What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
25 Sep, 2020

Uncertainty is nothing new but the coronavirus crisis has taken this to more extreme levels. There is even a degree of uncertainty about facts, numbers, transmission, symptoms and science. No doubt there may be times and places that have experienced more uncertainty but for many this is at a new level. Disruption and uncertainty have impacted most aspects of most people’s lives. All these unknowns are personal as well as social and economic. We do not know how long the impact of the crisis will last and this creates fear and anxiety. How should we respond? Some want to respond by promising some element of certainty, but it soon wears thin. Who can say with great confidence what will happen or when? In truth, very little about our lives is constant or entirely certain and we must come to terms with that. This can teach us a great deal if we consider it through the teaching of Scripture.

There is an argument that uncertainty is a good thing. It is the need to resolve things that makes us seek to advance our knowledge and make progress in science and other areas. We can also learn much practically and spiritually from uncertainty in seeking to walk humbly with God. Hugh Binning opens up the nature of uncertainty in expounding Proverbs 27:1. We cannot boast of what we will do or achieve tomorrow because we do not know what even a day may bring forth. In this updated extract he shows what uncertainty can teach us.

1. Uncertainty is Natural

Tomorrow is the narrow sphere of poor man’s comprehension. All he can attain is to provide for the present. It is not present properly speaking because, in comparison with eternity it is cut off as soon as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye. Even if we could see the end of time, it would be merely close up and indistinct, like something right in front of our eye.
These, then, are the two great ruins of human nature. We have degenerated from God to created things and seek our joy and rest in them. Yet there is nothing in them but the contrary—vexation. We have also fallen from apprehending eternity, and our poor soul is confined within the narrow bounds of time.

All our wise management is to provide some perishing things for some few revolutions of the sun, for some few tomorrows. After this, though an endless tomorrow ensues, man does not perceive it or provide for it. All his glorying and boasting is only on some presumptuous confidence and ungrounded assurance of the stability of these things for the time to come.

The wise man leaves us this counsel, not to boast of tomorrow. It is supported with a strong argument taken partly from the instability and inconstancy of all the outward things in which men imagine an eternity of joy and partly from the ignorance we have of future events. We do not know what a day may bring forth.

2. Uncertainty Humbles Us

Boasting is such a predominant evil among men, that I know not any more universal in its dominion, or more hurtful to us, or displeasing to God. Of all boastings, the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from the presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us.

No one’s present possession satisfies them, without some additional hope and expectation for the future. The poverty of the human spirit and the emptiness of all things we enjoy here are apparent in this, that they will not make the heart content. Present possession does not fill up the vacuum of the heart without imagining possessing more in the future. The insatiable human heart cannot rest satisfied in its joy (without some future hopes and expectations) even if the whole world were in its possession.

The soul anticipates and forestalls tomorrow and borrows present joy from future anticipation. Yet when it comes, perhaps it will not compensate the expectation (see Job 11:18, 20; Job 8:13). Hope is like a house to them, but to many, it is no better than a spider’s web. Here then is a clear demonstration of the madness and folly of men, who hang so much on outward things and allow their affections to be shaped by the great variety of outward things and events.

There is nothing more unreasonable than to stir our passions about that which we cannot choose, as most future things are. What will happen tomorrow, what outcome will my projects and plans have? This is not under my control, these depend on other people’s wills, purposes, and actions. They are not in my power. Either to boast or be anxious about things that depend on so many causes not under my control and things I cannot prevent is both unbelieving and unreasonable (Matthew 6:25). Such anxiety and boasting can neither prevent evil nor procure good.

Only the present is in our power. We are dead to yesterday already, for it is past and cannot return; it is as it was buried in the grave of oblivion. We are not yet born to tomorrow, for it has not come to the light, and we do not know if it ever will come. There is no more in our knowledge but the present hour. Though we remember the past, it, our knowledge of it is not practical. It cannot be changed or reformed. The future is not born to us and is to us as if we were not born to it either.

3. Uncertainty is All that is Certain

There is such an infinite possibility of outcomes that it is foolish to presume to boast of anything or rest in it. There is nothing certain except that all things are uncertain — that all things are subject to perpetual motion, revolution, and change. Today a city, tomorrow a heap. There is nothing between a great city and a heap except one day, nothing between a man and no man but one hour. Our life is subject to infinite casualties, it may receive a fatal stroke from the least and most unexpected thing. It is a bubble floating on the water in continual motion with a storm. So many poor dying creatures rise up, swim and float awhile, and are tossed up and down by the wind and wave. The least puff of wind or drop of rain sends it back to its own element. We are a vapour appearing for a very little time—a creature of no solidity—a dream—a shadow and appearance of something. This dream or apparition is but for a little time, and then it vanishes, not so much into nothingness but it disappears. All human affairs are like the spokes of a wheel, continually revolving. In this constant revolving of outward things, who can enjoy true quiet and peace? Only the soul that is fixed, with its centre on God and abides in Him. Though the parts may be in constant motion, the centre of the wheel is at rest and not violently turned.

4. Uncertainty is for God’s Glory

There is infinite wisdom and goodness in the way that the Lord orders all things. At first glance, people would think it better if everything happened uniformly so that everyone knew what would happen to them. Yet, God has provided for His own glory and our good in this. He has kept the absolute dominion and perfect knowledge of all His works for Himself. It is for His glory in that He orders them with such great variety, that they may be seen to proceed from Him.

5. Uncertainty is For Our Good

It is for our good. What use would many Christian virtues and graces, if it were not so? What place would there be for patience if there were no adverse events? What place would there be for moderation if there were no prosperity? If there were not such variations and vicissitudes, how would the evenness and constancy of the spirit be known? What place would contentment and tranquillity of mind have? These are a calm in a storm, not a calm in a calm (that would be no virtue). If the various outcomes of providence could be foreseen by us, it would completely disorder our duty. Who would do their duty out of conscience to God’s command in committing events to Him? As it is now our obedience is tested. We have to go by a way we do not know and submit to God’s all-seeing providence.

God has so ordered the world that no grace lacks a reason to be exercised, no virtue may die out for want of fuel, or rust for lack of use. There is no condition of affairs without a fair opportunity for exercising some grace. If one or many cannot be exercised due to affliction, He has still opened a large door for self-denial, humility, patience and moderation.

6. Uncertainty Points Us to Eternity

Even the very nature of the material world speaks loudly of this to us. When you look below, there is nothing seen but the outside of the earth, only its very surface appears, and there your sight is terminated. But look above and there is no termination, no bounding of the sight —there are infinite spaces, all transparent and clear. This shows us that our affections should be set on things above and not on things below. There is nothing below except the outward appearance and surface of things —the glory and beauty of the earth are but skin deep. But heavenly things are all transparent, there is nothing to set bounds to the affections. They are infinite, and you may enlarge infinitely towards them.

God has made all things in time dark and opaque, like the earth. Look at them and you only see the outside of them, the present hour. You know no more of what is beyond than you can see of the depths beneath the earth. But eternity is transparent throughout, and infinite too. Therefore, God has made us blind to earthly things, that we should not set our heart nor terminate our eyes on anything here. But He has opened and spread eternity before us in the Scriptures, so that you may read and understand your everlasting condition in it. He has shut up the things of time and sealed them and He wills us to live in relation to them by trusting in Him of them without anxious forethought.

7. Uncertainty Points Us to True Contentment

No one can find any satisfaction in enjoying the things of the present (without always hoping for the future) until they fully possess God as an all-sufficient good (Psalm 4:6) Without this, great things will not make us content. For what is all that to a person if they have no assurance concerning the future? And with this, we can even be content with little things. Great things with little hope and expectation fill us with more vexation than joy, the greater they are the more this is increased. Little things, with great hopes and expectations, give more satisfaction. All mankind look towards tomorrow and strive to make up for what they lack in the present with hope or confidence in the future.

8. Uncertainty Points Us to True Hope

You should strive to fill up what is lacking in present things with that great hope, the hope of salvation, which will be as a helmet to keep your head safe in all difficulties (1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:18-19; Romans 5:5). It is true, other people’s expectations of gain and other things, do to some extent abate the pain of what they lack in the present. But it is certain that such hope will not expel all grief from the heart but leaves much vexation within. The frequent disappointment of such projects and plans of gain, honour, and pleasure, and their extreme failure to fulfil the desires and hopes of the soul, even when attained, must breed infinitely more anxiety and vexation in the spirit. If you would have your souls truly established and not hanging on tomorrow uncertainly (as most do) look beyond tomorrow to the everlasting day of eternity that has no tomorrow after it. See what foundation you can lay up for that future time to come (1 Timothy 6:16-19). If you would have a foundation of lasting joy, why seek lasting joy in fading things and certain joy in uncertain riches, and solid contentment in empty things? Why not rather seek it in the living God, inexhaustible spring of all good things? We are not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (1 Timothy 6:17).
We are to do good and be rich in good works, laying up in store a good foundation for the time to come (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Eternity is the only time worthy to be called time. Striving to do good, and be rich in good works, in works of piety, of mercy, of justice and moderation is a better foundation for the time to come. Receive and embrace the promise of eternal life —that free and gracious promise of life in the gospel to make up for what is lacking in present enjoyments. The precious hope of eternal life cannot disappoint.

9. Uncertainty Should Make Us Submit to God’s Will

But most people like the fool in the parable (Luke 12:13-21) have something stored up for many years or else their projects and plans extend to many years. The truth is, they have more pleasure in the expectation of such things than in really possessing them. But that pleasure is only imaginary. How many thoughts and plans are continually turning in the heart of man—how to be rich, how to get greater gain or more reputation? People build castles in the air, and imagine to themselves, as it were, new worlds of mere possible things. Everyone makes fantasies for themselves as if they were themselves in control of it all. Then we boast ourselves in the confidence of them as if there were not a supreme Lord who rules our affairs as immediately as He does the winds and rains.

The folly of this is made clear in that we do not know what a day may bring forth. There is so much inconstancy in all things and ignorance in us that it should restrain our boasting. The apostle James refers to the resolutions and purposes of rich men to profit from trading (James 4:13-16). Such are the plans in the hearts of men, either for more gain, more glory, or more pleasure and ease.

This does not reprove either care and diligence in using lawful means for the things of this life or wise and prudent foresight in the ordering of our affairs. Both these are frequently commended by the wise man (Proverbs 6:6 and 24:27). But the great iniquity is conducting ourselves as though we were in control and without consideration of the sovereign universal dominion of God. It is not in man that walks to direct his paths (Jeremiah 10:23 and Proverbs 16:19).

God is not bound by any rule to conform His actions to our intentions. He works everything according to the counsel of His own will and not ours (Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 19:21 and 16:9). Man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his paths (Proverbs 20:24)? We ought to say and think “if the Lord will”. We do not know will happen tomorrow because our life itself is a vapour. You can make plans for tomorrow, for a year, for many years, and yet you do not know if you will exist tomorrow. How ridiculous such things are if they are not done with submissive and humble dependence on God.

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Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
1 Sep, 2020

Concise wisdom can be an invaluable guide for Christian living and experience. We can return to it regularly. Sometimes the counsel offered can be general and contain broad principles to apply. Other times it’s helpful to have some specific directions about common situations that we may experience and encounter. It can be helpful to draw from advice given by various writers and learn from their own experience.

This advice is an updated extract taken from some counsel written to a lady by William Traill of Borthwick. There is no clear order to the advice and no doubt much of it is related to the individual addressed particularly.

1. Advice About Soul Trouble

As to your frame of mind. Labour to escape from soul trouble, not so much because it is terrible as because it is sinful. Seek to have the heart established by grace and to maintain an equal, constant frame of mind, that you may not be soon cast down and frightened by an unexpected affliction, nor be suddenly puffed up by unlooked-for success.

2. Advice About Conversation

Guard against all anger, and speaking hastily and unadvisedly. Think for a while on the thing that vexes you before you utter your mind upon it. When you do speak, do not say everything you think (Proverbs 29:11). Be sure not to make the worst of a matter, this only inflames the heart (Proverbs 16:23).

3. Advice About Providence

Put a hopeful construction upon those providences that appear to be sad, dark, and threatening, and do not suspect the kindness of God when cross dispensations occur. Believe that Christ has “done all things well,” and “that all things work together for good to them that love” him. Remember that “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his counsel and his testimonies.” (Mark 7:37; Romans 8:28; Psalm 25:10).

4. Advice About Following Christ

Follow Christ, by taking up the cross that he has appointed for you, and by faith lean upon him for strength and succour, to bear you up under its burden from day to day.

5. Advice About Warring Against Sin

Observe your daily deficiencies and short-comings and press forward so that you may know more of the spirit, life, and power of every duty.

Keep constant watch against your easily besetting sins, and take heed that, by a sudden surprise attack, they do not prevail against you.

6. Advice About Self-Examination

Often, with all solemnity, put your heart into your hand, and pray that God will not permit you to deceive yourself, nor provoke Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). And when you seek to try the sincerity of your faith, love, and other graces, remember to distinguish between the marks of strong faith and of true faith (however weak).

If in self-examination your mind is dark and your decision difficult, do not lose time by trying to settle the truth and sincerity of your experience in former times, but exercise faith in Christ Jesus directly: choosing Him, and depending upon Him as a full, sufficient, and only Saviour for poor lost sinners. Seek to realise anew your own sinfulness and misery, and with a humbled and penitent heart cast yourself again at His feet.

Remember your dependence on the Holy Spirit, and seek “a supply of the spirit of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:19) to work fresh and large revelations of sanctifying and saving grace, and to refresh your soul amidst all the labours and sorrows of this militant state.

In particular, enquire:

  • whether you are not tempted to unbelief and calling in question almost every truth
  • whether you are not sinfully jealous about whether the love of God is shown to your soul after multiplied evidence of His care
  • whether affected diffidence, impatient haste, rash and uncharitable censures of others are found in your heart
  • whether you regard the proper season for every duty and daily labour to “redeem the time”
  • whether in circumstances of difficulty you ask yourself “what would my Lord and Saviour have done in this situation?”
  • whether you keep in mind His own blessed rule to do to others what we would have them do to us.

7. Advice About Eternity

Learn to remember your latter end, “to die daily”. Venture on nothing but what appears to be your duty, both lawful and timely, and such as you would venture on, if you had only a day to live.

If you would like to read the full originally published guidance, click here. For more about William Traill listen to this episode.

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How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt

How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt

How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
27 Aug, 2020

Our culture promotes the idea that self-worth and self-belief are essential and that we need to overcome the self-doubt that holds us back. The idea is that we simply ignore what self-doubt tells us, develop self-belief and draw on our personal resources. But the gospel gives us a realistic understanding of ourselves and that we cannot depend on our own resources. Yet it offers to us the greater, inexhaustible resources of Christ. Spiritually, there may be much self-doubt and it can be hard to see it as a bad thing. After all, we cannot depend on ourselves and we are not in doubt about God and grace. But these things are not so easily separated because when we are dealing with self-doubt concerning the work of God within us. Sometimes we can be discouraged with a deep sense of our weakness and doubt whether we have grace at all. This kind of self-doubt can be very hard to overcome. We need to hear God’s covenant promises speaking into such a condition.

We should be careful of mistaking weak grace for no grace. There is a world of difference. William Gurnall in The Christian in Complete Armour says that even if you have the very least grace that any ever had to begin with you have something of infinite value. God has done more in putting that grace within than in giving perfect grace to believers who are now in heaven… “There is a greater gulf between no grace and grace, than between weak grace and strong; between a chaos and nothing, than between a chaos and this beautiful frame of heaven and earth.”

William Guthrie patiently applies the covenant promises of Hebrews 8:10-12 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 to twenty-seven different doubts and fears. He represents God as doing this directly with the individual through the words of Scripture in the following dialogue. God makes a covenant with rich promises. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people…they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. He shows how these promises are to be embraced and depended on by faith alone, discarding all trust in our own resources. In this updated extract from an unpublished sermon, we find numerous doubts and objections graciously disarmed and laid aside, one by one.

1. How can I have mercy when I am an enemy to God by nature and the thoughts of my heart are only evil and wicked continually?

Answer. The Lord says, “I will make a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31) with you. Hold your peace; do not let that thought about being an enemy to me trouble you seeing that I purpose to bind a bond of friendship with you in my Son Christ.

2. Although God would make a thousand covenants with me, yet I am unable to keep (or fulfil) any condition the Covenant requires. But what conditions can I a sinful creature fulfil towards the Lord who is holy?

Answer. “I will make a new covenant” in which I promise to fulfil all that I require of you. I will put in you a new mind and a new heart (Hebrews 8:10), and I will bind my Son as surety that I will do this.

3. But how can I know I if I am one of those with whom God will enter into covenant? I know there is a people in covenant with God, but I doubt if I am one of them.

Answer. I will make the covenant “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:11), or, in other words, with the visible Church consisting of Jews and Gentiles (the partition wall being now taken away). Now you have been born into the Church and baptised, and so are already within the outward scope of this covenant.

4. I know that the Church is called the Israel of God. But what God promises is to the sincere and upright Israelite. I fear that I am only an Israelite outwardly in the letter and not in the spirit. There is nothing in me except what is to be found in all professing Christians who have merely been baptised.

Answer. My covenant shall be with those who have nothing of my law written in their inward parts. If you lack my law in your heart, I will put it there (Jeremiah 31:33). I will make you an Israelite, in whom there is no guile (John 1:47), and whose praise is not of men but of God (Romans 2:29).

5. Although God would put his law in my heart, yet I am blind and incapable of apprehending spiritual mysteries. No matter how long they were taught and explained to me, yet I would remain ignorant of them.

Answer. I will put my law in your inward parts (Jeremiah 31:33), as the apostle expounds it, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10).

6. But I find after everything only weak desires of knowledge in my mind. My love to God is very cold. My hatred of sin is very little or nothing. My heart is not affected towards heavenly things but is occupied with vain and sinful things. It is sometimes set on the world, and sometimes on my lusts and pleasures and those ways that lead to destruction and perdition.

Answer. I will put my laws in your mind and write it in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). If your heart is wicked, you will have a new heart. Your lawless heart will yield to the law, for you will have a loving heart, and love is the fulfilling of the law. Your blind mind and stony heart will be taken away, and a single and sincere heart will be given to you.

7. My heart is averse to God and godliness and inclined to all evil. If any godly motive arises in my heart, it does not abide. It is as though written on water, or on sand that is blown away with the wind. It is as the morning cloud, or as the early dew which soon vanishes away. (Hosea 13:3).

Answer. I will write my law in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). A written testimony is constant and enduring. As the law written in a book remains, so also when it is written in a renewed man’s heart.

8. But my heart is harder than the millstone, harder than the adamant so that the Word preached does not move me.

Answer. I will write my law in it (Hebrews 8:1). I will make it like a polished and prepared writing tablet so that the fingers of the Lord will make deep letters in it. Although it may not appear like this to you, yet love and obedience to the law will be seen by others. Sin, bit by bit, will be rubbed out and disappear, and the law of the Lord more and more clearly read.

9. These promises are to the believer and those who have new obedience begun in them. But I find little faith, repentance, or obedience in me. Indeed, I often doubt if any of those things are in me.

Answer. I will put my law in your mind and write it in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). Now, what is faith but receiving of the law into your mind and heart? If then, you are pleased to covenant with God and will say so, you will answer to Him that it is the chief desire of your heart to be reconciled, then be sure He will give you faith and repentance.

10. If I take hold of these promises, I know that I will be exposed to a thousand dangers because of many temptations.

Answer. “I will be their God” (Jeremiah 31:33). Now, if God is yours, what do you lack? Should this promise not satisfy your trembling heart? As long as God endures, you will endure and enjoy all that He is to his own.

11. I have no reason to doubt that God will do all that He says of Himself. My only doubt is that I will not get my part done to Him in an acceptable way and manner.

Answer. “They shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33), i.e., I will make you one of my people when I consecrate you to serve me and to be a diligent subject and careful honourer of me.

12. Although I were among God’s people, I would slip out again. I am afraid that I would not persevere, and so the bond would not continue.

Answer. You “shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33), i.e., you will remain my people, my special people, and none will be able to pluck you out of my hand. (John 10:29)

13. I wonder how this can be, how God can promise so much to me? I am so unworthy and have so many disqualifications and cannot give him a good reception. Will a king covenant with a beggar or draw up a contract with a poor, unprofitable person? Far less can God covenant with me.

Answer. “I will be their God,” (Jeremiah 31:33) i.e., of my own accord I am pleased to be so. It is not a covenant of works but a covenant of grace that I make, and it is made with the unworthy. If they were worthy I would bid them obey my law perfectly in their own strength; but now, although they are unworthy, yet I am pleased to be their God. And what have you to say against this which is my purpose and my pleasure?

14. What if a change of religion should come, heresy arises, and teachers from whom we have received the truth swerve and fail or fall away? What if teachers change their theme, and take out of our hands what once they have taught us? I even fear that I myself may become an apostate.

Answer. “They shall not teach… ” (Hebrews 8:11). If any teacher does not teach so, you will not be taught by him, but I will teach you myself. You will learn to lean on me and not on them. Although their teachers may be learned men and of great repute, yet (if they do not teach so) you will not acknowledge them. Although they are in the Church, they are not of the Church, they are apostates. But as for you, I promise to teach you myself, and you will receive no man’s doctrine except what I have delivered by the mouths of my prophets and apostles.

15. What if all true teachers were to be driven away by persecution. It would then be with me as in the days of the prophet Amos (8:13) when they wandered from sea to sea to seek the word of the Lord and did not find it? What if we are so dispersed by persecution so that we cannot meet together, and even the Bible taken out of our hands so that we cannot even read it?

Answer. “They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45). If I take away the means I will supply the lack of them myself. I will be a little sanctuary to you (see Ezekiel 11:16).

16. “I am only young,” says one. “I am unlearned,” says another. “I am a weak helpless woman,” says another, “and they may make me believe anything they please”. “I am poor,” says another, “and do not have the means that others have to obtain knowledge.”

Answer. “All shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11). It is the duty of all to learn to read; but, although you are unlearned, here is a promise that God will teach you as much of Himself as will save your soul.

17. I cannot attain to the knowledge which others possess, neither have I capacity to take in matters of so much consequence as are set down in Scripture.

Answer. “All shall know me,” that is, all shall come to the saving knowledge of the Lord Himself, your teacher and friend. Although your calling may be such as to make the attainment of learning impossible, although your capacity may be weak, and you lack means to receive instruction, although there are many things, of which you will still remain ignorant, you will know Him whom to know is eternal life.

18. But, when I consider my natural disposition, I fear that, although I were even now pardoned and cleansed, I would immediately defile myself again.

Answer. I will be merciful to your unrighteousness. (Hebrews 8:12). What else do you wish but mercy? If your nature is rebellious, know that the Maker and Surety of the Covenant is also your Advocate (1 John 2:1).

19. I would trust for grace not to sin wilfully for the time to come, but when I think of my past sins I am afraid and know not what to answer.

Answer. Your “sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12)

20. These things are all good. If I could be sure that they would be made good to me I would be joyful in spirit.

Answer. Four or five times “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts” is repeated in this Covenant. As if He had said, “I the Lord of hosts am Surety that whatever is promised will be fulfilled”. God’s curse on everyone who does not continue in doing the things of the law (Galatians 3:10) makes you afraid and disturbs your peace. Why does His saying in the gospel not restore your peace again, seeing you have His Word in the one case as well as in the other?

21. If I could remember that sweet promise I would be rich, for it satisfies me now. I can say nothing against it; but, when my adversaries assault me, I am afraid I will forget again.

Answer. The sun and moon, heaven and earth, are witnesses of the Covenant, and they shall never depart out of your sight. But, even, if you were blind, the earth under your feet would remind you of it, for this Covenant is as securely established as the earth.

22. But I am so changeable, I never remain one day in one condition. What if the Lord calls me away when I am in the worse case? How can I have any steadfastness?

Answer. The day and the night have their changes but not the ordinance of the day and of the night (Jeremiah 33:25). It is an article of the Covenant that the ordinance should remain sure. So, although you are changeable yet the Covenant made with you will not change, for the Covenant is not of you but of God. He says, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).

23. I am like Peter when he was ready to sink in the Sea of Galilee. Everything seems to terrify me. There are fightings within and fears without, and I have little or no steadfastness.

Answer. The Lord stills the sea when the waves arise. Can he not quiet the tempest of the heart?

24. How is it possible for a saving work to go on steadfastly in the heart of one so unworthy and so fickle?

Answer. The Lord gives the sun for a light by day and has made all things out of nothing. He can as easily complete the work of your salvation. Is anything too hard for the Lord?

25. But I see the whole Church of God is harassed, what then can I expect who am but one? When the ship wherein I sail is ready to perish what shall become of me?

Answer. “The seed of Israel shall not cease being a nation before me for ever” (Jeremiah 31:36). Sun and moon, heaven and earth, shall all soon perish, but the Lord will reserve a people to himself.

26. There are so many against the Church and so few on her side. The King of Babylon has a hundred provinces, and how shall Judah and Benjamin, a parcel of poor, naked captives, deliver themselves? The king who should be a defender of the faith is its persecutor.

Answer. The height of the heavens and the depth of the earth is also unsearchable to you, but not to God. Leave the fulfilment of what He has promised to God Himself, and He will find a way for it. Is His hand shortened that He cannot save, or has He no power to redeem?

27. Well, then, I see by all these promises I will have an easy life. I may be secure and indifferent. It may encourage sin in me to tell me of a Covenant by which any person that pleases may be saved.

Answer. There is nothing so good but men may abuse it. Grace is grace, although some may turn it into licence. This Covenant is made with the true Israel of God. If any, then, will abuse this doctrine let them answer for it. If they will draw near to the devil because God has drawn so near to them, or be more wicked because God has been so good, let them see to it. If any will be more licentious because God is ready to forgive, and allow that which should be an anchor of the soul to draw them away from God, let them know that their punishment will be all the more dreadful at the last.

It is a sure token of a damned soul when it grows the more wicked the more it hears of grace. But the more the sons of Jacob hear of grace, the more they will wrestle for it. The more loving and gracious a father is to his children, the more ready they will be to obey him. But if a child is more rebellious because the father is good, he deserves to be put out of the door. If you are a good child, you will out of love pursue after God when he pursues after you with kindness. But if you will abuse this doctrine against God and your own soul, and will harden your heart because God has spoken good things to you, you will draw swift destruction on yourself.

And now if anyone says, “let the minister preach as he pleases, and we will do as we please”, I have only to say that the benefit of our preaching is to another and not to him, and that the more he hears of such preaching the worse it will be for himself. Let him, however, rather recall his words and return now to God. For it is God Himself who says, “Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:3).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

William Guthrie wrote a famous book to help doubting and seeking souls. It describes in a clear and attractive style what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. This book is all about Christ and how we must embrace Him by faith on the basis of the promises in the Word. 

In the first part, he looks at how someone is drawn to Christ, what the evidences are of true saving grace, and the difference between a true Christian and a hypocrite. In the second part he describes how to ‘close’ with Christ, and deals with various objections, difficulties, and doubts.

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Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?

Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?

Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
21 Aug, 2020

Many things can intrude to interrupt fellowship with God. This is not so much the necessary aspects of this life that we cannot avoid. One great test is whether our thoughts return to God as soon as we are free from such absorbing activities. Whatever distracts and prevents us from experiencing true fellowship with God must cause us sorrow. Such fellowship is indeed what we were made for. Fellowship or communion with God arises from spiritual union with Christ. Without that as the foundation there can never of course be any true fellowship with God. True fellowship is the very purpose of union with Christ. That union can never be broken or hindered but our communion with Christ can be affected. There is no ebb and flow in union with Christ but there may be in our communion with Him. The fact that it will always be imperfect in an imperfect world should not discourage us from seeking closer fellowship but rather stir us up. There is in fact far more to this question than merely our own failure to maintain fellowship with God.

Andrew Gray died at the young age of 23 after a very brief ministry. Despite his youth he had an extraordinary spiritual maturity and understanding of Christian experience. This is how he defines fellowship with God:

“Communion with God is the soul of Christ dwelling in the soul of a Christian by faith, and the soul of a Christian dwelling in the soul of Christ by love”

Gray also says much about why there is not constant fellowship with God in this life. Never-interrupted fellowship and communion with God is a fruit of the land above. There is no constancy in our fellowship with God while we are here below, because of the corruption within us. Cast your eyes up to heaven and long for the day when these shadows will be over. You will then enjoy perfect and full communion with God (Isaiah 30:26). There are various reasons why fellowship with God is interrupted in this life. The following is an updated extract of Andrew Gray’s answers to the question: Why is there no constant fellowship with God in this life? 

1. To Make Us Long for Eternity

His people may be stirred up to long for that endless and blessed life. Then time will be swallowed up by eternity and our corruption will put on incorruption, and this vile body of ours will be raised a glorious body. Then eternity will be spent without one moment of interruption. Comfort yourselves in the hope and expectation of the approach of that blessed day, when you will enjoy complete and full communion and fellowship with God. You will be admitted to eat of the apples of the tree of life that grows in the midst of the paradise of God, of which, once you eat, certainly you will never hunger any more. If we did enjoy one moment of real fellowship and communion with God, surely we should be ready to cry out, “It is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles” (Luke 9:33). Did you ever enjoy fellowship with God so much that you were constrained to long for the day when you will enjoy full fellowship with Him without any interruption? But Christ draws a veil to cover His own face, so that we cannot enjoy Him fully so that we may long for the day when we will see Him as He is, without any veil.

2. To Stir Up Grace Within Us

There is a second reason why God orders it so that the Christian does not have constant fellowship with God here. Some graces in the Christian appear most eminently when they are under such a condition of not knowing where to find Christ. These graces are the grace of faith, the grace of patience, and the grace of love. These three graces would not appear so well if it were not so. We say that stars appear most in darkness. So these graces appear most when the soul is feels the lack of Christ’s presence, not knowing where to find Christ. In this situation, faith is put into activity. It appears most when it lacks light. The graces of patience and love are also put into activity, and shine most brightly in such a sad experience.

3. To Make Us Value Fellowship with God

God orders it in this way so that we may value and esteem communion with Him more highly. The beloved withdrew Himself from the bride so that
she would learn to place a greater value on His presence (Song 5:6).

4. To SHOW that Fellowship is By Free Grace Alone

We must be strongly convinced that is only His free grace toward us that bestows these things on us. Strive more to know that all you receive is from His free love, not for any merit and deserving in us. We have nothing to commend ourselves of but infirmities, but be assured that He with whom we have to do is God, not man.

5. To Show that Nothing in This Life Can Replace Fellowship with God

Everything here below (even the graces of the Spirit) is not sufficient to satisfy the Christian when Christ is away. The bride had the graces of love, faith, seeking, and patience, and much of the grace of hope; yet, there is a He whom she misses (Song 3:1).

Many may sit down in shame and cover their faces, because they do not see the insufficiency of the things of this present world. They are not much in pursuit after Jesus Christ. Most of our pursuit is only after the things of this present life. They do not know what it is to miss Christ, because they never knew what it was to have His presence.

But seeing much of the excellence that is in Jesus Christ makes Christians undervalue all earthly things and all things other than Christ. The excellence that is in Christ Jesus makes the Christian not rest on the graces of the Spirit (though they put a high estimation on them) until they obtain Christ. All our desires ought to be set on He who is uncreated, not on created things. This is clear in Mary’s practice. There is a Him whom she misses and was pursuing after: “they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:13). Oh, what will satisfy a Christian’s love, if it is real in his heart? Nothing will satisfy but Jesus Christ, who is the desire of nations, and the bright and morning star.

6. To Show Us Those Who Truly Seek Christ

The evidence of real seeker of God is seen in their feelings when they miss Christ’s fellowship and company. A real seeker of God can give a direct account of Christ’s comings and goings. They can distinguish well between His absence and presence.

7. To Show Us the Perfections of Christ

If we undervalue enjoying Christ it is because we lack faith in the precious, endless and unsearchable perfections that found in Christ. If you knew how glorious how beautiful He is surely you would fall in love with Him and esteem fellowship with Christ more highly. He is lovely and desirable object, altogether lovely and all true spiritual desires are in Him (Song 5:16). Angels and men could not describe such a glorious One but we must lament that He is unknown to many of us. One reason why many have sought and yet have not been heard is because they undervalued the precious manifestations of His grace towards them.

8. To Show Us that God is Sovereign

A Christian may seek things from God and yet not get an answer to their prayers. We will not give the reasons why it is so; we only say that God is wise and righteous in all His doings and knows the reasons for His actions. We conclude that He does all things well (Mark 7:37). Surely, when we will be about to pass over the lintels of the doors of everlasting eternity, when we will be standing on the farthest line of time, ready to step into eternity, we will be constrained to leave on record that He does all things well. We will then be deeply convinced of the fact that He has done all things well.

“All imaginable delight is…to enjoy God. All misery is…to be separated from God” – Andrew Gray

CONCLUSION

John Owen stresses that fellowship with God involves receiving His grace in His appointed ways and giving to God what He requires.

Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him

We can and must cultivate fellowship with Christ. We can grow and deepen in that relationship despite the fact that the blessedness is interrupted in this life. We meet with Him in the Word and prayer and seek to please Him in all things.  Any relationship requires commitment and effort, how much more the most important of them all?

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14 Rules for the Christian Life

14 Rules for the Christian Life

14 Rules for the Christian Life
James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) was originally from the Black Isle, Ross-shire. He was imprisoned on the Bass Rock for ‘illegal’ field preaching but survived the times of persecution.
14 Aug, 2020

Life needs order rather than chaos; this is what attracted the millions who embraced Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. The rules Peterson presents do not, of course, arise from Scripture, grace in Christ and love to God. But their popularity revealed a widespread acknowledgement that life needs direction and structure; even a degree of self-denial. We have a degree of natural resistance against the idea of rules, even though we need them for order and safety. Perhaps it seems strange, therefore to speak of rules concerning the Christian life. Yet this is what the apostle Paul does (Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). They do not earn salvation but rather help us make spiritual progress. Scripture gives key principles and guidelines for healthy Christian living and progress and we need to give careful consideration to them.

James Fraser of Brea drew together some practical guidelines from Scripture for making progress in the Christian life. In no way are they meant as rules for earning salvation. Neither do they direct us to depend on our own resources and efforts. Fraser exalted Christ in his preaching as the only One who can save, keep and give spiritual strength to the soul. He had come in his own experience “to live in and to depend wholly on Christ for strength, justification, and comfort”.

But he discerned also that we need to walk wisely in the most God-glorifying way possible. He, therefore, gives the following rules to help us make progress in the Christian life. The Lord’s people walk by rules (he says); their life is fittingly compared to a race (Hebrews 12:1). I have therefore thought on some general rules to be observed as the foundation of all true religion.

1. Always Remember Your Highest Happiness

Strive to know and find out in what a person’s chief happiness consists and have an objective to follow. Until a person pursues the right purpose, they can never have the right activity and progress. Fix your heart in believing this: the enjoyment of God in Christ is your happiness. Make your heart to embrace and accept this. Sadly, most of us walk randomly, like beasts, without a purpose. This is the foundation of everything, that it is eternal life to know God and Jesus whom He has sent (John 17:3).

2. Always Have a Firm Resolution

It will contribute greatly to our progress in the way to be armed with a strong and deliberate resolution to walk in God’s ways (Psalm 119:106). It will determine our course. Consider and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of religion, and then thoroughly determine and bind yourself with the strongest engagements. Be affirmative, not indecisive.

3. Always Have the Right View of God

Strive to have and keep right, sound, orthodox, and charitable thoughts of God. Fix a lovely impression of God in your heart, such as Exodus 34:6-7. Fix your faith in God’s attributes—study this most as it is eternal life to know God (John 17:3). How will we call on God whom we have not known (Romans 10:14)? Any worship that is not directed to the true God is superstitious and unprofitable.

4. Always Seek to Do Your Duty

Always be in your duty. Runners must keep in the way. Never be idle. As there is an end, so there is a way. Never stop and stand still (Job 17:9). Lay this foundation, always be in duty; never leave it, whatever it is. You are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). We lose much by idleness. We are engaged in so great a work that we must not allow ourselves to grow cold in it. Our interruptions do us much harm. Little by little at last becomes a lot and makes good progress.

5. Always Be Guided by Scripture

Walk by faith and not by your own impressions. Make the Scriptures your rule: think, love, judge, and do according to this. Examine all things. Just as a person has an end and a way in travelling so they have a rule to direct them. This is the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 5:7; Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6:1-2). Reject all other guides but this.

6. Always Trust God

Always believe and never despair. Keep your heart up. Whatever comes do not lose your confidence. Never sink by discouragement, hope always steadfastly to the end. “Trust in Him at all times” (Psalm 62:8).  Hold fast your confidence steadfast to the end (Hebrews 3:6). There is never any grounds for despair—the grounds for faith always remains. Therefore, never lose your hope (Lamentations 3:26; Isaiah 26:4).

7. Always Live Near the Lord

Always live near the Lord. This is expressed in Scripture by walking with God and setting Him always at our right hand. Let your heart, thoughts, and affections always retain some impressions of His presence; fear always. Keep yourselves in the love of God. If you have departed from Him, return again; if you have returned, keep with Him. Everything good is with God, and everything not good comes from His absence and distance. “Woe also to them when I depart from them!” (Hosea 9:12). By all means, do not lose your guide; He is “all things,” life, light, strength, and health. You cannot be without this, wait on Him continually (Hosea 12:6; Psalm 16:8; Genesis 17:1) You can do nothing without Him (John 15:4-6). It is good for you to draw near to God (Psalm 73:28). 

8. Always Submit to God in Humility

Always be humble; never murmur. Always be abased in your own eyes. Always justify the Lord. Submit to all of His dealings in Providence. Never let your spirit be embittered or angered. Walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). 

9. Always Be Self-Controlled

Keep your spirit sober and in health. If you are sick and diseased you cannot travel. Do not be drunk with the “cares of this world,” (Luke 12:45). Do not be lifted up with pride or passion. Those whose spirit is lifted up within them are not right. Keep your spirit in an equal balance; “be sober” (1 Peter 5:8). Do not allow your passions to run to excess. Be sober in weeping, rejoicing, speaking, doing, fearing (Philippians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 7:30). Always be unshaken in having mastery over yourself.

10. Always Beware of Excess

Strive to avoid excess in food, drink, sleep, and recreation. Shun excess because it leaves us spiritually indisposed. The classical philosophers called being moderate the groundwork and foundation of all virtue (2 Peter 1:5-6; Proverbs 23:20). Runners must observe a careful diet and be restrained (1 Corinthians 9:25). Carousing is forbidden (Luke 21:34).

11. Always Beware of Worldly-Mindedness

Beware of worldly-mindedness and being too much engaged in the world (2 Timothy 2:4). Have as little commotion in the world as you can. Do not take charge of any more than you can master. If trapped, flee as a bird out of the snare and put your house in order. You must especially put the world out of your heart.  No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

12. Always Be Watchful

Be watchful. Beware of a spirit of slumber,  always stand on guard. “Watch in all things,” as the apostle commanded Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).  Always be suspicious of danger (Proverbs 28:14). Never become secure or careless. Remember your adversary is still busy and his snares are continually set. “Be vigilant” therefore (1 Peter 5:8). Always keep your eyes open. Look at and ponder everything. Do not be rash or hasty.

13. Always Use the Means of Grace Diligently

Be diligent in the means of grace, both in public and private; e.g. in listening to sermons, meditation, Christian conversation, spontaneous prayer, reading.  You must especially be diligent in private prayer, a person cannot be a Christian without this. You cannot work or labour unless you eat (Proverbs 10:4).

14. Always View Sin as the Greatest Evil

Look on sin as the greatest evil, and as something that is never to be done. Whatever you do, shun sin and shun temptations to evil, as well as evil itself.

Conclusion

These guidelines are succinct and contain much wisdom and reflection on Scripture and Christian experience. They show an understanding of key helps and hindrances in making spiritual progress. We will do well to keep them uppermost in our thinking as we seek to live out the gospel and devotion to Christ. 

 

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How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?

How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?

How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
6 Aug, 2020

The recent public burning of a stack of Bibles in Portland, Oregon indicates an increased degree of hostility to Christianity. Cultural change is accelerating. Surveys show that the majority of those who want to own the Bible’s authority consider their beliefs are now in conflict with mainstream culture. We are also all too conscious of ways in which the Christian voice and Christian values are being forced out of the public square. Christians may be tempted to respond by retreating; whether that is diluting their message or seeking to hide. Yet we still need to be salt and light in such a culture and to hold out the gospel of hope. How do we do this? What does it mean for our everyday lives? What hope can encourage us in such times?

Living in such a culture is not new for Christians, it is often the norm. It was the context of the New Testament. In Philippians 1:27-28, Paul counsels Christians not to be intimidated into withdrawing. They should not become less steadfast or bold in their zeal for truth. They should not be divided but stand fast together for the gospel. Rather they should live lives that adorn the gospel and testify courageously to the truth of God’s Word.

Peter also speaks to Christians about how they could suffer for doing good (1 Peter 2:20) be exposed to abuse and insult (1 Peter 4:4 and 14). They must respond by living such lives that glorify God and may even bring others to glorify Him. In this updated extract Alexander Nisbet shows how 1 Peter 2:12 can encourage us to live for Christ in a hostile culture. Peter stresses the importance of holiness in our outward living despite those who may want to slander them as evildoers. This may not just silence them but even result in their conversion, and consequently bring much glory to God.

1. The More Holy Our Life, the More Real Our Profession

To the extent that the power of sin is weakened in the heart, there will be beauty and loveliness in our outward life. The apostle has said they must abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11) and now speaks of honourable conduct before the Gentiles. Christians proclaim the praises of God by this more than by a fair profession or good expressions.

Such honest or honourable conduct is made beautiful and lovely (as the word literally means) to on-lookers. It is made beautiful by the right ordering of all aspects of it in duties to God and others (Psalm 50:23). It is also beautified by showing wisdom and meekness (James 3:13) in these things but especially by faithfully discharging the duties of our particular calling and relations (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; Titus 2:9-10). The apostle brings in this as a means to attain to manifest the praises of God as he had urged previously (1 Peter 2:9).

2. The More Unholy Society Becomes, the More Holy Believers Must Become

The more wicked the society with whom believers must interact, the more should they be stirred up to the pursuit of honourable conduct either to win or convict others. The apostle urges these Christian Hebrews living among heathen people to pursue holiness of life. Sadly, many nominal Christians resemble such Gentiles in living without respect to the law of God (Romans 2:14) and pursuing strongly their idols like heathen people (1 Corinthians 12:2). They are as unacquainted with the privileges and duties of the covenant of grace as heathens are (Ephesians 2:11). They are also like the heathen often ready to persecute all that do run to excess in the way that they do (1 Peter 4:3).

4. The World is Unworthy of Those It Thinks Unworthy of Living In It

Those of whom the world is unworthy are often characterised to the world as unworthy to live in it, by those whose dishonourable ways are reproved by their honourable conduct. Although these believers are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood etc they are spoken against as evildoers.

Those that are without God in the world are often enemies to and slanderers of those who will not run to the same excess with them. This is how the Gentiles are described here.

5. Untrue Slander is Best Silenced by Unblemished Living

Honourable conduct is the best way for Christians to stop the mouths of slanderers. Without this any other means will prove ineffectual for maintaining their reputation. The apostle prescribed a holy walk to Christians as a means to put their very enemies to activity inconsistent with slandering the godly. Although they speak against them as evildoers they may by beholding their good works, glorify God.

6. Unblemished Living May Convert the Unregenerate

The Word accompanied by the powerful blessing of God is the principal means of converting sinners (Romans 10: 15 and 17). The Lord may, however, make use of the very conduct and visible actions of His people to draw wicked men to fall in love with God’s ways. Such conduct includes integrity in their dealings (even with their enemies), patiently bearing wrongs and continuing to express love and respect to their enemies despite such treatment.

Wicked men may be brought to give Him the glory that He ever sent and blessed to them such a means for reclaiming them from the way of perdition. It is God’s work to visit them in His power (Psalm 110:3) and love to make the change (Ezekiel 16:8). In order for such a change there must be a “day of visitation”, a visitation in special mercy that brings sinners to glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). Our chief motive is not glory to ourselves but glory to God (1 Samuel 2:30), that others might be moved to glorify God in the day of visitation.

7. Undiminished Hope for the Greatest Enemies

The Lord’s children should lose neither hope nor endeavours of winning to Christ the greatest enemies (whether to God or themselves) among whom they live. They have hope when they consider how soon and how easily the Lord can change them. The apostle urges them to consider those who were speaking against them as evildoers as such whom God might visit in mercy. They might even be instrumental in their conversion.

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Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
31 Jul, 2020

Covid-19 has disrupted everything, including (for some people) their engagement with Scripture. According to a recent study in the USA, the first half of 2020 witnessed a fall in Scripture engagement. The largest changes were in the groups classified as “Bible Centered” and “Bible Engaged”. Another new poll indicated that many found it challenging to understand the Scriptures on their own. Whether or not these surveys indicate a widespread reality we must acknowledge that we need constant help to engage with Scripture. This is not merely a matter of discovering a new method, technique or tool. One of the reflections on the survey results is that Christians need to be reminded about why they need to regularly engage with the Bible. But it may be that this should include a reset in the attitudes we bring to Scripture and how we approach it.

The Larger Catechism gives some clear biblical guidance about the right way to approach Scripture in reading it. It shows how to read it so that we may understand it and get the most spiritual benefit. This article summarises and abridges the comments by Thomas Ridgeley and J G Vos on the following question in the Larger Catechism.

Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A. The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God; and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey, the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

1. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE CHARACTER OF SCRIPTURE

We must read the scriptures with a high and reverent esteem of them and a firm persuasion that they are the Word of God. (Psalm 19:10; Nehemiah 8:3-10; Exodus 24:7; 2 Chronicles 34:27; Isaiah 66:2).

As we read Scripture, we see the glory of the perfection of God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness. Its unerring wisdom and infallible truth bring its own authority. We ought to approach Scripture with a different attitude to any other book. Scripture is the only source of saving truth; it reveals sin and the only way of obtaining forgiveness. Other books may draw from its teaching, but the Bible alone is the standard by which all other books are to be judged. It completely equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Those who speak of Scripture in the page of the Bible itself do so with a high and reverent esteem of it (Psalm 119:97; Psalm 19:16). We must read the Scriptures with a firm faith that they are the very Word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).

2. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE

We must, in reading the word of God, be conscious that God alone can enable us to understand it (Luke 24:45; 2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

We will get no benefit from reading the Scriptures without understanding them. But we need divine help for this because our understanding is darkened and clouded by sin by nature (Romans 1:21, 28; 1 Corinthians 2:14). The Holy Spirit must enlighten our understanding at the new birth. Yet we also need His work of opening and illuminating our minds to understand the Bible (Luke 24:45). All spiritual wisdom comes from God and therefore we are dependent on Him in this also (Ephesians 1:18). We need His blessing to open the wonders of the Word in all their beauty and glory to us (Psalm 119:18). We may have the highest intellect and powers of reason but still be strangers to the mind of God in His Word.

3. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WILL IN SCRIPTURE

We must read the Word of God with a real desire to know, believe, and obey His will contained in it (Deuteronomy 17:19-20).

If we do not read the Bible with the right motive of submission to God’s will, we will find fault with it and be ready to cast aside what it teaches if it does not suit us. Approaching it merely as literature or history fails to handle it as it is meant to be handled. It must first serve a practical purpose, we must apply it to ourselves personally in relation to our own soul. We must read the word of God with a desire to have our faith established and any doubts about its truths removed. We ought to desire, not only to believe but also give constant and cheerful obedience to everything that God requires of us in it.

4. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DILIGENTLY

We must be diligent in reading the Word of God (Acts 17:11).

The Bible is extensive and contains many things that need careful study. If we do not give ourselves to it, we will not have an adequate understanding of it. Anything worthwhile demands constant effort. We are meant to progress from milk to strong meat and not remain children in our understanding (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:14).

5. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD CAREFULLY

We must give attention to the matter and scope of the Scriptures in reading them (Acts 8:30,34; Luke 10:26-28).

We must read the matter or content of Scripture carefully, noting important things such as who it is that is speaking, the occasion and circumstances. The context must be respected so that we note how the words relate to and connect with statements before and after and the chapter as a whole. We must also consider the overall scope or purpose of what is written in terms of the purpose of a book of the Bible as a whole and goal of the whole Scriptures themselves.

We must not remove verses from their context, or we will not understand their true import. When we read “there is no God” in a verse we must note that the speaker is “the fool” (Psalm 53:1). We must also note that the verse goes on to say that those who say such things in their heart are declared to be “corrupt” and to “have done abominable iniquity”. Similarly, we read that a man will give all he has for his life (Job 2:4). Quoted out of its context it would be very misleading but when we realise that Satan, the father of lies has said it we can discern its true import.

6. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DEEPLY

Our reading of the Word of God ought to be accompanied with meditation (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119:97).

Meditation means thinking carefully, seriously and deeply for a time. It is a focussed effort and application to the words of Scripture. It is necessary because we cannot expect to gain the real riches of the truth of Scripture by a hasty skimming of its surface. It is true in Bible study as in all other fields that serious thinking requires time. The Bible is not a modern supermarket with its wares all packaged and arranged on shelves ready to be checked out with the least possible effort. The Bible is a gold mine that has to be methodically and patiently worked if we are to gain possession of its treasures. The haste and complexity of modern life, with its many activities which make demands on people’s time, have resulted in many Christians who have only an elementary and superficial knowledge of the Bible, and who live from one year to the next with virtually no increase in their understanding of Bible truth. There is no shortcut to success in Bible study: meditation is needed, and that takes time.

Our thoughts should be wholly taken up with its subject-matter; we ought to apply the greatest intense earnestness in seeking to know things that are of the highest importance. As we do so our profiting from this will appear to ourselves and others (1 Timothy 4:15). Meditation is not considering Scripture with a coldly intellectual approach, rather it is a spiritual prayerful activity that engages fully with its truth so that it warms our affections and hearts. For more on this see
Opening the Door from Our Head to Our Hearts  and You Are What You Digest (Spiritually). 

7. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PERSONALLY

We must read the Word with application, applying it to our own selves by seeking to discern its bearing on our own lives and needs (2 Chronicles 34:21).

The Bible is not a merely theoretical or abstract message, but a personal message suited to the needs of those who read it. A person might study geometry or astronomy out of sheer intellectual interest and curiosity, without any intention to make any practical application of these sciences to his own life. But to study the Bible in such a way would be to miss the real meaning and importance of the Bible. Unless we apply its teachings to ourselves personally, our Bible study not only will do us no good but will actually add to our guilt at the Judgment Day.

8. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD SUBMISSIVELY

We must read the Word with self-denial. This means being willing to give up our own opinions, preferences and prejudices and to accept and obey the will of God instead of our own ideas (Proverbs 3:5; Deuteronomy 33:3).

We must deny ourselves by giving up our own opinions, preferences and special ideas and to accept and accept the teaching of the Word of God as our standard for faith and life. We are to accept all the teaching of the Bible not merely those which commend themselves to us as reasonable, desirable, or helpful. We are to deny ourselves by surrendering our own reason as our supreme standard of truth and become as little children, accepting God’s Word on God’s authority. All the contrary reasonings our carnal minds are prone to suggest against the subject-matter of divine revelation are to be laid aside. If we are resolved to believe nothing but what we can comprehend, we ought to consider that the gospel contains unsearchable mysteries, that surpass finite wisdom. We must, therefore, be content to acknowledge that we know but in part.

We must pay deference to the wisdom of God that eminently appears in everything He has revealed to us in His Word. We must adore the divine perfections displayed in it and maintain a humble sense of the imperfection of our own knowledge. It is not that reason is useless in studying Scripture rather we must desire that it may be sanctified and inclined to receive whatever God is pleased to impart. We are also to exercise the grace of self-denial, with respect to the obstinacy of our wills. By nature, they are not inclined to approve of and yield obedience to the law of God. We need to be entirely satisfied with everything He commands in His word, as holy, just, and good.

9. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PRAYERFULLY

The word of God must be read with fervent prayer (Proverbs 2:1-6; Psalm 119:18; Nehemiah 7:6,8).

If we lack wisdom, we should pray to receive it (James 1:5). As we have seen, a real understanding of the Bible is dependent on the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. It follows that we must pray for the continuance and increase of this illuminating work in our hearts and minds. Profiting from Scripture is the gift of God and therefore we are to humbly pray to Him for it. There are many things in His Word that are hard to understand; therefore, we ought to pray for help whenever we take the scriptures into our hands. We may humbly acknowledge the weakness and the blindness of our minds, which makes it necessary for us to desire to be instructed by Him, in the way of truth.

The Word is to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths therefore we seek His help that it may be so lest we walk in darkness. We may also plead that our Lord Jesus is revealed to His people as the prophet of His church, therefore we seek that He will lead us by His Spirit into His truth. We may also plead the impossibility of our attaining the knowledge of divine things, without His assistance.

Prayer is not a shortcut that avoids the need to study the Word diligently and carefully, it is not a substitute for that. Rather we are to pray that the Holy Spirit would bless our diligent use of the best available helps and guide us into the real truth.

CONCLUSION

We need to engage with Scripture in the right spirit with a desire to know the mind and will of God in it. Any prejudices which would hinder us from receiving any benefit from it should be discarded and we must exercise those graces that the nature and importance of the duty requires. We ought to depend upon God by faith and prayer so that we may come to know the divine truths contained in His Word.

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Summer 2020 Reading

Summer 2020 Reading

Summer 2020 Reading
Matthew Vogan

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

They begin from a starting out level of reading and progress through books that help you explore further before we reach the more advanced level.

1. Master Robert Bruce

What happened between the first and second Reformations in Scotland? One great way of answering that question is to get into this biography of a key individual who came after John Knox. 

Robert Bruce needed a steely resolution to withstand conflict and persecution. His penetrating preaching was blessed by God in a time of revival that prepared the way for the Second Reformation. Sadly, Bruce died not long before the time of the Covenant. ‘No man’, said John Livingstone, ‘since the apostles’ time spake with such power’.

D. C . Macnicol tells a gripping story of a tumultous life. Master Robert Bruce, a man whose soul and conscience were wholly mastered by God. 

2. Spiritual Rest During Trials

The afflictions of the people of God may be fierce, like the scorching sun. Sometimes they feel faint under these trials, seeking relief wherever they can. Yet Christ has provided shade for his afflicted flock to find rest. In the midst of their trials they must avoid finding rest anywhere other than in him.

This book contains a very spiritual and attractive exposition of this theme – a sermon on Song of Solomon chapter 1, verse 7. It continues to offer great encouragement to the people of God.

Hugh MacKail was a godly young man who was going to suffer for preaching this very message. He would have to put it into practice. An introduction explains the remarkable context of MacKail’s sermon and life. The book also contains his final testimony, written after torture and before his martyrdom.

3. Our Faith: Understanding Scripture with the Westminster Confession

All believers seek to interpret the Bible. But too often our personal understanding can be fuzzy and patchy. We don’t see how truths relate to each other and we struggle to articulate them. The Westminster Confession of Faith has helped many generations across the world to have a clear and orderly understanding of biblical truth. It helps us to share our faith together and respond with appropriate worship.

Our Faith is a straightforward resource that enables everyone to do this by removing difficulties and providing helpful explanations. It has a section that explains simply the meaning of the relevant paragraph of the Confesson. A glossary defines difficult words. There is also a summary explanation of why the Scripture references listed are relevant. There are also questions with outline answers to check your understanding. It is well suited for personal or group study and especially for getting to grips with the Confession if you have not studied it carefully before.

 

4. Conflicts between Doubt and Assurance

Bessie Clarkson is a troubled woman, her doubts about her own salvation are so severe that she seems to resist all spiritual help. Can she find hope in the midst of seeming despair? This account is both touching and harrowing as we follow her dialogue with her minister William Livingstone.
This godly man was the father of John Livingstone. He seeks to faithfully counsel a person who despairs of assurance in a way that seems virtually irrecoverable. Her words demonstrate what conflicts a soul may endure and how we dare not treat such matters lightly.
The touching account of his conversations with her shows how a faithful spiritual counsellor may deal tenderly with such a difficult situation. As William Livingstone concludes, believers must labour to have a lively and effectual faith, in the depth of our soul.

5. SELECT PRACTICAL WRITINGS OF ROBERT TRAILL

Robert Traill knew the leading Covenanters well. The son of a persecuted minister, he likewise suffered, being imprisoned on the Bass Rock. His ministry was largely in England, however, and he outlived the period of persecution.

This volume is a good introduction to his writings which have been commended for the “zeal, the sincerity, and fervent piety” that pervade them. There is a simple yet powerful clarity in the way that he opens up the Scriptures.

Strive for the knowledge of him. It is the ignorance of God that is the most universal cause of all the sin and misery in the world, and in the church.

6. The Works of Robert TrailL

This reprint of the Works of Robert Traill also includes ten additional sermons not in previous editions. The writings of Traill have proved constantly popular. John Howie said, “The simplicity and evangelical strain of the works of Mr. Traill have been savoury to many, and will ever be so, while religion and Scripture doctrine are in request.” He wrote a clear defence of the doctrine of justification intending “plainly and briefly, to give some information to ordinary plain people”. He expounds the nature of prayer and the throne of grace in thirteen sermons. Equally rich are sixteen sermons on John 17:24 that deal with Christ’s prayer and His desires for His people.

I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ— of his divine person; of his divine office; of his divine righteousness; and of his divine Spirit. I know no true ministers of Christ, but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in his saving fulness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men; no true Christian, but one united to Christ by faith, and abiding in him by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauties of gospel-holiness.

7. The Divine Right of Church Government 

Church government may be studiously neglected by many today but it is still an important subject. This volume was written by those who were prominent in the Westminster Assembly and their friends to explain clearly how Christ’s Church is to be governed. The result is a carefully reasoned volume that is still unsurpassed.

Part 1 is worth the price of the book itself in establishing the general principle of how we know whether something has divine authority.  Part 2 takes up what form of church government is established by Scripture to be of divine right. It also helps define the limits of civil government jurisdiction in relation to the church.

In The Church of Christ, James Bannerman said this “work contains an extremely able, thorough, and satisfactory discussion of most of the points relating to the nature of Church government as a Divine institution, and to the power or authority of the Church, its seat and exercise.”

 

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10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
24 Jul, 2020

People have been offering lessons to learn from the start of the coronavirus crisis. They range from social, public health and economic concerns to personal life lessons. With the benefit of hindsight some query how it has been managed. Debate about whether these lessons will be learned is likely to be ongoing. What about the spiritual lessons we ought to take from this crisis? How have we responded and how ought we to have responded? It’s not over yet of course, and so we still need to apply these ten lessons amongst others.

We can learn from those in the past who have reflected on the spiritual lessons we need at such a time. Thomas Brooks wrote a book during the plague year in London called The Privy [Secret] Key to Heaven. In a lengthy introduction he covers twenty special lessons that we need to learn.

The first ten relate to an application of Micah 6:9. He counsels us to cling close to God in affliction. We must acknowledge God’s sovereign role and voice in it. We must also humble ourselves in response to such an event and engage in sincere repentance. We will look at the last ten in this updated excerpt.

1. Do Not Be Discouraged in Affliction

Do not be discouraged under the rod of affliction (Jeremiah 27:13; 2 Samuel 24:10,17; Hebrews 12:5) because:

  • it is a rod in a Father’s hand
  • God will do much good by the rod
  • you could not have been without the rod

This affliction is not according to the greatness of God’s anger, nor according to the greatness of His power, nor according to the strictness of his justice, nor according to the demerits of your sins, nor according to the malicious desires of Satan. It is not according to the designs, plots, and contrivances of wicked and unreasonable men. It is not according to the extensiveness of your fears—for you have feared worse things than you feel. Nor is it according to that sharp rod which has been upon the primitive saints, nor according to that sharp rod which many thousands of the precious sons and daughters of Zion are under in other parts of the world. Therefore do not faint under the rod, do not be discouraged under the rod.

By fainting under the rod, you will gratify Satan, reproach religion and render yourselves unable to serve. You will make work for future repentance. Do not therefore faint under the rod. 

2. Wait for God’s Deliverance from Affliction

You must be patient and quiet under the rod of affliction until the Lord will either give you a gracious, or a glorious, deliverance from it (2 Chronicles 32:25-26; Leviticus 26:40-42; Micah 7:9; Lamentations 3:30). What is the rod and the raging pestilence compared to the horrors of conscience and  flames of hell, or everlasting separation from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)? Put your mouths in the dust therefore, and be silent before the Lord.  

3. Glorify God in Affliction

Fully justify the Lord and think and well of Him under the rod of affliction. Study these Scriptures (Psalm 119:75,137; Nehemiah 9:33; Ezra 9:13; Lamentations 1:3,5,7-8,10; Lamentations 4:15,18; Daniel 9:12,14; 2 Kings 20:16-19; Jeremiah 12:1-2; Psalm 119:17-22; Psalm 22:1-3; Psalm 97:2).

4. Personal Reformation in Affliction

When the rod smarts, and the pestilence rages—God expects that everyone should repent and turn from the evil of their doings (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). This verse is saying “I will remove the judgments that are on the land, and I will confer on my reforming people all those favours and blessings that they need.” Study these Scriptures, (Ezra 10:14,19; 2 Chronicles 30:8-9; and 2 Chronicles 29:8,10,15-16).

5. Find Refuge in God in Affliction

Make God your habitation, shelter, and refuge. Ponder these Scriptures seriously, (Psalm 91:2,9-10; Psalm 90:1; Psalm 71:3; Psalm 57:1). Those who dwell in God under the shadow of the Almighty lodge their souls in the bosom of eternal loves every day. They dwell most safely, most securely and most nobly.

6. Fear God in Affliction

Make God the great object of your fear (see Psalm 119:119-120; Isaiah 8:7-8,13-14).  When the judgments of God are either threatened or carried out, feared or felt—it greatly concerns us to lift up God as the main object of our fear. We should fear the hand which uses the rod more than the rod itself (Job 13:11; Jeremiah 36:24). When God takes up the rod, it concerns us greatly to fear before Him with a child-like,  reverential fear. This is a fear that fortifies the heart against sin. It is a fear which fits the soul for duty, it draws and even drives the soul to duty. 

7. Find God’s Presence in Affliction

Expect God’s unique presence with you and protection over you. Study these Scriptures, (Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25; Genesis 39:39-40; Psalm 23:4-5; Psalm 91; Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 26:20-21; Ezekiel 9:4,6). God is above His people and beneath them (Deuteronomy 33:25-27). He is under them and over them (Song 2:6). He is before them and behind them (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He is on the right hand of His people, and on the left hand of His people (Psalm 16:8; Psalm 121:5; Psalm 118:15-16; Exodus 14:22,29). God is round about His people, (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 125:2). God is in the midst of His people (Zechariah 2:5; Psalm 46:5; Psalm 12:6). O the safety and security of the poor people of God.  

8. Exercise Grace Daily in Affliction

Live every day in fresh, excellent, and frequent exercise of grace. Study these Scriptures, (Psalm 91:2-4; Jeremiah 39:17-18; Micah 7:7-9; Psalm 40:1-2; Habakkuk 2:1-4; Jeremiah 30:21). The person who lives in daily exercising grace lives every day in heaven on this side of heaven, whatever affliction they may experience.

9. Pray More in Affliction

Stir up your hearts to seek the Lord in extraordinary ways: namely, by fasting and prayer. Study these Scriptures, (Numbers 16:46-50; Psalm 106:23,29-30; Isaiah 22:2-5,12-13; Jonah 3:5-10; 2 Chronicles 12:2-7; 1 Kings 21:21-29; Joel 2:12-17).

10. Prepare for Death Because of Affliction

You are to learn by the raging pestilence or rod to prepare for death. This means to be in actual readiness to die. Every ache, every pain, every disease—is one of death’s warnings. There is not a headache,  toothache, fever, pain, fall, wrench or plague-sore which is not a divine warning to man to prepare to die. It is a solemn thing to die, we need therefore to prepare to die. It is a work to be done once only and so we need to prepare to do it well.

We listen to sermons often, pray often, read often, and meditate often in this world. We eat and drink often and what is worst, we sin often. Yet we must die only once (Job 14:14; Hebrews 9:27). Death will prove all our graces, experiences, evidences, comforts, attainments and enjoyments. We need to prepare to die therefore. There is nothing more certain than death but there is nothing more uncertain than the time, place, and manner in which we will die.

Preparing to die does not make us die sooner but rather much easier and better. Unless we prepare to die, all other preparations will do us no good. Death is a change, a great change; it is the last change until the resurrection. It is lasting, indeed it is an everlasting change; for it puts a man into an eternal condition of happiness or misery. It is a universal change; all people must pass under this flaming sword. It highly concerns us therefore to prepare for death.

Conclusion

After outlining these lessons that we should learn, Brooks expresses a desire for his readers. It is our souls may experience such a fresh, excellent, full, and constant operation from the Holy Spirit that will enable us to benefit from the lessons.  This is what we need and why earnest prayer is so critical at this time.

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Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God

Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God

Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
15 Jul, 2020

Many unusual additional physical factors are needed to make socially distanced worship work. It’s essential for controlling the spread of the virus. And it requires a lot of preparation. But we also need to focus on preparing our hearts in the midst of this and any other potential distractions that clamour for our attention. Anything that is important requires preparation, much more so in spiritual things. As Jeremiah Burroughs put it: “Make preparation for holy duties and you shall have success in holy duties.” What can we focus on to help prepare our hearts?

The Westminster Assembly described the way in which a service of worship should take place following biblical patterns. But one important phrase that we might miss in their Directory for Public Worship is that the congregation should come to church “having before prepared their hearts”. Let our concerns with whatever we think is lacking in public worship begin by addressing this question, how have we prepared our own hearts?

Jeremiah was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. The quotation above is from a sermon he preached on Leviticus 10:3 about the importance of preparing for worship.

He points out that the worship of God is the greatest thing we do in this world. Our hearts are also naturally unprepared for this activity. How then do we prepare our hearts for worship? His guidance is practical:

  • Engage your heart with the greatness of who God is
  • Withdraw your heart from every sinful way
  • Disentangle your heart from the things of the world  
  • Watch over your heart and pray for help
  • Have your heart in tune, with all graces ready to be exercised

David Dickson mentions similar things in expounding the second part of Psalm 57. Perhaps during this crisis our thoughts have been drawn to Psalm 57:1-2, seeking refuge in God until these calamities have passed over. In the second part of the psalm David engages in thanksgiving and we need this spirit also. 

Verse 7 begins the thanksgiving: “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise”. It shows how when our heart is fixed or prepared we are able to truly praise and worship God. This updated extract from David Dickson focuses on this theme in relation to these verses.

1. Meditating on God’s Favour Prepares Our Heart for Worship

Renewed sense of God’s favour, and fresh experience of His mercy towards His children, and of His justice against His and their enemies, greatly refreshes, quietens, and settles the hearts of His people. It confirms their faith; “My heart is fixed”.

2. Thankfulness to God Prepares Our Heart for Worship

One aspect of our thanksgiving to God is to acknowledge the fruit of His gracious working for us. This is especially when it is felt on our spirits and whenever our hearts are cheered up by him after any sorrowful trial. “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed”.

3. Preparation Prepares Our Heart for Worship

It is necessary to expend labour on the heart, that it may be fitted and prepared, fixed and inclined for God’s worship. This is especially true for the work of praise to which we are naturally most sluggish and disinclined. If we labour to prepare our heart, the work of praise will proceed more cheerfully: “My heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise”.

4. Concern for Others Prepares Our Heart for Worship

We show the extent to which we consider the praise of God seriously when (according to our place) we strive to make others know God also in the way that we know Him. David says that he will praise God “among the people” (v9).

5. Meditating on Covenant MercY Prepares Our Heart for Worship

The goodness of God is the basis of the joy of the saints and their sweetest songs. His goodness has decreed and promised the mercies they receive. The faithfulness of God accomplishes His gracious purpose and promises to them. David says that God’s mercy and truth are great.

It is impossible to comprehend the greatness of God’s mercy and truth. They reach so far that our sight cannot surpass them. God’s mercy is “great unto the heavens” where mortal eyes cannot come to see what is there. His truth reaches to “the clouds”, through which our eye cannot pierce.

6. Meditating on God’s Glory Prepares Our Heart for Worship

David acknowledges that the excellency of the glory of God transcends his reach and capacity. He can follow it no further than by desiring the Lord to glorify Himself. Since the Lord’s glory is greater than heaven or earth can contain only God himself can manifest His own glory. When we have said all that we can to glorify God, our duty is to implore Him to glorify Himself. He can make it apparent to all that His glory is greater than heaven or earth can contain. His glory is “above the heavens” and “above all the earth”.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article How to Walk Into Church. Going into Church easily can be a matter of routine, but it shouldn’t be. The Bible tells us that we need to exercise great care in meeting with God in public worship. Read more to find out how.

 

 

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How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
14 Jul, 2020

The Bible clearly teaches that God continues to look after and oversee all that He made. Scripture makes clear that His power is as necessary to maintain the world as it was to make it (Hebrews 1:3). Some believe that God created everything but then left creation to continue by itself with no continual involvement. But this is not what the Bible teaches (Psalm 103:19). Let’s explore Bible Truth on this subject.

This is an extract from the recently reprinted book Bible Truth Explored. It uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. Its simple and straightforward approach make it well suited for all ages in group, family and individual study. The following extract relates to Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism.

Q. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

God’s providence preserves

God sustains the whole creation in existence moment by moment, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). He does this by constantly providing for them (Psalm 36:6).

People sometimes talk about the ‘laws of nature,’ often forgetting that it is really the
Lord who is providing for His creatures. He constantly provides what is necessary
for them to survive and flourish. He controls the seasons, the water cycle, and all
the features of ecosystems (Psalm 104). If God ever suspended His preserving work,
everything would simply go out of existence.

God preserves “all his creatures, and all their actions.” In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Every breath we take and all our ways belong to Him (Matthew 6:26-34, Daniel 5:23)

“The Lord rules and directs all His creatures…just as surely as He preserves them.”

God’s providence governs

Psalm 66:7 asserts that God rules “by his power for ever”. The Psalmist was reflecting on the truth that the Lord rules and directs all His creatures and all their actions, just as surely as He preserves them. The sun, moon, stars and all celestial bodies are under His hand. The wind, rain and snow are at His command. Kings, prime ministers and presidents do not reign and govern by chance. It is by His power and authority that they come and go (Proverbs 8:15–16).

God’s providence is holy

God is holy in all His ways and works. He governs His own creation in holiness
and in such a way as will promote holiness. Because we see so much evil and
wickedness happening, we can sometimes struggle to see the holiness of God in
His providence. For example, the fact that God governs all the actions of His
creatures includes even the sinful actions of sinful creatures. God is nevertheless
still holy and acting in holiness when He permits sinners to have evil thoughts
and gives them good health and energy to put wicked ideas into action.

At the same time God remains holy. He is not the author of sin and He is not responsible for the sins of sinful beings. His governing in providence includes setting limits on people’s wickedness, and limits on the damage their wickedness causes. His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions and when He converts notorious sinners into dear saints. God’s holiness can also be seen in His justice, when He brings bad consequences on sinners for their bad actions. For example, the conspirators who wanted innocent Daniel to be destroyed were themselves soon punished by being thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:24).

“His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions.”

God’s providence is wise

Think of the history of Joseph in Genesis. His life was full of sadness and difficulty, but at last it became clear that God had a wise plan in it all and worked it out perfectly. “But God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The reason for many things in life may not be clear to us but we are to trust in God’s purposes (Romans 8:28).

We see wisdom in action when somebody uses the best tools and methods to reach the best outcome, even when we don’t initially understand what they are doing. It might seem strange, for example, to infect people deliberately with cowpox, giving them unpleasant lesions and fever, but once someone has had cowpox they are protected from smallpox, a deadly disease. God is using the best methods even when our limited wisdom prevents us from seeing how His methods will ever achieve a good outcome.

God’s providence is powerful

Do you remember proud King Nebuchadnezzar? He thought that there was none as important or powerful as he himself. But God humbled him and taught him that the King of Heaven has power beyond any mere men. Nebuchadnezzar put it like this: “none can stay his hand,” meaning that no one can interfere with or alter His powerful oversight (Daniel 4:35).

When God announced that He was going to set the Israelites free from Egypt, there was nothing that cruel Pharaoh could do to stop them. He might have thought he had survived the plagues which God had sent, and he must have thought the Israelites were at his mercy when his armies cornered them on the brink of the Red Sea. But he was no
match for God’s power in providence. In preserving, managing, arranging, and governing, God is not only capable but invincible.

Something to think about…

  • God is constantly in control of all His creatures and all their actions. Can you
    think of some examples (from the Bible or your own observation) where God
    demonstrates either His holiness, wisdom, or power as He preserves and
    governs (a) something tiny, (b) something enormous, (c) a living creature, (d)
    an inanimate force of nature, (e) a notorious sinner, (f) a godly believer?
  • Someone has compared the operation of God’s providence to a clock which
    has lots of cogs and wheels. They may go in opposite directions but they fit
    together and all work together to make the clock keep time. How can we see
    this in the life of Joseph?

Personal reflection

  • How should the fact that God’s providence is simultaneously holy, wise, and
    powerful make us willing to accept whatever happens to us in our lives?

Get it Now!

There is so much to learn about God and ourselves from the Bible that we need an accurate summary. We need a guidebook to what the Bible says we must believe and how we must live. This resource uses the Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. 

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The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
10 Jul, 2020

Hopefully, the current crisis has prompted greater diligence in prayer and to look for the answers to those prayers. Our response to answered prayer is important, it shows the extent to which we have taken it seriously. Relief and thankfulness are natural but how can we make best use of it? There is indeed a fulness of spiritual joy that may experience in embracing the answers to our prayers (John 16:24). It should humble us, strengthen our faith and increase our readiness to pray for other things expectantly (1 John 5:14; Psalm 5:3). Answered prayer should draw us closer to God in a spirit of worship (Psalm 65:2; Psalm 85:8). It should increase our love (Psalm 116:1). This is why we are to watch in our prayers with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). If we do not respond in the right way we lose the comfort we ought to experience and rob God of His glory.

How does answered prayer give us comfort? Thomas Goodwin points out three ways:
• we hear from God as from a friend. Even though it may be only two or three words about something small if a letter ends, “your loving father,” or, “your assured friend,” it satisfies us abundantly
• we know that God is mindful of us, accepts our works and fulfils His promises
• we know that we agree in desiring the same things. We rejoice find another person of the same opinion in a controversy but it should give us greater joy that we are in agreement with God.
David Dickson explains from Psalm 145:18-19 how our needy prayers being answered should fill us with praise in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Loves Praise in Response to His Goodness
The Lord loves the praise that arises to Him from His goodness to His people and those who belong to His Church. He loves this more than any other aspect of His praise. We know this because that reason for praising God is mentioned so often.
2. The Lord is Especially Present with those who Praise Him
Although God is present everywhere there is a kind of presence with greater friendship which God gives to those that worship Him. This is closer than that His common presence everywhere. It is the nearness of grace and friendship; He is near to them that call on Him.
3. The Lord is Near to All that Truly Call On Him
It is God’s will to have His gracious presence revealed manifested to His worshippers by prayer. He also wills that this favour should be clear to all alike without exception that pray to Him and seek Him.
There is a counterfeit and false kind of worshipping and calling on God, this cannot benefit from this promise. This is when those who pray are not reconciled, nor seeking reconciliation through Christ the Mediator. Or they may be seeking something not promised or seeking something for a selfish purpose so that they may feed their lusts. Those who have a right to this promise, must be worshippers of God in faith with sincere intentions. The Lord will show himself near to such, He is near to all those that call on Him in truth.
4 The Lord Answers the Prayers of Those Who Fear Him
True worshippers of God are those who fear Him, their holy desires are prayers that the Lord will satisfy and not refuse. If the Lord does not at first answer the prayer of those that fear Him, yet when they call in earnest while in trouble, straits and danger He will answer with deliverance and salvation.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Heavenly Violence in Prayer? We are more likely to think of prayer as bringing peace and comfort than something which could be violent. It has a strange ring to it. Yet Scripture describes fervent prayer as wrestling and striving. Samuel Rutherford explains what heavenly violence in prayer is and how we may obtain it.

 

 

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