What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?
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.
25 Sep, 2020

Uncertainty is nothing new but the coronavirus crisis has taken this to more extreme levels. There is even a degree of uncertainty about facts, numbers, transmission, symptoms and science. No doubt there may be times and places that have experienced more uncertainty but for many this is at a new level. Disruption and uncertainty have impacted most aspects of most people’s lives. All these unknowns are personal as well as social and economic. We do not know how long the impact of the crisis will last and this creates fear and anxiety. How should we respond? Some want to respond by promising some element of certainty, but it soon wears thin. Who can say with great confidence what will happen or when? In truth, very little about our lives is constant or entirely certain and we must come to terms with that. This can teach us a great deal if we consider it through the teaching of Scripture.

There is an argument that uncertainty is a good thing. It is the need to resolve things that makes us seek to advance our knowledge and make progress in science and other areas. We can also learn much practically and spiritually from uncertainty in seeking to walk humbly with God. Hugh Binning opens up the nature of uncertainty in expounding Proverbs 27:1. We cannot boast of what we will do or achieve tomorrow because we do not know what even a day may bring forth. In this updated extract he shows what uncertainty can teach us.

1. Uncertainty is Natural

Tomorrow is the narrow sphere of poor man’s comprehension. All he can attain is to provide for the present. It is not present properly speaking because, in comparison with eternity it is cut off as soon as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye. Even if we could see the end of time, it would be merely close up and indistinct, like something right in front of our eye.
These, then, are the two great ruins of human nature. We have degenerated from God to created things and seek our joy and rest in them. Yet there is nothing in them but the contrary—vexation. We have also fallen from apprehending eternity, and our poor soul is confined within the narrow bounds of time.

All our wise management is to provide some perishing things for some few revolutions of the sun, for some few tomorrows. After this, though an endless tomorrow ensues, man does not perceive it or provide for it. All his glorying and boasting is only on some presumptuous confidence and ungrounded assurance of the stability of these things for the time to come.

The wise man leaves us this counsel, not to boast of tomorrow. It is supported with a strong argument taken partly from the instability and inconstancy of all the outward things in which men imagine an eternity of joy and partly from the ignorance we have of future events. We do not know what a day may bring forth.

2. Uncertainty Humbles Us

Boasting is such a predominant evil among men, that I know not any more universal in its dominion, or more hurtful to us, or displeasing to God. Of all boastings, the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from the presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us.

No one’s present possession satisfies them, without some additional hope and expectation for the future. The poverty of the human spirit and the emptiness of all things we enjoy here are apparent in this, that they will not make the heart content. Present possession does not fill up the vacuum of the heart without imagining possessing more in the future. The insatiable human heart cannot rest satisfied in its joy (without some future hopes and expectations) even if the whole world were in its possession.

The soul anticipates and forestalls tomorrow and borrows present joy from future anticipation. Yet when it comes, perhaps it will not compensate the expectation (see Job 11:18, 20; Job 8:13). Hope is like a house to them, but to many, it is no better than a spider’s web. Here then is a clear demonstration of the madness and folly of men, who hang so much on outward things and allow their affections to be shaped by the great variety of outward things and events.

There is nothing more unreasonable than to stir our passions about that which we cannot choose, as most future things are. What will happen tomorrow, what outcome will my projects and plans have? This is not under my control, these depend on other people’s wills, purposes, and actions. They are not in my power. Either to boast or be anxious about things that depend on so many causes not under my control and things I cannot prevent is both unbelieving and unreasonable (Matthew 6:25). Such anxiety and boasting can neither prevent evil nor procure good.

Only the present is in our power. We are dead to yesterday already, for it is past and cannot return; it is as it was buried in the grave of oblivion. We are not yet born to tomorrow, for it has not come to the light, and we do not know if it ever will come. There is no more in our knowledge but the present hour. Though we remember the past, it, our knowledge of it is not practical. It cannot be changed or reformed. The future is not born to us and is to us as if we were not born to it either.

3. Uncertainty is All that is Certain

There is such an infinite possibility of outcomes that it is foolish to presume to boast of anything or rest in it. There is nothing certain except that all things are uncertain — that all things are subject to perpetual motion, revolution, and change. Today a city, tomorrow a heap. There is nothing between a great city and a heap except one day, nothing between a man and no man but one hour. Our life is subject to infinite casualties, it may receive a fatal stroke from the least and most unexpected thing. It is a bubble floating on the water in continual motion with a storm. So many poor dying creatures rise up, swim and float awhile, and are tossed up and down by the wind and wave. The least puff of wind or drop of rain sends it back to its own element. We are a vapour appearing for a very little time—a creature of no solidity—a dream—a shadow and appearance of something. This dream or apparition is but for a little time, and then it vanishes, not so much into nothingness but it disappears. All human affairs are like the spokes of a wheel, continually revolving. In this constant revolving of outward things, who can enjoy true quiet and peace? Only the soul that is fixed, with its centre on God and abides in Him. Though the parts may be in constant motion, the centre of the wheel is at rest and not violently turned.

4. Uncertainty is for God’s Glory

There is infinite wisdom and goodness in the way that the Lord orders all things. At first glance, people would think it better if everything happened uniformly so that everyone knew what would happen to them. Yet, God has provided for His own glory and our good in this. He has kept the absolute dominion and perfect knowledge of all His works for Himself. It is for His glory in that He orders them with such great variety, that they may be seen to proceed from Him.

5. Uncertainty is For Our Good

It is for our good. What use would many Christian virtues and graces, if it were not so? What place would there be for patience if there were no adverse events? What place would there be for moderation if there were no prosperity? If there were not such variations and vicissitudes, how would the evenness and constancy of the spirit be known? What place would contentment and tranquillity of mind have? These are a calm in a storm, not a calm in a calm (that would be no virtue). If the various outcomes of providence could be foreseen by us, it would completely disorder our duty. Who would do their duty out of conscience to God’s command in committing events to Him? As it is now our obedience is tested. We have to go by a way we do not know and submit to God’s all-seeing providence.

God has so ordered the world that no grace lacks a reason to be exercised, no virtue may die out for want of fuel, or rust for lack of use. There is no condition of affairs without a fair opportunity for exercising some grace. If one or many cannot be exercised due to affliction, He has still opened a large door for self-denial, humility, patience and moderation.

6. Uncertainty Points Us to Eternity

Even the very nature of the material world speaks loudly of this to us. When you look below, there is nothing seen but the outside of the earth, only its very surface appears, and there your sight is terminated. But look above and there is no termination, no bounding of the sight —there are infinite spaces, all transparent and clear. This shows us that our affections should be set on things above and not on things below. There is nothing below except the outward appearance and surface of things —the glory and beauty of the earth are but skin deep. But heavenly things are all transparent, there is nothing to set bounds to the affections. They are infinite, and you may enlarge infinitely towards them.

God has made all things in time dark and opaque, like the earth. Look at them and you only see the outside of them, the present hour. You know no more of what is beyond than you can see of the depths beneath the earth. But eternity is transparent throughout, and infinite too. Therefore, God has made us blind to earthly things, that we should not set our heart nor terminate our eyes on anything here. But He has opened and spread eternity before us in the Scriptures, so that you may read and understand your everlasting condition in it. He has shut up the things of time and sealed them and He wills us to live in relation to them by trusting in Him of them without anxious forethought.

7. Uncertainty Points Us to True Contentment

No one can find any satisfaction in enjoying the things of the present (without always hoping for the future) until they fully possess God as an all-sufficient good (Psalm 4:6) Without this, great things will not make us content. For what is all that to a person if they have no assurance concerning the future? And with this, we can even be content with little things. Great things with little hope and expectation fill us with more vexation than joy, the greater they are the more this is increased. Little things, with great hopes and expectations, give more satisfaction. All mankind look towards tomorrow and strive to make up for what they lack in the present with hope or confidence in the future.

8. Uncertainty Points Us to True Hope

You should strive to fill up what is lacking in present things with that great hope, the hope of salvation, which will be as a helmet to keep your head safe in all difficulties (1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:18-19; Romans 5:5). It is true, other people’s expectations of gain and other things, do to some extent abate the pain of what they lack in the present. But it is certain that such hope will not expel all grief from the heart but leaves much vexation within. The frequent disappointment of such projects and plans of gain, honour, and pleasure, and their extreme failure to fulfil the desires and hopes of the soul, even when attained, must breed infinitely more anxiety and vexation in the spirit. If you would have your souls truly established and not hanging on tomorrow uncertainly (as most do) look beyond tomorrow to the everlasting day of eternity that has no tomorrow after it. See what foundation you can lay up for that future time to come (1 Timothy 6:16-19). If you would have a foundation of lasting joy, why seek lasting joy in fading things and certain joy in uncertain riches, and solid contentment in empty things? Why not rather seek it in the living God, inexhaustible spring of all good things? We are not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (1 Timothy 6:17).
We are to do good and be rich in good works, laying up in store a good foundation for the time to come (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Eternity is the only time worthy to be called time. Striving to do good, and be rich in good works, in works of piety, of mercy, of justice and moderation is a better foundation for the time to come. Receive and embrace the promise of eternal life —that free and gracious promise of life in the gospel to make up for what is lacking in present enjoyments. The precious hope of eternal life cannot disappoint.

9. Uncertainty Should Make Us Submit to God’s Will

But most people like the fool in the parable (Luke 12:13-21) have something stored up for many years or else their projects and plans extend to many years. The truth is, they have more pleasure in the expectation of such things than in really possessing them. But that pleasure is only imaginary. How many thoughts and plans are continually turning in the heart of man—how to be rich, how to get greater gain or more reputation? People build castles in the air, and imagine to themselves, as it were, new worlds of mere possible things. Everyone makes fantasies for themselves as if they were themselves in control of it all. Then we boast ourselves in the confidence of them as if there were not a supreme Lord who rules our affairs as immediately as He does the winds and rains.

The folly of this is made clear in that we do not know what a day may bring forth. There is so much inconstancy in all things and ignorance in us that it should restrain our boasting. The apostle James refers to the resolutions and purposes of rich men to profit from trading (James 4:13-16). Such are the plans in the hearts of men, either for more gain, more glory, or more pleasure and ease.

This does not reprove either care and diligence in using lawful means for the things of this life or wise and prudent foresight in the ordering of our affairs. Both these are frequently commended by the wise man (Proverbs 6:6 and 24:27). But the great iniquity is conducting ourselves as though we were in control and without consideration of the sovereign universal dominion of God. It is not in man that walks to direct his paths (Jeremiah 10:23 and Proverbs 16:19).

God is not bound by any rule to conform His actions to our intentions. He works everything according to the counsel of His own will and not ours (Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 19:21 and 16:9). Man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his paths (Proverbs 20:24)? We ought to say and think “if the Lord will”. We do not know will happen tomorrow because our life itself is a vapour. You can make plans for tomorrow, for a year, for many years, and yet you do not know if you will exist tomorrow. How ridiculous such things are if they are not done with submissive and humble dependence on God.

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Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
10 Apr, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. The nations are shaken to remove opposition to Christ 

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

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Should We Be Afraid?

Should We Be Afraid?

Should We Be Afraid?
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
14 Mar, 2019

Fears are all around us, especially during a time of upheaval. Fear of the future, events and the unknown. The politics of fear on left and right are often heard in relation to society or the economy. The threats feel real and we are made to believe that the world will be more dangerous unless we listen to the rhetoric of influencers. How should we respond to the climate of fear?

Fear may be a natural response in some things. There would not be so many “fear nots” in Scripture if that was not the case. We are not immune to fear but we have no reason to be overcome by it since the peace of God is able to guard our hearts.  Faith in God rather than the wisdom, strength or other resources of ourselves or others is what is able to settle and establish our hearts. There may be deep-seated fears in relation to our personal and family life amongst other things but faith and hope can sustain us. As David Dickson puts it: “the true remedy against tormenting fear, is faith in God. He also says that “when fear assaults most, then faith in God most evidently manifests its force” (Psalm 56:3-4).

The following brief counsels are from someone who was suffering considerably, James Renwick. He was speaking to those who were also suffering. They were in fear for their life and freedoms.

 

1. Do Not Fear Mortals

“Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4).

 

2. Do Not Fear Reproach

This is what we are often afraid of. Do not fear the reproach of tongues (Psalm 31:20).

 

3. Do Not Fear Lack of Provision

We are ready to fear the lack of provisions for our natural life. But do not fear this for those “that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing” (Psalm 34:10). Did the Lord not feed His people in the wilderness with manna from heaven and water out of the flinty rock? (Deuteronomy 8:15-16).

 

4. Do Not Fear Lack of Spiritual Food

Sometimes the Lord’s people fear lack of spiritual food for their souls; the lack of ordinances. But they ought not to fear lacking this for before they lack this the Lord will give them it and provide it for them in an extraordinary way (Isaiah 41:17-18). Even though the Lord should see fit to remove the preached gospel from you do not be discouraged. The Lord can make a portion of Scripture more sweet and refreshing to your souls that they are now, by bringing it to your mind or a note of a sermon which you have heard.

 

5. Do Not Fear Upheaval

The Lord’s people should not fear changes and upheaval that occur in the world and where they are. They ought not to fear this, even “though the earth be removed: and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). In Haggai 2:7 there is a prophecy of Christ, the desire of all nations, coming in the flesh. It is said that before He comes He will shake all nations i.e. there would be great changes. So when Christ comes back again to Scotland there will be great changes and revolutions at His coming. He will turn many, indeed the very foundation of the land will be shaken. We should pray and long for it, rather than be afraid of it.

 

6. Do Not Fear Death

Death is another thing Christ’s people should not be afraid of (yet they are). Do not fear death because death has no sting for the believing soul in Christ. Do not be afraid of death because it will put an end to all our toil and wanderings and all our miseries and fightings. Someone says “Life is a way to death, and death is a way to life”.

 

7. Do Not Fear Hell

Christ died for you to free you from the wrath to come. You should not therefore fear any evil thing. “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

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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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Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church
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.
26 Oct, 2018

What will the Church look like in 10-30 years time? It’s the sort of question that launches a thousand predictions, strategies and plans to enhance confidence. But our fears for the Church go beyond the levels of church attendance. There are wider pressures on the Church from without that are especially threatening. Then there are the dangers from within such as moral failure, error. Our strategies won’t make much headway against these destructive forces. So we have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

In a day of small things there may be many such fears in relation to the Church. Like Eli, we may tremble for the ark of God. Such fears should not of course make us despise the day of small things and ignore evident encouragements.  In the following updated extract, James Durham addresses four main fears about the Church. These are all answered in the intercession of Christ. There is much to be gained from considering how Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now in the presence of God for His people (Hebrews 9:24). It is a constant, unceasing intercession (Hebrews 7:25). John chapter 17 allows us to see some of what Christ desires for His Church.

 

1. Will We Have Enough Suitable Preachers?

There is a fear of preaching and ministers being scarce or weak in quality. Ministers are the great gift which Christ has given for the edification of His body. The Church suffers when it does not have pastors according to God’s own heart. But if you compare Psalm 68:18 with Ephesians 4:8, 12-14 you will find that Christ’s intercession answers that fear completely. In the Psalm it speaks of Christ having received gifts for men, which assumes He has made request for them.  Ephesians 4 says “He gave gifts to men”. Compare these two passages with a third (Acts 1:4).  Christ instructs His apostles to wait at Jerusalem until He sends the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit was poured out after His ascension (see Acts 2) and only given once Jesus was glorified (John 11:39). These passages all show the connection between Christ’s ascension, the Spirit being poured out and gifts being given, whether ministers or others.

There is nothing most people care about less than a ministry. Some would rather have none at all, others want them to be only such as please and humour them. But our Lord has received gifts to be given to men. The One that poured out such gifts on the apostles and others gives the gifts that He pleases and sees necessary for the edification of His Church. And that he gives such gifts to men, that his people are not praying much for; whence is it, but from his intercession? He delights in this aspect of the spiritual glory and majesty that He has. He places a respect on ministers in saying that He holds the stars in His right hand (Revelation 1:16), He has them there to use as He pleases.

 

2. Will Our Enemies Triumph?

The Church of God is greatly exercised by the difficulty of enemies and their mighty opposition. Islam and other false religions, Romanism, and false brethren threaten to swallow up the Church of Christ. It is like a little bush burning with fire yet not consumed. But there is comfort in Christ’s intercession with respect to this.  Christ sat down on the right hand of God and is expecting His enemies to be made His footstool. (Hebrews 10:13). He is pleading for and supporting this at the Father’s court.

All the persecutions of the early Church were broken as the fruit of this intercession. This is why it is said most emphatically that He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24). This is according to the promise made to Him by Jehovah (Psalm 110:1). He cannot be an intercessor unless His enemies are brought down. For who will be able to stand when He gives in His complaint against them? Who will plead the cause of the persecutor when He pleads against them? He is so certain of His enemies being made His footstool that he is waiting until He sees it accomplished. He must reign until then notwithstanding all the malice and might of devils and men.

 

3. How Far Will Rulers Go in Rejecting Christ?

It is difficult for the Church and people of God to think on the great confusion there is in the world. There are few courts and parliaments that are for Christ. Few governors, higher or lower, consult His honour or regard Him. It is not His friends or those that favour His cause that control governments and guide such things. Mostly the opposite is the case. But the comfort is that there is a court in heaven that gives out orders. The Church has an representative who is there constantly but the devil and the world have no representatives there. Jesus Christ is the Church’s representative and intercessor there.

In Daniel 10:13 we read about the help of Michael the chief prince against the prince of the kingdom of Persia. In Daniel 10:21 we further read that there was none to assist in all the court of Persia except “Michael your Prince”. The great intercessor was at court, seeing that nothing went wrong, that no decree was passed to the prejudice of the people of God and His work. When they were building the temple, Christ is said to build the temple of the Lord. He was to bear the glory and be a Priest, sitting and ruling on his throne with the government committed to Him (Zechariah 6:13). What danger can there be when heaven guides everything? What danger when the Church has a representative at the court, to see that nothing goes wrong. When Michael the Prince is there He sees and reads all the acts and decrees of the court. Indeed He composes them He sees to it that there is nothing in them hurtful to His Church. Should we not thank God for this?

 

4. Will We Survive Our Internal Problems?

A fourth thing that troubles the Church of God is that stumbling blocks abound within. Spreading error, is like a flood that threatens to drown the Church. Great stormy winds come which seem likely to blow down the house of God. Offences and stumbling blocks abound and combine with error like a flood is about to drown everything. When the devil is removed from the throne and cannot persecute with violence he selects another way. He spews out his flood of error to devour the woman and her child (Revelation 12:13-15).

Yet the Lord is active too. After the end of a period of persecution, John sees an angel (interpreted to symbolise Christ) ascending from the east (Revelation 7:1-2). He has the great seal of the living God and nothing is valid until it is sealed by Him. Notice the time when He appears; it is when the winds are held, and ready to blow (Revelation 7:1). ‘Wait a little,’ he says, ‘before these winds blow that will take most off their feet and this delusion advance’. Some servants of God must be sealed and put beyond the reach of danger and then the winds will be allowed to blow. Why should we or could we be anxious if our hearts have a solid and living faith in this intercessor and advocate being in heaven and interceding in this way?

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Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

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

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

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

 

1. What is Hope?

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

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

 

2. What Makes Hope Attractive?

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

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

 

3. How Does Hope Help Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3. Where Does Hope Come From?

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

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

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

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

 

4. What Distinguishes True Hope?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FURTHER READING

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

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The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart

The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart

The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart
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.
8 Jun, 2018

We can monitor the pulse of our soul by considering what we long for most frequently and in the strongest way. Our hearts naturally go out to that which we value most.  We may wish for and aspire to many things that are not only worthwhile but necessary. The farmer wishes for the right weather and the businessman favourable market conditions. Yet above all these are the highest wishes of the soul for our eternal good and the good of others. We desire that others would prosper in outward things but the prosperity of their souls comes first (3 John 2). Outward things are limited and finite but spiritual blessings are infinite.  We may desire everyone to be filled with these and the same fulness will remain in God.

Hugh Binning speaks of “the highest wish of a holy heart” for itself and those it loves best. He says it summarised in this: “The God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing” (Romans 15:13).

There is nothing can be spoken which sounds more sweetly in the ears of men than peace and joy. They do not need to be commended, everyone testifies to them in their affections. What does everyone seek after but this? They do not seek any outward earthly thing for itself, but rather for the peace and contentment the mind expects to find in it. Anyone would think themselves happy if they could attain this without having to go through all other things one by one. The believing Christian is merely a wise person, who is instructed where true peace and joy lie. They seek to be filled with these things themselves.

The Soul’s Feast
These are the fruits of the Spirit Paul desires to be filled with and feed on. He desires to feed on peace as an ordinary meal and joy as an extraordinary dessert, or a powerful cordial. The believer would refuse the finest food to sit at this table. It is a full feast which fills the soul with peace, joy and hope, as much as it is capable of in this life.

The Soul’s Fruits
The words of the verse point to both the root that produces these fruits and the branch that bears them. The root is the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. A soul that has been grafted in as a living branch by faith into Christ receives strength to produce such pleasant fruits. They grow on the branch of believing, but the sap and life of both come from the Holy Spirit and the God of hope.

The Soul’s Streams
Think of it in a different way. This is the river which makes glad the city of God with its streams, it waters the garden of the Lord with its threefold stream. It is divided into three streams every one of which is derived from another. The first is peace — a sweet, calm and refreshing river which sometimes overflows like the river Nile. Then it runs in a stream of joy, which is the high spring tide but ordinarily it sends out the comforting stream of hope in abundance. This threefold river has a high source, as high as the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet the channel of the river runs on low ground, this channel is believing in Christ.

 

1. A Wish for Peace

Our Saviour found no better word to express His matchless good-will to the well-being of his disciples than peace. After His resurrection He said “Peace be unto you,” (Luke 24:36). As though He wished them absolute satisfaction and all the contentment and happiness that they themselves would desire.

We must consider this peace in relation to God, to ourselves, and fellow Christians. Brotherly concord and peace are the main subject of Romans chapter 15. This involves bearing with the weaknesses of our neighbour, not pleasing ourselves and similar mutual duties of charity.

But peace in relation to God and ourselves are most essential to happiness. The foundation of all our misery is the enmity between man and God. All our being, all our well-being, hangs on His favour. All our life and happiness is in His favour. But since the fall everyone is contrary to God, and in his affections and actions declares war against heaven.

When a soul sees this enmity and division in sad earnest, there is war in the conscience. The terrors of God raise up a terrible arm within, the bitter remembrance of sins. These are set in battle-array against the soul, and everyone pierces an arrow into his heart. It is the business of the gospel to quell this storm, because it reveals the glad tidings of peace and reconciliation with God. This is the only grounds for perfect calm in the conscience. The atonement which has pacified heaven and appeased justice is declared in this. Only this can pacify the troubled soul and calm the tumultuous waves of the conscience (Ephesians 2:13-20; Colossians 1:19-22).

God in Christ is reconciling sinners to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He entreats us to lay down our hostile affections and the weapons of our warfare. The love of God carried into the heart with power, gives that sweet calm and pleasant rest to the soul, after all its tumult.  This commands the winds and waves of the conscience, and they obey it.

 

2. A Wish for Joy

Joy is the effect of peace. It flows out of it in the soul laying hold of the love of God and the inestimable benefit of the forgiveness of sins. It is peace in a large measure, running over and resulting in refreshing of all that is in the believer: “My heart and my flesh shall rejoice.” This is the very exuberance and high sailing-tide of the sea of peace that is in a believer’s heart. It swells sometimes on the favour of God beyond its usual bounds to a boasting in God. When a soul is filled with glory by the Holy Spirit in possessing what it hopes for it enlarges itself in joy. In this inward jubilation, the heart leaps for joy.

This is not the ordinary experience of a Christian. It is not even as constant as peace. These ripe fruits are not always on the table of every Christian, and for some not at all. It is sufficient that God keeps the soul in the healthy condition of being neither completely cast down or discouraged through difficulties and weakness. It is sufficient if God speaks peace to the soul, even though it is not acquainted with these raptures of Christianity.

It is not fitting that this would be our ordinary food, lest we mistake our pilgrimage for heaven, and start building tabernacles in this mount. We would not long so earnestly for the city and country of heaven, if we had anything more than tastes of that joy to sharpen our desires after its fulness. It is a fixed and unchangeable statute of heaven, that we should here live by faith, and not by sight.

The fulness of this life is emptiness to the next. But there is still a fulness in comparison with the abundance of the world. Their joys and pleasures, their peace and contentation in the things of this life, are only like “the crackling of thorns under a pot” (Ecclesiastes 7:6). They make a great noise, but vanish quickly. It is like the loudest laughter of fools, which has sorrow in it and ends in heaviness (Proverbs 14:13). It is superficial not solid. It is not heart joy but a picture and shadow of the gladness of the heart in the face outwardly. Whatever it may be, sorrow, grief, and heaviness inevitably follow at its heels.

But certainly the wisest and most learned men cannot have any real understanding of the life of a Christian, until they experience it. It is beyond their comprehension, and therefore called “the peace of God” which passes “all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7). It is a “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). The natural mind esteems foolishness whatever is spoken of the joy of the Spirit or the peace of conscience and abstaining from worldly pleasures.

 

3. A Wish for Hope

Our peace and joy is often interrupted in this life and very frequently weakened. It is not so full a feast as the Christian’s desire seeks. The enjoyment we have here does not reduce the pain of a Christian’s appetite, or supply their emptiness. Hope must make the feast complete and to moderate the soul’s desire until the fulness of joy and peace come. Though there is less of the other benefits, there is abundance of hope. The Christian can take as much of that as they can hold, it is both refreshing and strengthening. We cannot be pleased with having or enjoying anything without adding hope to it.

Everyone has their eyes on the future. Looking for future benefits can often reduce our current enjoyments. But the Christian’s hope is a very sure anchor within the veil, it is secured on the sure ground of heaven. This keeps the soul firm and steadfast (albeit not unmoved) but protected from tossing or drifting. As a helmet, it protects against the power and force of temptations. It guards the main part of a Christian and keeps resolutions towards God unharmed.

 

Conclusion

The source of these sweet and pleasant streams is the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. There is power in God to make us happy and give us peace. The God of power, as well as hope, both can and will do this. In His promises and acts He given us grounds for hope in Himself. He is the chief object of hope and the chief cause of hope in us too. Everything is to be found in this fountain.

These streams run into the channel of believing, not doing. It is true, that righteousness and a holy life is a notable means to preserve them pure, unmixed and constant. The peace of our God will never live well with sin, the enemy of God. Joy, which is so pure a fountain cannot run in abundance in an impure heart. It will not mix with worldly pleasures. But the only source of true peace and joy is found by believing in Christ.

Whatever else you do to find them you will not find this solid peace and surpassing joy except by looking away from yourselves. You must fix your hearts on another object, Jesus Christ. “Peace and joy in believing”. What is this believing? It is the soul heartily embracing the promises of the gospel. Believing involves meditation on and deep consideration of these truths. Believing brings peace, and peace brings joy.

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What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
12 Apr, 2018

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves searching questions. Is the spirit of prayer evident to the extent it ought to be? Is the work of the Holy Spirit restrained in relation to the ordinances of God’s worship? Why does the Word not have the powerful effect it ought to have? No doubt there are exceptions but when we take a general view of the professing Church these signs are evident. It’s what Scripture calls God hiding His face (see Isaiah 8:17-18; Job 34:29; Psalm 44:24; Isaiah 64:6). Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do?

James Renwick deals with this sad reality in a sermon on Isaiah 8:17. He knew what it was to face persecution and the painful difficulties of a backsliding generation. The flocks to which Renwick preached were in his own words, “a poor, wasted, wounded, afflicted, bleeding, misrepresented, and reproached remnant and handful of suffering people”.

 

1. Why Would God Hide His Face?

I confess it is hard to tell all the reasons the Lord may have. But the reasons I shall state why the Lord hides His face are:

(a) Sin

Sin separates between God and us. Many gross and grievous transgressions have filled this land and defiled it, so that the Lord has no more honour by His people.

(b) Hypocrisy

The Lord hides His face in the public ordinances of worship, for the defects of the people in approaching God in them. There is hypocrisy. Few come to hear with a resolution to practice what they hear (Micah 2:7).

(c) Need for Prayer

The Lord hides His face, in respect to pouring out the spirit of prayer because He does not have a mind to make haste to deliver the Church (Psalm 10:17). Whenever the Lord has a mind to deliver a people He usually pours out the spirit of prayer.

(d) Need for Faith

The Lord hides His face so that He may reduce his people to pure believing or nothing at all.

 

2. What Should We Do When God Hides His Face?

(a) Search Our Ways and Turn to God

God’s people should search and try their ways and turn again to the Lord. This is considered a common truth yet it is a good old truth. Until the land, and especially the godly in it, search and try the evil of their own ways and turn from it, you need never expect peace with God or that He will be at peace with the land again. This was the way that His people took of old (Lamentations 3:40).

(b) Justify God

When the Lord hides His face it is the duty of all the godly to justify the Lord in all that He does and to judge yourselves guilty. Many of you are ready to say, the rulers and ministers have the blame of what is in the land but no one says “What have I done?” But until everyone looks to what they themselves have done and justify the Lord in saying that He has done nothing contrary to the covenant (Psalm 89:31-32) you need not expect that your trouble will cease.

(c) Strengthen What Remains

When God hides His face it is the duty of His people to strengthen what remains. Is there anything left? I urge you to strengthen it. Go and take words with you and though there be nothing more except words left, make use of these. Speak often one to another. Is prayer left with you? Use it well. Can you pray better with others than alone? Then use it well. Whatever duty you find most freedom in, make it your concern to do it. Whatever remains, strengthen it. It is the will of the Lord to do so. If you do not, you know what is threatened in Revelation 3:2-3. Strengthen that which remains which is ready to die, for Christ threatens to come on them  unexpectedly or suddenly as a theif.

(d) Wait on God

It is the duty of all the Lord’s people to wait on Him when He hides His face (Psalm 130:5-7; Psalm 27:14). Wait, I say, on the Lord with courage, reflect on the grounds of hope you had long since and see what grounds you had more than now. Did you think the work of God would yet thrive when it was low before? What grounds of hope do you lack now that you had then? Why should you be ashamed to hope in Him now?

  • Wait on God because those who do so will never be ashamed.
  • Wait on God because this is the most quieting and composing posture in an evil time (Lamentations 3:26)
  • Wait on God because this has been the work of the people of God in time past (Psalm 130:6).
  • Wait on God because this always has a joyful outcome (Isaiah 25:9).

 

 

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Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews
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.
13 Mar, 2018

They were on a Scottish hillside in fear of government troops arresting or killing those at this “illegal” worship service. Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews?

It was 11 July 1680, a Lord’s Day. The government was hunting Richard Cameron, just 32 years of age, across the moors and hills of Scotland. His crime was that he would not submit to the government total control of the Church. To worship in secret was considered rebellion and there was a high price on his head.

Within eleven days he would suffer a bloody death at the hands of soldiers. Was he aware of that? Yes, to some extent, he was. He had spent the previous day in prayer and meditation and told one lady gloomily “my carcass shall dung the wilderness, and that within a fortnight”.

Now he was ready to preach to the gathered people on the border of Lanarkshire and Dumfries-shire. It was a powerful sermon on John 5:40, one of his favourite texts. Nearly fifty years later, it remained fresh in the memory of those that heard it. There was much emotion for both preacher and congregation. During the sermon Cameron was overcome and “fell in such a rap of calm weeping, and the greater part of that multitude, that there was scarce a dry cheek to be seen among them”. This obliged Cameron to pause and pray. He “continued long praying for the Jews restoration and ingrafting again” amongst other things.

 

1. The Background

Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews? It was not in fact so unusual. The Church of Scotland had a guide to worship called a Directory for the Public Worship of God. The section on Public Prayer before Sermon advised that prayer be made “for the conversion of the Jews”. Besides the Shorter Catechism they also had the Larger Catechism, which, amongst other things, expounded the Lord’s Prayer. In relation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come” it said:

We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in… that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming

These documents were produced by the Westminster Assembly, which was attended by Scottish representatives. All of these, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford referred to the future conversion of the Jews in their preaching. Many of Rutherford’s famous letters contain desires for the restoration of the Jews.  There are a large number of these prayers but we can only consider a few.  In 1631, for instance, he wrote:

I have been this time bypast thinking much of the incoming of the kirk [church] of the Jews. Pray for them. When they were in their Lord’s house, at their Father’s elbow, they were longing for the incoming of their little sister, the kirk of the Gentiles…. (Song 8.8). Let us give them a meeting… That were a glad day to see us and them both sit down to one table, and Christ at the head of the table. Then would our Lord come shortly with his fair guard to hold His great court.

It was a theme that Rutherford was going to return to again and again in his sermons, letters and other writings. He writes with rapture about what he was looking for by faith: “I shall be glad to be a witness, to behold the kingdoms of the world become Christ’s. I could stay out of heaven many years to see that victorious triumphing Lord act that prophesied part of his soul-conquering love, in taking into his kingdom the greater sister, that kirk of the Jews, who sometime courted our Well-beloved for her little sister (Song 8.8); to behold him set up as an ensign and banner of love, to the ends of the world”.

The Jews must “renew their old love with their first Husband, Christ our Lord! They are booked in God’s word, as a bride contracted unto Jesus! Oh for a sight, in this flesh of mine, of the prophesied marriage between Christ and them!” Rutherford was drawing from passages such as Zechariah 8:23: “There is a day when ten men shall take hold, out of all nations, of the skirt of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; we have heard that God is with you.”

 

2. The Biblical Basis

Which other passages of Scripture gave ground for this hope? There is a hint in the following:  “O to see the sight, next to Christ’s Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another’s necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder; they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, Thee and Thy ancient people in mutual embraces.”

Rutherford is echoing Romans 11:15, that the restoration of the Jews would be as “life from the dead”. The Scottish minister and commentator James Durham considered Romans 11 to be undeniably clear on this point.

they shall be brought to a visible Church-state. Not only in particular persons here and there in congregations; but that multitudes, yea, the whole body of them shall be brought, in a common way with the Gentiles, to profess Christ, which cannot be denied, as Romans 11 is clear and that will be enough to satisfy us

Another minister, John Brown of Wamphray produced a commentary on Romans in 1666 that expands further on Romans 11:15:

If the casting away of them, that is, if the slinging away of the Jews, and casting them out of the Church, be the reconciling of the world, that is, be the occasion whereby the gospel should be preached to the Gentile world, that thereby they might be reconciled unto God, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? Will there not be joyful days through the world, and among the Gentiles, when they shall be received into favour again? Will it not be like the resurrection from the dead, when Jew and Gentile shall both enjoy the same felicity and happiness? Seeing out of the dead state of the Jews, when cast without doors, God brought life to the Gentiles, will he not much more do so out of their enlivened estate? Will it not be to the Gentiles as the resurrection from the dead?

The Jews were to be grafted in once more because God had not forgotten his covenant and promises. “Though now the people of the Jews are at a low pass, because of their unbelief, and contempt of the gospel; yet the covenant made with their fore-fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” is not forgotten by God, but is in force; and by virtue thereof, they have some room in God’s affection yet: They are beloved for the father’s sake”.

As David Dickson, another commentator put it: “The Church of the Jews is the mother-church, whereof Abraham and the godly Jews yea and Christ himself were Members; The Church of the Jews is the Olive-tree, whereunto all the converts of the Gentiles are ingrafted, gathered, and made one people with Abraham and the faithful among the Jews”.

 

3. What about the Land?

James Durham also addressed the question of whether the Jews would be restored to the land they had once occupied. He did not wish to be absolute about it but pointed to Scripture passages and promises that seemed to indicate that this would be so such as Ezekiel 37:20-21, Amos 9:11-15 and others. If Paul spoke of them being grafted in as they were broken off it seemed to suggest some national state. He also took into view the promise of the land and the fact that in God’s providence the Jews were still a distinct people even though scattered amongst the nations. Another commentator George Hutcheson also considered it possible for the Jews to return to their homeland in the last days.

David Dickson was slightly more cautious when commenting on Psalm 69:35. This verse shows that God will always “maintain his Church, his Sion and his Judah”. We can find “special evidence of this care among the Jews” no matter how far “they may at some times be from all appearance of his respect to them”. The promise in this verse expressly uses the name of Judah, “He will build the Cities of Judah”. “What outward testimonies of Gods respect to the Jews for Christ’s sake shall be given unto them, after the destruction of their cities…we must leave it to God, to be in due time by his own works interpreted, and to be made out according to what here is said; that the cities of Judah shall be built, that they may dwell there and have it, (i.e. the promised land,) in possession”.

 

Conclusion

Overhearing the prayers of the Covenanters ought to inspire us to pray and long for this great event. “Oh, what a heavenly heaven were it to see them come in”, said Rutherford. John Brown of Wamphray observes that we can draw great encouragement from this teaching. God is “unchangeable in mercy and power” and so “it is not impossible that the Jews shall be recovered, because the Gentiles who were once as evil as they are now, were recovered”. “Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). We should never despair of anyone being converted.

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What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
27 Dec, 2017

At this time of year, many people stop and reflect. They review the past and take stock. Then they set their priorities for a coming year. If people commit to this in outward things as well as their personal life how much more is it necessary in spiritual things? Priorities are significant because they identify what is really important to us. They rise above mere resolutions or wishful thinking. This is a biblical activity. Paul tells us of how he considered the future in the light of the past. He tells us that he had only one real priority and he was determined to pursue it.

Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres. In Philippians 3:12, he is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection, even though that is beyond this life. Even those who have attained most come short. This should encourage us as we review our imperfect attainments.

As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. We should not be discouraged but rather encouraged to strive for better progress towards the mark.

In verses 13-14 Paul uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look back to estimate what ground they have covered. Rather, they forget what is behind and bend their bodies forward. They aim their heart, eye and whole direction, straight towards the finish of the race until they attain it. Paul was sustained in this race by hope of the rich reward (purchased by Christ) to which he was called. What was Paul’s one priority? Progress in the knowledge of Christ and the “holiness” without which none of us shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Is it ours? Will it be ours this year? How do we live our lives under the influence of this supreme priority? The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments on these verses from Philippians 3.

 

1. Knowing Christ and Holiness is the Supreme Priority

We must be seriously inclined towards progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness above all other things. We must not do this superficially and only by the by. It was Paul’s one thing: he said “this one thing I do (or mind)”.

 

2. We Must Pursue this With Our Full Energy

The Christian who wants to make progress in the way to heaven is like those who are running in a race.

(a) The Runner Does Not Look Back to Estimate Progress

The Christian who wants to make progress is like the runner does not cast his eye back to reckon how much of the way is already past.They may review of what has been done already not only to be humbled for shortcomings but also to see reasons for praising God and encouragement (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Christian is not to be so taken up with it as to rest on it. There is no reason to be puffed up with pride as if enough has already been done or anything else that would impede further progress. In this way Paul speaks of “forgetting those things which are behind”, as if he had done nothing.

(b) The Runner Looks Forward

The runner is mostly taken up with the part of the way still to be run and they bend forward in it. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress must take time to reckon up how much of  the way still lies ahead. They assess what sins are yet to be mortified; what duties are yet almost untouched; what hard activities they may yet be called to undergo. The more we see of these kind of things, the more effort we must make in advancing forward. Thus, Paul speaks of “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

(c) The Runner Keeps Looking at the Finish

The runner keeps his eye on the mark and steers his whole progress towards it. He does not turn aside or stop due to any difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix their eye on the end of the race. That goal is perfection in holiness. They must aim all their actions and attempts at that mark and press forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way. This is what Paul did: “I press toward the mark“.

 

3. Considering the Reward Inspires Greater Progress

The thoughts of the prize and worth of the reward give strength to the runner, making them run faster. Heaven and glory is the rich prize – a free reward of grace (not earned by merit) – for the Christian (Romans 6:23). The Christian who wants to make real progress should have this much in their thoughts. This heartens us against all hardships and discouragements, faintings and failings we are assaulted with and tempted to. This is what Paul was doing: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling”.

 

4. The Reward is All of Grace

Heaven and glory are only given as a reward to those who continue in their Christian progress until they come to the end of the race. Yet it is in no way merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s poor efforts but from above, from God’s high grace. They receive this through the merits of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul calls it “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ“.

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Is the Church Going to Drown?

Is the Church Going to Drown?

Is the Church Going to Drown?
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.
28 Apr, 2017

The recent facts of the Scottish Church Census are stark. Some call it a crisis. It observes steep decline in attendance. Mainly ageing congregations are mostly led by ageing ministers. Some may query the definition of church and make qualifications and caveats about statistics. Yet it still makes sombre reading and seems to measure a deluge of secularisation making further tidal advances. How far will it go? What will things look like in 10 years time? When we quantify things in spiritual rather than numerical decline there may be even greater cause for concern. But we need to take God’s perspective rather than merely heed the statistician.

It is just such a perspective that we get in Psalm 93. As David Dickson observes, it is a Psalm for the comfort of God’s people against the multitude and power of their enemies. Their enemies often seem likely to overflow, devour and drown the Church. Yet the Church has its defence, comfort and victory in the Lord of glory. We are to draw comfort from praising God. He is the great governor of the world, unchangeable and eternal constantly guiding the world by His power and wisdom (verses 1-2).

The opposition of the of the enemies of the Church is compared to the growing flood or the raging sea (verse 3). Yet the Psalmist declares the glory and might of God in opposition to their power (verses 4-5).  These truths are applied, showing how we ought to respond if we desire such comfort in believing (verse 5).

 

The Church’s Fears

The Church fears that she is likely to be overflowed as with a deluge by a multitude of powerful enemies. She bemoans these to God in verse 3.

1. They are Real Fears

It is no surprise to see the world rising up tumultuously to overthrow the Church like a deluge coming on them to drown and devour everything. It is no surprise to hear enemies threatening destruction to the Church like the noise of flood waters coming down the mountains after rain, from which there is no escape. The floods have lifted up their voice and their waves.

2. The Best Way to Deal with Such Fears

The best way to counter threatenings and fears is with God. We must lay them before the Lord that He may answer them. This is what the Psalmist does here, saying “the floods have lifted up, O Lord”.

 

God is Mightier than All that the Church Fears

The Psalmist contrasts the power of God with the boasting, malice and power of the enemies. God’s power is far above that of the Church’s enemies. He is more mighty in defending the Church than the enemy is in opposing it.

1. Only Heavenly Help and Comfort will Calm Our Fears

Only heavenly help and comfort from above is able to calm our fears here below in times of persecution and fear of  enemies. “The Lord on high” (verse 4) is contrasted with the roaring of the floods and waters dashing against the Church.

2. God is More Powerful than the Church’s Enemies

We can neither glorify God nor comfort ourselves against the power of the Church’s enemies unless we exalt the Lord’s power above them all: “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters”.

3. God is Above All that We Fear

The Lord is above everything that terrifies us. He is able to restrain them as He pleases and by His power terrify those that terrify His Church: “The Lord is mightier than the noise of many waters” and “the mighty waves of the sea”.

 

Conclusion

The Psalmist also applies these truths concerning the Lord’s power and good will to defend His Church. Since the Word of the Lord is sure and true in itself, we should acknowledge it to be sure.  We should set our seal to it, as the Psalmist does here in saying that God’s “testimonies are very sure”. Another application is that if we wish to have the benefit of the protection promised here we must strive to be holy.

1. Scripture Testifies to Itself

Whatever is said in Scripture needs no external proof. It is God’s declaration and whatever it declares is true. His promises are therefore referred to here as His testimonies.

2. Scripture Will Never Deceive Us

No one can ever be deceived in believing the truth of the Scriptures or the Lord’s testimony within it.  When we have God’s Word our minds can rest at peace, because His “testimonies are very sure”.

3. The Lord’s Presence is the Church’s Greatest Blessing

The strength and happiness of the Lord’s people is that they are the Lord’s habitation and place of residence. God’s Church and people are dedicated and consecrated to Him, His holy house. The temple was only a type and shadow of this.

4. God will be Sanctified by All that Draw Near Him

Any who desired to enjoy the preservation and privileges promised to the Church must strive after holiness. This is also the duty of the members of the Church, holiness becomes this House.

5. These Duties and Blessings Belong to the Church in All Ages

The dignity, duty and privileges of God’s people are perpetual. Consecration, holy affections and conduct and and the removal of sin and misery in particular do not belong unto any time or age. Rather, they are for all that strive to be approved of God, protected and made blessed by God in all times and ages, in all places and company, all the days of their life. Holiness is becoming to God’s House for ever.

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7 Benefits of Measuring Your One Brief Life

7 Benefits of Measuring Your One Brief Life

7 Benefits of Measuring Your One Brief Life
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
16 Dec, 2016

​In a 24/7 world, time is a precious commodity. We live our lives by the clock, assessing how much time we have till the next item on the schedule. It’s a 24/7 world because to many, this life and this world is all that matters. Time is short but there is an eternal world to come. This makes time precious in an altogether different way. True wisdom compels us to measure our lives for our enduring benefit.

As Moses shows, our lives are so short they can be compared to a single day (Psalm 90:6). Jacob lived longer than the oldest person now alive but he assessed his years as “few and evil” (Genesis 47:9). Andrew Gray gives valuable counsel on the benefit of measuring our days in order to know the brevity of time. He says that it would be desirable that “the thoughts of it were deeply engraven on our hearts, as with a pen of iron and the point of a diamond”. Thus, “they might rise with us in the morning and lie down with us at night, and be continually with us”.  It would be “a spur in our side” reminding us of what concerns our soul’s everlasting benefit. It is worth noting that Andrew Gray died very young, at the age of only 22 years. The following is an updated extract from one of his sermons.

 

1. Measuring Our Life Brings Heavenly-mindedness

It is clear that “we have here no continuing city”. What should this produce?  “Therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:14-15).  Considering the brevity of our life is good for the very same reason, to remind us of eternity. Since it is so, we should  set our affections and desires on things that are above. We should set our whole hearts on that glorious and precious pearl of our crown that shines so bright: when “we shall meet Christ in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). O long for that day and let your hearts covet more the excellent things that are above in heaven.

 

2. Measuring Our Life Makes Us Moderate in the Pleasures of this Life

It will cause great sobriety and moderation in pursuit after the worldly pleasures and delights of this present life. This is clear from that command given 1 Thessalonians 5:8, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation”. If the thoughts of the brevity of our life were engraven on our hearts, why then should we vex ourselves with the torturing cares of this life, which does not profit us at all? O why do we weary ourselves in the fire, which is but vexation of spirit and surely vanity? O Christians, let  your moderation in the pursuit of the things in this world be made known to all men. For behold! The Lord is at hand, to take vengeance and revenge on the wicked, with furious rebukes of flaming fire, and eternal excommunication from the righteous Judge.

 

3. Measuring Our Life Makes Us Serious and Diligent in Duties

It makes us diligent and watchful in going towards that blessed rest that is prepared for all the redeemed of the Lord. Our blessed Lord Jesus reasoned, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4) Then, O Christians, while it is called today, stir up yourselves for working out the work of your salvation. We do not know how suddenly the shadows of that everlasting evening may be stretched out over us and we receive that summons from God to remove from here and be gone. Are you not afraid lest you be banished? Lest the night approach before your work is perfected? I am afraid that many will still not have begun that great work of their soul’s salvation when death summons them to appear before God’s terrible tribunal and judgment-seat.

Be afraid and stand in awe, lest the night is hard by and at hand. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die,” say the Epicureans. They make use of this argument to stir up delight in fulfilling their lusts; but let us be watchful and diligent for we do not know but it may be tomorrow that we must die.

Take more time to consider the things that are before you than the things that are behind. Think more on what is before than what is past: “press forward toward the mark, for the prize of the high-calling of God, in Christ Jesus”.

 

4. Measuring Our Life Makes Us Understand Why We Were Created

Adam was created according to the most blessed and glorious image of God. But having a woeful and cursed design to be as God and like Him, fell from that blessed condition and all his posterity in him. He made us and himself subject to God’s wrath and eternal indignation for evermore. But blessed be God eternally that He has found out that new and living way by which we may escape that curse on all mankind for sin.

 

5. Measuring Our Life is a Great Help to Put Idols to Death

Thoughts of the brevity of our life and appointed time would put to death the following great idols which have us so much under their power:

(a) It helps put to death the idol of false trust. This is when we trust in anything more than in God. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man” in whom there is no help (Psalm 146:3).
(b) It helps put to death the idol of false love. This is when we love anything more than God. We are to cease from man “whose breath is in his nostrils” (Isaiah 2:22).
(c) It helps put to death the idol of false fear. This is when we fear anything more than God. Particularly when we are “afraid of a man that shall die and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?” ( Isaiah 51:12)

 

6. Measuring Our Life Creates Wonder at the Love of Christ

One who measures their life may attain to a holy admiration and divine astonishment at the condescending love of Jesus Christ. “Man that is born of a woman, is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). What a wonder it is to see God delighting Himself in the dust of His feet. God makes those who dwell in the dust an object of His love! Surely this is a mystery which we cannot comprehend.

 

7. Measuring Our Life Makes Us Compassionate

God makes use of the brevity of our live to provoke Him to have compassion and mercy. Surely this is God’s way and we must wonder at it rather than inquire and debate why it is so. This is clear from Psalm 78:38-39: “But being full of compassion, he forgave their iniquities, and turned away his anger; for he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.”

 

Conclusion

Gray notes that God has appointed our time and numbered our days (Job 14:14-16). God has done all things well. The brevity and shortness of our life declares the great love and matchless delight that God has to sinners. He is longing for the day when all the redeemed of the Lord shall be with Him, to remain there forever to enjoy all delights and all soul-pleasures. Long for that day, but be submissive to God’s will. Those who have made use of their life to enjoy communion and fellowship with God will rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

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