Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Zeal is not cool in our culture. Most people picture a wild-eyed fanatic when they think about religious zeal. In a world that pursues the shallow and values self-satisfied composure, zeal is odd. The world is at best cool towards it. When being pragmatic and popular are of greatest value, the Church too is less comfortable with zeal. Of course, there is a false religious zeal: being zealous in the wrong way or about the wrong things. The Bible speaks about that, yet most often it emphasises that zeal is vital.

Zeal is essential in spiritual things. It is being single-minded towards the glory of God – to see God glorified in every possible way. It is a burning desire to please God and that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Had Luther and the other Reformers lacked zeal, they would not have pursued Reformation. Christ Himself had an all-consuming zeal (John 2:17) and we often read of the zeal of the Lord in Scripture. Do we have the spirit of the Reformers today?

There is an especially helpful treatment of reforming zeal in a sermon by Oliver Bowles (d.1674) preached during the time of the Second Reformation.  Bowles was a member of the Westminster Assembly and preached the sermon before both Houses of Parliaments on a day of fasting. It is called “Zeal for God’s House Quickened” and particularly focuses on the eminent zeal required in Church reformers. It is also useful for understanding the nature of zeal more generally in spiritual things. He expounds the example of the Lord Jesus Christ’s consuming and reforming zeal in John 2:17. There are updated extracts in what follows.

Bowles explains why he has focused on zeal: (a) it is the direct opposite of lukewarmness “the most dangerous and yet the epidemic disease of our time”; (b) no one grace promotes the work of reformation more than zeal; and (c) nothing commends a reformer more in the eyes of God and man.

This is both the most excellent and the most difficult work, therefore Church-reformation calls for the utmost zeal. Our love to promote that work must be such as many waters cannot quench. Our desires must be enlarged, as those which break through all impediments and accept no denial. Our hope must be more longing, our endeavours full of activity, our hatred of the opposite more perfect and our anger in removing the hindrances more violent. A reformer without zeal is like a body without a soul, a bee without a sting, or salt without flavour.

Bowles was a scholar before becoming a minister in Bedfordshire. He was the author of an important volume of pastoral theology.  He died around the age of ninety. His last words to Timothy Cruso were: “Only remember to keep a good conscience, and walk closely with God.” He repeated them twice with considerable emphasis in order to make a deeper impression.


1. What is Zeal?

It is a holy ardour kindled by the Holy Spirit of God in the affections, making a man better to the utmost for God’s glory and the Church’s good. Zeal is not so much a single affection as the intended degree of all. Affections are the motions of the will in doing good or avoiding evil. They are the outgoings of the soul.


2. What is True Zeal?

We must make sure our zeal is of the right stamp. As with every other grace, zeal may be (and often is) counterfeited.

(a) It has a true light

False lights can mislead men over dangerous places. We are greatly inclined to be misled when prejudiced by individuals in their reputation, learning and holiness. We must not necessarily accept something merely because it is ancient nor reject it simply because it is new [and vice versa]. Sometimes we engage our judgments hastily before we are able to judge and are then unwilling to retract when we have judged unduly.  We must seek to be sure that things are lawful rather than be carried away by the self-conceitedness of our own opinions whether they are lawful or not. The eye-salve of the Spirit by the Word alone must guide us: “to the law and to the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20).

(b) It is ordered by wisdom

Wisdom includes using the right means to the right end.  There is a kind of impetuosity by which he who is hasty in his matters sins (Isaiah 28:16). On the other hand, there is a spirit of deliberation and counsel. Consider, consult, then give your opinion and then act. A good cause often miscarries by imprudent handling. Ignorance of the right means tires men out pointlessly in their endeavours (Ecclesiastes 10:15).

(c) It is not quarrelsome

Love is and ought to be the orderer of zeal. Love is long-suffering, bears all things and endures all things.  Love knows that a little rupture will quickly be a great one. It prevents them or seeks to make them up speedily. It does not allow the waters of strife any passage, not even a little.  Zeal for God is tenderly respectful of other people. Wildfire that is not zeal casts fire-brands, arrows and deadly words and then says, “I mean no harm” (see Proverbs 26:18-19).

(d) It will not diminish what God commands

Zeal will not diminish even a hoof of what is required. False zeal cries “Let it not belong to either of us but rather be divided between us”. It makes nothing of small matters. True zeal drives on the work of reformation so that it does not leave the least remnants of Baal. It removes all the high places. It recognises that great persecutions have arisen out of small matters. It sees that conscience is a tender thing like the eye and the least mote troubles it.

(e) It is not a mere flash

Many begin well; they are hot and eager while in particular company. When carried along by such support and hopes and not assaulted by trials they are eager and hot in the work of reformation. But when things change outwardly they change inwardly, even to the extent of completely extinguishing their zeal.

(f) It is not worn down by opposition

True zeal, having the cause of God in view, is not worn down by length of time, numerous  discouragements, deserters of the cause and the strength of opposition. Zeal makes men resolute; difficulties only sharpen their fortitude. It steels men’s spirits with undaunted bravery.


3. What Regulates Zeal?

(a) Knowledge

Zeal is dangerous when not directed by a well-informed understanding. Like a fire, zeal must have light as well as heat. It is only hell where there is heat and no light but utter darkness. Neither the mind nor zeal can be good without knowledge: The Jews had a zeal that was defective in being not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).

Zeal must not be conjectural, based on that which only seems probable having been received from others without examination. Scripture texts can be quoted frequently and in great numbers but what matters is whether careful examination has proved that they support the claim. Do not take all that glitters for gold.

(b) Wisdom

Zeal must be wary as well as warm. Fire is good, but in a wise man’s hands who will not put it into the thatch. Fire is good in the chimney, but if it catch the rafters of the house it sets it all on fire. Wisdom will not have a reformer to reform in such a way that only succeeds in enraging vice more. Men that mean well are subject to many mischiefs even in their good endeavours, but wisdom is profitable to direct. But beware here also of that over wary discretion that destroys zeal.

(c) Love

Zeal can be harsh but love lines the yoke and makes it easy to bear. Love takes away all bitterness towards others. Love allows us to be warm, sharp and direct in our reproofs, but not scalding hot.  The stomach will not receive that which burns the lips and neither will the ear accept the reproof that is abusive. Love calls us to be zealous for the truth. It calls us to work to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).


4. What is Reforming Zeal?

(a) Zeal is thorough

It is God’s work and men must not divide it in half.  Corruptions will grow again unless they are pulled up by the roots. Experience shows how partial reformations made way for sad persecutions. Such imperfect proceedings give enemies the hope that we will come round to them again.

(b) Zeal is all-embracing

God delights in active men. What should we be earnest for, if not for God and His cause? Will you be earnest for your friends, profit and pleasures and yet cold for your God?

(c) Zeal is not deterred by danger

When Caleb heard of the difficulties he resolved, “Let us go up at once”. Esther said, “If I perish, I perish”. Paul said, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” It treads under foot all temptations and all hope of great things.

(d) Zeal is not discouraged when contending alone

Zeal is supported by noticing Joshua’s resolution: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. Elijah’s complaint was that he was left alone and Paul says “At my first answering no man assisted me”. Zeal takes notice that numbers begin with one, and that if there had not been one first, there would never have been two.

(e) Zeal is persevering

Many begin in the Spirit, but end in the flesh. How many brave worthies promised fair and promised great things, yet have been shipwrecked on the rock of an unsound heart. They have withered away, if not in the end proved false to God. It is only the overcomer that receives the crown.  When a reformer has heat from heaven rather than from mere outward causes, zeal will persevere.



Reformation is an urgent necessity in our personal lives and our families as well as in the Church and nation. We will get nowhere without zeal. And as Bowles concludes “what remains but that I commend you to God, and the Word of His grace who alone must enable you for it, and without whom all that is done will come to nothing”. “If you go on to do the Lord’s work with wisdom and courage, God will certainly go along with you”. “The God of heaven…raise and keep up your spirits, clothe you with zeal, fit you for all encounters and make way for you through all difficulties”.


Oliver Bowles

“Whatever you part with…part not with your zeal, let this be your honour and crown.”

Bowles was a member of the Westminster Assembly and gave this counsel in preaching to the Assembly and the Houses of Parliament in 1643.



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The Bible’s Main Teachings in 2 Words

The Bible’s Main Teachings in 2 Words

The Bible’s Main Teachings in 2 Words

Summarising a book of more than 780, 000 words is a colossal challenge. Especially when it is a book infinitely more important than any other. Perhaps it is impossible to do that meaningfully in two words. But to summarise the main teachings of the Bible is entirely different from condensing its entire contents. It is not a high level overview to provide general knowledge but a set of keys to unlock its personal application. Just two words can take us a long way into a practical and devotional engagement with the Scriptures.

One of the questions in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms most passed over is “What do the scriptures principally teach?” The answer seems as simple and straightforward as the question. “The scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man”. Yet this simple statement undergirds the whole teaching and structure of the Catechisms, because it undergirds thee whole teaching of Scripture. The first part of the Catechisms deal with what we are to believe and the second part with what we are to do, or obedience to God’s revealed will.

Two words: faith and obedience. As we shall see, Hugh Binning preferred to speak of faith and love (as long as the latter was understood to include obedience). He drew this from the proof text used by the Catechisms: Hold fast the form of sound words…in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:13). Once we have grasped this it can transform our practical engagement with Scripture.  These are the glasses through which we must read the Word as we ask the questions: What does God want me to believe and what does God require me to do? 

Scriptures certainly teaches that it contains “great things” of principal importance (Hosea 8:12). It is clear that faith in what God has revealed is one such thing  (John 3:33).  Another is obedience (Micah 6:8; John 17:17; 1 John 2:3-5). It also reveals a close relationship between faith and obedience; they depend on each other (Titus 1:1; 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:3). Faith must work by love (Galatians 5:6). The truth is truly believed when it is acted on and obeyed (John 3:21; 7:17; Romans 16:25-26). Truly depending on God’s Word will always be expressed in action. The Catechisms put faith first because it is most important and no obedience is pleasing or acceptable to God without it (Hebrews 11:6; Proverbs 2:1 and 5). Loving obedience is the evidence and outcome of faith. The following is an updated extract from Hugh Binning’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism.


1. Two Words

All divine truths may be reduced to these two headings: faith and love; what we ought to believe and what we ought to do. This is everything the Scriptures teach and this is everything we have to learn. What do we have to know except what God has revealed of Himself to us? What do we have to do except what He commands us? In a word, what do we have to learn in this world except to believe in Christ, love Him and so live unto Him? This is the duty of man, the dignity of man and the way to eternal life.

Here is the business then: to have our souls reconciled to Him so as to take away the enmity within us; and as He is satisfied with His Son, to so satisfy ourselves with Him and be as well-pleased in his redemption and purchase as the Father is. Then you believe in Him indeed. Now if this were accomplished, what more do we have to do but to love Him and to live unto Him?

Have you found in Scripture and believed with the heart what man once was and what he now is; how God once appeared to man and how He now manifests himself in the gospel? You now have no more to do except to search in the same Scriptures what you ought to be from now on. You who are restored in Christ must ask: “What manner of persons ought we to be?” The Scriptures will also give you that “form of sound words” which may not only teach you to believe in Him, but to love Him and obey His commands.

The law that before condemned you is now put in your hands by Christ to guide and conduct you in the way. It teaches you how to live from now on to His glory (Titus 2:12). Here is the rule of your conduct summed up: piety towards God, equity towards men and sobriety towards ourselves. This is self-denial, world-denial and lust-denial; to give up the world and our own lusts and have no more to do with them from now on. We must give them up in our affections not for a time, not in part but entirely and forever. We must give ourselves up to Him, to live unto Him and to live in Him.


2. Faith and Love Together

We do not have to distinguish faith and love too carefully. It is certain that love is in and from faith. It is in the very bosom of it, because faith is a soul-embracing of Christ. Faith is choosing Him for its portion and then having considered this goodly portion (what He is and has done for us) the soul loves Him still more and is impatient to be so distant from Him. We find them conjoined in Scripture and they are one in the heart. As they are joined in the word, so our heart should be a “living epistle”. Faith and love are two words but one thing under different conceptions. They are the outgoings of the soul to Christ for life – the breathings of the soul after Him, for more of Him, when it has once tasted how good He is.

Faith is not speculation or a wandering idea of truth.  It is not the truth not captivated in the mind but dwelling in the heart and getting possession of the whole man. A man and his will are one, but this is not so with a man and his mind. He may perceive the truth about many things that he does not love. But whatever a man loves, he becomes (in a way) united with.

When divine truth gains entry to the heart of a person and becomes one with their will and affections, it quickly commands the practice of the whole man. He that received “the truth in love” is found to walk in the truth. Many captivate truth in their understanding; they hold or detain it in unrighteousness but because it has no freedom to descend into the heart and possess that garrison, it cannot command the whole person.

Yet it is better to be truth’s captive than to captivate truth. It is better “to have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine” (Romans 6:17). This blessed captivity to truth is indeed freedom, for truth makes free (John 8:32). Give it freedom to command you and it will indeed deliver you from all strange lords. You will obey it from the heart when it is indeed in the heart.

When the truths of God (whether promises, threatenings, or commands) are impressed on the heart, you will find them expressed in conduct. Faith is not empty assent to the truth but receiving it “in love”. When the truth is received in love, it begins to work by love (Galatians 5:6). Obedience proceeding from love to God flows from faith in God, and that shows the true and living nature of that faith.


3. Love is Obedience

Love is the sum of the law and its fulfillment. The truth is the most effective, sweet and pleasant principle of obedience. The love of Christ constrains us to live to Him and not to ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). If Christ has gained someone’s love, the whole train of the soul’s faculties and operations will follow.

If someone loves Christ, they will certainly be careful to please Him. No matter how much they may obey, there is no pleasure unless it is done out of love. “If ye love me, keep my commandments”. Love devotes and consecrates all that is in a man to the pleasure of the one he loves. It constrains us to live to Him, not ourselves. Its joy and delight is in Him, and therefore all is given up to Him.

Just as it is certain that if you love much you will do much, so it is certain that little proceeding from a principle of love is accepted in place of much. Thus, our poor maimed and limping obedience is called “the fulfilling of the law”. He is well-pleased with it, because love is not pleased with it. Love thinks nothing too much, everything too little. His love therefore thinks anything from us to be much, since love would give more. He accepts that which is given; the lover’s mite cast into the treasury is more than ten times as much as outward obedience from another person.

I know of no more effectual way to increase love to Jesus Christ than to believe His love. Christ Jesus is “the author and finisher” both of faith and love; and “we love him, because he first loved us”. What Christ is, and what He has done for sinners will above all other things prevail most to engage the soul to Him.


4. Sound Words

We shall conclude with that exhortation: “Hold fast the form of sound words”. You have this doctrine of faith and love given to you which may be able to save your souls. Then, I beseech you, hold them fast, salvation is in them. They are “sound words” and wholesome words; words of life, spirit and life as well as words of truth. You cannot hold it fast unless you have it within you; and it is within you indeed when it is in your heart. The form of it must be engraved on the very soul in love.

These sound words must be engraved on the heart or else you will never hold them. They may be easily snatched out of the mouth and hand by temptation, unless they are enclosed and laid up in the secret of the heart, as Mary did. The truth must hold you fast, or you cannot hold it fast; it must captivate you, and bind you with the golden chains of affection (which is the only true freedom) or you will certainly let it go. You must not only have the truth received by love into your heart, but you must also “hold fast the form of sound words”.



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How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

We are prone to extremes.  Some avoid dealing with others in relation to their sins and faults; others are quick to respond with extreme severity.  Neither of course, is biblical.  We are responsible for each other. Rebuking those who are sinning is loving but it shows hatred to allow them to go on in it (Leviticus 19:17).  It is our duty to tell them what they ought to be hearing from their conscience. Yet such rebukes and challenges must be given with love, wisdom and humility.  We ought to be ready to give and receive such loving and faithful reproof. It something Christ Himself has appointed for our wellbeing (Matthew 18:15).

James Fergusson reflects deeply and at length on a verse that helps to guide us between the extremes of severity and inaction. What follows is an updated extract. He says that in Galatians 6:1, the apostle speaks to those who are “spiritual”. This means those that had received a large measure of spiritual graces. By such grace they were preserved from the subtle snares of sin and Satan, which had entrapped others. Such are also called “strong” (Romans 15:1) and “perfect”, i.e. comparatively (Philippians 3:15).

He exhorts such to seek to reclaim and restore all those “overtaken” in a fault. They are to restore them to both a felt sense of God’s pardoning grace and to amendment of life. “Overtaken” means being suddenly and without prior consideration being overcome by any sin.  In the original Greek it means to do something in haste (1 Corinthians 11:21).

In using all necessary means to achieve this end e.g. admonition, reproof or necessary correction, they should exercise the grace of spiritual meekness. They must suppress all feelings of revenge or sinful expressions of emotion. He enforces this exhortation by counselling that everyone, even the best, must consider deeply their own frailty while dealing with the faults of others.  They must recall how easily he may be drawn by temptation to be overtaken with the same, similar, or a greater sin.


1. We Must Deal Meekly with Those at Fault

Tolerating sin both in others and ourselves is far too common (1 Samuel 3:13). Yet there is another sinful extremity to be avoided, i.e. when under pretence of hatred to, or righteous anger against the sins of others we refuse to admonish, reprove them in the spirit of meekness because we think they are obstinate. The apostle says, “If a man”. This can be read as anticipating an objection, “though a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one…” This presumes that some were apt to think themselves free from the duty of meekness towards a person at fault. The apostle shows, that nevertheless they were bound to restore and deal meekly with such despite their fault.


2. Excessive Severity Comes from Pride

This sin of excessive severity towards the sinful failings and falls of others comes from pride. Such a “holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5) attitude may well pretend to be zeal but really it is pride. The rigid critic and lofty censurer of another’s faults does not seek his brother’s reformation so much as to create a good opinion of himself in the minds of others. He seeks to be seen as if he were more concerned for holiness and hatred of sin than others.  The connection between chapters 5 and 6 shows that this sin is to be guarded against as having some kind of dependence on vainglory. Compare “Let us not be desirous of vain-glory” (Galatians 5:26) and “if a man be overtaken in a fault, restore him in the spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).


3. Motives for Compassion

The apostle calls the Galatians “brethren” to give more force to the need to exercise love and meekness in recovering those who had fallen. He calls them brethren to express his love to them and remind them of the love they ought to have to one another as brethren. The person to be restored is referred to by the common name of “a man”. This points to the common frailty of mankind so as to show that his falling into sin is rather to be pitied than wondered at. Paul also transfers the guilt of the sin in a great measure from the person himself to the subtlety of Satan and violence of the temptation by which he was overtaken. All of this provides motives to exercise the pity and meekness to which he exhorts. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault”, he says.


4. Those Who are Not Yet Obstinate Require Less Severity

Greater severity must be used (1 Corinthians 4:21) towards those who are so maliciously obstinate in sin that they cannot be reclaimed by a meek and lenient approach. Yet others, whom we must in charity judge to be otherwise, but are rather overtaken by the violence of some prevailing temptation, ought to be dealt with more gently. These are the only ones whom the apostle will have us to deal with using a spirit of meekness: “If a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one etc.”


5. It is Easy to be Overtaken in a Fault

So subtle and assiduous is Satan in tempting (1 Peter 5:8) and so ready is our corruption to comply with temptation as soon as it is presented (Ephesians 2:2) that the child of God cannot but be overtaken unawares by some sin or other. This will happen unless we are all the more careful and diligent (Matthew 26:41). By sinning in this way the child of God dishonours God and lays a stumbling block before others. Paul assumes that it is likely for all men to be similarly overtaken when he says, “If a man be overtaken in a fault. “


6. The More Holy We Are the More We Should Seek to Restore Others

It is the duty of all men to endeavour to reclaim those lying under unrepented guilt (since the command is given to all: Leviticus 19:17). Yet, the more holy men are, and the further they have advanced in spiritual things, the more obliged they are to this duty. This is primarily because they are better able to fulfil it since they less tainted with sin than others. They have therefore, more liberty to reprove. They also know better how to do this difficult duty wisely. Such are more willing to perform it than others with less knowledge and love to God’s glory and their neighbour’s good. Thus, the Apostle directs this exhortation mainly to those that had received a greater measure of grace. He addresses those “which are spiritual” telling them to “restore such an one”.


7. The More Gifts We Have Received, the More We Should Seek to Restore Others

The more graces and gifts a man has received, the more he is obliged to devote himself and all he has received (within the limits of his calling; Hebrews 5:4) for the spiritual good and edification of others. Paul gives this task of restoring the backslidden Christian chiefly to those who had received a greater measure of grace and spiritual gifting: “Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one”.


8. Those Who Have Fallen into Public Sin are Reluctant to be Restored

When a child of God falls into public sins and erroneous opinions they damage the inward condition formerly enjoyed. It lays waste the conscience and consumes all his former spiritual sensitivity (1 Peter 2:11). Thus, the person who has fallen in such sins is, ordinarily, averse to being reclaimed and proves difficult to deal with. They are like a man with a dislocated bone that can hardly bear to have it touched. The word rendered “restore such an one” implies this because it means literally, to set dislocated parts of the body in joint again. Thus we see that sin puts the soul, as it were, out of joint.


9. We Must be Tender in Using Means to Restore Others

Since it is the duty of all Christians (especially those who are spiritual) to seek to reclaim any who are so fallen we must use means. The necessary means are: admonition (Matthew 18:15); reproof (Leviticus 19:17); and prayer to God on their behalf (James 5:14-15). Christians must pursue these out of charity and their mutual relation to one another as members of one body. Ministers and elders must also pursue them, by virtue of the authority which Christ the King of the Church has given them (Ephesians 4:11-12). In pursuing all these means everyone must use great skill and tenderness in order to attain their goal of restoration. He says, “restore such an one” or set him in joint again. It is a phrase borrowed from surgeons who, when they treat a dislocated bone, handle it with skill and tenderness.


10. Meekness Proves Our Intentions are Right

The grace of meekness, which is necessary to moderate inordinate anger and quickly repress feelings of revenge before they rise to any height (Ephesians 4:26), is the work of God’s Spirit in us. It is essential to exercise this grace towards those who are fallen in all the means we use to reclaim them so that we are not carried away with passionate rage but only zeal to God, love to the person and sanctified reason. This is how we prove we are seeking to recover our brother rather than abuse him. We are labouring to help him; not seeking to disgrace him. Thus, he says, “Restore such an one in the spirit of meekness”, or in the meekness which is produced by God’s Spirit.


11. Anyone May be Tempted

No one (not even the most spiritual) can promise themselves immunity from strong temptations to gross public sin or that they will stand when if left to themselves. Paul urges even the spiritual man to consider himself, lest he is also tempted. It is not only possible that the spiritual man may be tempted, but also that he may yield to temptation when presented to him. The argument would not have had such strength to enforce meekness towards those who are overtaken in a fault.


12. Those Who are Most Uncharitable Know Their Own Hearts Least

Those who censure the faults of others in the most rigid and uncharitable way are usually greatest strangers to their own hearts and scarcely sensitive to their own infirmities. We need serious consideration of our own weakness and the fact that the root of our neighbour’s sin and all other sin is in us (Romans 3:10-20). We must be mindful that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to stand (Psalm 94:18). If God allowed the tempter to break loose on us, we would exceed the sins of others as much as they exceed ours. Seriously considering all this should not completely restrain us from reproving sin in others. Rather, it should cause us to moderate exceedingly our severity towards their sin by showing meekness, pity and compassion towards them. This is why the apostle enforces the former exhortation of restoring their fallen brother in the spirit of meekness with counsel to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.


13. It is Difficult to Take Our Own Weakness Seriously

We are so prone to think well of ourselves that there is great difficulty in getting people to reflect on themselves, and seriously consider their own frailty and weakness. They are reluctant to consider every other thing which may keep them low in their own eyes, without despising others. This is clear from Paul’s change from speaking to them all in the plural to addressing them individually. Having said, “Ye who are spiritual, restore” which is the plural pronoun (“ye”); he then says, “considering thyself” changing to the singular pronoun (“thy”). This gives greater force and a sharper edge to his admonition. He knew that he was urging a duty that would only be obeyed with great difficulty.


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Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Do we take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as we ought? Communion is not high on the list of trending issues in evangelicalism today. Some have a casual attitude towards it. In many evangelical churches the Lord’s Supper is tacked on to the end of a service and quickly dispatched. In some cases perhaps the congregation has forgotten it would be administered before they arrived at the service. Do we take it as seriously as God does? Should we give it any less importance than a bride gives to her wedding day?

Perhaps that it is a startling comparison to many. This is the striking and unusual picture used by William Guthrie. He unfolds it in a way that takes us into a serious consideration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorable way of thinking about how we should prepare for it and what we should expect in it.

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace that nourishes the soul. We do not mean by this the unbiblical notion that mere eating and drinking automatically bring grace. Rather, like the Word it is an appointed means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to us so that we grow in grace. Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper involves communion with Christ enjoyed in the present (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is not just a remembrance of what took place in the past, though there is more to such commemoration than some assume. Remembering in Scripture involves not just a mere act of recollection but affectionate remembrance of something/someone with ongoing application of its significance.


Christ’s People are His Bride

We are familiar with believers being described as the bride of Christ in Scripture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). In his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest William Guthrie makes use of this in relation to faith in Christ. “A man must be sincere, and without guile, in closing with Christ…not hankering after another way”. It must be a heart and not only a head matter: “the man not only must be persuaded that Christ is the way, but affectionately persuaded of it, loving and liking the thing…so that ‘it is all a man’s desire’, as David speaks of the covenant”.

If a man be cordial and affectionate in any thing, surely he must be so here in this ‘one thing that is necessary’. It must not be simply a fancy in the head, it must be a heart-business, a soul-business…not, a business in the outer court of the affections, but in the flower of the affections, and in the innermost, cabinet of the soul, where Christ is formed. Shall a man be cordial in any thing, and not in this, which comprises all his chief interests and his everlasting state within it? Shall “the Lord be said to rejoice over a man as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride,” and to “rest in his love with joy?” and shall not the heart of man go out and meet him here? The heart or nothing; love or nothing; marriage-love, which goeth from heart to heart; love of espousals, or nothing: “My son, give me thine heart.”


The Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s Bride

Thus Guthrie describes in Scriptural language how the soul enters into a marriage contract or covenant with Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a renewal and confirmation of that covenant and our vows. It is natural, therefore, to think of the Lord’s Supper as one of the special ways in which the heavenly bridegroom enjoys fellowship with His bride. As Thomas Watson puts it: “the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ”.

The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!

1 Corinthians 11:29 speaks of the danger of “eating unworthily” i.e. in an unworthy manner. This means that we must give serious attention to the way that we partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Larger Catechism in Q174 deals with how the Lord’s Supper should be received. It stresses reverent attentiveness, those who partake should: “diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings”. Vigorously stirring into activity graces within such as love and resolute faith also involves:

judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

William Guthrie addressed some of these aspects in describing the believer’s approach to the Lord’s Table in terms of a bride on her wedding day. He has given a memorable picture with which to associate some of these things. A bride is not only full of love and anticipation on her wedding day, she is fully prepared for and engaged in all that takes place. The following are some of the comparisons Guthrie makes.

Would a bride be careless about whether she and her dress are clean? Any bride wants to look her best. In the same way a believer should not be going to the Lord’s Table careless about unconfessed sin in their lives and not seeking to leave them and put them to death.

Would a bride be sleepy at her wedding ceremony? It is too important to her to be only half-awake to what is taking place.  The very excitement of the occasion makes it impossible. This is how it should be for a believer approaching Christ in the Supper.

Would a bride be distracted and give her attention to anything other than her bridegroom and the significance of the ceremony? It is even more strange for a believer to be distracted from the heavenly bridegroom and all that is offered in the Supper. What more important thing could the mind and heart consider?

Would a bride be diffident and reluctant to come to be married or to look at her bridegroom? Yet some believers draw back and are reluctant to come to Christ’s Table because of doubts about themselves and their salvation. But as the Larger Catechism shows in Q172, the Lord’s Table is for weak and doubting Christians so that they can be strengthened.


1. A dirt-stained bride is unbecoming

In appoaching to the Table of the Lord, remember it is unbecoming that in the day and hour of espousals the bride should be dirty. It is not becoming for her to have known spots on her which she does not attempt to put off. It is true, at first Christ taketh a dirty bride by the hand, and often has to wash her afterwards. But now in this solemn confirmation of marriage, a filthy bride with known iniquity cleaving to her (with her consent) is a dreadful thing.


2. A drowsy bride is shameful

A drowsy bride is shameful when so solemn a transaction is being carried out before so many witnesses. It is not a good sign to be sleepy and drowsy. It is true that the three disciples slept and were very heavy very soon afterwards in a great crisis. But that was the forerunner of a sad defection.


3. A distracted bride is unseemly

To be distracted and have your attention diverted on such a solemn occasion is a sign of rank corruption. It shows little awe of God and small esteem of Christ Jesus. How unseemly it would be  for a bride in the presence of her bridegroom to dally with other things – even if they were gifts received from the bridegroom himself! She is going to give her marriage consent, or ratify it before witnesses.


4. A diffident bride is very unseemly

It is very unseemly to be diffident towards the Bridegroom at the very time when He has called all His friends together to be witnesses of what He has done and said for her. He is communicating to her the highest, clearest and surest pledge of love He can, putting His great Seal to all the charters of the Covenant which are read over and over. After all this to look down and be jealous and to say in your heart, “He is but mocking me” is a great provocation. Be not therefore unbelieving but believing.


5. A prepared bride is essential

The Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and due preparation (1 Corinthians 11:28). Any bride makes great preparation for her wedding day, she plans for nothing else so fully and thoroughly as this. Does the Lord’s Supper in its special communion with the Heavenly Bridegroom not require more preparation than we commonly give it? These considerations about repentance, love and careful attention apply to preparation also.

The Larger Catechism dwells on how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper as well as how to receive it. In Q171 it stresses preparation through examining ourselves in relation to various matters:

  • Whether we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5);
  • Our sins and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 5:7);
  • Whether our understanding is true and adequate (1 Corinthians 11:29);
  • Repentance after examining ourselves by God’s requirements (1 Corinthians 11:31);
  • Love to God (1 Corinthians 10:16);
  • Love to others (1 Corinthians 11:18);
  • Forgiveness towards others (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Desires for Christ (John 7:37);
  • New obedience (1 Corinthians 5:7-8);
  • Renewing the exercise of grace (Hebrews 10:21-22,24);
  • Serious meditation (1 Corinthians 11:24-25);
  • Fervent prayer (2 Chronicles 30:18-19)



Guthrie’s analogy is helpful in encouraging higher views of the Lord’s Supper and how we should best profit from it spiritually. It reflects the Scriptural emphasis of the Larger Catechism on reverent attentiveness, repentance, love and faith amongst other spiritual exercises. It is a means of blessing for grace being stirred up into activity. Surely there would be a higher spiritual temperature amongst believers if we took these things to heart and put them into practice.



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10 Ways to Best Make Use of Free Grace

10 Ways to Best Make Use of Free Grace

10 Ways to Best Make Use of Free Grace

What are we to do with grace? That question ought to be more prominent in our thinking than it often is. Perhaps we think of receiving and possessing grace more than making use of it. Grace sets a sinner free – but free to do what? Sadly, many use that freedom in order to serve the sinful nature (1 Peter 2:16). Grace makes the sinner free to be a servant of righteousness (Romans 6:18). We must not, of course, turn grace into works and depend on our own endeavours. But idleness and carelessness are certainly not God’s purpose. We are meant to be busy and active with grace to the glory of God and the eternal good of ourselves and others.

John Kid (d. 1679) was a field preacher who emphasised making best use of grace. In one sermon he stresses that God has given a stock of grace for us to use. “Exercise your faith, and exercise your hope. It is not for yourself only you have got it: it is given you to benefit others; make the countryside the better for it. O trade with it”.   Frequently hunted down for preaching “illegally”, his ministry was to last only a few years. Kid was executed in 1679 together with another preacher, John King. In his last days he suffered through extreme methods of torture that mangled one of his legs. The last words of his written testimony are significant, especially as he acknowledges that he was in such pain that it was difficult to compose anything or speak publicly on the scaffold.

I am a most miserable sinner, in regard of my original and actual transgressions. I must confess they are more in number than the hairs of my head. They are gone up above my head, and are past numbering, I cannot but say as Jacob said, I am less than the least of all God’s mercies, yet I must declare to the exalting of His free grace that, to me who am the least of all saints is this grace made known, and that by a strong hand, and I dare not but say He has loved me, and washed me in His own blood from all iniquities, and well is it for me this day, that ever I heard or read that faithful saying, that Jesus Christ, came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

His sermons dwell on grace to a great extent and so it is significant that he also said:

I am the most unworthiest that ever opened his mouth to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in the gospel… I did preach Christ and the gospel in several places of this nation; for which I bless Him (as I can), that ever such a poor obscure person as I am, have been thus privileged by Him, for making mention of His grace as I was able.

It is a long yet edifying testimony but the final words are especially relevant to the subject of grace and its widest benefit.

The Lord is my light and life, my joy, my song, and my salvation; the God of His chosen be my mercy this day, and the enriching comforts of the Holy Ghost keep up and carry me fair through, to the glory of His grace, to the edification of His people, and my own eternal advantage. Amen.

The following points are extracted and updated from a sermon preached on Galatians 5:1 in July 1678.


1. Make Best Use of Faith

Make your calling and election sure. Pray and pray in faith, and yet know that prayer will not save you. Many good words will not save you nor do what is necessary.


2. Make Best Use of Hope

Make best use of your hope and pray more and more so that your hope is not marred. When Christians do not make best use of their hope it hinders them from seeing their privileges. Many do not care whether Christ stays with, or goes from Scotland. They are not troubled about it: hope is greatly decayed.


3. Make Best Use of Heavenly-mindedness

This grace is greatly decayed amongst us. It was not so when God began with you. It was so with you that the tears would have been seen to trickle down your cheeks. Then opportunities were taken for prayer and what was spoken was for God. But now this is laid aside in great measure laid by. We speak now of our own worldly things: we think our own thoughts. And since it is so, what wonder is it that the Lord disclaim us? We do not walk with God, nor are right in heart with Him.

Are we then a thriving land or people? It is not evident that our practice differs little from the practice of wicked men on His holy day? His day is not made best use of and no wonder you do not experience your privileges. Are you looking within the suburbs of heaven? Are you reading and praying with your hearts engaged? O what a desirable thing is it to have your hearts in heaven: to
be heavenly as God is, to see Him face to face, and to see Him as He is.

Remember that a holy God is taking notice of you: how you speak and hear. Resolve to walk in a more holy way and say: “This will be my work in future”. Are you not ashamed that a poor lass or lad has made more progress and profited more in Christianity in one year, than you have done in twenty (some of you in thirty) years? Oh, that it should be so and yet not laid to heart by you.


4. Make Best Use of Humility

We do not make progress in humility but all mind our own things like Baruch (Jeremiah 45:5). Yet it was not a fitting time to seek after these things. It is a more fitting time to endeavour after abasement and humility – this is more suitable to the times. The humble man that abases himself to the dust, is the man with whom the Lord delights to dwell. He dwells with the humble and contrite in heart; the man that is taken up with God and heaven.


5. Make Best Use of Sincerity

We exhort you to be sincere as with the apostle Paul to the Philippians. He desires that they “may be sincere and without offence, till the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10). A godly man in our land who was one in a thousand [thought to be William Guthrie] once said that he had been studying sincerity for many years, yet he acknowledged he did not know what it was. A sincere man is making best use of his privileges in the right way. It would be good if we were conscious of not making best use of them: but what can we expect from God, while we do not make best use of them. Try and search your own selves, and be not reprobate (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Be acquainted with God, abide nearer to Him, know more of His matters, and be ready every moment to be in God’s matters. The soul that abides near God, will be constantly examining itself; it will constantly be laying hold on God by faith. Each moment he will allow no beloved except Jesus Christ. Abide near Him, that the power of His death and virtue of His resurrection may come, and enable you to make best use of your privileges. Let sin, every lust and abomination that makes you unlike Him be put to death. Seek to have sin slain so that you may live, die, and rise again, as He did. Nothing will satisfy such a soul except more of God’s ordinances. Prayer and preaching will be empty, if Christ is not there. You should cry out, “O to be like Him!” Those that are in closest fellowship with Him, enjoy their privileges and are nourished by the ordinances. Nothing please such a soul except that.


6. Make Best Use of Stability

What are you to stand for? What is it to go on in the strength of God the Lord? Folk these days are given to flinch in many things. When a steadfast man stands or keeps his ground, however, the more trials and difficulties he meets with, the more he grows. They do not put him not one step back but he prevails over them. Thus, he improves his steadfastness. Mark your ground before, or else a trial or temptation will soon cast you on your backs. It did so with David and Peter. Improve your steadfastness still more when many are going off both to right and left-hand extremes. Improve stability so that you will not turn from the right way of the Lord.


7. Make Best Use of Single-mindedness

If we would be justified and sanctified, we must be single-minded. We must be like Joshua who said: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:13). Although the rest go on
following a bad course, serving their own lusts and the world, yet (he says) I and my family have resolved to serve the Lord. One or another will prove stable in their resolutions, when another turns aside. Many in Joshua’s days went wrong when he kept the right way.  The times in which our lot is cast call for single-mindedness. Noah walked with God, and it is said that was “a perfect man in his generation”. Enoch walked with God; and it is said, “he was not because God took him.”


8. Make Best Use of Self-Examination

Try yourselves. We have taken an easy way now, we are not exercised in this duty. Men and women have abandoned it and it is now many years since it was rightly practised. You must examine
your state and see: whether you are in the faith or not, whether you are following hard after God or not.  Try whether you are in a thriving condition, following the Lord and advancing in Christianity. See if you are putting sin and corruption to death. Lay yourselves in God’s balance. Deal with yourself impartially as before God. The grace of self-examination has become very rare
in these days. We exhort you to weigh yourselves before God.  There are many may have the root of the matter in them, and yet things are not right between God and them. Exercising grace will keep things right but merely possessing grace will not keep you right if you are not assisted by exercising it.


9. Make Best Use of Self-denial

Jesus Christ Himself taught the lesson, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). What things do you deny yourselves in? He that
will not deny himself for Christ cannot be His disciple.


10. Make Best Use of Dependence

Let your souls depend on God. Though the mountains were removed and cast into the midst of the sea and though the fig tree should not blossom, yet truly we will  trust in the Lord, and joy in the God of our salvation who rules in Jacob to the ends of the earth. Will you wait, and wait on? Do you believe that God has power and that the God of Jacob will be your refuge? Dependence on God will make the Christian suffer the loss of all things. Say, the Lord is on my side, I shall not be moved. He is my strength and my saving health — my rock and strong tower. I trust in Him, and therefore I shall stand fast, and not fall. Depend on God, that He may clear up your sky a little. Depend on God with your souls, and that will make you make best use of all that happens in providence. Fix yourselves on God. Take Him as He has offered Himself in the promises of the gospel.


There is a very readable biography of John King together with his co-martyr John Kid. This was recently authored by Maurice Grant. It is warmly commended and available from the Scottish Reformation Society for £5.95.

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The Mark of the Christian

The Mark of the Christian

The Mark of the Christian

​You might recognise this title from a well-known book written by Francis Schaeffer. His point was that love “is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father”. It was a point made centuries earlier by Hugh Binning. He called Christian love the “badge that Christ left to his disciples: if we cast this away on every disagreement, we disown our Master, and disclaim his token and badge”. Both of course refer to Christ’s words in John 13:35 that “love one to another” is the way by which all men will recognise Christ’s disciples.

During his lifetime Binning experienced sad disagreements with those who were otherwise fully agreed on the Church’s faith and practice. He was a man of principle who did not cast away his convictions when difficulties arose. But he was also a man of peace who loved obedience to Christ’s new commandment: to love one another.  He did not give up speaking the truth even when it might offend others, but he spoke the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Binning believed that: “Unity in judgement [conviction] is very necessary for the well being of Christians…[and]… unity in affection is most essential and fundamental”. He says that “love is a uniting and transforming thing”.

His valuable little book Christian Love has particular beauty and power (see below for a special offer for purchasing it). It is not a book that sprinkles platitudes and slogans but rather penetrates deeply. In particular he comments on 1 Corinthians 13 with great insight. This is a chapter often read and referred to but seldom understood with accuracy and depth.


1. The Mark of God

“There is a special stamp of excellency put on this affection of love”. It is that God delights to reveal Himself in this way. “God is love”. We are to be “followers of God as dear children, and walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1-2). We are to follow this pattern. “God has a general love to all the creatures, from which the river of his goodness flows throughout the earth, and in that, is like the sun conveying his light and benign influence, without partiality or restraint, to the whole world”. Yet His “special favour runs in a more narrow channel towards those whom he has chosen in Christ”.

A Christian must be like his Father in this. Indeed Binning says “there is nothing in which he resembles him more than in this, to walk in love towards all men, even our enemies. For in this he gives us a pattern: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

To do good to all, and to be ready to forgive all, is the glory of God, and certainly it is the glory of a child of God to be merciful as his Father is merciful, and good to all, and kind to the unthankful. And this is to be perfect as he is perfect. This perfection is charity and love to all. But the particular and special current of affection will run toward the household of faith, those who are of the same descent, and family, and love.

This is the “badge” of Christ’s disciples. “These two in a Christian are nothing but the reflex of the love of God, and streams issuing out from it”. In order to support this Binning quotes from Galatians 5:10 “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”. The other extremely apt verse he gives is 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13: “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love onetowards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you, to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his saints.”

A Christian walking in love to all, blessing his enemies, praying for them, not reviling or cursing again, but blessing for cursing, and praying for reviling, forgiving all, and ready to give to the necessities of all, and more especially, uniting the force of his love and delight, to bestow it upon these who are the excellent ones, and delight of God, such a one is his Father’s picture, so to speak. He is partaker of that divine nature, and royal spirit of love.


2. The Mark of True Humanity

Binning says that most of Christianity is true humanity. “Christ makes us men as well as Christians. He makes us reasonable men when believers. Sin transformed our nature into a wild, beastly, viperous, selfish thing. Grace restores reason and natural affection in the purest and highest strain. And this is reason and humanity, elevated and purified – to condescend to all men in all things for their profit and edification, to deny itself to save others”. Yet “charity will not, dare not sin to please men. That were to hate God, to hate ourselves, and to hate our brethren, under a base pretended notion of love”.

We should be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,” among whom we should shine “as lights” (Philippians 2:15). And truly it is humanity elevated by Christianity, or reason purified by religion, that is the light that shines most brightly in this dark world.


3. The Mark of Spiritual Light

On occasion Binning is lyrical in his spiritual understanding of Christian love.

Love is real light and life. Is it not “a pleasant thing for the eye to behold the sun?” Light is sweet, and life is precious. These are two of the rarest jewels given to men.

He follows this immediately with an arresting quotation from 1 John 2:9-11 that it is only those that love their brother who abide in the light. “The light of Jesus Christ cannot shine into the heart, but it begets love, even as intense light begets heat, and where this impression is not made on the heart, it is an evidence that the beams of that Sun of righteousness have not pierced it”.  Daylight is made for going about our daily work. Why is spiritual daylight given to the soul? In order “that it may rise up and go forth to labour, and exercise itself in the works of the day, duties of love to God and men”.

Now in such a soul there is no cause of stumbling, no scandal, no offence in its way to fall over.  When the light and knowledge of Christ possesses the heart in love, there is no stumbling block of transgression in its way. It does not fall and stumble at the commandments of righteousness and mercy as grievous, “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).  And so the way of charity is the most easy, plain, expedient and safe way.  In this way there is light shining all along it, and there is no stumbling block in it.  Love for God and our brethren has polished and made it all plain


4. The Mark of Humility

Here Binning comes to one of the most challenging aspects of Christian love. It is demanding and self-sacrificing not insipid sentiment. Christian love will be as careful as possible to avoid stumbling others. (For more on this point see the recent article 7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others). Although there are “many stumbling blocks in the world, yet there is none in charity, or in a charitable soul”.  Binning says: “I…think there is no point of Christianity less regarded”. Other matters are acknowledged though we may fail in practice but this scarcely comes into the minds of any. Few see it as their obligation.

“The apostle says, ‘Give none offence, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:32). And he adds his own example, ‘Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved’, verse 33. If only those who love “all things to all men” as a slogan would be dissuaded by this verse from stumbling others.

Love is a light which may lead us by offences inoffensively, and without stumbling.  In darkness men mistake the way, know not the end of it, take pits for plain ways, and stumble in them.  Uncharitableness casts a mist over the actions and courses of others, and our own too, that we cannot carry on either without transgression. And this is the misery of it, that it cannot discern any fault in itself.  It knows not where it goes, calls light darkness and darkness light.  It is partial in judgment, pronounces always on its own behalf, cares not whom it condemns, that it may absolve itself.

“Charity is not self-addicted”, he says. Binning is unsparing in his treatment of uncharitable self-love. We want others to deal charitably with us but are less inclined to extend it ourselves. “If I be convinced that there is any equity and beauty in that command which charges others to love me, forgive me, forbear with me, and restore me in meekness, why, then, should it be a grievous command that I should pay that debt of love and tenderness to others?”

The root of this problem is pride. We compare the best in us with the worst in others in order to inflate our self-opinion. It would be better to compare our worst with other people’s best. “Humility makes a man compare himself with the best that he may find how bad he himself is, but pride measures by the worst, that it may hide a man from his own imperfections”.



5. The Mark of Righteousness

Binning shows that the commandments which relate to our neighbour (the fifth commandment to the tenth) are branches of Christian love. They all require “the works of righteousness and of mercy”. Yet these are “interwoven” through each other. Though mercy is usually restricted to showing compassion on men in misery, yet there is a righteousness in that mercy, and there is mercy in the most acts of righteousness, as in not judging rashly, in forgiving etc. Therefore we shall consider the most eminent and difficult duties of love, which the word of God solemnly and frequently charges upon us in relation to others, especially these of the household of faith.


6. The Mark of Liveliness

Binning says that cold love is “the symptom of a decaying and fading Christian and Church” (Matthew 24:12). It was the great charge that Christ had against Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-5). Love is the source of life and liveliness for a Christian. Without it the soul is in decay. “It is the …evidence, as well as the root and fountain, of abounding iniquity”. Binning says that it is the epidemic disease of the present time, love cooled, and passion heated”. From these arise “contentions, wars and divisions, which have brought the church of God near to expiring”. “Therefore being mindful of…Hebrews 10:24, I would think it pertinent to consider one another, and provoke again unto love and to good works”.

SPECIAL OFFER: Buy Your Own Copy of Christian Love

Binning’s book is published by the Banner or Truth and available as a special offer for £3.55  from James Dickson Books (usual price £3.95 – RRP £5.00). This is a special discount of 10% available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. Purchase here (enter the code after adding the book to the cart).

The book contains a biographical note as well as three expositions from Binning’s exposition of Romans 8:1-15 The Sinner’s Sanctuary. The first chapter identifies the love of a Christian and its opposite: self-love.  Chapter 2 considers the excellence of Christian love, again distinguishing it from the false selfish love that prevails in the world.  Binning then offers motives for Christian love (chapter 3) and practical teaching (chapter 4).  The fifth chapter dwells on humility and meekness as a key aspect of Christian love.


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7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

A stumbling block in Scripture is not simply an obstacle. It is anyone or anything by which someone is drawn into sin or error. Or it may simply hinder them from being edified. Scripture tells that it can happen even through things that aren’t in themselves sinful. The implications of this are virtually all-encompassing. There are few things we must take more seriously than this in the Christian life.

The word which means stumbling block is often translated as “offence”. This is not the same as someone being offended in the sense of being displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to offend against God’s Word. Scripture deals with this matter in the most serious way possible. In his comprehensive treatment of the subject, James Durham says the following about stumbling others:

  • there is no sin that has more woes pronounced against it. The Lord himself denounces and doubles a woe against making others offend (Mathew 18:7), and the Apostle confirms it (Romans 14:20);
  • there is no duty more commanded. Durham notes that whole chapters are devoted to avoiding stumbling others (e.g. Romans 14, Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 8, Matthew 18);
  • there are no worse consequences than those connected with it. Durham notes that it brings: woe to the world; destruction to many souls; reproach upon the profession of Christianity; cools love among brethren, begets and fosters contention and strife; mars the progress of the gospel; and, in a word, makes iniquity to abound, and often ushers in error into the church.
  • there is nothing more damaging to the fellowship of believers. Fellowship suffers if we are not sensitive to what edifies and hinders edification in others. Spiritual admonition and conversation and prayer together will lack the right spirit and blessing without such sensitivity.
  • it hardens us and makes us more inclined to sin. It hardens us by making the conscience less sensitive to conviction. The more we are in the habit of disregarding others in general the less we are restrained from doing that which is actually sinful.
  • it damages the success of the gospel. Carelessness in this brings reproach on profession of the gospel. Sensitivity in this greatly adorns the gospel, however.

A number of these serious consequences of stumbling others are drawn from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18.  David Dickson shows from Matthew 18:7-14 in greater detail how Christ gives seven reasons to avoid putting a stumbling block before others.

Christ forbids laying any stumbling block before others whether by word, action or any other way. This is anything which may induce anyone to sin or may hinder them in the course of obedience of God.


1. Much Woe Comes Through Stumbling Others

Much woe, sin and misery comes on the world through stumbling blocks thrown in front of others. Therefore, beware of offences, for “Woe unto the world because of offences!” There is a necessity that there will be offences (v7). Stumbling blocks or inducements to sin and ways to turn men away from the right paths of the Lord will be laid in their way. This necessity is because men’s corrupt natures are inclined to be drawn and to draw others to sin. God’s decree to permit such stumbling-blocks in order to try some and punishment of others also makes it necessary (v7).


2. The Greatest Woe Awaits Those Who Stumble Others

Woe to that man by whom the offence comes. Therefore beware of offences. Whatever damage comes or may come by a stumbling-block will be imputed to him who gives offence, or lays a stumbling-block in others’ way. “Woe to that man” (v7).

Those who are offended (drawn into sin) cannot excuse themselves. Neither the fact that offences occur in God’s providence nor the guilt belonging to those who create the offence excuses them or will save them from wrath for their sin. This still stands: “Woe unto the world because of offences” (v7).


3. Nothing is Worth Stumbling Others

It is better to lose anything that may cause a sinful fall to yourself or your neighbour than to sin and be cast into hell with it. It is better to lose anything that is even as beneficial or necessary as your eye or your foot (v8). It is better to be deprived of it than to sin and so be cast in hell with it: therefore beware of giving offence.

[a] The cause of stumbling ourselves and others is in ourselves. Some beloved lust may seem as precious and beneficial to us as our eye, our hand or our foot but yet it causes us to stumble (v8-9).

[b] Such beloved lusts must be put to death and cut off or else we cannot but perish. It is better therefore that these lusts be cut off than they and we should both perish. To cut them off is better (v9).


4. Being Careless About Stumbling Others is the Same as Despising Them

Despising any of these little ones must be avoided and so laying stumbling blocks must also be avoided. This is because being careless about stumbling them is the same as despising them (v10).


5. The Angels Minister to Those We are Careless About Stumbling

God esteems the least of these little ones so much that the good angels who daily enjoy God’s glorious presence are ministering spirits appointed to attend on them. Therefore do not despise them by being careless about stumbling or offending them.

If we consider what price God and his holy angels set upon the least Christian we would be loathe to despise or offend them. For “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (v10).


6. Christ’s Care for His Flock Should Prevent Us from Stumbling Any of Them

Christ came to redeem the least of believers even those who count themselves lost. Therefore you should not despise them by being careless about stumbling them. The esteem and love that Christ has for the least Christian should motivate us to beware of stumbling or despising them. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (v11).


7. Stumbling Others is the Devil’s Work and Opposes God

It is not the will of the Father that the least Christian should perish and therefore you should not despise them or be careless about stumbling them in a way through which they might perish. This is taught in the parable of a good shepherd (verse 12-14). The purpose of the parable is to show that as a good shepherd regards all of his sheep and, if they wander, will carefully seek to reclaim them and save them so does God. He does this for the least of His elect, the least of Christians; He will reclaim them from their sins and danger of perishing, as the text shows.

[a] He that stumbles his neighbour does what he can to make him perish. He opposes the will of the Father to preserve his neighbour from perishing because of a stumbling block.

[b] The devil and those who serve him do what they can to hinder the salvation of believers but God will preserve them. For “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (v14).

[c] Although he that lays a stumbling block before his brother will not be able to destroy him, yet he may put him out of the way a little and hinder him in his course to heaven. The parable of the shepherd recovering the wandering sheep shows this.


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Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?

Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?

Where Can Your Soul Thirst Be Satisfied?

In an empty and dry world, your soul is certainly thirsty. The world knows how to create thirst but not how to satisfy the thirst of the soul. Only God can satisfy this thirst. The soul that has tasted that the Lord is gracious has a constant desire for the presence of God. The puritan  Thomas Shepard put it this way: “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.”

Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (c.1578-c.1640) was one of the godliest women of her time in Scotland. Alexander Hume, minister of Logie described her as “a lady chosen of God to be one of his saints”. She was “oft sighing and weeping through the conscience of sin”. She was also the first woman in Scotland to have her writing published. John Livingstone wrote of her:

Of all that ever I saw, she was most unwearied in religious exercises; and the more she attained access to God therein, she hungered the more.

Here was someone always thirsting for God. Not after mere knowledge about God but God Himself. Samuel Rutherford (who corresponded with Lady Culross) identified this as a sign of true grace.

In all the means of the worship of God, whether you have the use of them or lack the use of them, seek ever God rather than the means, whether it be in preaching, praying, hearing, reading etc. Strive to be in at God Himself. And this is the difference between an hypocrite and a true seeker of God, for the hypocrite  seeks after the means, and no more. That is enough for him if he hear the word, and get the communion, …But the true seeker of God learns to miss Him in the means of His service, and he thinks he has not things well at that time, when he finds not Himself; and, therefore, let us remember that praying, preaching, praising, reading, hearing, even all the means, they are as chariots and torches to carry us to God.

John Livingstone is well known as the preacher at the revival at the Kirk of Shotts in June 1630 when 500 were converted under one sermon. There had been services associated with the Lord’s Supper during the days preceding that Monday thanksgiving sermon. The nights were spent in prayer together, particularly the night before Monday dawned. Lady Culross was at the centre of this:

a great many Christians in a large room, where her bed was; and in the morning all going apart for their private devotion, she went into the bed, and drew the curtains, that she might set herself to prayer. William Rigg of Athernie coming into the room, and hearing her have great motion upon her, although she spoke not out, he desired her to speak out, saying that there was none in the room but him and her woman, as at that time there was no other. She did so, and the door being opened, the room filled full. She continued in prayer, with wonderful assistance, for large three hours’ time.

She wrote to give great encouragement to those who suffered for faithfulness to God. These included William Rigg, John Welsh of Ayr and Andrew Melville. When Rigg was imprisoned in Blackness Castle her encouragement was “that the darkness of Blackness was not the blackness of darkness.” She was similarly witty to John Livingstone in his trials. “You must be hewn and hammered down, and dressed and prepared before you be a living stone fit for his building. And if he be minded to make you meet to help to repair the ruins of his house, you must look for other manner of strokes than you have yet felt”.

Melville expressed her desires in poetry.  Alexander Hume of Logie (a poet himself) commended the spirituality of her compositions: “I doubt not but it is the gift of God in you”. One of her most famous poems was published in 1603 is called Ane Godlie Dreame. This popular poem was like an early Scottish Pilgrim’s Progress. In her dream she is taken safely over spiritual dangers represented as high mountains, vast deserts, great waters and wild woods. Ultimately the dazzling sight of the celestial city meets her eyes.

Recently much more of Melville’s poetry has been discovered in manuscript and edited by Jamie Reid Baxter under the title Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (Solsequium, 2010). One of them is the following heartfelt prayer which is a meditation on the opening verses of Psalm 42. It is similar to those by the Reformer James Melville. In it she expresses her desire for God’s presence. Great poetic skill is used to express her spiritual desires with melodious but direct language. The speaker seems out of breath and in haste. [The following is only the first 70 lines of the 285 lines of this poem. The spelling and some Scots words have been updated].


Meditation on Psalm 42

As hearts full fant [very weakened]
doth breathe and pant
for running rivers clear
oppressed with woe
I sigh also
for thee my God most dear.
My heart doth burst,
my soul doth thirst
for thee the well of life.
When shall I see
thy majesty
and leave this vale of strife?

This vale of tears,
this vale of fears,
this vale of dangers deep,
this vale of woe
wherein my foe
doth catch me whilst I sleep.
This vale of care
and sighing sare [sore]
wherein my soul does burn.
This vale so dry
wherein I cry,
until the springs return.

O lovely spring
my soul doth sing
to think upon thy glore [glory].
This barren hell
wherein I dwell
doth dry me up full sore.
The soul is brunt [burnt]
that once was wont
to taste thy heav’nly dew.
O turn again
and ease my pain,
O God my God most true.

I grant my guilt
has almost spilt
thy goodly gifts of grace.
I must confess
my wickedness
thy image doth deface.
My soul within
is full of sin
that weighs me down full sore.
But come convert
this stubborn heart.
Then shall I sin no more.

My loving Lord
to hear accord
thy captive’s careful cry.
Look on thy Lamb,
whose child I am,
His blood is never dry.
Thy majesty
first formed me
and when I fully fell,
that Prince of Glore
did me restore,
and vanquish death and hell.

Let not thine ire
consume like fire
the work that thou hast wrought.
Since I am thine
why wilt thou tyne [lose]
the soul so dearly bought.
Thou choosed me
and I not thee
before the world began.
Thy thoughts are sure
and shall endure,
thou changest not as man.


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8 Ways to Know Whether Christ is Precious to You

8 Ways to Know Whether Christ is Precious to You

8 Ways to Know Whether Christ is Precious to You

​These days you can get an instant valuation on almost everything you own. Yet such reports will never list the personal value you place on them. Some of our possessions are valuable to us personally while others are extremely valuable or precious.  Christ is infinitely precious in Himself, but He must also be infinitely precious to us personally. If He is not we do not have true faith. “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious” (1 Peter 2:7). We need to know unmistakably whether Christ is precious to us.

As Andrew Gray explains, true faith values Christ. “Faith is that grace that gives a Christian a most broad and comprehensive sight of Christ. It draws aside the veil off the face of Christ, and presents His beauty to the soul”. “Faith is that grace by which a Christian keeps most communion and fellowship with God: ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith’ (Ephesians 3:17)”.  Faith also “describes and makes Christ precious to the soul. It presents to you the absolute necessity of embracing Jesus Christ, and that makes Christ precious to the soul”. We can speak much about Christ and loving the Saviour but is He truly precious to us? Gray gives us 8 different ways by which we may know for sure.


1. If you have a Desire for Holiness

Those to whom Christ is precious have a desire for His image. That is, they will have a desire after holiness. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). O Christians, do you not desire to bear the image of the second Adam as you have borne the image of the first (see 1 Corinthians 15:49)?


2. If you have a Desire to make Constant Use of Christ

Those to whom Christ is precious will desire to make continual and constant use of Christ. They will make use of Him for:

  • justification: that they may be purged and have the precious features of Christ drawn on them;
  • wisdom: that they may be directed aright through this wilderness;
  • redemption: that they may be set free from their spiritual enemies. O Christians, dare you ever say that an idol ever assaulted you that you did not embrace? O! I fear there are many that may acknowledge that this is true.


3. If you have a Desire for Greater Fellowship and Communion with God

Those to whom Christ is precious have a desire after more fellowship and communion with God. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song of Solomon 1:2). “Draw me” (Song of Solomon 1;4). Do you think that all absence from Christ (no matter how short) is like an eternity? If so, this is evidence that Christ is precious unto you.


4. If you have a Desire for Christ’s Presence

They are exceedingly burdened during Christ’s absence and withdrawing from them. The bride sought Him whom her soul loved; she sought Him, but she found Him not. She continued seeking until she found Him (Song of Solomon 3:1-3). The bride expressed her respect to Christ in these three things:

(a) A Christian’s anxiety is dissatisfied with any other than Christ. Mary Magdalene undervalued the angels, “they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:13). She, as it were, turned her back on the angels because there was none for her but Christ. The happiness of a Christian lies in these words: “they have taken away my Lord“.

(b) A Christian’s anxiety expresses itself in a dissatisfaction with all graces without Christ. This is clear in Song of Solomon 3:1-3. There she had the grace of faith, love, diligence, patience and submission; yet notwithstanding this, the one that she wishes for is absent.

(c) A Christian’s anxiety expresses itself in a low esteem of all things that come short of Christ. “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; my sore ran in the night, and ceased not; my soul refused to be comforted” (Psalm 77:3)


5. If you have a Desire to Understand Christ’s Dealings with You

Those to whom Christ is precious are spiritually observant. They record Christ’s dealings with them as far as they can when He has withdrawn His presence. When He is present they take special notice, and of when they are permitted to taste of the apples of the tree of life.


6. If you have a Desire to Avoid Offending Christ

Those to whom Christ is precious will be, to a greater or lesser extent, grieved for grieving and offending Him. I fear that I must say to the shame of most of us that sin was never a burden to us. O Christians! Can Christ be precious to you and yet you do not hesitate to offend Him?


7. If you have a Desire to give Greater Value to Fellowship with Christ

Those to whom Christ is precious will have a high esteem for union and fellowship with Christ. What do the hearts of Christians run after most? I fear it is not after Christ. There are some whose hearts are upon the world; there are others whose hearts are upon the pleasures of the world; there are some whose hearts are upon the applause of the world; and there are others whose hearts are on the covetousness of the things of the world (Ezekiel 33:31).  O, therefore, strive to embrace Jesus Christ.

The devil will let you give all your members to Jesus Christ but he says, “Give me your heart”. He will let you give your eyes, ears, hands, and feet to Christ but he says, “Give me your heart”. There are three sorts of persons that are not right in heart.

(a) Those with a divided heart. The devil certainly has the hearts of such who are “double-minded” (James 4:8).

(b) Those whose hearts are given entirely to the devil. There are some whose hearts are not divided, namely, atheists. This is clear from Hosea 4:17, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone”; or, as the word literally means, he is “married to his idols”. Surely Christ is not precious to someone like this. O Christians! Does the world not have your first thoughts when you rise in the morning and your last thoughts when you go to bed at night? Thus, I fear our idols always have more of our thoughts than Christ.

(c) Those whose hearts are wrestling against their predominant lusts but are falling down under them. They are not wrestling in the right way. I may say, however, that there are not many such amongst us whose main concern is to wrestle against the devil and his temptations.


8. If you have a Desire for the Duties that Obtain Fellowship with God

Those to whom Christ is precious will have some delight in the duties that obtain communion and fellowship with God. The Bride seeks Christ from a principle of delight, faith and necessity (Song of Solomon 3:1). O Christians, why do you go to prayer like this? I think most of us go to prayer only from a principle of satisfying our natural conscience.  Someone that has real delight in duty has a low estimation and account of all things that come short of Christ. They have a high esteem of Christ Himself only.


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