Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture
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.
31 Jul, 2020

Covid-19 has disrupted everything, including (for some people) their engagement with Scripture. According to a recent study in the USA, the first half of 2020 witnessed a fall in Scripture engagement. The largest changes were in the groups classified as “Bible Centered” and “Bible Engaged”. Another new poll indicated that many found it challenging to understand the Scriptures on their own. Whether or not these surveys indicate a widespread reality we must acknowledge that we need constant help to engage with Scripture. This is not merely a matter of discovering a new method, technique or tool. One of the reflections on the survey results is that Christians need to be reminded about why they need to regularly engage with the Bible. But it may be that this should include a reset in the attitudes we bring to Scripture and how we approach it.

The Larger Catechism gives some clear biblical guidance about the right way to approach Scripture in reading it. It shows how to read it so that we may understand it and get the most spiritual benefit. This article summarises and abridges the comments by Thomas Ridgeley and J G Vos on the following question in the Larger Catechism.

Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A. The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God; and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey, the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

1. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE CHARACTER OF SCRIPTURE

We must read the scriptures with a high and reverent esteem of them and a firm persuasion that they are the Word of God. (Psalm 19:10; Nehemiah 8:3-10; Exodus 24:7; 2 Chronicles 34:27; Isaiah 66:2).

As we read Scripture, we see the glory of the perfection of God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness. Its unerring wisdom and infallible truth bring its own authority. We ought to approach Scripture with a different attitude to any other book. Scripture is the only source of saving truth; it reveals sin and the only way of obtaining forgiveness. Other books may draw from its teaching, but the Bible alone is the standard by which all other books are to be judged. It completely equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Those who speak of Scripture in the page of the Bible itself do so with a high and reverent esteem of it (Psalm 119:97; Psalm 19:16). We must read the Scriptures with a firm faith that they are the very Word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).

2. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE

We must, in reading the word of God, be conscious that God alone can enable us to understand it (Luke 24:45; 2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

We will get no benefit from reading the Scriptures without understanding them. But we need divine help for this because our understanding is darkened and clouded by sin by nature (Romans 1:21, 28; 1 Corinthians 2:14). The Holy Spirit must enlighten our understanding at the new birth. Yet we also need His work of opening and illuminating our minds to understand the Bible (Luke 24:45). All spiritual wisdom comes from God and therefore we are dependent on Him in this also (Ephesians 1:18). We need His blessing to open the wonders of the Word in all their beauty and glory to us (Psalm 119:18). We may have the highest intellect and powers of reason but still be strangers to the mind of God in His Word.

3. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WILL IN SCRIPTURE

We must read the Word of God with a real desire to know, believe, and obey His will contained in it (Deuteronomy 17:19-20).

If we do not read the Bible with the right motive of submission to God’s will, we will find fault with it and be ready to cast aside what it teaches if it does not suit us. Approaching it merely as literature or history fails to handle it as it is meant to be handled. It must first serve a practical purpose, we must apply it to ourselves personally in relation to our own soul. We must read the word of God with a desire to have our faith established and any doubts about its truths removed. We ought to desire, not only to believe but also give constant and cheerful obedience to everything that God requires of us in it.

4. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DILIGENTLY

We must be diligent in reading the Word of God (Acts 17:11).

The Bible is extensive and contains many things that need careful study. If we do not give ourselves to it, we will not have an adequate understanding of it. Anything worthwhile demands constant effort. We are meant to progress from milk to strong meat and not remain children in our understanding (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:14).

5. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD CAREFULLY

We must give attention to the matter and scope of the Scriptures in reading them (Acts 8:30,34; Luke 10:26-28).

We must read the matter or content of Scripture carefully, noting important things such as who it is that is speaking, the occasion and circumstances. The context must be respected so that we note how the words relate to and connect with statements before and after and the chapter as a whole. We must also consider the overall scope or purpose of what is written in terms of the purpose of a book of the Bible as a whole and goal of the whole Scriptures themselves.

We must not remove verses from their context, or we will not understand their true import. When we read “there is no God” in a verse we must note that the speaker is “the fool” (Psalm 53:1). We must also note that the verse goes on to say that those who say such things in their heart are declared to be “corrupt” and to “have done abominable iniquity”. Similarly, we read that a man will give all he has for his life (Job 2:4). Quoted out of its context it would be very misleading but when we realise that Satan, the father of lies has said it we can discern its true import.

6. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DEEPLY

Our reading of the Word of God ought to be accompanied with meditation (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119:97).

Meditation means thinking carefully, seriously and deeply for a time. It is a focussed effort and application to the words of Scripture. It is necessary because we cannot expect to gain the real riches of the truth of Scripture by a hasty skimming of its surface. It is true in Bible study as in all other fields that serious thinking requires time. The Bible is not a modern supermarket with its wares all packaged and arranged on shelves ready to be checked out with the least possible effort. The Bible is a gold mine that has to be methodically and patiently worked if we are to gain possession of its treasures. The haste and complexity of modern life, with its many activities which make demands on people’s time, have resulted in many Christians who have only an elementary and superficial knowledge of the Bible, and who live from one year to the next with virtually no increase in their understanding of Bible truth. There is no shortcut to success in Bible study: meditation is needed, and that takes time.

Our thoughts should be wholly taken up with its subject-matter; we ought to apply the greatest intense earnestness in seeking to know things that are of the highest importance. As we do so our profiting from this will appear to ourselves and others (1 Timothy 4:15). Meditation is not considering Scripture with a coldly intellectual approach, rather it is a spiritual prayerful activity that engages fully with its truth so that it warms our affections and hearts. For more on this see
Opening the Door from Our Head to Our Hearts  and You Are What You Digest (Spiritually). 

7. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PERSONALLY

We must read the Word with application, applying it to our own selves by seeking to discern its bearing on our own lives and needs (2 Chronicles 34:21).

The Bible is not a merely theoretical or abstract message, but a personal message suited to the needs of those who read it. A person might study geometry or astronomy out of sheer intellectual interest and curiosity, without any intention to make any practical application of these sciences to his own life. But to study the Bible in such a way would be to miss the real meaning and importance of the Bible. Unless we apply its teachings to ourselves personally, our Bible study not only will do us no good but will actually add to our guilt at the Judgment Day.

8. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD SUBMISSIVELY

We must read the Word with self-denial. This means being willing to give up our own opinions, preferences and prejudices and to accept and obey the will of God instead of our own ideas (Proverbs 3:5; Deuteronomy 33:3).

We must deny ourselves by giving up our own opinions, preferences and special ideas and to accept and accept the teaching of the Word of God as our standard for faith and life. We are to accept all the teaching of the Bible not merely those which commend themselves to us as reasonable, desirable, or helpful. We are to deny ourselves by surrendering our own reason as our supreme standard of truth and become as little children, accepting God’s Word on God’s authority. All the contrary reasonings our carnal minds are prone to suggest against the subject-matter of divine revelation are to be laid aside. If we are resolved to believe nothing but what we can comprehend, we ought to consider that the gospel contains unsearchable mysteries, that surpass finite wisdom. We must, therefore, be content to acknowledge that we know but in part.

We must pay deference to the wisdom of God that eminently appears in everything He has revealed to us in His Word. We must adore the divine perfections displayed in it and maintain a humble sense of the imperfection of our own knowledge. It is not that reason is useless in studying Scripture rather we must desire that it may be sanctified and inclined to receive whatever God is pleased to impart. We are also to exercise the grace of self-denial, with respect to the obstinacy of our wills. By nature, they are not inclined to approve of and yield obedience to the law of God. We need to be entirely satisfied with everything He commands in His word, as holy, just, and good.

9. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PRAYERFULLY

The word of God must be read with fervent prayer (Proverbs 2:1-6; Psalm 119:18; Nehemiah 7:6,8).

If we lack wisdom, we should pray to receive it (James 1:5). As we have seen, a real understanding of the Bible is dependent on the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. It follows that we must pray for the continuance and increase of this illuminating work in our hearts and minds. Profiting from Scripture is the gift of God and therefore we are to humbly pray to Him for it. There are many things in His Word that are hard to understand; therefore, we ought to pray for help whenever we take the scriptures into our hands. We may humbly acknowledge the weakness and the blindness of our minds, which makes it necessary for us to desire to be instructed by Him, in the way of truth.

The Word is to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths therefore we seek His help that it may be so lest we walk in darkness. We may also plead that our Lord Jesus is revealed to His people as the prophet of His church, therefore we seek that He will lead us by His Spirit into His truth. We may also plead the impossibility of our attaining the knowledge of divine things, without His assistance.

Prayer is not a shortcut that avoids the need to study the Word diligently and carefully, it is not a substitute for that. Rather we are to pray that the Holy Spirit would bless our diligent use of the best available helps and guide us into the real truth.

CONCLUSION

We need to engage with Scripture in the right spirit with a desire to know the mind and will of God in it. Any prejudices which would hinder us from receiving any benefit from it should be discarded and we must exercise those graces that the nature and importance of the duty requires. We ought to depend upon God by faith and prayer so that we may come to know the divine truths contained in His Word.

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How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?
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 Jul, 2020

The Bible clearly teaches that God continues to look after and oversee all that He made. Scripture makes clear that His power is as necessary to maintain the world as it was to make it (Hebrews 1:3). Some believe that God created everything but then left creation to continue by itself with no continual involvement. But this is not what the Bible teaches (Psalm 103:19). Let’s explore Bible Truth on this subject.

This is an extract from the recently reprinted book Bible Truth Explored. It uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. Its simple and straightforward approach make it well suited for all ages in group, family and individual study. The following extract relates to Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism.

Q. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

God’s providence preserves

God sustains the whole creation in existence moment by moment, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). He does this by constantly providing for them (Psalm 36:6).

People sometimes talk about the ‘laws of nature,’ often forgetting that it is really the
Lord who is providing for His creatures. He constantly provides what is necessary
for them to survive and flourish. He controls the seasons, the water cycle, and all
the features of ecosystems (Psalm 104). If God ever suspended His preserving work,
everything would simply go out of existence.

God preserves “all his creatures, and all their actions.” In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Every breath we take and all our ways belong to Him (Matthew 6:26-34, Daniel 5:23)

“The Lord rules and directs all His creatures…just as surely as He preserves them.”

God’s providence governs

Psalm 66:7 asserts that God rules “by his power for ever”. The Psalmist was reflecting on the truth that the Lord rules and directs all His creatures and all their actions, just as surely as He preserves them. The sun, moon, stars and all celestial bodies are under His hand. The wind, rain and snow are at His command. Kings, prime ministers and presidents do not reign and govern by chance. It is by His power and authority that they come and go (Proverbs 8:15–16).

God’s providence is holy

God is holy in all His ways and works. He governs His own creation in holiness
and in such a way as will promote holiness. Because we see so much evil and
wickedness happening, we can sometimes struggle to see the holiness of God in
His providence. For example, the fact that God governs all the actions of His
creatures includes even the sinful actions of sinful creatures. God is nevertheless
still holy and acting in holiness when He permits sinners to have evil thoughts
and gives them good health and energy to put wicked ideas into action.

At the same time God remains holy. He is not the author of sin and He is not responsible for the sins of sinful beings. His governing in providence includes setting limits on people’s wickedness, and limits on the damage their wickedness causes. His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions and when He converts notorious sinners into dear saints. God’s holiness can also be seen in His justice, when He brings bad consequences on sinners for their bad actions. For example, the conspirators who wanted innocent Daniel to be destroyed were themselves soon punished by being thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:24).

“His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions.”

God’s providence is wise

Think of the history of Joseph in Genesis. His life was full of sadness and difficulty, but at last it became clear that God had a wise plan in it all and worked it out perfectly. “But God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The reason for many things in life may not be clear to us but we are to trust in God’s purposes (Romans 8:28).

We see wisdom in action when somebody uses the best tools and methods to reach the best outcome, even when we don’t initially understand what they are doing. It might seem strange, for example, to infect people deliberately with cowpox, giving them unpleasant lesions and fever, but once someone has had cowpox they are protected from smallpox, a deadly disease. God is using the best methods even when our limited wisdom prevents us from seeing how His methods will ever achieve a good outcome.

God’s providence is powerful

Do you remember proud King Nebuchadnezzar? He thought that there was none as important or powerful as he himself. But God humbled him and taught him that the King of Heaven has power beyond any mere men. Nebuchadnezzar put it like this: “none can stay his hand,” meaning that no one can interfere with or alter His powerful oversight (Daniel 4:35).

When God announced that He was going to set the Israelites free from Egypt, there was nothing that cruel Pharaoh could do to stop them. He might have thought he had survived the plagues which God had sent, and he must have thought the Israelites were at his mercy when his armies cornered them on the brink of the Red Sea. But he was no
match for God’s power in providence. In preserving, managing, arranging, and governing, God is not only capable but invincible.

Something to think about…

  • God is constantly in control of all His creatures and all their actions. Can you
    think of some examples (from the Bible or your own observation) where God
    demonstrates either His holiness, wisdom, or power as He preserves and
    governs (a) something tiny, (b) something enormous, (c) a living creature, (d)
    an inanimate force of nature, (e) a notorious sinner, (f) a godly believer?
  • Someone has compared the operation of God’s providence to a clock which
    has lots of cogs and wheels. They may go in opposite directions but they fit
    together and all work together to make the clock keep time. How can we see
    this in the life of Joseph?

Personal reflection

  • How should the fact that God’s providence is simultaneously holy, wise, and
    powerful make us willing to accept whatever happens to us in our lives?

Get it Now!

There is so much to learn about God and ourselves from the Bible that we need an accurate summary. We need a guidebook to what the Bible says we must believe and how we must live. This resource uses the Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. 

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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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