Are All Sins Equal?

Are All Sins Equal?

Are All Sins Equal?
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.
12 Apr, 2019

Is quite common to hear the notion that all sins are the same in God’s sight or that no sin is worse than any other sin. The reasoning behind this is that one breach of God’s law makes us guilty of breaking all commands (James 2:10). Another way this is justified is by saying that all sin meets the same penalty (Romans 6:23) or that its remedy is the same in the cross of Christ. The motivation behind this can be well-intentioned, perhaps not wanting any sin to be seen as small in itself. It deflects unwanted moral judgments by requiring that others must be without sin themselves to avoid hypocrisy. Perhaps the overwhelming emphasis on equality in our culture also steers people towards this idea. But is it right to say that all sins are equal?

It is certainly true that the least sin is an offence against the infinitely holy God and therefore absolutely evil. There is no such thing as a sin that doesn’t matter. But this is not all that can be said. The claim that sins are judged absolutely equally by God does not stand up to Scripture (James 3:1; Matthew 23:14; Matthew 11:24; Luke 12:48; Mark 9:42; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).  Forgiveness also relates to different levels of sinfulness (Luke 7:41-42, 48). To reason from what sin deserves to what sin is in itself risks ignoring what the Bible says about whether some sins are more sinful than others (1 John 5:16). Christ Himself says that some sins are greater than others (John 19:11).

Let’s be clear that Scripture does say that some sins are worse than others (Exodus 32:30).

  • Some idolatry is even worse than other forms (Ezekiel 8:6, 13,15; Ezekiel 23:11);
  • Some commandments are of greater weight than others (Matthew 5:19; Matthew 23:23);
  • Some sins are worse because they involve sinning wilfully and defiantly (Numbers 15:30 and 15:22, 24, 27, 29);
  • Some sins are worse than others, such as sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18);
  • Some sexual sins are worse than other sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1; Romans 1:26-27; Leviticus 20:10-16 compared with 20:17-21)

 

What Makes Some Sins Worse Than Others?

None of this excuses or belittles any sin, it simply gives us God’s perspective on degrees of sinfulness. The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q150), like the Shorter Catechism (Q83) makes it clear that “all transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous”. Yet some sins “are more heinous in the sight of God than others”. They are either more heinous “in themselves” or because of certain “aggravations”. Aggravations are the things that make a sin more serious. It is a term still used in the law courts to mean an aspect of a crime which increases its guilt over and above the offence itself. Aggravated assault, for example, is different from simple assault depending on the intent, the weapon used or the extent of the injury. In Q151 the Larger Catechism goes on to explain what these “aggravations” are in relation to God’s law. When we consider these we see that the whole subject is much more extensive and challenging than the “all sins are equal” mantra acknowledges.

(a) The Person Sinning Makes Some Sins Worse

  • if we are older and “of riper age” (Job 32:7,9; Ecclesiastes 4:13) it is more serious than in someone younger. Wisdom should have come with years and experience. This is because we have had greater opportunity to learn God’s will, experience His grace and how to overcome temptation.
  • if we have greater experience or grace. Solomon had experienced much from God and the example of his father yet he sinned against what he knew and had received (1 Kings 11:4,9). The greater progress someone has made in holiness and godliness, the less excuse they have and the greater their fall when they sin.
  • if we are “eminent for profession” of Christianity. David made the enemies of God to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14) because of the prominent nature of both his sin and relationship with God. The inconsistency of one so committed to serving God made it worse than it would have been in others.
  • if we have greater gifts and responsibility. Where God has blessed us with greater knowledge of the Bible and opportunities to gain this we are more responsible for using these gifts not to sin (James 4:17; Luke 12:47-48). Where we are in a position of responsibility towards others in society, work, church and family we have greater guilt in sinning because our actions carry more weight and influence (Jeremiah 5:4-5. 2 Samuel 12:7-9; Ezekiel 8:11-12. Romans 2:17-24). Higher standards are expected of us and more eyes are upon us.
  • if our example is likely to be followed by others. If we are likely to lead others astray we incur guilt for that as well as our own actions. It can have a significant impact on a lot of others who may follow our example (Galatians 2:11-14).

(b) The Person Sinned Against Makes Some Sins Worse

  • sinning against God is worse than sinning against others (1 Samuel 2:25; Acts 5:4; Psalm 51:4). This is because of the infinite majesty and holiness of God and because our greatest responsibility is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
  • sinning against things by which God makes Himself known is worse. This may include His attributes (Romans 2:4) or name (Exodus 20:7). It may also include despising His worship (Malachi 1:3-4) which is meant for displaying His glory.
  • sinning against Christ and His grace is worse. We are warned solemnly against refusing His message, promises and offers of grace in the gospel (Hebrews 2:2-3; Hebrews 12:25)
  • sinning against the witness and working of the Holy Spirit is worse. If we lie to Him or resist, despise and blaspheme Him it is worse (Acts 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:29; Matthew 12:31-32; Hebrews 6:4). If we grieve and quench Him it is worse (Ephesians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:19)
  • sinning against superiors is worse. This is because they have a God-given authority and are to be respected and obeyed (Jude 8; Numbers 12:8-9; Isaiah 3:5)
  • sinning against relations is worse. We have particular family or other social bonds that we must respect and not abuse. We have greater obligations and responsibility towards them (Proverbs 30:17; 2 Corinthians 12:15; Psalm 55:12-15).
  • sinning against the souls of others is worse, such as when we mislead them spiritually especially in matters of salvation (Matthew 23:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:15).
  • sinning against believers is worse because of the bonds and ties of grace. (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 6:8; Proverbs 6:19).This is especially so in relation to those of the Lord’s people who are weaker (1 Corinthians 8:11-12; Romans 14:13,15,21).
  • sinning against a corporate body is worse (Joshua 7:20, 21, 25; 1 Kings 14:16).

(c) The Nature of the Sin Makes Some Sins Worse

  • the clearer the command sinned against, the greater the sin. The more expressly God has commanded or forbidden something the greater the guilt in disobeying (Romans 1:32; Ezra 9:10-12; 1 Kings 11:9-10).
  • the greater number of commands sinned against, the greater the sin. Some sins break more commands than others. Covetousness is idolatry as well as being against the tenth commandment (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). Achan’s sin involved coveting and theft (Joshua 7:21). Ahab coveted and took Naboth’s land by perjury, theft, murder and injustice.
  • the greater the impact, the greater the sin.It is a serious thing to stumble and harm others by our sins (Matthew 18:7; Romans 2:23-24).
  • the more openly committed, the greater the sin. Sin is still sin in the heart but when it is expressed in words or actions it brings greater public dishonour to God and damage to others (James 1:14-15; Matthew 5:22; Micah 2:1).
  • the greater the consequences, the greater the sin. We cannot make amends for our sin by our own actions as it relates to its guilt before God as though we could atone for it. But sometimes we can pay back something that was stolen or lost. It is more serious when we cannot make any restitution. David could not restore the life he had taken away or the marriage he had destroyed (1 Samuel 12:9; see also Deuteronomy 22:22 compared with Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Some damage to reputation and honour cannot be removed (Proverbs 6:32-35).
  • the greater the restraints, the greater the sin. God may use various means that ought to restrain us from sinning. Some saw the miracles of Christ and heard His teaching but it did not restrain their unbelief (Matthew 11:21-24; John 15:22). It increased their guilt that they had such privileges. God’s goodness, mercies and deliverances towards us should also restrain us (Isaiah 1:3; Deuteronomy 32:6). It is a serious matter to despise His goodness and forbearance (Romans 2:4). To sin against judgments also increases our guilt (Amos 4:8-11; Jeremiah 5:3; Revelation 9:20-21). Other things that should restrain us are the light of nature and convictions of our own conscience (Daniel 5:22; Titus 3:10-11). Certain things should be obvious to us even without special revelation (Romans 1:20, 26-27; Romans 2:14-16). Outward restraints include the warnings of others in public or private (Proverbs 29:1). Official church discipline (Titus 3:10; Matthew 18:17) and civil punishment (Proverbs 27:22; Proverbs 23:35) ought to restrain us. It is also serious when we sin against our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or others (Psalm 78:34-37; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 42:5-6,20-21; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6; Proverbs 20:25; Leviticus 26:25; Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 17:18-19).
  • the greater the wilfulness, the greater the sin. If we sin deliberately, wilfully, presumptuously, boldly, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance (Psalm 36:4; Jeremiah 6:16; Numbers 15:30; Exodus 21:14; Jeremiah 3:3; Proverbs 7:13; Psalm 52:1; 3 John 10; Numbers 14:22; Zechariah 7:11-12; Proverbs 2:14; Isaiah 57:17; Jeremiah 34:8-11; 2 Peter 2:20-22).  

(d) The Circumstances Make Some Sins Worse

  • sinning in or around the time of worshipping God or on the Lord’s day is worse (2 Kings 5:26; Jeremiah 7:10; Isaiah 26:10; Ezekiel 23:37-39; Isaiah 58:3-5; Numbers 25:6-7; 1 Corinthians 11:20-21; Jeremiah 7:8-10; Proverbs 7:14-15; John 13:27,30)
  • sinning after God has chastised us is worse (Ezra 9:13-14)
  • sinning in public, or in the presence of others is worse. This is especially true if they are likely to be encouraged to sin by it (2 Samuel 16:22; 1 Samuel 2:22-24).

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You are What You Digest (Spiritually)

You are What You Digest (Spiritually)

You are What You Digest (Spiritually)
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.
22 Feb, 2019

You are not what you eat but rather what you digest. If we merely consume food without digesting it properly or at all it will fail to do us good. If this is true in physical terms it is even more so in spiritual things. We can consume a lot of bible reading by hurriedly squeezing it into our schedule. We hear sermons on a regular basis. We read and listen to lots of Christian content. But it doesn’t seem to register a significant impact on our hearts and lives. Not equivalent to the time invested at any rate. Why is that? Simply because we don’t digest what we consume. What do we mean by spiritual digestion?

It’s something that few people speak about these days, yet it’s vital for our spiritual growth. It’s called meditation and the Bible speaks about it often. It’s not emptying our minds as false methods of meditation suggest. Rather it is filling our mind with biblical truths and getting the benefit from them by taking the time to apply them to ourselves.

God’s Word is life and health to us (Proverbs 4:22) and we must feed on it (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2; Jeremiah 3:15). Yet, too often before we get a chance to chew and digest our spiritual food we are distracted by something that takes our attention or diverted by something that seems important. We have chronic spiritual indigestion. As John Ball put it, “Without meditation, truths are devoured, not digested.” Richard Baxter observed people who could go from sermon to sermon, “are never weary of hearing or reading, and yet have such languishing, starved souls, I know no truer or greater cause than their…neglect of meditation.: They have “appetite, but no digestion.”

Baxter put it in quite a striking way: “I think that as a man is but half an hour in chewing and taking into his stomach that meat which he must have seven or eight hours at least to digest; so a man may take into his understanding and memory more truth in one hour than he is able well to digest in many. A man may eat too much, but he cannot digest too well.” He doesn’t mean mere intellectual engagement with Scripture.

The stomach must prepare the food for the liver and spleen, which prepare for the heart and brain, and so the understanding must take in truths, and prepare them for the will, and it must receive them, and commend them to the affections. While truth is but a speculation swimming in the brain, the soul has not received it, nor taken hold of it. This is the great task in hand, to get these truths from your head to your heart.

It is not just what we eat and how we eat it: our lifestyle and overall condition also affect our digestion. The same is true spiritually. Just as physical failure to digest can cause discomfort, lead to medical complications, disorders and serious disease—spiritual indigestion is particularly damaging.

Meditating on Scripture helps us apply ourselves to the Word with delight and also apply it to ourselves thoroughly. Just as food well digested gives the necessary nutrients and energy to the body, so meditating on the Word absorbs it into our hearts, life and experience so that we practice it. Nathaniel Ranew emphasised that meditation “is like the assimilating or digestion power, by helping to concoct spiritual food and turn it into spiri­tual nourishment…Meditation highly conduces to this spiritual digestion by its pondering…reasons and incentives as work the heart into compliance and obedience.” Edmund Calamy explains this principle further in the following updated extract from his book The Art of Divine Meditation.

 

1. Digesting the Things of Heaven

This holy meditation is dwelling and abiding on things that are holy. It is not only knowing God and about Christ but dwelling on the things we know. As the bee dwells and abides on the flower to suck out all the sweetness that is in the flower; so we must suck out all the sweetness we can in the things we meditate on.

To meditate is to continue and fix ourselves and our hearts on the things we know. Scripture calls meditation holy musing (Psalm 39:3). It is to commune with our own hearts (Psalm 4:4). It is both communing and consulting with our own hearts or “bethinking” ourselves (as in 1 Kings 8:47). The Hebrew word in 1 Kings 8:47 is: if they will bring back to their hearts or reflect on themselves. Meditation is a reflecting act of the soul by which the soul is carried back to itself and considers all the things that it knows.

Meditation is an inward, spiritual act of the soul by which it looks back on itself and considers all the things that concern its everlasting happiness.

You read in Leviticus 11 of the clean beasts and the unclean beasts. The clean beasts that they were to eat were those that chewed the cud. The unclean beasts were those that did not chew the cud. A meditating Christian is one that chews the cud—chews on the truths of Jesus Christ. They do not only hear good things, but when they have heard them, the chew them over and ruminate on them. This is so that they may be better for digestion and spiritual benefit. An unclean Christian is one that does not chew the cud, does not ruminate and ponder the things of heaven.

 

2. Digesting Sermons

The reason why all the sermons we hear do not do us more good is lack of divine meditation. It is the same with sermons as it is with food. It is not having food on your table which will feed you, you must eat it. You must not only eat it but digest it, or else your food will do you no good. So it is with sermons, it is not hearing sermons which will do you good but digesting them by meditation. Pondering what you hear in your hearts will do you good. One sermon well digested, well meditated on is better than twenty sermons without meditation. A little food well digested will nourish a man more than a great deal of food if it is not digested. You know that many hours are required to digest a little food eaten in a short while; so a Christian should be many hours digesting a sermon that they hear in one hour.

Some are sick with a disease, that whatever they eat comes up again immediately, the food never does them any good. This is the same with many of you, you hear a sermon, you go away and never think of it afterwards. This is just like food that you vomit up. Some have a disease that all the food they eat goes through them, it never stays with them. This food never nourishes. So it is surely, with the sermons you hear on week days and on the sabbath day. They go through you, you hear them and hear them and that is all you do. You never seek to root them in your hearts by meditation. This is the reason why you are so lean in grace, though you are so full fed with sermons. I am convinced that this is the great reason why we have so many lean, hunger-starved Christians, lean in knowledge and lean in grace. They may hear sermon upon sermon but they digest nothing. They never ponder and meditate on what they hear.

This is what our Saviour Christ speaks of as the seed that was sown by the highway-side. This is someone who hears the Word and never thinks of it after he has heard it. He allows the devil to steal it out of his heart. When the farmer sows the seed in the highway he never plows it, he does not expect that it will come to anything. There are many of you and the sermons you hear are like the seed sown in the highway. You never cover it by meditation, you never think of it when you have heard it. This is the reason you do not get more good by what you hear.

 

3. Digesting the Promises

The reason why the promises of God do not affect your hearts more and you do not taste more sweetness in them is because you do not ponder and meditate on them. The promises of the gospel are like confectionery it you do not chew it but swallow it down whole you will never taste any great sweetness in it. The way to taste the sweetness is to chew it. The promises of God are full of heavenly comfort, but you will never enjoy this comfort unless you chew them by meditation. Unless spices are bruised they never smell sweet. The saints of God live with so little comfort all their lives long, because they do not chew these promises.

This will enable you to rely on the promises for the good of your souls. The reason that the promises are not sweet to you is because you read them but you do not chew them by meditating on them. If you meditated on them they would be sweeter than honey and the honey-comb, especially if join application with meditation. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and he was strong in faith. What made him strong in faith? He did not consider his own body which was now dead nor the deadness of Sarah’s womb, but he considered the promise of God (Romans 4:19). The reason why the saints of God are so empty of comforts, hang down their heads and walk so disconsolately is because they consider the deadness of their own souls and their imperfections. But they do not meditate on the promises, the freeness and the riches of them.

 

4. Digesting God’s Commands

We must so meditate of Christ as to live according to the life of Christ. We must so meditate of God as to obey the commands of God. Meditation must enter three doors: the understanding, the will and affections and practical living. Otherwise it is of no use. The understanding helps the heart and affections like a mother helps a child. She prepares food for the child. She cuts it so that the child may eat it. So, the understanding prepares divine truths for the heart and affections, that the heart may receive, eat and digest them. But if the mother eats the meat and gives nothing to the child, the child may starve. So although the understanding receives the most glorious truths, if it does not convey them to the heart and affections, it is of no benefit.

Many spend their time in meditation as a butterfly feeds on the flower, not to be fruitful and useful.  They study and ponder divine things— God and Christ, sin and the promises—but because they do not convey them to the heart and affections, they become neither holier nor better. True meditation is this, when we so meditate on Christ as to be transformed into Him. When we so meditate on God as to love and desire God, rejoice in Him and live according to His commands. When we so meditate on sin as to hate, abhor it, and turn from it. It is to so meditate on the promises as to embrace and receive them.

 

5. How to Digest

The understanding prepares divine truths for the affections to eat and digest them and to turn them into holy living. You never meditate aright, unless the affections are elevated as well as the understanding. Both heart and head are the parts that must be exercised in the practice of the duty of divine meditation. The work of the head or understanding is serious consideration of the truths we come to meditate on. The work of the heart is increasing in devotion and holiness by these meditations.

I will give you directions to help the understanding and affections in this. Choose a suitable subject or truth to meditate on. Fix your thoughts on it, consider its different aspects. Try to remember all you might have read or heard about it. Think about its causes and effects and the things that are opposed to it. Think about the way that Scripture describes it. Pray to God to get a delight in it.

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Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year

Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year

Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year
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.
20 Dec, 2018

​According to the YouVersion Bible App, Isaiah 41:10 “was shared, bookmarked and highlighted more than any other this year” on their platform. It’s one of the many “fear not” verses of the Bible and some find that significant. No doubt the focus on bible verses addressing fear may be facilitated by the emoji-based search on YouVersion’s Bible App. This allows users to tap images corresponding to various emotions which in turn locate related Bible verses. Apparently individuals conducted more than 18 million searches to find what the Bible might say to them in the midst of their emotional highs and lows. Apparently the app is used by 350 million devices worldwide. Bible promises are meant to be treasured and to be used in times of trouble and need; they are meant to strengthen our faith. Of course this doesn’t mean that we are to use the Bible like a pick and mix counter of sweets where we select only positive thoughts. It’s one thing to appreciate, highlight and share a promise and another thing to meditate on it and live according to it. Before we consider how to apply Isaiah 41:10 perhaps we need to think about what God’s promises are and how we should use them.

Understanding the promises is vital for prayer, meditating on the Word, encouraging others and living by faith. An old method of making use of the promises is that where we find a command or precept in the Bible we should look for a promise that is directly connected to the precept. Then we should pray the promise and seek to live in obedience by depending on it. Edward Leigh (who was a member of the Westminster Assembly) speaks of how the promises strengthen faith, quicken hope, inflame zeal, reinforce patience, and foster all the graces of God’s Spirit. They help us in all troubles whether inward or outward. But we need to understand them better in order to apply them. Here are some principles in an update extract from Leigh’s large book on the subject.

 

1. Understanding the Bible’s Promises

(a) What is a Promise?

The promises are outward declarations of God’s will concerning good to be received, and evil to be removed.

(b) What is the Most Important Promise?

The main promise is Jesus Christ. All promises for outward blessings, such as food, clothing, health, peace, freedom, deliverance in temptations, safety in danger depend on the main promise of Christ. All God’s promise are sure and certain to God’s children in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). True Faith first of all directly fastens itself on the main promise of God in Christ. After and with this it exercises faith in all other promises that concern either soul or body. Abraham by the same faith by which he was justified believed God’s promise of a son (Romans 4:18).

(c) What Makes the Promises Precious?

The promises of God are a rich mine of spiritual and heavenly treasures. They are the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8). The apostle Peter says that they are exceedingly great in quantity and precious in quality (2 Peter 1:4).

  • The giver is precious. God is said in Scripture to be the giver of them (Romans 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:2).
  • The price for them is precious.  Jesus Christ for whose sake we obtain them and the price He paid to purchase them (1 Peter 1:19).
  • The way they are given is precious. They are given freely out of the precious loving kindness of God (Psalm 36:7).
  • The way they are received is precious. The precious grace of faith lays hold of them (2 Peter 1:1).
  • The benefit of them is precious.  Being made partakers of the divine nature that is, of the graces of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:4).
  • The things promised are precious. If the promise is so sweet how much more sweet are the things promised: life and godliness or glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).

 

2. Applying the Bible’s Promises

The right use of the promises helps to sweeten all our afflictions, strengthen our faith, spur us on to well-doing and to breed contentment in all circumstances whatever.   But how can we use them in the right way?

(a) Know the Promises

If we have a remedy to hand that would ease our pain but we do not know it what good will that do us? If we do not know the promises even though they are in the book how will that make things better for us?

(b) Remember the Promises

We should strive to remember the promises. What we do not remember, we do not known. David hid God’s promises in his heart and they upheld him in his trouble (Psalm 119:111). God’s promises gave him great comfort (Psalm 119:50). The promises of God are the Christian’s title deeds for heaven. The Hebrew Christians were fainting in their minds because they had forgotten their comfort and strength (Hebrews 12:3, 5). They had forgotten promises of God made for strengthening their faith in the fiery trial. As an oil lamp will soon be out unless it has a supply of oil, so faith will soon fail unless it is nourished with continual meditation on God’s promises.

(c) Apply the Promises

We should believe the promises and apply them to ourselves. Faith not only believes the promises to be true but applies them. Promises are never believed unless they are trusted (Matthew 9:29; Mark 9:23). There are two ways of applying the promises:

  • Meditation, we should take note of and ponder the promises well.
  • Prayer. We should have fervent prayer that God would by His Spirit reveal to us the precious promises He has made to His people in His holy Word and give us wisdom to assess and apply them aright. All our prayers must be based on God’s promises (Genesis 32:9,12; 2 Samuel 7:27-29).

Special promises made to individuals can apply more widely. The promise to Joshua (Joshua 1:5-6) is applied to all believers in Hebrews 13:5. The promise to Peter (Luke 22:32) is applied to all believers in John 17:15.

We should also notice the conditions in a promise and what they depend on. God promises grace and glory (Psalm 84:11) but notice it is grace first then glory. Godliness has the promises of this life and of that which is to come. We must note the order that the Saviour uses, first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness and then all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). When God has called us to the knowledge of Christ we must not look for the immediate accomplishment of God’s promise of salvation or perseverance by God’s sole power while in the meantime omitting all concern about holiness in our life. God does not only fulfil His promises in us but also by us. The promises also relate to His commands and our duties.

 

3. Applying the Promises of Isaiah 41:10

(a) Promises of God’s Special and Gracious Presence

This is the sweetest comfort which God used to sustain His children in the Old Testament. Those such as Isaac (Genesis 26:3, 24) and Moses (Exodus 3:12 and 4:12) as well as others (Joshua 1:5, 9. and 3:7; Ezekiel 3; Jeremiah 1:8, 19). David encouraged his son Solomon with this (1 Chronicles 28:20).

It applies to the whole Church in general (Isaiah 41:10 and 43:2). Christ is spiritually present with His Church (Revelation 1:13 and 2:1). Christ left this comfort in His farewell to His disciples and their successors: “Lo I am with you…to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

(b) Promises of Growth and Increase in Grace

God has promised to give grace abundantly, not only to drop but pour it (Isaiah 44:3-4). Their soul shall be as a watered garden (Isaiah 58:11 and Jeremiah 31:12). God promises to make His people fruitful. He says He will give strength to His people to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 40:29, 31; Psalm 29:11; Isaiah 26:4, 12; Isaiah 41:10; Zechariah 10:12; Philippians 4:13). They go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7). The righteous will hold on his way and be stronger and stronger (Job 17:9). His path is as the shining light shining more and more (Proverbs 4:18). If we are rich in the work of the Lord, our labour will not be in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

(c) Promises for Those that Suffer as Well-doers

The promise of “fear not” in Isaiah 41:10 relates to fear of those who oppose them (Isaiah 41:11-12). Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10; 1 Peter 3:14).  There are promises for those who suffer either for truth or goodness and also those who suffer for both together (2 Timothy 2:11-12; 1 Peter 4:13; Romans 8:35-37).  God will subdue all their enemies (see Genesis 12:3; Deuteronomy 30.7; Jeremiah 12:14; Psalm 37:14-15, 17; Job 8:22; Isaiah 41:11-12; Isaiah 54:15; 59.19; Proverbs 22:23 and 21:1).

 

Conclusion

When we apply the promises within the overall context of Scripture and of God’s priorities for His glory (which includes our good but also our obedience) we are more likely to apply them in the right way. All God’s promises are sure and certain in Christ and the promises should lead us back to Him in faith (2 Corinthians 1:20). God’s promises relate to our growth in holiness as well as our blessing and protection. The Bible is full of precious promises, do we know, value and apply them?

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Meditating Often on the Word

Meditating Often on the Word

Meditating Often on the Word
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.
14 Sep, 2018

Meditating on the Scriptures is something rarely emphasised today. What does it mean? Meditation is “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” (Thomas Watson) It involves turning the truths of the Word over and over in our mind until we are spiritually benefited by them. In a busy, fast-paced world it may seem like a luxury but if we were to grasp its benefits we would be more inclined to see it as a necessity.

Perhaps we don’t get so much from reading the Bible and hearing sermons because we don’t meditate on the truths we encounter. We need not only to pray in response to what we read but to meditate. Richard Greenham helpfully summarised the need for it: “reading without meditation, is unfruitful; meditation without reading, is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer upon both, is without blessing”. The following quotation reminds us that it is something in which we must persevere.

In the plainest text there is a world of holiness and spirituality; and if we in prayer and dependence upon God did sit down and study it, we should behold much more than appears to us. It may be, at one reading or looking, we see little or nothing; as Elijah’s servant went once and saw nothing; therefore, he was commanded to look seven times. “What now?”, says the prophet. “I see a cloud rising like a man’s hand”, and by and by the whole surface of the heavens was covered with clouds. So you may look lightly upon a scripture and see nothing; meditate often upon it, and there you shall see a light like the light of the sun. – Joseph Caryl (Member of Westminster Assembly)

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Meditating Often on the Word

Too Busy to Read the Bible?

Too Busy to Read the Bible?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
11 May, 2018

“Busy” is something of a status symbol for success currently. Everyone is busy, it’s a stock response. But is it the best way to measure importance and productivity? We feel overwhelmed but the research tells us that on average we actually have more free time. It’s a case of how we use our time. It seems like many are chasing ever-inflating expectations from society and themselves that they will never achieve. Are we trying to do everything in order to project an image of a perfect life? Wouldn’t it be more sensible and satisfying to prioritise the essentials (not forgetting what is of eternal significance)? Without rehashing the statistics, we are familiar with Christians claiming they are “too busy” to read the Bible. What is the remedy?

We need to reassess our use of time in the light of our priorities. We make time for what we either want to do or must do. If we value God and His Word and believe that it must shape our lives and hearts then we have to make time for it. The person who delights in God’s Word and wants their mind to be transformed by it makes time for it each day (Psalm 1:2-3). David Dickson gives some brief counsel on this. He was so committed to helping with this that he wrote many expositions of Bible books.

1. Time is Scarce

There should be daily set time for private reading of the Lord’s Word. Everyone is not set apart for the Word and doctrine (as ministers are). Most have, by God’s appointment, everyday callings and necessary employments about the matters of this life. Each calling and employment has its own work and each work requires its own time so that many have little time remaining besides these.

2. Set Aside Time Daily

The person who does not daily redeem as much time as the necessary duties of being exercised in the Word and prayer require is too busy. They are too busy in temporal affairs and more involved in the world then they can justify. There may be secret spontaneous prayer to God mixed in with his outward affairs. His conscience also needs to examine each action like a builder using a level and the eye to see if it conforms to the rule of the Word.

3. Even the Most Important Have Time

Suppose someone was as full employed as a king with so many realms to govern as were under David King of Israel. Yet he could not be excused because of this from neglecting God’s Word and prayer. David oftener than once a day and even in the night found time to call on God, praise His name, and verse himself in His Word (Psalm 119:55, 62, 164).

4. Delight in God’s Word not Worldly Pleasures

Let the men of this world neglect reading the Scriptures and all serious religious duties.  They have their portion in this life and have set up in their hearts the filthy idols of worldly profit, pleasure and promotion. In order to gain and keep these, they make use not only of all men but also of God and religion only as far as they serve these debased purposes.

Let such (I say) neglect reading the Scriptures, but let not the children of God do so. They hold their standing here and the hopes of eternal life to come by faith in Christ. In order to advance His cause and kingdom, they are resolved to bear His cross even to the doors of heaven if that is God’s will. They would lay it down on the threshold with thanks and praise that ever they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Let not these blessed souls walk in the way of the ungodly, but rather delight themselves in the law of God and meditate in it night and day (Psalm 1:2-3).

5. Make Use of Helps

Brief explanations of the Bible are helpful.  These should not only show the overall meaning and aim of each book and chapter but also the connection between verses and the meaning of the words. They should also expound the key doctrines taught in each place. By this means people might see the whole basis of Christian doctrine in the text of Scripture. They would then be guarded against all damnable errors (which easily ensnare those who know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God). This should be done with such brevity and clarity that men in their daily set reading of the Lord’s word, might during half an hour peruse a sufficient portion of Scripture, thus explained. [Dickson and others wrote many such expositions, for more information read 7 Reasons to Study the Bible with the Covenanters]

 

You may also find the following helpful in relation to this subject:

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Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
13 Mar, 2018

They were on a Scottish hillside in fear of government troops arresting or killing those at this “illegal” worship service. Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews?

It was 11 July 1680, a Lord’s Day. The government was hunting Richard Cameron, just 32 years of age, across the moors and hills of Scotland. His crime was that he would not submit to the government total control of the Church. To worship in secret was considered rebellion and there was a high price on his head.

Within eleven days he would suffer a bloody death at the hands of soldiers. Was he aware of that? Yes, to some extent, he was. He had spent the previous day in prayer and meditation and told one lady gloomily “my carcass shall dung the wilderness, and that within a fortnight”.

Now he was ready to preach to the gathered people on the border of Lanarkshire and Dumfries-shire. It was a powerful sermon on John 5:40, one of his favourite texts. Nearly fifty years later, it remained fresh in the memory of those that heard it. There was much emotion for both preacher and congregation. During the sermon Cameron was overcome and “fell in such a rap of calm weeping, and the greater part of that multitude, that there was scarce a dry cheek to be seen among them”. This obliged Cameron to pause and pray. He “continued long praying for the Jews restoration and ingrafting again” amongst other things.

 

1. The Background

Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews? It was not in fact so unusual. The Church of Scotland had a guide to worship called a Directory for the Public Worship of God. The section on Public Prayer before Sermon advised that prayer be made “for the conversion of the Jews”. Besides the Shorter Catechism they also had the Larger Catechism, which, amongst other things, expounded the Lord’s Prayer. In relation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come” it said:

We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in… that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming

These documents were produced by the Westminster Assembly, which was attended by Scottish representatives. All of these, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford referred to the future conversion of the Jews in their preaching. Many of Rutherford’s famous letters contain desires for the restoration of the Jews.  There are a large number of these prayers but we can only consider a few.  In 1631, for instance, he wrote:

I have been this time bypast thinking much of the incoming of the kirk [church] of the Jews. Pray for them. When they were in their Lord’s house, at their Father’s elbow, they were longing for the incoming of their little sister, the kirk of the Gentiles…. (Song 8.8). Let us give them a meeting… That were a glad day to see us and them both sit down to one table, and Christ at the head of the table. Then would our Lord come shortly with his fair guard to hold His great court.

It was a theme that Rutherford was going to return to again and again in his sermons, letters and other writings. He writes with rapture about what he was looking for by faith: “I shall be glad to be a witness, to behold the kingdoms of the world become Christ’s. I could stay out of heaven many years to see that victorious triumphing Lord act that prophesied part of his soul-conquering love, in taking into his kingdom the greater sister, that kirk of the Jews, who sometime courted our Well-beloved for her little sister (Song 8.8); to behold him set up as an ensign and banner of love, to the ends of the world”.

The Jews must “renew their old love with their first Husband, Christ our Lord! They are booked in God’s word, as a bride contracted unto Jesus! Oh for a sight, in this flesh of mine, of the prophesied marriage between Christ and them!” Rutherford was drawing from passages such as Zechariah 8:23: “There is a day when ten men shall take hold, out of all nations, of the skirt of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; we have heard that God is with you.”

 

2. The Biblical Basis

Which other passages of Scripture gave ground for this hope? There is a hint in the following:  “O to see the sight, next to Christ’s Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another’s necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder; they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, Thee and Thy ancient people in mutual embraces.”

Rutherford is echoing Romans 11:15, that the restoration of the Jews would be as “life from the dead”. The Scottish minister and commentator James Durham considered Romans 11 to be undeniably clear on this point.

they shall be brought to a visible Church-state. Not only in particular persons here and there in congregations; but that multitudes, yea, the whole body of them shall be brought, in a common way with the Gentiles, to profess Christ, which cannot be denied, as Romans 11 is clear and that will be enough to satisfy us

Another minister, John Brown of Wamphray produced a commentary on Romans in 1666 that expands further on Romans 11:15:

If the casting away of them, that is, if the slinging away of the Jews, and casting them out of the Church, be the reconciling of the world, that is, be the occasion whereby the gospel should be preached to the Gentile world, that thereby they might be reconciled unto God, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? Will there not be joyful days through the world, and among the Gentiles, when they shall be received into favour again? Will it not be like the resurrection from the dead, when Jew and Gentile shall both enjoy the same felicity and happiness? Seeing out of the dead state of the Jews, when cast without doors, God brought life to the Gentiles, will he not much more do so out of their enlivened estate? Will it not be to the Gentiles as the resurrection from the dead?

The Jews were to be grafted in once more because God had not forgotten his covenant and promises. “Though now the people of the Jews are at a low pass, because of their unbelief, and contempt of the gospel; yet the covenant made with their fore-fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” is not forgotten by God, but is in force; and by virtue thereof, they have some room in God’s affection yet: They are beloved for the father’s sake”.

As David Dickson, another commentator put it: “The Church of the Jews is the mother-church, whereof Abraham and the godly Jews yea and Christ himself were Members; The Church of the Jews is the Olive-tree, whereunto all the converts of the Gentiles are ingrafted, gathered, and made one people with Abraham and the faithful among the Jews”.

 

3. What about the Land?

James Durham also addressed the question of whether the Jews would be restored to the land they had once occupied. He did not wish to be absolute about it but pointed to Scripture passages and promises that seemed to indicate that this would be so such as Ezekiel 37:20-21, Amos 9:11-15 and others. If Paul spoke of them being grafted in as they were broken off it seemed to suggest some national state. He also took into view the promise of the land and the fact that in God’s providence the Jews were still a distinct people even though scattered amongst the nations. Another commentator George Hutcheson also considered it possible for the Jews to return to their homeland in the last days.

David Dickson was slightly more cautious when commenting on Psalm 69:35. This verse shows that God will always “maintain his Church, his Sion and his Judah”. We can find “special evidence of this care among the Jews” no matter how far “they may at some times be from all appearance of his respect to them”. The promise in this verse expressly uses the name of Judah, “He will build the Cities of Judah”. “What outward testimonies of Gods respect to the Jews for Christ’s sake shall be given unto them, after the destruction of their cities…we must leave it to God, to be in due time by his own works interpreted, and to be made out according to what here is said; that the cities of Judah shall be built, that they may dwell there and have it, (i.e. the promised land,) in possession”.

 

Conclusion

Overhearing the prayers of the Covenanters ought to inspire us to pray and long for this great event. “Oh, what a heavenly heaven were it to see them come in”, said Rutherford. John Brown of Wamphray observes that we can draw great encouragement from this teaching. God is “unchangeable in mercy and power” and so “it is not impossible that the Jews shall be recovered, because the Gentiles who were once as evil as they are now, were recovered”. “Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). We should never despair of anyone being converted.

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Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?

Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?

Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?
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.
8 Dec, 2017

Most Britons think that only six of the Ten Commandments are still relevant. These were the results reported in a YouGov poll in recent weeks. It’s not hard to guess which ones have become unpopular: the first four relating to our duty to God. What is shocking but not surprising is that most of those professing to be Christians agreed. It hardly seems credible that 60% of Christians would not believe we should only worship the one true God. Any encouragement that the other commandments are still respected is undermined by the fact that the Godward aspect of morality is rejected. If most people are prepared to give this away, have we now lost the Ten Commandments?

Removing the first four commandments actually dispenses with the most important precepts. Christ summarises them as loving the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind (Luke 10:27). Indeed, He calls this “the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). It comes before loving our neighbour as ourselves. Love to our neighbour should flow from love to God (1 John 5:1). Unless we have the faith that pleases God working by true love for Him we cannot truly love our neighbour.

The first four commandments deal with worship: (1) who we are to worship; (2) what ways we must worship Him; (3) how (in what manner) we must worship Him; (4) when we must worship Him. The other six deal with how we are to treat others and we can see it is in our self-interest to respect these. Yet proud unrenewed self can see no personal benefit in worshipping God even though it is the reason that we were created.

The connection that links the commandments together is so close that if the authority of God is despise in one, it is despised in all (James 2:10, 1 John 4:20). James Durham reflects on how the first four commandments deal with the worship, service and obedience which is due to God. It seems that the first four were written on one tablet of stone and the remaining six on the other (Deuteronomy 4:13). This would make the division into two parts (usually called two tables) something that God did from the beginning. This is supported by Christ summary of the commandments under the two main duties towards God and our neighbour. The two tables were put into the ark to emphasise the holiness of the law.

Durham makes the following points:

1. All the commandments of the second table share the same authority with the first. God spoke “all these words”. Indeed, it appears from Acts 7:38 that it was our Lord Jesus who spoke them.
2. Sins directly against the first part are greater then those against the second. It is for this reason that the first table is called the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:38).
3. In morals (if they are things of the same nature) the duties of the second table give place to the duties of the first table when they cannot be equally obeyed. This is so in the case of love to God and exercising love to our father and neighbour (Luke 14:26; Matthew 10:37). When obedience to God and obedience to our superiors cannot be consistent we are to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19). We are to love the Lord and (comparatively) hate father and mother (Luke 14:6).
4. Note, however, that things required in the first table may for a time give place to moral duties in the second. For example, relieving or preserving our neighbour’s life when it is in danger, we may need to work on the sabbath day. This is in accordance with the “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” and “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”.

 

1. Why do we need to study the Ten Commandments?

The deep ignorance about how the Ten Commandments fit together and the importance of the first table of the law shows that they are not understood. If people understood the full requirements of the other six commandments as they reach to our thoughts, words and desires as well as actions they would have far less general approval. Even if we have a commitment to all Ten Commandments, if we do not properly understand them we are in danger of losing them. It’s time to seek to understand them in the way that Scripture reveals their full meaning. James Durham makes the following points.

(a) They are unique

God uniquely announced them with His voice and then directly wrote them on two tablets of stone. These tablets of stone were afterwards commanded to be kept in the ark (Deuteronomy 10: 2, 5) and to be learned (Deuteronomy 5:1). They were to be written on the posts of the doors and diligently impressed on their children (Deuteronomy 6:7-10). Great emphasis is given to explaining these commandments by the prophets and apostles. The Saviour also does this in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).

(b) They are useful

Everyone who wants to know what is pleasing and displeasing to God will find them useful. By them we may know what sin is, how to avoid it and how to be stirred up to repentance when we have fallen into it. The knowledge of sin comes through the law (Romans 7:7). This is why it is summed up in so few words, to be more easily brought into and kept within our memories and hearts. This is why they are commended in the Word of God (Deuteronomy 5:1).

(c) They are not understood

The Ten Commandments are so comprehensive that we will come short of their great scope without effort and diligence (Psalm 119:96). There is great ignorance among many about the meaning of this vital part of Scripture. Many people do not even know that they are breaking the commandments. The result of this is little conviction of sin, little repentance for sin and much presumptuous confidence in self-righteousness.

Ignorance of the spiritual nature of the Ten Commandments makes many people neglect the main aspects of holiness, and instead proudly rest on self-righteousness and despise Christ the Mediator. We can see this from the example of Paul (Romans 7:9). Our Lord expounded the Ten Commandments so that sinners would see the necessity of a Mediator who is the end of the law for righteousness to all that believe (Romans 10:4). It is not only the godless, those who are most careful to observe religious formalities and upright in their lives, also stumble in this.

We need to know: (1) what kind of duties are required in every commandment, and (2) the sins which contradict each commandment. This should give us some direction and help in duty, and some spur to repentance, or at least conviction. By it we may therefore be led to Christ Jesus, who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes (Romans 10:4). This was after all, the principal purpose of this law as it was given to Israel.

 

2. How should we study the Ten Commandments?

We need to know how to understand and apply the Ten Commandments properly. Without this we do not understand how to live according to and make use of the gospel. Gospel obedience involves conviction of sin, carefulness in practice, constant exercise of repentance and daily fresh dependence on the blood of Christ. All this is undermined by failure to understand the commandments aright. Here is some further advice from Durham on how to approach the study of the Ten Commandments.

(a) Look on Them as God’s Word

Receive it as though you heard God Himself speak it from Sinai. Tremble (as the people did) and be more affected by holy fear whenever you read, hear or meditate on it.

(b) Pray to Understand Them

Be much in prayer for grace to understand its meaning. David (Psalm 119:18) prayed for this often. , and thought it not unbecoming a King, yea a believing King, and a Prophet, to study this Law, and pray much for opened eyes to understand the meaning thereof.

(c) Understand so as to Practise Them

Practise is the goal of knowledge. It is also the aim of the law itself (Deuteronomy 5:1-2). we knowing no more in Gods account then what we endeavour honestly to practise. Failure in aiming to put things into practise makes us very careless and undermines both understanding and practise.

(d) Examine Yourself by Them

When you hear and understand anything to be either duty or sin, reflect on yourself. Test whether this sin is in you and how far short you come in that duty. This is the proper way to use the law. It is intended to reveal sin and transgression (Romans 7:7-8). This is why it is called a glass or mirror (James 1:23-24). Look in it so that you may know what kind of person you are and what blemishes are on you.

(e) Be Convicted by Them and Repent

When the law reveals sin let convictions in. The law entered that sin might abound, not in practise but in the convictions of conscience (Romans 5:20). Follow these Convictions by repentance till they force you to flee to Christ, and leave you there.

(f) Use the Rest of Scripture to Understand Them

Receive help to understand this part of Scripture from Christ’s sermons and the prophets. They are the only canonical (and therefore the best) commentary on the Ten Commandments.

(g) Use the Larger Catechism to Understand Them

But do not despise the understanding contained in human writings such as the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q.91-152). The Larger Catechism is very full in relation to this and if you make best use of it conscientiously, it will prove exceeding profitable for your instruction.

Beyond The Surface

Many people understand the Ten Commandments in a superficial way without understand how deep and broad they are in relation to our inward and outward lives, in things that we ought to do and avoid. We have produced a new booklet sets out ten biblical principles for understanding and applying the Ten Commandments properly. Beyond the Surface: Ten Ways in Which the Ten Commandments Go Further Than You Think is a 10 page booklet updated from the writings of James Durham. 

You can preview a sample of the booklet and purchase it here.

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Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload

Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload

Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
24 Nov, 2017

Sometimes it’s called infobesity. Constantly force fed hundreds of messages through all kinds of media, we are unable to digest information. Even if we could digest it, would it nourish our life and soul? We are drowning in information but starved for wisdom. Information overload paralyses our ability to think, make decisions and identify priorities. It’s a spiritual issue of course. What if all the information we consume makes us less able to “receive with meekness the engrafted word”? Everyone has an opinion to share online and they multiply exponentially. Even in the best things this can become spiritual information overload as we seek to stay afloat in the torrent of new material.

This is not a new problem. Ecclesiastes 12:12 warns “of making many books there is no end”. The technologies may have increased but the problem is the same: words being endlessly multiplied. When we understand these words in their context we can see that he is contrasting these things to “the words of the wise” (v11). We are to be “admonished” he says, and instructed by the words of the wise. The word “admonished” means enlightened or informed.  The key truth to grasp is that it is possible to go astray in seeking wisdom (as we see in the earliest chapters of Ecclesiastes). We need to be careful and cautious so that we do not mistake the true way to true happiness.

The danger of inertia due to information overload is a spiritual problem. Bewilderment and distraction concerning all the opinions swirling around us are also spiritually damaging. Many opinions only muddy the waters as opposed to creating clarity. We need the discernment to identify “the words of the wise” that agree with Scripture and those that do not. If we are looking for “words of the wise” that will feed our souls it is helpful to mine the riches of the spiritual wisdom of the past. If we turn to writers saturated in Scripture we will find that they draw us closer to the book of books, the Scriptures.

Alexander Nisbet comments on these words from Ecclesiastes. He identifies the words of the wise with every message of any sent minister of Christ. They come from “one Shepherd” (v11). There is a  key warning to be drawn about many books being endlessly made. If we are not satisfied with the admonitions of this book (and the rest of Scripture) we will become vain in our imaginations. Everyone will imagine a new and nearer way to happiness. Out of their boundless desire for vain glory they will make no end of their enquiries. Rather, they will spend the best of their time and strength to vent their own ideas. They will devote themselves to commending their vain imaginations about the way to true happiness and refuting others.  Many of the most intelligent have done this in many written volumes.

Thus, it is clear that this verse does not condemn writing or studying other books besides the Scriptures as long as they agree with it. It is a warning against those books that oppose Scripture, in so far as they pretend to point out a way to happiness contrary to what the Bible teaches. Our souls can never have true rest or quietness until we embrace the truths declared in this book. These truths are like nails fastened by the masters of assemblies. They fix and establish the hearts of those that receive them concerning this main question: where their true happiness can be found.

When the verse goes on to say that “much study is a weariness to the flesh” it is speaking of every study opposed to the study of the truth commended in this book. Anyone who applies themselves to any other study to attain true happiness may well weary his flesh. They will do no more good to themselves than this, weary the body. They will bring no true profit or satisfaction to their soul. Every child of wisdom must apply themselves to make use of these truths.

Nisbet applies this verse by showing how we must isolate the Bible and biblical teaching from everything else and approach them in a unique way. This helps us to avoid spiritual information overload.

 

1. We need to Value Scripture as Enough in Itself

Scripture is perfect compared with all other writings in the world. Every part of Scripture contains a perfect rule of faith and practice. No other writings besides or contrary to it are necessary to supply any deficiency. Solomon here assumes that though only a small part of Holy Scripture had been delivered to the Church at that time, it was still enough. What he and others before him had written was enough to admonish about duty and warn of dangers in attaining true happiness. This is why he says “by these, my son, be admonished”.

 

2. We need to be Admonished by Scripture

In studying Scripture we should not only aim at our comfort. Our main concern should be to receive clear information and warning about our sin and peril, the only true remedy to deal with this and how to attain it. This is one main use to be made of this book, and thus, the rest of Scripture, “by these…be admonished”.

 

3. We need to Approach Scripture as Children

Some of those who hear the gospel may be strong men compared to others who are but babes (1 John 2:13-14). All should come to Scripture as children to hear the Lord’s mind with meekness. They must come in submission to the reproofs and warnings of the Word. They must also come with love to their teachers in Scripture, desiring the sincere milk of the Word from them. Ministers should also exercise tender fatherly affection toward the people with whom they deal. Solomon therefore speaks to every hearer as a son, “by these, my son, be admonished”.

 

4. We need to be Warned About False Wisdom

There are those who will never make an end of seeking out many inventions to attain their imaginary happiness. They are so carried away with their desire for vain glory ( Job 11:12) that while they have time or strength they will begin one book after they have written another. They seek to show themselves wise in discovering the way to happiness. Yet it is so empty that until they take the new and living way to happiness which the Scripture reveals, they will meet with nothing but endless labour and continual disappointment. They will never have any true rest or quietness for their minds. Thus, Solomon says concerning such writings that ignore the Scripture’s way to happiness. “of making many books there is no end”.

 

5. We will Find Rest and Sweetness in Studying the Truth

Studying saving knowledge may prove wearisome to the flesh. This is due to our being slow to understand, lacking confidence of being successful and acquaintance with the basis for receiving comfort. It is also partly because the Lord intends the flesh to be wearied in that study in order to divert the heart from sinful delights. Such study is in fact, sweet in itself. It is the very rest and refreshment of the soul, it is health to the spirit and marrow to the bones. In comparison to this,  all other studies are wearisome to the flesh. This study must be rest and sweetness, it is only concerning other studies that Solomon says, “much study is a weariness to the flesh”.

 

 

Conclusion

Spiritual information overload leaves us with inertia, indigestion, frustration and confusion. When we submit to Scripture and the words of the wise, we will have clarity about how God wants us to glorify Him. We will also be warned about our urgent priorities and find true spiritual rest and sweetness in the truth. May the Lord help us draw such benefit from Scripture that we are able to discern the words of the wise that will only increase our understanding of and love for God’s Word.

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What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
27 Oct, 2017

The carpet of golden, russet and even purple leaves daily gathers around us. Autumn has its own nostalgic beauty. It also brings glory to the Creator. These tints speak to us of decay as well as change. Eventually the leaves lose their splendour as they wither and decompose on the ground. We ought to draw spiritual lessons from the book of creation and Scripture directs us to that. Fallen and withered leaves speak of the decay and change that occurs in individuals and nations. Are we learning the visual lesson?

Hugh Binning expounds the solemn lament of Isaiah 64:6: we “fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away”. He even draws spiritual lessons from the falling sap and dying light of autumn. What does this teach us about our own spiritual condition, the condition of those around us and that of our land as a whole?

 

1. Sin Brings Decay

Sins and iniquities have a great influence in the decay of nations and individuals and change in their outward condition, when it is joined with the wind of God’s displeasure. This people’s calamity is described by alluding to a tree in the fall of the leaf. We were (he says) once in our land as a green tree with leaves and fruit. Our Church and state were once in a flourishing condition, at least nothing was lacking to make outward splendour and glory. We were immovable in our own land, as David said in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved,” so we dreamt of eternity in earthly Canaan.

But now we are like a tree when the leaf falls. Sin has obstructed the influence of heaven and drawn away the sap of God’s presence from among us so that we fade as a leaf before its fall. Our sins prepared us for judgment. Our iniquities raised the storm of indignation that, like a whirlwind, has blown the withering leaves off the tree, driven us out of our own land and scattered us among strangers. Sin and uncleanness and the filthiness of our righteousness prepared us for the storm. It made us light so that we could resist no judgment. It made us combustible. Iniquities and sin rising up to iniquities (coming to such a degree) have accomplished the judgment and put fire among us.

 

2. Do Not Trust in Prosperity

It is familiar in the Scripture that people in a prosperous condition are compared to a green tree flourishing. The wicked’s prospering is like a green bay tree spreading himself in power, spreading out his arms, as it were, over more lands to conquer them, over more people, to subject them (Psalm 37:35). This is a trial to the godly. The Lord Himself bore witness of His people that they were “a green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11:16). This was once their name, though it is now changed.

Now they are called a fading, withering tree without leaves or fruit. Now their place does not know them, they are removed as in a moment (Psalm 37:36). He uses this comparison in order to bring us to understand something of the nature of human glory and pomp. The fairest and most beautiful excellence in the world, the prosperity of nations and people, is only like the glory of a tree in the spring or summer.

Do not build your nest in your outward prosperity; these leaves of prosperity will not cover you always, there is a time when they will fall. Nations have their winter and their summer, individuals have them likewise. Just as these must change in nature, so they must in the lot of men. Only heaven only is continual spring, perpetually blossoming and bringing forth fruit. The tree of life that brings forth fruit every month, that has both spring and harvest all year round is there. Christians, do not sit down under the green tree of worldly prosperity, if you do, the leaves will come down about you. The gourd you trust in may be eaten up in a night, your winter will come on so that you will forget the former days as if they had never been.

Be prepared for changes. All things are subject to revolution and change. Every year has its own summer and winter. Thus the Lord has set the one over against the other, that man might find nothing after him (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

 

3. What Causes Decay?

What is the moth that eats up the glory and goodliness of created enjoyments? It is sin and iniquities. Sin raises the storm of the Lord’s wrath and blows away the withered leaves of men’s enjoyments. Sin dries up all the sap and sweetness of the creature comforts. It makes the leaves of the tree wither and drives the sap away to the root. It hinders the influence of God’s blessing from coming through the veins of outward prosperity. What is the virtue and sap of created things? It is God’s blessing, and therefore bread does not nourish without God’s word and command (Matthew 4:4).

We have a right through Christ to enjoy created things when we receive them by prayer and thanksgiving. This is what sanctifies our right to anything. But the iniquities of men separate between God and them (Isaiah 59:2). When God is separated and divided from things enjoyed, they are empty shells and husks with no kernel in them. This is because God fills all in all, He is all in all. Remove Him and you have nothing—your food and drink is no blessing, your table is a snare, your pleasures and laughter have sadness in them. They are at best like the vanishing blaze of thorns under a pot.

When God is angry due to sin, man’s beauty is consumed as before the moth (Psalm 39:11).  David was conscious of this and could speak from much experience (Psalm 32:3-4). The anger of the Lord ate him up and dried his moisture. It might be read in his face – all the world could not content him, all the showers of creatures’ dropping fatness could not keep sap in him. God’s displeasure scorches him so greatly that no hiding-place can be found in the world, no shadow of a rock among all the creatures in such a weary land.

 

4. Blown Away with the Wind of Judgment

When sin has prepared a man for judgment, if iniquity is then added to sin it raises up the storm and kindles the fire to consume the combustible matter. Sin gives many blows at the root of things in which we find pleasure and value. It will ultimately bring the fatal stroke that will drive the tree to the ground. There are some preparatory judgments and some final, some wither the leaf and some blow it off completely.

Some judgments make men like the harvest, ripe for the sickle of judgment. The widespread corruption of a land and mere formality in worshipping God, ripens a land for the harvest of judgment. It exposes it to any storm and leaves it open to the Lord’s wrath. There is then nothing to hold His hand and keep back the stroke but when the wind arises and iniquities have made it tempestuous, who may stand? It will sweep away nations and people as a flood, and make their place not to know them, so that there will be neither leaf nor branch left.

There is often a great calm with great provocation. Iniquities cry, “Peace, peace!” But when its cry has gone up to heaven and has engaged God’s anger against a people or an individual, then it raises a whirlwind that takes everything away.

We ought to acknowledge sin and it is a wonder that our nation is not punished in this way. Sins and iniquities bring judgment in their train. Now you sit at peace, everyone in his own dwelling and spread forth your branches. Yet your carnal peace, security and ease need to be disturbed with these thoughts. If there was nothing more against us except the iniquity of our holy things (the casual, formality of our way of serving and worshipping God) this might be enough to raise the storm.

You do not know the reasons that ought to make you afraid of judgment. Consider original sin and how your religious actions are defiled and you will find sufficient evidence of fading away. You sit still now and seem to be so settled as though you will never be moved, you dream of an eternity here. Your hearts cleave to your houses and lands, you stick as closely to the world and will not part with it, as a leaf to a tree. Yet behold the wind of the Lord may arise that will drive you away. If your soul is removed from these things then whose will they be? If you will not fear temporal judgments, fear eternal judgment—fear hell. May the Lord not shake you off this tree of time and take you out of the land of the living, to receive your portion?

There is not only a universal deadness of spirit in the land but a profane spirit — iniquities, abominable sins, abound. Every congregation is overgrown with open disobedience. We are all unclean, sin is not hidden in corners but men declare their sin as Sodom, sin is come to maturity. Defection and apostasy is the temper of all spirits. Above all, the iniquity of Scotland is the general contempt and slighting of the glorious gospel. We wonder that the withered leaves still stick to the tree, that the storm is not yet raised so that we are blown away. Now, you are like stones – your hearts are as adamants and cannot be moved with God’s threatening. The voice of the Lord’s Word will not move you. You sin and are not afraid but when the voice of God’s rod and displeasure will roar it will make the mountains tremble, the rocks move.  How much more will it drive away a leaf? You seem to be like mountains now but when God will enter into judgment you will be like the chaff driven to and fro.

 

5. The Remedy

If you would prevent this, engage in serious acknowledgment of your sins. “Search your ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Do not merely confess sin in general, but uncover it till you see uncleanness. Go to the source original sin then go to all the streams, even the iniquity of holy things. Let everyone be specific in searching out their own personal provocations personal.  Let everyone confess the general sins of the land, that you may confess out of knowledge and a felt sense “We are all as an unclean thing…”.

 

Conclusion

Fallen leaves present an often beautiful picture. Yet in the light of Scripture they have a solemn message for our land and for ourselves, especially if we have a spirit of carelessness. Such lessons drawn from nature should be part of the lovingkindness of God that leads us to repentance and prayer. We ought also to have the hope of a spiritual springtime when the spiritual life and sap of God’s blessing rises again. Even when the leaves have been shed the life remains in the tree. Like “an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves” (Isaiah 6:13). In the same way, the Lord is able to revive us spiritually.

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

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

All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
9 Jun, 2017

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

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

 

1. Paul is speaking about his personal conduct

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Paul is speaking about things that are indifferent

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

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

 

3. Paul is speaking about edification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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Opening the Door From Our Heads to Our Hearts

Opening the Door From Our Heads to Our Hearts

Opening the Door From Our Heads to Our Hearts
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.
3 Mar, 2017

Why aren’t we more greatly and lastingly moved by the truths we believe? It’s easy to grasp something intellectually and to receive it as truth without it making a powerful impact on us. We hear powerful sermons, we read penetrating words of Scripture but are we powerfully stirred by them? Sound doctrine has not done its work in us till we both live it and love it. Do we dwell on these truths enough to let them sink down into our hearts? To do this we need to set aside time to meditate on spiritual things. This is nothing to do with mindfulness and eastern practices. It is the biblical requirement of giving our minds and hearts entirely to spiritual things for a set time.

We are always giving our minds and hearts to something – why not the best things? Such a practice prepares us for engaging in spiritual things and helps us to profit from them. Even if we were only speaking about hearing sermons it would be essential. As Edmund Calamy (1600-1666) put it, “God requires you to hear sermons, [and] requires you to meditate on the sermons you hear”.

It is digesting that nourishes not the mere action of eating something. “Meditation is digesting all the things of God. It is not merely hearing a sermon that does you good, but meditating on what you hear. If a man has a plaster and lays it on his sore, and then takes it off as soon as he has laid it on, it will do no good at all. So when you hear a sermon, if you forget it as soon as ever you have heard it, if you do not chew, meditate and ponder upon what you hear, you will never get any good”.

There are “so many lean Christians that devour hundreds of sermons…and are never any better, never any fatter”. Why is this? Because it goes in one ear, and out the other. “They never meditate, ponder and consider what they hear, that is the reason why you are so lean in grace”. Calamy points out that it takes many hours to digest a little meat which it has not taken long to eat. We should spend many hours digesting a sermon.

Calamy was a member of the Westminster Assembly and, like many other puritans, he wrote a book on the subject of meditation. The following is an updated extract from The Art of Divine Meditation.

Meditation is the soul’s transmigration to heaven, the soul’s transfiguration, the soul’s going up to heaven to converse with God, Christ and the things of eternity

The Christian who does not meditate may have Christ by faith just like someone who possesses a jewel in a purse. But meditation opens the purse, takes out the jewel and looks on it. Our failure to meditate tends to encourage hard-heartedness, ingratitude, unbelief and formality. Calamy even asserts and shows that failure to meditate is the cause of all sin.

 

1. What is Daily Meditation?

Daily meditation is set, solemn and deliberate. It is when someone sets apart some time and goes into a room alone or takes a private walk to solemnly and deliberately meditate on the things of heaven.This holy meditation is dwelling and abiding on things that are holy. It is not only knowing God and about Christ but dwelling on the things we know. As the bee dwells and abides on the flower to suck out all the sweetness that is in the flower; so we must suck out all the sweetness we can in the things we meditate on.

To meditate is to continue and fix ourselves and our hearts on the things we know. Scripture calls meditation holy musing (Psalm 39:3). It is to commune with our own hearts (Psalm 4:4). It is both communing and consulting with our own hearts or “bethinking” ourselves (as in 1 Kings 8:47). The Hebrew word in 1 Kings 8:47 is: if they will bring back to their hearts or reflect on themselves. Meditation is a reflecting act of the soul by which the soul is carried back to itself and considers all the things that it knows.

Meditation is an inward, spiritual act of the soul by which it looks back on itself and considers all the things that concern its everlasting happiness.

Another metaphor is in Psalm 119:59 “I thought on my ways”. The word in Hebrew refers to traders who when they buy a commodity, turn it over and over and over again. They look into every part of it. Meditation is a thorough contemplation and consideration of the things of God.

 

2. How Does Daily Meditation Engage the Heart?

It is an act of the heart as well as of the head. It is not mere speculative knowledge of divine things but rather practical knowledge. It is not only an act of the intellect and understanding but also of the will and affections. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She did not only think of them in her head but she pondered them with her heart (see Deuteronomy 4:39).

True meditation is when we meditate on Christ in such a way as to get our heart inflamed with the love of Christ. It is to meditate on the truths of God to be transformed into them; to meditate on sin to get our hearts to hate it. Such musing on God kindles a fire in the whole soul (Psalm 39:3). It is to so contemplate on God that our heart is all on fire with the love of God.

When the heart is affected with meditation in the head David says “My meditation of him shall be sweet” (Psalm 104:34). This is true meditation, when we so meditate on God as to taste a sweetness in Him.

Meditation does not stop in the intellect, but flows into the will and affection so that the heart is all inflamed with the things on which we meditate.

Many great scholars meditate much on God, Christ and heaven, yet never become any holier by their meditation. This is because they meditate on these things merely to find out curious things about God, Christ and heaven. They do not meditate on these things to get their hearts affected, and get heavenly and divine hearts. Thus, many scholars can be as undevout and as unholy as other people even though they know more and meditate more.

I have found many poor lay people that get more good by meditation than great scholars. This is because the great scholar’s meditation many times vanishes into empty speculations, notions and opinions. But the godly man’s meditation is all about putting it into practice. He meditates on sin to hate it, on God to love Him and on Christ to be inflamed with a desire after Him. Thus, he often gets more good by meditation.

Both the butterfly and the bee dwell on the flower but the butterfly does not suck honey from the flower. There are many scholars that meditate much about the things of God but the honest plain-hearted Christian meditates on God like the bee, to suck out the sweetness of God.

 

3. Meditation Must Enter Three Doors

Meditation must enter into three doors or it will never do you any good.

1. It must get into the door of the understanding.This is the proper place of meditation but if it stays there, you will never be any better for it.

2. It must get into the door of the heart and affections. You must never stop meditating till it gets into that door likewise.

3. The door of practical living. Your meditation must not stop in the affections, it must influence your conduct by making it more holy. You must meditate on God to walk as God walks and so meditate on Christ as to prize Him and live in obedience to Him. Live out your meditation (Joshua 1:8). Let meditation and practice, like two sisters, walk hand in hand. Meditation without practice will only increase your condemnation.

 

4. Daily Meditation is Essential to the Christian Life

Meditation will help to obtain and increase grace and also resist the devil and all his temptations.

(a) It obtains grace

  • It helps produce repentance in us (Psalm 119:59; Ezekiel 36:31; Mark 14:72).
  • It helps produce love to God and Christ in us (Psalm 104:34)
  • It helps produce the fear of God in us (Isaiah 51:12-13; Jeremiah 5:22-23).

(b) It preserves and increases grace

As wood preserves fire, oil preserves the flame and water preserves fish, so meditation preserves your graces. It preserves and increases every grace. Meditation is a divine pair of bellows to blow on the sparks of grace. When there is only a little fire, meditation will kindle this fire more and increase it.

When you find your love of God grows cold meditate on the love of God, this will kindle the love of God in your hearts. When you find the fear of God diminish within you, meditate on the power of God. Consider that your breath is in His hand and He has you in His hand; this will increase the fear of God. When the love of the world increases within you, meditate on the vanity and nothingness of it – this will decrease the love of the world.

(c) It is an essential duty

This duty is not only a duty but the quintessence and marrow of all other duties. No duty will leave any impression on your souls without practising this duty.

It is the very life and soul of Christianity, without it a Christian is but the carcass of a Christian. Lack of meditation is the cause of all sin and all punishment.

Let me tell you, you would be tall Christians in grace if you accustomed yourselves to this duty. The reason why you are such dwarfs in Christianity – so unacquainted with God, the promises, Christ and heaven – is due to failing to practise this duty. This is the reason you crawl along the ground and are so poor in grace and so lean in religion.

Meditation is as necessary as your daily bread.

 

Conclusion

There is much more to learn about daily meditation; Calamy gives around 200 pages to the subject (see this outline of the contents). But it is time to apply what we have gleaned. It would be an indictment if we only grasped the necessity and benefits of meditation with our intellects. We also need to ensure that it enters through the doors of our affections and practical living.

Calamy says that we ought to mourn if we have a Christian for many years and yet have never really practised the duty of meditation. Were we ever solemnly and seriously in the Mount of God for even half an hour? We should also mourn if meditation has become a lost duty in our Christian experience.

The heart of man is restless like the pendulum of a clock that cannot stop once wound up. The heart of man will always be meditating on something or other.

You should mourn if you have spent your days in meditating what to eat, drink, wear or how to become rich, manage your job and prosper in the world. You have been meditating all your life long on vain things and have not meditated on eternity – the things of greatest concern to you eternity. You have been meditating on things that will not profit at the hour of death and concern eternity.

Those in business must have time to meditate on their work, I will not lay heavier burdens on you than Scripture. But if you waste all your time in meditating on earthly things and are never serious in meditating on heavenly things you should mourn.

Though time is scarce and you work long hours, you can still draw spiritual lessons from outward things as you go about your work. But even if you have no time during the working week for set, solemn meditation; you do have time on the Lord’s Day when your work is laid aside. This is the God has set apart for public worship and private meditation. Meditation on the work of creation, redemption and our eternal rest in heaven is our great work on the day of rest.

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The Bible’s Main Teachings in 2 Words

The Bible’s Main Teachings in 2 Words

The Bible’s Main Teachings in 2 Words
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
10 Feb, 2017

Summarising a book of more than 780, 000 words is a colossal challenge. Especially when it is a book infinitely more important than any other. Perhaps it is impossible to do that meaningfully in two words. But to summarise the main teachings of the Bible is entirely different from condensing its entire contents. It is not a high level overview to provide general knowledge but a set of keys to unlock its personal application. Just two words can take us a long way into a practical and devotional engagement with the Scriptures.

One of the questions in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms most passed over is “What do the scriptures principally teach?” The answer seems as simple and straightforward as the question. “The scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man”. Yet this simple statement undergirds the whole teaching and structure of the Catechisms, because it undergirds thee whole teaching of Scripture. The first part of the Catechisms deal with what we are to believe and the second part with what we are to do, or obedience to God’s revealed will.

Two words: faith and obedience. As we shall see, Hugh Binning preferred to speak of faith and love (as long as the latter was understood to include obedience). He drew this from the proof text used by the Catechisms: Hold fast the form of sound words…in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13). Once we have grasped this it can transform our practical engagement with Scripture.  These are the glasses through which we must read the Word as we ask the questions: What does God want me to believe and what does God require me to do? 

Scriptures certainly teaches that it contains “great things” of principal importance (Hosea 8:12). It is clear that faith in what God has revealed is one such thing  (John 3:33).  Another is obedience (Micah 6:8; John 17:17; 1 John 2:3-5). It also reveals a close relationship between faith and obedience; they depend on each other (Titus 1:1; 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:3). Faith must work by love (Galatians 5:6). The truth is truly believed when it is acted on and obeyed (John 3:21; 7:17; Romans 16:25-26). Truly depending on God’s Word will always be expressed in action. The Catechisms put faith first because it is most important and no obedience is pleasing or acceptable to God without it (Hebrews 11:6; Proverbs 2:1 and 5). Loving obedience is the evidence and outcome of faith. The following is an updated extract from Hugh Binning’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism.

 

1. Two Words

All divine truths may be reduced to these two headings: faith and love; what we ought to believe and what we ought to do. This is everything the Scriptures teach and this is everything we have to learn. What do we have to know except what God has revealed of Himself to us? What do we have to do except what He commands us? In a word, what do we have to learn in this world except to believe in Christ, love Him and so live unto Him? This is the duty of man, the dignity of man and the way to eternal life.

Here is the business then: to have our souls reconciled to Him so as to take away the enmity within us; and as He is satisfied with His Son, to so satisfy ourselves with Him and be as well-pleased in his redemption and purchase as the Father is. Then you believe in Him indeed. Now if this were accomplished, what more do we have to do but to love Him and to live unto Him?

Have you found in Scripture and believed with the heart what man once was and what he now is; how God once appeared to man and how He now manifests himself in the gospel? You now have no more to do except to search in the same Scriptures what you ought to be from now on. You who are restored in Christ must ask: “What manner of persons ought we to be?” The Scriptures will also give you that “form of sound words” which may not only teach you to believe in Him, but to love Him and obey His commands.

The law that before condemned you is now put in your hands by Christ to guide and conduct you in the way. It teaches you how to live from now on to His glory (Titus 2:12). Here is the rule of your conduct summed up: piety towards God, equity towards men and sobriety towards ourselves. This is self-denial, world-denial and lust-denial; to give up the world and our own lusts and have no more to do with them from now on. We must give them up in our affections not for a time, not in part but entirely and forever. We must give ourselves up to Him, to live unto Him and to live in Him.

 

2. Faith and Love Together

We do not have to distinguish faith and love too carefully. It is certain that love is in and from faith. It is in the very bosom of it, because faith is a soul-embracing of Christ. Faith is choosing Him for its portion and then having considered this goodly portion (what He is and has done for us) the soul loves Him still more and is impatient to be so distant from Him. We find them conjoined in Scripture and they are one in the heart. As they are joined in the word, so our heart should be a “living epistle”. Faith and love are two words but one thing under different conceptions. They are the outgoings of the soul to Christ for life – the breathings of the soul after Him, for more of Him, when it has once tasted how good He is.

Faith is not speculation or a wandering idea of truth.  It is not the truth not captivated in the mind but dwelling in the heart and getting possession of the whole man. A man and his will are one, but this is not so with a man and his mind. He may perceive the truth about many things that he does not love. But whatever a man loves, he becomes (in a way) united with.

When divine truth gains entry to the heart of a person and becomes one with their will and affections, it quickly commands the practice of the whole man. He that received “the truth in love” is found to walk in the truth. Many captivate truth in their understanding; they hold or detain it in unrighteousness but because it has no freedom to descend into the heart and possess that garrison, it cannot command the whole person.

Yet it is better to be truth’s captive than to captivate truth. It is better “to have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine” (Romans 6:17). This blessed captivity to truth is indeed freedom, for truth makes free (John 8:32). Give it freedom to command you and it will indeed deliver you from all strange lords. You will obey it from the heart when it is indeed in the heart.

When the truths of God (whether promises, threatenings, or commands) are impressed on the heart, you will find them expressed in conduct. Faith is not empty assent to the truth but receiving it “in love”. When the truth is received in love, it begins to work by love (Galatians 5:6). Obedience proceeding from love to God flows from faith in God, and that shows the true and living nature of that faith.

 

3. Love is Obedience

Love is the sum of the law and its fulfillment. The truth is the most effective, sweet and pleasant principle of obedience. The love of Christ constrains us to live to Him and not to ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). If Christ has gained someone’s love, the whole train of the soul’s faculties and operations will follow.

If someone loves Christ, they will certainly be careful to please Him. No matter how much they may obey, there is no pleasure unless it is done out of love. “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Love devotes and consecrates all that is in a man to the pleasure of the one he loves. It constrains us to live to Him, not ourselves. Its joy and delight is in Him, and therefore all is given up to Him.

Just as it is certain that if you love much you will do much, so it is certain that little proceeding from a principle of love is accepted in place of much. Thus, our poor maimed and limping obedience is called “the fulfilling of the law”. He is well-pleased with it, because love is not pleased with it. Love thinks nothing too much, everything too little. His love therefore thinks anything from us to be much, since love would give more. He accepts that which is given; the lover’s mite cast into the treasury is more than ten times as much as outward obedience from another person.

I know of no more effectual way to increase love to Jesus Christ than to believe His love. Christ Jesus is “the author and finisher” both of faith and love; and “we love him, because he first loved us”. What Christ is, and what He has done for sinners will above all other things prevail most to engage the soul to Him.

 

4. Sound Words

We shall conclude with that exhortation: “Hold fast the form of sound words”. You have this doctrine of faith and love given to you which may be able to save your souls. Then, I beseech you, hold them fast, salvation is in them. They are “sound words” and wholesome words; words of life, spirit and life as well as words of truth. You cannot hold it fast unless you have it within you; and it is within you indeed when it is in your heart. The form of it must be engraved on the very soul in love.

These sound words must be engraved on the heart or else you will never hold them. They may be easily snatched out of the mouth and hand by temptation, unless they are enclosed and laid up in the secret of the heart, as Mary did. The truth must hold you fast, or you cannot hold it fast; it must captivate you, and bind you with the golden chains of affection (which is the only true freedom) or you will certainly let it go. You must not only have the truth received by love into your heart, but you must also “hold fast the form of sound words”.

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