6 Ways the Gospel Calls for Holiness

6 Ways the Gospel Calls for Holiness

6 Ways the Gospel Calls for Holiness

If you are interested in the gospel, then you should be interested in holiness. But, you may ask, isn’t it “a holier than thou” attitude that turns people off the gospel? Perhaps, but real biblical holiness is all about the gospel. It is meant to be something that both attracts people to the gospel and is an expression of the reality of the gospel in our lives. If people notice the difference it may well make them uncomfortable but that is as Christ intended. Salt and light often have this effect (Matthew 5:13–14). But that holiness is meant to lead those who notice to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Christ is saying that if our lives are no different to those around us they won’t notice the difference and understand the reality of the gospel. Christ’s mission and our mission are all about holiness (John 17:16-19). Peter tells us that if we have been called by grace with a holy calling then we will be striving to be holy in all that we do (1 Peter 1:15).

The danger comes when we make our attempts to look holy in outward things the grounds of our confidence for salvation. Gospel holiness arises from valuing union with Christ and living out His resources of grace in obedience to His revealed will. It is not our own resources. This is what the puritan John Owen meant when he said, “As God gave us our beings, so he gives us our holiness. It is not by nature but by grace that we are made holy”. As we have received Christ we are to walk in Him (Colossians 2:6). Those who preach the gospel have two tasks: to persuade sinners to receive Christ and then to urge them to walk worthy of Him. In other words, as Owen also put it: “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realising of the gospel in our souls.” The gospel is the truth which is according to godliness (Titus 1:1).

Holiness is a gospel priority; it is (as Paul puts it) a gospel-shaped life (Philippians 1:27). James Durham explains this verse in the following way. “You are privileged with the gospel and have embraced it. Your profession of the gospel is outstanding. I beg you, therefore, that your life may correspond to it”. Paul begins the word “only”, because it is so necessary and of such great concern that it was the one thing they had to do. Comparatively speaking they had nothing else to do. The gospel calls for holiness in six ways. To fail or be defective in any of them makes our life to that extent to be unfitting the gospel.


1. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Kinds of Duties

The gospel calls for holiness in respect of all sorts of duties. It says be holy as God is holy in all manner of living (1 Peter 1:15). We are to be holy in prosperity and adversity, in religious, moral and in natural actions.


2. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in Everything

This extends entirely to all individual duties and actions in particular of all those sorts of duties. It reacheth all aspects of our conduct. The divinely inspired Scriptures instruct the man of God how he may be made perfect in every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Any failing in thought, word or deed is unbecoming to the gospel.


3. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in Our Whole Being

It also extends throughout the whole person. The gospel urges us to be sanctified throughout (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The promises of the gospel press us to cleanse ourselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It requires that the understanding is kept soundly so that no error or untruth is admitted. It demands that the mind is sober and free from any sinful disorder and the affections do not overflow in sin. The will must be kept straight in line with the straight rule of obedience. The conscience is to be kept tender, neither darkened nor impure. We are to yield the members of the body as instruments to righteousness.


4. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Our Relationships

This holiness is to be followed in all capacities, callings, positions and relations. It is for husbands and wives, masters and servants and for parents and children. The apostle Paul urges this heartily and frequently in his letters (see Colossians 3 and 4; Ephesians 5 and 6). In Titus Chapter 2 he urges similar duties and uses this motive for servants: that the doctrine of God may be adorned in all things. For wives he has the motive, that the doctrines of God may not be blasphemed. To all believers he uses the motive that this is why the grace of God has appeared in the gospel.


5. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Times and Places

We are commanded to abound always in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:57).  In the whole course of our conduct: at home and out of doors, in secret and public, in prosperity and adversity.


6. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in the Highest Degree

The gospel calls for perfect holiness, holiness in the highest degrees. Thus Christ urges us to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Believers are to be holy in all kinds of conduct as God who calls us is holy (1 Peter 1:15). This exact holiness is perfect in the degree of designe, desire and endeavour. This is “purifying ourselves even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3); that is to have Him as our pattern.


But isn’t this Like the Law Rather than the Gospel?

Someone may object against considering the gospel in this way (outlining a Christian’s duty and walk so precisely to this extent and degree). They may object that it makes it appear to be very strict and to differ little or nothing from the law. But we need to understand the similarities and differences between the law and gospel.

The law does not require more than the gospel. (a) The gospel requires holiness to the same extent as the law. Any sin against the law is also a sin against the gospel. Christ did not come to abolish but rather to fulfil the law; (b) both require holiness to the same degree. The gospel commands us to be holy as God is holy and perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It does not dispense with any sin, degree of sin, or the least omission of any duty and more than the law; (c) The authority and obligation that requires holiness is no less in the gospel than it is in the law. In actual fact we may say, that the obligation is in some respects greater.

But the law and gospel differ in these three ways: (a) the gospel accepts the penitent even though he has not been perfect and exact in obedience. It gives him pardon through Christ, which the law does not; (b) the gospel calls for duty in the strength of Christ and supplies strength for duty. But the law supplies no strength, it only assumes it. It only gives the word of command, requiring to walk in the strength which we once had in Adam. Even though the authority and obligation are the same, the approach is not. If there is any breach or failure, the law says we will certainly die. But the gospel allows repentance and fleeing to Jesus Christ, who took the curse of the law; (c) The law only accepts duties that have been performed perfectly. But the gospel accepts imperfect duty, as long as there is sincerity. It accepts the believer Christ’s account according to that which Christ has, if there is a willing mind. So then, when you are called to walk as befits the gospel you are not to dispense with any duty that the law calls for. The gospel indeed calls for it in a sweeter way through peace and righteousness: The gospel calls for the same kind, extent and degree of holiness as the law. The great difference is the way in which it calls for it.

The gospel gives: (a) a new purpose: to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31); (b) a new motive: love to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14); (c) a new obedience: not in our own strength but Christ’s (John 15:5); (d) a new spirit: a reverential fear (Luke 1:74); (e) a new attitude to the commandments: they are not found grievous but easy and light (1 John 5:3; Matthew 11:30); (f) a new attitude to self: denying our own righteousness and attainments.



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Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

We can have the right doctrine of holiness; one that takes it as seriously as Scripture does. But in relation to its practical outworking and in our assumptions concerning it, we may have got it wrong. No doubt there could be many ways in which we could do this. We may fall into the error that we can contribute something, that there is a place for our personal merit. Or perhaps we subtly divorce holiness from happiness and find ourselves in a constant conflict between the two. This is a serious mistake because holiness is the only way to true happiness. If we secretly equate happiness with sinful pleasure or our own will rather than God’s, we have gone badly wrong.  We can only look at a few ways in which we may be inclined to get holiness wrong.

James Fraser of Brea takes an honest look at himself, searching into his motives and attitudes. The discovery is startling, while he values holiness he has certain attitudes that are hindering his progress. The evil one is insinuating false notions that confuse and divert. The following are only a few of the many things that Fraser identifies. Of course free unmerited grace must always be in view.


1. Thinking Repentance is Only Inward

In thinking that the essence of true repentance consists in contrition for sin more than in turning in heart and practice from it. When I have not found myself in a mourning, sorrowful spirit but limited in my affections, I have not turned from sin. I was still taken up with trying to sorrow for it, thinking there was no true repentance without this. When I have mourned I depended on this, thinking it was sufficient. But repentance mostly consists in turning to God, mourning is only the manner of this act of turning (Joel 2:12; Isaiah 58:6; Proverbs 21:3).

I have neglected the outward practice of repentance under the pretence that the Lord requires the heart. But we should serve the Lord both in body and in spirit. It is true, we should not rest in the outward, or mainly look to that but should look to the heart mostly; yet the outward act should not be neglected.


2. Wallowing in Self Pity

After falls and slips, Satan has sought to keep me astonished and confused by what I have done. In this way I was kept from getting up to my feet and going forward. Those who fall when they are running in a race lose much time and are far behind while they think about what to do. The best way is to get up, consider our ways, mourn, seek pardon, and then go to work. This is how it was with Joshua, God told him to get up and do his work rather than lie on his face (Joshua 7:10). When David sinned, he immediately goes to repentance: “I have sinned, yet now, Lord, forgive.”


3. Emphasising Holiness But Not Practising it

It is wrong to neglect to obedience in dependence on grace by resting in a resolve to do and it and mere thoughts of how good it is. Either I thought this was enough or else through complacency have not expected difficulty in practice. Yet those who know, approve and teach God’s requirements to other while neglecting it themselves, “say and do not” (Romans 2:13-14, 18; Matthew 7:21; Jeremiah 2:19- 20). Thus my thoughts delighting in obedience have not been so much to practise as to delight the understanding in dwelling on such subjects.


4. Rebranding Sin

Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, by gilding vices with the lustre and appearance of virtue, under spiritual pretences. I have been tempted to carelessness and excess under the pretence of avoiding unthankfulness and not using Christian liberty. I have neglected to have the heart rightly affected with the evil of sin, because repentance consists more in turning from sin than in sorrow for it. I have avoided prayer when not in the right spirit in case I make the easy yoke of Christ a grievous burden. Sin has prevailed in these ways and when it has overcome it appeared in its own clothing. The grace of God may be turned into lasciviousness (2 Corinthians 11:14; Romans 6:1). We have been “called to liberty” but we are not to use this to give opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13).


5. A Legalistic Spirit

There is nothing does me more damage than a legalistic spirit or spirit of bondage. Satan presses duties in a violent way, presenting God as a hard master and an austere judge. He presents God as one that commands and requires duties in the way that tyrannical rulers make laws to entrap the subjects. He makes it seem as though God is urging hard duties and putting new wine into old bottles with the greatest threats and no promise of help. I am urged to obey hastily without being given time to breathe and extreme perfection is required or else it will not be accepted at all.  Finding the Lord’s yoke so hard, I have either cast it off or sometimes engaged in it disheartened. Nothing has influenced me worse than this. Talents have been slighted because God was viewed as a hard master. The Lord has not been served because our yoke is not made light. There is aversion and lack of love to God due to sinful fear (1 John 4:18).


6. Trying to Establish Our Own Righteousness

Satan and my own heart have held me fast for a long time in the snare of seeking to establish my own righteousness. When my heart has been in a good condition, with a felt sense of what I lack and desiring to obey it has resolved to use specific means to obtain this. I have found Satan deceiving me in this by making me love these duties, means, graces and obtaining them because it is the produce of my own desire and resolve. Thus, they have been my own (as it were) and my choice. I have despised other means because they were not my own choice. I have therefore been grieved when favour come in a different way and valued such mercy less. When I have fallen into sins I resolve to avoid I have grieved more because my resolutions have been broken and my will thwarted than because God has been wronged or my soul endangered. Thus God has been provoked to break down these resolutions and cast down the tower that reached to heaven (Proverbs 19:3; Romans 10:3; Mark 14:37; Isaiah 10:7; Psalm 58:3).


7. Thinking Holiness is All About Hardship

When difficult duties have been urged such as mourning, fasting, diligence etc. I have been brought to think that the purpose of the command was mostly to bring hardship on myself. I obeyed more often for this reason than to obey God’s command. It was like pagans who cut themselves or Roman Catholics who whip themselves and it did me harm. It engendered hard thoughts of God and made me do duties in a spiritless way and without spiritual benefit because I only sought hardship for myself.


8. Not Avoiding “Little Sins”

I have not avoided “little” evils, fearing that this would be like tithing “anise and cumin” (Matthew 23:23).


9. Focussing On Outward Sins Rather than Inward Corruption

In striving against the outward acts of sin I have not been considering the inward corruption of the heart. I have been “making clean the outside” but neglecting to cleanse it within; cutting the branches, and sparing the root (Matthew 23:25-26). I have not profited in holiness because the fountain has not been cleansed.


10. Depending on Our Own Strength

Going on in duties in my own strength without looking for divine assistance, has done me great harm. When I have gone on in confidence of my own strength the Lord has chastened me for my presumption, as it was with Peter. When duties have been difficult I have become discouraged because I was relying on and looking to my own strength.



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Is the Moral Revolution Over?

Is the Moral Revolution Over?

Is the Moral Revolution Over?

What has happened to the #MeToo movement which followed the Harvey Weinstein controversy? It certainly gained huge prominence and publicly exposed the abuse that predators wanted to keep hidden. It was vitally important to hear such behaviour vilified. It was also refreshing to hear about any limits to our culture’s licentiousness. And yet it was only a matter of time before a backlash of liberal opinion re-asserted the “freedoms” of the sexual revolution. The liberty for anyone to do whatever they please. But we don’t seem to be hearing as much about it as we did. Was it just a moral panic in which the media has lost interest? Has the anti-#MeToo backlash won? But we need to recognise that the discovery of a moral sensitivity did not go remotely far enough. Our culture’s media and entertainment builds on abuse and promotes exploitation and objectification. No one seemed ready to acknowledge this. We desperately need a real moral revolution in relation to the seventh commandment.

Christ showed how the seventh commandment reaches into our hearts and covers our eyes (Matthew 5:28). The Westminster Larger Catechism refers to this in expounding the seventh commandment. It speaks of this commandment forbidding “all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections”. It mentions other ways in which our senses may be defiled. Finally, it includes “all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others”.

None of these are matters one would prefer to handle but our current culture requires it. To avoid giving the Scripture’s clear teaching on the matter is to expose many to the most dangerous temptations. James Durham refers to this when he says that, due to our corrupt nature, it is hard to speak or hear of these things in a holy way. Both holiness and wisdom are necessary therefore in case we break this commandment even while speaking or hearing about it. It is necessary to mention it, however, because this sin is so rife and the Holy Spirit has considered it necessary to speak of it in Scripture. Indeed it is covered by a particular and distinct commandment by itself. Our most holy and blessed Lord Jesus Himself commented on it in Matthew 5:28. This is makes it a necessary consideration.

Durham also demonstrates that “these abominations are not restricted to the outward act but extend further”. There are many ways in which people commit this sin. It is not pleasant but it cannot be ignored.


1. In Our Hearts

Christ calls a man lusting after a woman committing adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). There are various degrees in this according to the extent to which it goes, the reception it gets and other similar circumstances. It is still reckoned by God to be heart-adultery and is called burning (1 Corinthians 7:9 and Romans 1:27). It is exceedingly loathsome to the Lord and hurtful to the inner man. This is so even when men neither resolve nor intend acting on it. They become guilty by not abhorring these imaginations but allowing them to roll in their thoughts (beware of this even in considering the matter now). If the inward fire is allowed to burn it often breaks out into a visible flame. The burning in 1 Corinthians 7:9 does of course differ from the burning mentioned in Romans 1:27, but we cannot enter into that matter just now.


2. In Our Senses

Men are guilty of this wickedness when they allow their outward senses sinfully to pursue what they want to. Thus, “eyes full of adultery” are spoken of in 2 Peter 2:14. A lustful look is adultery (Matthew 5:28) and Job says that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a woman (Job 31:1). Thus also seeing as well as delighting in obscene pictures and visual performances cannot do anything except defile someone.

The ears are defiled by hearing and listening to obscene and filthy discourse. They are defiled by listening to drunken, unclean or light and immodest love songs. Touch is defiled with embracing and the mouth with kissing others. Such are spoken of in Proverbs 7:13: “she caught him and kissed him”. It is not suitable to go into this further but much guilt is contracted in this way which is scarcely noticed or mourned over.


3. In Our Gestures

People may become guilty of breaking this commandment in their gestures. They may be evidence of this vileness or make people more inclined to it. There may be indecent postures contrary to polite behaviour and godliness. See what is spoken about a wicked person in Proverbs 6:13-14 and Isaiah 3:16. This is the opposite of walking honestly and decently as commended in Romans 13:13. and a carnal wantonness reproved.


4. In Our Words

People become exceedingly guilty of this evil by lewd and obscene speech. But this sin should not be even named (Ephesians 5:3). In the same way, we should avoid reading salacious and licentious love songs or books because this is as though we were gathering ideas about such a subject. There are also ways of taunting and reproaching one another in kinds of communications that corrupt good behaviour. Also guilty are “filthiness”, “foolish talking” and inappropriate “jesting” (Ephesians 5:3-4). This is especially so if it is laughing at the expense of someone who has fallen in some act of filthiness (or anything else that comes close to something like this, see Ephesians 4:24 and 5:3-4 etc)


5. In Our Company

We can fall into this sin by being with light, vain and loose company in a close and unnecessary way. This is more especially true when we keep company with such in private. This is not only an appearance of evil and a snare to that but also evil and loose in itself. It is condemned by the apostle in Romans 13:13. Solomon urges men not to come near the door of such a woman’s house, much less to enter it (Proverbs 5:8).


6. In Our Attitude

People fall into this sin by a carelessness, immodesty and a lack of appropriate shamefacedness etc. Or by any other way in which they give over the reins to the loose, licentious, sensual impulse they have within.



Wouldn’t there be a moral revolution in the Church and in the lives of believers themselves if we were to take these things seriously? Have we allowed the immodest culture around us to shape our attitudes, thoughts and behaviour in a way that allows room for this sin to flourish? The seventh commandment has a positive side too: it is about preserving and promoting purity. Purity “in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour…in ourselves and others” (Larger Catechism). To do this we need to make use of the grace that is in Christ and cultivate fellowship with Him. It is in “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” that we avoid making provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts (Romans 13:14).



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Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

​In a world constantly seeking the retreating mirage of satisfaction in the things of this life we need to know where to find true spiritual satisfaction. Samuel Rutherford said that seeking such satisfaction in this world is like digging into cold ice expecting to discover warm fire. Spiritual satisfaction is in Christ and what He has done alone. As Calvin put it: “The whole of God is found in him, so that he who is not satisfied with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God.” Not to be satisfied with Christ involves “detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above his perfection”. They are “ungrateful” who “seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ”. It is vital therefore to rest in this satisfaction. How can we assure ourselves that we are those who are only satisfied in Christ?

This is a question that Thomas Hog of Kiltearn (1628–1692) sought to answer for the benefit of others. He does not give an exhaustive but rather a helpful and suggestive answer. The eleven observations he makes are worth pondering further and comparing with Scripture and our own experience. Hog was imprisoned several times including on the Bass Rock. Here he had some time for prayerful reflection as he suffered for Christ. These points have been transcribed from a manuscript in the National Library of Scotland with a little updating of the language.


Marks of those who, being lost in themselves, are fit for the consolations of Christ

1. They will acknowledge and not extenuate sin.

2. No earthly comforts can satisfy.

3. Searching sermons are most acceptable and searching Scripture texts are most sweet.

4. No creature can satisfy (no not even an angel) until Christ Himself comes.

5. They all think that they themselves are the chief of sinners.

6. They would take peace with God without all external comfort, indeed they would take Christ with all external crosses and troubles.

7. The least relationship to Christ and benefit from Him will be more sweet and acceptable than to be in any relation but His.

8. The least appearance of opening a door of mercy humbles and melts the heart more than any other thing.

9. They do not doubt Christ’s power, but because of their unworthiness as to whether He will have mercy.

10. All earthly contempt and crosses [trials] are thought light and easily borne. The saddest afflictions are thought nothing in comparison of their [formerly] lost condition.

11. They will not be content with peace without grace, with justification without sanctification.


About Thomas Hog of Kiltearn

Hog was a Highlander who also ministered in Ross-shire. Forced to leave his congregation in 1662, he moved to Auldearn near Nairn, where he continued to minister in private. In 1668 he was  imprisoned for some time for preaching at “illegal meetings” or conventicles.

After his release he continued to preach but was arrested in 1677 and imprisoned in the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. When he sought release due to his poor health Archbishop Sharp had him put in the lowest and worst dungeon in the place. Yet his health recovered in these circumstances.

After a later release he had further periods of imprisonment until he was banished from Scotland in 1684. In 1691 he was able to return to the parish of Kiltearn but only for one year. He was buried underneath the threshold of the church door. He also requested the following inscription: ‘This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring an ungodly minister in here.’


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What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?

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

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

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

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


1. Knowing Christ and Holiness is the Supreme Priority

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


2. We Must Pursue this With Our Full Energy

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

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

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

(b) The Runner Looks Forward

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

(c) The Runner Keeps Looking at the Finish

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


3. Considering the Reward Inspires Greater Progress

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


4. The Reward is All of Grace

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


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What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

No one wants to be a Pharisee. It’s the ultimate religious insult. No doubt we have our own idea of what a modern-day Pharisee looks like. It’s probably the type of Christian with whom we strongly disagree, their standards and convictions are far removed from ours. It’s easy to apply the Pharisee label without thinking much about it. We ought to be careful, however, before identifying others with the enemies of Christ. What was it about the Pharisees that Christ Himself opposed? This will tell us what we need to know about where the term applies today. Perhaps modern Christianity isn’t as immune as we might think from strains of the Pharisee virus.

It’s possible for any type of professing Christian to place undue weight on outward activities and things that identify us as religious. Sometimes these are things we may scarcely think about or question but they have been given considerable importance. They could be what is considered trendy just as much as what is considered traditional.

It is highly important to identify the spirit of the Pharisees today. The Lord Jesus Christ has such solemn things to say about them that we need to ensure that we avoid their characteristics. The general stereotype is that Pharisees were obsessed with being ultra-holy. True, they were interested in outward conformity to their own man-made regulations but they weren’t interested in heart holiness and entire conformity to God’s law. Christ actually says that they weren’t strict enough when it came to righteousness. What is more He says that we must be “exceed” the Pharisees when it comes to righteousness or we will not “enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The Pharisees and scribes took great effort in making great outward profession of holiness of life. The truth is, however, that they only made conscience of outward obedience only (Matthew 5:21) and even then, only in relation to certain commandments (Matthew 15:3). There is a tendency to try to get around obeying God’s requirements by championing our own man-made slogans and rules. A true Christian must first be clothed with the righteousness of Christ and have their sins forgiven in Christ. They must be justified freely by grace without the works of the law. They then seek to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith by true and sincere obedience, inwardly as well as outwardly. They desire to obey all of God’s commandments. They want to make further progress in holiness all the days of their life.

Their righteousness must outstrip that of the Pharisees and scribes. First, they must have the righteousness which is of God by faith in Jesus Christ reckoned to their account. Second, they also should manifest an inherent righteousness, sincerely pursuing a holy life before God and man. These are the ways in which their righteousness must far exceed the superficial righteousness of the Pharisees.

The most solemn warnings Christ gives against the Pharisees are found in Matthew 23:1-36. Frequently they take the form of “woes” (eight in total). In other words, He is warning them of God’s judgment for their hypocrisy. Of course, He was able to read their hearts but their conduct and words were very obvious too and these exposed the true state of their heart.

David Dickson has some key insights into Christ’s words in this chapter. It is a long article but it makes for vital reading. Here we highlight the main aspects of the Pharisee virus that we must avoid like the plague.  Where we see heart religion and careful godly living ignored, it has an opening. Where man is exalted and worldly desires masquerade under religious language and man-made practice we ought to be warned. We must of course, avoid those who alter the true gospel.


1. Pharisees Don’t Make their Life Match their Convictions

Christ warned about false teachers (Matthew 23:1-3).

(a) People must be warned to beware of contracting the plagues of false teachers who will not amend their conduct.

(b) We ought still to obey the truth of God’s Word even though it may be promoted by false teachers; it is still God’s truth (v2).

(c) People are more in danger of following the example of the sinful life of false teachers rather than any commands of God they may teach. They need to be warned not to follow the works of such false teachers.

(d) Someone may obey what God commands but not for the purpose for which God has commanded it. In the sight of God this is no better than not doing it. Although the Pharisees did many works that were commanded in the law, yet they did them to be seen of others and to earn merit before God. They were more careful about the outward ceremonies of the law than observing the moral duties of justice and mercy. What they did was therefore counted as though they had not done them. Christ says that “they say, and do not”.


2. Pharisees Urge Moral Duties without the Gospel

The Lord shows how the Pharisees urged moral duties without reference to the gospel (which is the only way by which such duties can be done) (v4).

(a) The law is intended to lead us to the gospel where grace and strength for righteousness and new obedience. Otherwise it is an unbearable yoke. It is here called a heavy burden, and grievous to be borne. And therefore to press moral duties on a people without teaching them how to draw strength from Christ for obedience is to bind heavy burdens on their shoulders.

(b) Hypocrites command people with least compassion which does not enable them to give obedience. They do not seek to help them by wise teaching, example or prayer. Therefore Christ says “they will not move [the burdens they impose] with one of their fingers”.


3. Pharisees Care More About Appearances than Reality

Pharisees had ways of appearing to be religious before others. One was to enlarge their phylacteries (items they would wear containing verses of Scripture) (v5). The first is their vain ostentation of holiness and ambitious seeking of vain applause of men, to which end they did write the words of the law on the borders of their garments, as if it had been all made up of love of the law.

(a) Hypocrites take greater effort to seem religious than to be religious. They strive to please others with appearances rather than to please God in truth. They “do their works…to be seen of men”.

(b) Hypocrites are most concerned about making a show of outward religious practices and outward aspects of duties that have been commanded, while neglecting the substance.


4. Pharisees Love Status and Celebrity

Pharisees love to be given status and to be hailed as a prominent teacher (v6-7). The Pharisees were vain and sought preeminence in all things above other people. We should not esteem any mere man too highly any gifts he has or any good we have received through him. It takes away from God’s glory when we attribute too much to men (v9-12).

(a) Although the Lord does not condemn respects and reverence due to men according to their callings and places, yet he condemns those who love take pride in them.

(b) Hypocrites and vain men least worthy of respect or honour most desire respect.

(c) Christ does not condemn ways of distinguishing individuals for order and for the sake of their office from others. He condemns those who exalt themselves over their brethren in outward dignity (v8).

(d) Those who seek to exalt themselves above their brethren in the same office are offensive to Christ. He alone must have the preeminent. He has appointed a ministry in the Church and made them equal in office as brethren (v8).

(e) We are very ready to ascribe something to ourselves if we are able to profit others by any gifts given to us. Christ says not to be called Rabbi, or Master. The meaning is, do not take to yourselves more than is the creature’s due. When you teach others by God’s gift bestowed on you and anyone ascribes to you any more than is due, see that you do not permit it this sacrilege.

(f) All the authority, light and success of teaching flows from the powerful teacher Christ, “for One is your Master, even Christ”. Anything given to the creature above its place is taken sacrilegiously.


5. Pharisees Hinder the Salvation of Others

Christ pronounces a woe on the Pharisees for hindering the gospel (v13).

(a) Men by nature are exiles from heaven and from the grace of God offered in the gospel. Yet by ministering the Word and ordinances of God in the right or wrong way, the door of heaven is opened or shut. The Pharisees, says Christ, shut the kingdom of heaven against men.

(b) It is a fearful charge against false teachers that they do not come to Christ themselves and also divert others by their bad example or doctrine.


6. Pharisees Combine Religion with Covetousness

(a) Just as ambition and hypocrisy go together, so do ambition and greed (v14).

(b) Simple, ignorant and helpless souls are the prey of corrupt Church leaders. This is nothing new.

(c) The most cursed behaviour that can be devised may be cloaked with the pretence of religion.

(d) The more plausible the pretence put upon a wicked course of action, the greater the sin (and  the punishment. Christ say that they will “receive the greater damnation”.


7. Pharisees Make Many Converts, But Not to the Genuine Gospel

The Pharisees had a blind zeal to poison others with their errors and make converts to their sect (v15).

(a) False teachers are more busy to draw others to their error than teachers of the truth are
diligent in drawing others to the truth.

(b) The more effort and haste in false zeal that someone shows in perverting others from the truth, the more wrath abides on him.

(c) The more someone advances in error and superstition, the more he is the child of hell and Satan. Such errors have their origin in hell and Satan is the father of error, superstition and heresy. Christ said that the Pharisees made their converts “the child of hell”.

(d) Young converts who drink in superstition being persuaded by learned false teachers are far more taken with their false opinions. They are more addicted to these false superstitions than their teachers because they believer them to be the truth.


8. Pharisees Define Sin According to their Own Ideas

The Pharisees actually believed they could take the name of God in vain. They said that if they swore an oath “by the temple” it was not binding but if they swore “by the gold of the temple” it was (v16). Christ shows (v20-22) that this was altogether wrong.

(a) Church leaders that corrupt religion and fearfully mislead people become “blind guides”. This is despite the fact that their office requires that they should be wise and seeing guides.

(b) These corrupt hypocrites fostered swearing by created things such as by the temple, altar, gold and gifts.

(c) Corrupt Church leaders make things to be sin or no sin as it serves their purpose. Here they made an oath by the temple to be nothing and an oath by the gold of the temple to be binding.

(d) To make light of any oath as not binding opens a door to superstition and perjury.

(e) When men depart from the rule of God’s Word in determining sin, they prove themselves foolish and blind

(f) Superstition and error blinds the mind, and stupifies the heart.


9. Pharisees Only Give Partial Obedience

The Pharisees vaunted their precise keeping of the law in the smallest things while they despised the law in the greatest duties.

(a) It is no new thing for hypocrites to major on small matters while rejecting the most weighty duties. The Pharisees tithed anise and omitted mercy. Yet doing those greater duties does not liberate us from our obligation to do the smallest duties, one authority obliges us to do both. Christ say that they ought still to have done these but “not left the other undone” (v23).

(b)  Hypocrites being strict are more ridiculous than someone refusing to swallow a fly while swallowing a camel.

(c) Those who take it upon them to teach others the way to heaven need to know it well themselves; for it is a fearful charge to be found blind guides.


10. Pharisees Pretend to be Holy but are Not

The Pharisees deceived the people with an appearance of holiness when there was nothing of the kind in them (v27-28).

(a) Hypocrites may carry their wickedness so fair that men may be deceived: for they may seem very beautiful outwardly, when inwardly they are filthy, like tombs plaistred12 without, and full of rottenness within.

(b) God will not be deceived by hypocrites, but will find them out. In His time He will expose them to the world and pour out wrath on them, for Christ says “Woe unto you”.


11. Pharisees Honour the Godly of the Past but Hate the Godly of the Present

The Pharisees pretended to honour the saints of the past (v29-30) but in the meantime hated the godly in the present. Indeed they were about to murder Christ Himself.

(a) The world loves dead prophets better than the living: the living reprove their sin more directly than the dead.

(b) Gross hypocrites pretend to love good men and yet do not love goodness. They can condemn their fathers’ faults and yet practise the same themselves. They are like those who said: “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers of the blood of the prophets”.


12. Pharisees are on their Way to Hell Unless they Repent

He condemns them and threatens them with hell (v33).

(a) When the Lord makes a reckoning, he will declare the sin of the wicked to their face.

(b) It is good to show the obstinate the difficulty of being saved if they can by any means they can be driven to seek salvation.

(c) The end of Christ’s enemies shall be condemnation in hell.


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What it Really Means to Guard Your Heart

What it Really Means to Guard Your Heart

What it Really Means to Guard Your Heart

For many the instruction to “guard your heart” means controlling your emotions, specifically in relation to the opposite sex. Others use it to emphasise resisting impurity. These applications tell us more about current evangelical preoccupations than what Proverbs 4:23 means by the heart and how we are to keep it. It is a much more difficult, comprehensive and urgent task than these specific counsels suggest.

​It is certainly urgent and essential. John Flavel said that keeping our heart “is the most important business of a Christian’s life”. “It is the great work of a Christian, in which the very soul and life of religion consists, and without which all other duties are of no value with God”.

Andrew Gray spent considerable time explaining these matters. The following is extracted and updated from his three sermons on Proverbs 4:23.


1. What is Our Heart?

Our hearts are the most important aspect of our being.

“Even if you gave Christ all your members, yet it would be considered nothing if you would not give Him your heart”. It is clear from what Gray says that our heart is not merely our thoughts or feelings. It includes our whole understanding, reason, memory, will, affections and conscience. It is the soul and all its faculties. It is every aspect of our inward and spiritual life.

But crucially the heart is by nature corrupt, deceitful and constantly departing from God.


Our hearts are exceedingly deceitful.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Isaiah likewise speaks of a deceived heart which leads people aside (Isaiah 44:20). The heart of man is a deceitful thing, it will preach “peace, peace” when there is none. It will make us commit sin when there is not even any outward pleasure in it.

This is the great mystery of iniquity, that even our hearts will deceive our own hearts, and study to bring them to ruin. If your hearts were left one hour to yourselves to keep, you would commit more iniquity than you can imagine or dream of.


Our hearts are desperately wicked. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). If there were threatenings, commands, promises and convictions of sin, yet your heart will cause you to sin. If hell were put in your way, yet, for the pleasure of an idol, you would run to sin.


Our hearts love idols.

That there is a cursed union between the heart and idols (Hosea 4:8 and 17). Three times we read in Ezekiel 24:3-5: “they have set up their idols in their hearts”. Keep your hearts with diligence lest this union be tolerated.


Our hearts are mad. 

There are many of our hearts that are exceedingly mad (Ecclesiastes 9:3) Certainly the hardness of our hearts shows that we do not keep our hearts.


Our hearts are divided. 

The fact that the heart is divided (Hosea 10:2) shows great necessity of keeping our hearts. If we were all well searched, it is to be feared that many of us would be found two-hearted. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). A man with two hearts has part of his heart going to God and part of his heart going to the devil.


Our hearts depart from God.

I am broken with their whorish hearts, which have departed from me (Ezekiel 9:6).


Our hearts are ignorant.

By nature our hearts are exceedingly dull and ignorant in the ways of godliness (Ephesians 4:18).


Our hearts are unstable and changeable.

We may compare the heart of a Christian (while here below) to Reuben: “unstable as water” which mars its excellence. While a Christian is here below he is like the moon: changeable and subject to many vicissitudes.


2. Why Should We Keep Our Heart?

This is something of eternal consequence. The reasons why are in Proverbs 4:23 “for out of it are the issues of life”. If you keep your heart, you shall have life; but if not, the issues of death will come from it.

It is a most excellent thing for a Christian to keep his heart. It is better to conquer that little thing of the heart, than it is for one to conquer a city (Proverbs 16:32).

It is something that is also very difficult and so must be done with “all diligence” or “all keeping”.  There is such difficulty in keeping our hearts that we ought strongly to guard them. Adam kept his heart for only a short time and yet he could not keep it. This shows the difficulty of keeping it. Pray to God to keep your heart (Psalm 25:20; 1 Peter 4:9). Pray that prayer that Christ prayed when He was on the cross committing His Spirit into the hands of the Father (see Luke 24:36).  O pray that prayer every day.


3. What is it to Keep Our Heart?

Keep Sight of Everything in Your Heart.

Keeping our heart means that a Christian should observe the motions of his heart, and should not let his heart nor thoughts go astray, but should have a register of all their motions (Luke 21:34).


Keep Everything that Pertains to Your Heart.

(a) Your thoughts; (b) Your eyes (Proverbs 4:25); (c) Your tongues (Proverbs 4:25); (d) Your feet, (e) Your ears.


Keep Everything Unclean Out of Your Heart.

(Proverbs 5:8; Deuteronomy 12:30).


Keep Restraints on Your Heart.

Keep it so you may not commit iniquity. Bind these ropes on you to restrain yourselves: (a) the rope Christ’s love; (b) the rope of judgment – God will call you to a reckoning for all your wickedness; (c) the rope of God’s omniscience – all things are known to Him.


Keep Watch for Opportunities for Strengthening Grace in Your Heart.

If you disregard them you are not keeping your heart.


Keep Your Heart in a Prayerful Condition.

“Watch and pray” and “Pray without ceasing”.


Keep Your Heart in a Loving Condition.

You ought to have your heart burning within you with love towards that glorious, infinite, and mysterious Jesus Christ.


Keep Your Heart in a Condition of Fearing Self.

Fear the danger you are in if you are left to yourselves and your own strength.


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Who is Truly Blessed?

Who is Truly Blessed?

Who is Truly Blessed?

It is not so long since “blessed” was nearly a good word gone bad in popular speak. It was more than a cliché for many with no great spiritual interest to announce on social media that they were #blessed. It was smug bragging about success thinly disguised as humility.  It gave the message that outward prosperity is true blessing. Perhaps people do feel as blessed as their Facebook status declares but have they understood that spiritual blessings are paramount (Matthew 5:3–5)? In reality there is no true blessing without godliness.

David Dickson draws this clear teaching from Psalm 1. This Psalm teaches that no ungodly person is blessed, only the godly (verses 1-2). This is proved by three reasons. The first is because God blesses the godly even in this life (and in every state of life) with grace to produce good works that profitable to themselves and others (verse 3). But all that the wicked do for making themselves happy, shall be blasted and found to be mere vanity (verse 4).


1. Only the Godly are Blessed

1. Blessedness is possible. Although sin and misery abound: blessedness may still be attained. God here pronounces some to be blessed.
2. Blessedness is only possible in God’s way. This psalm divides all men (within and without the visible church) into godly men (that seek to be blessed in God’s way) and ungodly men (who seek blessedness – but not in God’s way). They are all ranked in this way here.
3. Blessedness is defined by God alone. Only God can define who is blessed since He is the only one that can make someone blessed. He here pronounces the godly to be the blessed.
4. Blessedness and ungodly counsel cannot go together. The ungodly think themselves very wise in following the counsel of their own heart and of others like themselves so that they may be blessed. But this is not the way of the blessed man, he does not walk in “the counsel of the ungodly”.
5. Blessedness and sin will not go together. The ungodly obstinately continue in their course of sinning, but the blessed man (if he is overtaken in some sin) does not defend his sin, nor persist in it. He does not stand in “the way of sinners”.
6. Blessedness and irreligion cannot go together. The ungodly may go as far as to mock godliness as mere folly and scorn admonitions and reproofs. Yet the blessed man never hardens his heart so as to mock piety in others or instruction offered. He does not sit in “the seat of the scornful”.
7. Blessedness comes through Scripture’s counsel. The blessed man makes the Word of God in holy Scripture his counsellor concerning the remedy of sin and misery. This is the rule by which he walks until his blessedness is perfected. Scripture to him is a law for the obedience of faith which is fenced with supreme authority. It is “the law of the Lord”.
8. Blessedness comes through profiting from the Word. To the extent that a man is godly and blessed, he makes the Word of God the way of growing in communion with God through the Messiah, Christ. He makes the Word the matter of his chief delight and contentment. His “delight is in the law of the Lord”.
9. Blessedness comes from meditating on the Word. To the extent that a man delights in the law of the Lord, he studies in it on all occasions. He meditates in God’s law “day and night”.


2. Only the Godly are Blessed with Grace to Produce Good Works

The godly are blessed with grace to bring forth good works that are profitable to themselves and others in every condition of life.

1. The blessing of increased grace. To the extent that a man pursues holy communion with God by delighting and meditating in His Word, he will be fixed and furnished with the influence of grace from Christ. This will maintain spiritual life within him. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water”.
2. The blessing of fruitfulness. The man that makes the Word of God his delight will be made fruitful in every good work, as opportunity is offered. He will be like a tree bringing forth fruit in due season.
3. The blessing of perseverance. This man shall be enabled to bear out a holy profession of his faith in, and obedience to God, in adversity, as well as in prosperity. “His leaf also shall not wither”.
4. The blessing of God’s favour. Whatever duty or service to God this man sets about, will not lack the help and acceptance nor success from God. Whatever he does will “prosper”.
5. These blessings do not belong to the ungodly. The ungodly man is destitute of all spiritual life (no matter what he may seem to be before the world) and a stranger to the fellowship of God’s grace. He is unfit for every good work and ready under great temptation to abandon his counterfeit profession of religion. He is cursed in all that he does because he is the opposite of what the blessed godly man is here said to be. “The ungodly are not so”.
6. The “blessings” of the ungodly are unreal. Whatever appearance of godliness, temporal prosperity, or hope of happiness the ungodly seem to have, it will be found only counterfeit. It will not stand him in good stead at all in his greatest need. The ungodly are like “the chaff” which the wind blows away.



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6 Reasons Why You Must Constantly War Against Sin

6 Reasons Why You Must Constantly War Against Sin

6 Reasons Why You Must Constantly War Against Sin

​The battlefield is the worst place in the world. Constant danger, bombardment and stress take their debilitating toll on mind and body. No doubt it is impossible for those who have never been in a foxhole fully to comprehend it. Yet the Christian is in the midst of a constant spiritual battle against sin (Romans 7:23; James 4:1; 1 Peter 2:11). It is an enemy that never calls a truce. We will suffer great spiritual damage if we do not maintain constant warfare against it.

​Andrew Gray preached several sermons on spiritual warfare against sin. They are positive in showing the victory that may be obtained through Christ (Romans 7:24-25). The blessings and benefits of this warfare are included in a new free e-book called War Against Sin (download). Yet Gray says that he is “afraid that the Christians of this generation have proclaimed truce and a treaty of peace with their lusts”. “O, can such a delusion as this overtake you, that you can be an overcomer without fighting? Is your strength greater than those that have gone before you? Do you think you can accomplish this war in one day and pursue your enemies till you overtake and consume them? O when will it be that we will be daily groaning forth daily this mournful cry: ‘O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death'” (Romans 7:24).


What is Spiritual Warfare Against Sin?

In these words Paul breathes out a sweet desire to be delivered, not only from his actual corruption, but from his original guilt, which here he calls the body of this death.  Great multitudes of corruptions flow from the root of original sin. It has so many different and varied members and parts that they make up a body, which, unless it is resisted, will certainly occasion death. When Paul is under strong conviction of his guilt and sees himself completed he uses these words:  “O wretched man:. The word in the original signifies one wearied with troublesome and continual combat with little apparent success. This certainly implies that he was a man who was greatly and continually taken up in wrestling against his corruptions. He was endeavouring to bring them unto subjection to the obedience of Christ Jesus.

You can see the way Paul sought to overcome his lusts, he was much in prayer. The words of verse 24 are a short and sad prayer. It is like Isaiah 38:14 “O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me”.

It is the duty of a Christian to wrestle against their corruptions (Acts 24:16; Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 6:13 and 1 Corinthians 5:7). No doubt, if we reflected more on the nature of sin we would be more constant in this warfare. Especially if we considered that through sin precious conformity with God is lost. We must also consider the woeful effects of sin: that it works death and brings us under the curse of a living God. Failure to consider these means that Christians are greatly disabled to stand fast in liberty with which Christ has made them free and often entangle themselves again with the yoke of bondage.


1. Lack of Assurance Comes from Not Warring Constantly Against Sin

Most Christians, if were asked when they last set aside some hours to put their sins to death would not be able to give an answer. A Christian that can interrupt the work of putting sin to death for several weeks may either suspect that grace is groaning within him with the groanings of a deadly wounded man or else that he is not at begotten again to a lively hope at all. There is no discharge in this warfare. We must fight until we have one foot within that place of everlasting delight.


2. Hardness of Heart Comes from Not Warring Constantly Against Sin

This was clearly the case with David, having ceased this war he could write a letter to get godly Uriah killed. Scripture makes no mention of David’s heart smiting him for it. Those who are not putting sinful self to death make their heart die as a stone within them. 

A warring Christian keeps this holy zeal within. He hates the garments spotted with the flesh. Why is there such hardness of heart among us in these days? It is because Christians are not putting sin to death much. We think we will gain heaven easily and this makes us give so little consideration to this blessed work.


3. Prevailing Sin Comes from Not Warring Constantly Against Sin

Christians that do not war constantly against sin ordinarily have their indwelling lusts reigning most. Sin will gather more strength when we neglect to put it to death for a single day than we can gain to prevail over it through wrestling with it many days. Sin has a subtle dexterity. It can regroup with ease within a few hours. If you are not constant in this warfare you will not sing many songs of triumph over your lusts. A triumpher in the fight must be constant. How long is it since you set up an Eben-ezer to God as  a trophy and monument of your victory? We think the Christians of this generation have the fewest and least trophies of their victory in the way to heaven as ever any that went before them.


4. Lack of Hope Comes from Not Warring Constantly Against Sin

A Christian who neglects to war constantly against sin fights a doubtful war. They have not determined whether the fight will go in their favour or not. In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul speaks of fighting in an agony (as the word implies) persuading himself that he will have that crown of righteousness which is the reward of a conquering Christian. I do not know what will afford a Christian greater peace and comfort than to believe that he will put all enemies under his feet and make them his footstool.


5. Doubts in Death Come from Not Warring Constantly Against Sin

Do you know why some Christians die with so little assurance of faith? They have not been much in  putting sin to death. What comfort Paul had , when he said, “I have fought the good fight of faith”. I doubt if Paul ever sang a song of praise in a higher key than when he sang that song (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul’s heart was half-transported, when reflected on the fact that all his lusts were dying and killed at his feet.


6. Withered Grace Comes from Not Warring Constantly Against Sin

A Christian who neglects constant war against sin is withered in other graces and in exercising their gifts. This is one of the sorest afflictions that can befall a Christian. 

War Against Sin

Few other things are more vital for spiritual life and health than putting sin to death. It is as stark a choice as John Owen emphasised: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you”.

This free e-book called War Against Sin (PDF) shows the benefits of putting sin to death. Gray stresses how closely it accompanies vigorous spiritual growth, grace and assurance. We cannot call a truce in this warfare.


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How Does Faith Sanctify?

How Does Faith Sanctify?

How Does Faith Sanctify?

This is an extremely practical question. If we have true faith by grace it will incline us more to holiness.  Christ says that sanctification is through faith in Himself (Acts 26:18). A pure heart and unfeigned faith belong together (1 Timothy 1:5). Faith as the root of all the graces must be active in our sanctification. Simply having faith in a passive way is not what sanctifies; it must be exercised actively in Christ and His Word.


​There is a danger to be avoided, however. To some people, sanctification through faith can sound like justification by faith. Sometimes they then begin to speak about sanctification by faith alone. While this sounds plausible, it is in fact a significant error.

It is true that both are entirely by grace alone. You cannot of course have one without the other. Yet, sanctification is a work or a process of grace within us, whereas justification is an instantaneous act of grace outside of us. One can grow and develop, the other does not. In justification, sin is pardoned while in sanctification it is subdued. The Westminster Larger Catechism explores this distinction in Question 77.

The danger of emphasising faith alone in sanctification is that it suggests that we are not to work out what God works in us. But it must involve obedience as well as faith. Sanctification is walking in the way of holiness not simply a deeper appreciation of our justification. Yet faith is crucial in this obedience. Andrew Gray unfolds in a practical way how faith works by love in our sanctification.


1. Faith shows us Christ’s matchless excellence and transcendent beauty

This sight persuades the soul to say: “what have I to do any more with idols?” (see Hosea 14:8). Once we are united unto Christ by faith we break our union with our idols. Ignorance of Christ’s excellence and beauty and of love towards Him is the main reason that the poorest idols in the world remain in your hearts. A true view of the glorious Sun of Righteousness would make you add your amen to the following excellent confession of faith. “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).


2. Faith shows us Christ’s spotless holiness

Faith shows us Christ’s holiness as well as His beauty. This makes a soul fall in love with the excellence of sanctification. The first steps to sin and misery were desiring to be as God, knowing good and evil. But among the first steps to life and happiness, the soul desires to be holy, as He is holy. Ignorance of the beauty of holiness is the great reason that you fail to strive much towards a blessed conformity to God and the image of Christ.


3. Faith lays hold on Jesus Christ

Faith draws strength and power from Christ to conquer lusts. It also produces a blessed conformity to Himself. When the Christian is weak, faith is the go-between our emptiness and Christ’s fullness; our weakness and His everlasting strength. Faith counsels us:

(a) not to lean to our own strength; and

(b) to have recourse to Jehovah in whom is everlasting strength.

If we made more use of Christ by faith we might see the following prophecy fulfilled. “He that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord” (Zechariah 12:8). When a Christian is least self-confident, then God proves Himself to be Almighty and All-sufficient.


4. Faith lays hold on the promises and believes them

Believing the promises gives birth to conformity to God. The benefit of believing the promises is that by them we are “made partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).


5. Faith believes Scripture’s threats against sin

This has a strong and undoubted influence on attaining and growing in sanctification. Faith strengthens the Christian against committing iniquity with two texts (Romans 6:29 and Revelation 21:27). “O soul”, (says faith), “do not commit iniquity, for the wages of sin is death”. “Also, nothing that is unclean or commits iniquity will enter into the heavenly city”. Faith together with the threats and promises of Scripture would be like a threefold cord not easily broken to restrain you from sinning.

Do you want to know why our cursed hearts commit iniquity with so little fear and with so much delight? It is because we do not believe that God’s threats will be fulfilled in due time. If you believe Revelation 21:27, it is impossible that you would sin as you do; even if it would gain the world for you. If you undervalue God’s threats, the time will come when you will be constrained to cry out: “He has spoken it and has done it. He is faithful!” Not one jot or tittle in the Word of the Lord will fall to the ground. God will be faithful in fulfilling His threats just as much as His promises.


6. Faith shows us heaven

Faith takes the soul to the top of Pisgah to behold the promised land. Seeing such noble privileges prepared for the saints must make them pursue holiness. They know that it is impossible to get there without holiness. He has said that without holiness, no man shall see God (see Hebrews 12:14). If you got a view of heaven by faith, you would be constrained to walk in the path of sanctification. This is the glorious way by which you must walk through the gates of that blessed city.

You do not, however, know happiness of that place. It is only mere fancy and notion to you. This is because you do not strive to conform yourselves to the blessed image of God. Are you so deluded as to believe that you who never pursued holiness on earth will enter into heaven’s gates? There are some who say in their hearts, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart” (Deuteronomy 29:19). Many suppose they might be converted and sanctified all in one day. But why will you deceive yourselves? It is true that nothing is impossible with God. Yet, remember that only one thief on the cross was saved.


7. Faith believes the promises

Faith believes Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. Faith loves such excellent sayings. It makes the Christian attain likeness and conformity with God so that he may behold His face and be like Him in heaven.


8. Faith shows us the exceeding sinfulness of sin

This cannot happen until the grace of faith is in vigorous exercise.

  • Faith show us the person against whom we sin. This shows the exceeding sinfulness of sin.  When the Christian beholds God and His matchless excellence he says, “What a beast I was, to offend such glorious majesty! What a fool I was, to kick against the goads or fight against such an infinite God!”
  • Faith shows the Christian the great obligations of love Christ has imposed on us. Faith shows us the everlasting love of Christ. Faith is the grace that lets us see His sufferings. Faith lets us see all that He has done for us. This makes the Christian cry out: “O how foolish and unwise! Do I repay the Lord like this?” The more a Christian would pursue his duty, the less debt he would incur. There are two registers which a Christian should study: 1. The register in which all the infinite acts of love are recorded; and, 2. The register in which all our acts of offending precious Christ are written. You would be astonished and ashamed to see so much forgiven you and would not dare to sin any more. You would see infinite mercy rejoicing over judgment. You would see the spotless riches of the transcendent grace in Christ.


  • Faith shows a Christian the disadvantages and solemn consequences of sin and in this way, the exceeding sinfulness of sin.


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Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Perhaps you know them. They used to be zealous Christians and showed signs of being very committed to the things of God. You could talk to them about Christian things all day and they seemed to have such a clear grasp of the truth. You’re not sure where they are now exactly though. They stopped going to Church years ago or got involved with a false gospel. It was so bewildering when it became clear that they were abandoning their former profession. You were shoulder to shoulder. Now they are miles away. But you also know other Christians and they remain committed and exercised. It seems like their one desire is to make progress in holiness and knowing Christ. One is a warning to us and the other an encouragement.

The Bible speaks about this in different ways, but the Apostle Paul frequently uses the metaphor of running a race. In Galatians 5:7 he rebukes the Galatian Christians for having stopped running. They had “run well” initially but were now failing to “obey the truth”. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul uses himself as an example. His eye is fixed on the finishing line: “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. James Fergusson explains further the significance of these pictures for us.

The Danger of Dropping out of the Race to Heaven

In Galatians 5:7, the Apostle Paul commends the Galatian Christians for their previous zeal in embracing the truth that they now dispute. He calls this having “run well”.  In the original the word literally means with beauty and attractiveness.  There is no satisfactory reason why they should now have abandoned this course.

1. The Christian Life is a Race to Heaven.

In this race, we run by holiness and all commanded duties, especially faith and love.  We ought to conduct ourselves as those who run in a race. The  Apostle Paul describes their progress in Christianity by a metaphor taken from runners in a race they “did run well”.

2. New Converts Run Fastest in the Race

With greater affection and zeal, new converts usually make swifter progress than others. They also make swifter progress than they themselves afterwards make when they are older in the faith. This is due to the newness of the thing and the initial keenness of their affections. Their sharp edge has not yet been blunted by changing circumstances and a multitude of duties.  God also for a time restrains the violent assault of increased furious temptations. This is until they are more settled and fully engaged in His way. He also gives a greater measure of His felt presence at first than afterwards. These Galatians for a time after their first conversion “did run” and “run well”.

3. Good Progress in the Race Can be Halted

Those who once made good progress in the ways of God may afterwards come to a halt. Their later conduct does not correspond to their promising beginnings. They deserved to be reproved for this. It also causes grief and dismay to those that behold. The apostasy of these  Galatians makes Paul astonished. It prompts the solemn rebuke that they “did run well, who did hinder you?”

4. There is No Excuse for Not Keeping in the Race

No satisfactory reason can be given for abandoning our course after beginning the way of truth and holiness.  There is no reason why we should change course or come to a halt. This makes the ways of God to be evil spoken of (2 Peter 2:2). Paul’s question “Who did hinder you?” implies that no one could have hindered them for any good reason.

5.Carelessness Leads to Not Keeping in the Race

When people become careless and lazy in obeying known truth, they are on the very brink and precipice of apostasy. They fall into the opposite of the truth and apostasy from the very profession of truth. The Apostle challenges them for not obeying the truth. This may mainly mean their apostasy from the truth. It also implies that failing to obey the truth and apostasy from it are closely related.

6. Strong Encouragement for Keeping in the Race

We must seriously consider former zeal in the ways of God. We must also acknowledge the lack of any reason for current backsliding and carelessness. This gives strong incitement to do the first works. By future diligence, we can regain what has been lost by past negligence. The Apostle’s purpose is to incite them to recover their lost liberty by considering these two things. They “did run well, who did hinder you?”

How to make Progress in the Race to Heaven

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul also uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look behind in order to estimate how much of the way has been covered. They have an overwhelming desire to make progress in the way. They bend their bodies forward, they have their heart, eye, and whole course directed to the end of the race until they achieve it.  This was how Paul was in his Christian course. He was encouraged by hope of the rich reward to which he was called. This was purchased for him by Jesus Christ.

1. Greater Progress is Measured by Greater Humility

Those who have made furthest progress in the knowledge of Christ, are usually most conscious of their own imperfections. They are most ready to acknowledge them when this will glorify God and edify others. Thus, Paul, who (v 10) only desired to know Christ (though doubtless he knew much of Him) acknowledges his own shortcoming and ignorance. “I count not myself to have apprehended”.

2. Greater Progress is Measured by Holiness and Knowing Christ

Progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness must be seriously considered above all other things. We must not regard it superficially or casually. This was Paul’s one thing: “this one thing I do” (or mind).

3. Greater Progress is Made by Forgetting What is Behind

The runner does not look back to estimate how much of the way has been covered. The Christian who would achieve anything may review what has already been done. But he only does this to see his own shortcomings and humble himself. He also sees in it reasons to praise God and be encouraged (1 Corinthians 15:10). He is not to be so taken up with this that he rests on it and is puffed up with conceit because of it as if he had already done enough. He rejects anything which may retard his further progress.  In this way, Paul was “forgetting those things which are behind”  as if he had done nothing.

4. Greater Progress is Made by Looking Forward

The runner is most concerned with the part of the way which he is yet to run. He bends himself forward in it. So the Christian who desires to make progress must be estimating how much of his way is yet before him. He estimates what sins are yet to be put to death. He sees the duties that are still almost entirely neglected. He considers what hard activities he may yet be called to undergo. The more he sees of this the more he increases effort for advancing forward. Thus Paul said he was “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

5. Greater Progress is Made by Looking at the Finish Line

The runner keeps his eye on the mark (finish line) and directs his whole activity towards it. He does not turn aside or halt because of difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix his eye on the end of his race. The end of his race is perfection in holiness. He aims all his actions and endeavours at that mark. He presses forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way between him and it. Thus, Paul says “I press toward the mark”.

5. Greater Progress is Made by Considering the Prize

Thoughts of the prize and value of the reward give energy to the runner and make him run faster. In heaven and glory, the Christian has a rich prize, a free reward of grace (not merit) (Romans 6:23). The Christian who desires to make progress should have this much in his thoughts. This will strengthen him through all the hardship, discouragement, fainting and failing he will face and be tempted with. Thus, Paul said: “I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

This does not mean, however, that it is merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s low endeavours, but from God’s high grace above. They receive it through the merits of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ”.


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Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

We need the Holy Spirit and fire. The spirit of reformation is a spirit of burning (Matthew 3:11). We need this to purify our sins against God and towards others (Isaiah 4:3-4).

Christ’s Church is like silver that is full of dross and needs refined. When the Lord has burned away the filthy dross of His church (Isaiah 4:5) she becomes a glory or a praise in the earth. Yet she must go through the fire of affliction and trial first (Zechariah 13:9) to come out as pure refined gold.

The Scottish minister George Gillespie lived during a time of reformation. The following helpful teaching is extracted and updated from one of his sermons. He shows us the real nature of spiritual reformation. Outward change is not enough. There must be deep inward refining.

he is like a refiner’s fire…he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver (Malachi 3:2-3)


1. Purified Silver

The best silver that comes out of the earth has dross in it. It needs the refiner’s fire. The best of God’s children have the dross of remaining indwelling sin that needs to be purged away. This is what made Paul say: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest…I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). He did not want to be like reprobate silver which is not refined but cast away. There are also sinful pollutions of the world that attach to us (James 1:27). We need purifying from them.


2. Purified in Your Trials

Our afflictions are trials which are used to refine us (Psalm 66:10,12; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Afflictions often go along with faithfulness to Christ or come after a time of reforming the Church (Luke 12:49, 51). The reformations in Judah soon faced opposition from enemies (2 Chronicles 32:1; 14:9; 20:1).

During the most thorough reformation in Judah God still threatened punishments (Zephaniah 1:2-17). This was because there was a lack of real and personal reformation. God is a wise refiner. He will not take the silver out of the fire until the dross is removed (Ezekiel 15:7; 22:19-20).

These trials are a refining, not a consuming fire. A remnant will be brought out of the fire as gold (Zechariah 13:9; Zephaniah 3:12-13). The Lord is gracious and merciful even if we are not as purified from the fire as we should be (Isaiah 48:9-11).


3. Purified From Your Sins

This refining must involve putting our sins to death (Galatians 5:24). We must be willing to have our sins put to death. We must not only take Christ as our righteousness and life, we must also take Him as a refiner’s fire. It is painful to go through this refining fire and lose the sins to which we are attached. We have nothing to lose except our dross.

Christ is both the refiner and the refiner’s fire. You will be refined by Him and in Him. You only deceive yourself if you think you can be refined in any other way. The blood of Jesus not only cleanses us from guilt but purges our consciences (Hebrews 9:14). Putting our sins to death (Galatians 5:24) is possible for all who are Christ’s through His strength.



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