Spiritual Rest During Outward Trouble

Spiritual Rest During Outward Trouble

Spiritual Rest During Outward Trouble

We can’t escape troubles in this world. Whether it is the heartache of suffering and loss or the storm of calamity and opposition; it touches us in different ways. The brokenness of this world leaves its mark on us. It may be so deep an anguish and trouble that we cannot put words on it. Christ told us that in this world we would have “tribulation”, but in the same breath He directs us to find peace in Himself (John 16:33). This is genuinely possible, despite all that is going on around us.

Hugh MacKail (1640/41–1666) was going into the ministry when the storm of opposition was rising. He was scarcely twenty-one when he took the opportunity to preach on the last occasion before the faithful ministers of Scotland were deposed. It was a spiritual and attractive sermon but he did not avoid reference to the times however. MacKail boldly observed that “the people of God had been persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the state, and a Judas in the church”. Everyone believed this was a reference to the main rulers in the land and the next day soldiers were sent to arrest him. He managed to escape and the next four years of his life were spent in hiding. The following brief clip explains more about this.

MacKail returned to Scotland at the time of the Pentland rising in 1666. While he joined the march for some time he was forced to withdraw due to ill health.  On his way home, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was interrogated under torture, his leg was so badly mangled from this that he could not walk or stand. He was sentenced to be executed but endured all these things cheerfully.

He prayed on the scaffold before ascending the ladder, and then said that every rung of the ladder brought him “a degree nearer heaven”. His composure was another fearless sermon in itself. It made a powerful impression on all who witnessed it. His last words were:

Farewell father, mother, friends, and relations; Farewell the world and its delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and starts; Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ the mediator of the New Covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation; welcome glory, welcome eternal life; welcome death!  Into Thy Hands I commit my spirit.”

Let’s take a closer look at MacKail’s sermon which caused all the controversy. It does not seem to have been reprinted in the past 300 or so years. It was on Song of Solomon 1:7 and spoke much of the spiritual rest that God’s people have in the midst of troubles. The following is extracted from that sermon in updated language.

 

There is Rest in Christ Even in the Midst of the Hottest Trials 

Where he makes the “flocks to rest at noon”, there is not only feeding for their necessity but also a comfortable rest for their satisfaction. The ground of a believer’s satisfaction is beyond the reach of earthly troubles. Whatever commotion may arise ,it cannot touch their foundation. Believers are compared to a house built upon a rock (Matthew 7:24). In Proverbs 10:25 we read that “the righteous is an everlasting foundation.” He is compared to a tree in Psalm 1:2,3 and his root shall never be moved.

Outward advantages are only like beautiful pictures or other adornments of a house, which may be blurred or removed without affecting the building. They are like fair-feathered birds chirping melodiously upon the top of a tree, which may suddenly fly away without any disadvantage.The solid adornment of the image of God cannot be defaced by any outward event. It is rather rendered even more illustrious and clear by tribulation. The fiery furnace did not hinder the three children from praising the Lord. Nothing can hinder their obedience to God’s command, and one great command is “rejoice evermore.” There are four things involved in this rest that the followers of Christ enjoy in this time of tribulation:

 

1. Rest from Sin

All the force and fury of temptations cannot constrain them to sin against the Lord. Though a messenger of Satan should buffet them, yet there is a grace sufficient for them (2 Corinthians 12:7 – 9). I believe the malice and fury and craftiness of the devil transcends the malice, fury and craft of human enemies. Though he used his utmost endeavour to try to make Job to curse God and die, yet patience eventually triumphs over temptation. Affliction is the Lord’s furnace where the more they are tried they more purified they come forth. In Job 36:8–10, we read that affliction reveals to the righteous their sin.

The conclusion of a believing soul under affliction is, if God punishes me this sharply for sins that I have already committed against Him, will I not receive greater if I revolt further? This is the conclusion of Ezra (Ezra 9: 6, 7, 13, 14). So, afflictions disengage a believer from sin. It is a dreadful thing to be uncorrectable despite judgements,. If we consider the solemn consequences in Pharaoh’s case, it should bring all such to fear God’s judgements (Psalm 119:120).

 

2. Rest through Peace with God

This peace is through Jesus Christ. This is a shadow from the scorching sun, under which a reconciled believer may sit and the Lord’s fruit be sweet to his taste. No worm can come at the root of this gourd to make it wither. Enemies may do much to secure enemies for the people of God among men on earth, but they can never cause them to have enemies in heaven.

The Lord will not be bribed by their gifts, for all the beasts of the field are His, and the cattle on a thousand hills. He will not be allured by their pleasures, for at His right hand there is fullness of joy and rivers of pleasures forevermore. He will not be deceived by their craftiness, nor constrained by their power to side with them against His people, for He is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who ever hardened themselves against Him and prospered? How unreasonable it is then to turn aside from Him by the flocks of his companions. The whole world cannot make God your enemy when you follow Him in turning aside from them. But if you follow the world and forsake Him, he can make all the world your enemies or destroy you and the world both.

 

3. Rest through Peace of Conscience

This peace passes all understanding and is a continual feast. Better that every creature sets itself in array against a man, than that his sins set themselves in order before him. Better one handful with quietness then both hands full of vexation of spirit. Better to be scorched in the hottest furnace of tribulation, than to have the heart and soul burned up with the unquenchable flames of a self-tormenting conscience. Blessed therefore is that man, even in the midst of outward misery, who retains a good conscience. This cannot be reached by any weapons of devils or men.

O, that these foes, whose hearts are perpetually in the house of mirth, would consider their latter end. The beginning of a sinner’s day may be sweet but their end is bitter as wormwood. Men may hoodwink their conscience all the days of their life, but O, how dreadful is it when death begins to draw the veil and represent things as they are in themselves. I think I hear the screeches and howling of a damned spirit in prison when I read the woeful expressions of an evil conscience in Proverbs 5:11–13.  There we are warned away from sin, lest we “mourn at the last”  when flesh and body are consumed and we say “how have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!” When a man through heat of persecution is drawn to turn aside from God he runs out of a spark into a flame. God then becomes your enemy and at last you will become an enemy to yourself.

 

4. Hope of Eternal Rest

There is a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). The sure hopes of this rest will not only render all tribulation tolerable, but even desirable. They are but light and momentary. They work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Both the good and evil of the world vanish from view for that soul that has its eye fixed upon the recompense of reward. Christ’s promise that he would be with him in paradise that day (Luke 23:43) made the penitent thief’s cross preferable to all the crowns of the world. The hope of this rest is a helmet of salvation, keeping the head from being wounded. Enjoying this rest places a believer beyond the reach of all tribulation.

Heaven resembles the court of Ahasuerus–none may go there clothed in sackcloth. The Church is beneath the sun here and therefore prone to being scorched but there she is above the sun. The sun shall not light on her, nor any heat (Revelation 7:16). This is the motive the Lord Himself uses to urge steadfastness in Revelation 2:10; “a crown of life” for those who are “faithful unto death”.

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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How True Faith Rejoices in Christ, Even in Trials

How True Faith Rejoices in Christ, Even in Trials

How True Faith Rejoices in Christ, Even in Trials

Trials do more than cast a shadow, they often bring us into periods of darkness. It seems that, as Rutherford says, Christ’s purpose is to have joy and sorrow equal sharers in the life of His people.  As though “each of them should have a share of our days, as the night and the day are kindly partners and halfers of time”. To some it may seem that they have more sorrow than joy. Rutherford says that even though “sorrow be the greediest halfer of our days here, I know joy’s day shall dawn, and do more than recompense all our sad hours”. In the midst of trials and darkness the light of joy is sown for the righteous (Psalm 97:11). Faith brings Christ near and His presence floods the dark room of sorrow with the light of joy.

This is expressed in 1 Peter chapter 1: it is possible to “greatly rejoice” even though we “are in heaviness”  through the trial of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). We should not forget that the Christian has spiritual trials and afflictions that every bit as real and troubling as their outward trials. Of course they may, and frequently do, come together. We can even have joy during such trials. Those to whom Peter was writing had never seen Christ in the flesh, but by faith they loved Him. They could “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). This is a remarkable joy, even in the midst of trials, its nature and extent cannot be fully expressed. It is the beginning of the joy that glorified spirits have in heaven. The following updated extract comes from Alexander Nisbet’s reflections on these words in 1 Peter 1:8.

1. Where There is Faith in Christ, There Will be Love to Him

True faith in Jesus Christ always has love to Him flowing from it. This will make the soul hate everything it knows to be contrary to His nature and will (Psalm 97.10). It will constrain the soul to endeavour everything it knows will please and honour Him (2 Corinthians 5:4). In this verse love to Christ is the effect of faith that has been proved genuine by trials.

2. This Brings Joy, Even in the Worst Trials

Faith which has love to Christ flowing from it will bring much joy into the soul of the believer even under sore trials. They may have sore heaviness of spirit as a result of these trials. Faith is the grace which secures the soul’s chief good (Song of Solomon 2:16). It lets the soul see clearly through present afflictions to a certain and blessed deliverance (2 Corinthians 4:18). Love to Christ is also a clear proof of the love of God to us (John 16:27).  True faith not only has love to Christ flowing from it but also produces joy.

3. Faith Makes Christ Real and Present

They who heartily embrace Christ offered to them in the Word by faith, will love Him and rejoice in Him as though they had seen him and conversed with him bodily. True faith makes the thing it lays hold of spiritually present to the soul (Hebrews 11:1). Thus suffering believers are commended in that they loved and rejoiced in Jesus Christ though they had never seen him as the apostle had i.e. in the flesh.

4.  We are to Consider Ourselves as Joyful Even When we Struggle

Many true lovers of Jesus Christ have now and then a good measure of spiritual joy in Him, but they do not consider and appreciate this as they ought. They do not, therefore, persevere so cheerfully in their trials as they otherwise would. The Spirit of the Lord directs the apostle to lead suffering Christians to reflect on themselves as those who did love Christ and rejoice in Him. This implies that they needed this pointed out to them. It also indicates that if they considered themselves to be such, they would be greatly encouraged to cheerful perseverance under their sufferings.

5. Christ Notices our Trials and Will Reward Them

Christ takes great notice of any difficulty a believer experiences in exercising any grace. This will be to the great benefit of the believer when Christ and he meet. The difficulty that these sufferers experienced in exercising their love and faith is twice expressed, implying that the fewer conscious helps faith has (besides the Word) the more highly it is esteemed by Jesus Christ. So much the more also it will “be found to praise and honour and glory” (1 Peter 1:7) at His appearance.

6. Inexpressible Joy is not Impossible Amidst Trials

It is not impossible for a child of God to rejoice in the midst of many trials and discouragements. Even though they may have nothing that can give them comfort except the Word of the Lord. They may have their heart now and then filled with such a joy as can hardly be kept within doors. It may be such a joy that no tongue nor words can sufficiently express. By faith the believer lays hold of God as his father in Christ. He views by faith his spiritual privileges, such as the certainty of his perseverance and the excellence of his reward. The apostle affirms that these suffering and sad-hearted exiles rejoiced in believing. The word used means the kind of joy that breaks out in outward expressions, yet it cannot be sufficiently expressed – it is “joy unspeakable”.

7. Lively Faith Experiences Foretastes of Glory

Lively exercise of faith will sometimes give the soul some foretastes of the first fruits of glory. It may, for instance, experience that sweetness in communion with God which those in glory live on. The believer may have in his heart the well-grounded assurance of the ultimate full possession of this (Romans 5:2, 8:38). This will enable the soul humbly to glory over all possible difficulties, while it takes hold of that power which is committed to carrying it through (1 Peter 1:5). Thus, the apostle affirms the joy which flows from believing, to be “full of glory”.

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The Soul of Christ’s Sufferings

The Soul of Christ’s Sufferings

The Soul of Christ’s Sufferings

Crucifixion is perhaps the most violent, humiliating and painful method of execution ever devised. The very word that we use for acute pain (excruciating) comes from crucifying. Yet we must never forget that the deepest sufferings were infinitely greater than the physical pain. As someone has put it, the soul of His sufferings was the sufferings of His soul. What do we mean by His soul sufferings? Samuel Rutherford puts it succinctly: the Saviour suffered in His soul “God’s wrath, which was a very hell to Christ”. He endured the felt wrath of God instead of the felt blessing that He never before lacked. Merely physical sufferings would not have satisfied divine justice.

This is a vital point. David Dickson gives several reasons for it:

  • The curse of the fall (breaking the covenant made with Adam) was death, both of body and soul. The redeemed had to be delivered from the death of both by the Redeemer enduring both for their redemption.
  • Sin infected the whole person, soul and body. No part or power of the soul is free from it. Justice therefore required that the Redeemer should feel the force of the curse both in body and soul in place of the persons redeemed.

 

Death to the soul consists in its separation from communion with God and this is what Christ endured. There are deep mysteries in this, Christ never ceased to be God of course even when He forsaken of God. Christ was deprived for a time of a clear vision of the blessedness of God, the quiet possession of the formerly felt peace, and the fruition of joy for a time. Thus He suffered an eclipse of light and consolation that otherwise shined from His God-head. In this sort of spiritual death He underwent some degrees of spiritual death.

David Dickson outlines various degrees of soul suffering that Christ endured. This is an updated extract from his book Therapeutica sacra: showing briefly, the method of healing the diseases of the conscience, concerning regeneration.

 

1. Imputed Sin

The guilt of all the sins, crimes, and vile deeds of the elect committed from the beginning of the world was imputed to Him. By accepting this imputation He did not pollute His conscience. Yet He burdened His soul, binding Himself to bear their deserved punishment.

The vilest sinners such as liars, thieves and adulterers cannot bear to hear themselves called liars or thieves. They cannot bear the shame of the vileness of which they are truly guilty. What suffering of soul, what clouding of the glory of His holiness was it then when our Lord took upon His shoulders such a dunghill of all vileness? Nothing could be more unseemly for His holy majesty.

 

2. Extreme Perplexity

Added to all the former degrees of suffering of His soul, the perplexity of his thoughts fell on Him. There was such astonishment of soul when the full cup of wrath was presented to Him in such a terrible way. It made all the powers of His sense and reason for a time to be at a stand still. The Evangelist describes this suffering of His soul saying that “he began to be sore amazed” and also to be “very heavy”. Christ expressed Himself in these words “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death” (Mark 14:33-34). There was no imperfection in this only a sinless natural response to such a sudden terror. Daniel’s response to the terrifying appearance of the angel (Daniel 10:8-10) was not sinful.

 

3. Interrupted Communion

The conscious peaceful enjoyment of the happiness His human nature had in its personal union with His God-head was interrupted for a time. The vehemence of His trouble did not allow Him to hide His perturbation. In John 12:27 He cried out “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say?” and in Mark 14:34 He declares, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death”. He implies by these words that death was at hand. It had seized hold on Him and wrapped Him up in the sorrows of death for the time, as in a net in which He knew He could not be held.

These miseries hid the happiness of His personal union with the God-head for a time. They hindered the conscious feeling of it for a time in His deep suffering. Yet, it was not taken away or eclipsed altogether.

 

4. Total Wrath

God’s justice, pursuing our sins in our Surety, showed Christ the cup of wrath in the garden. It held it to His head and pressed Him to drink it. The very dregs of the agreed curse of the law were poured into His patient and submissive mouth, as it were, filling the most inward part of soul and body. As a vehement flame, beyond all human comprehension, it filled both soul and body. It drew and drove forth a bloody sweat out of all His veins (the like of which was never heard of). It was like when a pot of oil, boiling up and running over with the fire beneath has the flame increased further still by a fiery mass of hot iron being thrust into it.

All His human strength was wasted and emptied, His mind thrown down, His joy fainted and a heavy weight of sorrow was on Him. He desired that small comfort of His weak disciples watching with Him a little and missed it when it was lacking. He also stood in need of an angel to comfort Him (Luke 22:43).

 

5. Extreme Fear

Christ’s human nature was like ours in all things except sin. It was indeed afraid when it saw and felt the wrath of God lest it should have been swallowed up by it. The apostle speaks of this fear in Hebrews 5:7 saying that Christ “offered up prayers and supplication and strong cries and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared”.

This seems the saddest part of all His sufferings, that He was afraid of being swallowed up. Yet this fear is not to be wondered at, nor is it inconsistent with His holiness. For when Christ assumed our nature, He also assumed all the common and sinless infirmities, passions, and perturbations of our nature. It is natural that the creature should tremble at the sight of an angry God. It is natural to man at the sight of something terrible or an evil coming on him or already come on him (especially if beyond all his natural strength) to tremble and fear the worst. Holy nature was right to fear present death, being cut off and swallowed up in the danger when God appeared angry and was hasting to be avenged on sinners in the person of their Surety. He did not doubt that He would escape from being swallowed up. Natural fear is very different from lack of faith in God’s faithfulness and power. Natural fear of the worst can be consistent with strong faith which helps to overcome natural fear.

If Christ had not been weakened and emptied of all human strength in His flesh, He could not have been humbled enough for us, He could not have suffered so much as Justice did exact for satisfying the law on our behalf. Yet if He had not also stood firm in faith and love towards God’s glory and our salvation He could not have satisfied Justice either. He would not have still been the innocent and spotless Lamb of God nor perfected the expiatory sacrifice for us.

 

6. Consciously Forsaken

Among the deepest degrees of the suffering of Christ in His soul was His being forsaken. In saying that He was forsaken of God He did not mean that the personal union of the natures in Him was broken. Nor did He mean that God had withdrawn His sustaining strength and help from the human nature. Neither was the love of the Father taken from Him or any aspect of the perfection of holiness taken from Him. It meant that God for a time had taken away conscious comfort and felt joy from His human soul. This was so that justice might be more fully satisfied in His sufferings. In this forsaking Christ is not to considered simply as the Son of the Father (in whom He is always well pleased) but as He stands in the room of sinners as Surety paying their debt. In this respect, He must be dealt with as standing in our name, guilty and thus paying the debt of being forsaken by God. We were bound to suffer this fully and forever, if He had not intervened for us.

 

7. Cursed Death

That which Christ suffered in torment was, in some respects, of the same kind as the torment of the damned. The punishment of the damned differs in their rebellious disposition of the mind and the duration of their punishment. Yet the punishment itself (torment of soul and body) compares with Christ’s suffering. This was the conscious torment of Christ’s soul and body in being made a curse for us.

 

Conclusion

Dickson’s friend James Durham makes appropriate application of these truths in one of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. He writes movingly of the horror Christ endured. It was as though many mighty squadrons of the highly provoked wrath of God were making a furious and mighty assault on the innocent human nature of Christ.

He says that considering Christ’s soul sufferings we ought to be stirred up to wonder at the love of God the Father and the love of the Son. If we consider the infinite glory of the One that suffered, the infinite wrath He endured and the infinite guilt of those for whom He suffered. Do you think it is appropriate, he says, that sinners who have hope of heaven through Christ’s sufferings should be so little moved at hearing and reading of them?

He suffers much by sinners, when His love shining forth in His sufferings is not taken notice of. I would put the question to you, ‘when was your heart suitably affected with thinking on them? Or, when did you purposely bless God for this, that He sent his Son to suffer, and that the Mediator came and suffered such things for you sinners?’ This is a part, and a considerable part of your duty; and gratitude should constrain you to do it. It should not let you diminish just esteem of His love.

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The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

​The Church is often given scant regard in society at large. Changing values and trends push the church well into the shadows. Statistics like those in the recent Scottish Church Census are not lacking to underline how secularised things have become. It is easy to see the Church as weak when viewed outwardly. Again, however, we must see the Church from Christ’s perspective rather than look through the blurred lens of unbelief.

Christ’s true Church in Scotland seemed perhaps even more weak and despised in the times of James Renwick than it does now.  Renwick was ordained as a minister in Holland in 1683, before coming back to Scotland to begin preaching.  The flocks to which Renwick returned were in his own words, “a poor, wasted, wounded, afflicted, bleeding, misrepresented, and reproached remnant and handful of suffering people”. They had no congregations and no buildings in which to worship. Conventicles or illegal worship services in the fields and hills were held at the risk of their lives, liberty and livelihoods.

Renwick preached intensively and travelled incessantly across the country.  For his safety he had to take shelter in moors and caves and travel under cover of darkness. It broke his health – he said that  “Excessive travel, night wanderings, unseasonable sleep and diet, and frequent preaching in all seasons of weather, especially in the night, have so debilitated me that I am often incapable for any work”.

On one of these occasions Renwick opened his remarks with the following moving observation. “The Lord, by a special providence, has brought us together, not knowing if ever we shall have the like occasion to meet together again”. It seems likely from some of what he said that the service was at night in order to be better concealed under cover of darkness. The sermon he proceeded to preach was from Zechariah 2:8. His theme was that the Church is Christ’s glory (see also Isaiah 4:5).

Christ has the Church for His special and unique kingdom where he delights to manifest His glory. She is His declarative glory, His purchase and the price of His precious blood. She is His society where He desires to dwell. O who can set forth the love of Christ to His Church? She is beautiful through His comeliness.

 

1. Glorified by Christ’s Redemption

The Church is Christ’s glory because He has glorified Himself in the great work of His Church’s redemption.  He manifests the glory of His power in His Church in the conversion of His elect. More of God’s power is to be seen in the conversion of a soul to Himself than in the creation of heaven and earth. God could and did create the heaven and the earth without the merit or mediation of His Son Jesus Christ. Heaven and earth are God’s works not as Redeemer but as Creator. It is true indeed, that, in the work of creation and all God’s works all three persons of the ever blessed Godhead concurred together. But the work of creation is not attributed to Jesus Christ as Redeemer.

The second creation (the soul’s conversion to God) deals with the corrupt nature in man which strongly opposes and resists the work of grace. There is therefore greater glory in beginning and carrying on the work of grace against this strong opposition and resistance than in creating heaven and earth where there was no such resistance.

What shall I say of the glory which Christ manifests in the work of conversion? It surpasses the rhetoric of angels to express it.

 

2. Glorified with Christ’s Ordinances

The church is Christ’s glory, because He has dignified and beautified her with his ordinances. Psalm 147:19-20 mentions the ordinances of God bestowed upon His church. This shows the glory of God and the beauty, dignity, and privileges of His Church. God’s ordinances are part of that by which He makes Himself known. Since He beautifies and dignifies His church with His ordinances, therefore His church is called Christ’s glory.

 

3. Glorified with Christ’s Presence

The Church is called Christ’s glory, because He makes known His glorious presence in her with His ordinances (Psalm 68:15-16). His Church is His glorious mount Zi0n where He delights to dwell and where His presence is with His ordinances. How gloriously sometimes He has shined and appeared in His ordinances, even in Scotland. He has made His glorious voice heard and His footsteps seen. His stately goings have been seen in the sanctuary. There has been much of His glorious presence manifested in His ordinances in Scotland on hills and brae-sides. His voice has been heard there and his stately goings have been seen. Do you see anything of the stately goings of His gracious presence in His ordinances, which is one way whereby He makes His church glorious?

 

4. Glorified with Christ’s Image

The Church is called Christ’s glory because she carries His image (1 John 3:3). The godly man strives to be holy as Christ is holy. O what glory it is to be like Jesus Christ. This special privilege of His children (Psalm 45:13; Song 4:9). How glorious Christ’s image makes His Church. He is the express image of His Father and the brightness of that glory (Hebrews 1:3). He sets His image on the true Church, those who are real members of His spiritual body.

See what He says concerning the beauty of His Church in Song 6:4-5. The Church is called Christ’s glory because she bears His image. You must be sure that you have Christ’s image on you, if you would be amongst those on whom He puts His name. For the mere profession of religion will not give you a right to that name “His glory” but rather truly bearing His image.

 

5.Glorified by Christ’s Acts for Her

The Church is called Christ’s glory because He delights to manifest His glory, in appearing and working for her and making her triumph over her enemies (Exodus 15:1 and 21). God gets glory in His wonderful appearing and working for His people. Thus, His Church is His glory because glorifies Himself in this way. Her low condition does not obstruct this His people since despite visiting His people with trouble and affliction, His Church is still His glory.

The time when His Church and people are low and in trouble is when He most manifests His glory in doing for them as Israel saw in the wilderness. Thus, Israel’s marching through the wilderness is said to be God’s marching (Psalm 68:7).

 

6. Glorified with Christ’s Praise

The Church is called Christ’s glory because she sets forth His glory by praise (Psalm 50:23). The Christian is greatly taken up with declaring God to be a glorious God. The Christian adorns his profession by gospel living. He is takes great delight in praising Him and pursuing a life of thankfulness to Him as well as praying to Him.

A Christian must take up much of his time in praying to and praising God so that He may be glorified. Slothfulness is a great dishonour to the name of God but diligence exalts the name of God; it glorifies His name. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength and honour, and glory, and blessing” is what they are crying this night above the clouds and stars (Revelation 5:11-12). All who expect to have their life through eternity should begin their work now, in glorifying and praising God.

 

7. Glorified with Christ’s Working for His Name’s Sake

The Church is called Christ’s glory because it is only for His name’s glory that He does all things for her (Ezekiel 36:22; Psalm 79:19). Christ’s name sake is the only moving argument that the Church should make use of.

James Renwick

“As to the remnant I leave, I have committed them to God. Tell them from me not to weary, nor be discouraged in maintaining the testimony. Let them not quit nor forego one of these despised truths. Keep your ground, and the Lord will provide you teachers and ministers, and when He comes, He will make these despised truths glorious upon the earth…’Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of truth'”

(His very last words before being executed, 17 February 1688)

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Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Do we take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as we ought? Communion is not high on the list of trending issues in evangelicalism today. Some have a casual attitude towards it. In many evangelical churches the Lord’s Supper is tacked on to the end of a service and quickly dispatched. In some cases perhaps the congregation has forgotten it would be administered before they arrived at the service. Do we take it as seriously as God does? Should we give it any less importance than a bride gives to her wedding day?

Perhaps that it is a startling comparison to many. This is the striking and unusual picture used by William Guthrie. He unfolds it in a way that takes us into a serious consideration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorable way of thinking about how we should prepare for it and what we should expect in it.

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace that nourishes the soul. We do not mean by this the unbiblical notion that mere eating and drinking automatically bring grace. Rather, like the Word it is an appointed means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to us so that we grow in grace. Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper involves communion with Christ enjoyed in the present (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is not just a remembrance of what took place in the past, though there is more to such commemoration than some assume. Remembering in Scripture involves not just a mere act of recollection but affectionate remembrance of something/someone with ongoing application of its significance.

 

Christ’s People are His Bride

We are familiar with believers being described as the bride of Christ in Scripture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). In his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest William Guthrie makes use of this in relation to faith in Christ. “A man must be sincere, and without guile, in closing with Christ…not hankering after another way”. It must be a heart and not only a head matter: “the man not only must be persuaded that Christ is the way, but affectionately persuaded of it, loving and liking the thing…so that ‘it is all a man’s desire’, as David speaks of the covenant”.

If a man be cordial and affectionate in any thing, surely he must be so here in this ‘one thing that is necessary’. It must not be simply a fancy in the head, it must be a heart-business, a soul-business…not, a business in the outer court of the affections, but in the flower of the affections, and in the innermost, cabinet of the soul, where Christ is formed. Shall a man be cordial in any thing, and not in this, which comprises all his chief interests and his everlasting state within it? Shall “the Lord be said to rejoice over a man as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride,” and to “rest in his love with joy?” and shall not the heart of man go out and meet him here? The heart or nothing; love or nothing; marriage-love, which goeth from heart to heart; love of espousals, or nothing: “My son, give me thine heart.”

 

The Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s Bride

Thus Guthrie describes in Scriptural language how the soul enters into a marriage contract or covenant with Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a renewal and confirmation of that covenant and our vows. It is natural, therefore, to think of the Lord’s Supper as one of the special ways in which the heavenly bridegroom enjoys fellowship with His bride. As Thomas Watson puts it: “the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ”.

The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!

1 Corinthians 11:29 speaks of the danger of “eating unworthily” i.e. in an unworthy manner. This means that we must give serious attention to the way that we partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Larger Catechism in Q174 deals with how the Lord’s Supper should be received. It stresses reverent attentiveness, those who partake should: “diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings”. Vigorously stirring into activity graces within such as love and resolute faith also involves:

judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

William Guthrie addressed some of these aspects in describing the believer’s approach to the Lord’s Table in terms of a bride on her wedding day. He has given a memorable picture with which to associate some of these things. A bride is not only full of love and anticipation on her wedding day, she is fully prepared for and engaged in all that takes place. The following are some of the comparisons Guthrie makes.

Would a bride be careless about whether she and her dress are clean? Any bride wants to look her best. In the same way a believer should not be going to the Lord’s Table careless about unconfessed sin in their lives and not seeking to leave them and put them to death.

Would a bride be sleepy at her wedding ceremony? It is too important to her to be only half-awake to what is taking place.  The very excitement of the occasion makes it impossible. This is how it should be for a believer approaching Christ in the Supper.

Would a bride be distracted and give her attention to anything other than her bridegroom and the significance of the ceremony? It is even more strange for a believer to be distracted from the heavenly bridegroom and all that is offered in the Supper. What more important thing could the mind and heart consider?

Would a bride be diffident and reluctant to come to be married or to look at her bridegroom? Yet some believers draw back and are reluctant to come to Christ’s Table because of doubts about themselves and their salvation. But as the Larger Catechism shows in Q172, the Lord’s Table is for weak and doubting Christians so that they can be strengthened.

 

1. A dirt-stained bride is unbecoming

In appoaching to the Table of the Lord, remember it is unbecoming that in the day and hour of espousals the bride should be dirty. It is not becoming for her to have known spots on her which she does not attempt to put off. It is true, at first Christ taketh a dirty bride by the hand, and often has to wash her afterwards. But now in this solemn confirmation of marriage, a filthy bride with known iniquity cleaving to her (with her consent) is a dreadful thing.

 

2. A drowsy bride is shameful

A drowsy bride is shameful when so solemn a transaction is being carried out before so many witnesses. It is not a good sign to be sleepy and drowsy. It is true that the three disciples slept and were very heavy very soon afterwards in a great crisis. But that was the forerunner of a sad defection.

 

3. A distracted bride is unseemly

To be distracted and have your attention diverted on such a solemn occasion is a sign of rank corruption. It shows little awe of God and small esteem of Christ Jesus. How unseemly it would be  for a bride in the presence of her bridegroom to dally with other things – even if they were gifts received from the bridegroom himself! She is going to give her marriage consent, or ratify it before witnesses.

 

4. A diffident bride is very unseemly

It is very unseemly to be diffident towards the Bridegroom at the very time when He has called all His friends together to be witnesses of what He has done and said for her. He is communicating to her the highest, clearest and surest pledge of love He can, putting His great Seal to all the charters of the Covenant which are read over and over. After all this to look down and be jealous and to say in your heart, “He is but mocking me” is a great provocation. Be not therefore unbelieving but believing.

 

5. A prepared bride is essential

The Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and due preparation (1 Corinthians 11:28). Any bride makes great preparation for her wedding day, she plans for nothing else so fully and thoroughly as this. Does the Lord’s Supper in its special communion with the Heavenly Bridegroom not require more preparation than we commonly give it? These considerations about repentance, love and careful attention apply to preparation also.

The Larger Catechism dwells on how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper as well as how to receive it. In Q171 it stresses preparation through examining ourselves in relation to various matters:

  • Whether we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5);
  • Our sins and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 5:7);
  • Whether our understanding is true and adequate (1 Corinthians 11:29);
  • Repentance after examining ourselves by God’s requirements (1 Corinthians 11:31);
  • Love to God (1 Corinthians 10:16);
  • Love to others (1 Corinthians 11:18);
  • Forgiveness towards others (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Desires for Christ (John 7:37);
  • New obedience (1 Corinthians 5:7-8);
  • Renewing the exercise of grace (Hebrews 10:21-22,24);
  • Serious meditation (1 Corinthians 11:24-25);
  • Fervent prayer (2 Chronicles 30:18-19)

 

Conclusion

Guthrie’s analogy is helpful in encouraging higher views of the Lord’s Supper and how we should best profit from it spiritually. It reflects the Scriptural emphasis of the Larger Catechism on reverent attentiveness, repentance, love and faith amongst other spiritual exercises. It is a means of blessing for grace being stirred up into activity. Surely there would be a higher spiritual temperature amongst believers if we took these things to heart and put them into practice.

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The Source of Great Joy

The Source of Great Joy

The Source of Great Joy

The quality of our joy is determined by its source. If the source of our joy is finite and capable of changing and degrading – our joys will be fickle, uncertain and unsatisfying. Many are seeking their joys in an inconstant, fading world and what it offers.  Most often the source of joy relates to self  – what makes us feel good. Yet, it quickly evaporates and we move on. Christ offers great joy–true, enduring and satisfying. Its source is in Himself.

Samuel Rutherford found this “joy unspeakable” in an exalted Redeemer. His great desire was that Christ would be “the morning and evening tide, the top and the root of my joys, and the heart and flower and yolk of all my soul’s delights!” He had discovered what David Dickson describes:

God laid hold upon through Christ provides not only peace, but also unspeakable joy to the believer. God reconciled through Christ is the life of the believer’s gladness…’God, my exceeding joy’.

Rutherford had proved by experience that “our joys here are born weeping, rather than laughing, and they die weeping”. “We buy our own sorrow, and we pay dear for it, when we spend out our love, our joy, our desires, our confidence, upon an handful of snow and ice, that time will melt away to nothing, and go thirsty out of the drunken inn when all is done. Alas! that we inquire not for the clear fountain, but are so foolish as to drink foul, muddy, and rotten waters…I know no wholesome fountain but one. I know not a thing worth the buying but heaven; and my own mind is, if comparison were made between Christ and heaven, I would sell heaven with my blessing, and buy Christ”. It is sin that embitters and poisons our enjoyments and deceives us. Rutherford observed that, “Sin’s joys are but night-dreams, thoughts, vapours, imaginations, and shadows”.

What will help us to “rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4)? Rutherford had discovered that spiritual enjoyments, life and enlivening influences come from Christ the resurrection and the life. In other words, the source of spiritual life and great joy is especially comes from a Redeemer who is risen and exalted. The disciples experienced this great joy after the resurrection. “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). They saw with great joy the wounds He retained after His resurrection.

George Hutcheson shows how the crucified, risen and exalted Saviour is the source of great joy. By showing His hands and His side (as they had been pierced) Christ makes it clear that it was truly He who now appeared to them. Even in His exaltation Christ looks upon His sufferings for His people as His crown and glory. He will not forget how dearly His people (though worthless in themselves) cost Him.

 

1. Christ as conqueror is the Church’s great comfort

It is the Church’s great comfort, not simply that Christ is alive, but that he had been dead, and was now alive, having overcome all their enemies. This why He showed them His hands and His side, to show them that He had returned as a conqueror over death and all His sufferings (see Revelation 1:8).
 

2. Christ wounded is necessary in all our views of Him

Whatever sight believers get of Christ, it is still necessary to look on Him as pierced by their sins. This may enliven their other spiritual activity with beneficial tenderness and sorrow. He showed them His hands and His side to keep them in mind, even in His exaltation, how He had been pierced for their sakes.
 

3. Christ is the most joyful sight that disciples ever see

No matter what their condition may be, a sight of Him will make them glad. This is especially so after they have had sad doubts about His absence. Of this sad company it is said therefore, “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.”

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Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?

Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?

Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?

It’s the word on everyone’s lips all of a sudden. “Post-truth” means “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.  It is not just an issue in politics; fake news is part of the problem too. No doubt gut feeling informs opinion more than many care to admit. Yet, when any opinion is cynically viewed as mere manipulative advertising in another dress – the world is undoubtedly in trouble. It is a question of trust and reality and therefore threatens the fabric of society. Where can we still find truth?

A post-truth indicates a step beyond the idea that everyone has their own truth to the notion that truth is irrelevant. In many ways it is a natural step for those who believe that the ultimate reality is random chance. If we truly arrive at a point in our culture where information serves only to reinforce what we feel it would be especially solemn. When the Bible speaks of such trends it calls them “strong delusion” in those who “received not the love of the truth” because they “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Of course this highlights that what we now call “post-truth” has always had currency.

For Christians, there is a danger that we become subtly influenced by a post-truth outlook. What does this look like? It means that our lifestyle is dictated by what feels best and our worship determined by our taste. Our message and convictions may be more influenced by how they make us feel, or the response of other people.

It’s time to remind ourselves that objective and absolute truth matters. Jesus said that He Himself was the Truth and that God’s Word is Truth (John 14:6; John 17:17). Truth has its source and guarantee in God. Truth is far bigger and more complex than many appreciate.

We still need to confront those to whom truth is an inconvenient irrelevance with reality. In many ways this is what took place when the Lord Jesus Christ stood before Pontius Pilate (John 18). As has been observed by others, Pilate himself was on trial. He dismisses any reference to the truth with “What is truth?” and walks away without requiring an answer (John 18:38). George Hutcheson comments on Christ’s example in opposing a “post-truth” mindset with steadfast declaration of the truth. This is an updated extract from his commentary on the gospel of John.

 

1. Christ Came into the World to Bear Witness to the Truth

Christ’s office at this time was, in part, to preach truth and avow it. He came to prove himself a king by making it successful and to confirm it by His suffering. More particularly, He came into the world to bear witness to the truth that He was a king and so He published the decree of Psalm 2:6- 7 and avowed it to death.

Everyone is sent into the world and employed by God for some purpose and service. They should bear this much in mind and labour to be faithful in their employment and trust despite all threats. Christ, as man and Mediator looks to the purpose for which He was born and the reason for which He “came into the world” (to “bear witness unto the truth”). He will here avow it in spite of all threats, even before Pilate.

 

2. Everyone that is of the Truth Hears Christ’s Voice

Christ prevents an objection against the truth of His doctrine and witness on the grounds that it is not well received. Only a few may receive His teaching in general or the truth that He is a king. He makes it clear that the fewness of those who receive it does not make the truth void. All who are of the truth (or born of God, begotten by the word of truth) and who love the truth and do not delight in lies will hear Him and embrace His doctrine and testimony.

 

3. Truth Must be Boldly Maintained

Truth ought to be boldly maintained and avowed when we are called to this. It does not matter however absurd it may seem to be in itself and how unpleasant it seems to others. Christ answers that Pilate says that He is a king, rightly gathering it from His words. This is a bold confession in what it asserts; yet modest in the way it is expressed. He does not respond with boasting and later makes it clarifies that He did this out of conscience and duty. He showed that courage and modesty must go together with owning the truth.

 

4. Persecution Presents an Opportunity for the Truth

By persecution the Lord gives His servants an opportunity to publish truth and make it known to the greatest of men. Possibly these men would not otherwise ever hear so much of it as is then spoken in their own hearing. Through Christ’s suffering Pilate comes to hear His teaching, especially concerning His kingdom. Besides this also, the very sufferings of Christians invite men to inquire after the doctrine for which they suffer, which probably otherwise they would not have taken any notice of (Philippians 1:12-13).

 

5. All Who Profess Christ Must Witness to the Truth

All professors of religion must bear witness to the truth or give a testimony to its worth. Partly, they do this by openly avowing it and suffering for it when called to do so in times of peril. Partly, they do this in their ordinary conduct by declaring truth in their personal capacities. This is done by subjecting their life, thoughts and reasonings to it. They magnify the truth in the face of their trials and discouragements. If we neglect this we will never prove resolute in suffering for the truth.

They are also bound especially to bear witness to the kingdom of Christ. Christ Himself is the great Captain of these witnesses. He is the great preacher of truth, whose powerful sceptre as a King is the word of truth. He stands for maintaining the truth and particularly this truth, that he is a King over his own Church, to order its affairs thereof. Christ sealed this and all the truths of God by His blood. He declares this to be one of His great purposes and works in the world –  to “bear witness unto the truth”. He gives an example to all others in their personal capacities and an encouragement to all who follow His pattern. They have such a champion of truth, who still maintains it, though He does not come into the world in person any more, nor suffer any more.

 

6. The Truth is Still the Truth No Matter How Many Reject It

Although most of the world has little regard for Christ’s doctrine, it is still the very truth itself. All the lovers and friends of truth will own it. Those who do otherwise, expose their own estrangement from truth, and are indeed delighters in lies.

 

7. Suffering for the Truth is Foolish to the World

Pilate disdainfully enquires, “What is truth?” but abruptly breaks off the conversation with Christ. This teaches us that Christ and his followers may often seem great fools in their sufferings, as suffering for things of no moment in the esteem of men. The Lord often brings the godly to suffer for a very small hair and point of truth. Worldly men account it great folly for men to suffer for any divine truth. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” implies this. He advances it, not so much to get a satisfactory answer (seeing he went out not waiting for an answer) but as testifying that he looked on truth (and particularly the truth that Christ now avowed) as a very trivial thing on which to endanger so much.

 

8. Pride is a Barrier to Seeking the Truth

A person’s own thinking and knowledge are such a great idol for them that they can hardly bear to be considered ignorant or esteem any truth to be excellent with which they are not acquainted. This also seems to have occasioned Pilate’s disdainful question, to which he will not stay for an answer. He could not endure to hear truth commended of which he and “the wise Romans” lacked knowledge (as he could gather from Christ’s last words).

 

9. God Can Use Those Who Despise the Truth for His Own Glory

The Lord can make use of, not only men’s natural conscience [Pilate’s natural conscience was convinced of Christ’s innocence] but even their atheistic disposition and contempt of truth and religion. He can do this, when it pleases Him, to bring about the good of those who suffer for the truth. He can make such men vindicate the innocence of those who suffer for God’s truth. In this way He teaches us to look much to Him since He can make use of everything as He pleases. It was Pilate’s contempt of what Christ preached of His kingdom and truth (in the beginning of the verse), which combines with his natural conscience to make him think nothing of the accusation and absolve Him of guilt. Paul was released due to the same reasons (Acts 18:12, 16).

 

Conclusion

Hutcheson draws many striking lessons from this passage to show that we must and can testify to the truth, even when it is dismissed and disdained. It is particularly noteworthy that God can even make use of such an attitude to truth for His own glory and to achieve His own purposes. The more that we see others despise the truth, the more we should embrace Christ as the truth. As Hutcheson comments on John 14:6:

Christ also is the truth, not only essentially in Himself and as the One from whom all truth comes, but more especially He is the truth as a way to His people, and a true way…in opposition to all the delusions and vanities of the world by which men think to attain happiness. These all draw people away from Christ, the true way, and they will prove a lie and not the truth.

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What Does the Cross Teach Us?

What Does the Cross Teach Us?

What Does the Cross Teach Us?

The cross of Christ is referred to frequently. Yet it is possible to do this without any deep meditation on what it teaches us. It can also be widely and very seriously misunderstood. Some have claimed that Christ died on the cross only to give us an example of how to live and suffer or to show us the love of God. They fail to reckon with the real infinite guilt of sin as it is emphasised in Scripture.  There is a true sense in which the cross of Christ teaches. It teaches the realities of sin, wrath, justice and grace that false theories ignore.

George Hutcheson draws five main teachings from the cross. He is commenting on John 19:17-18: “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” Golgotha “the place of a skull” was the location appointed for Christ to suffer. “He was brought to this place to suffer…to show how loathsome we and our sins are before God, in that our Surety must suffer in so loathsome a place”.  “By this” He has also shown “how by His death He will be death’s death, in that He suffered and triumphed over death in ‘the place of a skull’, where there were many monuments of death’s triumph over others” (i.e. many criminals had suffered and been buried there).

The following observations focus on many of the outward aspects of Christ’s suffering. This is, of course, only part of what took place at the cross. As someone has well said: “the soul of His sufferings was the sufferings of His soul”. Yet there is much to learn spiritually from the fact of crucifixion. Christ, by His suffering this death of being crucified, has taught us:

 

1. What the Curse of the Cross Teaches

We by nature are under the curse. He has undergone that curse so that all who flee to Him may be freed from it. He underwent this cursed death that all their conditions may be blessed and their very crosses turned into blessings (Galatians 3:13).

 

2. What the Blood of the Cross Teaches

His blood flowed abundantly from His hands and feet (as well as other places, both before being crucified and after His death). By pouring out His blood, even unto death, He has pointed out to us that – as there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22) – He has opened up that fountain for all who come to Him.

 

3. What the Wounds of the Cross Teach

We are taught much by Christ shedding His blood in this way. His hands and feet (sensitive parts) were pierced and being hanged up, nailed to the cross, to continue in pain for a long time. His wounds were continually widened by the weight of His body till He died. We are taught by all this the bitter fruit of sin and how great was His love to submit to endure this sharp and long-continuing pain. We are also instructed by this how we are bound to look on Him whom we have pierced, till our hearts be pierced and bleed again.

 

4. What Being Fastened to the Cross Teaches

Christ was fastened and continuing there upon the cross for a space before He died. This may teach us how resolute He was to endure that assault until justice was satisfied. He kept and stood in the field there, to endure the uttermost that enemies could do against the work of redemption and grapple with all of them till they had no more to say against His people. He also gave proof of the certainty of finding Him at His cross with stretched-out arms, ready to receive all them who seek for life in Him and through His death.

 

5. What Being Lifted Up On the Cross Teaches

His being lifted up thus nailed to the cross, may teach, partly, that we deserved no room, neither in heaven nor earth, and therefore our Surety was lifted up between both. The sun was also darkened (besides other reasons) to show that we do not deserve so much as that the sun should shine upon us. His being lifted up also shows that His suffering was indeed His exaltation. He was lifted up in it by triumphing over His enemies there and He is exalted in the world as crucified.

The image used above is of one of the proposed locations for Golgotha. 

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God’s Hearty Invitation to Sinners

God’s Hearty Invitation to Sinners

God’s Hearty Invitation to Sinners

Someone has estimated that God gives an invitation with the word “come” 642 times in the Bible. Whether or not that is the case, they are certainly frequent. Some of the most attractive invitations are found in Isaiah chapter 55. It was often a passage children were given to memorise for this very reason. The offers made in this passage are based on the everlasting mercies of a covenant God.

William Guthrie said that Isaiah 55 proclaims a market such as was never heard of before. It is the most attractive, important and glorious market that there ever was. The most glorious and precious wares are on sale.  They were bought at the dearest price but now sold more cheaply than any wares ever were. “Here we have the most free and lawful invitation to all sorts of persons to come and have them. They shall get them and pay nothing for them”.

Another attractive exposition of this chapter is contained in The Sum of Saving Knowledge. This document was written by James Durham and David Dickson during the time of the Second Reformation in Scotland. The Sum had a prominent place in Scotland in previous generations as a way of expressing saving truth.  Many have found it helpful in gaining personal assurance of salvation. The following has been extracted and updated from a document called The Sum of Saving Knowledge.

Isaiah chapters 53 and 54 relate the precious ransom of our redemption by the sufferings of Christ, together with the rich blessings it has purchased to us.  In chapter 55 the Lord offers Christ and his grace openly. In free grace He proclaims a market of righteousness and salvation to be obtained through Christ. This is for every soul, without exception, that truly desires to be saved from sin and wrath.

“Ho, every one that thirsteth”, He says. He invites all sinners that for any reason stand at a distance from God to come and take from him riches of grace which run in Christ as a river, in order to wash away sin and to extinguish wrath. “Come ye to the waters,” he says. Lest any should stand back conscious of his own sinfulness or unworthiness, and inability to do any good, the Lord especially calls upon such saying, “He that hath no money, come.”

 

1. God’s Free Riches

He desires nothing more of the buyer, but that he should be pleased with the wares offered; which are grace, and more grace. That he should also give hearty consent in embracing this offer of grace, so that he may conclude the deal and make a formal covenant with God. “Come, buy without money, (He says) come, eat”. This means agree to have and take for yourself all saving graces; make the wares your own, possess them, and make use of all blessings in Christ. Use and enjoy freely whatsoever makes for your spiritual life and comfort, without paying any thing for it: “Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price,” He says.

The Lord knows how much we are inclined to seek righteousness and life by our own achievements and presumed ability to pay; to have righteousness and life as it were by our works. He knows how unwilling we are to embrace Christ Jesus and to take life by free grace through Jesus Christ on the terms in which it is offered to us. The Lord, therefore, lovingly calls us away from our unlawful and doomed way with a gentle and timely admonition, making us understand that our labour will be lost. “Wherefore do ye spend your money (he says) for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?”

The Lord promises to us solid satisfaction (true contentment and fulness of spiritual pleasure) through taking ourselves to the grace of Christ. He says, “Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”

 

2. God’s Everlasting Covenant

Because faith comes by hearing, he calls for us to listen to the explanation of the offer and for us to believe and hasten towards the truth, which is able to produce the application of saving faith, and to draw the soul to trust in God. “Incline your ear, and come unto me,” He says.

The Lord promises that this offer being received shall make alive the dead sinner. He will conclude an unbreakable covenant of perpetual reconciliation and peace with the man that consents to it and welcomes this offer: “Hearken, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” He declares that this covenant will in substance assign and make over all the saving graces which David (who is Jesus Christ – see Acts 13:34) has bought for us in the covenant of redemption: “I will make a covenant with you, (he says) even the “sure mercies of David.” By sure mercies, he means saving graces. These include righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, adoption, sanctification, and glorification and whatever belongs to godliness and eternal life.

 

3. God’s Gift of the Son

The Father has made a fourfold gift of his eternal and only begotten Son in order to confirm and assure us of the real grant of these saving mercies, and also to persuade us of the reality of the covenant between God and those who believe:

1. He has given him to be incarnate and born for our sake, of the seed of David. David was a type of Christ and this is why the Lord is called David, the true and everlasting King of Israel, here and in Acts 13:34. This is the great gift of God to man (John 4:10). And here God says, “I have given him to be David (or born of David) to the people”.

2. He has given Christ to be a witness to the people of the sure and saving mercies granted to the redeemed in the covenant of redemption. He also bears witness of the Father’s willingness and purpose to apply these mercies, and to make them firm in the covenant of grace and reconciliation made with those who embrace the offer: “I have given him (says the Lord here) to be a witness to the people.” Christ is a truly sufficient witness in this matter in many respects, because:

  • He is one of the blessed Trinity, and contractor for us, in the covenant of redemption, before the world was.
  • He is, as the Mediator also the Messenger of the Covenant and has been commissioned to reveal it.
  • He began to reveal it in Eden, where he promised that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).
  • He revealed before His coming in the sacrifices and ceremonies types and figures of his own death and sufferings, and the great benefits that should come to us by that.
  • He gave more and more light about this covenant, speaking by His Spirit, from age to age, in the holy prophets.
  • He came Himself, in the fulness of time, and bore witness of everything belonging to this covenant, and of God’s willing mind to take believers into it. He did this partly, by uniting our nature in one person with the divine nature; partly, by preaching the good tidings of the covenant with his own mouth; partly, by paying the price of redemption on the cross; and partly, by dealing still with the people, from the beginning to this day, to draw and keep in the redeemed within this covenant.

3. God has made a gift of Christ, as a leader to the people, to bring us through all difficulties, all afflictions and temptations, unto life, by this covenant. It is he indeed, and no other, who leads his own to the covenant and, in the covenant, all the way unto salvation:

  • By the direction of his word and Spirit.
  • By the example of his own life, in faith and obedience, even to the death of the cross.
  • By his powerful working, bearing his redeemed ones in his arms, and causing them to lean on him, while they go up through the wilderness.

4. God has given Christ to his people, as a commander. He faithfully exercises this office, by giving to his Church and people laws and ordinances, pastors and governors, and all necessary officers. He also maintains courts and assemblies among them in order to see that his laws are obeyed. He subdues his people’s corruptions by his word, Spirit, and discipline, and guards them by his wisdom and power against all of their enemies of whatever kind.

 

4. The Sinner’s Believing Conclusion

The weak believer can strengthen his faith, by reasoning in this way:

Anyone that heartily receives the offer of free grace made to sinners, thirsting for righteousness and salvation has Christ, the true David, with all his sure and saving mercies by an everlasting covenant.

But (the weak believer can say):

do heartily receive the offer of free grace made here to sinners, thirsting for righteousness and salvation:

Therefore, Christ Jesus with all his sure and saving mercies belongs unto me by an everlasting covenant.

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Reasons to Trust Christ

Reasons to Trust Christ

Reasons to Trust Christ

We don’t just need the gospel once in our lives: we need it every day. Fellowship with God, assurance and holiness all derive from salvation in Christ. The glorious gospel of the blessed God gives meaning even to the practical realities and duties of life. In the face of constant spiritual onslaught against our souls, we need daily strength and refreshment from this fountain of life.

Everything we need for salvation depends on Christ. Reminding ourselves daily of the reasons for trusting Christ helps maintain our grip on this reality. In the following updated extract, George Gillespie outlines the “true and safe grounds of encouragement to believe in Christ”.  These simple truths ought to be stored in the memory for ready and fresh access. They are of particular help for those that struggle with assurance of faith.

1. Christ is an Entirely Sufficient Saviour

Christ is all-sufficient. If He will He can. He is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Are you a sinner to the uttermost? His plaster is broad enough to cover the broadest sore. Christ’s merit is as infinite as God’s mercy because the blood He shed is the blood of God as well as of man (Acts 20:28).

This is a good, strong foundation of comfort for a soul, convinced of its own sinful condition and the emptiness of comfort in any creature. It must fix its thoughts on Christ to the extent that He is the only Saviour and therefore an all-sufficient Saviour. The sinner is so far encouraged (it is no small encouragement) as to resolve: “There is power enough in the blood of Christ to cleanse my crimson sins, even mine. There is no help for me out of Christ, but in Him there is help for all that come unto God by him”.

 

The great quality of true faith is believing that Christ is able and all-sufficient. Therefore He Himself said to the blind men: “Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:28- 29). The man in Matthew 8:2-3 was not rejected as an unbeliever but got a good answer from Christ. Every poor sinner that comes to Christ as sufficient, and believes that Christ, and Christ only, can cleanse him from all sin and save his soul, has a true, though imperfect faith and is in a fair way for salvation.

There is many a true believer whose faith cannot as yet rise so high as to stay and rest upon the good-will and love of Jesus Christ to him in particular. Yet the soul believes the all-sufficiency of Christ, and that He only is the Saviour. Thus he comes and draws near to God, by and in Christ as the greatest good that he values above all things. Although his faith has not yet attained to rest on the love of Christ to him in particular; it is true faith and Christ will not despise it.

2. Christ Died for All Kinds of Sinners

Christ died for all kinds of sinners in the world. Every poor sinner may therefore think to himself: “Thus, Christ died for my kind of sinner”. Here is a universal encouragement to all from a true and real ground. It is drawn from the will and intention, as well as from the power and all-sufficiency of Christ. Scripture teaches that He has died for all sorts of persons; there is no condition excluded. 1 Timothy 2:6 says: “Who gave himself a ransom for all” and verse 4, “who will have all men to be saved.” The meaning must be all kinds, not all persons. The Apostle’s all can be no more than Christ’s many: “The Son of man came…to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). If we look at the context of 1 Timothy 2:6 we find abundant light on its meaning. Verse 1 gives an exhortation to pray “for all men”.  The very next words explain this: “for kings and for all in authority.” He does not say for “all kings” but he will not have us exclude kings or queens, as such, from our prayers, or any other subordinate rulers. When he says “all that are in authority,” he means any kind of lawful authority. 

 

3. Christ Died for All Kinds of Sins

Jesus Christ has died not only for all kinds of sinners but to expiate all kinds of sins.  He has assured us plainly that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men” (Matthew 12:13). There is only one exception: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:13). Since this is the only exception, it makes the general promise even more sure. It is not some kinds of sins only but all kinds of sin and blasphemies. These not only can, but will be “forgiven unto men”.

The promise of mercy and free grace comes home not only to your nation and to individuals of your outward condition, state and class, indeed to your family. But it also comes to your condition in respect of sin, it comes fully home to sinners of your kind or condition; it offers Christ even to such a sinner as you are.

 

4. Christ Receives All Who Come to Him

Christ receives all who come unto Him and excludes none except those that exclude themselves by their unbelief (John 6:37).

 

5. We are Commanded to Believe

The command to believe is an encouragement to believe. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23). Notice that the same authority that commands us to love one another also requires that we believe on Christ.

 

6. God is the Giver of Faith

Someone might say: “I cannot believe, I have no strength or grace to believe”. I answer: “God describes Himself as the giver of faith (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29)”.  “He also describes His Son as “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

If someone objects: “I know that this is so. But God only works faith in the elect, and I do not know whether or not I am elect”. I answer, “you are discharged (in this case) from running back to election (which is God’s secret). You are required to obey the revealed command: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but these things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Since you are commanded to believe in God and hear that He is the Author and Finisher of faith, say with the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5) and cry “help…mine unbelief” (Mark 9:94). Ask Him who has promised to give the spirit of grace and supplications so that you may look on Him whom you have pierced (Zechariah 12:10). Pray for Him to lighten your eyes, lest you sleep unto death (Psalm 13:3) . This looking on Christ (promised in Zechariah) is nothing else than believing on Him (see John 3:14-15).

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Measuring the Greatness of Salvation

Measuring the Greatness of Salvation

Measuring the Greatness of Salvation

​Salvation is free but it is not cheap. It is without money but also without price. The gospel has a simplicity yet it must never be undervalued. Appreciating the fulness of the gospel should be our daily delight. It has dimensions that challenge our ability to measure. There are at least eight ways in which we can attempt to measure the greatness of salvation.

​Andrew Gray draws out the dimensions of this great salvation in a sermon on Hebrews 2:3 “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation”. This great salvation is offered in the gospel. In Ephesians 1:13 it is called “the gospel of our salvation” and in Acts 13:26 “the word of this salvation”.

 

1. Its Great Cost

No less a price was laid down to purchase this great salvation than the blood of the Son of God. Where does salvation flow to you from? It comes running to you in a stream of the blood of the Son of God. This is clear from Hebrews 9:12: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (see also Acts 20:28).

 

2. Its Great Victory

It is a great salvation in view of the many difficulties and great opposition in the way of bringing it about. What great impediments lay in Christ’s way before He could accomplish and bring about this great salvation? Was not the justice of God to be satisfied? Was He not to die and be made like one of us? Was He not to lie in the grave? Was He not to bear the torments of hell before this great salvation could be accomplished and brought to pass?

There were such impediments in the way of bringing about this great salvation that, if all the angels in heaven had attempted it, they would have been crushed under it. Even if there was only that one great impediment of satisfying the justice and pacifying the wrath of God. No one could go through this except the eternal Son of God. No one could try to enter much less could get through it, except He alone who was mighty to save.

 

3. Its Great Esteem

It is a great salvation in respect of the high estimation that the saints have for it. There is no mercy which they think comparable to this, all other mercies are but like Zoars (i.e. little), in comparison of this great mercy and gospel salvation.

 

4. Its Great Effects

This salvation produces great effects. Many of these are opened up to us by David in Psalm 19:7-10. Bringing us out of nature into a state of grace is a great effect is it not? Is it not a great effect to make us friends who were enemies? That is an effect of our great salvation. Is not a great effect to make us who were moving in the way to hell, move in the way to heaven? That is an effect of this great salvation. Is not this also a great effect, to make us who were far off not to be made near? Yet this is the effect of this great salvation. And is it not a great effect to make us who were darkness, to become light in the Lord? That is the great effect of this gospel salvation. Time would fail me to tell of the great effects of this great salvation. But O will you come and see? That will be the best answer you can have to this question as what are the effects of this great salvation?

 

5. It Great Advantages

  • Is not heaven a great advantage? This gain awaits those who embrace this great salvation.
  • Is not Jesus Christ a great advantage? He awaits those who embrace this great salvation.
  • Is not eternal communion with God a great advantage? This awaits those who embrace this great salvation.
  • Is not eternal liberation from the body of death a great advantage? This awaits those who embrace this great salvation.
  • Is not eternal singing in the enjoyment of God a great advantage? This awaits those who embrace this great salvation.
  • Is not eternal seeing of God as He is, a great advantage? Yet this awaits those who embrace this great salvation. Would you be honourable? Come and embrace this great salvation. Would you be eternally happy? O then come and partake of this eternal salvation.

 

6. Its Great Pre-eminence

It is greater all other salvations that ever were accomplished. There never was a salvation or victory (obtained by any general or captain for a land or people) that could have the name of great salvation in comparison with this.

 

7. Its Great Authority

We have spoken of its great cause and effects: it is also a great salvation in relation to its authority. Who is the author of this great salvation? Christ: “He became the author of eternal salvation unto them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). This salvation must therefore be suited to such an author. It is a most noble and radiant beam of the majesty of the Son of God, the Mediator that He is the author of this great salvation.

 

8. Its Great Duration

It is not a salvation which is but for a day, but it is an eternal salvation. “He obtained eternal salvation for us” (Hebrews 9:12).

 

Before You Go Away…

Before you go away think about this: whether or not you intend to embrace this great salvation now while you may have it. This day I have set life and death before you. I have set before you both the great salvation and the great damnation.

O that you had understanding in all these things! O that being wise you might be provoked at last to embrace this great salvation which we yet again urge you to think upon! I have this day presented it to you from the Lord. Is heaven not looking on you at this time to see what you will do with this great offer of salvation?

Now, to Him…

  • that can persuade you to embrace this great salvation, this gospel redemption, this blessed mystery, into which the angels desire to look:
  • who can bring you back from the pit, and enlighten you with the light of the living:
  • who has the keys of your prison, who can open, and none can shut, and can shut, and none can open:
  • who hath all power in heaven and earth communicate to him, who can deliver you from the grave, and can set you free from all your enemies,

…we desire to give praise.

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Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?

Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?

Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?

In an empty and dry world, your soul is certainly thirsty. The world knows how to create thirst but not how to satisfy the thirst of the soul. Only God can satisfy this thirst. The soul that has tasted that the Lord is gracious has a constant desire for the presence of God. The puritan  Thomas Shepard put it this way: “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.”

Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (c.1578-c.1640) was one of the godliest women of her time in Scotland. Alexander Hume, minister of Logie described her as “a lady chosen of God to be one of his saints”. She was “oft sighing and weeping through the conscience of sin”. She was also the first woman in Scotland to have her writing published. John Livingstone wrote of her:

Of all that ever I saw, she was most unwearied in religious exercises; and the more she attained access to God therein, she hungered the more.

Here was someone always thirsting for God. Not after mere knowledge about God but God Himself. Samuel Rutherford (who corresponded with Lady Culross) identified this as a sign of true grace.

In all the means of the worship of God, whether you have the use of them or lack the use of them, seek ever God rather than the means, whether it be in preaching, praying, hearing, reading etc. Strive to be in at God Himself. And this is the difference between an hypocrite and a true seeker of God, for the hypocrite  seeks after the means, and no more. That is enough for him if he hear the word, and get the communion, …But the true seeker of God learns to miss Him in the means of His service, and he thinks he has not things well at that time, when he finds not Himself; and, therefore, let us remember that praying, preaching, praising, reading, hearing, even all the means, they are as chariots and torches to carry us to God.

John Livingstone is well known as the preacher at the revival at the Kirk of Shotts in June 1630 when 500 were converted under one sermon. There had been services associated with the Lord’s Supper during the days preceding that Monday thanksgiving sermon. The nights were spent in prayer together, particularly the night before Monday dawned. Lady Culross was at the centre of this:

a great many Christians in a large room, where her bed was; and in the morning all going apart for their private devotion, she went into the bed, and drew the curtains, that she might set herself to prayer. William Rigg of Athernie coming into the room, and hearing her have great motion upon her, although she spoke not out, he desired her to speak out, saying that there was none in the room but him and her woman, as at that time there was no other. She did so, and the door being opened, the room filled full. She continued in prayer, with wonderful assistance, for large three hours’ time.

She wrote to give great encouragement to those who suffered for faithfulness to God. These included William Rigg, John Welsh of Ayr and Andrew Melville. When Rigg was imprisoned in Blackness Castle her encouragement was “that the darkness of Blackness was not the blackness of darkness.” She was similarly witty to John Livingstone in his trials. “You must be hewn and hammered down, and dressed and prepared before you be a living stone fit for his building. And if he be minded to make you meet to help to repair the ruins of his house, you must look for other manner of strokes than you have yet felt”.

Melville expressed her desires in poetry.  Alexander Hume of Logie (a poet himself) commended the spirituality of her compositions: “I doubt not but it is the gift of God in you”. One of her most famous poems was published in 1603 is called Ane Godlie Dreame. This popular poem was like an early Scottish Pilgrim’s Progress. In her dream she is taken safely over spiritual dangers represented as high mountains, vast deserts, great waters and wild woods. Ultimately the dazzling sight of the celestial city meets her eyes.

Recently much more of Melville’s poetry has been discovered in manuscript and edited by Jamie Reid Baxter under the title Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (Solsequium, 2010). One of them is the following heartfelt prayer which is a meditation on the opening verses of Psalm 42. It is similar to those by the Reformer James Melville. In it she expresses her desire for God’s presence. Great poetic skill is used to express her spiritual desires with melodious but direct language. The speaker seems out of breath and in haste. [The following is only the first 70 lines of the 285 lines of this poem. The spelling and some Scots words have been updated].

 

Meditation on Psalm 42

As hearts full fant [very weakened]
doth breathe and pant
for running rivers clear
oppressed with woe
I sigh also
for thee my God most dear.
My heart doth burst,
my soul doth thirst
for thee the well of life.
When shall I see
thy majesty
and leave this vale of strife?

This vale of tears,
this vale of fears,
this vale of dangers deep,
this vale of woe
wherein my foe
doth catch me whilst I sleep.
This vale of care
and sighing sare [sore]
wherein my soul does burn.
This vale so dry
wherein I cry,
until the springs return.

O lovely spring
my soul doth sing
to think upon thy glore [glory].
This barren hell
wherein I dwell
doth dry me up full sore.
The soul is brunt [burnt]
that once was wont
to taste thy heav’nly dew.
O turn again
and ease my pain,
O God my God most true.

I grant my guilt
has almost spilt
thy goodly gifts of grace.
I must confess
my wickedness
thy image doth deface.
My soul within
is full of sin
that weighs me down full sore.
But come convert
this stubborn heart.
Then shall I sin no more.

My loving Lord
to hear accord
thy captive’s careful cry.
Look on thy Lamb,
whose child I am,
His blood is never dry.
Thy majesty
first formed me
and when I fully fell,
that Prince of Glore
did me restore,
and vanquish death and hell.

Let not thine ire
consume like fire
the work that thou hast wrought.
Since I am thine
why wilt thou tyne [lose]
the soul so dearly bought.
Thou choosed me
and I not thee
before the world began.
Thy thoughts are sure
and shall endure,
thou changest not as man.

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