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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10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?
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.
24 Jul, 2020

People have been offering lessons to learn from the start of the coronavirus crisis. They range from social, public health and economic concerns to personal life lessons. With the benefit of hindsight some query how it has been managed. Debate about whether these lessons will be learned is likely to be ongoing. What about the spiritual lessons we ought to take from this crisis? How have we responded and how ought we to have responded? It’s not over yet of course, and so we still need to apply these ten lessons amongst others.

We can learn from those in the past who have reflected on the spiritual lessons we need at such a time. Thomas Brooks wrote a book during the plague year in London called The Privy [Secret] Key to Heaven. In a lengthy introduction he covers twenty special lessons that we need to learn.

The first ten relate to an application of Micah 6:9. He counsels us to cling close to God in affliction. We must acknowledge God’s sovereign role and voice in it. We must also humble ourselves in response to such an event and engage in sincere repentance. We will look at the last ten in this updated excerpt.

1. Do Not Be Discouraged in Affliction

Do not be discouraged under the rod of affliction (Jeremiah 27:13; 2 Samuel 24:10,17; Hebrews 12:5) because:

  • it is a rod in a Father’s hand
  • God will do much good by the rod
  • you could not have been without the rod

This affliction is not according to the greatness of God’s anger, nor according to the greatness of His power, nor according to the strictness of his justice, nor according to the demerits of your sins, nor according to the malicious desires of Satan. It is not according to the designs, plots, and contrivances of wicked and unreasonable men. It is not according to the extensiveness of your fears—for you have feared worse things than you feel. Nor is it according to that sharp rod which has been upon the primitive saints, nor according to that sharp rod which many thousands of the precious sons and daughters of Zion are under in other parts of the world. Therefore do not faint under the rod, do not be discouraged under the rod.

By fainting under the rod, you will gratify Satan, reproach religion and render yourselves unable to serve. You will make work for future repentance. Do not therefore faint under the rod. 

2. Wait for God’s Deliverance from Affliction

You must be patient and quiet under the rod of affliction until the Lord will either give you a gracious, or a glorious, deliverance from it (2 Chronicles 32:25-26; Leviticus 26:40-42; Micah 7:9; Lamentations 3:30). What is the rod and the raging pestilence compared to the horrors of conscience and  flames of hell, or everlasting separation from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)? Put your mouths in the dust therefore, and be silent before the Lord.  

3. Glorify God in Affliction

Fully justify the Lord and think and well of Him under the rod of affliction. Study these Scriptures (Psalm 119:75,137; Nehemiah 9:33; Ezra 9:13; Lamentations 1:3,5,7-8,10; Lamentations 4:15,18; Daniel 9:12,14; 2 Kings 20:16-19; Jeremiah 12:1-2; Psalm 119:17-22; Psalm 22:1-3; Psalm 97:2).

4. Personal Reformation in Affliction

When the rod smarts, and the pestilence rages—God expects that everyone should repent and turn from the evil of their doings (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). This verse is saying “I will remove the judgments that are on the land, and I will confer on my reforming people all those favours and blessings that they need.” Study these Scriptures, (Ezra 10:14,19; 2 Chronicles 30:8-9; and 2 Chronicles 29:8,10,15-16).

5. Find Refuge in God in Affliction

Make God your habitation, shelter, and refuge. Ponder these Scriptures seriously, (Psalm 91:2,9-10; Psalm 90:1; Psalm 71:3; Psalm 57:1). Those who dwell in God under the shadow of the Almighty lodge their souls in the bosom of eternal loves every day. They dwell most safely, most securely and most nobly.

6. Fear God in Affliction

Make God the great object of your fear (see Psalm 119:119-120; Isaiah 8:7-8,13-14).  When the judgments of God are either threatened or carried out, feared or felt—it greatly concerns us to lift up God as the main object of our fear. We should fear the hand which uses the rod more than the rod itself (Job 13:11; Jeremiah 36:24). When God takes up the rod, it concerns us greatly to fear before Him with a child-like,  reverential fear. This is a fear that fortifies the heart against sin. It is a fear which fits the soul for duty, it draws and even drives the soul to duty. 

7. Find God’s Presence in Affliction

Expect God’s unique presence with you and protection over you. Study these Scriptures, (Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25; Genesis 39:39-40; Psalm 23:4-5; Psalm 91; Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 26:20-21; Ezekiel 9:4,6). God is above His people and beneath them (Deuteronomy 33:25-27). He is under them and over them (Song 2:6). He is before them and behind them (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He is on the right hand of His people, and on the left hand of His people (Psalm 16:8; Psalm 121:5; Psalm 118:15-16; Exodus 14:22,29). God is round about His people, (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 125:2). God is in the midst of His people (Zechariah 2:5; Psalm 46:5; Psalm 12:6). O the safety and security of the poor people of God.  

8. Exercise Grace Daily in Affliction

Live every day in fresh, excellent, and frequent exercise of grace. Study these Scriptures, (Psalm 91:2-4; Jeremiah 39:17-18; Micah 7:7-9; Psalm 40:1-2; Habakkuk 2:1-4; Jeremiah 30:21). The person who lives in daily exercising grace lives every day in heaven on this side of heaven, whatever affliction they may experience.

9. Pray More in Affliction

Stir up your hearts to seek the Lord in extraordinary ways: namely, by fasting and prayer. Study these Scriptures, (Numbers 16:46-50; Psalm 106:23,29-30; Isaiah 22:2-5,12-13; Jonah 3:5-10; 2 Chronicles 12:2-7; 1 Kings 21:21-29; Joel 2:12-17).

10. Prepare for Death Because of Affliction

You are to learn by the raging pestilence or rod to prepare for death. This means to be in actual readiness to die. Every ache, every pain, every disease—is one of death’s warnings. There is not a headache,  toothache, fever, pain, fall, wrench or plague-sore which is not a divine warning to man to prepare to die. It is a solemn thing to die, we need therefore to prepare to die. It is a work to be done once only and so we need to prepare to do it well.

We listen to sermons often, pray often, read often, and meditate often in this world. We eat and drink often and what is worst, we sin often. Yet we must die only once (Job 14:14; Hebrews 9:27). Death will prove all our graces, experiences, evidences, comforts, attainments and enjoyments. We need to prepare to die therefore. There is nothing more certain than death but there is nothing more uncertain than the time, place, and manner in which we will die.

Preparing to die does not make us die sooner but rather much easier and better. Unless we prepare to die, all other preparations will do us no good. Death is a change, a great change; it is the last change until the resurrection. It is lasting, indeed it is an everlasting change; for it puts a man into an eternal condition of happiness or misery. It is a universal change; all people must pass under this flaming sword. It highly concerns us therefore to prepare for death.

Conclusion

After outlining these lessons that we should learn, Brooks expresses a desire for his readers. It is our souls may experience such a fresh, excellent, full, and constant operation from the Holy Spirit that will enable us to benefit from the lessons.  This is what we need and why earnest prayer is so critical at this time.

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What Does Our Conscience Owe to the Government?

What Does Our Conscience Owe to the Government?

What Does Our Conscience Owe to the Government?
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.
10 Jul, 2020

Usually, questions about the authority of civil government concerning the church or the individual believer are rather theoretical. In recent months, however, they have become intensely practical for Christians in many countries. We are thankful for the role of government in upholding the good of society. How far, however, does government authority concerning preserving health, security and order extend? How far can they restrict the church and its worship? Is there a way through such dilemmas that keeps our conscience clear? A spectrum of opinion exists, but we need to bring back such questions (intricate as they are) to biblical principle. Our reasoning should come from Scripture rather than the consequences that we anticipate from any particular course of action. We must respect the authority of civil government, but we cannot outsource our conscience to them blindly.

Romans 13:5 is a key verse dealing with conscience and civil government. Paul draws certain conclusions from the reasons given in the preceding verses. He argues that we must be subject to our lawful governing authorities, it is not something optional for us. It is necessary for two reasons: “for wrath” and “for conscience sake”. We must be subject otherwise we expose ourselves to “wrath”, i.e. just punishment by the government. But we must also be subject “for conscience sake” that is, out of conscience to the command of God. Otherwise, we will wound our conscience and expose ourselves to its just condemnation against us. John Brown of Wamphray shows how it is possible to maintain high respect for civil government while keeping our conscience clear.

1. Conscience Must Respect Civil Government

Being subject to civil government is not left up to private citizens as something indifferent. They must “be subject”. They must obey the lawful commands of authority. If the commands of authority are such that they cannot obey in conscience, they must then subject themselves to their censure and punishment.

2. Conscience Must Respect Justice

Civil government may use the sword of justice to lawfully punish those who rebel against them and refuse to be subject to their authority and lawful commands. They must be subject “for wrath’s sake”, to avoid their wrath and displeasure.

3. Conscience Must Distinguish God’s Law

When the laws of civil government are clearly God’s laws, the conscience is bound to obey them. Some laws of civil government have merely human authority because they are simply what they choose to require rather than being derived from God’s law. These do not bind the conscience in and of themselves. Otherwise, they would always bind the conscience even if the magistrate did not command them.

In other lawful things, conscience to the command of God should bind us seeing He has commanded us to obey civil government. We should do so out of respect for the public good and peace which God’s Word commands us to seek (Hebrews 13:14; Romans 12:18; Psalm 34:14).

When their commands are sinful nothing must be done to openly dishonour the government. The law of God binds us not to discredit or insult the government but rather honour and esteem them (1 Peter 2:17; Ecclesiastes 10:20). Even their man-made laws bind the conscience in this respect alone, not to obedience but in patiently suffering punishment.

4. Conscience Relates to Our Duty to Others

God has endowed everyone with a conscience, a beam of light or a delegated authority within the soul which takes notice of all of a person’s actions. This delegated authority has its eye not only on a person’s actions that relate directly to God but also those that relate to others, whether in authority or not. Conscience takes notice of whether people are subject to authority or not. We must be subject “for conscience sake” because conscience will bind this duty on us.

5. Conscience Directs and Condemns

Conscience (when it is not blinded or biased) can direct us to our duty. It has the power to bind a person to do their duty and to trouble them if they go against its directions. We must “be subject” to authority if we want to avoid the stings and condemnations of conscience.

6. Conscience Must Be Informed by God’s Word

We should give weight to the directions given by conscience, seeing it is put into the soul as God’s delegated authority. When it speaks according to God’s Word (which is our only rule) the very instructions of conscience should remind us to be subject.

Conclusion

These are some of the biblical principles that we need to apply concerning conscientious obedience or disobedience to civil government. We still have to do the hard work of applying them in difficult specific situations. We cannot give blind obedience to what the state requires simply because they require it. Only God is Lord of the conscience and our conscience is not bound unless an authority requires something that is required by God. God does require us, however, in the fifth commandment to give due respect to authority and what they command. We need much grace and wisdom to apply the principles of Scripture in every case of conscience.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

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What is Hate Speech? The Definition Affects Us All

What is Hate Speech? The Definition Affects Us All

What is Hate Speech? The Definition Affects Us All
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.
3 Jul, 2020

Should expressing your non-threatening view be prosecuted for “stirring up hatred” simply because others found it insulting? This is the controversy surrounding the Hate Crime Bill making its way through the Scottish Parliament. For instance, the author J K Rowling’s recent reasoned opinions on gender have been called “hate” by prominent politicians. Should she be in danger of up to 7 years in prison for expressing them? Some have noted how this legislation abolishes blasphemy at the same time as establishing new blasphemy laws. In fact, you only need to possess objectionable material with a view to passing it on. Criminal law must punish hate crime, but it already does. These proposals are about prohibiting certain views rather than protecting from actual harm. Many are concerned that biblical views may be prosecuted under such laws. Who defines hate speech? Such debates should prompt us to understand from Scripture what real hate speech is and how to avoid it. In fact, we need this for all our personal interactions.

We need to avoid any contempt for others in expressing our view. Too often anger and contempt are revealed as words boil over in social media debates. Leaving aside the matter of when hate speech is a crime, we need to consider how hate speech is a sin.

As the Lord Jesus Christ taught, the sixth commandment is not simply about committing murder, it also reaches to our thoughts and words (Matthew 5:22). The words of the commandment simply mention the highest degree of the sin, but all degrees are forbidden. Sinful and rash anger and contempt are also condemned.

As David Dickson points out, Christ expounds this commandment to forbid “rash anger and every evil motion against our neighbour’s person no less than it forbids murder”. Christ warns us that the least degree of this sin will be judged. As Dickson says, this should drive us to “the rich ransom of Christ’s blood and largeness of his grace” for refuge.

As the Larger Catechism points out therefore, the sixth commandment forbids all “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passion…provoking words…quarrelling”. It also requires “charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behaviour”. It is possible to communicate the truth in this way. Love does not seek to work or speak evil against our neighbour (Romans 13:10; 1 Peter 3:9-11). This should characterise our relations within the church of God to a still higher degree (Colossians 3:12-13; 1 John 3:15; Ephesians 4:31).

We ought also to think about how we can sin by omission in our speech with destructive consequences to others. James Durham points out that sinful silence in not restraining people from sin (Ezekiel 3:18) or not reproving sin has this effect (Leviticus 19:6). When heresy and false teaching goes unchecked for instance, it destroys souls which is more serious still.

We can also reprove or restrain people in such a weak way that it has no effect. This is what happened with Eli and his sons, he did not reprove and restrain them with a holy severity (1 Samuel 2:22,25 and 1 Samuel 3:13).

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. He shows how the commandment requires us to speak to our neighbour kindly and use courteous and friendly speech towards them (Ephesians 4:32). In the Old Testament such friendly speech is often literally spoken of as “speaking to the heart” (Ruth 2:13).

1. Bitter and Angry Words are Hate Speech

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

2. Mocking Words are Hate Speech

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).

3. Slanderous Words are Hate Speech

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).

4. Abusive Words are Hate Speech

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 Ps 140:3)

5. Harsh Words are Hate Speech

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

5. Complaining Words are Hate Speech

When we complain about one another and grumble with malice (James 5:9).

Application

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.

Conclusion

The things summarised here are all too commonly heard in our culture. It is easy to become used to them and even to think that certain ways of speaking are justified if we are defending the truth. Righteous anger is a truly rare thing. None of us are free from the contagion of using words tainted or motivated by malice but we must flee from this as from every other sin. As we consider it carefully it should, as David Dickson says, drive us to “the rich ransom of Christ’s blood and largeness of his grace” for cleansing.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Keep Calm in an Age of Anger. Our culture is getting angrier, about a lot of things. It’s the dominant emotion in western societies on a daily basis. How much of this is righteous anger? And how can we resist sinful anger? We need to know. James Fergusson directs us to Scriptural teaching.

 

 

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What Should Your “New Normal” Look Like?

What Should Your “New Normal” Look Like?

What Should Your “New Normal” Look Like?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
26 Jun, 2020

Everyone is exploring what post-lockdown life will look like. Some have various fears of returning to “normal”—a kind of “re-entry syndrome”. Others may have some regrets about missing the hidden benefits of lockdown that they appreciated. Perhaps we have reassessed what seemed so essential before. Do we want things to go back to the way they were when life felt too full? Surveys during lockdown suggested most people were determined that things would change and not go back to the way they were. It is an opportunity in God’s providence to begin afresh in one sense. What should our daily “new normal” look like? What should we leave behind and what should we embrace? There is a spiritual answer to this. We need to put off the old and put on the new everyday.

Hopefully, you recognise that this is the language of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:22-24. He outlines three aspects of our daily normal life if we are followers of Christ. Those who have been truly taught by Christ (Ephesians 3:20) will be shaped by these things. James Fergusson explains more of what this means in this updated extract.

The first is daily efforts to put to death “the old man”; that natural and inbred corruption which has infected and polluted our whole being (v22). It is characterised by “deceitful lusts”, they must be left behind and cast off like old garments.

The second is being renewed in the spirit of our minds (v23). This means a serious endeavour to have our mind and understanding more and more renewed, or made new, by getting a new quality of divine and supernatural light implanted in it.

The third is the daily task of putting on “the new man” like new garments. This means to be more and more adorned with new and spiritual qualities in the will, affections and actions as well as the mind. God conforms us to His image by conforming us to the righteous requirements of His law so that we live in true holiness. It is something that He creates by His grace.

1. Abandoning Every Old Way of Living

Truly putting sin to death does not mean singling out one sin and passing by others. It strikes at all sin. We must not content ourselves with lopping off the branches but strike at the very root of sin. Paul describes this work as putting off the old man, i.e. the bitter root of inbred corruption, in its full latitude and extent.

Though we must begin to strike at the root of sin within, we must not stop there. We must set ourselves against sin in all its branches. If we attack sin at the root and in the heart we must also deal with it breaking out in outward ways. An outward change in our behaviour from what it was shows something of our battle with inward sins. When he says that they were to put off the old man in relation to their former behaviour, it does not mean that only outward sins are to be put to death. The inward work of putting sin to death appears through putting off outward sins in our behaviour.

2. Old Ways Will Get Worse if We Do Not Act

The work of putting off and putting to death this old man of inbred corruption is to be engaged in promptly. The longer that corruption is spared, it worse it gets and carries the person faster to ruin and destruction. Paul indirectly urges this duty of putting off the old man, from the fact that it is corrupt and gets worse and worse by its deceitful lusts.

Inbred corruption has an outlet in multitudes and swarms of inordinate lusts and sinful desires. The more it is expressed in this way the more strength it gets, both in soul and body. The old man has lusts, and is corrupted, or made worse, and more deeply rooted by those deceitful lusts.

Sinful lusts are deceitful lusts, they promise what they never fulfil (2 Peter 2:19) and often disguise themselves as some praiseworthy virtue (Colossians 2:18). Thus they enslave the sinner (Proverbs 7:21-22).

3. Adopting New Ways of Thinking

Being truly taught by Christ does not only mean striving to stop sinning and putting it to death in all its various branches. We must also learn to do what is right and endeavour to be adorned with the graces of God’s Spirit in the whole person. This means seeking conscientiously to fulfil all the positive requirements of a holy life. The apostle shows that being taught of Christ consisted not only in putting off the old man but in being renewed in the spirit of their mind (v23) and putting on the new man (v24).

Christians must seek their mind and understanding to be rightly informed so that they know the truth and their duty. This is essential if we want to lead a holy life. An erring mind will make us err in heart and hand also. Paul shows why it is necessary to be renewed in the spirit of the mind.

4. The New Birth Produces New Ways of Living

Saving knowledge of Christ in the mind leads to practising all the duties of a holy life. Paul says that putting on the new man in righteousness and holiness comes after renewing of the mind. By nature, we are so opposed to holiness and grace that creating power is required to work it in us. It is not something we can have by nature (Psalm 51:5) or by any of our own efforts (Romans 9:16). It is created by God (v24). It is a work of God’s omnipotence, even though He may use means to achieve it (2 Timothy 4:2).

5. The New Birth Produces a New Spiritual Image

Only those who are renewed in knowledge and have their souls adorned with gracious and spiritual qualities of righteousness and holiness have a likeness to God. Those who are most holy, are most like Him. Paul, speaking of being renewed in the mind, and putting on the new man, says that it is after the image of God (see Colossians 3:10).
The image of God does not so much consist in the natural essence, faculties or abilities of the soul (those who are wicked also have these). It consists of spiritual gifts and graces and being conformed God in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness (v24).

6. Adopting New Habits of Grace

This new man of grace which is created after God’s image consists of the inward grace of God’s Spirit rather than outward things (Romans 14:17). It includes exercising all spiritual principles and graces in all the duties of obedience in all things required by the moral law. He shows that this new man consists in righteousness and holiness, which includes conformity to the law of God in both parts of the Ten Commandments. (Holiness to God relating to the first four commandments, and righteousness towards others relating to the last six commandments)

Doing any or all of these commanded duties is not, however, sufficient proof of a renewed mind or the new birth in themselves. It is only when the necessary ingredient of sincerity and truth is also present. This is what makes those who do any duty engage with God (Genesis 17:1) and in every duty with their hears (Jeremiah 3:10). This is the way in which they aim at God’s glory as their main objective in all duties (1 Corinthians 10:31). They do not strive to fulfil merely one, but every duty, (Luke 1:6). This new man of grace, created after God’s image, is described as righteousness and true holiness, or righteousness and holiness of truth.

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The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World

The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World

The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
5 Jun, 2020

The initial hopes that a global crisis might lead to a global ceasefire in warzones around the world seem to have faded. Heartbreakingly, the danger is that it can intensify a humanitarian crisis into a disaster. In western nations tensions and divisions easily boil over on top of an already troubled situation. Countries not troubled by war or civil unrest but still troubled by the virus continue to have significant challenges. As individuals, there may be many things that together seem to rob us of peace of mind and heart. Spiritually, there are many troubles and concerns. Is perfect peace a real and attainable possibility in such a troubled world?

Perfect peace is of course a phrase that comes from Scripture itself (Isaiah 26:3). Hugh Binning explains more of what this peace is and how to attain it. He was speaking in a time of war and unrest.

The news of such a peace might be fitting in time of war and trouble if we grasped our need of it. It is not a peace from war and trouble, but a peace in war and trouble. “My peace I leave with you,” and “in the world” you will have trouble (John 14:27 and John 16:33). What a blessed message, that perfect peace is attainable in the midst of the wars, confusions, and calamities of the times, public and personal. It is a perfect peace, a complete peace, even without attaining outward and worldly peace. Indeed, it is most perfect and entire in itself when it is stripped of them all.

What a privilege the gospel offers you! You only need to be made miserable if you choose to be. This is more than all that the world can afford you. No one can promise themselves immunity from public or personal dangers, from many griefs and disappointments. But the gospel urges you to total up all troubles and miseries that you can meet with in the world and yet assures you that if you heed wisdom, there is a peace that will make you forget that trouble. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). “I create peace,” God says, “I create it out of nothing” (see Isaiah 45:7). I will keep you “in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3).

There are three things we need to know: what this perfect peace is, where it comes from, and how to attain it. The fountain of it, the preserver of it, is God Himself. It is attained through trusting in God and staying ourselves on Him (Isaiah 26:3).

1. What is the source of this perfect peace?

The source of the peace that passes understanding is peace with God; peace of conscience and peace with others is a stream that flows from this. There is a peace of friendship when persons were never enemies, and there is a peace of reconciliation when parties at variance are made one. Here, then, is the privilege of a believer—to be at peace with God, to be one with Him. This indeed is life eternal, to be united to the fountain of life. In his favour is life; His loving-kindness is better than life.

Is not this a blessed condition? Whatever a man has done against God is all forgiven and forgotten, it will never come into remembrance. Are not angels blessed who are friends with God? Such is the soul whose sins are pardoned through Christ, —its sins are as if they never had been. The soul has not only escaped that terrible wrath of God but being at peace with God, it will partake of all the goodness that is communicable to creatures.

This sweetness of peace is found in God the tree of life. Faith puts up its hand and picks the fruit of the tree. Hope and dependence on God are like tasting that fruit and eating it. Then this perfect peace follows as the delightful sweetness that the soul finds in God, tasting how gracious He is. God Himself is the life of our souls, the fountain of living waters, the life and light of men. Faith and trust in God, draw out of this fountain or deep well of salvation. By staying itself on God, faith drinks of it until the soul is refreshed with such peace and tranquillity as passes understanding.

Trusting and staying ourselves on God is the soul casting its anchor upon him amid the waves and storms of sin, wrath, and trouble. The poor beaten sinner casts an anchor on the sure ground of unchangeable promises in Jesus Christ. Then the soul rests and quiets itself at that anchor and enjoys peace amid the storm. There is a great calm, it is not moved, or not greatly moved, as if it were a calm day. David flees to God as his refuge, anchors on the name of the Lord (Psalm 62:1- 2) and so he enjoys a perfect calm and tranquillity. “I shall not be moved,” because he is united to the rock, he is tied to the firm foundation, Jesus Christ, and no storm can dissolve this union. That is not because of the strength of the weak rope (faith); omnipotence surrounds it so that we “are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.”

2. What is this perfect peace?

The Christian may have peace concerning their salvation and eternal things and about all things that happen in time.

(a) Peace concerning eternal things

This is when the conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. It gets a good answer to all the accusations of conscience, the law, and justice (1 Peter 3:21). It is when the Spirit of God shines into the soul with a new light to reveal these things that are freely given (1 Corinthians 2:12).

(b) Peace concerning all things that happen in time

What does the person lack concerning perfect peace who is reconciled to God and at peace within himself? When peace guards the heart and mind within as a castle or garrison, to keep out all fears of outward things, all the world may be troubled outside. The floods may lift their voice, but they cannot come into the soul. If they are the same in peace and trouble, prosperity and adversity, do not lament them in one more than the other.

It is the mind that makes your condition good or bad. All things are the believer’s, because they are Christ’s, and all are Christ’s, who is the possessor of heaven and earth (1 Corinthians 3:21). The godly person is at peace with all afflictions and comforts because of Christ’s blood, the sting and enmity of all ills are taken away by Christ.

Poverty has become a friend because Christ was poor. Hunger and thirst have become friends because Christ was hungry and thirsty. Reproach and contempt are at peace with the believer because Christ was despised. Afflictions and sorrows are reconciled to them, because Christ was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs. In a word, death itself is become a friend, since Christ subdued it. The worst things to a natural man have become best friends to the believer; the grave keeps their body and dust in hope. Death is a better friend than life, for it ministers an entrance into glory: it is the door of eternal life.

Christ has stamped anything you can think of with a new quality; it comes through His hand. If it is not good in itself, yet it is good in His appointment and use of it in providence (Romans 8:21). If it is not good, yet it works together for our good; it contributes to our good, because it is in His skillful hand, who can bring good out of evil, peace out of trouble. Such peace should be more to you than peace in the world. If you have it, your peace will be as a river in abundance and permanence; no drought could dry it up. It will run in time as a large river and when time is over, it envelops itself in eternity. That is the ocean of eternal peace and joy in which the saints are swallowed up above. Other people’s peace is like a mere brook that dries up in summer.

3. How can we attain this perfect peace?

We declare to you the way of obtaining perfect peace—peace as a river. If you abandon all trust in self, flee from self as your greatest enemy, and trust your souls to the promise in Jesus Christ. Lean your whole weight on Him and we assure you, your peace will run abundantly and perpetually.

(a) By trusting in God

Whoever trusts in created things, in uncertain riches, in worldly peace, in anything at all besides the only living and glorious Lord, we persuade him, that his peace will fail as a brook. All things in this world will deal deceitfully with you, like a brook that dries up (Job 6:15). But if you pour out your souls on Him and trust in the fountain of living waters, you will not be ashamed, for your peace will be as a river. Nothing can take your peace from you for it runs like a river. It may be shallower and deeper, but it cannot run dry, because of the living fountain it proceeds from. All beside this is uncertain; nothing besides this can give you satisfaction.

Trusting in God is the leaning the soul’s weight on God. The soul must cast its burden on the Lord and so find rest (Matthew 11:28). Leaning on ourselves and trusting in God are opposites (Proverbs 3:5). Trusting is casting the soul on God and lifting the soul to Him (Psalm. 22:10; Psalm 25:1).

When people have risked their souls on His word and trusted in Him, then they may trust in him for all things. He who has given His Son for us, will He not with Him also give all things? This, is the continual recourse of a believer. They travel from the emptiness and insufficiency they discover in self to the fulness and strength of Jesus Christ. Thus their strength may be perfected in weakness. When all things seem contrary, yet ought we to trust in Him (Job 13:15). Faith will always look always towards God’s Word, whatever is threatened to the contrary.

Constant dependence and staying ourselves on God flows from this faith in Him. They are stayed on Him because they trusted in Him. Faith considers His power, His goodwill, and His faithfulness. He is able and willing to do it, and He is faithful because He has promised. Staying ourselves on God is nothing else except the fixedness of believing and trusting (Psalm 112:7-8). It is expressed firstly in meditating on God, and secondly, in expecting all good things from Him.

(b) By meditating on God

Most people have few thoughts of God at all. Even those who trust in him do not consider sufficiently how great the one in whom they believe is. If faith were vigorous it would make us often think on Him, seeking to know Him in His glorious names. The mind would be stayed on this glorious, most mysterious, and wonderful one. People’s minds are strongly drawn to vain things but meditating on God is a burden to them. Any other thing gets more time and thoughts.

Meditation adds affection to contemplation. The soul is stayed on God when the soul’s desires are towards the remembrance of His name, then affection stays the mind. The mind gives only passing looks and limited thoughts, where the heart is not engaged. The soul of a believer should be constant and fixed in considering God until they are wholly engaged in admiration and wonder (Psalm 8:1). You all say that you believe in God, you know He is good, He is merciful, just, long-suffering, faithful, etc. But all this knowledge is only ignorance, and your light darkness, if it does not compel you to put your trust in His name.

Believers, should your hearts and minds be stayed on vain things, more than the living God? Our minds are in a continual motion from one thing to another, for nothing gives complete satisfaction. Time is spent in choosing and refusing, rejecting one thing and taking another, and again returning to what you have rejected. People are tossed up and down, and unstable in all their ways, as a ship without ballast. Faith and trust in God is the ballast and weight of this inconstant ship: it is the anchor to stay it from being driven to and fro. If you would consider Him and meditate on Him until your souls loved Him, would you not be ravished with Him?

This would fix and establish you in spiritual things. Here is One that is “past finding out.” The more I search and find, I find him the more above what I can search and find. Created things disappoint, but the Lord God is an everlasting fountain. He will never send any away disappointed that trust in Him because they will find more than they expected.

(c) By expecting from God

The soul that is stayed on God in meditation on Him knows Him and will be fixed in its expectation from Him. Our expectations from created things are disappointed because they change. But the Lord exceeds our expectations. The Lord has often done things we did not expect.

Three things disquiet us most: sin and wrath; future events; and present calamities. Faith establishes the soul on God in all of these. It will not allow it to be driven to and fro with these winds; it finds a harbour and refuge in God from all these. My conscience challenges and writes bitter things against me, yet I have an answer in that blood that speaks better things than Abel’s. If sins prevail, he will purge them away. His mercy and power are greater than all my sin. He has promised and will He not do it?

We are often perplexed about future events. This is great torment of spirit, cuts, and divides it. But those that trust in God are established in this (Psalm 112:7-8). They have committed their soul to Him, and why not their body? He cares for me, says faith. He has given his Son for me, the most precious gift which the world cannot match, and will He not with Him give all these lesser things? Thus, the believer encloses himself within the Father’s love and providence, and is fixed, not fearing evil tidings. For what tidings can be evil, seeing our Father has the sovereign disposing of all affairs and knows what is best for us? Pity the world around you, that do not know this peace.

Conclusion

Maintain your peace, do not grieve the Spirit who has sealed it. If you return to folly after he has spoken peace to you, I persuade you, you will not maintain this peace. There may be peace with God, but no peace in your conscience, as long as your heart is engaged with sin. Continuing in a course of sin, entertaining any known sin, will trouble your peace. If God has spoken peace to thee, you must not harbour His enemy in peace. Those who love God’s law have great peace (Psalm 119:165). Obedience and delight in it do not make peace, but it is the way of peace. Much meditation on the blessed word of God is the most excellent means to preserve this peace if it is secured by much prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). If you would unburden your hearts daily at the throne of grace, peace will guard and keep your heart, and then your peace will be perfect indeed.

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Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
27 May, 2020

A crisis is fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish. Many rumours and ideas with little supporting evidence can circulate rapidly. At times these theories do not change people’s lives much. But if it changes behaviour in relation to protecting life and health it becomes different. Some theories are related to the Bible or are shared by Christians. Others function like religious beliefs. In this, as in all truth claims, we need the grace of discernment. We need to know the Scriptures well and accurately to test what we hear. How much is it someone’s personal opinion or does it have the authority of the Bible? In other matters we need to apply the principles of Scripture. We need to be very careful about preserving and promoting the truth (Zechariah 8:16). This involves avoiding rushing to hasty judgments about doubtful things in case we are spreading false rumours, especially if it could be slander (Proverbs 6:19 and 29:11). We need to consider what impact our opinions may have on others. Yet we also need to avoid evil suspicion since even some truly biblical beliefs are widely ridiculed and this does not make them wrong. We should not be gullible about mainstream opinions either. When online sermons, teaching and discussions are everywhere, we also need to know what we can trust. How do we discern true biblical teaching and weigh carefully claims that we encounter?

1 Thessalonians 5:21 helps us with understanding our duty of discernment. It speaks of testing or proving all things, including what we hear. As James Fergusson observes, it belongs in a list of instructions for living as Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11-22). 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Fergusson clarifies that not despising preaching (v20) does not mean Paul requires obedience without question to everything which ministers preach. He commands them to prove and test accurately what they hear by the written Word (Acts 17:11). The word in Greek implies testing something by a standard as goldsmiths test gold using a touchstone. 

To hold fast literally means to hold tightly with both hands, against all who would withstand it. They must hold fast that which is good, or what testing has shown to be good doctrine firmly grounded on the Word. They are consequently to abstain from that which is found to be evil or unsound. Fergusson goes on to make the following observations.

1. Christians Must Discern

Most people are naturally so foolish and unthinking that when they are running from one sinful extreme, they are in no small danger of going to the other unawares. The evil they are fleeing from is always in front of them. Thus, while they are so greatly intent on avoiding it, they do not notice the snare behind them. Paul implies this in dissuading them from the extreme of blind obedience to their ministers after having dissuaded from the other extreme of despising preaching (v20).

2. Christians Can Discern

All Christians may not have received an equal measure of gifts (Romans 14:1). The Lord has, however, given a spirit of discerning, in a greater or a lesser measure to all. If this is diligently and carefully made best use of through searching Scripture (Acts 17:11) and prayer (Psalm 119:19), they may be enabled to evaluate what they hear in preaching. In doing this they will choose and embrace what is sound and nourishing, and refuse and reject whatever is erroneous and hurtful. If they did not have such a spirit of discernment given them by God, it would have been pointless to instruct them “to prove all things” and “hold fast that which is good”.

3. Christians Must Discern Carefully

The spirit of discernment that God gives to Christians, should be exercised in evaluating their minister’s teaching. This does not mean they pass judicial sentence on him; they are not his judges (1 Corinthians 14:32). Neither does it allow them to vent disparaging censures against him, making his ministry repellent to others in all things. It means discerning how to regulate their own behaviour in choosing what is right and refusing what is wrong in what they hear. He instructs them to exercise discretion in relation to their own practice so that they may “hold fast” what is good.

4. Christians Must Test Their Opinions

A fixed resolution to maintain any opinion constantly should flow from a rational conviction (after careful search) that the opinion we hold is true and sound. Otherwise our constancy and fixed resolution is only self-willed pertinacity (Jeremiah 44:16). So, when truth is discovered after careful enquiry, we ought to be so fixed and absolute in our resolution to maintain it that we may not waver or be tossed to and fro with any contrary wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Before they are resolved, he urges them to prove or test and then hold fast without wavering what they have proved to be good.

5. Christians Must Not Abuse Their Freedom

Christians must abstain from and avoid not only that which is really and in itself evil and sinful, but also any appearance or representation of evil (v22). They must avoid anything (unless commanded by God) that may give just grounds of suspicion to unprejudiced onlookers. These are those who are not malicious (Galatians 2:4-5), even though they may be weak (1 Corinthians 10:28). They may have just reason to suspect those practising such things as being guilty of wrongdoing. This might include dangerous phrases of speech in preaching even though they are not plainly heretical (1 Timothy 6:3). Other examples include eating at a feast in an idol’s temple (1 Corinthians 10:21) or close and unnecessary company with ungodly, immoral persons without a call (Luke 22:55). Close company in private suspicious places with persons of a different sex, especially if he or she has a bad reputation must also be avoided.

A conscientious, sensitive Christian must consider the eye of men as well as the all-seeing eye of God in abstaining from evil. They must not only abstain from what their own conscience will condemns as vile in itself and in God’s sight. Anything that has the appearance of evil to others and by which his good name might be justly wounded by others is also to be avoided. Conscientious Christians will not only strive to walk without falling. They will also seek to avoid being the occasion of others falling by their careless use of Christian liberty. They will strive to be on their guard against all, not just some temptations. They will not do this merely at some times, but always. This is required as the highest point of a spiritually sensitive Christian walk, to abstain from the appearance of evil. They abstain from that by which someone’s reputation might justly suffer or his neighbour be made to stumble. They will abstain not only from some but from all appearance of evil.

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Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
22 May, 2020

This seems an almost ludicrous question. Evangelicals scarcely stop talking about God and do so much for God. How can you call that forgetting God? But it depends on what you mean by forgetting God. We can talk much about the things of God. Yet do we talk more about our work for God, ourselves and each other than about God Himself? How much do we engage with God directly? Has there been a subtle change from the vertical to the horizontal? We may come to think that the end of serving God justifies the means of doing what we want. This often means doing what we want to do rather than being concerned about what God wants us to do. Is God something of an after thought? It is possible to pursue a certain type of experience or spiritual feeling for our benefit rather than focussing on God Himself. Let’s consider this question positively and indirectly by asking another one. What does it mean to set God always before us?

A recently published book asks When Did We Start Forgetting God? The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future. Mark Galli has written this book from the perspective of having edited for many years the leading evangelical periodical Christianity Today. No doubt, like everyone, he has his own bias but it would be foolish to jettison such a fundamental question because we don’t like the messenger.
Galli speaks of forgetting God as maintaining activity for God without a single-minded desire for God. We can have words, activities and doctrines that all relate to God but not this passion that should energize all we do. This desire for God did indeed characterize the evangelical movement in the past. Today evangelicals are known for our activism, social values, mission, focus on conversion, church planting techniques and so on. Yet while the passion is here and there in some individuals, it’s not what we are known for. We live in a world that excludes the transcendent, there could not be a greater tragedy than to become of that world without realising it.

There are many in the world who reject or merely neglect God altogether. They do not consider that God is all-present, all-just, all-holy and all-powerful. They do not set God before them; they do not remember God as they ought. But this may also be true in a measure of those who profess God.

We cannot hope to consider the full extent of practically forgetting God and its impact. Perhaps it is something to return to on another occasion. We can, however, address some basic considerations. What then does it mean to set God always before us in our everyday life? In this updated extract, Archibald Skeldie briefly covers some valuable points in relation to this.

1. Set God’s Will Before You as the Rule of Your Actions

Those who set God before them look to the will of God as the rule of their actions. As many as follow this rule will have mercy and peace on them Having regard to God’s will involves the following noteworthy things.

(a) Seek to Please God Rather than Man

A Christian should so look to please God that they have no regard to pleasing man. That is to say, they must not do anything offensive to God in order to please man. They must not omit anything that may please the Lord even though by doing it, they greatly offend man.
It would have been good for Joab if he had so deeply considered the matter of Uriah as not offend God in order to please his king. This was better considered by Peter and John, who asked the Jews to judge whether it was better to obey God, than men. For seeing none can serve two masters, it is the best and wisest course to serve the best and worthiest master. The early Church father Gregory asked how can you give like service to those that are so unlike each other; mortal men and the eternal God?

(b) Seek to Conform Your Will to God’s

Those who do the will of God and makes it the rule of their actions, should not be desirous to conform God’s will to theirs. Rather they should strive to conform their will to God’s will. If this is how earthly employees should conduct themselves towards their earthly masters, how much more ought it so to be towards God, their heavenly Master. Augustine says that we are God’s true servants if we are ready to will what we hear rather than hear what we will.
A Christian must carefully consider this, not only in abstaining from things that ought to be avoided, but likewise in doing things that ought to be performed. They should avoid the one because they are forbidden and do the other because they are commanded of the Lord. By this means a Christian gives testimony of sincere obedience in the sight of God. Augustine also said that they are truly obedient who do not enquire into what sort of thing is commanded but are merely content to know that it is commanded.

2. Set the Glory of God Before You as the Goal of Your Actions

In order that a Christian may set God before him, it is not only required that they consider the will of God as the rule of their actions. They must also consider the glory of God as goal of their actions. This manifests the faithfulness and sincerity of God’s servants. They are those who will obtain their master’s approval in the day of reckoning. A Christian may be said to set the glory of God before them as the end of his actions, when they are so zealously protective of the honour of God, that they will not do anything to dishonour Him. Even though it would bring them the greatest profit and benefit possible they will not do it. Neither will they omit anything by which God should be honoured, even though by doing so they would incur both harm and shame.

In the parable of the talents, they servant respected their master’s honour so much that they gave into his hands both the talents they had received and those they had gained. They left the distribution of their rewards to their master’s discretion. Happy is the Christian who can say with Christ that, in finishing the work which God has given them to do, they have glorified God on earth. They may be well assured, that just as those that dishonour God will come to shame, so those that honour Him will be honoured by Him (). Augustine says, in commenting on John 12:26, that the Father of Christ will honour the servant of Christ with that great honour, that they will be with His Son. This happiness will never fail or fall away.

3. Set the Light of God’s Word and Spirit Before You, to Lead You

Those that set God before them must be led by the light of His Word and Spirit. The Word of God is a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths. It gives light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. David requests the Lord to teach him His ways and to lead him in a right path, because of his enemies. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the anointing that teaches us all things. He leads us into all truth. This is not to be understood of extraordinary but ordinary revelation. This is when by illumination He makes us understand the true meaning of the written Word of God so that we may flee the evil to be avoided and follow the good which is commanded.

4. Set God’s Divine Attributes Before You

Those that set God before them must remember God in His attributes of being all-present, all-just and all-powerful. They must consider that God is present everywhere, to take notice both of the inward and outward conduct of all people, whether it is good or evil. Augustine says that God is all eye, to see all things; all hand, to work all things; and all foot, to walk everywhere.

You must likewise remember that the righteous Lord will not allow neither the evil doings of individuals to be unpunished, nor the good doings of individuals to be unrewarded. The Church says in the book of Lamentations, “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled” (Lamentations 1:18). The apostle says, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10).

Remember also the power of Almighty God. He does whatsoever He wills in heaven, and earth. Indeed, He can do all that He can will, without limitation. He can punish sinners for their iniquity no matter how great they may be and no matter how great a multitude they join with in sin. By His power, God protects His Saints in their greatest danger and difficulty. He comforts and strengthens them in their greatest trouble and calamity and is able to satisfy their desire exceeding abundantly.

Why Should We Strive to Set God Before Us?

There are three reasons why a Christian should carefully strive to set God before them in this way.

(a) This is the great evidence of God’s people

Spiritual people like David always set God always before them, but the wicked and worldly, like the enemies of David, do not set God before them at all. They live in the world without hope, and without God, and by their conduct they declare to the world that they are devoid of the fear of God. Yet when Christians set God before them, it is evidence of their effectual calling. They have been turned from the power of Satan to God and from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. They are called out of darkness into the marvellous light of Christ.

(b) This is the great happiness of God’s people

Consider the happiness of those who set God before them against the misery of those who do not set God before them. The happiness of the one is that as they set God before them, so He sets them before Him. In those things which are mutually done by God to man and by man to God, the Lord is always the one who begins. If we do our part, we may know for certain that God will do His. There is mutual love between God and His saints, but God begins first. As the apostle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And those that love God may know that they are beloved of God. God has already chosen the person for His portion that chooses God for their portion. God seeks us before we can seek Him.

The Lord sets before Himself anyone who sets God before them by doing His will, seeking His honour, following His light and remembering His attributes. He sets them before Him by a high estimation of them; tender and earnest love towards them; and by a fatherly, providential care about them (Isaiah 49:16).

But the misery of those who do not set God before them is correspondingly as great as the happiness of those who do. In a word as they were careless about walking as in His presence while they live, so they will be for ever banished from the presence of God and the glory of His power.

(c) This is the great activity of God’s people

This is required in relation to our living and walking in a spiritual way. Christians must not walk like the Gentiles who do not know God (Ephesians 4:17). Rather they must walk like Zachariah and Elizabeth in all the commandments of God (Luke 1:5-6). This is called walking worthy of the Lord, walking in the Spirit and after the Spirit. It is walking with God, as Enoch did. It is walking before God, as Abraham enjoyed (Genesis 15:1). It is impossible for anyone to walk in this way unless they set God before them. Only by this will they know the path in which they must walk, the way they should walk and the destination towards which they ought to walk. In all these respects we may make conscience of walking in the sight of God by walking in His commandments with a perfect heart. Such walk from strength to strength towards Zion where they will see the Lord of Hosts. They walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing Him in all things, seeking to be fruitful in good works and increase in the knowledge of God.

Conclusion

Skeldie expresses the desire: “May God in His infinite mercy bring all our souls, for the sake of Jesus into this heavenly and holy condition”. This is what we should want for ourselves and for othersfor the glory of God. We need to set God in Christ before us in everything. The engrained habits of virtually forgetting God are not easily broken. They have influenced so much of what we do and think but setting God constantly before us helps to address the problem at its root.

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
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.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times
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.
30 Apr, 2020

From financial struggles and other anxieties and fears in the midst of uncertainty to quarantine fatigue, this is a crisis with many added difficulties. And it affects those worst who struggle with some of these things at the best of times. Then there are the deep spiritual burdens as we seek to understand and respond in a sanctified way. We hear the mantra “Everything will be all right”. All kinds of strategies are recommended. But at best they merely distract from rather than engage with our concerns. Sometimes it seems that the coronavirus has changed everything. But there are some things that are still the same because they are enduring, unchanging and unshakable. We can find solid encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.

People feel the need to share messages of encouragement at this time. One man in Barcelona is even projecting messages of encouragement on the facade of a building every day. Many take their encouragement from the strength and resilience of others. We are certainly to be thankful for the selfless sacrifice and dedication of many individuals. There are many mercies received in the midst of trying circumstances. We trust also that there are some who are being brought to consider eternal realities more. We can be thankful that God is in various ways restraining open sin and humbling the pride of those who neglect and reject Him. Where, however, can we find the greatest messages of encouragement?

Edmund Calamy, preaching before the House of Lords in 1643 in a time of war needed to find encouragements for the leaders of Parliament. They were engaged in formal thanksgiving for the thwarting of an armed uprising against Parliament. But Calamy went much higher than the people and events around them in seeking encouragements. They were facing a war and the current crisis has often been compared to a battle. In this updated extract, he gives us an enduring example of where we should look for encouragements in difficult times.

1. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING GOD

I think I hear God say to you as He does to Joshua “Be strong and of a good courage…strong and very courageous”. He promised that He would be with him everywhere he went (Joshua 1:6-7, 9). Joshua encouraged the people of Israel the Lord was with them and they should not therefore fear their enemies no matter how great they were (Numbers 14:7 see also Exodus 14:13-14). The God whose cause you manage is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, He has not brought us into depths to drown us, but to wash away our spiritual filthiness. It is not to destroy us, but to manifest His power in our deliverance. He will deliver us by weak means, and by contrary means. He will strike straight strokes with crooked sticks; as He made the treachery of Joseph’s brethren to be a means to advance Joseph, and the falseness of Judas to be a way to save all His elect children.

2. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING PROMISES

Here are six promises like six pillars to undergird our spirits from falling into discouragements. Cast yourselves into the bosom of these promises. (Exodus 23:22-23; Leviticus 26:6-8; Deuteronomy 28:7; 1 Samuel 25:28; Isaiah 41: 10-17; Isaiah 54:17). The last promise belongs to all God’s people, because it is said to be the heritage of the servants of the Lord.

3. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXAMPLES

We cannot be in a lower condition than Jonah was when he was in the whale’s belly. It was like a living grave. Yet God commanded the whale to deliver him safe ashore. We cannot be in a worse condition than Jeremiah was when he was in the dungeon. He sank in the mire so deep that thirty men could hardly lift him up. We cannot be in a worse condition than Peter was when he was ready to sink, or than Moses when put in an ark of bull-rushes. Or than the children of Israel in Babylon, who were like dry bones in the grave, so that Ezekiel himself could not tell whether they could live. Or as Peter when put in prison by Herod.

Yet God sent an Ethiopian to deliver Jeremiah. Jesus Christ reached out His hand to keep Peter from sinking. God sent Pharaoh’s daughter to preserve Moses. He sent Cyrus to deliver Israel out of Babylon. And He sent his angel to deliver Peter out of prison. Indeed, Peter himself did not believe it any more than the Church that was praying for him. God sent them an answer to their prayers, while they were praying, but they did not believe it.

God has often done so for us. Comfort one another with these examples and take this home for your everlasting consolation. God never permits his children to meet with a huge unmovable difficulty such as the stone before the door of the sepulchre without sending some angel or other to move it away.

4. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING CAPTAIN

Jesus Christ came into the world, when the Jews were in the saddest condition, in the depth of slavery (for the sceptre was departed from Judah) and in the depth of divisions, for they had so many different sects, as they could hardly tell what religion they were of. In this sad condition Shiloh came. Let us implore Jesus Christ to come to our nation in this low condition and to bring peace with Him.

Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth for our sakes, and whose love is a depth that cannot be fathomed (Ephesians 3:17-18). The depths of our misery call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national.

5. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING COMPANY

You have the Lord of Hosts to accompany you and God’s people.

6. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING WEAPONS

These weapons are prayers, tears, fasting and humbling ourselves. Ambrose encouraged Augustine’s mother that a son for whom so many tears were shed could not be lost. So I say, and I hope prove to be a true prophet, that a nation for whom so many prayers and tears are made shall not be destroyed. God never yet destroyed a nation where there were many of his children praying, fasting, and humbling
themselves.

7. YOU HAVE THE ENCOURAGING PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The great and wise God, who is our Father, has from all eternity decreed what the outcome of these troubles will be. There is nothing done in the lower house of parliament upon earth, but what is decreed in the higher house of parliament in heaven.

All the lesser wheels are ordered and overruled by the upper wheels. There is a story about a young man at sea in a mighty tempest. When all the passengers were at their wits end for fear, he was only cheerful.  When he was asked the reason, he answered that the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would care for him. Our heavenly Father is our pilot, He sits at the stern and though the ship of the kingdom is ready to sink, be of good comfort our pilot will care for us. Are not five sparrows (says Christ) sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God? One sparrow is not worth half a farthing. You will not have half a farthing’s worth of harm more than God has from all eternity decreed.

It is no great matter (in Christ’s opinion) to have the body killed. The body is only the cabinet, the jewel is the soul. And if the jewel will be safe in heaven, it does not greatly matter to have the cabinet broken.

8. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXPERIENCES

It is observable that when Moses went up to the mount to pray, he took the rod of God in his hand. The reason is because by that rod God had previously done wonderful things for His people. The very sight of that rod encouraged Moses to trust in God from the experience of His former goodness. Let us never go to our prayers without carrying the rod of God in our hand and heart. I mean the solemn and serious contemplation of God’s former wonderful goodness. Let us say with the apostle, “Notwithstanding the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the LORD shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

CONCLUSION

Here are many encouragements to continue in prayer and not give up. We need to search out the promises that can properly be used in prayer on behalf of Church and nation. We need to cry out of the depths to the Lord. As Calamy says the depths of our misery need to “call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national”.

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