Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
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.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times
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.
30 Apr, 2020

From financial struggles and other anxieties and fears in the midst of uncertainty to quarantine fatigue, this is a crisis with many added difficulties. And it affects those worst who struggle with some of these things at the best of times. Then there are the deep spiritual burdens as we seek to understand and respond in a sanctified way. We hear the mantra “Everything will be all right”. All kinds of strategies are recommended. But at best they merely distract from rather than engage with our concerns. Sometimes it seems that the coronavirus has changed everything. But there are some things that are still the same because they are enduring, unchanging and unshakable. We can find solid encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.

People feel the need to share messages of encouragement at this time. One man in Barcelona is even projecting messages of encouragement on the facade of a building every day. Many take their encouragement from the strength and resilience of others. We are certainly to be thankful for the selfless sacrifice and dedication of many individuals. There are many mercies received in the midst of trying circumstances. We trust also that there are some who are being brought to consider eternal realities more. We can be thankful that God is in various ways restraining open sin and humbling the pride of those who neglect and reject Him. Where, however, can we find the greatest messages of encouragement?

Edmund Calamy, preaching before the House of Lords in 1643 in a time of war needed to find encouragements for the leaders of Parliament. They were engaged in formal thanksgiving for the thwarting of an armed uprising against Parliament. But Calamy went much higher than the people and events around them in seeking encouragements. They were facing a war and the current crisis has often been compared to a battle. In this updated extract, he gives us an enduring example of where we should look for encouragements in difficult times.

1. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING GOD

I think I hear God say to you as He does to Joshua “Be strong and of a good courage…strong and very courageous”. He promised that He would be with him everywhere he went (Joshua 1:6-7, 9). Joshua encouraged the people of Israel the Lord was with them and they should not therefore fear their enemies no matter how great they were (Numbers 14:7 see also Exodus 14:13-14). The God whose cause you manage is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, He has not brought us into depths to drown us, but to wash away our spiritual filthiness. It is not to destroy us, but to manifest His power in our deliverance. He will deliver us by weak means, and by contrary means. He will strike straight strokes with crooked sticks; as He made the treachery of Joseph’s brethren to be a means to advance Joseph, and the falseness of Judas to be a way to save all His elect children.

2. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING PROMISES

Here are six promises like six pillars to undergird our spirits from falling into discouragements. Cast yourselves into the bosom of these promises. (Exodus 23:22-23; Leviticus 26:6-8; Deuteronomy 28:7; 1 Samuel 25:28; Isaiah 41: 10-17; Isaiah 54:17). The last promise belongs to all God’s people, because it is said to be the heritage of the servants of the Lord.

3. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXAMPLES

We cannot be in a lower condition than Jonah was when he was in the whale’s belly. It was like a living grave. Yet God commanded the whale to deliver him safe ashore. We cannot be in a worse condition than Jeremiah was when he was in the dungeon. He sank in the mire so deep that thirty men could hardly lift him up. We cannot be in a worse condition than Peter was when he was ready to sink, or than Moses when put in an ark of bull-rushes. Or than the children of Israel in Babylon, who were like dry bones in the grave, so that Ezekiel himself could not tell whether they could live. Or as Peter when put in prison by Herod.

Yet God sent an Ethiopian to deliver Jeremiah. Jesus Christ reached out His hand to keep Peter from sinking. God sent Pharaoh’s daughter to preserve Moses. He sent Cyrus to deliver Israel out of Babylon. And He sent his angel to deliver Peter out of prison. Indeed, Peter himself did not believe it any more than the Church that was praying for him. God sent them an answer to their prayers, while they were praying, but they did not believe it.

God has often done so for us. Comfort one another with these examples and take this home for your everlasting consolation. God never permits his children to meet with a huge unmovable difficulty such as the stone before the door of the sepulchre without sending some angel or other to move it away.

4. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING CAPTAIN

Jesus Christ came into the world, when the Jews were in the saddest condition, in the depth of slavery (for the sceptre was departed from Judah) and in the depth of divisions, for they had so many different sects, as they could hardly tell what religion they were of. In this sad condition Shiloh came. Let us implore Jesus Christ to come to our nation in this low condition and to bring peace with Him.

Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth for our sakes, and whose love is a depth that cannot be fathomed (Ephesians 3:17-18). The depths of our misery call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national.

5. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING COMPANY

You have the Lord of Hosts to accompany you and God’s people.

6. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING WEAPONS

These weapons are prayers, tears, fasting and humbling ourselves. Ambrose encouraged Augustine’s mother that a son for whom so many tears were shed could not be lost. So I say, and I hope prove to be a true prophet, that a nation for whom so many prayers and tears are made shall not be destroyed. God never yet destroyed a nation where there were many of his children praying, fasting, and humbling
themselves.

7. YOU HAVE THE ENCOURAGING PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The great and wise God, who is our Father, has from all eternity decreed what the outcome of these troubles will be. There is nothing done in the lower house of parliament upon earth, but what is decreed in the higher house of parliament in heaven.

All the lesser wheels are ordered and overruled by the upper wheels. There is a story about a young man at sea in a mighty tempest. When all the passengers were at their wits end for fear, he was only cheerful.  When he was asked the reason, he answered that the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would care for him. Our heavenly Father is our pilot, He sits at the stern and though the ship of the kingdom is ready to sink, be of good comfort our pilot will care for us. Are not five sparrows (says Christ) sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God? One sparrow is not worth half a farthing. You will not have half a farthing’s worth of harm more than God has from all eternity decreed.

It is no great matter (in Christ’s opinion) to have the body killed. The body is only the cabinet, the jewel is the soul. And if the jewel will be safe in heaven, it does not greatly matter to have the cabinet broken.

8. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXPERIENCES

It is observable that when Moses went up to the mount to pray, he took the rod of God in his hand. The reason is because by that rod God had previously done wonderful things for His people. The very sight of that rod encouraged Moses to trust in God from the experience of His former goodness. Let us never go to our prayers without carrying the rod of God in our hand and heart. I mean the solemn and serious contemplation of God’s former wonderful goodness. Let us say with the apostle, “Notwithstanding the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the LORD shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

CONCLUSION

Here are many encouragements to continue in prayer and not give up. We need to search out the promises that can properly be used in prayer on behalf of Church and nation. We need to cry out of the depths to the Lord. As Calamy says the depths of our misery need to “call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national”.

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Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken
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.
10 Apr, 2020

The current crisis is impacting every nation of the world. The extent and duration of that is uncertain but it will impact on almost everyone’s lives. Everything seems to be shaking: companies and economies, political systems, health provision, entertainment, social norms and churches. It is a troubling time when foundations are exposed. A time of shaking should lead us to consider the things that cannot be shaken. There is a purpose in shaking all things so that those things that cannot be shaken remain (Hebrews 12:17-28). Most of all it directs us to Christ.

That passage in Hebrews chapter 12 refers to Haggai 2:6-7 which speaks of how the nations would be shaken to make way for the coming of Christ to His temple. He is called there “the desire of all nations”. he is the light, life, and desire of all all that will put their trust in Him among the nations. There were great shakings and changes with the way that the Old Testament Church and its ceremonies were removed. It is Christ Himself that says “I will fill this house with glory as is clear from (Hebrews 12:24-26).

The world has been shaken by the transforming power of the gospel having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Such things will happen from time to time, from nation to nation to establish Christ’s glory and kingdom. Christ comes in power in many ways not necessarily in person. He comes in revival, reformation and judgment. He comes in power in the preaching of the gospel. We do not have any special insight into what is happening and why but we know that the purposes of God are prospering in Christ’s hand (Isaiah 53:10). His ultimate purpose is His own glory and the establishing of His kingdom. We do not intend to second guess how and when this will happen but we know that this is Christ’s ultimate purpose whatever we may witness in the immediate future.

George Hutcheson explains more of what we can learn from Haggai 2:7 in the following updated extract. As we consider it may we be encouraged to pray expectantly for Christ’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can certainly pray that even during this crisis many will be brought into contact with the Word and gospel of Christ for their eternal good.

1. The nations are shaken to establish the glory of Christ

Christ manifested in the flesh, is in Himself the only desirable and lovely one. If He were known He would be seen to be desirable and the only choice of all. His own in all nations will be made to desire and flee to Him until the time that the fulness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). He is described here as the desire of all nations as well as the Lord whom the Jews sought (Malachi 3:1). This is in relation to His excellence and His purposes concerning them. It also refers to what would be the outcome of His manifestation according to the prophecy in Genesis 49:10.

2. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s worship

The way of God’s worship and of the Church, established by Christ at His coming in the flesh is unalterable in its own nature.  It is to continue without any new forms or ways until God once for all shakes and dissolves heaven and earth. There may be many commotions even until the end of the world. This is for it to get a footing where it had none and restoring where it has been dispossessed. The ceremonial law was removed to make room for the gospel way of worship, yet this was “once” (v6) with no alteration after that.

Christ manifested in the flesh and His presence in His Gospel make up for the lack of outward visible glory amongst a people and the lack of external grandeur in worship. It is promised, “the desire of all nations shall come” and “I will fill this house with glory”. 

3. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s kingdom

The Lord will shake and overturn all things rather than His Word fail and His people lack promised help. As all nations have their own time of shaking and commotion, so every such situation does not declare ruin.  Sometime it is the fore-runner of Christ’s coming in a gospel reformation, especially where Christ becomes precious and desirable to a people. He declares His power would be employed for fulfilling His promises. He would “shake all nations” and then “the desire of all nations shall come”.

4. The nations are shaken to remove opposition to Christ 

There is much opposition in the way of Christ’s kingdom and gospel in the world. There is especially much opposition in people’s own stubborn hearts. Christ both can and will remove this where He has a special purpose of good. There must therefore be strange shakings of nations and individuals before Christ and the gospel can have their due place or use. He therefore shakes heaven and earth and all nations before this great mercy can be put in place or they are prepared for it. This so  that the desire of all nations will come.

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The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter
Donald Cargill (1627 – 1681) was the minister of the Barony Church Glasgow who was dismissed for a protest against the celebration of the restoration of Charles II in 1662. He went on to preach in Covenanter field meetings until he was eventually captured and executed.
24 Mar, 2020

Many countries are now under a stay-at-home order. We must hope and pray that a successful lockdown builds the capacity of the health system, slows the rate of Covid-19 infection and reduces potential deaths. It is an unprecedented experience that changes everything in society. A similar order given in the USA is sometimes called a “shelter in place” warning. The basic principle and purpose of safety is the same, but it carries additional associations of shelter from storm or violence. As we draw on the truths of Psalm 91 in prayer, these thoughts ought to draw our minds to the only absolutely safe place of shelter. It is not physical shelter but spiritual, found under the shadow of God’s wings. We can have strong confidence there. That is the only place of security and safety for our souls.

A different storm (one of persecution) surrounded those who listened to Donald Cargill preach his final sermon in the Pentland hills. The verse he had chosen was both striking and “soul-refreshing”. Isaiah 26:20-21 is God’s invitation to His people to find shelter in Him from the coming judgment. Faith responds to God’s call to enter into the place of spiritual refuge in a time of judgment. Cargill therefore directed them to trust in Christ and His promises.

The Lord was going to come “out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:21). “He will not only go through Scotland, but He will go through other nations also”. “God is coming not only to judge for every oppression and bloodshed, but also for every hidden iniquity in the heart. The Judge is coming to judge, and it is for all iniquity. It is a wonder that men will not believe this. It will be found that many are sleeping in their sins and living quietly in their iniquity, and are not striving against it”. Even if we are in the most secure physical shelter with enough food to survive the crisis we are not safe from God’s judgment unless we hide in His mercy. We need a spiritual shelter from a spiritual threat.

Cargill shows how this verse is God’s call to His people in such times. They must make their “refuge under the shadow of His wings, until these sad calamities pass over, and the dove come back with the olive leaf in her mouth”.

One of those who heard him said that the sermon was full of the preacher’s concern for the souls of those before him. “He preached from experience, and went to the experience of all that had any of the Lord’s gracious dealing with their souls. It came from his heart, and went to the heart…his words went through them”. The following is an updated extract from the sermon.

1. God’s Call to His Shelter

(a) A call to get out of the way of judgment

“Come, my people.” God is sensitive to His people’s spiritual safety. But, sadly few of them are so sensitive to it themselves as to hear God. He is speaking kindly to them, to make haste into their “chambers” [i.e. God’s shelter]. This is His counsel and command to them. He commands you to set aside all other things and to strive to get a place of refuge near God. He has a great work to do and He would have you make provision in view of an approaching storm.

(b) A call to enter into God’s shelter

Enter into your chambers, He says. That is a warning. But they are also to “shut” the “doors” around them and make it all secure front and back. Leave no open doors because divine justice will make an astonishingly close search, and will pry into the least recess.

(c) A call to hide ourselves in God

It is good for us and for our advantage to be there until the wrath is over. We are never to come out of these “chambers” of God’s presence. It will be well forever with those who have entered into these divine “chambers” of safety.

2. What is God’s Shelter?

(a) God’s providential care

It is the soul committing itself to God’s providential care. We are all likely to meet with a storm. There are few who commit themselves to God. There is too little committing ourselves to God. When they are overtaken with temptations, many think their own intelligence or wisdom will help them but indeed it will not. This is why so many yield to the enemy. They are not taking themselves to God’s shelter. Their heart fails them and they forget to flee into them.

(b) Safety, pleasure and delight in God

For delight, these chambers are a palace. For strength, protection, and defence, they are castles. They are chambers of both safety and pleasure. They are God Himself who is all in all to the believer. They are a palace of defence from the wrath of God, for it never pursues a man within these chambers. They are places of delight, safety, security, and strength.

It is no wonder, then, that a soul desires to be near God and within this shelter. There they have all their soul can desire. There is nothing can frighten or terrify the soul of a believer, when they have entered in. These chambers of God’s presence are for “a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest” (Isaiah 32:2). Safety, pleasure and delight are to be found in them. Happy is the soul delighted with them! There is nothing to harm him when a storm of wrath is outside on the world.

3. How Does God’s Mercy Provide Shelter?

The safety of man lies in the mercy of God. Man’s safety in a time of indignation lies in God’s mercy, and your duty is to take yourselves to it.  A soul must take itself to the mercy of God,  if it would put itself into these chambers. But when we speak of God’s mercy and taking ourselves to it, we do not mean that these two have an equal share. No, the mercy of God comes before duty, for it is the love and mercy of God that stir us up to duty. The Lord must both do His own part, and stir us up, and enable us to do our part too. It is the mercy of God, properly, that does the whole work; and though He enables us to be doing, yet we must do all in His strength. It is God’s mercy when He does it alone, and it is His mercy when He does it with us. In what way does mercy work?

(a) Warning us of judgment before it comes

We all need much warning from God to flee out of the way of His wrath. Those who have their soul hid are happy. It is great wisdom to be out of the way of wrath. They are happy who cannot think to be one moment out of such a safety and  life. Sometimes they delight to draw sweetness from Him.

We have received much warning but it is little taken notice of. God summons and warns us. He assures us that wrath is approaching, but sadly these warnings make so little impression on us. They are lost to many of us. Woe to us that we have not made better use of them. God has warned us sooner and later, but it has had little or no effect, if it has not made us more complacent.

(b) Causing us to believe the warning

You who believe and accept warning, it is the mercy of God which gives you a new heart to do so. It causes you to make provision against the day of wrath. Those are happy who come before the judgment seat of God having made their acquaintance and peace with the Judge. They have got near to God and made peace with Him, the Judge is their friend. Have you made sure of everything and provision for defence?

(c) Providing shelter for us

His people have no more to do except flee to these chambers and hide themselves from wrath. The Lord will not execute judgment until chambers have been provided, and then the people of God need not fear. Chambers are provided for all that will flee to them. Will you die among God’s enemies? You are seen complying among the rest of God’s enemies, and those who do so have no reason to look for these chambers of protection from Him.

4. How Do We Enter God’s Shelter?

What will put a soul into these divine chambers? Nothing but faith. Faith both opens and shuts the doors. It opens the doors for us to enter in, and it shuts the doors behind us when we are entered into these chambers of God’s presence. No soul can enter in without faith. No soul can be in safety except within these chambers. None can enter in except by faith.

(a) Enter

There must be an entering in. This is committing ourselves to God and covenanting with Him by faith. You must commit yourselves to Him in time and not go back any more to the entanglements of the world.

(b) Shut the doors

Make all secure behind you. Wrath will pursue you, and if you take too long to flee to these chambers, wrath will overtake you. The wrath of God will never come to any person who has got into these chambers and got the doors shut behind him. Well, then, shut the doors, and make all sure behind you by engaging yourself to God in covenant. Justice will examine you strictly; if you leave merely a window unshut He will find you. Therefore make everything sure in time.

(c) Hide

Hide yourselves. Enter in. Hiding and entering in are the same. This makes everything sure with God. Where will you hide yourselves? In Him; for there is no other hiding place than in Him. “A man shall be a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of waters in a dry place, and as a shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). These are chambers of defence and well furnished. Be serious for yourselves and make all secure. Shut the doors behind you, and God will never tell you to go out again. Rest there till the dove come to the ark with the olive leaf in her mouth.

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The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Deception

The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Deception

The Most Dangerous Kind of Self-Deception
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
13 Mar, 2020

If the most dangerous form of deception is self-deception, then we must know the most dangerous way of deceiving ourselves. There are all kinds of ways we may overestimate our good qualities or be blind to reality. Scripture warns about deceiving ourselves in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 3:18; James 1:22,26). But when it concerns our eternal good it is of infinite concern. That is unsettling of course, but Scripture does seriously and frequently warn us about this (Matthew 7:20-22). The heart is supremely deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). That is why we need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 139:23-24). We may be able to deceive ourselves but God is not deceived (Galatians 6:7-8). If we simply brush it off for ourselves or pull back from warning others, what are the consequences? It is not just a blight of nominal Christianity on the Church, it is eternal ruin.

We do not want people to be always questioning the reality of God’s grace when it is really there. We want the freeness and fulness of the grace of the gospel to be embraced and enjoyed. But there is also the real danger of a reckless false assurance. Some think that they can make a profession with their mouth while their lives are professing something very different. Others take comfort from all their activity in the life of the Church or how much they know. Surely this means they are the real thing?

We need to address this urgent question. “God knows their/my heart” is too easy a reflex response to avoiding seriously searching questions. Are we blurring the distinction between a real and an empty profession? Andrew Gray sounds a warning note from Galatians 6:3 in this updated extract.

1. What is Self-Deception?

It is when someone:

  • believes themselves to be that which indeed they are not;
  • thinks they have more than indeed they have;
  • desires not to appear what they really are but desires to appear that which they really are not.

2. Is Self-Deception a Widespread Problem?

Scripture makes it clear this is a significant problem.

  • Scripture commands make it clear that it is a widespread problem (Romans 11:20; Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 3:18).
    (b) Scripture makes it clear that it is not one or two persons but often a whole generation that deceive themselves (Proverbs 30:12). Christ observes I in many (Revelation 3:17) who thought themselves to be rich when they were poor.
    (c) Christ often reproves people for misconceptions about their own spiritual state (Luke 12:57).
    (d) Scripture makes it clear this is a significant problem by giving many marks and evidences of grace for people to examine and test their condition. Why would all these marks of real grace be given in Scripture, if there were not too much self-deception?

3. Why Should We Be Concerned About Self-Deception?

We need to consider the following to be on our guard against self-deception.

(a) Many Are Self-Deceived
Do Not Think of Yourself More Highly Than You Ought. There are many whose delusion will be exposed when Christ will come and judge the world. This is clear from Proverbs 30:12 and Matthew 7:22. It is more than probable that where there is one who does not mistake, there are six who do mistake. I urge you therefore to search, lest God should be provoked to search and find out your iniquity.

(b) It is Very Hard to Undeceive Ourselves
This is an evil that is very hard to drive people away from, “They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return” (Jeremiah 8:5). No matter what anyone says they will go down to their grave with this, “I am in Christ.” It is exceedingly hard for one under the power of this to abandon their mistake.

(c) Self-Deception is Mocking God
It is, as it were, denying the justice and omniscience of God for a person to live under such a mistake. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).

(d) Self-Deception is One of the Greatest Possible Evils
There are seven things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16). But what is that which leads someone to these seven things? It is “a proud look”. If you would not want to make yourselves hateful in the eyes of the Lord, guard against self-deception. There are some who say, “I am holier than thou”; but these are a smoke in His nostrils.

(e) Self-Deception Hardens Us Against the Gospel
There is nothing that hinders the success of the gospel on many men and women’s hearts so much as this: they do not think they need Christ (Proverbs 26:12). There are lies in their right hand, so that they cannot deliver their souls (Isaiah 44:20). The two sorts of people who are furthest away from conversion by the gospel are the presumptuous person and the hypocritical person.

(f) Self-Deception Will Be a Fearful Discovery to Make in Eternity
What a dreadful day some will have who think they are going to heaven, when they will go down to those everlasting flames. They will see their hope has been nothing but as a spider’s web and as a morning dream? I confess, it is one of the most lamentable things to be under this mistaken presumption; it is like an ox going calmly to the slaughter.

4. How Does Self-Deception Happen?

The reason this happens is that many use a false standard for examining themselves and this leads them to a wrong conclusion. Here are the false standards that people use.

(a) An Outward Rather Than Spiritual View of the Law
They use the letter rather than the spiritual meaning of the law than by the spiritual meaning of the law. This was the rule Paul took before his conversion; “I was alive without the law” (Romans 7:9), and, “Concerning…the law, [I was] blameless” (Philippians 3:6). A person may be blameless in their view, according to the letter of the law, to whom Christ will say, “I never knew you: depart from me” (Matthew 7:23). The law reaches to the inward person as well as outwardly. If you never committed one act of iniquity, yet if you think only one evil thought, the law pronounces a curse on you. If many of us sat down to judge ourselves by the spiritual meaning of the law, we might be forced to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am undone.”

(b) Activity Rather than Grace
People judge themselves by their religious activities rather than whether it is done through grace. This is like the Pharisee (Luke 18:12). Judge yourself more by your graces than by your religious duties.

(c) Extraordinary Rather than Ordinary Experience
Some people are ready to judge their condition by the extraordinary experiences they have had rather than their ordinary way of living.

(d) Conscience Rather than the Law
Some people think all is well if their consciences do not speak any evil against them. But the law has much to say to you when your conscience says nothing against you. Some think they can build their eternal blessedness on a peaceful or silent conscience. But do not always believe your conscience.

(e) Good Intentions Rather than Good Practice.
Some say “I have good intentions” when their behaviour is challenged. But if you yourself by your intentions, you may be making a very great mistake. If good intentions could bring someone to heaven, then every slothful person would be in heaven because they have desires (Proverbs 13:4). The gospel and the law require not just intentions but obedience.

(f) Gifts Rather than Grace and Practice.
If you could speak about God like an angel and could understand all the mysteries within the Scriptures, yet still did not practice in some measure what you know, God would say unto you, “I never knew you.”What advantage will you have in knowing alll the excellent things of God, if you do not practice them? If knowledge could have brought people to heaven, Balaam would be a shining star in heaven today. Do not judge yourselves by your gifts and knowledge, but by your graces and practice.
(g) Human Rather than Divine Approval
Some say, “I have the approval of all the saints, I may therefore conclude I will go to heaven.” Although the approval of the saints may sometimes have its own weight, there are some in hell who have had much approval of the saints. Let Christ’s approval be the rule by which you judge yourself. What advantage would it be if every minister called you a saint, but Christ called you a reprobate?

(h) Outward Blessings
You may have temporal blessings such as food, drink and clothing in abundance and yet be a stranger unto God. Do not judge your condition by God’s outward dealings.

5. Why Are People Self-Deceived?

(a) They Do Not Examine Themselves
The apostle follows his warning to help the Galatians guard against presumption with this direction, “Let every man prove his own work” (Galatians 6:4). Search yourselves much using God’s standard. Some are unwilling to examine themselves because it will discourage them others are unwilling because they have already come to the conclusion. “Why do I need to search? Am I not certain that Christ is mine?” But we can never be too sure He is ours.

(b) They Do Not Exercise Faith
Some do not exercise spiritual faith. Faith will help a Christian exceedingly in humbly walking with God (Romans 3:27).

(c) They Boast of What They Have
Paul, reproves those who boasted of the things they had received as though they had not received them (1 Corinthians 4:7). If you are conscious of that, it will keep you humble.

(d) They Are Ignorant of their Corrupt Nature
This is the mother of pride and presumption. When Paul speaks about original sin in Romans 11:25 he warns them of presumption.

(e) They Do Not Consider What They Ought to Be
If someone compared their attainments with what they ought to be, it would crush presumption. If we think we knows anything, we know nothing as we ought to know.

(f) They Compare Themselves With Those Who Are Worse
Some judge themselves by the lives of those who are worse as the Pharisee did (Luke 18:11).

Conclusion

Are you prepared to ask yourself the question, “am I under this mistake and delusion?” The person who is furthest from it will be most ready to ask this question. Search yourselves and see how it stands between God and you. Many assume quickly and easily they are forgiven and at peace with God. It is a matter of eternal concern. This is one of the most dreadful and terrible things we can be, a self-deceiver. Do not think yourselves to be something when indeed you are nothing.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This recently published volume of sermons by Andrew Gray is highly recommended. They are packed with both simple and profound thought communicated with almost tangible passion and highly recommended. There are sermons with evangelistic appeal as well as those that reach the hearts of believers with a uniquely penetrating power. 

We have obtained the following special discounts exclusively for Reformation Scotland readers.

UK Customers: Buy it for £24.95 £14.36 using the code ref.scot2019.

North America: Buy it for $30 $15 using the code BERECONCILED50OFF.

 

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How to Share The Faith With Your Child

How to Share The Faith With Your Child

How to Share The Faith With Your Child
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.
23 Jan, 2020

Controversy recently surrounded the directives laid down by an ex-evangelical who counsels people to raise their children “unfundamentalist”. “Do not evangelize a child”, Cindy Wang Brandt commanded in a tweet. “Your religion does not have a right to stake claim to a child’s allegiance.” We might ask what authority she has for her edicts and what she believes should claim a child’s allegiance. She thinks children should be shaped by certain “progressive” values, but who says these are the right ones? It’s still a call to evangelise children, only with agnosticism. Christian parents face a stark choice: if we don’t evangelise our children, the world will. It’s not about imposing our personal religion. The God who created and sustains them has a claim on them as moral creatures. Their ultimate purpose for living is to love and serve Him with all that they are. Not to raise children diligently in relation to this is the greatest possible neglect.

How will you prepare your children for the future when you don’t know what that future will hold? That’s a thought that can quickly overwhelm any parent but it’s one for which the Christian parent should be well equipped. It begins with realising that God’s truth is sufficient for living in God’s world. God’s Word is sufficient for teaching us all that we need to know for life and godliness.

1. Share the Faith Comprehensively

Teach them to remember what God’s Word says. That way they can recall it whenever they need it and it will shape their thinking. This is the importance of catechising. When children have the complete system of doctrine stored in their minds it not only shapes their thinking, it protects them from error.

In addition to teaching them what to think, we also have to teach them how to think. Show them how to discover Scripture’s doctrine for themselves. They will then be able to apply Scripture to any future challenges they encounter.

The authority of Scripture is what undergirds this. How are children to be raised? “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This involves loving spiritual instruction and discipline. It can be done in a wrong and deficient way. We can be stumbling blocks to our children through a bad attitude and example. This is why the Apostle Paul prefaces these words with a caution against provoking our children to wrath and anger.

Sharing the faith with our children is a process of discipleship, patiently teaching and correcting them over many years. We want to see them embrace Christ by faith for themselves and live for Him and so we will stress the urgency of eternal realities but also the need to devote our whole lives to Christ. In the midst of busy family lives it may seem challenging to make room for nurturing our children in faith but what could be more important? It will not simply happen spontaneously, we have to set aside time for it and patiently commit ourselves to it.

James Fergusson has some helpful comments on Ephesians 6:4 and how it counsels us to share our faith with our children. It is a verse that outlines the duty of parents in a way that carries a necessary caution. We have to recognise that we can be apt to abuse our parental authority.

2. Share the Faith Without Embittering Them

There are various ways in which we can provoke our children to anger or embitter their spirits.

  • by denying them their due, in food, clothing or means of education (Lamentations 4:3).
  • by commanding things that are in themselves unjust (1 Samuel 20:31).
  • by unjust and rigorous commands about things that are in themselves indifferent (1 Samuel 14:29).
  • by castigating them with bitter words, especially when there is no cause, (1 Samuel 20:30).
  • by chastising them unjustly, when there is no fault (1 Samuel 20:33)
  • by chastising them too harshly or at the wrong time and in a wrong way when there is a fault.

3. Share the Faith Practically

Paul guards us from the other extreme of too much indulgence towards our children. He exhorts us to bring them up, or (as it is in the original) to nourish them. This includes not only giving them what they need to be sustained from the womb onwards (Genesis 21:7). It also means making provision for their future (2 Corinthians 12:14). It involves training them up in any lawful employment by which they may be able under God to sustain themselves and their own (Genesis 4:2).

4. Share the Faith Intelligently

Parents must combine nurture and admonition with the education of their children. Nurture means timely and compassionate correction (Proverbs 13:24). Admonition means informing their understanding, teaching them how they ought to conduct themselves towards God in religious things (Genesis 18:19). Teach them also how to conduct themselves towards others in righteousness, politeness and good manners. This is also a great part of the duty of parents towards children (Proverbs 31:1, 8, 9).

5. Share the Faith Evangelistically

Their education must be in the admonition of the Lord Christ. This means, as becomes Christians, and by which young ones are instructed primarily in the knowledge of God’s Word, of Jesus Christ, and of the way of salvation declared by Him.

6. Share the Faith With Natural Affection

The prevalence and influence of sin in the souls of fallen men and women is so great that in some it entirely extinguishes, or greatly weakens the most intense of our natural affections. It can make them run in the opposite direction from that which they ought to. The apostle assumes that in some parents even natural affection to their own children will be weakened to such an extent. They will provoke them to anger and embitter them through unnatural behaviour towards them.

7. Share the Faith Without Provoking Them

To provoke or stir up others to sin makes us guilty before the Lord. It makes us guilty of those sins which we provoke others to commit (Hosea 6:9). Paul forbids and condemns this as sin in parents’ behaviour towards their children. Everyone naturally has such little command over their passions (especially when provoked by real injuries from others) that the strongest of natural bonds cannot keep them under and in order. Unless restrained by grace, they will transgress their bounds. Even children cannot put up with injuries from their very parents, without being incited to sinful anger. Indeed the corruption of some children is such that they can endure less from their parents than from anyone else.

8. Share the Faith Diligently

A necessary duty is not to be neglected under the pretence that others may us it for an occasion to sin against the Lord. In particular, parents are not to withhold timely and necessary correction from their children, even though their children would be enraged and provoked to anger by it. Even though Paul forbids them from provoking their children to anger, he will not have them use that pretence to neglect to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

9. Share the Faith in a Balanced Way

People are most ready to run from one extreme of any sin to the other. They go from extravagant expenditure to sinful miserliness, from rigidity to too much lenience. So the servants of Christ, while they are dissuading people from one extreme need most carefully to guard, lest under pretence of avoiding that, people rush to the other. While the apostle forbids too much rigidity in parents, he sees it necessary to guard them against the other extreme of too much indulgence and lenience. So he emphasises, “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

10. Share the Faith with Love for their Souls

It is the duty of parents, not only to provide for the bodies and outward condition of their children, but also, and mainly to care for their souls. They must endeavour by all means possible to bring them up as sons and daughters for the Lord Almighty. As they are to bring them up or nourish them, so they are also to suppress sin in them by nurture or correction. They are to make them know Jesus Christ the Lord.

11. Share the Faith in the Way that You Correct Them

As parents have to correct their children from time to time they must not do it to satisfy their own rage. Rather, they must engage in it with a composed mind, as service required by God. They must aiming mainly at how the child can  amend their faults. In order to do this they need to combine instruction and admonition with correction. They must also seek the blessing of Christ to accompany it. The apostle says that nurture and admonition must be united together, and both of them must be in the Lord.

Further Reading

The article What’s Missing From Your Home? considers what it means to make the things of God real within family life in the home. The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

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What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019
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.
26 Dec, 2019

​According to the Bible App, the Bible verse most engaged with around the world and throughout the year was Philippians 4:6. It seems to indicate an uptick in concerns and anxieties in the midst of a year of tension. This has been a trend across recent years. It’s said that 14,000 google searches a month look for bible verses to address anxiety. But this verse also speaks about what to do with such concerns. Philippians 4:6 is commonly summarised like this: worry about nothing, pray about everything and be thankful for anything. But how can we make best use of the spiritual wisdom of this verse?

James Fergusson points to the fact that the reference to worry and anxiety in Philippians 4:6 literally speaks of heart-cutting concerns. These may be about the things of this world and the success of what we do in our work or other aspects of life. In seeking to serve God conscientiously in our daily concerns we need go to God in prayer. We are to pour out our hearts before God in thankfulness and confession as well as asking for the things we need. In this way we commit all things to His will. In the following updated extract, Fergusson helps us to grasp the full extent of this verse so that it exhorts as well as encourages us. 

1. We Need to Avoid Excessive Concern

There is a lawful concern about the things of this world. In fact, this kind of carefulness is frequently commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:11). Yet such concern is unlawful when it is excessive. This is especially the case when we care about nothing except the world (Psalm 49:11). This kind of concern keeps us on the rack continually, in fearing lack of success in the things we engage in (Psalm 37:5). It can tempt us to make use of anything (however sinful it may be) that will preserve or bring about the thing for which we are anxious (1 Timothy 6:9). This excessive anxiety is sinful and forbidden in this verse.

2. We Need to Have Moderation in Our Outward Dealings

This excessive concern hinders us from displaying the moderation we ought to have. Philippians 4:5 speaks of the moderation or gracious gentleness we ought to show. But anxious concern can drive us to be inflexible and harsh in all our dealings with others. This is because we fear that by giving way in the smallest way we undermine our own interests. Nothing contributes more to make us merciful and gentle than keeping the heart above anxious, heart-cutting worry. It will help us in accommodating to the needs and good of others, even though it may seem to harm our own interests. Previously, Paul exhorted them to make their moderation known to all. He now adds the counsel to worry about nothing as something that will help.

3. We Need to Take Our Burdens to God

The best remedy against excessive concern is not to go to the extreme of abandoning all lawful careful diligence in the things of this world (Matthew 4:7). We are rather to be conscientious in our duty but in the midst of this to pray to God. We should ask Him for the success we desire and thank Him for favours already received. In this way we leave the burden of all our concerns on Him. This is what the apostle prescribes here for us to do “in everything”.

4. We Need to Pray According to God’s Will

All our prayers should be composed in such a way as that they may be “known to God”, that is, approved of Him. They must come from the sense of our need, (1 Kings 8:38), be offered in Christ’s name (John 16:23) and be for things that are according to His will (1 John 5:14).

5. We Need to Use All Kinds of Prayer

Various kinds of prayer are mentioned here in three distinct terms. The word “requests” is a general term that relates to all kinds of prayer. The other words used for prayer are:
(a) Prayer, where we seek from God the things which we lack, acknowledging how unworthy we are of them.
(b) Supplication, where we pray about afflictions and chastisements that we either feel or fear. We also acknowledge our sins which bring these things on us.
(c) Thanksgiving, where we thank God for favours already bestowed

6. We Need to Be Thankful Not Just Wishful

It is necessary to combine thanking God for favours received with prayer and supplication. This is because there are constant reasons for thanksgiving in every condition we experience (Philippians 4:11). Thanksgiving suppresses the discontented, fretting and complaining spirit which often vents itself against God in our prayers and supplications. This can happen if we neglect to combine with such prayers thanksgiving to God for favours received (compare Psalm 77:7 with verses 10-11). This is why the apostle commands “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God”.

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Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
25 Oct, 2019

We are witnessing an evident increase in people being health and fitness conscious. Bodily exercise does indeed have a certain limited benefit for us in preserving our health and life (1 Timothy 4:8). But Paul tells us that exercising or training ourselves to godliness brings every kind of benefit (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The comparison is clear. Just as bodily exercise brings benefit so our spiritual health requires spiritual exercise. Part of Christian growth is exercising and strengthening faith. How can we do this?  

Andrew Gray explains the benefits of exercising and strengthening faith. Faith must constantly go out to Christ depending on His Word and promises. It becomes stronger the more it is exercised in this way. This is vital for the Christian life. 

1. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith keeps our soul in the most constant fellowship with Christ. He dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). It is through exercising the grace of faith Christ that becomes our husband, our householder, and the one who dwells within us. It is a most sweet and desirable thing to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and our souls dwelling with Christ by love. It is a sweet connection.

2. CHRIST’S PRECIOUSNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith can make Christ more precious to a Christian than feelings can. Faith’s estimate of Christ is based on His person but feelings look to what Christ does. Faith looks at what Christ was before the world began, but feelings only look at what Christ is at the present time. The grace of faith looks to the love in Christ’s heart: feelings only look to the smiles of His face. Faith’s estimation is more constant than that of feelings especially when Christ withdraws His felt presence. When faith needs wisdom, it consults with Christ, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor. Faith is like a sinew which when it is cut, all our strength goes from us. Faith is heroic; the crown of martyrdom is set on the head of faith.

3. HUMILITY INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

A Christian who excels in this grace, is the most humble Christian. By what law is boasting excluded? By the law of faith (Romans 3:27). Faith shows a Christian the excellence of God, and humbles them in the dust. Faith makes a Christian both ascend and descend, so to speak. It keeps all the graces of the Spirit in motion.

4. SIN DECREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith likewise puts sin to death. When Christ is revealed to a soul, it will cast away its idols as filthy rags and will cry out that it has none in heaven besides God (Psalm 73:25). The soul is drawn more to where it loves than where it lives.

5. PATIENCE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Being justified by faith, we glory even in what we suffer (Romans 5:3). Faith holds out the crown on the right hand to a Christian with this motto written on it: “He that perseveres to the end shall he saved”. Moses never arrived at patience until he got to the top of the mountain from which he saw the promised land. Faith brings home the promises of eternal glory to a Christian.

6. SPIRITUAL FRUITFULNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a grace that sanctifies our lives. Faith has a sweet influence on our fruitfulness to Christ by helping us to abide in Him (John 15:5). Faith is the mother grace that bears good works as its children and as it moves so all the other graces move with it.

7. UNDERSTANDING INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an intelligent grace, understanding the “mystery of God” (Colossians 2:2). Faith raises the soul to the highest level of reason.

8. PEACE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith pacifies the heart. Peace is the daughter of faith, Faith is the dove that brings the olive branch of peace in its mouth.

9. SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS INCREASE AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an empty hand that receives the precious free gifts that come from Christ’s merits. It is the channel through which the blessed streams of life flow to us from Him.

10. PURITY OF HEART INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a heavenly plant which will not grow in an impure heart. Faith is a heart-purifying grace (Acts 15:9). It can only grow in a pure and heavenly soil.

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How Does Faith Help Love?

How Does Faith Help Love?

How Does Faith Help Love?
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
5 Jul, 2019

Perhaps it’s a question that never exactly occurred to you. But it matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. There may be some distance in your relationship with Christ and a sense of absence or sorrow. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. As Augustine put it, “neither hope nor love are without faith”. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

Faith and love are uniting graces; they are a bond of union with Christ. The Christian loves someone they have not seen (1 Peter 1:5). This may seem mysterious and strange to others but (as Andrew Gray observes) not to those who have embraced Christ with the two arms of faith and love.  He also says that those who have truly seen Christ with the eye of faith cannot but love Him. Neither faith nor love are blind, they know the person trusted and loved.

This is why the Christians of the Early Church were ready to die and suffer for professing a crucified Christ. Though they could not see Christ, no imaginable torments could break the precious cords of love and faith intertwined together by an unseen Christ. They have spent nearly two thousand years in a blessed contemplation of He whom they loved although they did not see while they were here on this earth. But now they both see him and love Him.

Gray notes how Peter commends these two graces of faith and love. He shows how they made these Christians “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory”. They had a joy that could not be put into language, not even by the most eloquent person. It is a “joy full of glory”, in other words there is a constant joy that flows from exercising faith and love in the one not seen. Permanent joy and unspeakable delight are sweet flowers that come from the root of faith and love. They shall remain eternally green throughout all the ages of long eternity. What will be the joy of saints that are now made perfect if there is such joy here?

1. Faith Reveals the Object of Love

Faith comes first, before love is produced in the heart. It goes out to discover the invisible things of God. Love sits down and comforts itself in the discoveries of faith. Faith reveals the object of love. Faith discerns, comprehends and receives most in relation to God; it reveals the invisible things of God to the Christian. Love is then stirred up by the enlarged spiritual discoveries that faith makes.

2. Faith Helps Love to Trust

When we meet with some sad trials that make us anxious, love begins to call the reality of Christ’s good will into question. It does not know how to reconcile together His good will and His dealings in providence. Faith helps love here. It can read the thoughts of Christ’s heart and can behold His face behind a veil. It can see that though He seems to frown, He still loves.  It is not easy to discern this in such sad trials, only faith can understand it.

3. Faith Feeds on the Promises

Faith also helps love in opening up to the Christian the most precious promises that they have received and how they are being fulfilled. This stirs up the Christian to a pre-eminent love for Christ, who has given them such precious promises. If Christians could see how all these promises given to them in Scripture are being fulfilled, their souls would be longing after Christ. They would be constrained to love Him who has thus loved them.

 

If Christians could see how all these promises given to them in Scripture are being fulfilled, their souls would be longing after Christ.

4. Faith Draws Strength from Christ

Faith helps love in that it goes to Jesus Christ in whom all of our strength is found. It draws strength from Him to exercise all the graces of the Spirit. Love of course, helps faith too (Galatians 5:6). It is impossible for the Christian to be truly exercising faith without exercising love. When love is in exercise, faith increases with the increase of God. When love languishes, it makes faith groan within us with the groanings of a mortally wounded man. Keep love exercised and you will keep faith exercised also.  Keep faith exercised and you will likewise keep the grace of love in exercise.

 

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Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
5 Apr, 2019

Events, strategies, commitments, principles. Everything seems to be subject to change in human affairs, especially politics. An even more changeable future seems inevitable as uncertainty increases. It’s a world of tumultuous, relentless and constant change. Technological, social and moral change in particular, seem to be speeding up. Things we never expected to see are now considered normal. Some change is deeply troubling and other change is good. All this makes us less confident and optimistic in predicting the future. But there is no real reason to fear if we are connected to the unchanging reality of the eternal God.

Hugh Binning points out that the most profound thing that we can say about God is also the simplest. “The Lord gives a definition of Himself”. It is short and we may not think it says much—”I AM” (Exodus 3:14). When people seek to exalt themselves they want to be described in grand and majestic ways to flatter themselves. But there is more majesty in this simple title “I AM” than in all others. This is spiritually discerned.

To compare God with others and say that He is best gives too great significance to the things which we use for comparison. Thus, the Lord calls Himself “I AM”, meaning “I am as if nothing else were”. Not, “I am the highest, the best and most glorious that is”. This assumes other things have some being and glory that is worth taking account of. Rather it is “I am, and there is none else; I am alone”. Nothing else can say, “I am, I live, and there is nothing else”. Everything else is dependent on God. Thus, nothing besides God, can say, “I am”. All things are only borrowed drops of this self-sufficient fountain. If anything comes between the stream and the fountain it is cut off and dried up.

See the profound mystery of God’s absolute self-sufficient perfection enfolded in these three letters, I AM. If you ask what is God? There is nothing better than this, “I AM,” or, He that is. If I would say He is the almighty, the only wise, the most perfect, the most glorious, it is all contained in this, “I am that I am”. He is all those perfections simply, absolutely, and solely.

 

1. Our God is Eternally Unchanging

He never was nothing and never will be nothing and may always say, “I am.”  God is eternally unchanging (Psalm 90:2). Now this is properly to be; and this only deserves the name of being. All the generations past; where are they now? They were, but they are not. And we then were not, and now are; for we have come in their place and in a little time, which of us can say, “I am.” No, we “fly away as a dream” (Job 20:8). We “are like a tale that is told,” (Psalm 90:9) that makes a noise in the present and then it is past. Within a few years this generation will pass, and no one will make mention of us. Our place will not know us, no more than we do now remember those who have been before (Psalm 103:16).

Christ said of John the Baptist, “he was a burning and shining light” (John 5:35); “he was,” but now he is not. But Christ may always say, “I am the light and life of men” (see John 1:4). Man is; but look backwards a little, and he was not; you will find his origin. Go forwards a little and he will not be, you will find his end. But God is “Alpha and Omega…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). Who can find the beginning and end in such a being who is the beginning and end of all things, yet without all beginning and end? The soul is enclosed between infiniteness before and infiniteness behind. It is between two everlastings; whichever way it turns, there is no way out. Whichever way it looks, it must lose itself in an infiniteness round about it.

We change in our days and are not today what we were yesterday. But “he is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Every day we are dying, some part of our life is taken away. We leave one more day behind us, it is gone and cannot be recovered. Though we vainly please ourselves in the number of our years and the extent of our life, the truth is that we are losing much of our being and time as it passes. First, we lose our childhood, then we lose our adulthood. Then we leave our old age behind us also and there is no more before us.

But when God moves all things, He remains immoveable. Though days and years are in a continual flux and motion around Him and they carry us down with their force yet He abides the same forever. Even the earth and heavens that are established so sure grow old but He is the same, and “his years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). He is the beginning without any beginning; the end without an end: there is nothing past to Him, and nothing to come. He is all, before all, after all, and in all. He beholds all the changes of the creatures out of eternity. There is no change in His knowledge, as there is in ours (Acts 15:18). He can declare the end before the beginning; for He knows the end of all things, before He gives them beginning. He is never driven to make consultations in any emergency as the wisest of men are, who could not foresee all events. “He is in one mind”; He had it from everlasting and “who can turn Him?” (Job 23:13).

 

2. Our Response to the Unchanging God

Job’s response to knowing God as He is was to humble himself and repent (Job 42:5-6).  Here is the true knowledge of God’s majesty, which uncovers within you a mystery of iniquity. Here is the knowledge of God indeed, which abases all things besides God, not only in opinion but in affection. It attracts and unites your soul to God, and draws it from yourself and all created things. This is a right revelation of divine purity and glory, that stains the pride of all glory. True knowledge empties a soul of itself and humbles a soul in itself, that it may be full of God. He that thinks he knows any thing, knows nothing as he ought to know.

This then is the first evidence of the saving knowledge of God. It removes all grounds for empty confidence so that a soul cannot trust in itself. The purpose of this is that a soul may trust in God and depend on Him in all things. For this purpose the Lord has called Himself by many names in Scripture which correspond to our various needs and difficulties. This is so that He might make known to us how all-sufficient He is, so that we may turn our eyes and hearts towards Him. This was the purpose of this name, I AM; that Moses might have support for his faith (Exodus 3:14). “I AM;” I, who give all things a being, will give a being to my promise. I will make Pharaoh listen and the people obey.

What is there that this name of God will not answer? It is a creating name—a name that can bring all things out of nothing by a word. If He is what He is, then He can make what He wishes from us. It is a name that brings us comfort (Isaiah 41:12). If we believed this how we would submit to His blessed will. If we believed this would we not make Him our dwelling-place?  Would we not be assured of our own stability and the stability of His church because of His unchangeable eternity? (Psalm 89:1; Psalm 102:27-28). How can we think of such a fountain-Being without acknowledging ourselves to be shadows of His goodness? We owe to Him what we are, and so must dedicate ourselves to His glory. How can we consider such a self-Being, independent and creating Goodness without a desire to cleave to Him and confidence to trust in Him? This is to know Him.

 

3. Ourselves Compared to the Unchanging God

When we think on His unchangeableness let us consider our own vanity. Our glory and perfection is like a summer flower, or like a vapour ascending for a little time, our best estate is altogether vanity. Our plans are soon broken off and made of no effect, our resolutions change. This is mortality, we are not always the same. To be one thing now and then another thing is a characteristic of sinful and wretched man. Therefore let us “cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils” (Isaiah 2:22).  Do not trust in princes who will die, far less in ourselves who are less than the least of men (Psalm 146:3). Let us put our trust in God who does not change and we will not be consumed (Malachi 3:6).

We will never be ashamed of any hope we have in Him. There is nothing else you trust in which will not, without doubt disappoint you. Whatever you hear or know of God is vain and empty, unless it descends into the heart to shape it with fear and love to Him. It must extend into the outward actions and conform it to obedience. Otherwise when you “know God” you “do not glorify Him as God” and that knowledge will be worse to you than ignorance. It will only harden you and ultimately be your solemn accuser and witness (Romans 1: 21-24). The true knowledge of Jesus Christ is never unfruitful. The things that spring from its root are humility, self-abasing confidence in God, patience in tribulations, meekness in provocations, temperance and sobriety in lawful things (2 Peter 1:5-8).

 

Conclusion

It is a source of wonder as well as comfort to contemplate a God whose being, plans and promises never change. This should draw us to God again and again. He can keep our hearts steadfast. Whatever else and whoever else may change, let us seek to have an unwavering devotion, obedience and love to Him by His grace.

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Does it Matter What We Believe About the Holy Spirit?

Does it Matter What We Believe About the Holy Spirit?

Does it Matter What We Believe About the Holy Spirit?
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.
2 Nov, 2018

It used to be said that the Holy Spirit was the forgotten person of the Godhead. Now, it seems, the majority of evangelicals aren’t even sure if He is a person. The State of Theology survey on both sides of the Atlantic shows that most think the Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being (55% UK, 56% USA). Is that a problem? Yes, Scripture makes it clear that the Spirit is a person. The belief that He is just a force (as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses) was condemned as heresy at the Council of Constantinople in 381. But this is not only about a core article of faith, it has deep practical implications for our everyday spiritual life.

There are many ways in which the Bible teaches that the Spirit is a person and they all relate to His ministry to believers. So it matters a great deal that He is indeed a person. There is such a thing as the communion or fellowship of the Holy Spirit and you can only commune with a person (2 Corinthians 13:14). In His activity within believers it is clear that He has a mind (Romans 8:27), a will (1 Corinthians 12:11; Acts 15:28) and emotions (Ephesians 4:30). Not only can He be grieved but He can be vexed or angered and insulted (Isaiah 63:10; Hebrews 10:29). He can also be lied to (Acts 5:3-4).

As someone who speaks, the Spirit personally teaches, convinces and reminds (Acts 8:29; Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 2:13; John 16:8; John 16:13-14). He empowers (Zechariah 4:6) and guides believers (Isaiah 48:16; Romans 8:14; Acts 16:6-7). He witnesses with them (Romans 8:16), comforts them (John 14:26) and intercedes for them (Romans 8:26). He commands (Acts 8:29; 13:2; 16:7) and must be obeyed (Acts 10:19-21).

Can we do without the personal activity of the Spirit? That would be an impossible thought. The confused opinions about the Holy Spirit revealed in the recent survey show the need for clear teaching in the truths of Scripture. We have tools for this purpose in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. One of those who helped compile these documents was Francis Cheynell (1608–1665) who also wrote about the trinity and the practical necessity of believing in One God in Three Persons.

 

Obeying the Spirit is For Our Comfort

In hearing the Word we must give the same attention and devotion to the Spirit as we do to the Father and the Son (Hebrews 3:7-8 compared with Psalm 95:8). The Holy Spirit forbids us to harden our hearts against Him speaking in the Word (Acts 7:51). We grieve the Spirit when we resist the Spirit and will not give our spiritual assent and consent to the Word.

God the Holy Spirit is to be obeyed. We are devoted to His service in baptism. Our bodies and souls are temples consecrated to His honour and service. The Spirit conquers our carnal reason, puts to death our corruptions and subdues our hearts to obey Him as well as the Father and the Lord Jesus.

The Spirit is the spirit of conviction, regeneration, conversion, sanctification, edification and consolation (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 12:8-9). The Spirit is the God of all comfort, it is His special function to comfort mourners.

It highly concerns us to obey the Holy Spirit and answer the many calls and motions of the Spirit with sincere obedience. Thus, our effectual calling may provide evidence of our election. This Spirit is the spirit of sanctification and adoption, the spirit of revelation and comfort, putting sin to death, making us live to righteousness. The Spirit quickens, moves, enables, inclines, persuades us to beleive in Christ, to love one another and to keep all the commandments of God.

This Spirit of faith, love, and obedience is the spirit of sanctification. If you find the spirit of sanctification in you, take good comfort even though the spirit of adoption seems to withdraw from you. He is certainly present and not idle or silent; He speaks by His real works and sweet fruits. The spirit of sanctification is one and the same as the spirit of adoption.

We know from the Spirit that Christ abides in us, that we dwell in Him and He in us (1 John 3:23-24; 4:13). If there is therefore a spirit of faith, love, and obedience in you, rejoice in it, lift up your heart to God in thankfulness for it. Thank God if you have a heart obedience to the doctrine given to you by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:17). If you are much engaged in supplication and thanksgiving, the spirit of supplication will be a spirit of adoption and an oil of gladness (Hebrews 1:9).

The Spirit will teach you to cry “Abba, Father” with comfort (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). The Spirit will fill your souls with all joy, and peace in believing, and in obeying. The joy of the Spirit shall be your strength. The comforts of the Almighty, including all the comforts of the kingdom of God (which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit) shall be all-sufficient to revive and support your dejected spirit. All your fears and discomforts shall be dispelled, your wants supplied, your wounds, sores and infirmities healed. Ultimately, you will be filled with all the fulness of God (Malachi 4:2; Ephesians 3:19).

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Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
23 Aug, 2018

Hope is essential. But hope is not a gut reaction, mere wishful thinking or putting a positive spin on events that seem negative. Hope and optimism are positive about the future but for different reasons. Abraham had a spiritual hope that was certain, when a hope that is of the flesh would have evaporated. Abraham “against hope believed in hope” based on God’s promise (Romans 4:18). The secular idea of hope involves people planning ways to achieve their chosen goal. But Abraham couldn’t do this. Optimism ignores negative circumstances but hope takes full account of it. Hope has a reason to depend on God working out the future, that reason is His promise.

It’s been said that we “can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope”. Hope is the oxygen of life. John Nevay (d. 1672) observes that “it is as necessary as breath: we cannot live or work without it”. Nevay was minister of Newmilns in Ayrshire. Along with hundreds of other ministers he was forced out of his charge by the government in 1662. Never was also cited before the Privy Council and then banished from the kingdom for refusing to own Charles II as head over the Church. He went on to minister to Scots exiles in Rotterdam, Holland. Even there, Charles’ government used their influence to try to get him expelled from Holland along with other Scottish ministers.

 

1. What is Hope?

Hope is a certain and patient expectation of things not seen which are from God and promised by Him (Romans 8:24). Hope, like faith, looks to the promise (Galatians 5:5). Whatever may appear to the contrary, it hopes against hope (Romans 4:18).

Hope rides out all storms. It is the anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. Its object is God in Christ (Jeremiah 4:8; 1 Timothy 1:1). Its operation is an earnest and patient expectation (Philippians 1:20; Romans 8:25). Its means of strength are the promise and Christ (Acts 26:6; Colossians 1:27). Its effects are establishing and quieting the soul (Psalm 42:5,11). It also purifies the heart (1 John 3:3).

 

2. What Makes Hope Attractive?

(a) It is an excellent grace. Scripture commends hope as good (2 Thessalonians 2:16); better (Hebrews 7:19); blessed (Titus 2:13); living (1 Peter 1:3); sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19). It is a sure possession of things not seen.

(b) It is focussed on excellent things. It is focussed on God Himself (Psalm 33:22); His mercy (Psalm 147:11); God’s Word, especially the promises (Psalm 130:4). It is also focussed on Christ and the gospel (Colossians 1:23).

 

3. How Does Hope Help Us?

(a) It Helps When No Other Grace Can. When God has withdrawn His presence, David can still hope in God and praise Him (Psalm 42).

(b) It Helps Us Joy and Delight in God. There is a rejoicing in hope (Romans 12:12 and Hebrews 3:6).

(c) It Helps Us Be Encouraged. It does not disappoint or put us to shame (Romans 5:5).

(d) It Helps Us Have Courage and Strength in God’s Work. The knowledge that labouring in the Lord’s work is not in vain is the knowledge of hope, which gives steadfastness (1 Corinthians 15:58).

(e) It Helps us Have Patience. There is a patient waiting for Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Patience makes us rest quietly on God (Psalm 37:7).

(f) It Helps Us Endure All Spiritual Warfare. It is the helmet of salvation which guards and raises the head (Ephesians 6:17).

(g) It Helps Us Find Help in God. Hope makes us take refuge in God. Hope and help in God go together (Psalm 146:5).

(h) It Helps Us Hope for Heaven. Salvation and eternal life come to us by the hope of salvation and eternal life (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is the hope laid up in heaven (Colossians 1:5).

(i)It Helps Us in Life and Death. We can see the excellence and blessedness of this hope when we consider the misery of those who live and die without it. To be without God is to be without hope in this world (Ephesians 2:12).

 

3. Where Does Hope Come From?

(a) It Comes From God. David credits God for his hope (Psalm 22:9).

(b) It Comes From God by Grace. Hope is from and through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16). That which is of grace is by the promise (Romans 4:16; Titus 1:2). Our God is the God of Hope because He is the giver of Hope (Romans 15:13). Hope is amongst the gifts of the Holy Spirit (compare l Corinthians 12:31 with 13:13).

(c) It Comes From Christ. Christ is our Hope and the Author of Hope as well as Faith (Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 12:2). Christ was raised from the dead and exalted that we might have hope (1 Peter 1:21).

(d) It Comes From the Gospel. The gospel as the grace of God brings a better hope (Hebrews 7:19; Titus 2:11).

 

4. What Distinguishes True Hope?

(a) It Looks to God Alone. God alone is our hope and portion (Lamentations 3:24).

(b) It Trusts in Christ Alone. It places no confidence in the flesh but rejoices in
Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3). Its expectation is only in free mercy.

(c) It is Certain. It leans on the undoubted truths of God revealed in the Scriptures. These bring comforts and are the grounds for the Christian’s hope (Romans 15:4). It is true that the believer’s hope may be shaken (as anchors often are) but the result is that it is fastening more securely than before.

(d) It Keeps the Soul Close to the Truth. This is so even during great opposition by others (Psalm 119:23, 81-82, 161; Isaiah 8:17).

(e) It Expels Vain Hopes. It presents the things it hopes for as so great that it makes all other hopes seem an empty thing. It purges the heart from all its love and desire for vain hopes.

(f) It Revives the Soul. It revives the soul with fresh strength in God when other things fail (Psalm 73:26).

(g) It is Lasting. It is sober and hopes to the end (1 Peter 1:13). Thus, the righteous has hope in his death (Proverbs 14:32).

(h) It Arises from Spiritual Experience. A rooted and well-grounded hope is the daughter of many different spiritual experiences (Romans 5:4).

FURTHER READING

Nevay’s 52 sermons on the Covenant of Grace are well summarised by Edwin Nisbet Moore in the book Our Covenant Heritage: the Covenanters’ Struggle for Unity in Truth. It also summarises a memoir of the Covenanter James Nisbet of Hardhill and draws lessons from the historical experiences for today. For more information and to purchase see here.

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