How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?
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.
14 Jul, 2020

The Bible clearly teaches that God continues to look after and oversee all that He made. Scripture makes clear that His power is as necessary to maintain the world as it was to make it (Hebrews 1:3). Some believe that God created everything but then left creation to continue by itself with no continual involvement. But this is not what the Bible teaches (Psalm 103:19). Let’s explore Bible Truth on this subject.

This is an extract from the recently reprinted book Bible Truth Explored. It uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. Its simple and straightforward approach make it well suited for all ages in group, family and individual study. The following extract relates to Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism.

Q. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

God’s providence preserves

God sustains the whole creation in existence moment by moment, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). He does this by constantly providing for them (Psalm 36:6).

People sometimes talk about the ‘laws of nature,’ often forgetting that it is really the
Lord who is providing for His creatures. He constantly provides what is necessary
for them to survive and flourish. He controls the seasons, the water cycle, and all
the features of ecosystems (Psalm 104). If God ever suspended His preserving work,
everything would simply go out of existence.

God preserves “all his creatures, and all their actions.” In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Every breath we take and all our ways belong to Him (Matthew 6:26-34, Daniel 5:23)

“The Lord rules and directs all His creatures…just as surely as He preserves them.”

God’s providence governs

Psalm 66:7 asserts that God rules “by his power for ever”. The Psalmist was reflecting on the truth that the Lord rules and directs all His creatures and all their actions, just as surely as He preserves them. The sun, moon, stars and all celestial bodies are under His hand. The wind, rain and snow are at His command. Kings, prime ministers and presidents do not reign and govern by chance. It is by His power and authority that they come and go (Proverbs 8:15–16).

God’s providence is holy

God is holy in all His ways and works. He governs His own creation in holiness
and in such a way as will promote holiness. Because we see so much evil and
wickedness happening, we can sometimes struggle to see the holiness of God in
His providence. For example, the fact that God governs all the actions of His
creatures includes even the sinful actions of sinful creatures. God is nevertheless
still holy and acting in holiness when He permits sinners to have evil thoughts
and gives them good health and energy to put wicked ideas into action.

At the same time God remains holy. He is not the author of sin and He is not responsible for the sins of sinful beings. His governing in providence includes setting limits on people’s wickedness, and limits on the damage their wickedness causes. His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions and when He converts notorious sinners into dear saints. God’s holiness can also be seen in His justice, when He brings bad consequences on sinners for their bad actions. For example, the conspirators who wanted innocent Daniel to be destroyed were themselves soon punished by being thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:24).

“His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions.”

God’s providence is wise

Think of the history of Joseph in Genesis. His life was full of sadness and difficulty, but at last it became clear that God had a wise plan in it all and worked it out perfectly. “But God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The reason for many things in life may not be clear to us but we are to trust in God’s purposes (Romans 8:28).

We see wisdom in action when somebody uses the best tools and methods to reach the best outcome, even when we don’t initially understand what they are doing. It might seem strange, for example, to infect people deliberately with cowpox, giving them unpleasant lesions and fever, but once someone has had cowpox they are protected from smallpox, a deadly disease. God is using the best methods even when our limited wisdom prevents us from seeing how His methods will ever achieve a good outcome.

God’s providence is powerful

Do you remember proud King Nebuchadnezzar? He thought that there was none as important or powerful as he himself. But God humbled him and taught him that the King of Heaven has power beyond any mere men. Nebuchadnezzar put it like this: “none can stay his hand,” meaning that no one can interfere with or alter His powerful oversight (Daniel 4:35).

When God announced that He was going to set the Israelites free from Egypt, there was nothing that cruel Pharaoh could do to stop them. He might have thought he had survived the plagues which God had sent, and he must have thought the Israelites were at his mercy when his armies cornered them on the brink of the Red Sea. But he was no
match for God’s power in providence. In preserving, managing, arranging, and governing, God is not only capable but invincible.

Something to think about…

  • God is constantly in control of all His creatures and all their actions. Can you
    think of some examples (from the Bible or your own observation) where God
    demonstrates either His holiness, wisdom, or power as He preserves and
    governs (a) something tiny, (b) something enormous, (c) a living creature, (d)
    an inanimate force of nature, (e) a notorious sinner, (f) a godly believer?
  • Someone has compared the operation of God’s providence to a clock which
    has lots of cogs and wheels. They may go in opposite directions but they fit
    together and all work together to make the clock keep time. How can we see
    this in the life of Joseph?

Personal reflection

  • How should the fact that God’s providence is simultaneously holy, wise, and
    powerful make us willing to accept whatever happens to us in our lives?

Get it Now!

There is so much to learn about God and ourselves from the Bible that we need an accurate summary. We need a guidebook to what the Bible says we must believe and how we must live. This resource uses the Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. 

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The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

The Only Absolutely Safe Place of Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. God’s Call to His Shelter

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

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

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

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

(c) A call to hide ourselves in God

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

2. What is God’s Shelter?

(a) God’s providential care

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

(b) Safety, pleasure and delight in God

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

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

3. How Does God’s Mercy Provide Shelter?

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

(a) Warning us of judgment before it comes

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

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

(b) Causing us to believe the warning

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

(c) Providing shelter for us

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

4. How Do We Enter God’s Shelter?

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

(a) Enter

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

(b) Shut the doors

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

(c) Hide

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

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Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
21 Feb, 2020

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

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

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

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

1. From Having Nothing to Possessing Everything

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

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

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

2. What Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything Means

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

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

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

3. How Possessing Everything Makes Up for Having Nothing

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

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

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

4. The World Does Not Know What Possessing Everything Means

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

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

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

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

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

5. How Possessing Everything Brings Hope

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

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

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

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

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

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

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

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

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

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

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

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

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

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

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

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

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

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

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

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

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

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

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

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

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

1. THE WORLD

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

2. THE BELLY

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

3. THE SELF

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

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

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

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

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

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

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

7. CHURCH

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

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

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

9. AN EASY LIFE

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

10. ESCAPISM

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

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

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

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

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

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

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How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?

How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?

How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?
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.
7 Jun, 2019

It is right to express our deep gratitude for the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom in World War II. We owe so much to that generation. There is little public recognition today, however, of the debt we owe to God. Many prayers were offered 75 years ago for this deliverance and in God’s great kindness they were answered. King George VI’s VE Day speech began “Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance”. It ended, “In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand”. Yet we have to ask ourselves how our nations have made use of this deliverance. Did we use the freedom to honour or dishonour God? Have we been thankful to God? What is true thankfulness?

We ought also to reflect on the many other reasons we have personally and corporately for being thankful to God. How has it left an abiding impact on our lives and hearts? Thomas Case speaks movingly in describing what he calls the “pure, holy, spiritual, active grace and duty of thankfulness”. True thankfulness to God does not “put him off with a few empty, formal compliments instead of the real, spiritual, and vital duty which he expects and deserves” from us. True spiritual thankfulness is a grace which comes down from heaven and ascends back to heaven.

 

1. True Thankfulness Exalts God

We exalt God (Psalm 30:1) and calls on others to help (Psalm 34:3). True spiritual thankfulness wants God to be more exalted and man less.

 

2. True Thankfulness is Prayerful

Truth thankfulness rises towards heaven and God in holy prayer (Psalm 116:13 and 17). We do not give up praying when God has put an end to our troubles (Job 27:10).  With the truly thankful prayer leads deliverance and deliverance leads to prayer. It is love not mere necessity that makes him pray. Love to prayer and love to the God of prayer.

 

3. True Thankfulness Shows Love to God

Love draws the heart out in great love to God (Psalm 18:1). This was David’s song in the day that the Lord had delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. The saints express this love in these three ways:

(a) Seeking to know God more  (Exodus 33:18). Moses had seen much of the wonders of God. Now his love is fired with desire to see and know the God of these wonders.

(b) Seeking to enjoy God more (Psalm 86:10-11). The Psalmist seeks to know the way to God to enjoy more communion with God. A thankful heart will only be content with God Himself, not merely the things of God.

(c) Seeking to glory in God more (Psalm 48:3-7, 12-13). The Church concludes that Psalm of rejoicing for victory with this as the greatest triumph “This God is our God for ever and ever (Psalm 48:14). The God that has done all these wonders is my God. She does not glory so much in the victories God had given her, as in belonging to the God of those victories.

 

4. Truth Thankfulness Requires Self-denial

Self-denial for God’s sake (Ezra 9:13-14). There is more thankfulness in one act of self-denial than in twenty days of thanksgiving.

 

5. True Thankfulness Fulfils our Vows

“What shall I render?” David says (Psalm 116:12). “I will pay my vows” (Psalm 116:14 and 18). This is as right a response as any for all the mercies of God to His people, whether national or personal, whether victories or supplies. All of these are God making good His covenant to them. We must pay our vows to God (Psalm 56:12).

 

6. True Thankfulness Trusts God

If God delivers a thankful heart it will trust Him another time (Exodus 14:31). A people or person cannot honour God more than by trusting Him. Abraham was strong in faith giving glory to God (Romans 4:20).

 

7. True Thankfulness is Life Changing

Thankfulness makes us order our life to God’s glory (Psalm 50:23). The main work of thanksgiving is the ordering of our lives (literally in Hebrew, disposing our way aright). Thankful lips do well, but thankful lives do better. A day of thanksgiving is something, but a life of thanksgiving is everything.

 

8. True Thankfulness Desires Others to Praise God

A thankful heart is filled with enlarged desires that others, that all would be thankful. The holy psalmist cries out to all that receive mercies, that they would respond with praise to God (Psalm 107:31). He observes how much people receive from God and how little they give back to God. He is troubled by this. He cries out like someone in pain and grief. He is not willing that God should lose anything by any of the wonders He does. Surely this a high expression of thankfulness, when the heart labours with holy desires for the whole world to give glory to God (see the whole of Psalm 148). A gracious heart does not think it enough to praise God alone; even though it would praise God supposing were there none in heaven or earth to keep it company.

 

9. True Thankfulness Speaks of God’s Works

A thankful heart delights to speak of the wonderful works of God (Psalm 145:5, 10-12).  The Church praises God’s great goodness, mercies and the multitude of His lovingkindnesses (Isaiah 63:7). The saints not only stir up one another to speak of His praises but seek to preserve the memory of His wonderful works to all generations (Psalm 145:4-7; Psalm 78:2-5).

 

10. True Thankfulness Longs for Heaven

Since gracious spirits adorned with thankfulness can only live a short while to praise God on earth, and since their generations will not continue forever to do this work–they long for heaven. There in the presence of God their praises will be perfected. Here they are feeble, weary, full of natural and sinful weakness There they will be vigourous, active, pure and perfect without change or end to all eternity (Revelation 8:4).  Thankfulness is a pure flame of a restless motion, always mounting upward until it comes to heaven. There it will sing everlasting hallelujahs to Him that sits on the throne and to the Lamb. There it will observe a day of thanksgiving that will never have an evening.

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Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Our God is Eternally Unchanging

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

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

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

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

 

2. Our Response to the Unchanging God

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

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

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

 

3. Ourselves Compared to the Unchanging God

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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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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What is the Purpose of Life?

What is the Purpose of Life?

What is the Purpose of Life?
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.
8 Mar, 2019

Why did God make me? What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? These are important questions that most people ask at some point in their lives. The Shorter Catechism dives in at the deep end by tackling this fundamental issue in the very first question. “What is man’s chief end?” is basically asking, “What is the point of our existence?”

This article is a chapter from the book “Bible Truth Explored” by Murdo A N Macleod with Catherine Hyde.

 

No special purpose?

Many people think that we have no special purpose in life. They think everyone can choose their own goals in life, because there is no more to life than enjoying ourselves and getting the most out of our time here. What a poor, selfish attitude that is! Jesus told us about a man who said to himself, “eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Because that was his sole purpose in life, God called him a fool. The Catechism tells us that we do have a purpose, or an “end,” a goal or aim in life.

 

Many special purposes?

Many people also think that there are many special purposes for living. They include to work and look after our families, education, science and development, and of course recreation. While all these are important in their own place, none of them is our chief end. We have one “chief” purpose, one supreme aim. Our “chief end” is our foremost special purpose, the whole point of our existence.

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

 

To glorify God

Our chief end has two aspects. The first aspect is “to glorify God.” Does this mean that we have to try and make God more glorious than He already is? No. We cannot add to God’s glory. It is already perfect. It can neither be increased nor reduced.

“We have one ‘chief’ purpose, one supreme aim.”

However, there can be variation in how God’s creatures display His glory. Think of the sun. We cannot make the sun shine brighter, but clouds sometimes hide or block the sun’s brightness. We cannot make God any more glorious than He is. But our sins are like clouds, which hide or overshadow God’s reputation. Our sins make the world a darker place and obscure God’s honour.

To “glorify God” is not to add to His glory but to live in such a way as honours Him and declares His gloriousness to all who see and hear us. It is to live a life of obedience to God, not hiding His glory behinds clouds of disobedience.

Our duty is to do everything to the glory of God. Our lives are not divided into parts, one part about spiritual matters and the other part worldly concerns. It is not a case of having one part of our lives obeying God and another driven by a desire to please and glorify ourselves. Whether at home or work, study or leisure, our whole lives are to be focused on glorifying God.

 

To enjoy God

The other aspect of our chief end is “to enjoy God forever.” Enjoying God means being pleased and delighted with who God is, finding Him to be the one source of our deepest satisfaction and pleasure. This enjoyment is a consequence of glorifying God, although it should not be our main motivation for glorifying God. We should glorify God because God is so glorious, not because of the pleasure we may consequently experience. When we think of how we enjoy God, we can think both of enjoying Him in this world and of enjoying Him in the world to come.

 

Enjoying God in this world

The Christian enjoys the presence of God. This is because God has restored a friendly relationship between Him and them. Instead of being afraid of God and antagonistic towards Him, the Christian finds pleasure and satisfaction in the presence of God.

The Christian enjoys pleasing God. Instead of making it their priority to please themselves, or keep other people happy, the Christian enjoys thinking about God and how they can serve Him and glorify Him best with their lives and talents.

The Christian enjoys activities in which they meet with God. Instead of being most happy when God is pushed to the back of their minds and feels very far away, the Christian enjoys every opportunity to spend time with God. These opportunities include reading the Bible, praying, and church services on the Lord’s Day.

 

Enjoying God in the world to come

The Christian’s enjoyment will last “forever” because God is everlasting. The enjoyment of God which the believer has in this world is only a little foretaste of what they will enjoy in eternity. In heaven, they will be able to completely and continually glorify and enjoy God.

Our chief end is something that should absorb our attention and energy. It should never be far from our thoughts that the main reason for our existence is to glorify and enjoy God. When we are more concerned about our own glory, and find our pleasures in other things, we show that we are not fit for our main purpose and our priorities are all wrong. We should take Paul’s advice: “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

BIBLE TRUTH EXPLORED

Based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, this book helps us to see how Bible truths fit together, relate to and depend on each other so that we can learn, live and love the Truth.

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

Who Are You?
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.
18 Jan, 2019

From gender to nationality to race–can we choose the identity we want? Are these things that drive identity politics real? Even if we resist every other label – what exactly does human mean these days? Other subtle influences within society point us to find our identity in what we have and what do. Is there something fixed that goes beyond changeable subjective notions?

Yes. We can draw our identity from what God has done and what God has said. We need to go back to the beginning, to creation. We cannot understand who we are without this. This is the foundation of understanding our personal identity. That is exactly what Hugh Binning does in the following updated extract.

 

1. Our Original Identity

It is certain, that you will never rightly understand yourselves or what you are, until you know first what humanity was made to be. You cannot imagine what your present misery is until you know the happiness man had when he was created: “let us make man in our image”.

Some have called Adam a microcosm of the world, because he had heaven and earth as it were married together in him. He united two very remote and distant natures. The dust of the earth and the immortal spirit  (called the breath of God) sweetly linked, conjoined and inclined to one another. In this piece of workmanship the Lord made a microcosm of all His works. He brought together in one creation the marvellous wisdom, being, living, moving, sense and intelligence which are scattered across the other creatures. We carry around in ourselves the wonders we admire in the rest of creation.

With a mere simple word, this huge framework of the world started out of nothing. But in creating humanity God acts as a skilful craftsman: “Let us make man”. He makes rather than creates. He first raises the walls of flesh, builds the house of the body with all its organs, all its rooms, and then He makes a noble and divine guest to dwell in it. He breathes into it the breath of life.

 

2. Our Unique Original Identity

But what the Lord would have us consider most is the image of Himself imprinted on man —“Let us make man in our own image.” There was no creature without some engravings of God and His power, wisdom, and goodness. The heavens are said to declare His glory (Psalm 19:1). But whatever they have, it is only the lower part of that image, some dark shadows and resemblances of Him. But the final work of creation is made according to His own image. He reflects Himself in this as with a mirror. The rest of creation resembles His footstep but man resembles His face. He was made “in our image, after our likeness”.

It is true that only Jesus Christ His Son is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person”. He alone  resembles Him perfectly and thoroughly in all properties. He is another self in nature, properties and operations. He is so like Him that He is one with Him, it is really a oneness, than a likeness.

But man was created according to God’s own image, with some likeness (not sameness or oneness) to Himself. That is a high privilege indeed, to be like God. How could man be like God, who is infinite, incomprehensible, whose glory cannot be given to or shared with another? There are unique aspects of His being in which He not only has no equal not none even to compare to Him. In these He is to be adored as infinitely transcending all created perfections and conceptions. But yet in others He reveals Himself so as to be imitated and followed. For this purpose He first stamps these qualities on man in shaping him at first.

 

3. Our Original Moral Identity

If you want to know what those qualities are in particular the apostle defines them.  They include “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10), “righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:21). This is the “image of him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).  It is the image which the Creator stamped on man, that he might seek Him. He set him apart for Himself to keep communion with him and to bless him. There is a spirit given to man with a capacity to know and to will. This is God’s face sketched out and this is not engraved on any other creature that has feeling. One of the most noble and excellent operations of life which exalts human beings above brute beasts is the capacity to reflect on ourselves and to know ourselves and our Creator. Other things have natural instincts suitable to their own nature, but none of them have a capacity to know what they are or what they have. They cannot conceive ideas of He who gave them a being.

He has limited the eye to respond to colours and light, He has limited the ear so that it cannot act without sounds. He has assigned every sense its own proper range within which it moves. But He teaches man knowledge, and He enlarges the sphere of his understanding beyond visible things to invisible things or spirits. He has put a capacity in the soul to know all things, including itself. The eye discerns light, but does not see itself. But He gives a spirit to man to know himself and his God.

And then there is a willing power in the soul by which it gives itself towards any thing that is conceived as good. The understanding directs and the will commands according to its direction. Then the whole faculties and senses obeying these commands make up an excellent portrait of the image of God. There was a sweet proportion and harmony in Adam, all was in due place and subordination. The motions of immortal man began within. The lamp of reason shone and gave light. There was no stirring, choosing or refusing until reason moved. This was like a ray of God’s light reflected into the soul of man.

When reason discerned good and evil this power in the soul influenced the whole person accordingly, to choose good and refuse evil. There would have been no living resemblance to God if there was only power to know and will.  These capacities must also be beautified and adorned with supernatural and divine graces of spiritual light, holiness and righteousness. These complete the image of God on the soul in full colour.

There was a divine light which shone on the understanding until sin intervened and eclipsed it. The sweet heat and warmness of holiness and uprightness in the affections came from the light of God’s face.  There was nothing but purity and cleanness in the soul, no darkness of ignorance, no muddiness of carnal affections. The soul was pure and transparent, able to receive the refreshing and enlightening rays of God’s glorious countenance.

This was the very face and beauty of the soul. This is the beauty and excellency: conformity to God. This was throughout the whole: in the understanding and the affections. The understanding had to be conformed to God’s understanding, discerning between good and evil. As a ray of that sun, a stream from that fountain of wisdom, a light from God’s understanding it has to be conformed to Him.

The will agreed with His will: approving and choosing what He approved and refusing what He hated. This union was closer than any bond among men. It was as if there were not two wills but as it were, one. The love of God reflecting into the soul drew the soul back to Him again. Love was the conforming principle which shaped the whole person without and within to be like God and obey Him.  Man was formed for communion with God, and he must have this likeness or else they could not join as friends.

 

4. Our Original Moral Identity Destroyed

But it is sad to think where we have fallen from and how great our fall is. To fall from such a blessed condition is great misery indeed. Satan has robbed us of our rich treasure, the glorious image of holiness. He has drawn the very image of hell on our souls the very visage of hell, the distinctive features of his hellish countenance. But most people are unaware of anything of this. If we could consider all the sad and awful consequences of sin in the world and what miseries that one fall has brought on all humanity we would see what a fearful fall it has been.

Sin intervened between God and us, this darkened our souls and killed them. The light of knowledge was put out, the life of holiness extinguished. There now remains nothing of all of that stately building except some ruins of common principles of reason and honesty in everyone’s consciences. These merely show us what the building was like. We have fallen from holiness and therefore from happiness. Our souls are deformed and defiled. If sin was visible, how ugly the shape of the soul would be to us. This is because it has lost its very beauty, which is God’s image.

 

5. Our Original Moral Identity Restored

We must know where we have fallen from and into what a gulf of sin and misery we have fallen. When we know this, the news of Jesus Christ, a Mediator and Redeemer of fallen man will be sweet to us. It was the Lord’s will to let His image be marred and ruined in us because He had this purpose to repair and renew even better than of old. He created (the human nature of) Christ according to His image for this purpose. He stamped that image of holiness on His humanity. This was so as to be a pattern and pledge of restoring original glory and excellence to the souls that flee to Him for refuge. He has made His Son like us that we might once again be made like Him. He said in eternity, “let one of us be made man”. This was so that it might be said once more, “let man be made like us, in our image”. Only a second creation can do this. Look at your hearts to enquire if it this new creation has been formed in you. You must be re-created in that image if you belong to Christ.

 

Conclusion

There are many voices in our generation encouraging everyone to seek their own identity. Young people are often on a quest to find an identity even if it means that their minds and bodies are at odds with one another. But this will never bring the happiness and peace we seek. We have lost an identity and we need it recovered, but it is the identity God has given and offers not the one that we choose out of our own preferences. In one sense the gospel is saying to us, “be who you were meant to be, who you were created to be.” We will only find that if we are a new creation in Christ. This is the true basis for our personal identity.

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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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Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?
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.
6 Jul, 2018

Sometimes in our personal experience and in the world around us we are tempted with the feeling that God is absent. Why doesn’t God show Himself more? Are our prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God step in and arrest the moral rebellion that is destroying western societies? These concerns are not new in one sense. The Psalms and other books of Scripture wrestle with such thoughts. Yet it can seem different in a society where God is excluded to such a great extent.

Sometimes we treat the temptation and pressure to unbelief as an intellectual matter. So we seek more and more rational proofs of God’s existence. But the root cause of the temptation may lie deeper in the social realities of a secular age. The felt absence of God is something we grapple with in a particular way in such an age.

This is addressed in a recent book by Joseph Minich Enduring Divine Absence: The Challenge of Modern Atheism (The Davenant Institute, 2018). He seeks to explain how this situation has come about historically and philosophically and then how we can sustain and strengthen our faith in the face of the challenge. A sense of God’s absence helps us to place greater value on God’s presence. Trusting God is not avoiding the problems and challenges we face but fully confronting them holding on to the God that is greater than them all. Minich says the following:

Can it be that we are brave enough to say that in spite of evil…God is here and that He is good? Not as wishful thinking, not as calling evil “good,” but as receiving reality just as it is and as it must be-despite what the world often feels like? Perhaps, indeed atheism is not bravery after all, but capitulation. Perhaps it is an intellectual, spiritual, and psychological failure to endure. It is a failure to say that God, that the Good, is greater and denser and more fundamental and deeper and wider, that love is higher, that all is grounded in the infinite plenitude of a pure actuality which is love Himself-who is God “for us”…God is ultimate and His goodness and eternal being are still greater realities and contain a greater gravity than death and pain

Minich confronts the personal challenge of this:

what does it mean when we find ourselves begging to see God and He does not show up? When He effectively and providentially says “no”. It means, “My grace is sufficient for you. I’ve already shown up. I’ve already raised from the dead. I’ve already forgiven your sins. And just as I’ve done all this for your good, so for your good I want you to grow up. I want you to be strong. Trust me. I’ll carry you. I will allow you to suffer. But I will carry you through. I will allow you to hit the bottom, but there you will find the eternal living and true God-and you will say with joy, ‘This is enough'”. Like Job, you will be reoriented in the gravity of God.

In Psalm 10 there is a lament that God seems to stand afar off. He seems to be hidden in times of trouble and the wicked just seem to be able to do what they want. David Dickson helpfully draws out some further thoughts and implications from the Psalmist’s words. He notes that in the Psalmist’s complaint he is speaking to God according to his feelings and as he sees things in human terms and in an outward way.

1. God’s Word and Providence Can Seem to be Saying Different Things

God’s work in providence may seem to speak in a contrary way to the word of promise. God’s Word says that  He will always be with His own and not forsake them. But here the way He deals with them seems to say that He stands afar off and hides himself in times of trouble (Psalm 10:1). Our feelings may sometimes speak contrary to faith.

2. We Should Depend on God’s Word More than Our Feelings

The truth of the word should be relied on rather than accepting what our feelings are saying. When our feelings seem to object to or question the Word we must bring this before the Lord in prayer. We may discuss it with Him there. This is what the Psalmist does in asking God why He stands afar off (Psalm 10:1).

3. A Humbled Soul Can Speak with God in a Familiar Way

See how a humbled soul may speak with God in a familiar way.  The Lord will not mistake what His people are meaning when faith borrows the language of feeling. The Lord will permit such speech and not take it in the wrong way since He knows it proceeds from faith and love wrestling with our feelings. He will even allow such language to be recorded in His Book (as here) for others to make prudent use of it. He records it even though they appear to challenge Him for standing aloof and hiding Himself.

4. God’s People are Often in a Low Position in this World

It is often the case that the godly are in a low condition in the world while their adversaries are in high places and power. Thus, “the wicked in his pride” is able to “persecute the poor” and oppress them as their underlings (Psalm 10:2).

5. Persecution will Become a Snare to the Persecutors

We may expect that what persecutors devise against God’s people will become a snare for themselves. The Psalmist speaks of this in Psalm 10:2.

6. When the Wicked Seem to Prosper by Casting God Away

Psalm 10:3-11 describes what life is like when the wicked obtain power. They seem to prosper by casting God away. It describes the tendency downward trend of a godless society.

The wicked man has such a high opinion of his own ability it is clear that he scorns the idea of praying to God for anything. In his pride he will not seek God. He does not consider what may please or displease God, what may honour, or dishonour God. He does not trouble himself with such thoughts. “God is not in all his thoughts”. In Hebrew this means that all his thoughts are that there is no God, or none of his thoughts are on God. His ways always vex others, tending especially to hurt the godly.

He does not fear God’s judgements, believing they will never happen. He fears neither God nor man. Prosperity with apparent impunity from God’s judgements persuade him that God will never take notice of him, call him to account, or punish him. He has said in his heart that God has forgotten, hides His face and will never see it.

7. Atheism in Others Should Draw Us Closer to God

The more we see atheism in the wicked, the more we should draw near to. The godly may well feel that God is at a distance when He is not executing justice. Yet when they are tempted with these very temptations to which the wicked have embraced (that God is afar off and will not judge) they must not yield to them. Rather they must pray against the temptation, as the Psalmist does here: “Arise, O Lord” (Psalm 10:12).

8. God will Not Forget His People

The merciful respect and love which the Lord has to His afflicted people will not allow His justice against these persecutors to be quiet for long. He will not forget the humble (Psalm 10:12). He will vindicate His own glory from the way in which the wicked despise His name and expose it to contempt (Psalm 10:13).

9. God’s People are Comforted by Providence though the Godless Deny it

The godless enemies of God’s people deny God’s providence and justice. Yet His people are comforted during their saddest sufferings by the Lord seeing and taking account of them. The godly can say here that God has seen it (Psalm 10:14).

10. God’s Judgements Will Refute the Atheism of the Wicked

God’s judgments on the wicked shall really refute the atheism of the wicked and repay their opposition made to the godly (Psalm 10:14). The power of persecutors cannot be so great that God cannot weaken and break it, so that they will not be able to trouble His people (Psalm 10:15-16). 

Though the Lord does not reckon with His enemies for their sins at first, yet He reckons for all at last. For lesser and for greater, for one and for all: the uttermost farthing will be exacted. He seeks out their sins till He finds none (Psalm 10:15). O how fearful a reckoning the Lord must make with the impenitent, who die unpardoned and unreconciled with God through the Mediator Christ Jesus!

11. We Should Cast Such Burdens on the Lord

When a believer has poured out their heart before God they should cast themselves with their burden on the Lord. When a humble believer has cast their burden on the Lord, the Lord will not fail in taking care of what He is entrusted with. The poor commit themselves to God (Psalm 10:14).

12. Christ’s Kingdom is Everlasting

The prayer of the persecuted will not be rejected because the kingdom of Christ in His Church is perpetual. Earthly rulers cannot keep on living to help their friends, followers or flatterers. Nor can they keep living to persecute and molest God’s Church. Christ is the Lord and King for ever and ever, to defend His people and punish His enemies (Psalm 10:16).

13. These Experiences Humble Us for Our Good

The Lord’s way is to humble His children through troubles and make them conscious of their need of His help. Their sense of need turns into desire for His help. Their desire turns into prayer. He will then in due time answer, so that the Psalmist can say that God has “heard the desire of the humble” (Psalm 10:17).

14. God’s People Have Everlasting Blessings

Even there were no other comfort to the godly when they feel oppressed the expectation of heaven would be sufficient. Their life, inheritance and happinesse is in heaven. Their oppressors are merely men of this earth whose portion is no better than what they have here in this world (Psalm 10:18).

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