14 Rules for the Christian Life

14 Rules for the Christian Life

14 Rules for the Christian Life
James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) was originally from the Black Isle, Ross-shire. He was imprisoned on the Bass Rock for ‘illegal’ field preaching but survived the times of persecution.
14 Aug, 2020

Life needs order rather than chaos; this is what attracted the millions who embraced Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. The rules Peterson presents do not, of course, arise from Scripture, grace in Christ and love to God. But their popularity revealed a widespread acknowledgement that life needs direction and structure; even a degree of self-denial. We have a degree of natural resistance against the idea of rules, even though we need them for order and safety. Perhaps it seems strange, therefore to speak of rules concerning the Christian life. Yet this is what the apostle Paul does (Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). They do not earn salvation but rather help us make spiritual progress. Scripture gives key principles and guidelines for healthy Christian living and progress and we need to give careful consideration to them.

James Fraser of Brea drew together some practical guidelines from Scripture for making progress in the Christian life. In no way are they meant as rules for earning salvation. Neither do they direct us to depend on our own resources and efforts. Fraser exalted Christ in his preaching as the only One who can save, keep and give spiritual strength to the soul. He had come in his own experience “to live in and to depend wholly on Christ for strength, justification, and comfort”.

But he discerned also that we need to walk wisely in the most God-glorifying way possible. He, therefore, gives the following rules to help us make progress in the Christian life. The Lord’s people walk by rules (he says); their life is fittingly compared to a race (Hebrews 12:1). I have therefore thought on some general rules to be observed as the foundation of all true religion.

1. Always Remember Your Highest Happiness

Strive to know and find out in what a person’s chief happiness consists and have an objective to follow. Until a person pursues the right purpose, they can never have the right activity and progress. Fix your heart in believing this: the enjoyment of God in Christ is your happiness. Make your heart to embrace and accept this. Sadly, most of us walk randomly, like beasts, without a purpose. This is the foundation of everything, that it is eternal life to know God and Jesus whom He has sent (John 17:3).

2. Always Have a Firm Resolution

It will contribute greatly to our progress in the way to be armed with a strong and deliberate resolution to walk in God’s ways (Psalm 119:106). It will determine our course. Consider and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of religion, and then thoroughly determine and bind yourself with the strongest engagements. Be affirmative, not indecisive.

3. Always Have the Right View of God

Strive to have and keep right, sound, orthodox, and charitable thoughts of God. Fix a lovely impression of God in your heart, such as Exodus 34:6-7. Fix your faith in God’s attributes—study this most as it is eternal life to know God (John 17:3). How will we call on God whom we have not known (Romans 10:14)? Any worship that is not directed to the true God is superstitious and unprofitable.

4. Always Seek to Do Your Duty

Always be in your duty. Runners must keep in the way. Never be idle. As there is an end, so there is a way. Never stop and stand still (Job 17:9). Lay this foundation, always be in duty; never leave it, whatever it is. You are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). We lose much by idleness. We are engaged in so great a work that we must not allow ourselves to grow cold in it. Our interruptions do us much harm. Little by little at last becomes a lot and makes good progress.

5. Always Be Guided by Scripture

Walk by faith and not by your own impressions. Make the Scriptures your rule: think, love, judge, and do according to this. Examine all things. Just as a person has an end and a way in travelling so they have a rule to direct them. This is the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 5:7; Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6:1-2). Reject all other guides but this.

6. Always Trust God

Always believe and never despair. Keep your heart up. Whatever comes do not lose your confidence. Never sink by discouragement, hope always steadfastly to the end. “Trust in Him at all times” (Psalm 62:8).  Hold fast your confidence steadfast to the end (Hebrews 3:6). There is never any grounds for despair—the grounds for faith always remains. Therefore, never lose your hope (Lamentations 3:26; Isaiah 26:4).

7. Always Live Near the Lord

Always live near the Lord. This is expressed in Scripture by walking with God and setting Him always at our right hand. Let your heart, thoughts, and affections always retain some impressions of His presence; fear always. Keep yourselves in the love of God. If you have departed from Him, return again; if you have returned, keep with Him. Everything good is with God, and everything not good comes from His absence and distance. “Woe also to them when I depart from them!” (Hosea 9:12). By all means, do not lose your guide; He is “all things,” life, light, strength, and health. You cannot be without this, wait on Him continually (Hosea 12:6; Psalm 16:8; Genesis 17:1) You can do nothing without Him (John 15:4-6). It is good for you to draw near to God (Psalm 73:28). 

8. Always Submit to God in Humility

Always be humble; never murmur. Always be abased in your own eyes. Always justify the Lord. Submit to all of His dealings in Providence. Never let your spirit be embittered or angered. Walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). 

9. Always Be Self-Controlled

Keep your spirit sober and in health. If you are sick and diseased you cannot travel. Do not be drunk with the “cares of this world,” (Luke 12:45). Do not be lifted up with pride or passion. Those whose spirit is lifted up within them are not right. Keep your spirit in an equal balance; “be sober” (1 Peter 5:8). Do not allow your passions to run to excess. Be sober in weeping, rejoicing, speaking, doing, fearing (Philippians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 7:30). Always be unshaken in having mastery over yourself.

10. Always Beware of Excess

Strive to avoid excess in food, drink, sleep, and recreation. Shun excess because it leaves us spiritually indisposed. The classical philosophers called being moderate the groundwork and foundation of all virtue (2 Peter 1:5-6; Proverbs 23:20). Runners must observe a careful diet and be restrained (1 Corinthians 9:25). Carousing is forbidden (Luke 21:34).

11. Always Beware of Worldly-Mindedness

Beware of worldly-mindedness and being too much engaged in the world (2 Timothy 2:4). Have as little commotion in the world as you can. Do not take charge of any more than you can master. If trapped, flee as a bird out of the snare and put your house in order. You must especially put the world out of your heart.  No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

12. Always Be Watchful

Be watchful. Beware of a spirit of slumber,  always stand on guard. “Watch in all things,” as the apostle commanded Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).  Always be suspicious of danger (Proverbs 28:14). Never become secure or careless. Remember your adversary is still busy and his snares are continually set. “Be vigilant” therefore (1 Peter 5:8). Always keep your eyes open. Look at and ponder everything. Do not be rash or hasty.

13. Always Use the Means of Grace Diligently

Be diligent in the means of grace, both in public and private; e.g. in listening to sermons, meditation, Christian conversation, spontaneous prayer, reading.  You must especially be diligent in private prayer, a person cannot be a Christian without this. You cannot work or labour unless you eat (Proverbs 10:4).

14. Always View Sin as the Greatest Evil

Look on sin as the greatest evil, and as something that is never to be done. Whatever you do, shun sin and shun temptations to evil, as well as evil itself.

Conclusion

These guidelines are succinct and contain much wisdom and reflection on Scripture and Christian experience. They show an understanding of key helps and hindrances in making spiritual progress. We will do well to keep them uppermost in our thinking as we seek to live out the gospel and devotion to Christ. 

 

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What Should Your “New Normal” Look Like?

What Should Your “New Normal” Look Like?

What Should Your “New Normal” Look Like?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
26 Jun, 2020

Everyone is exploring what post-lockdown life will look like. Some have various fears of returning to “normal”—a kind of “re-entry syndrome”. Others may have some regrets about missing the hidden benefits of lockdown that they appreciated. Perhaps we have reassessed what seemed so essential before. Do we want things to go back to the way they were when life felt too full? Surveys during lockdown suggested most people were determined that things would change and not go back to the way they were. It is an opportunity in God’s providence to begin afresh in one sense. What should our daily “new normal” look like? What should we leave behind and what should we embrace? There is a spiritual answer to this. We need to put off the old and put on the new everyday.

Hopefully, you recognise that this is the language of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:22-24. He outlines three aspects of our daily normal life if we are followers of Christ. Those who have been truly taught by Christ (Ephesians 3:20) will be shaped by these things. James Fergusson explains more of what this means in this updated extract.

The first is daily efforts to put to death “the old man”; that natural and inbred corruption which has infected and polluted our whole being (v22). It is characterised by “deceitful lusts”, they must be left behind and cast off like old garments.

The second is being renewed in the spirit of our minds (v23). This means a serious endeavour to have our mind and understanding more and more renewed, or made new, by getting a new quality of divine and supernatural light implanted in it.

The third is the daily task of putting on “the new man” like new garments. This means to be more and more adorned with new and spiritual qualities in the will, affections and actions as well as the mind. God conforms us to His image by conforming us to the righteous requirements of His law so that we live in true holiness. It is something that He creates by His grace.

1. Abandoning Every Old Way of Living

Truly putting sin to death does not mean singling out one sin and passing by others. It strikes at all sin. We must not content ourselves with lopping off the branches but strike at the very root of sin. Paul describes this work as putting off the old man, i.e. the bitter root of inbred corruption, in its full latitude and extent.

Though we must begin to strike at the root of sin within, we must not stop there. We must set ourselves against sin in all its branches. If we attack sin at the root and in the heart we must also deal with it breaking out in outward ways. An outward change in our behaviour from what it was shows something of our battle with inward sins. When he says that they were to put off the old man in relation to their former behaviour, it does not mean that only outward sins are to be put to death. The inward work of putting sin to death appears through putting off outward sins in our behaviour.

2. Old Ways Will Get Worse if We Do Not Act

The work of putting off and putting to death this old man of inbred corruption is to be engaged in promptly. The longer that corruption is spared, it worse it gets and carries the person faster to ruin and destruction. Paul indirectly urges this duty of putting off the old man, from the fact that it is corrupt and gets worse and worse by its deceitful lusts.

Inbred corruption has an outlet in multitudes and swarms of inordinate lusts and sinful desires. The more it is expressed in this way the more strength it gets, both in soul and body. The old man has lusts, and is corrupted, or made worse, and more deeply rooted by those deceitful lusts.

Sinful lusts are deceitful lusts, they promise what they never fulfil (2 Peter 2:19) and often disguise themselves as some praiseworthy virtue (Colossians 2:18). Thus they enslave the sinner (Proverbs 7:21-22).

3. Adopting New Ways of Thinking

Being truly taught by Christ does not only mean striving to stop sinning and putting it to death in all its various branches. We must also learn to do what is right and endeavour to be adorned with the graces of God’s Spirit in the whole person. This means seeking conscientiously to fulfil all the positive requirements of a holy life. The apostle shows that being taught of Christ consisted not only in putting off the old man but in being renewed in the spirit of their mind (v23) and putting on the new man (v24).

Christians must seek their mind and understanding to be rightly informed so that they know the truth and their duty. This is essential if we want to lead a holy life. An erring mind will make us err in heart and hand also. Paul shows why it is necessary to be renewed in the spirit of the mind.

4. The New Birth Produces New Ways of Living

Saving knowledge of Christ in the mind leads to practising all the duties of a holy life. Paul says that putting on the new man in righteousness and holiness comes after renewing of the mind. By nature, we are so opposed to holiness and grace that creating power is required to work it in us. It is not something we can have by nature (Psalm 51:5) or by any of our own efforts (Romans 9:16). It is created by God (v24). It is a work of God’s omnipotence, even though He may use means to achieve it (2 Timothy 4:2).

5. The New Birth Produces a New Spiritual Image

Only those who are renewed in knowledge and have their souls adorned with gracious and spiritual qualities of righteousness and holiness have a likeness to God. Those who are most holy, are most like Him. Paul, speaking of being renewed in the mind, and putting on the new man, says that it is after the image of God (see Colossians 3:10).
The image of God does not so much consist in the natural essence, faculties or abilities of the soul (those who are wicked also have these). It consists of spiritual gifts and graces and being conformed God in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness (v24).

6. Adopting New Habits of Grace

This new man of grace which is created after God’s image consists of the inward grace of God’s Spirit rather than outward things (Romans 14:17). It includes exercising all spiritual principles and graces in all the duties of obedience in all things required by the moral law. He shows that this new man consists in righteousness and holiness, which includes conformity to the law of God in both parts of the Ten Commandments. (Holiness to God relating to the first four commandments, and righteousness towards others relating to the last six commandments)

Doing any or all of these commanded duties is not, however, sufficient proof of a renewed mind or the new birth in themselves. It is only when the necessary ingredient of sincerity and truth is also present. This is what makes those who do any duty engage with God (Genesis 17:1) and in every duty with their hears (Jeremiah 3:10). This is the way in which they aim at God’s glory as their main objective in all duties (1 Corinthians 10:31). They do not strive to fulfil merely one, but every duty, (Luke 1:6). This new man of grace, created after God’s image, is described as righteousness and true holiness, or righteousness and holiness of truth.

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Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

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

Christ’s message to your Church is a call to reform. It’s about spiritual reformation as well as outward reform.  It is easier to be consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. Activity is highly visible; our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is largely invisible. The big danger for us all, when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity, is that we neglect our inner spiritual health. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of outward faithfulness, yet inward decay. We have to be prepared to ask ourselves, “Have we done that?”

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a challenging letter to Ephesus in the second chapter of Revelation means that this is a matter of primary concern to Him. James Durham says that we should consider this as if Christ were writing a letter to our Church. He explains that, “our Lord Jesus is the faithful witness” and shows us that when Christ says that He knows their works (Revelation 2:2), He is saying: “I know all your inward and outward works”:

 

  • what you have done in the church,
  • your way of administering all things in the church,
  • all your outward conduct in all these things,
  • your spirit in going about them,
  • the manner in which you are doing them,
  • the aims you had before you in doing them

“I know them perfectly, exactly, and thoroughly”.

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

He has been identifying what was very outwardly commendable in the Church in Ephesus. He commends their zeal, faithfulness, hard work and patient endurance for the sake of Christ’s name. They had not flinched from defending Christ’s truth.

(a) Their Labour
Christ identifies the painstaking concerns and labour of the ministry in the Word and doctrine. He also takes notice of and approves the conduct of the respective members of this church in reference to their duty.

(b) Their Perseverance
They had suffered. Christ knew very well all the persecution and suffering they were enduring. There was the ill-will of some within the church against them and all the malice of others outside it. Christ knew all the troubles Satan and those whom he uses had caused. He saw how patiently, submissively and constantly they had borne it all.

(c) Their Zeal
They are also commended for their zeal in carrying out church discipline—they could not bear with those were evil. They were courageous, and zealous against corrupt individuals trying them, condemning them and not tolerating them. They tested their doctrine and teaching and whether those who taught it had a true calling from Christ.

“Christ does it all lovingly. Because He loves us He does what is necessary for our spiritual growth.”

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

What could be wrong with them? For all that there is to commend, Christ has something very serious against them. They had left their first love.

What does leaving their first love mean? It is something inward. It is the grace of love in the heart and, as far as their Christian life was concerned, they had left it.

(a) Though they were outwardly zealous in the form of religion, yet they had fallen away from the inward spirit of tenderness that they once had. They were more taken up with duties that concerned the wellbeing and condition of their church, than with the inward duties of holiness. They had an outward zeal for religion, and an indignation against corrupt teachers that came in to corrupt it. They also had perseverance in suffering for it, but they had a coldness of affection in doing these things.

(b) They had not fallen away from grace itself. They still had grace but they had fallen away from exercising it to the extent and degree that they once did. They had fallen away from their first love rather than love itself. Believers are at first warm in their love in doing duties to God and to another. Christ’s reproof can be summarised as follows. Despite all I have commended you for, there is something in you that is not right. Though you are zealous in outward things, you come short in duties of mercy and in your love to one another. You are not as warm in your love to me, nor so single-minded in doing things for me as you once were.

Christ’s charge against us is defection

Defection inwardly. Not an outward defection from the truth and purity of doctrine, nor from the outward duties of religion, but an inward defection, declining in the way we exercise grace. We have not been so careful to maintain the way we exercise grace before God, as much as we have been to be seen of others.

Defection in love. Especially defection in love to God, and love to one another. This may be seen in our lack of love and sensitivity.

Defection in spirit. This is a defection in the way we do our duties. The duty may be commendable, but the principle from which it flowed may be grounds for rebuke.

Therefore, look at this epistle as if Christ were writing a letter to Scotland. In his letter, He is saying, that despite whatever purity and zeal you may have, yet you have fallen from your first love. Much of your love, warmness and tenderness has gone away. There is a decline and defection from the way grace is exercised. The sin is ours; the duty is ours; and the threatening also belongs to us. If there is anything commendable, it is more in outward form than reality. Believers are liable to decline from their first love, if not from their steadfastness.

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

He counsels them not just to repent but tells them how to go about repenting.

Christ never convicts us of sin without giving directions about recovery together with it. His direction here is in these three steps: remember, repent and do the first works. The goal of repentance is to be stirred up to reformation and steadfastness in well doing. Remembering brings us to repentance, and repentance brings us to reformation.

If Christ were charging us with a sin, it would be for falling away from first love. If He were calling for a duty from us, it would be to remember from where we have fallen, to repent and do our first works. We have not only fallen away from love but from that awe of God that should be on the heart. Remember this and other things, repent and do your first works.

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

He warns them in the most serious terms of what will happen if they do not.

He threatens the removal of the candlestick or lampstand. The candlestick is the church of Ephesus (see Revelation 1:20). This was not simply the people who made up the church but them professing, submitting to and living according to what Christ had appointed in the church, especially the means of grace. Removing the candlestick is God’s threatening to make them no longer a church. It implies removing the means of grace, the gospel and the ministry from them (see Matthew 21:43 and Acts 13:46).

Christ removes the candlestick from a people when He lets loose error which corrupts purity of doctrine (an essential mark of the church of God, and the foundation on which the church is built, Ephesians 2:20). He removes the candlestick by allowing disorder so that they abuse the freedom that the gospel has given them. They begin to show a secret desire for novelty and give themselves up to delusion. We have reasons to fear God’s threatening to remove our candlestick all these ways.
There is no greater judgment a church can be threatened with than the removal of the candlestick. There is no more serious threatening that can be given to a church or people in a church.

FURTHER REFLECTION

We have developed a resource, based on James Durham’s insights into the passage, to help you reflect more deeply on how Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus applies to you and to your church. It is called Outside In: Four Sessions to Help you Recover Your First Love for Christ. It will help you to think through carefully all of the many lessons that Christ wants the church to put into practice. 

“The way forward spiritually is to look back first.”

Outside In

Four sessions to help mature Christians

recover their first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

The material in this article has been extracted and updated not only from the Commentary on Revelation that Durham published but also from manuscript notes that have not been published. There is a project to re-publish Durham’s book on Revelation with its many helpful essays which will incorporate these manuscript notes.

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How Far Should Reformation Go?

How Far Should Reformation Go?

How Far Should Reformation Go?
Donald Cargill (1627 – 1681) was the minister of the Barony Church Glasgow who was dismissed for a protest against the celebration of the restoration of Charles II in 1662. He went on to preach in Covenanter field meetings until he was eventually captured and executed.
12 Jul, 2019

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative. God’s Word constantly challenges us to ever closer harmony with its teaching. Reformation concerns each one of us. It means taking the authority of the Bible seriously in everything. We need to seek still closer obedience. Not only in our personal lives but also in the life of the Church. We need to reflect on where we are in relation to reformation and what still remains to be achieved as individuals, churches and communities. How do our lives, families and congregations match up to God’s requirements in His Word?

One way of reflecting on such priorities is to consider examples of Reformations in Scripture. There are accounts of reforming work under kings such as Josiah, Hezekiah and Jehoshaphat. Donald Cargill gives a helpful exposition of the Reformation described in 2 Chronicles 19. What did it look like?

 

1. Reforming the People

What does he do to the general body of the people? Verse 4 shows that “he went…through the people…and brought them back unto the LORD God of their fathers”. They were like runaway servants. So he brings them back again to the Lord. See the duty or office of a ruler – to bring back the people of God to God.

What have the rulers done in our nation?  They have sought to seduce people away from their obedience to God.  And in a word, to deprive God of His authority and introduce and exalt man’s authority. Is this not what all of them have been pursuing? If the commands of men are great with you, the commands of God will be small. They have all been employed in this but never speak a word of the commands of God or His authority.

Yet this is the work Jehoshaphat is employed in. He goes through Jacob and brings the people back again to God. They had been like runaway servants, in fact more like the Levite’s concubine that had left her husband and played the harlot. They had been away, but now this holy king employs all his power to bring them back again to God. He thinks that they are good subjects if they are good saints. But what is obedience to him in comparison with obedience to God? Yet the contrary is said and done by the people of this generation. It is plain from the Word of God and Scripture that a ruler has this responsibility. He who has no regard for this ought to be esteemed a ruler no more but rather a tyrant and an enemy to God.

 

2. Reforming the State

A second aspect of reformation is in the state. What does he do there? He sets judges in every city of Judah etc. Now undoubtedly as he was a holy man himself, so he set holy and good judges in every city. Every ruler chooses those judges that are like himself. The officers and judges in a country will tell you the nature of the rulers. A holy ruler wants holy judges that will give justice to all.

He gives holy judges, and gives them a particular exhortation when he puts them in their office (verse 6). It is remarkable. Anybody would have thought he would have said  “ensure that my prerogatives and privileges are not harmed. Do not let the taxes be decreased. See that the crown rights are not diminished in any way”. It is things similar to this that rulers ordinarily recommend at first. But what does he say? He said to the judges, to take heed because they were not judging for man but for God the Lord. God is with you in judgment. Remember, I commit judgment to you, but the judgment is not mine, it is the Lord’s. Remember that what you do, is for God. Do it as if God Himself would do it. Do it as if He were sitting there.

Now where are there any judges that operate in this way? Where is there a ruler that desires them to do their work in this way? Rulers often say: “judge for me, you have your office from men and therefore judge for me”. But Jehoshaphat says, “I give you authority to judge but remember you must answer to God for your judgment, for God is with you in judgment. That is to say, He is present with you to help you if you do right and to be displeased with you if you judge wrong. He is present to protect you if you do right. But He will be a witness against you and punish you, if you do wrong. He exhorts them to let the fear of God be on them and prevail with them.

God will not approve any unjust counsel.  God reviews all of their judgments and sees how they have judged and He judges them. There is no partiality with God and neither should there be with judges. Nobody rules without being liable to failings in ruling. If all the faults of rulers were precisely scrutinised there would be none who could rule to the end of one day without some faults being found in them. But it is one thing to fail in weakness and another thing to be in a constant course of wickedness and enmity against God. The first may be spared, but not the second.

 

3. Reforming the Church

“He appointed levites and priests in every city, and the chief of the fathers for the judgment of the Lord and for controversies” (2 Chronicles 19:8). He charged them to do this faithfully in the fear of the Lord (2 Chronicles 19:9).  This was the great court in the land where they judged together in the Lord’s matters (i.e. religious matters). It involved priest, levites and elders. The matters of the Lord belonged to them, and the king’s matters belonged to the others. But all was to be judged according to the Word of God. The levites judge in the matters of the Lord and in controversies. There was a great court at Jerusalem and all the difficult matters came there to be decided. There were courts throughout the land with judges of hundreds and of thousands. But all hard matters were brought to Jerusalem. He appoints judges to receive these hard matters that they could not judge among themselves, and they gave judgment in these matters.

 

4. A Challenge

He challenges the king for helping the ungodly and loving those that hate the Lord. Would anybody think that a prophet should speak to a king like this? We must be faithful in reproving kings as well as others. To hold back in this is ruin to rulers. Silence in this is not a virtue but a vice. It is unfaithfulness to God and man. The prophet was not afraid to make Jehoshaphat sad for sin.

Helping the ungodly and loving those that hate the Lord: how does this apply to our time?  Whoever helps the ungodly is at fault. If any help the ungodly, they are to be reproved, they are on the wrong side. What will the ungodly do when you have helped them? They will use that help to set up wickedness. There are two sides: the Lord and the godly and on the other side the ungodly. Will you help the ungodly?

 

It is a general principle that wherever there is an association with wicked men, reformation is forgotten until the association is broken.

Jehoshaphat accepts the reproof because he goes on to engage in the work of reformation. It is a general principle that wherever there is an association with wicked men, reformation is forgotten until the association is broken. Jehoshaphat forgot the work of reformation until the association with Ahab was broken, but then he goes on to reformation. Sinful association has made us forget the work of reformation and shut the door so that none go forward in a national reformation. Until this association is abandoned neither ministers nor people will ever set forward in reformation again. 

 

Conclusion

This brief overview of the reformation under Jehoshaphat is certainly illuminating and also searching. For instance, reformation in the church meant ensuring that God’s Word was being applied in an organised way. Those who had responsibility in relation to the things of God were to be thoroughly instructed in the Word. People were to be held to account in relation to God’s requirements. This was implemented in a united way. In effect, this reformation includes the whole nation: church and state and all within the nation. A complete reformation is extensive, it goes very far in implementing the authority of the Word of God. We can’t just be concerned about getting back to biblical values in the nation, we also need to be concerned about personal and church reformation.

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What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
31 Dec, 2018

There’s no shortage of people offering personal transformation and life-hacking. It’s all about the power of positive thinking, planning and self-belief. It’s breezy and simplistic, offering instant and effortless change with a few tweaks. Personal reformation is entirely different. It is all about grace not self-help. It doesn’t masquerade as a quick fix in a few easy steps; it is extensive and lifelong. It is being transformed by the renewing of our mind and working out God’s perfect will in practice (Romans 12:2). It involves applying all that God requires to our hearts, lives and families.

Personal reformation is certainly extensive; it applies to our heart and outward conduct. It relates to all of our lives at all times, in all of our interactions with others. It involves seeking God and His glory in all things (1 Chronicles 22:19; 2 Chronicles 20:3). It is spiritual, a concern for fervent zeal and the real power of godliness in the heart and life, not just a formal outward profession.

Personal reformation was strongly emphasised during the Second Reformation and at the time of the Westminster Assembly. We can learn much from their concern to see the Word of God influencing our lives. The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was crucial to the Westminster Assembly and the kingdoms of England and Scotland at this time. The climax of this vow to God has much to teach us about some of the key themes of personal reformation. As we will see, to take the Solemn League was not simply to swear an oath but to commit to every day personal reformation and holiness.

1. Repentance

The Covenant speaks of “our unfeigned desire to be humbled for our own sins, and for the sins of these kingdoms”. There is a sincere confession of sin in personal reformation (1 John 1:9). When we look into Scripture and compare it with our own lives, it should leave an abiding impression and make us want to change (James 1:21-25). It will bring us to humble ourselves before God (Psalm 38:3-4; Joel 2:12-13). We will be conscious that our deceitful hearts naturally do not want to identify and expose sin (Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 19:12-13). We will want to be humbled for our own sins in particular not just sin in general.
There will be serious concern in case we are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). When we discover our sins we will want to turn from them (Ezekiel 18:30-31). The sins of the society around us will not be an excuse to make us say that we are not as bad. Rather we will be humbled for these sins and those of the professing Church. We will mourn over them (Ezekiel 9:4). This is because we cannot separate ourselves from them; we have been involved in them to some extent. It is no comfort to know that the sins of the nation are only worse versions of what is in our own hearts (Ezekiel 6:11).

2. Valuing the Benefit of the Gospel

The Covenant goes on to mention some of these personal and national sins. One of these is not having “valued the inestimable benefit of the Gospel”. We live in a nation and society that despises and neglects the gospel (Matthew 11:16-24). But is the gospel an invaluable benefit to us or do we live as though it is just an add-on extra to a comfortable life along with many other benefits? What does the gospel mean to us on a daily basis? Is it the basis of all our confidence? Do we feel that we have moved on from it to other things or is it like a jewel that sparkles with new beauty every time we look at it? Appreciating the gospel according to its invaluable benefits is obvious if our lives are shaped by it.

Part of valuing it properly is when we labour for its “purity and power”, as the Covenant puts it. In other words we are concerned for its influence on others too. We are especially alarmed when it is distorted or not properly proclaimed. Yet we cannot merely rest in the idea that it is purely declared without seeking that there would be real spiritual power accompanying it.

3. Walking Worthy of Christ

We value the gospel and labour for its purity and power when we not only seek to “receive Christ in our hearts” but also strive “to walk worthy of Him in our lives” (Ephesians 4:1-2; Colossians 1:10). If we do not live out the gospel in our attitudes, actions and words we are effectively denying its power (Philippians 1:27). We are dishonouring Christ as Saviour if we do not strive to walk worthy of Him (Colossians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).

When we think that it doesn’t matter how we live because forgiveness is freely available it devalues the gospel and turns the grace of God into an incitement for sin (Jude 1:4). As Edmund Calamy put it, sinning against the gospel is even more serious than sinning against the law. How much do we value the precious promises of God if we are not willing to “cleanse our selves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1)? We need to lay aside every weight, including those predominant sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:1). This is why the covenant says that these things are “the causes of other sins and transgressions so much abounding amongst us”. Christians not living as they should means they are not salt and light and add to rather than restrain the corruption of the world around them.

4. Sincere Desires

Personal reformation involves sincere desires and resolve. The covenant speaks of “our true and unfeigned purpose, desire and endeavour”. Unless we want to reform and plan to reform it will not happen. The danger is of making promises and resolutions but then not following through on them. We need to act on our sincere purpose. There will not be perfection but there ought to be sincere attempts even though these will come short of what we desire. Edmund Calamy says that it is like shooting an arrow, if one does not hit the target, shoot another and then another until you are successful.

5. All of Life

This reformation is “for ourselves and all others under our power and charge”. We are not just to be concerned for ourselves but that others for whom we have responsibility would reform themselves too. Personal reformation doesn’t mean that we think only our individual reformation matters. Personal reformation isn’t just a private matter but it is to be “both in public and in private, in all duties we owe to God and man”. It must affect our job, family life and all our dealings with other people just as much as our duty to God.

6. Changing the Way We Live

Personal reformation means change and transformation. We will want to “amend our lives” as the covenant puts it. There will be things we need to start doing and things we need to stop doing according to the Word of God. If it’s just about reading books and discussing Christian things and we don’t want to go further than this – it isn’t reformation.

7. Reform as Much as Possible

The covenant has a very striking expression that “each one” is “to go before another in the example of a real reformation”. We ought to be an example to each other. We should hold fast to whatever reformation we have attained and seek to go further (Philippians 3:15-16). We should seek to encourage others to go further in this too, and be an example to them (Philippians 3:17). As Herbert Palmer put it, we are not to wait for others “but strive to excel others” almost to outdo them. We are to be “patterns to others, and lights to direct and excite [encourage] others to follow us”.

8. Depend on the Help of the Holy Spirit

We cannot engage in personal reformation on our own or in our own strength. We must humbly beseech “the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit for this end”. Edmund Calamy warned those who swore to the Solemn League and Covenant:

You must not take it in your own strength but in God’s strength. As it is taken in God’s presence, so it must be taken with Gods assistance, with self-abasement, self-denying, self-humbling hearts; you must take it joyfully and tremblingly; rejoicing in God and in his strength, and yet trembling for fear of your own unworthiness and unsteadfastness in the Covenant.

Besides prayer for such strength we must also seek a blessing on our endeavours for personal reformation. Private prayer and spending time in meditating on the Word is an essential aspect of this. As the Scottish Church put it at the time of the Second Reformation:

It is most necessary, that every one apart and by themselves be given to prayer and meditation, the unspeakable benefit [of this] is best known to them who are exercised [in it].

This is because it is the great special means by which fellowship with God is maintained and advanced. It also prepares us in the right way for all other spiritual duties.

9. Wider Reformation

Those who composed the Covenant believed that if Christians were personally reformed it would have a tremendous influence on the Church of Jesus Christ and the nation as a whole. National and personal reformation, Humphrey Chambers preached, “should always go together”. What indeed would things look like if even a small quantity of Christians lived as they should?

 

Conclusion

We ought to long that our consciences and conduct would give a clear witness to personal reformation in our own experience. The men of the Second Reformation were so concerned about this that they devoted days to prayer and fasting for God’s help in reformation, including on the personal level. On one of these an ordinary believer named Ralph Josselin wrote in his diary: “Oh Lord, never was there more need of personal reformation than now; stir me up to it”. That spirit is exactly what we need now too.

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What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?

What Do Reformers Look Like?
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.
13 Oct, 2017

We are familiar with Martin Luther’s image. It is striking and immediately recognisable. It is said that there was enormous demand for printed pictures of Luther in his lifetime. Lucas Cranach, in a particular portrait captured the intense eyes of the German reformer. But we do not intend to focus on the physical appearance of the reformers or even their unique personality traits. Fearlessness may not in fact be an essential requirement. It is the spiritual characteristics that matter most. What graces as well as gifts blend together in those that God uses to bring spiritual transformation?

Anthony Burgess helpfully outlines these from Scripture in a sermon preached before the House of Lords in Westminster. He shows that the work of Reformation requires the conflux of many noble and excellent graces. In particular, it helps us discern the difference between those who want to effect change in the Church of God under the influence of the ideas and tastes of mere men and those who have the sole purpose of glorifying God. We are all called to effect reformation in our own lives and families – we need to be reformers ourselves.

 

1. They Know God’s Will

They must have a clear understanding of God’s will out of His Word. The king was to write God’s Word, and to be acquainted and familiar with it (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). This was so that he might be better able to reform all the abuses that might creep into the worship of God. It is a great fault when men in place and power think that matters of religion do not belong to them at all. They cannot in fact discharge their duties, if they know do not from the Word what to do.

 

2. They have a Zeal for God

They have a zeal for God’s glory and His pure worship.  This was evident in David, Hezekiah and most remarkably in Christ Himself.  It is an excellent thing when rulers take God’s dishonour to heart more than their own. They ought to be most concerned about Christ’s laws.

 

3. They have Love for the Souls of Others

They have affections for people in general and love to the souls of others.  Unless a man is clothed with a public spirit he cannot labour for a reformation.  Nehemiah was in a good position personally, yet how deeply and sadly he was affected because the temple was desolate? Christ Himself at the very time when He was received with the greatest acclamations ignores this and weeps for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39). God has dealt graciously with your hearts when neither riches, honours or any personal dignity can do you any good, until Jerusalem is established a praise in the earth. This is how it was with David.

 

4. They have Pure Aims

They have sincerity and pure aims.  Governors may be carried far in a reformation, yet if pure love to God and His ordinances are not the star which leads them, the outcome will be very uncomfortable. Jehu is a sad instance of this, though he did everything according to God’s heart (as Scripture says in 2 Kings 10:30-31) yet in Hosea 1:4, God threatens to be avenged on him. Take heed therefore of corrupt, political designs in promoting God’s work. This has often made God let His own ark fall into the hands of the Philistines. Not because His cause was not dear to him but because those who managed it had selfish interests.

 

5. They are Humble

They have humility under all the honours God that puts upon them.  This was eminent in Gideon and David. Those who are lifted up by any success that God bestows on them are like a blazing star that shine brightly at first but ultimately end in slime. John the Baptist produced a great reformation and had the eyes of the world on him. Yet he rejoiced because he must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:29-30).

 

6. They are Eminently Holy

They have exemplary holiness of life.  Reformers must conform to the general rule that he who reproves others ought himself to be free from those sins.  Reformers must be an example to others; they are to others as the part-coloured sticks were to Jacob’s sheep (Genesis 30:37-43). It is very unfitting when governors make laws against impiety, profaning the Sabbath, contempt of holiness while these sins can be found in their lives or in their families?  Reformation is achieved in great measure when the lives and families of men are changed as well as when public worship and ordinances are reformed.

 

7. They have Believing Courage

Reformers must have fortitude and courage accompanied with faith.  Every reformation encounters great opposition and contempt.  When Hezekiah sent out messengers to call people to observe the Passover purely, they were mocked and scorned (2 Chronicles 30).  To endure all kinds of accusations and slanders and to be tried by God Himself requires humility and patience as well as faith and courage.

 

8. They are Prudent

Prudence and extraordinary wisdom are required in reformation.  Some think it was weakness for Gideon to go out with a few men at night but it showed his great prudence.  Anyone who has read Church History can see that imprudence has greatly hindered propagation of the truth. We must of course be careful that prudence does not degenerate into carnal and mere political wisdom. God ultimately makes this kind of wisdom to be seen as great folly, especially when it is accompanied with corruption of His worship.

 

Conclusion

Reformation depends on individuals and families living out the Word of God in all areas of practice as well as faith. It is about closer obedience to God’s revealed will. We may never be used to bring about wide scale change but this does not mean we cannot be reformers. These qualities are needed in our lives as we strive to submit to Scripture in everything. We must advance in reformation and encourage others in the work of reformation as far as possible.

These days we have few true reformers in the Church. We have enough transformers – those who have their own vision of change. Sometimes this is change for the sake of change because culture has changed. Reformation is God’s work as opposed to transformation through our own innovation and ideas. Reforming is a spiritual work that requires spiritual men using spiritual means for the spiritual good of Christ’s Church. We are all too aware of various trends in modern Christianity that mushroom and then evaporate. They promise much but are just reinventing aspects of faith and practice. We don’t need this. Instead, we can be solidly grounded through reformation according to God’s revealed will. We need those who will have the courage and wisdom to submit to the Word of God in everything.

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Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?
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 Oct, 2017

It is possible to take such a long look back at the Reformation that we then forget to look forward. In other words, we may be inclined to think of Reformation as an event in the past rather than a present imperative. This milestone is a point to reflect on where we are in relation to Reformation and what still remains to be achieved as individuals, Churches and communities. How do our lives, families and congregations match up to God’s requirements in His Word? Reformation is a difficult and unsettling activity. It challenges our complacency and expectations. Would we have the appetite for it we think we would?

The Word of God is the only rule for reformation. Yet what do we mean by that? Anthony Burgess (1600-1663) explains how the Word of God has a supreme role in the work of reformation. Burgess lived during a time of reformation and was a member of the Westminster Assembly. He ministered in Sutton Coldfield and wrote many valuable books. Sadly, these have been comparatively neglected. The following is an updated extract from one of his sermons preached before Parliament. He shows that reformation is difficult perhaps even discouraging work but it is also an absolute priority that God blesses.

 

1. The Standard of Reformation

(a) Reformation in Doctrine

A sound faith is the soul of religion; it’s like the sun in the sky or like the eye in the body. Wrong believing and wrong living go together. Hymenaeus and Philetus made shipwreck of both their faith and of a good conscience (1 Timothy 2:17). We cannot build any confession of faith without quarrying the materials from this mountain. Error and heresy have no enemy like Scripture. We may be as orthodox as possible in our doctrine but if we do not believe these things because of Scripture, it’s a merely man made faith. A merely human faith is based on education and human tradition and comes far short of divine faith.

(b) Reformation in Worship and Church Discipline

An orthodox Church without good discipline and pure worship is like a field of corn without hedges. What a beautiful Church we would have, if the commands of Scripture were respected. Everything done in worship without God’s Word is doing we “know not what” (John 4:22). The basis on which we allow one aspect of worship which is merely from our own will will be the same grounds for more. In Church discipline and order, a profane man should be as rare in the Church as a blazing star (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:11).

(c) Reformation in Christian Living

We are warned by the Scriptures as to our outward life (Psalm 19:11). The Scriptures are the antidote against sin. A young man may cleanse his ways by them (Psalm 1119:9). Many do not consider this use of Scripture, they dare not have any other doctrine than Scripture teaches, yet they dare to live another life. In the same way that you believe as it is written you must live, fear and joy as it is written.

(d) Reformation in our Heart and Conscience

Scripture differs from all other rules and laws. They only bind us outwardly but the Scriptures reach to the heart and conscience; “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). The law can even doth convict even a self-admiring Pharisee. When this sunlight shines, it uncovers all the hidden thoughts of the heart all those motes, that otherwise would not be seen.

It is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Human eloquence does not terrify the conscience, but the Word of God does. It makes the heart cry out, “I am overcome, overcome”. It’s true that God makes use of human eloquence, but all must be subordinate to the Word. As God is the Father of spirits, so the Word is a word of spirits. Although the whole world may threaten,  the heart bears itself up if the Word comforts; if it threatens, the heart is discouraged.

(e) The Benefit of Honouring Scripture

The rule of Scripture is opposed by tradition and the reasoning and opinions of men. Most often it is opposed by appeal to majority opinion. Many never consider what the Scriptures direct but believe, worship and live as most others do. God has explicitly forbidden us to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).

If we honour Scripture as supreme we will be:

(a) secure and steadfast in our way; (b) holy and spiritual in our life; (c) at peace (Galatians 6:16); (d) derided as strict; (e) thought strange; and (f) hated.

In order to benefit from Scripture in this way, we need to:

(a) be in it frequently; (b) pray for spiritual understanding; (c) be humble and meek in submitting to it; (d) love God’s truth.

 

2. Things that Hinder Reformation

(a) Complacency

There is complacency in thinking that there is no need for reformation. This was the case with the Laodiceans; they thought they were full and rich (Revelation 3:18). Many Churches would have been more pure and reformed if they had not thought themselves reformed enough. It may be so with individuals as Paul says, I had not known sin, had not the Law said, Thou shalt not lust. A Church may say, I had not known this to be an abuse, this to be error, had not the Scripture manifested it.

(b)  Pragmatism

This makes men vary their views and conscience according to changing considerations. What is good theology for them today is error tomorrow; today’s reformation is to them tomorrow’s disorder.

(c) Sinful Moderation

How hard it is not to accept a lame and half Reformation? People think we must pass over many things and proceed gently. The rigour of God’s Word is an altogether different thing to this. There is a lawful moderation but this is different from sinful moderation.

(d) The Love of Earthly Things

In Haggai 1:2-10 we find that the people’s concern to build their own houses made them neglect building the temple of God. In order to satisfy their covetousness the Pharisees interpreted Scripture in a false way. If people would rather lose their God than their wealth or part with their religion than their riches; how can they promote God’s cause or make way for Christ’s coming? When men can delight more in the glory of their own houses than in the spiritual beauty of ordinances or have more joy in their hearts by increased wine and oil than in God and His ways – it is no wonder so few make way for Christ. Gregory Nazianzen thanked God he had any thing to lose for Christ’s sake.

(e) Sinful Desires

People are greatly troubled if they cannot indulge themselves so much in their lusts and their sins. But you should take comfort that Christ endured the contradiction of sinners.

(f) General Opposition

There may be only a few for reformation against many great and learned who oppose it. Luther confessed this was no small trial to him, “are you the only wise person, are all others in error?” But if this had been regarded, then the prophets, Christ, Luther, Calvin, would never have begun any reformation, because the world was against them. Reformations have always been judged impossible things. Luther was told “go and pray in your cell, you are not likely to do anything by commotion”. The people rage and take counsel together that Christ may not be exalted on His throne (Psalm 2:1). But this will not excuse us, it is better to endure the rage of people then the anger of God. Better to have the world’s frown than God’s.

(g) Apparent Novelty

Truth is before error; it is only sin that makes truth new. It shows how much we have apostatised that Christ’s ways are considered new. This is now how it was from the beginning. Novelty lies in error and superstition, Sabbath-breaking, neglecting godliness.

(h) Apparent Division

Divisions may seem to arise by it and errors multiply at such times. Many complain about various sects that have arisen but they never blamed those that caused them. This has always been the slander levelled at reformation: so many men, so many gospels. Luther was often told by opponents not to divide the seamless robe of Christ. Do not blame reformation for this (it is the only thing that can remove these things) blame those who caused the divisions.

(i) Outward Trouble and Commotion

This often accompanies reformation. Christ foretold fire and a sword, father against son and son against father. This would happen wherever His pure and powerful preaching was established. He is not the cause of this but rather men’s stubborn and rebellious hearts. It is not the doctor or medicine that cause the pain the sick man feels, but rather the disease that has been in him for so long.

(j) Ingratitude

People often do not esteem or prize those whom God sends to deliver them. They were unthankful to Moses and Aaron. This unthankfulness is a gross sin but it ought not to be any discouragement for those who are employed for the public good. Luther tells us how great a trial this was to him. “When I see this (ingratitude) I am sometimes broken with impatience, and seriously resolve unless this doctrine had been already dispersed, I would rather have done any thing than declared it to this unthankful world; but these are the thoughts of the flesh”.

 

3. Reasons to Continue in Reformation

But there are many urgent reasons why reformers should go on.

(a) God Punishes Neglect

Because God has punished severely the neglect of any order that He has given to His Church They may have done much, yet if they have not done completely, he has been angry. This is why you read so often concerning the kings “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away”. The judgment on Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire; the breach made on Uzzah should warn reformers against indulging breaking the least of God’s commands. Do not think not that you are free to decide how much or how little is to be done for God, you are accountable to God for jots and tittles.

(b) God Hates False Worship

There is nothing more odious to Him than corruption in His Church. What detestable names Scripture gives to idols! Jesus says in John 4 that the Father seeks those that worship Him in spirit and truth. This shows how precious and delightful to God those are that worship Him in his own way. Our Saviour tells the Pharisees that that, which was highly esteemed amongst them as great piety and devotion, was an abomination before God. Let us not do any abominable things!

(c) It is the only way of blessing

It is only in doing the will of the Lord that we are sure of blessing. Blessing came when Jehoshaphat set up those that taught the good knowledge of God. It is true that we may be in the wilderness for a long time and God may permit enemies to prevail because of the sins of His own people. We are always to remember the end of the Lord, observe the ends of all reformation, and you will find them to be peace. It is not the godliness of a godly man that causes many of his sorrows but because he does not have enough godliness. It is not reformation that creates unhappiness in a Church or State, but because we are not reformed enough, we are not willing for this to happen.

God will reform His Church by other means if we do not promote it. It is the greatest honour that God ever put on you. In these matters of God do not consult with flesh and blood. Remember that He is engaged for His truth more than you; you have your lives and wealth to lose, but God has His honour and truth to lose, which is worth more than the whole world.

How will you ever answer God at the Day of Judgement if He puts an opportunity into your hands and you have not made best use of it? Take your example from David in Psalm 132 when he had vowed to bring the ark back into a suitable place. “Remember David and all his troubles” (literally “in his whole affliction” in all his trouble, fear and concern when God smote Uzzah, and so hindered him in his intended reformation). He would not sleep or eat (hyperbole for the unrelenting efforts he would take for settling the ark).

 

Conclusion

Reformation is required in our own day, it is an act not just an event. But it is by no means an easy work. There are many challenges but for the glory of God, our own good and the good of the Church we must not only want to see it happen but engage actively in it in our own day.

 

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Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together

Why Zeal and Reformation Must Go Together
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 Feb, 2017

Zeal is not cool in our culture. Most people picture a wild-eyed fanatic when they think about religious zeal. In a world that pursues the shallow and values self-satisfied composure, zeal is odd. The world is at best cool towards it. When being pragmatic and popular are of greatest value, the Church too is less comfortable with zeal. Of course, there is a false religious zeal: being zealous in the wrong way or about the wrong things. The Bible speaks about that, yet most often it emphasises that zeal is vital.

Zeal is essential in spiritual things. It is being single-minded towards the glory of God – to see God glorified in every possible way. It is a burning desire to please God and that His will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Had Luther and the other Reformers lacked zeal, they would not have pursued Reformation. Christ Himself had an all-consuming zeal (John 2:17) and we often read of the zeal of the Lord in Scripture. Do we have the spirit of the Reformers today?

There is an especially helpful treatment of reforming zeal in a sermon by Oliver Bowles (d.1674) preached during the time of the Second Reformation.  Bowles was a member of the Westminster Assembly and preached the sermon before both Houses of Parliaments on a day of fasting. It is called “Zeal for God’s House Quickened” and particularly focuses on the eminent zeal required in Church reformers. It is also useful for understanding the nature of zeal more generally in spiritual things. He expounds the example of the Lord Jesus Christ’s consuming and reforming zeal in John 2:17. There are updated extracts in what follows.

Bowles explains why he has focused on zeal: (a) it is the direct opposite of lukewarmness “the most dangerous and yet the epidemic disease of our time”; (b) no one grace promotes the work of reformation more than zeal; and (c) nothing commends a reformer more in the eyes of God and man.

This is both the most excellent and the most difficult work, therefore Church-reformation calls for the utmost zeal. Our love to promote that work must be such as many waters cannot quench. Our desires must be enlarged, as those which break through all impediments and accept no denial. Our hope must be more longing, our endeavours full of activity, our hatred of the opposite more perfect and our anger in removing the hindrances more violent. A reformer without zeal is like a body without a soul, a bee without a sting, or salt without flavour.

Bowles was a scholar before becoming a minister in Bedfordshire. He was the author of an important volume of pastoral theology.  He died around the age of ninety. His last words to Timothy Cruso were: “Only remember to keep a good conscience, and walk closely with God.” He repeated them twice with considerable emphasis in order to make a deeper impression.

 

1. What is Zeal?

It is a holy ardour kindled by the Holy Spirit of God in the affections, making a man better to the utmost for God’s glory and the Church’s good. Zeal is not so much a single affection as the intended degree of all. Affections are the motions of the will in doing good or avoiding evil. They are the outgoings of the soul.

 

2. What is True Zeal?

We must make sure our zeal is of the right stamp. As with every other grace, zeal may be (and often is) counterfeited.

(a) It has a true light

False lights can mislead men over dangerous places. We are greatly inclined to be misled when prejudiced by individuals in their reputation, learning and holiness. We must not necessarily accept something merely because it is ancient nor reject it simply because it is new [and vice versa]. Sometimes we engage our judgments hastily before we are able to judge and are then unwilling to retract when we have judged unduly.  We must seek to be sure that things are lawful rather than be carried away by the self-conceitedness of our own opinions whether they are lawful or not. The eye-salve of the Spirit by the Word alone must guide us: “to the law and to the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20).

(b) It is ordered by wisdom

Wisdom includes using the right means to the right end.  There is a kind of impetuosity by which he who is hasty in his matters sins (Isaiah 28:16). On the other hand, there is a spirit of deliberation and counsel. Consider, consult, then give your opinion and then act. A good cause often miscarries by imprudent handling. Ignorance of the right means tires men out pointlessly in their endeavours (Ecclesiastes 10:15).

(c) It is not quarrelsome

Love is and ought to be the orderer of zeal. Love is long-suffering, bears all things and endures all things.  Love knows that a little rupture will quickly be a great one. It prevents them or seeks to make them up speedily. It does not allow the waters of strife any passage, not even a little.  Zeal for God is tenderly respectful of other people. Wildfire that is not zeal casts fire-brands, arrows and deadly words and then says, “I mean no harm” (see Proverbs 26:18-19).

(d) It will not diminish what God commands

Zeal will not diminish even a hoof of what is required. False zeal cries “Let it not belong to either of us but rather be divided between us”. It makes nothing of small matters. True zeal drives on the work of reformation so that it does not leave the least remnants of Baal. It removes all the high places. It recognises that great persecutions have arisen out of small matters. It sees that conscience is a tender thing like the eye and the least mote troubles it.

(e) It is not a mere flash

Many begin well; they are hot and eager while in particular company. When carried along by such support and hopes and not assaulted by trials they are eager and hot in the work of reformation. But when things change outwardly they change inwardly, even to the extent of completely extinguishing their zeal.

(f) It is not worn down by opposition

True zeal, having the cause of God in view, is not worn down by length of time, numerous  discouragements, deserters of the cause and the strength of opposition. Zeal makes men resolute; difficulties only sharpen their fortitude. It steels men’s spirits with undaunted bravery.

 

3. What Regulates Zeal?

(a) Knowledge

Zeal is dangerous when not directed by a well-informed understanding. Like a fire, zeal must have light as well as heat. It is only hell where there is heat and no light but utter darkness. Neither the mind nor zeal can be good without knowledge: The Jews had a zeal that was defective in being not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).

Zeal must not be conjectural, based on that which only seems probable having been received from others without examination. Scripture texts can be quoted frequently and in great numbers but what matters is whether careful examination has proved that they support the claim. Do not take all that glitters for gold.

(b) Wisdom

Zeal must be wary as well as warm. Fire is good, but in a wise man’s hands who will not put it into the thatch. Fire is good in the chimney, but if it catch the rafters of the house it sets it all on fire. Wisdom will not have a reformer to reform in such a way that only succeeds in enraging vice more. Men that mean well are subject to many mischiefs even in their good endeavours, but wisdom is profitable to direct. But beware here also of that over wary discretion that destroys zeal.

(c) Love

Zeal can be harsh but love lines the yoke and makes it easy to bear. Love takes away all bitterness towards others. Love allows us to be warm, sharp and direct in our reproofs, but not scalding hot.  The stomach will not receive that which burns the lips and neither will the ear accept the reproof that is abusive. Love calls us to be zealous for the truth. It calls us to work to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

 

4. What is Reforming Zeal?

(a) Zeal is thorough

It is God’s work and men must not divide it in half.  Corruptions will grow again unless they are pulled up by the roots. Experience shows how partial reformations made way for sad persecutions. Such imperfect proceedings give enemies the hope that we will come round to them again.

(b) Zeal is all-embracing

God delights in active men. What should we be earnest for, if not for God and His cause? Will you be earnest for your friends, profit and pleasures and yet cold for your God?

(c) Zeal is not deterred by danger

When Caleb heard of the difficulties he resolved, “Let us go up at once”. Esther said, “If I perish, I perish”. Paul said, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” It treads under foot all temptations and all hope of great things.

(d) Zeal is not discouraged when contending alone

Zeal is supported by noticing Joshua’s resolution: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. Elijah’s complaint was that he was left alone and Paul says “At my first answering no man assisted me”. Zeal takes notice that numbers begin with one, and that if there had not been one first, there would never have been two.

(e) Zeal is persevering

Many begin in the Spirit, but end in the flesh. How many brave worthies promised fair and promised great things, yet have been shipwrecked on the rock of an unsound heart. They have withered away, if not in the end proved false to God. It is only the overcomer that receives the crown.  When a reformer has heat from heaven rather than from mere outward causes, zeal will persevere.

 

Conclusion

Reformation is an urgent necessity in our personal lives and our families as well as in the Church and nation. We will get nowhere without zeal. And as Bowles concludes “what remains but that I commend you to God, and the Word of His grace who alone must enable you for it, and without whom all that is done will come to nothing”. “If you go on to do the Lord’s work with wisdom and courage, God will certainly go along with you”. “The God of heaven…raise and keep up your spirits, clothe you with zeal, fit you for all encounters and make way for you through all difficulties”.

 
 
 

Oliver Bowles

“Whatever you part with…part not with your zeal, let this be your honour and crown.”

Bowles was a member of the Westminster Assembly and gave this counsel in preaching to the Assembly and the Houses of Parliament in 1643.

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What Does Revival Transform?

What Does Revival Transform?

What Does Revival Transform?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
2 Dec, 2016

Many people pray and long for revival. But what do we mean by it? Perhaps this is assumed to be rather obvious. It is a special outpouring of God’s blessing when His people are spiritually renewed and many others are converted. Revival includes this but it is in fact much more besides. In its totality, it is a deepening and strengthening of God’s whole work not just in the lives of individuals. But what do we mean by God’s whole work?

John King (d. 1679) answers this vital question in a sermon on Habbakkuk 3:2 about God reviving His work. He observes that there are times when God’s work may be near ruin but not quite ruined. The church and people of God may not only be near ruin but may experience much deadness on their spirits. This may be true and yet we may not have a true sense of it. All of us need to pray for reviving. This condition may continue for years, or a considerable time. This is why Habbakkuk prays for revival “in the midst of the years” i.e. during the Jews’ long exile in Babylon.

King was preaching in times of great persecution. This is the only sermon that survives of the many that he preached in the fields. It was preached in 1678 in the district near to Loch Lomond. He had a powerful voice that could easily carry for a quarter of a mile. Frequently hunted down and imprisoned for preaching “illegally”, King was executed in 1679 together with another minister, John Kid. The last words of his written testimony are significant. “The Lord visit Scotland with more and more faithful pastors, and send a reviving day unto the people of God…Farewell all creature comforts, welcome everlasting life, everlasting glory, welcome everlasting love, everlasting praise; bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me”.

In applying his text, King says that we must be greatly taken up with God’s work and its need for reviving. Sadly, many pray for revival without a sense of our woeful lack of obedience to God. The Bible makes it clear that we cannot expect to enjoy God’s blessing if we are willfully disobedient to Him. This relationship between obedience and God’s blessing is important to understand. King focusses on our role, are we willing to fulfil our responsibility in relation to the work that we are looking for God to revive? What is the responsibility we must discharge in relation to God’s work? He identifies the following areas.

 

1. Gathering the Church of God

Gathering a Church to Himself is God’s Work. He calls His Church “the work of mine hands” (Isaiah 19:25). This may give deep conviction to many, since you have cared very little about this work. What care have you taken about it? If we were all brought to give our answer, what would we say? It is true, we are not called to have greater care than our responsibilities reach. I fear, ministers have not been taken as much care concerning His Church as we ought. This is lamentable.

This belongs to you and every one of you, in your particular position of responsibility. “What can we do?” they say, “…nothing”. Have you been sent into the world to do nothing? You should both do and be able to do. Although you may not be a prominent member of the body, you may be useful in your position. Although you are not the hand or the head, yet you may be a finger or toe.

We should all take care concerning the Church of God. But what should we do in reference to the Church? Contribute all you can do or have for the Church in your capacity. If you can do no more, will you pray for the Church which is God’s work and concern. Pray that He would advance His own work and take care of His own Church. Are we not in a capacity to do more, and to act and do for the Church? Now who does that? We are all at ease and the work of God is laid aside. But says the Spirit of God in Isaiah 45:11 “Concerning the works of my hands command ye me”.

 

2. Reforming and Building the Church of God

Reforming and building God’s house comes to a stop and is hindered. See to it then. In Nehemiah 3, this was one of God’s works in which they were to engage. They were to reform and build the house of God that the Babylonians had destroyed. That is one of His works and we should all endeavour to do it. Some are not in a capacity to do this but labour to do all that you can. We once had a well-ordered Church; but what is it now? What have we done for to build up His work?

In Haggai 2 they lacked the silver and gold and had many enemies. So they neglected building the house of God and built their own houses. He reproves them for it in Haggai 1:4 that God’s house was lying waste. Have many not done the same nowadays? This house is lying in ashes. This is lamentable indeed; we have not been careful in rebuilding and restoring the house of God. Let everyone’s conscience tell him or her about this. 

 

3. The Preaching of the Gospel

We should take care about this.  We should all (as it were) hold fast our hands around this. Were it not for some, we do not know where the preaching of the gospel would go. You should promote the preaching of the gospel. It is one of His works: it is His great work. It concerns our eternal happiness: and will it not increase our grief if we are found careless about it?

 

4. The Worship of God

Worship is called the work of God (Nehemiah 10:33). Nehemiah was careful about these things. O that there were many Nehemiahs in our day, to pray for the work and worship of God. We cannot tell what we have done for the worship of the house of God. We have taken little trouble about the house of God and for His worship. No care is taken to get it set up in our families. There is little concern amongst us to see to the whole work of God.

 

5. The Work of Grace

The work of grace in your heart and mine is God’s work. How little care there is about that. It is called the work of grace (1 Corinthians 15). What care have you taken about it: how to get it or keep it when gotten? Our blessed Lord Himself says “This is the work of God” (John 6:29), believing in Him. Get faith in exercise. O if we had faith to lay hold on His promises we might stand on our feet despite all that our enemies could do to us. But we lack faith and that takes us off our feet.  The disciples lacked faith to believe that He was able to bring them through this world, and yet He was able to set food before them (Luke 22:35).  Do not lack faith in His ability to carry you through; many have gone wrong in these days because of this.

 

Conclusion

These are His works; therefore we should give attention to them. Especially to have the gospel preached and promoted, to have the house of God built and things in His house rectified. These things tend greatly to the glory of God. What blessing there will be when all these things go well. If we do not do so we will be reckoned for His dishonour, not for His glory.

Contribute much to the edification of His saints and the good of souls, to have the gospel preached and the Word hid in your hearts, to have the house of God rebuilt, His work revived and things brought to purity and the due order. Is there not great good in all this?  Where will you get good, if it is not in this? Nowhere else.

These are the means of saving as well as edifying souls. Will you not therefore give attention to them? You take care for yourself in the needs of your body and in worldly things, so you should. But the work of God should be the great work. This is your first work, but we bring it in last.

May this not be a rebuke and challenge to many a conscience? Must this not be a fore regret? How we should lament it, considering how little we have done for the reformation and rebuilding of His house and the reviving of His work and worship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”, who are not concerned about the work of God. How can those who lay themselves aside and are lifeless escape this curse when they might have been useful for the work of God? How can such think to be free from that woe?

It is His work, His house: therefore, you should do all you can to build and rebuild it. Do all the service to him you can. This will entitle you to the promise in Isaiah 66:10 “Rejoice with her all ye that mourn for, and be glad with her all ye that love her”. When the work of God shall be restored and revived, they shall be comforted and you shall have a share in it with them.

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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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Martin Luther’s Role in the Second Reformation

Martin Luther’s Role in the Second Reformation

Martin Luther’s Role in the Second Reformation
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
31 Oct, 2015

31 October 1517 was when Luther nailed up his 95 theses. He died about 100 years before the Second Reformation in Scotland and the rest of Britain. How could he possibly have a role in it? Further, Luther’s convictions on the Lord’s Supper, church order and worship weren’t those established by the Second Reformation.

Looking back from the time of the Second Reformation in Scotland, John Row wrote warmly of Luther. He said that “the Lord, by his Word and Spirit, taught him more and more grounds of true religion, which he set out to the view of the world”. The point is that Luther sought to recover biblical Christianity. He did so by an appeal to the supreme authority of Scripture. In the Second Reformation in Scotland, we see the culmination of this outworking. Luther said to the Emperor: “I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God”. This was a vital principle. God alone is Lord of the conscience and Scripture is the only rule in matters of faith and practice. The men of the Second Reformation were willing to assert this resolutely in the face of the tyranny of absolute monarchy.

It was this principle that the Westminster Assembly were committed to working out fully. An article on this site explains a little more of this.

The Second Reformation applied the principles of God’s Word to both Church and Nation. Scotland flourished under God’s blessing as a consequence. One could say that it was biblical Christianity come into its own – its natural outworking. You can read some more here about why we need the biblical accuracy of the Second Reformation in our day. There are 7 reasons why we need to learn from it. You can also read more about the principles of the Second Reformation here.

Scotland’s Greatest Revival

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

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