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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Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?

Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?

Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?
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.
22 Dec, 2017

Even Facebook themselves now admit that countless studies show social media is bad for us. There’s no doubting its benefit of connecting and sometimes edifying people. The predominant trend of self-advertising, however, fosters discontent with our own lives. It prompts negative self-comparisons. People also find that a virtual community does not replace real community. Online communication may even undermine our face-to-face interactions. Something that brings us together can also create isolation and distance. Edifying one another in the best possible way must not become a casualty of social media excess. Other generations have not faced an identical challenge but Scripture has wisdom for every situation.

Facebook’s former vice-president said recently: “It is at a point where we have created tools which are ripping apart the fabric of how society works – that is truly where we are”. One of the most resonant book titles to summarise our condition is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The author Sherry Turkle, maintains that “as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down”.  “On social-networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but out profile ends up as somebody else—often the fantasy of who we want to be”. That can be true even in the way that people present themselves in terms of the spiritual content they share. It’s much easier too to interact in a remote, digital context that reduces our commitment to another believer. In a telling phrase Turkle observes: “the ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind.”  She identifies the symptoms of the malaise with clarity.

“Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they “reveal too much.” They would rather text than talk. Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice. It is more efficient, they say. Things that happen in “real time” take too much time. Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world “unplugged” does not signify, does not satisfy…We build a following on Facebook … and wonder to what degree our followers are friends…suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection.

Christian community is in danger of being undermined by such trends. How do we address these challenges positively? Scripture contains a great deal of written communication, indeed it is written communication. Yet, amongst Christians, it ranks face-to-face communication far higher than writing. It is remarkable that the apostle John states this bluntly on several occasions. In 2 John 12 he says that he has many things to write but he does not want to write with “paper and ink”. “ I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (3 John 13-14 is very similar).

Writing was limited but unhindered communication would make their joy full. As David Dickson notes, the apostle’s intention was to edify the congregation to whom he was writing. He desired to be present “to instruct and confirm it more fully in the doctrine of faith, that all the faithful…might out of a larger and more fruitful instruction receive more fully of spiritual joy”.

It is a reminder that for all we may read and hear online with spiritual profit, nothing can substitute for someone expounding the Word in our presence. It is also direct counsel that if we want to edify someone as much as we can, we need to see them face to face.

It was the same with the apostle Paul in Romans 1:11-12. “I long to see you” he says. His desire is that they would be together to edify and comfort one another. As John Brown of Wamphray notes, Paul is saying “My love to you is such that I earnestly long to be with you to give you freely of those things which God has given me. Things that may tend to profit and establish you”.

Brown draws out from Paul’s desire important teaching about how Christians need each other and to edify one another in person. Obviously there is also particular teaching for those who have responsibility within the Church for the spiritual wellbeing of Christ’s flock. Paul is seeking actively an opportunity speaking to them face to face to benefit them more than writing. We need to recover this emphasis on the best possible way to edify one another. Giving more time to edifying other Christians in person is essential. Note that it is not merely being together socially but sharing spiritual benefit from our conversation.

 

1. Christian Love Seeks the Best Way of Edifying

Christian love that is strong in itself and arises from a right principle and basis it extends even to those that believers have never seen. It desires to be able to benefit them as much as possible. We can see this in Paul who was most earnestly desirous to see the Romans to be able to do them good

 

2. Every Christian Needs to be Edified

No one is so far advanced in Christianity while they are on this side of the sun that they do not need help and comfort from others. Paul himself confesses that he desired to be comforted or exhorted by the Romans to whom he was writing.

 

3. Christian Fellowship Must Edify

As iron sharpens iron so making right and best use of Christian fellowship rightly is a means by which Christians will be mutually edified and built up. Paul says that his conversing with them would tend towards their mutual comfort.

 

4. How Christian Fellowship Edifies

Christian fellowship is conducted well when it involves declaring mutual evidences of the reality of God’s grace within them. This may involve giving evidence of their knowledge of Christ and faith in Him. They may speak of their mutual experiences of God’s love etc. The mutual faith of both Paul and the Romans was to be known and revealed when they would meet together.

 

5. Every Christian Can Edify

Believers strengthen and comfort one another by means of conversation and other spiritual activities when they meet together. In this they show one another their devotion to and life in Christ. They also admonish and exhort those that are faint and are likely to become weary. The strongest may be profited by the weakest since Paul says that it was by their mutual faith that he would be comforted together with them.

 

Conclusion

We need real and full Christian fellowship and edification and we must not allow other things to inhibit this. We can have true fellowship and edify online but only in a limited way. Social media has its benefits but we need to acknowledge that it cannot substitute for what is real and immediate. We have to learn how to manage its challenges to get best benefit from it. In a dislocated, individualistic world Christians should be able to demonstrate true fellowship that edifies spiritually.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

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Christ Died for the Church’s Spiritual Independence

Christ Died for the Church’s Spiritual Independence

Christ Died for the Church’s Spiritual Independence
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
14 Aug, 2017

This cause and truth (that Jesus Christ is a king, and has a kingdom and government in His church distinct from the kingdom of the world and civil government) has this commendation and character above all other truths, that Christ himself suffered to the death for it, and sealed it with his blood.

 

For it may be observed, from the story of His passion, that this was the only point of His accusation which was confessed and avouched by himself (John 18:33,36,37; Luke 23:3), was most aggravated, prosecuted, and driven home by the Jews (Luke 23:2; John 19:12,15), was prevalent with Pilate as the cause of condemning him to die, (John 19:12-13), and was mentioned also in the superscription upon his cross (John 19:19) .

 

George Gillespie in the Preface to Aaron’s Rod Blossoming.

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Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
13 Jul, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Pray for Your Minister

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

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

 

2. Pray for Preservation

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

 

3. Pray for Liberty in Preaching

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

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

 

4. Pray for Boldness in Preaching

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

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

 

5. Pray for Christ-centred Preaching

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

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

 

6. Pray that the Gospel would Prevail

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

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

 

7. Pray for Clear Preaching

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

 

8. Pray for Faithful Preaching

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

 

9. Pray for Fruitful Preaching

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

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

 

10. Pray for Every Aspect of Your Minister

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

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

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

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

Sins of the Ministry

£2.00

When pastors fall, it’s a gospel issue. Lack of personal holiness in ministers creates contempt for their message.

Reading this booklet will give ministers encouragement to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness. Here is a guide for personal reflection which can also help pastors to discuss their common failings usefully and openly together.

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Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

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

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

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

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

 

1. Loving the Church Means Praying that She Will Prosper

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

 

2. Loving the Church Means Seeking Her Welfare

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

 

3. Loving the Church Means Defending Her

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

 

4. Loving the Church Means Praying for Her Peace

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

 

5. Loving the Church Means Loving God’s People

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

 

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

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

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What is Worship?

What is Worship?

What is Worship?
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.
13 Apr, 2017

It is strange that we may engage in something so often and yet not stop to ask what it is. We could ask many different individuals to define worship and we would get a variety of responses. Some people think of praise as “a time of worship”. Others might add prayer together with that. Another response might stress that it is an attitude of heart more than specific activities. Then there are those who want to say that all of life is worship. What really matters, however, is not the range of personal opinion but how God defines it in His Word.

The English word worship derives from “worth-ship” i.e. ascribing worth. In Scripture, the words for worship often indicate specific acts such as kneeling, falling down, doing reverence, paying homage (literally kissing towards). Sometimes they indicate fear, other times service and humbling ourselves. It is both attitude and action. There are also activities that are distinct from daily life e.g. a distinct meal (the Lord’s Supper and a distinct day (the Lord’s Day). It includes specific acts of public worship which a congregation assembles to offer. These are regulated in a different way than everyday activities at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 33-34).

As an overall definition of worship it would be hard to improve on Robert Shaw’s statement. It is found in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 21). It encompasses the various dimensions that we have mentioned.

Religious worship consists in that homage and honour which we give to God, as a being of infinite perfection; whereby we profess our subjection to, and confidence in him, as our chief good and only happiness. It may be viewed as either internal or external; the former consisting in that inward homage which we owe to God, such as loving, believing, fearing, trusting in him, and other elicit acts of the mind; the latter consisting in the outward expression of that homage, by the observance of his instituted ordinances.

It is worth pausing with slow reflection to absorb the comprehensive meaning of this definition. Worship involves acknowledging our subjection to God as not only a greater but the greatest being. He is the highest possible object of our inward and outward expressions. Our hearts must be engaged to Him and taken up with Him as well as our mind, soul and strength. The only true outward acts of worship are those He Himself has commanded. It is not for us to define what is acceptable to God or magnifies Him. Scripture speaks of any other worship as “will-worship” (Colossians 2:23). Even if it is offered to God it is only worship of our own will because we have chosen it not God.

James Durham also takes up the challenge of defining worship in his exposition of the Fourth Commandment.

By worship is understood some tribute paid by the reasonable creature to God as the great and Sovereign Lord Creator.

This mentions the same homage and ascribing of worth and greatness to God in humble reverence and dependence. Durham does not leave it there, he then makes a distinction between direct and indirect acts of worship. There is worship “immediately and directly paid and performed to Him, such as prayer and praise”. There are also indirect acts of worship which are done “for Him and at His command and for His honour”. These include “preaching, hearing and receiving the sacraments”. These are also worship when rightly engaged in.

Durham stresses the moral requirement of worship. Worship strictly defined is something required by the first table of the moral law i.e. the first four commandments. In these worship is commanded “for the honour of God and not for our own or another’s external profit”. The benefit of others comes into the second table of the moral law. Commandments 5-10 teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. But this cannot be strictly called worship, much less direct and immediate worship. Thus, teaching others the duties of piety may be worship when teaching the duties of any other ordinary calling is not. In this way Durham shows that there are acts of worship to God distinct from the rest of life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God and in submission to His Word but this does not make it impossible to distinguish it from stated worship. In an essay included in his commentary on Revelation Durham gives some further principles that are basic to the understanding of worship.

Further Basic Principles of Worship

1. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – God

No one else but God has the infinite attributes and excellencies which are requisite in the object of divine worship. These include omniscience, omnipotence, infiniteness, supreme majesty, glory etc. Adorability results from these – this is an essential attribute of the majesty of God just as immutability and eternity. He is adorable, because He is infinite, immense, omniscient etc. Worship and adorability cannot therefore be given to or shared with any other any more than these unique attributes can be given or shared. Yet none can be worshipped who is not adorable.

 

2. There is Only One Kind of Divine Worship – God’s

There is only one kind of divine worship which befits this infinite majesty of God. It is only that which is required in the first table of the moral law. That is the only lawful and acceptable worship given to this glorious excellent God. This follows from the first point. If there is only one object there can only be one manner of worship. Therefore, in Scripture, worshipping God is always opposed both to worshipping any other and to allowing any worship which is not lawful and acceptable to God (e.g. Revelation 19:10 and 22:9).

 

3. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – the Triune God

Although there are three Persons in the glorious Godhead, all of whom are to be worshipped, there are not three objects of worship, but one. Neither are there three kinds of worship. There are not three objects because these three Persons are the same One infinite God, who is the object of worship.

(a) Although the three Persons are really distinct each from other; yet, none of them is really distinct from the essence of the Godhead. Therefore, the Father is the same object of Worship as the Son, because they are the same God.

(b) Although both the Father and the Son are infinite there are not two infinitenesses but the same infiniteness and immenseness, which belongs to both the Fathers and the Son. These are essential to their being and so are common to all the Persons of the Godhead, Although their personal properties are distinct yet their essential attributes are in common. They are not distinct objects but one and the same  object. Worship has regard to their essential attribute and the Godhead, which is common to all three Persons. It is the deity (which is One) which is the formal object of worship. Although sometimes these three Persons are named together this does not mean they are distinct Objects. Rather it shows who this one object God is, i.e. the Father, Son and Spirit, three Persons of the same one indivisible Godhead. God is “one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Durham goes on to stress the practical implications of this.

1. The mind of the worshipper is not to be distracted in seeking to comprehend or order, in his thoughts, three distinct Persons as distinct objects of worship but rather to conceive reverently of one infinite God, who is three Persons.

2. Whatever person is named, we are not to think that the others are less worshipped. Rather in one act we worships one God and thus the Father, Son and Spirit.

3. Naming one Person after having named another (e.g. the Father first and afterwards the Son) does not change the object of worship, as if we were praying to another now – it is still the same One God.

4. It is safest not to change between naming the different Persons of the Godhead in prayer because our imaginations are ready to adopt such divided conceptions. This is particularly the case when it is in the hearing of others who may be prone to such thoughts even though we have none. This seems to be the ordinary practice in Scripture.

 

Conclusion

Many have their own ideas of how we should address God and what constitutes worship but we must be governed by Scripture in this. Only what God commands in worship is permitted. This ought to be obvious from the greatness of God and the importance of worship. Something so crucial is not something to be left to changeable human whims and imaginations.

We must be taken up with God in worship not with ourselves or others. Worship must be God-centred or it is not worship. This applies not just to whom we worship but how we worship. If the way in which we worship God is not what God has commanded and required then we are not truly submitting to God and doing true homage to Him. It is illogical that people can ask how we should worship God but then answer that question by asking what is most attractive or comfortable to ourselves or others. Have we forgotten who we are worshipping and what worship is?

One of our leaflets explores this question.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

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Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together
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.
24 Feb, 2017

Zeal is not cool in our culture. Most people picture a wild-eyed fanatic when they think about religious zeal. In a world that pursues the shallow and values self-satisfied composure, zeal is odd. The world is at best cool towards it. When being pragmatic and popular are of greatest value, the Church too is less comfortable with zeal. Of course, there is a false religious zeal: being zealous in the wrong way or about the wrong things. The Bible speaks about that, yet most often it emphasises that zeal is vital.

Zeal is essential in spiritual things. It is being single-minded towards the glory of God – to see God glorified in every possible way. It is a burning desire to please God and that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Had Luther and the other Reformers lacked zeal, they would not have pursued Reformation. Christ Himself had an all-consuming zeal (John 2:17) and we often read of the zeal of the Lord in Scripture. Do we have the spirit of the Reformers today?

There is an especially helpful treatment of reforming zeal in a sermon by Oliver Bowles (d.1674) preached during the time of the Second Reformation.  Bowles was a member of the Westminster Assembly and preached the sermon before both Houses of Parliaments on a day of fasting. It is called “Zeal for God’s House Quickened” and particularly focuses on the eminent zeal required in Church reformers. It is also useful for understanding the nature of zeal more generally in spiritual things. He expounds the example of the Lord Jesus Christ’s consuming and reforming zeal in John 2:17. There are updated extracts in what follows.

Bowles explains why he has focused on zeal: (a) it is the direct opposite of lukewarmness “the most dangerous and yet the epidemic disease of our time”; (b) no one grace promotes the work of reformation more than zeal; and (c) nothing commends a reformer more in the eyes of God and man.

This is both the most excellent and the most difficult work, therefore Church-reformation calls for the utmost zeal. Our love to promote that work must be such as many waters cannot quench. Our desires must be enlarged, as those which break through all impediments and accept no denial. Our hope must be more longing, our endeavours full of activity, our hatred of the opposite more perfect and our anger in removing the hindrances more violent. A reformer without zeal is like a body without a soul, a bee without a sting, or salt without flavour.

Bowles was a scholar before becoming a minister in Bedfordshire. He was the author of an important volume of pastoral theology.  He died around the age of ninety. His last words to Timothy Cruso were: “Only remember to keep a good conscience, and walk closely with God.” He repeated them twice with considerable emphasis in order to make a deeper impression.

 

1. What is Zeal?

It is a holy ardour kindled by the Holy Spirit of God in the affections, making a man better to the utmost for God’s glory and the Church’s good. Zeal is not so much a single affection as the intended degree of all. Affections are the motions of the will in doing good or avoiding evil. They are the outgoings of the soul.

 

2. What is True Zeal?

We must make sure our zeal is of the right stamp. As with every other grace, zeal may be (and often is) counterfeited.

(a) It has a true light

False lights can mislead men over dangerous places. We are greatly inclined to be misled when prejudiced by individuals in their reputation, learning and holiness. We must not necessarily accept something merely because it is ancient nor reject it simply because it is new [and vice versa]. Sometimes we engage our judgments hastily before we are able to judge and are then unwilling to retract when we have judged unduly.  We must seek to be sure that things are lawful rather than be carried away by the self-conceitedness of our own opinions whether they are lawful or not. The eye-salve of the Spirit by the Word alone must guide us: “to the law and to the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20).

(b) It is ordered by wisdom

Wisdom includes using the right means to the right end.  There is a kind of impetuosity by which he who is hasty in his matters sins (Isaiah 28:16). On the other hand, there is a spirit of deliberation and counsel. Consider, consult, then give your opinion and then act. A good cause often miscarries by imprudent handling. Ignorance of the right means tires men out pointlessly in their endeavours (Ecclesiastes 10:15).

(c) It is not quarrelsome

Love is and ought to be the orderer of zeal. Love is long-suffering, bears all things and endures all things.  Love knows that a little rupture will quickly be a great one. It prevents them or seeks to make them up speedily. It does not allow the waters of strife any passage, not even a little.  Zeal for God is tenderly respectful of other people. Wildfire that is not zeal casts fire-brands, arrows and deadly words and then says, “I mean no harm” (see Proverbs 26:18-19).

(d) It will not diminish what God commands

Zeal will not diminish even a hoof of what is required. False zeal cries “Let it not belong to either of us but rather be divided between us”. It makes nothing of small matters. True zeal drives on the work of reformation so that it does not leave the least remnants of Baal. It removes all the high places. It recognises that great persecutions have arisen out of small matters. It sees that conscience is a tender thing like the eye and the least mote troubles it.

(e) It is not a mere flash

Many begin well; they are hot and eager while in particular company. When carried along by such support and hopes and not assaulted by trials they are eager and hot in the work of reformation. But when things change outwardly they change inwardly, even to the extent of completely extinguishing their zeal.

(f) It is not worn down by opposition

True zeal, having the cause of God in view, is not worn down by length of time, numerous  discouragements, deserters of the cause and the strength of opposition. Zeal makes men resolute; difficulties only sharpen their fortitude. It steels men’s spirits with undaunted bravery.

 

3. What Regulates Zeal?

(a) Knowledge

Zeal is dangerous when not directed by a well-informed understanding. Like a fire, zeal must have light as well as heat. It is only hell where there is heat and no light but utter darkness. Neither the mind nor zeal can be good without knowledge: The Jews had a zeal that was defective in being not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).

Zeal must not be conjectural, based on that which only seems probable having been received from others without examination. Scripture texts can be quoted frequently and in great numbers but what matters is whether careful examination has proved that they support the claim. Do not take all that glitters for gold.

(b) Wisdom

Zeal must be wary as well as warm. Fire is good, but in a wise man’s hands who will not put it into the thatch. Fire is good in the chimney, but if it catch the rafters of the house it sets it all on fire. Wisdom will not have a reformer to reform in such a way that only succeeds in enraging vice more. Men that mean well are subject to many mischiefs even in their good endeavours, but wisdom is profitable to direct. But beware here also of that over wary discretion that destroys zeal.

(c) Love

Zeal can be harsh but love lines the yoke and makes it easy to bear. Love takes away all bitterness towards others. Love allows us to be warm, sharp and direct in our reproofs, but not scalding hot.  The stomach will not receive that which burns the lips and neither will the ear accept the reproof that is abusive. Love calls us to be zealous for the truth. It calls us to work to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

 

4. What is Reforming Zeal?

(a) Zeal is thorough

It is God’s work and men must not divide it in half.  Corruptions will grow again unless they are pulled up by the roots. Experience shows how partial reformations made way for sad persecutions. Such imperfect proceedings give enemies the hope that we will come round to them again.

(b) Zeal is all-embracing

God delights in active men. What should we be earnest for, if not for God and His cause? Will you be earnest for your friends, profit and pleasures and yet cold for your God?

(c) Zeal is not deterred by danger

When Caleb heard of the difficulties he resolved, “Let us go up at once”. Esther said, “If I perish, I perish”. Paul said, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” It treads under foot all temptations and all hope of great things.

(d) Zeal is not discouraged when contending alone

Zeal is supported by noticing Joshua’s resolution: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. Elijah’s complaint was that he was left alone and Paul says “At my first answering no man assisted me”. Zeal takes notice that numbers begin with one, and that if there had not been one first, there would never have been two.

(e) Zeal is persevering

Many begin in the Spirit, but end in the flesh. How many brave worthies promised fair and promised great things, yet have been shipwrecked on the rock of an unsound heart. They have withered away, if not in the end proved false to God. It is only the overcomer that receives the crown.  When a reformer has heat from heaven rather than from mere outward causes, zeal will persevere.

 

Conclusion

Reformation is an urgent necessity in our personal lives and our families as well as in the Church and nation. We will get nowhere without zeal. And as Bowles concludes “what remains but that I commend you to God, and the Word of His grace who alone must enable you for it, and without whom all that is done will come to nothing”. “If you go on to do the Lord’s work with wisdom and courage, God will certainly go along with you”. “The God of heaven…raise and keep up your spirits, clothe you with zeal, fit you for all encounters and make way for you through all difficulties”.

 
 
 

Oliver Bowles

“Whatever you part with…part not with your zeal, let this be your honour and crown.”

Bowles was a member of the Westminster Assembly and gave this counsel in preaching to the Assembly and the Houses of Parliament in 1643.

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Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion

Surviving a Time of Moral Implosion
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
3 Jun, 2016

Our culture has certainly self-destructed–morally speaking. Values have been turned upside down. We can also discern things collapsing in on themselves spiritually. This is because sin constantly pushes towards self-destruction. These are times when nations and Churches seem to have destroyed themselves just like Israel (Hosea 13:9). Will the Church survive? Will we and our children come through it with the same faith and values? Other generations have been here before us. We can learn much from those in the past who brought God’s truth to bear on their situation.

The period following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 was marked by spiritual self-destruction. The Covenanters in Scotland faced a tyrannical attack on the spiritual independence of the Church. These were times of persecution for those who sought to remain faithful. Along with hundreds of other faithful ministers, William Guthrie of Fenwick was forced out of his pulpit. His ministry had been accompanied by true revival.

The Wednesday before his final service was observed as a day of humiliation and prayer. Guthrie preached about Israel’s self-destruction from Hosea 13:9. The point was clear: Scotland had reached the same point of self-destruction. Years later, while being hunted down by soldiers, Richard Cameron preached at a hill-side gathering from the same text.

we have it in commission to say to the Church of Scotland: “Thou hast destroyed thyself, O Church of Scotland, O ministers of Scotland, O commons and people of all sorts in Scotland, ye have destroyed yourselves”

 

1. Is it Really that Bad?

In our generation, which champions self-esteem and self-confidence, this is not a palatable message. Not everyone can see the reality of moral self-destruction. As Guthrie observed: “No doubt there are many, who think there is no wrath on Scotland. They think that we are in a good condition and have not destroyed ourselves”.

Guthrie referred to the force raid on the Church which dismantled its biblical worship and government. “All our precious things are taken captive by the adversary”. Ministers had been banished, imprisoned or prevented from their work. Godless men had taken their place. “Do you not yet see, how the land is ruined and destroyed, and the flocks of the Lord’s people scattered? And are these things and many more no evidences of God’s wrath?”

 

2. What Can We Do About It?

Guthrie observed much prayer but not much evidence of being “humbled and weeping”. “The Lord’s people meet and pray, and there is no answer returned, but one ill upon the back of another”. Sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond to such violent moral changes. Perhaps we feel wearied by the onslaught and at times even confused.

Guthrie believed that our weakness and lack of understanding results from sin. “Why are God’s people so faint hearted and weak? Are there not many of you faint-hearted? Is not your spirit and courage and ability to be valiant for the truth gone? And is that no evidence of wrath?” “Israel has sinned, and therefore his heart is faint and his hands feeble. He has fled from the pursuer”.

Why is there such weakness? It is due to sin and lack of real conviction about our sin. We must see that we have much for which we should repent. We must abandon the idea that we are completely immune from the moral self-destruction around us. This is the only way to survive a time of moral self-destruction in the nation and professing Church. Guthrie poses some searching rapid fire questions about our response to moral self-destruction.

  • have we been silent before the Lord under our conviction?
  • have we been busy in searching out the sins by which we have destroyed ourselves and others?
  • have we been quick to turn from the sins we have discovered?
  • have we diligently pled at the throne of grace for pardon and peace with God and the loosing of our bonds?
  • have we been ashamed at every new declaration of wrath because of our responsibility for it?
  • would we be satisfied with no release or deliverance unless the Lord frees us from the yoke of our sins and heals our backslidings?
  • have we been brought to submit to God afflicting us in any way He sees fit?
  • have we been zealously stirred up against sin when newly exposed by God’s judgements?

 

3. What Have We Done to Bring it About?

Guthrie’s message is unusual. His reflections on the moral implosion affecting the land are not detached social commentary. Neither were they merely a passionate denunciation of social evils. It is easy for us to consider moral self-destruction within the Church and nation in a detached way. We observe God’s sovereign judgements and discern the intentions of those who are enemies to the cause of truth. We might be able to acknowledge that sin has had a ruinous impact on the Church of God. Yet it is difficult to be truly and thoroughly convicted that we personally have any responsibility.

We need to go beyond even a generalised conviction about our sin and its consequences to being sorely convicted in an abiding way about particular sins we have committed. Guthrie observed that few had arrived at this point.

Guthrie speaks directly about the sins of different groups within society. He addresses the specific sins of ministers in their office. Then he speaks to elders and deacons about their omissions. He addresses leaders in society, servants and people in general. Lastly, he comes to make solemn charges against professing Christians.

  1. I charge you with falling from your first love, evidenced by falling away from your former diligence.
  2. I charge you that all your religious duties are a matter of form.
  3. I charge you with slothfulness, in giving to the Lord the refuse of your time and serving Him by fits and starts.
  4. I charge you with worldly-mindedness.  Covetousness has overwhelmed everyone.
  5. I charge you with inordinate affections to every idol that comes in your way.
  6. I charge you with pride and self-conceit, and despising those who do not come up to your standard
  7. I charge you with unbelief and ignorance of God and his Word.
  8. I charge you with a decay of the substance of true religion. This includes lack of tenderness of conscience, prizing the promises, zeal for the glory of God and against sin. Christian fellowship has been abused and neglected.

 

4. What Hope is There?

It is clear that Guthrie believed that the pressing need was to set time aside to mourn over such sins and seek for grace to help against them. The message of hope was that the Lord will hear and give some help and deliverance, if not their condition would only get worse. Hosea 13:9 does not just speak about the Church and nation destroying itself.  It also offers the hope that their help is in God alone.  This is truly encouraging and bright with hope: “notwithstanding we have destroyed ourselves, yet there is hope of help in Him”. “If Israel was thoroughly convicted that he has destroyed himself, there would be hope that God would be Israel’s help”.

The people of God should not despair even though their condition seems to be irrecoverable.  It seems so to you, but it is not so to God. The things that are impossible to men are not impossible to God. What though God smite us all down, if He does good to our souls and teaches us out of His law? What though we lie under these folk’s feet for a time? He will make our worst condition best.  What though we lack public ordinances for a while, if He prove a little sanctuary to us? What though He shatters all outward worldly helps (showing their emptiness) since He can help either by ordinary or extraordinary means? Let us never be discouraged and lose heart. If the heart is gone, all is gone.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

The book from which this updated extract has been selected has now been published. It’s spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context. It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended. Purchase here.

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Is This Missing Note Making Your Worship Empty?

Is This Missing Note Making Your Worship Empty?

Is This Missing Note Making Your Worship Empty?
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.
4 Sep, 2015

The missing note is not of course primarily musical, but we often express it in the minor key. Confession of sin no longer has the place that it once had in Christian worship. We’re thinking of corporate confession of sin to God through prayer or praise.

Increasingly, this note is drowned out or else has faded. One recent article notes the seriousness of this. It says that confession is “one of the defining marks of a Christian’s identity”. While non-Christians refuse to confess their sins to God, Christians must repent of their sin. Another article speaks of it as an essential element of response to the gospel.

 

1. Lost Language of Confession

But why have churches (that profess the gospel) stopped confessing sin in worship? We need to understand the problem so that we can make sure it is addressed. This is not merely an important omission but something that empties worship of its reality. No confession, no true worship. God will not accept our worship without confession (Psalm 66:18). We cannot expect to have fellowship with God and enjoy His presence and blessing without it.

 

2. Lost Language of Faith

The way we worship reflects what we believe and vice versa. Perhaps confession of sin is disappearing due to a false view of the gospel and forgiveness. For instance, there is the popular idea that if we have been justified we don’t have to confess our sins, they have been pardoned already.

In Truth’s Victory Over Error, David Dickson counters this error from Scripture. Along with the Westminster Confession of Faith, he asserts that everyone is bound to make confession of their sins to God and pray for pardon.

1. Whoever calls on God the Father in their prayers ought to seek daily forgiveness of sin (Luke 11:2-4).

2. God commends and delights in, serious confession of sins and grief for them (Jeremiah 31:18-20; Luke 7:44; Isaiah 66:2).

3. There is a promise that the sins that justified believers confess will be forgiven (Proverbs 28:13; Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1.9).

4.  Those that mourn are declared blessed (Matthew 5:4).

5. If the Spirit dwells in us He works in us continual groaning and sorrow for sin. He is greatly weighed down with the burden of our sins (Romans 7:23-24; Romans 8:26).

6. True repentance renews the image of God which was lost (or at least greatly defaced) by committing sin. The renewal of the image of God is not perfected in sanctification, it is only begun. It daily increases through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection (Ephesians 4:19-24).

7. Believers such as David, Josiah, Peter, and others confessed their sins. They grieved for them and begged forgiveness as justified Christians (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51; 2 Kings 22:19; Nehemiah 9; Mark 14:72).

Where biblical emphasis on repentance has been lost, this note of confession will disappear from worship. Where the Westminster Confession is neglected or discarded, this clear teaching will diminish over time.

 

3. Lost Language of Worship

Evangelicals have largely lost the ability to define worship in terms of what Scripture requires. Worship is now focussed around what pleases man and makes him comfortable. It is not surprising that confession of sin has been lost as a consequence. Genuine confession is not a comfortable experience.

Only God can appoint the worship that pleases Him. We have lost the biblical principle that God not man defines worship. As a result, we have lost the note of confession that God requires.

If we paid attention to the forms of prayer in Scripture it would be clear to us. Confession is an indispensable element within the prayers of Scripture. This note would then be within the warp and woof of our prayers in private. We would see the need for confession of sin in prayer. It would have a vital place in family worship also (see our published guide Family Worship for guidance on confession in family worship)

It is no surprise that David Dickson refers to Psalm 51:4,5,7,9 and Psalm 32:5-6 as key verses that prove confession is sin is necessary for believers. The Psalms are full of confession. Many of them begin in confession and end in praise. They were appointed for public worship. This fact alone makes it unmistakably clear that Scripture requires confession in public worship.

This is why the Westminster Assembly produced guidance on public worship that emphasises confession in public prayer. Their Directory of Public Worship is explicit. In the updated language of the booklet Reformed Worship it reads.

“The minister who is to preach is to try to get his own and his hearers’ hearts to be conscious of their sins and truly grieved for them. This is so that they all mourn before the Lord and hunger and thirst after the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The minister should do this by leading the congregation in prayer. He calls on the Lord and confesses sin publicly with shame and holy confusion of face”.

The article first referred to above considers that confession isn’t “a requirement in every worship service”. Apparently, this “could give the impression that God is constantly angry with us and we can only approach Him after doing penance”. The question is: do we or do we not constantly sin? Omitting confession gives the impression that we don’t sin daily in thought, word and deed. It suggests we may sometimes be free from the guilt of sin. Neglecting confession diminishes the holiness of God in our eyes. It ignores the hardening power of sin. That it is exceedingly sinful and deceitful. What does God’s Word say? God has said clearly that He will not receive our prayer without confession (Psalm 66:18). It should, of course, go without saying that any true confession must lay hold of “the mercy of God in Christ”.

 

4. Lost Language of Praise

Having lost the Psalms from public worship, the evangelical Church has lost the key to the language and character of true worship. We are taught about the structure of our worship in the Psalter. The Psalms also put the Holy Spirit’s language of confession into our mouths. Yet contemporary churches discard these in favour of man-made songs that may or may not include confession of sin. Even when they do so, the language may or may not be biblically accurate. When we sing the Psalms we can be confident that we are confessing sin in the right language to the right extent and proportion.

The growing neglect of confession of sin in public worship is only a symptom of deeper problems in the Church. Key truths and principles that undergird this practice have also been neglected. These are the principles that we need to recover if we seek genuine worship that honours God and enjoys His blessing.

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Your Labour in the Gospel is Not in Vain

Your Labour in the Gospel is Not in Vain

Your Labour in the Gospel is Not in Vain
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.
24 Jul, 2015

Although we live in a comparatively barren generation spiritually, there may be opportunities of ripeness that we should seize. George Hutcheson says:

Ministers should not neglect such opportunities since they will not regain them easily.  He compares the condition of such people to fields already white to harvest.  They cannot neglect such a season without great damage and loss of grain.

White to Harvest is a free e-booklet by George Hutcheson that opens up John 4:35-38. He shows how a people may be ripe for the gospel. It is an updated extract from Hutcheson’s commentary on the Gospel of John. It contains much helpful instruction for those who desire to see the gospel flourish.

Even though we may see little success from gospel labours we can be encouraged that they may produce a spiritual harvest in the future.

The Lord sees fit in His deep wisdom not to let all His servants have either the same difficulties or success in their calling.  He lets some have hard work in preparing ground for Christ and sowing the precious seed. Yet these leave this world before any remarkable fruit of that work appears.  He may let others see very rich fruits from their labours in their own time. Thus, the prophets were sowers and the apostles reapers.  One laboured with little visible success the other brought in many, sometimes even with one sermon.

Those who labour faithfully in the Lord’s work may not experience much visible success. Yet they are neither disapproved of nor useless but are doing useful service in their generation.  They are working to help others who will reap the fruit of their labours. The prophets were sowers and the apostles entered into their labours and reaped the fruit of their sowing.

Christ said that the apostles were sent to reap where they had not laboured. Other men had laboured and they now entered into their labours (see John 4:37-38). This is how we must view the heritage of the Second Reformation. We do not need to engage in the hard toil of creating the foundations of reformation, we can simply make use of them in our own day. We have richly spiritual writings from men that have laboured in word and doctrine that we can also enjoy. If this is so the duty that lies on us in our generation is to seek fruit from this as far as we can. We also labour for a harvest to His glory, whether or not it is brought in during our time in this world.

White to Harvest

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White to Harvest by George Hutcheson opens up the way in which a people may be ripe for the gospel. He explains and applies the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in from John 4:35-38. It is of particular relevance to those who labour to see souls brought to Christ. It will also benefit all who desire the gospel to flourish. Ministers labour in comparatively barren times today but there is encouragement here that their work is not in vain. It is an updated extract from George Hutcheson’s highly regarded Commentary on the Gospel of John.

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The Future Transformation of the World

The Future Transformation of the World

The Future Transformation of the World
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.
3 Jul, 2015

Psalm 22 ends with a prophecy of the increased glory of the kingdom of Christ in this world. It will encompass “all ends of the earth” (v27). A previous post looked at these words. In his Commentary on the Psalms, David Dickson comments upon verses 29-31 also showing the full extent of this transformation.

1. Kings, rulers, and magistrates will have no reason to be jealous of Christ’s kingdom and His governing nations. Those who embrace Jesus Christ retain their places, honours, riches, and all the lawful benefits of their welfare in this world (or “fatness”).  They will also partake of the delicacies of the Lord’s house. They will satisfy their souls so much that they will esteem His gospel their most choice feast. They will bless God for His consolations. This is promised to all Christ’s true subjects who are in high place. “All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship”.

 

2. The highest condition in this world will not be hindered by obeying Christ but rather helped for the benefit of the true believer. Believers will find relief even if they are in the lowest condition in which they can possibly be on earth. They will also find comfort and that Jesus Christ makes up for all that they lack.  They will  fall down and worship their rich and bountiful Lord. “All that go down to the dust shall bow before Him”.

 

3. Whoever will not come to Christ to be saved by Him will perish. Those that come to Him must have their salvation maintained by Him. For “none can keep alive his own soul”.  This is the proper work of Jesus who is the only Saviour.

 

4. Not every individual in every nation and kingdom will be converted to Christ. Yet so many people  from all ranks and all nations will be converted that it will make Christ’s power and sovereignty evident. He is able to conquer subjects to himself as He pleases. He will have enough to continue His kingdom and a succession of His worshippers from one generation to another. For “a seed shall serve Him, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation”. He will take little account of the rest, i.e. such as He does not convert.

 

5. There may seem to be little evidence from age to age of these prophecies and promises being fulfilled. Yet the promise and prophecy of Christ’s kingdom being multiplied will be fulfilled. Those who will receive the doctrine of Christ’s righteousness by faith in Him will come. They will declare this righteousness which is by faith. They will declare God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to another generation. “Unto a people that shall be born”.

 

6. God’s glory is manifested by the whole work of redemption. It is also manifested in converting souls, comforting souls and spreading the doctrine of righteousness. From age to age this will be declared to be the work of God Himself. He does this work by the people and means that He uses. They will declare to their children and successors that God has done this. That is that He has done all that is spoken of here or elsewhere in His Word. “They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this”.

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Is the Future of Christ’s Kingdom Bright?

Is the Future of Christ’s Kingdom Bright?

Is the Future of Christ’s Kingdom Bright?
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.
19 Jun, 2015

…As bright as the promises of God. That was the response given by Adoniram Judson. These promises are found throughout  Scripture, particularly in the book of Psalms.

Psalm 22 ends with a prophecy of the increased glory of the kingdom of Christ in this world. It will encompass “all ends of the earth” (v27). The extent of their conversion is very fully described. They will remember, turn to Christ, serve Him and worship before Him. In his Commentary on the Psalms, David Dickson expands upon these words and captures for us a glimpse of that latter day glory. The following is extracted and updated from that book. He shows that the natural state of man by the Fall is living in forgetfulness of God, but that grace awakens the soul in conversion to remember its Creator.

These are special prophecies about Christ’s kingdom being enlarged.

1. The Gentiles would be called after Christ’s resurrection. This was agreed and spoken of long before it happened. It has been fulfilled but not in as full a measure as expected in the future. In order for these words to be entirely fulfilled it must happen that all the ends of the world remember and turn to the Lord.

2. As long as men continue in an unconverted state they do not know what they are doing. They are like men sleeping or distracted. They do not even make use of the basic principles of truth and the invisible things of God which can be learned from the light of common reason and created things. Yet, when the light of Christ’s gospel shines into their heart they are made to remember and turn to the Lord.

3. Those who are converted make God the object of their worship, they embrace his ordinances and subject themselves to his laws and discipline. They worship before Him, become subjects to Him because He has powerfully subdued them to Himself.  “The kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is governor among the nations”.

 

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