Problems, laments and warnings

Problems, laments and warnings

Problems, laments and warnings

For Jeremiah the tragedy of Jerusalem being destroyed was that nobody had listened to the warnings God had given. He cannot escape the sense that this devastation was something his people had brought on themselves, and that God was right to be angry. In his commentary on Lamentations, David Dickson reminds us that we too need to share God’s view of our sins as churches and communities. In the following updated extract from his commentary on Lamentations 3, Dickson draws attention to the fittingness of God’s responses to our behaviours. If we have not listened to Him, and treated His message with contempt, it is not at all incongruous if He does not listen to us, and lets us be treated with contempt. Will we register the warning in time and honour Him as He deserves?

In the first few chapters of Lamentations, we have heard a pitiful lamentation from the prophet, a man exercised with troubles all his days. He preached in grief of heart to this people for the space of fifty years. When they were in a good condition, he requested them to be reconciled to God. They scorned and mocked him, and set light by his words, yet he fought on with them year by year, telling them that the Lord’s judgments were at hand.

And now when the judgment which he foretold was come, it breaks his heart to see so many thousands of them cut off by famine, sword, and pestilence, and to the pitiful state of those who were left alive, carried captive, and made slaves to pagans.

So all his days were spent in sorrow, and he wrote this book of Lamentations to stir up those who would come after, to mourn with him, and to make it known to the church in subsequent ages that sorrow would be at their heart, and that similar judgment would overtake them, unless by laying to heart they would prevent it.

God does not hear their prayers

‘Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through’ (Lam. 3:44). Jeremiah laments that God would not hear their prayer, but had drawn a curtain over heaven, and hid His gracious face. They prayed for God’s help and assistance, deliverance from trouble, and especially from the hand of their enemy, yet God did not hear them, and permitted them to be in the hand of their enemies. Although they were the people God had chosen for Himself, and had a house among them for the God of heaven, and were populous, large, strong, wealthy, yet the Lord lets it all be sacked, burnt, demolished, by profane soldiers, the majority killed and the rest taken captive.

But in our times, we don’t think of this. It’s as if God’s judgments are dead and He does not send any trouble for sin. Therefore, just as God carried out all hat the prophet warned the people about, so we may certainly expect similar judgments to overtake us, for we are guilty of following the same way as they did, and despising mercy as much as they did.

God will not hear every prayer, especially not prayers for judgments to be removed, when they are made too late, after people have refused the offer of mercy and refused to turn.

If God is not able to avenge contempt of the gospel, then don’t turn to Him now. But if He is a righteous God, He will not fail to reckon with you, for your abuse of mercy as much as for your faults.

But although God did not hear their prayers, yet the prophet prayed on in the name of the church. Although God rejects prayers, yet we should pray on! Although He will not hear belated prayers to stop temporal judgments, yet He will not refuse prayer for the removal of sin or for graces to the soul. Supposing Noah, Job and Daniel would pray for removing temporal trouble, they would not be heard (Ezekiel 14:14). But you could be the most unworthy and wretched person there has ever been, and if you pray for removing sin, you cannot fail to be heard. God grants relief for the soul when there is none for the body.

They are treated with contempt

‘Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people’ (Lam. 3:45). Here Jeremiah laments that God had made them contemptible, like what is swept out of a house and thrown on the dunghill. Although these were the most honourable people under heaven, yet a nice looking Jew, man or woman, would not have fetched the price of a horse or a cow. Nobody would even buy them as slaves except for the most servile work.

But Jeremiah says it is God who has done this. ‘Thou hast made us …’ This is how the Lord gives a rejoinder to people for the contempt and disparagement they gave to His prophet, His Word, and His ordinances. He makes His own saints to be disparagingly thought of. As people regard God’s ordinances, let them expect to be regarded themselves.

You who let the Bible lie mouldering on the window ledge, you who content yourself with turning up to church without caring how much you profit by coming, but go home jesting at the Word and the preacher, be sure that God will despise you as you despised Him. If a temporal despising does not humble people in this life, they will be sure of a great despising in the day when God shall say, ‘Depart from me …’ The Lord shall say, ‘I rose early and late and sent my servants to pray and to preach to you and to offer reconciliation to you, but you rejected my offer and my word. I came and taught you from house to house, but you would not be taught. Therefore, go your way from me to the pit prepared for you. You and I shall never meet again.’ These people drew as near to God as any, but you see how for despising the offer of grace they are made as contemptible as any.

God is also just now, as He was then, and can do no less now in justice to us than He did to them, seeing we have given His Word and His messengers as great contempt as they did.

The Lord’s people are more honourable than any when the Lord is for them, but of all people they are the most contemptible when they defile their own glory by their sins, and procure at God’s hand exposure to shame. When someone makes a sincere profession they are most honourable, but when that same person belies their profession and defiles it by a lewd life, then they are most contemptible of anyone. Nothing is clearer among us than a torch or a candle, but nothing smells worse when it is put out. A professing Christian is beautiful when his holy life shines before the world, but he is the most stinking creature when he brings his profession to an end.

You who are professing Christians, be careful to keep your garments clean. Enjoy your place, your dignity, your honour, for you are called to be the sons of God, heirs and co-heirs with Christ, citizens of the new Jerusalem and of the congregation of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. But if you dishonour God by an evil life, you will be made more vile than the basest servant. If the spouse of Christ defiles His bed in following her own desires and affections, what wonder if she is made more contemptible than anyone else under heaven?

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How effectively do we tell the difference between right and wrong?

How effectively do we tell the difference between right and wrong?

How effectively do we tell the difference between right and wrong?

Conscience is our ability to decide whether something is morally right or wrong according to some standard. Conscience needs information in order to judge accurately, but we are not always good at evaluating the information available to us, or indeed assessing whether we have done right or wrong ourselves, so as to take legitimate peace and comfort for well-doing and appropriate shame and trouble for evil-doing. Samuel Annesley published a sermon on the conscience with the aim of helping people come to the peace which comes from a good conscience. Conscience is basically either ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ but Annesley provides a further breakdown of different kinds of conscience. The four kinds discussed in the following extract from his sermon can belong to either the converted or the unconverted. Helpfully, Annesley provides an analysis of what causes each of these problems and how the troubling conscience can be remedied.

The erring conscience

An erring conscience is one which judges otherwise than the thing is. Conscience is sometimes deceived through ignorance of what is right, by taking a false rule for a true, or an error for the will of God, and sometimes through ignorance of the fact, by misapplying a right rule to a wrong action.

A wrongly informed conscience takes human traditions and false doctrines, put forward under the guise of divine authority, to be the will of God. A famous instance of this is the case of Jeroboam, who was afraid that if the people went up to sacrifice at Jerusalem, he would lose his kingdom. So a council is called, flattering prophets come, and they have dreams and visions suitable to their purpose. A decree is made: “You have in the past gone up to Jerusalem, but now, behold your gods! These calves are just like the cherubim of the sanctuary!” This seems to the people to be a satisfactory warrant for them to readily follow the king’s commandment.

Much discussion has been had over whether we are bound to follow our erring conscience. The plain truth is that error cannot bind us to follow it. An erring conscience may bind us in such a way that it may be a sin to go against it, but it can never bind in such a way that it is a virtue to follow it. The violation of conscience is always evil, and the following of an erring conscience is evil, but there is a middle way that’s safe and good, and that is, to have conscience better informed by God’s Word, and to follow it accordingly.

What causes an erring conscience?

Of course there is original sin, which blinds the understanding, and there is also the just judgement of God on persons who do not receive, obey, and love the truth as it is in Jesus. But here are three causes besides these.

Negligence about learning the will of God, through slothfulness, and love of ease, and low esteem of the ways of God (Ecclesiastes 4:5–6).

Being too proud to consult others and to be taught by them. Even the sincerely conscientious are not free from a kind of ‘proud modesty,’ in being too shy to make inquiry into practical cases. The ungodly arrogate so much to their own judgment, that they know as much as anyone can teach them.

Having inordinate affection about things of which we are ignorant. This warps our consideration, for anyone who seeks truth with a bias will run counter to it when he comes near it, and not find it though he comes within striking distance of it.

What is the remedy for an erring conscience?

You may gather the remedies from the opposites to these causes of error. Be industriously diligent to know your duty — be humbly willing to receive instruction — and do not let your affections outrun your judgment.

There is one further rule I shall commend. Do what you know to be your present duty, and God will acquaint you with your future duty when it comes to be present. Make it your business to avoid known omissions, and God will keep you from feared commissions. See the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 25:4–5 ‘Show me thy ways, O Lord …’ and the answer in verse 9, ‘The meek will he guide in judgment …’

The doubting conscience

A doubting conscience is one which with trouble and anxiety suspends its judgment, not knowing which way to determine. It is an ambiguity of mind which consists in a standing (or rather, a wavering) balance, neither assenting nor dissenting.

In fact, strictly speaking, a doubting conscience is not really a functioning conscience at all, because by definition conscience actually judges what has been done, or what is to be done, but where there is no assent, there is no judging.

When the apostle says, ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin,’ by ‘faith’ there we must understand that persuasion and security of mind by which we believe and judge that this thing either pleases or displeases God (it does not refer to justifying faith). In all duties we must be unweariedly diligent to perceive the truth, so as to drive away doubtfulness, for the more certain our knowledge of the things we do, the more confident we may be in doing them, and the more joyful afterwards.

What causes doubting?

Lack of reasons, or equally weighted reasons, so that when we weigh things most impartially, yet we are not able to come to a determination, but the mind is still in suspense.

Specific reasons. General reasons are not sufficient to make a conscientious doubt; the mind must be fixating on some particular reasons that need to be duly weighed. A doubting conscience is bad anyway, but people make it worse when their doubts lurk in generals — they only have some cloudy notions from without, or foggy mists from within, and they take no due course to clear any of them.

How can you answer a doubting conscience?

About lesser matters, take the safest course. In doubtful things, ordinarily one way is clear, so take that. But this rule will not reach all cases.

So, secondly, establish where your doubt lies. Be sure that it really is a case of conscience — not of self-interest, or of prejudice, but of conscience, such that you are unreservedly willing for it to be resolved, and you can in prayer bring God a blank cheque to write whatever He pleases. Pare off all those quibbling demurs and worldly reasonings which may puzzle you, but can never satisfy you.

Then, write down your case as plainly as you can, with the reasons for your hesitation. Make two columns. On the one side write those reasons you judge cogent in favour; on the other side, put the reasons you judge weighty against. Weigh these impartially. You will find that your perplexed thoughts look different when written down than when floating, and that your own ink will ordinarily kill this fetter.

If this does not resolve your doubts, it will at least make you ready for advice. When you consult others, ask with sincerity what was said to Jeremiah, ‘Pray for us, that the Lord thy God may show us the way wherein we may walk …’ (Jer. 42:2–6), and request of them especially scriptures and reasons. One case thoroughly resolved like this will be singularly useful for scattering all future doubts in all other cases.

The scrupulous conscience

A scrupulous conscience determines that a thing is lawful, yet scarcely to be done, lest it should be unlawful. There is anxiety, reluctancy and fear in the determination. A scruple in the mind is like gravel in your shoe, vexing and hurting the conscience, and disturbing the soul in performance of duties.

What causes scrupulousness?

I shall name only two causes (forbearing to mention our ignorance and pride).

Natural disposition. Some people are naturally timorous or fearful and their imagination takes a sad view of things, making the person timid.

Temptations. This is the chief cause. If Satan cannot keep the heart a secure prisoner, he will do his utmost to overwhelm it with fears and suspicions, and he suits his temptations according to our natural temperament. He does not tempt the riotous with rewards, nor the glutton to the glory of abstinence.

How can we help a scrupulous conscience?

Firstly, while you should not be discouraged with your scruples, yet I plead with you, do not indulge them. Scruples naturally tend to do much spiritual damage. They are occasions of sin; they make the ways of God seem too restrictive; they hinder the work of grace; they hinder cheerfulness in the service of God; they quench the Spirit; and they unfit us for duty. These are all reasons to strive against them.

But yet, do not be discouraged, for God through His over-powering grace can make good use of them — to further the mortification of sin in us; to restrain us from worldly vanities; to abate pride; to make us more watchful; to make us strive to be more spiritual; and to almost force us to live more on Christ.

But, secondly, if you want to have these benefits, you must use this other remedy. Do what you possibly can to get rid of your scruples. If you cannot get rid of them, act against them. It is not only lawful but necessary to go against a scrupulous conscience, otherwise you will never have neither grace nor peace. Should you avoid praying, or receiving the sacrament, every time your scrupulous conscience tells you that it’s better to omit the duty than perform it in such a manner? You would soon find to your sorrow the mischief of your scruples. Be resolute therefore, and tell the devil that as you do not perform your duty at his command, so neither will you omit it at his bidding. By performing your duties, your scrupulous fears will vanish. Meanwhile act against them by disputing them down, and opposing their reasons, and not hearkening to them.

The trembling conscience

The trembling conscience is disquieted and distressed with the (perceived) hazard of the soul’s condition, and does nothing but accuse and condemn and frighten the soul.

What causes a trembling conscience?

The twin cause of a trembling conscience is sense of sin and fear of wrath. ‘Never was there sin like mine! Never a heart like mine! Never a case like mine!’ Such are the constant complaints of a troubled spirit.

What is the cure for a trembling conscience?

It goes without saying, never take the devil’s advice. Break through all carnal reasonings to acquaint yourselves with some faithful spiritual physician, or experienced Christian, who may show you the methods of divine grace, and what has been successfully done by others who have been just in your condition.

In the midst of your saddest complaints, bless God that your conscience has been awakened while there is still hope of a cure. We should not be too quick in administering comforts, but we cannot be too quick in provoking ourselves to thankfulness. If you can at present be thankful that you are out of hell, you shall before long be thankful for assurance of heaven. This rule may seem strange, but (by experience) practicing it will show the excellency of it.

Observe that it is God’s usual method to bring the soul through these perplexities to the most solid spiritual peace. Augustine excellently expressed his spiritual conflict, how God followed him with severe mercy, till He made him insistent on thorough holiness. Believe it, Christian, God is now storing you with experiences which will be a useful treasury throughout your life. Only hold on in the vigorous use of all the means of grace.

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Six ways that sin disguises its power

Six ways that sin disguises its power

Six ways that sin disguises its power

Am I under grace or under sin? In one of the epistles, sin is personified as a tyrant that keeps us under its cruel dominion. This tyrant is cunning enough to disguise the shackles that bind the sinner, so that we may imagine we have escaped when in reality we have never been set free to serve righteousness instead. In the following updated extract, Obadiah Sedgwick (who contributed to the Westminster Assembly) exposes six of the lies that we tell ourselves about our sin, which lull us into a false sense of freedom. It should make us highly value the divine work of making us free from sin to serve God, resulting in sanctification and eternal life.

People may delude their own hearts, and deceive themselves about the dominion of sin. Therefore it is convenient to test ourselves whether or not sin really has dominion. There are many things we may erroneously think are good signs, and so deceive ourselves that sin does not have dominion over us. Here are six.

I don’t feel my sin is very powerful

One is being unconscious of the power of sin. A man may feel no violent sinful inclination, no stirrings, no opposition, no commands, but there is a calm and quietness in his spirit and in his way, and he thinks this would not be possible if sin had dominion over him.

But this is a deceit. For one thing, it is most probable that sin has the strongest dominion, where the heart is least aware of the rule and demands of sin. When the strong man keeps the house, all is quiet, said our Saviour. Where subjection is peaceable, there the dominion is (in all likelihood) most absolute and complete. What is certain, is that where Christ sets up His sceptre (which casts down the dominion of sin) is the greatest stir. The law of the mind will war against the law of the members (Rom. 7:23), and the spirit will lust against the flesh (Gal. 5:17).

For another thing, this unawareness and quietness may arise, partly from the uniqueness of sin, and partly from our ignorance of our sinful condition, and partly from the habitual custom of sin. Whether the sun is shining or not, there is still the same number of motes flying in the room. There they are really, though we are not aware of them till the light comes in to make them manifest. So someone may be utterly unaware of sin for lack of saving light and the holy experience which arises from a new nature.

The hand which is used to iron, and nettles, does not feel them. So the frequent actings of sin may suppress the inward sense of sinning. Much sinning adds to the strength of sin, and disables the sense of the sinner, sears their conscience, and makes their mind reprobate, and as it were without feeling.

I don’t do many very sinful things

Another thing that may deceive us may be that we are free from many kinds of sinful behaviours. Someone may not live in all sorts of wickedness, and indeed, their ways may seem to keep clear of various iniquities.

Yet, though you do not do all evil, and your ways or patterns of behaviour are not universally spreading in all the kinds of sinning, still sin may rule in you, and have dominion.

Being subject in one detail is sufficient to establish that you are under dominion. A servant has only one master, and is not the servant of everyone in the parish, yet he is a true servant in respect of that one master. A subject does not obey every prince in the world, yet if he obeys any one, it is enough to prove that he is a subject. So, though the sinner is not at the command of every lust, yet if he is the servant of any one lust, sin has the dominion over him. It is not the multitude of sins which absolutely and necessarily concur to dominion, but subjection to the power of any one.

One person may do all the service to one sin which others do to many sins. That person may devise ways to fulfil it, cheerfully and greedily receive its commands, heartily love it, and go on in it, and for its sake oppose the sceptre and dominion of Christ, and consecrate all their strength to the obedience of it.

As in politics, there are several forms of government, such as democracy, and aristocracy, and monarchy. Sometimes the dominion is exercised by many, sometimes by one alone, yet subjection to any of them is true subjection, and sets up dominion. So though in some people, many sins rule, and in other people, one sin only, yet whether the heart obeys many, or few, or one, it is enough to say that sin has dominion. Subjection to no sin, indeed, denies dominion, but if the dispute is over many sins versus few sins, then either way, subjection to any shows that sin has dominion.

There are plenty sins I’m opposed to

Someone may also think, ‘I’m actually opposed to many sins — this cannot possibly be consistent with being under the dominion of sin.’

Yet there may be notable deceit in this also, for it is not so much the greatness of the sins as the power of sin which means it is reigning. The least sin granted house room, loved, served, is sufficient to mean that you are under sin’s dominion.

Also, there are different kinds of opposition to sin.

In your professional life you may be opposed to certain kinds of sin, but indulge them in private life. A justice of the peace may oppose many sins on the bench, yet lie in those same sins at home in his own house and dealings.

Or, it is one thing to be opposed to sin simply because it is sin, and another thing to be opposed to sin because it is shame. This latter may well befall someone who is under the dominion of sin.

Once more, it is possible to be opposed to sin because it is against God’s will, rather than because it is against another sinful way and inclination. All sin has a contrariety to the law of God, yet some sins have a contrariety among themselves; prodigality is contrary to covetousness, for example. It is possible for someone to oppose a sin, not on account of its natural vileness, but on account of his own personal inclination, because it is a way of sinning that would overthrow that other sin which he loves, and in which he is resolved to walk.

In a word, it is not opposition to particular sins, but universal opposition to all known sin, which shows that you are not under the dominion of sin.

I have grievous heart-trouble after I commit a sin

Something else that may deceive us depends on the troubles which we may feel after some sinful actings. A person’s soul may be grievously heavy and perplexed, and on this basis he may conclude that sin does not have dominion over him, because he thinks that the dominion of sin excludes all trouble for sin.

Nevertheless, although hardness of heart after sin is just as bad a symptom of wickedness as impudence before sin, yet trouble for committing sin is not an infallible argument of sin’s dominion.

Even the worst of men may have after-troubles for former sinnings, and partake of great anguishes and troubles of conscience. I refer you to Ahab and to Judas, and to those of whom he speaks in Job, that “the terrors of God did drive them to their feet.”

Trouble for sin in respect of the conscience only, is only a judicial act, part of the wages of sin. Trouble in the affections (which theologians call ‘godly sorrow’) is indeed an effect of grace, but not mere trouble in the conscience, which consists in the sense and accusation that God brings on the sinner for his transgressions. God awakens the conscience after sin to accuse for sinning, even though the directions and checks of conscience could not avail to prevent that person from sinning. This is how a person whose heart is in no measure changed by grace (and is therefore of necessity under sin’s dominion) may be filled with extreme bitterness; the very terrors of hell may shake and confound his soul. Although grace is required to raise godly sorrow, yet conscience, awakened and actuated only by light and divine command, is abundantly sufficient to accuse, condemn, vex and trouble the sinner.

I only sin occasionally

There may be spaces, or interim periods, between sinning. People do not every moment, or every day, indulge in their sin, but there are often some pauses and distances of time between sinning and sinning. They may therefore conjecture that sin does not have dominion over them, thinking that where sin has dominion, then the person sells himself to sin, and wallows in sinning, and makes it his trade, at which he spends his life and strength.

But sin may yet have dominion, though there are some respites between sinning and sinning. Some respites do not arise from a nature which refuses to subject itself to sin, but only from lack of opportunities to sin. A thief may not steal because he is sick, and there is nothing convenient to take.

So we cannot identify the dominion of sin by an uninterrupted propagation of sinful acts — the drunkard is under the power of drunkenness, although he is sober from time to time — but by the disposition of the heart. If sin is the main thing you intend, and what you yield up your heart to, then it is immaterial whether you are always or only sometimes committing it.

In fact, to give no respite to your sinful actings would go against the wisdom of the flesh. Though the propensity to sin is constant, and the love of sin is great, yet the actings of sin may often vary, and depend on private reasons and considerations (such as safety, or quiet, or profit, or pleasure, etc).

I do plenty things which are good

Finally, someone may practice some actions which are contrary to all outwards sinnings. Let’s say a man is perhaps a constant church attender, and has a course of duties (such as they are) in his family, and makes many vows, and can condemn sin effectively. Surely sin has lost its dominion in that man?

Not necessarily, because the dominion of sin is inward. It may coexist with many visible acts of piety. A hypocrite may step out into all outward conformities, yet there is no visible act of impiety which a hypocrite either does not, or may not, perform.

Although acts which are materially good are formally opposite to sinful acts, yet we identify a Christian and a sinner alike more from the affections than from the actions. Indeed, it is the disposition of the heart which defines and decides what has dominion — the heart may be really rotten and false, and the true harbour of a sin, though the person manages to perform some visible duties of piety. There must be more than external performances in duty to show that sin does not have dominion over you.

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Is there any hope of peace in the Middle East?

Is there any hope of peace in the Middle East?

Is there any hope of peace in the Middle East?

Songs written thousands of years ago take on renewed relevance as we respond to the recent outbreak of vicious hatred in the Middle East. Psalm 87 was written in a time of despondency as the sheer scale of the necessary rebuilding effort sank in, complicated by the hostility of the surrounding enemies and the weakened condition of the people. However, in his commentary on this psalm, David Dickson identifies reasons to take comfort and be encouraged even in the midst of this grim situation. People from Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon as well as Israel will be spiritually reborn into the family of the covenant Lord, bringing them into a position of the highest honour as well as eternal safety, and displaying the Lord’s wonderful love and power. The promise that He will do this in His own time gives us hope for solid peace eventually.

When God loosed the captivity of the Jews by Cyrus, few of them returned from Babylon. The work of repairing church and state, temple and city had few to assist it. Their enemies were many, they were straitened with poverty and famine, and the hearts and hands of the godly were weakened. They were on the point of fainting, and despairing of church or state ever flourishing any more amongst them.

Psalm 87 was fitted to bring comfort in such a time. It leads the Lord’s people to live by faith, and to keep on going in the work of building the Lord’s house and repairing the city, looking to God the builder of His church and the maintainer of His people. Here are six comforts to the Lord’s people from Psalm 87.

The solid foundation God has already laid

The first comfort of the afflicted Jews, troubled over how the building of God’s temple was being hindered, was that God had by His decree and promise already made the mountains of Sion and Moriah the place of His rest amongst His people. “His foundation is in the holy mountains” (v.1). They would remain till the Messiah would come, for He would fulfil these types, and they would be preserved for His sake until He would come. It is the Messiah who is the only solid rock on which the church is built.

When the builders of the Lord’s church are few and weak, His people need to be comforted against their fears and doubts, and the way to get comfort in such a situation is to look by faith to God as the builder of His own house. God has laid the foundations on a solid basis, so that every believer who trusts in Him will be like Mount Sion, which cannot be moved.

God’s love and goodwill

God had chosen Sion above all other places to be His rest, and loved to dwell there rather than anywhere else. The dignity of any place, person or society does not come from anything in them, but from the Lord’s choice and free love. “The Lord loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (v.2). The love of the Lord to His chosen church is a solid ground of assurance that she will continue.

The prophesies about the church

Comfort also comes from the prophecies which have been made about the church, and the promises God has given her in figurative terms. The church is the place where the Lord reigns, rules, and resides. It is “the city of God” (v.3). And the privileges of the church are very “glorious” (v.3). The glory of kings, crowns and diadems is nothing to them, but at most physical and temporal shadows of what is spiritually and everlastingly bestowed on the church.

Although glorious things are bestowed on the church, it’s not so much the things that have already been done, as the things that are yet to come, which make the church blessed. It’s not having them now, but hope — not sight, but faith — which makes the church blessed. And the Scriptures are a sufficient right to us for all the blessings which are to come. “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (v.3).

The multitude of friends and converts

The Lord’s people should look less at the multitude of their enemies at the present time, and more at the multitude of friends and converts they will have in the future.

It is a great comfort that the church’s chief enemies will be converted to the faith and will count it their greatest honour to be so.

It is among the troubles of the church that she has so many enemies, and enemies as powerful as the Egyptians and Babylonians. In verse 4 the psalmist mentions Egypt (under the poetic name ‘Rahab’), Babylon, Palestine, Tyre and Ethiopia as the most eminent oppressors of the church of all the nations.

Yet God is able to turn her chiefest enemies into converts. He has done this various times already, and He will yet do it more. The enemies which are not converted, the Lord can handle. He showed this with Rahab (Egypt) and Babylon. When the psalmist mentions them, it is to the edification of the church, both in terms of what God had done to those nations in justice, and what He would do to them in mercy, or other enemies like them.

For the church to have her enemies made converts, is equally for the church’s glory and comfort and for the honour of the erstwhile enemies. Supposing they were as powerful as could be in the world, now they are citizens of the city of God. “I will make mention of them, that this man was born there,” that is, in the city of God (v.4–5).

Whatever honour people have in the world, it is not to be compared with the honour of regeneration, and being born citizens of the church. Whatever contempt the members of the church suffer from the world, is made up by the honour of being born in the church. “Of Sion it shall be said, This and that man were born in her” (v.5).

There is no reason to fear that the church will be ruined, or that from age to age she will not be a mother to and a receiver of converts. “For the Highest Himself shall establish her.”

The interest which God takes in each of His people

God takes notice of all the regenerate, no less particularly than if their names were all written up in a book one by one. “The Lord shall count when he writeth up the people …” (v.6). Accordingly, a time will come when He will manifest the fact that He has enrolled them. He will manifest it partly to themselves, by witnessing to them that they are His children. Partly to the world, by sustaining them in their trials and troubles. And partly by a full display of them, confessing their names before men and angels at the great day. “When he writeth up the people,” that is, in His own time, when He sees it fit to manifest His respect for His own.

Converts from among the nations will be reckoned up among the converts from the Lord’s people the Jews. “The Lord shall count that this man was born there,” that is, whatsoever kind of person it may be, who is converted out of any country, tongue or language, shall be counted a member of the church of Israel.

The spiritual joys which are ahead for the Lord’s people

The Lord’s people should not be troubled with the contempt under which they lie at present, but look to the glory and estimation which God shall put on the church and her children in His own time. They should not be troubled with their current grief, but look to the spiritual joy, and its causes, which the Lord provides to His people.

God furnishes (and will furnish) to His church spiritual joy, and the everlasting springs, fountains and causes of joy. As the church is subject to her own griefs in the world, so also is she sure of abundant consolations to be had and laid up in store for her. These are expressed here in the terms of types appointed in Israel’s festivals. “As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there” (v.7).

The causes of the joy of the saints are everlasting, comparable to wells and springs of living water. “All my springs shall be in thee” (v.7). The saints, having had their senses exercised, are able to confirm the truth of the promises by their own experience. Especially, they will confess that there is no joy or comfort, no gift nor grace, no refreshment or happiness, worthy of the name, expect what they have by church privileges and the communion of the saints. “All my springs are in thee,” says the psalmist, speaking either to the church or to God dwelling in His church.

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How violence brings down God’s vengeance

How violence brings down God’s vengeance

How violence brings down God’s vengeance

With careful planning, preparation and funding, Hamas suddenly stormed into Israel on 7th October. Local defences were overwhelmed and civilians were attacked and murdered with appalling savagery. Virulent anti-Jewish hatred has motivated Hamas from its inception and its name is a byword for violence. In many of the Psalms the writer wrestles with the threat and sometimes the experience of violent attacks. In Psalm 7, the psalmist David is both a fore-runner of his greater son and Lord, Jesus the Messiah, and an example of the Lord’s people suffering oppression. The number of believers in Jesus in Israel has increased from about 24 believers in 1948, to about a thousand more now. David’s response to harsh oppression remains exemplary for the Lord’s people in Israel and elsewhere. In the following extract from his commentary on Psalm 7, the commentator David Dickson explains the psalmist’s appeal to God. Faced with devious and blood-thirsty oppressors, the psalmist knows to turn to God for help. Because he is in a reconciled relationship with the Lord he can rely on the Saviour to step in and set things to rights.

God’s people are sometimes falsely accused

In the opening verses of Psalm 7, David flees to God to be delivered from the blood-thirsty tongues of those who maliciously spoke falsehoods against him. He was slandered (by Cush, a flattering courtier) as a traitor and rebel against the lawful authorities. “O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust. Save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me, lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver” (v.1–2). If God does not interpose Himself to defend His servants, there is nothing to be expected from enraged wicked enemies but merciless and beastly cruelty.

Although being innocent of such accusations does not exempt you from being unjustly slandered, yet it equips you with a good conscience, and much more boldness with God in the specific situation. If you are conscious of having injured your neighbour, your own conscience will be against you in the very time when you encounter a greater injustice done against you. Then you will be forced to acknowledge the righteousness of God against yourself. “O Lord my God, if there be iniquity in my hands, if I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me, let the enemy persecute my soul and take it …” (v.3–5).

God’s people sometimes have violent enemies

David prays that God would judge between him and his enemies. The Lord may, for the trial and exercise of His children, seem to sit still for a time, when people are about to oppress them. Yet in due time He will manifest Himself to be no idle spectator of wrong, but a just defender of the oppressed and avenger of the injured. He will arise in anger and lift up Himself (v.6).

When our enemies are desperately malicious, and nothing can mitigate their fury, let the consideration of God’s justice mitigate our passions. For He will arise in anger against them. There is no less just zeal in God to defend His own oppressed people, than there is malice in the wicked to wrong them. God’s rising in anger is here put in contrast to “the rage of the enemies.”

Although judgment against the oppressor may not be carried out at the first opportunity, yet God in His Word has passed sentence against them, and in His providence He has prepared means and instruments for it to be carried out in due time. He shall awake to execute the judgment which He has commanded, or given order for (v.6).

When the Lord arises to judge His enemies, then the Lord’s people will draw near to Him warmly, and “compass Him about” (v.7). Of course, in calling for justice on the wicked enemies of God’s people, we should not be motivated by personal interest, or desire of revenge, but by desire for God’s glory and the edification of His people. It is “for their sakes” that David prays (v.7) that the Lord would “return on high” to His judgment seat.

Being a child of God allows you to appeal to God’s justice

The principles of religion are things we should have solidly digested, for we may make use of them in our spiritual exercises, and then we may readily put them to use as need requires, so as to strengthen our faith and prayer to God. When David had settled his faith on the doctrine that God does in general judge and execute justice in favour of His people (v.8), he then applies it to his own particular circumstances, saying, “Judge me, O Lord” (v.8).

Once you have made peace with God about all your sins on the terms of grace and mercy, through the sacrifice of the Mediator, then you may, looking at oppressing enemies, in a particular situation of conflict, appeal to God’s justice to resolve the controversy. That is what David does here when he says, “Judge me according to my righteousness, O Lord, and my integrity that is in me” (v.8).

When a situation has been lying before God for a long time, and the controversy between the godly and their persecutors remains unresolved, the godly may put in a plea for God to pass the decree and execute the sentence. “O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just, for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins” (v.9).

Violence brings down God’s vengeance

From verse 10 we have the answer to David’s prayer, or at least the assurance that he will be delivered and that judgments will meet his enemies. On the back of this David give thanks to God. From this we see that the fruit of faith joined with a good conscience is access to God in prayer, confidence, peace and tranquillity of mind, mitigation of trouble, and protection and deliverance.

When victory is granted to faith, after wrestling with darkness, it is as satisfactory to the soul of the godly as if all that the believer hopes for has already been perfected. David is now ready to say, “My defence is of God, who saves the upright in heart” (v.10).

Whatever we think in the time of temptation, neither justice against the wicked nor mercy towards the godly is idle. God’s Word and works speak mercy to the one and wrath to the other, every day. All things are working for good the one, and for damage to the other, continually. For “God judgeth the righteous, and is angry with the wicked, every day” (v.11).

One reason why God delays the execution of His judgments on the wicked is to lead them to repentance. Here, God has whetted his sword to strike, if the wicked do not turn (v.12). If repentance does not intervene, the destruction of the wicked is inevitable. “If he turn not, the instruments of death are prepared, and the arrows directed against the persecutors” (v.13).

God’s enemies cannot ultimately prosper

The sinner is put to hard work when he tries to serve the devil and his own corrupt affections. “He travails” as if with child, he “digs a pit,” one of the hardest pieces of work for slaves. But once the wicked has conceived mischief, he cannot rest till he puts his purpose into action, and puts into effect his sinful thoughts (v.14).

The adversaries of God’s people shall have no profit of all their labour, but shall be met with disappointment. “He bringeth forth falsehood” (v.14), and the evil which is most contrary to his hope and intention shall befall him. “He is fallen in the ditch which he made, and his mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate” (v15–16), just like a stone thrown up towards the sky falling back down on the head of the one who threw it.

We can praise God in the hardest experiences

In verse 17, the final verse of the psalm, David promises praise, and indeed praise is how he closes his song. So the outcome of even the hardest experiences of the godly brings comfort to their souls and praise to God.

When faith is consciously satisfied and settled in assurance of what God has promised, it will be glad and give thanks for what is still to come, just as if it was already in possession.

Whoever is opposed to the godly, be they never so powerful and never so violent, and their position in the world as high as can be, yet faith may set to its seal that God shall show Himself to be a righteous judge in power and authority above the highest oppressing powers on earth. “I will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high,” says David (v.17).

 

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Three things to realise from the transfiguration

Three things to realise from the transfiguration

Three things to realise from the transfiguration

We naturally shrink away from embarrassment and shame, both when it threatens ourselves and when it comes to those we love. The disciples were very unwilling to accept that Jesus would die, far less that it would be by the shameful death of the cross. However, ahead of the crucifixion, the Lord was transfigured (Matt. 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). In a glorious display, His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light, and the Father announced that He was well pleased with His beloved Son. Alexander Wedderburn, a respected Covenanting minister at Forgan and then Kilmarnock, returned to the transfiguration again and again in his preaching. His daughter eventually had his sermons published in a book titled Heaven Upon Earth. In the following abridged and updated sermon, Wedderburn identifies three things which Christ wanted His disciples to realise from the transfiguration. The shameful treatment meted out to the undeserving Saviour should not obscure His real and transcendent glory.

Let us consider the transfiguration not only as it relates to the work of the mediator, but in reference to what Christ intended to achieve by it.

To show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven

Christ intended to show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven, and particularly the glory of His person in his coming the second time to judgment. Prior to this He had promised that they would see His glory before they tasted death.

The glory of Christ at His second coming shall be great. “He shall come in the glory of His Father.” Not only will He be glorious in regard of His train and His throne, but in His person.

Theologians give some reasons for this transcendent glory. One is because His coming to judgment is the height of His exaltation. That’s why it says in the Creed, “… from thence shall He come to judge …” as the last step of His exaltation. The highest step of His exaltation must be full of glory.

Another reason is that it is fitting that those by whom He was despised and rejected should see Him as eminently glorious. At the Great Day that they are most afraid of His face. “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of the Lamb,” is their cry to the hills and mountains — not so much to be hidden from hell, as from His face.

The third reason is for the comfort of His people. They have forsaken all for Him, and the wisdom of their choice will be commended (in the judgment of their enemies) by this, when He shall appear in the brightness of His Father’s glory.

All this should stir us up to look on Christ as one who is in transcendent glory now (as well as that He will be seen to be so at His second coming). This is advantageous in several ways.

  • It guards us against stumbling when we encounter all the ignominious reproaches that attend us when we follow Him here. He was, and His followers still are, a sight for passers-by to wag their heads at. Yet, above, He is the temple, the light, and the admiration of all who behold Him.
  • It allows us to discern that not only our nature but our persons are advanced in Him as the second Adam, and the one head of all believers. By Him they are all represented. However despicable they may be in themselves, yet they are glorious in Him.
  • It reminds us to be humble. Though we are warranted to come with boldness to His throne of grace, yet still we are to remember His glory, and what a vast inequality there is between us and Him, seeing we are base and polluted, and He is the glorious Lord.
  • It will make us love and long for Him to come. Though many still cast His cords from them and despise His yoke, yet He shall then be exalted even by His enemies, who shall tremble at the sight of His transcendent glory.

To give His disciples a view of the glory of the saints’ bodies

The second aim which Christ had in mind in the transfiguration was to give us a view of the glory which the bodies of His saints (who will be conformed to His image) shall have in heaven from His transfiguration. Not only shall their souls partake of excellent glory, but their bodies shall be changed, and made like His glorious body.

Here we do not need to go into the many unprofitable speculations and foolish fancies about the glory of the body. I will, only briefly, set down these three positions about the glory of the body which, I judge, are sufficient for us to rest content with.

  • This same body individually which we have shall be raised up into glory, and not another (Job 19:16, 27). This body was redeemed, and God was glorified by it. Shall it not be glorified? It was the same body of Christ that suffered that was raised up, and shall not the same body of the saints be raised too?
  • All imperfections shall be removed from the body. Some suggest that the marks received by the martyrs in their bodies shall remain. What purpose would that serve, though, since many suffer no less for Christ, who are starved, or frozen, or burnt to ashes, and can have no marks at all? Even those who say these marks will remain, however, think that, as the print of the nails in the hands of Christ remain, so shall these marks remain only in order to advance the glory of the body. However, any thing that may suggest the least infirmity or imperfection shall be removed.
  • In the place of the imperfections we now have, glorious properties will be communicated to the body. This mortality shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption. Whereas the body is now gross [material, bulky, corporeal], it will then for spirituality, agility, and beauty be transcendently glorious. Neither will it need sustenance from food and drink to preserve it like this. Indeed, there is no perfection which the body can be capable of that shall be lacking. It shall shine like the sun, and indeed, it shall be changed, and made like to the glorious body of Christ (Phil. 3).

This serves to teach us the right way to adorn the body and make it good. Some beautify themselves, some toil for food to strengthen themselves, and some spend great sums for medications to preserve themselves. But those who pursue holiness not only consider the good of the soul, but they take an effective way to have the body eternal, beautiful, strong, free of all perfections. All our toilings for it cannot make it exceed the lily (as Solomon did not, in all his glory), but the way of holiness leads to make it like the sun.

It also serves to comfort those whose bodies are continually their burden. Can any two people ever meet together but either their head or their back or their belly is their complaint? Either they’ve got something wrong with them now, or they’re afraid they’re coming down with something. But here is the privilege of the saints — their flesh rests in the hope that before long, the body shall partake of as complete perfection as it can be capable of.

Only let me add three directions so that you can make the more use of this point.

  • Do not on this account idolise the body. Necessary provision for it is lawful, but when our main work is to make provision for it, it inevitably means that we fulfil its lusts.
  • While you have opportunity, glorify God in your body. You have a tongue to speak for God, and hands to act for him. Be glorifying Him with these! If He calls you to offer up your body in a sacrifice, see this the way the apostle did, as “reasonable service.”
  • Answer all the objections against the glorifying of the body by the power of God. People have racked their brains to put up objections against the glorifying of the body, but “the mighty power whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil 3) is a sufficient answer.

To show them that a crucified body can be a glorified body

The apostles, especially Peter, did not like Christ speaking of the cross. All the Gospel writers prefix the account of the transfiguration with how Christ foretold them of the cross. So that they would see that a crucified body was consistent with a glorified body, before He is crucified, He is transfigured before them.

From this we see that however ignominiously the body may be treated here, yet this is not inconsistent with its glory in the future. Though Abel’s blood was spilt on the ground, it was no detriment to the glory of righteous Abel, who by faith offered acceptable sacrifice to God.

Indeed, there is nothing reproachful which the wit of man could devise, which has not been meted out to the bodies of the saints. “The bodies of thy saints they cast out to be food for the fowls of heaven” (Psalm 79:2–3). Yet the shameful treatment of the body here cannot impede it being glorified in the future. Instead, the more ignominiously the body is treated here, the greater will be its glory hereafter. All who overcome shall “walk with Christ in white,” but those whose blood is shed on the earth for the testimony of Christ have “long white garments.” It is no paradox among theologians that the martyrs have greater degrees of glory than others.

The glory of the saints will be measured out according to the promises, which are often along the lines, “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him; if we abide with him in his temptation, he appoints us a kingdom;” and suchlike.

How we should use this teaching

Are you concerned about the base and low condition of the body in the grave, and how base and loathsome death makes even beautiful bodies? But all this cannot hinder the glory of it. How low and despicable Job’s body was, when he talked of seeing God in his flesh! Yet for all this, he says, “Iin this flesh I shall see God.” “He will change our vile bodies …”

Are you afraid of what you might suffer in your body? Well, supposing the evil you fear comes upon you — supposing your blood is spilt on the ground like Abel’s, and your head presented in a charger, like John the Baptist’s, to a Herodias — yet all this is no detriment to the future glory of this body. Only make sure that your sufferings are for righteousness, otherwise you are expecting glory for the body without a promise. You should also think often of how Christ’s body was so ignominiously treated, yet by His sufferings He has made reproach less reproachful under the New Testament than it was under the Old. If He was reckoned among the transgressors, can you not endure it? Think also of the future glory of the body, like Christ did. For the glory that was set before Him, He endured the cross, and despised the shame. After right counting, the apostle likewise reckons the afflictions of this life not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed.

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What does redemption cost?

What does redemption cost?

What does redemption cost?

The gospel provision, available to any sinner, includes peace and healing — peace with God, and healing for our sin-diseased souls. These blessings are given freely to anyone who comes to Christ for redemption. But what did it cost the Lord Jesus to be able to provide these things? John Welsh of Irongray preached a sermon on Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” In the following updated extract, Welsh shows the depths of Christ’s atoning sufferings by referring to the desperate depths of our lostness and the magnitude of what needed to be done to rescue us. In this way Welsh lays the doctrinal groundwork for summoning all who hear the gospel message to embrace Jesus Christ by faith without delay.

Why do we need redemption?

By nature, elect sinners just like others are in a very sad, lost state. It’s not only the world that is called transgressors and enemies, but also those whom the Lord has chosen out of the world to save. Even the elect are by nature lying in a very deplorable condition.

I have often spoken of the sadness of their case, and therefore shall be very short on it now. Yet I must mention the great corruption of our whole nature, as well as our actual transgressions, by which we are defiled, enemies to God, liable to His curse and wrath to all eternity. This is the case of all the elect, men and women. There is no basis then for a sinner, to whom God has shewed mercy, to boast, if they look to the rock from whence they are hewn. Our state is just the state of the wicked world, that gets hell in the end. It is only free grace that has made the change, for in ourselves there is no difference.

What was the cost of redemption?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, undertook many a great suffering in order to bring healing and peace to sinners.

This is a vast subject. To go into details I would need to tell you what He suffered in His conception, and what He suffered when He was brought forth into the world in His childhood, and what He suffered before He entered on His public ministry. I would need to tell you what He suffered when He was taken and arraigned and brought before the judgement seat of Herod and Pilate, and condemned; and to tell you what He suffered on His body, and what He suffered on His soul. I say it would take very much time, and I would only spoil it in the speaking too. I recommend to you the last chapter of Matthew, and the last chapter of Luke, and the last chapter of John, and what is here recorded of Him by Isaiah.

Still, I shall tell you of some things which make it clear that His sufferings were very great (I pray you, take heed).

So many people

Consider what was the debt that He undertook to pay. It was not the debt of one or two, but of the whole elect, men and women, many thousands and millions of them, that cannot be counted. What He suffered was what they should have suffered through eternity.

So many sins

Consider that He suffered in order to satisfy the justice of God. Divine justice was up in arms and set against the Son, in order to revenge a broken law and a broken covenant. The Son of God had the justice of God to satisfy for the original and actual transgressions of all the elect — for all the breaches of the commands of God, for that person’s breaking of this command, and for this person’s breaking of that command, and each one’s sins are more than the hairs of his head for number.

Such divine attributes

Consider this, to see that it must have been great sufferings that He underwent — because His sufferings were as much to manifest a just God, as the creation of the universe manifested a powerful, almighty God. His sufferings do as much to manifest a powerful and omnipotent and just God.

Such depths

Consider the distress to which His sufferings brought Him. For they were such as put the Son of God so sore to it, that it put Him to a strait, as it were. It put Him into a distress like someone who was charged for a great sum. Our Lord was put to such distress that He cries, “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I do?” And He was put to pray to the Father.

So many details

Consider how hard were the sufferings that He undertook in particular, and you will see that they were very many and great. Look at His sufferings in His incarnation — He did not have a room to be born in, He had to be brought forth in a stable, and all He had for a cradle was a horse manger. Look at His sufferings through all His lifetime — how many times He lay outdoors, with only a stone to lay His head on, and how many times He was hungry and weary. Look at His sorrow, what grief of mind He had, to see people crying out against Him, just in the midst of His sufferings, and to see Peter deny Him even when He was suffering for him. Look what He suffered in the garden, when He drank the cup that made Him sweat the great drops of blood that came trinkling out of Him. He did not have only outward sufferings but inward also. He was bearing the wrath of God on His soul. That was what made blood and sweat come out of him, and made Him so faint that He could not carry His own cross, but had to get help. Then look at what a shameful death He was put to, what a painful death, and what travail of soul He was put to (not only travail in body, but travail in soul), that made Him cry out with strong cries and tears unto Him that heard Him. He was made to cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Who benefits from it?

When you look at Isaiah 53 as a whole, you clearly see who it is that He suffered for — it was the elect world. You see that Christ suffered for those who gave Him no thanks; He suffered for those who helped on His sufferings. He was despised, and counted smitten of God. They thought nothing of Him; they saw no beauty nor comeliness in Him. These are the ones for whom He suffered.

Those for whom He suffered, included many that had pierced and crucified Him. “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10; John 19:37). It was for those who gave Him no thanks for His sufferings. He suffered for those who said He deserved it, and for those who looked upon Him as despised and rejected of men. He was a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.

For whom did He suffer? For those who had denied Him, and like the disciples turned their back upon Him. He was killed for those who esteemed Him not, though smitten and wounded. It was for those who were like sheep going astray. It was for sinners and transgressors that He suffered all this, a company of poor men and women who were so far from giving him thanks for His sufferings, that they helped on His sufferings, and some of them added to these sufferings.

Why did He suffer like this?

Why was it that He suffered? In brief, it is to tell you how holy a God He is, and how just a God He is, and how faithful He is in the execution of His threatenings, that He will not pass by one sin unpunished. He said, “In that day thou eatest thou shalt surely die the death” (Gen. 2:17), and He will have this fulfilled, either in the one who has eaten or in their surety substitute.

What does He provide to us?

What are the benefits that redound to us by His sufferings? Two are mentioned here — peace with God, and healing to our souls. What do sinners get by Christ’s sufferings? They get both the feud that is between God and them taken away, and they get healing to their transgressions. They are not done away without His blood purging them away, but we may be purged from all our sins by His blood. Sinners must have clean water to sprinkle them, and to cleanse them from all their transgressions. He gives them peace with God through His suffering, and peace, everlasting peace, in their own consciences — a peace that passeth all natural understanding.

What was the underlying reason?

How did His sufferings come to be brought about? How did it come about that the justice of God falls upon Him? This leads us to the great contrivance of the covenant of redemption, in which this matter was contrived in the counsel of God from all eternity. Christ was to have a considerable number of lost men and women, and He was to satisfy for them for a broken covenant, and He was to keep them from the wrath of God that would otherwise come on them by right for breaking His law. All this was done by His sufferings in their nature for them.

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How redemption dignifies diligence

How redemption dignifies diligence

How redemption dignifies diligence

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

Knowing Christ transforms everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christians observe each of the ten commandments

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

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

Christians keep the eighth commandment

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

Christ redeems us from stealing and deceitfulness

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

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

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

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

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

Christ wants His people to labour in an honest way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What to do when the Lord seems absent

What to do when the Lord seems absent

What to do when the Lord seems absent

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

Sometimes the Lord seems to hide His face

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

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

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

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

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

How we should respond when the Lord hides His face

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

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

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

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

Even when the Lord is hiding, He is still there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our focus should remain on the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

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

He was under no obligation

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

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

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

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

He was involved in drawing up the agreement

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

(1) Designating a person to do this work

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

(2) Equipping that person to do the work

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

(3) Calling the person who had been designated

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

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

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

(5) His mission

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

He willingly consented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

Eight things that equip us to examine ourselves

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

The danger of deceiving yourself about yourself

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

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

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

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

Hypocrisy is a very natural and common thing

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

There are three sorts of persons in the world.

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

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

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

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

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

You can go far in religion without being truly saved

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

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

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

An impressive appearance may hide a rotten heart

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

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

Lack of integrity is utter folly

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

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

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

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

Insincerity deserves greater misery

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

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

Uprightness is difficult

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

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

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

Uprightness is attainable

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

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

 

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Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is heavenliness?

Prizing heaven

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

Actively making for heaven

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

Acting like we will in heaven

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

Visiting heaven often

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

Why should the Christian pursue heavenliness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we be convinced to pursue heavenliness?

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

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

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

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

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