The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love

The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love

The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
18 Sep, 2020

Our culture constantly suggests to us that the key to happiness is unconditional self-love. The implication is that this is the ultimate love and it will guarantee us success and security. This creates what one writer has called a toxic culture of self-love that will never satisfy. We do not need to go to the opposite extreme, instead we need to turn from focus on self to the ultimate love Christ has for His own. It is self-denying, self-sacrificing love for the unlovely, dealing with rather than accepting sin. Those who are His own turn from sin and by grace depend on Him alone by faith. There is very much to be gained from contemplating this ultimate special love that Christ has for His people.

We have a description of this love in John 13:1: “when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end”. This is one of the first passages that Thomas Goodwin makes use of in his book The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth. He says that although Christ’s thoughts were on leaving this world, yet they were also on His own who were in the world. The words “his own” reflect the nearness and dearness with which He considers them. His love will not be diminished in any way by departing from the world “having loved them, he alters, he changes not, and therefore will love them forever”. He will be mindful of them still and His heart in heaven has the fulness of love that He demonstrated then for them. He will love His own to the end. George Hutcheson draws out something of the fulness of comfort that John 13:1 offers to us in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Love is for His Own is Infinite

The infinite love of tender-hearted Christ is the allowance and portion of all His special ones; for, “he loved his own”.

2. Christ Love for His Own Answers the Troubles of this World

Christ leaves His children in this tempestuous world to be humbled with remaining sin and tossed with the tempests of time. Yet that neither takes away their claims on Him nor His love toward them; for, “he loved his own…in the world”.

3. Christ’s Love for His Own is the Same in Heaven

The disadvantages of saints (particularly being left in the world when Christ went out of it) do not hinder His love toward them. Rather it is a reason why He should love them and let out more of His love. It is not only not a hindrance of His love; it is a reason: He loved His own because they were in the world. And especially now in His farewell, He gives proof of it, considering the dangers to which they were left exposed.

4. Christ’s Love for His Own is Constant

It is not enough to see Christ’s love towards His saints in particular past experiences. They must also labour to see its uninterrupted course from the time of their conversion onwards. Therefore, now at His farewell, He makes His past love clear to them that He had loved them until now and was to give a proof of it. He “having loved his own which were in the world…loved them unto the end”.

5. Christ’s Love for His Own is Known in Every Condition

Christ’s love is not to be measured only by our satisfaction with a felt sense of the tender ways it is given to us. The sum of all His dealings towards His own is love. It ought to be read in every condition and all His dealings. Love had been maintained in His tender heart for all this time. There had been many various past experiences between Him and His disciples (some of them very contrary to their preferences). Yet all is summed up in this, He had “loved his own”.

6. Christ’s Love for His Own is Unchangeable

Christ’s special love toward His own is unchangeable and incessant until they are perfected and enjoy its fulness. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. He continued His love from the beginning until now. He is to die for them and depart from them and continues it even then. He will do so until they are brought to the end of their journey.

7. Christ’s Love for His Own is Ever Growing

Christ’s love is not a declining love, but a love that continually grows in what it effects. Nor is it only a love that consists only in good affection and wishes. It breaks out and expresses itself in notable ways. This is evidenced by His dying for His own. He loved them to the end, even to the death He suffered for them. And in so doing, He loved them perfectly (as the Greek word translated “end” can also mean). Thus, He proved that His love was a growing love in being manifested with such abundance at last.

8. Christ’s Love for His Own Provides All They Need

When Christ’s followers are in any danger unchangeable love will be active to cover their infirmities during trials. He will provide invigorating medicines for them and testify His special care for them. His love is noted as a cause why He will reveal His love now (when He is to depart and they will be scattered, shaken with trials and left desolate). He will let out much of His heart and give them such sweet instructions in explaining the sign of washing their feet. Indeed, His love suffers much to ensure what is necessary for His disciples. If there were no more, His love is enough to move Him to see them well cared for.

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Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God

Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God

Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
11 Sep, 2020

Surveys of Evangelical belief ought to be straightforward, but Ligonier’s State of Theology research has uncovered a consistent pattern of error and confusion over recent years. The following answers are from those who profess profess core evangelical beliefs about the Bible and salvation in the USA. 62% claim to believe the heresy that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God”. 30% also agree “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God” with a further 8% unable to reject it absolutely. Other worrying trends are that evangelicals are evenly divided in response to “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature”. Similar results were found in a survey of UK evangelicals in 2018. If this is even remotely accurate it reveals at the very least catastrophic confusion about core doctrine. Clear teaching cannot be taken for granted. We need to remind ourselves often of the glorious deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and just why it matters so much.

This not a matter of mere theological interest for those who study such matters. It is a matter of eternal life and death; it concerns our salvation. Why indeed is it so important? This is a question that the Larger Catechism asks (Q38). “Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?” The answer is very full, it shows that our salvation depends on it entirely. “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favour, purchase a peculiar [special] people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation”.

How do we know that Christ is God and how does it affect us? It affects the faith, worship and obedience we owe to God. Knowing and believing that Christ is God are the two vital matters that Francis Cheynell (a member of the Westminster Assembly) helps us to do that in this updated extract. We need first of all to establish clearly from Scripture that the Lord Jesus is truly and eternally God, equal with the Father and Holy Spirit.

1. Christ Has the Same Nature as the Father

Jesus Christ is over all God blessed forever (Romans 9:5). God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). The blessed and only Potentate, who only has immortality etc and to whom everlasting honour and power are ascribed (1 Timothy 6:16). He is the great God (Titus 2:13). The true God (1 John 5:20).

Which of the saints or angels did God at any time call: my Son, the heir of all things, the illustrious brightness of my glory, and the express image of my person? His throne as God is forever and ever, and all the angels of God worship Him (see Hebrews 1:3-13). These things are so clear and plain, that I am even almost ashamed to write more in arguing this case. Yet I am encouraged and even provoked to proceed. Jesus Christ was the Wonderful Child; a Child, and yet a Father, the Father of Eternity; a Child, and yet a Counsellor, the wisest of all Counsellors, for he is Wisdom itself; a Child, and yet a God, a mighty God (Isaiah 9:6).

The same Godhead subsists in the Lord Jesus, who is equal to the Father because He subsists in the nature of God (Philippians 2:6). The word translated “being” or “existing” in Philippians 2:6 could be best rendered by “subsisting”. This is because there is a comparison there between two subsistences or persons, the Father and the Son. The Son counts it no robbery to be equal with the Father because He subsists in the nature of God.

He has the same Divine nature, the same Godhead with the Father and “all the fullness of the Godhead” dwells truly, really, bodily in the Son (Colossians 2:9). Body is the opposite of shadow, so it might be rendered: the Godhead dwells personally in the Son and is often translated as person. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells really in the subsistence or person of the Son. Christ is the illustrious brightness of His Father’s glory, the express living image or character of His Father’s subsistence or person (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is not the character of His own subsistence, but His Father’s subsistence. The Son, therefore, has a special subsistence distinct from the subsistence of His Father. Christ is the express image of His Father’s person, and therefore the person of the Son is distinct from the person of the Father; for no person is the image or character of itself.

2. Christ is Eternal

The Godhead subsists in Jesus Christ, who was before the beginning (John 1:1). The word “was” indicates what is past. Therefore, He had His being before the beginning of time. It is clear that His eternal being is a divine being both because it is eternal and because it is not only said that He was with God before the beginning, but He was God. It clearly follows that Jesus Christ is the same eternal God with His Father; for it is impossible that there should be more than one God.

3. Christ is Jehovah

Jehovah is a title unique and special to God (Isaiah 43:11-12). Jehovah is the only Saviour, the only God. His name alone is Jehovah, the Most High over all the earth (Psalm 83:18). But the Lord Christ is Jehovah, and therefore the Lord Christ is God. Jehovah sits on a throne in majesty and glory (Isaiah 6.:1, 3, 5, 8) but the Lord Christ is this Jehovah, as the apostle, assures us (John 12:41-42). The Lord Christ is that Jehovah to whom every knee must bow; as appears by comparing Isaiah 45:21-25 with Romans 14:9-12 and Philippians 2:6, 9-11.

The same is clear by comparing Psalm 102:19, 22, 25-26 with Hebrews 1:10-12. Once more, compare also Numbers 14:26-27 with 1 Corinthians 10:9-10 and Numbers 21:6. Thus, Christ is so gloriously described in Revelation 1:5-8 as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. And therefore, He is Jehovah. For the apostle there and to the end of that chapter uses these and similar expressions which comprise the sense and meaning of that divine and glorious title of Jehovah.

I might further argue this by showing that the title of Lord so often given to Christ in the New Testament corresponds with the title of Jehovah in the Old Testament. The apostles most likely purposely used the title of Lord, not to offend the Jews with frequently pronouncing the word Jehovah. The word Jehovah in Deuteronomy 6:13 and Deuteronomy 10:20 is rendered Lord when the verse is quoted in Matthew 4:10 (compare also Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37).

4. Christ is God With Us

Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is that God who took flesh and blood (1 Timothy 3:16) and that God who redeemed the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The Early Church Fathers frequently pointed to John 16:15 compared with John 10. 30 and John 10. 37. From this, they concluded that Christ has the same divine nature and Godhead with the Father. Both have the same divine and essential titles and attributes and perform the same inward operations in reference to all creatures. They inferred from this that it was reasonable to use the word “consubstantial” [that the Father and Son share the same divine substance]. Even though the word is not in Scripture, the sense and meaning are. It is orthodox and scriptural because it is evidently deduced from these verses and others previously cited. I will add one more to make it even clearer: compare John 17:10 with John 16:15. Whatever belongs to the Father as God, belongs to Christ (in terms of essential rather than personal properties).

For the clearer demonstration of this truth, let us now come down to specific matters. The attributes of God; the works of God and the worship of God are all ascribed and given to Jesus Christ. This is so that we may confess and acknowledge Him to be God, the true God, the mighty God, the self-same only God with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

5. Christ has the Attributes of God

(a) Christ is Eternal
“In the beginning, was the Word” (John 1:1). The word “was” denotes some former duration. Therefore, we conclude that He was before the beginning, before any creation or creature. It is said that He was God in the beginning and His divine nature by which He works is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). He is the First and Last (Revelation 1:17). He is called the first-born of every creature, because He who created all and upholds all, has the power to command and dispose of all (Colossians 1:15-17). This is just as the first-born had the power to command the family or kingdom (compare Isaiah 44:6with Revelation 22:13 and Proverbs 8:22-23)

(b) Christ is All-Powerful
He is able to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). He is called the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). He is the Almighty (Revelation 1: 8). He made all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; Psalm 102:26 compared with Hebrews 1:8-10 and John 1:10. He upholds all things (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17).

(c) Christ is Unchangeable
See Hebrews 1:12, a quotation from Psalm 102:26-27.

(d) Christ is All-Knowing
He knows what is in the heart (John 2:25). He is the searcher of hearts (Revelation 2:23). He knows all things (John 21:17). He is the wisdom of the Father (1 Corinthians 1:24). He knows the Father of Himself (Matthew 11:27) and according to His own will reveals the secrets of His Father’s bosom as the Word. All the treasures of wisdom are in Him (Colossians 2:3).

(e) Christ is Infinite
He is not contained in any place, He was before there was any place, and created all places by His own power (John 1:1, 3). While He was on earth in respect of His bodily presence, He was in the bosom of the Father – which must be understood of his Divine Nature and Person (John 1:18). He came down from heaven yet remained in heaven (John 3:13).

6. Christ Does the Work of God

Christ performs the works of God, those divine and supernatural works that are special and unique to Him. Those such as none but God can perform. He raised the dead by His own power at His own will (John 5:21, 28-29; John 11:25). He is called the resurrection and the life because He is the author of both. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise (John 5:17, 19). He wrought miracles, He has the same Nature and power with the Father, and therefore does the same works. He regenerates our Souls, pardons our sins, saves our souls. He has appeased the wrath, and satisfied the justice of God, by His divine mediation. He gives temporal, spiritual, eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 6:38, 40).

7. Christ Receives Divine Honour

(a) All the glorious angels are commanded to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6).

(b) All true Christians are described by calling on and believing in the name of Christ (Acts 9:14; John 1:12).

(c) All are obliged to give the same honour to Christ which they are required to give to God the Father (John 5:23).

(d) There are many examples of this being done in Scripture which confirms these commands (Acts 7:59-60; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 22:20).

(e) Baptism is administered in the name and to the honour of Christ (Matthew 28:17-20).

(f) At the Day of Judgment, every knee must bow to Him and acknowledge Him to be equal to His Father (Isaiah 45:21-25 compared with Romans 14:10-12 and Philippians 2:6, 9-11).

(g) All that are justified believe in Him and those who believe in Him shall not be ashamed (Romans 3:25-26; 1 Peter 2:6-7).

(h) The apostolic benediction so often repeated in the epistles includes the Lord Jesus Christ in a divine blessing.

Because God is true, He will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 48:11), and He because He is just He cannot do so either. Though Christ is a distinct person from His Father, He is not a distinct God but one and the same God with Him, God blessed forever.

8. We Must Believe in Christ as God

God the Son is the object of our faith (John 14:1). The whole gospel was written for this purpose, that we might be persuaded to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31). Believing this is necessary and effectual to salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:11-13; 1 John 5:20). We are to believe in Christ as a Mediator, that our faith and hope may be settled in God (1 Peter 1:21).
The great encouragement to believe in Christ as an all-sufficient Mediator is this, Jesus Christ is the natural Son of God. If Christ presents us to His Father, we are confident that the Son of God, His only begotten Son will prevail with His Father for us. His relation to God assures us that the intercession of our High-Priest will be irresistible and undeniable (Hebrews 5:5-6; Psalm 110:1, 4; Psalm 2:2,7-8; Hebrews 7:25, 28). All the offices of Christ are based on His Sonship. His kingly power (Psalm 2:6-7); His prophetic office (Matthew 17:5) and His priestly office (Galatians 2:20).

We must believe in Christ as God, the self-same God with the Father. When we know Christ to be God, we must glorify Him as God by believing in Him. When Peter preached to Cornelius, he told them that Jesus Christ was Lord of all (Acts 10:36), judge of all (Acts 10:42) and that all the prophets gave witness to Him. Also that through His name, whoever believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43).

We must abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). Every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). The Father is glorified in the Son (John 14:13). The Son is to be glorified in all them whom the Father has given Him (John 17:10). And Christ is to be glorified by their believing in Him (John 17:23). And the Father Himself loves them because they believe in the Son (John 16:27). If we do not honour the Son, we do not honour the Father (John 5:23). There is also the great mystery of uniting the soul to Christ by Faith (Ephesians 5:32) and making of it one Spirit with the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Conclusion

These truths are not mere items of information. They are food for faith to feed on, they are reasons for love to wonder and adore, they are encouragements to persevere in obedience and dependence on Christ. A failure to teach people clearly the core truths of Christ robs them of the fulness of these things and means that they are not learning Christ as they are meant to. Cheynell gives us a final way to apply these truths.

We may then look upon the Son, admire and bless the Father, look upon the Father and bless the Son, look upon Father and Son and bless the Spirit, look upon all three, admire and bless, adore and love, know, believe and obey all three coequal persons, subsisting in the same most single Godhead, and have access to the Father through the Son, and by the Spirit with reverence and confidence, zeal and love.

Note: the Ligonier survey results can be found at https://thestateoftheology.com/

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5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
19 Jun, 2020

People often speak about spiritual growth, but what does it look like? Words and activities are easy. Love in the heart and in outward expression and obedience is what Christ looks for (Revelation 2:4; John 14:15). Love to Christ makes us want to be like Him. Where does that love come from? Love comes from love. Our love can be kindled and increased from His own love towards us. How do we grow in our love for Christ? He uses means such as prayer and the Word to strengthen this love. We must take time to consider deeply the Saviour and His love and seek to draw close to Him. Here are five ways in which Christ makes the flame of love in His people burn stronger and brighter.

In preaching on John 17:24, Robert Traill gives some clear and helpful advice on increasing our love for the Lord. Christ’s heart is set on having His people where He is. Surely, we ought to love Him in return. Most of those who lay claim to the name of Christian, think they make some conscience of loving Christ. They think it to be an entirely just debt and duty to Him and are ready to say with Paul, “If any man love, not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema, Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22). But just as the love that Christ bears to His people, is not so well known and believed as it ought to be; so the love His people owe to Him, is not as well paid as it ought to be. Previously, we have considered 9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ. In the following updated extract, Traill shows us five ways to increase in love for Christ.

1. Consider Christ and His Love

Take a serious view of the lover, the beloved, and of the love, He bears to them. Consider Christ who loves, His people whom He loves, and the love He bears to them. These three must be seen by the eye of faith in the light of God’s Word. The glory and greatness of the One who loves, the vileness of those whom He loves and the greatness of the love He bears to them. When this is considered two thoughts will rise in the heart.

(a) His love is great

How marvellous, that such a person as He is should love such people as we are and in such a way.

(b) Our love should also be great

How great our love should be to Him in return. What is the cause of this usual and fad remark, Worldly sinners reckon it an easy thing to believe that Christ loves them, though they never tasted of His special love. Yet many sincere Christians find it difficult to believe Christ’s love to them. Even though they dare not deny they have sometimes tasted that He is gracious (1 Peter 3:3). They find it hardest to believe it at the times when they see either the divine dignity of Christ or their wretchedness (these usually go together).

It is because this love of Christ is so mysterious and wonderful, (as the lover Himself is Isaiah 9:6). We find it difficult therefore to think that Christ loves any except those who are like Him in some way. We fail to recognise aright that Christ can and does love those who are not like Him. He loves them so as to make them like Him by His love. His love always has this blessed effect in everyone on whom it rests.

2. Believe Christ’s Love

Usually, we want to have His love proved and manifested to us. But I advise you to take this way instead – get your faith fixed on Christ’s love. Do not think that I am persuading you to conclude rashly that Christ loves you. Take Christ’s love-letters and Christ’s lovely picture in the gospel (the New Testament is full of them). Believe them and love them, and then use them to believe and love Him. Behold Christ crucified (Galatians 3:1); behold Him dying and redeeming by His blood in sheer love to the redeemed. Read His love-letters filled with gracious calls, offers, and promises. All these letters are sealed with His blood which was shed in love. This is a blessed activity you will soon benefit from.

3. Pray to Experience His Love

Pray much for His love to be manifested to you. You are to give Him glory by believing His love-letters and His beautiful picture in the gospel and increasing faith and love using those helps. But you may also beg Him to manifest His love to you. See His promise in John 14:21-23). These words are more precious than fine gold. When one of His disciples asks (either in ignorance or wonder) how this could be (verse 22), our Lord answers that He and the Father will come and make their abode with those who love Him and keep His words (verse 23). The language is very similar to His words in Revelation 3:20. Thus he manifests His love (1 John 4:12,15). Our love is “made perfect” but how did it begin and how is it advanced? Verse 19 tells us that “We love him because he first loved us.”

What are Christians doing? How poorly they do it. Where is the person who is sick with love for Christ? This blessed disease (or soul’s health, rather) is twofold. It is pining hunger either for His love being manifested (Song 5:8) or for the overwhelming sweetness of His love when it is manifested (Song 2:5). If you know nothing of either of these, your bodies may be well, but your souls do not prosper.

I do not think there ever was a poor believer who breathed after Christ’s love for long before they felt it. Most people do not care about it, so they do not seek it and therefore they do not find it. Some of them may say (like those who had not heard of the Holy Spirit, Acts 19:2), “we have not felt any of the love of Christ; we know nothing of it except what is said of it in Scripture, and as it is to be enjoyed in heaven.” But sadly, few feel how it burns like a hot fire in the heart even on earth (Song 8:6-7).

4. Kindle Your Love from Christ’s Love

When Christ has manifested His love kindle your flame of love from the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Kindle your love to Him at the fire of His love to you. No other fire will kindle true love to Christ except the believing and feeling Christ’s love to you. What made Paul such a fervent lover of Christ except knowing that Christ loved him and gave Himself for him (Galatians 2:20)? No wonder he said, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). “Christ died at Jerusalem for my redemption; and will I not die there for His glory, if He calls me to do that?”

5. Let Your Love Burn for Christ

When you have kindled your love to Christ from His love to you let it burn in serving and praising Him (it grows by burning). Use and exercise that love in all holy worship, and all gospel-obedience. The best worship and most acceptable obedience are done out of love for Christ. This love constrained Paul to excel in living for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). If our working and running only comes from the spur of the law constraining the conscience, it is of no account in the sight of God.

Faith in Christ increases love for Christ. Faith and love together enliven us in all holy obedience and spiritual worship. The Christian then reads and hears the word of Christ, because they love to hear His voice. They pray because they love to speak to and pour out their heart to their best friend. They sit down at the Lord’s table because they love to see and draw spiritual strength from their slain Saviour. They hate evil because they love the Lord (Psalm 97:10). They keep Christ’s commandments because they love the One commanding (John 14:15).

Be assured of this, you have not yet got into the right way of Christianity in which you can be hearty, sincere, and constant without fainting until you get into the power of the love of Christ. You will then be carried along sweetly in all your ways and His ways. The one who believes and loves Christ may then say, “Let the Lord lead me where He pleases; I am still going to heaven. I am in the river of life, that is the love of Christ, that began (if we can speak like that) in eternity and carries me through time to the eternal enjoyment of the same love in heaven.”

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Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
10 Apr, 2020

The current crisis is impacting every nation of the world. The extent and duration of that is uncertain but it will impact on almost everyone’s lives. Everything seems to be shaking: companies and economies, political systems, health provision, entertainment, social norms and churches. It is a troubling time when foundations are exposed. A time of shaking should lead us to consider the things that cannot be shaken. There is a purpose in shaking all things so that those things that cannot be shaken remain (Hebrews 12:17-28). Most of all it directs us to Christ.

That passage in Hebrews chapter 12 refers to Haggai 2:6-7 which speaks of how the nations would be shaken to make way for the coming of Christ to His temple. He is called there “the desire of all nations”. he is the light, life, and desire of all all that will put their trust in Him among the nations. There were great shakings and changes with the way that the Old Testament Church and its ceremonies were removed. It is Christ Himself that says “I will fill this house with glory as is clear from (Hebrews 12:24-26).

The world has been shaken by the transforming power of the gospel having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Such things will happen from time to time, from nation to nation to establish Christ’s glory and kingdom. Christ comes in power in many ways not necessarily in person. He comes in revival, reformation and judgment. He comes in power in the preaching of the gospel. We do not have any special insight into what is happening and why but we know that the purposes of God are prospering in Christ’s hand (Isaiah 53:10). His ultimate purpose is His own glory and the establishing of His kingdom. We do not intend to second guess how and when this will happen but we know that this is Christ’s ultimate purpose whatever we may witness in the immediate future.

George Hutcheson explains more of what we can learn from Haggai 2:7 in the following updated extract. As we consider it may we be encouraged to pray expectantly for Christ’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can certainly pray that even during this crisis many will be brought into contact with the Word and gospel of Christ for their eternal good.

1. The nations are shaken to establish the glory of Christ

Christ manifested in the flesh, is in Himself the only desirable and lovely one. If He were known He would be seen to be desirable and the only choice of all. His own in all nations will be made to desire and flee to Him until the time that the fulness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). He is described here as the desire of all nations as well as the Lord whom the Jews sought (Malachi 3:1). This is in relation to His excellence and His purposes concerning them. It also refers to what would be the outcome of His manifestation according to the prophecy in Genesis 49:10.

2. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s worship

The way of God’s worship and of the Church, established by Christ at His coming in the flesh is unalterable in its own nature.  It is to continue without any new forms or ways until God once for all shakes and dissolves heaven and earth. There may be many commotions even until the end of the world. This is for it to get a footing where it had none and restoring where it has been dispossessed. The ceremonial law was removed to make room for the gospel way of worship, yet this was “once” (v6) with no alteration after that.

Christ manifested in the flesh and His presence in His Gospel make up for the lack of outward visible glory amongst a people and the lack of external grandeur in worship. It is promised, “the desire of all nations shall come” and “I will fill this house with glory”. 

3. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s kingdom

The Lord will shake and overturn all things rather than His Word fail and His people lack promised help. As all nations have their own time of shaking and commotion, so every such situation does not declare ruin.  Sometime it is the fore-runner of Christ’s coming in a gospel reformation, especially where Christ becomes precious and desirable to a people. He declares His power would be employed for fulfilling His promises. He would “shake all nations” and then “the desire of all nations shall come”.

4. The nations are shaken to remove opposition to Christ 

There is much opposition in the way of Christ’s kingdom and gospel in the world. There is especially much opposition in people’s own stubborn hearts. Christ both can and will remove this where He has a special purpose of good. There must therefore be strange shakings of nations and individuals before Christ and the gospel can have their due place or use. He therefore shakes heaven and earth and all nations before this great mercy can be put in place or they are prepared for it. This so  that the desire of all nations will come.

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Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
31 Jan, 2020

One of the unspoken assumptions in the Church today is that doctrine divides while action and love unites. It’s assumed that a focus on doctrine not only makes the body of Christ introspective but also divisive. Who wants conflict and division? But the difficulty is that people want to act and do certain things driven by their doctrinal understanding. This then leads to differences and may well divide. It ignores the fact, however, that doctrine is supposed to divide. We are meant to divide from those who teach false doctrine (Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9). One of the slogans of the ecumenical movement has been that “Christ unites but doctrine divides”. When we look at Christ’s teaching, however, we find that His doctrine created divisions (Matthew 10:34). If we take a closer look at an example of when His teaching created division it will cast significant light on this issue.

There is a division among the people in relation to Christ’s doctrine in John 10. Similar divisions are recorded on three separate previous occasions (John 6:52; John 7:43; John 9:16). This is why in John 10:19 it records that the people are once more divided in their opinion about Him. Many slander Him as being possessed and mad. According to them, He is should not therefore be heard (John 10:20). Others maintain that His doctrine and miracles sufficiently refute such a false charge (verse 21). George Hutcheson draws the clear lessons for us from this incident in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Doctrine Does Not Always Have A Positive Impact

Christ’s doctrine will not fail to have an effect or operation among those who hear it, whoever they are. All of those present at this time have an opinion about these sayings.

It is not to be expected that Christ’s doctrine will have the same effects in everyone. As it gains ground with some, so others will harden themselves the more that they are dealt with. This is what we see here in the different opinions about Him and His doctrine.

2. Christ’s Doctrine Divides Because of Sinful Opposition

When Christ’s doctrine meets with various kinds of dispositions, it ordinarily occasions division or schism. This is due to the perverse obstinacy of some in opposing the truth which others maintain: “there was a division (or schism) therefore among the Jews for these sayings”. This is not to be attributed to the doctrine itself nor to those who maintain the truth. It is only due to the corruptions of those who oppose true doctrine. The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

As Christ’s doctrine ordinarily finds people as they were, if not worse, so they often relapse into the same opposition to Him and His truth. There was a division again after similar debates (John 7:43 and 9:16). They were still the same and He noticed that this was so.

3. Christ’s Doctrine May be Opposed by the Majority

When divisions and schisms take place due to Christ and His doctrine it is no strange thing to see the majority on the wrong side of the controversy. There are many who slander Him and only few who take His side.

4. Christ’s Doctrine May Stir Up Malicious Opposition

Those who oppose Christ and His truth are ordinarily so possessed with prejudice and malice that they will not so much as hear Him. Neither can they endure others listening to Him patiently. They asked others why they listened to Him (v20).

The strongest arguments that prejudiced malice have against Christ and His truth are only slanders against Him, the truth and those who convey it. Their argument is that He has “a devil” which explains why they think He is mad and therefore ought not to be heard (v20).

Malice is so prejudiced and blinded that no reason may be expected from those who are possessed with it. They will most unjustly and obstinately slander, if it were possible, even Christ Himself. Although He came to destroy the works of Satan and is the wisdom of the Father, they said He had a devil and was mad. Although they had often reproached Him with this (John 7:20;8:48) and Christ had refuted it, yet they still cast it at Him again.

5. Christ’s Doctrine Speaks for Him

Malice may be as prejudged and violent as possible, but Christ will still get some who will justify Him and His doctrine. There are others who contradict these slanders.

Christ’s doctrine and works are sufficient to plead for Him and to refute adversaries even to their face. Their reply went home against these malicious people that these were not the words of someone with a devil. “Can a devil open the eyes the blind?” (v21)

Those who would own Christ especially in a time of opposition ought to study His doctrine and works to esteem His Word. They first of all commend His words as not the words of a devil and then commend His work: “Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (v21)

Conclusion

It is clear therefore that Christ’s truth will divide especially when His Word is categorically denied and resisted. When the doctrines concerning Christ and His work are denied and set aside there will always be division. When the authority of Christ’s Word is rejected, division is a necessary thing.

Doctrine is also, however, a unifying thing. Christ’s intention was that His doctrine would unite His people. The truth is crucial to His prayer for their unity (John 17:8,17,19, 23). If we do not have “the unity of the faith” we will be tossed about with every wind and wave of doctrine and unstable (Ephesians 4:13-14). Differences inevitably arise but we are to strive after unity of understanding. Paul identifies a unity in truth as essential to a unity among the Corinthians. He urges that they “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you”. They are to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). We must not separate Christ and His Word. His sheep hear His voice and they know Him (John 10:14 and 27). We need to continue in His Word (John 8:31).  

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Does the Future Have a Church?

Does the Future Have a Church?

Does the Future Have a Church?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
9 Jan, 2020

Perhaps you have heard that question before. In the midst of a generation of radical change we ask, what is the Church’s future? We are moving into 2020, so what will it look like in say 2050? What direction is it likely to take? Will attendances in the UK indeed drop by 90% as predicted? We can make educated guesses based on current trends but ultimately it is unknown. Does the future have a Church? When we ask that question, it often tends to assume that the world of the future is more certain than the church of the future. In fact, the reverse is the case. We may not know all that will happen to the Church but we know that it will endure.

At the end of Psalm 102 the psalmist is wrestling in prayer for the Church. He also has a sense of his own mortality and prays not to be taken away in the midst of his days on earth. His faith is strengthened by various arguments drawn from Christ’s eternal, omnipotent and unchangeable being (Psalm 102:24-27 is applied to Christ in Hebrews 1:11-12). This passage shows that our grief for the afflictions the Church experiences is not fruitless. Our prayers are heard and answered. In this updated extract, David Dickson explains how these truths provide great comfort for us. They give us a solid assurance that the Church will endure from one generation to another (Psalm 102:28). The foundation for this is Christ’s eternal, omnipotent and unchangeable being.

1. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Eternal

The eternity of Christ is the consolation of the believer in their mortality. The eternity of Christ as God is the pledge of our preservation and of the fulfilment of God’s promises to us. The Church will both endure and be established (v28). We can draw this solid conclusion from the unchangeability and eternity of God.

2. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Omnipotent

Christ’s omnipotence is a rock for the believer in covenant with God to rest on. This may be seen in the works of creation, for what can He not do who has made all things out of nothing (v25)?

3. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Unchangeable

The immutability of God provides notable comfort for His afflicted people. Because He does not change, they will not therefore be consumed (Malachi 3:6). The heavens will perish and be changed like a garment but Christ remains the same (Hebrews 1:11-12).

Whatever change may happen to the visible Church from the world’s perspective, from God’s view it is as fixed, stable and “established” as a house built on a rock.

The Church will never be barren, but from generation to generation will produce children to God (v28). The true members of the Church are not the children of the flesh simply, but the children of the same faith and obedience with the godly teachers and servants of God of the past. That is how the promised children of the Church are described here. 

Conclusion

We can have complete confidence that the Church Christ is building will endure. This does not necessarily guarantee its future in any particular location or expression. But it gives us the confidence to commit ourselves entirely to Christ’s Church and seek to have it established only according to His revealed will for it.   

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
28 Nov, 2019

How do we measure the outcomes of serving Christ? Lots of activity? Large offerings and attendances? Many conversions? Our focus may be drawn to things that are commendable to a greater or lesser extent. But are they the main thing? Are we forgetting that any true growth only comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:7)? Overvaluing ourselves or other people and what we can do comes from undervaluing Christ. Are we in danger of getting in the way of people being able to see no one but the Saviour? This misses the whole point of serving Christ, there is no real progress unless we are brought low and He is lifted up.

When we look at our own personal service to Christ—is it about us or about Christ? Do we have the selfless attitude of Christ in what we do (Philippians 2:3-8)? It’s easy to measure ourselves by others and what they do—but that is wrong (2 Corinthians 10:12). We have nothing but weakness to contribute (2 Corinthians 11:30). Even when we have done everything that it was our duty to do we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).

There is a biblical way to measure our service to Christ. It is the extent to which Christ is magnified. This was Paul’s approach (Philippians 1:20). Everyone would acknowledge this. But we cannot magnify Christ and ourselves at the same time. The way to magnify Christ more is that we should diminish. The motto of John the Baptist’s ministry was “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must be constantly decreasing, and He must be constantly increasing. It is fatal to undervalue Christ, but impossible to overvalue Him.

John the Baptist’s role was to point to Christ and prepare the way for Him. This meant taking attention away from himself. As George Hutcheson describes it, he was like the morning star which is increasingly obscured by the rising sun. Even though John was a burning and shining light, that brightness had to give way to the full glory of the Sun of Righteousness who was to shine ever more brightly. John did not stop being what he had been, but he was increasingly less esteemed as Christ was truly seen. This is how it should be.

As we reflect more on John the Baptist’s motto “He must increase, but I must decrease” we can see how it is the true measure of what it is to serve Christ. In a man-centred and man-pleasing age, attracted by what impresses us superficially, there is a strong temptation to eclipse the spiritual glory of Christ by letting someone else get in the way. As George Hutcheson explains in this updated extract, John the Baptist’s statement gives us the right perspective.

1. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS KNOWN

When Christ is not known, He will not be thought much of and not duly acknowledged. This means that others are esteemed too much. John implies that since Christ was not fully manifested, He was not properly esteemed. He implies also that He himself was esteemed too greatly by many. Indeed, some thought that John himself was the Messiah due to their ignorance of Christ.

2. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS GLORIFIED

When Christ shines in His glory, He will obscure the excellence of other things. This is the case with ministers in particular, not in respect of the purpose for which Christ has appointed them (to preach Himself). Such preaching will be in request even more as Christ becomes more glorious. But any pride or thinking of themselves too highly must vanish. When Christ shines in His fulness the light and glory belonging to ministers is seen as merely borrowed from Him, as the daystar borrows light from the sun. Christ’s splendour and light will obscure and swallow up their borrowed light as the rising sun does in relation to the daystar. The minister’s light and shining must be considered as only subservient to leading people to Christ and not to be rested on for itself. All this is implied when John says, “he must increase, but I must decrease”.

Proud envy will never be satisfied and those who indulge it will find they are tempted to it more and more in all kinds of ways. John tells those of his disciples who wanted to see him exalted that they were going to see him even less and Christ much more esteemed. “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

3. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS REVEALED

Where Christ manifests Himself and is truly known our estimation of Him will increase. It will be as the light that shines “more and more unto the perfect day”. There is such an excellence in Him that it cannot be fully comprehended at once. The more He is seen, the more He will be esteemed and accounted excellent. His kingdom and glory will continue to increase. “He must increase,” not in Himself, but as He is revealed and esteemed.

4. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH WE ARE CONTENT TO BE NOTHING

The purpose of the ministry of faithful servants of Christ is to commend and present Him. They will therefore be content to be abased and obscured, providing He is exalted and in request. They will be satisfied to see their Master esteemed more highly than themselves as merely the servants. This is why John speaks of this outcome as something with which he was content.

CONCLUSION

John goes on to say that Christ is “above all” (John 3:31). He is not only above John the Baptist but everything and everyone. Christ must increase and we must decrease, because He is above all. He comes from above, but we are of the earth and prone to speak and think in earthly ways (John 3:31). We need to remember how far below His majesty we are and to be humbled by any service we may be permitted to do for Him. The greater sense we have of His surpassing glory, the more we should be humbled and brought low in our own estimation. He must increase but we must decrease.

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Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
18 Apr, 2019

For some reason we don’t seem to speak much about Christ’s ascension to heaven. It’s a key but neglected doctrine. Which is strange because it connects with the present glory and work of Christ. It also has everything to do with the current status and needs of God’s people. Christ in His human as well as His divine nature is enthroned and His people are there spiritually also (Colossians 3:3-4). Gifts flow from the throne of heaven to Christ’s people. Everything we need is secured by Christ being in heaven interceding for us (Hebrews 8:1).

The gifts that flow from the ascension are described in Ephesians 4:8. James Fergusson explains how we should understand and apply this. He notes how Paul uses Psalm 68:18 to confirm what he said in verse 7 about Christ as the origin and giver of all graces and gifts. In that part of the Psalm, David looks beyond the ark as a type and shadow, to Christ the substance. He prophesies of things to come as already past to point out their certainty. He foretells that Christ would ascend triumphantly on high (to the highest heavens, Ephesians 4:10). He would lead captivity captive, having triumphed over His enemies by the cross (Colossians 2:15). His ascension would continue the triumph by plainly declaring that He had entirely routed all the spiritual enemies of His Church and Kingdom.

Conquerors in their triumphal processions used to drive their captive enemies before their own chariots (see Judges 5:12). Triumphing conquerors also used to divide and scatter the spoil by giving gifts. Paul alludes to this. He shows that Christ by virtue of His ascension distributed a large measure of gifts and graces on His Church.

 

1. Christ’s Ascension Gives Heaven

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having finished the work which was given Him to do on earth (John 17:4)  ascended physically to heaven. He carried His human nature up there (Acts 1:9-10) so that He might be exalted in that glory which He had before the world existed (John 17:5). He went to take possession of heaven in our name (Ephesians 2:6) and prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

 

2. Christ’s Ascension Gives Victory

Christ engaged in warfare on our behalf with many strong and powerful enemies i.e. the devil, the world, sin, death and hell. He gained an absolute complete victory over all. Although the godly must have battles with these (Ephesians 6:12), Christ the Head of believers is now above the reach of danger from enemies, and consequently so are believers in their Head. They are above all danger also because all their enemies cannot harm their salvation (Romans 8:35-39). Sin and Satan no longer reign in them (Romans 6:12, 14). Death has lost its sting towards them (1 Corinthians 15:55) instead it becomes a passage to life (Philippians 1:23). He led captivity (or a multitude of captives) captive, these are those that fought agains Him.

Satan’s constant opposition against the Church and Kingdom of Christ does not arise from hopefulness of prevailing in that terrible work. It comes from his inveterate blinded malice against the salvation of sinners which drives him oppose it even though he knows he cannot harm it. All his malicious cruel actions against Christ had achieved nothing except his own eternal shame and confusion. He could not avoid knowing this at Christ’s ascension. Christ by His ascension openly declared that He had led captivity captive.

 

3. Christ’s Ascension Gives All Gifts and Graces

Common gifts are sometimes called grace (Ephesians 3:8) because they are freely given (1 Corinthians 4:7). From the example given in verse 11 of this grace in the gifts and offices of the ministry it is clear that grace is meant primarily in this sense here. It is only in those common (rather than saving) gifts and graces that real believers essentially differ. Some are given to one, and some to another (1 Corinthians 12:8). All have one and the same saving graces (2 Peter 1:1), however,  although they differ also in the measure and degree received of those, (1 John 2:13). In that respect, even saving graces may be also be meant here.

The previous verse (Ephesians 4:7) speaks of “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”.
All these gifts of grace come from the same source (Ephesians 4:8-12). They are all given for the same purpose (Ephesians 4:13-17). Grace here does not mean God’s favour or saving grace as in other places (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Instead it is the fruits that flow from this saving grace. He shows that although every true member of the Church has received grace it may be in a way that differs from the grace of others. Yet all those different graces of the different members are given by the same Christ. They are received to the extent which seems good to Christ as the giver to measure out to everyone.

He gives to everyone some gift and in some measure.  Thus, although the same saving grace is given to all who are truly regenerate, it is not given to all in the same measure. Yet no one has all gifts or all the same offices in which they may exercise their gifts (verse 11).  The greatest degree of gifts and graces, which God bestows on any is far below the fulness of grace which is in Christ (Joh. 3:34). Those who have received most, are capable of receiving more. Receiving grace according to a measure implies they are capable of receiving more.

By His ascension Christ manifested the good He had secured to those for whom He died. Common gifts were purchased by His death as well as saving graces. This includes common gifts for the good and edification of His Church (Matthew 7:22-23). Both saving grace and common gifts are included here in the word “gifts”. At His ascension, He gave these gifts that were purchased by His death in larger measure than He had previously. He gave them “to men” generally, even to rebels (Psalm 68:18).

 

Conclusion

These are just some of the gifts that we continue to receive from the ascension of Christ besides the primary gift of the Holy Spirit. There is also access to the throne of grace to find more grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). These truths are well summarised by the Larger Catechism (Q53). It speaks of how how Christ was was exalted in His ascension because He

in our nature, and as our head, (Hebrews 6:20) triumphing over enemies, (Ephesians 4:8) visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, (Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 4:10; Psalm 68:18) to raise up our affections thither, (Colossians 3:1-2) and to prepare a place for us, (John 14:3) where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world (Acts 3:21)

Larger Catechism Q54 also explains how Christ is exalted in His sitting at the right hand of God. It is because

as God-man he is advanced to the highest favour with God the Father,(Philippians 2:9) with all fulness of joy, (Acts 2:28) glory, (John 17:5) and power over all things in heaven and earth;(Ephesians 1:22; 1 Peter 3:22) and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, (Ephesians 4:10-12; Psalm 110) and maketh intercession for them (Romans 8:34).

The ascension reminds us that He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). He is there reigning and expecting all His enemies to be made His footstool (Hebrews 10:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25). So it should also give us hope, encouragement and joy so that we may be steadfast and always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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Should We Be Afraid?

Should We Be Afraid?

Should We Be Afraid?
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
14 Mar, 2019

Fears are all around us, especially during a time of upheaval. Fear of the future, events and the unknown. The politics of fear on left and right are often heard in relation to society or the economy. The threats feel real and we are made to believe that the world will be more dangerous unless we listen to the rhetoric of influencers. How should we respond to the climate of fear?

Fear may be a natural response in some things. There would not be so many “fear nots” in Scripture if that was not the case. We are not immune to fear but we have no reason to be overcome by it since the peace of God is able to guard our hearts.  Faith in God rather than the wisdom, strength or other resources of ourselves or others is what is able to settle and establish our hearts. There may be deep-seated fears in relation to our personal and family life amongst other things but faith and hope can sustain us. As David Dickson puts it: “the true remedy against tormenting fear, is faith in God. He also says that “when fear assaults most, then faith in God most evidently manifests its force” (Psalm 56:3-4).

The following brief counsels are from someone who was suffering considerably, James Renwick. He was speaking to those who were also suffering. They were in fear for their life and freedoms.

 

1. Do Not Fear Mortals

“Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4).

 

2. Do Not Fear Reproach

This is what we are often afraid of. Do not fear the reproach of tongues (Psalm 31:20).

 

3. Do Not Fear Lack of Provision

We are ready to fear the lack of provisions for our natural life. But do not fear this for those “that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing” (Psalm 34:10). Did the Lord not feed His people in the wilderness with manna from heaven and water out of the flinty rock? (Deuteronomy 8:15-16).

 

4. Do Not Fear Lack of Spiritual Food

Sometimes the Lord’s people fear lack of spiritual food for their souls; the lack of ordinances. But they ought not to fear lacking this for before they lack this the Lord will give them it and provide it for them in an extraordinary way (Isaiah 41:17-18). Even though the Lord should see fit to remove the preached gospel from you do not be discouraged. The Lord can make a portion of Scripture more sweet and refreshing to your souls that they are now, by bringing it to your mind or a note of a sermon which you have heard.

 

5. Do Not Fear Upheaval

The Lord’s people should not fear changes and upheaval that occur in the world and where they are. They ought not to fear this, even “though the earth be removed: and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). In Haggai 2:7 there is a prophecy of Christ, the desire of all nations, coming in the flesh. It is said that before He comes He will shake all nations i.e. there would be great changes. So when Christ comes back again to Scotland there will be great changes and revolutions at His coming. He will turn many, indeed the very foundation of the land will be shaken. We should pray and long for it, rather than be afraid of it.

 

6. Do Not Fear Death

Death is another thing Christ’s people should not be afraid of (yet they are). Do not fear death because death has no sting for the believing soul in Christ. Do not be afraid of death because it will put an end to all our toil and wanderings and all our miseries and fightings. Someone says “Life is a way to death, and death is a way to life”.

 

7. Do Not Fear Hell

Christ died for you to free you from the wrath to come. You should not therefore fear any evil thing. “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

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Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
28 Dec, 2018

We have a certain natural inclination to “some new thing” (Acts 17:21). We live in time and that makes the expectation of change inevitable. New beginnings (such as a new year) can open fresh opportunities for transformation.  But it becomes unhealthy when we value things simply because they are new rather than using a more enduring standard. An addiction to novelty creates destructive rootlessness and distraction. It afflicts the world and the Church. Adhering to things simply because they are old rather than because they are true is also lethal, however. How do we develop a healthy approach to new beginnings that doesn’t discard everything in the pursuit of novelty?

We need new and old brought together in an enduring way. We need to consider time in the context of eternity. Hugh Binning explains how Christ is the unchanging but also the ever new; how He is eternal but entered time. These thoughts (drawn from 1 John 1:1-2) take us into the mystery of Christ’s person. “That which was from the beginning” could be seen, heard and touched.  As Binning says, this combines antiquity and novelty together in one, and that makes it all the more excellent and wonderful. This is the glorious way in which the “Word of life” is brought within our reach. We can expect new and fresh blessings from the unchanging Word of life but they are of eternal benefit.

 

1. Considering the Unbegun Beginning

Christ is that which was from the beginning, which was with the Father before all antiquity from eternity.  He is not only from the beginning of time but before all time, before all imaginable beginnings. Christ Jesus, the Father’s Word, was with the Father from the beginning. He was with the Ancient of days who infinitely and unmeasurably antedates all antiquity. Compared to His endurance all we regard as antiquity is mere novelty. The infinite, beginningless, immeasurable endurance of God before this world can never be unravelled by the imaginations of men and angels. Even if they had all eternity they could never unravel it.

There is nothing so old, He is infinitely before the oldest and most ancient creatures. The age of this Word is like a labyrinth with innumerable turnings and windings. Those who make the most progress and the longest search will be just where they were, always beginning, and never coming nearer the beginning of His duration. This is because it is the beginning of all things that have had a beginning but has no beginning itself.

This is what makes religion the richest and most transcendent subject in the world. It presents us with a twofold eternity. It surrounds the soul with a “past” eternity without beginning and a “future” eternity without end. “That which was from the beginning”, before all beginning, either real or imagined. How much there is in that to settle a soul in view of all the false, painted appearances of the world.

 

2. Consider the Incomparable Christ

Such a Saviour is held out to us. We are to come to and lean on the Rock of ages. He is the one on whose word the whole universe is established and stands firm. He infinitely exceeds and precedes all things visible or invisible and all their changes. From eternity the Father and Son took delight in the thoughts of peace and good will they had towards us, which would be revealed in time. If they delighted in planning it how much more in accomplishing the whole plan.

Think what an incomparably excellent Saviour we have who is one with God and equal to Him: one with Him from all eternity. What a strong foundation this is for faith and confidence, what a Rock on which to establish a floundering soul. Man’s misery and curse being liable to endure for all eternity, there is One to deliver them from that, who was Himself from all eternity. Who could purchase for us such absolute blessedness throughout all eternity, except one who was Himself from all eternity? What marvellous proportion and beauty there is in the ways of God. Everything is devised by infinite wisdom so that that we may have strong consolation.  

Consider how the Word of life is held out to you and yet you do not allow your hearts to be moved, or stirred after Him. This is to forsake a great mercy, the eternal Word of life as the infinite Wisdom of the Father. Will we let this offer run past us every day and never find pause from the multitude of business, thoughts and lusts of the world? Will we never look beyond this world, to God, and His Son Jesus Christ? Will we never take seriously either the one that was before all things or our own souls, that must survive and outlive all visible things. 

 

3. Considering the Ever New Christ

But there is also a newness in this subject, which increases admiration and may engage our affections all the more. The “life was manifested” (verse 2). He is such a Word of life that though He was invisible and untouchable from the beginning, yet He was recently clothed with flesh that made him both visible and capable of being handled. These are the two poles on which the mystery, glory and wonder of Christianity turns. The antiquity of His real existence as God and the newness of His appearance in the flesh as man.

He who was so blessed from everlasting begins to be manifested in the fulness of time. To make Himself visible, He takes on our flesh. It was only for this purpose, that He who was Life itself and the eternal life might become life to poor dead sinners and give them eternal life. In taking on our flesh, the Word is more wonderfully manifested and made visible than in the creation. In creation the Creator made creatures come out of nothing at His command. But in this, the Creator is made a creature. He once gave a beginning of being to things that had no being. Being before all beginning Himself, He now takes a beginning and becomes flesh, which He was not before.

How wisely and wonderfully it is planned that, for the good of lost man, the Son of God should be made of a woman.  The lower the nature in which He appears, the higher the mystery is and the richer the comfort is. The glory of the only begotten Son of God was more visibly manifested in that He appeared in such a low form. It is for power to show itself in weakness and such glorious rays to break out from under such a dark cloud. This was greater glory, and more majesty, than if He had only showed Himself in the most perfect creatures.

 

4. Consider Our Need of His New Blessings

When we see the ancientness of our Saviour and the newness of His appearance in the flesh brought together, it ought to endear Him to us. He has come so near us, and brought his own Majesty within our sphere so that we can lay hold of it. He did this for no other purpose except to make life and immortality shine as beams from Him to bring dead souls to life.

Let us open our hearts to Him, and then welcome such fresh news with new delight. Though it is many centuries old, this news is still recent to a believing heart. There is an everlasting fountain in it that sends out fresh comfort to souls every day. It is as refreshing as the first day this fountain was opened. This is the new wine that never grows old, indeed it is renewed in every generation with some new manifestation of the love of God. Christ’s incarnation was the first manifestation of the Son, the very morning of light and life, the dayspring visiting the world that was buried in the darkness of idolatry.

The Sun of righteousness first appeared up above the horizon at that time. But it is still now the same “day”. He has been appearing by greater degrees, shining more and more to the noon day (2 Peter 1:19). This Sun has never set since, but gone round about the world in the preaching of the gospel. It has brought life and light from one nation to another, and one generation to another. We ought to welcome His kindly and affectionate love to mankind (Titus 3:4). This is what shines so brightly. The beams of grace and love to men are the rays that come from this Sun of righteousness.

 

Conclusion

A new year offers new opportunities for fresh appreciations of the glory of Christ. We need to take regular time out from the treadmill of demands and the constant feed of new content to seek this. As we do this we will be brought into contact with eternal realities. Are we trading things these opportunities and only gaining things that are new but immediately grow old? The promise of the new that the world constantly offers soon proves empty. There are new blessings to lay hold on in fellowship with Christ, the Word of life as we seek to live out this glorious gospel. These blessings are of eternal significance.

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Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
26 Oct, 2018

What will the Church look like in 10-30 years time? It’s the sort of question that launches a thousand predictions, strategies and plans to enhance confidence. But our fears for the Church go beyond the levels of church attendance. There are wider pressures on the Church from without that are especially threatening. Then there are the dangers from within such as moral failure, error. Our strategies won’t make much headway against these destructive forces. So we have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

In a day of small things there may be many such fears in relation to the Church. Like Eli, we may tremble for the ark of God. Such fears should not of course make us despise the day of small things and ignore evident encouragements.  In the following updated extract, James Durham addresses four main fears about the Church. These are all answered in the intercession of Christ. There is much to be gained from considering how Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now in the presence of God for His people (Hebrews 9:24). It is a constant, unceasing intercession (Hebrews 7:25). John chapter 17 allows us to see some of what Christ desires for His Church.

 

1. Will We Have Enough Suitable Preachers?

There is a fear of preaching and ministers being scarce or weak in quality. Ministers are the great gift which Christ has given for the edification of His body. The Church suffers when it does not have pastors according to God’s own heart. But if you compare Psalm 68:18 with Ephesians 4:8, 12-14 you will find that Christ’s intercession answers that fear completely. In the Psalm it speaks of Christ having received gifts for men, which assumes He has made request for them.  Ephesians 4 says “He gave gifts to men”. Compare these two passages with a third (Acts 1:4).  Christ instructs His apostles to wait at Jerusalem until He sends the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit was poured out after His ascension (see Acts 2) and only given once Jesus was glorified (John 11:39). These passages all show the connection between Christ’s ascension, the Spirit being poured out and gifts being given, whether ministers or others.

There is nothing most people care about less than a ministry. Some would rather have none at all, others want them to be only such as please and humour them. But our Lord has received gifts to be given to men. The One that poured out such gifts on the apostles and others gives the gifts that He pleases and sees necessary for the edification of His Church. And that he gives such gifts to men, that his people are not praying much for; whence is it, but from his intercession? He delights in this aspect of the spiritual glory and majesty that He has. He places a respect on ministers in saying that He holds the stars in His right hand (Revelation 1:16), He has them there to use as He pleases.

 

2. Will Our Enemies Triumph?

The Church of God is greatly exercised by the difficulty of enemies and their mighty opposition. Islam and other false religions, Romanism, and false brethren threaten to swallow up the Church of Christ. It is like a little bush burning with fire yet not consumed. But there is comfort in Christ’s intercession with respect to this.  Christ sat down on the right hand of God and is expecting His enemies to be made His footstool. (Hebrews 10:13). He is pleading for and supporting this at the Father’s court.

All the persecutions of the early Church were broken as the fruit of this intercession. This is why it is said most emphatically that He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24). This is according to the promise made to Him by Jehovah (Psalm 110:1). He cannot be an intercessor unless His enemies are brought down. For who will be able to stand when He gives in His complaint against them? Who will plead the cause of the persecutor when He pleads against them? He is so certain of His enemies being made His footstool that he is waiting until He sees it accomplished. He must reign until then notwithstanding all the malice and might of devils and men.

 

3. How Far Will Rulers Go in Rejecting Christ?

It is difficult for the Church and people of God to think on the great confusion there is in the world. There are few courts and parliaments that are for Christ. Few governors, higher or lower, consult His honour or regard Him. It is not His friends or those that favour His cause that control governments and guide such things. Mostly the opposite is the case. But the comfort is that there is a court in heaven that gives out orders. The Church has an representative who is there constantly but the devil and the world have no representatives there. Jesus Christ is the Church’s representative and intercessor there.

In Daniel 10:13 we read about the help of Michael the chief prince against the prince of the kingdom of Persia. In Daniel 10:21 we further read that there was none to assist in all the court of Persia except “Michael your Prince”. The great intercessor was at court, seeing that nothing went wrong, that no decree was passed to the prejudice of the people of God and His work. When they were building the temple, Christ is said to build the temple of the Lord. He was to bear the glory and be a Priest, sitting and ruling on his throne with the government committed to Him (Zechariah 6:13). What danger can there be when heaven guides everything? What danger when the Church has a representative at the court, to see that nothing goes wrong. When Michael the Prince is there He sees and reads all the acts and decrees of the court. Indeed He composes them He sees to it that there is nothing in them hurtful to His Church. Should we not thank God for this?

 

4. Will We Survive Our Internal Problems?

A fourth thing that troubles the Church of God is that stumbling blocks abound within. Spreading error, is like a flood that threatens to drown the Church. Great stormy winds come which seem likely to blow down the house of God. Offences and stumbling blocks abound and combine with error like a flood is about to drown everything. When the devil is removed from the throne and cannot persecute with violence he selects another way. He spews out his flood of error to devour the woman and her child (Revelation 12:13-15).

Yet the Lord is active too. After the end of a period of persecution, John sees an angel (interpreted to symbolise Christ) ascending from the east (Revelation 7:1-2). He has the great seal of the living God and nothing is valid until it is sealed by Him. Notice the time when He appears; it is when the winds are held, and ready to blow (Revelation 7:1). ‘Wait a little,’ he says, ‘before these winds blow that will take most off their feet and this delusion advance’. Some servants of God must be sealed and put beyond the reach of danger and then the winds will be allowed to blow. Why should we or could we be anxious if our hearts have a solid and living faith in this intercessor and advocate being in heaven and interceding in this way?

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