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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The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid
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.
25 Feb, 2021

Sometimes we can learn spiritual lessons by making comparisons with natural and spiritual realities. We can even do this with the symptoms of Covid-19. This is merely an illustration, the fact someone contracts this virus is not directly connected to their spiritual state. Nor is this meant to diminish the reality of the illness experienced by those who have suffered badly from it and even died. It is certainly not meant to replace sound health advice either (see www.nhs.uk). The fact is, however, that the Bible uses the metaphor of disease when talking about sin (Mark 2:17; Psalm 38:3; Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6). This shows that we can think in these terms. How can we identify the symptoms of a spiritual virus and where can we find the remedy?

How might we diagnose spiritual Covid? We might think about symptoms such as a loss of taste for spiritual things, the oxygen of prayer running low in our souls and excessive temperature in spiritual things which might be charging God foolishly or a zeal not according to knowledge. We may pass spiritual disease to others without being aware of it because we can easily stir up sin in others through our words and actions.

But we can think more generally about spiritual diseases also. David Dickson helps us to do this through an extensive book he wrote (Therapeutica Sacra or Sacred Healing) about how to deal with spiritual disease, especially diseases of the conscience. This article seeks to summarise some of the spiritual diseases that can afflict the soul, together with the remedy which is to be found in Christ.

1. We can have spiritual disease without being aware

The condition in which the convert is best pleased with themselves is not always the best. Neither is the condition in which they are least pleased with themselves always the worst. The best condition is that in which the Holy Spirit prevails most against the power of sin and advances the work of holiness. The worst condition is where sin prevails most. It is possible to abuse divine comforts and become complacent and negligent in spiritual duties just as it is not to be truly humbled for grieving the Spirit. But the worst conditions of the regenerate can by the wisdom, mercy and power of God be turned to God’s glory and our deliverance (Psalm 116:3-4).

2. We need to distinguish spiritual disease

We need to distinguish between:

  • sinful diseases in themselves as opposed to conviction of sin that drives us to Christ
  • experience temptation or testing as opposed to yielding to temptation under affliction
  • grief of mind, or heaviness in affliction as opposed to anguish of conscience for having committed sin

3. We need to understand the causes of spiritual disease

There are a variety of things that cause our spiritual condition to change:

  • whether grace or sin prevails
  • whether Satan’s temptations are successful or resisted
  • whether the Lord hides His face from us for His own sovereign reasons

4. We can have spiritual disease in our conscience

Conscience may be mistaken when it fails to assess our spiritual condition accurately. It can take a bad condition for a good one, or a good one for a bad one. Or it may not discern a condition partly good and partly bad or is confused about its state.

5. We can have spiritual disease in our love

It is possible that we and others may identify outward fruit in our Christian life, even when our love for Christ has actually cooled. Either we do not observe this cooling of love to Christ, or we are pleased enough with our condition as enough to carry us to heaven. Christ reproves Ephesus because they had left their first love and did not take this sin to heart to repent of it and seek to recover the first love (Revelation 2:4-5). This condition is very dangerous, as is manifest in the experience of the Galatians, who falling from their first love left themselves open to superstition and error by their defection from the faith of the gospel.

We must firstly see how reasonable it is that we should return to our first love. Secondly, we must consider how necessary it is to have love for Christ fresh and growing. Love to Christ makes us think and frequently of Him and seek closer fellowship with Him. Thirdly, we need to remember the delight we had in our first love an see how may spiritual comforts we have deprived ourselves of and what miseries we have brought on ourselves. Christ, Himself tells us the remedy, we need to humble ourselves before Him and flee to His rich grace as a true penitent (Revelation 2:5,7).

6. We Can cause spiritual disease in Others

It is not loving to indulge the sins of others (Leviticus 19:17). Yet some of the Lord’s people sometimes think have done their duty sufficiently as long as they themselves profess the truth and in their own personal conduct do what they conceive to be right. If we have influence over others and do not seek to curb those who lay a stumbling block before others, we not only permit the infection of error and wickedness. we protect and advance its spread. We must lament the sins of those who destroy themselves and infect others, and mourn for the sins of those who should repress the contagion. If we do not, we make ourselves an accessory to this evil being spread. This was the sin of the Church of Pergamos and the Church of Thyatira, which did not take action against those who promoted evil (Revelation 2:14-15 and 20).

To avoid causing spiritual disease in others we must:

  • know what God forbids and requires, lest we mistake virtue for a vice, or vice for a virtue
  • beware of censuring rashly the failings of others (James 3:1)
  • earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) so that the Lord’s people are not drawn away from the truth of Christ
  • consider our responsibilities and opportunities to seek to amend the faults of others wisely
  • confront with resolution any difficulties in curbing error and sin. It is much better to displease others for their good than to displease Christ and make ourselves partakers of the sins of others.

7. We can have spiritual disease through carelessness

Sometimes remaining sin prevails against the work of the Spirit in converts that they are not only overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1) but also are taken captive for a time by the lusts of the flesh. It is possible for them to lie sleeping in this condition until God awakens them. Many things can cause this but usually, it is neglected duty and sinning against conscience without true repentance. We fall into this by various degrees. At first, we engage in God’s worship and obedience in a formal way within earnest desires. We read Scripture without seeking to profit from it and make a profession without zeal and fruit. We then go on to be careless in our speech and do not care about edifying or corrupting others with our tongues (James 1:26). Sin may then break out openly with schism, contention, envy, drunkenness, lasciviousness or other things. This seems to have been the condition of the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2).

This deadly sickness of carelessness may be cured in these ways:

  • the conscience must be awakened with a sense of sin
  • any spark of faith, hope, repentance, or desire of returning to God, and resisting sin must be encouraged so that it is not extinguished
  • remember the word by which you were first moved to turn unto God and strive for nearer fellowship with God
  • be on your guard and watch over your heart, lest you are enticed by the world, flesh and devil to provoke God again
  • consider the rich promises Christ makes to overcomers (Revelation 3:5).

8. We can have the spiritual disease of lukewarmness

We can become lukewarm through being negligent and at ease. This was the condition into which some converts in the Church of Laodicea fell (Revelation 3:15-19). The conscience must be awakened to see how
the Majesty and excellent worth of Christ hath been slighted by this lukewarmness. The spiritual riches of Christ have been despised. They must see how Christ hates lukewarmness and will spew such out of his mouth unless they repent. They must be humbled for glorying in their self-sufficiency when they are really devoid of all they need. They must lay hold on Christ’s love in calling them to repentance and take the offer of renewed, more intimate communion with him in the precious promises made to the victorious overcomer (Revelation 3:17-18).

9. We can have the spiritual disease of delusion

Delusion is when an error is embraced, especially some dangerous error tending to the damage of the Church and endangering souls. Satan is active in using all possible means to obscure and darken the truth and spread the most pernicious errors. Meantime he is not idle in sowing and spreading lesser errors that stir up contention in the Church. Through this means precious time which should be spent for mutual edification is idly wasted in needless disputes, and the minds of some prepared to receive worse errors. There may be pride, folly, schism and obstinacy in such errors.

It is possible for true Christians to be delivered from such delusions (Galatians 5:10). It requires patient teaching of sound doctrine to do so (1 Timothy 4:6 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The deluded person should be exhorted to examine their own conscience to see how much of the flesh is in their maintaining such errors. They should be exhorted to be humbled for the sins they acknowledge and to flee to Christ for pardon, pity and help against them. If they do not repent of known sins, how can they expect to have any light on their errors? They should be solemnly reminded of how the Lord gives those in error over to further sins (2 Timothy 4:1).

10. We can have the spiritual disease of mistaking vice for virtue

It is possible to mistake our covetousness for diligence neglecting dependence on God. We may also mistake our vengefulness for a concern for truth and honour. We can also mistake our excess in outward things for lawful provision and enjoyment.

11. We can have the spiritual disease of deceiving ourselves

Many think their souls to be in a good condition when they can pray much and with freedom of spirit even though they do not watch over their hearts and ways as they should. They find a sort of eloquence in their prayers and assume they have this because God is well pleased with them and their prayers. Many go on confidently in maintaining schism and error, persuading themselves that their conduct and condition are good because they find freedom in prayer.

But it is one thing to pray much, and another thing to be heard and to have our prayers and persons accepted (Isaiah 1:15). The flesh can easily creep in and stir up a fervency in prayer (James 4:3). We may pray earnestly for that which God will not grant (1 Samuel 16:1). Prayers expressed from a heaviness of spirit and difficulty are no less pleasing unto God than when there is freedom (Psalm 61:1). We may not know what to pray for as we ought and express ourselves in words but the Spirit can help (Romans 8:26). If we have a sense of our sins and needs, are daily going to Christ, are careful to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, are praying for what is promised, with submission to God’s time and wisdom we may be sure our person and prayers are acceptable (1 John 5:14-15).

Conclusion

We need to be able to diagnose spiritual disease in order to treat it. We also need to be on our guard against the things that cause spiritual disease such as being run down and careless in relation to our spiritual health. It is dangerous to neglect it. The remedy for spiritual disease in general and for what we might call spiritual Covid in particular is Christ. His grace and promises together with fellowship with Him through His Word.

 

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Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials

Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials

Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials
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.
11 Feb, 2021

Trials are never far away, but sometimes we experience them in multiple form in what we might call a cascade of trials. Afflictions or other events in providence descend on us one after the other in successive stages. That may be true of us individually or as churches. It may be that medical, family, employment afflictions all come together. In the nature of things, afflictions seldom come alone. When one thing happens after another in that way it can feel as though the load is heavier and more difficult to bear.  It can seem as though the period of trial will not end. We cannot bear them ourselves, but Christ can bring us through them. As we reflect on what we still receive from God’s goodness we see another cascade descending on us which is full of mercies. There is still further hope and comfort amid many trials as we will discover.

Psalm 66 expresses thanksgiving for God’s people being delivered from various trials which were intended to try and refine them like silver (v10). One severe calamity after another came upon them as is described in verse 11. They were brought into the net like beasts who are hunted down and then killed. Affliction was laid on them like a heavy burden. Men were able to ride over their heads, trampling them down in an oppressive subjection to their will. They also had to go through fire and water. In Scripture, this refers to exceedingly great troubles of all kinds as these two represent all sorts of extreme miseries and dangers. But there is a deliverance out of all these troubles and afflictions. In this updated extract Zachary Boyd helps us understand further what we can learn from this.

1. God’s People Have Many Trials

The troubles of the righteous are many (Psalm 34:19). When they have passed through the fire, then they must also pass through the water. The ending of one affliction is only the beginning of another. This made Jacob say to Pharaoh when he enquired of his age, “my days have been few and evil” (Genesis 47:9).

Let God’s Church learn that when one trouble is past, they are not to be complacent. If they have passed through the fire, they must also pass through the water. We have passed through many troubles in past years. Well may we say, “we went through fire and through water.” We must not dream of being the church triumphant here where all tears shall be wiped from our eyes and all troubles from our heart. Only a foolish pilot thinks that because one storm is past and the weather is now fair the winds will not blow any more and that the surges will never again be like mountains and make them reel and stagger (Psalm 107:27).

2. God’s People Endure Despite Many Trials

This is the stability of the Church, they abide both the fire and water. Eleazar showed the men of war how to purify the spoil they had taken from the enemy. He ordered that such things as silver and gold that might abide the fire to go through the fire and also be purified with water (Numbers 31:23). But that which could not abide the fire, would be made to go through the water. The godly here (Psalm 66:11) went both through fire and water. They abide all sorts of trials because the Lord upholds them. Observe here that the Church is pressed under a great number of afflictions, yet passes through them all. But the wicked perish by the way, whether in fire or water. Pharaoh and his army sank down like lead in the water (Exodus15:10), but Israel passed through. Nebuchadnezzar’s executioners that cast God’s servants into the fiery furnace were consumed by the flame of fire coming from the furnace (Daniel 3:22). But Shadrach and his companions went through. If the wicked escape one fire, they are consumed by another (Ezekiel 15:7).

3. God’s People Have Comfort Despite Many Trials

Let this comfort God’s children in their greatest calamities, the Lord shall give them a pass. Either He will make judgments pass over them, as He made His destroying angel pass over the Israelite’s houses marked with blood (Exodus 12:23); or He will make His servants pass through the danger, as here (Psalm 66:11).

Only God’s children come out of their troubles. In the Revelation John saw a number all clothed in white robes. While he looked, one of the elders said to John, what are these (Revelation 7:13)? John could not tell. Then the elder said, these are they which came out of great tribulation (Revelation 7:14). They came out and went through fire and through water. The end of the righteous is always peace (Psalm 37:37), they pass through at last.

4. God’s People Are Delivered Out of Many Trials

The distresses of God’s people are described in four ways in this verse but there is also a most thankful acknowledgement of God’s most merciful deliverance. They are brought into a wealthy place overflowing with abundance as David experienced (Psalm 23:5). After many troubles and calamities they have all sorts of comforts in great abundance both spiritually and outwardly. When the Lord makes a land spiritually rich, whatever outward things they have, it may indeed be called a wealthy place. There is no wealthy place except where the Lord is in mercy.

Wealth is no wealth where God’s love is not present. Bags of silver and gold without His grace are merely burdens of dirt on the back. ·But whatever the righteous man has with God’s blessing is wealth. His dwelling place will be found to be a wealthy place. The Lord shall make his cup run over so that he has no lack of anything (Psalm 23:1). That which seems little in a worldly person’s eyes is wealthy for a godly man because the little has possesses has a blessing on it (Proverbs 15:17; Proverbs 17:1). Continue in serving God even though it means many losses and afflictions. The Lord who is God all-sufficient will still provide.

Ordinarily God’s people have hard beginnings, but at last they get a peaceful conclusion. Their life is like Isaac’s three wells. The first was called Esek, that is strife, because the men of that place strove with him (Genesis 26:20). The second was called Sitnah, that is hatred because the men of that place continued to strive with him (Genesis 26:21). The third was called Rehoboth, that is room. The Lord made room for him so that they would be fruitful in the land (Genesis 26:22). They had now come to a wealthy place.

This should teach us not to be displeased when we meet with hardship at the beginning in God’s service. We must drink of the well of Esek and Sitnah before we look for room at Rehoboth. It is true that the troubles of the righteous are many (Psalm 34:19). But this is as certain, the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34: 17). It may be the lot of God’s children to weep in the evening, but God will send comfort to them at the dawning of the day (Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 17:14). God’s children come through fire and water and then at last come to their wealthy place. If any do not experience that here their loss will be made up in heaven which is properly speaking the only place of wealth where there is nothing lacking for soul or body (Acts 3:19).

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What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It

What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It

What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It
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.
4 Feb, 2021

The words are simple in themselves but it still seems hard for many Christians to understand how their daily lives should be “in the world but not of it.” They have heard the phrase so often and on face value it seems simple. But how does it apply in practice? Many seem genuinely confused by the constant dilemma between engaging with the world and fleeing from it. They have a calling to follow in this world in which they can glorify God and this means they cannot retreat from life. They need to be distinctively salt and light. Although the words are simple it is difficult and so some want to limit its impact. They try to reinterpret it or define only specific things as “of the world.” The phrase belongs to Christ and in using it He shows us we have to imitate Him in applying it (John 17:14). Let us find out how.

Much could be and needs to be said about how to apply this truth but first of all we need to have a better grasp of its meaning. We need to have a deeper sense of the spiritual principle being revealed in these words before we start putting them into practice. There is an attitude here that we need to embrace before we can start thinking about what it means in the details of life. Anthony Burgess helps us understand what this phrase means in the following updated extract.

He defines what “of the world” means. It means to partake of the life and lifestyle of the world, to have the spirit of the world in us as opposed to the Spirit of God and heavenly things. If we are of the world both the inward inclination and outward behaviour are wholly worldly. As Christ says, those who are of the earth are earthly (John 3:31). A soul that is controlled by worldly principles sets it mind only on earthly things (Philippians 3:19). To be in the world is a different thing to being of it. Christ and the disciples were in the world, but not of it. Burgess illustrates it like this, a person may be in the water for a good reason, but fish are properly of the water because that is their element. Having considered this we can address what it is not to be of the world.

1. Those Who are Not of the World Believe Heavenly Truths

Those who are not of the world receive those heavenly truths that the world cannot grasp but rather scorns and derides. Peter had not received the truth about Christ from flesh and blood but from heaven (Matthew 16:16-17). There is a worldly religion and worldly doctrines which are suited to the principles and interests of the world and these are readily embraced. The world loves such preachers and doctrines, those who are of the world hear them (1 John 4:6). The Spirit of the world and the Spirit of God are completely opposed, it is only by the Holy Spirit we come to know the things that God has given us (1 Corinthians 2:12). When God enlightens our minds by faith to assuredly believe those truths God has revealed in His Word we are clearly not of the world. We are so persuaded that neither corrupt reason nor the opinions of the greatest number or the greatest influence will make us go against it. It is because people are so worldly in their understanding that their lives are also so worldly. When this is the case they receive their religion not as it is revealed by God, but so far as they can use it for their corrupt objectives.

2. Those Who are Not of the World Have Been Born Again

We must have another nature (qualitatively) than that with which we come into the world (1 Peter 1:4). A person must be born again, or from above, and made a new creature, old things have passed away (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This is to be above the world, not of the world, and indeed seeing the soul is not naturally of the world but created by God, why willingly debase it to serve every worldly object? Why love the world, delight in it and be ensnared by it? Pray for this new nature and regeneration, otherwise you are as earthly as a worm because your love, heart and thoughts, and you all is nothing but earth.

3. Those Who are Not of the World Have Their Hearts in Heaven

You are to live as one whose heart is with Christ already in heaven. It is not enough to be born again, the progress of our lives must be spent on heavenly motives and considerations. The birds of the air light on the ground to eat their food, but immediately fly up again. Thus, it is with the godly, although they take the lawful comforts of this world, yet their hearts are presently off ascending to God (Philippians 3:20). Because we are risen with Christ, we set our affections on things above (Colossians 3:1–2). Christ was not of the world and He showed that by the way He lived, it was His food and drink to do His Father’s will. He was always either praying to God or preaching to the people? Although you are in your family, in your employment and calling, yet do not be of the world. They best part of yourself is from God. Say, what are all these things compared to the favour of God?

4. Those Who are Not of the World Have Other Joys

They have other comforts than the world knows about and other joys. Therefore, it has not even entered into the heart of man to conceive of this (1 Corinthians 2:9). It is called “joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8). David acknowledged that God had put more joy in his heart than worldly men could have in all their abundance (Psalm 4:7). What is carnal joy and delight compared to that admirable and unspeakable joy which the godly find in God? This is a joy that will continue in trials and death itself, when in such a drought the wicked man’s stream is completely dried up.

5. Those Who are Not of the World Have a Different Lifestyle

They are not conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). They go in opposite directions. Their words and language are different, their actions are contrary. What the righteous love, the wicked abominate, and what the wicked loves the godly abhors. The godly move quickly towards heaven, while the wicked make as much haste to hell.

6. Those Who are Not of the World Have Their Treasure in Heaven

Remember you are not of the world, therefore beware of worldly affections and worldly hearts, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If it is in God and heaven your heart will be there, if in earth and earthly things it will be there it will be. If you are not of the world, the troubles of the world cannot hurt you, the losses of the world will not grieve you, the vexations of the world will not disquiet you. But because part of us (remaining sin) is still of the world, we are not completely and perfectly free from disquiet and so we remain in the midst of combat and conflict so that heaven may be the sweeter.

7. Those Who are Not of the World are Christlike

They are not of the world as He is not. He who is the God of all the earth, and has all things at His command, came to be in the world to be hated, scorned, and at last crucified. Christ adds “as I am not of the world.” He does this to forewarn us that we will experience from the world the same hatred, misery, and trouble He grappled with. It also brings much comfort that it however bad it is with us, it was worse with Christ.

We must imitate Christ and resemble Him in our lives. We must endeavour to live as He lived. It is impossible for us to do what He did as God, yet in those things which He did as being under the law, we are to be conformed to His example. We are to be humble , meek, and patient as He was. We are to do God’s will and to seek God’s glory as He did (Philippians 2:5). Paul urges them to be followers of him as he was of Christ (Philippians 3:17). Stop yourself when you are impatient, discontented and grumbling at what you suffer and say, “did Christ do this?”
It was necessary for Christ to suffer and then enter into glory. It is necessary for every godly person to into the kingdom of heaven through many tribulations. As Christ had a crown of thorns before a crown of glory, as He had to drink of the brook, and then lift up His head, so it must be with all His disciples. This should bring us comfort even though it is grievous to flesh and blood.

We may be loved of God, even though we are greatly afflicted in this world. Christ (though dearly beloved of His Father) was still delivered up to the cruel mocking and rage of men? We read of only one son of God who was without sin, but we do not read of any who are without chastisement, even Christ Himself drank deep of that cup. Christ was a man of sorrows, and yet God from heaven said, “This is my well beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”

No trial will separate God and us, for Christ has undergone these conflicts as our head. He has taken the sting out of all of them. They are not judgments to destroy, He was afflicted and troubled to sanctify these things to us. If no troubles or afflictions could overcome Him, neither can they overcome us. He is able to help and pity us (Hebrews 4:15). Consider it an honour to be made like Christ in His sufferings. Be like Christ in His graces as you are like Him in His trials and you will be like Him in glory.

Conclusion

Perhaps we can see that not being of the world goes deeper than avoiding certain practices, it reaches into our attitudes, goals, thoughts and words. How far are we influenced by the world in these things and how far are we in conformity with Christ? 

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What About Them?

What About Them?

What About Them?
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.
15 Jan, 2021

Distraction from what should be our key focus in spiritual things is frighteningly easy. It’s most easy when it is subtle and seems to be related to spiritual things. Often it is a concern with what others are doing or not doing. The danger is that in embarking on a crusade to point this or that out and put everyone right we neglect ourselves. Or we may be tempted to ask why certain things are in their experience but not ours. This does not always help us either grow personally or edify others, especially when it becomes our primary focus. It’s not that all comparisons are wrong and sometimes they can be helpful and edifying. We certainly owe a duty of care and love to fellow believers. But when it consumes our time and energy so that we are less devoted to our main responsibilities something is wrong. It’s a subtle distraction, a bit like those who want to deflect a difficult question by raising a different issue, saying “what about this or that?” Indeed, Christ, Himself dissuades from engaging in unhelpful and distracting comparisons for some vitally important reasons.

Peter was tempted to ask this question in his conversation with Christ (John 21:19-22). After Christ and Peter had left the rest of the company, John followed on of his own accord. Peter turning back and observing this enquires from Christ what would become of him. This is prompted by Christ having foretold Peter’s sufferings (18-19). Christ reproves him for this because he was involving himself with that which did not concern him. He showed him, that even if it was His will to exempt John from suffering death and preserve him alive until his own second coming, it ought not to affect Peter’s own resolve. He, therefore, commands him to follow Him and cleave to his duty, which he had neglected in this way. 

It is striking that this follows on from Christ asking whether Peter was still comparing himself favourably with the other disciples. Peter was asked if he loved Christ “more than these” (that is more than any of the rest). This was a rebuke to his former self-confidence that he would never forsake Christ even though all the rest might (Matthew 26:33). In showing his weakness in this way he teaches him that he must watch against and cure the root of the sin of denying Christ. Christ shows him what had occasioned his former fall to see what he thinks of it and if this still prevailed with him. George Hutcheson helps us apply the truths of this passage in the following updated extract.

1. It is easy to be distracted from our duty

The children of the Lord are subject to many distractions and interruptions in following their Christian course. They often look or turn aside and are distracted from earnestly looking towards the mark and prize. Peter is urged to follow Christ at this time and to set his heart and eye on his duty and what he will encounter. Peter turned about to look at something behind him (whether merely of his own accord or because he had heard a noise of someone following (see Luke 9:62). Christ reproves Peter in this by repeating the command to follow Him.

Although the interruptions the children of God have in following their duty may seem very small in themselves, they may often be a snare that detains them still further. This then draws reproof from Christ; when Peter sees John it occasions a curious question and draws forth a reproof, not only for looking back but for curiosity.

2. Christ condemns excessive curiosity about others

Christ abhors curiosity in His people when they have so many necessary things to give themselves to. They should give their attention more to what concerns them rather than others. Peter asks “what shall this man do?” (or literally “what this man?”) that is, what shall become of him (as Christ’s answer makes clear). Christ responds by saying that this is not Peter’s concern, he must give himself to following Christ. This certainly does not mean that Christ condemns a concern for our brothers that flows from love. But it shows that He is displeased with idle curiosity, when Peter had received a strict command to follow Him.

It is a sin to be anxious, or too much concerned about what Christ will do with His beloved people. Christ’s reproof to Peter’s enquiry concerning the beloved disciple, implies that it was weakness for Peter to be troubled concerning him in any way.

Christ has sovereign authority to dispose of His own, and to keep them longer or shorter in the world with greater ease or trouble as He chooses. He does not need to give an account of His dealings to any. Whatever Christ wills to do with John in the future is no concern of Peter’s. Neither Peter, nor any other could say anything about it.

3. It is wrong to be distracted by comparisons with others

It is the duty of saints not to compare the Lord’s dealing with themselves and others in a way that makes them withdraw from their duty or be discouraged in it. Peter might think it strange if he was the only one called to suffer but Christ diverts him from looking at His dealings with John and urges him to mind his own concerns. Such comparisons (however much they may sometimes sharpen us and give us reasons for praise) often cause many problems. We are naturally inclined to be discontent with our own condition and think that what is lacking in it would be best for us as though we have a harder lot than others. But Christ has various ways in which people may serve Him and He may appoint that as He pleases. Such comparisons often tempt people to halt in their duty, when they see others in a more desirable condition.

Those who want to avoid such curiosity and unnecessary and pointless activities ought to follow their own work and calling closely. Christ withdraws Peter from all these enquiries, by commanding him again to follow Him.

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Amen Has a Meaning

Amen Has a Meaning

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

As many are aware, a Democratic congressman in the USA ended an opening prayer to “the monotheistic God” on the first day of the new Congress by saying not simply “amen” but “amen and a-woman.” The phrase of course is a Hebrew word with no connotations of gender. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, responded by saying that it was intended to be “a light-hearted pun in recognition of the record number of women” serving in Congress. Clearly it was a mockery of a prayer. But it certainly got people reaching for the definition of Amen as “so be it”. Yet few perhaps realised just how far it cheapened such a vital word. There is far more meaning to the word than we may realise. Since we use the word so often, ought we not to know something more of its fuller significance?

The Shorter Catechism crisply summarises aspects of the significance when it says “in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen” (Question 107). As Thomas Manton (member of the Westminster Assembly) observes, it is a word that functions like a seal on our requests. It is “an expression of our faith and hope” as well as “the strength of our desire”. “There is the Amen of faith, and the Amen of hearty desire.” These are the two key things required in prayer. The word can mean “so let it be, or so it shall be”. Sometimes it affirms the truth of something and other times it expresses a hearty desire that something will be so. When we use it in prayer it expresses both “our hearty desire that it may be so; and our faith, that is, our acquiescence in the mercy and power and wisdom of God concerning the event.” Another member of the Westminster Assembly, William Gouge explains further the fulness of what this word means in this updated extract.

1. How is Amen Used in Scripture?

It was usual for the apostles to add Amen when they made a prayer, or gave thanks, or pronounced a blessing (Romans 16:24,27; 1 Corinthians 16:24; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Peter 5:14; 1 John 5:21; Jude 25). It was usual for the people of God also to say Amen when they heard this, whether it was only one (1 Kings 1:36) or many together (Nehemiah 5:13). There are many are kinds of speech to which Amen is added in Scripture.

  • Petitions. (Romans 15:33)
  • Benedictions and Praise (Nehemiah 8:6)
  • Curses (Nehemiah 5:13)
  • Exhortations to Duties (1 John 5:21)
  • Declarations and Promises (Revelation 22:20)
  • Denunciations of Judgment (Revelation 1:17)

2. What Does Amen Imply in Scripture?

(a) True assent. The apostle directs the Church to pray, read and preach in a known tongue so that even the unlearned hearer may say Amen, that is, give assent to what he hears with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:16).

(b) Earnest desire. When the prophet Jeremiah heard the prophecy of Hananiah concerning the return of the king of Judah to his kingdom, and the other captives to their land, and of the vessels that were taken away to the temple, he knew it to be a false prophecy. Yet to show how earnestly he desired that it might be so (Jeremiah 28:6), he says Amen. And fully to declare what he meant by that, he adds, “The Lord do so.”

(c) Steadfast faith. Where Christ give a promise of his second coming, saying, ‘Surely I come quickly’: the Church, to show her steadfast faith in that promise, says, Amen, which implies, ‘Lord, I believe this: Even so, come Lord Jesus’ (see Revelation 22:20).

The proper reason for saying Amen is to manifest assent, desire and faith. Whoever says Amen, must understand what he says Amen to. In this case, two things must be understood: the words that are uttered and the meaning of those words (1 Corinthians 14:9).

3. Why is Amen Used in Scripture?

(a) Although the apostles wrote and spoke in Greek, they used this Hebrew word (Romans 1:15). We, therefore, have a clear justification for retaining this word in another language even though Hebrew is not spoken and understood.
(b) Continual use has made this word familiar to all persons, of all languages, in all nations. It is everywhere like a vernacular word. Similarly, these two titles Jesus Christ, though one is Hebrew, and the other Greek, have become so familiar, that they are retained in all languages.
(c) No other single word is so fitting for this purpose as Amen and no other language can invent such a word. It is not therefore without reason and just cause that it has been included as a word in all languages. It comprises under it whatsoever is expressed or understood in and by the speech to which it is added. The people were to add their Amen to the full extent of the law and the curses for not keeping it (Deuteronomy 27:26).

4. What Does Amen Require Of Us?

(a) As speakers it requires us to:

  • speak intelligibly in a known tongue (1 Corinthians 14:2)
  • speak audibly, so that those who are to say Amen may hear what is said
  • speak distinctly, so that those hearing may observe every petition and every particular point for which thanks is given. If prayer or thanksgiving is uttered too fast hearers cannot properly observe the several parts and their Amen cannot be to all that is said but only some parts.

(b) As those who hear it requires us to

  • listen diligently to that which is uttered. The people that said Amen to Ezra’s blessing stood up while he spoke, a gesture that implies diligent attention. If our minds are wandering, and not attentive to that which is uttered, what assent, what desire, what faith can there be? And if there is none of these, why is Amen said? Surely it is a plain mockery of God.
  • to give assent. If there is no assent in the heart it is hypocritical to say Amen. The apostle implies assent is essential when he asks how we can say Amen if we do not understand (see 1 Corinthians 14:16).
    to manifest assent. Such a sound of Amens from the congregation would enliven a minister’s spirits, and put a kind of heavenly life into the people themselves.

(c) As speakers and hearers it requires us to

  • know that all that is uttered is grounded on God’s Word and agreeable to His will. This is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He will hear us (1 John 5:14).
  • have the mind fixed. All must hold their mind steady on what is said or else they will be as those who “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me (Isaiah 29:13). This is an abomination to God.
  • retain, as well as we can, in our memory all that is uttered because Amen applies to all that is said. That which is forgotten is as though it was not heard, understood, or given attention to.
  • be affected by the prayer. This will make men double their Amen, as the Jews did when Ezra “blessed the Lord. All the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands” (Nehemiah 8:6). Their speech and gesture both declared great affection of heart. Without this inward affection Amen will only be uttered coldly.
  • believe God’s gracious acceptance of the prayer. Amen ratifies all that has been previously uttered. But how can the heart ratify what it does not believe (Matthew 11:24)? As the apostle says concerning prayer, “Let him ask in faith” (James 1:6).

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Hope and Strength During a Time of Shaking

Hope and Strength During a Time of Shaking

Hope and Strength During a Time of Shaking
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.
29 Dec, 2020

Any new year is invested with much expectation, even more so for 2021. There are many expressions of hope that this year will witness recovery from our troubled condition in 2020. There are of course positive things that we can take with us from our experience. Yet some things that many people hope in proved especially vulnerable during the past year. There is, however, one source of unshakable strength and hope. It is especially against such times that the Lord reveals Himself as the ultimate solid hope of His people.

As David Dickson points out, the Lord’s people strengthen themselves in believing the promises of God’s Word concerning the care of His people. They look to past experience of deliverance to guard their heart against the fear of all possible trouble in time to come. So they can say “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). Although the Lord will not exempt His people from trouble, He will be near them in trouble. When they are made conscious of their weakness, He will not delay “a very present help in trouble”. This guards their heart against fear as well as making it fixed and settled through faith. Who faith is fixed on God, it can look at the greatest dangers and troubles that can be imagined with a resolution to adhere to God and His truth whatever may happen. Although the whole earth is shaken, faith finds footing and ground to stand upon in God Himself (Psalm 46:1-3).

Joel prophesied during troubled times for God’s people, days not only of desolation but of confusion and terror. Yet there are rich promises in the midst of this such as the promise of Joel 3:16 “the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel”. George Hutcheson helps us apply the truths that can be drawn from this in the following updated extract.

1. GOD MAY SOMETIMES REQUIRE A TIME OF SHAKING

As God is powerfully able to overturn heaven and earth when He pleases; in subduing His enemies He may bring great alterations and overturnings in the world. For, when he shall roar, “the heavens and the earth shall shake”, which, together with what is said (v. 15), makes a complete parallel with the condition of the Church (Joel 2:10), and it implies such an alteration of affairs, as if there were a dissolution of the world and overturning of the course of nature. And it is no wonder if those who are so well rooted in the world and so universally spread through the earth, cause it to shake through general commotions before they are cast out of it.

2. GOD’S PEOPLE MAY HAVE MANY FEARS IN A TIME OF SHAKING

When God is shaking the earth to overturn enemies, God’s people may be exercised by many fears and apprehensions that the storm will break upon them; therefore they need a promise to secure them against this.

3. GOD IS THE ONLY SECURITY IN A TIME OF SHAKING

Nothing will be able to secure the hearts of God’s people against the terrors of a time of great commotions, except God alone and what they find in Him and from Him. The promise therefore points them to what “the Lord will be” to them.

In times of great confusion, the Lord’s people may expect that He will be a place of refuge in which they may hide. He will provide those who come to Him, with grounds of hope for the future and with strength and courage to bear it until the accomplishment comes. It is “hope”, or “a refuge” and “strength”, which is extended here and God undertakes not to disappoint them of these. The “Lord will be the hope of his people”, He will take them under His protection, He will let them see grounds for hope in Himself, and furnish them with hope to lay hold on it and with strength to bear it all.

4. GOD PROMISES THIS FOR ALL HIS PEOPLE

What the Lord has been or will be at any time to His people Israel, in performing spiritual promises, He will be to all who are truly His people. The promise is generally both to “his people” whoever they may be, and “to the children of Israel”.

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You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
24 Dec, 2020

We seem to have an in-built need for joy. Many direct us to look within us to find joy. We are told to navigate our lives by asking whether things will bring us joy. But Christian joy is not a self-centred principle offering false, short-term happiness that leaves us empty and frustrated. It comes from outside of themselves, from Christ Himself and He does not give it as the world gives. Because it is His joy it is true and lasting and has a vital impact. It has an altogether different quality, because it is heavenly. It is vital for living the Christian life in this world with all that this means.

Christ’s great prayer for His people was “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). What is the nature of this joy? Anthony Burgess says that it comes from God only as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is centred on God through knowledge of Him and faith in Him as He is revealed in His Word.

As a person is so is their joy. We must be spiritual and heavenly people to have spiritual joy. The heavenly heart delights in heavenly things. The soul must be renewed and sanctified before it can delight in that which is good. The people of God being made new creatures and made partakers of the divine nature, they now come to love and delight in the things they once hated. God is now their delight (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:25). They already possess something of this joy. Even in this life, God is the God of His people. They are said to have Him and enjoy Him. Christ is said to dwell in their hearts; the Father and the Son are said to be in them and dwell amongst them. Thus, even in this life they may have unspeakable joy.

But Christians often experience sad trials, it cannot be their duty to be always rejoicing can it? There are particular times when God calls us to mourn (Isaiah 21:12; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalm 126:5). In such cases it is our duty to be humbled and to mourn under His hand. They may make us abstain from the natural and lawful joy we might take in created things (such as in fasting), but not to abstain from spiritual joy. In days of humbling ourselves it is a duty to rejoice in the Lord, and such joy will like fire melt and thaw the heart. This joy is so useful that it must not be laid aside. Spiritual joy may abound most when the soul is humbled and there is godly mourning. No grace of God’s Spirit is contrary to another. The same Spirit that works joy is also the Spirit of supplication and mourning. Joy and trembling can go together (Psalm 2:11) as can joy and fear (Acts 9:31). So godly sorrow and joy are also consistent with each other. It is never unlawful to rejoice in God any more than it is to love or to believe in Him.

In this updated extract, Anthony Burgess shows the remarkable effects of Christian joy.

1. It enlarges the heart

The saints glorified in heaven enjoy more of God than ever they could here because their hearts are widened and prepared. Our souls are narrow until joy expands them. A person of a joyful spirit is like a vessel with a large opening. They receive far more of God and Christ than someone who is dejected and unbelieving. We are commanded to open the doors of our heart that the Prince of glory may enter into us. Joy will prepare us. Many of God’s children complain of their narrowness of heart. Fears and worldly cares fill the heart so that they have no room for Christ. They have great difficulty in praying or doing any heavenly duty. Joy is excellent at opening and removing these sinful obstructions. This should make you endeavour after a joyful life; it will make you increase in all dimensions of grace. You will be a Christian in a higher degree.

2. It makes us useful to God

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Weak hands and feeble knees (by which we act and move) are caused by fear. On the contrary, joy makes strong hands and firm knees. Any service done to God which is accompanied with dejections and sorrow has a kind of uncleanness in it, as it was with mourning in the Old Testament (Hosea 9:4). All sinful sorrow and dejection, makes your duty unclean, it pollutes you. God not only loves a cheerful giver but cheerfulness in all duties (Deuteronomy 28:47). You may say, “God is of such infinite purity and holiness that because I am full of infirmities I have reason to tremble before Him”. Granted, but remember the psalmist’s advice, “rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). You complain of your lukewarmness and lack of liveliness in God’s service. Consider whether your lack of heavenly joy is the cause of this. Consider whether you might have fulfilled all relations and opportunities more fruitfully, if this joy had been fulfilled in you.

3. It weans our heart from the world

It will make you undervalue all those earthly things which the world admires so much (Psalm 4:7). If then the soul has more joy and gladness in God’s presence and favour than in all earthly contentment whatever, no wonder if the heart sits loose to the one and is fixed on the other. The heart that has been ravished with the sweetness and glory that is in God and Christ, does not know how to stoop to these inferior fading joys. No one sits so loose in their heart from earthly comforts as those who have this heavenly joy.

4. It expels sinful joys

Those that rejoice in the Lord cannot rejoice in sin, because they are so contrary to each other. If you complain of the proneness of your heart to rejoice in earthly and worldly things; there is no medicine like heavenly joy to cure that. What made David express so much joy in God except the heavenliness of his heart. This greater joy must put out the lesser. Pray and endeavour that the joy of the Lord may take up your heart, when this sun is in your soul, the stars cannot be seen. Those who have this heavenly joy may be said to be in heaven while here on earth. No life comes so near to that of the glorified saints in heaven as a holy life accompanied with this joy.

5. It facilitates holy activities

Heavenly joys make us think that the time serving God is short, and to grudge that the work of God is over so soon. The sabbath is their delight (Isaiah 58:13), they are not like worldly people who ask when it will be over so they can go back to the world (Amos 8:5). Nothing makes the duties of holiness so burdensome as lack of joy. If they were your delight you would with joy wish that the sun would stand still and be grieved to stop. The worldly man thinks the day or week is not long enough to enjoy his delights, the godly man thinks the time for enjoying God is too short. Eternity will not make the saints in heaven weary of God.

6. It will sustain us through all afflictions

They are to account it all joy when they fall into trials (James 1:2). It is possible to greatly rejoice in manifold trials with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). How happy it is when your trials do not devour your joy, but your joy takes away the sting of your trials. If we had the joy the martyrs had it would be no more for us to endure their sufferings than it was for them.

7. It increases our desires for heaven

If we have not been able to completely enjoy anything in which we delight our appetite is stirred up to have more of it. David’s incomplete enjoyments of God made him restless and impatient for further communion with Him. Thus, David exhorts us to taste how good God is, if we tasted by experience the sweetness of the excellency of His love, we would still be breathing after Him like David (Psalm 119:20). Heavenly joy makes us look for the coming of Christ and seek to hasten it by our prayers and desires. This is because it is that which will complete our joy. Here sorrow and joy will always be mixed together, but there there is pure and unmixed joy to all eternity.

Conclusion

Spiritual joy is the life and marrow of religion, it is the spur and goad to all holiness. How deceived the world is in looking for joy and consolation any other way whether through reputation and honour, wealth or greatness. These will not give you true solid joy, all these things will become bitter. Whatever joy is treasured up in reference to heaven will always abide, it will never forsake you. But joy that only has reference to earthly things will vanish.

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Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?
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.
16 Dec, 2020

It’s easy to understand why some people think of 2020 as a terrible year. We started the year and decade with high expectations. We soon found out that our plans could be entirely redundant. Heartbreakingly, some have lost loved ones, others have lost precious opportunities for key life events. For many, life has been on pause waiting to return to normal with a sense of lost time meanwhile. No doubt there have been many positives in the change of gear but a nagging feeling remains that it has been a wasted year. Yet there is nothing in 2020 that God cannot use and overrule to His greater glory. He can also bring restoration out of devastation. He can restore what seems like wasted time that can never be recovered.

We can be very thankful for all that we have not lost during 2020. In one Bible verse that offers hope concerning “wasted years” God promises to restore the years that the locust has eaten. Over several years in the time of the prophet Joel Israel experienced continual decimation of their food supplies through plagues of locusts and other events. It was the Lord’s chastisement for His people’s rebellion. But His promise was that with their repentance and return to Him the years that the locust had eaten would be restored in the great blessing they would receive. He would make up for all they had lost in the years of famine (Joel 2:23-27) so that they would be able to rejoice in Him. He does all this to show them that He is their God and they need never be disappointed in their hope placed in Him. These rich blessings are offered as part of the Lord’s call to repentance (v12-17). It is helpful to see this promise in its context and George Hutcheson applies some truths from these verses in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Promises Joy to His Penitent People

Whoever else does not have joy, God wills that His penitent Church and people rejoice. They have as much and more solid joy as any. The children of Zion are therefore called to rejoice (v23). The Lord speaks and applies this message of joy to their hearts in stirring them up to rejoice in it beforehand. This exhortation to rejoice is, therefore, necessary.

Outward blessings and benefits should be like a step leading the Lord’s people up to rejoice in God. They should rest in these benefits in themselves. Although there is a promise of plenty, yet they are to rejoice in the Lord their God because He is their God (see Jeremiah 9:23-24; Luke 10:19-20). These outward blessings are received in connection with their repentance.

2. The Lord Appoints Outward Blessings

The Lord’s measuring and timing of outward mercies is that which makes them mercies indeed. Although rain is necessary, it is a blessing that God gives it in moderation and in its proper season (v23). What is said about rain holds good about all outward mercies, the only wise Lord appoints them.

3. The Lord Can Restore What We Have Lost

The Lord can and will make up for the losses of those who are penitent. Whenever sinners turn to God, He will convince them in due time that they have not lost at all by their afflictions. A proof and example of this are given in the promise that He will restore to them the years the locust has eaten (v25).

4. The Lord Can Be Seen in the Saddest Afflictions

Seeing God and His hand in the saddest chastisements and losses will assure us that He can soon easily make up for them. The locusts were God’s great army which He sent and if He sent them and made them able to make wreak such havoc, then He certainly can not only remove them but send equally remarkable plenty (v25).

5. The Lord Should be Praised for His Continual Provision

All who receive the good things of this life should be conscientious in thankfulness to God, whose providence supplies their needs. Those who truly repent and have turned to God will make conscience of this duty. This is especially because these outward blessings come to them with a special love from their own God in covenant with them. They will be satisfied with God’s benefits and will praise the name of the Lord their God (see Isaiah 62:8-9; Deuteronomy 8:10).

We must stir ourselves up to praise God in this. We should consider how wonderfully God continually provides our daily bread. Sending great plenty after the famine makes His providence and mercy to shine. The reason they should praise God is because He had dealt wondrously with them (v26). If we make use of outward benefits in this way, they bring us spiritual benefit by strengthening our faith and revealing the love of God to us.

6. The Lord Will Never Disappoint His People

God’s deals kindly with His Church and individual believers according to the covenant. When this is seen in specific ways it may be a pledge that none of His people (whoever they may be), will ever find it fruitless to seek Him or be ashamed or disappointed of their hope in Him based on His Word. God’s people will never be ashamed or disappointed (v26).

The best of blessings is a covenant relationship with God and His manifest presence because of this. It is sweet when those who are penitent see this shining in His mercies. This sweet consequence of His bounty toward the penitent is offered here. He is saying in effect, “you will know not only that I am the Lord your God, but that I have not withdrawn Myself. I am in the midst of Israel or those of Israel who are now left as a people to Me. Although prosperity is offered as the evidence of this here, any other way the Lord makes this clear is equally sufficient.

The Lord who is the God of His people is the only true God and therefore above anything that may be opposed to the joy of His people. The people of God may often need to pray against the sad affliction of being ashamed of their confidence (Psalm 119:116). Yet we must believe and learn again and again that not only now, but forever, God’s people have no cause for fearing disappointment. God will fulfil His promises and take away all reason for such fear. Because such temptations recur frequently, this phrase is repeated “my people shall never be ashamed” (v27).

Conclusion

It is vitally important that we do not miss the fact that these promises are part of God’s call to repentance (v12-17). Whatever we may feel we have lost in 2020, the Lord is able to restore it richly when we turn to His embrace with repentance. Much hope is offered to us, great blessing can arise out of affliction when we use it in the right way to draw nearer to God. In this way 2020 may yet prove to be a blessed year.

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How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World
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.
11 Dec, 2020

Politicians, medics and scientists constantly appeal for our patience in the midst of a challenging pandemic. We are encouraged to “look to the future with a mixture of optimism, determination and patience.”  Even with hopeful developments such as vaccines, patience is required since it will take time to roll-out. But in a high-speed instant culture, patience has been in short supply. Patience is not simply about waiting, it is about enduring with perseverance and actively trusting. True patience is more than a virtue; it is a grace that cannot truly be exercised unless we are united to Christ by saving faith.

In 1665 the great plague of London swept away over 68,000 of the inhabitants. Certain godly ministers remained to minister to the sick, dying and the all-too-terrified healthy. Among them was Thomas Goodwin. The plague had not yet run its course when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. The wind carried the flames to the destruction of more than 13,000 homes and nearly ninety churches. As the fire neared Goodwin’s home, he wanted to save his priceless library and moved half of it to a friend’s house. But the wind changed so that this house was burned and not Goodwin’s own dwelling. His response was to write a book expounding James 1:1-5, published as Patience and its Perfect Work under Sudden and Sore Trials. Out of the ashes of all those valuable books arose a much more valuable one which we will seek to summarise in the following updated abridgement. We can still benefit from it. How does patience have its perfect work in us? Goodwin helps us to understand that it is not through our own resources but through the work of God’s grace within us.

1. How Does Faith Work Patience?

The testing of our faith works patience (James 1:3). All that the soul needs to support it in trials is brought into it by faith.

(a) Faith empties the soul of all its own worth, and righteousness, and excellence in its own eyes.
It gives the soul a thorough sight of the sinfulness of sin and its spiritual sins. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).

(b) Faith brings home to the soul God’s sovereignty and dominion.
David was greatly distressed, he had lost everything and the people spoke of stoning him, but he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). This strengthened him against everything. All the means to support life and nature (such as food and clothing, possessions and livelihoods) may be lacking. Yet it is still possible to say “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). First rejoice in the Lord, what the Lord is in himself: a God blessed for ever. “If God is blessed for evermore, I cannot be miserable”, says the soul. Secondly, he is my God, the God of my salvation.

(c) Faith brings love into the soul.
The love of God brought into the soul by faith will help it bear any condition (Romans 8:31). As faith has everything in God to rejoice in which helps the soul to patience; so especially it has love, in all sorts of distresses.

(d) Faith tells us of a good outcome.
Christ spoke of some of the worst calamities but encouraged them that not a hair of their head would perish (Luke 21:18-19). The outcome would be such as would make amends for every hair. Faith looking at these things, brings relief to the soul. You may well possess your souls in patience, because the outcome will be most blessed and glorious.

(e) Faith shows heaven as the reward of patient enduring (James 1:12; Romans 5:2).
Those believing Hebrews might well suffer the spoiling of their goods with joy when they found in their hearts a credit note to receive it all again in eternal treasures in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). This will be your experience to if you exercise faith and patience in relation to your losses. The following verses speak of the reward of patience (Hebrews 10:35-36).

2. How Does Love Work Patience?

Because faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) it is clear that love also works patience as we see in James 1:12. Love to God makes us cleave to God, and so follow Him through all weathers and endurances. The apostles rejoiced to suffer for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41). If love for others makes us endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), how much more will love to God? It is for His sake also that we bear so much with our brethren. He can do us no wrong nor hurt but is holy and righteous in all His works. All His ways to us are mercy and truth. He has loved and given His Son for us.

3. How Does Patience Help Compose Us?

Patience works a holy contentment (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6). It also produces joy (Colossians 1:11; Romans 5:3; James 1:2-4). Faith by patience helps us remove the turbulent emotions that are its opposites. It expels excessive poring over our misery and trials by which our minds are chained and tied to those things (Luke 24:38). When troubles sink deep, they send thoughts up fast. Patience helps us possess our own souls (Luke 21:19).

(a) It expels excessive grief.
Job’s response to all that he lost is complete patience and submission to God (Job 1:21).

(b) It expels envy and anger.
Envy is apt to rise when we compare ourselves with others who have no such afflictions.

(c) It expels excessive fear.
When too much trouble comes on us, we tend to fear too much because we do not know the worst, nor when or where it will end. But Christ says we should not fear (Revelation 2:10). He says that faith and faithfulness unto God, or constancy in enduring unto death are opposed to fear. Faith works patience, and patience eats out fear.

(d) It expels complaining against God.
Job would not charge God foolishly (Job 1:22); this was the patience of Job. It was the patient frame of spirit that God had wrought in him, which the Scripture so extols, that enabled him to do this (James 5:11).

(e) It expels excessive anxiety.
Anxieties distract the soul and scatter it into wild thoughts. Christ in exhorting us to patience warns against this also (Luke 21:19).

4. What is Patience?

(a) It is doing the will of God (Romans 2:7).
There is a difficulty that accompanies every duty and grace, so that we need patience to perform the duty constantly. The difficulty is not only from our own corruption but from the times, places, and we people live in and among. We need patience for every step of Christ’s way in doing as well as in suffering (Hebrews 12:1 and 11). But patience is not only such difficulties, it is also enduring affliction in any way.

(b) It is waiting on God and His will.
Waiting is an act of faith continued or lengthened out (James 5:7; Micah 7:7- 9).

(c) It is waiting with quietness (Lamentations 3:26-27).
Faith quietens the heart in God (Isaiah 26:3; 30:15, Colossians 1:11). As far as faith and patience strengthen the heart,  we are able to bear everything with quietness (John 14:1) Faith will cause trouble to fly away.

(d) It is bearing up without discouragement (2 Cor 4:16).

(e) It submits to God and His will (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; 1:6).
Patience in the soul brings the heart to submission to God’s will (Psalm 39:9). Even before there is hope (Lamentations 3:26 and 29).

(f) It endures the absence of hope as to the things of this life.
The apostle gives no specific hopes for this life when he urges patience to the end of our lives (Hebrews 10:36-37).

(g) It makes us sanctify God in our hearts.
Job “fell down on the ground, and worshipped” (Job 1:20). When all he has is gone, the first thing he does is to fall down and worship.

5. How Does Patience Have Its Perfect Work?

(a) When we do not have to force ourselves to do these things
When we do not have to chide or force ourselves to be patient it has a readiness for it. Paul’s heart was so fully prepared to suffer that it was a heart-breaking to him that his friends should seek to dissuade him. He was so used to endurance and patience it was not difficult for him (Acts 21:13).

(b) When we are consistent in doing these things
Patience had its perfect work in Moses. He exercised that grace constantly and was therefore the meekest man on earth. This was not his natural temperament or even virtue but a spiritual grace of meekness and patience produced by the Holy Spirit. He learned this by suffering. He points to Christ who says, “Learn of me, for I am meek” (Matthew 11:29). How constantly Moses bore with that rebellious nation with an invincible patience and still interceded for them. This is what Christ is toward us. Only once we read of the impatience of Moses (Numbers 20:10-11 compared with Psalm 106:32-33).

Patience is perfect when it continues to the end (Matthew 24:13). “Strengthened unto all patience and long-suffering” (Colossians 1:11). Patience relates to the weight, grievousness and heaviness of the affliction we are under. Long-suffering refers to the duration and time (1 Timothy 2:10). To carry a great burden for a quarter of an hour requires patience, but to carry it for a day or more, or for a week requires long-suffering. When you have done the will of God, you have need of patience (Hebrews 10:36). This is because still, in the last part of your life, after an active life for a long while, even then when you are near the promise, your patience may be required most.

(c) When we do them in all kinds of circumstances
When a person has been tested in every way and has passed through all sorts of trials and still have patience in a good measure it is perfect. A person’s natural spirit will help them to be patient in some things, but in other things their heart is weak, and cannot bear it. As God tried Abraham in his Isaac, so God will try the sons of Abraham in what is dearest to them, and yet enable them to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

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Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow
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.
2 Dec, 2020

Why doesn’t God immediately take His beloved ones to Himself out of this world of sin and sorrow? It’s a real question that occurs to many at some time or other for various reasons. Why the affliction and troubles? Perhaps it is an abiding question for those who are lingering in this world when they would long to be out of it. Yet the Lord still has a purpose for their prayers and testimony however small they feel their contribution may be. Others are worn down and wearied with the constant reminders of sin and sorrow. What a world it is where this is brought before us wherever we look. Perhaps they mourn over the pitiful progress they seem to make in spiritual things. Wouldn’t it be best for them to be taken from this world? Yet it is Christ’s purpose for them to be here, He has prayed for them to be left in the world (John 17:15). He has eminently wise reasons for that. What are those reasons? Let us consider some of them.

This was a question asked by Anthony Burgess in one of his sermons and he seeks to answer it for the benefit of those hearing him. He is expounding Christ’s prayer for His people not to be taken out of the world (John 17:15). Some people like Enoch and Elijah did have a sudden and glorious call away from this world, but that is not ordinarily the case. Although God loves His people, this does not necessarily mean He must keep them from all misery in this world and give them immediate happiness with Himself in heaven. We think that God ought to give us what will provide us with most happiness, especially seeing as He can if He is willing to do that. Human reason says, “How can God love me, when He keeps heaven and eternal glory from me?” But God’s love, and His children’s hardship in this world may be consistent with each other.

Our Saviour intended the greatest good for His disciples in His prayer, yet He corrects and moderates it. It is not as if He would have them immediately taken to glory. He is content they should be in the fire for a while, to have their dross purged away. God could do many things for His people, which He will not do. He could immediately crown them with eternal glory when they are converted. Or else He could give them perfect and thoroughly sanctified hearts. He could make the world a paradise for them, so that the way to heaven would be no longer straight and narrow, but broad and easy. God could do this, but it pleases Him in His wisdom to follow another course, and appoint a wilderness for us to go through before we can enter in Canaan. Why does God’s love not immediately take the godly out of this world? Since God loves them and they love God, we would think that love would not rest until it had the nearest union possible. But God has reasons for leaving them in this world. Burgess explains what they are in the following updated extract.

1. They have a work to do

Godly men must be present in the world so that they may promote the kingdom of God and bring others to the knowledge of God. This is especially true of the apostles, as apostles, and so of all those that have any office and ministry in the church of God. These are as necessary as the sun is to the world, as the stars in a dark night, as salt to season and preserve from putrefaction. All believers are to use their gifts for others and by their example should give such a glorious light, that others may glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
If the apostles had been taken up to heaven immediately, where would have been the leaven put into the three measures of meal? Where would the mustard seed be sown, that would grow up into a great tree? If the apostles were the planters and founders of the church, it was necessary that they should continue for some time in the world. The world was a wilderness, that could not immediately be made a garden. It was the devil’s habitation; he could not suddenly be dispossessed.

Since God has service for His people to do, no wonder they must continue in this valley of misery. Paul speaks about this fully, it was necessary for them that he would remain although it was better for himself to depart and be with Christ. (Philippians 1:23). It is certainly better for the people of God and ministers of the gospel especially (at the forefront of the battle and exposed to more hatred) to be with Christ in heaven. There they shall be free from all this virulence and the opposition of the ungodly. Yet if we consider the world and the people with whom they live, their life and presence is very necessary. God’s people have work to do, a course to finish, and so they must not look to have the wages before they have laboured in the vineyard.

2. They Need to Exercise Grace

God will not immediately take them out of this troublesome world so that they may be exercised, and made stronger in their graces. God did not immediately put the Israelites into Canaan. Rather, He led them into many dangers and assaulted them with many enemies, so that their valour in themselves and their dependence on God might be more apparent. God will not train up His children to be idle. No sooner does He make them His than He lets the world and the devil loose on them. Why? To draw out their graces, to teach them all spiritual military discipline. They are to fight as the good soldiers of Christ and put on the whole armour of God, because they “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities, against powers” (Ephesians 6:12). The world is a field, in which spiritual battles are to be fought which the Lord beholds. It is also compared to running a race, where there is no time to be idle or sit still, but to focus all their thoughts and the whole heart on the crown they strive for. Expect therefore to have experiences that draw out faith, zeal and heavenly fortitude.

3. They need to Esteem Christ Even More

God does not take us immediately out of the world but leaves us here in combat with the relics of sinful corruption. This is so that being humbled by it, we may better esteem Christ and His righteousness. When we read of Paul taken captive by his lusts and crying out with misery, what does he do? See how powerfully this drives him to Christ, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

It is necessary that we should be kept in this conflict here below. This is so that we might be conscious of our unworthiness and groan under our corruptions. This makes long after Christ, we magnify His love and all that He has done for us. Everything within us cries out for a Christ and the grace of God through Him when we feel ourselves sinking. It makes us importune the favour of God. God wills that we find out by experience the bitterness and weight of sin, so that we may love Christ more, who bore God’s wrath for us.

4. They Need to See More of Himself

God will not take His people immediately out of the world, that so His goodness, mercy and providence, His wisdom and faithfulness may be the more discovered to us. In heaven there the church is at rest, it is out of all danger, there are no waves, no rocks. So that the wisdom and providence of God in keeping His church there, is not at all discovered. When the waters were dried up, Noah had no more necessity for an ark. The Lord therefore wills that we experience these dangers and temptations, so that His care and love may better manifested. The greater the dangers are, the more His faithfulness is revealed. Is it not an admirable thing to consider how God has preserved a church and people to serve Him faithfully, when hell and the world have conspired to destroy them? By this means God has been made known to the world. The craftman’s skill in relation to the metal is seen when it is in the fire. The pilot’s art is manifested, when his ship is on rocks and waves, and under many tempests. Though the world is a place of dangers and temptations for us, yet it is the mirror to display the glorious attributes of God to His children.

5. They Need to Desire Heaven More

God purposes to have His people in this world, so that heaven may be all the more welcome. It is so that they may desire that eternal glory all the more earnestly. The labouring man who has worked hard, is glad of his rest at night. Scripture calls heaven a rest (Hebrews 4:9). How welcome it will be after all your troubles, calamities and miseries, at last to have rest! Here in this life, you have no rest, sin troubles you, the world troubles you, your own heart troubles you, but there remains a rest. And how happy that must be to you. We are pilgrims, whose blessedness it is to get home at last. God therefore will have you experience all kinds of conflicts, spiritual and temporal. He will create one trial after another so that you will say, “we have no abiding place here”. Never did those endangered passengers in Paul’s ship desire more to get to the haven out of all their dangers, than we are to get out of all these troubles into heaven.

6. They Need to Serve God More

God does not immediately take us into heaven, because it is fitting that since we have served sin in this world, we should serve God as much in this world. Your life has been a reproach and a dishonour to Him. It is fitting it should bring glory to His name. Though it is your loss to be kept from heaven, though every day is your great hinderance, yet you are to deny yourself for God’s glory. Remember you gave yourself to serve sin, remember how much service the devil has had from you. So that if you love God’s glory more than your own, you are to be willing to spend yourself for Him, as you have done against Him.

7. They Need to Help Others

God does not remove His immediately out of the world, because of the relations they have. Children need their godly father, the wife needs her godly husband. Although it would be better for them to be in heaven, yet not for their’s. We must be resigned to God’s will when they are taken from us (John 14:28). We all ought to rejoice when our friends are taken out of this world into glory, but in so far as their presence was a comfort and necessary to us, we may grieve. In the law of Moses God forbade the mother bird being killed with her young ones. How much more will He show kindness to His people than the birds of the air. It is true that God in His wisdom does often take His own children out of the world too soon (as we think) when they are in the prime of their service. It is too soon also for their children and dependents, but God is even merciful in this though we do not at present see it. God has determined in mercy the time of our abode in this world (John 13:36).

8. They Need to Wait Until the Best Time

It is not always best to have the best good immediately, but in its time. It is true that to be with the Lord and be freed from sin is best in itself absolutely considered. But when other things are considered it is not best. God makes everything beautiful in his time. None could be more loved of the Father, than Christ Himself, He came from the bosom of His Father, yet until He had finished His course, He is kept from Him. The child’s duty is not to learn the best book first, but what he is most capable of. Though heaven and glory are best, yet not it is not best at this time for us to partake of it. So that when it is best to go out of this world, must be left to the wisdom of God.

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Christ’s Prayer Before His Passion: Expository Sermons on John 17 by Anthony BurgessSPECIAL 10% discount for Reformation Scotland readers. Use the follow coupon code at checkout:  RST-Burgess-2020. The extract above comes from these two volumes of 145 sermons on John 17.

 Anthony Burgess expounds such topics as God the Father and God the Son, the love of God, providence over death, election, the deity of Christ, the Mediator as teacher and priest and king, union with Christ, the knowledge of God, eternal life, justification, sanctification, obedience, separation from the world, faith, prayer, perseverance, worship, Christian unity, gospel ministry, and the glory of heaven. 

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What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?
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.
19 Nov, 2020

In the midst of restrictions that keep many people in their houses more than ever, home may be both sanctuary and prison. It has been the experience of many during 2020. For some people making the home a sanctuary means spending more to create greater luxury, calm and comfort. But if we have nothing more than what is material, it can never of course give true peace. If it is a sanctuary because it is a place devoted to the worship of self, it will ultimately prove to be a prison. We can seek sanctuary in many things in this world outside of the Creator but we will not find the true rest our souls crave. It is the presence of God that makes a little sanctuary for us. He has promised it to His people in all circumstances, even in the midst of trials and afflictions.

The people of God in exile from Jerusalem were inclined to reflect on the sanctuary they had lost in terms of the glorious temple built there (Ezekiel 7:20; Psalm 137:1). They had lost something irreplaceable, but God promises that He Himself will be “a little sanctuary” or a little temple to them (Ezekiel 11:16).  God had not been taken from them. The affliction had come from God Himself, He had scattered them in His providence using various means. He promises to draw near to them in the affliction while encouraging them to see Him at work in His providence (Isaiah 45:6-7). He was afflicting them and bringing them through trials in love (Proverbs 3:12). He loves His people too much to deny them the medicine of affliction when they require it. In this updated extract, William Greenhill draws out more of the comfort of this promise. He shows what it means for God to be a little sanctuary to us. As we give ourselves to Scripture and prayer and walk in a humble and holy way with God, we may know much of His presence.

1. God is a Sanctuary for Defence

The sanctuary was a place of refuge and defence. It was a place to defend holy things, for such things were stored up in sanctuaries. The sanctuary was deemed a privileged place, from which no thing or person might be taken away without sacrilege. Joab fled to the tabernacle of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar for this reason (1 Kings 2:28). God would be a sanctuary to him in this sense (Isaiah 8:13-14; Jeremiah 42:11). God would deliver them, He was a sanctuary to them in this place. When the fiery furnace was heated so hot and they cast into it, Daniel’s three friends found God a sanctuary to them (Daniel 3).

2. God is a Sanctuary by His Special Presence

In the temple the people had God’s special presence. Zion, where the temple stood, was called the habitation and rest of God (Psalm 132:13-14). God’s goings and ways are said to be in the sanctuary, Psalm 77:13; Psalm 68:24). David says He had seen God in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2). God would be a sanctuary to them in this sense, they would have His special presence. He had left the temple at Jerusalem, the glory was gone, and now He was with them in Babylon. Ezekiel had the heavens opened to him by the river Chebar and saw visions of God. God manifested Himself in a special way to him, and to Daniel in Babylon. God had no church elsewhere, and now He was with his people there, and calls them His flock four times in one verse (Ezekiel 34:8) and twelve times his flock in the whole of chapter 34.

3. God is a Sanctuary for Acceptance

Their persons and prayers were accepted in the temple. This was why they went to the temple so much for prayer (Acts 3:1; Luke 18:10). David says in Psalm 20:3 that the offerings and sacrifices in the temple were accepted (see Psalm 18:1). When they when they had corrupted the worship of God, He tells them there that burnt-offerings were not acceptable nor their sacrifices sweet when they had been before (Jeremiah 6:20). It was prophesied that in the future, they would come to God’s altar with acceptance (Isaiah 60:7), this was where they could find acceptance. But they could also have this in Babylon. When Daniel made his prayer to God for himself and his people in Daniel 9, Gabriel comes and tells him that he was greatly beloved of God. When Mordecai and Esther fasted, their persons and prayers were regarded and accepted in Babylon.

4. God is a Sanctuary for Encouragement and Help

Help came from the sanctuary and strength from Zion (Psalm 20:2). “Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary,” (Psalm 96:6). There they had counsel to direct them, ordinances to sanctify them, and promises to comfort them. They would not lack these in Babylon, God would be to them a sanctuary for help. This is why He stirred up the spirit of Jeremiah to write to the captives and counsel them what to do (Jeremiah 29:5-7). God gave them prophets in Babylon: Ezekiel and Daniel by whom He counselled them from time to time. He also made Babylon an ordinance to cleanse them. They had many promises, various in this chapter and others (see Ezekiel 34 and 36). It is full of sweet, gracious, and comforting promises.

5. God is a Sanctuary in All Conditions

Whatever others think or say of God’s people, wherever they are driven, whatever they lose or suffer, God will be a little sanctuary to them. These Israelites were rejected and condemned by those at Jerusalem, carried captive into Babylon. They had lost country, comforts, city privileges, temple ordinances, possessions and liberties. They had hard slavery. When they were now in this situation, God was a sanctuary to them. He preserved them, gave them His presence, accepted their persons and prayers, gave them counsel, sanctified and comforted them. He was a special sanctuary to them, and in place of all ordinances.

If you understand “sanctuary” to mean the land of Canaan as some think (see Exodus 15:17; Psalm 114:2), God would be a land of Canaan to them. Or take it to mean sanctification or heaven (Psalm 102:19), God would be a heaven to them. However the Jews in Babylon might appear in the world, either to those in Zion or Babylon, they were glorious in the eye of God. He calls them His glory and they would be a sanctuary unto them.

This should give comfort to those who are deprived of ordinances, possessions, liberties, friends, country, and who suffer very hard and sharp things. If they are godly, God will be a sanctuary to them. Has He not always been a sanctuary to us, and a stone of stumbling unto others, and for a rock of offence? If God has been a sanctuary to defend us, to give us His presence, to accept our persons and prayers, to send us help, counsel, comfort, deliverance, let us sanctify this God Himself in our heart, make Him our dread and fear, and He will still be a sanctuary to us. “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).

6. God is a Sanctuary in All Places

There is no place can hinder God from taking care of and showing kindness to, His people. They were in Babylon, a profane, polluted land, they were scattered throughout those countries, and yet God was a sanctuary to them, and said he would be so in the countries where they would come. When they were in Egypt, God was a sanctuary to them there, and now was so in Babylon also. ” God is no respecter of persons” or places (Acts 10:34-35). He accepts those who work righteousness and fear Him wherever they are. God’s people fear Him and work righteousness wherever they are cast: into foreign nations, as these Jews); the dungeon, as Jeremiah; into the bottom of the sea, as Jonah; into the fiery furnace, as the three youths; into the lions’ den, as Daniel. God is a sanctuary to them. If a person is godly, they will have the praise as well as the protection of God (Romans 2:29).

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