How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
10 May, 2019

​We’ve heard about the decline of Christianity, church attendance and Christian influence. Aspects of this are matters of discussion and debate. Yet decline and increased pressure on the Church are certainly evident. Social and cultural pressures and a moral revolution that sets the agenda and seems to place the church continually on the back foot. Or the challenge of how to communicate the gospel in a world where people mistakenly think it no longer makes sense. There’s a danger that when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity–the potential for inward decline. Has there been a decline of living Christianity in your heart and mine? It’s easy to fall into the temptation of becoming consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. What if our souls have begun to wither and we’ve scarcely noticed. How would we know? More importantly, how can we recover a declining condition?

Christ tells His people who are withering in their souls to be watchful or awake (Revelation 3:2). This is the first step towards reviving a withered soul. As Obadiah Sedgewick puts it there can be “no reformation without diligent and serious consideration”. Those in Sardis were in a dying condition. The powers of truth and grace were extremely faint and seemed to be expiring. There were things “that were ready to die”. Spiritual life needs to be strengthened in such a dying condition. Outwardly things may have looked good to the eyes of others. But it was imperfect and incomplete before God. Their condition required remembering and repenting. Obadiah Sedgewick (a member of the Westminster Assembly) explains the implications of Christ’s exhortations in this updated extract.

 

1. How Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) In Our Profession. The leaves of our profession may wither when we do not have even the previous zeal and diligence for being at services. We may become so remiss in these things as to become something of a stranger to God.

(b) In Our Conversation. We may no longer delight to be with the people of God. When we are with them we avoid profitable conversation about heaven and holiness.

(c) In Our Affections. Christ tells the Ephesians that they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). There was a cooling in the degree of love similar to the decline in the Galatians that Paul speaks of (Galatians 4:15).

(d) In Our Obedience. We obey God occasionally or in a distracted way or with a kind of cold, careless formalism. Before no time was too long and no excuse was sufficient to neglect serving God. Praying did not satisfy without lamenting groanings of spirit or more fervent wrestling with God. But now prayer and other spiritual activities are like a pulse hardly felt. Mere words and just doing the activity is enough.

(e) In Our Understanding. Previously our mind was taken up with delight in meditating on God and Christ, divine truths and ways. Now we are taken up with things that are empty and transitory. These so fill the soul that it becomes almost a stranger to holy meditations. It has almost lost its relish for deep thoughts of God, Christ, or salvation.

(f) In Our Gifts and Abilities. These become rusty and blunt because we want to be comfortable and do not use them aright or else focus them on worldly things.

(g) In Our Graces.  It is worst of all when we are dying in our graces. Physical health may go up and down and so it may be with a Christian’s graces. Perhaps they are not being kept active or being strengthened by spiritual activity.

 

2. Why Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) Error.  If poison gets into the body it weakens and endangers life. Unsound doctrine can do this as it did to the churches of Galatia. When the understanding is corrupted with any error, truth does not have the same power in the soul. Where truth loses its authority, grace will lose its strength.

(b) Sinning. Just as a wound in the body makes us lose blood and endangers our life, so there are things which fight against the soul and wound it (1 Peter 2:11). Sinning not only wounds the conscience but also our graces. Sinning is to graces as water is to fire, nothing is more opposite to grace than sin. When sin gets into the affections it is like a disease which will inevitably be a deadly wound to our graces.

(c) Neglect. Neglecting food makes the body decline. So the people of God may become careless through spiritual pride. They do not keep so close to the Word of life or to the Life itself by earnest and constant communion in prayer. It is no wonder that they become dying people. Just as plants live or die, flourish or decay in relation to how they benefit from the sun, so it is with us and God.

(d) Allowing Spiritual Disease. If ill health in the body is not treated it can become deadly. Unless sin is dealt with it will do the same to the soul. One sin may lead to another. Or the same sin may become stronger. This makes grace wither.

(e) Lack of Self-Examination. Previously we kept a careful watch over ourselves but then we began to think it was not so necessary. We therefore fail to see how either sin or grace is operating. The soul becomes weak. We cannot pray as before, we do not have the love to God and Christ we had before. We do not delight in the means of grace nor mourn over sin as before. We do not do the same good to others as before. Why is this? It is always true that the less searching of heart there is, the less strength of grace there is.

(d) Lack of Humbling Ourselves. Fasting and prayer have been ordained to help preserve our graces. When we neglect them or are careless in them we cannot have the same strength against spiritual corruptions. We therefore fall into spiritual decay.

(e) Laziness. A lazy Christian will quickly prove to be a dying Christian. Grace not exercised will quickly become weak and dying. It is put into the soul by God’s Spirit but there are means to sustain and strengthen it. Grace is like a fire that must be stirred up. He who will not use grace, will quickly lose it or decay in it.  Many Christians do not stir their hearts to believe, lay hold on God, or call upon Him, or to walk before Him. They do not use their knowledge, zeal and love for the good of those around them, including those they live with. They meet together but don’t stir one another up to greater holiness.

(f) Excessive emotion. Excessive fear, grief, anger, joy, agony, desire or worry can all impair grace. Desire for the world, or delight in it, fear of man, or grief for things we have lost can all damage grace.

 

3. Are Our Souls Withering?

(a) Examine Your Understanding. Previously there were strong endeavours to know the truths of God and search out the mysteries of salvation. There was an admiration of holiness and God’s favour. There were sweet meditations on the will of God; the mind was pre-eminently taken up with God and Christ, grace, obedience and heaven. Is it so now? Or do worldly things seem great in your eyes? Are we more concerned for our temporal than for our spiritual good? Are our thoughts of God fleeting and short? Do you desire to know God or see His favour in Christ to you? Where is that high regard for the truths of God? Where is that diligence to know the condition of your soul? Where is that sweet delight you once had to know Jesus Christ as your own?

(b) Examine Your Will and Affections. Time was that your will was flexible and found obedience easy. It was submissive to the divine will and cheerful in the duties of godliness. Your affections were delighted with God’s promises and ravished with love to Christ. You were concerned to please and to avoid offending.  You desired nothing more than God’s lovingkindness and hated all evil. But now your will grows weary and is reluctant to be persuaded. It often conflicts with God’s will. You are slow to pay heed to God’s counsels. Neither God’s mercies nor His warnings have the same effect on you.  You delight less in heavenly things and sin is not hated as it was.

(c) Examine Your Heart and Conscience. In the past conscience was quick to direct and restrain. It sought exact obedience. It was sensitive against doing wrong. It could not rest till peace was found. Is it so now? Can you sin and conscience does not strike you? Has your conscience become sleepy and almost dead?  Can you omit duties or do them carelessly or can you sin and either conscience says nothing or you do nothing?

(d) Examine Your Worship. How precious and delightful the means of grace once were to you. You would rather have spent a day in them than a hundred in other things. They brought powerful impressions on your heart; grief, joy and hope. They helped you conquer sin and temptation and have a more serious diligence in your walk with God. Is it so now? Does the Word warn and you do not tremble? Does it promise good and you do not love it? If your heart seems to be dead it indicates that you are a dying soul.

(e) Examine Your Conversation. Has our religion become just talk, criticism and debate?

(f) Examine Your Graces. When graces are scarcely active or are generally inconstant there is spiritual decline. Your faith does not commit things to God as before, your love is not so settled on Christ as before. Your patience cannot endure, your sorrow is dry and your zeal has become cool. If our physical capacities have become weaker it is an indication of declining strength in the body. The same may be said for our spiritual condition, if our graces are not as vigorous as they were.

 

4. How to Recover Our Withering Souls

God puts grace within the soul and also increases and perfects it. Strengthening grace means recovering the health of the soul. Christ also does this work, it is He who must make our withered branches to flourish again. He does this by awakening us through the Word and not leaving us to continue as we are. Ministers are also appointed to watch for the flock and exhort those who are going astray. Christ supplies strength and grace that enables us to repent and pray. There is renewed grace to go on in holiness and regain our former strength of holy understanding, faith, will, love, desire, fear, and obedience. But there are also means for Christians themselves to use to strengthen grace within.

(a) Serious Consideration. Seriously consider and take to heart your condition. Think about what it was formerly and what it is now; what strength there was then, what weakness there is now (Psalm 119:59). Consider how much glory God had then, what dishonour God has now. Consider what peace of conscience you had then, what wounds in conscience now.

(b) Confession. Go before the Lord and fall down before His footstool with shame, bitter weeping and lamentations. Confess your condition.

(c) Resolve. Resolve that you will not continue in your decayed condition but rather shake off all the causes of having decayed. Put away sin. Turn away from carelessness and slothfulness. If the world has caused your decay, resolve to turn from its allurements.

(d) Reform. Remember where you have fallen from and do the first works again (Revelation 2:4). Go to prayer, reading, holy meditation, spiritual conversation and hearing again.  Stir up those coals and embers of grace. There is life in you yet, exercise faith and repentance.

(e) Fervent Prayer.  The Lord can give the strength you need (Psalm 86:16). Implore Him to pity and help you, to be your strength and salvation. Seek that He would weaken the sins which have so much weakened you. Ask that He would crucify your heart to the world, which has so much crucified your heart to your God. He can increase strength to those who are faint (Isaiah 40:29). He is able to revive and strengthen the holiness that He himself planted in your heart.

(f) Submit to the Word.  Strive for a pliable heart submissive to whatever the Lord will direct you to by His word. Desire to do God’s will. Co-operate with the Word received when it has got into your soul and stirred you in any way. Take note of what impressions the Lord makes on your spirit by His Word. Stir up your heart to embrace them and apply them again and again to your conscience. This is the way to make your weak spark grow into a flame.

(g) Find Strong Christians. Seek out strong and lively Christians who walk in the ways of grace. If they are good and know how to do good they will have hearts to pity you, heads to direct you and arms to bear you up. Listen to their heavenly wisdom in counselling you and their exhortations to you. Follow their examples in careful communion with God. You will be helped by their prayers for you.

 

Conclusion

It is a serious matter when our souls are in a withering condition. We cannot just accept it, we need to address it. It is a matter that Christ takes extremely seriously in the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3). This is one of the various themes of our new forthcoming study course called Outside In. It helps to identify the problem of declining in love and grace and what we can do by God’s grace to return from that condition.

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How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

How to Bring Christians Back from Sin
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
20 Jan, 2017

We are prone to extremes.  Some avoid dealing with others in relation to their sins and faults; others are quick to respond with extreme severity.  Neither of course, is biblical.  We are responsible for each other. Rebuking those who are sinning is loving but it shows hatred to allow them to go on in it (Leviticus 19:17).  It is our duty to tell them what they ought to be hearing from their conscience. Yet such rebukes and challenges must be given with love, wisdom and humility.  We ought to be ready to give and receive such loving and faithful reproof. It something Christ Himself has appointed for our wellbeing (Matthew 18:15).

James Fergusson reflects deeply and at length on a verse that helps to guide us between the extremes of severity and inaction. What follows is an updated extract. He says that in Galatians 6:1, the apostle speaks to those who are “spiritual”. This means those that had received a large measure of spiritual graces. By such grace they were preserved from the subtle snares of sin and Satan, which had entrapped others. Such are also called “strong” (Romans 15:1) and “perfect”, i.e. comparatively (Philippians 3:15).

He exhorts such to seek to reclaim and restore all those “overtaken” in a fault. They are to restore them to both a felt sense of God’s pardoning grace and to amendment of life. “Overtaken” means being suddenly and without prior consideration being overcome by any sin.  In the original Greek it means to do something in haste (1 Corinthians 11:21).

In using all necessary means to achieve this end e.g. admonition, reproof or necessary correction, they should exercise the grace of spiritual meekness. They must suppress all feelings of revenge or sinful expressions of emotion. He enforces this exhortation by counselling that everyone, even the best, must consider deeply their own frailty while dealing with the faults of others.  They must recall how easily he may be drawn by temptation to be overtaken with the same, similar, or a greater sin.

 

1. We Must Deal Meekly with Those at Fault

Tolerating sin both in others and ourselves is far too common (1 Samuel 3:13). Yet there is another sinful extremity to be avoided, i.e. when under pretence of hatred to, or righteous anger against the sins of others we refuse to admonish, reprove them in the spirit of meekness because we think they are obstinate. The apostle says, “If a man”. This can be read as anticipating an objection, “though a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one…” This presumes that some were apt to think themselves free from the duty of meekness towards a person at fault. The apostle shows, that nevertheless they were bound to restore and deal meekly with such despite their fault.

 

2. Excessive Severity Comes from Pride

This sin of excessive severity towards the sinful failings and falls of others comes from pride. Such a “holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5) attitude may well pretend to be zeal but really it is pride. The rigid critic and lofty censurer of another’s faults does not seek his brother’s reformation so much as to create a good opinion of himself in the minds of others. He seeks to be seen as if he were more concerned for holiness and hatred of sin than others.  The connection between chapters 5 and 6 shows that this sin is to be guarded against as having some kind of dependence on vainglory. Compare “Let us not be desirous of vain-glory” (Galatians 5:26) and “if a man be overtaken in a fault, restore him in the spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).

 

3. Motives for Compassion

The apostle calls the Galatians “brethren” to give more force to the need to exercise love and meekness in recovering those who had fallen. He calls them brethren to express his love to them and remind them of the love they ought to have to one another as brethren. The person to be restored is referred to by the common name of “a man”. This points to the common frailty of mankind so as to show that his falling into sin is rather to be pitied than wondered at. Paul also transfers the guilt of the sin in a great measure from the person himself to the subtlety of Satan and violence of the temptation by which he was overtaken. All of this provides motives to exercise the pity and meekness to which he exhorts. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault”, he says.

 

4. Those Who are Not Yet Obstinate Require Less Severity

Greater severity must be used (1 Corinthians 4:21) towards those who are so maliciously obstinate in sin that they cannot be reclaimed by a meek and lenient approach. Yet others, whom we must in charity judge to be otherwise, but are rather overtaken by the violence of some prevailing temptation, ought to be dealt with more gently. These are the only ones whom the apostle will have us to deal with using a spirit of meekness: “If a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one etc.”

 

5. It is Easy to be Overtaken in a Fault

So subtle and assiduous is Satan in tempting (1 Peter 5:8) and so ready is our corruption to comply with temptation as soon as it is presented (Ephesians 2:2) that the child of God cannot but be overtaken unawares by some sin or other. This will happen unless we are all the more careful and diligent (Matthew 26:41). By sinning in this way the child of God dishonours God and lays a stumbling block before others. Paul assumes that it is likely for all men to be similarly overtaken when he says, “If a man be overtaken in a fault. “

 

6. The More Holy We Are the More We Should Seek to Restore Others

It is the duty of all men to endeavour to reclaim those lying under unrepented guilt (since the command is given to all: Leviticus 19:17). Yet, the more holy men are, and the further they have advanced in spiritual things, the more obliged they are to this duty. This is primarily because they are better able to fulfil it since they less tainted with sin than others. They have therefore, more liberty to reprove. They also know better how to do this difficult duty wisely. Such are more willing to perform it than others with less knowledge and love to God’s glory and their neighbour’s good. Thus, the Apostle directs this exhortation mainly to those that had received a greater measure of grace. He addresses those “which are spiritual” telling them to “restore such an one”.

 

7. The More Gifts We Have Received, the More We Should Seek to Restore Others

The more graces and gifts a man has received, the more he is obliged to devote himself and all he has received (within the limits of his calling; Hebrews 5:4) for the spiritual good and edification of others. Paul gives this task of restoring the backslidden Christian chiefly to those who had received a greater measure of grace and spiritual gifting: “Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one”.

 

8. Those Who Have Fallen into Public Sin are Reluctant to be Restored

When a child of God falls into public sins and erroneous opinions they damage the inward condition formerly enjoyed. It lays waste the conscience and consumes all his former spiritual sensitivity (1 Peter 2:11). Thus, the person who has fallen in such sins is, ordinarily, averse to being reclaimed and proves difficult to deal with. They are like a man with a dislocated bone that can hardly bear to have it touched. The word rendered “restore such an one” implies this because it means literally, to set dislocated parts of the body in joint again. Thus we see that sin puts the soul, as it were, out of joint.

 

9. We Must be Tender in Using Means to Restore Others

Since it is the duty of all Christians (especially those who are spiritual) to seek to reclaim any who are so fallen we must use means. The necessary means are: admonition (Matthew 18:15); reproof (Leviticus 19:17); and prayer to God on their behalf (James 5:14-15). Christians must pursue these out of charity and their mutual relation to one another as members of one body. Ministers and elders must also pursue them, by virtue of the authority which Christ the King of the Church has given them (Ephesians 4:11-12). In pursuing all these means everyone must use great skill and tenderness in order to attain their goal of restoration. He says, “restore such an one” or set him in joint again. It is a phrase borrowed from surgeons who, when they treat a dislocated bone, handle it with skill and tenderness.

 

10. Meekness Proves Our Intentions are Right

The grace of meekness, which is necessary to moderate inordinate anger and quickly repress feelings of revenge before they rise to any height (Ephesians 4:26), is the work of God’s Spirit in us. It is essential to exercise this grace towards those who are fallen in all the means we use to reclaim them so that we are not carried away with passionate rage but only zeal to God, love to the person and sanctified reason. This is how we prove we are seeking to recover our brother rather than abuse him. We are labouring to help him; not seeking to disgrace him. Thus, he says, “Restore such an one in the spirit of meekness”, or in the meekness which is produced by God’s Spirit.

 

11. Anyone May be Tempted

No one (not even the most spiritual) can promise themselves immunity from strong temptations to gross public sin or that they will stand when if left to themselves. Paul urges even the spiritual man to consider himself, lest he is also tempted. It is not only possible that the spiritual man may be tempted, but also that he may yield to temptation when presented to him. The argument would not have had such strength to enforce meekness towards those who are overtaken in a fault.

 

12. Those Who are Most Uncharitable Know Their Own Hearts Least

Those who censure the faults of others in the most rigid and uncharitable way are usually greatest strangers to their own hearts and scarcely sensitive to their own infirmities. We need serious consideration of our own weakness and the fact that the root of our neighbour’s sin and all other sin is in us (Romans 3:10-20). We must be mindful that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to stand (Psalm 94:18). If God allowed the tempter to break loose on us, we would exceed the sins of others as much as they exceed ours. Seriously considering all this should not completely restrain us from reproving sin in others. Rather, it should cause us to moderate exceedingly our severity towards their sin by showing meekness, pity and compassion towards them. This is why the apostle enforces the former exhortation of restoring their fallen brother in the spirit of meekness with counsel to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.

 

13. It is Difficult to Take Our Own Weakness Seriously

We are so prone to think well of ourselves that there is great difficulty in getting people to reflect on themselves, and seriously consider their own frailty and weakness. They are reluctant to consider every other thing which may keep them low in their own eyes, without despising others. This is clear from Paul’s change from speaking to them all in the plural to addressing them individually. Having said, “Ye who are spiritual, restore” which is the plural pronoun (“ye”); he then says, “considering thyself” changing to the singular pronoun (“thy”). This gives greater force and a sharper edge to his admonition. He knew that he was urging a duty that would only be obeyed with great difficulty.

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What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead

What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead

What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead
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.
5 Aug, 2016

Sometimes believers find themselves so weak and feel so dead that they wonder how things will ever change. Spiritual duties are only a matter of form and a reminder of our dry barren condition. Perhaps it has stolen on the soul through careless indifference. A general spiritual laziness and apathy has the upper hand. In other situations it may be that unconfessed sin may be oppressing the conscience. Christ is still the life that the believer’s soul needs. But how do we make use of that life?

John Brown of Wamphray explains that Christ is still life to the deadened soul in the following ways:

1. Christ keeps possession of the soul. The seed remains, the root abides fast in the ground. There is still life at the heart, although the man is motionless. This is like someone in a deep sleep or who has fainted and yet life has not ebbed away from them completely.

2. Christ awakens and rouses the soul in due time. He recovers it from that condition by some means or other. It may be by some alarm of judgment and terror as with David; or mercy and tenderness, as with Peter.

Usually, Christ recovers the soul:

(1.) By revealing something of this condition. He gives them so much awareness and felt sense of it and so much light as will help the soul see that it is not well but it is lifeless.

(2.) By the revealing the dreadfulness of such a condition and how dangerous it is to continue in it.

(3.) By reminding the soul that He is the resurrection and the life. He does this by stirring up grace in the soul and causing it to look to Him for reviving and release.

(4.) By rousing up the soul in due course out of its drowsiness and sluggish folding the hands to sleep. He brings them out of that deep carelessness into a more lively, vigilant, and active condition.

 

How to Make Use of Christ as Our Soul’s Life

1. Look to Christ as the Light of Men Who Makes the Blind to See

Look to Christ in this way in order to get a better and a more thorough revelation of your condition. To be conscious of this disease is half-way to be being restored. The soul that has a sense of this, is half-recovered of this fever and lethargy.

2. Look to Christ as God

As God He is able to cause the dead and dry bones to live (Ezekiel 37). This will keep you from despondency and despair. It will produce hope within the poor believer, when he sees that his physician is God with whom nothing is impossible.

3. Look to Christ as Your Head and Husband

He is life to the poor soul that cleaves to Him. This will strengthen your hope and expectation. You will see that Christ is engaged as a point of honour, to revive a poor dead and lifeless member of His body. The life in the head is for the good of the whole body and every member of the body that is not quite cut off. The good that is in the husband is for the relief of His poor wife, that has not been divorced. Christ being life and the Life, must be appointed for the relief, reviving and recovering from deadness of those given to Him. They will be raised up at the last day; He must present all his members as living in that day.

4. Wait for Christ in His promises

By faith you must wrap yourself up in the promises and lie before this Sun of Righteousness. Lie there until the heat of His beams thaws your frozen heart, and brings warmth into your cold and dead soul. This will renew your hold upon Him, accepting Him as the Life, and as your life. Christ himself tells us in John 11:40, that this is the Father’s will, that sent him, that everyone that sees the Son, and believes on Him, might have everlasting life, and Christ will raise him up at the last day. Faith closing with Christ was the means of life at first, so it will be the means of recovery out of a deadened condition afterwards.

5. Mourn for the Sins which Caused Such Deadness

Repentance and godly sorrow for the evils that have sinned Christ and life away, is a way to bring life back again.

6. Ensure You Harbour No Known Sin in Your Soul

Set yourself against every known evil. Sin is an enemy to the life and recovery which you are seeking.

7. Wait for Christ as Your Life Where He is to be Found

You must wait on Christ as your life in His appointed means. It is the will of the Lord, that Christ should be waited on there and sought for there. There is little hope of recovery for those who neglect the ordinances. The ordinances cannot revive a poor soul without Christ Himself, yet He condescends to come with life to His people in and through the ordinances.

He has appointed us to wait for Him there. We must be willing to accept all His condescensions of love and seek and wait for Him there, where He has said He will be found. [Christ’s appointed ordinances include such things as prayer, the Word of God, meditation as well as public worship and preaching]

8. Beware of Trusting in the Ordinances More than Christ

Beware of putting these ordinances of life in Christ’s place. Beware of thinking that ordinances will do Christ’s work. Some do this ignorantly in thinking that by praying so often a day, and reading so much, and hearing so much, they will recover their lost lively condition, Alas! all the ordinances, without Christ mean nothing. Without Him, they are cold and lifeless and can never bring heat and warmth to a cold soul. We are to seek Him in the ordinances, and life can be expected from Him alone life and none else.

9. Beware of Using the Ordinances Carelessly

While there is no life in the ordinances without Christ and life can only be expected from Him, yet beware of using the ordinances in a careless and superficial way. This would shows little desire for life, and only increases deadness. The ordinances should be used seriously, diligently, and with great carefulness and earnestness.

10. Wait with Patience

Do not quarrel with Christ for delaying to come. Wait with much humility. It is not fitting for he who through his folly sinned life away, to quarrel with God now because He does not restore him again to life at the first asking. He may be glad if after long seeking, waiting and much diligence, God eventually comes and restores to him the joy of salvation. He could have been made to lie bedridden (spiritually) all his days for a lasting monument of his folly in sinning away his life and strength.

11. Beware of Giving Room to Anything that May Increase or Prolong Spiritual Deadness

Beware of carelessness and negligence in your Christian walk. Beware especially not to provoke God by sinning against light [Scripture truth that you know and believe].

12. Beware of Expecting a Set Measure of Life and Strength

Beggars must not be choosers, far less such beggars who through their own folly have sinned away a good portion. It was not for the prodigal to seek a new inheritance after he had squandered the first; it would  be enough to be made as a servant.

13. Use Whatever Measure of Life You Receive for God and His Glory

Make good use of any small measure of life you get for God and His glory. If you get only one talent, use it to make gain by it. Use limbs and have limbs, use strength and have it. This will be the way to get more.

14. Make Vows to be Watchful

Make vows in the Lord to walk more watchfully in the future. Charge your soul not to stir or provoke the Lord to depart further or be prevented from coming to the soul.

 

Further Difficulties

Brown deals with the difficulties of those who still, despite all this, cannot see a change or increased liveliness in their condition.

1. What if I do not feel my deadness and weakness?

Though there may not be any real feeling of this condition, yet there may be a suspicion that all is not right. If this is the case, the soul must look out to Christ for the life of sense and for a sight of the provocations that have brought on that condition. Christ as the Life must recover the very beginnings of life. When the soul attains any real sense of this deadness it must follow the course previously prescribed for recovery.

2. But I cannot exercise faith, how can I come to Christ and make use of Him?

It is true that while the soul is in that condition it cannot act a strong and lively faith. But it can exercise a weak and sickly faith. A weak and sickly faith can lay hold on an enlivening Christ and so bring more strength and life to the soul. If the soul is so weak that it cannot grip, yet it can look to He that can quicken the dead and has helped many poor souls out of a dead condition. If it cannot do so much as look yet it may give a half-look and lie before him who waits to be gracious; and sustain itself with a “maybe He will come” if it can get no more.

3. What can I do if after all this I find no help but deadness remains and may even be increasing?

The soul in that condition must lie at His door waiting for His deliverance, resolving that if there is nothing better even to die at his door. It must leave no approved means or commanded duty neglected in order to recover its former vigour, activity and strength. While the believer is waiting in this way, he is doing his duty. This may give him peace and he may be sure that he shall never be ashamed (Psalm 25:3; Psalm 69:6; Isaiah 1:18).

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5 Ways to Know if You are Backsliding

5 Ways to Know if You are Backsliding

5 Ways to Know if You are Backsliding
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
29 Apr, 2016

Many think of backsliding as falling into open sin, a life of unrepentant wordliness or virtually departing from the faith. It may be that such, however, are only backsliding from a false profession and making this more apparent. Backsliding also includes falling back from certain truths, principles and standards. But we must be concerned about spiritual backsliding or backsliding in heart (Proverbs 14:14). It is dangerous because it is far more subtle. Failure to go forward and to grow spiritually means to slide back, because there is no standing still.

George Hutcheson gives practical teaching as to how we can identify spiritual backsliding. We need to test whether we are backslidden from what we have had, or might have had in the past or else from what others have attained. The following are some clear tests:

 

1. Lack of Growth.

Are you growing in grace? You must “beware lest…being led away with the error of the wicked” you “fall from your own stedfastness”. You must rather “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18). There is no standing still in the Christian life. If there is no growth in fruit or in the root, there is no progress in sanctification. Lack of growth in putting sin to death and being humbled for your shortcomings, you are certainly someone who is backsliding.

 

2. Lack of Heart Religion

Many need to test whether religion has transferred from their hearts to their heads. Some who were once full of sap, are now sapless. Those who had powerful impressions on their souls of the life and power of religion now only have bare, tasteless notions and speculations. Those whose progress has halted forget to consider the spiritual condition of their heart and how few close communications they share with God. How tasteless, sapless and lifeless to such are religion and religious duties! They have an understanding of misery and mercy, of sin and a Saviour; but it is like a dream. These are things they can consider without their hearts being moved at all or only very little.

 

3. Lack of Conscience about Sin

Examine what conscience you have about sin. When saints are in the right condition they walk carefully with continual distrust of themselves. They look back many times with sinking hearts and self-reproof for what they find amiss. This is not simply an occasional consideration, it is their constant concern. But if you are a stranger to walking carefully with God and inward self-reproof and rebukes you are backsliding. The throat of your soul grows wide and gets over guilt without reluctance. You have halted in spiritual things if you do what is wrong and your conscience tells you so but your heart is not grieved. A growing spiritual condition is marked by carefulness in relation to sin and guilt.

 

4. Lack of Spiritual Diligence.

If you want to examine your spiritual condition, you must consider your diligence carefully. It is the hand of the diligent that makes rich (Proverbs 10:4) “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Proverbs 13:4). Some make little effort in the duties of religion for the honour of God and the benefit of their own souls. Instead they spend much of their time in spiritual laziness and worldliness. When these come to do their spiritual accounting they will find they have come to a halt, are withered and in decay.

 

5. Lack of Encouragement

Even though you may be free of guilt in relation to these things hinted at above, if you are under a spirit of discouragement you cannot make progress. Consider your spiritual condition and see what discouragement you find. Once the duties of religion and closely following Christ were your delight, but now your conscience has become your tormenter. You drive heavily in any task to which you are called. You are like Thomas who followed Christ in a discouraged way. “Let us also go”, he says, “that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Though you continue to maintain your full quota of duties ,your discouragement shows that you have left your first love (the love which once you had or might have had).

 

The Dangers of Backsliding

Well then, test yourself by these things. What spiritual growth, heart-work and conscience about sin do you have? What about diligence in duty? Do you have discouragement instead of delight? When you have tested yourself in this way, reflect on the evils and dangers of backsliding.

  • You are hindered in what is good (Galatians 5:7);
  • You lose what you had gained (Galatians 3:4);
  • You dishonour God and slander Him as though there were some fault in Him (Jeremiah 2:5 and 31; Micah 6:3);
  • You lay stumbling blocks before others;
  • You store up sorrows and chastisements for yourself (Proverbs 14:14).

 

The Way Back from Backsliding

I wish that all backslidden professing Christians would meditate on Revelation 2:4-5. Ephesus is a very zealous Church. They cannot bear with those that are evil, have tried those who said they were apostles and found them liars. They had also borne much with patience. For the name of Christ they had laboured and not fainted. Yet, Christ has a charge against her; she had lost her first love. She was to “remember” where she had fallen from and “repent, and do the first works”. Otherwise, Christ would come quickly and remove her candlestick out of its place. A Church which leaves her first love through gradual decay may provoke God to un-Church her, unless she considers where she has fallen from, repents and does her first works.

Spiritual Backsliding

£1.00

FOR A BUNDLE OF 3 COPIES

James Durham shows how genuine believers can decline from their first love to Christ, almost without realising it.  Reading and meditating on this pamphlet will not just help Christians to understand how “Love within may be cold when people’s outward practice looks very hot”. Believers will also learn how to apply Christ's remedy for recovering their early love for Him.

Outside In

Four sessions to help you

recover your first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

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Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven
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 Feb, 2016

Perhaps you know them. They used to be zealous Christians and showed signs of being very committed to the things of God. You could talk to them about Christian things all day and they seemed to have such a clear grasp of the truth. You’re not sure where they are now exactly though. They stopped going to Church years ago or got involved with a false gospel. It was so bewildering when it became clear that they were abandoning their former profession. You were shoulder to shoulder. Now they are miles away. But you also know other Christians and they remain committed and exercised. It seems like their one desire is to make progress in holiness and knowing Christ. One is a warning to us and the other an encouragement.

The Bible speaks about this in different ways, but the Apostle Paul frequently uses the metaphor of running a race. In Galatians 5:7 he rebukes the Galatian Christians for having stopped running. They had “run well” initially but were now failing to “obey the truth”. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul uses himself as an example. His eye is fixed on the finishing line: “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. James Fergusson explains further the significance of these pictures for us.

The Danger of Dropping out of the Race to Heaven

In Galatians 5:7, the Apostle Paul commends the Galatian Christians for their previous zeal in embracing the truth that they now dispute. He calls this having “run well”.  In the original the word literally means with beauty and attractiveness.  There is no satisfactory reason why they should now have abandoned this course.

1. The Christian Life is a Race to Heaven.

In this race, we run by holiness and all commanded duties, especially faith and love.  We ought to conduct ourselves as those who run in a race. The  Apostle Paul describes their progress in Christianity by a metaphor taken from runners in a race they “did run well”.

2. New Converts Run Fastest in the Race

With greater affection and zeal, new converts usually make swifter progress than others. They also make swifter progress than they themselves afterwards make when they are older in the faith. This is due to the newness of the thing and the initial keenness of their affections. Their sharp edge has not yet been blunted by changing circumstances and a multitude of duties.  God also for a time restrains the violent assault of increased furious temptations. This is until they are more settled and fully engaged in His way. He also gives a greater measure of His felt presence at first than afterwards. These Galatians for a time after their first conversion “did run” and “run well”.

3. Good Progress in the Race Can be Halted

Those who once made good progress in the ways of God may afterwards come to a halt. Their later conduct does not correspond to their promising beginnings. They deserved to be reproved for this. It also causes grief and dismay to those that behold. The apostasy of these  Galatians makes Paul astonished. It prompts the solemn rebuke that they “did run well, who did hinder you?”

4. There is No Excuse for Not Keeping in the Race

No satisfactory reason can be given for abandoning our course after beginning the way of truth and holiness.  There is no reason why we should change course or come to a halt. This makes the ways of God to be evil spoken of (2 Peter 2:2). Paul’s question “Who did hinder you?” implies that no one could have hindered them for any good reason.

5.Carelessness Leads to Not Keeping in the Race

When people become careless and lazy in obeying known truth, they are on the very brink and precipice of apostasy. They fall into the opposite of the truth and apostasy from the very profession of truth. The Apostle challenges them for not obeying the truth. This may mainly mean their apostasy from the truth. It also implies that failing to obey the truth and apostasy from it are closely related.

6. Strong Encouragement for Keeping in the Race

We must seriously consider former zeal in the ways of God. We must also acknowledge the lack of any reason for current backsliding and carelessness. This gives strong incitement to do the first works. By future diligence, we can regain what has been lost by past negligence. The Apostle’s purpose is to incite them to recover their lost liberty by considering these two things. They “did run well, who did hinder you?”

How to make Progress in the Race to Heaven

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul also uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look behind in order to estimate how much of the way has been covered. They have an overwhelming desire to make progress in the way. They bend their bodies forward, they have their heart, eye, and whole course directed to the end of the race until they achieve it.  This was how Paul was in his Christian course. He was encouraged by hope of the rich reward to which he was called. This was purchased for him by Jesus Christ.

1. Greater Progress is Measured by Greater Humility

Those who have made furthest progress in the knowledge of Christ, are usually most conscious of their own imperfections. They are most ready to acknowledge them when this will glorify God and edify others. Thus, Paul, who (v 10) only desired to know Christ (though doubtless he knew much of Him) acknowledges his own shortcoming and ignorance. “I count not myself to have apprehended”.

2. Greater Progress is Measured by Holiness and Knowing Christ

Progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness must be seriously considered above all other things. We must not regard it superficially or casually. This was Paul’s one thing: “this one thing I do” (or mind).

3. Greater Progress is Made by Forgetting What is Behind

The runner does not look back to estimate how much of the way has been covered. The Christian who would achieve anything may review what has already been done. But he only does this to see his own shortcomings and humble himself. He also sees in it reasons to praise God and be encouraged (1 Corinthians 15:10). He is not to be so taken up with this that he rests on it and is puffed up with conceit because of it as if he had already done enough. He rejects anything which may retard his further progress.  In this way, Paul was “forgetting those things which are behind”  as if he had done nothing.

4. Greater Progress is Made by Looking Forward

The runner is most concerned with the part of the way which he is yet to run. He bends himself forward in it. So the Christian who desires to make progress must be estimating how much of his way is yet before him. He estimates what sins are yet to be put to death. He sees the duties that are still almost entirely neglected. He considers what hard activities he may yet be called to undergo. The more he sees of this the more he increases effort for advancing forward. Thus Paul said he was “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

5. Greater Progress is Made by Looking at the Finish Line

The runner keeps his eye on the mark (finish line) and directs his whole activity towards it. He does not turn aside or halt because of difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix his eye on the end of his race. The end of his race is perfection in holiness. He aims all his actions and endeavours at that mark. He presses forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way between him and it. Thus, Paul says “I press toward the mark”.

5. Greater Progress is Made by Considering the Prize

Thoughts of the prize and value of the reward give energy to the runner and make him run faster. In heaven and glory, the Christian has a rich prize, a free reward of grace (not merit) (Romans 6:23). The Christian who desires to make progress should have this much in his thoughts. This will strengthen him through all the hardship, discouragement, fainting and failing he will face and be tempted with. Thus, Paul said: “I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

This does not mean, however, that it is merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s low endeavours, but from God’s high grace above. They receive it through the merits of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ”.

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