Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?
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.
20 Mar, 2020

Almost all churches have become empty overnight. The public worship of God has been removed across many nations. If you are kept from attending public worship, are you mourning over that as David did (Psalm 42:2-5)? Why should it cause so much distress? Worship is the highest activity we can engage in and God places special emphasis on public worship (Psalm 87:2). What is more important than the public worship of God? This is the purpose for which souls are brought out of spiritual darkness (1 Peter 2:9). The intention is not to make people feel guilty because they are prevented from attending public worship. Sometimes there are things beyond our control that stop us. The crucial question is: are we weeping over such an extraordinary and solemn removal of public worship across the face of the earth?

Some will say that they can worship privately at home and this can make up much of the loss. Connecting distantly as a spectator to an empty building is not the same as public worship. Private worship is a great privilege and benefit, it can bring us much edification. But, by definition, it is not, public worship. It is there that we most want to praise God (Psalm 22:22&25). Thus, the Westminster Confession says that God is to be worshipped “more solemnly, in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto” (WCF 21:6). The Lord promises a special blessing for public worship (Exodus 20:24). David greatly desired that and so should we (Psalm 27:4; 63:1-2).

What about the public glory of Christ? The public glory of Christ is vital–His glory in the Church and in society. One great means of this is public worship of God (Psalm 29:9). God is more glorified by public worship than any other worship. It is possible for us to glorify God in the secrecy of our hearts and the privacy of our homes. Surely we want God’s glory manifested publicly as well as privately? Usually this is what is meant when we read in Scripture about the glory of the Lord being revealed. We want as many people as possible to see that glory and to join in praising God together (Psalm 96:1-3; Psalm 66:1). “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Scripture never envisages the removal of public worship as being anything less than disastrous (read Psalm 74 for just one example). It is no light thing, it is not “just one of those things” that are unusual and regrettable but nonetheless merely “unfortunate”. Many interpreters have concluded that the beginning of gathered public worship is described in Genesis 4:26. It would be solemn to look back and identify the present moment as a time when people began not to call on the name of the Lord, because of the removal of public worship.

The book of Lamentations is for just such a time as this. It brings events into perspective. Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of everything. He pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. His tears flow freely,  especially concerning the spiritual losses such as the destruction of the temple. “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate” (Lamentations 1:4).

It is noticeable that he traces it back to God’s warnings through the prophets that this would take place. Thus, it is ultimately the Lord who has “cast off his altar” and sanctuary. He has “violently taken away his tabernacle…destroyed his places of the assembly” and “caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lamentations 2:6-7). The following is an updated extract from David Dickson’s exposition of that verse.

1. God Removes His Protection

Another point of his lamentation is that God has taken away the hedge of His protection from His Church. It is as if a man would pull away his hedge from his garden
and let all the beasts in. He has taken away His tabernacle, as any would pull away his hedge from his orchard. He has destroyed her places of assembly, so that they did not have a place to meet in. He has caused their solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten, that is, there is no memory left of public solemnities. The fact that God violently pulls away His tabernacle shows us that there is no place so holy that God is held to unles it is visited in a holy way. Although He said of Jerusalem, “this is the place of my rest forever,” (1 Kings 8:13 and 9:13) yet when they abused it He forsook it.

2. God Removes His Presence

Jerusalem had this promise, yet God removed His presence because His worship was abused. How will then any place without such a promise affirm that God is held to it? There never was a place that God was more strictly held to than Jerusalem. Yet when they abused it He left it, for He is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). Let no one think they will enjoy the Word and gospel unless they walk in the light of it. Will the Lord expose His Word and ordinances to mockery and cast His bread to those that are not hungry?

But seeing the Lord is pleased to maintain a tabernacle among us, let us not defile the place of His rest by our sins. Do not stir up our love till He pleases (Song of Solomon 2:7). Do not provoke Him to be driven away from us and go His way. For if we do, although we may be dear to Him and also as near to Him as the signet ring of His hand (Jeremiah 22:24), He will pull us off and cast us away. He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but will do to us as to His Church in former times.

3. God Removes the Visible Church

God “destroyed the places of the assembly.” This shows that the sins of professing Christians will provoke God to remove the face or outward appearance of a visible church. If we do not make better use of our meetings in the church, God will make them like filthy lavatories. There was no visible church on earth except Jerusalem, yet when it was abused by idolatry, He scattered it. Although some stones here and there were reserved for a new building, the face of a visible church was abolished. It is as great folly to say there will always be a visible church in a place, as to say that a church cannot offend God.

Judah’s solemn feasts were the equivalent of our communions. If we do not make use of our solemn meetings, frequent preaching and communions, they will go out of remembrance. The public ensigns (i.e. military flag) by which we should follow our Lord will cease to be displayed.

Conclusion

These are truly solemn considerations that we must take to heart. They are very applicable to our own time. It is easy for us to take public worship for granted until we have it removed. Have we treated it as we should, have we benefited from it as we ought? Have we been too glib in assuming that God would not cast off the professing Church in the west? Could it be that (as with Old Testament Israel) we have actually corrupted God’s worship to suit ourselves rather than His commands and therefore God is taking it from us?

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How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon

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

Hundreds of thousands of minutes. That’s a lifetime total of hearing sermons. But listening to sermons involves far more than clocking up time staying awake during preaching. Despite the amount of time we devote to this, clear guidance on how to listen to sermons is rare. Christ says that it matters how we hear the Word (Luke 8:18). The benefit we derive depends on the way we listen. So how ought we to listen?

It’s important that we benefit from the preaching we hear. We have ears so that we might listen to God’s Word (Matthew 11:15; Mark 8:18). And when we do listen we need to understand, it is a solemn thing to be always hearing without understanding (Mark 4:12).  Our hearts and lives should produce fruit from what we hear (Luke 8:15).

We also need to pay attention to what we hear as well as how we hear it (Mark 4:24). When we compare what we hear in sermons with what Scripture says we are also listening in the right way (Acts 18:11). Although something preached may not seem to be exactly what we think we need right now, we are to store it up for when we will need it most (Isaiah 42:23).

No doubt online sermons have been beneficial to many. But if they incline us to think less of preaching in reality and in the context of public worship we are not listening in the right way. Particularly if people feel they can skip church and listen at home. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so attractive as listening to their favourite celebrity preacher but it is God’s appointed context.  There is a bond between a minister and his congregation that is absent from an online sermon from another preacher. We are not to be sermon tasters but sermon doers.

In this updated extract, James Durham gives some helpful advice for how to benefit from hearing the Word preached. Listening well to a sermon begins before we ever get to church. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached. This is where we need to start.

 

1. Listen with Preparation

This involves:

  • praying for the speaker;
  • praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word;
  • preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such an activity;
  • seeking to have the right estimation of the Word;
  • blessing God for His Word and for any good received beforehand by it.

 

2. Listen in Person

We need to be present to listen (Acts 10:33). If we are absent from church, neglecting gospel opportunities we are not listening in person. Neither are we properly there in person if we are sleeping during the sermon when we should be listening.

 

3. Listen with Expectation

We should go to hear with an expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him. We come with hunger and thirst as new born babes, having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).

 

4. Listen to God

When we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances. We must be present, as before God, to hear, as Cornelius was (Acts 10:33). Go to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Go to hear out of conscience not out of mere custom or for appearance’s sake.

We must look to God, receiving the Word as God’s Word, not as man’s (1 Peter 1:23-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 4;11). There is a special fear which we ought to have before His name. There ought therefore to be trembling and fear in our attending to these ordinances (Isaiah 66:2; Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 and Malachi 2:5).

 

5. Listen with Your Whole Heart

Listening is more than hearing, especially if the sermon is heard, but it is not understood (Matthew 13:13). But there is a danger when though it is understood, it is soon forgotten. We must avoid letting the Word slip out of our mind and rather retain and store up what we hear (Luke 9:44).

Listening involves devoting our ears and memories to what is preached. Not wandering in our minds and thoughts (Ezekiel 33:31-32). We must not devote only our ears and memories, however, but also throw open our hearts to the Word, to let it sink down in them.

 

6. Listen with Submission

We must not go to hear with prejudice. Faith must mixed with hearing, giving credit to the Word. It is a great sin not to believe God’s Word when we hear it (Hebrews 4:1-2).  This happens when we fume against the reproofs of the Word and quibble with its teaching as well as when we reproach it rather than ourselves.

 

7. Listen with Dependence

We must renounce our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.

 

8. Listen in the Right Way

We should thirst after the pure milk of the Word, that we may grow by it. We are not listening in the right way when our ears itch for novel expressions, words or things (1 Timothy 4:3). Neither must we give more weight and attention to things that are novel compared to duties or truths already known.

When the same truth, expression, or verse cited by one preacher is not respected and received as much as when it spoken by another we have partiality. We are respecting men in a way contrary to James 2:9. The same is true if we are diverted from what is said to love of the speaker. Or if we delight in what is spoken simply because it is spoken by a certain speaker. If we delight in the manner of speaking or expression more than in God, respecting God and profiting spiritually we are not listening in the right way.

 

9. Listen with Reverence

We do not have the right spirit if we disrespect the ordinance of preaching for some worldly or personal respects. Particularly if we prefer any small trivial thing to it.

Reverence involves avoiding vain looks, idle thoughts and other trifling, irreverent behaviour. This includes unnecessary speaking or talking during the time of the sermon.  Even speaking in prayer disrespects the Word unless it is a very short prayer in reference to what is at present spoken.

When we stumble without cause at any expression in the sermon we are being irreverent. Especially when we are so frivolous as to laugh at what is spoken, undermining the ordinances of God’s worship. This even relates to dressing in a way that shows befitting respect to preaching as God’s ordinance. We should also show reverence in the way that we go away from hearing the Word.

 

10. Listen without Distractions

We should be watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. It is our responsibility to order things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.

Some are distracted by vain things while they should be listening. They notice the clothes others are wearing or the way the church building is decorated or constructed.  We should avoid being distracted even by reading something additional (even though it is Scripture) when we should be listening. Even good thoughts can tend to divert us from hearing.

 

11. Listen Prayerfully

We ought to intermingle very short prayers for ourselves and others as we listen. We should pray for the speaker while he is preaching that God would help him. Pray that God would help us to keep such a Word for the time when we may need it. Bless God when words are spoken in the right way. Listening prayerfully will help us avoid quenching conviction of sin or the stirring of affection awakened by the Word.

 

12. Listen and Do

We ought not to listen more for knowing than for doing, more for informing the mind than for reforming the heart and life (James 1:22-25). We must apply it to ourselves and test whether we commit the faults or do the duties mentioned.

 

13. Listen for Eternity

We must give due weight to God’s warnings and threatenings of judgement and to the gospel. We must consider and make use of the preached Word as a means to convert as well as confirm (James 1:21). We ought to make use of the promises offered in preaching as directed by God to us through an authorised ambassador. We must lay due weight on them as coming from Him. We fail to listen for eternity when we reject the many sweet offers of the gospel and do not come to the marriage of the King’s Son (Matthew 22:1-14). In doing so we grieve God’s Spirit who urges them on us. If we do not accept Christ and make use of Him, we tread Christ’s blood under foot by having so little esteem for it.

 

Conclusion

Listening to a sermon is a spiritual rather than merely intellectual or social activity. We must approach it in the right way. We can benefit a great deal from sermons if we prepare ourselves to listen to them in the right way and give careful and earnest attention to them. Afterwards we need to pray and meditate on the truths declared and make sure to practice what we have been shown is God’s will for us. In our conversation with others we can encourage them to remember and benefit from the Word preached. Wouldn’t it make a vast difference to our hearts, lives, families and churches if we did?

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Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Nov, 2018

Every so often we hear a new methodology or approach to ministry being championed. It will transform the Church’s appeal, we are told, by transforming what the Church does. These approaches have been proven “to work” and therefore they must be the right way. Usually, however,  they explicitly require trading the historic Christian view of how the Church worships and functions for the new way. These things must be tested by Scripture. It also becomes a practical question for the individual believer. How can we best grow spiritually? What sort of church should we attach ourselves to? Is it right to be discontent with a way of worshipping that just seems…ordinary?

We tend to despise the ordinary as customary, commonly practiced, fixed and regular and unexceptional. We prefer what is novel. The ordinary isn’t high-octane, it just doesn’t seem to excite. We are naturally attracted by what pleases our senses and what fits with the assumptions that we draw from the culture of the world around us. The ordinary also represents order and naturally we do not want to be restrained by boundaries.

The Westminster Standards and historic Christianity represent an altogether different perspective. They speak of ordinances that have been ordained and ordered by God in His Word. They are ordinary because that is God’s purpose. He wants us to use them because He has appointed them for ordinarily communicating His grace. God’s grace is not an ordinary thing of course and therefore we can expect extraordinary things to happen spiritually by God’s grace and Spirit.

After reading about an extraordinary work of God’s Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 we discover that the Church did not try to invent new things to whip up an excitement that comes from the flesh. Instead it moved to the ordinary means of prayer, fellowship and the Word (Acts 2:41-42). When Christ gave a mission to the Church through the apostles He sent the apostles to use specific means: preaching and baptising.

There is a common notion currently that because so much has changed in the world around us, we must therefore change our methods. Why do we think that we need to invent new means of mission for a sovereign God? Surely our duty is simply to follow what He tells us in His Word. How much have things really changed in terms of the needs of the human heart and God’s appointed ways of addressing them? Faith still comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Christ’s sheep still hear His voice in His Word. If we despise God’s ordinary means as common, boring and irrelevant it says nothing about the means themselves. Instead it says volumes about us and our confidence in God and His Word.

Means used to convey vital and important things may often be unassuming and appear ordinary but that does not reduce their importance. Rather it draws more attention to what is conveyed. God uses the things that the world despises in order to bring greater glory to Himself (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Naaman despised the idea of washing in the Jordan but if some great thing was asked of him he would have done it (2 Kings 5:13).

It’s striking how often the Standards speak of that which is ordinary as positive not negative. They speak of God’s ordinary work and the ordinary means He has appointed to convey His extraordinary grace. Both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms ask questions concerning “the outward means” by which Christ communicates to us “the benefits of redemption” (Shorter Catechism, Q88).

This does not happen automatically, these means cannot save or communicate grace by themselves. We need to make use of these means by faith. “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened” (Westminster Confession 14:1). The Larger Catechism gives, it tells us a lot about the ordinary means:

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation (Q154)

 

1. The Ordinary Means are Outward

Why outward? This distinguishes them from the inward work of the Spirit by which we are born again, sanctified etc. The Spirit uses outward means ordinarily as part of this work, although He is free to work without them in extraordinary cases. He makes the outward means effectual by His inward work.

These outward means include the Word read and preached as well as prayer in the name of Christ (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1, 8). It may also be the Word sung (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It is striking that the Shorter Catechism states that the “Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation” (Q89). The means also include the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper which are meant to bring increase and growth in grace as we use them by faith (Matthew 28:19; Matthew 26:26–28).

2. The Ordinary Means are Christ’s Gift

God has given us not just the message to proclaim but also the means by which it should be proclaimed. These outward and ordinary means are ordinances which have been given to the Church. Sometimes it seems as though they are unwanted gifts because many wish to diminish their role or substitute other things instead. These are the means by which Christ wants His Church to grow and flourish spiritually.

3. The Ordinary Means are for the Church’s Wellbeing

Christ has not just given us the spiritual life we need but also the means to gather and grow the Church; to nourish and edify that spiritual life. Christ has given to the Church “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (Westminster Confession 25:3).

Christ has also given us the means to preserve the peace and order of the Church. Disorder comes from fallen man, order comes from following God’s appointed way. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints”. Therefore, let “all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). On the other hand, new methods invented by our own mere wisdom tend to divide and unsettle the Church.

4. The Ordinary Means Connect us to Christ

If these are the ordinary means by which Christ communicates the benefits of His redemption then they have been given to connect us to Christ. Christ is communicating His benefits to His Church through these means. They are where we meet Christ and have communion with Him. As Samuel Rutherford put it, “Lord’s way of coming to us, and our way of coming to Him” is through His appointed means (Isaiah 64:5).

5. The Ordinary Means Communicate Grace

The Scriptures are spoken of as the word of God’s grace (Acts 20:32). This is their purpose. The same verse goes on to speak of how they build us up. In prayer we come to the throne of grace to find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

6. The Ordinary Means Are to Be Used Diligently

We are to use these means patiently and consistently (Proverbs 2:1-5; 8:33). They are not instant nor a quick fix. God has the sovereign liberty to bestow His spiritual influences when and how He chooses according to His own secret will and purpose. But He has promised such spiritual influences and grace in His appointed means. We use them prayerfully depending on God’s promised grace. We are to work and expect that God will work within us (Philippians 2:12–13).

7. The Ordinary Means are Not Just Those Effectual for Salvation

Notice that the Catechism lists the three means that are made effectual to salvation. There is one other outward and ordinary means. This fourth means is the fellowship of the Church (Acts 2:42). It means all that is shared in the mutual, active functioning of the Church together and what keeps them together. The Sum of Saving Knowledge therefore highlights Church government as a means of grace. By means of this, Christ “will have them hedged in, and helped forward unto the keeping of the covenant”.

This aspect is generally forgotten. The order and governing of the Church is a manifestation of concern for the spiritual welfare and edification of those within it. It ensures that the other ordinary means are maintained in an orderly way in the public gatherings of the Church. It also ensures that Christ’s Word is followed out in practice and seeks to keep His people within the way of His commandments. This requires the loving exercise of Church discipline (Matthew 16:18). The
purpose is to edify and bring to repentance (2 Cor. 10:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). This is how it is a means of grace. It is the Word of God practically applied with instruction, exhortation and rebuke.

Conclusion

We ought therefore to have confidence that God in His own extraordinary way is able to make use of ordinary means for the spiritual benefit of ordinary people. He has promised He will do this. May we all experience that (in His sovereign will) on the Lord’s Day.

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The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon
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.
2 Mar, 2018

This will only be of interest to those who listen to preaching or those who preach. But of course that ought to include us all one way or the other.  We all want to know what makes a good sermon. It is taken for granted that it must be clear, faithful to Scripture and engage the soul with spiritual realities. Sincerity, clarity and accuracy are important criteria. But there is something more that makes all the difference to a sermon.

James Durham effectively sums up the ultimate test for a sermon in one word – Christ. The following comes from the first of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. He is speaking about “our report” (Isaiah 53:1). Jesus Christ and what concerns Him (declaring the glad and good news of a Saviour) is the proper work of a minister. This is the great subject of a minister’s preaching. Christ Jesus, and what concerns Him in His person, natures and offices is the essential subject of preaching. They make Him known:

  • as God and man;
  • in His offices as Priest, Prophet, and King. A Priest in His suffering and satisfying justice; a Prophet in revealing the will of God; a King, for subduing His people’s lusts and corruptions; and
  • in the way by which sinners, both preachers, and hearers may come to have Him for themselves.

All preaching should aim at this mark. Paul insists on this: “I determined to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is as if he had said, “I will deal with nothing else but this alone”. Not only will he avoid getting involved with secular employment, he will also lay aside his learning, eloquence and human wisdom to make the preaching of Christ crucified his great work and study.

The reason for this is in the fourfold way that preaching is related to Christ.

 

1. Is Christ the Subject of the Sermon?

All preaching must explain Christ. “To him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 10:43). The four gospels and the apostolic epistles also do this and are like many sermons about Christ. Any preaching which does not relate to Christ misses the mark and its text. [Durham is not saying that Christ is the only subject for a sermon. Rather, whatever subject the sermon may have, its relation to Christ should be made clear].

 

2. Is Christ the Foundation of the Sermon?

Christ is the foundation of preaching. Thus, any preaching that lacks Christ lacks a foundation and is like building castles in the air. “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation…For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). This implies that all preaching should be squared with (and in agreement with) this foundation.

 

3. Is Christ the Aim of the Sermon?

Christ is the great aim of preaching, not only that hearers may know Him in their understanding but that they may have Him high in their hearts and affections.“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:4). That is, not only do we not preach ourselves as the subject, but we do not preach ourselves as the aim of our preaching. Our goal is not to be great or greatly thought of, but our objective in preaching is to make Christ great.

 

4. Is Christ the Power and Life of the Sermon?

Christ is the power and life of preaching, without Him no preaching can be effectual, no soul can be captivated and brought to Him. Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock” they cannot stand to hear Him; and to “the Greeks foolishness”. To those that are saved, however, Christ is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

 

Application to Ministers

  1. It is likely that “our report” would succeed more if Christ were the subject and substance of our message and we declared Him more.
  2. In making “our report” we must be careful to ensure that it is well matched to the foundation; and,
  3. Neglecting this may be the cause of a lot of powerless preaching, because Christ is not preached as the subject matter and goal of preaching. Many truths are (sadly) spoken without regard to this goal or with little regard to it.

The report concerning Christ is the main subject has been, is, and will be common to all ministers of the gospel until the end of the world. It is “our report”. It was the report of all the prophets: “to him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 20:43). They all agree in the following joint testimony:

  1. One subject: Christ and the same things concerning Him e.g. pardon of sin in Him and through faith in Him and in no other way etc.;
  2. One commission: they arenot all equal but they all have one commission. Not all are apostles, yet all are ambassadors. There is the same authority for us to report and you to receive the gospel as if Isaiah or Paul were preaching. The authority depends on the commission not the person commissioned;
  3. One common objective: they all have and are sent to fulfil one common objective;
  4. One common Master: they are gifts from one and the same Mediator. “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…some, apostles etc.” (Ephesians 4:8).

 

Application to Congregations

This is the great subject of preaching and you should be most glad to hear it.

(a) These are the most important truths. The truths that concern Christ and the covenant of grace are those that people should most welcome and study. These are foundational truths and we need to have them confirmed by the Spirit. Many Christians make the mistake of not heeding the clearest and most solid truths. Things that increase understanding, tickle their affections, or resolve a difficulty are almost the only matters sought after. These are certainly good things. Yet, if the clear and solid truths of the gospel were studied and applied more they would find that these would answer all difficulties.

It is grieving when folk are more taken up with notions and speculations more than these soul-saving truths. Such truths include: Christ was born; He was a true man; He was and is King, Priest, and Prophet of His Church etc. Other things are often heard more greedily. Yet if these are meant to be the great subject of what minister must preach, it should be your great endeavour to know Christ, in His person, natures, offices, and covenant. You need to know what He is to you and what your duty is to Him; how you should walk in Him and with Him.

This was Paul’s aim: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:8&10). It is as though he was saying: “It is my purpose, not only to make Him known but to know Him myself”.

There is little faith in Christ and little explicit use made of His offices. People make little effort to know these things. Therefore, on the one hand, let me exhort you to make this more often the subject of your study. On the other hand, let me reprove you that there is such readiness to sniff when plain truths are urged or when they are not explored in an unusual way. This attitude says that we are exceedingly unthankful to God for giving us the best things to speak, hear, and think of.

(b) Think highly of hearing Christ preached. He is the best news, and God has sent ministers on the mission of making Him known to you. Nothing is comparable to this news. Not even if He had sent them to tell you all the secret things in God’s purpose that will take place in the future and all hidden works of nature.

What would you have been without this news? What would sabbath-days and week-days, your lying down and rising up, your living and dying have been? You would have have had a sad and sinful life and a most comfortless and terrible death. Think of this gospel, therefore, as having greater worth than you do. Regard their feet beautiful on the mountains that bring this news and glad tidings (Isaiah 52:7). They bring this good re- port of making peace between God and sinners. This should be highly thought of, prized, and deemed a greater favour than usually we do.

(c) Thriving best under the gospel. From this you are able to know those who thrive best under the gospel and profit most from it. It is those that learn of Christ most. This is making best use of Christ and what is in Him. It is discovering by personal experience the effects of knowing Christ. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10). I am afraid that out of the many that hear this gospel, there are but few that know Christ in this way.

 

Conclusion

We can be tempted to give more attention to the style, language, exegesis of a sermon than the One who gives it authority, effectual power, purpose and meaning. Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged when they consider their own abilities and little hunger for the Word amongst those who hear.

This is what gives preaching seriousness and authority rather than an effort to entertain. Yet Christ-centredness will also avoid sermons being theological lectures. This keeps preaching from being a mere psychological pep-talk. It makes sermons edifying. If we need preaching that encourages spiritual maturity it will be in so far as it draws hearers to “grow up into Christ in all things”.

Such preachers will be determined not to divert attention from Christ to themselves. The more they seek to be Christ-like in their life and to cultivate fellowship with their Saviour, the more their sermons will communicate Christ.

 

The article above is drawn from an appendix to the booklet Penetrating Preaching by James Durham published by the Trust. In this booklet Durham shows how Christ Himself demonstrates how to apply the Word in preaching.

Penetrating Preaching

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What can we learn from the Saviour’s method of making the Word hit home?

Reading this booklet will provide you with some vital lessons from Christ Himself about the difficult task of applying the Word from the pulpit. If truly followed, they would revolutionise preaching today.

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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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The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

The Church is Still Christ’s Glory

The Church is Still Christ’s Glory
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
5 May, 2017

​The Church is often given scant regard in society at large. Changing values and trends push the church well into the shadows. Statistics like those in the recent Scottish Church Census are not lacking to underline how secularised things have become. It is easy to see the Church as weak when viewed outwardly. Again, however, we must see the Church from Christ’s perspective rather than look through the blurred lens of unbelief.

Christ’s true Church in Scotland seemed perhaps even more weak and despised in the times of James Renwick than it does now.  Renwick was ordained as a minister in Holland in 1683, before coming back to Scotland to begin preaching.  The flocks to which Renwick returned were in his own words, “a poor, wasted, wounded, afflicted, bleeding, misrepresented, and reproached remnant and handful of suffering people”. They had no congregations and no buildings in which to worship. Conventicles or illegal worship services in the fields and hills were held at the risk of their lives, liberty and livelihoods.

Renwick preached intensively and travelled incessantly across the country.  For his safety he had to take shelter in moors and caves and travel under cover of darkness. It broke his health – he said that  “Excessive travel, night wanderings, unseasonable sleep and diet, and frequent preaching in all seasons of weather, especially in the night, have so debilitated me that I am often incapable for any work”.

On one of these occasions Renwick opened his remarks with the following moving observation. “The Lord, by a special providence, has brought us together, not knowing if ever we shall have the like occasion to meet together again”. It seems likely from some of what he said that the service was at night in order to be better concealed under cover of darkness. The sermon he proceeded to preach was from Zechariah 2:8. His theme was that the Church is Christ’s glory (see also Isaiah 4:5).

Christ has the Church for His special and unique kingdom where he delights to manifest His glory. She is His declarative glory, His purchase and the price of His precious blood. She is His society where He desires to dwell. O who can set forth the love of Christ to His Church? She is beautiful through His comeliness.

 

1. Glorified by Christ’s Redemption

The Church is Christ’s glory because He has glorified Himself in the great work of His Church’s redemption.  He manifests the glory of His power in His Church in the conversion of His elect. More of God’s power is to be seen in the conversion of a soul to Himself than in the creation of heaven and earth. God could and did create the heaven and the earth without the merit or mediation of His Son Jesus Christ. Heaven and earth are God’s works not as Redeemer but as Creator. It is true indeed, that, in the work of creation and all God’s works all three persons of the ever blessed Godhead concurred together. But the work of creation is not attributed to Jesus Christ as Redeemer.

The second creation (the soul’s conversion to God) deals with the corrupt nature in man which strongly opposes and resists the work of grace. There is therefore greater glory in beginning and carrying on the work of grace against this strong opposition and resistance than in creating heaven and earth where there was no such resistance.

What shall I say of the glory which Christ manifests in the work of conversion? It surpasses the rhetoric of angels to express it.

 

2. Glorified with Christ’s Ordinances

The church is Christ’s glory, because He has dignified and beautified her with his ordinances. Psalm 147:19-20 mentions the ordinances of God bestowed upon His church. This shows the glory of God and the beauty, dignity, and privileges of His Church. God’s ordinances are part of that by which He makes Himself known. Since He beautifies and dignifies His church with His ordinances, therefore His church is called Christ’s glory.

 

3. Glorified with Christ’s Presence

The Church is called Christ’s glory, because He makes known His glorious presence in her with His ordinances (Psalm 68:15-16). His Church is His glorious mount Zi0n where He delights to dwell and where His presence is with His ordinances. How gloriously sometimes He has shined and appeared in His ordinances, even in Scotland. He has made His glorious voice heard and His footsteps seen. His stately goings have been seen in the sanctuary. There has been much of His glorious presence manifested in His ordinances in Scotland on hills and brae-sides. His voice has been heard there and his stately goings have been seen. Do you see anything of the stately goings of His gracious presence in His ordinances, which is one way whereby He makes His church glorious?

 

4. Glorified with Christ’s Image

The Church is called Christ’s glory because she carries His image (1 John 3:3). The godly man strives to be holy as Christ is holy. O what glory it is to be like Jesus Christ. This special privilege of His children (Psalm 45:13; Song 4:9). How glorious Christ’s image makes His Church. He is the express image of His Father and the brightness of that glory (Hebrews 1:3). He sets His image on the true Church, those who are real members of His spiritual body.

See what He says concerning the beauty of His Church in Song 6:4-5. The Church is called Christ’s glory because she bears His image. You must be sure that you have Christ’s image on you, if you would be amongst those on whom He puts His name. For the mere profession of religion will not give you a right to that name “His glory” but rather truly bearing His image.

 

5.Glorified by Christ’s Acts for Her

The Church is called Christ’s glory because He delights to manifest His glory, in appearing and working for her and making her triumph over her enemies (Exodus 15:1 and 21). God gets glory in His wonderful appearing and working for His people. Thus, His Church is His glory because glorifies Himself in this way. Her low condition does not obstruct this His people since despite visiting His people with trouble and affliction, His Church is still His glory.

The time when His Church and people are low and in trouble is when He most manifests His glory in doing for them as Israel saw in the wilderness. Thus, Israel’s marching through the wilderness is said to be God’s marching (Psalm 68:7).

 

6. Glorified with Christ’s Praise

The Church is called Christ’s glory because she sets forth His glory by praise (Psalm 50:23). The Christian is greatly taken up with declaring God to be a glorious God. The Christian adorns his profession by gospel living. He is takes great delight in praising Him and pursuing a life of thankfulness to Him as well as praying to Him.

A Christian must take up much of his time in praying to and praising God so that He may be glorified. Slothfulness is a great dishonour to the name of God but diligence exalts the name of God; it glorifies His name. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength and honour, and glory, and blessing” is what they are crying this night above the clouds and stars (Revelation 5:11-12). All who expect to have their life through eternity should begin their work now, in glorifying and praising God.

 

7. Glorified with Christ’s Working for His Name’s Sake

The Church is called Christ’s glory because it is only for His name’s glory that He does all things for her (Ezekiel 36:22; Psalm 79:19). Christ’s name sake is the only moving argument that the Church should make use of.

James Renwick

“As to the remnant I leave, I have committed them to God. Tell them from me not to weary, nor be discouraged in maintaining the testimony. Let them not quit nor forego one of these despised truths. Keep your ground, and the Lord will provide you teachers and ministers, and when He comes, He will make these despised truths glorious upon the earth…’Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of truth'”

(His very last words before being executed, 17 February 1688)

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What is Worship?

What is Worship?

What is Worship?
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.
13 Apr, 2017

It is strange that we may engage in something so often and yet not stop to ask what it is. We could ask many different individuals to define worship and we would get a variety of responses. Some people think of praise as “a time of worship”. Others might add prayer together with that. Another response might stress that it is an attitude of heart more than specific activities. Then there are those who want to say that all of life is worship. What really matters, however, is not the range of personal opinion but how God defines it in His Word.

The English word worship derives from “worth-ship” i.e. ascribing worth. In Scripture, the words for worship often indicate specific acts such as kneeling, falling down, doing reverence, paying homage (literally kissing towards). Sometimes they indicate fear, other times service and humbling ourselves. It is both attitude and action. There are also activities that are distinct from daily life e.g. a distinct meal (the Lord’s Supper and a distinct day (the Lord’s Day). It includes specific acts of public worship which a congregation assembles to offer. These are regulated in a different way than everyday activities at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 33-34).

As an overall definition of worship it would be hard to improve on Robert Shaw’s statement. It is found in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 21). It encompasses the various dimensions that we have mentioned.

Religious worship consists in that homage and honour which we give to God, as a being of infinite perfection; whereby we profess our subjection to, and confidence in him, as our chief good and only happiness. It may be viewed as either internal or external; the former consisting in that inward homage which we owe to God, such as loving, believing, fearing, trusting in him, and other elicit acts of the mind; the latter consisting in the outward expression of that homage, by the observance of his instituted ordinances.

It is worth pausing with slow reflection to absorb the comprehensive meaning of this definition. Worship involves acknowledging our subjection to God as not only a greater but the greatest being. He is the highest possible object of our inward and outward expressions. Our hearts must be engaged to Him and taken up with Him as well as our mind, soul and strength. The only true outward acts of worship are those He Himself has commanded. It is not for us to define what is acceptable to God or magnifies Him. Scripture speaks of any other worship as “will-worship” (Colossians 2:23). Even if it is offered to God it is only worship of our own will because we have chosen it not God.

James Durham also takes up the challenge of defining worship in his exposition of the Fourth Commandment.

By worship is understood some tribute paid by the reasonable creature to God as the great and Sovereign Lord Creator.

This mentions the same homage and ascribing of worth and greatness to God in humble reverence and dependence. Durham does not leave it there, he then makes a distinction between direct and indirect acts of worship. There is worship “immediately and directly paid and performed to Him, such as prayer and praise”. There are also indirect acts of worship which are done “for Him and at His command and for His honour”. These include “preaching, hearing and receiving the sacraments”. These are also worship when rightly engaged in.

Durham stresses the moral requirement of worship. Worship strictly defined is something required by the first table of the moral law i.e. the first four commandments. In these worship is commanded “for the honour of God and not for our own or another’s external profit”. The benefit of others comes into the second table of the moral law. Commandments 5-10 teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. But this cannot be strictly called worship, much less direct and immediate worship. Thus, teaching others the duties of piety may be worship when teaching the duties of any other ordinary calling is not. In this way Durham shows that there are acts of worship to God distinct from the rest of life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God and in submission to His Word but this does not make it impossible to distinguish it from stated worship. In an essay included in his commentary on Revelation Durham gives some further principles that are basic to the understanding of worship.

Further Basic Principles of Worship

1. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – God

No one else but God has the infinite attributes and excellencies which are requisite in the object of divine worship. These include omniscience, omnipotence, infiniteness, supreme majesty, glory etc. Adorability results from these – this is an essential attribute of the majesty of God just as immutability and eternity. He is adorable, because He is infinite, immense, omniscient etc. Worship and adorability cannot therefore be given to or shared with any other any more than these unique attributes can be given or shared. Yet none can be worshipped who is not adorable.

 

2. There is Only One Kind of Divine Worship – God’s

There is only one kind of divine worship which befits this infinite majesty of God. It is only that which is required in the first table of the moral law. That is the only lawful and acceptable worship given to this glorious excellent God. This follows from the first point. If there is only one object there can only be one manner of worship. Therefore, in Scripture, worshipping God is always opposed both to worshipping any other and to allowing any worship which is not lawful and acceptable to God (e.g. Revelation 19:10 and 22:9).

 

3. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – the Triune God

Although there are three Persons in the glorious Godhead, all of whom are to be worshipped, there are not three objects of worship, but one. Neither are there three kinds of worship. There are not three objects because these three Persons are the same One infinite God, who is the object of worship.

(a) Although the three Persons are really distinct each from other; yet, none of them is really distinct from the essence of the Godhead. Therefore, the Father is the same object of Worship as the Son, because they are the same God.

(b) Although both the Father and the Son are infinite there are not two infinitenesses but the same infiniteness and immenseness, which belongs to both the Fathers and the Son. These are essential to their being and so are common to all the Persons of the Godhead, Although their personal properties are distinct yet their essential attributes are in common. They are not distinct objects but one and the same  object. Worship has regard to their essential attribute and the Godhead, which is common to all three Persons. It is the deity (which is One) which is the formal object of worship. Although sometimes these three Persons are named together this does not mean they are distinct Objects. Rather it shows who this one object God is, i.e. the Father, Son and Spirit, three Persons of the same one indivisible Godhead. God is “one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Durham goes on to stress the practical implications of this.

1. The mind of the worshipper is not to be distracted in seeking to comprehend or order, in his thoughts, three distinct Persons as distinct objects of worship but rather to conceive reverently of one infinite God, who is three Persons.

2. Whatever person is named, we are not to think that the others are less worshipped. Rather in one act we worships one God and thus the Father, Son and Spirit.

3. Naming one Person after having named another (e.g. the Father first and afterwards the Son) does not change the object of worship, as if we were praying to another now – it is still the same One God.

4. It is safest not to change between naming the different Persons of the Godhead in prayer because our imaginations are ready to adopt such divided conceptions. This is particularly the case when it is in the hearing of others who may be prone to such thoughts even though we have none. This seems to be the ordinary practice in Scripture.

 

Conclusion

Many have their own ideas of how we should address God and what constitutes worship but we must be governed by Scripture in this. Only what God commands in worship is permitted. This ought to be obvious from the greatness of God and the importance of worship. Something so crucial is not something to be left to changeable human whims and imaginations.

We must be taken up with God in worship not with ourselves or others. Worship must be God-centred or it is not worship. This applies not just to whom we worship but how we worship. If the way in which we worship God is not what God has commanded and required then we are not truly submitting to God and doing true homage to Him. It is illogical that people can ask how we should worship God but then answer that question by asking what is most attractive or comfortable to ourselves or others. Have we forgotten who we are worshipping and what worship is?

One of our leaflets explores this question.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

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Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
7 Apr, 2017

We’re so used to hearing sermons that it becomes ordinary and routine for us. Yet it is meant to be a life-changing and world-changing activity. Christ has sent someone to declare His Word to us in a special way. No words outside of Scripture are more significant than those we hear from the pulpit. The Spirit of God makes “the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation” (Shorter Catechism, Q89). We should therefore be longing and waiting for the sermons we hear.

In what follows we will hear the heart-cry of a flock to a shepherd to come and feed them with God’s Word. This was a congregation who would experience one of Scotland’s most richly blessed ministries – ever. The parish of Fenwick, Ayrshire were calling a young man called William Guthrie. Writing a call to a pastor can seem to some like a procedural technicality or in some cases a fairly casual approach but in this case the document breathes spiritual earnestness.

 

1. Longing Expressed

The congregation write to Guthrie as “Reverend and well-beloved” recalling first of all their struggles to get a church building newly erected. They mention “how (after many prayers and difficulties) by the great mercy and good hand of God upon” them, they had a church building “erected to the honour of His name and for [their] edification”. They describe themselves as a “hungry people” full of spiritual needs.

They are “bound in conscience and pressed in spirit to make use of so fair a mercy by begging from God and looking out (in the ordinary way) one who may break the Bread of Life” to them and “watch for [their] souls”.

It has pleased the Lord to incline all our hearts as one man towards you as the man of God sent unto us and kept for us by special providence

They urge Guthrie through the compassion of Jesus (the great and chief shepherd), beseeching and charging him in His name” to accept their call to ministry in that place.

You are the first after whom the eyes and hearts of us all have been carried with a holy violence and this is the first call that ever came from this place, we rest assured that you neither dare nor will refuse the burden

So they seek that he will “refresh the hearts of a waiting longing and languishing people by a ready condescendence”. They close the call describing themselves as those who are resolved to be “your very affectionate friends and flock”. It was dated 27 September 1643. The original call is displayed on the wall of Fenwick Parish Church.

 

2. Longing Fulfilled

These prayers were not just answered in Guthrie accepting the call. It was a ministry that would truly transform the parish. Being the first pastor there, Guthrie found a great spiritual ignorance as well as a general neglect of the house of God and the way of salvation. The Sabbath was profaned and family worship neglected. The young minister’s zeal and desire for the salvation of his flock overcame all discouragement in his way and his preaching was sealed with the genuine conversion of most people in the parish.

Like most Covenanting ministers, Guthrie was very diligent in visiting his people, teaching the young and insisting on family worship. In this way the Word of God had a daily place of honour in the home. One minister said that almost everyone in the Fenwick parish was “brought to make a fair profession of godliness, and had the worship of God in their families”. The parish experienced true revival during that time.

What was Guthrie’s preaching like? It was faithful and fearless. It distinguished between those who really needed comfort and those who needed rebuke. Matthew Crawford, minister at Eastwood, said that William Guthrie “converted and confirmed many thousand souls, and was esteemed the greatest practical preacher in Scotland”.

William Guthrie is most famous for the valuable little book that he wrote called The Christian’s Great Interest. This deals with the way of salvation and how we can be sure we are saved. The word “interest” means a legal claim. The theologian John Owen said that there was more theology in it than in everything he had ever written put together.

 

3. The Close of a Fruitful Ministry

By 1663, more than 400 ministers were forced out of their pulpits for refusing to be re-ordained under episcopal government and for refusing to acknowledge the supremacy of the king over the Church.   They were told they must leave their parishes and not live within 20 miles of them or within 6 miles of Edinburgh. Guthrie was able to stay for a little longer but was finally forced from his pulpit and his physical health collapsed shortly afterwards. He suffered a complication of diseases and returned to the place of his birth never to preach again.

Looking back, he was able to give this testimony to the man who came to remove him from his congregation: “I bless the Lord He has given me some success, and a seal of my ministry upon the souls and consciences of not a few that are gone to heaven, and of some that are yet in the way to it”.

 

Conclusion

Many today see the ordinary means of grace, including preaching, as too ordinary. They are looking for something extraordinary. Yet it was the ordinary methods of preaching, catechising and pastoral care that the Lord used to bring revival to Fenwick. He blessed the means that He had ordained to fulfil the longings of a people above all that they were able to ask or think. God is also able to bless our longing expectations in the next sermon we hear.

Scotland’s Greatest Revival

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What insights might you learn from understanding the seven key points why the Second Reformation period was not only a national movement of reform in the Church and Nation but also the greatest period of revival in our country’s history?  What if the key to the future is knowing the past?

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How to Walk into Church

How to Walk into Church

How to Walk into 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.
18 Mar, 2016

Going into Church easily can be a matter of routine, but it shouldn’t be. We do a lot of everyday things without thinking, but going to Church isn’t an everyday thing. We might well drive the car on autopilot because we’re so familiar with the route, but our minds should be on the vital encounter ahead of us. The Bible tells us that we need to exercise great care in meeting with God in public worship.

Alexander Nisbet draws on Ecclesiastes 5:1 to make this point (the following is an updated extract). It speaks about carefulness in going to public worship, which at that time was in the temple.  He says that we need to keep our hearts free from sinful disorder, which mars communion with God in His ordinances. We also need to receive the declaration of God’s mind sincerely and with affection. We should be “ready to hear” or literally “draw near to hear” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).  We hear not only the voice of ministers but the Lord Himself speaking to us.  We must depend on Him for His blessing on the truth.

If we want to have communion with the Lord in His ordinances and so peace and quietness of spirit, we must keep a strict watch over our affections. Nothing in public worship can be acceptable to God or of comfort to us unless we give careful attention to receiving the Word readily. This involves:

  • humbly expecting practical truths for our lives and a blessing with them (Acts 10:33)
  • eager desire after the Word as the soul’s necessary food (1 Peter 2:2).
  • applying it to ourselves sincerely by faith (Hebrews 4:2).
  • applying it to ourselves in order to practice and obey it (Psalm 119:11).

If we are only interested in outward actions rather than inward exercise, our worship is “the sacrifice of fools” according to Ecclesiastes 5:1. Such do not concern themselves with the state of their hearts and therefore as the verse goes on to say “they consider not that they do evil”. It is foolish thing to offer external worship to God while our hearts are estranged from Him and His Word is not received in faith and love. Men are fools if they think they can please God who is a Spirit with merely external service.

 

12 Ways Not to Walk into Church

James Durham also warns of the ways we may fall into sinful negligence in going into Church. Obviously, they teach us how we should enter Church as well as how we should not. We only have to turn around the negative into positives. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached.

  1. Not praying for the speaker.
  2. Not praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word.
  3. Not preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such a work.
  4. Not being watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. Not ordering things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.
  5. Not seeking to have the right estimation of the Word.
  6. Not blessing God for His Word or for any good received beforehand by it.
  7. Not coming with hunger and thirst as new born babes. Not having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).
  8. Not renouncing our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.
  9. Not bearing in mind that when we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances.
  10. Going to hear with prejudice.
  11. Going to hear without any expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him.
  12. Not going to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Not going to hear out of conscience but through custom and for appearance’s sake.

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How to Walk Out of Church

How to Walk Out of Church

How to Walk Out of 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.
11 Mar, 2016

Obviously we’re not speaking about storming out of church or even primarily the way in which we walk. The question is how we respond to what we have heard. Out of all that we have heard, what stays with us? Scientists believe that walking through a doorway makes us forget things. The church door is probably the most important doorway through which we walk.  Even when we do remember what we have heard we must respond in the right way. That means meditating on it and living according to it.

The Larger Catechism says we need to hear with “diligence, preparation, and prayer” (Q160).  We must also examine what we hear “by the scriptures”. While hearing it we need to “receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God”. But the same answer (Q160) speaks about what happens after we have listened to a sermon.

We must “meditate” on it. The Word will not yield its benefit if we only receive it in our minds during the time of the sermon. We must spend time going over it in our minds and applying it to ourselves. Another way of doing this is in company. We should “confer of it [discuss it together]”. Usually others have remembered things that we did not. Things struck them which did not make the same impression with us. These things water and fertilise the good seed of the Word. We must also “hide” the Word sown in our “hearts” so that we “bring forth the fruit of it” in our “lives”. Like any seed, it is intended to be fruitful. If the Word is not bearing fruit in our lives we have little evidence of a genuine profession.

It is such a vital means of grace that we must not lose such a precious opportunity. The seed will be snatched away easily or choked from getting root in our hearts. We must not sin through failure to respond to the Word in the right way. How many thousands of sermons have we heard? What have we done with all of them in terms of impacting how we live? The Lord Jesus Christ gives much instruction about this in the parable of the sower. He also said that we must take heed how we hear (Luke 8:18).  Do we? James Durham speaks in a searching way about how we need to respond to the Word after hearing it. The following is an updated extract from his exposition of the Ten Commandments.

 

1. Remember the Word with Meditation and Prayer

  • We must not forget what we have heard.
  • It is sinful to have little delight in remembering it.
  • We must beware of letting our hearts return unnecessarily to other things and other thoughts.
  • We must not fail to meditate on what has been heard.
  • We must compare what we have heard with the rest of the Scriptures.
  • We must not neglect to follow the Word with prayer for it to be watered.

 

2. Profitable Discussion after Church

  • We must avoid needlessly discussing things other than the sermon immediately after the hearing of the Word.
  • We should avoid murmuring at or complaining about some things that have been spoken.
  • We also need to avoid spreading around our criticisms of the sermon afterwards.
  • When discussing the sermon we should not simply commend what was preached or the preacher and stop with that as if that was everything.
  • Clearly, we must also avoid irreverently abusing the words of Scripture or phrases that were used in preaching in common conversation.  It is even worse when they are blasphemously mixed up with disrespectful or careless language and joking.

 

3. Submit to the Word

  • We must not seek ways to evade or avoid the instruction or challenges of the Word.
  • We must avoid applying these challenges to others rather than to ourselves.
  • We must not put a wrong interpretation on the intention behind the minister urging those points.
  • We must likewise avoid misinterpreting, misreporting or misrepresenting his words.

 

4. Put it into Practice

  • Entirely neglecting to put the Word preached into practice is condemned by Scripture (Psalm 50:16-23; see James 1:21-25).
  • We must following hearing the Word with self-searching prayer. Endeavouring to practise what is required by so that we may bring forth appropriate fruits.
  • We must not fail to tremble at the threatenings of the Word. We must cease doing that which it forbids.
  • It is also sinful to fail to help others make use of the Word preached.
  • Our failure to repent of faults committed during the time of hearing the sermon is also sinful. We should be troubled and repent for our fruitlessness in hearing and having made no use of it. This is like being as a stone without sense or feeling in relation to the Word.
  • We must never depend on merely hearing the Word, as though having been in Church produced holiness even though there was no fruit follow on from it.

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Our Nation’s Imminent Famine

Our Nation’s Imminent Famine

Our Nation’s Imminent Famine
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.
4 Mar, 2016

Catastrophes creating famine for millions are distressing but seem all too remote from our own experience. We know nothing of what the experts describe as “food insecurity”. There is such a thing as spiritual famine, however. The Bible speaks of “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord”. To many, it would be absurd that we could be on the brink of that. We have Bibles. There are still many preachers in the land. Some seem to gather large enough congregations. But availability of preachers does not always equal availability of the Word.

This “famine of hearing the words of the Lord” is described in Amos 8:11-12. There might well still be numerous prophets in the land, but they would not be proclaiming the words of the Lord. Why would God judge His people in this way? Simply because they would not obey His Word. This was seen in their false worship. Following on from Jeroboam they had invented things in the worship of God that He had never commanded. Since they would not obey His Word, He would, therefore, withdraw His Word from them. Failure to obey God’s Word in the area of worship and in many other areas is the great evidence that the Church in our land despises the Word of God.

We then get the preaching that we both want and deserve: a populist message of pragmatic platitudes. It is preaching that does not exalt God and will not proclaim eternal realities. The lives of all too many are filled with trivialities and much preaching declines to unsettle this. It communicates a “feel-good” gospel that neither offends nor benefits anyone. Sometimes it is so vague that is not even distinctively Christian.

Many preachers do not want to press home to their congregations the particular parts of God’s Word that they are ignoring or disobeying. Sin is played down and holiness neglected. It reveals a lack of confidence in the power and authority of the Word of God. Messages prevail therefore in which Scripture is alluded to in the lightest of ways. We have succumbed to our culture’s resistance to reading anything carefully or in depth. Many sermons concede defeat to the most minimal attention span and seem obliged to offer entertainment. The result is biblical illiteracy and malnutrition. Perhaps the greatest curse is not simply to experience such spiritual famine but not to be conscious of it.

False prophets of every variety are the greatest threat to the Church in our nation. Thankfully there are faithful preachers but they are a comparatively small number. This is the imminent famine facing our nation. It may be that the time will come when some will realise too late that they have effectively lost contact with the Word of God. Now is the time to seek out authentic, soul-nourishing preaching. The Word is like food to the body: it refreshes, strengthens it and keeps it in life, enabling action and work. The lack of it is called famine in the land (see Job 23:12).

“I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).

George Hutcheson draws vital lessons from this solemn verse. Since they were so desirous to be rid of the Word the Lord, He threatens that in their extremities they should be deprived of it. Though they would seek after it, they would not find it. This teaches us:

 

1. A Famine of the Word is a Just Punishment

When the Word is despised, and men are weary of it, God is justly provoked to take it from them.The false priest Amaziah expressed their general attitude in his words to Amos (chapter 7: 12-13). Now “I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD”.

 

2. A Famine of the Word is Worse than a Famine of Food

Men’s souls are better than their bodies and their eternal welfare should be preferred to physical life. Thus, a famine of the Word is a more solemn affliction and expresses greater wrath, then if the Lord should let a nation starve for lack of food and drink. Therefore it is “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water (which is small compared to this) “but of hearing the words of the LORD”. This is why the verse also begins with “Behold”.

 

3. A Famine of the Word is Recognised Too Late

There are those who despise God’s Word most and would think it a great mercy to be rid of the trouble it gives them. These may yet experience such extremity that they will miss the Word and would be glad to have it. They will even expend great effort to enjoy it. Thus, “they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD”.

 

4. A Famine of the Word is Not People Seeking the Word

It is righteous for God to remove the Word from those who despise it when it is offered. Even though they miss it and seek after it when they afterwards experience trouble. They only seek it because they want to get rid of their calamities. It is not because they are conscious of their sin or desire true spiritual comfort. It is righteous for God to give them no success when they seeking after the Word. Even though they make the greatest efforts to run through all corners of the land. Thus, “they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD”.

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What Have You Done With Your Baptism?

What Have You Done With Your Baptism?

What Have You Done With Your Baptism?
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.
21 Nov, 2015

This isn’t to do with how and when we get baptised. It’s about what we do with our baptism after we have been baptised. That may be a startling thought. What can we possibly do with our baptism after the event?

Martin Luther often responded to the temptations he faced by saying to himself: “I am a baptised man”. His baptism was still speaking to him of his dedication to God and Him alone. It reminded him of his duty to renounce sin, Satan and the world. This is a practical, everyday matter. What does your baptism say to you?

We ought to hear what Scripture says through baptism. It speaks about the blessings of the covenant of grace, regeneration and forgiveness of sins. Scripture also shows how baptism speaks of our duty to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5). In baptism, we have given ourselves up to God, to be His alone. That is why we are baptised in the threefold name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a sign and seal of the saving benefits of Christ. It commits us to live through the strength of union with Christ (Galatians 3:27). We are also to live to righteousness and die to sin (Romans 6:6,11; Colossians 2:11-12).

John Brown of Wamphray in his Commentary on Romans sums up helpfully.

“Baptism is a sacrament appointed by God, to signify and seal the ingrafting of all believers into Christ. It also seals the certainty of them partaking of the fruits and effects of His mediation. This is needed both for mortifying corruption and strengthening the new man of grace. It seals and confirms that everything promised in the new covenant will certainly without doubt be accomplished. But only to all who believe the promise and lay hold on Him in whom all the promises are ‘yea and amen’. Therefore, we are said to be baptized in Him and baptized in his death. Buried also with Him in baptism that as He was raised from the dead, we might walk in newness of life (see also Colossians 2:12)”.

This highlights some of the ways in which we are to make use of our baptism. It is connected with some the most fundamental duties and privileges of the Christian life for the whole duration of our lives. The French Confession of Faith (1559, Article 35) puts this point well. “although we are baptized only once, yet the gain that it symbolizes to us reaches over our whole lives and to our death, so that we have a lasting witness that Jesus Christ will always be our justification and sanctification”.

The Westminster Larger Catechism (167) speaks of “improving” our baptism. This doesn’t mean that we can improve upon our baptism, repeat it, make it better or rise above it. It means to make the best and most use of something in order to get most benefit from it. According to the Larger Catechism few consider this. It is a “much neglected” duty. Baptism is not something to be received and then forgotten about. It is to be made productive or profitable by diligence (see Larger Catechism 167). It is a means of grace. It is vital to our growth in grace. We are not limited to getting benefit from baptism at the time it is administered (Westminster Confession 28:6).

Some brief and clear questions and answers may bring out these truths in a simple way.

Who Should Make Use of their Baptism? Everyone who has been baptised.

Why Should We Make Use of our Baptism? Because we must enter into its reality, spiritual meaning and blessing.

When Should We Make Use of Our Baptism? Every day of our life. But especially in times of temptation and when we witness the baptism of others. It should remind us of both our privileges and our failures.

How Should We Make Use of Our Baptism? This is the key question and much more involved. How can we embrace the blessings represented, sealed and promised in baptism so that we will benefit from them in our lives? The Larger Catechism outlines very fully six ways to make constant spiritual use of our baptism.

1. Considering the nature and purpose of baptism in a serious and thankful manner. Paul emphasises that we must “know” what baptism means (Romans 6:3-5)It is a means of grace. It is a sign and seal of the benefits that we receive by faith through Christ. It represents our solemn vow and dedication to live to the glory of God alone.

2. Being humbled because of our backslidings and sinful failures to live in accordance with our obligations and promises. Particularly how we have fallen short of living up to all that baptism represents.

3. Growing in spiritual maturity and all the other blessings represented by baptism. In particular, deepening assurance of forgiveness of sin and God’s love in “the answer of a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).

4. Drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ. This is necessary for living to righteousness and dying to sin – indeed putting sin to death (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-12).

5. Seeking to live by faith in dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. To live our lives in holiness and righteousness as those who are Christ’s (Romans 6:22).

6. Walking in brotherly love together with those who have been baptised into Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13; 25-27).

These are the most vital matters for Christian living. They are every day, lifelong duties. There is no doubt that making best use of our baptism is truly necessary or “needful”. Believers have many privileges and they must give account for them on the last day. The question must be answered: What have we done with our privileges? The Larger Catechism helps us consider how we can best make use of the privilege of baptism rather than neglecting it. The answer in full from the original text is given below.

Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?

A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:4,6,11)

  • by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein (Romans 6:3-5)
  • by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; Romans 6:2-3)
  • by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament (Romans 4:11,12; 1 Peter 3:21)
  • by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace (Romans 6:3-5)
  • and by endeavouring to live by faith, (Galatians 3:26-27) to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, (Romans 6:22) as those that have therein given up their names to Christ (Acts 2:38)
  • and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13,25-27).

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