Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

It’s no difficult thing to say or type the words “I love Jesus”. Many do this in their social media profiles or posts. They inform us that they love Jesus, and many other things too. The claim seems to have no context other than this person’s idea of Christ and the terms on which they wish to love Him. It may mean respect and strong interest or even follow, worship and obey. These are words, however, that can never be casually used by those that have come to understand the full measure and wonder of being savingly united to Christ. There is in fact no greater claim. We may prove the sincerity of such assertions to Christ Himself, ourselves and others in various ways. One of the clearest is in our attitude to sin. The extent of our love to Christ may be measured by the extent of our hatred of sin.

It has often been said that the believer should no more love sin than the wife should love her husband’s murderer or the murder weapon. The sting of death is sin and believers’ sins were the sting in Christ’s death. The cross shows us what sin is and what it deserves, it also shows us Christ’s love to its greatest extent and provides the greatest reasons for loving Christ. How much do we really value Christ and His sufferings on the cross if we are casual about sin?

James Durham focussed on these themes in preaching 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. These make an extensive volume but they are a treasure trove of the essence of the gospel of Christ crucified considered from many different perspectives. In expounding Isaiah 53:4 Durham notes the undervaluing of Christ in the words “we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted”. The sin of not loving and valuing Christ was made even worse by despising Him when His greatest love was poured out on the cross. Though Christ did this Durham says, we abused it and made it the rise of the greatest malice. There is nothing that gives sin a deeper dye than that it is against grace and condescending love, against Christ when suffering for us, and offered to us. That makes sin exceedingly sinful and abominable. It is a fearful thing to despise Christ crucified (the only remedy for sin) offered to us in the preaching of the gospel.


1. Sins Against Christ have the Greatest Guilt

This adds greatest guilt to the sins of believers. We “despised him, and esteemed him not”. It is true that, in some respects, the sins of believers are not so great as the sins of others. They are not committed so deliberately and with such full force of desire under the dominion of sin as others. Yet in another respect they are greater than the sins of others, because they are committed against special grace and love received. When the believer confiders that they have returned Christ’s love in this way it will grieve them more than anything else if they are truly sensitive.


2. Sins Against Christ Should Grieve Us Most

The believer that is most sensitive in this way is best assured of their right to Christ and His atonement. They will be most sensitive about their enmity and abominable guilt of despising and wronging Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah includes himself as one of those healed by Christ’s stripes. He accepts his guilt, “we despised and rejected him, we esteemed him not, we judged him smitten of God”.

If we are truly Christ’s our heart will be tender and any wrong done to Christ will affect us in a quicker and deeper way. We esteem Christ and have a holy sympathy with Him in all the concerns of His glory.  The members of the body have a fellow-feeling with the head. Suppose a man in a fit of madness was to smite and wound his head, or wrong his wife, his father or brother. When the fit of madness is over, he will be more
grieved with that wrong, than if it had been done to any other member of his body, or to other persons who either were not related or not so closely related.

There is something of this in Zechariah 12:10 “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him”, as for an only son. It is if he had said, the strokes they have given the head shall then be very heavy and grievous for them. In their feelings the wounds will bleed afresh. They did not think much of wounding and piercing Him in this way before. When they come to believe in Him, however, they are keenly affected by the wrongs done to Him.

The believer’s wrongs against Christ will prick their conscience most. If the wrongs have been done by others, they grieve him but if they have been done by himself, they some way faint him. Wholeness of heart, under wronging of Christ, is too great an evidence that there is little or no ground for application of his satisfaction; but it is kindly like, when wrongs done to Christ affect most.


3. Sins Against Christ Should be Our Greatest Burden

We should be burdened when convicted for sinning against the law. Yet sins against Christ and grace offered in the gospel should become the greatest burden.


4. Sins Against Christ are the Worst Thing Possible

When the man is confronted with his secret enmity against Christ and how this increases the guilt of his sins, he can never be too vile in his own eyes. He has a holy indignation at himself. Like Paul he reckons himself the chief of sinners. Even though the evil was done in ignorance, it is much greater if it has been against knowledge. Such souls heap up the ways in which their guilt is increased because of their wrongs done to Christ. They cannot get suitable expressions to condemn it sufficiently. It is a bad sign if we are easily satisfied in our convictions of guilt for sin. There are many that will not admit to any convictions for wronging Christ. See how the prophet insists on the sin of despising Christ here, in previous verses, in these and in the following words. He can no more leave aside thoughts of this, than he can leave the thoughts of Christ’s sufferings.

Durham on Isaiah 53

This volume of sermons has been recently republished as Collected Sermons of James Durham: Christ Crucified: or, The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53. At 840 pages, the sermons on Isaiah 53 present one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ’s person and work in redemption. Spurgeon, who inscribed his personal copy with the words “much prized,” says of these sermons, “This is marrow indeed. We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors”. Principal John Macleod said: “He there opens up the truth of the sacrifice and the intercession of our Lord…the duties of preachers and hearers of the gospel, together with the diversified exercises of heart and soul that gospel truth is fitted to call forth”.

Buy in the UK for £31.99 here.

Buy in the USA for $38 here.

There is also a 2 volume set of sermons for $65 here


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Conscience is Fragile: Handle with Care

Conscience is Fragile: Handle with Care

Conscience is Fragile: Handle with Care

The human mind is fragile as well as powerful and complex. The human spirit can be resilient but may also be frail in the face of countless intricate emotions, memories, doubts and fears. Conscience is an especially delicate part of who we are. God has given it to us as a witness to His righteous requirements. Sin has disordered it but further damages it. Our moral compass is easily warped by sin’s magnetic force. The Bible tells us that conscience can be defiled, wounded and seared. Through handling conscience carelessly we can do untold damage to ourselves. Grace, however, can heal and restore.

Samuel Rutherford adores the great wisdom of God in creating the world which is best seen in creating so rare a thing as the soul. He says that the most intricate part of the soul is the conscience which he describes as “that lump of divinity” because it is “like a beam of God”. “Conscience is the gold of the man”.

Conscience is placed in the soul as God’s own deputy and God’s notary [official recorder]. There is nothing passes in our life, good or evil, which conscience notes not down with an indelible character—conscience writes all men’s iniquities as the sin of Judah was written (Jeremiah 17:1) with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond. Conscience…keeps a daily diary of everything that occurs in the whole course of our life, and then conscience is as a thousand witnesses: it’s an eye-witness and a pen-witness, bringing testimony from the authentic registers and records of the court of conscience.

Samuel Rutherford describes conscience in many memorable ways. It may be like a delicate glass object that is easily broken. Alternatively, it may be like a boat that has a leak below the water-line that is difficult to identify and mend. Perhaps they do not realise that the water on the bottom of their ship is from a leak rather than the spray. In one of his letters he gives the following caution:

keep the conscience whole without a crack! If there be a hole in it, so that it take in water at a leak, it will with difficulty mend again. It is a dainty, delicate creature, and a rare piece of the workmanship of your Maker; and therefore deal gently with it, and keep it entire

He speaks of a pure conscience as one that is good having been purged and washed (Hebrews 10:2). The great spot of guiltiness has been taken away, and it is clear, pure, terse, like a crystal glass (1 Timothy 1:5). It is also good and honest, or beautiful and fair. A good conscience is a comely, resplendent, lovely thing (Hebrews 13:18). Conscience when it is working properly is sensitive and easily broken. If we ignore it we can become unbreakably hardened.

some conscience…is made of glass and is easily broken, and some of iron and brass, lay hell on it, let Christ say to Judas in his face, he shall betray his master and he has a devil, yet his conscience does not crow before daylight to waken him.

The conscience is a tender thing, says Rutherford and it can either be our best friend or our worst enemy.   Who can bear a wounded spirit (Proverbs 18:4)?

Blessed is the man who follows the injunctions, dictates, prohibitions and determinations of a good and right-informed conscience, and hearkens to all its incitements. Oh that every man would remember how dangerous a thing it is to resist the checks of conscience, for in so doing we fight not only against our own light, but against the light of the Holy Spirit!

Rutherford wrote an 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 with a terminal illness and a burden of guilt. This is the powerful account of a man with a troubled conscience being counselled in the face of death. 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.

This book has now been reprinted as Conversations with a Dying Man. It is highly valuable and recommended. This was a man who wanted to have the best of this world but had to compromise in order to get worldly status. His backslidings became an unbearable burden on his conscience in the face of death, however.

John Gordon, Viscount of Kenmure speaks of “the fearful wrestlings of my conscience…when I seemed to be glad and joyful before men”. He had pretended to be ill in order to avoid standing out clearly in the interests of Christ’s cause. This would have involved opposing the king in Parliament. He later acknowledge with the most bitter sorrow, “I deserted the Parliament for fear of incurring the indignation of my prince, and the loss of further honour, which I certainly expected”. He confessed:

I have found the weight of the Lord’s hand upon me for not giving testimony for the Lord my God, when I had occasion once in my life at the last parliament. For this foul fault, how fierce have I felt the wrath of the Lord my God! My soul hath raged and roared: I have been ripped up [grieved] to the heart…Would to God I had such an occasion again to testify my love to the Lord! For all the earth should I not do as I have done, tell them…Woe, woe be to honours or any thing else bought with the loss of peace of conscience and God’s favour!

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”. Rutherford concludes that the “way of impiety never had, nor shall have, good success…there is no delight [comparable to] the delight of a good conscience: let that bird in the breast be always kept singing”.

Rutherford believed it was necessary to record such “heavy pangs of conscience and torment of mind” to show what can happen when we go against conscience.  We can learn much and in particular “be warned by his example” not to forsake God’s cause when we have opportunity. We are especially “never to wrong their conscience, which is a tender piece [thing], and must not be touched”.

We take nothing to the grave with us, but a good or evil conscience.


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What Should You Read?

What Should You Read?

What Should You Read?

Reading rates are decreasing steadily. Many can read; they just don’t. There are many other ways of consuming our time, so that we’re often too “busy” to read. The truth is that we would find reading more genuinely relaxing than many other things that occupy our attention. It is also likely to better nourish our souls. But perhaps part of our difficulty is the paralysing choice due to the range of books available. When faced with too much choice (even in terms of Christian books) how do we choose? We need discernment in what we read and how we read it in order to get most benefit.

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.

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.

Seeing that God has now equipped His people with many useful books (as experience has shown), we may give these general directions.


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 Christ contains 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.


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When Books Were Executed in Scotland

When Books Were Executed in Scotland

When Books Were Executed in Scotland

If books are executed for their dangerous ideas, then the Stuarts must have felt threatened by the ideas of the Second Reformation in Scotland. Most of the key books and documents of the time were condemned by these kings to be burnt publicly by the hangman. It was an exercise in the power of the sword over the power of the pen. Perhaps it is not surprising that the first recorded book burning in history was by a king seeking to destroy the words of Scripture (Jeremiah 36:27).

Many books and documents were ‘executed’ at this time. It was a sinister threat to the author and all who would promote the ideas of the book. It was not a long journey for the Restoration regime to make from executing the Covenants to executing the Covenanters. Perhaps it was a desperate attempt to destroy ideas but of course it only attracted more readers for a book. As one writer has observed poetically: “books have souls as well as men, which survive their martyrdom, and are not burnt but crowned by the flames that encircle them”.


1. Defending the Liberty of the Church

One of the early books to be burnt was George Gillespie’s argument against the Anglican ceremonies being imposed on the Scottish Church. George Gillespie was young and exceptionally gifted. He explained the reasons in a forthright book. He said that these ceremonies in worship had their origin in Roman Catholic worship not Scripture. He argued they were not necessary, useful or lawful. And neither was their imposition merely unimportant.

The book he published was called A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. It was published anonymously in Holland due to the persecution of dissent. It appeared at exactly the right time – the summer of 1637 -in the midst of protest and uproar due to the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer.

We could think of this as a war between two books. Which would succeed – Gillespie or the Bishops? Although the Book of Common Prayer had the repressive force of government behind it, Gillespie’s book had the power and authority of God’s Word. In October 1637 the Privy Council ordered that all copies of Gillespie’s book to be collected and burnt by the public hangman. It was a last desperate attempt but too late. Gillespie’s book was never answered.


2. Defending the Liberty of the People

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers. Such principles helped the Covenanters to resist autocratic rule. They remain relevant today. Samuel Rutherford published a key statement of these principles in Lex, Rex (The Law and the King). This book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power.

When it was published Charles I said that it would scarcely get an answer. It contained such a powerful argument that Charles II ordered it to be burnt by the hangman. Rutherford was charged with treason, dismissed from his post and placed under house arrest. He only escaped execution through being seriously ill. Rutherford said that “he would willingly die on the scaffold for that book with a good conscience.”  Why would he risk so much for a complex book about political government? Experience under the Stuart regime showed that absolute power was an intoxicating notion that did not value either liberties or mens’ lives. More than this, the king was set himself up with a divine authority in place of the authority of Scripture, and this had to be resisted.


3. Defending the Liberty of Both

The National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) were solemn oaths that obliged those who swore to defend such liberties. It is not surprising that these Covenants were publicly burnt, even though they pledged loyalty to the king. Futhermore, Charles II himself had sworn to them together with his government. One pamphlet responded to the covenant breaking and burning. It was called The Phoenix, or the Solemn League and Covenant (1661). The idea was that the covenant like the phoenix would rise from its ashes.

When dying men left a public written testimony behind them, it could be burned publicly. This was the case with the minister James Wood in 1664. It was only an attempt to clear himself from slanderous rumours that he had forsaken presbyterian principles.

James Guthrie’s pamphlet The Causes of the Lord’s Wrath against Scotland (1653) was a frank acknowledgement of the nation’s departure from its former principles. Its reflections on the king were considered treasonable, however. Anyone found possessing it could be charged with treason. The book was of course burnt publicly by the hangman. It would be used as evidence in the trial which condemned Guthrie for execution. This was a clear instance of a book’s execution leading to capital punishment for the author.

The Covenanters sought to defend themselves in print. There were books such as John Brown of Wamphray’s Apologetic Relation (1679) or James Stewart’s Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland (1667). These protests against repression and government brutality were burned publicly. The Lanark, Rutherglen and Sanquhar Declarations were all burnt also, together with the Queensferry Paper.



Clearly, these were powerful books. They remain powerful. While they speak to their own time in various ways, there are important principles with biblical authority that we may draw from them. If these principles are lost then we are in danger of losing true civil and religious liberty. After all the attempts to destroy such ideas, our generation must not condemn them through mere apathy. We have a duty to the present and past to grasp and maintain principles for which others risked or gave their lives.


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What is True Waiting on God?

What is True Waiting on God?

What is True Waiting on God?

When you are in a hurry, waiting seems impossible. At such times anxiety and frustration can easily take over. We have to wait but the question is: how should we wait?  Many Christians find that they may wait long in prayer before they seem to have an answer. At one time they are tempted to impatience and then to hopelessness. But true waiting is not passive paralysis; it exercises our faith and patience in persevering prayer. This is how David could emphasise that “truly” his soul was waiting on God (Psalm 62:1). What is involved in this spiritual discipline?

Zachary Boyd (1585–1653) explains something of this in a sermon on Psalm 62:1 called “The Godly Man’s Confidence”. There is an updated extract below. Boyd was minister of the Barony Parish, Glasgow. Well-known as a poet, he contributed around a tenth of the content of the Scottish Psalter (1650). He was rector and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Glasgow. He faced Cromwell’s army with bravery when they invaded Scotland and proceeded to Glasgow. He had a high view of the calling of a minister “they who do this work as they should, must with earnest prayers, painstaking reading, and serious meditation empty their veins of blood till paleness…be printed upon their face”. He left a large number of sermons which are especially encouraging for tried and tempted believers, such as the following:

observe well O man what I say…While you are tempted to think that the Lord has cast you off…I can assure you that you have Him even now, and shall have Him also forever

What is True Waiting on God?

It means to abide patiently in hope of help from God. In the godly, this waiting is accompanied with vehement and continual looking to God for assistance. They seek to be delivered either from felt present evil or from feared future evil. It is helpful to consider the characteristics of those who wait wisely on anything must:

  1. Consider what they wait for to be well worth the wait;
  2. Love what they wait for;
  3. Be conscious of lacking what they wait for;
  4. Hope to find what they lack in the one on whom they wait;
  5. Wait constantly;
  6. Keep their eye on the one on whom they wait.

1. God is Well Worth the Wait

The soul that waits on God is wise because He is not only worthy but worthiness itself. When all things fail us, God will not. The Psalmist said that his “flesh and heart” failed but the Lord “is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). This is the One who, if we wait on Him, will first guide us by His counsel and afterward will bring us to glory.

2. Wait on God with Love

There must be love in the heart of those that wait on God. Unless a man loves God, he cannot wait on God (1 John 4:8). A man cannot live where he does not love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), not only because He loves us more than we can love Him, but also because He is most worthy to be loved.

It is well with the man who (fainting in his spirit with such strong love) can say with the spouse: “stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love (Song of Songs 2:5). Moses so loved Him that, for His glory, he desired to be scraped out of the book of life (Exodus 32:32). St Paul was greatly inflamed with such a love to Christ that if any loved Him not, his wish was that he should be “anathema maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22). If a man does not love God primarily for Himself, he will not wait on God.

Many waited on Christ because He gave them loaves (John 6:26). This is like a dog that will wait on a stranger that has a bone in his hand, not for himself but for the bone. Many wait on God’s benefits, but few wait on Himself. “There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). But how few are those that seek God for Himself and ask with the psalmist that the Lord lift up the light of His countenance on them. If like the dog, many get the bone of some benefit out of God’s hand, they know Him not more than if He were a stranger only now come into the world. There is no waiting on where there is no love. Man is wearied to wait on that which he does not love.

Most of us may easily know that we do not love God by our waiting. How drowsy we are to wait on God until He has spoken to us for only an hour? How wearied we are to speak to God in prayer for only a quarter of an hour. We can wait on worldly business the whole day and discourse with men from morning till evening. But who can wait so long either to hear God speaking by preaching to us or to speak to Him in prayer? It is easy to say that our soul waits on God. But how few can say “Truly” my soul waits on God (Psalm 62:1)?

3. Wait on God with a Sense of Your Need

Those who wait on God must have a sense of their own needs. A Laodicean soul filled with self-conceit cannot wait on the Lord (Revelation 3:14-17). As long as a man sings the requiem to his soul that he has no need of anything, he waits on himself (Revelation 3:17). But as soon as he has seen his own blindness, misery and nakedness by virtue of God’s eye-salve, he is fit for waiting on God. A man must first renounce himself and all that is within him before he can be able to cleave to God.

4. Wait on God with Assurance that He can Supply Your Need

Those who truly wait on God must be assured that they will find in God that which they lack. This is faith. “To whom shall we go?” said Peter to Christ: He had “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). St Peter would wait on Christ alone because he saw that He had words such as no man had the like. If men could taste and see how good the Lord is, they would cleave to Him (Psalm 34:8). They would cleave to Him even though He would desire them to go from Him. Just as Ruth did to Naomi when she desired Ruth and Orpah to return to their country. Scripture calls Ruth “steadfastly minded” (Ruth 1:18).

5. Wait on God Constantly

There must be constancy and continuance in waiting on God. God will not be served by fits and starts. He that perseveres to the end shall be saved (Matthew 24:13). The wicked (like the deceitful Israelites) seem for a time to be bowed like a bow to received the string of the Lord’s law into the nock of their heart [a nock is the groove at either end of a bow for holding the bowstring]. But immediately they bend back from such an inclination. The prophet said they “turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow” (Psalm 78:57). Those who turn back and aside cannot be said to wait on God. Courtiers will wait constantly on kings for that which is not worth waiting for. But few will wait on God. If God makes no immediate answer to King Saul by Urim or Thummim, he must run to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7). Nature dislikes grace: they are disposed to be contrary to one another.

Grace is willing to wait on God, but nature makes haste. Ungodly Saul could not wait until Samuel came but, as he said, “I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12). In the same way, a wicked man cannot wait on the Lord’s leisure.

6. Wait on God with Your Eye on Him

Last of all, a good waiter is always to have an eye on the one on whom they wait. The psalmist says: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:2). David said “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Psalm 121:1). That is, to the force of men who dwelt in the hill country of Canaan. But immediately he corrects himself that his help comes “from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). He would say, I will wait on God, my eyes shall no more be lifted to the hills but to Him “which made heaven and earth”.


Selected Sermons of Zachary Boyd ed. David Atkinson (336pp, hdbk, Scottish Text Society) includes 19 sermons from the 1620s and 1630s with historical footnotes. The sermons are, however, in the original 17th century spelling. Those who are not daunted by this discover rich examples of faithful preaching during this time. The book is relatively rare and is available from James Dickson Books for £9.95 (RRP £30). There is a very special offer of free worldwide shipping available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. Purchase here (enter the code after adding the book to the cart). Email info [at] jamesdicksonbooks.com if you experience any difficulties.


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Am I a Christian?

Am I a Christian?

Am I a Christian?

Some people never ask this question, it doesn’t really occur to them. Others feel they never should ask it, though the inclination exists. Still others never get beyond only asking themselves this question. They don’t get to an answer that satisfies. Contrary to the opinions of many, it is both biblical and helpful to ask this question (2 Corinthians 13:5). But only if we arrive at biblical answers.

One person who asked themselves this question carefully in various ways was James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In fact he addresses 20 different doubts he has about his spiritual state. They are along the lines of: “If I really am a Christian then why do/don’t I…?” He also answers each concern fully to his satisfaction. After this, he gives 27 evidences of true conversion in the soul. It is extremely helpful to read the careful, spiritual way in which Fraser handles these problems. The questions and answers were recently published by the Banner of Truth in a pocket book called Am I a Christian? There is a special offer for this valuable book at the bottom of this post.

Fraser came from the Black Isle, Ross-shire and was ordained during the times of persecution. He refused to appear before the Privy Council when to answer for “illegal” preaching. Eventually captured he was sentenced to imprisonment on the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. Along with many others he suffered much in those fearful conditions. He was imprisoned at a later period in Blackness Castle but survived the times of persecution. His autobiography gives an interesting account of his life and spiritual experience. The questions and answers were written down in it for his own benefit.

Some of Fraser’s questions and answers are included in an updated form below.


1. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not have More Compassion for the Unconverted?

I lack compassion and a deep apprehension for the lamentable condition of the souls of my unconverted relations and my ignorant, godless, nominal, neighbours . Does it not lie heavy on my spirit? Do I therefore believe a hell or heaven or that the ignorant or unconverted shall go to hell?


(a) I confess there is great lack of compassion, faith, and seriousness in this and that there is great deadness. “Lord help it”.   We believe, love and prophesy in part only (1 Corinthians 13:9).

(b) I mourn over this and this deadness is loathsome and hateful to me.

(c) I am helped through occasional views of their condition to have my sorrow stirred and to be earnest with the Lord for them. I also pour out tears and sighs of grief for them and find my compassion stirred in a felt way.


2. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not have More Delight in Spiritual Duties?

There is a constant indisposition of spirit to all kinds of duties. There is unwillingness to enter into them. I am wearied and without heart in them and glad when they are finished. Thus, I fear there is not a new nature which delights in the Law of God.


(a) There is an unregenerate part in every believer, which is continually opposite to that which is good as well as a regenerate part. This unwillingness comes from the unregenerate part, in which no good thing dwells (Romans 7:8).  It should not make us question our state any more than whether a body of death exists (Romans 7:24).

(b) I find something in me that mourns under this. There is something which esteems, approves, and sees a glory and delight in the law of the Lord (Romans 7:22). “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41)

(c) I am not so much wearied of the duty (which I love) therefore but rather of my own evil heart in the duty. A loving son who has a sore foot is willing to run his father’s errand and glad to be employed, yet the sore foot makes the journey a burden; there is a thorn in the flesh. An unsound heart’s opposition is to the duty itself; hypocrites do not love every duty.


3. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not see more Spiritual Growth?

I do not seem to grow, see rapid growth or advance in the work of grace, things just seem always to be the same.


(a) There may be growth in grace that does not always appear in an obvious way. It grows as a seed of corn, and a man knows not how (Mark 4:27). It comes “not with observation” (Luke 17:20).

(b) Despite remaining evils, I find a remarkable growth; not in the size of grace but in its nature and purity. There is not so much of it but it is better now. I do things more with the gospel in view that I did before and with purer aims. I grow downward even if not upward.

(c) I have found growth in faith, love, patience, humility. There is growth in dying to the world, myself, self-righteousness and living unto God. This is so even if there is no growth in what I have resolved.

(d) It is expedient, if no necessary to pull down a certain kind of righteousness. Thus a man will find himself worse than before until the righteousness of God is set up.


4. If I Really am a Christian, Why am I full of Spiritual Pride?

My spiritual pride streams through all my actions – even my most spiritual. I find that I resolve to be holy so as to get esteem, not so much from men but from conscience. I mourn for sin as a weakness, and as contrary to my design and resolutions. Although I find that my duties are not sufficient to save me and I must flee to another, yet my heart secretly wishes that it were otherwise and life was possible through my own works. This makes me secretly desire and endeavour to do something on earth that might be a part of my crown in heaven. I found myself despising the glory revealed in heaven if freely given and not merited in any way. This makes me question whether I was ever dead to the law or not.


(a) I satisfy myself with this. Just as I find a spirit of self and pride acting, so I find a spirit of humility loathing myself for my pride. I also find a secret contentment in breaking my resolutions even when they were good, because in this way self was debased and the counsel of the Lord made to stand. Indeed, I find “I rejoice in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I love heaven better, because it is the purchase of Christ’s blood and the fruit of free grace.

(b) “Self will be in every action. This body of death will manifest itself thus, as well as any other way” (Thomas Shepherd).


5. If I Really am a Christian, Why am I so Spiritually Unstable?

I find such instability in my heart and ways, such uneven steps between the Lord and my idols, that I fear my whole heart is not come to the Lord; I am not His alone. O for a single heart, a united heart, a wedded heart! But, mine is divided between the Lord and idols. Sometimes I delight in the Lord and sometimes in my idols and worldly contentment. “They served the Lord, and they served their idols” (2 Kings 17:33).


(a) No man ever closed so fully with Christ or had such wedded love without being inclined to idols because of the unregenerate part. Our union of faith and love is imperfect as well as any other grace; the unregenerate carnal part cries still out for its lovers. In heaven our affections shall be wholly for the Lord.

(b) The renewed part is for the Lord wholly and only and does not consent to what the flesh does. It is led captive, sighs under the bondage and cries out against its own whoring heart. The name is taken from the better part. “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:20). Unrenewed men are content to divide their affections but they neither loathe nor abhor them- selves.

(c) I find the Lord’s work growing stronger and stronger in my soul.

Special Offer: Buy Your Own Copy of Am I A Christian?

Fraser’s book is published by the Banner of Truth in their Pocket Puritans series. It is 81 pages and in small format that can fit into most pockets. A special 10% offer is available from James Dickson Books (usual price £2.95 – RRP £3.25). This special discount is available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. Purchase here (enter the code after adding the book to the cart). Email info [at] jamesdicksonbooks.com if you experience any difficulties.

The book contains a biographical note as well as the selection from the “Memoirs” of James Fraser of Brea.


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What is Conscience?

What is Conscience?

What is Conscience?

It crops up in discussion about the decision to go to war in Iraq. You can hear of it in relation to voting for US presidential candidates. Conscience was also in the headlines announcing the death of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. He has been hailed as “the conscience of the world”. In a culture without moral absolutes, conscience still has surprising currency. But what is conscience? Why does it vary so much?

Samuel Rutherford wrote a great deal about conscience. He notes that the word for conscience is used thirty-two times in the New Testament. Literally in Greek it means “knowledge with a witness”. God knows our ways and thoughts perfectly but “conscience is an under-witness and an observer with God, but a dim and blind beholder in comparison of God”.

It is a type of knowledge that is focussed on someone’s “actions, words, thoughts, the condition or state he is in, in Christ, or not in Christ”. It makes us pass judgement on ourselves: “our state and condition” all our “actions, inclinations, thoughts, and words”. Rutherford says that it is the most important faculty in the soul and the highest form of understanding.

There is more of reason and sound knowledge in the conscience than in the whole understanding soul. It is a crystal globe of reason, the beam, the sun, the candle of the soul. For to know God and the creatures in our relative obligation to God in Christ is the role, the blossom, the flower of knowledge (Job 17:3). To  see God and His beauty expressed in Christ, and the comeliness and incomparable glory of His amiable and lovely essence as held forth to us in Christ, is the highest reach of the conscience.  

The Source of Conscience

Conscience comes from God and is accountable to God. “We are to stand in awe of conscience”. We can measure “how much goodness and true fear of God” someone has in so far as he respects “conscience  within him”.

Conscience is something of God, a domestic little God, a keeper sent from heaven, a divine piece which is all eye, all feeling, and has the Word with it

It is to be honoured as an ambassador from God. Honour shown to an ambassadors manifests honour to those that have sent him.

The Operation of Conscience

Yet conscience must be rightly informed by God’s Word or it cannot perform its proper function. Otherwise it is as much use as a guard dog that is blind, deaf, dumb and toothless.

A conscience void of knowledge is void of goodness; silence and dumbness is not peace. An innocent toothless conscience that cannot see, hear or speak, cannot bark, far less can it bite before it has teeth. 

It is dangerous to say that we follow our conscience if that is without reference to God’s revealed will. “The Word of God must be the rule of conscience”. We cannot make conscience the rule of our actions if the Word is not the rule of our conscience.  “Conscience is a servant and only an under-judge”. It is not an absolute monarch decreeing the law to us. “Conscience is ruled by Scripture but it is not Scripture” itself.

Conscience either excuses or accuses as the conscience is right or wrong. It approves or condemns. When it approves there is joy, comfort, faith and hope. But when it condemns there is shame, grief, fear, despair, anger and vexation.


The Best Type of Conscience

The tender conscience is the best conscience (2 Kings 22:19). A hard heart is the worst conscience possible. “It cannot be denied but the more tenderness [there is], the more of God and the more of conscience”. Tenderness implies a fear of sin.

some conscience…is made of glass and is easily broken, and some of iron and brass, lay hell on it, let Christ say to Judas in his face, he shall betray his master and he has a devil, yet his conscience does not crow before daylight to waken him.


The Fragility of Conscience

Rutherford describes conscience in many memorable ways. It may be like a delicate glass object that is easily broken. Alternatively, it may be like a boat that has a leak below the water-line that is difficult to identify and mend. Perhaps they do not realise that the water on the bottom of their ship is from a leak rather than the spray. In one of his letters he gives the following caution:


keep the conscience whole without a crack! If there be a hole in it, so that it take in water at a leak, it will with difficulty mend again. It is a dainty, delicate creature, and a rare piece of the workmanship of your Maker; and therefore deal gently with it, and keep it entire


The Key Teaching on Conscience

The quotations above come from Rutherford’s book A Free Disputation on Liberty of Conscience which has never been reprinted. His teaching on conscience is well summarised in the Catechism that he composed for his congregation. He outlines the following questions and answers.


What is the principal part of the soul?

The conscience.


What is the conscience?

It is the judging part of the soul under God, teaching and counselling good and comforting us when we do it (1 John 3:20; Job 16:19-20; John 17:1) and forbidding evil and tormenting us after we have committed evil (Genesis 3:8; 4:13).

What are the lights that direct the conscience?

The law of nature in man’s heart and the light of the Word are the two candles that God has lit to let it see to walk.

What are the proper works of conscience?

It works either on the law as a little God, or on our deeds as a witness, or it applies the law to our deeds as a judge.

What are the works of conscience upon the law?

In so far as it knows the law, it binds us to obedience with a knot that neither king nor Church can loose (Romans 1:14; Romans 6:16; Acts 20:22; 1 Corinthians 9:16) and urges us to obey (Jeremiah 20:9).

What of the erring conscience?

It still binds so that he sins who does anything against conscience (even if conscience is in error). This is because conscience is God’s depute. Therefore, just as he who assaults a private man believing him to be the king is esteemed to be an attacker of the king, he who sins against an erring conscience does sin in practice if not in principle. [This is a rather complex point but it means that if our conscience tells us something is wrong even if it is in fact not wrong it is sinful for us (if we believe that what we are doing is wrong) to deliberately disobey the voice of conscience and dishonour it. This is supported by “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Whatever is done when we doubt whether it is right is sin. Lawful things may be done unlawfully.]

What are the works of conscience as a witness of our deeds?

It is like a guard dog in the soul that hears the noise of thieves’ feet and as the eye that sees what the hand does (Psalm 1:22; Psalm 119:59; Haggai 1:5; Jeremiah 5:24; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

What are the faults of conscience?

Often it is blind and dead (Isaiah 44:18; Ecclesiastes 4:8) through presumption (Revelation 3:17) and lack of the fear of God.

What are the works of conscience in so far as it applies the law to our actions?

It acquits and approves us when we do good (Romans 2:15; Job 16:19-20; Psalm 7:4-5; Job 29:13-14; Job 31) from which there is a feast of joy in the soul (Proverbs 15:15; 2 Corinthians 1:12) and boldness (Proverbs 10:9; Proverbs 28:1). It accuses and condemns when we do evil (2 Samuel 24:10; Matthew 27:3; Genesis 42:21-22) and from this comes despair (Hebrews 10:27), fear (Genesis 3:1; Proverbs 28:1; Revelation 6:16), shame (Genesis 5:7; Romans 6:21),  sadness (1 Samuel 25:31; Acts 2:37), and burning of mind (Isaiah 66:24).

What are the faults of the conscience as a judge?

Often it makes men think the way to hell is the right way (Proverbs  21:2; Psalm 1:21; Zechariah 11:5) and turns into a dumb dog that does not bark at the coming of the thief.

What causes those faults in conscience?

Ignorance of God (Psalm 14:1) and the loud crying of affections sent out to woo a wife to Satan make a strange sound in the ears and create mist in the eyes of conscience.

How many sorts of consciences are there?

Many and various: good or evil, weak or strong, dead or living, etc.

What is the practical benefit of teaching about conscience?

Seeing we carry our judge with us in our breast which we take either to heaven or hell with us and cannot put on or off our conscience as we do our garments, we should fear to sin before our conscience and reverence ourself.


Rutherford’s Catechism contains many pithy and colourful expressions and illustrations. It covers additional material at greater length than many other catechisms in particular the section on temptations and on the person and offices of Christ which extends to over 12 pages. It needs some patience and reflection but is highly recommended.

Rutherford’s Catechism can be purchased from James Dickson Books. It is £4.95 but there is a special discount of 10% available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. (enter the code after adding the book to the cart).



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How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries

How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries

How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries

A previous article outlined 7 Reasons You Should Study the Bible with the Covenanters. Their bible commentaries are practical, pastoral, simple, concise, clear, contextual and popular. They were highly esteemed by Charles Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries. Some of these books are out of print but is still possible to purchase existing stock or second hand. It is also possible to get facsimiles of the originals through Amazon but they may be difficult to read.

The Ten Commandments

James Durham – A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments (Naphtali Press, 2002). This volume is out of print but existing stock may be available from UK bookshops or via Naphtali Press’ print-on-demand service on Lulu.com.

In particular instances, cases relating to daily practice are so distinctly proposed, stated and determined, as that the whole is a complete Christian directory in our walking before God in all duties of obedience. Let the pious reader single out any one duty or head of duties to make his trial upon, and, if I greatly mistake not, he will discern with what wisdom, and from what deep experience, his plain directions are managed, and do proceed – John Owen


James Durham – Lectures on the Book of Job (Naphtali Press, 2003).

It is certain to be good, for Durham is always admirable…Whatever Durham has written is very precious. He has the pen of a ready writer, and indites good matter – Spurgeon

George Hutcheson – An Exposition of the Book of Job Available as a facsimile.

Whenever the student sees a commentary by Hutcheson let him buy it, for we know of no author who is more thoroughly helpful to the minister of the Word. He distills the text, and gives his readers the quintessence, ready for use – Spurgeon


David Dickson – Psalms Vol. 1 (1-50), Vol. 2 (51-100), Vol. 3 (101-150) (Banner of Truth, 1959 – in print).

A rich volume, dropping fatness. Invaluable to the preacher. Having read and re-read it, we can speak of its holy savour and suggestiveness. We commend it with much fervour – Spurgeon

Song of Songs

James Durham – Song of Solomon (Banner of Truth). Out of print but available secondhand.

Durham is always good, and he is at his best upon the Canticles. He gives us the essence of the good matter. For practical use this work is perhaps more valuable than any other Key to the Song – Spurgeon


Alexander Nisbet – Ecclesiastes. Available as a facsimile.

One of those solid works which learned Scotch divines of the seventeenth century have left us in considerable numbers. In our judgment it is as heavy as it is weighty – Spurgeon

Isaiah 53

James Durham, The Marrow of the Gospel in seventy-two Sermons on the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah (Naphtali Press and RHB). May be obtained from UK bookshops or here.

This is marrow indeed. We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors – Spurgeon

The Minor Prophets

George Hutcheson, The Minor Prophets (Sovereign Grace Publishers). Note that the Sovereign Grace Publishers reprint only contains six of the minor prophets.

Get it. Hutcheson is always rich. He resembles Dickson – Spurgeon


David Dickson – Matthew (Banner of Truth) out of print but available secondhand. Electronic version available on kindle or facsimile.

A perfect gem. The work is, to men of our school, more suggestive of sermons than almost any other we have met with – Spurgeon


George Hutcheson – John (Banner of Truth and Sovereign Grace Publishers)

Excellent; beyond all praise. It is a full-stored treasury of sound theology, holy thought, and marrowy doctrine – Spurgeon

All of the Epistles

David Dickson – All the Epistles: Romans-Jude.

Dickson is a writer after our own heart. For preachers he is a great ally. There is nothing brilliant or profound; but everything is clear and well arranged, and the unction runs down like the oil from Aaron’s head. In this volume the observations are brief – Spurgeon


John Brown of Wamphray – Romans (Amazon facsimile)

By a Calvinist of the old school. Heavy, perhaps; but precious – Spurgeon

Galatians – Thessalonians

James Fergusson – Galatians – 2 Thessalonians (Sovereign Grace Publishers).

He who possesses this work is rich. The author handles his matter in the same manner as Hutcheson and Dickson, and he is of their class–a grand, gracious, savory divine – Spurgeon

This was published by the Banner of Truth together with the following but is now out of print.


David Dickson – A Short Explanation of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Solid Ground Christian Books). This is a different commentary than the commentary on Hebrews in his commentary on all the epistles.

We need say no more than–get it, and you will find abundance of suggestions for profitable trains of thought – Spurgeon

1 & 2 Peter

Alexander Nisbet – 1 & 2 Peter (Banner of Truth)

A judicious and gracious Scotch commentary, after the style of Dickson and Hutcheson – Spurgeon


James Durham – Commentary Upon the Book of Revelation (Old Paths). Out of print but stock may be obtained from UK bookshops or buy facsimile.

After all that has been written, it would not be easy to find a more sensible and instructive work than this old-fashioned exposition…the mystery of the gospel fills it with sweet savour – Spurgeon


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Heavenly Violence in Prayer?

Heavenly Violence in Prayer?

Heavenly Violence in Prayer?

We are more likely to think of prayer as bringing peace and comfort than something which could be violent. It has a strange ring to it.  Yet Scripture describes fervent prayer as wrestling and striving. Perhaps it sounds strange because we have become used to weak and cold-hearted prayers?

Samuel Rutherford wrote and preached a great deal about prayer. His letters alone contain almost 440 references to prayer. The following is one of them: “I think it easy to get anything from the King by prayer, and to use holy violence with Him”.

Fervour in Prayer

This holy violence arises from a fervent spirit expressing its desires to God. Rutherford helped to formulate that masterful definition of prayer in the Shorter Catechism:  “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will…” He emphasises that prayer is essentially vehement in character. “Lazy, cold and dead prayers are condemned. Many pray, and care not whether God hears them or no; they pour out, not their desired before the Lord, but naked single words, and do but take the name of God in vain”.

This should condemn distracting thoughts and wandering of spirit in prayer. Not only is the whole man and whole strength not set on work in these prayers, but not any at all of the spirit is there, but the heart gone a-whoring after thoughts of vanity. Now, can the man pour out that which is not within? The spirit is gone out after other lovers, in so far it is a non ens [non-entity], there is not a spirit of adoption within and therefore he cannot pour it out.

Vehemence and crying in prayer are both necessary and natural. Do we feel the need that we are expressing? Hunger and extreme necessity cannot afford to be modest or understated.

An arrow drawn with full strength has a speedier flight; therefore the prayers of the saints are expressed by crying in Scripture. Christ prayed with strong crying or war-shouts and tears. The cry adds wings to the prayer. It is effectual – ‘this poor man cried, and the Lord heard and saved him from all his fears’. Vehement prayer is importunate”.

In James 5:16 it is fervent as well as effectual, and this word fervent, as Rutherford explains, literally points to “prayer possessed with fervour of spirit”.

Heavenly Violence in Prayer

Fervent, vehement prayer has a holy violence. It is called “wrestling, as Jacob by prayer wrestled with God. Now, in wrestling, the whole man is employed and all his strength, all the bones, nerves, legs and arms of the soul are set to work in praying.” Jacob had a princely power over the Angel and prevailed; “he wept and made supplication unto Him” (Hosea 12:4). Do you and I know anything of this kind of prayer? Are we content to go on with prayers that make no real requests or demands of God? And do we expect such prayers to be effectual? To expect a harvest without sowing or ploughing is impossible.

Rutherford had definite, clear and high views of God’s sovereignty. He did not think of holy violence in prayer as changing God’s mind. He knew that “wrestlings, prayings, complaining, gracious missing, cannot earn the visits from on high, nor fetch down showers upon the desert”. Prayer is the watchtower into which we enter like Habakkuk during adversities in providence (Habakkuk 2:1 and 3). Here we ask the meaning of Providence and seek to submit to His secret will.  As Rutherford wrote to one correspondent: “I hope that you have been asking what the Lord means, and what further may be His will, in reference to your return”.

Rutherford outlines various ways in which there is a heavenly violence in fervent prayer.

Prayer binds God that He cannot depart. It lays chains on His hands and builds a wall or a hedge of thorns in His way that He cannot destroy His people (Isaiah 64:7; Ezekiel 22:30). If a Moses or a Samuel should intercede by prayer that the Lord would spare the land, his prayer should be a hedge or a wall to stand in the way of justice to hinder the Lord to destroy His people.

Prayer is a heavenly violence to God expressed in various powerful expressions; as,

(1) The faithful watchmen pray and cry to God so hard that they give the Lord no rest, no silence, till He establish Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6-7).

(2) Praying is a sort of striving with the Lord: “I beseech you…strive with me, in prayers to God for me” (Romans 15:30).

(3) Jacob by prayer wrestled with the Lord; and the Lord, as if He had been straitened, says, “Send me away, dismiss me. And Jacob said, I will not dismiss thee, till thou bless me:” (Genesis 32). This is well expounded by Hosea 12:4. Jacob had a princely power over the Angel, and prevailed, he wept, and made supplication to him. [He] is a Prince Which may note either a princedom in prayer over God, which is the true reason of the name Israel; or, as others think, he stood right up. His prayer did not bow nor was broken when a temptation lay on him as heavy as a mill-stone. Even when the Lord said He would depart from him, yet he prevailed under that weight. So, (Exodus 32:10) when Moses was praying for the people, the Lord said to Moses, “Let me alone that I may destroy them.”

…prayer is a prince, and a mighty, wrestling, prevailing king, that hath strong bones, and strong arms, to be victorious with God. We know the parable of the widow, (Luke 18) who by importunity obtained of the unjust judge that he should avenge her of her adversary. The scope of that parable is that prayer without fainting puts such a labour and trouble on God that He must hear and answer the desires of His children. Thus, the Lord resembles Himself to a master of a family gone to bed with his children, who yet being wearied by the knocking of his neighbour, cannot choose but rise in the night, and lend him bread to strangers come to his house.

Encouragement in Prayer

Such prayer prevails; it is effectual. The importunate widow obtained her request and the master of a family will grant the request of his neighbour by reason of his continual knocking (Luke 18:1-8; 11:8). Will God not hear His elect who cry unto Him day and night (Luke 18:7)?

Hence, praying in the Word is expressed by knocking, where the strength of the arm is required; instant praying is resembled by the two most masterful elements – fire and water. It is resembled by fire that cannot be kept under (Psalm 39:3)…”while I was musing the fire burned”. The fire flamed out in praying (verse 4), “Lord make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is”. It is resembled by water, hence that frequent expression, “to pour out the soul before the Lord”. If the mouth of a vessel full of water be turned up and opened, the water cannot but come out, just as the floods cannot but flow.

We find it discouraging when we compare our own prayers against the fervour that Rutherford commends. Yet he uses this theme of heavenly violence to encourage. Some are discouraged; they do not have the bodily strength or other means to serve Christ as they would. “But if you can pray, you set the whole wheels of Omnipotency on work, for the building of the Lord’s house.” “It was not Ahasuerus, nor the grace that Esther found in the eyes of the king, that saved the whole church of the Jews from destruction, but the prayers of Esther and her maids. It is true, an angel brought Peter out of prison, (Acts 12) but what stirred that wheel in heaven? Here’s the cause, “Prayer was made without ceasing to God for Peter, by the church” (Acts 12:5)”.

Do not despise earnest and vehement wrestling, and fervent, persevering and patient prayer. “Prayer,” says Rutherford, “can put a reeling and tottering on king and court; pope, prelate and Babylon: we are to pray the king of the bottomless pit, the man of sin, the graven images of apostate Rome, out of the world”.

Everyone who has the spirit of adoption, though poor and rejected of men, by prayer has powerful influence on all the nations of the earth, on all Europe, on the ends of the earth, on the hearts of the Jews, on Turks and Indians. Prayer can reach as far as omnipotency, accompanied by the wise decree of our Lord. And the poorest girl or maid that can pray lends a strong lift to heighten the footstool of Christ’s royal throne. Children and poor maids, by prayer, may put the crown on Christ’s head, and hold up His throne, and may store and increase heaven by praying, “Thy kingdom come,” and enlarge hell, and fill the pits with the dead bodies of Christ’s enemies; and may, by prayer, bind kings in fetters, chain up and confine devils, subdue kingdoms.


This is the spirit of prayer that animated those who prayed for the Second Reformation to come in Scotland as a spiritual revival (read more about Scotland’s Greatest Revival). How does it compare to prayer as we know it? As Thomas Watson put it: our prayers do not need eloquence but violence.


The quotations above have been extracted and updated from The Trial and Triumph of Faith and The Power of Faith and Prayer. The latter has just been issued in kindle format but is also available in paperback here (or for those in North America here).

In this book of sermons, Rutherford expounds Matthew 9:27-31. He shows the faith and prayer of the two blind men that follow Christ crying for help.


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Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Our culture has certainly self-destructed–morally speaking. Values have been turned upside down. We can also discern things collapsing in on themselves spiritually. This is because sin constantly pushes towards self-destruction. These are times when nations and Churches seem to have destroyed themselves just like Israel (Hosea 13:9). Will the Church survive? Will we and our children come through it with the same faith and values? Other generations have been here before us. We can learn much from those in the past who brought God’s truth to bear on their situation.

The period following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 was marked by spiritual self-destruction. The Covenanters in Scotland faced a tyrannical attack on the spiritual independence of the Church. These were times of persecution for those who sought to remain faithful. Along with hundreds of other faithful ministers, William Guthrie of Fenwick was forced out of his pulpit. His ministry had been accompanied by true revival.

The Wednesday before his final service was observed as a day of humiliation and prayer. Guthrie preached about Israel’s self-destruction from Hosea 13:9. The point was clear: Scotland had reached the same point of self-destruction. Years later, while being hunted down by soldiers, Richard Cameron preached at a hill-side gathering from the same text.

we have it in commission to say to the Church of Scotland: “Thou hast destroyed thyself, O Church of Scotland, O ministers of Scotland, O commons and people of all sorts in Scotland, ye have destroyed yourselves”


1. Is it Really that Bad?

In our generation, which champions self-esteem and self-confidence, this is not a palatable message. Not everyone can see the reality of moral self-destruction. As Guthrie observed: “No doubt there are many, who think there is no wrath on Scotland. They think that we are in a good condition and have not destroyed ourselves”.

Guthrie referred to the force raid on the Church which dismantled its biblical worship and government. “All our precious things are taken captive by the adversary”. Ministers had been banished, imprisoned or prevented from their work. Godless men had taken their place. “Do you not yet see, how the land is ruined and destroyed, and the flocks of the Lord’s people scattered? And are these things and many more no evidences of God’s wrath?”


2. What Can We Do About It?

Guthrie observed much prayer but not much evidence of being “humbled and weeping”. “The Lord’s people meet and pray, and there is no answer returned, but one ill upon the back of another”. Sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond to such violent moral changes. Perhaps we feel wearied by the onslaught and at times even confused.

Guthrie believed that our weakness and lack of understanding results from sin. “Why are God’s people so faint hearted and weak? Are there not many of you faint-hearted? Is not your spirit and courage and ability to be valiant for the truth gone? And is that no evidence of wrath?” “Israel has sinned, and therefore his heart is faint and his hands feeble. He has fled from the pursuer”.

Why is there such weakness? It is due to sin and lack of real conviction about our sin. We must see that we have much for which we should repent. We must abandon the idea that we are completely immune from the moral self-destruction around us. This is the only way to survive a time of moral self-destruction in the nation and professing Church. Guthrie poses some searching rapid fire questions about our response to moral self-destruction.

  • have we been silent before the Lord under our conviction?
  • have we been busy in searching out the sins by which we have destroyed ourselves and others?
  • have we been quick to turn from the sins we have discovered?
  • have we diligently pled at the throne of grace for pardon and peace with God and the loosing of our bonds?
  • have we been ashamed at every new declaration of wrath because of our responsibility for it?
  • would we be satisfied with no release or deliverance unless the Lord frees us from the yoke of our sins and heals our backslidings?
  • have we been brought to submit to God afflicting us in any way He sees fit?
  • have we been zealously stirred up against sin when newly exposed by God’s judgements?


3. What Have We Done to Bring it About?

Guthrie’s message is unusual. His reflections on the moral implosion affecting the land are not detached social commentary. Neither were they merely a passionate denunciation of social evils. It is easy for us to consider moral self-destruction within the Church and nation in a detached way. We observe God’s sovereign judgements and discern the intentions of those who are enemies to the cause of truth. We might be able to acknowledge that sin has had a ruinous impact on the Church of God. Yet it is difficult to be truly and thoroughly convicted that we personally have any responsibility.

We need to go beyond even a generalised conviction about our sin and its consequences to being sorely convicted in an abiding way about particular sins we have committed. Guthrie observed that few had arrived at this point.

Guthrie speaks directly about the sins of different groups within society. He addresses the specific sins of ministers in their office. Then he speaks to elders and deacons about their omissions. He addresses leaders in society, servants and people in general. Lastly, he comes to make solemn charges against professing Christians.

  1. I charge you with falling from your first love, evidenced by falling away from your former diligence.
  2. I charge you that all your religious duties are a matter of form.
  3. I charge you with slothfulness, in giving to the Lord the refuse of your time and serving Him by fits and starts.
  4. I charge you with worldly-mindedness.  Covetousness has overwhelmed everyone.
  5. I charge you with inordinate affections to every idol that comes in your way.
  6. I charge you with pride and self-conceit, and despising those who do not come up to your standard
  7. I charge you with unbelief and ignorance of God and his Word.
  8. I charge you with a decay of the substance of true religion. This includes lack of tenderness of conscience, prizing the promises, zeal for the glory of God and against sin. Christian fellowship has been abused and neglected.


4. What Hope is There?

It is clear that Guthrie believed that the pressing need was to set time aside to mourn over such sins and seek for grace to help against them. The message of hope was that the Lord will hear and give some help and deliverance, if not their condition would only get worse. Hosea 13:9 does not just speak about the Church and nation destroying itself.  It also offers the hope that their help is in God alone.  This is truly encouraging and bright with hope: “notwithstanding we have destroyed ourselves, yet there is hope of help in Him”. “If Israel was thoroughly convicted that he has destroyed himself, there would be hope that God would be Israel’s help”.

The people of God should not despair even though their condition seems to be irrecoverable.  It seems so to you, but it is not so to God. The things that are impossible to men are not impossible to God. What though God smite us all down, if He does good to our souls and teaches us out of His law? What though we lie under these folk’s feet for a time? He will make our worst condition best.  What though we lack public ordinances for a while, if He prove a little sanctuary to us? What though He shatters all outward worldly helps (showing their emptiness) since He can help either by ordinary or extraordinary means? Let us never be discouraged and lose heart. If the heart is gone, all is gone.


The book from which this updated extract has been selected has now been published. It’s spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context. It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended. Purchase here.


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The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

Currently, “discipleship” is one of those buzz words that evangelicals have begun to use all the time, everywhere. It is only a belated reaction against the modern trend to separate “mission” and “evangelism” from “discipleship”.  Some have realised that simply being “missional” (another buzz word) is not enough. Predictably, this has prompted various attempts at discipleship manuals and courses. Historically, the Church has always been engaged in making disciples. It has also been clear about the best way to engage in this.

It was well defined by Christ in His Commission to the Apostles. Making disciples involves teaching them to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Those who are Christ’s disciples learn from Him (Matthew 11:29) and continue in His Word (John 8:31).  Their life must also be governed by His commandments (Matthew 10:25; John 15:8).  There are things to be believed and things to be done.


1. The Best Means to Make Mature Disciples

Faith and Obedience are the main themes and structure of the Westminster Catechisms. They also teach these things comprehensively, in the way that Christ commanded. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we have tools to hand (though largely forgotten) for making mature disciples.  Historically, the Church has used the tool of catechising (in a personal and flexible context) to make mature disciples.

We do not need bullet point crash courses but documents that are so rich and full that they will be lifelong guides to the truth. They will be keys to unlock greater amounts of what we need to believe and obey. The Westminster Catechisms are suitable for groups and individuals at different levels of maturity. Indeed, people can progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism.

Many make the mistake of thinking that discipleship involves teaching others to know and assent to biblical doctrines. Yet truths must also be believed and experienced in a practical sense. Discipleship also requires knowing the things to be obeyed and doing them.  This is what the Great Commission requires.

As David Dickson comments on Matthew 28:20: “Christ’s baptised disciples may not live as they wish. They must make sure to observe everything that Christ has commanded His ministers to teach them” (see free e-book at the bottom of this post).  The Larger Catechism particularly provides a full biblical exposition of the obedience that God requires. As well as applying God’s law, it gives rules to show how the law should be interpreted and applied for living.

David Dickson also provides useful comments on Hebrews 6:1.  He notes that there are two parts to Christian instruction.

Firstly to instruct in the key principles of religion, secondly, to bring this instruction to maturity or perfection. The principles must first be learned, and the foundation laid.  When people have learned the principles, their teachers must advance them further, towards maturity or perfection


2. The Most Accurate Means for Making Mature Disciples

Complete, accurate summaries: Givens B. Strickler  wrote of complete and comprehensive character of the Westminster Catechisms in an essay called “The Nature, Value and Special Utility of the Catechisms”. The answers of the Catechisms stand on their own as comprehensive definitions of the subjects they cover.

They are complete manuals of the great fundamental doctrines of divine revelation…the most complete in existence…they contain them in the most accurate form.

They also form a complete system with every doctrine in its right place and in its right relations to other doctrines. This is true of no other catechism.  Doctrines are seen in the light of all correlated truths; and thus can be so seen as to be most thoroughly understood and most fully appreciated.

Careful, accurate summaries: As Strickler notes, there is a balance in the way that the Catechisms state the truths of Scripture. They make sure that unbiblical error is rejected.

while expressing them clearly in a positive form, they, at the same time, negatively, at every important point, guard against the most serious errors.


3. The Most Focussed Means for Making Mature Disciples

The Catechisms focus clearly and comprehensively on the subject that needs to be taught. Their answers provide the basis for further questions to explore  the various aspects of the truth stated. This is more focussed than mentioning subjects in passing during a sermon when less direct and sustained attention is given to them.

When Catechisms are used effectively, teaching can also be even more direct, personal and penetrating. Richard Baxter commends catechising as a help to preaching. He realised in his own experience that “some ignorant persons, who had been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close disclosure, than they did from ten years’ public preaching”.

The Larger Catechism increases this focus and widens the subjects covered with accuracy. This is vital in encouraging deeper maturity in Christ’s disciples. As is often noted, the Larger Catechism covers the nature of the Church in greater detail. This is significant for making mature disciples. They are discipled within the context of the Church and the Great Commission emphasises the means of grace – the Word and the Sacraments – as part of this.


4. The Most Urgent Means for Making Mature Disciples

Making mature disciples will not succeed as it should until such means are taken seriously. We need to restore thorough and accurate instruction using the Catechisms to its rightful place. We will not obey the Great Commission properly, unless we give attention to this. John Calvin went so far as to say:

the Church of God shall never be conserved without catechism, for it is as the seed to be kept that the good grain perish not but that it may increase from age to age.

Children need to be catechised and to progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism. For adults, the practice of memorisation and public repetition of the answers associated with catechising in the past may not be so easy to achieve now. Yet these documents, together with the Westminster Confession, form an excellent basis for group study and discussion.

The documents can be used in a flexible and natural way to teach the truth. Over a century ago, Givens B. Strickler asked the question as to why ministers and others could not use the Catechisms to instruct in biblical truth so that:

in every church there shall be a number, at least, who shall know how to maintain them against any of the popular assaults that are so frequently made upon them? We shall never succeed as we may and ought until this is done.

“Missional” trends will rise and fall, methods will come and go unless the means for mature discipling are adopted. Evangelical churches will continue with the epidemic of biblical and theological illiteracy and disobedience to Christ’s commands. They will only do so by ignoring the preventive medicine to hand in these catechisms. It is high time for all of us to absorb more fully the biblical teaching of the Westminster Catechisms.

An earlier post about Catechising: How Well Do You Know the Truth?

For further reading about the benefits of Catechising read John J. Murray’s “Catechising: A Forgotten Practice“.

The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by J. G. Vos is a helpful and very full modern guide to a neglected treasure.

Great Commission


What is Christ’s mission for the Church? How should the Church fulfill it? This free e-Book draws from David Dickson’s comments on Matthew 28:18-20, to answer key questions about Christ’s commission to the Church. Dickson brings out the plain meaning and implications of these verses.


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Can Reading Really Save Your Life?

Can Reading Really Save Your Life?

Can Reading Really Save Your Life?

The benefits of reading are frequently extolled. Some of the benefits relate to improved health and are supported by scientific evidence. These claims may be true as far as they go, but does this go far enough? What of the benefits we need most? Such comments seem to assume that any kind of reading is a good thing. What kind of reading truly could save your life?

Hugh Binning (1627–1653) has some interesting remarks on books and reading. Binning taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. After this, he was a Church of Scotland minister. A prolific author, he had a formidable intellect and knowledge of theology and philosophy. James Durham observed “that there was no speaking after Mr Binning”. Yet he expressed himself plainly as a preacher and often attracted vast crowds. His views on reading and books are well worth gathering.


1. Temporary benefit

Some claim that “reading can save your life”. This involves any kind of reading that absorbs the mind. Does this promise too much, however? It is true that its physical benefits include stress reduction and increased calm. It helps to preserve the memory and stimulate the mind. Yet, as Binning notes, reading simply to pass valuable time is not good enough. “Many books serve no purpose except to spend and pass the time without thought”.

Reading is often commended as a way to increase intelligence. It develops the imagination, vocabulary and analytical thinking. While these are good things in themselves, it is not every book that truly enriches. We need to be selective. Binning observes that for the “most part many books are good for nothing except to burden and over-weary the world. They make readers imagine knowledge which they do not have. Many books serve only to nourish men’s curiosity, vain imaginations and contentions about words and notions”.

The health and intellectual benefits that we may gain from reading are real. Yet at best they are still only temporary. Much of the pleasure as well as benefit of books is also short-lived. Many “writings and discourses may tickle the ears with some pleasing eloquence, but that is vanishing. It is merely like a musician’s voice. Some may give minor and momentary benefits. But how soon will all that be at an end? Within a little time, the benefits of all the books of the world will be gone”.

Then there are books that promise something more than escapism. They offer therapy and increased self-esteem. A recent book with the title How Dante Saved My Life speaks of finding a way out of depression in this way. Yet there is no evidence of that author coming to rely on anything more than a gospel which is not authentic. Such therapeutic benefits may go deeper but are still only temporary.


2. Reading that truly saves your life

Truly spiritually edifying books have much to offer in so far as they communicate the truth of God’s Word. These benefits are spiritual and lasting. Yet no book other than the Scriptures can offer 100% benefit. This is the Book of all books. “Other books may have sound content, but there is still something, in either style or words which is unsound. No one can speak truth to you in such plainness, simplicity and such soundness as the Scriptures”. The Bible has “sound content and sound words. It is the truth truly presented. Health and salvation are offered in as healthful content as is possible. Its content and style are both divine”.

“Make much of Scripture, for you will neither read nor hear the like of it in the world!”

Can reading really save your life? “The Scriptures show the path of life. Life is the most excellent of all things. It comes nearest the blessed being of God. When we say life, we understand a blessed life, only this deserves the name”. Only Scripture truly offers eternal life to those that read. “Eternal life is in it”.


3. Perfectly profitable reading

“Who can speak of the usefulness and profitableness of the Scriptures equal to their worth? Some things may be over-commended, all things in fact, except this – God speaking in His word to mankind. Human writings are described in many ways. Some are called accurate, some clever, some ingenious and some profound and deep. Some are plain, some learned. They may call them what they please. Scripture justly claims the sole prerogative to these two descriptions – holy and profitable”.

“The best speaker in the world cannot avoid sinning in many words. The best writer has some dross and rubbish. But in Scripture everything is holy, everything is profitable. If you do not profit by it, you can have no pleasure in it. It is only ordained for profiting your soul, not for pleasing your imagination. It is not provided as the basis for curious speculation, nor for contention and strife about its interpretation. Scripture both can profit you and will profit you. I wish that souls would read the Scriptures as profitable Scriptures intending to receive profit. If you do not read with such a purpose, you do not read not the Scriptures of God. They become like any other book to you”.

“But what are they profitable for? For doctrine – divine doctrine, a doctrine of life and happiness. It is the great promise of the new covenant, ‘You shall be all taught of God’. Scripture can make a man learned and wise, learned to salvation. It is foolishness to the world, “but the world through wisdom know not God.” What then do they know? Is there any besides God? And is there any knowledge besides the knowledge of God? You have a poor, lesser wisdom among you to gather riches and manage your business. Others have a poor imaginary wisdom that they call learning.

Generally people think that to pray to God is merely a paper-skill, a little book-craft. They think the knowledge of God is nothing else except learning to read the Bible. Do not be mistaken. To know God is something altogether different. The doctrine of Jesus Christ written on the heart is a deep, profound learning. The poorest, most simple, least educated people may (by the Spirit’s teaching) become wiser than their ancients, than their ministers”.


4. Deeper reading: searching the Scriptures

This kind of reading truly offers life. But this life does not come merely from the activity of reading. A deeper reading that is required. This involves searching the Scriptures. Search them to discover eternal life. Search them to find Christ and to know him. To know Christ is eternal life.

“Searching signifies diligence, great diligence. It’s a serious work, it’s not ordinary seeking of an easy and common thing. It’s search and scrutiny for something hidden or something special. Bare reading of the Scriptures will not fulfill this duty unless it is diligent and daily reading. Yet this alone is not enough unless the spirit within meditates on them and searches diligently through meditation. There is some hidden secret that you must search for which is enclosed within the covering of words and sentences. There is a mystery of wisdom that you must apply your hearts to searching out (Ecclesiastes 7: 5). Jesus Christ is the treasure hid in this field. O precious treasure of eternal life! Now then, souls, search in the fields of the Scriptures (Proverbs 2:4) for Him as for hidden treasure. It is not only truth you must seek, buy, and not sell but you must search for life”.


5. Deeper reading: meditating on the Scriptures

Deeper reading means more than merely understanding the truth. “If you want to profit from the Scriptures, you must bring both understanding and affections to them. You must not depart until they both return full. If you bring your understanding to seek the truth, you may find truth, but not truly. You may find it, but you are not found of it.”

“You may ‘know the truth’, but you are not ‘known of it’. Nor are you brought into captivity to obeying it. The treasure that is hidden in the Scriptures is Jesus Christ, whose complete and perfect name is, ‘Way, Truth, and Life’. He is a living truth and true life…He has truth in him to satisfy the mind, and has life and goodness in Him to completely satisfy the heart”.

The amount that we find of Christ is the amount of profit we get from the Scriptures.

Deeper reading means meditating on the Word that we read. “It is not so much reading much of Scripture that profits, as pondering these things in your hearts. Digesting them by frequent meditation, until they become the food of the soul”.



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