How Do I Know My Sins Have Been Forgiven?

How Do I Know My Sins Have Been Forgiven?

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
17 Jan, 2020

Guilt is deeply uncomfortable. That’s why most people want to get away from it. It’s the pain that inhibits their pursuit of pleasure. Guilt exists because sin exists. Forgiveness for sin is freely offered in the gospel of Christ (Hebrews 8:12; 1 John 1:9). Some people know this, believe it and have sought the mercy of forgiveness but from time to time they may wonder: do I feel forgiven? Guilt for sin is something that is objective before God’s law. We often think of guilt feelings and the sense of whether or not we are forgiven. It can be a real issue. How do I know I am forgiven? We have to take God at His promise (1 John 1:9) but there is more to it than that. There are also evidences of forgiveness that we can discover.

Andrew Gray gives us 8 helpful evidences of having been forgiven to help us. First, he makes some helpful core principles in relation to forgiveness.

  • There is a difference between granting forgiveness and communicating this to the person forgiven. Christ forgives the man’s sin before he announces it to him (Matthew 9:2).
  • There is also a difference between communicating forgiveness and applying it. David was told that his sins were forgiven by Nathan (2 Samuel 12:13) but in Psalm 51 he prays for it to be applied to him.
  • Many take forgiveness to themselves before God gives it to them. They get this decree from the court of self-love. Many forget their sins before God forgets them. All the ministers and believers in the world may forgive you but what will you do when you get to the judgement? God will ask you “where is my Son’s name on your pardon?” All forgiveness comes from Christ’s goodwill and purchase (Psalm 68:18). We ought to praise Him for pardoning grace but also for restraining grace.
  • Once a sin is truly forgiven it can never be unforgiven (Romans 11:29). But you can lose your sense of forgiveness because of pride which brings us low. If we commit gross sins it will open up the guilt of other buried sins. Forgiveness is a tender plant which we must take great care of. We need to maintain a fresh sense of forgiveness. Otherwise it will become like a document that is old and grimy and cannot be read. Otherwise unbelief and discouragement will make us think that forgiveness has been withdrawn.
  • The best proof of being forgiven is a close, humble walk with God. Pride and slothfulness are the two greatest enemies of a Christian’s growth. They spoil our resolutions and our duties. Nothing hinders our growth more than pride, self-conceit and laziness.

1. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Highly Esteem the Forgiver

A forgiven sinner has a high estimation of Jesus Christ, the Forgiver. Any who hate the Son of God in their heart do not know what forgiveness is. Why does Micah cry out in wonder at God (Micah 7:18)? It is because He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. Do you love the creature more than Christ? You have never been forgiven and are not able to commend Christ. Even Christians are forced to swallow up their commendations in silence, wondering in awe at Him for His pardoning mercy.

2. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Love the Forgiver

Those who have been forgiven love the Forgiver much. We read of Mary, “her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

3. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Praise the Forgiver

Have you experienced such conversion that you dare not praise Him for it by yourself alone but call on others to help you praise Him? This is the experience of Psalm 103:1-3. Blessed is the Christian who can sing this song morning and evening because all his sins are forgiven.

4. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Hate the Sin

If you can view your sin with delight you do not know the pardon of Christ. Some find their hearts flutter when they see their sin or even an image of it (Ezekiel 8:10-11). When they see their idols portrayed their hearts fall in love with them. A pardoned sinner will look on their sin with hatred and disdain.

5. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Weep

A forgiven sinner will weep as much (if not more) for the sin afterwards as they did before they received a declaration of being forgiven. There may be mourning without hope when pardon is not yet received but there is mourning with hope after it is received. The pardoned sinner may mourn just as much after their sin is forgiven as before (Luke 7:38 and 47).

6. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Highly Esteem Forgiveness

A pardoned sinner has a high account of the forgiveness received. No matter what their outward condition may be in this world, all their doubts and fears are answered with the fact of having been forgiven (Psalm 32:1). Who is most blessed? The pardoned man. Forgiveness is one of the sweetest clusters that grow on the tree of life. Have you never esteemed forgiveness of sin?

7. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Be Sincere

Those who have been forgiven are real and have an honest and sincere spirit. They are without guile (Psalm 32:2). I fear there is a great deal of pretend love, reverence, hope, assurance, faith and forgiveness among us.

8. If You Have Been Forgiven You Will Experience Enlargement

What was your spirit like when you received your pardon? The Christian usually experiences three things after receiving forgiveness. The first is liberty of spirit and an enlarged heart, so that they are constrained to sing for joy. The second is great delight in duty and obedience. The third is great hatred and abhorrence for sin. Have you experienced these?

Encouragements

Here are some encouragements to stir you up to seek forgiveness of sin from Jesus Christ. This is a great matter indeed for some will never get their sins purged from them till they die (Isaiah 22:14).

  • Christ is very ready to forgive (Nehemiah 9:17)
  • God declares forgiveness as part of His very name (Exodus 34:6)
  • There is a promise of abundant forgiveness (Isaiah 55:7). 

Is it not unspeakable folly to lie in prison while the Son of God is saying: “Here is your pardon”? You may use the strongest pleas with God to forgive you “Pardon mine iniquity for it is great” (Psalm 25:11 see also Psalm 40:11-12 and Psalm 41:4).

Further Reading

Other articles that may be helpful include: Forgiveness Does Not Trivialise Sin, Denying Any Wrongdoing?,  How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine? and 5 Comforts in Trials for Those Who Have Been Forgiven.

 

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Resolution is a Way of Life

Resolution is a Way of Life

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
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.
1 Jan, 2020

Everywhere people are resolving to make a positive change in their lives. They plan to get rid of something they don’t want or achieve something desirable. Whether or not these are successful is a matter of debate. Resolution is, however, a far deeper and more spiritual matter than these lifestyle changes. A spirit of God-centred resolution should govern the way that we live. This is a boldness of faith that arises from the nature of the gospel and God Himself. Whatever else we may resolve let’s make sure we have this spirit of resolution.

Put simply, this spirit is an unconquerable resolution to be for God. This is how Andrew Perne (member of the Westminster Assembly) describes it. It means being resolved to stick unwaveringly to God and His ways no matter what others do or what happens as a consequence. He says that this is what makes the heart to be in heavenly tune and the right key, pleasing and acceptable to God.

This spirit of gospel courage looks beyond all dangers, difficulties, and opposition. Such a person may lose their body by the way, but their spirit will continue after God. They are like David’s three mighty men who broke through the camp of the Philistines to fetch their king water (2 Samuel 23:16).

God was well pleased with this kind of spirit in Caleb. He had another spirit, resolute and valiant not cowardly and feeble spirit as the other spies (Numbers 14:24). The same spirit was in the three who faced the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16). Moses had this spirit too (Hebrews 11:27) as did Joshua who was prepared to serve the Lord whatever others would do (Joshua 24:15). How do we obtain such a spirit? Andrew Perne helps us find biblical answers to that question.

1. God-centred Resolution Comes from Conviction

Such resolution comes from a thorough and full conviction of soul that we have followed the right ways of God. Paul was thoroughly convinced and unwaveringly resolved for the gospel in this way. He desires this for the Galatians also, they must be committed to this gospel no matter what anyone preached even if an apostle or angel (Galatians 1:8).

A supernatural light must convince the soul and make the ways of God unquestionable. Paul did not therefore preach with the enticing words of human wisdom but in the Spirit and with power (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). This was so that their faith might stand in the power of God. When faith is based on such grounds, on such a powerful conviction of the Spirit, all the World cannot turn us from it. This steadfast, unconquerable resolution proceeds from a powerful and thorough conviction of the truth of God and His ways.

2. God-centred Resolution Comes from Fear

This resolution understands clear the danger of forsaking the ways of God. Fear and danger give rise to courage and resolution. When someone perceives that their greatest danger is falling into the hands of God they see that to sin against God is the worst thing possible. Moses did not fear the king of Egypt because he persevered seeing one who (though invisible) was greater and more to be feared (Hebrews 11:27). Daniel’s three friends feared a hotter furnace if they would worship the golden image. When someone considers hell the worst of prisons and everlasting destruction the king of terrors awaiting those who forsake God and His ways, it makes them resolute for God.

3. God-centred Resolution Comes from Hope

Hope of gain and honour makes people bold and puts courage and resolution into them. God’s children have hope too which exceedingly strengthens their resolutions. They hope for the crown of righteousness, the weight of glory, the kingdom prepared from the beginning of the world. These were Paul’s hopes, these are and were ours. They will sustain us in all our sufferings. God promised to be Abraham’s exceeding great reward (Genesis 15:1). He would be paid and not lose. When we realise that God has the resources to provide the reward, we can trust God for everything. This will make us valiant and resolute for the ways of God.

4. God-centred Resolution Comes from Love

Love makes us resolute and want to please God. Love looks beyond all dangers and difficulties, it weakens all opposition and strengthens itself. It makes the soul consider anything feasible. The nature of your resolution will reveal to you what you are and whom you love (Ruth 1:14). Ruth’s love and resolution was total (Ruth 1:16).

5. God-centred Resolution Comes from Experience

The soul that has tasted of the sweetness, comfort, peace, and joy of the ways of God is resolute for them (Psalm 119:103). Because of this the psalmist vows and resolves to keep them (Psalm 119:106). The soul cleaves to that which offers most pleasure: for pleasure is the food of the soul. The body can live as well without food, as the soul can without pleasure. When the soul has tasted how transcendently sweet God’s ways and Word are: what sweet hopes, what blessed peace, what joy unspeakable and glorious is produced. The soul seeks its rest here. 

Many think those who engage themselves to the cause of God “too far” to be far from wisdom. They can see their sufferings, but not their refreshings. They do not see the peace, love, joy, and unspeakable comfort which the saints of God have in the ways of God. If others could experience from God these heats of heart and hints of love and mercy, they would be ready not only to do the same as believers but to suffer with them.

Conclusion

You need to get, keep and increase this spirit of resolution within you. Be courageous and undaunted for your God. Look past all dangers, do not be terrified in anything by your adversaries. Do not think death too great a danger to cope with for God and His truth. Your God and your religion are the best things you have. They are the highest and greatest things. Better to lose all than lose our God and His truth. We must therefore ask for the old paths and walk in them to find rest to our souls (Jeremiah 6:16). All God’s ways are pleasantness and peace (Proverbs 3:17).

You have resolution and courage and why should God and His cause not have it? God has the most right to it. Can you be resolute for the world and worldly things and have no spirit for God? With what steadfastness and immovable resolution did our Saviour Christ go through the work of our redemption. Be as resolute for God as He is for you.

Much more than new resolutions we need a new spirit with which to face the challenges of this coming year undaunted in our resolution to be entirely for God.

Note: Andrew Perne (1596–1654) lived a life of resolute faith. The memorial at the Church he served in Wilby, Northamptonshire testifies to this.  He was “a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, a zealous owner ever of God’s cause in perilous times, a powerful and successful preacher of the gospel”. The above updated extract comes from one of the many sermons he preached to Parliament in the 1640s.

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What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
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.
26 Dec, 2019

​According to the Bible App, the Bible verse most engaged with around the world and throughout the year was Philippians 4:6. It seems to indicate an uptick in concerns and anxieties in the midst of a year of tension. This has been a trend across recent years. It’s said that 14,000 google searches a month look for bible verses to address anxiety. But this verse also speaks about what to do with such concerns. Philippians 4:6 is commonly summarised like this: worry about nothing, pray about everything and be thankful for anything. But how can we make best use of the spiritual wisdom of this verse?

James Fergusson points to the fact that the reference to worry and anxiety in Philippians 4:6 literally speaks of heart-cutting concerns. These may be about the things of this world and the success of what we do in our work or other aspects of life. In seeking to serve God conscientiously in our daily concerns we need go to God in prayer. We are to pour out our hearts before God in thankfulness and confession as well as asking for the things we need. In this way we commit all things to His will. In the following updated extract, Fergusson helps us to grasp the full extent of this verse so that it exhorts as well as encourages us. 

1. We Need to Avoid Excessive Concern

There is a lawful concern about the things of this world. In fact, this kind of carefulness is frequently commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:11). Yet such concern is unlawful when it is excessive. This is especially the case when we care about nothing except the world (Psalm 49:11). This kind of concern keeps us on the rack continually, in fearing lack of success in the things we engage in (Psalm 37:5). It can tempt us to make use of anything (however sinful it may be) that will preserve or bring about the thing for which we are anxious (1 Timothy 6:9). This excessive anxiety is sinful and forbidden in this verse.

2. We Need to Have Moderation in Our Outward Dealings

This excessive concern hinders us from displaying the moderation we ought to have. Philippians 4:5 speaks of the moderation or gracious gentleness we ought to show. But anxious concern can drive us to be inflexible and harsh in all our dealings with others. This is because we fear that by giving way in the smallest way we undermine our own interests. Nothing contributes more to make us merciful and gentle than keeping the heart above anxious, heart-cutting worry. It will help us in accommodating to the needs and good of others, even though it may seem to harm our own interests. Previously, Paul exhorted them to make their moderation known to all. He now adds the counsel to worry about nothing as something that will help.

3. We Need to Take Our Burdens to God

The best remedy against excessive concern is not to go to the extreme of abandoning all lawful careful diligence in the things of this world (Matthew 4:7). We are rather to be conscientious in our duty but in the midst of this to pray to God. We should ask Him for the success we desire and thank Him for favours already received. In this way we leave the burden of all our concerns on Him. This is what the apostle prescribes here for us to do “in everything”.

4. We Need to Pray According to God’s Will

All our prayers should be composed in such a way as that they may be “known to God”, that is, approved of Him. They must come from the sense of our need, (1 Kings 8:38), be offered in Christ’s name (John 16:23) and be for things that are according to His will (1 John 5:14).

5. We Need to Use All Kinds of Prayer

Various kinds of prayer are mentioned here in three distinct terms. The word “requests” is a general term that relates to all kinds of prayer. The other words used for prayer are:
(a) Prayer, where we seek from God the things which we lack, acknowledging how unworthy we are of them.
(b) Supplication, where we pray about afflictions and chastisements that we either feel or fear. We also acknowledge our sins which bring these things on us.
(c) Thanksgiving, where we thank God for favours already bestowed

6. We Need to Be Thankful Not Just Wishful

It is necessary to combine thanking God for favours received with prayer and supplication. This is because there are constant reasons for thanksgiving in every condition we experience (Philippians 4:11). Thanksgiving suppresses the discontented, fretting and complaining spirit which often vents itself against God in our prayers and supplications. This can happen if we neglect to combine with such prayers thanksgiving to God for favours received (compare Psalm 77:7 with verses 10-11). This is why the apostle commands “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God”.

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
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.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis

Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
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 Dec, 2019

“Existential” is the word of the year according to Dictionary.com. Apparently “it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse.” It is frequently accompanied by the word crisis especially when connected with Oxford dictionary’s word of 2019 “climate emergency”. Aside from panic about threats of doom we are also in existential crisis about identity. The singular pronoun “they” was selected as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. It is used to describe those who consider themselves neither he nor she, opening up a linguistic as well as identity crisis. It is a crisis of confusion within western culture about who we are and where we are going. How did we get here?

From a biblical perspective existential angst is the inevitable consequence of shutting God out of our minds and lives. Our culture has denied what the light of nature clearly teaches us about God’s being and existence and refused to glorify Him as God. The consequence of this is a darkness of heart that makes us fools, however much we may claim to be wise (Romans 1:20-21). We have imagined that we are progressing to new heights of knowledge when it is in fact empty delusion. This imagined progress is in fact a progressive decline. When shut out what the light of nature teaches about God, we start to shut out what it teaches about ourselves.

The apostle Paul returns to this theme in Ephesians 4:17-18. He shows the extent of the impact of rejecting God. He calls the mind of the unrenewed vain because it is empty of the knowledge of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14). The knowledge it has of God, or right and wrong, is nothing but empty notions (Romans 1:21).

Rejecting God has an inward effect on the understanding and affections and impacts outwardly on life and conduct. The understanding and ability to reason are entirely blind and darkened in relation to God and heaven (1 Corinthians 1:21). This leads to a deeper darkness in the understanding than even what they have by nature.

This ignorance flows from a blindness or hardness of heart, whereby their heart obstinately refuses the light of God offered to them. They become wilfully hardened by themselves (Exodus 8:15). In the following updated extract, James Fergusson reflects on how this unspeakably sad and solemn process takes place.

1. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITHOUT PURPOSE

The way of life of all unrenewed people is empty and fruitless. They are spending their money for that which is not bread and their labour for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2). Paul says that all the unconverted Gentiles “walk in vanity”.

2. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE CORRUPTED LIVES

Whatever vanity or wickedness is in the outward life of an unregenerate person flows entirely from the vanity of their mind and understanding. As the mind is, so will be the conduct. Even the mind itself, the primary place of reason, is corrupted and vain. It is so vain that corruption and vanity flow from it to the person.

The way the Gentiles walked in this world was the result of the vanity of their mind. It is the root of everything else in every unrenewed person (1 Corinthians 2:14). Every such person is increasing towards all the wickedness described and would reach the utmost height of it if restraining grace did not hinder him (Genesis 20:6).

3. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITH DIMINISHING KNOWLEDGE

Everyone by nature is entirely unskilful in being able to discern the things of God. They cannot make best use of the principles of the knowledge of God and right and wrong that have remained after the fall (Romans 1:20). They cannot draw solid conclusions from them for rules to direct them in relation to worship and the way to salvation.

This unskilfulness and darkness increase daily. The longer they live and only use the direction and guidance of natural light, the further they are from the mark. Paul speaks of a further darkening of their understanding, than what they had by nature. Their understanding is darkened due to the ignorance that is in them.

The longer they live in their unrenewed state, the more they are estranged from right knowledge. Every sin they commit makes them less capable of knowing it. They become still further from the life of God, than they were by nature. This comes from their ignorance and hardness of heart.

4. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITH HARDENED HEARTS

Hardness of heart is a terrible evil and the source of several other evils. When someone obstinately refuses light and walks contrary to it in hardening their heart to commit sin, they provoke the Lord to give them over to ignorance. They will then lose the small measure of knowledge they formerly had (Romans 1:28).

Hardness is the cause of ignorance. Being thus both hardened in heart and blinded in mind, they are further removed and estranged from the life of God (the saving knowledge of God in Christ, John 17:3). Their understanding and reason become more unskilful in discerning between what is truth or error, right or wrong. The common principles remaining in them after the fall concerning such things have been almost completely obliterated by continuing obstinately in sin. Blindness or hardness of their hearts is mentioned as the cause of the ignorance which was in them. Both hardness and ignorance are the cause of their alienation from the life of God, and the darkening of their understanding.

CONCLUSION

The sin of rejecting God and His truth is the existential threat to our culture. We are descending into further confusion and bewilderment as we continue in this sin. The existential crisis is an inability to define ourselves and our purpose in a meaningful way. We are being abandoned to further futility of thinking and living. The singular pronoun “they” has only been in prominence for a matter of a couple of months. This shows that we are diminishing in our ability to know basic realities on a weekly basis.

The priceless alternative that the apostle Paul points us to is, however, to learn Christ (Ephesians 4:20). To be delivered from the darkening influence of sin in the understanding, we need a saving knowledge of Christ. We need the life of God within. This is what the gospel offers to us.

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Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
6 Dec, 2019

70% UK adults think that it’s important for people to have a moral framework in their lives according to a recent BBC survey. Yet only 29% say “I must live by my values all the time”. Why is that? If my values are only defined by me then they are just personal preference. If morality is not objective, we are not accountable to anyone else when we break our own moral code. The same survey revealed that people’s behaviour often contradicts their supposedly strong morals. Half of those who believed it was never acceptable for them to lie admitted they did. Almost half who believed it was never acceptable for them to take illegal drugs had done this. In the midst of such moral confusion we need an objective God-given standard of right and wrong and analysis of the human heart.

Clearly, this is what we need. Despite the contradictions we have noted, 50% of those responding to the survey believed most people are essentially good, with just 4% disagreeing. In the book of Romans the apostle Paul makes unmistakably clear the sinfulness of the human heart. This is why we sin with our fingers in our ears against an accusing conscience. We need a new heart.

In Romans 7 Paul goes on, however, to show how remaining sin still affects those who have been regenerated. It does this to the extent that they even do that which they hate and condemn (Romans 7:15-16,19). They are not immune from a contradiction between the mind, will and the actions either. This is due to the influence of remaining sin within the heart of the believer. Yet it is a different contradiction to what we see in the life and heart of those who have not been regenerated. There is a renewed part within believers that delights in God’s law as holy, just and good. John Brown of Wamphray explains the nature of this contradiction in the heart of believers.

1. A DIFFERENT CONTRADICTION

Those who are strangers to their own hearts and not acquainted with examining themselves usually have too good thoughts of themselves. Serious and sincere consideration of our own hearts will, however, brings us to a right view of our natural corruption. The unregenerate may gain some distant view of their natural corruption but only grace will give a thorough, clear, heart-affecting and soul-humbling sight of it. Paul does this when he says no good thing dwells in his flesh (his remaining sin).

The ungodly may have some willingness to do that which is morally good. Yet they are altogether averse from any spiritual good or even doing moral good in a spiritual way. This is unique to the child of God, only a good tree brings forth good fruit. The love and desire to what is spiritually good is not counterfeit simply because they cannot accomplish their intentions. They may be a will to do that which is good without being able to carry it out.

Although unregenerate people have enough natural conscience within to oppose them when their lusts are carrying them away headlong, they do not have a renewed spirit in their minds resisting. They may have some shadowy knowledge of the principles of righteousness through what it written on their hearts by nature (Romans 2:15). There may also be many within the visible church who are utter strangers to the work of grace who may still have much knowledge of the law of God. Neither have any heart delight in the holy law of God not welcome it heartily as good when it speaks against their corruptions. This is unique to those regenerated that they “consent unto the law that it is good”. It is not a forced necessity but flows from the heart complying with the things commanded or forbidden by the law.  

2. A CONSTANT CONTRADICTION

Since these principles of grace and sin are contrary to each other in their very natures and can never agree, they aim to clash with one another in every action that the poor believer endeavours. What the one wants to do the other will not have done (Galatians 5:17).

Although grace and corruption are irreconcilable enemies and grace constantly seeks to eat away corruption it will still be present in the best to keep them exercised. Sin does not however, reign in them tyrannising and oppressing them as a constant presence but is like a traveller coming and going.

3. A HUMBLING CONTRADICTION

It is evidence of grace within the soul that we get a right view of the corruption within us. This will keep the soul humble and diligent in seeking to exercise and grow in grace. Grace is a heart-humbling thing: the more the soul has of it, the more they are willing to acknowledge their own shame.

4. A MOTIVATING CONTRADICTION

Believers have no cause to be secure but should rather be on their guard because even at their best times when they seek to good “evil is present” with them. It is useful and necessary to consider frequently this conflict in those who are regenerate. We ought to consider how often the worst side prevails over the better in particular skirmishes. This will keep our spirits humble and drive us nearer to Christ to get more grace to subdue and battle with our corruption. It makes us long for the day when we will be beyond its reach. We should also be thankful for any little victory obtained and take it as a foretaste of the ultimate full and final victory.

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Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
21 Nov, 2019

Like many other things modern friendship has changed dramatically. Electronic communication has expanded our circle of friends and made maintaining contact easier. But its limitations can also stifle deeply connected bonds. And, the modern world seems friendless for too many.     We need to value and deepen friendship in a greater way for the spiritual good of others and ourselves. It demands time, a desire to benefit others and undivided attention. God Himself extends to us the greatest and deepest friendship and we need to learn how to value that above all.

Andrew Gray considers what it means to be “called the friend of God” as Abraham was (James 2:23). It is the highest possible privilege and yet Adam threw it away. Christ, however, has “found out the precious way of making the blessed and more durable knot of friendship between God and us”.

The great goal of the everlasting gospel is to reconcile sinners and make them friends with God. How do we become such friends? “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me” (Isaiah 27:5).

But, asks Gray, do our lives and prayers make plain that we are friends of God? What are the evidences of a true friendship toward Christ? How is it the deepest friendship there is? In this updated extract Andrew Gray also outlines the blessings of friendship with God so that we may truly value it.

1. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE TRUE FRIENDS

(a) A true friend maintains constant friendship to Christ at all times (Proverbs 17:17). No matter what trials we have or what He requires of us, we will be faithful.

(b) A true friend has the highest esteem for Christ (Song 5:10 and 16). Is Christ matchless to you? Who had your thoughts first today? Was it Christ (Psalm 139:18)?

(c) A true friend finds everything in Christ exceedingly lovely (Song 5:16). There is nothing in Christ that will not be lovely. Christ’s rebukes will be lovely, His convictions will be lovely, His visits will be lovely. There is nothing that Christ can do but you will cry out, “This is lovely.” There is not a commandment that Christ can give but it will be lovely. If you be a friend to Him, you will cry out, “I have a respect to all the commandments of God.”

(d) A true friend obeys all Christ’s commands (John 15:14). A Christian must be all-inclusive in their obedience to be a friend to Christ. If they do not love the duty for itself, yet will he love it because it comes from Christ.

(e) A true friend tells Christ their secrets. There are some things that a Christian will tell Christ, which he will not tell to anyone in the world. It does not offend your precious friend when you tell Him all your secrets.

(f) A true friend is burdened by Christ’s absence. Is it not the true kindness of a friend to long to see one’s absent friend?

(g) A true friend delights in fellowship with Christ (Song 1:2).

2. CHRIST’S FRIENDS FEAST WITH HIM

Christ invites His friends to feast with Him (Song 5:1). The great Master of the feast invites them. It is a royal feast (Isaiah 25:6); it is a glorious,
purchased feast to be valued by the price that was paid for it (Matthew 22:3–4). Only friends are invited to come to the feast of the Lord’s Table because only they can fellowship with Christ in the banquet of love. Only they can exercise the graces suitable for this feast. Can an enemy exercise the grace of love? An enemy cannot exercise the grace of sorrow for offending Christ, and yet that is a qualification of one that would approach the table of the Lord. No one is able to discern the Lord’s body except friends.

3. CHRIST’S FRIENDS LEARN HIS SECRETS

The person who is a friend to the Most High is a person who will be brought in to know the deep secrets of the Lord (John 15:15). He will let you know whether you are in the state of nature or in the state of grace. (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:32). He will communicate unknown truths to His friends (Matthew 13:11). Paul says of himself, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

There are excellent secrets of duty that Christ will unfold to His friends. He will tell His friends the duty of the times in which they live (1 Chronicles 12:32). There are many secret duties that are made known unto the friends of God that are not made known to others who are strangers to Him. Christ will also make the secrets of providence known to His friends (Psalm 36:9).

4. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY WITH BOLDNESS

The soul who is a friend of God may come with boldness to God to seek anything from Him. Is God your friend? Then you may say, “God is my friend; I may be bold with Him.” Yes, when you approach to God in prayer, if you could introduce it with this, “O my friend,” you might pray with much confidence and boldness of faith.

5. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY CONFIDENTLY

A friend of Christ may come to God with confidence. If Christ is your friend, you may go to Him with great persuasion that He will deny you nothing and is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Did you ever have such a precious friend as this?

6. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE STRENGTHENED IN DUTY

This precious, matchless friend sharpens you and stirs you up to do your duty (Proverbs 27:17). A sight of your precious friend Christ would make you swift in your duty.

7. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

A friend of God has much communion with God and dwells and walks much with God. He walks much with God (Amos 3:3). If you are friends to Christ, you will have much of His heart (to long after you), His hand (to help you) and His mind (to reveal precious secrets hidden from the world).

8. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE COUNSEL IN DIFFICULTY

God will give counsel to His friends in all their dark and difficult distresses (Proverbs 27:9). If you were a friend to God, you would sometimes sing of Him giving you counsel (Psalm 16:7; Psalm 73:24).

9. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE SYMPATHY

If you are a friend of God, Christ will sympathise with you in all your anxieties (Proverbs 18:24).  Christ is more afflicted with our circumstances than we are afflicted with them ourselves (Zechariah 2:8).

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
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.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

If we stopped to look at it we would see how they weave themselves into our everyday thoughts and actions. We don’t admit it to ourselves but they do get more attention than God and seem to offer us more meaning and happiness. Some things are more obvious: success, work, image, material possessions, even smart phones. But heart idols go even deeper than you think. They are bound up with the deepest emotions and instincts of our heart and that is what keeps them hidden. If we are serious about putting God first we need help in diagnosing what is taking His place.

James Durham explains the subtle ways in which we commit heart idolatry and helps us to diagnose it. The heart Idolatry need not be an avowed conviction that we should worship something or someone other than God. Neither is it restricted to letting ourselves fixate on sinful things. We can be committing idolatry when we let ourselves love or value lawful things–things which are good and legitimate in themselves–to an excessive degree.

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

There are five things which indisputably belong to God: respect, love, confidence, reverence, and service.

It’s not that we should give no honour, love, etc, to anyone other than God, but that we should not love or serve anyone or anything too much, i.e, more than God.

When we veer away from giving God these five things, we are in effect committing idolatry in our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-7). What does this mean?

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

We commit idolatry when anything – even any good and legitimate thing – gets too much of our respect, so that our happiness depends on it. We can’t do without it, while we can do without communion with God. If something happens to deprive us of this thing, and then by comparison all our other comforts, including the promises of God and God himself, are of little value to us, this shows that that thing had too much of our respect.

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

We commit idolatry when we give our hearts away to created things – we’re addicted to them, we pursue them with excessive energy, we dote on them, or we sorrow immoderately when we lack them. A covetous person, who loves the world (1 John 2:15) is called an idolater (Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:5). Ahab loved Naboth’s vineyard so much that he could not rest without it (1 Kings 21). Demas idolised the world, when for love of it he forsook his service with the apostle (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are three ways to tell if your love to created things is excessive.

  • If your contentment depends on them to the extent that you fret when you cannot enjoy them, as Ahab did with Naboth’s vineyard, and Rachel when she had no children (Genesis 30:1).
  • If your love for created things competes with God, so that respect and love to the world shuffles out your duty to God, as it did with Demas.
  • If love to the world undermines your zeal in doing your duty towards God. This was the case with Eli (1 Samuel 2:24). Eli honoured and loved his children above God (1 Samuel 2:29). Not that he tolerated their wicked wrongdoing entirely, but because he did not intervene as sharply as he should have (and likely would have, if they had not been his own sons). By contrast, Abraham is commended for showing his love for God, because he did not hold back his only son when God called for him.

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

Putting our confidence in humans or human thing is idolatry. If we place our protection in humans, even in princes (Psalm 146:3) or in crowds, or in horses and armies, we are idolising them. Rich people may “make gold their confidence and fine gold their hope” (Job 31:24). They regard themselves as safe, not because God has a providence, but because they have these resources. Asa trusted doctors and not God for the cure of his disease (2 Chronicles 16:12). The rich man based his rest for his soul on his full barns (Luke 12:19).

You tell that some people’s confidence is misplaced because of the course of action they take when trouble comes. Some people do not hesitate to make use of sinful means to get things sorted. Or, because of the fuss they make when disappointment comes. Or, because they rely on their resources in a way that spoils their resting in God and his providence.

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

We may fear people, or events, more than we fear God. Fear can make us sin, or at least keep us back from doing what we should, either in little things or important things. Some, for fear of the Jews, did not confess Christ (John 12:42). This makes an idol of our actual enemies! We have more fear for “the one who can kill the body”, than for “him who can destroy both soul and body”! In this way great and important men in the world are idolised. In fact, the same thing can happen to good and well-qualified individuals, if we become addicted to them and their words and opinions, not so much because of the truth or reasonableness of what they say, but because of the personalities themselves.

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

When we are brought under the power of any thing, to serve it, that is idolatry. Every person or every whim that we set out to please is in this sense an idol. We cannot serve two masters, both God and mammon, and if we “serve men”, we are not “the servants of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

You can identify this kind of idolatry by seeing, for example, what people are most excessively taken up with, and most careful to accomplish. Or, by looking at what people will go to greatest lengths to attain. Or, by what gets most of their time and energies. Or, by what most sways, and overcomes, and overawes them most, so that they cannot resist it, even supposing they have to thrust aside a duty to God, or it puts them out of sorts for duties of worship.

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

It would be hard to speak of all the various different idols which may be loved, feared, and rested on too much, and so put in God’s place. Let us look at only a few.

1. THE WORLD

The world is the great clay idol that both covetous and hedonistic people hunt after, calling, “Who will show us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). This idol keeps thousands in bondage. An excessive desire to have the world’s goods, and so to have a prestigious reputation in the world, is the idol of many.

2. THE BELLY

The belly is a shameful god (Philippians 3:19), yet one worshipped by the majority of people, who labour for nothing more than for enough in this life to fill the belly (Psalm 17:14). They only want to earn their living and provide for their families. The fear of want captivates and enslaves many.

3. THE SELF

In some ways, the self includes every kind of idol. Your self, your reputation, your good name, people’s approval–your own will, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions. People are said to “live to themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15), in contrast to living to God, when respect to self influences them to be “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4), and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (Titus 1:7) and “self-willed” (2 Peter 2:10).

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

Gifted or influential people, who have the power to do us considerable good or evil, are often made into idols when people put too much fear, love, or trust in them.

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

Things which can lawfully be used as comforts and contentments–such as houses, spouses, and children–we can be too much addicted to. We can become absorbed in these things–even though they are in themselves very little–and so they turn out to be our idols.

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Our prayers, repentances, blameless living, and so on, are often invested with more of our confidence than they should be. We rely too much on them for our salvation and eternal peace (Romans 10:3).

7. CHURCH

The purity of our worship, the forms of our worship, our church membership, can become idols. When we rest on these forms of godliness, and do not press on towards the power of godliness, they become our idols. This was the problem with the Jews, who appealed to the temple of the Lord and the covenant between him and them, and their external relationship to him (Jeremiah 7:4).

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

When we lay too much weight on God’s gifts (such as beauty, strength, intelligence, learning), or think too much of them, we make them into idols. In fact, we may put grace itself, and the sense of God’s love, and inward peace, into Christ’s place. We may sometimes seek for these things more than for Christ himself. When things like these are rested on, and delighted in, and Christ is slighted, or when we miss them and do not delight in him, then they are idols.

9. AN EASY LIFE

Ease, quietness, and our own contentment, can often be a great idol. This is how it was with the rich man, who told his soul to take ease (Luke 12:19). His ease was his idol, seeing how he rested on it, and made it the chief end of all his buildings and the goods he had to store. But his riches were his idol, seeing how he grounded his expectation of rest on what he possessed. Similarly, many idle people, who frame their life so that they will have no trouble, even though they are not being or doing anything profitable, make this the drift of all they do–to have an easy life. If this was not their chief end, it would be profitable, but when they neglect many necessary duties, only to avoid hassle, it is their idol.

10. ESCAPISM

Sometimes our minds please themselves with things which never exist except in their own imagination. Solomon calls this “the wandering of the desire”, as opposed to “the sight of the eyes” which others delight in (Ecclesiastes 6:9). Some people spend their gifts and skills on writing novels, romances, stage plays, and comedies. Even more subtly, yet perhaps even more commonly, people concoct imaginary and fictious scenarios where they get the revenge, delights, or prominence they desire.

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

The means which God normally works by, are often trusted in and relied on to such an extent that they become idols. These could be doctors, armies, or ministers–or inanimate natural causes. Worse than that, astrology and palm-reading are much prized but the Scriptures treated as antiquated and largely discarded.

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

In order to honour God truly and have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3) we need a right response to Him. God must be esteemed, loved, trusted, feared, hoped in adored, honoured, served and obeyed above all else. In a word, He must be the supreme purpose of all our actions.

We must also depend on God and submit to Him. We must rest believingly on Him and express our faith and repentance in prayer.  There must be delight in Him and constant fellowship. We must also meditate on God and diligently use all of the means He has appointed for us to deepen our response to Him,.

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When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
1 Nov, 2019

We are drowning in personal debt. It’s recognised as a crisis. With growing insecurity one small change can often send individuals and families into tragic unsustainable debt. Overall debt in the UK is expected to reach £2 trillion by 2020. How should we think about debt? When the Apostle Paul says that we are not to owe anyone anything it seems unmistakably clear (Romans 13:8). But then he goes on immediately to make an exception. In fact, he urges us to take on the biggest possible debt: “to love one another”. What are we doing about this personal debt?

In explaining this verse, John Brown of Wamphray emphasises that it is important for Christians to fulfil their obligations. They should be faithful in relation to the agreements and debts they contract. They should not give anyone legitimate reason complain about them. They should seek to manage the little money they receive from God in a wise and careful way so that they can pay off their debts (2 Kings 4:1-3; Proverbs 3:27 and 6:1-3).

The debt they cannot free themselves from but must constantly pay is to love one another. Paul goes on to show that this is what God’s law requires. It is something that we must be reminded about constantly (1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Corinthians 14:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:22).

1. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED FROM EVERYONE

The duty of Christian love is a duty required of every kind of person. It is a mutual Christian duty (John 13:34; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Colossians 3:14).

2. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED DAILY

This is a debt required of us daily and which we can never be freed from. It must continue (Hebrews 13:1). It is a debt we are constantly obliged to pay to our neighbour.

3. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED FOR EVERYONE

We should desire the best for everyone: eternal life, peace with God etc. This same principle of love ought to extend to everyone whether they are saints (Colossians 1:4) or strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19-20). It includes anyone who is called our neighbour (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19). We are to love one another and our neighbour (Romans 13:8-9; 1 Peter 2:17).

Believers are indeed bound to have a special respect and love for those who are fellow children of grace and children of the same Father (Galatians 6:10). The same has love us and commanded us to do this (1 John 4:11 and 21). This will prove that we do indeed know and love God and He dwells in us (1 John 4:8, 12 and 20). It will show that we are of God, dwell in the light and have passed from death to life (1 John 2:10-11 and 3:10 and 14).

It is of course true that in terms of frequency, effects and degree of delight we may love some more than others. These include those to whom we are related or are friends with or those who have shown us kindness (1 Timothy 5:4; Proverbs 18:24; Galatians 6:6).

4. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS OUR MORAL DUTY

Although believers are out of the reach of the condemnation of the law they are under its direction. The more the law urges a duty the more believers ought to strive to fulfil it. In urging this duty of love Paul says that it summarises the second part of the Ten Commandments. He calls this “the fulfilling of the law” (Matthew 22:39; James 2:8; Galatians 5:14).

5. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED IN EVERYTHING

This love for our neighbours should preserve us from wronging them in terms of their honour, person, reputation and possessions. It would urge us to use all lawful means to secure their spiritual and outward good. In a word, it would keep us from transgressing any commandment of the second part of the Ten Commandments in thought, word or deed (Romans 13:9 see Galatians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24). We must labour in this love (1 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10). We ought to serve our neighbour in love (Galatians 5:13).

Where this love is found we do not devise, contrive or seek anything that harms our neighbour. We will not even so much as take up a bad report against our neighbour (Psalm 15:3). Love does not envy but bears long and is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It does not think any evil but covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

CONCLUSION

Romans 14:8 is simple in its wording but it includes a very great deal indeed. Love for others so motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about it. 
When the Christian is changed their behaviour is also changed. This is so much the case that without this love – the Christian with all their knowledge and profession is nothing, it is merely an empty sound (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

But how do we show that love to all fellow-believers, what is our duty towards them? Any breach in fellowship and the love we ought to have should be truly distressing to us. Christ spoke of how reconciliation ought to take preeminence over other duties such as worship (see Matthew 5:21-26). It is easy to make professions, to parade zeal and orthodoxy but our obedience matters. This is the test of whether our love is genuine (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We may well have spoken the truth to another person faithfully and without leaving them in any doubt as to where they have gone wrong. But did we speak the truth in love? Or did we give them such a volley of truth as will inoculate them lifelong against the Biblical principles we are defending due to the way in which we have done it? Of course a failure to say or do what is right can also lead others to sin and error. It does not mean that we abandon any truth or principle; it means that we are unwilling to value it above Christian love. We value both love and truth enough to want to lovingly and patiently exhort our fellow Christians to be of one mind with us.

It is often in our use of the tongue and how we speak about other Christians that we fail to fulfil the requirement of love. We should always seek the good and not the harm (even indirectly) of others. 

We need to pray for much grace in order to fulfil this perpetual debt of love.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

No one has written on this subject in a more spiritual, biblical and powerful way than Hugh Binning in his book Christian Love. It is brief but needs much careful pondering and prayerful practice. 

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Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
25 Oct, 2019

We are witnessing an evident increase in people being health and fitness conscious. Bodily exercise does indeed have a certain limited benefit for us in preserving our health and life (1 Timothy 4:8). But Paul tells us that exercising or training ourselves to godliness brings every kind of benefit (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The comparison is clear. Just as bodily exercise brings benefit so our spiritual health requires spiritual exercise. Part of Christian growth is exercising and strengthening faith. How can we do this?  

Andrew Gray explains the benefits of exercising and strengthening faith. Faith must constantly go out to Christ depending on His Word and promises. It becomes stronger the more it is exercised in this way. This is vital for the Christian life. 

1. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith keeps our soul in the most constant fellowship with Christ. He dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). It is through exercising the grace of faith Christ that becomes our husband, our householder, and the one who dwells within us. It is a most sweet and desirable thing to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and our souls dwelling with Christ by love. It is a sweet connection.

2. CHRIST’S PRECIOUSNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith can make Christ more precious to a Christian than feelings can. Faith’s estimate of Christ is based on His person but feelings look to what Christ does. Faith looks at what Christ was before the world began, but feelings only look at what Christ is at the present time. The grace of faith looks to the love in Christ’s heart: feelings only look to the smiles of His face. Faith’s estimation is more constant than that of feelings especially when Christ withdraws His felt presence. When faith needs wisdom, it consults with Christ, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor. Faith is like a sinew which when it is cut, all our strength goes from us. Faith is heroic; the crown of martyrdom is set on the head of faith.

3. HUMILITY INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

A Christian who excels in this grace, is the most humble Christian. By what law is boasting excluded? By the law of faith (Romans 3:27). Faith shows a Christian the excellence of God, and humbles them in the dust. Faith makes a Christian both ascend and descend, so to speak. It keeps all the graces of the Spirit in motion.

4. SIN DECREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith likewise puts sin to death. When Christ is revealed to a soul, it will cast away its idols as filthy rags and will cry out that it has none in heaven besides God (Psalm 73:25). The soul is drawn more to where it loves than where it lives.

5. PATIENCE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Being justified by faith, we glory even in what we suffer (Romans 5:3). Faith holds out the crown on the right hand to a Christian with this motto written on it: “He that perseveres to the end shall he saved”. Moses never arrived at patience until he got to the top of the mountain from which he saw the promised land. Faith brings home the promises of eternal glory to a Christian.

6. SPIRITUAL FRUITFULNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a grace that sanctifies our lives. Faith has a sweet influence on our fruitfulness to Christ by helping us to abide in Him (John 15:5). Faith is the mother grace that bears good works as its children and as it moves so all the other graces move with it.

7. UNDERSTANDING INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an intelligent grace, understanding the “mystery of God” (Colossians 2:2). Faith raises the soul to the highest level of reason.

8. PEACE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith pacifies the heart. Peace is the daughter of faith, Faith is the dove that brings the olive branch of peace in its mouth.

9. SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS INCREASE AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an empty hand that receives the precious free gifts that come from Christ’s merits. It is the channel through which the blessed streams of life flow to us from Him.

10. PURITY OF HEART INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a heavenly plant which will not grow in an impure heart. Faith is a heart-purifying grace (Acts 15:9). It can only grow in a pure and heavenly soil.

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The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
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.
10 Oct, 2019

Many people know that their prayer life suffers at the expense of a busy life. But no one is too busy for spontaneous prayer. This isn’t about unwritten as opposed to written prayers. Neither is it asking someone to pray with you on the spur of the moment. Spontaneous prayer is like a reflex reaction to something rather than a deliberate act of getting on our knees to address God. It’s woven into the fabric of life. A silent and brief cry, groan, plea or breath. It expresses our dependence on God. 

It is an earnest cry not a casual, lazy wish (Nehemiah 2:4). Spontaneous prayer is not just an emergency cry but a necessary duty. We need to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and with all kinds of prayer at all times (Ephesians 6:18). It is something that can be part of our everyday life and duties. It expresses our dependence on God and keeps us in a spiritual condition. There are thousands of opportunities that we have for this kind of prayer and it helps us make best use of our time. James Durham explains the benefits of spontaneous prayer as well as showing the type of opportunities we can make use of for this.

THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

(a) It keeps our heart in the right condition

It makes us sensitive to spiritual things. It keeps the heart from wandering from God.

(b) It helps prevent gross sin

How many sinful thoughts and unadvised words this might prevent.

(c) It helps us in our spiritual duties

It keeps us fervent and lively in formal prayer. When we find it difficult we can send up a short request to God for life and help. It also helps us in hearing the Word aright, when we ask that ministers may get liberty and all boldness and those who listen do so with love, faith and meekness.

(d) It helps us have a peace of mind that passes all understanding.

We cn take delight in fellowship with God. Spontaneous prayer gives us a sight of God now and then and a right perception of Him in our minds.

(e) It is often clearly successful.

Jacob, Moses, David, and many other saints obtained what they sought from God when they prayed in such a way.

(f) It helps us make best use of our time.

We are kept from being idle by being spiritually exercised and have great peace and comfort. It helps us in our business and employment.

THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

We should watch out for all kinds of opportunities for this type of prayer in our daily lives. The following is general guidance about such opportunities as it would be hard to give specific directions about all the possible opportunities for spontaneous prayer.

(a) When You Cannot Pray Formally

God may give you an opportunity for this kind of prayer when you do not have opportunity engage in formal prayer. You may be travelling, walking or hearing someone else speak. It is a kind of prayer that will not mars not obstruct your ordinary employment. You may pray in your shop, at your door, or when you are walking in the street or when you are in company with others, or when you are lying on your bed. All these are precious opportunities that might be best used for this important purpose.

(b) When You Are Engaged in Momentous Things

When you are about any business of great weight and moment. Nehemiah had such when he was before the king. If any of you are witness to the solemn administration of the sacrament of baptism or involved in it. If you are employed in something that concerns your life or concerns, then you should offer some reverent requests to God.

(c) When You Experience Difficulties

When there is any difficulty in something we are engaged in, as when David was among the Philistines, or when he was before the king of Gath.

(d) When you are Tempted to Sin

When there are temptations in your way, and you are in danger of sinning you need this kind of prayer. If you find yourself in bad company, or if you engaging in anything that is delicate or dangerous such prayers are necessary. Pray when you encounter trials or temptations in any calling or company. Before you speak a word or give an answer, send to God a request for direction.

(e) When Sin Rises Up

When you find any impulse rising up in your heart to do wrong, when you are provoked or anger or revenge is stirred up. Moses evidently prayed to God in Exodus 14:15-16 when he was answering the murmuring of the people.

(f) When Something Unexpected Happens

When some very extraordinary thing occurs which you had not anticipated beforehand you need such prayers. When Ahithophel joined Absalom against David he prayed that God might defeat his counsel (2 Samuel 15:31). Something may happen to you in relation to your family or friends, which may discompose your minds. This is a fitting opportunity to cry to God.

(g) When You Are Engaged in Spiritual Activities

When you are called to engage in spiritual activities: to read God’s Word, meditate upon it, pray to or praise God you should offer some desires for God’s help. Or when you meet with others, before you open your mouths to speak, seek to be guided aright of God (Genesis 49:18). When you have to speak reproof, comfort or advice to a friend it would be very proper to have a word or thought sent up to heaven that it may be effectual.

(h) When You are in Trouble

When you are in some great suffering or affliction which requires greater than your own strength to bear cry to God.

CONCLUSION

Here is a type of prayer that we can make use of anytime and anywhere. We cannot say that we are too busy for it. It will not interfere with what we are doing and the busier we are, the greater our need of God’s help. We must be careful to maintain a reverent spirit and use expressions that are suitable for expressing to God. But it will do much to maintain a sense of spiritual things in our minds. Durham asks some searching questions. Is it not entirely unsuitable that we profess continual dependence on God but spend most of our day without acknowledging Him? Should we not have God’s company all day long if we want to know fellowship with Him? What do we put in place of such prayers? What things do our minds run after–are they not often things that cannot benefit us?

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Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

REFORMING YOURSELF ARTICLES
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
26 Sep, 2019

​Our troubles just keep increasing as a nation. Conflict is everywhere you look, even between the critical institutions within the fabric of our society. Indeed, that’s true of many other nations too and their political crises. Why is that happening? Could it be that God is leaving us to the consequences of our national sins? If that’s the case then the solution will not be found in anything else except repentance. This is where the hope lies, there is mercy in God exposing our sin. The judgment of God is a call for us to return to Him.

Scripture has a lot to say about nations overcome by sin, error and judgment–other nations as well as Israel. In Joel chapter 2, the Lord calls on Israel to make right use of the warning He gives about the judgment they can expect. He does this with two exhortations. They should engage in sincere repentance and humbled themselves through fasting and unfeigned sorrow (Joel 2:12. They must also strive to have their spirit afflicted for sin more than performing outward actions out of pretence (v. 13). The reason given to encourage them to repentance is that God is merciful and gracious and not easily provoked (Joel 2:13.). He is rich in kindness and ready not to carry out His threatenings when there is repentance.

Since God is gracious in Himself, He may avert the judgement so that the people will survive. Who knows but that He may “leave a blessing behind him” (see Jonah 3:9 and Zephaniah 2:3) if there is repentance? George Hutcheson reflects on the significance of these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE TO LEAD US TO REPENTANCE

No matter how much terror there may be about feared or felt judgements, it is all pointless if it does not stir people up to repentance. Those who are in such a condition and yet do not repent must be mad. After all the warning of judgment on the nation they are called to this as the only remedy and way to be delivered. If they are seriously affected with their condition, they cannot but take this seriously. God calls on them to “turn” (Joel 2:12; see Psalm 106:44 and Jeremiah 31:18- 20).

 

2. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE INVITATIONS

When God threatens most severely, He is still inviting us to repentance by judgements and warnings. He is willing to accept repentance. The same Lord who threatens, exhorts with the word “therefore” to show the connection with the judgment previously warned of (Joel 2:12).

Those who have abused God’s patience for so long that the situation seems without remedy should not think that repentance is now too late. Judgment may be imminent, but it is still good to engage in repentance. It will do good however matters turn out. Even though they were in this sad plight, God calls on them to repent.

Those who take repentance seriously (especially when God declares Himself angry) must not delay engaging in it. This is implied in God emphasising the word “now” in calling them to “turn” (Joel 2:12).

Those who are humbled by God’s judgements may have doubts that their repentance will not be accepted. But God issues an invitation to such in His name, to remove all doubts. He expressly states that this is said by the Lord (Joel 2:12).

 

3. GOD’S JUDGMENTS CALL FOR TRUE REPENTANCE

Repentance for particular sins in response to judgment will not be acceptable as long as there is no conversion to God. There must be a change of state by regeneration.

In turning to God they must beware of being pretended. They must strive to be sincere even though they cannot achieve perfection.  The call to turn with all their heart is a gospel call.

They must seek to be deeply affected for past sin which has brought these judgments. They should prove this by sorrow and humbling themselves (Joel 2:12). Such repentance should not be passed over lightly. The heart should be broken for sin (Psalm 51:17).

We are prone to hypocrisy and ought to beware of playing with God even when we are in greatest distress. They are therefore told to rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:13). God is not pleased with mere outward signs of repentance.

 

4. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE GRACIOUS

God’s graciousness, compassion and readiness to show undeserved mercy assures those who truly repent of acceptance. Seriously reflecting on this may invite sinners to engage in repentance with hope. He “is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:14). God’s long forbearance, waiting sinners to repent before He judges proves that He is willing to embrace those who repent. He is slow to anger. The Lord’s people are dealing with One who so delights in mercy and is so affected with their distress that He is willing to draw back from judgment if they repent (Joel 2:13).

 

5. GOD’S JUDGMENTS POINT US TO HIMSELF

Those who truly repent have their hope fixed on God alone. They are focussed on God’s turning and change–not their own turning and repentance.

 

6. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO TRULY REPENT

God will mitigate His judgments to those who repent, so that at the very least they are turned into fatherly chastisements. Repentance will not always keep away judgment when sin has come to a great height (calling on God to vindicate His glory in punishing it). Neither will it prevent judgment when God wants us to be stirred up to even more repentance. God may increase the concern, diligence and humility of those who repent by keeping them in suspense. This is the reason for the question as to whether He will return and leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

7. GOD’S JUDGMENTS DO NOT HINDER HIS BLESSING

No uncertainty about this should discourage us from repentance. However things may go we are in God’s way for attaining blessing for good when we repent. The question as to who knows if God will leave a blessing is therefore an encouragement to repent.

When God is judging a nation, it does not hinder Him blessing those who repent. There may be rich mercies waiting for them, both in the time of affliction to help them survive and afterwards, to rebuild them up. For there is hope that upon repentance, God will leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Hope During Desperate Times is a book that provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It's spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context.

It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended.

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