Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
27 May, 2020

A crisis is fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish. Many rumours and ideas with little supporting evidence can circulate rapidly. At times these theories do not change people’s lives much. But if it changes behaviour in relation to protecting life and health it becomes different. Some theories are related to the Bible or are shared by Christians. Others function like religious beliefs. In this, as in all truth claims, we need the grace of discernment. We need to know the Scriptures well and accurately to test what we hear. How much is it someone’s personal opinion or does it have the authority of the Bible? In other matters we need to apply the principles of Scripture. We need to be very careful about preserving and promoting the truth (Zechariah 8:16). This involves avoiding rushing to hasty judgments about doubtful things in case we are spreading false rumours, especially if it could be slander (Proverbs 6:19 and 29:11). We need to consider what impact our opinions may have on others. Yet we also need to avoid evil suspicion since even some truly biblical beliefs are widely ridiculed and this does not make them wrong. We should not be gullible about mainstream opinions either. When online sermons, teaching and discussions are everywhere, we also need to know what we can trust. How do we discern true biblical teaching and weigh carefully claims that we encounter?

1 Thessalonians 5:21 helps us with understanding our duty of discernment. It speaks of testing or proving all things, including what we hear. As James Fergusson observes, it belongs in a list of instructions for living as Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11-22). 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Fergusson clarifies that not despising preaching (v20) does not mean Paul requires obedience without question to everything which ministers preach. He commands them to prove and test accurately what they hear by the written Word (Acts 17:11). The word in Greek implies testing something by a standard as goldsmiths test gold using a touchstone. 

To hold fast literally means to hold tightly with both hands, against all who would withstand it. They must hold fast that which is good, or what testing has shown to be good doctrine firmly grounded on the Word. They are consequently to abstain from that which is found to be evil or unsound. Fergusson goes on to make the following observations.

1. Christians Must Discern

Most people are naturally so foolish and unthinking that when they are running from one sinful extreme, they are in no small danger of going to the other unawares. The evil they are fleeing from is always in front of them. Thus, while they are so greatly intent on avoiding it, they do not notice the snare behind them. Paul implies this in dissuading them from the extreme of blind obedience to their ministers after having dissuaded from the other extreme of despising preaching (v20).

2. Christians Can Discern

All Christians may not have received an equal measure of gifts (Romans 14:1). The Lord has, however, given a spirit of discerning, in a greater or a lesser measure to all. If this is diligently and carefully made best use of through searching Scripture (Acts 17:11) and prayer (Psalm 119:19), they may be enabled to evaluate what they hear in preaching. In doing this they will choose and embrace what is sound and nourishing, and refuse and reject whatever is erroneous and hurtful. If they did not have such a spirit of discernment given them by God, it would have been pointless to instruct them “to prove all things” and “hold fast that which is good”.

3. Christians Must Discern Carefully

The spirit of discernment that God gives to Christians, should be exercised in evaluating their minister’s teaching. This does not mean they pass judicial sentence on him; they are not his judges (1 Corinthians 14:32). Neither does it allow them to vent disparaging censures against him, making his ministry repellent to others in all things. It means discerning how to regulate their own behaviour in choosing what is right and refusing what is wrong in what they hear. He instructs them to exercise discretion in relation to their own practice so that they may “hold fast” what is good.

4. Christians Must Test Their Opinions

A fixed resolution to maintain any opinion constantly should flow from a rational conviction (after careful search) that the opinion we hold is true and sound. Otherwise our constancy and fixed resolution is only self-willed pertinacity (Jeremiah 44:16). So, when truth is discovered after careful enquiry, we ought to be so fixed and absolute in our resolution to maintain it that we may not waver or be tossed to and fro with any contrary wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Before they are resolved, he urges them to prove or test and then hold fast without wavering what they have proved to be good.

5. Christians Must Not Abuse Their Freedom

Christians must abstain from and avoid not only that which is really and in itself evil and sinful, but also any appearance or representation of evil (v22). They must avoid anything (unless commanded by God) that may give just grounds of suspicion to unprejudiced onlookers. These are those who are not malicious (Galatians 2:4-5), even though they may be weak (1 Corinthians 10:28). They may have just reason to suspect those practising such things as being guilty of wrongdoing. This might include dangerous phrases of speech in preaching even though they are not plainly heretical (1 Timothy 6:3). Other examples include eating at a feast in an idol’s temple (1 Corinthians 10:21) or close and unnecessary company with ungodly, immoral persons without a call (Luke 22:55). Close company in private suspicious places with persons of a different sex, especially if he or she has a bad reputation must also be avoided.

A conscientious, sensitive Christian must consider the eye of men as well as the all-seeing eye of God in abstaining from evil. They must not only abstain from what their own conscience will condemns as vile in itself and in God’s sight. Anything that has the appearance of evil to others and by which his good name might be justly wounded by others is also to be avoided. Conscientious Christians will not only strive to walk without falling. They will also seek to avoid being the occasion of others falling by their careless use of Christian liberty. They will strive to be on their guard against all, not just some temptations. They will not do this merely at some times, but always. This is required as the highest point of a spiritually sensitive Christian walk, to abstain from the appearance of evil. They abstain from that by which someone’s reputation might justly suffer or his neighbour be made to stumble. They will abstain not only from some but from all appearance of evil.

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Apr, 2020

From financial struggles and other anxieties and fears in the midst of uncertainty to quarantine fatigue, this is a crisis with many added difficulties. And it affects those worst who struggle with some of these things at the best of times. Then there are the deep spiritual burdens as we seek to understand and respond in a sanctified way. We hear the mantra “Everything will be all right”. All kinds of strategies are recommended. But at best they merely distract from rather than engage with our concerns. Sometimes it seems that the coronavirus has changed everything. But there are some things that are still the same because they are enduring, unchanging and unshakable. We can find solid encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.

People feel the need to share messages of encouragement at this time. One man in Barcelona is even projecting messages of encouragement on the facade of a building every day. Many take their encouragement from the strength and resilience of others. We are certainly to be thankful for the selfless sacrifice and dedication of many individuals. There are many mercies received in the midst of trying circumstances. We trust also that there are some who are being brought to consider eternal realities more. We can be thankful that God is in various ways restraining open sin and humbling the pride of those who neglect and reject Him. Where, however, can we find the greatest messages of encouragement?

Edmund Calamy, preaching before the House of Lords in 1643 in a time of war needed to find encouragements for the leaders of Parliament. They were engaged in formal thanksgiving for the thwarting of an armed uprising against Parliament. But Calamy went much higher than the people and events around them in seeking encouragements. They were facing a war and the current crisis has often been compared to a battle. In this updated extract, he gives us an enduring example of where we should look for encouragements in difficult times.

1. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING GOD

I think I hear God say to you as He does to Joshua “Be strong and of a good courage…strong and very courageous”. He promised that He would be with him everywhere he went (Joshua 1:6-7, 9). Joshua encouraged the people of Israel the Lord was with them and they should not therefore fear their enemies no matter how great they were (Numbers 14:7 see also Exodus 14:13-14). The God whose cause you manage is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, He has not brought us into depths to drown us, but to wash away our spiritual filthiness. It is not to destroy us, but to manifest His power in our deliverance. He will deliver us by weak means, and by contrary means. He will strike straight strokes with crooked sticks; as He made the treachery of Joseph’s brethren to be a means to advance Joseph, and the falseness of Judas to be a way to save all His elect children.

2. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING PROMISES

Here are six promises like six pillars to undergird our spirits from falling into discouragements. Cast yourselves into the bosom of these promises. (Exodus 23:22-23; Leviticus 26:6-8; Deuteronomy 28:7; 1 Samuel 25:28; Isaiah 41: 10-17; Isaiah 54:17). The last promise belongs to all God’s people, because it is said to be the heritage of the servants of the Lord.

3. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXAMPLES

We cannot be in a lower condition than Jonah was when he was in the whale’s belly. It was like a living grave. Yet God commanded the whale to deliver him safe ashore. We cannot be in a worse condition than Jeremiah was when he was in the dungeon. He sank in the mire so deep that thirty men could hardly lift him up. We cannot be in a worse condition than Peter was when he was ready to sink, or than Moses when put in an ark of bull-rushes. Or than the children of Israel in Babylon, who were like dry bones in the grave, so that Ezekiel himself could not tell whether they could live. Or as Peter when put in prison by Herod.

Yet God sent an Ethiopian to deliver Jeremiah. Jesus Christ reached out His hand to keep Peter from sinking. God sent Pharaoh’s daughter to preserve Moses. He sent Cyrus to deliver Israel out of Babylon. And He sent his angel to deliver Peter out of prison. Indeed, Peter himself did not believe it any more than the Church that was praying for him. God sent them an answer to their prayers, while they were praying, but they did not believe it.

God has often done so for us. Comfort one another with these examples and take this home for your everlasting consolation. God never permits his children to meet with a huge unmovable difficulty such as the stone before the door of the sepulchre without sending some angel or other to move it away.

4. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING CAPTAIN

Jesus Christ came into the world, when the Jews were in the saddest condition, in the depth of slavery (for the sceptre was departed from Judah) and in the depth of divisions, for they had so many different sects, as they could hardly tell what religion they were of. In this sad condition Shiloh came. Let us implore Jesus Christ to come to our nation in this low condition and to bring peace with Him.

Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth for our sakes, and whose love is a depth that cannot be fathomed (Ephesians 3:17-18). The depths of our misery call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national.

5. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING COMPANY

You have the Lord of Hosts to accompany you and God’s people.

6. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING WEAPONS

These weapons are prayers, tears, fasting and humbling ourselves. Ambrose encouraged Augustine’s mother that a son for whom so many tears were shed could not be lost. So I say, and I hope prove to be a true prophet, that a nation for whom so many prayers and tears are made shall not be destroyed. God never yet destroyed a nation where there were many of his children praying, fasting, and humbling
themselves.

7. YOU HAVE THE ENCOURAGING PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The great and wise God, who is our Father, has from all eternity decreed what the outcome of these troubles will be. There is nothing done in the lower house of parliament upon earth, but what is decreed in the higher house of parliament in heaven.

All the lesser wheels are ordered and overruled by the upper wheels. There is a story about a young man at sea in a mighty tempest. When all the passengers were at their wits end for fear, he was only cheerful.  When he was asked the reason, he answered that the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would care for him. Our heavenly Father is our pilot, He sits at the stern and though the ship of the kingdom is ready to sink, be of good comfort our pilot will care for us. Are not five sparrows (says Christ) sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God? One sparrow is not worth half a farthing. You will not have half a farthing’s worth of harm more than God has from all eternity decreed.

It is no great matter (in Christ’s opinion) to have the body killed. The body is only the cabinet, the jewel is the soul. And if the jewel will be safe in heaven, it does not greatly matter to have the cabinet broken.

8. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXPERIENCES

It is observable that when Moses went up to the mount to pray, he took the rod of God in his hand. The reason is because by that rod God had previously done wonderful things for His people. The very sight of that rod encouraged Moses to trust in God from the experience of His former goodness. Let us never go to our prayers without carrying the rod of God in our hand and heart. I mean the solemn and serious contemplation of God’s former wonderful goodness. Let us say with the apostle, “Notwithstanding the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the LORD shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

CONCLUSION

Here are many encouragements to continue in prayer and not give up. We need to search out the promises that can properly be used in prayer on behalf of Church and nation. We need to cry out of the depths to the Lord. As Calamy says the depths of our misery need to “call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national”.

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Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning

Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning

Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning
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.
22 Apr, 2020

Over recent weeks rainbows have been appearing all around the world. It was first started in Italy and Spain as a sign of hope and solidarity, and has spread to other countries. Children have been encouraged to paint rainbows and put them in their windows. They can then follow “The Rainbow Trail” as they go out on walks. The purpose is to hold out bright hope in the darkest of times. It is very welcome to see rainbows better connected with their original meaning rather than made a political symbol of an unbiblical lifestyle. There is much more to the rainbow, however, than a general symbol of hope in stormy times. God made it for a purpose and gave it a particular significance. It has a lot to teach us when we reflect carefully on its meaning as given in Scripture.

The rainbow is not just mentioned in Genesis 9 after the flood, it is also in the symbolic visions of Christ in Ezekiel and Revelation. William Greenhill draws out the fuller significance of the rainbow as it appears in the vision given to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:28. There is a description of that brightness or glory surround the One that sat on the throne (v26-27). When we compare it with a similar description in Revelation 4:3, it seems clear that this is a vision of Christ Himself. He Himself is glorious, robed with the brightness of glory and has a brightness surrounding Him that resembled the bow in the cloud, or as we call it the rainbow. The following is an updated extract. Perhaps there is much that we can encourage ourselves with here as we apply it to our present circumstances.

1. The Rainbow Speaks of God’s Faithfulness

The first mention of the rainbow is in the ninth chapter of Genesis (Genesis 9:13). Here God puts a double honour on it: (a) He says it is His, “my bow”; and (b) He makes it a token of the covenant between Him and the earth.

The rainbow is meant to remind us of the great flood that drowned the world, and to assure us that God will never do so again (Genesis 9:14-15). When we see the bow therefore in the heavens, we should: (a) be led to consider divine justice against the iniquities of the world, which He punished most severely, so as to destroy all people. (b) to remember the rich mercy of God to our forefathers and ourselves. He has bound Himself to us by covenant. This bow is the sign of that promise that He will never destroy the world again in that way.

2. The Rainbow Speaks of God’s Glory

The brightness that Ezekiel saw seems to surround the whole throne and person of Christ. We read in Revelation 4:3, where Christ is on the throne, that there is a rainbow round about it. This suggests that the rainbow mentioned here was also round about the throne.

God’s glory is always greatly evident in creation but when the rainbow is in the cloud something is added which is not to be neglected. God has added something glorious with various glorious colours in it. It is beautiful and attracts the eye at that moment more than all the other glory of the skies.

(a) God’s glory in creation

The glory of God shines in the heavens. The rainbow, as you know, has its origin and being from the beams of the sun. Although it is glorious, yet it is a borrowed glory. Thus, it teaches us that the glory in all created things is from another, from Christ. By Him kings reign. He gives gifts to the sons of men. He enlightens every man that comes into the world (see Proverbs 8:15; Psalm 107:8; John 1:9).

(b) God’s glory in providence

It speaks also of the glory and beauty of Divine Providence in its various dealings with the wicked and the godly, (as in the flood). It punishes one and rewards the other. When this is done there is so much glory in it that angels and men are deeply affected by it.

3. The Rainbow Speaks of Mercy

It is a token of mercy and favour. It is a bow without arrows and the back of it points towards the heavens and ends downward. Thus, it is a sign of mercy. When someone shoots arrows, he holds the back away from him (but here it is not directed towards the earth but rather upwards).

Scripture shows how it is a sign of grace and mercy. In Isaiah 54:8-10 the covenant made with Noah is applied to the covenant of grace made in Christ. In Revelation the rainbow is also a sign of grace. Christ sits on the throne with a rainbow round about it (Revelation 4:3). This shows that the throne of Christ is surrounded with mercy.

In Revelation 10:1 Christ is presented in a vision, crowned with the rainbow. There He is presented as a messenger of grace and peace. He is the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6) and His crown is the rainbow, an emblem of peace (Genesis 9:13-14). The rainbow has a variety of colours and is all glorious. Thus, it can appropriately represent the mercies of Christ which are various and glorious.
This symbol therefore signifies grace and mercy offered to those that were godly or who would repent of their wickedness. The glory of His justice formed into a bow is a token of mercy.

4. The Rainbow Speaks of Grace in Christ

Mercy and grace come to us through the human nature of Christ. In Ezekiel’s vision the brightness and the beams that make the bow come out from Him and surround Him (v26-27). When the Word was made flesh, glory and grace emanated (John 1:10 and 14). That was the most glorious rainbow that ever was or shall be in the world. He was not merely a sign of peace but is Himself our peace (Ephesians 2:14) because by His blood we are brought near.

5. The Rainbow Speaks of Mercy in the Midst of Judgment

The Lord Jesus Christ in wrath remembers mercy, He mingles mercy with judgment. He sits as Judge upon the throne, pronouncing His sentence against a sinful kingdom, executing the vengeance written against sinners. Yet here He is surrounded with the rainbow. This was to show the people of Ezekiel’s time that He would not utterly destroy the Jews, a remnant would be spared. When the great flood was drowning the world Noah and his family were saved; there was mercy in the midst of judgment. Here is a Judge with a rainbow over His head, to assure the godly they would not perish in this flood of wrath being poured out on the Jews at this time.

When Christ sits in judgment with the rainbow round about him, the godly may know that they will not perish by the wrath of God. If the glory of His majesty, stateliness of his throne, terror of His
justice and the greatness of His power ever discourage us, we must look at the rainbow round about Him and remember His throne is surrounded with mercy.

It was said of the Jews in the past that when they saw the rainbow, they went out to confess their sins but would not look at the rainbow itself. Confession of sin, or indeed any other duty, will do us no good unless we look at the rainbow, the mercy of Christ. Justice and mercy surround the throne of Christ. There was brightness round about, and the rainbow was round about. Go to Christ’s throne, there is nothing but justice there for the sinner unless they are repentant and believing, yet if they are such, there is then nothing but mercy there for them.

There was a storm at this time yet in it there was also a rainbow for the prophet and godly to look at. It is “the bow in the cloud in the day of rain.” God rains snares, fire and brimstone, and horrible tempest on the wicked but even then the rainbow is in the cloud and the righteous should look for it and look at it. They should remember the covenant and its mercy. Is the present time not a rainy and stormy time, is this great Prince not angry with the kings and kingdoms of the earth ? Does He not frown, chide and smite in many places? Let us look at the rainbow now and know that if a deluge of wrath comes on the world, yet God’s Noahs will be safe in the ark. The righteous will be hidden, Christ will manifest mercy to them.

John says that it was when he was in the Spirit that he saw the throne and the rainbow (Revelation 4:2). Let us be in the Spirit and look with eyes of faith, we shall see the throne and He that sits on it with the rainbow round about Him. Even though kingdoms are swamped by floods of errors, superstition, and ungodliness, even though they are drowned in troubles and blood we will still be able to see God and Christ with love and mercy towards us.

Conclusion

When we consider the original meaning of this symbol in Scripture it is bright with even greater, more enduring and more certain hope than most people appreciate. The rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and mercy, and it reveals much to us of His grace in Christ. Though the skies may be dark in many ways under present troubles yet there is a bright expectation of God’s mercy and faithfulness being fulfilled towards His people. He is working for His glory and the good of His people. He refines them in their faith during times of affliction. There are also many ways in which those who do not believe are no doubt being brought into contact with God’s Word and gospel. They have this mercy of God in Christ and an eternal hope revealed to them. God reigns and we may see by faith a rainbow of mercy surrounding His throne.

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How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events
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."
17 Apr, 2020

Does God intend us to learn from events? Some people react strongly against this as bizarrely mystical or arrogant. There is no doubt that people can be confidently wrong in their interpretation of certain events. But they can be self-assured in mistaken interpretations of the Bible too and that doesn’t make us give up on trying to understand Scripture. The very same passage that speaks about God revealing Himself in creation, also shows how He reveals His wrath in events (Romans 1:18, 20, 27-28). Christ warns against simplistic and arbitrary interpretations of events, but He affirms that we are to learn from them (Luke 13:1-5). God’s ways are often truly mysterious. It’s certainly sometimes challenging to try to learn the right lessons from providence and it requires much humility, but does this mean we are to give up? The Bible tells us that if we are wise, we will seek to understand events and connect them with the character and purpose of God (Psalm 107:43; Hosea 14:9). We are meant to at least ponder these things rather than say that they can never be known (Psalm 143:5). The question is not so much whether God speaks in events but how we can understand what He is saying through them.

We do not have to have a specific Bible verse that predicts a specific event to understand what God is saying. As with other ways of using Scripture in our daily lives, we apply general principles. Every time we apply Scripture to our lives and our world, we are trying to understand events in terms of the Bible. This is no different. The Bible must be our supreme authority for interpreting these things not simply what seems plausible to us personally. God doesn’t give a different message in events to the one He gives in Scripture it’s the same message but amplified because we are not listening.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that there is a purpose for every event and that there are always general lessons that we are meant to learn (v17-18). It can be difficult to understand certain things, but it is possible (Psalm 73:16-17; Micah 6:8-9; Amos 3:1-8). We are meant to seek to understand God’s purpose in good times and in difficult times (Ecclesiastes 7:14). We are meant to identify God’s goodness and lovingkindness in what we experience, and this should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Scripture also gives us principles such as we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7; Hosea 8:7). This leads us to expect that actions have future consequences in unfolding events.

There are some general rules that we can apply in relation to carefully observing events in providence. Just as when we see a rainbow, we are reminded of God’s promise, so we can identify other promises of Scripture being fulfilled in our own or other’s experience. We are able to depend on Scripture promises and principles and connect them with the events we witness (Romans 8:28). We can draw comfort from what happens in providence (Psalm 41:11; Genesis 24:45). We are also meant to be watchful for answers to prayer in the events we witness and interpret them according to God’s promises (Psalm 65:5; Micah 7:7; Ezekiel 36:37). In Matthew 16:1-4 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for not interpreting the signs of the times in the way that they could interpret the weather. We need to have understanding of the times to know what we ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

In a culture that sneers at the idea of God intervening or being in control it’s tempting to suggest that we just can’t know what God’s purposes may be. It is in the trying rather than encouraging circumstances that people often feel uncomfortable with trying to understand what God is saying. Yet we are still to enquire from God’s Word what we are to understand from them (2 Samuel 21:1). As David found, God will not always give advance warning of why something happens. We are meant, like Job, to ask why (Job 7:20; 10:2).

In Micah 6:9 we are told that the voice of God will sometimes sound in events. God may chastise through events as His rod, especially when we neglect what He requires of us (v8). If we are wise we will seek to “hear the rod” and the one who has appointed it. In expounding the meaning of these words, Andrew Gray shows how we are to seek to understand what God is saying through events. He shows that we may not always find an answer easily or we may indeed be mistaken. Surely, if Paul used the word “perhaps” in suggesting a reason for events (Philemon 15), we should be humble about our interpretation too. The following is an updated extract from Gray’s application of Micah 6:9.

1. Ways of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Reflect prayerfully.

Make serious application to the throne of grace that God would give you light concerning such a rod. This is remarkably clear in Genesis 25:22. Rebecca, did not understand God’s purpose in a particular “rod”. Therefore, she went and enquired of the Lord and received a particular and distinct answer to her condition.

This was also clearly practised by David (2. Samuel 21:1). Israel was under a great rod of famine. David went and enquired of the Lord concerning the meaning of it and he received a distinct answer. This is likewise clear in Job 10: 2 where Job, being in the dark concerning the meaning of the rod asks God to show him.

(b) Reflect on your condition at the time.
If it comes at a time when your heart was at a great distance from God. The meaning of the rod is probably that it is good for you to draw near to God. Or, if the chastisement is at a time when a Christian, is much taken up in pursuing after the things of the world. If you are engaging in spiritual activities in a merely formal way then, the voice of the rod to you is to stir up yourself to take hold on God. So, if a Christian wants to know the meaning of the rod, let them compare their present spiritual condition with the timing of the rod.

(c) Reflect on the nature of it.

This is certain, the sins of a people or person may be engraved on the rod in very legible letters. Sometimes the rod preaches our sins so plainly, that we do not need to interpret it. In Judges 1:6-7 there is such a direct relation between Adonibezek’s judgment and his sin that he might read his judgment as he did his sins. Sometimes God punishes those who do not listen to the distress of others by not listening to them in their trouble (Proverbs 21:23; Zechariah 7:13). You can see a divine proportion between the rod and the sin.

(d) Reflect on Scripture.

Observe what has been the Lord’s purpose and what He calls for from His people in Scripture when they were under a similar rod and dealings. Search our God’s purpose to the godly in Scripture under a similar rod and by all appearances this will still be His purpose. This is applying the general rule of Romans 15:4 that these things are for our learning.

(e) Reflect on the circumstances.

There may be circumstances by which a Christian may attain great light on what is the Lord’s intention by such a rod. Observing the circumstances will help a Christian to discover these three things:

• that such a chastisement is from the hand of the Lord.
• that God in the midst of wrath remembers mercy
• to know the voice and language of the chastisement. Sometimes a Christian cannot read love in the rod itself and yet read very much love in the circumstances

(f) Reflect on the general purposes.

All the rods and dealings a Christian encounters have one of three general purposes. They are sent to help them

  • Put to death their predominating sins and idols.
  • Be stirred up to exercise what ought to be their predominant grace
  • Be stirred up to do what ought to be their predominant duty.

It is easier to patiently endure a rod which is intended for us to exercise our predominant grace than one which is for putting to death our idols. There is no rod which a Christian can endure worse than that. A proud man can bear any affliction better than reproach; a worldly-minded man, can endure any affliction better than poverty. Are there not many that, when their idols are struck, cry out like the man in Judges 16:24? Sometimes in this situation we cry out with Jonah “it is better for me to die than to live”.

The affliction we least want to encounter is ordinarily best for us. Our will and welfare are seldom or never joined together; but Christ’s will and our welfare are often joined together. Ordinarily there is some comparison between our chastisements and our sins. If the Egyptians killed all the male-children of the Israelites, God likewise kills all the first-born in the land of Egypt. If Nadab and Abihu offer strange fire and if the Sodomites are taken up with the fire of lust, God will bring down fire from heaven and consume them.

2. Mistakes in Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Thinking it speaks wrath, when it speaks love. Some think that love and the rod cannot go together at all. God may never love a person more than when He is correcting them (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-6).
(b) Thinking that God can never answer our prayers while He is chastising. This was Job’s mistake (Job 9:16).
(c) Thinking it means they are not truly God’s people. When some do not see why God contends with them, they are tempted to cast away their hope.
(d) Thinking that serving God is pointless because of affliction. This is found in Psalm 73:13-14. It is hard for a person not to cast off religion, when God is contending with them. It is hard to have great respect for the ways of godliness under affliction.
(e) Thinking that God is not with them (Judges 6:13). The Christian may cry out, “I cannot reconcile God’s heart and His hand, I cannot reconcile love in God and His being with me, and this affliction and chastisement.

3. The Goal of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

The goal of understanding what God is saying in events is that a Christian may be helped to obey the voice of the rod or chastisement. The following will help.

(a) Hate your sin. If the chastisement calls for putting to death a particular lust and idol, bring your hearts to a spiritual hatred of it. If God is punishing you for your idols, cry out, “What have I any more to do with idols?”
(b) See the danger of your sin. Consider what danger there is by keeping your soul constantly joined to it, when the voice of the rod is, “Abandon such an idol”.
(c) Stir up and exercise grace. Strive to know that there is as much spiritual advantage in the real and spiritual exercise of a particular grace, as you can lose by any chastisement. Job gained as much (much more indeed) spiritual advantage by the exercise of his faith and patience than in all the things that he lost? There will be a glorious outcome and peace.
(d) Do the duty that is called for. Ensure that all hindrances to that duty are laid aside. If an affliction calls for us to exercise faith or prayer, remove everything that hinders this. Strive to see the beauty of that duty e.g. prayer.

4. The Difficulty of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

If we cannot find out what God is saying, here is some counsel.
(a) God is just, even though you do not know why He contends with you.
(b) Pray to God seriously to know the distinct meaning of a chastisement. We should go to God and say, “I have sinned, I will do so no more, show me my offence” (see Job 10:2).
(c) Try to know why God is not revealing the reason for a chastisement.
(d) Seek to have a tender heart. Sometimes we do not understand what God is saying because we are not spiritual.
(e) Have your heart most united to Christ. The devil fishes most when you are ready to fall because that is the Christian’s troubled waters. The devil never gets any greater advantage over a Christian as when he does not know the meaning of a chastisement. The devil will tell you a false meaning.

Conclusion

We need much grace and wisdom to have a right understanding of God’s Word so that we can a proper understanding of God’s Providence. Some things are clear but other answers are not necessarily quick. It requires prayerful patience and humility because the truth may well be painful and uncomfortable for us. If we either fail to cope with or despise God’s correction we will fail see the danger of our sin. This will harden our hearts and damage our relationship with God. We will miss out on much spiritual advantage in Christian growth and life (Hebrews 12:5-6). God’s correction is loving. As Gray points out, it may in fact be that God never loves a person more than when He is correcting them (Revelation 3:19). When God chastises believers, it isn’t punishment, it is pruning to help them grow. If we are wise, we will seek to “hear the rod” and the one who has appointed it (Micah 6:9).

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Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Apr, 2020

It’s a time for constant, earnest prayer. There are special promises for calling on God in a time of trouble (Psalm 50:15). We are being given plenty of opportunity for secret prayer by being confined to our houses. We can “enter into our closet” and enter the strongest refuge we have through private prayer. It is through private prayer that we strengthen our faith in the Lord Himself who is the ultimate refuge.

Thomas Brooks wrotes about how essential and urgent private prayer was at the time of the plague in London. He wrote a whole book The Secret Key to Heaven to encourage this. Here is an updated excerpt from one section.

In times of great trouble and trials, in times of great afflictions and persecutions, private prayer is the Christian’s food and drink. It is their chief city of refuge or shelter and hiding place in a stormy day. When the saints have been driven by violent persecutions into holes and caves, dens, deserts and howling wildernesses, private prayer has been their food and drink. Under Christ it has been their only refuge.

When Esau came forth with hostile intentions against Jacob, secret prayer was Jacob’s refuge (Genesis 32:6-9, 11). He recalls God’s promises, they must be prayed over in private. When Jacob and all that was near and dear to him, were in eminent danger of being cut off by Esau and the men of blood that were with him, he takes himself to private prayer as his only city of refuge against the rage and malice of the mighty.

When Jeremiah was in a solitary and loathsome dungeon, private prayer was his food and drink, it was his only city of refuge (Jeremiah 33:1-3). God encourages him by private prayer, to seek for further revelations of those choice and unique favours, which He purposed to confer on His people in future times.

When Manasseh was in chains, in his enemies’ country, when he was stripped of all his princely glory and led captive into Babylon, he takes himself to private prayer as his only City of refuge (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). By this means he prevails with God for his restoration to his crown and kingdom.

Private prayer is a city of refuge that no power nor politics, no craft nor cruelty, no violence nor force is ever able to overcome. Though the joint prayers of the people of God together were often obstructed and hindered in the times of the ten persecutions (of the early Church), yet they were never able to obstruct or hinder secret prayer.

When men and devils have done their worst, every Christian will be able to maintain his private trade with heaven. Private prayer will shelter a chri∣stian against all the national, domestic, and personal storms and tempests, that may threaten him.

When a man is lying upon a sick bed alone, or when a man is in prison alone, or when a man is left on the dunghil alone like Job. Or when a man is like John banished for the testimony of Jesus into this or that Island alone, private prayer will be his food and drink, his shelter and hiding place, his heaven. When all other trades fail, this trade of private prayer will hold good.

FREE BOOKLET

Many Christians ‘do not clearly nor fully understand the necessity, excellency, and usefulness of this subject’. In this short (18 page) booklet, Thomas Brooks shows why private prayer is the urgent need of our souls, families, churches and nation. Usually available for £1 hard copies can be posted within the UK to those who are committed to reading and acting on it. An electronic version is also available for readers from other countries.

“The power of religion and godliness lives, thrives or dies, as closet prayer lives, thrives or dies. Godliness never rises to a higher pitch than when men keep closest to their closets”.

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What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
2 Apr, 2020

Recent weeks have forced us to define what is essential. What are essential grocery items? What is the “non-essential” travel and contact with others we have to avoid? Much of socio-economic life has coasted to a halt in response to the definition of essential. Countries, communities and individuals may all have different definitions of essential. “Recent events clearly demonstrate that the process of designating ‘essential services’ is as much about culture as any legal-political reality about what is necessary to keep society functioning,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University. Some of the readjustment may indeed make us reassess lifestyle and consumption. These microscopic organisms against which we have neither prevention nor cure are paring back a great deal of the bloated decadence of our culture to the very essentials. But take a step backward and consider the widest possible perspective. What in this world is truly and absolutely essential? It’s easy to miss it.

There are many essential things for maintaining life and preserving our safety and health. We do not want in any way to minimise the practical emphasis given to these aspects of loving our neighbour as our moral duty. Yet the thing that is absolutely essential above all things is studiously ignored by so many, including most of our leaders. Other things are merely temporary and will leave people at some time or other. But this one thing and this only, will stay with them forever if they have it.

This is why there is only one thing absolutely essential and necessary. Jesus Christ has identified this one supremely essential thing (Luke 10:42). Clearly it is related to the eternal good of our souls in relation to God. James Durham explains further what it is. He speaks of peace with God through Christ and Godward living. This is living in fellowship with God, glorifying and enjoying Him.

1. What cannot be absolutely essential

(a) No created or temporary thing can be absolutely essential.

It must be something which cannot be taken away from us, something spiritual, eternal and entirely satisfying.

(b) No mere form of religion can be absolutely essential.

We can be sure that this mere outward profession can and will be taken from us (Luke 19:26; Matthew 7:21).

(c) No particular aspect of religion can be absolutely essential in itself.

Happiness is not promised to only one aspect but to uninhibited godliness and obedience to God’s will in general. Mary sat at Christ’s feet and heard His word (Luke 10:42). She was justly commended by Christ on that account. Yet it is not for that in itself but as it evidenced her love to the Saviour, her respect to godliness and her eager and earnest desire to get her soul saved by Christ.

2. What is absolutely essential

It can be summarised in the following way. Peace with God through the Lord Jesus with a view to the salvation of our souls. The sincere practice of true godliness, communion and fellowship with the Father and His Son.

This is not the mere hearing of the Word (though it is our indispensable duty). Rather  it is using the Word as a means of our daily progress in holiness and godliness, and of our peace and reconciliation with God. And therefore this one thing can be nothing else except the life, power and practice of godliness. It is all one and the same thing, whether we call this one necessary thing Christ, religion, or the salvation of the soul. The eternal salvation of our souls is the goal of godliness. Our union and communion with Christ is the means of attaining this. It is always inseparably connected with the practice of sincere piety (1 Timothy 4:8). This one thing then is godliness in its spirit, power, and substance.

This is what the psalmist desired (Psalm 27:4). Not to attend God’s outward appointed worship only but to be lively in religion, to have communion with God in His sacred institutions, and to have the amiable and desirable hope of enjoying God in heaven. This is the one thing, which comprehends many other things, the making of our peace with God, through Jesus our peace-maker and Mediator, and the study of the power and practice of godliness, that our spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord.

3. Why it is absolutely essential

This one absolutely necessary thing does not encompass every kind of necessity. Food, drink, clothes, health, strength, and other things are also necessary in their own way. But there is nothing absolutely necessary except this one thing. The believer may lack other things, but cannot be without this.

(a) God commands it

We may please God and have His approval even though we are not rich in worldly goods, or in reputation, or do not have health and strength. We are not commanded to be rich, but we are commanded to be godly, to be at peace with God, to be sincere in fulfilling every commanded duty.

(b) It makes us truly happy

True religion is the one thing necessary to make us happy here and hereafter. There is only one thing absolutely necessary inseparably connected with our welfare and happiness. It is not the many things some are troubled and anxious to obtain. It is this one thing, the practice of godliness and our peace with God, which can make us happy.

The meaning of Luke 10:42 is as though Christ had said, “Martha, your mind is taken up with many things and you are troubled with them. That is all the benefit you get from them. Trouble yourself as you will, to get all things right, they will not be governed by you nor can they satisfy you. But there is one thing necessary for the saving of your soul—namely, the practice of godliness and peace with God. This is absolutely necessary for your blessedness; but the other things you are anxious about, are not.”

There is nothing absolutely necessary for the happiness of men and women, but godliness and peace with God. This is  making sure of our own salvation and holy calling through Christ Jesus.

A person may have all other things but if they lack godliness they cannot be happy. A person may lack all other things but if they are godly and have peace with God, they cannot be miserable. No other thing can mar his happiness. If then the possession of other things cannot make people happy, and the lack of them cannot make them miserable, then surely no other thing is absolutely necessary to promote our welfare but true religion.

  • It must be spiritual. That which concerns someone’s happiness must be spiritual,  incorruptible and immortal. The soul of man is spiritual and it must have a spiritual source of happiness.
  • It must be perfect. No imperfect thing can make anyone happy.
  • It must be eternal and unchangeable. One cannot be happy today and miserable tomorrow. If it is a thing that is subject to change, it cannot make us happy.

All the idols in the world put together have none of these three things. They are not spiritual, and cannot satisfy the soul; they are not perfect, but have some defect. They are merely temporal and not eternal: a man may be taken from them or they from him. 

(c) It ensures our spiritual welfare

Without godliness, a soul will never be well. Godliness is not only commanded, but useful and profitable for all things, and so absolutely necessary. This may commend godliness to you above all other things: it our happiness consists in it, and this cannot be said of any other thing in this world.

The godly man has the most contented and cheerful life and the most joyful and comfortable death (2 Corinthians 6:10; Philippians 4:11-13). Godliness brings God’s favour, friendship and peace. His promise and covenant is that they can lack no good thing or happiness, though they lack the things of the world. All those who are blessed in heaven have perfect happiness without the things of this world.  

Conclusion

It would be a great blessing if we were in these times to return to what is absolutely essential; glorifying and enjoying God. This is the essence of true godliness. Perhaps some other things (although perhaps necessary in their own way) have been distracting us from this. Or perhaps we have been content with an outward appearance of godliness while in practice denying its real spiritual power (2 Timothy 3:5). We now have the opportunity to ensure that our primary focus is what is most glorifying to God and for our own true spiritual happiness. Let us not lose it.

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The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter
Donald Cargill (1627 – 1681) was the minister of the Barony Church Glasgow who was dismissed for a protest against the celebration of the restoration of Charles II in 1662. He went on to preach in Covenanter field meetings until he was eventually captured and executed.
24 Mar, 2020

Many countries are now under a stay-at-home order. We must hope and pray that a successful lockdown builds the capacity of the health system, slows the rate of Covid-19 infection and reduces potential deaths. It is an unprecedented experience that changes everything in society. A similar order given in the USA is sometimes called a “shelter in place” warning. The basic principle and purpose of safety is the same, but it carries additional associations of shelter from storm or violence. As we draw on the truths of Psalm 91 in prayer, these thoughts ought to draw our minds to the only absolutely safe place of shelter. It is not physical shelter but spiritual, found under the shadow of God’s wings. We can have strong confidence there. That is the only place of security and safety for our souls.

A different storm (one of persecution) surrounded those who listened to Donald Cargill preach his final sermon in the Pentland hills. The verse he had chosen was both striking and “soul-refreshing”. Isaiah 26:20-21 is God’s invitation to His people to find shelter in Him from the coming judgment. Faith responds to God’s call to enter into the place of spiritual refuge in a time of judgment. Cargill therefore directed them to trust in Christ and His promises.

The Lord was going to come “out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:21). “He will not only go through Scotland, but He will go through other nations also”. “God is coming not only to judge for every oppression and bloodshed, but also for every hidden iniquity in the heart. The Judge is coming to judge, and it is for all iniquity. It is a wonder that men will not believe this. It will be found that many are sleeping in their sins and living quietly in their iniquity, and are not striving against it”. Even if we are in the most secure physical shelter with enough food to survive the crisis we are not safe from God’s judgment unless we hide in His mercy. We need a spiritual shelter from a spiritual threat.

Cargill shows how this verse is God’s call to His people in such times. They must make their “refuge under the shadow of His wings, until these sad calamities pass over, and the dove come back with the olive leaf in her mouth”.

One of those who heard him said that the sermon was full of the preacher’s concern for the souls of those before him. “He preached from experience, and went to the experience of all that had any of the Lord’s gracious dealing with their souls. It came from his heart, and went to the heart…his words went through them”. The following is an updated extract from the sermon.

1. God’s Call to His Shelter

(a) A call to get out of the way of judgment

“Come, my people.” God is sensitive to His people’s spiritual safety. But, sadly few of them are so sensitive to it themselves as to hear God. He is speaking kindly to them, to make haste into their “chambers” [i.e. God’s shelter]. This is His counsel and command to them. He commands you to set aside all other things and to strive to get a place of refuge near God. He has a great work to do and He would have you make provision in view of an approaching storm.

(b) A call to enter into God’s shelter

Enter into your chambers, He says. That is a warning. But they are also to “shut” the “doors” around them and make it all secure front and back. Leave no open doors because divine justice will make an astonishingly close search, and will pry into the least recess.

(c) A call to hide ourselves in God

It is good for us and for our advantage to be there until the wrath is over. We are never to come out of these “chambers” of God’s presence. It will be well forever with those who have entered into these divine “chambers” of safety.

2. What is God’s Shelter?

(a) God’s providential care

It is the soul committing itself to God’s providential care. We are all likely to meet with a storm. There are few who commit themselves to God. There is too little committing ourselves to God. When they are overtaken with temptations, many think their own intelligence or wisdom will help them but indeed it will not. This is why so many yield to the enemy. They are not taking themselves to God’s shelter. Their heart fails them and they forget to flee into them.

(b) Safety, pleasure and delight in God

For delight, these chambers are a palace. For strength, protection, and defence, they are castles. They are chambers of both safety and pleasure. They are God Himself who is all in all to the believer. They are a palace of defence from the wrath of God, for it never pursues a man within these chambers. They are places of delight, safety, security, and strength.

It is no wonder, then, that a soul desires to be near God and within this shelter. There they have all their soul can desire. There is nothing can frighten or terrify the soul of a believer, when they have entered in. These chambers of God’s presence are for “a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest” (Isaiah 32:2). Safety, pleasure and delight are to be found in them. Happy is the soul delighted with them! There is nothing to harm him when a storm of wrath is outside on the world.

3. How Does God’s Mercy Provide Shelter?

The safety of man lies in the mercy of God. Man’s safety in a time of indignation lies in God’s mercy, and your duty is to take yourselves to it.  A soul must take itself to the mercy of God,  if it would put itself into these chambers. But when we speak of God’s mercy and taking ourselves to it, we do not mean that these two have an equal share. No, the mercy of God comes before duty, for it is the love and mercy of God that stir us up to duty. The Lord must both do His own part, and stir us up, and enable us to do our part too. It is the mercy of God, properly, that does the whole work; and though He enables us to be doing, yet we must do all in His strength. It is God’s mercy when He does it alone, and it is His mercy when He does it with us. In what way does mercy work?

(a) Warning us of judgment before it comes

We all need much warning from God to flee out of the way of His wrath. Those who have their soul hid are happy. It is great wisdom to be out of the way of wrath. They are happy who cannot think to be one moment out of such a safety and  life. Sometimes they delight to draw sweetness from Him.

We have received much warning but it is little taken notice of. God summons and warns us. He assures us that wrath is approaching, but sadly these warnings make so little impression on us. They are lost to many of us. Woe to us that we have not made better use of them. God has warned us sooner and later, but it has had little or no effect, if it has not made us more complacent.

(b) Causing us to believe the warning

You who believe and accept warning, it is the mercy of God which gives you a new heart to do so. It causes you to make provision against the day of wrath. Those are happy who come before the judgment seat of God having made their acquaintance and peace with the Judge. They have got near to God and made peace with Him, the Judge is their friend. Have you made sure of everything and provision for defence?

(c) Providing shelter for us

His people have no more to do except flee to these chambers and hide themselves from wrath. The Lord will not execute judgment until chambers have been provided, and then the people of God need not fear. Chambers are provided for all that will flee to them. Will you die among God’s enemies? You are seen complying among the rest of God’s enemies, and those who do so have no reason to look for these chambers of protection from Him.

4. How Do We Enter God’s Shelter?

What will put a soul into these divine chambers? Nothing but faith. Faith both opens and shuts the doors. It opens the doors for us to enter in, and it shuts the doors behind us when we are entered into these chambers of God’s presence. No soul can enter in without faith. No soul can be in safety except within these chambers. None can enter in except by faith.

(a) Enter

There must be an entering in. This is committing ourselves to God and covenanting with Him by faith. You must commit yourselves to Him in time and not go back any more to the entanglements of the world.

(b) Shut the doors

Make all secure behind you. Wrath will pursue you, and if you take too long to flee to these chambers, wrath will overtake you. The wrath of God will never come to any person who has got into these chambers and got the doors shut behind him. Well, then, shut the doors, and make all sure behind you by engaging yourself to God in covenant. Justice will examine you strictly; if you leave merely a window unshut He will find you. Therefore make everything sure in time.

(c) Hide

Hide yourselves. Enter in. Hiding and entering in are the same. This makes everything sure with God. Where will you hide yourselves? In Him; for there is no other hiding place than in Him. “A man shall be a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of waters in a dry place, and as a shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). These are chambers of defence and well furnished. Be serious for yourselves and make all secure. Shut the doors behind you, and God will never tell you to go out again. Rest there till the dove come to the ark with the olive leaf in her mouth.

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The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Deception

The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Deception

The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Deception
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."
13 Mar, 2020

If the most dangerous form of deception is self-deception, then we must know the most dangerous way of deceiving ourselves. There are all kinds of ways we may overestimate our good qualities or be blind to reality. Scripture warns about deceiving ourselves in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:22,26). But when it concerns our eternal good it is of infinite concern. That is unsettling of course, but Scripture does seriously and frequently warn us about this (Matthew 7:20-22). The heart is supremely deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). That is why we need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 139:23-24). We may be able to deceive ourselves but God is not deceived (Galatians 6:7-8). If we simply brush it off for ourselves or pull back from warning others, what are the consequences? It is not just a blight of nominal Christianity on the Church, it is eternal ruin.

We do not want people to be always questioning the reality of God’s grace when it is really there. We want the freeness and fulness of the grace of the gospel to be embraced and enjoyed. But there is also the real danger of a reckless false assurance. Some think that they can make a profession with their mouth while their lives are professing something very different. Others take comfort from all their activity in the life of the Church or how much they know. Surely this means they are the real thing?

We need to address this urgent question. “God knows their/my heart” is too easy a reflex response to avoiding seriously searching questions. Are we blurring the distinction between a real and an empty profession? Andrew Gray sounds a warning note from Galatians 6:3 in this updated extract.

1. What is Self-Deception?

It is when someone:

  • believes themselves to be that which indeed they are not;
  • thinks they have more than indeed they have;
  • desires not to appear what they really are but desires to appear that which they really are not.

2. Is Self-Deception a Widespread Problem?

Scripture makes it clear this is a significant problem.

  • Scripture commands make it clear that it is a widespread problem (Romans 11:20; Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 3:18).
    (b) Scripture makes it clear that it is not one or two persons but often a whole generation that deceive themselves (Proverbs 30:12). Christ observes I in many (Revelation 3:17) who thought themselves to be rich when they were poor.
    (c) Christ often reproves people for misconceptions about their own spiritual state (Luke 12:57).
    (d) Scripture makes it clear this is a significant problem by giving many marks and evidences of grace for people to examine and test their condition. Why would all these marks of real grace be given in Scripture, if there were not too much self-deception?

3. Why Should We Be Concerned About Self-Deception?

We need to consider the following to be on our guard against self-deception.

(a) Many Are Self-Deceived
Do Not Think of Yourself More Highly Than You Ought. There are many whose delusion will be exposed when Christ will come and judge the world. This is clear from Proverbs 30:12 and Matthew 7:22. It is more than probable that where there is one who does not mistake, there are six who do mistake. I urge you therefore to search, lest God should be provoked to search and find out your iniquity.

(b) It is Very Hard to Undeceive Ourselves
This is an evil that is very hard to drive people away from, “They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return” (Jeremiah 8:5). No matter what anyone says they will go down to their grave with this, “I am in Christ.” It is exceedingly hard for one under the power of this to abandon their mistake.

(c) Self-Deception is Mocking God
It is, as it were, denying the justice and omniscience of God for a person to live under such a mistake. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).

(d) Self-Deception is One of the Greatest Possible Evils
There are seven things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16). But what is that which leads someone to these seven things? It is “a proud look”. If you would not want to make yourselves hateful in the eyes of the Lord, guard against self-deception. There are some who say, “I am holier than thou”; but these are a smoke in His nostrils.

(e) Self-Deception Hardens Us Against the Gospel
There is nothing that hinders the success of the gospel on many men and women’s hearts so much as this: they do not think they need Christ (Proverbs 26:12). There are lies in their right hand, so that they cannot deliver their souls (Isaiah 44:20). The two sorts of people who are furthest away from conversion by the gospel are the presumptuous person and the hypocritical person.

(f) Self-Deception Will Be a Fearful Discovery to Make in Eternity
What a dreadful day some will have who think they are going to heaven, when they will go down to those everlasting flames. They will see their hope has been nothing but as a spider’s web and as a morning dream? I confess, it is one of the most lamentable things to be under this mistaken presumption; it is like an ox going calmly to the slaughter.

4. How Does Self-Deception Happen?

The reason this happens is that many use a false standard for examining themselves and this leads them to a wrong conclusion. Here are the false standards that people use.

(a) An Outward Rather Than Spiritual View of the Law
They use the letter rather than the spiritual meaning of the law than by the spiritual meaning of the law. This was the rule Paul took before his conversion; “I was alive without the law” (Romans 7:9), and, “Concerning…the law, [I was] blameless” (Philippians 3:6). A person may be blameless in their view, according to the letter of the law, to whom Christ will say, “I never knew you: depart from me” (Matthew 7:23). The law reaches to the inward person as well as outwardly. If you never committed one act of iniquity, yet if you think only one evil thought, the law pronounces a curse on you. If many of us sat down to judge ourselves by the spiritual meaning of the law, we might be forced to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am undone.”

(b) Activity Rather than Grace
People judge themselves by their religious activities rather than whether it is done through grace. This is like the Pharisee (Luke 18:12). Judge yourself more by your graces than by your religious duties.

(c) Extraordinary Rather than Ordinary Experience
Some people are ready to judge their condition by the extraordinary experiences they have had rather than their ordinary way of living.

(d) Conscience Rather than the Law
Some people think all is well if their consciences do not speak any evil against them. But the law has much to say to you when your conscience says nothing against you. Some think they can build their eternal blessedness on a peaceful or silent conscience. But do not always believe your conscience.

(e) Good Intentions Rather than Good Practice.
Some say “I have good intentions” when their behaviour is challenged. But if you yourself by your intentions, you may be making a very great mistake. If good intentions could bring someone to heaven, then every slothful person would be in heaven because they have desires (Proverbs 13:4). The gospel and the law require not just intentions but obedience.

(f) Gifts Rather than Grace and Practice.
If you could speak about God like an angel and could understand all the mysteries within the Scriptures, yet still did not practice in some measure what you know, God would say unto you, “I never knew you.”What advantage will you have in knowing alll the excellent things of God, if you do not practice them? If knowledge could have brought people to heaven, Balaam would be a shining star in heaven today. Do not judge yourselves by your gifts and knowledge, but by your graces and practice.
(g) Human Rather than Divine Approval
Some say, “I have the approval of all the saints, I may therefore conclude I will go to heaven.” Although the approval of the saints may sometimes have its own weight, there are some in hell who have had much approval of the saints. Let Christ’s approval be the rule by which you judge yourself. What advantage would it be if every minister called you a saint, but Christ called you a reprobate?

(h) Outward Blessings
You may have temporal blessings such as food, drink and clothing in abundance and yet be a stranger unto God. Do not judge your condition by God’s outward dealings.

5. Why Are People Self-Deceived?

(a) They Do Not Examine Themselves
The apostle follows his warning to help the Galatians guard against presumption with this direction, “Let every man prove his own work” (Galatians 6:4). Search yourselves much using God’s standard. Some are unwilling to examine themselves because it will discourage them others are unwilling because they have already come to the conclusion. “Why do I need to search? Am I not certain that Christ is mine?” But we can never be too sure He is ours.

(b) They Do Not Exercise Faith
Some do not exercise spiritual faith. Faith will help a Christian exceedingly in humbly walking with God (Romans 3:27).

(c) They Boast of What They Have
Paul, reproves those who boasted of the things they had received as though they had not received them (1 Corinthians 4:7). If you are conscious of that, it will keep you humble.

(d) They Are Ignorant of their Corrupt Nature
This is the mother of pride and presumption. When Paul speaks about original sin in Romans 11:25 he warns them of presumption.

(e) They Do Not Consider What They Ought to Be
If someone compared their attainments with what they ought to be, it would crush presumption. If we think we knows anything, we know nothing as we ought to know.

(f) They Compare Themselves With Those Who Are Worse
Some judge themselves by the lives of those who are worse as the Pharisee did (Luke 18:11).

Conclusion

Are you prepared to ask yourself the question, “am I under this mistake and delusion?” The person who is furthest from it will be most ready to ask this question. Search yourselves and see how it stands between God and you. Many assume quickly and easily they are forgiven and at peace with God. It is a matter of eternal concern. This is one of the most dreadful and terrible things we can be, a self-deceiver. Do not think yourselves to be something when indeed you are nothing.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This recently published volume of sermons by Andrew Gray is highly recommended. They are packed with both simple and profound thought communicated with almost tangible passion and highly recommended. There are sermons with evangelistic appeal as well as those that reach the hearts of believers with a uniquely penetrating power. 

We have obtained the following special discounts exclusively for Reformation Scotland readers.

UK Customers: Buy it for £24.95 £14.36 using the code ref.scot2019.

North America: Buy it for $30 $15 using the code BERECONCILED50OFF.

 

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What if the Coronavirus Comes to Your Home?

What if the Coronavirus Comes to Your Home?

What if the Coronavirus Comes to Your Home?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Mar, 2020

It’s hard to avoid being at least unsettled by the constant focus on Coronavirus and its progress. It has been estimated that 40-70% of the world’s population will contract the virus this year. Whether or not they do, the impact in many other ways is likely to be significant. Suddenly, even praying for our daily bread can seem a far more immediate concern. We should, of course be concerned to preserve the life and health of ourselves and others carefully and lawfully. This is part of what the sixth commandment requires. What should be our response in a climate of panic and alarm when we don’t know what the future may hold? Perhaps we are inclined to shrug it off as hype and exaggeration. But neither panic nor carelessness are the right response. How do we express a confident trust in God’s sovereign care in a way that is not merely glib?

Christians have been in similar situations before. It is important to recognise that Coronavirus is nothing like as devastating as the plague. We can still learn, however, from how Christians responded to it. Jeremiah Burroughs was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. He lived through various outbreaks of the plague. In 1625 41,313 died in London and between 1640 and 1646 there were 11,000 deaths. During those years he preached a series of sermons from Philippians 4:11 on the subject of attaining contentment. He speaks of how contentment is possible, even in times of prevailing plague panic. These sermons were later published and have been valued by many as the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

What did he mean by contentment? “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Such contentment is active trust not a frozen fatalistic resignation. It does not mean mere passivity, we can use means in a way that follows God’s providence. The key matter is to submit to God’s will in such a way that “our wills are melted into the will of God”. “One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world”. He said that “a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction”.

Burroughs identifies the plague as the saddest affliction of all. When it visited your home it meant almost certainly that the family would all be taken. What could possibly make up for so great an affliction? Burroughs tells us in this updated extract that God’s Covenant and its promises are enough in such circumstances.

1. Look for God’s Promises

There is no condition that a godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise or other in the Scripture to help him in that condition. Contentment goes out to the promises and can fetch from the promise that which will supply its needs. This is the most real thing in the world to a gracious heart. When they find a lack of contentment they go to the promise and the covenant. They plead the promises that God has made.

I will only mention one situation that is the saddest affliction of all; the plague visiting the home. In other afflictions they might have their friends and other things to comfort them. But in this they cannot have their friends come to them or other comforts because of the plague. Psalm 91:10 is a promise regarding the plague and also Psalm 91:5-6. It is a portion of Scripture for those in danger of the plague. But you will say “this is a promise that the plague shall not come near to them”. But notice that it also speaks of no evil coming on them, in other words the evil of it shall not come near you.

But you will say, “It does come to many godly people, and how can they make use of this portion of Scripture. It is rather a Scripture that would trouble them, because it is a promise that it will not come near them and yet it has. What good is there in such a promise?” You are under the protection of God more than others. But you also have this comfort, that the evil of it shall be taken from you. If God will make use of this affliction for other purposes, He will do it in such a way as He will make it up to you in some other way. Perhaps you have given your children something, but afterwards you need it back. So you say, “I will make it up to you some other way”. Your child does not think that your love is any whit less to them. So it is when God by His promise gives you His protection yet something happens. It is only as if a father should say, “I gave you that indeed, but let me have it and I will make it up to you some other way that will be as good”. God says “let me have your health and liberty, and life, and it shall be made up to you some other way”.

2. Look for God’s Purposes

When the plague comes to those that have such a promise, it is for some special and notable reason. God requires them to search and examine His purpose in a special way. There is so much to be learned in the promise that God has made concerning this particular evil that the people of God they may come to calm their hearts in this affliction. They can say “I read in this Psalm that God has made a promise to His people to deliver them from the plague. Yet I find it has come. It may be I have not made use of my faith in this promise before now. If God brings afflictions on me, yet God will make it up some other way. God made a promise to deliver me or at least to deliver me from all the evil of it.

Now if this thing does afflict me and yet I have a promise from God, certainly the evil of it is taken away. This promise tells me that if it does happen to me it is for some notable purpose. God has the use of my life and intends to bring about His glory some way that I do not know of. If He comes in fatherly chastisement, I will be satisfied. So a Christian heart by reasoning out of the Word, comes to satisfy their soul in the midst of the hand of God being so heavily on them and being in such a distressed condition as that.

Ungodly hearts do not find the same healing power in the Word to heal their worries and troubles of spirit. But when those that are godly come to the Word they find a plaster for all their wounds. So they come to have ease and contentment in such conditions that are very grievous and miserable to others.

3. Look to God’s Covenant

In 2 Samuel 23:5 David says that although he does not find his house to be as in every way as he would wish he has contentment. It is in the face that God has made with him an everlasting covenant. This is what helps everything. I am not so with God, nor is my house and family as I hoped it might be with God. Perhaps there is this or that affliction on my house. Suppose you would have the plague come into your house, and your house is not safe. You do not have that outward comfort in your house as formerly you had. But can you read this portion of Scripture and say the following?

“Although my house is not so blessed with health as other people’s houses are. Although my house is not so, yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant. I am still one in covenant with God. The Lord has made an everlasting covenant with me. As for things in this world, I see they are but momentary, they are not everlasting. I see that in a family when all was well only a week ago, everything is down now and the plague has swept away a great many of them. The rest are left in sadness and mourning. We see there is no rest in the things of this world, yet the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things. I find disorder in my heart and in my family; but the everlasting covenant is ordered in all things. Yes and that is sure. There is nothing sure in these earthly things. I can be sure of nothing here, especially in these times”.

We know that we can be sure of little that we have. Who can be sure of what they possess? Some have lived well and comfortably, all was well, yet within a day or two all was taken away. There is no sureness in the things of this world. But the covenant is sure. Notice what follows, “this is all my salvation”. Why David do you not want salvation from your enemies and outward dangers, from pestilence and plague? The frame of his spirit is quietened, as if he said “if that salvation comes, well and good, I shall praise God for it, but what I have in the Covenant, that’s my salvation, I look on that as enough”. “This is all my salvation, and all my desire”. Why David is there not something else you want besides this covenant? “No”, he says, “it is all involved in this”. Surely those who have all they desire must live contented lives. This holy man says, “this is all my desire”. Even if God does not make my house to grow, I have all my desires.

Thus you see how a godly heart finds contentment in the covenant. Many of you speak of the covenant of God, and of the covenant of grace, but have you found it so effectual for your souls? Have you sucked this sweetness from the covenant and contentment to your hearts in your sad conditions? It is a special sign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction comes to them they naturally go to the covenant. Just like a child goes to their mother or father as soon as it is in danger. So as soon as a gracious heart is in any trouble or affliction their new nature carries them immediately to the covenant. There they find ease and rest. If you find your heart running to the covenant, it is an excellent sign of the reality of grace.

Conclusion

Burroughs points us to the promises of God in times of trouble. There are various promises for the heart to find contentment in times of affliction such as Isaiah 43:2, Isaiah 54:17 and Joshua 1:5 (Hebrews 13:5 shows this applies to us as well as Joshua). Burroughs says that every time a godly person reads the Scriptures and encounters a promise, they ought to put their hand on it and say “this is a part of my heritage, it’s mine, and I am to live upon it”. This will make you to be contented. Other promises include Psalm 34:10, Psalm 37:6. Isaiah 58:10. We have to learn this lesson of contentment, as Paul did (Philippians 4:1) and we can only do it by grace. Burroughs says, “the Lord teach you thoroughly by His Spirit these lessons of contentment”. Here are some vital counsel for helping to quieten our hearts and strengthen our faith in troublous and uncertain times.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a classic book by Jeremiah Burroughs. Showing how Christ teaches contentment, he also defines and describes it. Besides explaining how to attain contentment, Burroughs also deals with the sin of murmuring. 

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Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?
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.
21 Feb, 2020

We’re a culture with an obsession for possession; getting and having more things. In fact, it would collapse if everyone only obtained what they needed rather than what they wanted. You can have it all in terms of material goods and success yet still feel so empty that life doesn’t seem worth living. It’s possible to possess everything and have nothing from this point of view. But there is another perspective from which “having nothing and yet possessing all things” is a good and desirable thing. In fact, the very words of this paradox come from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:10. All things are ours if we are Christ’s. And if we have Christ, we cannot have anything better and we will not lack anything we truly need. Jeremiah has the same experience. He is destitute and experiences intense sorrows and affliction. But his hope is “the Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). Since this is true, he possesses all things, even though he has nothing.

In Lamentations Jeremiah pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. He descends in grief so deeply that he seems to come to the very bottom. Here he is tempted to despair of relief from his misery (Lamentations 3:15-19). Yet at this very point of desperation it is as though God takes him up and draws him towards very different thoughts (Lamentations 3:20-24). He finds hope in the mercy of God. Yet it has taken great wrestling to reach this point. David experienced similar wrestling (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 13:1).

Faith is the means by which they overcome (cf. 1 John 5:4). Even though God may seem to deny us or be silent to us we must not let Him go but still wrestle to receive the blessing [cf. Genesis 32:24–26). For if we leave Him, where else can we go or what can we do without Him? He is near to all that call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). As David Dickson observes, by wrestling Jeremiah obtains hope and gets his head above the water. He is like a drowning man who engages all his energy in swimming until he can catch hold of something to pull him out. Then he can regain his breath and rest (Psalm 116:3–4).

In wrestling, faith gains the victory; it cannot be overcome and fail (Luke 22:32). It shows us that there is hope in the deepest darkness. Jeremiah is able to come to the point of saying, “The Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). He goes from despair to hope, from emptiness to fulness and from having nothing to possessing everything. In this updated extract, David Dickson comments on what this means. First of all, he shows the way he comes to possess all things in God, by faith and hope in His mercy.

1. From Having Nothing to Possessing Everything

The prophet draws nearer to God but let us notice the steps that bring him closer. He says he recalls the Lord’s mercy to mind and therefore has hope. He says that it is of His mercy that he is not consumed. Then he turns himself to God and praises His great faithfulness. Now at last, he draws nearer to God and pulls Him in his arms, and says, “the Lord is my portion.” Here are the steps of a soul drawing near to God. In unbelief his back is turned to God but when a soul begins to believe or think upon God, it has hope. Having meditated a while on His nature, it turns and speaks to Him. At last it embraces Him and says, “the Lord is my portion.”

When thoughts of God come into your mind in your perplexity always keep going until you get God in your arms. Follow on till you possess Him in your heart as your portion. Do not leave Him till you get access to Him. Hold Him so tightly that you can say, “my beloved is mine and I am his” (Song 2:16). Lay hold on Him, never to let Him go again (Song. 3:4). Do not be content merely to speak of Him and to Him without embracing Him for He is near in Christ. Embrace Him by faith, hold Him in love. Faith brings Him down and love is shed abroad in your heart (Romans 5:5). He will refresh your heart and make you fight against your enemies, wrestle and run the way of His commands with delight, even though before you could not pray (Psalm 119:32).

The hardest struggles have the greatest deliverances and the dark night of trouble has a clear day of comfort. Therefore, when you come into trouble, wrestle and be sure that release will come. Jeremiah who was earlier calling God a lion or a bear and an archer shooting arrows at him, now calls God His portion. Should not you do likewise? Wrestle and you will find victory.

2. What Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything Means

“The Lord is my portion.” What is it to have God for one’s portion? Just as in outward things we may get an allowance of wages for our needs as the portion we wait for and make use of, so it is in the church of God. There is a variety of professing believers and servants and everyone has their portion. Someone’s portion is what they work and labour for. Many only give outward service to God for a reward in this world, as those who give want to be seen of others (Matthew 6:2). Yet some follow Christ for Himself and every one of them gets their portion, reward, or allowance they seek. If any are disappointed, it is because they have chosen something other than God for their portion.

Jeremiah here chooses God for his portion and lays hold on Him. He is now stripped naked of all the comforts of his fifty years preaching. All his days he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow and seems to have lost all his labour. When the church was cut off, sorrow and anguish seized on him. He felt many tokens of God’s anger and being unable to endure these heavy weights, he flees to God. He pulls Him in his arms and says, “the Lord is my portion”. He is resolved that here he will live and die. Even if he can find no ease from his current trouble, having God would make up for the lack of fellowship with the saints.

This is what his “soul” says, it is no mere verbal profession. Many would say that God was their portion. They say they love God above all things and that they would rather enjoy His presence and favour than anything else besides. But their life actually tells us that they have made the world, riches, pleasure, success etc., their portion. These are the things they engage themselves most to acquire and maintain. But Jeremiah takes God as his witness that He is the only thing he would most gladly have (Psalm 73:25). Jeremiah says it with the soul, while others said it with the mouth.

3. How Possessing Everything Makes Up for Having Nothing

Jeremiah makes the fact of God being his portion, equivalent to all his troubles and losses. There is no ease in trouble until God is taken for the easing of all trouble. He can make up all for all we lose and lack and counterbalance all evils. Until God is taken hold of to make up for all loss, nothing is able to give ease or contentment. Whatever a soul may need, laying hold of God will make up for it all (Psalm 4:6).

If we can in our souls give up all things, endure all things with God, and be content to have anything done to us (as long as we have God)–trials will not overcome us. Such a person possesses more than anything they can lose. Anything they can suffer is compensated to them. People usually wish contentment in all things, but God will sometimes withhold what we want so that we may seek Himself and be content to lack all other things.

Make God your portion. Nothing else but Him will do you good ultimately. He is always near when all other things fail.

4. The World Does Not Know What Possessing Everything Means

By saying the Lord is his portion he testifies that he has something unique that the world does not have. Here we see the difference between God’s children and others. God’s children seek their happiness in God and have Him for their portion. Others seek their happiness in some other thing and have some worldly thing for their portion. But those who seek something other than God for their portion cannot glory in Him. Those that have God for their portion glory in the fact that God is theirs and they are His. It is not possible to have God and something else for our portion at the same time. God reckons the person who makes God his portion, as His child (Genesis 15:1).

Many are inclined to have God as well as something else they want such as riches and honour, but if they do not get these, they leave Him. Even the godly want ease, peace and prosperity as well as Christ but the Lord sometimes strips them naked of all these comforts. He brings on them those things which their soul hates. This is so that in being loaded with troubles they may come to Him to get ease. If they delay to come to Him, His hand is still heavy on them till they come to Him and He becomes to them all in all.

Have you made God for your portion? Do not be surprised if He has withdrawn other things from you so that you find sweetness in Himself alone. Be content with Him and He will be better to you than all that you can want. He will uphold you under all troubles.

When nothing earthly can be relied on you will know what it is to have God for your portion (Psalm 142:5). Seek to have your needs supplied in Him, whatever it is that you lack in this world. Take God for all and take Him not only for outward needs but for lack of knowledge, strength and other spiritual graces, that God may be all unto you. And when you are stripped naked of all things, remember that these things are pulled out of your arms so that you may be filled with better things and may adhere more firmly to God in Christ.

The outward does not please God unless the inward goes along with it. Profession is empty unless the heart directs the mouth. Seek to profess not in word only but also in heart, and so lay hold on God with determination and make Him your portion.

5. How Possessing Everything Brings Hope

Because God is Jeremiah’s portion he has hope that his misery will come to an end. Although those who have God for their portion may be without comfort in heaven and earth they can still hope that all will be well with them. For when someone has taken hold of God with all they are, they will overcome all opposition. If you have resolved to keep God for your portion and to leave all other things rather than leave Him, you may have hope to overcome every trouble and in Him to obtain all you can desire.

The updated extract in this blog post is from a series of sermons David Dickson preached around 1628. They have never been published before but are due for release by Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books in the coming months (DV). 

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The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done

The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done

The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
14 Feb, 2020

“I have behaved foolishly”. Politicians and other celebrities seem to find it easy to acknowledge the stupidity of their actions when found out. They now regret what they did due to the consequences. But they often don’t seem to acknowledge the serious moral culpability of what they have done. “Foolish” seems a breathtakingly ego-centred way of trivialising sin. Many people are willing to admit to “foolish” actions. It’s easy to think about doing foolish things in a casual way. Looking back, we can identify things we either regret or are ashamed of. We’re thinking of the exceptions rather than the rule. But let’s take a closer look at describing sin as foolishness. Perhaps it tells us more than we realise at first.

The Bible often describes sin in terms of foolishness (Mark 7:22), especially in the book of Proverbs (19:3; 24:9). The Psalmist confesses his sin in these terms (Psalm 38:5; 69:5). There is a moral aspect to folly and an insanity in sin. James Durham deals with this in the following updated extract from a sermon on Psalm 85:8.

1. SIN IS THE GREATEST FOLLY 

Sin against God is an exceedingly great folly. It is the most foolish and the maddest thing in the world. Therefore, it is called folly here, i.e. folly in the extreme. It is that which most mars and interrupts the peace of saints. What verse 2 calls “iniquity” so graciously pardoned, is called folly here. This is because of the folly and madness that is in sin. This is the reason that the sinner is so often called a fool and simple in the Book of Proverbs (see Proverbs 1:20-33). In Ephesians 5:15 the Apostle exhorts Christians, to walk not as fools but as wise. In Luke 15:17 the Prodigal Son is said, when converted, to come to himself. That is, as if he had been beside himself, all the while he was going on in his sinful way.

(a) Sin is madness in its futility
Is it not folly for a man to sit abusing and wasting away his time, to be given to filthiness, to neglect prayer, to curse and swear, to let his mind rove on things that never were nor will be, and in which there is no profit? There is great futility in sin.

(b) Sin is madness in its consequences
If we look at the sad and bitter fruits of sin and the great harm that comes by it, it is evidently desperate madness and pleasure purchased at too high a price. Such pleasure is only imaginary and not real. It mars the life of grace and peace with God. It treasures up wrath against the day of wrath (Romans 2:5). 

You can see this in Ahithophel, whose counsel to David and Absalom was so shrewd that it was as if one had enquired at the oracle of God (2 Samuel 16:23). The upshot of his deep wisdom was utmost folly, however, when he went and hung himself. The rich man who had been wise to store up lots of good for himself was addressed as a fool. His soul would be taken from him and then whose would these things be (Luke 12:20)? What advantage or wisdom is it for someone to gain the whole world, if they lose their own soul (Mark 8:36)? What a mad and foolish bargain. 

(c) Sin is madness in its appearance
If we look at sin from a spiritual perspective we will see folly in its very appearance. A wicked man in sinning looks as like a fool, as David did, when he played the mad man before the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:13). Is it not folly to see someone labouring in the fire, and wearying themselves for nothing and pursuing the east wind (Habakkuk 2:13; Hosea 12:1)? They are like a man who is delusional and imagines himself to be a king, riding in great state and triumph, when he is only a poor, pitiful creature, to those who see him. 

(d) Sin is madness in its cause
No just or relevant reason can be given for sin. It is, therefore, no doubt, folly. Can anything demonstrate man’s folly so much, as their contending with God, walking in the way of death and leaving the way of life (Proverbs 1:22)? The Word of God is true wisdom and the way of life is clearly show in it with God as our pattern. Is there anything more reasonable than that we should live in conformity to the Word of God and to Him we ought to follow? But sin opposes the whole Word of God and God Himself. 

Strive to firmly believe this truth; that sin, whether it is doing what is forbidden or neglecting duty, is the greatest folly (Romans 6:21). Ultimately this is what everyone will find out to their cost. If we could discern spiritually the condition of most men and women, who are still unregenerate and despise the offers of grace and will not receive Jesus Christ. The most insane person in the world would not be a sadder and more pitiable sight to us than the lamentable case of such souls who forsake their own mercy and following after lying vanities. 

2. WORDS OF PEACE FOR THOSE GUILTY OF THE GREATEST FOLLY 

Despite the greatness of this folly, even God’s people (“saints”) commit many acts of folly. He speaks peace to them in the following ways.

(a) Inviting them. He urges them to return and assures them that He will heal their backslidings (Isaiah 55; Jeremiah 3; Hosea 14). He preaches peace to them through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2; Revelation 3:18-20). 

(b) Pardoning them. He requests them to be reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:20). He discharges their debt (Colossians 2:13-14; Jeremiah 50:20; Isaiah 40:2).

(c) Assuring them. He not only makes peace but declares that peace to the pardoned sinner (Mark 2:5; Mark 5:34; Psalm 35:3). He comes in and dines with them and one main dish on the table is peace (John 14:27). 

3. AVOID RETURNING TO THE GREATEST FOLLY AFTER SUCH WORDS OF PEACE

Even those saints who have been given to folly and to whom God has spoken peace may return to folly. After peace was spoken to David, he fell into adultery and murder. After a sweet word of peace was spoken to Hezekiah (Isaiah 38), he falls into the folly of pride and vain boasting (Isaiah 39). After peace was spoken to Peter, he denies his Master. After Jehoshaphat had peace spoken to him he fell several times into the same sin even after he was reproved for it (2 Chronicles 18-20). How soon and how suddenly they fell into sin.

(a) Avoid even comparatively little sins. Beware of saying “it is a little sin”. The devil drives sin and temptation as a carpenter drives a wedge. If you let in the point of the wedge by a little sin it will become a great one before it is finished, just like the thick end of the wedge follows the thin end.

(b) Avoid sins of omission. Some may not commit open sins but instead neglect prayer. They may misspend and trifle away their time.

(c) Avoid formalism. Beware of a cold-hearted way of worshipping God in public or private. God, the all-seeing God observes whether you are whole-hearted, sincere and serious in the duties of religion.

(d) Avoiding neglecting spiritual duties.
These include self-examination, self-denial, putting sin to death and making use of Christ. Neglecting these is gospel folly, not making use of Christ as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

(e) Avoid unbelief.
The heart has a secret, natural inclination to this, especially in difficulties. 

(f) Avoid heart idols. Perhaps you will not give way to grosser sins but your souls will instead be carried away by the idols of the heart. You allow vain, proud, covetous, revengeful, and filthy thoughts. But if Christ gets the heart, He must reign in it and command it completely.

(g) Avoid the love of the world. Guard yourself against excessively pursuing after the things of this world, however lawful in themselves. This can destroy more souls than things that are sinful (Luke 14:16-24). 

4. HELP TO AVOID RETURNING TO THE GREATEST FOLLY 

Durham gives twelve helps to avoid returning to folly after God has spoken peace to us. 

(a) Walk in fear (Psalm 2:11; Proverbs 16:18; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:1)
(b) Watch and pray (Matthew 26:41; Mark 13:37).
(c) Keep your heart (Proverbs 4:23).
(d) Renew your vows to God.
(e) Repent for past folly (Psalm 51:3)
(f) Abide in Christ and His strength (John 15:4-5).
(g) Fulfil your vows (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
(h) Reject all temptations (Hosea 14:8).
(i) Examine your obedience.
(j) Walk humbly, not trusting your heart (Proverbs 28:26).
(k) Help, exhort and edify each other (Hebrews 3:12-13).
(l) Do not sin against conscience (1 John 3:20).

 

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