What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?
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.
13 Oct, 2017

We are familiar with Martin Luther’s image. It is striking and immediately recognisable. It is said that there was enormous demand for printed pictures of Luther in his lifetime. Lucas Cranach, in a particular portrait captured the intense eyes of the German reformer. But we do not intend to focus on the physical appearance of the reformers or even their unique personality traits. Fearlessness may not in fact be an essential requirement. It is the spiritual characteristics that matter most. What graces as well as gifts blend together in those that God uses to bring spiritual transformation?

Anthony Burgess helpfully outlines these from Scripture in a sermon preached before the House of Lords in Westminster. He shows that the work of Reformation requires the conflux of many noble and excellent graces. In particular, it helps us discern the difference between those who want to effect change in the Church of God under the influence of the ideas and tastes of mere men and those who have the sole purpose of glorifying God. We are all called to effect reformation in our own lives and families – we need to be reformers ourselves.

 

1. They Know God’s Will

They must have a clear understanding of God’s will out of His Word. The king was to write God’s Word, and to be acquainted and familiar with it (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). This was so that he might be better able to reform all the abuses that might creep into the worship of God. It is a great fault when men in place and power think that matters of religion do not belong to them at all. They cannot in fact discharge their duties, if they know do not from the Word what to do.

 

2. They have a Zeal for God

They have a zeal for God’s glory and His pure worship.  This was evident in David, Hezekiah and most remarkably in Christ Himself.  It is an excellent thing when rulers take God’s dishonour to heart more than their own. They ought to be most concerned about Christ’s laws.

 

3. They have Love for the Souls of Others

They have affections for people in general and love to the souls of others.  Unless a man is clothed with a public spirit he cannot labour for a reformation.  Nehemiah was in a good position personally, yet how deeply and sadly he was affected because the temple was desolate? Christ Himself at the very time when He was received with the greatest acclamations ignores this and weeps for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39). God has dealt graciously with your hearts when neither riches, honours or any personal dignity can do you any good, until Jerusalem is established a praise in the earth. This is how it was with David.

 

4. They have Pure Aims

They have sincerity and pure aims.  Governors may be carried far in a reformation, yet if pure love to God and His ordinances are not the star which leads them, the outcome will be very uncomfortable. Jehu is a sad instance of this, though he did everything according to God’s heart (as Scripture says in 2 Kings 10:30-31) yet in Hosea 1:4, God threatens to be avenged on him. Take heed therefore of corrupt, political designs in promoting God’s work. This has often made God let His own ark fall into the hands of the Philistines. Not because His cause was not dear to him but because those who managed it had selfish interests.

 

5. They are Humble

They have humility under all the honours God that puts upon them.  This was eminent in Gideon and David. Those who are lifted up by any success that God bestows on them are like a blazing star that shine brightly at first but ultimately end in slime. John the Baptist produced a great reformation and had the eyes of the world on him. Yet he rejoiced because he must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:29-30).

 

6. They are Eminently Holy

They have exemplary holiness of life.  Reformers must conform to the general rule that he who reproves others ought himself to be free from those sins.  Reformers must be an example to others; they are to others as the part-coloured sticks were to Jacob’s sheep (Genesis 30:37-43). It is very unfitting when governors make laws against impiety, profaning the Sabbath, contempt of holiness while these sins can be found in their lives or in their families?  Reformation is achieved in great measure when the lives and families of men are changed as well as when public worship and ordinances are reformed.

 

7. They have Believing Courage

Reformers must have fortitude and courage accompanied with faith.  Every reformation encounters great opposition and contempt.  When Hezekiah sent out messengers to call people to observe the Passover purely, they were mocked and scorned (2 Chronicles 30).  To endure all kinds of accusations and slanders and to be tried by God Himself requires humility and patience as well as faith and courage.

 

8. They are Prudent

Prudence and extraordinary wisdom are required in reformation.  Some think it was weakness for Gideon to go out with a few men at night but it showed his great prudence.  Anyone who has read Church History can see that imprudence has greatly hindered propagation of the truth. We must of course be careful that prudence does not degenerate into carnal and mere political wisdom. God ultimately makes this kind of wisdom to be seen as great folly, especially when it is accompanied with corruption of His worship.

 

Conclusion

Reformation depends on individuals and families living out the Word of God in all areas of practice as well as faith. It is about closer obedience to God’s revealed will. We may never be used to bring about wide scale change but this does not mean we cannot be reformers. These qualities are needed in our lives as we strive to submit to Scripture in everything. We must advance in reformation and encourage others in the work of reformation as far as possible.

These days we have few true reformers in the Church. We have enough transformers – those who have their own vision of change. Sometimes this is change for the sake of change because culture has changed. Reformation is God’s work as opposed to transformation through our own innovation and ideas. Reforming is a spiritual work that requires spiritual men using spiritual means for the spiritual good of Christ’s Church. We are all too aware of various trends in modern Christianity that mushroom and then evaporate. They promise much but are just reinventing aspects of faith and practice. We don’t need this. Instead, we can be solidly grounded through reformation according to God’s revealed will. We need those who will have the courage and wisdom to submit to the Word of God in everything.

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Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Oct, 2017

It is possible to take such a long look back at the Reformation that we then forget to look forward. In other words, we may be inclined to think of Reformation as an event in the past rather than a present imperative. This milestone is a point to reflect on where we are in relation to Reformation and what still remains to be achieved as individuals, Churches and communities. How do our lives, families and congregations match up to God’s requirements in His Word? Reformation is a difficult and unsettling activity. It challenges our complacency and expectations. Would we have the appetite for it we think we would?

The Word of God is the only rule for reformation. Yet what do we mean by that? Anthony Burgess (1600-1663) explains how the Word of God has a supreme role in the work of reformation. Burgess lived during a time of reformation and was a member of the Westminster Assembly. He ministered in Sutton Coldfield and wrote many valuable books. Sadly, these have been comparatively neglected. The following is an updated extract from one of his sermons preached before Parliament. He shows that reformation is difficult perhaps even discouraging work but it is also an absolute priority that God blesses.

 

1. The Standard of Reformation

(a) Reformation in Doctrine

A sound faith is the soul of religion; it’s like the sun in the sky or like the eye in the body. Wrong believing and wrong living go together. Hymenaeus and Philetus made shipwreck of both their faith and of a good conscience (1 Timothy 2:17). We cannot build any confession of faith without quarrying the materials from this mountain. Error and heresy have no enemy like Scripture. We may be as orthodox as possible in our doctrine but if we do not believe these things because of Scripture, it’s a merely man made faith. A merely human faith is based on education and human tradition and comes far short of divine faith.

(b) Reformation in Worship and Church Discipline

An orthodox Church without good discipline and pure worship is like a field of corn without hedges. What a beautiful Church we would have, if the commands of Scripture were respected. Everything done in worship without God’s Word is doing we “know not what” (John 4:22). The basis on which we allow one aspect of worship which is merely from our own will will be the same grounds for more. In Church discipline and order, a profane man should be as rare in the Church as a blazing star (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:11).

(c) Reformation in Christian Living

We are warned by the Scriptures as to our outward life (Psalm 19:11). The Scriptures are the antidote against sin. A young man may cleanse his ways by them (Psalm 1119:9). Many do not consider this use of Scripture, they dare not have any other doctrine than Scripture teaches, yet they dare to live another life. In the same way that you believe as it is written you must live, fear and joy as it is written.

(d) Reformation in our Heart and Conscience

Scripture differs from all other rules and laws. They only bind us outwardly but the Scriptures reach to the heart and conscience; “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). The law can even doth convict even a self-admiring Pharisee. When this sunlight shines, it uncovers all the hidden thoughts of the heart all those motes, that otherwise would not be seen.

It is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Human eloquence does not terrify the conscience, but the Word of God does. It makes the heart cry out, “I am overcome, overcome”. It’s true that God makes use of human eloquence, but all must be subordinate to the Word. As God is the Father of spirits, so the Word is a word of spirits. Although the whole world may threaten,  the heart bears itself up if the Word comforts; if it threatens, the heart is discouraged.

(e) The Benefit of Honouring Scripture

The rule of Scripture is opposed by tradition and the reasoning and opinions of men. Most often it is opposed by appeal to majority opinion. Many never consider what the Scriptures direct but believe, worship and live as most others do. God has explicitly forbidden us to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).

If we honour Scripture as supreme we will be:

(a) secure and steadfast in our way; (b) holy and spiritual in our life; (c) at peace (Galatians 6:16); (d) derided as strict; (e) thought strange; and (f) hated.

In order to benefit from Scripture in this way, we need to:

(a) be in it frequently; (b) pray for spiritual understanding; (c) be humble and meek in submitting to it; (d) love God’s truth.

 

2. Things that Hinder Reformation

(a) Complacency

There is complacency in thinking that there is no need for reformation. This was the case with the Laodiceans; they thought they were full and rich (Revelation 3:18). Many Churches would have been more pure and reformed if they had not thought themselves reformed enough. It may be so with individuals as Paul says, I had not known sin, had not the Law said, Thou shalt not lust. A Church may say, I had not known this to be an abuse, this to be error, had not the Scripture manifested it.

(b)  Pragmatism

This makes men vary their views and conscience according to changing considerations. What is good theology for them today is error tomorrow; today’s reformation is to them tomorrow’s disorder.

(c) Sinful Moderation

How hard it is not to accept a lame and half Reformation? People think we must pass over many things and proceed gently. The rigour of God’s Word is an altogether different thing to this. There is a lawful moderation but this is different from sinful moderation.

(d) The Love of Earthly Things

In Haggai 1:2-10 we find that the people’s concern to build their own houses made them neglect building the temple of God. In order to satisfy their covetousness the Pharisees interpreted Scripture in a false way. If people would rather lose their God than their wealth or part with their religion than their riches; how can they promote God’s cause or make way for Christ’s coming? When men can delight more in the glory of their own houses than in the spiritual beauty of ordinances or have more joy in their hearts by increased wine and oil than in God and His ways – it is no wonder so few make way for Christ. Gregory Nazianzen thanked God he had any thing to lose for Christ’s sake.

(e) Sinful Desires

People are greatly troubled if they cannot indulge themselves so much in their lusts and their sins. But you should take comfort that Christ endured the contradiction of sinners.

(f) General Opposition

There may be only a few for reformation against many great and learned who oppose it. Luther confessed this was no small trial to him, “are you the only wise person, are all others in error?” But if this had been regarded, then the prophets, Christ, Luther, Calvin, would never have begun any reformation, because the world was against them. Reformations have always been judged impossible things. Luther was told “go and pray in your cell, you are not likely to do anything by commotion”. The people rage and take counsel together that Christ may not be exalted on His throne (Psalm 2:1). But this will not excuse us, it is better to endure the rage of people then the anger of God. Better to have the world’s frown than God’s.

(g) Apparent Novelty

Truth is before error; it is only sin that makes truth new. It shows how much we have apostatised that Christ’s ways are considered new. This is now how it was from the beginning. Novelty lies in error and superstition, Sabbath-breaking, neglecting godliness.

(h) Apparent Division

Divisions may seem to arise by it and errors multiply at such times. Many complain about various sects that have arisen but they never blamed those that caused them. This has always been the slander levelled at reformation: so many men, so many gospels. Luther was often told by opponents not to divide the seamless robe of Christ. Do not blame reformation for this (it is the only thing that can remove these things) blame those who caused the divisions.

(i) Outward Trouble and Commotion

This often accompanies reformation. Christ foretold fire and a sword, father against son and son against father. This would happen wherever His pure and powerful preaching was established. He is not the cause of this but rather men’s stubborn and rebellious hearts. It is not the doctor or medicine that cause the pain the sick man feels, but rather the disease that has been in him for so long.

(j) Ingratitude

People often do not esteem or prize those whom God sends to deliver them. They were unthankful to Moses and Aaron. This unthankfulness is a gross sin but it ought not to be any discouragement for those who are employed for the public good. Luther tells us how great a trial this was to him. “When I see this (ingratitude) I am sometimes broken with impatience, and seriously resolve unless this doctrine had been already dispersed, I would rather have done any thing than declared it to this unthankful world; but these are the thoughts of the flesh”.

 

3. Reasons to Continue in Reformation

But there are many urgent reasons why reformers should go on.

(a) God Punishes Neglect

Because God has punished severely the neglect of any order that He has given to His Church They may have done much, yet if they have not done completely, he has been angry. This is why you read so often concerning the kings “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away”. The judgment on Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire; the breach made on Uzzah should warn reformers against indulging breaking the least of God’s commands. Do not think not that you are free to decide how much or how little is to be done for God, you are accountable to God for jots and tittles.

(b) God Hates False Worship

There is nothing more odious to Him than corruption in His Church. What detestable names Scripture gives to idols! Jesus says in John 4 that the Father seeks those that worship Him in spirit and truth. This shows how precious and delightful to God those are that worship Him in his own way. Our Saviour tells the Pharisees that that, which was highly esteemed amongst them as great piety and devotion, was an abomination before God. Let us not do any abominable things!

(c) It is the only way of blessing

It is only in doing the will of the Lord that we are sure of blessing. Blessing came when Jehoshaphat set up those that taught the good knowledge of God. It is true that we may be in the wilderness for a long time and God may permit enemies to prevail because of the sins of His own people. We are always to remember the end of the Lord, observe the ends of all reformation, and you will find them to be peace. It is not the godliness of a godly man that causes many of his sorrows but because he does not have enough godliness. It is not reformation that creates unhappiness in a Church or State, but because we are not reformed enough, we are not willing for this to happen.

God will reform His Church by other means if we do not promote it. It is the greatest honour that God ever put on you. In these matters of God do not consult with flesh and blood. Remember that He is engaged for His truth more than you; you have your lives and wealth to lose, but God has His honour and truth to lose, which is worth more than the whole world.

How will you ever answer God at the Day of Judgement if He puts an opportunity into your hands and you have not made best use of it? Take your example from David in Psalm 132 when he had vowed to bring the ark back into a suitable place. “Remember David and all his troubles” (literally “in his whole affliction” in all his trouble, fear and concern when God smote Uzzah, and so hindered him in his intended reformation). He would not sleep or eat (hyperbole for the unrelenting efforts he would take for settling the ark).

 

Conclusion

Reformation is required in our own day, it is an act not just an event. But it is by no means an easy work. There are many challenges but for the glory of God, our own good and the good of the Church we must not only want to see it happen but engage actively in it in our own day.

 

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5 Effects of True Revival

5 Effects of True Revival

5 Effects of True Revival
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.
1 Sep, 2017

Today, many people pray and long for revival – a special outpouring of God’s blessing when His people are spiritually renewed and many others are converted. They view the advancing tide against the truth and Word of God with alarm and are concerned for the honour of God. This must not be a counsel of despair, as though we can do nothing without it and neither must we despise the day of small things. It’s possible to have a false romanticism about these things. Yet if the glory of God is truly paramount in such desires it is commendable. Revival is a time when God is truly seen as God – in His glorious majesty. This is what we desperately need. Secularism has pushed God to the edges and sometimes even Christians can be comfortable with that. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that revival is a distant memory. What would it look like and what effects would it have?

Some may ask: “do we need revival today?” The following brief clip may help to provide some answers to that question. It is the conclusion of the second video in the forthcoming Scotland’s Forgotten History series. The second video focuses on Scotland’s Forgotten Revival. This was a period which was arguably Scotland’s greatest revival. It went further, deeper and lasted longer than any other.

 

How Should We Pray for Revival?

Psalm 85:6-7 is a cry for God to revive His people again and have mercy on them. This is the Church praying for some relief from the distress in which they were at this time. David Dickson has some helpful comments on this Psalm that draw out the nature of true revival. The following is an updated extract. He notes that the cry assumes that God’s purpose and pleasure must be that His people should have joy in their God. On this basis and on the grounds of His covenant, they request new tokens of mercy.

It is like a death to be deprived of the evidence and sense of God’s favour. Likewise, it is life to be clear that we are in favour with God. Those who have had experience of the sense of God’s favour cannot endure to be without it and seek to have it restored.

We can expect a change for the better because plagues and wrath upon God’s people are only temporary. After they have smarted for their sins for a while, they may yet expect to be restored to joy and comfort again. Our joy should not be in the gift, but in the giver–we are to rejoice again in God Himself.

 

1. Revival Brings the Peace of God

Revival mercy removes the tokens of God’s wrath and brings peace and reconciliation.

(a) Although God’s people may be under the sense of wrath, yet the Lord will comfort them after they seek grace from Him: “he will speak peace unto his people” (v8).

(b) Those who are concerned about true holiness indeed are God’s people, to whom the Lord will speak peace. It is for the sake of such that the society in which they live will partake of the fruits of God’s favour to them: “he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints”.

(c) Our folly (foolishly following the vanities that allure us to sin) interrupts our peace with God. This is what diverts us from communion with God. Thus peace must come by our forsaking the sinful and foolish ways which have brought wrath. The way to keep us in that peace is not to return to these ways again. The very purpose both of God’s correcting us and His restoring peace is that we do not sin as before. “He will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly”.

 

2. Revival Brings More of God’s Glory in Our Land

The nearness of free salvation in Christ who is the glory of any land in which His saints dwell is another effect of revival (see verse 9).

(a) The heirs of the promises are the only ones that make it their business to please God and avoid provoking Him. They are those that “fear him”.

(b) The afflicted believer, labouring under the sense of wrath, cannot be satisfied with any other deliverance except Jesus Christ. He is really the only complete salvation of God. He alone is able to answer fully to that name. Christ was known to the Church before His coming in the flesh by that name. Simeon said that his eyes had seen God’s salvation when he had Christ in his arms (Luke 2:25-26, 30). Here is the name by which Christ was of old known to the Church, among many other titles. He is God’s salvation, as He is called here.

(c) Consolation and deliverance, and salvation in Christ, are near at hand to every upright afflicted believer. The afflicted believer may or may not be able to see it with comfort for the time being. Surely God’s salvation is near “them that fear him”.

(d)  Glory dwells in any land in which the true church of Christ, the saints, and those that fear God dwell. There God is glorious through Christ by His Spirit bringing righteousness and salvation to such a society. The people are glorious because of His presence and that land glorious above all other lands. Surely His salvation is near them that fear Him, “that glory may dwell in our land”.

 

3. Revival Brings More of God’s Saving Grace

The third fruit of mercy is the grace of Christ in justification and its fruits in those are justified by faith. There are three pairs here that sweetly agree together: (a) mercy and truth; (b) righteousness and peace; and (c) truth and righteousness (verses 10-11).

Mercy and Truth. God’s mercy pities, spares and pardons His sinful people. His truth performs all the good things which He has promised in His Word. A merciful God and unbelieving sinners are separated, and stand at a great distance, the one departing more and more from the other. A merciful God and a believer are surely reconciled and quickly meet together. God in Christ holds out mercy to the sinner, and mercy bestows faith on the redeemed. Faith lays hold on mercy, and so mercy and truth are met together. Mercy calls for faith, and creates it, and faith calls for mercy, and so this couple meet together.

Righteousness and Peace. Both of these are the effects of mercy and truth meeting together, or of mercy and faith saying amen to mercy’s offer. Faith laying hold on mercy, brings down righteousness or justification by faith. We, being justified by faith, have both peace with God and our own consciences (at least in terms of our right and privilege – our assurance of this peace may be interrupted). In all those that mercy (the offer of grace) and faith (receiving the offer) meet, justification (imputed righteousness) and peace with God also meet.  In this way “righteousness and peace have kissed each other”.

Truth and Righteousness.  This is truth, or true faith in man on earth and righteousness from God in heaven. Faith springing out of the earth as planted by mercy. It springs forth in its discernible fruits which are sincere love to God and man. The righteousness of God from heaven shines down as the sun to for nourish and protect what He has planted and to perform all promises to the believer.

When mercy in God and true faith in man meet together this is followed with the righteousness of justification and peace with God. Thus, true faith in man is followed with fruit. It cannot be idle but works to bring forth the effects of faith or truth. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness from heaven is followed with active influence on faith springing forth. It defends, increases and blesses it, just as the sun fosters and refreshes the fruits of the ground. “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven”.

 

4. Revival Brings God’s Favour on the Land

Outward benefits are given to the believer as well as blessing on the land where believers dwell (v12).

(a) The things of this life are appendages to the chief mercies of the gospel, which reconciled people may expect to receive of God, as their need and good require. The “Lord shall give that which is good”.

(b) The place or land, where the Lord’s people dwell, bears the tokens of God’s displeasure when they provoke Him. In the same way, the land is clearly blessed when His people are reconciled to Him: and “our land shall yield her increase”.

 

5. Revival Brings Us Forward in Holiness

The grace of Christ for directing and advancing believers in sanctification is also provided (v13). Christ will be their leader. The righteousness of Christ imputed to believers will make believers follow Christ’s ways, and go on in the paths of His obedience.

(a) Christ is the captain of His redeemed and reconciled people. He and His people are walking in one way in which He goes before His people so that they may follow His steps. He also goes behind them to bring and set them forward in the way, so that none may fall away.

(b) Righteousness prepares Christ’s people to follow Him: This happens in the work of conversion or regeneration, in which the mind is enlightened to see righteousness and the heart inclined to follow it. It also takes place in the work of daily direction by His Word and Spirit. “Righteousness shall go before him”.

(c) The believer must walk in the way prescribed by the Lord as leader. The grace of righteousness or sanctification is that which advances us effectually towards holiness.  Christ as leader sends this into His people’s hearts to make them follow the direction given to them. “Righteousness shall go before him, and shall set us in the way of his steps”.

Scotland’s Greatest Revival

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What insights might you learn from understanding the seven key points why the Second Reformation period was not only a national movement of reform in the Church and Nation but also the greatest period of revival in our country's history?  What if the key to the future is knowing the past?

Go forward best. Look back first.

Watch the mini documentary series that  opens up a compelling, yet often ignored, chapter in Scottish history to reveal some surprising lessons for the future.

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Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
13 Jul, 2017

​Why do some ministers fail completely? Certain high-profile pastors (most notably in the United States) have fallen in recent years, badly and publicly. Some observe the numbers of pastors haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons are burnout and moral failure. The two are not unconnected. Sometimes moral failure follows on from burnout but they arise from the same causes. Burnout often occurs due to chasing outward success and the approval of others. Success means focusing on what is visible and attracts attention, even if it means neglecting the inward life and cultivating personal godliness towards others. Moral failure begins with the neglect of the inward life. The origins of such failure are hidden and it may take time before they become more visible. How can you prevent what you cannot see?

The issues involved are spiritual, spiritual sins such as pride and inward decline. Spiritual pride goes before a fall. Perhaps ministers begin to believe that they are “perfect” simply because there is an expectation that they must be. Perhaps they become detached from their message and start to think that they are “above the rules”. Certainly, it must stem from failure to keep short accounts with God and confess particular sins regularly and particularly. The apostle Paul had strict self-discipline in his watch against sin – lest having preached to others he himself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Yet there is another kind of ministerial failure: going about the spiritual duties of the ministry in an unspiritual way. This has a serious impact not only on the pastor himself but also on those to whom he ministers. There is a lesson for us all in terms of the expectations that we place on ministers in terms of outward things. As long as things seem to go well outwardly there may be less concern about spiritual prosperity. Perhaps we do not wisely consider how to encourage the preacher without feeding his pride. Sometimes church members are also less comfortable (if they are honest) with high spiritual standards and make this clear in various ways. It can help create a climate in which the causes of such failure flourish.

This is a gospel issue, since it affects the conviction with which the gospel is declared and also its credibility if the messenger fails to live up to the message. The souls of many are at stake. The conduct of a negligent minister has eternal consequences (1 Timothy 4:16).

It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. (Robert Murray M‘Cheyne)

How does this relate to those who are not ministers themselves? The most important means at your disposal for combatting the spiritual causes of ministry failure is prayer. It is an essential but often forgotten duty. As opposed to negative criticism (justified or not) it is extremely positive and constructive. The apostle Paul appeals for the prayers of God’s people on many occasions (Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22). In some cases he makes the brief but earnest appeal: “pray for us”. In Romans 15 he asks them to strive together with him in prayer. The word means an agonising struggle such as combat or wrestling. He asked for prayer in the context of opposition and persecution. Ministers may not face the same kind of persecution but they are the focus of much opposition in an age of apostasy.

“Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be such a minister as their prayers make him. … How perilous is the condition of that minister … whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people!…It is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. … When the churches cease to pray for ministers, ministers will no longer be a blessing to the churches.” (Gardiner Spring)

How ought we to pray for ministers? James Fergusson gives a number of illuminating comments on some of Paul’s requests for prayers.

 

1. Pray for Your Minister

Whatever abilities and graces a minister may have, he should seek the help of God’s people committed to his charge for further enabling him to go about the duties of his calling. He is to seek the help of their prayers especially (Colossians 4:3). Everyone no matter their gifts can engage in this. Paul assumes this and therefore calls on all (not excluding the least) to help him by their prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:25). He craved the help of their prayers as one who prayed for them (1 Thessalonians 2:16).

The most able ministers who have most grace are usually most conscious of the weighty burden of the ministry. They are conscious of the need for their own efforts, study and secret wrestling with God in prayer in secret. Yet in order to be best fitted for its duties, they see the necessity of not only this but also of the assistance and prayers of others. Paul, an able minister with eminent graces considers it necessary to seek the help of others for himself, emphasising “And for me” (Ephesians 6:19). Those Christians who are most eminent in gifts and graces are usually most conscious of their own failings. They also highly prize the worth of other Christians rather than undervaluing them as compared with themselves. They are ready to condescend to receive some spiritual benefit and advantage from them. Though Paul exceeded all in spiritual things yet he seeks the help of their prayers with the greatest affection.

 

2. Pray for Preservation

In Philippians 1:19, Paul attributes his preservation despite much adversity to the Spirit of Christ as obtained by their prayers for him. By salvation we understand, not only his eternal wellbeing but his constancy in avowing truth and the preservation of his temporal life for the time being. Prayer conscientiously engaged in is an excellent means for drawing from God through Christ the best mercies, not only for ourselves but also others for whom we pray. Thus, through the prayer of these Philippians, Paul would receive supply from Christ.

 

3. Pray for Liberty in Preaching

Piety and knowledge are not the only things required in a minister, they must also have a gift of utterance (Ephesians 6:19). In other words, a singular dexterity to express his thoughts to others in an appropriate, clear and persuasive way. Without this, his other abilities can avail little to inform the understanding or work on the emotions of his hearers. This is why Paul chiefly desires that utterance may be given to him.

Whatever gift a minister has of this nature (whether naturally or otherwise) he is not to rely on his gift and skill when he comes to exercise it in preaching so much as to depend on God. He must depend on Him for direct influence and assistance to strengthen his memory, uphold and order his speech and give him the present actual exercise of his gift. Without this he will either fail in his use of it or give the glory to his own abilities if he does not depend on God. This will provoke the Lord to blast his efforts and make them useless. Although Paul already had a gift of utterance, having now preached so long and so well, he wants them not only to pray for it to be continued but also that God would provide its actual exercise whenever he made use of it.

 

4. Pray for Boldness in Preaching

Paul asks for prayer in relation to this in Ephesians 6:19. A competent gift of utterance is not the only thing required in a minister.  He must also have faithful boldness in delivering his message without servile fear or partiality. Otherwise he may tickle the ear but cannot rouse up dead and sleeping consciences. Paul asks them to pray not only that he may have utterance but that he may be assisted to open his mouth boldly.

People are usually greatly incensed when their ministers deal with them frankly and can hardly endure being spoken to with holy boldness (Isaiah 30:10). Even the best ministers are greatly influenced by an unmortified fear of man and a sinful reticence to trust the Lord with the personal consequences of faithful boldness (Matthew 10: 26, 28; Exodus 4:10,13). Special assistance and influence from God is necessary therefore to make a minister open his mouth boldly. This means not concealing any necessary truth, not forbearing reproof of any known sin, not fearing anyone or considering danger and loss he may meet with for so doing. Paul asks them to seek this from God on his behalf “that he may open his mouth boldly”.

 

5. Pray for Christ-centred Preaching

Ministers must seriously consider the excellency, worth and mysteriousness of the subject they must preach and make known. This would entirely convince them of their own insufficiency for such a task and their need of assistance from God and the help of their people’s prayers for obtaining His assistance. Considering the mystery of the gospel that he was to make known is what moved Paul to distrust his own strength and seek the help of their prayers.

Such assistance from God is not for their own sake, to be praised or approved by men but that the Lord’s people may be edified and Christ exalted. This is done by laying open the rich and excellent things concerning Him in the Gospel. This is why Paul desires the gift of utterance and boldness “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

 

6. Pray that the Gospel would Prevail

It is the duty of the Lord’s people and servants not only to welcome and maintain the gospel where it is already but also to have enlarged desires together with utmost endeavours for the gospel to spread to those places where it is not. Thus, Paul wants them to pray that the word of the Lord may have free course.

The devil and sinful men cast so many great obstructions in the way of the gospel’s progress (Acts 10:23) that no human endeavours or anything but the omnipotent power of God can fully remove them. It is necessary to pray to God “that the word of the Lord may have free course” (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

7. Pray for Clear Preaching

One of the great tasks for a minister is to preach in way that makes what he preaches plain to the people. In terms of method (2 Timothy 2:15) style, (1 Corinthians 2:4) and close application (2 Timothy 4:2.), his purpose is (so far as is possible) to reach the capacity of the lowest. He thus says, “that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

8. Pray for Faithful Preaching

There are many other things (besides a holy boldness and plainness) to which a minister should give attention in preaching. He must preach in a way that is appropriate to the conditions of all, (Isaiah 50:4) so that he speaks with affection and pity, even to the most stubborn (Jeremiah 4:19). He must preach patiently not becoming weary because of lack of success (2 Timothy 2:25). He must preach zealously, with indignation against sin (Isaiah 58:1). He must also preach frequently (2 Timothy 4:2) and with self-denial (2 Corinthians 4:5). These and many other necessary things are all summed up by Paul in this comprehensive expression “As I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

9. Pray for Fruitful Preaching

It is the duty of ministers and people to do all they can in seeking that the gospel may run through the tongues and ears of many and outward subjection rendered to it. It is also their duty to strive to have it received in hearts and testified by the holy life of those who do receive it. They must not rest satisfied with the outward spread of the gospel without some promising evidences of its spiritual fruitfulness. Paul urges them not only to pray that “the gospel may have free course”, but also “that it may be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Grace is not envious (1 Corinthians 13:4). The fact that God’s Word has prevailed mightily with ourselves and captivated us into obedience to it should incite us to plead with God that others may be similarly won. It also gives grounds for hope that such labour will not be in vain in the Lord. When Paul incites them to pray for others with confidence, he reminds them how the gospel had prevailed with themselves, “even as it is with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

10. Pray for Every Aspect of Your Minister

This is so comprehensive as to be daunting but it comes back to the causes of ministry failure. We have produced a booklet which covers every aspect of a minister’s life and duties. This would enable you to pray for your minister in relation to all of the potential pitfalls for failings that he faces. Many of the personal matters are those that are helpful for your own self-examination. Once you have read it and used it in this way yourself you could pass it on to your minister as an expression of prayerful support.

It is called Sins of the Ministry and is an updated version of an older publication called A Humble Acknowledgement of the Sins of the Ministry.  Horatius Bonar refers to it in his classic book Words to Winners of Souls (1859). In fact, Bonar devotes a whole chapter to the subject of confession and uses the document as the foundation for his remarks. Baxter likewise devotes a whole chapter of his valuable book The Reformed Pastor to confessing the sins of the ministry. Bonar says that A Humble Acknowledgement is “perhaps one of the fullest, most faithful and most impartial confessions of ministerial sin ever made”. Any impartial reader of this booklet will surely agree. Bonar goes on to apply these piercing convictions to himself and ministers in his own day. The questions in our booklet aim to do likewise in order to make contemporary application.

The booklet is thoroughly searching but extremely necessary. Pastors often feel isolated and under intense pressure and attack. This booklet does not seek to add to such burdens. Yet failings are not resolved by hiding them. Perhaps neglecting to face these issues is the greatest hidden burden a minister carries. There is help and encouragement here for ministers to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness.

It is 52 pages in length and can be purchased at our online store for £2 (not including p+p).

Sins of the Ministry

£2.00

When pastors fall, it's a gospel issue. Lack of personal holiness in ministers creates contempt for their message. Reading this booklet will give ministers encouragement to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness. Here is a guide for personal reflection which can also help pastors to discuss their common failings usefully and openly together.

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Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?
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.
30 Jun, 2017

The slogan “I love Jesus but not the Church” has been repeated so often it’s now a category in major surveys. It’s now supposed to cover about 10% of people in the USA. This individualistic consumerist mindset may have eroded the thinking of more than this category alone. It’s easy to be a fickle consumer of the Church, taking what we like and leaving the rest. Without recognising it, we often complain when Church doesn’t fulfil our needs and expectations. There are of course genuine hurts and struggles as in any human relationship. Yet it seems as though our view of the Church has become too small. Slogans about not loving the Church may seem absurd at the same time that our love to her has grown cold. Do those who say they do love Christ and the Church give practical expression to that love?

Loving the Church is not to be in word or in tongue only but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). David Dickson draws out some of these lessons in commenting on the second half of Psalm 122 in this updated extract. This is a Psalm that speaks with joy about a willingness to worship God together. Jerusalem -the place where they gathered- was marked by unity, stability and God-ordained government (verses 3-5). This is to be a picture of the Church also -which is frequently compared to Jerusalem in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:22; Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 4:26).

This part of Psalm 122 exhorts us all to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, or the Universal Church as signified by it.  As part of this, David Dickson explains some general principles for practical love towards Christ’s Church. We must love Christ’s Church as well as Christ and we must do this is in a wholehearted way.

 

1. Loving the Church Means Praying that She Will Prosper

The universal Church should be dear to every member. We must pray for her that she may prosper: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (v6).

 

2. Loving the Church Means Seeking Her Welfare

No one can pray for the welfare of the Church heartily unless they love her.  No one will love her and seek her welfare without faring better for it themselves. It is promised here that those who love her will prosper (v6).

 

3. Loving the Church Means Defending Her

The Church is a war-town. It is like a walled town situated among enemies, and cannot trust those outside but must constantly keep watch. Jerusalem, as the type of the Church, was a shadow of this with her walls and towers. She must have peace within her walls (v7).

 

4. Loving the Church Means Praying for Her Peace

Peace within the Church is no less necessary than prosperity. As long as peace is within the Church, it matters less what enemies she may have without. Thus, we pray that peace may be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces (v7).

 

5. Loving the Church Means Loving God’s People

All the members of the Church militant should love one another as brethren, as fellow-partners in loss and gain. The relation which they have to one Father (the Lord) and one Mother (the Universal Church) means that they should love one another as brothers and companions (v8).

 

6. Loving the Church Means Doing All We Can to Promote Her Good

The Church is the Lord’s dwelling house in this world. Whoever loves the Lord must not only inwardly love her, but also use all effectual means endeavour to promote the good of the Church. Every true member of the Church must do as much for her as lies in them, to the utmost that their calling will allow. They must do all they can to have religion established, God’s ordinances obeyed, public worship established, the Word truly preached, the sacraments rightly administred, and Church-government exercised according to the Word of God exercised. This is what the example here teaches us, to seek the good of the Church for the sake of “the house of the Lord my God”.

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All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?

All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?

All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?
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.
9 Jun, 2017

How much should churches change their message and methods to suit the culture around them? Some believe that whatever methods will connect with people are justified. The gospel must be “contextualised” they say. This means that we must adapt everything but the core message to suit the culture. The main Bible verse that they use to support this idea is when Paul speaks of being all things to all men in order to save them. Does that mean that we must adopt the culture around us and everything we do must be changed? How should we understand this verse?

Reaching back beyond current debates and controversies to learn from the way that others in the past have understood this passage is particularly helpful. It brings a different perspective that help us to see things in a clearer way. We are not the only generation to seek to understand the Scriptures and if we are prepared to learn from other Christians in our own day then why not from the past too? The following is therefore drawn from the way that David Dickson and James Durham understood 1 Corinthians 9:22. In this verse Paul says “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”. We need to understand these words in their context, not just repeat them as a slogan.

 

1. Paul is speaking about his personal conduct

Paul has been speaking about financial support for the ministry in verses 7-14. He then speaks about his own practice amongst the Corinthians in verses 17-18. If my preaching is “voluntary, it shall have a reward” he says “but if against my will, I must still discharge it, because of the dispensation committed to me by the command of God” (Dickson). Paul contrasts this with those who “unwillingly preach the gospel” and “exercise their ministry, not out of any love to God and desire of converting souls but for filthy lucre’s sake or out of vain-glory” (Dickson). But Paul chose to deny himself what he was entitled to by not seeking financial support for his ministry in this context. He chose to “make the gospel of Christ without charge” (v18).  If he had sought financial support, those who opposed him would have used it against him and he would have “abused the gospel” (v18) and “abused his liberty” (Dickson).

James Durham says that Paul’s taking wages in Corinth would have harmed the edification of the Corinthians because it would have given confirmed the suspicion that he was self-seeking. It would only strengthen the slanders he received from his opponents. It would have been unedifying for Paul to accept financial support because it would have stirred up groundless suspicion. The spiritual edification of our brother is of more value than our temporal rights. Thus we may have to forbear lawful things that we are inclined to do if doing it would harm the edification of others.

Paul has a liberty (v19) but he is willing to give up his personal benefit if it will get in the way of spiritual service to others. He is willing to do this in “all sorts of things that are indifferent” so as not to serve “himself but rather others so that he might gain them” (Dickson). There are three ways in which he gave up his entitlements in this way (verses 20-22).

  • Jews. He conformed himself to the Jews who considered themselves bound to keep the ceremonial law. If necessary in particular times and places, he was willing to observe the ceremonies appointed under Moses. He did this as though he was under the yoke of ceremonies. He did this according to the verdict of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22-29) which left the Jews (such as Paul) who had been born under that yoke free to use the ceremonies for a time. In no way was this the case for the Gentiles (Acts 21:21, 25).
  • Gentiles. When amongst the Gentiles who were without obligation to the ceremonial law, he laid aside the use of such ceremonies, as though he was without obligation to that law. He makes it clear, however, that he did not mean the moral law or the law of love. This is the perpetual law of God and Christ, from which he could not be freed. He was indeed he freed from the ceremonial law so that he might freely, for the advantage of the gospel, either use of abstain from using such ceremonies.
  • Weak Believers. Paul conformed himself to those who doubted whether they were free to abstain from lawful things.

It should be clear that Paul is not speaking about a positive requirement to adopt a culture but rather in relation to whether certain practices are positively commanded by God or indifferent. He is speaking about personal conduct rather than providing a full-blown missionary strategy or church planting methodology.

 

2. Paul is speaking about things that are indifferent

It is important to see that Paul is not talking about being free from the moral law. He emphasises in verse 21 “being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ”. This means that all things to all men certainly does not mean engaging in anything that would be contrary to what God has required or forbidden. In verse 27 Paul speaks about his personal need of constant spiritual and moral discipline. Paul is rather speaking about how “he accommodates himself to all men in all things that are indifferent” (Dickson). He does this for three reasons.

    1. That he might gain as many as possible, or at least some (v22).
    2. That the teaching of the gospel might be better esteemed amongst all by moderating himself in this way (v23).
    3. That serving the advantages of the gospel and that he might be saved, being made partaker of the gospel with other believers (v23).

 

3. Paul is speaking about edification

It is clear that Paul is speaking about edification when we compare what he says in the next chapter when returning to the subject. In 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 he sets out the requirement that “in all our actions (and therefore in eating and drinking) we must endeavour that God may be glorified. This is not done when we eat with offence to others” (Dickson). Offence in Scripture means being a stumbling stone to someone else and harming their spiritual edification. It is important to understand the contrast with the modern idea of offence as hurt feelings or being exposed to an opinion with which you disagree. For more on this vital subject read 7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others.

In 1 Corinthians 10:32 Paul goes on to say that we “must give offence to no one, whether they profess the true religion or not” (Dickson). We should even deny ourselves the liberty of being free to eat anything if we are going to cause someone else to stumble by eating something. In verse 33 Paul returns to his own example in a way that brings out the meaning of “all things to all men”. He says that he pleases “all men in all things; not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved”. Dickson draws from this that all believers “are bound to imitate the apostle’s example in all things that are indifferent. He did not seek to serve his own temporal profit, but rather the eternal salvation of others. He would not eat in such cases therefore, and so are all bound not to eat this or that food where it would stumble another”.

James Durham makes frequent references to 1 Corinthians 9:22 in a classic book that deals with the danger of stumbling others and harming their spiritual edification. He shows that when we stumble others it is because we are seeking to please ourselves rather than love our neighbour as ourselves. He says that we must “bear the infirmities of the weak and not please ourselves, but rather our neighbour for his good to edification, even as Christ pleased not himself, (Romans 15:1-3)”.

Durham notes that this was Paul’s practice in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He became all things to all men for their edification. He pursued the edification of others in his use of indifferent things and denied himself in relation to what would please him personally.Paul prevented offence, when by becoming all things to all, he made way for his being acceptable in his station.  Durham says that this not simply about avoiding things that may harm edification.

Durham says that such stumbling takes place in confusing people in the truth or practices of religion so that they are made doubtful whether such things are duties and truths, or not. In this way they may be diverted from some of the more necessary practices of religion. This is the purpose of Romans chapter 14 and similar parts of Scripture. For instance he guards against doubtful disputations which are not profitable (Hebrews 13:9). This is not only in writing and reasoning for what is not truth, but writing and speaking of truth in a new manner with new expressions, or doing it contentiously.

Durham goes on to say that what is not actually edifying stumbles others. It is for this reason that Paul becomes all things to all, that he may gain some. For instance, he has Timothy circumcised so that he might have access to edify the Jews. Not striving to please others in indifferent things hindered them from being edified by us. It gives them prejudice at the way of the gospel so that their edification is obstructed and they offended.

Durham speaks of denying ourselves in things that are indifferent in themselves such as eating or not eating such a food for such a time. Paul was even willing never to eat meat again if it would harm the edification of another (1 Corinthians 8:13). This is to become all things to all men in order to gain them (1 Corinthians 9:22). It is when our practice in such things is conformed not to our own inclination but so as to edify others. It cannot stop us from doing our duty as commanded by God yet even in commanded duties we need to consider the appropriate time and circumstances.

Durham observes that all things to all men means equal respect to all kind of persons in relation to edification. We to avoid stumbling weak as well as strong, the ungodly as well as the gracious. The command is general: 1 Corinthians 10:32 uses three categories to include all sorts of persons. Just as we ought not to sin in reference to any person, so we ought not to give to any of them an occasion of sinning, because that is never good. Paul would not give the false teachers of Corinth grounds to be stumbled any more than the Church-members.  In this respect we are debtors both to the Jews and Greeks, to the unwise as to the wise (Romans 1:14). In indifferent things we are to become all things to all men, even to those that are weak and without law (though still we are to be under the law) that more may be gained (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).

 

Conclusion

David Dickson and James Durham have taken us deeply into the meaning and context of 1 Corinthians 9:22. It is not a passage requiring evangelists to adopt a culture in order to engage people with the gospel.  It does not support the popular idea that we must secularise our language and use methods that trivialise the message. This may actually harm people in their spiritual edification if it makes the gospel message superficial and trivial, with less of the authority of heaven and the sense of eternity. This would in fact achieve the opposite of what Paul means in being all things to all men.

Culture is not entirely neutral and the medium affects the message. Paul could have used other means such as drama to promote his message. They would have been more cultural and respected. But God chose “the foolishness of preaching to save some” (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Paul was concerned with what God had commanded.

1 Corinthians 9:22 is speaking about pursuing the spiritual edification of others, within and outside the Church. It is highly challenging on a personal level. Are we dedicated to seeking the maximum edification of all others? Are there aspects of our behaviour and speech that are hindering edification? What is not actually edifying stumbles others.

One application of the passage would be that anything unnecessary or indifferent in itself that might harm edification should be removed. We should seek to avoid unnecessary offence or prejudice. It is not about jettisoning aspects of vital biblical principle. Could the movement to effect wholesale change in the worship and practice of churches actually be harming the spiritual edification of others contrary to 1 Corinthians 9:22? Seeking the spiritual good of others means teaching them to observe all things that Christ commands (Matthew 28:20).

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The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

The Church is Still Christ’s Glory
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
5 May, 2017

​The Church is often given scant regard in society at large. Changing values and trends push the church well into the shadows. Statistics like those in the recent Scottish Church Census are not lacking to underline how secularised things have become. It is easy to see the Church as weak when viewed outwardly. Again, however, we must see the Church from Christ’s perspective rather than look through the blurred lens of unbelief.

Christ’s true Church in Scotland seemed perhaps even more weak and despised in the times of James Renwick than it does now.  Renwick was ordained as a minister in Holland in 1683, before coming back to Scotland to begin preaching.  The flocks to which Renwick returned were in his own words, “a poor, wasted, wounded, afflicted, bleeding, misrepresented, and reproached remnant and handful of suffering people”. They had no congregations and no buildings in which to worship. Conventicles or illegal worship services in the fields and hills were held at the risk of their lives, liberty and livelihoods.

Renwick preached intensively and travelled incessantly across the country.  For his safety he had to take shelter in moors and caves and travel under cover of darkness. It broke his health – he said that  “Excessive travel, night wanderings, unseasonable sleep and diet, and frequent preaching in all seasons of weather, especially in the night, have so debilitated me that I am often incapable for any work”.

On one of these occasions Renwick opened his remarks with the following moving observation. “The Lord, by a special providence, has brought us together, not knowing if ever we shall have the like occasion to meet together again”. It seems likely from some of what he said that the service was at night in order to be better concealed under cover of darkness. The sermon he proceeded to preach was from Zechariah 2:8. His theme was that the Church is Christ’s glory (see also Isaiah 4:5).

Christ has the Church for His special and unique kingdom where he delights to manifest His glory. She is His declarative glory, His purchase and the price of His precious blood. She is His society where He desires to dwell. O who can set forth the love of Christ to His Church? She is beautiful through His comeliness.

 

1. Glorified by Christ’s Redemption

The Church is Christ’s glory because He has glorified Himself in the great work of His Church’s redemption.  He manifests the glory of His power in His Church in the conversion of His elect. More of God’s power is to be seen in the conversion of a soul to Himself than in the creation of heaven and earth. God could and did create the heaven and the earth without the merit or mediation of His Son Jesus Christ. Heaven and earth are God’s works not as Redeemer but as Creator. It is true indeed, that, in the work of creation and all God’s works all three persons of the ever blessed Godhead concurred together. But the work of creation is not attributed to Jesus Christ as Redeemer.

The second creation (the soul’s conversion to God) deals with the corrupt nature in man which strongly opposes and resists the work of grace. There is therefore greater glory in beginning and carrying on the work of grace against this strong opposition and resistance than in creating heaven and earth where there was no such resistance.

What shall I say of the glory which Christ manifests in the work of conversion? It surpasses the rhetoric of angels to express it.

 

2. Glorified with Christ’s Ordinances

The church is Christ’s glory, because He has dignified and beautified her with his ordinances. Psalm 147:19-20 mentions the ordinances of God bestowed upon His church. This shows the glory of God and the beauty, dignity, and privileges of His Church. God’s ordinances are part of that by which He makes Himself known. Since He beautifies and dignifies His church with His ordinances, therefore His church is called Christ’s glory.

 

3. Glorified with Christ’s Presence

The Church is called Christ’s glory, because He makes known His glorious presence in her with His ordinances (Psalm 68:15-16). His Church is His glorious mount Zi0n where He delights to dwell and where His presence is with His ordinances. How gloriously sometimes He has shined and appeared in His ordinances, even in Scotland. He has made His glorious voice heard and His footsteps seen. His stately goings have been seen in the sanctuary. There has been much of His glorious presence manifested in His ordinances in Scotland on hills and brae-sides. His voice has been heard there and his stately goings have been seen. Do you see anything of the stately goings of His gracious presence in His ordinances, which is one way whereby He makes His church glorious?

 

4. Glorified with Christ’s Image

The Church is called Christ’s glory because she carries His image (1 John 3:3). The godly man strives to be holy as Christ is holy. O what glory it is to be like Jesus Christ. This special privilege of His children (Psalm 45:13; Song 4:9). How glorious Christ’s image makes His Church. He is the express image of His Father and the brightness of that glory (Hebrews 1:3). He sets His image on the true Church, those who are real members of His spiritual body.

See what He says concerning the beauty of His Church in Song 6:4-5. The Church is called Christ’s glory because she bears His image. You must be sure that you have Christ’s image on you, if you would be amongst those on whom He puts His name. For the mere profession of religion will not give you a right to that name “His glory” but rather truly bearing His image.

 

5.Glorified by Christ’s Acts for Her

The Church is called Christ’s glory because He delights to manifest His glory, in appearing and working for her and making her triumph over her enemies (Exodus 15:1 and 21). God gets glory in His wonderful appearing and working for His people. Thus, His Church is His glory because glorifies Himself in this way. Her low condition does not obstruct this His people since despite visiting His people with trouble and affliction, His Church is still His glory.

The time when His Church and people are low and in trouble is when He most manifests His glory in doing for them as Israel saw in the wilderness. Thus, Israel’s marching through the wilderness is said to be God’s marching (Psalm 68:7).

 

6. Glorified with Christ’s Praise

The Church is called Christ’s glory because she sets forth His glory by praise (Psalm 50:23). The Christian is greatly taken up with declaring God to be a glorious God. The Christian adorns his profession by gospel living. He is takes great delight in praising Him and pursuing a life of thankfulness to Him as well as praying to Him.

A Christian must take up much of his time in praying to and praising God so that He may be glorified. Slothfulness is a great dishonour to the name of God but diligence exalts the name of God; it glorifies His name. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength and honour, and glory, and blessing” is what they are crying this night above the clouds and stars (Revelation 5:11-12). All who expect to have their life through eternity should begin their work now, in glorifying and praising God.

 

7. Glorified with Christ’s Working for His Name’s Sake

The Church is called Christ’s glory because it is only for His name’s glory that He does all things for her (Ezekiel 36:22; Psalm 79:19). Christ’s name sake is the only moving argument that the Church should make use of.

James Renwick

“As to the remnant I leave, I have committed them to God. Tell them from me not to weary, nor be discouraged in maintaining the testimony. Let them not quit nor forego one of these despised truths. Keep your ground, and the Lord will provide you teachers and ministers, and when He comes, He will make these despised truths glorious upon the earth…’Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of truth'”

(His very last words before being executed, 17 February 1688)

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Is the Church Going to Drown?

Is the Church Going to Drown?

Is the Church Going to Drown?
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.
28 Apr, 2017

The recent facts of the Scottish Church Census are stark. Some call it a crisis. It observes steep decline in attendance. Mainly ageing congregations are mostly led by ageing ministers. Some may query the definition of church and make qualifications and caveats about statistics. Yet it still makes sombre reading and seems to measure a deluge of secularisation making further tidal advances. How far will it go? What will things look like in 10 years time? When we quantify things in spiritual rather than numerical decline there may be even greater cause for concern. But we need to take God’s perspective rather than merely heed the statistician.

It is just such a perspective that we get in Psalm 93. As David Dickson observes, it is a Psalm for the comfort of God’s people against the multitude and power of their enemies. Their enemies often seem likely to overflow, devour and drown the Church. Yet the Church has its defence, comfort and victory in the Lord of glory. We are to draw comfort from praising God. He is the great governor of the world, unchangeable and eternal constantly guiding the world by His power and wisdom (verses 1-2).

The opposition of the of the enemies of the Church is compared to the growing flood or the raging sea (verse 3). Yet the Psalmist declares the glory and might of God in opposition to their power (verses 4-5).  These truths are applied, showing how we ought to respond if we desire such comfort in believing (verse 5).

 

The Church’s Fears

The Church fears that she is likely to be overflowed as with a deluge by a multitude of powerful enemies. She bemoans these to God in verse 3.

1. They are Real Fears

It is no surprise to see the world rising up tumultuously to overthrow the Church like a deluge coming on them to drown and devour everything. It is no surprise to hear enemies threatening destruction to the Church like the noise of flood waters coming down the mountains after rain, from which there is no escape. The floods have lifted up their voice and their waves.

2. The Best Way to Deal with Such Fears

The best way to counter threatenings and fears is with God. We must lay them before the Lord that He may answer them. This is what the Psalmist does here, saying “the floods have lifted up, O Lord”.

 

God is Mightier than All that the Church Fears

The Psalmist contrasts the power of God with the boasting, malice and power of the enemies. God’s power is far above that of the Church’s enemies. He is more mighty in defending the Church than the enemy is in opposing it.

1. Only Heavenly Help and Comfort will Calm Our Fears

Only heavenly help and comfort from above is able to calm our fears here below in times of persecution and fear of  enemies. “The Lord on high” (verse 4) is contrasted with the roaring of the floods and waters dashing against the Church.

2. God is More Powerful than the Church’s Enemies

We can neither glorify God nor comfort ourselves against the power of the Church’s enemies unless we exalt the Lord’s power above them all: “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters”.

3. God is Above All that We Fear

The Lord is above everything that terrifies us. He is able to restrain them as He pleases and by His power terrify those that terrify His Church: “The Lord is mightier than the noise of many waters” and “the mighty waves of the sea”.

 

Conclusion

The Psalmist also applies these truths concerning the Lord’s power and good will to defend His Church. Since the Word of the Lord is sure and true in itself, we should acknowledge it to be sure.  We should set our seal to it, as the Psalmist does here in saying that God’s “testimonies are very sure”. Another application is that if we wish to have the benefit of the protection promised here we must strive to be holy.

1. Scripture Testifies to Itself

Whatever is said in Scripture needs no external proof. It is God’s declaration and whatever it declares is true. His promises are therefore referred to here as His testimonies.

2. Scripture Will Never Deceive Us

No one can ever be deceived in believing the truth of the Scriptures or the Lord’s testimony within it.  When we have God’s Word our minds can rest at peace, because His “testimonies are very sure”.

3. The Lord’s Presence is the Church’s Greatest Blessing

The strength and happiness of the Lord’s people is that they are the Lord’s habitation and place of residence. God’s Church and people are dedicated and consecrated to Him, His holy house. The temple was only a type and shadow of this.

4. God will be Sanctified by All that Draw Near Him

Any who desired to enjoy the preservation and privileges promised to the Church must strive after holiness. This is also the duty of the members of the Church, holiness becomes this House.

5. These Duties and Blessings Belong to the Church in All Ages

The dignity, duty and privileges of God’s people are perpetual. Consecration, holy affections and conduct and and the removal of sin and misery in particular do not belong unto any time or age. Rather, they are for all that strive to be approved of God, protected and made blessed by God in all times and ages, in all places and company, all the days of their life. Holiness is becoming to God’s House for ever.

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What is Worship?

What is Worship?

What is Worship?
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.
13 Apr, 2017

It is strange that we may engage in something so often and yet not stop to ask what it is. We could ask many different individuals to define worship and we would get a variety of responses. Some people think of praise as “a time of worship”. Others might add prayer together with that. Another response might stress that it is an attitude of heart more than specific activities. Then there are those who want to say that all of life is worship. What really matters, however, is not the range of personal opinion but how God defines it in His Word.

The English word worship derives from “worth-ship” i.e. ascribing worth. In Scripture, the words for worship often indicate specific acts such as kneeling, falling down, doing reverence, paying homage (literally kissing towards). Sometimes they indicate fear, other times service and humbling ourselves. It is both attitude and action. There are also activities that are distinct from daily life e.g. a distinct meal (the Lord’s Supper and a distinct day (the Lord’s Day). It includes specific acts of public worship which a congregation assembles to offer. These are regulated in a different way than everyday activities at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 33-34).

As an overall definition of worship it would be hard to improve on Robert Shaw’s statement. It is found in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 21). It encompasses the various dimensions that we have mentioned.

Religious worship consists in that homage and honour which we give to God, as a being of infinite perfection; whereby we profess our subjection to, and confidence in him, as our chief good and only happiness. It may be viewed as either internal or external; the former consisting in that inward homage which we owe to God, such as loving, believing, fearing, trusting in him, and other elicit acts of the mind; the latter consisting in the outward expression of that homage, by the observance of his instituted ordinances.

It is worth pausing with slow reflection to absorb the comprehensive meaning of this definition. Worship involves acknowledging our subjection to God as not only a greater but the greatest being. He is the highest possible object of our inward and outward expressions. Our hearts must be engaged to Him and taken up with Him as well as our mind, soul and strength. The only true outward acts of worship are those He Himself has commanded. It is not for us to define what is acceptable to God or magnifies Him. Scripture speaks of any other worship as “will-worship” (Colossians 2:23). Even if it is offered to God it is only worship of our own will because we have chosen it not God.

James Durham also takes up the challenge of defining worship in his exposition of the Fourth Commandment.

By worship is understood some tribute paid by the reasonable creature to God as the great and Sovereign Lord Creator.

This mentions the same homage and ascribing of worth and greatness to God in humble reverence and dependence. Durham does not leave it there, he then makes a distinction between direct and indirect acts of worship. There is worship “immediately and directly paid and performed to Him, such as prayer and praise”. There are also indirect acts of worship which are done “for Him and at His command and for His honour”. These include “preaching, hearing and receiving the sacraments”. These are also worship when rightly engaged in.

Durham stresses the moral requirement of worship. Worship strictly defined is something required by the first table of the moral law i.e. the first four commandments. In these worship is commanded “for the honour of God and not for our own or another’s external profit”. The benefit of others comes into the second table of the moral law. Commandments 5-10 teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. But this cannot be strictly called worship, much less direct and immediate worship. Thus, teaching others the duties of piety may be worship when teaching the duties of any other ordinary calling is not. In this way Durham shows that there are acts of worship to God distinct from the rest of life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God and in submission to His Word but this does not make it impossible to distinguish it from stated worship. In an essay included in his commentary on Revelation Durham gives some further principles that are basic to the understanding of worship.

Further Basic Principles of Worship

1. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – God

No one else but God has the infinite attributes and excellencies which are requisite in the object of divine worship. These include omniscience, omnipotence, infiniteness, supreme majesty, glory etc. Adorability results from these – this is an essential attribute of the majesty of God just as immutability and eternity. He is adorable, because He is infinite, immense, omniscient etc. Worship and adorability cannot therefore be given to or shared with any other any more than these unique attributes can be given or shared. Yet none can be worshipped who is not adorable.

 

2. There is Only One Kind of Divine Worship – God’s

There is only one kind of divine worship which befits this infinite majesty of God. It is only that which is required in the first table of the moral law. That is the only lawful and acceptable worship given to this glorious excellent God. This follows from the first point. If there is only one object there can only be one manner of worship. Therefore, in Scripture, worshipping God is always opposed both to worshipping any other and to allowing any worship which is not lawful and acceptable to God (e.g. Revelation 19:10 and 22:9).

 

3. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – the Triune God

Although there are three Persons in the glorious Godhead, all of whom are to be worshipped, there are not three objects of worship, but one. Neither are there three kinds of worship. There are not three objects because these three Persons are the same One infinite God, who is the object of worship.

(a) Although the three Persons are really distinct each from other; yet, none of them is really distinct from the essence of the Godhead. Therefore, the Father is the same object of Worship as the Son, because they are the same God.

(b) Although both the Father and the Son are infinite there are not two infinitenesses but the same infiniteness and immenseness, which belongs to both the Fathers and the Son. These are essential to their being and so are common to all the Persons of the Godhead, Although their personal properties are distinct yet their essential attributes are in common. They are not distinct objects but one and the same  object. Worship has regard to their essential attribute and the Godhead, which is common to all three Persons. It is the deity (which is One) which is the formal object of worship. Although sometimes these three Persons are named together this does not mean they are distinct Objects. Rather it shows who this one object God is, i.e. the Father, Son and Spirit, three Persons of the same one indivisible Godhead. God is “one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Durham goes on to stress the practical implications of this.

1. The mind of the worshipper is not to be distracted in seeking to comprehend or order, in his thoughts, three distinct Persons as distinct objects of worship but rather to conceive reverently of one infinite God, who is three Persons.

2. Whatever person is named, we are not to think that the others are less worshipped. Rather in one act we worships one God and thus the Father, Son and Spirit.

3. Naming one Person after having named another (e.g. the Father first and afterwards the Son) does not change the object of worship, as if we were praying to another now – it is still the same One God.

4. It is safest not to change between naming the different Persons of the Godhead in prayer because our imaginations are ready to adopt such divided conceptions. This is particularly the case when it is in the hearing of others who may be prone to such thoughts even though we have none. This seems to be the ordinary practice in Scripture.

 

Conclusion

Many have their own ideas of how we should address God and what constitutes worship but we must be governed by Scripture in this. Only what God commands in worship is permitted. This ought to be obvious from the greatness of God and the importance of worship. Something so crucial is not something to be left to changeable human whims and imaginations.

We must be taken up with God in worship not with ourselves or others. Worship must be God-centred or it is not worship. This applies not just to whom we worship but how we worship. If the way in which we worship God is not what God has commanded and required then we are not truly submitting to God and doing true homage to Him. It is illogical that people can ask how we should worship God but then answer that question by asking what is most attractive or comfortable to ourselves or others. Have we forgotten who we are worshipping and what worship is?

One of our leaflets explores this question.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

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Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
7 Apr, 2017

We’re so used to hearing sermons that it becomes ordinary and routine for us. Yet it is meant to be a life-changing and world-changing activity. Christ has sent someone to declare His Word to us in a special way. No words outside of Scripture are more significant than those we hear from the pulpit. The Spirit of God makes “the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation” (Shorter Catechism, Q89). We should therefore be longing and waiting for the sermons we hear.

In what follows we will hear the heart-cry of a flock to a shepherd to come and feed them with God’s Word. This was a congregation who would experience one of Scotland’s most richly blessed ministries – ever. The parish of Fenwick, Ayrshire were calling a young man called William Guthrie. Writing a call to a pastor can seem to some like a procedural technicality or in some cases a fairly casual approach but in this case the document breathes spiritual earnestness.

 

1. Longing Expressed

The congregation write to Guthrie as “Reverend and well-beloved” recalling first of all their struggles to get a church building newly erected. They mention “how (after many prayers and difficulties) by the great mercy and good hand of God upon” them, they had a church building “erected to the honour of His name and for [their] edification”. They describe themselves as a “hungry people” full of spiritual needs.

They are “bound in conscience and pressed in spirit to make use of so fair a mercy by begging from God and looking out (in the ordinary way) one who may break the Bread of Life” to them and “watch
for [their] souls”.

It has pleased the Lord to incline all our hearts as one man towards you as the man of God sent unto us and kept for us by special providence

They urge Guthrie through the compassion of Jesus (the great and chief shepherd), beseeching and charging him in His name” to accept their call to ministry in that place.

You are the first after whom the eyes and hearts of us all have been carried with a holy violence and this is the first call that ever came from this place, we rest assured that you neither dare nor will refuse the burden

So they seek that he will “refresh the hearts of a waiting longing and languishing people by a ready condescendence”. They close the call describing themselves as those who are resolved to be “your very affectionate friends and flock”. It was dated 27 September 1643. The original call is displayed on the wall of Fenwick Parish Church.

 

2. Longing Fulfilled

These prayers were not just answered in Guthrie accepting the call. It was a ministry that would truly transform the parish. Being the first pastor there, Guthrie found a great spiritual ignorance as well as a general neglect of the house of God and the way of salvation. The Sabbath was profaned and family worship neglected. The young minister’s zeal and desire for the salvation of his flock overcame all discouragement in his way and his preaching was sealed with the genuine conversion of most people in the parish.

Like most Covenanting ministers, Guthrie was very diligent in visiting his people, teaching the young and insisting on family worship. In this way the Word of God had a daily place of honour in the home. One minister said that almost everyone in the Fenwick parish was “brought to make a fair profession of godliness, and had the worship of God in their families”. The parish experienced true revival during that time.

What was Guthrie’s preaching like? It was faithful and fearless. It distinguished between those who really needed comfort and those who needed rebuke. Matthew Crawford, minister at Eastwood, said that William Guthrie “converted and confirmed many thousand souls, and was esteemed the greatest practical preacher in Scotland”.

William Guthrie is most famous for the valuable little book that he wrote called The Christian’s Great Interest. This deals with the way of salvation and how we can be sure we are saved. The word “interest” means a legal claim. The theologian John Owen said that there was more theology in it than in everything he had ever written put together.

 

3. The Close of a Fruitful Ministry

By 1663, more than 400 ministers were forced out of their pulpits for refusing to be re-ordained under episcopal government and for refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of the king over the Church.   They were told they must leave their parishes and not live within 20 miles of them or within 6 miles of Edinburgh. Guthrie was able to stay for a little longer but was finally forced from his pulpit and his physical health collapsed shortly afterwards. He suffered a complication of diseases and returned to the place of his birth never to preach again.

Looking back, he was able to give this testimony to the man who came to remove him from his congregation: “I bless the Lord He has given me some success, and a seal of my ministry upon the souls and consciences of not a few that are gone to heaven, and of some that are yet in the way to it”.

 

Conclusion

Many today see the ordinary means of grace, including preaching as too ordinary. They are looking for something extraordinary. Yet it was the ordinary methods of preaching, catechising and pastoral care that the Lord used to bring revival to Fenwick. He blessed the means that He had ordained to fulfil the longings of a people above all that they were able to ask or think. God is also able to bless our longing expectations in the next sermon we hear.

Scotland’s Greatest Revival

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What insights might you learn from understanding the seven key points why the Second Reformation period was not only a national movement of reform in the Church and Nation but also the greatest period of revival in our country's history?  What if the key to the future is knowing the past?

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Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
13 Jan, 2017

Do we take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as we ought? Communion is not high on the list of trending issues in evangelicalism today. Some have a casual attitude towards it. In many evangelical churches the Lord’s Supper is tacked on to the end of a service and quickly dispatched. In some cases perhaps the congregation has forgotten it would be administered before they arrived at the service. Do we take it as seriously as God does? Should we give it any less importance than a bride gives to her wedding day?

Perhaps that it is a startling comparison to many. This is the striking and unusual picture used by William Guthrie. He unfolds it in a way that takes us into a serious consideration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorable way of thinking about how we should prepare for it and what we should expect in it.

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace that nourishes the soul. We do not mean by this the unbiblical notion that mere eating and drinking automatically bring grace. Rather, like the Word it is an appointed means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to us so that we grow in grace. Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper involves communion with Christ enjoyed in the present (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is not just a remembrance of what took place in the past, though there is more to such commemoration than some assume. Remembering in Scripture involves not just a mere act of recollection but affectionate remembrance of something/someone with ongoing application of its significance.

 

Christ’s People are His Bride

We are familiar with believers being described as the bride of Christ in Scripture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). In his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest William Guthrie makes use of this in relation to faith in Christ. “A man must be sincere, and without guile, in closing with Christ…not hankering after another way”. It must be a heart and not only a head matter: “the man not only must be persuaded that Christ is the way, but affectionately persuaded of it, loving and liking the thing…so that ‘it is all a man’s desire’, as David speaks of the covenant”.

If a man be cordial and affectionate in any thing, surely he must be so here in this ‘one thing that is necessary’. It must not be simply a fancy in the head, it must be a heart-business, a soul-business…not, a business in the outer court of the affections, but in the flower of the affections, and in the innermost, cabinet of the soul, where Christ is formed. Shall a man be cordial in any thing, and not in this, which comprises all his chief interests and his everlasting state within it? Shall “the Lord be said to rejoice over a man as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride,” and to “rest in his love with joy?” and shall not the heart of man go out and meet him here? The heart or nothing; love or nothing; marriage-love, which goeth from heart to heart; love of espousals, or nothing: “My son, give me thine heart.”

 

The Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s Bride

Thus Guthrie describes in Scriptural language how the soul enters into a marriage contract or covenant with Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a renewal and confirmation of that covenant and our vows. It is natural, therefore, to think of the Lord’s Supper as one of the special ways in which the heavenly bridegroom enjoys fellowship with His bride. As Thomas Watson puts it: “the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ”.

The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!

1 Corinthians 11:29 speaks of the danger of “eating unworthily” i.e. in an unworthy manner. This means that we must give serious attention to the way that we partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Larger Catechism in Q174 deals with how the Lord’s Supper should be received. It stresses reverent attentiveness, those who partake should: “diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings”. Vigorously stirring into activity graces within such as love and resolute faith also involves:

judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

William Guthrie addressed some of these aspects in describing the believer’s approach to the Lord’s Table in terms of a bride on her wedding day. He has given a memorable picture with which to associate some of these things. A bride is not only full of love and anticipation on her wedding day, she is fully prepared for and engaged in all that takes place. The following are some of the comparisons Guthrie makes.

Would a bride be careless about whether she and her dress are clean? Any bride wants to look her best. In the same way a believer should not be going to the Lord’s Table careless about unconfessed sin in their lives and not seeking to leave them and put them to death.

Would a bride be sleepy at her wedding ceremony? It is too important to her to be only half-awake to what is taking place.  The very excitement of the occasion makes it impossible. This is how it should be for a believer approaching Christ in the Supper.

Would a bride be distracted and give her attention to anything other than her bridegroom and the significance of the ceremony? It is even more strange for a believer to be distracted from the heavenly bridegroom and all that is offered in the Supper. What more important thing could the mind and heart consider?

Would a bride be diffident and reluctant to come to be married or to look at her bridegroom? Yet some believers draw back and are reluctant to come to Christ’s Table because of doubts about themselves and their salvation. But as the Larger Catechism shows in Q172, the Lord’s Table is for weak and doubting Christians so that they can be strengthened.

 

1. A dirt-stained bride is unbecoming

In appoaching to the Table of the Lord, remember it is unbecoming that in the day and hour of espousals the bride should be dirty. It is not becoming for her to have known spots on her which she does not attempt to put off. It is true, at first Christ taketh a dirty bride by the hand, and often has to wash her afterwards. But now in this solemn confirmation of marriage, a filthy bride with known iniquity cleaving to her (with her consent) is a dreadful thing.

 

2. A drowsy bride is shameful

A drowsy bride is shameful when so solemn a transaction is being carried out before so many witnesses. It is not a good sign to be sleepy and drowsy. It is true that the three disciples slept and were very heavy very soon afterwards in a great crisis. But that was the forerunner of a sad defection.

 

3. A distracted bride is unseemly

To be distracted and have your attention diverted on such a solemn occasion is a sign of rank corruption. It shows little awe of God and small esteem of Christ Jesus. How unseemly it would be  for a bride in the presence of her bridegroom to dally with other things – even if they were gifts received from the bridegroom himself! She is going to give her marriage consent, or ratify it before witnesses.

 

4. A diffident bride is very unseemly

It is very unseemly to be diffident towards the Bridegroom at the very time when He has called all His friends together to be witnesses of what He has done and said for her. He is communicating to her the highest, clearest and surest pledge of love He can, putting His great Seal to all the charters of the Covenant which are read over and over. After all this to look down and be jealous and to say in your heart, “He is but mocking me” is a great provocation. Be not therefore unbelieving but believing.

 

5. A prepared bride is essential

The Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and due preparation (1 Corinthians 11:28). Any bride makes great preparation for her wedding day, she plans for nothing else so fully and thoroughly as this. Does the Lord’s Supper in its special communion with the Heavenly Bridegroom not require more preparation than we commonly give it? These considerations about repentance, love and careful attention apply to preparation also.

The Larger Catechism dwells on how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper as well as how to receive it. In Q171 it stresses preparation through examining ourselves in relation to various matters:

  • Whether we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5);
  • Our sins and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 5:7);
  • Whether our understanding is true and adequate (1 Corinthians 11:29);
  • Repentance after examining ourselves by God’s requirements (1 Corinthians 11:31);
  • Love to God (1 Corinthians 10:16);
  • Love to others (1 Corinthians 11:18);
  • Forgiveness towards others (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Desires for Christ (John 7:37);
  • New obedience (1 Corinthians 5:7-8);
  • Renewing the exercise of grace (Hebrews 10:21-22,24);
  • Serious meditation (1 Corinthians 11:24-25);
  • Fervent prayer (2 Chronicles 30:18-19)

 

Conclusion

Guthrie’s analogy is helpful in encouraging higher views of the Lord’s Supper and how we should best profit from it spiritually. It reflects the Scriptural emphasis of the Larger Catechism on reverent attentiveness, repentance, love and faith amongst other spiritual exercises. It is a means of blessing for grace being stirred up into activity. Surely there would be a higher spiritual temperature amongst believers if we took these things to heart and put them into practice.

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7 Reasons to Read the Westminster Standards

7 Reasons to Read the Westminster Standards

7 Reasons to Read the Westminster Standards
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.
9 Jan, 2017

The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are more than a seres of doctrinal statements. Their deep reflection on Scripture means every Christian can use them in a practical and devotional way. These are documents we can make utterly personal. The benefits of regular and close engagement with these documents are immense. To absorb their truth is to be enriched in spiritual understanding, obedience and experience.

The Standards are also so rich in content that they invite slow reading. This helps to increase our comprehension and appreciation. We often scan text and fail to focus our attention on what we read. It is helpful to have smaller chunks of reading to digest more slowly and reflect upon.

One website thewestminsterstandard.com has helpfully divided up these documents for daily reading. They have done this with the original text of the Confession and Catechisms (including Scripture proofs) and included commentary on it. For instance you can read the classic exposition on the Confession by Robert Shaw together with the text. It is also possible to subscribe to receive a daily email of that day’s readings. This allows you to return to it during the day to absorb and digest it more fully. The benefits of regular and close engagement with these documents are immense.

 

1. They are Biblical

Such documents only have authority to the extent that they correspond with the Word of God. They are subordinate to Scripture which is our ultimate authority. The Westminster Standards are accurate statements of what the Bible teaches. The Standards also closely follow Scripture in where it puts the emphasis. They reflect the major themes of Scripture: who God is and what God does – the fall of man into sin and its consequences – how Christ rescues sinners from their sin – and how saved sinners are to live their lives towards God and in their church community. These documents provide us with a Biblical framework as well as statements that are Biblically sound. They help us to think biblically.

The statements made by these documents are based on the principles and gathered teaching of Scripture, not just isolated proof-texts. The Confession and Catechisms do, however, have Scriptural proofs to support their statements.  The Westminster Assembly addressed this matter carefully and took four months to identify and agree the proofs. These Scripture texts themselves invite careful and deep reflection about how they relate to the subject in hand and how they should be understood.

Read these documents for yourself and you will be able to appreciate for yourself how tightly they connect to what Scripture actually says.

 

2. They are Devotional

Our devotions can only be enhanced as we grow in an accurate knowledge of what God is like and what He has done. Our best devotional responses of praise and adoration spring out of our best grasp of the identity of our Saviour and the nature of the salvation He provides.

It should be our delight to find increasing devotional value and spiritual significance within the Westminster Standards, simply because their doctrines are the doctrines of Scripture. Devotion must be derived from and feed upon the fulness of the truth. This is why many have come to love the Standards. The fact that they have not written the words themselves is irrelevant; it cannot reduce their personal devotion to these truths. They are able to make use of them because it is the same Spirit that has opened their mind and heart to receive them.

“I bless God,” writes the American Presbyterian J. H. Thornwell, “for that glorious summary of Christian doctrine contained in our noble Standards. It has cheered my soul in many a dark hour, and sustained me in many a desponding moment.” He said that he knew “no uninspired production in any language, or of any denomination, that for richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency can for a moment enter into competition with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.” B.B. Warfield says: “We can ourselves testify from experience to the power of the Westminster Confession to quicken religious emotion and to form and guide a deeply devotional life”.

Warfield calls attention to the personal element invested by the Westminster Assembly. They “wrote these definitions aiming before all things to be saints: is it strange that we see the saint through the theologian and have our hearts warmed by the contact? Certain it is that the Westminster Standards have a spiritual significance to us which falls in no wise short of their historical and scientific significance”. Warfield gives examples of the warmth of the language used in these documents:

Open these standards where you will and you will not fail to feel the throb of an elevated and noble spiritual life pulsing through them. They are not merely a notably exact scientific statement of the elements of the gospel: they are, in the strictest sense of the words, the very embodiment of the gospel. They not only know what God is; they know God: and they make their readers know Him—know Him in His infinite majesty, in His exalted dominion, in His unlimited sovereignty, in the immutability of His purpose and His almighty power and universal providence, but know Him also in that strangest, most incomprehensible of all His perfections, the unfathomableness of His love. Their description of Him transcends the just limits of mere definition and swells into a paean of praise—praise to Him who is “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

And how profound their knowledge is of the heart of man—its proneness to evil, its natural aversion to spiritual good, its slowness of response to spiritual influence, the deviousness of its path even under the leading of the Holy Ghost. But, above all, they know, with a fulness of apprehension which startles and instructs and blesses the reader, the ways of God with the errant souls of men—how He has condescended to open the way to them of having fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, how He has redeemed them unto Himself in the blood of His Son, and how He deals with them, as only a loving Father may, in disciplining and fitting them for the heavenly glory.

Where elsewhere may we find more vitally set forth the whole circle of experience in the Christian life—what conversion is and how God operates in bringing the soul to knowledge of Him and faith in its Saviour, what are the joys of justifying grace and of adoption into the family of God, and what the horrors of those temporary lapses that lie in wait for unwary steps, and what the inconceivable tenderness of God’s gracious dealings with the stumbling and trembling spirit until He brings it safely home? Who can read those searching chapters on Perseverance and Assurance without feeling his soul burn within him, or without experience of a new influx of courage land patience for the conflicts of life?

The Westminster Standards, in a word, are notable monuments of the religious life as well as of theological definition, and, speaking from the point of view of vital religion, this is their significance as a creed.

 

3. They are Practical

The Confession and Catechisms follow a Scriptural pattern (particularly found in Paul’s epistles) of outlining things to be believed before progressing to things to be obeyed. Our practical conduct is informed by what we believe. Grace in salvation leads to obedience to God. The authority of Scripture must be supreme in the practicalities of our daily lives, the life of the nation and the Church.

Today, obedience is largely missing from the lives of many who claim to be Christians. Instead of asking “How can I obey God fully?” they ask “What is the minimum standard of obedience which is consistent with getting into heaven?” In the Larger Catechism the Westminster Assembly explained and applied the Ten Commandments using the whole of the rest of Scripture. It is a manual for living that should be constantly used.

 

4. They are Precise

Too often popular Christianity is satisfied with vague slogans rather than a precise understanding of Scripture. To read the Westminster Standards is to enter a different world altogether. B.B. Warfield maintained “that even the most cursory reader of the Westminster Standards is impressed with the exquisite precision and balance of their statements, with the clearness and purity with which they bring out just the essence of the gospel, and the drastic thoroughness with which they separate from it every remainder of sacerdotal and humanitarian leaven. To read over a chapter or two of the Westminster Confession gives one fresh from the obscurities and confusions of much modern theological discussion”.

The Westminster Assembly had the advantage of centuries of reflection on the Scriptures. Warfield observes that “historically speaking, they are the final crystallization of the elements of evangelical religion, after the conflicts of sixteen hundred years; scientifically speaking, they are the richest and most precise and best-guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world; and religiously speaking, they are a notable monument of spiritual religion”. During many historical controversies, error had been countered and Scriptural teaching more clearly formulated. The Westminster Assembly benefited from such past struggles in order to hone the truth, as Warfield notes:

In these struggles . . . the gem of the gospel was cut and polished, and it is on this account that the enunciation of the gospel in the Reformed Confessions attains its highest purity; and that among other Reformed Confessions the Westminster Confession, the product of the Puritan conflict, reaches a perfection of statement never elsewhere achieved. . . . All attempts at restatement must either repeat their definitions or fall away from the purity of their conceptions or the justness of their language. . . . The nicety of its balance in conceiving, and the precision of its language in stating, truth will seem to us scholastic only in proportion as our religious life is less developed than theirs. . . . In proportion as our own religious life flows in a deep and broad stream, in that proportion will we find spiritual delight in the Westminster Standards.

 

5. They are Structured

Many people find that their personal grasp of the many doctrines taught in Scripture and from the pulpit can be quite fuzzy and patchy. The Westminster Standards not only offer precise articulation of the key doctrines of Scripture; they are also expressed in a systematic manner so that you can be clear and orderly about the truth in your own mind. The Catechisms in particular have an intricate logical structure that provides a whole framework of understanding.

The work produced by the Westminster Assembly has lived and will permanently live. The reason is obvious. The work was wrought with superb care, patience, precision, and above all with earnest and intelligent devotion to the Word of God and zeal for His glory. Sanctified theological learning has never been brought to bear with greater effect upon the formulation of the Christian Faith. While it would be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit to accord to these documents a place in any way equal to the Word of God either in principle or in practical effect, yet it would also be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, who has promised to be with His church to the end, to undervalue or neglect what is the product of His illumination and direction in the hearts and minds of His faithful servants. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours (John Murray)

 

6. They are Detailed

Doctrinal statements are often brief and minimalistic; they cover only the basics in bullet-point fashion. The Confession and Catechisms take a detailed approach rather than shying away from areas of controversy. This is an advantage because they offer a comprehensive treatment of the Bible’s teachings. When God reveals something in Scripture Christians do not have the option of ignoring it or acting as though it doesn’t matter. We must seek the clearest possible understanding of what God’s Word is teaching. This demonstrates faithfulness and obedience to God’s Word and takes God’s revelation seriously. It also helps people to see what the Bible really does teach as well as close down the vague generalities which would otherwise be loopholes for error.

It should be conceded, without fear of intelligent contradiction, that the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms are the finest creedal formulations of the Christian Faith that the church of Christ has yet produced. This is not to deny that in certain particulars some other creeds may surpass these Westminster standards, nor does it mean that these standards have attained such a degree of perfection that they could not possibly be improved. But it does mean that they are the most perfect creedal exhibitions that we possess of the truth revealed in Holy Scripture (John Murray)

 

7. They are Shareable

In a world where sound-bites and quotes go viral, we need to share the truth. The Westminster Confession and Catechisms put concise truth at the tips of our tongues and fingers. These documents may cover profound truths and use precise terminology. Yet they are still accessible to people with no special theological training or particular interest in technical controversies. They help to explain to others what we believe. They give an objective context to testifying to the truth and providing an answer to anyone who asks (1 Peter 3:15).

They are also vital for passing on the truth to a rising generation. You can be confident that you are not simply transmitting some eccentric personal quirks when you pass the contents of the Westminster Standards on to the next generation of believers.

 

Conclusion

It would be hard to improve on B.B. Warfield’s words as a fitting conclusion:

Surely blessed are the churches which feed upon this meat! [They are] those best furnished for the word and work of the Christian proclamation and the Christian life. May God Almighty infuse their strength into our bones and their beauty into our flesh, and enable us to justify our inheritance by unfolding into life, in all its completeness and richness and divinity, the precious gospel which they have enfolded for us in their protecting envelope of sound words!

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