What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?
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.
25 Sep, 2020

Uncertainty is nothing new but the coronavirus crisis has taken this to more extreme levels. There is even a degree of uncertainty about facts, numbers, transmission, symptoms and science. No doubt there may be times and places that have experienced more uncertainty but for many this is at a new level. Disruption and uncertainty have impacted most aspects of most people’s lives. All these unknowns are personal as well as social and economic. We do not know how long the impact of the crisis will last and this creates fear and anxiety. How should we respond? Some want to respond by promising some element of certainty, but it soon wears thin. Who can say with great confidence what will happen or when? In truth, very little about our lives is constant or entirely certain and we must come to terms with that. This can teach us a great deal if we consider it through the teaching of Scripture.

There is an argument that uncertainty is a good thing. It is the need to resolve things that makes us seek to advance our knowledge and make progress in science and other areas. We can also learn much practically and spiritually from uncertainty in seeking to walk humbly with God. Hugh Binning opens up the nature of uncertainty in expounding Proverbs 27:1. We cannot boast of what we will do or achieve tomorrow because we do not know what even a day may bring forth. In this updated extract he shows what uncertainty can teach us.

1. Uncertainty is Natural

Tomorrow is the narrow sphere of poor man’s comprehension. All he can attain is to provide for the present. It is not present properly speaking because, in comparison with eternity it is cut off as soon as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye. Even if we could see the end of time, it would be merely close up and indistinct, like something right in front of our eye.
These, then, are the two great ruins of human nature. We have degenerated from God to created things and seek our joy and rest in them. Yet there is nothing in them but the contrary—vexation. We have also fallen from apprehending eternity, and our poor soul is confined within the narrow bounds of time.

All our wise management is to provide some perishing things for some few revolutions of the sun, for some few tomorrows. After this, though an endless tomorrow ensues, man does not perceive it or provide for it. All his glorying and boasting is only on some presumptuous confidence and ungrounded assurance of the stability of these things for the time to come.

The wise man leaves us this counsel, not to boast of tomorrow. It is supported with a strong argument taken partly from the instability and inconstancy of all the outward things in which men imagine an eternity of joy and partly from the ignorance we have of future events. We do not know what a day may bring forth.

2. Uncertainty Humbles Us

Boasting is such a predominant evil among men, that I know not any more universal in its dominion, or more hurtful to us, or displeasing to God. Of all boastings, the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from the presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us.

No one’s present possession satisfies them, without some additional hope and expectation for the future. The poverty of the human spirit and the emptiness of all things we enjoy here are apparent in this, that they will not make the heart content. Present possession does not fill up the vacuum of the heart without imagining possessing more in the future. The insatiable human heart cannot rest satisfied in its joy (without some future hopes and expectations) even if the whole world were in its possession.

The soul anticipates and forestalls tomorrow and borrows present joy from future anticipation. Yet when it comes, perhaps it will not compensate the expectation (see Job 11:18, 20; Job 8:13). Hope is like a house to them, but to many, it is no better than a spider’s web. Here then is a clear demonstration of the madness and folly of men, who hang so much on outward things and allow their affections to be shaped by the great variety of outward things and events.

There is nothing more unreasonable than to stir our passions about that which we cannot choose, as most future things are. What will happen tomorrow, what outcome will my projects and plans have? This is not under my control, these depend on other people’s wills, purposes, and actions. They are not in my power. Either to boast or be anxious about things that depend on so many causes not under my control and things I cannot prevent is both unbelieving and unreasonable (Matthew 6:25). Such anxiety and boasting can neither prevent evil nor procure good.

Only the present is in our power. We are dead to yesterday already, for it is past and cannot return; it is as it was buried in the grave of oblivion. We are not yet born to tomorrow, for it has not come to the light, and we do not know if it ever will come. There is no more in our knowledge but the present hour. Though we remember the past, it, our knowledge of it is not practical. It cannot be changed or reformed. The future is not born to us and is to us as if we were not born to it either.

3. Uncertainty is All that is Certain

There is such an infinite possibility of outcomes that it is foolish to presume to boast of anything or rest in it. There is nothing certain except that all things are uncertain — that all things are subject to perpetual motion, revolution, and change. Today a city, tomorrow a heap. There is nothing between a great city and a heap except one day, nothing between a man and no man but one hour. Our life is subject to infinite casualties, it may receive a fatal stroke from the least and most unexpected thing. It is a bubble floating on the water in continual motion with a storm. So many poor dying creatures rise up, swim and float awhile, and are tossed up and down by the wind and wave. The least puff of wind or drop of rain sends it back to its own element. We are a vapour appearing for a very little time—a creature of no solidity—a dream—a shadow and appearance of something. This dream or apparition is but for a little time, and then it vanishes, not so much into nothingness but it disappears. All human affairs are like the spokes of a wheel, continually revolving. In this constant revolving of outward things, who can enjoy true quiet and peace? Only the soul that is fixed, with its centre on God and abides in Him. Though the parts may be in constant motion, the centre of the wheel is at rest and not violently turned.

4. Uncertainty is for God’s Glory

There is infinite wisdom and goodness in the way that the Lord orders all things. At first glance, people would think it better if everything happened uniformly so that everyone knew what would happen to them. Yet, God has provided for His own glory and our good in this. He has kept the absolute dominion and perfect knowledge of all His works for Himself. It is for His glory in that He orders them with such great variety, that they may be seen to proceed from Him.

5. Uncertainty is For Our Good

It is for our good. What use would many Christian virtues and graces, if it were not so? What place would there be for patience if there were no adverse events? What place would there be for moderation if there were no prosperity? If there were not such variations and vicissitudes, how would the evenness and constancy of the spirit be known? What place would contentment and tranquillity of mind have? These are a calm in a storm, not a calm in a calm (that would be no virtue). If the various outcomes of providence could be foreseen by us, it would completely disorder our duty. Who would do their duty out of conscience to God’s command in committing events to Him? As it is now our obedience is tested. We have to go by a way we do not know and submit to God’s all-seeing providence.

God has so ordered the world that no grace lacks a reason to be exercised, no virtue may die out for want of fuel, or rust for lack of use. There is no condition of affairs without a fair opportunity for exercising some grace. If one or many cannot be exercised due to affliction, He has still opened a large door for self-denial, humility, patience and moderation.

6. Uncertainty Points Us to Eternity

Even the very nature of the material world speaks loudly of this to us. When you look below, there is nothing seen but the outside of the earth, only its very surface appears, and there your sight is terminated. But look above and there is no termination, no bounding of the sight —there are infinite spaces, all transparent and clear. This shows us that our affections should be set on things above and not on things below. There is nothing below except the outward appearance and surface of things —the glory and beauty of the earth are but skin deep. But heavenly things are all transparent, there is nothing to set bounds to the affections. They are infinite, and you may enlarge infinitely towards them.

God has made all things in time dark and opaque, like the earth. Look at them and you only see the outside of them, the present hour. You know no more of what is beyond than you can see of the depths beneath the earth. But eternity is transparent throughout, and infinite too. Therefore, God has made us blind to earthly things, that we should not set our heart nor terminate our eyes on anything here. But He has opened and spread eternity before us in the Scriptures, so that you may read and understand your everlasting condition in it. He has shut up the things of time and sealed them and He wills us to live in relation to them by trusting in Him of them without anxious forethought.

7. Uncertainty Points Us to True Contentment

No one can find any satisfaction in enjoying the things of the present (without always hoping for the future) until they fully possess God as an all-sufficient good (Psalm 4:6) Without this, great things will not make us content. For what is all that to a person if they have no assurance concerning the future? And with this, we can even be content with little things. Great things with little hope and expectation fill us with more vexation than joy, the greater they are the more this is increased. Little things, with great hopes and expectations, give more satisfaction. All mankind look towards tomorrow and strive to make up for what they lack in the present with hope or confidence in the future.

8. Uncertainty Points Us to True Hope

You should strive to fill up what is lacking in present things with that great hope, the hope of salvation, which will be as a helmet to keep your head safe in all difficulties (1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:18-19; Romans 5:5). It is true, other people’s expectations of gain and other things, do to some extent abate the pain of what they lack in the present. But it is certain that such hope will not expel all grief from the heart but leaves much vexation within. The frequent disappointment of such projects and plans of gain, honour, and pleasure, and their extreme failure to fulfil the desires and hopes of the soul, even when attained, must breed infinitely more anxiety and vexation in the spirit. If you would have your souls truly established and not hanging on tomorrow uncertainly (as most do) look beyond tomorrow to the everlasting day of eternity that has no tomorrow after it. See what foundation you can lay up for that future time to come (1 Timothy 6:16-19). If you would have a foundation of lasting joy, why seek lasting joy in fading things and certain joy in uncertain riches, and solid contentment in empty things? Why not rather seek it in the living God, inexhaustible spring of all good things? We are not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (1 Timothy 6:17).
We are to do good and be rich in good works, laying up in store a good foundation for the time to come (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Eternity is the only time worthy to be called time. Striving to do good, and be rich in good works, in works of piety, of mercy, of justice and moderation is a better foundation for the time to come. Receive and embrace the promise of eternal life —that free and gracious promise of life in the gospel to make up for what is lacking in present enjoyments. The precious hope of eternal life cannot disappoint.

9. Uncertainty Should Make Us Submit to God’s Will

But most people like the fool in the parable (Luke 12:13-21) have something stored up for many years or else their projects and plans extend to many years. The truth is, they have more pleasure in the expectation of such things than in really possessing them. But that pleasure is only imaginary. How many thoughts and plans are continually turning in the heart of man—how to be rich, how to get greater gain or more reputation? People build castles in the air, and imagine to themselves, as it were, new worlds of mere possible things. Everyone makes fantasies for themselves as if they were themselves in control of it all. Then we boast ourselves in the confidence of them as if there were not a supreme Lord who rules our affairs as immediately as He does the winds and rains.

The folly of this is made clear in that we do not know what a day may bring forth. There is so much inconstancy in all things and ignorance in us that it should restrain our boasting. The apostle James refers to the resolutions and purposes of rich men to profit from trading (James 4:13-16). Such are the plans in the hearts of men, either for more gain, more glory, or more pleasure and ease.

This does not reprove either care and diligence in using lawful means for the things of this life or wise and prudent foresight in the ordering of our affairs. Both these are frequently commended by the wise man (Proverbs 6:6 and 24:27). But the great iniquity is conducting ourselves as though we were in control and without consideration of the sovereign universal dominion of God. It is not in man that walks to direct his paths (Jeremiah 10:23 and Proverbs 16:19).

God is not bound by any rule to conform His actions to our intentions. He works everything according to the counsel of His own will and not ours (Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 19:21 and 16:9). Man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his paths (Proverbs 20:24)? We ought to say and think “if the Lord will”. We do not know will happen tomorrow because our life itself is a vapour. You can make plans for tomorrow, for a year, for many years, and yet you do not know if you will exist tomorrow. How ridiculous such things are if they are not done with submissive and humble dependence on God.

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10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
24 Jul, 2020

People have been offering lessons to learn from the start of the coronavirus crisis. They range from social, public health and economic concerns to personal life lessons. With the benefit of hindsight some query how it has been managed. Debate about whether these lessons will be learned is likely to be ongoing. What about the spiritual lessons we ought to take from this crisis? How have we responded and how ought we to have responded? It’s not over yet of course, and so we still need to apply these ten lessons amongst others.

We can learn from those in the past who have reflected on the spiritual lessons we need at such a time. Thomas Brooks wrote a book during the plague year in London called The Privy [Secret] Key to Heaven. In a lengthy introduction he covers twenty special lessons that we need to learn.

The first ten relate to an application of Micah 6:9. He counsels us to cling close to God in affliction. We must acknowledge God’s sovereign role and voice in it. We must also humble ourselves in response to such an event and engage in sincere repentance. We will look at the last ten in this updated excerpt.

1. Do Not Be Discouraged in Affliction

Do not be discouraged under the rod of affliction (Jeremiah 27:13; 2 Samuel 24:10,17; Hebrews 12:5) because:

  • it is a rod in a Father’s hand
  • God will do much good by the rod
  • you could not have been without the rod

This affliction is not according to the greatness of God’s anger, nor according to the greatness of His power, nor according to the strictness of his justice, nor according to the demerits of your sins, nor according to the malicious desires of Satan. It is not according to the designs, plots, and contrivances of wicked and unreasonable men. It is not according to the extensiveness of your fears—for you have feared worse things than you feel. Nor is it according to that sharp rod which has been upon the primitive saints, nor according to that sharp rod which many thousands of the precious sons and daughters of Zion are under in other parts of the world. Therefore do not faint under the rod, do not be discouraged under the rod.

By fainting under the rod, you will gratify Satan, reproach religion and render yourselves unable to serve. You will make work for future repentance. Do not therefore faint under the rod. 

2. Wait for God’s Deliverance from Affliction

You must be patient and quiet under the rod of affliction until the Lord will either give you a gracious, or a glorious, deliverance from it (2 Chronicles 32:25-26; Leviticus 26:40-42; Micah 7:9; Lamentations 3:30). What is the rod and the raging pestilence compared to the horrors of conscience and  flames of hell, or everlasting separation from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)? Put your mouths in the dust therefore, and be silent before the Lord.  

3. Glorify God in Affliction

Fully justify the Lord and think and well of Him under the rod of affliction. Study these Scriptures (Psalm 119:75,137; Nehemiah 9:33; Ezra 9:13; Lamentations 1:3,5,7-8,10; Lamentations 4:15,18; Daniel 9:12,14; 2 Kings 20:16-19; Jeremiah 12:1-2; Psalm 119:17-22; Psalm 22:1-3; Psalm 97:2).

4. Personal Reformation in Affliction

When the rod smarts, and the pestilence rages—God expects that everyone should repent and turn from the evil of their doings (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). This verse is saying “I will remove the judgments that are on the land, and I will confer on my reforming people all those favours and blessings that they need.” Study these Scriptures, (Ezra 10:14,19; 2 Chronicles 30:8-9; and 2 Chronicles 29:8,10,15-16).

5. Find Refuge in God in Affliction

Make God your habitation, shelter, and refuge. Ponder these Scriptures seriously, (Psalm 91:2,9-10; Psalm 90:1; Psalm 71:3; Psalm 57:1). Those who dwell in God under the shadow of the Almighty lodge their souls in the bosom of eternal loves every day. They dwell most safely, most securely and most nobly.

6. Fear God in Affliction

Make God the great object of your fear (see Psalm 119:119-120; Isaiah 8:7-8,13-14).  When the judgments of God are either threatened or carried out, feared or felt—it greatly concerns us to lift up God as the main object of our fear. We should fear the hand which uses the rod more than the rod itself (Job 13:11; Jeremiah 36:24). When God takes up the rod, it concerns us greatly to fear before Him with a child-like,  reverential fear. This is a fear that fortifies the heart against sin. It is a fear which fits the soul for duty, it draws and even drives the soul to duty. 

7. Find God’s Presence in Affliction

Expect God’s unique presence with you and protection over you. Study these Scriptures, (Isaiah 43:2; Daniel 3:24-25; Genesis 39:39-40; Psalm 23:4-5; Psalm 91; Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 26:20-21; Ezekiel 9:4,6). God is above His people and beneath them (Deuteronomy 33:25-27). He is under them and over them (Song 2:6). He is before them and behind them (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He is on the right hand of His people, and on the left hand of His people (Psalm 16:8; Psalm 121:5; Psalm 118:15-16; Exodus 14:22,29). God is round about His people, (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 125:2). God is in the midst of His people (Zechariah 2:5; Psalm 46:5; Psalm 12:6). O the safety and security of the poor people of God.  

8. Exercise Grace Daily in Affliction

Live every day in fresh, excellent, and frequent exercise of grace. Study these Scriptures, (Psalm 91:2-4; Jeremiah 39:17-18; Micah 7:7-9; Psalm 40:1-2; Habakkuk 2:1-4; Jeremiah 30:21). The person who lives in daily exercising grace lives every day in heaven on this side of heaven, whatever affliction they may experience.

9. Pray More in Affliction

Stir up your hearts to seek the Lord in extraordinary ways: namely, by fasting and prayer. Study these Scriptures, (Numbers 16:46-50; Psalm 106:23,29-30; Isaiah 22:2-5,12-13; Jonah 3:5-10; 2 Chronicles 12:2-7; 1 Kings 21:21-29; Joel 2:12-17).

10. Prepare for Death Because of Affliction

You are to learn by the raging pestilence or rod to prepare for death. This means to be in actual readiness to die. Every ache, every pain, every disease—is one of death’s warnings. There is not a headache,  toothache, fever, pain, fall, wrench or plague-sore which is not a divine warning to man to prepare to die. It is a solemn thing to die, we need therefore to prepare to die. It is a work to be done once only and so we need to prepare to do it well.

We listen to sermons often, pray often, read often, and meditate often in this world. We eat and drink often and what is worst, we sin often. Yet we must die only once (Job 14:14; Hebrews 9:27). Death will prove all our graces, experiences, evidences, comforts, attainments and enjoyments. We need to prepare to die therefore. There is nothing more certain than death but there is nothing more uncertain than the time, place, and manner in which we will die.

Preparing to die does not make us die sooner but rather much easier and better. Unless we prepare to die, all other preparations will do us no good. Death is a change, a great change; it is the last change until the resurrection. It is lasting, indeed it is an everlasting change; for it puts a man into an eternal condition of happiness or misery. It is a universal change; all people must pass under this flaming sword. It highly concerns us therefore to prepare for death.

Conclusion

After outlining these lessons that we should learn, Brooks expresses a desire for his readers. It is our souls may experience such a fresh, excellent, full, and constant operation from the Holy Spirit that will enable us to benefit from the lessons.  This is what we need and why earnest prayer is so critical at this time.

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How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?

How Does God Still Work in Creation?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
14 Jul, 2020

The Bible clearly teaches that God continues to look after and oversee all that He made. Scripture makes clear that His power is as necessary to maintain the world as it was to make it (Hebrews 1:3). Some believe that God created everything but then left creation to continue by itself with no continual involvement. But this is not what the Bible teaches (Psalm 103:19). Let’s explore Bible Truth on this subject.

This is an extract from the recently reprinted book Bible Truth Explored. It uses the Westminster Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. Its simple and straightforward approach make it well suited for all ages in group, family and individual study. The following extract relates to Question 11 of the Shorter Catechism.

Q. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

God’s providence preserves

God sustains the whole creation in existence moment by moment, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). He does this by constantly providing for them (Psalm 36:6).

People sometimes talk about the ‘laws of nature,’ often forgetting that it is really the
Lord who is providing for His creatures. He constantly provides what is necessary
for them to survive and flourish. He controls the seasons, the water cycle, and all
the features of ecosystems (Psalm 104). If God ever suspended His preserving work,
everything would simply go out of existence.

God preserves “all his creatures, and all their actions.” In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Every breath we take and all our ways belong to Him (Matthew 6:26-34, Daniel 5:23)

“The Lord rules and directs all His creatures…just as surely as He preserves them.”

God’s providence governs

Psalm 66:7 asserts that God rules “by his power for ever”. The Psalmist was reflecting on the truth that the Lord rules and directs all His creatures and all their actions, just as surely as He preserves them. The sun, moon, stars and all celestial bodies are under His hand. The wind, rain and snow are at His command. Kings, prime ministers and presidents do not reign and govern by chance. It is by His power and authority that they come and go (Proverbs 8:15–16).

God’s providence is holy

God is holy in all His ways and works. He governs His own creation in holiness
and in such a way as will promote holiness. Because we see so much evil and
wickedness happening, we can sometimes struggle to see the holiness of God in
His providence. For example, the fact that God governs all the actions of His
creatures includes even the sinful actions of sinful creatures. God is nevertheless
still holy and acting in holiness when He permits sinners to have evil thoughts
and gives them good health and energy to put wicked ideas into action.

At the same time God remains holy. He is not the author of sin and He is not responsible for the sins of sinful beings. His governing in providence includes setting limits on people’s wickedness, and limits on the damage their wickedness causes. His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions and when He converts notorious sinners into dear saints. God’s holiness can also be seen in His justice, when He brings bad consequences on sinners for their bad actions. For example, the conspirators who wanted innocent Daniel to be destroyed were themselves soon punished by being thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:24).

“His holiness can be seen in His mercy, when He brings good outcomes out of sinful actions.”

God’s providence is wise

Think of the history of Joseph in Genesis. His life was full of sadness and difficulty, but at last it became clear that God had a wise plan in it all and worked it out perfectly. “But God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The reason for many things in life may not be clear to us but we are to trust in God’s purposes (Romans 8:28).

We see wisdom in action when somebody uses the best tools and methods to reach the best outcome, even when we don’t initially understand what they are doing. It might seem strange, for example, to infect people deliberately with cowpox, giving them unpleasant lesions and fever, but once someone has had cowpox they are protected from smallpox, a deadly disease. God is using the best methods even when our limited wisdom prevents us from seeing how His methods will ever achieve a good outcome.

God’s providence is powerful

Do you remember proud King Nebuchadnezzar? He thought that there was none as important or powerful as he himself. But God humbled him and taught him that the King of Heaven has power beyond any mere men. Nebuchadnezzar put it like this: “none can stay his hand,” meaning that no one can interfere with or alter His powerful oversight (Daniel 4:35).

When God announced that He was going to set the Israelites free from Egypt, there was nothing that cruel Pharaoh could do to stop them. He might have thought he had survived the plagues which God had sent, and he must have thought the Israelites were at his mercy when his armies cornered them on the brink of the Red Sea. But he was no
match for God’s power in providence. In preserving, managing, arranging, and governing, God is not only capable but invincible.

Something to think about…

  • God is constantly in control of all His creatures and all their actions. Can you
    think of some examples (from the Bible or your own observation) where God
    demonstrates either His holiness, wisdom, or power as He preserves and
    governs (a) something tiny, (b) something enormous, (c) a living creature, (d)
    an inanimate force of nature, (e) a notorious sinner, (f) a godly believer?
  • Someone has compared the operation of God’s providence to a clock which
    has lots of cogs and wheels. They may go in opposite directions but they fit
    together and all work together to make the clock keep time. How can we see
    this in the life of Joseph?

Personal reflection

  • How should the fact that God’s providence is simultaneously holy, wise, and
    powerful make us willing to accept whatever happens to us in our lives?

Get it Now!

There is so much to learn about God and ourselves from the Bible that we need an accurate summary. We need a guidebook to what the Bible says we must believe and how we must live. This resource uses the Shorter Catechism to explore Bible truths in small, easily digestible sections with questions for further reflection. 

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The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
10 Jul, 2020

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

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

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

Further Help

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

 

 

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The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World

The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World

The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World
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.
5 Jun, 2020

The initial hopes that a global crisis might lead to a global ceasefire in warzones around the world seem to have faded. Heartbreakingly, the danger is that it can intensify a humanitarian crisis into a disaster. In western nations tensions and divisions easily boil over on top of an already troubled situation. Countries not troubled by war or civil unrest but still troubled by the virus continue to have significant challenges. As individuals, there may be many things that together seem to rob us of peace of mind and heart. Spiritually, there are many troubles and concerns. Is perfect peace a real and attainable possibility in such a troubled world?

Perfect peace is of course a phrase that comes from Scripture itself (Isaiah 26:3). Hugh Binning explains more of what this peace is and how to attain it. He was speaking in a time of war and unrest.

The news of such a peace might be fitting in time of war and trouble if we grasped our need of it. It is not a peace from war and trouble, but a peace in war and trouble. “My peace I leave with you,” and “in the world” you will have trouble (John 14:27 and John 16:33). What a blessed message, that perfect peace is attainable in the midst of the wars, confusions, and calamities of the times, public and personal. It is a perfect peace, a complete peace, even without attaining outward and worldly peace. Indeed, it is most perfect and entire in itself when it is stripped of them all.

What a privilege the gospel offers you! You only need to be made miserable if you choose to be. This is more than all that the world can afford you. No one can promise themselves immunity from public or personal dangers, from many griefs and disappointments. But the gospel urges you to total up all troubles and miseries that you can meet with in the world and yet assures you that if you heed wisdom, there is a peace that will make you forget that trouble. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). “I create peace,” God says, “I create it out of nothing” (see Isaiah 45:7). I will keep you “in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3).

There are three things we need to know: what this perfect peace is, where it comes from, and how to attain it. The fountain of it, the preserver of it, is God Himself. It is attained through trusting in God and staying ourselves on Him (Isaiah 26:3).

1. What is the source of this perfect peace?

The source of the peace that passes understanding is peace with God; peace of conscience and peace with others is a stream that flows from this. There is a peace of friendship when persons were never enemies, and there is a peace of reconciliation when parties at variance are made one. Here, then, is the privilege of a believer—to be at peace with God, to be one with Him. This indeed is life eternal, to be united to the fountain of life. In his favour is life; His loving-kindness is better than life.

Is not this a blessed condition? Whatever a man has done against God is all forgiven and forgotten, it will never come into remembrance. Are not angels blessed who are friends with God? Such is the soul whose sins are pardoned through Christ, —its sins are as if they never had been. The soul has not only escaped that terrible wrath of God but being at peace with God, it will partake of all the goodness that is communicable to creatures.

This sweetness of peace is found in God the tree of life. Faith puts up its hand and picks the fruit of the tree. Hope and dependence on God are like tasting that fruit and eating it. Then this perfect peace follows as the delightful sweetness that the soul finds in God, tasting how gracious He is. God Himself is the life of our souls, the fountain of living waters, the life and light of men. Faith and trust in God, draw out of this fountain or deep well of salvation. By staying itself on God, faith drinks of it until the soul is refreshed with such peace and tranquillity as passes understanding.

Trusting and staying ourselves on God is the soul casting its anchor upon him amid the waves and storms of sin, wrath, and trouble. The poor beaten sinner casts an anchor on the sure ground of unchangeable promises in Jesus Christ. Then the soul rests and quiets itself at that anchor and enjoys peace amid the storm. There is a great calm, it is not moved, or not greatly moved, as if it were a calm day. David flees to God as his refuge, anchors on the name of the Lord (Psalm 62:1- 2) and so he enjoys a perfect calm and tranquillity. “I shall not be moved,” because he is united to the rock, he is tied to the firm foundation, Jesus Christ, and no storm can dissolve this union. That is not because of the strength of the weak rope (faith); omnipotence surrounds it so that we “are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.”

2. What is this perfect peace?

The Christian may have peace concerning their salvation and eternal things and about all things that happen in time.

(a) Peace concerning eternal things

This is when the conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. It gets a good answer to all the accusations of conscience, the law, and justice (1 Peter 3:21). It is when the Spirit of God shines into the soul with a new light to reveal these things that are freely given (1 Corinthians 2:12).

(b) Peace concerning all things that happen in time

What does the person lack concerning perfect peace who is reconciled to God and at peace within himself? When peace guards the heart and mind within as a castle or garrison, to keep out all fears of outward things, all the world may be troubled outside. The floods may lift their voice, but they cannot come into the soul. If they are the same in peace and trouble, prosperity and adversity, do not lament them in one more than the other.

It is the mind that makes your condition good or bad. All things are the believer’s, because they are Christ’s, and all are Christ’s, who is the possessor of heaven and earth (1 Corinthians 3:21). The godly person is at peace with all afflictions and comforts because of Christ’s blood, the sting and enmity of all ills are taken away by Christ.

Poverty has become a friend because Christ was poor. Hunger and thirst have become friends because Christ was hungry and thirsty. Reproach and contempt are at peace with the believer because Christ was despised. Afflictions and sorrows are reconciled to them, because Christ was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs. In a word, death itself is become a friend, since Christ subdued it. The worst things to a natural man have become best friends to the believer; the grave keeps their body and dust in hope. Death is a better friend than life, for it ministers an entrance into glory: it is the door of eternal life.

Christ has stamped anything you can think of with a new quality; it comes through His hand. If it is not good in itself, yet it is good in His appointment and use of it in providence (Romans 8:21). If it is not good, yet it works together for our good; it contributes to our good, because it is in His skillful hand, who can bring good out of evil, peace out of trouble. Such peace should be more to you than peace in the world. If you have it, your peace will be as a river in abundance and permanence; no drought could dry it up. It will run in time as a large river and when time is over, it envelops itself in eternity. That is the ocean of eternal peace and joy in which the saints are swallowed up above. Other people’s peace is like a mere brook that dries up in summer.

3. How can we attain this perfect peace?

We declare to you the way of obtaining perfect peace—peace as a river. If you abandon all trust in self, flee from self as your greatest enemy, and trust your souls to the promise in Jesus Christ. Lean your whole weight on Him and we assure you, your peace will run abundantly and perpetually.

(a) By trusting in God

Whoever trusts in created things, in uncertain riches, in worldly peace, in anything at all besides the only living and glorious Lord, we persuade him, that his peace will fail as a brook. All things in this world will deal deceitfully with you, like a brook that dries up (Job 6:15). But if you pour out your souls on Him and trust in the fountain of living waters, you will not be ashamed, for your peace will be as a river. Nothing can take your peace from you for it runs like a river. It may be shallower and deeper, but it cannot run dry, because of the living fountain it proceeds from. All beside this is uncertain; nothing besides this can give you satisfaction.

Trusting in God is the leaning the soul’s weight on God. The soul must cast its burden on the Lord and so find rest (Matthew 11:28). Leaning on ourselves and trusting in God are opposites (Proverbs 3:5). Trusting is casting the soul on God and lifting the soul to Him (Psalm. 22:10; Psalm 25:1).

When people have risked their souls on His word and trusted in Him, then they may trust in him for all things. He who has given His Son for us, will He not with Him also give all things? This, is the continual recourse of a believer. They travel from the emptiness and insufficiency they discover in self to the fulness and strength of Jesus Christ. Thus their strength may be perfected in weakness. When all things seem contrary, yet ought we to trust in Him (Job 13:15). Faith will always look always towards God’s Word, whatever is threatened to the contrary.

Constant dependence and staying ourselves on God flows from this faith in Him. They are stayed on Him because they trusted in Him. Faith considers His power, His goodwill, and His faithfulness. He is able and willing to do it, and He is faithful because He has promised. Staying ourselves on God is nothing else except the fixedness of believing and trusting (Psalm 112:7-8). It is expressed firstly in meditating on God, and secondly, in expecting all good things from Him.

(b) By meditating on God

Most people have few thoughts of God at all. Even those who trust in him do not consider sufficiently how great the one in whom they believe is. If faith were vigorous it would make us often think on Him, seeking to know Him in His glorious names. The mind would be stayed on this glorious, most mysterious, and wonderful one. People’s minds are strongly drawn to vain things but meditating on God is a burden to them. Any other thing gets more time and thoughts.

Meditation adds affection to contemplation. The soul is stayed on God when the soul’s desires are towards the remembrance of His name, then affection stays the mind. The mind gives only passing looks and limited thoughts, where the heart is not engaged. The soul of a believer should be constant and fixed in considering God until they are wholly engaged in admiration and wonder (Psalm 8:1). You all say that you believe in God, you know He is good, He is merciful, just, long-suffering, faithful, etc. But all this knowledge is only ignorance, and your light darkness, if it does not compel you to put your trust in His name.

Believers, should your hearts and minds be stayed on vain things, more than the living God? Our minds are in a continual motion from one thing to another, for nothing gives complete satisfaction. Time is spent in choosing and refusing, rejecting one thing and taking another, and again returning to what you have rejected. People are tossed up and down, and unstable in all their ways, as a ship without ballast. Faith and trust in God is the ballast and weight of this inconstant ship: it is the anchor to stay it from being driven to and fro. If you would consider Him and meditate on Him until your souls loved Him, would you not be ravished with Him?

This would fix and establish you in spiritual things. Here is One that is “past finding out.” The more I search and find, I find him the more above what I can search and find. Created things disappoint, but the Lord God is an everlasting fountain. He will never send any away disappointed that trust in Him because they will find more than they expected.

(c) By expecting from God

The soul that is stayed on God in meditation on Him knows Him and will be fixed in its expectation from Him. Our expectations from created things are disappointed because they change. But the Lord exceeds our expectations. The Lord has often done things we did not expect.

Three things disquiet us most: sin and wrath; future events; and present calamities. Faith establishes the soul on God in all of these. It will not allow it to be driven to and fro with these winds; it finds a harbour and refuge in God from all these. My conscience challenges and writes bitter things against me, yet I have an answer in that blood that speaks better things than Abel’s. If sins prevail, he will purge them away. His mercy and power are greater than all my sin. He has promised and will He not do it?

We are often perplexed about future events. This is great torment of spirit, cuts, and divides it. But those that trust in God are established in this (Psalm 112:7-8). They have committed their soul to Him, and why not their body? He cares for me, says faith. He has given his Son for me, the most precious gift which the world cannot match, and will He not with Him give all these lesser things? Thus, the believer encloses himself within the Father’s love and providence, and is fixed, not fearing evil tidings. For what tidings can be evil, seeing our Father has the sovereign disposing of all affairs and knows what is best for us? Pity the world around you, that do not know this peace.

Conclusion

Maintain your peace, do not grieve the Spirit who has sealed it. If you return to folly after he has spoken peace to you, I persuade you, you will not maintain this peace. There may be peace with God, but no peace in your conscience, as long as your heart is engaged with sin. Continuing in a course of sin, entertaining any known sin, will trouble your peace. If God has spoken peace to thee, you must not harbour His enemy in peace. Those who love God’s law have great peace (Psalm 119:165). Obedience and delight in it do not make peace, but it is the way of peace. Much meditation on the blessed word of God is the most excellent means to preserve this peace if it is secured by much prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). If you would unburden your hearts daily at the throne of grace, peace will guard and keep your heart, and then your peace will be perfect indeed.

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
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.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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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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Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning

Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning

Following the Rainbow Trail to its Original Meaning
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
22 Apr, 2020

Over recent weeks rainbows have been appearing all around the world. It was first started in Italy and Spain as a sign of hope and solidarity, and has spread to other countries. Children have been encouraged to paint rainbows and put them in their windows. They can then follow “The Rainbow Trail” as they go out on walks. The purpose is to hold out bright hope in the darkest of times. It is very welcome to see rainbows better connected with their original meaning rather than made a political symbol of an unbiblical lifestyle. There is much more to the rainbow, however, than a general symbol of hope in stormy times. God made it for a purpose and gave it a particular significance. It has a lot to teach us when we reflect carefully on its meaning as given in Scripture.

The rainbow is not just mentioned in Genesis 9 after the flood, it is also in the symbolic visions of Christ in Ezekiel and Revelation. William Greenhill draws out the fuller significance of the rainbow as it appears in the vision given to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:28. There is a description of that brightness or glory surround the One that sat on the throne (v26-27). When we compare it with a similar description in Revelation 4:3, it seems clear that this is a vision of Christ Himself. He Himself is glorious, robed with the brightness of glory and has a brightness surrounding Him that resembled the bow in the cloud, or as we call it the rainbow. The following is an updated extract. Perhaps there is much that we can encourage ourselves with here as we apply it to our present circumstances.

1. The Rainbow Speaks of God’s Faithfulness

The first mention of the rainbow is in the ninth chapter of Genesis (Genesis 9:13). Here God puts a double honour on it: (a) He says it is His, “my bow”; and (b) He makes it a token of the covenant between Him and the earth.

The rainbow is meant to remind us of the great flood that drowned the world, and to assure us that God will never do so again (Genesis 9:14-15). When we see the bow therefore in the heavens, we should: (a) be led to consider divine justice against the iniquities of the world, which He punished most severely, so as to destroy all people. (b) to remember the rich mercy of God to our forefathers and ourselves. He has bound Himself to us by covenant. This bow is the sign of that promise that He will never destroy the world again in that way.

2. The Rainbow Speaks of God’s Glory

The brightness that Ezekiel saw seems to surround the whole throne and person of Christ. We read in Revelation 4:3, where Christ is on the throne, that there is a rainbow round about it. This suggests that the rainbow mentioned here was also round about the throne.

God’s glory is always greatly evident in creation but when the rainbow is in the cloud something is added which is not to be neglected. God has added something glorious with various glorious colours in it. It is beautiful and attracts the eye at that moment more than all the other glory of the skies.

(a) God’s glory in creation

The glory of God shines in the heavens. The rainbow, as you know, has its origin and being from the beams of the sun. Although it is glorious, yet it is a borrowed glory. Thus, it teaches us that the glory in all created things is from another, from Christ. By Him kings reign. He gives gifts to the sons of men. He enlightens every man that comes into the world (see Proverbs 8:15; Psalm 107:8; John 1:9).

(b) God’s glory in providence

It speaks also of the glory and beauty of Divine Providence in its various dealings with the wicked and the godly, (as in the flood). It punishes one and rewards the other. When this is done there is so much glory in it that angels and men are deeply affected by it.

3. The Rainbow Speaks of Mercy

It is a token of mercy and favour. It is a bow without arrows and the back of it points towards the heavens and ends downward. Thus, it is a sign of mercy. When someone shoots arrows, he holds the back away from him (but here it is not directed towards the earth but rather upwards).

Scripture shows how it is a sign of grace and mercy. In Isaiah 54:8-10 the covenant made with Noah is applied to the covenant of grace made in Christ. In Revelation the rainbow is also a sign of grace. Christ sits on the throne with a rainbow round about it (Revelation 4:3). This shows that the throne of Christ is surrounded with mercy.

In Revelation 10:1 Christ is presented in a vision, crowned with the rainbow. There He is presented as a messenger of grace and peace. He is the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6) and His crown is the rainbow, an emblem of peace (Genesis 9:13-14). The rainbow has a variety of colours and is all glorious. Thus, it can appropriately represent the mercies of Christ which are various and glorious.
This symbol therefore signifies grace and mercy offered to those that were godly or who would repent of their wickedness. The glory of His justice formed into a bow is a token of mercy.

4. The Rainbow Speaks of Grace in Christ

Mercy and grace come to us through the human nature of Christ. In Ezekiel’s vision the brightness and the beams that make the bow come out from Him and surround Him (v26-27). When the Word was made flesh, glory and grace emanated (John 1:10 and 14). That was the most glorious rainbow that ever was or shall be in the world. He was not merely a sign of peace but is Himself our peace (Ephesians 2:14) because by His blood we are brought near.

5. The Rainbow Speaks of Mercy in the Midst of Judgment

The Lord Jesus Christ in wrath remembers mercy, He mingles mercy with judgment. He sits as Judge upon the throne, pronouncing His sentence against a sinful kingdom, executing the vengeance written against sinners. Yet here He is surrounded with the rainbow. This was to show the people of Ezekiel’s time that He would not utterly destroy the Jews, a remnant would be spared. When the great flood was drowning the world Noah and his family were saved; there was mercy in the midst of judgment. Here is a Judge with a rainbow over His head, to assure the godly they would not perish in this flood of wrath being poured out on the Jews at this time.

When Christ sits in judgment with the rainbow round about him, the godly may know that they will not perish by the wrath of God. If the glory of His majesty, stateliness of his throne, terror of His
justice and the greatness of His power ever discourage us, we must look at the rainbow round about Him and remember His throne is surrounded with mercy.

It was said of the Jews in the past that when they saw the rainbow, they went out to confess their sins but would not look at the rainbow itself. Confession of sin, or indeed any other duty, will do us no good unless we look at the rainbow, the mercy of Christ. Justice and mercy surround the throne of Christ. There was brightness round about, and the rainbow was round about. Go to Christ’s throne, there is nothing but justice there for the sinner unless they are repentant and believing, yet if they are such, there is then nothing but mercy there for them.

There was a storm at this time yet in it there was also a rainbow for the prophet and godly to look at. It is “the bow in the cloud in the day of rain.” God rains snares, fire and brimstone, and horrible tempest on the wicked but even then the rainbow is in the cloud and the righteous should look for it and look at it. They should remember the covenant and its mercy. Is the present time not a rainy and stormy time, is this great Prince not angry with the kings and kingdoms of the earth ? Does He not frown, chide and smite in many places? Let us look at the rainbow now and know that if a deluge of wrath comes on the world, yet God’s Noahs will be safe in the ark. The righteous will be hidden, Christ will manifest mercy to them.

John says that it was when he was in the Spirit that he saw the throne and the rainbow (Revelation 4:2). Let us be in the Spirit and look with eyes of faith, we shall see the throne and He that sits on it with the rainbow round about Him. Even though kingdoms are swamped by floods of errors, superstition, and ungodliness, even though they are drowned in troubles and blood we will still be able to see God and Christ with love and mercy towards us.

Conclusion

When we consider the original meaning of this symbol in Scripture it is bright with even greater, more enduring and more certain hope than most people appreciate. The rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and mercy, and it reveals much to us of His grace in Christ. Though the skies may be dark in many ways under present troubles yet there is a bright expectation of God’s mercy and faithfulness being fulfilled towards His people. He is working for His glory and the good of His people. He refines them in their faith during times of affliction. There are also many ways in which those who do not believe are no doubt being brought into contact with God’s Word and gospel. They have this mercy of God in Christ and an eternal hope revealed to them. God reigns and we may see by faith a rainbow of mercy surrounding His throne.

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How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
17 Apr, 2020

Does God intend us to learn from events? Some people react strongly against this as bizarrely mystical or arrogant. There is no doubt that people can be confidently wrong in their interpretation of certain events. But they can be self-assured in mistaken interpretations of the Bible too and that doesn’t make us give up on trying to understand Scripture. The very same passage that speaks about God revealing Himself in creation, also shows how He reveals His wrath in events (Romans 1:18, 20, 27-28). Christ warns against simplistic and arbitrary interpretations of events, but He affirms that we are to learn from them (Luke 13:1-5). God’s ways are often truly mysterious. It’s certainly sometimes challenging to try to learn the right lessons from providence and it requires much humility, but does this mean we are to give up? The Bible tells us that if we are wise, we will seek to understand events and connect them with the character and purpose of God (Psalm 107:43; Hosea 14:9). We are meant to at least ponder these things rather than say that they can never be known (Psalm 143:5). The question is not so much whether God speaks in events but how we can understand what He is saying through them.

We do not have to have a specific Bible verse that predicts a specific event to understand what God is saying. As with other ways of using Scripture in our daily lives, we apply general principles. Every time we apply Scripture to our lives and our world, we are trying to understand events in terms of the Bible. This is no different. The Bible must be our supreme authority for interpreting these things not simply what seems plausible to us personally. God doesn’t give a different message in events to the one He gives in Scripture it’s the same message but amplified because we are not listening.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that there is a purpose for every event and that there are always general lessons that we are meant to learn (v17-18). It can be difficult to understand certain things, but it is possible (Psalm 73:16-17; Micah 6:8-9; Amos 3:1-8). We are meant to seek to understand God’s purpose in good times and in difficult times (Ecclesiastes 7:14). We are meant to identify God’s goodness and lovingkindness in what we experience, and this should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Scripture also gives us principles such as we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7; Hosea 8:7). This leads us to expect that actions have future consequences in unfolding events.

There are some general rules that we can apply in relation to carefully observing events in providence. Just as when we see a rainbow, we are reminded of God’s promise, so we can identify other promises of Scripture being fulfilled in our own or other’s experience. We are able to depend on Scripture promises and principles and connect them with the events we witness (Romans 8:28). We can draw comfort from what happens in providence (Psalm 41:11; Genesis 24:45). We are also meant to be watchful for answers to prayer in the events we witness and interpret them according to God’s promises (Psalm 65:5; Micah 7:7; Ezekiel 36:37). In Matthew 16:1-4 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for not interpreting the signs of the times in the way that they could interpret the weather. We need to have understanding of the times to know what we ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

In a culture that sneers at the idea of God intervening or being in control it’s tempting to suggest that we just can’t know what God’s purposes may be. It is in the trying rather than encouraging circumstances that people often feel uncomfortable with trying to understand what God is saying. Yet we are still to enquire from God’s Word what we are to understand from them (2 Samuel 21:1). As David found, God will not always give advance warning of why something happens. We are meant, like Job, to ask why (Job 7:20; 10:2).

In Micah 6:9 we are told that the voice of God will sometimes sound in events. God may chastise through events as His rod, especially when we neglect what He requires of us (v8). If we are wise we will seek to “hear the rod” and the one who has appointed it. In expounding the meaning of these words, Andrew Gray shows how we are to seek to understand what God is saying through events. He shows that we may not always find an answer easily or we may indeed be mistaken. Surely, if Paul used the word “perhaps” in suggesting a reason for events (Philemon 15), we should be humble about our interpretation too. The following is an updated extract from Gray’s application of Micah 6:9.

1. Ways of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Reflect prayerfully.

Make serious application to the throne of grace that God would give you light concerning such a rod. This is remarkably clear in Genesis 25:22. Rebecca, did not understand God’s purpose in a particular “rod”. Therefore, she went and enquired of the Lord and received a particular and distinct answer to her condition.

This was also clearly practised by David (2. Samuel 21:1). Israel was under a great rod of famine. David went and enquired of the Lord concerning the meaning of it and he received a distinct answer. This is likewise clear in Job 10: 2 where Job, being in the dark concerning the meaning of the rod asks God to show him.

(b) Reflect on your condition at the time.
If it comes at a time when your heart was at a great distance from God. The meaning of the rod is probably that it is good for you to draw near to God. Or, if the chastisement is at a time when a Christian, is much taken up in pursuing after the things of the world. If you are engaging in spiritual activities in a merely formal way then, the voice of the rod to you is to stir up yourself to take hold on God. So, if a Christian wants to know the meaning of the rod, let them compare their present spiritual condition with the timing of the rod.

(c) Reflect on the nature of it.

This is certain, the sins of a people or person may be engraved on the rod in very legible letters. Sometimes the rod preaches our sins so plainly, that we do not need to interpret it. In Judges 1:6-7 there is such a direct relation between Adonibezek’s judgment and his sin that he might read his judgment as he did his sins. Sometimes God punishes those who do not listen to the distress of others by not listening to them in their trouble (Proverbs 21:23; Zechariah 7:13). You can see a divine proportion between the rod and the sin.

(d) Reflect on Scripture.

Observe what has been the Lord’s purpose and what He calls for from His people in Scripture when they were under a similar rod and dealings. Search our God’s purpose to the godly in Scripture under a similar rod and by all appearances this will still be His purpose. This is applying the general rule of Romans 15:4 that these things are for our learning.

(e) Reflect on the circumstances.

There may be circumstances by which a Christian may attain great light on what is the Lord’s intention by such a rod. Observing the circumstances will help a Christian to discover these three things:

• that such a chastisement is from the hand of the Lord.
• that God in the midst of wrath remembers mercy
• to know the voice and language of the chastisement. Sometimes a Christian cannot read love in the rod itself and yet read very much love in the circumstances

(f) Reflect on the general purposes.

All the rods and dealings a Christian encounters have one of three general purposes. They are sent to help them

  • Put to death their predominating sins and idols.
  • Be stirred up to exercise what ought to be their predominant grace
  • Be stirred up to do what ought to be their predominant duty.

It is easier to patiently endure a rod which is intended for us to exercise our predominant grace than one which is for putting to death our idols. There is no rod which a Christian can endure worse than that. A proud man can bear any affliction better than reproach; a worldly-minded man, can endure any affliction better than poverty. Are there not many that, when their idols are struck, cry out like the man in Judges 16:24? Sometimes in this situation we cry out with Jonah “it is better for me to die than to live”.

The affliction we least want to encounter is ordinarily best for us. Our will and welfare are seldom or never joined together; but Christ’s will and our welfare are often joined together. Ordinarily there is some comparison between our chastisements and our sins. If the Egyptians killed all the male-children of the Israelites, God likewise kills all the first-born in the land of Egypt. If Nadab and Abihu offer strange fire and if the Sodomites are taken up with the fire of lust, God will bring down fire from heaven and consume them.

2. Mistakes in Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Thinking it speaks wrath, when it speaks love. Some think that love and the rod cannot go together at all. God may never love a person more than when He is correcting them (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-6).
(b) Thinking that God can never answer our prayers while He is chastising. This was Job’s mistake (Job 9:16).
(c) Thinking it means they are not truly God’s people. When some do not see why God contends with them, they are tempted to cast away their hope.
(d) Thinking that serving God is pointless because of affliction. This is found in Psalm 73:13-14. It is hard for a person not to cast off religion, when God is contending with them. It is hard to have great respect for the ways of godliness under affliction.
(e) Thinking that God is not with them (Judges 6:13). The Christian may cry out, “I cannot reconcile God’s heart and His hand, I cannot reconcile love in God and His being with me, and this affliction and chastisement.

3. The Goal of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

The goal of understanding what God is saying in events is that a Christian may be helped to obey the voice of the rod or chastisement. The following will help.

(a) Hate your sin. If the chastisement calls for putting to death a particular lust and idol, bring your hearts to a spiritual hatred of it. If God is punishing you for your idols, cry out, “What have I any more to do with idols?”
(b) See the danger of your sin. Consider what danger there is by keeping your soul constantly joined to it, when the voice of the rod is, “Abandon such an idol”.
(c) Stir up and exercise grace. Strive to know that there is as much spiritual advantage in the real and spiritual exercise of a particular grace, as you can lose by any chastisement. Job gained as much (much more indeed) spiritual advantage by the exercise of his faith and patience than in all the things that he lost? There will be a glorious outcome and peace.
(d) Do the duty that is called for. Ensure that all hindrances to that duty are laid aside. If an affliction calls for us to exercise faith or prayer, remove everything that hinders this. Strive to see the beauty of that duty e.g. prayer.

4. The Difficulty of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

If we cannot find out what God is saying, here is some counsel.
(a) God is just, even though you do not know why He contends with you.
(b) Pray to God seriously to know the distinct meaning of a chastisement. We should go to God and say, “I have sinned, I will do so no more, show me my offence” (see Job 10:2).
(c) Try to know why God is not revealing the reason for a chastisement.
(d) Seek to have a tender heart. Sometimes we do not understand what God is saying because we are not spiritual.
(e) Have your heart most united to Christ. The devil fishes most when you are ready to fall because that is the Christian’s troubled waters. The devil never gets any greater advantage over a Christian as when he does not know the meaning of a chastisement. The devil will tell you a false meaning.

Conclusion

We need much grace and wisdom to have a right understanding of God’s Word so that we can a proper understanding of God’s Providence. Some things are clear but other answers are not necessarily quick. It requires prayerful patience and humility because the truth may well be painful and uncomfortable for us. If we either fail to cope with or despise God’s correction we will fail see the danger of our sin. This will harden our hearts and damage our relationship with God. We will miss out on much spiritual advantage in Christian growth and life (Hebrews 12:5-6). God’s correction is loving. As Gray points out, it may in fact be that God never loves a person more than when He is correcting them (Revelation 3:19). When God chastises believers, it isn’t punishment, it is pruning to help them grow. If we are wise, we will seek to “hear the rod” and the one who has appointed it (Micah 6:9).

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What if the Coronavirus Comes to Your Home?

What if the Coronavirus Comes to Your Home?

What if the Coronavirus Comes to Your Home?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Mar, 2020

It’s hard to avoid being at least unsettled by the constant focus on Coronavirus and its progress. It has been estimated that 40-70% of the world’s population will contract the virus this year. Whether or not they do, the impact in many other ways is likely to be significant. Suddenly, even praying for our daily bread can seem a far more immediate concern. We should, of course be concerned to preserve the life and health of ourselves and others carefully and lawfully. This is part of what the sixth commandment requires. What should be our response in a climate of panic and alarm when we don’t know what the future may hold? Perhaps we are inclined to shrug it off as hype and exaggeration. But neither panic nor carelessness are the right response. How do we express a confident trust in God’s sovereign care in a way that is not merely glib?

Christians have been in similar situations before. It is important to recognise that Coronavirus is nothing like as devastating as the plague. We can still learn, however, from how Christians responded to it. Jeremiah Burroughs was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. He lived through various outbreaks of the plague. In 1625 41,313 died in London and between 1640 and 1646 there were 11,000 deaths. During those years he preached a series of sermons from Philippians 4:11 on the subject of attaining contentment. He speaks of how contentment is possible, even in times of prevailing plague panic. These sermons were later published and have been valued by many as the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

What did he mean by contentment? “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Such contentment is active trust not a frozen fatalistic resignation. It does not mean mere passivity, we can use means in a way that follows God’s providence. The key matter is to submit to God’s will in such a way that “our wills are melted into the will of God”. “One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world”. He said that “a murmuring spirit is a greater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction”.

Burroughs identifies the plague as the saddest affliction of all. When it visited your home it meant almost certainly that the family would all be taken. What could possibly make up for so great an affliction? Burroughs tells us in this updated extract that God’s Covenant and its promises are enough in such circumstances.

1. Look for God’s Promises

There is no condition that a godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise or other in the Scripture to help him in that condition. Contentment goes out to the promises and can fetch from the promise that which will supply its needs. This is the most real thing in the world to a gracious heart. When they find a lack of contentment they go to the promise and the covenant. They plead the promises that God has made.

I will only mention one situation that is the saddest affliction of all; the plague visiting the home. In other afflictions they might have their friends and other things to comfort them. But in this they cannot have their friends come to them or other comforts because of the plague. Psalm 91:10 is a promise regarding the plague and also Psalm 91:5-6. It is a portion of Scripture for those in danger of the plague. But you will say “this is a promise that the plague shall not come near to them”. But notice that it also speaks of no evil coming on them, in other words the evil of it shall not come near you.

But you will say, “It does come to many godly people, and how can they make use of this portion of Scripture. It is rather a Scripture that would trouble them, because it is a promise that it will not come near them and yet it has. What good is there in such a promise?” You are under the protection of God more than others. But you also have this comfort, that the evil of it shall be taken from you. If God will make use of this affliction for other purposes, He will do it in such a way as He will make it up to you in some other way. Perhaps you have given your children something, but afterwards you need it back. So you say, “I will make it up to you some other way”. Your child does not think that your love is any whit less to them. So it is when God by His promise gives you His protection yet something happens. It is only as if a father should say, “I gave you that indeed, but let me have it and I will make it up to you some other way that will be as good”. God says “let me have your health and liberty, and life, and it shall be made up to you some other way”.

2. Look for God’s Purposes

When the plague comes to those that have such a promise, it is for some special and notable reason. God requires them to search and examine His purpose in a special way. There is so much to be learned in the promise that God has made concerning this particular evil that the people of God they may come to calm their hearts in this affliction. They can say “I read in this Psalm that God has made a promise to His people to deliver them from the plague. Yet I find it has come. It may be I have not made use of my faith in this promise before now. If God brings afflictions on me, yet God will make it up some other way. God made a promise to deliver me or at least to deliver me from all the evil of it.

Now if this thing does afflict me and yet I have a promise from God, certainly the evil of it is taken away. This promise tells me that if it does happen to me it is for some notable purpose. God has the use of my life and intends to bring about His glory some way that I do not know of. If He comes in fatherly chastisement, I will be satisfied. So a Christian heart by reasoning out of the Word, comes to satisfy their soul in the midst of the hand of God being so heavily on them and being in such a distressed condition as that.

Ungodly hearts do not find the same healing power in the Word to heal their worries and troubles of spirit. But when those that are godly come to the Word they find a plaster for all their wounds. So they come to have ease and contentment in such conditions that are very grievous and miserable to others.

3. Look to God’s Covenant

In 2 Samuel 23:5 David says that although he does not find his house to be as in every way as he would wish he has contentment. It is in the face that God has made with him an everlasting covenant. This is what helps everything. I am not so with God, nor is my house and family as I hoped it might be with God. Perhaps there is this or that affliction on my house. Suppose you would have the plague come into your house, and your house is not safe. You do not have that outward comfort in your house as formerly you had. But can you read this portion of Scripture and say the following?

“Although my house is not so blessed with health as other people’s houses are. Although my house is not so, yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant. I am still one in covenant with God. The Lord has made an everlasting covenant with me. As for things in this world, I see they are but momentary, they are not everlasting. I see that in a family when all was well only a week ago, everything is down now and the plague has swept away a great many of them. The rest are left in sadness and mourning. We see there is no rest in the things of this world, yet the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things. I find disorder in my heart and in my family; but the everlasting covenant is ordered in all things. Yes and that is sure. There is nothing sure in these earthly things. I can be sure of nothing here, especially in these times”.

We know that we can be sure of little that we have. Who can be sure of what they possess? Some have lived well and comfortably, all was well, yet within a day or two all was taken away. There is no sureness in the things of this world. But the covenant is sure. Notice what follows, “this is all my salvation”. Why David do you not want salvation from your enemies and outward dangers, from pestilence and plague? The frame of his spirit is quietened, as if he said “if that salvation comes, well and good, I shall praise God for it, but what I have in the Covenant, that’s my salvation, I look on that as enough”. “This is all my salvation, and all my desire”. Why David is there not something else you want besides this covenant? “No”, he says, “it is all involved in this”. Surely those who have all they desire must live contented lives. This holy man says, “this is all my desire”. Even if God does not make my house to grow, I have all my desires.

Thus you see how a godly heart finds contentment in the covenant. Many of you speak of the covenant of God, and of the covenant of grace, but have you found it so effectual for your souls? Have you sucked this sweetness from the covenant and contentment to your hearts in your sad conditions? It is a special sign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction comes to them they naturally go to the covenant. Just like a child goes to their mother or father as soon as it is in danger. So as soon as a gracious heart is in any trouble or affliction their new nature carries them immediately to the covenant. There they find ease and rest. If you find your heart running to the covenant, it is an excellent sign of the reality of grace.

Conclusion

Burroughs points us to the promises of God in times of trouble. There are various promises for the heart to find contentment in times of affliction such as Isaiah 43:2, Isaiah 54:17 and Joshua 1:5 (Hebrews 13:5 shows this applies to us as well as Joshua). Burroughs says that every time a godly person reads the Scriptures and encounters a promise, they ought to put their hand on it and say “this is a part of my heritage, it’s mine, and I am to live upon it”. This will make you to be contented. Other promises include Psalm 34:10, Psalm 37:6. Isaiah 58:10. We have to learn this lesson of contentment, as Paul did (Philippians 4:1) and we can only do it by grace. Burroughs says, “the Lord teach you thoroughly by His Spirit these lessons of contentment”. Here are some vital counsel for helping to quieten our hearts and strengthen our faith in troublous and uncertain times.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is a classic book by Jeremiah Burroughs. Showing how Christ teaches contentment, he also defines and describes it. Besides explaining how to attain contentment, Burroughs also deals with the sin of murmuring. 

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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

It is right to express our deep gratitude for the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom in World War II. We owe so much to that generation. There is little public recognition today, however, of the debt we owe to God. Many prayers were offered 75 years ago for this deliverance and in God’s great kindness they were answered. King George VI’s VE Day speech began “Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance”. It ended, “In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand”. 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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