Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
17 Jun, 2021

Meaningful, in-person interactions have certainly been less plentiful in recent months. With some exceptions, it seems like maintaining conversations has been a challenge in the distancing circumstances. Quite a few report they now feel more awkward in interacting in this way. Having less to talk about and difficult issues to navigate does not help greatly. Arguably this was difficult enough before in an increasingly fragmented community. The most meaningful conversations are those that build us up and help us make progress in the Christian life. It may be a good time to remind ourselves how important those interactions are and how we can make best use of this kind of fellowship.

In the past godly conversation was given greater emphasis. Private gatherings took place where people discussed spiritual things and offered advice to help each other grow in grace. People like Richard Baxter were very practical in offering conversation starters. It might be a sermon heard, something read, some difficulty or other experience. James Durham said that Christ’s worth was a great subject to be taken up with by Christians in their fellowship together “to be spending their mutual conferences on that subject for one another’s instruction”.

Such conversation was encouraged by men like David Dickson, Samuel Rutherford and John Livingstone. During the times of persecution in Scotland people could only attend field preaching when it was available but at other times they might gather in societies of up to a dozen people. Here they could discuss spiritual things as well as read and pray. One student for the ministry, Walter Smith drew up some guidance for these gatherings and the following is an updated extract. present Some of this is still helpful more generally for spiritual fellowship. It is notable that when he was put to death on the scaffold, the very last word he spoke was one of mutual encouragement.

“I have one word more to say, and that is, to all that have any love to God, and His righteous cause, that they will set time apart, and sing a song of praise to the Lord for what He has done to my soul, and my soul says, to Him be praise.”

1. EDIFYING Conversation is Required

It is the duty of private Christians to meet together for their mutual edification by prayer and conferring together (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25). This has been the laudable and much commended practice of the people of God in all ages, both under the Old and New Testament. We find it in Malachi 3:16 and it seems to have been the practice of the Lord’s people in their captivity at Babylon (Psalm 137). For what other purpose did they go and sit by the rivers of Babylon but to remember Zion, both in their prayers to God and in their conversation?

Likewise we find frequently in the Acts of the Apostles that it was practised by the earliest Christians. Beyond all question this duty has been attended by remarkable benefits both to the work of God publicly and to the private condition of individuals. They have found to their comfort many blessed fruits and effects following upon their conscientious performance of this duty. It has frequently been observed that true and serious religion thrives most in the places within the churches of Scotland where this duty is most practised. Such individuals are ordinarily the most useful members both in Church and community.

The wilful neglect of this duty is no small sin therefore. Such a neglect tends very much to discourage those who are seeking to do this duty conscientiously. It is greatly to be wished that both ministers and experienced Christians, were more active in stirring up themselves and others to do this more diligently and constantly. This is especially necessary in such a day of trial, in which the Lord, by His holy and wise providence is giving His people very loud calls to be serious and diligent in all commanded duties.

2. EDIFYING Conversation is Easily Diverted

Beware of being diverted from this by talking about worldly affairs or public news, except as it may be useful for stirring up to prayer and thanksgiving.

3. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Dismissive

All undervaluing or giving the least appearance of slighting others in their conversation must be carefully avoided (Philippians 2:3). A person may be weak in knowledge and other things yet more real and solely devoted to God’s glory in their heart, this is what is most acceptable to God. Beware in particular of disdainfully slighting any answer given to a question event though it may be weak and not so . but let the more judicious and expert make the best use of it they can, for the person’s and the rest’s edification.

4. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Controversial

(a) Let nothing be brought up which tends only to satisfy curiosity.

(b) Let no question be brought up about any high point of theology, in which there are great difficulties, such as the decrees of God, predestination, election.

(c) Be very sparing in asking questions about the exact meaning and interpretation of Scriptures, especially passages which are harder and more difficult (2 Peter 3:16). It is the role of ministers to expound or explain the Scriptures and individual Christians should not presume to do this (Hebrews 5:4). Christ has appointed pastors in His church as a distinct office for interpreting and applying Scripture for the people’s edification. Where individual Christians have sought to be expositors it has brought dangerous consequences, including error, contention and division into the Church of Christ. Yet it may tend to promote knowledge and understanding if everyone imparts any light they have received either by reading, hearing, or in any other way. This will serve for the mutual good and edification of the rest by way of conversation. They should still beware of getting entangled with obscure passages of Scripture.

(d) Beware of bringing up any subject for discussion about this that are a matter of controversy among godly ministers and professing Christians.

(e) Let nothing be brought up that may cause needless animosities, contentions and debates. These tend mar love and edification. Rather make the questions such as concern practical matters and how to order our lives. They will then be holy and not a stumblingblock and have the greatest tendency to stir up the grace of God, put to death corruptions, and preserve each other from snares and temptations.

5. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Contentious

If contention or debates are likely to arise about any subject you converse about, it is dangerous to persist. It is rather the best godly prudence to stop and go to prayer.

6. EDIFYING Conversation is Faithful

There is an expectation that those who profess more than others should do more than others. Therefore, our lives must be consistent with the gospel and our profession. This will commend the way of God to those with whom we have everyday contact and discourage sin. In particular, guard against vain and idle conversation (Colossians 4:6) which is very stumbling and hardening to the wicked and tends very much eat out the life of religion. If someone needs a timely reproof from another for any fault they may be guilty of, it is certainly their duty to take the reproof kindly (Psalm 141:5).

7. EDIFYING Conversation is Discreet

Beware of divulging or revealing anything said or done to the offence or prejudice of another Christian. Rather we ought to sympathise kindly with one another (Ephesians 4:12; Romans 12:15-16).

8. EDIFYING Conversation is Prayerful

But more especially, they should love, sympathize, and pray for one another in secret and weep when anyone weeps, and rejoice with all such. They should be importunate with the Lord to go with them and meet with them before they meet together, that it may be for the better and not for the worse.

The Lord in His sovereignty manifests Himself to whom He will, when, where, and as He will. Sometimes He will withhold the influences of His Good Spirit, so that there is a darkness in their minds, and deadness upon their spirits, that the duty of prayer and conversation is not refreshing to them. Let everyone earnestly search out the causes; be humble and mourn, long and pray for His return.

At other times the Lord may be pleased to manifest himself and give light, life and liberty so that prayer and conversation are refreshing and reviving to them. They should then be humble, and express their great thankfulness, and bless his gracious name and pray for it to be continued. They should seek to steer a steady course at all times, places, situations and company, abounding in all the duties of Christianity so that all may notice that they have been with Jesus.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

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Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
27 May, 2021

When our focus is largely on others it is easy to be distracted and discouraged by what goes on around us. Cultural agendas, noisy opinions, shifting allegiances, spiritual decline and unstable commitments easily occupy our attention. That is understandable since these things often serve to diminish the glory of God being manifested. And after all, glory to God alone is the ultimate purpose for everything. So, it is right to be concerned about them, is it not? Indeed it is, but we need to remind ourselves frequently of what that glory is. We need to be constantly refreshed by and delighted with God’s glory so that it is uppermost in our desires and motivation. We need that light to break through the heavy gloom that we often inhabit.

In the following updated extract, James Durham opens up the meaning of the vision in Revelation 4:8-11 emphasising that is bound up with God’s glory. That is obvious if we define God’s glory being manifested “when men and Angels do know, love, and obey him, and praise him to all eternity” (Edward Leigh, member of the Westminster Assembly). They delight themselves in God constantly, as All-Holy, Eternal and Almighty (v8).

Much of the rest of the book of Revelation unfolds hard experiences for the Church and this view of God’s sovereign dominion is therefore crucial. This vision shows us God ruling all things for the good of His Church and what will happen to it afterwards (4:1). For Durham, it does not just tell us about how God is to be adored and served in heaven, it also tells us about how the Lord manifests His presence in the church on earth. The expectation is expressed here of believers serving Him here and that they will reign on the earth (5:10). 

1. Delighting in God’s Glory

Where God is rightly seen, He will be seen as exceedingly stately and glorious: He is so wonderful whom nothing can resemble, whom no tongue can express, nor eye behold, nor heart conceive. What if we were to imagine thousands of mountains of the most precious stones imaginable, and thousands of suns shining in their brightness? These would still be inconceivably short of God and the glory that is in Him. What an excellent happiness it will be to dwell with this God forever, to behold His face, to see Him as He is, and to be capacitated (so to speak) to know Him, as we are known of Him. Wonder and admire at Him, who is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders, terrible in majesty, and in all perfections past finding out: To Him be praise for ever. Amen.

2. Delighting in God’s Dominion

We see here His absolute and sovereign dominion in heaven and earth. We gather this from the imagery itself, He sits on a throne and has all these attendants waiting on Him. It is also clear from the song whose purpose is to show the great aim God had and has before Him in creating and preserving all things. It is to show Himself glorious on the grounds of His absolute dominion over all creatures.

3. Delighting in God’s Providence

Not only is He a stately king on the throne, but He exercises His dominion. He has made all things and sustains them all for His good pleasure. He sits on the throne ever executing His pleasure. The world never lacks a Governor as long as this king sits on the throne. As there is a sovereign God, there is also a sovereign Providence in all the world, but more especially in the Church.

He is well equipped with means for doing His work. He has attendants fitted with wings and eyes as well as ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels round about and before His throne to carry out His commands (Revelation 5:11). These glorious spirits wait for directions from Him and are ready to do His commands in caring and providing for His Church. He also has His own Almighty power and thunderings to execute His wrath on enemies as well as for creating things. He has seven Spirits for carrying on the work of grace to spread the everlasting gospel.

The Lord’s great aim in all this, is, to get praise to Himself and to give material for a song to His attendants. And it is comforting that His praise and our song are so joined together, that what is substance of the one, is also substance of the other.

4. Diligently Delighting in God’s Glory

However we may understand these beasts or creatures and the elders here we can learn from their nature and qualities. The creatures have eyes in front, behind and within and each of them has six wings. They are in various forms, like a lion, like a calf, having a face as a man, like a flying eagle. The way in which they are equipped for their work and their activity in it should be an example to believers. Their humble, serious, watchful and speedy manner of going about their work is set forth which shows believers how to act in all commanded duties and aspects of service.

5. Joyfully Delighting in God’s Glory

The great dignity and happiness of God’s servants, and attendants is displayed here. However we may expound the words, it is clear that it is a great privilege to be His servants. They sit on thrones, they wear crowns, they are clothed in white, they are all kings and priests to God (Revelation 5:10). Like the angels, they also attend on Him and have places among those that stand by (Zechariah 3.7. It is the consummation of our happiness to have liberty to look on God sitting on His throne. The Queen of Sheba said that Solomon’s servants who had liberty to behold his face and hear his words were blessed (1 Kings 10:8). But O how much more happy are they who day and night do not rest, but are always taken up with beholding and praising God. For, a greater than Solomon is here.

We are taught here what the great task and work of the servants of God should be (and is in some measure). All who have the name of servants of God are to be taken up day and night with magnifying God and making His praise glorious or illustrious (Psalm 66:2). They do this by going about it naturally. We are shown here how we should go about it: with humility and reverence, cheerfulness and zeal. This is to be done by laying all we have before Christ’s feet, acknowledging that all we have received flows from Him and giving Him the glory of it. We are to use it all so that it may contribute most to make Him that sits upon the throne great.

6. Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

The delightfulness of this task in rejoicing the heart is shown. Though they do not rest day nor night, it is not a wearisome work, for it is singing. When it is said that they do not rest this does not any indicate any burden, yoke or restraint laid on them. Rather it declares the readiness of their spirit within, which with love and joy cannot rest. It is (so to speak) an ease for them to be venting this spirit in praise. There is such joy and cheerfulness from that wine that comes from under the throne, that they cannot hold their peace. It is their continual refreshment, to be speaking and praising night and day. In a word, it says that it is a good thing to be Christ’s servants and that His service is a sweet work. Before long it will be known how good a thing it was to be Christ’s and to be His servants. How happy a life it will be, to be praising Him. It would be good if some effects of it were to warm our hearts beforehand, and that we had the evidence and experience of what it is. May the Lord give us to know it.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

James Durham’s exposition of Revelation is currently being republished. Volume 2, Lectures on Chapters 4–11 is the second of three projected volumes. There are theological essays on such subjects as the nature and extent of the merit of Christ’s death, Christ’s Intercession, the idolatry of the Church of Rome, and the founding of true churches by reformation out of corrupt churches. The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript which in places is significantly different from the published edition of 1658. John Owen called James Durham, “one of good learning, sound judgement, and every way ‘a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.'” To read Durham on Revelation is to find proof of this. His commentary provides what was, as Principal John MacLeod said, “in past days, the accepted Protestant view of that book”. 

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Truly keeping our promise to pray for others

Truly keeping our promise to pray for others

Truly keeping our promise to pray for others
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
20 May, 2021

Facebook is testing out a new “prayer post feature” allowing people to post prayer requests in a group and others to respond by clicking a “pray” button to say they have prayed. There may be many thoughts about such a development in relation to how it can inadvertently shape our view and practice of prayer. One obvious connection is the fact that Christians often promise to pray for others. It is important, not doing the least but rather the most we can for them. The trouble is that we can make that promise sincerely out of good intentions and then promptly forget. Or perhaps the prayer is rushed under a sense of constraint. Are we largely expressing a quick thought rather than deeply pouring out our hearts for their spiritual growth? How do we by grace, persevere in prayer for others in the best spirit?

The Apostle Paul gives us an example of timely, constant and fervent prayer for others. He even gives us some of the words that he used in prayer for others to encourage us to seek the best things on behalf of others. He assured the Colossian believers “we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you” (Colossians 1:9). He had heard of their love and his longing was that they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, in wisdom and that they might be grow spiritually.

Sometimes our prayers for others are very specifically about some difficult situation they may be facing but not always that the Lord would use it to make them grow spiritually in particular ways. Paul prays that the Colossian believers might have an increased and fuller knowledge of God’s will. This was not simply about guidance and direction. He prays that they would have increased wisdom to grasp the heavenly mysteries revealed in Scripture. He also seeks that they would have a fuller understanding to know their duty and the right way of putting all their knowledge into practice. Paul also therefore prays that they would increase in holiness (v10). Another petition is that they may be strengthened to joyfully and patiently endure whatever afflictions they meet with in doing their duty.

This is truly keeping our promise to pray for others, when we pour out our desires for their greatest spiritual good. We certainly do not need to be stuck in knowing what to pray for others. Perhaps we can turn to these words of Paul when we are seeking to pray for others. James Fergusson expounds some aspects of these verses in the following updated extract.

1. Pray in Response to the Grace Evident in Others

The graces of God’s Spirit in any, are not only reasons for thanksgiving to God but also reasons to pray that they would be increased. Grace in the best is imperfect, and liable to decline or be abused. Paul gave thanks for their grace (v4) and prays to God for them that it would increase.

2. Pray for Others CONSTANTLY

Praying to God for others is real evidence of our affection for them. Expressing our sympathy in this way should therefore, be begun in a timely way and constantly continued in. Paul testifies of his affection towards this Church by showing that he prays for them in a timely way. Since the day he heard it, and constantly without ceasing. This does not mean he had done no other thing except that. Rather it means he had a firmly rooted desire after their good, and always expressed it in prayer when there was opportunity to do so.

3. Pray That Others Will Grow in Understanding Scripture

The knowledge of God’s will revealed in Scripture, is to be studied above any other knowledge. It is more sublime, pleasant, and more profitable than any other. Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, speaking of His revealed will (Deuteronomy 29:29). Those who know most of God’s will revealed in Scripture, come far short of what they should know. There is a fullness of knowledge which no one attains to but all should aim at.

4. Pray that Others Will Grow in Applying Scripture

Wisdom or knowledge of divine mysteries and the things of faith is necessary. But understanding, or knowledge of our duty and the right way to go about it is also very necessary. We need wisdom to discern how to follow our duty in specific times (Psalm 1:3), places (Ecclesiastes 5:1), companies (Psalm 39:1) and other circumstances (Luke 8:18). We need “all wisdom and understanding” to order our lives in the right way (Psalm 50:23). Spiritual knowledge, wisdom, and understanding must be sought after not to make us puffed up (Colossians 2:18) or complacent (Luke 12:47) but that we may order our lives according to it. It is so that we may “walk worthy of the Lord”.

5. Pray that Others Will Grow in Patience

Paul prays that they may be strengthened to all patience and long-suffering. God is well-pleased with, and much honoured by those who are (in a Christian way and for the right reasons) patient and cheerful under affliction.
Our spiritual adversaries are very many (Ephesians 6:12) and so are their attacks on all sides (2 Corinthians 2:11. So necessary is it to overcome not only one, but all of them (Hebrews 12:4) that no less is required than “all might” for victory in this Christian warfare. This is not their own, they are weak in themselves, even though renewed and sanctified (Romans 7:18). Their strength must be sought by prayer from God and His glorious power which gives them the victory.

Christian strength is best seen under the saddest sufferings. When affliction is endured with patience and long-suffering it reveals much of Christian strength and courage. It is “all patience” in the highest degree, extending to the whole person, to all kinds of afflictions and times.

7. Pray that Others Will Grow in Joy

Our patience must not be unwilling, and, as it were, forced out of us. It ought to proceed from a joyful mind, knowing all things work together for our good; and that one day we shall be above sufferings (Matthew 5:12). It is “long-suffering with joyfulness”.

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12 Ways We See Christ’s Infinite Wisdom

12 Ways We See Christ’s Infinite Wisdom

12 Ways We See Christ’s Infinite Wisdom
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
12 May, 2021

We think we are superior in knowledge and values to previous generations but often our values are upside down. We value what is new, instant, youthful, tangible, technological and dismiss the converse. There may be much knowledge and intelligence, but wisdom transcends this. If wisdom is pursuing the best things in the best way, where best is defined by God, then it is in short supply today. Ultimately the one who completely knows how the best goals can be achieved in the best way is God “the only wise God” Himself. He has infinite wisdom. This is not just seen in creation and providence but especially in redemption (Ephesians 3:10). In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). No one knows more or knows better how to apply that knowledge for the good of His own people. We may be tempted to question how things are with ourselves and around us, but infinite wisdom is ordering all things for us.

Christ is fully equipped and qualified to do all that He has purposed for His people. There is nothing required for the work which He does not have. David Dickson imagines a poor soul asking, “Christ may be able to do all I need; but is He willing to employ His wisdom and strength for me?” He answers that Christ not only has wisdom and strength, but He will deal prudently. He foresees all the impediments in His way, anything that could mar the work of salvation. There is no wound His soldiers get that He has no cure for. There is no adversary He does not know how to defeat. In a word, everything from eternity to eternity is managed prudently. Dickson is expounding and applying Isaiah 52:13 “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently” and in the course of doing this he brings out the way in which Christ applies His wisdom. There are twelve ways this is identified in the following updated extract (Dickson’s fifteen ways have been summarised into twelve).

1. Christ Deals With God’s Justice Wisely

The justice of God must lose nothing, before we are reconciled or get heaven, a just God must be satisfied. Our prudent Lord answers, “If these people cannot get to heaven until justice is satisfied, behold I am come to satisfy it.” And yet the Lord’s mercy will have as great a place as it pleases; for He deals so prudently that He makes mercy and justice kiss each other. Mercy runs like a river, and justice is satisfied — is not that prudent dealing?

2. Christ Deals With God’s Law Wisely

The law says, “I will take satisfaction from Christ for past sins; but what obedience will I have for the future? Will those whom Christ has redeemed, be permitted to break me in the future?” Prudent Christ answers, “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, for sin condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Before the law could only get punishment for its being broken, now, it gets full obedience by Christ. Christ did not come to abolish but to fulfil the law; He came only to abolish the cursing part of it, but to establish the obeying part of it. Here is prudent dealing.

3. Christ Conquers Satan Wisely

In comes Satan the jailer and death with him; he flies at Christ to get Him overthrown. But prudent Christ destroyed him who had the power of death by the means of death. He overcomes him who had the power of death, and says, he will be the death of death.

So death lies down in the grave and all his own die and lie down with him. Satan thinks to have Christ held in this way. But He could not be held by the sorrows of death. He rises and breaks an opening with Him through death. Like Samson, He takes away the gates and bars of death and has left death neither door nor lock to hold us in. Here is prudence.

4. Christ Enters the World Wisely

See His prudent dealing in His coming into the world. He comes not with pomp or show, but in a humble way. He was meek and lowly, riding on an ass’s colt. Though He was a great king, yet often He went on foot. When He rode, it was on such a low beast, that any might have stood beside Him, and presented their petition in His ear, as He rode.

5. Christ Sends Out His Gospel Wisely

See His prudent dealing in sending His gospel forth to bring home souls. He does not use thunder and fire but poor, weak men with His word in their mouth. By this means, the rod of Zion, He casts down proud hearts and allures others. He puts His heavenly treasure in earthen vessels and lets them carry it and takes the glory to Himself. He puts the sceptre of His kingdom in these weak men’s mouths.

6. Christ Deals with Rulers Wisely

He gives kings no reason to envy His kingdom. He gives his ministers neither crowns nor lands, but only seeks that the workman gets his wages. Is this not great prudence, He does not trouble the kings and nobles of the land with His kingdom on earth. All His office-bearers must be everyone’s servant, “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:22). His kingdom is not of this world, but a spiritual kingdom.

7. Christ Declares His Sovereignty Wisely

He deals so prudently, that the mouth of the reprobate shall be stopped, and have no just argument against their condemnation. He either sends His gospel to them and so invites them to repentance. Or He makes them know His goodness by fruitful seasons, summer and winter, and use of all His good creatures. If they will not make use of these, will be found to have in themselves the cause of their own damnation.

He makes the elect abandon their sins and come in, that they may be vessels of honour. He declares His doctrines in such a way that none who desire to quit their sins and come to Him will find a mark of reprobation in themselves. However filthy they are, if they come, He will cleanse them. His doctrine is so wise, that it will hurt none who seek to come to Him only those who will not quit their sins.

8. Christ Deals with His People’s Pride Wisely

The elect are made to see their sinfulness, needs and unworthiness that they may have His sufferings in high estimation, as their main refuge.

9. Christ Comforts His People Wisely

He deals prudently in urging all to believe, and yet He reserves the right to bestow comfort. He urges them to believe and yet keeps back the comfort of believing till they vomit out their sins. He deals prudently in calling His children to peace, joy, and comfort, and yet give them heavy burdens and afflictions lest they go to excess. In this way, He comforts their souls while making sure also to have their flesh mortified. If He lifts them up in Himself, He puts them as low as possible in themselves. He does not let them sink into trouble for lack of comfort, nor let them disregard Him due to lack of affliction. He fills them with comfort and makes them shed tears for affliction.

10. Christ Justifies Sinners Wisely

Christ exercises great prudence to make a sinner righteous, yet that righteousness is not in themselves, neither does it depend on their own keeping. In His prudent dealing, He sends forth ministers to preach, and dispense heavenly mysteries, and yet keeps the seal in His own hand. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). Thus, none may depend on the minister for the blessing. Christ has great prudence to forgive sin, and yet still keep us crying, “Lord, forgive us our sins!”

11. Christ Feeds His People Wisely

He continues to feed with the food that endures to eternal life and yet still keeps us hungering for it. He holds our mouths to the well and yet we are still thirsty.

12. Christ Exalts His People Wisely

He exalts His own above principalities, powers and afflictions, yet lays them exceedingly low with a sight and sense of their sins. He heartily and warmly comforts and refreshes them, making their bed in their sickness, and yet keeping them humble, so that the better He is to them the humbler they are. He quietly and shrewdly slides consolations into their hearts when no one knows, His voice is not heard in the streets. He keeps a covered table with rich delicacies in the souls of His own, and none know of it, for strangers do not meddle with their joy.

Conclusion

I have told you only of part of Christ’s prudent and wise dealing. But it is a deep which cannot be fathomed, for even the angels stoop down, to learn His wisdom and prudence. They wonder at the wisdom of the cross:

  • that by death, so many should be brought to life;
  • by His shame, there should come so much glory;
  • by abasing Him down to the death, so many should be brought to heaven;
  • by His becoming cursed, so many should be blessed.

This wisdom and prudence cannot be fully told, therefore I leave it, as a thing that cannot be grasped. But make use of it. When the work of Christ is not as you would have it, then believe deeper wisdom in it than you can see. His wise and prudent dealing gives to everyone’s condition as their situation requires.
If He has trouble with a distorted piece of wood full of knots, He drives a hard wedge; or if He deals with one that is stubborn, He takes a baton. If there is one whose root is fastened in the earth, He takes a sharp knife to cut these roots. He comforts a heavy heart. If gives a weighty burden it is not too heavy. He lifts us up, but not too high. Everything is done in wisdom, due time, measure, manner, and might.

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Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted

Social Stability is Not to be Taken for Granted
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 May, 2021

Social Stability means the extent to which a society and its infrastructure, including its institutions are able remain reliable and predicable. Much of everyday life runs smoothly with a great deal happening that we do not see. Fair elections, medical care, stable government, economic stability, public services, transport and infrastructure, law and order, community relations and much more are things we can take for granted. But they are easily challenged as events of the past year have reminded us. We do not know what the future holds in relation to them. These outward necessities are blessings from God and while spiritual concerns are our key priority, we ought to be thankful for the outward benefits of this life. It is part of God’s providential care and we must not take it for granted. That is why Christ teaches us to make it a matter of daily prayer.

If we are thankful for these things, we will express that in prayer and if we feel our need these things, we must also bring that to the throne of grace. When we ask for “our daily bread” we are not just thinking about the food on our tables but also everything that makes that possible. We ought to be mindful of all the benefits we are daily loaded with. This is why the Larger Catechism widens the scope to “all the outward blessings of this life”.

It says “we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them; and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them, and contentment in them; and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort” (Q193).

In this updated extract, Henry Scudder, a member of the Westminster Assembly, explains further how “our daily bread” includes all the blessings of this life.

1. Social Stability and our Daily Bread

Bread in Scripture refers to all kinds of food (Psalm 147:9; Job 23:12 and Proverbs 30:8) whether food or drink. In James 2:15. the words translated daily food are the same in meaning with daily bread and are expounded by James in the sixteenth verse as things necessary for the body. It also relates to whatever is necessary for preservation of life, such as clothes, houses etc. It also means the causes and effects of bread e.g. fruitful seasons, good temperature of air, health and cheerfulness (Acts 14:17).

In a word, it refers to all things which may preserve life, or restore health, such as medicine and skilful and faithful doctors. It also includes peace and good order, and all good means to maintain it: as a wise and courageous government, a strong, populous, loyal, and loving people. Anything contrary to this such as famine, disease, wars, sickness, pain etc are prayed against when we ask for our daily bread.

Our needs require that we should have supplies for this life, that we may have a right mind in a sound body. Otherwise, we can neither enjoy anything nor do good to our neighbour, nor do the service and works which the Lord appoints. We cannot benefit others nor serve God. It is hard for those who are have problems of mental health or who are dumb and deaf to help others compared to those who have the full health or mind and body.

We need are healthy air, food, drink, clothing, houses and whatever will keep from bodily infection and afflictions. They may serve to quench thirst, or satisfy hunger, or preserve from extremities of heat and cold, or to restore defects in nature.

These things cannot be had unless the Lord gives fruitful seasons and causes the earth to be fruitful. We must request these things from the Lord to satisfy human necessities. Yet when all these things are granted, such is human frailty that if we are not willing or able to make use of corn, wool, medicine etc we will be destitute of their use. Therefore, we seek that God would give gifts and skill to men for that purpose.

We may have all this but if we are exposed to the fury of enemies our life and welfare cannot be sustained. A good commonwealth, consisting of wise, just, and valiant governors, and of numerous, peaceable, loyal, and courageous subjects, is to be desired and everything contrary to all these prayed against.

2. Social Stability is the Gift of God

Having and being able to enjoy all the necessary things of this life, is the free gift of God (Job 36:32; Psalm 104:28; Psalm 145:15; 1 Chronicles 29:14). The earth is the Lord’s (1 Corinthians 10:26) and although he made it for our use, we have it only as stewards, who are accountable to Him as their master. We are merely tenants. The Lord must give us the things of this life to have and to hold, else they cannot rightfully be held by anyone.

We may have everything necessary as the rich fool did but not have the blessing of continued life to enjoy it (Luke 12:20). We may taste, and eat, and put on clothes, and yet be neither warm nor satisfied. They can do us no good without God’s blessing. This is why we must be exhorted and persuaded to ask them of God, whose gift they are. When they have received and enjoyed, we must acknowledge this as God’s gift with all thankfulness.

3. Social Stability and the Glory of God

Christ first taught His disciples to ask for the things that concerned God’s glory in the three first petitions. He then instructs them to ask for the things that concern their own good in three further petitions. When anyone has unfeignedly desired and sought the things which pertain to God’s honour and glory they may then with good warrant pray for and expect all good things both for body and soul (Matthew 6:33).

God has promised to give all good things to all such. God has promised to give to His children temporal good things as well as spiritual. Godliness has the promise of the present life (1 Timothy 4:6). A good condition of body and soul is a good means to encourage and a person to still glorify God. But it is presumption to think that God will bless us if we do not glorify His name in doing His will.

We may lawfully desire the things of this life. We must therefore pray and use all good and lawful means to live in this world. But this must be done after we have sought God’s glory. Also, it must be considered from whom, by what means, for whom, for what time, in what right, and in what measure and how we would have our needs supplied. And we must always remember that we asked for these things as far as they are consistent with God’s good will.

4. Social Stability and Intercession

Every Christian should desire and procure the bodily welfare of their neighbour. The law of charity binds us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore, we must pray for them and procure their good, as we do our own. It is not “every man for himself” but “every man for his neighbour as for himself”.
This should move everyone to commend the condition others to God in prayer. And distribute and to those that need, giving more or less, according as God has made them able, and as their brethren’s necessities require. Humanity and Christianity both call for mercy from us. Doing good to our brethren, is only lending to the Lord and He will repay with advantage.

5. Social Stability and Contentment

This is no prayer for abundance, but for daily bread: neither too much nor too little, but according to need. The desires of the things of this life, must be moderate. The quality and quantity of things desired, must be only such, and so much, as is convenient for our person and condition. We are to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). Our life does not consist in the abundance of what we possess (Luke 12:13). Abundance is dangerous both to soul and body; it can lead to disregard of God and His works and even denying Him (Proverbs 30:9).

It is not a sin to have abundance; for Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon abounded in riches: but it is a sin to desire to be rich and If riches increase, we must not set our heart on them. We must not be high minded or trust in them.

6. Social Stability is Not the Primary Concern

In the Lord’s Prayer there is only one short petition for the things that concern natural life but two larger petitions that concern spiritual life. Though God allows His children to ask first for earthly things, yet He wills them to seek chiefly for heavenly things (Matthew 6:33). The desires of Christians should therefore, be fewer, and less vehement for the things of this life, and their principal concern is to be how their sins may be forgiven and the strength of sin diminished as the two petitions that follow emphasise.

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How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
20 Apr, 2021

It was an uncompromising conscience that compelled Luther to stand alone in courageous faith before the mightiest people of the day. This was where he stood 500 years ago on 18 April 1521. He was not driven by personal hubris but constrained by something higher. His conscience, he declared, was captive to the Word of God. And it is “neither safe nor advisable to do anything against conscience”. It would have been easy to outsource his conscience blindly to the teaching authorities in the Church, even when he understood them to contradict Scripture. In our generation there are many influencers in society and media seeking to shape a collective conscience. Suddenly people trip over themselves to signal their newly-discovered virtues. Brands now have a conscience that they must advertise. It is easy to allow our conscience to be formed by all kinds of authorities and individuals, whether they have the hard power of government or the soft power of influence. We can even relinquish our consciences to other Christians in certain matters rather than having them bound to the Word of God. It is vitally important to know how to nurture rather than outsource our conscience.

What do we mean by outsourcing conscience? After all we yield our consciences to God and His Word. Outsourcing in general is when we hand over our responsibilities or tasks to others who will do them on our behalf. In terms of outsourcing conscience this means not taking responsibility for cultivating conscience and exercising it in the right way through having it properly informed by God’s will. We simply hand over this responsibility to others to do it for us. In the following updated and abridged extract, the Covenanter preacher John Carstairs shows what it means to maintain our conscience in a God-glorifying way.

1. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Been Renewed

Above all things make sure to have a good conscience, not only morally (when it submits to God’s revealed will for its rule and constrains a person to act and will according to it that rule) but also graciously. This presupposes a state of regeneration when the heart by faith (the gift of God) seeks to have the blood of sprinkling which both purges and pacifies, cleanses and calms the conscience. It speaks better things than the blood of Abel and can out-cry the loudest cries of the most clamorous and guilty conscience (Hebrews 12:24). It is the only way for all accusations for sins to be safely put to silence and so drowned that they will never surface again to the final sorrow and shame of those who are led by grace. Any other way of silencing such accusations of conscience will most certainly end in their rising again at last to speak loudly against them, never any more to hold their peace from grievously bitter and gnawing accusations. For to the unclean and unbelieving nothing is pure, but even the mind and conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15).

2. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must Be Maintained

If the conscience has been made good in this way we must endeavour by all suitable means to keep it so. This will give us good grounds to say with the apostle that we have a good conscience in all things, willing to live honestly (Hebrews 13:18). The conscience of the Christian may, however, become defiled and wounded by newly contracted pollution and guilt. When accusations begin to arise and disturb the peace and sweet rest of the soul we must at all times make fresh believing application to the blood of sprinkling. The heart may be sprinkled from an evil conscience and the conscience purged from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 10:22) in this way. Renewed endeavours should be made in the strength of grace to walk more tenderly without offence toward God and men (Acts 24:16).

3. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must be Well-Informed

We must strive to have our conscience well and thoroughly informed. This means intimate acquaintance with the mind and will of God revealed in the Scriptures of truth as to all things that we are called to believe and do. This makes conscience able to discharge its office and duty aright, whether in prescribing, testifying, or judging. An ill-informed conscience (especially where there is any zeal or forwardness) strongly pushes and furiously drives people to many dangerous and destructive practices. Has this not driven men to kill the servants of Christ (as He himself foretold) and in doing so to think that they did God service? Did this not hurry on Paul, before his conversion, to persecute those who called on the name of the Lord Jesus and make havoc of the Church, by dragging the disciples (both men and women) bound to prison and by cruel persecution compelling them to blaspheme?

4. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Only One Lord

We must seek to have the conscience deeply impressed with a due and deep veneration, awe and dread of the majesty of God who is the supreme Lord of and great Law-giver to the conscience. Only His laws and commands properly, directly and immediately in themselves oblige it to obey. The consciences and souls of men are properly subject to God alone. The law of God written in the hearts of men and in the Scriptures is the only rule of conscience. No one else can immediately judge the conscience and know its secret operations. Only He can inflict spiritual punishment on the sinning conscience. All human laws and commands (in whatever capacity) only oblige the conscience to obey indirectly. They are obligatory only in so far as they are consistent, compliant and agreeable with the laws and commands of the absolutely supreme law-giver, or not opposed to them.

God has not permitted any power on earth, civil or ecclesiastical, to annul His commands or to require obedience to commands that are contrary to, or inconsistent with His own. His commands are inviolably binding on the consciences of authorities even though they are the greatest rulers on earth as well those subject to them. All without exception are subject to Him. All human laws that enforce or declare the commands and law of God and provide for them to be conserved and observed are obligatory on the conscience. This is because such laws derive from the nature and force of divine law.

The law of God commands us to be subject to those powers in authority over us. There may be unjust laws and those that are opposed to or inconsistent with divine laws. If we must refuse obedience, we must not do so out of any contempt for lawful authority. Such contempt of lawful authority would be a stumbling block to others and both of these are sins against the law of God that we must avoid. But we must remember that no mere human laws bind the conscience directly, immediately and in themselves. God has not given a power to any of the powers and authorities on earth to require obedience to commands that are opposed to His own injunctions, which all are obliged to obey by necessity.

We cannot yield our conscience without question to be ruled by the public conscience or laws of the Commonwealth. This would suppose that the public conscience is always infallible. Absolute obedience and resigning oneself entirely to the conduct of another in matters of faith and conscience is a duty that we cannot lawfully render to anyone except God. He is the first truth and the first principle of all justice and none can claim these without usurping the just right of God. The conscience is immediately subject to God and His will, it cannot subject itself to any creature without idolatry. To do otherwise would be the quickest way to drive all conscience out of the world. It would mean that Christians are not at all to trouble themselves to search the Scriptures to inform their consciences and be fully persuaded in their mind or conscience (explicitly required in John 5:39. and Romans 14:5).

As Edward Leigh says in his book Body of Divinity, this would make “subjects beasts and the magistrate [ruler] God”. It would imply that authority can require anything of us and we are free from the guilt of any sin because it was only done in obedience to authority. The divinely inspired apostle teaches us entirely differently that we must all appear (or be made manifest) before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body (whether commanded by superiors or not) according to what they have done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every one of us shall give an account of himself (not another for him) to God (Romans 14:12, see also Galatians 6:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 3:8).

5. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive

Do not carelessly neglect and slight the rebukes and accusations of conscience in lesser things, or in matters of comparatively smaller significance. Conscience is as much concerned with these as in all our moral actions. This can weaken the voice and rebukes of conscience in more momentous matters and may incline it to be careless in those too.

The accusations of conscience may be smothered for the time being yet may rise up again many years afterwards. This was so with Joseph’s brothers, it was twenty years at least after their pitiless, cruel, unnatural and inhuman treatment of their poor innocent younger brother. God may be provoked to leave our conscience to be silent for a while in relation to our sins. A silent bad conscience is amongst the worst of bad consciences, in some ways it is worse than a roaring bad conscience because it inclines the soul to think that God is silent too and has forgotten these sins. Even the godly themselves may by something of this guilt, raise great storms of trouble and disquiet in their own consciences.

6. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Respectful

By all means guard against going contrary to the plain dictates of your consciences, especially when clearly informed by the Word. This is a daring, despising and disowning of God’s deputy; violently removing conscience from the judge’s bench. This hardens conscience and makes a person bold against God in sinning, it makes the heart harder than an adamant. Such will not be ashamed or so much as blush.

7. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Fully Persuaded

Do not do anything with an unclear, hesitant and doubting conscience. Anything not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23); anything must be done in the faith and persuasion that it is right to do so. If our conscience is mistaken it must be well informed so that the error is realised. But if we do not have our conscience rightly informed, it will still be sinful to go against an erring conscience.

The consciences of others are no rule to ours, their conscience is not infallible. God has put a conscience in everyone as His deputy. We are to pay careful heed to its dictates. God has not made the conscience of any one individual or group of individuals His deputy over all the consciences of other people. Those who are more spiritual and conscientious than ourselves may be clear in their consciences that such and such a practice is permissible. We are then called to impartially examine the reasons for their clarity and examine our own hesitation or lack of clarity carefully. We must be much in earnest prayer to God for light and guidance. But if despite all this my doubt still remains and other godly individuals are also doubtful and unclear I cannot surrender to be blindly ruled by the conscience of others, whoever they are or whatever my respect for them. I cannot act with a doubting conscience without sin. If I can do this why may I not do another more serious thing doubtingly and then another and another. Where will I stop? In things that are doubtful it is safest to abstain.

8. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive to the Conscience of Others

Although we may be clear and fully persuaded of our own Christian liberty in certain things that are indifferent, we must be very sensitive towards the consciences of others who are not. We do not want to offend and wound their conscience. By nature we are ready insensitively and uncharitably to give and to take offence. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8, 9 and 10 are uniquely useful chapters in restraining us from this. 

9. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Does Not Pretend to Have Scruples

Believers should not pretend it is a matter of conscience to abstain from certain practices if it is just because there has been a long custom of doing so, or because they are following the example of others or do not want to displease them. Are you ready to undergo any considerable suffering for what you claim is a matter of conscience. If not when we forsake it we will bring great reproach to true religion and conscientious godliness. If conscience is pretended in petty things but not the weightier things of religion, we are like the Pharisees. We are like them also when we appeal to conscience for tenaciously adhering to human traditions.

10. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Not Rash

Do not rashly enter into any action (especially if it is of great moment) before seriously consulting conscience and endeavouring to have it well informed by the Word. This can either result in an accusing conscience or the temptation to bypass conscience and justify whatever we have done. The only person who walks surely, is the one that walks uprightly, in unbiased compliance with the dictates of the Spirit of God in the Scriptures and their own conscience informed by that.

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Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
13 Apr, 2021

Whether or not we call it a secondary or parallel pandemic, there is no doubt that there has been an upsurge in mental health issues during the past year. Some fear it will have a long-term impact, especially on younger age groups. It is a silent issue at the best of times, it is easier to ask about physical than mental health. We all know people who have trials in this area to a greater or lesser extent and Christians are not immune. It can be difficult to distinguish between spiritual and mental trials and the impact they have on each other. Medical and other assistance is of course often needed but with whatever the case we must bring our situation before God. Scripture shows us how to go to God for comfort and strength in such afflictions. It does not give us glib platitudes; it plumbs the depth of mental distress to lift up the troubled and cast down.

The bleakest lament from a distressed condition is found in Psalm 88. As David Dickson notes, this is the experience of a ‘wise and holy man…under the heaviest condition of a wounded spirit of any that we read of.’ Heman the Ezrahite was one of the four wisest men in all of Israel (1 Kings 4:31) yet here he prays for comfort in wrestling by faith and pouring out his soul to God. It is the heaviest possible condition we can imagine for a believer. He does not seem to find the comfort he seeks, yet he clings to God. This deep trouble of a wounded spirit is recorded here for our understanding and spiritual benefit. Perhaps our situation or that experienced by others is equally bleak or less so. Or perhaps meditating on this psalm can help prepare us for future affliction. C H Spurgeon was perhaps reflecting on this psalm when he said the following:

The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.

Those who find their assurance of God’s love and comfort is clouded by their experience in their heavy affliction can still find comfort here. As David Dickson remarks, ‘those who flee to God for reconciliation and consolation through Christ, have no reason to suspect themselves, that they are not esteemed of and loved as dear children, because they feel so much of God’s wrath.’ Here is a saint who has drunk as deeply of that cup of sorrow as any who will read this Psalm. ‘Yet here is one so much loved and honoured of God’ that he is used in writing Scripture ‘and a pattern of faith and patience unto others.’ He could still call him the God of his salvation. Dickson draws further help and comfort in this updated and abridged extract.

1. Clinging to God by Grace

He fastens his faith and resolution to pray constantly to God until he receives and answer. Those have fled to God for grace and have received the offered reconciliation in the Messiah have entered into covenant with God for their everlasting salvation. They ought to stand fast in holding onto this covenant, however hard their condition may be.

When a believer has laid hold on eternal life, they may by the same right ask and expect comfort in and deliverance out of every trouble. Heman does this here (v1-2). God can love a person and keep praying in faith for a long time without an answer to comfort them. Yet this is all in love, wise love.

There is a difference between the lamentation of the worldly man and the believer. The worldly person sighs and cries, to whom they know not. But the godly present their lamentations to God. We must pray to God again and again patiently, until we know it is answered.

2. Clinging to God in increasing Troubles

There are nine deepening troubles that add to each other in misery.
(a) His soul is full of troubles, so full it can hold no more. Soul troubles are the most pressing troubles (v3)
(b) The sorrows of the mind are able to waste away the body, which cannot but shrink and pine away when the soul is sick with anguish (v3)
(c) His soul’s condition seems desperate like those that go down to the pit. Whatever strength of soul or body a person is soon emptied when God puts them in distress. Without fresh supplies they are as those that have no strength (v4). I am as a man that hath no strength.
(d) He is like the living among the dead, no longer fit for any duty of the living. The believer may sometimes be so burdened with trouble of spirit, that they can neither think, nor speak, nor go about any duty of the living for a time (v5).
(e) He is like someone killed violently, thrust out of the world suddenly with a deadly wound. A soul dear to God may experience such a condition (v5)
(f) He is deprived of the comforts of life and is it were left under the power of death. The believer may sometimes lose sight of the everlasting promise and seem to be rejected by God (v5).
(g) He seems to be deprived of all light of consolation, in the gulf of desperation without deliverance. The believer may feel themselves to be in such a condition, the lowest pit. Whatever trouble we are in, or however great danger we seem to be in, the believer’s wisdom is still to look to God. This may add to grief and fear, yet it prepares the way for the remedy and keeps the believer on the right terms with God.
(h) He has the felt wrath of God pursuing him, overtaking him, lying heavy on him, tossing him with new fears and assaults. These are like the waves of the sea when they come one after another, and endlessly dash on what they find in their way. Such may be the case of a beloved soul in its own felt sense (v7).
(i) He is deprived of all comfort, even any consolation from his friends or fellowship of the godly and wise (v8).

3. Clinging to God in Faith

He wrestles in prayer using four reasons to strengthen his faith and hope of being comforted.
(a) He earnestly seeks comfort only in God with tears (v9).
(b) He must not perish without an answer to his prayer to edify others and glorify God’s name (v10-12)
(c) He is resolved not to cease praying (v13)
(d) He cannot be cast off from God even though His face is hidden (v14)

4. Clinging to God in Grief

The psalmist presents his misery before the Lord, persuaded that he must experience the Lord’s compassion in due time, although he has been afflicted since his youth (v15). When we have tried all means for receiving comfort from God, it is safest for us to lay our grief before God, until He is pleased to show pity.

5. Clinging to God in Fear

The weight of present troubles, is accompanied with the fear of worse to come. Some of God’s children are more tried in their consciences than others. Some souls may experience this all their days. Severe trials may sometimes make faith stagger with doubting, and perplex our reason so that we are like someone that is beside themselves. But although the godly experience doubt, they are not driven to despair; they may be cast down, but they are not destroyed. The terrors of God in the plural number are upon him, that is, frequent terrors, and multiplied terrors (v16-17). They are compared to waters enclosing someone before they are aware.

6. Clinging to God in Isolation

There is no one who is compassionate toward him (v8 and 18). There was none to pity him, none to counsel or comfort him, none to whom he might impart his mind fully for ease. His old friends, and such as loved him before failed him and forsook him. He must sit solitary in darkness. Such a heavy and comfortless condition may be the lot of a beloved child of God.

The fact that he ends the psalm without any comfort for the time being does not make this psalm any less comforting than any other psalm. It shows that he was being supported for the time being even though it was without comfort. He had comfort given to him afterwards since he was able to turn this sad complaint into a song both for himself and for the Church.

This teaches us that seeing God can sustain a soul by secretly supporting faith, though without a felt sense of comfort. This may be even under the heaviest and most grievous felt sense of wrath. A believer in God must therefore lay hold on God’s goodness, promise and covenant. They must continue to trust in the Lord even though He seems to slay them (see Job 13:15). The example of Heman the Ezrahite here teaches us this.

Conclusion

If we have never experienced the deep emotional and mental distress of Heman the Ezrahite we have great reason to be thankful. If we have known these depths, we are not alone. It is a great blessing that the Bible records such anguish to show us how to express ourselves in the midst of it. The Holy Spirit as the Comforter is able to draw near and apply the Word to the deep griefs of the mind. We need the same compassion for those who are going through dark valleys in their own experience

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God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity

God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity

God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
8 Apr, 2021

Self-pity is all-too tempting, even attractive. We can see it in others, even in the victimhood culture around us but not so much in ourselves. It flies under the radar because it is often expressed with a sense of righteous indignation or false humility. It is easy to move from feeling that things are not going the way that they should (according to what is right) to the settled conviction that they are not going the way we think they should. It then comes to be about our importance and how we are ignored and perhaps not listened to. Nobody understands and gives us recognition. So, a sense of spurned entitlement arises, surreptitiously allowing pride a foothold. When we think things are not going as we know they should we can also be tempted to question God subconsciously. Self-pity warps our perspective. If we had the right view of God’s sovereign wisdom, goodness and justice we would see who He is and what He is doing and express our thankfulness. We would turn to His pity away from our own. We need to better be able to recognise the temptation and dangers of self-pity to seek God’s way of deliverance from it.

Self-pity loves to respond to a crisis. We can see this in Jonah chapter 4. After all that he has experienced, Jonah sits down to nurse his fears, discontent and grievances. Here we encounter Jonah complaints at God’s dealings with Nineveh and his wish to be dead (v1-4). We see how self-pity fuels sin, especially anger, resentment and bitterness. He thinks that he knows how God should act and is greatly displeased that He does not comply. We see how self-pity is a kind of inverted pride that seeks to justify ourselves no matter what. Self-pity is so deeply rooted that it is not easily removed. The Lord must show Jonah how warped and self-centred his perspective has become, He does this through first providing and then removing a small plant with its welcome shade. The prophet has more pity on a plant than a vast city of needy souls. Ultimately his self-pity is silenced by the clear declaration of God’s infinite pity towards sinners. But it is such a serious disease that it can only be cured by thoroughly exposing its danger and purging its corruption. George Hutcheson draws much practical teaching from this chapter in the following updated extract.

1. Self-Pity Often Fuels Sin

Corruptions may lurk and remain alive in those who have gone through many crises and so might have had them mortified. Jonah after many difficulties, is still angry and impatient. It is a great sin to seek to have God’s dealings shaped according to the mould of our mind. Jonah’s sin is that he is very angry and exceedingly displeased with what God did (Jonah 4:1).

Corruption may sometimes so prevail with the children of God, that it will not just be a temptation within the heart that is quickly suppressed. It may even break out with their own consent against God for a time. Jonah vents his anger in prayer to the Lord and much of what goes under the name of prayer may involve letting loose our corruption and temper. What is called prayer here is in effect is a bitter expostulation with God and venting of Jonah’s vehement desire to die.

The people of God may have been corrected for and brought to condemn their own past sinful ways and fall into them again though temptation. Jonah now approves his former way of rebellion which he had previously condemned (Jonah 2:8). He now thinks he had done well in fleeing from God (Jonah 4:2)

2. Self-Pity is Self-Willed

As the fallen children of Adam, we are often tempted to presume we would guide things better than God if we our way. Jonah shows that he thought it would have been better to have gone to Tarshish than to have come to Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). When someone is tempted in this way, they will not lack plausible pretences to justify themselves and make their preference seem reasonable. Jonah has such good reasons that he even dares to appeal to God Himself. Did Jonah not anticipate this accurately in his own country? He could see that God’s mercy would make his words of threatening to be in vain and bring his ministry into contempt. Thus, he did the right thing in fleeing he says. But our reasonings must submit to God’s sovereign will and give way to His infinite wisdom.

3. Self-Pity Diminishes God’s Pity

The mercy of God toward lost sinners is so far beyond human mercy, that it may sometimes make His dearest children unhappy that He is so merciful. God’s mercy to Nineveh because He is so gracious and merciful was offensive to Jonah (Jonah 4:2). God is so gracious, that He is not easily provoked by sinners. When He is provoked, He is easily reconciled to them again. Jonah knew this in his own country and now saw it verified.
It is a great mistake to think that mercy manifested to humbled sinners should make them despise God or His servants. Mercy is rather a most effectual means to produce the fear of God, and respect to His ordinances and messengers (Psalm 130:4). Jonah’s reasoning against God’s mercy is based on a mistake and is evidence of his being carried headlong with his vehemence.

4. Self-Pity Leads to Extremes

It is clear evidence of an embittered spirit when any condition (however bad) seems better to them than the present situation. Thus, Jonah thinks it better to die than live, not because he desires glory but rather seeks rest from his present troubles. It ought rather to have made him afraid to think of going out of the world in such a bitter spirit (Jonah 4:3).

The children of God in their temptations may very ardently express the dross of their own heart in seeking that which is altogether wrong. In his bitterness Jonah asks the Lord to take away his life. The saints have great mercy in having a Mediator to correct their prayers.

It is a sign of great corruption and self-love when we seek our own contentment and satisfaction in dying or living, rather than being subject to the will of God. It is mean cowardice angrily to seek to be out of this life because of any trouble we encounter in it through following God. Jonah’s sin is such that he gives this reasons in his bitterness that it is better for him to die than to live.

5. Self-Pity Requires God’s Pity

The Lord reproves Jonah’s anger and appeals to his own better judgment whether it was fitting to complain in this way. The Lord bears with the weaknesses of His servants in great meekness and patience while they are in such a condition and there is hope of recovery. We learn this from the Lord’s gentle reproof of great anger and stubbornness. The mercy of God, which he resented being shown to Nineveh, is the cause of his own safety (Jonah 4:4). Gentle reproofs from God and His tender dealing with His children, ought to make the deepest impression on them. The Lord chose this way so that Jonah in seeing God’s goodness toward him (who was so often off course) might be the more deeply convicted. When the children of God calm down from their anger, they will be most severe against themselves for their impatience and misconduct. The Lord therefore appeals to Jonah to judge his own way in such a frame of mind as being the fittest judge to pass hard censure on himself.

6. Self-Pity is Stubborn

It may be very hard to convince a child of God of their error when they are under this temptation. They may even go on in their way when God reproves them for it (Jonah 4:4-5). Inordinate affections may not only bring people to show themselves in opposition to the will of God, but also easily draw them into delusion. If people will not believe truth but seek it to be according as they wish, they will still expect that things should be so. The forty days had expired and Jonah had been informed of God’s will, yet he still expects to see what he wants to happen. He went to see what would become of the city considering it possible they might yet perish yet, turn from their repenting; or that God would change His purpose of mercy.

Even the children of God have so much of old Adam unmortified that they may in temptation, vent fearful attitudes. There is great need to pray that we are not led into temptation. Jonah, as a prophet, ought to have rejoiced at the success of his ministry and the repentance of sinners. But his mind is only bent upon the destruction of these penitent sinners and grieves to see that city still standing. He sat to see what would become of it, as though he was daily wishing its destruction, and grieving that he did not see it.

7. Self-Pity is not Easily Cured

A spirit once broken and imbittered with troubles is easily grieved and stirred up. Jonah responds bitterly to the heat that he experiences (Jonah 4:6). In healing His people’s sin, the Lord must first lance their boil and expose more of their corruption before He applies any healing plasters. Jonah’s anger is kindled even more before the disease can be healed.

When we give way to bitter discontent it will soon make us furious and illogical. Jonah wanted to die when he no longer had relief from the heat of the sun as if he should be exempted from bearing anything. People are scarcely themselves in a fit of passion.

8. Self-Pity is Discontentment with Providence

To be excessively discontented at Providence especially for small matters is entirely unfitting for the servants of God. This is implied here, it was not right for him as a prophet, to be angry (exceedingly angry, as the words may be read) for the gourd or plant (Jonah 4:9).

9. Self-Pity is Pride

The pride of the human heart is such that in temptation it will justify itself and even resist the verdict of God. Jonah’s answer to the Lord’s question teaches us this. He justifies his anger and says that nothing will please him except death which will rid him of these troubles.

10. Self-Pity is often Self-contradictory

Self-love easily blinds people so far that they will justify doing worse things than those they condemn in others. Jonah would not allow the Lord to be merciful even though it was for a just reason. Yet Jonah could permit himself to indulge in selfish rage (Jonah 4:10-11).

We ought to allow God more latitude in His way of working than we take for ourselves. The Lord shows Jonah that though blinded with caprice he had pity on a plant and should not the wise and sovereign Lord, spare Nineveh. He was willing to reason Jonah out of his folly despite being He to whom absolute submission of spirit was due.
The Lord can easily remove and expose the plausible pretexts advanced by selfish people. Whatever Jonah might pretend to be the cause of his grief for Nineveh being spared, the Lord shows that his bitterness flowed indeed from self-love to himself, as could be seen in the matter of the gourd or plant.

11. Self-Pity is Answered by God’s Pity

The Lord is so constant in His goodwill that He will not only show mercy but defend His doing so against all who will oppose it (Jonah 4:11). The Lord by teaches us by this example to devote our affections to things that have worth in themselves. He reproves Jonah’s pity on the gourd (a thing of so small worth that it came up in one night and perished in another) as far worse than God’s mercy in sparing the great city of Nineveh.

12. Self-Pity can be Healed

The children of the Lord will at last be satisfied with all the Lord’s dealings and will submit to His way in them as only right and wise despite all their complaints under temptation. The Lord gets the last word in this debate and it is evident from Jonah’s silence and not answering again that he submitted at last. The testimony of this and of his unfeigned repentance for his misconduct is that these things are recorded here for the edification of the Church and for the glory of God.

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How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
29 Mar, 2021

This is not about what you might expect. We have heard so much about the sixth commandment and preserving life over the past year—a very necessary emphasis. But there are other dimensions to the commandment as well. Showing love for our neighbour through this command is not simply about what we do or do not do. Scripture shows us that it reaches to our hearts also (1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:22). Our heart attitude and thoughts are expressed in our words and behaviour towards others. If there is an attitude of animosity in the heart or abusive words are used, we are not preserving the spirit of this commandment. It is a constant issue but perhaps more obvious in a time when there may be many conflicting opinions. How do we respond to others, especially when we disagree or feel they have failed us in some way? The natural tendency is to let our irritation show. It is easy to bottle up resentment as well as erupt when provoked. What sort of words should we use if we need to point out where they have gone wrong? How do we avoid responses that cause lasting spiritual damage in our zeal for the truth? We need to positively cultivate and put on the graces of love, humility, patience and forbearance to do this. And if we think this is a good message for someone else, we probably need it more than we realise.

The Larger Catechism draws on the rest of Scripture to help us understand this aspect of the sixth commandment. If we are to put off anger then part of doing this involves putting on patience, kindness and forgiveness. The Larger Catechism shows that we pursue “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…by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness, peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behaviour, forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil, comforting and succouring the distressed” (Q135). So also, this command forbids “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge, all excessive passions…provoking words, oppressing, quarrelling” (Q136). Some Bible passages which support this are as follows.  The sixth commandment requires us to:

  • subdue passions which tend towards unjust destruction of life (Ephesians 4:26-27)
  • avoid all temptations which tend towards unjust destruction of life (Matthew 4:6-7; Proverbs 1:10-16)
  • maintain a serene mental attitude and cheerful spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Psalm 37:8-11; Proverbs 17:22)  
  • show kindness and love in thought, word and deed (1 Samuel 19:4-5; 22:13-14; Romans 13:10; Luke 10:33-34; Colossians 3:12-13; James 3:17; 1 Peter 3:8-11; Proverbs 15:1; Judges 8:1-3).

It is possible to have a holy zeal and yet think, speak and act charitably. This means having compassion for others, grieving over where they have erred and seeking the best and most effective way to have them restored or for them to be saved. Holy zeal will focus itself against what is wrong rather than the person who has done what is wrong (Psalm 101:3). It is not focused on how we have been harmed or wronged personally but on whether God has been dishonoured. It is motivated by the honour of God not our own pride.

Righteous anger without sinning is certainly possible but all too rare (Ephesians 4:26). But we must be very careful as to whether this it truly has this holy zeal. If we are not careful our sinful anger will give room for the devil to exploit any conflict (Ephesians 4:27). He will use it to stir up sinful attitudes and responses in ourselves and others. He will also use it to make us unfit for spiritual activities and so rob us of the benefit (Matthew 5:23-24).

We can have the best of intentions, but we all know how difficult it is to keep our cool when we encounter an irascible hot-headed person.  We resent unfair implied accusations and are ready to show it. How do we respond to words and behaviour that only seems to rile us up? There is no easy answer that is quickly learned. It requires great wisdom (Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; 19:11). We are battling the most powerful of enemies (Proverbs 16:32). We need to avoid being quick to speak if we are going to be slow to become angry (James 1:19). We need much patience and grace to turn away wrath with a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1).

These thoughts have been helped by Thomas Ridgeley’s commentary on the Larger Catechism. One of the books that influenced the Larger Catechism was A Body of Divinity by James Ussher. The following updated extract is drawn from his treatment of the sixth commandment. In a helpful question and answer format he shows how the commandment requires a loving spirit.

1. What inward duties do we owe to our neighbour?

To love our neighbours as ourselves, to think well of them, to be charitably affected towards them, and to strive to do them good. We are all the creatures of one God, and the natural children of Adam. For this reason, we are to cherish all good affections in our hearts.

2. What good affections are required?

(a) Humility and kindness, proceeding from a loving heart to a fellow human being because they are human (Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32).

(b) Contentment to see our brother pass and exceed us in any outward or inward gifts or graces and giving thanks to God for endowing him with such gifts.

(c) Compassion and fellow-feeling of their good and evil (Romans 12:15-16; Hebrews 13:3).

(d) Humility.

(e) Meekness.

(f) Patience, long-suffering and slowness to anger (Ephesians 4:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

(g) Easiness to be reconciled and to forget wrongs done to us (Ephesians 4:32).

(h) A peaceable mind, careful to preserve and make peace (Romans 12:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Matthew 5:9).

3. What is required for the preservation of peace?

(a) Care to avoid offences.

(b) Construing things in the best sense (1 Corinthians 13:7).

(c) Giving up our own rights sometimes (Genesis 13:8-9).

(d) Passing by offences and suffering injuries patiently lest they break out into greater mischief.

4. What inward sins are condemned?

Consenting in heart to do our neighbour harm together with all passions of the mind, which are contrary to the love we owe to him.

(a) Anger when it is either rash or without cause; or when it is excessive in a just cause (Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:26, 31).

(b) Hatred and malice, which is murder in the mind (1 John 3:15).

(c) Envy, by which one hates his brother as Cain the murderer did, for some good that is in him (James 3:14; Proverbs 14:30; 1 John 3:12).

(d) Grudging and repining against our brother, which is a branch of envy (1 Timothy 2:8).

(e) Unmercifulness and lack of compassion (Romans 1:31; Amos 6:6).

(f) Desire for revenge (Romans 12:19).

(g) Cruelty (Psalm 5:6; Genesis 49:5, 7).

(h) Pride, which is the mother of all contention (Proverbs 13:10).

(i) Uncharitable suspicions (1 Corinthians 13:5, 7; 1 Samuel 1:13-14) yet godly jealousy over another is good if it is for a good cause.

(j) Stubbornness and not being easily intreated (Romans 1:31).

5. How should we resist these?

We should kill such affections at their first rising and pray to God against them.

6. What are the outward duties we owe to our neighbour?

They respect the soul principally, or the whole man, and the body more especially.

7. What duties are required of us for the preservation of the souls of our neighbour?

(a) Ministering the food of spiritual life (Isaiah 62:6; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28).

(b) Giving good counsel and encouraging to well-doing (Hebrews 10:24-25).

(c) Walking without offence. This is required of rulers and ministers as well as everyone else in their calling. The apostle’s rule reaches everyone, give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32).

(d) Giving good example, and thereby provoking one another to love good works, (Matthew 5:16; 2 Corinthians 9:2; Hebrews 10:24).

(e) Reproving our brother’s sins by timely admonition (Leviticus 19:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Psalm 141:5).

(f) Comforting the feeble minded and supporting the weak (1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:14).

8. What is forbidden in our words?

(a) Speaking evil of someone, even although the matter is not in itself false is still wrong if it is not done with a right purpose or in a right manner and at the right time. False accusations are also condemned (Luke 23:2; Acts 24:5).

(b) Bitter and angry words or speech uttered in wrath or using evil or vile terms (Matthew 5:22) are condemned by this commandment.

(c) Mocking in general is sinful (Psalm 22:7-8; John 19:3). Mockery of a disability (Leviticus 19:14) or especially mocking others for godly behaviour (2 Samuel 6:20) are condemned. Sometimes, however, God’s children may use mocking in a godly manner as Elijah did to the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27).5. When we complain about one another and grumble with malice (James 5:9).

(c) Brawling and angry shouting are sinful (Titus 3:9; Ephesians 4:31). Threatening, insulting and provocative speech is also condemned (1 Peter 3:9; 2 Samuel 16:5,7; 2 Kings 2:23-24;1 Corinthians 5:11 Psalm 57:4 Psalm 52:2 Psalm 64:3-4 Psalm 140:3)

(d) Spiteful, disdainful and harsh words are sinful, especially when they are uttered contemptuously (Proverbs 12:8; Proverbs 15:1).

9. What is required in our words?

That we greet our neighbour gently, speak kindly, and use courteous amiable speeches; which according to the Hebrew phrase is called, speaking to the heart of another (Ephesians 4:32; Ruth 2:13).

According to Paul’s counsel we should see that edifying words rather than “corrupt communication” are found in our mouths (Ephesians 4:29. Our speech should be always seasoned with the saltiness of grace so that we know how to answer every one in the right way (Colossians 4:6). If meat is not sprinkled with salt, it will smell. It will be so with those who do not have their hearts seasoned with the word of truth.

If we are not careful the words proceeding from our mouths will be angry, wrathful, and loathsome speech against our brother. Scripture compares such words to juniper coals which burn most fiercely (Psalm 120:4) or to a sword or razor cutting most sharply (Proverbs 12:18; Psalm 52:2). James therefore says that the tongue is an unruly evil, set on fire by hell (James 3:6, 8). We ought therefore to govern our tongues by the Word of God and beware of vile speech.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article The Mark of the Christian. Christ’s disciples are to be recognised by their love for one another. What does that look like and what if it’s not there?

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Battle Discouragement by Encouraging Others

Battle Discouragement by Encouraging Others

Battle Discouragement by Encouraging Others
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
23 Mar, 2021

It is never difficult to find reasons to be discouraged within us and around us. And we can be particularly adept at dwelling on them and sharing them with others, whether in a spirit of murmuring or otherwise. Uncertainty, criticism, division and a growing tide of ungodliness seem to surround. And if you feel that way, it is more than likely your fellow Christians do too and (perhaps even more so) your pastor. Whether it is for these reasons or a general weariness, fatigue or dissatisfaction, heavy-hearted discouragement is real. No doubt it is not helped by reduced contact with other believers. Many of the “one another” duties to which the New Testament exhorts us have been greatly curtailed. If we seek out reasons and opportunities to encourage others it is bound to help encourage ourselves.

Paul emphasises the importance of encouraging one another frequently in 1 Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 4:18; 5:11 and 5:14). Paul uses a word that means to comfort and strengthen, to draw alongside. It means to be called to come alongside and often means exhort (as in Hebrews 10:25). Often, we are to do this with the words of Scripture. This builds up and edifies and that is the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Believers should comfort themselves together in response to God’s dealings with anyone in particular that calls for comfort. It is not just a general warm positivity, they are to exhort one another to make progress in the life of grace. Exhortation stirs us up to our duty and sometimes that may even mean loving instruction and rebuke, it does not always what we think of as comfort. Indulging our failings would not be edifying. James Fergusson explains the fuller application of this verse in the following updated extract.

1. All Believers Need Encouragement

All Christians of all ranks stand in need of exhortation, consolation and to be edified and furthered in the way of grace by all lawful means. Thus, both pastors and people ought to make conscience of discharging all those duties. Pastors should do this not only privately but also publicly in the congregation (1 Timothy 5:20). It is an important part of their particular calling, office and authority to do this (Titus 2:15). Believers should do this privately in their families (Ephesians 6:4) as well as among their friends and neighbours (Acts 18:26). They do this because of the bonds of Christian love they should have towards all the members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:25). Paul shows us that everyone stands in need of being exhorted, comforted etc. It is clearly the duty of all to do so, because he says to comfort, or exhort and edify one another.

2. All Believers Need Encouragement to Be Watchful

Making conscience of these duties among Christians is a unique means of keeping people in a lively and watchful spirit. Negligence in them, however, necessarily brings great deadness along with it. It leads to complacency and the decay of life and vigour in the exercise of any saving grace and obeying any commanded duties. This duty is connected with being sober and watchful as well as being a help in exercising faith, love and hope (see connection with verses 6-8)

3. All Believers Need to Resist Discouragement

There are many discouragements which people must encounter in the path of duty. These include the small progress they have made in the way of duty, the unwillingness of their own spirit to engage in it (Romans 7:18); the great opposition from outward and inward trials in relation to it (1 John 2:16). They often, therefore, need as much consolation and encouragement, as they do exhortation and admonition to make them advance in it. Paul therefore urges them to do this.

4. All Believers Need Encouragement to Grow

No believer is so far advanced or so diligent in the exercise of any grace, that they do not need the spur of exhortation, at least to make them persevere. The best are ready to faint (Jonah 2:7; Galatians 6:9). They need this to make them do better, seeing even the best come far short of what they ought (Philippians 3:13). He exhorts them to this duty, even though he commends their present diligence in it since they are already doing it.

5. All Believers Need Encouragement to Keep Encouraging

A prudent minister should stir up the Lord’s people to do their duties in such a way that does not ignore the good beginning or progress they have already made. He should let them know that he takes notice of that and this may prove to be a strong encouragement to some to make faster progress and guard others against discouragement. Nothing is a greater enemy to diligence in duty than discouragement. Paul takes notice of how they already edify one another in exhorting them to continue.

 

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Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry

Being Salt and Light in a Culture of Self-Idolatry
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
18 Mar, 2021

Expressive individualism drives our culture. This is the idea that we find our ultimate meaning only when we express our own feelings and desires. We are thought to be most authentically ourselves when we perform outwardly what we are feeling inwardly. Anything that restrains or restricts our ability to do this is seen as the great enemy. The very idea of moral authority denying what we choose for our happiness and freedom is viewed as repressive, even morally wrong. If self and personal fulfilment are the ultimate-if they are sacred, then the very idea of self-denial is utter heresy. Yet it is exactly what Christ calls His disciples to. We cannot avoid it simply because it goes against the grain of our culture. If we really want to be salt and light, we need to take self-denial seriously, however uncomfortable it may be. What do we mean by self-denial and how do we pursue it?

Nothing could be more counter-cultural than living in a way that is God-centred. Manifesting obedience to God, rather than the great idol of self, displays our real purpose. It shows others what we were meant to be. Our culture says that the ultimate failure and sin is not to be true to yourself. But the gospel shows us that sin has corrupted our view of what we are meant to be, and grace enables us through union with Christ to live as we were designed to. When we speak of self-denial it does not mean that enjoyment is rejected as sinful, rather we are able to enjoy God Himself as all that will truly satisfy. Our culture is pursuing happiness and purpose in that which will never satisfy. That is why we must turn from the false god of self to the only true and living God. It is only in this way that we can find that happiness and purpose, indeed have our self renewed and restored. Thomas Manton (who had an important role at the Westminster Assembly) explains much of what Christ’s call to self-denial means in this updated extract.

1. What Do We Mean by Self?

In the original the words have the emphasis “let him utterly deny himself.” Whatever is ours, so far as it stands in opposition to God or comes into competition with Him must be denied. This can include all our lusts, all our interests and relations. Life and all the appendages of life aggregated together are called self in Scripture. In short, whatever is of himself, in himself, belonging to himself, as a corrupt or carnal man, all that is to be denied.

Some aspects of self are absolutely evil, and must be denied without limitation such as lusts and carnal affections (Titus 2.12). They are called “members” (Colossians 3:5) that must be put to death. Sin is riveted in the soul, and it is as irksome to a natural heart, to part with any lust, as with a member or joint of the body.

Other aspects of self are only evil as far as they prove to be idols or snares to us. Life and all its benefits, comforts and conveniences – liberty, honours, wealth, friends, health – these are all called self.

Self is a bundle of idols. Since God was laid aside, self seized the crown – everything that we call our own. Everything before which we may put that possessive “ours” may be abused and set up as a snare, all the excellences and comforts of human life, both inward and outward.

That self which we must hate or deny is that self which stands in opposition to God or competition with him, and so competes with him for the throne. Self is the great idol of the world, ever since the fall, when men took the boldness to depose and lay aside God, as it were, self took the throne.

2. How Far Does Self-Denial Go?

All people are to do this in all things, at all times, and with all their hearts.

(a) All people. Everyone is required to do this, all kinds of people (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8.34). There is no calling, no sex, no age, no duty, no condition of life excluded. One way or another, self-denial is an obligation.

No one can exempt themselves. No Christian went out of this world without God at some point or other trying them in some prominent aspect of self-denial (Genesis 22:1).

(b) In all things. It must not be partial. Many can deny themselves in many things, but they are loath to give up everything to God without reservation. Herod denied himself in many things, but could not part with his Herodias.

(c) At all times. It must not be temporary; in a good mood we can give up and renounce everything and be humble. Ahab humbled himself for a few days. It is not enough to deny ourselves in those things that we do not take any pleasure in. We must have this as a constant duty.

(d) With all our heart. It must be out of a principle of grace and out of love to Christ not mere constraint. Self-denial must not be self-seeking, that is abominable to God.
We must deny ourselves what we desire as well as what we enjoy (Titus 2.12). All sin is rooted in a love of pleasure more than of God; we sin, because of the contentment we imagine to be in sin, that draws the heart to practice it. But if we cannot deny ourselves and rule our spirits in this, we are nothing (Proverbs 25:28).

3. Why is Self-Denial Necessary?

(a) God must have our dependence and trust. Man wants independence, to be a god to himself, sufficient for his own happiness (Genesis 3:5). Nothing can be more hateful to God. Self-denial takes us off other things we depend on to trust in God alone.

(b) God must have the highest esteem. When anything is honoured above God, or made equal with God, or indulged against the will of God, Dagon is set up, and the ark is made to fall.

(c) God must be our law-giver. Self is not to interpose and give laws to us, only God’s will must stand. The great contest is, whose will shall stand, God’s will or ours? Self-will is betrayed by murmuring against God’s providence, rebellion against His laws, and obstinate obedience to self (Jeremiah 18:12; Jeremiah 44:17).

(d) God must be our highest purpose (Proverbs 16:4). But the unrenewed person sets up self as the purpose for every action and pushed God out. All the actions of life are only a kind of homage to the idol of self, if they eat and drink, it is to nourish self, a meat-offering and drink-offering to appetite. If they pray or praise, it is but to worship self, to advance the reputation of self; the crown is taken from God’s head, He is not made the highest purpose.

4. How Does Self-Denial Make Us Salt and Light?

(a) It makes us Christ-like. We cannot be conformed to our great Master without this. Jesus Christ came from heaven with the purpose of teaching us the lesson of self-denial. His birth, life, death were a pattern of self-denial (Romans 15:3). It is ridiculous to profess Jesus Christ to be our master, and not be conformed to His example. What is our self to Christ’s self? The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord (Mark 10:25).

(b) It makes us like the disciples. Christ set the example and all the saints have followed after it, some better, some worse (Romans 14:7).

(c) It shows our devotion to Christ. All respect shown to what is regarded as divine in any kind of religion is marked by self-denial. Worldly people can deny themselves to achieve their ends (Psalm 127:2; Ecclesiastes 4:8). A covetous person shames many a godly person. Will lust do more with them than the love of Christ with you? Certainly, we should have a stronger impulse, for we have a better reward; we are influence by a mightier spirit. In reality is not self-denial in worldly people so much as the obstinacy of self-will. The kingdom of Satan is divided; self-will is set up against self-delight or ease. People can deny themselves for their pleasure, they sacrifice their reputation, possessions, conscience and all to that great idol.

(d) It shows we are not our own but the Lord’s (Romans 14:6). Our will should not be our own law, nor our profit our aim, because we are not our own. We cannot say that our tongues are our own, to speak what we please, nor our works our own, nor our interests our own.

5. What Does Self-Denial Look Like?

(a) When every purpose and choice is swayed by reasons of conscience rather than by reasons of interest. When we are content to be anything, so long as it serves for God’s glory and Jesus Christ may be all in all (Philippians 1:23). A child of God does not consider what will most gratify the flesh but how they may do most work and service and glorify God on earth.

(b) Humble submission to God’s will (2 Samuel 15:25-26; 1 Samuel 3:18). The children of God consent to give up their souls, possessions and friends if providence so orders it (Job 1:21). They can see as much reason to bless God, when He impoverishes them as when He enriches them. This is being like the great example Christ Himself who said, “Not my will”.

(c) When a person is vile in his own eyes because of their sins. None pass a severer sentence than the children of God do upon themselves when they have sinned against God. They need no other judge than their own consciences to pass a sentence upon them. By nature we are apt to favour ourselves and censure others more than humble ourselves. But God’s children are different (1 Timothy 1:15; Proverbs 30:2; Psalm 73:23). If these things are truly spoken out of a deep felt sense, it is an encouraging sign that self is dethroned in you.

6. How Do We Engage in Self-Denial?

(a) Reduce your esteem and affection for worldly things. If you would deny yourself for Christ, you must prize the worst of Christ before the best of the world. Moses could deny himself because he “esteemed the reproach of Christ to be greater riches, than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:25). Moses’ had his esteem right.

The greater our affection for something the greater our trouble when we have to part with it. When this is so with the things of the world, it troubles us to part with them for Christ’s sake. When anything begins to sit too close and too near the heart, it is good for a Christian to be wary, and ask how will I deny this for God so that we are not brought under its power (1 Corinthians 6:12). What you possess is not who you are (Luke 12:15). You can say of anything, “I can still be happy without this.”

(b) Seek self in God. There is a lawful self-seeking when we seek it in God (John 5:44). If you desire pleasure, remember, there are no pleasures like to the delights you can enjoy by communion with God, the pleasures which are at His right hand for evermore. If you desire riches, turn your heart towards the good treasure God has opened in the covenant, to be rich in grace, rich towards God.

(c) Be resolved to experience the worst, to please God even though you may experience the displeasure of the whole world. A person never comes to Christ in the right way, unless they give up everything and allow Christ to take it all.

(d) Do not confine your wellbeing to outward things, beware of binding up you life and contentment with created things (Habakkuk 3:17-18). Your happiness does not lie within yourselves, nor in any other created thing, but only in God.

(e) Exercise faith often. A person will leave what they have on earth more easily when they have strong expectations of heaven (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16).

(f) In all conflicts of conscience and self-interest, observe God’s special providence to you. Ask yourself where did you receive the thing from that you are so unwilling to part with if not from the Lord? Distrust is the basis of self-seeking. We find it hard to deny ourselves because we do not consider the providence of God to us and that all things are in His hands (2 Chronicles 25:9

(g) God has a right to all that is yours. He made it and He gave it to you. You have given yourself and all you have to God (Romans 12:1).

(h) Understand what sins you are particularly tempted to more than others so as to deny that sin (Psalm 18:23).

(i) Consider the times in which you live and how they call for self-denial. If they are times of affliction we must seek to sit looser to the things of this world (Jeremiah 45:4-5). When we are likely to put a stumbling-block in the way of a new convert (2 Kings 5:26). In prosperous times we must deny ourselves in charity (Mark 10:31). A persons needs to fear their heart more in prosperous times than in times of persecution lest they are only lovers of themselves with a mere “form of godliness” ( 2 Timothy 3:1).

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Sometimes You Need to Stand Still

Sometimes You Need to Stand Still

Sometimes You Need to Stand Still
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
10 Mar, 2021

Standing still may not sound right when we are used to throwing ourselves into a whirlwind of activity and our desire is to make progress. Of course, standing still in spiritual things in the sense of indolence or complacency is not healthy. But there are times when God in His providence forces us to stand still. We cannot move forward due to the circumstances no matter how much we wish to. We are not to make haste (Isaiah 28:16; Ruth 3:18). Our strength is to sit still and wait on God as an act of obedience (Isaiah 30:15). Being still and waiting on God brings hope and strength to us (Psalm 27:14; Psalm 62:1,5). The Israelites were like this when they were hemmed in at the Red Sea, they were told to stand still and see the Lord’s deliverance (Exodus 14:13). It is a lesson we still need to learn.

While we are in a great tumult or fear or outrage, we cannot see things as we ought. We cannot see our duty; our minds are clouded by emotion. This is why we need to be still and depend on the Lord. We need to lift our minds away from the troubles to focus on Him and receive what we need from Him. In the following updated extract Jeremiah Burroughs applies the lessons we can learn from the counsel of Moses to Israel in Exodus 14.

1. Standing Still is Necessary for Troubled Minds

God’s people may be greatly troubled in their difficulties. It was so here in Exodus, in every predicament they grumbled and were disquieted; this was especially so at this time. Stand still (says Moses). They were all in a state of confusion and trouble. This is also the case many times for many of God’s saints. It was so for Heman who wrote Psalm 88. You will find in that psalm that he was disquieted and in woeful perplexity when he was brought into troubles.

Many of God’s saints, whom He has delivered in a most glorious way in the past, will find that at other times they have been so complacent that their hearts have been in complete confusion and they were not able to stand before the difficulties they met with. This was so with Elijah in 1 Kings 19 despite the spirit he had and what he experienced in the 18th chapter. And yet, in the 19th chapter, Jezebel merely threatens Elijah, and he takes to his heels and runs away at her threat — even though he had such a brave spirit in the previous chapter. So it is, truly, with many that sometimes their courage makes their adversaries afraid, and at other times, their cowardice makes their friends ashamed. Many have been so; they have been a terror to their adversaries one day, and a shame to their friends another day.

2. Standing Still is Necessary Because of Our Weakness

We still have a great deal of the flesh in the best of us and are greatly led by our feelings. We are not thoroughly skilful in the ways of God because the fear of God is so weak in us. This is why the fear of man is so strong, and we know so little of God’s secrets. The secrets of God are with those who fear Him. If we feared God more, we would know His secret ways, and not be troubled so much. There is also a great deal of guilt in the best. This will make anyone afraid. Great guilt in the heart is exceedingly troublesome to the soul.

3. Standing Still is Necessary Because of Our Self-Confidence

We are far too confident in ourselves. This is why God withdraws Himself from us and why when we are afraid we cannot trust God. David was able to say, however, that whenever he was afraid, he would trust in God (Psalm 56:3). Many think they can trust in God at present but when the time comes that they are afraid they cannot do it. When anger is stirred up you make no use of your faith to trust in God. Many a man or woman can be meek and quiet, until they are tempted. But when your anger is stirred up, can you be meek then, and rise and beat it down with the contrary grace? So, when the emotions caused by your fears and troubles rise up, can you then trust in God?

Because we trust so much in ourselves, when the time comes that we should trust in Him, God withdraws Himself from us, and we are most afraid. It is true, God’s people may be so, and you are so; and therefore, be ashamed of it, and labour to prepare for such times. If you have been disquieted in times of trouble, store up something that may help in those times. A great deal must be laid up for times of extremity. You must (a) store up encouraging promises; (b) store up encouraging experiences, that may help you against such times of fainting and trouble.

4. Standing Still is Necessary to Quieten our Spirits

As the Israelites were to be delivered out of this Egyptian bondage in that way, so they were to be delivered out of the Babylonian bondage in the same way. See what God says for that deliverance. He tells them plainly in Isaiah 30.15, “in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength”. Yet they would not follow this way. So, when you come to many people who are in great extremities, to some women and others — when they’re wringing their hands and hanging about their husbands’ necks — tell them their confidence must be in quietness, and they will be ready to throw you off a cliff.

5. Standing Still is Necessary No Matter How Great the Trouble

So too, we read in Isaiah 30.7, “their strength is to sit still.” After we have used all the means we can, we are to sit still, and look up to God for salvation. It was their great fault, that they did not do so in their deliverance out of their captivity (Jeremiah 31:21-22). Perhaps you will say, “There was never a crisis like the one we are in.” Well, God has such mercy as He never showed the likes of before. Many cry out “O my affliction, and my trouble is such as there never was before in the world!” Yet, is there no comfort for them, to support them? Yes, Isaiah 64.4 says that it was never known since the beginning of the world, what God has laid up for those who wait for Him. Only wait for Him, and there was never such mercy shown in the world as God has laid up for you.

6. Standing Still Focuses Us on God

It makes us ready to look to the wisdom, faithfulness, and power of God. We are not able to see God’s wisdom, faithfulness, and power, nor to make use of them unless we get our spirits to be quiet. First, get them quiet, and then we can look up to God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). There is a God in heaven who can help and succour us in time of great troubles and extremities. But for all this, people are in a hurly burly; their spirits are disturbed, and they are wringing their hands, and crying. They cannot know that God is God, they can have no use of all the power, and goodness, and faithfulness, and mercy of God. First get your hearts still and quiet in your families, and in your own spirits, and then you will know that God is God. God will not appear until you are first still.

7. Standing Still Enables Us to Exercise Grace

We are not able to make use of our own graces, until we are quiet and still. If God had bestowed graces when we are in a hurly burly, we have no use for them at all. Therefore, it says in Psalm 4:4 that we are to be still and commune with our own hearts. Commune with your own hearts: you have something in your own hearts, perhaps, that may quiet you. You are not fit to commune with your own heart until you get it quiet. Many of you are stirred up to anger at all other times; and that is the reason that in such great extremities, you are so overruled with it. You are so overruled with your passion of anger at other times and so you are overruled with the passion of fear now. But if at other times you would strive to rein in your spirits, God would help you now.

8. Standing Still Enables Us to Submit to God in Reverence

Without this stillness, and quietness, we cannot manifest that subjection to God that we owe to Him. There is still a great deal of sin and pride against God without this. Our reverence towards God also depends on being still. If your hearts were possessed with the fear of God, you would not be in the great stir you are in times of great danger. We are to sanctify God in our hearts (Isaiah 8:12; 1 Peter 3:15).

9. Standing Still Enables Us to Listen to God

Fear and trouble makes people unfit to listen to anything that is spoken to them. Let anything be spoken to them that is of use, and they cannot hear it or make use of it. When Moses came to tell them of their deliverance, the people of Israel would not listen because of their “anguish of spirit” (Exodus 6:9). How many in trouble of conscience and in other times of extremity, have their spirits in such anguish that they never listen to anything that is delivered to them? This is why they come up with the same objections over and over again.

10. Standing Still Helps us to Help Others

Without this quietness of spirit, you will greatly hinder others. You will discourage the hearts of others. Many times, the cause does not succeed merely because of the unquietness of the hearts of men and women in times of danger. You must be quiet and look up to God for salvation. Faith is able to bring life out of death, light out of darkness. Genuine faith has a mighty power in times of extremity, to behold God’s salvation, and make use of it. When David fled from Saul and was in the cave, he says he is trusting in the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 57:11). Poor David had got into the shadow of the cave and the sun did not shine on him; but he looked at himself in the cave, as being under the shadow of God’s wings. If you are godly, you too are under God’s wings by faith.

11. Standing Still Demonstrates Faith

There is a great deal of talk of faith in the world at present; let us see what it can do. The proof of genuine love is when I can love God for Himself without His gifts. When I can trust God merely on His word, I show the excellence of my faith. When Christians must have outward helps and former experiences, they call to God for guarantees as if they would not trust God on His mere word.

Conclusion

Standing still in times of trouble has great benefit. As Burroughs points out we must stand still in order to stand fast and strong (Philippians 1:27; Ephesians 6:13). He notes that we are called to stand four different times in Ephesians 6 and the exhortation is when you have done all, stand. We live in times when many things are turned upside down and there may be many difficulties currently and feared for the future. Yet in standing still and looking to God in faith there is great strength to sustain us through all that we may experience.

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