The energetic activity of waiting

The energetic activity of waiting

The energetic activity of waiting

All our safety and wellbeing depends on keeping close to the Lord. Yet our sinful hearts keep drifting away from Him, to our own cost as well as His dishonour. When we then come to our senses and realise He is far away and we are in a desperate place without Him, what can we do? In the following updated extract, William Guthrie’s advice to helpless, sin-stricken people is not to give in to a passive, lethargic, despairing kind of inactivity, but to “wait” on the Lord by rejecting unsafe alternatives and by persisting in the expectation of grace from Him.

While Isaiah speaks for himself, he speaks for all the godly, when he says, “I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him” (Isaiah 8:17). In these words you have the duty of the people of God: to wait on the Lord until He pleads their cause, and executes judgment for them.

One of the doctrines we can deduce from this verse is that when people are shaken out of their self-confidence, it is their duty then to wait on God.

Reasons why we should wait on God

We are to wait on God for several reasons.

  • Because we are commanded to. “Wait on the Lord” is often commanded in Scripture.
  • Because of the promise that is annexed to waiting. “Those that wait upon the Lord shall never be ashamed.”
  • Because it is the most acquiescent and composed posture one can possibly be in. In an evil time, “it is good to hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
  • Because it has always been the work and practice of the people of God, even in the days of old. Says the Psalmist, “My soul waits for the Lord, more than they that do watch for the morning.”
  • Because it always has a joyful outcome. “Lo! this is our God! we have waited for him, we will rejoice in him!”

But so that you may better know when it is your duty to wait on the Lord, I shall in the next place show you three things. Firstly, what precedes, or goes before, waiting on the Lord. Secondly, what it means to wait. And thirdly, what follows a right waiting on the Lord.

Things that come before waiting

[In order to wait on the Lord, these things should be firmly fixed in our hearts.]

It really is our duty. The duty itself is fully set out in this chapter. “Say not, ‘A confederacy!’ with them to whom this people shall say, ‘A confederacy’;” that is, “Do not let their words make you afraid.” “But only sanctify the Lord in your hearts;” that is, be only afraid of offending Him.

There is a promise held out to those who make Him their fear. “He shall be for a sanctuary unto them.”

A threatening is pronounced against those who fall away from Him. There is a threatening pronounced against the common multitude who decline and join with the times. “He will be for a stone of stumbling unto them.” It is only a promise held out to those who walk aright, while it is a threatening against those who go wrong and comply in an evil time.

What does waiting on the Lord mean?

Exclusively on God

Waiting on God means that the heart terminates on Him, with an expectation fixed only on God for help, and on none else. “My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him.” That is, “Wait on God, and on no other.” Similar is that word, “Help us, Lord, for vain is the help of man.”

Pre-eminently on God

Waiting on God also signifies that your expectation is more on God Himself than on any created means. God can give you means, but if you don’t get Himself, it doesn’t matter what else you might get. He may send back your means for a plague to you and not for your good. Therefore plead with Him, and be blunt with Him, and say, “Go with us, Lord, or else carry us not up hence.” So I say, you should plead more for God’s presence than any other means under heaven.

Whatever it costs

Waiting on God means submitting to the seasons of deliverance from your present condition, and to the ordering of it and all that concerns you, while under the trial.

For as long as it takes

Wait on God means resolving to remain at the duty of waiting, until He shows you what else you should do. For waiting on God is still your duty while you are in the dark, and can use no other means for your relief.

What follows after waiting

These things follow after waiting, and are clear from the text.

Stigma. You must resolve to be “for signs and wonders in Israel.” If ever you resolve to be someone who waits on God, you must resolve to be mocked, reproached, banished, imprisoned, and every other way persecuted for Christ.

Pressures. A great many temptations follow when you wait on God.

Isolation. There will be few left to preach the gospel or to consult with in that dark time. He says, “Go to the law, and to the testimony.” You must then make use of your Bibles instead of your ministers.

Eventual vindication. The manifest vengeance of God shall be on those who turn aside. That will be the lot of those who oppose the work and people of God.

The implications for us

Have you been given your work and duty in a dark time? Then go to God. Don’t plead ignorance, saying, “What shall we do?” Instead, I say, wait on the Lord, and judge yourselves happy, that the thing which is your duty cannot take from you by enemies (though they may take your life from you).

Face temptations squarely. Before temptation comes, be resolved that they will not cause you to turn aside. Make the effort to be clear in your understanding as to the honesty and justness of the cause, and for that end be well acquainted with the Scripture, and there see what is your duty.

To conclude, believe this, that God’s wrath abides on those who turn aside from Him. All that they previously took pleasure in shall forsake them, or shall be embittered to them, in the day when those who waited shall enjoy what they waited for.



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Why we should pray about everything and hide nothing

Why we should pray about everything and hide nothing

Why we should pray about everything and hide nothing

Even when we are aware of needing God’s help in many areas of life, we can still be reluctant to pray. We think it’s too much to ask, perhaps — or maybe it’s too insignificant to mention in prayer. But Obadiah Sedgwick, a member of the Westminster Assembly, urges us in the folloiwng updated extract to pray about everything, and hold nothing back. The reasons he gives are all in the prayer-hearing God and His overflowing compassion.

“All prayer,” extends itself not only to all the kinds and forms of praying, but also to all the matters or things for which we pray.

Five reasons to pray about everything

God can hear every request as well as any individual request. He can hear a multiplied request as well as a single request. He doesn’t take things in, or observe things, by discourse, where one notion may be an impediment to grasping another. By reason of His omniscience, all things are equally simultaneously present to Him.

Indeed, God can grant many and great requests, as easily as the single and smallest petition. The greatest gift comes as freely and readily out of His hand as the most common mercy — even Jesus Christ, and pardon of many sins, are the same price as our daily bread. Though by comparison with the latter, the former gifts of a much more elevated nature and dignity, yet in respect of the fountain of them, all of them come from the freeness of His goodness and love.

Christ, by whom we are to put up all our requests (for He is our advocate and intercessor) is as ready and able to plead many and great requests, as well as a few and inferior ones. As He is our mighty Redeemer, so He is our mighty intercessor. And His blood is as efficacious and meritorious for many sins as for some.

This is the reason why God has made manifold promises. We may put up many and great requests all at once. The promises are called “the wells of salvation,” and “the breasts of consolation.” Now living wells afford a plenty, as well as a scanting measure of water. And the child may move from breast to breast, and draw enough from either, if one alone will not serve. If one promise does not cover all your needs, yet all of them do, and as God graciously comprehends all our supplies in all of His promises, so He has propounded them all to us, so that we would then there urge Him for the supply of all our necessities.

Lastly, God is rich in mercy, and plenteous in compassion. His mercies are often referred to as manifold mercies, and His goodness is called an abundant goodness, and His redemption a plenteous redemption, and His kindness a great kindness. Now mercy is a ready inclination to pity and help, and multitudes of mercies are like a compounded, and doubled, and redoubled opening up of God’s tenderness to do a sinner good.

Why we should hide nothing from God

You should conceal not even one of your distresses from God. The heart and life of man are full of sin, and just as full of need. There is not any branch of the soul, nor limb of the body, nor turning of the life, but is replenished with some necessity or other. You have a mind which still needs to be enlightned, a judgment which still needs to be captivated, a heart which still needs to be converted and humbled. How many sinful commissions there are which need to be bewailed, and how many particular and vile inclinations yet need to be subdued! Besides all this, every grace which you have (and there are manifold graces in a holy soul), every one of them is in exigence, and needs more spiritual filling, both for its habit, and acts, and degrees. Indeed, all our duties are only lame-handed motions, which need more strengthning, or like mixed rivers, which should run more clearly.

In this case what should we do? to whom should we go? should we divide the principles of our helps, and go for some to God, and for the most to created things? O in no wise! for all our help is only in Him, who alone can help all!

Or should we branch out our helps, and present them as a beggar does his needs, one day mentioning one need, and some distance of time later, bring up another? O no! Come with all, and with all at once, to God, who is as able, and as willing, for many sinners, as well as for one sinner — and for many sins in one person, as well as for one in any. As they did with the impotent and sick man, they brought all of him, bed and all, and laid him before Christ, so should we bring body and soul, and every distress of either, and present the whole bulk before the Lord at once, root and branches, for a manifold supply. We should press Him for manifold mercies, for abundant strength, for God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we are able to ask or think (Eph. 3).

Beloved, as your own unworthiness should not put you off from being a petitioner at the throne of grace, so the variety of your necessities should not discourage you from commencing your appeals at the throne of rich mercies. There is reason in God which will hearten us, and there is reason in ourselves to crave as earnestly and as simmultaneously for all our helps as for some. You equally need the pardon of this sin, as whatever else it may be, and mercy is as ready and able for both, as for either.

And if that corruption was more subdued, and yet this remained altogether untouched, you would have just as many, and more forcible, doubts about your situation from this discrepancy, and the inequality of the victory. Wherefore, as Abraham in his petition for the people of Sodom and Gommorrah took up request upon request, descending from high to low, from many to few, so should we in our requests ascend from one sin to more, from more to many, from many to all. You know that confession of sins should not only be particular, but universal; and our sorrow for sin should respect the kinds of sin as well as the particular acts? Well, all of this signals that there is an ampleness of grants, so much mercy and supply corresponding to the required latitude of confessions and sorrow.

Certainly it’s true that some one sin may (for some special reason, either of some guilt, or present insolency) be more insisted on then another, just as one clause in the plea may be urged more then another. Yet it should not be to the exception of the rest. “O that sin, Lord, by which I have dishonoured Thee so much, and yet which rages so much, pardon it, subdue it, out with it — and not only that, but sins like them, and not only them, but all my sins, blot them out, cleanse me from them!”




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Five things to do when everyone else despises Christ

Five things to do when everyone else despises Christ

Five things to do when everyone else despises Christ

Although it remains a fact of history that after Christ died He rose again, yet at some times more than others, the wider relevance of this fact seems non-existent. For all the interest people take in Him, He might as well still be buried in the grave. His followers have little influence and little prestige, and He and they are more or less dismissed with a sneer everywhere. In times like this, what can Christ’s followers do? The Covenanting minister Michael Bruce gave five pieces of advice to hearers in his day. Observing the behaviour of the women in Matthew 28 over the period while Christ was in the grave, Bruce identifies five activities that believers can keep busy with, when Christ and His cause are at their most beleaguered.

When the world has done their worst to Christ, and can do no more to Him, still the people of God always have work to do with Him. You can see in this chapter that Christ is dead and buried, and left alone, and yet for all that, there are some poor women who haven’t quite given up on Him. These poor people will not quit with Him.

So there is a huge difference between Christians looking at a buried Christ, and the world looking at Him. The world sees no beauty in Him, but Christ is always beautiful to the believer, whatever the world might do to Him.

In fact, poor redeemed sinners will always be following Him, whatever condition He is in. These women have a work to do with Christ when the world have done their worst with Him.

There are five pieces of work we have to do with Christ when the world has done their worst with Him.

Keep love burning

Keep love burning in our hearts to Him. O friends, is there any love to a buried Christ among you? You see how love was still burning in these women’s hearts always. Remember this piece of work you have to do, to keep much love in your heart to Him. When curates, malignants, magistrates, prelates and backslidden clergymen have done their worst to Him, you must love Him as much as ever you did.

Keep company with Him

Keep company with Him. As soon as the sabbath is over, these women run away to keep a dead and buried Christ company. If you spend time with Christ in a day like this, surely you will not keep company with those who betray Him.

Do what you can for Him

Whatever seems to be Christ’s need at the moment, you must labour to meet it. Although there was a mistake in these poor women, yet they were right in the main thing. Christ’s broken body seemed to be them to be in need of embalming, so they prepared spices for that, although the mistake was that they did not believe He would rise again so soon. Still, there was something about Him that looked to them like something He needed, so they prepared a supply for that.

O how our blessed Lord Jesus in His members needs someone to speak a word for Him these days! But He cannot get a hearing! Some people will do nothing but swear and forswear, and play fast and loose with Him. He comes to some and asks a lend of their houses and lands a year or two, but they will not grant it. He comes to some and seeks a horse and saddle, but they will not give that. The disciples did not let Him go without a horse when He called for one, nor yet a saddle, even if the saddle was just that they spread their garments on it. But nobody takes an interest in the needs of Christ in His members these days, either to identify a need or supply it.

Refuse to take offence at Him

Guard against being offended at Him. This was the thing He wanted from His disciples. “Blessed are they that shall not be offended in me.” All He desires from you is that you would not be offended at Him. Supposing He meets you with a violent death, do not be offended at Him. If for a long time He lets some enemy or other always have the upper hand over you, this is a piece of the work He calls for from your hands when His back is against the wall.

Love His despised people

Do not let any of His suffering followers have less of a place in your heart on account of them backing their Master and getting suffering for their pains. “Am I naked? Then clothe Me,” He said, “and I give you this encouragement, that whatever you do for one of these suffering little ones, you do it to Me.”

O friends, are you done with Christ just because the people of the world are done with Him? It’s a black mark against professing Christians, that just because Christ is buried, they think they have nothing more to do with Him! It’s a black mark against our clergymen, that when Christ is buried, there’s almost never one of them who asks how He lies. O Christians, have you really nothing more to do with Him when the most of the world has done with Him? There is never less interest in Christ than when His back is to the wall, and O but you are ashamed people who do not take an interest in Him now, when He seems to be in His grave.



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What is our honest reaction to the gospel?

What is our honest reaction to the gospel?

What is our honest reaction to the gospel?

Hearing about what Jesus did on the cross forces a confrontation. When the gospel of God meets our sinful hearts, what is our honest reaction? There can only be acceptance or rejection, and there is both sin and terrible danger in sidestepping the demands of the gospel even for the time being. John Welch of Irongray, reaching the end of a sermon on Isaiah 53, insisted that his hearers faced up to their response to the news of Christ crucified. As the following updated extract shows, his questions, posed in the consciousness of God’s presence, are very pointed. Will we prefer our sins to salvation? Or will we entrust ourselves to the Saviour?

Now I come to ask what you have to say to the gospel. What do you say to it? Do you have something to say against what I have been telling you? Do you have something to say against what Christ suffered? or against what He did after He suffered, when He said, “Thrust in your hands into my side, and be not faithless, but believing?” Or will you be like Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God!” Friends, what will you do? Tell me what you think of all that has been said of a suffering Christ today. What effect does it now have on you? And what effect will it have afterwards? Will you leave this place without closing with Jesus Christ? What do you say to it? Do you have any objections?

“Yes,” says someone, “I have three objections that hinder me.”

I have too many doubts

“I have many doubts in my heart, so that I dare not presume to come to Christ.”

But why do you not dare?

“I have been such a great sinner.”

I tell you then, sinners, in the name of the Lord, you who have these fears and doubts, come on, and do not let that hinder you. Instead let it put you to make all the more use of the Lord. Come away to Him. Though your sins were as scarlet and as crimson, ye shall be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). You have God’s command for it, and you have God’s warrant for it, and you have God’s revelation, and these are His revealed duties that He bids you do. Be serious in going about what is revealed in the Word of God to be your duty (and that is all that the gospel calls for), and unite with Jesus Christ.

Or are you saying, “I would love to go to Jesus, but I’m afraid of breaking up with Him again.” Only resolve in Christ’s strength, and He will keep you, and all the devils in hell shall not get you to break off. “But I have made so many promises, and I have broken them all, and I fear that I will do so again.” I say, you must resolve again in Christ’s strength, and as His hand lays the foundation, He shall finish the work. “Turn again unto me,” saith the LORD, “and I will heal your backslidings.”

I can’t do it

Someone is saying, though, “I can’t. You tell us to embrace Him, but we cannot. It’s as impossible for us as to touch the sky. We can’t even begin.”

What did the Lord say to the poor man who had the withered hand? He told him to stretch it out. “I cannot,” he would say, but yet what does the Lord say? “Stretch out thy hand” (Luke 6:10).

I tell you in His name, make an attempt, and show your goodwill, and He will help you to do it. If only you would give it a try, and just say, “Lord, I believe with the faith that I have, and as far as I can, I believe — Lord, help my unbelief.”

It’s a strange thing, friends, that you won’t even try. The man in Luke 6 might have said, “What’s the point of me stretching out my withered hand? I know I can’t.” But yet Christ tells him to stretch it out as he can, and He makes his attempt effectual. You who say you cannot do so much as to make an attempt, just make the attempt, and God will make these attempts effectual, and you will find Him.

Therefore, if you don’t dare to venture, or think you cannot get a grip of Him, yet will you give Him a look? “Look unto me all ye ends of the earth, and be saved, for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22). This is all that He requires — that you would give Him a look.

I don’t want to

Are there any other objections? “I don’t want to.”

That is the truth of the matter. “I don’t want to part with the world; I don’t want to serve Him; I don’t want to obey His commands. I am not resolved to do that yet. I don’t want to leave the world that I’ve got so much advantage in. No, no, I don’t want to come to Him, say what you will.”

Woe is me, that is a terrible thing. You don’t want to have Him? Let ministers say what they will, you don’t want Him? What’s the reason for that? He is able to declare of Himself that it is not His fault that you are unwilling.

“O,” you say, “He is a hard master, there is no living with Him. I won’t get my idols entertained in His service. I couldn’t cope with it. I can’t part with my lusts, and with my sin. If you want the plain truth of it, I don’t think there has ever been a man or a woman that ever had a happy day serving Him, and therefore I have to go my own way at my own risk. Whatever comes on the back of it, I must sin, and I must not miss out on my opportunities in the world.”

Well, friends, I say there is much more advantage to be had in coming to Christ.

But this is your opportunity

Friends, we have encountered a strange piece of providence. I had planned to have preached elsewhere today, but against my own expectation I have been brought here again.

So it’s by chance that we are here today, and I have been presenting to you a bloodied, wounded, bruised Christ. He is all crushed with the wrath of God. He was forced to cry, “What shall I do? My soul is sorrowful, even unto death, and what shall I do?” This wounded Christ has purchased salvation to sinners, and has sent me here this day as His ambassador to make offer of Him. Have I made any impression on you? I have come in His name and I may not leave you like a knotless thread, a pointless waste of time.

It is in His name that we come here, and I summon and charge you all — as you will answer before the great God, and as you would want to be found of Him in peace, and as you would want one day to look Him in the face, and not call the hills and mountains to fall on you — I summon you to embrace Him!

I charge you by the love of Jesus Christ that put Him to suffer all those things. I charge you by the torments of hell that surely shall follow on those who disobey. I charge you by the love of Him who was dead and is now alive, and lives for evermore. I charge you by Him who has the keys of hell and death, and the keys of heaven.

Come and tell me what you plan to do. Or are you resolved to live as you have done? Do you live prayerless and godless? Will you leave off that? Are you drunkards? Will you leave off that? What are you going to do? Do you swear? Will you keep swearing more?

Are you repenting? Or have you decided to live a while longer in your sins? Will you continue in these things, and keep your idols, and your corruptions? Have you resolved to do that, or this? Will you come today and give up everything to the Lord, and embrace this suffering Christ, before His wrath comes upon you? Have ye drawn back? Will you draw back more? Or will you come to Him?

How will you respond?

What do you say to it? I offer Him to you. I lay the offer at every individual’s door, and to every individual’s conscience, and I command and charge you to come and embrace Him, and I desire the Lord God of heaven that He would confirm this.

Now what do you say to it, you who have had so many preachings preached to you? I beseech you, give an answer. Come and take Him, and embrace Him today. For you cannot tell if you will ever have the offer again. I cannot tell if I will ever have the opportunity to speak to you again. What do you think, is it for nothing that we come out to preach, when we are at such high risk, and when we are seen as traitors and rebels in every one of these meetings? It’s not a small business, this. God calls us to be serious, and not to trifle. Therefore, men and women, will you come and close with Him?

Dear, beloved friends, will you let Christ’s death and sufferings persuade you to take Christ’s offer? I long for you to come to Him, for your own life and salvation. I press it on you, and as He is offered, so take Him. Dear friends, give your answer! Say it to Him — it’s not me that wants your answer. Say something to the Lord, for as the Lord lives, you must say something, yea or nay. As you don’t want God to speak in wrath to you, friends, say that you will be the Lord’s! Say that you will enter into an everlasting covenant with Him, never to be forgotten! Or as the Lord lives, these trees, and this water, and that brae, and the earth that you sit on shall be a witness against you eternally, and this tent, and I, and these clouds above your heads.

Therefore now, come, and take the offer, and tell God that from this day forward you resolve to be for Him. Old men, and young men, will you close with Him? Young bairns, the youngest of you all, will you close with Him? Say, “Lord, I would be content to close with Him.” Will you say this, old women and young women? Answer God, who is bidding you come to Him. Say with good David, “Thou art my God and my king … Thou hast made with me an everlasting covenant, well-ordered in all things, and sure.”

I would gladly fall down on my bare knees in front of you if that would get you to say the thing. O friends, give an answer! Say what Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” and say with David, “O God, thou art my God,” and say with the church in Jeremiah 50:5, “Come, let us enter ourselves into an everlasting covenant with God …”

We must leave you, friends, and yet how can we think of leaving till you come to Him? Take heed what you are doing. Go to Him, and close with Him.



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How to be guided by conscience

How to be guided by conscience

How to be guided by conscience

Following our conscience is the right thing to do when our conscience is well-informed and characterised by the integrity that comes from being purged by the blood of Christ. We want neither a stupefied or seared conscience on one hand, nor a doubting, over-scrupulous conscience on the other hand. As Samuel Annesley shows in the following updated extract from his sermon on conscience, the sense of sin and the receiving of forgiveness need to be in the right balance. Then we will be equipped to navigate through life in a consistently Christian way.

How to get a reliable conscience

1. Get your conscience awakened from its natural lethargy.
2. Preserve your conscience tender from being seared.
3. Rectify its errors as you would get cure of blindness.
4. Resolve its doubts as you would a claim to your lands.
5. Break from your scruples as you would from thieves on the road.
6. Lay your head in Christ’s bosom to cure your trembling.

How to keep a reliable conscience

And then for the integrity and quiet of your conscience, observe these proposals, as meticulously as you would a doctor’s prescription in a tedious sickness.

1. Avoid sinning as you would a train of gunpowder.
2. Be as quick in your repentance as in the cure of a pleurisy.
3. Live under the felt presence of the jealous God.
4. Examine your heart, as princes sift out treason.
5. Pray for the grace you need, as starving persons cry for food.
6. Let every action be like an arrow shot at a mark.
7. Think of God as a wise physician.
8. Be as vile in your own esteem as you are in the eyes of the most hypercritical enemy.
9. Live on Christ, as the child in the womb lives on the mother.
10. Love God (as near as possibly you can) as God loves you.

Landmarks to use on the journey

But you may find these rules, even though I have condensed them, to be too many, and too long to be always remembered. So, to ensure that you will not be overburdened with things which should never be forgotten, I shall commend to you some directions, which may be to your souls in your pilgrimage towards heaven, as ship provisions in a sea voyage — generally sufficient, when others cannot be had.

Plainly practise these reminders of direction in all your conscientious walking.

Consult duty, not events

There’s nothing in the world for us to do, but to mind our duty. Curious speculations, that do not tend towards holiness, are one thing: but misgivings based on predictions of what may or will happen to you when you do your duty, may be reckoned among your grosser iniquities. To venture to sin in order to avoid danger, is to sink the ship for fear of pirates, and must be reckoned amongst your greatest follies, your worst of sins.

Some argue, in effect, “This way of duty will probably bring down some people’s displeasure on me, and therefore to prevent that, I’ll take the course which will certainly bring down God’s displeasure.” Is not their reason dangerously distempered? Unquestionably their conscience is. Besides, by-ways will not lead you to the place you aim at.

On the contrary, keep your consciences from being violated, and you cannot be miserable. How calm and quiet, as well as holy and heavenly, would our lives be, if we had only learnt this single lesson, to care about nothing but to know and do our duty, and to leave all effects, consequences and events to God!

The truth is, it is a daring boldness for silly dust to prescribe to infinite wisdom, and to let go our work, to meddle with God’s. He has managed the concernments of the world, and of every individual person in it, without giving occasion to any one to complain, for more than the past five thousand years, and does He now need advice from you? Therefore let it be your only business to mind your duty.

Aye, but how shall I know my duty? Take a second reminder.

The advice you would give to someone else, take yourself

The worst kinds of people are apt enough to lay such burdens on other folk’s shoulders, that if they would take them on their own, they would be rare Christians indeed. The outcry made by those who revile godliness, when they nitpick and dissect the misdeeds of Christians! Even they expect that those who make a profession of religion should be blameless beyond exception; and even they scorn those who fall away at all from their professed strictness. On the other side, those who are holy expect that even graceless persons should bear reproof, receive instruction, and change the course of their lives.

In middle cases, then, between these extremes, what exactness will serious Christians require from themselves, where the bias of their own corruptions does not misguide them? David was twice surprised to pass sentence against himself by parables in the abstract, where he did not realise he was implicated himself.

Where this rule is too short, add a third.

Do nothing on which you cannot pray for a blessing

Where prayer does not lead, repentance must follow. It is a desperate venture to sin on hopes of repentance. Every action of a Christian that is good, is sanctified by the Word and prayer. It is unseemly for a Christian to do anything, however trivial, that he can’t pray over. If Christians only but bestow a serious exclamatory prayer on every action, they would find that such prayers would cut off all things sinful, demur all things doubtful, and encourage all things lawful. Therefore do nothing but what you can preface with prayer.

But these rules are all defective, so I’ll close with an example that’s infinitely above defects.

Think, speak, and do what you are persuaded Christ Himself would do in your situation, if He were on the earth

The heathen kept in their view the best examples they had, and therefore let us follow the best of ours. There are many remarkable examples in Scripture, but I propose neither great nor small, but the King of Saints. It is better for a Christian to be an example, than to follow one. But by imitating Christ, you will come as near as possible to the best, for your fellowship shall be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit of holiness, the only one who can teach you what it is to abide in Christ, who was, and is, and ever will be our absolute copy.

O Christians! How Christ prayed, and redeemed time for prayer! How Christ preached, out of whose mouth proceeded nothing but gracious words, so that His enemies could not but admire Him! How little Christ valued the world, when He renounced it Himself and taught us to renounce it too! What time Christ spent in conversation, when He made the hearts of those who He happened to fall into company with burn within them! How Christ went up and down doing good to man, and always those things that were pleasing to God!

Four last reminders

Beloved, to summarise, I commend to you these four reminders, to be so many scarlet threads on every finger of your right hand, so that you would never put your hand to any action, but these reminders would be in your eye.

1. Mind duty.
2. What’s another’s duty in your situation, is yours.
3. When you can’t say, “The blessing of the Lord be on it,” do not meddle with it.
4. But above all, as you would never renounce your name as a Christian, never forget to look to Christ. Whatever treatment you meet with from the profane world, remember Christ your Exemplar, and follow His steps. “He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”



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Facing death with clarity and anticipation

Facing death with clarity and anticipation

Facing death with clarity and anticipation

People’s priorities change as they move through different stages of their life. What sort of things weigh most heavily when we are forced to think most seriously about death? Betrayed after years on the run, now severely wounded and on death row, John Nisbet of Hardhill (c.1627–1685) wanted his friends to know that he was facing his end with a clear sense of God’s love for him — so much so that he could hardly wait to get to meet Him face to face. Nisbet dictated his testimony from prison, shortly before he was executed at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. As the following abridgement shows, he is full of thankfulness to the God of all grace for introducing him to His saving truth and granting him firm commitment to it, as well as full of concern for the holiness and integrity of the Christian friends he leaves behind.

Reasons for writing

I have always thought that to live for Christ, and die for Christ, is a sufficient testimony for truth; yet now when I am within a few hours of eternity, to prevent mistakes, to satisfy my dear friends, and let them know how it is with me, and to let the world know what I die witnessing for, and testifying against, I judge it proper to leave a few lines behind me.

The Lord’s superabundant goodness

As for myself, it pleased the Lord Jehovah, of his superabundant goodness and infinite mercy, powerfully to determine my heart to close with and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, as He is made offer of in the everlasting gospel, for my king, priest, and prophet.

The Scripture has been to me from my youth the living oracles of His divine and sacred lips. When I was crying, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ and saying, ‘How shall I know the way of the Lord, that I may walk therein?’ then His Word was a light to my feet and a lamp to my path, exhorting me, ‘Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price …’ (Isaiah 55:1–8). When I was grappling with sin, Satan, and the world, and my own wicked and deceitful heart, the enemies of my salvation, His words were as props and pillars to me. It is by Him that I have fought the good fight, that I have finished my course, and that I have kept the faith. It is by Him shining in His Word that I know all my manifold sins and transgressions are freely pardoned, and that I have a just right and title to what is expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:30.

No room left to doubt

So that now, the guilt and condemning power of sin being fully pardoned by a judicial act of God’s free and sovereign grace, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially applied and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit, on and to my spirit, there is no room left me to doubt any more of my being freely justified by Him, of my being in union with Him, and in a state of grace. Nor of the power, dominion, and filth of sin, original and actual, being subdued, taken off, and washed away by the virtue of the Spirit of sanctification, or of being created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, and being sanctified throughout in soul, body, and spirit, and made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light by Him who loved me, and gave Himself to the death for me, and redeemed me by power and price.

Longing to go to Jesus

Now, being in such a case of communion with Him, I am pained till I be freed of the remains of a body of sin and death, till I be freed of the world and all things therein, and also of this natural life, and be possessed of Himself, and with Himself, in His eternal inheritance, which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away, a place which He hath provided for all whom He hath chosen, all whom He hath called, for all whom He hath justified, for all whom He hath sanctified. O to be there, where I shall sin no more, neither feel any more of the withdrawings of His Spirit’s presence, and light of His glorious countenance, but shall be ever with Him, see Him as He is, and serve Him for ever and ever.

Appeal to Christian friends

Now, my dear friends in Christ, it is the unquestionable and indispensable duty of all who have any love to God, to His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, to the thriving of His kingdom, to their own soul’s salvation, and to the following generation, to act a close, constant and needy dependence on the Lord Jehovah’s all-sufficiency, for light, for counsel, for direction, for strength and ability, to make conscience in bearing testimony for Him, for His persecuted truth, work, and interest, in these lands.

O that in this all could act a faithful part for Him who has done so much for poor wretched us! When we were lying, dying, and rotting in our blood-red sins, He passed by us with His love and life-giving visit, saying to us, ‘Live, live!’

And on the other hand, to witness faithfully, constantly, and conscientiously against all that the enemies have done, or are doing, towards overthrowing the glorious work of Reformation, and banishing Christ out of these lands by robbing Him of His crown rights (for He, and He alone, is head of His own church), and by burning the Covenants, and persecuting His gospel ministers and members. Even though ministers and members may be turning their backs on Christ and His cross, reproaching and casting dirt on you and the testimony of the day, yet do not let this weaken your hands, stumble or discourage you from going on in the strength of the Lord your God, to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and witness a good confession for Him and His cause, resisting unto blood, striving against sin.

Leaving and adhering

But, my generation-work being done with my time, I go to Him who loved me, and washed me from all my sins — to Him who has counted me worthy to suffer for His name. If only I had many lives to lay down for Him, and much blood to seal His noble and honourable cause with! — He who graciously pitied me, and has now given me the full assurance of being a member of His church triumphant, the new Jerusalem, the city of the living God!

I die adhering to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the undoubted Word of God, an unerring rule of faith and manners, and a firm foundation for principle and practice in the ways of godliness and true holiness. And the Confession of Fatih, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as agreeable to them and safely founded on them. Likewise the Sum of Saving Knowledge, and the Directory for Church Government, in her doctrine, worship and discipline. I confess all the attained-to pieces of reformation in the Church of Scotland, particularly between the years 1638 and 1649, the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant, the Acknowledgement of Sins and Engagement to Duties.

Last request

It is my last request and my soul’s desire that, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, you would set apart much time, and mourn, and afflict your souls for your original sin, heart plagues, sins of persons and families, sins of kings and kingdoms, and for all the dreadful apostacies, hateful compromises, and sinful sidings of ministers and people with the enemies of God and godliness. Mourn that there is not more faithfulness and zeal for the cause of God amongst His people.

My dear friends, give up your contentions and censuring one of another. Sympathise with and love one another, for this is His commandment. Keep up your sweet fellowship meetings. What is proposed for continuing a testimony for truth and against defections, let it be done with Scripture light for direction, and with zeal tempered with knowledge, and with the spirit of meekness accompanied with patience and humility. Be always ready to give a reason of your faith, and be much denied to the world, to yourselves, and to your natural life, and when God in His providence calls you to lay it down for Him, do it cheerfully, and embrace the cross of your sweet Lord Jesus with open arms, for He will not send any on a warfare on their own charges.

Don’t take fright at His sweet, lovely and desirable cross. Because of the wounds I received when I was captured, I have not been able to lift up or lay down my head without someone helping me, but yet I have never been in a better place in all my life. He has not challenged me for a single thing since I came to prison, small or great, but on the contrary, He has so wonderfully shined on me with the sense of His redeeming, strengthening, assisting, supporting, through-bearing, pardoning and reconciling love, grace, and mercy, that my soul longs to be freed from bodily infirmities and earthly organs, so that I may flee to His royal palace, the heavenly habitation of my God, where I am sure of a getting a crown put on my head, and a palm in my hand, and a new song in my mouth, so that I may bless, praise, magnify and extol Him for what He has done to me, and for me.

So I bid farewell to all my dear fellow-sufferers. Farewell, my children. Pursue holiness in all your ways, and praise the Lord for what He has done for me, and tell all my Christian friends to praise Him for this too! Farewell, sweet Bible, and wanderings, and contendings for the truth! Welcome, death. Welcome, the city of my death, where I shall see Him, and be enabled to serve Him eternally with full freedom! Welcome, blessed company of angels and spirits of just men made perfect! But, above all, welcome, welcome, welcome, our glorious and only God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou art worthy. Amen.


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The danger of wavering on gospel basics

The danger of wavering on gospel basics

The danger of wavering on gospel basics

New ideas and teachings are constantly cropping up in and around the church. Although believers, and the church as a whole, are meant to grow in knowledge, it has to be knowledge of the truth. The truth of the gospel is what we stake our souls on for eternity, and we cannot afford to be enticed into wavering on the gospel basics and swallowing false teachings. George Gillespie was particularly earnest in emphasising the duty of remaining loyal to the truths which God has plainly revealed in Scripture. In the following updated excerpt, he provides several reasons why instability is so dangerous.

Fluctuating and wavering over those things which God has revealed for us either to believe or do, is a sin, while to be firm, fixed and established in the truth (to “hold fast the profession of it,” to “stand fast in the faith”) is a duty commanded. It is good theology to maintain this.

The value of being committed to the truth

We see the value of steadfastness from the very light of nature. “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?” (Jer. 2:11). The heathen Greeks used to say that he who goes wrong in his religion is drinking out of a cup that is full of holes. How firm and constant the heathen philosophers were in maintaining their opinions! They could not only displease their friends, but suffer the heaviest things for their opinions.

But set aside the light of nature. Every one of the earliest churches, to which the apostles wrote epistles, was expressly warned, either to stand fast in the faith, and to hold fast their profession, or to beware of and to avoid false teachers, and not to be carried about with diverse and strange doctrines.

It must be not only a truth, but a most special and necessary truth, when the apostles thought fit to impress it on the churches in all their epistles (see Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 11:3-4; Gal. 1:6-8; Eph. 4:14; Phil. 3:2, 18; Col. 2:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:2-3; Heb. 10:23; 13:9; Jam. 5:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:16-18; 1 Jn. 4:1; Jud. 3-4). All these verses are full and plain on this point, and most worthy of our frequent thoughts and observations, especially at a time when this corner of the world is so full of new and strange doctrines.

The dangers of wavering on the truth

Thwarting Scripture

If we are not steadfast and unmoveable in the profession of our faith, we frustrate (as far as we are concerned) the reason why the Scriptures were written. Luke gives this reason to Theophilus, why he wrote the story of Christ’s birth, life and death, “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:4). When Peter hath mentioned the voice which came from heaven concerning Christ, he adds the certainty of the Scripture as a greater certainty. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). A voice from heaven is more likely to deceive us, than the written word of God.

Looking like a false church

Maintaining and professing the true faith is one — indeed, the principal — mark of a true visible church. Christ Himself gives us this mark of His sheep (John 10:4-5).

Embarking on worse errors

If once we forsake the way of truth, and go into an erroneous way, we shall not know where to find our paths. We shall wander from mountain to hill, and forget our resting place. As one wave comes after another, so one error comes after another. Error spreads like a canker (2 Tim. 2:17). “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). This has already made some (and I hope will make more), who were at first too susceptible to the new doctrines and practices of false teachers, now move away from them, seeing they increase to more ungodliness and more error, endlessly. One error breeds a hundred, and a hundred will breed ten thousand.

Missing out on gospel promises

If we waver, and are led about with diverse and strange doctrine, then the prophesies which have gone before of the true church shall not be made good in us. It was promised of the church and kingdom of Christ, “The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge …” (Isa. 32:4-5). Those who were simply and rashly led about with every wind of doctrine shall (according to the promise) be so wise and knowing as to distinguish between truth and error, and between virtue and vice (see also Isa. 33:6).

Losing what we have gained

Instability and forsaking the way of truth makes us lose much that we had gained (2 John 8). All the comfort we enjoyed, all the good our souls ever received of such a truth, such a cause, such a ministry, and all that ever we did or spoke or suffered for the truth, we lose when we turn aside into an erroneous way.

Reducing gospel comfort

Wavering greatly hinders our spiritual comfort and contentment. To be “knit together in love” is one means, and to “have all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement of gospel truths,” is another means, by which the apostle wishes the hearts of Christians to be comforted. It adds much to Paul’s comfort that he could say, “I have kept the faith…” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Risking our souls

We put our souls and our salvation greatly in jeopardy when we turn aside from truth to error. It is said of the unstable that they wrest the Scriptures “unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16), like a man who has fallen into quicksand, and the more he wrestles to get out, the more he sinks. When the apostle has spoken of Christ purchasing our reconciliation, justification and sanctification, he adds an “if” (Col. 1:23): “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard.” Not that our persevering in the faith is a condition in Christ purchasing these blessings, but it is a condition without which we cannot possess and enjoy what Christ has purchased. He who falls away from the true doctrine of the gospel proves himself to have no part in the benefits of Christ.

Some errors are in their own nature damnable, and inconsistent with the state of grace, or fellowship with God (2 Pet. 2:1). “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 John 9). Surely it may be said of Arians, Socinians, Romanists, Libertines, “they have not God,” because they do not abide in the doctrine of Christ (Gal 5:4).

There are also other errors, which may comparatively be lesser, yet impenitency, and continuing in them, condemns those who hold them. This is why the Apostle James reckons the one who errs from the truth to be in a way of death and danger of damnation (James 5:19-20).



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Four good responses to the good news

Four good responses to the good news

Four good responses to the good news

When the Lord Jesus came to do His work of redemption, it cost Him dearly. He suffered in His body and in His soul and indeed died for the sake of sinful people like you and me. Preaching on Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities …” John Welsh of Irongray showed first the depth of Christ’s sufferings. He then asks, how should we respond? The following updated excerpt gives his four suggestions as to appropriate responses, concluding with a reminder of who should especially recognise themselves as summoned to act on the gospel call.

Now that I have spoken of the suffering Saviour, I desire this of you. Rouse yourselves up to be suitably affected with what I have spoken from these truths. There are three or four ways you should respond.


And the first thing I would exhort you to be taken up with is wondering. What man or woman is there among you that can hear these things spoken of, and not wonder at it? That Christ should have suffered all this for the like of you and me! That He who is the Son of God should have quit heaven, and that the Son of God should have become man, that He should have been put so sore to it as to die — for sinners!

I cannot tell what calls for wonder from us, if this doesn’t. O the height! O the breadth! O the length! O the depth of this mystery! That the Son of God should have been put so sore to it as to die for sinners, and not only to die, but to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath! Who can hear this declared, and not wonder at the hearing of it? O wonder! O wonder at it! Wonder at the hearing of it!

Detest sin

Did our Lord Jesus Christ have to suffer such great sufferings? Well then, see how you should look on sin. Should not sin be very detestable to you, and very abominable? Should not be at very much pains to forsake sin, when it was sin that brought our blessed Lord Jesus Christ to undergo such great sufferings, sufferings which would have brought you to such sad condemnation, and to lie under the wrath of God eternally and eternally?

Sinners, I think that supposing there was nothing else to motivate you to forsake your sins, and to hate every false way, and to hate the very least word and thought of sin, that this might be a motive — that it brought our Lord Jesus Christ to undergo such great sufferings.

Love to Him will call for this. “All ye that love the Lord, hate evil” (Psalm 97:10).

Don’t disappoint Him

Our Lord Jesus Christ was brought to so many and so great sufferings. And He has undergone them so cheerfully. Has He not? And He is satisfied to see the travail of his soul.

O do not yet then do what you can to disappoint Him, while He is making offer of His blood to wash you! Do not do anything that will make Him regret that He shed His blood for the like of you! For when you do not give him a suitable meeting, you give him good reason to regret it, for you are doing what in you lies to make His sufferings of none effect.


But what I mainly want to exhort you to is what our Lord Jesus Christ exhorts you to. Remember, after His resurrection, when He came out of the grave, when His disciples were gathered together in a room for fear of the Jews, He came in there among them, and said, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:21). Remember that in the beginning of that chapter there was some word of His resurrection. Some of them affirmed that He was risen, yet others still thought it was only imaginary and a mistake. (Although angels came down from heaven and gave testimony that He was risen, yet some of them could not believe that!) When He comes in among them, what does He say to Thomas? Just the same as He says to us today. He holds out His hands and the hole in His side, and says, “Be not faithless, but believe!” That is the thing. “Reach hither your hands into the hole in My side, and be not faithless, but believe.”

That is the thing I have come here for today as a messenger of the living God. It is to let you see this day the wonderful, condescending love of Christ, and to say to you, “Reach hither the hand of your faith, and take a look at this bloodied Saviour who was crucified. Come, put in your fingers, put in your hand in the hole of that bloody side of His, and be not faithless, but believe!”

That is the great thing that Christ calls for. That is the great reason why He wants His sufferings told us. Why? So that it would bring His people to unite with Him — to give Him credit, and to believe in Him.

That is why I now come here, and say this to you, and bid you reach hither your hand, and be not faithless, but believe. The great reason why He wants His sufferings told is — so that you would close with this suffering Lord Jesus Christ. Come to Him, and be no more faithless, but believe! Say with Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!” As soon as Christ’s hands and His side were presented to him, Thomas could no longer stand out. If the same argument does not prevail with you, I wonder what will! Thomas said, “My Lord and my God! I can stand out no longer, for now I have seen the wonderful love of God! Now I see the wonderful love of Christ, which made Him undergo all these great sufferings! Now I have seen the wonderful excellency of the Saviour!”

Remember who this message is for

Allow me to emphasise this a little here, for this is the great goal which Christ has in mind in keeping up the preached gospel — so that you would believe, so that you would be saved, and brought to close with Jesus Christ.

So I here summon all of you, of all ranks of persons, to a serious frame. Compose your spirits suitable to the message that I am to declare to you. Men and women, I come to you now, and I present before you a bloody Christ, a suffering Saviour. I come to you, as He did to His disciples, and I say to you, “Reach out your hands to a bloody Saviour. Take a look of Him believingly. Look to Him, and close with Him. Look to Him. He has said, ‘Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved!’ O come and take a look at this suffering Christ! Take a look at Him!”

You older people, maybe you have even been professing faith all your days, yet you never actually closed with Him. You have even thought it fashionable to believe in Jesus Christ, and yet to this day you have never done it. I summon you this very day at this present time to come and take a look of this suffering Jesus Christ, and stretch out the hand of your faith and close with Him, and come and say, “My Lord and my God!”

Secondly, I summon those who are outside of Christ — those who have never yet been hankering about to do it, and those who have made many attempts, but never came cleanly off in the doing of it. I summon you to come here, and stretch out your hands, and be not faithless, but believe. I summon you, whoremongers, adulterers, drunkards, or whatever you may be. Come to him, sinners! Come here and reach in your hands, and be not faithless, but believe, and close with this suffering Jesus Christ.

Will you let Him go away and not take the offer off His hand? and give Him no thanks for it? Shall He have that to say, that you would not take the offer, and that you would not give Him much thanks for His sufferings? Will you not take the benefits that He offers to you by His sufferings? I come here in His name, and offer you peace — will you not take it? I offer you healing in His name, and will you not take it off His hand?



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How to get a good conscience

How to get a good conscience

How to get a good conscience

Sooner or later, our conscience will do its work of passing a verdict on us, so as to produce either shame (when conscience blames us) or comfort (when conscience approves of us). Those who have been regenerated can legitimately take comfort from knowing that the blood of Christ cleanses them from all sin. But how is this comfort possible, when even the regenerate still keep sinning? Samuel Annesley published a sermon on the conscience, in which he describes the ‘good conscience’ and, as the following updated excerpt shows, gives a list of ten suggestions as to how to get a good conscience.

What kind of conscience should we desire?

Two kinds of conscience are desirable, and cannot be commended too highly.

A good honest conscience. Conscience is good in respect of its integrity when it gives a right judgement of everything according to the Word of God. I grant that the law of nature binds, ecclesiastical laws bind, and political laws bind, but the Word of God is the principal rule, which precisely binds the conscience, because of its author. “There is one law-giver, who is able to save and to destroy …” (James 4:12).

A good peaceable conscience. Conscience is good in respect of its peace when it excuses, absolves, and comforts as it should — that is, when it is pacified by the blood of Christ. There was once a dying man, and it is said that the devil appeared to him, and showed him a very long parchment, where his sins were written on both sides, and they were many. Three quarters of the words he had spoken in his life were idle words, and all his actions were classified according to the ten commandments. Satan said to the poor sick man, “Do you see this? Behold your virtues! See how you will be judged!” But the poor sinner answered, “It is true, Satan, but you have not included everything, for you should have added here below, The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all our sins, and you have also forgotten, Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Why do we need a good conscience?

1. You cannot possibly get rid of your conscience, therefore be persuaded to get a good one. The unconverted do what they can to extinguish conscience. They flatter it with worldly reasoning, they bribe it with mock devotions, they wound it with heinous provocations, they scar it with habitual wickedness, they trample it underfoot by sinning in spite of it; they run away from it by diversions, and will not endure to hear it. Yet they can sooner turn their souls out of their bodies, than conscience out of their souls. Indeed, even amongst all these indignities, their conscience is as fresh and active as if it was not being abused in these ways. It is only waiting its opportunity to be heard, and then it will make what was done perhaps 40 years ago as if it had been but yesterday. A conscience you must have, and sooner or later it will do its job.

2. Your own conscience will be either your best friend or your greatest enemy (of all created things), to eternity. There’s no greater riches, no greater pleasure, no greater safety than a good conscience. However great may be the pressures of the body, the hurry of the world, or the intimidations of Satan, they can’t reach the conscience. A good conscience uniquely cheers the dying body, joyfully accompanies the departed soul to God, and triumphantly brings both soul and body to the tribunal to come. There’s no more profitable means, nor surer testimony, nor more eminent conveyer of eternal happiness than a good conscience. On the other hand, there is no greater torment than an evil conscience. Though its gentler checks may be disregarded, its louder clamours will make you tremble. What will you do, when conscience shall reproach you with your abuse of mercies, incorrigibleness under judgements, contempt of Christ, and hatred of holiness? If you can’t endure to hear what conscience has to say now, how will you endure it to eternity?

How can we get a good conscience?

But how shall we get such good consciences? Here are some suggestions.

Count no sin small

Screw up your obedience to every command to the highest. Ferret out every sin to the most secret corruption. When you have set your watch against the first risings of sin, beware of the borders of sin. Do not venture on temptations to sin, for you will find, like children on the ice, there’s always danger, never any good.

Repent immediately

There’s not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not, therefore, without delay, set about the healing duty of repentance, and on every slip into sin renew it, speedily renew it. If only I could snatch you out of your state of impenitency, and persuade you to daily actual repentance!

Compose yourself to live as under God’s eye

Live as in the (more than) tangible presence of the jealous God. Remember, all things are naked and bare before Him. You cannot deceive Him, for He is infinite wisdom; you cannot flee from Him, for He is every where; you cannot bribe Him, for He is righteousness itself. Keep therefore fresh realisations of God in your thoughts. Speak as knowing that God hears you. Walk as knowing that God is nearer to you than you are to yourself. Read through Psalm 139. Christians, do nothing but what you are willing that God should take notice of.

Be serious and frequent in the examination of your heart and life

This is so necessary to the getting and keeping of a right and peaceable conscience that it is impossible to have either without it. We have a thousand matters to think on all the day long, the night too, the week, the year — but who questions with his own heart, “What am I? what am I doing? how do I live? is the course I follow good and lawful? is that which I omit my duty, or not? Is God my friend? Am I His? What hope do have I of heaven? Say I die tomorrow, today, this very hour, where is my assurance I shall be saved? what reply can I make against the accusations of Satan and my conscience? will Christ be my advocate, when I shall stand in judgement? Have I grace, or have I none? do I grow in grace, or do I decay? Am I better this year than I was last year? what sins have I conquered now, that held me in combat then? what graces have I obtained now, that I did not have then?” Review each day whether your hearts have been intent upon religion, and indifferent to the world. Have special care of two portions, of your time, i.e., morning and evening — the morning to fore-think what ought to be done, and the evening to examine, whether you have done what you ought.


Be much in prayer — in all manner of prayer, but especially in secret prayer. Do not dismiss your own appeal by the love of sin, and you shall certainly be heard when you pray for grace. Believe it, Christian, it’s not your inevitable weakness, nor the spiritual dullness you feel, nor your lamented rovings, nor your distractions, nor your mistaken unbelief — not any of these, nor all of them together, can shut out your prayer. If you do “not regard iniquity in your heart,” then be encouraged. It is the voice of your beloved that says, “Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.”

Let every action have reference to your whole life, not only a part

The emphasis of the apostle’s exhortation is very great, “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” Let your whole life be a preparation for heaven, like an athlete’s preparation for victory. Strip yourself of all encumbrances, so that you may attend to piety. Pleasures may tickle you for a while, but they have a heart-aching farewell.

Live more on Christ then on the graces in you

Do not venture to sin because Christ has purchased a pardon — that is a most horrible and impious abuse of Christ. For this very reason there was no sacrifice under the Old Testament law for wilful wickedness, lest people might think they knew the price of sin. But so that no one will be overwhelmed with the sense of their unworthiness, know that we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and our salvation is better, safer, more for God’s glory, and our comfort, in His hand then in ours.

Be in every way nothing in your own eyes

It is the humble soul that thrives exceedingly, and alas! what do we have to be proud of? Whether you look at our constitution, or our conversation [lifestyle], our conception is sinful, our birth is penal, our life is toilsome, and our death we know not what. But all this is nothing to the state of our soul. A convert, when he comes to be conscious of sin at all, sees more cause to be weary of his life than proud of his graces. To rise and fall, to confess sin and commit it, to see others outrun us, when they set out after us, to recover the time for communion with God which we trifle away in unobserved trivialities — surely for such persons to be low and vile in their own eyes hardly deserves to be called humility! Use Agur’s words about himself (or some think they are Solomon’s), “Surely I am more brutish than any man. My knowledge of holy mysteries is very little, and in comparison with my ignorance, nothing.”

Think good thoughts of God

Think good thoughts of God, whatever He does with you, whatever He requires of you, whatever He lays on you. We never arrive to any holiness (or peace) worth mentioning, till we lose our selves in God. Once we can unriddle God’s methods of grace, and decode God’s methods of providence, getting a good spiritual use out of both, then we are not far from having a good conscience.

Yet there’s still one thing lacking, and it’s implied in thinking good thoughts of God, but it must be eminently expressed.

Do all you do out of love to God

Spiritual love-sickness is the soul’s healthiest state. When love to God is both cause, means, motive and end of all our activity in the business of religion, then the soul is on the wing towards its rest. Our love to other things is properly regulated when it is the goodness of God that moves us to love them. We ought to love God in such a way that with Him or under Him we love nothing else, but all things only in Him, because otherwise we do not love Him with our whole heart. When husbands love their wives, and wives their husbands — when parents love their children, and children their parents, it is a rare pitch to love all these in God, i.e., to advance our love to God by them, and so far as any of them draw away our love to God, to say to them, as Christ said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me.”


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How (not) to discern God’s will

How (not) to discern God’s will

How (not) to discern God’s will

Where do we find God’s will for us? It could be His will for what doctrine we believe, or it could be His will for our life. Theoretically Christians will consult the Bible for this, but what place does this leave for getting guidance through dreams or impressions, or even God’s providence? William Bridge, a member of the Westminster Assembly, preached a set of three sermons on 2 Peter 1:19 titled “Scripture Light the Most Sure Light.” As the following abridged excerpt shows, he builds a case that Scripture is clearer and safer than all other sources, and all the light they can give us is only borrowed from Scripture.

Revelations or visions

Scripture light is a full light. Though God did sometimes speak by revelations and visions [in Old Testament times], now in these last [New Testament] days, He has spoken His full mind by His Son.

The stronger any Christian is, the more he walks by faith; and the more he lives by faith, the more he chooses to walk by the Scripture, the written Word of God, the object of faith. It’s in Scripture we have Christ pictured to the life before our eyes, not in revelations and visions.

Imagine that right now you had a vision. How would you know that this was the voice of God, and not a delusion of Satan? Obviously, by the truth that is communicated in the vision — but how do you know the truth, except by Scripture? Or maybe because the vision reveals some future thing which then comes to pass? Then read Deuteronomy 13:1–2: God may permit a revelation to come to pass, and yet it may not be from the Lord, but to test you, whether you love Him, and will cling to Him.

There is no danger in following Scripture light. But if people follow revelations and visions, they may easily be drawn to despise the Scripture. Indeed, what is the difference between an atheist, or an infidel, and a Christian, except that the Christian adheres to Scripture, and the other does not? Take away the Scripture from me, and there will be little difference between me and an infidel.

But, you will say, may God not speak by extraordinary visions and revelations? Yes, without all doubt He may. God is not limited. I’m not going to argue about what God may do. But though God may do this, yet it is a bad sign if I hanker for it, because such hankering implies that a person is not content with the Scripture.

Though God may sometimes work by extraordinary means, yet if that person’s heart is drawn off from the ordinary means by what is extraordinary, it is not right. It is possible for there to be visions consistent with the Word, but if you are more impressed by them than by the Word itself, then your faith is suspicious.


Dreams often involve vanity, says the Preacher, “but fear thou God” (Eccles. 5:7). That is a check on paying too much attention to dreams. But the apostle says, “Let the word of God dwell in you richly,” and there is no check on that.

Dreams are also uncertain. It is hard to know whether a dream is natural or supernatural. Say it is supernatural. Then it is either from the devil or from God, and it is hard to know which. Say the dream is from God, yet it is hard to know its meaning and interpretation. Pharaoh had a dream, but all his magicians could not interpret it; that was a work for Joseph. The same with Nebuchadnezzar. Anyone may have a dream from God, but it requires no less than a prophet to interpret it. However, are we at such uncertainties in reading the Word? Can no one but a prophet understand the Scripture? No — the Word of the Lord is a lantern to the feet of all of us, plain in all things necessary to our salvation.

But may not God speak to us by a dream now, if He chooses? Without doubt He may; God is free. But Scripture does not indicate that dreams are an ordinance of God now.

Even if God did speak to me by a dream, yet if I made that a sign of my own godliness, or of God’s special love to me, then I am under a delusion. Even wicked men have had their dreams from God (Balaam, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and others). If I dream a strange dream, and conclude that therefore I am in God’s love, because He speaks to me this way, then I am deceived.

Who in the world dares to venture his soul and salvation on a dream, or the interpretation of it? But we may and must venture our souls and salvation on the Scripture.

Impressions on the soul

Impressions (with or without a word of Scripture), even when they are good, are not our daily food. Our appointed daily food is the written Word of God (whether it comes with or without impression).

Good people are very prone to walk and live by impressions, but it is dangerous. It fosters ignorance, and keeps people unsettled in their spiritual state; for if a word comes, then they have comfort; but when none comes, then their comfort fails. Or, dwelling on the sweetness of the impression, they lose the sweetness of the very word which was impressed on them. But now take the written Word of God, and there is no danger in living and walking by it; indeed that is our duty.

Is there no use then of impressions? Yes, much, for they comfort in time of difficulty. When someone is in the dark, or does not know which of two ways to take to do God most service — or sees the way clear and yet many difficulties in the way — then God sets some word with power on his soul, it is much comfort to him.

But although God speaks by impressions sometimes, giving much light and comfort, yet if I make an impression the judge of doctrines, then I am greatly deceived. We are to judge doctrines by the written Word of God.

Although much comfort may be had from impressions, yet if the Word is not impressed on the heart according to its true sense, the impression is likely not of God, but an illusion of Satan. God only ever sets a word on the soul in its true sense. So, do I have an impression with a word? The impression may be God’s, yet the application may be my own. The Lord gave Abraham a word, that his seed should be as the stars; but Abraham made a false application of it when he went to Hagar for the fulfilment.

The safest, surest way is to keep close to the written Word of God, which is both the judge of all our doctrines, and the only rule of all our practices.

The light of grace in the saints

The light and law within us here is imperfect. “We see only in part, and know only in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). But the written Word of God, the Scripture and its light, is perfect.

The light of grace within us is not able to convince others. But the Scripture, by the breathing of the Spirit of God with it, is able. How are “gainsayers” to be convinced (Titus 1:9)? By the light within? No, but by sound doctrine fetched from the faithful Word.

Is there, then, no use of the light within us? Does God not direct people this way? Yes indeed. This inward light not only exposes evil in us, and inclines us to good, but also enables us to good.

But it is a principle of good, yet it is not the rule of our goodness, or our lives. If it was, why would we need the Scripture? But Scripture is settled in heaven, and endures for ever (Psalm 119:89). Timothy had the light, and law, and Spirit of God within him, yet he was to be ruled by the written Word of God (1 Tim. 6:14).

Someone might say, “The Spirit in me is the same Spirit who wrote the Scripture, so why do I need to be ruled by the external Word instead of the inward Spirit?” The reason is that the Spirit is sent to open the Scripture to you, not to take away the Scripture from you. He is not sent to be your rule, but to be your help to understand the rule.

Even assuming you have the same Spirit who wrote the Scriptures, yet you do not have the same inspiration of the Spirit. Because people do not understand this, they think that if they have the same Spirit, they may set aside the Scripture as to their rule. But if something in me is my rule, then I am effectively my own rule, and so I am God, and what is this but horrid blasphemy?

Though the law, and light, and Spirit within, may be a great help to us in our way to life, yet they must be tested by the written Word.

Christian experience

The written Word of God is more excellent than Christian experience. Whatever light there is in experience, it is borrowed from the Scripture, the Word of God written. Though experience is a great help to our faith, yet take it alone, abstracted from the Word, and it cannot heal our unbelief. The walking stick in someone’s hand is a good help, but it cannot heal their lameness. Experience likewise will be a good help in my way, yet it cannot heal the lameness of my unbelieving heart. But the written Word can, and does.

Is there then no use of our experiences? Is there no light in them? Yes indeed, for experience brings forth hope. “Experience worketh hope” (Rom. 5:4–5). But though experience is the parent of hope, yet it is not the ground of our faith. It is a help to faith, but not the first ground of our faith. The Scripture is, and the promise under Christ (Rom. 15:4).

Though we have much experience, yet if we do not trust in the Word, over and beyond all our experience, we do evil.

Divine providence

God sometimes tests us by His providence. He lays a providential dispensation before us, to test and see what we will do (Deut. 8:2). But the Scripture is the rule of our doing.

The providence of God extends to everything, including all our sins. When Jonah fled from God, there was a ship right there that heading for Tarshish: here was a providence! And when Joseph’s brothers wanted to get rid of him, who came by but some merchants who traded in Egypt: here was a providence! So we cannot make our decisions from a bare providence. You may, however, make your decisions from Scripture, the Word of God written.

Does God never speak by providence, or sometimes guide and direct by providence? Indeed He does. But though the Lord does sometimes guide us with His providence, yet if I make the providence of God the rule of lawfulness or unlawfulness, then I am in a great error, and I expose myself to all kinds of sin. When two lawful things are before me, then when providence opens a door to one, and shuts the door on the other, it is directing to that one, not the other. But the providence of God does not make lawful something which is in itself unlawful. Providence is not the rule of lawfulness or unlawfulness. But the Scripture is. The written Word of God is the only rule by which I may and must make up my judgment of lawfulness and unlawfulness.



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When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When heathens were fervently praying to their false gods, who couldn’t possibly help them, Jonah, the servant of the living God, was fast asleep. The Covenanting minister Alexander Wedderburn draws on this historical event to reflect on how the Lord’s people can be put to shame by the diligence and commitment of idolaters to their false worship. The following updated and abridged sermon is on the words of the ship’s captain to Jonah. “The shipmaster came to him, and said, What meanest thou, O sleeper?” (Jonah 1:6).

Jonah prophesied in the days of Jeroboam II. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, where he is called a prophet and servant of the Lord. Though he prophesied of prosperity, yet it was with small success in such a corrupt time. So the Lord sends him to Nineveh, the chief city of the Assyrian empire. This he is loath to do, and resolves to flee by sea to Tarshish. But the Lord follows him with a storm. Then, when all in the ship are busy praying to their gods, he is asleep. For this the captain strongly rebukes him, saying, “What meanest thou, o sleeper?”

Although these are the words of a heathen, yet they contain a deserved rebuke of a prophet of Israel. “What meanest thou?” A short, emotive utterance, expressing anger in the speaker, and unreasonableness in the one he is addressing.

How do we treat our God?

The worshipers of the true God are sometimes outstripped in worship, and may justly be criticised for their neglectfulness, by idolaters.

How much reverence?

Their gods were no gods at all, but devils, falsehood and vanity. They had eyes and could not see, ears and could not hear, yet they highly esteemed them, and reverenced them. They “walked in the name of their God” (Micah 4:5), and they boasted and triumphed in their gods. The Ephesians all with one shout cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19). Idolatrous Micah, though he made his god himself, yet he called it “my god,” and said, “What have I more?” (Judges 18:24).

Now compare this with the worshipers of the true God. Who triumphs in God, or makes their boast of Him? Do we exalt Him as God? Do we confide in Him as God? Do we walk in the name of our God?

How much diligence?

As they revered their idols, so they were painstaking in worshipping them. Jeremiah notices their diligence. “Whom ye have loved, whom ye have served, whom ye have worshiped, and after whom ye have gone …” (Jeremiah 8:2). So many words to express their unwearying idolatry.

Compare this with the worshipers of the true God. Certainly our principles teach us the necessity of diligence in worship. But who runs, strives, fights, labours, according to their principles? Of whom can it be said in reference to God, “whom ye have loved, whom ye have served, whom ye have worshiped, and after whom ye have gone …”? It is just some feckless thing we do, and rarely we do that.

How fervent?

As they were diligent in their worship to their gods, so they were very zealous and intent on it. In Isaiah 57: 5, Israel is challenged for, among other things, inflaming themselves with idols. The ancient Greek religious leader Pythagoras forbade sacrifices to be offered when doing or thinking about any other thing.

Although we should be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, yet how often our heart in His worship goes staggering between that and something else! In worshipping Him, we are like someone looking at a star through a telescope with a shaking arm — sometimes he has a glance of it, and straightaway loses it again. Who prays as if they were making intercession for their life? or hears as the hungry man eats his food? Who sings, making a melody in their hearts to the Lord?

How self-sacrificial?

The idolaters prioritised the worship of their gods over their dearest and sweetest enjoyments. They made their children pass through the fire to Molech. This was a dreadful thing. Certainly, these parents were not lacking in natural affection to their young ones, yet they postponed that to the worship of their gods.

Compare this to the worshipers of the true God. A tiny speck appears an insuperable mountain in the way of His worship! Some will not come because they have a yoke of oxen to look after, etc (Luke 14:16-21). What would we risk for His honour or worship?

How much reliance?

The heathen depended heavily on their gods for everything. If they were at sea, they had a god to depend on for safety; in their harvests they had a god to depend on for fruitfulness. The Romans went never out to any war without multiplying sacrifices.

Do we acknowledge the true God in all our ways, that He would bring it to pass? Do we in everything make our requests known by prayer and supplication? What a sweet life we would lead, if every difficulty gave us an errand to Him with a petition, and every deliverance a song!

Why should we outdo the heathen?

If idolaters may justly reprehend the worshippers of the true God, it serves for lamentation and self-humbling. Especially if we consider things like these.

The excellency of our God

Our God is the Lord who made heaven and earth. Our God is in heaven, and does whatsoever He wills. Who is like the Lord among all the gods? Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands, but how excellent is our Lord’s name through all the earth! So excellent a God and yet worse served, how lamentable this is!

The infallible certainty of our principles

The basis on which we walk, and which obliges us to diligent, zealous worship of our God, is infallibly sure. Whatever human ingenuity could imagine, to demonstrate the certainty of our principles and obligations to worship, we have it. The Son coming down from the Father’s bosom and revealing our duty to us. A voice from heaven witnessing to the truth of His being His beloved Son. So many miracles, and such divine doctrine, proceeding from Him. It is ridiculous to hear of the origin of some of the heathen gods, to whom they offered sacrifices. Often they were the work of their own hands, or some of the creatures which God had made to serve them!

The sweetness of our duties

An idol signifies sorrow, but the duties we are called to create a bit of heaven on earth. “In keeping of thy commandments there is great reward” — not only for keeping them, but in keeping them. What ease to a burdened mind is prayer! What joy in praises! What refreshing consolations from meditating on God as reconciled through a mediator! Similarly in all other parts of worship. “I rejoiced when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord.”

The greatness of our debt

It never entered the mind of idolaters to worship their gods for the reason that we owe worship to ours. They thought they gave them corn and wine, and victory over their enemies, yet they never even claimed that any of them died for them, to prevent their eternal ruin. But this is the unspeakably great obligation we are under to worship. When our loss was desperate, He was broken for our iniquities, and in His stripes we are healed, and one of the goals He had in this was that we would be zealous worshipers of Him (Tit.2:14). “Ye are bought with a price, and are not your own, therefore glorify God in your bodies and souls” (1 Cor. 6:20).

The eternal weight of glory ahead of us

We have encouragements in our worship from the expectation of a far more excellent reward than idolaters could ever dream of or hope for. The philosopher Seneca comforted himself with the Elysian fields as he was dying. These were only imaginary, but supposing they were real, what a low reward they are when compared with the excellent, exceeding great, and eternal weight of glory that awaits the worshippers of God!

The assistance we are given

The heathen never dreamed that their gods would give them assisting influences to help them at their worship. All they did, they did in the strength of inherent virtue, either natural or acquired. Philosophy might make you patient and bear reproaches — or despise riches and delight in poverty. Aye, but we have the influences of assisting grace secured to us by the word of Him who cannot lie, to help us at our worship. If we do not know how to pray, or what to pray, the Spirit helps our infirmities. There is a spirit of faith, and a spirit of love, and a spirit of a sound mind. Idolaters get their water out of broken cisterns, that can hold no water, but the Rock follows us, and the Rock is Christ.

How can we outdo the heathen?

Some things about their worship, we should imitate.


They were kept in much fear and awe of their gods. They were constantly afraid that if they neglected their worship, their gods would avenge it. It is true, this is too servile a principle of gospel worship. Fear should not be the pace that should make our wheels go, it should be love (“If thou love me, keep my commandments”). Yet where fear is lacking, usually worship is lacking also.


Also, they judged that they had need of their gods for everything they enjoyed — corn, wine, water, success in war, peace, childbirth, wisdom, or whatever else — and therefore had a god for each of them. This impression would contribute much to help us in worship. If we seriously believed that both our doing and our receiving depended on Him, our addresses to Him could not but be more frequent and fervent.


They were also much heartened in their worship by the responses they had from their oracles. These responses were often ambiguous, so that whatever way things fell out, the response could be made to hint at it. Certainly, if we took notice of the answers God gives to prayer, we would have more delight in it.

If we could imitate them in these things, we would readily outstrip them.

I shall only add two things they omitted, which make our worship, not only in its nature, but in its manner, far exceed theirs.


Though they were diligent and intent in their worship, yet they never dreamed of any gracious qualification in the person who presented the worship. Nature’s ladder was too low to scale the fort of a natural heart. But if you can be born of water and of the Spirit, it will give your worship a lustre theirs could never have.

The Mediator

Though their sacrifices were numerous, and sometimes costly and cruel, yet they never dreamed of a high priest who stands with incense in His hand, which is the prayers of the saints.

This is the great ground of a believer’s hope in Christ, that He sits a high priest, not only to make intercession for the iniquity of his holiness, and to cover the imperfections of his worship, but to present it, and to second it before the throne of God. He knows that broken words and groans and such-like sacrifices, performed with the incense of righteousness of such a Mediator, can have acceptation. Therefore to outdo them, put your sacrifice always in Christ’s hands, pray in His name, praise in His name, and do all through Him.



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When our words about each other attack God

When our words about each other attack God

When our words about each other attack God

When James wrote his letter to Christian believers, he included a section on our words. Our words have immense potential for either good or harm, but sometimes it’s not a case of either/or. Sometimes, out of the same mouth comes both blessing and cursing — and this is something which simply shouldn’t happen. Can a fig tree produce olives, or grape vine produce figs? The startling incongruity of these examples is nothing to the sheer wrongness of using our words both to praise God and to curse those who are made in God’s image. This point is developed by Thomas Manton as follows, in an updated extract from his commentary on the Epistle of James.

“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God” (James 3:9). Here James shows the good and bad use of the tongue: the good, to bless God; and the bad, to curse men — as well as the absurdity of doing both with the same tongue, using the same part of your body for the best and worst purposes.

Our words should bless God

The correct use of the tongue is to bless God: “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise” (Psalm 51:15). Since God gives the gift of speech, he must have the glory; we owe it to him. This is the advantage we have over the other creatures, that we can be explicit in praising God. “All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee” (Psalm 145:10). The whole creation is like a well-tuned instrument, but man makes the music. Speech, being the most excellent faculty, should be consecrated to divine uses. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). So then, go away and say, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). This brings heaven on earth. Some birds sing in winter as well as in spring. Stir up one another (Ephesians 5:19), just as one bird sets a whole flock singing.

We praise “our Lord and Father,” that is, Christ (see James 1:27). We bless God most cheerfully when we consider Him as a father. Thoughts of God as a judge do not bring comfort. Our meditations on Him are sweet when we look on Him as a father in Christ. But not everyone can learn the Lamb’s new song (Revelation 14:3). Wicked men can howl, though they cannot sing. Pharaoh in his misery could say, “The LORD is righteous” (Exodus 9:27).

Our words should not curse each other

“And with the tongue we curse men” (James 1:9). The same tongue should not bless God and curse men; this is hypocrisy. Acts of piety are empty when acts of charity are neglected. “God saith, ‘What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? … Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and your tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slenderest thine own mother’s son’” (Psalm 50:16, 19-20).

Hypocrites are the most censorious, but true piety makes people meek and humble. Some people can curse and bless at the same time (Psalm 62:4); other people curse, pretending to be pious. The evils of the tongue, where they are not restrained, are inconsistent with true piety. With this tongue I have been speaking to God, and shall it presently be set on fire by hell.

Our words should reflect our high status as God’s image-bearers

Man is made after God’s own image. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We may catch glimpses of God in His works, but in man we see God’s very image and likeness.

God’s image in man consists in three things.

(1) In his nature, which was rational. God gave man a rational soul, simple, immortal, free in its choice; indeed, even in the body there were some rays of divine glory and majesty.

(2) In those qualities of “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10), “upright[ness]” (Ecclesiastes 7:29), and “true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

(3) In his state — all inward and outward blessings combined, as he enjoys God, exercises power over creatures, etc.

But this image is defaced and can only be restored in Christ. This was the great privilege of our creation — to be made like God; the more we resemble Him, the more happy we are. Remember your original height. We have the custom of urging people to walk worthy of their origins. Plutarch says of Alexander that he used to strengthen his courage by remembering that he came from the gods. Remember that you were made in the image of God; do not deface it in yourselves, or make it open to contempt by giving others opportunity to revile you.

Our words should not attack God via His image-bearers

We are dissuaded from slandering and speaking evil of others when we consider that they are made in God’s image.

We might ask, How can this be a motive, since the image and likeness of God is defaced and lost by the fall?

The answer is, in part, that James is speaking about new creatures especially, in whom Adam’s loss is repaired and made up again in Christ. “[You] have put on the new man, which is [being] renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:10). “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). God is sensitive about His new creatures; intemperance of tongue against saints is dangerous. Take care what you say: these are Christians, created in God’s image, choice pieces whom God has restored out of the common ruins.

The other part of the answer is that James may be speaking about all people, for there are a few relics of God’s image in everyone. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). There would be no force in this reason if there were nothing of God left in man after sin, albeit much deformed. So this saying in James argues that there still remains in people some resemblance to God, such as the simplicity and immortality of the soul, some moral inclinations (instead of true holiness), ordinary evidences of the nature and will of God (instead of saving knowledge). Although these cannot make us happy, they serve to leave us without excuse. There is also some pre-eminence over other creatures, as we have a mind to know God, being capable of divine illumination and grace.

What is the force of the argument, that we ought not to curse people seeing they are made in God’s image?

For one thing, God has made human beings His deputies to receive love and common respect. Higher respect of trust and worship are to be reserved for God alone, but in other things Christians, even the poorest of them, are Christ’s receivers. “He that despiseth you despiseth me” (Luke 10:16). “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45).

For another thing, God Himself is wronged by the injury done to His image, just as, among us, contempt and spite for the king’s image or coin is taken as done to the king himself. In Matthew 23:18, to swear by the altar, which was the symbol of God’s presence, was to swear by God Himself.

Also, this is the fence God has placed against injury: “For in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6). This is referred not to the murderer, as if he had sinned against those common ideas of justice and right in his conscience, but to the victim, who is the image of God. God has honoured this lump of flesh by stamping His own image on him; and who would dare to violate the image of the great King? To speak evil against him is to wrong the image of God. All God’s works are to be looked on and spoken of with reverence, and much more His image.

So then, in your behaviour toward people, let this check any injury or impropriety of speech: this person is in God’s image. Though images are not to be worshipped, yet the image of God is not to be splattered with reproaches, especially if they are new creations: these are vessels of honour. Consider who the sin is against: it is spiting God Himself, because it is done to His work and image. Solomon says, “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5).


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