincere even though they cannot achieve perfection.  The call to turn with all their heart is a gospel call.

They must seek to be deeply affected for past sin which has brought these judgments. They should prove this by sorrow and humbling themselves (Joel 2:12). Such repentance should not be passed over lightly. The heart should be broken for sin (Psalm 51:17).

We are prone to hypocrisy and ought to beware of playing with God even when we are in greatest distress. They are therefore told to rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:13). God is not pleased with mere outward signs of repentance.

 

4. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE GRACIOUS

God’s graciousness, compassion and readiness to show undeserved mercy assures those who truly repent of acceptance. Seriously reflecting on this may invite sinners to engage in repentance with hope. He “is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:14). God’s long forbearance, waiting sinners to repent before He judges proves that He is willing to embrace those who repent. He is slow to anger. The Lord’s people are dealing with One who so delights in mercy and is so affected with their distress that He is willing to draw back from judgment if they repent (Joel 2:13).

 

5. GOD’S JUDGMENTS POINT US TO HIMSELF

Those who truly repent have their hope fixed on God alone. They are focussed on God’s turning and change–not their own turning and repentance.

 

6. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO TRULY REPENT

God will mitigate His judgments to those who repent, so that at the very least they are turned into fatherly chastisements. Repentance will not always keep away judgment when sin has come to a great height (calling on God to vindicate His glory in punishing it). Neither will it prevent judgment when God wants us to be stirred up to even more repentance. God may increase the concern, diligence and humility of those who repent by keeping them in suspense. This is the reason for the question as to whether He will return and leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

7. GOD’S JUDGMENTS DO NOT HINDER HIS BLESSING

No uncertainty about this should discourage us from repentance. However things may go we are in God’s way for attaining blessing for good when we repent. The question as to who knows if God will leave a blessing is therefore an encouragement to repent.

When God is judging a nation, it does not hinder Him blessing those who repent. There may be rich mercies waiting for them, both in the time of affliction to help them survive and afterwards, to rebuild them up. For there is hope that upon repentance, God will leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Hope During Desperate Times is a book that provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It's spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context.

It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended.

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