Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

You can see it and feel it. Some call it a post-Covid spiritual malaise in the Church: weariness and an exclusive focus on maintenance that leads to inertia. No doubt we feel some of it personally too. How much energy do we have for God and holiness? We don’t want to be superficial in our enthusiasm or activity, but when we look deeper inside us, how much liveliness can we see in our faith these days? Admittedly these are difficult times to be a believer. There are so many things that leave us perplexed and disheartened, and we have so many sins in our own lives to confess. God can seem so distant, as if he is putting us off when we try to approach Him, or turning away from us. But we can hope even in this kind of situation. There is a remedy for our spiritual lethargy.

According to Hugh Binning, challenging times when everything seems so much of a struggle are exactly the circumstances where faith should be prompted to be most active. “At such a time there ought to be all the more exercise of faith, and laying hold of the grounds of consolation in God.”

Challenges in a strange way can even strengthen faith, and certainly they give us ample motivation to keep seeking God until we know we have got through to him. How can we get out of our spiritual inertia? In this updated extract from a sermon on Isaiah 64, Binning tackles the question, When and how are we stirred up to spiritual activity?

1. Difficulties call for strong faith

As difficulties grow, faith should fortify itself against them so much the more. The greater the storm, the quicker faith should flee into the chambers.
Faith in a calm day gets no trial. Faith gets lazy when it does not have much to do. But without fresh and new supplies of grace, faith cannot hold out in a temptation. It is a singular sign of a noble and divine faith that it can lay hold on God and keep him when he makes to go away—that can recognise the kindness of Jesus even when he acts as if he does not know us —that can stand on the ground of the promises when there is not a foot-breadth of a hopeful sign in the circumstances to build on.

2. Difficulties demand a sure faith

The most pressing time for making sure of your part in God is a time when there is no external advantage to beguile you, a time when the only happiness is to be one with God. Therefore, anyone who, in time of calamities and judgments, is not awakened to put their eternal estate out of question, is in a dangerous position.

3. Difficulties call out a focused faith

The Lord loves faith in a difficulty best. Then it is the most single-hearted and focused, and the cleanest. That is the kind which honours him most, and which most glorifies his truth and faithfulness, and sufficiency and mercy. In this way it is most purely elevated above created things, and pitches most fully on God. It is when people say, ‘No help for my soul, but thou art my portion.’ God is most commended when he is set alone. Prosperity brings him down among the creatures, and undisturbed, complacent faith makes little distinction. But awakening faith grips strongly and singly, and puts God alone.

4. Difficulties require special seeking

Often, when God is departing, “none stirreth up himself to lay hold on him.” Although there may be plenty praying, and doing many duties, yet it is nothing beyond the ordinary. The varieties and combinations of new reasons for supplications results neither in greater frequency nor more fervency in our appeals to God.

5. Seek with diligence

There is very little diligence in seeking God, even when God seems to be saying farewell to the land, and going away. Still nobody comes in as an intercessor. They keep on in their old way of praying, and never add to it, come what may. Does anyone rise above their ordinary ways, however high the tide of God’s dispensation rises?

Instead the impression made by God’s change of countenance should make an effect that would be visibly seen on how his people behave. There should be such a distance between your ordinary and such times as between sleeping and waking, that whatever access to God you normally have, you would stir up and go beyond it according as matters call.

Will God count your public fasts a performance of this duty? Unfortunately, we fast sleeping, and no one stirs himself up to these things! Is there any difference between your days of humiliation and any other sabbath? And is there any difference between a sabbath and a weekday, save the external duty?

Is not this palpably our case? Is there any wakening among us? No, complacency is the universal disease and complaint. Do any of you pray more in private than you used to? Or what edge is on your prayers? Alas! It seems like the Lord would readily get leave to go away from us. I am afraid that we would give Christ a testimonial to go away overseas. Hold him, hold him! Many would be gladly quit of him. They cannot abide his yoke, his work is a burden, his word is a torment, his discipline is bands and cords, and what heart can they have to keep Christ? What will you do to him to hold him still? All your entreaties may be fair compliments, but they would never rend his garment.

6. Seek with faith

What the Lord Jesus is doing warns us that it is now high time to stir up faith and lay hold on him. Will conjectures carry you through difficulties? The multitude think they have plenty faith, but any temptation proves their mistake. The most part of Scotland would deny God and his Son Jesus Christ, if they were put to it. This is not a time to linger outside of your stronghold. It is only faith that unites you to Christ, so if you would want to be kept safe in any trial, stir up faith.

7. Seek with prayer

Faith expresses itself in prayer. Consideration of God, and the grounds of confidence in him, must both make prayer acceptable, and carry the stamp of Christ’s name on it. Also it must make much prayer, for when a soul has pitched on God as its only blessedness, and made choice of him, it finds in him all-sufficiency – all things for all things. There is no need, but faith finds a supply in God’s fulness for it, and therefore faith sends us to the fountain, to draw out of the wells of salvation. Nothing can be so sweet and refreshing as for such a soul to pour out itself every day in him, to talk with him face to face. Faith engages the heart to come to God with all things, whereas the complacent soul or the unsettled heart would have gone for help in as many different ways as there are different difficulties. Faith lays hold on God, Faith knows but one God, and brings all problems here.

And again, how can prayer be acceptable as long as faith is not its principle? It is only like an animal groaning under a burden. Laying hold on God himself makes our duties acceptable, because we speak and ask believing that we shall receive. We trust God and do not tempt him. The oil of the wheels is affection, or heart-activity, but if lively faith is not entertained there cannot be much affection. In bitterness of spirit there may be much vehemence, but that is not a pure flame of divine love that burns upward to him. It is soon extinguished, and lasts no longer than a fleeting emotion, and then the soul grows harder, like iron that has been in the fire.
When there is not much prayer, faith cannot be strong and violent, for prayer is the exercise of faith. If your prayers wear out, faith will go rusty. There may be much quietness with little prayer, but there cannot be much, with strong and lively faith, for where faith does not get continual employment it flags.

Prayer is a special point of holding God fast, and keeping him. Therefore join prayer with diligence and faith, if you want to thrive in any one of them. Your unbelieving complaints are not prayers and calling on his name, because they are not mixed with faith.

8. Seek to lay hold of God

If it seems that God is angry, then we must lay hold on him. We ought to hold on to a departing Lord, by wrestling with him in supplication, and not let him depart till he blesses. The prophet Hosea makes this application of Jacob’s victory over the angel: “Turn ye to the Lord, and wait on him,” (Hosea 12:3-6).

When the circumstances seem to tell us, “The Lord has gone,” and when our condition seems to say, “He is gone, or going,” then we ought to wrestle against it. Let there be no submission to such a departing! I mean, no submission that sits down content with it, and does not care how things will turn out.

If only you would realise that the Lord is only seeking employment, and if you would only deal with him, you would turn both the present calamities and future calamities to good opportunity.
It is God himself who should be your principal target. Praying should be laying hold on God – it should meet with himself. Most of the time, when things are going well, we are not able to meet with God solely, because we have so much to do with created things. We are so punctual in our dealings with created things that we cannot keep close to God. We have so many things in our affections and thoughts, that God cannot get a place. In the throng of our busyness God cannot get us at leisure. So we lose God by catching at shadows.

Well then, we are called in a time of difficulty to come in to God himself, to draw aside the veil of ordinances so that we may have communion with God himself. And this is right praying, when the soul gets such direct access to God, as it were, to handle him, and see him, and taste him, to exercise its senses on him.

Ordinances have been for a long time covering his face, as he does not now much unveil himself in the sanctuary, to let us see his glory. God has departed from preaching and praying, so that we do not meet with God. Instead we lay hold on the shadow of an outward ordinance, but not on God himself. Therefore, Christians, take advantage of this time! You cannot count on always having the ordinances. Lay hold therefore on himself who is the substance and marrow of them. You may be denuded of outward comforts and accommodation here. Lay hold therefore on himself in much prayer. If affliction would only blow away the cloud over his face, or scatter our idols from us, and make us single alone with God, as Jacob was, it would be worth it.
Take hold on God by faith. If you want to make peace with God, be much in direct acts of grasping hold of God himself in Jesus Christ. Travel continually between your own need and something in God that corresponds to it.


It may seem counter-intuitive, but if God is warning us that he is leaving us, that itself is a hopeful sign, because it means there is still opportunity for us to hold on to him and hold him back. “He made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us… And he went in to tarry with them” (Luke 24:28-29).




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Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Perhaps we do not often pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Perhaps it seems a difficult thing to ask. It is the final prayer of Scripture but does it appear in our prayers? Maybe we are even afraid to think or hear of Christ coming. For some people Christ’s second coming is associated with speculation and fear to some extent. For others it is not something that enters their thoughts very often. Still others only think about it when they are sick of the sin and suffering of this world. For whatever reason, few seem to be longing for that day. This can happen if our spiritual life is at a low ebb. Sometimes believers decline in watchfulness, their faith is not acting, and their love is not lively. So they are not in a fit posture for Christ’s coming. Yet the emphasis of Scripture ought to lead us to love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”:  John Willison put it in this way: “Be frequently looking out and longing for Christ’s coming: as Abraham stood in his tent-door ready to go forth to meet the angels that were sent unto him, so should the believer keep himself in a waiting posture at this time. He should be like the loving wife, that longs and looks for the coming of her absent husband, according to his letters to her”. How can we increase our longing for Christ’s coming? Here are some ways.

James Durham helps us with this in the following updated extract by outlining ways we can increase our longing for Christ’s coming. First of all, he observes that for some who lack assurance or know they are not what they should be there are times we would like Christ to come, but they are afraid that we have not made peace with him properly. Believers like this want to be clear that they are friends with Christ, and to be in a better condition, before he comes. This is not a case of fearing Christ’s coming as such, but of desiring to be in a better state of readiness for his coming. The fear is about something in themselves, and yet there is a desire that Christ would come. These are entirely consistent.

Then again, perhaps there is love in our hearts to Christ and his coming, but we think nothing of it. It means so little to us. This will make us afraid of his coming. We are convinced theoretically that Christ’s coming is so desirable that they would choose it ahead of anything else, but in practical terms, our love is not as it should be. This should stir us all up to have our love more fresh and fervent, and avoid complacency.

For it is a bad sign when Christ’s coming is not valued, when there is no longing for it, and the heart is not desirous to hear of it. Do the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ but our hearts say, ‘Go’? This is certainly evidence of a poor spiritual health in believers, and of lack of love in unbelievers who altogether neglect to love Christ and long for his coming.

There are other bad signs too. For example, if we never think of Christ’s coming in a way that leads us to pray for it or long for it. Or if the thought of him coming back is distasteful and uncomfortable to us. Our soul would never go out to meet him spontaneously and joyfully, but would have to be hauled out. Believers are supposed to be ‘looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord’ (2 Peter 3:12), so that when he comes, there is nothing left to do but to embrace him. But instead there is a widespread problem – people live without any reference to Christ’s coming. They are not setting their affections on things above, nor seeking to make their peace with Christ, or obtaining clarity on their relationship with him, or walking so as there would be no quarrels between Christ and them.

Nor do we make much effort (whether by praying or by other means) towards the things that have to happen before he comes, such as the enlargement of his kingdom. Neglecting this reveals our lukewarmness. If there was love to Christ’s coming, his kingdom would be close to our hearts, and we would be more public-spirited, and not so selfish. A selfish mind will never desire Christ’s coming. Neither will those whose hearts are not quit of the world. We are exceedingly addicted to the things of the world. The level of complacency and the amount of temporising among us tells how much we are wedded to the world.

Here are ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming.

1. Grow in faith

The reason we don’t take much interest in Christ’s coming is because we have such little faith in the great advantages that accompany his coming. We do not believe that his appearing will be as glorious and advantageous, and so full of happiness. We do not believe that at the dissolution of all these things there will be a full victory over all enemies, and no sin nor sorrow any more for believers. There is a faintness in the faith of believers which spoils the longing for his coming.

2. Grow in assurance

We have little longing for Christ’s coming because we have little assurance that Christ will appear for our own glory and happiness. While souls are under doubts whether they will get good from Christ at his appearing, they cannot long for it. If folks were clear about their relationship with Christ, and grasped that all the promises will be performed to them at his coming, they would long for it much more. When people have little desire for Christ’s coming, it suggests that what they think is faith is more like complacency than real peace with God. If you believed in Christ’s coming, and your own involvement in it, it is impossible but that your soul would cry out, ‘When shall the day dawn? When will he rend these heavens and come down?’ You would have a longing to be through time, and a holy impatience at any mishap that you thought might prolong the wait.

3. Increase your dissatisfaction with life here

We do not look ahead to Christ’s coming because we are too busy settling down as if our rest was here. This shows that we do not primarily place our happiness in Christ’s second coming, but instead expect our good things here and now. People have some plan about their creature comforts, and want that to come to fruition before Christ comes. They do not consider that the coming of Christ is the most noble plan, and that preparing for Christ’s coming lays the groundwork for a better portion to them and their children than all their attainments in the world.

4. Have more communion with Christ

We have little longing for his coming at the last day because we have little experience of his coming now, in the felt manifestations of his Spirit and presence to our souls. If people were clear about their relationship with him, and frequent in communion with him, they would long to see his salvation perfected. When we get fresh proofs of Christ’s sweetness and fresh views of his excellence, then we have longing desires to enjoy him immediately. Little of this makes little crying out for the living God, or for appearing before God. It must be that you don’t taste that God is gracious, otherwise you would long for his coming. If only you would taste and see how good he is! If you had even a little experience of his ravishing sweetness! When a taste of him is so delectable, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, like hidden manna, what must the full harvest be? What must the completing of the bargain be like, when the down-payment is so sweet?

It should be natural believers to long for Christ’s coming

It is unsuitable in everyone, and especially in believers, that there should be so little desire for Christ’s coming, so little praying for it. Is it in keeping with the great advantages we profess to expect when he comes? Is it in line with the many promises we have, and our profession to have a right to them? No sooner does Christ promise, but John, or the Bride, has an echo for the fulfilling of it. Is it consistent with professing love to Christ, not to desire union with him, and the full coming of his kingdom?

Our desires should also be in proportion to our admiration for what Christ has done in order to make way for his second coming. He came in the form of a servant, and did what he did, and suffered what he did, to make way for his coming again, to take believers to glory.

So failing to desire Christ’s coming implies great weakness in our faith, great lack of love, great uncertainty in our hope, and great disrespect for Christ. We make no good use of the promise of his coming, and we do not know what it is to be comforted in it.

Let us then stir ourselves up to desiring Christ’s coming, both as a duty that is required of us and as a frame that is requisite in us. This is what I would urge.
(1) Love Christ’s coming so much that you would neither rise in the morning nor lie down at night, without expressing some desires for it.
(2) Put up more prayers for it. It may be a cause of his delay, and of delaying many things that are to happen before he comes, that there is so little diligence in praying for his coming, or the things that must happen in order for him to come.
(3) Take it more seriously as something so closely connected with the Lord’s honour and the thriving of his kingdom, and something by which we evidence a kindly sympathy with our Lord. Do not content yourselves to pass over it with a dry wish. Consider that it is presented here as a frame of heart that is of the Spirit, ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.’ To the extent that you want yourselves to show signs of being the natural branches of this vine, and members of the body of which he is the head, and a part of his Bride, to that extent, I urge you, say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’

The coming of Christ is a ground of notable consolation to believers. Our Lord has said and confirmed it, that he is coming, and that he is coming quickly. Among all the many dark, obscure passages in the Book of Revelation, this is clear. He says he is coming quickly to judge the world, to raise your bodies, to make up the union between him and them, to solemnise the marriage, to bring you who love his appearing to the wedding. All that you have heard spoken of it shall be made good.



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You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

We know that saving grace brings us into a relationship with God. But what is the nature of that relationship? We don’t understand that properly until we grasp the significance of covenant, a word and idea that carries forward the progress of God’s purposes of grace in the gospel and salvation. Covenant is the way that God relates to His people and makes promises to them. It helps us understand the full depth and riches of what God has planned and provided for His people.

David Dickson explains more of the rich blessing of the Covenant of Grace in this updated extract.

1. The Covenant of Grace Runs Through Scripture

Immediately after the breaking of the covenant of works by Adam, it pleased the Lord to lay that new ground of a new covenant of grace in His Son, in that promise in the garden. The seed of the woman shall tread down the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And God renews the promise in form of a formal covenant to Abraham and his seed which is Christ, and all the faithful through Him (Genesis 17:7). The same covenant is repeated in the person of David and his seed (2 Samuel 7:14-15).

This is more fully explained Psalm 89:3-4. Where the Lord swears to the throne and kingdom of Christ who was to come from David unto all generations, and under the type of David and his successors, and his children, that is, all those that believe in Christ:

  • protection and defence against all evil;
  • provision of strength for every good employment;
  • freedom from the voluntary slavery of sin;
  • turning of everything to our good;
  • fighting for us, against our foes;
  • giving us all the good things that He promises to us;
  • to forgive us our sins;
  • to make us partakers of His eternal kingdom:
  • faith itself and the spirit of adoption, whereby we may call God, “Abba Father”. And
  • last of all, which of all is most wonderful, although the devil had so far prevailed as to make them forsake the law of God, and neglect the commandments, and transgress the statutes and ordinances; yet if you return to the Lord your God, and lay hold on the covenant, you may well be plagued with worldly judgments for your correction, but you shall not be excluded from the mercy of God, and His loving kindness. “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.” (Psalm 89:30-32). But observe that which follows: “Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” (Psalm 89:33-34), etc. O the wonderful love and goodness of our God in His Son Christ towards poor sinners! who, although we change every moment, He never changes.

This is the new covenant which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself did preach, and sealed with His blood, and left in legacy to us, under the broad seal of His own sacrament. For the last cup that ever He drank, He took the cup and giving thanks, He gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink ye all of it: For this is my blood of the new covenant, or new testament which is shed for many, for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). This is the covenant in which all the promises of grace are contained both in the Old and New Testament; for this cause it is called, the New Covenant of promises.

2. The Blessings of the covenant of grace

The excellence of it shall appear in considering its properties.
(a) It is a new covenant, for that it makes us free from the covenant of works; yea now under the gospel twice, because it makes us free from the ceremonies of Moses’ law, with which the children of God were burdened before the coming of Christ (Hebrews 7:22).

(b) It is a complete covenant of all mercies and graces in abundance (Isaiah 55:1 and Isaiah 44:3). For what spiritual graces you stand in need of, you shall find it promised here. Faith, repentance, remission of sins, sanctification, the spirit of prayer, knowledge, the fear of God; and in a word, all is promised here.

(c) It is a free covenant, wherein (i) all is freely gifted, without money or price on our part; (ii) The most miserable and unworthy sinner that desires to be reconciled to God, is not excluded from it; but the poorest and most needy, hungry, thirsty and beggarly souls are most welcome to have it. (iii) Whatsoever it craves of you who lay hold on His covenant (Isaiah 56:1-2), it also promises to you e.g. faith, repentance, sanctification, etc. . “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” (Hosea 14:4).

(d) It is a sure covenant and firm, because it is not grounded upon anything that is in us, or can be in us, but upon the free love of the unchangeable God, and the truth of God’s Word and the oath of God, who has sworn to keep it “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David” (Psalm 89:34-35 and Genesis 17:7). It has Christ Jesus for the Mediator of it. “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15). And likewise, He is the preacher of it. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1). The witness of it, “Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, etc.” (Isaiah 55:4). The surety and guarantor of it (Hebrews 7:22). And the sealer of it by His blood unto His Father (Hebrews 9:14), and His sacrament, and Holy Spirit to us (1 Corinthians 11:25).

(e) It is an everlasting covenant enduring forever in the Lord’s part, which of all the rest is most comforting: For howsoever our part of the covenant be broken from time to time by our manifold transgressions. Yet the Lord keeps His part whole, and does not take away His loving kindness from us, but gives us liberty to renew our part of the covenant by daily repentance; and to come to that fountain that is opened up in the house of David for sin and uncleanness, that we may wash and be made clean (Zechariah 13:1). “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” (Isaiah 55:3). “I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (Genesis 17:19). “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40 and Ezekiel 16:60).

If this covenant pleases you well and your heart receives it, both to be saved and sanctified by it, and you are content to enter into this covenant with the Lord, of purpose to pursue the promises of sanctification no less than the promises of justification and salvation: In a word, if you say with your heart to the Lord, “Lord, I embrace the offer of Christ Jesus and all His graces, Lord I embrace this gracious covenant offered unto us all in the gospel, that I may be sanctified and saved by it,” and will follow unto it by the Lord’s grace, believing in His goodness and truth; then blessed are you, and more and more blessed will you be daily.

The Lord Himself  called them blessed that lay hold on the covenant (Isaiah 56:2, 4-7), whether you be rich, poor, man, woman, were you never so great a stranger from God, and has no grace in your own estimation, were you like a dry tree empty of all sap, that is void of all goodness and grace in yourself, you shall get a place within God’s house, and an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-4, 9). You shall be joyful in the Lord’s house of prayer, and your sacrifice and service shall be accepted of the Lord (Isaiah 56:7).

3. Make Use of the covenant of Grace

It remains only to make use of the covenant in all your life, that you may live the life of faith, and Christ may live in you: and out of Christ, by virtue of his promises, you may draw every grace which your soul desires.

And to this end, look what necessary grace you would have. Search to see if there is a promise for it in the Scriptures, in which the main parts of this covenant are written. Labour to believe humbly the promise when you has found it, and in that measure of faith which the Lord bestows upon you, present your supplication in the name of Jesus for that necessary promised grace which you would have, patiently pursuing your request from day to day, till God satisfy you, which He will not fail to do in His own time. Only believe, and you shall see the glory of God; for faithful is He who has said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9-10) For if men who are evil, can give gifts to their children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:13). He that has given his Son to death for us, will He not with Him us all things also? (Romans 8:32). 



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What is Christian Watchfulness?

What is Christian Watchfulness?

What is Christian Watchfulness?

At times governments issue the stark warning to “stay vigilant” concerning some threat. Other groups remind us of the ever present potential for abuse of power and the slogan “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Vigilance is watchfulness and the Scriptures warn us repeatedly of the need to stay awake to spiritual dangers (1 Peter 5:8; Mark 13:37; Acts 20:31). We neglect it at our peril (1 Corinthians 16:13–14). People who are watchful know there a present danger that threatens something valuable. But it is not merely a negative duty it has positive implications for us also. How then are we to be watchful?

The world and the evil one are powerful enemies that assail us but part of the difficulty is that the dangers are not only from outside of us. We have hearts that we need to keep a watch over because they are ready to deceive us through sin (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 26:41; Galatians 6:1; 2 John 8). We need not just self-examination that monitors our spiritual vitality, we also require prayer (Colossians 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:7). But in it all we need to be looking to Jesus and have a watchfulness for every way in which we may serve Him and be like Him (Colossians 3:1–2; Hebrews 12:2). Hugh Binning explains in the following updated extract what watchfulness is and how it is a duty for all of us.

1. Watchfulness is for Everyone

A Christian should watch. A Christian is a watchman by office. This duty of watchfulness is frequently commanded and commended in Scripture (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 5:8; Colossians 4:2; Luke 12:37). David waited as those that watch for the morning light (Psalm 130:6). The ministers of the gospel are described as watchmen in Scripture and every Christian should be to themselves as a minister is to his flock, they should watch over themselves. This implies the Christian’s condition in this world and expresses their activity in it.

2. Watchfulness Implies Warfare

Watching is a military posture and indicates the Christian’s situation in this world. They are encompassed about with enemies, and therefore must be a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3). The Christian has a warfare to accomplish in this world, and therefore the church here is militant, and in heaven triumphant (1 Timothy 1:18). Every Christian should war a good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.

Christ has drawn battle and appointed warfare to all His followers. In the strength of their past victory in Him, they may be made more than conquerors so that there may be a perpetual song of triumph and victory in heaven. He has made the saints strong and has made the strong weak.

The Christian’s heart and grace are like a besieged city blocked up on every side. There are enemies without and false friends within. Its enemy is great principalities and powers etc. (Ephesians 6:12) and these go around continually to look for a breach. All the things of the world besiege the heart and every sense is a gate to let the enemy in. All our dealings and trading in the world are as dangerous as inviting the countryside around a town to a public market within it when the enemy is surrounding it.

There is a desperately wicked heart within, that has deceived many thousands, and would surrender the city upon any occasion. There are fleshly lusts which war against the soul, (1 Peter 2:11) temptation to sin and unbelief. There is a heart within that can conceive and bring forth sin, and does not need any temptation, a heart within that can seduce temptation itself. When a foreign power is added to all this, who can stand? Christ Himself was tempted, but Satan found nothing in Him, and had nothing in Him, but when Satan comes, he finds everything in us, and we are like gunpowder to the flame. We can even tempt ourselves as well as be tempted by another.

3. Watchfulness is the Opposite of Sleeping

The Christian keeps a house that the enemy surrounds, and if they sleep the foe will enter. The Christian is a pilgrim here and not yet come home. They have to proceed through a dirty and dangerous way. The Christian is like a servant that left with appropriate provision by his master (who will come home when he pleases, Mark 13:33; Matthew 24:32). But woe to him if his master finds him sleeping. What then should his activity and posture be? He should be a watchman.

Watching is the opposite of complacency and sleeping. The Christian must keep their eyes open, or else they are gone. They must be vigilant or else the devil will attack them (1 Peter 5:8). The sluggard’s destruction comes as an armed man, because of his “little sleep” and slumber (Proverbs 6:10 and Proverbs 20:13). Complacency is the Christian’s night when they cease from their labour and the adversary does as he pleases with them. But the Christian is in a better condition when they are wrestling with temptation and getting heavy blows. When they are at peace and dwell securely (like the people of Laish, Judges 18:7) they are not troubled with anything but are in a dreamy state, but that is a condition of decay.

4. Watchfulness Requires Being Observant

To watch, is to observe everything (1 Samuel 4:13; Luke 6:7). This is a watchman’s special duty, to let nothing pass by them without observation. Whatever comes in they ask where it has come from and where it is going. The heart is a highway that everything travels along. If the Christian does not exactly know what comes in and what its purpose, they may be overcome before they are aware. They Christian should observe all the movements of the enemy and be well acquainted with all the subtleties of temptations. They must know their own spirit and thoughts and observe all the Lord’s dealings with his spirit. They must be concerned to know what is an enemy or friend. Therefore, the Christian should get up on the watchtower of the Word, and look through the telescope of faith round about them, that they may know what their spiritual condition is.

5. Watchfulness Requires Giving Warning

The watchman gives warning while it is timely and the enemy is far off. He raises the alarm so that everything is in readiness. This is how you ought to be. Come to Jesus Christ with all that you observe, inform the Captain of your salvation whose soldiers you are. It is best dealing with temptation far off, and resisting the first movements of sin because when it comes near it gets many friends within. They watchman’s duty is not to give his judgment of what he sees but only to report it. Do not sit down to pass sentence on whether anything is good or evil, sin or not, but come to Jesus and let Him speak. Often we reason according to flesh and blood.

6. Watchfulness Requires Constancy

There must be no interruption in this watching. The Christian must give diligent heed to it (Mark 13:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:6). It is a very laborious activity for a Christian to watch, all their senses are exercised. They must look up steadfastly, they must stand, and when they have done all they can, still stand. When the Christ has overcome they must continue to watch, lest they enter into temptation. They are in greater danger after victory than before (Ezra 6:13). They must watch when they have come out of one temptation lest they enter into another. Armies often get their greatest disadvantage after they have some victory, when they were at ease. Therefore, we ought to give all diligence, and not love sleep, lest we come into poverty.


From what has been said we see how few are in a warlike posture against Satan. Many serve under Satan’s flag and the strong man keeps the house. They do not watch against him but for him; they fight for him, and not against him. Many even watch for their sin, how to achieve it. Many seek every advantage to get their own heart’s desires, they watch against God’s Word, to keep off conviction. These are the children of darkness, in whom the devil reigns.

We also observe from this that even the children of God are seldom found watching. There is much woeful complacency among them. Who of you walks as if you were among enemies? You walk as if you were in a peaceful city without any gates, like the people of Laish who dwelt securely (Judges 18:7). You have no friend in all the world, and yet what fearful negligence and sleeping there is among you. The flesh is so weak that you cannot watch even one hour for Christ. And the neglect of one hour’s watching has brought down many strong ones. This made such a breach on David that could hardly be repaired ever again.



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Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

We are all buyers and frequently we also seek to sell things. Whether this is part of our work or personal life, we need to consider what Scripture says. It is easy to be drawn into separating matters of faith and finance. Perhaps especially during a time of financial pressures we may be tempted to increase our personal benefit at the expense of others. What can we do to keep integrity in our spending behaviour? According to research done at London Bible College in recent years the pressure to be dishonest is also one of the greatest on Christians working in secular business. Subtle deception and concealment can be ordinary tools of the trade in some places. Taking a stand in that context can mean employment prospects suffer. There are limits to what we can honestly and honourably do in our financial transactions, whether we are buying and selling items or services. 

Such concerns are not new, they are as old as buying and selling themselves. We can learn a great deal therefore for biblical principles on the subject. In this updated extract, Christopher Love sets out some scriptural principles to follow, whether as businesses or individuals. It would be a mistake to avoid having our conscience informed by Scripture in these matters for any reason. No doubt a very great deal more could be said and further qualification, explanation and application is needed but there is much here to prompt our reflection. 


1. Honesty about value. If you are about to buy something, first take heed that you do not talk it down, in order to bring down the price, and get it for less than it is worth. In Solomon’s time, people were so wicked that when they came to the market to buy anything, the buyer would criticise the commodity, saying it was nothing, when it was in fact very good and saleable. Then when the seller was gone, the buyer would boast of what a good bargain he got (Proverbs 20:14).

2. Honesty about what you will pay. If you are prepared to pay a certain sum, do not make protestations that you will give no more than what you have first offered, when you know that afterwards you will give more. It is a very common thing for the buyer to say he will not give a penny more, and for the seller to say he will not take a penny less, and yet in the end both the buyer gives more, and the seller takes less. So this is nothing other than a palpable and downright lie.

3. Honesty about currency. If you know you have counterfeit money about you, or worthless coins (perhaps in a foreign currency), and yet use it to pay for commodities, you sin in doing so – even if you yourself were given it as part of your payment. When Abraham was to buy the field of Ephron the Hittite in Machpelah for a burying place, he said he would give ‘four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant” (Genesis 23:16).

4. Honesty about value. If you attempt to acquire something for less than what you think in your conscience is its due value and worth, this is an open form of oppression. When Abraham was to buy the cave in from Ephron, he said he would give ‘as much money as it is worth’ (Genesis 23:9). Similarly, when David was to buy the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he said, he would buy it at its full value (2 Samuel 24:24).

5. Honesty about debts. If you are already able to pay for what you have bought, do not take a long time to make the payment. There is an excellent saying for this in Proverbs 3:27-28. This text refers to works of mercy, but it is also relevant to buying and selling and trading in the world. If you owe someone money for something, you ought to pay him. Do not let him come day after day for it and go away without it, when you have it by you (2 Kings 4:7). In Scripture it is the badge of a wicked man that he does not pay his debts (Psalm 37:21).

6. Honesty about monopolising. Do not buy up all of a commodity so that it all comes into your own hands alone, if you are intending to sell it at your own, inflated price. This is sheer oppression, destructive to society, and to all trading. Scripture condemns this in Proverbs 11:26. When corn was cheap, they would go and buy all the corn in the country, and then sell none till corn was very dear. It is no sin in itself to engross a commodity in order to sell it the cheaper, but to engross it merely to raise the price is such an oppression that the people shall curse whoever does it.

7. Honesty about mistakes. If the seller has made some mistake or oversight, do not take advantage of them. For example, you might go to a shop to buy so many yards of cloth, and the seller perhaps gives you more than you have paid for, or takes less money than is his due. You should take no advantage of him in such a situation, but restore it again. If you take anything more from him than you bought from him, it is theft; and if you give any less for the commodity than you bargained for, it is theft. When Joseph’s brothers found their money in their sacks again, their father Jacob told them, ‘Go back again and take double money in your hand, and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hands, for peradventure it was an oversight’ (Genesis 43:12).

8. Honesty about the Lord’s Day. If it is the Lord’s Day, do not buy anything. It is true, in urgent situations to maintain life either in man or beast, this is lawful, but to buy anything that you can easily go without till Monday, is sinful. ‘And Nehemiah entered into an oath, and the people with him, that if any of the people of the land brought wares, or any victuals to sell on the Sabbath day, that they would not buy it of them’ (Nehemiah 10:31).

9. Honesty If the seller is poor and in need of the money, do not exploit their desperation. It is a great sin in those who know that a poor person needs money, and has to sell his wares otherwise he cannot buy food for his family, and therefore they refuse to buy the commodity unless he will sell it cheaper then he can afford. This is a great oppression (see Leviticus 14:25).

10. Honesty about lawful goods. If something is not fit to be bought or sold, do not buy it. For example, do not buy stolen goods. If you know they are stolen, they must not be bought but restored. As the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the buyer is as bad as the thief. Also, do not buy idolatrous or superstitious things, such as crosses, rosary beads, images, crucifixes, and the like. And do not buy people for slaves, for the Lord reproves this in Amos 2:6 and Deuteronomy 24:7.

Biblical Principles For Honest Selling

1. Honesty in salesmanship. Do not multiply words in selling. When Ephron told Abraham that the piece of land was worth four hundred shekels of silver, Abraham presently gave him that much (Genesis 23:15). God Himself takes upon Him to be a seller. ‘If you think good,’ says God, ‘give me my price; if not, forbear’ (Zechariah 11:12); multiplicity of words is needless.

2. Honesty in trade descriptions. Do not over-praise a commodity, when you know in your conscience that there is a fault in it.

3. Honesty in weights and measures. Do not sell your commodities by false weights or by false measures. This is condemned in Amos 8.5, ‘They make the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsify the balances by deceit’ and also in Proverbs 10:20. The Lord gave a special law for this in Israel (Deuteronomy 25:14-15; see also Micah 6:10).

4. Honesty in bargaining. Make sure, not only that you do not speak falsehoods, but also that you do not speak in an equivocating manner. Commenting on the words, ‘Let no man defraud his brother,’ Luther observes that there are many shopkeepers who will not lie, but they will equivocate. To sell off a commodity a tradesman will offer one person a certain amount for it, and then he will tell the next person that comes that someone offered him so much for it. Or they will say it cost them a certain amount, when maybe they bought other things along with it of a greater value and price, and maybe they had a great deal of time given them to pay for it, whereas the buyer is paying ready money. Equivocating is as bad as lying.

5. Honesty with everyone. In selling a commodity, do not take advantage of the ignorance or naivety of anyone who comes to buy it. If you discern him to be unskilful, treat him better rather than worse. God says, ‘I will punish all those young men that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit’ (Zephaniah 1:9). ‘Let no man (says the apostle) go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter, for the Lord is the avenger of all such’ (1 Thessalonians 4:6; see also 2 Peter 2:3).

6. Honesty about quality. Do not debase a commodity from its original worth and goodness, and yet sell it at the full price, as if it were good, just to get the more by it. This the Scripture condemns in Amos 8:6, ‘They sell the refuse of the wheat,’ referring to the practice of those who picked out the best of their wheat, and yet sell the worst at the full price of the best. Likewise in Isaiah 1:22, ‘They mingle wine with water, and dross with silver.’

8. Honesty about the fourth commandment. Do not be so eager to sell your commodities that you cannot content yourselves to sell on the six days of the week, but you must sell on the sabbath day likewise. Do not be like those in Amos 8:5, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, that we may sell corn, and the sabbath be over, that we may set forth wheat?’ See also Nehemiah 13:15. Many think nothing of selling small trifling things on the sabbath day, but this is a great sin.

9. Honesty about failures. If you are found out to be deceitful in your dealing, do not justify your deceit. Many, if you come to them, and tell them that they sell dearer then their neighbours, will tell you that they do not. Or if you tell them that the commodity you bought from them has some defect, they will say it is as good as they can afford for the price, or something similar. Ephraim is condemned for this in Hosea 12:7-8. ‘Ephraim is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand.’





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9 Reasons to look forward to Christ coming again

9 Reasons to look forward to Christ coming again

9 Reasons to look forward to Christ coming again

Have we stopped talking about it? ​In the past a lot was made of it but it seems increasingly rare to us to hear about the Second Coming these days. Perhaps people have grown a little confused or weary as they struggle to put together a timeline of the future. Yet previous generations had a range of different views that did not prevent them from drawing motivation from the second coming however near or far away they thought it was. That is because it is the great day of the manifestation of Christ’s glory and we ought to long for that. We lose a great deal if our focus is on the present with little thought of this glorious future.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of some of the core truths about the second coming. This leaflet by James Durham called Jesus Christ is Coming Again will help us with that. The following updated and abridged extract also helps us answer the question: why do believers long for Christ’s second coming?

1. Because of what it means for Christ

Nothing contributes more to Christ’s honour. Whatever aspersions have been cast on His honour, when Ge comes again, this will free His honour from them all, and will put His enemies underfoot. The way He reigns here will cease, and as a full conqueror He will enter into the possession of all He has bought, and get the satisfaction His soul desired for all His soul travails. And because believers have such a love for Christ’s honour, and to what will satisfy Him, of course they wish and long for the day when He shall be declared Lord and Christ. That will be the day of the marriage, which is pending till then.

2. Because of what it means for the church

That will be the day when the Church is made perfect. The bride will be presented spotless. All the firstborn will make their rendezvous. The queen will be brought in to the king in raiment of needlework, all the virgins following her. This is why it is called the day of all believers’ redemption (Romans 8:23), because their redemption is not perfected till then.

3. Because of what it means for the wicked

In that day, believers will get the full victory and triumph over all the enemies of Christ. Death and hell will then be cast into the lake (Revelation 20:14). Everything that offends will be cast out. Christ victory, and His saints’ victory and triumph is not complete till that day comes.

4. Because of what it means for believers

It is the day of our own individual marriage to Christ. This makes it to be all the more longed for, because every individual believer has his or her involvement in it. That is when there will be a complete divorce between them and the body of death – they will be married to Christ, and shall be like Him. We shall then see our redeemer, and no other for us.

5. Because of what it means for God’s promises

All God’s promises will be fulfilled then.

(a) The promises that refer to justification. At that day, believers’ justification will be declared openly and judicially. They shall be freed from the guilt of sin, and all the effects of it.

(b) The promises about sanctification. The body that was sown in corruption shall be raised in incorruption; it was sown in dishonour, it shall be raised in glory; it was sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it was sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. The body that bore the image of the earthly Adam shall bear the image of the heavenly Adam, and so on. This corruption shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). He shall change our vile bodies, and make them like His own glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Our bodies are ‘vile’ not so much for their form, as for the corruption that sticks to us.

(c) The promises about consolation. ‘Where he is, there his servants shall be.’ He shall then say, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom.’ Come, faithful servants, enter into the joy of your Lord and master.

(d) The promises of freedom from crosses. In this life, believers are subject to persecution, and we have no full freedom from sin, and while sin is in them, the cross attends them. But then there shall be no more curse, no more crying or complaining. The second coming of Christ brings absolute freedom from sin and all its effects.

(e) The promises of glorification. We will conformed to his image, placed on the throne, our souls and bodies reunited together and put in possession of glory, to have a place in the household, to eat and drink with Christ in his kingdom.

All these, and whatever we can think of that contributes to a believer’s comfort, and much more, will be perfected when Christ comes again.

6. Because of what it means for God’s prophecies

As well as the promises, all the prophecies will be accomplished that day. For example, prophecies about the glory of God, of His victory over enemies, of his calling in His ancient people, etc. That day will put an end to all prophecies. All that is in part shall be done away, when that which is perfect shall come.

7. Because of what it means for our souls and bodies

Believers will then be fully perfected. All of them together, in soul and body, will be fully perfected in that day. There shall be no darkness in their understandings, but they shall see the incomprehensible God (as far as they are capable, and as far as it is fitting for them to comprehend him), to the increase of their wondering and admiration, and for a foundation to their praise without any mistake, for all infirmities will be taken away.

8. Because of what it means for fellowship with Christ

There will be no more ordinances, just meeting Christ directly. For now, ordinances intervene between us and Christ – we know Him through the ordinances. But then, there will be nor more preaching, nor prayer, nor hearing of preaching, nor reading of Scripture, nor coming to church. In that day, the Lord will be the temple, and the light of the house, and we will enjoy him directly, non-mediately, in a way that swallows up the need for all intervening means of knowing Him.

9. Because of what it means for time

There will be no more time. There will be nothing left that is suited to time, or subject to time. Death changes our distance to God. Crosses and persecutions, all that is imperfect, are just the appendices of time, but in that day there will be nothing but what is unchangeable, and perfect in the highest degree.

When all these accompany Christ’s coming, and bring believers’ consolation to the maximum, is it any wonder if His coming is desirable to them and something they long for?

We can take it for granted then, that there is nothing more lovely to a believer, nothing more desirous, or longed for and prayed for when the believer is in a good frame.


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Life is Worth Preserving

Life is Worth Preserving

Life is Worth Preserving

Why is life worth preserving? Sometimes there are so many problems and so much suffering that people wonder: “what’s the point of it all?” They may even imagine that putting an end to life will put an end to suffering. Last week the House of Lords rejected a new move to adopt assisted suicide legislation and it is being considered by the Scottish Parliament. It is argued that assisted suicide fails to protect the terminally ill and disabled people from feeling worthless and a burden on others with the added pressure to take this option and end it all. The quality of end-of-life care we provide needs to demonstrate that we value life enough to preserve it. Each person is valuable, not worthless, no matter what struggles they face. In addition to caring for people’s physical, psychological and social needs, there are also godly principles and the promises of God to help on the spiritual level. Reinforcing these spiritual truths is a reminder that when we, or a loved one, have to deal with suffering (or dread what may be ahead), we can respond in a way that respects our intrinsic human dignity and honours our Maker in His loving provision. People who have suicidal thoughts, whether due to illness or disability or pressures, need to be cared for, not helped to kill themselves. 


In the earliest full length book about suicide, the Scots-born Puritan John Sym details the sort of views that fed into the Westminster Assembly’s discussion of the sixth commandment. The Larger Catechism speak of careful and “lawful endeavours, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any” (Proverbs 24:11-12; Acts 16:28; Proverbs 31:8). Things that help towards this are “patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit… comforting and succouring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent” (Q135). It also shows how the sixth commandment is against “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life… and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any” (Q136). Sym’s book Lifes Preservative Against Self-Killing (1637) came firmly to the conclusion that even with sufferings and afflictions, life is better than death. To think otherwise is a sign that there are deeper problems than the suffering itself. Yet these deeper problems can themselves be addressed in order to support and protect people in their need. Sym’s careful discussion of these issues can be seen in the following updated extract,

1. What is so special about life?

Our natural life consists in the soul being united personally with the body.

Admittedly we live in a frail body, subject to sin and to manifold troubles and infirmities. This is a fading and temporary life, as James tells us, comparing it to a vapour that vanishes away (James 4:14).

Yet even this natural life is sweet. Nothing in the world is more dear to a person than their own life. “All that a man hath will he give for his life” (Job 2:4). Because of its excellency and usefulness, Solomon calls it the precious life (Proverbs 6:26). Once we have lost it we can never redeem it, or recover it again from death. Life is especially precious for three reasons.

(a) Because by it the person is preserved in its essence or being, by the personal union of soul and body, which would otherwise be dissolved and undone. Between being and not-being there is such vast a distance that we instinctively prefer to live miserably, than not to live at all. The loss of life is not only irrevocable, and unmatchable in worth, but also, it includes all other worldly losses in it, and therefore it is by far the greatest loss that anyone can suffer.

(b) Because it is by life that we are able to have any use or benefit of the good things that God gives us to rejoice in, in this world. Once we are dead, all this world and the pleasure of it is gone. Likewise all the miseries and calamities that betide us here are less evils than death, since partial evils are always less than those that are complete and full. Evils that afflict are less than those that extinguish.

(c) Because of how we can put our life to good use. We can live to God’s glory, spending our life according to his holy Word. We can do good to others, whether spiritual good in the church or civil good in the commonwealth. And we can use it to prepare ourselves for heaven, by working up our salvation here in this life, adorning ourselves with the graces of God’s Spirit, and by holy acts of obedience and performing our duties to God.

This is why the departure of the soul from the body is ordinarily so horrible to contemplate, and can only be thought of with pain and grief. It is not only because it involves the parting of two companions as sweetly united as the soul and the body, but also because it means the utter destruction of our natural, personal life, and being cut off from all the comforts that depend on it and make it better. Consequently we naturally endeavour to preserve our life against all dangers, and we abhor self-murder, which deprives us of so much good.

2. Why should we value our bodies?

There are three things to consider about the human body.

(a) The body is not only an integral part of the human person, but an essential part, something which constitutes the person. Without the body there cannot be a person. Therefore, if the body is killed, the person is destroyed, in the sense that it ceases from existing or subsisting in this world.

(b) The body is the organ, or instrument, by which the soul works. Therefore, killing the body destroys everything that the soul would have done in it. These include activities that would advance God’s glory in this life, or be useful towards our own moral and spiritual good, or promote the good of others in the church or society. So that, by killing himself, the person wrongs God, himself, and the church and society.

(c) The body, with the soul, makes the person, and so, in that respect, it is where God’s image resides. Therefore, by killing his own body, a person not only dishonours God, but also, in a way, does what he can to kill God himself, to the extent that by similitude God is in him.

3. What are the obstacles to enjoying life?

Sad and strange as it is, there are some who come to a place where they feel that their life is no longer worth living, and they entertain thoughts of ending their life. What reasons might there be for this?
Sometimes people fall into thinking that they should be free from the suffering and misery that fallen mankind is liable to, and feel that they have neither the support nor the strength they need to bear much suffering.

These sufferings are either genuine or only imagined, and either current, or feared. Whatever they are, the person despairs of being able to bear them, or dreads that God will not uphold him in them, or deliver him from them. Therefore he resolves not to endure them, but to remove himself by self-murder from that which he cannot remove from himself.

For example, there are illnesses which involve continual, grievous painfulness. These seem unbearable, for their magnitude, and also for their multitude, or unintermitted continuance. They may include gout, gallstones, strangury, racking aches, furious fevers, gangrenes, and other such desperate diseases.

Or sometimes people are afraid of disgrace, either public shaming, or the fear of being unable to cope with some trouble in a dignified way in front of others. In this case, fear of the precursors of death makes them cast themselves headlong into what they would most of all want to avoid.

Alternatively, sometimes people face the loss or lack of basic necessities for survival for themselves or their families. The consequent hunger, cold, oppression and neglect can seem unbearable. Some have killed their family members and then themselves in order to avoid what they might have to suffer in this way. But this only means that the suffering and death that they cannot endure to see or suffer inflicted by other means, they inflict on themselves unnaturally and wickedly.

Then again, there are difficulties to do with property and finances. Perhaps someone has been rich and well to do, but they have come down in the world. Or perhaps after careful toil, working hard to get on in the world, they encounter crosses and losses, or their goods are embezzled, or wasted, and they go into debt. They are unable to keep up their current lifestyle, or to repay their debts. Here we have a situation where one has to be poorer than he wishes, and another cannot be as rich as he wishes, and both of them resolve to kill themselves, as if to help themselves by a mad kind of remedy. The one, because he cannot have as much as he wants, takes a course to lose all that he has; the other, because he has so little, takes a way to have nothing at all!

Attempting to free themselves from their present (or feared) situation, they madly cast themselves into something worse.

There are also troubles of mind which can occasion thoughts of self-murder. People can be excessively discontent when their wishes are contradicted or disappointed. Either they lack some good thing (real or apparent) which they have expected, or they have to put up with some suffering which they did not desire. Maybe some injustice is done to them, or they have too many troubles in their families, or things are going so badly wrong in church or society. Yet none of these things would be persuasive to anyone as a reason to kill themselves, if only they would consider (a) that it is God who permits and regulates all these evils, and brings good out of them, if only they would see that their own will is not supreme, and (b) that it is not by dying, but by living, that matters are improved. Self-murder increases problems, rather than preventing or amending anything.

4. How can we fight against our fears?

Any of these fears of these ways of suffering is insufficient as a justification for someone to end their own life. Although they may be the reasons that people cite, yet there are likely to be more deep-seated and latent reasons underlying these. Being more aware of these should help us face down our fears more effectively.

(a) Fight unbelief with faith.

We need to believe in God, from whom and by whom we would have power in Christ to stand fast in all circumstances. We need to firmly believe and credit God in the Scriptures – to take seriously the directions of his Word, rest on his promises, and be persuaded that God has a gracious intent in dealing with us in our afflictions, and that these troubles will have a blessed outcome eventually. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.’

(b) Fight the feeling of being unsupported by accepting God’s comfort.

The person perceives himself to be overburdened with miseries, beyond any means of deliverance that he can see, and beyond the strength he has in himself, conceiving his afflictions to be excessive, above his strength and more than he deserves. But we should try to realise that our afflictions come from God. They ordered by our wise, powerful, and loving father for our good. Others have had to endure more than this, and these sufferings are less than what we deserve. And if we are God’s people, God turns our troubles to make them blessings. He assists those who in the midst of afflictions trust in him. In the end these difficulties shall be recompensed with a far greater and eternal weight of glory.

(c) Fight pride with willingness to let God be in control.

We will not buckle to be willingly in the situation in which God has placed us, but we will rather risk breaking the mast altogether than lower our sails in a storm.
In general, pride is an over-estimation of what we deserve, or of our own wisdom and intelligence (in that we think that the circumstances we want are better for us than what God has provided for us). We prefer our own wills before God’s, and accordingly, to get our own way, we are apt to use the means of our own foolish devising, however wrong they may be.

Instead we should come to a thorough knowledge by the Word of how unworthy and insufficient we are, with a realisation of how merciful God is towards us in his thoughts and dealings. We should keep our eyes fixed on the promises of God to support us. We should also hand ourselves over to God, letting go of our own wisdom, will, and ways, and allowing God to make our choices for us.

(d) Fight fearfulness by finding satisfaction in God.

If we in Christ enjoy our good God, and if we possess the peace of our consciences in well-doing, and keep ourselves taken up about heavenly things and holy employments, then it is not in the power of any creature to make us miserable, or weary of our lives. If we are wronged by anyone here on earth, that should make us cleave the more close to God (1 Cor. 7:29-31). Our lack of certain things, or our suffering by them, we may care about the less, considering what little assurance we have of them at any time, and the fact that at all times they are accompanied with their own problems.

5. What can help us think more clearly about this?

Affliction is insufficient to warrant anyone to take away their own life.
Consider for one thing that while people intend to rid themselves from afflictions, afflictions are much less bad than self-murder. It is not rational for anybody knowingly and willingly to cast themselves into a greater evil, in order to free themselves from a lesser.

Consider too that the person is going to part from their life, in order to be freed from troubles. But all the good things in the world are far inferior to the worth of their life. No one’s chief happiness consists in the good things in the world, and therefore, no one should kill himself for such things. Nothing, not even poverty, is so horrible, or so much to be feared, besides sin. Therefore, why should anyone make such a bad exchange as to give away his life in order to get away from something, when at the same time he may well precipitate himself into endless misery?

Consider also what a mistake it is for someone to expect to be delivered from troubles by killing himself, when by doing so he only casts himself into infinitely greater miseries. When it comes to persecution, for example, our Saviour bids us flee from it, or patiently to endure it, but nowhere allows that we should kill ourselves to prevent or escape it.

And consider finally that if someone thinks to kill himself, in order to free himself from troubles and afflictions, that person is resisting the will of God, by shaking off the burden which God has laid on him to bear. We must fulfil the will of God by obedience, including suffering, when we cannot do the contrary without offending God. The saints of God never used self-murder to free themselves out of troubles. Of this we have neither precept nor commendable example.

6. How can we respond better to adversity?

People in trouble and adversity are under a double burden – not only the afflictions which they suffer, but also the strong temptations with which Satan assaults them. In distress people ordinarily feel things worse than they otherwise would, which makes their circumstances seem more unbearable. So if we are ever in times of affliction, we should beware of drawing hard, uncharitable conclusions against ourselves, either in accusing ourselves of being forsaken of God, or anything like that, or in making rash decisions about what we will do with ourselves or to ourselves, without warrant from God.

Again, in times of adversity, we should take heed of concealing our troubles too closely from those who may be able to help with advice and support. Concealed grief is most likely to sink us, but telling someone gives ease, and procures help.
We are to be observant when others are in adversity, and be helpful to them. Listen to them, counsel them, and give them assistance, as far as you can yourself, and speak up for them so that others can help them too. A burden is more easily borne, when it is borne by many.

When someone is in distress we should help them respond as best becoming their present situation, so that they will not be overcome by it.

(a) Be careful to live by faith, and not by feelings. Ride by the anchor of hope, cast upward within the veil.

(b) Be humble under the mighty hand of God, with obedience which includes suffering. It is better to cut our masts of self-will and pride by the board, than to risk being over-set by a high sail in the storm of troubles.

(c) Show endurance, and stand fast.

(d) Do not worry about future events, but keep walking in the good paths. Instead we should commend ourselves by prayer to God, and rest confidently on him, meditating on the gracious promises and dealings of God towards those who depend on him.



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7 Reasons Cross Bearing Must Not Be Shirked

7 Reasons Cross Bearing Must Not Be Shirked

7 Reasons Cross Bearing Must Not Be Shirked

Christ’s call to deny ourselves and bear the cross is hard for us to hear. Especially in a culture where a great deal of emphasis is placed on the self and being comfortable. Yet the Saviour makes it an essential part of discipleship, indeed the call to cross bearing is repeated five times in Christ’s teachings (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27). We want to limit self-denial to denying ourselves this or that thing, while safely preserving the rest of what we enjoy. But the inconvenient truth is that it does not merely mean denying ourselves things, it means denying self. Bearing our cross does not mean any kind of hardship or inconvenience we have to bear in life. Our blind self-love does not want it but taking up the cross means willingly enduring any and every kind of shame and loss for the sake of Christ if it is necessary. It is the ultimate test. By nature, we want to shirk rather than embrace dying to self, but it is unavoidable. Here are seven compelling reasons that Christ gives us not to avoid the cross.

Cross bearing is not just the test of discipleship but of piety too. It enters deeply into our Christian experience. John Calvin points this out, that it stirs our hope beyond this world, trains us in patience and obedience and chastens our pride. David Dickson opens up the fuller implications of Christ’s call in Matthew 16:24-28. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of His own resolution to suffer the shameful death of the cross and exhorts His disciples not to be ashamed of suffering for His sake. If we are not resolved to suffer for Christ we cannot be His disciples. This is hard.

Dickson acknowledges that self-love controls us, we want to be well esteemed in this world. “A man’s own self is a bundle of all sort of idols which we must either renounce and be content to have them mortified, or else we cannot follow Christ”. Cross bearing helps us advance in self-denial and the Lord gives His own a cross that they are to bear suited to their own needs and condition. This cross must not make then forsake following Christ; but rather draw nearer to Christ and follow Him. The cross forces them to deny themselves by taking from us and giving to us what we would not otherwise accept. Self-denial bows the back to willingly take up and bear the cross. In the following updated extract he explains the seven reasons Christ gives in this passage to dissuade us from avoiding bearing the cross.

1. Seeking to Save Your Life is the Very Way to Lose it

Avoiding the cross to save your life is the very way to lose your life, therefore resolve to bear the cross. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it”. 1. The love of this temporal life makes people deny Christ. Christ will, therefore, have us to be resolved about this life. Whoever will save their life by denying Christ, is a great fool. They lose that eternally which they seek to save for a time, by avoiding Christ’s cross. “Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it” (Matthew 16:25).

2. Resolving to Lose Your Life is the Very Way to Save It

To resolve to lose your life for Christ’s sake is the way to keep it; therefore, resolve to bear the cross. Our greatest wisdom is to be resolved to lose life and all rather than deny Christ or any point of His truth. Those who make least account of their life and of all things belonging to it, in comparison to serving and confessing Christ, is a wise person. In effect, they gain forever that which they risk temporally for Christ. “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

3. Denying Christ to Gain the Whole World Means Losing Everything

Those that refuse to bear Christ’s cross in the hope of gaining by it will be disappointed. They will lose their own soul and so gain nothing though they seem to gain a world. Resolve therefore to bear Christ’s cross.
It is a severe temptation when the cause of Christ cannot be maintained without bearing the cross yet hope of worldly gain is offered if anyone will stop supporting Christ’s cause. Christ’s question in answer to the temptation implies this. What does a person gain in this situation? Those who refuse to maintain Christ’s cause out of fear of losing or in hope of gaining some earthly thing lose more than they can gain even though it were a kingdom. They lose their soul and what profit do they have even if they gain the whole world and lose that? (Matthew 16:26).

4. Abandoning Christ is Abandoning the Only Redemption of Your Soul

Nothing on earth can redeem the soul of those who have abandoned Christ for fear of the cross or hope of gain. Therefore, resolve to bear Christ’s cross rather than deny Him. If any deny Him there is no ransom for a soul other than in Christ. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Foreseeing our irreparable loss if we deny Christ is a special means to strengthen us against the fear of bearing the cross for Christ’s cause. We should say to ourselves, “what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

5. Although Despised Now, Christ Will Ultimately Be Glorious

Though Christ may seem poor and demeaned in that His followers are made to bear His cross, yet He will be found the glorious Son of God who is worthy to be suffered for. Therefore let no one think of Christ’s cross with shame. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father” (Matthew 16:27).

6. Your Cross Bearing Will Be Assessed at the Final Judgment

The fruit of bearing Christ’s cross or of refusing it will be seen at the day of judgment when He shall be judge. He will reward the backslider with deserved judgment and crown the grace of suffering for His sake with the reward of life. The fruit of everyone’s works, whether good or evil, will be found at the second coming of our Lord. “He shall reward every man according to his works”.

7. You May See Christ’s Glory in His Church on Earth

Christ promises a view of the glory of His kingdom. He will reveal to them as much as may encourage them and all His other followers to endure any cross for Him. Therefore, they should be resolved to bear the cross. He gave a little view of His glory shortly after this at the transfiguration. But this was not the main fulfilment. His coming in the power of His kingdom was made more evident after His resurrection. He declared Himself Lord and King in establishing His church with all her officers where He pleased, in subduing Jews and Gentiles to Himself by the power of His Word and Spirit, in separating His church and people from the world. This Kingly power was seen most evidently by those of the apostles who lived longest. His coming in the power of the gospel is a guarantee and evidence of His future coming to judgment in the glory of his Father.

Whoever gets a right view of the glory of Christ’s power in converting souls as well as establishing and governing His church with all His ordinances will not refuse to bear his cross. This promise is made to encourage the disciples to bear the cross.
Christ’s power and grace manifested in the conversion of souls and setting up of the Church in the days of the apostles is a demonstration of Christ’s kingly power and an evidence of His future coming to judgment. He said that some present would “not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).


A final thought from John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms. The more we come under the influence of that portion of Scripture, the more we will have of the spirit of self-denial and cross-bearing and manifest true discipleship.
“Although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross. And the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving Him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to His will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from Him.”


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Help to fulfil your good intentions of helping others

Help to fulfil your good intentions of helping others

Help to fulfil your good intentions of helping others

How do we respond to the sins and miseries we see all around us in our communities and society at large? There may be lots to say by way of lamenting the situation and bemoaning how things are going. Yet from another point of view the needs of others are opportunities for Christians to show mercy and do good to those around us. But often we hesitate to get involved and we let opportunities slide past. Recently “the world’s largest study of kindness” created by a University of Sussex team summarised their findings. One of the things that most stopped people from showing kindness was fear of their actions being misinterpreted. Others spoke of not having enough time. There may be many other excuses we would add. Perhaps there are local causes dear to our hearts yet we feel these works are better left to other people. Maybe we admire the spirit of self-sacrificial giving while trying to keep our own bank balances in good health. We know we should be showing love to our neighbour and we have good intentions to help others, but why do we not follow through? Here is some help towards that.

The beginning of Ecclesiastes 11 urges us to be charitable towards others and do as much as we can for their good. But we often come up with objections to excuse delaying or completely neglecting this duty.  In this updated extract, Alexander Nisbet draws lessons from this passage to help us to put our good intentions into action by helping others in practical ways.

1. Objections that hinder good intentions

(a) “Our resources are limited” 

One kind of objection comes from what we imagine is the likelihood that we will bring ourselves into need if we give to the poor as the Word of God presses us. But Solomon quotes a proverb about a foolish farmer, which amounts to this. If the farmer holds off from sowing or reaping every time it looks like rain or wind, he will never actually get round to either sowing or reaping. Likewise, if you look at all future contingencies which may discourage or hinder you in your duty, you will probably never set about it at all. Particularly if we neglect charity to others, when God calls us to it, because of every suggestion that our own resources will soon be exhausted, then we will never “cast our bread upon the waters” (verse 1). Then too we will never reap the reward promised to those who perform this duty.

(b) “Nothing much will come of it”

Another kind of objection is that there is no point because the likelihood of success seems very small. For this, Solomon uses an argument taken from the unsearchable depth of God’s wisdom manifested in his ordinary workings. He is aiming to show that our ignorance is no reason for us to despair of God doing what he has promised! Solomon’s examples come from two things very familiar to everyone, and yet clearly understood by none. For one thing, we “know not the way of the spirit” (verse 5). We are ignorant of how our own souls are formed and united to our bodies, how they exist and act while they are in the body, and when they are separated from it. And for another thing, “none knows how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child” (verse 5). No one understands that wonderful work, the forming of our own bodies in the womb.

If we do not understand these things, how can we distinctly conceive the way that God works to make good his promises to those who venture to do their duties, even when there is no probability of reward for so doing?

And to help us the more confidently expect the promised reward of duty, even though there appears no likelihood of it, Solomon reminds us that the Lord is the Creator, who gives a being to things that have no existence. He is “God who maketh all” (verse 5). Therefore we may cheerfully follow our duty to him, and, in particular, give for relief of his poor people, even supposing we see no probability of recompense for so doing.

2. Helps to follow through

(a) Act in obedience rather than on probabilities

In fact, we may expect that, on the balance of probability, it will look like very poor chances of success in the way of duty, and very small chances that promises made to doing duty can ever be fulfilled. But this only gives an opportunity to manifest the sincerity of our respect to the command, and the liveliness of our faith in believing the promise of reward. For just as the farmer will see many unseasonable days to hinder him from sowing and weaken his hopes of a good harvest, so many things will appear to hinder us from the duty of charity (and the same holds true of all other duties) and to weaken our hopes that promises about them will be fulfilled.

(b) Keep difficulties in perspective

Our problem is that we have so much natural aversion to our duty, and so much unbelief about the promised reward, that we are ready to make every appearance of a difficulty a sufficient reason to quit. For the weather will often be lowering, and the air tempestuous, when a little while afterwards, the season will be favourable enough! Yet we are very apt to be hindered from doing our duty by such small appearances of difficulty.

(c) Tackle duties when opportunities arise

If we earnestly set ourselves to give obedience to commanded duties, or want to see the fulfilment of the promise made to such obedience, we must not pounce on every possible difficulty from afar off, or search out reasons to discourage us in our duty. Nor must we pay overmuch attention to difficulties when they are suggested to our minds. Instead, when the season and opportunity of duty comes, we must set to, whatever appearance of bad success there be, otherwise we will never be able to advance God’s honour in carrying out our duty.

(d) Be aware of your priorities

If we applied the same logic in matters relating to our duty to God, and our eternal welfare, as we ordinarily do in the matters of this life, we would not be so often hindered from our duty or discouraged in it. But sometimes, the reasoning which carries no weight with us in things of earthly and small concern, can seem very powerful when it comes to the greatest matters, to do with our souls and the life to come. We do not not ordinarily see the appearance of rain or wind as a reason to neglect to sow or reap, or other things, otherwise we would seldom or never do what we normally never neglect.


It is only right that our love for the Lord and for our neighbours will spill out in practical kindness, works of mercy, and acts of generosity and liberality. If God has given us more than we need, then we are well placed to help someone else who has less than we have. We shouldn’t be so discouraged by the fact that we can’t do everything that we don’t try to do anything. Neither should we worry that we or our families will lose out if we are too generous in sharing what we have. Those who “cast their bread on the waters” and who “give a portion to seven, and also to eight” (verse 1), will not fail to be recompensed by the Lord, in either temporal or spiritual rewards or both.


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A Psalm for Ukraine’s Christians

A Psalm for Ukraine’s Christians

A Psalm for Ukraine’s Christians

The invasion of Ukraine has shocked many and brought heartbreaking devastation into the lives of countless innocent civilians. At a time of fear and confusion, with dreadful forces moving in ruthlessly, where can stability and a sense of peace be found? Where can the believers there look as they face their world torn apart? There is encouragement in Psalm 46 for Christians in Ukraine, as indeed for our brothers and sisters in Syria and other war-torn parts. This encouragement goes hand in hand with (and informs) the practical help we offer. We do what we can to help because we are confident that the Lord is their-and-our refuge and strength. If we struggle to know how best to pray for them, we can make use of the words of this psalm.

From the 17th century, David Dickson’s comments on Psalm 46 speaks to the current situation to point out that even when tragedy and appalling injustices come into the experience of the Christian church, the Lord is our refuge. He is always acting one way or another in the interests of His people and always ensuring that His people suffer no eternal harm.

Perhaps too when people are alarmed at the thought of potential nuclear conflict there is much that can be drawn from the psalm. The psalmist can say that even though the earth was removed, and the mountains sunk into the sea they need not fear. Even supposing the whole framework of the world was changed, and the whole work of creation was either dissolved or confounded, yet faith finds a foothold in God Himself (v2). In the following updated extract, Dickson applies the Psalm to the severe troubles that may afflict Christians in this world.

1. God is our refuge

From the knowledge that God has defended His church in the past, the Lord’s people can strengthen themselves in the faith of God’s word concerning His care for His people. On this basis they guard their hearts against the fear of all possible trouble in time coming (verses 1-3).

Even if the church was destitute of all human strength within herself, and forsaken, and even pursued by all kings and princes, yet she has God for a hiding place, and for providing what is sufficient for her subsistence. “God is our refuge and strength.”

Although the Lord will not exempt His people from trouble, yet He will be near them in trouble. When they discover their weakness, then He will help them, and will not delay His help too long. He will give help in time of need effectually; for God is to His people “a very present help in trouble.”

Nothing can guard the heart of God’s people against the terror of possible or imminent troubles, other than faith in God. When the Lord’s people have fixed their faith on Him, they draw this conclusion, “Therefore will we not fear.”

The touchstone of confidence in God is the terror of apparent trouble. A fixed faith looks on the greatest dangers and troubles that can be imagined, with resolution to adhere to God and to whatever truth persecutors oppose, whatever may come. “We will not fear, though the earth be removed.”

2. God is our helper

The church looks on the Lord’s word and ordinances joined with the blessing of His Spirit among them, as a sufficient consolation against whatsoever trouble can be imagined.

Trouble without comfort may fall on those who do not know God, yet believers within the church can have no trouble in which they may not find consolation and joy to uphold them against all causes of sorrow (v4). The consolations which God provides within the church are not like the consolations which the world can offer, which are in all respects insufficient to overcome trouble. Like a river of refreshing water, the consolations of God are abundant, constantly running, ready at hand, able to make us effectual conquerors over trouble, and able to make us rejoice in the Lord in the midst of trouble (v4).

God will never forsake His people who seek Him, but where they are following His ordinances in any measure of sincerity, there will He be. “God is in the midst of her.” As the consolation of the church depends on God’s settled residence in it, so also does the church’s stability, and its continuance from generation to generation. “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved” (v5).

God’s presence among His people will not exempt them from trouble, but it does exempt them from perdition in trouble. He will not spare the bush from burning, but from being consumed. “For God shall help her” (v5). The Lord may not appear at the point of time when we would like, yet He shall come and help in the time of need most timeously or “right early” (v5).

3. God is with us

The psalmist refers to an experience when God took steps to deal with the enemies of the church, at a time when in great confluence and power they made assault against her.

It is no small indignation which the world holds against the Lord’s kingdom, His people, and work among them, nor is it any slight power from which the church is in danger of suffering hardship. Rather, the church must expect to encounter fury in its height, and force in its farthest extent. “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved” (v6).

It is not the worldly power of the Lord’s people which can sustain the assault of their raging enemies. Rather, God Himself must take her side against her oppressors. And that is what the Lord does. He steps in for His people. “He uttered his voice.” It does not cost the Lord much to dispatch the enemies of His people. Let Him but say the word, and they are gone. As snow before the sun, or fat dropped into the fire, they are consumed. “He uttered his voice, the earth melted.”

Any experience of the Lord working for His church is enough to confirm the faith of His people that He is perpetually present in His church to assist His people in their difficulties. “The Lord of hosts is with us.” Whatever the Lord is, in wisdom, power, and other attributes, the church may apply that to herself, and may be sure to have the fruit of it as her need requires. If hosts of heathen and huge armies of whole kingdoms come up against His church, yet still we may be sure that God, the Lord of Armies, will stand up against them, and for His church. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v7).

The covenant of God made with the church in former ages is good enough security to the church in subsequent times, for obtaining whatsoever benefit His covenant includes. “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (v7). The rights which belong to the church corporately, are just as good a security for the use of every particular believer as if they were made out personally to every member by name. Wise citizens reckon as belonging to them whatever they can claim by their town charter, no less than their own private possessions. Likewise, whatsoever the believer can claim by virtue of the great charter made to the church, he should reckon it as sure to be his as if his own name had been specified in the promises. Because God is undoubtedly the God of Jacob, and the refuge of His children, therefore He must undoubtedly be the God and the refuge of those who are members of that city and family.

4. God is working

When God does works of wonder in favour of His church, perhaps the majority do not even recognise that it is the Lord’s doing. Such is their indifference, ingratitude, unbelief and perverseness, that either they think very little of His work, or they ascribe the praise to the instruments God has used, or some other thing besides God. This is why there needs to be a call to set people to their duty, “Come and behold the works of the Lord” (v8).

When God enters into judgment with the enemies of His people, He pours out on them astonishing calamities. What they intended to do to His people, He does to them (v8). When it seems good to the Lord, He can give peace universally to His church, and a breathing space from the trouble of outward enemies. He makes “wars to cease to the ends of the earth.” (v9).

Long preparations for war, and building up stores of arms and ammunition, may well have been made against God’s church with great labour and expense. Yet the Lord can soon make short work of them. He can make them completely useless when he pleases; breaking the bow, cutting the spear and burning the chariot (v9).

At a time like this, people’s passions are raised, and their minds are in tumult, busy with many things and distracted from what is most necessary. They can hardly understand what they are doing or what their duty is. Therefore it is good for them from time to time to gather in their straying thoughts, and silence their agitation, and humbly compose themselves to observe whatever God requires of them. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It is better to be wise and acknowledge the Lord by the words of His instruction, than to learn it by doleful experience and danger of destruction. Nothing is more effective for the Lord’s people as a way of quieting their minds against the fear of trouble and persecution, than to settle their faith about God’s taking care of His people and of His own cause, and about His mind declared against His and their enemies. “Be still, and know that I am God” (v10).

The Lord will lose nothing by the opposition of his enemies. He will not fail to enlarge His glory, the more people go about to suppress it. He will make inroads on His adversaries’ lands, and make them know Himself to be God, if not by their conversion, then by their confusion and destruction. “I will” (He says) “be exalted among the heathen.”

Even in the church, little notice is sometimes taken of the majesty of God, and outside the church He is always disregarded. Nevertheless, He will see to His own glory, not only in the church, but also among the enemies of the church – and not only among those who have actually invaded His people, but also among those far and near who have taken no notice either of Him or of His people. “I will be exalted in the earth” (v10).

Whatever manifestation of God’s power is made in the world by His judgements against His enemies who do not know Him, yet He is always exercising His power for His church, and not against her. “The Lord of hosts is with us”. The church of God need not care how many are against them, seeing they have more for them then can be against them, namely, God, and all creation at His command. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v11).

The strength of the church stands in renouncing her own, and fleeing into God’s strength, and not in opposing their enemy by strong hand, but by falling back on God. “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (v11).

We need to make God the basis of our confidence, and our communion with God the basis of our comfort. God is sufficient for us against every evil, and God is sufficient to us for supplying every good. We need to fix and settle the grounds of our faith, by more often subscribing this truth, and more often avowing it. “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge”, is repeated.




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7 Anchors for Stormy Times

7 Anchors for Stormy Times

7 Anchors for Stormy Times

Everyone acknowledges many varied troubles and considerable volatility at present from inflation to conflicts. At the forefront of our minds is also the devastating effects of a large-scale military conflict with all the catastrophe for the nation involved. But it has wider shockwaves to the whole geopolitical framework we have been used to. A bloody conflict involving a nuclear-armed power could easily develop into something larger. The Church is not exempt from its own trials and troubles from within and without. What if heavier storms are to expected in the future if the Church becomes the target of great opposition? Individual believers also have their times of trial and heavy affliction. Just as some of us have been battered by physical storms we need resources for safety, stability strength to endure whatever. It is found abundantly in the Word of God, here are seven anchors that will help you hold fast when storms arise.

In a sermon on Psalm 140:12-13, the Covenanter Michael Bruce gives us seven anchors from the Scriptures that can keep us stable in stormy times. He notes how at the beginning of Psalm 140 the Psalmist begins with his own particular case and condition, and then considers the wider state and situation of the Church of God. Bruce draws comfort from this, that even in the worst of times, there is always some truth that a Christian may make use of as a firm foundation, they can, as it were, drop down their anchor and fix it on these foundational truths. Psalm 140:12 contains such a truth on which a poor believer may anchor, God will maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor. Many a poor person says: “do you not see our cloud growing very dark? Do you not hear the loudness of the wind whistling on all our trees? Do you not see the greatness of our waves so high above our head and will we not be made ship-wreck of them?” No, in the worst of storms and times, we have an anchor to fix on all through the storm.

Bruce identifies seven foundations on which a Christian may fix their anchor. The Psalmist drives his anchor on a sure foundation and fixes on it, it is that the upright will give thanks to God’s name and dwell in His presence (v13). Even though we were kept weeping all our days under the felt sense of many losses, we shall get home to God at length and dwell at last in His presence.

It is a sermon with its own poignancy as it was preached in the Tolbooth prison of Edinburgh while Bruce was incarcerated there in 1668. He had received a sentence of banishment to Virginia and so the trials he speaks of were very real to him. “I know though I should be banished to Virginia, and never see that cause maintained, yet God will maintain it”. The king ordered him to be sent to London where he was then sentenced to be exiled to Tangier, Morocco. While imprisoned in London he continued to preach. His sentence was changed to a place of exile that he preferred and he chose Killinchy Woods where he had been ordained as a minister. He was able to preach here but also travelled to Scotland to preach in the fields. He was “of extraordinary zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls; much given to meditation and secret prayer: a thundering, broken-hearted, and most affecting preacher”.

In the following updated extract, Bruce gives us seven anchors to fix on in time of a storm. They are particularly helpful when we face opposition. Do you know these seven anchors? There are also ten brief things that we need to remember in our trials and difficulties.

1. There is a Reward for the Righteous

The first foundation on which I will drop my anchor is in Psalm 58:11, that there is a reward for the righteous and God is the judge of the earth. The men of the world say, “What will you get now, by sticking to a work of reformation? We will get as much for deformation, as you will get for reformation, we will get as much for dishonesty as you will get for honesty. We will get as much for perjury as you will get for covenant-keeping”. Yes but if they get it, they get vengeance with it, if you get a heavy and full purse for perjury and arresting honest men you will get the heavy wrath of GOD, to weigh it down with. If we have the light purse, we have God’s blessing with it. Judge which is best a light and empty purse with God’s blessing or a heavy and full purse and God’s curse with it.

This is one truth we will fix on, there is a reward for the righteous, God is the judge of the earth. What do you think of the reward we have received from the Council [government] for the work of our ministry? They have sentenced us with banishment, that is our reward from them, yes but we will get another reward from our Master: there is a reward for the righteous. We will get another reward from GOD, than what we have received from the [governing] Council of Scotland, we will get another judge of our cases than the Council after they have judged us. We will get another that will judge us according to the highest rule of rectitude and whose judgment is just. We will have another judgment day with another judge for all that has come and gone, there we fix.

2. Christ Has Overcome the World

Christ says, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and there we fix. Our enemies are a defeated company. Let them agree as much together as they like in taking the blood of the saints and sentencing us with banishment, they are merely a defeated enemy.

3. Christ Was Hated by the World Too

If the world hates you, Christ says, “it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master” (Matthew 10:25). He is not above Him but the more afflictions you bear, the more you are like your Master. He was a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. If the world shoots the artillery of hatred at us, it shot it at Christ before, therefore the brunt of it is broken before it comes to us. The world hates us and casts us out but it dealt in the same way with Christ before it dealt with us.

4. God is Greater than the Greatest Troubles

The Lord is mightier than the billows of all our troubles (Psalm 93:4). The poor soul may rest on that in the greatest of troubles. You may say, “my trouble makes much noise; it comes upon me wave upon wave, like the billows of the sea”. But however great they may be you can say, “God is mightier by far”, and so you may slip in under the shelter of your Master and until the calamities have passed over.

5. The Lord Will Be With Us

The Lord will be with us while we are with Him (2 Chronicles 15:2). We fear the Lord may not be with us in our trouble but we are to make sure our duty and be assured that God will do His part. Some say they do not know if God will own His work and people in Scotland anymore. But even though few will own His work and cause yet according to His promise, He will be with them while they are with Him. If He is with us, the fire will not burn us, and if He is with us the water will not drown us. If He is with you a fiery furnace will be a palace, and a lion’s den a place of wonders. What do you want more than that?

6. The Lord Will Keep Us in Trouble

When everything seems to be trodden and beaten down by a flood of wickedness and persecution go to Revelation 3:10. O what a noble promise. The worst prison is a heart in bondage to sin, the wrath of God and an evil conscience. As long as I lack these three, have the peace of God and a good Conscience, I will never have a bad prison put me where they like. Though we have received the sentence of bondage from man, yet we have received the sentence of life and liberty from our Master. There is no death but only life here, there is no bondage but only liberty here.

7. Christ is Our Shelter

There is a seventh anchorage on which we may fix and cast our anchor. It is in Isaiah 33:2 and speaks of the shadow of a great rock in Christ. The Christian is well for evermore who is fixed on some word of Scripture in the day of their affliction. Have you got any words of the Bible to hang on yet? When all the world looks down on us, words of the Bible will look up on us, when all the World frowns on us, words of the Bible will smile on us.


Bruce preached another sermon on these verses at the same time. In it he speaks of ten things we must know in a time of trouble.
(1) God exercises lovingkindness in the earth (Jeremiah 9:24). This is one thing we must know, and never let the impression of it wear off our soul. Whatever troubles God’s people experience on the earth, God exercises lovingkindness towards them.
(2) God’s counsel stands forever, and He brings the counsel of the heathen to nothing (Psalm 33:10-11). When we have received our sentence from the world, we will appeal to another court above them which will see it righted. It is His counsel that stands forever, and the thoughts of His heart to all generations.
(3) I have committed my soul and everything to God (2 Timothy 1:12). I can commit all to God, and He will give me a good account of all in that day.
(4) God is Governor of the world not men (Daniel 4:38).
(5) Not one jot or tittle of God’s word will pass away until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). I know that I must obey whatever has been commanded, and I know that whatever He has threatened on His enemies will be accomplished. Whatever He has promised to His friends will be made good.
(6) The Lord will not remove His lovingkindness from us (Psalm 89:33). And since I know that, why should I be discouraged and cast down?
(7) All His paths are mercy and truth to those that keep His testimonies (Psalm 25:10). If I am a keeper of His covenant, my Master will put mercy and truth into all His dealings with me, and that will sweeten everything.
(8) There is faithfulness in every affliction (Psalm 119:75). There is as much faithfulness in every rod that laid on my back as there is in every experience of comfort.
(9) The Lord is God and not man; therefore, we shall not die but live. He has ordained us for correction, but not for destruction (see Habakkuk 1:12).
(10) Christ is refining His people (Malachi 3:3). Christ sits as refiner so that we may offer unto Him the sacrifice of righteousness.



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Will Friendship Be the Same Again?

Will Friendship Be the Same Again?

Will Friendship Be the Same Again?

The last couple of years has altered friendship according to a number of studies. 56% report their friendships changed and 20% have become more distant with close friends due to the pandemic according to the UK YouGov Friendship Study (USA data is similar). The drifting has come from isolation, distancing, differing views or changed rhythms in daily life. Experiences vary and no doubt some bonds have been strengthened, but it is the ties with those beyond the very closest of friends that have mainly become weaker. Does it matter that some friends have disappeared from our lives while our world has shrunk? Why is friendship important and what is it for? Scripture helps us answer these questions.

It is worth also observing that modern life has greatly changed relationships and that this is not without theological significance. Exactly 40 years ago John Stott wrote: “It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.”

Unless you happen to be related to most people in your church, it is the main place where we encounter those beyond our inner circle and work life. Christians and churches should be marked by the determination to offer true, open friendship and to work hard at it. The church is a key place to restore friendship and build fellowship. Job had cultivated good and close or, as he calls them, “inward friends” (Job 19:19).  Sadly, however, in the time of difficulty they not only deserted him but turned against him. In Job 6:14 friendly pity is closely connected with the fear of the Almighty, so we ought to extend and make use of godly friends as much as we can.

Alexander Nisbet shows how Scripture emphasises this in commenting on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Christian society should be a contrast with the selfish isolation of those who live only for the things of this world (Ecclesiastes 4:8). The benefits of companionship are clearly commended here and as Nisbet observes, while this can be applied to any kind of lawful society it is delivered by a preacher to the church. Therefore, it is helpful to apply the teaching and the various comparisons to Christian society. “Two are better than one”; when two or more engage in any commanded duty they have more benefit and success that either could alone.

The first metaphor speaks of fellow-labourers engaged in the same work. They have a good reward for their labour though their mutual help and encouraging one another. Their work succeeds better. This is true in spiritual things also; their reward from grace shall be greater than if each of them had been wrestling alone in their duty, neglecting help each other.

There is another advantage; if they fall, one will lift up the other. If either of them falls into trouble, or by the power of temptation into any sin or error, the fallen may recover by the blessing of God upon their right use of Christian society. Or if they both fall, it will not be equally hurtful, one may soon recover and help up their companion. But woe to the person that is alone, they are in a dangerous and sad condition when they fall into trouble or sin. They have none to help or attempt their recovery, especially if for sinful reasons they have voluntarily chosen to be alone.

The second metaphor portrays fellow travellers on the same journey, as all Christians are. Two travellers lodge together all night and are able to give comfort and strength to one another. Christians are able to help each other in afflictions. But how can one be warm alone? It will prove a great difficulty for someone to have comfort or encouragement if they have none of the Lord’s people to assist them.

The third metaphor pictures fellow-soldiers engaged in the same warfare. If any Christian is prevailed against in their combat against temptations, or wrestling through difficulties, they may expect help and victory by the blessing of God on their use of the society of others. The joint strength of Christians is not easily prevailed against. Alexander Nisbet goes on to apply this teaching in the following updated extract.

1. Godly Friendship is a Great Benefit

It is always much better to be alone than in wicked society (Psalm 1:1). Sometimes it is also better to be alone than in the society of the best e.g. when we are called to devotion in secret (Matthew 6:6).  The society of the godly is a great advantage in carrying out weighty duties and bearing great difficulties with greater ease and success. 

The Lord alone is self-sufficient, and He has not given to anyone such a measure of light or strength, that would make them have no need of making use of others. He intends everyone to seek help from and everyone to be willing to give help to, others. “Two are better than one.”

2. Godly Friendship Brings Special Blessings

No lawful work engaged in the right way lacks its own reward, the Lord’s people may consider this for their encouragement in doing their duty. Making best use of Christian companionship to succeed in duty has a special reward, not only afterwards, but even in this life. The Lord’s people may expect to be sharpened, and have an edge put on them in their duty by it (Proverbs 27:17). They may also . have encouragements from others against their difficulties (1 Samuel 23:16). Their mutual prayers draw fresh help from heaven by the Spirit for each other (Philippians 1:19). Their work is furthered and their future reward ensured by this: “they have a good reward for their labour.”

3. Godly Friendship Helps Us Overcome Dangers

None of the children of the Lord are beyond the danger of falling either into sin or sad afflictions in their journey to heaven. Their fall (of whatever sort) must not make others of His people desert them. They need especially to prove their affection to them at such a time. They do this by striving to support or restore them. It is a great mercy for someone who has fallen into sin or misery, to have one who will endeavour to lift them up again. The danger of falling is possible for any of the Lord’s people, thus the duty they all have to each other is clear also.

4. Godly Friendship Helps Restore Us

The Lord alone ultimately preserves His own from falling and restores them after their falls (Psalm. 145:14). Yet He makes use of some of His people to restore others who have fallen beside them. Our awareness of being prone to fall and often unable to recover ourselves without help makes us of a more unifying and sociable spirit. The children of the Lord are never left all alone since they have His presence even under their falls (Hebrews 13:5). They cannot be other than blessed therefore even when they lack human help yet ought they to consider being deserted by His people as a great disadvantage. They should therefore be stirred up to make sure His favourable presence is with them and to make use of the help of others when they may have it.

It is a sad judgment on wicked men to be left alone under their falls. This may be the case when they have rejected helpful society in the day of their prosperity. Or it may be when they have conducted themselves or carried themselves so immorally that the godly abhor their company. Or they may have provoked the Lord not only to leave them destitute of His own presence, but to take away all pity towards them from others. “Woe to him that is alone.”

5. Godly Friendship Helps Our Spiritual Life

The children of the Lord should cherish His Spirit and labour to have His graces: love, fear, etc. in such vigour in their hearts that they may impart heat and warmth to others, even when they are in the saddest possible condition. It is implied here that if they are together, they warm one another.

The Lord may, and ordinarily does enliven the hearts of His people by keeping His graces lively in them. Thus, He gives them much comfort in the solitary afflicted condition with which He tries them (Psalm 63:1, 3). Yet if they neglect to make use of Christian society, when they have it and when He allows them to draw comfort and encouragement from it, they may expect their condition will be very sad, when they are deprived of it.

6. Godly Friendship Helps Us Withstand Spiritual Attack

The children of the Lord may expect many assaults in their Christian course, and may also sometimes be prevailed against. Those who have any strength, therefore, are obliged to use it to relieve others who are in combat, and likely to be defeated. They ought not to desert their fellow-soldiers who are engaged in a good fight against spiritual or outward enemies, even though they prove to be weak (2 Samuel 10:11 or Galatians 6:1). It is assumed here that they will be assaulted and prevailed against, and that the duty of others to withstand the evil one, or any of his means, is also shown to be an advantage of Christian company.

The union of the children of the Lord among themselves should be so close that their adversaries lose hope of breaking one of them, unless they break them all. Thus, when the Lord unites them, and keeps them unified, it is no easy matter for their most powerful enemies to prevail against them. This proverb shows that Christian unity and society, contains great benefit.


Will friendship be the same again? It is more important than ever that we understand what it truly means and what the best kind of friendship is. We can help others in the best and most important things. Whether we have identified and practiced this before or not, it is a priority. 



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