You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy
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 Dec, 2020

We seem to have an in-built need for joy. Many direct us to look within us to find joy. We are told to navigate our lives by asking whether things will bring us joy. But Christian joy is not a self-centred principle offering false, short-term happiness that leaves us empty and frustrated. It comes from outside of themselves, from Christ Himself and He does not give it as the world gives. Because it is His joy it is true and lasting and has a vital impact. It has an altogether different quality, because it is heavenly. It is vital for living the Christian life in this world with all that this means.

Christ’s great prayer for His people was “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). What is the nature of this joy? Anthony Burgess says that it comes from God only as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is centred on God through knowledge of Him and faith in Him as He is revealed in His Word.

As a person is so is their joy. We must be spiritual and heavenly people to have spiritual joy. The heavenly heart delights in heavenly things. The soul must be renewed and sanctified before it can delight in that which is good. The people of God being made new creatures and made partakers of the divine nature, they now come to love and delight in the things they once hated. God is now their delight (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:25). They already possess something of this joy. Even in this life, God is the God of His people. They are said to have Him and enjoy Him. Christ is said to dwell in their hearts; the Father and the Son are said to be in them and dwell amongst them. Thus, even in this life they may have unspeakable joy.

But Christians often experience sad trials, it cannot be their duty to be always rejoicing can it? There are particular times when God calls us to mourn (Isaiah 21:12; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalm 126:5). In such cases it is our duty to be humbled and to mourn under His hand. They may make us abstain from the natural and lawful joy we might take in created things (such as in fasting), but not to abstain from spiritual joy. In days of humbling ourselves it is a duty to rejoice in the Lord, and such joy will like fire melt and thaw the heart. This joy is so useful that it must not be laid aside. Spiritual joy may abound most when the soul is humbled and there is godly mourning. No grace of God’s Spirit is contrary to another. The same Spirit that works joy is also the Spirit of supplication and mourning. Joy and trembling can go together (Psalm 2:11) as can joy and fear (Acts 9:31). So godly sorrow and joy are also consistent with each other. It is never unlawful to rejoice in God any more than it is to love or to believe in Him.

In this updated extract, Anthony Burgess shows the remarkable effects of Christian joy.

1. It enlarges the heart

The saints glorified in heaven enjoy more of God than ever they could here because their hearts are widened and prepared. Our souls are narrow until joy expands them. A person of a joyful spirit is like a vessel with a large opening. They receive far more of God and Christ than someone who is dejected and unbelieving. We are commanded to open the doors of our heart that the Prince of glory may enter into us. Joy will prepare us. Many of God’s children complain of their narrowness of heart. Fears and worldly cares fill the heart so that they have no room for Christ. They have great difficulty in praying or doing any heavenly duty. Joy is excellent at opening and removing these sinful obstructions. This should make you endeavour after a joyful life; it will make you increase in all dimensions of grace. You will be a Christian in a higher degree.

2. It makes us useful to God

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Weak hands and feeble knees (by which we act and move) are caused by fear. On the contrary, joy makes strong hands and firm knees. Any service done to God which is accompanied with dejections and sorrow has a kind of uncleanness in it, as it was with mourning in the Old Testament (Hosea 9:4). All sinful sorrow and dejection, makes your duty unclean, it pollutes you. God not only loves a cheerful giver but cheerfulness in all duties (Deuteronomy 28:47). You may say, “God is of such infinite purity and holiness that because I am full of infirmities I have reason to tremble before Him”. Granted, but remember the psalmist’s advice, “rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). You complain of your lukewarmness and lack of liveliness in God’s service. Consider whether your lack of heavenly joy is the cause of this. Consider whether you might have fulfilled all relations and opportunities more fruitfully, if this joy had been fulfilled in you.

3. It weans our heart from the world

It will make you undervalue all those earthly things which the world admires so much (Psalm 4:7). If then the soul has more joy and gladness in God’s presence and favour than in all earthly contentment whatever, no wonder if the heart sits loose to the one and is fixed on the other. The heart that has been ravished with the sweetness and glory that is in God and Christ, does not know how to stoop to these inferior fading joys. No one sits so loose in their heart from earthly comforts as those who have this heavenly joy.

4. It expels sinful joys

Those that rejoice in the Lord cannot rejoice in sin, because they are so contrary to each other. If you complain of the proneness of your heart to rejoice in earthly and worldly things; there is no medicine like heavenly joy to cure that. What made David express so much joy in God except the heavenliness of his heart. This greater joy must put out the lesser. Pray and endeavour that the joy of the Lord may take up your heart, when this sun is in your soul, the stars cannot be seen. Those who have this heavenly joy may be said to be in heaven while here on earth. No life comes so near to that of the glorified saints in heaven as a holy life accompanied with this joy.

5. It facilitates holy activities

Heavenly joys make us think that the time serving God is short, and to grudge that the work of God is over so soon. The sabbath is their delight (Isaiah 58:13), they are not like worldly people who ask when it will be over so they can go back to the world (Amos 8:5). Nothing makes the duties of holiness so burdensome as lack of joy. If they were your delight you would with joy wish that the sun would stand still and be grieved to stop. The worldly man thinks the day or week is not long enough to enjoy his delights, the godly man thinks the time for enjoying God is too short. Eternity will not make the saints in heaven weary of God.

6. It will sustain us through all afflictions

They are to account it all joy when they fall into trials (James 1:2). It is possible to greatly rejoice in manifold trials with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). How happy it is when your trials do not devour your joy, but your joy takes away the sting of your trials. If we had the joy the martyrs had it would be no more for us to endure their sufferings than it was for them.

7. It increases our desires for heaven

If we have not been able to completely enjoy anything in which we delight our appetite is stirred up to have more of it. David’s incomplete enjoyments of God made him restless and impatient for further communion with Him. Thus, David exhorts us to taste how good God is, if we tasted by experience the sweetness of the excellency of His love, we would still be breathing after Him like David (Psalm 119:20). Heavenly joy makes us look for the coming of Christ and seek to hasten it by our prayers and desires. This is because it is that which will complete our joy. Here sorrow and joy will always be mixed together, but there there is pure and unmixed joy to all eternity.

Conclusion

Spiritual joy is the life and marrow of religion, it is the spur and goad to all holiness. How deceived the world is in looking for joy and consolation any other way whether through reputation and honour, wealth or greatness. These will not give you true solid joy, all these things will become bitter. Whatever joy is treasured up in reference to heaven will always abide, it will never forsake you. But joy that only has reference to earthly things will vanish.

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Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow
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.
2 Dec, 2020

Why doesn’t God immediately take His beloved ones to Himself out of this world of sin and sorrow? It’s a real question that occurs to many at some time or other for various reasons. Why the affliction and troubles? Perhaps it is an abiding question for those who are lingering in this world when they would long to be out of it. Yet the Lord still has a purpose for their prayers and testimony however small they feel their contribution may be. Others are worn down and wearied with the constant reminders of sin and sorrow. What a world it is where this is brought before us wherever we look. Perhaps they mourn over the pitiful progress they seem to make in spiritual things. Wouldn’t it be best for them to be taken from this world? Yet it is Christ’s purpose for them to be here, He has prayed for them to be left in the world (John 17:15). He has eminently wise reasons for that. What are those reasons? Let us consider some of them.

This was a question asked by Anthony Burgess in one of his sermons and he seeks to answer it for the benefit of those hearing him. He is expounding Christ’s prayer for His people not to be taken out of the world (John 17:15). Some people like Enoch and Elijah did have a sudden and glorious call away from this world, but that is not ordinarily the case. Although God loves His people, this does not necessarily mean He must keep them from all misery in this world and give them immediate happiness with Himself in heaven. We think that God ought to give us what will provide us with most happiness, especially seeing as He can if He is willing to do that. Human reason says, “How can God love me, when He keeps heaven and eternal glory from me?” But God’s love, and His children’s hardship in this world may be consistent with each other.

Our Saviour intended the greatest good for His disciples in His prayer, yet He corrects and moderates it. It is not as if He would have them immediately taken to glory. He is content they should be in the fire for a while, to have their dross purged away. God could do many things for His people, which He will not do. He could immediately crown them with eternal glory when they are converted. Or else He could give them perfect and thoroughly sanctified hearts. He could make the world a paradise for them, so that the way to heaven would be no longer straight and narrow, but broad and easy. God could do this, but it pleases Him in His wisdom to follow another course, and appoint a wilderness for us to go through before we can enter in Canaan. Why does God’s love not immediately take the godly out of this world? Since God loves them and they love God, we would think that love would not rest until it had the nearest union possible. But God has reasons for leaving them in this world. Burgess explains what they are in the following updated extract.

1. They have a work to do

Godly men must be present in the world so that they may promote the kingdom of God and bring others to the knowledge of God. This is especially true of the apostles, as apostles, and so of all those that have any office and ministry in the church of God. These are as necessary as the sun is to the world, as the stars in a dark night, as salt to season and preserve from putrefaction. All believers are to use their gifts for others and by their example should give such a glorious light, that others may glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
If the apostles had been taken up to heaven immediately, where would have been the leaven put into the three measures of meal? Where would the mustard seed be sown, that would grow up into a great tree? If the apostles were the planters and founders of the church, it was necessary that they should continue for some time in the world. The world was a wilderness, that could not immediately be made a garden. It was the devil’s habitation; he could not suddenly be dispossessed.

Since God has service for His people to do, no wonder they must continue in this valley of misery. Paul speaks about this fully, it was necessary for them that he would remain although it was better for himself to depart and be with Christ. (Philippians 1:23). It is certainly better for the people of God and ministers of the gospel especially (at the forefront of the battle and exposed to more hatred) to be with Christ in heaven. There they shall be free from all this virulence and the opposition of the ungodly. Yet if we consider the world and the people with whom they live, their life and presence is very necessary. God’s people have work to do, a course to finish, and so they must not look to have the wages before they have laboured in the vineyard.

2. They Need to Exercise Grace

God will not immediately take them out of this troublesome world so that they may be exercised, and made stronger in their graces. God did not immediately put the Israelites into Canaan. Rather, He led them into many dangers and assaulted them with many enemies, so that their valour in themselves and their dependence on God might be more apparent. God will not train up His children to be idle. No sooner does He make them His than He lets the world and the devil loose on them. Why? To draw out their graces, to teach them all spiritual military discipline. They are to fight as the good soldiers of Christ and put on the whole armour of God, because they “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities, against powers” (Ephesians 6:12). The world is a field, in which spiritual battles are to be fought which the Lord beholds. It is also compared to running a race, where there is no time to be idle or sit still, but to focus all their thoughts and the whole heart on the crown they strive for. Expect therefore to have experiences that draw out faith, zeal and heavenly fortitude.

3. They need to Esteem Christ Even More

God does not take us immediately out of the world but leaves us here in combat with the relics of sinful corruption. This is so that being humbled by it, we may better esteem Christ and His righteousness. When we read of Paul taken captive by his lusts and crying out with misery, what does he do? See how powerfully this drives him to Christ, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

It is necessary that we should be kept in this conflict here below. This is so that we might be conscious of our unworthiness and groan under our corruptions. This makes long after Christ, we magnify His love and all that He has done for us. Everything within us cries out for a Christ and the grace of God through Him when we feel ourselves sinking. It makes us importune the favour of God. God wills that we find out by experience the bitterness and weight of sin, so that we may love Christ more, who bore God’s wrath for us.

4. They Need to See More of Himself

God will not take His people immediately out of the world, that so His goodness, mercy and providence, His wisdom and faithfulness may be the more discovered to us. In heaven there the church is at rest, it is out of all danger, there are no waves, no rocks. So that the wisdom and providence of God in keeping His church there, is not at all discovered. When the waters were dried up, Noah had no more necessity for an ark. The Lord therefore wills that we experience these dangers and temptations, so that His care and love may better manifested. The greater the dangers are, the more His faithfulness is revealed. Is it not an admirable thing to consider how God has preserved a church and people to serve Him faithfully, when hell and the world have conspired to destroy them? By this means God has been made known to the world. The craftman’s skill in relation to the metal is seen when it is in the fire. The pilot’s art is manifested, when his ship is on rocks and waves, and under many tempests. Though the world is a place of dangers and temptations for us, yet it is the mirror to display the glorious attributes of God to His children.

5. They Need to Desire Heaven More

God purposes to have His people in this world, so that heaven may be all the more welcome. It is so that they may desire that eternal glory all the more earnestly. The labouring man who has worked hard, is glad of his rest at night. Scripture calls heaven a rest (Hebrews 4:9). How welcome it will be after all your troubles, calamities and miseries, at last to have rest! Here in this life, you have no rest, sin troubles you, the world troubles you, your own heart troubles you, but there remains a rest. And how happy that must be to you. We are pilgrims, whose blessedness it is to get home at last. God therefore will have you experience all kinds of conflicts, spiritual and temporal. He will create one trial after another so that you will say, “we have no abiding place here”. Never did those endangered passengers in Paul’s ship desire more to get to the haven out of all their dangers, than we are to get out of all these troubles into heaven.

6. They Need to Serve God More

God does not immediately take us into heaven, because it is fitting that since we have served sin in this world, we should serve God as much in this world. Your life has been a reproach and a dishonour to Him. It is fitting it should bring glory to His name. Though it is your loss to be kept from heaven, though every day is your great hinderance, yet you are to deny yourself for God’s glory. Remember you gave yourself to serve sin, remember how much service the devil has had from you. So that if you love God’s glory more than your own, you are to be willing to spend yourself for Him, as you have done against Him.

7. They Need to Help Others

God does not remove His immediately out of the world, because of the relations they have. Children need their godly father, the wife needs her godly husband. Although it would be better for them to be in heaven, yet not for their’s. We must be resigned to God’s will when they are taken from us (John 14:28). We all ought to rejoice when our friends are taken out of this world into glory, but in so far as their presence was a comfort and necessary to us, we may grieve. In the law of Moses God forbade the mother bird being killed with her young ones. How much more will He show kindness to His people than the birds of the air. It is true that God in His wisdom does often take His own children out of the world too soon (as we think) when they are in the prime of their service. It is too soon also for their children and dependents, but God is even merciful in this though we do not at present see it. God has determined in mercy the time of our abode in this world (John 13:36).

8. They Need to Wait Until the Best Time

It is not always best to have the best good immediately, but in its time. It is true that to be with the Lord and be freed from sin is best in itself absolutely considered. But when other things are considered it is not best. God makes everything beautiful in his time. None could be more loved of the Father, than Christ Himself, He came from the bosom of His Father, yet until He had finished His course, He is kept from Him. The child’s duty is not to learn the best book first, but what he is most capable of. Though heaven and glory are best, yet not it is not best at this time for us to partake of it. So that when it is best to go out of this world, must be left to the wisdom of God.

SPECIAL OFFER

Christ’s Prayer Before His Passion: Expository Sermons on John 17 by Anthony BurgessSPECIAL 10% discount for Reformation Scotland readers. Use the follow coupon code at checkout:  RST-Burgess-2020. The extract above comes from these two volumes of 145 sermons on John 17.

 Anthony Burgess expounds such topics as God the Father and God the Son, the love of God, providence over death, election, the deity of Christ, the Mediator as teacher and priest and king, union with Christ, the knowledge of God, eternal life, justification, sanctification, obedience, separation from the world, faith, prayer, perseverance, worship, Christian unity, gospel ministry, and the glory of heaven. 

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Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living
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.
1 Sep, 2020

Concise wisdom can be an invaluable guide for Christian living and experience. We can return to it regularly. Sometimes the counsel offered can be general and contain broad principles to apply. Other times it’s helpful to have some specific directions about common situations that we may experience and encounter. It can be helpful to draw from advice given by various writers and learn from their own experience.

This advice is an updated extract taken from some counsel written to a lady by William Traill of Borthwick. There is no clear order to the advice and no doubt much of it is related to the individual addressed particularly.

1. Advice About Soul Trouble

As to your frame of mind. Labour to escape from soul trouble, not so much because it is terrible as because it is sinful. Seek to have the heart established by grace and to maintain an equal, constant frame of mind, that you may not be soon cast down and frightened by an unexpected affliction, nor be suddenly puffed up by unlooked-for success.

2. Advice About Conversation

Guard against all anger, and speaking hastily and unadvisedly. Think for a while on the thing that vexes you before you utter your mind upon it. When you do speak, do not say everything you think (Proverbs 29:11). Be sure not to make the worst of a matter, this only inflames the heart (Proverbs 16:23).

3. Advice About Providence

Put a hopeful construction upon those providences that appear to be sad, dark, and threatening, and do not suspect the kindness of God when cross dispensations occur. Believe that Christ has “done all things well,” and “that all things work together for good to them that love” him. Remember that “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his counsel and his testimonies.” (Mark 7:37; Romans 8:28; Psalm 25:10).

4. Advice About Following Christ

Follow Christ, by taking up the cross that he has appointed for you, and by faith lean upon him for strength and succour, to bear you up under its burden from day to day.

5. Advice About Warring Against Sin

Observe your daily deficiencies and short-comings and press forward so that you may know more of the spirit, life, and power of every duty.

Keep constant watch against your easily besetting sins, and take heed that, by a sudden surprise attack, they do not prevail against you.

6. Advice About Self-Examination

Often, with all solemnity, put your heart into your hand, and pray that God will not permit you to deceive yourself, nor provoke Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). And when you seek to try the sincerity of your faith, love, and other graces, remember to distinguish between the marks of strong faith and of true faith (however weak).

If in self-examination your mind is dark and your decision difficult, do not lose time by trying to settle the truth and sincerity of your experience in former times, but exercise faith in Christ Jesus directly: choosing Him, and depending upon Him as a full, sufficient, and only Saviour for poor lost sinners. Seek to realise anew your own sinfulness and misery, and with a humbled and penitent heart cast yourself again at His feet.

Remember your dependence on the Holy Spirit, and seek “a supply of the spirit of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:19) to work fresh and large revelations of sanctifying and saving grace, and to refresh your soul amidst all the labours and sorrows of this militant state.

In particular, enquire:

  • whether you are not tempted to unbelief and calling in question almost every truth
  • whether you are not sinfully jealous about whether the love of God is shown to your soul after multiplied evidence of His care
  • whether affected diffidence, impatient haste, rash and uncharitable censures of others are found in your heart
  • whether you regard the proper season for every duty and daily labour to “redeem the time”
  • whether in circumstances of difficulty you ask yourself “what would my Lord and Saviour have done in this situation?”
  • whether you keep in mind His own blessed rule to do to others what we would have them do to us.

7. Advice About Eternity

Learn to remember your latter end, “to die daily”. Venture on nothing but what appears to be your duty, both lawful and timely, and such as you would venture on, if you had only a day to live.

If you would like to read the full originally published guidance, click here. For more about William Traill listen to this episode.

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14 Rules for the Christian Life

14 Rules for the Christian Life

14 Rules for the Christian Life
James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) was originally from the Black Isle, Ross-shire. He was imprisoned on the Bass Rock for ‘illegal’ field preaching but survived the times of persecution.
14 Aug, 2020

Life needs order rather than chaos; this is what attracted the millions who embraced Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. The rules Peterson presents do not, of course, arise from Scripture, grace in Christ and love to God. But their popularity revealed a widespread acknowledgement that life needs direction and structure; even a degree of self-denial. We have a degree of natural resistance against the idea of rules, even though we need them for order and safety. Perhaps it seems strange, therefore to speak of rules concerning the Christian life. Yet this is what the apostle Paul does (Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). They do not earn salvation but rather help us make spiritual progress. Scripture gives key principles and guidelines for healthy Christian living and progress and we need to give careful consideration to them.

James Fraser of Brea drew together some practical guidelines from Scripture for making progress in the Christian life. In no way are they meant as rules for earning salvation. Neither do they direct us to depend on our own resources and efforts. Fraser exalted Christ in his preaching as the only One who can save, keep and give spiritual strength to the soul. He had come in his own experience “to live in and to depend wholly on Christ for strength, justification, and comfort”.

But he discerned also that we need to walk wisely in the most God-glorifying way possible. He, therefore, gives the following rules to help us make progress in the Christian life. The Lord’s people walk by rules (he says); their life is fittingly compared to a race (Hebrews 12:1). I have therefore thought on some general rules to be observed as the foundation of all true religion.

1. Always Remember Your Highest Happiness

Strive to know and find out in what a person’s chief happiness consists and have an objective to follow. Until a person pursues the right purpose, they can never have the right activity and progress. Fix your heart in believing this: the enjoyment of God in Christ is your happiness. Make your heart to embrace and accept this. Sadly, most of us walk randomly, like beasts, without a purpose. This is the foundation of everything, that it is eternal life to know God and Jesus whom He has sent (John 17:3).

2. Always Have a Firm Resolution

It will contribute greatly to our progress in the way to be armed with a strong and deliberate resolution to walk in God’s ways (Psalm 119:106). It will determine our course. Consider and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of religion, and then thoroughly determine and bind yourself with the strongest engagements. Be affirmative, not indecisive.

3. Always Have the Right View of God

Strive to have and keep right, sound, orthodox, and charitable thoughts of God. Fix a lovely impression of God in your heart, such as Exodus 34:6-7. Fix your faith in God’s attributes—study this most as it is eternal life to know God (John 17:3). How will we call on God whom we have not known (Romans 10:14)? Any worship that is not directed to the true God is superstitious and unprofitable.

4. Always Seek to Do Your Duty

Always be in your duty. Runners must keep in the way. Never be idle. As there is an end, so there is a way. Never stop and stand still (Job 17:9). Lay this foundation, always be in duty; never leave it, whatever it is. You are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). We lose much by idleness. We are engaged in so great a work that we must not allow ourselves to grow cold in it. Our interruptions do us much harm. Little by little at last becomes a lot and makes good progress.

5. Always Be Guided by Scripture

Walk by faith and not by your own impressions. Make the Scriptures your rule: think, love, judge, and do according to this. Examine all things. Just as a person has an end and a way in travelling so they have a rule to direct them. This is the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 5:7; Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6:1-2). Reject all other guides but this.

6. Always Trust God

Always believe and never despair. Keep your heart up. Whatever comes do not lose your confidence. Never sink by discouragement, hope always steadfastly to the end. “Trust in Him at all times” (Psalm 62:8).  Hold fast your confidence steadfast to the end (Hebrews 3:6). There is never any grounds for despair—the grounds for faith always remains. Therefore, never lose your hope (Lamentations 3:26; Isaiah 26:4).

7. Always Live Near the Lord

Always live near the Lord. This is expressed in Scripture by walking with God and setting Him always at our right hand. Let your heart, thoughts, and affections always retain some impressions of His presence; fear always. Keep yourselves in the love of God. If you have departed from Him, return again; if you have returned, keep with Him. Everything good is with God, and everything not good comes from His absence and distance. “Woe also to them when I depart from them!” (Hosea 9:12). By all means, do not lose your guide; He is “all things,” life, light, strength, and health. You cannot be without this, wait on Him continually (Hosea 12:6; Psalm 16:8; Genesis 17:1) You can do nothing without Him (John 15:4-6). It is good for you to draw near to God (Psalm 73:28). 

8. Always Submit to God in Humility

Always be humble; never murmur. Always be abased in your own eyes. Always justify the Lord. Submit to all of His dealings in Providence. Never let your spirit be embittered or angered. Walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). 

9. Always Be Self-Controlled

Keep your spirit sober and in health. If you are sick and diseased you cannot travel. Do not be drunk with the “cares of this world,” (Luke 12:45). Do not be lifted up with pride or passion. Those whose spirit is lifted up within them are not right. Keep your spirit in an equal balance; “be sober” (1 Peter 5:8). Do not allow your passions to run to excess. Be sober in weeping, rejoicing, speaking, doing, fearing (Philippians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 7:30). Always be unshaken in having mastery over yourself.

10. Always Beware of Excess

Strive to avoid excess in food, drink, sleep, and recreation. Shun excess because it leaves us spiritually indisposed. The classical philosophers called being moderate the groundwork and foundation of all virtue (2 Peter 1:5-6; Proverbs 23:20). Runners must observe a careful diet and be restrained (1 Corinthians 9:25). Carousing is forbidden (Luke 21:34).

11. Always Beware of Worldly-Mindedness

Beware of worldly-mindedness and being too much engaged in the world (2 Timothy 2:4). Have as little commotion in the world as you can. Do not take charge of any more than you can master. If trapped, flee as a bird out of the snare and put your house in order. You must especially put the world out of your heart.  No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

12. Always Be Watchful

Be watchful. Beware of a spirit of slumber,  always stand on guard. “Watch in all things,” as the apostle commanded Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).  Always be suspicious of danger (Proverbs 28:14). Never become secure or careless. Remember your adversary is still busy and his snares are continually set. “Be vigilant” therefore (1 Peter 5:8). Always keep your eyes open. Look at and ponder everything. Do not be rash or hasty.

13. Always Use the Means of Grace Diligently

Be diligent in the means of grace, both in public and private; e.g. in listening to sermons, meditation, Christian conversation, spontaneous prayer, reading.  You must especially be diligent in private prayer, a person cannot be a Christian without this. You cannot work or labour unless you eat (Proverbs 10:4).

14. Always View Sin as the Greatest Evil

Look on sin as the greatest evil, and as something that is never to be done. Whatever you do, shun sin and shun temptations to evil, as well as evil itself.

Conclusion

These guidelines are succinct and contain much wisdom and reflection on Scripture and Christian experience. They show an understanding of key helps and hindrances in making spiritual progress. We will do well to keep them uppermost in our thinking as we seek to live out the gospel and devotion to Christ. 

 

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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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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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Resolution is a Way of Life

Resolution is a Way of Life

Resolution is a Way of Life
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.
1 Jan, 2020

Everywhere people are resolving to make a positive change in their lives. They plan to get rid of something they don’t want or achieve something desirable. Whether or not these are successful is a matter of debate. Resolution is, however, a far deeper and more spiritual matter than these lifestyle changes. A spirit of God-centred resolution should govern the way that we live. This is a boldness of faith that arises from the nature of the gospel and God Himself. Whatever else we may resolve let’s make sure we have this spirit of resolution.

Put simply, this spirit is an unconquerable resolution to be for God. This is how Andrew Perne (member of the Westminster Assembly) describes it. It means being resolved to stick unwaveringly to God and His ways no matter what others do or what happens as a consequence. He says that this is what makes the heart to be in heavenly tune and the right key, pleasing and acceptable to God.

This spirit of gospel courage looks beyond all dangers, difficulties, and opposition. Such a person may lose their body by the way, but their spirit will continue after God. They are like David’s three mighty men who broke through the camp of the Philistines to fetch their king water (2 Samuel 23:16).

God was well pleased with this kind of spirit in Caleb. He had another spirit, resolute and valiant not cowardly and feeble spirit as the other spies (Numbers 14:24). The same spirit was in the three who faced the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16). Moses had this spirit too (Hebrews 11:27) as did Joshua who was prepared to serve the Lord whatever others would do (Joshua 24:15). How do we obtain such a spirit? Andrew Perne helps us find biblical answers to that question.

1. God-centred Resolution Comes from Conviction

Such resolution comes from a thorough and full conviction of soul that we have followed the right ways of God. Paul was thoroughly convinced and unwaveringly resolved for the gospel in this way. He desires this for the Galatians also, they must be committed to this gospel no matter what anyone preached even if an apostle or angel (Galatians 1:8).

A supernatural light must convince the soul and make the ways of God unquestionable. Paul did not therefore preach with the enticing words of human wisdom but in the Spirit and with power (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). This was so that their faith might stand in the power of God. When faith is based on such grounds, on such a powerful conviction of the Spirit, all the World cannot turn us from it. This steadfast, unconquerable resolution proceeds from a powerful and thorough conviction of the truth of God and His ways.

2. God-centred Resolution Comes from Fear

This resolution understands clear the danger of forsaking the ways of God. Fear and danger give rise to courage and resolution. When someone perceives that their greatest danger is falling into the hands of God they see that to sin against God is the worst thing possible. Moses did not fear the king of Egypt because he persevered seeing one who (though invisible) was greater and more to be feared (Hebrews 11:27). Daniel’s three friends feared a hotter furnace if they would worship the golden image. When someone considers hell the worst of prisons and everlasting destruction the king of terrors awaiting those who forsake God and His ways, it makes them resolute for God.

3. God-centred Resolution Comes from Hope

Hope of gain and honour makes people bold and puts courage and resolution into them. God’s children have hope too which exceedingly strengthens their resolutions. They hope for the crown of righteousness, the weight of glory, the kingdom prepared from the beginning of the world. These were Paul’s hopes, these are and were ours. They will sustain us in all our sufferings. God promised to be Abraham’s exceeding great reward (Genesis 15:1). He would be paid and not lose. When we realise that God has the resources to provide the reward, we can trust God for everything. This will make us valiant and resolute for the ways of God.

4. God-centred Resolution Comes from Love

Love makes us resolute and want to please God. Love looks beyond all dangers and difficulties, it weakens all opposition and strengthens itself. It makes the soul consider anything feasible. The nature of your resolution will reveal to you what you are and whom you love (Ruth 1:14). Ruth’s love and resolution was total (Ruth 1:16).

5. God-centred Resolution Comes from Experience

The soul that has tasted of the sweetness, comfort, peace, and joy of the ways of God is resolute for them (Psalm 119:103). Because of this the psalmist vows and resolves to keep them (Psalm 119:106). The soul cleaves to that which offers most pleasure: for pleasure is the food of the soul. The body can live as well without food, as the soul can without pleasure. When the soul has tasted how transcendently sweet God’s ways and Word are: what sweet hopes, what blessed peace, what joy unspeakable and glorious is produced. The soul seeks its rest here. 

Many think those who engage themselves to the cause of God “too far” to be far from wisdom. They can see their sufferings, but not their refreshings. They do not see the peace, love, joy, and unspeakable comfort which the saints of God have in the ways of God. If others could experience from God these heats of heart and hints of love and mercy, they would be ready not only to do the same as believers but to suffer with them.

Conclusion

You need to get, keep and increase this spirit of resolution within you. Be courageous and undaunted for your God. Look past all dangers, do not be terrified in anything by your adversaries. Do not think death too great a danger to cope with for God and His truth. Your God and your religion are the best things you have. They are the highest and greatest things. Better to lose all than lose our God and His truth. We must therefore ask for the old paths and walk in them to find rest to our souls (Jeremiah 6:16). All God’s ways are pleasantness and peace (Proverbs 3:17).

You have resolution and courage and why should God and His cause not have it? God has the most right to it. Can you be resolute for the world and worldly things and have no spirit for God? With what steadfastness and immovable resolution did our Saviour Christ go through the work of our redemption. Be as resolute for God as He is for you.

Much more than new resolutions we need a new spirit with which to face the challenges of this coming year undaunted in our resolution to be entirely for God.

Note: Andrew Perne (1596–1654) lived a life of resolute faith. The memorial at the Church he served in Wilby, Northamptonshire testifies to this.  He was “a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, a zealous owner ever of God’s cause in perilous times, a powerful and successful preacher of the gospel”. The above updated extract comes from one of the many sermons he preached to Parliament in the 1640s.

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?
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.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
21 Nov, 2019

Like many other things modern friendship has changed dramatically. Electronic communication has expanded our circle of friends and made maintaining contact easier. But its limitations can also stifle deeply connected bonds. And, the modern world seems friendless for too many.     We need to value and deepen friendship in a greater way for the spiritual good of others and ourselves. It demands time, a desire to benefit others and undivided attention. God Himself extends to us the greatest and deepest friendship and we need to learn how to value that above all.

Andrew Gray considers what it means to be “called the friend of God” as Abraham was (James 2:23). It is the highest possible privilege and yet Adam threw it away. Christ, however, has “found out the precious way of making the blessed and more durable knot of friendship between God and us”.

The great goal of the everlasting gospel is to reconcile sinners and make them friends with God. How do we become such friends? “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me” (Isaiah 27:5).

But, asks Gray, do our lives and prayers make plain that we are friends of God? What are the evidences of a true friendship toward Christ? How is it the deepest friendship there is? In this updated extract Andrew Gray also outlines the blessings of friendship with God so that we may truly value it.

1. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE TRUE FRIENDS

(a) A true friend maintains constant friendship to Christ at all times (Proverbs 17:17). No matter what trials we have or what He requires of us, we will be faithful.

(b) A true friend has the highest esteem for Christ (Song 5:10 and 16). Is Christ matchless to you? Who had your thoughts first today? Was it Christ (Psalm 139:18)?

(c) A true friend finds everything in Christ exceedingly lovely (Song 5:16). There is nothing in Christ that will not be lovely. Christ’s rebukes will be lovely, His convictions will be lovely, His visits will be lovely. There is nothing that Christ can do but you will cry out, “This is lovely.” There is not a commandment that Christ can give but it will be lovely. If you be a friend to Him, you will cry out, “I have a respect to all the commandments of God.”

(d) A true friend obeys all Christ’s commands (John 15:14). A Christian must be all-inclusive in their obedience to be a friend to Christ. If they do not love the duty for itself, yet will he love it because it comes from Christ.

(e) A true friend tells Christ their secrets. There are some things that a Christian will tell Christ, which he will not tell to anyone in the world. It does not offend your precious friend when you tell Him all your secrets.

(f) A true friend is burdened by Christ’s absence. Is it not the true kindness of a friend to long to see one’s absent friend?

(g) A true friend delights in fellowship with Christ (Song 1:2).

2. CHRIST’S FRIENDS FEAST WITH HIM

Christ invites His friends to feast with Him (Song 5:1). The great Master of the feast invites them. It is a royal feast (Isaiah 25:6); it is a glorious,
purchased feast to be valued by the price that was paid for it (Matthew 22:3–4). Only friends are invited to come to the feast of the Lord’s Table because only they can fellowship with Christ in the banquet of love. Only they can exercise the graces suitable for this feast. Can an enemy exercise the grace of love? An enemy cannot exercise the grace of sorrow for offending Christ, and yet that is a qualification of one that would approach the table of the Lord. No one is able to discern the Lord’s body except friends.

3. CHRIST’S FRIENDS LEARN HIS SECRETS

The person who is a friend to the Most High is a person who will be brought in to know the deep secrets of the Lord (John 15:15). He will let you know whether you are in the state of nature or in the state of grace. (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:32). He will communicate unknown truths to His friends (Matthew 13:11). Paul says of himself, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

There are excellent secrets of duty that Christ will unfold to His friends. He will tell His friends the duty of the times in which they live (1 Chronicles 12:32). There are many secret duties that are made known unto the friends of God that are not made known to others who are strangers to Him. Christ will also make the secrets of providence known to His friends (Psalm 36:9).

4. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY WITH BOLDNESS

The soul who is a friend of God may come with boldness to God to seek anything from Him. Is God your friend? Then you may say, “God is my friend; I may be bold with Him.” Yes, when you approach to God in prayer, if you could introduce it with this, “O my friend,” you might pray with much confidence and boldness of faith.

5. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY CONFIDENTLY

A friend of Christ may come to God with confidence. If Christ is your friend, you may go to Him with great persuasion that He will deny you nothing and is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Did you ever have such a precious friend as this?

6. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE STRENGTHENED IN DUTY

This precious, matchless friend sharpens you and stirs you up to do your duty (Proverbs 27:17). A sight of your precious friend Christ would make you swift in your duty.

7. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

A friend of God has much communion with God and dwells and walks much with God. He walks much with God (Amos 3:3). If you are friends to Christ, you will have much of His heart (to long after you), His hand (to help you) and His mind (to reveal precious secrets hidden from the world).

8. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE COUNSEL IN DIFFICULTY

God will give counsel to His friends in all their dark and difficult distresses (Proverbs 27:9). If you were a friend to God, you would sometimes sing of Him giving you counsel (Psalm 16:7; Psalm 73:24).

9. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE SYMPATHY

If you are a friend of God, Christ will sympathise with you in all your anxieties (Proverbs 18:24).  Christ is more afflicted with our circumstances than we are afflicted with them ourselves (Zechariah 2:8).

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

If we stopped to look at it we would see how they weave themselves into our everyday thoughts and actions. We don’t admit it to ourselves but they do get more attention than God and seem to offer us more meaning and happiness. Some things are more obvious: success, work, image, material possessions, even smart phones. But heart idols go even deeper than you think. They are bound up with the deepest emotions and instincts of our heart and that is what keeps them hidden. If we are serious about putting God first we need help in diagnosing what is taking His place.

James Durham explains the subtle ways in which we commit heart idolatry and helps us to diagnose it. The heart Idolatry need not be an avowed conviction that we should worship something or someone other than God. Neither is it restricted to letting ourselves fixate on sinful things. We can be committing idolatry when we let ourselves love or value lawful things–things which are good and legitimate in themselves–to an excessive degree.

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

There are five things which indisputably belong to God: respect, love, confidence, reverence, and service.

It’s not that we should give no honour, love, etc, to anyone other than God, but that we should not love or serve anyone or anything too much, i.e, more than God.

When we veer away from giving God these five things, we are in effect committing idolatry in our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-7). What does this mean?

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

We commit idolatry when anything – even any good and legitimate thing – gets too much of our respect, so that our happiness depends on it. We can’t do without it, while we can do without communion with God. If something happens to deprive us of this thing, and then by comparison all our other comforts, including the promises of God and God himself, are of little value to us, this shows that that thing had too much of our respect.

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

We commit idolatry when we give our hearts away to created things – we’re addicted to them, we pursue them with excessive energy, we dote on them, or we sorrow immoderately when we lack them. A covetous person, who loves the world (1 John 2:15) is called an idolater (Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:5). Ahab loved Naboth’s vineyard so much that he could not rest without it (1 Kings 21). Demas idolised the world, when for love of it he forsook his service with the apostle (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are three ways to tell if your love to created things is excessive.

  • If your contentment depends on them to the extent that you fret when you cannot enjoy them, as Ahab did with Naboth’s vineyard, and Rachel when she had no children (Genesis 30:1).
  • If your love for created things competes with God, so that respect and love to the world shuffles out your duty to God, as it did with Demas.
  • If love to the world undermines your zeal in doing your duty towards God. This was the case with Eli (1 Samuel 2:24). Eli honoured and loved his children above God (1 Samuel 2:29). Not that he tolerated their wicked wrongdoing entirely, but because he did not intervene as sharply as he should have (and likely would have, if they had not been his own sons). By contrast, Abraham is commended for showing his love for God, because he did not hold back his only son when God called for him.

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

Putting our confidence in humans or human thing is idolatry. If we place our protection in humans, even in princes (Psalm 146:3) or in crowds, or in horses and armies, we are idolising them. Rich people may “make gold their confidence and fine gold their hope” (Job 31:24). They regard themselves as safe, not because God has a providence, but because they have these resources. Asa trusted doctors and not God for the cure of his disease (2 Chronicles 16:12). The rich man based his rest for his soul on his full barns (Luke 12:19).

You tell that some people’s confidence is misplaced because of the course of action they take when trouble comes. Some people do not hesitate to make use of sinful means to get things sorted. Or, because of the fuss they make when disappointment comes. Or, because they rely on their resources in a way that spoils their resting in God and his providence.

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

We may fear people, or events, more than we fear God. Fear can make us sin, or at least keep us back from doing what we should, either in little things or important things. Some, for fear of the Jews, did not confess Christ (John 12:42). This makes an idol of our actual enemies! We have more fear for “the one who can kill the body”, than for “him who can destroy both soul and body”! In this way great and important men in the world are idolised. In fact, the same thing can happen to good and well-qualified individuals, if we become addicted to them and their words and opinions, not so much because of the truth or reasonableness of what they say, but because of the personalities themselves.

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

When we are brought under the power of any thing, to serve it, that is idolatry. Every person or every whim that we set out to please is in this sense an idol. We cannot serve two masters, both God and mammon, and if we “serve men”, we are not “the servants of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

You can identify this kind of idolatry by seeing, for example, what people are most excessively taken up with, and most careful to accomplish. Or, by looking at what people will go to greatest lengths to attain. Or, by what gets most of their time and energies. Or, by what most sways, and overcomes, and overawes them most, so that they cannot resist it, even supposing they have to thrust aside a duty to God, or it puts them out of sorts for duties of worship.

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

It would be hard to speak of all the various different idols which may be loved, feared, and rested on too much, and so put in God’s place. Let us look at only a few.

1. THE WORLD

The world is the great clay idol that both covetous and hedonistic people hunt after, calling, “Who will show us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). This idol keeps thousands in bondage. An excessive desire to have the world’s goods, and so to have a prestigious reputation in the world, is the idol of many.

2. THE BELLY

The belly is a shameful god (Philippians 3:19), yet one worshipped by the majority of people, who labour for nothing more than for enough in this life to fill the belly (Psalm 17:14). They only want to earn their living and provide for their families. The fear of want captivates and enslaves many.

3. THE SELF

In some ways, the self includes every kind of idol. Your self, your reputation, your good name, people’s approval–your own will, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions. People are said to “live to themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15), in contrast to living to God, when respect to self influences them to be “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4), and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (Titus 1:7) and “self-willed” (2 Peter 2:10).

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

Gifted or influential people, who have the power to do us considerable good or evil, are often made into idols when people put too much fear, love, or trust in them.

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

Things which can lawfully be used as comforts and contentments–such as houses, spouses, and children–we can be too much addicted to. We can become absorbed in these things–even though they are in themselves very little–and so they turn out to be our idols.

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Our prayers, repentances, blameless living, and so on, are often invested with more of our confidence than they should be. We rely too much on them for our salvation and eternal peace (Romans 10:3).

7. CHURCH

The purity of our worship, the forms of our worship, our church membership, can become idols. When we rest on these forms of godliness, and do not press on towards the power of godliness, they become our idols. This was the problem with the Jews, who appealed to the temple of the Lord and the covenant between him and them, and their external relationship to him (Jeremiah 7:4).

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

When we lay too much weight on God’s gifts (such as beauty, strength, intelligence, learning), or think too much of them, we make them into idols. In fact, we may put grace itself, and the sense of God’s love, and inward peace, into Christ’s place. We may sometimes seek for these things more than for Christ himself. When things like these are rested on, and delighted in, and Christ is slighted, or when we miss them and do not delight in him, then they are idols.

9. AN EASY LIFE

Ease, quietness, and our own contentment, can often be a great idol. This is how it was with the rich man, who told his soul to take ease (Luke 12:19). His ease was his idol, seeing how he rested on it, and made it the chief end of all his buildings and the goods he had to store. But his riches were his idol, seeing how he grounded his expectation of rest on what he possessed. Similarly, many idle people, who frame their life so that they will have no trouble, even though they are not being or doing anything profitable, make this the drift of all they do–to have an easy life. If this was not their chief end, it would be profitable, but when they neglect many necessary duties, only to avoid hassle, it is their idol.

10. ESCAPISM

Sometimes our minds please themselves with things which never exist except in their own imagination. Solomon calls this “the wandering of the desire”, as opposed to “the sight of the eyes” which others delight in (Ecclesiastes 6:9). Some people spend their gifts and skills on writing novels, romances, stage plays, and comedies. Even more subtly, yet perhaps even more commonly, people concoct imaginary and fictious scenarios where they get the revenge, delights, or prominence they desire.

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

The means which God normally works by, are often trusted in and relied on to such an extent that they become idols. These could be doctors, armies, or ministers–or inanimate natural causes. Worse than that, astrology and palm-reading are much prized but the Scriptures treated as antiquated and largely discarded.

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

In order to honour God truly and have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3) we need a right response to Him. God must be esteemed, loved, trusted, feared, hoped in adored, honoured, served and obeyed above all else. In a word, He must be the supreme purpose of all our actions.

We must also depend on God and submit to Him. We must rest believingly on Him and express our faith and repentance in prayer.  There must be delight in Him and constant fellowship. We must also meditate on God and diligently use all of the means He has appointed for us to deepen our response to Him,.

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Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
25 Oct, 2019

We are witnessing an evident increase in people being health and fitness conscious. Bodily exercise does indeed have a certain limited benefit for us in preserving our health and life (1 Timothy 4:8). But Paul tells us that exercising or training ourselves to godliness brings every kind of benefit (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The comparison is clear. Just as bodily exercise brings benefit so our spiritual health requires spiritual exercise. Part of Christian growth is exercising and strengthening faith. How can we do this?  

Andrew Gray explains the benefits of exercising and strengthening faith. Faith must constantly go out to Christ depending on His Word and promises. It becomes stronger the more it is exercised in this way. This is vital for the Christian life. 

1. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith keeps our soul in the most constant fellowship with Christ. He dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). It is through exercising the grace of faith Christ that becomes our husband, our householder, and the one who dwells within us. It is a most sweet and desirable thing to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and our souls dwelling with Christ by love. It is a sweet connection.

2. CHRIST’S PRECIOUSNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith can make Christ more precious to a Christian than feelings can. Faith’s estimate of Christ is based on His person but feelings look to what Christ does. Faith looks at what Christ was before the world began, but feelings only look at what Christ is at the present time. The grace of faith looks to the love in Christ’s heart: feelings only look to the smiles of His face. Faith’s estimation is more constant than that of feelings especially when Christ withdraws His felt presence. When faith needs wisdom, it consults with Christ, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor. Faith is like a sinew which when it is cut, all our strength goes from us. Faith is heroic; the crown of martyrdom is set on the head of faith.

3. HUMILITY INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

A Christian who excels in this grace, is the most humble Christian. By what law is boasting excluded? By the law of faith (Romans 3:27). Faith shows a Christian the excellence of God, and humbles them in the dust. Faith makes a Christian both ascend and descend, so to speak. It keeps all the graces of the Spirit in motion.

4. SIN DECREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith likewise puts sin to death. When Christ is revealed to a soul, it will cast away its idols as filthy rags and will cry out that it has none in heaven besides God (Psalm 73:25). The soul is drawn more to where it loves than where it lives.

5. PATIENCE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Being justified by faith, we glory even in what we suffer (Romans 5:3). Faith holds out the crown on the right hand to a Christian with this motto written on it: “He that perseveres to the end shall he saved”. Moses never arrived at patience until he got to the top of the mountain from which he saw the promised land. Faith brings home the promises of eternal glory to a Christian.

6. SPIRITUAL FRUITFULNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a grace that sanctifies our lives. Faith has a sweet influence on our fruitfulness to Christ by helping us to abide in Him (John 15:5). Faith is the mother grace that bears good works as its children and as it moves so all the other graces move with it.

7. UNDERSTANDING INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an intelligent grace, understanding the “mystery of God” (Colossians 2:2). Faith raises the soul to the highest level of reason.

8. PEACE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith pacifies the heart. Peace is the daughter of faith, Faith is the dove that brings the olive branch of peace in its mouth.

9. SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS INCREASE AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an empty hand that receives the precious free gifts that come from Christ’s merits. It is the channel through which the blessed streams of life flow to us from Him.

10. PURITY OF HEART INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a heavenly plant which will not grow in an impure heart. Faith is a heart-purifying grace (Acts 15:9). It can only grow in a pure and heavenly soil.

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The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For
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.
10 Oct, 2019

Many people know that their prayer life suffers at the expense of a busy life. But no one is too busy for spontaneous prayer. This isn’t about unwritten as opposed to written prayers. Neither is it asking someone to pray with you on the spur of the moment. Spontaneous prayer is like a reflex reaction to something rather than a deliberate act of getting on our knees to address God. It’s woven into the fabric of life. A silent and brief cry, groan, plea or breath. It expresses our dependence on God. 

It is an earnest cry not a casual, lazy wish (Nehemiah 2:4). Spontaneous prayer is not just an emergency cry but a necessary duty. We need to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and with all kinds of prayer at all times (Ephesians 6:18). It is something that can be part of our everyday life and duties. It expresses our dependence on God and keeps us in a spiritual condition. There are thousands of opportunities that we have for this kind of prayer and it helps us make best use of our time. James Durham explains the benefits of spontaneous prayer as well as showing the type of opportunities we can make use of for this.

THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

(a) It keeps our heart in the right condition

It makes us sensitive to spiritual things. It keeps the heart from wandering from God.

(b) It helps prevent gross sin

How many sinful thoughts and unadvised words this might prevent.

(c) It helps us in our spiritual duties

It keeps us fervent and lively in formal prayer. When we find it difficult we can send up a short request to God for life and help. It also helps us in hearing the Word aright, when we ask that ministers may get liberty and all boldness and those who listen do so with love, faith and meekness.

(d) It helps us have a peace of mind that passes all understanding.

We cn take delight in fellowship with God. Spontaneous prayer gives us a sight of God now and then and a right perception of Him in our minds.

(e) It is often clearly successful.

Jacob, Moses, David, and many other saints obtained what they sought from God when they prayed in such a way.

(f) It helps us make best use of our time.

We are kept from being idle by being spiritually exercised and have great peace and comfort. It helps us in our business and employment.

THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

We should watch out for all kinds of opportunities for this type of prayer in our daily lives. The following is general guidance about such opportunities as it would be hard to give specific directions about all the possible opportunities for spontaneous prayer.

(a) When You Cannot Pray Formally

God may give you an opportunity for this kind of prayer when you do not have opportunity engage in formal prayer. You may be travelling, walking or hearing someone else speak. It is a kind of prayer that will not mars not obstruct your ordinary employment. You may pray in your shop, at your door, or when you are walking in the street or when you are in company with others, or when you are lying on your bed. All these are precious opportunities that might be best used for this important purpose.

(b) When You Are Engaged in Momentous Things

When you are about any business of great weight and moment. Nehemiah had such when he was before the king. If any of you are witness to the solemn administration of the sacrament of baptism or involved in it. If you are employed in something that concerns your life or concerns, then you should offer some reverent requests to God.

(c) When You Experience Difficulties

When there is any difficulty in something we are engaged in, as when David was among the Philistines, or when he was before the king of Gath.

(d) When you are Tempted to Sin

When there are temptations in your way, and you are in danger of sinning you need this kind of prayer. If you find yourself in bad company, or if you engaging in anything that is delicate or dangerous such prayers are necessary. Pray when you encounter trials or temptations in any calling or company. Before you speak a word or give an answer, send to God a request for direction.

(e) When Sin Rises Up

When you find any impulse rising up in your heart to do wrong, when you are provoked or anger or revenge is stirred up. Moses evidently prayed to God in Exodus 14:15-16 when he was answering the murmuring of the people.

(f) When Something Unexpected Happens

When some very extraordinary thing occurs which you had not anticipated beforehand you need such prayers. When Ahithophel joined Absalom against David he prayed that God might defeat his counsel (2 Samuel 15:31). Something may happen to you in relation to your family or friends, which may discompose your minds. This is a fitting opportunity to cry to God.

(g) When You Are Engaged in Spiritual Activities

When you are called to engage in spiritual activities: to read God’s Word, meditate upon it, pray to or praise God you should offer some desires for God’s help. Or when you meet with others, before you open your mouths to speak, seek to be guided aright of God (Genesis 49:18). When you have to speak reproof, comfort or advice to a friend it would be very proper to have a word or thought sent up to heaven that it may be effectual.

(h) When You are in Trouble

When you are in some great suffering or affliction which requires greater than your own strength to bear cry to God.

CONCLUSION

Here is a type of prayer that we can make use of anytime and anywhere. We cannot say that we are too busy for it. It will not interfere with what we are doing and the busier we are, the greater our need of God’s help. We must be careful to maintain a reverent spirit and use expressions that are suitable for expressing to God. But it will do much to maintain a sense of spiritual things in our minds. Durham asks some searching questions. Is it not entirely unsuitable that we profess continual dependence on God but spend most of our day without acknowledging Him? Should we not have God’s company all day long if we want to know fellowship with Him? What do we put in place of such prayers? What things do our minds run after–are they not often things that cannot benefit us?

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