There never seems to be any shortage of books being published. Thankfully some among them are genuinely excellent. It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. It can be a useful exercise. Here are the best books published during 2019 from Second Reformation authors.
Naturally, we could highlight more than one or two Reformation Scotland resources but we will look at what others have produced instead.
These 12 rare sermons have not been printed for almost 300 years. But they still communicate the fervour of a young preacher who made the deepest possible impact within the two years of ministry he had. They are packed with both simple and profound thought communicated with almost tangible passion and highly recommended. There are sermons with evangelistic appeal as well as those that reach the hearts of believers with a uniquely penetrating power.
They display an unusual spiritual maturity in handling the matters of eternity and how things ought to go with our souls.
We have obtained the following special discounts exclusively for Reformation Scotland readers.
UK Customers: Buy it for £24.95 £14.36 using the code ref.scot2019.
North America: Buy it for $30 $15 using the code BERECONCILED50OFF.
2. The Sum of Saving Knowledge
‘The work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me. How gladly would I renew the reading of it, if that change might be carried on to perfection’ – Robert Murray M’Cheyne
This book offers is a clear brief statement of key truths that relate to salvation followed by a rich and warm practical application of them. Every professing Christian, whether possessing or lacking assurance, and all ministers should know the key points of saving knowledge, and they should know where to turn for such instruction. Anyone may beneﬁt from The Sum of Saving Knowledge. Ministers will find it helps them better declare the fulness of salvation.
Too often people in all kinds of churches assume that professing Christians have a ﬁrmer and clearer grasp on such truths than they really do. The Sum is a sure guide in relation to the matters of salvation, and anyone can return to it regularly with great beneﬁt. To grow in both appreciation and appropriation of it is to grow in ‘the life and marrow of religion’.
The Sum of Saving Knowledge is frequently overlooked because it has been included in editions of the Westminster Confession. It stands on its own here with an extensive introduction and is highly recommended.
We live in desperate times—in moral and in other concerns. Things are also collapsing in on themselves spiritually in terms of widespread decline in what the professing Church believes and the standards by which it lives. But William Guthrie shows that our problem is not just living in a time of destruction, but self-destruction. We may be concerned about moral deterioration in society, but also need to see ourselves as personally implicated. Where can we ﬁnd hope? It is only in that God is able to help those who have destroyed themselves. As Guthrie puts it: ‘the Church of God in her lowest condition may warrantably look and wait for help from God’.
This book provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It’s spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context.
4. Advancing Christian Unity
In John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church. Yet today, we tend to accept disunity as inevitable. In this book, Anthony Burgess calls us to addresses the spiritual and visible unity that Jesus desires for His people.
Anthony Burgess ministered in a period of division. He became involved in a project to unite the whole of the British Isles in the same doctrinal standards and church order. It was a unity that prioritised the truth. Besides the Westminster Assembly, he engaged in important defence of vital doctrines such as justification, original sin and the moral law.
In expounding John chapter 17 Burgess emphasises both the spiritual and visible unity that should exist within the Church. It is not a man-made unity that compromises the whole counsel of God. Burgess deals realistically and honestly with the divisions that exist amongst Christ’s people and the reasons for them. He does not accept that lack of unity is inevitable but boldly calls it what it is according to Scripture: sin.
Burgess gives practical counsel in this area in demonstrating the spirit that Christians ought to have one to another. He will not allow us simply to show regret and concern but do nothing about the divisions of the Church. We are under the strongest obligations, not only to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6) but also to do what we can. In the following extract from his sermons on John 17 he shows the attractiveness of unity.
‘make timely preparation for death and judgment’ – Alexander Nisbet
The signs of bodily decline in ourselves and others are a call to young and old to prepare for eternity. There may be sudden degeneration through severe illness or gradual deterioration. It reminds us that the best time to prepare for our long home is now when we have a measure of strength and health.
This is a book for young and old, whether in good or poor health. We must prepare for eternity and we cannot put this off until we think it is imminent. We cannot guarantee that we will have the ability to do this in the time of sickness or old age. Ecclesiastes 12 urges this wise instruction through striking pictures of physical decline. Alexander Nisbet draws out the way in which this spiritual wisdom applies urgently to each one of us.
Intended as a brief exposition for the ordinary reader. Nisbet prepared his exposition of Ecclesiastes for publication during his final years.
This has literally just been published. Subtitled ‘A History of the Church in Scotland from 1540 to 1690’ this is the classic and definitive history of the period. It comes in two large volumes of painstaking research but the story is told in an accessible way. It is accurate and carefully weighed history not mere hero worship. If you are looking for something to progress to having read other shorter books giving an overview of the period these volumes are a must have.
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It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. Lists and reviews of books can certainly be helpful. Here are the best books published during the year that mined the riches of the Second Reformation.
1. EXPOSITION OF JOB (JAMES DURHAM)
“It is certain to be good, for Durham is always admirable.”— Charles Spurgeon.
The book of Job can be difficult to follow but Durham provides the flow of the debate and a succinct summary of the arguments. It is also helpfully applied. Durham’s work is compact, with a few pages of exposition and comment, closing with a few pages of practical observations. This makes the work perfectly suitable for private and family devotions.
This newly revised edition has been carefully compared again to the original and corrected and updated.
Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), renowned as “the saint of the Covenant”, was one of the greatest men that Scotland ever saw, whether considered as a preacher, theologian, devotional writer or political theorist. His memory of Samuel Rutherford will be ever fragrant in the minds of all who savour the spirituality of his letters. Rutherford’s fruitful ministry in Anwoth was cut short by being banished to Aberdeen where he wrote many of his famous letters. His teaching at St Andrews and his published writings bore a vital spiritual and theological influence on many. He was untiring in defended the principles of the Scottish Church. We continue to benefit today from his faithful contribution to the work of the Westminster Assembly. The purpose of this present work is to place the main facts of Rutherford’s life in a convenient form before the modern reader. In particular, it highlights his significance as a theologian, an aspect that is sometimes neglected. Rutherford was able to combine doctrine and devotion in an elevated way that is all too rare in our own day.
The Confessional Presbyterian Journal for 2018 contains the discovery and transcription of a surviving portion of a sermon preached by George Gillespie at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in March of 1648. The notes are incomplete on a sermon preached on Psalm 2:10–12. Only two Gillespie sermons are known to have survived, so even a portion of another is a significant find, let alone one preached at that crucial time, and on top of that, with the last verses of Psalm 2 as the text.
The journal is also contains a large article on the Covenanter Alexander Shields.
John Owen commended this book as essential guidance for “our walking before God in all duties of obedience” marked by wisdom and deep experience. Durham provides in-depth treatments of the second, third, and fourth commandments which make this exposition especially valuable. This new edition has been carefully collated and checked against the first and early editions and the text corrected and notations considerably augmented.
“Whatever Durham has written is very precious. He has the pen of a ready writer, and indites good matter.” — Charles Spurgeon.
We have been fed the idea over and over again that the new is best. We have been tutored to be impatient with anything old. Anything new is supposed to be most valuable and accurate. The idea is based on circular logic, already assuming that what is new is better. If we don’t know what is old and only embrace what is new how can we assess whether it is an improvement? But what if it doesn’t in fact improve on what we have had but only replaces it? Much of the content we consume – even blog posts – is temporary in the sense of being connected to the moment and soon forgotten. Older books bring us a sense of perspective away from current fashions and blind spots. They have also passed the test of time but new books are still being tried and assessed. These are some of the reasons of course, why we make use of them in these weekly blog posts and show how they bring a perspective on our contemporary situation. If we are prepared to learn from contemporary Christians why not from those in the past? Let’s hear the case for making use of older books.
Here are a few reasons we should take older books seriously. Many older books are now published in a way that makes them easier to read in terms of their format and explaining some of the difficult words. It’s easier than ever to make use of them.
(a) Older Books Take Us Out Of Our Current Context.
Sometimes we need to take a break and not be caught up in the myopia of our own context. We need to listen to people who are asking questions we have never thought of. We need to engage with their refreshingly different ways of answering the questions we ask. They help us assess new ideas critically.
(b) Older Books Help Us Grow in Our Understanding.
Perhaps they do have more theology – that is a good thing. They are often more full of Scripture quotations and so bring us to the fountain of truth more frequently. They also tend to quote and apply Scripture in a different way than we might have considered.
(c) Older Books Humble Us.
When we see the depth of understanding and learning evident from older writers we are humbled. We have many opportunities, resources and technologies that they did not have but yet we still feel that we are walking amongst giants when we read them.
(d) Older Books Edify Us.
They often feed the soul more because the authors had a higher spiritual temperature than exists in our day. We are warmed by their love of Christ and His Word.
James Durham gives wise counsel in this area. He gives simple rules that if truly weighed would help us zero in on the most beneficial reading possible. The less time we have for reading, the more selective we need to be. The following is an updated extract from an essay that he wrote on the subject of reading and hearing. We must take heed what we hear and how we hear (Mark 4:24 and Luke 8:18); it is the same with reading. Older books that have stood the test of time have been approved by more as most beneficial.
Just as we should beware of listening to false teaching, so we should beware of reading it. He warns against a “lightness” and indifference in our reading and hearing. Our ears may be “itching” after some new teaching and we may have a secret discontent with sound teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Reading is a special means of edification if used well but a great step towards destruction if otherwise, as experience shows. Thus, people are commanded to watch and choose that which is most excellent. They cannot be left to be indifferent in this. We must spend our time wisely (as a special talent give by God). In reading many things our time can be greatly misspent and abused to our harm.
Christian wisdom is called for in order to make a right choice. Especially considering that many can only spend a little time in reading. A wrong choice means that they incapacitate themselves from reading things that may be more profitable for their condition and situation. Also, seeing that not everyone has the ability to discern poison from good food, people must regulate their Christian liberty in this aright. Otherwise it will become carelessness and turn into a snare. Some due to their gifts and calling need to acquaint themselves with writings of all kinds in order to refute them. Yet not everyone should take this liberty for themselves any more than they would attempt to publicly debate with adversaries of any kind. The strength and weight of their errors are stuffed into their writings and we are unable to counter their writings just as much as their speeches.
1. Read Books Recommended by Godly Christians
Spend your time reading the books from which godly Christians have previously derived benefit or recommend. Such have (so to say) been tried and tasted and, like good food in which there is no danger, may therefore be used. There is no difficulty here, for it is easy to find out which books are commonly esteemed to be such.
2. Consider the Character of the Author
Consider the author to help decide whether such and such a book may be made use of. Other writings, preaching or otherwise will make it clear whether he is known to be sound and serious so as to give confidence to venture on the book. This is why the names of authors are inserted in their writings frequently (John’s name occurs frequently in the Book of Revelation). No man’s name ought to carry such weight that we digest anything without first testing it just because it comes from him. Yet it may give liberty to make use of their writings rather than those of another in whom there are no grounds of confidence.
3. Don’t Read Books and Authors Rejected by Godly Christians
Some books and authors are noted by the godly to be dangerous and unprofitable and have been found to be so by experience. Keep your distance from such lest you have to prove by your own experience what you will not learn from others.
4. Avoid Unknown Books and Authors
Where both books and authors are unknown it’s safer to abstain from reading them until those best able to discern discover what they are. In the meantime, spend your time reading those that are unquestionably profitable. This means that we waste no time. It may also be done in faith, knowing that we are not risking temptation (which would not be the case in reading unknown books).
People usually do this in choosing doctors for the body. They choose those who others have found to be skilful and useful, rather than take a risk on any who are yet unknown and no one has tried. Wisdom would say that no less should be required in making use of doctors or remedies for our spiritual edification; it is no less important than the other. If these things were observed in writing, reading, and hearing respectively, the Church of Christ might be preserved from many errors and offences. Many might be saved from much damaging and unprofitable writing and reading.
Some of the most highly commended books by those of Durham’s contemporaries are of course William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest and Samuel Rutherford’s Letters(The Loveliness of Christcontains quotations from the Letters). The Westminster Confession and Catechisms together with associated documents make vital reading. One of the documents is The Sum of Saving Knowledge, a valuable little book that strengthens assurance in explaining and applying the gospel. Durham wrote this together with David Dickson. Dickson also produced Truth’s Victory over Error to defend the Westminster Confession against many errors.
James Durham himself preached and published 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. These have been very highly commended. They are a rich presentation of Christ crucified as the “marrow of the gospel”. His commentary on the Song of Solomon explores the depths of communion with Christ in Christian experience. Spurgeon said that Durham was always good but in this commentary, he was at his best. He also discussed many practical aspects of church principles and order. His Treatise on Scandal also gives wise counsel in how to avoid stumbling others as well as in matters of church discipline and government.
“If you only read one book on the Covenanters this should be the one. Not only does Vos provide an insightful, readable and enjoyable account but he sets it in proper context taking us from the Reformation in 1560 through the Revolution period”. This commendation on the back cover is not mere exaggerated advertising, this book is probably the most concise yet thorough and readable introduction to the history of the Scottish Covenanters. Without wasting words Vos covers the important personalities, events, and issues necessary for understanding the importance and place of the Covenanters in the history of the church.
The first two chapters cover the period of the Reformation in 1560 up until 1637 and two further chapters cover the period up to 1660. The benefit of the narrative presented is that it does not become overloaded with commentary. The reflections that are offered are usually of value. For instance:
The modern notion that while doctrine should be Scriptural, worship and organization are matters of indifference to be arranged according to expediency or human preference was entirely foreign to the Westminster Assembly and the Church of Scotland of the period of the Second Reformation. Great stress was placed on the importance of Scriptural forms of worship and organization. Probably the Church of Scotland has suffered more than any branch of the Christian Church through the ages on account of insistence upon a pure and Scriptural form of organization (p.65)
This was the sort of resolve that was behind David Dickson’s reply to Cromwell’s soldiers that invaded the Church’s General Assembly in 1653. They asked him as moderator whether the Assembly was convened on the authority of Charles II or Cromwell. Dickson said, “we sit here by the authority of Jesus Christ and by the law of this land” (p.78).
Vos covers the period of persecution 1660-1688 highlighting the key events and personalities. His focus is on witness-bearing and so the various public declarations are given specific focus. The controversy surrounding the indulgences is carefully explained and issues such as the lawfulness of armed self-defence are discussed in a helpful way. Ultimately the brutal executions, imprisonment and fines would be brought to an end. Vos makes the important observation:
Years before the nation as a whole the Covenanters anticipated the inevitable revolution which came in 1688…They had appealed to the nation; they had appealed to God himself; and they awaited the outcome with grim determination not to yield or compromise, come what might. They stood for the rights of God, and endured as seeing Him who is invisible.(p.148-9)
…in a few short years, the Covenanters’ rejection of tyrannical rulers became the nation’s rejection, and what had been called treason and rebellion, became the deliberate act of the nation, in the Revolution of 1688 (p132)
Chapters added to the close of the book on the sole headship of Christ over the Church and the continuing obligation of the Covenants help to highlight the ongoing relevance of the struggle narrated in the book.
Dr. J.G. Vos (1903-1983) was a noted minister, missionary and professor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. He edited an influential periodical called the Blue Banner Faith and Life. This complete overview of Covenanter history was originally a thesis and first published in 1940. This edition has been re-typeset and typographical errors have been corrected. The index has also been expanded.
Not everything in this book is going to attract widespread agreement. As Andrew Quigley notes in the endorsement on the back cover “many may not agree wholeheartedly with the…position…presented in the third part of the book”. Vos devotes a chapter to assessing the Revolution Settlement in a way that is altogether negative. Ultimately the majority of Covenanters decided that despite the defects they were not obliged to sin in joining with the Church of Scotland at the Revolution. Vos spends time narrating the next few centuries of the history of those who did not join. Eventually they formed the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
This book will be useful for reference for those who wish to be informed or inform others about this period of Church history. As Andrew Quigley mentions, it “breathes life into one of, if not the most disturbing and exhilarating periods in Scottish Church history”.
The Scottish Covenanters: Their Origins, History and Distinctive Doctrines by J. G. Vos (Blue Banner Productions, 2018, 256pp)
Hope is essential. But hope is not a gut reaction, mere wishful thinking or putting a positive spin on events that seem negative. Hope and optimism are positive about the future but for different reasons. Abraham had a spiritual hope that was certain, when a hope that is of the flesh would have evaporated. Abraham “against hope believed in hope” based on God’s promise (Romans 4:18). The secular idea of hope involves people planning ways to achieve their chosen goal. But Abraham couldn’t do this. Optimism ignores negative circumstances but hope takes full account of it. Hope has a reason to depend on God working out the future, that reason is His promise.
It’s been said that we “can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope”. Hope is the oxygen of life. John Nevay (d. 1672) observes that “it is as necessary as breath: we cannot live or work without it”. Nevay was minister of Newmilns in Ayrshire. Along with hundreds of other ministers he was forced out of his charge by the government in 1662. Never was also cited before the Privy Council and then banished from the kingdom for refusing to own Charles II as head over the Church. He went on to minister to Scots exiles in Rotterdam, Holland. Even there, Charles’ government used their influence to try to get him expelled from Holland along with other Scottish ministers.
1. What is Hope?
Hope is a certain and patient expectation of things not seen which are from God and promised by Him (Romans 8:24). Hope, like faith, looks to the promise (Galatians 5:5). Whatever may appear to the contrary, it hopes against hope (Romans 4:18).
Hope rides out all storms. It is the anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. Its object is God in Christ (Jeremiah 4:8; 1 Timothy 1:1). Its operation is an earnest and patient expectation (Philippians 1:20; Romans 8:25). Its means of strength are the promise and Christ (Acts 26:6; Colossians 1:27). Its effects are establishing and quieting the soul (Psalm 42:5,11). It also purifies the heart (1 John 3:3).
2. What Makes Hope Attractive?
(a) It is an excellent grace. Scripture commends hope as good (2 Thessalonians 2:16); better (Hebrews 7:19); blessed (Titus 2:13); living (1 Peter 1:3); sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19). It is a sure possession of things not seen.
(b) It is focussed on excellent things. It is focussed on God Himself (Psalm 33:22); His mercy (Psalm 147:11); God’s Word, especially the promises (Psalm 130:4). It is also focussed on Christ and the gospel (Colossians 1:23).
3. How Does Hope Help Us?
(a) It Helps When No Other Grace Can. When God has withdrawn His presence, David can still hope in God and praise Him (Psalm 42).
(b) It Helps Us Joy and Delight in God. There is a rejoicing in hope (Romans 12:12 and Hebrews 3:6).
(c) It Helps Us Be Encouraged. It does not disappoint or put us to shame (Romans 5:5).
(d) It Helps Us Have Courage and Strength in God’s Work. The knowledge that labouring in the Lord’s work is not in vain is the knowledge of hope, which gives steadfastness (1 Corinthians 15:58).
(e) It Helps us Have Patience. There is a patient waiting for Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Patience makes us rest quietly on God (Psalm 37:7).
(f) It Helps Us Endure All Spiritual Warfare. It is the helmet of salvation which guards and raises the head (Ephesians 6:17).
(g) It Helps Us Find Help in God. Hope makes us take refuge in God. Hope and help in God go together (Psalm 146:5).
(h) It Helps Us Hope for Heaven. Salvation and eternal life come to us by the hope of salvation and eternal life (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is the hope laid up in heaven (Colossians 1:5).
(i)It Helps Us in Life and Death. We can see the excellence and blessedness of this hope when we consider the misery of those who live and die without it. To be without God is to be without hope in this world (Ephesians 2:12).
3. Where Does Hope Come From?
(a) It Comes From God. David credits God for his hope (Psalm 22:9).
(b) It Comes From God by Grace. Hope is from and through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16). That which is of grace is by the promise (Romans 4:16; Titus 1:2). Our God is the God of Hope because He is the giver of Hope (Romans 15:13). Hope is amongst the gifts of the Holy Spirit (compare l Corinthians 12:31 with 13:13).
(c) It Comes From Christ. Christ is our Hope and the Author of Hope as well as Faith (Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 12:2). Christ was raised from the dead and exalted that we might have hope (1 Peter 1:21).
(d) It Comes From the Gospel. The gospel as the grace of God brings a better hope (Hebrews 7:19; Titus 2:11).
4. What Distinguishes True Hope?
(a) It Looks to God Alone. God alone is our hope and portion (Lamentations 3:24).
(b) It Trusts in Christ Alone. It places no confidence in the flesh but rejoices in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3). Its expectation is only in free mercy.
(c) It is Certain. It leans on the undoubted truths of God revealed in the Scriptures. These bring comforts and are the grounds for the Christian’s hope (Romans 15:4). It is true that the believer’s hope may be shaken (as anchors often are) but the result is that it is fastening more securely than before.
(d) It Keeps the Soul Close to the Truth. This is so even during great opposition by others (Psalm 119:23, 81-82, 161; Isaiah 8:17).
(e) It Expels Vain Hopes. It presents the things it hopes for as so great that it makes all other hopes seem an empty thing. It purges the heart from all its love and desire for vain hopes.
(f) It Revives the Soul. It revives the soul with fresh strength in God when other things fail (Psalm 73:26).
(g) It is Lasting. It is sober and hopes to the end (1 Peter 1:13). Thus, the righteous has hope in his death (Proverbs 14:32).
(h) It Arises from Spiritual Experience. A rooted and well-grounded hope is the daughter of many different spiritual experiences (Romans 5:4).
Nevay’s 52 sermons on the Covenant of Grace are well summarised by Edwin Nisbet Moore in the book Our Covenant Heritage: the Covenanters’ Struggle for Unity in Truth. It also summarises a memoir of the Covenanter James Nisbet of Hardhill and draws lessons from the historical experiences for today. For more information and to purchase see here.
Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?
In his book (which develops the Reformation teaching about civil government), Rutherford asks some fundamental questions concerning civil government.
What is the purpose of government? The glory of God and the wellbeing of the people in both outward and spiritual terms.
Who or what brings government into being? It is brought into being by God and the people by means of a contract or covenant.
What is the nature of government? Government involves declaring, applying and enforcing the law.
What are the limits on government? Government cannot go beyond God’s law and command what is contrary to it or abuse the people.
He draws the answers out of the Bible using passages like Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Timothy 2:2. There are more principles than you might think in Scripture and it is necessary to handle them carefully. Ultimately civil government is from God, for His glory and limited by His law, but the power is given through the people for whose wellbeing it is to be exercised.
Rutherford’s discussions of these principles help us with a more detailed understanding of the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 23) on the matter of Civil Government. “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers”. “Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake; and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.”
Romans 13 tells us that “the powers that be are ordained of God”. But does this mean that their power and authority is unlimited so that whatever they command is right simply because they command it? Rutherford denies that Scripture supports such a view which can lead to totalitarian tyranny. Instead he says that although government derives its authority from God as the ultimate source, this power is limited in two ways.
It is limited by divine law and subordinate to it. The government is not above the law. “There is no lawful power to do evil”. Romans 13 tells us that the purpose of civil government is to be a terror to evil doers and an encouragement to those who do well (according to God’s law). Lawless governments are going beyond their power and authority and are not acting as the ministers of God when they command something contrary to the law of God. Such laws may be disobeyed and if necessary resisted because only God is lord of the conscience.
It is also limited by the people through whom power is lent unto rulers as subordinate to the people (see the article What is Political Sovereignty?). “No title could be given to any man to make him king, but only the people’s election”. Rutherford shows from the Old Testament how the consent and choice of the people was essential in making a ruler. Power is only lent to rulers and it can be recovered if they prove to abuse it and use it tyrannically.
It is important to have different levels of representatives involved in government and not just one sole ruler. These representatives can help to recover power when it is abused by the key ruler. It provides for checks and balances to ensure accountability. None of this means that people should rebel at the least abuse of power or matter with which they are displeased. They should suffer long before they take the step of revolution in self-defence and use all lawful and non-violent means of redress in the meantime. When they resist they do not resist the office but the person who occupies the office who has exceeded the limits of the power of that office.
The Piety of Samuel Rutherford
A VISIT TO THE PASTOR’S STUDY
William Shisko interviews Matthew Vogan of Reformation Scotland and Pastor Jim Campbell, a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The program gives you an introduction to the life and times of Samuel Rutherford, the 17th century Scottish pastor (who would serve as one of the Scottish representatives to the Westminster Assembly.
William Shisko interviews Matthew Vogan of Reformation Scotland and nd Dr. David Innes, professor of Political Science at the King’s College in Manhattan about Samuel Rutherford’s 1644 volume LEX REX and how it applies to the current political situation in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
We all long for a genuinely peaceful satisfaction in life. Yet in our society of conspicuous consumption, discontent and wanting more and better seem to be valued more. Lifestyle gurus know this and they urge people to be content with who they are and what they have whilst still striving for their goals. Think positively they say, practice gratitude (to no one in particular) be proud of what you have achieved. But this isn’t real contentment because it depends on ourselves and our feelings. It’s a temporary and often imagined state. We need something that transcends not only our immediate circumstances but also ourselves and this brief changeable life. We were not made to live for ourselves or the things of time. We were made for God and for eternity. That’s why we will never be truly content without godliness.
This is what the Apostle Paul says. People make the great mistake of “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5). Some think that personal gain is highest achievement of this life. Even in spiritual things as well as the things of this life we can be entirely focussed on personal gain. They are using spiritual things to advance self. We can think that we are advancing in godliness but actually the whole activity is all about ourselves. Paul says that we need to know that gain is not godliness but rather “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). These two things go together and cannot be separated. Godliness is profitable for all things both in this life and the life which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8). James Durham explains these points further in a series of sermons from which the following is extracted and updated.
1. What is True Contentment?
It leaves a person in quietness, calmness and composure of mind. They are so satisfied with God’s dealings that they think whatever they experience is best.
(a) It Involves Moderate Desires
Our inclinations, desires and plans in relation to ourselves and all the things of this world are moderated. This is the opposite of all inordinate desires for a change in our present lot. It keeps us from seeking “great things” for ourselves (Jeremiah 45:5). One who wants to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9) is the opposite of one who is content. This is because covetousness and contentment are opposed to each other (Hebrew 13:5).
Contentment is silent reverence for God’s way towards us. It restrains us from pressing inordinately after what we have or are able to acquire lawfully. Honest lawful labour is of course not opposed to contentment. We follow our calling as our duty rather than mainly to further our advantage or gain.
(b) It Involves Calm Submission to God’s Providence
It is opposed to fretful anxiety (Philippians 4:6 and Matthew 6:25). We are to follow the duties of our calling without being vexed or anxious about their success.
(c) It Involves Reverent Adoration of God’s Provision
Whether God provides little or much we are to be content with the things that we have (1 Timothy 6:8 and Hebrews 13:5).
(d) It Involves Tranquility of Mind Which Is Satisfied With God’s Dealings
Not only does it not fret against God’s dealings, it gives positive assent to them as being well satisfied with them. It is a sweetly serene frame of soul that makes a Christian say with the apostle, “I have all, I abound, I am full” (see Philippians 4:11-12 and 18; 2 Corinthians 6:8-10). Paul had as much contentment whether he had less or more of the things of the world.
2. How is Godliness Gain?
(a) It Extends to All Kinds of People
Its gain extends to individuals of every sex, age, rank, class, calling position and relationship.
(b) It Extends to All Kinds of Conditions
It is profitable in prosperity and in lack, making us always content in every condition. It is soundness to the bones in health and has an inward life and cheerfulness. In sickness and death it is eminently profitable. Its great gain and advantage beautifully blossom forth then, when all earthly comforts wither.
(c) It Extends to All Kinds of Activities
It is profitable in worship and the duties of our ordinary callings (Psalm 1:3).
(d) It Extends to This Life and Eternity
It has outward gain (so far as is fitting for themselves and those of their company). It always has inward gain through their secret converse with and walk before God (1 Timothy 4:8).
3. Why is There no Contentment Without Godliness?
If we look through the Scriptures, we will always find that it is the godly man that is the contented man. Godly Paul learned this great lesson and was taught this divine art. You can see from Philippians 4 and 2 Corinthians 6:3-4 how he arrived at this height. He could say “having nothing, yet possessing all things”. This is because contentment does not consist in the things we possess but in the right frame of mind. There is nothing that can put and keep us in such a right frame of mind except godliness.
(a) Godliness Shows Us the Emptiness of All Creature-Comforts
It sobers our spirit in pursuing creature-comforts saying to us to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:9). It limits our desires and intentions that we may be content even though we do not have many thousands or this or that among the fine things in the world.
(b) Godliness Moderates Our Affections in Using the Things of This World
It keeps us from being anxious in seeking and pursuing after the things of the world. It makes us quiet and satisfied in using and enjoying them. Without contentment through godliness a person is both vexed and perplexed in seeking and enjoying without satisfaction. This is because they seek and expect more from these things than they find.
But the godly man weeps as though he did not weep, rejoices as though he did not rejoice. He buys as though he did not possess and uses this world without abusing it (see 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Godliness is the living water spoken of by our Lord (John 4:13) which when someone drinks they do not thirst again. It quenches those disquieting, gasping desires after the things of the world which all naturally have.
(c) Godliness Sets Our Affections on More Excellent Things
It takes our affections off these things and sets them on another more noble, excellent and durable object which alone can satisfy. There is no true contentment nor solid soul-satisfaction to be had except in God and looking to Him aright. Godliness takes us away from the empty and broken cisterns that can hold no water and leads us to the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2).
It makes us consider that the Lord has a holy sovereign hand in everything and teaches us to be quiet and content. It teaches us to pray, praise, believe, rest on God and trust in Him for deliverances from all difficulties. Now and then the godly have some sweet manifestations of God to their soul. These mightily and marvellously outlast the impressions that the lack of outward things make on their spirits (see Psalm 4:6-7). It is impossible for the mind to be quiet and content without having some satisfying object effectually offered to it. Only godliness does this. Even heaven could not make us content unless we had godliness (if it were possible for someone to be there without it). This is because without it the mind would not be adapted to the place.
(d) Godliness Gives Us Access to All the Promises
Access to all the exceeding great and precious promises makes us content. “Godliness” (says the apostle) “is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7). Suppose a godly man in difficulty to get his dinner or supper and how to get his family provided for and sustained. When the children begin to weep for bread in beginning to hunger, he has a sweet word of promise to support his mind. God has said that He will never leave nor forsake him in Hebrews 13:5-6. This verse contains five negatives in the original language to maximise assurance.
The words that follow are: “we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me”. Godliness looks to what God has said and no one except the godly can say that God has said such things to them. The promise is in some ways as meaningful and satisfying (perhaps more) as if they had the rhing itself in their hand. They can say boldly “the Lord is my helper” and “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1) and so quiet and content themselves. There is no condition the godly may be in without a promise for it.
Godliness gives access and right to the promise. Exercising godliness gives the promise (as it were) a new and fresh lustre. The godly rest satisfied in the promise and neither having nor not having disturb their peace and contentment. They know that if necessary this pain and sickness and this affliction or other will be removed and this or that need supplied. If it continues it will be for their best. This is in accordance with Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose”. What more is needed? The godly may take hold of the promise boldly, no one else has the right to do this. Godliness does not meri the promise but God has made it the way by which we receive it. If you love and desire contentment, love godliness and exercise yourselves to it in a serious way.
(e) Godliness Helps Us Put Sin to Death
Lack of contentment of mind arises from some sin within which has not been put to death, as James tells us (James 4:1). Where godliness is in exercise, it keeps down and subdues pride and restrains lust. When corruption is ready to rise and fretting, impatience and discontent break out, godliness makes us say with Eli “It is the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:18). It makes us dare not give way to our corruption. The great thing that disquiets us is always something that is sinful. Godliness prevents or restrains that which leads to discontentment. It helps put sin to death and keep the mind calm.
4. Why is Contentment Necessary for Making Progress in Godliness?
The Holy Spirit joins these two things together to show that one helps and advances the other. A defect in either one is obstructive to the other. Those who are not exercised to godliness cannot have true contentment. Those who do not have contentment cannot advance in godliness. Will or can someone who is discontent pray effectually? It is impossible. It mars his liberty and boldness in prayer.
The discontented man cannot praise because praise flows from a satisfied mind and he lacks this. The discontented man cannot properly read, listen to sermons, or meditate because his mind is confused. Discontentment weakens the mind and makes us disinclined to and indisposed for godly exercise.
Look on and accept these two things as motives and helps to each other. Let them go hand in hand together. Neither of them will go alone, they must go together. Will I not then strive for contentment with my lot, whatever it may be? Will I not more than ever love and prize the connection between contement and godliness? Will I not through grace believe more thoroughly this great truth, that godliness with contentment is great gain? Let it stand as an eternal and unchangeable verity. Let it stand like a great and immovable rock in the midst of the sea against which the waves of the world’s contradictory, false and foolish notions beat and break themselves.
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Ideas have consequences. Those consequences may be traced in history, culture and the lives of individuals. How we think and what we assume shapes our view of the world and life in it. Consciously or unconsciously, people live under the influence of ideas formulated by others. To think biblically we need to know how to handle God’s Word. For the Bible to have a consequential influence on our faith and life we must know how to apply the implications of what we read. By consequences we don’t just mean practical influence. Consequences are also truths that necessarily follow from verses of Scripture even if they are not explicitly stated in them. We actually need to know how to arrive at these in practically applying Scripture in our lives. Coming to understand the Bible’s teaching in this way is something that we all do. It’s also the way in which Christ Himself used Scripture. But it needs some explaining, so let’s consider it further.
It may seem technical but it is a matter of daily importance for us all as to how we read the Bible and put into practice. It’s easiest of course to explain a Bible truth by just giving one or more proof texts. It’s always clearest when we can find a verse that clearly states, commands, forbids or by example approves something. But there can be important truths where this is not possible. For instance, what the Bible teaches about the Lord Jesus Christ. He is one person who is truly God and truly man. Yet these two whole natures are distinct and not mixed together. We will not find a Bible verse that states all of this. Instead we have to draw together the teaching of various Bible passages in order to find the truth that necessarily follows from them.
In this we are not imposing something on the Bible that isn’t there. Instead, we are drawing out the meaning that is truly contained but not explicitly stated in the text. We are only making explicit what the Bible has made implicit. We need this in order to understand what the Bible teaches about what we should believe and what God requires of us. For instance, if someone wanted to believe that matter is eternal we would show them how Genesis 1:1 teaches that it had a beginning and only God is eternal.
This is how the Lord Jesus used Scripture in Matthew 22:29-32. Christ’s charge against the Sadducees is not that they reject the express statement of Scripture but rather the necessary inference from Exodus 3:6 (cf. 3:1-10,12). In John 10:34 he quotes from Psalm 82:6 to draw an inference from a passage that does not expressly state His point. Another example is in Matthew 19:4,5 where Christ, quoting from Genesis 2:24, is being questioned on the matter of divorce. The text says nothing about divorce but Christ is drawing out a necessary inference concerning it. Other examples can be given such as Matthew 12:3-4 and John 7:23. It is also the way in which the apostles interpreted Scripture (Acts 2:25-32; Acts 13:35-37; Acts 17:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15:27 and 45; 1 Corinthians 9:9-14. The Westminster Confession of Faith refers to this method of using Scripture when it says:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture
The consequences inferred from Scripture must be legitimately drawn from Scripture. Comparing with the rest of Scripture helps to prove this. They must not be forced and arbitrary but something that follows logically. They must sufficiently and strongly prove the conclusion to be necessary. George Gillespie was one of those who helped compose this statement in the Westminster Confession. He points to the examples found in Scripture (as seen above), But he also explains further what is and (importantly) what is not meant by necessary consequence.
1. Necessary Inferences from Scripture May be Disputed
Good and necessary consequences from Scripture are not just conclusions that no one will dispute. If we embraced this principle of indisputable consequences, we would have to renounce many necessary truths which the Reformed Churches hold against the Arians, Anti-Trinitarians, Socinians, and Roman Catholics. This is because the consequences and arguments taken from Scripture to prove them are not accepted as good by the opponents.
2. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Are Not Trusting in Reason
We do not assert that human reason drawing a consequence from Scripture can be the grounds of our belief or conscience. The argument is made by human reason. But the consequence or conclusion itself is not believed nor embraced by the strength of reason. Rather it is because it is the truth and will of God.
3. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Use Sanctified Reason
There is a distinction between corrupt and renewed reason. It is not the same as natural reason arguing in divine things from natural and unregenerate principles, experience and the like. This is reason captivated and subdued to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). It judges divine things not by human but by divine rules and Scriptural principles no matter how opposed they may be to the wisdom of the flesh. Only sanctified reason will be convinced and satisfied with consequences and conclusions drawn from Scripture in things which concern the glory of God and spiritual matters.
4. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Differ from Good Inferences
The consequences drawn from Scripture are of two sorts. Some are necessary, strong and certain. Others are good consequences and prove something is consistent with Scripture although another thing may be also proved to be consistent with the Scripture in the same or another passage. These good inferences have very great use in a wide variety of things but for the present I speak of necessary consequences.
5. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Demonstrate the Bible’s Sufficiency
If we say that necessary consequences from Scripture cannot prove something to be required by God, we are inconsistent with the infinite wisdom of God. God is infinitely wise, and it would be blasphemous to maintain that anything can be drawn by a certain and necessary consequence from His holy Word which is not His will. This would make the only wise God as foolish man who cannot foresee all the things which will follow from his words. We must therefore maintain that it is the mind of God when something necessary follows from the Word of God.
6. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Avoid Absurdity
Various other great absurdities would result from denying necessary inferences from Scripture. How can it be proved that women may partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper unless we prove it by necessary consequence from Scripture? How can it be proved that this or that Church is a true church and its ministry a true ministry, and the baptism administered true baptism? No explicit Scripture will prove it, but necessary consequence will. How will this or that individual believer believe from Scripture that the Covenant of Grace and its promises belong to him in particular? Will Scripture prove this otherwise than by necessary consequence? Necessary consequence from Scripture will prove all this, but explicit Bible verses will not. Fasting and thanksgiving on this or that occasion is similar, God calls us to these duties and it is His will that we perform them. But this cannot be proved from Scripture except by necessary consequences.
Many Christians are good at working out what the words of Scripture mean but not always what they require of us. Sermons can also do more explaining than applying sometimes. If we want to understand and defend the whole counsel of God we need to be able to draw necessary inferences from Scripture. We cannot have a right understanding of what the Church should believe, how it should worship and be ordered without necessary inference. Neither can we understand how we are to live to the glory of God without searching the whole of Scripture and comparing its various parts.
By Good and Necessary Consequence by Ryan M McGraw (Reformation Heritage Books) is a helpful guide in this area. McGraw begins this work by noting the biblical foundation of the principle. He shows how it was used by some writers from the past. He also deals with the most significant objections to this principle. He treats the need for ‘necessary consequence’ in four major areas of theology, and concludes with certain practical applications that impact the Christian life and Church. More information here.
Perhaps many never ask why, though they always do it. Other people resist any formula that they think reflects unthinking ritual. Yet Christ commands this (John 14:13-14). We ought certainly to think about what words we use in prayer. Praying in Christ’s name is important because our prayers must be distinctly Christian. But praying in Christ’s name means vastly more than merely mentioning His name. It’s even possible to say “Lord, Lord” without the heart being yielded to Christ (Matthew 7:21). This is a question that takes us to the heart of true prayer. We can only come to God through Christ as Mediator. We can only ask anything in prayer for Christ’s sake.
It’s interesting that the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q180) asks the question “What is it to pray in the name of Christ?” The answer given is “To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation”. This is a helpful summary. John Brown of Wamphray further develops these themes with practical help as well as a fully biblical explanation.
1. What Praying in Christ’s Name Assumes
(a) A Sense of Our Unworthiness
We are convinced our sinfulness, vileness, and distance from God because of sin, wickedness, and rebellion. We cannot think to approach God with acceptance in ourselves. We have nothing to commend ourselves to God who is a consuming fire to all who are lying in their sins and not yet reconciled to Him through the mediator. Without this we and all our acts of worship must be an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8, 29; 21:27; 28:9). We must renounce everything within ourselves as any grounds of access to God or hope of acceptance.
(b) Faith in Christ as Mediator
We must have knowledge of and faith in Christ as mediator. He alone and none else in heaven or in earth is appointed to this office, or is qualified and equipped for it.
(c) Faith in Christ’s Work
We must know what Christ has done to make peace and to open a door of access to the Father. We can have boldness and confidence in our access to God and the throne of grace because Christ as a priest has offered a sacrifice of reconciliation to atone and reconcile us to God. He is daily interceding on the satisfaction offered and accepted. He presents Himself in heaven for us to plead and advocate our cause.
(d) Being Reconciled to God through Christ
We must have fled to Him as the only city of refuge and peacemaker and laid hold on Him by faith. We can never make right use of Christ in a particular request if we have not laid the weight of our whole soul on Him.
(e) Asking According to Christ’s Will
Christ will not allow us to take His name in vain but unquestionably we would if we ask anything in His name which He would not approve or is contrary to His law and command.
(e) Believing this is the Only Way of Access
Only through Him and His name will we and our prayers be accepted before God. If our hearts hesitate and doubt concerning this we cannot ask rightly in the name of Christ. This is because we cannot ask with confidence that asking in His name will not be in vain. We must believe firmly that whatever we ask the Father in Christ’s name He will do it (John 14:13 and 16:24).
2. What is Involved in Praying in Christ’s Name?
(a) Drawing Encouragement to Pray from Christ
Through Christ the throne of God has become to us a throne of grace and mercy. We should be encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace for help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16). He has reconciled us to the Father by His blood and purchased mercy, pardon, and grace to us by His death and sufferings. He stands before the throne as our intercessor and advocate, there to procure favour for us and to plead our cause and make our prayers acceptable. These things should be our sole ground of encouragement in approaching God.
We see many things, indeed, all things wrong in us, which may discourage or dishearten us from drawing near to God. Yet this glorious name of Christ and His mediatorial office allure and force us forward despite all discouragements.
(b) Drawing Confidence and Boldness in Prayer from Christ
There is a boldness and confidence as opposed to fears, fainting, and doubting. The basis for this is Christ, His name, offices and work. The boldness and confidence with which the apostle would have us approaching (Hebrews 4:16) is the boldness and confidence of a child that comes to the father and tells all that is in his heart, concealing nothing and without fear or shame, whoever be present. And this must be founded on Christ alone and on what He has done to procure this to us. When we base our boldness and confidence in drawing near to God only on Christ, then we ask in the name of Christ.
(c) Drawing Hope of Acceptance from Christ
When we ask in Christ’s name, we must roll ourselves as sinners on Him and come to God in His arms so that He may make us acceptable (for we must be accepted in the beloved). Thus, the enmity and wrath being taken away, our petitions may have free access to the throne of grace.
(d) Drawing Strength in Prayer from Christ
We ask in His name when we draw up our petitions in Him or by His Spirit in us, and when we advance with them in Him, as going to God in the hand of Christ, by the Spirit, and so roll all our difficulties and encumbrances on Him, or whatever stands in our way, either to hinder us from coming or to retard us or discourage us in us going. Then do we pray in His name, when leaning to His promises of strength and through bearing, we adventure over the belly of all discouragements and of felt weakness and unworthiness.
(e) Drawing Our Hope of Acceptance from Christ’s Work
Christ is the one mediator and the only peacemaker. Only He makes us and all our service to be acceptable to the Father. When we ask in His name, we put our petitions in His hand so that He may present them to the Father and offer them up with incense out of His censer (Revelation. 8:3). Our hopes will not fail us, nor will we conclude the matter desperate, even if we discover much guilt and unworthiness in ourselves. These grounds are the same whatever we may be. Christ’s merits abide fresh with the Father, however it may be with us.
(f) Drawing Confidence and Boldness in Prayer from Christ
This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 John 5:13–14). When we ask in His name, we rest confident that our prayers will go into the throne of grace through Him who is our advocate with the Father. All our hopes lean on Him and here we rest and are quiet.
3. How Do We Pray in Christ’s Name?
(a) Consider Our Unworthiness
We must remember constantly what we are by nature – worthless sinners at a distance from God, having nothing to commend us to God except misery and poverty. Nor do we have any grounds in ourselves to expect admission to God or His favour and acceptance.
(b) Consider that Christ’s Work is to Make Us Accepted
Christ’s office and work is to bring sinners to the Father and make them accepted. He presents their requests and cause in heaven. He is appointed by the Father for this and will be faithful to Him that appointed Him. He is a faithful high priest and will faithfully perform His work.
(c) Consider that Christ Delights to Help Us
Jesus Christ has great delight in this as man with the true and tender affections bowels of a man. During His days on earth He was tempted and experienced in Himself the pain, pressure, grief and powerful necessity that we suffer, though without sin. It is like the mother’s affections which cause her to run to help her beloved child in trouble with delight and readiness.
(d) Consider that the Father is Pleased with Christ
The Father, having appointed Him to be high priest, intercessor, and advocate will certainly be well pleased with Him in discharging these offices. He will accept all such as come to Him thus and make them and their supplications welcome. He will prevail at the court of heaven for all He speaks for, and therefore that all the requests which He presents will be heard in due time.
(e) Consider Christ’s Work as Mediator
We should make use of Christ in all His offices. Particularly, as ushering our way to the Father on the ground of what He has done. He has purchased freedom of access to us to approach with confidence as resting on Him and trusting in His merits.
(f) Consider Christ’s Sympathy Towards Us
That we should eye Him as a tenderhearted, compassionate, sympathizing high priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And on this ground we should approach with warmed affections, confidence, freedom of spirit, cheerfulness, and alacrity, making all our requests known through Him.
(g) Consider that Christ Will Never Forget to Intercede
Christ will act the part of a tender-hearted, loving, and sympathizing high priest, intercessor, and advocate. He will cheerfully welcome us as though waiting to receive our prayers to put in His censer and to be employed by us in these His offices.
(h) Consider that We Can Always have Confidence in Christ Despite Ourselves
We need not be up or down in our hopes and expectations of acceptance according to our spiritual condition. The ground of our acceptance always remains the same; it is not in ourselves but in Him with whom the Father is well pleased.
(i) Consider Christ Alone
We expect what we desire only on His account who has purchased and procured all to us that we need. We do this despite whatever we may observe in ourselves which would weaken our hope and expectation, or make us despair of receiving a good answer.
(j) Consider the Answer to be Guaranteed
Laying our whole weight on Christ and on His merits, we act in faith in the specific matter that we ask. We leave ourselves and our requests wholly on Christ, putting them in His hand and trusting in Him who is a faithful high priest and tender of all the concerns of His people. We wait in confidence and hope for a good return in God’s own time, only in and through Jesus Christ.
Thus we see that to ask in the name of Christ is something far different that merely to mention His name in prayer, as to say, “Grant us, Lord, this or that for Christ’s sake,”. Many may be satisfied with this and think that when they have barely made mention of His name, they have done enough.
This blog article is updated and extracted from John Brown of Wamphray’s very full book on prayer called Godly Prayer and its Answers. The book is available from James Dickson Books in Kilsyth.
More than a quarter of Christians in the UK never pray according to a poll. Of those who do pray: only 19% pray daily, 10% hardly ever and 13% only in times of crisis. The poll was commissioned by Tear Fund. Perhaps the figures are not so surprising given that almost half of those identifying themselves as Christian also say they never attend Church. It seems likely, however, that prayer is in danger of being squeezed to the edges of our lives. What is it that makes us liable to downgrade the importance of prayer in everyday life?
John Brown of Wamphray wrote a very full book on prayer. It is published as Godly Prayer and its Answers. He deals in a practical way with the nature of prayer, its difficulties and how we are to seek for answers to prayer. In stressing that it is a sin to neglect prayer he gives a full forty biblical reasons as to which this is the case. He even demonstrates that those who are unregenerate are obliged to pray. He makes it unavoidably clear that someone cannot claim to be a Christian if they never pray.
1. If We Are God’s Children We Will Pray. Their adoption and being brought into God’s family as His near children lays this obligation on them to cry to God and to pray to Him as their Father.
2. If We Have a New Nature We Will Pray. Their new nature inclines their hearts Godward. When Saul is made a convert, he is brought to his knees and found a praying man (Acts 9:11). The new converts continued steadfastly in prayers (Acts 2:42).
3. If We Are a Holy Priesthood We Will Pray. The saints are a holy priesthood and must by office offer up spiritual sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5). Prayer is a chief part of their spiritual sacrifice, together with praises (v. 7). We read of the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psalm 116:17) and of the sacrifice of praise (Jer. 33:11).
4. If We Are Not of the Wicked We Will Pray. It is the description of the wicked that they do not call on God (Psalm 5:2, 4; 14:24, 10; 79:6; Jeremiah 10:25; Romans 3:9). And on the other hand, it is the description of God’s children that they call on God (1 Corinthians 1:2). David says, “I am in prayer” (Psalm 109:4), as if he had been wholly devoted to and taken up with that work and duty, and nothing else.
5. If We Are God’s Servants We Will Pray. Their relation to God as His servants carries this with it (see Psalm 116:16, 17).
But if all of this is the case, why do Christians need so many prompts and reasons to urge them to pray? We want to think of the hindrances to prayer as outside of us but the truth is they are mostly within us.
1. Cherished Sin
When any sin is yielded to and not resisted, the heart is made more unfit for any Christian work. We are not in the right frame for approaching God in a holy and humble way. He is a holy God and will be sanctified by all that draw near Him. We may keep up the form of the duty, but it is superficially performed without the delight the soul had previously. It becomes a cumbersome burden readily laid aside [see Psalm 66:18 and Psalm 32:3].
2. Paralysing Guilt
When the conscience is awakened after committing some sin and its dreadful guilt is presented to us the soul afraid to draw near to God. Guilt stares it in the face, and it is driven back and dare not approach the holy and righteous God. Satan can say it is in vain to seek the Lord, for He has no respect for the sacrifice of fools. He will not hear a sinner.
Thus there can be no hearty and cheerful drawing near to God, as long as guilt is thus charged and the blood of Christ not applied by faith to wash away that iniquity. The soul trembles to think of approaching God, lest it be consumed. The Lord must open the door of grace and show the freedom of the covenant and lead the soul to the fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.
3. Sense of Unworthiness
There may be a deep sense of unworthiness and inward abominableness of heart by nature. This may cause some (when not mindful of the richness of free grace in the new covenant through Jesus Christ) to be afraid. They think to themselves, “Shall or dare such a vile wretch as I am presume to open my mouth to God?” Dare such a one draw near to Him who is of purer eyes than that He can behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13)? Thus, as Peter in the like case said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), so they say, “We must not draw nigh to God, for we are sinful men.” Though the reasoning is bad, yet it may too much prevail with weak souls to keep them from this duty.
4. Sense of Distance From God
A deep sense of the greatness, holiness, purity, justice, and glory of God may have the same effect.
5. Indulging Neglect
When they on one occasion or other give way to the neglect of this duty, their praying spirit wears off. Their neglect continues. More difficulties stand up in the way. Ultimately their neglect turns to a listlessness and lack of delight in the duty. They have an unwillingness to set about it until the Lord sends some alarm to awaken them. When Peter and the other disciples with Christ in the garden neglected the duty at the first call of Christ when He bid them watch and pray, they became even more unfit after further calls.
6. Superficial Formality
When Christians do not take care to watch over their heart in prayer and to guard against formality, all seriousness wears away. If it is only done superficially, it soon becomes an unnecessary task. Satan can quickly make it become a heavy burden if it is already an unnecessary task. When the soul judges the duty of prayer a burden, it can very easily be induced to neglect it for some time unless conscience convicts. The longer the duty is neglected, the heart is more and more unwilling and unfit for it.
7. Worldly Mindedness
Worldly mindedness is a great enemy to prayer and a praying spirit. The cares of the world choke the word so that it cannot grow up in the soul (Matthew 13). Worldly mindedness takes away watchfulness—and a praying and a watching spirit go together (Luke 21:36). When the heart is taken up with the things of this life (Luke 21:54), the soul cannot watch and pray.
8. Excessive Sorrow
Excessive grief and sorrow for any outward reason may prevent the soul from praying or at least with heartiness and cheerfulness. This is one reason why the disciples could not pray in the garden, despite the great urgency of the situation (Matthew 26:43; Luke 22:45). Their eyes were heavy, and they were sleeping for sorrow.
9. Neglecting Prompts
The Spirit is provoked to withdraw when we do not respond to His promptings to pray. When He withdraws, deadness follows. Either the duty is laid aside or it becomes an unbearable burden. The apostle joins these two together: “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks…. Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:17–19). If we want to be kept in a praying spirit, we must be careful not to quench the Spirit.
When someone has been praying some considerable time for some special mercy or other and finds no answer (or answer that satisfies them) corruption may boil up in the heart. Satan may suggest that it is useless to be praying in this way. The soul may listen to this and out of a discontented, displeased attitude, resolve to abandon prayer (Isaiah 43:12).
11. False Notions
Errors concerning prayer may have been imbibed e.g. that we are not obliged to pray except when we are conscious of the Spirit’s moving us and setting us going. We may think we are therefore excused from this duty. The Lord may be provoked to let such live many months if not years without the free graces they desire for such a duty. There may then be a long neglect of this duty followed by an inward aversion. If at any time they are moved to the duty, He may allow their own spirit instead of His to set them going. This will never beget a spiritual delight in the duty.
12. Spiritual Laziness
A spirit of laziness may seize a person and they may give way to it and not stir themselves up to call on the Lord and take hold of Him (Isaiah 64:7). They become daily more and more unfit for the duty and more unwilling to do it. Those on whom this spiritual sloth seizes find it a grief and a weariness to do that which otherwise was a most easy thing (Proverbs 26:15).
People may depend more on their gift in prayer than Jesus for fresh influences and supply of grace. The Lord in His righteousness may withdraw the ordinary influences of His Spirit and leave them to wrestle with the duty alone. Not finding the help they once experienced, they see that they cannot pray as formerly. This may cause inward grief (not due to the original cause of the withdrawing) and create dislike for the duty of prayer. Thus, corruption working in the soul and Satan using the situation to his advantage it may bit by bit be laid aside. Inward discontentment and pride may make them reluctant to pray because they see they cannot engage in it as before. They are now ashamed to pray, especially before others.
While this may seem all rather negative, we must recognise that prayer can be a struggle at times. We need to identify the things that make it difficult in order to deal with them. Prayerlessness can seriously damage your spiritual health. Brown’s book is overwhelmingly positive in bringing out many encouragements to pray. He shows what an encouraging thing it is to pray in Christ’s name and how God is glorified in Christ in answering our prayers. We “ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
This blog article is updated and extracted from John Brown of Wamphray’s very full book on prayer called Godly Prayer and its Answers. The book is available from James Dickson Books in Kilsyth.
Could there be any question more important? But you don’t hear a lot of people asking it these days. Some people think it’s unhelpful, unsettling and unnecessary to ask such a question. But if we are wrong on the matter of greatest personal concern to us––wouldn’t we want to know? Sometimes people think it’s just a case of believing the gospel and seek to convince struggling souls to do this. But you can believe these things to be true and still not be assured they apply to you. Perhaps we are also functioning at a low level of assurance. The truth is that we cannot expect to have high levels of assurance while we have low levels of obedience. The more we find the evidences of faith working by love in our lives and hearts, the more assurance we can enjoy.
One book in particular has been of supreme help in this area: William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest. The subject of the book is assurance of salvation and it seeks to give various tests by which someone may know that he is a Christian and in doing so also sets out very clearly the way of salvation.
“Great Interest” doesn’t just mean that the book deals with the matter of greatest importance to a Christian and his chief concern. It is a legal term and means to have a valid stake or share in something to our benefit. Guthrie’s book deals with how the Christian may know whether he has a valid legal claim. The claim that matters is one within the Will and Testament or Covenant that the Lord Jesus Christ graciously makes with His people. Guthrie helps us to put ourselves in a courtroom trial where we are under Scripture as a judge to determine if our claim is true.
Guthrie opens the book with a concern that there are many “pretending, without ground, to a special interest in Christ”. On the other hand many others “who have good ground of a claim to Christ are not established in the confidence of His favour, but remain in the dark without comfort, hesitating concerning the reality of godliness in themselves”. This state of affairs prompts two questions – 1. How can someone know if they are in Christ and whether or not he may lay genuine claim to God’s favour and salvation? 2. What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest?
Guthrie’s book was highly commended by John Owen. He said that it contained more theology than everything he himself had written. Thomas Chalmers said it was the best book he had ever read. It was the favourite book of Scottish homes for many generations. Here is a video of someone explaining how it was helpful to them personally.
1. Assurance is Possible
It is important to be clear that assurance is possible, and more easily attained than many realise. It is of the utmost importance to be “savingly in covenant with God”. Scripture must be the rule by which we are able to judge whether or not this is so.
Only a few, however, seem to reach this assurance. There are many different reasons for this:
Far too many are ignorant of the different ways in which God works.
Others deal deceitfully with God and their own conscience in holding on to sin.
There is also a lazy apathy that resists the effort of examining ourselves, but it is “a work and business which cannot be done sleeping”. Assurance must be laboured after, it is not something that falls effortlessly into our laps.
Many are ignorant concerning what evidence will satisfy the quest for assurance, despite the fact that it is clear in Scripture.
Some are looking for entirely the wrong evidences, such as attaining sinlessness or continuous rapturous prayer.
Many that are struggling to attain assurance can make the following mistakes: (a) they think that all who are in Christ know that they are; (b) they think that all who have assurance have the same degree of certainty; (c) they think that this persuasion should be continuous; (d) they think that a person must be able to answer every objection against their assurance.
Others believe that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost and put themselves beyond pardon. Guthrie defines what this is (and what it is not) very carefully and helpfully from the Scriptures.
Guthrie speaks of the different ways in which people are drawn to Christ. Some indeed may be drawn lovingly or called suddenly in a very direct way. The “ordinary” way involves being humbled by conviction during which the conscience is awakened till the soul is full of concern about salvation and driven from resting in anything of themselves, to casting their all on Christ for salvation. This is carefully distinguished from the temporary convictions of those that fall away.
2. Faith and the New Birth as Evidence
The first evidence that Guthrie calls for in this trial is faith. Faith is vital in the matter of assurance – indeed all other marks are worthless without it. Yet it can be mistaken. It is not as difficult or mysterious as men sometimes think; the Scriptures speak of it as a simple trusting, resting, and looking. It can be found in various marks of submissive obedience and devotion to Christ. “If men but have an appetite, they have it; for they are blessed that hunger after righteousness”. Thus Guthrie identifies the marks of true faith but also distinguishes it from false faith.
The second set of evidence called upon relates to the new birth. There is a total renewal when a man comes to saving faith in Christ. In mind, heart and will he is changed from being self-oriented and self-serving to serving and glorifying God. Attitudes to all aspects of life are renewed whether it is work or worship, relationships, recreation or eating and drinking. There is a respect to all of God’s commandments, submission to and valuing of Christ alone that hypocrites never have despite the outward similarities with believers that they may seem to possess.
3. Getting Assurance
The great question in the minds of many, however, is why some believers doubt. Guthrie opens this up in considerable depth dealing with God’s sovereignty and our own responsibility in these matters. He speaks of twelve areas where different levels of experience may be enjoyed but where assurance may be obtained.
Part Two of the book also proceeds to deal with the second question raised: What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest? Many may believe that they have closed in with Christ in the gospel very few, however, really have. Yet there is a duty that lies on all under the terms of the Covenant of Grace as it is preached to all. There must be a “coming” on our part. “God excludes none if they do not exclude themselves”. “It is a coming on our part, and yet a drawing on His part”. What is it to close with God’s offer of salvation in the preached covenant? It means to recognise the full guilt of sin, our need of salvation and the impossibility of any salvation outwith God’s appointment in Christ. We must “quit and renounce all thoughts of help or salvation by our own righteousness”. Faith is humble though resolute, hearty rather than mere mental assent though it must depend upon knowledge.
4. Personal Covenanting
The Covenanters and Puritans found great benefit in personal covenanting with God. Usually this involved explicitly accepting of Christ and confessing sin and expressing satisfaction with the gospel way of salvation. The covenant was often renewed at Communion seasons and times of difficulty or desertion. Guthrie counsels those who lack assurance to make a covenant explicitly with God, writing down and speaking their acceptance in order that they may return to it in times of doubting. The author patiently removes any obstacles or objections that readers may have about covenanting, showing that it has clear scriptural warrant. The covenant was to be no mere decision card that was signed off unthinkingly. It was a solemn holy vow before God dealing with our never-dying souls to be taken with due meditation and consideration. Guthrie compares the covenant to marriage vows between the soul and Christ, as a way of formally confessing with the mouth the same covenant that the believer makes in the heart.
5. A Summary of the Book
The following is a helpful summary of The Christian’s Great Interest prepared by William Guthrie himself. The language has been slightly updated for the benefit of understanding.
Q. 1. What is the great business a person has to do in this world? A. To make sure of a saving interest in Christ Jesus and to live in a way that is consistent with it.
Q. 2. Do all the members of the visible church not have a saving interest in Christ? A. No, in truth only a very few of them have it.
Q. 3. How will I know if I have a saving interest in Him? A. Ordinarily the Lord prepares His own way in the soul by a work of humbling and shows you your sin and misery. He makes you so concerned about it that you long for Christ Jesus, the physician.
Q. 4. How will I know if I have got a true sight of my sin and misery? A. A true sight of sin makes a person take salvation to heart above anything in this world. It makes them reject all relief in themselves, seen in their best things. It makes Christ who is the Redeemer, very precious to the soul. It makes a person afraid to sin afterwards and makes them content to be saved on any terms that God pleases.
Q. 5. By what other ways may I discern a saving interest in Him? A. By the heart going out seriously and affectionately towards Him as He is held out in the gospel. This is faith or believing.
Q. 6. How will I know if my heart goes out after Him aright, and that my faith is true saving faith? A. Where the heart goes out aright after Him in true and saving faith, the soul is pleased with Christ alone above all things, and is satisfied with Him in all Him three offices, to rule and instruct as well as to save; and is content to cleave to Him, whatever difficulties may follow.
Q. 7. What other mark of a saving interest in Christ can you give me? A. Those who are in Christ savingly are new creatures. They are graciously changed and renewed in some measure in the whole man, and in all their ways are pointing towards all the known commands of God.
Q. 8. What if I find sin now and then prevailing over me? A. Although every sin deserves everlasting vengeance, yet, if you are afflicted for your failings and confess them with shame of face to God, honestly resolving to strive against them from now on, and seek pardon from Christ, you will obtain mercy and your interest stands sure.
Q. 9. What will the person do who cannot lay claim to Christ Jesus or any of those marks spoken of? A. Let them not rest until they make sure of a saving interest in Christ.
Q. 10. How can someone make sure of an interest in Christ if they never had a saving interest in Him before? A. He must take his sins to heart and the great danger into which they have brought him. He must take to heart God’s offer of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus and heartily accept God’s offer by retaking himself to Christ, the blessed refuge.
Q. 11. What if my sins are especially heinous and worse than the ordinary? A. Whatever your sins may be, if you will close with Christ Jesus by faith, you will never enter into condemnation.
Q. 12. Is faith in Christ only required of men? A. Faith is the only condition on which God offers peace and pardon to men; but be assured, faith, if it be true and saving, will not be alone in the soul, but will be attended with true repentance, and a thankful pursuit of conformity to God’s image.
Q. 13 How will I be sure that my heart does accept God’s offer and Christ Jesus? A. Go and make a covenant explicitly and speak it all by word to God.
Q. 14 How will I do that? A. Set apart some portion of time, and, having considered your own lost condition, and the remedy offered by Christ Jesus, work up your heart to be pleased and close with that offer, and say to God expressly that you accept that offer and for Him to be your God in Christ. Give yourself up to Him to be saved in His way, without reservation or exception in any way and that from now on you will wait for salvation in the way that He has appointed.
Q. 15 What if I break with God afterwards? A. You must resolve in His strength not to break, and watch over your own ways, and put your heart in His hand to keep it and if you break, you must confess it to God, and judge yourself for it, and flee to the Advocate for pardon, and resolve to do so no more. You must do this as often as you fail.
Q. 16 How will I come to full assurance of my interest in Christ, so that it may be beyond question? A. Learn to lay your weight on the blood of Christ, and study purity and holiness in all kinds of conduct. Pray for the witness of God’s Spirit to join with the blood and the water. His testimony added to these will establish you in the faith of an interest in Christ.
Q. 17. What is the consequence of such closing with God in Christ by heart and mouth? A. Union and communion with God, every good here and His blessed fellowship in heaven forever afterwards.
Q. 18. What if I slight all these things and do not lay them to heart to put them in practice? A. The Lord comes with His angels, in flaming fire, to render vengeance to them who do not obey His gospel. Your judgement will be greater than that of Sodom and Gomorrah and so much the greater that you have read this book, for it will be a witness against you in that day.
Thomas Chalmers gave a good summary of the book in his commendation. He spoke of Guthrie’s “intimate acquaintance…with the spiritual life, and his clear, affectionate, and earnest expositions of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel”. It is also full of “powerful and urgent appeals to the conscience” that awaken concern about this matter of “infinite importance”. It seeks to avoid the possibility of the reader continuing to deceive themselves while constraining them to seek after full assurance. Guthrie himself closes this plain yet deep and short but full little book with a sublime crescendo.
O blessed bargain of the new covenant, and thrice blessed Mediator of the same! Let him ride prosperously and subdue nations and languages, and gather in all His jewels, that honourable company of the firstborn, that stately troop of kings and priests, whose glory it shall be to have washed their garments in the blood of that spotless Lamb, and whose happiness shall continually flourish in following Him whithersoever He goes, and in being in the immediate company of the Ancient of days, one sight of whose face shall make them in a manner forget that ever they were on the earth. Oh, if I could persuade men to believe that these things are not yea and nay, and to make haste towards Him, who hasteth to judge the world, and to call men to an account, especially concerning their improvement of this gospel. ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus.’
All of Guthrie’s teaching and pastoral experience were poured into The Christian’s Great Interest – his only book. The remarkable fact that is has gone through more than eighty editions and been translated into several languages testifies to its value. This book describes in a clear and attractive style what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. In the first part, he looks at how someone is drawn to Christ, what the evidences are of true saving grace, and the difference between a true Christian and a hypocrite. In the second part he describes how to ‘close’ with Christ, and deals with various objections, difficulties, and doubts.
2017 was the year of Reformation with the 500th anniversary. There were no shortage of books about that. It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. They can be useful lists and reviews. Here are the best books published during the year that mined the riches of the Second Reformation.
Naturally, we could highlight more than one or two Reformation Scotland resources but we will look at what others have produced instead.
Sadly, we all have to deal with situations of terminal illness. In Conversations with a Dying Man we listen over the shoulder of Samuel Rutherford while he counsels a young nobleman on his deathbed. It is thought-provoking and soul-stirring extended account of one man whose conscience had been hardened but later became inflamed with guilt. Aged only 35, John Gordon must now come to terms not only with terminal illness but also a burden of guilt.
In these conversations, Samuel Rutherford lovingly and faithfully administers the conviction and comfort the young nobleman needs. True peace and assurance are carefully distinguished from false hope. It is valuable for all of us but especially those nearing eternity and those who seek to give them spiritual help.
Rutherford must have many conversations with him in order to bring him to true repentance. Sometimes he must rebuke him as well as administer comfort. His faithful pastoral care brings the conscience of John Gordon from despair to joy unspeakable. He died “sweetly and holily, and his end was peace”.
2. God’s Ambassadors
The Westminster Assembly didn’t just produce documents it actively reformed the ministry in England. This is the story of how they went about this practically. How did they seek to improve and reform preaching? This book also shows how they approached preaching and biblical interpretation in their own practice. These may well be the most valuable parts of the book. There are chapters on training and ordination. Christ-centred preaching and exegesis is also ably demonstrated.
This is an important and far-reaching study of the reforms achieved by the Westminster Assembly with much to teach ministers today. It is written by the man who knows most about the Westminster Assembly and its work.
“Every day we may see some new thing in Christ” (Samuel Rutherford).
It has been frequently observed that there are 365 Letters by Samuel Rutherford. That makes it possible to read one each day of the year. This book provides brief thoughts for each day of the year, selected from the “most remarkable series of devotional letters that the literature of the Reformed Church can show” (Principal John Macleod).
Here is spiritual counsel and insight to give you renewed strength for each day. Each day presents a distinct opportunity to glorify God since “as many suns as God maketh to rise upon you, ye have as many new lives” (Samuel Rutherford).
This new book is highly recommended and you can purchase it here.
4. Ruling Elders and Deacons
It would be hard to find a more thorough or gracious treatment of this vital subject. It is dangerous to any Church to have ministers who are not called and qualified for their office. We must be equally concerned to have worthy men as elders and deacons. Zeal for the Lord’s honour and the gospel, love to souls and fear of the Lord’s judgment will make this a priority.
James Guthrie is concerned that many elders and deacons are neither aware of their duty nor conscientious in doing it. This book provides a straightforward explanation of the purpose and duties of these offices. There are various encouragements as well as crisp clarity and searching requirements. You can purchase it here.
Which preacher from the Second Reformation would Spurgeon most like to have listened to? James Durham; a careful expositor with searching application and a winsome manner. You cannot go back to those times any more than Spurgeon, but if you want the next best thing you should obtain these volumes.
One volume contains 72 sermons on Isaiah 53 drawing out very fully the gospel of Christ crucified. The other volume collects a wide range of sermons, some which have not been published and others which have not been reprinted for centuries. This volume contains “The Blessedness of the Death of Those That Die in the Lord,” “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” (Communion sermons), “Heaven upon Earth” (on conscience), “The Great Gain of Contenting Godliness,” and “The Great Corruption of Subtle Self,” as well as miscellaneous other sermons.