How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?

How Should True Thankfulness Impact Us?

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

We have (properly) expressed our deep gratitude for the courage and sacrifice of D-Day. It was one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known.  There has been little recognition in recent days of the debt we owe to God. President Trump repeated part of President Roosevelt’s prayer from the time of D-Day. Not indeed though, the close of that prayer which was “thy will be done”. Many prayers were offered 75 years ago for this deliverance and in God’s great kindness they were answered. Yet we have to ask ourselves how our nations have made use of this deliverance. Did we use the freedom to honour or dishonour God? Have we been thankful to God? What is true thankfulness?

We ought also to reflect on the many other reasons we have personally and corporately for being thankful to God. How has it left an abiding impact on our lives and hearts? Thomas Case speaks movingly in describing what he calls the “pure, holy, spiritual, active grace and duty of thankfulness”. True thankfulness to God does not “put him off with a few empty, formal compliments instead of the real, spiritual, and vital duty which he expects and deserves” from us. True spiritual thankfulness is a grace which comes down from heaven and ascends back to heaven.

 

1. True Thankfulness Exalts God

We exalt God (Psalm 30:1) and calls on others to help (Psalm 34:3). True spiritual thankfulness wants God to be more exalted and man less.

 

2. True Thankfulness is Prayerful

Truth thankfulness rises towards heaven and God in holy prayer (Psalm 116:13 and 17). We do not give up praying when God has put an end to our troubles (Job 27:10).  With the truly thankful prayer leads deliverance and deliverance leads to prayer. It is love not mere necessity that makes him pray. Love to prayer and love to the God of prayer.

 

3. True Thankfulness Shows Love to God

Love draws the heart out in great love to God (Psalm 18:1). This was David’s song in the day that the Lord had delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. The saints express this love in these three ways:

(a) Seeking to know God more  (Exodus 33:18). Moses had seen much of the wonders of God. Now his love is fired with desire to see and know the God of these wonders.

(b) Seeking to enjoy God more (Psalm 86:10-11). The Psalmist seeks to know the way to God to enjoy more communion with God. A thankful heart will only be content with God Himself, not merely the things of God.

(c) Seeking to glory in God more (Psalm 48:3-7, 12-13). The Church concludes that Psalm of rejoicing for victory with this as the greatest triumph “This God is our God for ever and ever (Psalm 48:14). The God that has done all these wonders is my God. She does not glory so much in the victories God had given her, as in belonging to the God of those victories.

 

4. Truth Thankfulness Requires Self-denial

Self-denial for God’s sake (Ezra 9:13-14). There is more thankfulness in one act of self-denial than in twenty days of thanksgiving.

 

5. True Thankfulness Fulfils our Vows

“What shall I render?” David says (Psalm 116:12). “I will pay my vows” (Psalm 116:14 and 18). This is as right a response as any for all the mercies of God to His people, whether national or personal, whether victories or supplies. All of these are God making good His covenant to them. We must pay our vows to God (Psalm 56:12).

 

6. True Thankfulness Trusts God

If God delivers a thankful heart it will trust Him another time (Exodus 14:31). A people or person cannot honour God more than by trusting Him. Abraham was strong in faith giving glory to God (Romans 4:20).

 

7. True Thankfulness is Life Changing

Thankfulness makes us order our life to God’s glory (Psalm 50:23). The main work of thanksgiving is the ordering of our lives (literally in Hebrew, disposing our way aright). Thankful lips do well, but thankful lives do better. A day of thanksgiving is something, but a life of thanksgiving is everything.

 

8. True Thankfulness Desires Others to Praise God

A thankful heart is filled with enlarged desires that others, that all would be thankful. The holy psalmist cries out to all that receive mercies, that they would respond with praise to God (Psalm 107:31). He observes how much people receive from God and how little they give back to God. He is troubled by this. He cries out like someone in pain and grief. He is not willing that God should lose anything by any of the wonders He does. Surely this a high expression of thankfulness, when the heart labours with holy desires for the whole world to give glory to God (see the whole of Psalm 148). A gracious heart does not think it enough to praise God alone; even though it would praise God supposing were there none in heaven or earth to keep it company.

 

9. True Thankfulness Speaks of God’s Works

A thankful heart delights to speak of the wonderful works of God (Psalm 145:5, 10-12).  The Church praises God’s great goodness, mercies and the multitude of His lovingkindnesses (Isaiah 63:7). The saints not only stir up one another to speak of His praises but seek to preserve the memory of His wonderful works to all generations (Psalm 145:4-7; Psalm 78:2-5).

 

10. True Thankfulness Longs for Heaven

Since gracious spirits adorned with thankfulness can only live a short while to praise God on earth, and since their generations will not continue forever to do this work–they long for heaven. There in the presence of God their praises will be perfected. Here they are feeble, weary, full of natural and sinful weakness There they will be vigourous, active, pure and perfect without change or end to all eternity (Revelation 8:4).  Thankfulness is a pure flame of a restless motion, always mounting upward until it comes to heaven. There it will sing everlasting hallelujahs to Him that sits on the throne and to the Lamb. There it will observe a day of thanksgiving that will never have an evening.

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Should We Be Afraid?

Should We Be Afraid?

Should We Be Afraid?
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
14 Mar, 2019

Fears are all around us, especially during a time of upheaval. Fear of the future, events and the unknown. The politics of fear on left and right are often heard in relation to society or the economy. The threats feel real and we are made to believe that the world will be more dangerous unless we listen to the rhetoric of influencers. How should we respond to the climate of fear?

Fear may be a natural response in some things. There would not be so many “fear nots” in Scripture if that was not the case. We are not immune to fear but we have no reason to be overcome by it since the peace of God is able to guard our hearts.  Faith in God rather than the wisdom, strength or other resources of ourselves or others is what is able to settle and establish our hearts. There may be deep-seated fears in relation to our personal and family life amongst other things but faith and hope can sustain us. As David Dickson puts it: “the true remedy against tormenting fear, is faith in God. He also says that “when fear assaults most, then faith in God most evidently manifests its force” (Psalm 56:3-4).

The following brief counsels are from someone who was suffering considerably, James Renwick. He was speaking to those who were also suffering. They were in fear for their life and freedoms.

 

1. Do Not Fear Mortals

“Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4).

 

2. Do Not Fear Reproach

This is what we are often afraid of. Do not fear the reproach of tongues (Psalm 31:20).

 

3. Do Not Fear Lack of Provision

We are ready to fear the lack of provisions for our natural life. But do not fear this for those “that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing” (Psalm 34:10). Did the Lord not feed His people in the wilderness with manna from heaven and water out of the flinty rock? (Deuteronomy 8:15-16).

 

4. Do Not Fear Lack of Spiritual Food

Sometimes the Lord’s people fear lack of spiritual food for their souls; the lack of ordinances. But they ought not to fear lacking this for before they lack this the Lord will give them it and provide it for them in an extraordinary way (Isaiah 41:17-18). Even though the Lord should see fit to remove the preached gospel from you do not be discouraged. The Lord can make a portion of Scripture more sweet and refreshing to your souls that they are now, by bringing it to your mind or a note of a sermon which you have heard.

 

5. Do Not Fear Upheaval

The Lord’s people should not fear changes and upheaval that occur in the world and where they are. They ought not to fear this, even “though the earth be removed: and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). In Haggai 2:7 there is a prophecy of Christ, the desire of all nations, coming in the flesh. It is said that before He comes He will shake all nations i.e. there would be great changes. So when Christ comes back again to Scotland there will be great changes and revolutions at His coming. He will turn many, indeed the very foundation of the land will be shaken. We should pray and long for it, rather than be afraid of it.

 

6. Do Not Fear Death

Death is another thing Christ’s people should not be afraid of (yet they are). Do not fear death because death has no sting for the believing soul in Christ. Do not be afraid of death because it will put an end to all our toil and wanderings and all our miseries and fightings. Someone says “Life is a way to death, and death is a way to life”.

 

7. Do Not Fear Hell

Christ died for you to free you from the wrath to come. You should not therefore fear any evil thing. “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

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Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times
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.
1 Mar, 2019

For many of us it seems like time equals pressure. We’re “pressed for time” because there’s less available than what we need to fulfil our “pressing priorities”. It seems like time gets away from us and there’s never enough to achieve everything. Appreciating its value only seems to add to the pressure we feel in relation to it. Of course we all have exactly the same time, 24 hours in a day. Its limitations and value call for wise stewardship. How should we go about that?

The great challenge is to live wisely in relation to time. After speaking about living wisely, the apostle Paul goes on to identify one particular area; our use of time. We must “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). But what does that mean? And what is it to redeem the time during days that are described as “evil”? In the following updated extract James Fergusson gives a helpful explanation and application of this verse. There are some key principles here for how we use our time.

The apostle illustrates the previous instruction (v15) by pointing out one main way of walking wisely. He exhorts them to redeem the time. This means, make use of every opportunity and fitting occasion for doing good. The word translated “time” literally means the moment of time which is fitting and opportune for doing anything (Galatians 6:10). It means to use it with more diligence than usual. This may mean denying themselves their own pleasures, ease and worldly profit. In this way they regain the time previously lost by negligence. They should do as much in the present opportunity as they might have done in the past if time had been used with diligence rather than being misspent.

They are to be like merchants (the word “redeem” relates to that) who buy their commodities while the fit time of buying lasts. Perhaps they have had great losses, or previously spent their time idly. They deny themselves their own pleasures and ease and by greater diligence than usual seek to redeem and buy back again the time which is lost. He enforces this duty of redeeming time in view of the evil of the present times due to the wickedness of men. He also refers to various troubles in those times that were hanging over the heads of churches. Every opportunity of doing good might be taken from them shortly (Ecclesiastes 11:2; John 9:4).

 

1. Identify the Best Time

Some times and periods are more fit and opportune than others for doing something in the service of God or others.  A great part of  spiritual wisdom and accurate living consists in fulfilling the duties God requires at the right time in a diligent and timely way. Those who misspend their time out of love for personal ease, profit, pleasure and reputation ignore this. They neglect the one good thing which God’s glory and their own salvation require to be done at a particular time. They are like fools since wise living consists in redeeming the time.

 

2. Identify How to Proportion Time

We are naturally prodigal and lavish in misspending time. It is a great part of divine wisdom to regain misspent time by double diligence. We can buy it back again, so far as is possible, by reducing our comforts such as our time in sleep, and weaning ourselves from ordinary and lawful recreations at other times. This command to redeem the time, implies this.

 

3. Identify How to Live in the Worst Times

We must not comply with the evils of the times in order to gain the favour of wicked men and avoid their hatred (Hosea 5:10-11). The way in which sin and wickedness abounds in our time should make us more conscientious and diligent in spending time profitably.  We should be even more focused on accurate and circumspect living by keeping at a great distance from anything sinful in the times in which we live (Revelation 3:4). Evil times not only threaten to remove all opportunity of doing good (Ecclesiastes 11:2) but are also accompanied with many temptations from evil examples, trials and persecutions (Matthew 24:24). This requires greater circumspection. The dishonour which God gets from many in such times should make us honour Him all the more, (Psalm 119:136). Paul makes the evils of the times a motive, not only to redeem the time but also to walk circumspectly.

 

4. Identify How to Use the Worst Times to the Best Advantage

No matter how evil the times may be, God’s children can and will make best use of them. They can even use the evil of those times for God’s honour and their own spiritual advantage. The worse that the times are, they able all the more to find a way to make the best of them for these purposes. Paul makes the evil of the times a spur to incite the godly to do their duty. He speaks of “redeeming the time, for the days are evil”.

 

Conclusion

Perhaps we feel that there are ever greater demands on our time in a generation in which there is decline and even hostility in relation to the gospel. There are challenges not faced in past generations that witnessed greater spiritual prosperity. The encouragement that the apostle Paul gives is that this actually provides an opportunity for the wise use of time to the maximum glory of God. It needs wisdom and discernment to identify what we are called to do and how we are to serve God not just with our lives but also in this particular time of our lives. We often feel that we have squandered time or simply did not have enough but Paul encourages us that we can buy that time back again with such discernment. We need to identify the opportunities we have now for the glory of God that we will not always have. It is a significant challenge but we know where to go to receive such wisdom.

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The Answer to a Political Crisis

The Answer to a Political Crisis

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

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

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

 

1. All in Government Have a Special Need for Wisdom

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

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

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

 

2. Wisdom is Better than All Earthly Blessings

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

 

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

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

 

4. How Can they Obtain this Wisdom?

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

(a) Prayer Obtains the Blessing

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

(b) Prayer is the Most Effective Means

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

 

5. We All Need This Wisdom

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

 

6. We All Need to Pray For This Wisdom

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the 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.
26 Oct, 2018

What will the Church look like in 10-30 years time? It’s the sort of question that launches a thousand predictions, strategies and plans to enhance confidence. But our fears for the Church go beyond the levels of church attendance. There are wider pressures on the Church from without that are especially threatening. Then there are the dangers from within such as moral failure, error. Our strategies won’t make much headway against these destructive forces. So we have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

In a day of small things there may be many such fears in relation to the Church. Like Eli, we may tremble for the ark of God. Such fears should not of course make us despise the day of small things and ignore evident encouragements.  In the following updated extract, James Durham addresses four main fears about the Church. These are all answered in the intercession of Christ. There is much to be gained from considering how Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now in the presence of God for His people (Hebrews 9:24). It is a constant, unceasing intercession (Hebrews 7:25). John chapter 17 allows us to see some of what Christ desires for His Church.

 

1. Will We Have Enough Suitable Preachers?

There is a fear of preaching and ministers being scarce or weak in quality. Ministers are the great gift which Christ has given for the edification of His body. The Church suffers when it does not have pastors according to God’s own heart. But if you compare Psalm 68:18 with Ephesians 4:8, 12-14 you will find that Christ’s intercession answers that fear completely. In the Psalm it speaks of Christ having received gifts for men, which assumes He has made request for them.  Ephesians 4 says “He gave gifts to men”. Compare these two passages with a third (Acts 1:4).  Christ instructs His apostles to wait at Jerusalem until He sends the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit was poured out after His ascension (see Acts 2) and only given once Jesus was glorified (John 11:39). These passages all show the connection between Christ’s ascension, the Spirit being poured out and gifts being given, whether ministers or others.

There is nothing most people care about less than a ministry. Some would rather have none at all, others want them to be only such as please and humour them. But our Lord has received gifts to be given to men. The One that poured out such gifts on the apostles and others gives the gifts that He pleases and sees necessary for the edification of His Church. And that he gives such gifts to men, that his people are not praying much for; whence is it, but from his intercession? He delights in this aspect of the spiritual glory and majesty that He has. He places a respect on ministers in saying that He holds the stars in His right hand (Revelation 1:16), He has them there to use as He pleases.

 

2. Will Our Enemies Triumph?

The Church of God is greatly exercised by the difficulty of enemies and their mighty opposition. Islam and other false religions, Romanism, and false brethren threaten to swallow up the Church of Christ. It is like a little bush burning with fire yet not consumed. But there is comfort in Christ’s intercession with respect to this.  Christ sat down on the right hand of God and is expecting His enemies to be made His footstool. (Hebrews 10:13). He is pleading for and supporting this at the Father’s court.

All the persecutions of the early Church were broken as the fruit of this intercession. This is why it is said most emphatically that He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24). This is according to the promise made to Him by Jehovah (Psalm 110:1). He cannot be an intercessor unless His enemies are brought down. For who will be able to stand when He gives in His complaint against them? Who will plead the cause of the persecutor when He pleads against them? He is so certain of His enemies being made His footstool that he is waiting until He sees it accomplished. He must reign until then notwithstanding all the malice and might of devils and men.

 

3. How Far Will Rulers Go in Rejecting Christ?

It is difficult for the Church and people of God to think on the great confusion there is in the world. There are few courts and parliaments that are for Christ. Few governors, higher or lower, consult His honour or regard Him. It is not His friends or those that favour His cause that control governments and guide such things. Mostly the opposite is the case. But the comfort is that there is a court in heaven that gives out orders. The Church has an representative who is there constantly but the devil and the world have no representatives there. Jesus Christ is the Church’s representative and intercessor there.

In Daniel 10:13 we read about the help of Michael the chief prince against the prince of the kingdom of Persia. In Daniel 10:21 we further read that there was none to assist in all the court of Persia except “Michael your Prince”. The great intercessor was at court, seeing that nothing went wrong, that no decree was passed to the prejudice of the people of God and His work. When they were building the temple, Christ is said to build the temple of the Lord. He was to bear the glory and be a Priest, sitting and ruling on his throne with the government committed to Him (Zechariah 6:13). What danger can there be when heaven guides everything? What danger when the Church has a representative at the court, to see that nothing goes wrong. When Michael the Prince is there He sees and reads all the acts and decrees of the court. Indeed He composes them He sees to it that there is nothing in them hurtful to His Church. Should we not thank God for this?

 

4. Will We Survive Our Internal Problems?

A fourth thing that troubles the Church of God is that stumbling blocks abound within. Spreading error, is like a flood that threatens to drown the Church. Great stormy winds come which seem likely to blow down the house of God. Offences and stumbling blocks abound and combine with error like a flood is about to drown everything. When the devil is removed from the throne and cannot persecute with violence he selects another way. He spews out his flood of error to devour the woman and her child (Revelation 12:13-15).

Yet the Lord is active too. After the end of a period of persecution, John sees an angel (interpreted to symbolise Christ) ascending from the east (Revelation 7:1-2). He has the great seal of the living God and nothing is valid until it is sealed by Him. Notice the time when He appears; it is when the winds are held, and ready to blow (Revelation 7:1). ‘Wait a little,’ he says, ‘before these winds blow that will take most off their feet and this delusion advance’. Some servants of God must be sealed and put beyond the reach of danger and then the winds will be allowed to blow. Why should we or could we be anxious if our hearts have a solid and living faith in this intercessor and advocate being in heaven and interceding in this way?

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Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?

Why Doesn’t God Show Himself More?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
6 Jul, 2018

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

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

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

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

Minich confronts the personal challenge of this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Persecution will Become a Snare to the Persecutors

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

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

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

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

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

7. Atheism in Others Should Draw Us Closer to God

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

8. God will Not Forget His People

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. We Should Cast Such Burdens on the Lord

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

12. Christ’s Kingdom is Everlasting

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

13. These Experiences Humble Us for Our Good

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

14. God’s People Have Everlasting Blessings

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

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What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?

What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?

What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?
John Livingstone (1603-1672) was the minister of Ancrum parish near Jedburgh in the Borders. He ministered there from 1648 until 1662 when he was ousted from his church by the authorities and banished to Holland.
18 May, 2018

​According to senior figures in the Church of England in recent weeks, the Church should lose its exemptions from prosecution under equalities legislation. Dr Ison the Dean of St Paul’s said: “My view is that if there is a price to be paid for what you believe in conscience then you should pay that; you should not make other people pay the price for your conscience. That applies to abortion, to issues of sexuality and gender and right across the piste. If it is legal, decent and honest but you don’t believe it is right, then you have to deal with it.” In other words, there should be legal coercion irrespective of conscience. The Bishop of Buckingham has previously appealed to Romans 13 and the requirement to be subject to the powers ordained of God. Yet Scripture says that we must obey God rather than men when they come into conflict (Acts 5:29). How do we reconcile these principles?

If we end up facing such a situation we will not be the first. Besides learning from Christians in other countries who face state interference we can draw on the wisdom of the past. John Livingstone had to face this dilemma along with hundreds of others. The state was going so far as to forcibly eject him from his congregation. This was because he would not submit to the totalitarian control claimed by Charles II over the Church. He experienced trial, imprisonment and banishment as well as financial losses. In his farewell address to his parishioners he speaks of our duty in such circumstances and how this would affect them personally also. The following is an updated extract.

 

1. We Must Not Deny Christ

Christ insists on this: the man that confesses him before men, Jesus Christ will confess that man before His Father. On the other hand, because many are ready to find out strange ways to save themselves, their means, their life, (these have been a great snare to many,) He speaks very sharply. The man that denies me before men (He says) I will turn my back on him and deny him before my Father.

What is the most dangerous thing in all of religion?  What is the rock that many have beaten their brains out on? It is this: Satan has wiled and enticed them to deny Christ Jesus. In reference to the time we live in, it may be that some think that if it were Christ Jesus or any fundamental point, we would stand for it. We would life and all that we have. But it is thought that some things Christians stand on are but imaginations and over strict scruples and if there is any thing in them, it is only a small matter. Will a man venture his condition now and in the future on such and such a small thing?

If they are indeed not any of Christ’s small things, let them go. But if they are His, will you call that a small thing? His small things are very great things. There was never a trial since the beginning of the world during the time of trial it was a small thing. The Word was very clear and it is very clear still.

 

2. We Must Honour Christ as King

The kingly and royal office of Jesus Christ is now called in question. The state will have specific things done in such a way and time. Now I may truly say, on behalf of all the servants of Jesus Christ, we will be ready, when occasion offers to lay down our heads under its feet and do all the honour and respect that is possible and required. But then, why in these particular things may you not acknowledge the state? Take this illustration. An ambassador is sent with a message to a certain country with these terms: “You shall be subject to the country in all your dealings and conduct yourself uprightly and honestly. You are to negotiate there according to the instructions given to you”. The prince of the country proposes something  and the ambassador says, “with your leave, I will consult with the instructions I have from my Master, I will not wrong you at all”. He consults with his instructions and finds he may by no means do it. “Then” says the prince, “you will be dealt with in such and such a way”. The ambassador answers, “at your pleasure”. “But may you not do such and such?” “I may not”, he says, “and you shall see my commission; it is not private, but public things known and written and may be read by all”. [In other words obedience to civil government is subordinate to obedience to God’s Word]

It is a sad thing that Satan, by any instrument he pleases, for fear of a few days’ life and outward means, prevails so far with them, as to obey when he says, “Come, give me your religion and your soul, your conscience, your vows and covenants to the living God, and I will cast you loose as to religion”. Lord save us from this!

 

3. What Shall We Do?

You will say, “What shall we do? How will we get fines paid? How will we stake our sufferings on such small matters? Can we stand on such a point even if our heart is disquieted about it?” It may be that time and providence will when it comes nearer, make it appear a far different thing and clear enough. Have you observed the providence of God?

What shall we do? Look to him and the Word that you have heard, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.” And, indeed, those who labour to reform their heart and life, if there is any doubt about some particular aspects, He will, in his own time, make them clear. Christians have various situations, some go and do such things and some not; who can help it? It is a plague that it is so; it has been the plague of the Church these many years.

 

Conclusion

Praised be the Lord that those who are not great friends to the work of God are not always very deep in their planning. It may be they have plans in some respects that we are not aware of. But if they have plans under that, our Lord Jesus has plans under theirs, to reveal and overturn their plans.

We cannot tell, whether if the Lord sees it to be good, He may continue our liberty with us for a while. There are some of us who have endured the loss of our ministry and all we had in the world. We bless God to this day that we had never cause to repent, and we hope never shall. I commend you all to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.

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What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?
James Renwick (1662 – 1688) was the last of the Covenanter field preachers to be put to death. He was just twenty six when he was executed in the Grassmarket.
12 Apr, 2018

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves searching questions. Is the spirit of prayer evident to the extent it ought to be? Is the work of the Holy Spirit restrained in relation to the ordinances of God’s worship? Why does the Word not have the powerful effect it ought to have? No doubt there are exceptions but when we take a general view of the professing Church these signs are evident. It’s what Scripture calls God hiding His face (see Isaiah 8:17-18; Job 34:29; Psalm 44:24; Isaiah 64:6). Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do?

James Renwick deals with this sad reality in a sermon on Isaiah 8:17. He knew what it was to face persecution and the painful difficulties of a backsliding generation. The flocks to which Renwick preached were in his own words, “a poor, wasted, wounded, afflicted, bleeding, misrepresented, and reproached remnant and handful of suffering people”.

 

1. Why Would God Hide His Face?

I confess it is hard to tell all the reasons the Lord may have. But the reasons I shall state why the Lord hides His face are:

(a) Sin

Sin separates between God and us. Many gross and grievous transgressions have filled this land and defiled it, so that the Lord has no more honour by His people.

(b) Hypocrisy

The Lord hides His face in the public ordinances of worship, for the defects of the people in approaching God in them. There is hypocrisy. Few come to hear with a resolution to practice what they hear (Micah 2:7).

(c) Need for Prayer

The Lord hides His face, in respect to pouring out the spirit of prayer because He does not have a mind to make haste to deliver the Church (Psalm 10:17). Whenever the Lord has a mind to deliver a people He usually pours out the spirit of prayer.

(d) Need for Faith

The Lord hides His face so that He may reduce his people to pure believing or nothing at all.

 

2. What Should We Do When God Hides His Face?

(a) Search Our Ways and Turn to God

God’s people should search and try their ways and turn again to the Lord. This is considered a common truth yet it is a good old truth. Until the land, and especially the godly in it, search and try the evil of their own ways and turn from it, you need never expect peace with God or that He will be at peace with the land again. This was the way that His people took of old (Lamentations 3:40).

(b) Justify God

When the Lord hides His face it is the duty of all the godly to justify the Lord in all that He does and to judge yourselves guilty. Many of you are ready to say, the rulers and ministers have the blame of what is in the land but no one says “What have I done?” But until everyone looks to what they themselves have done and justify the Lord in saying that He has done nothing contrary to the covenant (Psalm 89:31-32) you need not expect that your trouble will cease.

(c) Strengthen What Remains

When God hides His face it is the duty of His people to strengthen what remains. Is there anything left? I urge you to strengthen it. Go and take words with you and though there be nothing more except words left, make use of these. Speak often one to another. Is prayer left with you? Use it well. Can you pray better with others than alone? Then use it well. Whatever duty you find most freedom in, make it your concern to do it. Whatever remains, strengthen it. It is the will of the Lord to do so. If you do not, you know what is threatened in Revelation 3:2-3. Strengthen that which remains which is ready to die, for Christ threatens to come upon them as a thief unexpectedly or suddenly.

(d) Wait on God

It is the duty of all the Lord’s people to wait on Him when He hides His face (Psalm 130:5-7; Psalm 27:14). Wait, I say, on the Lord with courage, reflect on the grounds of hope you had long since and see what grounds you had more than now. Did you the work of God would yet thrive when it was low before? What grounds of hope do you lack now that you had then? Why should you be ashamed to hope in Him now?

  • Wait on God because those who do so will never be ashamed.
  • Wait on God because this is the most quieting and composing posture in an evil time (Lamentations 3:26)
  • Wait on God because this has been the work of the people of God in time past (Psalm 130:6).
  • Wait on God because always has a joyful outcome (Isaiah 25:9).

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What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
9 Mar, 2018

It doesn’t seem like a high priority to many. What pressing relevance can previous centuries have when our world is so different? Isn’t it just for those who like that sort of thing? No, because God requires us to recall His works done in the past (Psalm 105:5). And do we think that God has stopped working since the apostles? Church history glorifies God. We are to learn for our own benefit from what has happened to God’s people in the past (1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4). How will we understand our own times unless we know the influences that have shaped our generation (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)? How can we build the Church if we take no time to understand what it is, has been and where it is going?

Looking back and understanding what God has done in the Church gives us a sense of perspective. We see how little we are and how short lived some of the ideas that seem so powerful today. The idea that new and now are always better is proud and short-sighted. An understanding of church history can keep us from error and give us hope and encouragement for the future.  We can be humbled when we take time to learn about the courage, godliness and failings of those that have gone before us. David Dickson puts it memorably: “God’s old works have new use in all ages, for the furtherance of believer’s faith, patience and comfort”.

Robert Fleming says that what we see in Church history is Scripture being fulfilled. God has made promises to the Church and we see these fulfilled again and again. Christ says that He will build His Church, we have abundant proof of this. We can admire this way in which the Word shines on “all the paths and footsteps of the Lord towards His Church in every age”. “One generation should declare the works of the Lord to another, and transmit the memory of His goodness to succeeding ages”. Every period adds something to this history, it brings “forth something further into the world, of the Lord’s counsel and design about His Church” (Robert Fleming). Even our period of Church history does this.

These are some of the things that we forget when we forget God’s works in His Church in the past. David Dickson summarises a selection of them in expounding Psalm 66:5-7 which speaks of the ongoing relevance of God’s works in the past. In doing so Dickson shows that Scripture requires us to gain an understanding of Church history for our good and God’s glory.

Dickson notices that the Psalmist especially points out the Lord’s works already done for His people. The Lord works for the Church’s deliverance and His own glory. People are so careless about observing His works, however, that there is great need to stir up our slothfulness. We must observe and make a right use of God’s works for His praise and our benefit. This is why the Psalmist says: “Come and see the works of God” (Psalm 66:5).

 

1. Wonder at God’s Works

Whoever does observe the works of God for His people will be forced to fear and admire His wonderful acts and care for them. “He is terrible in his doing toward the children of men” (Psalm 66:5).

 

2. God’s Remarkable Deliverances

The work of redeeming His Church out of Egypt is worthy of being made use of by everyone to the end of the world. It is in itself sufficient to show, that if necessary, God will invert the course of nature. He will do this for the good of His people and to deliver them from difficulties. “He turned the sea into dry land” (Psalm 66:6).

 

3. God is Faithful to His Promises

Just as the Lord did wonders in delivering His people out of misery, so He will work wonders in fulfilling His promises to them. He will do what is necessary to bring them into possession of what He has given them a right to by promise. Drying up the river Jordan so that His people might go in to possess the promised land provides evidence of this purpose of God for all future times.”They went through the flood on foot” (Psalm 66:6).

 

4. Our Unity with the Historic Church

The whole people of God are one body. That which is done in one age and to one generation concerns them all. Everyone is to make use of it in their generation. Everyone in future times should reckon themselves to be one body with the Lord’s people in former ages. They should make use of God’s dealings with them as if they had been present with them then. The Church in the Psalmist’s time joins itself with the Church in Joshua’s time, rejoycing in God with them at their entry into Canaan. “There did we rejoice in him” (Psalm 66:6).

 

5. God Can Do What He Did in the Past Again

The Lord is able and ready to do in any future time whatever He has done for His people in any past time. He rules by His power forever (v7). His actions in the past are perpetual evidences and pledges of similar actions that will be done in the future as necessary.

 

6. God Witnesses Everything that Happens to His People

Nothing is done in any place to which the Lord is not witness. There is no plot or movement against His people which He does not see. “His eyes behold the nations” (v7).

 

7. Those Who Oppose the Church Will Not Prosper for Long

There will be from time to time a generation who will not submit themselves to this sovereign ruler. They stand out against Him and malign His Church. Yet they will not prosper for long nor have cause to triumph in their rebellion: “Let not the rebellious exalt themselves” (v7).

 

Conclusion

In the verses from Psalm 66:8 onwards, the Psalmist exhorts the Church in his time to praise God. He has preserved them from being wiped out during their fiery trial and painful affliction under the tyranny and oppression of their enemies. This shows us that in every age (besides all the reasons for praising God for works done in the past) the Lord’s people have their own unique reasons for praising God’s care, providence and kindness.  One purpose of the Church’s troubles is to test the graces of God’s people and purge out their corruptions. This is why God brings one trouble after another, as metal is put into the fire more than once to refine it (v10).

There is no escape when God brings His Church into a time of trial (v11). He then shows us whether it is easier to serve God or men (v12). Yet when He delivers His people and gives them a time of release it carries as much comfort as their trials did grief (v13). These considerations are helpful as we use Church history to reflect on our own times. We may experience a time when the rebellious are exalting themselves but it will not be for long, comparatively speaking. “For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous” (Psalm 125:3).

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation. This is why we have created some short documentaries highlighting a period of history not just forgotten in schools but also in many churches. It’s called Scotland’s Forgotten History. It looks at what we can learn from this period as well as what we can learn about it. Together with the videos we have produced a discussion guide. This is designed to help small groups discuss the biblical principles outlined in the videos along with relevant passages of Scripture.

 

Go forward best. Look back first.

Watch the mini documentary series that  opens up a compelling, yet often ignored, chapter in Scottish history to reveal some surprising lessons for the future.

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What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
27 Oct, 2017

The carpet of golden, russet and even purple leaves daily gathers around us. Autumn has its own nostalgic beauty. It also brings glory to the Creator. These tints speak to us of decay as well as change. Eventually the leaves lose their splendour as they wither and decompose on the ground. We ought to draw spiritual lessons from the book of creation and Scripture directs us to that. Fallen and withered leaves speak of the decay and change that occurs in individuals and nations. Are we learning the visual lesson?

Hugh Binning expounds the solemn lament of Isaiah 64:6: we “fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away”. He even draws spiritual lessons from the falling sap and dying light of autumn. What does this teach us about our own spiritual condition, the condition of those around us and that of our land as a whole?

 

1. Sin Brings Decay

Sins and iniquities have a great influence in the decay of nations and individuals and change in their outward condition, when it is joined with the wind of God’s displeasure. This people’s calamity is described by alluding to a tree in the fall of the leaf. We were (he says) once in our land as a green tree with leaves and fruit. Our Church and state were once in a flourishing condition, at least nothing was lacking to make outward splendour and glory. We were immovable in our own land, as David said in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved,” so we dreamt of eternity in earthly Canaan.

But now we are like a tree when the leaf falls. Sin has obstructed the influence of heaven and drawn away the sap of God’s presence from among us so that we fade as a leaf before its fall. Our sins prepared us for judgment. Our iniquities raised the storm of indignation that, like a whirlwind, has blown the withering leaves off the tree, driven us out of our own land and scattered us among strangers. Sin and uncleanness and the filthiness of our righteousness prepared us for the storm. It made us light so that we could resist no judgment. It made us combustible. Iniquities and sin rising up to iniquities (coming to such a degree) have accomplished the judgment and put fire among us.

 

2. Do Not Trust in Prosperity

It is familiar in the Scripture that people in a prosperous condition are compared to a green tree flourishing. The wicked’s prospering is like a green bay tree spreading himself in power, spreading out his arms, as it were, over more lands to conquer them, over more people, to subject them (Psalm 37:35). This is a trial to the godly. The Lord Himself bore witness of His people that they were “a green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11:16). This was once their name, though it is now changed.

Now they are called a fading, withering tree without leaves or fruit. Now their place does not know them, they are removed as in a moment (Psalm 37:36). He uses this comparison in order to bring us to understand something of the nature of human glory and pomp. The fairest and most beautiful excellence in the world, the prosperity of nations and people, is only like the glory of a tree in the spring or summer.

Do not build your nest in your outward prosperity; these leaves of prosperity will not cover you always, there is a time when they will fall. Nations have their winter and their summer, individuals have them likewise. Just as these must change in nature, so they must in the lot of men. Only heaven only is continual spring, perpetually blossoming and bringing forth fruit. The tree of life that brings forth fruit every month, that has both spring and harvest all year round is there. Christians, do not sit down under the green tree of worldly prosperity, if you do, the leaves will come down about you. The gourd you trust in may be eaten up in a night, your winter will come on so that you will forget the former days as if they had never been.

Be prepared for changes. All things are subject to revolution and change. Every year has its own summer and winter. Thus the Lord has set the one over against the other, that man might find nothing after him (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

 

3. What Causes Decay?

What is the moth that eats up the glory and goodliness of created enjoyments? It is sin and iniquities. Sin raises the storm of the Lord’s wrath and blows away the withered leaves of men’s enjoyments. Sin dries up all the sap and sweetness of the creature comforts. It makes the leaves of the tree wither and drives the sap away to the root. It hinders the influence of God’s blessing from coming through the veins of outward prosperity. What is the virtue and sap of created things? It is God’s blessing, and therefore bread does not nourish without God’s word and command (Matthew 4:4).

We have a right through Christ to enjoy created things when we receive them by prayer and thanksgiving. This is what sanctifies our right to anything. But the iniquities of men separate between God and them (Isaiah 59:2). When God is separated and divided from things enjoyed, they are empty shells and husks with no kernel in them. This is because God fills all in all, He is all in all. Remove Him and you have nothing—your food and drink is no blessing, your table is a snare, your pleasures and laughter have sadness in them. They are at best like the vanishing blaze of thorns under a pot.

When God is angry due to sin, man’s beauty is consumed as before the moth (Psalm 39:11).  David was conscious of this and could speak from much experience (Psalm 32:3-4). The anger of the Lord ate him up and dried his moisture. It might be read in his face – all the world could not content him, all the showers of creatures’ dropping fatness could not keep sap in him. God’s displeasure scorches him so greatly that no hiding-place can be found in the world, no shadow of a rock among all the creatures in such a weary land.

 

4. Blown Away with the Wind of Judgment

When sin has prepared a man for judgment, if iniquity is then added to sin it raises up the storm and kindles the fire to consume the combustible matter. Sin gives many blows at the root of things in which we find pleasure and value. It will ultimately bring the fatal stroke that will drive the tree to the ground. There are some preparatory judgments and some final, some wither the leaf and some blow it off completely.

Some judgments make men like the harvest, ripe for the sickle of judgment. The widespread corruption of a land and mere formality in worshipping God, ripens a land for the harvest of judgment. It exposes it to any storm and leaves it open to the Lord’s wrath. There is then nothing to hold His hand and keep back the stroke but when the wind arises and iniquities have made it tempestuous, who may stand? It will sweep away nations and people as a flood, and make their place not to know them, so that there will be neither leaf nor branch left.

There is often a great calm with great provocation. Iniquities cry, “Peace, peace!” But when its cry has gone up to heaven and has engaged God’s anger against a people or an individual, then it raises a whirlwind that takes everything away.

We ought to acknowledge sin and it is a wonder that our nation is not punished in this way. Sins and iniquities bring judgment in their train. Now you sit at peace, everyone in his own dwelling and spread forth your branches. Yet your carnal peace, security and ease need to be disturbed with these thoughts. If there was nothing more against us except the iniquity of our holy things (the casual, formality of our way of serving and worshipping God) this might be enough to raise the storm.

You do not know the reasons that ought to make you afraid of judgment. Consider original sin and how your religious actions are defiled and you will find sufficient evidence of fading away. You sit still now and seem to be so settled as though you will never be moved, you dream of an eternity here. Your hearts cleave to your houses and lands, you stick as closely to the world and will not part with it, as a leaf to a tree. Yet behold the wind of the Lord may arise that will drive you away. If your soul is removed from these things then whose will they be? If you will not fear temporal judgments, fear eternal judgment—fear hell. May the Lord not shake you off this tree of time and take you out of the land of the living, to receive your portion?

There is not only a universal deadness of spirit in the land but a profane spirit — iniquities, abominable sins, abound. Every congregation is overgrown with open disobedience. We are all unclean, sin is not hidden in corners but men declare their sin as Sodom, sin is come to maturity. Defection and apostasy is the temper of all spirits. Above all, the iniquity of Scotland is the general contempt and slighting of the glorious gospel. We wonder that the withered leaves still stick to the tree, that the storm is not yet raised so that we are blown away. Now, you are like stones – your hearts are as adamants and cannot be moved with God’s threatening. The voice of the Lord’s Word will not move you. You sin and are not afraid but when the voice of God’s rod and displeasure will roar it will make the mountains tremble, the rocks move.  How much more will it drive away a leaf? You seem to be like mountains now but when God will enter into judgment you will be like the chaff driven to and fro.

 

5. The Remedy

If you would prevent this, engage in serious acknowledgment of your sins. “Search your ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Do not merely confess sin in general, but uncover it till you see uncleanness. Go to the source original sin then go to all the streams, even the iniquity of holy things. Let everyone be specific in searching out their own personal provocations personal.  Let everyone confess the general sins of the land, that you may confess out of knowledge and a felt sense “We are all as an unclean thing…”.

 

Conclusion

Fallen leaves present an often beautiful picture. Yet in the light of Scripture they have a solemn message for our land and for ourselves, especially if we have a spirit of carelessness. Such lessons drawn from nature should be part of the lovingkindness of God that leads us to repentance and prayer. We ought also to have the hope of a spiritual springtime when the spiritual life and sap of God’s blessing rises again. Even when the leaves have been shed the life remains in the tree. Like “an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves” (Isaiah 6:13). In the same way, the Lord is able to revive us spiritually.

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Is There a Meaning in the Total Eclipse?

Is There a Meaning in the Total Eclipse?

Is There a Meaning in the Total Eclipse?
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.
25 Aug, 2017

A total eclipse event has lost none of its power to provoke wonder, fear, and reflection. Totality can have an unusual effect that some people call life-changing. “I’ve seen people get on their knees and pray,” one man says “I’ve seen scientists cry”. Weeping and embracing, people feel overwhelmed about being brought together in the same experience. Everyone wants to find some meaning in it, not just those with a leaning to apocalyptic theory or astrology. “I’m not religious”, said another man, “but I think it’s something very like when God says, ‘let there be light’”. Should we find a meaning in it and what would that be?

A Time magazine article reckoned that the true meaning of the eclipse lay in the momentary unity of a very divided United States. Similar imagery features in Scripture of course, particularly in passages describing future judgment. Some also think it may have been involved in Hezekiah’s sign. One passage that seems to allude to a total eclipse is Amos 8:9 “it shall come to pass in that day…that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day”.

George Hutcheson applies this verse in a way that helps us to use the eclipse to reflect on spiritual priorities. The following is an updated extract from his comments. Amos chapter 8 warns of the approaching final subversion of Israel. Their songs of joy would be turned into laments (v1-3). This was because of their sin, their greed and their being weary of true religion (v4-6).  God would punish their sin (v7-8). In particular it would be through a sudden change of condition, when they least expected (v9). They would be filled with bitter sorrow (v10) but particularly a famine of hearing God’s word because they had despised it (v11-12).   

 

A Sudden Change

The Lord uses the image of an eclipse to threaten a sudden and total change in their condition. They trusted in their prosperous and comfortable condition. The Lord threatens to send a sudden change, like a sunset at noon-day, or some sudden darkening of the earth in daytime. 

 

1. God is Long-suffering While Sinners Abuse Prosperity

Sinners may enjoy a very prosperous and comfortable outward condition by God’s permission and long-suffering. This may get time to continue and increase until it comes to a height and its prime. This is what it means when it says that they had a “noon” and “clear day”.

 

2. The Greatest Prosperity May Suddenly be Changed

Although sinners rest and lean on such a condition, it cannot secure them against God. He is provoked to make the very height of their prosperity the time of the sad change of their condition. He may surprise them with a stroke when they least expect it. For the Lord God “will cause the sun to go down at noon…and darken the earth in the clear day”. (See Jeremiah 15:9 “her sun is gone down while it was yet day”). As Hutcheson says regarding a similar verse (Joel 2:10), all created comforts and what men rest on beside God will fail a sinner when God pleads against him.

 

3. Such Calamity Will be Very Bitter for the Unrepentant

Calamity and real desertions will prove very sad to the unrepentant and wicked. It will be all the more bitter in proportion to the extent to which their condition has been better outwardly. Thus, their condition is compared to a sunset and darkned earth at noon, when the day has been clear.

 

Conclusion

We can and ought to wonder at the power and wisdom of God in spectacular events of nature such as the eclipse (Psalm 19:1). It is laughable that scientists speak of the precise cosmic geometry that makes eclipses happen as “cosmic coincidences”. (The radius of the sun is about 400 times larger than the moon yet the sun is about 400 times further away from the earth than the moon).

There is far much more to learn, however. The same God who is in control of creation is in control of providence. He is able to turn the greatest prosperity of unrepentant sinners into their greatest calamity, as individuals and as nations. One day this will happen in the experience of the impenitent. They may be like the man who was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day…[he] died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:19, 22-23). 

We do not have to see the eclipse as an omen or apocalyptic to learn spiritual lessons from reflecting on it. As nations and individuals we place too great importance in material prosperity. In many cases we idolise it. Yet we ought to use it in order to embrace God’s offers of grace and better seek and glorify Him. Secularism gradually pushes God to or beyond the edge of our lives, it makes Him irrelevant. We cannot keep abusing God’s favour with impunity. We cannot ignore and reject God out of hand without consequences.

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14 Reasons to be Thankful

14 Reasons to be Thankful

14 Reasons to be Thankful
James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) was originally from the Black Isle, Ross-shire. He was imprisoned on the Bass Rock for ‘illegal’ field preaching but survived the times of persecution.
28 Jul, 2017

Pop psychology counsels us to focus on reasons to be happy that help us to feel good about ourselves.  It is a fleeting and often glib exercise. True thankfulness is very different. It is not motivational life-coaching but acknowledging our utter dependence on God. It magnifies God (Psalm 69:30) as a crucial part of God-centred living. This is why Scripture frequently commands us to be thankful, no matter what our circumstances may be (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

When James Fraser of Brea came to reflect on his life it was important to take a wide view of the general mercies of God.  Resting and being thankful in God’s goodness to us is a very biblical activity (Psalm 77:11). Fraser came up with 14 different personal reasons to be thankful to God, perhaps not at all fit with your experience but many will. Many of these reasons relate to his spiritual condition not just outward mercies – the prosperity of our souls is the first priority (3 John 1:2). Here is an updated extract.

 

1. My Health

I find reason to bless the Lord for continued health.

 

2. My Education

I have reason to bless the Lord for the mercy of good education. Wherever He cast my lot, I was given  means that worked for my good. I did not see many examples of those who were wild. The Lord used those whom I was with to take some effort for good with me. Though this did not convert me, yet it helped prepare me for it.

 

3. Not Leaving Me in False Hopes

The Lord drove me out of all my false places of rest and refuges of lies. If I had continued in them, I would have perished forever. What a mercy that the Lord revealed to me my condition, the vanity of trusting in duties, my own inability to save myself and the distance and enmity between God and my soul!

 

4. Sparing Me

The Lord has borne with much from me: surely more than from any other. How often did I provoke Him to send me to my place! He spared me notwithstanding my blasphemy, my sabbath-breaking and openly breaking my vows. Despite my sinning against light, backsliding, cursing even in a lie, profanity, mocking in duties, intractableness He spared me. Who has or could have borne with so much as the Lord? Should I not therefore love Him? They “love much, because much is forgiven.”

 

5. Persevering with Me

Oh, the great effort and cost the Lord has taken concerning me! What efforts:

  • in my first education
  • in conversion
  • after conversion
  • in recovering out of backsliding
  • by afflictions, trials and convictions, mercies of all sorts and waterings public and private

What a constant suitor He has been for my heart! What day has there been in which there has not been some message or other? Surely He is in very good earnest with me. He has followed me constantly without interruption.

 

6. Giving Me Grace

In bestowing saving grace on my soul; washing me from nature, sin, Satan and hell:

  • renewing His image on my soul;
  • enlightening mine eyes, quickening my dead soul, changing me completely, giving me rest
  • admitting me to fellowship with Himself;
  • entering in a covenant with me;
  • taking me from my sinful ways and courses, and conforming me to His ways, in heart, speech, and practice;
  • making an inward, blessed, true, and universal change (differing from hypocrites and worldly professing Christians).

 

7. Healing My Backsliding

In recovering me out of a backslidden condition, after carelessness, complacence and departing from God, until I had ruined myself again. I was, as it were, “twice dead” and when I was at the last gasp, He pitied me, recovered me, engaged me in His service. He kept me through His power and goodness (notwithstanding many oppositions) until I at last recovered. He set me on a “rock higher than I.” O what cost and expense He went to in my recovery! He would not let me die at a distance from Him, but by afflictions and sore trials called me home to Him.

 

8. Bringing Me through the Wilderness

Mercies in a wilderness condition. When I was but weak, He condescended to my weakness. Though
He was “the high and lofty One,” how He bore my behaviour, my murmurings, my faintings, my lustings, my impatience, my dulness, my deadness, my unbelief. He never left me for all these things, but was ever with me. He supplied all my needs and many a time revived my fainting soul. He carried me as an eagle her young ones and there was “no strange god with Him” at all.  He never left me until He brought me to a large and fruitful land. O the care He had of me in the great wilderness, preserving me and carrying me through. This was a wonderful mercy!

 

9. Giving Me Talents

I am obliged unto the Lord for talents. He did not create me void of understanding but gave me some capacity to be of service to Him. He has instructed me in the wonderful things of His law, made me know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. And what shall I say? My natural abilities were very greatly helped and advanced by grace. Through His “precepts I have attained to understanding.”

 

10. Keeping Me from Apostasy

I acknowledge with all thankfulness the great mercy of God in keeping me on His side in this evil day. I have been preserved in this general apostasy. I have been rallied to His side, under His standard, against the dragon making war in heaven against the Lamb. How many have been destroyed by profanity, error, vanity, formality, sloth, and worldliness, or else rendered useless? He has kept me from the destroying pestilence. He has kept me in life and privileged me through grace to be a clear witness for Him against the dragon and the tendencies of these times. He has enabled me to do some little thing, at least to show my good-will.

 

11. Upholding Me

By upholding me with his visitations,” innumerable times. “Restoring my soul” to life, preserving “my feet from falling, and mine eyes from tears.” O the many loving refreshing visitations I had from Him when under deadness, confusion, distraction, sorrow, depression! He has been as the clear shining sun after the rain. These have been the means by which I have been kept in life; these are His favours, in these days of famine feeding me and keeping me in life.

 

12. Delivering Me

Many times He has delivered me out of hell itself; when the sorrows of death compassed me about, when
overpowered with despair, He brought me out of the great and terrible pit.  When all other means and friends failed, and neither could nor would help, the Lord Himself stepped in. He calmed all these terrible storms, when I could not bear them any longer. Neither was I ever in any extremity from which He did not help me, even out of great and sore troubles.

 

13. Mercy in My Afflictions

Surely He has afflicted me “in faithfulness”. It is a mercy (a covenant mercy) to be under His discipline. He has supported me in all my afflictions. When I have been a sign, a wonder, and a terror to all friends and acquaintances. When I have been left by friends and relations, and ungratefully used by them, then did “the Lord take me up,”. He gave me shelter and food and drink “that the world knew not of;” and what shall I say? By His own hand, I was “at last delivered me out of them all,” at least out of the most pressing. He has delivered me from all dangers, fears, snares and sorrows.

 

14. Special Favour to Me

All these are magnified by these circumstances:
(a) That the Lord has visited me with special love, right-hand blessings, grace, Christ, and sanctification.

(b) The Lord Himself is eminently seen in them. He lets no one do me good except Himself, especially in great deliverances. the Lord brings about everything in a wonderful way.

(c) I see them all stamped with free grace, and the motto on them is: “Not for your sakes, but for My name’s sake, and because of the Lord Jesus.” I see them all proceeding from the free grace and love of Christ Jesus.

(d) He has singled me out of all my tribe and kindred, and passed by them all and chosen me for Himself.

(e) The Lord is seen universally in all these things. He does all things most excellently for me; not in one or two things, but in everything. He has “wrought all our works in us” (Isaiah 26:12)

(f) The Lord is constant in His kindness; it is not by fits and starts. He loves those whom He loves to the end. His love is a constant love, He “never takes away His lovingkindness.”

(g) The Lord sanctifies me by all His mercies and draws me nearer to Himself. I am brought to know more of God by them. My heart is  warmed in love and affection towards Him by the remembrance of these. Experience of these brings me to come to Him, depend on Him and engage in thankfulness.

(h) They are to such a wild, miserable, sinful individual as I, who has abused His grace and mercy, and daily grieve Him. I am less than the least of all His mercies; this increases the mercy. What am I, that the Lord should visit me?

(i) When favours are so few in a day of indignation, famine and confusions (when all are generally crying out “my leanness”) these are great indeed.

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