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

We have (properly) expressed our deep gratitude for the courage and sacrifice of D-Day. It was one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known.  There has been little recognition in recent days of the debt we owe to God. President Trump repeated part of President Roosevelt’s prayer from the time of D-Day. Not indeed though, the close of that prayer which was “thy will be done”. Many prayers were offered 75 years ago for this deliverance and in God’s great kindness they were answered. 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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How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
10 May, 2019

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

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

 

1. How Do Our Souls Wither?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Why Do Our Souls Wither?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3. Are Our Souls Withering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4. How to Recover Our Withering Souls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
18 Apr, 2019

For some reason we don’t seem to speak much about Christ’s ascension to heaven. It’s a key but neglected doctrine. Which is strange because it connects with the present glory and work of Christ. It also has everything to do with the current status and needs of God’s people. Christ in His human as well as His divine nature is enthroned and His people are there spiritually also (Colossians 3:3-4). Gifts flow from the throne of heaven to Christ’s people. Everything we need is secured by Christ being in heaven interceding for us (Hebrews 8:1).

The gifts that flow from the ascension are described in Ephesians 4:8. James Fergusson explains how we should understand and apply this. He notes how Paul uses Psalm 68:18 to confirm what he said in verse 7 about Christ as the origin and giver of all graces and gifts. In that part of the Psalm, David looks beyond the ark as a type and shadow, to Christ the substance. He prophesies of things to come as already past to point out their certainty. He foretells that Christ would ascend triumphantly on high (to the highest heavens, Ephesians 4:10). He would lead captivity captive, having triumphed over His enemies by the cross (Colossians 2:15). His ascension would continue the triumph by plainly declaring that He had entirely routed all the spiritual enemies of His Church and Kingdom.

Conquerors in their triumphal processions used to drive their captive enemies before their own chariots (see Judges 5:12). Triumphing conquerors also used to divide and scatter the spoil by giving gifts. Paul alludes to this. He shows that Christ by virtue of His ascension distributed a large measure of gifts and graces on His Church.

 

1. Christ’s Ascension Gives Heaven

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having finished the work which was given Him to do on earth (John 17:4)  ascended physically to heaven. He carried His human nature up there (Acts 1:9-10) so that He might be exalted in that glory which He had before the world existed (John 17:5). He went to take possession of heaven in our name (Ephesians 2:6) and prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

 

2. Christ’s Ascension Gives Victory

Christ engaged in warfare on our behalf with many strong and powerful enemies i.e. the devil, the world, sin, death and hell. He gained an absolute complete victory over all. Although the godly must have battles with these (Ephesians 6:12), Christ the Head of believers is now above the reach of danger from enemies, and consequently so are believers in their Head. They are above all danger also because all their enemies cannot harm their salvation (Romans 8:35-39). Sin and Satan no longer reign in them (Romans 6:12, 14). Death has lost its sting towards them (1 Corinthians 15:55) instead it becomes a passage to life (Philippians 1:23). He led captivity (or a multitude of captives) captive, these are those that fought agains Him.

Satan’s constant opposition against the Church and Kingdom of Christ does not arise from hopefulness of prevailing in that terrible work. It comes from his inveterate blinded malice against the salvation of sinners which drives him oppose it even though he knows he cannot harm it. All his malicious cruel actions against Christ had achieved nothing except his own eternal shame and confusion. He could not avoid knowing this at Christ’s ascension. Christ by His ascension openly declared that He had led captivity captive.

 

3. Christ’s Ascension Gives All Gifts and Graces

Common gifts are sometimes called grace (Ephesians 3:8) because they are freely given (1 Corinthians 4:7). From the example given in verse 11 of this grace in the gifts and offices of the ministry it is clear that grace is meant primarily in this sense here. It is only in those common (rather than saving) gifts and graces that real believers essentially differ. Some are given to one, and some to another (1 Corinthians 12:8). All have one and the same saving graces (2 Peter 1:1), however,  although they differ also in the measure and degree received of those, (1 John 2:13). In that respect, even saving graces may be also be meant here.

The previous verse (Ephesians 4:7) speaks of “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”.
All these gifts of grace come from the same source (Ephesians 4:8-12). They are all given for the same purpose (Ephesians 4:13-17). Grace here does not mean God’s favour or saving grace as in other places (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Instead it is the fruits that flow from this saving grace. He shows that although every true member of the Church has received grace it may be in a way that differs from the grace of others. Yet all those different graces of the different members are given by the same Christ. They are received to the extent which seems good to Christ as the giver to measure out to everyone.

He gives to everyone some gift and in some measure.  Thus, although the same saving grace is given to all who are truly regenerate, it is not given to all in the same measure. Yet no one has all gifts or all the same offices in which they may exercise their gifts (verse 11).  The greatest degree of gifts and graces, which God bestows on any is far below the fulness of grace which is in Christ (Joh. 3:34). Those who have received most, are capable of receiving more. Receiving grace according to a measure implies they are capable of receiving more.

By His ascension Christ manifested the good He had secured to those for whom He died. Common gifts were purchased by His death as well as saving graces. This includes common gifts for the good and edification of His Church (Matthew 7:22-23). Both saving grace and common gifts are included here in the word “gifts”. At His ascension, He gave these gifts that were purchased by His death in larger measure than He had previously. He gave them “to men” generally, even to rebels (Psalm 68:18).

 

Conclusion

These are just some of the gifts that we continue to receive from the ascension of Christ besides the primary gift of the Holy Spirit. There is also access to the throne of grace to find more grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). These truths are well summarised by the Larger Catechism (Q53). It speaks of how how Christ was was exalted in His ascension because He

in our nature, and as our head, (Hebrews 6:20) triumphing over enemies, (Ephesians 4:8) visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, (Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 4:10; Psalm 68:18) to raise up our affections thither, (Colossians 3:1-2) and to prepare a place for us, (John 14:3) where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world (Acts 3:21)

Larger Catechism Q54 also explains how Christ is exalted in His sitting at the right hand of God. It is because

as God-man he is advanced to the highest favour with God the Father,(Philippians 2:9) with all fulness of joy, (Acts 2:28) glory, (John 17:5) and power over all things in heaven and earth;(Ephesians 1:22; 1 Peter 3:22) and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, (Ephesians 4:10-12; Psalm 110) and maketh intercession for them (Romans 8:34).

The ascension reminds us that He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). He is there reigning and expecting all His enemies to be made His footstool (Hebrews 10:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25). So it should also give us hope, encouragement and joy so that we may be steadfast and always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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You are What You Digest (Spiritually)

You are What You Digest (Spiritually)

You are What You Digest (Spiritually)
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.
22 Feb, 2019

You are not what you eat but rather what you digest. If we merely consume food without digesting it properly or at all it will fail to do us good. If this is true in physical terms it is even more so in spiritual things. We can consume a lot of bible reading by hurriedly squeezing it into our schedule. We hear sermons on a regular basis. We read and listen to lots of Christian content. But it doesn’t seem to register a significant impact on our hearts and lives. Not equivalent to the time invested at any rate. Why is that? Simply because we don’t digest what we consume. What do we mean by spiritual digestion?

It’s something that few people speak about these days, yet it’s vital for our spiritual growth. It’s called meditation and the Bible speaks about it often. It’s not emptying our minds as false methods of meditation suggest. Rather it is filling our mind with biblical truths and getting the benefit from them by taking the time to apply them to ourselves.

God’s Word is life and health to us (Proverbs 4:22) and we must feed on it (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2; Jeremiah 3:15). Yet, too often before we get a chance to chew and digest our spiritual food we are distracted by something that takes our attention or diverted by something that seems important. We have chronic spiritual indigestion. As John Ball put it, “Without meditation, truths are devoured, not digested.” Richard Baxter observed people who could go from sermon to sermon, “are never weary of hearing or reading, and yet have such languishing, starved souls, I know no truer or greater cause than their…neglect of meditation.: They have “appetite, but no digestion.”

Baxter put it in quite a striking way: “I think that as a man is but half an hour in chewing and taking into his stomach that meat which he must have seven or eight hours at least to digest; so a man may take into his understanding and memory more truth in one hour than he is able well to digest in many. A man may eat too much, but he cannot digest too well.” He doesn’t mean mere intellectual engagement with Scripture.

The stomach must prepare the food for the liver and spleen, which prepare for the heart and brain, and so the understanding must take in truths, and prepare them for the will, and it must receive them, and commend them to the affections. While truth is but a speculation swimming in the brain, the soul has not received it, nor taken hold of it. This is the great task in hand, to get these truths from your head to your heart.

It is not just what we eat and how we eat it: our lifestyle and overall condition also affect our digestion. The same is true spiritually. Just as physical failure to digest can cause discomfort, lead to medical complications, disorders and serious disease—spiritual indigestion is particularly damaging.

Meditating on Scripture helps us apply ourselves to the Word with delight and also apply it to ourselves thoroughly. Just as food well digested gives the necessary nutrients and energy to the body, so meditating on the Word absorbs it into our hearts, life and experience so that we practice it. Nathaniel Ranew emphasised that meditation “is like the assimilating or digestion power, by helping to concoct spiritual food and turn it into spiri­tual nourishment…Meditation highly conduces to this spiritual digestion by its pondering…reasons and incentives as work the heart into compliance and obedience.” Edmund Calamy explains this principle further in the following updated extract from his book The Art of Divine Meditation.

 

1. Digesting the Things of Heaven

This holy meditation is dwelling and abiding on things that are holy. It is not only knowing God and about Christ but dwelling on the things we know. As the bee dwells and abides on the flower to suck out all the sweetness that is in the flower; so we must suck out all the sweetness we can in the things we meditate on.

To meditate is to continue and fix ourselves and our hearts on the things we know. Scripture calls meditation holy musing (Psalm 39:3). It is to commune with our own hearts (Psalm 4:4). It is both communing and consulting with our own hearts or “bethinking” ourselves (as in 1 Kings 8:47). The Hebrew word in 1 Kings 8:47 is: if they will bring back to their hearts or reflect on themselves. Meditation is a reflecting act of the soul by which the soul is carried back to itself and considers all the things that it knows.

Meditation is an inward, spiritual act of the soul by which it looks back on itself and considers all the things that concern its everlasting happiness.

You read in Leviticus 11 of the clean beasts and the unclean beasts. The clean beasts that they were to eat were those that chewed the cud. The unclean beasts were those that did not chew the cud. A meditating Christian is one that chews the cud—chews on the truths of Jesus Christ. They do not only hear good things, but when they have heard them, the chew them over and ruminate on them. This is so that they may be better for digestion and spiritual benefit. An unclean Christian is one that does not chew the cud, does not ruminate and ponder the things of heaven.

 

2. Digesting Sermons

The reason why all the sermons we hear do not do us more good is lack of divine meditation. It is the same with sermons as it is with food. It is not having food on your table which will feed you, you must eat it. You must not only eat it but digest it, or else your food will do you no good. So it is with sermons, it is not hearing sermons which will do you good but digesting them by meditation. Pondering what you hear in your hearts will do you good. One sermon well digested, well meditated on is better than twenty sermons without meditation. A little food well digested will nourish a man more than a great deal of food if it is not digested. You know that many hours are required to digest a little food eaten in a short while; so a Christian should be many hours digesting a sermon that they hear in one hour.

Some are sick with a disease, that whatever they eat comes up again immediately, the food never does them any good. This is the same with many of you, you hear a sermon, you go away and never think of it afterwards. This is just like food that you vomit up. Some have a disease that all the food they eat goes through them, it never stays with them. This food never nourishes. So it is surely, with the sermons you hear on week days and on the sabbath day. They go through you, you hear them and hear them and that is all you do. You never seek to root them in your hearts by meditation. This is the reason why you are so lean in grace, though you are so full fed with sermons. I am convinced that this is the great reason why we have so many lean, hunger-starved Christians, lean in knowledge and lean in grace. They may hear sermon upon sermon but they digest nothing. They never ponder and meditate on what they hear.

This is what our Saviour Christ speaks of as the seed that was sown by the highway-side. This is someone who hears the Word and never thinks of it after he has heard it. He allows the devil to steal it out of his heart. When the farmer sows the seed in the highway he never plows it, he does not expect that it will come to anything. There are many of you and the sermons you hear are like the seed sown in the highway. You never cover it by meditation, you never think of it when you have heard it. This is the reason you do not get more good by what you hear.

 

3. Digesting the Promises

The reason why the promises of God do not affect your hearts more and you do not taste more sweetness in them is because you do not ponder and meditate on them. The promises of the gospel are like confectionery it you do not chew it but swallow it down whole you will never taste any great sweetness in it. The way to taste the sweetness is to chew it. The promises of God are full of heavenly comfort, but you will never enjoy this comfort unless you chew them by meditation. Unless spices are bruised they never smell sweet. The saints of God live with so little comfort all their lives long, because they do not chew these promises.

This will enable you to rely on the promises for the good of your souls. The reason that the promises are not sweet to you is because you read them but you do not chew them by meditating on them. If you meditated on them they would be sweeter than honey and the honey-comb, especially if join application with meditation. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and he was strong in faith. What made him strong in faith? He did not consider his own body which was now dead nor the deadness of Sarah’s womb, but he considered the promise of God (Romans 4:19). The reason why the saints of God are so empty of comforts, hang down their heads and walk so disconsolately is because they consider the deadness of their own souls and their imperfections. But they do not meditate on the promises, the freeness and the riches of them.

 

4. Digesting God’s Commands

We must so meditate of Christ as to live according to the life of Christ. We must so meditate of God as to obey the commands of God. Meditation must enter three doors: the understanding, the will and affections and practical living. Otherwise it is of no use. The understanding helps the heart and affections like a mother helps a child. She prepares food for the child. She cuts it so that the child may eat it. So, the understanding prepares divine truths for the heart and affections, that the heart may receive, eat and digest them. But if the mother eats the meat and gives nothing to the child, the child may starve. So although the understanding receives the most glorious truths, if it does not convey them to the heart and affections, it is of no benefit.

Many spend their time in meditation as a butterfly feeds on the flower, not to be fruitful and useful.  They study and ponder divine things— God and Christ, sin and the promises—but because they do not convey them to the heart and affections, they become neither holier nor better. True meditation is this, when we so meditate on Christ as to be transformed into Him. When we so meditate on God as to love and desire God, rejoice in Him and live according to His commands. When we so meditate on sin as to hate, abhor it, and turn from it. It is to so meditate on the promises as to embrace and receive them.

 

5. How to Digest

The understanding prepares divine truths for the affections to eat and digest them and to turn them into holy living. You never meditate aright, unless the affections are elevated as well as the understanding. Both heart and head are the parts that must be exercised in the practice of the duty of divine meditation. The work of the head or understanding is serious consideration of the truths we come to meditate on. The work of the heart is increasing in devotion and holiness by these meditations.

I will give you directions to help the understanding and affections in this. Choose a suitable subject or truth to meditate on. Fix your thoughts on it, consider its different aspects. Try to remember all you might have read or heard about it. Think about its causes and effects and the things that are opposed to it. Think about the way that Scripture describes it. Pray to God to get a delight in it.

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How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon
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 Feb, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of minutes. That’s a lifetime total of hearing sermons. But listening to sermons involves far more than clocking up time staying awake during preaching. Despite the amount of time we devote to this, clear guidance on how to listen to sermons is rare. Christ says that it matters how we hear the Word (Luke 8:18). The benefit we derive depends on the way we listen. So how ought we to listen?

It’s important that we benefit from the preaching we hear. We have ears so that we might listen to God’s Word (Matthew 11:15; Mark 8:18). And when we do listen we need to understand, it is a solemn thing to be always hearing without understanding (Mark 4:12).  Our hearts and lives should produce fruit from what we hear (Luke 8:15).

We also need to pay attention to what we hear as well as how we hear it (Mark 4:24). When we compare what we hear in sermons with what Scripture says we are also listening in the right way (Acts 18:11). Although something preached may not seem to be exactly what we think we need right now, we are to store it up for when we will need it most (Isaiah 42:23).

No doubt online sermons have been beneficial to many. But if they incline us to think less of preaching in reality and in the context of public worship we are not listening in the right way. Particularly if people feel they can skip church and listen at home. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so attractive as listening to their favourite celebrity preacher but it is God’s appointed context.  There is a bond between a minister and his congregation that is absent from an online sermon from another preacher. We are not to be sermon tasters but sermon doers.

In this updated extract, James Durham gives some helpful advice for how to benefit from hearing the Word preached. Listening well to a sermon begins before we ever get to church. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached. This is where we need to start.

 

1. Listen with Preparation

This involves:

  • praying for the speaker;
  • praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word;
  • preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such an activity;
  • seeking to have the right estimation of the Word;
  • blessing God for His Word and for any good received beforehand by it.

 

2. Listen in Person

We need to be present to listen (Acts 10:33). If we are absent from church, neglecting gospel opportunities we are not listening in person. Neither are we properly there in person if we are sleeping during the sermon when we should be listening.

 

3. Listen with Expectation

We should go to hear with an expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him. We come with hunger and thirst as new born babes, having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).

 

4. Listen to God

When we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances. We must be present, as before God, to hear, as Cornelius was (Acts 10:33). Go to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Go to hear out of conscience not out of mere custom or for appearance’s sake.

We must look to God, receiving the Word as God’s Word, not as man’s (1 Peter 1:23-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 4;11). There is a special fear which we ought to have before His name. There ought therefore to be trembling and fear in our attending to these ordinances (Isaiah 66:2; Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 and Malachi 2:5).

 

5. Listen with Your Whole Heart

Listening is more than hearing, especially if the sermon is heard, but it is not understood (Matthew 13:13). But there is a danger when though it is understood, it is soon forgotten. We must avoid letting the Word slip out of our mind and rather retain and store up what we hear (Luke 9:44).

Listening involves devoting our ears and memories to what is preached. Not wandering in our minds and thoughts (Ezekiel 33:31-32). We must not devote only our ears and memories, however, but also throw open our hearts to the Word, to let it sink down in them.

 

6. Listen with Submission

We must not go to hear with prejudice. Faith must mixed with hearing, giving credit to the Word. It is a great sin not to believe God’s Word when we hear it (Hebrews 4:1-2).  This happens when we fume against the reproofs of the Word and quibble with its teaching as well as when we reproach it rather than ourselves.

 

7. Listen with Dependence

We must renounce our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.

 

8. Listen in the Right Way

We should thirst after the pure milk of the Word, that we may grow by it. We are not listening in the right way when our ears itch for novel expressions, words or things (1 Timothy 4:3). Neither must we give more weight and attention to things that are novel compared to duties or truths already known.

When the same truth, expression, or verse cited by one preacher is not respected and received as much as when it spoken by another we have partiality. We are respecting men in a way contrary to James 2:9. The same is true if we are diverted from what is said to love of the speaker. Or if we delight in what is spoken simply because it is spoken by a certain speaker. If we delight in the manner of speaking or expression more than in God, respecting God and profiting spiritually we are not listening in the right way.

 

9. Listen with Reverence

We do not have the right spirit if we disrespect the ordinance of preaching for some worldly or personal respects. Particularly if we prefer any small trivial thing to it.

Reverence involves avoiding vain looks, idle thoughts and other trifling, irreverent behaviour. This includes unnecessary speaking or talking during the time of the sermon.  Even speaking in prayer disrespects the Word unless it is a very short prayer in reference to what is at present spoken.

When we stumble without cause at any expression in the sermon we are being irreverent. Especially when we are so frivolous as to laugh at what is spoken, undermining the ordinances of God’s worship. This even relates to dressing in a way that shows befitting respect to preaching as God’s ordinance. We should also show reverence in the way that we go away from hearing the Word.

 

10. Listen without Distractions

We should be watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. It is our responsibility to order things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.

Some are distracted by vain things while they should be listening. They notice the clothes others are wearing or the way the church building is decorated or constructed.  We should avoid being distracted even by reading something additional (even though it is Scripture) when we should be listening. Even good thoughts can tend to divert us from hearing.

 

11. Listen Prayerfully

We ought to intermingle very short prayers for ourselves and others as we listen. We should pray for the speaker while he is preaching that God would help him. Pray that God would help us to keep such a Word for the time when we may need it. Bless God when words are spoken in the right way. Listening prayerfully will help us avoid quenching conviction of sin or the stirring of affection awakened by the Word.

 

12. Listen and Do

We ought not to listen more for knowing than for doing, more for informing the mind than for reforming the heart and life (James 1:22-25). We must apply it to ourselves and test whether we commit the faults or do the duties mentioned.

 

13. Listen for Eternity

We must give due weight to God’s warnings and threatenings of judgement and to the gospel. We must consider and make use of the preached Word as a means to convert as well as confirm (James 1:21). We ought to make use of the promises offered in preaching as directed by God to us through an authorised ambassador. We must lay due weight on them as coming from Him. We fail to listen for eternity when we reject the many sweet offers of the gospel and do not come to the marriage of the King’s Son (Matthew 22:1-14). In doing so we grieve God’s Spirit who urges them on us. If we do not accept Christ and make use of Him, we tread Christ’s blood under foot by having so little esteem for it.

 

Conclusion

Listening to a sermon is a spiritual rather than merely intellectual or social activity. We must approach it in the right way. We can benefit a great deal from sermons if we prepare ourselves to listen to them in the right way and give careful and earnest attention to them. Afterwards we need to pray and meditate on the truths declared and make sure to practice what we have been shown is God’s will for us. In our conversation with others we can encourage them to remember and benefit from the Word preached. Wouldn’t it make a vast difference to our hearts, lives, families and churches if we did?

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Thinking the Best Thoughts

Thinking the Best Thoughts

Thinking the Best Thoughts
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
8 Feb, 2019

Recent research concludes that “taking time to think kind thoughts about yourself and loved ones has psychological and physical benefits”. The study set out to discover why this could lead to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health. Participants were given an audio tape that either encouraged them to think positively or negatively. There was a positive physical benefit for those in the first group. Yet the most important thing is not merely our physical but our spiritual wellbeing. We can think thoughts that make us feel good. But the most important question is: are they true? Only what is true and right will lead to spiritual wellbeing. What sort of things should we think about? The Bible of course, has the answer.

The Bible does tell us that we ought to think kind thoughts but that is not enough in itself. Rather, it begins by emphasising that they must be true. Philippians 4:8 tells us we must think about things that are virtuous, just, pure and lovely. We also ought to think on things that are praiseworthy, of good report and that commend others for the right things. It’s an attractive list but how do we go about putting it into practice? In the following updated extract James Fergusson reflects on what this means for us. He shows that Paul’s concern is that the Christians in Philippi would make the truth and the Christian faith attractive to the non-Christians around them by the way in which they lived. They had to be careful in such a society not to be drawn away with things that were impure, dishonest

 

1. Think About How You Live

Think on these things means literally (in Greek) to search out something diligently, by comparing one thing with another like accountants. Christians have a duty to think about how they live, especially when they live among those who hate religion and seek every opportunity to speak evil of it. They must set themselves to search, find out and draw up accounts of what means and conduct may adorn religion most and make it lovely unto others. This is how they are to conduct themselves in all things.

 

2. Think About Everything True

Christians are not to be so scrupulous that they reject things which are in themselves true and good. Even though they are professed and practised by those who are otherwise extremely bad. He exhorts them to think on and imitate everything true and honest, even among the heathen.

 

3. Think About Nothing But the Truth

Christians have a duty to discern truth from error, rejecting the latter and adhering to the former (Ephesians 4:14-15). They are to speak nothing but truth in their ordinary communication (Ephesians 4:25). They are to do what they promise to do (Psalm 15:4). Thus, they are to think on whatever things are true.

 

4. Think About Things that Are Honourable

Christians have a duty to live in a way that by the whole tendency of their conduct they may gain respect from others for themselves and their profession. Their whole life must be characterised by nothing but gravity. They must be far from vulgarity, superficiality and vanity in their clothing, words, actions and all their behaviour (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Paul exhorts them to consider those things that are honest (or grave, dignified or honourable as it is in the original Greek).

 

5. Think About Things that Are Just

Christians ought to consider (and do accordingly) things that are just. This means whatever we are bound to do to others what we owe:

  • to God or man (Matthew 22:21);
  • by the law of nature (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • by national law (Ruth 3:13)
  • by our position of responsibility (Nehemiah 6:11);
  • by agreement e.g. a sum of money or an amount of grain (Colossians 4:1);
  • by the rules of prudence, equity or charity (Colossians 4:1);
  • by respect, fear or honour (Romans 13:7);
  • by goodwill (Romans 13:8).

It may be something additional to these so that none are defrauded of that which is their own. Paul directs them to think on the things that are just.

 

6. Think About Things that Are Pure

Christians who seek to adorn the gospel must strive for purity and chastity in every part of their conduct. They must be far from anything in words or action which may tend to obscenity or any bitter root of uncleanness within (Ephesians 4:29). Paul exhorts them to think on the things that are pure or chaste.

 

7. Think About Things that Are Lovely

Christians are not, however, to venture into things that are sinful to please those whom they live among (2 Peter 2:7-8). Yet they are bound (so far as they can with a good conscience) to make themselves and their profession commendable, even to wicked men. They do this by their lovely, amiable and accommodating conduct (Titus 3:2-3). Paul directs them to think on those things that are lovely.

 

8. Think About Things that Are of Good Report

Christians are not to hunt after the applause of others (Galatians 1:10). Yet, they are to live in such a way that they may be spoken well of deservedly, lest others speak evil of the gospel because of them. They do good to others according to their ability and responsibilities. They avoid everything which may tend to make their names stink and be repugnant to others (1 Peter 2:2). Thus, he commands them to think on things that are of good report.

 

9. Think About Things that Are of Praiseworthy

A Christian cannot immediately embrace everything that is well reported of. Nor seek everything that may gain praise for themselves among those with whom they live (Luke 16:15). Unless something is virtuous in itself and truly worthy of praise, they are to reject and abhor it. Even though it is praised by others as much as possible. Paul exhorts them to think on those things which are of good report: but with this caution, if there be any virtue or praise in them.

 

Conclusion

What we focus our minds on matters a great deal not just physically, but spiritually and morally. It matters not just for us but for those around us and above all it matters to God.  Just like the participants in the research, what we listen to matters and has an influence on us. The voices that we listen to in society, the media and around us can influence us too much. We need to take care that we are not listening to instructions that are negative and harmful in a spiritual and moral sense. Discernment is able to take whatever things may be true and virtuous and leave the rest. We have to be intentional about our minds and habits so as to live in the way most glorifying to God and that makes the gospel most attractive to others.

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What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
31 Dec, 2018

There’s no shortage of people offering personal transformation and life-hacking. It’s all about the power of positive thinking, planning and self-belief. It’s breezy and simplistic, offering instant and effortless change with a few tweaks. Personal reformation is entirely different. It is all about grace not self-help. It doesn’t masquerade as a quick fix in a few easy steps; it is extensive and lifelong. It is being transformed by the renewing of our mind and working out God’s perfect will in practice (Romans 12:2). It involves applying all that God requires to our hearts, lives and families.

Personal reformation is certainly extensive; it applies to our heart and outward conduct. It relates to all of our lives at all times, in all of our interactions with others. It involves seeking God and His glory in all things (1 Chronicles 22:19; 2 Chronicles 20:3). It is spiritual, a concern for fervent zeal and the real power of godliness in the heart and life, not just a formal outward profession.

Personal reformation was strongly emphasised during the Second Reformation and at the time of the Westminster Assembly. We can learn much from their concern to see the Word of God influencing our lives. The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was crucial to the Westminster Assembly and the kingdoms of England and Scotland at this time. The climax of this vow to God has much to teach us about some of the key themes of personal reformation. As we will see, to take the Solemn League was not simply to swear an oath but to commit to every day personal reformation and holiness.

 

1. Repentance

The Covenant speaks of “our unfeigned desire to be humbled for our own sins, and for the sins of these kingdoms”. There is a sincere confession of sin in personal reformation (1 John 1:9). When we look into Scripture and compare it with our own lives, it should leave an abiding impression and make us want to change (James 1:21-25). It will bring us to humble ourselves before God (Psalm 38:3-4; Joel 2:12-13). We will be conscious that our deceitful hearts naturally do not want to identify and expose sin (Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 19:12-13). We will want to be humbled for our own sins in particular not just sin in general.
There will be serious concern in case we are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). When we discover our sins we will want to turn from them (Ezekiel 18:30-31). The sins of the society around us will not be an excuse to make us say that we are not as bad. Rather we will be humbled for these sins and those of the professing Church. We will mourn over them (Ezekiel 9:4). This is because we cannot separate ourselves from them; we have been involved in them to some extent. It is no comfort to know that the sins of the nation are only worse versions of what is in our own hearts (Ezekiel 6:11).

 

2. Valuing the Benefit of the Gospel

The Covenant goes on to mention some of these personal and national sins. One of these is not having “valued the inestimable benefit of the Gospel”. We live in a nation and society that despises and neglects the gospel (Matthew 11:16-24). But is the gospel an invaluable benefit to us or do we live as though it is just an add-on extra to a comfortable life along with many other benefits? What does the gospel mean to us on a daily basis? Is it the basis of all our confidence? Do we feel that we have moved on from it to other things or is it like a jewel that sparkles with new beauty every time we look at it? Appreciating the gospel according to its invaluable benefits is obvious if our lives are shaped by it.

Part of valuing it properly is when we labour for its “purity and power”, as the Covenant puts it. In other words we are concerned for its influence on others too. We are especially alarmed when it is distorted or not properly proclaimed. Yet we cannot merely rest in the idea that it is purely declared without seeking that there would be real spiritual power accompanying it.

 

3. Walking Worthy of Christ

We value the gospel and labour for its purity and power when we not only seek to “receive Christ in our hearts” but also strive “to walk worthy of Him in our lives” (Ephesians 4:1-2; Colossians 1:10). If we do not live out the gospel in our attitudes, actions and words we are effectively denying its power (Philippians 1:27). We are dishonouring Christ as Saviour if we do not strive to walk worthy of Him (Colossians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).

When we think that it doesn’t matter how we live because forgiveness is freely available it devalues the gospel and turns the grace of God into an incitement for sin (Jude 1:4). As Edmund Calamy put it, sinning against the gospel is even more serious than sinning against the law. How much do we value the precious promises of God if we are not willing to “cleanse our selves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1)? We need to lay aside every weight, including those predominant sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:1). This is why the covenant says that these things are “the causes of other sins and transgressions so much abounding amongst us”. Christians not living as they should means they are not salt and light and add to rather than restrain the corruption of the world around them.

 

4. Sincere Desires

Personal reformation involves sincere desires and resolve. They covenant speaks of “our true and unfeigned purpose, desire and endeavour”. Unless we want to reform and plan to reform it will not happen. The danger is of making promises and resolutions but then not following through on them. We need to act on our sincere purpose. There will not be perfection but there ought to be sincere attempts even though these will come short of what we desire. Edmund Calamy says that it is like shooting an arrow, if one does not hit the target, short another and then another until you are successful.

 

5. All of Life

This reformation is “for ourselves and all others under our power and charge”. We are not just to be concerned for ourselves but that others for whom we have responsibility would reform themselves too. Personal reformation doesn’t mean that we think only our individual reformation matters. Personal reformation isn’t just a private matter but it is to be “both in public and in private, in all duties we owe to God and man”. It must affect our job, family life and all our dealings with other people just as much as our duty to God.

 

6. Changing the Way We Live

Personal reformation means change and transformation. We will want to “amend our lives” as the covenant puts it. There will be things we need to start doing and things we need to stop doing according to the Word of God. If it’s just about reading books and discussing Christian things and we don’t want to go further than this – it isn’t reformation.

7. Reform as Much as Possible

The covenant has a very striking expression that “each one” is “to go before another in the example of a real reformation”. We ought to be an example to each other. We should hold fast to whatever reformation we have attained and seek to go further (Philippians 3:15-16). We should seek to encourage others to go further in this too, and be an example to them (Philippians 3:17). As Herbert Palmer put it, we are not to wait for others “but strive to excel others” almost to outdo them. We are to be “patterns to others, and lights to direct and excite [encourage] others to follow us”.

 

8. Depend on the Help of the Holy Spirit

We cannot engage in personal reformation on our own or in our own strength. We must humbly beseech “the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit for this end”. Edmund Calamy warned those who swore to the Solemn League and Covenant:

You must not take it in your own strength but in God’s strength. As it is taken in God’s presence, so it must be taken with Gods assistance, with self-abasement, self-denying, self-humbling hearts; you must take it joyfully and tremblingly; rejoicing in God and in his strength, and yet trembling for fear of your own unworthiness and unsteadfastness in the Covenant.

Besides prayer for such strength we must also seek a blessing on our endeavours for personal reformation. Private prayer and spending time in meditating on the Word is an essential aspect of this. As the Scottish Church put it at the time of the Second Reformation:

It is most necessary, that every one apart and by themselves be given to prayer and meditation, the unspeakable benefit [of this] is best known to them who are exercised [in it].

This is because it is the great special means by which fellowship with God is maintained and advanced. It also prepares is in the right way for all other spiritual duties.

 

9. Wider Reformation

Those who composed the Covenant believed that if Christians were personally reformed it would have a tremendous influence on the Church of Jesus Christ and the nation as a whole. National and personal reformation, Humphrey Chambers preached, “should always go together”. What indeed would things look like if even a small quantity of Christians lived as they should?

 

Conclusion

We ought to long that our consciences and conduct would give a clear witness to personal reformation in our own experience. The men of the Second Reformation were so concerned about this that they devoted days to prayer and fasting for God’s help in reformation, including on the personal level. On one of these an ordinary believer named Ralph Josselin wrote in his diary: “Oh Lord, never was there more need of personal reformation than now; stir me up to it”. That spirit is exactly what we need now too.

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Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year

Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year

Applying the Most Popular Promise of the Year
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
20 Dec, 2018

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

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

 

1. Understanding the Bible’s Promises

(a) What is a Promise?

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

(b) What is the Most Important Promise?

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

(c) What Makes the Promises Precious?

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

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

 

2. Applying the Bible’s Promises

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

(a) Know the Promises

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

(b) Remember the Promises

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

(c) Apply the Promises

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

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

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

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

 

3. Applying the Promises of Isaiah 41:10

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

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

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

(b) Promises of Growth and Increase in Grace

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
23 Nov, 2018

Blind zeal is not of course a good thing. It’s not informed by knowledge of the truth (Romans 10:2). It can achieve a lot and go a long way but all in entirely the wrong direction (Galatians 1:14). So what can we possibly learn from it? Well, have you never felt rebuked by the dedication and devotion others have to a false religion or sect? It can be a challenge to our self-satisfied complacency and make us think about true zeal. Shouldn’t the truth make us equally if not more passionate and dedicated? It’s true that blind zeal is often self-directed because it’s about earning salvation. But shouldn’t salvation by faith alone produce true zeal in us (Titus 2:14)? Zeal is important (Galatians 4:18). But does the Bible teach that true zeal can learn from false zeal?

Yes, Micah 4:5 says, “For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.  Micah seems to point forward to a time under the gospel when converts will seek to renounce all heresies and sects. Instead they will adhere constantly and zealously to God and the profession of the Christian religion. As George Hutcheson notes though, it seems that they will provoke themselves to this by the example of idolaters being steadfast in their ways of false religion. This is evidence of the glory of the Church and provides encouragement for the godly. Israel had various periods of apostasy where they adopted the false religious practices of the heathen nations around them. Here is a promise of a better time when the Church will prove to be constant in the true religion. We live in unsettled and changeable times and there is a great need for being constant. There is false religious zeal in New Atheists and other activists as well as those who profess a false religion. Instead of troubling us, their commitment to a bad cause should be a spur to us in devoting ourselves in the cause of truth.

 

1. True Zeal can Learn Constancy

Constancy in adhering to the true religion is the great glory of a Church. It is  an encouragement to the godly, to whom backslidings are a sad affliction.

 

2. True Zeal can Learn Dependence on God

The Christian profession and religion consists in walking in the name of the Lord. This means professing and practicing according to the revealed rule “the name of the Lord our God”. It means not seeking to be wise above what is written or doing these things in our own strength (1 Samuel 17:45; Psalm 118:11). We will have the encouragement we need from God. The phrase “his name is the same as “the light of the Lord” i.e. light for direction and comfort (Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 2 is a parallel passage).

 

3. True Zeal can Learn Resolution

Those who seek to walk in these paths and adhere to them should make certain their claim to God by covenant. They ought to be filled with great affection toward their covenant God. To our duty in the right way we need to renew our resolutions and motives frequently. This will maintain our sharpness. Thus, they draw reasons for new resolutions from those that serve idols.

 

4. True Zeal can Learn Constant Perseverance

Eternal resolutions, or resolutions of constant perseverance are fitting for so high a duty as walking in God’s name. There can be no reason for us to be weary in this. The benefits of being constant in it will only appear greater as time goes on and comes to an end. It says “we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.

 

5. True Zeal Must Expect to See Blind Zeal

Even in the days of the gospel, there are still many who are so blindfolded and deluded they do not see the glory of Christ’s kingdom. Instead, they obstinately follow their idols. It says “all people,” that is, many, “will walk in the name of their god”.

 

6. True Zeal can Learn from Blind Zeal

The Lord’s people should (and by grace will) be far from being unsettled or drawn away by the multitude who forsake the true God. Instead, the steadfastness of idolaters is a motive for those who seek God to renew their own resolutions for greater obedience and faithfulness. Their blind zeal towards that which is no god may teach us our duty towards the true God (see Jeremiah 2:10-11).

You might like to read this blog post next –  Why Zeal and Reformation go together

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How Can I Stop Being Spiritually Lazy?

How Can I Stop Being Spiritually Lazy?

How Can I Stop Being Spiritually Lazy?
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
9 Nov, 2018

​Sloth is neglect. It isn’t necessarily doing nothing, simply neglecting what we need to do. Not making spiritual things a priority. Its possible to be busy active in Christian things yet neglect our spiritual wellbeing.  It may be that we want to be comfortable and resist anything that makes demands.  So we divert our desires for greater spiritual reality. It’s much more comfortable sometimes to settle for the superficial and to coast along.  It’s a battle we face every day we raise our head from the pillow. How do we move from having unfulfilled desires of breaking out of this state to acting on them?

​The Book of Proverbs has much to say about slothfulness in general that can also be applied to spiritual things.  Andrew Gray did this in various sermons and the following is an updated extract from one of them.  He believed that slothfulness and neglect of our duty in spiritual things was very common and is therefore very direct in his words. He warns that slothfulness is like a creeping spiritual disease that gradually kills off conviction of sin, resolutions, desires for God, promptings from the Holy Spirit and our enjoyment of God. It also kills to a certain extent our faith and love, our hatred of sin and the spiritual strength a Christian has to resist temptation. It’s the reason that our spiritual life and liveliness may be very weak. All this makes it an urgent matter for us to consider.

1. Consider Your Need

Do you want to be diligent? Get a vivid impression of what you need from God engraved on your heart. Why are Christians today not diligent? It is because they do not know their need.  We say that “necessity makes dumb men orators” – we can add that necessity makes lame men to labour.

If we say our need we would take no refusal. Necessity is one of the most unmannerly things possible. It will not go away from God’s door until He answers it. Necessity would make us diligent in the things to which He calls us. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him” (Ps. 34:6). It would be an excellent sight, if every one of us got a sight of our necessities. Some of us are as great strangers to our own hearts, as if we were living a thousand miles away from one another.

2. Seek to Know God Truly

Be much acquainted with God and seek to have much of the knowledge of the Most High. This is clear when we compare Job 22:27 with v. 21. If we have acquainted ourselves with God, the evidence of this will be that we will pray to Him. It could be translated, “many strong prayers”.  Why do we correspond so little with God? Do we know Him or not (John 4:10)?

3. Consider Death and Judgment

Live in view of death and judgment approaching. Live in view of the fact that you must appear before Him. This would provoke you to be diligent. This is clear by comparing these two passages: 2 Corinthians 5 and Ecclesiastes 9:17. The reasoning is that eternity approaches and you can do nothing after it has come. I am sure that if we thought in the morning that we are now a day nearer eternity than before, it would be impossible for us to be as slothful as we are.

4. Seek to Have Christ’s Love Constrain You

A Christian should live under the impression of the sweet constraining love of God. The soul should be under the sweet impression of Christ’s love.  Paul asserts the principle of his obedience to be the love of Christ constraining him (2 Corinthians 5:14).

5. Consider the Omniscience of God

A Christian should live under the impression of the omniscience of God. The Psalmist says that he kept God’s precepts and testimonies because all his ways were before God (Psalm 119:168). In other words he is saying,  “do you want know why I am such a diligent Christian? Because I knew there was nothing I did that the Lord did not know.”

6. Seek to Get Your Heart Engaged Towards Duty

Strive to have your heart inclined and engaged to do duty. The Psalmist could say he had inclined his heart to keep God’s precepts always to the very end (Psalm 119:112). This is indeed a most remarkable thing, never to be out of obedience to His commandments. Not just for a while but always, even to the end. He goes on to say that his soul has kept God’s testimonies (Psalm 119:167). What leads him to this? “I love them,” he says of God’s testimonies. Thus, to have your heart engaged towards the duties of religion would make you a diligent Christian.

7. Resolve Not to Be Slothful

I would charge every one: young and old, professing and not professing Christians, you who know God, and you who are ignorant of Him. I desire you today, in His name, to take this oath of love on your heart, that you may take away this resolution with you, “I shall never be such a slothful Christian anymore.” “I have sworn, and I will perform it” (Psalm 119:106). I urge you to do this in the sight of God the Father, the first person of the blessed Trinity, and in the fight sight of the Son, the second person of the blessed Trinity, and in the sight of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the blessed Trinity. Make this the oath that you will swear and labour to perform: that you will not be slothful any more.

8. Consider the Majesty of God

If you desire to rise above slothfulness then strive to keep yourself under high and majestic considerations of God. I am sure that the low conceptions we have of the majesty of God are the reason why many of us bow our knee so seldom to Him. The psalmist had an unusual expression, “I give myself unto prayer” (Psalm 109:4). It may be translated, “I prayer.” He would say, “I am so much taken up in that work, that they may call my name ‘Prayer'”.

Conclusion

Consider those have died in the Lord and rest from their labours. Their reward is with them and their works follow them. Consider what all those glorious thousands who are round about the throne are doing. They have now entered into the glorious and eternal possession and enjoyment of God, wisdom’s ways were pleasant to them while they were here. The day is coming when the Christian who is most diligent in the duties of religion will not repent of it. No one went down to their grave without this conviction, “Woe to me that I spent so little of my time in the duties of religion.”  It is astonishing that while God is spending so much effort on us, we move our hearts so little in the duties of religion.

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Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
21 Sep, 2018

​Perfectionism is ruining a generation. In a world that places maximum value on performance, status and image anything less than perfection is failure. Perfectionism has been increasing over the generations and is an epidemic hitting millennials the hardest. A recent study by psychologists advances this conclusion. “This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies”, they say. Their definition of perfectionism is “an irrational desire for flawlessness”. This enormous peer pressure can lead to depression and suicide. In seeking to perfect the imperfect self, millennials are focussed on the wrong things in the wrong way. They are focussed on image and success rather than spiritual and moral concerns. They have no place for grace, only merit. It prompts the question: how do we strive for true perfection while resisting perfectionism?

In one sense perfection is a goal in the Christian life (Matthew 5:48; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:15). But grace teaches us that God is working with the imperfect to bring them to ultimate perfection in eternity (Ephesians 5:26-27). Grace doesn’t despise perfection but neither does it worship it or expect to achieve it in our own strength. Paul expresses this in a helpful way. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after” (Philippians 3:12). Yet Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres.

Paul is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection in these, even though that is beyond this life. Those who (like Paul) have attained the most of any, still come short. As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. Paul emphasises this in the context of the false apostles who were seeking perfection through circumcision and conformity with the ceremonial law. Paul discards that but also shows how he still has not arrived at perfection in this the things of Christ, he is striving towards it. The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments Philippians 3:12.

 

1. We Will Always be Striving After Perfection

Those who have made greatest progress in the knowledge of Christ and in conformity with him, are far short of what they should be. This is how it was with Paul. “Not as though I had already attained“, he says.

 

2. We Should be Conscious of Our Imperfection

Believers ought to be conscious of this imperfection and also acknowledge it sometimes. They may be kept humble by this and brought to aspire to further growth. They will also desire that others may be preserved from dangerous mistakes concerning them or of a high esteem of themselves. This is what Paul does when he says, “Not as though I had already attained“.

 

3. Our Imperfection Should Encourage Not Discourage Us

We are conscious in the right way of falling-short of what we should be when we are not discouraged by this.  Instead it should incite us to make swifter progress toward the mark. Thus, Paul says “but I follow after”.

 

4. We Should Strive for Perfection Even Though it is Not Attainable in This Life

Though perfection in holiness is not attainable in this life, we are still to aim at no less. Paul followed after in order that he might lay hold of that perfection which was yet lacking.

 

5. Striving for Perfection is Our Gracious Response to Christ

Any motion towards that which is spiritually good comes entirely from Jesus Christ. His grace first lays hold on us in our effectual calling. It infused principles of a new life in us when we were dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Through this we are made to exert ourselves in the way of holiness. Thus, Paul is first apprehended by Christ and then follows after to apprehend. “I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus”.

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What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

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

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

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

 

1. The Holy Spirit’s Workshop

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

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

 

2. Mutual Indwelling

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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