Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
1 Sep, 2020

Concise wisdom can be an invaluable guide for Christian living and experience. We can return to it regularly. Sometimes the counsel offered can be general and contain broad principles to apply. Other times it’s helpful to have some specific directions about common situations that we may experience and encounter. It can be helpful to draw from advice given by various writers and learn from their own experience.

This advice is an updated extract taken from some counsel written to a lady by William Traill of Borthwick. There is no clear order to the advice and no doubt much of it is related to the individual addressed particularly.

1. Advice About Soul Trouble

As to your frame of mind. Labour to escape from soul trouble, not so much because it is terrible as because it is sinful. Seek to have the heart established by grace and to maintain an equal, constant frame of mind, that you may not be soon cast down and frightened by an unexpected affliction, nor be suddenly puffed up by unlooked-for success.

2. Advice About Conversation

Guard against all anger, and speaking hastily and unadvisedly. Think for a while on the thing that vexes you before you utter your mind upon it. When you do speak, do not say everything you think (Proverbs 29:11). Be sure not to make the worst of a matter, this only inflames the heart (Proverbs 16:23).

3. Advice About Providence

Put a hopeful construction upon those providences that appear to be sad, dark, and threatening, and do not suspect the kindness of God when cross dispensations occur. Believe that Christ has “done all things well,” and “that all things work together for good to them that love” him. Remember that “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his counsel and his testimonies.” (Mark 7:37; Romans 8:28; Psalm 25:10).

4. Advice About Following Christ

Follow Christ, by taking up the cross that he has appointed for you, and by faith lean upon him for strength and succour, to bear you up under its burden from day to day.

5. Advice About Warring Against Sin

Observe your daily deficiencies and short-comings and press forward so that you may know more of the spirit, life, and power of every duty.

Keep constant watch against your easily besetting sins, and take heed that, by a sudden surprise attack, they do not prevail against you.

6. Advice About Self-Examination

Often, with all solemnity, put your heart into your hand, and pray that God will not permit you to deceive yourself, nor provoke Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). And when you seek to try the sincerity of your faith, love, and other graces, remember to distinguish between the marks of strong faith and of true faith (however weak).

If in self-examination your mind is dark and your decision difficult, do not lose time by trying to settle the truth and sincerity of your experience in former times, but exercise faith in Christ Jesus directly: choosing Him, and depending upon Him as a full, sufficient, and only Saviour for poor lost sinners. Seek to realise anew your own sinfulness and misery, and with a humbled and penitent heart cast yourself again at His feet.

Remember your dependence on the Holy Spirit, and seek “a supply of the spirit of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:19) to work fresh and large revelations of sanctifying and saving grace, and to refresh your soul amidst all the labours and sorrows of this militant state.

In particular, enquire:

  • whether you are not tempted to unbelief and calling in question almost every truth
  • whether you are not sinfully jealous about whether the love of God is shown to your soul after multiplied evidence of His care
  • whether affected diffidence, impatient haste, rash and uncharitable censures of others are found in your heart
  • whether you regard the proper season for every duty and daily labour to “redeem the time”
  • whether in circumstances of difficulty you ask yourself “what would my Lord and Saviour have done in this situation?”
  • whether you keep in mind His own blessed rule to do to others what we would have them do to us.

7. Advice About Eternity

Learn to remember your latter end, “to die daily”. Venture on nothing but what appears to be your duty, both lawful and timely, and such as you would venture on, if you had only a day to live.

If you would like to read the full originally published guidance, click here. For more about William Traill listen to this episode.

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How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt

How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt

How God Answers Spiritual Self-Doubt
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
27 Aug, 2020

Our culture promotes the idea that self-worth and self-belief are essential and that we need to overcome the self-doubt that holds us back. The idea is that we simply ignore what self-doubt tells us, develop self-belief and draw on our personal resources. But the gospel gives us a realistic understanding of ourselves and that we cannot depend on our own resources. Yet it offers to us the greater, inexhaustible resources of Christ. Spiritually, there may be much self-doubt and it can be hard to see it as a bad thing. After all, we cannot depend on ourselves and we are not in doubt about God and grace. But these things are not so easily separated because when we are dealing with self-doubt concerning the work of God within us. Sometimes we can be discouraged with a deep sense of our weakness and doubt whether we have grace at all. This kind of self-doubt can be very hard to overcome. We need to hear God’s covenant promises speaking into such a condition.

We should be careful of mistaking weak grace for no grace. There is a world of difference. William Gurnall in The Christian in Complete Armour says that even if you have the very least grace that any ever had to begin with you have something of infinite value. God has done more in putting that grace within than in giving perfect grace to believers who are now in heaven… “There is a greater gulf between no grace and grace, than between weak grace and strong; between a chaos and nothing, than between a chaos and this beautiful frame of heaven and earth.”

William Guthrie patiently applies the covenant promises of Hebrews 8:10-12 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 to twenty-seven different doubts and fears. He represents God as doing this directly with the individual through the words of Scripture in the following dialogue. God makes a covenant with rich promises. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people…they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. He shows how these promises are to be embraced and depended on by faith alone, discarding all trust in our own resources. In this updated extract from an unpublished sermon, we find numerous doubts and objections graciously disarmed and laid aside, one by one.

1. How can I have mercy when I am an enemy to God by nature and the thoughts of my heart are only evil and wicked continually?

Answer. The Lord says, “I will make a new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31) with you. Hold your peace; do not let that thought about being an enemy to me trouble you seeing that I purpose to bind a bond of friendship with you in my Son Christ.

2. Although God would make a thousand covenants with me, yet I am unable to keep (or fulfil) any condition the Covenant requires. But what conditions can I a sinful creature fulfil towards the Lord who is holy?

Answer. “I will make a new covenant” in which I promise to fulfil all that I require of you. I will put in you a new mind and a new heart (Hebrews 8:10), and I will bind my Son as surety that I will do this.

3. But how can I know I if I am one of those with whom God will enter into covenant? I know there is a people in covenant with God, but I doubt if I am one of them.

Answer. I will make the covenant “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:11), or, in other words, with the visible Church consisting of Jews and Gentiles (the partition wall being now taken away). Now you have been born into the Church and baptised, and so are already within the outward scope of this covenant.

4. I know that the Church is called the Israel of God. But what God promises is to the sincere and upright Israelite. I fear that I am only an Israelite outwardly in the letter and not in the spirit. There is nothing in me except what is to be found in all professing Christians who have merely been baptised.

Answer. My covenant shall be with those who have nothing of my law written in their inward parts. If you lack my law in your heart, I will put it there (Jeremiah 31:33). I will make you an Israelite, in whom there is no guile (John 1:47), and whose praise is not of men but of God (Romans 2:29).

5. Although God would put his law in my heart, yet I am blind and incapable of apprehending spiritual mysteries. No matter how long they were taught and explained to me, yet I would remain ignorant of them.

Answer. I will put my law in your inward parts (Jeremiah 31:33), as the apostle expounds it, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10).

6. But I find after everything only weak desires of knowledge in my mind. My love to God is very cold. My hatred of sin is very little or nothing. My heart is not affected towards heavenly things but is occupied with vain and sinful things. It is sometimes set on the world, and sometimes on my lusts and pleasures and those ways that lead to destruction and perdition.

Answer. I will put my laws in your mind and write it in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). If your heart is wicked, you will have a new heart. Your lawless heart will yield to the law, for you will have a loving heart, and love is the fulfilling of the law. Your blind mind and stony heart will be taken away, and a single and sincere heart will be given to you.

7. My heart is averse to God and godliness and inclined to all evil. If any godly motive arises in my heart, it does not abide. It is as though written on water, or on sand that is blown away with the wind. It is as the morning cloud, or as the early dew which soon vanishes away. (Hosea 13:3).

Answer. I will write my law in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). A written testimony is constant and enduring. As the law written in a book remains, so also when it is written in a renewed man’s heart.

8. But my heart is harder than the millstone, harder than the adamant so that the Word preached does not move me.

Answer. I will write my law in it (Hebrews 8:1). I will make it like a polished and prepared writing tablet so that the fingers of the Lord will make deep letters in it. Although it may not appear like this to you, yet love and obedience to the law will be seen by others. Sin, bit by bit, will be rubbed out and disappear, and the law of the Lord more and more clearly read.

9. These promises are to the believer and those who have new obedience begun in them. But I find little faith, repentance, or obedience in me. Indeed, I often doubt if any of those things are in me.

Answer. I will put my law in your mind and write it in your heart (Hebrews 8:10). Now, what is faith but receiving of the law into your mind and heart? If then, you are pleased to covenant with God and will say so, you will answer to Him that it is the chief desire of your heart to be reconciled, then be sure He will give you faith and repentance.

10. If I take hold of these promises, I know that I will be exposed to a thousand dangers because of many temptations.

Answer. “I will be their God” (Jeremiah 31:33). Now, if God is yours, what do you lack? Should this promise not satisfy your trembling heart? As long as God endures, you will endure and enjoy all that He is to his own.

11. I have no reason to doubt that God will do all that He says of Himself. My only doubt is that I will not get my part done to Him in an acceptable way and manner.

Answer. “They shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33), i.e., I will make you one of my people when I consecrate you to serve me and to be a diligent subject and careful honourer of me.

12. Although I were among God’s people, I would slip out again. I am afraid that I would not persevere, and so the bond would not continue.

Answer. You “shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33), i.e., you will remain my people, my special people, and none will be able to pluck you out of my hand. (John 10:29)

13. I wonder how this can be, how God can promise so much to me? I am so unworthy and have so many disqualifications and cannot give him a good reception. Will a king covenant with a beggar or draw up a contract with a poor, unprofitable person? Far less can God covenant with me.

Answer. “I will be their God,” (Jeremiah 31:33) i.e., of my own accord I am pleased to be so. It is not a covenant of works but a covenant of grace that I make, and it is made with the unworthy. If they were worthy I would bid them obey my law perfectly in their own strength; but now, although they are unworthy, yet I am pleased to be their God. And what have you to say against this which is my purpose and my pleasure?

14. What if a change of religion should come, heresy arises, and teachers from whom we have received the truth swerve and fail or fall away? What if teachers change their theme, and take out of our hands what once they have taught us? I even fear that I myself may become an apostate.

Answer. “They shall not teach… ” (Hebrews 8:11). If any teacher does not teach so, you will not be taught by him, but I will teach you myself. You will learn to lean on me and not on them. Although their teachers may be learned men and of great repute, yet (if they do not teach so) you will not acknowledge them. Although they are in the Church, they are not of the Church, they are apostates. But as for you, I promise to teach you myself, and you will receive no man’s doctrine except what I have delivered by the mouths of my prophets and apostles.

15. What if all true teachers were to be driven away by persecution. It would then be with me as in the days of the prophet Amos (8:13) when they wandered from sea to sea to seek the word of the Lord and did not find it? What if we are so dispersed by persecution so that we cannot meet together, and even the Bible taken out of our hands so that we cannot even read it?

Answer. “They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45). If I take away the means I will supply the lack of them myself. I will be a little sanctuary to you (see Ezekiel 11:16).

16. “I am only young,” says one. “I am unlearned,” says another. “I am a weak helpless woman,” says another, “and they may make me believe anything they please”. “I am poor,” says another, “and do not have the means that others have to obtain knowledge.”

Answer. “All shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11). It is the duty of all to learn to read; but, although you are unlearned, here is a promise that God will teach you as much of Himself as will save your soul.

17. I cannot attain to the knowledge which others possess, neither have I capacity to take in matters of so much consequence as are set down in Scripture.

Answer. “All shall know me,” that is, all shall come to the saving knowledge of the Lord Himself, your teacher and friend. Although your calling may be such as to make the attainment of learning impossible, although your capacity may be weak, and you lack means to receive instruction, although there are many things, of which you will still remain ignorant, you will know Him whom to know is eternal life.

18. But, when I consider my natural disposition, I fear that, although I were even now pardoned and cleansed, I would immediately defile myself again.

Answer. I will be merciful to your unrighteousness. (Hebrews 8:12). What else do you wish but mercy? If your nature is rebellious, know that the Maker and Surety of the Covenant is also your Advocate (1 John 2:1).

19. I would trust for grace not to sin wilfully for the time to come, but when I think of my past sins I am afraid and know not what to answer.

Answer. Your “sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12)

20. These things are all good. If I could be sure that they would be made good to me I would be joyful in spirit.

Answer. Four or five times “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts” is repeated in this Covenant. As if He had said, “I the Lord of hosts am Surety that whatever is promised will be fulfilled”. God’s curse on everyone who does not continue in doing the things of the law (Galatians 3:10) makes you afraid and disturbs your peace. Why does His saying in the gospel not restore your peace again, seeing you have His Word in the one case as well as in the other?

21. If I could remember that sweet promise I would be rich, for it satisfies me now. I can say nothing against it; but, when my adversaries assault me, I am afraid I will forget again.

Answer. The sun and moon, heaven and earth, are witnesses of the Covenant, and they shall never depart out of your sight. But, even, if you were blind, the earth under your feet would remind you of it, for this Covenant is as securely established as the earth.

22. But I am so changeable, I never remain one day in one condition. What if the Lord calls me away when I am in the worse case? How can I have any steadfastness?

Answer. The day and the night have their changes but not the ordinance of the day and of the night (Jeremiah 33:25). It is an article of the Covenant that the ordinance should remain sure. So, although you are changeable yet the Covenant made with you will not change, for the Covenant is not of you but of God. He says, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).

23. I am like Peter when he was ready to sink in the Sea of Galilee. Everything seems to terrify me. There are fightings within and fears without, and I have little or no steadfastness.

Answer. The Lord stills the sea when the waves arise. Can he not quiet the tempest of the heart?

24. How is it possible for a saving work to go on steadfastly in the heart of one so unworthy and so fickle?

Answer. The Lord gives the sun for a light by day and has made all things out of nothing. He can as easily complete the work of your salvation. Is anything too hard for the Lord?

25. But I see the whole Church of God is harassed, what then can I expect who am but one? When the ship wherein I sail is ready to perish what shall become of me?

Answer. “The seed of Israel shall not cease being a nation before me for ever” (Jeremiah 31:36). Sun and moon, heaven and earth, shall all soon perish, but the Lord will reserve a people to himself.

26. There are so many against the Church and so few on her side. The King of Babylon has a hundred provinces, and how shall Judah and Benjamin, a parcel of poor, naked captives, deliver themselves? The king who should be a defender of the faith is its persecutor.

Answer. The height of the heavens and the depth of the earth is also unsearchable to you, but not to God. Leave the fulfilment of what He has promised to God Himself, and He will find a way for it. Is His hand shortened that He cannot save, or has He no power to redeem?

27. Well, then, I see by all these promises I will have an easy life. I may be secure and indifferent. It may encourage sin in me to tell me of a Covenant by which any person that pleases may be saved.

Answer. There is nothing so good but men may abuse it. Grace is grace, although some may turn it into licence. This Covenant is made with the true Israel of God. If any, then, will abuse this doctrine let them answer for it. If they will draw near to the devil because God has drawn so near to them, or be more wicked because God has been so good, let them see to it. If any will be more licentious because God is ready to forgive, and allow that which should be an anchor of the soul to draw them away from God, let them know that their punishment will be all the more dreadful at the last.

It is a sure token of a damned soul when it grows the more wicked the more it hears of grace. But the more the sons of Jacob hear of grace, the more they will wrestle for it. The more loving and gracious a father is to his children, the more ready they will be to obey him. But if a child is more rebellious because the father is good, he deserves to be put out of the door. If you are a good child, you will out of love pursue after God when he pursues after you with kindness. But if you will abuse this doctrine against God and your own soul, and will harden your heart because God has spoken good things to you, you will draw swift destruction on yourself.

And now if anyone says, “let the minister preach as he pleases, and we will do as we please”, I have only to say that the benefit of our preaching is to another and not to him, and that the more he hears of such preaching the worse it will be for himself. Let him, however, rather recall his words and return now to God. For it is God Himself who says, “Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 55:3).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

William Guthrie wrote a famous book to help doubting and seeking souls. It describes in a clear and attractive style what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. This book is all about Christ and how we must embrace Him by faith on the basis of the promises in the Word. 

In the first part, he looks at how someone is drawn to Christ, what the evidences are of true saving grace, and the difference between a true Christian and a hypocrite. In the second part he describes how to ‘close’ with Christ, and deals with various objections, difficulties, and doubts.

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Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?

Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?

Why is There No Constant Fellowship With God in This Life?
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."
21 Aug, 2020

Many things can intrude to interrupt fellowship with God. This is not so much the necessary aspects of this life that we cannot avoid. One great test is whether our thoughts return to God as soon as we are free from such absorbing activities. Whatever distracts and prevents us from experiencing true fellowship with God must cause us sorrow. Such fellowship is indeed what we were made for. Fellowship or communion with God arises from spiritual union with Christ. Without that as the foundation there can never of course be any true fellowship with God. True fellowship is the very purpose of union with Christ. That union can never be broken or hindered but our communion with Christ can be affected. There is no ebb and flow in union with Christ but there may be in our communion with Him. The fact that it will always be imperfect in an imperfect world should not discourage us from seeking closer fellowship but rather stir us up. There is in fact far more to this question than merely our own failure to maintain fellowship with God.

Andrew Gray died at the young age of 23 after a very brief ministry. Despite his youth he had an extraordinary spiritual maturity and understanding of Christian experience. This is how he defines fellowship with God:

“Communion with God is the soul of Christ dwelling in the soul of a Christian by faith, and the soul of a Christian dwelling in the soul of Christ by love”

Gray also says much about why there is not constant fellowship with God in this life. Never-interrupted fellowship and communion with God is a fruit of the land above. There is no constancy in our fellowship with God while we are here below, because of the corruption within us. Cast your eyes up to heaven and long for the day when these shadows will be over. You will then enjoy perfect and full communion with God (Isaiah 30:26). There are various reasons why fellowship with God is interrupted in this life. The following is an updated extract of Andrew Gray’s answers to the question: Why is there no constant fellowship with God in this life? 

1. To Make Us Long for Eternity

His people may be stirred up to long for that endless and blessed life. Then time will be swallowed up by eternity and our corruption will put on incorruption, and this vile body of ours will be raised a glorious body. Then eternity will be spent without one moment of interruption. Comfort yourselves in the hope and expectation of the approach of that blessed day, when you will enjoy complete and full communion and fellowship with God. You will be admitted to eat of the apples of the tree of life that grows in the midst of the paradise of God, of which, once you eat, certainly you will never hunger any more. If we did enjoy one moment of real fellowship and communion with God, surely we should be ready to cry out, “It is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles” (Luke 9:33). Did you ever enjoy fellowship with God so much that you were constrained to long for the day when you will enjoy full fellowship with Him without any interruption? But Christ draws a veil to cover His own face, so that we cannot enjoy Him fully so that we may long for the day when we will see Him as He is, without any veil.

2. To Stir Up Grace Within Us

There is a second reason why God orders it so that the Christian does not have constant fellowship with God here. Some graces in the Christian appear most eminently when they are under such a condition of not knowing where to find Christ. These graces are the grace of faith, the grace of patience, and the grace of love. These three graces would not appear so well if it were not so. We say that stars appear most in darkness. So these graces appear most when the soul is feels the lack of Christ’s presence, not knowing where to find Christ. In this situation, faith is put into activity. It appears most when it lacks light. The graces of patience and love are also put into activity, and shine most brightly in such a sad experience.

3. To Make Us Value Fellowship with God

God orders it in this way so that we may value and esteem communion with Him more highly. The beloved withdrew Himself from the bride so that
she would learn to place a greater value on His presence (Song 5:6).

4. To SHOW that Fellowship is By Free Grace Alone

We must be strongly convinced that is only His free grace toward us that bestows these things on us. Strive more to know that all you receive is from His free love, not for any merit and deserving in us. We have nothing to commend ourselves of but infirmities, but be assured that He with whom we have to do is God, not man.

5. To Show that Nothing in This Life Can Replace Fellowship with God

Everything here below (even the graces of the Spirit) is not sufficient to satisfy the Christian when Christ is away. The bride had the graces of love, faith, seeking, and patience, and much of the grace of hope; yet, there is a He whom she misses (Song 3:1).

Many may sit down in shame and cover their faces, because they do not see the insufficiency of the things of this present world. They are not much in pursuit after Jesus Christ. Most of our pursuit is only after the things of this present life. They do not know what it is to miss Christ, because they never knew what it was to have His presence.

But seeing much of the excellence that is in Jesus Christ makes Christians undervalue all earthly things and all things other than Christ. The excellence that is in Christ Jesus makes the Christian not rest on the graces of the Spirit (though they put a high estimation on them) until they obtain Christ. All our desires ought to be set on He who is uncreated, not on created things. This is clear in Mary’s practice. There is a Him whom she misses and was pursuing after: “they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him” (John 20:13). Oh, what will satisfy a Christian’s love, if it is real in his heart? Nothing will satisfy but Jesus Christ, who is the desire of nations, and the bright and morning star.

6. To Show Us Those Who Truly Seek Christ

The evidence of real seeker of God is seen in their feelings when they miss Christ’s fellowship and company. A real seeker of God can give a direct account of Christ’s comings and goings. They can distinguish well between His absence and presence.

7. To Show Us the Perfections of Christ

If we undervalue enjoying Christ it is because we lack faith in the precious, endless and unsearchable perfections that found in Christ. If you knew how glorious how beautiful He is surely you would fall in love with Him and esteem fellowship with Christ more highly. He is lovely and desirable object, altogether lovely and all true spiritual desires are in Him (Song 5:16). Angels and men could not describe such a glorious One but we must lament that He is unknown to many of us. One reason why many have sought and yet have not been heard is because they undervalued the precious manifestations of His grace towards them.

8. To Show Us that God is Sovereign

A Christian may seek things from God and yet not get an answer to their prayers. We will not give the reasons why it is so; we only say that God is wise and righteous in all His doings and knows the reasons for His actions. We conclude that He does all things well (Mark 7:37). Surely, when we will be about to pass over the lintels of the doors of everlasting eternity, when we will be standing on the farthest line of time, ready to step into eternity, we will be constrained to leave on record that He does all things well. We will then be deeply convinced of the fact that He has done all things well.

“All imaginable delight is…to enjoy God. All misery is…to be separated from God” – Andrew Gray

CONCLUSION

John Owen stresses that fellowship with God involves receiving His grace in His appointed ways and giving to God what He requires.

Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him

We can and must cultivate fellowship with Christ. We can grow and deepen in that relationship despite the fact that the blessedness is interrupted in this life. We meet with Him in the Word and prayer and seek to please Him in all things.  Any relationship requires commitment and effort, how much more the most important of them all?

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Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture

Engaging Afresh with Scripture
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.
31 Jul, 2020

Covid-19 has disrupted everything, including (for some people) their engagement with Scripture. According to a recent study in the USA, the first half of 2020 witnessed a fall in Scripture engagement. The largest changes were in the groups classified as “Bible Centered” and “Bible Engaged”. Another new poll indicated that many found it challenging to understand the Scriptures on their own. Whether or not these surveys indicate a widespread reality we must acknowledge that we need constant help to engage with Scripture. This is not merely a matter of discovering a new method, technique or tool. One of the reflections on the survey results is that Christians need to be reminded about why they need to regularly engage with the Bible. But it may be that this should include a reset in the attitudes we bring to Scripture and how we approach it.

The Larger Catechism gives some clear biblical guidance about the right way to approach Scripture in reading it. It shows how to read it so that we may understand it and get the most spiritual benefit. This article summarises and abridges the comments by Thomas Ridgeley and J G Vos on the following question in the Larger Catechism.

Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read?
A. The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God; and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey, the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

1. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE CHARACTER OF SCRIPTURE

We must read the scriptures with a high and reverent esteem of them and a firm persuasion that they are the Word of God. (Psalm 19:10; Nehemiah 8:3-10; Exodus 24:7; 2 Chronicles 34:27; Isaiah 66:2).

As we read Scripture, we see the glory of the perfection of God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and goodness. Its unerring wisdom and infallible truth bring its own authority. We ought to approach Scripture with a different attitude to any other book. Scripture is the only source of saving truth; it reveals sin and the only way of obtaining forgiveness. Other books may draw from its teaching, but the Bible alone is the standard by which all other books are to be judged. It completely equips us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Those who speak of Scripture in the page of the Bible itself do so with a high and reverent esteem of it (Psalm 119:97; Psalm 19:16). We must read the Scriptures with a firm faith that they are the very Word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).

2. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE

We must, in reading the word of God, be conscious that God alone can enable us to understand it (Luke 24:45; 2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

We will get no benefit from reading the Scriptures without understanding them. But we need divine help for this because our understanding is darkened and clouded by sin by nature (Romans 1:21, 28; 1 Corinthians 2:14). The Holy Spirit must enlighten our understanding at the new birth. Yet we also need His work of opening and illuminating our minds to understand the Bible (Luke 24:45). All spiritual wisdom comes from God and therefore we are dependent on Him in this also (Ephesians 1:18). We need His blessing to open the wonders of the Word in all their beauty and glory to us (Psalm 119:18). We may have the highest intellect and powers of reason but still be strangers to the mind of God in His Word.

3. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WILL IN SCRIPTURE

We must read the Word of God with a real desire to know, believe, and obey His will contained in it (Deuteronomy 17:19-20).

If we do not read the Bible with the right motive of submission to God’s will, we will find fault with it and be ready to cast aside what it teaches if it does not suit us. Approaching it merely as literature or history fails to handle it as it is meant to be handled. It must first serve a practical purpose, we must apply it to ourselves personally in relation to our own soul. We must read the word of God with a desire to have our faith established and any doubts about its truths removed. We ought to desire, not only to believe but also give constant and cheerful obedience to everything that God requires of us in it.

4. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DILIGENTLY

We must be diligent in reading the Word of God (Acts 17:11).

The Bible is extensive and contains many things that need careful study. If we do not give ourselves to it, we will not have an adequate understanding of it. Anything worthwhile demands constant effort. We are meant to progress from milk to strong meat and not remain children in our understanding (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:14).

5. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD CAREFULLY

We must give attention to the matter and scope of the Scriptures in reading them (Acts 8:30,34; Luke 10:26-28).

We must read the matter or content of Scripture carefully, noting important things such as who it is that is speaking, the occasion and circumstances. The context must be respected so that we note how the words relate to and connect with statements before and after and the chapter as a whole. We must also consider the overall scope or purpose of what is written in terms of the purpose of a book of the Bible as a whole and goal of the whole Scriptures themselves.

We must not remove verses from their context, or we will not understand their true import. When we read “there is no God” in a verse we must note that the speaker is “the fool” (Psalm 53:1). We must also note that the verse goes on to say that those who say such things in their heart are declared to be “corrupt” and to “have done abominable iniquity”. Similarly, we read that a man will give all he has for his life (Job 2:4). Quoted out of its context it would be very misleading but when we realise that Satan, the father of lies has said it we can discern its true import.

6. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD DEEPLY

Our reading of the Word of God ought to be accompanied with meditation (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119:97).

Meditation means thinking carefully, seriously and deeply for a time. It is a focussed effort and application to the words of Scripture. It is necessary because we cannot expect to gain the real riches of the truth of Scripture by a hasty skimming of its surface. It is true in Bible study as in all other fields that serious thinking requires time. The Bible is not a modern supermarket with its wares all packaged and arranged on shelves ready to be checked out with the least possible effort. The Bible is a gold mine that has to be methodically and patiently worked if we are to gain possession of its treasures. The haste and complexity of modern life, with its many activities which make demands on people’s time, have resulted in many Christians who have only an elementary and superficial knowledge of the Bible, and who live from one year to the next with virtually no increase in their understanding of Bible truth. There is no shortcut to success in Bible study: meditation is needed, and that takes time.

Our thoughts should be wholly taken up with its subject-matter; we ought to apply the greatest intense earnestness in seeking to know things that are of the highest importance. As we do so our profiting from this will appear to ourselves and others (1 Timothy 4:15). Meditation is not considering Scripture with a coldly intellectual approach, rather it is a spiritual prayerful activity that engages fully with its truth so that it warms our affections and hearts. For more on this see
Opening the Door from Our Head to Our Hearts  and You Are What You Digest (Spiritually). 

7. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PERSONALLY

We must read the Word with application, applying it to our own selves by seeking to discern its bearing on our own lives and needs (2 Chronicles 34:21).

The Bible is not a merely theoretical or abstract message, but a personal message suited to the needs of those who read it. A person might study geometry or astronomy out of sheer intellectual interest and curiosity, without any intention to make any practical application of these sciences to his own life. But to study the Bible in such a way would be to miss the real meaning and importance of the Bible. Unless we apply its teachings to ourselves personally, our Bible study not only will do us no good but will actually add to our guilt at the Judgment Day.

8. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD SUBMISSIVELY

We must read the Word with self-denial. This means being willing to give up our own opinions, preferences and prejudices and to accept and obey the will of God instead of our own ideas (Proverbs 3:5; Deuteronomy 33:3).

We must deny ourselves by giving up our own opinions, preferences and special ideas and to accept and accept the teaching of the Word of God as our standard for faith and life. We are to accept all the teaching of the Bible not merely those which commend themselves to us as reasonable, desirable, or helpful. We are to deny ourselves by surrendering our own reason as our supreme standard of truth and become as little children, accepting God’s Word on God’s authority. All the contrary reasonings our carnal minds are prone to suggest against the subject-matter of divine revelation are to be laid aside. If we are resolved to believe nothing but what we can comprehend, we ought to consider that the gospel contains unsearchable mysteries, that surpass finite wisdom. We must, therefore, be content to acknowledge that we know but in part.

We must pay deference to the wisdom of God that eminently appears in everything He has revealed to us in His Word. We must adore the divine perfections displayed in it and maintain a humble sense of the imperfection of our own knowledge. It is not that reason is useless in studying Scripture rather we must desire that it may be sanctified and inclined to receive whatever God is pleased to impart. We are also to exercise the grace of self-denial, with respect to the obstinacy of our wills. By nature, they are not inclined to approve of and yield obedience to the law of God. We need to be entirely satisfied with everything He commands in His word, as holy, just, and good.

9. ENGAGING AFRESH WITH THE DIVINE WORD PRAYERFULLY

The word of God must be read with fervent prayer (Proverbs 2:1-6; Psalm 119:18; Nehemiah 7:6,8).

If we lack wisdom, we should pray to receive it (James 1:5). As we have seen, a real understanding of the Bible is dependent on the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit. It follows that we must pray for the continuance and increase of this illuminating work in our hearts and minds. Profiting from Scripture is the gift of God and therefore we are to humbly pray to Him for it. There are many things in His Word that are hard to understand; therefore, we ought to pray for help whenever we take the scriptures into our hands. We may humbly acknowledge the weakness and the blindness of our minds, which makes it necessary for us to desire to be instructed by Him, in the way of truth.

The Word is to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths therefore we seek His help that it may be so lest we walk in darkness. We may also plead that our Lord Jesus is revealed to His people as the prophet of His church, therefore we seek that He will lead us by His Spirit into His truth. We may also plead the impossibility of our attaining the knowledge of divine things, without His assistance.

Prayer is not a shortcut that avoids the need to study the Word diligently and carefully, it is not a substitute for that. Rather we are to pray that the Holy Spirit would bless our diligent use of the best available helps and guide us into the real truth.

CONCLUSION

We need to engage with Scripture in the right spirit with a desire to know the mind and will of God in it. Any prejudices which would hinder us from receiving any benefit from it should be discarded and we must exercise those graces that the nature and importance of the duty requires. We ought to depend upon God by faith and prayer so that we may come to know the divine truths contained in His Word.

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Overcoming Spiritual Distancing

Overcoming Spiritual Distancing

Overcoming Spiritual Distancing
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
11 Jun, 2020

Our secular age and culture require by definition that spiritual things must be kept at a distance. Religious matters are shut out of public discourse and must not influence public policy. A technological order controls our world and it has apparently eliminated any need for God. In contrast to past eras where belief in and spiritual things was natural and normal, we live in a secular age in which such belief is presented as unnatural and abnormal. Living in this atmosphere it is easy for our lives and heart to be shaped by it without realising. It is not easy to walk with God in a world that has shut Him out. In every age there is a sinful tendency in the heart to depart from the living God. How can we overcome these influences by God’s grace to draw near to Him constantly?

Psalm 73 describes someone who found it difficult to live in the light of God’s presence in the midst of those who rejected Him. They seemed to prosper by doing so. This became a real trial to the psalmist. Yet he reaches the point where, in the context of worshipping God, he can understand something of the divine purpose. Ultimately, he can say “it is good for me to draw near to God”. It is helpful to meditate on the fulness of what this means and, in the following updated extract, William Guthrie helps us to do that.

1. What is it to draw near to God?

(a) Seeking deeper peace with God

A person should make their peace with God in and through the Mediator Jesus Christ. Until that has been done, they may be said to be far from God. There is a partition-wall standing between God and them. It is the same with that advice given by Eliphaz to Job to be at peace with God (Job 22:21). Be friends with God and all will be well with you. You must come up to some measure of conformity to the blessed will of God and quit that life of estrangement from Him. If you draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8). This drawing near is explained in the words that follow in the same verse, “Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts”. Leave that filthy life of estrangement from God by being more conformed to Him and His will, as He has revealed it to you in His word.

(b) Seeking deeper fellowship with God

To draw near to God is to seek more after communion and fellowship with God, and to pursue after intimacy and familiarity with Him. It is to have more of His blessed company with us in our life and walk (Psalm 89:15). This is to walk through the day, having a good understanding between God and us; to be always near Him, keeping up communication with Him.

(c) Seeking deeper assurance

Drawing near implies confirming or making sure of our relationship to God. It assumes someone’s peace to be made with God already. The author of this psalm goes on to say, “I have put my trust in the Lord”. That is to say, I have trusted my soul to God and made my peace with Him through a Mediator. It is good whatever comes; it is always good to be near to God in that way and to be made sure in Him.

(d) Seeking deeper conformity to God

It implies to be more and more conformed to the image of God. His nearness to Him is as opposed to being far from God. “It is good,” he says, “to draw near to God in my duty when so many are far from Him.”

(e) Seeking deeper dependence on God

It implies laying aside all things in the world to seek fellowship and communion with God. It means to be more set apart for His blessed company and to walk with Him in dependence upon Him, as the great Burden-Bearer, who is to be all in all unto us. In a word, to draw near unto God is to make our peace with Him, and to secure and confirm that peace with Him. It is to seek conformity to Him and to be near to Him in our whole manner of living.

2. Why is it good to draw near to God?

It is good and advantageous to draw near to God. It is good to take good in that way. It is good concerning the blessed consequences that it brings.

(a) It is a pleasant good

Wisdom’s “ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). Although many of you think that the people of God have a sorrowful and sad life of it, this is not due to their nearness to God but because they depart out of His way, or step aside from following Him.

(b) It is an honourable good

Is it not good to be at peace, and in good terms with God? Is it not also good to be conformed to His will (the supreme rule of all righteousness) and to have intimate fellowship with Him? We would think it a very honourable thing to be in favour and on good terms with a man that ruled over all nations (assuming he was a good man). But it is quite another thing to be in favour and on good terms with He who rules over all laws and all people.

(c) It is an eternal good

It secures a man’s soul and eternal well-being. It keeps him in perfect peace. It has many experiences of God’s countenance, which is better to him than barns full of corn, or cellars full of wine and oil. God is all good. “The Lord will give grace and glory, and will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly.” Who are they? Those who are near unto God. Thus, it is a good thing to draw near unto Him. Would you be forever happy in the enjoying of that which is supremely good? Well then, draw near to God.

(d) It is the highest good

Everyone readily pursues something they think to be good. Many say, “Who will show us any good?” Most want some visible or apparent good. But this is a more sure and permanent good. Then go and acquaint yourselves. Seek to have communion with Him, to be confirmed and conformed to Him.

3. Have you drawn near to God?

(a) Have you known anything of His voice?

If you do not, you are yet far from Him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” What God speaks in this gospel is foolishness to many, but those who are His sheep know His voice, and to them, this gospel is the wisdom and power of God.

(b) Do you know His face?

Do you know anything of the difference between the smiles and frowns of God? Do you know what it is to have your hearts and souls warmed with the heat and light of His countenance? Has your soul ever been made to weep within you with His love? If not, it is a bad sign; for the people of God know His face; and whenever they hear Him named their affections go out after Him.

(c) What dealings do you have in your ordinary way and walk with God?

Do you acknowledge Him in all your ways? Do you venture on nothing without God’s counsel? Do you keep your eye on Him in your ordinary business? Do you give an account of what you have done to Him? If it is so, it is well. But if you forget God apart from a little time to pray and lose any thought you have had of Him all day long it is a bad sign that you are yet far from God.

4. Overcoming Distance from God

(a) Remove anything in the way

If you want to have your relationship to God made clear to you, draw near to Him and be resolved to do what will be well-pleasing to Him. Remove whatever stands between Him and you. When you go to prayer, or when you would lay claim to any promise; do not regard sin in your heart. Put away all idols of jealousy. Let none of them come in with you before the Lord. If you do, He will never regard your desires in prayer. This is a time in which many are careless about this.

(b) See where you should be

Strive to be convicted that you are far from God in your life and walk and from that communion with Him that you might attain to, even while here. If you were convinced of that you would think it your unquestionable duty to draw near to God in all these respects we have mentioned.
But where are that labour of love, unweariedness in duty, and readiness to suffer everything for Christ? Are not all these, in a great measure, gone? What fainting, failing, and taking fright at the cross? Where is that appetite and desire after Christ, and His righteousness, which folk pursued so vigorously before? Where is that esteem and enquiry for marks of grace in the soul? Where is longing to know your duty and submission to reproof you once had? Are you not rather afraid to hear your duty laid out before you? And where is that happiness people had in hearing the Word when they were not so skilled in evading it except what pleases their fancy? They would not allow the convictions of conscience to continue all night without mourning for it before the Lord until it was removed? Many can maintain an accusing conscience all night, and not be troubled with it? Where is that tenderness of conscience that would have made people abstain from every appearance of evil? That would have made them walk circumspectly for fear of offending and mourn for it before God? Where is that true zeal for the interest of Christ there once was? Is that not gone, and are there any rightly exercised when they see the matters of God going wrong ? You should draw near to God in all these things.

(c) Pursue nearness to God

Time was when you would not have been satisfied if God had not been drawing out your hearts after Him. But is this not almost gone? Draw near to Him and return to your old practice.

Let someone be as near unto God as he can imagine, it is still good to draw near to Him and seek nearer fellowship and more intimate acquaintance with Him. The psalmist was near, yet he seeks to be nearer to Him to have his arms full of God, so to speak. This is because the life of true religion in the world is a strong appetite and heart hungering after God. Hunger still, therefore, and seek after more from Him. You cannot keep what you have already attained unless you are still in pursuit of more. You lose what you have got, and scatter as fast as you have gathered if are not still making progress and increase. Thus, we pray “hold up my goings” (Psalm 17:15), i.e. take fast hold of me otherwise I will suddenly go wrong. You will not come to much if you do not draw nearer and nearer to God.

Where experience is real, the soul will still look for more. Strive to go forward; otherwise, you will hardly keep what you have already. Open your mouths wide, and the Lord will fill them abundantly. There are treasures of good things with Him, that you have never yet seen. There are sweet fills of love, peace, joy; perfect victory over sin; self-denial, and dying to the world, being alive to nothing but Christ, being filled with all the fullness of God. All these and much more are to be had through seeking after them.

Conclusion

These meditations should encourage us to overcome any distance that has developed between God and our souls by drawing near to Him. John Owen wrote many profound things but a very simple observation he made is that “Friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits”. “Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”

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What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?
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.
2 Apr, 2020

Recent weeks have forced us to define what is essential. What are essential grocery items? What is the “non-essential” travel and contact with others we have to avoid? Much of socio-economic life has coasted to a halt in response to the definition of essential. Countries, communities and individuals may all have different definitions of essential. “Recent events clearly demonstrate that the process of designating ‘essential services’ is as much about culture as any legal-political reality about what is necessary to keep society functioning,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University. Some of the readjustment may indeed make us reassess lifestyle and consumption. These microscopic organisms against which we have neither prevention nor cure are paring back a great deal of the bloated decadence of our culture to the very essentials. But take a step backward and consider the widest possible perspective. What in this world is truly and absolutely essential? It’s easy to miss it.

There are many essential things for maintaining life and preserving our safety and health. We do not want in any way to minimise the practical emphasis given to these aspects of loving our neighbour as our moral duty. Yet the thing that is absolutely essential above all things is studiously ignored by so many, including most of our leaders. Other things are merely temporary and will leave people at some time or other. But this one thing and this only, will stay with them forever if they have it.

This is why there is only one thing absolutely essential and necessary. Jesus Christ has identified this one supremely essential thing (Luke 10:42). Clearly it is related to the eternal good of our souls in relation to God. James Durham explains further what it is. He speaks of peace with God through Christ and Godward living. This is living in fellowship with God, glorifying and enjoying Him.

1. What cannot be absolutely essential

(a) No created or temporary thing can be absolutely essential.

It must be something which cannot be taken away from us, something spiritual, eternal and entirely satisfying.

(b) No mere form of religion can be absolutely essential.

We can be sure that this mere outward profession can and will be taken from us (Luke 19:26; Matthew 7:21).

(c) No particular aspect of religion can be absolutely essential in itself.

Happiness is not promised to only one aspect but to uninhibited godliness and obedience to God’s will in general. Mary sat at Christ’s feet and heard His word (Luke 10:42). She was justly commended by Christ on that account. Yet it is not for that in itself but as it evidenced her love to the Saviour, her respect to godliness and her eager and earnest desire to get her soul saved by Christ.

2. What is absolutely essential

It can be summarised in the following way. Peace with God through the Lord Jesus with a view to the salvation of our souls. The sincere practice of true godliness, communion and fellowship with the Father and His Son.

This is not the mere hearing of the Word (though it is our indispensable duty). Rather  it is using the Word as a means of our daily progress in holiness and godliness, and of our peace and reconciliation with God. And therefore this one thing can be nothing else except the life, power and practice of godliness. It is all one and the same thing, whether we call this one necessary thing Christ, religion, or the salvation of the soul. The eternal salvation of our souls is the goal of godliness. Our union and communion with Christ is the means of attaining this. It is always inseparably connected with the practice of sincere piety (1 Timothy 4:8). This one thing then is godliness in its spirit, power, and substance.

This is what the psalmist desired (Psalm 27:4). Not to attend God’s outward appointed worship only but to be lively in religion, to have communion with God in His sacred institutions, and to have the amiable and desirable hope of enjoying God in heaven. This is the one thing, which comprehends many other things, the making of our peace with God, through Jesus our peace-maker and Mediator, and the study of the power and practice of godliness, that our spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord.

3. Why it is absolutely essential

This one absolutely necessary thing does not encompass every kind of necessity. Food, drink, clothes, health, strength, and other things are also necessary in their own way. But there is nothing absolutely necessary except this one thing. The believer may lack other things, but cannot be without this.

(a) God commands it

We may please God and have His approval even though we are not rich in worldly goods, or in reputation, or do not have health and strength. We are not commanded to be rich, but we are commanded to be godly, to be at peace with God, to be sincere in fulfilling every commanded duty.

(b) It makes us truly happy

True religion is the one thing necessary to make us happy here and hereafter. There is only one thing absolutely necessary inseparably connected with our welfare and happiness. It is not the many things some are troubled and anxious to obtain. It is this one thing, the practice of godliness and our peace with God, which can make us happy.

The meaning of Luke 10:42 is as though Christ had said, “Martha, your mind is taken up with many things and you are troubled with them. That is all the benefit you get from them. Trouble yourself as you will, to get all things right, they will not be governed by you nor can they satisfy you. But there is one thing necessary for the saving of your soul—namely, the practice of godliness and peace with God. This is absolutely necessary for your blessedness; but the other things you are anxious about, are not.”

There is nothing absolutely necessary for the happiness of men and women, but godliness and peace with God. This is  making sure of our own salvation and holy calling through Christ Jesus.

A person may have all other things but if they lack godliness they cannot be happy. A person may lack all other things but if they are godly and have peace with God, they cannot be miserable. No other thing can mar his happiness. If then the possession of other things cannot make people happy, and the lack of them cannot make them miserable, then surely no other thing is absolutely necessary to promote our welfare but true religion.

  • It must be spiritual. That which concerns someone’s happiness must be spiritual,  incorruptible and immortal. The soul of man is spiritual and it must have a spiritual source of happiness.
  • It must be perfect. No imperfect thing can make anyone happy.
  • It must be eternal and unchangeable. One cannot be happy today and miserable tomorrow. If it is a thing that is subject to change, it cannot make us happy.

All the idols in the world put together have none of these three things. They are not spiritual, and cannot satisfy the soul; they are not perfect, but have some defect. They are merely temporal and not eternal: a man may be taken from them or they from him. 

(c) It ensures our spiritual welfare

Without godliness, a soul will never be well. Godliness is not only commanded, but useful and profitable for all things, and so absolutely necessary. This may commend godliness to you above all other things: it our happiness consists in it, and this cannot be said of any other thing in this world.

The godly man has the most contented and cheerful life and the most joyful and comfortable death (2 Corinthians 6:10; Philippians 4:11-13). Godliness brings God’s favour, friendship and peace. His promise and covenant is that they can lack no good thing or happiness, though they lack the things of the world. All those who are blessed in heaven have perfect happiness without the things of this world.  

Conclusion

It would be a great blessing if we were in these times to return to what is absolutely essential; glorifying and enjoying God. This is the essence of true godliness. Perhaps some other things (although perhaps necessary in their own way) have been distracting us from this. Or perhaps we have been content with an outward appearance of godliness while in practice denying its real spiritual power (2 Timothy 3:5). We now have the opportunity to ensure that our primary focus is what is most glorifying to God and for our own true spiritual happiness. Let us not lose it.

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Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?
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.
21 Feb, 2020

We’re a culture with an obsession for possession; getting and having more things. In fact, it would collapse if everyone only obtained what they needed rather than what they wanted. You can have it all in terms of material goods and success yet still feel so empty that life doesn’t seem worth living. It’s possible to possess everything and have nothing from this point of view. But there is another perspective from which “having nothing and yet possessing all things” is a good and desirable thing. In fact, the very words of this paradox come from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:10. All things are ours if we are Christ’s. And if we have Christ, we cannot have anything better and we will not lack anything we truly need. Jeremiah has the same experience. He is destitute and experiences intense sorrows and affliction. But his hope is “the Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). Since this is true, he possesses all things, even though he has nothing.

In Lamentations Jeremiah pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. He descends in grief so deeply that he seems to come to the very bottom. Here he is tempted to despair of relief from his misery (Lamentations 3:15-19). Yet at this very point of desperation it is as though God takes him up and draws him towards very different thoughts (Lamentations 3:20-24). He finds hope in the mercy of God. Yet it has taken great wrestling to reach this point. David experienced similar wrestling (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 13:1).

Faith is the means by which they overcome (cf. 1 John 5:4). Even though God may seem to deny us or be silent to us we must not let Him go but still wrestle to receive the blessing [cf. Genesis 32:24–26). For if we leave Him, where else can we go or what can we do without Him? He is near to all that call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). As David Dickson observes, by wrestling Jeremiah obtains hope and gets his head above the water. He is like a drowning man who engages all his energy in swimming until he can catch hold of something to pull him out. Then he can regain his breath and rest (Psalm 116:3–4).

In wrestling, faith gains the victory; it cannot be overcome and fail (Luke 22:32). It shows us that there is hope in the deepest darkness. Jeremiah is able to come to the point of saying, “The Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). He goes from despair to hope, from emptiness to fulness and from having nothing to possessing everything. In this updated extract, David Dickson comments on what this means. First of all, he shows the way he comes to possess all things in God, by faith and hope in His mercy.

1. From Having Nothing to Possessing Everything

The prophet draws nearer to God but let us notice the steps that bring him closer. He says he recalls the Lord’s mercy to mind and therefore has hope. He says that it is of His mercy that he is not consumed. Then he turns himself to God and praises His great faithfulness. Now at last, he draws nearer to God and pulls Him in his arms, and says, “the Lord is my portion.” Here are the steps of a soul drawing near to God. In unbelief his back is turned to God but when a soul begins to believe or think upon God, it has hope. Having meditated a while on His nature, it turns and speaks to Him. At last it embraces Him and says, “the Lord is my portion.”

When thoughts of God come into your mind in your perplexity always keep going until you get God in your arms. Follow on till you possess Him in your heart as your portion. Do not leave Him till you get access to Him. Hold Him so tightly that you can say, “my beloved is mine and I am his” (Song 2:16). Lay hold on Him, never to let Him go again (Song. 3:4). Do not be content merely to speak of Him and to Him without embracing Him for He is near in Christ. Embrace Him by faith, hold Him in love. Faith brings Him down and love is shed abroad in your heart (Romans 5:5). He will refresh your heart and make you fight against your enemies, wrestle and run the way of His commands with delight, even though before you could not pray (Psalm 119:32).

The hardest struggles have the greatest deliverances and the dark night of trouble has a clear day of comfort. Therefore, when you come into trouble, wrestle and be sure that release will come. Jeremiah who was earlier calling God a lion or a bear and an archer shooting arrows at him, now calls God His portion. Should not you do likewise? Wrestle and you will find victory.

2. What Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything Means

“The Lord is my portion.” What is it to have God for one’s portion? Just as in outward things we may get an allowance of wages for our needs as the portion we wait for and make use of, so it is in the church of God. There is a variety of professing believers and servants and everyone has their portion. Someone’s portion is what they work and labour for. Many only give outward service to God for a reward in this world, as those who give want to be seen of others (Matthew 6:2). Yet some follow Christ for Himself and every one of them gets their portion, reward, or allowance they seek. If any are disappointed, it is because they have chosen something other than God for their portion.

Jeremiah here chooses God for his portion and lays hold on Him. He is now stripped naked of all the comforts of his fifty years preaching. All his days he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow and seems to have lost all his labour. When the church was cut off, sorrow and anguish seized on him. He felt many tokens of God’s anger and being unable to endure these heavy weights, he flees to God. He pulls Him in his arms and says, “the Lord is my portion”. He is resolved that here he will live and die. Even if he can find no ease from his current trouble, having God would make up for the lack of fellowship with the saints.

This is what his “soul” says, it is no mere verbal profession. Many would say that God was their portion. They say they love God above all things and that they would rather enjoy His presence and favour than anything else besides. But their life actually tells us that they have made the world, riches, pleasure, success etc., their portion. These are the things they engage themselves most to acquire and maintain. But Jeremiah takes God as his witness that He is the only thing he would most gladly have (Psalm 73:25). Jeremiah says it with the soul, while others said it with the mouth.

3. How Possessing Everything Makes Up for Having Nothing

Jeremiah makes the fact of God being his portion, equivalent to all his troubles and losses. There is no ease in trouble until God is taken for the easing of all trouble. He can make up all for all we lose and lack and counterbalance all evils. Until God is taken hold of to make up for all loss, nothing is able to give ease or contentment. Whatever a soul may need, laying hold of God will make up for it all (Psalm 4:6).

If we can in our souls give up all things, endure all things with God, and be content to have anything done to us (as long as we have God)–trials will not overcome us. Such a person possesses more than anything they can lose. Anything they can suffer is compensated to them. People usually wish contentment in all things, but God will sometimes withhold what we want so that we may seek Himself and be content to lack all other things.

Make God your portion. Nothing else but Him will do you good ultimately. He is always near when all other things fail.

4. The World Does Not Know What Possessing Everything Means

By saying the Lord is his portion he testifies that he has something unique that the world does not have. Here we see the difference between God’s children and others. God’s children seek their happiness in God and have Him for their portion. Others seek their happiness in some other thing and have some worldly thing for their portion. But those who seek something other than God for their portion cannot glory in Him. Those that have God for their portion glory in the fact that God is theirs and they are His. It is not possible to have God and something else for our portion at the same time. God reckons the person who makes God his portion, as His child (Genesis 15:1).

Many are inclined to have God as well as something else they want such as riches and honour, but if they do not get these, they leave Him. Even the godly want ease, peace and prosperity as well as Christ but the Lord sometimes strips them naked of all these comforts. He brings on them those things which their soul hates. This is so that in being loaded with troubles they may come to Him to get ease. If they delay to come to Him, His hand is still heavy on them till they come to Him and He becomes to them all in all.

Have you made God for your portion? Do not be surprised if He has withdrawn other things from you so that you find sweetness in Himself alone. Be content with Him and He will be better to you than all that you can want. He will uphold you under all troubles.

When nothing earthly can be relied on you will know what it is to have God for your portion (Psalm 142:5). Seek to have your needs supplied in Him, whatever it is that you lack in this world. Take God for all and take Him not only for outward needs but for lack of knowledge, strength and other spiritual graces, that God may be all unto you. And when you are stripped naked of all things, remember that these things are pulled out of your arms so that you may be filled with better things and may adhere more firmly to God in Christ.

The outward does not please God unless the inward goes along with it. Profession is empty unless the heart directs the mouth. Seek to profess not in word only but also in heart, and so lay hold on God with determination and make Him your portion.

5. How Possessing Everything Brings Hope

Because God is Jeremiah’s portion he has hope that his misery will come to an end. Although those who have God for their portion may be without comfort in heaven and earth they can still hope that all will be well with them. For when someone has taken hold of God with all they are, they will overcome all opposition. If you have resolved to keep God for your portion and to leave all other things rather than leave Him, you may have hope to overcome every trouble and in Him to obtain all you can desire.

The updated extract in this blog post is from a series of sermons David Dickson preached around 1628. They have never been published before but are due for release by Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books in the coming months (DV). 

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Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it

Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it

Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
7 Feb, 2020

Many believers have at times experienced a prolonged period of being spiritually cast down. It’s different from depression in a medical sense. It has mainly spiritual causes and relates to spiritual things. The delight and joy that they experienced in spiritual things seems almost a distant memory or at best an infrequent reality. Perhaps it is due to the inroads of sin and guilt or a weakened sense of assurance. Or it may be in relation to afflictions and sorrows that we or the Church experience. Elijah and David are prominent examples of this in Scripture. We need to understand why it takes hold and how, by God’s grace, the cast down can be lifted up again.

Perhaps the most well known statement of spiritual depression in Scripture is David’s cry of dejection in Psalm 42:11. David was mourning his enforced absence from God’s public worship (Psalm 42:2-4). He was cast down with a sense of the sin he had committed against God its effects. He felt a sense of an absence of God’s love and favour (Psalm 42:9). He also laments oppression by the enemies of God’s people (Psalm 42:4). He was more grieved by sin and the blasphemies against God (Psalm 42: 3 and 10). No doubt the activity of the evil one was in it too.

Christopher Love notes that in speaking to his soul David is reproving himself (Psalm 42:11). In asking the question he finds the reasons for being cast down in himself rather than elsewhere. He was in trouble because of persecution from wicked men and sorrows about the state of the Church of God. But he says to his soul, why are you casting yourself down? He is speaking to his soul about its troubling thoughts rather than listening to them. There may be many other factors in being spiritually cast down but sometimes we ourselves are part of the causes.

Spiritual depression is not the same as clinical depression and other related illnesses. It is related to spiritual things and has spiritual causes. Some connection where people are prone to clinical depression or similar ailments is, however, possible.

Like other puritans Love understands the physical factors that accompany spiritual depression. There can be physical causes that are companions of troubles of conscience, doubts, and spiritual distress. There is such a natural connection between the soul and the body, that lack of health in the one, causes trouble in the other. If there is a natural tendency to despondency, there will be trouble in the soul that is experiencing trouble of mind.

Love preached seventeen spiritually beneficial sermons on Psalm 42:11. In this updated extract, we can draw from this rich biblical counsel. He addresses the helpless condition that those in a state of spiritual depression often find themselves.

In emphasising that there are things that we can actively address, he is not promoting an unspiritual and legalistic dependence on our own works. Everything depends on grace and the working of the Holy Spirit but there are means that God has appointed for us to use in seeking more grace and the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

1. Causes of Spiritual Depression

(a) Cherishing sin in the heart. Nothing in the world will keep the soul from the assurance of God’s favour more than indulging the soul in any known sin (Psalm 66:18). While David harboured sin in his heart and hid his sin from God, he lost the shining of Gods’ face on his soul. He prays to God to restore to him the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12). Righteousness and peace belong together (Isaiah 48:18; Ezekiel 14:4-5). Those who indulge sin in their heart will have no peace in their conscience. They will not enjoy the smiles and light of God’s face, but the sense of his wrath, much anguish, and sorrow, and perplexity of mind for sin.

(b) Failure to exercise grace. Little activity in grace will produce little evidence of grace. Strong comfort of God’s love goes along with exercising grace (John 14:21). Peace be multiplied If you do not multiply your graces, God will not multiply your peace. if you do withdraw the exercise of your grace, God will withdraw the comforts of your grace.

(c) Laziness in holy duties. If you are a spiritual sluggard who is not willingly performing your duties towards God, (Proverbs 18:9) you can be assured of having enough spiritual poverty in your soul to produce a lack of comfort. When you deny God your obedience, God is perfectly just to deny you the peace and comfort of His grace towards you. Grace is most noticeable in the soul when it is living and active.

(d) Looking for comfort more than grace. Some lack more comfort then they need to. They look more for marks of grace that may tell them what they are, than for commandments which tell them what they should do. When Christians seek privileges more than duty, it is just with God to keep their comfort from them. When Christians seek more to know that they are in a state of grace, rather than to use those means that are prescribed to get grace it may be why God keeps the comforts of the Spirit from them. (The means of grace are the Word, prayer, hearing the Word preached and other ways in which graces like faith, love and hope are strengthened).

2. Causes of Spiritual Depression We Can Remove

(a) Spiritual pride. Pride is the bane of grace and comfort. God resists the proud (James 4:6). The Greek word literally means that He sets Himself in battle array against it. If ever you would regain the certainty and assurance of God’s love, remove pride (Job. 33:17).

(b) Deadness of heart in holy duties. Comfort is diminished when we are less spiritually vigorous and lively in spiritual duties. Little duty, and small comfort go hand in hand. When the affections are dead, the heart constrained in duties, evidences and comfort of grace will be eclipsed. Careless spiritual activities are rewarded by God’s frowns, not His smiles.

(c) Worldly delights. Worldly joys debilitate spiritual joy. They take away the heart (Hosea 4:11). Those who are overwhelmed with worldly delights will never have joy in the Holy Spirit.

(e) Things that grieve the Spirit. Take heed of grieving the Spirit if you wish to have the comfort of the assurance of God’s love (Isaiah 63:10). If you grieve God’s Spirit, He will grieve yours. If you grieve the Spirit, by resisting the way He moves you towards holiness you will never regain the comforting work of the Spirit.

(f) Lack of compassion to others who are troubled in mind. A herd of deer abandon the wounded deer to fend for itself alone. Christians often abandon troubled souls to themselves in this way. They lack compassion and tenderness towards them. Pitying such will help you regain comfort for your own soul.

(g) Lack of fear towards God. If God always displayed smiles, it would breed contempt. God’s majestic sovereignty shows displeasure so as to correct the spirit of carelessness in His people.

(h) Worldly-mindedness. If your hearts are filled with the world you will never enjoy the comfort and assurance of God’s love. A worldly-minded man, can never be strong in assurance.

3. Recovering From Spiritual Depression

(a) Exercise grace constantly. Exercise grace, and it is then with God to give you comfort (2 Peter 1:5). God promises that He will multiply your peace if you increase your grace (Isaiah 32:17; Psalm 119:165; Psalm 50:23). Some Christians who lack assurance spend more time in complaining they lack comfort than they spend in exercising grace (e.g. faith, hope, love, repentance etc).

(b) Keep a clear conscience. This is the way to quieten the guilt of conscience (Job 11:15). Do not indulge the guilt of any known sin.

(c) Remember past experiences of God’s love. This is what David does (Psalm 42:6). Think of old mercies and loving kindnesses. This is the way encourage the heart (Psalm 77: 10-11).

(d) Argue by faith against your feelings. Abraham would never have believed God’s promise, if He had not used arguments of faith against what he felt and saw.

(e) Base your comfort on the unchangeable Covenant. If Christians build their eternal comforts on their changing feelings, their comforts will be up and down, ebbing and flowing; Sometimes their feelings are hot as fire, other times cold as frost. Base comforts on an unchangeable Covenant to regain and attain everlasting comforts.

(f) Seek counsel from others. Ask experienced Christians about your condition. Sometimes it is better to trust the opinions of others than our own.

(g) Never use wrong ways of pacifying the troubles of your mind. Some immerse themselves in wordly delights and affairs. If we are inflamed with a sense of God’s wrath and run to sin, it only increases the heat. It is like someone rubbing themselves with nettles to deal with a bee sting.

(h) Pursue duty more than comfort. Many Christians spend more time in fruitless complaints, that they lack comfort, then in holy endeavours to perform duties. If we spent more time in performing duties than in pursuing comfort, comfort would sooner be gained. When a house is on fire, the urgent work is to put out the fire not enquire how it happened. We are to engage with God not merely complain of a loss of comfort. David cried to God in prayer when He hid His face from him (Psalm 30:7-8).

(i) Spend more time strengthening than doubting grace. Focussing on the threatenings rather than the promises of Scripture will only weaken your comforts than strengthen them. If you cannot find comfort from acting grace, consider your general inclination. Perhaps you cannot pray well, but why are your praying? Is not to get more communion with God and more power against sin?

 

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Resolution is a Way of Life

Resolution is a Way of Life

Resolution is a Way of Life
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.
1 Jan, 2020

Everywhere people are resolving to make a positive change in their lives. They plan to get rid of something they don’t want or achieve something desirable. Whether or not these are successful is a matter of debate. Resolution is, however, a far deeper and more spiritual matter than these lifestyle changes. A spirit of God-centred resolution should govern the way that we live. This is a boldness of faith that arises from the nature of the gospel and God Himself. Whatever else we may resolve let’s make sure we have this spirit of resolution.

Put simply, this spirit is an unconquerable resolution to be for God. This is how Andrew Perne (member of the Westminster Assembly) describes it. It means being resolved to stick unwaveringly to God and His ways no matter what others do or what happens as a consequence. He says that this is what makes the heart to be in heavenly tune and the right key, pleasing and acceptable to God.

This spirit of gospel courage looks beyond all dangers, difficulties, and opposition. Such a person may lose their body by the way, but their spirit will continue after God. They are like David’s three mighty men who broke through the camp of the Philistines to fetch their king water (2 Samuel 23:16).

God was well pleased with this kind of spirit in Caleb. He had another spirit, resolute and valiant not cowardly and feeble spirit as the other spies (Numbers 14:24). The same spirit was in the three who faced the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16). Moses had this spirit too (Hebrews 11:27) as did Joshua who was prepared to serve the Lord whatever others would do (Joshua 24:15). How do we obtain such a spirit? Andrew Perne helps us find biblical answers to that question.

1. God-centred Resolution Comes from Conviction

Such resolution comes from a thorough and full conviction of soul that we have followed the right ways of God. Paul was thoroughly convinced and unwaveringly resolved for the gospel in this way. He desires this for the Galatians also, they must be committed to this gospel no matter what anyone preached even if an apostle or angel (Galatians 1:8).

A supernatural light must convince the soul and make the ways of God unquestionable. Paul did not therefore preach with the enticing words of human wisdom but in the Spirit and with power (2 Corinthians 1:4-5). This was so that their faith might stand in the power of God. When faith is based on such grounds, on such a powerful conviction of the Spirit, all the World cannot turn us from it. This steadfast, unconquerable resolution proceeds from a powerful and thorough conviction of the truth of God and His ways.

2. God-centred Resolution Comes from Fear

This resolution understands clear the danger of forsaking the ways of God. Fear and danger give rise to courage and resolution. When someone perceives that their greatest danger is falling into the hands of God they see that to sin against God is the worst thing possible. Moses did not fear the king of Egypt because he persevered seeing one who (though invisible) was greater and more to be feared (Hebrews 11:27). Daniel’s three friends feared a hotter furnace if they would worship the golden image. When someone considers hell the worst of prisons and everlasting destruction the king of terrors awaiting those who forsake God and His ways, it makes them resolute for God.

3. God-centred Resolution Comes from Hope

Hope of gain and honour makes people bold and puts courage and resolution into them. God’s children have hope too which exceedingly strengthens their resolutions. They hope for the crown of righteousness, the weight of glory, the kingdom prepared from the beginning of the world. These were Paul’s hopes, these are and were ours. They will sustain us in all our sufferings. God promised to be Abraham’s exceeding great reward (Genesis 15:1). He would be paid and not lose. When we realise that God has the resources to provide the reward, we can trust God for everything. This will make us valiant and resolute for the ways of God.

4. God-centred Resolution Comes from Love

Love makes us resolute and want to please God. Love looks beyond all dangers and difficulties, it weakens all opposition and strengthens itself. It makes the soul consider anything feasible. The nature of your resolution will reveal to you what you are and whom you love (Ruth 1:14). Ruth’s love and resolution was total (Ruth 1:16).

5. God-centred Resolution Comes from Experience

The soul that has tasted of the sweetness, comfort, peace, and joy of the ways of God is resolute for them (Psalm 119:103). Because of this the psalmist vows and resolves to keep them (Psalm 119:106). The soul cleaves to that which offers most pleasure: for pleasure is the food of the soul. The body can live as well without food, as the soul can without pleasure. When the soul has tasted how transcendently sweet God’s ways and Word are: what sweet hopes, what blessed peace, what joy unspeakable and glorious is produced. The soul seeks its rest here. 

Many think those who engage themselves to the cause of God “too far” to be far from wisdom. They can see their sufferings, but not their refreshings. They do not see the peace, love, joy, and unspeakable comfort which the saints of God have in the ways of God. If others could experience from God these heats of heart and hints of love and mercy, they would be ready not only to do the same as believers but to suffer with them.

Conclusion

You need to get, keep and increase this spirit of resolution within you. Be courageous and undaunted for your God. Look past all dangers, do not be terrified in anything by your adversaries. Do not think death too great a danger to cope with for God and His truth. Your God and your religion are the best things you have. They are the highest and greatest things. Better to lose all than lose our God and His truth. We must therefore ask for the old paths and walk in them to find rest to our souls (Jeremiah 6:16). All God’s ways are pleasantness and peace (Proverbs 3:17).

You have resolution and courage and why should God and His cause not have it? God has the most right to it. Can you be resolute for the world and worldly things and have no spirit for God? With what steadfastness and immovable resolution did our Saviour Christ go through the work of our redemption. Be as resolute for God as He is for you.

Much more than new resolutions we need a new spirit with which to face the challenges of this coming year undaunted in our resolution to be entirely for God.

Note: Andrew Perne (1596–1654) lived a life of resolute faith. The memorial at the Church he served in Wilby, Northamptonshire testifies to this.  He was “a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, a zealous owner ever of God’s cause in perilous times, a powerful and successful preacher of the gospel”. The above updated extract comes from one of the many sermons he preached to Parliament in the 1640s.

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?
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.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship

Valuing the Deepest Possible Friendship
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."
21 Nov, 2019

Like many other things modern friendship has changed dramatically. Electronic communication has expanded our circle of friends and made maintaining contact easier. But its limitations can also stifle deeply connected bonds. And, the modern world seems friendless for too many.     We need to value and deepen friendship in a greater way for the spiritual good of others and ourselves. It demands time, a desire to benefit others and undivided attention. God Himself extends to us the greatest and deepest friendship and we need to learn how to value that above all.

Andrew Gray considers what it means to be “called the friend of God” as Abraham was (James 2:23). It is the highest possible privilege and yet Adam threw it away. Christ, however, has “found out the precious way of making the blessed and more durable knot of friendship between God and us”.

The great goal of the everlasting gospel is to reconcile sinners and make them friends with God. How do we become such friends? “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me” (Isaiah 27:5).

But, asks Gray, do our lives and prayers make plain that we are friends of God? What are the evidences of a true friendship toward Christ? How is it the deepest friendship there is? In this updated extract Andrew Gray also outlines the blessings of friendship with God so that we may truly value it.

1. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE TRUE FRIENDS

(a) A true friend maintains constant friendship to Christ at all times (Proverbs 17:17). No matter what trials we have or what He requires of us, we will be faithful.

(b) A true friend has the highest esteem for Christ (Song 5:10 and 16). Is Christ matchless to you? Who had your thoughts first today? Was it Christ (Psalm 139:18)?

(c) A true friend finds everything in Christ exceedingly lovely (Song 5:16). There is nothing in Christ that will not be lovely. Christ’s rebukes will be lovely, His convictions will be lovely, His visits will be lovely. There is nothing that Christ can do but you will cry out, “This is lovely.” There is not a commandment that Christ can give but it will be lovely. If you be a friend to Him, you will cry out, “I have a respect to all the commandments of God.”

(d) A true friend obeys all Christ’s commands (John 15:14). A Christian must be all-inclusive in their obedience to be a friend to Christ. If they do not love the duty for itself, yet will he love it because it comes from Christ.

(e) A true friend tells Christ their secrets. There are some things that a Christian will tell Christ, which he will not tell to anyone in the world. It does not offend your precious friend when you tell Him all your secrets.

(f) A true friend is burdened by Christ’s absence. Is it not the true kindness of a friend to long to see one’s absent friend?

(g) A true friend delights in fellowship with Christ (Song 1:2).

2. CHRIST’S FRIENDS FEAST WITH HIM

Christ invites His friends to feast with Him (Song 5:1). The great Master of the feast invites them. It is a royal feast (Isaiah 25:6); it is a glorious,
purchased feast to be valued by the price that was paid for it (Matthew 22:3–4). Only friends are invited to come to the feast of the Lord’s Table because only they can fellowship with Christ in the banquet of love. Only they can exercise the graces suitable for this feast. Can an enemy exercise the grace of love? An enemy cannot exercise the grace of sorrow for offending Christ, and yet that is a qualification of one that would approach the table of the Lord. No one is able to discern the Lord’s body except friends.

3. CHRIST’S FRIENDS LEARN HIS SECRETS

The person who is a friend to the Most High is a person who will be brought in to know the deep secrets of the Lord (John 15:15). He will let you know whether you are in the state of nature or in the state of grace. (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:32). He will communicate unknown truths to His friends (Matthew 13:11). Paul says of himself, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

There are excellent secrets of duty that Christ will unfold to His friends. He will tell His friends the duty of the times in which they live (1 Chronicles 12:32). There are many secret duties that are made known unto the friends of God that are not made known to others who are strangers to Him. Christ will also make the secrets of providence known to His friends (Psalm 36:9).

4. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY WITH BOLDNESS

The soul who is a friend of God may come with boldness to God to seek anything from Him. Is God your friend? Then you may say, “God is my friend; I may be bold with Him.” Yes, when you approach to God in prayer, if you could introduce it with this, “O my friend,” you might pray with much confidence and boldness of faith.

5. CHRIST’S FRIENDS CAN PRAY CONFIDENTLY

A friend of Christ may come to God with confidence. If Christ is your friend, you may go to Him with great persuasion that He will deny you nothing and is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Did you ever have such a precious friend as this?

6. CHRIST’S FRIENDS ARE STRENGTHENED IN DUTY

This precious, matchless friend sharpens you and stirs you up to do your duty (Proverbs 27:17). A sight of your precious friend Christ would make you swift in your duty.

7. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD

A friend of God has much communion with God and dwells and walks much with God. He walks much with God (Amos 3:3). If you are friends to Christ, you will have much of His heart (to long after you), His hand (to help you) and His mind (to reveal precious secrets hidden from the world).

8. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE COUNSEL IN DIFFICULTY

God will give counsel to His friends in all their dark and difficult distresses (Proverbs 27:9). If you were a friend to God, you would sometimes sing of Him giving you counsel (Psalm 16:7; Psalm 73:24).

9. CHRIST’S FRIENDS HAVE SYMPATHY

If you are a friend of God, Christ will sympathise with you in all your anxieties (Proverbs 18:24).  Christ is more afflicted with our circumstances than we are afflicted with them ourselves (Zechariah 2:8).

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The above has been extracted and updated from a sermon included within the new volume Be Reconciled with God: Sermons of Andrew Gray. 

These 12 rare sermons have not been printed for almost 300 years. They are packed with both simple and profound thought communicated with almost tangible passion and highly recommended.

We have obtained the following special discounts exclusively for Reformation Scotland readers.

UK Customers: Buy it for £24.95 £14.36 using the code ref.scot2019.

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Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith

Why We Need to Keep Exercising and Strengthening Faith
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."
25 Oct, 2019

We are witnessing an evident increase in people being health and fitness conscious. Bodily exercise does indeed have a certain limited benefit for us in preserving our health and life (1 Timothy 4:8). But Paul tells us that exercising or training ourselves to godliness brings every kind of benefit (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The comparison is clear. Just as bodily exercise brings benefit so our spiritual health requires spiritual exercise. Part of Christian growth is exercising and strengthening faith. How can we do this?  

Andrew Gray explains the benefits of exercising and strengthening faith. Faith must constantly go out to Christ depending on His Word and promises. It becomes stronger the more it is exercised in this way. This is vital for the Christian life. 

1. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith keeps our soul in the most constant fellowship with Christ. He dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). It is through exercising the grace of faith Christ that becomes our husband, our householder, and the one who dwells within us. It is a most sweet and desirable thing to have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and our souls dwelling with Christ by love. It is a sweet connection.

2. CHRIST’S PRECIOUSNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith can make Christ more precious to a Christian than feelings can. Faith’s estimate of Christ is based on His person but feelings look to what Christ does. Faith looks at what Christ was before the world began, but feelings only look at what Christ is at the present time. The grace of faith looks to the love in Christ’s heart: feelings only look to the smiles of His face. Faith’s estimation is more constant than that of feelings especially when Christ withdraws His felt presence. When faith needs wisdom, it consults with Christ, whose name is Wonderful, Counsellor. Faith is like a sinew which when it is cut, all our strength goes from us. Faith is heroic; the crown of martyrdom is set on the head of faith.

3. HUMILITY INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

A Christian who excels in this grace, is the most humble Christian. By what law is boasting excluded? By the law of faith (Romans 3:27). Faith shows a Christian the excellence of God, and humbles them in the dust. Faith makes a Christian both ascend and descend, so to speak. It keeps all the graces of the Spirit in motion.

4. SIN DECREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith likewise puts sin to death. When Christ is revealed to a soul, it will cast away its idols as filthy rags and will cry out that it has none in heaven besides God (Psalm 73:25). The soul is drawn more to where it loves than where it lives.

5. PATIENCE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Being justified by faith, we glory even in what we suffer (Romans 5:3). Faith holds out the crown on the right hand to a Christian with this motto written on it: “He that perseveres to the end shall he saved”. Moses never arrived at patience until he got to the top of the mountain from which he saw the promised land. Faith brings home the promises of eternal glory to a Christian.

6. SPIRITUAL FRUITFULNESS INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a grace that sanctifies our lives. Faith has a sweet influence on our fruitfulness to Christ by helping us to abide in Him (John 15:5). Faith is the mother grace that bears good works as its children and as it moves so all the other graces move with it.

7. UNDERSTANDING INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an intelligent grace, understanding the “mystery of God” (Colossians 2:2). Faith raises the soul to the highest level of reason.

8. PEACE INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith pacifies the heart. Peace is the daughter of faith, Faith is the dove that brings the olive branch of peace in its mouth.

9. SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS INCREASE AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is an empty hand that receives the precious free gifts that come from Christ’s merits. It is the channel through which the blessed streams of life flow to us from Him.

10. PURITY OF HEART INCREASES AS WE STRENGTHEN FAITH

Faith is a heavenly plant which will not grow in an impure heart. Faith is a heart-purifying grace (Acts 15:9). It can only grow in a pure and heavenly soil.

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