What is the Best Possible Life?

What is the Best Possible Life?

What is the Best Possible Life?
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.
4 Mar, 2021

Many have over the centuries sought both to define and pursue the best possible life. They understood that we cannot define the best possible life without defining the best possible purpose for all our actions. What is the highest principle for living and acting? It must be the highest or ultimate good; something that provides both purpose and morality. For many, this is themselves or other people. Or they might make it a principle like personal freedom or happiness and aim to achieve this for the greatest number. It is an important question because if we are wrong concerning it, we are not living the best possible life and cannot have true happiness. Surely it stands to reason that the highest good must be the best good, it must transcend cultures and time periods. It must be unchangeable and abiding, something that will not come to an end. When we put it like that, God and God alone must the highest good. But what does it mean to pursue God?​

Hugh Binning pondered this question deeply from Scripture and in the following updated extract, we have the fruit of that study. It combines extracts from a sermon that he preached on Psalm 73:28 and a lecture on the theme of union and communion with God as the great ultimate purpose of the gospel.

1. The Best Possible Life Eludes Many

Everyone seeks happiness and wellbeing. Whatever they pursue is sought because it is deemed to be good in itself or helps to attain that which may be called good. But the great misery is, that there is so much ignorance and misconception concerning that which is truly good. Even when anything of what is good is known, there is so little serious consideration and application of it to ourselves. This makes most people wander in pursuit of various things which are not the true good of the soul. They set their hearts on that which is nothing until they find their hearts fall down as a building that lacks a foundation and then they turn again to some other vanity. Thus, the wanderings of men are infinite because the byways are innumerable, even though there is only one true way.

The turnings and toiling of one person are many because they quickly lose the scent of happiness in every way they fall into and therefore must turn to another. They never set about this great business in a solid way and are never resolute about where this happiness can be found and seek it urgently there. Rather, they fluctuate between uncertain apprehensions and various desires.

2. The Best Possible Life is not in the things of this World

Let us thus set aside all other things which are the pursuits and endeavours of most people. Their natural desires are towards health, food, clothing, life and liberty, peace, and such like, but the more rational sort seek after some shadow of wisdom and virtue. Most have excessive unlimited desires towards riches, pleasure, promotion, and all that we have spoken is enclosed within the narrow compass of men’s abode here, which is but for a moment.

Even if it were possible that anyone could enjoy all these desires and delights for the space of a hundred years with everything contributing to his personal satisfaction, within a few years death must close his life, peace, health, and all. His poor soul that was drowned in that gulf of pleasure, shall then find itself robbed of its precious treasure, God’s favour. And so, it shall remain in everlasting banishment from His presence. Do you think, such a man was happy? No, Lazarus is happy, who is now blessed in Abraham’s bosom, who enjoys an eternity of happiness for a moment’s misery! (Luke 16:25) But you know that it is not even possible in this life to attain to the imagined happiness we described. All the gain found is not able to recompense the cost and expense of grief, vexation, care, toiling and sweating concerning them.

3. The Best Possible Life is Our Greatest Concern

This is the great business we have to do here in this world. We must know where the true wellbeing and eternal welfare of our souls are to be found and by all means apply ourselves to that as the only thing necessary, in comparison of which all other things are indifferent.

Perhaps you have never yet asked in earnest why you came into the world. No wonder you wander and walk randomly, seeing you have not settled on any certain aim. You would not be so foolish in any lesser business, but O how foolish people are in the main business.

4. The Best Possible Life is God-centred

The right consideration of the great purpose of enjoying God would shine on you and direct your way. But while you have not set this purpose before you—the enjoyment of God—you must spend your time either in doing nothing towards that purpose or in doing contrary to it. All your other lawful business, callings, and occupations are only by the by. They are not the end nor the means. Yet you make them your only business even though they are entirely irrelevant to it.

If you do not often draw near God by prayer (in secret and by faith in His Son Christ) as lost miserable sinners to be saved and reconciled by Him, do not be deceived. You have no fellowship with Him, and you will not enjoy Him afterwards. You cannot say that have no one else on earth besides God because you do have many other things besides God. You can have nothing of God unless you make Him everything to you—unless you have Him alone.

Those souls that come to Him and see their misery without Him know how good it is to do so. It is not only good but best, indeed it is the only good. “None is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19) and there is nothing good for us but this one thing, to be near God. So near, indeed, that we may be one—one spirit with the Lord—“for he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Let all your meditations, affections and conduct proclaim that you have none in heaven but God and none on the earth that you desire besides Him. He will certainly guide you to the end and receive you into glory. Then you will rest from your labours because you will dwell in Him, and enjoy that which you longed and laboured for.

The Psalmist says, “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Psalm 73:28). He is so resolved on this that if no-one else in the world was of the same mind, he would not change. Though everyone else would walk in other ways, he would choose to be alone in this rather than be in the greatest crowd.

5. The Best Possible Life Brings True Happiness

The Psalmist says, “It is good for me to draw near to God”. These words are the holy resolution of a holy heart, concerning that which is the highest good. You see the way to happiness, and you find the particular application of that to his soul, or of his soul to it.

It is a matter of great consolation that God’s glory and our happiness are linked together, so that whoever sets His glory before them as their single aim are taking the fullest and most certain way to true blessedness. God’s glory is our ultimate purpose of man. But our happiness—which consists in the enjoyment of God—is subordinate to this, yet inseparable from it.

We were created for the purpose of communion and fellowship with God. This is why man was made with an immortal soul which was capable of this, and this is our greatest dignity and eminence above the creatures. Adam had some characteristics resembling God impressed on him by God’s finger in His first moulding him in righteousness and holiness. He was also created with a capacity of receiving more from God by communion with Him. Other creatures already have all they will have and all they can have. But Adam was made better to aspire to greater likeness and conformity to God, so that his soul may shine more and more to the perfect day.

6. The Best Possible Life Restores the Blessings Lost in the Fall

But we must pause a little here and consider our misery in having fallen from such excellence. Sin has interposed between God and man and this dissolves the union and hinders the communion. An enemy has come between two friends and put them at odds, an eternal odds. Sin has sown this discord and alienated our hearts from God. Man’s glory consisted in the irradiation of the soul from God’s shining countenance. But sin interposing has eclipsed that light and brought an eternal night of darkness over the soul. No beams of divine favour and love can now break through directly towards us, because of the cloud of our sins that separates between God and us.

What will we do? How will we see His face in joy? Certainly, it would have been altogether impossible, if our Lord Jesus Christ had not come, who is “the light and life of men.” The Father shines on Him, and the beams of His love reflect upon us, from the Son. We are rebels standing at a distance from God, Christ comes between, a mediator and a peacemaker, to reconcile us to God. “God is in Christ reconciling the world.” God first makes a union of natures with Christ, and so He comes near to us, down to us who could not come up to Him, and then He sends out the word of reconciliation—the gospel (1 John 1:3). It is a voice of peace and invitation to the fellowship of God. Behold, then the happiness of man is the very end and purpose of the gospel.

Thus, the union is begun again in Christ, but as long as sin dwells in our mortal bodies it is not perfect, there is always some separation and some enmity in our hearts. But this is begun which is the seed of eternal communion, we are here partakers of the divine nature. It must aspire to a more perfect union with God. A believing soul looks upon God as its only portion—accounts nothing misery but to be separated from Him, and nothing blessedness but to be one with Him (Psalm 73:26).

It is true, indeed, that our heart and flesh often fail us and we become ignorant and brutish (Psalm 73:22 and 26). Our affections cleave to the earth and temptations with their violence turn our souls towards things other than God. Temptations and the corruptions of our hearts disturb our spirits easily and draw then away from the Lord towards any other thing. But yet we continue with Him and He keeps us with His right hand; we may fall, but we shall rise again. He is “the strength of our heart,” (Psalm 73:26) and therefore He will turn our heart around again and fix it on its own portion. Our union here consists more in His holding us by His power, than our taking hold of Him by faith. Power and goodwill encamp about both faith and the soul.

7. The Best Possible Life Has the Best Blessings

God has made the life of religion attainable by His gracious promises. This is a blessed life, in approaching near to Himself, the fountain of all life. And this is a certain good, a universal good, and an eternal good.

(a) It is a certain good. It will not disappoint you as other things do. It is as certain that the soul that truly seeks this in God cannot be disappointed, as that He is faithful.

(b) It is a universal good. It includes everything because it is joined to the infinite all fulness of God. This advances the soul to participate in all that is in Him. This is health, (Psalm 42:11; Proverbs 3:8). This is light (John 8:12). It is life (John 11:25); liberty (John 8:36); food and raiment (Isaiah 61:10 and John 4:14). It is profit, pleasure, promotion in a superlative degree, all combined in one. It is the true good of both soul and body, and so the only good of a person.

(c) It is an eternal good. It will last as long as your soul lasts. Of all other things it may be said, “I have seen an end of them,” they were and are not”. But this will outlast time and all its changes. It will begin to be perfect when all perfection is at an end.

Ponder these things in your hearts and consider them concerning your own souls, so that you may say, “It is good for me to draw near to God.”

Friends delight in one another and enjoy one another. Love opens the treasure of God’s fulness and makes a vent of divine bounty towards man, and it opens the heart of man and makes it large as the sand of the sea to receive from God. Our receiving from His fulness is all we can give Him. O what blessedness is this, for a soul to live in Him! And it lives in Him when it loves Him. And to taste of His sweetness and be satisfied with Him, this makes perfect oneness, and perfect oneness with God, who is “the fountain of life”, and in whose favour is life, is perfect blessedness.

8. The Best Possible Life Cannot be Rejected without the Greatest Harm

How lamentable it is that Christ came to restore us to our lost blessedness and yet almost no one considers it or lays it to heart. O how miserable, —twice miserable—is that soul that does not draw near to God in Christ, when God has come so near to us in Christ. What greater evil can be imagined than separation from the greatest good? And what greater good, than having access to the greatest good? Everything is happy and well, in so far as it is joined with and enjoys that it needs. Light is the perfection of the earth, remove it, and what a disconsolate and unpleasant thing it is! There is nothing necessary to the immortal spirit of man but God and, therefore, all its happiness or misery must be measured by the nearness or distance of this infinite goodness.

We are infinitely bound by creation, by many other bonds stronger than wedlock. We are bound to consecrate and devote ourselves wholly to God, but this is treacherously broken when we depart from Him. Everyone turns aside to vanity and lies and is guilty of heart adultery from God, and spiritual idolatry, because the affection that should be preserved chaste for Him is prostituted to every base object (Psalm 73:27). This is inevitably followed by the soul being divorced from God forever, an eternal eclipse of true and real life and comfort. Whoever draws back from the fountain of life and salvation inevitably finds perdition and destruction elsewhere (Hebrews 10:39).

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The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid
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.
25 Feb, 2021

Sometimes we can learn spiritual lessons by making comparisons with natural and spiritual realities. We can even do this with the symptoms of Covid-19. This is merely an illustration, the fact someone contracts this virus is not directly connected to their spiritual state. Nor is this meant to diminish the reality of the illness experienced by those who have suffered badly from it and even died. It is certainly not meant to replace sound health advice either (see www.nhs.uk). The fact is, however, that the Bible uses the metaphor of disease when talking about sin (Mark 2:17; Psalm 38:3; Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6). This shows that we can think in these terms. How can we identify the symptoms of a spiritual virus and where can we find the remedy?

How might we diagnose spiritual Covid? We might think about symptoms such as a loss of taste for spiritual things, the oxygen of prayer running low in our souls and excessive temperature in spiritual things which might be charging God foolishly or a zeal not according to knowledge. We may pass spiritual disease to others without being aware of it because we can easily stir up sin in others through our words and actions.

But we can think more generally about spiritual diseases also. David Dickson helps us to do this through an extensive book he wrote (Therapeutica Sacra or Sacred Healing) about how to deal with spiritual disease, especially diseases of the conscience. This article seeks to summarise some of the spiritual diseases that can afflict the soul, together with the remedy which is to be found in Christ.

1. We can have spiritual disease without being aware

The condition in which the convert is best pleased with themselves is not always the best. Neither is the condition in which they are least pleased with themselves always the worst. The best condition is that in which the Holy Spirit prevails most against the power of sin and advances the work of holiness. The worst condition is where sin prevails most. It is possible to abuse divine comforts and become complacent and negligent in spiritual duties just as it is not to be truly humbled for grieving the Spirit. But the worst conditions of the regenerate can by the wisdom, mercy and power of God be turned to God’s glory and our deliverance (Psalm 116:3-4).

2. We need to distinguish spiritual disease

We need to distinguish between:

  • sinful diseases in themselves as opposed to conviction of sin that drives us to Christ
  • experience temptation or testing as opposed to yielding to temptation under affliction
  • grief of mind, or heaviness in affliction as opposed to anguish of conscience for having committed sin

3. We need to understand the causes of spiritual disease

There are a variety of things that cause our spiritual condition to change:

  • whether grace or sin prevails
  • whether Satan’s temptations are successful or resisted
  • whether the Lord hides His face from us for His own sovereign reasons

4. We can have spiritual disease in our conscience

Conscience may be mistaken when it fails to assess our spiritual condition accurately. It can take a bad condition for a good one, or a good one for a bad one. Or it may not discern a condition partly good and partly bad or is confused about its state.

5. We can have spiritual disease in our love

It is possible that we and others may identify outward fruit in our Christian life, even when our love for Christ has actually cooled. Either we do not observe this cooling of love to Christ, or we are pleased enough with our condition as enough to carry us to heaven. Christ reproves Ephesus because they had left their first love and did not take this sin to heart to repent of it and seek to recover the first love (Revelation 2:4-5). This condition is very dangerous, as is manifest in the experience of the Galatians, who falling from their first love left themselves open to superstition and error by their defection from the faith of the gospel.

We must firstly see how reasonable it is that we should return to our first love. Secondly, we must consider how necessary it is to have love for Christ fresh and growing. Love to Christ makes us think and frequently of Him and seek closer fellowship with Him. Thirdly, we need to remember the delight we had in our first love an see how may spiritual comforts we have deprived ourselves of and what miseries we have brought on ourselves. Christ, Himself tells us the remedy, we need to humble ourselves before Him and flee to His rich grace as a true penitent (Revelation 2:5,7).

6. We Can cause spiritual disease in Others

It is not loving to indulge the sins of others (Leviticus 19:17). Yet some of the Lord’s people sometimes think have done their duty sufficiently as long as they themselves profess the truth and in their own personal conduct do what they conceive to be right. If we have influence over others and do not seek to curb those who lay a stumbling block before others, we not only permit the infection of error and wickedness. we protect and advance its spread. We must lament the sins of those who destroy themselves and infect others, and mourn for the sins of those who should repress the contagion. If we do not, we make ourselves an accessory to this evil being spread. This was the sin of the Church of Pergamos and the Church of Thyatira, which did not take action against those who promoted evil (Revelation 2:14-15 and 20).

To avoid causing spiritual disease in others we must:

  • know what God forbids and requires, lest we mistake virtue for a vice, or vice for a virtue
  • beware of censuring rashly the failings of others (James 3:1)
  • earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) so that the Lord’s people are not drawn away from the truth of Christ
  • consider our responsibilities and opportunities to seek to amend the faults of others wisely
  • confront with resolution any difficulties in curbing error and sin. It is much better to displease others for their good than to displease Christ and make ourselves partakers of the sins of others.

7. We can have spiritual disease through carelessness

Sometimes remaining sin prevails against the work of the Spirit in converts that they are not only overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1) but also are taken captive for a time by the lusts of the flesh. It is possible for them to lie sleeping in this condition until God awakens them. Many things can cause this but usually, it is neglected duty and sinning against conscience without true repentance. We fall into this by various degrees. At first, we engage in God’s worship and obedience in a formal way within earnest desires. We read Scripture without seeking to profit from it and make a profession without zeal and fruit. We then go on to be careless in our speech and do not care about edifying or corrupting others with our tongues (James 1:26). Sin may then break out openly with schism, contention, envy, drunkenness, lasciviousness or other things. This seems to have been the condition of the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2).

This deadly sickness of carelessness may be cured in these ways:

  • the conscience must be awakened with a sense of sin
  • any spark of faith, hope, repentance, or desire of returning to God, and resisting sin must be encouraged so that it is not extinguished
  • remember the word by which you were first moved to turn unto God and strive for nearer fellowship with God
  • be on your guard and watch over your heart, lest you are enticed by the world, flesh and devil to provoke God again
  • consider the rich promises Christ makes to overcomers (Revelation 3:5).

8. We can have the spiritual disease of lukewarmness

We can become lukewarm through being negligent and at ease. This was the condition into which some converts in the Church of Laodicea fell (Revelation 3:15-19). The conscience must be awakened to see how
the Majesty and excellent worth of Christ hath been slighted by this lukewarmness. The spiritual riches of Christ have been despised. They must see how Christ hates lukewarmness and will spew such out of his mouth unless they repent. They must be humbled for glorying in their self-sufficiency when they are really devoid of all they need. They must lay hold on Christ’s love in calling them to repentance and take the offer of renewed, more intimate communion with him in the precious promises made to the victorious overcomer (Revelation 3:17-18).

9. We can have the spiritual disease of delusion

Delusion is when an error is embraced, especially some dangerous error tending to the damage of the Church and endangering souls. Satan is active in using all possible means to obscure and darken the truth and spread the most pernicious errors. Meantime he is not idle in sowing and spreading lesser errors that stir up contention in the Church. Through this means precious time which should be spent for mutual edification is idly wasted in needless disputes, and the minds of some prepared to receive worse errors. There may be pride, folly, schism and obstinacy in such errors.

It is possible for true Christians to be delivered from such delusions (Galatians 5:10). It requires patient teaching of sound doctrine to do so (1 Timothy 4:6 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The deluded person should be exhorted to examine their own conscience to see how much of the flesh is in their maintaining such errors. They should be exhorted to be humbled for the sins they acknowledge and to flee to Christ for pardon, pity and help against them. If they do not repent of known sins, how can they expect to have any light on their errors? They should be solemnly reminded of how the Lord gives those in error over to further sins (2 Timothy 4:1).

10. We can have the spiritual disease of mistaking vice for virtue

It is possible to mistake our covetousness for diligence neglecting dependence on God. We may also mistake our vengefulness for a concern for truth and honour. We can also mistake our excess in outward things for lawful provision and enjoyment.

11. We can have the spiritual disease of deceiving ourselves

Many think their souls to be in a good condition when they can pray much and with freedom of spirit even though they do not watch over their hearts and ways as they should. They find a sort of eloquence in their prayers and assume they have this because God is well pleased with them and their prayers. Many go on confidently in maintaining schism and error, persuading themselves that their conduct and condition are good because they find freedom in prayer.

But it is one thing to pray much, and another thing to be heard and to have our prayers and persons accepted (Isaiah 1:15). The flesh can easily creep in and stir up a fervency in prayer (James 4:3). We may pray earnestly for that which God will not grant (1 Samuel 16:1). Prayers expressed from a heaviness of spirit and difficulty are no less pleasing unto God than when there is freedom (Psalm 61:1). We may not know what to pray for as we ought and express ourselves in words but the Spirit can help (Romans 8:26). If we have a sense of our sins and needs, are daily going to Christ, are careful to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, are praying for what is promised, with submission to God’s time and wisdom we may be sure our person and prayers are acceptable (1 John 5:14-15).

Conclusion

We need to be able to diagnose spiritual disease in order to treat it. We also need to be on our guard against the things that cause spiritual disease such as being run down and careless in relation to our spiritual health. It is dangerous to neglect it. The remedy for spiritual disease in general and for what we might call spiritual Covid in particular is Christ. His grace and promises together with fellowship with Him through His Word.

 

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What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?
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.
19 Nov, 2020

In the midst of restrictions that keep many people in their houses more than ever, home may be both sanctuary and prison. It has been the experience of many during 2020. For some people making the home a sanctuary means spending more to create greater luxury, calm and comfort. But if we have nothing more than what is material, it can never of course give true peace. If it is a sanctuary because it is a place devoted to the worship of self, it will ultimately prove to be a prison. We can seek sanctuary in many things in this world outside of the Creator but we will not find the true rest our souls crave. It is the presence of God that makes a little sanctuary for us. He has promised it to His people in all circumstances, even in the midst of trials and afflictions.

The people of God in exile from Jerusalem were inclined to reflect on the sanctuary they had lost in terms of the glorious temple built there (Ezekiel 7:20; Psalm 137:1). They had lost something irreplaceable, but God promises that He Himself will be “a little sanctuary” or a little temple to them (Ezekiel 11:16).  God had not been taken from them. The affliction had come from God Himself, He had scattered them in His providence using various means. He promises to draw near to them in the affliction while encouraging them to see Him at work in His providence (Isaiah 45:6-7). He was afflicting them and bringing them through trials in love (Proverbs 3:12). He loves His people too much to deny them the medicine of affliction when they require it. In this updated extract, William Greenhill draws out more of the comfort of this promise. He shows what it means for God to be a little sanctuary to us. As we give ourselves to Scripture and prayer and walk in a humble and holy way with God, we may know much of His presence.

1. God is a Sanctuary for Defence

The sanctuary was a place of refuge and defence. It was a place to defend holy things, for such things were stored up in sanctuaries. The sanctuary was deemed a privileged place, from which no thing or person might be taken away without sacrilege. Joab fled to the tabernacle of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar for this reason (1 Kings 2:28). God would be a sanctuary to him in this sense (Isaiah 8:13-14; Jeremiah 42:11). God would deliver them, He was a sanctuary to them in this place. When the fiery furnace was heated so hot and they cast into it, Daniel’s three friends found God a sanctuary to them (Daniel 3).

2. God is a Sanctuary by His Special Presence

In the temple the people had God’s special presence. Zion, where the temple stood, was called the habitation and rest of God (Psalm 132:13-14). God’s goings and ways are said to be in the sanctuary, Psalm 77:13; Psalm 68:24). David says He had seen God in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2). God would be a sanctuary to them in this sense, they would have His special presence. He had left the temple at Jerusalem, the glory was gone, and now He was with them in Babylon. Ezekiel had the heavens opened to him by the river Chebar and saw visions of God. God manifested Himself in a special way to him, and to Daniel in Babylon. God had no church elsewhere, and now He was with his people there, and calls them His flock four times in one verse (Ezekiel 34:8) and twelve times his flock in the whole of chapter 34.

3. God is a Sanctuary for Acceptance

Their persons and prayers were accepted in the temple. This was why they went to the temple so much for prayer (Acts 3:1; Luke 18:10). David says in Psalm 20:3 that the offerings and sacrifices in the temple were accepted (see Psalm 18:1). When they when they had corrupted the worship of God, He tells them there that burnt-offerings were not acceptable nor their sacrifices sweet when they had been before (Jeremiah 6:20). It was prophesied that in the future, they would come to God’s altar with acceptance (Isaiah 60:7), this was where they could find acceptance. But they could also have this in Babylon. When Daniel made his prayer to God for himself and his people in Daniel 9, Gabriel comes and tells him that he was greatly beloved of God. When Mordecai and Esther fasted, their persons and prayers were regarded and accepted in Babylon.

4. God is a Sanctuary for Encouragement and Help

Help came from the sanctuary and strength from Zion (Psalm 20:2). “Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary,” (Psalm 96:6). There they had counsel to direct them, ordinances to sanctify them, and promises to comfort them. They would not lack these in Babylon, God would be to them a sanctuary for help. This is why He stirred up the spirit of Jeremiah to write to the captives and counsel them what to do (Jeremiah 29:5-7). God gave them prophets in Babylon: Ezekiel and Daniel by whom He counselled them from time to time. He also made Babylon an ordinance to cleanse them. They had many promises, various in this chapter and others (see Ezekiel 34 and 36). It is full of sweet, gracious, and comforting promises.

5. God is a Sanctuary in All Conditions

Whatever others think or say of God’s people, wherever they are driven, whatever they lose or suffer, God will be a little sanctuary to them. These Israelites were rejected and condemned by those at Jerusalem, carried captive into Babylon. They had lost country, comforts, city privileges, temple ordinances, possessions and liberties. They had hard slavery. When they were now in this situation, God was a sanctuary to them. He preserved them, gave them His presence, accepted their persons and prayers, gave them counsel, sanctified and comforted them. He was a special sanctuary to them, and in place of all ordinances.

If you understand “sanctuary” to mean the land of Canaan as some think (see Exodus 15:17; Psalm 114:2), God would be a land of Canaan to them. Or take it to mean sanctification or heaven (Psalm 102:19), God would be a heaven to them. However the Jews in Babylon might appear in the world, either to those in Zion or Babylon, they were glorious in the eye of God. He calls them His glory and they would be a sanctuary unto them.

This should give comfort to those who are deprived of ordinances, possessions, liberties, friends, country, and who suffer very hard and sharp things. If they are godly, God will be a sanctuary to them. Has He not always been a sanctuary to us, and a stone of stumbling unto others, and for a rock of offence? If God has been a sanctuary to defend us, to give us His presence, to accept our persons and prayers, to send us help, counsel, comfort, deliverance, let us sanctify this God Himself in our heart, make Him our dread and fear, and He will still be a sanctuary to us. “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).

6. God is a Sanctuary in All Places

There is no place can hinder God from taking care of and showing kindness to, His people. They were in Babylon, a profane, polluted land, they were scattered throughout those countries, and yet God was a sanctuary to them, and said he would be so in the countries where they would come. When they were in Egypt, God was a sanctuary to them there, and now was so in Babylon also. ” God is no respecter of persons” or places (Acts 10:34-35). He accepts those who work righteousness and fear Him wherever they are. God’s people fear Him and work righteousness wherever they are cast: into foreign nations, as these Jews); the dungeon, as Jeremiah; into the bottom of the sea, as Jonah; into the fiery furnace, as the three youths; into the lions’ den, as Daniel. God is a sanctuary to them. If a person is godly, they will have the praise as well as the protection of God (Romans 2:29).

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Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?

Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?

Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?
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."
21 Aug, 2020

Many things can intrude to interrupt fellowship with God. This is not so much the necessary aspects of this life that we cannot avoid. One great test is whether our thoughts return to God as soon as we are free from such absorbing activities. Whatever distracts and prevents us from experiencing true fellowship with God must cause us sorrow. Such fellowship is indeed what we were made for. Fellowship or communion with God arises from spiritual union with Christ. Without that as the foundation there can never of course be any true fellowship with God. True fellowship is the very purpose of union with Christ. That union can never be broken or hindered but our communion with Christ can be affected. There is no ebb and flow in union with Christ but there may be in our communion with Him. The fact that it will always be imperfect in an imperfect world should not discourage us from seeking closer fellowship but rather stir us up. There is in fact far more to this question than merely our own failure to maintain fellowship with God.

Andrew Gray died at the young age of 23 after a very brief ministry. Despite his youth he had an extraordinary spiritual maturity and understanding of Christian experience. This is how he defines fellowship with God:

“Communion with God is the soul of Christ dwelling in the soul of a Christian by faith, and the soul of a Christian dwelling in the soul of Christ by love”

Gray also says much about why there is not constant fellowship with God in this life. Never-interrupted fellowship and communion with God is a fruit of the land above. There is no constancy in our fellowship with God while we are here below, because of the corruption within us. Cast your eyes up to heaven and long for the day when these shadows will be over. You will then enjoy perfect and full communion with God (Isaiah 30:26). There are various reasons why fellowship with God is interrupted in this life. The following is an updated extract of Andrew Gray’s answers to the question: Why is there no constant fellowship with God in this life? 

1. To Make Us Long for Eternity

His people may be stirred up to long for that endless and blessed life. Then time will be swallowed up by eternity and our corruption will put on incorruption, and this vile body of ours will be raised a glorious body. Then eternity will be spent without one moment of interruption. Comfort yourselves in the hope and expectation of the approach of that blessed day, when you will enjoy complete and full communion and fellowship with God. You will be admitted to eat of the apples of the tree of life that grows in the midst of the paradise of God, of which, once you eat, certainly you will never hunger any more. If we did enjoy one moment of real fellowship and communion with God, surely we should be ready to cry out, “It is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles” (Luke 9:33). Did you ever enjoy fellowship with God so much that you were constrained to long for the day when you will enjoy full fellowship with Him without any interruption? But Christ draws a veil to cover His own face, so that we cannot enjoy Him fully so that we may long for the day when we will see Him as He is, without any veil.

2. To Stir Up Grace Within Us

There is a second reason why God orders it so that the Christian does not have constant fellowship with God here. Some graces in the Christian appear most eminently when they are under such a condition of not knowing where to find Christ. These graces are the grace of faith, the grace of patience, and the grace of love. These three graces would not appear so well if it were not so. We say that stars appear most in darkness. So these graces appear most when the soul is feels the lack of Christ’s presence, not knowing where to find Christ. In this situation, faith is put into activity. It appears most when it lacks light. The graces of patience and love are also put into activity, and shine most brightly in such a sad experience.

3. To Make Us Value Fellowship with God

God orders it in this way so that we may value and esteem communion with Him more highly. The beloved withdrew Himself from the bride so that
she would learn to place a greater value on His presence (Song 5:6).

4. To SHOW that Fellowship is By Free Grace Alone

We must be strongly convinced that is only His free grace toward us that bestows these things on us. Strive more to know that all you receive is from His free love, not for any merit and deserving in us. We have nothing to commend ourselves of but infirmities, but be assured that He with whom we have to do is God, not man.

5. To Show that Nothing in This Life Can Replace Fellowship with God

Everything here below (even the graces of the Spirit) is not sufficient to satisfy the Christian when Christ is away. The bride had the graces of love, faith, seeking, and patience, and much of the grace of hope; yet, there is a He whom she misses (Song 3:1).

Many may sit down in shame and cover their faces, because they do not see the insufficiency of the things of this present world. They are not much in pursuit after Jesus Christ. Most of our pursuit is only after the things of this present life. They do not know what it is to miss Christ, because they never knew what it was to have His presence.

But seeing much of the excellence that is in Jesus Christ makes Christians undervalue all earthly things and all things other than Christ. The excellence that is in Christ Jesus makes the Christian not rest on the graces of the Spirit (though they put a high estimation on them) until they obtain Christ. All our desires ought to be set on He who is uncreated, not on created things. This is clear in Mary’s practice. There is a Him whom she misses and was pursuing after: “they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:13). Oh, what will satisfy a Christian’s love, if it is real in his heart? Nothing will satisfy but Jesus Christ, who is the desire of nations, and the bright and morning star.

6. To Show Us Those Who Truly Seek Christ

The evidence of real seeker of God is seen in their feelings when they miss Christ’s fellowship and company. A real seeker of God can give a direct account of Christ’s comings and goings. They can distinguish well between His absence and presence.

7. To Show Us the Perfections of Christ

If we undervalue enjoying Christ it is because we lack faith in the precious, endless and unsearchable perfections that found in Christ. If you knew how glorious how beautiful He is surely you would fall in love with Him and esteem fellowship with Christ more highly. He is lovely and desirable object, altogether lovely and all true spiritual desires are in Him (Song 5:16). Angels and men could not describe such a glorious One but we must lament that He is unknown to many of us. One reason why many have sought and yet have not been heard is because they undervalued the precious manifestations of His grace towards them.

8. To Show Us that God is Sovereign

A Christian may seek things from God and yet not get an answer to their prayers. We will not give the reasons why it is so; we only say that God is wise and righteous in all His doings and knows the reasons for His actions. We conclude that He does all things well (Mark 7:37). Surely, when we will be about to pass over the lintels of the doors of everlasting eternity, when we will be standing on the farthest line of time, ready to step into eternity, we will be constrained to leave on record that He does all things well. We will then be deeply convinced of the fact that He has done all things well.

“All imaginable delight is…to enjoy God. All misery is…to be separated from God” – Andrew Gray

CONCLUSION

John Owen stresses that fellowship with God involves receiving His grace in His appointed ways and giving to God what He requires.

Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him

We can and must cultivate fellowship with Christ. We can grow and deepen in that relationship despite the fact that the blessedness is interrupted in this life. We meet with Him in the Word and prayer and seek to please Him in all things.  Any relationship requires commitment and effort, how much more the most important of them all?

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5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ
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.
19 Jun, 2020

People often speak about spiritual growth, but what does it look like? Words and activities are easy. Love in the heart and in outward expression and obedience is what Christ looks for (Revelation 2:4; John 14:15). Love to Christ makes us want to be like Him. Where does that love come from? Love comes from love. Our love can be kindled and increased from His own love towards us. How do we grow in our love for Christ? He uses means such as prayer and the Word to strengthen this love. We must take time to consider deeply the Saviour and His love and seek to draw close to Him. Here are five ways in which Christ makes the flame of love in His people burn stronger and brighter.

In preaching on John 17:24, Robert Traill gives some clear and helpful advice on increasing our love for the Lord. Christ’s heart is set on having His people where He is. Surely, we ought to love Him in return. Most of those who lay claim to the name of Christian, think they make some conscience of loving Christ. They think it to be an entirely just debt and duty to Him and are ready to say with Paul, “If any man love, not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema, Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22). But just as the love that Christ bears to His people, is not so well known and believed as it ought to be; so the love His people owe to Him, is not as well paid as it ought to be. Previously, we have considered 9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ. In the following updated extract, Traill shows us five ways to increase in love for Christ.

1. Consider Christ and His Love

Take a serious view of the lover, the beloved, and of the love, He bears to them. Consider Christ who loves, His people whom He loves, and the love He bears to them. These three must be seen by the eye of faith in the light of God’s Word. The glory and greatness of the One who loves, the vileness of those whom He loves and the greatness of the love He bears to them. When this is considered two thoughts will rise in the heart.

(a) His love is great

How marvellous, that such a person as He is should love such people as we are and in such a way.

(b) Our love should also be great

How great our love should be to Him in return. What is the cause of this usual and fad remark, Worldly sinners reckon it an easy thing to believe that Christ loves them, though they never tasted of His special love. Yet many sincere Christians find it difficult to believe Christ’s love to them. Even though they dare not deny they have sometimes tasted that He is gracious (1 Peter 3:3). They find it hardest to believe it at the times when they see either the divine dignity of Christ or their wretchedness (these usually go together).

It is because this love of Christ is so mysterious and wonderful, (as the lover Himself is Isaiah 9:6). We find it difficult therefore to think that Christ loves any except those who are like Him in some way. We fail to recognise aright that Christ can and does love those who are not like Him. He loves them so as to make them like Him by His love. His love always has this blessed effect in everyone on whom it rests.

2. Believe Christ’s Love

Usually, we want to have His love proved and manifested to us. But I advise you to take this way instead – get your faith fixed on Christ’s love. Do not think that I am persuading you to conclude rashly that Christ loves you. Take Christ’s love-letters and Christ’s lovely picture in the gospel (the New Testament is full of them). Believe them and love them, and then use them to believe and love Him. Behold Christ crucified (Galatians 3:1); behold Him dying and redeeming by His blood in sheer love to the redeemed. Read His love-letters filled with gracious calls, offers, and promises. All these letters are sealed with His blood which was shed in love. This is a blessed activity you will soon benefit from.

3. Pray to Experience His Love

Pray much for His love to be manifested to you. You are to give Him glory by believing His love-letters and His beautiful picture in the gospel and increasing faith and love using those helps. But you may also beg Him to manifest His love to you. See His promise in John 14:21-23). These words are more precious than fine gold. When one of His disciples asks (either in ignorance or wonder) how this could be (verse 22), our Lord answers that He and the Father will come and make their abode with those who love Him and keep His words (verse 23). The language is very similar to His words in Revelation 3:20. Thus he manifests His love (1 John 4:12,15). Our love is “made perfect” but how did it begin and how is it advanced? Verse 19 tells us that “We love him because he first loved us.”

What are Christians doing? How poorly they do it. Where is the person who is sick with love for Christ? This blessed disease (or soul’s health, rather) is twofold. It is pining hunger either for His love being manifested (Song 5:8) or for the overwhelming sweetness of His love when it is manifested (Song 2:5). If you know nothing of either of these, your bodies may be well, but your souls do not prosper.

I do not think there ever was a poor believer who breathed after Christ’s love for long before they felt it. Most people do not care about it, so they do not seek it and therefore they do not find it. Some of them may say (like those who had not heard of the Holy Spirit, Acts 19:2), “we have not felt any of the love of Christ; we know nothing of it except what is said of it in Scripture, and as it is to be enjoyed in heaven.” But sadly, few feel how it burns like a hot fire in the heart even on earth (Song 8:6-7).

4. Kindle Your Love from Christ’s Love

When Christ has manifested His love kindle your flame of love from the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Kindle your love to Him at the fire of His love to you. No other fire will kindle true love to Christ except the believing and feeling Christ’s love to you. What made Paul such a fervent lover of Christ except knowing that Christ loved him and gave Himself for him (Galatians 2:20)? No wonder he said, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). “Christ died at Jerusalem for my redemption; and will I not die there for His glory, if He calls me to do that?”

5. Let Your Love Burn for Christ

When you have kindled your love to Christ from His love to you let it burn in serving and praising Him (it grows by burning). Use and exercise that love in all holy worship, and all gospel-obedience. The best worship and most acceptable obedience are done out of love for Christ. This love constrained Paul to excel in living for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). If our working and running only comes from the spur of the law constraining the conscience, it is of no account in the sight of God.

Faith in Christ increases love for Christ. Faith and love together enliven us in all holy obedience and spiritual worship. The Christian then reads and hears the word of Christ, because they love to hear His voice. They pray because they love to speak to and pour out their heart to their best friend. They sit down at the Lord’s table because they love to see and draw spiritual strength from their slain Saviour. They hate evil because they love the Lord (Psalm 97:10). They keep Christ’s commandments because they love the One commanding (John 14:15).

Be assured of this, you have not yet got into the right way of Christianity in which you can be hearty, sincere, and constant without fainting until you get into the power of the love of Christ. You will then be carried along sweetly in all your ways and His ways. The one who believes and loves Christ may then say, “Let the Lord lead me where He pleases; I am still going to heaven. I am in the river of life, that is the love of Christ, that began (if we can speak like that) in eternity and carries me through time to the eternal enjoyment of the same love in heaven.”

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Overcoming Spiritual Distancing

Overcoming Spiritual Distancing

Overcoming Spiritual Distancing
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.
11 Jun, 2020

Our secular age and culture require by definition that spiritual things must be kept at a distance. Religious matters are shut out of public discourse and must not influence public policy. A technological order controls our world and it has apparently eliminated any need for God. In contrast to past eras where belief in and spiritual things was natural and normal, we live in a secular age in which such belief is presented as unnatural and abnormal. Living in this atmosphere it is easy for our lives and heart to be shaped by it without realising. It is not easy to walk with God in a world that has shut Him out. In every age there is a sinful tendency in the heart to depart from the living God. How can we overcome these influences by God’s grace to draw near to Him constantly?

Psalm 73 describes someone who found it difficult to live in the light of God’s presence in the midst of those who rejected Him. They seemed to prosper by doing so. This became a real trial to the psalmist. Yet he reaches the point where, in the context of worshipping God, he can understand something of the divine purpose. Ultimately, he can say “it is good for me to draw near to God”. It is helpful to meditate on the fulness of what this means and, in the following updated extract, William Guthrie helps us to do that.

1. What is it to draw near to God?

(a) Seeking deeper peace with God

A person should make their peace with God in and through the Mediator Jesus Christ. Until that has been done, they may be said to be far from God. There is a partition-wall standing between God and them. It is the same with that advice given by Eliphaz to Job to be at peace with God (Job 22:21). Be friends with God and all will be well with you. You must come up to some measure of conformity to the blessed will of God and quit that life of estrangement from Him. If you draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). This drawing near is explained in the words that follow in the same verse, “Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts”. Leave that filthy life of estrangement from God by being more conformed to Him and His will, as He has revealed it to you in His word.

(b) Seeking deeper fellowship with God

To draw near to God is to seek more after communion and fellowship with God, and to pursue after intimacy and familiarity with Him. It is to have more of His blessed company with us in our life and walk (Psalm 89:15). This is to walk through the day, having a good understanding between God and us; to be always near Him, keeping up communication with Him.

(c) Seeking deeper assurance

Drawing near implies confirming or making sure of our relationship to God. It assumes someone’s peace to be made with God already. The author of this psalm goes on to say, “I have put my trust in the Lord”. That is to say, I have trusted my soul to God and made my peace with Him through a Mediator. It is good whatever comes; it is always good to be near to God in that way and to be made sure in Him.

(d) Seeking deeper conformity to God

It implies to be more and more conformed to the image of God. His nearness to Him is as opposed to being far from God. “It is good,” he says, “to draw near to God in my duty when so many are far from Him.”

(e) Seeking deeper dependence on God

It implies laying aside all things in the world to seek fellowship and communion with God. It means to be more set apart for His blessed company and to walk with Him in dependence upon Him, as the great Burden-Bearer, who is to be all in all unto us. In a word, to draw near unto God is to make our peace with Him, and to secure and confirm that peace with Him. It is to seek conformity to Him and to be near to Him in our whole manner of living.

2. Why is it good to draw near to God?

It is good and advantageous to draw near to God. It is good to take good in that way. It is good concerning the blessed consequences that it brings.

(a) It is a pleasant good

Wisdom’s “ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Although many of you think that the people of God have a sorrowful and sad life of it, this is not due to their nearness to God but because they depart out of His way, or step aside from following Him.

(b) It is an honourable good

Is it not good to be at peace, and in good terms with God? Is it not also good to be conformed to His will (the supreme rule of all righteousness) and to have intimate fellowship with Him? We would think it a very honourable thing to be in favour and on good terms with a man that ruled over all nations (assuming he was a good man). But it is quite another thing to be in favour and on good terms with He who rules over all laws and all people.

(c) It is an eternal good

It secures a man’s soul and eternal well-being. It keeps him in perfect peace. It has many experiences of God’s countenance, which is better to him than barns full of corn, or cellars full of wine and oil. God is all good. “The Lord will give grace and glory, and will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly.” Who are they? Those who are near unto God. Thus, it is a good thing to draw near unto Him. Would you be forever happy in the enjoying of that which is supremely good? Well then, draw near to God.

(d) It is the highest good

Everyone readily pursues something they think to be good. Many say, “Who will show us any good?” Most want some visible or apparent good. But this is a more sure and permanent good. Then go and acquaint yourselves. Seek to have communion with Him, to be confirmed and conformed to Him.

3. Have you drawn near to God?

(a) Have you known anything of His voice?

If you do not, you are yet far from Him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” What God speaks in this gospel is foolishness to many, but those who are His sheep know His voice, and to them, this gospel is the wisdom and power of God.

(b) Do you know His face?

Do you know anything of the difference between the smiles and frowns of God? Do you know what it is to have your hearts and souls warmed with the heat and light of His countenance? Has your soul ever been made to weep within you with His love? If not, it is a bad sign; for the people of God know His face; and whenever they hear Him named their affections go out after Him.

(c) What dealings do you have in your ordinary way and walk with God?

Do you acknowledge Him in all your ways? Do you venture on nothing without God’s counsel? Do you keep your eye on Him in your ordinary business? Do you give an account of what you have done to Him? If it is so, it is well. But if you forget God apart from a little time to pray and lose any thought you have had of Him all day long it is a bad sign that you are yet far from God.

4. Overcoming Distance from God

(a) Remove anything in the way

If you want to have your relationship to God made clear to you, draw near to Him and be resolved to do what will be well-pleasing to Him. Remove whatever stands between Him and you. When you go to prayer, or when you would lay claim to any promise; do not regard sin in your heart. Put away all idols of jealousy. Let none of them come in with you before the Lord. If you do, He will never regard your desires in prayer. This is a time in which many are careless about this.

(b) See where you should be

Strive to be convicted that you are far from God in your life and walk and from that communion with Him that you might attain to, even while here. If you were convinced of that you would think it your unquestionable duty to draw near to God in all these respects we have mentioned.
But where are that labour of love, unweariedness in duty, and readiness to suffer everything for Christ? Are not all these, in a great measure, gone? What fainting, failing, and taking fright at the cross? Where is that appetite and desire after Christ, and His righteousness, which folk pursued so vigorously before? Where is that esteem and enquiry for marks of grace in the soul? Where is longing to know your duty and submission to reproof you once had? Are you not rather afraid to hear your duty laid out before you? And where is that happiness people had in hearing the Word when they were not so skilled in evading it except what pleases their fancy? They would not allow the convictions of conscience to continue all night without mourning for it before the Lord until it was removed? Many can maintain an accusing conscience all night, and not be troubled with it? Where is that tenderness of conscience that would have made people abstain from every appearance of evil? That would have made them walk circumspectly for fear of offending and mourn for it before God? Where is that true zeal for the interest of Christ there once was? Is that not gone, and are there any rightly exercised when they see the matters of God going wrong ? You should draw near to God in all these things.

(c) Pursue nearness to God

Time was when you would not have been satisfied if God had not been drawing out your hearts after Him. But is this not almost gone? Draw near to Him and return to your old practice.

Let someone be as near unto God as he can imagine, it is still good to draw near to Him and seek nearer fellowship and more intimate acquaintance with Him. The psalmist was near, yet he seeks to be nearer to Him to have his arms full of God, so to speak. This is because the life of true religion in the world is a strong appetite and heart hungering after God. Hunger still, therefore, and seek after more from Him. You cannot keep what you have already attained unless you are still in pursuit of more. You lose what you have got, and scatter as fast as you have gathered if are not still making progress and increase. Thus, we pray “hold up my goings” (Psalm 17:15), i.e. take fast hold of me otherwise I will suddenly go wrong. You will not come to much if you do not draw nearer and nearer to God.

Where experience is real, the soul will still look for more. Strive to go forward; otherwise, you will hardly keep what you have already. Open your mouths wide, and the Lord will fill them abundantly. There are treasures of good things with Him, that you have never yet seen. There are sweet fills of love, peace, joy; perfect victory over sin; self-denial, and dying to the world, being alive to nothing but Christ, being filled with all the fullness of God. All these and much more are to be had through seeking after them.

Conclusion

These meditations should encourage us to overcome any distance that has developed between God and our souls by drawing near to Him. John Owen wrote many profound things but a very simple observation he made is that “Friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits”. “Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”

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Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?
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.
22 May, 2020

This seems an almost ludicrous question. Evangelicals scarcely stop talking about God and do so much for God. How can you call that forgetting God? But it depends on what you mean by forgetting God. We can talk much about the things of God. Yet do we talk more about our work for God, ourselves and each other than about God Himself? How much do we engage with God directly? Has there been a subtle change from the vertical to the horizontal? We may come to think that the end of serving God justifies the means of doing what we want. This often means doing what we want to do rather than being concerned about what God wants us to do. Is God something of an after thought? It is possible to pursue a certain type of experience or spiritual feeling for our benefit rather than focussing on God Himself. Let’s consider this question positively and indirectly by asking another one. What does it mean to set God always before us?

A recently published book asks When Did We Start Forgetting God? The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future. Mark Galli has written this book from the perspective of having edited for many years the leading evangelical periodical Christianity Today. No doubt, like everyone, he has his own bias but it would be foolish to jettison such a fundamental question because we don’t like the messenger.
Galli speaks of forgetting God as maintaining activity for God without a single-minded desire for God. We can have words, activities and doctrines that all relate to God but not this passion that should energize all we do. This desire for God did indeed characterize the evangelical movement in the past. Today evangelicals are known for our activism, social values, mission, focus on conversion, church planting techniques and so on. Yet while the passion is here and there in some individuals, it’s not what we are known for. We live in a world that excludes the transcendent, there could not be a greater tragedy than to become of that world without realising it.

There are many in the world who reject or merely neglect God altogether. They do not consider that God is all-present, all-just, all-holy and all-powerful. They do not set God before them; they do not remember God as they ought. But this may also be true in a measure of those who profess God.

We cannot hope to consider the full extent of practically forgetting God and its impact. Perhaps it is something to return to on another occasion. We can, however, address some basic considerations. What then does it mean to set God always before us in our everyday life? In this updated extract, Archibald Skeldie briefly covers some valuable points in relation to this.

1. Set God’s Will Before You as the Rule of Your Actions

Those who set God before them look to the will of God as the rule of their actions. As many as follow this rule will have mercy and peace on them Having regard to God’s will involves the following noteworthy things.

(a) Seek to Please God Rather than Man

A Christian should so look to please God that they have no regard to pleasing man. That is to say, they must not do anything offensive to God in order to please man. They must not omit anything that may please the Lord even though by doing it, they greatly offend man.
It would have been good for Joab if he had so deeply considered the matter of Uriah as not offend God in order to please his king. This was better considered by Peter and John, who asked the Jews to judge whether it was better to obey God, than men. For seeing none can serve two masters, it is the best and wisest course to serve the best and worthiest master. The early Church father Gregory asked how can you give like service to those that are so unlike each other; mortal men and the eternal God?

(b) Seek to Conform Your Will to God’s

Those who do the will of God and makes it the rule of their actions, should not be desirous to conform God’s will to theirs. Rather they should strive to conform their will to God’s will. If this is how earthly employees should conduct themselves towards their earthly masters, how much more ought it so to be towards God, their heavenly Master. Augustine says that we are God’s true servants if we are ready to will what we hear rather than hear what we will.
A Christian must carefully consider this, not only in abstaining from things that ought to be avoided, but likewise in doing things that ought to be performed. They should avoid the one because they are forbidden and do the other because they are commanded of the Lord. By this means a Christian gives testimony of sincere obedience in the sight of God. Augustine also said that they are truly obedient who do not enquire into what sort of thing is commanded but are merely content to know that it is commanded.

2. Set the Glory of God Before You as the Goal of Your Actions

In order that a Christian may set God before him, it is not only required that they consider the will of God as the rule of their actions. They must also consider the glory of God as goal of their actions. This manifests the faithfulness and sincerity of God’s servants. They are those who will obtain their master’s approval in the day of reckoning. A Christian may be said to set the glory of God before them as the end of his actions, when they are so zealously protective of the honour of God, that they will not do anything to dishonour Him. Even though it would bring them the greatest profit and benefit possible they will not do it. Neither will they omit anything by which God should be honoured, even though by doing so they would incur both harm and shame.

In the parable of the talents, they servant respected their master’s honour so much that they gave into his hands both the talents they had received and those they had gained. They left the distribution of their rewards to their master’s discretion. Happy is the Christian who can say with Christ that, in finishing the work which God has given them to do, they have glorified God on earth. They may be well assured, that just as those that dishonour God will come to shame, so those that honour Him will be honoured by Him (). Augustine says, in commenting on John 12:26, that the Father of Christ will honour the servant of Christ with that great honour, that they will be with His Son. This happiness will never fail or fall away.

3. Set the Light of God’s Word and Spirit Before You, to Lead You

Those that set God before them must be led by the light of His Word and Spirit. The Word of God is a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths. It gives light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. David requests the Lord to teach him His ways and to lead him in a right path, because of his enemies. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the anointing that teaches us all things. He leads us into all truth. This is not to be understood of extraordinary but ordinary revelation. This is when by illumination He makes us understand the true meaning of the written Word of God so that we may flee the evil to be avoided and follow the good which is commanded.

4. Set God’s Divine Attributes Before You

Those that set God before them must remember God in His attributes of being all-present, all-just and all-powerful. They must consider that God is present everywhere, to take notice both of the inward and outward conduct of all people, whether it is good or evil. Augustine says that God is all eye, to see all things; all hand, to work all things; and all foot, to walk everywhere.

You must likewise remember that the righteous Lord will not allow neither the evil doings of individuals to be unpunished, nor the good doings of individuals to be unrewarded. The Church says in the book of Lamentations, “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled” (Lamentations 1:18). The apostle says, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10).

Remember also the power of Almighty God. He does whatsoever He wills in heaven, and earth. Indeed, He can do all that He can will, without limitation. He can punish sinners for their iniquity no matter how great they may be and no matter how great a multitude they join with in sin. By His power, God protects His Saints in their greatest danger and difficulty. He comforts and strengthens them in their greatest trouble and calamity and is able to satisfy their desire exceeding abundantly.

Why Should We Strive to Set God Before Us?

There are three reasons why a Christian should carefully strive to set God before them in this way.

(a) This is the great evidence of God’s people

Spiritual people like David always set God always before them, but the wicked and worldly, like the enemies of David, do not set God before them at all. They live in the world without hope, and without God, and by their conduct they declare to the world that they are devoid of the fear of God. Yet when Christians set God before them, it is evidence of their effectual calling. They have been turned from the power of Satan to God and from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. They are called out of darkness into the marvellous light of Christ.

(b) This is the great happiness of God’s people

Consider the happiness of those who set God before them against the misery of those who do not set God before them. The happiness of the one is that as they set God before them, so He sets them before Him. In those things which are mutually done by God to man and by man to God, the Lord is always the one who begins. If we do our part, we may know for certain that God will do His. There is mutual love between God and His saints, but God begins first. As the apostle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And those that love God may know that they are beloved of God. God has already chosen the person for His portion that chooses God for their portion. God seeks us before we can seek Him.

The Lord sets before Himself anyone who sets God before them by doing His will, seeking His honour, following His light and remembering His attributes. He sets them before Him by a high estimation of them; tender and earnest love towards them; and by a fatherly, providential care about them (Isaiah 49:16).

But the misery of those who do not set God before them is correspondingly as great as the happiness of those who do. In a word as they were careless about walking as in His presence while they live, so they will be for ever banished from the presence of God and the glory of His power.

(c) This is the great activity of God’s people

This is required in relation to our living and walking in a spiritual way. Christians must not walk like the Gentiles who do not know God (Ephesians 4:17). Rather they must walk like Zachariah and Elizabeth in all the commandments of God (Luke 1:5-6). This is called walking worthy of the Lord, walking in the Spirit and after the Spirit. It is walking with God, as Enoch did. It is walking before God, as Abraham enjoyed (Genesis 15:1). It is impossible for anyone to walk in this way unless they set God before them. Only by this will they know the path in which they must walk, the way they should walk and the destination towards which they ought to walk. In all these respects we may make conscience of walking in the sight of God by walking in His commandments with a perfect heart. Such walk from strength to strength towards Zion where they will see the Lord of Hosts. They walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing Him in all things, seeking to be fruitful in good works and increase in the knowledge of God.

Conclusion

Skeldie expresses the desire: “May God in His infinite mercy bring all our souls, for the sake of Jesus into this heavenly and holy condition”. This is what we should want for ourselves and for othersfor the glory of God. We need to set God in Christ before us in everything. The engrained habits of virtually forgetting God are not easily broken. They have influenced so much of what we do and think but setting God constantly before us helps to address the problem at its root.

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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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Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?
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.
21 Feb, 2020

We’re a culture with an obsession for possession; getting and having more things. In fact, it would collapse if everyone only obtained what they needed rather than what they wanted. You can have it all in terms of material goods and success yet still feel so empty that life doesn’t seem worth living. It’s possible to possess everything and have nothing from this point of view. But there is another perspective from which “having nothing and yet possessing all things” is a good and desirable thing. In fact, the very words of this paradox come from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:10. All things are ours if we are Christ’s. And if we have Christ, we cannot have anything better and we will not lack anything we truly need. Jeremiah has the same experience. He is destitute and experiences intense sorrows and affliction. But his hope is “the Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). Since this is true, he possesses all things, even though he has nothing.

In Lamentations Jeremiah pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. He descends in grief so deeply that he seems to come to the very bottom. Here he is tempted to despair of relief from his misery (Lamentations 3:15-19). Yet at this very point of desperation it is as though God takes him up and draws him towards very different thoughts (Lamentations 3:20-24). He finds hope in the mercy of God. Yet it has taken great wrestling to reach this point. David experienced similar wrestling (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 13:1).

Faith is the means by which they overcome (cf. 1 John 5:4). Even though God may seem to deny us or be silent to us we must not let Him go but still wrestle to receive the blessing [cf. Genesis 32:24–26). For if we leave Him, where else can we go or what can we do without Him? He is near to all that call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). As David Dickson observes, by wrestling Jeremiah obtains hope and gets his head above the water. He is like a drowning man who engages all his energy in swimming until he can catch hold of something to pull him out. Then he can regain his breath and rest (Psalm 116:3–4).

In wrestling, faith gains the victory; it cannot be overcome and fail (Luke 22:32). It shows us that there is hope in the deepest darkness. Jeremiah is able to come to the point of saying, “The Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). He goes from despair to hope, from emptiness to fulness and from having nothing to possessing everything. In this updated extract, David Dickson comments on what this means. First of all, he shows the way he comes to possess all things in God, by faith and hope in His mercy.

1. From Having Nothing to Possessing Everything

The prophet draws nearer to God but let us notice the steps that bring him closer. He says he recalls the Lord’s mercy to mind and therefore has hope. He says that it is of His mercy that he is not consumed. Then he turns himself to God and praises His great faithfulness. Now at last, he draws nearer to God and pulls Him in his arms, and says, “the Lord is my portion.” Here are the steps of a soul drawing near to God. In unbelief his back is turned to God but when a soul begins to believe or think upon God, it has hope. Having meditated a while on His nature, it turns and speaks to Him. At last it embraces Him and says, “the Lord is my portion.”

When thoughts of God come into your mind in your perplexity always keep going until you get God in your arms. Follow on till you possess Him in your heart as your portion. Do not leave Him till you get access to Him. Hold Him so tightly that you can say, “my beloved is mine and I am his” (Song 2:16). Lay hold on Him, never to let Him go again (Song. 3:4). Do not be content merely to speak of Him and to Him without embracing Him for He is near in Christ. Embrace Him by faith, hold Him in love. Faith brings Him down and love is shed abroad in your heart (Romans 5:5). He will refresh your heart and make you fight against your enemies, wrestle and run the way of His commands with delight, even though before you could not pray (Psalm 119:32).

The hardest struggles have the greatest deliverances and the dark night of trouble has a clear day of comfort. Therefore, when you come into trouble, wrestle and be sure that release will come. Jeremiah who was earlier calling God a lion or a bear and an archer shooting arrows at him, now calls God His portion. Should not you do likewise? Wrestle and you will find victory.

2. What Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything Means

“The Lord is my portion.” What is it to have God for one’s portion? Just as in outward things we may get an allowance of wages for our needs as the portion we wait for and make use of, so it is in the church of God. There is a variety of professing believers and servants and everyone has their portion. Someone’s portion is what they work and labour for. Many only give outward service to God for a reward in this world, as those who give want to be seen of others (Matthew 6:2). Yet some follow Christ for Himself and every one of them gets their portion, reward, or allowance they seek. If any are disappointed, it is because they have chosen something other than God for their portion.

Jeremiah here chooses God for his portion and lays hold on Him. He is now stripped naked of all the comforts of his fifty years preaching. All his days he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow and seems to have lost all his labour. When the church was cut off, sorrow and anguish seized on him. He felt many tokens of God’s anger and being unable to endure these heavy weights, he flees to God. He pulls Him in his arms and says, “the Lord is my portion”. He is resolved that here he will live and die. Even if he can find no ease from his current trouble, having God would make up for the lack of fellowship with the saints.

This is what his “soul” says, it is no mere verbal profession. Many would say that God was their portion. They say they love God above all things and that they would rather enjoy His presence and favour than anything else besides. But their life actually tells us that they have made the world, riches, pleasure, success etc., their portion. These are the things they engage themselves most to acquire and maintain. But Jeremiah takes God as his witness that He is the only thing he would most gladly have (Psalm 73:25). Jeremiah says it with the soul, while others said it with the mouth.

3. How Possessing Everything Makes Up for Having Nothing

Jeremiah makes the fact of God being his portion, equivalent to all his troubles and losses. There is no ease in trouble until God is taken for the easing of all trouble. He can make up all for all we lose and lack and counterbalance all evils. Until God is taken hold of to make up for all loss, nothing is able to give ease or contentment. Whatever a soul may need, laying hold of God will make up for it all (Psalm 4:6).

If we can in our souls give up all things, endure all things with God, and be content to have anything done to us (as long as we have God)–trials will not overcome us. Such a person possesses more than anything they can lose. Anything they can suffer is compensated to them. People usually wish contentment in all things, but God will sometimes withhold what we want so that we may seek Himself and be content to lack all other things.

Make God your portion. Nothing else but Him will do you good ultimately. He is always near when all other things fail.

4. The World Does Not Know What Possessing Everything Means

By saying the Lord is his portion he testifies that he has something unique that the world does not have. Here we see the difference between God’s children and others. God’s children seek their happiness in God and have Him for their portion. Others seek their happiness in some other thing and have some worldly thing for their portion. But those who seek something other than God for their portion cannot glory in Him. Those that have God for their portion glory in the fact that God is theirs and they are His. It is not possible to have God and something else for our portion at the same time. God reckons the person who makes God his portion, as His child (Genesis 15:1).

Many are inclined to have God as well as something else they want such as riches and honour, but if they do not get these, they leave Him. Even the godly want ease, peace and prosperity as well as Christ but the Lord sometimes strips them naked of all these comforts. He brings on them those things which their soul hates. This is so that in being loaded with troubles they may come to Him to get ease. If they delay to come to Him, His hand is still heavy on them till they come to Him and He becomes to them all in all.

Have you made God for your portion? Do not be surprised if He has withdrawn other things from you so that you find sweetness in Himself alone. Be content with Him and He will be better to you than all that you can want. He will uphold you under all troubles.

When nothing earthly can be relied on you will know what it is to have God for your portion (Psalm 142:5). Seek to have your needs supplied in Him, whatever it is that you lack in this world. Take God for all and take Him not only for outward needs but for lack of knowledge, strength and other spiritual graces, that God may be all unto you. And when you are stripped naked of all things, remember that these things are pulled out of your arms so that you may be filled with better things and may adhere more firmly to God in Christ.

The outward does not please God unless the inward goes along with it. Profession is empty unless the heart directs the mouth. Seek to profess not in word only but also in heart, and so lay hold on God with determination and make Him your portion.

5. How Possessing Everything Brings Hope

Because God is Jeremiah’s portion he has hope that his misery will come to an end. Although those who have God for their portion may be without comfort in heaven and earth they can still hope that all will be well with them. For when someone has taken hold of God with all they are, they will overcome all opposition. If you have resolved to keep God for your portion and to leave all other things rather than leave Him, you may have hope to overcome every trouble and in Him to obtain all you can desire.

The updated extract in this blog post is from a series of sermons David Dickson preached around 1628. They have never been published before but are due for release by Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books in the coming months (DV). 

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Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship
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."
21 Nov, 2019

Like many other things modern friendship has changed dramatically. Electronic communication has expanded our circle of friends and made maintaining contact easier. But its limitations can also stifle deeply connected bonds. And, the modern world seems friendless for too many.     We need to value and deepen friendship in a greater way for the spiritual good of others and ourselves. It demands time, a desire to benefit others and undivided attention. God Himself extends to us the greatest and deepest friendship and we need to learn how to value that above all.

Andrew Gray considers what it means to be “called the friend of God” as Abraham was (James 2:23). It is the highest possible privilege and yet Adam threw it away. Christ, however, has “found out the precious way of making the blessed and more durable knot of friendship between God and us”.

The great goal of the everlasting gospel is to reconcile sinners and make them friends with God. How do we become such friends? “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me” (Isaiah 27:5).

But, asks Gray, do our lives and prayers make plain that we are friends of God? What are the evidences of a true friendship toward Christ? How is it the deepest friendship there is? In this updated extract Andrew Gray also outlines the blessings of friendship with God so that we may truly value it.

1. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE TRUE FRIENDS

(a) A true friend maintains constant friendship to Christ at all times (Proverbs 17:17). No matter what trials we have or what He requires of us, we will be faithful.

(b) A true friend has the highest esteem for Christ (Song 5:10 and 16). Is Christ matchless to you? Who had your thoughts first today? Was it Christ (Psalm 139:18)?

(c) A true friend finds everything in Christ exceedingly lovely (Song 5:16). There is nothing in Christ that will not be lovely. Christ’s rebukes will be lovely, His convictions will be lovely, His visits will be lovely. There is nothing that Christ can do but you will cry out, “This is lovely.” There is not a commandment that Christ can give but it will be lovely. If you be a friend to Him, you will cry out, “I have a respect to all the commandments of God.”

(d) A true friend obeys all Christ’s commands (John 15:14). A Christian must be all-inclusive in their obedience to be a friend to Christ. If they do not love the duty for itself, yet will he love it because it comes from Christ.

(e) A true friend tells Christ their secrets. There are some things that a Christian will tell Christ, which he will not tell to anyone in the world. It does not offend your precious friend when you tell Him all your secrets.

(f) A true friend is burdened by Christ’s absence. Is it not the true kindness of a friend to long to see one’s absent friend?

(g) A true friend delights in fellowship with Christ (Song 1:2).

2. CHRIST’S FRIENDS FEAST WITH HIM

Christ invites His friends to feast with Him (Song 5:1). The great Master of the feast invites them. It is a royal feast (Isaiah 25:6); it is a glorious,
purchased feast to be valued by the price that was paid for it (Matthew 22:3–4). Only friends are invited to come to the feast of the Lord’s Table because only they can fellowship with Christ in the banquet of love. Only they can exercise the graces suitable for this feast. Can an enemy exercise the grace of love? An enemy cannot exercise the grace of sorrow for offending Christ, and yet that is a qualification of one that would approach the table of the Lord. No one is able to discern the Lord’s body except friends.

3. CHRIST’S FRIENDS LEARN HIS SECRETS

The person who is a friend to the Most High is a person who will be brought in to know the deep secrets of the Lord (John 15:15). He will let you know whether you are in the state of nature or in the state of grace. (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:32). He will communicate unknown truths to His friends (Matthew 13:11). Paul says of himself, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

There are excellent secrets of duty that Christ will unfold to His friends. He will tell His friends the duty of the times in which they live (1 Chronicles 12:32). There are many secret duties that are made known unto the friends of God that are not made known to others who are strangers to Him. Christ will also make the secrets of providence known to His friends (Psalm 36:9).

4. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY WITH BOLDNESS

The soul who is a friend of God may come with boldness to God to seek anything from Him. Is God your friend? Then you may say, “God is my friend; I may be bold with Him.” Yes, when you approach to God in prayer, if you could introduce it with this, “O my friend,” you might pray with much confidence and boldness of faith.

5. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY CONFIDENTLY

A friend of Christ may come to God with confidence. If Christ is your friend, you may go to Him with great persuasion that He will deny you nothing and is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Did you ever have such a precious friend as this?

6. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE STRENGTHENED IN DUTY

This precious, matchless friend sharpens you and stirs you up to do your duty (Proverbs 27:17). A sight of your precious friend Christ would make you swift in your duty.

7. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

A friend of God has much communion with God and dwells and walks much with God. He walks much with God (Amos 3:3). If you are friends to Christ, you will have much of His heart (to long after you), His hand (to help you) and His mind (to reveal precious secrets hidden from the world).

8. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE COUNSEL IN DIFFICULTY

God will give counsel to His friends in all their dark and difficult distresses (Proverbs 27:9). If you were a friend to God, you would sometimes sing of Him giving you counsel (Psalm 16:7; Psalm 73:24).

9. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE SYMPATHY

If you are a friend of God, Christ will sympathise with you in all your anxieties (Proverbs 18:24).  Christ is more afflicted with our circumstances than we are afflicted with them ourselves (Zechariah 2:8).

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart
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.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

If we stopped to look at it we would see how they weave themselves into our everyday thoughts and actions. We don’t admit it to ourselves but they do get more attention than God and seem to offer us more meaning and happiness. Some things are more obvious: success, work, image, material possessions, even smart phones. But heart idols go even deeper than you think. They are bound up with the deepest emotions and instincts of our heart and that is what keeps them hidden. If we are serious about putting God first we need help in diagnosing what is taking His place.

James Durham explains the subtle ways in which we commit heart idolatry and helps us to diagnose it. The heart Idolatry need not be an avowed conviction that we should worship something or someone other than God. Neither is it restricted to letting ourselves fixate on sinful things. We can be committing idolatry when we let ourselves love or value lawful things–things which are good and legitimate in themselves–to an excessive degree.

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

There are five things which indisputably belong to God: respect, love, confidence, reverence, and service.

It’s not that we should give no honour, love, etc, to anyone other than God, but that we should not love or serve anyone or anything too much, i.e, more than God.

When we veer away from giving God these five things, we are in effect committing idolatry in our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-7). What does this mean?

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

We commit idolatry when anything – even any good and legitimate thing – gets too much of our respect, so that our happiness depends on it. We can’t do without it, while we can do without communion with God. If something happens to deprive us of this thing, and then by comparison all our other comforts, including the promises of God and God himself, are of little value to us, this shows that that thing had too much of our respect.

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

We commit idolatry when we give our hearts away to created things – we’re addicted to them, we pursue them with excessive energy, we dote on them, or we sorrow immoderately when we lack them. A covetous person, who loves the world (1 John 2:15) is called an idolater (Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:5). Ahab loved Naboth’s vineyard so much that he could not rest without it (1 Kings 21). Demas idolised the world, when for love of it he forsook his service with the apostle (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are three ways to tell if your love to created things is excessive.

  • If your contentment depends on them to the extent that you fret when you cannot enjoy them, as Ahab did with Naboth’s vineyard, and Rachel when she had no children (Genesis 30:1).
  • If your love for created things competes with God, so that respect and love to the world shuffles out your duty to God, as it did with Demas.
  • If love to the world undermines your zeal in doing your duty towards God. This was the case with Eli (1 Samuel 2:24). Eli honoured and loved his children above God (1 Samuel 2:29). Not that he tolerated their wicked wrongdoing entirely, but because he did not intervene as sharply as he should have (and likely would have, if they had not been his own sons). By contrast, Abraham is commended for showing his love for God, because he did not hold back his only son when God called for him.

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

Putting our confidence in humans or human thing is idolatry. If we place our protection in humans, even in princes (Psalm 146:3) or in crowds, or in horses and armies, we are idolising them. Rich people may “make gold their confidence and fine gold their hope” (Job 31:24). They regard themselves as safe, not because God has a providence, but because they have these resources. Asa trusted doctors and not God for the cure of his disease (2 Chronicles 16:12). The rich man based his rest for his soul on his full barns (Luke 12:19).

You tell that some people’s confidence is misplaced because of the course of action they take when trouble comes. Some people do not hesitate to make use of sinful means to get things sorted. Or, because of the fuss they make when disappointment comes. Or, because they rely on their resources in a way that spoils their resting in God and his providence.

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

We may fear people, or events, more than we fear God. Fear can make us sin, or at least keep us back from doing what we should, either in little things or important things. Some, for fear of the Jews, did not confess Christ (John 12:42). This makes an idol of our actual enemies! We have more fear for “the one who can kill the body”, than for “him who can destroy both soul and body”! In this way great and important men in the world are idolised. In fact, the same thing can happen to good and well-qualified individuals, if we become addicted to them and their words and opinions, not so much because of the truth or reasonableness of what they say, but because of the personalities themselves.

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

When we are brought under the power of any thing, to serve it, that is idolatry. Every person or every whim that we set out to please is in this sense an idol. We cannot serve two masters, both God and mammon, and if we “serve men”, we are not “the servants of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

You can identify this kind of idolatry by seeing, for example, what people are most excessively taken up with, and most careful to accomplish. Or, by looking at what people will go to greatest lengths to attain. Or, by what gets most of their time and energies. Or, by what most sways, and overcomes, and overawes them most, so that they cannot resist it, even supposing they have to thrust aside a duty to God, or it puts them out of sorts for duties of worship.

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

It would be hard to speak of all the various different idols which may be loved, feared, and rested on too much, and so put in God’s place. Let us look at only a few.

1. THE WORLD

The world is the great clay idol that both covetous and hedonistic people hunt after, calling, “Who will show us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). This idol keeps thousands in bondage. An excessive desire to have the world’s goods, and so to have a prestigious reputation in the world, is the idol of many.

2. THE BELLY

The belly is a shameful god (Philippians 3:19), yet one worshipped by the majority of people, who labour for nothing more than for enough in this life to fill the belly (Psalm 17:14). They only want to earn their living and provide for their families. The fear of want captivates and enslaves many.

3. THE SELF

In some ways, the self includes every kind of idol. Your self, your reputation, your good name, people’s approval–your own will, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions. People are said to “live to themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15), in contrast to living to God, when respect to self influences them to be “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4), and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (Titus 1:7) and “self-willed” (2 Peter 2:10).

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

Gifted or influential people, who have the power to do us considerable good or evil, are often made into idols when people put too much fear, love, or trust in them.

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

Things which can lawfully be used as comforts and contentments–such as houses, spouses, and children–we can be too much addicted to. We can become absorbed in these things–even though they are in themselves very little–and so they turn out to be our idols.

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Our prayers, repentances, blameless living, and so on, are often invested with more of our confidence than they should be. We rely too much on them for our salvation and eternal peace (Romans 10:3).

7. CHURCH

The purity of our worship, the forms of our worship, our church membership, can become idols. When we rest on these forms of godliness, and do not press on towards the power of godliness, they become our idols. This was the problem with the Jews, who appealed to the temple of the Lord and the covenant between him and them, and their external relationship to him (Jeremiah 7:4).

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

When we lay too much weight on God’s gifts (such as beauty, strength, intelligence, learning), or think too much of them, we make them into idols. In fact, we may put grace itself, and the sense of God’s love, and inward peace, into Christ’s place. We may sometimes seek for these things more than for Christ himself. When things like these are rested on, and delighted in, and Christ is slighted, or when we miss them and do not delight in him, then they are idols.

9. AN EASY LIFE

Ease, quietness, and our own contentment, can often be a great idol. This is how it was with the rich man, who told his soul to take ease (Luke 12:19). His ease was his idol, seeing how he rested on it, and made it the chief end of all his buildings and the goods he had to store. But his riches were his idol, seeing how he grounded his expectation of rest on what he possessed. Similarly, many idle people, who frame their life so that they will have no trouble, even though they are not being or doing anything profitable, make this the drift of all they do–to have an easy life. If this was not their chief end, it would be profitable, but when they neglect many necessary duties, only to avoid hassle, it is their idol.

10. ESCAPISM

Sometimes our minds please themselves with things which never exist except in their own imagination. Solomon calls this “the wandering of the desire”, as opposed to “the sight of the eyes” which others delight in (Ecclesiastes 6:9). Some people spend their gifts and skills on writing novels, romances, stage plays, and comedies. Even more subtly, yet perhaps even more commonly, people concoct imaginary and fictious scenarios where they get the revenge, delights, or prominence they desire.

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

The means which God normally works by, are often trusted in and relied on to such an extent that they become idols. These could be doctors, armies, or ministers–or inanimate natural causes. Worse than that, astrology and palm-reading are much prized but the Scriptures treated as antiquated and largely discarded.

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

In order to honour God truly and have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3) we need a right response to Him. God must be esteemed, loved, trusted, feared, hoped in adored, honoured, served and obeyed above all else. In a word, He must be the supreme purpose of all our actions.

We must also depend on God and submit to Him. We must rest believingly on Him and express our faith and repentance in prayer.  There must be delight in Him and constant fellowship. We must also meditate on God and diligently use all of the means He has appointed for us to deepen our response to Him,.

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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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