Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
16 Dec, 2020

It’s easy to understand why some people think of 2020 as a terrible year. We started the year and decade with high expectations. We soon found out that our plans could be entirely redundant. Heartbreakingly, some have lost loved ones, others have lost precious opportunities for key life events. For many, life has been on pause waiting to return to normal with a sense of lost time meanwhile. No doubt there have been many positives in the change of gear but a nagging feeling remains that it has been a wasted year. Yet there is nothing in 2020 that God cannot use and overrule to His greater glory. He can also bring restoration out of devastation. He can restore what seems like wasted time that can never be recovered.

We can be very thankful for all that we have not lost during 2020. In one Bible verse that offers hope concerning “wasted years” God promises to restore the years that the locust has eaten. Over several years in the time of the prophet Joel Israel experienced continual decimation of their food supplies through plagues of locusts and other events. It was the Lord’s chastisement for His people’s rebellion. But His promise was that with their repentance and return to Him the years that the locust had eaten would be restored in the great blessing they would receive. He would make up for all they had lost in the years of famine (Joel 2:23-27) so that they would be able to rejoice in Him. He does all this to show them that He is their God and they need never be disappointed in their hope placed in Him. These rich blessings are offered as part of the Lord’s call to repentance (v12-17). It is helpful to see this promise in its context and George Hutcheson applies some truths from these verses in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Promises Joy to His Penitent People

Whoever else does not have joy, God wills that His penitent Church and people rejoice. They have as much and more solid joy as any. The children of Zion are therefore called to rejoice (v23). The Lord speaks and applies this message of joy to their hearts in stirring them up to rejoice in it beforehand. This exhortation to rejoice is, therefore, necessary.

Outward blessings and benefits should be like a step leading the Lord’s people up to rejoice in God. They should rest in these benefits in themselves. Although there is a promise of plenty, yet they are to rejoice in the Lord their God because He is their God (see Jeremiah 9:23-24; Luke 10:19-20). These outward blessings are received in connection with their repentance.

2. The Lord Appoints Outward Blessings

The Lord’s measuring and timing of outward mercies is that which makes them mercies indeed. Although rain is necessary, it is a blessing that God gives it in moderation and in its proper season (v23). What is said about rain holds good about all outward mercies, the only wise Lord appoints them.

3. The Lord Can Restore What We Have Lost

The Lord can and will make up for the losses of those who are penitent. Whenever sinners turn to God, He will convince them in due time that they have not lost at all by their afflictions. A proof and example of this are given in the promise that He will restore to them the years the locust has eaten (v25).

4. The Lord Can Be Seen in the Saddest Afflictions

Seeing God and His hand in the saddest chastisements and losses will assure us that He can soon easily make up for them. The locusts were God’s great army which He sent and if He sent them and made them able to make wreak such havoc, then He certainly can not only remove them but send equally remarkable plenty (v25).

5. The Lord Should be Praised for His Continual Provision

All who receive the good things of this life should be conscientious in thankfulness to God, whose providence supplies their needs. Those who truly repent and have turned to God will make conscience of this duty. This is especially because these outward blessings come to them with a special love from their own God in covenant with them. They will be satisfied with God’s benefits and will praise the name of the Lord their God (see Isaiah 62:8-9; Deuteronomy 8:10).

We must stir ourselves up to praise God in this. We should consider how wonderfully God continually provides our daily bread. Sending great plenty after the famine makes His providence and mercy to shine. The reason they should praise God is because He had dealt wondrously with them (v26). If we make use of outward benefits in this way, they bring us spiritual benefit by strengthening our faith and revealing the love of God to us.

6. The Lord Will Never Disappoint His People

God’s deals kindly with His Church and individual believers according to the covenant. When this is seen in specific ways it may be a pledge that none of His people (whoever they may be), will ever find it fruitless to seek Him or be ashamed or disappointed of their hope in Him based on His Word. God’s people will never be ashamed or disappointed (v26).

The best of blessings is a covenant relationship with God and His manifest presence because of this. It is sweet when those who are penitent see this shining in His mercies. This sweet consequence of His bounty toward the penitent is offered here. He is saying in effect, “you will know not only that I am the Lord your God, but that I have not withdrawn Myself. I am in the midst of Israel or those of Israel who are now left as a people to Me. Although prosperity is offered as the evidence of this here, any other way the Lord makes this clear is equally sufficient.

The Lord who is the God of His people is the only true God and therefore above anything that may be opposed to the joy of His people. The people of God may often need to pray against the sad affliction of being ashamed of their confidence (Psalm 119:116). Yet we must believe and learn again and again that not only now, but forever, God’s people have no cause for fearing disappointment. God will fulfil His promises and take away all reason for such fear. Because such temptations recur frequently, this phrase is repeated “my people shall never be ashamed” (v27).

Conclusion

It is vitally important that we do not miss the fact that these promises are part of God’s call to repentance (v12-17). Whatever we may feel we have lost in 2020, the Lord is able to restore it richly when we turn to His embrace with repentance. Much hope is offered to us, great blessing can arise out of affliction when we use it in the right way to draw nearer to God. In this way 2020 may yet prove to be a blessed year.

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How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World

How We Can Perfect Patience in a Disordered World
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.
11 Dec, 2020

Politicians, medics and scientists constantly appeal for our patience in the midst of a challenging pandemic. We are encouraged to “look to the future with a mixture of optimism, determination and patience.”  Even with hopeful developments such as vaccines, patience is required since it will take time to roll-out. But in a high-speed instant culture, patience has been in short supply. Patience is not simply about waiting, it is about enduring with perseverance and actively trusting. True patience is more than a virtue; it is a grace that cannot truly be exercised unless we are united to Christ by saving faith.

In 1665 the great plague of London swept away over 68,000 of the inhabitants. Certain godly ministers remained to minister to the sick, dying and the all-too-terrified healthy. Among them was Thomas Goodwin. The plague had not yet run its course when the Great Fire broke out in 1666. The wind carried the flames to the destruction of more than 13,000 homes and nearly ninety churches. As the fire neared Goodwin’s home, he wanted to save his priceless library and moved half of it to a friend’s house. But the wind changed so that this house was burned and not Goodwin’s own dwelling. His response was to write a book expounding James 1:1-5, published as Patience and its Perfect Work under Sudden and Sore Trials. Out of the ashes of all those valuable books arose a much more valuable one which we will seek to summarise in the following updated abridgement. We can still benefit from it. How does patience have its perfect work in us? Goodwin helps us to understand that it is not through our own resources but through the work of God’s grace within us.

1. How Does Faith Work Patience?

The testing of our faith works patience (James 1:3). All that the soul needs to support it in trials is brought into it by faith.

(a) Faith empties the soul of all its own worth, and righteousness, and excellence in its own eyes.
It gives the soul a thorough sight of the sinfulness of sin and its spiritual sins. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3).

(b) Faith brings home to the soul God’s sovereignty and dominion.
David was greatly distressed, he had lost everything and the people spoke of stoning him, but he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). This strengthened him against everything. All the means to support life and nature (such as food and clothing, possessions and livelihoods) may be lacking. Yet it is still possible to say “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). First rejoice in the Lord, what the Lord is in himself: a God blessed for ever. “If God is blessed for evermore, I cannot be miserable”, says the soul. Secondly, he is my God, the God of my salvation.

(c) Faith brings love into the soul.
The love of God brought into the soul by faith will help it bear any condition (Romans 8:31). As faith has everything in God to rejoice in which helps the soul to patience; so especially it has love, in all sorts of distresses.

(d) Faith tells us of a good outcome.
Christ spoke of some of the worst calamities but encouraged them that not a hair of their head would perish (Luke 21:18-19). The outcome would be such as would make amends for every hair. Faith looking at these things, brings relief to the soul. You may well possess your souls in patience, because the outcome will be most blessed and glorious.

(e) Faith shows heaven as the reward of patient enduring (James 1:12; Romans 5:2).
Those believing Hebrews might well suffer the spoiling of their goods with joy when they found in their hearts a credit note to receive it all again in eternal treasures in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). This will be your experience to if you exercise faith and patience in relation to your losses. The following verses speak of the reward of patience (Hebrews 10:35-36).

2. How Does Love Work Patience?

Because faith works by love (Galatians 5:6) it is clear that love also works patience as we see in James 1:12. Love to God makes us cleave to God, and so follow Him through all weathers and endurances. The apostles rejoiced to suffer for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41). If love for others makes us endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7), how much more will love to God? It is for His sake also that we bear so much with our brethren. He can do us no wrong nor hurt but is holy and righteous in all His works. All His ways to us are mercy and truth. He has loved and given His Son for us.

3. How Does Patience Help Compose Us?

Patience works a holy contentment (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6). It also produces joy (Colossians 1:11; Romans 5:3; James 1:2-4). Faith by patience helps us remove the turbulent emotions that are its opposites. It expels excessive poring over our misery and trials by which our minds are chained and tied to those things (Luke 24:38). When troubles sink deep, they send thoughts up fast. Patience helps us possess our own souls (Luke 21:19).

(a) It expels excessive grief.
Job’s response to all that he lost is complete patience and submission to God (Job 1:21).

(b) It expels envy and anger.
Envy is apt to rise when we compare ourselves with others who have no such afflictions.

(c) It expels excessive fear.
When too much trouble comes on us, we tend to fear too much because we do not know the worst, nor when or where it will end. But Christ says we should not fear (Revelation 2:10). He says that faith and faithfulness unto God, or constancy in enduring unto death are opposed to fear. Faith works patience, and patience eats out fear.

(d) It expels complaining against God.
Job would not charge God foolishly (Job 1:22); this was the patience of Job. It was the patient frame of spirit that God had wrought in him, which the Scripture so extols, that enabled him to do this (James 5:11).

(e) It expels excessive anxiety.
Anxieties distract the soul and scatter it into wild thoughts. Christ in exhorting us to patience warns against this also (Luke 21:19).

4. What is Patience?

(a) It is doing the will of God (Romans 2:7).
There is a difficulty that accompanies every duty and grace, so that we need patience to perform the duty constantly. The difficulty is not only from our own corruption but from the times, places, and we people live in and among. We need patience for every step of Christ’s way in doing as well as in suffering (Hebrews 12:1 and 11). But patience is not only such difficulties, it is also enduring affliction in any way.

(b) It is waiting on God and His will.
Waiting is an act of faith continued or lengthened out (James 5:7; Micah 7:7- 9).

(c) It is waiting with quietness (Lamentations 3:26-27).
Faith quietens the heart in God (Isaiah 26:3; 30:15, Colossians 1:11). As far as faith and patience strengthen the heart,  we are able to bear everything with quietness (John 14:1) Faith will cause trouble to fly away.

(d) It is bearing up without discouragement (2 Cor 4:16).

(e) It submits to God and His will (1 Peter 3:17; 4:19; 1:6).
Patience in the soul brings the heart to submission to God’s will (Psalm 39:9). Even before there is hope (Lamentations 3:26 and 29).

(f) It endures the absence of hope as to the things of this life.
The apostle gives no specific hopes for this life when he urges patience to the end of our lives (Hebrews 10:36-37).

(g) It makes us sanctify God in our hearts.
Job “fell down on the ground, and worshipped” (Job 1:20). When all he has is gone, the first thing he does is to fall down and worship.

5. How Does Patience Have Its Perfect Work?

(a) When we do not have to force ourselves to do these things
When we do not have to chide or force ourselves to be patient it has a readiness for it. Paul’s heart was so fully prepared to suffer that it was a heart-breaking to him that his friends should seek to dissuade him. He was so used to endurance and patience it was not difficult for him (Acts 21:13).

(b) When we are consistent in doing these things
Patience had its perfect work in Moses. He exercised that grace constantly and was therefore the meekest man on earth. This was not his natural temperament or even virtue but a spiritual grace of meekness and patience produced by the Holy Spirit. He learned this by suffering. He points to Christ who says, “Learn of me, for I am meek” (Matthew 11:29). How constantly Moses bore with that rebellious nation with an invincible patience and still interceded for them. This is what Christ is toward us. Only once we read of the impatience of Moses (Numbers 20:10-11 compared with Psalm 106:32-33).

Patience is perfect when it continues to the end (Matthew 24:13). “Strengthened unto all patience and long-suffering” (Colossians 1:11). Patience relates to the weight, grievousness and heaviness of the affliction we are under. Long-suffering refers to the duration and time (1 Timothy 2:10). To carry a great burden for a quarter of an hour requires patience, but to carry it for a day or more, or for a week requires long-suffering. When you have done the will of God, you have need of patience (Hebrews 10:36). This is because still, in the last part of your life, after an active life for a long while, even then when you are near the promise, your patience may be required most.

(c) When we do them in all kinds of circumstances
When a person has been tested in every way and has passed through all sorts of trials and still have patience in a good measure it is perfect. A person’s natural spirit will help them to be patient in some things, but in other things their heart is weak, and cannot bear it. As God tried Abraham in his Isaac, so God will try the sons of Abraham in what is dearest to them, and yet enable them to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

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Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow

Why God Leaves His People in a World of Sin and Sorrow
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.
2 Dec, 2020

Why doesn’t God immediately take His beloved ones to Himself out of this world of sin and sorrow? It’s a real question that occurs to many at some time or other for various reasons. Why the affliction and troubles? Perhaps it is an abiding question for those who are lingering in this world when they would long to be out of it. Yet the Lord still has a purpose for their prayers and testimony however small they feel their contribution may be. Others are worn down and wearied with the constant reminders of sin and sorrow. What a world it is where this is brought before us wherever we look. Perhaps they mourn over the pitiful progress they seem to make in spiritual things. Wouldn’t it be best for them to be taken from this world? Yet it is Christ’s purpose for them to be here, He has prayed for them to be left in the world (John 17:15). He has eminently wise reasons for that. What are those reasons? Let us consider some of them.

This was a question asked by Anthony Burgess in one of his sermons and he seeks to answer it for the benefit of those hearing him. He is expounding Christ’s prayer for His people not to be taken out of the world (John 17:15). Some people like Enoch and Elijah did have a sudden and glorious call away from this world, but that is not ordinarily the case. Although God loves His people, this does not necessarily mean He must keep them from all misery in this world and give them immediate happiness with Himself in heaven. We think that God ought to give us what will provide us with most happiness, especially seeing as He can if He is willing to do that. Human reason says, “How can God love me, when He keeps heaven and eternal glory from me?” But God’s love, and His children’s hardship in this world may be consistent with each other.

Our Saviour intended the greatest good for His disciples in His prayer, yet He corrects and moderates it. It is not as if He would have them immediately taken to glory. He is content they should be in the fire for a while, to have their dross purged away. God could do many things for His people, which He will not do. He could immediately crown them with eternal glory when they are converted. Or else He could give them perfect and thoroughly sanctified hearts. He could make the world a paradise for them, so that the way to heaven would be no longer straight and narrow, but broad and easy. God could do this, but it pleases Him in His wisdom to follow another course, and appoint a wilderness for us to go through before we can enter in Canaan. Why does God’s love not immediately take the godly out of this world? Since God loves them and they love God, we would think that love would not rest until it had the nearest union possible. But God has reasons for leaving them in this world. Burgess explains what they are in the following updated extract.

1. They have a work to do

Godly men must be present in the world so that they may promote the kingdom of God and bring others to the knowledge of God. This is especially true of the apostles, as apostles, and so of all those that have any office and ministry in the church of God. These are as necessary as the sun is to the world, as the stars in a dark night, as salt to season and preserve from putrefaction. All believers are to use their gifts for others and by their example should give such a glorious light, that others may glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
If the apostles had been taken up to heaven immediately, where would have been the leaven put into the three measures of meal? Where would the mustard seed be sown, that would grow up into a great tree? If the apostles were the planters and founders of the church, it was necessary that they should continue for some time in the world. The world was a wilderness, that could not immediately be made a garden. It was the devil’s habitation; he could not suddenly be dispossessed.

Since God has service for His people to do, no wonder they must continue in this valley of misery. Paul speaks about this fully, it was necessary for them that he would remain although it was better for himself to depart and be with Christ. (Philippians 1:23). It is certainly better for the people of God and ministers of the gospel especially (at the forefront of the battle and exposed to more hatred) to be with Christ in heaven. There they shall be free from all this virulence and the opposition of the ungodly. Yet if we consider the world and the people with whom they live, their life and presence is very necessary. God’s people have work to do, a course to finish, and so they must not look to have the wages before they have laboured in the vineyard.

2. They Need to Exercise Grace

God will not immediately take them out of this troublesome world so that they may be exercised, and made stronger in their graces. God did not immediately put the Israelites into Canaan. Rather, He led them into many dangers and assaulted them with many enemies, so that their valour in themselves and their dependence on God might be more apparent. God will not train up His children to be idle. No sooner does He make them His than He lets the world and the devil loose on them. Why? To draw out their graces, to teach them all spiritual military discipline. They are to fight as the good soldiers of Christ and put on the whole armour of God, because they “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but principalities, against powers” (Ephesians 6:12). The world is a field, in which spiritual battles are to be fought which the Lord beholds. It is also compared to running a race, where there is no time to be idle or sit still, but to focus all their thoughts and the whole heart on the crown they strive for. Expect therefore to have experiences that draw out faith, zeal and heavenly fortitude.

3. They need to Esteem Christ Even More

God does not take us immediately out of the world but leaves us here in combat with the relics of sinful corruption. This is so that being humbled by it, we may better esteem Christ and His righteousness. When we read of Paul taken captive by his lusts and crying out with misery, what does he do? See how powerfully this drives him to Christ, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

It is necessary that we should be kept in this conflict here below. This is so that we might be conscious of our unworthiness and groan under our corruptions. This makes long after Christ, we magnify His love and all that He has done for us. Everything within us cries out for a Christ and the grace of God through Him when we feel ourselves sinking. It makes us importune the favour of God. God wills that we find out by experience the bitterness and weight of sin, so that we may love Christ more, who bore God’s wrath for us.

4. They Need to See More of Himself

God will not take His people immediately out of the world, that so His goodness, mercy and providence, His wisdom and faithfulness may be the more discovered to us. In heaven there the church is at rest, it is out of all danger, there are no waves, no rocks. So that the wisdom and providence of God in keeping His church there, is not at all discovered. When the waters were dried up, Noah had no more necessity for an ark. The Lord therefore wills that we experience these dangers and temptations, so that His care and love may better manifested. The greater the dangers are, the more His faithfulness is revealed. Is it not an admirable thing to consider how God has preserved a church and people to serve Him faithfully, when hell and the world have conspired to destroy them? By this means God has been made known to the world. The craftman’s skill in relation to the metal is seen when it is in the fire. The pilot’s art is manifested, when his ship is on rocks and waves, and under many tempests. Though the world is a place of dangers and temptations for us, yet it is the mirror to display the glorious attributes of God to His children.

5. They Need to Desire Heaven More

God purposes to have His people in this world, so that heaven may be all the more welcome. It is so that they may desire that eternal glory all the more earnestly. The labouring man who has worked hard, is glad of his rest at night. Scripture calls heaven a rest (Hebrews 4:9). How welcome it will be after all your troubles, calamities and miseries, at last to have rest! Here in this life, you have no rest, sin troubles you, the world troubles you, your own heart troubles you, but there remains a rest. And how happy that must be to you. We are pilgrims, whose blessedness it is to get home at last. God therefore will have you experience all kinds of conflicts, spiritual and temporal. He will create one trial after another so that you will say, “we have no abiding place here”. Never did those endangered passengers in Paul’s ship desire more to get to the haven out of all their dangers, than we are to get out of all these troubles into heaven.

6. They Need to Serve God More

God does not immediately take us into heaven, because it is fitting that since we have served sin in this world, we should serve God as much in this world. Your life has been a reproach and a dishonour to Him. It is fitting it should bring glory to His name. Though it is your loss to be kept from heaven, though every day is your great hinderance, yet you are to deny yourself for God’s glory. Remember you gave yourself to serve sin, remember how much service the devil has had from you. So that if you love God’s glory more than your own, you are to be willing to spend yourself for Him, as you have done against Him.

7. They Need to Help Others

God does not remove His immediately out of the world, because of the relations they have. Children need their godly father, the wife needs her godly husband. Although it would be better for them to be in heaven, yet not for their’s. We must be resigned to God’s will when they are taken from us (John 14:28). We all ought to rejoice when our friends are taken out of this world into glory, but in so far as their presence was a comfort and necessary to us, we may grieve. In the law of Moses God forbade the mother bird being killed with her young ones. How much more will He show kindness to His people than the birds of the air. It is true that God in His wisdom does often take His own children out of the world too soon (as we think) when they are in the prime of their service. It is too soon also for their children and dependents, but God is even merciful in this though we do not at present see it. God has determined in mercy the time of our abode in this world (John 13:36).

8. They Need to Wait Until the Best Time

It is not always best to have the best good immediately, but in its time. It is true that to be with the Lord and be freed from sin is best in itself absolutely considered. But when other things are considered it is not best. God makes everything beautiful in his time. None could be more loved of the Father, than Christ Himself, He came from the bosom of His Father, yet until He had finished His course, He is kept from Him. The child’s duty is not to learn the best book first, but what he is most capable of. Though heaven and glory are best, yet not it is not best at this time for us to partake of it. So that when it is best to go out of this world, must be left to the wisdom of God.

SPECIAL OFFER

Christ’s Prayer Before His Passion: Expository Sermons on John 17 by Anthony BurgessSPECIAL 10% discount for Reformation Scotland readers. Use the follow coupon code at checkout:  RST-Burgess-2020. The extract above comes from these two volumes of 145 sermons on John 17.

 Anthony Burgess expounds such topics as God the Father and God the Son, the love of God, providence over death, election, the deity of Christ, the Mediator as teacher and priest and king, union with Christ, the knowledge of God, eternal life, justification, sanctification, obedience, separation from the world, faith, prayer, perseverance, worship, Christian unity, gospel ministry, and the glory of heaven. 

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How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?
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.
3 Sep, 2020

Apparently some atheists fully intend to use the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) legislation to prosecute the Bible and sermons. Currently, this is possible if the Bill passes in its present form. Simply being in possession of a Bible could be a crime. Even if it doesn’t get criminalised there is potential for Christians being harassed by vexatious complaints. We need to pray and make representations about such legislation but we also need to think deeply about our broader response. The reality is that we increasingly inhabit a “cancel culture” where it is possible to shut down views by simply labelling them “abusive” and “hateful.” This is the situation we can expect no matter where we live in the West. In such a climate Christians might be intimidated into self-policing their views by keeping silent or soft-pedalling and apologising away what they believe. While we always need wisdom and grace in confessing the truth, there is no reason to be embarrassed about Scripture but rather every reason to deepen our trust in and our love and obedience towards it. We can even have confidence and boldness in the midst of such opposition.

Psalm 119 is the part of Scripture that instructs us most fully in our response to the Word. There is a simple resolve to love, obey and confess the truth of God’s Word in Psalm 119:43-48. Despite all kinds of opposition and difficulties, the psalmist is unshaken in his commitment to it. The psalmist pleads with the Lord not to take the Word of truth utterly out of his mouth (v43) and adds seven reasons why. David Dickson helpfully follows the train of thought in this section and applies it concisely to our situation.

1. Continue to Confess God’s Word

It is not enough for us to glorify God by believing the Word of God in our heart, we must also confess it with our mouth in times of trial. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

2. Humbly Pray for Help to Confess God’s Word

Because of our sins, God may justly leave us to ourselves in times of trial when His glory and our duty require testimony from us. We must, therefore, flee to God’s grace by prayer and with a sense of our undeserving, ask with confidence that God’s Word would not be taken out of our mouth.

If it is God’s will to humble us by leaving us to ourselves in some parts of our trial, we must still trust Him and plead with Him not to forsake us altogether in our trials. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

3. Continue to Hope in God’s Word

Where God’s children believe that He will carry out the threatenings and promises of His Word, there is hope that neither fear nor favour of men will overcome them in their trials. The psalmist’s hope in God’s judgments is the first reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

4. Continue to Live Out God’s Word

The reason for our perseverance is the Lord keeping faith in our heart, mouth and outward person in our confessing and obeying Him. Thus, the psalmist says he will keep God’s law continually, forever and ever. This is the second reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

5. Find Liberty in Confessing God’s Word

Those who depart from confessing God’s truth cast themselves into troubles, in dangers, and bonds. But those who continue to bear confession to the truth walk as free persons, the truth sets them free. “I will walk at liberty,” says the psalmist. This is the third reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

6. Confess God’s Word in Obeying it

When we conscientiously and honestly endeavour to obey the Word, we have a promise of not being utterly deserted in the day of trial. The psalmist has conscientiously sought God’s precepts, which is the fourth reason he gives for hoping his plea be heard.

7. Confess God’s Word Before Authorities

Terror of kings and those in power ordinarily hinders us from freely confessing God’s truth in a time of persecution. But faith in the truth (sustained in the heart by God) is able to bring forth a confession despite all kinds of danger. The psalmist will speak of God’s testimonies before kings.

8. Confess God’s Word Without Shame

Those who are resolved to confess the truth of God which is questioned by many, will not be ashamed of confessing the truthno matter who mocks at it. Rather they will get honour because of it. The psalmist says that he will speak of God’s testimonies before kings and will not be ashamed. This is the fifth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

9. Love God’s Word Even More

The more we know the excellence of God’s truth and feel the power of God’s hand sustaining us to believe and confess it, the more we will love, delight and take pleasure in the Word of the Lord. The psalmist says that he will delight himself in God’s commandments which he has loved. This is the sixth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

Those that find they are helped to confess the truth in a time of trial, should always afterwards embrace the Lord’s commands even more heartily as precious gifts because of this experience. They should give themselves up entirely to be governed by it. This is what is implied by the psalmist lifting up his hands to the Lord’s commandments.

Those who have endured trials and troubles out of love to God’s commands and overcome temptations have comfort in having proved their love. They may renew and increase their love of obeying them. After saying he will lift up his hands to the Lord’s commandments, he says that he has loved them. In this way, he ratifies and gives approbation of his love to them.

10. Meditate on God’s Word

When a believer experiences the worth of divine truth (which it can testify to on its own) and of those who confess it, they should study more and more earnestly to know the mind of God revealed in it. The psalmist resolves to meditate in the Lord’s statutes, this is the last reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

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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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10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

10 Lessons From a Pandemic. Have We Learned Them?

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

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

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

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

1. Do Not Be Discouraged in Affliction

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

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

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

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

2. Wait for God’s Deliverance from Affliction

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

3. Glorify God in Affliction

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

4. Personal Reformation in Affliction

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

5. Find Refuge in God in Affliction

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

6. Fear God in Affliction

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

7. Find God’s Presence in Affliction

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

8. Exercise Grace Daily in Affliction

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

9. Pray More in Affliction

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

10. Prepare for Death Because of Affliction

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
14 May, 2020

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

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

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

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

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

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

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

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

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

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

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

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

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

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

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

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

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

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8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times

8 Encouragements in Difficult Times
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.
30 Apr, 2020

From financial struggles and other anxieties and fears in the midst of uncertainty to quarantine fatigue, this is a crisis with many added difficulties. And it affects those worst who struggle with some of these things at the best of times. Then there are the deep spiritual burdens as we seek to understand and respond in a sanctified way. We hear the mantra “Everything will be all right”. All kinds of strategies are recommended. But at best they merely distract from rather than engage with our concerns. Sometimes it seems that the coronavirus has changed everything. But there are some things that are still the same because they are enduring, unchanging and unshakable. We can find solid encouragement in the midst of difficult circumstances.

People feel the need to share messages of encouragement at this time. One man in Barcelona is even projecting messages of encouragement on the facade of a building every day. Many take their encouragement from the strength and resilience of others. We are certainly to be thankful for the selfless sacrifice and dedication of many individuals. There are many mercies received in the midst of trying circumstances. We trust also that there are some who are being brought to consider eternal realities more. We can be thankful that God is in various ways restraining open sin and humbling the pride of those who neglect and reject Him. Where, however, can we find the greatest messages of encouragement?

Edmund Calamy, preaching before the House of Lords in 1643 in a time of war needed to find encouragements for the leaders of Parliament. They were engaged in formal thanksgiving for the thwarting of an armed uprising against Parliament. But Calamy went much higher than the people and events around them in seeking encouragements. They were facing a war and the current crisis has often been compared to a battle. In this updated extract, he gives us an enduring example of where we should look for encouragements in difficult times.

1. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING GOD

I think I hear God say to you as He does to Joshua “Be strong and of a good courage…strong and very courageous”. He promised that He would be with him everywhere he went (Joshua 1:6-7, 9). Joshua encouraged the people of Israel the Lord was with them and they should not therefore fear their enemies no matter how great they were (Numbers 14:7 see also Exodus 14:13-14). The God whose cause you manage is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, He has not brought us into depths to drown us, but to wash away our spiritual filthiness. It is not to destroy us, but to manifest His power in our deliverance. He will deliver us by weak means, and by contrary means. He will strike straight strokes with crooked sticks; as He made the treachery of Joseph’s brethren to be a means to advance Joseph, and the falseness of Judas to be a way to save all His elect children.

2. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING PROMISES

Here are six promises like six pillars to undergird our spirits from falling into discouragements. Cast yourselves into the bosom of these promises. (Exodus 23:22-23; Leviticus 26:6-8; Deuteronomy 28:7; 1 Samuel 25:28; Isaiah 41: 10-17; Isaiah 54:17). The last promise belongs to all God’s people, because it is said to be the heritage of the servants of the Lord.

3. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXAMPLES

We cannot be in a lower condition than Jonah was when he was in the whale’s belly. It was like a living grave. Yet God commanded the whale to deliver him safe ashore. We cannot be in a worse condition than Jeremiah was when he was in the dungeon. He sank in the mire so deep that thirty men could hardly lift him up. We cannot be in a worse condition than Peter was when he was ready to sink, or than Moses when put in an ark of bull-rushes. Or than the children of Israel in Babylon, who were like dry bones in the grave, so that Ezekiel himself could not tell whether they could live. Or as Peter when put in prison by Herod.

Yet God sent an Ethiopian to deliver Jeremiah. Jesus Christ reached out His hand to keep Peter from sinking. God sent Pharaoh’s daughter to preserve Moses. He sent Cyrus to deliver Israel out of Babylon. And He sent his angel to deliver Peter out of prison. Indeed, Peter himself did not believe it any more than the Church that was praying for him. God sent them an answer to their prayers, while they were praying, but they did not believe it.

God has often done so for us. Comfort one another with these examples and take this home for your everlasting consolation. God never permits his children to meet with a huge unmovable difficulty such as the stone before the door of the sepulchre without sending some angel or other to move it away.

4. YOU HAVE AN ENCOURAGING CAPTAIN

Jesus Christ came into the world, when the Jews were in the saddest condition, in the depth of slavery (for the sceptre was departed from Judah) and in the depth of divisions, for they had so many different sects, as they could hardly tell what religion they were of. In this sad condition Shiloh came. Let us implore Jesus Christ to come to our nation in this low condition and to bring peace with Him.

Christ descended into the lowest parts of the earth for our sakes, and whose love is a depth that cannot be fathomed (Ephesians 3:17-18). The depths of our misery call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national.

5. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING COMPANY

You have the Lord of Hosts to accompany you and God’s people.

6. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING WEAPONS

These weapons are prayers, tears, fasting and humbling ourselves. Ambrose encouraged Augustine’s mother that a son for whom so many tears were shed could not be lost. So I say, and I hope prove to be a true prophet, that a nation for whom so many prayers and tears are made shall not be destroyed. God never yet destroyed a nation where there were many of his children praying, fasting, and humbling
themselves.

7. YOU HAVE THE ENCOURAGING PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The great and wise God, who is our Father, has from all eternity decreed what the outcome of these troubles will be. There is nothing done in the lower house of parliament upon earth, but what is decreed in the higher house of parliament in heaven.

All the lesser wheels are ordered and overruled by the upper wheels. There is a story about a young man at sea in a mighty tempest. When all the passengers were at their wits end for fear, he was only cheerful.  When he was asked the reason, he answered that the pilot of the ship was his father, and he knew his father would care for him. Our heavenly Father is our pilot, He sits at the stern and though the ship of the kingdom is ready to sink, be of good comfort our pilot will care for us. Are not five sparrows (says Christ) sold for two farthings and not one of them is forgotten before God? One sparrow is not worth half a farthing. You will not have half a farthing’s worth of harm more than God has from all eternity decreed.

It is no great matter (in Christ’s opinion) to have the body killed. The body is only the cabinet, the jewel is the soul. And if the jewel will be safe in heaven, it does not greatly matter to have the cabinet broken.

8. YOU HAVE ENCOURAGING EXPERIENCES

It is observable that when Moses went up to the mount to pray, he took the rod of God in his hand. The reason is because by that rod God had previously done wonderful things for His people. The very sight of that rod encouraged Moses to trust in God from the experience of His former goodness. Let us never go to our prayers without carrying the rod of God in our hand and heart. I mean the solemn and serious contemplation of God’s former wonderful goodness. Let us say with the apostle, “Notwithstanding the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the LORD shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:17-18).

CONCLUSION

Here are many encouragements to continue in prayer and not give up. We need to search out the promises that can properly be used in prayer on behalf of Church and nation. We need to cry out of the depths to the Lord. As Calamy says the depths of our misery need to “call on the depth of His love and mercy, that God for Christ sake would pardon our abyss of sins both personal and national, and bring us out of our abyss of miseries, both personal and national”.

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How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

How to Understand What God is Saying in Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Ways of Understanding What God is Saying in Events

(a) Reflect prayerfully.

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

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

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

(c) Reflect on the nature of it.

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

(d) Reflect on Scripture.

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

(e) Reflect on the circumstances.

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

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

(f) Reflect on the general purposes.

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

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

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

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

2. Mistakes in Understanding What God is Saying in Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble

Private Prayer is the Christian’s Strongest Refuge in Trouble
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Apr, 2020

It’s a time for constant, earnest prayer. There are special promises for calling on God in a time of trouble (Psalm 50:15). We are being given plenty of opportunity for secret prayer by being confined to our houses. We can “enter into our closet” and enter the strongest refuge we have through private prayer. It is through private prayer that we strengthen our faith in the Lord Himself who is the ultimate refuge.

Thomas Brooks wrote about how essential and urgent private prayer was at the time of the plague in London. He wrote a whole book The Secret Key to Heaven to encourage this. Here is an updated excerpt from one section.

In times of great trouble and trials, in times of great afflictions and persecutions, private prayer is the Christian’s food and drink. It is their chief city of refuge or shelter and hiding place in a stormy day. When the saints have been driven by violent persecutions into holes and caves, dens, deserts and howling wildernesses, private prayer has been their food and drink. Under Christ it has been their only refuge.

When Esau came forth with hostile intentions against Jacob, secret prayer was Jacob’s refuge (Genesis 32:6-9, 11). He recalls God’s promises, they must be prayed over in private. When Jacob and all that was near and dear to him, were in eminent danger of being cut off by Esau and the men of blood that were with him, he takes himself to private prayer as his only city of refuge against the rage and malice of the mighty.

When Jeremiah was in a solitary and loathsome dungeon, private prayer was his food and drink, it was his only city of refuge (Jeremiah 33:1-3). God encourages him by private prayer, to seek for further revelations of those choice and unique favours, which He purposed to confer on His people in future times.

When Manasseh was in chains, in his enemies’ country, when he was stripped of all his princely glory and led captive into Babylon, he takes himself to private prayer as his only City of refuge (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). By this means he prevails with God for his restoration to his crown and kingdom.

Private prayer is a city of refuge that no power nor politics, no craft nor cruelty, no violence nor force is ever able to overcome. Though the joint prayers of the people of God together were often obstructed and hindered in the times of the ten persecutions (of the early Church), yet they were never able to obstruct or hinder secret prayer.

When men and devils have done their worst, every Christian will be able to maintain his private trade with heaven. Private prayer will shelter a chri∣stian against all the national, domestic, and personal storms and tempests, that may threaten him.

When a man is lying upon a sick bed alone, or when a man is in prison alone, or when a man is left on the dunghil alone like Job. Or when a man is like John banished for the testimony of Jesus into this or that Island alone, private prayer will be his food and drink, his shelter and hiding place, his heaven. When all other trades fail, this trade of private prayer will hold good.

FREE BOOKLET

Many Christians ‘do not clearly nor fully understand the necessity, excellency, and usefulness of this subject’. In this short (18 page) booklet, Thomas Brooks shows why private prayer is the urgent need of our souls, families, churches and nation. Usually available for £1 hard copies can be posted within the UK to those who are committed to reading and acting on it. An electronic version is also available for readers from other countries.

“The power of religion and godliness lives, thrives or dies, as closet prayer lives, thrives or dies. Godliness never rises to a higher pitch than when men keep closest to their closets”.

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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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Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times
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.
1 Mar, 2019

For many of us it seems like time equals pressure. We’re “pressed for time” because there’s less available than what we need to fulfil our “pressing priorities”. It seems like time gets away from us and there’s never enough to achieve everything. Appreciating its value only seems to add to the pressure we feel in relation to it. Of course we all have exactly the same time, 24 hours in a day. Its limitations and value call for wise stewardship. How should we go about that?

The great challenge is to live wisely in relation to time. After speaking about living wisely, the apostle Paul goes on to identify one particular area; our use of time. We must “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). But what does that mean? And what is it to redeem the time during days that are described as “evil”? In the following updated extract James Fergusson gives a helpful explanation and application of this verse. There are some key principles here for how we use our time.

The apostle illustrates the previous instruction (v15) by pointing out one main way of walking wisely. He exhorts them to redeem the time. This means, make use of every opportunity and fitting occasion for doing good. The word translated “time” literally means the moment of time which is fitting and opportune for doing anything (Galatians 6:10). It means to use it with more diligence than usual. This may mean denying themselves their own pleasures, ease and worldly profit. In this way they regain the time previously lost by negligence. They should do as much in the present opportunity as they might have done in the past if time had been used with diligence rather than being misspent.

They are to be like merchants (the word “redeem” relates to that) who buy their commodities while the fit time of buying lasts. Perhaps they have had great losses, or previously spent their time idly. They deny themselves their own pleasures and ease and by greater diligence than usual seek to redeem and buy back again the time which is lost. He enforces this duty of redeeming time in view of the evil of the present times due to the wickedness of men. He also refers to various troubles in those times that were hanging over the heads of churches. Every opportunity of doing good might be taken from them shortly (Ecclesiastes 11:2; John 9:4).

 

1. Identify the Best Time

Some times and periods are more fit and opportune than others for doing something in the service of God or others.  A great part of  spiritual wisdom and accurate living consists in fulfilling the duties God requires at the right time in a diligent and timely way. Those who misspend their time out of love for personal ease, profit, pleasure and reputation ignore this. They neglect the one good thing which God’s glory and their own salvation require to be done at a particular time. They are like fools since wise living consists in redeeming the time.

 

2. Identify How to Proportion Time

We are naturally prodigal and lavish in misspending time. It is a great part of divine wisdom to regain misspent time by double diligence. We can buy it back again, so far as is possible, by reducing our comforts such as our time in sleep, and weaning ourselves from ordinary and lawful recreations at other times. This command to redeem the time, implies this.

 

3. Identify How to Live in the Worst Times

We must not comply with the evils of the times in order to gain the favour of wicked men and avoid their hatred (Hosea 5:10-11). The way in which sin and wickedness abounds in our time should make us more conscientious and diligent in spending time profitably.  We should be even more focused on accurate and circumspect living by keeping at a great distance from anything sinful in the times in which we live (Revelation 3:4). Evil times not only threaten to remove all opportunity of doing good (Ecclesiastes 11:2) but are also accompanied with many temptations from evil examples, trials and persecutions (Matthew 24:24). This requires greater circumspection. The dishonour which God gets from many in such times should make us honour Him all the more, (Psalm 119:136). Paul makes the evils of the times a motive, not only to redeem the time but also to walk circumspectly.

 

4. Identify How to Use the Worst Times to the Best Advantage

No matter how evil the times may be, God’s children can and will make best use of them. They can even use the evil of those times for God’s honour and their own spiritual advantage. The worse that the times are, they able all the more to find a way to make the best of them for these purposes. Paul makes the evil of the times a spur to incite the godly to do their duty. He speaks of “redeeming the time, for the days are evil”.

 

Conclusion

Perhaps we feel that there are ever greater demands on our time in a generation in which there is decline and even hostility in relation to the gospel. There are challenges not faced in past generations that witnessed greater spiritual prosperity. The encouragement that the apostle Paul gives is that this actually provides an opportunity for the wise use of time to the maximum glory of God. It needs wisdom and discernment to identify what we are called to do and how we are to serve God not just with our lives but also in this particular time of our lives. We often feel that we have squandered time or simply did not have enough but Paul encourages us that we can buy that time back again with such discernment. We need to identify the opportunities we have now for the glory of God that we will not always have. It is a significant challenge but we know where to go to receive such wisdom.

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