Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find
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.
1 Jun, 2019

Happiness research and the science of happiness has apparent growing influence. Behavioral scientist Paul Dolan hit the headlines with controversial pronouncements on whether family and happiness go together. He defines and measures happiness in terms of “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time”. He says this is “the final arbiter of the rightness of what you do” not “moral judgements based on ill-conceived ideas about what is right and wrong”. It’s no great surprise since in a fallen world feeling good is frequently divorced from doing good. Temptation seeks to maximise “the pleasures of sin” which last only for “a season” (Hebrews 11:25). But true happiness is both objective and moral because it is God-centred. This is what makes it so hard to find; we look for it in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

Everyone seeks happiness. But true and objective happiness can only be found in God not subjective pleasure divorced from God. Our purpose is to glorify God in all things and He is also to be our highest enjoyment. Older writers thought a lot about this subject. Thomas Watson says, “It is not every good that makes man blessed, but it must be the supreme good, and that is God”. William Ames also sums up the objective and moral nature of happiness particularly well. “What chiefly and finally ought to be striven for is not happiness which has to do with our own pleasure, but goodness which looks to God’s glory”.

This is obvious when we consider the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 He pronounces many conditions to be happy which are not connected with the sort of pleasure and purpose most people seek. Those 8 rules of happiness go entirely against the grain. In John 13:15-17 Christ is explaining the example He has given in washing the disciples feet. He teaches them about true humility and love in serving one another. The very succinct promise contained in John 13:17 makes obedience fundamental to true happiness. He makes it clear that He is not content with a bare speculative knowledge about humble obedience.  We must “know these things” or be sufficiently informed of our duty in relation to them. But we are only blessed and “happy” if we “do them”. True happiness is hard to find because we look for it in the wrong way. Humbling ourselves and putting what we know into practice is hard. George Hutcheson draws out the implications of John 13:17 in the following updated extract.

 

1. Ignorance is Not Bliss

Christ does not approve of blind ignorance in His people, whatever their practice or life may be. He requires them to base their practice on sound and solid knowledge of His will.  He requires that they know these things, and then do them. People can remain very slow to understand when much effort has been taken to instill knowledge of our duty. This may be through weakness or carelessness or being influenced by sinful inclination and earthly mindedness.

Christ’s emphasis on “if” you know these things, presupposes that knowledge must go before practice. But it may also imply some doubt as to whether they were capable of understanding this teaching. They were so carried away with earthly dreams of the Messiah’s kingdom that they could not understand clear predictions of His sufferings (Luke 18:31-34). It would be no wonder if their sinful rivalry also hid this teaching (about humility and mutual service) from themselves.

 

2. Knowledge Alone Will Not Lead to Happiness

The Lord does not approves of those who are content with mere knowledge and speculation in matters of religion. It is His will that when we know our duty, we put it into practice. Our practice then proves the sincerity and soundness of our knowledge. If we know these things and do them then we prove that we really do know them (see James 1:22-25).

In particular, the Lord requires the practice of humility. This is the test of whether we are genuine. It is not what mere knowledge we have of this teaching–though it may be appealing to contemplate it. The test is how we put it into practice in particular demanding situations. This is because it is more distasteful and trying to do this compared with merely contemplating the truth. Christ requires that practice follows on from knowledge in this particular matter.

This teaching about humility and mutual accommodation is very comprehensive. It contains many duties in itself which are required in a variety of situations and demanding circumstances.· Therefore Christ speak of what is understood by washing one another’s feet (John 13:14) as things (plural). We must know these things, and do them.

 

3. Obedience and Humility Contain Happiness

Although our obedience and practice deserves nothing, it still contains a blessing in itself. It is the way to such rich blessedness, that it compensate for all loss and disadvantage. This is Christ’s encouragement, we are happy if we do these things.

Although the humble person who accommodates themselves to serve others might seem to lose much in the world by doing so; blessedness makes up any loss. Attaining the practice of humility is blessedness in itself. It hides a person from many storms and much discontentment that sweep others away. It is said that we are happy if we do these things.

 

4. Lack of Obedience Leads to Misery

Proud people are so far from blessedness, that they are under a curse; especially if they know their duty and will not do it. This statement necessarily implies the opposite reality. If you know these things and do not do them, you are not blessed but cursed because it is a sinful omission (see James 4:17; Psalm 119:21).

 

Conclusion

The Lord Jesus Christ turns many of our ideas about happiness upside down. Happiness lies more in seeking to please God and others than in pursuing moments of pleasure for ourselves. There is a simplicity in His teaching; it is not so much hard to grasp as hard to practice. The great challenge to us is whether we are prepared to humble and deny ourselves to follow His counsel.

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How Should You Treat Rulers You Disagree With?

How Should You Treat Rulers You Disagree With?

How Should You Treat Rulers You Disagree With?
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 May, 2019

In an age of polarising politics and toxic political conversation it’s easy to be influenced by the way of the world. We’re likely to go along with anything which echoes something of our own views.  There’s no shortage of cynical comment, media hounding, social media posts or biting political satire that mocks those in power. It’s frequently thought that those in the public eye are fair game for such attacks. It’s part of a wider contempt for authority within our culture. Political comment fuelled by frustration, anger or ridicule is likely to go far and wide these days. We may agree with some of our rulers and deeply disagree with others. We are unlikely to agree with all of them all of the time. We may be frustrated by them or irritated by their words, actions or decisions. But how should we respond?

One may feel such a sense of opposition to a ruler and their policies that it can inspire a feeling of loathing. Cruel nicknames, ridicule and contemptuous language can abound. Things may be passed on that are not absolutely established as fact but we might almost feel that we want them to be true because of our deep opposition. People may get carried away with emotion rather than stopping to reflect on their responsibilities. We need to stop and think.

We need to think a little more carefully perhaps about the position that rulers in society have.  The Bible makes it clear that they deserve our respect and prayers (Romans 13:6-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Are we as ready to pray for our rulers as we are to complain about them? There are a lot of duties that we owe to our rulers. The Larger Catechism shows how this issue is bound up with the fifth commandment. To some that is surprising because they only think of the fifth commandment as relating to our duty to our parents (Exodus 20:12). But the Larger Catechism goes further (Q124). It means not only our “natural parents” but all those who “by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority”.

This relates to the authority that God has placed in the Church. For instance Paul often speaks of himself in the role of a father to congregations (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 4:14-15; Galatians 4:19).  God’s servants in the Old Testament were often honoured in this way too (2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 13:14). But rulers of nations and societies are also spoken of as parents (Isaiah 49:23).  Authority is a great blessing ordained by God for society as well as the family (which is itself the foundation of society). Of course in one case it is natural and lifelong and the other case it is social and temporary. The degree of loyalty and support that a child owes to its parents is not however identical to that which a person owes to the state. The parental understanding of authority is helpful though because it explains that all relationships of authority ought to be marked by mutual respect and love within the context of their obligations.

We are in no way suggesting that rulers must never be criticised or opposed. Rather we are exploring what the Bible has to say on our overall attitude to rulers and how and when we must express our dissent and opposition.

 

1. How Should We Treat our Rulers?

We should treat them with proper respect. Those who have authority over us are to be honoured (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17). This honour is to be in thought (Ecclesiastes 10:20), word (2 Peter 2:10) and action (Ecclesiastes 8:2; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Romans 13:1,6). This includes giving obedience to whatever they require which is lawful according to God’s Word (Matthew 22:21). Honouring them also includes praying for them and expressing thanksgiving for their role (Nehemiah 2:3; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). We may also be required to protect them in certain circumstances (1 Samuel 26:15-16; Esther 6:2).

 

2. How Should We Not Treat our Rulers?

We should avoid displaying an attitude of envy (Numbers 16:1-3), unjustified rebellion (2 Samuel 15:1-12) or contempt (1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 10:27). We should avoid speaking evil of them (Titus 3:1-2).

There is justified rebellion but this is not at the least abuse of power or matter with which they are displeased. People should suffer long before they take the step of revolution in self-defence and use all lawful and non-violent means of redress in the meantime. When they resist they do not resist the office but the person who occupies the office who has exceeded the limits of the power of that office.

 

3. Should We Obey Anything Contrary to God’s Law?

It is never our duty to obey any commands that are contrary to the law of God (Acts 4:19; Daniel 6:13). Rather they must be resisted and disobeyed (Acts 5:28-29; Exodus 1:17; Jeremiah 1:16-18; 1 Samuel 22:17). No command contrary to God’s law has any authority. When any ruler requires something contrary to God’s law they are exceeding the bounds of their authority. Such laws do not derive their authority from God but are devised by “the throne of iniquity” (Psalm 94:20). Where we resist, however, it should be done with meekness and humility as far as possible (1 Peter 3:15). We should not be afraid of wicked rulers and wicked commands (Hebrews 11:23 and 27). Sometimes preserving our life from tyrannical rulers is necessary (1 Samuel 21:10; 1 Kings 19:3). But we need discernment as to how to act in situations where we may feel threatened (Ecclesiastes 10:4).

 

4. What Do We Do When we Disagree with Them?

It can be hard to respect some politicians. Sometimes indeed rulers cannot have our respect (2 Kings 3:14; 1 Samuel 15:35) and it must be withheld from them. But this should not be done hastily and in a fit of passion (Ecclesiastes 8:3). We must acknowledge the weighty responsibility and difficulty of their role. Patience and forbearance may be required at some times. It is easy for people in such circumstances to make mistakes and say things that are ill-judged. Sometimes we must give the benefit of the doubt and be charitable, other times we cannot. We read of some misgovernment more cautiously described as “an error” (Ecclesiastes 10:5). There may be certain weaknesses or “infirmities” (as the Larger Catechism describes them) with which we must be patient. We ought to be cautious too in our language in moderating how we express disapproval and dissent out of respect for the office of the ruler. When we protest against them or challenge them we ought to do so in a respectful way. It requires great wisdom for there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Perhaps there are times when we must mourn and pray in secret (Amos 5:13).

 

5. What Do We Do About their Sins?

The Larger Catechism gives a very full summary of the duties required of rulers which are commonly neglected (Q128). Also covered are the sins that are only too familiar in those that exercise power (Q129). There may be sin and abuse of power in rulers and we are not to turn a blind eye to that (Ecclesiastes 10:5-6). We are not to excuse their faults any more than others (Mark 6:18). Sin and folly must be pointed out (Acts 4:8-10; Isaiah 5:23). It is often necessary to withstand a ruler in this (2 Samuel 24:3; 2 Chronicles 26:28; 2 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 14:2). Their sin may often need to be rebuked publicly due to their position of influence (1 Timothy 5:20). The prophets were often required to do this. The sinful actions and decisions of rulers can have long last consequences for a nation (1 Kings 14:16). It is a great plague for a nation to have rulers who are wicked (Psalm 12:8). We can pray and speak against their sins and we can pray that they would be brought to repentance. But we must be careful that we are not tempted to have a sinful spirit ourselves towards them (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19).

 

Conclusion

We cannot hope to answer all the difficult situations that may arise in various contexts in such a short article. None of this is intended to give approval to any actions of specific rulers. But there should be enough here to make us reflect further on our attitude. We should not take our cue from the world in terms of our engagement with politics and with our rulers. Being salt and light means showing an attitude of grace in these matters. We should certainly care about how our nation is governed and express an opinion but that should not be coloured by the vitriol that commonly marks political conversation. It is very challenging. How do you pray for rulers that you believe are contributing to the moral destruction of your country? How do you express some measure of thanksgiving for them? It is very complex and requires a wisdom that we do not have in ourselves. We must seek it from God.

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What is the Purpose of Life?

What is the Purpose of Life?

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

Why did God make me? What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? These are important questions that most people ask at some point in their lives. The Shorter Catechism dives in at the deep end by tackling this fundamental issue in the very first question. “What is man’s chief end?” is basically asking, “What is the point of our existence?”

This article is a chapter from the book “Bible Truth Explored” by Murdo A N Macleod.

 

No special purpose?

Many people think that we have no special purpose in life. They think everyone can choose their own goals in life, because there is no more to life than enjoying ourselves and getting the most out of our time here. What a poor, selfish attitude that is! Jesus told us about a man who said to himself, “eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Because that was his sole purpose in life, God called him a fool. The Catechism tells us that we do have a purpose, or an “end,” a goal or aim in life.

 

Many special purposes?

Many people also think that there are many special purposes for living. They include to work and look after our families, education, science and development, and of course recreation. While all these are important in their own place, none of them is our chief end. We have one “chief” purpose, one supreme aim. Our “chief end” is our foremost special purpose, the whole point of our existence.

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

 

To glorify God

Our chief end has two aspects. The first aspect is “to glorify God.” Does this mean that we have to try and make God more glorious than He already is? No. We cannot add to God’s glory. It is already perfect. It can neither be increased nor reduced.

“We have one ‘chief’ purpose, one supreme aim.”

However, there can be variation in how God’s creatures display His glory. Think of the sun. We cannot make the sun shine brighter, but clouds sometimes hide or block the sun’s brightness. We cannot make God any more glorious than He is. But our sins are like clouds, which hide or overshadow God’s reputation. Our sins make the world a darker place and obscure God’s honour.

To “glorify God” is not to add to His glory but to live in such a way as honours Him and declares His gloriousness to all who see and hear us. It is to live a life of obedience to God, not hiding His glory behinds clouds of disobedience.

Our duty is to do everything to the glory of God. Our lives are not divided into parts, one part about spiritual matters and the other part worldly concerns. It is not a case of having one part of our lives obeying God and another driven by a desire to please and glorify ourselves. Whether at home or work, study or leisure, our whole lives are to be focused on glorifying God.

 

To enjoy God

The other aspect of our chief end is “to enjoy God forever.” Enjoying God means being pleased and delighted with who God is, finding Him to be the one source of our deepest satisfaction and pleasure. This enjoyment is a consequence of glorifying God, although it should not be our main motivation for glorifying God. We should glorify God because God is so glorious, not because of the pleasure we may consequently experience. When we think of how we enjoy God, we can think both of enjoying Him in this world and of enjoying Him in the world to come.

 

Enjoying God in this world

The Christian enjoys the presence of God. This is because God has restored a friendly relationship between Him and them. Instead of being afraid of God and antagonistic towards Him, the Christian finds pleasure and satisfaction in the presence of God.

The Christian enjoys pleasing God. Instead of making it their priority to please themselves, or keep other people happy, the Christian enjoys thinking about God and how they can serve Him and glorify Him best with their lives and talents.

The Christian enjoys activities in which they meet with God. Instead of being most happy when God is pushed to the back of their minds and feels very far away, the Christian enjoys every opportunity to spend time with God. These opportunities include reading the Bible, praying, and church services on the Lord’s Day.

 

Enjoying God in the world to come

The Christian’s enjoyment will last “forever” because God is everlasting. The enjoyment of God which the believer has in this world is only a little foretaste of what they will enjoy in eternity. In heaven, they will be able to completely and continually glorify and enjoy God.

Our chief end is something that should absorb our attention and energy. It should never be far from our thoughts that the main reason for our existence is to glorify and enjoy God. When we are more concerned about our own glory, and find our pleasures in other things, we show that we are not fit for our main purpose and our priorities are all wrong. We should take Paul’s advice: “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

BIBLE TRUTH EXPLORED

Based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, this book helps us to see how Bible truths fit together, relate to and depend on each other so that we can learn, live and love the Truth.

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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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Thinking the Best Thoughts

Thinking the Best Thoughts

Thinking the Best Thoughts
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.
8 Feb, 2019

Recent research concludes that “taking time to think kind thoughts about yourself and loved ones has psychological and physical benefits”. The study set out to discover why this could lead to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health. Participants were given an audio tape that either encouraged them to think positively or negatively. There was a positive physical benefit for those in the first group. Yet the most important thing is not merely our physical but our spiritual wellbeing. We can think thoughts that make us feel good. But the most important question is: are they true? Only what is true and right will lead to spiritual wellbeing. What sort of things should we think about? The Bible of course, has the answer.

The Bible does tell us that we ought to think kind thoughts but that is not enough in itself. Rather, it begins by emphasising that they must be true. Philippians 4:8 tells us we must think about things that are virtuous, just, pure and lovely. We also ought to think on things that are praiseworthy, of good report and that commend others for the right things. It’s an attractive list but how do we go about putting it into practice? In the following updated extract James Fergusson reflects on what this means for us. He shows that Paul’s concern is that the Christians in Philippi would make the truth and the Christian faith attractive to the non-Christians around them by the way in which they lived. They had to be careful in such a society not to be drawn away with things that were impure, dishonest

 

1. Think About How You Live

Think on these things means literally (in Greek) to search out something diligently, by comparing one thing with another like accountants. Christians have a duty to think about how they live, especially when they live among those who hate religion and seek every opportunity to speak evil of it. They must set themselves to search, find out and draw up accounts of what means and conduct may adorn religion most and make it lovely unto others. This is how they are to conduct themselves in all things.

 

2. Think About Everything True

Christians are not to be so scrupulous that they reject things which are in themselves true and good. Even though they are professed and practised by those who are otherwise extremely bad. He exhorts them to think on and imitate everything true and honest, even among the heathen.

 

3. Think About Nothing But the Truth

Christians have a duty to discern truth from error, rejecting the latter and adhering to the former (Ephesians 4:14-15). They are to speak nothing but truth in their ordinary communication (Ephesians 4:25). They are to do what they promise to do (Psalm 15:4). Thus, they are to think on whatever things are true.

 

4. Think About Things that Are Honourable

Christians have a duty to live in a way that by the whole tendency of their conduct they may gain respect from others for themselves and their profession. Their whole life must be characterised by nothing but gravity. They must be far from vulgarity, superficiality and vanity in their clothing, words, actions and all their behaviour (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Paul exhorts them to consider those things that are honest (or grave, dignified or honourable as it is in the original Greek).

 

5. Think About Things that Are Just

Christians ought to consider (and do accordingly) things that are just. This means whatever we are bound to do to others what we owe:

  • to God or man (Matthew 22:21);
  • by the law of nature (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • by national law (Ruth 3:13)
  • by our position of responsibility (Nehemiah 6:11);
  • by agreement e.g. a sum of money or an amount of grain (Colossians 4:1);
  • by the rules of prudence, equity or charity (Colossians 4:1);
  • by respect, fear or honour (Romans 13:7);
  • by goodwill (Romans 13:8).

It may be something additional to these so that none are defrauded of that which is their own. Paul directs them to think on the things that are just.

 

6. Think About Things that Are Pure

Christians who seek to adorn the gospel must strive for purity and chastity in every part of their conduct. They must be far from anything in words or action which may tend to obscenity or any bitter root of uncleanness within (Ephesians 4:29). Paul exhorts them to think on the things that are pure or chaste.

 

7. Think About Things that Are Lovely

Christians are not, however, to venture into things that are sinful to please those whom they live among (2 Peter 2:7-8). Yet they are bound (so far as they can with a good conscience) to make themselves and their profession commendable, even to wicked men. They do this by their lovely, amiable and accommodating conduct (Titus 3:2-3). Paul directs them to think on those things that are lovely.

 

8. Think About Things that Are of Good Report

Christians are not to hunt after the applause of others (Galatians 1:10). Yet, they are to live in such a way that they may be spoken well of deservedly, lest others speak evil of the gospel because of them. They do good to others according to their ability and responsibilities. They avoid everything which may tend to make their names stink and be repugnant to others (1 Peter 2:2). Thus, he commands them to think on things that are of good report.

 

9. Think About Things that Are of Praiseworthy

A Christian cannot immediately embrace everything that is well reported of. Nor seek everything that may gain praise for themselves among those with whom they live (Luke 16:15). Unless something is virtuous in itself and truly worthy of praise, they are to reject and abhor it. Even though it is praised by others as much as possible. Paul exhorts them to think on those things which are of good report: but with this caution, if there be any virtue or praise in them.

 

Conclusion

What we focus our minds on matters a great deal not just physically, but spiritually and morally. It matters not just for us but for those around us and above all it matters to God.  Just like the participants in the research, what we listen to matters and has an influence on us. The voices that we listen to in society, the media and around us can influence us too much. We need to take care that we are not listening to instructions that are negative and harmful in a spiritual and moral sense. Discernment is able to take whatever things may be true and virtuous and leave the rest. We have to be intentional about our minds and habits so as to live in the way most glorifying to God and that makes the gospel most attractive to others.

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The Answer to a Political Crisis

The Answer to a Political Crisis

The Answer to a Political Crisis
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.
16 Nov, 2018

There is no shortage of feverish opinion and speculation in a deepening political crisis. The rhetoric and debate may be polarised in all (not just opposite) directions. As onlookers perhaps we are thankful we do not bear the burden of managing it. But do we have a duty? Should we be concerned or resigned to whatever will happen? It seems impossible to find a solution that everyone can support. Events seem to compound rather than resolve the difficulties. How will a resolution be found? Is there an answer that has not been considered?

Surely when things come to such a conflict and intractable impasse we can see that a greater wisdom is required. Rather simply but not glibly, the answer is to seek wisdom beyond ourselves. This is what Solomon did out of a sense of the weight of the responsibilities he was to carry (1 Kings 3:9). The following is extracted and updated from a sermon by Lazarus Seaman on Solomon’s request for wisdom. He was a minister in London and a member of the Westminster Assembly. He preached the sermon before the House of Commons in 1644 on a day set aside for public fasting during a time of political crisis. He shows how Solomon’s request for wisdom is a precedent for all who are in authority. We can learn from this how to pray for those in authority and also how we ought to act.

 

1. All in Government Have a Special Need for Wisdom

Solomon’s request for “an understanding heart” must be theirs for themselves (1 Kings 3:9). National governors have much business to conduct. They have many enemies to encounter: foreign, domestic, or both.  There will be some, even from within, that will drive their own agendas and consult their own interests. Thus, they make parties and factions to the prejudice of the public good. David makes a sad complaint to Abishai about Absalom his own son seeking his life (2 Samuel 16:11), something similar is too often verified in others. Flatterers, hypocrites and false friends are enemies as well as those who are divisive, rebellious and subversive. It requires no small measure of wisdom to deal with all these effectively.

The trust committed to supreme rulers is great. They have to govern many people with different situations, attitudes and opinions. There is a mixture of contrary inclinations in them all. That which pleases some, others abhor. One person’s rise is from another’s ruin. The aims are to be high and noble but the means are not easy to identify and are often unsuccessful. The lack of a little wisdom prejudices not only the reputation of those in authority but also the success of their affairs.

David was happy for a while; whatever he did “pleased all the people” (2 Sam.3.36). Even if all in authority were always as happy as this, there is a strict account to be given to God afterwards. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Even if we can get the approval of the world therefore, that will not satisfy. All the lions of the world must give an account to the Lamb, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He alone is to continue King forever (1 Timothy 6:15).   

 

2. Wisdom is Better than All Earthly Blessings

Wisdom is better than riches and a long life (Ecclesiastes 8:12; 5:13). It is better also than success in business, for that is common to wise men and fools (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Wisdom directs governors how to discharge their duty to God and man aright in all respects. It is the knowledge of what ought to be done, and a readiness in doing it.

 

3.What Kind of Wisdom Do Those in Government Need?

They need wisdom to direct them how to go in and out (1 Kings 3:7). They need to know how to order all their affairs and each part of their office at all times according to the right ends. This is so that what is done may be just, honourable, appropriate and most gracious (Ecclesiastes 8:5; Proverbs 14:8).

 

4. How Can they Obtain this Wisdom?

Prayer is a special way to obtain wisdom (James 1:5). Good books, good thinking, good counsel, good example and studying God’s Word can help greatly to get and perfect wisdom. Yet all this is in vain without prayer. It is God who gives wisdom to the wise (Daniel 2:21).

(a) Prayer Obtains the Blessing

Prayer alone can obtain the blessing on other means. The blessing on all things whatever depends on prayer. There is an event and some outcome of all that is said or done. But who can take any comfort though it prospers if they did not seek God? Who must have the blame except ourselves if anything does not succeed, when we restrained prayer beforehand? Strong resolutions, vigorous endeavours, a prudent choice of suitable means, the nick of time and all possible carefulness come to nothing if God opposes; or indeed if God does not graciously intervene. When He is humbly sought in prayer we will make the progress Eliezer did in providing a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:15). It will be as if the things we desire ran on wheels toward us.

(b) Prayer is the Most Effective Means

Prayer is the most efficacious of all other means. God will respond to the humble request of His servants and do that which He will not do on any other occasion. Daniel is praying and the angel Gabriel interrupts him with the news that he had come to give him understanding (Daniel 9:20, 22).

 

5. We All Need This Wisdom

Which of us can say I am wise or I have my due proportion either for the soul, for the body, or for outward things? We need it in every aspect of outward things and much more in spiritual things , but most of all for matters of eternity. And I fear we lack it. Who knows how to order his own family as he ought? Or how to order himself? Differences (both smaller and greater) might either be prevented, lessened, or sooner remedied if we had more wisdom. Families, Church, State, ourselves and our posterity are all in a perishing condition.  

 

6. We All Need to Pray For This Wisdom

Let us pray earnestly for ourselves and for one another that we may be richly supplied with this grace. We should pray that each of us may have it according to our need in all respects. We should pray for those in government and the Parliament and everyone in the land.

When God blesses Church or State He will provide wise and just governors for them. They will so order things that everyone may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty ( 1 Timothy 2:2). But it is as hard a matter to obey well as it is to rule well. This sometimes because the “powers which be” are sometimes divided against God and among themselves.

Pray that God would teach us to know our duties towards Him and to one another in every way. It may be that one reason there is not sufficient wisdom among us is because we do not seek it. Or perhaps we only desire it for ourselves and do not care how destitute others are. The Lord has enough in store for us all.

The only wisdom is for everyone to be wise for themselves: to know their own duty and to do it. We ought to pray therefore that the Lord would teach us how to strengthen our friends and (if possible) win over our enemies. But above all, teach us how we may glorify God by doing or suffering in the midst of all the scandals and blasphemies by which He is dishonoured. Let us practice, exercise, and manifest our wisdom in all affairs and at all times.

 

Conclusion

God will pity your frailty and supply your defects. His wisdom will richly supply whatever is lacking in yours. Strive to do your whole duty. Pray earnestly that your love (to the nation) may abound in all wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Those that have no fear of God before their eyes are seldom of God’s counsel. They have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is (or can be) in them (Jeremiah 8:9). There is also a wisdom which God curses. He takes the wise in their own craftiness; He knows the thoughts of the wise that they are vain (1 Corinthians 3:19-20).

Let our nation be the Lord’s and His Christ’s in the first place entirely, lest we come to be no more a people. If He is not the cornerstone of the whole building both in Church and State, all will prove to be but a Babel, and end accordingly.

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The Complete Remedy for Human Miseries

The Complete Remedy for Human Miseries

The Complete Remedy for Human Miseries
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
3 Aug, 2018

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

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

 

1. Human Misery is Comprised of Three Things

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

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

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

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

 

2. The Complete Remedy for Human Misery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness

You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness

You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
20 Jul, 2018

We all long for a genuinely peaceful satisfaction in life. Yet in our society of conspicuous consumption, discontent and wanting more and better seem to be valued more. Lifestyle gurus know this and they urge people to be content with who they are and what they have whilst still striving for their goals. Think positively they say, practice gratitude (to no one in particular) be proud of what you have achieved. But this isn’t real contentment because it depends on ourselves and our feelings. It’s a temporary and often imagined state. We need something that transcends not only our immediate circumstances but also ourselves and this brief changeable life. We were not made to live for ourselves or the things of time. We were made for God and for eternity. That’s why we will never be truly content without godliness.

This is what the Apostle Paul says. People make the great mistake of “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5). Some think that personal gain is highest achievement of this life. Even in spiritual things as well as the things of this life we can be entirely focussed on personal gain. They are using spiritual things to advance self. We can think that we are advancing in godliness but actually the whole activity is all about ourselves. Paul says that we need to know that gain is not godliness but rather “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). These two things go together and cannot be separated. Godliness is profitable for all things both in this life and the life which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8). James Durham explains these points further in a series of sermons from which the following is extracted and updated.

 

1. What is True Contentment?

It leaves a person in quietness, calmness and composure of mind. They are so satisfied with God’s dealings that they think whatever they experience is best.

(a) It Involves Moderate Desires

Our inclinations, desires and plans in relation to ourselves and all the things of this world are moderated. This is the opposite of all inordinate desires for a change in our present lot. It keeps us from seeking “great things” for ourselves (Jeremiah 45:5). One who wants to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9) is the opposite of one who is content. This is because covetousness and contentment are opposed to each other (Hebrew 13:5).

Contentment is silent reverence for God’s way towards us. It restrains us from pressing inordinately after what we have or are able to acquire lawfully. Honest lawful labour is of course not opposed to contentment. We follow our calling as our duty rather than mainly to further our advantage or gain.

(b) It Involves Calm Submission to God’s Providence

It is opposed to fretful anxiety (Philippians 4:6 and Matthew 6:25). We are to follow the duties of our calling without being vexed or anxious about their success.

(c) It Involves Reverent Adoration of God’s Provision

Whether God provides little or much we are to be content with the things that we have (1 Timothy 6:8 and Hebrews 13:5).

(d) It Involves Tranquility of Mind Which Is Satisfied With God’s Dealings

Not only does it not fret against God’s dealings, it gives positive assent to them as being well satisfied with them. It is a sweetly serene frame of soul that makes a Christian say with the apostle, “I have all, I abound, I am full” (see Philippians 4:11-12 and 18; 2 Corinthians 6:8-10). Paul had as much contentment whether he had less or more of the things of the world.

 

2. How is Godliness Gain?

(a) It Extends to All Kinds of People

Its gain extends to individuals of every sex, age, rank, class, calling position and relationship.

(b) It Extends to All Kinds of Conditions

It is profitable in prosperity and in lack, making us always content in every condition. It is soundness to the bones in health and has an inward life and cheerfulness. In sickness and death it is eminently profitable. Its great gain and advantage beautifully blossom forth then, when all earthly comforts wither.

(c) It Extends to All Kinds of Activities

It is profitable in worship and the duties of our ordinary callings (Psalm 1:3).

(d) It Extends to This Life and Eternity

It has outward gain (so far as is fitting for themselves and those of their company). It always has inward gain through their secret converse with and walk before God (1 Timothy 4:8).

 

3. Why is There no Contentment Without Godliness?

If we look through the Scriptures, we will always find that it is the godly man that is the contented man. Godly Paul learned this great lesson and was taught this divine art. You can see from Philippians 4 and 2 Corinthians 6:3-4 how he arrived at this height. He could say “having nothing, yet possessing all things”. This is because contentment does not consist in the things we possess but in the right frame of mind. There is nothing that can put and keep us in such a right frame of mind except godliness.

(a) Godliness Shows Us the Emptiness of All Creature-Comforts

It sobers our spirit in pursuing creature-comforts saying to us to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:9). It limits our desires and intentions that we may be content even though we do not have many thousands or this or that among the fine things in the world.

(b) Godliness Moderates Our Affections in Using the Things of This World

It keeps us from being anxious in seeking and pursuing after the things of the world. It makes us quiet and satisfied in using and enjoying them. Without contentment through godliness a person is both vexed and perplexed in seeking and enjoying without satisfaction. This is because they seek and expect more from these things than they find.

But the godly man weeps as though he did not weep, rejoices as though he did not rejoice. He buys as though he did not possess and uses this world without abusing it (see 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Godliness is the living water spoken of by our Lord (John 4:13) which when someone drinks they do not thirst again. It quenches those disquieting, gasping desires after the things of the world which all naturally have.

(c) Godliness Sets Our Affections on More Excellent Things

It takes our affections off these things and sets them on another more noble, excellent and durable object which alone can satisfy. There is no true contentment nor solid soul-satisfaction to be had except in God and looking to Him aright. Godliness takes us away from the empty and broken cisterns that can hold no water and leads us to the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2).

It makes us consider that the Lord has a holy sovereign hand in everything and teaches us to be quiet and content. It teaches us to pray, praise, believe, rest on God and trust in Him for deliverances from all difficulties. Now and then the godly have some sweet manifestations of God to their soul. These mightily and marvellously outlast the impressions that the lack of outward things make on their spirits (see Psalm 4:6-7). It is impossible for the mind to be quiet and content without having some satisfying object effectually offered to it. Only godliness does this. Even heaven could not make us content unless we had godliness (if it were possible for someone to be there without it). This is because without it the mind would not be adapted to the place.

(d) Godliness Gives Us Access to All the Promises

Access to all the exceeding great and precious promises makes us content. “Godliness” (says the apostle) “is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7). Suppose a godly man in difficulty to get his dinner or supper and how to get his family provided for and sustained. When the children begin to weep for bread in beginning to hunger, he has a sweet word of promise to support his mind. God has said that He will never leave nor forsake him in Hebrews 13:5-6. This verse contains five negatives in the original language to maximise assurance.

The words that follow are: “we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me”. Godliness looks to what God has said and no one except the godly can say that God has said such things to them. The promise is in some ways as meaningful and satisfying (perhaps more) as if they had the rhing itself in their hand. They can say boldly “the Lord is my helper” and “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1) and so quiet and content themselves. There is no condition the godly may be in without a promise for it.

Godliness gives access and right to the promise. Exercising godliness gives the promise (as it were) a new and fresh lustre. The godly rest satisfied in the promise and neither having nor not having disturb their peace and contentment. They know that if necessary this pain and sickness and this affliction or other will be removed and this or that need supplied. If it continues it will be for their best. This is in accordance with Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose”. What more is needed? The godly may take hold of the promise boldly, no one else has the right to do this. Godliness does not meri the promise but God has made it the way by which we receive it. If you love and desire contentment, love godliness and exercise yourselves to it in a serious way.

(e) Godliness Helps Us Put Sin to Death

Lack of contentment of mind arises from some sin within which has not been put to death, as James tells us (James 4:1). Where godliness is in exercise, it keeps down and subdues pride and restrains lust. When corruption is ready to rise and fretting, impatience and discontent break out, godliness makes us say with Eli “It is the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:18). It makes us dare not give way to our corruption. The great thing that disquiets us is always something that is sinful. Godliness prevents or restrains that which leads to discontentment. It helps put sin to death and keep the mind calm.

 

4. Why is Contentment Necessary for Making Progress in Godliness?

The Holy Spirit joins these two things together to show that one helps and advances the other. A defect in either one is obstructive to the other. Those who are not exercised to godliness cannot have true contentment. Those who do not have contentment cannot advance in godliness. Will or can someone who is discontent pray effectually? It is impossible. It mars his liberty and boldness in prayer.

The discontented man cannot praise because praise flows from a satisfied mind and he lacks this. The discontented man cannot properly read, listen to sermons, or meditate because his mind is confused. Discontentment weakens the mind and makes us disinclined to and indisposed for godly exercise.

 

Conclusion

Look on and accept these two things as motives and helps to each other. Let them go hand in hand together. Neither of them will go alone, they must go together. Will I not then strive for contentment with my lot, whatever it may be? Will I not more than ever love and prize the connection between contement and godliness? Will I not through grace believe more thoroughly this great truth, that godliness with contentment is great gain? Let it stand as an eternal and unchangeable verity. Let it stand like a great and immovable rock in the midst of the sea against which the waves of the world’s contradictory, false and foolish notions beat and break themselves.

Special Offer on James Durham’s Collected Sermons

Durham’s sermons on The Great Gain of Contenting Godliness are included in a volume of his collected sermons. These have been published recently and are highly recommended. In an early sermon CH Spurgeon said, “If I had lived in his [Durham’s] time, I should never, I think, have wanted to hear any other preacher; I would have sat, both by night and day, to receive the sweet droppings of his honeyed lips” There are 61 sermons in this attractively produced volume and it runs to nearly 1,000 pages.  The usual price is £29.95 which already represents a discount but a further 10% is possible when purchasing using a code unique for readers of this blog. This makes the price £26.95 and the code is RST 18 when purchasing from James Dickson Books at this link.

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What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?

What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?

What Should We Do When the State Invades the Church?
John Livingstone (1603-1672) was the minister of Ancrum parish near Jedburgh in the Borders. He ministered there from 1648 until 1662 when he was ousted from his church by the authorities and banished to Holland.
18 May, 2018

​According to senior figures in the Church of England in recent weeks, the Church should lose its exemptions from prosecution under equalities legislation. Dr Ison the Dean of St Paul’s said: “My view is that if there is a price to be paid for what you believe in conscience then you should pay that; you should not make other people pay the price for your conscience. That applies to abortion, to issues of sexuality and gender and right across the piste. If it is legal, decent and honest but you don’t believe it is right, then you have to deal with it.” In other words, there should be legal coercion irrespective of conscience. The Bishop of Buckingham has previously appealed to Romans 13 and the requirement to be subject to the powers ordained of God. Yet Scripture says that we must obey God rather than men when they come into conflict (Acts 5:29). How do we reconcile these principles?

If we end up facing such a situation we will not be the first. Besides learning from Christians in other countries who face state interference we can draw on the wisdom of the past. John Livingstone had to face this dilemma along with hundreds of others. The state was going so far as to forcibly eject him from his congregation. This was because he would not submit to the totalitarian control claimed by Charles II over the Church. He experienced trial, imprisonment and banishment as well as financial losses. In his farewell address to his parishioners he speaks of our duty in such circumstances and how this would affect them personally also. The following is an updated extract.

 

1. We Must Not Deny Christ

Christ insists on this: the man that confesses him before men, Jesus Christ will confess that man before His Father. On the other hand, because many are ready to find out strange ways to save themselves, their means, their life, (these have been a great snare to many,) He speaks very sharply. The man that denies me before men (He says) I will turn my back on him and deny him before my Father.

What is the most dangerous thing in all of religion?  What is the rock that many have beaten their brains out on? It is this: Satan has wiled and enticed them to deny Christ Jesus. In reference to the time we live in, it may be that some think that if it were Christ Jesus or any fundamental point, we would stand for it. We would life and all that we have. But it is thought that some things Christians stand on are but imaginations and over strict scruples and if there is any thing in them, it is only a small matter. Will a man venture his condition now and in the future on such and such a small thing?

If they are indeed not any of Christ’s small things, let them go. But if they are His, will you call that a small thing? His small things are very great things. There was never a trial since the beginning of the world during the time of trial it was a small thing. The Word was very clear and it is very clear still.

 

2. We Must Honour Christ as King

The kingly and royal office of Jesus Christ is now called in question. The state will have specific things done in such a way and time. Now I may truly say, on behalf of all the servants of Jesus Christ, we will be ready, when occasion offers to lay down our heads under its feet and do all the honour and respect that is possible and required. But then, why in these particular things may you not acknowledge the state? Take this illustration. An ambassador is sent with a message to a certain country with these terms: “You shall be subject to the country in all your dealings and conduct yourself uprightly and honestly. You are to negotiate there according to the instructions given to you”. The prince of the country proposes something  and the ambassador says, “with your leave, I will consult with the instructions I have from my Master, I will not wrong you at all”. He consults with his instructions and finds he may by no means do it. “Then” says the prince, “you will be dealt with in such and such a way”. The ambassador answers, “at your pleasure”. “But may you not do such and such?” “I may not”, he says, “and you shall see my commission; it is not private, but public things known and written and may be read by all”. [In other words obedience to civil government is subordinate to obedience to God’s Word]

It is a sad thing that Satan, by any instrument he pleases, for fear of a few days’ life and outward means, prevails so far with them, as to obey when he says, “Come, give me your religion and your soul, your conscience, your vows and covenants to the living God, and I will cast you loose as to religion”. Lord save us from this!

 

3. What Shall We Do?

You will say, “What shall we do? How will we get fines paid? How will we stake our sufferings on such small matters? Can we stand on such a point even if our heart is disquieted about it?” It may be that time and providence will when it comes nearer, make it appear a far different thing and clear enough. Have you observed the providence of God?

What shall we do? Look to him and the Word that you have heard, “Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.” And, indeed, those who labour to reform their heart and life, if there is any doubt about some particular aspects, He will, in his own time, make them clear. Christians have various situations, some go and do such things and some not; who can help it? It is a plague that it is so; it has been the plague of the Church these many years.

 

Conclusion

Praised be the Lord that those who are not great friends to the work of God are not always very deep in their planning. It may be they have plans in some respects that we are not aware of. But if they have plans under that, our Lord Jesus has plans under theirs, to reveal and overturn their plans.

We cannot tell, whether if the Lord sees it to be good, He may continue our liberty with us for a while. There are some of us who have endured the loss of our ministry and all we had in the world. We bless God to this day that we had never cause to repent, and we hope never shall. I commend you all to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.

Go forward best. Look back first.

Watch the mini documentary series that  opens up a compelling, yet often ignored, chapter in Scottish history to reveal some surprising lessons for the future.

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Too Busy to Read the Bible?

Too Busy to Read the Bible?

Too Busy to Read 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.
11 May, 2018

“Busy” is something of a status symbol for success currently. Everyone is busy, it’s a stock response. But is it the best way to measure importance and productivity? We feel overwhelmed but the research tells us that on average we actually have more free time. It’s a case of how we use our time. It seems like many are chasing ever-inflating expectations from society and themselves that they will never achieve. Are we trying to do everything in order to project an image of a perfect life? Wouldn’t it be more sensible and satisfying to prioritise the essentials (not forgetting what is of eternal significance)? Without rehashing the statistics, we are familiar with Christians claiming they are “too busy” to read the Bible. What is the remedy?

We need to reassess our use of time in the light of our priorities. We make time for what we either want to do or must do. If we value God and His Word and believe that it must shape our lives and hearts then we have to make time for it. The person who delights in God’s Word and wants their mind to be transformed by it makes time for it each day (Psalm 1:2-3). David Dickson gives some brief counsel on this. He was so committed to helping with this that he wrote many expositions of Bible books.

1. Time is Scarce

There should be daily set time for private reading of the Lord’s Word. Everyone is not set apart for the Word and doctrine (as ministers are). Most have, by God’s appointment, everyday callings and necessary employments about the matters of this life. Each calling and employment has its own work and each work requires its own time so that many have little time remaining besides these.

2. Set Aside Time Daily

The person who does not daily redeem as much time as the necessary duties of being exercised in the Word and prayer require is too busy. They are too busy in temporal affairs and more involved in the world then they can justify. There may be secret spontaneous prayer to God mixed in with his outward affairs. His conscience also needs to examine each action like a builder using a level and the eye to see if it conforms to the rule of the Word.

3. Even the Most Important Have Time

Suppose someone was as full employed as a king with so many realms to govern as were under David King of Israel. Yet he could not be excused because of this from neglecting God’s Word and prayer. David oftener than once a day and even in the night found time to call on God, praise His name, and verse himself in His Word (Psalm 119:55, 62, 164).

4. Delight in God’s Word not Worldly Pleasures

Let the men of this world neglect reading the Scriptures and all serious religious duties.  They have their portion in this life and have set up in their hearts the filthy idols of worldly profit, pleasure and promotion. In order to gain and keep these, they make use not only of all men but also of God and religion only as far as they serve these debased purposes.

Let such (I say) neglect reading the Scriptures, but let not the children of God do so. They hold their standing here and the hopes of eternal life to come by faith in Christ. In order to advance His cause and kingdom, they are resolved to bear His cross even to the doors of heaven if that is God’s will. They would lay it down on the threshold with thanks and praise that ever they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Let not these blessed souls walk in the way of the ungodly, but rather delight themselves in the law of God and meditate in it night and day (Psalm 1:2-3).

5. Make Use of Helps

Brief explanations of the Bible are helpful.  These should not only show the overall meaning and aim of each book and chapter but also the connection between verses and the meaning of the words. They should also expound the key doctrines taught in each place. By this means people might see the whole basis of Christian doctrine in the text of Scripture. They would then be guarded against all damnable errors (which easily ensnare those who know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God). This should be done with such brevity and clarity that men in their daily set reading of the Lord’s word, might during half an hour peruse a sufficient portion of Scripture, thus explained. [Dickson and others wrote many such expositions, for more information read 7 Reasons to Study the Bible with the Covenanters]

 

You may also find the following helpful in relation to this subject:

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Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Rushing into Suspicious Judgment

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

 

2. Rushing into Unjust Judgment

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

 

3. Rushing into Hasty Judgment

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

 

4. Rushing into Judgment on Weak Grounds

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

 

5. Rushing into Presumptuous Judgment

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

 

Conclusion

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

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Preparing for the Inevitable

Preparing for the Inevitable

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

What’s the most important thing we can learn from Billy Graham’s passing? “Billy Graham tackled the topic of death often and with surprising frankness”. This is how the Washington Post began one of the more unusual reflections on his passing. Quite an unusual theme for a secular newspaper. “When Graham preached, he said that death was, of course, inevitable”. How do we prepare for the inevitable? First, he said, “accept the fact that you will die.” Second, “make arrangements.” Third, “make provision for those you are leaving behind”. And finally, “make an appointment with God.” Whatever else might be said about Billy Graham nothing was more important than how he approached this. He faced this reality with all seriousness. To do so depends on treating life itself with all seriousness too. “Each of us is given the exact same amount of seconds, minutes and hours per day as anyone else. The difference is how we redeem [them]”.

Graham got this from the Shorter Catechism that he memorised perfectly as a boy. It begins “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”. “My mother did just that”, he wrote. While Graham may not have held onto the whole of the Catechism, he certainly held onto this amongst other points. We can expand much further on these thoughts in relation to preparing for the inevitable. James Durham has some vital considerations in relation to what it means to prepare for eternity.

 

Three Essentials

(a) Flee to Christ

Flee to Christ by faith and make peace with God through Him.

(b) Make your Calling and Election Sure

We must endeavour to make our calling and election sure by well doing. Although our justification before God does not depend on this, much of our comfort and confidence does depend on it.  It is no doubt our duty to labour to make it sure.

(c) Live in Holiness

There must be a holy walk. we may have a good conscience at Christ’s appearing though this. There can never be boldness and confidence where there is a stinging conscience within and accusations for sinning against light.

 

1. Live with Faith in Eternal Realities

Seek to establish yourselves in believing the general truths that concern your death. Be established and confirmed in faith concerning death, judgment and eternity – for your eternal good or ill. Do not have a mere general conviction that these things are true. Apply them specifically to yourself by meditation. You will die and after death you will come to the Judgement and be eternally happy or miserable.

One of the great evils that encourages Atheism is people living as if they were never to die

Solid belief about death, judgement and eternity is thus a foundation for living well. Those who do not lay this foundation can never live well. They must consider how conscience will accuse them at death and how they can deal with this now. They need to see what trials and temptations they will have then and how to guard against them.

Endeavour to draw death and judgement near to you,, meditate closely upon them. Suppose death were approaching you this very night. Consider whether you would be ready to appear before God’s tribunal to be judged. Thinking more about this would help us, through God’s blessing, to put sin to death and have little to do when death comes.

But the truth is, most never think on death seriously. They do not desire any other life than the present, they shun thoughts of death. How few hours are taken to think upon it? Suppose you were to come before a human court with a matter that greatly concerned you in the world. Would you not think about it again and again beforehand? Yet even the most momentuous of such matters are but trifles compared to this great matter of how you will die and appear before the great God and His Judgement seat.

 

2. Live in Gospel Duties

There are particular du∣ties that have a special influence on preparing for deat.

(a) Self-examination

Do you think it possible to die with comfort if you are not acquainted with the state of your spiritual affairs? If you do not endeavour to have your accounts with God reckoned up? Neglect of this is a great plague. That which makes death so terrible to many is having lived thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years without having ever endeavoured to reckon their accounts with God, let alone have them cleared.

(b) Repentance

Repentance is a rare thing even among Christians in these days. It is a special duty related to dying in Christ. When we see ourselves wrong in anything (many may be easily found in self-examination) we must not leave it there. We must be earnest with God until are conscious of forgiveness, this cannot be had until repentance is exercised. Repentance and faith always go together.

Repentance makes the heart tender and removes the accusations that make death terrifying. It is also a great enemy to complacency, presumption and pride. It keeps the heart melting and pouring itself out before God. The lack of repentance in our day is obvious in the coldness of our worship and in the worldliness of our walk. Those who desire to die in the Lord must exercise this grace and duty. There is nothing more requisite then a penitent heart when we are to meet with Christ at death.

(c) Putting Sin to Death

This is a painful but profitable duty. Be crucified to the world, die to your lusts and carnal delights. Pull up the roots of sin and kill its activities. Weed it out of the heart. Put to death envy, anger, pride,  inordinate desires etc.  Seek to have your affections heavenly which prepares us for dying in the Lord.

(d) Moderation

“Let your moderation be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5). Many are so glued to the things of this world and delights and pleasures which are lawful in themselves, that they are entangled and fettered with them and made  unfit for dying. They do not use them in moderation. Inordinate love for children, friends, lands, houses, farms and the married wife unfits them for dying. We must gird up the loins of our mind and be sober (1 Peter 1:13). Those who do not use lawful pleasures in moderation are like those with long garments which trip them up and impede them in walking and work. When our affections hang loose and drag on the earth and the things that are in it and the mind wanders after these things, the man cannot be busy at his main work. He cannot make progress in his journey to heaven.

Moderation fits a man for his work and makes the way easy. It makes him content with his house and whatever is his condition and lot in the world. It does not allow his affections to be entangled with them, it makes him use this world as not abusing it (1 Corinthians 7). Our blessed Lord Jesus powerfully dissuades us from giving ourselves too much to the things of this life (Luke 21:34). This makes us as indisposed for death and judgement as overeating or drunkenness make us indisposed in general.

 

3. Live with Thoughts of Death

Those who desire to die in the Lord should carry the thoughts of death along with them. They should be as if every day and moment were their last. They should be as if they were just now to appear before God and as if they were indifferent (in a holy way) what hour or moment He would call them.  God has not let us know the precise time of our life here. Some have observed that in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 that there is a time for everything, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to weep but there is none for living. No one can say I must or I shall live until tomorrow. Do now what you would be found doing when death comes.

Some may ask if it is possible always to have these things in mind. But it is like doing everything to the glory of God, it is not to be understood as if we could actually keep it in mind in everything we do. Our minds are only finite and are therefore unable to keep many things in mind or different things at the same time.

 

4. Live with Adversity

Those who desire to die in the Lord should not seek after a pampered life but learn to submit to difficulties and troubles. We should neither go out of our way to seek such things nor to avoid them. Solomon says that it is better to be in the house of mourning than in the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2). This is because few living in prosperity are content and disposed to die and adversity works best to loosen our grips from the world. It is hard to be glutted with the things of the world and live in a prosperous and plentiful condition and not be drawn away from spiritual things.

 

5. Live but Die Daily

Paul could say “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).  This is not just to do with his daily dangers but his seeking to anticipate death, in dying while he was living and before death came. This involves:

(a) a conviction that death is certain

(b) considering the continual potential for dying;

(c) preparing for and being in continual readiness to die; and

(d) anticipating what it will be like to die before death comes.

We must consider how we will answer death’s call. Every day we should be doing what we would want to be found doing when death comes. We should endeavour to have all things in order

When praying in the morning we should be ready as if we were never again to go out into the world. When we lie down at night it should be as if we might not rise againe in the morning. When we speak or act we should speak and act like those who do not have a long time to live.

 

6. Live According to Conscience Echoing Scripture

Put into practice what your own conscience according to the Scriptures show is necessary for making and keeping your peace with God. Ordinarily, this is one of the main accusations of conscience that meets people at death, that they have have not put into many things they were convinced of. They have evaded, delayed and put off opportunities for duties. They have not reformed the faults they were convinced of.

Do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Be serious and diligent in  doing without delay what you know to be right.  Do not neglect this as a thing of little concern. Death is the door to heaven and death is at the door. Living well is the way to dying well. If you would live and die in the Lord, give weight to these directions and practice them in the strength of God’s own grace.

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