Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?
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.
26 Sep, 2019

​Our troubles just keep increasing as a nation. Conflict is everywhere you look, even between the critical institutions within the fabric of our society. Indeed, that’s true of many other nations too and their political crises. Why is that happening? Could it be that God is leaving us to the consequences of our national sins? If that’s the case then the solution will not be found in anything else except repentance. This is where the hope lies, there is mercy in God exposing our sin. The judgment of God is a call for us to return to Him.

Scripture has a lot to say about nations overcome by sin, error and judgment–other nations as well as Israel. In Joel chapter 2, the Lord calls on Israel to make right use of the warning He gives about the judgment they can expect. He does this with two exhortations. They should engage in sincere repentance and humbled themselves through fasting and unfeigned sorrow (Joel 2:12. They must also strive to have their spirit afflicted for sin more than performing outward actions out of pretence (v. 13). The reason given to encourage them to repentance is that God is merciful and gracious and not easily provoked (Joel 2:13.). He is rich in kindness and ready not to carry out His threatenings when there is repentance.

Since God is gracious in Himself, He may avert the judgement so that the people will survive. Who knows but that He may “leave a blessing behind him” (see Jonah 3:9 and Zephaniah 2:3) if there is repentance? George Hutcheson reflects on the significance of these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE TO LEAD US TO REPENTANCE

No matter how much terror there may be about feared or felt judgements, it is all pointless if it does not stir people up to repentance. Those who are in such a condition and yet do not repent must be mad. After all the warning of judgment on the nation they are called to this as the only remedy and way to be delivered. If they are seriously affected with their condition, they cannot but take this seriously. God calls on them to “turn” (Joel 2:12; see Psalm 106:44 and Jeremiah 31:18- 20).

 

2. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE INVITATIONS

When God threatens most severely, He is still inviting us to repentance by judgements and warnings. He is willing to accept repentance. The same Lord who threatens, exhorts with the word “therefore” to show the connection with the judgment previously warned of (Joel 2:12).

Those who have abused God’s patience for so long that the situation seems without remedy should not think that repentance is now too late. Judgment may be imminent, but it is still good to engage in repentance. It will do good however matters turn out. Even though they were in this sad plight, God calls on them to repent.

Those who take repentance seriously (especially when God declares Himself angry) must not delay engaging in it. This is implied in God emphasising the word “now” in calling them to “turn” (Joel 2:12).

Those who are humbled by God’s judgements may have doubts that their repentance will not be accepted. But God issues an invitation to such in His name, to remove all doubts. He expressly states that this is said by the Lord (Joel 2:12).

 

3. GOD’S JUDGMENTS CALL FOR TRUE REPENTANCE

Repentance for particular sins in response to judgment will not be acceptable as long as there is no conversion to God. There must be a change of state by regeneration.

In turning to God they must beware of being pretended. They must strive to be sincere even though they cannot achieve perfection.  The call to turn with all their heart is a gospel call.

They must seek to be deeply affected for past sin which has brought these judgments. They should prove this by sorrow and humbling themselves (Joel 2:12). Such repentance should not be passed over lightly. The heart should be broken for sin (Psalm 51:17).

We are prone to hypocrisy and ought to beware of playing with God even when we are in greatest distress. They are therefore told to rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:13). God is not pleased with mere outward signs of repentance.

 

4. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE GRACIOUS

God’s graciousness, compassion and readiness to show undeserved mercy assures those who truly repent of acceptance. Seriously reflecting on this may invite sinners to engage in repentance with hope. He “is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:14). God’s long forbearance, waiting sinners to repent before He judges proves that He is willing to embrace those who repent. He is slow to anger. The Lord’s people are dealing with One who so delights in mercy and is so affected with their distress that He is willing to draw back from judgment if they repent (Joel 2:13).

 

5. GOD’S JUDGMENTS POINT US TO HIMSELF

Those who truly repent have their hope fixed on God alone. They are focussed on God’s turning and change–not their own turning and repentance.

 

6. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO TRULY REPENT

God will mitigate His judgments to those who repent, so that at the very least they are turned into fatherly chastisements. Repentance will not always keep away judgment when sin has come to a great height (calling on God to vindicate His glory in punishing it). Neither will it prevent judgment when God wants us to be stirred up to even more repentance. God may increase the concern, diligence and humility of those who repent by keeping them in suspense. This is the reason for the question as to whether He will return and leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

7. GOD’S JUDGMENTS DO NOT HINDER HIS BLESSING

No uncertainty about this should discourage us from repentance. However things may go we are in God’s way for attaining blessing for good when we repent. The question as to who knows if God will leave a blessing is therefore an encouragement to repent.

When God is judging a nation, it does not hinder Him blessing those who repent. There may be rich mercies waiting for them, both in the time of affliction to help them survive and afterwards, to rebuild them up. For there is hope that upon repentance, God will leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Hope During Desperate Times is a book that provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It's spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context.

It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis
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.
6 Sep, 2019

Understandably, sometimes we want a break from the wearying sorry saga of political conflict. Brexit dominates everything. But the more prominent events are, the more we need to seek a biblical perspective on what we can learn from them. Sometimes we need to leave aside political opinions and allegiances and take a step back to understand a situation. It’s a wider problem that may well become an enduring reality in various countries. The clash of populism and mainstream politics may lead to a growing trend of fragmentation. Where does a biblical perspective come from? It comes from the knowledge that God is reigning and that these things are not outside His sovereign purpose (Romans 11:36).

The Bible actually speaks of political paralysis a great deal. It speaks of how God may bring those in power low by removing their authority and wisdom (Job 12:16-24). It is God who changes times and sets up rulers and brings them down; He gives wisdom (Daniel 2:21; 1 Kings 3:9; Proverbs 8:15; Psalm 75:7). Those who are famed for their wisdom and prudence in managing matters with skill may be brought to helplessness (Obadiah 8; Amos 2:14-16). Well-contrived plans may come to nothing in a way that humbles those who trust in themselves. It is a solemn time when it is as though it is every man for himself amongst those in power and every man against each other (Zechariah 11:6; 14:13).

Anyone who has an eminent position of power or reputation for wisdom can become helpless and foolish. They are in confusion like someone in the wilderness who does not know what to do or where to go (Job 12:24). The end of Psalm 107 contains a very similar passage, but it also tells us how to reflect on such matters and gives us promises. In the following updated extract David Dickson draws out the implications of those verses (Psalm 107:40-43).

1. God Makes Rulers Perplexed

It is God who gives wisdom and prudence for ruling states. When their ability is employed for their own earthly interests, He can take their wisdom from them. He can give them a cup of giddy wine, and put them in such perplexity that they do not know what to do. He can banish them out of their country and send them as vagabonds throughout the earth. He causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way (Psalm 107:40).

2. God Must be Honoured by Perplexed Rulers

Rulers only keep their place, power, and esteem among men because God invests them with dignity. When they lose their dignity and are despised, they must look to God as the one who has done it and search for the reason.  For God will honour those who honour Him, and those who despise Him shall be lightly esteemed (1 Samuel 2:30). We are told in this verse that it is God that pours contempt on princes (Psalm 107:40).

3. God Will Lift Up Those Who are Repentant

Although the Lord casts down the mighty and puts the wise to perplexity He will not deal with them further than bringing them to be humbled. If they acknowledge their sins, seek reconciliation with God as His Word prescribes, and depend on God as needy poor souls, He will lift them up again.

Pride goes before a fall. Self-importance due to riches, power, wisdom, or any other earthly reason goes before ruin.  Humility goes before a lifting up. Lowliness of mind, being humbled with a sense of our sin, unworthiness and weakness drive us to depend on God, as a beggar for aid. God comforts the afflicted and raises them out of the dust to a better condition after they are humbled with a sense of their own poverty. He sets the poor on high from their affliction (Psalm 107:41).

4. God’s Works Fulfil His Word

Those who are justified by faith and seek to order their conduct righteously will witness the Lord fulfilling His Word. “The righteous shall see it” (Psalm 107:42). There is joy in believing the Lord’s Word, but there is even more joy in seeing it fulfilled. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice” (Psalm 107:42).

One of the many mercies given to the righteous is that God reveals the counsel of His works. He explains His providence by His Word to them, teaching them to compare God’s Word and His works. He makes them testify that God is as good as His Word. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice” (Psalm 107:42).

5. God’s Works Show His Goodness

The wicked will not have the good that they hoped to have for themselves. They will find themselves mistaken about the godly, whose ways they reckon to be folly. “The righteous shall rejoice, and all iniquity shall stop her mouth” (Psalm 107:42).

The works of the Lord’s goodness, justice and mercy are done so that people may observe His way and remember it carefully. The wisest of people are those who observe God’s providence best. They compare it with the Lord’s Word so that they may understand it rightly. Those who are wise will observe God’s ways (Psalm 107:43).

There may be very few wise observers of God’s dealings in justice or mercy, but those who are His disciples and students of His Word will observe them. They will live in a way that shows this and will never lack ways to observe God’s kindness toward themselves (Psalm 107:43).

Conclusion

We need to look beyond the immediate fast-moving drama of bewildering circumstances to our greatest needs as a nation. Of course we certainly don’t know what the future holds; our duty is to pray for God’s glory whether that fits with our personal preferences or not. We do not know all of God’s purposes though we must try to observe what we can. We know that however humbling they may be–God’s purposes are for our ultimate good. How much we need to be humbled for our sins as a nation. Our political rulers need our prayers more than ever.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
26 Jul, 2019

​We “have to reconcile two sets of instincts…there are some people who say they are irreconcilable and that it just can’t be done”. Politics is said to be the art of making the impossible, possible. But this week, we heard a political ruler speaking about going beneath the surface of society into the human heart and reconciling potentially irreconcilable instincts. The wisdom of political tradition, he said, could provide “the best insights in how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart”. There are various created natural instincts such as: self-preservation, natural affection, fostering and preserving society and acknowledging and worshipping God. They ought not to compete with one another but the trouble is that they are warped by sin. So we have to contend with the instincts of sin in the heart which will never compromise. We pray for national leaders and long that they would seek a higher wisdom in their unenviable task. For what politician indeed would dream of declaring war on sin?

The Christian knows all about irreconcilable instincts in the heart; desires that are opposed and contrary to one another. Regeneration sets up a conflict between grace and remaining sin. There are sinful desires that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11) and they are deceitful in their operation (Ephesians 4:22). In the following updated extract in relation to Galatians 5:17, James Fergusson opens up this conflict further. He shows how Paul proves that following the instincts of the renewed part of their heart means keeping under the unrenewed part.

Paul says that the renewed, and unrenewed part, or spirit and flesh incessantly oppose and labour to suppress one another. This is because they are two principles that absolutely contrary to each other (John 3:6). Paul goes on to show how they are both supported and assisted with contrary superior powers in verses 19 and 22. This conflict prevents us from completely and effectually doing either the good or the evil to which the will inclines. The flesh or sinful nature always opposes what we seek to do in accordance with the direction of the Spirit. The spirit likewise opposes the directions of the flesh. This is also implied in verse 16.

1. These Instincts are in a Regenerate Person

The regenerate person has a renewed principle of grace in all the faculties and powers of the soul; it has been produced within them by the Spirit of God. In all those parts of the soul, they also have some remainder of sinful corruption that has not yet been put to death. This means that our whole mind, will and affections are partly spiritual, partly carnal, both flesh and Spirit are in us. The two sets of desires are against one another (Galatians 5:17).

2. These Instincts are Constantly Active

None of those powers or principles in the regenerate person are dead, dull, or merely passive. Both sin and grace are working and active. The flesh lusts and the spirit desires. Both of them influence the whole person to work in a way congruous to the nature of these respective principles; the one to good and the other to evil.

3. These Instincts are Completely Opposed

The operation of these two active principles is in flat opposition, the one to the other. Thus, in one and the same person even while they are engaged in one and the same action, there is a conflict and battle between these two contrary armies (Romans 7:19, 21). The lusts of the flesh are against the spirit, and the spirit’s desires are against the flesh.

4. These Instincts are in Every Action

Both these principles combine in all the powers and faculties of the regenerate person. So there is a mixture of their respective influence and efficacy in every action. Though one may prevail over the other in some actions there is not one action to which both of them do not contribute something. If there is not a causal influence there is some measure of active resistance. Their desires are constantly working against each other.

The actions of the regenerate are not perfect and free from some sinful admixture. But there is still a difference between their worst actions and the same actions as done by the unregenerate. The difference is that in the regenerate the flesh does not sweep along with a full gale in its sails but encounters the contrary tide of resistance from the spirit to some degree. Just as the flesh lusts against the spirit, so the spirit’s desires are against the flesh. This means that we cannot do the things we want to do in relation to both.

5. These Instincts are in Spiritual Combat

Unregenerate people may have something similar to this spiritual combat, they may sometimes experience a conflict between their natural conscience and rebellious desires (Romans 2:1). But they do have not the very same combat spoken of here. This combat is not just one faculty set against the other but every faculty, as it is flesh, is set against itself, as it is spirit. This combat is not in the unregenerate because they are wholly flesh (Genesis 6:5) and not spirit at all. This combat is between flesh and spirit not natural conscience and sinful desires.

6. These Instincts are Frustrated in Our Actions

The mutual resistance and opposition of those two opposing parties (flesh and spirit) in the regenerate begins at the very first rise of every action in the understanding, will or affections. It continues and grows ever more fierce as the action progresses towards its full accomplishment by the governing faculties. Not being able to do the things that we would implies that our willing good or evil is more (but not entirely) free from this opposition, compared to our actual doing or accomplishing what we have willed (see Romans 7:18). We cannot do the things we have willed to do.

Conclusion

The better we understand the nature of the warfare within the battlefield of our heart, the better equipped we will be to advance in being Christ-like. Whether or not they are aware of it, the Christian has a constant conflict in every aspect of their inward life and in every action. There are irreconcilable instincts in constant combat (James 4:1-3). One principle cannot prevail unless it is at the expense of the other. There can never be compromise. But the believer has divine help to advance in this warfare. The previous verse (Galatians 5:16) speaks of walking in the Spirit and later we understand that the flesh is a dying enemy (Galatians 5:24). Sin will not have dominion over God’s people (Romans 6:14). In the midst of such unceasing and unremitting conflict there is hope. Who will give deliverance? Paul answers this question, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

How Should You Treat Rulers You Disagree With?

How Should You Treat Rulers You Disagree With?

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

In an age of polarising politics and toxic political conversation it’s easy to be influenced by the way of the world. We’re likely to go along with anything which echoes something of our own views.  There’s no shortage of cynical comment, media hounding, social media posts or biting political satire that mocks those in power. It’s frequently thought that those in the public eye are fair game for such attacks. It’s part of a wider contempt for authority within our culture. Political comment fuelled by frustration, anger or ridicule is likely to go far and wide these days. We may agree with some of our rulers and deeply disagree with others. We are unlikely to agree with all of them all of the time. We may be frustrated by them or irritated by their words, actions or decisions. But how should we respond?

One may feel such a sense of opposition to a ruler and their policies that it can inspire a feeling of loathing. Cruel nicknames, ridicule and contemptuous language can abound. Things may be passed on that are not absolutely established as fact but we might almost feel that we want them to be true because of our deep opposition. People may get carried away with emotion rather than stopping to reflect on their responsibilities. We need to stop and think.

We need to think a little more carefully perhaps about the position that rulers in society have.  The Bible makes it clear that they deserve our respect and prayers (Romans 13:6-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Are we as ready to pray for our rulers as we are to complain about them? There are a lot of duties that we owe to our rulers. The Larger Catechism shows how this issue is bound up with the fifth commandment. To some that is surprising because they only think of the fifth commandment as relating to our duty to our parents (Exodus 20:12). But the Larger Catechism goes further (Q124). It means not only our “natural parents” but all those who “by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority”.

This relates to the authority that God has placed in the Church. For instance Paul often speaks of himself in the role of a father to congregations (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; Galatians 4:19).  God’s servants in the Old Testament were often honoured in this way too (2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:14). But rulers of nations and societies are also spoken of as parents (Isaiah 49:23).  Authority is a great blessing ordained by God for society as well as the family (which is itself the foundation of society). Of course in one case it is natural and lifelong and the other case it is social and temporary. The degree of loyalty and support that a child owes to its parents is not however identical to that which a person owes to the state. The parental understanding of authority is helpful though because it explains that all relationships of authority ought to be marked by mutual respect and love within the context of their obligations.

We are in no way suggesting that rulers must never be criticised or opposed. Rather we are exploring what the Bible has to say on our overall attitude to rulers and how and when we must express our dissent and opposition.

 

1. How Should We Treat our Rulers?

We should treat them with proper respect. Those who have authority over us are to be honoured (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17). This honour is to be in thought (Ecclesiastes 10:20), word (2 Peter 2:10) and action (Ecclesiastes 8:2; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Romans 13:1,6). This includes giving obedience to whatever they require which is lawful according to God’s Word (Matthew 22:21). Honouring them also includes praying for them and expressing thanksgiving for their role (Nehemiah 2:3; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). We may also be required to protect them in certain circumstances (1 Samuel 26:15-16; Esther 6:2).

 

2. How Should We Not Treat our Rulers?

We should avoid displaying an attitude of envy (Numbers 16:1-3), unjustified rebellion (2 Samuel 15:1-12) or contempt (1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 10:27). We should avoid speaking evil of them (Titus 3:1-2).

There is justified rebellion but this is not at the least abuse of power or matter with which they are displeased. People should suffer long before they take the step of revolution in self-defence and use all lawful and non-violent means of redress in the meantime. When they resist they do not resist the office but the person who occupies the office who has exceeded the limits of the power of that office.

 

3. Should We Obey Anything Contrary to God’s Law?

It is never our duty to obey any commands that are contrary to the law of God (Acts 4:19; Daniel 6:13). Rather they must be resisted and disobeyed (Acts 5:28-29; Exodus 1:17; Jeremiah 1:16-18; 1 Samuel 22:17). No command contrary to God’s law has any authority. When any ruler requires something contrary to God’s law they are exceeding the bounds of their authority. Such laws do not derive their authority from God but are devised by “the throne of iniquity” (Psalm 94:20). Where we resist, however, it should be done with meekness and humility as far as possible (1 Peter 3:15). We should not be afraid of wicked rulers and wicked commands (Hebrews 11:23 and 27). Sometimes preserving our life from tyrannical rulers is necessary (1 Samuel 21:10; 1 Kings 19:3). But we need discernment as to how to act in situations where we may feel threatened (Ecclesiastes 10:4).

 

4. What Do We Do When we Disagree with Them?

It can be hard to respect some politicians. Sometimes indeed rulers cannot have our respect (2 Kings 3:14; 1 Samuel 15:35) and it must be withheld from them. But this should not be done hastily and in a fit of passion (Ecclesiastes 8:3). We must acknowledge the weighty responsibility and difficulty of their role. Patience and forbearance may be required at some times. It is easy for people in such circumstances to make mistakes and say things that are ill-judged. Sometimes we must give the benefit of the doubt and be charitable, other times we cannot. We read of some misgovernment more cautiously described as “an error” (Ecclesiastes 10:5). There may be certain weaknesses or “infirmities” (as the Larger Catechism describes them) with which we must be patient. We ought to be cautious too in our language in moderating how we express disapproval and dissent out of respect for the office of the ruler. When we protest against them or challenge them we ought to do so in a respectful way. It requires great wisdom for there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Perhaps there are times when we must mourn and pray in secret (Amos 5:13).

 

5. What Do We Do About their Sins?

The Larger Catechism gives a very full summary of the duties required of rulers which are commonly neglected (Q128). Also covered are the sins that are only too familiar in those that exercise power (Q129). There may be sin and abuse of power in rulers and we are not to turn a blind eye to that (Ecclesiastes 10:5-6). We are not to excuse their faults any more than others (Mark 6:18). Sin and folly must be pointed out (Acts 4:8-10; Isaiah 5:23). It is often necessary to withstand a ruler in this (2 Samuel 24:3; 2 Chronicles 26:28; 2 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 14:2). Their sin may often need to be rebuked publicly due to their position of influence (1 Timothy 5:20). The prophets were often required to do this. The sinful actions and decisions of rulers can have long last consequences for a nation (1 Kings 14:16). It is a great plague for a nation to have rulers who are wicked (Psalm 12:8). We can pray and speak against their sins and we can pray that they would be brought to repentance. But we must be careful that we are not tempted to have a sinful spirit ourselves towards them (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19).

 

Conclusion

We cannot hope to answer all the difficult situations that may arise in various contexts in such a short article. None of this is intended to give approval to any actions of specific rulers. But there should be enough here to make us reflect further on our attitude. We should not take our cue from the world in terms of our engagement with politics and with our rulers. Being salt and light means showing an attitude of grace in these matters. We should certainly care about how our nation is governed and express an opinion but that should not be coloured by the vitriol that commonly marks political conversation. It is very challenging. How do you pray for rulers that you believe are contributing to the moral destruction of your country? How do you express some measure of thanksgiving for them? It is very complex and requires a wisdom that we do not have in ourselves. We must seek it from God.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
12 Dec, 2018

China detained Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church and more than 100 of the church’s members in a raid at the end of 2018. Wang Yi has vocally resisted the Chinese government requirement for all churches to be registered with the government and come under their regulations or be shut down. The purpose is to make sinicise or make all religion conform to the government ideology. Resistance to this is essential for Wang Yi. He  has written: “I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience. In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement”.

​Wang Yi wrote in his defence before he was imprisoned: “I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians”.

These arguments remind us of the principles for which the Covenanters suffered in Scotland and which may yet be needed in more countries than China. The following is from James Stewart’s classic book Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland for the kingdom of Christ (1667).

Christ is Head over His Church

Jesus Christ Himself and not the civil government is the author and fountain of Church power and government. The apostle tells us, that Christ and not the civil government is Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22 and 5:13). He not only spiritually communicates inward grace to the members, but
governmental power and direction for the outward regulation of the whole body. How then can the civil government be Head of the Church, or supreme governor in all ecclesiastical matters? Must the Church have two Heads, or a Head above a Head? Let Christ be still Head of the Church. And as such. You will find Him, and not the civil government instituting all Church ordinances for:

  • administration of the Word and Sacraments (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23);
  • excommunication and absolution (Matthew 18:17-18) and all other acts of government and discipline.

You will find Him and not the civil government instituting Church offices. He gave (Ephesians 4:11) and set in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28) apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers etc. And who will dare alter by adding or diminishing? You will find Him and not the civil government authorising these officers to exercise the various acts of the power of order and jurisdiction (Matthew 28:19).  You will find Him and not the civil government equipping these Church officers, with gifts and graces for their work. None go on their own expenses. Can any civil government breathe the Holy Spirit as Christ did on His apostles (John 20:22)? In His name (not the name of the state) they must perform all Church acts. They must assemble (Matthew 18:20); baptise (Matthew 28:19); excommunicate (1 Corinthians 5:4); and do all in His name.

Christ, not the state makes laws absolutely and primarily obliging the Church and Church officers. He is therefore called the lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22; James 4:12). He, and not the civil government will call Church rulers to their final account.  They must give an account (Hebrews 13:17) to their judge who gave them their commission (Isaiah 33:22).

they are His servants and therefore should not be pleasers of man

In recognition of all this, the apostle Paul acknowledges that the Lord Jesus, and not the civil government gives ministerial power and authority (2 Corinthians 10:8 and 2 Corinthians 13:10). And because of this, they are called the ministers of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:1) and Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) not for the state.  They are His servants and therefore should not be pleasers of man nor of the government (Galatians 1:10).

Thus, Church power and government are distinct from civil government. Jesus Christ and not the state is the author and fountain of that government. Therefore, it evidently follows that it is not subordinate to the civil government.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the Covenanters blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

The Answer to a Political Crisis

The Answer to a Political Crisis

The Answer to a Political Crisis
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.
16 Nov, 2018

There is no shortage of feverish opinion and speculation in a deepening political crisis. The rhetoric and debate may be polarised in all (not just opposite) directions. As onlookers perhaps we are thankful we do not bear the burden of managing it. But do we have a duty? Should we be concerned or resigned to whatever will happen? It seems impossible to find a solution that everyone can support. Events seem to compound rather than resolve the difficulties. How will a resolution be found? Is there an answer that has not been considered?

Surely when things come to such a conflict and intractable impasse we can see that a greater wisdom is required. Rather simply but not glibly, the answer is to seek wisdom beyond ourselves. This is what Solomon did out of a sense of the weight of the responsibilities he was to carry (1 Kings 3:9). The following is extracted and updated from a sermon by Lazarus Seaman on Solomon’s request for wisdom. He was a minister in London and a member of the Westminster Assembly. He preached the sermon before the House of Commons in 1644 on a day set aside for public fasting during a time of political crisis. He shows how Solomon’s request for wisdom is a precedent for all who are in authority. We can learn from this how to pray for those in authority and also how we ought to act.

 

1. All in Government Have a Special Need for Wisdom

Solomon’s request for “an understanding heart” must be theirs for themselves (1 Kings 3:9). National governors have much business to conduct. They have many enemies to encounter: foreign, domestic, or both.  There will be some, even from within, that will drive their own agendas and consult their own interests. Thus, they make parties and factions to the prejudice of the public good. David makes a sad complaint to Abishai about Absalom his own son seeking his life (2 Samuel 16:11), something similar is too often verified in others. Flatterers, hypocrites and false friends are enemies as well as those who are divisive, rebellious and subversive. It requires no small measure of wisdom to deal with all these effectively.

The trust committed to supreme rulers is great. They have to govern many people with different situations, attitudes and opinions. There is a mixture of contrary inclinations in them all. That which pleases some, others abhor. One person’s rise is from another’s ruin. The aims are to be high and noble but the means are not easy to identify and are often unsuccessful. The lack of a little wisdom prejudices not only the reputation of those in authority but also the success of their affairs.

David was happy for a while; whatever he did “pleased all the people” (2 Sam.3.36). Even if all in authority were always as happy as this, there is a strict account to be given to God afterwards. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Even if we can get the approval of the world therefore, that will not satisfy. All the lions of the world must give an account to the Lamb, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He alone is to continue King forever (1 Timothy 6:15).   

 

2. Wisdom is Better than All Earthly Blessings

Wisdom is better than riches and a long life (Ecclesiastes 8:12; 5:13). It is better also than success in business, for that is common to wise men and fools (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Wisdom directs governors how to discharge their duty to God and man aright in all respects. It is the knowledge of what ought to be done, and a readiness in doing it.

 

3.What Kind of Wisdom Do Those in Government Need?

They need wisdom to direct them how to go in and out (1 Kings 3:7). They need to know how to order all their affairs and each part of their office at all times according to the right ends. This is so that what is done may be just, honourable, appropriate and most gracious (Ecclesiastes 8:5; Proverbs 14:8).

 

4. How Can they Obtain this Wisdom?

Prayer is a special way to obtain wisdom (James 1:5). Good books, good thinking, good counsel, good example and studying God’s Word can help greatly to get and perfect wisdom. Yet all this is in vain without prayer. It is God who gives wisdom to the wise (Daniel 2:21).

(a) Prayer Obtains the Blessing

Prayer alone can obtain the blessing on other means. The blessing on all things whatever depends on prayer. There is an event and some outcome of all that is said or done. But who can take any comfort though it prospers if they did not seek God? Who must have the blame except ourselves if anything does not succeed, when we restrained prayer beforehand? Strong resolutions, vigorous endeavours, a prudent choice of suitable means, the nick of time and all possible carefulness come to nothing if God opposes; or indeed if God does not graciously intervene. When He is humbly sought in prayer we will make the progress Eliezer did in providing a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:15). It will be as if the things we desire ran on wheels toward us.

(b) Prayer is the Most Effective Means

Prayer is the most efficacious of all other means. God will respond to the humble request of His servants and do that which He will not do on any other occasion. Daniel is praying and the angel Gabriel interrupts him with the news that he had come to give him understanding (Daniel 9:20, 22).

 

5. We All Need This Wisdom

Which of us can say I am wise or I have my due proportion either for the soul, for the body, or for outward things? We need it in every aspect of outward things and much more in spiritual things , but most of all for matters of eternity. And I fear we lack it. Who knows how to order his own family as he ought? Or how to order himself? Differences (both smaller and greater) might either be prevented, lessened, or sooner remedied if we had more wisdom. Families, Church, State, ourselves and our posterity are all in a perishing condition.  

 

6. We All Need to Pray For This Wisdom

Let us pray earnestly for ourselves and for one another that we may be richly supplied with this grace. We should pray that each of us may have it according to our need in all respects. We should pray for those in government and the Parliament and everyone in the land.

When God blesses Church or State He will provide wise and just governors for them. They will so order things that everyone may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty ( 1 Timothy 2:2). But it is as hard a matter to obey well as it is to rule well. This sometimes because the “powers which be” are sometimes divided against God and among themselves.

Pray that God would teach us to know our duties towards Him and to one another in every way. It may be that one reason there is not sufficient wisdom among us is because we do not seek it. Or perhaps we only desire it for ourselves and do not care how destitute others are. The Lord has enough in store for us all.

The only wisdom is for everyone to be wise for themselves: to know their own duty and to do it. We ought to pray therefore that the Lord would teach us how to strengthen our friends and (if possible) win over our enemies. But above all, teach us how we may glorify God by doing or suffering in the midst of all the scandals and blasphemies by which He is dishonoured. Let us practice, exercise, and manifest our wisdom in all affairs and at all times.

 

Conclusion

God will pity your frailty and supply your defects. His wisdom will richly supply whatever is lacking in yours. Strive to do your whole duty. Pray earnestly that your love (to the nation) may abound in all wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Those that have no fear of God before their eyes are seldom of God’s counsel. They have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is (or can be) in them (Jeremiah 8:9). There is also a wisdom which God curses. He takes the wise in their own craftiness; He knows the thoughts of the wise that they are vain (1 Corinthians 3:19-20).

Let our nation be the Lord’s and His Christ’s in the first place entirely, lest we come to be no more a people. If He is not the cornerstone of the whole building both in Church and State, all will prove to be but a Babel, and end accordingly.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Lex Rex

Lex Rex

SUMMARY OF THE BOOK’S MAIN ARGUMENT (60 SECONDS)

22 Aug, 2018

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

In his book (which develops the Reformation teaching about civil government), Rutherford asks some fundamental questions concerning civil government.

 

  • What is the purpose of government? The glory of God and the wellbeing of the people in both outward and spiritual terms.
  • Who or what brings government into being? It is brought into being by God and the people by means of a contract or covenant.
  • What is the nature of government? Government involves declaring, applying and enforcing the law.
  • What are the limits on government? Government cannot go beyond God’s law and command what is contrary to it or abuse the people.

He draws the answers out of the Bible using passages like Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Timothy 2:2. There are more principles than you might think in Scripture and it is necessary to handle them carefully. Ultimately civil government is from God, for His glory and limited by His law, but the power is given through the people for whose wellbeing it is to be exercised.

Rutherford’s discussions of these principles help us with a more detailed understanding of the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 23) on the matter of Civil Government. “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers”. “Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake; and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.”

 
Romans 13 tells us that “the powers that be are ordained of God”. But does this mean that their power and authority is unlimited so that whatever they command is right simply because they command it? Rutherford denies that Scripture supports such a view which can lead to totalitarian tyranny. Instead he says that although government derives its authority from God as the ultimate source, this power is limited in two ways.

 

It is limited by divine law and subordinate to it. The government is not above the law. “There is no lawful power to do evil”. Romans 13 tells us that the purpose of civil government is to be a terror to evil doers and an encouragement to those who do well (according to God’s law). Lawless governments are going beyond their power and authority and are not acting as the ministers of God when they command something contrary to the law of God. Such laws may be disobeyed and if necessary resisted because only God is lord of the conscience.

 

 

It is also limited by the people through whom power is lent unto rulers as subordinate to the people (see the article What is Political Sovereignty?). “No title could be given to any man to make him king, but only the people’s election”. Rutherford shows from the Old Testament how the consent and choice of the people was essential in making a ruler. Power is only lent to rulers and it can be recovered if they prove to abuse it and use it tyrannically.

 

It is important to have different levels of representatives involved in government and not just one sole ruler. These representatives can help to recover power when it is abused by the key ruler. It provides for checks and balances to ensure accountability. None of this means that people should rebel at the least abuse of power or matter with which they are displeased. They should suffer long before they take the step of revolution in self-defence and use all lawful and non-violent means of redress in the meantime. When they resist they do not resist the office but the person who occupies the office who has exceeded the limits of the power of that office.

The Piety of Samuel Rutherford

A VISIT TO THE PASTOR’S STUDY

William Shisko interviews Matthew Vogan of Reformation Scotland and Pastor Jim Campbell, a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The program gives you an introduction to the life and times of Samuel Rutherford, the 17th century Scottish pastor (who would serve as one of the Scottish representatives to the Westminster Assembly.

God and Government

A VISIT TO THE PASTOR’S STUDY

William Shisko interviews Matthew Vogan of Reformation Scotland and nd Dr. David Innes, professor of Political Science at the King’s College in Manhattan about Samuel Rutherford’s 1644 volume LEX REX and how it applies to the current political situation in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the Samuel Rutherford blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

What is Political Sovereignty?

What is Political Sovereignty?

What is Political Sovereignty?
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
17 Jun, 2016

Political sovereignty is not usually a widely and hotly debated topic. Yet the question of whether the EU undermines sovereignty dominates discussion. How do we define sovereignty and does it matter? We can get some help from past thinkers who have helped to shape our constitutional heritage.

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers. Such principles helped the Covenanters to resist autocratic rule. They remain relevant today. Samuel Rutherford published a key statement of these principles in Lex, Rex (The Law and the King). This book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power.

It contained such a powerful argument that Charles II ordered it to be burnt by the hangman. Rutherford was charged with treason, dismissed from his post and placed under house arrest. He only escaped execution through being seriously ill. Rutherford said that “he would willingly die on the scaffold for that book with a good conscience.”  Why would he risk so much for a complex book about political government?

 

Political Sovereignty Flows From God

Sovereignty is the power of government by laws.  An important aspect of Rutherford’s book is that God is ultimately sovereign. “Sovereignty, and all power and virtue is in God infinitely”. True sovereignty belongs to God not man. “All civil power is immediately from God in its root”. Rutherford demonstrates this from Romans 13:1 “the powers that be are ordained of God” as well as Romans 13:5 and 1 Peter 2:13. Power must be exercised to the glory of God: “all in authority…are obliged to procure that their subjects lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty”.

 

Political Sovereignty Flows From God to the People

God has given this power of government (limited by His law) not to one or two but to the people as a whole “united in society”. “Though this power were principally given to the people, it is not so given to the people as if it were the people’s power, and not God’s, for it is God’s power”. The people may grant and withhold this authority to their rulers but it is limited by constitution and law not unlimited. Rulers are under the rule of law as much as anyone else.

The God-ward Aspect of Voting

 

Political Sovereignty Flows From God and the People to their Rulers

Sovereignty flows from God to the people and from them to their rulers. The people do not surrender their sovereignty to the ruler but rather delegate rule within the limits of the law and constitution. Thus, the ruler only holds power in trust for the people. They exercise it for a limited period of power and then return it to the people who exercise it once more. Rutherford argued: “It is false that the people do, or can by the law of nature, resign their whole liberty in the hand of the king. They cannot resign to others that which they have not in themselves”.  Another implication of this is that rulers cannot give away sovereignty since it is not their’s to give. It can never become the exclusive possession of those who govern.

This diverges starkly from the broadly secular tradition in Europe that shaped the Enlightenment. That tradition envisages every individual surrendering their sovereignty to the ruler. It can entail an almost blind obedience to the ruler. This reflected an historic over-emphasis in some parts of Europe on the “sovereignty” of the ruler.

Rutherford maintained that the “law has a supremacy of constitution above the king.” The constitution gives rulers their power: “therefore, he must be king by a politic[al] constitution and law; and so the law, in that consideration, is above the king…The king is under law…because there is no absolute power given him to do what he listeth, as man.”

if you give to a king a prerogative above a law, it is a power to do evil as well as good; but there is no lawful power to do evil

There is no Lawful Power to Do Evil

 

Political Sovereignty Must be Able to Flow Back to the People

Sovereignty can be reclaimed by the people since it has only ever been lent. Intrinsic to this notion is that the people must be able to withdraw this power by exercise of the vote. This is the normal method of the people exercising their sovereignty. There must be accountability.  This means an ability for the people to hold to account those who exercise power on their behalf.

it is their own power in the fountain; and if they give it for their own good, they have power to judge when it is used against themselves, and for their evil, and so power to limit and resist the power that they gave.

According to this view the idea of “pooling sovereignty” amongst sovereign nations is not lawful since it does not allow for full accountability. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Rutherford said that power is strong wine and men are easily drunk on it. If power is abused in this way the people should recover what belongs to them.

But if the king have royalty mediately, by the people’s free consent, from God, there is no reason but people give as much power, even by ounce weights, (for power is strong wine and a great mocker,) as they know a weak man’s head will bear, and no more. Power is not an immediate inheritance from heaven, but a birthright of the people borrowed from them; they may let it out for their good, and resume it when a man is drunk with it.

This means that the people must have their conscience rightly informed and exercised to judge the conduct of those to whom they lend power.

The people have a natural throne of policy in their conscience to give warning, and materially sentence against the king as a tyrant, and so by nature are to defend themselves.

No Power to Oppress

 

Conclusion

Rutherford laid down the true bounds of freedom within the rule of law.  He opposed the absolute rule of men with their arbitrary unaccountable decisions. We are still in need of these priceless principles. As Rutherford concluded the preface to his treatise: “Lord establish peace and truth”.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the Samuel Rutherford blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

No to Named Person, But Yes to What?

No to Named Person, But Yes to What?

No to Named Person, But Yes to What?
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.
11 Sep, 2015

Article updated 19 Sep, 2019

Through the Named Person scheme, the State proposed to steal the authority of parents for itself. But how did we arrive at this extent of interference and abuse of authority? Standing up to the scheme has been unquestionably correct. That has been vindicated in its being scrapped. So, even the Scottish Government have now come around to saying “No” to it. But we still need to ask ourselves the question, “Yes to what?”

It is because we have lost true values about government, the family and conscience. These positive values are part of our Reformation heritage as a nation, but we have sold them away. In exchange, we have adopted values that are subject to changing whims, opinions and arbitrary power. These are the forces now dismantling society and the family. These extreme measures provide us with an opportunity to reflect on how far we have moved away from where we ought to be.

Yes, to Biblical Freedom of Conscience

The State is disregarding freedom of conscience and privacy in the family in seizing such powers. True freedom of conscience has been carefully defined by the Westminster Confession (Chapter 20). “God alone is Lord of the conscience”. It can only be bound by His commands.  Anything else betrays and destroys true liberty of conscience.  The State must not intervene to impair a child’s responsibility to obey their parents in lawful things. God has required such obedience in the fifth commandment. The State robs God Himself of lawful authority as well as parents when it exceeds its proper bounds in this way.

Yes, to Biblical Responsibilities for Parents

The State now refuses to respect the authority of parents in relation to their own children. Parents are responsible to God in this area. Again, this is according to the fifth commandment (see Larger Catechism Q123-130). The State does not lord it over parents with absolute power. Of course, it must intervene in cases of criminal harm and neglect. But the Named Person scheme goes far beyond this. In parenting and child development, the State is the equal not superior of parents. It must assist rather than direct. As the Larger Catechism  (Q. 131-2) shows, equals are to honour not undervalue or usurp one another.

Yes, to Biblical Responsibilities for Government

The State owes its authority to God alone. It is responsible to Him for the exercise of its power. God establishes authority in order not to destroy but “uphold and preserve” true liberty.   The State should also encourage parents to fulfil their responsibilities towards God. It is not only to punish wrongdoing but reward welldoing (Westminster Confession chapter 23). The Named Person scheme is fraught with changeable, subjective definitions of “wellbeing”. The only definitions of welldoing and wellbeing with true authority come from God. Of course, spiritual welfare is a key aspect of wellbeing.

These are the values of the Ten Commandments that must undergird society and the family. The Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism faithfully explain them. This has been at the heart of Scottish society and family life in past generations. In current developments, we are reaping what we have sown in having rejected such standards.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.