How to Live Without Regrets

How to Live Without Regrets

How to Live Without Regrets
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
4 Jan, 2019

“No regrets” is probably the most popular life motto currently. Almost everyone seems to be claiming it for themselves. It means living in the moment without thinking before or after about your actions. Get what you want out of life. Don’t admit that any decision you’ve taken was wrong. But such a philosophy is inevitably destructive. The person with no regrets whatsoever is the person with no conscience whatsoever. Can people really walk away from marriage breakdowns etc saying “no regrets”? Aren’t there words and actions we regret? Have we never wronged someone in some way? But there is a right way to live without regrets. One that takes conscience seriously.

The world’s idea of “no regrets” buries conscience and refuses to be impacted by guilt. In fact the only way to truly live without regrets is to take conscience as seriously as possible. It is to live a life with what James Durham calls “a serene and smiling conscience”. He calls it “Heaven upon earth”. Of course none of us are perfect, we will have some regrets. But here is how to live with as few regrets of conscience as possible.

1. What is it to Live Without Regrets?

This is what the apostle Paul set as his goal. He made it his earnest endeavour to strive to have his conscience clear towards God and men (Acts 24:16). Durham says is an excellent example to follow because it sums up the Christian life. He also say that it is the very soul and life of religion and where it is not present there is no true religion.

  • What was Paul’s great aim? To live so as never to offend his conscience or give it cause to make a bad report of him.
  • How far did this reach? Everyone: God and men, he would do duty to both, and be found without offence to either. Everything: in all actions, company, places and times. Not just special times, he aimed to be always constant and consistent in this.
  • How did he do this? It was a serious business. As a man who fighting for his life carefully handles his arms, so Paul behaved himself in all things as if his life depended on every action or word.

2. Why is this Important?

  • There are many sorts of offences both toward God and toward men that we are liable to commit.
  • Everyone has a conscience within that takes notice of every aspect of their conduct. It is influenced by this and influences us.
  • Whatever things are offences toward God or men are also offensive to the conscience, whatever sin strikes against God’s law wounds the conscience.
  • It is an excellent thing for a believer to live so as to keep a conscience always clear of offence toward God and toward men. It is a very bad thing at any time to have offence toward either of them on the conscience.
  • Everyone (especially believers) should live in this way so that they may always keep a conscience clear of offence. It is not only a duty but an excellent means for advancing holiness.
  • It is a demanding thing to honestly aim to keep our conscience always clear of offence.
  • Conscience is left to abound with offences where these demands are neglected and not seriously engaged in.

3. What Does it Involve?

(a) Do Not Commit Any Known Sin

There will be no good conscience if you do. Live in a way that is not contrary to what you know.

(b) Do Not Omit Any Known Duty

Every sin wrongs the conscience, but the sin we know and yet commit and the duty we know and yet omit, strikes against the conscience even more directly. You who know that the sabbath should be kept holy, that you should pray in secret, and in your families, that you should not make one another stumble etc. Beware of running into these dangers that are contrary to your knowledge.

(c) Do Nothing Doubtingly

Those who do something and yet doubt whether they should are sentenced and condemned at to that particular thing (see Romans 14:23).

(d) Do Duties in the Right Way

Strive to do duties in the right way and for the right purpose. It is not enough to pray or do any other commanded duty. That will not keep conscience quiet if you do not seek to do it in the right way and for the right purpose. The activity is lawful but conscience will still convict you because of the way in which you do it.

4. How Does it Help Us Spiritually?

  • It gives much boldness in approaching God (1 John 3:20).
  • It gives reason to expect our prayers to be heard (1 John 3:22).
  • It keeps us from much sin
  • It makes life cheerful (Proverbs 15:15) and the heart guarded with peace (Philippians 4:7).
  • It is sweet in affliction (2 Corinthians 1:12). 
  • It is sweet when death approaches (2 Kings 20:3).

5. How to Live Without Regrets

(a) Strive to be Clear

Strive to be clear in the matters of God and what concerns your own good. “Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). It is not possible for those who are ignorant of what God requires to keep a good conscience. They do not know when they sin or when they do duty aright. Many wise and rich men can speak well of the things of this world but are ignorant of the things of God.

(b) Take Heed to Conscience

Most follow what their own reason and will prefer and do it without ever ask what conscience rightly informed by God’s Word would say. This makes many say and do in haste things that they repent of afterwards. Consult seriously with your conscience and do not sin (Psalm 4:4). Do not let the advice of flesh and blood come between God and you and sway you. Of course we should not take everything from conscience without reasons, it is a lesser rule to follow. Listen to what the greater rule of God’s Word says. Test something by bringing it to conscience and then test your conscience by asking it to give a reason from the Word.

(c) Beware of Going Against Conscience

Beware of going against conscience in the least thing. Abstain from everything that seem to come in into conflict with it. Conscience is a very tender thing; if we do not respect conscience we may provoke God to give us up to do what we want.

(d) Listen to Conscience

Listen to what conscience says before you do anything. Consider also how you acted according to your knowledge of what is right afterwards.  Paul puts a good conscience and sincerity together (2 Corinthians 1:12). No matter how many good words we speak and how many good things we do, they will not be accepted if do not have a single eye to God’s honour in them. A good conscience will be lacking where this is not there or where conscience is made subordinate to our interests. Many resolve to do such and duties, as long as they fit in with their own interests.

(e) Go Often to the Blood of Christ

Be frequent and serious in making believing use of the blood of Christ, the blood of sprinkling. Thus, your consciences may be sprinkled and purged from dead works (Hebrews 9:14 and 10:22). The great basis of your peace is not how serious and sincere you are but how He has satisfied divine justice. Many of our works and duties are dead unless they are sprinkled with the power of His blood. They will be like many dead weights on the conscience. There can be no truly good conscience if this is neglected.

Conclusion

Nothing will make your life more truly cheerful and comfortable. But if it is neglected or slighted, all your knowledge, debates about religion, tasting the good Word of God, all your prayers, or whatever else you can name, will be of no purpose. We leave it on you before God and apply it direct to your conscience, to make it your endeavour to always have a good conscience clear of offence toward God and toward men.  

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Giving up Liberty of Conscience for Lent?

Giving up Liberty of Conscience for Lent?

Giving up Liberty of Conscience for Lent?
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
19 Feb, 2016

There’s no doubt that Lent has become fashionable for many evangelicals. Churches and individuals with the label Reformed have also begun to observe Lent. They feel the need for something fresh in their liturgical calendar. Some look for a spiritual “detox”. Perhaps this satisfies conscience nagging them that self-denial and repentance are daily duties. They feel that it adds something of value. The truth is they are giving up far more than the tiny dimension of luxury they may choose to forego for a time. They are giving up true liberty of conscience by bowing to mere commandments of men. God alone is the Lord of the conscience. Thus, trading liberty of conscience for Lent is unconscionable.

Conscience is of course the issue. People will say that we should leave it up to individual consciences to determine whether they think it is right. But the only question that matters is whether God has revealed it to be right. Unless conscience is rightly informed by Scripture and obedient to God’s will in Scripture it will be in slavery to the commandments of men.

There is nothing new under the sun. Lent was also becoming increasingly popular in British Churches during the early seventeenth century. It accompanied other ceremonies and the church calendar. Much like people arguing for Lent today, different tacks were taken to justify them. It was claimed they were merely beneficial. Other people said that they were indifferent things: neither morally required nor morally wrong. Some sought to draw their reasons from Scripture. Others that it was essential to keep them on the basis of various general principles. George Gillespie examined these arguments and found them wanting.

 

Is Lent Necessary?

Gillespie observed that people often Scripture did not bind them to keep certain holy days or other ceremonies. Instead, they argued that it was necessary to keep uniformity by imposing such things. Even if it wasn’t Scriptural as such people had to obey once authority required it. Gillespie showed that church authority can only require us to obey what Scripture commands.  (See Deuteronomy 12:32; Matthew  15:9; Acts 17:25; Matthew 4:9-10; Deuteronomy 4:15-20).

People today acknowledge that Scripture never commands us to observe Lent. They do not want to claim with Roman Catholics that such penance earns us grace or is a necessary obedience to Church authority. They will say that it is a necessary prelude to observing Easter. This in turn begs the question of whether Scripture commands us to observe Easter as holy days. Conscientiously observing man-made ordinances takes away Christian liberty (Colossians 2:21). Gillespie argues that:

The celebration of set anniversary days is no necessary means for conserving the commemoration of the benefits of redemption, because we have occasion, not only every Sabbath day, but every other day, to call to mind these benefits, either in hearing, or reading, or meditating upon God’s word.

 

Is Lent Beneficial?

Frequently it is said that observing Lent is a beneficial if not necessarily Scriptural practice.  We are told that it is good for us to have such a season of self-denial and penitence. There is also devotional value in this type of focus, they say. The great question is whether God has appointed it for our edification. Surely Scripture is sufficient in teaching us how to be edified? Why should we add our own inventions? In fact “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Obedience to God’s will is always better than worshipping and serving Him as we see fit.

Gillespie says that an emphasis on external things and physical disciplines can obscure the spiritual. This is not beneficial. Disciplines such as fasting are profitable but only for a little (1 Timothy 4:8).  Borrowing things from Roman Catholicism only tends to confirm Romanists in their own religion. They also become stumbling blocks that harm the edification and conscience of weak believers.

Gillespie uses a strong argument. Anything that has been abused for idolatry and superstition should be removed from the worship and service of God. This assumes that such things are not commanded by God or something without which God’s commandments cannot be fulfilled.

 

Is Lent Scriptural?

Gillespie addresses whether there was Scriptural authority for the man-made inventions being promoted.  It was said then and today also that Lent adopts the example of Christ. Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness.  This example does not provide a commandment.  Christ says we must keep and teach to observe His Commandments. Samuel Rutherford for instance, echoed John Knox’s argument against Lent. If we “in imitation of Christ’s forty days’ fast, will fast from flesh in Lent” then we must do everything Christ ever did. We “must walk on the sea and work miracles, if all Christ’s actions be our instructions”.  In other words, Christ’s fast was testimony to and preparation for His unique ministry and echoed Moses and Elijah. Few today fully fast for forty days and forty nights consecutively. We do not even know what time of the year it was when Christ fasted.

 

Is Lent Indifferent?

Another argument was that these things were indifferent.  They were neither morally required nor morally wrong. This is one of the arguments used in favour of Lent. They say that this is a grey area where we don’t have a clear black and white. People can choose whether they want to engage in such things. The question is whether such practice is truly indifferent.  Only Scripture can determine this. We have seen various reasons which prove that it is not.

Religious service and devotion to God are not things without moral significance. Fasting, prayer and such things are not indifferent. They are matters regulated by God’s Word, particularly Christ’s command. Obeying man-made ordinances is not something that is indifferent (Colossians 2:20-23). Christian liberty in things that are indifferent cannot ever mean that we can add to God’s moral precepts or prescribed worship. Biblical principles must also be applied to indifferent things. These include whether it might cause someone else to stumble (Romans 14:21).  It must not bind us (1 Corinthians 6:12). It must truly edify (1 Corinthians 10:23).  Even these principles are not satisfied in observing Lent as something indifferent.

 

Is Lent True Fasting?

David Calderwood showed how fasting is an extraordinary means of worship in response to extraordinary circumstances. It is not something triggered each year by Ash Wednesday.

The right manner of fasting is to fast when some judgment is imminent, some great work to be performed. And as for the private man, when he is greatly tempted to sin, and cannot overcome his temptation, then is it fittest time for him to fast. The Paschal fasts were also abused for the Paschal communion following, as if Easter communion required greater preparation than any other communion in the year.

This was the position adopted by the Westminster Assembly in their Directory of Public Worship.

THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.

 

Conclusion

We must acknowledge that Lent does impose on the conscience. It adds required practices in areas of worship that God has regulated. Observing the man-made tradition of Lent does surrender true liberty of conscience. The Westminster Confession (20:2) reminds us that:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship. (see Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 23:8-10; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Matthew 15:9).

In all matters of faith, life and worship, the conscience is subject to the authority of God alone. We must be able to show that our practice is Scriptural (Isaiah 8:20).  Our faith must be in God’s commandment not human tradition when we engage in His worship and service. Without this, it is sin (Romans 14:23). As John Calvin put it.

The controversy is not about flesh or fish, or about a black or ashy color, or about Friday or Wednesday, but about the mad superstitions of men, who wish to appease God by such trifles…it is not an error of small importance, or one that ought to be concealed, when consciences are bound by the contrivances of men, and at the same time the worship of God is corrupted

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