How Will We Help Generation Z Keep the Faith?

How Will We Help Generation Z Keep the Faith?

How Will We Help Generation Z Keep the Faith?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
14 Sep, 2021

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

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

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

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

1. We Must Give Them Scripture Truth

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

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

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

2. We Must Show Them the Glory of God

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

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

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

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

4. We Must Teach Them to Trust God

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

5. We Must Teach Them to Remember God

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

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

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

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

7. We Must Teach Them to Avoid Disobedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Get it Now!

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

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God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
21 Jul, 2021

Our 24/7 world presents new challenges of overwork in blurring the boundaries between work and the rest of life and over exploitation of natural resources. Searching for ultimate meaning in the wrong places “we have turned our work into our identity.” The recent disruption to patterns of work provides an opportunity to review our approach to life, employment and our use of time. A new study is concerned about the potential for the dehumanisation of work. “As the relationship between work, time, and place changes, there is a need to rediscover patterns of rest”. God has already provided the remedy. “The biblical idea of a Sabbath is an ancient answer to a very modern anxiety”. It is a day that “demonstrates for all of us that we are not defined by what we do or what we consume”. As a day of worship it gives us something that rises above and points beyond the daily grind. The need for it is hardwired into our nature from the creation of the world. We neglect it at our peril.

As the report by the thinktank Theos observes, we need to know “not simply how to live, but how to live well.” Citing the fourth commandment, it refers to the maintains that the sabbath shows us God’s way to a more meaningful and balanced life. As a contribution to the public square it points to the general principle but is rather light on detail as to what recovering the sabbath might involve.

Thankfully we have a sure guide to God’s ancient wisdom in the Westminster Shorter Catechism which opens up the biblical meaning of the sabbath principle (see for instance (Exodus 31:13, 16-17; Genesis 2:2-3; Mark 2:27-28; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Isaiah 58:13-14; Leviticus 23:3; Luke 4:16; Matthew 12:1-13; Amos 8:4-6). Our book Bible Truth Explored helps us understand and apply this in our own context. Much more could be said on these points but this is a straightforward introduction.

A day of rest

When God had finished His work of creation He left us an example of how we are to structure our week. We read in Genesis that God rested for one day, taking delight in the very good work which He had completed. He has also
appointed one day in every week to be a day of rest for His creatures. We are to spend the Lord’s day in “holy resting,” finding delight in the very good works which God has done – not only in creation, but also in grace.

Q. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself. (Shorter Catechism, Q58).

It is a great kindness on the Lord’s part to grant His creatures a day of rest from their ordinary weekly occupations. Since the fall, we get tired and weary and need time to rest, otherwise we will become ill and our work and lives will suffer. We also have to ensure that if we employ other people to work for us, they also get a day of rest. Even animals are allowed one day a week without work. Of course, some things are necessary to be done and some things come into the category of acts of mercy. We don’t take a rest from getting dressed in the morning or eating food, and we have to continue to care for people in need. But whatever works of necessity and mercy we do, it is to be with a view to enabling the Lord’s day to be kept focused on Him and His worship.

Q. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath. (Shorter Catechism Q59)

In the Old Testament this day of rest was the seventh day of the week, commemorating the completed work of creation. Following the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ the Christian sabbath is held on the first day of the week, the day on which He rose from the grave, to commemorate not only creation but the completed work of redemption (Revelation. 1:10; Acts 20:7; John 20:19, 26).

“It is a great kindness on the Lord’s part to grant His creatures a day of rest from their ordinary weekly occupations.”

A day of work

At the same time as the sabbath is a day of rest, it is also a day of work. This is not a contradiction, because the purpose of resting from our normal weekly work is to free us up to be very busy in a different kind of work — the work of worship. We are not to waste away the sabbath day in idleness. The sabbath is a day for worship and spiritual activity. It is a day when our souls rather than our bodies are especially busy and when the needs of our souls rather than our bodies receive our special attention. The sabbath is a day during which we are to be especially engaged in doing business with heaven and preparing for eternity.

“We are not to waste away the sabbath day in idleness. The sabbath is a day for worship and spiritual activity.”

We should be active in worship all day long, whether in the public, formal assemblies of God’s people or in private, at home by ourselves or with our families. We should not rest content with giving just one little corner of the day to worship — it is meant to be a whole day of spiritual activity.

A day apart

The sabbath is a day set apart from all the others by the Lord. At creation He claimed it for His own, and blessed it (see Genesis 2:3). Amongst other things, this shows that the Lord reserves the right to choose when He wants us to approach Him in worship, and He blesses those who remember His day. He has given precious promises about being present by His Spirit when people gather in church.

The sabbath day is set apart by us from every other day, as the one special occasion during our week when we remember the Lord our Maker and Redeemer. Our focus on this day is to be on the Lord. Instead of focusing on earning our living, or ordinary pastimes, we can devote ourselves to rejoicing in God and finding our satisfaction in Him.

Specifically, we can do this when we assemble with other believers to worship God as His church —

  • By hearing God’s Word preached
  • By joining in public prayers and praises
  • By partaking of the sacraments

We can also do this when we are in private, on our own or in our families —

  • By singing, praying and reading the Word on our own or as a family
  • By catechising each other as a family or examining ourselves on our own
  • By discussing the sermon and other spiritual topics with our families and friends
  • By meditating on the truth of God’s Word
  • By reading edifying books

Q. How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy. (Shorter Catechism Q60)

A day remembered

We also set the sabbath day apart by remembering it. For one thing, we should remember that God has kept one day special for Himself from the beginning of time, even before He called Israel to be His people, and redeemed them out of Egypt. We are therefore only following in a long line of obedient worshippers of God when we keep His day holy.

For another thing, we should spend our whole week both remembering that the sabbath has passed (for example, trying to keep in mind whatever truth we heard preached last sabbath) and also remembering that the sabbath is coming up again. We should make arrangements throughout the week to make sure that things won’t be left unfinished to distract us from spiritual things on the Lord’s day, and especially towards the end of each week we should pray for help to spend the whole day in worshipping God and for a blessing when we do so.
We ought to love our neighbour by helping others to remember the sabbath to keep it holy. We should help those for whom we have responsibility to keep it holy. We can also remember and show kindness to those who cannot get out to church due to ill health, old age, or other valid reasons.

A day ahead

The sabbath rest which we enjoy in this world is a foretaste of the rest which God’s people will enjoy in heaven. Heaven is one unending sabbath rest (see Hebrews 4:9). Worship goes on continually in heaven, without interruption, without weariness, and without conclusion. It is the place where our souls and bodies will be completely at rest in God, and where we will join harmoniously with all of God’s people at once in praising
and blessing Him. Our entire focus will be on adoring God for what He has done in creation and salvation.

Something to think about

  • Why do we need a day of rest?
  • While the Old Testament sabbath commemorated creation, the New Testament sabbath commemorates redemption. In what ways is redemption a greater work than creation?
  • What are the similarities and differences between sabbaths on earth and the sabbath rest in heaven?

Personal reflection

  • Do you enjoy the Lord’s day when it comes? Do you look forward to resting from ordinary activities and being busy in spiritual activities?

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Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again
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.
29 Jun, 2021

No one it seemed was willing to make the Health Secretary’s adultery a matter of comment or concern. It was his private business and we do not concern ourselves with the marital integrity of our leaders. All that mattered was if he had broken some other rules. Even church leaders seemed content to echo this line. The Bishop of Manchester did not seem to make it a matter of moral concern. “I’m more worried about the fact that he failed to keep the social distancing” he said, “than I am about the fact that here is a middle-aged bloke having a bit of a fling.” After some pressure from the interviewer about the expectation of the church showing moral leadership in this area the bishop admitted that marriage vows were important. But the signal had already been given that they were not very important. It is clear that marriage is a demeaned institution in our culture and that ought to concern us. How do we restore that honour?

The first step towards this would be recognising what is honourable about marriage. We are told it is “honourable in all” (Hebrews 13:4).  William Gouge wrote very extensively on the subject of marriage and in this updated extract he explains what that honour is.

1. What Do We Mean by Honourable?

The Greek word means that which is of high account or esteem. It is attributed sometimes to individuals e.g. Gamaliel was had in reputation (Acts 5:34.) The Greek uses the same word that is here translated honourable. Sometimes also it is attributed to things in terms of their value e.g. the produce of the earth, (James 5:7).  It is also applied to precious stones and other things of great worth (Revelation 18:12). It is attributed to divine promises (2 Peter 2:4) and Christ’s blood (1 Peter 1:19). In all these passages it is translated as precious. This word being thus applied to marriage shows that it is a condition to be highly esteemed and described as honourable.

2. Marriage Was Honourable in its Institution

No ordinance was more honourable in its first institution when we consider the one who instituted it, the time and place where it was instituted, the individuals who were first married and the way they were joined together.

(a) The author and first institutor of marriage was the Lord God. Could anyone greater or more excellent have instituted it?

(b) The place was paradise. The fairest, most glorious, pleasant, honourable and excellent place there ever was in this world. Even though place is but a circumstance, it adds much to the honour of a thing. Solemn ordinances are carried out in honourable places. Thus, marriages are usually solemnized in churches, not in private houses.

(c) The time was the most pure and perfect time there ever was in the world, the time of man’s innocence, when no sin or pollution of man had stained it. Purity adds much to the honour of a thing.

(d) The individuals were the most honourable there ever were; the first father and mother of all mankind. They had an absolute power and dominion over all creatures who were all were subject to them . None except them ever had a true monarchy over the whole world.

(e) The way they were married showed the greatest consideration ever was used in instituting any ordinance. For first the three glorious persons in the Trinity meet to take counsel about it. “The Lord God said.” And to whom should He speak? Not to any creature but to the One begotten of Himself, that Wonderful, Counsellor, etc. In this consultation this ordinance is found to be very necessary. (“It is not good for man to be alone”) it is determined then to make a suitable help for him. For the better effecting of this the Lord proceeds very deliberately, by various steps and degrees (a) all creatures are brought before him (b) all of them are carefully viewed and found unfit (c) woman is made as an excellent creature and presented to man (d) Adam manifesting delight in her she is given to him to be his wife (e) the inviolable law of the near and firm union of man and wife together is enacted.

When we consider carefully everything concerning the first institution of marriage expressly recorded by the Holy Spirit, we will easily see that there is no ordinance now in force among men so honourable in the institution, as this.

3. Marriage is Honourable in its Purposes

There are three main purposes.

(a) That the world might be increased with a legitimate offspring and with distinct families, which are the seminaries of cities and commonwealths. Also that the Church might be preserved and propagated in the world by a holy seed (Malachi 2:15).

(b) To avoid fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2) and possess our vessels in holiness and honour. This adds much to the honour of marriage. It shows that marriage is like a haven to those who are in jeopardy of their salvation through the gusts of temptations to lust. No sin is more hereditary than this lust or more partaken of by the children of Adam.

(c) That man and wife might be a mutual help to one another (Genesis 2:18). A help to bring up as well as bring forth children, to govern a family well as much as to establish it. A help for ordering prosperity well and bearing adversity well. A help in sickness and in health.  A help while both live together, and in the time when one is taken by death from the other. In this respect it is said that they both find a good thing (Proverbs 18:22). There is no help a man can have from any other creature as from a wife, or a woman from a husband.

4. Marriage is Honourable in its Privileges

What is the privilege, advantage, and profit of marriage? I answer, much every way.

(a) By it men and women are made husbands and wives.

(b) It is the only lawful means to make them fathers and mothers.

(c) It is the most effectual means possible of continuing a person’s name and memory in this world. Children are living memorials and representations of their parents.

(d) Many privileges have traditionally been granted to those who are married.

5. Marriage is Honourable in What it Represents

There is a great mystery set forth by marriage, namely the sacred, spiritual, real, and inviolable union between Christ and His Church. This is excellently deciphered in the Song of Solomon and Psalm 45 and expressly noted in Ephesians 5:32.

In this way a man and wife who love one another entirely, as they ought, have an evident demonstration of Christ’s love to them. Just as parents by their affection towards their children may better discern the mind and meaning of God towards them, so married people better know the disposition of Jesus Christ, who is the spouse of every faithful soul.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Can Evangelicals Save Marriage? It explores the impact our culture has had on perceptions of marital union. The key focus is on how to live out Christian character and grace in the context of marriage.

 

 

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Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?

Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?

Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
18 Feb, 2021

Marriage is in continued decline, falling to an all time low in many nations according to the latest statistics. And it’s not yet clear what impact the current crisis will have on the institution of matrimony. Despite studies that show marriage is good for society, its relevance is widely undermined. Marriage is vital for the future of the church as well as society as well as for the glory of God. It gives us a picture of Christ and the church. Research shows that while rates of marriage are higher amongst evangelicals, they are following the same downward trend. The Future of Christian Marriage is a book that examines the trends among young people identifying as Christians across different nations. It reveals that marriage is seen as more of a nice to have aspiration than a need to have essential. It seems that our view of marriage needs to be changed if we are going to preserve it. Not only that but we need to change. And that change is something we all need (married or unmarried) as we will see.​

In The Future of Christian Marriage, Mark Regenerus writes, “As a researcher, studying the demise of marriage has been like watching an invasive fungus slowly destroy a stately old oak tree.” What is the disease that is attacking marriage? The same pervasive disease that is attacking the church and society. It’s the prevailing principle (indeed idolatry) in our culture: expressive individualism. It proclaims that the highest good is individual freedom and self-expression. Its chief purpose is therefore to glorify and enjoy ourselves as we choose, resisting anything that would constrain.

It influences us in subtle ways and more than we care to admit. Its impact on marriage is clear. Marriage is either delayed or abused by pursuing individualist goals. We need more than some light touch teaching about the benefits of marriage and what it will bring us in fulfilment. We need to have the spirit of loving self-sacrifice that Scripture puts at the heart of marriage and all relationships. This is why it is so counter-cultural. “The oak will not perish” says Regenerus. “In fact, marriage will increasingly become ‘a Christian thing,’ which means the church will bear increasing responsibility for an institution with an uncertain future.” But this will only be carried out faithfully as we implement the challenging teaching of Scripture in this area.

The classic passage to go to in relation to marriage is Ephesians 5:21-33. The last verse sums up in two succinct statements the key responsibilities that Paul has expanded on. The key principle is self-denial in the fear of God, because we have already given ourselves first to the Lord. This is to be expressed in their love (Titus 2:4; Colossians 3:19), sharing in what they have and living together (1 Peter 3:7), mutually bearing one another’s burdens and weaknesses (Galatians 6:2). In other words they are to live out Christian character and grace in the context of marriage. The husband must not seek his own and love himself more than his wife, he must love her as himself (Ephesians 5:28-29). The wife must equally deny herself in respect and submission to her spouse (v22).

The verse that opens this section outlines this key principle of mutual submission and self-denial (v21). He gives a general exhortation that applies to all members of families. As James Fergusson observes, the submission Paul speaks of here is that service of love which everyone owes to each other for their mutual good and benefit in their respective roles and relationships (Galatians 5:13). It is submission to others that flows from a principle of love to them, and actually intends their good and advantage. It must be done with a humble spirit, being willing to debase ourselves not proudly thinking our duty to others is beneath us. It is to be done in the fear of God because humbling ourselves in this way is an evidence of fearing God and because it is the reason why we do it (Colossians 3:22-23). The fear of God defines the extent of our submission to others, since we are not to submit to more than or in opposition to God. In this updated extract there are lessons for all of us.

1. Denying Ourselves Glorifies God

We are not to neglect the duties of our calling and those which we owe to others by pretending that we have to engage in the worship God instead. God allows us time for both, we are to take time for both. It is consistent to have a conscientious regard for both. The apostle instructs both duties of worship (v19-20) and towards others (v21ff) as it were in one breath. This is clear from the grammatical construction of the words in the original “giving thanks always….submitting yourselves one to another”.

2. Denying Ourselves Manifests God’s Grace

Conscientiously discharging the duties we owe to our neighbour in our various responsibilities (in a way acceptable to God) requires an abundant quantity of the saving work of God’s Spirit in the heart. It is no less necessary in these duties that in those of God’s worship and service. Verse 21 depends on and is constructed with verse 18, so that we read it “Be filled with the Spirit…submitting yourselves”. [i.e. These verses belong together in one connected thought showing the effects of the Spirit’s influence, “be filled with the Spirit …Speaking to yourselves…Giving thanks always…Submitting yourselves”].

3. Denying Ourselves is For Everyone

There is no-one living whom God allows to live only to themselves. Everyone is obliged to inconvenience themselves in their respective employments for the good and benefit of others. Even those in authority must do this for the good of those under their responsibility. This command is given to everyone without exception: “submitting yourselves one to another.”

4. Denying Ourselves is Mutually Beneficial

As God has obliged us not to live to ourselves alone, but also to others (whose good we are to aim at in our place and position) so He has provided for a mutual benefit or reward. In this way there is a kind of equality. He has obliged others to live to us and in one way or another do things for our good and advantage also. Both this command and the obligation on which it is based are reciprocal; “submitting yourselves one to another”.

5. Denying Ourselves Pleases God

Where the fear of God is rooted in the heart, it will make a person conscientiously careful and sensitive in relation to their duty towards others. They will not only do their duty, but also do it from a right principle and motive. This will keep them from overdoing things and displeasing God, while they endeavour to please others. The fear of God is the fountain, motive and rule of that submission which is here prescribed “submitting one to another in the fear of God.”

Further Reading

Worldwide Statistics on Marriage and Divorce 

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Is the Christian Family Disappearing in a Post-Familial Age?

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

 

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How to Share The Faith With Your Child

How to Share The Faith With Your Child

How to Share The Faith With Your Child
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
23 Jan, 2020

Controversy recently surrounded the directives laid down by an ex-evangelical who counsels people to raise their children “unfundamentalist”. “Do not evangelize a child”, Cindy Wang Brandt commanded in a tweet. “Your religion does not have a right to stake claim to a child’s allegiance.” We might ask what authority she has for her edicts and what she believes should claim a child’s allegiance. She thinks children should be shaped by certain “progressive” values, but who says these are the right ones? It’s still a call to evangelise children, only with agnosticism. Christian parents face a stark choice: if we don’t evangelise our children, the world will. It’s not about imposing our personal religion. The God who created and sustains them has a claim on them as moral creatures. Their ultimate purpose for living is to love and serve Him with all that they are. Not to raise children diligently in relation to this is the greatest possible neglect.

How will you prepare your children for the future when you don’t know what that future will hold? That’s a thought that can quickly overwhelm any parent but it’s one for which the Christian parent should be well equipped. It begins with realising that God’s truth is sufficient for living in God’s world. God’s Word is sufficient for teaching us all that we need to know for life and godliness.

1. Share the Faith Comprehensively

Teach them to remember what God’s Word says. That way they can recall it whenever they need it and it will shape their thinking. This is the importance of catechising. When children have the complete system of doctrine stored in their minds it not only shapes their thinking, it protects them from error.

In addition to teaching them what to think, we also have to teach them how to think. Show them how to discover Scripture’s doctrine for themselves. They will then be able to apply Scripture to any future challenges they encounter.

The authority of Scripture is what undergirds this. How are children to be raised? “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This involves loving spiritual instruction and discipline. It can be done in a wrong and deficient way. We can be stumbling blocks to our children through a bad attitude and example. This is why the Apostle Paul prefaces these words with a caution against provoking our children to wrath and anger.

Sharing the faith with our children is a process of discipleship, patiently teaching and correcting them over many years. We want to see them embrace Christ by faith for themselves and live for Him and so we will stress the urgency of eternal realities but also the need to devote our whole lives to Christ. In the midst of busy family lives it may seem challenging to make room for nurturing our children in faith but what could be more important? It will not simply happen spontaneously, we have to set aside time for it and patiently commit ourselves to it.

James Fergusson has some helpful comments on Ephesians 6:4 and how it counsels us to share our faith with our children. It is a verse that outlines the duty of parents in a way that carries a necessary caution. We have to recognise that we can be apt to abuse our parental authority.

2. Share the Faith Without Embittering Them

There are various ways in which we can provoke our children to anger or embitter their spirits.

  • by denying them their due, in food, clothing or means of education (Lamentations 4:3).
  • by commanding things that are in themselves unjust (1 Samuel 20:31).
  • by unjust and rigorous commands about things that are in themselves indifferent (1 Samuel 14:29).
  • by castigating them with bitter words, especially when there is no cause, (1 Samuel 20:30).
  • by chastising them unjustly, when there is no fault (1 Samuel 20:33)
  • by chastising them too harshly or at the wrong time and in a wrong way when there is a fault.

3. Share the Faith Practically

Paul guards us from the other extreme of too much indulgence towards our children. He exhorts us to bring them up, or (as it is in the original) to nourish them. This includes not only giving them what they need to be sustained from the womb onwards (Genesis 21:7). It also means making provision for their future (2 Corinthians 12:14). It involves training them up in any lawful employment by which they may be able under God to sustain themselves and their own (Genesis 4:2).

4. Share the Faith Intelligently

Parents must combine nurture and admonition with the education of their children. Nurture means timely and compassionate correction (Proverbs 13:24). Admonition means informing their understanding, teaching them how they ought to conduct themselves towards God in religious things (Genesis 18:19). Teach them also how to conduct themselves towards others in righteousness, politeness and good manners. This is also a great part of the duty of parents towards children (Proverbs 31:1, 8, 9).

5. Share the Faith Evangelistically

Their education must be in the admonition of the Lord Christ. This means, as becomes Christians, and by which young ones are instructed primarily in the knowledge of God’s Word, of Jesus Christ, and of the way of salvation declared by Him.

6. Share the Faith With Natural Affection

The prevalence and influence of sin in the souls of fallen men and women is so great that in some it entirely extinguishes, or greatly weakens the most intense of our natural affections. It can make them run in the opposite direction from that which they ought to. The apostle assumes that in some parents even natural affection to their own children will be weakened to such an extent. They will provoke them to anger and embitter them through unnatural behaviour towards them.

7. Share the Faith Without Provoking Them

To provoke or stir up others to sin makes us guilty before the Lord. It makes us guilty of those sins which we provoke others to commit (Hosea 6:9). Paul forbids and condemns this as sin in parents’ behaviour towards their children. Everyone naturally has such little command over their passions (especially when provoked by real injuries from others) that the strongest of natural bonds cannot keep them under and in order. Unless restrained by grace, they will transgress their bounds. Even children cannot put up with injuries from their very parents, without being incited to sinful anger. Indeed the corruption of some children is such that they can endure less from their parents than from anyone else.

8. Share the Faith Diligently

A necessary duty is not to be neglected under the pretence that others may us it for an occasion to sin against the Lord. In particular, parents are not to withhold timely and necessary correction from their children, even though their children would be enraged and provoked to anger by it. Even though Paul forbids them from provoking their children to anger, he will not have them use that pretence to neglect to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

9. Share the Faith in a Balanced Way

People are most ready to run from one extreme of any sin to the other. They go from extravagant expenditure to sinful miserliness, from rigidity to too much lenience. So the servants of Christ, while they are dissuading people from one extreme need most carefully to guard, lest under pretence of avoiding that, people rush to the other. While the apostle forbids too much rigidity in parents, he sees it necessary to guard them against the other extreme of too much indulgence and lenience. So he emphasises, “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

10. Share the Faith with Love for their Souls

It is the duty of parents, not only to provide for the bodies and outward condition of their children, but also, and mainly to care for their souls. They must endeavour by all means possible to bring them up as sons and daughters for the Lord Almighty. As they are to bring them up or nourish them, so they are also to suppress sin in them by nurture or correction. They are to make them know Jesus Christ the Lord.

11. Share the Faith in the Way that You Correct Them

As parents have to correct their children from time to time they must not do it to satisfy their own rage. Rather, they must engage in it with a composed mind, as service required by God. They must aiming mainly at how the child can  amend their faults. In order to do this they need to combine instruction and admonition with correction. They must also seek the blessing of Christ to accompany it. The apostle says that nurture and admonition must be united together, and both of them must be in the Lord.

Further Reading

The article What’s Missing From Your Home? considers what it means to make the things of God real within family life in the home. The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

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Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
2 Aug, 2019

This false religion is generally welcomed into the home many times in a day and influences the whole family. This isn’t the cults that only knock on the door nor the major religions studied at school. It helps most people understand and define themselves, providing value and meaning to life and the world. All of life can be influenced by it. It seems to guarantee happiness and fulfilment–without Christ. It’s the false religion of consumerism and it is preached by many of the media messages we are presented with each day. Brands do not sell products but self-image: “You are what you consume”. From newspapers and magazines to TV and the internet–it is inescapable.  The cult of choice can easily dominate our lives.

Secular observers have often recognised the way that excessive and obsessive consumption or consumerism has become the new national religion. “Consumerism has shouldered aside other ways of understanding the world—real political visions, organised religion, a pulsating sense of national identity” writes Andrew Marr in A History of Modern Britain. It’s no accident that advertisers exploit spiritual themes such as the brevity of life; even the most mundane products can be marketed as having spiritual value.

Consumerism has pushed further into our whole way of viewing the world. Choice and freedom are the absolutes. Whether it is relationships, identities, genders, philosophies or anything–just choose and try it out. See what suits you, there are other options to experiment with. But in an age of Starbuck’s services, church shopping and limited commitment, where many prefer relevance over reverence–we needn’t think that evangelical Christians are in any way immune from it. In fact the whole approach to church growth movement has, ironically, often mandated a consumerist approach.  Is consumerism the Achan in the camp?

The Bible plainly tells us that consumerism is a false religion. Covetousness and greed are idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). It captures our heart (Matthew 6: 19-21). Consumerism is insatiable and will demand all of our service and devotion; it will not share anything with God (Matthew 6:24). It’s a deceitful false gospel (Matthew 13:22). It makes us discontented while promising a contentment that will never be attained. This is the reverse of what the Bible teaches (Hebrews 13:5). Consumerism reverses the biblical perspective by focussing our attention on the temporary rather than the eternal, the present rather than the future, the earthly rather than the heavenly (2 Corinthians 4:18).

It’s not of course that owning or buying things are wrong in themselves, it’s the impact that this has on us and the time and energy we devote to it. We are constantly, implicitly told each day that Christ was wrong about the value of life not consisting in what we consume (Luke 12:15). Which message do we really believe? How do we live godly in a world of relentless consumerism? In this updated extract James Fergusson has some wise counsel drawn from what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:3 and 5.

 

1. What is Consumerism?

Covetousness is an immoderate desire (Hebrews 13:5) to acquire (Micah 2:2) or to preserve worldly goods (Proverbs 11:24, 26).

 

2. How is it a False Religion?

Whatever thing someone gives the outward or inward worship and service due to God alone is that person’s god. They are guilty of idolatry and giving divine worship to a false god even though they may not think they are doing this. The covetous person is called an idolater (Ephesians 5:5) and consequently riches are their god. This is because they devote to these things their prime affections of love and confidence to an extent that is due to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16; Proverbs 18:11).

The covetous person believes that possessions are a universal good which will completely satisfy (Luke 12:19). But this is only true of God Himself (2 Corinthians 9:8). A covetous person’s desire and attitude towards possessions keep him from making use of them (Ecclesiastes 6:2). Covetous people serve possessions with their heart in the same way as some god is usually served (Matthew 6:24).

Covetousness consists in an immoderate desire to acquire or keep worldly riches. It is not just a sin that provides oil to make all other sins burn, it has a kind of idolatry in it. This is because it draws away our love, trust, fear and joy, from God and from serving Him. Instead we are taken up with and expend ourselves on wealth and riches.

 

3. How Bad is it?

In both Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 covetousness is singled out together with sexual immorality as being especially loathsome and contradictory to a Christian profession. They are corrupt lusts and affections which are said to be on the earth (Colossians 3:5), because they draw the soul down towards earth. He mentions those which are sensual as tending to fulfil our unlawful pleasures.

There is a great affinity and similarity between the lusts of filthiness and covetousness. When someone yields to the former it requires the lecherous person to thirst after and by indirect means purchase worldly goods, to maintain in a special way this lust of uncleanness.

 

4. How Do We Root it Out of Our Hearts?

(a) Put it to Death

Putting sin to death means that a sinner who is conscious of the evil of sin (Acts 2:37-38) honestly resolves (Job 34:31) and endeavours (2 Corinthians 7:11) to subdue sin thoroughly–root and branch–or put it to death. It is not putting to death only one sin but all known sins (Hosea 14:2).

This is done by carefully avoiding the things that give occasion to sin (Job 31:1). It means using every means which may help to subdue it: prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8); hearing the Word (1 Peter 2:1-2) and in some cases, fasting (Mark 9:29). But the primary means is exercising faith in Christ for strength (Philippians 4:13). This is such a necessary activity that the life of glory to be manifested at Christ’s second coming cannot be attained without it. He connects their appearing with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:4) with this by using the word “therefore” (v5) to show that putting sin to death is essential. Putting sin to death is not completed instantly. The best of Christians must make it their daily task to put sin to death.

(b) Avoid Things That Stir it Up

We are set against sin in reality when we pursue it to the den and labour to pull it up by the very roots. We do this by withdrawing from the things which add fuel to it. Paul wants them to go beyond addressing the outward acts to the inward root of evil desire. They must also set themselves covetousness which feeds and nourishes lust.

(c) Don’t Tolerate it

Paul says that sexual immorality and covetousness must not even be named among believers (Ephesians 5:3). This means that they should not name them with delight and without disgust.  It  is of course lawful to name them in order to reprove them, as the apostle does here. He urges this as necessary in those who were saints–separated from the world and dedicated to God. It was therefore most unfitting for them to defile themselves with such filthy lusts.

It is not enough for saints to abstain from practising gross sin outwardly. Their outward abstinence must flow from detesting them inwardly. Outward abstinence may well make someone outwardly respectable but not a sincere Christian.

(d) Value Your True Identity

The only life that is fitting for saints is to keep themselves pure in heart, tongue and hand from the pollution of fleshly lusts and the immoderate love of worldly goods. When professing saints yield to these things they walk unworthy of their high and heavenly calling; they stain their profession; and declare themselves unworthy of the name of saints (Ephesians 5:3).  Paul shows that the behaviour that befits saints is not practising those evils and inward detesting them; this is made evident not speaking of them.

(e) Look Heavenward

Paul exhorts that, being risen with Christ, they would earnestly seek, know and (from knowledge), delight in things which are above (Colossians 3:1-2). Things above are heaven, happiness, and all spiritual graces. They are not to seek and delight in things earthly, such as riches, honours and pleasures. This is because Christ is their Head, their Husband and He is above at the right hand of God. He is completely glorified and entrusted with full power to distribute all things for His people’s good (Ephesians 1:20, 22).

The saving graces of God’s Spirit are things above as well as heaven and glory. These graces come from above (James 3:17) and elevate the heart of those who have them above earthly things. They raise the heart to seek communion with God now so that they may live above with God forever (Philippians 3:20-21).

Heaven and the saving graces which lead us to it are to be sought diligently.  The original word means a diligent search by those who have a vehement desire to have what they seek for  (see 1 Peter 5:8; Mark 12:12). If we seek heaven and heavenly things with this kind of diligence, it will be because we know something of the worth which is in them and know how to value them. We are to set our minds, affections and will on things above  We are to know them, and knowing them to desire them and therefore seek them.

Earthly things and heavenly things are in two opposite sides of the scales:  the more the heart is given to the one, the less it is to the other. We are to set our hearts on things above, not on things on the earth. 

(f) Use the Things of This World Carefully

We may use the world and the things in it and seek after them in a moderate way (1 Timothy 5:8). But we must not pursue these things in opposition but rather in subordination to heavenly things. They must not be sought as our ultimate goal and purpose (Psalm 49:11). They must not be sought by unlawful means (Ephesians 4:28) or by neglecting God’s worship (Matthew 6:33). We must also submit to God when He brings about disappointments in relation to them (Job 1:21).

Since believers are dead to sin (Colossians 3:3) they are not to place their happiness in earthly things or to be sinfully eager in seeking after them. This is a strong argument for not enslaving our affections to earthly things. If this was the case it is proof that sin is still reigning and being kept alive rather than put to death.

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Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
27 Sep, 2018

You can protect your children with the best intellectual arguments and the strictest controls on unhealthy influences. Yet the all-important matter is a life that matches up to what we profess. Scripture tells us this (Proverbs 22:6; Genesis 18:19). Recent research confirms this (for what it may be worth).  One study concludes that the degree to which parents consistently live out their professed convictions has a strong impact on when and whether their children become atheists. Of course such research leaves no room for the grace of God. Yet we know from Scripture that example can have a powerful impact through God’s grace (Matthew 5:16; 1 Timothy 4:12; Philippians 3:17). What does our life say about what we believe?​

It’s a huge responsibility. We are so imperfect. But we need to use this too to show our children that we (like them) are sinners in need of grace. How can we be more real? We can only be the best example we can be if we follow the best example ourselves. The Apostle Paul underlines the importance of parental example when he commands us to be “followers of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). We are to show mutual kindness and mercy in forgiving one another, because of Gods example in forgiving them for Christ’s sake (Ephesians 4:32). They are to be followers of God in showing kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Following God in these things is commanded in Matthew 5:44-45 and Luke 6:35. In 1 Peter 1:16 it relates to all the virtues that we can display in following God.

Paul gives a reason why they should imitate God in this way. It is because they were His children by adoption. They are not only children, but dear children and dearly beloved by God their Father. They are therefore to imitate Him in displaying those virtues that would evidence themselves to be of His children.

 

1. We Have God’s Example

God’s works of mercy towards believers not only free them from sin and misery but also given them a motive to show mercy to others.  God in forgiving them has created a pattern to be followed by believers in forgiving one another and be “followers of God”.

2. We Must Follow God’s Example as Far as We Can

We neither ought nor can imitate God in His works of creation and providence (Isaiah 14:13-14). Neither can we presume to imitate Him in anything beyond His revealed will prescribes as our duty, (Isaiah 8:20). We should, however, look at whether there is any resemblance between any of His attributes or actions and any virtue or duty prescribed for us. We ought to look on it as a pattern for us to follow. He says “followers of God” in relation to His forgiving them for Christ’s sake.

3. We Must Follow God’s Example in How as Well as What He Does

It is not enough to do to others the same things which God has done to us.  We must also seek to follow Him in the way in which He does them. This will mean we do not do them from any base motive or wrong objective but rather from a desire to be conformed to Him and what He requires of us in His Word. Following God implies an endeavour to conform ourselves to Him.

4. We Have No Excuse for Not Following God’s Example

God’s example (in the things where we can follow it) is the only unerring pattern to be absolutely followed without any reserve. Anyone else’s practice is only to be followed as far as their example co-oincides with God’s Word and practice. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul commands them to follow him with an express qualification, as far as he was a follower of Christ. Here his command is absolute and unlimited: be followers of God.

5. We Have the Strongest Motives to Follow God’s Example

The Lord enters into the most intimate friendship and relationship with those whose sins He pardons. He not only frees them from deserved wrath but places them among the children and makes them His adopted sons and daughters. He calls them here God’s dear children, of whom He said in chapter 4:32 that God had forgiven them for Christ’s sake.

All those who are dear children to God by adoption should consider their highest privileges as the strongest motives for duty. In particular they must set themselves to imitate Him in showing mercy, kindness, forgiveness the other duties that He has made lovely by His own example. Paul makes their privileges a motive to imitate God and be followers of God as dear children.

6. We Must Follow God’s Example Lovingly

We must not only seek to imitate God, but also do it as dear children. This means following Him humbly (Matthew 18:2-3). It also means natural affection (children love to imitate and so please their parents) not being compelled as servants and slaves. He says “as dear children” pointing out not only why but how, they should follow Him.

Conclusion

“Do as I say, not as I do”, is not a good enough maxim for Christians or for Christian parents. A great deal depends not only on what parents say to their children but whether they themselves do as they say. Thomas Gouge (1605-1681) wrote a lot about how life in the home should be shaped by God’s Word. He says that when children follow the good example of their parents in spiritual things and upright living it preserves their influence even after their death. He points to how Scripture stresses that the good kings of Judah were following David’s example (1 Kings 3:3; 2 Kings 22:2). Yet it is solemn to think that the reverse influence may also continue from the example of parents (Genesis 12:10-20; 26:7-11).

In what we have considered we have great encouragement to seek to have the image of God more and more renewed in us. Although we fail frequently, we have the resources of grace to be the example we ought to our children. The mercy of God in forgiving is held out to us as an encouragement to followers of Him and provide an example to all around us.

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Is the Christian Family Disappearing in a Post-Familial Age?

Is the Christian Family Disappearing in a Post-Familial Age?

Is the Christian Family Disappearing in a Post-Familial Age?
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.
4 May, 2018

One phrase stood out in the comments on the sad headlines about the plight and death of little Alfie Evans last week. This heart-wrenching case moved many across a large number of countries. Ross Douthat wrote of a wider “tendency to arrogate power away from the family” to “the system” in “the coming world of post-familialism”. It is “not just an issue for extreme medical cases, it applies to many other situations in our post-modern culture as well”. Government begins to assume the roles, responsibilities and rights of parents. But they are moving into a space that modern society is vacating. Post-familialism means moving beyond the family as the most basic unit of civilisation. It is replaced by individualism and personal fulfilment. Even where families exist modern life seems to have eroded relationships. The Bible focuses on family a great deal, we need to follow its cue.

Few wrote more extensively about how to shape family life according to Scripture than William Gouge (1575–1653). He takes his foundation principles from Ephesians 5:21 “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God”. This means having the same affection towards one another, “serving one another in love, according to the Apostle’s rule. Let this duty of submission be first well learned, and then all other duties will be better performed”.

Gouge stressed that the family is the foundation of the Church and nation. It is like a beehive “out of which are sent many swarms of bees”.  God first placed us into a family (and it is important to note that married people are a family) and provided for the future of mankind in that way. Gouge notes that “husband and wife, parent and child were before” rulers and subjects, ministers and congregations. When God destroyed the world with a flood he preserved humanity by means of a family. “A family is a little Church and a little commonwealth”. It is the training ground for authority, order and obedience in society.

Gouge was a member of the Westminster Assembly. This body of pastors and statesmen also focussed on the family in the documents they carefully crafted for the Church. They showed of course how the Church is a family and how adoption brings us into God’s family. Various members preached and wrote about the reformation needed in the family so that it would be glorifying to God.

One of the contemporaries of the Westminster Assembly who ministered in London was the presbyterian Robert Abbott (1588?–1662?). He published a book in a similar vein to Gouge called A Christian family builded by God. He uses the verse Psalm 127:1 to show how families must be built by God or they will not be happy and blessed. In a practical way he goes on to consider this in different aspects of family life.  Building a Christian home is not simply about going to Church and having some Christian interests and activities that influence the family in a vague way. He also shows how members of the extended family have a role in the family. How does God build Christian families?

 

1. The Importance of God Building the Family

The first government there ever was in this world was in a family. The first disorder there ever was in the world was also in a Family. All the disorders that have every happened since have sprung from families. If families had been better, Churches and communities would have prospered all the way along. It would be and would have been a thousand times better with them if:

  • young and old had been right set before they entered into a family;
  • the family was founded in marriage in the Lord;
  • relations between wife and husband, children and parents were conducted in a holy way according to the rule of Christ;
  • the house been furnished with a wise, holy, and careful father and mother of the family;
  • the house had furnished with just getting and giving.

 

2. The Materials With Which God Builds a Family

If we want to have blessed families we must get them built by God. Husband, wife and children must not be like rotten posts or like straw, hay and stubble on a good foundation. They must be built by God. The whole house must be finished and furnished by God. Abraham was built by God and see how he teaches his family (Genesis 18:19). Joshua was built by God and see what he says (Joshua 24:15). Naomi was built by God and notice what is said about her (Ruth 1:16 and 3:1).

If a whole family is built in this way, what a joint serving of God there is. Husbands, and wives are faithful; children are obedient; goods are blessed. Most complain (and they have just cause) that husbands are drunkards and tyrants, wives are stubborn and children are disorderly. More complain that there is little love, much contention, many fights, floods of drunkenness and volleys of oaths. The reason of it all is because they are not built by God.

 

3. How Does God Build Families?

God’s building is a family well ordered by the Word of God. It is an orderly head and orderly members in fitting mutual relations with each other. An orderly head is one who can with good conscience say, “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart” (Psalm 101:2). Orderly members are those that depend on the head and can say with a good conscience what Ruth said to Naomi in Ruth 1:16.

The Word of God is the rule by which this house is built. A house must be built “through wisdom” (Proverbs 24:3-4). Not the wisdom of the world, for that is foolishness: but that of the Word. We may use common sense and natural wisdom to establish good order in the family. We read of this in Scripture (Proverbs 31:15-16). But beware of natural wisdom that conflicts with God’s Word. Observe four rules in this: (a) It must not prejudice the honour of God; (b). It must not prejudice the truth of a good conscience; (c) It must not prejudice the justice which is due to man; and (d) It must not stretch further than our callings. First consider whether the thing to be done is lawful or unlawful; second whether it is within your calling.

 

Conclusion

We should be concerned about the way that the state encroaches on the rights of parents and undermines the family. We need more than this however. We need families built with the right foundation of Christ and His Word (Matthew 7:24-27). Without the right foundation we can have successful careers, bank balances and to do lists but not blessed families. We will build but we will “labour in vain” (Psalm 127:1). If families lack such a foundation it will affect the Church and Nation who are in turn built on families. Let’s start with ourselves. 

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A Family Day…of Worship

A Family Day…of Worship

A Family Day…of Worship
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.
1 Apr, 2016

In the recent “Keep Sunday Special” campaign against extending “Sunday Trading” it was said frequently that the Lord’s Day is “a family day”. From one point of view this is not correct at all. The Lord’s Day is the Lord’s Day. Yet the fourth commandment does have a lot to say about families. About how they should keep the Lord’s Day together as a day of worship. So in one sense it is a family day. Not a day for the family to do as it wishes and do what pleases them but a day for the family to obtain an eternal perspective.

The Larger Catechism (Q117) shows the various matters required in the fourth commandment. One of them is “the public and private exercises of God’s worship”. As well as attending Church, we are to seek to worship God in private in the way described in Isaiah 58:13. As well as personal devotions, this includes family worship: reading and explaining Scripture, prayer and praise.

The Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities. They can have spiritual discussions about the sermon that they have heard and other things that they read together. Catechising is another vital way of saturating the minds of your family in the truth.

It is interesting that the Larger Catechism emphasises the family dimension of the fourth commandment. In Q118 it asks “Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors?” The answer it gives cuts across some of the individualised ideas of religion cherished in our own day. “The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge”. Parents have a responsibility to direct their children with wisdom to seek spiritual priorities on this day and lay aside whatever may distract from that.

James Durham focusses on how we should worship God privately not only as individuals but as families. He shows how the fourth commandment commands famiy worship, particularly on the Lord’s Day. The following is an updated extract from a free e-book that you can download at the bottom of this post.

The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) requires family worship distinct from public and secret worship. It requires the worship of God amongst those that are related to each other, which is not required of others in the same way.

 

1. Not Just Secret Worship

It cannot simply mean the head of the family engaging in secret worship himself and directing the members of the family to seek and worship God separately. Although that is worship, it is not family worship jointly offered by those in a family relationship more than if they were not in such a relationship or family.

While it might be said that those individuals kept the Sabbath holy, it could not be said that the family as such did. Even as families seeking God in secret does not replace public worship in the congregation if it is possible to attend. In the same way that this commandment requires a congregation and minister to come together in order to keep the Lord’s Day so it requires a family and its head to worship together.

 

2. Joint Worship within the Home

More is required in this commandment than keeping the Sabbath holy individually even within one family distinct from another. If the Lord only addressed individuals in the commandment without repeating son, daughter etc. this would have required secret worship as individuals only. Identifying each members of the whole family must imply something else. Individual duty is implied in all the commandments.

Special worship is implied here because the fourth commandment speaks of those within a man’s gates or doors. Ordinarily this does not include the congregation or people from other families. It extends to the members of a family who are within a man’s gates or doors. It must therefore be distinct family worship mainly performed by that family together.

 

3. What it Involves

The duties required by the Lord’s Day imply this. These include instructing, exhorting and admonishing one another. Comforting, strengthening and talking with one another of the Word (Deuteronomy 6:7-8). These are undeniably duties for the Lord’s Day, but they can only be done together. It follows that family-worship, at least on the Lords-day, is commanded here. If families are called to worship God together on the Lords-day in its particular duties they are also called to worship him jointly on other days in a way befitting to that time.

 

4. Me and My House

Families are required to worship God in this way on the Lord’s Day. Even if there was no public worship of God to attend. If no other family in the world worshipped God, they are still required to do so. Joshua said that whatever anyone else would do, he and his house would serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).   Sanctifying His sabbath is a special aspect of serving God. Suppose there was no worship of God in the whole world except in one family. This worship would be a joint family worship: “me and my house”. Otherwise, it would be the same as saying that there might be many worshippers of God in the world but they did not need to join together in worship. This is absurd and certainly contrary to Joshua’s religious resolve.

Our online store offers various booklets including one entitled Family Worship. This gives practical guidance in all of the aspects of family worship, including the Lord’s Day. Click here to view sample and purchase.

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9 Spiritual Benefits from Family Worship

9 Spiritual Benefits from Family Worship

9 Spiritual Benefits from Family Worship
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
5 Feb, 2016

Families today are under intense pressure. Frequently, they are struggling to keep up with the relentless pace. Activities, expectations and ever-changing peer pressures all make their demands. It can seem like parenting takes place within a maelstrom of economic, social and media pressures.  They take their toll on those who strive towards faithful parenting. Against this, it might seem that daily family worship is just one more pressure. In fact, it is a relief from other pressures and an opportunity to get family life in true perspective. It is a means of grace especially designed to strengthen family life in the midst of intense pressure. Many advantages could be emphasised but the spiritual benefits are of greatest value.

The following list of spiritual benefits has been updated and extracted from a longer piece on family worship by James Durham.  These benefits focus on the long term spiritual good of family members. They also focus on the benefits for parents personally. These benefits are not mechanically generated. As with any means of grace, we must engage with God and His Word in a spiritual way with faith and dependence. They do not the guarantee that your children will be truly converted or that you will never have problems in the family. Yet is a special means which God has appointed to bless families and parents. 

1. FAMILY WORSHIP Increases God’s Delight in You

He gives special approval, testimony and commendation to family worship. God has great delight and satisfaction in those who practice it diligently and faithfully (Genesis 18:19).

2. FAMILY WORSHIP Increases Your Nearness to God

It advances to a high degree of familiarity with God. Those who are faithful in family worship may experience sweet fellowship with God. He may, as He sees fit, share His mind with them (Genesis 18:19 compared with verses 17 and 18). 

3. Family Worship Brings Spiritual Blessing to Your Family

Family worship is easily and often followed with blessing to the family. This may be to a greater or lesser extent. It promotes the spiritual good of members of the family and builds them up spiritually. The father may see this during his own lifetime or it may be more evident when he is gone. In Genesis 18: 19 God says that Abraham will “command his children and household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord”. Note carefully the phrase, “they shall keep”.  This emphasise that it brings promised blessings on the head of the family. The Lord promises to bring upon Abraham the promises He had made to him.

4. Family Worship Increases Your Family’s Knowledge of God

What abundant growth in the knowledge of God there would be in the Church if every head of the home was conscientious in family religion! You need to pay particular attention to catechising and instructing their family to know the key principles of Christian truth. What can one minister do in this on his own if he has a large congregation? All negligent heads of families must answer to God for the souls of their children. Just as surely as the minister must answer for the souls of all under his charge. Fathers are as responsible for their children’s spiritual welfare as ministers are for their congregation.

5. Family Worship Helps Your Family Benefit from Public Worship

Worship as a family prepares the whole family to benefit from the preaching of the Word and the rest of public worship.

6. Family Worship Enables Your Family to Fulfil All Other Duties

Family worship is a useful and suitable help towards fulfilling all sorts of duties. In their respective capacities all members of the family have such duties and are in need of such help. 

7. Family Worship Helps Restrain Your Family from Outward Sins

Through God’s blessing it is a notable help to prevent many public scandals in the Church. Such scandals greatly dishonour the name of God and disgrace the profession of that name. 

8. Family Worship Strengthens Your Spiritual Leadership

If a man rules his own house well it greatly helps him rule in the house of God. Assuming he is otherwise qualified and called (1 Timothy 3:4). It also helps in any other sphere of service. 

9. Family Worship Helps Your Peace of Conscience

Diligence in family worship gives ease of conscience when we experience trials. This is particularly true when we come to die. But if we have failed to maintain it or altogether neglected it there will be many sad and bitter rebukes of conscience. This seems clear from David’s last words. “Although my house be not so with God” (2 Samuel 23:5).

Reflecting on these benefits helps to avoid entirely neglecting family worship or engaging in it in a careless way. These considerations underline with even greater seriousness the grievous sin of neglecting family worship. It is so clearly commanded, so much commended and urged in Scripture. It has been practised so much by godly people. Anyone who gives serious consideration to these things must clearly see how vital it is. They will see how much it is commended by such advantages but also severely threatened if neglected.

The Suburbs of Heaven: The Blessings of Family Worship is a brief inexpensive booklet that you can purchase at our store. It unfolds more of the spiritual benefits of family worship as well as clear and concise answers about how the Bible requires family worship.

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What’s Missing from Your Home?

What’s Missing from Your Home?

What’s Missing from Your Home?
Alexander Henderson (c. 1583 – 1646) was the most influential of the Covenanting ministers in the Church of Scotland who took the leading role in all major events, co-drafting the National Covenant (1638) and authoring the Solemn League and Covenant (1643). A three-time moderator of the General Assembly, he was one of the Scottish commissioners sent to the Westminster Assembly.
5 Nov, 2015

What’s missing from this photograph?

The answer is of course – handheld technology. Eric Pickersgill has deliberately removed smart phones from a series of photographs. Meanwhile, those in the photographs are posed as though still using them. The intention is to demonstrate visually how unreal our lives can look when we are joined to these devices.

It arose from the experience of being near a family in a café who were disconnected from interacting due to their devices. He says: “I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience”. There are of course benefits to technology. Perhaps it helps to connect and coordinate family members and their activities. In some cases, parents may read together with their children in a new way and share other interests together. Parents may have more time for their family if technology can be used to work in a more flexible way. These positives can also turn into opposite negatives, however. It is not the technology but rather how we choose to use it.

 

1. Missing the Main Thing

What is missing in the photograph? More than devices. Conversation, full attention, personal interest, family interaction etc. The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes. That is interacting about spiritual things. In the past, this was called family religion. It didn’t just mean saying grace before meals and going to Church. It meant the type of interaction that we read of in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. This is clearly natural interaction as part of family life. Spiritual realities are to have a powerful impact in our homes. This can only happen as it is made clear that technology and all other things must take a second place to the things of God.

 

2. God-centred Homes

Perhaps we should speak about a God-centred family more than family religion. This is what Joshua meant when he said “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). It should become natural that questions are asked and answered and discussion takes place. This can arise informally because it takes place regularly when the family worships God together. In these activities, we have a golden opportunity to communicate together in a meaningful way about the most important matters.

Why is family religion important? Because it shapes the lifelong attitude that children will have in relation to spiritual things. They take this with them where they go, whether in the life of the Church or of society. It brings the whole of life into an eternal and Godward perspective. George Whitefield believed that the spirituality of the early church could never be revived unless there was a revival of family religion. No wonder the Puritan Richard Baxter strongly exhorted ministers on this subject. He said: “if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion”.

 

3. Authentic Religion

Family Religion is our faith made real. It is easy to attend Church and engage in public and outward acts. Living out our faith in the everyday warp and woof of life is more challenging. Spiritual realities are made a vital part of life by family religion.

Family religion was one of the foundations laid by the Second Reformation in Scotland. Everything possible was done to encourage it. Family Worship draws on a guide produced by Alexander Henderson. In it he outlines what family religion should look like. Many writers describe it in terms of family instruction, worship and discipline (where required). Henderson’s definition goes wider.

The main matter he emphasises more than others is providence. In other words, teaching children how to understand and respond to the events of life. These may be blessings or difficulties requiring thanksgiving or earnest prayer. Our world is full of sad calamities personal and public. Our society does not know how best to deal with them. Certainly not in a way that is God-centred. There can be great outpourings of grief which people try to express in any way they think best. Children should be given an example of how to respond to these things in a God-honouring way.

1. Teaching or Catechising.

It is not enough that members of the family are catechised at Church. They must also be instructed in a plain and simple way at home. This will include the basic principles of Christianity and the doctrine which is according to godliness.

 

2. Prayer and thanksgiving

Morning and evening, before and after meals together with psalm-singing where possible.

 

3. Discipline exercised with wisdom and patience.

This is necessary for practising godliness. There must be warning, reproof and correction for faults that are appropriately dealt with in the family. For this reason the head ought to observe diligently the ways of all within the family.

 

4. Observing the providence of God.

We must learn about God from His works of justice and mercy both past and present.

 

5. Private fasting and humbling ourselves in response to God’s call in providence.

This may arise from public calamities or the private distress of the family.  The Scriptures read and the prayers poured out at this time must be relevant to the situation. Such duties help in abasing ourselves and strengthening our faith.

 

Whatever else may be missing from you home, it is vital for the glory of God and the good of your children that family religion prevails.

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This is the spirit of prayer that animated those who prayed for the Second Reformation to come in Scotland as a spiritual revival (read more about Scotland’s Greatest Revival).

How does it compare to prayer as we know it? As Thomas Watson put it: our prayers do not need eloquence but violence.

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Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?
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.
20 Oct, 2015

Most evangelicals are not caving in on the issue of same-sex “marriage”. That is encouraging. Yet biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose this. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society. Things are not so hopeful in relation to this.

This goes deeper into our whole attitude towards marriage. Is the Bible really supreme in our understanding of marriage? Evangelicals have surrendered to worldly views on marriage to a greater or lesser extent in many respects. A recent blog post is helpful in highlighting a few of these problems but we also need remedies.

 

1. Resisting a Redefined Basis for Marriage

Marriage is widely seen as solely an emotional, romantic bond between two adults. This was the basis of the argument to redefine it. A brief survey of popular evangelical books, articles and sermons reveals a similar view of marriage. The interpretation of the Song of Solomon has suffered in this regard. Yet this is not the only aspect of biblical teaching on marital love and responsibilities. It results in an unbalanced view of marriage. This unconsciously opens to the worldly view that marriage is worthless when romance becomes more challenging or even less fervid.

As Scripture asserts, marriage is a covenant (Malachi 2:14). It is a solemn vow before God. It reflects Christ’s covenant with His people. The Westminster Assembly emphasised this. The marriage vows in their Directory of Public Worship strongly affirm it. We must also insist that couples  regard their marriage as “the covenant of their God”.

 

2. Resisting a Redefined Purpose for Marriage

An exclusively romantic definition of marriage changes the whole purpose of marriage. It becomes largely self-absorbed. The worldly tendency to idolise the other half as the one who guarantees fulfilment for us.

Marriage is not simply about two people – this places too great expectation on one another. We need an outward focus to supplement the mutual bond. “Marriage was ordained” not only “for the mutual help of husband and wife” and “for preventing of uncleanness”. The Westminster Confession also asserts marriage was ordained “for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed”. The Church and society need strong, God-honouring families (Malachi 2:15). Strong families cannot be built on romantic attachment alone. Self-sacrificial love must radiate in every direction from the marriage bond. Even where children have not been given to a family, this should still be the case.

 

3. Resisting Redefined Limits for Marriage

The world makes an emotional bond and consent the main limit in relation to marriage. Restrictions around incest, age and numbers may exist but these are being eroded by the overwhelming emphasis on personal choice. For the same reasons biblical limits have been eroded among evangelicals. Scripture places distinct limits on marriage. These are summarised in the Westminster Confession.

There are religious limits. Christians should “marry only in the Lord”. “Therefore, such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters”. “Neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies”. This relates to who we should decide to marriage but not the grounds for divorce (see below).

There are family limits. The Confession rejects the idea that consent or men’s laws can remove God’s limits in any way.

“Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the Word; nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife”. Sadly, however, the wider limits of family relation imposed by Scripture have been eroded in law and ignored by evangelicals. The Confession asserts the biblical truth that we cannot marry our in-laws any more than we could marry our immediate family.

“The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own; nor the woman of her husband’s kindred nearer in blood than of her own”.

 

4. Resisting a Redefined Focus for Marriage

Who is the most important person in a marriage? In the view of the world it will probably be yourself and then your spouse. According to Scripture – it is God. The growing custom of having marriages on the Lord’s Day shows that this is not acknowledged as it ought to be among evangelicals. Even in Eden, marriage had an outward as well as internal focus. It was about God bringing two people together. It was for His glory. Couples can only engage in marriage in dependence upon God. The Westminster Directory says that God has “brought them together by his providence”. He must “sanctify them by his Spirit, giving them a new frame of heart fit for their new estate; enriching them with all graces whereby they may perform the duties, enjoy the comforts, undergo the cares, and resist the temptations which accompany that condition, as becometh Christians.”

In coming to be married they should “entreat the Lord (whose presence and favour is the happiness of every condition, and sweetens every relation) to be their portion, and to own and accept them in Christ”.

 

5. Resisting Redefined Duties for Marriage

The world has even eroded the idea that marriage involves mutual help, sharing finances and support. There are many marital duties beyond romantic love and faithfulness. These mutual duties are frequently highlighted in Scripture. There is a helpful outline in the Westminster Directory. The first is that they must “study the holy word of God”. Scripture teaches them their duties and how to engage in them. They need to:

  • learn to live by faith,
  • be content in the midst of all marriage cares and troubles
  • sanctify God’s name, in a thankful, sober, and holy use of all conjugal comforts
  • pray much with and for one another
  • watch over and provoke each other to love and good works
  • live together as the heirs of the grace of life.

 

6. Resisting a Redefined Duration for Marriage

Marriage is often seen as optional in western society compared to living together. It is also often viewed as temporary rather than permanent. Yet the vow ought to be made “until God shall separate us by death”. For all the counselling available, evangelicals have also adopted a laissez-faire approach to marriage. It is seen as a purely private issue when marriages break down, although of course regrettable. Situations are addressed according to subjective response rather than scriptural principle. Church discipline is unthinkable. No-fault divorces have often been tolerated and are now widely accepted. Remarriage is not assessed by biblical standards but rather subjective issues.

We have forgotten the wise words of the Westminster Confession which remain true.  It says that “the corruption of man” is always ready to pursue all kinds of “arguments” in order “unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage”. A married couple are what God has “joined together”. We must therefore consult His Word on the grounds of divorce and remarriage. In a generation of no-fault divorce, we must remember that:

“nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage”. It is important that “a public and orderly course” is followed. The couple should not be “left to their own wills and discretion, in their own case”

 

Conclusion

Evangelicals are poorly equipped to deal with the current crisis in the understanding in relation to marriage. We must instruct our young people in a fully biblical understanding of marriage. If we fail to do that their resistance to the world’s redefinition of marriage will be further eroded over time. We need to move beyond a lowest common denominator view of marriage and embrace a maximal fully Scriptural understanding. To do this, we need to rediscover and apply the faithful summaries of biblical truth given to us by the Westminster Assembly.

You might like to read a previous blog post on “How to Define not Redefine Marriage.” 

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