Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your 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.
4 Oct, 2019

Christ’s message to your Church is a call to reform. It’s about spiritual reformation as well as outward reform.  It is easier to be consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. Activity is highly visible; our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is largely invisible. The big danger for us all, when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity, is that we neglect our inner spiritual health. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of outward faithfulness, yet inward decay. We have to be prepared to ask ourselves, “Have we done that?”

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a challenging letter to Ephesus in the second chapter of Revelation means that this is a matter of primary concern to Him. James Durham says that we should consider this as if Christ were writing a letter to our Church. He explains that, “our Lord Jesus is the faithful witness” and shows us that when Christ says that He knows their works (Revelation 2:2), He is saying: “I know all your inward and outward works”:

 

  • what you have done in the church,
  • your way of administering all things in the church,
  • all your outward conduct in all these things,
  • your spirit in going about them,
  • the manner in which you are doing them,
  • the aims you had before you in doing them

“I know them perfectly, exactly, and thoroughly”.

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

He has been identifying what was very outwardly commendable in the Church in Ephesus. He commends their zeal, faithfulness, hard work and patient endurance for the sake of Christ’s name. They had not flinched from defending Christ’s truth.

(a) Their Labour
Christ identifies the painstaking concerns and labour of the ministry in the Word and doctrine. He also takes notice of and approves the conduct of the respective members of this church in reference to their duty.

(b) Their Perseverance
They had suffered. Christ knew very well all the persecution and suffering they were enduring. There was the ill-will of some within the church against them and all the malice of others outside it. Christ knew all the troubles Satan and those whom he uses had caused. He saw how patiently, submissively and constantly they had borne it all.

(c) Their Zeal
They are also commended for their zeal in carrying out church discipline—they could not bear with those were evil. They were courageous, and zealous against corrupt individuals trying them, condemning them and not tolerating them. They tested their doctrine and teaching and whether those who taught it had a true calling from Christ.

“Christ does it all lovingly. Because He loves us He does what is necessary for our spiritual growth.”

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

What could be wrong with them? For all that there is to commend, Christ has something very serious against them. They had left their first love.

What does leaving their first love mean? It is something inward. It is the grace of love in the heart and, as far as their Christian life was concerned, they had left it.

(a) Though they were outwardly zealous in the form of religion, yet they had fallen away from the inward spirit of tenderness that they once had. They were more taken up with duties that concerned the wellbeing and condition of their church, than with the inward duties of holiness. They had an outward zeal for religion, and an indignation against corrupt teachers that came in to corrupt it. They also had perseverance in suffering for it, but they had a coldness of affection in doing these things.

(b) They had not fallen away from grace itself. They still had grace but they had fallen away from exercising it to the extent and degree that they once did. They had fallen away from their first love rather than love itself. Believers are at first warm in their love in doing duties to God and to another. Christ’s reproof can be summarised as follows. Despite all I have commended you for, there is something in you that is not right. Though you are zealous in outward things, you come short in duties of mercy and in your love to one another. You are not as warm in your love to me, nor so single-minded in doing things for me as you once were.

Christ’s charge against us is defection

Defection inwardly. Not an outward defection from the truth and purity of doctrine, nor from the outward duties of religion, but an inward defection, declining in the way we exercise grace. We have not been so careful to maintain the way we exercise grace before God, as much as we have been to be seen of others.

Defection in love. Especially defection in love to God, and love to one another. This may be seen in our lack of love and sensitivity.

Defection in spirit. This is a defection in the way we do our duties. The duty may be commendable, but the principle from which it flowed may be grounds for rebuke.

Therefore, look at this epistle as if Christ were writing a letter to Scotland. In his letter, He is saying, that despite whatever purity and zeal you may have, yet you have fallen from your first love. Much of your love, warmness and tenderness has gone away. There is a decline and defection from the way grace is exercised. The sin is ours; the duty is ours; and the threatening also belongs to us. If there is anything commendable, it is more in outward form than reality. Believers are liable to decline from their first love, if not from their steadfastness.

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

He counsels them not just to repent but tells them how to go about repenting.

Christ never convicts us of sin without giving directions about recovery together with it. His direction here is in these three steps: remember, repent and do the first works. The goal of repentance is to be stirred up to reformation and steadfastness in well doing. Remembering brings us to repentance, and repentance brings us to reformation.

If Christ were charging us with a sin, it would be for falling away from first love. If He were calling for a duty from us, it would be to remember from where we have fallen, to repent and do our first works. We have not only fallen away from love but from that awe of God that should be on the heart. Remember this and other things, repent and do your first works.

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

He warns them in the most serious terms of what will happen if they do not.

He threatens the removal of the candlestick or lampstand. The candlestick is the church of Ephesus (see Revelation 1:20). This was not simply the people who made up the church but them professing, submitting to and living according to what Christ had appointed in the church, especially the means of grace. Removing the candlestick is God’s threatening to make them no longer a church. It implies removing the means of grace, the gospel and the ministry from them (see Matthew 21:43 and Acts 13:46).

Christ removes the candlestick from a people when He lets loose error which corrupts purity of doctrine (an essential mark of the church of God, and the foundation on which the church is built, Ephesians 2:20). He removes the candlestick by allowing disorder so that they abuse the freedom that the gospel has given them. They begin to show a secret desire for novelty and give themselves up to delusion. We have reasons to fear God’s threatening to remove our candlestick all these ways.
There is no greater judgment a church can be threatened with than the removal of the candlestick. There is no more serious threatening that can be given to a church or people in a church.

FURTHER REFLECTION

We have developed a resource, based on James Durham’s insights into the passage, to help you reflect more deeply on how Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus applies to you and to your church. It is called Outside In: Four Sessions to Help you Recover Your First Love for Christ. It will help you to think through carefully all of the many lessons that Christ wants the church to put into practice. 

“The way forward spiritually is to look back first.”

Outside In

Four sessions to help you

recover your first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

The material in this article has been extracted and updated not only from the Commentary on Revelation that Durham published but also from manuscript notes that have not been published. There is a project to re-publish Durham’s book on Revelation with its many helpful essays which will incorporate these manuscript notes.

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The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith
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.
30 Aug, 2019

Two high-profile professing Christians recently announced that they had lost or were losing their faith. As well as great sadness it should prompt serious questions. Some of those questions might be about evangelical celebrity culture and image. Are people sometimes catapulted to a position beyond their spiritual maturity? Are we socialising people into the faith rather than discipling them? Other questions might relate to whether evangelicalism is prioritising feelings over objective truth. What is being taught? Are unsettling and hard questions about truth being passed over in silence? These are all valid questions but first we need to focus on some that are extremely personal to ourselves.

One recent reflection considers not so much what those leaving the faith say as what they don’t say. There is an absence of mention of Jesus Christ in their announcements. This speaks volumes because it is everything in true religion. We read something similar in John 6:66, when many went back and left Christ’s teaching. They were leaving Him and no longer walking with Him. What we think of Christ’s teaching is one test of the reality of our profession. They did not find in Christ what they expected.  In this updated extract from an exposition of John 6:66-69, George Hutcheson draws attention to the questions that arise when others leave the faith. It shows that Scripture tells us to expect times of trial when people abandon the profession they have made.

1. What Does Leaving Christ Imply?

It is the duty of all professing Christians to maintain fellowship with Christ and converse with Him. They must confess Him publicly in the midst of a rebellious generation. Without this, the greatest pretence of secret friendship is of no avail (John 12:42-43). Thus, when people abandon this and do not attend the ordained means as previously, it is an undeniable sign of woeful apostasy, whatever they pretend to be. It was proof of their apostasy who walked no more with Christ that they did not publicly confess Him nor attend His ministry any longer (John 6:66).

2. Would We Leave Christ Too?

When many are defecting from Christ it may shake even the soundest so much that they will need warning and to be strengthened. Therefore, Christ asks if they also would go away (John 6:67). Even the godly have seeds of the same evils which draw others away. An evil example can have very great force, especially when it is widespread. Sin is very infectious, especially when it is maintained with plausible pretexts. It is no wonder therefore if some people are in danger in such a situation. Besides the guilt of their own defection, backsliders are guilty of weakening others.

In one sense Christ does not have an absolute, essential need of any followers, neither does He need to be anxious though everyone would forsake Him. But He still goes to considerable effort to confirm and keep those who are His own. This is why He deals with the twelve disciples in this way, asking a question that will establish them further. However many there may be who defect from Christ and think little of His company, some of a different stamp will still be found. We see this here in Peter (John 6:68).

3. To Whom Else Can We Go?

Since the fall we are so empty and poor that we must have something outside of ourselves to delight and rest in for happiness. If we do not choose Christ, we will put something else in His place. Peter’s question implies that if they went away from Christ, they must go to someone else.

Those who are minded to abandon Christ need to consider first where they will get a better master. If they will change Him, they will surely change for the worse. Nothing better can be found elsewhere. True disciples who know Christ’s unique excellence cannot endure to hear of any separation from Him. Peter’s question implies his abhorrence of going away from such a Lord to any other. All who seek to truly walk with Christ, should strive to learn to know Him to be the best and most excellent of choices.

4. What Do We Believe About Christ?

It is the duty of those who truly profess Christ to stick closely to all truth. In particular they must avow all the truths being opposed in their time; however important they may be. Besides confessing the excellence of Christ’s teaching Peter also confesses His person and office as Messiah. These were the truths being opposed then. They are fundamental truths, but they were reckoned small by those who opposed them.

The more we know of Christ, the more ties we will find binding us to Him which will preserve us from defecting from Him. In particular, the true knowledge of His office and person help us stick fast to Him no matter who may forsake Him.

Christ is the only true Messiah promised to the fathers and appointed by the Father to exercise the office of a king, priest and prophet to His Church. He is anointed with the Spirit without measure for this purpose. His people can expect benefits from all of this, to have fellowship with Him and receive of His fulness. This ought and will make Christ dear to all true disciples.

Christ is the Son of the living God having the same essence by eternal generation. He is therefore able to fulfil all that is required of Him and to give infinite worth to His sufferings. He has received a fountain of life from the Father and can produce and preserve life in His people. All this is implied in His being the Son of the living God.

Mere intellectual knowledge about Christ is not enough in itself to tie our hearts to Him. We must embrace what we know by faith. Peter confesses Christ and this is the reason why he will not go away. When the truth of Christ is confessed on the basis of a resolution to go to no one else it is an act of saving faith. Firm faith in the person and office of Christ, receiving and resting on Him is saving faith in operation. Mere reason does not take to do with the mysteries concerning Christ’s person, incarnation, and offices. Faith must receive them on the basis of divine revelation. Peter therefore says, “we believe and are sure”.

5. Where Else Can We Have Eternal Life?

Those who seek to stand fast in times of defection should have frequent thoughts of eternity. They should think of the life that is stored up there for those who are truly Christ’s. Peter fixes his eye on eternal life, what leads to that and where it may be found.

The doctrine of Christ and of the gospel is the only teaching of eternal life. It not only manifests and brings to light that there is an eternal life. It also offers it and shows the only way to receive it. It is the means of regeneration and producing faith. When embraced it gives a right to eternal life and its first fruits until full possession is reached.

Christ teaching rises above the teaching of all the philosophers as well as the corrupted religious teaching doctrine of the times in which Christ lived. It even rises above the law of Moses when asserted in opposition to Him or without Him.

Those who are seriously about eternal life will cleave to the true doctrine that leads to it. They will not abandon it nor its messengers. Not even in times of greatest defection. The disciples will not leave him, not only because He is the Messiah, but because He has the words of eternal life.

Christ not only the one who taught eternal life with His own authority and power in the days of his flesh. He is the one who has purchased this gospel and gives commission to all that preach it. He makes them effectual as the power of God to salvation.

Conclusion

In contrast to those who leave the faith, our resolve should be to “consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) is the essence of all of the happiness and duty of the Christian. We should not make it anything less. We should not merely socialise people in Christian things but seek that they would be firmly established in “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). It is evident that we have been savingly united to Christ when we hold fast to Him to the end (Hebrews 3:14). We are to hold fast our profession against the opposition that the world, the flesh and the devil make against Him. Christ gives us no reason to throw away our confidence in Him and receiving eternal life through Him alone (Hebrews 10:35).

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Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority
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.
21 Jun, 2019

​In our digital world, relationships have also become digital. Sometimes this brings the benefit of making those who are far away near but it can also have the disbenefit of making those who are near, far away. Sometimes we see people in the same physical space but they are in their own digital worlds. It can also be easier to use electronic forms of communication when personal interaction would be possible. Why meet up with one friend when you can chat to multiple friends by simultaneous text conversations? But we miss tone, expression, body language, touch and presence. Some studies have concluded that technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because we’re speaking about a biblical priority.

The Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication. It speaks of open and unhindered interaction. In two short letters the apostle John shows the superiority of face-to-face meeting over “paper and ink” (2 John 12; 3 John 13). It is rather startling when we pause to think deeply about who was writing and what he was writing. Writing was useful in the mean time but it was not the best means. It was limited not in mere terms of efficiency but in communicating their love in Christ. Being able to “speak face to face” would make their joy full.

He could write his teaching about the faith but there was no substitute for being able to come to them. Then he could instruct them more fully in a way that would make their spiritual joy full. It reminds us also that audio as well as written sermons are ultimately no substitute for being present at a sermon. No internet preacher can replace the personal concern, awareness and prayers of a pastor who looks into your eyes and situation when he declares God’s Word. When God’s people meet together it also encourages one another (Hebrews 10:24-27). Live sharing and live-streaming a service are not the same thing.

Face-to-face interaction is also an emphasis in the letters of Paul. Twice in the same letter he expresses his desire to “see” the “face” of the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:17). He didn’t just desire it, he did everything he could do to make it happen. It was something that was so important to him that he was praying night and day it might happen (1 Thessalonians 3:10). His earnest desire and intention to see them is clear. He even uses the language of bereavement (“being taken from you”) to express his grief. Why did he want to be present with them? Because there was something lacking that needed to be made up through preaching to them and conversing with them personally. There were things he still needed to teach them. James Fergusson reflects on these expressions in this updated extract.

 

1. Christ’s People Need Each Other’s Presence

There is special delight and benefit in the company, presence, and mutual fellowship of the Lords people among themselves. The presence and fellowship of the flock is a special delight to a pastor whose work among them has been blessed by the Lord. Paul’s labours were blessed to the Thessalonians; his absence from them was therefore a great grief to him. For this reason also, he greatly desired their presence.

 

2. Satan Tries to Keep Christ’s People Apart

It is therefore no small part of Satan’s work and business to mar the comfort of any such fellowship. One way of doing this is by sowing strife, division and prejudice among them while they are together (Acts 15:39). Another method is through some way or other scattering them into various places. This means they cannot enjoy the mutual fellowship they would gladly have. Paul says that he was taken from them for a short and the following verse (1 Thessalonians 2:18) shows that this was Satan’s work.

The godly are separated through Satan’s craftiness or malice; this may be in their affections and opinions or in their location. When he has achieved this he does everything to hinder their re-uniting and meeting together again as one. This is how great an enemy he is to the rich benefits that may be had from the communion of saints. Paul says in verse 18 they he would have come to them but Satan hindered it.

 

3. A Pastor’s Presence is Unique

Through the Lord’s blessing, there is a unique power in a minister’s presence and preaching. It is used to begin, strengthen or carry on the work of grace in hearers. This goes beyond what there is in his writings, while he is absent. Preaching has a more explicit promise of this type of blessing (Romans 10:17). Whether behaviour, gesture, or expression, there is almost nothing in the preacher that God has sent to win souls which the Lord does not use to edify one way or another (1 Corinthians 9:22). This is why Paul, not content with writing to them, desires to see their face so much. It is so that he may complete that which was lacking in their faith.

 

4. A Pastor and People Need Each Other’s Presence

A godly pastor delights to be among his flock so much that even necessary absence from them (due to persecution or otherwise) will be grievous to him. It was so with Paul, whose necessary departure from the Thessalonians was no less grievous than a father’s separation from his destitute orphans. This is what the word “being taken from you” literally means.

 

5. Make Use of a Pastor’s Company While You Have it

The Lord’s people have a duty to be wise in making good use of the company and labours of godly and faithful ministers. They may be deprived of them unexpectedly, in a moment and twinkling of an eye. Paul was taken from them for a short time (or in a short time, instantly–as it literally means).

 

6. Christ’s People Have a Bond of Affection Even in Absence

Affection is no small comfort to the Lord’s people in their saddest scattering. Although they cannot enjoy one another’s bodily presence, they may be present with one another in heart and affection. They do this by remembering and thinking about one another’s situation (2 Corinthians 7:3). They should be suitably affected by it (Hebrews 13:3). They should not only pray to God but also by all lawful means to do good to each other (Colossians 4:12). Although Paul was taken from them in presence, he was not taken from them in heart.

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Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
14 Sep, 2018

Some people are inclined to think that confessionalism has a stifling effect on the Church. They assume that adherence to Bible-based creeds and confessions inhibits vitality or freedom. To them the Church is more about relationship and are suspicious of things that are more formal and less subjective. Others want to be as flexible and inclusive as possible for attracting others and play down doctrine. Are these prejudices about confessionalism valid? Are they consistent with Scripture? It is remarkable in fact how often growth in faith is connected with the personal and collective growth of believers in Scripture.

Adopting and using a biblical confession of faith does not guarantee that the life of a particular congregation will be as healthy as it ought to be. It will, however, guard against certain spiritual diseases that come from false teaching. In Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul tells us that the Church is meant to flourish by means of truth. It is meant to be edified in love as we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:13 and 15). We are to “all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. But this cannot happen if we are like children, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”. By “speaking the truth in love” the Church is to “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

The less of the truth of the Bible we confess the less vitality we have. Christians are to resist error and hold to the truth and so walk in Christ, being rooted, built up, and established in the faith (Colossians 2:6-7). The Bible is not minimalist in the way that it declares the truth and neither should we be. A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfill its commission to make spiritually mature disciples (Matthew 28:20).

 

The Importance of Confessions

God has given us His Word so that we would have the information He wants us to know. A confession of faith is us putting in our own words what we understand God to be saying in His Word. Some people say they have no creed but the Bible. But they still have their own interpretation of what the Bible teaches. They either do or don’t believe in the Trinity, for example, or justification by faith alone. They just haven’t written down their beliefs in a systematic form. They do have a creed, just not a publicly available one.

Meanwhile, all sorts of heretics can quote the Bible. So if we restricted ourselves to using only the words of Scripture this would be an inadequate way of stating the truth. When someone quotes Scripture, it is always legitimate to ask, “What do you mean by that?” To say, “I only believe the Bible” is meaningless unless it is further defined. When a church writes down its understanding of what the Bible teaches, it allows anyone to see what it believes, and it also helps the church achieve clarity in its mission to tell the world what God’s Word says. This is why Jude exhorts us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Paul charged Timothy to hold fast the “form of sound words” and to guard “that good thing which was committed” to him (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

Anthony Tuckney (1599-1670) played a key role in shaping the Westminster Confession of Faith. He uses these words from 2 Timothy 1:13 to explain the value of confessions. He defines confessions as a way of setting down God’s truth in an orderly way. It is gathering such truths together which are scattered throughout Scripture. He then explains some of the benefits of a confession.

 

1. Confessions Help Us Grow in Truth

Forms of sound words have been used as declarations, not only of what we ourselves believe but also of what we think that everyone should believe.  We also desire and require that all with whom we join in the closest Church fellowship should profess or at least not openly contradict it. This is how it was with the apostles in what they decided in Acts 15 and how it is with Churches and their confessions until this day; and so may it be always. When controversies arise they may be better understood and resolved by the help of such confessions. They may also be a deposit (2 Timothy 1:14) to be given to posterity as legacies or inheritances of their forefathers’ faith.

 

2. Confessions Help Us Grow in Unity

Confessions are not only badges of our Christian Church communion but also great helps and furtherers of it. By this means troublesome divisions may be prevented and the peace of the Church better preserved. This is a benefit when we all profess the same truth, and all “speak the same thing” and are “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

 

3. Confessions Help Us Grow in Peace

Failure to keep more closely to such “forms of sound words” has allowed every one to speak and write the vain fancies of his own heart and spread the foulest heresies and blasphemies with impunity. It has torn us in pieces and divided us. May the Lord in mercy speedily heal these gashes and ruptures. One special means to cure this is holding fast the form of sound and wholesome words (2 Timothy 1:13).

 

4. Confessions Help Us Grow in Strength

The apostles formulated their decisions to help those who were weak (Acts 15:24) and a confession does this also. The truths scattered throughout the whole Scripture are gathered together in a synopsis for them to see more clearly. Where there are things more obscurely expressed they are more familiarly presented to those of weaker understanding.

 

5. Confessions Help Us Grow in Discernment

Confessions help to uncover and repulse seducers and subverters of the souls of God’s people (Acts 15:24). The same fence that keeps the deer in, keeps out the ravenous wild beast. They are a fence to the vineyard and so are of very good use in the Church. Some poison  can hardly be detected at first but as the mouth takes its food, so the sheep of Christ’s pasture discern by a divine instinct what food is wholesome and what is otherwise. It is not just those who have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, even the new-born babe has this taste. As soon as it is made partaker of the divine nature, it can tell when the sincere milk of the Word is adulterated (though perhaps not in what way). A godly Christian (who had a better heart than head) once had his spirit rising against something which he heard in a sermon, but he could not tell why. Afterward it was shown to him to be very corrupt doctrine.

 

6. Confessions Help Us Grow in Health

A form of sound words is especially that by which they recover and gain health and strength and so thrive. The new-born babe fattens and grows by the sincere milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). It is bad soil in which good plants are starved or diseased. Is it likely to be a wholesome diet if men (otherwise well and full of  health) do not thrive on it? A good tree (our Saviour tells us) brings forth good fruit and the same may be said of good doctrine. Although by the corruption of men’s hearts, good doctrine may not always bring forth good fruit in their lives, yet bad doctrine naturally brings forth what is bad and abominable. But let us continually esteem wholesome spiritual food. The man of God lives and thrives by this and does God’s will cheerfully. Like Elijah (who went forty days and nights in the strength of what he ate) the Christian continues in the strength of this food through the wilderness of this world until he comes to the mount of God. A sound heart relishes and thrives by sound doctrine. Since man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God it is not sufficient that these sound words have man’s approval. They must be not only acceptable words but grounded on what God has instituted, they must be words of truth, words of the wise given by one Shepherd.

 

Conclusion

If this is so, be sure to “hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). As Christ said to the Church of Thyatira “that which you have already, hold fast till I come” (Revelation 2:25). Be sure to hold fast, take heed that you are not robbed of it but are sure you have it. In various passages (Revelation 6:9 and Titus 1:9) to hold fast means that we hold the truth so fast against all opposition that no strength of man or devil may force it from us but that we maintain it against all.

The truth is heaven’s pledge (2 Timothy 1: 14) with which God has entrusted us. Our souls are the pledge (2 Timothy 1:12) with which we trust God. We should be as careful of His pledge as we would have Him be of ours. Be sure that we will be called to an account for this and how solemn it will be if we are like the one described in 1 Kings 20:39-40).

This is the bequest given to us by our godly forefathers, should we not similarly careful to transmit it to our posterity (Psalm 78:3-4)?  The martyrs have sealed it with their blood, will we prove guilty of that through our unfaithfulness? This is the best part of our children’s inheritance, as the law was (Deuteronomy 33:4). Make sure that our forefathers will be not ashamed of us and our posterity at the resurrection for betraying God’s truth and our trust. Hold fast is the charge to many of those churches written to in Revelation 2 and 3, both the best and the worst. Holding fast may cost us in contending but if we are we faithful in the conflict, we may be sure of the conquest.

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What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
9 Mar, 2018

It doesn’t seem like a high priority to many. What pressing relevance can previous centuries have when our world is so different? Isn’t it just for those who like that sort of thing? No, because God requires us to recall His works done in the past (Psalm 105:5). And do we think that God has stopped working since the apostles? Church history glorifies God. We are to learn for our own benefit from what has happened to God’s people in the past (1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4). How will we understand our own times unless we know the influences that have shaped our generation (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)? How can we build the Church if we take no time to understand what it is, has been and where it is going?

Looking back and understanding what God has done in the Church gives us a sense of perspective. We see how little we are and how short lived some of the ideas that seem so powerful today. The idea that new and now are always better is proud and short-sighted. An understanding of church history can keep us from error and give us hope and encouragement for the future.  We can be humbled when we take time to learn about the courage, godliness and failings of those that have gone before us. David Dickson puts it memorably: “God’s old works have new use in all ages, for the furtherance of believer’s faith, patience and comfort”.

Robert Fleming says that what we see in Church history is Scripture being fulfilled. God has made promises to the Church and we see these fulfilled again and again. Christ says that He will build His Church, we have abundant proof of this. We can admire this way in which the Word shines on “all the paths and footsteps of the Lord towards His Church in every age”. “One generation should declare the works of the Lord to another, and transmit the memory of His goodness to succeeding ages”. Every period adds something to this history, it brings “forth something further into the world, of the Lord’s counsel and design about His Church” (Robert Fleming). Even our period of Church history does this.

These are some of the things that we forget when we forget God’s works in His Church in the past. David Dickson summarises a selection of them in expounding Psalm 66:5-7 which speaks of the ongoing relevance of God’s works in the past. In doing so Dickson shows that Scripture requires us to gain an understanding of Church history for our good and God’s glory.

Dickson notices that the Psalmist especially points out the Lord’s works already done for His people. The Lord works for the Church’s deliverance and His own glory. People are so careless about observing His works, however, that there is great need to stir up our slothfulness. We must observe and make a right use of God’s works for His praise and our benefit. This is why the Psalmist says: “Come and see the works of God” (Psalm 66:5).

 

1. Wonder at God’s Works

Whoever does observe the works of God for His people will be forced to fear and admire His wonderful acts and care for them. “He is terrible in his doing toward the children of men” (Psalm 66:5).

 

2. God’s Remarkable Deliverances

The work of redeeming His Church out of Egypt is worthy of being made use of by everyone to the end of the world. It is in itself sufficient to show, that if necessary, God will invert the course of nature. He will do this for the good of His people and to deliver them from difficulties. “He turned the sea into dry land” (Psalm 66:6).

 

3. God is Faithful to His Promises

Just as the Lord did wonders in delivering His people out of misery, so He will work wonders in fulfilling His promises to them. He will do what is necessary to bring them into possession of what He has given them a right to by promise. Drying up the river Jordan so that His people might go in to possess the promised land provides evidence of this purpose of God for all future times.”They went through the flood on foot” (Psalm 66:6).

 

4. Our Unity with the Historic Church

The whole people of God are one body. That which is done in one age and to one generation concerns them all. Everyone is to make use of it in their generation. Everyone in future times should reckon themselves to be one body with the Lord’s people in former ages. They should make use of God’s dealings with them as if they had been present with them then. The Church in the Psalmist’s time joins itself with the Church in Joshua’s time, rejoycing in God with them at their entry into Canaan. “There did we rejoice in him” (Psalm 66:6).

 

5. God Can Do What He Did in the Past Again

The Lord is able and ready to do in any future time whatever He has done for His people in any past time. He rules by His power forever (v7). His actions in the past are perpetual evidences and pledges of similar actions that will be done in the future as necessary.

 

6. God Witnesses Everything that Happens to His People

Nothing is done in any place to which the Lord is not witness. There is no plot or movement against His people which He does not see. “His eyes behold the nations” (v7).

 

7. Those Who Oppose the Church Will Not Prosper for Long

There will be from time to time a generation who will not submit themselves to this sovereign ruler. They stand out against Him and malign His Church. Yet they will not prosper for long nor have cause to triumph in their rebellion: “Let not the rebellious exalt themselves” (v7).

 

Conclusion

In the verses from Psalm 66:8 onwards, the Psalmist exhorts the Church in his time to praise God. He has preserved them from being wiped out during their fiery trial and painful affliction under the tyranny and oppression of their enemies. This shows us that in every age (besides all the reasons for praising God for works done in the past) the Lord’s people have their own unique reasons for praising God’s care, providence and kindness.  One purpose of the Church’s troubles is to test the graces of God’s people and purge out their corruptions. This is why God brings one trouble after another, as metal is put into the fire more than once to refine it (v10).

There is no escape when God brings His Church into a time of trial (v11). He then shows us whether it is easier to serve God or men (v12). Yet when He delivers His people and gives them a time of release it carries as much comfort as their trials did grief (v13). These considerations are helpful as we use Church history to reflect on our own times. We may experience a time when the rebellious are exalting themselves but it will not be for long, comparatively speaking. “For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous” (Psalm 125:3).

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation. This is why we have created some short documentaries highlighting a period of history not just forgotten in schools but also in many churches. It’s called Scotland’s Forgotten History. It looks at what we can learn from this period as well as what we can learn about it. Together with the videos we have produced a discussion guide. This is designed to help small groups discuss the biblical principles outlined in the videos along with relevant passages of Scripture.

 

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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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

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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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What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
10 Nov, 2017

No one wants to be a Pharisee. It’s the ultimate religious insult. No doubt we have our own idea of what a modern-day Pharisee looks like. It’s probably the type of Christian with whom we strongly disagree, their standards and convictions are far removed from ours. It’s easy to apply the Pharisee label without thinking much about it. We ought to be careful, however, before identifying others with the enemies of Christ. What was it about the Pharisees that Christ Himself opposed? This will tell us what we need to know about where the term applies today. Perhaps modern Christianity isn’t as immune as we might think from strains of the Pharisee virus.

It’s possible for any type of professing Christian to place undue weight on outward activities and things that identify us as religious. Sometimes these are things we may scarcely think about or question but they have been given considerable importance. They could be what is considered trendy just as much as what is considered traditional.

It is highly important to identify the spirit of the Pharisees today. The Lord Jesus Christ has such solemn things to say about them that we need to ensure that we avoid their characteristics. The general stereotype is that Pharisees were obsessed with being ultra-holy. True, they were interested in outward conformity to their own man-made regulations but they weren’t interested in heart holiness and entire conformity to God’s law. Christ actually says that they weren’t strict enough when it came to righteousness. What is more He says that we must be “exceed” the Pharisees when it comes to righteousness or we will not “enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The Pharisees and scribes took great effort in making great outward profession of holiness of life. The truth is, however, that they only made conscience of outward obedience only (Matthew 5:21) and even then, only in relation to certain commandments (Matthew 15:3). There is a tendency to try to get around obeying God’s requirements by championing our own man-made slogans and rules. A true Christian must first be clothed with the righteousness of Christ and have their sins forgiven in Christ. They must be justified freely by grace without the works of the law. They then seek to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith by true and sincere obedience, inwardly as well as outwardly. They desire to obey all of God’s commandments. They want to make further progress in holiness all the days of their life.

Their righteousness must outstrip that of the Pharisees and scribes. First, they must have the righteousness which is of God by faith in Jesus Christ reckoned to their account. Second, they also should manifest an inherent righteousness, sincerely pursuing a holy life before God and man. These are the ways in which their righteousness must far exceed the superficial righteousness of the Pharisees.

The most solemn warnings Christ gives against the Pharisees are found in Matthew 23:1-36. Frequently they take the form of “woes” (eight in total). In other words, He is warning them of God’s judgment for their hypocrisy. Of course, He was able to read their hearts but their conduct and words were very obvious too and these exposed the true state of their heart.

David Dickson has some key insights into Christ’s words in this chapter. It is a long article but it makes for vital reading. Here we highlight the main aspects of the Pharisee virus that we must avoid like the plague.  Where we see heart religion and careful godly living ignored, it has an opening. Where man is exalted and worldly desires masquerade under religious language and man-made practice we ought to be warned. We must of course, avoid those who alter the true gospel.

 

1. Pharisees Don’t Make their Life Match their Convictions

Christ warned about false teachers (Matthew 23:1-3).

(a) People must be warned to beware of contracting the plagues of false teachers who will not amend their conduct.

(b) We ought still to obey the truth of God’s Word even though it may be promoted by false teachers; it is still God’s truth (v2).

(c) People are more in danger of following the example of the sinful life of false teachers rather than any commands of God they may teach. They need to be warned not to follow the works of such false teachers.

(d) Someone may obey what God commands but not for the purpose for which God has commanded it. In the sight of God this is no better than not doing it. Although the Pharisees did many works that were commanded in the law, yet they did them to be seen of others and to earn merit before God. They were more careful about the outward ceremonies of the law than observing the moral duties of justice and mercy. What they did was therefore counted as though they had not done them. Christ says that “they say, and do not”.

 

2. Pharisees Urge Moral Duties without the Gospel

The Lord shows how the Pharisees urged moral duties without reference to the gospel (which is the only way by which such duties can be done) (v4).

(a) The law is intended to lead us to the gospel where grace and strength for righteousness and new obedience. Otherwise it is an unbearable yoke. It is here called a heavy burden, and grievous to be borne. And therefore to press moral duties on a people without teaching them how to draw strength from Christ for obedience is to bind heavy burdens on their shoulders.

(b) Hypocrites command people with least compassion which does not enable them to give obedience. They do not seek to help them by wise teaching, example or prayer. Therefore Christ says “they will not move [the burdens they impose] with one of their fingers”.

 

3. Pharisees Care More About Appearances than Reality

Pharisees had ways of appearing to be religious before others. One was to enlarge their phylacteries (items they would wear containing verses of Scripture) (v5). The first is their vain ostentation of holiness and ambitious seeking of vain applause of men, to which end they did write the words of the law on the borders of their garments, as if it had been all made up of love of the law.

(a) Hypocrites take greater effort to seem religious than to be religious. They strive to please others with appearances rather than to please God in truth. They “do their works…to be seen of men”.

(b) Hypocrites are most concerned about making a show of outward religious practices and outward aspects of duties that have been commanded, while neglecting the substance.

 

4. Pharisees Love Status and Celebrity

Pharisees love to be given status and to be hailed as a prominent teacher (v6-7). The Pharisees were vain and sought preeminence in all things above other people. We should not esteem any mere man too highly any gifts he has or any good we have received through him. It takes away from God’s glory when we attribute too much to men (v9-12).

(a) Although the Lord does not condemn respects and reverence due to men according to their callings and places, yet he condemns those who love take pride in them.

(b) Hypocrites and vain men least worthy of respect or honour most desire respect.

(c) Christ does not condemn ways of distinguishing individuals for order and for the sake of their office from others. He condemns those who exalt themselves over their brethren in outward dignity (v8).

(d) Those who seek to exalt themselves above their brethren in the same office are offensive to Christ. He alone must have the preeminent. He has appointed a ministry in the Church and made them equal in office as brethren (v8).

(e) We are very ready to ascribe something to ourselves if we are able to profit others by any gifts given to us. Christ says not to be called Rabbi, or Master. The meaning is, do not take to yourselves more than is the creature’s due. When you teach others by God’s gift bestowed on you and anyone ascribes to you any more than is due, see that you do not permit it this sacrilege.

(f) All the authority, light and success of teaching flows from the powerful teacher Christ, “for One is your Master, even Christ”. Anything given to the creature above its place is taken sacrilegiously.

 

5. Pharisees Hinder the Salvation of Others

Christ pronounces a woe on the Pharisees for hindering the gospel (v13).

(a) Men by nature are exiles from heaven and from the grace of God offered in the gospel. Yet by ministering the Word and ordinances of God in the right or wrong way, the door of heaven is opened or shut. The Pharisees, says Christ, shut the kingdom of heaven against men.

(b) It is a fearful charge against false teachers that they do not come to Christ themselves and also divert others by their bad example or doctrine.

 

6. Pharisees Combine Religion with Covetousness

(a) Just as ambition and hypocrisy go together, so do ambition and greed (v14).

(b) Simple, ignorant and helpless souls are the prey of corrupt Church leaders. This is nothing new.

(c) The most cursed behaviour that can be devised may be cloaked with the pretence of religion.

(d) The more plausible the pretence put upon a wicked course of action, the greater the sin (and  the punishment. Christ say that they will “receive the greater damnation”.

 

7. Pharisees Make Many Converts, But Not to the Genuine Gospel

The Pharisees had a blind zeal to poison others with their errors and make converts to their sect (v15).

(a) False teachers are more busy to draw others to their error than teachers of the truth are
diligent in drawing others to the truth.

(b) The more effort and haste in false zeal that someone shows in perverting others from the truth, the more wrath abides on him.

(c) The more someone advances in error and superstition, the more he is the child of hell and Satan. Such errors have their origin in hell and Satan is the father of error, superstition and heresy. Christ said that the Pharisees made their converts “the child of hell”.

(d) Young converts who drink in superstition being persuaded by learned false teachers are far more taken with their false opinions. They are more addicted to these false superstitions than their teachers because they believer them to be the truth.

 

8. Pharisees Define Sin According to their Own Ideas

The Pharisees actually believed they could take the name of God in vain. They said that if they swore an oath “by the temple” it was not binding but if they swore “by the gold of the temple” it was (v16). Christ shows (v20-22) that this was altogether wrong.

(a) Church leaders that corrupt religion and fearfully mislead people become “blind guides”. This is despite the fact that their office requires that they should be wise and seeing guides.

(b) These corrupt hypocrites fostered swearing by created things such as by the temple, altar, gold and gifts.

(c) Corrupt Church leaders make things to be sin or no sin as it serves their purpose. Here they made an oath by the temple to be nothing and an oath by the gold of the temple to be binding.

(d) To make light of any oath as not binding opens a door to superstition and perjury.

(e) When men depart from the rule of God’s Word in determining sin, they prove themselves foolish and blind

(f) Superstition and error blinds the mind, and stupifies the heart.

 

9. Pharisees Only Give Partial Obedience

The Pharisees vaunted their precise keeping of the law in the smallest things while they despised the law in the greatest duties.

(a) It is no new thing for hypocrites to major on small matters while rejecting the most weighty duties. The Pharisees tithed anise and omitted mercy. Yet doing those greater duties does not liberate us from our obligation to do the smallest duties, one authority obliges us to do both. Christ say that they ought still to have done these but “not left the other undone” (v23).

(b)  Hypocrites being strict are more ridiculous than someone refusing to swallow a fly while swallowing a camel.

(c) Those who take it upon them to teach others the way to heaven need to know it well themselves; for it is a fearful charge to be found blind guides.

 

10. Pharisees Pretend to be Holy but are Not

The Pharisees deceived the people with an appearance of holiness when there was nothing of the kind in them (v27-28).

(a) Hypocrites may carry their wickedness so fair that men may be deceived: for they may seem very beautiful outwardly, when inwardly they are filthy, like tombs plaistred12 without, and full of rottenness within.

(b) God will not be deceived by hypocrites, but will find them out. In His time He will expose them to the world and pour out wrath on them, for Christ says “Woe unto you”.

 

11. Pharisees Honour the Godly of the Past but Hate the Godly of the Present

The Pharisees pretended to honour the saints of the past (v29-30) but in the meantime hated the godly in the present. Indeed they were about to murder Christ Himself.

(a) The world loves dead prophets better than the living: the living reprove their sin more directly than the dead.

(b) Gross hypocrites pretend to love good men and yet do not love goodness. They can condemn their fathers’ faults and yet practise the same themselves. They are like those who said: “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers of the blood of the prophets”.

 

12. Pharisees are on their Way to Hell Unless they Repent

He condemns them and threatens them with hell (v33).

(a) When the Lord makes a reckoning, he will declare the sin of the wicked to their face.

(b) It is good to show the obstinate the difficulty of being saved if they can by any means they can be driven to seek salvation.

(c) The end of Christ’s enemies shall be condemnation in hell.

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What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
13 Oct, 2017

We are familiar with Martin Luther’s image. It is striking and immediately recognisable. It is said that there was enormous demand for printed pictures of Luther in his lifetime. Lucas Cranach, in a particular portrait captured the intense eyes of the German reformer. But we do not intend to focus on the physical appearance of the reformers or even their unique personality traits. Fearlessness may not in fact be an essential requirement. It is the spiritual characteristics that matter most. What graces as well as gifts blend together in those that God uses to bring spiritual transformation?

Anthony Burgess helpfully outlines these from Scripture in a sermon preached before the House of Lords in Westminster. He shows that the work of Reformation requires the conflux of many noble and excellent graces. In particular, it helps us discern the difference between those who want to effect change in the Church of God under the influence of the ideas and tastes of mere men and those who have the sole purpose of glorifying God. We are all called to effect reformation in our own lives and families – we need to be reformers ourselves.

 

1. They Know God’s Will

They must have a clear understanding of God’s will out of His Word. The king was to write God’s Word, and to be acquainted and familiar with it (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). This was so that he might be better able to reform all the abuses that might creep into the worship of God. It is a great fault when men in place and power think that matters of religion do not belong to them at all. They cannot in fact discharge their duties, if they know do not from the Word what to do.

 

2. They have a Zeal for God

They have a zeal for God’s glory and His pure worship.  This was evident in David, Hezekiah and most remarkably in Christ Himself.  It is an excellent thing when rulers take God’s dishonour to heart more than their own. They ought to be most concerned about Christ’s laws.

 

3. They have Love for the Souls of Others

They have affections for people in general and love to the souls of others.  Unless a man is clothed with a public spirit he cannot labour for a reformation.  Nehemiah was in a good position personally, yet how deeply and sadly he was affected because the temple was desolate? Christ Himself at the very time when He was received with the greatest acclamations ignores this and weeps for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39). God has dealt graciously with your hearts when neither riches, honours or any personal dignity can do you any good, until Jerusalem is established a praise in the earth. This is how it was with David.

 

4. They have Pure Aims

They have sincerity and pure aims.  Governors may be carried far in a reformation, yet if pure love to God and His ordinances are not the star which leads them, the outcome will be very uncomfortable. Jehu is a sad instance of this, though he did everything according to God’s heart (as Scripture says in 2 Kings 10:30-31) yet in Hosea 1:4, God threatens to be avenged on him. Take heed therefore of corrupt, political designs in promoting God’s work. This has often made God let His own ark fall into the hands of the Philistines. Not because His cause was not dear to him but because those who managed it had selfish interests.

 

5. They are Humble

They have humility under all the honours God that puts upon them.  This was eminent in Gideon and David. Those who are lifted up by any success that God bestows on them are like a blazing star that shine brightly at first but ultimately end in slime. John the Baptist produced a great reformation and had the eyes of the world on him. Yet he rejoiced because he must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:29-30).

 

6. They are Eminently Holy

They have exemplary holiness of life.  Reformers must conform to the general rule that he who reproves others ought himself to be free from those sins.  Reformers must be an example to others; they are to others as the part-coloured sticks were to Jacob’s sheep (Genesis 30:37-43). It is very unfitting when governors make laws against impiety, profaning the Sabbath, contempt of holiness while these sins can be found in their lives or in their families?  Reformation is achieved in great measure when the lives and families of men are changed as well as when public worship and ordinances are reformed.

 

7. They have Believing Courage

Reformers must have fortitude and courage accompanied with faith.  Every reformation encounters great opposition and contempt.  When Hezekiah sent out messengers to call people to observe the Passover purely, they were mocked and scorned (2 Chronicles 30).  To endure all kinds of accusations and slanders and to be tried by God Himself requires humility and patience as well as faith and courage.

 

8. They are Prudent

Prudence and extraordinary wisdom are required in reformation.  Some think it was weakness for Gideon to go out with a few men at night but it showed his great prudence.  Anyone who has read Church History can see that imprudence has greatly hindered propagation of the truth. We must of course be careful that prudence does not degenerate into carnal and mere political wisdom. God ultimately makes this kind of wisdom to be seen as great folly, especially when it is accompanied with corruption of His worship.

 

Conclusion

Reformation depends on individuals and families living out the Word of God in all areas of practice as well as faith. It is about closer obedience to God’s revealed will. We may never be used to bring about wide scale change but this does not mean we cannot be reformers. These qualities are needed in our lives as we strive to submit to Scripture in everything. We must advance in reformation and encourage others in the work of reformation as far as possible.

These days we have few true reformers in the Church. We have enough transformers – those who have their own vision of change. Sometimes this is change for the sake of change because culture has changed. Reformation is God’s work as opposed to transformation through our own innovation and ideas. Reforming is a spiritual work that requires spiritual men using spiritual means for the spiritual good of Christ’s Church. We are all too aware of various trends in modern Christianity that mushroom and then evaporate. They promise much but are just reinventing aspects of faith and practice. We don’t need this. Instead, we can be solidly grounded through reformation according to God’s revealed will. We need those who will have the courage and wisdom to submit to the Word of God in everything.

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Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Oct, 2017

It is possible to take such a long look back at the Reformation that we then forget to look forward. In other words, we may be inclined to think of Reformation as an event in the past rather than a present imperative. This milestone is a point to reflect on where we are in relation to Reformation and what still remains to be achieved as individuals, Churches and communities. How do our lives, families and congregations match up to God’s requirements in His Word? Reformation is a difficult and unsettling activity. It challenges our complacency and expectations. Would we have the appetite for it we think we would?

The Word of God is the only rule for reformation. Yet what do we mean by that? Anthony Burgess (1600-1663) explains how the Word of God has a supreme role in the work of reformation. Burgess lived during a time of reformation and was a member of the Westminster Assembly. He ministered in Sutton Coldfield and wrote many valuable books. Sadly, these have been comparatively neglected. The following is an updated extract from one of his sermons preached before Parliament. He shows that reformation is difficult perhaps even discouraging work but it is also an absolute priority that God blesses.

 

1. The Standard of Reformation

(a) Reformation in Doctrine

A sound faith is the soul of religion; it’s like the sun in the sky or like the eye in the body. Wrong believing and wrong living go together. Hymenaeus and Philetus made shipwreck of both their faith and of a good conscience (1 Timothy 2:17). We cannot build any confession of faith without quarrying the materials from this mountain. Error and heresy have no enemy like Scripture. We may be as orthodox as possible in our doctrine but if we do not believe these things because of Scripture, it’s a merely man made faith. A merely human faith is based on education and human tradition and comes far short of divine faith.

(b) Reformation in Worship and Church Discipline

An orthodox Church without good discipline and pure worship is like a field of corn without hedges. What a beautiful Church we would have, if the commands of Scripture were respected. Everything done in worship without God’s Word is doing we “know not what” (John 4:22). The basis on which we allow one aspect of worship which is merely from our own will will be the same grounds for more. In Church discipline and order, a profane man should be as rare in the Church as a blazing star (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:11).

(c) Reformation in Christian Living

We are warned by the Scriptures as to our outward life (Psalm 19:11). The Scriptures are the antidote against sin. A young man may cleanse his ways by them (Psalm 1119:9). Many do not consider this use of Scripture, they dare not have any other doctrine than Scripture teaches, yet they dare to live another life. In the same way that you believe as it is written you must live, fear and joy as it is written.

(d) Reformation in our Heart and Conscience

Scripture differs from all other rules and laws. They only bind us outwardly but the Scriptures reach to the heart and conscience; “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). The law can even doth convict even a self-admiring Pharisee. When this sunlight shines, it uncovers all the hidden thoughts of the heart all those motes, that otherwise would not be seen.

It is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Human eloquence does not terrify the conscience, but the Word of God does. It makes the heart cry out, “I am overcome, overcome”. It’s true that God makes use of human eloquence, but all must be subordinate to the Word. As God is the Father of spirits, so the Word is a word of spirits. Although the whole world may threaten,  the heart bears itself up if the Word comforts; if it threatens, the heart is discouraged.

(e) The Benefit of Honouring Scripture

The rule of Scripture is opposed by tradition and the reasoning and opinions of men. Most often it is opposed by appeal to majority opinion. Many never consider what the Scriptures direct but believe, worship and live as most others do. God has explicitly forbidden us to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).

If we honour Scripture as supreme we will be:

(a) secure and steadfast in our way; (b) holy and spiritual in our life; (c) at peace (Galatians 6:16); (d) derided as strict; (e) thought strange; and (f) hated.

In order to benefit from Scripture in this way, we need to:

(a) be in it frequently; (b) pray for spiritual understanding; (c) be humble and meek in submitting to it; (d) love God’s truth.

 

2. Things that Hinder Reformation

(a) Complacency

There is complacency in thinking that there is no need for reformation. This was the case with the Laodiceans; they thought they were full and rich (Revelation 3:18). Many Churches would have been more pure and reformed if they had not thought themselves reformed enough. It may be so with individuals as Paul says, I had not known sin, had not the Law said, Thou shalt not lust. A Church may say, I had not known this to be an abuse, this to be error, had not the Scripture manifested it.

(b)  Pragmatism

This makes men vary their views and conscience according to changing considerations. What is good theology for them today is error tomorrow; today’s reformation is to them tomorrow’s disorder.

(c) Sinful Moderation

How hard it is not to accept a lame and half Reformation? People think we must pass over many things and proceed gently. The rigour of God’s Word is an altogether different thing to this. There is a lawful moderation but this is different from sinful moderation.

(d) The Love of Earthly Things

In Haggai 1:2-10 we find that the people’s concern to build their own houses made them neglect building the temple of God. In order to satisfy their covetousness the Pharisees interpreted Scripture in a false way. If people would rather lose their God than their wealth or part with their religion than their riches; how can they promote God’s cause or make way for Christ’s coming? When men can delight more in the glory of their own houses than in the spiritual beauty of ordinances or have more joy in their hearts by increased wine and oil than in God and His ways – it is no wonder so few make way for Christ. Gregory Nazianzen thanked God he had any thing to lose for Christ’s sake.

(e) Sinful Desires

People are greatly troubled if they cannot indulge themselves so much in their lusts and their sins. But you should take comfort that Christ endured the contradiction of sinners.

(f) General Opposition

There may be only a few for reformation against many great and learned who oppose it. Luther confessed this was no small trial to him, “are you the only wise person, are all others in error?” But if this had been regarded, then the prophets, Christ, Luther, Calvin, would never have begun any reformation, because the world was against them. Reformations have always been judged impossible things. Luther was told “go and pray in your cell, you are not likely to do anything by commotion”. The people rage and take counsel together that Christ may not be exalted on His throne (Psalm 2:1). But this will not excuse us, it is better to endure the rage of people then the anger of God. Better to have the world’s frown than God’s.

(g) Apparent Novelty

Truth is before error; it is only sin that makes truth new. It shows how much we have apostatised that Christ’s ways are considered new. This is now how it was from the beginning. Novelty lies in error and superstition, Sabbath-breaking, neglecting godliness.

(h) Apparent Division

Divisions may seem to arise by it and errors multiply at such times. Many complain about various sects that have arisen but they never blamed those that caused them. This has always been the slander levelled at reformation: so many men, so many gospels. Luther was often told by opponents not to divide the seamless robe of Christ. Do not blame reformation for this (it is the only thing that can remove these things) blame those who caused the divisions.

(i) Outward Trouble and Commotion

This often accompanies reformation. Christ foretold fire and a sword, father against son and son against father. This would happen wherever His pure and powerful preaching was established. He is not the cause of this but rather men’s stubborn and rebellious hearts. It is not the doctor or medicine that cause the pain the sick man feels, but rather the disease that has been in him for so long.

(j) Ingratitude

People often do not esteem or prize those whom God sends to deliver them. They were unthankful to Moses and Aaron. This unthankfulness is a gross sin but it ought not to be any discouragement for those who are employed for the public good. Luther tells us how great a trial this was to him. “When I see this (ingratitude) I am sometimes broken with impatience, and seriously resolve unless this doctrine had been already dispersed, I would rather have done any thing than declared it to this unthankful world; but these are the thoughts of the flesh”.

 

3. Reasons to Continue in Reformation

But there are many urgent reasons why reformers should go on.

(a) God Punishes Neglect

Because God has punished severely the neglect of any order that He has given to His Church They may have done much, yet if they have not done completely, he has been angry. This is why you read so often concerning the kings “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away”. The judgment on Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire; the breach made on Uzzah should warn reformers against indulging breaking the least of God’s commands. Do not think not that you are free to decide how much or how little is to be done for God, you are accountable to God for jots and tittles.

(b) God Hates False Worship

There is nothing more odious to Him than corruption in His Church. What detestable names Scripture gives to idols! Jesus says in John 4 that the Father seeks those that worship Him in spirit and truth. This shows how precious and delightful to God those are that worship Him in his own way. Our Saviour tells the Pharisees that that, which was highly esteemed amongst them as great piety and devotion, was an abomination before God. Let us not do any abominable things!

(c) It is the only way of blessing

It is only in doing the will of the Lord that we are sure of blessing. Blessing came when Jehoshaphat set up those that taught the good knowledge of God. It is true that we may be in the wilderness for a long time and God may permit enemies to prevail because of the sins of His own people. We are always to remember the end of the Lord, observe the ends of all reformation, and you will find them to be peace. It is not the godliness of a godly man that causes many of his sorrows but because he does not have enough godliness. It is not reformation that creates unhappiness in a Church or State, but because we are not reformed enough, we are not willing for this to happen.

God will reform His Church by other means if we do not promote it. It is the greatest honour that God ever put on you. In these matters of God do not consult with flesh and blood. Remember that He is engaged for His truth more than you; you have your lives and wealth to lose, but God has His honour and truth to lose, which is worth more than the whole world.

How will you ever answer God at the Day of Judgement if He puts an opportunity into your hands and you have not made best use of it? Take your example from David in Psalm 132 when he had vowed to bring the ark back into a suitable place. “Remember David and all his troubles” (literally “in his whole affliction” in all his trouble, fear and concern when God smote Uzzah, and so hindered him in his intended reformation). He would not sleep or eat (hyperbole for the unrelenting efforts he would take for settling the ark).

 

Conclusion

Reformation is required in our own day, it is an act not just an event. But it is by no means an easy work. There are many challenges but for the glory of God, our own good and the good of the Church we must not only want to see it happen but engage actively in it in our own day.

 

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5 Effects of True Revival

5 Effects of True Revival

5 Effects of True Revival
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
1 Sep, 2017

Today, many people pray and long for revival – a special outpouring of God’s blessing when His people are spiritually renewed and many others are converted. They view the advancing tide against the truth and Word of God with alarm and are concerned for the honour of God. This must not be a counsel of despair, as though we can do nothing without it and neither must we despise the day of small things. It’s possible to have a false romanticism about these things. Yet if the glory of God is truly paramount in such desires it is commendable. Revival is a time when God is truly seen as God – in His glorious majesty. This is what we desperately need. Secularism has pushed God to the edges and sometimes even Christians can be comfortable with that. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that revival is a distant memory. What would it look like and what effects would it have?

Some may ask: “do we need revival today?” The following brief clip may help to provide some answers to that question. It is the conclusion of the second video in the forthcoming Scotland’s Forgotten History series. The second video focuses on Scotland’s Forgotten Revival. This was a period which was arguably Scotland’s greatest revival. It went further, deeper and lasted longer than any other.

 

How Should We Pray for Revival?

Psalm 85:6-7 is a cry for God to revive His people again and have mercy on them. This is the Church praying for some relief from the distress in which they were at this time. David Dickson has some helpful comments on this Psalm that draw out the nature of true revival. The following is an updated extract. He notes that the cry assumes that God’s purpose and pleasure must be that His people should have joy in their God. On this basis and on the grounds of His covenant, they request new tokens of mercy.

It is like a death to be deprived of the evidence and sense of God’s favour. Likewise, it is life to be clear that we are in favour with God. Those who have had experience of the sense of God’s favour cannot endure to be without it and seek to have it restored.

We can expect a change for the better because plagues and wrath upon God’s people are only temporary. After they have smarted for their sins for a while, they may yet expect to be restored to joy and comfort again. Our joy should not be in the gift, but in the giver–we are to rejoice again in God Himself.

 

1. Revival Brings the Peace of God

Revival mercy removes the tokens of God’s wrath and brings peace and reconciliation.

(a) Although God’s people may be under the sense of wrath, yet the Lord will comfort them after they seek grace from Him: “he will speak peace unto his people” (v8).

(b) Those who are concerned about true holiness indeed are God’s people, to whom the Lord will speak peace. It is for the sake of such that the society in which they live will partake of the fruits of God’s favour to them: “he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints”.

(c) Our folly (foolishly following the vanities that allure us to sin) interrupts our peace with God. This is what diverts us from communion with God. Thus peace must come by our forsaking the sinful and foolish ways which have brought wrath. The way to keep us in that peace is not to return to these ways again. The very purpose both of God’s correcting us and His restoring peace is that we do not sin as before. “He will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly”.

 

2. Revival Brings More of God’s Glory in Our Land

The nearness of free salvation in Christ who is the glory of any land in which His saints dwell is another effect of revival (see verse 9).

(a) The heirs of the promises are the only ones that make it their business to please God and avoid provoking Him. They are those that “fear him”.

(b) The afflicted believer, labouring under the sense of wrath, cannot be satisfied with any other deliverance except Jesus Christ. He is really the only complete salvation of God. He alone is able to answer fully to that name. Christ was known to the Church before His coming in the flesh by that name. Simeon said that his eyes had seen God’s salvation when he had Christ in his arms (Luke 2:25-26, 30). Here is the name by which Christ was of old known to the Church, among many other titles. He is God’s salvation, as He is called here.

(c) Consolation and deliverance, and salvation in Christ, are near at hand to every upright afflicted believer. The afflicted believer may or may not be able to see it with comfort for the time being. Surely God’s salvation is near “them that fear him”.

(d)  Glory dwells in any land in which the true church of Christ, the saints, and those that fear God dwell. There God is glorious through Christ by His Spirit bringing righteousness and salvation to such a society. The people are glorious because of His presence and that land glorious above all other lands. Surely His salvation is near them that fear Him, “that glory may dwell in our land”.

 

3. Revival Brings More of God’s Saving Grace

The third fruit of mercy is the grace of Christ in justification and its fruits in those are justified by faith. There are three pairs here that sweetly agree together: (a) mercy and truth; (b) righteousness and peace; and (c) truth and righteousness (verses 10-11).

Mercy and Truth. God’s mercy pities, spares and pardons His sinful people. His truth performs all the good things which He has promised in His Word. A merciful God and unbelieving sinners are separated, and stand at a great distance, the one departing more and more from the other. A merciful God and a believer are surely reconciled and quickly meet together. God in Christ holds out mercy to the sinner, and mercy bestows faith on the redeemed. Faith lays hold on mercy, and so mercy and truth are met together. Mercy calls for faith, and creates it, and faith calls for mercy, and so this couple meet together.

Righteousness and Peace. Both of these are the effects of mercy and truth meeting together, or of mercy and faith saying amen to mercy’s offer. Faith laying hold on mercy, brings down righteousness or justification by faith. We, being justified by faith, have both peace with God and our own consciences (at least in terms of our right and privilege – our assurance of this peace may be interrupted). In all those that mercy (the offer of grace) and faith (receiving the offer) meet, justification (imputed righteousness) and peace with God also meet.  In this way “righteousness and peace have kissed each other”.

Truth and Righteousness.  This is truth, or true faith in man on earth and righteousness from God in heaven. Faith springing out of the earth as planted by mercy. It springs forth in its discernible fruits which are sincere love to God and man. The righteousness of God from heaven shines down as the sun to for nourish and protect what He has planted and to perform all promises to the believer.

When mercy in God and true faith in man meet together this is followed with the righteousness of justification and peace with God. Thus, true faith in man is followed with fruit. It cannot be idle but works to bring forth the effects of faith or truth. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness from heaven is followed with active influence on faith springing forth. It defends, increases and blesses it, just as the sun fosters and refreshes the fruits of the ground. “Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven”.

 

4. Revival Brings God’s Favour on the Land

Outward benefits are given to the believer as well as blessing on the land where believers dwell (v12).

(a) The things of this life are appendages to the chief mercies of the gospel, which reconciled people may expect to receive of God, as their need and good require. The “Lord shall give that which is good”.

(b) The place or land, where the Lord’s people dwell, bears the tokens of God’s displeasure when they provoke Him. In the same way, the land is clearly blessed when His people are reconciled to Him: and “our land shall yield her increase”.

 

5. Revival Brings Us Forward in Holiness

The grace of Christ for directing and advancing believers in sanctification is also provided (v13). Christ will be their leader. The righteousness of Christ imputed to believers will make believers follow Christ’s ways, and go on in the paths of His obedience.

(a) Christ is the captain of His redeemed and reconciled people. He and His people are walking in one way in which He goes before His people so that they may follow His steps. He also goes behind them to bring and set them forward in the way, so that none may fall away.

(b) Righteousness prepares Christ’s people to follow Him: This happens in the work of conversion or regeneration, in which the mind is enlightened to see righteousness and the heart inclined to follow it. It also takes place in the work of daily direction by His Word and Spirit. “Righteousness shall go before him”.

(c) The believer must walk in the way prescribed by the Lord as leader. The grace of righteousness or sanctification is that which advances us effectually towards holiness.  Christ as leader sends this into His people’s hearts to make them follow the direction given to them. “Righteousness shall go before him, and shall set us in the way of his steps”.

Scotland’s Greatest Revival

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What insights might you learn from understanding the seven key points why the Second Reformation period was not only a national movement of reform in the Church and Nation but also the greatest period of revival in our country's history?  What if the key to the future is knowing the past?

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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Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure
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.
13 Jul, 2017

​Why do some ministers fail completely? Certain high-profile pastors (most notably in the United States) have fallen in recent years, badly and publicly. Some observe the numbers of pastors haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons are burnout and moral failure. The two are not unconnected. Sometimes moral failure follows on from burnout but they arise from the same causes. Burnout often occurs due to chasing outward success and the approval of others. Success means focusing on what is visible and attracts attention, even if it means neglecting the inward life and cultivating personal godliness towards others. Moral failure begins with the neglect of the inward life. The origins of such failure are hidden and it may take time before they become more visible. How can you prevent what you cannot see?

The issues involved are spiritual, spiritual sins such as pride and inward decline. Spiritual pride goes before a fall. Perhaps ministers begin to believe that they are “perfect” simply because there is an expectation that they must be. Perhaps they become detached from their message and start to think that they are “above the rules”. Certainly, it must stem from failure to keep short accounts with God and confess particular sins regularly and particularly. The apostle Paul had strict self-discipline in his watch against sin – lest having preached to others he himself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Yet there is another kind of ministerial failure: going about the spiritual duties of the ministry in an unspiritual way. This has a serious impact not only on the pastor himself but also on those to whom he ministers. There is a lesson for us all in terms of the expectations that we place on ministers in terms of outward things. As long as things seem to go well outwardly there may be less concern about spiritual prosperity. Perhaps we do not wisely consider how to encourage the preacher without feeding his pride. Sometimes church members are also less comfortable (if they are honest) with high spiritual standards and make this clear in various ways. It can help create a climate in which the causes of such failure flourish.

This is a gospel issue, since it affects the conviction with which the gospel is declared and also its credibility if the messenger fails to live up to the message. The souls of many are at stake. The conduct of a negligent minister has eternal consequences (1 Timothy 4:16).

It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. (Robert Murray M‘Cheyne)

How does this relate to those who are not ministers themselves? The most important means at your disposal for combatting the spiritual causes of ministry failure is prayer. It is an essential but often forgotten duty. As opposed to negative criticism (justified or not) it is extremely positive and constructive. The apostle Paul appeals for the prayers of God’s people on many occasions (Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22). In some cases he makes the brief but earnest appeal: “pray for us”. In Romans 15 he asks them to strive together with him in prayer. The word means an agonising struggle such as combat or wrestling. He asked for prayer in the context of opposition and persecution. Ministers may not face the same kind of persecution but they are the focus of much opposition in an age of apostasy.

“Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be such a minister as their prayers make him. … How perilous is the condition of that minister … whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people!…It is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. … When the churches cease to pray for ministers, ministers will no longer be a blessing to the churches.” (Gardiner Spring)

How ought we to pray for ministers? James Fergusson gives a number of illuminating comments on some of Paul’s requests for prayers.

 

1. Pray for Your Minister

Whatever abilities and graces a minister may have, he should seek the help of God’s people committed to his charge for further enabling him to go about the duties of his calling. He is to seek the help of their prayers especially (Colossians 4:3). Everyone no matter their gifts can engage in this. Paul assumes this and therefore calls on all (not excluding the least) to help him by their prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:25). He craved the help of their prayers as one who prayed for them (1 Thessalonians 2:16).

The most able ministers who have most grace are usually most conscious of the weighty burden of the ministry. They are conscious of the need for their own efforts, study and secret wrestling with God in prayer in secret. Yet in order to be best fitted for its duties, they see the necessity of not only this but also of the assistance and prayers of others. Paul, an able minister with eminent graces considers it necessary to seek the help of others for himself, emphasising “And for me” (Ephesians 6:19). Those Christians who are most eminent in gifts and graces are usually most conscious of their own failings. They also highly prize the worth of other Christians rather than undervaluing them as compared with themselves. They are ready to condescend to receive some spiritual benefit and advantage from them. Though Paul exceeded all in spiritual things yet he seeks the help of their prayers with the greatest affection.

 

2. Pray for Preservation

In Philippians 1:19, Paul attributes his preservation despite much adversity to the Spirit of Christ as obtained by their prayers for him. By salvation we understand, not only his eternal wellbeing but his constancy in avowing truth and the preservation of his temporal life for the time being. Prayer conscientiously engaged in is an excellent means for drawing from God through Christ the best mercies, not only for ourselves but also others for whom we pray. Thus, through the prayer of these Philippians, Paul would receive supply from Christ.

 

3. Pray for Liberty in Preaching

Piety and knowledge are not the only things required in a minister, they must also have a gift of utterance (Ephesians 6:19). In other words, a singular dexterity to express his thoughts to others in an appropriate, clear and persuasive way. Without this, his other abilities can avail little to inform the understanding or work on the emotions of his hearers. This is why Paul chiefly desires that utterance may be given to him.

Whatever gift a minister has of this nature (whether naturally or otherwise) he is not to rely on his gift and skill when he comes to exercise it in preaching so much as to depend on God. He must depend on Him for direct influence and assistance to strengthen his memory, uphold and order his speech and give him the present actual exercise of his gift. Without this he will either fail in his use of it or give the glory to his own abilities if he does not depend on God. This will provoke the Lord to blast his efforts and make them useless. Although Paul already had a gift of utterance, having now preached so long and so well, he wants them not only to pray for it to be continued but also that God would provide its actual exercise whenever he made use of it.

 

4. Pray for Boldness in Preaching

Paul asks for prayer in relation to this in Ephesians 6:19. A competent gift of utterance is not the only thing required in a minister.  He must also have faithful boldness in delivering his message without servile fear or partiality. Otherwise he may tickle the ear but cannot rouse up dead and sleeping consciences. Paul asks them to pray not only that he may have utterance but that he may be assisted to open his mouth boldly.

People are usually greatly incensed when their ministers deal with them frankly and can hardly endure being spoken to with holy boldness (Isaiah 30:10). Even the best ministers are greatly influenced by an unmortified fear of man and a sinful reticence to trust the Lord with the personal consequences of faithful boldness (Matthew 10: 26, 28; Exodus 4:10,13). Special assistance and influence from God is necessary therefore to make a minister open his mouth boldly. This means not concealing any necessary truth, not forbearing reproof of any known sin, not fearing anyone or considering danger and loss he may meet with for so doing. Paul asks them to seek this from God on his behalf “that he may open his mouth boldly”.

 

5. Pray for Christ-centred Preaching

Ministers must seriously consider the excellency, worth and mysteriousness of the subject they must preach and make known. This would entirely convince them of their own insufficiency for such a task and their need of assistance from God and the help of their people’s prayers for obtaining His assistance. Considering the mystery of the gospel that he was to make known is what moved Paul to distrust his own strength and seek the help of their prayers.

Such assistance from God is not for their own sake, to be praised or approved by men but that the Lord’s people may be edified and Christ exalted. This is done by laying open the rich and excellent things concerning Him in the Gospel. This is why Paul desires the gift of utterance and boldness “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

 

6. Pray that the Gospel would Prevail

It is the duty of the Lord’s people and servants not only to welcome and maintain the gospel where it is already but also to have enlarged desires together with utmost endeavours for the gospel to spread to those places where it is not. Thus, Paul wants them to pray that the word of the Lord may have free course.

The devil and sinful men cast so many great obstructions in the way of the gospel’s progress (Acts 10:23) that no human endeavours or anything but the omnipotent power of God can fully remove them. It is necessary to pray to God “that the word of the Lord may have free course” (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

7. Pray for Clear Preaching

One of the great tasks for a minister is to preach in way that makes what he preaches plain to the people. In terms of method (2 Timothy 2:15) style, (1 Corinthians 2:4) and close application (2 Timothy 4:2.), his purpose is (so far as is possible) to reach the capacity of the lowest. He thus says, “that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

8. Pray for Faithful Preaching

There are many other things (besides a holy boldness and plainness) to which a minister should give attention in preaching. He must preach in a way that is appropriate to the conditions of all, (Isaiah 50:4) so that he speaks with affection and pity, even to the most stubborn (Jeremiah 4:19). He must preach patiently not becoming weary because of lack of success (2 Timothy 2:25). He must preach zealously, with indignation against sin (Isaiah 58:1). He must also preach frequently (2 Timothy 4:2) and with self-denial (2 Corinthians 4:5). These and many other necessary things are all summed up by Paul in this comprehensive expression “As I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

9. Pray for Fruitful Preaching

It is the duty of ministers and people to do all they can in seeking that the gospel may run through the tongues and ears of many and outward subjection rendered to it. It is also their duty to strive to have it received in hearts and testified by the holy life of those who do receive it. They must not rest satisfied with the outward spread of the gospel without some promising evidences of its spiritual fruitfulness. Paul urges them not only to pray that “the gospel may have free course”, but also “that it may be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Grace is not envious (1 Corinthians 13:4). The fact that God’s Word has prevailed mightily with ourselves and captivated us into obedience to it should incite us to plead with God that others may be similarly won. It also gives grounds for hope that such labour will not be in vain in the Lord. When Paul incites them to pray for others with confidence, he reminds them how the gospel had prevailed with themselves, “even as it is with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

10. Pray for Every Aspect of Your Minister

This is so comprehensive as to be daunting but it comes back to the causes of ministry failure. We have produced a booklet which covers every aspect of a minister’s life and duties. This would enable you to pray for your minister in relation to all of the potential pitfalls for failings that he faces. Many of the personal matters are those that are helpful for your own self-examination. Once you have read it and used it in this way yourself you could pass it on to your minister as an expression of prayerful support.

It is called Sins of the Ministry and is an updated version of an older publication called A Humble Acknowledgement of the Sins of the Ministry.  Horatius Bonar refers to it in his classic book Words to Winners of Souls (1859). In fact, Bonar devotes a whole chapter to the subject of confession and uses the document as the foundation for his remarks. Baxter likewise devotes a whole chapter of his valuable book The Reformed Pastor to confessing the sins of the ministry. Bonar says that A Humble Acknowledgement is “perhaps one of the fullest, most faithful and most impartial confessions of ministerial sin ever made”. Any impartial reader of this booklet will surely agree. Bonar goes on to apply these piercing convictions to himself and ministers in his own day. The questions in our booklet aim to do likewise in order to make contemporary application.

The booklet is thoroughly searching but extremely necessary. Pastors often feel isolated and under intense pressure and attack. This booklet does not seek to add to such burdens. Yet failings are not resolved by hiding them. Perhaps neglecting to face these issues is the greatest hidden burden a minister carries. There is help and encouragement here for ministers to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness.

It is 52 pages in length and can be purchased at our online store for £2 (not including p+p).

Sins of the Ministry

£2.00

When pastors fall, it's a gospel issue. Lack of personal holiness in ministers creates contempt for their message. Reading this booklet will give ministers encouragement to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness. Here is a guide for personal reflection which can also help pastors to discuss their common failings usefully and openly together.

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Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
30 Jun, 2017

The slogan “I love Jesus but not the Church” has been repeated so often it’s now a category in major surveys. It’s now supposed to cover about 10% of people in the USA. This individualistic consumerist mindset may have eroded the thinking of more than this category alone. It’s easy to be a fickle consumer of the Church, taking what we like and leaving the rest. Without recognising it, we often complain when Church doesn’t fulfil our needs and expectations. There are of course genuine hurts and struggles as in any human relationship. Yet it seems as though our view of the Church has become too small. Slogans about not loving the Church may seem absurd at the same time that our love to her has grown cold. Do those who say they do love Christ and the Church give practical expression to that love?

Loving the Church is not to be in word or in tongue only but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). David Dickson draws out some of these lessons in commenting on the second half of Psalm 122 in this updated extract. This is a Psalm that speaks with joy about a willingness to worship God together. Jerusalem -the place where they gathered- was marked by unity, stability and God-ordained government (verses 3-5). This is to be a picture of the Church also -which is frequently compared to Jerusalem in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:22; Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 4:26).

This part of Psalm 122 exhorts us all to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, or the Universal Church as signified by it.  As part of this, David Dickson explains some general principles for practical love towards Christ’s Church. We must love Christ’s Church as well as Christ and we must do this is in a wholehearted way.

 

1. Loving the Church Means Praying that She Will Prosper

The universal Church should be dear to every member. We must pray for her that she may prosper: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (v6).

 

2. Loving the Church Means Seeking Her Welfare

No one can pray for the welfare of the Church heartily unless they love her.  No one will love her and seek her welfare without faring better for it themselves. It is promised here that those who love her will prosper (v6).

 

3. Loving the Church Means Defending Her

The Church is a war-town. It is like a walled town situated among enemies, and cannot trust those outside but must constantly keep watch. Jerusalem, as the type of the Church, was a shadow of this with her walls and towers. She must have peace within her walls (v7).

 

4. Loving the Church Means Praying for Her Peace

Peace within the Church is no less necessary than prosperity. As long as peace is within the Church, it matters less what enemies she may have without. Thus, we pray that peace may be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces (v7).

 

5. Loving the Church Means Loving God’s People

All the members of the Church militant should love one another as brethren, as fellow-partners in loss and gain. The relation which they have to one Father (the Lord) and one Mother (the Universal Church) means that they should love one another as brothers and companions (v8).

 

6. Loving the Church Means Doing All We Can to Promote Her Good

The Church is the Lord’s dwelling house in this world. Whoever loves the Lord must not only inwardly love her, but also use all effectual means endeavour to promote the good of the Church. Every true member of the Church must do as much for her as lies in them, to the utmost that their calling will allow. They must do all they can to have religion established, God’s ordinances obeyed, public worship established, the Word truly preached, the sacraments rightly administred, and Church-government exercised according to the Word of God exercised. This is what the example here teaches us, to seek the good of the Church for the sake of “the house of the Lord my God”.

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