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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How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?
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 Jun, 2021

Prayer is no easy thing. Many are ready to grasp hold of another new method in the hope that it will make it easier. Or less intentionally they begin to imitate a particular style or manner. But prayer is not a technique to be mastered. We can also go to the other extreme of letting our words run loose without engaging our thoughts and affections. It is not necessarily more sincere and authentic because it is uncontrolled. Neither is it better because it is longer or more logical. “God looks not at the oratory of your prayers, how elegant they may be; nor at the geometry of your prayers, how long they may be; nor at the arithmetic of your prayers, how many they may be; not at logic of your prayers, how methodical they may be; but the sincerity of them he looks at” (Thomas Brooks). These matters are addressed by Christ in the teaching He gives in relation to prayer.

Christ said there is a twofold danger of “vain repetitions” and “much speaking” (Matthew 6:7-8). We can do this by going over the same things again and again. Or we may use the same words as merely filling a gap or weakly expressing some fervency. This may include unthinkingly uttering many words that have no real significance, worse if it is God’s name that is used in this way. Or perhaps we pray at greater length simply thinking that this is more acceptable or spiritual. In these things the Saviour expands on the teaching we have in Ecclesiastes 5:2.

Thomas Manton (a member of the Westminster Assembly) says that we must avoid the two extremes of having too much to say for the sake of it or having nothing much to say because our hearts are not truly prepared.

He points out that some repetition is not empty. Christ prayed the same words three times in the greatest fervency (Matthew 26:44). Daniel uses God’s name with great weight and reverence over and over again (Daniel 9:17-19). The problem is when we “speak words without need and without affection”. The “general rule is, let your words be concise, but full of affection”.

As Christ says, our wrong approach to prayer can reveal a wrong approach to God. In expounding Christ’s words Thomas Manton shows us what the Saviour requires in terms of our words, thoughts and affections in prayer. This shows us what prayer is and how to pray.

The Larger Catechism Q185 gives emphasis to our thoughts and affections in defining how we are to pray. We need to understand from Scripture how to approach God in prayer with right thoughts and affections.

We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.

1. How Should We Engage Our Words in Prayer?

Words are used in prayer, to stir up, convey, and give vent to affection (Hosea 14:2). This is to be considered either when we are alone or in company.

(a) When we are alone. Take the advice of the Holy Spirit (Ecclesiastes 5:2) and let your words be few, How few? Few in weight, conscience, reverence.

Few in weight
Speak substance rather than mere words; concisely and feelingly rather than with intricacy, to express what you have to say to God.

Few in conscience
Superstition is an illegitimate religion and is tyrannous requiring tedious service sometimes beyond our strength. Therefore pray neither too short nor too long; do not merely lengthen out the prayer as counting it the better for being long. The shortness or the length of it must be measured by the fervency of our hearts, the many necessities and as it tends to inflame our zeal. As it can get up the heart, let it still be subservient to that.

Few with reverence
Managed with that gravity, awe, and seriousness as would become an address to God. Abraham had been reasoning with God and continues to do so with reverence (Genesis 18:31).

(b) When we are in company. There our words must be apt and orderly, as moving as possible for the benefit of the hearers. It must be managed with such reverence and seriousness as suits the gravity of the duty. It should not increase but cure the dullness of those with whom we join. We may choose out words to reason with God (Job 9:14) in public, making preparation and thinking a little beforehand so that we may go about the duty with seriousness and not with indigested thoughts.

2. How Should We Engage Our Thoughts in Prayer?

To conceive aright of God in prayer is one of the greatest difficulties in this duty.

(a) Thoughts of the nature and being of God
Everyone that would come to God must fix this in their mind, that God is, and that God is a spirit; and accordingly He must be worshipped as is most fitting (Hebrews 11:6; John 4:24), Oh, then, whenever you come to pray to God, fix these two thoughts, let them be strong in your heart. God is; do not speak to an idol, but to the living God. God is a spirit; and therefore He is not so much pleased with reasoned speech or tuneful cadence of words, as with a right condition of heart. When we come to pray we think little that God is, or what God is. Much of our religion is performed to an unknown God, and, like the Samaritans, we worship we know not what.

It is not speculations about the divine nature, or high-strained conceptions, which fit us for prayer. I do not urge you to use theological terms. What fits us for prayer is such a sight of God as prompts us to worship Him reverently and seriously. We have right notions of God in prayer, when we are affected as Moses was, when God showed him His back-parts and proclaimed his name. “He made haste, bowed his head, and worshipped” Exodus 34:8). When our worship suits the nature of God, it is spiritual and holy, not full of theatrical pomp.

God is
Our worship is right when it proclaims to ourselves and all that observe us that there is a great, an infinite, eternal power, which governs all according to His own pleasure. The worship of many is flat atheism; they say in their hearts either there is no God, or believe there is no God. Therefore, do you worship Him as becomes such a glorious being? Is His mercy seen in your faith and confidence, His majesty in your humility and reverence, His goodness in your soul’s rejoicing, His greatness and justice in your trembling before His throne? The worship must be like the One worshipped, it must have His stamp on it.

God is a spirit
The soul must therefore be the chief agent in the business, not the body, or any member of the body. Spirits converse with spirits. The body must not guide and lead the soul but be led by it. Be sure to have the spirit engaged, otherwise that which is most essential to the worship is lacking. To have nothing employed except the tongue, and the heart engaged about other business, is not to conduct yourselves towards God who is a spirit. Ask yourselves “where is my soul in this worship, and how is it affected towards God?

(b) Thoughts of God’s Fatherly Relation

As there must be thoughts to direct us in God’s being and nature, so also in His relation as a father, as one that is inclined to pardon, pity, and help you. We have the spirit of adoption given us for this very end and purpose, that we may cry, “Abba, Father” through the ministry of the Spirit (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). We have received the Spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father so that we may come to God in a child-like manner, dealing with Him as with a father, acquainting Him with our needs, necessities and burdens, with hope of relief and provision.

(c) Thoughts of God’s attributes

Matthew 6:7-8 offers three aspects of God’s attributes to consider. God’s omniscience, (He knows); His fatherly care (Your Father knows) and His readiness to help, even before we ask (Your Father knows what you need).

All-knowing
He knows us in person and name (John 10:3). He knows our state and condition (Psalm 56:8). He observes us in the very posture when we come to pray, and where. The Lord takes notice, in such a city, in such a street, in such a house, in such a room, and what you are doing when you are praying (Acts 9:11). He sees not only that you pray, but how you pray (Romans 8:27), He can discern between words that are of the flesh and such as are the breathings of the spirit.

Fatherly care
He knows what burdens you. It is not said, that He may care but that He does take care (1 Peter 5:7). God is ahead of us and our anxiousness takes the work out of God’s hand which He is doing already. Our worries are needless, fruitless, burdensome; but His concerns are assiduous, powerful and blessed. A small matter may cause much vexation to us, but to Him all things are easy. Praying for what we need, we should give thanks for what we have (Philippians 4:6; Matthew 6:32). His fatherly love will not allow Him to neglect His children or any of their concerns. Therefore, if you are tempted to anxiety of mind, and do know not how to get out of such a difficulty and conquer such a problem, remember you have a Father to provide for you: this will prevent tormenting anxiety, which is good for nothing but to anticipate your sorrow.

Readiness to help
This should be deeply impressed upon your minds, and you should habituate yourself to these thoughts, how ready God is to help and to run to our cry (Psalm 32:5; Isaiah 65:24; Jeremiah 31:18). He is more ready to give than you to ask. This will help and direct you mightily in the business of prayer. God has a care for His children and is very ready to help the weak, and relieve them in all their troubles.

3. How Should We Engage Our Affections in Prayer?

Three things are required in expressing affection in prayer: fervency, reverence, and confidence.

(a) Fervency
This usually comes from two things, a broken-hearted sense of our needs and a desire for the blessing we need. For the broken-hearted sense of our needs, especially spiritual. Weaknesses afflict the best. All Christians have a continual need to cry to God. We have continual necessities both within and without. Go cry to God your Father without affectation, but not without affection! Seek what you need from Him. The more grace is increased, the more sense of need is increased because sin is more hated, defects are less tolerated. There must be a desire for the blessing, especially spiritual. Our needs must stir up fresh longings and holy desires after God (Mathew 7:7; Luke 11:8). We spend the earnestness of our spirits in other matters, in disputes, contests, earthly pursuits; our importunate earnestness runs in a worldly channel. But there must be sincerity in pouring out our hearts before Him; no sacrifices without fire, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (James 5:16).

(b) Reverence
Reverent, respectful behaviour towards our heavenly Father is essential. There is in God a mixture of majesty and mercy; so there must be in us a mixture of joy and trembling (Psalm 2:11). God’s love does not abase His majesty, nor does His majesty diminish His love. We ought to know our distance from God, and to think of His superiority over us; therefore we must be serious. Remember that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalm 89:7).

(c) Confidence
There is boldness in pouring out our requests to God, who will certainly hear us, and grant what is good (Ephesians 3:12). We must rely on His goodness and power in all our necessities. He is so gracious in Christ that He will do that which is best for His glory and our good, and we should not seek it on other terms.

Conclusion

If you would not turn prayer into babbling and much speaking into affectation of words, take heed of how prayer is abused in these ways and strive to bring your hearts to God in this way.

 

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Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
17 Jun, 2021

Meaningful, in-person interactions have certainly been less plentiful in recent months. With some exceptions, it seems like maintaining conversations has been a challenge in the distancing circumstances. Quite a few report they now feel more awkward in interacting in this way. Having less to talk about and difficult issues to navigate does not help greatly. Arguably this was difficult enough before in an increasingly fragmented community. The most meaningful conversations are those that build us up and help us make progress in the Christian life. It may be a good time to remind ourselves how important those interactions are and how we can make best use of this kind of fellowship.

In the past godly conversation was given greater emphasis. Private gatherings took place where people discussed spiritual things and offered advice to help each other grow in grace. People like Richard Baxter were very practical in offering conversation starters. It might be a sermon heard, something read, some difficulty or other experience. James Durham said that Christ’s worth was a great subject to be taken up with by Christians in their fellowship together “to be spending their mutual conferences on that subject for one another’s instruction”.

Such conversation was encouraged by men like David Dickson, Samuel Rutherford and John Livingstone. During the times of persecution in Scotland people could only attend field preaching when it was available but at other times they might gather in societies of up to a dozen people. Here they could discuss spiritual things as well as read and pray. One student for the ministry, Walter Smith drew up some guidance for these gatherings and the following is an updated extract. present Some of this is still helpful more generally for spiritual fellowship. It is notable that when he was put to death on the scaffold, the very last word he spoke was one of mutual encouragement.

“I have one word more to say, and that is, to all that have any love to God, and His righteous cause, that they will set time apart, and sing a song of praise to the Lord for what He has done to my soul, and my soul says, to Him be praise.”

1. EDIFYING Conversation is Required

It is the duty of private Christians to meet together for their mutual edification by prayer and conferring together (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25). This has been the laudable and much commended practice of the people of God in all ages, both under the Old and New Testament. We find it in Malachi 3:16 and it seems to have been the practice of the Lord’s people in their captivity at Babylon (Psalm 137). For what other purpose did they go and sit by the rivers of Babylon but to remember Zion, both in their prayers to God and in their conversation?

Likewise we find frequently in the Acts of the Apostles that it was practised by the earliest Christians. Beyond all question this duty has been attended by remarkable benefits both to the work of God publicly and to the private condition of individuals. They have found to their comfort many blessed fruits and effects following upon their conscientious performance of this duty. It has frequently been observed that true and serious religion thrives most in the places within the churches of Scotland where this duty is most practised. Such individuals are ordinarily the most useful members both in Church and community.

The wilful neglect of this duty is no small sin therefore. Such a neglect tends very much to discourage those who are seeking to do this duty conscientiously. It is greatly to be wished that both ministers and experienced Christians, were more active in stirring up themselves and others to do this more diligently and constantly. This is especially necessary in such a day of trial, in which the Lord, by His holy and wise providence is giving His people very loud calls to be serious and diligent in all commanded duties.

2. EDIFYING Conversation is Easily Diverted

Beware of being diverted from this by talking about worldly affairs or public news, except as it may be useful for stirring up to prayer and thanksgiving.

3. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Dismissive

All undervaluing or giving the least appearance of slighting others in their conversation must be carefully avoided (Philippians 2:3). A person may be weak in knowledge and other things yet more real and solely devoted to God’s glory in their heart, this is what is most acceptable to God. Beware in particular of disdainfully slighting any answer given to a question event though it may be weak and not so . but let the more judicious and expert make the best use of it they can, for the person’s and the rest’s edification.

4. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Controversial

(a) Let nothing be brought up which tends only to satisfy curiosity.

(b) Let no question be brought up about any high point of theology, in which there are great difficulties, such as the decrees of God, predestination, election.

(c) Be very sparing in asking questions about the exact meaning and interpretation of Scriptures, especially passages which are harder and more difficult (2 Peter 3:16). It is the role of ministers to expound or explain the Scriptures and individual Christians should not presume to do this (Hebrews 5:4). Christ has appointed pastors in His church as a distinct office for interpreting and applying Scripture for the people’s edification. Where individual Christians have sought to be expositors it has brought dangerous consequences, including error, contention and division into the Church of Christ. Yet it may tend to promote knowledge and understanding if everyone imparts any light they have received either by reading, hearing, or in any other way. This will serve for the mutual good and edification of the rest by way of conversation. They should still beware of getting entangled with obscure passages of Scripture.

(d) Beware of bringing up any subject for discussion about this that are a matter of controversy among godly ministers and professing Christians.

(e) Let nothing be brought up that may cause needless animosities, contentions and debates. These tend mar love and edification. Rather make the questions such as concern practical matters and how to order our lives. They will then be holy and not a stumblingblock and have the greatest tendency to stir up the grace of God, put to death corruptions, and preserve each other from snares and temptations.

5. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Contentious

If contention or debates are likely to arise about any subject you converse about, it is dangerous to persist. It is rather the best godly prudence to stop and go to prayer.

6. EDIFYING Conversation is Faithful

There is an expectation that those who profess more than others should do more than others. Therefore, our lives must be consistent with the gospel and our profession. This will commend the way of God to those with whom we have everyday contact and discourage sin. In particular, guard against vain and idle conversation (Colossians 4:6) which is very stumbling and hardening to the wicked and tends very much eat out the life of religion. If someone needs a timely reproof from another for any fault they may be guilty of, it is certainly their duty to take the reproof kindly (Psalm 141:5).

7. EDIFYING Conversation is Discreet

Beware of divulging or revealing anything said or done to the offence or prejudice of another Christian. Rather we ought to sympathise kindly with one another (Ephesians 4:12; Romans 12:15-16).

8. EDIFYING Conversation is Prayerful

But more especially, they should love, sympathize, and pray for one another in secret and weep when anyone weeps, and rejoice with all such. They should be importunate with the Lord to go with them and meet with them before they meet together, that it may be for the better and not for the worse.

The Lord in His sovereignty manifests Himself to whom He will, when, where, and as He will. Sometimes He will withhold the influences of His Good Spirit, so that there is a darkness in their minds, and deadness upon their spirits, that the duty of prayer and conversation is not refreshing to them. Let everyone earnestly search out the causes; be humble and mourn, long and pray for His return.

At other times the Lord may be pleased to manifest himself and give light, life and liberty so that prayer and conversation are refreshing and reviving to them. They should then be humble, and express their great thankfulness, and bless his gracious name and pray for it to be continued. They should seek to steer a steady course at all times, places, situations and company, abounding in all the duties of Christianity so that all may notice that they have been with Jesus.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

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Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
27 May, 2021

When our focus is largely on others it is easy to be distracted and discouraged by what goes on around us. Cultural agendas, noisy opinions, shifting allegiances, spiritual decline and unstable commitments easily occupy our attention. That is understandable since these things often serve to diminish the glory of God being manifested. And after all, glory to God alone is the ultimate purpose for everything. So, it is right to be concerned about them, is it not? Indeed it is, but we need to remind ourselves frequently of what that glory is. We need to be constantly refreshed by and delighted with God’s glory so that it is uppermost in our desires and motivation. We need that light to break through the heavy gloom that we often inhabit.

In the following updated extract, James Durham opens up the meaning of the vision in Revelation 4:8-11 emphasising that is bound up with God’s glory. That is obvious if we define God’s glory being manifested “when men and Angels do know, love, and obey him, and praise him to all eternity” (Edward Leigh, member of the Westminster Assembly). They delight themselves in God constantly, as All-Holy, Eternal and Almighty (v8).

Much of the rest of the book of Revelation unfolds hard experiences for the Church and this view of God’s sovereign dominion is therefore crucial. This vision shows us God ruling all things for the good of His Church and what will happen to it afterwards (4:1). For Durham, it does not just tell us about how God is to be adored and served in heaven, it also tells us about how the Lord manifests His presence in the church on earth. The expectation is expressed here of believers serving Him here and that they will reign on the earth (5:10). 

1. Delighting in God’s Glory

Where God is rightly seen, He will be seen as exceedingly stately and glorious: He is so wonderful whom nothing can resemble, whom no tongue can express, nor eye behold, nor heart conceive. What if we were to imagine thousands of mountains of the most precious stones imaginable, and thousands of suns shining in their brightness? These would still be inconceivably short of God and the glory that is in Him. What an excellent happiness it will be to dwell with this God forever, to behold His face, to see Him as He is, and to be capacitated (so to speak) to know Him, as we are known of Him. Wonder and admire at Him, who is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders, terrible in majesty, and in all perfections past finding out: To Him be praise for ever. Amen.

2. Delighting in God’s Dominion

We see here His absolute and sovereign dominion in heaven and earth. We gather this from the imagery itself, He sits on a throne and has all these attendants waiting on Him. It is also clear from the song whose purpose is to show the great aim God had and has before Him in creating and preserving all things. It is to show Himself glorious on the grounds of His absolute dominion over all creatures.

3. Delighting in God’s Providence

Not only is He a stately king on the throne, but He exercises His dominion. He has made all things and sustains them all for His good pleasure. He sits on the throne ever executing His pleasure. The world never lacks a Governor as long as this king sits on the throne. As there is a sovereign God, there is also a sovereign Providence in all the world, but more especially in the Church.

He is well equipped with means for doing His work. He has attendants fitted with wings and eyes as well as ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels round about and before His throne to carry out His commands (Revelation 5:11). These glorious spirits wait for directions from Him and are ready to do His commands in caring and providing for His Church. He also has His own Almighty power and thunderings to execute His wrath on enemies as well as for creating things. He has seven Spirits for carrying on the work of grace to spread the everlasting gospel.

The Lord’s great aim in all this, is, to get praise to Himself and to give material for a song to His attendants. And it is comforting that His praise and our song are so joined together, that what is substance of the one, is also substance of the other.

4. Diligently Delighting in God’s Glory

However we may understand these beasts or creatures and the elders here we can learn from their nature and qualities. The creatures have eyes in front, behind and within and each of them has six wings. They are in various forms, like a lion, like a calf, having a face as a man, like a flying eagle. The way in which they are equipped for their work and their activity in it should be an example to believers. Their humble, serious, watchful and speedy manner of going about their work is set forth which shows believers how to act in all commanded duties and aspects of service.

5. Joyfully Delighting in God’s Glory

The great dignity and happiness of God’s servants, and attendants is displayed here. However we may expound the words, it is clear that it is a great privilege to be His servants. They sit on thrones, they wear crowns, they are clothed in white, they are all kings and priests to God (Revelation 5:10). Like the angels, they also attend on Him and have places among those that stand by (Zechariah 3.7. It is the consummation of our happiness to have liberty to look on God sitting on His throne. The Queen of Sheba said that Solomon’s servants who had liberty to behold his face and hear his words were blessed (1 Kings 10:8). But O how much more happy are they who day and night do not rest, but are always taken up with beholding and praising God. For, a greater than Solomon is here.

We are taught here what the great task and work of the servants of God should be (and is in some measure). All who have the name of servants of God are to be taken up day and night with magnifying God and making His praise glorious or illustrious (Psalm 66:2). They do this by going about it naturally. We are shown here how we should go about it: with humility and reverence, cheerfulness and zeal. This is to be done by laying all we have before Christ’s feet, acknowledging that all we have received flows from Him and giving Him the glory of it. We are to use it all so that it may contribute most to make Him that sits upon the throne great.

6. Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

The delightfulness of this task in rejoicing the heart is shown. Though they do not rest day nor night, it is not a wearisome work, for it is singing. When it is said that they do not rest this does not any indicate any burden, yoke or restraint laid on them. Rather it declares the readiness of their spirit within, which with love and joy cannot rest. It is (so to speak) an ease for them to be venting this spirit in praise. There is such joy and cheerfulness from that wine that comes from under the throne, that they cannot hold their peace. It is their continual refreshment, to be speaking and praising night and day. In a word, it says that it is a good thing to be Christ’s servants and that His service is a sweet work. Before long it will be known how good a thing it was to be Christ’s and to be His servants. How happy a life it will be, to be praising Him. It would be good if some effects of it were to warm our hearts beforehand, and that we had the evidence and experience of what it is. May the Lord give us to know it.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

James Durham’s exposition of Revelation is currently being republished. Volume 2, Lectures on Chapters 4–11 is the second of three projected volumes. There are theological essays on such subjects as the nature and extent of the merit of Christ’s death, Christ’s Intercession, the idolatry of the Church of Rome, and the founding of true churches by reformation out of corrupt churches. The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript which in places is significantly different from the published edition of 1658. John Owen called James Durham, “one of good learning, sound judgement, and every way ‘a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.'” To read Durham on Revelation is to find proof of this. His commentary provides what was, as Principal John MacLeod said, “in past days, the accepted Protestant view of that book”. 

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Truly keeping our promise to pray for others

Truly keeping our promise to pray for others

Truly keeping our promise to pray for others
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.
20 May, 2021

Facebook is testing out a new “prayer post feature” allowing people to post prayer requests in a group and others to respond by clicking a “pray” button to say they have prayed. There may be many thoughts about such a development in relation to how it can inadvertently shape our view and practice of prayer. One obvious connection is the fact that Christians often promise to pray for others. It is important, not doing the least but rather the most we can for them. The trouble is that we can make that promise sincerely out of good intentions and then promptly forget. Or perhaps the prayer is rushed under a sense of constraint. Are we largely expressing a quick thought rather than deeply pouring out our hearts for their spiritual growth? How do we by grace, persevere in prayer for others in the best spirit?

The Apostle Paul gives us an example of timely, constant and fervent prayer for others. He even gives us some of the words that he used in prayer for others to encourage us to seek the best things on behalf of others. He assured the Colossian believers “we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you” (Colossians 1:9). He had heard of their love and his longing was that they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, in wisdom and that they might be grow spiritually.

Sometimes our prayers for others are very specifically about some difficult situation they may be facing but not always that the Lord would use it to make them grow spiritually in particular ways. Paul prays that the Colossian believers might have an increased and fuller knowledge of God’s will. This was not simply about guidance and direction. He prays that they would have increased wisdom to grasp the heavenly mysteries revealed in Scripture. He also seeks that they would have a fuller understanding to know their duty and the right way of putting all their knowledge into practice. Paul also therefore prays that they would increase in holiness (v10). Another petition is that they may be strengthened to joyfully and patiently endure whatever afflictions they meet with in doing their duty.

This is truly keeping our promise to pray for others, when we pour out our desires for their greatest spiritual good. We certainly do not need to be stuck in knowing what to pray for others. Perhaps we can turn to these words of Paul when we are seeking to pray for others. James Fergusson expounds some aspects of these verses in the following updated extract.

1. Pray in Response to the Grace Evident in Others

The graces of God’s Spirit in any, are not only reasons for thanksgiving to God but also reasons to pray that they would be increased. Grace in the best is imperfect, and liable to decline or be abused. Paul gave thanks for their grace (v4) and prays to God for them that it would increase.

2. Pray for Others CONSTANTLY

Praying to God for others is real evidence of our affection for them. Expressing our sympathy in this way should therefore, be begun in a timely way and constantly continued in. Paul testifies of his affection towards this Church by showing that he prays for them in a timely way. Since the day he heard it, and constantly without ceasing. This does not mean he had done no other thing except that. Rather it means he had a firmly rooted desire after their good, and always expressed it in prayer when there was opportunity to do so.

3. Pray That Others Will Grow in Understanding Scripture

The knowledge of God’s will revealed in Scripture, is to be studied above any other knowledge. It is more sublime, pleasant, and more profitable than any other. Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, speaking of His revealed will (Deuteronomy 29:29). Those who know most of God’s will revealed in Scripture, come far short of what they should know. There is a fullness of knowledge which no one attains to but all should aim at.

4. Pray that Others Will Grow in Applying Scripture

Wisdom or knowledge of divine mysteries and the things of faith is necessary. But understanding, or knowledge of our duty and the right way to go about it is also very necessary. We need wisdom to discern how to follow our duty in specific times (Psalm 1:3), places (Ecclesiastes 5:1), companies (Psalm 39:1) and other circumstances (Luke 8:18). We need “all wisdom and understanding” to order our lives in the right way (Psalm 50:23). Spiritual knowledge, wisdom, and understanding must be sought after not to make us puffed up (Colossians 2:18) or complacent (Luke 12:47) but that we may order our lives according to it. It is so that we may “walk worthy of the Lord”.

5. Pray that Others Will Grow in Patience

Paul prays that they may be strengthened to all patience and long-suffering. God is well-pleased with, and much honoured by those who are (in a Christian way and for the right reasons) patient and cheerful under affliction.
Our spiritual adversaries are very many (Ephesians 6:12) and so are their attacks on all sides (2 Corinthians 2:11. So necessary is it to overcome not only one, but all of them (Hebrews 12:4) that no less is required than “all might” for victory in this Christian warfare. This is not their own, they are weak in themselves, even though renewed and sanctified (Romans 7:18). Their strength must be sought by prayer from God and His glorious power which gives them the victory.

Christian strength is best seen under the saddest sufferings. When affliction is endured with patience and long-suffering it reveals much of Christian strength and courage. It is “all patience” in the highest degree, extending to the whole person, to all kinds of afflictions and times.

7. Pray that Others Will Grow in Joy

Our patience must not be unwilling, and, as it were, forced out of us. It ought to proceed from a joyful mind, knowing all things work together for our good; and that one day we shall be above sufferings (Matthew 5:12). It is “long-suffering with joyfulness”.

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12 Ways We See Christ’s Infinite Wisdom

12 Ways We See Christ’s Infinite Wisdom

12 Ways We See Christ’s Infinite Wisdom
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.
12 May, 2021

We think we are superior in knowledge and values to previous generations but often our values are upside down. We value what is new, instant, youthful, tangible, technological and dismiss the converse. There may be much knowledge and intelligence, but wisdom transcends this. If wisdom is pursuing the best things in the best way, where best is defined by God, then it is in short supply today. Ultimately the one who completely knows how the best goals can be achieved in the best way is God “the only wise God” Himself. He has infinite wisdom. This is not just seen in creation and providence but especially in redemption (Ephesians 3:10). In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). No one knows more or knows better how to apply that knowledge for the good of His own people. We may be tempted to question how things are with ourselves and around us, but infinite wisdom is ordering all things for us.

Christ is fully equipped and qualified to do all that He has purposed for His people. There is nothing required for the work which He does not have. David Dickson imagines a poor soul asking, “Christ may be able to do all I need; but is He willing to employ His wisdom and strength for me?” He answers that Christ not only has wisdom and strength, but He will deal prudently. He foresees all the impediments in His way, anything that could mar the work of salvation. There is no wound His soldiers get that He has no cure for. There is no adversary He does not know how to defeat. In a word, everything from eternity to eternity is managed prudently. Dickson is expounding and applying Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently” and in the course of doing this he brings out the way in which Christ applies His wisdom. There are twelve ways this is identified in the following updated extract (Dickson’s fifteen ways have been summarised into twelve).

1. Christ Deals With God’s Justice Wisely

The justice of God must lose nothing, before we are reconciled or get heaven, a just God must be satisfied. Our prudent Lord answers, “If these people cannot get to heaven until justice is satisfied, behold I am come to satisfy it.” And yet the Lord’s mercy will have as great a place as it pleases; for He deals so prudently that He makes mercy and justice kiss each other. Mercy runs like a river, and justice is satisfied — is not that prudent dealing?

2. Christ Deals With God’s Law Wisely

The law says, “I will take satisfaction from Christ for past sins; but what obedience will I have for the future? Will those whom Christ has redeemed, be permitted to break me in the future?” Prudent Christ answers, “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, for sin condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Before the law could only get punishment for its being broken, now, it gets full obedience by Christ. Christ did not come to abolish but to fulfil the law; He came only to abolish the cursing part of it, but to establish the obeying part of it. Here is prudent dealing.

3. Christ Conquers Satan Wisely

In comes Satan the jailer and death with him; he flies at Christ to get Him overthrown. But prudent Christ destroyed him who had the power of death by the means of death. He overcomes him who had the power of death, and says, he will be the death of death.

So death lies down in the grave and all his own die and lie down with him. Satan thinks to have Christ held in this way. But He could not be held by the sorrows of death. He rises and breaks an opening with Him through death. Like Samson, He takes away the gates and bars of death and has left death neither door nor lock to hold us in. Here is prudence.

4. Christ Enters the World Wisely

See His prudent dealing in His coming into the world. He comes not with pomp or show, but in a humble way. He was meek and lowly, riding on an ass’s colt. Though He was a great king, yet often He went on foot. When He rode, it was on such a low beast, that any might have stood beside Him, and presented their petition in His ear, as He rode.

5. Christ Sends Out His Gospel Wisely

See His prudent dealing in sending His gospel forth to bring home souls. He does not use thunder and fire but poor, weak men with His word in their mouth. By this means, the rod of Zion, He casts down proud hearts and allures others. He puts His heavenly treasure in earthen vessels and lets them carry it and takes the glory to Himself. He puts the sceptre of His kingdom in these weak men’s mouths.

6. Christ Deals with Rulers Wisely

He gives kings no reason to envy His kingdom. He gives his ministers neither crowns nor lands, but only seeks that the workman gets his wages. Is this not great prudence, He does not trouble the kings and nobles of the land with His kingdom on earth. All His office-bearers must be everyone’s servant, “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:22). His kingdom is not of this world, but a spiritual kingdom.

7. Christ Declares His Sovereignty Wisely

He deals so prudently, that the mouth of the reprobate shall be stopped, and have no just argument against their condemnation. He either sends His gospel to them and so invites them to repentance. Or He makes them know His goodness by fruitful seasons, summer and winter, and use of all His good creatures. If they will not make use of these, will be found to have in themselves the cause of their own damnation.

He makes the elect abandon their sins and come in, that they may be vessels of honour. He declares His doctrines in such a way that none who desire to quit their sins and come to Him will find a mark of reprobation in themselves. However filthy they are, if they come, He will cleanse them. His doctrine is so wise, that it will hurt none who seek to come to Him only those who will not quit their sins.

8. Christ Deals with His People’s Pride Wisely

The elect are made to see their sinfulness, needs and unworthiness that they may have His sufferings in high estimation, as their main refuge.

9. Christ Comforts His People Wisely

He deals prudently in urging all to believe, and yet He reserves the right to bestow comfort. He urges them to believe and yet keeps back the comfort of believing till they vomit out their sins. He deals prudently in calling His children to peace, joy, and comfort, and yet give them heavy burdens and afflictions lest they go to excess. In this way, He comforts their souls while making sure also to have their flesh mortified. If He lifts them up in Himself, He puts them as low as possible in themselves. He does not let them sink into trouble for lack of comfort, nor let them disregard Him due to lack of affliction. He fills them with comfort and makes them shed tears for affliction.

10. Christ Justifies Sinners Wisely

Christ exercises great prudence to make a sinner righteous, yet that righteousness is not in themselves, neither does it depend on their own keeping. In His prudent dealing, He sends forth ministers to preach, and dispense heavenly mysteries, and yet keeps the seal in His own hand. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). Thus, none may depend on the minister for the blessing. Christ has great prudence to forgive sin, and yet still keep us crying, “Lord, forgive us our sins!”

11. Christ Feeds His People Wisely

He continues to feed with the food that endures to eternal life and yet still keeps us hungering for it. He holds our mouths to the well and yet we are still thirsty.

12. Christ Exalts His People Wisely

He exalts His own above principalities, powers and afflictions, yet lays them exceedingly low with a sight and sense of their sins. He heartily and warmly comforts and refreshes them, making their bed in their sickness, and yet keeping them humble, so that the better He is to them the humbler they are. He quietly and shrewdly slides consolations into their hearts when no one knows, His voice is not heard in the streets. He keeps a covered table with rich delicacies in the souls of His own, and none know of it, for strangers do not meddle with their joy.

Conclusion

I have told you only of part of Christ’s prudent and wise dealing. But it is a deep which cannot be fathomed, for even the angels stoop down, to learn His wisdom and prudence. They wonder at the wisdom of the cross:

  • that by death, so many should be brought to life;
  • by His shame, there should come so much glory;
  • by abasing Him down to the death, so many should be brought to heaven;
  • by His becoming cursed, so many should be blessed.

This wisdom and prudence cannot be fully told, therefore I leave it, as a thing that cannot be grasped. But make use of it. When the work of Christ is not as you would have it, then believe deeper wisdom in it than you can see. His wise and prudent dealing gives to everyone’s condition as their situation requires.
If He has trouble with a distorted piece of wood full of knots, He drives a hard wedge; or if He deals with one that is stubborn, He takes a baton. If there is one whose root is fastened in the earth, He takes a sharp knife to cut these roots. He comforts a heavy heart. If gives a weighty burden it is not too heavy. He lifts us up, but not too high. Everything is done in wisdom, due time, measure, manner, and might.

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Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted
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.
6 May, 2021

Social Stability means the extent to which a society and its infrastructure, including its institutions are able remain reliable and predicable. Much of everyday life runs smoothly with a great deal happening that we do not see. Fair elections, medical care, stable government, economic stability, public services, transport and infrastructure, law and order, community relations and much more are things we can take for granted. But they are easily challenged as events of the past year have reminded us. We do not know what the future holds in relation to them. These outward necessities are blessings from God and while spiritual concerns are our key priority, we ought to be thankful for the outward benefits of this life. It is part of God’s providential care and we must not take it for granted. That is why Christ teaches us to make it a matter of daily prayer.

If we are thankful for these things, we will express that in prayer and if we feel our need these things, we must also bring that to the throne of grace. When we ask for “our daily bread” we are not just thinking about the food on our tables but also everything that makes that possible. We ought to be mindful of all the benefits we are daily loaded with. This is why the Larger Catechism widens the scope to “all the outward blessings of this life”.

It says “we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them; and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them, and contentment in them; and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort” (Q193).

In this updated extract, Henry Scudder, a member of the Westminster Assembly, explains further how “our daily bread” includes all the blessings of this life.

1. Social Stability and our Daily Bread

Bread in Scripture refers to all kinds of food (Psalm 147:9; Job 23:12 and Proverbs 30:8) whether food or drink. In James 2:15. the words translated daily food are the same in meaning with daily bread and are expounded by James in the sixteenth verse as things necessary for the body. It also relates to whatever is necessary for preservation of life, such as clothes, houses etc. It also means the causes and effects of bread e.g. fruitful seasons, good temperature of air, health and cheerfulness (Acts 14:17).

In a word, it refers to all things which may preserve life, or restore health, such as medicine and skilful and faithful doctors. It also includes peace and good order, and all good means to maintain it: as a wise and courageous government, a strong, populous, loyal, and loving people. Anything contrary to this such as famine, disease, wars, sickness, pain etc are prayed against when we ask for our daily bread.

Our needs require that we should have supplies for this life, that we may have a right mind in a sound body. Otherwise, we can neither enjoy anything nor do good to our neighbour, nor do the service and works which the Lord appoints. We cannot benefit others nor serve God. It is hard for those who are have problems of mental health or who are dumb and deaf to help others compared to those who have the full health or mind and body.

We need are healthy air, food, drink, clothing, houses and whatever will keep from bodily infection and afflictions. They may serve to quench thirst, or satisfy hunger, or preserve from extremities of heat and cold, or to restore defects in nature.

These things cannot be had unless the Lord gives fruitful seasons and causes the earth to be fruitful. We must request these things from the Lord to satisfy human necessities. Yet when all these things are granted, such is human frailty that if we are not willing or able to make use of corn, wool, medicine etc we will be destitute of their use. Therefore, we seek that God would give gifts and skill to men for that purpose.

We may have all this but if we are exposed to the fury of enemies our life and welfare cannot be sustained. A good commonwealth, consisting of wise, just, and valiant governors, and of numerous, peaceable, loyal, and courageous subjects, is to be desired and everything contrary to all these prayed against.

2. Social Stability is the Gift of God

Having and being able to enjoy all the necessary things of this life, is the free gift of God (Job 36:32; Psalm 104:28; Psalm 145:15; 1 Chronicles 29:14). The earth is the Lord’s (1 Corinthians 10:26) and although he made it for our use, we have it only as stewards, who are accountable to Him as their master. We are merely tenants. The Lord must give us the things of this life to have and to hold, else they cannot rightfully be held by anyone.

We may have everything necessary as the rich fool did but not have the blessing of continued life to enjoy it (Luke 12:20). We may taste, and eat, and put on clothes, and yet be neither warm nor satisfied. They can do us no good without God’s blessing. This is why we must be exhorted and persuaded to ask them of God, whose gift they are. When they have received and enjoyed, we must acknowledge this as God’s gift with all thankfulness.

3. Social Stability and the Glory of God

Christ first taught His disciples to ask for the things that concerned God’s glory in the three first petitions. He then instructs them to ask for the things that concern their own good in three further petitions. When anyone has unfeignedly desired and sought the things which pertain to God’s honour and glory they may then with good warrant pray for and expect all good things both for body and soul (Matthew 6:33).

God has promised to give all good things to all such. God has promised to give to His children temporal good things as well as spiritual. Godliness has the promise of the present life (1 Timothy 4:6). A good condition of body and soul is a good means to encourage and a person to still glorify God. But it is presumption to think that God will bless us if we do not glorify His name in doing His will.

We may lawfully desire the things of this life. We must therefore pray and use all good and lawful means to live in this world. But this must be done after we have sought God’s glory. Also, it must be considered from whom, by what means, for whom, for what time, in what right, and in what measure and how we would have our needs supplied. And we must always remember that we asked for these things as far as they are consistent with God’s good will.

4. Social Stability and Intercession

Every Christian should desire and procure the bodily welfare of their neighbour. The law of charity binds us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore, we must pray for them and procure their good, as we do our own. It is not “every man for himself” but “every man for his neighbour as for himself”.
This should move everyone to commend the condition others to God in prayer. And distribute and to those that need, giving more or less, according as God has made them able, and as their brethren’s necessities require. Humanity and Christianity both call for mercy from us. Doing good to our brethren, is only lending to the Lord and He will repay with advantage.

5. Social Stability and Contentment

This is no prayer for abundance, but for daily bread: neither too much nor too little, but according to need. The desires of the things of this life, must be moderate. The quality and quantity of things desired, must be only such, and so much, as is convenient for our person and condition. We are to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). Our life does not consist in the abundance of what we possess (Luke 12:13). Abundance is dangerous both to soul and body; it can lead to disregard of God and His works and even denying Him (Proverbs 30:9).

It is not a sin to have abundance; for Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon abounded in riches: but it is a sin to desire to be rich and If riches increase, we must not set our heart on them. We must not be high minded or trust in them.

6. Social Stability is Not the Primary Concern

In the Lord’s Prayer there is only one short petition for the things that concern natural life but two larger petitions that concern spiritual life. Though God allows His children to ask first for earthly things, yet He wills them to seek chiefly for heavenly things (Matthew 6:33). The desires of Christians should therefore, be fewer, and less vehement for the things of this life, and their principal concern is to be how their sins may be forgiven and the strength of sin diminished as the two petitions that follow emphasise.

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How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
20 Apr, 2021

It was an uncompromising conscience that compelled Luther to stand alone in courageous faith before the mightiest people of the day. This was where he stood 500 years ago on 18 April 1521. He was not driven by personal hubris but constrained by something higher. His conscience, he declared, was captive to the Word of God. And it is “neither safe nor advisable to do anything against conscience”. It would have been easy to outsource his conscience blindly to the teaching authorities in the Church, even when he understood them to contradict Scripture. In our generation there are many influencers in society and media seeking to shape a collective conscience. Suddenly people trip over themselves to signal their newly-discovered virtues. Brands now have a conscience that they must advertise. It is easy to allow our conscience to be formed by all kinds of authorities and individuals, whether they have the hard power of government or the soft power of influence. We can even relinquish our consciences to other Christians in certain matters rather than having them bound to the Word of God. It is vitally important to know how to nurture rather than outsource our conscience.

What do we mean by outsourcing conscience? After all we yield our consciences to God and His Word. Outsourcing in general is when we hand over our responsibilities or tasks to others who will do them on our behalf. In terms of outsourcing conscience this means not taking responsibility for cultivating conscience and exercising it in the right way through having it properly informed by God’s will. We simply hand over this responsibility to others to do it for us. In the following updated and abridged extract, the Covenanter preacher John Carstairs shows what it means to maintain our conscience in a God-glorifying way.

1. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Been Renewed

Above all things make sure to have a good conscience, not only morally (when it submits to God’s revealed will for its rule and constrains a person to act and will according to it that rule) but also graciously. This presupposes a state of regeneration when the heart by faith (the gift of God) seeks to have the blood of sprinkling which both purges and pacifies, cleanses and calms the conscience. It speaks better things than the blood of Abel and can out-cry the loudest cries of the most clamorous and guilty conscience (Hebrews 12:24). It is the only way for all accusations for sins to be safely put to silence and so drowned that they will never surface again to the final sorrow and shame of those who are led by grace. Any other way of silencing such accusations of conscience will most certainly end in their rising again at last to speak loudly against them, never any more to hold their peace from grievously bitter and gnawing accusations. For to the unclean and unbelieving nothing is pure, but even the mind and conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15).

2. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must Be Maintained

If the conscience has been made good in this way we must endeavour by all suitable means to keep it so. This will give us good grounds to say with the apostle that we have a good conscience in all things, willing to live honestly (Hebrews 13:18). The conscience of the Christian may, however, become defiled and wounded by newly contracted pollution and guilt. When accusations begin to arise and disturb the peace and sweet rest of the soul we must at all times make fresh believing application to the blood of sprinkling. The heart may be sprinkled from an evil conscience and the conscience purged from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 10:22) in this way. Renewed endeavours should be made in the strength of grace to walk more tenderly without offence toward God and men (Acts 24:16).

3. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must be Well-Informed

We must strive to have our conscience well and thoroughly informed. This means intimate acquaintance with the mind and will of God revealed in the Scriptures of truth as to all things that we are called to believe and do. This makes conscience able to discharge its office and duty aright, whether in prescribing, testifying, or judging. An ill-informed conscience (especially where there is any zeal or forwardness) strongly pushes and furiously drives people to many dangerous and destructive practices. Has this not driven men to kill the servants of Christ (as He himself foretold) and in doing so to think that they did God service? Did this not hurry on Paul, before his conversion, to persecute those who called on the name of the Lord Jesus and make havoc of the Church, by dragging the disciples (both men and women) bound to prison and by cruel persecution compelling them to blaspheme?

4. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Only One Lord

We must seek to have the conscience deeply impressed with a due and deep veneration, awe and dread of the majesty of God who is the supreme Lord of and great Law-giver to the conscience. Only His laws and commands properly, directly and immediately in themselves oblige it to obey. The consciences and souls of men are properly subject to God alone. The law of God written in the hearts of men and in the Scriptures is the only rule of conscience. No one else can immediately judge the conscience and know its secret operations. Only He can inflict spiritual punishment on the sinning conscience. All human laws and commands (in whatever capacity) only oblige the conscience to obey indirectly. They are obligatory only in so far as they are consistent, compliant and agreeable with the laws and commands of the absolutely supreme law-giver, or not opposed to them.

God has not permitted any power on earth, civil or ecclesiastical, to annul His commands or to require obedience to commands that are contrary to, or inconsistent with His own. His commands are inviolably binding on the consciences of authorities even though they are the greatest rulers on earth as well those subject to them. All without exception are subject to Him. All human laws that enforce or declare the commands and law of God and provide for them to be conserved and observed are obligatory on the conscience. This is because such laws derive from the nature and force of divine law.

The law of God commands us to be subject to those powers in authority over us. There may be unjust laws and those that are opposed to or inconsistent with divine laws. If we must refuse obedience, we must not do so out of any contempt for lawful authority. Such contempt of lawful authority would be a stumbling block to others and both of these are sins against the law of God that we must avoid. But we must remember that no mere human laws bind the conscience directly, immediately and in themselves. God has not given a power to any of the powers and authorities on earth to require obedience to commands that are opposed to His own injunctions, which all are obliged to obey by necessity.

We cannot yield our conscience without question to be ruled by the public conscience or laws of the Commonwealth. This would suppose that the public conscience is always infallible. Absolute obedience and resigning oneself entirely to the conduct of another in matters of faith and conscience is a duty that we cannot lawfully render to anyone except God. He is the first truth and the first principle of all justice and none can claim these without usurping the just right of God. The conscience is immediately subject to God and His will, it cannot subject itself to any creature without idolatry. To do otherwise would be the quickest way to drive all conscience out of the world. It would mean that Christians are not at all to trouble themselves to search the Scriptures to inform their consciences and be fully persuaded in their mind or conscience (explicitly required in John 5:39. and Romans 14:5).

As Edward Leigh says in his book Body of Divinity, this would make “subjects beasts and the magistrate [ruler] God”. It would imply that authority can require anything of us and we are free from the guilt of any sin because it was only done in obedience to authority. The divinely inspired apostle teaches us entirely differently that we must all appear (or be made manifest) before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body (whether commanded by superiors or not) according to what they have done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every one of us shall give an account of himself (not another for him) to God (Romans 14:12, see also Galatians 6:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 3:8).

5. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive

Do not carelessly neglect and slight the rebukes and accusations of conscience in lesser things, or in matters of comparatively smaller significance. Conscience is as much concerned with these as in all our moral actions. This can weaken the voice and rebukes of conscience in more momentous matters and may incline it to be careless in those too.

The accusations of conscience may be smothered for the time being yet may rise up again many years afterwards. This was so with Joseph’s brothers, it was twenty years at least after their pitiless, cruel, unnatural and inhuman treatment of their poor innocent younger brother. God may be provoked to leave our conscience to be silent for a while in relation to our sins. A silent bad conscience is amongst the worst of bad consciences, in some ways it is worse than a roaring bad conscience because it inclines the soul to think that God is silent too and has forgotten these sins. Even the godly themselves may by something of this guilt, raise great storms of trouble and disquiet in their own consciences.

6. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Respectful

By all means guard against going contrary to the plain dictates of your consciences, especially when clearly informed by the Word. This is a daring, despising and disowning of God’s deputy; violently removing conscience from the judge’s bench. This hardens conscience and makes a person bold against God in sinning, it makes the heart harder than an adamant. Such will not be ashamed or so much as blush.

7. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Fully Persuaded

Do not do anything with an unclear, hesitant and doubting conscience. Anything not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23); anything must be done in the faith and persuasion that it is right to do so. If our conscience is mistaken it must be well informed so that the error is realised. But if we do not have our conscience rightly informed, it will still be sinful to go against an erring conscience.

The consciences of others are no rule to ours, their conscience is not infallible. God has put a conscience in everyone as His deputy. We are to pay careful heed to its dictates. God has not made the conscience of any one individual or group of individuals His deputy over all the consciences of other people. Those who are more spiritual and conscientious than ourselves may be clear in their consciences that such and such a practice is permissible. We are then called to impartially examine the reasons for their clarity and examine our own hesitation or lack of clarity carefully. We must be much in earnest prayer to God for light and guidance. But if despite all this my doubt still remains and other godly individuals are also doubtful and unclear I cannot surrender to be blindly ruled by the conscience of others, whoever they are or whatever my respect for them. I cannot act with a doubting conscience without sin. If I can do this why may I not do another more serious thing doubtingly and then another and another. Where will I stop? In things that are doubtful it is safest to abstain.

8. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive to the Conscience of Others

Although we may be clear and fully persuaded of our own Christian liberty in certain things that are indifferent, we must be very sensitive towards the consciences of others who are not. We do not want to offend and wound their conscience. By nature we are ready insensitively and uncharitably to give and to take offence. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8, 9 and 10 are uniquely useful chapters in restraining us from this. 

9. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Does Not Pretend to Have Scruples

Believers should not pretend it is a matter of conscience to abstain from certain practices if it is just because there has been a long custom of doing so, or because they are following the example of others or do not want to displease them. Are you ready to undergo any considerable suffering for what you claim is a matter of conscience. If not when we forsake it we will bring great reproach to true religion and conscientious godliness. If conscience is pretended in petty things but not the weightier things of religion, we are like the Pharisees. We are like them also when we appeal to conscience for tenaciously adhering to human traditions.

10. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Not Rash

Do not rashly enter into any action (especially if it is of great moment) before seriously consulting conscience and endeavouring to have it well informed by the Word. This can either result in an accusing conscience or the temptation to bypass conscience and justify whatever we have done. The only person who walks surely, is the one that walks uprightly, in unbiased compliance with the dictates of the Spirit of God in the Scriptures and their own conscience informed by that.

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Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress
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.
13 Apr, 2021

Whether or not we call it a secondary or parallel pandemic, there is no doubt that there has been an upsurge in mental health issues during the past year. Some fear it will have a long-term impact, especially on younger age groups. It is a silent issue at the best of times, it is easier to ask about physical than mental health. We all know people who have trials in this area to a greater or lesser extent and Christians are not immune. It can be difficult to distinguish between spiritual and mental trials and the impact they have on each other. Medical and other assistance is of course often needed but with whatever the case we must bring our situation before God. Scripture shows us how to go to God for comfort and strength in such afflictions. It does not give us glib platitudes; it plumbs the depth of mental distress to lift up the troubled and cast down.

The bleakest lament from a distressed condition is found in Psalm 88. As David Dickson notes, this is the experience of a ‘wise and holy man…under the heaviest condition of a wounded spirit of any that we read of.’ Heman the Ezrahite was one of the four wisest men in all of Israel (1 Kings 4:31) yet here he prays for comfort in wrestling by faith and pouring out his soul to God. It is the heaviest possible condition we can imagine for a believer. He does not seem to find the comfort he seeks, yet he clings to God. This deep trouble of a wounded spirit is recorded here for our understanding and spiritual benefit. Perhaps our situation or that experienced by others is equally bleak or less so. Or perhaps meditating on this psalm can help prepare us for future affliction. C H Spurgeon was perhaps reflecting on this psalm when he said the following:

The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.

Those who find their assurance of God’s love and comfort is clouded by their experience in their heavy affliction can still find comfort here. As David Dickson remarks, ‘those who flee to God for reconciliation and consolation through Christ, have no reason to suspect themselves, that they are not esteemed of and loved as dear children, because they feel so much of God’s wrath.’ Here is a saint who has drunk as deeply of that cup of sorrow as any who will read this Psalm. ‘Yet here is one so much loved and honoured of God’ that he is used in writing Scripture ‘and a pattern of faith and patience unto others.’ He could still call him the God of his salvation. Dickson draws further help and comfort in this updated and abridged extract.

1. Clinging to God by Grace

He fastens his faith and resolution to pray constantly to God until he receives and answer. Those have fled to God for grace and have received the offered reconciliation in the Messiah have entered into covenant with God for their everlasting salvation. They ought to stand fast in holding onto this covenant, however hard their condition may be.

When a believer has laid hold on eternal life, they may by the same right ask and expect comfort in and deliverance out of every trouble. Heman does this here (v1-2). God can love a person and keep praying in faith for a long time without an answer to comfort them. Yet this is all in love, wise love.

There is a difference between the lamentation of the worldly man and the believer. The worldly person sighs and cries, to whom they know not. But the godly present their lamentations to God. We must pray to God again and again patiently, until we know it is answered.

2. Clinging to God in increasing Troubles

There are nine deepening troubles that add to each other in misery.
(a) His soul is full of troubles, so full it can hold no more. Soul troubles are the most pressing troubles (v3)
(b) The sorrows of the mind are able to waste away the body, which cannot but shrink and pine away when the soul is sick with anguish (v3)
(c) His soul’s condition seems desperate like those that go down to the pit. Whatever strength of soul or body a person is soon emptied when God puts them in distress. Without fresh supplies they are as those that have no strength (v4). I am as a man that hath no strength.
(d) He is like the living among the dead, no longer fit for any duty of the living. The believer may sometimes be so burdened with trouble of spirit, that they can neither think, nor speak, nor go about any duty of the living for a time (v5).
(e) He is like someone killed violently, thrust out of the world suddenly with a deadly wound. A soul dear to God may experience such a condition (v5)
(f) He is deprived of the comforts of life and is it were left under the power of death. The believer may sometimes lose sight of the everlasting promise and seem to be rejected by God (v5).
(g) He seems to be deprived of all light of consolation, in the gulf of desperation without deliverance. The believer may feel themselves to be in such a condition, the lowest pit. Whatever trouble we are in, or however great danger we seem to be in, the believer’s wisdom is still to look to God. This may add to grief and fear, yet it prepares the way for the remedy and keeps the believer on the right terms with God.
(h) He has the felt wrath of God pursuing him, overtaking him, lying heavy on him, tossing him with new fears and assaults. These are like the waves of the sea when they come one after another, and endlessly dash on what they find in their way. Such may be the case of a beloved soul in its own felt sense (v7).
(i) He is deprived of all comfort, even any consolation from his friends or fellowship of the godly and wise (v8).

3. Clinging to God in Faith

He wrestles in prayer using four reasons to strengthen his faith and hope of being comforted.
(a) He earnestly seeks comfort only in God with tears (v9).
(b) He must not perish without an answer to his prayer to edify others and glorify God’s name (v10-12)
(c) He is resolved not to cease praying (v13)
(d) He cannot be cast off from God even though His face is hidden (v14)

4. Clinging to God in Grief

The psalmist presents his misery before the Lord, persuaded that he must experience the Lord’s compassion in due time, although he has been afflicted since his youth (v15). When we have tried all means for receiving comfort from God, it is safest for us to lay our grief before God, until He is pleased to show pity.

5. Clinging to God in Fear

The weight of present troubles, is accompanied with the fear of worse to come. Some of God’s children are more tried in their consciences than others. Some souls may experience this all their days. Severe trials may sometimes make faith stagger with doubting, and perplex our reason so that we are like someone that is beside themselves. But although the godly experience doubt, they are not driven to despair; they may be cast down, but they are not destroyed. The terrors of God in the plural number are upon him, that is, frequent terrors, and multiplied terrors (v16-17). They are compared to waters enclosing someone before they are aware.

6. Clinging to God in Isolation

There is no one who is compassionate toward him (v8 and 18). There was none to pity him, none to counsel or comfort him, none to whom he might impart his mind fully for ease. His old friends, and such as loved him before failed him and forsook him. He must sit solitary in darkness. Such a heavy and comfortless condition may be the lot of a beloved child of God.

The fact that he ends the psalm without any comfort for the time being does not make this psalm any less comforting than any other psalm. It shows that he was being supported for the time being even though it was without comfort. He had comfort given to him afterwards since he was able to turn this sad complaint into a song both for himself and for the Church.

This teaches us that seeing God can sustain a soul by secretly supporting faith, though without a felt sense of comfort. This may be even under the heaviest and most grievous felt sense of wrath. A believer in God must therefore lay hold on God’s goodness, promise and covenant. They must continue to trust in the Lord even though He seems to slay them (see Job 13:15). The example of Heman the Ezrahite here teaches us this.

Conclusion

If we have never experienced the deep emotional and mental distress of Heman the Ezrahite we have great reason to be thankful. If we have known these depths, we are not alone. It is a great blessing that the Bible records such anguish to show us how to express ourselves in the midst of it. The Holy Spirit as the Comforter is able to draw near and apply the Word to the deep griefs of the mind. We need the same compassion for those who are going through dark valleys in their own experience

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