How redemption dignifies diligence

How redemption dignifies diligence

How redemption dignifies diligence

A recent worldwide study of attitudes to work shows that UK citizens are least likely to say that work is important in their life, and among the least likely to say that work should always come first, even if it means less leisure time. Compared with other nations, the UK is also relatively less likely to agree that work is a duty towards society. While the Bible condemns grasping ambition and earthly-mindedness, it also commends diligence, productivity, and generosity. This is an application of the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” In his commentary on Ephesians, James Fergusson looks at how Paul explores the transformation that takes place in every area of life when someone comes to know Christ savingly, including a radically changed attitude to work. In the following updated extract, Fergusson identifies the eighth commandment as informing Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”

Knowing Christ transforms everything

The knowledge which the Ephesians had of Christ was inconsistent with a licentious life. “Ye have not so learned Christ” (Eph. 4:20) It is not every sort of learning Christ, or knowledge that may be had of Christ, which excludes profaneness.

We rightly and savingly learn truth, when the knowledge of truth attained by our learning is such as Christ’s knowledge was, i.e., not merely theoretical and speculative, but practical and operative.

Three things are required from, and effectually produced in, the person who learns and knows Christ in this effectual way.

The first is a daily striving to “put off” (or “mortify”) “the old man” (v.22). This doesn’t mean the substance of our soul and body, or even the natural and essential faculties of the soul, but the natural and inbred corruption which has infected and polluted all these, and which we give way to in its “deceitful lusts.” The right order to go about the duties of sanctification is to begin with mortification in the first place, and then proceed to the duties of a new life, for the plants of righteousness do not thrive in an unhumbled, proud, impenitent heart.

The second thing is a serious endeavour to have your mind and understanding more and more renewed, or made new, by getting a new quality of divine and supernatural light implanted in it (v.23). It is not sufficient that we cease to do evil, and labour to mortify our inbred corruption, but we must also learn to do well, and endeavour to have the whole man adorned with the various graces of God’s Spirit, making conscience of all the positive duties of a holy life.

The third thing is the daily task of putting on the new man (v.24), that is, being more and more endued and adorned with new and spiritual qualities, by which not only is our mind renewed, but also our will, affections and actions.

Christians observe each of the ten commandments

The apostle then presses on them the exercise of some particular virtues. These belong to all Christians of whatsoever rank or station equally, and they are all enjoined in the second table of the law. He exhorts them, first, to lay aside and mortify the sin of lying (v.25), forbidden in the ninth commandment (where someone speaks what they know or conceive to be untruth, with an intention and purpose to deceive), and to “speak the truth, every man with his neighbour,” that is, to speak as they think, and to think of what they speak as it really is, so that our speech would conform both to the thing itself, and to our conceptions of the thing.

He exhorts them, next, to restrain and moderate their anger (v.26–27), for anger is forbidden in the sixth commandment. Anger is a natural affection, planted in our first parents at the first creation, and it was indeed also found in Christ Himself, who was without sin. So anger is not in itself a sin, nor always sinful. Instead, it is in its own nature indifferent, and becomes either good or evil according to the grounds, causes, objects and ends of it.

Christians keep the eighth commandment

In verse 28, the apostle exhorts either those who, when they were unconverted, acted contrary to the eighth commandment, stealing their neighbour’s goods, or those who were yet, after professing faith in Jesus Christ, guilty of that sin in some degrees and respects. He exhorts them to “steal no more.”

Christ redeems us from stealing and deceitfulness

The sin of stealing includes all the fraudulent and deceitful ways in which we may wrong our neighbour, without his knowledge, in his goods or outward estate, whether by taking what belongs to him (John 20:19) or withholding from him what is his (James 5:4), or indeed by partaking with those who do so (Psalm 50:18).

The apostle exhorts them also to the opposite duty, as a remedy of this evil. They should instead labour diligently – even to weariness (as the word means) – in any good and honest calling, supposing it is only in some labouring work or manual trade.

This remedy is all the more recommended because of the advantage which follows from it, i.e., that by doing so, and through God’s blessing on their diligence, they will not only acquire to themselves sufficient worldly goods that they will be kept from any necessity of stealing, but they will also be able to use some of what they have to meet the needs of others.

Jesus Christ does not reject the vilest sinner, not even thieves, or worse, for anything they have been. Yet they must amend their life subsequently. Nevertheless, some, after they have made a profession as Christians, continue to live in the practice of base and shameful sins, which hardly can be called the marks of God’s children. It is clear that some of the Ephesians were guilty of this sin before an offer of mercy was made to them in the gospel, and indeed that some were yet living in it.

In God’s good and wise way of ordering things, he has established property rights and differences in the ownership of goods and possessions. He has not left all things to be communal, as if everyone has an equal right to everything. Otherwise there could not be such a sin as stealing, nor would it be necessary to forbid theft. This ordering is intended to avoid confusion, strife, contention, and other problems. It also serves as an opportunity for some to show charity, and others to show patience.

Christ wants His people to labour in an honest way

Lack of a job, or idleness in it, brings about poverty and want, with the result that people are liable to temptations to steal, and to take other sinful courses of action, to keep themselves from dire straits. It is therefore the Lord’s will that everyone sets themselves to labour diligently in some lawful calling and employment. This is a remedy, not only against the evil of stealing, but several others also, which flow from idleness, and too much ease (2 Thess. 3:12; Psalm 73:5).

It is not absolutely necessary, nor yet convenient, or possible, for every individual to find work in some manual calling, or trade, and to “labour with his hands.” Not everyone is able to go about such a calling, and there are other lawful callings which require labour with the mind, comparable to those which require labour with the hands (1 Tim. 5:17). Yet there is no calling so lowly (providing it is honest), to which a person should not betake himself (whatever he be for birth, and nobility of descent) and spend his strength in it, even to weariness, rather than to steal, or use any sinful tactic to save himself from straits. “Let him steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands.”

Even those things that were imposed on fallen mankind for a curse and punishment of sin, have their nature changed to believers, and are turned into a blessing and an effectual remedy against sin. In Genesis 3:19 it is imposed on Adam as a part of the curse, that he was “in the sweat of his face to eat his bread.” But here working is enjoined and commended by the apostle to believers, as an effectual remedy against the evil of stealing.

No necessity or want whatsoever can warrant someone to employ himself in any calling which is not lawful and honest, or which tends only to gratify the lusts of pride, vanity, prodigality and uncleanness. Our calling ought to be such as we may serve God in it with a good conscience (Colossians 3:23), and promote the good of either the church, family, or society (Galatians 5:13). To prevent stealing, the apostle restricts them in their choice only to good and lawful callings, “… working … the thing which is good.”

Christ blesses diligence enough for us to share our success with others

The Lord’s ordinary way is to bless conscientious diligence in a lawful calling with such a measure of success as the person may have whereby to sustain himself and to be helpful unto others. Exceptions are when the Lord see it otherwise fitting, to test and exercise that person’s faith, patience and other graces (2 Corinthians 8:2). The goal of labouring in a lawful calling proposed here (“that he may have to give to him that needeth”) is for the most part attained, otherwise it would have been no encouragement.

It is the duty of all whom God has blessed with any measure of worldly substance, to bestow some part of it for the help of others. So in the exercise of our callings, if we would expect the Lord’s blessing on it, we ought to intend not only the enriching of ourselves and ours, but also the means to do good to others.

Everyone is under obligation to give their might for the help of the indigent – not only the rich, but even the poor labourer, who can hardly get his livelihood from the work of his hands. We ought to give alms out of what is our own lawfully purchased, and not out of the gain of oppression, or hire of an harlot (Deuteronomy 23:18).

The Lord sees it fitting always to keep some among his people, poor and indigent, even objects of charity. This contributes to the exercise of their faith and patience, and to testing the charity and compassion of others (Deuteronomy 15:11). So the only ones who are to be relieved by our charity are needy, and indigent, and cannot relieve themselves, but not those who, being able to work in a lawful calling, simply choose instead a life of ease and idleness, and live on the charity of others. We are to give “to him that needeth.”

This extract from James Fergusson’s commentary on Ephesians dovetails with what he also discusses in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (“… that if any would not work, neither should he eat …”).



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What to do when the Lord seems absent

What to do when the Lord seems absent

What to do when the Lord seems absent

Sometimes it can seem that the Lord is ignoring His people, whether individually or as a church. Their prayers go unanswered and the Bible does not seem to speak powerfully into their situation. We know of course that the Lord never forsakes His people completely, yet these periods of apparent silence and withdrawal on His part are troubling and wearying for His beleaguered people. William Guthrie confronts this situation in a sermon on Isaiah 8, updated and excerpted below. Recognising frankly how we do not deserve the Lord to keep smiling on us, Guthrie nevertheless insists that the Lord remains committed to His people and actively concerned for their interests. The response Guthrie recommends can be taken both by individual Christians and, just as importantly, collectively as congregations and churches.

Sometimes the Lord seems to hide His face

In Isaiah 8:17–18 there is both the sad situation of the church of God (“He hideth His face from the house of Israel”) and also the duty of the people of God (“Wait upon the Lord that hideth His face”).

Saying that the Lord is “hiding His face” is a way of showing how the Lord seems to stand aloof from noticing the situation of His people. “Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).

It also includes how He refrains His Spirit from the ordinances, or withholds His influences from them, so that the Word of the Lord does not have that kindly effect and operative power on the heart as it previously had. Instead your hearts are hardened from His fear.

He also refrains the spirit of prayer. “There is none that calleth upon thy name; that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee” (Isaiah 64:7). We do not have a heart to pray.

The Lord also keeps His mind hidden from His people. He doing strange things, but His people do not understand what He is doing. I confess that when the Lord conceals His mind in the public ordinances, it is the saddest of all these ways of the Lord hiding His face from His people.

How we should respond when the Lord hides His face

In a situation when the Lord hides His face from His people, they should search and try their ways, and turn unto the Lord. This is dismissed as a commonplace truth, yet it is a good old truth. Many look for vain things to be done as their duty, but what we must do is to acknowledge our sins, and the evil of our own ways.

The Lord’s people should also justify Him in all that He does, and judge themselves to be guilty. Lay aside your ornaments, then, and lie in the dust. It is not a time now to dress up in a gaudy manner, but to sit in sackcloth and be humble before Him. Many are ready to say, “The king, the nobles, and ministers are to blame for all of what is now happening in the land.” But nobody says, “What have I done?” However, every one of us must look at what we have individually done, and justify the Lord, and acknowledge that He has done nothing contrary to the covenant.

The Lord’s people also have the duty of strengthening what remains. Is there anything left? Go, I beg you, and strengthen that. Is there nothing left but words? Then make use of these. “Take with you words, and return unto the Lord,” and speak all the more often to one another. Is prayer all that is left? Then ply it well. Can you pray better with others than by yourself alone? Then make good use of social prayer. Whatever duty you are most successful in, make it your care to go about that duty. Whatever remains, you should strengthen that.

Then, when the Lord’s people are doing these three things, their duty is to wait on the Lord and expect good from Him, both for themselves and for the church. “Let Israel wait upon the Lord, from this time forth, and for ever. Wait upon the Lord, and be of good courage; and He shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, upon the Lord.”

Even when the Lord is hiding, He is still there

Even when God is hiding Himself, yet He is still indoors, so to speak. Our text calls him, “the Lord that dwelleth in Mount Zion.” That is where He has His abode—in His church.

So we should remember that the Lord does not dwell in His church as if He is unaffected with her condition, whether good or evil. No; He is mindful of her concerns, and she is still “the apple of His eye.”

Remember too that as long as God dwells amongst His people, He always has some work to work amongst them. He is not there as an indifferent spectator.

Also remember that although He is in the church, yet He is not confined to any particular church in the world. Since the true ordinances of God are yet amongst us, we are then a people and a part of the church of God. And seeing God is in the church, He is not far off if we will seek Him. Seek Him therefore seriously, for He is most willing to be found by you.

When we lose self-confidence, we should keep confidence in God

When we are shaken out of all self-confidence, it is our duty then to wait on God.

“Wait on the Lord” is often commanded in Scripture. And a promise is annexed to waiting: “Those that wait upon the Lord shall never be ashamed.”

To wait on the Lord is the most quiescent and composed posture one can possibly be in. In an evil time, “it is good to hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

And waiting on God always has a joyful outcome. “Lo! this is our God, we have waited for him, we will rejoice in him.”

Our focus should remain on the Lord

In order to wait on the Lord, we must not be afraid of anyone or anything else apart from the Lord. We must focus on the promise held out to those who make Him their fear, “He shall be for a sanctuary unto them.”

Waiting then involves our hearts fixing on God, and none else. “My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from Him.” Similarly, “Help us, Lord, for vain is the help of man.”

Also, let us have our expectation more on God Himself than on any created means. God can give you means, but if you do not get God Himself, then, no matter what you get, the means may turn into a plague, and not for your good. Plead with Him, therefore, and be positive with Him, and say, “Go with us, Lord, or else carry us not up hence.” Plead more for God’s presence than any other means under heaven.

Waiting also means submitting to the seasons of deliverance from your trouble, and how it and all your concerns are ordered, while you are under the trial.

It also means resolving to continue in the duty of waiting until He shows you what else you should do. Waiting on God is still your duty while you are in the dark, and can do nothing else for relief.


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The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

When sin entered human experience, it didn’t take God by surprise. Within the Trinity, arrangements had already been made to save some sinners. Patrick Gillespie (1617–1675) wrote at length on the subject of how God’s covenant undergirds the redemption of sinners. In the following updated extract, he shows how Christ, God the eternal Son, was involved in drawing up the covenant arrangements. As the Son He was not subordinate to the Father but freely consented to take on the work of redeeming sinners. As Patrick Gillespie takes us through the various aspects of the covenant arrangements, it helps us to realise what while salvation is free to us, on the Saviour’s side it was a costly, effortful work. We can also use these details as so many prompts to marvel more at the love which motivated Jesus Christ to take on this work so voluntarily.

He was under no obligation

Christ was not compelled to be our Redeemer. He was not under any necessity repugnant to his free and willing acting, when he took on the various offices, trusts, and relations of the covenant.

1. There was no compelling necessity, as if when someone is bound hand and foot. There was no such necessity on the Lord to send Christ, to lay these offices on Him; for He is a most free sovereign agent – above counsel, much more above compulsion. “Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him?” (Isa. 40.13). “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psalm 135.6). He was not bound to change the law dispensation into a new dispensation of grace. Neither was there any necessity on Christ to take these offices and employments. He could not be compelled to lay down his life. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of my self: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10.18).

2. There was no natural necessity, such as the necessity of the sun to give light, and the fire to give heat. God did not by any natural necessity send forth Christ; nor was the Son of God under any natural necessity to undertake the work of our redemption. God could have done things differently – He could in justice have prosecuted the covenant of works. There was no kind of necessity on God to send, or on Christ to go, on this errand.

3. There was no moral necessity, not so much as any command, motive, or inducement without Himself, either on God to lay this employment on Christ, or on Christ to take it on, and to undergo the work. God could have sent His Son or not sent Him, as pleased Him. There was not so much as a moral cause inducing him to it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3.16) “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5.6,8). And Christ could have refused to undertake the work, or agreed, as pleased Him; for who could have laid a command on Him, if the purpose of love that was in His heart had not led Him to consent? “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2.6,8).

He was involved in drawing up the agreement

Whatever different features different covenants may have, it is essential and common to all covenants that they are agreements. This covenant is an eternal transaction and agreement between the Father and Christ the Mediator about the work of our redemption. Let us inquire a little into the various eternal acts of the will of God that concurred to make up this agreement.

(1) Designating a person to do this work

There must needs have been a person set apart and designated from eternity to do the work of redemption, and this person was the Son only, not the Father or the Spirit: “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1Pe 1:20).

(2) Equipping that person to do the work

The person set apart to take our law-place, so that justice would smite Him in our stead, was prepared and fitted for this work. It was decreed by an eternal act of the will of God that the Son of God should be “Immanuel” — “God with us” or “God…manifest in the flesh” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; 1Tim. 3:16). To this grand qualification He was destined beforehand, so that He would be in a capacity to do this work. “A body has thou prepared me” (Heb 10:5).

(3) Calling the person who had been designated

Calling is a different act from designation — it is something further. Christ was by an eternal act of God’s will called to this work, long before He came into the world. “Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people” (Psa 89:19). And, “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” (Isa 42:6). “So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee” (Heb 5:5).

(4) Giving the person the powers needed for the work

The designated person was invested with offices, powers, and authorities for the doing of this work. By an eternal act of the will of God, He was set up and invested with these offices and powers from everlasting. He had the glory of the designated, called, invested Mediator, as He plainly implies, speaking as Wisdom, “I was set up from everlasting” (Pro 8:23). Several expositors render it, “I was called,” or “anointed.” “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).

(5) His mission

Christ was sent to do this work by an eternal act in the counsel of God. He had a solemn, eternal, authoritative mission, a command to go, and was bidden to go. He had the will of God by an eternal act or commission given out to Him concerning all this work, long before He was actually made under the law (which is what He references when He says, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Heb 10:7). That will of God was in the book of His eternal decrees: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me” (John 6:39), and, “This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18).

He willingly consented

For His part, Christ concurred with this agreement with an eternal, personal consent to all these eternal acts of the will of God. For Christ, as God, equal with the Father, does not begin to consent and agree unto anything in time, nor can the eternal Son of God will anything in time, which He did not will and consent to from eternity. Christ was present with the Father and from eternity He consented and agreed to these eternal acts.

(1) He consented to be the person that would satisfy the justice of God. He heartily acquiesced and offered Himself. He said, “Lo, I come to do thy will” (Heb 10:5,7). He poured out His soul unto death (Isa 53:12).

(2) He consented to putting Himself in the low capacity that this work required. “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). He consented to leave the throne of glory and come down to His footstool, there to be in disgrace. The Lord of the law consented to be made under the law. The Holy One who knew no sin consented to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh. (Rom 8:3). “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phi 2:6–8).

(3) He consented to the eternal act of His calling to this work. No sooner was it His Father’s will that He should travel in the business, but it was His will also. He was like a ready servant. “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isa 50:5–6).

(4) He consented to take on the offices that the work of our redemption required. There was no force nor constraint on Him, no necessity of nature that He should step in between the disagreeing parties, that He should step into the fire that we had kindled, that He should make Himself a sacrifice for our sins; but frankly and freely He consented to do all these things. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18). “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him” (John 17:2). “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Prov. 8:23).

(5) He consented to His Father sending Him [on this] mission and was well content to do that errand. Indeed, so hearty was His consent that He took delight in it: “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:8). “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).

To all these things He gives a personal consent from eternity, and with so much delight that He solaced Himself and took pleasure in the future accomplishment of these eternal acts of the will of God concerning the sons of men: “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was … Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men” (Prov. 8:23, 30–31). This is the nature of this eternal transaction.




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Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Most of the time Christians are actively living out their faith, looking upwards to serve God and around themselves to serve others. Yet there should also be periods for quiet reflection and self-analysis, when we put our hearts under the microscope and see how we measure up to God’s requirements. Knowing that we will never be perfect in this life, we still need to ascertain that we are honest, upright, and sincerely walking with integrity. Whereas a Christian genuinely pursues God’s interests rather than their own, with a hypocrite, it’s the other way round. In the following updated extract, the Westminster divine Obadiah Sedgwick takes an unflinching look at the ways our own hearts betray us, yet ends on the conviction that sincerity is truly attainable. Warning us against hypocrisy he offers eight considerations which should stir us up to test the uprightness of our hearts.

The danger of deceiving yourself about yourself

There is no deceit or error in the world which has more dangerous consequence, than to deceive yourself and err about the calibre of your soul. You may make mistakes about the depth of your riches, or the altitude of worldly friendship, or the latitude of your intellectual qualifications and abilities – you may think yourself rich, and popular, and learned, when perhaps you are not. But these mistakes are about nostra, not about nos – ours, but not ourselves, and the danger may be only a tempest, but not a shipwreck.

But to deceive yourself about your heart, about your soul – what more do you have? what do you have that are like them? This is a fundamental error. If a builder lays a rotten foundation instead of a sound, all his building eventually sinks into the ground. If a traveller sets out in a beautiful ship, whose bottom is unsound and leaking, he loses himself in the voyage.

Maybe you’ve spent many years in a form of godliness, in respectable behaviour, in courting God by some external performances. Then you come to die, and then your conscience rises up and opens up the secrets of your heart and life, and makes you to know and feel that notwithstanding all your claims and conceits, your heart had continually harboured many known lusts, and you weren’t thinking of God but basely thinking of yourself in all that you did.

What a fearful day that will be! How it will make your soul tremble, when you have no more time left now, except to see, and to eternally bewail your own errors and deceits! “O Lord, I have deceived my own soul, I thought myself to be this or that, but my heart has deceived and beguiled me!”

Hypocrisy is a very natural and common thing

Secondly, consider that hypocrisy is a very natural and common thing.

There are three sorts of persons in the world.

  • The openly profane. They go wrong both in the matter and in the manner. They are neither really good, nor do they look like it. They are really wicked, and declare themselves so to be.
  • The hiddenly hypocritical. They don’t go wrong so much in the matter as in the manner. They are wicked but seem good. They perform some good, but love more wickedness.
  • The truly upright, who are upright both in the matter and manner of God’s worship.

Now I say that hypocrisy is very natural, and it has been and is a very common sin. Job 15:34 speaks of a congregation of hypocrites, as if there were whole assemblies of them, or at least some of them in every congregation. Isaiah complains that in his time, everyone is a hypocrite – scarce a man but he dissembled with God (9:17; likewise 29:13). David tells us often that the Israelites flattered God Himself with their mouths – gave Him (in their distress) mournful, submissive, promising words (O what would they be! and what would they do! if God would deliver them!) and yet their heart was not right in them. Jeremiah accuses the people of his time of this very thing too. Many, indeed, most, of them cried, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” and yet committed adultery and lies. When Christ was in the world His greatest contestation was with scribes and pharisees, hypocrites. Paul speaks bitterly against those who took on them the form of godliness, but denied the power thereof, and in 2 Timothy 4:12 he foretells of much lying hypocrisy in the latter times.

Take us in the general tenor of our best ways. The good God be merciful to us, what a distance there is many times, when we profess to serve God, between our tongues and our hearts, between our eyes and our hearts, between our ears and our hearts, between our bodies and our hearts! Our tongues are praying, and our mouths singing, and our eyes are looking at the minister, and at the same moments our hearts are plotting, projecting, arranging our own domestic affairs, or (which is worse) basely contemplating and practicing some abominable lust within us. Do you call this uprightness? If this is not hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.

Go a little further. Take us in our best performances, when we bring our thoughts and intentions, and some affections, and some workings to our work. Yet tell me seriously whether in it you are not looking besides God. You pray long and with much emotion in company, though when you are alone, a little is good enough. Are you not somewhat like the chameleon? Aren’t you a bit like Jehu, “Come and see my zeal!” Isn’t it the pharisaical spirit of vain-glory, “to be seen of men”? And is this not hypocrisy, directly and intentionally jostling God aside, to serve our own praise in a pretence of serving Him, so that others would admire us, and speak well of us?

I could add one thing more (which perhaps may make some of our hearts to tremble). There are some who explicitly and deliberately, with much studious art, take to themselves a look, a way of speaking, a facade of holiness, for no other end in the world, but to blind their secret sins from the eyes of the world. This is a most execrable kind of hypocrisy, yet some do abuse the name of Christianity only to satisfy their own beastly and damnable lust.

You can go far in religion without being truly saved

Thirdly, a hypocrite may go very far. In general there is no external part of religion into which the hypocrite may not only step, but perhaps (for show) exceed the sincerest and most upright Christian.

Does the true Christian hear? So do I, says the hypocrite. Does the true Christian pray? So do I. Does he shed tears? So do I. Does he fast? So do I. Does he give alms? So do I. Does he show respect to the minister by greetings and invites? So do I! Is he forward? I am zealous. Does he reprove? I thunder. Does he speak some words in prayer? I speak many. Does he do any good? I do more, in hearings more, in fastings more, in discoursings more, in outward actions more, every way more!

List and categorise duties every which way – for object, for place, for time – still the hypocrite keeps up religious duties, praying privately, praying publicly, hearing, reading, preaching – and in all these he may even have some joy. The hypocrite may be as sociable, as just, as fair, ingenuous, affable, generous, compassionate as any one I know. The Pharisees were the most punctilious of their times. No person living was more exact. Hear one of them speaking for all the rest, blessing and commending himself, “I am no extortioner, no adulterer, not like this publican, I fast twice in the week, I give alms of all that I possess …”

An impressive appearance may hide a rotten heart

Yet there is some secret lust which coexists and persists notwithstanding all this. Perhaps Herod’s sin, or Demas’s sin, filthiness or worldliness; or the wondrous covetousness of the Pharisees.

And the hypocrite’s ends are base. A pirate may rig and trim and steer, and order his ship as skilfully and exquisitely as any pilot who is the king’s most faithful servant, only their hearts and their ends are different. One is disloyal and the other is true. One goes out to catch a prey and a booty, a prize for himself; and the other sails for his master’s honour and service.

Lack of integrity is utter folly

It is certain that you cannot be a hypocrite without putting some effort into it. You need to be very officious in pretences and duties. It has to cost you some money to give alms, and much time to pray, etc. Yet when all is done, nothing comes of it.

The hypocrite has no reward with God. There is no reason to give wages to someone who bestows no service on us: but the hypocrite serves himself and not God, his own praise and not God’s glory, and therefore he can expect no reward from Him. He cannot say, “I prayed for grace so that I would honour Thee, and for abilities so that I would glorify Thee.”

And if someone is known to be a hypocrite, then he loses on all hands. The wicked hate him simply for the show of goodness, and the good scorn him for his base dissimulation and rottenness.

Or if he can conceal his hypocrisy, then all the reward he ever gets from other people is just an airy applause (Matt. 6:5). They get what they look for, the applause of men, and that’s all. Isn’t this a sad thing, when someone’s reward is only from man? – when all his reward is in this life, and no rewards are reserved for him hereafter?

Insincerity deserves greater misery

Hypocrisy is a most perilous sin. “You shall receive the greater damnation,” said Christ. Damnation! That is the eternal grave of the soul! That is misery enough – everlasting separation from God, and everlasting flames of wrath in hell. Yet that is the portion of the hypocrite (Isa 33:14). An ordinary hell is not enough for a hypocrite. The lowest and deepest punishment shall fall on the one who presumes to put on the fairest show with the foulest heart.

And do not think this strange, for what is hypocrisy but a mocking of God? The hypocrite tries to trick God, and thinks to deceive omniscience, and has such a low opinion of Him that he thinks mere shows would satisfy Him. In fact, he jostles God out of His prime place, by referring all his services to himself, and not to God, and so adores his own name above the name of God. Hypocrisy is so diametrically opposite to uprightness.

Uprightness is difficult

Again consider, that it is a very difficult thing to be upright.

Partly because the deceitfulness which is in our heart is “above all things” (Jer. 17:9). There is nothing so cunning thing as our heart, not a thing in all the world which can delude us so easily or so often as our own hearts. It is not easy to do good just because God commands it, or only because He may be glorified.

Also uprightness is difficult because it requires spirituality. The very soul itself must act, if the heart or way is upright. Not only your lips but your spirit must pray. Not only your ear but your heart must hear. You must not only speak against sin, but your soul must hate and abhor it. All this must be spiritual and not carnal, from God and for God.

Uprightness is attainable

Nevertheless, to be upright is a possible thing. It is possible to attain it. Indeed, everyone who is good does attain it. Noah was upright and walked with God, Abraham was upright before Him, David served the Lord in uprightness of heart, Hezekiah walked before Him with an upright heart, Paul served God in all good conscience, willing to live honestly in all things.

Though no one can say that he does all that God’s commands require, yet he may say he has respect to them all. Though no one can say that he has nothing, or does nothing, which the law of God forbids, yet he may say, “I hate every false way,” and, “Search me, O Lord, if there be any way of wickedness within me.” This is uprightness.




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Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

The pressures of secularism can mean that even Christians place more value on earthly things than heavenly, as if heaven was an afterthought in our lives and the really important things are to do with the here and now. This is entirely back to front, as James Durham realised and endeavoured to remind his hearers — Christians of all people should live in a heavenly way. Durham preached a sermon on the words, “Our conversation is in heaven …” (Philippians 3:20). When it was first published it was titled “A Very Heavenly Sermon.” The following updated extract explains what is meant by heavenliness, and explains why as Christians we should pursue heavenliness.

The word “conversation” or “citizenship” implies both entitlement to the privileges which belong to a certain township, and a distinctive manner of living and behaving according to the customs of that city. For Christians, it signifies a joint interest with the saints (as they are fellow citizens with the saints; Eph. 2:19), and assumes a way, walk, and lifestyle like heaven — having a nature, inclinations, desires, designs, and qualifications that are distinctively suitable to heaven.

There is a sort of heavenliness which all Christians without exception should pursue, and which is indeed their duty.

Through grace, heavenliness is in a great measure attainable. Paul and other believers attained it. It means a suitableness in respect of qualification, conformity and likeness, in so far as is incumbent to sojourners who are walking towards heaven.

It marks out the serious and suitably exercised Christian in a unique and contradistinguishing way from all others in the world. That Christian’s “conversation” is in heaven, while that of others is not.

Yet it’s not an ordinary and common thing among professing Christians, to have this heavenliness. “Many” (says the apostle) “walk, of whom I have told you, and now tell you weeping, that they are enemies to the cross of Christ: but I and a few others have our conversation in heaven.” The “many” that he speaks of here, I take to be those of whom he speaks in the chapter 1, who preached Christ, but out of envy, and exhorted people to holiness, likely with more than ordinary fervour, yet they did not have this heavenliness.

What is heavenliness?

Prizing heaven

Heavenliness is when we set heaven in our sights as our own great aim and purpose, next to the glory of God. Just as having an “earthly” conversation means that you mind earthly things, and you keep inclining towards them, and are wholly or mostly taken up about the things of the world, so to be heavenly is to have your mind taken up about heaven, prizing, affecting and seeking after heaven and heavenly things. “Seek after, or set your affections on, those things that are above” (Col. 3:1).

Actively making for heaven

Heavenliness includes taking the way that leads to the end — using all means and duties that lead to heaven. Paul indicates the earnestness and ardency of affections that Christians ought to have towards heavenly things, and how very much they should, with holy care and solicitude, be busy in using all means, and practicing all duties, which will further and promote heavenliness. It’s the counterpoint of how the worldly are taken up and exercised with carking cares, leaving no stone unmoved to promote and attain their earthly goals.

Acting like we will in heaven

Heavenliness means walking like those who are in heaven. Instead of being conformed to the world, or like the men of the world, we are to be like the angels and glorified saints in heaven, according to our capacity. As we are taught to pray, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.’ It’s to be one of a kind with and have a natural suitableness and proportionableness to those who are glorified in heaven.

Visiting heaven often

Heavenliness means we are often in heaven as to our thoughts and affections, and our desires and delights. Although we live on the earth, we should have, as it were, more than our one half in heaven. David says, “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” (Psa. 25:1). We should make frequent visits to heaven — we should have much to do there, have much to-and-fro, commerce, correspondence and interactions in and with heaven. We should converse more where we love, than where we live. Scripture calls this walking with God, having fellowship with Him, following hard after Him, and so on.

Why should the Christian pursue heavenliness?

In verse 17, the apostle exhorted the Philippians to be followers of him, and here he tells them that his conversation is in heaven. He proposes himself as our pattern in this, and the Spirit of God by him presses it on us as our duty to imitate him in this thing. It is not so singular a practice that he alone has the monopoly on heavenliness. It was common to him and other serious Christians according to their measure, which is why he doesn’t say “my conversation” but, “our conversation.”

A Christian’s “conversation” or “citizenship” should be heavenly because all that a Christian has is from and in heaven, and is some way heavenly.

Look, first, at the Christian’s nature. It’s from heaven; he is partaker of the divine nature, he is born of God, he is of the new Jerusalem, his Father is heavenly (as he is taught to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven,” or, “Our heavenly Father”)

Where is the elder Brother? In the heavenly places. The Christian’s treasure is in heaven; his hope is in heaven; heaven is the city, the mansion, the rest, to which he is travelling.

Look, secondly, at the believer’s calling and his obligation. He is partaker of the heavenly calling (Heb. 2:1). Separated from the rest of the world, the Christian ought not to live as the world lives. He has a heavenly law to walk by. He has heavenly promises to feed on and live on, and to comfort himself in. His happiness is heavenly. All the duties that he is called to are heavenly.

Are not his prayers and praises heavenly? and can a believer possibly pray and praise rightly and not be heavenly?

To be translated from darkness to light, to be a partaker of the sanctifying Spirit of God, to be a new creature, to have the spirit of adoption, to have boldness of access to God, to be an heir and a joint-heir with Christ, &c. — are these not heavenly?

Or if, thirdly, we look at the believer’s company, is it not heavenly? We are come (says the apostle, Heb. 12) to God the judge of all, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, to the new Jerusalem (which refers to all the saints in heaven and the saints on earth), to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the first born, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

In a word, whatever we look to, whether to the believer’s nature, or to his end, or to the rule of his walk, or to the promises, or to his work and way wherein he is to go, it is all heavenly.

How can we be convinced to pursue heavenliness?

We should understand from all this what a high level of holiness we are called to. Many have clearly never walked under the conviction that holiness is necessary as a duty; otherwise it would not be possible that so many men and women, who are called Christians and profess a hope of heaven, could or would dare to live as they do — some in profanity, riotousness and gluttony, some in mere respectability and morality, and others in formality and hypocrisy at best.

Let me ask you in all earnestness, are you not convinced that this is a duty? or do you think that Paul was joking, or flattering, when he exhorts us to follow him in this? Or that it’s possible to enjoy so many heavenly privileges, or be to any purpose performing heavenly duties, if you are not heavenly? Don’t get the wrong idea about Christianity, as if when you are exhorted to be Christians, you are only invited not to be profane, or only to go about the externals of religion, or only to have a sort of mere sincerity in it. Indeed these things are good in themselves and we do not, we dare not, reject them, but rather commend them. But you are called to more, to much more!

I know some are so profane, and others are so misbelievingly discouraged, that when they hear such doctrine as this, they will be ready, the one sort to say, “Well, we can’t all be saints!” and the other, “Sadly, whoever is going to be a saint, it won’t be me!” But let all such mouths be stopped. We are called and obliged indispensably to be saints. If we are not saints here, we shall never be saints hereafter.

There are also some who have such distempered attitudes that they either put off all or most duties, or at least go about them very heartlessly, because they cannot attain perfection in them. But it’s clear from the Scriptures that there is a kind of perfection that can be attained here in this life, which is this holiness and heavenliness. When you shall be called to a reckoning, God will not ask you so much whether you did not get drunk, whore, swear, lie, cheat, steal, or the like, as whether you were heavenly in your way of life? Holiness is not to be limited to some few particular duties, but is the requisite qualification of a Christian in all duties and in all actions. Whether Christians are praying, practising, hearing, reading, buying, selling, eating, drinking, or whatever it may be, they are to be heavenly in it all



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The knowledge the Christian needs

The knowledge the Christian needs

The knowledge the Christian needs

Some people like knowing things just for the sake of knowing things. But this isn’t an option when it comes to Christianity, when everything the Bible tells us has a definite purpose in view — to make us honour God more in our lives. Hugh Binning preached a sermon on 1 John 2:3, “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments,” in which he emphasises that if we truly know God, this will be evident by our obedience to God. Theology and controversy are never ends in themselves, and should not distract us from the true knowledge of God which brings us to love and worship Him. In the following updated extract Binning outlines some features of true knowledge.

True knowledge of God is essential

The words of the apostle give the designation of a true Christian to be the knowledge of God, and the character of his knowledge to be obedience to his commands.

“Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Here, in a narrow circle, we have all the work and business of a Christian. The Christian’s direct and principal duty is to know God, and keep his commands. These are not two distinct duties, but make up one complete work of Christianity, which consists in conformity to God.

Then the reflex and secondary duty of a Christian, which makes much for his comfort, is to know that he knows God. To “know God and keep his commands” is a thing of indispensable necessity to the being of a Christian, and to “know that we know him” is of great concernment to the comfort and well-being of a Christian.

True knowledge of God is hard for sinners to find

Knowledge is a thing so natural to the human spirit that the desire for knowledge is restless and insatiable. But this is the curse of man’s curiosity at first, in seeking after unnecessary knowledge, when he was happy enough already. For that wretched aim, we are to this day deprived of the knowledge which Adam once had, which was the ornament of his nature and the repast of his soul. The track of it is so obscured and perplexed, the footsteps of it are so indiscernible, and the way of it is like a bird in the air, or a ship in the sea, leaving us few helps to find it out, that the majority of people lose themselves in seeking to find it. In all their inquiries and searchings, at length nothing is found out remarkable, but the increase of sorrow, and the exposure of ignorance.

“But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?” The more people seek her, the more ignorance they find — the further they pursue, they see themselves at the further distance. That’s how it is in things that are obvious to our senses, and how much more is our darkness increased in spiritual and invisible things! For God himself should be the first and principal object of the soul, and his glorious light should first strike into our hearts. But of God, Job testifies, “How little a portion is known of him!” In natural things, we have one veil of darkness in our minds to hinder us, but when it comes to knowing about God, we have a twofold darkness to break through — the darkness of ignorance in us, and “the darkness of too much light” in him. God’s glorious majesty is all out of proportion to our low spirits.

Pride is the daughter of ignorance. “He that thinketh he knoweth anything knoweth nothing as he ought to know,” saith the apostle (1 Cor. 8:2.) For he who does not know his own ignorance, however much he knows, is the greatest ignorant.

It is a manifest evidence that people have only a superficial grasp of things, and have never broken the shell or drawn aside the veil of their own weakness and ignorance, when they do not apprehend deeply the unsearchableness of God and his mysteries, but think they have mastered them because they have made a system of theology, or set out some conclusions of faith and can debate them against adversaries, or because they have a model of theology, as of other sciences, in their mind.

True knowledge of God kindles both love and hatred

My beloved, holy Job attained to the deepest and fullest speculation of God, when he concluded, “Because I see thee, I abhor myself.” As Paul says, “If any man love God he is known of God, and so knows God” (1 Cor. 8:3).

From these testimonies of Job and Paul I conclude that the true knowledge of God consists not so much in the comprehension of all points of divinity, as in a serious apprehension and conception of the divine majesty which enkindles and inflames these two affections, love and hatred, towards their proper objects. It is the kind of knowledge which carries the torch before the affection, the kind of light which shines into the heart (as Paul’s phrase is, 2 Cor. 4:6) and so transmits heat and warmness into it, till it makes the heart burn in the love of God, and the loathing of himself.

True knowledge of God puts things in perspective

As long as you only hear of God in sermons, or read of Him in books, you keep a good conceit of yourself. That knowledge “puffeth up.” It blows you up full of wind and self-confidence, and commonly those who doubt least are not the freest of error and misunderstandings.

And truly, if you seriously reflect on the difficulty of knowledge, and darkness of our minds, and the general vanity and vexation of all things, you cannot but look at excessive confidence in the same way as people running a race at full speed in the dark night, on a route full of pits and snares. Often our confidence flows not from evidence of truth, but the ignorance of our minds, and is not so much built on the strength of reason, as the strength of our passions and the weakness of our judgments.

But when once you come to see God, and know Him in a lively manner, then you see your own weakness and vileness in that light, and you cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am a man of polluted lips!” You discern in that light the loveliness of God, which ravishes your heart. Then, as Jeremiah says, you will not glory in riches, or strength, or beauty, or wisdom, but only in this, that you have gotten some discovery of the only fountain of happiness. Then you will not think so much of tongues and prophesyings, and knowledge of controversies, nor gifts of body or of mind. Nor will external appendages of providence much affect you. You will be content to pass over all of these into a fuller discovery and enjoyment of God Himself.

True knowledge of God is plain

When we search the Scriptures, they do not entertain us with many and subtle discourses on God’s nature, and decrees, and properties, nor do they dwell on the many perplexed questions about which so many volumes are spun out, to the infinite distraction of the Christian world. The Scriptures do not claim to satisfy your curiosity, but to edify your souls.

That is why they hold out God in Christ, as clothed with all His relations to mankind, in all those plain and easy properties that concern us everlastingly — His justice, mercy, grace, patience, love, holiness, and such like. From this I gather that the true knowledge of God does not consist in comprehending all the conclusions that are deduced and controversies that are discussed, but rather in the serious and solid apprehension of God as He relates to us, and consequently in the moving of our hearts to love, and adore, and reverence Him. He is displayed to us only in those garments that are fit to move and affect our hearts.

You may know all those controversial things, and yet not know God Himself, for knowing Him cannot be abstracted from loving Him — “They that know thy name will trust in thee, and so love thee, and fear thee.” This is the only possible natural result, if He is truly known at all, because there is nothing and nobody more beautiful, more dreadful at the same time, and more worthy of choice. Seeing infinite beauty and goodness, and infinite power and greatness, and infinite sufficiency and fulness are combined together in Him with infinite truth, the soul that truly apprehends Him, cannot but apprehend Him as the most ravishing, and the most to be revered too. If you do not find your heart suitably affected, it is an evident demonstration that you do not truly apprehend Him, but an idol.

True knowledge of God wins our obedience

But everyone thinks they know God. So the Holy Ghost, as He designates a Christian by the knowledge of God, so He characterises knowledge by “keeping the commandments.” “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”

Religion is not defined by a number of opinions, or by a collection of certain articles of faith, but rather by practice — obedience to the known will of God. Knowledge is instrumental to something else. In Scripture, knowledge is not principally intended for itself, but rather for obedience.

Perhaps some may think that the Scripture, or theology, is merely contemplative, because of the many mysteries infolded in it, which seem irrelevant to our practice. I confess that it is a departure from the great purpose and plain intent of the simplicity and easiness of Scripture to use it with such industry and subtilty to discuss so many things of mere speculation and notion, dry and sapless to the affection, and unedifying to our practice, and to force these on people’s consciences as points of religion.

All that is in the Scriptures either directly intends us to practice God’s will, or is ultimately intended for that end — either it prescribes our obedience, or else it tends principally to engage our affections, and so to secure our obedience. Those elevated discourses about God, His nature and properties, His works, and all the mysteries infolded in them, are directed towards this end. Further than mere knowing, they are to bring the heart of a believer to more love, and reverence, and adoration of God, that so he may be brought more easily and steadily to a sweet compliance and harmonious agreement to the will of God, in all His ways.

True religion is an art

This shows us the notable art of religion — to extract affection and obedience to God out of all natural contemplations. True theology, engraved on the soul, is a kind of architectonic science, which gives structure to all other points of knowledge. Whatever they are, a holy heart can apply them to the divine uses of engaging itself further to God and obedience to God. “Who would not fear thee, O King of nations!” (Jer. 10:7) “Fear ye not me, who have placed the sand as a boundary (etc)?” (Jer. 5:22). That’s what extracts praise (Psa. 104:1) and admiration (Psa. 104:33), and submission and patience under God’s hand (Job). If we only seek to know things so that we will know them, and can discourse on them, we disappoint the great purpose of the whole Scriptures, and we debase and degrade spiritual things. We transform holy things into a carnal, empty, and dead letter, whereas true knowledge spiritualises earthly and carnal things into a holy use.


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Seven ways to combat secret sins

Seven ways to combat secret sins

Seven ways to combat secret sins

It makes big news when a prominent leader in church, business or politics is exposed for committing sins behind closed doors. Inappropriate relationships, misuse of funds and bullying all thrive under cover of secrecy. Technology now offers everyone many previously unimagined opportunities to sin without anyone else needing to know what we’re doing. Sinning in secret also includes the sins which remain in our thoughts or our attitudes. Unspoken they may always remain, but they are not unseen from God’s vantage point. Nor are they innocuous simply because they do not come to outward expression. As the Westminster divine Obadiah Sedgwick points out, secret sins are sometimes more harmful to our souls than what we do openly. In the following updated extract from a set of sermons he preached on Psalm 19 (“Cleanse me from secret faults”), Sedgwick offers seven suggestions for what we can do to combat our secret sins. Although we cannot change our own nature and give ourselves integrity, this is something that God can and does do in regeneration and sanctification.

Sins may be called secret either when they are disguised with some semblance of virtue, or when they are kept out of public view, or when they are kept within the thoughts or the heart so that they are not visible to anyone.

Beloved, there are two sorts of people. Some are dissembling and evasive: their concern is not not to sin, but to be cunning in sin. Others are conflicting and agonizing against inward impulses, outward opportunities, and strong temptations: the desire of their soul is to fear the Lord and to do no iniquity.

Secret sins are in some ways more dangerous than open sins. By artfully keeping your sin hidden, you deprive yourself of help for your sinfulness, like someone who keeps their wound covered, or who bleeds inwardly. Help does not come because the danger is neither described nor known. If someone’s sin breaks out openly, there is a minister at hand, or a friend near, and others to reprove, to warn, to direct. But if a person sins inwardly, they prevent all public remedy and work towards their own damnation by covering their secret sins with some plausible varnish.

But, you will say, it is fearful to sin in this way! What means can be used to get and keep my soul away from secret sins?

What I would commend to you are the following.

Be humbly penitent for what you’ve done

If you have been guilty of secret sins, be humbled and repent. You will hardly stave off a new sin, if you have not been humbled for an old sin of the same kind. Future carefulness seldom manifests itself without former sorrow. If you have been a secret adulterer, fornicator, thief, backbiter, oppressor, liar, drunkard, then, O hasten, hasten in by speedy sorrow, by speedy repentance. Bewail your secret wickedness deeply – to the extent of tears of blood, if that were possible! if you do not judge yourself, God will surely judge you, and don’t think that because your sinnings were secret, therefore your compunctions can be small. You ought rather to abound in self-reproach, and be in more floods of tears, and of bitter contrition, considering you dared to provoke God in this way.

Avoid opportunities to keep sinning

Why are you saying, “O this bad nature of mine, O this heart I’ve got, O that wicked tempter Satan”? Yes, you’ve shed many tears, you’ve felt many sorrows and troubles, you’ve made many vows and resolutions, you’ve put up many prayers and petitions. Yet you are still continuing in your secret sinnings. Why? What could be the reason? Do prayers do nothing against sin? Do tears do nothing? Troubles? Vows? All of these will indeed achieve something, as long as something else be added: if the leak is stopped, if the windows are shut and the doors are locked. I mean, if occasions and provocations are conscionably and carefully avoided. Otherwise they are pointless. If you pray and then test your strength against what draws you into your secret sin, what are you doing in effect but seeking God one minute, and the next rising up and tempting Him? Keep close to heaven, and keep away from the opportunities, and then tell me whether God will not keep you from your sinnings.

Crush temptations at the root

Although you can turn away from opportunities and the things which prompt you to sin, yet you cannot get rid of your self. There is something in the self which can fetch in an opportunity to sin by representation, by inclination, by contemplation. Sometimes someone else provokes you to sin, which happens when you are in company. Sometimes your own heart provokes you to sin, which is when you are solitary. One moment the thoughts steal out, now imaginations confer with your mind, with your will, with your affections. So if you want to free yourself from secret actings, you must free yourself from secret thinkings. David prays, “Let the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Two strategies will never fail you in your attack on secret sinnings. One is to dig up the root of all sinnings. The other is to stifle the first conception of sins.

Beloved, to tie Samson’s arm was pointless, because his strength didn’t lie there. It was only if the hair of his head was cut off that his strength would be gone, and he became weak. To tamper only with the acts of sin is not the way to be rid of sinful acts. The one and only way to be rid of bad acts is to be rid of a bad nature.

If you could only get a holy nature, which would be at defiance with sin in its throne! Don’t you realise that a new nature and daily combat will greatly help against secret sinnings? The sin which is most of all combated within the heart is the sin which is least lively of all, for sin has least practise where it has most opposition, of all oppositions those that are inward are most weakening to sin.

Hate sin

Get a hatred of sin, the kind of hatred which will oppose sin in all kinds, and all times, and in all places.

Fear the sin-avenging God

Get the fear of God implanted in your heart. This fear will preserve you against three kinds of sins. (1) Pleasant sins, which entrap your senses with delight. (2) Profitable sins, which entrap the heart with gain. (Although, what shall it profit me to win the whole world and lose my soul?) (3) Secret sins of either kind. Joseph was tempted to a sin that could have been kept secret, and which could have resulted in him being promoted. But he didn’t dare to sin that great sin of uncleanness, and why? Because the fear of God kept him away from it. He had an awe-filled regard for God, he knew the greatness of His holiness and His power. “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

Brothers and sisters, if we fear the Lord, it is not the night which the thief takes that will prevail with us, nor the twilight which the adulterer takes, nor seasons of secrecy or places of obscurity. Instead our prevailing principle will be, “But God sees me.” “The great judge of heaven and earth, the holy one, the God who hates all sin, whose eyes are brighter than the sun and purer than to behold sin, who is mighty in power and just in his threatenings – He sees and beholds, therefore I dare not.”

Believe in God’s omniscience

Believe God’s omniscience and omnipresence. Believe that the Lord is everywhere, and that all things are naked and open to His eye. You can’t intend to think – you can’t whisper out your thoughts – you can’t finger the closest bribes – you can’t incline yourself to the most abstracted kind of secrecy in the world – but God sees you clearly, perfectly.

If you could believe that God is always right here with us, and that there are two which constantly go around with us, both the judge and the recorder, God and conscience, and that God is acquainted with all our thoughts, paths, ways, this would put an awe on you. Would a wife cheat on her husband in his sight and presence? would a servant filch out of the box if he saw his master’s eye on his hand?

Be upright in your heart

Get your heart to be upright. Uprightness is an inward temperament, while hypocrisy is an outward complexion. Psalm 119:2–3: “Blessed are they that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity …” Sincerity makes the inward self its business, it employs itself in forming and fashioning the heart. Sincerity knows that God delights in truth, and indeed truth in the inward parts: it endeavours to please God in all things, and to be most to God in the very place where others can observe the least, that is, in the secret and hidden frame.



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Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

At times when believers are put under pressure because of their biblical convictions, it is both stabilising and comforting to realise that God’s normal way of working is to use troubles to bring His people into greater holiness and usefulness. It’s in the wisdom of God that the pathway of growth in grace which leads to glory deliberately includes more struggles for us than self-indulgences. This was realised individually by Rev John Livingstone and Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross. These two were close friends. They were both involved in the remarkable revival at Shotts in June 1630. Elizabeth Melville spent three hours praying ahead of the service at which John Livingstone preached, when it was estimated that 500 were converted. However, that wonderful time of spiritual prosperity was quickly followed by a time of severe testing. John Livingstone was deposed from the ministry for nonconformity in late 1631. The correspondence between these friends around this time includes the following updated and abridged letter, where Elizabeth Melville intersperses hearty exhortations with gentle encouragements and includes some of her own spiritual experiences to reinforce them.

My very worthy and dear brother,

I received your letter, and had no time to answer you as I’d have liked. I thank the Lord who upholds you in all your trials and temptations. It is good for you to be kept in exercise, otherwise I would suspect that all was not well with you. God is faithful, as you find by experience, and will not test you above your strength. Courage, dear brother. All is in love, all works together for the best. You must be hewn and hammered down, and dressed, and prepared, before you are a “living stone” fit for His building!

God’s way of working

And if He is minded to make you fit to help repair the ruins of His house, you must still expect other kinds of blows than you have felt so far. You must feel your own weakness so that you may be humbled and cast down before Him, and so that you may pity poor weak ones who are borne down with infirmities. And when you are laid low, and made vile in your own eyes, then He will raise you up, and refresh you with some glimpses of His favourable countenance, so that you may be able to comfort others with the consolations with which you have been comforted by Him. This you know by some experience (blessed be God), and as strength and grace increase, look for stronger trials, fightings without and fears within, the devil and his instruments against you, and your Lord hiding His face, and deep and almost overwhelming troubles and terrors.

Yet out of all this misery, He is working some gracious work of mercy for the glory of His great name, the salvation and sanctification of your own soul, and the comfort of His distressed children here or there, or both, as pleases Him.

Our way of persevering

Take heart, then, and prepare for the battle. Put on the whole armour of God. Though you are weak, you have a strong Captain, whose power is made perfect in weakness, and whose grace is sufficient for you. What you lack in yourself you have in Him, for He is given to you by God to be your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, your treasure and your treasurer, who keeps everything in store for you. The capital stock and the interest are both in His own hand, and He drops down drop and drop as you have need, and when you go without for a long time, you will get a double profit, and in the end the whole sum, so that you shall be rich for ever.

Since He has put His work in your weak hands, don’t expect ease here for long. You must feel the weight of that worthy calling, and be weighed down by the sense of your own weakness, so that He may show His strength in due time. A weak man, and a strong God. He will not fail nor forsake you, but will equip you with strength, and gifts, and grace, according to the employment that He puts into your hands. The pain is but for a moment – the pleasure is everlasting. The battle is short, your captain fights for you, therefore victory is certain, and the reward glorious. A crown and a kingdom is worth the fighting for, blessed be His name who fights all our battles and works all our works for us! Since all is in Christ, and He is ours, what do we want to have more of but thankful hearts, and grace to honour in life and death Him who is our advantage in life and death, who guides with His counsel, and will bring us to His glory? To Him be all honour, power, and praise, for now and for ever, amen.

Our escape from the labyrinth of crosses and comforts

Now, I have stolen this time from my sleep. I have no time to tell you my situation. Cross upon cross – the end of one is only the beginning of another. But guiltiness in me and mine is my greatest cross. Many times I’m about to faint and fall down, but my Lord puts His hand under me, and sustains and upholds me by His secret strength, and often He is closest when He seems to be furthest away, and sometimes He seasons bitterness with some sweetness. No creature has more cause to complain when I look to myself. No one is so unworthy, no one has such great cause to rejoice and be thankful.

For when I look at His crosses and comforts – and what He has done, is doing, and will do – and the least persuasion of His unchangeable love – and how He takes such pains to drive me out of myself, out of all creatures and means under the sun. Many times He seems to drive me away from Himself, but when He pushes me back by appearance, He is still drawing me forward – when He strikes with one hand, He sustains with the other. The greater misery I find in myself, the greater mercy in him, and the greater mercy, the greater guiltiness when it is abused. Then when sin and misery abound, there grace and mercy superabound! So I am in a labyrinth. How can I get out? Only this is my comfort, that mercy shall prevail. Our sins are finite, but His grace is infinite. Our guiltiness is great, but His goodness is greater, and exceeds. The rage and malice of our enemy is cruel, yet it is bounded, but the love of Jesus passes bounds, is incomprehensible, overcomes everything. To conclude, our miseries will end shortly, but His mercy endures for ever.

God’s spiritual gold worth working for

When I begin, I cannot end! […] O watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation. Seek early, and you will find better than gold, pearls and precious stones – the gold is better won early than late. If you make a habit of getting a penny when you should rest, and sleep when you should rise early to your work, the gaining of that penny may lose you a pound. Therefore, sleep at the right time, and wake at the right time, and set to work in due season, and you shall find by experience the truth of His precious promises. Therefore strive against sluggishness, I charge you. It’s just a habit. Work early, and you shall get enough to make you rich. Assume that He has arranged to meet you, read the Proverbs, and you shall find that He calls you instantly and earnestly to seek Him early and you shall find.

Tell me to do as I say! Alas, I fear I have let the moment slip, but yet I would try to do better next time. Lord, help, and draw us with the cords of love, and make good the new covenant, and do all things for us when we can do nothing, and accept our weak endeavours in the merits of Him in whom only Thou art well pleased!
Now I have forgotten myself. I fear I’m losing my sleep and the gold also. Send me something therefore with the first reliable carrier to recompense the loss. Write something on some good subject – the last verses of Isaiah 40, which you taught in Culross, or the Song of Zachariah, or anything you like. Now laugh at my short writing! Help me and mine earnestly with prayer and praises. Never such need. Give my hearty greetings to all our dear friends. Especially remember my love to Mr Robert Blair, and his kind wife. Remember me heartily to Mr Robert Cunningham, Mr Josiah Welsh, Mr George Dunbar, Mr Edward Bryce, and to all the rest of the pastors, and to all their wives.

The powerful presence and blessed Spirit of Jesus Christ be with you all, and comfort and encourage you as He knows your need. Now, I leave you in His arms.

Yours ever in Christ,
Elizabeth Melville
At midnight, 10th December, 1631


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A lifeline for an anxious conscience

A lifeline for an anxious conscience

A lifeline for an anxious conscience

Once someone’s conscience perceives the glaring mismatch between what God requires from us and what we are really like, it can stir up an alarming storm of self-accusations and self-recriminations as well as anxieties about what we justly deserve for our sins. It can feel like being in a storm with billowing waves about to overwhelm us at any point. But Jesus throws us a lifeline. He is able to pacify both the demands of justice and the turmoils of conscience because by His death He has dealt with His people’s sins. As James Durham explains in a sermon on “the blood of sprinkling,” Jesus’ blood is enough to shelter us and pull us safely out of the storm of wrath and convictions. In the following updated extract, Durham helps us to admire the power and preciousness of the blood of Christ from a number of angles.

How we ought to commend the bargain of free grace! and to hold out the excellency of the blood of sprinkling! This should also mightily encourage the believer to step forward.

The excellence of Christ’s blood

It produces such noble effects

Noble and notable effects come by it, i.e., all the great things contained in the promises – pardon of sin, grace to subdue sin, friendship and peace with God, fellowship with Him, conformity to Him, the hope of heaven and glory, the sweet serenity, tranquillity and peace of the conscience. The blood of Christ is a “hiding place from the wind and rain, and a covert from the storm,” just like “the shadow of a great rock in the midst of a weary land.” When the soul sorely beaten with a storm of accusations and apprehensions of wrath comes under the shadow and shelter of this blood, the soul presently finds ease and repose. What shall I say? what can I say? words here may be swallowed up! From the blood of Christ proceeds all the glorious privileges of the people of God – possessed and expected, in hand and in hope.

It procures these things for sinners

The blood of Christ has procured these things to sinners – to those who had an unclean and polluted conscience. Who is it, may I ask, that may draw near to God with full assurance of faith? Not those who never had an evil conscience, but those who do have an evil conscience, that flee to Christ’s blood, and get their conscience sprinkled with it. Those who had their consciences defiled with dead works, who come to the blood, get their consciences purged from dead works.

It is Christ Himself who provides these blessings

The excellency and efficacy of the blood of sprinkling shines forth in the tenderness of the person who applies the remedy to such a loathsome sickness. This disease is utterly incurable if the attempt is made by any hand other than Christ’s. “Having (says the apostle) such an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near.” The physician is Jesus Christ Himself. His blood is the cure, and He is also the one who applies the cure, and O! how very tender, dexterous and sympathizing He is! He even excels in such cures to admiration. He is a high priest who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens. He is holy and harmless Himself, He loves these qualities, and He is able and willing to work them in those who come to Him. And such a high priest became us. He is “one that hath compassion on the ignorant, and such as are out of the way; who was in all points tempted as we, yet without sin,” so that from His own experience He may the more kindly and strongly sympathize with His people, and succour them in all their temptations. He is a high priest who is “touched with the feeling of their infirmities.” The aching of the least finger or toe in His mystical body throbs up, as it were, to His very heart.

It is so freely applied

The excellency and efficacy of the blood is made apparent in the exceeding great freeness of how He applies the cure. No more is required but to come and receive it – to come, however unclean, and be sprinkled with His blood – to confess the debt of guilt, and get the certificate that it has been paid off, by virtue of how He has paid it. If there is any pollution in the conscience, any challenge, or sore, whatever it may be, He supplies the remedy and cure freely and frankly.

The urgent necessity of Christ’s blood

If the blood of sprinkling is so virtuous and efficacious, for one thing, it gives an encouragement to the guilty to flee to this blood. For another thing, it shows the necessity of making use of it. This is a very pressing and vehemently urgent necessity.

As it was not possible for the manslayer to stand before the avenger of blood outside of the city of refuge, so neither can the guilty sinner stand before his own conscience, far less the tribunal of God, till he has fled to this blood, and had his conscience sprinkled with it.

You have a conscience, and a guilty conscience, with many sins on your score. Your conscience may be asleep for now, but it will most certainly awake eventually, and it will turn into a hot and hard pursuer far beyond what ever any avenger of blood was. The longer it sleeps, in fact, the harder it will pursue. But Christ Jesus is like the city of refuge, and you may now flee to Him and be safe! Seeing all this, o consider! Consider these words of the apostle, which we, in the name of the Lord, say over again to you: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things …” (Acts 13:38–39).

It is the great end and design of the gospel to proclaim the market of grace, and to make this offer to you sinners freely. Taking all this together, O! accept and be humbled under the sense of your guilt, from which you cannot possibly be delivered any other way, and come forward and make use of this offer! And think it over with yourself seriously, I beseech you, if you keep on putting off this day of salvation, and despising this offer of grace, your conscience will certainly wake up on you eventually, and expend itself on you most terribly, and you will never get it quieted.

But if you will now in time embrace and make use of the offer, I dare confidently say, to the commendation of God’s grace and the efficacy of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, that you can never lay that sin before Christ, with whatever aggravations, or that disease, however filthy and loathsome, but the blood of Christ applied by faith can abundantly satisfy God’s justice for it, and pacify and purge the conscience from the guilt and defilement of it.

The strong consolation from Christ’s blood

The blood of sprinkling gives strong consolation in three ways to those who believe in Christ.

When conscience accuses you, the consolation is that there is a city of refuge to run to, a mediator for sinners, a shield to ward off the deadly wound of such a dart.

When you flee as a sinner to this city, the strong consolation is that you shall be made welcome. Therefore the believer doesn’t need to be afraid to make use of Christ, or to come to the blood of sprinkling, for He waits for employment, and it’s all the more to the praise of His exquisite skill, the more He cleanses and cures through its virtue. You may therefore come, and not only so, but come with full assurance of faith of attaining whatever you need and want to have. Come, therefore, believers, boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may find mercy, and obtain grace to help in time of need.

When you have fled to the blood, you may quiet yourself. You are at peace with God, and with your own conscience. Your peace is as sure as God’s covenant, that which cannot be annulled or altered. It is as sure as Christ’s purchase is of worth and efficacy. If the covenant of grace is firm and sure, and if the blood of sprinkling has value and efficacy, then you certainly have solid grounds of peace and consolation.

Therefore I exhort those who believe in Christ on all occasions to flee to Him, to renew your applications by faith to Jesus Christ, and after every defilement to besprinkle your conscience with His blood, and then comfort yourself in it, and bless God, who allows such large and strong consolation on you, and bless the Mediator, who has purchased it for you, by this His own most precious blood.

Finding consolation in the blood is not presumption

But some tender and exercised soul will likely say, “Is it not presumption for me to comfort myself under challenges for sin?” No. Accepting the truth of the accusation, and being humbled for the sin, and betaking yourself to the blood of sprinkling for pardon and purging, [is not presumption]. The apostle commands you to comfort yourself, and surely he doesn’t command anyone to presume. When conscience through guilt accuses us, we are called to flee to the blood, and when we have sprinkled the conscience with it, we have warrant to draw near, and it is not presumption to do so.

Indeed, if we are resting on Christ and comforting ourselves in Him when we have accusations we have to plead guilty to, this suggests that we actually have strong faith, something which Christ is very pleased with, and by which He is much glorified. Presumption will never stand before an evil conscience. Nor will it credit Christ, when conscience sharply accuses. It is not presumption to lean to Christ, but it is presumption to lean to any other thing. It takes no great skill to calm the conscience when there is no storm. But when there are many waves and billows of accusations and discouragements rising and swelling high in the way – it needs skill to go over all these, and grip hard to the rope He throws out, and confidently, though humbly, and in fear to make use of the remedy which He graciously proposes. He will never account it presumption when souls to take to themselves what God allows to them. But it will very readily be accounted presumption to disdain His allowance.

The deadly danger of despising Christ’s blood

If you are not a believer, but lie still in unbelief, and slight our blessed Lord Jesus, O! what a dreadful disadvantage and liability you fall under! This is the great harm you do to yourself – you leave yourself open to the fierce wrath of the Almighty God, and to the tormenting accusations of your own evil conscience, which will be more terrible to you than if hills and mountains fell on you.

In that day it will be clear that an evil conscience really is a dreadfully evil thing, plus you will have this aggravation of your guilt, that you despised the Redeemer, and the costly price of His precious blood paid for the ransom of sinners. You despised the physician who offered at His own cost to cure you perfectly. You despised the guarantor who offered freely and frankly to pay your debt.

Therefore let me in the name of the Lord (who is in earnest with you, and we desire according to our measure to be in earnest with you) – let me warn you to flee from the wrath to come! There is no other foundation on which you can safely base the eternal salvation of your immortal souls but the righteousness of Christ. Nothing can possibly purge and pacify, cleanse and calm the conscience but coming to and washing at the fountain of the blood of Christ. O! then come! If you cannot wash yourself, get Him to do it. Cry like David, “Wash me, cleanse me, purge me, wash me throughly from mine iniquities!” It will be no excuse, I assure you, to claim that you could not do it, since He offered Himself as a fountain to wash at.

Let me therefore once more earnestly beseech you in the name of the Lord, by the love you profess to bear to your own immortal soul, to admit your sin, and to flee, and to flee speedily, to the city of refuge set open before you!



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Three areas where faith overcomes

Three areas where faith overcomes

Three areas where faith overcomes

Jean Hamilton corresponded with several prominent Covenanting ministers, including James Renwick. Here are updated excerpts from three letters which she received from Renwick while her personal and family circumstances were in turmoil and she was dealing with a lot of uncertainty as to what to do for the best for herself and her children. When the troubles of the moment and the inadequacies within ourselves threaten to obscure God’s plain truth, Renwick’s wise advice helps us to refocus, and to fortify ourselves against the temptation to get so bogged down in problems that we forget we are journeying onwards to meet Christ in glory.

How to interpret providence

31st March 1683

I hope you will not think me so far out of my duty as to be unmindful of your case, for I am very conscious of the circumstances you find yourself in. However, though your trials be many, and your fears not few, yet I do not think your case is strange – similar things have happened to the Lord’s people.

O take it well, whatever comes from the Lord’s hand. Look to His purposes in His providences, and then you will be able to read love to you in the saddest of them. Away with scanty sense, which always interprets God’s heart to be the same as His face. Faith is a noble thing – it soars high, and can read love in God’s heart even when His face frowns. Do you not have reason to think the best of Him? You can depend on getting good from His hand. Your evening of sorrow shall be turned into an everlasting morning of joy.

Let the faith of this sweeten your present situation to you. The Lord be with you all. Remember your friend and servant in the Lord, who sympathises with you in your trials.

How to interpret yourself

20 June 1684

I received your letter, which unbosomed to me a troubled case, which touches me in no small measure. But as I am touched by the trouble of spirit which you express, I am just as much refreshed to see that you are not insensible about your situation. Your great complaint is that you lack light and life. I am convinced, however, that anyone who utterly lacks one or the other of these cannot be troubled to realise that they lack them. Nobody misses what never belonged to them. A horse has no sense of loss about the wings of an eagle, because they never belonged to him, but he would soon notice if he lacked his feet. Those who never knew anything of light and life would never miss them.

But what shall I say to you? Let nothing less than Christ Himself satisfy you. Try to live under the impression of His preciousness, for contemplating this fills the heart with love to Him, and love, you know, is a most active and lively thing.

Do not judge your own state by how you feel about yourself. A very fruitful tree will bear neither fruit not leaves in the winter, but there will still be plenty sap in the root. Do not spend time debating it, but make sincere and serious use of the means that you have of union and communion with Christ. This is both the surest and the shortest way to reach fixedness.

Also, do not seek simply to have your feelings satisfied for the time being – what you need is a well-grounded assurance for the future. So, look to the infinite power and infinite love of Christ. That is a two-edged sword to cut in pieces all your Gordian knots! Infinite power, what can it not do? Infinite love, what will it not do? Never seek anything in yourself to commend you to Christ, for that will keep you continually staggering. Instead I recommend you to the grace of Him who is able to perfect what concerns you.

I remain your ladyship’s soul’s well-wisher, sympathiser, and obedient servant in the Lord.

How to spend your time

18 November 1685

You doubtless think my long silence strange, and it is far contrary to my own resolution, but the abundance of cares and ongoing troubles block me up from doing many things I would like.

I think that when the Lord returns to us again, it will be with such a measure and outpouring of His Spirit that the remnant that are left shall have almost a heaven on earth, and our land shall be made the joy of all lands.

For us today, though, what is there but to make sure of Christ for ourselves, and to spend our days here below admiring the loveliness and condescension of our Beloved, and our own happiness in enjoying such a potion.

But this is a great work! Time isn’t enough for it! That is why we shall get eternity for it. O let us pursue the increase of the beauty of holiness, for happiness is inferior to it. It is by holiness that we are made like God, and is this not true nobility? O what is like it?! If we knew more of this pursuit – and attainment – we would feel less as if we have been deserted by the Lord, and we would enjoy more of the smilings of His sweet countenance, and of the breathings of His Spirit.

Also, while we are in this pilgrimage, let His will be ours in all things. Whatever He may carve out for us, or whatever we are involved in, let us say Amen to it, for if He wills it, it is enough for us. For that matter, let us reckon on the worst that can happen, so that whatever comes, we will not be surprised.


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Seven ways true humility shows itself

Seven ways true humility shows itself

Seven ways true humility shows itself

When one woman came to Jesus asking for His help, He apparently tried to send her away unanswered. But that woman was as humble as she was trusting, and humility prompted her both to accept what Jesus had against her and to persist in waiting for Him to bless her. In his sermon on this incident, William Guthrie explores the features of true humility, like this woman had, which distinguish it from the false kind. As the following updated extract shows, he identifies seven ways in which true humility manifests itself.

True humility accepts what God says about sin

True humility complies with God in all His accusations of sin. Let God charge you with whatever He wills, true humility accepts it all. If the Lord calls us a dog, we respond, “It is true, Lord; we are justly called this, for we come of a bad kind, and we ourselves are far worse, and likely to grow no better. We are guilty of all these things.” In this way true humility grants everything, and yet is never a bit the further from obtaining its goal [of receiving blessing from the Lord]. Comply with Him therefore today in what He says about sin. If there is anything in your way when approaching to Him at His table, and you cannot tell whether it is a sin or not, treat it as a sin, and be ready to let go of it.

True humility accepts what God says about corruption

True humility complies with God in all the charges He brings of corruption.

God says, “You have an evil heart.”

“I know it very well,” you say in humility, “that’s true.”

“You are not likely to amend, for all the work I’ve done with you.”

“I agree, Lord, I have made such little progress.”

“Your heart is as ready to do evil as it ever was.”

“That is certainly true.”

“I think there was never something bad that came from any of your people, but probably it came from you.”

“True, Lord.”

“Your heart is inclining to some bad way right now.”

“That’s as true as the rest.”

This is how true humility accepts all the charges of corruption that are brought against the soul.

True humility accepts God’s remedy for sin and corruption

But true humility also complies with God as to the remedy both for the pardon of sin and for the power of sin. True humility is not too proud to submit to the righteousness of God.

True humility grants that it is a slave to many a lust, but it will grant more than that — it will grant that Christ is “made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption.”

“My heart faints and fails,” it is true, indeed, “But God is the strength of my heart, and portion for ever.” That is true too.

If God says, “There is life in my Son,” true humility is just as ready to say, “That is true; I shall get life.”

If God says, “There is no way to destroy corruption but by abiding in Christ,” then humility replies, “Well then, I will cling to Him just as the branches abide in the vine.”

If God says, “There is a fountain opened to the house of David for sin, and for uncleanness,” then true humility says, “That’s true,” and it complies with this as the only remedy for corruption to be purged away.

True humility grasps God’s gospel

True humility complies with God by continuing to wait on Him, and that in spite of much boasting, and many difficulties. It does not give the Lord short shrift on first appearances, so to speak. Humility says, in other words, “Even if God will not give this thing, at this time, let Him do as He pleases.” It is simply pride to leave God when His first appearances seem to turn you away. This woman is a pattern of true humility for us to copy.

“Thou art a dog,” was what Jesus said at first.

“I grant,” says she, “I am a filthy one.”

“Thou art none of mine,” is what He says next.

“I grant,” says she, “I was never worthy to be called one of thine. That is true, Lord, but we must not part like this. I will wait until I reach God’s real purpose,” which was to save sinners.

All His hard sayings were never intended to put away a poor sinner, but rather to stir up their desires into more life, and to bring them nearer to Himself.

True humility will grieve that it gets no more, but yet it still takes what it can have.

Take good heed: this aspect of true humility consists primarily in these two things:—

1. It is thankful for Christ. It takes the essentials of life and peace, i.e., Christ Himself, and although it still complains of the lack of those precious things which He usually distributes to His people, yet it will solace itself in effectual grace. It sees Christ the essential treasure, worth everything in the world. It accepts Him thankfully. With awe of God on the heart, those who have humility will be conscientious about their way of life, but still there will be much sorrow at their hearts that they cannot get the love of God more abundantly shed abroad in their hearts, or the awareness of His presence and access in prayer. Sure, but these things are not food. They are beautiful rings and jewels, but you cannot eat them. They are good and delightsome; but you cannot be kept alive by them. It is Himself that fills the humble, and is all in all to them.

2. It is conscious of what it lacks. True humility will be taking what is essential, and yet it will know itself to lack many things. It will be constantly grieving or complaining for lack of other essentials. True humility will be blessing God, and yet loathing itself for what it has done. It will be very low because it cannot get heart-breaking contrition, self-loathing, and self-judging for sin. It loathes itself because it cannot love and take thankfully from God’s hand anything that in love He bestows. It would gladly have more love. Although the humble person’s heart is not what he would like it to be and not what it ought to be, yet he will take it thankfully from God’s hand that He has brought him at least to offer up his heart to Him, and also to His whole law. But still it breaks that person’s heart that he cannot attain to practical obedience to all God’s commands. Yet since God has said it is an evidence of love to have some respect to all His commands — “Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect to all thy commandments” — the humble person will bless the Lord for all He has given him until he gets more. Some will get permission to stand at the King’s table, and some to share the same bowl as Him, while others are placed at a side table with a piece of dry bread, and yet all are fed with the same substantial food — the one who gets the crumbs as well as the one who sits at the table.

True humility leaves God to sort things out

True humility takes the things in the bare promise, and leaves the performance of them to God’s own time. Give true humility a promise, and it will rest satisfied.

It gives much glory to God, and is well pleasing in His sight, that we should hang everything on the promise. It is what God has designed, that we should all hang on His word. True humility says, “If He will give me a word, that will save me. Let Him do with me as seemeth Him good.” True humility prays, “Give me the promise that Thou wilt break the dominion of such and such a lust, or idol; then I will leave it to Thee to do it when Thou wilt. Though I am impatient of how this sin rules in me, yet I will not be so peremptory as to say that I must have it done at this communion or else never look for it any more.”

You must not limit Him to such and such a time. You must not limit the Holy One of Israel. He has said, “It shall be well with the righteous.” And, “The foot of the wicked shall slide in due time.” Then wait for it. It shall be accomplished, since He has said that He will do it.

True humility turns to God for help

True humility does not dare to help to bring about the performance of the promise in any way, except in the way that God has allowed. If the Lord commands a duty, humility doesn’t dare to dispute with God about the outcome, whatever cross or difficulty may follow from it. Humility is more interested in getting Christ to remove wrath by the cross than the stroke in the cross. It embraces Him as the only remedy, whereas false humility would shake off the cross and take some nearer way. True humility will wait on a while, for it continues to expect good at God’s hand.

If He commands me to go to a particular communion, then even if I lack the proper frame for it, I must go there. And then I am to grasp Himself, and exercise the faith of holding on to Him, till I get more. Even if I am not in a good frame, I am not to stay away from the communion; for where is a good frame to be had if not in His way? True humility does not dare take any sinful way to bring about God’s promise, neither does it dare venture on anything not commanded by God.

True humility takes God’s side

True humility takes more liberties with its own things than with the matters of God. Hence, when my own interest and God’s interest come in competition, humility stands up for God’s side and lets its own interests slide.

For example, there may be a thing which it would be sinful for me to do, but if I don’t do it, I shall be made to suffer. “Well,” says the humble one, “but I will rather suffer before I sin. For on the one hand there is only suffering, but on the other hand there is sinning.”

“Ay,” the false replies, “but there may be sin in suffering consequently.” Yet that is only a maybe. The one may or may not be, but the other is clearly and manifestly sin. Even if my suffering comes to be sin consequently, yet I am not called to venture on what is manifestly guilt, just because my suffering may be sin consequently.

True humility will take more risks with the body than with the soul, and in this it complies with God, for God regards the soul more highly. Take this example for a proof: God cut down Job’s children and all his worldly substance, and actually, all he had, just so that Job might get a little more grace. Oh, but God will squeeze a man strongly in his body, interests, and goods, to increase his grace.


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Martha and the resurrection

Martha and the resurrection

Martha and the resurrection

The sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, sent for Jesus urgently when their brother was ill. But by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead and buried. What was Jesus doing? In the heart of Martha, grief and faith were in turmoil. She was sorrowing and questioning and at the same time reaching for and clinging desperately to Jesus. As Jesus spoke to her, He interacted with her so very tenderly and led her on gently to see more and more of the comfort which God has so richly stored up in Him for His needy people. Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life,” is both a foundational bedrock of support for all believers, and also something that applies personal, individual comfort in each believer’s unique circumstances. The resurrection is not a far-distant abstraction, when we realise that Christ Jesus is “the resurrection” and that He continually maintains His people in life. In the following updated extract, George Hutcheson points out the striking features of the dialogue between Jesus and Martha.

Grief is complex, even in believers

Martha was a good woman, and conscious of her loss as much as Mary was. She gets first word of Christ’s approach, and goes to meet Him, while Mary knew nothing of this, and stayed indoors.

Among those who are truly gracious, some are more tender and spiritual then others. Some are more affected with griefs, and more broken under them, than others. This may teach the godly, and especially weak and tender hearted ones, not to measure every one by themselves, for those who have real good, may have really different dispositions.

Whatever comfort or sympathy people meet with from friends in their trouble, yet comfort from Christ is also needed. Martha and Mary had comforters, yet Martha went and met Jesus, when she heard of His coming, to welcome Him as a needed guest.

However, when Martha meets Jesus, she challenges Him with her regrets that He had not come sooner and prevented her brother from dying. This weakness and infirmity broke out of her, and got a headstart of her better side. When we are in straits, we should treat with suspicion the emotions which burst out of us first of all (Psalm 116:11 & 31:22). So though we cannot justify the impassioned outbursts of the saints, yet we ought not to examine them too narrowly or censure them, because they are really only a violent temptation which tramples on grace only temporarily. After her first outburst, Martha settles a little, and corrects it with a profession of her faith that Christ, if He wished, could yet put everything right.

So, alongside her faith, Martha had her own dissatisfaction with how Christ had acted. Yet her faith prevails to the extent that she does not stay away from Him, but goes to Him. Unbelief is never deadly, as long as it does not keep you from coming to Christ. Whatever complaints you may have about Christ’s dealings, yet faith is still the conqueror, as long as you pour out all these complaints into Christ’s own bosom.

Jesus brings comfort gently

“Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again” (verse 23). He replies to her meekly. Passing over her infirmity, He comforts her with the promise that her brother would rise again.

Great are the consolations which God has laid up for His afflicted people, and He will do great things for them. It is a satisfactory and proper consolation against the death of these we love, to believe in a resurrection, in which they shall rise again. This is what Christ uses to comfort her.

Christ puts this promise only in general terms, “Thy brother shall rise again,” not mentioning the time when it would be. Even though He was going to raise her brother presently, yet simply the promise of a general resurrection is itself full of comfort (1 Thess. 4:13–14, etc.). We have no reason to stumble when we have no warrant to expect the same particular favour as Martha received, because Christ propounds this comfort in these general terms.

In Martha’s own case, Christ put it this way, partly to exercise her faith, and to let her and us see, in practice, how far short our expectations may be of what Christ will actually do for His people. She looked for the resurrection at the last day, but He was going to raise her brother almost the next minute. Partly also, He let her consolation come in bit by bit into her narrow-mouthed vessel. As the Lord’s people are allowed to believe and expect a mercy even when they cannot resolve every particular detail of how, or when, or by what means it will come to pass, so their hearts are often so shallow that they can take in mercies only in little instalments here and there.

Grief can puzzle faith

When Martha is given this promise and offer of comfort, she seems to take exception against it. Although she confesses that she believes in the resurrection and judgement of the last day, yet she seems to look on it as insufficient for her own encouragement, seeing it is something that refers to everyone, and it is a long way off (verse 24).

Because of our weakness, and our fondness for getting unique satisfaction for our own personal situations, we are ready to slight all the mercies and consolations of God, unless we get exactly what we ourselves regard as a mercy. The general resurrection is not a small comfort, and the resurrection of the just is a far better comfort than to be restored again to the toils of this life, yet Martha undervalues all that, in comparison of getting her brother back again now.

It is however not unusual to see people believing great things that are far off, yet their faith proving weak in the matter of their current trial, even though that is less difficult than what they profess to believe. Martha can believe in the resurrection of all, and of Lazarus among the rest, at the last day, yet at the same time she staggers at the possibility that he may be raised shortly. Yet the one is as difficult as the other, if not indeed more difficult.

What faith needs, faith finds in Jesus

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die” (verses 25–26).

Although Martha believes in the resurrection, yet Christ finds it needful to instruct her better in many things about it. Believers need daily instruction from Christ, so that they will know and understand better those things which they already believe in part. Also, it is not enough that we believe in great benefits and mercies, unless we believe that they are in Christ, and seek them in Him. It is not enough that Martha believes in the resurrection, unless she believes that Christ is the resurrection and the life.

Also, we are to think of Christ, not as merely the instrument of life and resurrection to any, but as the one who principally authors it by His own power. Although many prophets and apostles raised the dead, yet it can be said by none but Christ, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Those who unite with and enjoy Christ will find in Him, and to hand, all things which they would otherwise seek far off, and possibly not find. Martha looked afar off, to a better day, for the accomplishment of Christ’s promise, but He challenges her to see it in Him, at hand, that He is the resurrection and the life, who can raise up her brother even now.

Believers walk and grow in new life

By regeneration, the children of God are put in a state of life, and this they demonstrate by their subsequent walk – by exercising the functions of spiritual life, and being living in their way. Anyone to whom Christ is “the resurrection,” is someone who lives.

Seeing that spiritual life flows only from Christ embraced by faith, it must be maintained by the same means – faith in Christ. As the dead, by believing, live, so, “he that liveth,” must “believe in me,” Jesus says. Keeping our spiritual life going is a continual resurrection, and as the same power (God’s) is employed in both begetting and maintaining this life, so the same means (faith) must continually be exercised. Clearly, if someone slips up in their walk or becomes spiritually weak, they are taking an exceedingly wrong course of action if they cast away their confidence.

The power of Christ is continually forthcoming to preserve those who believe in Him from utter decay in their spiritual life. Although they may be overtaken with some degrees of death, yet on renewing their faith, they shall be recovered. He will also preserve them from eternal death, and bodily death itself shall not extinguish the life that is begotten and maintained by faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus encourages detailed faith

Jesus poses Martha the question, “Believest thou this?” (verse 26). We should daily pose the same thing to our own hearts.

In particular, it is necessary both that we are well grounded in the faith of getting life through Christ, and that we make special application to ourselves of the general promise He makes about this. Then we won’t have to scrabble around looking for our faith when Christ calls for it.

In Martha’s answer, she assents to what Christ requires her to believe, and adds a confession of her faith about His person and offices. “She saith unto him, Yea, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ the Son of God, which should come into the world” (verse 27). Perhaps she felt her faith was too weak to expressly grasp all that He was saying, though she assents to it, and so she deals with all that in a word, and simply professes her faith in Him, acknowledging Him to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and consequently, professing that she believes whatever may flow from this fact.

When our faith is weak, it will grow up to more clarity and assurance by conversing with Christ, laying open our weaknesses to Him, and receiving instructions from Him.

Some things (such as the truths about Christ’s person and offices) are fundamentals, and the rest are only the particular application of these general truths to particular cases. So, here, Martha falls back on the fact that “thou art the Christ, etc,” as her chief and all-inclusive ground of comfort.

In fact, the consequences which flow from these fundamental encouragements and promises are so many, and so full, that someone who believes the fundamentals may not even see the consequences very clearly, nor very firmly believe all that flows from them. But we can see from Martha that if you believe the general encouragements, you have much more to be refreshed and comforted with than you have so far realised. In God’s rich love, accommodating to our weakness, He draws out these general promises into particular ones, relating to our particular necessities.

Therefore, when our faith staggers in any particular moment of need, or proves weak in believing a particular promise, we should fall back on these general grounds of faith and encouragement, and hold them tight till we get more, and study the fullness that is in them, so that we may be led on to more particular confidence. That is what Martha did.

Studying Christ’s person and offices is a notable means of confirming our faith in all the promises about all the benefits to be had in Him. Martha lays hold on this, “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God which should come into the world,” for just that reason. Carefully examining who Christ is and what He does, will make us sure both of His good will, as Mediator, and His power, as God, to do what He promises.



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