How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?
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.
3 Sep, 2020

Apparently some atheists fully intend to use the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) legislation to prosecute the Bible and sermons. Currently, this is possible if the Bill passes in its present form. Simply being in possession of a Bible could be a crime. Even if it doesn’t get criminalised there is potential for Christians being harassed by vexatious complaints. We need to pray and make representations about such legislation but we also need to think deeply about our broader response. The reality is that we increasingly inhabit a “cancel culture” where it is possible to shut down views by simply labelling them “abusive” and “hateful.” This is the situation we can expect no matter where we live in the West. In such a climate Christians might be intimidated into self-policing their views by keeping silent or soft-pedalling and apologising away what they believe. While we always need wisdom and grace in confessing the truth, there is no reason to be embarrassed about Scripture but rather every reason to deepen our trust in and our love and obedience towards it. We can even have confidence and boldness in the midst of such opposition.

Psalm 119 is the part of Scripture that instructs us most fully in our response to the Word. There is a simple resolve to love, obey and confess the truth of God’s Word in Psalm 119:43-48. Despite all kinds of opposition and difficulties, the psalmist is unshaken in his commitment to it. The psalmist pleads with the Lord not to take the Word of truth utterly out of his mouth (v43) and adds seven reasons why. David Dickson helpfully follows the train of thought in this section and applies it concisely to our situation.

1. Continue to Confess God’s Word

It is not enough for us to glorify God by believing the Word of God in our heart, we must also confess it with our mouth in times of trial. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

2. Humbly Pray for Help to Confess God’s Word

Because of our sins, God may justly leave us to ourselves in times of trial when His glory and our duty require testimony from us. We must, therefore, flee to God’s grace by prayer and with a sense of our undeserving, ask with confidence that God’s Word would not be taken out of our mouth.

If it is God’s will to humble us by leaving us to ourselves in some parts of our trial, we must still trust Him and plead with Him not to forsake us altogether in our trials. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

3. Continue to Hope in God’s Word

Where God’s children believe that He will carry out the threatenings and promises of His Word, there is hope that neither fear nor favour of men will overcome them in their trials. The psalmist’s hope in God’s judgments is the first reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

4. Continue to Live Out God’s Word

The reason for our perseverance is the Lord keeping faith in our heart, mouth and outward person in our confessing and obeying Him. Thus, the psalmist says he will keep God’s law continually, forever and ever. This is the second reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

5. Find Liberty in Confessing God’s Word

Those who depart from confessing God’s truth cast themselves into troubles, in dangers, and bonds. But those who continue to bear confession to the truth walk as free persons, the truth sets them free. “I will walk at liberty,” says the psalmist. This is the third reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

6. Confess God’s Word in Obeying it

When we conscientiously and honestly endeavour to obey the Word, we have a promise of not being utterly deserted in the day of trial. The psalmist has conscientiously sought God’s precepts, which is the fourth reason he gives for hoping his plea be heard.

7. Confess God’s Word Before Authorities

Terror of kings and those in power ordinarily hinders us from freely confessing God’s truth in a time of persecution. But faith in the truth (sustained in the heart by God) is able to bring forth a confession despite all kinds of danger. The psalmist will speak of God’s testimonies before kings.

8. Confess God’s Word Without Shame

Those who are resolved to confess the truth of God which is questioned by many, will not be ashamed of confessing the truthno matter who mocks at it. Rather they will get honour because of it. The psalmist says that he will speak of God’s testimonies before kings and will not be ashamed. This is the fifth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

9. Love God’s Word Even More

The more we know the excellence of God’s truth and feel the power of God’s hand sustaining us to believe and confess it, the more we will love, delight and take pleasure in the Word of the Lord. The psalmist says that he will delight himself in God’s commandments which he has loved. This is the sixth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

Those that find they are helped to confess the truth in a time of trial, should always afterwards embrace the Lord’s commands even more heartily as precious gifts because of this experience. They should give themselves up entirely to be governed by it. This is what is implied by the psalmist lifting up his hands to the Lord’s commandments.

Those who have endured trials and troubles out of love to God’s commands and overcome temptations have comfort in having proved their love. They may renew and increase their love of obeying them. After saying he will lift up his hands to the Lord’s commandments, he says that he has loved them. In this way, he ratifies and gives approbation of his love to them.

10. Meditate on God’s Word

When a believer experiences the worth of divine truth (which it can testify to on its own) and of those who confess it, they should study more and more earnestly to know the mind of God revealed in it. The psalmist resolves to meditate in the Lord’s statutes, this is the last reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

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The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer
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.
10 Jul, 2020

Hopefully, the current crisis has prompted greater diligence in prayer and to look for the answers to those prayers. Our response to answered prayer is important, it shows the extent to which we have taken it seriously. Relief and thankfulness are natural but how can we make best use of it? There is indeed a fulness of spiritual joy that may experience in embracing the answers to our prayers (John 16:24). It should humble us, strengthen our faith and increase our readiness to pray for other things expectantly (1 John 5:14; Psalm 5:3). Answered prayer should draw us closer to God in a spirit of worship (Psalm 65:2; Psalm 85:8). It should increase our love (Psalm 116:1). This is why we are to watch in our prayers with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). If we do not respond in the right way we lose the comfort we ought to experience and rob God of His glory.

How does answered prayer give us comfort? Thomas Goodwin points out three ways:
• we hear from God as from a friend. Even though it may be only two or three words about something small if a letter ends, “your loving father,” or, “your assured friend,” it satisfies us abundantly
• we know that God is mindful of us, accepts our works and fulfils His promises
• we know that we agree in desiring the same things. We rejoice find another person of the same opinion in a controversy but it should give us greater joy that we are in agreement with God.
David Dickson explains from Psalm 145:18-19 how our needy prayers being answered should fill us with praise in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Loves Praise in Response to His Goodness
The Lord loves the praise that arises to Him from His goodness to His people and those who belong to His Church. He loves this more than any other aspect of His praise. We know this because that reason for praising God is mentioned so often.
2. The Lord is Especially Present with those who Praise Him
Although God is present everywhere there is a kind of presence with greater friendship which God gives to those that worship Him. This is closer than that His common presence everywhere. It is the nearness of grace and friendship; He is near to them that call on Him.
3. The Lord is Near to All that Truly Call On Him
It is God’s will to have His gracious presence revealed manifested to His worshippers by prayer. He also wills that this favour should be clear to all alike without exception that pray to Him and seek Him.
There is a counterfeit and false kind of worshipping and calling on God, this cannot benefit from this promise. This is when those who pray are not reconciled, nor seeking reconciliation through Christ the Mediator. Or they may be seeking something not promised or seeking something for a selfish purpose so that they may feed their lusts. Those who have a right to this promise, must be worshippers of God in faith with sincere intentions. The Lord will show himself near to such, He is near to all those that call on Him in truth.
4 The Lord Answers the Prayers of Those Who Fear Him
True worshippers of God are those who fear Him, their holy desires are prayers that the Lord will satisfy and not refuse. If the Lord does not at first answer the prayer of those that fear Him, yet when they call in earnest while in trouble, straits and danger He will answer with deliverance and salvation.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Heavenly Violence in Prayer? We are more likely to think of prayer as bringing peace and comfort than something which could be violent. It has a strange ring to it. Yet Scripture describes fervent prayer as wrestling and striving. Samuel Rutherford explains what heavenly violence in prayer is and how we may obtain it.

 

 

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Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble
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.
6 Apr, 2020

It’s a time for constant, earnest prayer. There are special promises for calling on God in a time of trouble (Psalm 50:15). We are being given plenty of opportunity for secret prayer by being confined to our houses. We can “enter into our closet” and enter the strongest refuge we have through private prayer. It is through private prayer that we strengthen our faith in the Lord Himself who is the ultimate refuge.

Thomas Brooks wrote about how essential and urgent private prayer was at the time of the plague in London. He wrote a whole book The Secret Key to Heaven to encourage this. Here is an updated excerpt from one section.

In times of great trouble and trials, in times of great afflictions and persecutions, private prayer is the Christian’s food and drink. It is their chief city of refuge or shelter and hiding place in a stormy day. When the saints have been driven by violent persecutions into holes and caves, dens, deserts and howling wildernesses, private prayer has been their food and drink. Under Christ it has been their only refuge.

When Esau came forth with hostile intentions against Jacob, secret prayer was Jacob’s refuge (Genesis 32:6-9, 11). He recalls God’s promises, they must be prayed over in private. When Jacob and all that was near and dear to him, were in eminent danger of being cut off by Esau and the men of blood that were with him, he takes himself to private prayer as his only city of refuge against the rage and malice of the mighty.

When Jeremiah was in a solitary and loathsome dungeon, private prayer was his food and drink, it was his only city of refuge (Jeremiah 33:1-3). God encourages him by private prayer, to seek for further revelations of those choice and unique favours, which He purposed to confer on His people in future times.

When Manasseh was in chains, in his enemies’ country, when he was stripped of all his princely glory and led captive into Babylon, he takes himself to private prayer as his only City of refuge (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). By this means he prevails with God for his restoration to his crown and kingdom.

Private prayer is a city of refuge that no power nor politics, no craft nor cruelty, no violence nor force is ever able to overcome. Though the joint prayers of the people of God together were often obstructed and hindered in the times of the ten persecutions (of the early Church), yet they were never able to obstruct or hinder secret prayer.

When men and devils have done their worst, every Christian will be able to maintain his private trade with heaven. Private prayer will shelter a chri∣stian against all the national, domestic, and personal storms and tempests, that may threaten him.

When a man is lying upon a sick bed alone, or when a man is in prison alone, or when a man is left on the dunghil alone like Job. Or when a man is like John banished for the testimony of Jesus into this or that Island alone, private prayer will be his food and drink, his shelter and hiding place, his heaven. When all other trades fail, this trade of private prayer will hold good.

FREE BOOKLET

Many Christians ‘do not clearly nor fully understand the necessity, excellency, and usefulness of this subject’. In this short (18 page) booklet, Thomas Brooks shows why private prayer is the urgent need of our souls, families, churches and nation. Usually available for £1 hard copies can be posted within the UK to those who are committed to reading and acting on it. An electronic version is also available for readers from other countries.

“The power of religion and godliness lives, thrives or dies, as closet prayer lives, thrives or dies. Godliness never rises to a higher pitch than when men keep closest to their closets”.

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What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019
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 Dec, 2019

​According to the Bible App, the Bible verse most engaged with around the world and throughout the year was Philippians 4:6. It seems to indicate an uptick in concerns and anxieties in the midst of a year of tension. This has been a trend across recent years. It’s said that 14,000 google searches a month look for bible verses to address anxiety. But this verse also speaks about what to do with such concerns. Philippians 4:6 is commonly summarised like this: worry about nothing, pray about everything and be thankful for anything. But how can we make best use of the spiritual wisdom of this verse?

James Fergusson points to the fact that the reference to worry and anxiety in Philippians 4:6 literally speaks of heart-cutting concerns. These may be about the things of this world and the success of what we do in our work or other aspects of life. In seeking to serve God conscientiously in our daily concerns we need go to God in prayer. We are to pour out our hearts before God in thankfulness and confession as well as asking for the things we need. In this way we commit all things to His will. In the following updated extract, Fergusson helps us to grasp the full extent of this verse so that it exhorts as well as encourages us. 

1. We Need to Avoid Excessive Concern

There is a lawful concern about the things of this world. In fact, this kind of carefulness is frequently commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:11). Yet such concern is unlawful when it is excessive. This is especially the case when we care about nothing except the world (Psalm 49:11). This kind of concern keeps us on the rack continually, in fearing lack of success in the things we engage in (Psalm 37:5). It can tempt us to make use of anything (however sinful it may be) that will preserve or bring about the thing for which we are anxious (1 Timothy 6:9). This excessive anxiety is sinful and forbidden in this verse.

2. We Need to Have Moderation in Our Outward Dealings

This excessive concern hinders us from displaying the moderation we ought to have. Philippians 4:5 speaks of the moderation or gracious gentleness we ought to show. But anxious concern can drive us to be inflexible and harsh in all our dealings with others. This is because we fear that by giving way in the smallest way we undermine our own interests. Nothing contributes more to make us merciful and gentle than keeping the heart above anxious, heart-cutting worry. It will help us in accommodating to the needs and good of others, even though it may seem to harm our own interests. Previously, Paul exhorted them to make their moderation known to all. He now adds the counsel to worry about nothing as something that will help.

3. We Need to Take Our Burdens to God

The best remedy against excessive concern is not to go to the extreme of abandoning all lawful careful diligence in the things of this world (Matthew 4:7). We are rather to be conscientious in our duty but in the midst of this to pray to God. We should ask Him for the success we desire and thank Him for favours already received. In this way we leave the burden of all our concerns on Him. This is what the apostle prescribes here for us to do “in everything”.

4. We Need to Pray According to God’s Will

All our prayers should be composed in such a way as that they may be “known to God”, that is, approved of Him. They must come from the sense of our need, (1 Kings 8:38), be offered in Christ’s name (John 16:23) and be for things that are according to His will (1 John 5:14).

5. We Need to Use All Kinds of Prayer

Various kinds of prayer are mentioned here in three distinct terms. The word “requests” is a general term that relates to all kinds of prayer. The other words used for prayer are:
(a) Prayer, where we seek from God the things which we lack, acknowledging how unworthy we are of them.
(b) Supplication, where we pray about afflictions and chastisements that we either feel or fear. We also acknowledge our sins which bring these things on us.
(c) Thanksgiving, where we thank God for favours already bestowed

6. We Need to Be Thankful Not Just Wishful

It is necessary to combine thanking God for favours received with prayer and supplication. This is because there are constant reasons for thanksgiving in every condition we experience (Philippians 4:11). Thanksgiving suppresses the discontented, fretting and complaining spirit which often vents itself against God in our prayers and supplications. This can happen if we neglect to combine with such prayers thanksgiving to God for favours received (compare Psalm 77:7 with verses 10-11). This is why the apostle commands “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God”.

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The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
10 Oct, 2019

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

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

THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

(a) It keeps our heart in the right condition

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

(b) It helps prevent gross sin

How many sinful thoughts and unadvised words this might prevent.

(c) It helps us in our spiritual duties

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

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

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

(e) It is often clearly successful.

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

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

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

THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

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

(a) When You Cannot Pray Formally

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

(b) When You Are Engaged in Momentous Things

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

(c) When You Experience Difficulties

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

(d) When you are Tempted to Sin

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

(e) When Sin Rises Up

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

(f) When Something Unexpected Happens

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

(g) When You Are Engaged in Spiritual Activities

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

(h) When You are in Trouble

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

CONCLUSION

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

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How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering
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.
10 May, 2019

​We’ve heard about the decline of Christianity, church attendance and Christian influence. Aspects of this are matters of discussion and debate. Yet decline and increased pressure on the Church are certainly evident. Social and cultural pressures and a moral revolution that sets the agenda and seems to place the church continually on the back foot. Or the challenge of how to communicate the gospel in a world where people mistakenly think it no longer makes sense. There’s a danger that when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity–the potential for inward decline. Has there been a decline of living Christianity in your heart and mine? It’s easy to fall into the temptation of becoming consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. What if our souls have begun to wither and we’ve scarcely noticed. How would we know? More importantly, how can we recover a declining condition?

Christ tells His people who are withering in their souls to be watchful or awake (Revelation 3:2). This is the first step towards reviving a withered soul. As Obadiah Sedgewick puts it there can be “no reformation without diligent and serious consideration”. Those in Sardis were in a dying condition. The powers of truth and grace were extremely faint and seemed to be expiring. There were things “that were ready to die”. Spiritual life needs to be strengthened in such a dying condition. Outwardly things may have looked good to the eyes of others. But it was imperfect and incomplete before God. Their condition required remembering and repenting. Obadiah Sedgewick (a member of the Westminster Assembly) explains the implications of Christ’s exhortations in this updated extract.

 

1. How Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) In Our Profession. The leaves of our profession may wither when we do not have even the previous zeal and diligence for being at services. We may become so remiss in these things as to become something of a stranger to God.

(b) In Our Conversation. We may no longer delight to be with the people of God. When we are with them we avoid profitable conversation about heaven and holiness.

(c) In Our Affections. Christ tells the Ephesians that they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). There was a cooling in the degree of love similar to the decline in the Galatians that Paul speaks of (Galatians 4:15).

(d) In Our Obedience. We obey God occasionally or in a distracted way or with a kind of cold, careless formalism. Before no time was too long and no excuse was sufficient to neglect serving God. Praying did not satisfy without lamenting groanings of spirit or more fervent wrestling with God. But now prayer and other spiritual activities are like a pulse hardly felt. Mere words and just doing the activity is enough.

(e) In Our Understanding. Previously our mind was taken up with delight in meditating on God and Christ, divine truths and ways. Now we are taken up with things that are empty and transitory. These so fill the soul that it becomes almost a stranger to holy meditations. It has almost lost its relish for deep thoughts of God, Christ, or salvation.

(f) In Our Gifts and Abilities. These become rusty and blunt because we want to be comfortable and do not use them aright or else focus them on worldly things.

(g) In Our Graces.  It is worst of all when we are dying in our graces. Physical health may go up and down and so it may be with a Christian’s graces. Perhaps they are not being kept active or being strengthened by spiritual activity.

 

2. Why Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) Error.  If poison gets into the body it weakens and endangers life. Unsound doctrine can do this as it did to the churches of Galatia. When the understanding is corrupted with any error, truth does not have the same power in the soul. Where truth loses its authority, grace will lose its strength.

(b) Sinning. Just as a wound in the body makes us lose blood and endangers our life, so there are things which fight against the soul and wound it (1 Peter 2:11). Sinning not only wounds the conscience but also our graces. Sinning is to graces as water is to fire, nothing is more opposite to grace than sin. When sin gets into the affections it is like a disease which will inevitably be a deadly wound to our graces.

(c) Neglect. Neglecting food makes the body decline. So the people of God may become careless through spiritual pride. They do not keep so close to the Word of life or to the Life itself by earnest and constant communion in prayer. It is no wonder that they become dying people. Just as plants live or die, flourish or decay in relation to how they benefit from the sun, so it is with us and God.

(d) Allowing Spiritual Disease. If ill health in the body is not treated it can become deadly. Unless sin is dealt with it will do the same to the soul. One sin may lead to another. Or the same sin may become stronger. This makes grace wither.

(e) Lack of Self-Examination. Previously we kept a careful watch over ourselves but then we began to think it was not so necessary. We therefore fail to see how either sin or grace is operating. The soul becomes weak. We cannot pray as before, we do not have the love to God and Christ we had before. We do not delight in the means of grace nor mourn over sin as before. We do not do the same good to others as before. Why is this? It is always true that the less searching of heart there is, the less strength of grace there is.

(d) Lack of Humbling Ourselves. Fasting and prayer have been ordained to help preserve our graces. When we neglect them or are careless in them we cannot have the same strength against spiritual corruptions. We therefore fall into spiritual decay.

(e) Laziness. A lazy Christian will quickly prove to be a dying Christian. Grace not exercised will quickly become weak and dying. It is put into the soul by God’s Spirit but there are means to sustain and strengthen it. Grace is like a fire that must be stirred up. He who will not use grace, will quickly lose it or decay in it.  Many Christians do not stir their hearts to believe, lay hold on God, or call upon Him, or to walk before Him. They do not use their knowledge, zeal and love for the good of those around them, including those they live with. They meet together but don’t stir one another up to greater holiness.

(f) Excessive emotion. Excessive fear, grief, anger, joy, agony, desire or worry can all impair grace. Desire for the world, or delight in it, fear of man, or grief for things we have lost can all damage grace.

 

3. Are Our Souls Withering?

(a) Examine Your Understanding. Previously there were strong endeavours to know the truths of God and search out the mysteries of salvation. There was an admiration of holiness and God’s favour. There were sweet meditations on the will of God; the mind was pre-eminently taken up with God and Christ, grace, obedience and heaven. Is it so now? Or do worldly things seem great in your eyes? Are we more concerned for our temporal than for our spiritual good? Are our thoughts of God fleeting and short? Do you desire to know God or see His favour in Christ to you? Where is that high regard for the truths of God? Where is that diligence to know the condition of your soul? Where is that sweet delight you once had to know Jesus Christ as your own?

(b) Examine Your Will and Affections. Time was that your will was flexible and found obedience easy. It was submissive to the divine will and cheerful in the duties of godliness. Your affections were delighted with God’s promises and ravished with love to Christ. You were concerned to please and to avoid offending.  You desired nothing more than God’s lovingkindness and hated all evil. But now your will grows weary and is reluctant to be persuaded. It often conflicts with God’s will. You are slow to pay heed to God’s counsels. Neither God’s mercies nor His warnings have the same effect on you.  You delight less in heavenly things and sin is not hated as it was.

(c) Examine Your Heart and Conscience. In the past conscience was quick to direct and restrain. It sought exact obedience. It was sensitive against doing wrong. It could not rest till peace was found. Is it so now? Can you sin and conscience does not strike you? Has your conscience become sleepy and almost dead?  Can you omit duties or do them carelessly or can you sin and either conscience says nothing or you do nothing?

(d) Examine Your Worship. How precious and delightful the means of grace once were to you. You would rather have spent a day in them than a hundred in other things. They brought powerful impressions on your heart; grief, joy and hope. They helped you conquer sin and temptation and have a more serious diligence in your walk with God. Is it so now? Does the Word warn and you do not tremble? Does it promise good and you do not love it? If your heart seems to be dead it indicates that you are a dying soul.

(e) Examine Your Conversation. Has our religion become just talk, criticism and debate?

(f) Examine Your Graces. When graces are scarcely active or are generally inconstant there is spiritual decline. Your faith does not commit things to God as before, your love is not so settled on Christ as before. Your patience cannot endure, your sorrow is dry and your zeal has become cool. If our physical capacities have become weaker it is an indication of declining strength in the body. The same may be said for our spiritual condition, if our graces are not as vigorous as they were.

 

4. How to Recover Our Withering Souls

God puts grace within the soul and also increases and perfects it. Strengthening grace means recovering the health of the soul. Christ also does this work, it is He who must make our withered branches to flourish again. He does this by awakening us through the Word and not leaving us to continue as we are. Ministers are also appointed to watch for the flock and exhort those who are going astray. Christ supplies strength and grace that enables us to repent and pray. There is renewed grace to go on in holiness and regain our former strength of holy understanding, faith, will, love, desire, fear, and obedience. But there are also means for Christians themselves to use to strengthen grace within.

(a) Serious Consideration. Seriously consider and take to heart your condition. Think about what it was formerly and what it is now; what strength there was then, what weakness there is now (Psalm 119:59). Consider how much glory God had then, what dishonour God has now. Consider what peace of conscience you had then, what wounds in conscience now.

(b) Confession. Go before the Lord and fall down before His footstool with shame, bitter weeping and lamentations. Confess your condition.

(c) Resolve. Resolve that you will not continue in your decayed condition but rather shake off all the causes of having decayed. Put away sin. Turn away from carelessness and slothfulness. If the world has caused your decay, resolve to turn from its allurements.

(d) Reform. Remember where you have fallen from and do the first works again (Revelation 2:4). Go to prayer, reading, holy meditation, spiritual conversation and hearing again.  Stir up those coals and embers of grace. There is life in you yet, exercise faith and repentance.

(e) Fervent Prayer.  The Lord can give the strength you need (Psalm 86:16). Implore Him to pity and help you, to be your strength and salvation. Seek that He would weaken the sins which have so much weakened you. Ask that He would crucify your heart to the world, which has so much crucified your heart to your God. He can increase strength to those who are faint (Isaiah 40:29). He is able to revive and strengthen the holiness that He himself planted in your heart.

(f) Submit to the Word.  Strive for a pliable heart submissive to whatever the Lord will direct you to by His word. Desire to do God’s will. Co-operate with the Word received when it has got into your soul and stirred you in any way. Take note of what impressions the Lord makes on your spirit by His Word. Stir up your heart to embrace them and apply them again and again to your conscience. This is the way to make your weak spark grow into a flame.

(g) Find Strong Christians. Seek out strong and lively Christians who walk in the ways of grace. If they are good and know how to do good they will have hearts to pity you, heads to direct you and arms to bear you up. Listen to their heavenly wisdom in counselling you and their exhortations to you. Follow their examples in careful communion with God. You will be helped by their prayers for you.

 

Conclusion

It is a serious matter when our souls are in a withering condition. We cannot just accept it, we need to address it. It is a matter that Christ takes extremely seriously in the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3). This is one of the various themes of our new forthcoming study course called Outside In. It helps to identify the problem of declining in love and grace and what we can do by God’s grace to return from that condition.

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You are What You Digest (Spiritually)

You are What You Digest (Spiritually)

You are What You Digest (Spiritually)
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.
22 Feb, 2019

You are not what you eat but rather what you digest. If we merely consume food without digesting it properly or at all it will fail to do us good. If this is true in physical terms it is even more so in spiritual things. We can consume a lot of bible reading by hurriedly squeezing it into our schedule. We hear sermons on a regular basis. We read and listen to lots of Christian content. But it doesn’t seem to register a significant impact on our hearts and lives. Not equivalent to the time invested at any rate. Why is that? Simply because we don’t digest what we consume. What do we mean by spiritual digestion?

It’s something that few people speak about these days, yet it’s vital for our spiritual growth. It’s called meditation and the Bible speaks about it often. It’s not emptying our minds as false methods of meditation suggest. Rather it is filling our mind with biblical truths and getting the benefit from them by taking the time to apply them to ourselves.

God’s Word is life and health to us (Proverbs 4:22) and we must feed on it (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2; Jeremiah 3:15). Yet, too often before we get a chance to chew and digest our spiritual food we are distracted by something that takes our attention or diverted by something that seems important. We have chronic spiritual indigestion. As John Ball put it, “Without meditation, truths are devoured, not digested.” Richard Baxter observed people who could go from sermon to sermon, “are never weary of hearing or reading, and yet have such languishing, starved souls, I know no truer or greater cause than their…neglect of meditation.: They have “appetite, but no digestion.”

Baxter put it in quite a striking way: “I think that as a man is but half an hour in chewing and taking into his stomach that meat which he must have seven or eight hours at least to digest; so a man may take into his understanding and memory more truth in one hour than he is able well to digest in many. A man may eat too much, but he cannot digest too well.” He doesn’t mean mere intellectual engagement with Scripture.

The stomach must prepare the food for the liver and spleen, which prepare for the heart and brain, and so the understanding must take in truths, and prepare them for the will, and it must receive them, and commend them to the affections. While truth is but a speculation swimming in the brain, the soul has not received it, nor taken hold of it. This is the great task in hand, to get these truths from your head to your heart.

It is not just what we eat and how we eat it: our lifestyle and overall condition also affect our digestion. The same is true spiritually. Just as physical failure to digest can cause discomfort, lead to medical complications, disorders and serious disease—spiritual indigestion is particularly damaging.

Meditating on Scripture helps us apply ourselves to the Word with delight and also apply it to ourselves thoroughly. Just as food well digested gives the necessary nutrients and energy to the body, so meditating on the Word absorbs it into our hearts, life and experience so that we practice it. Nathaniel Ranew emphasised that meditation “is like the assimilating or digestion power, by helping to concoct spiritual food and turn it into spiri­tual nourishment…Meditation highly conduces to this spiritual digestion by its pondering…reasons and incentives as work the heart into compliance and obedience.” Edmund Calamy explains this principle further in the following updated extract from his book The Art of Divine Meditation.

 

1. Digesting the Things of Heaven

This holy meditation is dwelling and abiding on things that are holy. It is not only knowing God and about Christ but dwelling on the things we know. As the bee dwells and abides on the flower to suck out all the sweetness that is in the flower; so we must suck out all the sweetness we can in the things we meditate on.

To meditate is to continue and fix ourselves and our hearts on the things we know. Scripture calls meditation holy musing (Psalm 39:3). It is to commune with our own hearts (Psalm 4:4). It is both communing and consulting with our own hearts or “bethinking” ourselves (as in 1 Kings 8:47). The Hebrew word in 1 Kings 8:47 is: if they will bring back to their hearts or reflect on themselves. Meditation is a reflecting act of the soul by which the soul is carried back to itself and considers all the things that it knows.

Meditation is an inward, spiritual act of the soul by which it looks back on itself and considers all the things that concern its everlasting happiness.

You read in Leviticus 11 of the clean beasts and the unclean beasts. The clean beasts that they were to eat were those that chewed the cud. The unclean beasts were those that did not chew the cud. A meditating Christian is one that chews the cud—chews on the truths of Jesus Christ. They do not only hear good things, but when they have heard them, the chew them over and ruminate on them. This is so that they may be better for digestion and spiritual benefit. An unclean Christian is one that does not chew the cud, does not ruminate and ponder the things of heaven.

 

2. Digesting Sermons

The reason why all the sermons we hear do not do us more good is lack of divine meditation. It is the same with sermons as it is with food. It is not having food on your table which will feed you, you must eat it. You must not only eat it but digest it, or else your food will do you no good. So it is with sermons, it is not hearing sermons which will do you good but digesting them by meditation. Pondering what you hear in your hearts will do you good. One sermon well digested, well meditated on is better than twenty sermons without meditation. A little food well digested will nourish a man more than a great deal of food if it is not digested. You know that many hours are required to digest a little food eaten in a short while; so a Christian should be many hours digesting a sermon that they hear in one hour.

Some are sick with a disease, that whatever they eat comes up again immediately, the food never does them any good. This is the same with many of you, you hear a sermon, you go away and never think of it afterwards. This is just like food that you vomit up. Some have a disease that all the food they eat goes through them, it never stays with them. This food never nourishes. So it is surely, with the sermons you hear on week days and on the sabbath day. They go through you, you hear them and hear them and that is all you do. You never seek to root them in your hearts by meditation. This is the reason why you are so lean in grace, though you are so full fed with sermons. I am convinced that this is the great reason why we have so many lean, hunger-starved Christians, lean in knowledge and lean in grace. They may hear sermon upon sermon but they digest nothing. They never ponder and meditate on what they hear.

This is what our Saviour Christ speaks of as the seed that was sown by the highway-side. This is someone who hears the Word and never thinks of it after he has heard it. He allows the devil to steal it out of his heart. When the farmer sows the seed in the highway he never plows it, he does not expect that it will come to anything. There are many of you and the sermons you hear are like the seed sown in the highway. You never cover it by meditation, you never think of it when you have heard it. This is the reason you do not get more good by what you hear.

 

3. Digesting the Promises

The reason why the promises of God do not affect your hearts more and you do not taste more sweetness in them is because you do not ponder and meditate on them. The promises of the gospel are like confectionery it you do not chew it but swallow it down whole you will never taste any great sweetness in it. The way to taste the sweetness is to chew it. The promises of God are full of heavenly comfort, but you will never enjoy this comfort unless you chew them by meditation. Unless spices are bruised they never smell sweet. The saints of God live with so little comfort all their lives long, because they do not chew these promises.

This will enable you to rely on the promises for the good of your souls. The reason that the promises are not sweet to you is because you read them but you do not chew them by meditating on them. If you meditated on them they would be sweeter than honey and the honey-comb, especially if join application with meditation. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and he was strong in faith. What made him strong in faith? He did not consider his own body which was now dead nor the deadness of Sarah’s womb, but he considered the promise of God (Romans 4:19). The reason why the saints of God are so empty of comforts, hang down their heads and walk so disconsolately is because they consider the deadness of their own souls and their imperfections. But they do not meditate on the promises, the freeness and the riches of them.

 

4. Digesting God’s Commands

We must so meditate of Christ as to live according to the life of Christ. We must so meditate of God as to obey the commands of God. Meditation must enter three doors: the understanding, the will and affections and practical living. Otherwise it is of no use. The understanding helps the heart and affections like a mother helps a child. She prepares food for the child. She cuts it so that the child may eat it. So, the understanding prepares divine truths for the heart and affections, that the heart may receive, eat and digest them. But if the mother eats the meat and gives nothing to the child, the child may starve. So although the understanding receives the most glorious truths, if it does not convey them to the heart and affections, it is of no benefit.

Many spend their time in meditation as a butterfly feeds on the flower, not to be fruitful and useful.  They study and ponder divine things— God and Christ, sin and the promises—but because they do not convey them to the heart and affections, they become neither holier nor better. True meditation is this, when we so meditate on Christ as to be transformed into Him. When we so meditate on God as to love and desire God, rejoice in Him and live according to His commands. When we so meditate on sin as to hate, abhor it, and turn from it. It is to so meditate on the promises as to embrace and receive them.

 

5. How to Digest

The understanding prepares divine truths for the affections to eat and digest them and to turn them into holy living. You never meditate aright, unless the affections are elevated as well as the understanding. Both heart and head are the parts that must be exercised in the practice of the duty of divine meditation. The work of the head or understanding is serious consideration of the truths we come to meditate on. The work of the heart is increasing in devotion and holiness by these meditations.

I will give you directions to help the understanding and affections in this. Choose a suitable subject or truth to meditate on. Fix your thoughts on it, consider its different aspects. Try to remember all you might have read or heard about it. Think about its causes and effects and the things that are opposed to it. Think about the way that Scripture describes it. Pray to God to get a delight in it.

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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.

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Meditating Often on the Word

Meditating Often on the Word

Meditating Often on the Word
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.
14 Sep, 2018

Meditating on the Scriptures is something rarely emphasised today. What does it mean? Meditation is “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” (Thomas Watson) It involves turning the truths of the Word over and over in our mind until we are spiritually benefited by them. In a busy, fast-paced world it may seem like a luxury but if we were to grasp its benefits we would be more inclined to see it as a necessity.

Perhaps we don’t get so much from reading the Bible and hearing sermons because we don’t meditate on the truths we encounter. We need not only to pray in response to what we read but to meditate. Richard Greenham helpfully summarised the need for it: “reading without meditation, is unfruitful; meditation without reading, is hurtful; to meditate and to read without prayer upon both, is without blessing”. The following quotation reminds us that it is something in which we must persevere.

In the plainest text there is a world of holiness and spirituality; and if we in prayer and dependence upon God did sit down and study it, we should behold much more than appears to us. It may be, at one reading or looking, we see little or nothing; as Elijah’s servant went once and saw nothing; therefore, he was commanded to look seven times. “What now?”, says the prophet. “I see a cloud rising like a man’s hand”, and by and by the whole surface of the heavens was covered with clouds. So you may look lightly upon a scripture and see nothing; meditate often upon it, and there you shall see a light like the light of the sun. – Joseph Caryl (Member of Westminster Assembly)

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What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?
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.
7 Sep, 2018

It’s a phrase that’s used a lot. Yet when you stop to consider it, it’s rather difficult to define. Of course God is everywhere present but we usually mean a felt sense of His presence. Is that purely a subjective sense that borders on a mystical feeling or being emotionally charged? Sometimes it seems like people are speaking of a particular experience or atmosphere. Do we have to feel that God is there to know that He is there?

Surely what we mean by “presence” is God exerting His influence in a way that we discern. Hugh Binning has a very simple definition of the presence of God. He says that “God’s presence is His working”. That is helpful because God may be present without us being overwhelmed with feelings of love, joy and praise. This is how it was for Job. In his affliction and distress he was saying, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” (Job 23:3). “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him”. He knew that God was working and that He was trying Him with a holy purpose but He could not discern Him clearly (Job 23:8-10).

 

1. The Holy Spirit’s Workshop

God’s presence is his working. His presence in a soul by His Spirit is His working in such a soul in some special way, which is not common to all people. It is specially to those whom He has chosen. His dwelling is nothing else but a continued, familiar and endless working in a soul until He has conformed everything within to the image of His Son.

The soul is the workshop that the Spirit has come to work in to fashion in it the most skilful part of the whole creation. This is the work of restoring and repairing the masterpiece, which came last from God’s hand in creation, and so was the greatest. By this I mean, the image of God in righteousness and holiness. This is the bond of union between God and us. Christ is the bond of union with God but the Spirit is the bond of union with Christ. Christ is the peace between God and us making out of two one. But the Spirit is the link between Christ and us, by which He has direct and actual involvement in us, and we in him.

 

2. Mutual Indwelling

The union between Christ and the soul is illustrated in Scripture by the closest relationships because a mutual union is closest. It is often expressed in this way to demonstrate an interchangeable relation and reciprocal union with Christ. The knot is on both sides to make it strong. Christ in us and we in Him; God dwelling in us, and we in Him, and both by this one Spirit (1 John 4:13). It is often mentioned by the Apostle John who was best able to express it as one most possessed with the love of Christ and the felt sense of His love (John 17:23, 26; 1 John 3:24). Just as the names of married persons are written together, so this indwelling is written in this way.

It is not cohabitation but inhabitation. It is not one person alone inhabiting the other, but mutual inhabitation which amounts to a kind of penetration, the most intimate and immediate presence imaginable. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith; and we dwell in Christ by love (Ephesians 3:17 , and 1 John 4:16). Death brings him into the heart; for it is the very application of a Saviour to a sinful soul. The very applying of His blood and sufferings to the wound that sin made in the wounded conscience which heals it, pacifies it and calms it.

A Christian, by receiving the offer of the gospel heartily and affectionately brings in Christ as offered into his house, and then salvation comes with Him. Therefore believing is receiving (John 1:18). It is the very opening of the heart to let in an offered Saviour. Christ, thus possessing the heart by faith, works by love. The Christian dwells in love and in God and God in him. Love has a special value in it, to transport the soul out of itself to the Beloved (Song 4:9). The soul is where it loves. Fixing and establishing the heart on God is dwelling in Him.

The constant and most continued residence of the most serious thoughts and affections will be the all-fulness and riches of grace in Jesus Christ. As the Spirit dwells where He works, so the soul dwells where it delights. Its delight in God makes it go out to Him frequently in desires and breathings after Him. By means of this, God dwells in the heart for love is the opening up of the inmost chamber of the heart to Him. It brings the Beloved into the very secrets of the soul, into the inmost part of the heart so Christ dwells in the affections of the soul.

It is only the Spirit of Christ given to us that entitles us to Him, and Him in us. It is the Spirit working in your souls mightily and continually, making your hearts temples for the offering of the sacrifice of prayer and praises. He casts out all idols from these temples that He alone may be adored and worshipped by the loving service of the heart and purges them from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. It is the Spirit dwelling in them in this way that makes them living members of the true body of Christ, joined to Christ the Head. This makes Him yours and you His; by virtue of this He may command you as His own, and you may use and employ Him as your own.

 

Conclusion

God’s special gracious presence is more than a mere feeling, though feelings are involved. We can discern God’s presence by His activity in our hearts and lives. His grace in our hearts and lives is stirred up into activity. James Durham observes that, “believers, that aim seriously at the exercise of grace in themselves, may confidently invite Christ to come, and may expect His presence”.

The more we make use of the Holy Spirit through prayer, submission and obedience to the Word of God, love to Christ, the more we will know that presence. It will humble us. An abiding sense of that presence is valuing Christ and depending on the strength and grace he provides. Christ’s presence will make us spiritual fruitful and useful. Sometimes there is a sense of distance rather than presence but in this we should be stirred up to seek after the fellowship we desire. “There is nothing that will affect a gracious soul more, than to miss Christ’s presence, when the disappointment has been procured by its own sin” (James Durham). As Durham also puts it, a high esteem of Christ will make us pursue after His presence “for, to those that thus love and esteem Him, He will manifest Himself (John 14:21, 23)”. We need this in seeking to worship God in public and private. As Durham says: “it is one thing to have pure ordinances set up in the Church, and another to have Christ’s presence filling them with power”. We will want Christ’s presence for others as well as ourselves.

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Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?
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 Jul, 2018

Sometimes in our personal experience and in the world around us we are tempted with the feeling that God is absent. Why doesn’t God show Himself more? Are our prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God step in and arrest the moral rebellion that is destroying western societies? These concerns are not new in one sense. The Psalms and other books of Scripture wrestle with such thoughts. Yet it can seem different in a society where God is excluded to such a great extent.

Sometimes we treat the temptation and pressure to unbelief as an intellectual matter. So we seek more and more rational proofs of God’s existence. But the root cause of the temptation may lie deeper in the social realities of a secular age. The felt absence of God is something we grapple with in a particular way in such an age.

This is addressed in a recent book by Joseph Minich Enduring Divine Absence: The Challenge of Modern Atheism (The Davenant Institute, 2018). He seeks to explain how this situation has come about historically and philosophically and then how we can sustain and strengthen our faith in the face of the challenge. A sense of God’s absence helps us to place greater value on God’s presence. Trusting God is not avoiding the problems and challenges we face but fully confronting them holding on to the God that is greater than them all. Minich says the following:

Can it be that we are brave enough to say that in spite of evil…God is here and that He is good? Not as wishful thinking, not as calling evil “good,” but as receiving reality just as it is and as it must be-despite what the world often feels like? Perhaps, indeed atheism is not bravery after all, but capitulation. Perhaps it is an intellectual, spiritual, and psychological failure to endure. It is a failure to say that God, that the Good, is greater and denser and more fundamental and deeper and wider, that love is higher, that all is grounded in the infinite plenitude of a pure actuality which is love Himself-who is God “for us”…God is ultimate and His goodness and eternal being are still greater realities and contain a greater gravity than death and pain

Minich confronts the personal challenge of this:

what does it mean when we find ourselves begging to see God and He does not show up? When He effectively and providentially says “no”. It means, “My grace is sufficient for you. I’ve already shown up. I’ve already raised from the dead. I’ve already forgiven your sins. And just as I’ve done all this for your good, so for your good I want you to grow up. I want you to be strong. Trust me. I’ll carry you. I will allow you to suffer. But I will carry you through. I will allow you to hit the bottom, but there you will find the eternal living and true God-and you will say with joy, ‘This is enough'”. Like Job, you will be reoriented in the gravity of God.

In Psalm 10 there is a lament that God seems to stand afar off. He seems to be hidden in times of trouble and the wicked just seem to be able to do what they want. David Dickson helpfully draws out some further thoughts and implications from the Psalmist’s words. He notes that in the Psalmist’s complaint he is speaking to God according to his feelings and as he sees things in human terms and in an outward way.

1. God’s Word and Providence Can Seem to be Saying Different Things

God’s work in providence may seem to speak in a contrary way to the word of promise. God’s Word says that  He will always be with His own and not forsake them. But here the way He deals with them seems to say that He stands afar off and hides himself in times of trouble (Psalm 10:1). Our feelings may sometimes speak contrary to faith.

2. We Should Depend on God’s Word More than Our Feelings

The truth of the word should be relied on rather than accepting what our feelings are saying. When our feelings seem to object to or question the Word we must bring this before the Lord in prayer. We may discuss it with Him there. This is what the Psalmist does in asking God why He stands afar off (Psalm 10:1).

3. A Humbled Soul Can Speak with God in a Familiar Way

See how a humbled soul may speak with God in a familiar way.  The Lord will not mistake what His people are meaning when faith borrows the language of feeling. The Lord will permit such speech and not take it in the wrong way since He knows it proceeds from faith and love wrestling with our feelings. He will even allow such language to be recorded in His Book (as here) for others to make prudent use of it. He records it even though they appear to challenge Him for standing aloof and hiding Himself.

4. God’s People are Often in a Low Position in this World

It is often the case that the godly are in a low condition in the world while their adversaries are in high places and power. Thus, “the wicked in his pride” is able to “persecute the poor” and oppress them as their underlings (Psalm 10:2).

5. Persecution will Become a Snare to the Persecutors

We may expect that what persecutors devise against God’s people will become a snare for themselves. The Psalmist speaks of this in Psalm 10:2.

6. When the Wicked Seem to Prosper by Casting God Away

Psalm 10:3-11 describes what life is like when the wicked obtain power. They seem to prosper by casting God away. It describes the tendency downward trend of a godless society.

The wicked man has such a high opinion of his own ability it is clear that he scorns the idea of praying to God for anything. In his pride he will not seek God. He does not consider what may please or displease God, what may honour, or dishonour God. He does not trouble himself with such thoughts. “God is not in all his thoughts”. In Hebrew this means that all his thoughts are that there is no God, or none of his thoughts are on God. His ways always vex others, tending especially to hurt the godly.

He does not fear God’s judgements, believing they will never happen. He fears neither God nor man. Prosperity with apparent impunity from God’s judgements persuade him that God will never take notice of him, call him to account, or punish him. He has said in his heart that God has forgotten, hides His face and will never see it.

7. Atheism in Others Should Draw Us Closer to God

The more we see atheism in the wicked, the more we should draw near to. The godly may well feel that God is at a distance when He is not executing justice. Yet when they are tempted with these very temptations to which the wicked have embraced (that God is afar off and will not judge) they must not yield to them. Rather they must pray against the temptation, as the Psalmist does here: “Arise, O Lord” (Psalm 10:12).

8. God will Not Forget His People

The merciful respect and love which the Lord has to His afflicted people will not allow His justice against these persecutors to be quiet for long. He will not forget the humble (Psalm 10:12). He will vindicate His own glory from the way in which the wicked despise His name and expose it to contempt (Psalm 10:13).

9. God’s People are Comforted by Providence though the Godless Deny it

The godless enemies of God’s people deny God’s providence and justice. Yet His people are comforted during their saddest sufferings by the Lord seeing and taking account of them. The godly can say here that God has seen it (Psalm 10:14).

10. God’s Judgements Will Refute the Atheism of the Wicked

God’s judgments on the wicked shall really refute the atheism of the wicked and repay their opposition made to the godly (Psalm 10:14). The power of persecutors cannot be so great that God cannot weaken and break it, so that they will not be able to trouble His people (Psalm 10:15-16). 

Though the Lord does not reckon with His enemies for their sins at first, yet He reckons for all at last. For lesser and for greater, for one and for all: the uttermost farthing will be exacted. He seeks out their sins till He finds none (Psalm 10:15). O how fearful a reckoning the Lord must make with the impenitent, who die unpardoned and unreconciled with God through the Mediator Christ Jesus!

11. We Should Cast Such Burdens on the Lord

When a believer has poured out their heart before God they should cast themselves with their burden on the Lord. When a humble believer has cast their burden on the Lord, the Lord will not fail in taking care of what He is entrusted with. The poor commit themselves to God (Psalm 10:14).

12. Christ’s Kingdom is Everlasting

The prayer of the persecuted will not be rejected because the kingdom of Christ in His Church is perpetual. Earthly rulers cannot keep on living to help their friends, followers or flatterers. Nor can they keep living to persecute and molest God’s Church. Christ is the Lord and King for ever and ever, to defend His people and punish His enemies (Psalm 10:16).

13. These Experiences Humble Us for Our Good

The Lord’s way is to humble His children through troubles and make them conscious of their need of His help. Their sense of need turns into desire for His help. Their desire turns into prayer. He will then in due time answer, so that the Psalmist can say that God has “heard the desire of the humble” (Psalm 10:17).

14. God’s People Have Everlasting Blessings

Even there were no other comfort to the godly when they feel oppressed the expectation of heaven would be sufficient. Their life, inheritance and happinesse is in heaven. Their oppressors are merely men of this earth whose portion is no better than what they have here in this world (Psalm 10:18).

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6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession

6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession

6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
30 Mar, 2018

​Christ’s intercession in heaven is unseen but that does not mean we cannot see the benefits and effects of it. Because it is unseen we are inclined to forget about it and not derive the comfort and help we should. The more we meditate on it, the more it ought to fill us with a sense of wonder. As we consider our own weakness and neglect in prayer by contrast it helps us to think that He is more conscious of our spiritual needs than we are. He knows the spiritual dangers we face better than we do. The more we contemplate Christ’s intercession the better we would be able to trace the benefits we experience from it.

​Christ’s intercession for believers is continual (Hebrews 7:25). Andrew Gray opens up something of its nature and benefits with a sense of wonder. He says that this “divine action of Christ’s interceding at the right hand of God for sinners, is that in which a sinner may behold much spotless condescension and much boundless compassion”. It is a great mystery indeed to “behold infinite majesty standing as a suppliant before the throne of God”.

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me – Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

What is the nature of this intercession? Gray speaks of it as “successful” because Christ has infinite power. The Father also gives Christ whatever He requests (John 11:22). The Father has a “precious delight” in “doing good to sinners”. Christ “intercedes with a great deal of brotherly affection and sympathy for us”. “Christ is more affected with the miseries of His own than they themselves are”. It is also a constant intercession. This “consideration may sweetly engage our souls to Christ”:

when you are all asleep in the silent watches of the night, Christ is standing at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you

Andrew Gray also draws out helpfully the following ways “in which Christ’s intercession reveals itself”.

1. When We Are Tempted

When a believer is surrounded with temptations, Christ intercedes for him, as we see in relation to Peter in Luke 22:31-32. Christ prays for His own in the world to be kept from evil (John 17:15). I would only say to you concerning this to lay more strength on Christ’s intercession than on your own prayers. Were you never convinced that all the strength that comes to you to put to death even one lust is by Christ’s intercession? I confess that there are many works that Christ does for us which we do not at all acknowledge He has done.

2. When We Are Discouraged

Christ’s intercession for us with the Father also shows itself when believers are under the spirit of discouragement. It is then that Christ prays for their consolation. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). Is it not Christ’s great purpose to have His own refreshed in a strange land?

3. When We Pray

Christ’s intercession shows itself toward us in relation to our prayers. He stands at the throne of grace, pleading for the acceptance of the prayers and petitions that believers send up to God. An excellent purpose of His intercession is for believers to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). In Revelation 8:3-4, John saw an angel standing at the altar (this is usually understood to be Jesus Christ). There was given unto Him much incense, which represents His merits making the prayers of His people to be accepted. He offered the incense with the prayers of the saints before God.

I desire then to mention the three works that Christ performs concerning the prayers of believers.

(a) Christ sweetly takes away the superfluities and redundancies that are in our prayers. Christ puts all the prayers of believers in a new frame, and He cuts off all expressions that may render our prayers unsavoury to God. Is that not an excellent work?

(b) Christ takes our prayers and supplications and presents them to the Father.

(c) Christ stands before the throne of God, pleading for an answer and return to our prayers. Do you know the reason why Christians get so few answers and returns to their prayers? It is because they do not make use of Christ’s intercession surely; otherwise they would get answers to their prayers. He has promised that whatever we ask in His name, that is, through His intercession, we receive it.

4. When Sin Has Ensnared Us

Christ’s intercession shows itself when sinners are taken and ensnared in sin. He intercedes for their pardon, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He answers the charges that are laid against us and intercedes with the Father for all our offences done against Him to be forgotten. He is praying today that our sins may be buried in that immense sea of everlasting forgetfulness. We see this in Zechariah 3:2-3 where Christ answers the challenges of the devil against believers.

5. When We Experience an Extended Time of Trouble

When believers are under a long and painful period of troubles, Christ prays that they may have release from that condition. This is clearly illustrated in Zechariah 1:12. In this passage, Christ as a priest is making intercession for believers. An explanation is made to Christ in verse 15 of chapter 1 “For I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction”.

6. When We Face Death

The last aspect in which Christ’s intercession reveals itself is this.  He intercedes with the Father, that those for whom He died should be where He is, to partake of the everlasting depths of that precious and blessed happiness that is above. We see this in the prayer of Christ recorded in John 17:24 that they may be “with me, where I am; that they may behold my glory”. We do not know whether that looks more like a prayer or a command, but certainly it is a most imperious prayer. Christ longs for believers to come where He is.

Conclusion

We need to make use of Christ’s intercession. Gray gives three reasons why believers make so little use of Christ’s intercession.

(a) most of us do not believe in the power of the spiritual virtue of Christ’s intercession. It is a mystery to us, a great mystery even to a Christian’s faith to believe the power of Christ’s intercession for them.

(b) we are not living under a spiritual conviction of the absolute necessity of the things we seek in prayer. The result is formalism in prayer.

(c) we are not deeply convinced of the sweet delight of that which we are seeking from God in prayer; therefore, we seek it with great coldness of affection.

We must value the benefits that we receive by Christ’s intercession, if we are believers.

(a) It strengthens justifying faith like a pillar (Romans 8:34). Indeed that verse mentions four pillars of justifying faith: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and intercession.

(b) It is evidence that Christ will finish the work of your salvation and lead you within the borders of eternity. Christ will save to the utmost all that come to Him through faith.

(c) It persuades Christians of Christ’s infinite love towards them.

(d) It is an excellent encouragement to go to the Father and pray to Him. It greatly helps the duty of prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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