Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
20 Aug, 2020

A recent survey conducted in the USA indicated that 7 out of 10 self-identified evangelicals agreed that “women should be allowed to preach on Sunday morning”. The results showed that these figures are not reduced when frequency of attendance and attitude to the Bible are taken into consideration. Three-quarters of those who claimed to believe that the Bible is literally true and attend services multiple times a week agreed with women preaching. Age did not seem to make a significant difference in people’s views either. We do not know what arguments these people consider strongest in favour of this view. Popular arguments are, however, familiar enough from the wider debate on this issue. If we claim to take the Bible as literally true, we must consider what it says on this subject. Whatever most evangelicals support we need to know what the Bible itself supports. Let us consider some of the passages that speak clearly on this matter.

Many books have been written on this subject, but shorter articles can still be useful. It is also helpful to consider how previous generations have understood Scripture in relation to this debate. Did they have clear biblical reasons for their views? It is helpful to do this because sometimes we are especially influenced by being so close to our own cultural perspective and current debates. Some want to claim that the New Testament’s assertions are merely cultural and can be bypassed. Yet who decides what is cultural and how far this approach goes? Others want to redefine what “teaching” means. A technical in-depth refutation of that kind of redefinition can be found in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner.

The question is not whether men are allowed to preach and teach publicly but women aren’t. The question is rather who is qualified according to Scripture to preach and teach. “Are all teachers?” (1 Corinthians 12:29) asks Paul. Clearly not. Not all men are qualified for office in the church. Only some men and not all are among those qualified and called to preach. This issue does not downgrade the important contribution of woman within the church any more than it downgrades male members who are not in office.

Arguments in favour of women preaching have been made in the past as well as in the present. In the more distant past, those who were promoting this practice were various groups and sects such as the Quakers. John Brown of Wamphray responded to these arguments and the following is an updated extract. Beginning with the passages that deal with this most explicitly he makes the following blunt observation. Some plead for women speaking or preaching in the public assemblies of the Church notwithstanding the fact that Paul has in two distinct places, expressly prohibited it.

1 Corinthians 14:34-38

One passage is 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Let your women keep silence, in the churches”. We might think, that this was indeed enough to satisfy us; but see what the apostle adds further to enforce this, “for it is not permitted unto them to speak”, i.e. in the churches. This is as if he had said “they have no permission to do so”. And as if all this were not enough, he adds all that is permitted to them i.e. to be under obedience as the law requires. By this he wants us to understand that women speaking in the churches is inconsistent with the obedience that the law of God has laid on them. He implies that speaking by teaching in the churches is an authoritative thing, and therefore not allowed to women in any way. Their proper behaviour according to the institution and law of God, is to be under obedience. He will not even permit them so much as to ask questions for the sake of learning in the churches lest this would make way for usurping authority and beginning to speak with authority. He adds in verse 35 that if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. He adds that it was contrary to that modesty that is the ornament of women in saying that it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

What the apostle adds to confirm this injunction concerning women in the verses that follow  is also notable. They may be considered along with his previous directions which he had given to regulate the abuses of that church. He asks them if the Word of God came out from them or to them alone. In other words, are you the first, last, and only Christians there are? Or must you give laws to all the churches of Christ? And must they all follow you? It is as though no previous church has had the Word of God in relation to this. In verse 37 he goes on to say that if any man thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. Those who defend women preachers must take notice of this. When they contradict this express injunction of the apostle, they declare themselves (whatever they want to say to the contrary) to be neither prophets nor spiritual.

We also see that what Paul spoke concerning this silence of women in the church was the commandment of the Lord. Therefore it is obligatory for all churches who seek to own any relation to Christ as their Lord and Head. Those who reject this commandment of the Lord renounce (in this area) their relation to the Lord as their Head and Lawgiver. The next verse (v38). “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” also have their own weight. It is as if he had said, if anyone still will not (despite all this) accept this let him do so. No more needs be said to convince him because he is wilfully ignorant and must remain so. Thus, we must say in this particular matter that if people will remain ignorant, we cannot help it. We must follow our rule and declare them unable of being convinced on this and so leave them to it.

1 Timothy 2:11—14

Another explicit passage against women preachers is 1 Timothy 2:11—14. This requires the women to learn in silence with all obedience and not to teach nor to usurp authority over the man. We can see from this that teaching publicly is an act of authority and that inconsistent, with the silence and obedience required from women. The apostle, as a faithful servant of Christ, will not therefore give way to it. He makes this known to Timothy so that he may suppress any such practice where it exists or hinder where people want to establish it. He adds his reasons; saying, for Adam was first formed, then Eve. By this he teaches us that such a practice is contrary to the law of creation, the law written on the Creation, and the way and method of creation which the Lord chose to follow. This made an express declaration of His will to mankind.

The apostle also adds that Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. That is, the woman being immediately and first deceived by Satan was the cause and occasion of Adam’s transgressing. Her submission to the man was further laid on her as a more grievous weight and burden, as a part of her punishment. Those who seek to have women usurping authority and teaching in the church seek to annul the sentence passed on women by the just Lord for Eve’s being the cause of Adam’s sin. Such declare in a way that that sentence was unjust; and that Eve was not the devil’s instrument to cause Adam to sin.

Galatians 3:28

Some say that women can be preachers because male and female are one in Christ. “Seeing” (they say) “God gives His Spirit to one as well as to another, when the Lord moves in women by His Spirit, we do not think it unlawful in any way for them to preach in the meetings of God’s people”.

The following is the answer to this:
(1) There is neither male, nor female just as there is neither Jew nor Greek but all are one in Christ. This is true in reference to the privileges of the Covenant under the present New Testament administration. It is different from what was the case under the Old Testament. This is what Paul is speaking of in Galatians 3:28. But it does not follow from this as a consequence by any clear connection or appearance of reason that women as well as men may therefore preach in the assemblies of the church

(2) That God gives His sanctifying Spirit to women, as well as men, is very true. But that He moves them to preach is not. If the Spirit of God moves in women, He will prompt them to duty i.e. to keep silence in the Church and not teach there or usurp authority. Rather she will learn in obedience, remembering what her sex is called to by the law of God, and that punishment on all women due to Eve’s conduct.

Acts 2:17

Some think the passages we have cited out of Paul’s Epistles do not oppose their practice of women preachers. Yet a more explicit contradiction is not imaginable. They appeal to the fact that women have prophesied in the Church to counter this.
In answer to this, the Lord has indeed made use of women to be prophetesses, He is free to make use of whom He will. His rare and extraordinary acts are no rule to us, however. His Law is our rule, and we must go to the Law and to the Testimony. He is absolute and is not bound by the rules and laws, He prescribes to us,

Some point out that Peter applies Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17 which speaks of women prophesying. But how does Peter apply it? Were there any women preachers among the company converted through Peter? During the particular time in which Peter applies Joel’s prophecy we do not hear of the least appearance of any women preachers and this manifestly declares to the contrary.

1 Corinthians 11:5

Some say that Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 11:5 gave rules how women should conduct themselves, in their public preaching and prayers. The problem with this is that makes the apostle contradict himself in the same epistle. Is it not safer for us to say that whatever rules he gave, they were such as must be consistent with the plain, absolute and enforced prohibition of their preaching, teaching, or speaking in the public meetings of the church? But what were the rules he gave concerning women? He said that every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonours her head. Some assume this refers to how they should conduct themselves when prophesying or praying publicly before others in the assembly. But the apostle is only showing what should be the conduct of both men and women when present in the public assemblies at the time of public worship. He shows how they should conduct themselves while the Word was spoken and explained and public prayers was being made, not by themselves but by others appointed for this.

Philippians 4:3

Some appeal to Philippians 4:3 where Paul speaks of women that laboured with him in the gospel. The question is, in what way did they do this? Some imagine it was by public preaching in the assemblies but what grounds are there for this? What hint is given of this? Is there no labouring in the gospel, except by public preaching? Some point out that Philip had four daughters that prophesied (Acts 21:9). But where do we read that they preached in the public assemblies of the church?

Arguing from Experience

Some argue that God has converted many to Himself by the means of women and frequently comforted the minds of His sons. They say that this manifest experience puts the matter to us beyond all controversy. The following answers may, however, be made.

(1) God may make use of women in a private capacity for this effect and has often blessed their honest endeavours to this end. We most willingly acknowledge this, but the question is not about their efforts and labour in private in their particular place and capacities, but about public preaching in open and public assemblies of the church.

(2) If people mean preaching in the public assemblies when they speak about God using women, it is suspect.  Such experiences, being false and falsely founded, can provide no evidence against the standing and binding laws of Christ in His Church. Otherwise we make experience our Bible from which all arguments are brought to defend all erroneous and irregular practices. It is safest to examine experiences by a standing rule; if they do not agree with this they are at best the result and acts of the power of people’s own vain imaginations. If people will steer their course by such a compass, we think it little wonder if they dash on the rocks and make shipwreck of truth.

Conclusion

Other points could be made but this survey of the key passages covers the main points in a concise way. Many of the arguments are not necessarily new, it is just that they are coming from a new source. There are many other treatments of this issue, some of which go into considerable depth. Yet for some the matter is settled by the clear words of Scripture themselves. If these words do not mean what they say they mean then how does that affect other clear passages? If we believe the Spirit is apparently saying something new to us about these verses then why is it so contradictory to what others have believed (1 Corinthians 14:36)? The debate on this question relates to a wider question of whether we accept the plain language of Scripture and its authority. Are we willing to let Scripture have supreme authority or is our submission to it conditional on culture or experience?

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What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?
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.
7 May, 2020

Has the coronavirus prompted more concern about spiritual things? To some extent, yes. Google searches on prayer for 95 countries during this crisis have increased to the highest level ever recorded. The Danish author of the study, Jeanet Sinding Bentzen said she found that “search intensity for ‘prayer’ doubles for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19.” The Pew Research Center also reported increased prayer in the USA. 44% of Americans have also said that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a “wake-up call for us to turn back to faith in God.” One of the UK’s largest online Christian bookstores, Eden, has seen physical Bible sales rise by 55 per cent in April. It is too early to say how significant this is or how the impact of this will be sustained or if it is a window that is already closing. But it should spur us to prayer ourselves. Perhaps you have heard of other indications of increased interest. Whether or not this is a window of opportunity for the gospel, it is helpful to consider what Christ means by an open door and its relevance to us. In these days of disruption for churches there is tremendous encouragement in it.

Scripture speaks about an open door in a number of places but especially in Revelation 3:7-8. It gives the encouragement that Christ is Head over His Church and opens doors that no one can shut. He has all power and authority in relation to His Church. It uses the language of Isaiah 22:20–22 and the authority given to Eliakim. As James Durham points out in the following updated extract, we can draw great reassurance from this.

It encourages us that Christ Jesus, as Mediator, has special oversight and government of the church He is completely sovereign so that when He shuts no one can open and vice versa. None of His orders can be obstructed, He has an exalted name above every other (Philippians 2:9) and no one can compete with His authority. He is holy and true (v7) and therefore cannot wrong any, nor fail in fulfilling His promises.

Ministers and churches can (like the church in Philadelphia) wrestle with great difficulties, weaknesses and distresses and these reassurances are given to encourage them. It shows them that Christ will support and comfort them in their trials. An open door is God giving opportunity to do good by the gospel (1 Corinthians 16:9; It is not only freedom to preach the gospel, but also God’s blessing on it (2 Corinthians 2:12).

It is as if Christ says the following to the minister of the church in Philadelphia who is said to have only “a little strength” (v8). “It is not for nothing that I have the key of the house of David, and open and no man shuts. I have given you commission to preach My gospel, and given you access to labour in My work of the ministry with some measure of success for doing good to souls.”

By assuring him that no one can shut this door, it is as though Christ is saying the following. “No one will hinder My work in your hands; no enemies or difficulties that you can meet with shall stop you. I have sent the gospel among you and given you ability to preach and the people ability to benefit. As I have sent the gospel among you, I will keep it among you, so long as I think good; no matter who may oppose it.”

1. What is an open door?

By an open door, Scripture usually means the Lord making way for the beneficial preaching of the gospel. This does not mainly consist in having ability and freedom, without any external restraint, to preach the gospel. It especially refers to God giving inward liberty to the preacher His blessing the Word, making it effectual and successful on the hearts of hearers. This is called, a door of utterance in Colossians 4:3, when a minister is not restrained in preaching the gospel, but as it were, the door is thrown open to him. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 it indicates God sending him in a special way and removing difficulties out of the way to make his ministry successful there. In 1 Corinthians 16:9 an effectual door is opened even where there is much opposition.
2. What does an open door imply?
It implies several things

(a) Ministers have their limitations
That there is a limitation in ministers who cannot make the gospel as productive as it ought to be. They cannot make the gospel as effective as it will be when the Lord sends forth the Spirit and enlarges a man to speak it with boldness. In this respect a door of utterance is opened to him, as clear from Colossians 4:3.

(b) Congregations have their limitations
That there is a further hindrance in that the ears and hearts of hearers are so locked up that the Word has no entrance but is repelled. The Lord opens this door, when by the work of His Spirit on hearts (like Lydia, Acts 16:4) He makes the Word to be received and admitted. Thus, Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, urges them to pray that the Word may have free course, that is, that there be no shut doors to hinder its progress. Both liberty for the minister to speak and blessing and success among the people are meant here.

(c) Providence maintains the Word
An open door also includes God’s providence in keeping the Word ministered and ordinances in a place with liberty in preaching and hearing. This may be despite many malicious opponents. No one can shut it.

3. Why does Christ open the door at certain times?

Christ is supreme and sovereign in giving gifts to men as well as liberty and inward freedom to make best use of them He also gives a blessing on them in making them successful. Gifts will not make a man able to preach unless the Lord gives a door of utterance. Even the great apostle Paul needs this (Colossians 4:3). Merely having utterance will not produce fruit among the people if the Lord does not open an effectual door and give the Word free course among them. Where there is most of the gift of utterance, there may be less success than where there are fewer gifts. This is because He whose privilege it is to set doors open, opens the door of utterance more fully to one, and the effectual door to the other, and does not open both equally to all.

4. What happens when Christ opens a door?

When Christ opens the door in this way, success cannot but follow necessarily and inevitably. No person or devil can shut out or impede it when He pleases to bless His ministers and commend the Word to the hearts of hearers. The meaning particular for the angel or minister here is. “I have called you to this ministry, and have given you some measure of utterance, though you do not have much ability. I have especially ordered matters so as the Word from you will have free course and success. No matter who rages against it, this will not be obstructed.”

This shows us that gifts and success in the ministry are different things. There is a little strength here (in relation to gifts) yet an open door (in respect of success). We find throughout Paul’s Epistles that a distinction is made between his liberty to preach on the one hand, and God’s opening an effectual door to him on the other.
Christ makes the Word successful, He gives both the gifts and the success. Not everyone experiences the same blessing. An open door is set before some more than before others or not at all before others. This is clear from comparing this and other epistles together.

5. How do we recognise an open door?

An open door cannot be discerned from a man’s gift alone. A door may be shut where there are great gifts. Paul did not always have this door open to him, at least it was more in one place than another. We cannot conclude there is an open door from a man’s freedom from external afflictions in a place, or the great following he may have. There may sometimes be many adversaries where this effectual door is opened (1 Corinthians 16:9) which is not the case where there is great peace and praise. Here are some ways in which it can be discerned.

(a) When a minister gets the door of utterance opened and the ears of the people are opened to it which is not a flesh pleasing desire to have ears tickled but with someone’s gifts but a simple, diligent love to be edified and receive good.
(b) Where there is real change and much solid work; the people are made humble, serious, spiritual sensitive, fruitful, etc. rather than merely opinionated
(c) When the devil attacks and opposes the ministry of one more than of many others.
(d) When the devil and ungodliness are defeated in a place by the preaching of the Word.
(e) Where there are new converts.

6. How should we make best use of an open door?

(a) Diligently, as a man that is to reap corn that is already ripe.
(b) Humbly, with self-denial, lest his pride robs the Master of His glory with dire consequences for himself.
(c) Watchfully. He should make use of it with fear, lest he or any other bring about a miscarriage in this birth because of unskillfulness. He should also proceed with watchfulness, lest the devil sow tares while he is sleeping, and it prove to be false without reality in many hearers. This is Paul’s concern; he was conscious of his own and their weaknesses (1 Corinthians 2:3).
(d) Zealously, so that the authority of Christ may appear in His ordinances both to adversaries and friends.
(e) Solidly, by making the foundation sure and giving solid food to souls such as the substantial gospel truths and the plain duties of holiness. It is dangerous to bring such a people too soon to the new wine of the most sublime things in doctrine, or the highest practices of mature Christians. It is better that they are fed on milk and what is healthy and nourishing than to please their appetites by diverting them with useless questions.
(f) Dependently, God is the Master and He has appointed a great Steward over the house, who has the keys laid upon His shoulder. The minister has no inherent right to such blessing but is subject to the Master’s good pleasure. Christ must be acknowledged in every step of the
work as it is has been done, or is being done.
(g) Single mindedly, this is the great aim of all preaching in public and private i.e. the edification and salvation of the people, and forming Christ in them by travailing, as it were, in birth for that purpose.

Conclusion

Here is some helpful biblical insight in discerning true opportunities and blessing provided by Christ. We can identify when Christ is at work by His Spirit in a more extraordinary way. If we feel discouraged about the prospects of the gospel and preaching being blessed, we can see that Christ can work in the most unlikely of circumstances. He can make use of anyone who is serious and faithful in serving Him and who does not seek to take the glory to themselves.

This is an encouragement to those ministers who feel that their gifts are nothing special compared to others. They may actually witness greater blessing than others. It is also an encouragement to congregations to be faithful to their minister whether or not they think that he has the gifts of a more prominent preacher. They should greatly value the preaching they hear if it is faithful to Christ and His Word. If Christ chooses to bless it, the more humble ministry may possibly be more fruitful. be more blessed. Christ shows both ministers and people that as mere men they are insufficient for any such thing, they must look to Him. It is not gifts that commend a minister to Christ, but faithfulness in making best use of what he has received (Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

It should encourage us to pray for the success of the gospel and the ministry of the Word. May the Lord open many such doors in our generation.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This updated extract has been taken from the first volume of James Durham's exposition of the book of Revelation covering the first three chapters. It has now been republished. It also includes many valuable essays offering unique insights. The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript and an appendix contains texts and full lectures that are significantly different than the published edition of 1658.

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Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?
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.
20 Mar, 2020

Almost all churches have become empty overnight. The public worship of God has been removed across many nations. If you are kept from attending public worship, are you mourning over that as David did (Psalm 42:2-5)? Why should it cause so much distress? Worship is the highest activity we can engage in and God places special emphasis on public worship (Psalm 87:2). What is more important than the public worship of God? This is the purpose for which souls are brought out of spiritual darkness (1 Peter 2:9). The intention is not to make people feel guilty because they are prevented from attending public worship. Sometimes there are things beyond our control that stop us. The crucial question is: are we weeping over such an extraordinary and solemn removal of public worship across the face of the earth?

Some will say that they can worship privately at home and this can make up much of the loss. Connecting distantly as a spectator to an empty building is not the same as public worship. Private worship is a great privilege and benefit, it can bring us much edification. But, by definition, it is not, public worship. It is there that we most want to praise God (Psalm 22:22&25). Thus, the Westminster Confession says that God is to be worshipped “more solemnly, in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto” (WCF 21:6). The Lord promises a special blessing for public worship (Exodus 20:24). David greatly desired that and so should we (Psalm 27:4; 63:1-2).

What about the public glory of Christ? The public glory of Christ is vital–His glory in the Church and in society. One great means of this is public worship of God (Psalm 29:9). God is more glorified by public worship than any other worship. It is possible for us to glorify God in the secrecy of our hearts and the privacy of our homes. Surely we want God’s glory manifested publicly as well as privately? Usually this is what is meant when we read in Scripture about the glory of the Lord being revealed. We want as many people as possible to see that glory and to join in praising God together (Psalm 96:1-3; Psalm 66:1). “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Scripture never envisages the removal of public worship as being anything less than disastrous (read Psalm 74 for just one example). It is no light thing, it is not “just one of those things” that are unusual and regrettable but nonetheless merely “unfortunate”. Many interpreters have concluded that the beginning of gathered public worship is described in Genesis 4:26. It would be solemn to look back and identify the present moment as a time when people began not to call on the name of the Lord, because of the removal of public worship.

The book of Lamentations is for just such a time as this. It brings events into perspective. Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of everything. He pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. His tears flow freely,  especially concerning the spiritual losses such as the destruction of the temple. “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate” (Lamentations 1:4).

It is noticeable that he traces it back to God’s warnings through the prophets that this would take place. Thus, it is ultimately the Lord who has “cast off his altar” and sanctuary. He has “violently taken away his tabernacle…destroyed his places of the assembly” and “caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lamentations 2:6-7). The following is an updated extract from David Dickson’s exposition of that verse.

1. God Removes His Protection

Another point of his lamentation is that God has taken away the hedge of His protection from His Church. It is as if a man would pull away his hedge from his garden
and let all the beasts in. He has taken away His tabernacle, as any would pull away his hedge from his orchard. He has destroyed her places of assembly, so that they did not have a place to meet in. He has caused their solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten, that is, there is no memory left of public solemnities. The fact that God violently pulls away His tabernacle shows us that there is no place so holy that God is held to unles it is visited in a holy way. Although He said of Jerusalem, “this is the place of my rest forever,” (1 Kings 8:13 and 9:13) yet when they abused it He forsook it.

2. God Removes His Presence

Jerusalem had this promise, yet God removed His presence because His worship was abused. How will then any place without such a promise affirm that God is held to it? There never was a place that God was more strictly held to than Jerusalem. Yet when they abused it He left it, for He is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). Let no one think they will enjoy the Word and gospel unless they walk in the light of it. Will the Lord expose His Word and ordinances to mockery and cast His bread to those that are not hungry?

But seeing the Lord is pleased to maintain a tabernacle among us, let us not defile the place of His rest by our sins. Do not stir up our love till He pleases (Song of Solomon 2:7). Do not provoke Him to be driven away from us and go His way. For if we do, although we may be dear to Him and also as near to Him as the signet ring of His hand (Jeremiah 22:24), He will pull us off and cast us away. He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but will do to us as to His Church in former times.

3. God Removes the Visible Church

God “destroyed the places of the assembly.” This shows that the sins of professing Christians will provoke God to remove the face or outward appearance of a visible church. If we do not make better use of our meetings in the church, God will make them like filthy lavatories. There was no visible church on earth except Jerusalem, yet when it was abused by idolatry, He scattered it. Although some stones here and there were reserved for a new building, the face of a visible church was abolished. It is as great folly to say there will always be a visible church in a place, as to say that a church cannot offend God.

Judah’s solemn feasts were the equivalent of our communions. If we do not make use of our solemn meetings, frequent preaching and communions, they will go out of remembrance. The public ensigns (i.e. military flag) by which we should follow our Lord will cease to be displayed.

Conclusion

These are truly solemn considerations that we must take to heart. They are very applicable to our own time. It is easy for us to take public worship for granted until we have it removed. Have we treated it as we should, have we benefited from it as we ought? Have we been too glib in assuming that God would not cast off the professing Church in the west? Could it be that (as with Old Testament Israel) we have actually corrupted God’s worship to suit ourselves rather than His commands and therefore God is taking it from us?

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Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life

Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life

Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
25 Feb, 2020

Controversy has been swirling around the recent term spiritual abuse. It’s about the spiritual harm that comes from misuse of spiritual authority. This may mean using spiritual motivations to manipulate and coerce behaviour. Clearly it is wrong and against Scripture to manipulate. But with such a loose definition, some may perceive spiritual abuse in the plain communication of law and gospel or the biblical exercise of church discipline. If we only identify spiritual harm taking place where an individual has a perception of being abused spiritually, we may also be ignoring the bigger picture. Great spiritual harm comes from the neglect as well as the misuse of authority. Others question whether it is fair to spotlight emotional and psychological coercion and control in a spiritual context more than elsewhere. Even experts on “spiritual abuse” say a separate category is not needed. Whatever we make of the term spiritual abuse, spiritual harm is real. Rather than the framework being set by the secular definition of spiritual abuse we need to think about this issue biblically.

Without minimising the distress of those who have been in situations of coercion, we need a wider view of the subject. No-one includes under spiritual abuse teaching that condones a sinful lifestyle (Jude 1:4) or preaches a false gospel. Yet these cause the greatest spiritual harm. Spiritual relationships can also be misused in many ways. Sometimes there are harmful pressures and unbiblical expectations that congregations use to control their pastors. Or there may be harmful interactions between fellow church members that may or may not lead to extreme situations. If we think that spiritual manipulation couldn’t take place in our own context we only need to look at similar types of churches when it has.

Scripture rejects manipulative teaching (2 Corinthians 4:2). It warns against leaders who impose burdens for their own benefit (Matthew 23:4) and those who use their status for personal gain (Ezekiel 34:1-3) or lust (1 Samuel 2:22). There are harsh words for those who make the church their own empire and abuse their position (3 John 9-10). But spiritual harm is also connected with sheer neglect of duties (Ezekiel 34:4-5; Matthew 9:36). We are not dealing with outward things but the lasting good of souls that will never die and have an eternal destiny. Neglecting to care for souls is the most serious neglect there is.

How do we prevent such patterns marring the life of the church? It is a very large subject. For now, however, we can focus on biblical teaching that sets the right standard for those in positions of spiritual authority. Everyone can learn from these principles and apply them.

The apostle Peter speaks of the duties of those who have the oversight of the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2-3). They are to feed the Lord’s people with His truth and rule them by His discipline. In order to do this, they need to pay diligent close attention to the condition of the people and their way of living. He urges them to take the oversight willingly not as if they were forced to it. Rather it should be from an inward inclination to serve their Master and profit His people not their own personal gain. They should do their work with a ready mind and heart prepared by Christ.

They must not pretend to have any dominion over the Lord’s people. Instead, their whole way of life should provide an example of holy humility. It is a passage that emphasises humble service for Christ and His people’s sake, not serving self by lording it over the flock. This example helps provide a model of how we should relate to one another and so prevent patterns of spiritual harm. Alexander Nisbet draws some practical principles from it in the following updated extract.

1. Feed Christ’s Flock

Every minister of Christ ought to be able to feed His people with His saving truth (Jeremiah 3:15). It needs to be rightly divided and applied (2 Timothy 2:15), to every one of them, according to their varying conditions (Matthew 24:45). This is no less necessary for cherishing and increasing their spiritual life than ordinary food for their bodies at the right time (Job 23:13). They need wisdom, authority and equity for ruling the Lord’s people by the right exercise and application of church discipline. Feeding and ruling are expressed by one word in both Hebrew and Greek, to signify that they are equally required of every minister. Their duty is mainly emphasised here when it is said “feed the flock”.

2. Watch Over Christ’s Flock

It is not enough for the ministers of Christ to declare sound and saving truths to His people in their teaching and rule them by church discipline. They must also pay diligent close attention to how their live and their varying conditions and needs. They do this by frequently conversing with them and visiting them. This is what “oversight” means. They cannot apply either the truth or discipline to the flock of God as they ought without this.

3. Remember it is Christ’s Flock Not Your’s

Ministers should be stirred up to greater faithfulness and diligence in their calling when they consider that the people for whom they are responsible are the flock of God. He will provide for them (Isaiah 40:11) and be fearful to those who neglect or wrong them (Ezekiel 34:2,10 etc)..In order to stir elders to be faithfulness and painstaking in their duty, the apostle describes the people they have responsibility for as “the flock of God”.

4. Serve with Earnest Spiritual Desire

Anyone with a sense of their own weakness and of the weighty responsibility of caring for souls will be reticent in one sense to thrust themselves into that work (Exodus 3:11, Jeremiah 1:6). Yet once they have been called to it and engaged in it, they should not carry out the duties constrained by their fears. They may be fearful of revealing their own weakness, or lest they fall under the censure of others. They may also fear that their own conscience may trouble them for neglect of their duty. The apostle is aware of this danger and seeks to dissuade them from it because it would harm the way in which they go about their duty without a sense of constraint or compulsion.

Every faithful minister should have a strong inclination and inward desire in his spirit towards his duty. There should be so much love to Jesus Christ arising from the sense of his personal obligation to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14) that it produces this. His desire for the salvation of souls (1 Corinthians 10:33) should also be so great that he is not motivated by any outward consideration of gain or glory etc. These desires will keep him in the work and not allow him to neglect it.

6. Do Not Serve for Personal Gain

Christ’s ministers have His authority to receive from the people (according to their ability) a sufficient means of outward subsistence, (1 Corinthians 9:14). Yet for any of the ministers of Christ to make worldly gain their great incentive to undertake that calling, or their primary motive for its duties is a shameful and filthy frame of mind. This is most obvious when they exert themselves to the utmost to please those most from whom they expect most gain (Numbers 23:1). It can also lead them to oppose and discourage others from whom they expect least (Micah 3:5). This evil is abominable to God, detestable to faithful ministers, and something that disables them from doing their duty in the right way. Thus, the apostle warns them against filthy and shameful gain.

7. Be Prepared for Any Duty

A minister of Christ who seeks to carry out his duty in the right way must wait for every opportunity for doing it. He must keep himself in some fitness of spirit for every part of his calling. He should be ready whether or not the opportunity of fulfilling specific duties are immediately available. This is implied by the requirement that they should be of a ready mind, eagerly awaiting opportunities.

8. Do Not Usurp Christ’s Lordship

All faithful ministers should abhor the idea of usurping amy lordship over their fellow-labourers (3 John 9) or over the people under their charge. This is apparent whent they seek to compel rather than persuade the people to be obedient to the gospel. This is contrary to the apostles’ practice (1 Corinthians 4:21,2 Corinthians 12:20). It is also shown when any make use of the Word, or discipline, to pursue their own private revenge or to achieve their purpose through mere force and wearing down those who oppose them (Ezekiel 34:4). This is contrary to the apostle’s commandment (2 Timothy 2:24,25). They are not to be “lords over God’s heritage”.

The church and people of God are His inheritance. He has purchased them to Himself with His blood (Acts 20:28). He is the only Lawgiver within it (Isaiah 33:22). God will never therefore cast off or hand it over (Psalm 94:14). This should make everyone afraid to lord it over His people. Neither should they call themselves alone “God’s heritage” since it is a name given here to all the Lord’s people. [Nisbet refers to the word kleron here which is translated heritage or charge. The word “clergy” was derived from this and applied to ministers alone to distinguish them from the laon – the people or laity. Nisbet and his contemporaries objected to these terms as unbiblical]. This is given as a motive to overseers to be diligent and to avoid usurping dominion over them.

9. Be an Example of Humble Self-denial

Ministers of Jesus Christ are complete when they have an attractive outward life combined with their abilities to teach and rule and other inward qualifications. Such a pattern of living allures the flock to follow them because they see it as worthy of imitation. Their behaviour should demonstrate the graces of God in their heart. These include faith and love (1 Timothy. 4:12) and patiently enduring personal wrongs (1 Corinthians 4:16). They should demonstrate humility and self-denial for the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:33). They are to be examples to the flock and all the rest of the apostle’s counsel to elders depends on this.

Conclusion

Patterns of spiritual harm can be prevented the more that positive examples of doing as much spiritual good as possible are displayed by those with oversight of the flock. The more humble self-denial and focus on the spiritual good of others there will be, the less spiritual harm will take place. The greatest spiritual harm happens when we want ourselves to be heard and obeyed more than Christ and when we refuse to submit to His authority and Word. What spiritual good indeed would be evident if we were content to decrease in order that Christ might increase?

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure. It shows you how to support your minister through prayer. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons for ministries ending 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?

 

 

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The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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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 mature Christians

recover their 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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