What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?
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.
27 Dec, 2017

At this time of year, many people stop and reflect. They review the past and take stock. Then they set their priorities for a coming year. If people commit to this in outward things as well as their personal life how much more is it necessary in spiritual things? Priorities are significant because they identify what is really important to us. They rise above mere resolutions or wishful thinking. This is a biblical activity. Paul tells us of how he considered the future in the light of the past. He tells us that he had only one real priority and he was determined to pursue it.

Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres. In Philippians 3:12, he is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection, even though that is beyond this life. Even those who have attained most come short. This should encourage us as we review our imperfect attainments.

As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. We should not be discouraged but rather encouraged to strive for better progress towards the mark.

In verses 13-14 Paul uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look back to estimate what ground they have covered. Rather, they forget what is behind and bend their bodies forward. They aim their heart, eye and whole direction, straight towards the finish of the race until they attain it. Paul was sustained in this race by hope of the rich reward (purchased by Christ) to which he was called. What was Paul’s one priority? Progress in the knowledge of Christ and the “holiness” without which none of us shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Is it ours? Will it be ours this year? How do we live our lives under the influence of this supreme priority? The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments on these verses from Philippians 3.

 

1. Knowing Christ and Holiness is the Supreme Priority

We must be seriously inclined towards progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness above all other things. We must not do this superficially and only by the by. It was Paul’s one thing: he said “this one thing I do (or mind)”.

 

2. We Must Pursue this With Our Full Energy

The Christian who wants to make progress in the way to heaven is like those who are running in a race.

(a) The Runner Does Not Look Back to Estimate Progress

The Christian who wants to make progress is like the runner does not cast his eye back to reckon how much of the way is already past.They may review of what has been done already not only to be humbled for shortcomings but also to see reasons for praising God and encouragement (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Christian is not to be so taken up with it as to rest on it. There is no reason to be puffed up with pride as if enough has already been done or anything else that would impede further progress. In this way Paul speaks of “forgetting those things which are behind”, as if he had done nothing.

(b) The Runner Looks Forward

The runner is mostly taken up with the part of the way still to be run and they bend forward in it. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress must take time to reckon up how much of  the way still lies ahead. They assess what sins are yet to be mortified; what duties are yet almost untouched; what hard activities they may yet be called to undergo. The more we see of these kind of things, the more effort we must make in advancing forward. Thus, Paul speaks of “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

(c) The Runner Keeps Looking at the Finish

The runner keeps his eye on the mark and steers his whole progress towards it. He does not turn aside or stop due to any difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix their eye on the end of the race. That goal is perfection in holiness. They must aim all their actions and attempts at that mark and press forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way. This is what Paul did: “I press toward the mark“.

 

3. Considering the Reward Inspires Greater Progress

The thoughts of the prize and worth of the reward give strength to the runner, making them run faster. Heaven and glory is the rich prize – a free reward of grace (not earned by merit) – for the Christian (Romans 6:23). The Christian who wants to make real progress should have this much in their thoughts. This heartens us against all hardships and discouragements, faintings and failings we are assaulted with and tempted to. This is what Paul was doing: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling”.

 

4. The Reward is All of Grace

Heaven and glory are only given as a reward to those who continue in their Christian progress until they come to the end of the race. Yet it is in no way merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s poor efforts but from above, from God’s high grace. They receive this through the merits of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul calls it “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ“.

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What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?
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 Nov, 2017

No one wants to be a Pharisee. It’s the ultimate religious insult. No doubt we have our own idea of what a modern-day Pharisee looks like. It’s probably the type of Christian with whom we strongly disagree, their standards and convictions are far removed from ours. It’s easy to apply the Pharisee label without thinking much about it. We ought to be careful, however, before identifying others with the enemies of Christ. What was it about the Pharisees that Christ Himself opposed? This will tell us what we need to know about where the term applies today. Perhaps modern Christianity isn’t as immune as we might think from strains of the Pharisee virus.

It’s possible for any type of professing Christian to place undue weight on outward activities and things that identify us as religious. Sometimes these are things we may scarcely think about or question but they have been given considerable importance. They could be what is considered trendy just as much as what is considered traditional.

It is highly important to identify the spirit of the Pharisees today. The Lord Jesus Christ has such solemn things to say about them that we need to ensure that we avoid their characteristics. The general stereotype is that Pharisees were obsessed with being ultra-holy. True, they were interested in outward conformity to their own man-made regulations but they weren’t interested in heart holiness and entire conformity to God’s law. Christ actually says that they weren’t strict enough when it came to righteousness. What is more He says that we must be “exceed” the Pharisees when it comes to righteousness or we will not “enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The Pharisees and scribes took great effort in making great outward profession of holiness of life. The truth is, however, that they only made conscience of outward obedience only (Matthew 5:21) and even then, only in relation to certain commandments (Matthew 15:3). There is a tendency to try to get around obeying God’s requirements by championing our own man-made slogans and rules. A true Christian must first be clothed with the righteousness of Christ and have their sins forgiven in Christ. They must be justified freely by grace without the works of the law. They then seek to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith by true and sincere obedience, inwardly as well as outwardly. They desire to obey all of God’s commandments. They want to make further progress in holiness all the days of their life.

Their righteousness must outstrip that of the Pharisees and scribes. First, they must have the righteousness which is of God by faith in Jesus Christ reckoned to their account. Second, they also should manifest an inherent righteousness, sincerely pursuing a holy life before God and man. These are the ways in which their righteousness must far exceed the superficial righteousness of the Pharisees.

The most solemn warnings Christ gives against the Pharisees are found in Matthew 23:1-36. Frequently they take the form of “woes” (eight in total). In other words, He is warning them of God’s judgment for their hypocrisy. Of course, He was able to read their hearts but their conduct and words were very obvious too and these exposed the true state of their heart.

David Dickson has some key insights into Christ’s words in this chapter. It is a long article but it makes for vital reading. Here we highlight the main aspects of the Pharisee virus that we must avoid like the plague.  Where we see heart religion and careful godly living ignored, it has an opening. Where man is exalted and worldly desires masquerade under religious language and man-made practice we ought to be warned. We must of course, avoid those who alter the true gospel.

 

1. Pharisees Don’t Make their Life Match their Convictions

Christ warned about false teachers (Matthew 23:1-3).

(a) People must be warned to beware of contracting the plagues of false teachers who will not amend their conduct.

(b) We ought still to obey the truth of God’s Word even though it may be promoted by false teachers; it is still God’s truth (v2).

(c) People are more in danger of following the example of the sinful life of false teachers rather than any commands of God they may teach. They need to be warned not to follow the works of such false teachers.

(d) Someone may obey what God commands but not for the purpose for which God has commanded it. In the sight of God this is no better than not doing it. Although the Pharisees did many works that were commanded in the law, yet they did them to be seen of others and to earn merit before God. They were more careful about the outward ceremonies of the law than observing the moral duties of justice and mercy. What they did was therefore counted as though they had not done them. Christ says that “they say, and do not”.

 

2. Pharisees Urge Moral Duties without the Gospel

The Lord shows how the Pharisees urged moral duties without reference to the gospel (which is the only way by which such duties can be done) (v4).

(a) The law is intended to lead us to the gospel where grace and strength for righteousness and new obedience. Otherwise it is an unbearable yoke. It is here called a heavy burden, and grievous to be borne. And therefore to press moral duties on a people without teaching them how to draw strength from Christ for obedience is to bind heavy burdens on their shoulders.

(b) Hypocrites command people with least compassion which does not enable them to give obedience. They do not seek to help them by wise teaching, example or prayer. Therefore Christ says “they will not move [the burdens they impose] with one of their fingers”.

 

3. Pharisees Care More About Appearances than Reality

Pharisees had ways of appearing to be religious before others. One was to enlarge their phylacteries (items they would wear containing verses of Scripture) (v5). The first is their vain ostentation of holiness and ambitious seeking of vain applause of men, to which end they did write the words of the law on the borders of their garments, as if it had been all made up of love of the law.

(a) Hypocrites take greater effort to seem religious than to be religious. They strive to please others with appearances rather than to please God in truth. They “do their works…to be seen of men”.

(b) Hypocrites are most concerned about making a show of outward religious practices and outward aspects of duties that have been commanded, while neglecting the substance.

 

4. Pharisees Love Status and Celebrity

Pharisees love to be given status and to be hailed as a prominent teacher (v6-7). The Pharisees were vain and sought preeminence in all things above other people. We should not esteem any mere man too highly any gifts he has or any good we have received through him. It takes away from God’s glory when we attribute too much to men (v9-12).

(a) Although the Lord does not condemn respects and reverence due to men according to their callings and places, yet he condemns those who love take pride in them.

(b) Hypocrites and vain men least worthy of respect or honour most desire respect.

(c) Christ does not condemn ways of distinguishing individuals for order and for the sake of their office from others. He condemns those who exalt themselves over their brethren in outward dignity (v8).

(d) Those who seek to exalt themselves above their brethren in the same office are offensive to Christ. He alone must have the preeminent. He has appointed a ministry in the Church and made them equal in office as brethren (v8).

(e) We are very ready to ascribe something to ourselves if we are able to profit others by any gifts given to us. Christ says not to be called Rabbi, or Master. The meaning is, do not take to yourselves more than is the creature’s due. When you teach others by God’s gift bestowed on you and anyone ascribes to you any more than is due, see that you do not permit it this sacrilege.

(f) All the authority, light and success of teaching flows from the powerful teacher Christ, “for One is your Master, even Christ”. Anything given to the creature above its place is taken sacrilegiously.

 

5. Pharisees Hinder the Salvation of Others

Christ pronounces a woe on the Pharisees for hindering the gospel (v13).

(a) Men by nature are exiles from heaven and from the grace of God offered in the gospel. Yet by ministering the Word and ordinances of God in the right or wrong way, the door of heaven is opened or shut. The Pharisees, says Christ, shut the kingdom of heaven against men.

(b) It is a fearful charge against false teachers that they do not come to Christ themselves and also divert others by their bad example or doctrine.

 

6. Pharisees Combine Religion with Covetousness

(a) Just as ambition and hypocrisy go together, so do ambition and greed (v14).

(b) Simple, ignorant and helpless souls are the prey of corrupt Church leaders. This is nothing new.

(c) The most cursed behaviour that can be devised may be cloaked with the pretence of religion.

(d) The more plausible the pretence put upon a wicked course of action, the greater the sin (and  the punishment. Christ say that they will “receive the greater damnation”.

 

7. Pharisees Make Many Converts, But Not to the Genuine Gospel

The Pharisees had a blind zeal to poison others with their errors and make converts to their sect (v15).

(a) False teachers are more busy to draw others to their error than teachers of the truth are
diligent in drawing others to the truth.

(b) The more effort and haste in false zeal that someone shows in perverting others from the truth, the more wrath abides on him.

(c) The more someone advances in error and superstition, the more he is the child of hell and Satan. Such errors have their origin in hell and Satan is the father of error, superstition and heresy. Christ said that the Pharisees made their converts “the child of hell”.

(d) Young converts who drink in superstition being persuaded by learned false teachers are far more taken with their false opinions. They are more addicted to these false superstitions than their teachers because they believer them to be the truth.

 

8. Pharisees Define Sin According to their Own Ideas

The Pharisees actually believed they could take the name of God in vain. They said that if they swore an oath “by the temple” it was not binding but if they swore “by the gold of the temple” it was (v16). Christ shows (v20-22) that this was altogether wrong.

(a) Church leaders that corrupt religion and fearfully mislead people become “blind guides”. This is despite the fact that their office requires that they should be wise and seeing guides.

(b) These corrupt hypocrites fostered swearing by created things such as by the temple, altar, gold and gifts.

(c) Corrupt Church leaders make things to be sin or no sin as it serves their purpose. Here they made an oath by the temple to be nothing and an oath by the gold of the temple to be binding.

(d) To make light of any oath as not binding opens a door to superstition and perjury.

(e) When men depart from the rule of God’s Word in determining sin, they prove themselves foolish and blind

(f) Superstition and error blinds the mind, and stupifies the heart.

 

9. Pharisees Only Give Partial Obedience

The Pharisees vaunted their precise keeping of the law in the smallest things while they despised the law in the greatest duties.

(a) It is no new thing for hypocrites to major on small matters while rejecting the most weighty duties. The Pharisees tithed anise and omitted mercy. Yet doing those greater duties does not liberate us from our obligation to do the smallest duties, one authority obliges us to do both. Christ say that they ought still to have done these but “not left the other undone” (v23).

(b)  Hypocrites being strict are more ridiculous than someone refusing to swallow a fly while swallowing a camel.

(c) Those who take it upon them to teach others the way to heaven need to know it well themselves; for it is a fearful charge to be found blind guides.

 

10. Pharisees Pretend to be Holy but are Not

The Pharisees deceived the people with an appearance of holiness when there was nothing of the kind in them (v27-28).

(a) Hypocrites may carry their wickedness so fair that men may be deceived: for they may seem very beautiful outwardly, when inwardly they are filthy, like tombs plaistred12 without, and full of rottenness within.

(b) God will not be deceived by hypocrites, but will find them out. In His time He will expose them to the world and pour out wrath on them, for Christ says “Woe unto you”.

 

11. Pharisees Honour the Godly of the Past but Hate the Godly of the Present

The Pharisees pretended to honour the saints of the past (v29-30) but in the meantime hated the godly in the present. Indeed they were about to murder Christ Himself.

(a) The world loves dead prophets better than the living: the living reprove their sin more directly than the dead.

(b) Gross hypocrites pretend to love good men and yet do not love goodness. They can condemn their fathers’ faults and yet practise the same themselves. They are like those who said: “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers of the blood of the prophets”.

 

12. Pharisees are on their Way to Hell Unless they Repent

He condemns them and threatens them with hell (v33).

(a) When the Lord makes a reckoning, he will declare the sin of the wicked to their face.

(b) It is good to show the obstinate the difficulty of being saved if they can by any means they can be driven to seek salvation.

(c) The end of Christ’s enemies shall be condemnation in hell.

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What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

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

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

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

 

1. Sin Brings Decay

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

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

 

2. Do Not Trust in Prosperity

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

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

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

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

 

3. What Causes Decay?

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

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

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

 

4. Blown Away with the Wind of Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

5. The Remedy

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

 

Conclusion

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

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14 Things that May be Spiritual Hindrances

14 Things that May be Spiritual Hindrances

14 Things that May be Spiritual Hindrances
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.
6 Oct, 2017

We need to lay aside every weight that hinders us in running the spiritual race. Previously, we considered what things help our spiritual progress. It is just as important to identify what holds us back, otherwise we will not make best use of the helps.

These are personal observations from James Fraser of Brea and reflect his own experience. It is helpful to learn from those that have been many years in the Christian life making particular effort in exercising themselves to godliness. Perhaps some of Fraser’s observations are surprising or disturbing to us – they will certainly make us think. We need to engage in our own self-examination to consider our own ways.

 

1. A legalistic spirit

Satan sometimes urges me violently and boastingly to engage in duties in my own strength, overdriving me with thunder and lightening and laying more upon me than I am able to bear. This is like putting new wine in old bottles, seeking such and such duties, and so much, exacting them by weight and measure. It weakens my hands, irritates me and makes me do nothing, seeing I cannot get what is urged done. It makes me act slavishly (Genesis 33:13; Romans 7:11; Hebrews 10:12-13; Luke 19:21).

 

2. Unspiritual company

The company of carnal, unregenerate people, and graceless, nominal professing Christians has been a hindrance. This has been especially the case if I have been familiar with them, living close to them, or have not challenged or instructed them. When near, they have dispersed their poison and infection and turned my heart carnal. It is like some diseases that are not contracted unless you come near those that have them (1 Corinthians 15:33).

 

3. Godly company with no spiritual benefit

When it has not been used to best spiritual advantage, I have even found godly company damaging, drawing away my heart from God and rendering it carnal. If we have not sought the Lord  through mutual prayer and have had no spiritual conversation or I have stayed too long with them. Hardening takes place when we are not exhorting one another (Hebrews 3:13).

 

4. Careless talk

I have had my spirit turned out of frame, and quite distempered by loud, violent, hasty and much talk even in good things. I have found “the talking of the lips tend to penury” (Proverbs 14:23) and a breach made in the spirit by perverse speaking (James 3:5-6; Proverbs 17:27; Matthew 15:8).

 

5. Being out and about too much

I have found going away from home and being in public too much to be damaging. These have been like the devil’s market-days. Let me prepare, pray and watch as much as I will, this still happens. My spirit has been put out of a spiritual condition, especially if I have gone out without great necessity. Going here and there is good for neither soul nor body.

 

6. Overindulging

I have found excess in the use of food, drink, and other recreations, very prejudicial, and to be the ordinary inlet of many evils. This makes the body is not in the right condition and the spirit utterly indisposed to any good exercise (Luke 21:34; Proverbs 25:27 and 23:20-21).

 

7. Carelessness about devotions

Omitting private duties or doing them in a careless way. This includes duties such as prayer, self-examination, meditation, and reading (Matthew 26:41; Proverbs 23:21).

 

8. Neglecting spontaneous silent prayer

Neglecting spontaneous silent prayer when conversing with others; for this is the fountain of waters that drops from heaven, and makes the heart fruitful (Matthew 26:41).

 

9. Vain thoughts

Vain thoughts in the morning, when riding, and in private spiritual exercises. Even though they are not bad thoughts, I have found these to put my spirit wrong as much as anything and to make me utterly unfit for duty (Jeremiah 4:14).

 

10. Not keeping the heart

Unwatchfulness and not keeping the heart while in the world. Not being “in the fear of God all the day long,” not keeping guard, or neglecting the continual oversight of my heart, tongue, and actions, but growing careless. I have found that when my heart is unwatched it runs away and engages in sins and temptations. There are many disorders in a city while there is no government  and this is the state of my heart at such times (Matthew 26:41). This has done extreme evil; through this I lose in public what I gain in private.

 

11. Unbelieving discouragements

Unbelieving discouragements arising from feeling of what I lack, sins and trials. These have weakened my hands (1 Samuel 12:20; Lamentations 1:9; Jeremiah 2:28; Hebrews 12:12-13). It was when Peter started to be afraid that he began to sink.

 

12. Being Too Absorbed in Temporal Things

Being highly engaged in outward affairs and business and eagerly pursuing them. These have distracted me and made me utterly unable to serve God (Luke 10:4 and 21:34).

 

13. Pride

Pride and thinking much of myself, self-boasting of myself, seeking the praise of men and seeking to exalt myself by being careful in duties. Seeking to share the glory with Christ in the matter of salvation. This has made the Lord reject me many times, withdrawing me from my resolution to “hide pride”. This made the Jews not obtain righteousness, because they sought it “as it were by the works of the law” (Romans 9:31-32).

 

14. Slothfulness

Slothfulness in sleeping too long and trifling away the time (especially in company) has “clothed me with rags”.

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27 Things that Help Spiritual Progress

27 Things that Help Spiritual Progress

27 Things that Help Spiritual Progress
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.
29 Sep, 2017

No doubt none of us are where we would be or even perhaps should be spiritually. That was certainly Paul’s confession (Philippians 3:12-13). We need to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18) not just have it. But how do we go from merely desiring to make progress to actually getting moving? What can help us along the way? Sometimes it’s not always the things that we would expect. When experiences make us more humble we may go forward more discerning and less self-reliant. Maturing in patience as we grow slowly is also steady progress.

James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) endured imprisonment on the Bass Rock for “illegal” preaching. This very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. Along with many others he suffered much in those fearful conditions. He was also imprisoned at a later period in Blackness Castle but survived the times of persecution. During many varied experiences the Lord taught him greatly.

Fraser records the things, through the Lord’s blessing, did him good spiritually. He says: “I cannot deny but the Lord has shown me kindness and done me good, and that a little one has become a great nation”. Although “I am poor and needy,” yet the Lord remembers me (Psalm 40:17). Despite the fact that “I came over this Jordan with my staff,” now I am by the Lord’s blessing, “become two bands” (Genesis 32:10). I have thought it fitting to declare the things which in my experience, through the  Lord’s blessing, I have found to be most helpful in furthering me in the ways of holiness, peace and fellowship with God. And I have found these twenty-seven things especially blessed for doing me good.

 

1. The Company of Believers

When they have been full in communicating their condition, believers have encouraged me and eased my griefs. By their godly life I have been provoked to good works. I have been kept in life, recovered out of decline, enlightened and edified by them (Ecclesiastes 4:4, 9-10, n; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Hebrews 10:24, 25). Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

 

2. Observing Providence

I have found great profit by observing the Lord’s providences and searching into God’s purpose in good or bad events. This has made me see much love in things, freed my understanding from confusion and made me know my duty (Micah 7:9; Hosea 14:9; Psalm 107:43; Jeremiah 8:7; Genesis 25:22; Exodus 3:3-4).

 

3. Meditating on God

I have found that meditating on God’s attributes has done me much good: especially His love, power, sovereignty, and holiness (Job 22:21; John 17:3). By this means I have been conformed to His image, and my love, fear, and faith have been produced and increased (Psalm 9:10; Ephesians 3:18-19).

 

4. Meditating on the Gospel

I have found great good by long and serious study of the covenant of grace. I have pondered its nature, freedom, fulness and unchangeableness and how faith secures its blessings. Meditating on the gospel, gospel promises, offers, and invitations has strengthened and sanctified me. It has given me more knowledge of Christ and His ways than anything else that I exercised myself in. I have found it indeed the “ministrations of life,” (Galatians 3:2: Hebrews 11; Romans 1:16-17).

 

5. Solitude

Sometimes the Lord has confined me at home in not calling me elsewhere. Ordinarily this has been a gathering time and I have never ordinarily been better than when alone. Solitude has done me good, Proverbs 18:1; Numbers 6:2-3; Hosea 2:14). God has often visited me in a solitary wilderness.

 

6. Outward Afflictions

I have found outward afflictions and hard measures from the world doing me good, humbling my soul, mortifying me to the world. They have made Christ and His consolations sweet, whom I did not care much for before. I found it good to bear the yoke in my youth. I have learned dependence on God and have had much experience of His love supporting me under afflictions, sanctifying them to me, and delivering me out of them, (Lamentations 3:27; Psalm 94:12; Hebrews 12:11; Psalm 119:67, 71; Proverbs 29:15; Hosea 5:15).

 

7. Waiting on God

I have found quietness in spirit, moderation and calmness in speaking, and advisedness doing me good; and while I have waited on God in silence, His spirit has breathed (Isaiah 7:4 and 9:15; Exodus 14:13; 2 Chronicles 20:17; Philippians 4:7; Lamentations 3:26; 1 Peter 5:7).

 

8. Private Devotions

I have found much good by the diligent practice of private duties, such as prayer, meditation, reading, self-examination, and such like. I have thereby been strengthened, quickened, and drawn near to God; they have been as food and drink (Matthew 6:6; Luke 22:46; Psalm 1:2-3; Job 8:5; Proverbs 18:1).

 

9. Fasting

I have found extraordinary duties (e.g. fasting) and making best use of other opportunities over and above the morning and evening sacrifice [devotions], do me much good. Much of the Lord’s mind has been revealed by these (Daniel 10:12) and strong lusts have received a dead stroke. I have been consciously comforted at these occasions. After long sickness, these have given me health (Psalm 126:6; Jeremiah 1: 5-6; Isaiah 58:7-8; Mark 9:29).

 

10. Hearing Faithful Preaching

I have found the Lord kind to me since I stopped hearing the sermons of the conformists [i.e. the ministers that conformed to the state domination of the Church]. Since that day the scales have been falling from my eyes. While I was listening to those ministers I was still kept in bondage (2 Corinthians 6:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

 

11. Others Praying for Me

I have found much good from and by the prayers of others; for since I made use of some for that purpose, I have found much good. I have observed, that those of us who seek the benefit of other’s prayers were the most thriving Christians and those who neglect this decay and wither (Job 42:8; James 5:16; Ephesians 6:19; Romans 15:30; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

 

12. Seeking the Spiritual Good of Others

I have found very much good by doing good to others, by instructing, exhorting, and teaching them, and praying for them, especially poor ignorant people. At the very time I have been speaking to them, a glorious light shined on my soul, and made me apprehend those things I have been declaring to them more clearly. When full of confusions and sorrows going about this duty, my heart has been lightened and my talents improved (Isaiah 32:20; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Proverbs 11:25).

 

13. Understanding True Christian Liberty Properly

I have found the serious consideration of true Christian liberty, and of the easiness of Christ’s yoke, and Christ’s love in commands, in opposition to a slavish spirit and scrupulous fearful conscience, do me very much good, and make my heart engage in the service of God (1 Kings 12:4; Luke 1:74; Romans 7:1, 4, 6, and 6:14; Nehemiah 9:35; Deuteronomy 28:48). Likewise, making use of considerations against discouragements (1 Samuel 12:19-20).

 

14. Meditating on Baptism

I have found much profit and strength by considering baptism and what it seals. Scruples and difficult have been cleared up and removed by this. Assurance has been strengthened and I have been emboldened to draw near to God (Romans 6:1-12).

 

15. Reading Spiritual Books

The Lord has blessed to me the reading of practical writings. By this means my heart has been put into a good condition and received much strength and light. The writers most blessed to me have been Isaac Ambrose, Thomas Goodwin, Andrew  Gray and especially Samuel Rutherford. I have been blessed most of all by Thomas Shepherd of New England’s works. The Lord has made him the ”interpreter, one of a thousand” to me. Under Christ I have been more obliged to his writings than to any other means for wakening, strengthening, and enlightening my soul. The Lord made him a well of water to me in all my wilderness difficulties.

 

16. Thinking the Best of God’s Dealings

I have found it good to put a good construction on the Lord’s ways, when they have been outwardly very sad (Exodus 20:19).

 

17. Commending God to Others

I have found much good by speaking to the praise and commendation of God. When many times not so affectionately, yet sincerely out of the sense of duty, I have begun to praise Him to others, I have found my tongue to have affected my heart (James 3:2; Psalm 105:3 and 145:5-6). The Lord has rewarded me consciously for this.

 

18. Inward Trials

I have found much good by sore and long inward trials, being “poured from vessel to vessel,” changing and being changed, lifted up, and cast down.  The greatest way of being settled is by these. “By these” (Hezekiah says) “shall men live” (Isaiah 38:16). These humbled me, kept me awake, and ever crying to the Lord. They have given me much experience of the Lord’s kindness, and acquainted me with the exercise of saints in Scripture (James 1:2).

 

19. Overcoming Difficulties

The Lord has uniquely owned me in resisting strong temptations, engaging with difficult duties, and slaying inward indisposition. Also in loss and contempt from the world outwardly. The fruit of this has been very great. Such fruit has included praying under indisposition, reproving acquaintances and forsaking ways and thoughts very pleasing to the flesh (Jeremiah 2:1-2; Hebrews 11:6; Romans 2:7; Matthew 5:10 and 16:24).

 

20. Humble Submission

I have found much good by studying and exercising the duty of humility and submission (James 4:7). Duties are easy to a humble spirit. It eases the soul of disquiet and makes burdens easy. “Hell is not hell to a humble soul” (Thomas Shepherd). I have always found help when humbled.

 

21. Meditating on the Lord’s Dealings with Me

Seriously meditating on the Lord’s dealings with me as to soul and body and calling to mind His manifold mercies has done me very much good. It has cleared my case, confirmed my soul concerning God’s love, and my interest in Him, and made me love Him. What good writing in this journal has done me! What previously hidden wells of water my eyes have been opened to see! (Psalm 107:4 and 18: 1-2). Scarcely anything has done me more good.

 

22. Making Vows to God

Making and renewing vows to and covenants with God (although weakly engaged in and performed) has produced life and kind thoughts of God. It has been a means to recover me out of spiritual decline and keep me from further backsliding (Deuteronomy 29:12-13).

 

23. Meditating on the Main Things

Meditation on the most common general truths has done me good e.g. death, heaven, judgment, sin, God’s being and providence, man’s fall, and Christ’s death, etc.

 

24. Not Delaying Duties

Speedily going about duties without trifling or delaying. A duty done in time is worth twice as much as delayed duty.

 

25. Writing on Doctrine

By writing on points of doctrine e.g. Scripture, God’s attributes, Christian duties, sermons, experiences etc. These have kept my heart like fresh water.

 

26. Self-examination

Serious and deliberate self-examination has greatly helped to establish me. I have been testing myself, looking at the qualifications of saints and hypocrites in Scripture and their sins and failings. I have studied the nature of true saving grace and the difference (according to Scripture) between false and true grace.

 

27. Avoiding Unnecessary Temporal Concerns

I have found much good by being kept from too much temporal or secular business. For various reasons I did not have this at the beginning of my Christian life. Although my concerns called for diligence,  I do not regret this because it meant that my heart was wholly taken up with my soul’s condition and not diverted from this (Proverbs 18:1).

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14 Reasons to be Thankful

14 Reasons to be Thankful

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

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

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

 

1. My Health

I find reason to bless the Lord for continued health.

 

2. My Education

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

 

3. Not Leaving Me in False Hopes

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

 

4. Sparing Me

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

 

5. Persevering with Me

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

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

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

 

6. Giving Me Grace

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

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

 

7. Healing My Backsliding

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

 

8. Bringing Me through the Wilderness

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

 

9. Giving Me Talents

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

 

10. Keeping Me from Apostasy

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

 

11. Upholding Me

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

 

12. Delivering Me

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

 

13. Mercy in My Afflictions

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

 

14. Special Favour to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What it Really Means to Guard Your Heart

What it Really Means to Guard Your Heart

What it Really Means to Guard Your Heart
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."
24 Mar, 2017

For many the instruction to “guard your heart” means controlling your emotions, specifically in relation to the opposite sex. Others use it to emphasise resisting impurity. These applications tell us more about current evangelical preoccupations than what Proverbs 4:23 means by the heart and how we are to keep it. It is a much more difficult, comprehensive and urgent task than these specific counsels suggest.

​It is certainly urgent and essential. John Flavel said that keeping our heart “is the most important business of a Christian’s life”. “It is the great work of a Christian, in which the very soul and life of religion consists, and without which all other duties are of no value with God”.

Andrew Gray spent considerable time explaining these matters. The following is extracted and updated from his three sermons on Proverbs 4:23.

 

1. What is Our Heart?

Our hearts are the most important aspect of our being.

“Even if you gave Christ all your members, yet it would be considered nothing if you would not give Him your heart”. It is clear from what Gray says that our heart is not merely our thoughts or feelings. It includes our whole understanding, reason, memory, will, affections and conscience. It is the soul and all its faculties. It is every aspect of our inward and spiritual life.

But crucially the heart is by nature corrupt, deceitful and constantly departing from God.

 

Our hearts are exceedingly deceitful.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Isaiah likewise speaks of a deceived heart which leads people aside (Isaiah 44:20). The heart of man is a deceitful thing, it will preach “peace, peace” when there is none. It will make us commit sin when there is not even any outward pleasure in it.

This is the great mystery of iniquity, that even our hearts will deceive our own hearts, and study to bring them to ruin. If your hearts were left one hour to yourselves to keep, you would commit more iniquity than you can imagine or dream of.

 

Our hearts are desperately wicked. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). If there were threatenings, commands, promises and convictions of sin, yet your heart will cause you to sin. If hell were put in your way, yet, for the pleasure of an idol, you would run to sin.

 

Our hearts love idols.

That there is a cursed union between the heart and idols (Hosea 4:8 and 17). Three times we read in Ezekiel 24:3-5: “they have set up their idols in their hearts”. Keep your hearts with diligence lest this union be tolerated.

 

Our hearts are mad. 

There are many of our hearts that are exceedingly mad (Ecclesiastes 9:3) Certainly the hardness of our hearts shows that we do not keep our hearts.

 

Our hearts are divided. 

The fact that the heart is divided (Hosea 10:2) shows great necessity of keeping our hearts. If we were all well searched, it is to be feared that many of us would be found two-hearted. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). A man with two hearts has part of his heart going to God and part of his heart going to the devil.

 

Our hearts depart from God.

I am broken with their whorish hearts, which have departed from me (Ezekiel 9:6).

 

Our hearts are ignorant.

By nature our hearts are exceedingly dull and ignorant in the ways of godliness (Ephesians 4:18).

 

Our hearts are unstable and changeable.

We may compare the heart of a Christian (while here below) to Reuben: “unstable as water” which mars its excellence. While a Christian is here below he is like the moon: changeable and subject to many vicissitudes.

 

2. Why Should We Keep Our Heart?

This is something of eternal consequence. The reasons why are in Proverbs 4:23 “for out of it are the issues of life”. If you keep your heart, you shall have life; but if not, the issues of death will come from it.

It is a most excellent thing for a Christian to keep his heart. It is better to conquer that little thing of the heart, than it is for one to conquer a city (Proverbs 16:32).

It is something that is also very difficult and so must be done with “all diligence” or “all keeping”.  There is such difficulty in keeping our hearts that we ought strongly to guard them. Adam kept his heart for only a short time and yet he could not keep it. This shows the difficulty of keeping it. Pray to God to keep your heart (Psalm 25:20; 1 Peter 4:9). Pray that prayer that Christ prayed when He was on the cross committing His Spirit into the hands of the Father (see Luke 24:36).  O pray that prayer every day.

 

3. What is it to Keep Our Heart?

Keep Sight of Everything in Your Heart.

Keeping our heart means that a Christian should observe the motions of his heart, and should not let his heart nor thoughts go astray, but should have a register of all their motions (Luke 21:34).

 

Keep Everything that Pertains to Your Heart.

(a) Your thoughts; (b) Your eyes (Proverbs 4:25); (c) Your tongues (Proverbs 4:25); (d) Your feet, (e) Your ears.

 

Keep Everything Unclean Out of Your Heart.

(Proverbs 5:8; Deuteronomy 12:30).

 

Keep Restraints on Your Heart.

Keep it so you may not commit iniquity. Bind these ropes on you to restrain yourselves: (a) the rope Christ’s love; (b) the rope of judgment – God will call you to a reckoning for all your wickedness; (c) the rope of God’s omniscience – all things are known to Him.

 

Keep Watch for Opportunities for Strengthening Grace in Your Heart.

If you disregard them you are not keeping your heart.

 

Keep Your Heart in a Prayerful Condition.

“Watch and pray” and “Pray without ceasing”.

 

Keep Your Heart in a Loving Condition.

You ought to have your heart burning within you with love towards that glorious, infinite, and mysterious Jesus Christ.

 

Keep Your Heart in a Condition of Fearing Self.

Fear the danger you are in if you are left to yourselves and your own strength.

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Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
13 Jan, 2017

Do we take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as we ought? Communion is not high on the list of trending issues in evangelicalism today. Some have a casual attitude towards it. In many evangelical churches the Lord’s Supper is tacked on to the end of a service and quickly dispatched. In some cases perhaps the congregation has forgotten it would be administered before they arrived at the service. Do we take it as seriously as God does? Should we give it any less importance than a bride gives to her wedding day?

Perhaps that it is a startling comparison to many. This is the striking and unusual picture used by William Guthrie. He unfolds it in a way that takes us into a serious consideration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorable way of thinking about how we should prepare for it and what we should expect in it.

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace that nourishes the soul. We do not mean by this the unbiblical notion that mere eating and drinking automatically bring grace. Rather, like the Word it is an appointed means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to us so that we grow in grace. Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper involves communion with Christ enjoyed in the present (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is not just a remembrance of what took place in the past, though there is more to such commemoration than some assume. Remembering in Scripture involves not just a mere act of recollection but affectionate remembrance of something/someone with ongoing application of its significance.

 

Christ’s People are His Bride

We are familiar with believers being described as the bride of Christ in Scripture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). In his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest William Guthrie makes use of this in relation to faith in Christ. “A man must be sincere, and without guile, in closing with Christ…not hankering after another way”. It must be a heart and not only a head matter: “the man not only must be persuaded that Christ is the way, but affectionately persuaded of it, loving and liking the thing…so that ‘it is all a man’s desire’, as David speaks of the covenant”.

If a man be cordial and affectionate in any thing, surely he must be so here in this ‘one thing that is necessary’. It must not be simply a fancy in the head, it must be a heart-business, a soul-business…not, a business in the outer court of the affections, but in the flower of the affections, and in the innermost, cabinet of the soul, where Christ is formed. Shall a man be cordial in any thing, and not in this, which comprises all his chief interests and his everlasting state within it? Shall “the Lord be said to rejoice over a man as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride,” and to “rest in his love with joy?” and shall not the heart of man go out and meet him here? The heart or nothing; love or nothing; marriage-love, which goeth from heart to heart; love of espousals, or nothing: “My son, give me thine heart.”

 

The Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s Bride

Thus Guthrie describes in Scriptural language how the soul enters into a marriage contract or covenant with Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a renewal and confirmation of that covenant and our vows. It is natural, therefore, to think of the Lord’s Supper as one of the special ways in which the heavenly bridegroom enjoys fellowship with His bride. As Thomas Watson puts it: “the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ”.

The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!

1 Corinthians 11:29 speaks of the danger of “eating unworthily” i.e. in an unworthy manner. This means that we must give serious attention to the way that we partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Larger Catechism in Q174 deals with how the Lord’s Supper should be received. It stresses reverent attentiveness, those who partake should: “diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings”. Vigorously stirring into activity graces within such as love and resolute faith also involves:

judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

William Guthrie addressed some of these aspects in describing the believer’s approach to the Lord’s Table in terms of a bride on her wedding day. He has given a memorable picture with which to associate some of these things. A bride is not only full of love and anticipation on her wedding day, she is fully prepared for and engaged in all that takes place. The following are some of the comparisons Guthrie makes.

Would a bride be careless about whether she and her dress are clean? Any bride wants to look her best. In the same way a believer should not be going to the Lord’s Table careless about unconfessed sin in their lives and not seeking to leave them and put them to death.

Would a bride be sleepy at her wedding ceremony? It is too important to her to be only half-awake to what is taking place.  The very excitement of the occasion makes it impossible. This is how it should be for a believer approaching Christ in the Supper.

Would a bride be distracted and give her attention to anything other than her bridegroom and the significance of the ceremony? It is even more strange for a believer to be distracted from the heavenly bridegroom and all that is offered in the Supper. What more important thing could the mind and heart consider?

Would a bride be diffident and reluctant to come to be married or to look at her bridegroom? Yet some believers draw back and are reluctant to come to Christ’s Table because of doubts about themselves and their salvation. But as the Larger Catechism shows in Q172, the Lord’s Table is for weak and doubting Christians so that they can be strengthened.

 

1. A dirt-stained bride is unbecoming

In appoaching to the Table of the Lord, remember it is unbecoming that in the day and hour of espousals the bride should be dirty. It is not becoming for her to have known spots on her which she does not attempt to put off. It is true, at first Christ taketh a dirty bride by the hand, and often has to wash her afterwards. But now in this solemn confirmation of marriage, a filthy bride with known iniquity cleaving to her (with her consent) is a dreadful thing.

 

2. A drowsy bride is shameful

A drowsy bride is shameful when so solemn a transaction is being carried out before so many witnesses. It is not a good sign to be sleepy and drowsy. It is true that the three disciples slept and were very heavy very soon afterwards in a great crisis. But that was the forerunner of a sad defection.

 

3. A distracted bride is unseemly

To be distracted and have your attention diverted on such a solemn occasion is a sign of rank corruption. It shows little awe of God and small esteem of Christ Jesus. How unseemly it would be  for a bride in the presence of her bridegroom to dally with other things – even if they were gifts received from the bridegroom himself! She is going to give her marriage consent, or ratify it before witnesses.

 

4. A diffident bride is very unseemly

It is very unseemly to be diffident towards the Bridegroom at the very time when He has called all His friends together to be witnesses of what He has done and said for her. He is communicating to her the highest, clearest and surest pledge of love He can, putting His great Seal to all the charters of the Covenant which are read over and over. After all this to look down and be jealous and to say in your heart, “He is but mocking me” is a great provocation. Be not therefore unbelieving but believing.

 

5. A prepared bride is essential

The Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and due preparation (1 Corinthians 11:28). Any bride makes great preparation for her wedding day, she plans for nothing else so fully and thoroughly as this. Does the Lord’s Supper in its special communion with the Heavenly Bridegroom not require more preparation than we commonly give it? These considerations about repentance, love and careful attention apply to preparation also.

The Larger Catechism dwells on how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper as well as how to receive it. In Q171 it stresses preparation through examining ourselves in relation to various matters:

  • Whether we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5);
  • Our sins and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 5:7);
  • Whether our understanding is true and adequate (1 Corinthians 11:29);
  • Repentance after examining ourselves by God’s requirements (1 Corinthians 11:31);
  • Love to God (1 Corinthians 10:16);
  • Love to others (1 Corinthians 11:18);
  • Forgiveness towards others (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Desires for Christ (John 7:37);
  • New obedience (1 Corinthians 5:7-8);
  • Renewing the exercise of grace (Hebrews 10:21-22,24);
  • Serious meditation (1 Corinthians 11:24-25);
  • Fervent prayer (2 Chronicles 30:18-19)

 

Conclusion

Guthrie’s analogy is helpful in encouraging higher views of the Lord’s Supper and how we should best profit from it spiritually. It reflects the Scriptural emphasis of the Larger Catechism on reverent attentiveness, repentance, love and faith amongst other spiritual exercises. It is a means of blessing for grace being stirred up into activity. Surely there would be a higher spiritual temperature amongst believers if we took these things to heart and put them into practice.

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10 Ways to Best Make Use of Free Grace

10 Ways to Best Make Use of Free Grace

10 Ways to Best Make Use of Free Grace
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.
6 Jan, 2017

What are we to do with grace? That question ought to be more prominent in our thinking than it often is. Perhaps we think of receiving and possessing grace more than making use of it. Grace sets a sinner free – but free to do what? Sadly, many use that freedom in order to serve the sinful nature (1 Peter 2:16). Grace makes the sinner free to be a servant of righteousness (Romans 6:18). We must not, of course, turn grace into works and depend on our own endeavours. But idleness and carelessness are certainly not God’s purpose. We are meant to be busy and active with grace to the glory of God and the eternal good of ourselves and others.

John Kid (d. 1679) was a field preacher who emphasised making best use of grace. In one sermon he stresses that God has given a stock of grace for us to use. “Exercise your faith, and exercise your hope. It is not for yourself only you have got it: it is given you to benefit others; make the countryside the better for it. O trade with it”.   Frequently hunted down for preaching “illegally”, his ministry was to last only a few years. Kid was executed in 1679 together with another preacher, John King. In his last days he suffered through extreme methods of torture that mangled one of his legs. The last words of his written testimony are significant, especially as he acknowledges that he was in such pain that it was difficult to compose anything or speak publicly on the scaffold.

I am a most miserable sinner, in regard of my original and actual transgressions. I must confess they are more in number than the hairs of my head. They are gone up above my head, and are past numbering, I cannot but say as Jacob said, I am less than the least of all God’s mercies, yet I must declare to the exalting of His free grace that, to me who am the least of all saints is this grace made known, and that by a strong hand, and I dare not but say He has loved me, and washed me in His own blood from all iniquities, and well is it for me this day, that ever I heard or read that faithful saying, that Jesus Christ, came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

His sermons dwell on grace to a great extent and so it is significant that he also said:

I am the most unworthiest that ever opened his mouth to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in the gospel… I did preach Christ and the gospel in several places of this nation; for which I bless Him (as I can), that ever such a poor obscure person as I am, have been thus privileged by Him, for making mention of His grace as I was able.

It is a long yet edifying testimony but the final words are especially relevant to the subject of grace and its widest benefit.

The Lord is my light and life, my joy, my song, and my salvation; the God of His chosen be my mercy this day, and the enriching comforts of the Holy Ghost keep up and carry me fair through, to the glory of His grace, to the edification of His people, and my own eternal advantage. Amen.

The following points are extracted and updated from a sermon preached on Galatians 5:1 in July 1678.

 

1. Make Best Use of Faith

Make your calling and election sure. Pray and pray in faith, and yet know that prayer will not save you. Many good words will not save you nor do what is necessary.

 

2. Make Best Use of Hope

Make best use of your hope and pray more and more so that your hope is not marred. When Christians do not make best use of their hope it hinders them from seeing their privileges. Many do not care whether Christ stays with, or goes from Scotland. They are not troubled about it: hope is greatly decayed.

 

3. Make Best Use of Heavenly-mindedness

This grace is greatly decayed amongst us. It was not so when God began with you. It was so with you that the tears would have been seen to trickle down your cheeks. Then opportunities were taken for prayer and what was spoken was for God. But now this is laid aside in great measure laid by. We speak now of our own worldly things: we think our own thoughts. And since it is so, what wonder is it that the Lord disclaim us? We do not walk with God, nor are right in heart with Him.

Are we then a thriving land or people? It is not evident that our practice differs little from the practice of wicked men on His holy day? His day is not made best use of and no wonder you do not experience your privileges. Are you looking within the suburbs of heaven? Are you reading and praying with your hearts engaged? O what a desirable thing is it to have your hearts in heaven: to
be heavenly as God is, to see Him face to face, and to see Him as He is.

Remember that a holy God is taking notice of you: how you speak and hear. Resolve to walk in a more holy way and say: “This will be my work in future”. Are you not ashamed that a poor lass or lad has made more progress and profited more in Christianity in one year, than you have done in twenty (some of you in thirty) years? Oh, that it should be so and yet not laid to heart by you.

 

4. Make Best Use of Humility

We do not make progress in humility but all mind our own things like Baruch (Jeremiah 45:5). Yet it was not a fitting time to seek after these things. It is a more fitting time to endeavour after abasement and humility – this is more suitable to the times. The humble man that abases himself to the dust, is the man with whom the Lord delights to dwell. He dwells with the humble and contrite in heart; the man that is taken up with God and heaven.

 

5. Make Best Use of Sincerity

We exhort you to be sincere as with the apostle Paul to the Philippians. He desires that they “may be sincere and without offence, till the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10). A godly man in our land who was one in a thousand [thought to be William Guthrie] once said that he had been studying sincerity for many years, yet he acknowledged he did not know what it was. A sincere man is making best use of his privileges in the right way. It would be good if we were conscious of not making best use of them: but what can we expect from God, while we do not make best use of them. Try and search your own selves, and be not reprobate (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Be acquainted with God, abide nearer to Him, know more of His matters, and be ready every moment to be in God’s matters. The soul that abides near God, will be constantly examining itself; it will constantly be laying hold on God by faith. Each moment he will allow no beloved except Jesus Christ. Abide near Him, that the power of His death and virtue of His resurrection may come, and enable you to make best use of your privileges. Let sin, every lust and abomination that makes you unlike Him be put to death. Seek to have sin slain so that you may live, die, and rise again, as He did. Nothing will satisfy such a soul except more of God’s ordinances. Prayer and preaching will be empty, if Christ is not there. You should cry out, “O to be like Him!” Those that are in closest fellowship with Him, enjoy their privileges and are nourished by the ordinances. Nothing please such a soul except that.

 

6. Make Best Use of Stability

What are you to stand for? What is it to go on in the strength of God the Lord? Folk these days are given to flinch in many things. When a steadfast man stands or keeps his ground, however, the more trials and difficulties he meets with, the more he grows. They do not put him not one step back but he prevails over them. Thus, he improves his steadfastness. Mark your ground before, or else a trial or temptation will soon cast you on your backs. It did so with David and Peter. Improve your steadfastness still more when many are going off both to right and left-hand extremes. Improve stability so that you will not turn from the right way of the Lord.

 

7. Make Best Use of Single-mindedness

If we would be justified and sanctified, we must be single-minded. We must be like Joshua who said: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:13). Although the rest go on
following a bad course, serving their own lusts and the world, yet (he says) I and my family have resolved to serve the Lord. One or another will prove stable in their resolutions, when another turns aside. Many in Joshua’s days went wrong when he kept the right way.  The times in which our lot is cast call for single-mindedness. Noah walked with God, and it is said that was “a perfect man in his generation”. Enoch walked with God; and it is said, “he was not because God took him.”

 

8. Make Best Use of Self-Examination

Try yourselves. We have taken an easy way now, we are not exercised in this duty. Men and women have abandoned it and it is now many years since it was rightly practised. You must examine
your state and see: whether you are in the faith or not, whether you are following hard after God or not.  Try whether you are in a thriving condition, following the Lord and advancing in Christianity. See if you are putting sin and corruption to death. Lay yourselves in God’s balance. Deal with yourself impartially as before God. The grace of self-examination has become very rare
in these days. We exhort you to weigh yourselves before God.  There are many may have the root of the matter in them, and yet things are not right between God and them. Exercising grace will keep things right but merely possessing grace will not keep you right if you are not assisted by exercising it.

 

9. Make Best Use of Self-denial

Jesus Christ Himself taught the lesson, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). What things do you deny yourselves in? He that
will not deny himself for Christ cannot be His disciple.

 

10. Make Best Use of Dependence

Let your souls depend on God. Though the mountains were removed and cast into the midst of the sea and though the fig tree should not blossom, yet truly we will  trust in the Lord, and joy in the God of our salvation who rules in Jacob to the ends of the earth. Will you wait, and wait on? Do you believe that God has power and that the God of Jacob will be your refuge? Dependence on God will make the Christian suffer the loss of all things. Say, the Lord is on my side, I shall not be moved. He is my strength and my saving health — my rock and strong tower. I trust in Him, and therefore I shall stand fast, and not fall. Depend on God, that He may clear up your sky a little. Depend on God with your souls, and that will make you make best use of all that happens in providence. Fix yourselves on God. Take Him as He has offered Himself in the promises of the gospel.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

There is a very readable biography of John King together with his co-martyr John Kid. This was recently authored by Maurice Grant. It is warmly commended and available from the Scottish Reformation Society for £5.95.

Order from membership@scottishreformationsociety.org

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Are You Spiritually Authentic?

Are You Spiritually Authentic?

Are You Spiritually Authentic?
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."
5 Nov, 2016

​We’re told that young people in their 20s and 30s crave authenticity. They have grown up with the empty exaggerated promises of advertising. Over-polished superficiality doesn’t impress much. Authenticity and trustworthiness are certainly important values to recover. The danger, however, is that we judge what is genuine simply by what “feels” real to us. Spiritual authenticity is defined by God in His Word. Above all, what matters is that we personally are spiritually real.

​Sadly a defective idea of spiritual authenticity has become a trend in some parts of evangelicalism. It has a focus towards others and features a false openness. It means being vulnerable and admitting your failings to the extent of wallowing in them. Making the acknowledgement of imperfection an excuse for continuing in sin. So much so that some writers have questioned whether such “authentic” confessions are really a way of avoiding the demands of holiness.

True spiritual authenticity is focussed on God. Andrew Gray describes spiritual authenticity as the grace of “sincerity”. He preached a sermon on the description of Nathanael: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). Christ, who spoke these words, is the judge of spiritual authenticity. Gray begins his sermon by posing the question as to whether there were any in the congregation to whom Christ could give this “precious testimony”. Professing Christians pursue many spiritual things more than this particular grace. “There is more true and unspotted religion in one grain of sincerity – it is of more worth and value – than if you would pray half of your time and weep the other half”. The following is abridged and extracted in updated language from Andrew Gray’s sermon.

 

What is Spiritual Authenticity?

  1. Our practice conforms to our profession. Usually, we profess more than we practice (Matthew 23:5). Most of us come very short not only of what we ought to be, but also of what we seem to be.
  2. We are as much exercised in spiritual duties on our own as in company. Many commend Christ to others. Yet if the walls of their houses could speak, they would testify that they do not watch in prayer. They “love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men” (Matthew 6:5). They do not love to pray much in private.
  3. Our hearts conform to our words. Our blessed Lord Jesus was commended for having no guile in His mouth and His spirit. He spoke nothing with His mouth that was not in His heart.
  4. We act for the glory of God as well as out of faith and love.

In short, Christian sincerity is a sweet agreement between our profession and practice, our heart and our walk and our walk and our hope. Every Christian grace can be counterfeited by a hypocrite. Whatever we do, have or can have, is empty and pointless without this precious and excellent grace of sincerity. Sincerity is to other graces what the sun is to the planets. They cannot be seen without it.

The Christian has his greatest peace from this grace of sincerity when passing through death to his everlasting rest and home. All our duties will then pass away as a cloud.   Sincerity is the way to best resemble God. Is not God sometimes in Scripture called the God of truth? All your other graces will not thrive if they do not grow out of the ground of sincerity.

 

The Benefits of Spiritual Authenticity

1. It Best Prepares You for Assurance

It is because you are not sincere that you debate with yourself about your assurance of salvation and have so much jangling unbelief. The grace of sincerity best capacitates a Christian to receive intimation of peace.  The sincere Christian knows best how to make use of assurance and peace of conscience.

2. It Enables You to Wrestle Against Sin

It engages the Christian to wrestle against predominant sins. There is no grace that enables a Christian more to put predominant sins to death. “I was also upright before him and I kept myself from mine iniquity” (Psalm 18:23). There is an emphasis in these words. Christians may engrave this title on their iniquity: “It is mine”. While iniquity is still living and Christians are under it, while it is not yet put to death,  Christ does not have much access to the soul, and has only the corner of the Christian’s heart.

3. It is the Best Evidence that Your Sins have been Forgiven

David says in Psalm 32:2 that the evidence of one who iniquity is forgiven is that there is no guile in his mouth.

4. It Brings You Most Victory Over Sin

It enables a Christian to put his besetting sins to death. What is the blessedness of such Christians? “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord”. Their blessedness is that they hate every false way and their feet do not turn from the commandments of the Lord. I am persuaded that the little we exercise sincerity is the reason we do not succeed in putting sin to death. Is it not often your aim in prayer merely to quiet your conscience? Why do you seek to put sin to death? Is it not to obtain peace and be free of outward offence against the generation of the just? Such motives are due to lack of the grace of sincerity.

5. It Makes You Receive All God’s Promises

God manifests His faithfulness most to those who exercise sincerity most. God is upright with those that walk uprightly (Psalm 18:26). That uprightness consists of faithfulness most of all. “The Lord God is a sun and shield…no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). This promise is to those that walk uprightly and delight in God’s law with their whole hearts.

6. It Best Prepares You for Fellowship with God

“Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (Psalm 73:1). Who are those that receive divine influences from heaven? Those that are sincere.

7. It Enables You to Persevere to the End

The sincere Christian will endure to the end of their fight and spiritual warfare without the least spot and blemish on their walk. Solomon says: “He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely” (Proverbs 10:9).

8. It Enables You to Enjoy Christ’s Presence

It is impossible to make best use of Christ’s presence without this precious and noble grace of sincerity. The Christian is to make best use of experiencing Christ’s presence as strengthening towards heaven and putting sin to death. This is not possible without sincerity.  “The way of the Lord is strength to the upright” (Proverbs 10:29). We are certain that all the ways of mercy and grace give strength to the Christian that is sincere. Lack of sincerity prevents Christians from making best use of their spiritual blessings.

Conclusion

Gray acknowledges that there are difficulties in the way of spiritual authenticity. It requires diligence, humility and a constant focus on the being and glory of God. We read of “hypocrisies” in the plural in 1 Peter 2:1. This is because it may be in any and all of a Christian’s actions. Before we condemn ourselves altogether, he makes a distinction between having hypocrisy to some extent in our actions and being a hypocrite. The excellent nature of the grace of sincerity should provoke our desires and affections after it. It is like a precious and excellent garment with which we can be robed so that it is clear to both God and man that we are an “Israelite indeed in whom is no guile”.

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Am I a Christian?

Am I a Christian?

Am I a Christian?
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.
30 Sep, 2016

Some people never ask this question, it doesn’t really occur to them. Others feel they never should ask it, though the inclination exists. Still others never get beyond only asking themselves this question. They don’t get to an answer that satisfies. Contrary to the opinions of many, it is both biblical and helpful to ask this question (2 Corinthians 13:5). But only if we arrive at biblical answers.

One person who asked themselves this question carefully in various ways was James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698). In fact he addresses 20 different doubts he has about his spiritual state. They are along the lines of: “If I really am a Christian then why do/don’t I…?” He also answers each concern fully to his satisfaction. After this, he gives 27 evidences of true conversion in the soul. It is extremely helpful to read the careful, spiritual way in which Fraser handles these problems. The questions and answers were recently published by the Banner of Truth in a pocket book called Am I a Christian? There is a special offer for this valuable book at the bottom of this post.

Fraser came from the Black Isle, Ross-shire and was ordained during the times of persecution. He refused to appear before the Privy Council when to answer for “illegal” preaching. Eventually captured he was sentenced to imprisonment on the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. Along with many others he suffered much in those fearful conditions. He was imprisoned at a later period in Blackness Castle but survived the times of persecution. His autobiography gives an interesting account of his life and spiritual experience. The questions and answers were written down in it for his own benefit.

Some of Fraser’s questions and answers are included in an updated form below.

 

1. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not have More Compassion for the Unconverted?

I lack compassion and a deep apprehension for the lamentable condition of the souls of my unconverted relations and my ignorant, godless, nominal, neighbours . Does it not lie heavy on my spirit? Do I therefore believe a hell or heaven or that the ignorant or unconverted shall go to hell?

Answer:

(a) I confess there is great lack of compassion, faith, and seriousness in this and that there is great deadness. “Lord help it”.   We believe, love and prophesy in part only (1 Corinthians 13:9).

(b) I mourn over this and this deadness is loathsome and hateful to me.

(c) I am helped through occasional views of their condition to have my sorrow stirred and to be earnest with the Lord for them. I also pour out tears and sighs of grief for them and find my compassion stirred in a felt way.

 

2. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not have More Delight in Spiritual Duties?

There is a constant indisposition of spirit to all kinds of duties. There is unwillingness to enter into them. I am wearied and without heart in them and glad when they are finished. Thus, I fear there is not a new nature which delights in the Law of God.

Answer:

(a) There is an unregenerate part in every believer, which is continually opposite to that which is good as well as a regenerate part. This unwillingness comes from the unregenerate part, in which no good thing dwells (Romans 7:8).  It should not make us question our state any more than whether a body of death exists (Romans 7:24).

(b) I find something in me that mourns under this. There is something which esteems, approves, and sees a glory and delight in the law of the Lord (Romans 7:22). “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41)

(c) I am not so much wearied of the duty (which I love) therefore but rather of my own evil heart in the duty. A loving son who has a sore foot is willing to run his father’s errand and glad to be employed, yet the sore foot makes the journey a burden; there is a thorn in the flesh. An unsound heart’s opposition is to the duty itself; hypocrites do not love every duty.

 

3. If I Really am a Christian, Why Do I not see more Spiritual Growth?

I do not seem to grow, see rapid growth or advance in the work of grace, things just seem always to be the same.

Answer:

(a) There may be growth in grace that does not always appear in an obvious way. It grows as a seed of corn, and a man knows not how (Mark 4:27). It comes “not with observation” (Luke 17:20).

(b) Despite remaining evils, I find a remarkable growth; not in the size of grace but in its nature and purity. There is not so much of it but it is better now. I do things more with the gospel in view that I did before and with purer aims. I grow downward even if not upward.

(c) I have found growth in faith, love, patience, humility. There is growth in dying to the world, myself, self-righteousness and living unto God. This is so even if there is no growth in what I have resolved.

(d) It is expedient, if no necessary to pull down a certain kind of righteousness. Thus a man will find himself worse than before until the righteousness of God is set up.

 

4. If I Really am a Christian, Why am I full of Spiritual Pride?

My spiritual pride streams through all my actions – even my most spiritual. I find that I resolve to be holy so as to get esteem, not so much from men but from conscience. I mourn for sin as a weakness, and as contrary to my design and resolutions. Although I find that my duties are not sufficient to save me and I must flee to another, yet my heart secretly wishes that it were otherwise and life was possible through my own works. This makes me secretly desire and endeavour to do something on earth that might be a part of my crown in heaven. I found myself despising the glory revealed in heaven if freely given and not merited in any way. This makes me question whether I was ever dead to the law or not.

Answer:

(a) I satisfy myself with this. Just as I find a spirit of self and pride acting, so I find a spirit of humility loathing myself for my pride. I also find a secret contentment in breaking my resolutions even when they were good, because in this way self was debased and the counsel of the Lord made to stand. Indeed, I find “I rejoice in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I love heaven better, because it is the purchase of Christ’s blood and the fruit of free grace.

(b) “Self will be in every action. This body of death will manifest itself thus, as well as any other way” (Thomas Shepherd).

 

5. If I Really am a Christian, Why am I so Spiritually Unstable?

I find such instability in my heart and ways, such uneven steps between the Lord and my idols, that I fear my whole heart is not come to the Lord; I am not His alone. O for a single heart, a united heart, a wedded heart! But, mine is divided between the Lord and idols. Sometimes I delight in the Lord and sometimes in my idols and worldly contentment. “They served the Lord, and they served their idols” (2 Kings 17:33).

Answer:

(a) No man ever closed so fully with Christ or had such wedded love without being inclined to idols because of the unregenerate part. Our union of faith and love is imperfect as well as any other grace; the unregenerate carnal part cries still out for its lovers. In heaven our affections shall be wholly for the Lord.

(b) The renewed part is for the Lord wholly and only and does not consent to what the flesh does. It is led captive, sighs under the bondage and cries out against its own whoring heart. The name is taken from the better part. “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:20). Unrenewed men are content to divide their affections but they neither loathe nor abhor them- selves.

(c) I find the Lord’s work growing stronger and stronger in my soul.

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The book contains a biographical note as well as the selection from the “Memoirs” of James Fraser of Brea.

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When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?

When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?

When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
10 Jun, 2016

Much of our culture centres around self-image. From this perspective low self-esteem is both a danger and a tragedy. For several decades psychologists have also believed that low self-esteem was the root cause of many personal and social problems. Popular Christian psychology is influenced by it to a significant extent. Building and maintaining self-esteem is thought to be a key priority. Yet some have called into question the narcissicism this encourages. Certainly, few ever ask what might be the dangers of excessive self-esteem. What does Scripture say?

There is an interesting expression in Romans 12:3 that no one should “think of himself more highly than he ought to think”; but rather “think soberly”. This certainly seems contrary to the self-esteem movement. Some have preferred to think of self-compassion rather than self-esteem. Few think about whether low self-esteem might arise from pride as much as high self-esteem. Thinking “soberly” of ourselves achieves the balance, The puritans spoke of three types of self-love: natural, carnal and gracious. Carnal self-love is excessive indulgence of the natural instinct of self-preservation. Gracious self-love find its happiness and chief good in God.  It seeks its own welfare in pursuing the higher ends of God’s glory rather than merely pleasing ourselves.

John Brown of Wamphray draws many interesting observations (many relating to pride in ministers) from this verse in his exposition of the book of Romans. The following are a selection:

 

1. Self-esteem goes too far when it Hinders Growth in Grace

Pride and conceitedness in the gifts we have received is a major hindrance to growth in grace and in holiness. It provokes God to leave us to ourselves because of the pride of our hearts. He does this so that we may find by experience how little strength we have to acquire anything and may learn to be humble in the future. This is clear from the connection with the former verses, where he had been pressing them to holiness (Romans 12:1-2). He begins verse 3 with the exhortation that they should not think too highly of themselves with the word “for” to make this connection.

 

2. Self-esteem goes too far when it Strengthens Pride

The innate corruption of pride within our heart is so strong that it is hard to root it out once we give room to this evil.  This weed is so natural to us that if we allow it to grow up even in that garden where there are flowers planted by God’s we cannot get rid of it easily. This is clear from the many arguments which the apostle uses to dissuade them from it. “I say” (at the beginning of the verse) is an authoritative way of saying, “I command”.

 

3. Self-esteem goes too far when we Congratulate Ourselves

We have no abilities or gifts except what we have received and must acknowledge God as the giver. Our natural corruption is so great, however, that we are ready to abuse the best gifts of God.  We grow proud of them and boast as if we needed to thank no one except ourselves for them. We are ready to be puffed up as if we had more ability than we have and could do more than we can and as if there were no one like us. We even see this in those in Church office whom Paul rebukes here.

 

4. Self-esteem goes too far when we Think We Have All the Answers

However small God’s gifts may be, we should not undervalue them since we are less than the least of all His mercies. Rather we are to give God due acknowledgement and hearty thanks for them. Thus, it is a heinous sin when those to whom God has given abilities and gifts swell with pride as if there were no one equal to them. This is particularly so when they think that they alone have unique gifts to search out new and strange doctrines and interpretations never heard of before (1 Timothy  6:3-4).They presume to dive into the secrets of the Lord and things that do not tend to edify. They neglect truths that are more necessary and obvious and are diverted from their ordinary calling and employment: This is the sin from which he dissuades them i.e. thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think.

 

5. Self-esteem goes too far when it Prevents True Self-Knowledge

This sin is heinous in making a man a manifest and notorious liar. It also tends to make a man into a fool that does not know himself. He does not know how he ought to behave towards others. This should scare away Christians (especially the servants of the Lord) from this delusional sin of thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to do.

 

6. Self-esteem goes too far when we Fail to Have Modest Thoughts of Ourselves

Whatever gifts or graces the Lord is pleased to bestow on us, we should strive to have low thoughts of ourselves. We must remember our many infirmities and how unworthy we are of God’s gifts. We should be content in our minds with the measure he has given, knowing it is of His mercy and free love that we get any measure at all. We must pursue what tends to humble and edify rather than questions that cause strife. Thus he exhorts them to “think soberly”.

 

7. Self-esteem goes too far when it Implies that God is Unfair

Those who have conceited thoughts of themselves implicitly charge God with injustice in that He has bestowed fewer abilities on them than they believe they deserve. Beside this, they are guilty of heinous ingratitude in not acknowledging God’s goodness but rather are displeased because they have not been given more. The only wise God distributes freely as He pleases not according to what anyone deserves. This should keep people from conceited thoughts of themselves and undervaluing others. To scare them away from this sin he tells them that it is God who distributes to everyone “the measure of faith”. No one can get more than what God is pleased to give.

 

8. Self-esteem goes too far when it Fails to Depend on God

Every good gift comes down from above and is not the fruit of any man’s work or efforts (though God often blesses faithful effort with gifts). Considering this properly should keep us far from boasting and thinking of ourselves beyond what we ought. Failure to look to the original source of those gifts makes men swell with such great conceit of themselves as if there were none equal to them.  Paul reminds them that it is the Lord that these gifts come from. It is called “the measure of faith” or the knowledge of God through faith in Christ. It is the knowledge of the truth revealed by the Spirit in and by the word, and therefore called “the ministration of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:7) or “the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). We cannot attain these without help from God.

 

9. Self-esteem goes too far when it Fails to Acknowledge our Shortcomings

No one, however gifted, has achieved perfection in these gifts. However much he has received, he has only received a measure and a certain proportion. Considering this should lay low the peacock feathers of those who are ready to be puffed up with a vain conceit of themselves and their abilities.  Others also have a proportion (not everything) according to “the measure of faith”.

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