How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering
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.
10 May, 2019

​We’ve heard about the decline of Christianity, church attendance and Christian influence. Aspects of this are matters of discussion and debate. Yet decline and increased pressure on the Church are certainly evident. Social and cultural pressures and a moral revolution that sets the agenda and seems to place the church continually on the back foot. Or the challenge of how to communicate the gospel in a world where people mistakenly think it no longer makes sense. There’s a danger that when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity–the potential for inward decline. Has there been a decline of living Christianity in your heart and mine? It’s easy to fall into the temptation of becoming consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. What if our souls have begun to wither and we’ve scarcely noticed. How would we know? More importantly, how can we recover a declining condition?

Christ tells His people who are withering in their souls to be watchful or awake (Revelation 3:2). This is the first step towards reviving a withered soul. As Obadiah Sedgewick puts it there can be “no reformation without diligent and serious consideration”. Those in Sardis were in a dying condition. The powers of truth and grace were extremely faint and seemed to be expiring. There were things “that were ready to die”. Spiritual life needs to be strengthened in such a dying condition. Outwardly things may have looked good to the eyes of others. But it was imperfect and incomplete before God. Their condition required remembering and repenting. Obadiah Sedgewick (a member of the Westminster Assembly) explains the implications of Christ’s exhortations in this updated extract.

 

1. How Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) In Our Profession. The leaves of our profession may wither when we do not have even the previous zeal and diligence for being at services. We may become so remiss in these things as to become something of a stranger to God.

(b) In Our Conversation. We may no longer delight to be with the people of God. When we are with them we avoid profitable conversation about heaven and holiness.

(c) In Our Affections. Christ tells the Ephesians that they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). There was a cooling in the degree of love similar to the decline in the Galatians that Paul speaks of (Galatians 4:15).

(d) In Our Obedience. We obey God occasionally or in a distracted way or with a kind of cold, careless formalism. Before no time was too long and no excuse was sufficient to neglect serving God. Praying did not satisfy without lamenting groanings of spirit or more fervent wrestling with God. But now prayer and other spiritual activities are like a pulse hardly felt. Mere words and just doing the activity is enough.

(e) In Our Understanding. Previously our mind was taken up with delight in meditating on God and Christ, divine truths and ways. Now we are taken up with things that are empty and transitory. These so fill the soul that it becomes almost a stranger to holy meditations. It has almost lost its relish for deep thoughts of God, Christ, or salvation.

(f) In Our Gifts and Abilities. These become rusty and blunt because we want to be comfortable and do not use them aright or else focus them on worldly things.

(g) In Our Graces.  It is worst of all when we are dying in our graces. Physical health may go up and down and so it may be with a Christian’s graces. Perhaps they are not being kept active or being strengthened by spiritual activity.

 

2. Why Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) Error.  If poison gets into the body it weakens and endangers life. Unsound doctrine can do this as it did to the churches of Galatia. When the understanding is corrupted with any error, truth does not have the same power in the soul. Where truth loses its authority, grace will lose its strength.

(b) Sinning. Just as a wound in the body makes us lose blood and endangers our life, so there are things which fight against the soul and wound it (1 Peter 2:11). Sinning not only wounds the conscience but also our graces. Sinning is to graces as water is to fire, nothing is more opposite to grace than sin. When sin gets into the affections it is like a disease which will inevitably be a deadly wound to our graces.

(c) Neglect. Neglecting food makes the body decline. So the people of God may become careless through spiritual pride. They do not keep so close to the Word of life or to the Life itself by earnest and constant communion in prayer. It is no wonder that they become dying people. Just as plants live or die, flourish or decay in relation to how they benefit from the sun, so it is with us and God.

(d) Allowing Spiritual Disease. If ill health in the body is not treated it can become deadly. Unless sin is dealt with it will do the same to the soul. One sin may lead to another. Or the same sin may become stronger. This makes grace wither.

(e) Lack of Self-Examination. Previously we kept a careful watch over ourselves but then we began to think it was not so necessary. We therefore fail to see how either sin or grace is operating. The soul becomes weak. We cannot pray as before, we do not have the love to God and Christ we had before. We do not delight in the means of grace nor mourn over sin as before. We do not do the same good to others as before. Why is this? It is always true that the less searching of heart there is, the less strength of grace there is.

(d) Lack of Humbling Ourselves. Fasting and prayer have been ordained to help preserve our graces. When we neglect them or are careless in them we cannot have the same strength against spiritual corruptions. We therefore fall into spiritual decay.

(e) Laziness. A lazy Christian will quickly prove to be a dying Christian. Grace not exercised will quickly become weak and dying. It is put into the soul by God’s Spirit but there are means to sustain and strengthen it. Grace is like a fire that must be stirred up. He who will not use grace, will quickly lose it or decay in it.  Many Christians do not stir their hearts to believe, lay hold on God, or call upon Him, or to walk before Him. They do not use their knowledge, zeal and love for the good of those around them, including those they live with. They meet together but don’t stir one another up to greater holiness.

(f) Excessive emotion. Excessive fear, grief, anger, joy, agony, desire or worry can all impair grace. Desire for the world, or delight in it, fear of man, or grief for things we have lost can all damage grace.

 

3. Are Our Souls Withering?

(a) Examine Your Understanding. Previously there were strong endeavours to know the truths of God and search out the mysteries of salvation. There was an admiration of holiness and God’s favour. There were sweet meditations on the will of God; the mind was pre-eminently taken up with God and Christ, grace, obedience and heaven. Is it so now? Or do worldly things seem great in your eyes? Are we more concerned for our temporal than for our spiritual good? Are our thoughts of God fleeting and short? Do you desire to know God or see His favour in Christ to you? Where is that high regard for the truths of God? Where is that diligence to know the condition of your soul? Where is that sweet delight you once had to know Jesus Christ as your own?

(b) Examine Your Will and Affections. Time was that your will was flexible and found obedience easy. It was submissive to the divine will and cheerful in the duties of godliness. Your affections were delighted with God’s promises and ravished with love to Christ. You were concerned to please and to avoid offending.  You desired nothing more than God’s lovingkindness and hated all evil. But now your will grows weary and is reluctant to be persuaded. It often conflicts with God’s will. You are slow to pay heed to God’s counsels. Neither God’s mercies nor His warnings have the same effect on you.  You delight less in heavenly things and sin is not hated as it was.

(c) Examine Your Heart and Conscience. In the past conscience was quick to direct and restrain. It sought exact obedience. It was sensitive against doing wrong. It could not rest till peace was found. Is it so now? Can you sin and conscience does not strike you? Has your conscience become sleepy and almost dead?  Can you omit duties or do them carelessly or can you sin and either conscience says nothing or you do nothing?

(d) Examine Your Worship. How precious and delightful the means of grace once were to you. You would rather have spent a day in them than a hundred in other things. They brought powerful impressions on your heart; grief, joy and hope. They helped you conquer sin and temptation and have a more serious diligence in your walk with God. Is it so now? Does the Word warn and you do not tremble? Does it promise good and you do not love it? If your heart seems to be dead it indicates that you are a dying soul.

(e) Examine Your Conversation. Has our religion become just talk, criticism and debate?

(f) Examine Your Graces. When graces are scarcely active or are generally inconstant there is spiritual decline. Your faith does not commit things to God as before, your love is not so settled on Christ as before. Your patience cannot endure, your sorrow is dry and your zeal has become cool. If our physical capacities have become weaker it is an indication of declining strength in the body. The same may be said for our spiritual condition, if our graces are not as vigorous as they were.

 

4. How to Recover Our Withering Souls

God puts grace within the soul and also increases and perfects it. Strengthening grace means recovering the health of the soul. Christ also does this work, it is He who must make our withered branches to flourish again. He does this by awakening us through the Word and not leaving us to continue as we are. Ministers are also appointed to watch for the flock and exhort those who are going astray. Christ supplies strength and grace that enables us to repent and pray. There is renewed grace to go on in holiness and regain our former strength of holy understanding, faith, will, love, desire, fear, and obedience. But there are also means for Christians themselves to use to strengthen grace within.

(a) Serious Consideration. Seriously consider and take to heart your condition. Think about what it was formerly and what it is now; what strength there was then, what weakness there is now (Psalm 119:59). Consider how much glory God had then, what dishonour God has now. Consider what peace of conscience you had then, what wounds in conscience now.

(b) Confession. Go before the Lord and fall down before His footstool with shame, bitter weeping and lamentations. Confess your condition.

(c) Resolve. Resolve that you will not continue in your decayed condition but rather shake off all the causes of having decayed. Put away sin. Turn away from carelessness and slothfulness. If the world has caused your decay, resolve to turn from its allurements.

(d) Reform. Remember where you have fallen from and do the first works again (Revelation 2:4). Go to prayer, reading, holy meditation, spiritual conversation and hearing again.  Stir up those coals and embers of grace. There is life in you yet, exercise faith and repentance.

(e) Fervent Prayer.  The Lord can give the strength you need (Psalm 86:16). Implore Him to pity and help you, to be your strength and salvation. Seek that He would weaken the sins which have so much weakened you. Ask that He would crucify your heart to the world, which has so much crucified your heart to your God. He can increase strength to those who are faint (Isaiah 40:29). He is able to revive and strengthen the holiness that He himself planted in your heart.

(f) Submit to the Word.  Strive for a pliable heart submissive to whatever the Lord will direct you to by His word. Desire to do God’s will. Co-operate with the Word received when it has got into your soul and stirred you in any way. Take note of what impressions the Lord makes on your spirit by His Word. Stir up your heart to embrace them and apply them again and again to your conscience. This is the way to make your weak spark grow into a flame.

(g) Find Strong Christians. Seek out strong and lively Christians who walk in the ways of grace. If they are good and know how to do good they will have hearts to pity you, heads to direct you and arms to bear you up. Listen to their heavenly wisdom in counselling you and their exhortations to you. Follow their examples in careful communion with God. You will be helped by their prayers for you.

 

Conclusion

It is a serious matter when our souls are in a withering condition. We cannot just accept it, we need to address it. It is a matter that Christ takes extremely seriously in the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3). This is one of the various themes of our new forthcoming study course called Outside In. It helps to identify the problem of declining in love and grace and what we can do by God’s grace to return from that condition.

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Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning
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.
28 Dec, 2018

We have a certain natural inclination to “some new thing” (Acts 17:21). We live in time and that makes the expectation of change inevitable. New beginnings (such as a new year) can open fresh opportunities for transformation.  But it becomes unhealthy when we value things simply because they are new rather than using a more enduring standard. An addiction to novelty creates destructive rootlessness and distraction. It afflicts the world and the Church. Adhering to things simply because they are old rather than because they are true is also lethal, however. How do we develop a healthy approach to new beginnings that doesn’t discard everything in the pursuit of novelty?

We need new and old brought together in an enduring way. We need to consider time in the context of eternity. Hugh Binning explains how Christ is the unchanging but also the ever new; how He is eternal but entered time. These thoughts (drawn from 1 John 1:1-2) take us into the mystery of Christ’s person. “That which was from the beginning” could be seen, heard and touched.  As Binning says, this combines antiquity and novelty together in one, and that makes it all the more excellent and wonderful. This is the glorious way in which the “Word of life” is brought within our reach. We can expect new and fresh blessings from the unchanging Word of life but they are of eternal benefit.

 

1. Considering the Unbegun Beginning

Christ is that which was from the beginning, which was with the Father before all antiquity from eternity.  He is not only from the beginning of time but before all time, before all imaginable beginnings. Christ Jesus, the Father’s Word, was with the Father from the beginning. He was with the Ancient of days who infinitely and unmeasurably antedates all antiquity. Compared to His endurance all we regard as antiquity is mere novelty. The infinite, beginningless, immeasurable endurance of God before this world can never be unravelled by the imaginations of men and angels. Even if they had all eternity they could never unravel it.

There is nothing so old, He is infinitely before the oldest and most ancient creatures. The age of this Word is like a labyrinth with innumerable turnings and windings. Those who make the most progress and the longest search will be just where they were, always beginning, and never coming nearer the beginning of His duration. This is because it is the beginning of all things that have had a beginning but has no beginning itself.

This is what makes religion the richest and most transcendent subject in the world. It presents us with a twofold eternity. It surrounds the soul with a “past” eternity without beginning and a “future” eternity without end. “That which was from the beginning”, before all beginning, either real or imagined. How much there is in that to settle a soul in view of all the false, painted appearances of the world.

 

2. Consider the Incomparable Christ

Such a Saviour is held out to us. We are to come to and lean on the Rock of ages. He is the one on whose word the whole universe is established and stands firm. He infinitely exceeds and precedes all things visible or invisible and all their changes. From eternity the Father and Son took delight in the thoughts of peace and good will they had towards us, which would be revealed in time. If they delighted in planning it how much more in accomplishing the whole plan.

Think what an incomparably excellent Saviour we have who is one with God and equal to Him: one with Him from all eternity. What a strong foundation this is for faith and confidence, what a Rock on which to establish a floundering soul. Man’s misery and curse being liable to endure for all eternity, there is One to deliver them from that, who was Himself from all eternity. Who could purchase for us such absolute blessedness throughout all eternity, except one who was Himself from all eternity? What marvellous proportion and beauty there is in the ways of God. Everything is devised by infinite wisdom so that that we may have strong consolation.  

Consider how the Word of life is held out to you and yet you do not allow your hearts to be moved, or stirred after Him. This is to forsake a great mercy, the eternal Word of life as the infinite Wisdom of the Father. Will we let this offer run past us every day and never find pause from the multitude of business, thoughts and lusts of the world? Will we never look beyond this world, to God, and His Son Jesus Christ? Will we never take seriously either the one that was before all things or our own souls, that must survive and outlive all visible things. 

 

3. Considering the Ever New Christ

But there is also a newness in this subject, which increases admiration and may engage our affections all the more. The “life was manifested” (verse 2). He is such a Word of life that though He was invisible and untouchable from the beginning, yet He was recently clothed with flesh that made him both visible and capable of being handled. These are the two poles on which the mystery, glory and wonder of Christianity turns. The antiquity of His real existence as God and the newness of His appearance in the flesh as man.

He who was so blessed from everlasting begins to be manifested in the fulness of time. To make Himself visible, He takes on our flesh. It was only for this purpose, that He who was Life itself and the eternal life might become life to poor dead sinners and give them eternal life. In taking on our flesh, the Word is more wonderfully manifested and made visible than in the creation. In creation the Creator made creatures come out of nothing at His command. But in this, the Creator is made a creature. He once gave a beginning of being to things that had no being. Being before all beginning Himself, He now takes a beginning and becomes flesh, which He was not before.

How wisely and wonderfully it is planned that, for the good of lost man, the Son of God should be made of a woman.  The lower the nature in which He appears, the higher the mystery is and the richer the comfort is. The glory of the only begotten Son of God was more visibly manifested in that He appeared in such a low form. It is for power to show itself in weakness and such glorious rays to break out from under such a dark cloud. This was greater glory, and more majesty, than if He had only showed Himself in the most perfect creatures.

 

4. Consider Our Need of His New Blessings

When we see the ancientness of our Saviour and the newness of His appearance in the flesh brought together, it ought to endear Him to us. He has come so near us, and brought his own Majesty within our sphere so that we can lay hold of it. He did this for no other purpose except to make life and immortality shine as beams from Him to bring dead souls to life.

Let us open our hearts to Him, and then welcome such fresh news with new delight. Though it is many centuries old, this news is still recent to a believing heart. There is an everlasting fountain in it that sends out fresh comfort to souls every day. It is as refreshing as the first day this fountain was opened. This is the new wine that never grows old, indeed it is renewed in every generation with some new manifestation of the love of God. Christ’s incarnation was the first manifestation of the Son, the very morning of light and life, the dayspring visiting the world that was buried in the darkness of idolatry.

The Sun of righteousness first appeared up above the horizon at that time. But it is still now the same “day”. He has been appearing by greater degrees, shining more and more to the noon day (2 Peter 1:19). This Sun has never set since, but gone round about the world in the preaching of the gospel. It has brought life and light from one nation to another, and one generation to another. We ought to welcome His kindly and affectionate love to mankind (Titus 3:4). This is what shines so brightly. The beams of grace and love to men are the rays that come from this Sun of righteousness.

 

Conclusion

A new year offers new opportunities for fresh appreciations of the glory of Christ. We need to take regular time out from the treadmill of demands and the constant feed of new content to seek this. As we do this we will be brought into contact with eternal realities. Are we trading things these opportunities and only gaining things that are new but immediately grow old? The promise of the new that the world constantly offers soon proves empty. There are new blessings to lay hold on in fellowship with Christ, the Word of life as we seek to live out this glorious gospel. These blessings are of eternal significance.

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Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year

Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year

Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year
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.
20 Dec, 2018

​According to the YouVersion Bible App, Isaiah 41:10 “was shared, bookmarked and highlighted more than any other this year” on their platform. It’s one of the many “fear not” verses of the Bible and some find that significant. No doubt the focus on bible verses addressing fear may be facilitated by the emoji-based search on YouVersion’s Bible App. This allows users to tap images corresponding to various emotions which in turn locate related Bible verses. Apparently individuals conducted more than 18 million searches to find what the Bible might say to them in the midst of their emotional highs and lows. Apparently the app is used by 350 million devices worldwide. Bible promises are meant to be treasured and to be used in times of trouble and need; they are meant to strengthen our faith. Of course this doesn’t mean that we are to use the Bible like a pick and mix counter of sweets where we select only positive thoughts. It’s one thing to appreciate, highlight and share a promise and another thing to meditate on it and live according to it. Before we consider how to apply Isaiah 41:10 perhaps we need to think about what God’s promises are and how we should use them.

Understanding the promises is vital for prayer, meditating on the Word, encouraging others and living by faith. An old method of making use of the promises is that where we find a command or precept in the Bible we should look for a promise that is directly connected to the precept. Then we should pray the promise and seek to live in obedience by depending on it. Edward Leigh (who was a member of the Westminster Assembly) speaks of how the promises strengthen faith, quicken hope, inflame zeal, reinforce patience, and foster all the graces of God’s Spirit. They help us in all troubles whether inward or outward. But we need to understand them better in order to apply them. Here are some principles in an update extract from Leigh’s large book on the subject.

 

1. Understanding the Bible’s Promises

(a) What is a Promise?

The promises are outward declarations of God’s will concerning good to be received, and evil to be removed.

(b) What is the Most Important Promise?

The main promise is Jesus Christ. All promises for outward blessings, such as food, clothing, health, peace, freedom, deliverance in temptations, safety in danger depend on the main promise of Christ. All God’s promise are sure and certain to God’s children in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). True Faith first of all directly fastens itself on the main promise of God in Christ. After and with this it exercises faith in all other promises that concern either soul or body. Abraham by the same faith by which he was justified believed God’s promise of a son (Romans 4:18).

(c) What Makes the Promises Precious?

The promises of God are a rich mine of spiritual and heavenly treasures. They are the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8). The apostle Peter says that they are exceedingly great in quantity and precious in quality (2 Peter 1:4).

  • The giver is precious. God is said in Scripture to be the giver of them (Romans 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:2).
  • The price for them is precious.  Jesus Christ for whose sake we obtain them and the price He paid to purchase them (1 Peter 1:19).
  • The way they are given is precious. They are given freely out of the precious loving kindness of God (Psalm 36:7).
  • The way they are received is precious. The precious grace of faith lays hold of them (2 Peter 1:1).
  • The benefit of them is precious.  Being made partakers of the divine nature that is, of the graces of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:4).
  • The things promised are precious. If the promise is so sweet how much more sweet are the things promised: life and godliness or glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).

 

2. Applying the Bible’s Promises

The right use of the promises helps to sweeten all our afflictions, strengthen our faith, spur us on to well-doing and to breed contentment in all circumstances whatever.   But how can we use them in the right way?

(a) Know the Promises

If we have a remedy to hand that would ease our pain but we do not know it what good will that do us? If we do not know the promises even though they are in the book how will that make things better for us?

(b) Remember the Promises

We should strive to remember the promises. What we do not remember, we do not known. David hid God’s promises in his heart and they upheld him in his trouble (Psalm 119:111). God’s promises gave him great comfort (Psalm 119:50). The promises of God are the Christian’s title deeds for heaven. The Hebrew Christians were fainting in their minds because they had forgotten their comfort and strength (Hebrews 12:3, 5). They had forgotten promises of God made for strengthening their faith in the fiery trial. As an oil lamp will soon be out unless it has a supply of oil, so faith will soon fail unless it is nourished with continual meditation on God’s promises.

(c) Apply the Promises

We should believe the promises and apply them to ourselves. Faith not only believes the promises to be true but applies them. Promises are never believed unless they are trusted (Matthew 9:29; Mark 9:23). There are two ways of applying the promises:

  • Meditation, we should take note of and ponder the promises well.
  • Prayer. We should have fervent prayer that God would by His Spirit reveal to us the precious promises He has made to His people in His holy Word and give us wisdom to assess and apply them aright. All our prayers must be based on God’s promises (Genesis 32:9,12; 2 Samuel 7:27-29).

Special promises made to individuals can apply more widely. The promise to Joshua (Joshua 1:5-6) is applied to all believers in Hebrews 13:5. The promise to Peter (Luke 22:32) is applied to all believers in John 17:15.

We should also notice the conditions in a promise and what they depend on. God promises grace and glory (Psalm 84:11) but notice it is grace first then glory. Godliness has the promises of this life and of that which is to come. We must note the order that the Saviour uses, first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness and then all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). When God has called us to the knowledge of Christ we must not look for the immediate accomplishment of God’s promise of salvation or perseverance by God’s sole power while in the meantime omitting all concern about holiness in our life. God does not only fulfil His promises in us but also by us. The promises also relate to His commands and our duties.

 

3. Applying the Promises of Isaiah 41:10

(a) Promises of God’s Special and Gracious Presence

This is the sweetest comfort which God used to sustain His children in the Old Testament. Those such as Isaac (Genesis 26:3, 24) and Moses (Exodus 3:12 and 4:12) as well as others (Joshua 1:5, 9. and 3:7; Ezekiel 3; Jeremiah 1:8, 19). David encouraged his son Solomon with this (1 Chronicles 28:20).

It applies to the whole Church in general (Isaiah 41:10 and 43:2). Christ is spiritually present with His Church (Revelation 1:13 and 2:1). Christ left this comfort in His farewell to His disciples and their successors: “Lo I am with you…to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

(b) Promises of Growth and Increase in Grace

God has promised to give grace abundantly, not only to drop but pour it (Isaiah 44:3-4). Their soul shall be as a watered garden (Isaiah 58:11 and Jeremiah 31:12). God promises to make His people fruitful. He says He will give strength to His people to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 40:29, 31; Psalm 29:11; Isaiah 26:4, 12; Isaiah 41:10; Zechariah 10:12; Philippians 4:13). They go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7). The righteous will hold on his way and be stronger and stronger (Job 17:9). His path is as the shining light shining more and more (Proverbs 4:18). If we are rich in the work of the Lord, our labour will not be in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

(c) Promises for Those that Suffer as Well-doers

The promise of “fear not” in Isaiah 41:10 relates to fear of those who oppose them (Isaiah 41:11-12). Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10; 1 Peter 3:14).  There are promises for those who suffer either for truth or goodness and also those who suffer for both together (2 Timothy 2:11-12; 1 Peter 4:13; Romans 8:35-37).  God will subdue all their enemies (see Genesis 12:3; Deuteronomy 30.7; Jeremiah 12:14; Psalm 37:14-15, 17; Job 8:22; Isaiah 41:11-12; Isaiah 54:15; 59.19; Proverbs 22:23 and 21:1).

 

Conclusion

When we apply the promises within the overall context of Scripture and of God’s priorities for His glory (which includes our good but also our obedience) we are more likely to apply them in the right way. All God’s promises are sure and certain in Christ and the promises should lead us back to Him in faith (2 Corinthians 1:20). God’s promises relate to our growth in holiness as well as our blessing and protection. The Bible is full of precious promises, do we know, value and apply them?

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What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
7 Sep, 2018

It’s a phrase that’s used a lot. Yet when you stop to consider it, it’s rather difficult to define. Of course God is everywhere present but we usually mean a felt sense of His presence. Is that purely a subjective sense that borders on a mystical feeling or being emotionally charged? Sometimes it seems like people are speaking of a particular experience or atmosphere. Do we have to feel that God is there to know that He is there?

Surely what we mean by “presence” is God exerting His influence in a way that we discern. Hugh Binning has a very simple definition of the presence of God. He says that “God’s presence is His working”. That is helpful because God may be present without us being overwhelmed with feelings of love, joy and praise. This is how it was for Job. In his affliction and distress he was saying, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” (Job 23:3). “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him”. He knew that God was working and that He was trying Him with a holy purpose but He could not discern Him clearly (Job 23:8-10).

 

1. The Holy Spirit’s Workshop

God’s presence is his working. His presence in a soul by His Spirit is His working in such a soul in some special way, which is not common to all people. It is specially to those whom He has chosen. His dwelling is nothing else but a continued, familiar and endless working in a soul until He has conformed everything within to the image of His Son.

The soul is the workshop that the Spirit has come to work in to fashion in it the most skilful part of the whole creation. This is the work of restoring and repairing the masterpiece, which came last from God’s hand in creation, and so was the greatest. By this I mean, the image of God in righteousness and holiness. This is the bond of union between God and us. Christ is the bond of union with God but the Spirit is the bond of union with Christ. Christ is the peace between God and us making out of two one. But the Spirit is the link between Christ and us, by which He has direct and actual involvement in us, and we in him.

 

2. Mutual Indwelling

The union between Christ and the soul is illustrated in Scripture by the closest relationships because a mutual union is closest. It is often expressed in this way to demonstrate an interchangeable relation and reciprocal union with Christ. The knot is on both sides to make it strong. Christ in us and we in Him; God dwelling in us, and we in Him, and both by this one Spirit (1 John 4:13). It is often mentioned by the Apostle John who was best able to express it as one most possessed with the love of Christ and the felt sense of His love (John 17:23, 26; 1 John 3:24). Just as the names of married persons are written together, so this indwelling is written in this way.

It is not cohabitation but inhabitation. It is not one person alone inhabiting the other, but mutual inhabitation which amounts to a kind of penetration, the most intimate and immediate presence imaginable. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith; and we dwell in Christ by love (Ephesians 3:17 , and 1 John 4:16). Death brings him into the heart; for it is the very application of a Saviour to a sinful soul. The very applying of His blood and sufferings to the wound that sin made in the wounded conscience which heals it, pacifies it and calms it.

A Christian, by receiving the offer of the gospel heartily and affectionately brings in Christ as offered into his house, and then salvation comes with Him. Therefore believing is receiving (John 1:18). It is the very opening of the heart to let in an offered Saviour. Christ, thus possessing the heart by faith, works by love. The Christian dwells in love and in God and God in him. Love has a special value in it, to transport the soul out of itself to the Beloved (Song 4:9). The soul is where it loves. Fixing and establishing the heart on God is dwelling in Him.

The constant and most continued residence of the most serious thoughts and affections will be the all-fulness and riches of grace in Jesus Christ. As the Spirit dwells where He works, so the soul dwells where it delights. Its delight in God makes it go out to Him frequently in desires and breathings after Him. By means of this, God dwells in the heart for love is the opening up of the inmost chamber of the heart to Him. It brings the Beloved into the very secrets of the soul, into the inmost part of the heart so Christ dwells in the affections of the soul.

It is only the Spirit of Christ given to us that entitles us to Him, and Him in us. It is the Spirit working in your souls mightily and continually, making your hearts temples for the offering of the sacrifice of prayer and praises. He casts out all idols from these temples that He alone may be adored and worshipped by the loving service of the heart and purges them from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. It is the Spirit dwelling in them in this way that makes them living members of the true body of Christ, joined to Christ the Head. This makes Him yours and you His; by virtue of this He may command you as His own, and you may use and employ Him as your own.

 

Conclusion

God’s special gracious presence is more than a mere feeling, though feelings are involved. We can discern God’s presence by His activity in our hearts and lives. His grace in our hearts and lives is stirred up into activity. James Durham observes that, “believers, that aim seriously at the exercise of grace in themselves, may confidently invite Christ to come, and may expect His presence”.

The more we make use of the Holy Spirit through prayer, submission and obedience to the Word of God, love to Christ, the more we will know that presence. It will humble us. An abiding sense of that presence is valuing Christ and depending on the strength and grace he provides. Christ’s presence will make us spiritual fruitful and useful. Sometimes there is a sense of distance rather than presence but in this we should be stirred up to seek after the fellowship we desire. “There is nothing that will affect a gracious soul more, than to miss Christ’s presence, when the disappointment has been procured by its own sin” (James Durham). As Durham also puts it, a high esteem of Christ will make us pursue after His presence “for, to those that thus love and esteem Him, He will manifest Himself (John 14:21, 23)”. We need this in seeking to worship God in public and private. As Durham says: “it is one thing to have pure ordinances set up in the Church, and another to have Christ’s presence filling them with power”. We will want Christ’s presence for others as well as ourselves.

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The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements
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.
25 May, 2018

Many things around us seem to conspire to bring us down to the depths of discouragement. We can see plainly that things are not as they ought to be. Perhaps we look for fruit from our patient efforts to sow seed with others and it doesn’t appear even promising. So we become weary in well-doing. Ministers are easily tempted to discouragement in the midst of their labours. It’s also not difficult to become discouraged due to things within, especially our spiritual state and progress. How do we get out of being sucked into the spiral of despair? The only all-sufficient source of help is in divine grace.

John Welwood (1649-1678) suffered much though he was only in his twenties. The following extract is from one of the many letters he wrote during his trials and persecution. He was moving from place to place all over Scotland, preaching as he could. (More information about his life can be found at the end of this article). He was an especially powerful preacher and his sermons were said to have “a fiery earnestness”.

 

1. Nothing Should Discourage a Christian

I know nothing that should discourage a Christian. There is not one discouragement in all the Word of God, but His encouragements are many. But through our folly and unbelief we lose the comfort of them.

 

2. Our Guilt and Ignorance Should Not Discourage Us

Should guilt discourage us? He has made Him “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ says to the Father that if the Christian owes anything to Him, “put it on my account”. “The blood of sprinkling speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

Should wrath discourage us? He has “redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Should our ignorance discourage us? Though we are as beasts before Him, yet he is continually with us and leads us like a flock. Our safety lies not in our wisdom and leading, but in His. Though we are foolish, our pilot is skilful and careful.

Does a body of sin and death discourage us? Indeed we have reason to cry out, “O wretched ones that we are!” “Who shall deliver us from it?” (Romans 7:24 and 8:2) It deadens us and deceives us, inclining little to what is good but a lot to what is bad. It makes us disinclined and slow to do our duty, and puts us out of the right condition for it. And if we say, we will be wise, yet it is far from us. Yet His grace is sufficient for us.

 

3. Sufficient Grace for These Discouragements

Our safety does not depend on grace within us, but grace outside us. If He would leave us to ourselves for only a day, how far wrong we would go. He has given us this promise, that his grace shall be sufficient for us. It is by this grace that we stand. It is by this that “we are made more than conquerors” in all the assaults and temptations that come from without, from Satan and from the world. It is He who keeps us from temptations and delivers from evil.

We should not therefore be discouraged by a body of sin and all the enemies that join with it. We should “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might”. He is with us as a mighty One.

 

4. Our Poor Growth in Grace Should Not Discourage Us

Does our small growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ discourage us? That is indeed our great complaint “our leanness, our leanness”. It is fitting that folk grow downwards in low thoughts of themselves, for He dwells with the humble.

The more folk have of grace, the more they see of corruption. The more they have of faith, the more they see of unbelief. It is fitting that folk have such workings within them, to keep them watching and wrestling. What an evil condition we find ourselves in when we have no such work to do. Besides, many times we make an idol of grace and prize it more than the Lord Jesus as the author of it. He may say unto us, Am not I worth more to you than however much grace? The God of all grace is ours. The fountain is ours; we are complete in Him.

 

5. Sufficient Grace is in Christ Not Us

It is fitter that He has our treasure than we should have it ourselves. We would desire to have all at one everything we need for the whole journey. This is still the aim of our hearts, and we would have a stock of grace within us so we would not be beholden to Christ for continual supply. We think it a poor life to live like beggars and to be like minors that must have a tutor.

We think that what is in our hand is surer than what is in Christ’s hand. But Adam had his stock in his own hand and he soon played the bankrupt. Though we had as much grace as possible we would undermine ourselves if His grace were not keeping us each day and moment. It is not our grace and worthiness that commends us to God, only the righteousness of Christ. We are obliged to God for the grace we get, not He to us. If He will keep us with little in hand, we ought to be content and not fall out with him because he will not fill oure purses with money, since we have access unto the treasure house.

 

6. Our Lack of God’s Felt Presence Should Not Discourage Us

Does God’s withdrawing discourage us? Sometimes there may be many fogs and clouds in our world below when all is fair weather above. Though our feelings say that His love changes there is “no variablness, nor shadow of turning” with Him. He loves us when He hides His face as well as when He smiles. He has many wise and holy purposes in all the afflictions we meet with. They are to be ballast for us. One would think it strange to see sand bags being cast into a ship but it is necessary for the ship would be blown over without this. We would go wrong if we lacked the ballast of affliction. Our hearts are ready to become unwatchful in a fair day. Afifictions give us the experience of God’s power, love, wisdom, and faithfulness in bearing us up under them, ordering them for our advantage and delivering us out of them.

 

John Welwood

After hiding in Moray and Fife and other parts of the country, Welwood was banished to Perth in 1679. Sadly he only survived in Perth for three months before contracting an illness and dying at the age of thirty. During his short time there he continued to preach, mostly to families who would come to visit him in the place where he was staying.

On his death bed he said that such was his assurance that he had no more doubt of being in Christ “than if I were in heaven already”. At another time he said: “Although I have been for some weeks without sensible [felt], comforting presence, yet I have not the least doubt of my interest [salvation] in Christ”.  

The morning he died, when he observed the light of day, he said: “Now eternal light, and no more night and darkness to me”. His gravestone had the following inscription: “A follower of the Lamb through many tribulations”.

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The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves
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.
27 Apr, 2018

Pop psychology believes that the worst thing we can do is not think positively about ourselves. Apparently we just need to have the right mindset and then we can do anything. Our negative thoughts then become “the lies we tell ourselves”. Biblical wisdom is far different. It reveals glorious truths and realities that provide us with more motivation than we could imagine. Yet it also reveals the uncomfortable truth about ourselves, leaving us with nowhere to hide. Unless we come to terms with this we will only deceive ourselves. The most glorious thing that the Bible says we can have is fellowship with God. Yet it is hindered by the greatest lie.

Both of these are brought together in one verse. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). Hugh Binning opens up the most glorious privilege and the greatest lie.

 

1. True Religion is in Fellowship with God

True religion consists not only in the knowledge of God but especially in conformity to Him and communion with him. Communion and fellowship with God is the great goal and design of the gospel. It is the great result of all a Christian’s efforts and progress. It is not only the greatest part of religion, but its very reward.

Godliness has its own reward of happiness without borrowing from external things. This sweet and fragrant fruit which perfumes the whole soul with delight and fills it with joy, springs out of conformity to God. This means assimilation of nature and disposition, some likeness to God imprinted on the soul again in holy affections and dispositions. It also means our will coinciding with the will of God, drowning it in the sea of His good pleasure and having His law in the inward parts.

What is the root of this conformity except the knowledge of God? This has the power to transform the soul into His likeness. You see then where true religion begins lowest and by what means it grows up to the sweet fruit of that eternal joy that shall be pressed out of the grapes of fellowship with God. So then, whatever is declared by God to us in His word concerning Himself is not only presented for our knowledge. It is especially also a pattern for imitation and an inflaming motive for our affection. This is the very substance of the verse “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

 

2. True Religion is Becoming More Like God

The end of your knowing God is to become more like God. Let us consider that we know only as much about God as we love, fear and are conformed to Him. Any knowledge which is not doing this or does not have this goal will serve no other purpose except to be a witness against us.

If you want fellowship with God then consider what you engage in and what kind of person He is. The intimate knowledge of one another is presupposed in all true friendship. You must know what God is if you want to have communion with Him. There is no communion without some conformity and no conformity without knowledge of Him. Therefore, as He is light, so the soul must be made light in Him and enlightened by Him. We must be transformed into that nature and made children of light who were children of darkness. Now, as there is a light of understanding and wisdom in God, and a light of holiness and purity, so there is in our souls, opposite to these, a darkness of ignorance, unbelief, sin, and impurity of affections. Now, “what communion can light have with darkness?”

Looking often on God until our souls are enlightened and our hearts purified advances the soul to the closest conformity with God. This gives the soul greatest capacity for blessed communion with God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

 

3. The Greatest Lie

There is nothing in which men allow themselves to be so easily deceived as in religion (the matter of greatest concern). The eternal welfare of their souls consists in this. There is no delusion either so gross or so universal in any other thing as in this thing. Delusion together with self-love (which always hoodwinks the mind and will not allow serious impartial self-examination) are at the bottom of this vain persuasion.

If anyone says they are a Christian they really say that they have fellowship with God.  In so far as you pretend to be Christians and yet do not profess holiness you fall under a twofold contradiction and commit a twofold lie. The first is between your profession and practice and the second is in your profession itself.

Your practice is directly contrary to the very general profession of Christianity. You affirm you are Christians and yet refuse the profession of holiness. You say you hope for heaven and yet do not so much as pretend to godliness and walking spiritually. Without this the name of Christian is empty, vain, and ridiculous.

This is the greatest most dangerous lie. It is the greatest lie because it takes in the whole of someone’s life. It is one great universal lie, a lie composed of infinite contradictions and innumerable individual lies. Every step, every word and action is in its own nature contrary to that holy profession. But all combined together it makes up a black constellation of lies—one powerful lie against the truth. And, besides, it is not against a particular truth but against the whole complex of Christianity.

Error is a lie against the particular truth it opposes but the whole course of an ignorant, ungodly life is one continued lie against the whole body of Christianity and Christian truth. It is a lie extended across the length of many weeks, months and years against the whole fabric of Christian profession. There is nothing in the calling of a Christian that is not retracted, contradicted and reproached by it.

O that you could examine your ways and see what a cluster of lies and inconsistencies is in them. See what reproaches these practical lies cast on the honour of your Christian calling. They tend by their very nature to disgrace the truth and blaspheme God’s name. It is no less than a denial of Jesus Christ and a real renunciation of Him. It puts you outside the refuge of sinners and is most likely to keep you outside the blessed city where nothing that makes a lie can enter (Revelation 21:27). What shall then become of them whose life all along has been but one continued lie?

 

4. The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Some are ready to think too highly of themselves. They do not see themselves in  a way that may intermingle humble mourning. Rather, they measure their attainments by their desires. Now, indeed, this is in effect, and really to say, “we have no sin” ( 1 John 1:8). We are infinitely below either our duty or our desire, and need to be reminded of this often in order not to be drunk with self-deceit in relation to this.

Are there not many Christians who, having experienced sorrow for sin and comfort by the gospel and engage in religious duties who stop in this without desiring further progress? They think that if they keep that attainment all is well with them. They make few endeavours after more communion with God, or purification from sin. This makes them degenerate into formalism. They wither and become barren and are exposed by this to many temptations which overcome them. Is this not to really say, “we have no sin?”

Do not your walk and frame of spirit imply as though you had no sin to wrestle with, no more holiness to aspire to, as if you had no further race to run to obtain the crown? Do not deceive yourselves, by thinking it sufficient to have so much grace as may (in your opinion) put you over the line. As though you would seek no more than what is precisely necessary for salvation. Some may find that this is a self destroying deceit and they have not in fact passed over that line between heaven and hell.

 

5. True Religion is Beautiful in Practice

There is nothing so contrary to religion as a false appearance. Religion is a most complete thing, harmonious in all its parts. It is the same inside and out, in expression and action, all corresponding together. Now, to mar this harmony and to compose it out of dissimilar parts and make one part contradict the other is to make religion ugly and deformed. This happens when the course of a man’s life, in ignorance, negligence, and sin declare what is contrary to the profession of Christianity.

Practice is real knowledge because it is living knowledge. It is the very life and soul of Christianity when nothing more is needed except the intimation of God’s will to move the whole being. This is what we should all aspire to and not satisfy ourselves in our poor attainments below this.

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Never Lonely?

Never Lonely?

Never Lonely?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
25 Jan, 2018

An estimated 9 million people across the UK are often or always feeling lonely. This includes young people, older people, parents, carers and the middle aged. In the USA it is estimated at 40% of the adult population. Last week the UK government appointed a minister to tackle the silent epidemic. The Prime Minister said, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life”. It’s a public health problem, a better predictor of early death than obesity and smoking. Why is it increasing? Family breakdown, living further away from friends and family, living alone, passive recreation, lack of meaningful interaction at work–these are just some of the causes. What help can we draw from God’s Word about loneliness?

​The Bible speaks about this problem from the very beginning (Genesis 2:18). Even though Adam had an all-sufficient Creator to delight in, God recognised this need. As soon as sin entered it brought a form of separation into the bond God had formed between Adam and Eve as well as their relationship to God Himself. Sin creates this distance,sanctification ought to include overcoming it by loving our neighbour as ourselves and stirring up others to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). The Christian life is a shared life (Romans 14:7).

Christ Himself speaks of loneliness. He was the only sinless person in a world of sin, would that not be lonely? His family did not believe in Him, His disciples struggled to understand who He was. His message was mostly rejected. In the time of His greatest trial, He was abandoned by His friends, they would not even pray for and with Him. “A man of sorrows”, He had to cry out from unimaginable depths of soul suffering that God had forsaken Him.

There is a difference of course between being alone and being lonely. Christ was able to embrace and use the blessing of solitude for spiritual purposes (Luke 5:16). He could also say that though He was left alone by everyone in this world yet He was not alone. He had the constant presence of the Father (John 16:32). We ought to be able to say that too, resting on God’s unfailing promise (Hebrew 13:5). In one sense we need never be lonely and we are never alone.

George Hutcheson brings out the significance of Christ’s words in John 16:31-32. The disciples were professing their faith loudly but an hour of trial and suffering was coming which would try their faith. The disciples would be scattered and be isolated from each other, Christ Himself would be left alone too but not truly alone for the Father would be with Him.

The disciples abandoned Christ because of their sinful confidence in the flesh. They asserted the strength of their faith but did not consider how it might be tried. They were going to be scattered. Scattering and the disintegration of companies of God’s people, is one of the sad fruits of persecution. There is much we can learn from the Saviour’s words.

 

1. Selfish Isolation in the Time of Trial is Sinful

This “scattering” is our sin and weakness as well as our our affliction. Trouble and danger make us selfish and seek to look after ourselves, little considering the danger of Christ’s cause. This is the effect of their presumptuous  self-confidence. They would be “scattered” each “to his own”. This does not just mean that they would go to their own home as they did afterwards. It also means them looking out for themselves while they “leave” their Master “alone”.

 

2. Those Who Suffer May Need to Do So Alone

Part of the trial of true sufferers may be that they are deserted in their sharpest conflicts. They may be deserted not just by those who make professions, but have real honesty. They may be left in the gap there alone. Christ has paved the way in this, He was left alone. Although no-one could join with Him in enduring the sufferings by which He redeemed His people (indeed He was careful to exempt them John 18:8) yet it was a trial to Him to be left alone in this way.

 

3. Christ Will Stand for the Truth No Matter Who Deserts it

Never mind how many desert Christ and His truth, He will still own and stand for it. He is left alone and yet stands alone in that conflict.

 

4. Those Who Suffer May Not be as Lonely as We Would Assume

The condition of sufferers is not so desolate and solitary as spectators or feelings would judge at first glance. Though they leave Him alone, “yet I am not alone,” He says.

 

5. God May be Graciously Present While He Chastises Us

God may be pursuing his own dear children in great displeasure yet also graciously present with them. He may be upholding them with the one hand as he smites with the other. For “the Father is with me,” Christ says when yet the Father is pursuing him hotly for the sins of the elect and deserting Him (Matthew 27:46).

 

6. God’s Presence is Sufficient to Sustain a Lonely Soul

The presence of God alone is sufficient to sustain a soul, when deserted by all, under the saddest difficulties. Christ said to the disciples that though they would leave Him alone “yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”

 

7. If We Want God’s Presence At All Times, We Must Seek to Please Him in All Things

Whoever wants the comfort of God’s presence and company in all conditions, ought to set themselves to please God and observe His will in all things. This is what Christ did “he that sent me is with me” the Father had not left Him alone “for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).

 

Conclusion

Faith should draw strength in considering the aloneness of the Saviour. Having experienced such trials He is able to strengthen us also. He gives an example for us in His rejoicing in God’s presence even when abandoned by others. Isn’t it an inestimable privilege that the Most High values our company, who is infinitely happy in Himself and does not need us? We should not be afraid of solitude if it provides an opportunity to draw nearer to God. Yet we ought also to greatly value the blessing of useful friends that can strengthen our hands in serving God. Speak about the most important things, avoid always interacting at the surface level. Bear one another’s burdens in prayer.

Let us avoid the selfish spirit of the world and have rather the spirit of Christ who denied Himself for the sake of His people (Philippians 2:4-5). Even in the face of His own suffering and when He knew the disciples would forsake Him within hours, He comforted and counselled them and prayed for them.

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13 Things that Keep Us from Prayer

13 Things that Keep Us from Prayer

13 Things that Keep Us from Prayer
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
19 Jan, 2018

More than a quarter of Christians in the UK never pray according to a poll this week. Of those who do pray: only 19% pray daily, 10% hardly ever and 13% only in times of crisis. The poll was commissioned by Tear Fund. Perhaps the figures are not so surprising given that almost half of those identifying themselves as Christian also say they never attend Church. It seems likely, however, that prayer is in danger of being squeezed to the edges of our lives. What is it that makes us liable to downgrade the importance of prayer in everyday life?

​John Brown of Wamphray wrote a very full book on prayer. It is published as Godly Prayer and its Answers. He deals in a practical way with the nature of prayer, its difficulties and how we are to seek for answers to prayer. In stressing that it is a sin to neglect prayer he gives a full forty biblical reasons as to which this is the case. He even demonstrates that those who are unregenerate are obliged to pray. He makes it unavoidably clear that someone cannot claim to be a Christian if they never pray.

1. If We Are God’s Children We Will Pray. Their adoption and being brought into God’s family as His near children lays this obligation on them to cry to God and to pray to Him as their Father.

2. If We Have a New Nature We Will Pray. Their new nature inclines their hearts Godward. When Saul is made a convert, he is brought to his knees and found a praying man (Acts 9:11). The new converts continued steadfastly in prayers (Acts 2:42).

3. If We Are a Holy Priesthood We Will Pray.  The saints are a holy priesthood and must by office offer up spiritual sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5). Prayer is a chief part of their spiritual sacrifice, together with praises (v. 7).  We read of the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psalm  116:17) and of the sacrifice of praise (Jer. 33:11).

4. If We Are Not of the Wicked We Will Pray. It is the description of the wicked that they do not call on God (Psalm 5:2, 4; 14:24, 10; 79:6; Jeremiah 10:25; Romans 3:9). And on the other hand, it is the description of God’s children that they call on God (1 Corinthians 1:2). David says, “I am in prayer” (Psalm 109:4), as if he had been wholly devoted to and taken up with that work and duty, and nothing else.

5. If We Are God’s Servants We Will Pray. Their relation to God as His servants carries this with it (see Psalm 116:16, 17).

But if all of this is the case, why do Christians need so many prompts and reasons to urge them to pray? We want to think of the hindrances to prayer as outside of us but the truth is they are mostly within us.

 

1. Cherished Sin

When any sin is yielded to and not resisted, the heart is made more unfit for any Christian work. We are not in the right frame for approaching God in a holy and humble way. He is a holy God and will be sanctified by all that draw near Him. We may keep up the form of the duty, but it is superficially performed without the delight the soul had previously. It becomes a cumbersome burden readily laid aside [see Psalm 66:18 and Psalm 32:3].

 

2. Paralysing Guilt

When the conscience is awakened after committing some sin and its dreadful guilt is presented to us the soul afraid to draw near to God. Guilt stares it in the face, and it is driven back and dare not approach the holy and righteous God. Satan can say it is in vain to seek the Lord, for He has no respect for the sacrifice of fools. He will not hear a sinner.

Thus there can be no hearty and cheerful drawing near to God, as long as guilt is thus charged and the blood of Christ not applied by faith to wash away that iniquity. The soul trembles to think of approaching God, lest it be consumed. The Lord must open the door of grace and show the freedom of the covenant and lead the soul to the fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.

 

3. Sense of Unworthiness

There may be a deep sense of unworthiness and inward abominableness of heart by nature. This  may cause some (when not mindful of the richness of free grace in the new covenant through Jesus Christ) to be afraid. They think to themselves, “Shall or dare such a vile wretch as I am presume to open my mouth to God?” Dare such a one draw near to Him who is of purer eyes than that He can behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13)?  Thus, as Peter in the like case said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), so they say, “We must not draw nigh to God, for we are sinful men.” Though the reasoning is bad, yet it may too much prevail with weak souls to keep them from this duty.

 

4. Sense of Distance From God

A deep sense of the greatness, holiness, purity, justice, and glory of God may have the same effect.

 

5. Indulging Neglect

When they on one occasion or other give way to the neglect of this duty, their praying spirit wears off. Their neglect continues. More difficulties stand up in the way. Ultimately their neglect turns to a listlessness and lack of delight in the duty. They have an unwillingness to set about it until the Lord sends some alarm to awaken them. When Peter and the other disciples with Christ in the garden neglected the duty at the first call of Christ when He bid them watch and pray, they became  even more unfit after further calls.

 

6. Superficial Formality

When Christians do not take care to watch over their heart in prayer and to guard against formality, all seriousness wears away.  If it is only done superficially, it soon becomes an unnecessary task. Satan can quickly make it become a heavy burden if it is already an unnecessary task. When the soul judges the duty of prayer a burden, it can very easily be induced to neglect it for some time unless conscience convicts. The longer the duty is neglected, the heart is more and more unwilling and unfit for it.

 

7. Worldly Mindedness

Worldly mindedness is a great enemy to prayer and a praying spirit. The cares of the world choke the word so that it cannot grow up in the soul (Matthew 13). Worldly mindedness takes away watchfulness—and a praying and a watching spirit go together (Luke 21:36). When the heart is taken up with the things of this life (Luke 21:54), the soul cannot watch and pray.

 

8. Excessive Sorrow

Excessive grief and sorrow for any outward reason may prevent the soul from praying or at least with heartiness and cheerfulness. This is one reason why the disciples could not pray in the garden, despite the great urgency of the situation (Matthew 26:43; Luke 22:45). Their eyes were heavy, and they were sleeping for sorrow.

 

9. Neglecting Prompts

The Spirit is provoked to withdraw when we do not respond to His promptings to pray. When He withdraws, deadness follows. Either the duty is laid aside or it becomes an unbearable burden. The apostle joins these two together: “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks…. Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:17–19). If we want to be kept in a praying spirit, we must be careful not to quench the Spirit.

 

10. Dissatisfaction

When someone has been praying some considerable time for some special mercy or other and finds no answer (or answer that satisfies them) corruption may boil up in the heart. Satan may suggest that it is useless to be praying in this way. The soul may listen to this and out of a discontented, displeased attitude, resolve to abandon prayer (Isaiah 43:12).

 

11. False Notions

Errors concerning prayer may have been imbibed e.g. that we are not obliged to pray except when we are conscious of the Spirit’s moving us and setting us going. We may think we are therefore excused from this duty. The Lord may be provoked to let such live many months if not years without the free graces they desire for such a duty. There may then be a long neglect of this duty followed by an inward aversion. If at any time they are moved to the duty, He may allow their own spirit instead of His to set them going. This will never beget a spiritual delight in the duty.

 

12. Spiritual Laziness

A spirit of laziness may seize a person and they may give way to it and not stir themselves up to call on the Lord and take hold of Him (Isaiah 64:7). They become daily more and more unfit for the duty and more unwilling to do it. Those on whom this spiritual sloth seizes find it a grief and a weariness to do that which otherwise was a most easy thing (Proverbs 26:15).

 

13. Self-sufficiency

People may depend more on their gift in prayer than Jesus for fresh influences and supply of grace. The Lord in His righteousness may withdraw the ordinary influences of His Spirit and leave them to wrestle with the duty alone. Not finding the help they once experienced, they see that they cannot pray as formerly. This may cause inward grief (not due to the original cause of the withdrawing) and create dislike for the duty of prayer. Thus, corruption working in the soul and Satan using the situation to his advantage it may bit by bit be laid aside. Inward discontentment and pride may make them reluctant to pray because they see they cannot engage in it as before. They are now ashamed to pray, especially before others.

 

Conclusion

While this may seem all rather negative, we must recognise that prayer can be a struggle at times. We need to identify the things that make it difficult in order to deal with them. Prayerlessness can seriously damage your spiritual health. Brown’s book is overwhelmingly positive in bringing out many encouragements to pray. He shows what an encouraging thing it is to pray in Christ’s name and how God is glorified in Christ in answering our prayers. We “ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This blog article is updated and extracted from John Brown of Wamphray’s very full book on prayer called Godly Prayer and its Answers.  The book is available from James Dickson Books in Kilsyth.

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6 Reasons to Delight in God

6 Reasons to Delight in God

6 Reasons to Delight in God
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."
17 Nov, 2017

Mostly, we are well aware that we get our life in focus by concentrating on the most important things. But do we live our life in such a way that the things most important to us are obvious to those who observe us? The most important thing is to glorify God and enjoy Him. We can only glorify Him by grace and we can only enjoy Him by glorifying Him. Delighting in God is what makes seeking to glorify Him a pleasure. When we have discovered this, we will know that there is no satisfaction to be found in seeking other things in place of God. True pleasure from created things comes through delighting in God. Even affliction and adversity are sweetened for the soul that seeks its delights in God. Since we are to glorify and enjoy God forever, delighting in God gets our life in eternal focus and prepares us for that unending activity. These are some reasons for delighting in God but there are many more. We also need to know what we mean by making God our delight.

Andrew Gray has a sermon on delighting in God that expounds Psalm 37:4.  It something enters into the deepest parts of the heart mastered by gospel grace. The following is an updated extract from the sermon.

 

What is Delighting in God?

Delighting in God consists of the following things:

(a) Loving God

A soul should be much taken up in exercising the grace of love. To delight in God is to have love smoking in a Christian’s heart towards God. Love is only a bruised reed; but delight is love coming up to perfection.

(b) Esteeming Christ

A soul delighting in God has a high esteem and account of Christ. One whose delight is in God will have a matchless estimation and high considerations of Him.

(c) Thinking on God

The soul that delights in God has all its thoughts running towards God and exercised on Him. His thoughts are only terminated on Him; He is the object of them all. Now, Christians, on what are your thoughts fixed? Is it not certain that they are all confined within this rivulet and span-length of time? Does the world not have your first thoughts in the morning and your last thoughts at night? Then certainly, your delight is not in God.

(d) Desiring Fellowship

One who delights in God is consumed with desire for communion and fellowship with God. Then try yourselves by this test. If your main desire is not fellowship with God, your delight is not in Him. If God is the object of your delight you will strongly desire communion with Him and it will be refreshing to you.

(e) Mourning for the Absence of Christ

Such a soul will often lament and grieve the absence of Christ. Certainly, if your delight is in God, His absence will be your greatest affliction and His presence your main joy and pleasure.

(f) Striving to Please God

The person who delights in God will strive and endeavour in all things to please and give satisfaction to God. If we delight in any person, certainly we will attempt to please Him in all things. We can test whether we delight in God; our main design and endeavour will be to please Him in all things.

 

1. Delighting in God is a Foretaste of Heaven

Dear Christians, do you desire to have the noble activities of those that are above around the throne? Then delight yourselves in God. To delight in God is the only activity of the saints above. I will point out three differences between the saints in heaven and the saints that are below on earth.

(a) The saints above are in the higher room, and we are in the lower room.

(b) The souls of the saints above are in a higher degree of love than we are; their praise is higher than ours. They are delighting themselves in and praising Him through all eternity.

(c) Those above are enjoying Christ by sight and fruition, we on earth enjoy Him through the veil of faith. They have the immediate sight of God, and behold Him face to face. But we behold Him through a glass darkly. Oh, Christians, if you desire to delight yourselves in God, you would bring down heaven upon earth. What is heaven, but a soul’s delighting itself in God, and God delighting Himself in the soul?

 

2. Delighting in God is Incomparable

Be persuaded to delight yourselves in God for it is an exceedingly commendable pursuit. I would commend delight in God in four ways.

(a) It unites us with Christ

What is it to delight in God? It is the soul of a Christian embracing the soul of Christ by the two arms of love and desire. Is not that an excellent thing which may commend it unto you?

(b) It lifts us above ourselves

The soul of a Christian that delights in God is more where it loves than where it lives. It is more where its object is than where its own abode is.

(c) It brings us to adore Christ

By delighting in God, a Christian achieves three acts of admiration.

First, Christian, you will say, “Oh, how far is Christ above the report that I have heard of Him!” You will be constrained to say, “The half was never heard of Him that now I see.”
Second, you will then experience and remark, “Oh, how far is Christ above the love that I have had to Him! He is far above it.”
Third, you will be forced to say, “Oh, how far is Christ above the admiration and amazement that I have had of Him!” Now, if your delight is in God, you will be compelled to such admiration and astonishment.

(d) It helps the soul towards a more spiritual and holy life.

 

3. Delighting in God Makes Duty Pleasant

Delight in God makes all duties pleasant and heart-warming. Without delight in God, all the duties of religion will be most unpleasant and burdensome (Job 22:26-27). There are four advantages in the exercise of duty that waits on delighting in God. These four advantages are as follows:

(a) Increased Boldness in Prayer

He that has his delight fixed on God has boldness to speak to Him (Job 22:26).

(b) Increased Prayer

Delight in God will help a Christian to multiply his prayers (Job 22:27).

(c) Increased Fervency in Prayer

Delight in God will help with great fervency in prayer. The word rendered prayer may also be rendered as “many strong prayers.”

(d) Increased Freedom in Prayer

Delighting in God will help a Christian to tell all his mind to Him (Job 22:27).

 

4. Delighting in God Helps us Bear Affliction

Delighting in God will bring a Christian to bear patiently any cross or affliction that he encounters. This is clear from the scope of the text. It will be an excellent help and guard against fretting at the prosperity of ungodly men.

 

5. Delighting in God is the Most Excellent Delight

Consider the excellence of the object of the Christian’s delight – the Lord. He is the most excellent object of delight. He is the fountain from which all our streams come. Oh, then delight in Him who is excellent and majestic!

 

6. Delighting in God Gives us the Desires of our Hearts

If you delight yourself in God, surely He will give you the desires of your heart. I say, they will lack nothing that is for their own welfare and God’s glory. If you delight yourself in God, you will lack nothing that is fitting for you.

 

Conclusion

Oh then, be persuaded to give obedience to this most soul-concerning commandment of delighting in God. Christians, it is of your everlasting concern. Oh, do it while it is still being offered. Do not neglect this excellent work any longer. Oh, do not delay any longer, for delays are dangerous, especially in the matter of our eternal salvation.

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