What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Sep, 2021

Some people dismiss the idea of pleasing God, they think it is the idea of trying to curry God’s favour by our actions. They point out we can never reach a perfect standard so we are condemning ourselves to an exhausting treadmill chasing after something we cannot attain. We need simply to trust God and give up the idea of pleasing Him they say. It’s certainly possible for some kind of reliance on our own works to creep into the Christian life. Others know that sin taints all we do and so it can never be perfectly pleasing to God, we are just not able to do that. So should we give up on the idea of pleasing God? Not according to the New Testament, which has a lot to say about it as our great aim (2 Corinthians 5:9) in everything (Colossians 1:10). We are to live in such a way as pleases God (1 Thessalonians 4:1) constantly trying to learn what is pleasing to Him (Ephesians 5:8-10). In an unrenewed state, we are unable to please God (Romans 8:8) but that implies that we can please Him (Luke 1:30; Hebrews 11:5). This is the whole purpose of sanctification that God works within us so that we do that which is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 13:20-21). We do not need to pit pleasing and trusting God against each other since trusting God enables us to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). It is because we are accepted in the Beloved (if we are true believers) that we seek like Him to always do what pleases God out of love. But what does pleasing God involve?

One passage tells us a lot about this because it presents us with someone who did indeed please God from a renewed heart transformed by saving faith. We do not know much about Enoch but this is the great thing we do know. William Gouge explains what we need to please God from Hebrews 11:5-6 in this updated extract.

1. We Need Dedication to God

The particular person here commended is Enoch. This is a Hebrew name, derived from a verb that means to dedicate, and may be interpreted, dedicated. His condition fitly corresponded to his name; for of all the patriarchs he was most especially dedicated to God. The testimony of his walking with God and of God’s taking him to Himself gives evidence of this. Others had the same name, such as Cain’s first son after whom he named a city that he built (Genesis 4:18). Abraham’s grandchild by Keturah (Genesis 25:4 and Reuben’s eldest son also had this name (Genes 46:9). But it is clear the one meant here is the one which was the seventh from Adam and was taken by God. The same faith previously spoken of-a justifying faith, resting on the promised Messiah-is certainly meant here.

2. We Need Saving Faith

Hebrews 11:6 has a special reference to the last clause of the previous verse, “he pleased God”. The main point is that Enoch pleased God by faith. The argument is made from the impossibility of its opposite. It is impossible without faith to please God. Therefore Enoch, who had this testimony that he pleased God, had faith. Faith in this place is to be taken as it was in the first verse and in the other verses following after it. In all those places it is taken, as here, for a justifying faith, as the effects of it in this verse prove.

We are so corrupt by nature in soul and body, in every power and part of either, and so polluted in everything that passes from us that it is not possible in and of ourselves to do anything that is acceptable to God. But faith looks on Christ, applies Christ and His righteousness, and does all things for God in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Thus, by faith, we please God. Out of Christ, which is to be without faith, it is impossible to please God. This manifests an absolute necessity of faith.

To please implies that something is done that finds acceptance with the one to whom it is done either in the action or the person doing it. God is the One whom we all ought to please. There are four things required to please God; all of them are accomplished by faith and nothing else.

(a) The person that pleases God, must be accepted by God (Titus 1:15; Genesis 4:4).

(b) The thing that pleases God must be in harmony with His will (Hebrews 13:21). The apostle exhorts us for this reason to “prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” (Romans 12:2).

(c) The manner of doing that which pleases God, must be with due respect to God as follows:
– In obedience to God: because He has commanded it. We must say like Peter, that we do it because He has ordered it (Luke 5:5) This is to do it “for conscience’ sake,” and “for the Lord’s sake,” (Romans 13:5; 1 Peter 2:13).
– In humility, denying ourselves, and all self-conceit as Paul who said “Not I, but the grace of God which is with me,” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
– In sincerity, as having to do with He that searches the heart (Isaiah 38:3).
– in diligence: like the two faithful servants with whom the Lord was well pleased but not like the slothful servant (Matthew 25:20)
– in cheerfulness (2 Corinthians 9:7).
– in our callings (1 Corinthians 6:17).
– in constancy (Hebrews 9:38).
– in assurance, that God, who accepts the person, accepts also the work that is done. This is how Manoah’s wife inferred that God was pleased with what they did (Judges 13:23).

(d) The goal, which is God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Faith is the means by which all these four aspects of pleasing God may be effected and accomplished.
(a) Faith in Christ makes the person accepted by God (Ephesians 1:12). (b) Faith makes men subject themselves to God’s will. (c) Faith makes people seek to do what they do to God in obedience, humility, sincerity, diligence, cheerfulness, orderly, constantly and with an assurance of God’s acceptance. All these may be exemplified in Enoch.
(d) Faith, of all graces, aims at God’s glory most. Abraham, was “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

3. We Need to Trust God

The apostle proves the assertion that it is impossible to please God without faith. His proof is that those who come to God must believe that He is. The proof is applied to such as come to God. To come is used in a metaphorical way and includes those who have to do with God in prayer, in praise, or in any other service. That which is required of such as come to God, is, to believe that God is. It is vain for any to go to one whom they do not believe to be. But this is not simply and barely to be taken of believing in the being of God. It may be demonstrated that there is a God, and that God is by reason, and philosophical arguments.

This is an act of faith and it must, therefore, be more distinctly understood. It means that they believe He is the true God, the only true God, such a God
as He has revealed Himself to be. If we add the word God afterwards i.e. those who come to God must believe that He is God it will become clearer. God must be believed to be as He is, or as He has manifested Himself to be. Thus, Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6). To believe God in any other way is to make Him an idol (Romans 1:21), to believe Him to be nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4). We must be informed about God as He has made Himself known to us in His Word. “Search the Scriptures;” they testify of Him (John 5:39). This includes the nature, persons, properties, and works by which He is made known to us in the Word. Otherwise, it will be altogether in vain to come to God.

4. We Need to Walk Before God Continually

Enoch pleased God. The word here is made up of the verb to please (Galatians 1:10) and a preposition that means well which adds emphasis. It implies that Enoch was very circumspect over himself and careful in all things to do that which was acceptable to God. That was pleasing Him well. This word is used in Hebrews 13:16 to show God’s approval of works of mercy. Enoch pleased God because he “walked before God,” continually (as the grammar of the Hebrew in Genesis 5 indicates).

Enoch always had God in his eye, whether alone, or in company, doing duties of piety or other affairs. This moved him to carefully and conscionably avoid what might be displeasing to God, and diligently do what was agreeable to the will of God. He had the testimony of men bearing witness to him and highly esteeming him. He had the testimony of God, by an inward witness of God’s Spirit in his conscience and by God’s approving him. Enoch in his lifetime prophesied of the coming of the Lord to judgment, Jude 14. This makes it clear that he had the day of judgment in his mind and in considering that, he was moved to seek to please the Lord well in all things.

5. We Need to Believe God is a Rewarder

Before God took him, Enoch did that which moved God to take him. It is in the past tense, he had pleased God. In his lifetime, before he received any reward, he did that which was acceptable to the Lord. Work must be done before the reward can be expected (see Hebrews 10:36). Faith brings a reward. Those who walk with God please Him. Those that please God will not lack testimony of it and will surely be rewarded. The evidence of his reward is that he was taken and was not found. The best livers are not the longest livers.

Believers can be sure of their reward. God is faithful (Hebrews 10:23); He will not fail to perform what He undertakes (Ephesians 6:8). God in His rewards considers what is fitting for His excellency to give, and accordingly proportions His reward. As a king in rewarding a faithful servant is not content to give him a little money but rather gives high honours and dignities (Genesis 41:41).

6. We Need to Diligently Seek God

Those who may expect reward from God, are those who diligently seek Him. Literally, this word means to seek out, to seek till one finds; to seek earnestly and diligently. This is how people are said to “seek after the Lord,” (Acts 15:17) and how the prophets sought after the salvation promised (1 Peter 1:10). To express the emphasis of this word the word “diligently” has been added in English. We are to seek Him with all our heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29) and those that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing (Psalm 34:10). None but such should expect a reward from God. This should stir us up to use our best endeavours to find the Lord in such a way that we may rest on Him and make Him our reward (see Hebrews 4:11).

Conclusion

We please God by faith, submitting to His Word and will and believing what He declares, and He is who reveals Himself to be. We please Him when we glorify Him by faith We want to have access to Him, to experience His presence and to live as much as possible coram deo (before God’s face). So we seek Him out diligently until we find Him. We use the means He has appointed for us to seek Him. We want to please Him as much as possible. Paul says that when we are in the married state, we want to please our spouse in all things, not because we are fearful they will stop loving us but simply because we love them (1 Corinthians 7:34). It is the same spiritually for those who are joined to Christ in loving faith. We seek Him and seek to please Him because we believe that He is the rewarder of such and the reward we look for is more of His presence and ultimately that is in heaven itself, as Enoch found.

 

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How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World

How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World

How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
10 Sep, 2021

It’s hard even to buy shoes these days without being surrounded by prominent messages about diversity and expressive individualism. From advertising to social media influencers and other media messages, we are not just being persuaded to buy or adopt something – we are also being told how to think. In a context of woke capitalism and cancel culture, celebrities and organisations are jostling with one another in virtue signalling. It manifests apparent moral certainty and religious zeal. Some messages are more subtle, playing on our desires and emotions and sowing questions in our minds about biblical truth. Whatever goes near our hearts, engaging our energy and affection easily becomes a thorn to choke the word and let error grow (Matthew 13:22). We are being catechised by the world, possibly without being aware of it. How can we and others be best prepared to resist it?

The apostle Paul wrote to people surrounded by false religion and philosophy, including dangerous heresies. Arguably, woke values are a kind of Christian heresy. They often present concerns of compassion and justice within a moral framework that subverts Christian teaching. It is often a gospel without grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. People clearly derive some comfort, security and a lot of self-righteousness from being “on the right side.”

Paul was concerned for those who were susceptible to false ideas. He wanted to see them established in the truth. This was especially so with the Colossian Christians, he had a great struggle and conflict for them (Colossians 2:1). He wanted them to know the comfort of being firm in the faith and to be able to resist false messages that could be very enticing (Colossians 2:4). We need to be deeply and firmly established in the truth if we are going to resist the world’s catechising.  We cannot rest satisfied with the bare minimum, we need the fulness of knowledge that Christ intends us to have. Gospel truth is not a few basics but the truth as it is in Jesus leads us to a fresh and deeper appreciation of who He is the more that we explore it. The better we know the truth, the better we will discern error even when it is very subtle. In the following updated extract, James Fergusson shows what practical spiritual help we can derive from Colossians 2:1-4.

1. Gospel Truth Produces True Comfort

Everyone is naturally destitute of solid comfort. Even the people of God, when driven to extremities find their comfort greatly shaken (chiefly when the truth of the gospel -from which they draw their consolation – is questioned). For the time being the Colossians had their comfort shaken when the truth of the gospel was being questioned by these teachers of error (v2).

Only the teaching of the gospel best establishes a disconsolate and afflicted spirit. Comfort and stability result from having that teaching established when erring spirits would call it in question. To know also that others who are dear to God, sympathize with us in our troubles contributes greatly to our stability and comfort. The apostle has a concern and endeavour to have them established in the truth of the gospel (which was then being questioned) so as to contribute to their hearts being comforted (v2).

2. Gospel Truth Produces True Unity

Unity of heart and affections in the Church is so necessary that the lack of it greatly obstructs the solid comfort which might otherwise be reaped by the gospel. Their comfort depends on their being knit together in love, literally (in the original) as a piece of timber joined together by a carpenter (v2).

Unity of heart and affections also greatly depends on union of understanding and constancy in truth. Where there is discord in the understanding about main and substantial truths, there can be no through and lasting concord of the will and affections. Paul makes their being knit together in love one fruit of their constancy in truth (v2).

3. Gospel Truth is Deeper Than We Realise

Christians are not to rest contented with the knowledge of the common and easy principles of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1). We are to grow in the knowledge of other more difficult truths, such as those that relate to various spiritual difficulties and the defence of truth against adversaries. Growth in these follows from perseverance in truth. Such a growth is meant here by the riches of understanding and it is another fruit of constancy in truth (v2).

Neither are they to rest on simple knowledge of gospel truths (Matthew 7:21), they are to know them with affection and love to these truths. They are to know the reality of them from experience. This is implied in the word “acknowledge”, which means literally to know again with more than ordinary knowledge (v2).

4. Gospel Truth Produces True Stability

They are not to rest on a fluctuating, doubting knowledge but rather strive for a full persuasion and assurance, both of the truth of the gospel in general and the reality of their own individual claim to its promises. This is also attained by stability in the truth, the full assurance of understanding is spoken of here as another fruit of constancy.

5. Gospel Truth Deepens Our Knowledge of God

God is the author of the gospel, devising it in His eternal wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). Christ was the Father’s Ambassador to preach and reveal it (Matthew 12:18). So “God, and the Father, and Christ” are the prime object of the Gospel. The gospel plainly reveals the great mysteries of the unity of the Godhead, the distinction and order of the persons, the incarnation of Christ, His person, natures, and offices, His saving benefits and love to sinners. Thus, the gospel is called “the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (v2).

6. Gospel Truth Deepens Our Knowledge of Christ

Christ is the storehouse that contains all saving knowledge imparted to those who strive to know Him. There is in Christ and the gospel, sufficiency of knowledge in all things necessary to salvation.  Christ is the very way to life (John 14:6) and the gospel is that teaching that shows this way completely (John 20:31). Christ is equipped with all knowledge and graces as Mediator to bestow the grace of saving knowledge on all the elect in a sufficient way (John 1:16). Notwithstanding all that is revealed of Jesus Christ, His worth is unsearchable. The ablest of created understandings cannot reach the depth of it. In Him are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v3).

7. Gospel Truth Guards Us Against Persuasive Error

Satan endeavours to sow the seed of error wherever the gospel is preached.  Ministers should therefore guard people against error in opinion, as much as against ungodliness of life. The one will damn us as much as the other (2 Peter 2:1). Paul is aware of the beguiling of false teachers (v4).

Ministers should labour to instruct their people well in the grounds of Christian truths. They should especially instruct them in the knowledge of Christ and the fullness of sufficiency which is in Him. This is a most effectual antidote against all those errors which tend to draw the minds of people from Him. Anyone who would engage with the study of disputed truths with good purpose and without incurring danger ought first to drink in the knowledge of those grounds.  The apostle proceeds in this method, first, instructing them in them and then dissuading them from contrary errors.

Satan labours to engage the ablest intellects to promote errors. When such are engaged they spare no efforts for seducing others by abusing their otherwise useful intellects and gifts for that end. They use them to try to blind people’s understandings with sophistry and the kind of arguments which do not prove not what they seem to. They lead the affections of others captive by deceitful and insinuating persuasions. Thus these seducers against whom the apostle seeks to guard were men endowed with logic and eloquence which they abused to seduce people to accept error. They abused logic by using false arguments, the word “deceive” literally means to deceive by distorted reasoning which seems plausible. They abused their gifts of eloquence by using subtle persuasions, which are called here “enticing words.”

Conclusion

It’s easy for us to have our thinking shaped by our culture, it creeps into our very assumptions and outlook. The world is very good at catechising in a way that is appealing and sounds clever. It uses a kind of emotional reasoning and language that seems persuasive and ear catching at face value. It knows how to sow questions and prompt well-crafted and memorable slogans for answers. But the more that we allow these messages to filter in unchecked (and the less we seek to grow in the knowledge of the truth) the more we are at risk of being led astray by them. We may not yield some convictions but without realising certain unpopular and uncomfortable biblical truths become eroded to the point where we have no clear grasp of them. If only the church knew how to catechise as effectively as the world. There is a fulness and sufficiency in the knowledge of Christ and the gospel that we should seek to experience in a richer, deeper way. It will truly strengthen, comfort and satisfy us – the world promises this but can never accomplish it.

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Why Has the West Been Humiliated?

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
2 Sep, 2021

There is one word that the whole world seems agreed on in relation to the western withdrawal from Afghanistan – humiliation. Whether we are truly humbled or only temporarily disgraced depends on how our nations respond. We ought in all humility, to ask why this has happened. To do so does not minimise the heart-rending distress experienced by those abandoned in Afghanistan. Nor does it reduce the courageous sacrifice of our troops. Asking why this has happened gives us a window into our real state as nations. This is not just a military and strategic defeat but a failure of the mission to remake Afghanistan in the image of the West and its values. The decline of the West is due to its moral decay.

As western nations we thought we could export to Afghanistan the benefits inherited from the Christian heritage we have rejected, without also giving them the framework of belief and morality that produced them. The US army were so afraid of doing that they even burned Afghan language Bibles sent to them.  It appears that British involvement commissioned fatwas calling for converts from Islam to be killed.  As one writer has observed, the West in its decadence has lost its virtue, it has squandered the moral capital bequeathed by a living faith.

The emptiness of our pride as nations and the fatal complacency it produces have been exposed for all to see. The Old Testament prophets frequently show us such decadent pride in nations, with the implication that we are to learn from it. The small book of Obadiah is largely taken up with the nation of Edom who manifested proud contempt towards Judah. They were proud of their prosperity, resources and wealth (v3-6); allies (v7); wisdom (v8) and military might (v9). But judgement is threatened against the, ultimately their pride would be brought low and every one of these things in which they put their confidence pulled down. They would then be exposed to misery and contempt. As George Hutcheson observes the prophet shows how “the Lord would diminish their number, power, wealth, and reputation, and put them beneath all other nations and load them with contempt and ignominy.” In the following updated extract Hutcheson draws out the meaning of Obadiah 2-4 in teaching us the fearful danger of pride, the sin that God hates so much.

1. Pride Can Bring the Greatest Down

The Lord in pursuing for sin, can bring down the greatest person and people in the world, lay them in the dust, and pour contempt upon the most honourable. The Lord says He has made them small, and greatly despised.

The Lord’s showing mercy to any makes way for others also to show mercy towards them for their good (Jeremiah 42:12). In the same way, when the Lord becomes an adversary in anger, the affections and respect of others will dry up towards them. For however Edom was esteemed before by others, when God deals with him he is greatly despised.

2. Pride in Outward Advantages

A natural heart together with outward advantages and benefits usually produces pride, self-confidence and insolence. Edom is proud of their high and secure location and says in his heart, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” But though a renewed heart has all these benefits, they are poor and depend on God.

3. Pride of Heart is Known to God

The Lord does not judge people’s pride by their outward conduct (which may be masked over with an appearance of humility) so much as by looking at their heart and discerning the conceit and lofty imaginations that reign there. He sees the pride of Edom’s heart.

4. Pride is Self-Deceit

Self-deceit is one of the greatest of all deceits. In this they are given up to delude themselves with vain imaginations and confidences so that their heart deceives them. However much pride and conceit musters up people’s excellences, it merely deludes them and makes a pretence of what will prove nothing. Either it is an evidence of what is nothing in reality or that what they are conceited about becomes blasted and withered. However much presumption may promise great things to make sinners secure and despise God’s threatenings, it only deceives them and feeds them with vain hopes. It will prove a deceiver in the end when they have greatest need of what they seemed to promise.

5. Pride is God’s Enemy

God looks on pride in the creature as an enemy against Himself. It strikes pre-eminently at His glory in failing to depend on Him and seeking to usurp His throne. It therefore provokes God, though there were no other aggravation or enemy, it engages Him to prove His power in abasing it. Therefore, that general defiance, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” is answered by God as being His special concern. He says that He will bring them down.

The Lord is able to reach man and bring him down in even though he has the maximum imaginable strength and greatness. He can make strong holds a vain refuge in a day of vengeance and is even able to overturn more confidences then man can build up for his own security. To dwell in the clefts of the rock was but a small thing for God’s power to reach, and yet that was the utmost of what Edom could boast of.

Conclusion

It is easy to be proud of many things, even spiritual privileges. We need to take this to heart ourselves, how can we see this in our national life without living more humbly before others in our personal life? Perhaps the West is as it is because the Church has not been what it should be. We also need to make it clear to others why the West has lost its virtue. The more moral decay we see, the more we need to shine as lights in the darkness and the more we need to plead with and intercede on behalf of our rulers and nations. We need to be a clear voice for the truth as well as salt and light that has a restraining influence.

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Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises

Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises

Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
1 Sep, 2021

We are naturally more drawn to the promises of Scripture than the commandments. Our prayers make use of the promises as strong arguments. But as many have noticed down through the centuries one aspect of the harmony of Scripture is that the same truth is sometimes expressed as a precept, other times as a promise and elsewhere as a prayer. There is a command to obey, an offer of help to obey it and a request for help. This threefold cord is very helpful in prayer that depends on the promises. It helps us to avoid setting up a conflict between what God requires and what He promises by showing us how grace and divine help connect the three. If we lack wisdom for instance, we may connect the command of Proverbs 4:7 with the promise of James 1:5 and the prayer of 2 Chronicles 1:10.  Scripture is full of this. We will always find a promise that matches the precept and prayer that is based on both. Hugh Binning explains this beautiful arrangement further in the following updated extract.

 

All things in Christianity have a close conjunction. It is such an absolutely complete thing that if one link is loosed the whole chain falls to the ground, and if one is well fastened on the heart, it brings all along with it. All parts of religion are so closely conjoined together that they may mutually enforce one another.

Precepts and promises are thus linked together, that if any soul lays hold, indeed, on any promise of grace, they draw along with it the obligation of some precept to walk in a way suitable to such precious promises. There is no encouragement you can indeed fasten on which will not join you as closely to the commandment. And there is no consolation in the gospel, that does not carry within itself an exhortation to holy walking. Again, on the other hand, any precept should lead you immediately to a promise. And any exhortation is surrounded before and behind with a strong consolation, to make it pierce the deeper and go down the sweeter.

It is usual for the Lord in His word to turn His precepts into promises. This shows us that the commandments of God do not so much imply an ability in us or suppose strength to fulfil them as declare that obligation which lies on us and His purpose and intention to accomplish in some, what He requires of all. We should therefore accordingly convert all His precepts into prayers seeing He has made them promises. This gives us grounds, as it were, to return his commands by way of requests and supplications. In Scripture He has often made His command a promise. It is then in the nearest capacity to be turned into the form of a supplication.

 

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Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk

Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk

Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
26 Aug, 2021

Each day almost seems to bring further news of ways in which biblical values are being subverted. In society, government and education we witness the advance of an agenda bulldozing remaining Christian values and silencing opposition. The headlines are a source of great grief and perhaps weary silent questioning. What are the prospects for the future? Why is rebellion against God prevailing? It seems only to be increasing at an ever-rapid rate. Others have been in similar circumstances, and we find similar concerns in the book of Habakkuk. God’s people were suffering under the oppressive rule of pagan conquerors. Habakkuk wants to know how this is consistent with God’s purpose and promises. He discovers that things will in fact get worse but that he must also take the long view and understand this in a much bigger context of God’s holy and wise purpose. In reading the headlines with Habakkuk we find that there are answers to the troubling questions we are reluctant to voice.

In chapter 1 of his prophecy Habakkuk pours out his distressed prayer concerning the degree to which sin was prevailing around him while the Lord seemed distant. God’s forbearance was only being used to increase in sin. The Lord would use the Babylonians to work out His purposes and to punish sin. He would chastise but not destroy His Church. The Lord is everlasting (Habakkuk 1:12) and this means His purposes are unchangeable towards His people (Psalm 102:27-28). Habbakkuk shows us what it is to be concerned for God’s glory and the future of the Church in a time of trouble. He shows us how to take refuge in God’s glorious attributes in bringing our burdens to Him. Since God is the holy one, He must show His disapproval of it in His people as well as His enemies (Habakkuk 1:12). Yet Habakkuk is still troubled by the very holiness of God. How can He who is so pure then tolerate the enemies of the Church and allow them to prosper (Habakkuk 1:13)? Ultimately the prophet is answered that though there is a delay in working out the full purpose of God he must wait humbly and live by faith (Habakkuk 2:3-4). The just must live a life of grace and walk by faith not by sight. They look to the promises rather than headlines and events. They seek to live out and contend for the just requirements of God’s Word no matter how hard the times may be. George Hutcheson draws some helpful reflections for us from Habakkuk 1:13 in this updated extract.

1. God’s People Often Question Events

Such is the weakness and instability of the spirits of the Lord’s people, and such is the great variety of things that exercise their graces, that there are few things in time their hearts do not take issue with. We read of the prophet previously complaining in his zeal, that God did not take action against the sins of his people but when he gets an answer, he is not satisfied. Rather his compassion finds new reasons to be troubled and complain.

2. God’s People Often Struggle to Understand His Role in Events

The clearest sighted saints may be so bewildered as not to be able to reconcile God’s dealings with His nature and attributes. They are rather ready to think they are opposed to one another. The prophet here cannot reconcile God’s holiness with His toleration of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).

We are so weak and selfish, that when providence does not work according to our mind and understanding, we are ready to succumb to temptations of atheism and question Providence. The prophet looks at God, as though He were only looking on and holding his tongue like a spectator when He tolerated the Chaldeans.

3. God’s People Seek to Justify His Role in Events

It is the duty and concern of all the godly to justify God and clear Him from any charge. Even though their weakness cannot see through all the deep mysteries of His Providence concerning His Church and her enemies. To this end they should prevent the arguments of unbelief and temptations with those of faith. The prophet, in the midst of his dark mists, therefore begins with this as an unshakeable foundation (whatever his heart said) that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity (see Jeremiah 12:1).

4. God’s People Pray About How to Understand Events

The only best way to refute temptations and dispel mists is not to debate difficult and unclear situations when our own hearts are overcome with weakness and fears. Rather we should vent the matter and our situation to God and seek His resolution of it. The prophet experiencing this temptation therefore cries out to God.

5. God’s People Will Be Chastised for Their Sin

However much the Lord has just indignation against the gross iniquities of those outside the Church and will in due time punish them, He will also chastise His people. This is necessary considering the many factors that increase the guilt of lesser sins within the Church, God’s jealousy over His people, and His concern to have them reclaimed from every evil course. It is no wonder then to see the Church’s sins punished (although they may be less in their own nature) even when more gross sins committed by those outside the Church escape for a time unpunished. The prophet complains that God holds His tongue when the wicked devours those more righteous than they. This indicates that God does indeed do so and that it proves to be a righteous act, however, much we may quarrel with it.

The Lord makes use of wicked instruments to punish His people so that in the very foulness of the rod He uses He may show to them the vileness of their sin. This is the reason the Jews are devoured by the wicked and those more vile than themselves (see Ezekiel 7:24). The prophet complains that they deal treacherously and devour, yet are permitted to prosper.

6. God’s People Know He Will Deal with His Enemies

Although God is righteous in punishing His Church by wicked instruments, yet the holiness of God compared with their wickedness, gives grounds of hope that He will at last reckon with them. This remonstration of the prophets indicates this truth, that while the holiness of God may not always seem to fit with this in the end it will be seen to do what is right (Psalm 50:21).

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What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?

What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?

What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
18 Aug, 2021

Afghanistan has suddenly become an extremely dangerous place for everyone, but especially for the small number of believers there. Reliable sources report the Taliban demanding mobile phones and if they find a Bible or Christian content on it, the person is killed immediately. One Christian has had his 14-year-old daughter ripped from his arms and taken into forced “marriage”. The Taliban have raided the home of a church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature. Another leader received a letter from them, “We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.” By the time the Taliban were at his door, he had gone into hiding. It was already a brutal place where it is impossible to live openly as a Christian and where conversion has been punished with death or being certified insane. According to Open Doors, the only place more dangerous for a Christian is North Korea. “How we survive daily only God knows. He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us,” one Christian has said. Facing chaos, repression, disease, violence, food shortages as well as persecution, what hope is there for Afghan believers? Scripture does in fact take account all of these terrible experiences and guarantees them strength and hope. It should inform our prayers for them.

The apostle Paul takes a fully realistic view of such a condition. He gives a list of some of the most extreme sufferings that believers have faced and will face in Romans 8:35. John Brown of Wamphray explains them. Tribulation means all the affliction which is likely to oppress and break a person (John 16:33). Distress means being so hemmed in and crushed as to suffer pain and being so surrounded that in their anxiety they do not know where to turn. Persecution is the tyrannical violence that drives people from the land of their nativity and forces to wander in unfamiliar places. Famine is the extreme and intolerable scarcity of all the necessities of this life. Nakedness is shame and disgrace as well as such extreme poverty that they can scarcely be clothed. Peril is having their life in jeopardy and being in fear of danger. Sword means any kind of violent death. This is often the experience of believers as the quotation from Psalm 44:22 shows.

This describes exactly the current experience of Afghan believers. Yet no matter how grievous such calamities are to flesh and blood and how hard to endure, Paul says they cannot separate them from the love of God. Indeed, he says that in all these they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them. They are not overcome but overcoming. John Brown goes on to apply the passage further in the following updated extract.

1. Believers Are Strengthened Despite Their Weakness

Believers are conscious of their own weakness and inability to endure storms. They are often afraid that sore and sad calamities will make them turn their back on Christ. So they dread such sharp afflictions and why it is God’s will in His wise providence that they experience them. It is for this reason that the apostle strengthens believers and says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (verse 35).

2. Believers May Experience Extreme Calamities

They are not exempt from various sorts of hardships in a world in which Christ suffered (verse 34). The afflictions that believers may expect to meet with in a world are not light in themselves but so sharp that they will be squeezed (so to speak) as in a wine press. They will meet with tribulation and be painfully pressed in and crushed. They will not only have outward afflictions pressing them but at the same time may expect to have their spirits so hemmed in on all sides that they can see no possible way of escaping. They are in danger of concluding themselves to be dead and gone (1 Samuel 20:3) and so surrounded with trouble as not to know to where to turn (2 Samuel 24:14). They may be filled with anguish and vexation of spirit in their distress.

3. Believers May Experience Extreme Persecution

The wicked are so enraged and embittered against the godly that if they have any power they will not permit them to live in peace and quietness. They will use force and violence against them and believers may expect no less than open persecution if the Lord does not restrain. If the Lord sees fit, they may have to leave their home and wander in deserts, mountains, caves and dens of the earth (Hebrews 11:38). Persecution is such a possibility that is good for us not to look on this world as our home but rather as the place of our exile. Our portion is not in this present world so we need not expect much of it. They may even experience famine

The persecutors of the godly are so savage and cruel that sometimes they will not only banish them in deserts where they shall have no livelihood but also strip them naked and expose them to the injuries of wind and weather. They may experience nakedness, or they may be exposed to shame and scorn.
Their life may be so hard in this world that they hardly know what peace means and may be daily in danger of their lives and so spend much of their time in jeopardy. They may be in peril (see 2 Corinthians 11:26). Besides such dangers and perils, they may even experience the worst that men can do. Such will be satisfied with no less than the death and utter destruction of the people of God. But this is the utmost that persecutors can achieve (Matthew 10:28).

4. Believers Cannot Be Robbed of Christ’s Love by Anyone

No matter how sorrowful the experiences of believers, none of them cloud the beams of Christ’s love nor evidence lack of love towards them. They will not separate us from the love of Christ. When believers view Christ in His incarnation and exaltation doing all for poor unworthy sinners they see unspeakable love in every aspect of it towards them that nothing can quench. This will so encourage the believer that they will be able to endure the worst of storms and not be shaken or dismayed. The apostle triumphs and cries out: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ etc” in response to his believing considerations of Christ dying and rising again.

5. Believers Commonly Experience Persecution

Believers may be assured that they have reason to expect a hard lot in this world when they consider God’s children in former generations. It will help greatly to allay their sorrow when they consider that their case is not unique. The apostle proves it by quoting from the Psalms where the church and people of God are shown in a condition as bad if not worse (verse 36). It is no strange thing to see the followers of Christ persecuted and abused by wicked men. It has been the lot of the church of God in all ages from the beginning to wade through a sea of tribulation, She has often been persecuted even to the death. The followers of Christ must be resolved to die and not save their lives when Christ calls on them to lose them for His sake. The malice of the church’s enemies is not soon at an end. It is lasting and growing rather than decaying and will continue to do so long as there any of the seed the serpent are to the fore.

6. Believers Should Have a Fellow Feeling With the Persecuted

All the children of God ought to have such sympathy for each other that whenever some of them are suffering under the feet of persecutors it should go to the heart of all. Being members of one body if one part is wounded, all should grieve and feel it. They should sympathize as fellow sufferers and so weep with them that weep (Romans 12:16). They should remember those in bonds as bound with them and them that suffer adversity as also in the body (Hebrews 13:2).

7. Believers are Often Hated for their Allegiance to Christ

The wicked have no cause against the godly except that they sincerely serve their Lord and adhere to His worship. Yet this is enough on which to base their malice and persecution. The wicked in their rage against the godly value their lives no more lives than if they sheep appointed for slaughter (see 1 Corinthians 4:13).

8. Believers Are Conquerors Through Christ

Though Satan in raising persecution and tribulation against the godly seeks to shake them loose from Christ the bond shall still hold fast. When the wicked have done their worst to them and their lives believers victorious and are as close to Christ as they can be when taken up to glory. In affliction of any sort they are glorious conquerors – in all things they are more than conquerors (verse 37). This strength and stability of the children of God is not from any strength in themselves but only from Christ their head and husband. They are more than conquerors “through him” (verse 37). Their victory does not come from themselves but only from the love, free grace and good will of Christ. Our hearts should be warm with love towards Him and stirred up to thankfulness. This is why Paul says “through him that loved us” (verse 37).

Conclusion

We should have a fellow feeling with those who suffer for Christ’s sake and remember them (Hebrews 13:3). How earnest in prayer we ought to be for them. One believer who has already spent time imprisoned for his faith in Afghanistan says, “We can trust that our Lord is mighty and will care for his children”, “our hope is not in politics but in Jesus who is the King.” Scripture gives them promises in their extremity and Christ gives the strength, grace and assurance of His love not only to endure but to be more than conquerors through Him. There is therefore the brightest spiritual hope for Afghan believers despite the worst circumstances.

 

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Finding True Beauty in a Beauty Sick Culture

Finding True Beauty in a Beauty Sick Culture

Finding True Beauty in a Beauty Sick Culture
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
12 Aug, 2021

An objective survey of our media, advertising, social media and popular culture reveals a culture obsessed with physical beauty. It is so obsessed with it that beauty has become everything and important things are neglected. When it reaches this point it is according to psychology professor Renee Engeln, a “beauty sick” culture. It amounts to a society-wide psychological illness. What we see in the mirror consumes so much time, attention, and emotional resources that becomes harder see other aspects of our lives. How we look (often measured by reactions on social media) is more important than who we are. The ugly truth about such beauty sickness is that it is physically, mentally and spiritually harmful. Anthropologists observe that obsession with physical beauty is a common phenomenon of societies in decline. Cultures have been here before and the Bible has great insight about such tendencies of the human heart. It points us away from beauty sickness to true beauty.

In 1 Peter 3:3-4 there is a contrast between spiritual and outward adornment. Following on from 1 Peter 3:1-2, the apostle gives two further directions to believing women for attaining the way to live that through the Lord’s blessing, might prove a means of gaining their unbelieving husbands. The one is negative, that they should not be too obsessed with adorning their outward person. The other is positive, that their great efforts should be to have their inward person adorned with the grace of God, especially meekness and a peaceable spirit in relation to their husbands.

Peter also urges that this is an ornament that will not grow old and decay as others do. It is also in very high esteem with the Lord, and therefore as they desire to gain their husbands by their outward conduct, their great care should be to attain to a right condition of spirit within. This does not mean that our outward appearance should be despised or that we should pursue an odd way of presenting ourselves but rather that it should not divert us from the main things. In the following updated extract, Alexander Nisbet explains further the nature of true beauty and why we should not be diverted from pursuing it.

1. True Beauty is Not Obsessive

Even the children of the Lord can be in danger of offending Him and others, in the matter of their clothing. This may involve pursuing novelty or strangeness whether in the type of clothing or in our way of using of it (Zephaniah 1:8). Or it may be when much time and expense are wasted concerning clothing, as is meant in the apostle’s words here. In all of this and similar ways, the Lord’s people are ready to offend in the matter of their clothing. and that because there is in them much unsubdued pride and vanity which is ready to manifest itself in that way (Isaiah 3:16, 18 etc) and because they forget, that clothing is given to make them ashamed in remembrance of their sin (1 Timothy 2:9, 14). The danger of offending (by wasting both time and expense) is meant by the apostle in dissuading them from outward adorning.

2. True Beauty is Not Excessive

The Lord allow those in eminence above others to have ornaments beyond necessity (Isaiah 22:20-22) and others to have more than ordinary at some special occasions (Genesis 24:30) and all of His people to conduct themselves in an honourable and decent way (Romans 12:17).

Yet, when any professing Christian becomes excessive in using their liberty in these things, they will be so far from commending religion to others that their practice will rather be a hindrance to others. They may or will readily take occasion to think that Christians have no better things to take themselves up with, than these on which they waste their time, effort and expense.

The apostle here dissuades Christian women from this evil if they wished to gain their heathen husbands. He implies that their vanity and excess in the matter of their adornment would rather hinder them than gain them to fall in love with Christianity.

3. True Beauty is Spiritual Beauty

They that would by their outward conduct, commend religion and win others to fall in love with it, must have their prime care exercised about their heart. If it is adorned with the graces of God’s Spirit in life and practice, the conduct cannot but be lovely to all rightly discerning onlookers. Having told those believing women before that it was their actions mainly which would gain their husbands, Peter now further explains the way of attaining such conduct.

Those that waste much time, effort and expense, in adorning their bodies, ordinarily neglect their souls, leaving these in a disorderly, sordid and filthy condition. In dissuading from the one, and persuading to the other, the apostle implies the inconsistency of such an adorning of the outward person, with the adorning of the inward.

4. True Beauty is Meek

That which mainly makes the conduct of a professing Christian a means to gain others to Jesus Christ is the exercise of the graces of God’s Spirit within, especially meekness and quietness of spirit. By meekness they keep down their passions from rising against others that wrong them or against the Lord’s dealings that seem harder towards them than others (Numbers 12:2-3). It also prompts them to all amicable and loving ways of reclaiming such as wrong them, before they go to the rigour of justice (1 Corinthians 4:21).

By quietness of spirit they do avoid all needless contradiction of others (Isaiah 53:7); all rashness in their actions; (Acts 19:36); all meddling with things not belonging to them (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and all expressions of discontent with that lot the Lord has appointed for them (Psalm 131:2). All of this is here required of Christian women bound to unbelieving and ungodly husbands, as a special means of gaining them to Christ. He exhorts them to put on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit in order to gain their husbands.

Where such a gracious frame of spirit is within, it will have visible effects that may be discerned without. The apostle exhorts Christian wives to the pursuit of meekness and quietness of spirit, as a means to gain their unbelieving husbands, which it could not achieve unless the effects were visible in their conduct.

5. True Beauty Does Not Fade

The grace of Christ is such an ornament that having been put on the soul, never fades or grows old altogether. This consideration should make Christians more careful to have it in exercise in their hearts, than to have on the best of their ornaments which will soon wear out and grow old. In urging Christians to put on this adorning of God’s grace, the apostle affirms it to be that “which is incorruptible.”

6. True Beauty is Esteemed by God

Every grace is the Lord’s own free gift (James 1:17) and the most gracious cannot properly be profitable to Him (Job 22:2). Yet, He is pleased to esteem His own grace and graciously reward those to whom He gives it, as if it were of great worth to Him. This consideration should increase the esteem of grace in our hearts and stir us to effort for getting and increasing it. The adornment of a meek and quiet spirit is commended from this that it “is in the sight of God of great price”.

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Summer Reading 2021

Summer Reading 2021

Summer Reading 2021
Matthew Vogan

Summer is a great time to catch up on edifying reading. There is no shortage of books hot off the press to explore. Here are some suggestions related to the Second Reformation. 

They include a variety of types of books that help you explore further.

1. Precious Promises

Joseph Alleine (c.1634–68) connects the “exceeding great and precious promises” of God together from Scripture. in a way that delights and encourages the believer. He demonstrates how, by embracing these promises, the believer is enabled to overcome all the assaults of unbelief. “Faith,” he says, ‘makes its claim to all the benefits of the covenant, and stirs up the soul to joy and thankfulness.” Alleine’s treatment of God’s precious promises is long overdue a reprint.

2. THE REFORMATION OF THE CHURCH

This is a valuable anthology of documents, drawn largely from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It presents the views of many puritans and others including James Durham on key Church matters in a readily accessible form.  It deals with principles of worship, the need for reformation, the nature of the government, unity and membership of the church of Jesus Christ.

3. BELIEVERS’ EVIDENCES FOR ETERNAL LIFE

How do we know we are a Christian? Roberts writes, “to be in a gracious state is true happiness. But to know ourselves to be in such a state is true happiness doubled upon us.” Francis Roberts (1609-1675) was a member of the Westminster Assembly. He seeks to show how believers may grow in assurance of their faith.

 

4. AN ARK FOR ALL GOD’s NOAHS

Taking Lamentations 3:24 as his starting-point. Thomas Brooks expounds the attributes of God with the aim of comforting those who have felt not only the stresses and strains of daily life but also the searing pain of loss in its various forms. God, he says, “is a portion that is exactly suited to the condition of the soul in its desires, needs, wants, longings and prayers. All the soul needs is found in God. There is light to enlighten the soul, wisdom to counsel the soul, power to support the soul, goodness to supply the soul, mercy to pardon the soul, beauty to delight the soul, glory to ravish the soul, and fullness to fill the soul.”

All true comfort and happiness is only to be found in having an all-sufficient God for your portion.

5. THE LAW, THE PRINCE AND THE SCRIBE

Designed for young adults, this will introduce them to the life of Samuel Rutherford. They will discover the power and passion of his letters and preaching as well as his enduring influence.

Accused of treason he died of illness before there was time to make him a martyr and on his gravestone today, just west of the Bell Tower in St. Andrews Cathedral are engraved the striking words that sum up his life, “Acquainted with Emmanuel’s Love”.

6. The LORD’s SUPPER

This most important work on the Lord’s Supper has been edited and brought back to life in this collectible format from Soli Deo Gloria. 

In sixteen discourses the depth and the riches of this ordinance are fully explored.

 

7. COMMENTARY ON EPHESIANS

This clear translation of a commentary by this important Scottish theologian is now available. It was highly commended by Theodore Beza.

Robert Rollock (1555–1599) was the first principal of the University of Edinburgh and his theology of the covenants was very influential on later writers. 

 

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Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction

Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction

Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
29 Jul, 2021

A recent survey focused on questions of work and identity found quite a high level of dissatisfaction with employment. Only 16% said “I feel that in work I’m doing things that are really meaningful”, and just 10% “I believe my current work is part of my calling and vocation”. 30% said “I feel insecure about how long I will be able to hold on to my current job.” (January 2021 YouGov Poll for Theos). It is easy too make too much or too little of gainful employment. Job satisfaction is a modern concept in many ways but that is not to say it is not to some extent a biblical principle. Work is positive but it is still under the curse of the Fall and provides much weariness and vexation of spirit. Our problem is that we often tie our identity and status to our work, and this adds to our troubles. We need to find our satisfaction and contentment in working to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ecclesiastes shows the trouble that work along with other things can bring. When we seek our ultimate purpose in these things in themselves, we are quickly disappointed and frustrated. It presents these truths to wean our hearts from finding our highest good and purpose in the things of this world. But the book also presents a positive message of resting satisfied in living our lives before God to His glory. One of these passages is in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Amid the changing events of God’s providence, we can steer a steady course by seeking contentment in submitting to His will and doing all to His glory. Even the best circumstances should encourage us to follow our duty to our Maker and live for eternity in the midst of time. In Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 we are to respond to God’s goodness towards us by rejoicing in His gifts with a spiritual joy. We should enjoy God’s blessings (including work) as the good of all our efforts in our labours and we should do good (that which is well pleasing to God). Even this ability to enjoy them is the free gift of God (see How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way).

In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we are counselled to pursue the duties of our calling vigorously in the appropriate time and way. This comes in the context of pursuing life to the glory of God, including a lawful vocation (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). We are to exert the utmost of the ability which God gives, using the strength and comfort received by the use of His benefits to carry out our personal duties and responsibilities. Since time is short and we cannot pursue these things to the glory of God once body and soul are separated in death, we should make use of all strength and comforts to follow our calling now. Since our opportunities for work are limited we cannot make it our ultimate purpose for living. Rather we must make it serve our ultimate purpose, which is to glorify God.

Whatever our hand finds to do, we must do it with all our might. It is not about whether we find work that enhances our self-worth but about how we can best glorify God in all we do. We can do that now and do not need to wait for an opportunity to come up that we feel would better help us to maximise our gifts. That is true job satisfaction. Alexander Nisbet applies these principles further to gain the right Godward perspective on our calling in the following updated extract.

1. Job Satisfaction is the Gift of God

We should make best use of the Lord’s generosity in the variety of the outward comforts of this life. This is by being serious and diligent in the duties of our calling, watching every opportunity and exerting all the strength and cheerfulness of spirit acquired by the good things of God in doing Him service. If we do not do this, our table will become a snare to us and our comforts will be turned into curses. This is inferred from urging us to make cheerful use of the generous provision from God mentioned in Ecclesiastes 9:7-9.

2. Job Satisfaction IS IN EVERY OpportunitY

Men often have both the opportunity and power to do good but through neglect and carelessness are ready to let it slip. This is a very bad return to God for his generosity.  The Spirit of God therefore finds it necessary to stir us up to take hold of every opportunity of duty, as a proof of our thankfulness to God for His bounty.

3. Job Satisfaction is in Exerting Our Utmost

The utmost of our ability is to be shown in the discharge of every commanded duty, considering the danger of doing the work of the Lord negligently (Jeremiah 42:10). The more fervent, serious and vigorous we are in walking in the ways of the Lord, the more our strength will increase (Proverbs 10:29).

4. Job Satisfaction is in Glorifying God Now

The opportunity for these duties in which we can honour God and advance our own and other’s salvation is confined within the bounds of this life. Considering this should sharpen our minds to devise ways of honouring God and doing good to our own souls and others with the utmost of our abilities. This is a reason for diligence in our duty, while we have opportunity. There is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave.”

5. Job Satisfaction Has an Eternal Perspective

Everyone is in a continual journey towards their long home. Whether we are active or resting we are hasting towards that. We should see ourselves from this perspective and be moved to employ our time and strength to the utmost, in honouring God and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This verse speaks of everyone as being in a constant motion towards their grave. There is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave” to which they are going or hasting (as it may be translated).

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Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible

Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible

Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
13 Jul, 2021

It is not difficult to trust God when we can see how the promises can be fulfilled. We have outlined the future in our minds and think we know what God will do and when. But when all this changes and circumstances seem to make it impossible our minds are thrown into confusion and despair. Our fears take over and because we cannot see how God can glorify Himself in such circumstances we almost conclude it cannot happen. We wonder why He does not choose what seems to us the quickest, simplest way. It is because He is choosing the wisest way to bring most glory to Him and our faith is being tested and refined in the process. We are reminded that God’s glory, and not our personal preference, matters most.

Mary and Martha were in this situation. It seemed clear that if Christ came in good time Lazarus could be healed. They cannot understand why He would delay until after their brother had died and the situation was now impossible. Christ fully sympathised with them, but He intended to show them and others a greater view of His glory. His purpose was to strengthen and draw forth their faith (John 11:40). George Hutcheson explains more of this in the following updated extract.

1. God’s Glory is His Ultimate Aim

God so orders the affairs and conditions of his people that His glory may be manifested in and about them. This is His chief aim and end in all He does. Therefore, He describes the miracle as a manifestation of the glory of God, because this was His ultimate aim.

2. God’s Glory Should Matter Most to Us

It is the duty of the Lord’s people, to be more affected with the glory of God shining in His works, than with any particular advantage that they may receive from them. He declares, therefore, that the glory of God is more to be seen and to be taken notice of by her in this miracle than the raising up of her brother.

3. God’s Glory is Greater in the Greatest Difficulties

God’s people may be encouraged to expect His promise to be fulfilled, however impossible it may seem. They are encouraged by the fact that in doing so, He will not only do them good, but will get an occasion to show His own glory. His glory is, therefore, engaged to do them good. Since His glory is thus engaged, Martha does not need to be so anxious. The miracle is therefore, described as a manifestation of the glory of God.

4. God’s Glory is Anticipated by Faith

The way prescribed by God for saints to experience the manifestation of His glory for their good and comfort, is, first to give Him glory by believing Him and His Word. Where this is lacking it justly provokes Him not to display Himself. Martha is told that if she would believe she would see the glory of God (see Mark 6:6; Matthew 13:58; Luke 1:20, 45; John 1:50).

5. God’s Glory is Anticipated by Trusting His Word

Although faith may have many difficulties for the present to grapple with, the sweet fruits that follow from believing encourage us to believe so that we may partake of them. Although the stinking body of her brother now mars Martha’s faith, yet the outcome of faith pleads strongly for it. If in that situation she will venture to believe, her believing shall lead her to see the glory of God. God’s Word not carnal reason is the basis on which faith may thus venture itself and expect this lovely fruit. Martha is reminded that Christ had previously said to her and therefore she should believe to see.

6. God’s Glory is Denied by Unbelief

There are just grounds for sharp rebuke and conviction where God has given His word and it is not believed. Christ rebukes her by reminding her that she had been told that if she would believe she would see God’s glory (see Numbers 23:19).

Unbelief may often go under the disguise of a fair show of humility or a similarly commendable disposition. Yet, in Christ’s esteem it is an evil not to be tolerated but sharply reproved. It is an evil that should be removed quickly so that it does not get chance to take root. This is why He rebukes it so sharply and speedily.

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Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
8 Jul, 2021

Believers, churches and pastors especially have certainly experienced many pressures in recent times. The natural tendency is to be at least worn down by it. It may seem like every grace is tested to its limits by complex challenges, difficult choices, fears and divisions. We learn a great deal about ourselves and others as a consequence. It can be hard to see the spiritual growth despite the weakness in the midst of it all. Yet our growth is God’s purpose in it all. We may shrink from this through fear of a guilt trip about our personal growth but it shows us how to grow despite the greatest pressures. Even if you cannot see it yet, this should inform our prayers.

One picture of such growth is the palm tree: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12). Joseph Caryl speaks of how this growth is despite some of the greatest pressures. When believers meet with the greatest pressures in the world, they thrive and grow heavenward. When the world would crush the righteous and press them down to the earth, like the palm tree, they grow up more and more. Palm trees are top-heavy and endure a lot of pressure from the considerable weight of their leaves and fruit. Some palm trees can grow up to six feet per year in the right conditions despite this. They are more resilient in storms than other trees by bending up to 50 degrees without snapping. Joseph Caryl shows in the following updated extract how this is also true in spiritual terms.

1. Pressures Can Help Spiritual Growth

When Pharaoh put the weights of very heavy oppression on the people of Israel, the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew (Exodus 1:12). Surely we are to understand this, not only of their multiplying in number but of increase in goodness – they were more fruitful in their lives. This has been said of the Church at all times when under pressures and burdens. They were bound, they were beaten, they were burnt, and yet they multiplied and increased. The more persons were added to the Church; and those persons that were added, advanced more in ways of grace and holiness. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.

Those who have a spiritual and holy understanding may indeed fall (Daniel 11:35). But it will try them and purge them, to make them white. It will purge out their corruptions and make their graces very conspicuous. Zechariah 13:9 teaches the same thing: “I will bring the third part through the fire”. Shall they be burnt there? No, “I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: and they shall call on my name, and I will hear them, I will say, it is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” Faith will grow to an assurance.

Paul says that his troubles and afflictions worked out for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12). He says that many were willing to speak the gospel without fear (1:14). They grew up like the palm tree; they grew in confidence and boldness. They had not only integrity for Christ, but a great increase of strength for Christ.

In Romans 5 Paul shows that tribulation and trials do not hinder graces but rather further them. Tribulation works patience which works experience, and experience hope. Here is a flourishing, and a growing up in all Graces, even in a time of tribulation. The same thing is in 2 Corinthians 4:17, light afflictions work a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. We grow more up into heaven and glory. Our hope rises up to glory by our affliction. This is flourishing like the palm tree. Afflictions will make us the fitter for heaven: they will make us better than we were, and so fitter for heaven, fitter for glory.

2. Pressures Wean Us From the World

The pressures and weights from the world that are on the righteous wean them from the world. The love of the world, cleaving to the world, and desires going after the world, are great impediments to our growth in grace. In Matthew 13:22 we are told that the cares and pleasures of the world choke the Word and make it altogether unfruitful. Sufferings for Christ which are the weights laid on us for Christ’s sake make us more crucified to the world and the world to us (Galatians 6:14). When the soul is delivered from this evil world, it must flourish upwards towards the other world.

3. Pressures Help Us Grow in Understanding

By the afflictions and troubles we experience in this world we get much light and grow into a clearer knowledge of the things that help us increase heaven-ward. Affliction gives an understanding of:

(a) the vanity and wickedness of the world
(b) the mind of God and the Word of God (Psalm 119:71).
(c) the worth of grace
(d) the excellency of Jesus Christ Himself.

In 2 Peter 3:18, we are told to grow in grace. How does this happen? We must also grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In proportion to our growth in the true knowledge of Christ that comes from experience (not mere brain knowledge) we increase and grow in grace. As we grow in the knowledge of the vanity of the world, the Word of God, the worth of grace and Christ; we must grow in grace.

4. Pressures Draw Us More into Our Own Hearts

The weights and pressures which on these palm-trees, the righteous, draw them more into their own hearts. They commune with their hearts more and are more acquainted with them, they search themselves more. This will make us flourish, and grow upwards. The reason we grow up so little in acquaintance with Christ is that we grow so little in acquaintance with ourselves. In an afflicted condition the soul returns to itself (Lamentations 3:40). They search themselves for their corruptions and lusts in the secret corners of our hearts. They search for grace; what faith we have, what love we have, what patience etc. Afflictions bring believers to assess what condition they are in, how they fare. The troubles we meet with in the world, give us this advantage for spiritual growth, of growing heaven-ward like the palm tree.

5. Pressures Drive Us Nearer to God

These afflictions and pressures we have from the world drive us nearer to God, to more acquaintance with God and more communion with Christ. They force us to Christ. When the world flatters and embraces us we begin to forget and to disregard communion with Jesus Christ. There may be greater communion with God in a time of pressures (Isaiah 26:16). But in times of outward peace, and when all is well, we are very ready to neglect communion with God.

6. Pressures May Bring God’s Presence 

While the righteous are under weights and pressures like a palm tree, they have the special promise of God’s presence with them. This makes them flourish. It is not our being in affliction, which makes us better and grow heaven-ward; but it is Christ being with us in affliction. It is God manifesting Himself to us in affliction which makes us grow, and flourish like a palm tree. There are many such promises (e.g. Isaiah 43:2; 1 Peter 4:14). When the weights are upon us, we have promises of more of the presence of God, and the presence of His Spirit. We shall therefore flourish, flourish spiritually, flourish in our inner man.

Conclusion

This shows us how God is able to make all things work for the good of His people. It should also bring us to praise the power, wisdom and goodness of God who over-rules these things for His people. It should also prompt us to seek how we can flourish under pressure. Afflictions, whether for righteousness sake or fatherly chastisements from the hand of God are for our good. We must submit to the will of God because these things are for our good and growth if we respond to them in the right way (Hebrews 12:10-12). They are ways that we may be made “partakers of the holiness of God”. This does not mean that afflictions bring joy in themselves, they are indeed painful but they can result in the abiding fruit of righteousness. They help us live better and make us more prepared to die and to glorify God both living and dying. This hope can help us “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees”. Rather than discourage us it can encourage us by helping us to see how these things can work for our spiritual growth.

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Learning From God’s Care for the Unborn

Learning From God’s Care for the Unborn

Learning From God’s Care for the Unborn
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
7 Jul, 2021

During the time when we were making every effort to protect the lives of the vulnerable in society, greater numbers than ever of the most vulnerable perished. It was not any accident but entirely intentional. Abortion rates have only increased in the UK during the past year. In Scotland, more than twice as many lives were lost to abortion during 2020 as Covid or excess deaths. It is a heart-breaking reality that ought to grieve us. Worldwide, one in four pregnancies (25%) ends in abortion. Thankfully, a proposed amendment by one MP to decriminalise abortion entirely was withdrawn this week. It would have allowed abortion for any and every reason or none. We need to remind ourselves of how God reveals His care for the unborn to increase our concern for them.

David praises God’s care for him in the womb in Psalm 139:13-17.  We are helped to meditate on this in the following updated extract from David Dickson.  Dickson shows how David wonders at God’s exact knowledge of and power in relation to him. He formed him in the womb in an amazing way.

1. An All-Knowing and All-Powerful Care

God made us in the womb, and we live and move, and subsist by His power. It is impossible therefore for God not to know our words, works, thoughts and everything so that He has us always in His sight and under His power.

2. A Constant Care

The knowledge of God and His management of the creature is not like a man’s, who sets himself for a while on this object and then turns off to another object. God’s knowledge and management are a settled possession of His own workmanship. He does this by constantly beholding and settled regulating His work, by constantly maintaining and judging the most secret motion of a person’s spirit.

3. A Protective Care

The Lord in framing our bodies in our mother’s womb covered His tender work with His mighty power as with a shield from all troubles.

4. An Amazing Care

The right sight of God’s workmanship in our very bodies will force us to praise God’s unspeakable wisdom. David praises God because he is fearfully made. When God is seen in His glory in anything, His majesty becomes terrible to the beholder, His glory is so bright. We are “fearfully made.” When we do not consider Lord’s rare works aright they seem very common, so when His common works are thoroughly considered, they become very wonderful, “I am wonderfully made.“ The right sight of any one of God’s works gives light on all His works and shows them all to be wondrous or marvellous.

5. A Thought-Provoking Care

It is profitable for our soul when God’s work in our bodies is well grasped through careful consideration. As the Lord acquaints us with His works, we should observe them well, and bear witness to what we observe for His glory. David does this by saying that his soul knows these things “right well.”

6. An Intricate Care

God knows what He is making in His framing of our bodies. Neither darkness nor the distance of heaven from earth, nor any other impediment hinders Him in working. Making a person’s body of so many bones, arteries, veins, sinews etc. is a most intricate piece of work.

7. A Comprehensive Care

God sees things before they are made, and His purpose to make has no less clarity of knowledge of the thing to be made, than when it has been made. God in His decree to do, knows the thing to be done, as fully as when it is done. The Lord’s decrees concerning things to be done are so clear, so determinate, so certain as if the description and history of the thing were written in a book has something that had already happened. David uses the comparison of a written book to show the nature of God’s decrees.

8. A Precious Care

Rare wisdom can be learned from God’s decrees and works. The efforts that anyone takes to search them out is well recompensed with pleasure and profit, as David’s experience teaches us. He finds all God’s thoughts towards him to be precious. We should study this wisdom until we find it to be sweet, and then lay it up like a precious jewel in our mind when we have found it. All God’s revealed decrees are the substance of a believer’s comfort and joy, however harsh they seem to the unbeliever and unregenerate person. David says they are “precious to me.” The innumerable particular aspects of God’s purpose and decrees which are fulfilled daily towards His own children come to light from time to time. David says, “How great is the sum of them? if I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.”

Conclusion

We ought to be humbled by the Lord’s minute care for us from the very beginning of our existence until now. If God has exercised such care towards us in our unborn state, how great ought to be our concern and care for those that are unborn in their most vulnerable condition. It ought to grieve us that any should perish wilfully. Scripture tells us to open our “mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction” (Proverbs 31:8). Our wonder at God’s care for us ought to be a motivation to do what we can for such. It should also provide us with reasons to open our mouths in prayer on behalf of the unborn.

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