Is the Desire to Sin, Sinful?

Is the Desire to Sin, Sinful?

Is the Desire to Sin, Sinful?
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.
3 May, 2019

It may sound like a speculative question but a moment’s reflection confirms that it is intensely practical. Can someone disclaim responsibility for their desires to sin? Perhaps they would claim that those desires are part and parcel of a fallen world but not sinful in themselves. Are they free from sinning as long as they don’t act on the desire? These are questions that are currently under intense debate. They need clear answers from the Bible.

It is very clear that our own sinful desires drag us into sinful actions (James 1:13-15). Such desires are all part of “the flesh” (Galatians 5:24). The Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that the desire to sin is sinful. Sin is not just in the actions but in the heart (Matthew 5:27–28; see Job 31:1). Evil actions and thoughts have their origin in the heart (Matthew 15:18-19; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 7:16-18).

There are sinful desires (Colossians 3:5). This is what the apostle Paul came to realise when he understood the real nature of the sin of coveting (Romans 7:7). In Romans 7:8 he explains how sin took the opportunity and advantage of the commandment to produce all kinds of sinful desires in him. An older word used for those desires is concupiscence. It is wrong to be a passive slave to these sinful desires as though it is impossible for a Christian to resist them and put them to death. This is also dealt with in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 which warns believers to avoid the sinful desires and passions of the Gentiles who do not know God. It is especially focussed on sexual sin. James Fergusson draws out the full implications of this verse to help us deal with sinful desires.

He explains how that in urging chastity, the apostle Paul shows how far abstinence from fornication (mentioned v3) reaches. It is not just restraining the external act but also the inward lust. The original word signifies a feverish fit or violent passion of burning desire that boils within, raging in the body (1 Corinthians 7:9). It is like a high fever that produces mental confusion. It stirs up both body and mind to the outward act of filthiness. Otherwise Paul says, they would be like the godless Gentiles, who were for the most part given over by God to be enslaved to their filthy lusts because they did not know God savingly. They do not know Him as He is revealed in His Word nor did they make right use of the knowledge they could have of Him by nature. God therefore gave them over to uncleanness (compare Romans 1:21 with 1:24).

 

1. Sinful desires easily take control

If sinful desires and the first stirrings of lust are not restrained in time they become passionate. They inflame the body and restrain the mind from solid thoughts of anything else except what will fulfil their goal. These violent passions and feverish fits of fleshly sinful desire disable both the body and mind from carrying out any duty of holiness in a way that is honouring to God. Paul shows that sinful desire grows into lust or violent passion and a kind of frenzy, as the word literally means. When lust prevails in this way it is the opposite of possessing the body in sanctification and honour (v4).

 

2. Sinful desires must be resisted

We ought to be diligent in seeking “to know how” to preserve chastity (v4). This will help to allay and root out those feverish fits of burning lust. Unless they are allayed one way or the other it is impossible for someone to possess their body as master of it. They are rather in daily danger of being enslaved to it to fulfil the utmost of those fleshly lusts burning in it. In requiring everyone to know how to possess their body not in sinful lust Paul implies that they are not in full possession of it otherwise. There is skill and knowledge required for keeping the body free of those boiling passions.

 

3. Sinful desires are the root of sin

One and the same sin has various degrees, each one making way for the next.  When we seek to put a sin to death we must not only lop the utmost branches (refraining from the outward act) but also restrain the inward desires of the heart after it. Paul urges us to set ourselves against the inward
lust or passion, of sinful desire as the best way to abstain from sinful desire breaking out into the outward act spoken of in verse 3.

Paul gives them a clear view of the tyranny of sin and of indulging its loathsome filthiness in others. He shows how it prevailed among the pagan Gentiles to warn them from it, “even as the Gentiles” he says.

 

Conclusion

Paul elsewhere plainly describes such sinful desires as sinful in the context of same sex attraction (Romans 1:24 and 26). This has become a contested area due to the trends in our culture. The factors and experience that give rise to those desires may be highly complex but the Bible is clear that such desires are nevertheless sinful. Just like any desire to sin, they are not morally neutral in any way. Thos Christians with a lonely, painful struggle against such desires must seek the help of the Spirit to put sin to death (Romans 8:13). Just as much as those who strive against other sinful desires. An important of this is to put on the new man as well as putting off the old (Ephesians 4:22-24). We need to proactively sow to the Spirit or else we will be sowing to the flesh (Galatians 6:8). It is the great calling of the believer to wage spiritual warfare against all sinful desires (Romans 6:11-12; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 1:14). How much we all need to be on our guard against sinful desires and to be positively putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14).

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Are All Sins Equal?

Are All Sins Equal?

Are All Sins Equal?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
12 Apr, 2019

Is quite common to hear the notion that all sins are the same in God’s sight or that no sin is worse than any other sin. The reasoning behind this is that one breach of God’s law makes us guilty of breaking all commands (James 2:10). Another way this is justified is by saying that all sin meets the same penalty (Romans 6:23) or that its remedy is the same in the cross of Christ. The motivation behind this can be well-intentioned, perhaps not wanting any sin to be seen as small in itself. It deflects unwanted moral judgments by requiring that others must be without sin themselves to avoid hypocrisy. Perhaps the overwhelming emphasis on equality in our culture also steers people towards this idea. But is it right to say that all sins are equal?

It is certainly true that the least sin is an offence against the infinitely holy God and therefore absolutely evil. There is no such thing as a sin that doesn’t matter. But this is not all that can be said. The claim that sins are judged absolutely equally by God does not stand up to Scripture (James 3:1; Matthew 23:14; Matthew 11:24; Luke 12:48; Mark 9:42; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).  Forgiveness also relates to different levels of sinfulness (Luke 7:41-42, 48). To reason from what sin deserves to what sin is in itself risks ignoring what the Bible says about whether some sins are more sinful than others (1 John 5:16). Christ Himself says that some sins are greater than others (John 19:11).

Let’s be clear that Scripture does say that some sins are worse than others (Exodus 32:30).

  • Some idolatry is even worse than other forms (Ezekiel 8:6, 13,15; Ezekiel 23:11);
  • Some commandments are of greater weight than others (Matthew 5:19; Matthew 23:23);
  • Some sins are worse because they involve sinning wilfully and defiantly (Numbers 15:30 and 15:22, 24, 27, 29);
  • Some sins are worse than others, such as sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18);
  • Some sexual sins are worse than other sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1; Romans 1:26-27; Leviticus 20:10-16 compared with 20:17-21)

 

What Makes Some Sins Worse Than Others?

None of this excuses or belittles any sin, it simply gives us God’s perspective on degrees of sinfulness. The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q150), like the Shorter Catechism (Q83) makes it clear that “all transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous”. Yet some sins “are more heinous in the sight of God than others”. They are either more heinous “in themselves” or because of certain “aggravations”. Aggravations are the things that make a sin more serious. It is a term still used in the law courts to mean an aspect of a crime which increases its guilt over and above the offence itself. Aggravated assault, for example, is different from simple assault depending on the intent, the weapon used or the extent of the injury. In Q151 the Larger Catechism goes on to explain what these “aggravations” are in relation to God’s law. When we consider these we see that the whole subject is much more extensive and challenging than the “all sins are equal” mantra acknowledges.

(a) The Person Sinning Makes Some Sins Worse

  • if we are older and “of riper age” (Job 32:7,9; Ecclesiastes 4:13) it is more serious than in someone younger. Wisdom should have come with years and experience. This is because we have had greater opportunity to learn God’s will, experience His grace and how to overcome temptation.
  • if we have greater experience or grace. Solomon had experienced much from God and the example of his father yet he sinned against what he knew and had received (1 Kings 11:4,9). The greater progress someone has made in holiness and godliness, the less excuse they have and the greater their fall when they sin.
  • if we are “eminent for profession” of Christianity. David made the enemies of God to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14) because of the prominent nature of both his sin and relationship with God. The inconsistency of one so committed to serving God made it worse than it would have been in others.
  • if we have greater gifts and responsibility. Where God has blessed us with greater knowledge of the Bible and opportunities to gain this we are more responsible for using these gifts not to sin (James 4:17; Luke 12:47-48). Where we are in a position of responsibility towards others in society, work, church and family we have greater guilt in sinning because our actions carry more weight and influence (Jeremiah 5:4-5. 2 Samuel 12:7-9; Ezekiel 8:11-12. Romans 2:17-24). Higher standards are expected of us and more eyes are upon us.
  • if our example is likely to be followed by others. If we are likely to lead others astray we incur guilt for that as well as our own actions. It can have a significant impact on a lot of others who may follow our example (Galatians 2:11-14).

(b) The Person Sinned Against Makes Some Sins Worse

  • sinning against God is worse than sinning against others (1 Samuel 2:25; Acts 5:4; Psalm 51:4). This is because of the infinite majesty and holiness of God and because our greatest responsibility is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
  • sinning against things by which God makes Himself known is worse. This may include His attributes (Romans 2:4) or name (Exodus 20:7). It may also include despising His worship (Malachi 1:3-4) which is meant for displaying His glory.
  • sinning against Christ and His grace is worse. We are warned solemnly against refusing His message, promises and offers of grace in the gospel (Hebrews 2:2-3; Hebrews 12:25)
  • sinning against the witness and working of the Holy Spirit is worse. If we lie to Him or resist, despise and blaspheme Him it is worse (Acts 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:29; Matthew 12:31-32; Hebrews 6:4). If we grieve and quench Him it is worse (Ephesians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:19)
  • sinning against superiors is worse. This is because they have a God-given authority and are to be respected and obeyed (Jude 8; Numbers 12:8-9; Isaiah 3:5)
  • sinning against relations is worse. We have particular family or other social bonds that we must respect and not abuse. We have greater obligations and responsibility towards them (Proverbs 30:17; 2 Corinthians 12:15; Psalm 55:12-15).
  • sinning against the souls of others is worse, such as when we mislead them spiritually especially in matters of salvation (Matthew 23:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:15).
  • sinning against believers is worse because of the bonds and ties of grace. (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 6:8; Proverbs 6:19).This is especially so in relation to those of the Lord’s people who are weaker (1 Corinthians 8:11-12; Romans 14:13,15,21).
  • sinning against a corporate body is worse (Joshua 7:20, 21, 25; 1 Kings 14:16).

(c) The Nature of the Sin Makes Some Sins Worse

  • the clearer the command sinned against, the greater the sin. The more expressly God has commanded or forbidden something the greater the guilt in disobeying (Romans 1:32; Ezra 9:10-12; 1 Kings 11:9-10).
  • the greater number of commands sinned against, the greater the sin. Some sins break more commands than others. Covetousness is idolatry as well as being against the tenth commandment (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). Achan’s sin involved coveting and theft (Joshua 7:21). Ahab coveted and took Naboth’s land by perjury, theft, murder and injustice.
  • the greater the impact, the greater the sin.It is a serious thing to stumble and harm others by our sins (Matthew 18:7; Romans 2:23-24).
  • the more openly committed, the greater the sin. Sin is still sin in the heart but when it is expressed in words or actions it brings greater public dishonour to God and damage to others (James 1:14-15; Matthew 5:22; Micah 2:1).
  • the greater the consequences, the greater the sin. We cannot make amends for our sin by our own actions as it relates to its guilt before God as though we could atone for it. But sometimes we can pay back something that was stolen or lost. It is more serious when we cannot make any restitution. David could not restore the life he had taken away or the marriage he had destroyed (1 Samuel 12:9; see also Deuteronomy 22:22 compared with Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Some damage to reputation and honour cannot be removed (Proverbs 6:32-35).
  • the greater the restraints, the greater the sin. God may use various means that ought to restrain us from sinning. Some saw the miracles of Christ and heard His teaching but it did not restrain their unbelief (Matthew 11:21-24; John 15:22). It increased their guilt that they had such privileges. God’s goodness, mercies and deliverances towards us should also restrain us (Isaiah 1:3; Deuteronomy 32:6). It is a serious matter to despise His goodness and forbearance (Romans 2:4). To sin against judgments also increases our guilt (Amos 4:8-11; Jeremiah 5:3; Revelation 9:20-21). Other things that should restrain us are the light of nature and convictions of our own conscience (Daniel 5:22; Titus 3:10-11). Certain things should be obvious to us even without special revelation (Romans 1:20, 26-27; Romans 2:14-16). Outward restraints include the warnings of others in public or private (Proverbs 29:1). Official church discipline (Titus 3:10; Matthew 18:17) and civil punishment (Proverbs 27:22; Proverbs 23:35) ought to restrain us. It is also serious when we sin against our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or others (Psalm 78:34-37; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 42:5-6,20-21; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6; Proverbs 20:25; Leviticus 26:25; Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 17:18-19).
  • the greater the wilfulness, the greater the sin. If we sin deliberately, wilfully, presumptuously, boldly, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance (Psalm 36:4; Jeremiah 6:16; Numbers 15:30; Exodus 21:14; Jeremiah 3:3; Proverbs 7:13; Psalm 52:1; 3 John 10; Numbers 14:22; Zechariah 7:11-12; Proverbs 2:14; Isaiah 57:17; Jeremiah 34:8-11; 2 Peter 2:20-22).  

(d) The Circumstances Make Some Sins Worse

  • sinning in or around the time of worshipping God or on the Lord’s day is worse (2 Kings 5:26; Jeremiah 7:10; Isaiah 26:10; Ezekiel 23:37-39; Isaiah 58:3-5; Numbers 25:6-7; 1 Corinthians 11:20-21; Jeremiah 7:8-10; Proverbs 7:14-15; John 13:27,30)
  • sinning after God has chastised us is worse (Ezra 9:13-14)
  • sinning in public, or in the presence of others is worse. This is especially true if they are likely to be encouraged to sin by it (2 Samuel 16:22; 1 Samuel 2:22-24).

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Keep Calm in An Age of Anger

Keep Calm in An Age of Anger

Keep Calm in An Age of Anger
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.
22 Mar, 2019

We’re getting angrier, about a lot of things. It’s the dominant emotion in western societies on a daily basis. That hothouse of anger–social media–is even more ablaze with rage (according to a new study). Frustration and moral outrage explode against a great deal we cannot control or even influence. It’s an emotional contagion where seeing people express anger drives others to display it too. And our own irritability works in the same way. Every outburst legitimises the next. How much of this is righteous anger? And how can we resist sinful anger? We need to know.

One of the clearest verses of the Bible dealing with anger is actually a command telling us to be angry. But the full command is “Be…angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). It goes on to forbid letting “the sun go down on your wrath”. It gives us counsel about keeping righteous anger and killing sinful anger. Later in the same chapter (verse 31) we learn about the different types of sinful anger that people choose to express. James Fergusson has especially helpful reflections on these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. How to Identify Sinful Anger

Sinful anger or unjust desire of revenge is, when anger is kindled rashly (Proverbs 14:17) for no cause, (Matthew 5:22) or for a very light one (1 Corinthians 13:5). Or it is when it exceeds just bounds (Genesis 49:7).

There are different types of anger. They are brought together in verse 31 which lists bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil-speaking and malice.

(a) Bitterness

This is the lowest degree of sinful anger. It includes all secret, hidden displeasure and alienation of affection. It has more of discontent and grudge, than of revenge in it (Psalm 37:1).

(b) Wrath

This is fierce, impetuous rage, and passionate commotion of the heart and affections due to a felt sense of a perceived or real injury. It prevents and obstructs the use of reason, which being soon up, is as soon allayed, 1 Sam. 25:21, 22. with 32.

(c) Angry Shouting

Clamour means boisterous words, loud menaces, and other inordinate speech. These are the black smoke by which the fire of anger and wrath which has been kindled within first manifests itself (Acts 15:39).

(d) Evil Speaking

Evil speaking (or blasphemy as the word means) is a further fruit of wrath and anger. This is disgraceful and insulting speech by which someone who is incensed seeks to stain the reputation of the person who has done them (real or perceived) wrong (1 Samuel 20:30).

(e) Malice

Malice is rooted anger and continuing wrath. It makes the person consumed by it daily intent on all opportunities for revenge. They are completely implacable until they get their vindictive inclination satisfied (Romans 1:31)

Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil-speaking and malice grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). They greatly darken the work of grace in the heart by which He seals believers. There are no sins more opposed to the fruit of the Spirit (mentioned in Galatians 5:22). Where such sins are given way to, grace must be in decay. Thus, the apostle immediately adds to the command not to grieve the Spirit “let all bitterness, wrath and anger be put away”. This implies that otherwise they would grieve the Spirit.

Sin is so subtle and we are so weak and unskilled in resisting it that when it gets in, one sin makes way for a further. Thus, it goes from bad to worse. The wisest course therefore is to oppose it in good time, lest it gathers strength by our indulging it. The apostle outlines various degrees of sinful anger. The first makes way for the next and the next is always worse and a step nearer to the worst height.

 

2. How to Have Righteous Anger

Anger is a natural affection, planted in our first parents at the first creation. Indeed it was also found in Christ Himself, who was without sin (Mark 3:5). It is not in itself a sin therefore, nor always sinful. As it is in its own nature it is indifferent. It becomes good or evil, according to its reasons, causes, objects and purposes. Sometimes and in some situations being angry is a necessary duty for a Christian to be angry e.g. when anger flows from zeal to God’s glory (John 2:15 with v17) and love to our brother (Proverbs 13:24).

It is righteous when it is arises from just and weighty causes. Chief of these is God’s dishonour, whether by our own sins (2 Corinthians 7:11) or the sins of others (Exodus 32:19). It is incensed not so much against the person of our brother as against his sin. It is therefore against sin in ourselves, as much as in others (Matthew 7:5). This is clear when it does not hinder other duties of love which we owe to the person with whom we are angry (Exodus 32:19 with 32). It is also clear when it does not impair our access to God in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). We must not go beyond the bounds of our calling, nor should we give way to private revenge in pursuing our anger (Luke 9:54-55). When the reasons, purposes and behaviour are right, anger is praiseworthy and commendable. The apostle commands anger in the right circumstances.

 

3. How to Restrain Sinful Anger

It is easy to pass from moderation to excess in our natural affections of joy, fear, grief, desire. This goes from what is lawful and in some cases necessary, to what is sinful (Psalm 2:11). When anger is given way to it is most difficult to keep within and not exceed bounds and not to exceed. This happens by transgressing one or other of the limitations of righteous anger mentioned before. He cautions not to sin when we are angry.

 

4. How to Watch Against Sinful Anger

It is possible (even in the child of God) for lawful anger to degenerate into sinful wrath. The mind is embittered and accordingly rages against the person who has done the wrong. But the child of God must not have an implacable spirit which cannot be exhausted by length of time. If their anger at any time should exceed bounds and turn to wrath or bitterness of spirit, he exhorts them to suppress it speedily. They must suppress it even before the sun goes down, not cherishing that evil or indulging themselves in it for the space of one night. The apostle supposes they may have anger but they must not maintain it long. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath”.

It is not enough for Christians to refrain from the venting of their passions in their inordinate expressions and actions; but they must also, and in order to their refraining from those, set about the rectifying of their inward affections and most secret distempers of their spirit: otherwise, if the flame of anger and wrath doth burn within, it will most readily send up a black smoke of clamour and evil speaking, to the offence of others: for, Paul forbiddeth not only clamour and evil-speaking, but also all bitternesse, wrath and anger.

 

5. How to Deal With Sinful Anger

The child of God is not to be discouraged and give up resisting sin. Nor are they to run away when sin prevails. But, having received a new supply of strength from Christ (2 Corinthians 12:8) by exercising faith in prayer, they must attack sin afresh with renewed courage. In doing this they may recover what was previously lost. Paul instructs that if their anger should at any time be excessive they should set themselves against it without delay and not let the sun go down on their wrath.

It is not sufficient to suppress and weaken our sinful corruptions. We ought to aim at, and rest satisfied with nothing less than totally subduing them. We should remove them by pulling them up by the very roots. He says “Let all bitterness etc….be put away”. The word put away means: “Let it be lifted up, and so destroyed”.

Sins of the tongue and outward actions are to be put away and put to death as well as sins of the heart. They are in some ways more dangerous (Matthew 18:7 because more dangerous to others. They always flow from a defiled heart (Matthew 15:19) and make it worse than it was.

 

Conclusion

In a time of moral outrage we need to be clear about true righteous anger and how and when it should be expressed. The people of God also have an opportunity in an angry age to show the grace of Christ. Watching against and dealing with sinful anger marks out believers as different, especially when we do not join the bandwagon of vitriol. It’s extremely hard to deal with sinful anger, it just seems to come from nowhere. But the more that we seek grace through prayer take steps against it the less we will be defeated by it.  The Holy Spirit who is grieved with all forms of sinful anger has been given to help us put it to death.

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How to Live Without Regrets

How to Live Without Regrets

How to Live Without Regrets
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
4 Jan, 2019

“No regrets” is probably the most popular life motto currently. Almost everyone seems to be claiming it for themselves. It means living in the moment without thinking before or after about your actions. Get what you want out of life. Don’t admit that any decision you’ve taken was wrong. But such a philosophy is inevitably destructive. The person with no regrets whatsoever is the person with no conscience whatsoever. Can people really walk away from marriage breakdowns etc saying “no regrets”? Aren’t there words and actions we regret? Have we never wronged someone in some way? But there is a right way to live without regrets. One that takes conscience seriously.

The world’s idea of “no regrets” buries conscience and refuses to be impacted by guilt. In fact the only way to truly live without regrets is to take conscience as seriously as possible. It is to live a life with what James Durham calls “a serene and smiling conscience”. He calls it “Heaven upon earth”. Of course none of us are perfect, we will have some regrets. But here is how to live with as few regrets of conscience as possible.

1. What is it to Live Without Regrets?

This is what the apostle Paul set as his goal. He made it his earnest endeavour to strive to have his conscience clear towards God and men (Acts 24:16). Durham says is an excellent example to follow because it sums up the Christian life. He also say that it is the very soul and life of religion and where it is not present there is no true religion.

  • What was Paul’s great aim? To live so as never to offend his conscience or give it cause to make a bad report of him.
  • How far did this reach? Everyone: God and men, he would do duty to both, and be found without offence to either. Everything: in all actions, company, places and times. Not just special times, he aimed to be always constant and consistent in this.
  • How did he do this? It was a serious business. As a man who fighting for his life carefully handles his arms, so Paul behaved himself in all things as if his life depended on every action or word.

2. Why is this Important?

  • There are many sorts of offences both toward God and toward men that we are liable to commit.
  • Everyone has a conscience within that takes notice of every aspect of their conduct. It is influenced by this and influences us.
  • Whatever things are offences toward God or men are also offensive to the conscience, whatever sin strikes against God’s law wounds the conscience.
  • It is an excellent thing for a believer to live so as to keep a conscience always clear of offence toward God and toward men. It is a very bad thing at any time to have offence toward either of them on the conscience.
  • Everyone (especially believers) should live in this way so that they may always keep a conscience clear of offence. It is not only a duty but an excellent means for advancing holiness.
  • It is a demanding thing to honestly aim to keep our conscience always clear of offence.
  • Conscience is left to abound with offences where these demands are neglected and not seriously engaged in.

3. What Does it Involve?

(a) Do Not Commit Any Known Sin

There will be no good conscience if you do. Live in a way that is not contrary to what you know.

(b) Do Not Omit Any Known Duty

Every sin wrongs the conscience, but the sin we know and yet commit and the duty we know and yet omit, strikes against the conscience even more directly. You who know that the sabbath should be kept holy, that you should pray in secret, and in your families, that you should not make one another stumble etc. Beware of running into these dangers that are contrary to your knowledge.

(c) Do Nothing Doubtingly

Those who do something and yet doubt whether they should are sentenced and condemned at to that particular thing (see Romans 14:23).

(d) Do Duties in the Right Way

Strive to do duties in the right way and for the right purpose. It is not enough to pray or do any other commanded duty. That will not keep conscience quiet if you do not seek to do it in the right way and for the right purpose. The activity is lawful but conscience will still convict you because of the way in which you do it.

4. How Does it Help Us Spiritually?

  • It gives much boldness in approaching God (1 John 3:20).
  • It gives reason to expect our prayers to be heard (1 John 3:22).
  • It keeps us from much sin
  • It makes life cheerful (Proverbs 15:15) and the heart guarded with peace (Philippians 4:7).
  • It is sweet in affliction (2 Corinthians 1:12). 
  • It is sweet when death approaches (2 Kings 20:3).

5. How to Live Without Regrets

(a) Strive to be Clear

Strive to be clear in the matters of God and what concerns your own good. “Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). It is not possible for those who are ignorant of what God requires to keep a good conscience. They do not know when they sin or when they do duty aright. Many wise and rich men can speak well of the things of this world but are ignorant of the things of God.

(b) Take Heed to Conscience

Most follow what their own reason and will prefer and do it without ever ask what conscience rightly informed by God’s Word would say. This makes many say and do in haste things that they repent of afterwards. Consult seriously with your conscience and do not sin (Psalm 4:4). Do not let the advice of flesh and blood come between God and you and sway you. Of course we should not take everything from conscience without reasons, it is a lesser rule to follow. Listen to what the greater rule of God’s Word says. Test something by bringing it to conscience and then test your conscience by asking it to give a reason from the Word.

(c) Beware of Going Against Conscience

Beware of going against conscience in the least thing. Abstain from everything that seem to come in into conflict with it. Conscience is a very tender thing; if we do not respect conscience we may provoke God to give us up to do what we want.

(d) Listen to Conscience

Listen to what conscience says before you do anything. Consider also how you acted according to your knowledge of what is right afterwards.  Paul puts a good conscience and sincerity together (2 Corinthians 1:12). No matter how many good words we speak and how many good things we do, they will not be accepted if do not have a single eye to God’s honour in them. A good conscience will be lacking where this is not there or where conscience is made subordinate to our interests. Many resolve to do such and duties, as long as they fit in with their own interests.

(e) Go Often to the Blood of Christ

Be frequent and serious in making believing use of the blood of Christ, the blood of sprinkling. Thus, your consciences may be sprinkled and purged from dead works (Hebrews 9:14 and 10:22). The great basis of your peace is not how serious and sincere you are but how He has satisfied divine justice. Many of our works and duties are dead unless they are sprinkled with the power of His blood. They will be like many dead weights on the conscience. There can be no truly good conscience if this is neglected.

Conclusion

Nothing will make your life more truly cheerful and comfortable. But if it is neglected or slighted, all your knowledge, debates about religion, tasting the good Word of God, all your prayers, or whatever else you can name, will be of no purpose. We leave it on you before God and apply it direct to your conscience, to make it your endeavour to always have a good conscience clear of offence toward God and toward men.  

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The Remedy for a World Gone Toxic

The Remedy for a World Gone Toxic

The Remedy for a World Gone Toxic
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
7 Dec, 2018

It’s the Word of the Year–”toxic”. Every year Oxford Dictionaries choose a word or expression to reflect the passing year in language. Their data shows that people used the term to describe a broad range of situations. Things like workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, and stress. It’s commonly used about political debate and rhetoric, of course. “Reviewing this year in language, we repeatedly encountered the word ‘toxic’ being used to describe an increasing set of conditions that we’re all facing…‘toxic’ seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become”. Why is this and what is the remedy?

Toxic is defined as “poisonous” and this is the origin of the word. In the Bible it’s often used to describe sin and its effects. In particular tongue operated by sin is untameable and “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 58:4). Poisonous effects are inevitable as sin grows unchecked and dominates the lives of individuals and communities.

It was the same in Israel when it was rebelling against God; the human heart is the same. In the time of Hosea, society had become toxic in the nation of Israel. There were many words but they were empty words. There were promises and agreements but they were deceitful and quickly broken. “They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant”. They had also broken faith with God in their religious profession; their words could not be trusted in this. God was going to judge them in leaving their sins to go unrestrained. Hosea uses a picture to describe the effects of this. It is like poisonous hemlock taking over and springing up in the furrows of the field rather than wheat (Hosea 10:4). They were overrun with the poisonous effects of their sin.

George Hutcheson comments on this. They used empty words and false oaths in their agreements both with God and men. They kept none of them and so judgment was springing up “as hemlock”. Due to their corruption and unfaithfulness the bitter and deadly fruits of unrighteousness rather than justice were springing up throughout the land. It is a sad picture but later in the chapter we have the remedy for it in repentance and faith towards God and His blessing. This is what our toxic world needs.

 

1. Why Things Become Toxic

(a) Empty Words

God cannot endure the empty words and professions of men, whether in religion or in their private dealings. It was said of Israel, they “have spoken words” – mere words.

(b) Trust Has Disappeared

Wicked men’s oaths and covenants with God or men are no more to be trusted than their words. It is the cause of sad dispute when it is so. This charge is added to the previous one: “swearing falsely in making a covenant” (see also Leviticus 26:25; Ezekiel 17:15; Psalm 15:4).

(c) Lack of Trust Leads to All Unrighteousness

When there is such hypocrisy and deception in making no conscience of oaths and covenants a people are ripe for all unrighteousness. They will be given up to produce so much of the fruits of unrighteousness that it will be bitter and deadly to the oppressed. God will also reckon it bitter and intolerable. Judgment springs up like hemlock in its nature and abundance.

(d) God Sees Beyond Outward Appearances

False and pretended professions and appearances cannot hide the true nature of sin from the all-seeing eye of God.   He uses means intended to make a people righteous, but this makes their unrighteousness appear all the more loathsome. Israel may well have seemed to make an outward profession and make efforts to bring forth good and righteous fruit (like a farmer ploughs a field).  God had provided means for this (like a field which is fertilised). But instead judgment was springing up like hemlock in the very furrows of the field and not just the waste ground.

 

2. The Remedy for a Toxic Condition

The remedy for this is mentioned later in the chapter at verse 12. It continues to use the metaphor of sowing a field but this time it holds out the promise of a true yield. They are told: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you”. This is an exhortation to repentance and reformation. They are to sow the fruits of righteousness with the promise that they will reap the fruits of mercy. They are to break up and fertilise the hard and wild ground of their heart. This would show their true repentance. He promises to forgive their sins and clothe them with Christ’s righteousness.

(a) God’s Most Severe Threats are Calls to Repentance

When the Lord is most severe in threatening we must consider it to be an exhortation to repentance with implied promises. If they were to heed this, who knows what mercy would make of the worst person or people in the world?

(b) The Fruits of Righteousness are Evidence of Repentance

The fruits of righteousness in relation to the second half of the Ten Commandments are the true evidences of repentance and conversion to God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is why He requires sowing in righteousness, or the duties of righteousness. It is not as if this righteousness summed up the whole of their conversion, but simply its evidences and fruits.

(c) God Requires Diligence in Repentance

Their duty is expressed using terms taken from the hard labours of farming, particularly sowing.  In sowing famers must wait for the reward of their labour and those who repent must be content to wait on God for the blessing (see Psalm 97:11; James 5:7).

(d) God Requires Repentance for Our Benefit

God does not seek obedience because He needs it. The benefit is for those who repent: “sow to yourselves”, He says.

(e) The Harvest of Righteousness May be Delayed

Righteousness may seem to be long forgotten and lost, lying like seed under the earth. In due time, however, it will bring a blessed harvest of grace. He says, “sow” and “reap” (see Psalm 126:6; Galatians 6:9).

(f) Those Who are Truly Righteous Depend on Mercy Alone

Those who truly walk in righteousness flee to Christ in the Covenant of Grace and draw strength from Him for new obedience. They look only to Gods mercy and not their own worth. They expect to “reap in mercy”.

(g) We Need A New Nature to Produce Righteousness

We can reap no fruit (despite our diligence) until our hard hearts which are unused to any good are changed and put in a new and fruitful condition. It also says, “break up your fallow ground”. This metaphor is taken from ploughing to teach that their hearts are as wild as land like not used to being ploughed is hard to plough. Greater effort must be taken to humble themselves and repent.

(h) We Must Not Neglect Opportunities to Repent

“It is time to seek the Lord” in view of how long they had neglected or refused to seek God in the past (see 1 Peter 4:3). As long as sinners are preserved and invited to repentance it is still an acceptable time. Such opportunities should not be neglected.

(i) We Must Not Give Up Seeking God

Those who seek God sincerely to enjoy Him will not give up until He comes. They “seek the LORD, till he come”.

(j) God Promises to Pour Out His Blessings

Those who seek the Lord sincerely and constantly will not only find Him, but He will come over all obstacles that they could not get over. He comes and rains righteousness, freely pouring out blessings, refresh them after all their labours in pursuing after Him.

(k) Christ’s Righteousness is the Great Blessing

God will freely refresh His people by fulfilling the promises they wait for. He will fulfil many of them in a shower together. This will make up for long delays. He will refresh them under the shadow of Christ’s righteousness (their greatest hope,) and its rich fruits. He “will rain righteousness upon you” means both His righteousness in faithfully keeping His promise and His imputed and freely given righteousness. This is the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is witnessed to by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21-22).

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The Complete Remedy for Human Miseries

The Complete Remedy for Human Miseries

The Complete Remedy for Human Miseries
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.
3 Aug, 2018

​It’s common to make light of “first world problems”. These are the trivial frustrations that vex only those in wealthy countries: lack of wifi, battery charge or milk in the fridge.  A little perspective shows that they are nothing compared to the real human misery experienced across most of the planet. Yet those in the first world also experience the real miseries of this life: affliction, sickness and deep sorrow. But still we know nothing of the disease, war, displacement, oppression and general suffering of many nations. We must add to all this the spiritual misery of sin itself as well as its consequences and the condemnation that sin brings. Is it really possible that there can be a complete and perfect remedy for human misery? Does this claim too much?

There is a full and complete remedy for all human misery. It may not be an immediately entire eradication of misery but it does begin to remove it immediately in a real sense. Ultimately, that full eradication of misery will happen.

 

1. Human Misery is Comprised of Three Things

Hugh Binning observes that there are three things which coincide to make people miserable: sin, condemnation and affliction. Everyone may observe that “man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” that his days here are few and evil. He possesses “months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed” for him (Job 5:6-7; 7:3). He “is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).

The pagan philosophers meditated a great deal on the misery of human life. In this they outstripped most Christians. We only include certain afflictions and troubles such as poverty, sickness, reproach, banishment, and such like amongst our miseries. The philosophers included even natural necessities amongst our miseries. This included the constant revolution of the circle of eating, drinking, and sleeping. What a burden to an immortal spirit to roll about that wheel perpetually. We make more of the body than of the soul. They counted the body a burden to the soul. They placed posterity, honour, pleasure and such things, on which men pour out their souls amongst our greatest miseries. They saw them as vanity in themselves, and vexation, both in enjoying and losing them. But they did not recognise the fountain of all this misery—sin. Nor did they acknowledge the consummation of this misery—condemnation.

They thought trouble came out of the ground and dust either by natural necessity or by chance.  But the Word of God shows us its beginning and end. Its beginning was man’s defection from God and walking according to the flesh. All the calamities and streams of miseries in the world have this as their source. It has even extended to the whole creation and subjected it to vanity (Romans 8:20). Not only would man eat in sorrow but the curse is also on the ground. Man who was immortal will return to that dust which he magnifies more than the soul, (Genesis 3:17).

The beginning had all the evil of sin in it and the end has all the evil of punishment in it. The streams of this life’s misery run into an infinite, boundless and bottomless ocean of eternal wrath. If you live according to the flesh you will die. It is not only death here but eternal death after this. The miseries of this present life are not a proportionate punishment of sin. They are merely a downpayment of that great sum which is to be paid on the day of accounting. This is condemnation, “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

 

2. The Complete Remedy for Human Misery

As the law reveals the perfect misery of mankind, so the gospel has brought to light a perfect remedy of all this misery. Jesus Christ was manifested to take away sin, His name is Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Judgment was by one unto condemnation of all. But now there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Thus, these two evils are removed, which indeed have all evil in them. He takes away the curse of the law (being made under it) and then He takes away the sin against the law by His Holy Spirit. He has a twofold power, for He came by blood and water (1 John 5:6-7). By blood, to cleanse away the guilt of sin, and by water to purify us from sin itself.

But in the meantime, there are many of the afflictions and miseries common to mankind on us. Why are these not removed by Christ? The evil of them is taken away, though they themselves remain. Death is not taken away but the sting of death is removed. Death, afflictions and all are overcome by Jesus Christ, and so made His servants to do us good. The evil of them is God’s wrath and sin; these are removed by Jesus Christ. They would be taken away entirely if it was not for our good they remained, for “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).

Thus, we have a most complete deliverance in extent but not in degree. Sin remains in us but not in dominion and power. Wrath sometimes kindles because of sin but it cannot increase to everlasting burnings. Afflictions and miseries may change their name and be called instructions and trials; good and not evil. But Christ has reserved the full and perfect deliverance until another day. It is therefore called the day of complete redemption (Romans 8:23). All sin, all wrath, all misery will then have an end and be swallowed up of life and immortality” (2 Corinthians 5:4).

This is the summary of the gospel. There is a threefold consolation which corresponds to our threefold evils (sin, affliction and condemnation). There is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ.” Here is a blessed message to condemned lost sinners who have that sentence of condemnation within (Romans 8:1). This was the purpose for Christ’s coming and dying. It was that He might deliver us from sin as well as death and the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.

He has therefore given the Holy Spirit (and dwells in us by the Spirit) to quicken us who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). O what consolation this will be to souls that consider the body of death within them to be the greatest misery. They groan with Paul “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24).

But because there are many grounds of heaviness and sadness in this world, therefore the gospel opposes unto all these, both our expectation which we have of that blessed hope to come, whereof we are so sure, that nothing can frustrate us of it, and also the help we get in the meantime of the Spirit to hear our infirmities, and to bring all things about for good to us (Romans 8:28).

And from all this the believer in Jesus Christ has reasons for triumph and boasting before the perfect victory—even as Paul does in the name of believers in Romans 8:31 to the end. Not long ago he cried out, “O wretched man, who shall deliver me?” Now he cries out, “who shall condemn me?” The distressed wrestler becomes a victorious triumpher; the beaten soldier becomes more than a conqueror. O that your hearts could be persuaded to listen to this joyful sound—to embrace Jesus Christ for grace and salvation! How quickly would a song of triumph in Him swallow up all your present complaints and lamentations!

All the complaints amongst men may be reduced to one of these three. I hear most people bemoaning things in this way. Alas, for the miseries of this life, this evil world! Alas for poverty, for contempt, for sickness! Oh! miserable man that I am, who will take this disease away? Who will show me any good thing (Psalm 4:6); any temporal good? But if you knew and considered your latter end, you would cry out more. You would refuse to be comforted even though these miseries were taken away.

But I hear some bemoaning still more sadly—they have heard the law and the sentence of condemnation is within them. The law has entered and killed them. Oh! “what shall I do to be saved?” Who will deliver me from the wrath to come? What are all present afflictions and miseries in respect of eternity? Yet there is one moan and lamentation beyond all these, when the soul finds the sentence of absolution in Jesus Christ. Then it gets its eyes opened to see that body of death and sin within, that complete man of sin diffused throughout all the members. Then it bemoans itself with Paul, “O wretched man—who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). I am delivered from the condemnation of the law, but what comfort is it as long as sin is so powerful in me? Indeed, this makes me often suspect my deliverance from wrath and the curse, seeing sin itself is not taken away.

Now, if you could be persuaded to listen to Jesus Christ and embrace this gospel, O what abundant consolation you would have! What a perfect answer to all your complaints! They would be swallowed up in such triumph as Paul has here. This would reveal such a perfect remedy of sin and misery that you would not complain any more. Or at least, not as those without hope. You will never have a remedy for your temporal miseries unless you begin in relation to your eternal miseries, in seeking to prevent them. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and all other things “shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Seek first to flee from the wrath to come and you will escape it and then afflictions (the evils of this life) will be removed. First remove the greatest complaints of sin and condemnation. How easy then it is to answer all the lamentations of this life, and make you rejoice in the midst of them!

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Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?
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.
13 Jul, 2018

We can have the right doctrine of holiness; one that takes it as seriously as Scripture does. But in relation to its practical outworking and in our assumptions concerning it, we may have got it wrong. No doubt there could be many ways in which we could do this. We may fall into the error that we can contribute something, that there is a place for our personal merit. Or perhaps we subtly divorce holiness from happiness and find ourselves in a constant conflict between the two. This is a serious mistake because holiness is the only way to true happiness. If we secretly equate happiness with sinful pleasure or our own will rather than God’s, we have gone badly wrong.  We can only look at a few ways in which we may be inclined to get holiness wrong.

James Fraser of Brea takes an honest look at himself, searching into his motives and attitudes. The discovery is startling, while he values holiness he has certain attitudes that are hindering his progress. The evil one is insinuating false notions that confuse and divert. The following are only a few of the many things that Fraser identifies. Of course free unmerited grace must always be in view.

 

1. Thinking Repentance is Only Inward

In thinking that the essence of true repentance consists in contrition for sin more than in turning in heart and practice from it. When I have not found myself in a mourning, sorrowful spirit but limited in my affections, I have not turned from sin. I was still taken up with trying to sorrow for it, thinking there was no true repentance without this. When I have mourned I depended on this, thinking it was sufficient. But repentance mostly consists in turning to God, mourning is only the manner of this act of turning (Joel 2:12; Isaiah 58:6; Proverbs 21:3).

I have neglected the outward practice of repentance under the pretence that the Lord requires the heart. But we should serve the Lord both in body and in spirit. It is true, we should not rest in the outward, or mainly look to that but should look to the heart mostly; yet the outward act should not be neglected.

 

2. Wallowing in Self Pity

After falls and slips, Satan has sought to keep me astonished and confused by what I have done. In this way I was kept from getting up to my feet and going forward. Those who fall when they are running in a race lose much time and are far behind while they think about what to do. The best way is to get up, consider our ways, mourn, seek pardon, and then go to work. This is how it was with Joshua, God told him to get up and do his work rather than lie on his face (Joshua 7:10). When David sinned, he immediately goes to repentance: “I have sinned, yet now, Lord, forgive.”

 

3. Emphasising Holiness But Not Practising it

It is wrong to neglect to obedience in dependence on grace by resting in a resolve to do and it and mere thoughts of how good it is. Either I thought this was enough or else through complacency have not expected difficulty in practice. Yet those who know, approve and teach God’s requirements to other while neglecting it themselves, “say and do not” (Romans 2:13-14, 18; Matthew 7:21; Jeremiah 2:19- 20). Thus my thoughts delighting in obedience have not been so much to practise as to delight the understanding in dwelling on such subjects.

 

4. Rebranding Sin

Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, by gilding vices with the lustre and appearance of virtue, under spiritual pretences. I have been tempted to carelessness and excess under the pretence of avoiding unthankfulness and not using Christian liberty. I have neglected to have the heart rightly affected with the evil of sin, because repentance consists more in turning from sin than in sorrow for it. I have avoided prayer when not in the right spirit in case I make the easy yoke of Christ a grievous burden. Sin has prevailed in these ways and when it has overcome it appeared in its own clothing. The grace of God may be turned into lasciviousness (2 Corinthians 11:14; Romans 6:1). We have been “called to liberty” but we are not to use this to give opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13).

 

5. A Legalistic Spirit

There is nothing does me more damage than a legalistic spirit or spirit of bondage. Satan presses duties in a violent way, presenting God as a hard master and an austere judge. He presents God as one that commands and requires duties in the way that tyrannical rulers make laws to entrap the subjects. He makes it seem as though God is urging hard duties and putting new wine into old bottles with the greatest threats and no promise of help. I am urged to obey hastily without being given time to breathe and extreme perfection is required or else it will not be accepted at all.  Finding the Lord’s yoke so hard, I have either cast it off or sometimes engaged in it disheartened. Nothing has influenced me worse than this. Talents have been slighted because God was viewed as a hard master. The Lord has not been served because our yoke is not made light. There is aversion and lack of love to God due to sinful fear (1 John 4:18).

 

6. Trying to Establish Our Own Righteousness

Satan and my own heart have held me fast for a long time in the snare of seeking to establish my own righteousness. When my heart has been in a good condition, with a felt sense of what I lack and desiring to obey it has resolved to use specific means to obtain this. I have found Satan deceiving me in this by making me love these duties, means, graces and obtaining them because it is the produce of my own desire and resolve. Thus, they have been my own (as it were) and my choice. I have despised other means because they were not my own choice. I have therefore been grieved when favour come in a different way and valued such mercy less. When I have fallen into sins I resolve to avoid I have grieved more because my resolutions have been broken and my will thwarted than because God has been wronged or my soul endangered. Thus God has been provoked to break down these resolutions and cast down the tower that reached to heaven (Proverbs 19:3; Romans 10:3; Mark 14:37; Isaiah 10:7; Psalm 58:3).

 

7. Thinking Holiness is All About Hardship

When difficult duties have been urged such as mourning, fasting, diligence etc. I have been brought to think that the purpose of the command was mostly to bring hardship on myself. I obeyed more often for this reason than to obey God’s command. It was like pagans who cut themselves or Roman Catholics who whip themselves and it did me harm. It engendered hard thoughts of God and made me do duties in a spiritless way and without spiritual benefit because I only sought hardship for myself.

 

8. Not Avoiding “Little Sins”

I have not avoided “little” evils, fearing that this would be like tithing “anise and cumin” (Matthew 23:23).

 

9. Focussing On Outward Sins Rather than Inward Corruption

In striving against the outward acts of sin I have not been considering the inward corruption of the heart. I have been “making clean the outside” but neglecting to cleanse it within; cutting the branches, and sparing the root (Matthew 23:25-26). I have not profited in holiness because the fountain has not been cleansed.

 

10. Depending on Our Own Strength

Going on in duties in my own strength without looking for divine assistance, has done me great harm. When I have gone on in confidence of my own strength the Lord has chastened me for my presumption, as it was with Peter. When duties have been difficult I have become discouraged because I was relying on and looking to my own strength.

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The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves
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 Apr, 2018

Pop psychology believes that the worst thing we can do is not think positively about ourselves. Apparently we just need to have the right mindset and then we can do anything. Our negative thoughts then become “the lies we tell ourselves”. Biblical wisdom is far different. It reveals glorious truths and realities that provide us with more motivation than we could imagine. Yet it also reveals the uncomfortable truth about ourselves, leaving us with nowhere to hide. Unless we come to terms with this we will only deceive ourselves. The most glorious thing that the Bible says we can have is fellowship with God. Yet it is hindered by the greatest lie.

Both of these are brought together in one verse. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). Hugh Binning opens up the most glorious privilege and the greatest lie.

 

1. True Religion is in Fellowship with God

True religion consists not only in the knowledge of God but especially in conformity to Him and communion with him. Communion and fellowship with God is the great goal and design of the gospel. It is the great result of all a Christian’s efforts and progress. It is not only the greatest part of religion, but its very reward.

Godliness has its own reward of happiness without borrowing from external things. This sweet and fragrant fruit which perfumes the whole soul with delight and fills it with joy, springs out of conformity to God. This means assimilation of nature and disposition, some likeness to God imprinted on the soul again in holy affections and dispositions. It also means our will coinciding with the will of God, drowning it in the sea of His good pleasure and having His law in the inward parts.

What is the root of this conformity except the knowledge of God? This has the power to transform the soul into His likeness. You see then where true religion begins lowest and by what means it grows up to the sweet fruit of that eternal joy that shall be pressed out of the grapes of fellowship with God. So then, whatever is declared by God to us in His word concerning Himself is not only presented for our knowledge. It is especially also a pattern for imitation and an inflaming motive for our affection. This is the very substance of the verse “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

 

2. True Religion is Becoming More Like God

The end of your knowing God is to become more like God. Let us consider that we know only as much about God as we love, fear and are conformed to Him. Any knowledge which is not doing this or does not have this goal will serve no other purpose except to be a witness against us.

If you want fellowship with God then consider what you engage in and what kind of person He is. The intimate knowledge of one another is presupposed in all true friendship. You must know what God is if you want to have communion with Him. There is no communion without some conformity and no conformity without knowledge of Him. Therefore, as He is light, so the soul must be made light in Him and enlightened by Him. We must be transformed into that nature and made children of light who were children of darkness. Now, as there is a light of understanding and wisdom in God, and a light of holiness and purity, so there is in our souls, opposite to these, a darkness of ignorance, unbelief, sin, and impurity of affections. Now, “what communion can light have with darkness?”

Looking often on God until our souls are enlightened and our hearts purified advances the soul to the closest conformity with God. This gives the soul greatest capacity for blessed communion with God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

 

3. The Greatest Lie

There is nothing in which men allow themselves to be so easily deceived as in religion (the matter of greatest concern). The eternal welfare of their souls consists in this. There is no delusion either so gross or so universal in any other thing as in this thing. Delusion together with self-love (which always hoodwinks the mind and will not allow serious impartial self-examination) are at the bottom of this vain persuasion.

If anyone says they are a Christian they really say that they have fellowship with God.  In so far as you pretend to be Christians and yet do not profess holiness you fall under a twofold contradiction and commit a twofold lie. The first is between your profession and practice and the second is in your profession itself.

Your practice is directly contrary to the very general profession of Christianity. You affirm you are Christians and yet refuse the profession of holiness. You say you hope for heaven and yet do not so much as pretend to godliness and walking spiritually. Without this the name of Christian is empty, vain, and ridiculous.

This is the greatest most dangerous lie. It is the greatest lie because it takes in the whole of someone’s life. It is one great universal lie, a lie composed of infinite contradictions and innumerable individual lies. Every step, every word and action is in its own nature contrary to that holy profession. But all combined together it makes up a black constellation of lies—one powerful lie against the truth. And, besides, it is not against a particular truth but against the whole complex of Christianity.

Error is a lie against the particular truth it opposes but the whole course of an ignorant, ungodly life is one continued lie against the whole body of Christianity and Christian truth. It is a lie extended across the length of many weeks, months and years against the whole fabric of Christian profession. There is nothing in the calling of a Christian that is not retracted, contradicted and reproached by it.

O that you could examine your ways and see what a cluster of lies and inconsistencies is in them. See what reproaches these practical lies cast on the honour of your Christian calling. They tend by their very nature to disgrace the truth and blaspheme God’s name. It is no less than a denial of Jesus Christ and a real renunciation of Him. It puts you outside the refuge of sinners and is most likely to keep you outside the blessed city where nothing that makes a lie can enter (Revelation 21:27). What shall then become of them whose life all along has been but one continued lie?

 

4. The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Some are ready to think too highly of themselves. They do not see themselves in  a way that may intermingle humble mourning. Rather, they measure their attainments by their desires. Now, indeed, this is in effect, and really to say, “we have no sin” ( 1 John 1:8). We are infinitely below either our duty or our desire, and need to be reminded of this often in order not to be drunk with self-deceit in relation to this.

Are there not many Christians who, having experienced sorrow for sin and comfort by the gospel and engage in religious duties who stop in this without desiring further progress? They think that if they keep that attainment all is well with them. They make few endeavours after more communion with God, or purification from sin. This makes them degenerate into formalism. They wither and become barren and are exposed by this to many temptations which overcome them. Is this not to really say, “we have no sin?”

Do not your walk and frame of spirit imply as though you had no sin to wrestle with, no more holiness to aspire to, as if you had no further race to run to obtain the crown? Do not deceive yourselves, by thinking it sufficient to have so much grace as may (in your opinion) put you over the line. As though you would seek no more than what is precisely necessary for salvation. Some may find that this is a self destroying deceit and they have not in fact passed over that line between heaven and hell.

 

5. True Religion is Beautiful in Practice

There is nothing so contrary to religion as a false appearance. Religion is a most complete thing, harmonious in all its parts. It is the same inside and out, in expression and action, all corresponding together. Now, to mar this harmony and to compose it out of dissimilar parts and make one part contradict the other is to make religion ugly and deformed. This happens when the course of a man’s life, in ignorance, negligence, and sin declare what is contrary to the profession of Christianity.

Practice is real knowledge because it is living knowledge. It is the very life and soul of Christianity when nothing more is needed except the intimation of God’s will to move the whole being. This is what we should all aspire to and not satisfy ourselves in our poor attainments below this.

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Is the Moral Revolution Over?

Is the Moral Revolution Over?

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

What has happened to the #MeToo movement which followed the Harvey Weinstein controversy? It certainly gained huge prominence and publicly exposed the abuse that predators wanted to keep hidden. It was vitally important to hear such behaviour vilified. It was also refreshing to hear about any limits to our culture’s licentiousness. And yet it was only a matter of time before a backlash of liberal opinion re-asserted the “freedoms” of the sexual revolution. The liberty for anyone to do whatever they please. But we don’t seem to be hearing as much about it as we did. Was it just a moral panic in which the media has lost interest? Has the anti-#MeToo backlash won? But we need to recognise that the discovery of a moral sensitivity did not go remotely far enough. Our culture’s media and entertainment builds on abuse and promotes exploitation and objectification. No one seemed ready to acknowledge this. We desperately need a real moral revolution in relation to the seventh commandment.

Christ showed how the seventh commandment reaches into our hearts and covers our eyes (Matthew 5:28). The Westminster Larger Catechism refers to this in expounding the seventh commandment. It speaks of this commandment forbidding “all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections”. It mentions other ways in which our senses may be defiled. Finally, it includes “all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others”.

None of these are matters one would prefer to handle but our current culture requires it. To avoid giving the Scripture’s clear teaching on the matter is to expose many to the most dangerous temptations. James Durham refers to this when he says that, due to our corrupt nature, it is hard to speak or hear of these things in a holy way. Both holiness and wisdom are necessary therefore in case we break this commandment even while speaking or hearing about it. It is necessary to mention it, however, because this sin is so rife and the Holy Spirit has considered it necessary to speak of it in Scripture. Indeed it is covered by a particular and distinct commandment by itself. Our most holy and blessed Lord Jesus Himself commented on it in Matthew 5:28. This is makes it a necessary consideration.

Durham also demonstrates that “these abominations are not restricted to the outward act but extend further”. There are many ways in which people commit this sin. It is not pleasant but it cannot be ignored.

 

1. In Our Hearts

Christ calls a man lusting after a woman committing adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). There are various degrees in this according to the extent to which it goes, the reception it gets and other similar circumstances. It is still reckoned by God to be heart-adultery and is called burning (1 Corinthians 7:9 and Romans 1:27). It is exceedingly loathsome to the Lord and hurtful to the inner man. This is so even when men neither resolve nor intend acting on it. They become guilty by not abhorring these imaginations but allowing them to roll in their thoughts (beware of this even in considering the matter now). If the inward fire is allowed to burn it often breaks out into a visible flame. The burning in 1 Corinthians 7:9 does of course differ from the burning mentioned in Romans 1:27, but we cannot enter into that matter just now.

 

2. In Our Senses

Men are guilty of this wickedness when they allow their outward senses sinfully to pursue what they want to. Thus, “eyes full of adultery” are spoken of in 2 Peter 2:14. A lustful look is adultery (Matthew 5:28) and Job says that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a woman (Job 31:1). Thus also seeing as well as delighting in obscene pictures and visual performances cannot do anything except defile someone.

The ears are defiled by hearing and listening to obscene and filthy discourse. They are defiled by listening to drunken, unclean or light and immodest love songs. Touch is defiled with embracing and the mouth with kissing others. Such are spoken of in Proverbs 7:13: “she caught him and kissed him”. It is not suitable to go into this further but much guilt is contracted in this way which is scarcely noticed or mourned over.

 

3. In Our Gestures

People may become guilty of breaking this commandment in their gestures. They may be evidence of this vileness or make people more inclined to it. There may be indecent postures contrary to polite behaviour and godliness. See what is spoken about a wicked person in Proverbs 6:13-14 and Isaiah 3:16. This is the opposite of walking honestly and decently as commended in Romans 13:13. and a carnal wantonness reproved.

 

4. In Our Words

People become exceedingly guilty of this evil by lewd and obscene speech. But this sin should not be even named (Ephesians 5:3). In the same way, we should avoid reading salacious and licentious love songs or books because this is as though we were gathering ideas about such a subject. There are also ways of taunting and reproaching one another in kinds of communications that corrupt good behaviour. Also guilty are “filthiness”, “foolish talking” and inappropriate “jesting” (Ephesians 5:3-4). This is especially so if it is laughing at the expense of someone who has fallen in some act of filthiness (or anything else that comes close to something like this, see Ephesians 4:24 and 5:3-4 etc)

 

5. In Our Company

We can fall into this sin by being with light, vain and loose company in a close and unnecessary way. This is more especially true when we keep company with such in private. This is not only an appearance of evil and a snare to that but also evil and loose in itself. It is condemned by the apostle in Romans 13:13. Solomon urges men not to come near the door of such a woman’s house, much less to enter it (Proverbs 5:8).

 

6. In Our Attitude

People fall into this sin by a carelessness, immodesty and a lack of appropriate shamefacedness etc. Or by any other way in which they give over the reins to the loose, licentious, sensual impulse they have within.

 

Conclusion

Wouldn’t there be a moral revolution in the Church and in the lives of believers themselves if we were to take these things seriously? Have we allowed the immodest culture around us to shape our attitudes, thoughts and behaviour in a way that allows room for this sin to flourish? The seventh commandment has a positive side too: it is about preserving and promoting purity. Purity “in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour…in ourselves and others” (Larger Catechism). To do this we need to make use of the grace that is in Christ and cultivate fellowship with Him. It is in “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” that we avoid making provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts (Romans 13:14).

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6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession

6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession

6 Times When We Best See Christ’s Intercession
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."
30 Mar, 2018

​Christ’s intercession in heaven is unseen but that does not mean we cannot see the benefits and effects of it. Because it is unseen we are inclined to forget about it and not derive the comfort and help we should. The more we meditate on it, the more it ought to fill us with a sense of wonder. As we consider our own weakness and neglect in prayer by contrast it helps us to think that He is more conscious of our spiritual needs than we are. He knows the spiritual dangers we face better than we do. The more we contemplate Christ’s intercession the better we would be able to trace the benefits we experience from it.

​Christ’s intercession for believers is continual (Hebrews 7:25). Andrew Gray opens up something of its nature and benefits with a sense of wonder. He says that this “divine action of Christ’s interceding at the right hand of God for sinners, is that in which a sinner may behold much spotless condescension and much boundless compassion”. It is a great mystery indeed to “behold infinite majesty standing as a suppliant before the throne of God”.

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me – Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

What is the nature of this intercession? Gray speaks of it as “successful” because Christ has infinite power. The Father also gives Christ whatever He requests (John 11:22). The Father has a “precious delight” in “doing good to sinners”. Christ “intercedes with a great deal of brotherly affection and sympathy for us”. “Christ is more affected with the miseries of His own than they themselves are”. It is also a constant intercession. This “consideration may sweetly engage our souls to Christ”:

when you are all asleep in the silent watches of the night, Christ is standing at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for you

Andrew Gray also draws out helpfully the following ways “in which Christ’s intercession reveals itself”.

1. When We Are Tempted

When a believer is surrounded with temptations, Christ intercedes for him, as we see in relation to Peter in Luke 22:31-32. Christ prays for His own in the world to be kept from evil (John 17:15). I would only say to you concerning this to lay more strength on Christ’s intercession than on your own prayers. Were you never convinced that all the strength that comes to you to put to death even one lust is by Christ’s intercession? I confess that there are many works that Christ does for us which we do not at all acknowledge He has done.

2. When We Are Discouraged

Christ’s intercession for us with the Father also shows itself when believers are under the spirit of discouragement. It is then that Christ prays for their consolation. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). Is it not Christ’s great purpose to have His own refreshed in a strange land?

3. When We Pray

Christ’s intercession shows itself toward us in relation to our prayers. He stands at the throne of grace, pleading for the acceptance of the prayers and petitions that believers send up to God. An excellent purpose of His intercession is for believers to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). In Revelation 8:3-4, John saw an angel standing at the altar (this is usually understood to be Jesus Christ). There was given unto Him much incense, which represents His merits making the prayers of His people to be accepted. He offered the incense with the prayers of the saints before God.

I desire then to mention the three works that Christ performs concerning the prayers of believers.

(a) Christ sweetly takes away the superfluities and redundancies that are in our prayers. Christ puts all the prayers of believers in a new frame, and He cuts off all expressions that may render our prayers unsavoury to God. Is that not an excellent work?

(b) Christ takes our prayers and supplications and presents them to the Father.

(c) Christ stands before the throne of God, pleading for an answer and return to our prayers. Do you know the reason why Christians get so few answers and returns to their prayers? It is because they do not make use of Christ’s intercession surely; otherwise they would get answers to their prayers. He has promised that whatever we ask in His name, that is, through His intercession, we receive it.

4. When Sin Has Ensnared Us

Christ’s intercession shows itself when sinners are taken and ensnared in sin. He intercedes for their pardon, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He answers the charges that are laid against us and intercedes with the Father for all our offences done against Him to be forgotten. He is praying today that our sins may be buried in that immense sea of everlasting forgetfulness. We see this in Zechariah 3:2-3 where Christ answers the challenges of the devil against believers.

5. When We Experience an Extended Time of Trouble

When believers are under a long and painful period of troubles, Christ prays that they may have release from that condition. This is clearly illustrated in Zechariah 1:12. In this passage, Christ as a priest is making intercession for believers. An explanation is made to Christ in verse 15 of chapter 1 “For I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction”.

6. When We Face Death

The last aspect in which Christ’s intercession reveals itself is this.  He intercedes with the Father, that those for whom He died should be where He is, to partake of the everlasting depths of that precious and blessed happiness that is above. We see this in the prayer of Christ recorded in John 17:24 that they may be “with me, where I am; that they may behold my glory”. We do not know whether that looks more like a prayer or a command, but certainly it is a most imperious prayer. Christ longs for believers to come where He is.

Conclusion

We need to make use of Christ’s intercession. Gray gives three reasons why believers make so little use of Christ’s intercession.

(a) most of us do not believe in the power of the spiritual virtue of Christ’s intercession. It is a mystery to us, a great mystery even to a Christian’s faith to believe the power of Christ’s intercession for them.

(b) we are not living under a spiritual conviction of the absolute necessity of the things we seek in prayer. The result is formalism in prayer.

(c) we are not deeply convinced of the sweet delight of that which we are seeking from God in prayer; therefore, we seek it with great coldness of affection.

We must value the benefits that we receive by Christ’s intercession, if we are believers.

(a) It strengthens justifying faith like a pillar (Romans 8:34). Indeed that verse mentions four pillars of justifying faith: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and intercession.

(b) It is evidence that Christ will finish the work of your salvation and lead you within the borders of eternity. Christ will save to the utmost all that come to Him through faith.

(c) It persuades Christians of Christ’s infinite love towards them.

(d) It is an excellent encouragement to go to the Father and pray to Him. It greatly helps the duty of prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

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

False news travels six times faster than the truth according to a new scientific study. It’s 70% more likely to be retweeted. The study analyses 126,000 false stories tweeted by roughly three million people more than 4.5 million times. We’re aware of fake news and robots that generate it online. It seems that the robots are not responsible for the speed at which fake news travels – we are. What is it in human nature that is drawn to sharing falsehood?

It should be of great concern to us. The author of the study, Professor Aral makes a striking comment. “Some notion of truth is central to the proper functioning of nearly every realm of human endeavor. If we allow the world to be consumed by falsity, we are inviting catastrophe”. Of course the trend of post-modern thought has been to claim that truth is relative, not absolute. This undermines a concern for truth, even the facts because it is claimed that such truth claims are an exercise of power and privilege.

A biblical perspective gives us, however, a clear basis for distinguishing truth and lies. The study laments the effects of fake news: “False news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections”. While these are important, it is also a matter of moral and eternal significance. The concern about the speed at which lies travel is of course not new.

If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old Proverb, ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.’ (C H Spurgeon)

It is not a unique feature of social media; we have the same tendency to want to share certain news more than others. Apparently false stories have greater novelty and produce greater surprise and disgust. It is just as true when we get news by word of mouth, text or email. These driving forces make people spring to a quick judgment about what they have heard and often want to share it. David, for instance was too hasty in accepting Ziba’s lie about Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 16). There may be many “spiritual” factors that cloud our judgment and make us rush to characterise another believer and their words or actions.

There are many reasons why this may be so. Fundamentally the problem is not so much with the mouth as with the heart. The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Matthew 12:34). The following are some of the ways we rush to judgment in heart as outlined by James Durham. It comes from his exposition of the ninth commandment which forbids false witness. They are some of the reasons as to why lies travel faster than the truth.

 

1. Rushing into Suspicious Judgment

Suspecting others unjustly is called “evil surmising” in 1 Timothy 6:4 or as it is in the original Greek “evil suspicion”. This is when people are suspected of some evil without grounds for it, as Potiphar suspected Joseph. It is jealousy when this suspicion is mixed with fear of something that we love or value being endangered. Thus Herod was jealous when Christ was born, as were the neighbouring kings when Jerusalem was being built. There is, I grant, a right suspicion; e.g. that which Solomon had concerning Adonijah (1 Kings 1 and 2). Yet Gedaliah failed, in not crediting Johannans information anent Ishmael’s conspiracy against his life (Jeremiah 40).

 

2. Rushing into Unjust Judgment

We may be guilty of rash judging and concluding unjustly concerning someone’s state. This was what Job’s friends did. We may judge unjustly of someone’s actions, as Eli did with Hannah in saying that she was drunk, because of her lips moving. We may judge unjustly of someone’s objectives. The Corinthians did this with Paul when he took wages; they said it was covetousness. When he did not take wages from them they said it was lack of love (see Romans 14:4 and 2 Corinthians 11:41 following).

 

3. Rushing into Hasty Judgment

By hasty judging we pass a verdict too soon in our mind from some apparent evidence. We might draw conclusions about what we assume to be in the heart though it is not in the outward behaviour. This is merely to judge hastily and before the time (Matthew 7:1).

 

4. Rushing into Judgment on Weak Grounds

There is light judging, basing our conclusions on arguments or other means that will not support them. The Barbarians suspected Paul to be a murderer when they saw the viper on his hand (Acts 25:4). King Ahasuerus trusted Haman’s slander concerning the Jews too quickly.

 

5. Rushing into Presumptuous Judgment

The ninth commandment may be broken in our hearts when we are constantly suspicious of our neighbour failing. We act contrary to Matthew 18:15 when we are not willing to be satisfied but rather base our judgment on what we presume to be probable.

 

Conclusion

We ought to be thankful that there is mercy for such sins of the heart that rise all too easily. How much we need truth and a love of the truth in the inward part. There is grace for this from the One who is full of grace and truth. Durham also observes that the ninth commandment requires us to preserve and promote the truth. It advances honest, simple and straightforward attitudes and behaviour among people. We should have a sincere and cordial loving regard to the repute and good name of one another. We ought to take delight and joyful satisfaction in this as well as having a suitable love to and care for our own good name. These principles will restrain the rapid judgment that is ready to accept a false report concerning someone else whether they are in the public eye or in our circle of acquaintance.

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Forgiveness Does Not Trivialise Sin

Forgiveness Does Not Trivialise Sin

Forgiveness Does Not Trivialise Sin
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
9 Feb, 2018

Rachael Denhollander’s courageous courtroom statement needs to go on reverberating. It was heart-wrenching and harrowing yet God-glorifying. It was a testimony to God’s justice and grace in the face of horrifying evil. A paedophile and predator was forced to hear something of the destruction wreaked by his actions. This young woman went further and spoke of the eternal realities that lay behind all that was brought out in that Michigan courtroom. Her trust in God meant that she could speak of justice and absolute distinctions of good and evil. She could also speak of grace and forgiveness without in any way trivialising what sin is and what it deserves.

She spoke to the judge of the need for the courtroom to hear a sentence that would “the greatest measure of justice available.” Yet she also spoke of “final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you…Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.”

“I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me…though I extend that to you as well.”

 

Justice and Forgiveness

Rachael’s subsequent interview with Christianity Today also needs to reverberate. She makes it clear that justice must never be minimised in emphasising forgiveness. “I have found it very interesting, to be honest, that every single Christian publication or speaker that has mentioned my statement has only ever focused on the aspect of forgiveness. Very few, if any of them, have recognized what else came with that statement, which was a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice. Both of those are biblical concepts. Both of those represent Christ. We do not do well when we focus on only one of them.” She points out disturbingly that the Church in her experience does not handle cases of abuse at all well.

 

Repentance and Forgiveness

Rachael makes it clear that repentance is not a mere sorry but “a full and complete acknowledgment of the depravity of what someone has done in comparison with God’s holy standard. And I do believe that entails an acknowledgment of that, and a going in the opposite direction. It means you have repented to those you have harmed and seek to restore those you have hurt”. She explains what she meant by the call to repentance in her courtroom statement:

It means that I trust in God’s justice and I release bitterness and anger and a desire for personal vengeance. It does not mean that I minimize or mitigate or excuse what he has done. It does not mean that I pursue justice on earth any less zealously. It simply means that I release personal vengeance against him, and I trust God’s justice, whether he chooses to mete that out purely, eternally, or both in heaven and on earth.

What does it mean to forgive others? When Christ teaches us to pray “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12) it includes these elements of repentance and forgiveness. As we have a proper sense of what it means to be forgiven we will be those who are ready to forgive. David Dickson briefly but helpfully draws out some of these points.

 

1. Christians Need Repentance

None of Christ’s disciples are so fully sanctified in this life that sin will not be found in them. We are under a necessity to acknowledge our sins.

 

2. Christians Need Daily Repentance

That every day in many things we all offend and must confess not only sin but sins.

 

3. Christians Need Daily Forgiveness Even Though They are Forgiven

Although we may have a right to forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, yet we must seek to apply this right to our daily faults. We must beg the use of this right in seeking forgiveness.

 

4. Christians Know that Sin Deserves to be Punished

Our sins deserve due punishment (indeed death is what sin naturally deserves) and this makes us liable us to the penalty. This is why sins are called debts here.

 

5. Christians Know that Forgiveness Removes Punishment

When sin is forgiven, the avenging punishment is also forgiven. This is part of the meaning of what we are directed to say “forgive us our debts and forgive us our sins”. Sin cannot be forgiven and avenging punishment retained at the same time. Both the guilt and this sort of punishment are forgiven and taken away together.

 

6. Christians Must Not Trivialise Wrongs Done by Others

Wrongs done to us by others oblige those who have injured us to repair the wrong. Such wrongs make them not only debtors to God but also to us. Therefore our Lord calls such as have done wrong to us “our debtors”.

 

7. Christians are Not Wrong to Seek Justice in the Right Way

Public considerations may move us to seek redress wrongs by means of justice. We must not only, however, renounce private revenge for wrongs done to us but also forgive them, especially when the offender calls for it from us. Christ presupposes that those who seek forgiveness from God also themselves give forgiveness to others.

 

8. Christians Forgive as Well as Being Forgiven

When we forgive men their wrongs done against us it is an argument to persuade us of forgiveness from God for our own wrongs. Christ wills those who say “forgive us our trespasses” to say also “as we forgive those that trespass against us”.

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