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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 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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Why We Must Avoid Causing Spiritual Harm

Why We Must Avoid Causing Spiritual Harm

Why We Must Avoid Causing Spiritual Harm
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
11 Nov, 2020

Politicians continue to wrestle with how to deal with the “four harms” caused by COVID-19. These are: the direct health impact of the virus, impact on other health areas, impact on society and on the economy. They are profound issues, but spiritual harm does not register in public policy, except as a tiny aspect of society. Spiritual harm is not irrelevant to Christians, however. We need to think about it in general as well as the impact of COVID interventions. We need to think of it in the same terms as we do harms to physical health. Harming spiritual life is more serious but much more common than we have realised. In fact we do it all the time in ways that we barely acknowledge.

It is frighteningly possible to commit acts of spiritual destruction and harm. The apostle Paul tells us that it is possible to destroy the work of God and a fellow believer with something that is not in itself sinful. It may be something as straightforward as what we feel free to eat, if that could be a stumbling block to someone (Romans 14:15 & 20). Their conscience may be in error but if they believe it is sinful then they are spiritually harmed by our example. Our failure to deny ourselves in something indifferent is a breach of charity towards them. We are being spiritually destructive in doing something that would tend to undermine the work of Christ, which is to save and build up souls not destroy them. It puts a stumbling block in their way which would result in their spiritual harm.

In the following updated extract, John Brown of Wamphray summarises the powerful implications of the teaching that the apostle Paul presses home in these verses. Paul says that the work of grace and sanctification, of holiness and comfort in your brother, is the work of God. By stumbling him with your eating you are doing what you can to hinder the progress of that work (Romans 14:20). And so you do that which tends to harm and utterly destroy that work. You destroy the work of God, for a very small and inconsiderable matter. Your food, though useful, is small in comparison of this work of God. And for so small a matter will you endanger the everlasting good of your brother? It is true that all foods are now pure and clean since Christ has come. But it is evil to the person who eats with offence. Although those foods are morally pure and free of any ceremonial uncleanness, yet it is sinful and unlawful to be a stumbling block to your brother in eating those foods.

We are often careless about the impact of our words and actions on others. As long as our conscience is not ringing alarm bells, perhaps we fail to take the conscience of others into consideration. What we do or say may not be sinful in itself but that does not mean it cannot cause spiritual harm to others, depending on the circumstances involved. 

1. Spiritual Harm Happens Even When We Don’t Mean It

It often never occurs to us that we may be doing spiritual harm to our brothers and sisters when what we do isn’t really wrong. Mostly, we try to obey God’s commands and avoid what God forbids. Yet there are ‘indifferent’ things, neither right nor wrong in themselves, which we can do – either with a wrong motivation or wrong attitude – which brings spiritual harm to our neighbour. If we even do something that saddens our brother or sister, making them disappointed that we are not so spiritually mature or spiritually sensitive as they thought we were (for example), then we’ve done something that hurts them spiritually. Through the sadness of heart this causes them, we have made them slow down or falter in the way of godliness. This is so even though we never intended this at all, and even though they will never ultimately be turned out of the way.

2. Spiritual Harm Undermines Christ’s Work

Although it is impossible that anyone for whom Christ died and who is redeemed by His blood will actually perish, yet we may be guilty before God of doing that which (in itself) would tend to murder their souls. By doing that which may lead, provoke, or stir someone up to sin, we are doing what would in its own nature and tendency bring them to ruin and death, if it was not for divine mercy preventing it.

So the sin of stumbling the weak brings deeper guilt than many are aware. It is nothing less than working against Christ, labouring to rob him of what he has purchased, even with the costly price of his blood, and to deprive Him of those for whom He laid down His life. The one we stumble is or may be (for all we know) someone “for whom Christ died.”

3. Spiritual Harm Undermines Brotherly Love

If only we paid more attention to the law of love, and considered more carefully the awful nature of the deed of making our brother stumble, for it is ultimately a form of soul-murder, of destroying the souls purchased by Christ at the dearest rate!

Then we would never dare to take the risk of causing spiritual harm to anyone. We would never dare to be so addicted to our own pleasures, or wishes, or advantages, or convenience, on any excuse whatsoever, that we would continue to do things that are at best only neutral, when it endangers the spiritual welfare of our neighbour.

The smaller and more trivial the thing that endangers the spiritual happiness and welfare of the soul of our brother, the greater is our guilt if we do it. We should instead have such a hearty love to the spiritual benefit and progress of our brother that we would immediately discount whatever good we think we can reap to ourselves by that little thing, as soon as we weigh it in the balance alongside the inevitable hurt which it will bring his soul.

4. Spiritual Harm Attacks God’s Work

The work of grace in a soul, and that soul’s spiritual comfort, is a work which God claims as his own. It is God who gives faith in the first place, as well as all the other graces, and it is God who gives believers all the comfort and joy they have. He is the one who daily nurtures and continues the work of grace by his own constant influences on their souls, and he is the one who brings this work to completion and glory in his own time. This is why it is called God’s work.
And although this work is in God’s hand, and he will certainly bring it on to a perfect conclusion, and never permit it to fail, yet it is liable to many obstacles and obstructions, arising from all sorts of casual occurrences. But we can only interpret these events as things which are means of destroying this work. Although they will never successfully destroy God’s work, they are genuine attacks on God’s work which can bring genuine harm.

5. Spiritual Harm Happens Easily

Just as this work is hindered by many obstructions which it meets with from corruptions within our brother’s soul, so it also meets with impediments from others around us. These impediments come not only by people doing what may foster or stir up corruption in us, or by doing something actually sinful, or even by doing what is lawful and necessary in a carnal, sinful manner. They also even come by people’s ordinary activities and behaviour.

6. Spiritual Harm Can Happen Even Through Indifferent Things

Not only are we causing real spiritual harm when we do things that are actually sinful and prohibited by God, but we can also do spiritual harm when we do something that is compatible with God’s law, and ‘indifferent’ (neither morally right or wrong in itself).

If something is ‘indifferent,’ we are free to do it or not, according to our own pleasure – but only as long as it does not cause anyone any spiritual harm. What is indifferent becomes sinful as soon as our brother sustains spiritual harm by what we’ve done, and when the work of God in our brother’s soul is marred.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

A new book helps you avoid causing spiritual harm through the application of  biblical counsel. In The Scandal of Stumbling Blocks, James Durham helps us to consider the matter deeply by defining the nature of stumbling as well as showing its serious consequences. He looks in considerable detail at different kinds of stumbling and identifies the ways that people can stumble and be stumbled. Durham provides practical advice for avoiding and preventing offense.

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

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Being Humble Before the God of Nature

Being Humble Before the God of Nature

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

“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature…the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst case scenario of our scientific advisers,” Boris Johnson said at a recent press conference. This recognises the limitations of science and human ability; we thought we had nature under control. We are smaller than we think, and things are greater and more complex than we can understand and regulate. Though we don’t see them, the world is full of viruses. Scientists tell us that there are more viruses on the planet than the stars we see in the sky. Most of them are good and beneficial, no doubt beyond what we realise. Others are harmful to us and we know only so much about how to deal with them. Although this recognition of our limitations is important, it is clearly easier to humble ourselves before a blind force rather than the God of nature. It doesn’t dent our pride nearly so much. Yet it ought to lead us to this. How indeed should our smallness in relation to God’s creation lead us to true humility before the Creator Himself?

Few places in the Bible explore this theme more fully than the closing chapters of the book of Job. God in His majesty uses aspects of creation to humble Job with a sense of His greatness and power. Why does God give so much emphasis to this? It gives us the right perspective, teaching us to think thoughts of His greatness and to use all aspects of creation to glimpse the sovereign glory of God. It brings Job to see that we often darken counsel by words without knowledge. In the following updated extract, James Durham points to what we need to learn from this part of Scripture. As he points out, “the great lesson of it all is to exalt God and abase the creature”.

1. God Humbles Us By Showing His Greatness

If we could observe, there is much of God to be seen in the meanest creatures. It is likely in this time that Job and his friends did not have the written Word, they, therefore, had a greater need to consider creation. Here we may see:

(a) God’s greatness, power, and might. We may see His stateliness and majesty, ordering all the creatures Himself and having a hand of providence about them. Job might and did read God’s dominion and sovereignty in these creatures.

(b) God’s absolute independence. He is free in relation to His ordering of the creatures, giving some wit and withholding it from others, giving some a dwelling, and others no dwelling.

(c) God’s care and tenderness. He provides for the wild goats and hinds and waiting on them when they bring forth (Job 39:1). This is an argument why He spared Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), besides so many souls there were many animals. But God’s providence about the ostrich and her eggs especially demonstrates His care (Job 39:14-18). He does as He likes directly or indirectly. This may be a comfort to poor orphans when children lack parents, God can provide for them. He who cares for the ostrich, will He not much more for them? Comparatively or chiefly, God’s main concern is not with oxen (1 Corinthians 9:9). God’s wisdom also shines here in appointing a suitable habitation for beasts that are not profitable, the rocks for some; the wilderness for others (Job 39:6 & 28).

See how earnest the Lord is that we would know Him and be convinced of His greatness and power. It must, therefore, be of great concern to us to understand God in the right way through His creation. It is a fault in us that we do not dwell more in meditation on the creatures to find out about God in them. Curiosity may put us to it for a little time, but we do not give ourselves to this meditation as we ought.

A right application from considering the creatures is to draw thoughts of God’s greatness from them. We ought to increase such thoughts by drawing from whatever excellence we find in the creature and ascending from that to considering the super-eminent excellence that is in God.

2. God Humbles Us By Showing Us Our Weakness

Another reason that God emphasises the creatures, is to point out our own weakness and ignorance. If we do not know the nature of the creatures, how much less can we apprehend God? If we do not know when a hind should calve, how will we know the deep things of God? Man is weak when he cannot outrun a horse or capture a wild ass or bird.

It also shows how little respect and thanks we give to God. Especially if we have never learned from the creatures to thank God for making the creatures subject to us when we cannot make them subject to ourselves.

3. God Humbles Us By Teaching Us Not to Dispute With Him

God also teaches Job a lesson from the creatures. He teaches him to stop his complaining and disputing with God. It is not fit that weak man should dispute with God. Weak man cannot fully understand the creatures or the depths of God’s providence in guiding heaven and earth. How then will he dispute with God about it? Though there is greater excellence and terribleness in God than in the creatures, yet man will be more afraid to grapple and contend with them than with God.

When God’s care reaches to these creatures, shall any questions God’s care towards His more noble creatures? He convicts Job for criticising God’s care concerning him, seeing He does not pass by the ostrich egg. Christ argues in the same way in guarding His disciples against anxiousness (Matthew 6:26) He that cares for the sparrows and ravens, will He not care much more for you?

4. God Humbles Us By Showing the Respect We Owe to Him

We do not have a true sense of the due respect we ought to maintain in relation to God. We are not beneath the creatures in many things, yet we cannot command them. Yet we do not walk with God with that due reverence which is fitting. This was an evil in Job, and it is an evil in us that we lack that due respect to God and His wisdom, power, greatness, goodness, providence etc that is fitting. We do not walk with due esteem of Him and with a stopped mouth before him, as becomes us.

The greatness and terribleness in the creatures should not only bring us to apprehend God’s greatness and terribleness. It should also bring us to submit to God, and say, “who can stand before this holy Lord?” (1 Samuel 6:20). It should make us more wary and watchful in our walk before God.

5. God Humbles Us By Showing He is No One’s Debtor

God is a debtor to no one, but none are not infinitely in God’s debt. There is nothing, not a bit of bread, nor a house to dwell in, nor anything else, that is not His. This should teach people to judge well of God and receive anything well from His hand. There are infinite applications that arise from this one word. People cannot take one step, but it is on God’s ground. They should therefore walk with an eye to God and strive to reciprocate though they cannot equal His favour. God’s interest in creatures should win our hearts more to Him and make us die more to created things. God will require us to account for them, therefore do not reckon them your own but His and use them with that in mind.

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What is Real Godliness?

What is Real Godliness?

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

Sometimes words lose something of their meaning through overuse. The word “godly” used as a cliché has suffered from this. For some, it appears to describe someone who seems to be a committed Christian. Perhaps outwardly right thinking and decent living. Yet godliness in Scripture is not a superficial thing. Indeed, it warns us of the mere appearance or form of godliness without the reality (2 Timothy 3:5). How should we define godliness then? It is an inner response to the things of God which shows itself in devoted reverence for God: it shapes our attitudes, words and actions. Thomas Watson says that it is “the sacred impression, and workmanship of God in a man, whereby of carnal he is made spiritual”. It is something glorious and supernatural that is both intense in its fervency and extensive in its influence. There is much more we can say of course about what true godliness is and how we can discern it.

Godliness has value and benefit for everything; it is great gain in this life and the life to come (1 Timothy 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:8). There is nothing, therefore, of greater consequence and concern than to know clearly what godliness is and be thoroughly serious in practising it. Yet as Paul makes clear it is not only possible to be mistaken about godliness but even to counterfeit it. There is an outward form of godliness which denies the power of true and real godliness (2 Timothy 3:5). Paul also shows that such can even be combined with certain sins that lurk beneath the surface of a religious profession (2 Timothy 3:1-4 and Titus 1:16). Things such as self-love, pride, boasting, covetousness and unholy despising of what is good. James Durham points out that “there is nothing more perilous to the people of God, than when sinful and selfish practices come clothed with a show and pretext of godliness, when deformation comes under the cloak of reformation”. In this updated extract, he shows us positively what real, true godliness is.

1. Real Godliness Has Power

Real, true godliness always has a power with it which a mere appearance of godliness lacks. There is an external part or form of religion and an inward power. Power means two things.

(a) Power to command

Real godliness has the power to rule sway and command a person so that they are not “brought under the power of anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). To be under the power of anything is to be under its dominion and command. To be under the power of sin is to be captivated by it, have it for a master and be ruled and commanded by it. To be under the power of godliness is to be under its dominion so that it sways, orders, directs, rules and commands a person (Romans 6:16). Obedience to righteousness in that verse is the same thing that is here called godliness. To be under the power of godliness is to obey it from the very heart (Romans 6:17,19), to be obedient to the doctrine of the gospel, to “the truth which is after godliness” (Titus 1:1).

(b) Power to effect

By power, we mean efficacy, so that true godliness has the efficacy to enable to perform and make practical what it commands. In power means effectual (1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 4:20). Where there is power, there is efficacy through the power of God that accompanies, when the Lord pleases, the preaching of the gospel. Some men may have fine and flourishing expressions without efficacy in preaching, while others may have a more unpolished style of language, yet with a great deal more life, power and efficacy. So there is a form of godliness that never effectually shows itself in practice or by putting any sin to death. But true godliness commands, it exercises dominion and reigns over a person; it directs and commands them and they give willing and hearty obedience to it. It not only brings them to profess religion, but it also works inwardly in the heart and has efficacy in subduing sin within.

Where true godliness is, the Spirit is, and where the Spirit is, there is power (2 Timothy 1:7). The Spirit brings along with Him power, inward life and efficacy. Where true godliness is, there is faith, and faith has power with it. There is the exceeding greatness of the mighty power that works effectually in those that believe (Ephesians 1:19). Faith has power in it, enabling us to overcome the world (1 John 5:4). It has the power to purify the heart (Acts 15:9). All things are possible to those that believe (Mark 9:23; Philippians 4:13).

2. Real Godliness Has a Convincing Power

It has a convincing power, that where the hearts of men and women are naturally proud and defiant against God, godliness makes the Word pierce deeply and strike through. It makes convictions penetrate and the person to accept them, bringing his heart under deep impressions of the awe and dread of God.

3. Real Godliness Has a Transforming Power

It has such a renewing, changing and transforming power that makes a new creature and old things to pass away and all things to become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

4. Real Godliness Has a Restraining Power

It has a restraining power on corruptions and lusts and does not allow them to reign and exercise dominion as previously (Romans 6:14).

5. Real Godliness Has a Constraining Power

It has a constraining power, impelling us forward to that which is good, and well-pleasing in the sight of God. It is impossible where godliness is in power, that men can be unconcerned in their duty. It makes them yield themselves to be servants unto righteousness, as it is in Romans 6:16. It leads captive high thoughts and imaginations to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:51). It makes us so that we dare not, will not, cannot (willingly at least) resist any commanded duty, no more than we dare or can dwell contentedly with any known sin. It makes us dare not resist or reject any of God’s commandments, nor regard any iniquity in our heart (Psalm 18:22 and Psalm 66:18).

6. Real Godliness Has a Mortifying Power

It has a mortifying power towards anything that seeks to compete with precious Jesus Christ in the person’s esteem. It blackens the beauty and splendour of them all in this competition. It demotes them to the very lowest degree of baseness and vileness so that in comparison of Him, they are reckoned but as loss and dung (Philippians 3:7-8). It breaks off the delight we once had in idols (Hosea 14:8; Isaiah 30:22].

7. Real Godliness Has a Calming Power

It has a heart-quieting, calming, composing and fixing power. The mere form of godliness never has this, but it leaves a person still unfixed and the heart not established. “It is a good thing,” says the apostle in Hebrews “that the heart be established with grace, not with meats” (Hebrews 13:9). Grace is opposed to meats here, that is to questions and debates about meats and other such things. Those things have a show of godliness and do not profit those who are occupied about them. Only grace establishes the heart.

8. Real Godliness Can Be Distinguished from False Godliness

If many could be prevailed with to examine our godliness according to these marks, it would be found that there is but little true godliness among us. Where is the power of godliness! Yet wherever true godliness is, it has power with it. This power reaches to a very great extent, reaching our spirit and walk, our thoughts, words and actions. It even affects our very looks in some way. It made Job to make a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1). It orders everything, not by fits and starts, but constantly in some measure as our desire, purpose and honest endeavour. And if at any time the influence of its power is not felt or weakened, that becomes our burden and affliction.

(a) Real godliness has much self-denial while false godliness has its source in self-love. It denies self in relation to our own righteousness, it humbles us under a conviction and sense of our sin and misery. It makes us deny ourselves in excessive self-love, submit to God’s will in all things. It makes us love God more than our own pleasure, profit or preferment, or anything else in the world. False godliness cannot bear anything in godliness that crosses its corrupt inclination. They will not humbly suffer any injury, but true godliness teaches the Christian to turn the other cheek. False godliness is all for action and doing in the outward things of religion, but not at all for suffering. True godliness commends and commands both, to do for Christ and be also ready to suffer for Him if we are called to it.

(b) Real godliness makes us focus on religious duties that are more inward and spiritual, as well those that are more outward. It inclines us to repentance, faith in Christ, putting sin to death and self-examination. The life of religion consists mainly in these. False godliness neglects inward and spiritual duties and is more concerned with keeping up the show and appearance of religion.

(c) Real godliness stirs us up to exercise grace. Natural conscience stirs us up to outward duty, but real godliness stirs us to exercise patience, submission, humility, sincerity, love to God and the saints. These are fruits of the Spirit and of the new creation that evidence life.

(d) Real godliness makes us engage in duties in the right way. It makes us pray and praise in the Spirit, sorrow for sin in a godly way, hear the Word so as to be edified by it etc. False godliness only considers whether the duty is done rather than whether it is done in the right way. It is only challenged for not praying or not going to church rather than whether prayer is wholehearted and they hear the sermon with benefit.

(e) Real godliness makes us wrestle against shortcomings in our spiritual growth and sins. Weakness in faith and coldness in love are a grief to us. Hypocrisy is as grievous to us as open sin. False godliness piles up outward religious practices and profession but does not lay a sure foundation. It is like someone who sows much seed but does not take care to weed it and remove what obstructs its growth. True godliness digs deep.

Conclusion

These considerations should not discourage us but rather encourage us to seek true godliness. In a culture that is obsessed with image and appearance, we are easily and subtly drawn to give an emphasis to outward more than inward things in terms of faith. Both are necessary but it is dangerous to let one crowd out the other.  Since it has value and benefit for everything in this life and the life to come, true godliness should be our greatest pursuit (1 Timothy 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:8).

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Have You Buried Christ’s Gifts?

Have You Buried Christ’s Gifts?

Have You Buried Christ’s Gifts?
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.
8 Oct, 2020

Our culture thinks of our gifts as certain personal qualities and attributes. But Scripture speaks of gifts as freely received by God’s providence or grace. We have nothing that is our own, we have freely received it. Gifts have not been given to make us feel good about ourselves or for our own glory. They are to be used for God’s glory and the good of others. Everyone has them. They include our opportunities, privileges, abilities, advantages, benefits – spiritual and otherwise. This should be a great encouragement to us but sometimes we are tempted to disregard them. We may not consider ourselves to have much at all because we compare ourselves with others who we think have more. But it is dangerous to do nothing simply because we only have a little. What gifts can we use for Christ’s glory and what are we to do with them?

Christ says that His kingdom requires diligent work, He expects us to work for God’s glory and the good of others (Matthew 25). This parable uses the comparison of a master giving his servants money to trade with for him. The purpose of this parable is to set everyone. Everyone is to work in advancing Christ’s glory and kingdom, according to their ability and calling.
One servant in the parable had received less than others and simply buried it and neglected it He excused this neglect with the argument that he did not have as much and did not think he could do enough to meet expectations. But this is no excuse, the less gifts we have, the less reason we have for neglecting them. Yet as Matthew Henry observes “those who have least to do for God, frequently do least of what they have to do”. The reality is that one talent was worth twenty years wages and so the very gifts that seem to have less comparative value have great intrinsic worth.

The slothful servant received everlasting punishment. But this not teach salvation by works. Everything is freely received, including the outward spiritual blessings of God’s Word and the gospel. Trusting Christ alone for salvation is to make the right us of such things. Perhaps we have not buried those gifts but are there others that we have not made full use of but rather neglected? We are also to demonstrate the reality of our faith and devotion by seeking to do all we can for Christ’s glory (James 2:18; James 3:13). We need to ready to be careful stewards of the grace we have received (1 Peter 4:10) as well as our time, abilities and other gifts. In this updated extract, David Dickson expounds the parable of the talents to show us how we may do this.

1. Christ Has Told Us How to Serve Him

The man in the parable travelling into a far country, disposed of his affairs and ordered all matters until his return. So, our Lord Jesus has given exact orders in His Word to all (especially His ministers), how His house should be governed, and how everyone should serve Him until His second coming again.

2. Christ Has Given Us Different Gifts

The master in the parable does not give the same number of talents to each servant. So, the Lord does not give the same measure of gifts to everyone. Rather He gives more to some and less to others as His heavenly wisdom thinks expedient.

3. Christ Expects Us to Make Best Use of Our Gifts

In the parable, some made use of their talents, some did not. So, in the visible church, some employ the gifts they have according to their calling so as to edify others and advance the kingdom of Christ. Others disregard the kingdom of Christ and do not care how it goes with Christ’s matters so long as their own particular concerns go right. Therefore, they make no conscience of advancing Christ’s kingdom in their calling although this duty is required of them and clearly set down in His Word.

4. Christ Will Take Account of Our Use of Gifts

The master in the parable had a reckoning with his servants. He took account of each man’s faithfulness. So, Christ will call all (especially ministers) to account one day. He will search into how faithful everyone has been in His service.

5. Christ Honours the Faithful Use of Gifts

In the parable the faithful servant (whether he had fewer or more talents) was accepted of his master and made partaker of his joy. So, everyone who in discharging their calling faithfully seeks the glory of Christ and increase of His kingdom) shall be accepted in the day of judgement and put in full possession of eternal life.

6. Christ Condemns Unfaithful Neglect of Gifts

In the parable no excuse would serve to save the slothful and unfaithful servant before his master. So, it will be with Christ in the day of judgment (no matter how much anyone deceives themselves and pretends what they like). All excuses will only serve to show their own condemnation and the unfaithful servant will be cast into hell.

In the parable, he that had one talent but did not use it for his master, is counted as if he had none and deprived of possessing what he possessed. So, any gifts anyone has that do not profit others or advance Christ’s kingdom are counted as if they did not have them (as if lost or taken away). Just as others were not profited by the gift, so they themselves will not be benefited by. But those who use their gifts well for the glory of Christ will be amply rewarded. Every one that has gifts and uses them for their Master (which is in effect to have them) will be given more. They will have increased gifts, graces, and rewards. But those who do not have what they have (do not use it for the Lord’s service) will be deprived of all good which they themselves might have of such gifts. They will be utterly deprived of whatever good they seem to have, and they themselves will also perish.

Conclusion

We may not have buried all of Christ’s gifts but are there some we have hidden and neglected? Christ has not given us our privileges and spiritual blessings as well as outward benefits for us to be comfortable and neglect the needs of others. Everything a Christian has received is for the good of others and the glory of Christ. They are not our own. Christians are to have communion in each other’s gifts and graces. To whom much has been given, much shall be required. How can we best make use of what we have received for Christ’s glory and kingdom? We might start by identifying the “one another” requirements of the New Testament; the various duties we can do for others. There are some challenges in the current climate where opportunities have been restricted. But perhaps other opportunities are now open also. We must not make the mistake of belittling limited ways and means. We need to pray for wisdom and grace to identify how we can advance Christ’s glory and kingdom in whatever way possible.

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4 Ways Sovereign Grace Must Impact Us

4 Ways Sovereign Grace Must Impact Us

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

Sadly, it’s all too possible for people to be so opinionated about theological matters that they can even become obnoxious. They can become ungracious even when speaking about grace itself and somehow proud of the deeper understanding they have gained. Those who are new to any kind of convictions can be especially prone to this. This is not to minimise the truths themselves. It does not undermine the importance of having an accurate understanding of the Bible and a concern that others would share in it. It is rather about the spirit and manner in which this is done. Scriptural teaching is intended to humble us and increase our love for God, not merely puff us up with knowledge. What impact then ought sovereign grace to have on our hearts and lives?

What do we mean by sovereign grace? It is the powerful work of God on the heart to transform it by grace and raise it from death to life spiritually. This is described in different ways (Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 32:40; John 6:44; Ephesians 1:19). These verses, amongst others, describe the work of conversion and the new birth. As James Durham puts it; this is a distinct, inward, special, real, immediate, efficacious and powerful work of the Spirit of the Lord. It is the work of sovereign grace that is necessary for conversion. The soul is convinced of sin and humbled for it; the mind is enlightened in the knowledge of Christ. The will and affections are renewed and persuaded to embrace and receive Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel.

This is best illustrated in Lydia (Acts 16:14), it is said of her “whose heart the Lord opened, that she might attend to the things that were spoken of Paul”. Here we find:

(a) It is a distinct work

The Lord’s powerful work on her heart is distinguished from Paul’s preaching to her ear; the Lord opened her heart. It is not as if there were some power infused into the Word. Although it accompanies the Word, it is a distinct person working a distinct work. Thus it is separable from the Word, though it is done in the heart of the same sinner to whose ear the Word is preached.

(b) It is an inward work

It is on the heart. Besides the outward preaching and calling of the Word, there is an inward, powerful, effectual work and calling by the Spirit in the conversion of a sinner. This speaks to the heart as the Word speaks to the ear. This work of the Spirit as part of conversion is much more than any external persuasion or the preached Word can produce.

(c) It is a special work

It is not all who hear Paul preach whose hearts are opened, but it is the heart of one Lydia. It is peculiar to those whom the Lord converts and is applied to none others except those in whom He works faith and whom He effectually calls by His grace. It is a special work and not common to all who hear the gospel otherwise it could not be said that this report had not been believed and the arm of the Lord not revealed (Isaiah 53:1)

(d) It is a real work

It makes a real inward change on her. It is real and powerful in producing and bringing about the renewing of the will and faith in the soul. It is a real, powerful work of the Spirit, bringing about the conversion of the sinner.

(e) It is a direct work

For the Lord not only enlightens her understanding, but goes down to the heart and opens it, and works a change in it directly or immediately. Paul indeed, by his preaching, opens the way of salvation to all that heard him; from which, though many go away with their hearts unopened, yet the Lord has a secret mysterious, real, inward work on her heart, which is evidenced by the effect. He not only enlightens her mind but makes her willingly yield to the call of the gospel, by opening her heart. It is not simply a moral persuasion; it is God’s enlightening the mind, and by that persuading the will to be united with Christ.

How then should such sovereign grace impact us?

1. Be Humble

Learn from this to be humble. What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, why boast as if you had not received it (see 1 Corinthians 4:7). It is unsuitable for believers (who are unashamedly free grace’s debtors and beggars) to be proud and forget themselves. You have nothing, believer, to boast of, except that God has humbled you with his grace and should you be proud of that as if you had made yourself thus? Therefore guard watchfully against all puffing-up, self-conceit, and high-mindedness. Strive to be humble and to keep a low sail, or else you may break out into some scandalous offence and become a shame and reproach to the gospel.

We commend humility to you above many things; for we think that in these days, folks’ pride is likely to break their necks. When conceit first creeps in, they begin to think they are so far advanced in holiness, that they must not keep company with others, nor join in worship with them. From that, they go to another thing, and from that to a third so that it is hard to tell where they will stop or end. They become so giddy, that they are scarcely likely to leave themselves enough ground to stand on. Be ashamed of pride; it is a most intolerable thing to be proud of that which God has given, for which you had no responsibility of which you can no more boast than those who never had it. 

2. Be thankful

Give God the praise for what you have received. It is becoming for the upright to be thankful (Psalm 33:1). It is no small thing, to have God’s power manifested in producing faith and conferring grace. The thrones, kingdoms and great things of this world are nothing to this. It is peculiar to the Lord’s own and not common. Many get their fill of the world who never got nor will get this. The world is of so little value with the Lord, that (so to speak) He does not much regard who gets it, though it is exactly distributed by His providence. But converting and upholding grace is peculiar to His favourites. If you are clear that He has bestowed grace on you, how you should exult in blessing God (as David did) for giving counsel to choose such a portion and for His powerful determining of your heart by His grace to embrace it. You do not have yourselves to thank for this, but God.

3 . Be compassionate

Be tender towards others, considering that it is only grace that has made the difference between you and them and not any good nature in you which was not in them (as some foolishly imagine). Do not be puffed up at the faults and falls of any, but rather mourn for them as well as for your own. Be the more humble when you think of the difference that grace has made, left you fall. Since you stand by grace lone, do not be high-minded, but fear. Of all persons, it befits you worst of all you to regard lightly never mind mock at the falls of others, considering who and what has made the difference.

4. Be Holy

If it is so special a privilege to be partakers of this powerful and special grace of God exerted in the great work of conversion, there is surely something special called for in your conduct. It must be worthy of the gospel in all things and correspond to this grace bestowed on you. What kind of person ought you to be in all holy conduct and godliness (see 2 Peter 3:11)?

 

 

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What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
25 Sep, 2020

Uncertainty is nothing new but the coronavirus crisis has taken this to more extreme levels. There is even a degree of uncertainty about facts, numbers, transmission, symptoms and science. No doubt there may be times and places that have experienced more uncertainty but for many this is at a new level. Disruption and uncertainty have impacted most aspects of most people’s lives. All these unknowns are personal as well as social and economic. We do not know how long the impact of the crisis will last and this creates fear and anxiety. How should we respond? Some want to respond by promising some element of certainty, but it soon wears thin. Who can say with great confidence what will happen or when? In truth, very little about our lives is constant or entirely certain and we must come to terms with that. This can teach us a great deal if we consider it through the teaching of Scripture.

There is an argument that uncertainty is a good thing. It is the need to resolve things that makes us seek to advance our knowledge and make progress in science and other areas. We can also learn much practically and spiritually from uncertainty in seeking to walk humbly with God. Hugh Binning opens up the nature of uncertainty in expounding Proverbs 27:1. We cannot boast of what we will do or achieve tomorrow because we do not know what even a day may bring forth. In this updated extract he shows what uncertainty can teach us.

1. Uncertainty is Natural

Tomorrow is the narrow sphere of poor man’s comprehension. All he can attain is to provide for the present. It is not present properly speaking because, in comparison with eternity it is cut off as soon as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye. Even if we could see the end of time, it would be merely close up and indistinct, like something right in front of our eye.
These, then, are the two great ruins of human nature. We have degenerated from God to created things and seek our joy and rest in them. Yet there is nothing in them but the contrary—vexation. We have also fallen from apprehending eternity, and our poor soul is confined within the narrow bounds of time.

All our wise management is to provide some perishing things for some few revolutions of the sun, for some few tomorrows. After this, though an endless tomorrow ensues, man does not perceive it or provide for it. All his glorying and boasting is only on some presumptuous confidence and ungrounded assurance of the stability of these things for the time to come.

The wise man leaves us this counsel, not to boast of tomorrow. It is supported with a strong argument taken partly from the instability and inconstancy of all the outward things in which men imagine an eternity of joy and partly from the ignorance we have of future events. We do not know what a day may bring forth.

2. Uncertainty Humbles Us

Boasting is such a predominant evil among men, that I know not any more universal in its dominion, or more hurtful to us, or displeasing to God. Of all boastings, the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from the presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us.

No one’s present possession satisfies them, without some additional hope and expectation for the future. The poverty of the human spirit and the emptiness of all things we enjoy here are apparent in this, that they will not make the heart content. Present possession does not fill up the vacuum of the heart without imagining possessing more in the future. The insatiable human heart cannot rest satisfied in its joy (without some future hopes and expectations) even if the whole world were in its possession.

The soul anticipates and forestalls tomorrow and borrows present joy from future anticipation. Yet when it comes, perhaps it will not compensate the expectation (see Job 11:18, 20; Job 8:13). Hope is like a house to them, but to many, it is no better than a spider’s web. Here then is a clear demonstration of the madness and folly of men, who hang so much on outward things and allow their affections to be shaped by the great variety of outward things and events.

There is nothing more unreasonable than to stir our passions about that which we cannot choose, as most future things are. What will happen tomorrow, what outcome will my projects and plans have? This is not under my control, these depend on other people’s wills, purposes, and actions. They are not in my power. Either to boast or be anxious about things that depend on so many causes not under my control and things I cannot prevent is both unbelieving and unreasonable (Matthew 6:25). Such anxiety and boasting can neither prevent evil nor procure good.

Only the present is in our power. We are dead to yesterday already, for it is past and cannot return; it is as it was buried in the grave of oblivion. We are not yet born to tomorrow, for it has not come to the light, and we do not know if it ever will come. There is no more in our knowledge but the present hour. Though we remember the past, it, our knowledge of it is not practical. It cannot be changed or reformed. The future is not born to us and is to us as if we were not born to it either.

3. Uncertainty is All that is Certain

There is such an infinite possibility of outcomes that it is foolish to presume to boast of anything or rest in it. There is nothing certain except that all things are uncertain — that all things are subject to perpetual motion, revolution, and change. Today a city, tomorrow a heap. There is nothing between a great city and a heap except one day, nothing between a man and no man but one hour. Our life is subject to infinite casualties, it may receive a fatal stroke from the least and most unexpected thing. It is a bubble floating on the water in continual motion with a storm. So many poor dying creatures rise up, swim and float awhile, and are tossed up and down by the wind and wave. The least puff of wind or drop of rain sends it back to its own element. We are a vapour appearing for a very little time—a creature of no solidity—a dream—a shadow and appearance of something. This dream or apparition is but for a little time, and then it vanishes, not so much into nothingness but it disappears. All human affairs are like the spokes of a wheel, continually revolving. In this constant revolving of outward things, who can enjoy true quiet and peace? Only the soul that is fixed, with its centre on God and abides in Him. Though the parts may be in constant motion, the centre of the wheel is at rest and not violently turned.

4. Uncertainty is for God’s Glory

There is infinite wisdom and goodness in the way that the Lord orders all things. At first glance, people would think it better if everything happened uniformly so that everyone knew what would happen to them. Yet, God has provided for His own glory and our good in this. He has kept the absolute dominion and perfect knowledge of all His works for Himself. It is for His glory in that He orders them with such great variety, that they may be seen to proceed from Him.

5. Uncertainty is For Our Good

It is for our good. What use would many Christian virtues and graces, if it were not so? What place would there be for patience if there were no adverse events? What place would there be for moderation if there were no prosperity? If there were not such variations and vicissitudes, how would the evenness and constancy of the spirit be known? What place would contentment and tranquillity of mind have? These are a calm in a storm, not a calm in a calm (that would be no virtue). If the various outcomes of providence could be foreseen by us, it would completely disorder our duty. Who would do their duty out of conscience to God’s command in committing events to Him? As it is now our obedience is tested. We have to go by a way we do not know and submit to God’s all-seeing providence.

God has so ordered the world that no grace lacks a reason to be exercised, no virtue may die out for want of fuel, or rust for lack of use. There is no condition of affairs without a fair opportunity for exercising some grace. If one or many cannot be exercised due to affliction, He has still opened a large door for self-denial, humility, patience and moderation.

6. Uncertainty Points Us to Eternity

Even the very nature of the material world speaks loudly of this to us. When you look below, there is nothing seen but the outside of the earth, only its very surface appears, and there your sight is terminated. But look above and there is no termination, no bounding of the sight —there are infinite spaces, all transparent and clear. This shows us that our affections should be set on things above and not on things below. There is nothing below except the outward appearance and surface of things —the glory and beauty of the earth are but skin deep. But heavenly things are all transparent, there is nothing to set bounds to the affections. They are infinite, and you may enlarge infinitely towards them.

God has made all things in time dark and opaque, like the earth. Look at them and you only see the outside of them, the present hour. You know no more of what is beyond than you can see of the depths beneath the earth. But eternity is transparent throughout, and infinite too. Therefore, God has made us blind to earthly things, that we should not set our heart nor terminate our eyes on anything here. But He has opened and spread eternity before us in the Scriptures, so that you may read and understand your everlasting condition in it. He has shut up the things of time and sealed them and He wills us to live in relation to them by trusting in Him of them without anxious forethought.

7. Uncertainty Points Us to True Contentment

No one can find any satisfaction in enjoying the things of the present (without always hoping for the future) until they fully possess God as an all-sufficient good (Psalm 4:6) Without this, great things will not make us content. For what is all that to a person if they have no assurance concerning the future? And with this, we can even be content with little things. Great things with little hope and expectation fill us with more vexation than joy, the greater they are the more this is increased. Little things, with great hopes and expectations, give more satisfaction. All mankind look towards tomorrow and strive to make up for what they lack in the present with hope or confidence in the future.

8. Uncertainty Points Us to True Hope

You should strive to fill up what is lacking in present things with that great hope, the hope of salvation, which will be as a helmet to keep your head safe in all difficulties (1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:18-19; Romans 5:5). It is true, other people’s expectations of gain and other things, do to some extent abate the pain of what they lack in the present. But it is certain that such hope will not expel all grief from the heart but leaves much vexation within. The frequent disappointment of such projects and plans of gain, honour, and pleasure, and their extreme failure to fulfil the desires and hopes of the soul, even when attained, must breed infinitely more anxiety and vexation in the spirit. If you would have your souls truly established and not hanging on tomorrow uncertainly (as most do) look beyond tomorrow to the everlasting day of eternity that has no tomorrow after it. See what foundation you can lay up for that future time to come (1 Timothy 6:16-19). If you would have a foundation of lasting joy, why seek lasting joy in fading things and certain joy in uncertain riches, and solid contentment in empty things? Why not rather seek it in the living God, inexhaustible spring of all good things? We are not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (1 Timothy 6:17).
We are to do good and be rich in good works, laying up in store a good foundation for the time to come (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Eternity is the only time worthy to be called time. Striving to do good, and be rich in good works, in works of piety, of mercy, of justice and moderation is a better foundation for the time to come. Receive and embrace the promise of eternal life —that free and gracious promise of life in the gospel to make up for what is lacking in present enjoyments. The precious hope of eternal life cannot disappoint.

9. Uncertainty Should Make Us Submit to God’s Will

But most people like the fool in the parable (Luke 12:13-21) have something stored up for many years or else their projects and plans extend to many years. The truth is, they have more pleasure in the expectation of such things than in really possessing them. But that pleasure is only imaginary. How many thoughts and plans are continually turning in the heart of man—how to be rich, how to get greater gain or more reputation? People build castles in the air, and imagine to themselves, as it were, new worlds of mere possible things. Everyone makes fantasies for themselves as if they were themselves in control of it all. Then we boast ourselves in the confidence of them as if there were not a supreme Lord who rules our affairs as immediately as He does the winds and rains.

The folly of this is made clear in that we do not know what a day may bring forth. There is so much inconstancy in all things and ignorance in us that it should restrain our boasting. The apostle James refers to the resolutions and purposes of rich men to profit from trading (James 4:13-16). Such are the plans in the hearts of men, either for more gain, more glory, or more pleasure and ease.

This does not reprove either care and diligence in using lawful means for the things of this life or wise and prudent foresight in the ordering of our affairs. Both these are frequently commended by the wise man (Proverbs 6:6 and 24:27). But the great iniquity is conducting ourselves as though we were in control and without consideration of the sovereign universal dominion of God. It is not in man that walks to direct his paths (Jeremiah 10:23 and Proverbs 16:19).

God is not bound by any rule to conform His actions to our intentions. He works everything according to the counsel of His own will and not ours (Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 19:21 and 16:9). Man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his paths (Proverbs 20:24)? We ought to say and think “if the Lord will”. We do not know will happen tomorrow because our life itself is a vapour. You can make plans for tomorrow, for a year, for many years, and yet you do not know if you will exist tomorrow. How ridiculous such things are if they are not done with submissive and humble dependence on God.

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Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living
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.
1 Sep, 2020

Concise wisdom can be an invaluable guide for Christian living and experience. We can return to it regularly. Sometimes the counsel offered can be general and contain broad principles to apply. Other times it’s helpful to have some specific directions about common situations that we may experience and encounter. It can be helpful to draw from advice given by various writers and learn from their own experience.

This advice is an updated extract taken from some counsel written to a lady by William Traill of Borthwick. There is no clear order to the advice and no doubt much of it is related to the individual addressed particularly.

1. Advice About Soul Trouble

As to your frame of mind. Labour to escape from soul trouble, not so much because it is terrible as because it is sinful. Seek to have the heart established by grace and to maintain an equal, constant frame of mind, that you may not be soon cast down and frightened by an unexpected affliction, nor be suddenly puffed up by unlooked-for success.

2. Advice About Conversation

Guard against all anger, and speaking hastily and unadvisedly. Think for a while on the thing that vexes you before you utter your mind upon it. When you do speak, do not say everything you think (Proverbs 29:11). Be sure not to make the worst of a matter, this only inflames the heart (Proverbs 16:23).

3. Advice About Providence

Put a hopeful construction upon those providences that appear to be sad, dark, and threatening, and do not suspect the kindness of God when cross dispensations occur. Believe that Christ has “done all things well,” and “that all things work together for good to them that love” him. Remember that “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his counsel and his testimonies.” (Mark 7:37; Romans 8:28; Psalm 25:10).

4. Advice About Following Christ

Follow Christ, by taking up the cross that he has appointed for you, and by faith lean upon him for strength and succour, to bear you up under its burden from day to day.

5. Advice About Warring Against Sin

Observe your daily deficiencies and short-comings and press forward so that you may know more of the spirit, life, and power of every duty.

Keep constant watch against your easily besetting sins, and take heed that, by a sudden surprise attack, they do not prevail against you.

6. Advice About Self-Examination

Often, with all solemnity, put your heart into your hand, and pray that God will not permit you to deceive yourself, nor provoke Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). And when you seek to try the sincerity of your faith, love, and other graces, remember to distinguish between the marks of strong faith and of true faith (however weak).

If in self-examination your mind is dark and your decision difficult, do not lose time by trying to settle the truth and sincerity of your experience in former times, but exercise faith in Christ Jesus directly: choosing Him, and depending upon Him as a full, sufficient, and only Saviour for poor lost sinners. Seek to realise anew your own sinfulness and misery, and with a humbled and penitent heart cast yourself again at His feet.

Remember your dependence on the Holy Spirit, and seek “a supply of the spirit of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:19) to work fresh and large revelations of sanctifying and saving grace, and to refresh your soul amidst all the labours and sorrows of this militant state.

In particular, enquire:

  • whether you are not tempted to unbelief and calling in question almost every truth
  • whether you are not sinfully jealous about whether the love of God is shown to your soul after multiplied evidence of His care
  • whether affected diffidence, impatient haste, rash and uncharitable censures of others are found in your heart
  • whether you regard the proper season for every duty and daily labour to “redeem the time”
  • whether in circumstances of difficulty you ask yourself “what would my Lord and Saviour have done in this situation?”
  • whether you keep in mind His own blessed rule to do to others what we would have them do to us.

7. Advice About Eternity

Learn to remember your latter end, “to die daily”. Venture on nothing but what appears to be your duty, both lawful and timely, and such as you would venture on, if you had only a day to live.

If you would like to read the full originally published guidance, click here. For more about William Traill listen to this episode.

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