How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?

How Far Should Love Go With the Sixth Commandment?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
29 Mar, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What good affections are required?

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

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

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

(d) Humility.

(e) Meekness.

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

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

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

3. What is required for the preservation of peace?

(a) Care to avoid offences.

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

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

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

4. What inward sins are condemned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. How should we resist these?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. What is forbidden in our words?

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

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

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

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

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

9. What is required in our words?

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

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

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

Further Help

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

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The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love

The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love

The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
18 Sep, 2020

Our culture constantly suggests to us that the key to happiness is unconditional self-love. The implication is that this is the ultimate love and it will guarantee us success and security. This creates what one writer has called a toxic culture of self-love that will never satisfy. We do not need to go to the opposite extreme, instead we need to turn from focus on self to the ultimate love Christ has for His own. It is self-denying, self-sacrificing love for the unlovely, dealing with rather than accepting sin. Those who are His own turn from sin and by grace depend on Him alone by faith. There is very much to be gained from contemplating this ultimate special love that Christ has for His people.

We have a description of this love in John 13:1: “when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end”. This is one of the first passages that Thomas Goodwin makes use of in his book The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth. He says that although Christ’s thoughts were on leaving this world, yet they were also on His own who were in the world. The words “his own” reflect the nearness and dearness with which He considers them. His love will not be diminished in any way by departing from the world “having loved them, he alters, he changes not, and therefore will love them forever”. He will be mindful of them still and His heart in heaven has the fulness of love that He demonstrated then for them. He will love His own to the end. George Hutcheson draws out something of the fulness of comfort that John 13:1 offers to us in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Love is for His Own is Infinite

The infinite love of tender-hearted Christ is the allowance and portion of all His special ones; for, “he loved his own”.

2. Christ Love for His Own Answers the Troubles of this World

Christ leaves His children in this tempestuous world to be humbled with remaining sin and tossed with the tempests of time. Yet that neither takes away their claims on Him nor His love toward them; for, “he loved his own…in the world”.

3. Christ’s Love for His Own is the Same in Heaven

The disadvantages of saints (particularly being left in the world when Christ went out of it) do not hinder His love toward them. Rather it is a reason why He should love them and let out more of His love. It is not only not a hindrance of His love; it is a reason: He loved His own because they were in the world. And especially now in His farewell, He gives proof of it, considering the dangers to which they were left exposed.

4. Christ’s Love for His Own is Constant

It is not enough to see Christ’s love towards His saints in particular past experiences. They must also labour to see its uninterrupted course from the time of their conversion onwards. Therefore, now at His farewell, He makes His past love clear to them that He had loved them until now and was to give a proof of it. He “having loved his own which were in the world…loved them unto the end”.

5. Christ’s Love for His Own is Known in Every Condition

Christ’s love is not to be measured only by our satisfaction with a felt sense of the tender ways it is given to us. The sum of all His dealings towards His own is love. It ought to be read in every condition and all His dealings. Love had been maintained in His tender heart for all this time. There had been many various past experiences between Him and His disciples (some of them very contrary to their preferences). Yet all is summed up in this, He had “loved his own”.

6. Christ’s Love for His Own is Unchangeable

Christ’s special love toward His own is unchangeable and incessant until they are perfected and enjoy its fulness. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. He continued His love from the beginning until now. He is to die for them and depart from them and continues it even then. He will do so until they are brought to the end of their journey.

7. Christ’s Love for His Own is Ever Growing

Christ’s love is not a declining love, but a love that continually grows in what it effects. Nor is it only a love that consists only in good affection and wishes. It breaks out and expresses itself in notable ways. This is evidenced by His dying for His own. He loved them to the end, even to the death He suffered for them. And in so doing, He loved them perfectly (as the Greek word translated “end” can also mean). Thus, He proved that His love was a growing love in being manifested with such abundance at last.

8. Christ’s Love for His Own Provides All They Need

When Christ’s followers are in any danger unchangeable love will be active to cover their infirmities during trials. He will provide invigorating medicines for them and testify His special care for them. His love is noted as a cause why He will reveal His love now (when He is to depart and they will be scattered, shaken with trials and left desolate). He will let out much of His heart and give them such sweet instructions in explaining the sign of washing their feet. Indeed, His love suffers much to ensure what is necessary for His disciples. If there were no more, His love is enough to move Him to see them well cared for.

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5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ
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.
19 Jun, 2020

People often speak about spiritual growth, but what does it look like? Words and activities are easy. Love in the heart and in outward expression and obedience is what Christ looks for (Revelation 2:4; John 14:15). Love to Christ makes us want to be like Him. Where does that love come from? Love comes from love. Our love can be kindled and increased from His own love towards us. How do we grow in our love for Christ? He uses means such as prayer and the Word to strengthen this love. We must take time to consider deeply the Saviour and His love and seek to draw close to Him. Here are five ways in which Christ makes the flame of love in His people burn stronger and brighter.

In preaching on John 17:24, Robert Traill gives some clear and helpful advice on increasing our love for the Lord. Christ’s heart is set on having His people where He is. Surely, we ought to love Him in return. Most of those who lay claim to the name of Christian, think they make some conscience of loving Christ. They think it to be an entirely just debt and duty to Him and are ready to say with Paul, “If any man love, not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema, Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22). But just as the love that Christ bears to His people, is not so well known and believed as it ought to be; so the love His people owe to Him, is not as well paid as it ought to be. Previously, we have considered 9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ. In the following updated extract, Traill shows us five ways to increase in love for Christ.

1. Consider Christ and His Love

Take a serious view of the lover, the beloved, and of the love, He bears to them. Consider Christ who loves, His people whom He loves, and the love He bears to them. These three must be seen by the eye of faith in the light of God’s Word. The glory and greatness of the One who loves, the vileness of those whom He loves and the greatness of the love He bears to them. When this is considered two thoughts will rise in the heart.

(a) His love is great

How marvellous, that such a person as He is should love such people as we are and in such a way.

(b) Our love should also be great

How great our love should be to Him in return. What is the cause of this usual and fad remark, Worldly sinners reckon it an easy thing to believe that Christ loves them, though they never tasted of His special love. Yet many sincere Christians find it difficult to believe Christ’s love to them. Even though they dare not deny they have sometimes tasted that He is gracious (1 Peter 3:3). They find it hardest to believe it at the times when they see either the divine dignity of Christ or their wretchedness (these usually go together).

It is because this love of Christ is so mysterious and wonderful, (as the lover Himself is Isaiah 9:6). We find it difficult therefore to think that Christ loves any except those who are like Him in some way. We fail to recognise aright that Christ can and does love those who are not like Him. He loves them so as to make them like Him by His love. His love always has this blessed effect in everyone on whom it rests.

2. Believe Christ’s Love

Usually, we want to have His love proved and manifested to us. But I advise you to take this way instead – get your faith fixed on Christ’s love. Do not think that I am persuading you to conclude rashly that Christ loves you. Take Christ’s love-letters and Christ’s lovely picture in the gospel (the New Testament is full of them). Believe them and love them, and then use them to believe and love Him. Behold Christ crucified (Galatians 3:1); behold Him dying and redeeming by His blood in sheer love to the redeemed. Read His love-letters filled with gracious calls, offers, and promises. All these letters are sealed with His blood which was shed in love. This is a blessed activity you will soon benefit from.

3. Pray to Experience His Love

Pray much for His love to be manifested to you. You are to give Him glory by believing His love-letters and His beautiful picture in the gospel and increasing faith and love using those helps. But you may also beg Him to manifest His love to you. See His promise in John 14:21-23). These words are more precious than fine gold. When one of His disciples asks (either in ignorance or wonder) how this could be (verse 22), our Lord answers that He and the Father will come and make their abode with those who love Him and keep His words (verse 23). The language is very similar to His words in Revelation 3:20. Thus he manifests His love (1 John 4:12,15). Our love is “made perfect” but how did it begin and how is it advanced? Verse 19 tells us that “We love him because he first loved us.”

What are Christians doing? How poorly they do it. Where is the person who is sick with love for Christ? This blessed disease (or soul’s health, rather) is twofold. It is pining hunger either for His love being manifested (Song 5:8) or for the overwhelming sweetness of His love when it is manifested (Song 2:5). If you know nothing of either of these, your bodies may be well, but your souls do not prosper.

I do not think there ever was a poor believer who breathed after Christ’s love for long before they felt it. Most people do not care about it, so they do not seek it and therefore they do not find it. Some of them may say (like those who had not heard of the Holy Spirit, Acts 19:2), “we have not felt any of the love of Christ; we know nothing of it except what is said of it in Scripture, and as it is to be enjoyed in heaven.” But sadly, few feel how it burns like a hot fire in the heart even on earth (Song 8:6-7).

4. Kindle Your Love from Christ’s Love

When Christ has manifested His love kindle your flame of love from the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Kindle your love to Him at the fire of His love to you. No other fire will kindle true love to Christ except the believing and feeling Christ’s love to you. What made Paul such a fervent lover of Christ except knowing that Christ loved him and gave Himself for him (Galatians 2:20)? No wonder he said, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). “Christ died at Jerusalem for my redemption; and will I not die there for His glory, if He calls me to do that?”

5. Let Your Love Burn for Christ

When you have kindled your love to Christ from His love to you let it burn in serving and praising Him (it grows by burning). Use and exercise that love in all holy worship, and all gospel-obedience. The best worship and most acceptable obedience are done out of love for Christ. This love constrained Paul to excel in living for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). If our working and running only comes from the spur of the law constraining the conscience, it is of no account in the sight of God.

Faith in Christ increases love for Christ. Faith and love together enliven us in all holy obedience and spiritual worship. The Christian then reads and hears the word of Christ, because they love to hear His voice. They pray because they love to speak to and pour out their heart to their best friend. They sit down at the Lord’s table because they love to see and draw spiritual strength from their slain Saviour. They hate evil because they love the Lord (Psalm 97:10). They keep Christ’s commandments because they love the One commanding (John 14:15).

Be assured of this, you have not yet got into the right way of Christianity in which you can be hearty, sincere, and constant without fainting until you get into the power of the love of Christ. You will then be carried along sweetly in all your ways and His ways. The one who believes and loves Christ may then say, “Let the Lord lead me where He pleases; I am still going to heaven. I am in the river of life, that is the love of Christ, that began (if we can speak like that) in eternity and carries me through time to the eternal enjoyment of the same love in heaven.”

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When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
1 Nov, 2019

We are drowning in personal debt. It’s recognised as a crisis. With growing insecurity one small change can often send individuals and families into tragic unsustainable debt. Overall debt in the UK is expected to reach £2 trillion by 2020. How should we think about debt? When the Apostle Paul says that we are not to owe anyone anything it seems unmistakably clear (Romans 13:8). But then he goes on immediately to make an exception. In fact, he urges us to take on the biggest possible debt: “to love one another”. What are we doing about this personal debt?

In explaining this verse, John Brown of Wamphray emphasises that it is important for Christians to fulfil their obligations. They should be faithful in relation to the agreements and debts they contract. They should not give anyone legitimate reason complain about them. They should seek to manage the little money they receive from God in a wise and careful way so that they can pay off their debts (2 Kings 4:1-3; Proverbs 3:27 and 6:1-3).

The debt they cannot free themselves from but must constantly pay is to love one another. Paul goes on to show that this is what God’s law requires. It is something that we must be reminded about constantly (1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Corinthians 14:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:22).

1. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED FROM EVERYONE

The duty of Christian love is a duty required of every kind of person. It is a mutual Christian duty (John 13:34; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Colossians 3:14).

2. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED DAILY

This is a debt required of us daily and which we can never be freed from. It must continue (Hebrews 13:1). It is a debt we are constantly obliged to pay to our neighbour.

3. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED FOR EVERYONE

We should desire the best for everyone: eternal life, peace with God etc. This same principle of love ought to extend to everyone whether they are saints (Colossians 1:4) or strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19-20). It includes anyone who is called our neighbour (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19). We are to love one another and our neighbour (Romans 13:8-9; 1 Peter 2:17).

Believers are indeed bound to have a special respect and love for those who are fellow children of grace and children of the same Father (Galatians 6:10). The same has love us and commanded us to do this (1 John 4:11 and 21). This will prove that we do indeed know and love God and He dwells in us (1 John 4:8, 12 and 20). It will show that we are of God, dwell in the light and have passed from death to life (1 John 2:10-11 and 3:10 and 14).

It is of course true that in terms of frequency, effects and degree of delight we may love some more than others. These include those to whom we are related or are friends with or those who have shown us kindness (1 Timothy 5:4; Proverbs 18:24; Galatians 6:6).

4. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS OUR MORAL DUTY

Although believers are out of the reach of the condemnation of the law they are under its direction. The more the law urges a duty the more believers ought to strive to fulfil it. In urging this duty of love Paul says that it summarises the second part of the Ten Commandments. He calls this “the fulfilling of the law” (Matthew 22:39; James 2:8; Galatians 5:14).

5. THE DEBT OF LOVE IS REQUIRED IN EVERYTHING

This love for our neighbours should preserve us from wronging them in terms of their honour, person, reputation and possessions. It would urge us to use all lawful means to secure their spiritual and outward good. In a word, it would keep us from transgressing any commandment of the second part of the Ten Commandments in thought, word or deed (Romans 13:9 see Galatians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24). We must labour in this love (1 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10). We ought to serve our neighbour in love (Galatians 5:13).

Where this love is found we do not devise, contrive or seek anything that harms our neighbour. We will not even so much as take up a bad report against our neighbour (Psalm 15:3). Love does not envy but bears long and is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It does not think any evil but covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

CONCLUSION

Romans 14:8 is simple in its wording but it includes a very great deal indeed. Love for others so motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about it. 
When the Christian is changed their behaviour is also changed. This is so much the case that without this love – the Christian with all their knowledge and profession is nothing, it is merely an empty sound (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

But how do we show that love to all fellow-believers, what is our duty towards them? Any breach in fellowship and the love we ought to have should be truly distressing to us. Christ spoke of how reconciliation ought to take preeminence over other duties such as worship (see Matthew 5:21-26). It is easy to make professions, to parade zeal and orthodoxy but our obedience matters. This is the test of whether our love is genuine (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We may well have spoken the truth to another person faithfully and without leaving them in any doubt as to where they have gone wrong. But did we speak the truth in love? Or did we give them such a volley of truth as will inoculate them lifelong against the Biblical principles we are defending due to the way in which we have done it? Of course a failure to say or do what is right can also lead others to sin and error. It does not mean that we abandon any truth or principle; it means that we are unwilling to value it above Christian love. We value both love and truth enough to want to lovingly and patiently exhort our fellow Christians to be of one mind with us.

It is often in our use of the tongue and how we speak about other Christians that we fail to fulfil the requirement of love. We should always seek the good and not the harm (even indirectly) of others. 

We need to pray for much grace in order to fulfil this perpetual debt of love.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

No one has written on this subject in a more spiritual, biblical and powerful way than Hugh Binning in his book Christian Love. It is brief but needs much careful pondering and prayerful practice. 

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Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

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

Christ’s message to your Church is a call to reform. It’s about spiritual reformation as well as outward reform.  It is easier to be consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. Activity is highly visible; our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is largely invisible. The big danger for us all, when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity, is that we neglect our inner spiritual health. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of outward faithfulness, yet inward decay. We have to be prepared to ask ourselves, “Have we done that?”

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a challenging letter to Ephesus in the second chapter of Revelation means that this is a matter of primary concern to Him. James Durham says that we should consider this as if Christ were writing a letter to our Church. He explains that, “our Lord Jesus is the faithful witness” and shows us that when Christ says that He knows their works (Revelation 2:2), He is saying: “I know all your inward and outward works”:

 

  • what you have done in the church,
  • your way of administering all things in the church,
  • all your outward conduct in all these things,
  • your spirit in going about them,
  • the manner in which you are doing them,
  • the aims you had before you in doing them

“I know them perfectly, exactly, and thoroughly”.

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

He has been identifying what was very outwardly commendable in the Church in Ephesus. He commends their zeal, faithfulness, hard work and patient endurance for the sake of Christ’s name. They had not flinched from defending Christ’s truth.

(a) Their Labour
Christ identifies the painstaking concerns and labour of the ministry in the Word and doctrine. He also takes notice of and approves the conduct of the respective members of this church in reference to their duty.

(b) Their Perseverance
They had suffered. Christ knew very well all the persecution and suffering they were enduring. There was the ill-will of some within the church against them and all the malice of others outside it. Christ knew all the troubles Satan and those whom he uses had caused. He saw how patiently, submissively and constantly they had borne it all.

(c) Their Zeal
They are also commended for their zeal in carrying out church discipline—they could not bear with those were evil. They were courageous, and zealous against corrupt individuals trying them, condemning them and not tolerating them. They tested their doctrine and teaching and whether those who taught it had a true calling from Christ.

“Christ does it all lovingly. Because He loves us He does what is necessary for our spiritual growth.”

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

What could be wrong with them? For all that there is to commend, Christ has something very serious against them. They had left their first love.

What does leaving their first love mean? It is something inward. It is the grace of love in the heart and, as far as their Christian life was concerned, they had left it.

(a) Though they were outwardly zealous in the form of religion, yet they had fallen away from the inward spirit of tenderness that they once had. They were more taken up with duties that concerned the wellbeing and condition of their church, than with the inward duties of holiness. They had an outward zeal for religion, and an indignation against corrupt teachers that came in to corrupt it. They also had perseverance in suffering for it, but they had a coldness of affection in doing these things.

(b) They had not fallen away from grace itself. They still had grace but they had fallen away from exercising it to the extent and degree that they once did. They had fallen away from their first love rather than love itself. Believers are at first warm in their love in doing duties to God and to another. Christ’s reproof can be summarised as follows. Despite all I have commended you for, there is something in you that is not right. Though you are zealous in outward things, you come short in duties of mercy and in your love to one another. You are not as warm in your love to me, nor so single-minded in doing things for me as you once were.

Christ’s charge against us is defection

Defection inwardly. Not an outward defection from the truth and purity of doctrine, nor from the outward duties of religion, but an inward defection, declining in the way we exercise grace. We have not been so careful to maintain the way we exercise grace before God, as much as we have been to be seen of others.

Defection in love. Especially defection in love to God, and love to one another. This may be seen in our lack of love and sensitivity.

Defection in spirit. This is a defection in the way we do our duties. The duty may be commendable, but the principle from which it flowed may be grounds for rebuke.

Therefore, look at this epistle as if Christ were writing a letter to Scotland. In his letter, He is saying, that despite whatever purity and zeal you may have, yet you have fallen from your first love. Much of your love, warmness and tenderness has gone away. There is a decline and defection from the way grace is exercised. The sin is ours; the duty is ours; and the threatening also belongs to us. If there is anything commendable, it is more in outward form than reality. Believers are liable to decline from their first love, if not from their steadfastness.

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

He counsels them not just to repent but tells them how to go about repenting.

Christ never convicts us of sin without giving directions about recovery together with it. His direction here is in these three steps: remember, repent and do the first works. The goal of repentance is to be stirred up to reformation and steadfastness in well doing. Remembering brings us to repentance, and repentance brings us to reformation.

If Christ were charging us with a sin, it would be for falling away from first love. If He were calling for a duty from us, it would be to remember from where we have fallen, to repent and do our first works. We have not only fallen away from love but from that awe of God that should be on the heart. Remember this and other things, repent and do your first works.

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

He warns them in the most serious terms of what will happen if they do not.

He threatens the removal of the candlestick or lampstand. The candlestick is the church of Ephesus (see Revelation 1:20). This was not simply the people who made up the church but them professing, submitting to and living according to what Christ had appointed in the church, especially the means of grace. Removing the candlestick is God’s threatening to make them no longer a church. It implies removing the means of grace, the gospel and the ministry from them (see Matthew 21:43 and Acts 13:46).

Christ removes the candlestick from a people when He lets loose error which corrupts purity of doctrine (an essential mark of the church of God, and the foundation on which the church is built, Ephesians 2:20). He removes the candlestick by allowing disorder so that they abuse the freedom that the gospel has given them. They begin to show a secret desire for novelty and give themselves up to delusion. We have reasons to fear God’s threatening to remove our candlestick all these ways.
There is no greater judgment a church can be threatened with than the removal of the candlestick. There is no more serious threatening that can be given to a church or people in a church.

FURTHER REFLECTION

We have developed a resource, based on James Durham’s insights into the passage, to help you reflect more deeply on how Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus applies to you and to your church. It is called Outside In: Four Sessions to Help you Recover Your First Love for Christ. It will help you to think through carefully all of the many lessons that Christ wants the church to put into practice. 

“The way forward spiritually is to look back first.”

Outside In

Four sessions to help mature Christians

recover their first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

The material in this article has been extracted and updated not only from the Commentary on Revelation that Durham published but also from manuscript notes that have not been published. There is a project to re-publish Durham’s book on Revelation with its many helpful essays which will incorporate these manuscript notes.

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How Does Faith Help Love?

How Does Faith Help Love?

How Does Faith Help Love?
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."
5 Jul, 2019

Perhaps it’s a question that never exactly occurred to you. But it matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. There may be some distance in your relationship with Christ and a sense of absence or sorrow. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. As Augustine put it, “neither hope nor love are without faith”. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

Faith and love are uniting graces; they are a bond of union with Christ. The Christian loves someone they have not seen (1 Peter 1:5). This may seem mysterious and strange to others but (as Andrew Gray observes) not to those who have embraced Christ with the two arms of faith and love.  He also says that those who have truly seen Christ with the eye of faith cannot but love Him. Neither faith nor love are blind, they know the person trusted and loved.

This is why the Christians of the Early Church were ready to die and suffer for professing a crucified Christ. Though they could not see Christ, no imaginable torments could break the precious cords of love and faith intertwined together by an unseen Christ. They have spent nearly two thousand years in a blessed contemplation of He whom they loved although they did not see while they were here on this earth. But now they both see him and love Him.

Gray notes how Peter commends these two graces of faith and love. He shows how they made these Christians “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory”. They had a joy that could not be put into language, not even by the most eloquent person. It is a “joy full of glory”, in other words there is a constant joy that flows from exercising faith and love in the one not seen. Permanent joy and unspeakable delight are sweet flowers that come from the root of faith and love. They shall remain eternally green throughout all the ages of long eternity. What will be the joy of saints that are now made perfect if there is such joy here?

1. Faith Reveals the Object of Love

Faith comes first, before love is produced in the heart. It goes out to discover the invisible things of God. Love sits down and comforts itself in the discoveries of faith. Faith reveals the object of love. Faith discerns, comprehends and receives most in relation to God; it reveals the invisible things of God to the Christian. Love is then stirred up by the enlarged spiritual discoveries that faith makes.

2. Faith Helps Love to Trust

When we meet with some sad trials that make us anxious, love begins to call the reality of Christ’s good will into question. It does not know how to reconcile together His good will and His dealings in providence. Faith helps love here. It can read the thoughts of Christ’s heart and can behold His face behind a veil. It can see that though He seems to frown, He still loves.  It is not easy to discern this in such sad trials, only faith can understand it.

3. Faith Feeds on the Promises

Faith also helps love in opening up to the Christian the most precious promises that they have received and how they are being fulfilled. This stirs up the Christian to a pre-eminent love for Christ, who has given them such precious promises. If Christians could see how all these promises given to them in Scripture are being fulfilled, their souls would be longing after Christ. They would be constrained to love Him who has thus loved them.

 

If Christians could see how all these promises given to them in Scripture are being fulfilled, their souls would be longing after Christ.

4. Faith Draws Strength from Christ

Faith helps love in that it goes to Jesus Christ in whom all of our strength is found. It draws strength from Him to exercise all the graces of the Spirit. Love of course, helps faith too (Galatians 5:6). It is impossible for the Christian to be truly exercising faith without exercising love. When love is in exercise, faith increases with the increase of God. When love languishes, it makes faith groan within us with the groanings of a mortally wounded man. Keep love exercised and you will keep faith exercised also.  Keep faith exercised and you will likewise keep the grace of love in exercise.

 

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How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?

How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?

How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
7 Jun, 2019

It is right to express our deep gratitude for the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom in World War II. We owe so much to that generation. There is little public recognition today, however, of the debt we owe to God. Many prayers were offered 75 years ago for this deliverance and in God’s great kindness they were answered. King George VI’s VE Day speech began “Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance”. It ended, “In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand”. Yet we have to ask ourselves how our nations have made use of this deliverance. Did we use the freedom to honour or dishonour God? Have we been thankful to God? What is true thankfulness?

We ought also to reflect on the many other reasons we have personally and corporately for being thankful to God. How has it left an abiding impact on our lives and hearts? Thomas Case speaks movingly in describing what he calls the “pure, holy, spiritual, active grace and duty of thankfulness”. True thankfulness to God does not “put him off with a few empty, formal compliments instead of the real, spiritual, and vital duty which he expects and deserves” from us. True spiritual thankfulness is a grace which comes down from heaven and ascends back to heaven.

 

1. True Thankfulness Exalts God

We exalt God (Psalm 30:1) and calls on others to help (Psalm 34:3). True spiritual thankfulness wants God to be more exalted and man less.

 

2. True Thankfulness is Prayerful

Truth thankfulness rises towards heaven and God in holy prayer (Psalm 116:13 and 17). We do not give up praying when God has put an end to our troubles (Job 27:10).  With the truly thankful prayer leads deliverance and deliverance leads to prayer. It is love not mere necessity that makes him pray. Love to prayer and love to the God of prayer.

 

3. True Thankfulness Shows Love to God

Love draws the heart out in great love to God (Psalm 18:1). This was David’s song in the day that the Lord had delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. The saints express this love in these three ways:

(a) Seeking to know God more  (Exodus 33:18). Moses had seen much of the wonders of God. Now his love is fired with desire to see and know the God of these wonders.

(b) Seeking to enjoy God more (Psalm 86:10-11). The Psalmist seeks to know the way to God to enjoy more communion with God. A thankful heart will only be content with God Himself, not merely the things of God.

(c) Seeking to glory in God more (Psalm 48:3-7, 12-13). The Church concludes that Psalm of rejoicing for victory with this as the greatest triumph “This God is our God for ever and ever (Psalm 48:14). The God that has done all these wonders is my God. She does not glory so much in the victories God had given her, as in belonging to the God of those victories.

 

4. Truth Thankfulness Requires Self-denial

Self-denial for God’s sake (Ezra 9:13-14). There is more thankfulness in one act of self-denial than in twenty days of thanksgiving.

 

5. True Thankfulness Fulfils our Vows

“What shall I render?” David says (Psalm 116:12). “I will pay my vows” (Psalm 116:14 and 18). This is as right a response as any for all the mercies of God to His people, whether national or personal, whether victories or supplies. All of these are God making good His covenant to them. We must pay our vows to God (Psalm 56:12).

 

6. True Thankfulness Trusts God

If God delivers a thankful heart it will trust Him another time (Exodus 14:31). A people or person cannot honour God more than by trusting Him. Abraham was strong in faith giving glory to God (Romans 4:20).

 

7. True Thankfulness is Life Changing

Thankfulness makes us order our life to God’s glory (Psalm 50:23). The main work of thanksgiving is the ordering of our lives (literally in Hebrew, disposing our way aright). Thankful lips do well, but thankful lives do better. A day of thanksgiving is something, but a life of thanksgiving is everything.

 

8. True Thankfulness Desires Others to Praise God

A thankful heart is filled with enlarged desires that others, that all would be thankful. The holy psalmist cries out to all that receive mercies, that they would respond with praise to God (Psalm 107:31). He observes how much people receive from God and how little they give back to God. He is troubled by this. He cries out like someone in pain and grief. He is not willing that God should lose anything by any of the wonders He does. Surely this a high expression of thankfulness, when the heart labours with holy desires for the whole world to give glory to God (see the whole of Psalm 148). A gracious heart does not think it enough to praise God alone; even though it would praise God supposing were there none in heaven or earth to keep it company.

 

9. True Thankfulness Speaks of God’s Works

A thankful heart delights to speak of the wonderful works of God (Psalm 145:5, 10-12).  The Church praises God’s great goodness, mercies and the multitude of His lovingkindnesses (Isaiah 63:7). The saints not only stir up one another to speak of His praises but seek to preserve the memory of His wonderful works to all generations (Psalm 145:4-7; Psalm 78:2-5).

 

10. True Thankfulness Longs for Heaven

Since gracious spirits adorned with thankfulness can only live a short while to praise God on earth, and since their generations will not continue forever to do this work–they long for heaven. There in the presence of God their praises will be perfected. Here they are feeble, weary, full of natural and sinful weakness There they will be vigourous, active, pure and perfect without change or end to all eternity (Revelation 8:4).  Thankfulness is a pure flame of a restless motion, always mounting upward until it comes to heaven. There it will sing everlasting hallelujahs to Him that sits on the throne and to the Lamb. There it will observe a day of thanksgiving that will never have an evening.

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The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart

The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart

The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
8 Jun, 2018

We can monitor the pulse of our soul by considering what we long for most frequently and in the strongest way. Our hearts naturally go out to that which we value most.  We may wish for and aspire to many things that are not only worthwhile but necessary. The farmer wishes for the right weather and the businessman favourable market conditions. Yet above all these are the highest wishes of the soul for our eternal good and the good of others. We desire that others would prosper in outward things but the prosperity of their souls comes first (3 John 2). Outward things are limited and finite but spiritual blessings are infinite.  We may desire everyone to be filled with these and the same fulness will remain in God.

Hugh Binning speaks of “the highest wish of a holy heart” for itself and those it loves best. He says it summarised in this: “The God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing” (Romans 15:13).

There is nothing can be spoken which sounds more sweetly in the ears of men than peace and joy. They do not need to be commended, everyone testifies to them in their affections. What does everyone seek after but this? They do not seek any outward earthly thing for itself, but rather for the peace and contentment the mind expects to find in it. Anyone would think themselves happy if they could attain this without having to go through all other things one by one. The believing Christian is merely a wise person, who is instructed where true peace and joy lie. They seek to be filled with these things themselves.

The Soul’s Feast
These are the fruits of the Spirit Paul desires to be filled with and feed on. He desires to feed on peace as an ordinary meal and joy as an extraordinary dessert, or a powerful cordial. The believer would refuse the finest food to sit at this table. It is a full feast which fills the soul with peace, joy and hope, as much as it is capable of in this life.

The Soul’s Fruits
The words of the verse point to both the root that produces these fruits and the branch that bears them. The root is the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. A soul that has been grafted in as a living branch by faith into Christ receives strength to produce such pleasant fruits. They grow on the branch of believing, but the sap and life of both come from the Holy Spirit and the God of hope.

The Soul’s Streams
Think of it in a different way. This is the river which makes glad the city of God with its streams, it waters the garden of the Lord with its threefold stream. It is divided into three streams every one of which is derived from another. The first is peace — a sweet, calm and refreshing river which sometimes overflows like the river Nile. Then it runs in a stream of joy, which is the high spring tide but ordinarily it sends out the comforting stream of hope in abundance. This threefold river has a high source, as high as the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet the channel of the river runs on low ground, this channel is believing in Christ.

 

1. A Wish for Peace

Our Saviour found no better word to express His matchless good-will to the well-being of his disciples than peace. After His resurrection He said “Peace be unto you,” (Luke 24:36). As though He wished them absolute satisfaction and all the contentment and happiness that they themselves would desire.

We must consider this peace in relation to God, to ourselves, and fellow Christians. Brotherly concord and peace are the main subject of Romans chapter 15. This involves bearing with the weaknesses of our neighbour, not pleasing ourselves and similar mutual duties of charity.

But peace in relation to God and ourselves are most essential to happiness. The foundation of all our misery is the enmity between man and God. All our being, all our well-being, hangs on His favour. All our life and happiness is in His favour. But since the fall everyone is contrary to God, and in his affections and actions declares war against heaven.

When a soul sees this enmity and division in sad earnest, there is war in the conscience. The terrors of God raise up a terrible arm within, the bitter remembrance of sins. These are set in battle-array against the soul, and everyone pierces an arrow into his heart. It is the business of the gospel to quell this storm, because it reveals the glad tidings of peace and reconciliation with God. This is the only grounds for perfect calm in the conscience. The atonement which has pacified heaven and appeased justice is declared in this. Only this can pacify the troubled soul and calm the tumultuous waves of the conscience (Ephesians 2:13-20; Colossians 1:19-22).

God in Christ is reconciling sinners to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He entreats us to lay down our hostile affections and the weapons of our warfare. The love of God carried into the heart with power, gives that sweet calm and pleasant rest to the soul, after all its tumult.  This commands the winds and waves of the conscience, and they obey it.

 

2. A Wish for Joy

Joy is the effect of peace. It flows out of it in the soul laying hold of the love of God and the inestimable benefit of the forgiveness of sins. It is peace in a large measure, running over and resulting in refreshing of all that is in the believer: “My heart and my flesh shall rejoice.” This is the very exuberance and high sailing-tide of the sea of peace that is in a believer’s heart. It swells sometimes on the favour of God beyond its usual bounds to a boasting in God. When a soul is filled with glory by the Holy Spirit in possessing what it hopes for it enlarges itself in joy. In this inward jubilation, the heart leaps for joy.

This is not the ordinary experience of a Christian. It is not even as constant as peace. These ripe fruits are not always on the table of every Christian, and for some not at all. It is sufficient that God keeps the soul in the healthy condition of being neither completely cast down or discouraged through difficulties and weakness. It is sufficient if God speaks peace to the soul, even though it is not acquainted with these raptures of Christianity.

It is not fitting that this would be our ordinary food, lest we mistake our pilgrimage for heaven, and start building tabernacles in this mount. We would not long so earnestly for the city and country of heaven, if we had anything more than tastes of that joy to sharpen our desires after its fulness. It is a fixed and unchangeable statute of heaven, that we should here live by faith, and not by sight.

The fulness of this life is emptiness to the next. But there is still a fulness in comparison with the abundance of the world. Their joys and pleasures, their peace and contentation in the things of this life, are only like “the crackling of thorns under a pot” (Ecclesiastes 7:6). They make a great noise, but vanish quickly. It is like the loudest laughter of fools, which has sorrow in it and ends in heaviness (Proverbs 14:13). It is superficial not solid. It is not heart joy but a picture and shadow of the gladness of the heart in the face outwardly. Whatever it may be, sorrow, grief, and heaviness inevitably follow at its heels.

But certainly the wisest and most learned men cannot have any real understanding of the life of a Christian, until they experience it. It is beyond their comprehension, and therefore called “the peace of God” which passes “all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7). It is a “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). The natural mind esteems foolishness whatever is spoken of the joy of the Spirit or the peace of conscience and abstaining from worldly pleasures.

 

3. A Wish for Hope

Our peace and joy is often interrupted in this life and very frequently weakened. It is not so full a feast as the Christian’s desire seeks. The enjoyment we have here does not reduce the pain of a Christian’s appetite, or supply their emptiness. Hope must make the feast complete and to moderate the soul’s desire until the fulness of joy and peace come. Though there is less of the other benefits, there is abundance of hope. The Christian can take as much of that as they can hold, it is both refreshing and strengthening. We cannot be pleased with having or enjoying anything without adding hope to it.

Everyone has their eyes on the future. Looking for future benefits can often reduce our current enjoyments. But the Christian’s hope is a very sure anchor within the veil, it is secured on the sure ground of heaven. This keeps the soul firm and steadfast (albeit not unmoved) but protected from tossing or drifting. As a helmet, it protects against the power and force of temptations. It guards the main part of a Christian and keeps resolutions towards God unharmed.

 

Conclusion

The source of these sweet and pleasant streams is the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. There is power in God to make us happy and give us peace. The God of power, as well as hope, both can and will do this. In His promises and acts He given us grounds for hope in Himself. He is the chief object of hope and the chief cause of hope in us too. Everything is to be found in this fountain.

These streams run into the channel of believing, not doing. It is true, that righteousness and a holy life is a notable means to preserve them pure, unmixed and constant. The peace of our God will never live well with sin, the enemy of God. Joy, which is so pure a fountain cannot run in abundance in an impure heart. It will not mix with worldly pleasures. But the only source of true peace and joy is found by believing in Christ.

Whatever else you do to find them you will not find this solid peace and surpassing joy except by looking away from yourselves. You must fix your hearts on another object, Jesus Christ. “Peace and joy in believing”. What is this believing? It is the soul heartily embracing the promises of the gospel. Believing involves meditation on and deep consideration of these truths. Believing brings peace, and peace brings joy.

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Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?

Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?

Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
22 Dec, 2017

Even Facebook themselves now admit that countless studies show social media is bad for us. There’s no doubting its benefit of connecting and sometimes edifying people. The predominant trend of self-advertising, however, fosters discontent with our own lives. It prompts negative self-comparisons. People also find that a virtual community does not replace real community. Online communication may even undermine our face-to-face interactions. Something that brings us together can also create isolation and distance. Edifying one another in the best possible way must not become a casualty of social media excess. Other generations have not faced an identical challenge but Scripture has wisdom for every situation.

Facebook’s former vice-president said recently: “It is at a point where we have created tools which are ripping apart the fabric of how society works – that is truly where we are”. One of the most resonant book titles to summarise our condition is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The author Sherry Turkle, maintains that “as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down”.  “On social-networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but out profile ends up as somebody else—often the fantasy of who we want to be”. That can be true even in the way that people present themselves in terms of the spiritual content they share. It’s much easier too to interact in a remote, digital context that reduces our commitment to another believer. In a telling phrase Turkle observes: “the ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind.”  She identifies the symptoms of the malaise with clarity.

“Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they “reveal too much.” They would rather text than talk. Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice. It is more efficient, they say. Things that happen in “real time” take too much time. Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world “unplugged” does not signify, does not satisfy…We build a following on Facebook … and wonder to what degree our followers are friends…suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection.

Christian community is in danger of being undermined by such trends. How do we address these challenges positively? Scripture contains a great deal of written communication, indeed it is written communication. Yet, amongst Christians, it ranks face-to-face communication far higher than writing. It is remarkable that the apostle John states this bluntly on several occasions. In 2 John 12 he says that he has many things to write but he does not want to write with “paper and ink”. “ I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (3 John 13-14 is very similar).

Writing was limited but unhindered communication would make their joy full. As David Dickson notes, the apostle’s intention was to edify the congregation to whom he was writing. He desired to be present “to instruct and confirm it more fully in the doctrine of faith, that all the faithful…might out of a larger and more fruitful instruction receive more fully of spiritual joy”.

It is a reminder that for all we may read and hear online with spiritual profit, nothing can substitute for someone expounding the Word in our presence. It is also direct counsel that if we want to edify someone as much as we can, we need to see them face to face.

It was the same with the apostle Paul in Romans 1:11-12. “I long to see you” he says. His desire is that they would be together to edify and comfort one another. As John Brown of Wamphray notes, Paul is saying “My love to you is such that I earnestly long to be with you to give you freely of those things which God has given me. Things that may tend to profit and establish you”.

Brown draws out from Paul’s desire important teaching about how Christians need each other and to edify one another in person. Obviously there is also particular teaching for those who have responsibility within the Church for the spiritual wellbeing of Christ’s flock. Paul is seeking actively an opportunity speaking to them face to face to benefit them more than writing. We need to recover this emphasis on the best possible way to edify one another. Giving more time to edifying other Christians in person is essential. Note that it is not merely being together socially but sharing spiritual benefit from our conversation.

 

1. Christian Love Seeks the Best Way of Edifying

Christian love that is strong in itself and arises from a right principle and basis it extends even to those that believers have never seen. It desires to be able to benefit them as much as possible. We can see this in Paul who was most earnestly desirous to see the Romans to be able to do them good

 

2. Every Christian Needs to be Edified

No one is so far advanced in Christianity while they are on this side of the sun that they do not need help and comfort from others. Paul himself confesses that he desired to be comforted or exhorted by the Romans to whom he was writing.

 

3. Christian Fellowship Must Edify

As iron sharpens iron so making right and best use of Christian fellowship rightly is a means by which Christians will be mutually edified and built up. Paul says that his conversing with them would tend towards their mutual comfort.

 

4. How Christian Fellowship Edifies

Christian fellowship is conducted well when it involves declaring mutual evidences of the reality of God’s grace within them. This may involve giving evidence of their knowledge of Christ and faith in Him. They may speak of their mutual experiences of God’s love etc. The mutual faith of both Paul and the Romans was to be known and revealed when they would meet together.

 

5. Every Christian Can Edify

Believers strengthen and comfort one another by means of conversation and other spiritual activities when they meet together. In this they show one another their devotion to and life in Christ. They also admonish and exhort those that are faint and are likely to become weary. The strongest may be profited by the weakest since Paul says that it was by their mutual faith that he would be comforted together with them.

 

Conclusion

We need real and full Christian fellowship and edification and we must not allow other things to inhibit this. We can have true fellowship and edify online but only in a limited way. Social media has its benefits but we need to acknowledge that it cannot substitute for what is real and immediate. We have to learn how to manage its challenges to get best benefit from it. In a dislocated, individualistic world Christians should be able to demonstrate true fellowship that edifies spiritually.

Political Power and its Limitations

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

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6 Reasons to Delight in God

6 Reasons to Delight in God

6 Reasons to Delight in God
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."
17 Nov, 2017

Mostly, we are well aware that we get our life in focus by concentrating on the most important things. But do we live our life in such a way that the things most important to us are obvious to those who observe us? The most important thing is to glorify God and enjoy Him. We can only glorify Him by grace and we can only enjoy Him by glorifying Him. Delighting in God is what makes seeking to glorify Him a pleasure. When we have discovered this, we will know that there is no satisfaction to be found in seeking other things in place of God. True pleasure from created things comes through delighting in God. Even affliction and adversity are sweetened for the soul that seeks its delights in God. Since we are to glorify and enjoy God forever, delighting in God gets our life in eternal focus and prepares us for that unending activity. These are some reasons for delighting in God but there are many more. We also need to know what we mean by making God our delight.

Andrew Gray has a sermon on delighting in God that expounds Psalm 37:4.  It something enters into the deepest parts of the heart mastered by gospel grace. The following is an updated extract from the sermon.

 

What is Delighting in God?

Delighting in God consists of the following things:

(a) Loving God

A soul should be much taken up in exercising the grace of love. To delight in God is to have love smoking in a Christian’s heart towards God. Love is only a bruised reed; but delight is love coming up to perfection.

(b) Esteeming Christ

A soul delighting in God has a high esteem and account of Christ. One whose delight is in God will have a matchless estimation and high considerations of Him.

(c) Thinking on God

The soul that delights in God has all its thoughts running towards God and exercised on Him. His thoughts are only terminated on Him; He is the object of them all. Now, Christians, on what are your thoughts fixed? Is it not certain that they are all confined within this rivulet and span-length of time? Does the world not have your first thoughts in the morning and your last thoughts at night? Then certainly, your delight is not in God.

(d) Desiring Fellowship

One who delights in God is consumed with desire for communion and fellowship with God. Then try yourselves by this test. If your main desire is not fellowship with God, your delight is not in Him. If God is the object of your delight you will strongly desire communion with Him and it will be refreshing to you.

(e) Mourning for the Absence of Christ

Such a soul will often lament and grieve the absence of Christ. Certainly, if your delight is in God, His absence will be your greatest affliction and His presence your main joy and pleasure.

(f) Striving to Please God

The person who delights in God will strive and endeavour in all things to please and give satisfaction to God. If we delight in any person, certainly we will attempt to please Him in all things. We can test whether we delight in God; our main design and endeavour will be to please Him in all things.

 

1. Delighting in God is a Foretaste of Heaven

Dear Christians, do you desire to have the noble activities of those that are above around the throne? Then delight yourselves in God. To delight in God is the only activity of the saints above. I will point out three differences between the saints in heaven and the saints that are below on earth.

(a) The saints above are in the higher room, and we are in the lower room.

(b) The souls of the saints above are in a higher degree of love than we are; their praise is higher than ours. They are delighting themselves in and praising Him through all eternity.

(c) Those above are enjoying Christ by sight and fruition, we on earth enjoy Him through the veil of faith. They have the immediate sight of God, and behold Him face to face. But we behold Him through a glass darkly. Oh, Christians, if you desire to delight yourselves in God, you would bring down heaven upon earth. What is heaven, but a soul’s delighting itself in God, and God delighting Himself in the soul?

 

2. Delighting in God is Incomparable

Be persuaded to delight yourselves in God for it is an exceedingly commendable pursuit. I would commend delight in God in four ways.

(a) It unites us with Christ

What is it to delight in God? It is the soul of a Christian embracing the soul of Christ by the two arms of love and desire. Is not that an excellent thing which may commend it unto you?

(b) It lifts us above ourselves

The soul of a Christian that delights in God is more where it loves than where it lives. It is more where its object is than where its own abode is.

(c) It brings us to adore Christ

By delighting in God, a Christian achieves three acts of admiration.

First, Christian, you will say, “Oh, how far is Christ above the report that I have heard of Him!” You will be constrained to say, “The half was never heard of Him that now I see.”
Second, you will then experience and remark, “Oh, how far is Christ above the love that I have had to Him! He is far above it.”
Third, you will be forced to say, “Oh, how far is Christ above the admiration and amazement that I have had of Him!” Now, if your delight is in God, you will be compelled to such admiration and astonishment.

(d) It helps the soul towards a more spiritual and holy life.

 

3. Delighting in God Makes Duty Pleasant

Delight in God makes all duties pleasant and heart-warming. Without delight in God, all the duties of religion will be most unpleasant and burdensome (Job 22:26-27). There are four advantages in the exercise of duty that waits on delighting in God. These four advantages are as follows:

(a) Increased Boldness in Prayer

He that has his delight fixed on God has boldness to speak to Him (Job 22:26).

(b) Increased Prayer

Delight in God will help a Christian to multiply his prayers (Job 22:27).

(c) Increased Fervency in Prayer

Delight in God will help with great fervency in prayer. The word rendered prayer may also be rendered as “many strong prayers.”

(d) Increased Freedom in Prayer

Delighting in God will help a Christian to tell all his mind to Him (Job 22:27).

 

4. Delighting in God Helps us Bear Affliction

Delighting in God will bring a Christian to bear patiently any cross or affliction that he encounters. This is clear from the scope of the text. It will be an excellent help and guard against fretting at the prosperity of ungodly men.

 

5. Delighting in God is the Most Excellent Delight

Consider the excellence of the object of the Christian’s delight – the Lord. He is the most excellent object of delight. He is the fountain from which all our streams come. Oh, then delight in Him who is excellent and majestic!

 

6. Delighting in God Gives us the Desires of our Hearts

If you delight yourself in God, surely He will give you the desires of your heart. I say, they will lack nothing that is for their own welfare and God’s glory. If you delight yourself in God, you will lack nothing that is fitting for you.

 

Conclusion

Oh then, be persuaded to give obedience to this most soul-concerning commandment of delighting in God. Christians, it is of your everlasting concern. Oh, do it while it is still being offered. Do not neglect this excellent work any longer. Oh, do not delay any longer, for delays are dangerous, especially in the matter of our eternal salvation.

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Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin
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.
20 Oct, 2017

It’s no difficult thing to say or type the words “I love Jesus”. Many do this in their social media profiles or posts. They inform us that they love Jesus, and many other things too. The claim seems to have no context other than this person’s idea of Christ and the terms on which they wish to love Him. It may mean respect and strong interest or even follow, worship and obey. These are words, however, that can never be casually used by those that have come to understand the full measure and wonder of being savingly united to Christ. There is in fact no greater claim. We may prove the sincerity of such assertions to Christ Himself, ourselves and others in various ways. One of the clearest is in our attitude to sin. The extent of our love to Christ may be measured by the extent of our hatred of sin.

It has often been said that the believer should no more love sin than the wife should love her husband’s murderer or the murder weapon. The sting of death is sin and believers’ sins were the sting in Christ’s death. The cross shows us what sin is and what it deserves, it also shows us Christ’s love to its greatest extent and provides the greatest reasons for loving Christ. How much do we really value Christ and His sufferings on the cross if we are casual about sin?

James Durham focussed on these themes in preaching 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. These make an extensive volume but they are a treasure trove of the essence of the gospel of Christ crucified considered from many different perspectives. In expounding Isaiah 53:4 Durham notes the undervaluing of Christ in the words “we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted”. The sin of not loving and valuing Christ was made even worse by despising Him when His greatest love was poured out on the cross. Though Christ did this Durham says, we abused it and made it the rise of the greatest malice. There is nothing that gives sin a deeper dye than that it is against grace and condescending love, against Christ when suffering for us, and offered to us. That makes sin exceedingly sinful and abominable. It is a fearful thing to despise Christ crucified (the only remedy for sin) offered to us in the preaching of the gospel.

 

1. Sins Against Christ have the Greatest Guilt

This adds greatest guilt to the sins of believers. We “despised him, and esteemed him not”. It is true that, in some respects, the sins of believers are not so great as the sins of others. They are not committed so deliberately and with such full force of desire under the dominion of sin as others. Yet in another respect they are greater than the sins of others, because they are committed against special grace and love received. When the believer confiders that they have returned Christ’s love in this way it will grieve them more than anything else if they are truly sensitive.

 

2. Sins Against Christ Should Grieve Us Most

The believer that is most sensitive in this way is best assured of their right to Christ and His atonement. They will be most sensitive about their enmity and abominable guilt of despising and wronging Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah includes himself as one of those healed by Christ’s stripes. He accepts his guilt, “we despised and rejected him, we esteemed him not, we judged him smitten of God”.

If we are truly Christ’s our heart will be tender and any wrong done to Christ will affect us in a quicker and deeper way. We esteem Christ and have a holy sympathy with Him in all the concerns of His glory.  The members of the body have a fellow-feeling with the head. Suppose a man in a fit of madness was to smite and wound his head, or wrong his wife, his father or brother. When the fit of madness is over, he will be more
grieved with that wrong, than if it had been done to any other member of his body, or to other persons who either were not related or not so closely related.

There is something of this in Zechariah 12:10 “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him”, as for an only son. It is if he had said, the strokes they have given the head shall then be very heavy and grievous for them. In their feelings the wounds will bleed afresh. They did not think much of wounding and piercing Him in this way before. When they come to believe in Him, however, they are keenly affected by the wrongs done to Him.

The believer’s wrongs against Christ will prick their conscience most. If the wrongs have been done by others, they grieve him but if they have been done by himself, they some way faint him. Wholeness of heart, under wronging of Christ, is too great an evidence that there is little or no ground for application of his satisfaction; but it is kindly like, when wrongs done to Christ affect most.

 

3. Sins Against Christ Should be Our Greatest Burden

We should be burdened when convicted for sinning against the law. Yet sins against Christ and grace offered in the gospel should become the greatest burden.

 

4. Sins Against Christ are the Worst Thing Possible

When the man is confronted with his secret enmity against Christ and how this increases the guilt of his sins, he can never be too vile in his own eyes. He has a holy indignation at himself. Like Paul he reckons himself the chief of sinners. Even though the evil was done in ignorance, it is much greater if it has been against knowledge. Such souls heap up the ways in which their guilt is increased because of their wrongs done to Christ. They cannot get suitable expressions to condemn it sufficiently. It is a bad sign if we are easily satisfied in our convictions of guilt for sin. There are many that will not admit to any convictions for wronging Christ. See how the prophet insists on the sin of despising Christ here, in previous verses, in these and in the following words. He can no more leave aside thoughts of this, than he can leave the thoughts of Christ’s sufferings.

Durham on Isaiah 53

This volume of sermons has been recently republished as Collected Sermons of James Durham: Christ Crucified: or, The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53. At 840 pages, the sermons on Isaiah 53 present one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ’s person and work in redemption. Spurgeon, who inscribed his personal copy with the words “much prized,” says of these sermons, “This is marrow indeed. We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors”. Principal John Macleod said: “He there opens up the truth of the sacrifice and the intercession of our Lord…the duties of preachers and hearers of the gospel, together with the diversified exercises of heart and soul that gospel truth is fitted to call forth”.

Buy in the UK for £31.99 here.

Buy in the USA for $38 here.

There is also a 2 volume set of sermons for $65 here

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Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
30 Jun, 2017

The slogan “I love Jesus but not the Church” has been repeated so often it’s now a category in major surveys. It’s now supposed to cover about 10% of people in the USA. This individualistic consumerist mindset may have eroded the thinking of more than this category alone. It’s easy to be a fickle consumer of the Church, taking what we like and leaving the rest. Without recognising it, we often complain when Church doesn’t fulfil our needs and expectations. There are of course genuine hurts and struggles as in any human relationship. Yet it seems as though our view of the Church has become too small. Slogans about not loving the Church may seem absurd at the same time that our love to her has grown cold. Do those who say they do love Christ and the Church give practical expression to that love?

Loving the Church is not to be in word or in tongue only but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). David Dickson draws out some of these lessons in commenting on the second half of Psalm 122 in this updated extract. This is a Psalm that speaks with joy about a willingness to worship God together. Jerusalem -the place where they gathered- was marked by unity, stability and God-ordained government (verses 3-5). This is to be a picture of the Church also -which is frequently compared to Jerusalem in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:22; Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 4:26).

This part of Psalm 122 exhorts us all to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, or the Universal Church as signified by it.  As part of this, David Dickson explains some general principles for practical love towards Christ’s Church. We must love Christ’s Church as well as Christ and we must do this is in a wholehearted way.

 

1. Loving the Church Means Praying that She Will Prosper

The universal Church should be dear to every member. We must pray for her that she may prosper: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (v6).

 

2. Loving the Church Means Seeking Her Welfare

No one can pray for the welfare of the Church heartily unless they love her.  No one will love her and seek her welfare without faring better for it themselves. It is promised here that those who love her will prosper (v6).

 

3. Loving the Church Means Defending Her

The Church is a war-town. It is like a walled town situated among enemies, and cannot trust those outside but must constantly keep watch. Jerusalem, as the type of the Church, was a shadow of this with her walls and towers. She must have peace within her walls (v7).

 

4. Loving the Church Means Praying for Her Peace

Peace within the Church is no less necessary than prosperity. As long as peace is within the Church, it matters less what enemies she may have without. Thus, we pray that peace may be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces (v7).

 

5. Loving the Church Means Loving God’s People

All the members of the Church militant should love one another as brethren, as fellow-partners in loss and gain. The relation which they have to one Father (the Lord) and one Mother (the Universal Church) means that they should love one another as brothers and companions (v8).

 

6. Loving the Church Means Doing All We Can to Promote Her Good

The Church is the Lord’s dwelling house in this world. Whoever loves the Lord must not only inwardly love her, but also use all effectual means endeavour to promote the good of the Church. Every true member of the Church must do as much for her as lies in them, to the utmost that their calling will allow. They must do all they can to have religion established, God’s ordinances obeyed, public worship established, the Word truly preached, the sacraments rightly administred, and Church-government exercised according to the Word of God exercised. This is what the example here teaches us, to seek the good of the Church for the sake of “the house of the Lord my God”.

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