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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The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements
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.
25 May, 2018

Many things around us seem to conspire to bring us down to the depths of discouragement. We can see plainly that things are not as they ought to be. Perhaps we look for fruit from our patient efforts to sow seed with others and it doesn’t appear even promising. So we become weary in well-doing. Ministers are easily tempted to discouragement in the midst of their labours. It’s also not difficult to become discouraged due to things within, especially our spiritual state and progress. How do we get out of being sucked into the spiral of despair? The only all-sufficient source of help is in divine grace.

John Welwood (1649-1678) suffered much though he was only in his twenties. The following extract is from one of the many letters he wrote during his trials and persecution. He was moving from place to place all over Scotland, preaching as he could. (More information about his life can be found at the end of this article). He was an especially powerful preacher and his sermons were said to have “a fiery earnestness”.

 

1. Nothing Should Discourage a Christian

I know nothing that should discourage a Christian. There is not one discouragement in all the Word of God, but His encouragements are many. But through our folly and unbelief we lose the comfort of them.

 

2. Our Guilt and Ignorance Should Not Discourage Us

Should guilt discourage us? He has made Him “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ says to the Father that if the Christian owes anything to Him, “put it on my account”. “The blood of sprinkling speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

Should wrath discourage us? He has “redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Should our ignorance discourage us? Though we are as beasts before Him, yet he is continually with us and leads us like a flock. Our safety lies not in our wisdom and leading, but in His. Though we are foolish, our pilot is skilful and careful.

Does a body of sin and death discourage us? Indeed we have reason to cry out, “O wretched ones that we are!” “Who shall deliver us from it?” (Romans 7:24 and 8:2) It deadens us and deceives us, inclining little to what is good but a lot to what is bad. It makes us disinclined and slow to do our duty, and puts us out of the right condition for it. And if we say, we will be wise, yet it is far from us. Yet His grace is sufficient for us.

 

3. Sufficient Grace for These Discouragements

Our safety does not depend on grace within us, but grace outside us. If He would leave us to ourselves for only a day, how far wrong we would go. He has given us this promise, that his grace shall be sufficient for us. It is by this grace that we stand. It is by this that “we are made more than conquerors” in all the assaults and temptations that come from without, from Satan and from the world. It is He who keeps us from temptations and delivers from evil.

We should not therefore be discouraged by a body of sin and all the enemies that join with it. We should “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might”. He is with us as a mighty One.

 

4. Our Poor Growth in Grace Should Not Discourage Us

Does our small growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ discourage us? That is indeed our great complaint “our leanness, our leanness”. It is fitting that folk grow downwards in low thoughts of themselves, for He dwells with the humble.

The more folk have of grace, the more they see of corruption. The more they have of faith, the more they see of unbelief. It is fitting that folk have such workings within them, to keep them watching and wrestling. What an evil condition we find ourselves in when we have no such work to do. Besides, many times we make an idol of grace and prize it more than the Lord Jesus as the author of it. He may say unto us, Am not I worth more to you than however much grace? The God of all grace is ours. The fountain is ours; we are complete in Him.

 

5. Sufficient Grace is in Christ Not Us

It is fitter that He has our treasure than we should have it ourselves. We would desire to have all at one everything we need for the whole journey. This is still the aim of our hearts, and we would have a stock of grace within us so we would not be beholden to Christ for continual supply. We think it a poor life to live like beggars and to be like minors that must have a tutor.

We think that what is in our hand is surer than what is in Christ’s hand. But Adam had his stock in his own hand and he soon played the bankrupt. Though we had as much grace as possible we would undermine ourselves if His grace were not keeping us each day and moment. It is not our grace and worthiness that commends us to God, only the righteousness of Christ. We are obliged to God for the grace we get, not He to us. If He will keep us with little in hand, we ought to be content and not fall out with him because he will not fill oure purses with money, since we have access unto the treasure house.

 

6. Our Lack of God’s Felt Presence Should Not Discourage Us

Does God’s withdrawing discourage us? Sometimes there may be many fogs and clouds in our world below when all is fair weather above. Though our feelings say that His love changes there is “no variablness, nor shadow of turning” with Him. He loves us when He hides His face as well as when He smiles. He has many wise and holy purposes in all the afflictions we meet with. They are to be ballast for us. One would think it strange to see sand bags being cast into a ship but it is necessary for the ship would be blown over without this. We would go wrong if we lacked the ballast of affliction. Our hearts are ready to become unwatchful in a fair day. Afifictions give us the experience of God’s power, love, wisdom, and faithfulness in bearing us up under them, ordering them for our advantage and delivering us out of them.

 

John Welwood

After hiding in Moray and Fife and other parts of the country, Welwood was banished to Perth in 1679. Sadly he only survived in Perth for three months before contracting an illness and dying at the age of thirty. During his short time there he continued to preach, mostly to families who would come to visit him in the place where he was staying.

On his death bed he said that such was his assurance that he had no more doubt of being in Christ “than if I were in heaven already”. At another time he said: “Although I have been for some weeks without sensible [felt], comforting presence, yet I have not the least doubt of my interest [salvation] in Christ”.  

The morning he died, when he observed the light of day, he said: “Now eternal light, and no more night and darkness to me”. His gravestone had the following inscription: “A follower of the Lamb through many tribulations”.

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What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?

What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?

What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?
John Livingstone (1603-1672) was the minister of Ancrum parish near Jedburgh in the Borders. He ministered there from 1648 until 1662 when he was ousted from his church by the authorities and banished to Holland.
18 May, 2018

​According to senior figures in the Church of England in recent weeks, the Church should lose its exemptions from prosecution under equalities legislation. Dr Ison the Dean of St Paul’s said: “My view is that if there is a price to be paid for what you believe in conscience then you should pay that; you should not make other people pay the price for your conscience. That applies to abortion, to issues of sexuality and gender and right across the piste. If it is legal, decent and honest but you don’t believe it is right, then you have to deal with it.” In other words, there should be legal coercion irrespective of conscience. The Bishop of Buckingham has previously appealed to Romans 13 and the requirement to be subject to the powers ordained of God. Yet Scripture says that we must obey God rather than men when they come into conflict (Acts 5:29). How do we reconcile these principles?

If we end up facing such a situation we will not be the first. Besides learning from Christians in other countries who face state interference we can draw on the wisdom of the past. John Livingstone had to face this dilemma along with hundreds of others. The state was going so far as to forcibly eject him from his congregation. This was because he would not submit to the totalitarian control claimed by Charles II over the Church. He experienced trial, imprisonment and banishment as well as financial losses. In his farewell address to his parishioners he speaks of our duty in such circumstances and how this would affect them personally also. The following is an updated extract.

 

1. We Must Not Deny Christ

Christ insists on this: the man that confesses him before men, Jesus Christ will confess that man before His Father. On the other hand, because many are ready to find out strange ways to save themselves, their means, their life, (these have been a great snare to many,) He speaks very sharply. The man that denies me before men (He says) I will turn my back on him and deny him before my Father.

What is the most dangerous thing in all of religion?  What is the rock that many have beaten their brains out on? It is this: Satan has wiled and enticed them to deny Christ Jesus. In reference to the time we live in, it may be that some think that if it were Christ Jesus or any fundamental point, we would stand for it. We would life and all that we have. But it is thought that some things Christians stand on are but imaginations and over strict scruples and if there is any thing in them, it is only a small matter. Will a man venture his condition now and in the future on such and such a small thing?

If they are indeed not any of Christ’s small things, let them go. But if they are His, will you call that a small thing? His small things are very great things. There was never a trial since the beginning of the world during the time of trial it was a small thing. The Word was very clear and it is very clear still.

 

2. We Must Honour Christ as King

The kingly and royal office of Jesus Christ is now called in question. The state will have specific things done in such a way and time. Now I may truly say, on behalf of all the servants of Jesus Christ, we will be ready, when occasion offers to lay down our heads under its feet and do all the honour and respect that is possible and required. But then, why in these particular things may you not acknowledge the state? Take this illustration. An ambassador is sent with a message to a certain country with these terms: “You shall be subject to the country in all your dealings and conduct yourself uprightly and honestly. You are to negotiate there according to the instructions given to you”. The prince of the country proposes something  and the ambassador says, “with your leave, I will consult with the instructions I have from my Master, I will not wrong you at all”. He consults with his instructions and finds he may by no means do it. “Then” says the prince, “you will be dealt with in such and such a way”. The ambassador answers, “at your pleasure”. “But may you not do such and such?” “I may not”, he says, “and you shall see my commission; it is not private, but public things known and written and may be read by all”. [In other words obedience to civil government is subordinate to obedience to God’s Word]

It is a sad thing that Satan, by any instrument he pleases, for fear of a few days’ life and outward means, prevails so far with them, as to obey when he says, “Come, give me your religion and your soul, your conscience, your vows and covenants to the living God, and I will cast you loose as to religion”. Lord save us from this!

 

3. What Shall We Do?

You will say, “What shall we do? How will we get fines paid? How will we stake our sufferings on such small matters? Can we stand on such a point even if our heart is disquieted about it?” It may be that time and providence will when it comes nearer, make it appear a far different thing and clear enough. Have you observed the providence of God?

What shall we do? Look to him and the Word that you have heard, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.” And, indeed, those who labour to reform their heart and life, if there is any doubt about some particular aspects, He will, in his own time, make them clear. Christians have various situations, some go and do such things and some not; who can help it? It is a plague that it is so; it has been the plague of the Church these many years.

 

Conclusion

Praised be the Lord that those who are not great friends to the work of God are not always very deep in their planning. It may be they have plans in some respects that we are not aware of. But if they have plans under that, our Lord Jesus has plans under theirs, to reveal and overturn their plans.

We cannot tell, whether if the Lord sees it to be good, He may continue our liberty with us for a while. There are some of us who have endured the loss of our ministry and all we had in the world. We bless God to this day that we had never cause to repent, and we hope never shall. I commend you all to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.

Go forward best. Look back first.

Watch the mini documentary series that  opens up a compelling, yet often ignored, chapter in Scottish history to reveal some surprising lessons for the future.

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6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession

6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession

6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
30 Mar, 2018

​Christ’s intercession in heaven is unseen but that does not mean we cannot see the benefits and effects of it. Because it is unseen we are inclined to forget about it and not derive the comfort and help we should. The more we meditate on it, the more it ought to fill us with a sense of wonder. As we consider our own weakness and neglect in prayer by contrast it helps us to think that He is more conscious of our spiritual needs than we are. He knows the spiritual dangers we face better than we do. The more we contemplate Christ’s intercession the better we would be able to trace the benefits we experience from it.

​Christ’s intercession for believers is continual (Hebrews 7:25). Andrew Gray opens up something of its nature and benefits with a sense of wonder. He says that this “divine action of Christ’s interceding at the right hand of God for sinners, is that in which a sinner may behold much spotless condescension and much boundless compassion”. It is a great mystery indeed to “behold infinite majesty standing as a suppliant before the throne of God”.

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me – Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

What is the nature of this intercession? Gray speaks of it as “successful” because Christ has infinite power. The Father also gives Christ whatever He requests (John 11:22). The Father has a “precious delight” in “doing good to sinners”. Christ “intercedes with a great deal of brotherly affection and sympathy for us”. “Christ is more affected with the miseries of His own than they themselves are”. It is also a constant intercession. This “consideration may sweetly engage our souls to Christ”:

when you are all asleep in the silent watches of the night, Christ is standing at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you

Andrew Gray also draws out helpfully the following ways “in which Christ’s intercession reveals itself”.

1. When We Are Tempted

When a believer is surrounded with temptations, Christ intercedes for him, as we see in relation to Peter in Luke 22:31-32. Christ prays for His own in the world to be kept from evil (John 17:15). I would only say to you concerning this to lay more strength on Christ’s intercession than on your own prayers. Were you never convinced that all the strength that comes to you to put to death even one lust is by Christ’s intercession? I confess that there are many works that Christ does for us which we do not at all acknowledge He has done.

2. When We Are Discouraged

Christ’s intercession for us with the Father also shows itself when believers are under the spirit of discouragement. It is then that Christ prays for their consolation. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). Is it not Christ’s great purpose to have His own refreshed in a strange land?

3. When We Pray

Christ’s intercession shows itself toward us in relation to our prayers. He stands at the throne of grace, pleading for the acceptance of the prayers and petitions that believers send up to God. An excellent purpose of His intercession is for believers to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). In Revelation 8:3-4, John saw an angel standing at the altar (this is usually understood to be Jesus Christ). There was given unto Him much incense, which represents His merits making the prayers of His people to be accepted. He offered the incense with the prayers of the saints before God.

I desire then to mention the three works that Christ performs concerning the prayers of believers.

(a) Christ sweetly takes away the superfluities and redundancies that are in our prayers. Christ puts all the prayers of believers in a new frame, and He cuts off all expressions that may render our prayers unsavoury to God. Is that not an excellent work?

(b) Christ takes our prayers and supplications and presents them to the Father.

(c) Christ stands before the throne of God, pleading for an answer and return to our prayers. Do you know the reason why Christians get so few answers and returns to their prayers? It is because they do not make use of Christ’s intercession surely; otherwise they would get answers to their prayers. He has promised that whatever we ask in His name, that is, through His intercession, we receive it.

4. When Sin Has Ensnared Us

Christ’s intercession shows itself when sinners are taken and ensnared in sin. He intercedes for their pardon, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He answers the charges that are laid against us and intercedes with the Father for all our offences done against Him to be forgotten. He is praying today that our sins may be buried in that immense sea of everlasting forgetfulness. We see this in Zechariah 3:2-3 where Christ answers the challenges of the devil against believers.

5. When We Experience an Extended Time of Trouble

When believers are under a long and painful period of troubles, Christ prays that they may have release from that condition. This is clearly illustrated in Zechariah 1:12. In this passage, Christ as a priest is making intercession for believers. An explanation is made to Christ in verse 15 of chapter 1 “For I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction”.

6. When We Face Death

The last aspect in which Christ’s intercession reveals itself is this.  He intercedes with the Father, that those for whom He died should be where He is, to partake of the everlasting depths of that precious and blessed happiness that is above. We see this in the prayer of Christ recorded in John 17:24 that they may be “with me, where I am; that they may behold my glory”. We do not know whether that looks more like a prayer or a command, but certainly it is a most imperious prayer. Christ longs for believers to come where He is.

Conclusion

We need to make use of Christ’s intercession. Gray gives three reasons why believers make so little use of Christ’s intercession.

(a) most of us do not believe in the power of the spiritual virtue of Christ’s intercession. It is a mystery to us, a great mystery even to a Christian’s faith to believe the power of Christ’s intercession for them.

(b) we are not living under a spiritual conviction of the absolute necessity of the things we seek in prayer. The result is formalism in prayer.

(c) we are not deeply convinced of the sweet delight of that which we are seeking from God in prayer; therefore, we seek it with great coldness of affection.

We must value the benefits that we receive by Christ’s intercession, if we are believers.

(a) It strengthens justifying faith like a pillar (Romans 8:34). Indeed that verse mentions four pillars of justifying faith: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and intercession.

(b) It is evidence that Christ will finish the work of your salvation and lead you within the borders of eternity. Christ will save to the utmost all that come to Him through faith.

(c) It persuades Christians of Christ’s infinite love towards them.

(d) It is an excellent encouragement to go to the Father and pray to Him. It greatly helps the duty of prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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Why Do We Pray in Jesus’ Name?

Why Do We Pray in Jesus’ Name?

Why Do We Pray in Jesus’ Name?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
23 Mar, 2018

Perhaps many never ask why, though they always do it. Other people resist any formula that they think reflects unthinking ritual. Yet Christ commands this (John 14:13-14). We ought certainly to think about what words we use in prayer. Praying in Christ’s name is important because our prayers must be distinctly Christian. But praying in Christ’s name means vastly more than merely mentioning His name. It’s even possible to say “Lord, Lord” without the heart being yielded to Christ (Matthew 7:21). This is a question that takes us to the heart of true prayer. We can only come to God through Christ as Mediator. We can only ask anything in prayer for Christ’s sake.

It’s interesting that the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q180) asks the question “What is it to pray in the name of Christ?” The answer given is “To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation”. This is a helpful summary. John Brown of Wamphray further develops these themes with practical help as well as a fully biblical explanation.

 

1. What Praying in Christ’s Name Assumes

(a) A Sense of Our Unworthiness

We are convinced our sinfulness, vileness, and distance from God because of sin, wickedness, and rebellion. We cannot think to approach God with acceptance in ourselves. We have nothing to commend ourselves to God who is a consuming fire to all who are lying in their sins and not yet reconciled to Him through the mediator. Without this we and all our acts of worship must be an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8, 29; 21:27; 28:9).  We must renounce everything within ourselves as any grounds of access to God or hope of acceptance.

(b) Faith in Christ as Mediator

We must have knowledge of and faith in Christ as mediator. He alone and none else in heaven or in earth is appointed to this office, or is qualified and equipped for it.

(c) Faith in Christ’s Work

We must know what Christ has done to make peace and to open a door of access to the Father.  We can have boldness and confidence in our access to God and the throne of grace because Christ as a priest has offered a sacrifice of reconciliation to atone and reconcile us to God. He is daily interceding on the satisfaction offered and accepted. He presents Himself in heaven for us to plead and advocate our cause.

(d) Being Reconciled to God through Christ

We must have fled to Him as the only city of refuge and peacemaker and laid hold on Him by faith. We can never make right use of Christ in a particular request if we have not laid the weight of our whole soul on Him.

(e) Asking According to Christ’s Will

Christ will not allow us to take His name in vain but unquestionably we would if we ask anything in His name which He would not approve or is contrary to His law and command.

(e) Believing this is the Only Way of Access

Only through Him and His name will we and our prayers be accepted before God. If our hearts hesitate and doubt concerning this we cannot ask rightly in the name of Christ. This is because we cannot ask with confidence that asking in His name will not be in vain. We must believe firmly that whatever we ask the Father in Christ’s name He will do it (John 14:13 and 16:24).

 

2. What is Involved in Praying in Christ’s Name?

(a) Drawing Encouragement to Pray from Christ

Through Christ the throne of God has become to us a throne of grace and mercy.  We should be encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace for help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16). He has reconciled us to the Father by His blood and purchased mercy, pardon, and grace to us by His death and sufferings. He stands before the throne as our intercessor and advocate, there to procure favour for us and to plead our cause and make our prayers acceptable. These things should be our sole ground of encouragement in approaching God.

We see many things, indeed, all things wrong in us, which may discourage or dishearten us from drawing near to God. Yet this glorious name of Christ and His mediatorial office allure and force us forward despite all discouragements.

(b) Drawing Confidence and Boldness in Prayer from Christ

There is a boldness and confidence as opposed to fears, fainting, and doubting. The basis for this is Christ, His name, offices and work. The boldness and confidence with which the apostle would have us approaching (Hebrews 4:16) is the boldness and confidence of a child that comes to the father and tells all that is in his heart, concealing nothing and without fear or shame, whoever be present. And this must be founded on Christ alone and on what He has done to procure this to us. When we base our boldness and confidence in drawing near to God only on Christ, then we ask in the name of Christ.

(c) Drawing Hope of Acceptance from Christ

When we ask in Christ’s name, we must roll ourselves as sinners on Him and come to God in His arms so that He may make us acceptable (for we must be accepted in the beloved). Thus, the enmity and wrath being taken away, our petitions may have free access to the throne of grace.

(d) Drawing Strength in Prayer from Christ

We ask in His name when we draw up our petitions in Him or by His Spirit in us, and when we advance with them in Him, as going to God in the hand of Christ, by the Spirit, and so roll all our difficulties and encumbrances on Him, or whatever stands in our way, either to hinder us from coming or to retard us or discourage us in us going. Then do we pray in His name, when leaning to His promises of strength and through bearing, we adventure over the belly of all discouragements and of felt weakness and unworthiness.

(e) Drawing Our Hope of Acceptance from Christ’s Work

Christ is the one mediator and the only peacemaker. Only He makes us and all our service to be acceptable to the Father. When we ask in His name, we put our petitions in His hand so that He may present them to the Father and offer them up with incense out of His censer (Revelation. 8:3). Our hopes will not fail us, nor will we conclude the matter desperate, even if we discover much guilt and unworthiness in ourselves. These grounds are the same whatever we may be. Christ’s merits abide fresh with the Father, however it may be with us.

(f) Drawing Confidence and Boldness in Prayer from Christ

This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 John 5:13–14). When we ask in His name, we rest confident that our prayers will go into the throne of grace through Him who is our advocate with the Father. All our hopes lean on Him and here we rest and are quiet.

 

3. How Do We Pray in Christ’s Name?

(a) Consider Our Unworthiness

We must remember constantly what we are by nature – worthless sinners at a distance from God, having nothing to commend us to God except misery and poverty. Nor do we have any grounds in ourselves to expect admission to God or His favour and acceptance.

(b) Consider that Christ’s Work is to Make Us Accepted

Christ’s office and work is to bring sinners to the Father and make them accepted. He presents their requests and cause in heaven. He is appointed by the Father for this and will be faithful to Him that appointed Him. He is a faithful high priest and will faithfully perform His work.

(c) Consider that Christ Delights to Help Us

Jesus Christ has great delight in this as man with the true and tender affections bowels of a man. During His days on earth He was tempted and experienced in Himself the pain, pressure, grief and powerful necessity that we suffer, though without sin. It is like the mother’s affections which cause her to run to help her beloved child in trouble with delight and readiness.

(d) Consider that the Father is Pleased with Christ

The Father, having appointed Him to be high priest, intercessor, and advocate will certainly be well pleased with Him in discharging these offices. He will accept all such as come to Him thus and make them and their supplications welcome. He will prevail at the court of heaven for all He speaks for, and therefore that all the requests which He presents will be heard in due time.

(e) Consider Christ’s Work as Mediator

We should make use of Christ in all His offices. Particularly, as ushering our way to the Father on the ground of what He has done. He has purchased freedom of access to us to approach with confidence as resting on Him and trusting in His merits.

(f) Consider Christ’s Sympathy Towards Us

That we should eye Him as a tenderhearted, compassionate, sympathizing high priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And on this ground we should approach with warmed affections, confidence, freedom of spirit, cheerfulness, and alacrity, making all our requests known through Him.

(g) Consider that Christ Will Never Forget to Intercede

Christ will act the part of a tender-hearted, loving, and sympathizing high priest, intercessor, and advocate. He will cheerfully welcome us as though waiting to receive our prayers to put in His censer and to be employed by us in these His offices.

(h) Consider that We Can Always have Confidence in Christ Despite Ourselves

We need not be up or down in our hopes and expectations of acceptance according to our spiritual condition. The ground of our acceptance always remains the same; it is not in ourselves but in Him with whom the Father is well pleased.

(i) Consider Christ Alone

We expect what we desire only on His account who has purchased and procured all to us that we need. We do this despite whatever we may observe in ourselves which would weaken our hope and expectation, or make us despair of receiving a good answer.

(j) Consider the Answer to be Guaranteed

 

Laying our whole weight on Christ and on His merits, we act in faith in the specific matter that we ask. We leave ourselves and our requests wholly on Christ, putting them in His hand and trusting in Him who is a faithful high priest and tender of all the concerns of His people. We wait in confidence and hope for a good return in God’s own time, only in and through Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Thus we see that to ask in the name of Christ is something far different that merely to mention His name in prayer, as to say, “Grant us, Lord, this or that for Christ’s sake,”. Many may be satisfied with this and think that when they have barely made mention of His name, they have done enough.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This blog article is updated and extracted from John Brown of Wamphray’s very full book on prayer called Godly Prayer and its Answers.  The book is available from James Dickson Books in Kilsyth.

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The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon
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.
2 Mar, 2018

This will only be of interest to those who listen to preaching or those who preach. But of course that ought to include us all one way or the other.  We all want to know what makes a good sermon. It is taken for granted that it must be clear, faithful to Scripture and engage the soul with spiritual realities. Sincerity, clarity and accuracy are important criteria. But there is something more that makes all the difference to a sermon.

James Durham effectively sums up the ultimate test for a sermon in one word – Christ. The following comes from the first of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. He is speaking about “our report” (Isaiah 53:1). Jesus Christ and what concerns Him (declaring the glad and good news of a Saviour) is the proper work of a minister. This is the great subject of a minister’s preaching. Christ Jesus, and what concerns Him in His person, natures and offices is the essential subject of preaching. They make Him known:

  • as God and man;
  • in His offices as Priest, Prophet, and King. A Priest in His suffering and satisfying justice; a Prophet in revealing the will of God; a King, for subduing His people’s lusts and corruptions; and
  • in the way by which sinners, both preachers, and hearers may come to have Him for themselves.

All preaching should aim at this mark. Paul insists on this: “I determined to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is as if he had said, “I will deal with nothing else but this alone”. Not only will he avoid getting involved with secular employment, he will also lay aside his learning, eloquence and human wisdom to make the preaching of Christ crucified his great work and study.

The reason for this is in the fourfold way that preaching is related to Christ.

 

1. Is Christ the Subject of the Sermon?

All preaching must explain Christ. “To him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 10:43). The four gospels and the apostolic epistles also do this and are like many sermons about Christ. Any preaching which does not relate to Christ misses the mark and its text. [Durham is not saying that Christ is the only subject for a sermon. Rather, whatever subject the sermon may have, its relation to Christ should be made clear].

 

2. Is Christ the Foundation of the Sermon?

Christ is the foundation of preaching. Thus, any preaching that lacks Christ lacks a foundation and is like building castles in the air. “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation…For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). This implies that all preaching should be squared with (and in agreement with) this foundation.

 

3. Is Christ the Aim of the Sermon?

Christ is the great aim of preaching, not only that hearers may know Him in their understanding but that they may have Him high in their hearts and affections.“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:4). That is, not only do we not preach ourselves as the subject, but we do not preach ourselves as the aim of our preaching. Our goal is not to be great or greatly thought of, but our objective in preaching is to make Christ great.

 

4. Is Christ the Power and Life of the Sermon?

Christ is the power and life of preaching, without Him no preaching can be effectual, no soul can be captivated and brought to Him. Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock” they cannot stand to hear Him; and to “the Greeks foolishness”. To those that are saved, however, Christ is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

 

Application to Ministers

  1. It is likely that “our report” would succeed more if Christ were the subject and substance of our message and we declared Him more.
  2. In making “our report” we must be careful to ensure that it is well matched to the foundation; and,
  3. Neglecting this may be the cause of a lot of powerless preaching, because Christ is not preached as the subject matter and goal of preaching. Many truths are (sadly) spoken without regard to this goal or with little regard to it.

The report concerning Christ is the main subject has been, is, and will be common to all ministers of the gospel until the end of the world. It is “our report”. It was the report of all the prophets: “to him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 20:43). They all agree in the following joint testimony:

  1. One subject: Christ and the same things concerning Him e.g. pardon of sin in Him and through faith in Him and in no other way etc.;
  2. One commission: they arenot all equal but they all have one commission. Not all are apostles, yet all are ambassadors. There is the same authority for us to report and you to receive the gospel as if Isaiah or Paul were preaching. The authority depends on the commission not the person commissioned;
  3. One common objective: they all have and are sent to fulfil one common objective;
  4. One common Master: they are gifts from one and the same Mediator. “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…some, apostles etc.” (Ephesians 4:8).

 

Application to Congregations

This is the great subject of preaching and you should be most glad to hear it.

(a) These are the most important truths. The truths that concern Christ and the covenant of grace are those that people should most welcome and study. These are foundational truths and we need to have them confirmed by the Spirit. Many Christians make the mistake of not heeding the clearest and most solid truths. Things that increase understanding, tickle their affections, or resolve a difficulty are almost the only matters sought after. These are certainly good things. Yet, if the clear and solid truths of the gospel were studied and applied more they would find that these would answer all difficulties.

It is grieving when folk are more taken up with notions and speculations more than these soul-saving truths. Such truths include: Christ was born; He was a true man; He was and is King, Priest, and Prophet of His Church etc. Other things are often heard more greedily. Yet if these are meant to be the great subject of what minister must preach, it should be your great endeavour to know Christ, in His person, natures, offices, and covenant. You need to know what He is to you and what your duty is to Him; how you should walk in Him and with Him.

This was Paul’s aim: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:8&10). It is as though he was saying: “It is my purpose, not only to make Him known but to know Him myself”.

There is little faith in Christ and little explicit use made of His offices. People make little effort to know these things. Therefore, on the one hand, let me exhort you to make this more often the subject of your study. On the other hand, let me reprove you that there is such readiness to sniff when plain truths are urged or when they are not explored in an unusual way. This attitude says that we are exceedingly unthankful to God for giving us the best things to speak, hear, and think of.

(b) Think highly of hearing Christ preached. He is the best news, and God has sent ministers on the mission of making Him known to you. Nothing is comparable to this news. Not even if He had sent them to tell you all the secret things in God’s purpose that will take place in the future and all hidden works of nature.

What would you have been without this news? What would sabbath-days and week-days, your lying down and rising up, your living and dying have been? You would have have had a sad and sinful life and a most comfortless and terrible death. Think of this gospel, therefore, as having greater worth than you do. Regard their feet beautiful on the mountains that bring this news and glad tidings (Isaiah 52:7). They bring this good re- port of making peace between God and sinners. This should be highly thought of, prized, and deemed a greater favour than usually we do.

(c) Thriving best under the gospel. From this you are able to know those who thrive best under the gospel and profit most from it. It is those that learn of Christ most. This is making best use of Christ and what is in Him. It is discovering by personal experience the effects of knowing Christ. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10). I am afraid that out of the many that hear this gospel, there are but few that know Christ in this way.

 

Conclusion

We can be tempted to give more attention to the style, language, exegesis of a sermon than the One who gives it authority, effectual power, purpose and meaning. Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged when they consider their own abilities and little hunger for the Word amongst those who hear.

This is what gives preaching seriousness and authority rather than an effort to entertain. Yet Christ-centredness will also avoid sermons being theological lectures. This keeps preaching from being a mere psychological pep-talk. It makes sermons edifying. If we need preaching that encourages spiritual maturity it will be in so far as it draws hearers to “grow up into Christ in all things”.

Such preachers will be determined not to divert attention from Christ to themselves. The more they seek to be Christ-like in their life and to cultivate fellowship with their Saviour, the more their sermons will communicate Christ.

 

The article above is drawn from an appendix to the booklet Penetrating Preaching by James Durham published by the Trust. In this booklet Durham shows how Christ Himself demonstrates how to apply the Word in preaching.

Penetrating Preaching

£2.00

What can we learn from the Saviour’s method of making the Word hit home? Reading this booklet will provide you with some vital lessons from Christ Himself about the difficult task of applying the Word from the pulpit. If truly followed, they would revolutionise preaching today.

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Never Lonely?

Never Lonely?

Never Lonely?
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.
25 Jan, 2018

An estimated 9 million people across the UK are often or always feeling lonely. This includes young people, older people, parents, carers and the middle aged. In the USA it is estimated at 40% of the adult population. Last week the UK government appointed a minister to tackle the silent epidemic. The Prime Minister said, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life”. It’s a public health problem, a better predictor of early death than obesity and smoking. Why is it increasing? Family breakdown, living further away from friends and family, living alone, passive recreation, lack of meaningful interaction at work–these are just some of the causes. What help can we draw from God’s Word about loneliness?

​The Bible speaks about this problem from the very beginning (Genesis 2:18). Even though Adam had an all-sufficient Creator to delight in, God recognised this need. As soon as sin entered it brought a form of separation into the bond God had formed between Adam and Eve as well as their relationship to God Himself. Sin creates this distance,sanctification ought to include overcoming it by loving our neighbour as ourselves and stirring up others to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). The Christian life is a shared life (Romans 14:7).

Christ Himself speaks of loneliness. He was the only sinless person in a world of sin, would that not be lonely? His family did not believe in Him, His disciples struggled to understand who He was. His message was mostly rejected. In the time of His greatest trial, He was abandoned by His friends, they would not even pray for and with Him. “A man of sorrows”, He had to cry out from unimaginable depths of soul suffering that God had forsaken Him.

There is a difference of course between being alone and being lonely. Christ was able to embrace and use the blessing of solitude for spiritual purposes (Luke 5:16). He could also say that though He was left alone by everyone in this world yet He was not alone. He had the constant presence of the Father (John 16:32). We ought to be able to say that too, resting on God’s unfailing promise (Hebrew 13:5). In one sense we need never be lonely and we are never alone.

George Hutcheson brings out the significance of Christ’s words in John 16:31-32. The disciples were professing their faith loudly but an hour of trial and suffering was coming which would try their faith. The disciples would be scattered and be isolated from each other, Christ Himself would be left alone too but not truly alone for the Father would be with Him.

The disciples abandoned Christ because of their sinful confidence in the flesh. They asserted the strength of their faith but did not consider how it might be tried. They were going to be scattered. Scattering and the disintegration of companies of God’s people, is one of the sad fruits of persecution. There is much we can learn from the Saviour’s words.

 

1. Selfish Isolation in the Time of Trial is Sinful

This “scattering” is our sin and weakness as well as our our affliction. Trouble and danger make us selfish and seek to look after ourselves, little considering the danger of Christ’s cause. This is the effect of their presumptuous  self-confidence. They would be “scattered” each “to his own”. This does not just mean that they would go to their own home as they did afterwards. It also means them looking out for themselves while they “leave” their Master “alone”.

 

2. Those Who Suffer May Need to Do So Alone

Part of the trial of true sufferers may be that they are deserted in their sharpest conflicts. They may be deserted not just by those who make professions, but have real honesty. They may be left in the gap there alone. Christ has paved the way in this, He was left alone. Although no-one could join with Him in enduring the sufferings by which He redeemed His people (indeed He was careful to exempt them John 18:8) yet it was a trial to Him to be left alone in this way.

 

3. Christ Will Stand for the Truth No Matter Who Deserts it

Never mind how many desert Christ and His truth, He will still own and stand for it. He is left alone and yet stands alone in that conflict.

 

4. Those Who Suffer May Not be as Lonely as We Would Assume

The condition of sufferers is not so desolate and solitary as spectators or feelings would judge at first glance. Though they leave Him alone, “yet I am not alone,” He says.

 

5. God May be Graciously Present While He Chastises Us

God may be pursuing his own dear children in great displeasure yet also graciously present with them. He may be upholding them with the one hand as he smites with the other. For “the Father is with me,” Christ says when yet the Father is pursuing him hotly for the sins of the elect and deserting Him (Matthew 27:46).

 

6. God’s Presence is Sufficient to Sustain a Lonely Soul

The presence of God alone is sufficient to sustain a soul, when deserted by all, under the saddest difficulties. Christ said to the disciples that though they would leave Him alone “yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”

 

7. If We Want God’s Presence At All Times, We Must Seek to Please Him in All Things

Whoever wants the comfort of God’s presence and company in all conditions, ought to set themselves to please God and observe His will in all things. This is what Christ did “he that sent me is with me” the Father had not left Him alone “for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).

 

Conclusion

Faith should draw strength in considering the aloneness of the Saviour. Having experienced such trials He is able to strengthen us also. He gives an example for us in His rejoicing in God’s presence even when abandoned by others. Isn’t it an inestimable privilege that the Most High values our company, who is infinitely happy in Himself and does not need us? We should not be afraid of solitude if it provides an opportunity to draw nearer to God. Yet we ought also to greatly value the blessing of useful friends that can strengthen our hands in serving God. Speak about the most important things, avoid always interacting at the surface level. Bear one another’s burdens in prayer.

Let us avoid the selfish spirit of the world and have rather the spirit of Christ who denied Himself for the sake of His people (Philippians 2:4-5). Even in the face of His own suffering and when He knew the disciples would forsake Him within hours, He comforted and counselled them and prayed for them.

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What Are Your Priorities for the New Year?

What Are Your Priorities for the New Year?

What Are Your Priorities for the New Year?
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.
27 Dec, 2017

At this time of year, many people stop and reflect. They review the past and take stock. Then they set their priorities for a coming year. If people commit to this in outward things as well as their personal life how much more is it necessary in spiritual things? Priorities are significant because they identify what is really important to us. They rise above mere resolutions or wishful thinking. This is a biblical activity. Paul tells us of how he considered the future in the light of the past. He tells us that he had only one real priority and he was determined to pursue it.

Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres. In Philippians 3:12, he is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection, even though that is beyond this life. Even those who have attained most come short. This should encourage us as we review our imperfect attainments.

As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. We should not be discouraged but rather encouraged to strive for better progress towards the mark.

In verses 13-14 Paul uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look back to estimate what ground they have covered. Rather, they forget what is behind and bend their bodies forward. They aim their heart, eye and whole direction, straight towards the finish of the race until they attain it. Paul was sustained in this race by hope of the rich reward (purchased by Christ) to which he was called. What was Paul’s one priority? Progress in the knowledge of Christ and the “holiness” without which none of us shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Is it ours? Will it be ours in 2018? How do we live our lives under the influence of this supreme priority? The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments on these verses from Philippians 3.

 

1. Knowing Christ and Holiness is the Supreme Priority

We must be seriously inclined towards progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness above all other things. We must not do this superficially and only by the by. It was Paul’s one thing: he said “this one thing I do (or mind)”.

 

2. We Must Pursue this With Our Full Energy

The Christian who wants to make progress in the way to heaven is like those who are running in a race.

(a) The Runner Does Not Look Back to Estimate Progress

The Christian who wants to make progress is like the runner does not cast his eye back to reckon how much of the way is already past.They may review of what has been done already not only to be humbled for shortcomings but also to see reasons for praising God and encouragement (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Christian is not to be so taken up with it as to rest on it. There is no reason to be puffed up with pride as if enough has already been done or anything else that would impede further progress. In this way Paul speaks of “forgetting those things which are behind”, as if he had done nothing.

(b) The Runner Looks Forward

The runner is mostly taken up with the part of the way still to be run and they bend forward in it. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress must take time to reckon up how much of  the way still lies ahead. They assess what sins are yet to be mortified; what duties are yet almost untouched; what hard activities they may yet be called to undergo. The more we see of these kind of things, the more effort we must make in advancing forward. Thus, Paul speaks of “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

(c) The Runner Keeps Looking at the Finish

The runner keeps his eye on the mark and steers his whole progress towards it. He does not turn aside or stop due to any difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix their eye on the end of the race. That goal is perfection in holiness. They must aim all their actions and attempts at that mark and press forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way. This is what Paul did: “I press toward the mark“.

 

3. Considering the Reward Inspires Greater Progress

The thoughts of the prize and worth of the reward give strength to the runner, making them run faster. Heaven and glory is the rich prize – a free reward of grace (not earned by merit) – for the Christian (Romans 6:23). The Christian who wants to make real progress should have this much in their thoughts. This heartens us against all hardships and discouragements, faintings and failings we are assaulted with and tempted to. This is what Paul was doing: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling”.

 

4. The Reward is All of Grace

Heaven and glory are only given as a reward to those who continue in their Christian progress until they come to the end of the race. Yet it is in no way merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s poor efforts but from above, from God’s high grace. They receive this through the merits of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul calls it “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ“.

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Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin
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.
20 Oct, 2017

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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