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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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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