Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
20 Aug, 2020

A recent survey conducted in the USA indicated that 7 out of 10 self-identified evangelicals agreed that “women should be allowed to preach on Sunday morning”. The results showed that these figures are not reduced when frequency of attendance and attitude to the Bible are taken into consideration. Three-quarters of those who claimed to believe that the Bible is literally true and attend services multiple times a week agreed with women preaching. Age did not seem to make a significant difference in people’s views either. We do not know what arguments these people consider strongest in favour of this view. Popular arguments are, however, familiar enough from the wider debate on this issue. If we claim to take the Bible as literally true, we must consider what it says on this subject. Whatever most evangelicals support we need to know what the Bible itself supports. Let us consider some of the passages that speak clearly on this matter.

Many books have been written on this subject, but shorter articles can still be useful. It is also helpful to consider how previous generations have understood Scripture in relation to this debate. Did they have clear biblical reasons for their views? It is helpful to do this because sometimes we are especially influenced by being so close to our own cultural perspective and current debates. Some want to claim that the New Testament’s assertions are merely cultural and can be bypassed. Yet who decides what is cultural and how far this approach goes? Others want to redefine what “teaching” means. A technical in-depth refutation of that kind of redefinition can be found in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner.

The question is not whether men are allowed to preach and teach publicly but women aren’t. The question is rather who is qualified according to Scripture to preach and teach. “Are all teachers?” (1 Corinthians 12:29) asks Paul. Clearly not. Not all men are qualified for office in the church. Only some men and not all are among those qualified and called to preach. This issue does not downgrade the important contribution of woman within the church any more than it downgrades male members who are not in office.

Arguments in favour of women preaching have been made in the past as well as in the present. In the more distant past, those who were promoting this practice were various groups and sects such as the Quakers. John Brown of Wamphray responded to these arguments and the following is an updated extract. Beginning with the passages that deal with this most explicitly he makes the following blunt observation. Some plead for women speaking or preaching in the public assemblies of the Church notwithstanding the fact that Paul has in two distinct places, expressly prohibited it.

1 Corinthians 14:34-38

One passage is 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Let your women keep silence, in the churches”. We might think, that this was indeed enough to satisfy us; but see what the apostle adds further to enforce this, “for it is not permitted unto them to speak”, i.e. in the churches. This is as if he had said “they have no permission to do so”. And as if all this were not enough, he adds all that is permitted to them i.e. to be under obedience as the law requires. By this he wants us to understand that women speaking in the churches is inconsistent with the obedience that the law of God has laid on them. He implies that speaking by teaching in the churches is an authoritative thing, and therefore not allowed to women in any way. Their proper behaviour according to the institution and law of God, is to be under obedience. He will not even permit them so much as to ask questions for the sake of learning in the churches lest this would make way for usurping authority and beginning to speak with authority. He adds in verse 35 that if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. He adds that it was contrary to that modesty that is the ornament of women in saying that it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

What the apostle adds to confirm this injunction concerning women in the verses that follow  is also notable. They may be considered along with his previous directions which he had given to regulate the abuses of that church. He asks them if the Word of God came out from them or to them alone. In other words, are you the first, last, and only Christians there are? Or must you give laws to all the churches of Christ? And must they all follow you? It is as though no previous church has had the Word of God in relation to this. In verse 37 he goes on to say that if any man thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. Those who defend women preachers must take notice of this. When they contradict this express injunction of the apostle, they declare themselves (whatever they want to say to the contrary) to be neither prophets nor spiritual.

We also see that what Paul spoke concerning this silence of women in the church was the commandment of the Lord. Therefore it is obligatory for all churches who seek to own any relation to Christ as their Lord and Head. Those who reject this commandment of the Lord renounce (in this area) their relation to the Lord as their Head and Lawgiver. The next verse (v38). “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” also have their own weight. It is as if he had said, if anyone still will not (despite all this) accept this let him do so. No more needs be said to convince him because he is wilfully ignorant and must remain so. Thus, we must say in this particular matter that if people will remain ignorant, we cannot help it. We must follow our rule and declare them unable of being convinced on this and so leave them to it.

1 Timothy 2:11—14

Another explicit passage against women preachers is 1 Timothy 2:11—14. This requires the women to learn in silence with all obedience and not to teach nor to usurp authority over the man. We can see from this that teaching publicly is an act of authority and that inconsistent, with the silence and obedience required from women. The apostle, as a faithful servant of Christ, will not therefore give way to it. He makes this known to Timothy so that he may suppress any such practice where it exists or hinder where people want to establish it. He adds his reasons; saying, for Adam was first formed, then Eve. By this he teaches us that such a practice is contrary to the law of creation, the law written on the Creation, and the way and method of creation which the Lord chose to follow. This made an express declaration of His will to mankind.

The apostle also adds that Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. That is, the woman being immediately and first deceived by Satan was the cause and occasion of Adam’s transgressing. Her submission to the man was further laid on her as a more grievous weight and burden, as a part of her punishment. Those who seek to have women usurping authority and teaching in the church seek to annul the sentence passed on women by the just Lord for Eve’s being the cause of Adam’s sin. Such declare in a way that that sentence was unjust; and that Eve was not the devil’s instrument to cause Adam to sin.

Galatians 3:28

Some say that women can be preachers because male and female are one in Christ. “Seeing” (they say) “God gives His Spirit to one as well as to another, when the Lord moves in women by His Spirit, we do not think it unlawful in any way for them to preach in the meetings of God’s people”.

The following is the answer to this:
(1) There is neither male, nor female just as there is neither Jew nor Greek but all are one in Christ. This is true in reference to the privileges of the Covenant under the present New Testament administration. It is different from what was the case under the Old Testament. This is what Paul is speaking of in Galatians 3:28. But it does not follow from this as a consequence by any clear connection or appearance of reason that women as well as men may therefore preach in the assemblies of the church

(2) That God gives His sanctifying Spirit to women, as well as men, is very true. But that He moves them to preach is not. If the Spirit of God moves in women, He will prompt them to duty i.e. to keep silence in the Church and not teach there or usurp authority. Rather she will learn in obedience, remembering what her sex is called to by the law of God, and that punishment on all women due to Eve’s conduct.

Acts 2:17

Some think the passages we have cited out of Paul’s Epistles do not oppose their practice of women preachers. Yet a more explicit contradiction is not imaginable. They appeal to the fact that women have prophesied in the Church to counter this.
In answer to this, the Lord has indeed made use of women to be prophetesses, He is free to make use of whom He will. His rare and extraordinary acts are no rule to us, however. His Law is our rule, and we must go to the Law and to the Testimony. He is absolute and is not bound by the rules and laws, He prescribes to us,

Some point out that Peter applies Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17 which speaks of women prophesying. But how does Peter apply it? Were there any women preachers among the company converted through Peter? During the particular time in which Peter applies Joel’s prophecy we do not hear of the least appearance of any women preachers and this manifestly declares to the contrary.

1 Corinthians 11:5

Some say that Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 11:5 gave rules how women should conduct themselves, in their public preaching and prayers. The problem with this is that makes the apostle contradict himself in the same epistle. Is it not safer for us to say that whatever rules he gave, they were such as must be consistent with the plain, absolute and enforced prohibition of their preaching, teaching, or speaking in the public meetings of the church? But what were the rules he gave concerning women? He said that every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonours her head. Some assume this refers to how they should conduct themselves when prophesying or praying publicly before others in the assembly. But the apostle is only showing what should be the conduct of both men and women when present in the public assemblies at the time of public worship. He shows how they should conduct themselves while the Word was spoken and explained and public prayers was being made, not by themselves but by others appointed for this.

Philippians 4:3

Some appeal to Philippians 4:3 where Paul speaks of women that laboured with him in the gospel. The question is, in what way did they do this? Some imagine it was by public preaching in the assemblies but what grounds are there for this? What hint is given of this? Is there no labouring in the gospel, except by public preaching? Some point out that Philip had four daughters that prophesied (Acts 21:9). But where do we read that they preached in the public assemblies of the church?

Arguing from Experience

Some argue that God has converted many to Himself by the means of women and frequently comforted the minds of His sons. They say that this manifest experience puts the matter to us beyond all controversy. The following answers may, however, be made.

(1) God may make use of women in a private capacity for this effect and has often blessed their honest endeavours to this end. We most willingly acknowledge this, but the question is not about their efforts and labour in private in their particular place and capacities, but about public preaching in open and public assemblies of the church.

(2) If people mean preaching in the public assemblies when they speak about God using women, it is suspect.  Such experiences, being false and falsely founded, can provide no evidence against the standing and binding laws of Christ in His Church. Otherwise we make experience our Bible from which all arguments are brought to defend all erroneous and irregular practices. It is safest to examine experiences by a standing rule; if they do not agree with this they are at best the result and acts of the power of people’s own vain imaginations. If people will steer their course by such a compass, we think it little wonder if they dash on the rocks and make shipwreck of truth.

Conclusion

Other points could be made but this survey of the key passages covers the main points in a concise way. Many of the arguments are not necessarily new, it is just that they are coming from a new source. There are many other treatments of this issue, some of which go into considerable depth. Yet for some the matter is settled by the clear words of Scripture themselves. If these words do not mean what they say they mean then how does that affect other clear passages? If we believe the Spirit is apparently saying something new to us about these verses then why is it so contradictory to what others have believed (1 Corinthians 14:36)? The debate on this question relates to a wider question of whether we accept the plain language of Scripture and its authority. Are we willing to let Scripture have supreme authority or is our submission to it conditional on culture or experience?

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What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?
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 May, 2020

Has the coronavirus prompted more concern about spiritual things? To some extent, yes. Google searches on prayer for 95 countries during this crisis have increased to the highest level ever recorded. The Danish author of the study, Jeanet Sinding Bentzen said she found that “search intensity for ‘prayer’ doubles for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19.” The Pew Research Center also reported increased prayer in the USA. 44% of Americans have also said that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a “wake-up call for us to turn back to faith in God.” One of the UK’s largest online Christian bookstores, Eden, has seen physical Bible sales rise by 55 per cent in April. It is too early to say how significant this is or how the impact of this will be sustained or if it is a window that is already closing. But it should spur us to prayer ourselves. Perhaps you have heard of other indications of increased interest. Whether or not this is a window of opportunity for the gospel, it is helpful to consider what Christ means by an open door and its relevance to us. In these days of disruption for churches there is tremendous encouragement in it.

Scripture speaks about an open door in a number of places but especially in Revelation 3:7-8. It gives the encouragement that Christ is Head over His Church and opens doors that no one can shut. He has all power and authority in relation to His Church. It uses the language of Isaiah 22:20–22 and the authority given to Eliakim. As James Durham points out in the following updated extract, we can draw great reassurance from this.

It encourages us that Christ Jesus, as Mediator, has special oversight and government of the church He is completely sovereign so that when He shuts no one can open and vice versa. None of His orders can be obstructed, He has an exalted name above every other (Philippians 2:9) and no one can compete with His authority. He is holy and true (v7) and therefore cannot wrong any, nor fail in fulfilling His promises.

Ministers and churches can (like the church in Philadelphia) wrestle with great difficulties, weaknesses and distresses and these reassurances are given to encourage them. It shows them that Christ will support and comfort them in their trials. An open door is God giving opportunity to do good by the gospel (1 Corinthians 16:9; It is not only freedom to preach the gospel, but also God’s blessing on it (2 Corinthians 2:12).

It is as if Christ says the following to the minister of the church in Philadelphia who is said to have only “a little strength” (v8). “It is not for nothing that I have the key of the house of David, and open and no man shuts. I have given you commission to preach My gospel, and given you access to labour in My work of the ministry with some measure of success for doing good to souls.”

By assuring him that no one can shut this door, it is as though Christ is saying the following. “No one will hinder My work in your hands; no enemies or difficulties that you can meet with shall stop you. I have sent the gospel among you and given you ability to preach and the people ability to benefit. As I have sent the gospel among you, I will keep it among you, so long as I think good; no matter who may oppose it.”

1. What is an open door?

By an open door, Scripture usually means the Lord making way for the beneficial preaching of the gospel. This does not mainly consist in having ability and freedom, without any external restraint, to preach the gospel. It especially refers to God giving inward liberty to the preacher His blessing the Word, making it effectual and successful on the hearts of hearers. This is called, a door of utterance in Colossians 4:3, when a minister is not restrained in preaching the gospel, but as it were, the door is thrown open to him. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 it indicates God sending him in a special way and removing difficulties out of the way to make his ministry successful there. In 1 Corinthians 16:9 an effectual door is opened even where there is much opposition.
2. What does an open door imply?
It implies several things

(a) Ministers have their limitations
That there is a limitation in ministers who cannot make the gospel as productive as it ought to be. They cannot make the gospel as effective as it will be when the Lord sends forth the Spirit and enlarges a man to speak it with boldness. In this respect a door of utterance is opened to him, as clear from Colossians 4:3.

(b) Congregations have their limitations
That there is a further hindrance in that the ears and hearts of hearers are so locked up that the Word has no entrance but is repelled. The Lord opens this door, when by the work of His Spirit on hearts (like Lydia, Acts 16:4) He makes the Word to be received and admitted. Thus, Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, urges them to pray that the Word may have free course, that is, that there be no shut doors to hinder its progress. Both liberty for the minister to speak and blessing and success among the people are meant here.

(c) Providence maintains the Word
An open door also includes God’s providence in keeping the Word ministered and ordinances in a place with liberty in preaching and hearing. This may be despite many malicious opponents. No one can shut it.

3. Why does Christ open the door at certain times?

Christ is supreme and sovereign in giving gifts to men as well as liberty and inward freedom to make best use of them He also gives a blessing on them in making them successful. Gifts will not make a man able to preach unless the Lord gives a door of utterance. Even the great apostle Paul needs this (Colossians 4:3). Merely having utterance will not produce fruit among the people if the Lord does not open an effectual door and give the Word free course among them. Where there is most of the gift of utterance, there may be less success than where there are fewer gifts. This is because He whose privilege it is to set doors open, opens the door of utterance more fully to one, and the effectual door to the other, and does not open both equally to all.

4. What happens when Christ opens a door?

When Christ opens the door in this way, success cannot but follow necessarily and inevitably. No person or devil can shut out or impede it when He pleases to bless His ministers and commend the Word to the hearts of hearers. The meaning particular for the angel or minister here is. “I have called you to this ministry, and have given you some measure of utterance, though you do not have much ability. I have especially ordered matters so as the Word from you will have free course and success. No matter who rages against it, this will not be obstructed.”

This shows us that gifts and success in the ministry are different things. There is a little strength here (in relation to gifts) yet an open door (in respect of success). We find throughout Paul’s Epistles that a distinction is made between his liberty to preach on the one hand, and God’s opening an effectual door to him on the other.
Christ makes the Word successful, He gives both the gifts and the success. Not everyone experiences the same blessing. An open door is set before some more than before others or not at all before others. This is clear from comparing this and other epistles together.

5. How do we recognise an open door?

An open door cannot be discerned from a man’s gift alone. A door may be shut where there are great gifts. Paul did not always have this door open to him, at least it was more in one place than another. We cannot conclude there is an open door from a man’s freedom from external afflictions in a place, or the great following he may have. There may sometimes be many adversaries where this effectual door is opened (1 Corinthians 16:9) which is not the case where there is great peace and praise. Here are some ways in which it can be discerned.

(a) When a minister gets the door of utterance opened and the ears of the people are opened to it which is not a flesh pleasing desire to have ears tickled but with someone’s gifts but a simple, diligent love to be edified and receive good.
(b) Where there is real change and much solid work; the people are made humble, serious, spiritual sensitive, fruitful, etc. rather than merely opinionated
(c) When the devil attacks and opposes the ministry of one more than of many others.
(d) When the devil and ungodliness are defeated in a place by the preaching of the Word.
(e) Where there are new converts.

6. How should we make best use of an open door?

(a) Diligently, as a man that is to reap corn that is already ripe.
(b) Humbly, with self-denial, lest his pride robs the Master of His glory with dire consequences for himself.
(c) Watchfully. He should make use of it with fear, lest he or any other bring about a miscarriage in this birth because of unskillfulness. He should also proceed with watchfulness, lest the devil sow tares while he is sleeping, and it prove to be false without reality in many hearers. This is Paul’s concern; he was conscious of his own and their weaknesses (1 Corinthians 2:3).
(d) Zealously, so that the authority of Christ may appear in His ordinances both to adversaries and friends.
(e) Solidly, by making the foundation sure and giving solid food to souls such as the substantial gospel truths and the plain duties of holiness. It is dangerous to bring such a people too soon to the new wine of the most sublime things in doctrine, or the highest practices of mature Christians. It is better that they are fed on milk and what is healthy and nourishing than to please their appetites by diverting them with useless questions.
(f) Dependently, God is the Master and He has appointed a great Steward over the house, who has the keys laid upon His shoulder. The minister has no inherent right to such blessing but is subject to the Master’s good pleasure. Christ must be acknowledged in every step of the
work as it is has been done, or is being done.
(g) Single mindedly, this is the great aim of all preaching in public and private i.e. the edification and salvation of the people, and forming Christ in them by travailing, as it were, in birth for that purpose.

Conclusion

Here is some helpful biblical insight in discerning true opportunities and blessing provided by Christ. We can identify when Christ is at work by His Spirit in a more extraordinary way. If we feel discouraged about the prospects of the gospel and preaching being blessed, we can see that Christ can work in the most unlikely of circumstances. He can make use of anyone who is serious and faithful in serving Him and who does not seek to take the glory to themselves.

This is an encouragement to those ministers who feel that their gifts are nothing special compared to others. They may actually witness greater blessing than others. It is also an encouragement to congregations to be faithful to their minister whether or not they think that he has the gifts of a more prominent preacher. They should greatly value the preaching they hear if it is faithful to Christ and His Word. If Christ chooses to bless it, the more humble ministry may possibly be more fruitful. be more blessed. Christ shows both ministers and people that as mere men they are insufficient for any such thing, they must look to Him. It is not gifts that commend a minister to Christ, but faithfulness in making best use of what he has received (Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

It should encourage us to pray for the success of the gospel and the ministry of the Word. May the Lord open many such doors in our generation.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This updated extract has been taken from the first volume of James Durham's exposition of the book of Revelation covering the first three chapters. It has now been republished. It also includes many valuable essays offering unique insights. The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript and an appendix contains texts and full lectures that are significantly different than the published edition of 1658.

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How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Listen with Preparation

This involves:

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

 

2. Listen in Person

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

 

3. Listen with Expectation

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

 

4. Listen to God

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

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

 

5. Listen with Your Whole Heart

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

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

 

6. Listen with Submission

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

 

7. Listen with Dependence

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

 

8. Listen in the Right Way

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

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

 

9. Listen with Reverence

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

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

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

 

10. Listen without Distractions

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

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

 

11. Listen Prayerfully

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

 

12. Listen and Do

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

 

13. Listen for Eternity

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

 

Conclusion

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

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The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
2 Mar, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Is Christ the Subject of the Sermon?

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

 

2. Is Christ the Foundation of the Sermon?

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

 

3. Is Christ the Aim of the Sermon?

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

 

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

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

 

Application to Ministers

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

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

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

 

Application to Congregations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

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

Penetrating Preaching

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

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

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Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure
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.
13 Jul, 2017

​Why do some ministers fail completely? Certain high-profile pastors (most notably in the United States) have fallen in recent years, badly and publicly. Some observe the numbers of pastors haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons are burnout and moral failure. The two are not unconnected. Sometimes moral failure follows on from burnout but they arise from the same causes. Burnout often occurs due to chasing outward success and the approval of others. Success means focusing on what is visible and attracts attention, even if it means neglecting the inward life and cultivating personal godliness towards others. Moral failure begins with the neglect of the inward life. The origins of such failure are hidden and it may take time before they become more visible. How can you prevent what you cannot see?

The issues involved are spiritual, spiritual sins such as pride and inward decline. Spiritual pride goes before a fall. Perhaps ministers begin to believe that they are “perfect” simply because there is an expectation that they must be. Perhaps they become detached from their message and start to think that they are “above the rules”. Certainly, it must stem from failure to keep short accounts with God and confess particular sins regularly and particularly. The apostle Paul had strict self-discipline in his watch against sin – lest having preached to others he himself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Yet there is another kind of ministerial failure: going about the spiritual duties of the ministry in an unspiritual way. This has a serious impact not only on the pastor himself but also on those to whom he ministers. There is a lesson for us all in terms of the expectations that we place on ministers in terms of outward things. As long as things seem to go well outwardly there may be less concern about spiritual prosperity. Perhaps we do not wisely consider how to encourage the preacher without feeding his pride. Sometimes church members are also less comfortable (if they are honest) with high spiritual standards and make this clear in various ways. It can help create a climate in which the causes of such failure flourish.

This is a gospel issue, since it affects the conviction with which the gospel is declared and also its credibility if the messenger fails to live up to the message. The souls of many are at stake. The conduct of a negligent minister has eternal consequences (1 Timothy 4:16).

It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. (Robert Murray M‘Cheyne)

How does this relate to those who are not ministers themselves? The most important means at your disposal for combatting the spiritual causes of ministry failure is prayer. It is an essential but often forgotten duty. As opposed to negative criticism (justified or not) it is extremely positive and constructive. The apostle Paul appeals for the prayers of God’s people on many occasions (Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22). In some cases he makes the brief but earnest appeal: “pray for us”. In Romans 15 he asks them to strive together with him in prayer. The word means an agonising struggle such as combat or wrestling. He asked for prayer in the context of opposition and persecution. Ministers may not face the same kind of persecution but they are the focus of much opposition in an age of apostasy.

“Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be such a minister as their prayers make him. … How perilous is the condition of that minister … whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people!…It is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. … When the churches cease to pray for ministers, ministers will no longer be a blessing to the churches.” (Gardiner Spring)

How ought we to pray for ministers? James Fergusson gives a number of illuminating comments on some of Paul’s requests for prayers.

 

1. Pray for Your Minister

Whatever abilities and graces a minister may have, he should seek the help of God’s people committed to his charge for further enabling him to go about the duties of his calling. He is to seek the help of their prayers especially (Colossians 4:3). Everyone no matter their gifts can engage in this. Paul assumes this and therefore calls on all (not excluding the least) to help him by their prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:25). He craved the help of their prayers as one who prayed for them (1 Thessalonians 2:16).

The most able ministers who have most grace are usually most conscious of the weighty burden of the ministry. They are conscious of the need for their own efforts, study and secret wrestling with God in prayer in secret. Yet in order to be best fitted for its duties, they see the necessity of not only this but also of the assistance and prayers of others. Paul, an able minister with eminent graces considers it necessary to seek the help of others for himself, emphasising “And for me” (Ephesians 6:19). Those Christians who are most eminent in gifts and graces are usually most conscious of their own failings. They also highly prize the worth of other Christians rather than undervaluing them as compared with themselves. They are ready to condescend to receive some spiritual benefit and advantage from them. Though Paul exceeded all in spiritual things yet he seeks the help of their prayers with the greatest affection.

 

2. Pray for Preservation

In Philippians 1:19, Paul attributes his preservation despite much adversity to the Spirit of Christ as obtained by their prayers for him. By salvation we understand, not only his eternal wellbeing but his constancy in avowing truth and the preservation of his temporal life for the time being. Prayer conscientiously engaged in is an excellent means for drawing from God through Christ the best mercies, not only for ourselves but also others for whom we pray. Thus, through the prayer of these Philippians, Paul would receive supply from Christ.

 

3. Pray for Liberty in Preaching

Piety and knowledge are not the only things required in a minister, they must also have a gift of utterance (Ephesians 6:19). In other words, a singular dexterity to express his thoughts to others in an appropriate, clear and persuasive way. Without this, his other abilities can avail little to inform the understanding or work on the emotions of his hearers. This is why Paul chiefly desires that utterance may be given to him.

Whatever gift a minister has of this nature (whether naturally or otherwise) he is not to rely on his gift and skill when he comes to exercise it in preaching so much as to depend on God. He must depend on Him for direct influence and assistance to strengthen his memory, uphold and order his speech and give him the present actual exercise of his gift. Without this he will either fail in his use of it or give the glory to his own abilities if he does not depend on God. This will provoke the Lord to blast his efforts and make them useless. Although Paul already had a gift of utterance, having now preached so long and so well, he wants them not only to pray for it to be continued but also that God would provide its actual exercise whenever he made use of it.

 

4. Pray for Boldness in Preaching

Paul asks for prayer in relation to this in Ephesians 6:19. A competent gift of utterance is not the only thing required in a minister.  He must also have faithful boldness in delivering his message without servile fear or partiality. Otherwise he may tickle the ear but cannot rouse up dead and sleeping consciences. Paul asks them to pray not only that he may have utterance but that he may be assisted to open his mouth boldly.

People are usually greatly incensed when their ministers deal with them frankly and can hardly endure being spoken to with holy boldness (Isaiah 30:10). Even the best ministers are greatly influenced by an unmortified fear of man and a sinful reticence to trust the Lord with the personal consequences of faithful boldness (Matthew 10: 26, 28; Exodus 4:10,13). Special assistance and influence from God is necessary therefore to make a minister open his mouth boldly. This means not concealing any necessary truth, not forbearing reproof of any known sin, not fearing anyone or considering danger and loss he may meet with for so doing. Paul asks them to seek this from God on his behalf “that he may open his mouth boldly”.

 

5. Pray for Christ-centred Preaching

Ministers must seriously consider the excellency, worth and mysteriousness of the subject they must preach and make known. This would entirely convince them of their own insufficiency for such a task and their need of assistance from God and the help of their people’s prayers for obtaining His assistance. Considering the mystery of the gospel that he was to make known is what moved Paul to distrust his own strength and seek the help of their prayers.

Such assistance from God is not for their own sake, to be praised or approved by men but that the Lord’s people may be edified and Christ exalted. This is done by laying open the rich and excellent things concerning Him in the Gospel. This is why Paul desires the gift of utterance and boldness “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

 

6. Pray that the Gospel would Prevail

It is the duty of the Lord’s people and servants not only to welcome and maintain the gospel where it is already but also to have enlarged desires together with utmost endeavours for the gospel to spread to those places where it is not. Thus, Paul wants them to pray that the word of the Lord may have free course.

The devil and sinful men cast so many great obstructions in the way of the gospel’s progress (Acts 10:23) that no human endeavours or anything but the omnipotent power of God can fully remove them. It is necessary to pray to God “that the word of the Lord may have free course” (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

7. Pray for Clear Preaching

One of the great tasks for a minister is to preach in way that makes what he preaches plain to the people. In terms of method (2 Timothy 2:15) style, (1 Corinthians 2:4) and close application (2 Timothy 4:2.), his purpose is (so far as is possible) to reach the capacity of the lowest. He thus says, “that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

8. Pray for Faithful Preaching

There are many other things (besides a holy boldness and plainness) to which a minister should give attention in preaching. He must preach in a way that is appropriate to the conditions of all, (Isaiah 50:4) so that he speaks with affection and pity, even to the most stubborn (Jeremiah 4:19). He must preach patiently not becoming weary because of lack of success (2 Timothy 2:25). He must preach zealously, with indignation against sin (Isaiah 58:1). He must also preach frequently (2 Timothy 4:2) and with self-denial (2 Corinthians 4:5). These and many other necessary things are all summed up by Paul in this comprehensive expression “As I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

9. Pray for Fruitful Preaching

It is the duty of ministers and people to do all they can in seeking that the gospel may run through the tongues and ears of many and outward subjection rendered to it. It is also their duty to strive to have it received in hearts and testified by the holy life of those who do receive it. They must not rest satisfied with the outward spread of the gospel without some promising evidences of its spiritual fruitfulness. Paul urges them not only to pray that “the gospel may have free course”, but also “that it may be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Grace is not envious (1 Corinthians 13:4). The fact that God’s Word has prevailed mightily with ourselves and captivated us into obedience to it should incite us to plead with God that others may be similarly won. It also gives grounds for hope that such labour will not be in vain in the Lord. When Paul incites them to pray for others with confidence, he reminds them how the gospel had prevailed with themselves, “even as it is with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

10. Pray for Every Aspect of Your Minister

This is so comprehensive as to be daunting but it comes back to the causes of ministry failure. We have produced a booklet which covers every aspect of a minister’s life and duties. This would enable you to pray for your minister in relation to all of the potential pitfalls for failings that he faces. Many of the personal matters are those that are helpful for your own self-examination. Once you have read it and used it in this way yourself you could pass it on to your minister as an expression of prayerful support.

It is called Sins of the Ministry and is an updated version of an older publication called A Humble Acknowledgement of the Sins of the Ministry.  Horatius Bonar refers to it in his classic book Words to Winners of Souls (1859). In fact, Bonar devotes a whole chapter to the subject of confession and uses the document as the foundation for his remarks. Baxter likewise devotes a whole chapter of his valuable book The Reformed Pastor to confessing the sins of the ministry. Bonar says that A Humble Acknowledgement is “perhaps one of the fullest, most faithful and most impartial confessions of ministerial sin ever made”. Any impartial reader of this booklet will surely agree. Bonar goes on to apply these piercing convictions to himself and ministers in his own day. The questions in our booklet aim to do likewise in order to make contemporary application.

The booklet is thoroughly searching but extremely necessary. Pastors often feel isolated and under intense pressure and attack. This booklet does not seek to add to such burdens. Yet failings are not resolved by hiding them. Perhaps neglecting to face these issues is the greatest hidden burden a minister carries. There is help and encouragement here for ministers to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness.

It is 52 pages in length and can be purchased at our online store for £2 (not including p+p).

Sins of the Ministry

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When pastors fall, it’s a gospel issue. Lack of personal holiness in ministers creates contempt for their message.

Reading this booklet will give ministers encouragement to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness. Here is a guide for personal reflection which can also help pastors to discuss their common failings usefully and openly together.

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Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

Waiting and Longing to Hear God’s Word

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

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

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

 

1. Longing Expressed

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. Longing Fulfilled

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

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

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

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

 

3. The Close of a Fruitful Ministry

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

Scotland’s Greatest Revival

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

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Reasons to Trust Christ

Reasons to Trust Christ

Reasons to Trust Christ
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
2 Sep, 2016

We don’t just need the gospel once in our lives: we need it every day. Fellowship with God, assurance and holiness all derive from salvation in Christ. The glorious gospel of the blessed God gives meaning even to the practical realities and duties of life. In the face of constant spiritual onslaught against our souls, we need daily strength and refreshment from this fountain of life.

Everything we need for salvation depends on Christ. Reminding ourselves daily of the reasons for trusting Christ helps maintain our grip on this reality. In the following updated extract, George Gillespie outlines the “true and safe grounds of encouragement to believe in Christ”.  These simple truths ought to be stored in the memory for ready and fresh access. They are of particular help for those that struggle with assurance of faith.

1. Christ is an Entirely Sufficient Saviour

Christ is all-sufficient. If He will He can. He is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Are you a sinner to the uttermost? His plaster is broad enough to cover the broadest sore. Christ’s merit is as infinite as God’s mercy because the blood He shed is the blood of God as well as of man (Acts 20:28).

This is a good, strong foundation of comfort for a soul, convinced of its own sinful condition and the emptiness of comfort in any creature. It must fix its thoughts on Christ to the extent that He is the only Saviour and therefore an all-sufficient Saviour. The sinner is so far encouraged (it is no small encouragement) as to resolve: “There is power enough in the blood of Christ to cleanse my crimson sins, even mine. There is no help for me out of Christ, but in Him there is help for all that come unto God by him”.

 

The great quality of true faith is believing that Christ is able and all-sufficient. Therefore He Himself said to the blind men: “Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:28- 29). The man in Matthew 8:2-3 was not rejected as an unbeliever but got a good answer from Christ. Every poor sinner that comes to Christ as sufficient, and believes that Christ, and Christ only, can cleanse him from all sin and save his soul, has a true, though imperfect faith and is in a fair way for salvation.

There is many a true believer whose faith cannot as yet rise so high as to stay and rest upon the good-will and love of Jesus Christ to him in particular. Yet the soul believes the all-sufficiency of Christ, and that He only is the Saviour. Thus he comes and draws near to God, by and in Christ as the greatest good that he values above all things. Although his faith has not yet attained to rest on the love of Christ to him in particular; it is true faith and Christ will not despise it.

2. Christ Died for All Kinds of Sinners

Christ died for all kinds of sinners in the world. Every poor sinner may therefore think to himself: “Thus, Christ died for my kind of sinner”. Here is a universal encouragement to all from a true and real ground. It is drawn from the will and intention, as well as from the power and all-sufficiency of Christ. Scripture teaches that He has died for all sorts of persons; there is no condition excluded. 1 Timothy 2:6 says: “Who gave himself a ransom for all” and verse 4, “who will have all men to be saved.” The meaning must be all kinds, not all persons. The Apostle’s all can be no more than Christ’s many: “The Son of man came…to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). If we look at the context of 1 Timothy 2:6 we find abundant light on its meaning. Verse 1 gives an exhortation to pray “for all men”.  The very next words explain this: “for kings and for all in authority.” He does not say for “all kings” but he will not have us exclude kings or queens, as such, from our prayers, or any other subordinate rulers. When he says “all that are in authority,” he means any kind of lawful authority. 

 

3. Christ Died for All Kinds of Sins

Jesus Christ has died not only for all kinds of sinners but to expiate all kinds of sins.  He has assured us plainly that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men” (Matthew 12:13). There is only one exception: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:13). Since this is the only exception, it makes the general promise even more sure. It is not some kinds of sins only but all kinds of sin and blasphemies. These not only can, but will be “forgiven unto men”.

The promise of mercy and free grace comes home not only to your nation and to individuals of your outward condition, state and class, indeed to your family. But it also comes to your condition in respect of sin, it comes fully home to sinners of your kind or condition; it offers Christ even to such a sinner as you are.

 

4. Christ Receives All Who Come to Him

Christ receives all who come unto Him and excludes none except those that exclude themselves by their unbelief (John 6:37).

 

5. We are Commanded to Believe

The command to believe is an encouragement to believe. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23). Notice that the same authority that commands us to love one another also requires that we believe on Christ.

 

6. God is the Giver of Faith

Someone might say: “I cannot believe, I have no strength or grace to believe”. I answer: “God describes Himself as the giver of faith (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29)”.  “He also describes His Son as “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

If someone objects: “I know that this is so. But God only works faith in the elect, and I do not know whether or not I am elect”. I answer, “you are discharged (in this case) from running back to election (which is God’s secret). You are required to obey the revealed command: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but these things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Since you are commanded to believe in God and hear that He is the Author and Finisher of faith, say with the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5) and cry “help…mine unbelief” (Mark 9:94). Ask Him who has promised to give the spirit of grace and supplications so that you may look on Him whom you have pierced (Zechariah 12:10). Pray for Him to lighten your eyes, lest you sleep unto death (Psalm 13:3) . This looking on Christ (promised in Zechariah) is nothing else than believing on Him (see John 3:14-15).

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How Do You Know Whether Preaching Edifies?

How Do You Know Whether Preaching Edifies?

How Do You Know Whether Preaching Edifies?
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.
12 Aug, 2016

Many make the mistake of thinking that the best preaching is that which is most eloquent or proficient. “Sermon tasters” may go further and discern what they think makes an exceptional sermon. We need preaching that has a lasting impact on our lives, however. Such preaching will be spiritually edifying. It must be solid and full of substance but also practical. To edify means to build up in faith, godliness and spiritual maturity. But how do we know whether a sermon does this?

James Durham believed that edification was the key to truly biblical preaching. In fact, he spoke of it as key to the ministry and everything that happens within the Church. A sermon on Ephesians 4:11-12 (only recently discovered in a manuscript) emphasises these points. We must seek to “excel to the edifying of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). Durham says that we need to aim mainly at edifying the body of Christ.

In every sermon, in every exercise of discipline, in every meeting together, in every word we speak in our meeting, in all the steps of our conduct, look to edify.

Durham shows how Paul identifies a fault among the Corinthians in the verse quoted above. They were taken up with gifts such as who could preach and pray best. Paul’s exhortation is that they must concentrate all of their gifts on the purpose of edification. They should “have them visibly for the good of God’s people”. This is true for all Christians but especially for ministers.

Preaching involves a giftedness to “express and bring forth, for the edification of others” what ministers have obtained from God’s Word through the help of the Spirit. Durham gives various rules that help to discern whether the content of a sermon is edifying. What follows is something of a paraphrase of these points in updated language.

 

1. Preaching Edifies When it Exalts Christ Most

Preaching edifies when it comes near to Jesus Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God (2 Corinthians 1:24). Edifying preaching commends Christ to the heart of the hearer. It brings them to be in love with Him and the main things of the gospel which are the foundation of religion and godliness. Other truths that do not come near the foundation are a little beside the text, or at least the main consideration of a minister’s work. When tested these may well be found to be hay and stubble that will not survive the fire (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). [Durham is referring to the minister’s work of preaching being burned up because it mainly emphasised less foundational truths and therefore was less edifying].

 

2. Preaching Edifies When it Promotes Holiness Most

Paul instructs Titus to “affirm constantly that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works, these things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8). Paul says that this is the opposite of contentious strivings about the law which were unprofitable and vain. But the doctrine of holiness serves to mortify sin and advance us in being conformed to Christ.

 

3. Preaching Edifies When it Penetrates the Heart and Conscience Most

Edifying teaching comes furthest into the heart and conscience of the hearer in a searching, convicting or comforting way. The apostle Paul refers to the doctrine commended to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2). This teaching does not only put the Word on the table as bread, it also divides a portion to everyone’s mouth. Such a preacher is approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Generalised teaching will prove  insipid if it does not come in upon the conscience in a convicting way.

 

4. Preaching Edifies When it is Most Clear

The clearest teaching which people have fewest prejudices against is the most edifying. This is the teaching which is most powerful and plain. The hearer has the door of their understanding open to this and their conscience convinces that such a sin is sin and such a thing is duty.  There is no prejudice against that which is urged. The truth is not disputed and there is nothing but their affections to work upon. This is the readiest way to promote edification.

It is on this basis that the apostle wills rather to follow the doctrine that is acknowledged by all. He urges that on hearers and leaves other things that breed janglings and striving about words, which is opposed to edifying. It is God’s goodness to Scotland that “the mystery of godliness” is without all controversy (1 Timothy 3:16). The mystery of salvation and saving doctrine is kept among us without being controverted. The apostle Paul’s practice confirms all this. In dealing with Jews and others he lays down the principles they themselves did not controvert as the most suitable purpose for them.

 

5. Preaching Edifies in Dependence on Christ

Ministers should pursue all means and ways which may promote the edification of the body. These are a few general principles to help ensure these are more diligently and sincerely followed.

(a) Depend Much on Christ

We must depend much on our Lord Jesus Christ to help us forward. We must going about our work in the strength of He who has commissioned us not in our own. It must not be by the power of human gifts but “By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness, on the right hand and on the left” (2 Corinthians 6:7). It must be in the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:4), trusting more in this and the presence and Spirit of Christ going along with it than in what we have received. “If they had stood in my counsel and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned souls from their evil way and the evil of their doings” (Jeremiah 23:22). The reason why these prophets did no good is that they stood at a distance with God, and stole the word one from another. They were content to get the word of a prophet to fill up their preaching, but were ignorant of God.

Perhaps it is appropriate to mention a faithful man of God speaking of the ministers of his time. He said they were like servants who serving a good master had got a good stock of their own, but they were so taken up in trading with it, that they ignored their master. When ministers cease having regard to Christ and dependence on Him in exercising their gifts and graces and advancing His work committed to their hands, they cannot prosper in edifying His people.

(b) Depend on the Power of God

Ministers must “seek to excel to the edifying of the Church” (1 Corinthians 14:12) and “stir up the gift that is in them” (2 Timothy 1:6). They must give themselves “to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13) and give themselves wholly to meditation and prayer (as the words that follow instruct) that their “profiting may appear to all”. But neglecting these things reveals our nakedness. Therefore, when Paul bids them to seek to excel to the edifying of the church, he adds, “Let him that speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret” (1 Corinthians 14:13). There should be wrestling with God not only for gifts and content to bring forth, but that we may also profit and do good by it. We must be more earnest with God, that people may get some benefit by what is spoken, than for getting something to get us through.

(c) Be the Ministers of Christ

Ministers must be ministerial in all their conduct as the ministers of righteousness, bearing something of their Master’s authority and yet kind, sober, sympathising with all kinds under their charge. “Giving offense in nothing that the ministers be not blamed, but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God” (2 Corinthians 6:3–4). When this is compared with 2 Corinthians 6:1 (passing over the parenthesis in verse 2), Paul makes his working with God an argument not to receive the grace of God in vain. In a word, it is not only to have conduct which none can speak against, but to speak, preach, pray, confer, converse with others, and in all things to carry ourselves as the ministers of Christ, and not as other men. This is greatly lacking amongst us. It may be prudence, some lost pride, self-seeking, or some carnal purpose with a mixture of carnal affections, makes us speak or forbear speaking or acting in some business. Yet to speak and act as to be ashamed for the work’s sake (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13) and as the ministers of Christ, is another thing.

Most of these themes are drawn out further in the booklet Penetrating Preaching by James Durham published by the Trust. This can be purchased from our online store or other retailers.

The text above has been adapted from a sermon transcribed by Naphtali Press. Durham preached this sermon on Ephesians 4:11-12 before the Synod of Glasgow, 5 October 1652. The manuscript was only recently discovered in a library in the USA. The edited version will appear in the Naphtali Press Collected Sermons of James Durham (later in 2016 DV). The full transcription can be read in the Confessional Presbyterian Journal Volume 12 (2016). We are very grateful to Naphtali Press for kindly supplying the edited text. They have fulfilled an invaluable role in recent decades in reprinting editions of James Durham’s writings and others from the Second Reformation.

 

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How to Walk into Church

How to Walk into Church

How to Walk into Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
18 Mar, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

12 Ways Not to Walk into Church

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

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

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How to Walk Out of Church

How to Walk Out of Church

How to Walk Out of Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
11 Mar, 2016

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

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

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

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

 

1. Remember the Word with Meditation and Prayer

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

 

2. Profitable Discussion after Church

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

 

3. Submit to the Word

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

 

4. Put it into Practice

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

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Our Nation’s Imminent Famine

Our Nation’s Imminent Famine

Our Nation’s Imminent Famine
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
4 Mar, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. A Famine of the Word is a Just Punishment

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

 

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

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

 

3. A Famine of the Word is Recognised Too Late

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

 

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

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

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Catch the Flame – the Faith of the Gospel on Fire

Catch the Flame – the Faith of the Gospel on Fire

Catch the Flame – the Faith of the Gospel on Fire
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.
25 Sep, 2015

Revival is the weak flame of the Church being reignited by the power of the Holy Spirit. Reformation is Christ’s refining fire to purify and transform His Church. The Second Reformation in Scotland was both a revival and reformation.

It was not simply that the faith of the gospel was maintained and proclaimed. It was on fire across the nation and in the hearts and lives of believers. It was a burning fire within the hearts of preachers so that they could not do anything but declare it with power.

This is the description that John Macleod gives in his classic Scottish Theology.

It was the faith of the gospel on fire that wrought so mightily in those days of the seventeenth century.

Scottish Theology in relation to Church History is full of momentum and interest. It interweaves biography, history and doctrine in an engaging way. This is not a cold and technical book but full of human interest.  A fresh reprint by the Banner of Truth Trust is now available.

Macleod shows how the Second Reformation took the flame of the faith of the gospel from “the godly evangelical fathers” of the Reformation. Their “plain undiluted teaching of sovereign grace” was applied earnestly both in preaching and catechising.

“This was to be found in a rich and full exhibition of the doctrine of grace alike as it builds on the humbling revelation of man’s sin, and of God’s wrath called forth thereby, and, on the other hand, as it sets forth a salvation that is all of God and all of grace in its inception, in its provision, and in its effectual bestowal.

 

This doctrine of salvation they drew from the Scriptures which they took at their own valuation and so looked upon as the very word of God. The truth of this divine message they laid to heart as it told them their own doom and that of their fellows. The truth too, of its message they believed when it spoke to them of Jesus our Lord as the Saviour of sinners. They received it as truth when it told of what he has done and won and of how he lives to bestow the life that he died to secure.

 

They would not be content unless they had him as their own. And as they felt their fellows to be sinners like themselves, under the same curse and needing the same blessing, they yearned over their souls, set forth to them the truth of law and gospel and with all earnestness besought them to flee from the wrath to come and betake themselves to Christ the Lord.

 

As they wrestled in prayer with God for power to attend and crown his word they wrestled with their fellows to win them for him.

They bore witness to the truth. They warned of danger. They entreated. They exhorted. They reasoned. They taught. They called. They invited.

 

Nor was their ministry left without the seals that attest the power of the gospel. For as they were anointed richly with the spirit of their office they preached the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to crown it with success in his new-creating power.

 

A message sent forth with such power carried with it its own credentials. The faith that it called into being saw with opened eyes the evidence of the truth that it welcomed. Thus convinced sinners had, like those who heard the apostles, a witness in themselves which left them satisfied that what they welcomed was no cunningly devised fable, but the very truth of God.

 

A community which got the good of such a message was rooted in the doctrine of the gospel and tended to become one that was very theologically minded. And this was none the less the case as the outcome of the catechetic method of instruction that was current in the Reformed churches and in the use of which the Reformed church in Scotland did not lag behind her sisters”. (pp.103-105).

Read the article “Scotland’s Greatest Revival” to learn more about how the Second Reformation was the period of greatest revival throughout the whole nation that Scotland has ever experienced.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Scotland has made a unique contribution in the field of theology, and the influence of its theologians has been and continues to be felt across the world. Indeed it was an American audience for whom John Macleod prepared this narrative of Scottish Theology, which was originally delivered as lectures to students at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Scottish Theology in relation to Church History is published by Banner of Truth

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