How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?
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.
29 Mar, 2021

This is not about what you might expect. We have heard so much about the sixth commandment and preserving life over the past year—a very necessary emphasis. But there are other dimensions to the commandment as well. Showing love for our neighbour through this command is not simply about what we do or do not do. Scripture shows us that it reaches to our hearts also (1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:22). Our heart attitude and thoughts are expressed in our words and behaviour towards others. If there is an attitude of animosity in the heart or abusive words are used, we are not preserving the spirit of this commandment. It is a constant issue but perhaps more obvious in a time when there may be many conflicting opinions. How do we respond to others, especially when we disagree or feel they have failed us in some way? The natural tendency is to let our irritation show. It is easy to bottle up resentment as well as erupt when provoked. What sort of words should we use if we need to point out where they have gone wrong? How do we avoid responses that cause lasting spiritual damage in our zeal for the truth? We need to positively cultivate and put on the graces of love, humility, patience and forbearance to do this. And if we think this is a good message for someone else, we probably need it more than we realise.

The Larger Catechism draws on the rest of Scripture to help us understand this aspect of the sixth commandment. If we are to put off anger then part of doing this involves putting on patience, kindness and forgiveness. The Larger Catechism shows that we pursue “lawful endeavours to preserve the life of ourselves, and others, by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any…by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness, peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behaviour, forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil, comforting and succouring the distressed” (Q135). So also, this command forbids “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge, all excessive passions…provoking words, oppressing, quarrelling” (Q136). Some Bible passages which support this are as follows.  The sixth commandment requires us to:

  • subdue passions which tend towards unjust destruction of life (Ephesians 4:26-27)
  • avoid all temptations which tend towards unjust destruction of life (Matthew 4:6-7; Proverbs 1:10-16)
  • maintain a serene mental attitude and cheerful spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 1 Peter 3:3-4; Psalm 37:8-11; Proverbs 17:22)  
  • show kindness and love in thought, word and deed (1 Samuel 19:4-5; 22:13-14; Romans 13:10; Luke 10:33-34; Colossians 3:12-13; James 3:17; 1 Peter 3:8-11; Proverbs 15:1; Judges 8:1-3).

It is possible to have a holy zeal and yet think, speak and act charitably. This means having compassion for others, grieving over where they have erred and seeking the best and most effective way to have them restored or for them to be saved. Holy zeal will focus itself against what is wrong rather than the person who has done what is wrong (Psalm 101:3). It is not focused on how we have been harmed or wronged personally but on whether God has been dishonoured. It is motivated by the honour of God not our own pride.

Righteous anger without sinning is certainly possible but all too rare (Ephesians 4:26). But we must be very careful as to whether this it truly has this holy zeal. If we are not careful our sinful anger will give room for the devil to exploit any conflict (Ephesians 4:27). He will use it to stir up sinful attitudes and responses in ourselves and others. He will also use it to make us unfit for spiritual activities and so rob us of the benefit (Matthew 5:23-24).

We can have the best of intentions, but we all know how difficult it is to keep our cool when we encounter an irascible hot-headed person.  We resent unfair implied accusations and are ready to show it. How do we respond to words and behaviour that only seems to rile us up? There is no easy answer that is quickly learned. It requires great wisdom (Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; 19:11). We are battling the most powerful of enemies (Proverbs 16:32). We need to avoid being quick to speak if we are going to be slow to become angry (James 1:19). We need much patience and grace to turn away wrath with a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1).

These thoughts have been helped by Thomas Ridgeley’s commentary on the Larger Catechism. One of the books that influenced the Larger Catechism was A Body of Divinity by James Ussher. The following updated extract is drawn from his treatment of the sixth commandment. In a helpful question and answer format he shows how the commandment requires a loving spirit.

1. What inward duties do we owe to our neighbour?

To love our neighbours as ourselves, to think well of them, to be charitably affected towards them, and to strive to do them good. We are all the creatures of one God, and the natural children of Adam. For this reason, we are to cherish all good affections in our hearts.

2. What good affections are required?

(a) Humility and kindness, proceeding from a loving heart to a fellow human being because they are human (Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:32).

(b) Contentment to see our brother pass and exceed us in any outward or inward gifts or graces and giving thanks to God for endowing him with such gifts.

(c) Compassion and fellow-feeling of their good and evil (Romans 12:15-16; Hebrews 13:3).

(d) Humility.

(e) Meekness.

(f) Patience, long-suffering and slowness to anger (Ephesians 4:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

(g) Easiness to be reconciled and to forget wrongs done to us (Ephesians 4:32).

(h) A peaceable mind, careful to preserve and make peace (Romans 12:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Matthew 5:9).

3. What is required for the preservation of peace?

(a) Care to avoid offences.

(b) Construing things in the best sense (1 Corinthians 13:7).

(c) Giving up our own rights sometimes (Genesis 13:8-9).

(d) Passing by offences and suffering injuries patiently lest they break out into greater mischief.

4. What inward sins are condemned?

Consenting in heart to do our neighbour harm together with all passions of the mind, which are contrary to the love we owe to him.

(a) Anger when it is either rash or without cause; or when it is excessive in a just cause (Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:26, 31).

(b) Hatred and malice, which is murder in the mind (1 John 3:15).

(c) Envy, by which one hates his brother as Cain the murderer did, for some good that is in him (James 3:14; Proverbs 14:30; 1 John 3:12).

(d) Grudging and repining against our brother, which is a branch of envy (1 Timothy 2:8).

(e) Unmercifulness and lack of compassion (Romans 1:31; Amos 6:6).

(f) Desire for revenge (Romans 12:19).

(g) Cruelty (Psalm 5:6; Genesis 49:5, 7).

(h) Pride, which is the mother of all contention (Proverbs 13:10).

(i) Uncharitable suspicions (1 Corinthians 13:5, 7; 1 Samuel 1:13-14) yet godly jealousy over another is good if it is for a good cause.

(j) Stubbornness and not being easily intreated (Romans 1:31).

5. How should we resist these?

We should kill such affections at their first rising and pray to God against them.

6. What are the outward duties we owe to our neighbour?

They respect the soul principally, or the whole man, and the body more especially.

7. What duties are required of us for the preservation of the souls of our neighbour?

(a) Ministering the food of spiritual life (Isaiah 62:6; 1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28).

(b) Giving good counsel and encouraging to well-doing (Hebrews 10:24-25).

(c) Walking without offence. This is required of rulers and ministers as well as everyone else in their calling. The apostle’s rule reaches everyone, give no offence neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32).

(d) Giving good example, and thereby provoking one another to love good works, (Matthew 5:16; 2 Corinthians 9:2; Hebrews 10:24).

(e) Reproving our brother’s sins by timely admonition (Leviticus 19:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Psalm 141:5).

(f) Comforting the feeble minded and supporting the weak (1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:14).

8. What is forbidden in our words?

(a) Speaking evil of someone, even although the matter is not in itself false is still wrong if it is not done with a right purpose or in a right manner and at the right time. False accusations are also condemned (Luke 23:2; Acts 24:5).

(b) Bitter and angry words or speech uttered in wrath or using evil or vile terms (Matthew 5:22) are condemned by this commandment.

(c) Mocking in general is sinful (Psalm 22:7-8; John 19:3). Mockery of a disability (Leviticus 19:14) or especially mocking others for godly behaviour (2 Samuel 6:20) are condemned. Sometimes, however, God’s children may use mocking in a godly manner as Elijah did to the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:27).5. When we complain about one another and grumble with malice (James 5:9).

(c) Brawling and angry shouting are sinful (Titus 3:9; Ephesians 4:31). Threatening, insulting and provocative speech is also condemned (1 Peter 3:9; 2 Samuel 16:5,7; 2 Kings 2:23-24;1 Corinthians 5:11 Psalm 57:4 Psalm 52:2 Psalm 64:3-4 Psalm 140:3)

(d) Spiteful, disdainful and harsh words are sinful, especially when they are uttered contemptuously (Proverbs 12:8; Proverbs 15:1).

9. What is required in our words?

That we greet our neighbour gently, speak kindly, and use courteous amiable speeches; which according to the Hebrew phrase is called, speaking to the heart of another (Ephesians 4:32; Ruth 2:13).

According to Paul’s counsel we should see that edifying words rather than “corrupt communication” are found in our mouths (Ephesians 4:29. Our speech should be always seasoned with the saltiness of grace so that we know how to answer every one in the right way (Colossians 4:6). If meat is not sprinkled with salt, it will smell. It will be so with those who do not have their hearts seasoned with the word of truth.

If we are not careful the words proceeding from our mouths will be angry, wrathful, and loathsome speech against our brother. Scripture compares such words to juniper coals which burn most fiercely (Psalm 120:4) or to a sword or razor cutting most sharply (Proverbs 12:18; Psalm 52:2). James therefore says that the tongue is an unruly evil, set on fire by hell (James 3:6, 8). We ought therefore to govern our tongues by the Word of God and beware of vile speech.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article The Mark of the Christian. Christ’s disciples are to be recognised by their love for one another. What does that look like and what if it’s not there?

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The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
25 Feb, 2021

Sometimes we can learn spiritual lessons by making comparisons with natural and spiritual realities. We can even do this with the symptoms of Covid-19. This is merely an illustration, the fact someone contracts this virus is not directly connected to their spiritual state. Nor is this meant to diminish the reality of the illness experienced by those who have suffered badly from it and even died. It is certainly not meant to replace sound health advice either (see www.nhs.uk). The fact is, however, that the Bible uses the metaphor of disease when talking about sin (Mark 2:17; Psalm 38:3; Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6). This shows that we can think in these terms. How can we identify the symptoms of a spiritual virus and where can we find the remedy?

How might we diagnose spiritual Covid? We might think about symptoms such as a loss of taste for spiritual things, the oxygen of prayer running low in our souls and excessive temperature in spiritual things which might be charging God foolishly or a zeal not according to knowledge. We may pass spiritual disease to others without being aware of it because we can easily stir up sin in others through our words and actions.

But we can think more generally about spiritual diseases also. David Dickson helps us to do this through an extensive book he wrote (Therapeutica Sacra or Sacred Healing) about how to deal with spiritual disease, especially diseases of the conscience. This article seeks to summarise some of the spiritual diseases that can afflict the soul, together with the remedy which is to be found in Christ.

1. We can have spiritual disease without being aware

The condition in which the convert is best pleased with themselves is not always the best. Neither is the condition in which they are least pleased with themselves always the worst. The best condition is that in which the Holy Spirit prevails most against the power of sin and advances the work of holiness. The worst condition is where sin prevails most. It is possible to abuse divine comforts and become complacent and negligent in spiritual duties just as it is not to be truly humbled for grieving the Spirit. But the worst conditions of the regenerate can by the wisdom, mercy and power of God be turned to God’s glory and our deliverance (Psalm 116:3-4).

2. We need to distinguish spiritual disease

We need to distinguish between:

  • sinful diseases in themselves as opposed to conviction of sin that drives us to Christ
  • experience temptation or testing as opposed to yielding to temptation under affliction
  • grief of mind, or heaviness in affliction as opposed to anguish of conscience for having committed sin

3. We need to understand the causes of spiritual disease

There are a variety of things that cause our spiritual condition to change:

  • whether grace or sin prevails
  • whether Satan’s temptations are successful or resisted
  • whether the Lord hides His face from us for His own sovereign reasons

4. We can have spiritual disease in our conscience

Conscience may be mistaken when it fails to assess our spiritual condition accurately. It can take a bad condition for a good one, or a good one for a bad one. Or it may not discern a condition partly good and partly bad or is confused about its state.

5. We can have spiritual disease in our love

It is possible that we and others may identify outward fruit in our Christian life, even when our love for Christ has actually cooled. Either we do not observe this cooling of love to Christ, or we are pleased enough with our condition as enough to carry us to heaven. Christ reproves Ephesus because they had left their first love and did not take this sin to heart to repent of it and seek to recover the first love (Revelation 2:4-5). This condition is very dangerous, as is manifest in the experience of the Galatians, who falling from their first love left themselves open to superstition and error by their defection from the faith of the gospel.

We must firstly see how reasonable it is that we should return to our first love. Secondly, we must consider how necessary it is to have love for Christ fresh and growing. Love to Christ makes us think and frequently of Him and seek closer fellowship with Him. Thirdly, we need to remember the delight we had in our first love an see how may spiritual comforts we have deprived ourselves of and what miseries we have brought on ourselves. Christ, Himself tells us the remedy, we need to humble ourselves before Him and flee to His rich grace as a true penitent (Revelation 2:5,7).

6. We Can cause spiritual disease in Others

It is not loving to indulge the sins of others (Leviticus 19:17). Yet some of the Lord’s people sometimes think have done their duty sufficiently as long as they themselves profess the truth and in their own personal conduct do what they conceive to be right. If we have influence over others and do not seek to curb those who lay a stumbling block before others, we not only permit the infection of error and wickedness. we protect and advance its spread. We must lament the sins of those who destroy themselves and infect others, and mourn for the sins of those who should repress the contagion. If we do not, we make ourselves an accessory to this evil being spread. This was the sin of the Church of Pergamos and the Church of Thyatira, which did not take action against those who promoted evil (Revelation 2:14-15 and 20).

To avoid causing spiritual disease in others we must:

  • know what God forbids and requires, lest we mistake virtue for a vice, or vice for a virtue
  • beware of censuring rashly the failings of others (James 3:1)
  • earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) so that the Lord’s people are not drawn away from the truth of Christ
  • consider our responsibilities and opportunities to seek to amend the faults of others wisely
  • confront with resolution any difficulties in curbing error and sin. It is much better to displease others for their good than to displease Christ and make ourselves partakers of the sins of others.

7. We can have spiritual disease through carelessness

Sometimes remaining sin prevails against the work of the Spirit in converts that they are not only overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1) but also are taken captive for a time by the lusts of the flesh. It is possible for them to lie sleeping in this condition until God awakens them. Many things can cause this but usually, it is neglected duty and sinning against conscience without true repentance. We fall into this by various degrees. At first, we engage in God’s worship and obedience in a formal way within earnest desires. We read Scripture without seeking to profit from it and make a profession without zeal and fruit. We then go on to be careless in our speech and do not care about edifying or corrupting others with our tongues (James 1:26). Sin may then break out openly with schism, contention, envy, drunkenness, lasciviousness or other things. This seems to have been the condition of the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2).

This deadly sickness of carelessness may be cured in these ways:

  • the conscience must be awakened with a sense of sin
  • any spark of faith, hope, repentance, or desire of returning to God, and resisting sin must be encouraged so that it is not extinguished
  • remember the word by which you were first moved to turn unto God and strive for nearer fellowship with God
  • be on your guard and watch over your heart, lest you are enticed by the world, flesh and devil to provoke God again
  • consider the rich promises Christ makes to overcomers (Revelation 3:5).

8. We can have the spiritual disease of lukewarmness

We can become lukewarm through being negligent and at ease. This was the condition into which some converts in the Church of Laodicea fell (Revelation 3:15-19). The conscience must be awakened to see how
the Majesty and excellent worth of Christ hath been slighted by this lukewarmness. The spiritual riches of Christ have been despised. They must see how Christ hates lukewarmness and will spew such out of his mouth unless they repent. They must be humbled for glorying in their self-sufficiency when they are really devoid of all they need. They must lay hold on Christ’s love in calling them to repentance and take the offer of renewed, more intimate communion with him in the precious promises made to the victorious overcomer (Revelation 3:17-18).

9. We can have the spiritual disease of delusion

Delusion is when an error is embraced, especially some dangerous error tending to the damage of the Church and endangering souls. Satan is active in using all possible means to obscure and darken the truth and spread the most pernicious errors. Meantime he is not idle in sowing and spreading lesser errors that stir up contention in the Church. Through this means precious time which should be spent for mutual edification is idly wasted in needless disputes, and the minds of some prepared to receive worse errors. There may be pride, folly, schism and obstinacy in such errors.

It is possible for true Christians to be delivered from such delusions (Galatians 5:10). It requires patient teaching of sound doctrine to do so (1 Timothy 4:6 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The deluded person should be exhorted to examine their own conscience to see how much of the flesh is in their maintaining such errors. They should be exhorted to be humbled for the sins they acknowledge and to flee to Christ for pardon, pity and help against them. If they do not repent of known sins, how can they expect to have any light on their errors? They should be solemnly reminded of how the Lord gives those in error over to further sins (2 Timothy 4:1).

10. We can have the spiritual disease of mistaking vice for virtue

It is possible to mistake our covetousness for diligence neglecting dependence on God. We may also mistake our vengefulness for a concern for truth and honour. We can also mistake our excess in outward things for lawful provision and enjoyment.

11. We can have the spiritual disease of deceiving ourselves

Many think their souls to be in a good condition when they can pray much and with freedom of spirit even though they do not watch over their hearts and ways as they should. They find a sort of eloquence in their prayers and assume they have this because God is well pleased with them and their prayers. Many go on confidently in maintaining schism and error, persuading themselves that their conduct and condition are good because they find freedom in prayer.

But it is one thing to pray much, and another thing to be heard and to have our prayers and persons accepted (Isaiah 1:15). The flesh can easily creep in and stir up a fervency in prayer (James 4:3). We may pray earnestly for that which God will not grant (1 Samuel 16:1). Prayers expressed from a heaviness of spirit and difficulty are no less pleasing unto God than when there is freedom (Psalm 61:1). We may not know what to pray for as we ought and express ourselves in words but the Spirit can help (Romans 8:26). If we have a sense of our sins and needs, are daily going to Christ, are careful to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, are praying for what is promised, with submission to God’s time and wisdom we may be sure our person and prayers are acceptable (1 John 5:14-15).

Conclusion

We need to be able to diagnose spiritual disease in order to treat it. We also need to be on our guard against the things that cause spiritual disease such as being run down and careless in relation to our spiritual health. It is dangerous to neglect it. The remedy for spiritual disease in general and for what we might call spiritual Covid in particular is Christ. His grace and promises together with fellowship with Him through His Word.

 

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How Scripture is Designed to Give You Hope in Trials

How Scripture is Designed to Give You Hope in Trials

How Scripture is Designed to Give You Hope in Trials
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
22 Jan, 2021

We all have different responses to trials and challenging circumstances. It’s natural to look for grounds of hope and we tend to do that in different ways, no doubt our inclinations are partly influenced by our experience and temperament. Some rise to the challenge, seek to minimise the impact of the circumstances and take encouragement from that. Others crave the comfort that will provide the hope and encouragement to enable them to persevere. Then there are those that grapple with the gravity of the situation and seek ultimate hope and comfort in coming to terms with it. Which path should we choose? The reality is that we need all these responses combined in a way that is shaped by Scripture. The God of providence not only knows what situations we will face, He has also designed the Scriptures to equip us to meet them. The two great practical benefits of Scripture’s teaching are patience and comfort (Romans 15:4). We need to hold on to both. We need the words that are as goads behind us to help us persevere and not stand still but also words that encourage and are as fixed nails that we can hang upon (Ecclesiastes 12:11).

Whatever is written in Scripture has been written “for our learning: that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). We should not read the Scriptures only with the aim of finding comfort, but instead, we should put whatever comforts us to practical use in strengthening our hope. If for instance, we need the comfort of forgiveness we will need to go to the God of comfort in repentance.

We are enabled to hope as we grow in our understanding of and trust in the truths of the Bible. There are many afflictions in this life that challenge our hope, and therefore we need to be stirred up both to endure and to be encouraged. This is how Scripture sustains the life of hope amid all we experience. God is the God of patience and comfort (Romans 15:5) and that is why He has designed Scripture this way.

Whatever has been written has been designed with this in view. Thus, we can draw this patience and comfort from the whole of Scripture and not be selective. We are tempted to think we know what type of Scripture teaching we need at present and what we are less ready to receive. We do not, however, need to err on the side of seeking out either comfort or rebuke. Those passages that confront us with the sorrowful nature of our condition can also lead us to hope and comfort in Christ just as much as the promises. John Brown of Wamphray comments further on the meaning of this phrase in the following updated extract.

1. Scripture is Designed to Change the Way YOU Live

The written Word of God is able to acquaint us with all things necessary to believe and inform our understanding perfectly in the matters of faith. It is also able to instruct us in all things necessary for the Christian life. It teaches us completely how to walk in our Christian conduct so as to sustain hope and not lose sight of heaven. It is written “that we might have hope”.

All our study in the Scriptures and insight into them should lead to practice and advancing us in our Christian walk towards heaven. Whatever knowledge we attain is for nothing if it does not have some effect on our ways. Our learning is one purpose of God’s giving us His mind in writing. But this is only subordinate to advancing our hope.

2. Scripture is Designed to Help You Endure

The life of believers on this side of eternity is a life filled with troubles and afflictions of all kinds. They are, therefore, called to keep the grace of patience constantly in exercise. God has, therefore, provided a means to keep the hearts of His own from fainting. He has laid down in the Scriptures many remarkable grounds for holding up the head of His tried people. His people droop heavily under the load they bear when they are ignorant of His Word or do not pursue the right way of making use of it. That is why mention is made here of the patience of the Scriptures.

3. Scripture is Designed to Keep You From Being Discouraged

Sorrow and sighing ordinarily attend an afflicted condition. The Lord also knows that His people are often discouraged and ready to collapse in sorrow; they need much consolation. Thus, He has in His wonderful goodness, provided various reviving and strengthening remedies and put them all in a box. He has also put the box in their hands so that they may draw consolation from it. Failure to make best use of this storehouse of comfort is what makes the discouragements of His people increase daily.

4. Scripture is Designed to Help You Amid Doubts and Perplexities

The Lord saw that many clouds would arise and darken our view, hindering us from seeing both our spiritual life and the crown of life set before us. This can mar our hope and fill us with questions, doubts and perplexities about our spiritual state and right to glory. He has, therefore, our of His special goodness provided a written Word, unfolding the promises and faithfulness of God as a sure and settled grounds for supporting hope.

5. Scripture is Designed to Help You Live in Hope

The spiritual enjoyments of God’s people now and then in this life are the first fruits of the full harvest that is coming. For all that they experience here, they must still live in hope; all their life is only a life of hope. Their best days are only coming (see 1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:19).

Patience must be exercised on the basis of Scripture in all afflictions both spiritual and outward. The soul is to be comforted by looking to the promises and other grounds for comfort contained in the Word. Where this is the case, the life of hope will be maintained and a soul will be helped to walk in a Christian way and in hope. Hope that does not flow from faith in Scripture in this way is only a delusion and imaginary.

6. Scripture is Designed to Lead You to Genuine Patience

People may attain to a forced patience that is very similar to a stupefied desensitised condition under affliction rather than true patience. Yet none can attain to true Christian patience except those on whom God bestows it. This patience is a special gift of God and for this reason, He is called “the God of patience” (Romans 15:5).

7. Scripture is Designed to Lead You to Genuine Comfort

The right sort of comfort and heart rejoicing is wrought in the soul by the hand of God. It is God’s prerogative to speak comfort to the sad and troubled soul. He is the God of comfort or consolation (Romans 15:4; see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

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Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
9 Jan, 2021

It is easy to be cast down in relation to the difficulties and trials that Christ’s Church faces. Yet Christ is over and above every event and circumstance. There is nothing that is beyond His foreknowledge or decree. He has a special overruling providence concerning all things that concern His Church. No one holds it dearer than He does and this brings unique comfort and encouragement. One particular part of Scripture can help us appreciate this in a deeper way, let us consider it together.

In Revelation 5:1-7 the apostle John sees in a vision a scroll in the right hand of the One that sits on the throne. It is sealed with seven seals and evidently contains the purpose and secret counsel of God concerning His people. Yet no one in heaven or earth is found worthy to open the scroll and reveal the secrets which cause John to weep. But his tears are short-lived. Christ who is the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David can do what no one else is able to do.

The scroll is full in being written on the both sides, it is complete and there is no room for any further decrees to be added. There are no new and unexpected occurrences, all is known beforehand. As James Durham observes this shows “the absoluteness, determinateness and particularness of God’s decrees in all events that concern the Church: which with Him are, as it were, written in a sealed book.”

It is sealed with seven seals so that it is not discernible to anyone else. Here are His decrees concerning the special events that will befall His gospel Church. It also shows that Christ has access to “His Father’s secrets” and without Him there is no access to this knowledge. Yet He reveals as much to the Church “as is useful for her”. No wonder John weeps when it is not opened. Yet he is comforted by one of the Lord’s people, represented by one of the elders before the throne. James Durham in the following updated extract provides much comfort and encouragement in applying this part of Scripture.

1. Christ’s Overruling All Things for His Church Comforts Our Sorrows

(a) The strongest of God’s servants may have great fits of heaviness and weeping and mistake His dealings. They may be ready to count things to be much more desperate than they are.

(b) The Lord deals tenderly with His people’s heaviness, even when it is due to weakness and mistakes.

(c) The Lord’s comforts are applied in a timely way and often they are they nearest and most refreshing when people think things most desperate.

(d) Christ may make use of anyone to comfort another. When the strong are overmastered with heaviness, He can stir up weak believers to give comfort to them.

(e) Weak believers may sometimes be more comforted in making us of Christ’s offices and in exercising faith on Him, than great teachers. Sometimes those teachers may have many disappointments in seeking to exercise their light, abilities and reason to satisfy themselves in things that are difficult to understand. They will have a sorrowful heaviness so long as the Mediator is not made use of. But the simple spiritually tender believer, that looks to Him first of all for answering all difficulties, may have much peace and cheerfulness.

2. Christ’s Overruling All Things for His Church Strengthens Our Faith

The Lord has a special overruling providence over all things that concern His Church. There is nothing that happens which is new to Him, but it is what He has determined and written down, as it were, before the beginning of the world. This is a great consolation to His Church. No enemy can rise up against her, no heresy can break out among her members and no event can encounter her that was not fully determined by the Lord before the beginning of the world.

This Lamb is placed in the midst of the throne. He is a partaker of the same glory, dominion and authority with the Father as He is God. He is admitted to His right Hand and to a glory and majesty far above every name that is in heaven and in earth, as He is Mediator (Revelation 3:21). He is in the midst of the four beasts or living creatures and the twenty four elders. This does not just show that He has a dignity and glory beyond them, it also shows His presence in the Church.

He is on the same throne with the Father to make His people more bold in their approaches to God by Him. They never lack a friend always present in that court. He is also said to be standing, in part to declare His readiness to carry out what may tend towards His people’s edification and consolation. As a painstaking shepherd, He stands to feed the flock (Micah 5:4).

He is also said to have seven horns and seven eyes, the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. This cannot be any created thing. The Lamb’s power or horns must be omnipotent, so His eye must be Omniscient. And that which goes through all the earth must be Omnipresent.

Conclusion

We need to look to Christ above events, including our interpretation of them and our fears about them. We need to see that He is ruling all things for His glory and for the good of the Church. His Church is the apple of His eye and He will protect it. He will still rebuke and chasten her because He loves her but it is all part of a sure purpose for His glory. This does not take away our duty and responsibility. Neither does it mean we should not seek to understand events. Rather, it means we should not allow our sorrows and fears about events present or future to rob us of the fullest view that faith can take of Christ in His glorious all-powerful majesty.

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Amen Has a Meaning

Amen Has a Meaning

Amen Has a Meaning
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 Jan, 2021

As many are aware, a Democratic congressman in the USA ended an opening prayer to “the monotheistic God” on the first day of the new Congress by saying not simply “amen” but “amen and a-woman.” The phrase of course is a Hebrew word with no connotations of gender. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a United Methodist minister, responded by saying that it was intended to be “a light-hearted pun in recognition of the record number of women” serving in Congress. Clearly it was a mockery of a prayer. But it certainly got people reaching for the definition of Amen as “so be it”. Yet few perhaps realised just how far it cheapened such a vital word. There is far more meaning to the word than we may realise. Since we use the word so often, ought we not to know something more of its fuller significance?

The Shorter Catechism crisply summarises aspects of the significance when it says “in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen” (Question 107). As Thomas Manton (member of the Westminster Assembly) observes, it is a word that functions like a seal on our requests. It is “an expression of our faith and hope” as well as “the strength of our desire”. “There is the Amen of faith, and the Amen of hearty desire.” These are the two key things required in prayer. The word can mean “so let it be, or so it shall be”. Sometimes it affirms the truth of something and other times it expresses a hearty desire that something will be so. When we use it in prayer it expresses both “our hearty desire that it may be so; and our faith, that is, our acquiescence in the mercy and power and wisdom of God concerning the event.” Another member of the Westminster Assembly, William Gouge explains further the fulness of what this word means in this updated extract.

1. How is Amen Used in Scripture?

It was usual for the apostles to add Amen when they made a prayer, or gave thanks, or pronounced a blessing (Romans 16:24,27; 1 Corinthians 16:24; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Peter 5:14; 1 John 5:21; Jude 25). It was usual for the people of God also to say Amen when they heard this, whether it was only one (1 Kings 1:36) or many together (Nehemiah 5:13). There are many are kinds of speech to which Amen is added in Scripture.

  • Petitions. (Romans 15:33)
  • Benedictions and Praise (Nehemiah 8:6)
  • Curses (Nehemiah 5:13)
  • Exhortations to Duties (1 John 5:21)
  • Declarations and Promises (Revelation 22:20)
  • Denunciations of Judgment (Revelation 1:17)

2. What Does Amen Imply in Scripture?

(a) True assent. The apostle directs the Church to pray, read and preach in a known tongue so that even the unlearned hearer may say Amen, that is, give assent to what he hears with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:16).

(b) Earnest desire. When the prophet Jeremiah heard the prophecy of Hananiah concerning the return of the king of Judah to his kingdom, and the other captives to their land, and of the vessels that were taken away to the temple, he knew it to be a false prophecy. Yet to show how earnestly he desired that it might be so (Jeremiah 28:6), he says Amen. And fully to declare what he meant by that, he adds, “The Lord do so.”

(c) Steadfast faith. Where Christ give a promise of his second coming, saying, ‘Surely I come quickly’: the Church, to show her steadfast faith in that promise, says, Amen, which implies, ‘Lord, I believe this: Even so, come Lord Jesus’ (see Revelation 22:20).

The proper reason for saying Amen is to manifest assent, desire and faith. Whoever says Amen, must understand what he says Amen to. In this case, two things must be understood: the words that are uttered and the meaning of those words (1 Corinthians 14:9).

3. Why is Amen Used in Scripture?

(a) Although the apostles wrote and spoke in Greek, they used this Hebrew word (Romans 1:15). We, therefore, have a clear justification for retaining this word in another language even though Hebrew is not spoken and understood.
(b) Continual use has made this word familiar to all persons, of all languages, in all nations. It is everywhere like a vernacular word. Similarly, these two titles Jesus Christ, though one is Hebrew, and the other Greek, have become so familiar, that they are retained in all languages.
(c) No other single word is so fitting for this purpose as Amen and no other language can invent such a word. It is not therefore without reason and just cause that it has been included as a word in all languages. It comprises under it whatsoever is expressed or understood in and by the speech to which it is added. The people were to add their Amen to the full extent of the law and the curses for not keeping it (Deuteronomy 27:26).

4. What Does Amen Require Of Us?

(a) As speakers it requires us to:

  • speak intelligibly in a known tongue (1 Corinthians 14:2)
  • speak audibly, so that those who are to say Amen may hear what is said
  • speak distinctly, so that those hearing may observe every petition and every particular point for which thanks is given. If prayer or thanksgiving is uttered too fast hearers cannot properly observe the several parts and their Amen cannot be to all that is said but only some parts.

(b) As those who hear it requires us to

  • listen diligently to that which is uttered. The people that said Amen to Ezra’s blessing stood up while he spoke, a gesture that implies diligent attention. If our minds are wandering, and not attentive to that which is uttered, what assent, what desire, what faith can there be? And if there is none of these, why is Amen said? Surely it is a plain mockery of God.
  • to give assent. If there is no assent in the heart it is hypocritical to say Amen. The apostle implies assent is essential when he asks how we can say Amen if we do not understand (see 1 Corinthians 14:16).
    to manifest assent. Such a sound of Amens from the congregation would enliven a minister’s spirits, and put a kind of heavenly life into the people themselves.

(c) As speakers and hearers it requires us to

  • know that all that is uttered is grounded on God’s Word and agreeable to His will. This is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He will hear us (1 John 5:14).
  • have the mind fixed. All must hold their mind steady on what is said or else they will be as those who “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me (Isaiah 29:13). This is an abomination to God.
  • retain, as well as we can, in our memory all that is uttered because Amen applies to all that is said. That which is forgotten is as though it was not heard, understood, or given attention to.
  • be affected by the prayer. This will make men double their Amen, as the Jews did when Ezra “blessed the Lord. All the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands” (Nehemiah 8:6). Their speech and gesture both declared great affection of heart. Without this inward affection Amen will only be uttered coldly.
  • believe God’s gracious acceptance of the prayer. Amen ratifies all that has been previously uttered. But how can the heart ratify what it does not believe (Matthew 11:24)? As the apostle says concerning prayer, “Let him ask in faith” (James 1:6).

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Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?
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.
16 Dec, 2020

It’s easy to understand why some people think of 2020 as a terrible year. We started the year and decade with high expectations. We soon found out that our plans could be entirely redundant. Heartbreakingly, some have lost loved ones, others have lost precious opportunities for key life events. For many, life has been on pause waiting to return to normal with a sense of lost time meanwhile. No doubt there have been many positives in the change of gear but a nagging feeling remains that it has been a wasted year. Yet there is nothing in 2020 that God cannot use and overrule to His greater glory. He can also bring restoration out of devastation. He can restore what seems like wasted time that can never be recovered.

We can be very thankful for all that we have not lost during 2020. In one Bible verse that offers hope concerning “wasted years” God promises to restore the years that the locust has eaten. Over several years in the time of the prophet Joel Israel experienced continual decimation of their food supplies through plagues of locusts and other events. It was the Lord’s chastisement for His people’s rebellion. But His promise was that with their repentance and return to Him the years that the locust had eaten would be restored in the great blessing they would receive. He would make up for all they had lost in the years of famine (Joel 2:23-27) so that they would be able to rejoice in Him. He does all this to show them that He is their God and they need never be disappointed in their hope placed in Him. These rich blessings are offered as part of the Lord’s call to repentance (v12-17). It is helpful to see this promise in its context and George Hutcheson applies some truths from these verses in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Promises Joy to His Penitent People

Whoever else does not have joy, God wills that His penitent Church and people rejoice. They have as much and more solid joy as any. The children of Zion are therefore called to rejoice (v23). The Lord speaks and applies this message of joy to their hearts in stirring them up to rejoice in it beforehand. This exhortation to rejoice is, therefore, necessary.

Outward blessings and benefits should be like a step leading the Lord’s people up to rejoice in God. They should rest in these benefits in themselves. Although there is a promise of plenty, yet they are to rejoice in the Lord their God because He is their God (see Jeremiah 9:23-24; Luke 10:19-20). These outward blessings are received in connection with their repentance.

2. The Lord Appoints Outward Blessings

The Lord’s measuring and timing of outward mercies is that which makes them mercies indeed. Although rain is necessary, it is a blessing that God gives it in moderation and in its proper season (v23). What is said about rain holds good about all outward mercies, the only wise Lord appoints them.

3. The Lord Can Restore What We Have Lost

The Lord can and will make up for the losses of those who are penitent. Whenever sinners turn to God, He will convince them in due time that they have not lost at all by their afflictions. A proof and example of this are given in the promise that He will restore to them the years the locust has eaten (v25).

4. The Lord Can Be Seen in the Saddest Afflictions

Seeing God and His hand in the saddest chastisements and losses will assure us that He can soon easily make up for them. The locusts were God’s great army which He sent and if He sent them and made them able to make wreak such havoc, then He certainly can not only remove them but send equally remarkable plenty (v25).

5. The Lord Should be Praised for His Continual Provision

All who receive the good things of this life should be conscientious in thankfulness to God, whose providence supplies their needs. Those who truly repent and have turned to God will make conscience of this duty. This is especially because these outward blessings come to them with a special love from their own God in covenant with them. They will be satisfied with God’s benefits and will praise the name of the Lord their God (see Isaiah 62:8-9; Deuteronomy 8:10).

We must stir ourselves up to praise God in this. We should consider how wonderfully God continually provides our daily bread. Sending great plenty after the famine makes His providence and mercy to shine. The reason they should praise God is because He had dealt wondrously with them (v26). If we make use of outward benefits in this way, they bring us spiritual benefit by strengthening our faith and revealing the love of God to us.

6. The Lord Will Never Disappoint His People

God’s deals kindly with His Church and individual believers according to the covenant. When this is seen in specific ways it may be a pledge that none of His people (whoever they may be), will ever find it fruitless to seek Him or be ashamed or disappointed of their hope in Him based on His Word. God’s people will never be ashamed or disappointed (v26).

The best of blessings is a covenant relationship with God and His manifest presence because of this. It is sweet when those who are penitent see this shining in His mercies. This sweet consequence of His bounty toward the penitent is offered here. He is saying in effect, “you will know not only that I am the Lord your God, but that I have not withdrawn Myself. I am in the midst of Israel or those of Israel who are now left as a people to Me. Although prosperity is offered as the evidence of this here, any other way the Lord makes this clear is equally sufficient.

The Lord who is the God of His people is the only true God and therefore above anything that may be opposed to the joy of His people. The people of God may often need to pray against the sad affliction of being ashamed of their confidence (Psalm 119:116). Yet we must believe and learn again and again that not only now, but forever, God’s people have no cause for fearing disappointment. God will fulfil His promises and take away all reason for such fear. Because such temptations recur frequently, this phrase is repeated “my people shall never be ashamed” (v27).

Conclusion

It is vitally important that we do not miss the fact that these promises are part of God’s call to repentance (v12-17). Whatever we may feel we have lost in 2020, the Lord is able to restore it richly when we turn to His embrace with repentance. Much hope is offered to us, great blessing can arise out of affliction when we use it in the right way to draw nearer to God. In this way 2020 may yet prove to be a blessed year.

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How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World
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.
11 Dec, 2020

Politicians, medics and scientists constantly appeal for our patience in the midst of a challenging pandemic. We are encouraged to “look to the future with a mixture of optimism, determination and patience.”  Even with hopeful developments such as vaccines, patience is required since it will take time to roll-out. But in a high-speed instant culture, patience has been in short supply. Patience is not simply about waiting, it is about enduring with perseverance and actively trusting. True patience is more than a virtue; it is a grace that cannot truly be exercised unless we are united to Christ by saving faith.

In 1665 the great plague of London swept away over 68,000 of the inhabitants. Certain godly ministers remained to minister to the sick, dying and the all-too-terrified healthy. Among them was Thomas Goodwin. The plague had not yet run its course when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. The wind carried the flames to the destruction of more than 13,000 homes and nearly ninety churches. As the fire neared Goodwin’s home, he wanted to save his priceless library and moved half of it to a friend’s house. But the wind changed so that this house was burned and not Goodwin’s own dwelling. His response was to write a book expounding James 1:1-5, published as Patience and its Perfect Work under Sudden and Sore Trials. Out of the ashes of all those valuable books arose a much more valuable one which we will seek to summarise in the following updated abridgement. We can still benefit from it. How does patience have its perfect work in us? Goodwin helps us to understand that it is not through our own resources but through the work of God’s grace within us.

1. How Does Faith Work Patience?

The testing of our faith works patience (James 1:3). All that the soul needs to support it in trials is brought into it by faith.

(a) Faith empties the soul of all its own worth, and righteousness, and excellence in its own eyes.
It gives the soul a thorough sight of the sinfulness of sin and its spiritual sins. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).

(b) Faith brings home to the soul God’s sovereignty and dominion.
David was greatly distressed, he had lost everything and the people spoke of stoning him, but he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). This strengthened him against everything. All the means to support life and nature (such as food and clothing, possessions and livelihoods) may be lacking. Yet it is still possible to say “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). First rejoice in the Lord, what the Lord is in himself: a God blessed for ever. “If God is blessed for evermore, I cannot be miserable”, says the soul. Secondly, he is my God, the God of my salvation.

(c) Faith brings love into the soul.
The love of God brought into the soul by faith will help it bear any condition (Romans 8:31). As faith has everything in God to rejoice in which helps the soul to patience; so especially it has love, in all sorts of distresses.

(d) Faith tells us of a good outcome.
Christ spoke of some of the worst calamities but encouraged them that not a hair of their head would perish (Luke 21:18-19). The outcome would be such as would make amends for every hair. Faith looking at these things, brings relief to the soul. You may well possess your souls in patience, because the outcome will be most blessed and glorious.

(e) Faith shows heaven as the reward of patient enduring (James 1:12; Romans 5:2).
Those believing Hebrews might well suffer the spoiling of their goods with joy when they found in their hearts a credit note to receive it all again in eternal treasures in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). This will be your experience to if you exercise faith and patience in relation to your losses. The following verses speak of the reward of patience (Hebrews 10:35-36).

2. How Does Love Work Patience?

Because faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) it is clear that love also works patience as we see in James 1:12. Love to God makes us cleave to God, and so follow Him through all weathers and endurances. The apostles rejoiced to suffer for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41). If love for others makes us endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), how much more will love to God? It is for His sake also that we bear so much with our brethren. He can do us no wrong nor hurt but is holy and righteous in all His works. All His ways to us are mercy and truth. He has loved and given His Son for us.

3. How Does Patience Help Compose Us?

Patience works a holy contentment (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6). It also produces joy (Colossians 1:11; Romans 5:3; James 1:2-4). Faith by patience helps us remove the turbulent emotions that are its opposites. It expels excessive poring over our misery and trials by which our minds are chained and tied to those things (Luke 24:38). When troubles sink deep, they send thoughts up fast. Patience helps us possess our own souls (Luke 21:19).

(a) It expels excessive grief.
Job’s response to all that he lost is complete patience and submission to God (Job 1:21).

(b) It expels envy and anger.
Envy is apt to rise when we compare ourselves with others who have no such afflictions.

(c) It expels excessive fear.
When too much trouble comes on us, we tend to fear too much because we do not know the worst, nor when or where it will end. But Christ says we should not fear (Revelation 2:10). He says that faith and faithfulness unto God, or constancy in enduring unto death are opposed to fear. Faith works patience, and patience eats out fear.

(d) It expels complaining against God.
Job would not charge God foolishly (Job 1:22); this was the patience of Job. It was the patient frame of spirit that God had wrought in him, which the Scripture so extols, that enabled him to do this (James 5:11).

(e) It expels excessive anxiety.
Anxieties distract the soul and scatter it into wild thoughts. Christ in exhorting us to patience warns against this also (Luke 21:19).

4. What is Patience?

(a) It is doing the will of God (Romans 2:7).
There is a difficulty that accompanies every duty and grace, so that we need patience to perform the duty constantly. The difficulty is not only from our own corruption but from the times, places, and we people live in and among. We need patience for every step of Christ’s way in doing as well as in suffering (Hebrews 12:1 and 11). But patience is not only such difficulties, it is also enduring affliction in any way.

(b) It is waiting on God and His will.
Waiting is an act of faith continued or lengthened out (James 5:7; Micah 7:7- 9).

(c) It is waiting with quietness (Lamentations 3:26-27).
Faith quietens the heart in God (Isaiah 26:3; 30:15, Colossians 1:11). As far as faith and patience strengthen the heart,  we are able to bear everything with quietness (John 14:1) Faith will cause trouble to fly away.

(d) It is bearing up without discouragement (2 Cor 4:16).

(e) It submits to God and His will (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; 1:6).
Patience in the soul brings the heart to submission to God’s will (Psalm 39:9). Even before there is hope (Lamentations 3:26 and 29).

(f) It endures the absence of hope as to the things of this life.
The apostle gives no specific hopes for this life when he urges patience to the end of our lives (Hebrews 10:36-37).

(g) It makes us sanctify God in our hearts.
Job “fell down on the ground, and worshipped” (Job 1:20). When all he has is gone, the first thing he does is to fall down and worship.

5. How Does Patience Have Its Perfect Work?

(a) When we do not have to force ourselves to do these things
When we do not have to chide or force ourselves to be patient it has a readiness for it. Paul’s heart was so fully prepared to suffer that it was a heart-breaking to him that his friends should seek to dissuade him. He was so used to endurance and patience it was not difficult for him (Acts 21:13).

(b) When we are consistent in doing these things
Patience had its perfect work in Moses. He exercised that grace constantly and was therefore the meekest man on earth. This was not his natural temperament or even virtue but a spiritual grace of meekness and patience produced by the Holy Spirit. He learned this by suffering. He points to Christ who says, “Learn of me, for I am meek” (Matthew 11:29). How constantly Moses bore with that rebellious nation with an invincible patience and still interceded for them. This is what Christ is toward us. Only once we read of the impatience of Moses (Numbers 20:10-11 compared with Psalm 106:32-33).

Patience is perfect when it continues to the end (Matthew 24:13). “Strengthened unto all patience and long-suffering” (Colossians 1:11). Patience relates to the weight, grievousness and heaviness of the affliction we are under. Long-suffering refers to the duration and time (1 Timothy 2:10). To carry a great burden for a quarter of an hour requires patience, but to carry it for a day or more, or for a week requires long-suffering. When you have done the will of God, you have need of patience (Hebrews 10:36). This is because still, in the last part of your life, after an active life for a long while, even then when you are near the promise, your patience may be required most.

(c) When we do them in all kinds of circumstances
When a person has been tested in every way and has passed through all sorts of trials and still have patience in a good measure it is perfect. A person’s natural spirit will help them to be patient in some things, but in other things their heart is weak, and cannot bear it. As God tried Abraham in his Isaac, so God will try the sons of Abraham in what is dearest to them, and yet enable them to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

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What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?

What Makes Our Home a Sanctuary Not a Prison?
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.
19 Nov, 2020

In the midst of restrictions that keep many people in their houses more than ever, home may be both sanctuary and prison. It has been the experience of many during 2020. For some people making the home a sanctuary means spending more to create greater luxury, calm and comfort. But if we have nothing more than what is material, it can never of course give true peace. If it is a sanctuary because it is a place devoted to the worship of self, it will ultimately prove to be a prison. We can seek sanctuary in many things in this world outside of the Creator but we will not find the true rest our souls crave. It is the presence of God that makes a little sanctuary for us. He has promised it to His people in all circumstances, even in the midst of trials and afflictions.

The people of God in exile from Jerusalem were inclined to reflect on the sanctuary they had lost in terms of the glorious temple built there (Ezekiel 7:20; Psalm 137:1). They had lost something irreplaceable, but God promises that He Himself will be “a little sanctuary” or a little temple to them (Ezekiel 11:16).  God had not been taken from them. The affliction had come from God Himself, He had scattered them in His providence using various means. He promises to draw near to them in the affliction while encouraging them to see Him at work in His providence (Isaiah 45:6-7). He was afflicting them and bringing them through trials in love (Proverbs 3:12). He loves His people too much to deny them the medicine of affliction when they require it. In this updated extract, William Greenhill draws out more of the comfort of this promise. He shows what it means for God to be a little sanctuary to us. As we give ourselves to Scripture and prayer and walk in a humble and holy way with God, we may know much of His presence.

1. God is a Sanctuary for Defence

The sanctuary was a place of refuge and defence. It was a place to defend holy things, for such things were stored up in sanctuaries. The sanctuary was deemed a privileged place, from which no thing or person might be taken away without sacrilege. Joab fled to the tabernacle of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar for this reason (1 Kings 2:28). God would be a sanctuary to him in this sense (Isaiah 8:13-14; Jeremiah 42:11). God would deliver them, He was a sanctuary to them in this place. When the fiery furnace was heated so hot and they cast into it, Daniel’s three friends found God a sanctuary to them (Daniel 3).

2. God is a Sanctuary by His Special Presence

In the temple the people had God’s special presence. Zion, where the temple stood, was called the habitation and rest of God (Psalm 132:13-14). God’s goings and ways are said to be in the sanctuary, Psalm 77:13; Psalm 68:24). David says He had seen God in the sanctuary (Psalm 63:2). God would be a sanctuary to them in this sense, they would have His special presence. He had left the temple at Jerusalem, the glory was gone, and now He was with them in Babylon. Ezekiel had the heavens opened to him by the river Chebar and saw visions of God. God manifested Himself in a special way to him, and to Daniel in Babylon. God had no church elsewhere, and now He was with his people there, and calls them His flock four times in one verse (Ezekiel 34:8) and twelve times his flock in the whole of chapter 34.

3. God is a Sanctuary for Acceptance

Their persons and prayers were accepted in the temple. This was why they went to the temple so much for prayer (Acts 3:1; Luke 18:10). David says in Psalm 20:3 that the offerings and sacrifices in the temple were accepted (see Psalm 18:1). When they when they had corrupted the worship of God, He tells them there that burnt-offerings were not acceptable nor their sacrifices sweet when they had been before (Jeremiah 6:20). It was prophesied that in the future, they would come to God’s altar with acceptance (Isaiah 60:7), this was where they could find acceptance. But they could also have this in Babylon. When Daniel made his prayer to God for himself and his people in Daniel 9, Gabriel comes and tells him that he was greatly beloved of God. When Mordecai and Esther fasted, their persons and prayers were regarded and accepted in Babylon.

4. God is a Sanctuary for Encouragement and Help

Help came from the sanctuary and strength from Zion (Psalm 20:2). “Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary,” (Psalm 96:6). There they had counsel to direct them, ordinances to sanctify them, and promises to comfort them. They would not lack these in Babylon, God would be to them a sanctuary for help. This is why He stirred up the spirit of Jeremiah to write to the captives and counsel them what to do (Jeremiah 29:5-7). God gave them prophets in Babylon: Ezekiel and Daniel by whom He counselled them from time to time. He also made Babylon an ordinance to cleanse them. They had many promises, various in this chapter and others (see Ezekiel 34 and 36). It is full of sweet, gracious, and comforting promises.

5. God is a Sanctuary in All Conditions

Whatever others think or say of God’s people, wherever they are driven, whatever they lose or suffer, God will be a little sanctuary to them. These Israelites were rejected and condemned by those at Jerusalem, carried captive into Babylon. They had lost country, comforts, city privileges, temple ordinances, possessions and liberties. They had hard slavery. When they were now in this situation, God was a sanctuary to them. He preserved them, gave them His presence, accepted their persons and prayers, gave them counsel, sanctified and comforted them. He was a special sanctuary to them, and in place of all ordinances.

If you understand “sanctuary” to mean the land of Canaan as some think (see Exodus 15:17; Psalm 114:2), God would be a land of Canaan to them. Or take it to mean sanctification or heaven (Psalm 102:19), God would be a heaven to them. However the Jews in Babylon might appear in the world, either to those in Zion or Babylon, they were glorious in the eye of God. He calls them His glory and they would be a sanctuary unto them.

This should give comfort to those who are deprived of ordinances, possessions, liberties, friends, country, and who suffer very hard and sharp things. If they are godly, God will be a sanctuary to them. Has He not always been a sanctuary to us, and a stone of stumbling unto others, and for a rock of offence? If God has been a sanctuary to defend us, to give us His presence, to accept our persons and prayers, to send us help, counsel, comfort, deliverance, let us sanctify this God Himself in our heart, make Him our dread and fear, and He will still be a sanctuary to us. “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).

6. God is a Sanctuary in All Places

There is no place can hinder God from taking care of and showing kindness to, His people. They were in Babylon, a profane, polluted land, they were scattered throughout those countries, and yet God was a sanctuary to them, and said he would be so in the countries where they would come. When they were in Egypt, God was a sanctuary to them there, and now was so in Babylon also. ” God is no respecter of persons” or places (Acts 10:34-35). He accepts those who work righteousness and fear Him wherever they are. God’s people fear Him and work righteousness wherever they are cast: into foreign nations, as these Jews); the dungeon, as Jeremiah; into the bottom of the sea, as Jonah; into the fiery furnace, as the three youths; into the lions’ den, as Daniel. God is a sanctuary to them. If a person is godly, they will have the praise as well as the protection of God (Romans 2:29).

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Being Humble Before the God of Nature

Being Humble Before the God of Nature

Being Humble Before the God of Nature
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.
4 Nov, 2020

“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature…the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst case scenario of our scientific advisers,” Boris Johnson said at a recent press conference. This recognises the limitations of science and human ability; we thought we had nature under control. We are smaller than we think, and things are greater and more complex than we can understand and regulate. Though we don’t see them, the world is full of viruses. Scientists tell us that there are more viruses on the planet than the stars we see in the sky. Most of them are good and beneficial, no doubt beyond what we realise. Others are harmful to us and we know only so much about how to deal with them. Although this recognition of our limitations is important, it is clearly easier to humble ourselves before a blind force rather than the God of nature. It doesn’t dent our pride nearly so much. Yet it ought to lead us to this. How indeed should our smallness in relation to God’s creation lead us to true humility before the Creator Himself?

Few places in the Bible explore this theme more fully than the closing chapters of the book of Job. God in His majesty uses aspects of creation to humble Job with a sense of His greatness and power. Why does God give so much emphasis to this? It gives us the right perspective, teaching us to think thoughts of His greatness and to use all aspects of creation to glimpse the sovereign glory of God. It brings Job to see that we often darken counsel by words without knowledge. In the following updated extract, James Durham points to what we need to learn from this part of Scripture. As he points out, “the great lesson of it all is to exalt God and abase the creature”.

1. God Humbles Us By Showing His Greatness

If we could observe, there is much of God to be seen in the meanest creatures. It is likely in this time that Job and his friends did not have the written Word, they, therefore, had a greater need to consider creation. Here we may see:

(a) God’s greatness, power, and might. We may see His stateliness and majesty, ordering all the creatures Himself and having a hand of providence about them. Job might and did read God’s dominion and sovereignty in these creatures.

(b) God’s absolute independence. He is free in relation to His ordering of the creatures, giving some wit and withholding it from others, giving some a dwelling, and others no dwelling.

(c) God’s care and tenderness. He provides for the wild goats and hinds and waiting on them when they bring forth (Job 39:1). This is an argument why He spared Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), besides so many souls there were many animals. But God’s providence about the ostrich and her eggs especially demonstrates His care (Job 39:14-18). He does as He likes directly or indirectly. This may be a comfort to poor orphans when children lack parents, God can provide for them. He who cares for the ostrich, will He not much more for them? Comparatively or chiefly, God’s main concern is not with oxen (1 Corinthians 9:9). God’s wisdom also shines here in appointing a suitable habitation for beasts that are not profitable, the rocks for some; the wilderness for others (Job 39:6 & 28).

See how earnest the Lord is that we would know Him and be convinced of His greatness and power. It must, therefore, be of great concern to us to understand God in the right way through His creation. It is a fault in us that we do not dwell more in meditation on the creatures to find out about God in them. Curiosity may put us to it for a little time, but we do not give ourselves to this meditation as we ought.

A right application from considering the creatures is to draw thoughts of God’s greatness from them. We ought to increase such thoughts by drawing from whatever excellence we find in the creature and ascending from that to considering the super-eminent excellence that is in God.

2. God Humbles Us By Showing Us Our Weakness

Another reason that God emphasises the creatures, is to point out our own weakness and ignorance. If we do not know the nature of the creatures, how much less can we apprehend God? If we do not know when a hind should calve, how will we know the deep things of God? Man is weak when he cannot outrun a horse or capture a wild ass or bird.

It also shows how little respect and thanks we give to God. Especially if we have never learned from the creatures to thank God for making the creatures subject to us when we cannot make them subject to ourselves.

3. God Humbles Us By Teaching Us Not to Dispute With Him

God also teaches Job a lesson from the creatures. He teaches him to stop his complaining and disputing with God. It is not fit that weak man should dispute with God. Weak man cannot fully understand the creatures or the depths of God’s providence in guiding heaven and earth. How then will he dispute with God about it? Though there is greater excellence and terribleness in God than in the creatures, yet man will be more afraid to grapple and contend with them than with God.

When God’s care reaches to these creatures, shall any questions God’s care towards His more noble creatures? He convicts Job for criticising God’s care concerning him, seeing He does not pass by the ostrich egg. Christ argues in the same way in guarding His disciples against anxiousness (Matthew 6:26) He that cares for the sparrows and ravens, will He not care much more for you?

4. God Humbles Us By Showing the Respect We Owe to Him

We do not have a true sense of the due respect we ought to maintain in relation to God. We are not beneath the creatures in many things, yet we cannot command them. Yet we do not walk with God with that due reverence which is fitting. This was an evil in Job, and it is an evil in us that we lack that due respect to God and His wisdom, power, greatness, goodness, providence etc that is fitting. We do not walk with due esteem of Him and with a stopped mouth before him, as becomes us.

The greatness and terribleness in the creatures should not only bring us to apprehend God’s greatness and terribleness. It should also bring us to submit to God, and say, “who can stand before this holy Lord?” (1 Samuel 6:20). It should make us more wary and watchful in our walk before God.

5. God Humbles Us By Showing He is No One’s Debtor

God is a debtor to no one, but none are not infinitely in God’s debt. There is nothing, not a bit of bread, nor a house to dwell in, nor anything else, that is not His. This should teach people to judge well of God and receive anything well from His hand. There are infinite applications that arise from this one word. People cannot take one step, but it is on God’s ground. They should therefore walk with an eye to God and strive to reciprocate though they cannot equal His favour. God’s interest in creatures should win our hearts more to Him and make us die more to created things. God will require us to account for them, therefore do not reckon them your own but His and use them with that in mind.

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What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
25 Sep, 2020

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

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

1. Uncertainty is Natural

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

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

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

2. Uncertainty Humbles Us

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

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

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

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

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

3. Uncertainty is All that is Certain

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

4. Uncertainty is for God’s Glory

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

5. Uncertainty is For Our Good

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

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

6. Uncertainty Points Us to Eternity

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

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

7. Uncertainty Points Us to True Contentment

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

8. Uncertainty Points Us to True Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
3 Sep, 2020

Apparently some atheists fully intend to use the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) legislation to prosecute the Bible and sermons. Currently, this is possible if the Bill passes in its present form. Simply being in possession of a Bible could be a crime. Even if it doesn’t get criminalised there is potential for Christians being harassed by vexatious complaints. We need to pray and make representations about such legislation but we also need to think deeply about our broader response. The reality is that we increasingly inhabit a “cancel culture” where it is possible to shut down views by simply labelling them “abusive” and “hateful.” This is the situation we can expect no matter where we live in the West. In such a climate Christians might be intimidated into self-policing their views by keeping silent or soft-pedalling and apologising away what they believe. While we always need wisdom and grace in confessing the truth, there is no reason to be embarrassed about Scripture but rather every reason to deepen our trust in and our love and obedience towards it. We can even have confidence and boldness in the midst of such opposition.

Psalm 119 is the part of Scripture that instructs us most fully in our response to the Word. There is a simple resolve to love, obey and confess the truth of God’s Word in Psalm 119:43-48. Despite all kinds of opposition and difficulties, the psalmist is unshaken in his commitment to it. The psalmist pleads with the Lord not to take the Word of truth utterly out of his mouth (v43) and adds seven reasons why. David Dickson helpfully follows the train of thought in this section and applies it concisely to our situation.

1. Continue to Confess God’s Word

It is not enough for us to glorify God by believing the Word of God in our heart, we must also confess it with our mouth in times of trial. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

2. Humbly Pray for Help to Confess God’s Word

Because of our sins, God may justly leave us to ourselves in times of trial when His glory and our duty require testimony from us. We must, therefore, flee to God’s grace by prayer and with a sense of our undeserving, ask with confidence that God’s Word would not be taken out of our mouth.

If it is God’s will to humble us by leaving us to ourselves in some parts of our trial, we must still trust Him and plead with Him not to forsake us altogether in our trials. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

3. Continue to Hope in God’s Word

Where God’s children believe that He will carry out the threatenings and promises of His Word, there is hope that neither fear nor favour of men will overcome them in their trials. The psalmist’s hope in God’s judgments is the first reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

4. Continue to Live Out God’s Word

The reason for our perseverance is the Lord keeping faith in our heart, mouth and outward person in our confessing and obeying Him. Thus, the psalmist says he will keep God’s law continually, forever and ever. This is the second reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

5. Find Liberty in Confessing God’s Word

Those who depart from confessing God’s truth cast themselves into troubles, in dangers, and bonds. But those who continue to bear confession to the truth walk as free persons, the truth sets them free. “I will walk at liberty,” says the psalmist. This is the third reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

6. Confess God’s Word in Obeying it

When we conscientiously and honestly endeavour to obey the Word, we have a promise of not being utterly deserted in the day of trial. The psalmist has conscientiously sought God’s precepts, which is the fourth reason he gives for hoping his plea be heard.

7. Confess God’s Word Before Authorities

Terror of kings and those in power ordinarily hinders us from freely confessing God’s truth in a time of persecution. But faith in the truth (sustained in the heart by God) is able to bring forth a confession despite all kinds of danger. The psalmist will speak of God’s testimonies before kings.

8. Confess God’s Word Without Shame

Those who are resolved to confess the truth of God which is questioned by many, will not be ashamed of confessing the truthno matter who mocks at it. Rather they will get honour because of it. The psalmist says that he will speak of God’s testimonies before kings and will not be ashamed. This is the fifth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

9. Love God’s Word Even More

The more we know the excellence of God’s truth and feel the power of God’s hand sustaining us to believe and confess it, the more we will love, delight and take pleasure in the Word of the Lord. The psalmist says that he will delight himself in God’s commandments which he has loved. This is the sixth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

Those that find they are helped to confess the truth in a time of trial, should always afterwards embrace the Lord’s commands even more heartily as precious gifts because of this experience. They should give themselves up entirely to be governed by it. This is what is implied by the psalmist lifting up his hands to the Lord’s commandments.

Those who have endured trials and troubles out of love to God’s commands and overcome temptations have comfort in having proved their love. They may renew and increase their love of obeying them. After saying he will lift up his hands to the Lord’s commandments, he says that he has loved them. In this way, he ratifies and gives approbation of his love to them.

10. Meditate on God’s Word

When a believer experiences the worth of divine truth (which it can testify to on its own) and of those who confess it, they should study more and more earnestly to know the mind of God revealed in it. The psalmist resolves to meditate in the Lord’s statutes, this is the last reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

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How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?

How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?

How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
6 Aug, 2020

The recent public burning of a stack of Bibles in Portland, Oregon indicates an increased degree of hostility to Christianity. Cultural change is accelerating. Surveys show that the majority of those who want to own the Bible’s authority consider their beliefs are now in conflict with mainstream culture. We are also all too conscious of ways in which the Christian voice and Christian values are being forced out of the public square. Christians may be tempted to respond by retreating; whether that is diluting their message or seeking to hide. Yet we still need to be salt and light in such a culture and to hold out the gospel of hope. How do we do this? What does it mean for our everyday lives? What hope can encourage us in such times?

Living in such a culture is not new for Christians, it is often the norm. It was the context of the New Testament. In Philippians 1:27-28, Paul counsels Christians not to be intimidated into withdrawing. They should not become less steadfast or bold in their zeal for truth. They should not be divided but stand fast together for the gospel. Rather they should live lives that adorn the gospel and testify courageously to the truth of God’s Word.

Peter also speaks to Christians about how they could suffer for doing good (1 Peter 2:20) be exposed to abuse and insult (1 Peter 4:4 and 14). They must respond by living such lives that glorify God and may even bring others to glorify Him. In this updated extract Alexander Nisbet shows how 1 Peter 2:12 can encourage us to live for Christ in a hostile culture. Peter stresses the importance of holiness in our outward living despite those who may want to slander them as evildoers. This may not just silence them but even result in their conversion, and consequently bring much glory to God.

1. The More Holy Our Life, the More Real Our Profession

To the extent that the power of sin is weakened in the heart, there will be beauty and loveliness in our outward life. The apostle has said they must abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11) and now speaks of honourable conduct before the Gentiles. Christians proclaim the praises of God by this more than by a fair profession or good expressions.

Such honest or honourable conduct is made beautiful and lovely (as the word literally means) to on-lookers. It is made beautiful by the right ordering of all aspects of it in duties to God and others (Psalm 50:23). It is also beautified by showing wisdom and meekness (James 3:13) in these things but especially by faithfully discharging the duties of our particular calling and relations (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; Titus 2:9-10). The apostle brings in this as a means to attain to manifest the praises of God as he had urged previously (1 Peter 2:9).

2. The More Unholy Society Becomes, the More Holy Believers Must Become

The more wicked the society with whom believers must interact, the more should they be stirred up to the pursuit of honourable conduct either to win or convict others. The apostle urges these Christian Hebrews living among heathen people to pursue holiness of life. Sadly, many nominal Christians resemble such Gentiles in living without respect to the law of God (Romans 2:14) and pursuing strongly their idols like heathen people (1 Corinthians 12:2). They are as unacquainted with the privileges and duties of the covenant of grace as heathens are (Ephesians 2:11). They are also like the heathen often ready to persecute all that do run to excess in the way that they do (1 Peter 4:3).

4. The World is Unworthy of Those It Thinks Unworthy of Living In It

Those of whom the world is unworthy are often characterised to the world as unworthy to live in it, by those whose dishonourable ways are reproved by their honourable conduct. Although these believers are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood etc they are spoken against as evildoers.

Those that are without God in the world are often enemies to and slanderers of those who will not run to the same excess with them. This is how the Gentiles are described here.

5. Untrue Slander is Best Silenced by Unblemished Living

Honourable conduct is the best way for Christians to stop the mouths of slanderers. Without this any other means will prove ineffectual for maintaining their reputation. The apostle prescribed a holy walk to Christians as a means to put their very enemies to activity inconsistent with slandering the godly. Although they speak against them as evildoers they may by beholding their good works, glorify God.

6. Unblemished Living May Convert the Unregenerate

The Word accompanied by the powerful blessing of God is the principal means of converting sinners (Romans 10: 15 and 17). The Lord may, however, make use of the very conduct and visible actions of His people to draw wicked men to fall in love with God’s ways. Such conduct includes integrity in their dealings (even with their enemies), patiently bearing wrongs and continuing to express love and respect to their enemies despite such treatment.

Wicked men may be brought to give Him the glory that He ever sent and blessed to them such a means for reclaiming them from the way of perdition. It is God’s work to visit them in His power (Psalm 110:3) and love to make the change (Ezekiel 16:8). In order for such a change there must be a “day of visitation”, a visitation in special mercy that brings sinners to glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). Our chief motive is not glory to ourselves but glory to God (1 Samuel 2:30), that others might be moved to glorify God in the day of visitation.

7. Undiminished Hope for the Greatest Enemies

The Lord’s children should lose neither hope nor endeavours of winning to Christ the greatest enemies (whether to God or themselves) among whom they live. They have hope when they consider how soon and how easily the Lord can change them. The apostle urges them to consider those who were speaking against them as evildoers as such whom God might visit in mercy. They might even be instrumental in their conversion.

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