Lex Rex

Lex Rex
Samuel Rutherford

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

In his book (which develops the Reformation teaching about civil government), Rutherford asks some fundamental questions concerning civil government.

 

  • What is the purpose of government? The glory of God and the wellbeing of the people in both outward and spiritual terms.
  • Who or what brings government into being? It is brought into being by God and the people by means of a contract or covenant.
  • What is the nature of government? Government involves declaring, applying and enforcing the law.
  • What are the limits on government? Government cannot go beyond God’s law and command what is contrary to it or abuse the people.

He draws the answers out of the Bible using passages like Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Timothy 2:2. There are more principles than you might think in Scripture and it is necessary to handle them carefully. Ultimately civil government is from God, for His glory and limited by His law, but the power is given through the people for whose wellbeing it is to be exercised.

 


SUMMARY OF THE MAIN ARGUMENT IN 60 SECONDS

Rutherford’s discussions of these principles help us with a more detailed understanding of the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 23) on the matter of Civil Government. “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers”. “Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake; and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.”
Romans 13 tells us that “the powers that be are ordained of God”. But does this mean that their power and authority is unlimited so that whatever they command is right simply because they command it? Rutherford denies that Scripture supports such a view which can lead to totalitarian tyranny. Instead he says that although government derives its authority from God as the ultimate source, this power is limited in two ways.

 

It is limited by divine law and subordinate to it. The government is not above the law. “There is no lawful power to do evil”. Romans 13 tells us that the purpose of civil government is to be a terror to evil doers and an encouragement to those who do well (according to God’s law). Lawless governments are going beyond their power and authority and are not acting as the ministers of God when they command something contrary to the law of God. Such laws may be disobeyed and if necessary resisted because only God is lord of the conscience.

 

 

It is also limited by the people through whom power is lent unto rulers as subordinate to the people (see the article What is Political Sovereignty?). “No title could be given to any man to make him king, but only the people’s election”. Rutherford shows from the Old Testament how the consent and choice of the people was essential in making a ruler. Power is only lent to rulers and it can be recovered if they prove to abuse it and use it tyrannically.

 

It is important to have different levels of representatives involved in government and not just one sole ruler. These representatives can help to recover power when it is abused by the key ruler. It provides for checks and balances to ensure accountability. None of this means that people should rebel at the least abuse of power or matter with which they are displeased. They 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.

 

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

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Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Is Uncertainty a Virtue?

Is Uncertainty a Virtue?

Is Uncertainty a Virtue?
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
27 Jul, 2018

Increasingly, there is a subtle tendency to sidestep difficult and inconvenient issues by saying we cannot be certain about them. Of course, being non-dogmatic is thought to be a virtue in our culture. Yet it’s one thing to acknowledge a defect in our own understanding, it’s another thing to claim that for everyone else. Open questions and matters indifferent seem to have increased at the expense of the practical authority of Scripture. Sometimes muddying the waters means people feel free to take up a definite alternative position. For instance, where professing evangelicals want to support something like same-sex marriage. If they can make the Biblical passages seem unclear then they feel justified in their position. But where do such claims end in relation to God’s revealed will? What indeed are we saying about God’s ability to give us clear teaching?

Of course some parts of the Bible need more careful study than others to understand them in the right way. But this is different to saying that they cannot be understood. There can also be doubts and difficulties that we must work through but that is something different to making doubt an essential aspect of our belief. It is different to the idea that the Church must progress (claiming the leading of the Spirit) to believe things that are flatly contradictory to Scripture and to how former generations understood Scripture. One former evangelical has recently written a book called The Sin of Certainty to champion the conviction that striving for certainty is destructive. One may well ask how “certain” the author is about that conviction itself.

This idea of virtuous uncertainty is not in fact a biblical idea. God has given us “excellent things in counsels and knowledge” to make us “know the certainty of the words of truth” (Proverbs 22:21). “All Scripture…is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We are meant to be able to handle it skillfully and in the right way (2 Timothy 2:15). We are not meant to “be tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). Our love abounds through knowledge not through ignorance (Philippians 1:9). Even in things indifferent “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

These issues are not in fact new. Samuel Rutherford had to counter a rising skepticism and we can learn a lot from the principles he draws from Scripture. He gives particular focus to the idea that it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we believe what is necessary to be saved.

1. We Can be Certain About Things that are Not Fundamental

We believe with certainty of faith, many things which are not fundamental. For example we are not to be “ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Many (we may suppose) are in glory that died ignorant of this and without believing or. Or at least they died without any certainty of faith on this point: that with God time has no coexistence of duration whether long and short. Yet Peter asserts that it is to be believed with certainty of faith.

The Holy Spirit tells us of many historical matters in Hebrews 11. We believe these by certainty of divine faith but they are not fundamental. If we do not believe all that Paul and the rest of the apostles have written and Moses and the prophets have said we must take them to be false witnesses in saying, preaching and writing what is not true. Paul says so (1 Corinthians 15:15).

The apostles say, “we are witnesses of these things” (Acts 5:32). Now these things refer not only to Christ’s death and resurrection but also to points that are not fundamental. They include identifying the instruments of His death (verse 30; Acts 4:10 and Acts 3:26). The apostles and the Holy Spirit were witnesses of the truth of both fundamental and non-fundamental things (Acts 1:8). Christ said they were “my witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). These things are identified in verse 44, “all things that must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me”. This includes the sacrifices, types, and particular ceremonies that were shadows of Christ.

2. We Are to Examine the Truth to Gain Certainty

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) means prove and search our the true meaning of divine truths. Having thus proved and believed, hold the truth. It does not mean believe it for a day and yield to the complete contrary tomorrow, and then find and yield to yet another contrary principle the day after. If this was so the Holy Spirit would be commanding doubting, doubting till we lose faith and find it again and lose it again in a circle.

If this was the case, then the Bereans (Acts 17:11) must examine their own examining and their own doubtings and believing, and so on to infinity. It would be as though when they find Christ to be in Paul’s teaching and Moses and the Prophets, yet they must still examine and doubt. As though they should only believe the teaching of the prophets, apostles, and the Holy Spirit with reserve, waiting until they ‘receive’ new and contrary understanding from the Holy Spirit.

This is to teach us to be carried about with every wind of doctrine. Believing the truth of Scripture (whether in fundamental or non-fundamental things), however, is to believe a truth, because the Lord (cannot lie or speak untruth) says so.

3. We Ought to Pray For Certainty

We should pray “Lord enlighten my eyes” but this is not a prayer for conjectural, fluctuating and changeable understanding. Such a prayer for new light, is not that the Holy Spirit would teach us to believe truths and falsehoods in a circle. Instead it is a prayer that God:

  • Would give the Spirit of revelation to see gospel truths with a clear revelation of faith;
  • That He would be pleased to cause the light by which we see the same ancient gospel truths to shine more fully, with a larger measure of heavenly evidence.
  • That our understanding may so grow that we see new deductions, consequences, and heavenly new, fresh conclusions from the former truths of God.

Skeptical faith desires God to give us a contrary new light so that we would believe things to be true which were formerly believed to contradictory to the Word of God. This would turn light into night darkness, the truth into a lie, and make the Spirit of truth the father of lies.

4. The Apostles Encourage Certainty

The apostles never urge us to know any truth of God with a reserve. The apostles and the Holy Spirit in them, urge us to know assuredly that Jesus is Christ the Lord. They exhort us to be rooted and established in the faith (Colossians 2:7). They urge us to be fully persuaded of everything both fundamental and historical concerning Christ. Luke wanted Theophilus to “know the certainty” of the “things most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1, 4).In Hebrews 5:12-13 the apostle exhorts us to believe many points concerning Christ beyond the first principles of the oracles of God. He exhorts them to progress to maturity (Hebrews 6:1). 

5. The Word of God is Able to Give Us Certainty

The principle of uncertainty implies the Word of God is obscurity and dark, not able to instruct us in all truths. It makes a blasphemous charge against the Holy Spirit, as if He had written the Scriptures with the intention that we would have no assured and fixed knowledge. It would leave us not with faith but a mere probable opinion, a conjectural, dubious apprehension of truths, with a reserve to believe the contrary. This would be as though the Lord’s purpose was to make us all skeptics and die doubting.

The apostles command us to believe and be comforted in believing the truths which they themselves believed as Christians and as fellow citizens with us. Are we going to say that the apostles also believed with reserve? That would be blasphemous.

6. We Must Serve God with Believing Conviction

All our practice must be in faith, i.e. with a persuasion that what we do is according to the revealed will of God. If it is otherwise we sin (Romans 14:23) and are condemned in all we do. But if faith with reserve must be the rule of our practice, we can do nothing in faith.

Conclusion

Today we face those who claim to be “progressive Christians”. They tell us that inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers and we should explore the truth rather than declare it. They seem very uncertain about what God’s Word says but very certain about what human opinion (especially science) maintains. They are ready to say that we can’t be sure that the Bible condemns same-sex marriage but move quickly to say that we can be sure that it is ok. They tell us that we shouldn’t judge others. But that in itself is to pass moral judgement on our conduct. Christ says it is necessary for reconciliation to point out what others have done wrong (Matthew 18:15). The tide of uncertainty is influencing some evangelicals in subtle ways and we need to recognise this so as to resist it.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Spiritual Summer Time

Spiritual Summer Time

Spiritual Summer Time
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
22 Jun, 2018

Who would not welcome the warmth and light of summer? It provides opportunities that we may not have at other times of the year. Its life, growth and fruitfulness should encourage thoughts of the things we long for spiritually. Perhaps we feel that we are in the very opposite condition but spiritual summer is still what we desire. It is good for our growth to have a variety of spiritual seasons. The important matter is to make best use of our current condition.

Samuel Rutherford often compared the changes in our spiritual experience to the seasons of the year. In this updated extract he considers the nature of spiritual summer for the individual and the Church.

1. Spiritual Summer is Not Continuous

Christ is the Sun of Righteousness with “healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2). He is “the dayspring from on high” (Luke 1:78) and “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Now, when the sun departs (when Jesus goes away) then it is dead winter with the Church.

It is clear that under Joshua the Church had her summer and fair weather. The prince of their salvation fought for them and their enemies were subdued under them (Joshua 5:14). The Lord left them many times under the Judges and sold them to their enemies. This was their winter, when God departed from them and they worshipped other gods. And are they not sometimes mourning at the rivers of Babylon? And sometimes dwelling peacefully under their own fig-tree!

(a) The Church has a changeable condition. She must wade through one river and then she goes some miles on dry land and then a river again.

(b) In respect of the outward ministry of the Word. Christ blows out the candle when He has gathered those whom the Father has marked out.

(c) In respect of His felt presence, He is always coming and going and He must go up to His Father’s court and send down love-letters to us again. Christ Jesus in the power and ministry of the Word is not an abiding heritage to any people. Our Lord is riding through the world on the white horse of the gospel (riding triumphantly) and to the extent that His people welcome Him, He remains.

Christ is amongst us now on horseback, the summer is now well near an end. Do you know the signs of winter? Before the winter, the leaves fall off the trees. People now fall away from their profession. Many are ashamed to own Christ and profess Him, they will not be called Puritans. Trees dry up, cast off their fruit and become barren. You never saw the gospel more barren in good works and alms deeds than now.

2. Spiritual Summer is Not Constant Sunshine

We must not think that the child of God will never get a shower in their way to heaven. Sometimes near mid-summer, there will be a blast of hail. But the nature and season of the year will soon melt and dry it up, and it will clear in the west. The birds will renew their songs again and the roses will spread their leaves again when the sun shines. So even while it is summer, the Sun of Righteousness will hide His face from the poor believer. Christ will seem to go away and the conscience will quake and tremble.

It was so with Hezekiah when he mourned to God as a dove and chattered like a crane. It was not the fear of death but because (when he was so near death) God felt so far from him. The soul that knows what it is to be without Christ under these trembling fears will never have a happy look until the sky clears in the west again. Then the Sun of Righteousness begins to break though the clouds of His wrath.

No one knows what it is to be without God, except such as once had Him. People will say this is winter indeed and the child of God is going backwards under such conflicts. I answer that nothing grows and flourishes in winter but even then there are many sweet flowers springing up in the soul. It is true felt enjoyments wither because it is not the time of year for those to grow. But now under these desertions humility grows, feeling of guilt grows, the love and longing to be kissed with the kisses of His mouth grows, a concern to seek God’s face grows and smells sweetly like the rose in June.

The soul is never under such a good condition as now; for the souls of God’s children are always in one of three conditions:

(a) Summer

Towards Christ, it is mid-summer sometimes with the soul, when it enjoys God’s sweet and felt presence. Sometimes we may be so drunken with sense, that we become proud and haughty. We think this a good case; yet, there is great danger that” we provoke our Lord Christ to go away from us. Therefore, we have now need of a holy fear, and of ardent prayer to God to continue our case.

(b) Winter

The soul will be in such a winter, that the Lord will withdraw Himself for many days and years. Yet the soul is so dead in sleepy security that it never misses Him. This was David’s condition; when news came to him that Uriah the Hittite was slain, he called it a chance occurrence of war and sent Joab word to renew the battle again. But the Lord had then left David and he knew it not.

(c) Autumn

The third condition is best of all, when God is appearing to go away and the child of God holds Him fast. When God is saying as He did to Jacob, “Let Me go”, Jacob would not let Him go without a blessing (Genesis 32:26). When Christ says to the woman of Canaan, I came to the world for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, I came not for you. Yet she still knocks, and cries for “mercy, mercy” and cries on Him and would take no such answer. It is the sweetest season in the year when faith binds and holds Christ so fast that He cannot get away. No cord will hold our Samson but faith, love, zeal, new desires for Christ, humility etc. When all these graces flourish, the soul has joy and comfort in Christ.

3. Spiritual Summer Has Certain Signs

It is time now for some directions about the specific evidences, signs and marks of summer. “The flowers appear on the earth” (Song 2:12). By this I understand, the holy lives of the saints, which are as beautiful in the eyes of Jesus as the flowers in summer are beautiful in the fields and gardens. “Israel shall blossom and bud as a rose, and fill the face of the world” (Isaiah 27:6). “And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth” (Psalm 72:16). “He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” (Hosea 14:5).

The Church is God’s garden and plot of ground. He Himself sets flowers in it by the ministry of the Word. It is a mark of the true Church of God that the Word is accompanied by the effectual working of God’s Spirit. Sweet-smelling flowers grow in this plot of ground, the garden of the Word. Do you know what makes the Lord’s flowers fruitful in His vineyard? There are four things that make all Christians fruitful in it.

(i) The Father’s cultivation. He is a good gardener, if any are planted by Him they must grow.

(ii) Christ is a fertile piece of ground. He brings forth a hundred fold. If a flower is planted in Christ, it draws life from Christ: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection “(Rom 6:5). All that grow fruitfully unto God must be planted in the death of Christ. When Christ died, He was sown and planted in the earth and the third day He came above the earth and budded. So our body of sin is sown in the body of Christ and the third day the image of God buds up again.

(iii) Abundant rain makes flowers grow. We are watered, and washed with the purging blood, and cleansing water, that came out of the side of Jesus.

(iv) Flowers must have sweet, wholesome air to make them grow. The sweet worthiness of God’s Spirit rebuking the conscience for sin, and the sweet south wind of the same Spirit comforting the soul, blows upon God’s flowers. What makes so many stinking weeds in our land? God may say as He said of the people“The best of them is as a brier; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge” (Micah 7:4). “Pride has blossomed, “violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness” (Ezekiel 7:11 see also Hosea 10:4). The reasons is that they are not planted in Christ but grow wild upon the mountains of the earth like nettles and thorns.

4. Spiritual Summer in Eternity

We need various spiritual seasons rather than have a constant summer. We cannot have our heaven here as well as hereafter. As Rutherford put it: “We love to carry a heaven to heaven with us, and would have two summers in one year, and no less than two heavens. But this will not do for us: one (and such a one!) may suffice us well enough. The man, Christ, got but one only, and shall we have two?”

Whatever our spiritual condition may be presently, we should be longing for that endless spiritual summer. Rutherford longed for heaven, the constant summer of eternity. “O for the long summer day of endless ages to stand beside Him and enjoy Him! O time, O sin, be removed out of the way! O day! O fairest of days, dawn!”n time, and will be set before us before we famish and lose our stomachs. You have cause to hold up your heart in remembrance and hope of that fair, long summer day”.

Radio Programme on the Piety of Samuel Rutherford: You can listen to a recent radio programme on the subject of Samuel Rutherford’s piety here.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

The Christ We Do Not Know

The Christ We Do Not Know

The Christ We Do Not Know
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
5 Jan, 2018

A provocative statement perhaps. Yet, we hear so much casual use of the name of Christ and glib talk of knowing Jesus. This isn’t the same as knowing a mere mortal and we should never seem to put Christ on that level. We can have a true and real knowledge of Christ as a person but He is infinite. There is always more to know and discover not only about but in Him. That should inspire humble awe. Samuel Rutherford never stopped speaking of Christ but it was always in the most reverent way, grieving at the small amount of knowledge grasped. We need to wonder together with him at so glorious a Saviour.

Rutherford says that there is “an infiniteness that is invisible and incomprehensible” in Christ. “In regard of any comprehensive knowledge, we but speak and write our guessings, our far-off and twilight apprehensions of Him”. It will be the delightful work of saints to all eternity to search into the glory of Christ.

here is gospel-work for all eternity to glorified workmen (angels and ransomed men) to dig into this gold-mine, to roll this soul-delighting and preci­ous stone, to behold, view, inquire, and search into His excellency. And this is the satiety, the top and prime of heaven’s glory and happiness, to see, and ne­ver out-see, to wonder, and never over-wonder the virtues of Him that sits on the throne; to be filled, but never satiate with Christ. And must it then not be our sin, that we stand aloof from Christ?

Rutherford has a similar theme in a sermon on Revelation 19:12 “And he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself”. The following is an updated extract.

Introduction

None knows infinite Christ but Himself. Surely Christ is an unknown person; though each one has Christ Jesus in his mouth, yet he does not know what he is saying. There are three mysteries in Christ we cannot perfectly know or understand in this life.

1. The Mystery of Infinite Christ

The infinite wisdom, mercy, goodness, love, and grace in Christ, which the angels delight to look into and wonder. Come near Christ, and you will never see to the bottom of Him. You have seen mercy, great mercy; there is yet more left. One has seen much of Him, another more; the angels that are sharp in sight have yet seen more; nay, but there is infinitely more left.

You will as soon hold the sea in the hollow of your hand and bind the wind in your cloak as you will gather Him up completely. You must even stand still here and wonder and cry out, “Oh great Jesus, who will or can fathom Thee out?”

2. The Mystery of Incarnate Christ

Oh what a depth is in the work of Christ’s incarnation! God and dust married together! How the blood remains in a personal union with God! How the finite Manhood subsists in His infinite personality! And how the Godhead in the second person, and not in the first or third, assumed our nature, and yet there is but one Godhead in all the three! How the Godhead stood under the Manhood that was stricken, and the Godhead as a helping-friend held Him up, and yet the Godhead did not suffer! How Jesus-man died and Jesus-God lived and remained in death God and man!

3. The Mystery of Enthroned Christ

The third mystery is this: what a name Jesus has by His rising from the dead, and how the Man-hood is advanced. Christ knows all these full well; He can read His own name.

You will speak of learning to measure the earth, number the stars and learning their motion—that is deep knowledge. But God help you to come and see this unknown name, Jesus, and find it out if you can. I know you cannot.

Where will you set Christ? Where will you get a seat, a throne, a chair to Him? He cannot be set too high. If there were ten thousand times ten thousand heavens, and each above another, and Christ were set in the highest of them all, yet He would be too low.

Conclusion

Oh, let us long for glory, that place where we will read His name clearly and will see Christ face to face. Oh, strange that we do not long to be in heaven, to see this comely glorious one (if I may so speak), a darling indeed, and to play God’s children in heaven! We will then come and look into the ark. The curtain will be drawn by, and we will see our fill of Christ there.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Help for Stirring Up Your Spiritual Life

Help for Stirring Up Your Spiritual Life

Help for Stirring Up Your Spiritual Life
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
21 Jul, 2017

Sometimes we pray even though we do not feel like praying. We open our Bibles and our minds and hearts feel as though they are under a dead weight. How should we approach this problem? There is a widespread false assumption that the spiritual life is either all or nothing.  The idea is that things must come spontaneously and effortlessly or it just isn’t real. Yet the Scriptures speak of striving and agonising in prayer and disciplining ourselves in godliness. Exalted joy and love are not the only heavenly inclinations in the soul. There is genuine spiritual life in desiring to be revived. Mourning over our condition, examining and questioning ourselves and other things are also signs of life. Yet what can we do in such a situation? How do we stir up spiritual inclinations?

Such questions can be perplexing but are not always fully discussed; despite being so critical to our daily spiritual life. One person who did seek to tackle them was Samuel Rutherford in his book Influences of the Life of Grace. This deals with the sovereign influences of the Holy Spirit together with our own responsibility to engage in spiritual duties. Both work together in the area of spiritual growth and experience.

What Are Heavenly Inclinations?

Rutherford illustrates what he means by heavenly dispositions or inclinations by pointing to David’s experience in Psalm 57:7-8. David says “My heart is fixed, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise. Awake up my glory, awake psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early”. David had “a disposition of fixedness of heart”. His vehement affections are evident in the way he repeats this.  This heavenly inclination produced within him “a fixed resolution to praise”. “Praying begets a holy disposition to pray”.  “One grace brings forth another, and so holy dispositions [bring forth] holy actings; faith and trusting in God brings forth claiming God” as our own. The Lord “bids you pray, that you may pray; believe, that you may believe. So he commands heavenly dispositions, and He only can give them”. Influences of the Spirit generally come in connection with such commanded means.

David says “My heart is fixed, I will sing. Awake up my glory”. See how the touch of the Spirit in His heavenly inclinations sets afloat (a) the tongue; (b) the psaltery and harp; (c) David; (d) David’s heart to sing and praise. Though they were all sleeping, they are all awakened out of their sleep. It is in the same way as a great high spring-tide may set all the ships afloat, even though there were many hundreds of them. Thus:

  • Actions are of the same nature as our inclinations
  • Strong and mighty inclinations have strong and mighty actions
  • Lesser actions arising from inclinations waken up the soul to strong actions

Sinful inclinations to the love of the world, vain-glory and empty pleasures, bring forth sinful actions. The thorn-tree brings forth a thorn-tree and the thistle-seed a thistle. This is clear in Cain and the Pharisees for example. Thus also, gracious inclinations produce acts of love, faith, hope, godly sorrow, works of righteousness and mercy. As wine-grapes grow out of the vine, the Lord fits influences of grace for such inclinations. The harvest will be like the sowing: men do not gather figs from thistles.

How Do We Receive Heavenly Inclinations?

Get heavenly dispositions and God will act on His own work, and bring forth all His own acts out of His own seed. The way to get heavenly dispositions is:

1. Peruse the Word and promises often: (a) Meditate on them; (b) Learn them; (c) Observe and love the testimonies of God. This is proof of heavenly inclination (Psalm 119).

2. Keep communion with God in praying, hearing, reading and spiritual conversation (Luke 24:34; John 7:45-46; Song of Solomon 2:4-7). Someone who spends much time daily among the perfumes of a perfumer will find that smells will cleave to him whether he wants them to or not.

3. Seek and keep much in mind the things that are above (Colossians 3:1-3).

4. Cherish the Spirit, obey Him, do not grieve Him and work with Him (See Ephesians 4:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20; Song of Solomon 3:4 and 5:8-12). Be willing to act in response to the breath of the Spirit blowing on you as a wind and when He draws, follow Him sweetly and willingly.

5. Beware of frequently smothering the light of divine knowledge. Deal tenderly with the light of the natural conscience and tenderly with convictions and warnings. If you do this, you will hardly lack divine inclinations and suitable influences (1 Samuel 24:4-6).

How Should We Do When We Lack Heavenly Inclinations?

How should we act when the soul is indisposed like a bird that cannot fly without its wings?

  1. It is possible that in those renewed ones that are in Christ, heavenly inclinations may seem to be a fire that has been extinguished and turned to cold ashes. We are to stir up and awake the principle of grace and act according to it. The instinct and nature of the new man possesses the principle of gracious acts and we are to make best use of the principle of grace.
  2. When one inclination is smothered by unbelief casting us down, there is still half of a contrary spiritual inclination alive which is working contrary to that unbelief. For this reason David chides his own soul in Psalm 42:5 for being cast down and urges it to trust in God. Whether David’s soul pleads against David’s soul by the principle of grace, or by an heavenly inclination or by both, it shows that all spiritual inclinations are never entirely lost, there is a seed of God which may be wakened up.
  3. When the inclination is smothered with heaviness, there is another counteracting heavenly inclination (Psalm 119:28). They have been disposed to deadness but behold there is a disposition to pray for strengthening in counteracting that disposition. In Psalm 119:81 the psalmist is in a fainting condition which indicates some weakness. There is still, however, a disposition to hope in God’s Word, which counteracts fainting. He says “I am become like a bottle in the smoke” (Psalm 119:83) which indicates some disposition to deadness in his spirit. But notice the counteracting disposition, he does not forget God’s statutes. 
  4. The Spirit in the renewed person ultimately prevails over the flesh (Romans 7:23-24). So the gracious disposition is also victorious over, and gets the better of the sinful disposition. David may have been disposed to doubt at the time when he is forced to flee to the cave and part from with his few soldiers. Yet his faith and believing disposition prevails over his fears and doubting. This is clear from Psalm 57:1 and also verse 3 “He shall send from heaven and save me”. In verse 7 he says “My heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise”. He believed in God’s deliverance since a slain man buried in the cave could not sing and give praise? 

When we do not feel spiritually inclined we must do as those who want to cross a river, if one ford is too deep try another and try every ford. There may be an indisposition to believe, but there may also be besides this a spiritual disposition to pray. Set to praying then.  Sometimes there is a deadness that hinders praying, so that we cannot speak (Psalm 77:4) yet there is also a disposition to praise in Psalm 77:14-15. Set about praising then. Perhaps dispositions, motions, experiences are all gone and there is nothing left but the principle of grace. Go over the promises and act on the principle, blow on the glowing coal and strengthen that which remains. When one tool is broken, the tradesman makes use of another.

Though sinful dispositions and the flesh have the better of us for a while, wait on the Lord and trust in His strength and act. The heavenly flamings of God will eventually prevail. The Spouse is drowsy for a while, and refuses to open and refuses Christ lodging in Song of Solomon 5:2. Eventually, however, when Christ puts in His hand by the hole of the door, faith and heavenly inclinations are victorious. She rises and opens; she misses and seeks Him. She prays and becomes sick of love for Him (Song of Solomon 5:6-8). Then she bursts out in a high song extolling her beloved in verses 10-12.

Job is cast down under much sadness of spirit due to unbelief in Job 19:6-7. “Behold I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard; I cry aloud, but there is no judgment” These are hard words indeed! If there is no judgment for an oppressed man crying to God, there is no providence, no God who rules the world. Yet in Job 19:25 he is able to say “I know that my Redeemer lives, I know I shall see him” [Rutherford’s paraphrase]. Get anything of the principle of grace and spiritual inclinations and act with them. You will not lack victorious influences on the basis of this because “greater is he that is in you, then he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead. John Brown of Wamphray explains how Christ is still the life the believer needs even when we feel dry and barren and wonder if things will ever change. Not only this but he shows how to make use of that life.

 

 

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Conscience is Fragile: Handle with Care

Conscience is Fragile: Handle with Care

Conscience is Fragile: Handle with Care
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
7 Jul, 2017

The human mind is fragile as well as powerful and complex. The human spirit can be resilient but may also be frail in the face of countless intricate emotions, memories, doubts and fears. Conscience is an especially delicate part of who we are. God has given it to us as a witness to His righteous requirements. Sin has disordered it but further damages it. Our moral compass is easily warped by sin’s magnetic force. The Bible tells us that conscience can be defiled, wounded and seared. Through handling conscience carelessly we can do untold damage to ourselves. Grace, however, can heal and restore.

Samuel Rutherford adores the great wisdom of God in creating the world which is best seen in creating so rare a thing as the soul. He says that the most intricate part of the soul is the conscience which he describes as “that lump of divinity” because it is “like a beam of God”. “Conscience is the gold of the man”.

Conscience is placed in the soul as God’s own deputy and God’s notary [official recorder]. There is nothing passes in our life, good or evil, which conscience notes not down with an indelible character—conscience writes all men’s iniquities as the sin of Judah was written (Jeremiah 17:1) with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond. Conscience…keeps a daily diary of everything that occurs in the whole course of our life, and then conscience is as a thousand witnesses: it’s an eye-witness and a pen-witness, bringing testimony from the authentic registers and records of the court of conscience.

Samuel Rutherford describes conscience in many memorable ways. It may be like a delicate glass object that is easily broken. Alternatively, it may be like a boat that has a leak below the water-line that is difficult to identify and mend. Perhaps they do not realise that the water on the bottom of their ship is from a leak rather than the spray. In one of his letters he gives the following caution:

keep the conscience whole without a crack! If there be a hole in it, so that it take in water at a leak, it will with difficulty mend again. It is a dainty, delicate creature, and a rare piece of the workmanship of your Maker; and therefore deal gently with it, and keep it entire

He speaks of a pure conscience as one that is good having been purged and washed (Hebrews 10:2). The great spot of guiltiness has been taken away, and it is clear, pure, terse, like a crystal glass (1 Timothy 1:5). It is also good and honest, or beautiful and fair. A good conscience is a comely, resplendent, lovely thing (Hebrews 13:18). Conscience when it is working properly is sensitive and easily broken. If we ignore it we can become unbreakably hardened.

some conscience…is made of glass and is easily broken, and some of iron and brass, lay hell on it, let Christ say to Judas in his face, he shall betray his master and he has a devil, yet his conscience does not crow before daylight to waken him.

The conscience is a tender thing, says Rutherford and it can either be our best friend or our worst enemy.   Who can bear a wounded spirit (Proverbs 18:4)?

Blessed is the man who follows the injunctions, dictates, prohibitions and determinations of a good and right-informed conscience, and hearkens to all its incitements. Oh that every man would remember how dangerous a thing it is to resist the checks of conscience, for in so doing we fight not only against our own light, but against the light of the Holy Spirit!

Rutherford wrote an extended account of one man whose conscience had been hardened but later became inflamed with guilt. Aged only 35, John Gordon must now come to terms with a terminal illness and a burden of guilt. This is the powerful account of a man with a troubled conscience being counselled in the face of death. In these conversations, Samuel Rutherford lovingly and faithfully administers the conviction and comfort the young nobleman needs. True peace and assurance are carefully distinguished from false hope. It is valuable for all of us but especially those nearing eternity and those who seek to give them spiritual help.

This book has now been reprinted as Conversations with a Dying Man. It is highly valuable and recommended. This was a man who wanted to have the best of this world but had to compromise in order to get worldly status. His backslidings became an unbearable burden on his conscience in the face of death, however.

John Gordon, Viscount of Kenmure speaks of “the fearful wrestlings of my conscience…when I seemed to be glad and joyful before men”. He had pretended to be ill in order to avoid standing out clearly in the interests of Christ’s cause. This would have involved opposing the king in Parliament. He later acknowledge with the most bitter sorrow, “I deserted the Parliament for fear of incurring the indignation of my prince, and the loss of further honour, which I certainly expected”. He confessed:

I have found the weight of the Lord’s hand upon me for not giving testimony for the Lord my God, when I had occasion once in my life at the last parliament. For this foul fault, how fierce have I felt the wrath of the Lord my God! My soul hath raged and roared: I have been ripped up [grieved] to the heart…Would to God I had such an occasion again to testify my love to the Lord! For all the earth should I not do as I have done, tell them…Woe, woe be to honours or any thing else bought with the loss of peace of conscience and God’s favour!

Rutherford must have many conversations with him in order to bring him to true repentance. Sometimes he must rebuke him as well as administer comfort. His faithful pastoral care brings the conscience of John Gordon from despair to joy unspeakable. He died “sweetly and holily, and his end was peace”. Rutherford concludes that the “way of impiety never had, nor shall have, good success…there is no delight [comparable to] the delight of a good conscience: let that bird in the breast be always kept singing”.

Rutherford believed it was necessary to record such “heavy pangs of conscience and torment of mind” to show what can happen when we go against conscience.  We can learn much and in particular “be warned by his example” not to forsake God’s cause when we have opportunity. We are especially “never to wrong their conscience, which is a tender piece [thing], and must not be touched”.

We take nothing to the grave with us, but a good or evil conscience.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Submitting to God’s Will in Dark Providences

Submitting to God’s Will in Dark Providences

Submitting to God’s Will in Dark Providences
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
10 Mar, 2017

Dark Providences are those events that not only cast a deep shadow but seem inexplicable. They seem to overwhelm us and turn our thoughts upside down in bewilderment. We are lost in trying to find out a purpose in them (Psalm 77:19). “When providences are dark it is difficult to read them” (John J Murray). If they are difficult to comprehend, how much more challenging is it to submit to God’s will that it should be so?  It may seem virtually impossible. Perhaps God does not even seem to be near (Job 23:8-10). Yet it may be that in the confused noise of such dark trials we can discover more of what it is to trust an infinite God through submission. The darkness then becomes to us “the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Samuel Rutherford looks at the best response to the darkest providence: Christ submitting to the Father’s will in accepting the cup of suffering. The time of Christ’s soul trouble in the Garden of Gethsemane has much to teach us. We must learn to say with Him: “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). This is an updated extract from his book Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself.

We must also bear in mind what Rutherford said elsewhere, that “the Providence of God has two sides; one black and sad, another white and joyful”. “Christ scourged; Christ in a condition, that He cannot command a cup of water; Christ dying, shamed, forsaken, is black: but Christ, in that same work redeeming the captives of hell, opening to sinners forfeited paradise, that is fair and white…Joseph, weeping in the prison for no fault, is foul and sad; but Joseph brought out to reign as half a king, to keep alive the Church of God in great famine, is joyful and glorious”.

1. Submission Looks to God’s Will as Ultimate

Submission must be grounded on looking higher to the will of God, this is what Christ did. Every wheel in a great mechanism moves according to the motion of the highest and first wheel that moves all the rest. Rivers regulate the flow of lesser brooks by their motion.  The principle of motions and ways in all mortals begins at the highest mover, the just and wise will of God. All must say, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done”.

2. Submission Looks to God’s Will as Holy and Wise

Submission in adverse providence must look to the Lord’s wise and holy will as Christ did. David said that Shimei cursed him because the Lord had bidden him do it. Job acknowledged that the Lord had taken away and said: “Blessed be the name of the Lord”. Anyone can say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” when He gives. Most men look to second causes but never rise up to God as the first Mover.

3. Submission Approves of God’s Will being Done

Hezekiah said “good is the word of the Lord” (Isaiah 39:8). It was hard, all in his house would be caried away to Babylon and his sons would be captives. Yet the will of the Lord was good and just, even when the thing willed and decreed of God was bad for him.

4. Submission Will Not Hinder God from Doing what He Thinks Good

Christ will not hinder God from doing what He thinks good. Murmuring is a stone in God’s way. Murmuring is an anti-providence, a little God, setting itself against the true God that causes everything in His wisdom. The murmurer does what he can to stop up God’s way. Old Eli, when he heard sad news, says, “It is the Lord, let him do (I will not hinder Him from doing) what is good in his eyes” (1 Samuel 3:18).  Christ says that He came to do God’s will (Psalm 40:7).

5. Submission Does Not Abolish Our Own Will

Christ did not give away His natural will; rather He submitted in the act of willing. He kept for Himself a submitted will. It is not intended that our will be abolished in hard providences, but that it submits.  We must not quarrel with Justice. Lamentations 3:28-29 gives many sweet signs of a broken will: (a) solitary sadness; (b) silence, the soul not daring to quarrel with God; (c) stooping to the dust, and putting clay in the mouth, for fear it speaks against God’s dispensation (see Job 40:4-5); (d) willingly accepting blows on the cheeks and reproach (Micah 7:9) the man like a well-nurtured child kisses God’s rod. Only a bad soldier follows his captain sighing and weeping. Faith sings at tears and rejoices under hope in the day of adversity.

6. Submission is Our Happiness

It’s the child’s happiness that the wise father’s will is his rule and not his own. Our own will is our hell (Ezekiel 18:31): Christ’s will is heaven. Christ thinks it is best that His Father’s will should stand and His own human will be repealed. “For even Christ pleased not himself” (Romans 15:3). All God’s works of providence are as good as his works of creation. If God would direct my way to heaven through fire, tortures, blood, poverty – though He should trail me through hell – He cannot err in leading (though I may err in following).

7. Submission Prescribes Nothing Except that God’s Will be Done

Christ prescribes no way to His Father but in general “The Lord’s will be done on me” (He says).  “Be what it may, if it is the will of my Father so be it. Welcome black cross, welcome pale death, welcome curses, and all the curses of God that the just law could lay on all my children (and they are a fair number), welcome wrath of God, welcome shame and the cold grave”. The submission of faith subscribes a blank sheet of paper, let the Lord write on it what He pleases. “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in Him”, said Job (Job 13:15). To resign ourselves without exception to Christ is a rare grace of God, and not of ordinary capacity.

8. Submission Takes God’s Revealed Will for Our Rule

In submitting His will Christ makes the prophecies and the revealed gospel His rule. He is willing to be ruled by God’s revealed will in His duty. He is willing that the Lord’s will stand for a law  in His suffered. He willingly submits and will in no way quarrel with everlasting decrees. To be ruled by the one is holiness; to submit to the other is patience. Patience is higher than any ordinary grace in being willing to adore and reverence something more and higher than the commanding, promising, and threatening will of God. It was a grace which was a most eminent in Christ the Lamb of God, dumb, meek and silent before His shearers. The meekest in earth and in heaven, He only never resisted the revealed will of God, but never had any thought, motion or any hint of a desire in Him against the secret, eternal decree and counsel of God.

9. Submission Subjects Natural Reason to God’s Will

Christ submits natural reason with which His natural will might seem to plead under the Lord’s feet. It seems strange: God has many sons but none like Christ. He was an only Son, He never had a brother by eternal generation. He was the only heir of the house, but there never was a son so afflicted as He. It seems against all reason. But Christ says the Father’s will must be done. It’s against submission to put absolute questions on the Lord. We love to have God account for His providence to us and that our reason is the final court of appeal in the ways of the Lord. Though we do not see why, yet there is a cause why He does all He does. Reason is an essential ingredient in all His actions.

10. Submission Acknowledges God’s Infinite Wisdom

The Lord takes many different ways at once in providence. In this very act [Christ’s suffering] He redeems the world, judges Satan, satisfies the law and justice, glorifies Christ, destroys sin, fulfils His own eternal will and counsel. There is a manifold wisdom in Providence as in the work of redemption. In every work that God does He leaves wonder behind Him. None can come after the Almighty, and say, “I could have done better than He”. It is natural to blame God in His working, but impossible to mend His work.

11. Submission is Not Loss but Gain

Christ is no loser by losing His will for the Lord’s; rather His will is fulfilled in that which he feared (Hebrews 5:7). Submitting to providence brings us a hundred fold in this life (Matthew 19:29). He is able to do above (more than abundantly above) all we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). I can ask heaven and He can give more than heaven and above heaven. I can think of Christ, but He can give above the Christ that I can think of, because I cannot comprehend infinite Jesus Christ.

12. Submission Reverences a Higher Providence

Christ is not intent and heart-bent on freedom from death and this black and sad hour but He reverences a higher providence, that Gods will be done. Thus, we are also to look to providence and  not stumble at outward strokes in sad occurrences (Job 9:22; Ezekiel 21:3).

13. Submission Approves God’s Will as Good Even When Things are Worst

Christ declares that even when matters are worst, there is good will for Him in God’s will being done. Christ says (as it were), “I have (God knows) a heavy soul, my strength is dried up like a potsherd. This cup tastes of hell and fiery indignation, the sight of it would kill a man. Yet I’ll drink it. The good and just will of my Father be done. Here I stand, I go no further. To stand still, silence our tumultuous thoughts (since we have a body of sin) and be satisfied with the will of the Lord, is safest. The friends of Paul heard what he must suffer and urged him but “when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). To cease and say nothing more when we see the Lord declare His mind to us is grace. A holy heart will not go one hair’s breadth beyond the Lord’s revealed will.

14. Submission Even Accepts God’s Felt Absence

Christ submits His will to the will of God in soul-desertions: so should we. Christ’s love to His Father is not jealous against the Lord’s dealings in relation to the influences of heaven on His soul. He is willing to lay his soul-comforts in the free-will of His Father. In this He judges the Lord’s will, better than His own will. We have too many complaints against the reality of Christ’s love when He hides Himself.  We are covetous and soul-thirsty after our own will in the matter of soul-manifestations. We idolise spiritual comfort and would gladly have a Christ of created grace rather than Christ, or His grace. When we are thirsting for Christ, it is His comforts, the rings, jewels and bracelets the Bridegroom gives that we seek after, rather than Himself. We desire a never-interrupted  sense of God’s presence, whereas Christ submitted to go without it for a time when He saw this was God’s will. Though we do not and cannot always have an edge of actual hunger, yet we can be submissive to going without, when we see that this is His will.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

10 Signs of a Spiritual Person

10 Signs of a Spiritual Person

10 Signs of a Spiritual Person
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
14 Oct, 2016

Spirituality is a vague concept these days – both inside and outside the Church. As David F. Wells has put it: “Today, we think that each person must find his or her own way of being spiritual, something that is comfortable to that person; each spirituality is particular to each person.” Too often it’s something esoteric and about self-discovery with no connection to how the Bible defines spiritual life.

Scripture is clear that spiritual life comes from the Holy Spirit alone. In the New Testament, the word “spiritual” means “of the Holy Spirit”. Like Lydia the heart is first opened by the Spirit to receive the truths of God’s Word (Acts 16:13-14). Samuel Rutherford observes:

We do not have the Spirit till we are brought into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Christ is not owner of the man who does not have the Spirit “If any have not the spirit, he is none of Christ’s” (Romans 8:9). Christ and the Spirit cannot be separated. The Spirit that is in the first heir (Christ) is in all the rest. We must be diligent to make our calling sure or else be “none of Christ’s”.

Spiritual life is dependence on the Spirit. Samuel Rutherford wrote a large book dealing with the relation of the Spirit to the believer work in the matter of spiritual growth and experience. This is something that concerns the Christian every day in his devotional life.  The book is called Influences of the Life of Grace.

He deals with many important questions, such as what believers should do when they do not feel spiritually exercised.  Rutherford asserts that the believer is to do his duty in prayer and worship even if he feels otherwise. It is the believer’s duty to pray away spiritual indisposition. We must pray for the Spirit’s help but we must make the Word our only rule and not our feelings. He emphasises that spiritual life centres around the Word of God: “the word is the chariot, the Spirit the driver of the chariot”.  Rutherford also stresses the believer’s union Christ who bestows the Spirit and His influences. “Know the way to the well of life, be much with Christ, and lie, and be near to the well, if you would have influences every moment”. “Make sure union with the Vine-tree, if you would be sure of growing to the end”.

The following abridges and updates an extract from Influences which identifies ten characteristics of a spiritual person from the Bible. He is answering the question: how can we identify a spiritual person and spiritual influences?

1. A Spiritual Person Submits to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit

The guide is the one who determines the journey. The commands of the Spirit have much free grace and persuasive leading (Acts 10:19; Acts 11:2; Acts 18:9-11; John 14:16, 26; John 16:13). Where the will presses forward strongly with much liberty in obedience, there is much of the Spirit. Drawing back in spiritual actions, however, indicates much of the flesh. Christ, who had the anointing of the Spirit without measure, was all will and all heart and all spirit to obey and suffer (John 10:17-18; Psalm 40:8-9).

2. A Spiritual Person Runs Strongly After the Holy Spirit

A spiritual person runs strongly in following the leading and drawing of the Spirit (Song 1:4; Psalm 119:32). “I held him and would not let him go” (Song 3:4). Is this not vehemence? It is followed by sweet feelings and high commendation of Christ. The Spirit’s power in drawing and the bride’s energy in running combine. He that is willing to be led shall be led. Keeping Christ’s commandments makes room for the Father and the Son to come and dwell (John 14:21 and 23). Fire makes more fire.

3. A Spiritual Person Cherishes All of the Spirit’s Activity

A spiritual person takes care that none of the parts of the new creation are damaged. He loves and honours his guide and leader. Scripture notes our wrongs we do to the Holy Spirit: (a) vexing; (b) quenching; (c) tempting; and (d) resisting.

(a) A spiritual person will not vex the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10) or grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). To grieve is to sadden rather then to anger (see Matthew 14:9; 17:23 and 26:22). Can a friend lodge in a house, where he is saddened every hour? Is not this to chase him away? The signs of grieving the Spirit are when we acts in a deadened condition. For instance in praying when a Christian knocks faintly and life, liberty and godly boldness are absent.

(b) A spiritual person will not quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Some cast water upon the fire and holy flamings of the Spirit. This makes a cold hearth-stone and mightily obstructs the working of We should rather add new fuel to His fire, blow away the ashes and wrestle against deadness, dullness, faintness, and stir up the grace of God. Do not quench it in your self by unbelief and cheerless walking. When men cast water on the flamings of the Spirit and crush His work in others they are doing Satan’s work.

(c) A spiritual person will not tempt the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). We must acknowledge and adore the Holy Spirit as God and not follow Ananias in trying the Holy Spirit to see if he will find out hypocrisy, (Acts 5). A spiritual person will not say “but I may do this and be pardoned”. Tempted free grace is a transgression with so loud a cry, it is heard all heaven over.

(d) A spiritual person will not resist the Holy Spirit and do despite to the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:28-30; Matthew 12:31-32). Do you find not the actings of the Spirit sweet and heaven-like? If so, it indicates a spiritual disposition.

4. A Spiritual Person Displays Much Self-denial

He who will be least his own is most God’s, and partakes most of the divine nature. There is little of self in children; the children of God are like such as are learning to walk. So does the Spirit act without resistance in the sons of God. It’s true, there is much of renewed self, in spiritual actions and this increases the excellency of the actions (see 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 2:20; Romans 7:17, 22; 1 Corinthians 9:20-21)

5. A spiritual person is spiritually bewildered

A spiritual person doubts every way he walks in except the way that he is sure to be from God (Psalm 143:10). This shows that:
(a) The spiritual person doubts every way and knows that he is a bewildered and ignorant traveller in himself. He is not able by his own light to know the way, the home and lodging or the guide.
(b) The spiritual person esteems God’s Spirit to be a good leader and guide.
(c) The spiritual person commits their
goings to the Spirit and asks Him to be a guide to them.

He fears lest the way be hidden to him (Psalm 119:19). The commandments are the way, and a hid and covered way is misery to a stranger or pilgrim. Seeing our ignorance and errors frequently and being in love with the Spirit’s leading is good.

6. A Spiritual Person Finds Spiritual Actions to be Natural

Action is easy when it comes from an inward principle. The stream flows from the fountain naturally without violence. Likewise heat comes from the fire naturally. It’s neither toil nor labour to the sun to give light. All these come from internal principles. There is violence in the motion of a clock, and therefore the wheels will be worn out by time. But the actions of the Spirit are sweet and natural. Grace makes the commandments to be not grievous. It is no effort but easy to a gracious pastor to love Christ. It breaks neither leg nor arm to desire Christ and be sick for Him and feed His flock out of love to the Chief Shepherd.

Meekness is easily led and drawn. When the Spirit comes in, the man is made pliable for counsel. O wrestle not against warnings, but yield to them! All gracious influences are sweet, delightful and easy. It is not a struggle but sweet and pleasant for a field of roses, of vine-trees to receive showers and summer influences from the sun and heaven. It was sweet for the baptised man Christ to receive and lodge the Holy Spirit who came down in the form of a dove on Him in all His influences.

7. A Spiritual Person Acts Much in the Spirit

Acting much in the Spirit brings greater abundance of the Spirit.

(a) The more that someone acts for the good of others (especially the people of God) the more the person is under the Spirit. Christ was under mighty flowings of the Spirit in redeeming His people. He was willing to have the influences of spiritual comfort withdrawn and be under that sad cloud of being forsaken by God in order that God might embrace us. It is the characteristic work of the Spirit to glorify God. “He shall glorify me (Christ says about the Spirit) for he shall receive of mine” (John 16:14). The more we glorify God and Jesus Christ God’s Son, the more we testify that we partake more of the flowings of the Spirit. The Church shows more of the Spirit in being willing to bear the Lord’s indignation because she has sinned (Micah 7:9) and bear public sufferings to illustrate the glory of His justice.

(b) If we have much of the spirit, we will patiently submit to the Lord’s sovereign withdrawing influences of comfort. What if He withdraw joyful influences of believing, of glorying, and rejoicing in the Lord, and feed the poor sinner with absence and exercise him with sad desertions?

(c) We are in a spiritual condition when Christ casts in feelings and discernible motions of the Spirit and we are moved and our soul fails for Him (Song 5:2, 4-6). “Quench not the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) includes the positive requirement to cherish kindly and yield sweetly to the flowings and sweet influences of the Spirit.

8. A Spiritual Person is Watchful

The Spirit of God keeps the soul watchful. “Praying with all prayer and supplication in the spirit” is combined with watching “with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18 see also Jude v21). “The spirit is willing” (Matthew 26:4 – forward, watchful i.e. the renewed part) “but the flesh is weak” (i.e. sleepy, and lazy). How much a person has of the Spirit is the amount they have of holy watchfulness. Watching guards against sleeping, and watchfulness makes the soul resolved to watch. Since the Spirit is a spirit of life, and a quickening and living spirit, (Romans 8:1). The more watchfulness in any, the more of the Spirit. “Let us not sleep as do others: but let us watch, and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night” (2 Thessalonians 5:6-7; see also Romans 13:13).

9. A Spiritual Person Keeps Company with Other Spiritual People

They are born of the Spirit by the same Father (John 5; John 3:1; John 3:14; Psalm 119:63). Brothers love one another; the common nature and spirit of their Father dwells in them. Birds of the same feather and colours flock together. Beware of becoming weary of the Spirit’s company or that of spiritual men. Beware of loathing a spiritual ministry. The saints keep their spiritual being with the excellent ones in whom is all their delight (Psalm 16:2). God ordinarily showers influences and promises influences to the flocking together of the godly and pouring His Spirit on them, (Jeremiah 50:4-6; Zechariah 8:21-23; Malachi 3:16)

10. A Spiritual Person Speaks About Spiritual Things

When the well is full it must run over. When there is a treasure and abundance in the heart, the Spirit comes to the tongue in Zechariah and Simeon (Luke 2:25, 27).  Grace seethes and boils up to the tongue when the conceptions of the King Christ are the good matter indited by the heart (Psalm 45:1). Men show their spirit by their language. The spiritual person speaks about Christ, redemption and imputed righteousness. The pilgrim’s heart, tongue and thoughts are all on his way and his home. In the same way the spiritual person dwells much on eternity, heaven and Christ.

 

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Being Captivated by the Beauty of God

Being Captivated by the Beauty of God

Being Captivated by the Beauty of God
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
23 Sep, 2016

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” according to human opinion – but not when it comes to God. He is beauty itself. There is nothing in Him that is not truly beautiful. Indeed all beauty has an objective standard in the absolute beauty of God. It’s not an aspect of God’s being that we consider often, if at all. Yet David sought this as his greatest desire: nothing was more important to him (Psalm 27:4). But what do we mean by God’s beauty? And how do we become captivated by it?

Samuel Rutherford was one man who was certainly entranced by the beauty of God. He often refers to the spiritual beauty he found in fellowship with Christ in his well-known letters. He gives a fuller definition of God’s beauty in another less familiar book called Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself. It is a brief example of some of his soaring thoughts about Christ and the glory of God’s being. He is speaking of what it in Christ that draws us to Him. One of them is delight in the beauty that is in God. We experience this in communion with Him.

What is Beauty?

Beauty, as we usually take it, is the loveliness of face and person arising from:

  1. natural well-balanced colour;
  2. due proportion of the stature and parts of the body;
  3. the integrity of the parts of the body so that nothing is lacking that would make for bodily perfection.

God’s Beauty is Not Physical

Thus this kind of beauty formally is not in God because He does not have a body. Neither are we speaking about Christ’s bodily beauty as man. Yet beauty, by analogy and eminently, must be in God. So, just as there are things in the creature which make up beauty to the bodily eye, there are, by proportion, those same things in God.

If beauty is good and a desirable perfection in the creature, it must be in God in an infinite and eminent way. The perfection of the effect is in the cause. If the roses, lilies and meadows are fair, He must be fairer who created them, but with another kind of beauty. If the heavens, stars and sun are beautiful, the lovely Lord who made them must have their beauty in a high measure. “How great is his goodness and how great is his beauty!” (Zechariah 9:17). 

God’s Beauty is the Loveliness of His Nature

What then is the beauty of God? I conceive it to be:

the desirability and loveliness of His nature and all infinite perfections as this pleasantness offers itself to His own understanding and the understanding of men and angels.

Bodily beauty satisfies the eyes and so acts on the heart to win love to beauty. Thus, the beauty of God is the truth of the Lord’s nature and all His attributes offered to the understanding and mind and drawing out from them admiration or wondering and love. David makes this his “one thing”. “That” (he says) “I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and enquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

White and red excellently blended together bring pleasure and delight to the eyes and (through these windows) to the mind and heart also. In the same way, a sweet intelligibility arises from the nature of God and His attributes. David desires no other life but to stand beside God and behold God with the eyes of his mind and faith. He longs to see God in His nature and attributes as He reveals Himself to the creature. The Queen of Sheba came on a far journey to see Solomon, because of his perfection and some common people desire to see the king. The Lord is a fair and pleasant object to the understanding.

God’s Beauty is Perfectly Proportioned

In beauty there is a due proportion of parts in terms of (a) size; (b) position and (c) stature.

(a) Size. A person may have a very pleasant complexion but if their ears and nose are as little as an ant or as big as an ordinary man’s leg, they are not beautiful.

(b) Position. If the parts of the body are not positioned right if one eye is two inches lower in the face than the other it mars the beauty. Or if the head is in the breast, it is deformity.

(c) Stature. If the stature is not duly proportioned beauty is no beauty: e.g. if the person has the stature of ten men and is too big, or has the stature of an infant or a dove. Even though such a person had everything else in due colour and proportion, their beauty is no beauty but an error of nature. They are not as they should be.

Now the Lord is beautiful because an infinite and sweet order is so distributed throughout His nature and attributes that nothing can be added to Him and nothing taken from Him.  He is not all mercy alone, but also infinitely just. Were God infinitely true but not meek and gracious, He would not be beautiful. If He had every perfection but was weak, mortal, not omnipotent, not eternal, His beauty would be marred. One attribute does not exceed, invade or limit another. If God were infinite in power but finite in mercy, the lustre and desirability of God would be defaced.

God’s Beauty is Complete

There is integrity of parts in beauty. Though a person were fairer then Absalom and lacked a nose or an arm, the beauty would be lame. The Lord is complete and absolutely perfect in His blessed nature and attributes.

God’s Beauty is Natural

All these things that are required in beauty must be natural, and truly and really there. Borrowed colours and painting the face (as Jezebel did) are not beauty. The Lord in all His perfections is truly that which He seems to be.

Beholding God’s Beauty

As in roses, gardens and fair creatures there is something pleasant that ravishes eye and heart, so there are in God so many fair and pleasant truths to attract the mind. God is so capacious and so comprehensive a truth. He is so lovely, such a bottomless sea of wonders. To the understanding that beholds God’s beauty there is a desirability, goodliness, splendour, irradiation of brightness, loveliness, and drawing sweetness of excellence diffused throughout the Lord’s nature.

Hence heaven is seeing God face to face (Revelation 22:4; Matthew 18:10). Now, God does not have a face; but the face of a man is the most heavenly, visible part in man. There is majesty and gravity in it; much of the art and goodliness of the creature is in his face. To see God’s face is to behold God’s blessed essence – so far as the creature can see God.

We may be said to see the sun’s face when we see the sun, as far as we are able to behold it. But there is such beauty and intensity of visibility in it as exceeds our faculty of seeing. Thus, when we behold God at close-hand, not by hearsay but immediately we see God’s face.

Let us imagine that millions of suns in the sky were all amassed and put together in one sun and likewise the sense of seeing that is in all mankind that have ever lived or may yet live combined. Such a sun would still far excel the combined faculty of seeing. Likewise suppose that the Lord should create an understanding faculty in either mankind or angels which is millions of degrees stronger and more capable than if all mankind and angels (or could ever be created) were merged into one, yet this understanding could not see God’s transcendent and super-excellent beauty without unseen treasures of loveliness remaining. It is an eternal contradiction that the creature could ever see to the bottom of the Creator.

The Beauty of God in Christ

All this bounty of God is held forth to us in Christ. He is “fairer than the children of men” (Psalm 45:2). The word “fair” is repeated twice in the original Hebrew to note a double excellence. The word means lovely, amiable and acceptable. It means pleasant and sweet (2 Samuel 1:26). He is “white and ruddy” (Song 5:10)His “countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars (Song 5:15). His countenance is “as when the sun shineth in his strength” (Revelation 1:16). All the beauty of God is put forth in Christ (Isaiah 33:17).  Christ is the brightness of His Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3. The light of the sun in the air is the indirect reflection of the sun’s beams. Christ is the real reflection of the Father’s light and glory because He is God: equal with the Father and the same God.

The Transcendent Beauty of Christ

This beauty is a mysterious beauty to men and angels. Angels have eyes within and without (Revelation 4:6) to behold the beauty of the Lord and beholding His face always takes up their eyes.  There is no beauty of truth they desire more to behold or “look into” (1 Peter 1:12). This word in the original means to stoop down and look into a dark and veiled thing by bowing down the head and bending the neck. It is used in John 20:5, where they stooped down and saw the linen clothes (Luke 24:12). Angels are not curious, but they must see exceeding great beauty and wonder greatly at the excellence of Christ, when they cannot get their eyes pulled off Jesus Christ.

The Beauty of Christ Enjoyed

There is a ravishing beauty of Christ in communion with God. Christ sees a beauty of holiness when the soul comes to Christ (Psalm. 110:3) and He is taken with this beauty (Psalm 45:11; Song 4:9-11). Zion is “the perfection of beauty” (Psalm 50:2). All this beauty and sweetness comes from Christ. There is no such thing in the people of God, they are sinful men considered in their natural condition. It must therefore be fountain-beauty in Him, as the cause and origin of beauty.

Conclusion

Since these things are so, the only and truly beautiful life is in communion with such a God. Our prayer should be: “let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17). The final word is best taken from Rutherford’s letters.

If men would have something to do with their hearts and their thoughts, that are always rolling up and down (like men with oars in a boat), after sinful vanities, they might find great and sweet employment to their thoughts upon Christ. If those frothy, fluctuating, and restless hearts of ours would come all about Christ, and look into His love, to bottomless love, to the depth of mercy, to the unsearchable riches of His grace, to inquire after and search into the beauty of God in Christ, they would be swallowed up in the depth and height, length and breadth of His goodness.

Oh, if men would draw the curtains, and look into the inner side of the ark, and behold how the fullness of the Godhead dwelleth in Him bodily! Oh! who would not say, “Let me die, let me die ten times, to see a sight of Him?” Ten thousand deaths were no great price to give for Him. I am sure that sick, fainting love would heighten the market, and raise the price to the double for Him. But, alas! if men and angels were grouped [auctioned], and sold at the dearest price, they would not all buy a night’s love, or a four-and-twenty-hours’ sight of Christ! Oh, how happy are they who get Christ for nothing! God send me no more, for my part of paradise, but Christ: and surely I were rich enough, and as well heavened as the best of them, if Christ were my heaven.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

What is Conscience?

What is Conscience?

What is Conscience?
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
8 Jul, 2016

It crops up in discussion about the decision to go to war in Iraq. You can hear of it in relation to voting for US presidential candidates. Conscience was also in the headlines announcing the death of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. He has been hailed as “the conscience of the world”. In a culture without moral absolutes, conscience still has surprising currency. But what is conscience? Why does it vary so much?

Samuel Rutherford wrote a great deal about conscience. He notes that the word for conscience is used thirty-two times in the New Testament. Literally in Greek it means “knowledge with a witness”. God knows our ways and thoughts perfectly but “conscience is an under-witness and an observer with God, but a dim and blind beholder in comparison of God”.

It is a type of knowledge that is focussed on someone’s “actions, words, thoughts, the condition or state he is in, in Christ, or not in Christ”. It makes us pass judgement on ourselves: “our state and condition” all our “actions, inclinations, thoughts, and words”. Rutherford says that it is the most important faculty in the soul and the highest form of understanding.

There is more of reason and sound knowledge in the conscience than in the whole understanding soul. It is a crystal globe of reason, the beam, the sun, the candle of the soul. For to know God and the creatures in our relative obligation to God in Christ is the role, the blossom, the flower of knowledge (Job 17:3). To  see God and His beauty expressed in Christ, and the comeliness and incomparable glory of His amiable and lovely essence as held forth to us in Christ, is the highest reach of the conscience.  

The Source of Conscience

Conscience comes from God and is accountable to God. “We are to stand in awe of conscience”. We can measure “how much goodness and true fear of God” someone has in so far as he respects “conscience  within him”.

Conscience is something of God, a domestic little God, a keeper sent from heaven, a divine piece which is all eye, all feeling, and has the Word with it

It is to be honoured as an ambassador from God. Honour shown to an ambassadors manifests honour to those that have sent him.

The Operation of Conscience

Yet conscience must be rightly informed by God’s Word or it cannot perform its proper function. Otherwise it is as much use as a guard dog that is blind, deaf, dumb and toothless.

A conscience void of knowledge is void of goodness; silence and dumbness is not peace. An innocent toothless conscience that cannot see, hear or speak, cannot bark, far less can it bite before it has teeth. 

 

It is dangerous to say that we should follow our conscience if our conscience is without reference to God’s revealed will.

It is dangerous to say that we should follow our conscience if our conscience is without reference to God’s revealed will. “The Word of God must be the rule of conscience”. We cannot make conscience the rule of our actions if the Word is not the rule of our conscience.  “Conscience is a servant and only an under-judge”. It is not an absolute monarch decreeing the law to us. “Conscience is ruled by Scripture but it is not Scripture” itself.

Conscience either excuses or accuses as the conscience is right or wrong. It approves or condemns. When it approves there is joy, comfort, faith and hope. But when it condemns there is shame, grief, fear, despair, anger and vexation.

The Best Type of Conscience

The tender conscience is the best conscience (2 Kings 22:19). A hard heart is the worst conscience possible. “It cannot be denied but the more tenderness [there is], the more of God and the more of conscience”. Tenderness implies a fear of sin.

some conscience…is made of glass and is easily broken, and some of iron and brass, lay hell on it, let Christ say to Judas in his face, he shall betray his master and he has a devil, yet his conscience does not crow before daylight to waken him.

The Fragility of Conscience

Rutherford describes conscience in many memorable ways. It may be like a delicate glass object that is easily broken. Alternatively, it may be like a boat that has a leak below the water-line that is difficult to identify and mend. Perhaps they do not realise that the water on the bottom of their ship is from a leak rather than the spray. In one of his letters he gives the following caution:

 

keep the conscience whole without a crack! If there be a hole in it, so that it take in water at a leak, it will with difficulty mend again. It is a dainty, delicate creature, and a rare piece of the workmanship of your Maker; and therefore deal gently with it, and keep it entire

The Key Teaching on Conscience

The quotations above come from Rutherford’s book A Free Disputation on Liberty of Conscience which has never been reprinted. His teaching on conscience is well summarised in the Catechism that he composed for his congregation. He outlines the following questions and answers.

What is the principal part of the soul?

The conscience.

What is the conscience?

It is the judging part of the soul under God, teaching and counselling good and comforting us when we do it (1 John 3:20; Job 16:19-20; John 17:1) and forbidding evil and tormenting us after we have committed evil (Genesis 3:8; 4:13).

What are the lights that direct the conscience?

The law of nature in man’s heart and the light of the Word are the two candles that God has lit to let it see to walk.

What are the proper works of conscience?

It works either on the law as a little God, or on our deeds as a witness, or it applies the law to our deeds as a judge.

What are the works of conscience upon the law?

In so far as it knows the law, it binds us to obedience with a knot that neither king nor Church can loose (Romans 1:14; Romans 6:16; Acts 20:22; 1 Corinthians 9:16) and urges us to obey (Jeremiah 20:9).

What of the erring conscience?

It still binds so that he sins who does anything against conscience (even if conscience is in error). This is because conscience is God’s depute. Therefore, just as he who assaults a private man believing him to be the king is esteemed to be an attacker of the king, he who sins against an erring conscience does sin in practice if not in principle. [This is a rather complex point but it means that if our conscience tells us something is wrong even if it is in fact not wrong it is sinful for us (if we believe that what we are doing is wrong) to deliberately disobey the voice of conscience and dishonour it. This is supported by “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Whatever is done when we doubt whether it is right is sin. Lawful things may be done unlawfully.]

What are the works of conscience as a witness of our deeds?

It is like a guard dog in the soul that hears the noise of thieves’ feet and as the eye that sees what the hand does (Psalm 1:22; Psalm 119:59; Haggai 1:5; Jeremiah 5:24; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

What are the faults of conscience?

Often it is blind and dead (Isaiah 44:18; Ecclesiastes 4:8) through presumption (Revelation 3:17) and lack of the fear of God.

What are the works of conscience in so far as it applies the law to our actions?

It acquits and approves us when we do good (Romans 2:15; Job 16:19-20; Psalm 7:4-5; Job 29:13-14; Job 31) from which there is a feast of joy in the soul (Proverbs 15:15; 2 Corinthians 1:12) and boldness (Proverbs 10:9; Proverbs 28:1). It accuses and condemns when we do evil (2 Samuel 24:10; Matthew 27:3; Genesis 42:21-22) and from this comes despair (Hebrews 10:27), fear (Genesis 3:1; Proverbs 28:1; Revelation 6:16), shame (Genesis 5:7; Romans 6:21),  sadness (1 Samuel 25:31; Acts 2:37), and burning of mind (Isaiah 66:24).

What are the faults of the conscience as a judge?

Often it makes men think the way to hell is the right way (Proverbs  21:2; Psalm 1:21; Zechariah 11:5) and turns into a dumb dog that does not bark at the coming of the thief.

What causes those faults in conscience?

Ignorance of God (Psalm 14:1) and the loud crying of affections sent out to woo a wife to Satan make a strange sound in the ears and create mist in the eyes of conscience.

How many sorts of consciences are there?

Many and various: good or evil, weak or strong, dead or living, etc.

What is the practical benefit of teaching about conscience?

Seeing we carry our judge with us in our breast which we take either to heaven or hell with us and cannot put on or off our conscience as we do our garments, we should fear to sin before our conscience and reverence ourself.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

SPECIAL OFFER

Rutherford’s Catechism contains many pithy and colourful expressions and illustrations. It covers additional material at greater length than many other catechisms in particular the section on temptations and on the person and offices of Christ which extends to over 12 pages. It needs some patience and reflection but is highly recommended.

Rutherford’s Catechism can be purchased from James Dickson Books. It is £4.95 but there is a special discount of 10% available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. (enter the code after adding the book to the cart).

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

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How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Heavenly Violence in Prayer?

Heavenly Violence in Prayer?

Heavenly Violence in Prayer?
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
24 Jun, 2016

We are more likely to think of prayer as bringing peace and comfort than something which could be violent. It has a strange ring to it.  Yet Scripture describes fervent prayer as wrestling and striving. Perhaps it sounds strange because we have become used to weak and cold-hearted prayers?

Samuel Rutherford wrote and preached a great deal about prayer. His letters alone contain almost 440 references to prayer. The following is one of them: “I think it easy to get anything from the King by prayer, and to use holy violence with Him”.

Fervour in Prayer

This holy violence arises from a fervent spirit expressing its desires to God. Rutherford helped to formulate that masterful definition of prayer in the Shorter Catechism:  “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will…” He emphasises that prayer is essentially vehement in character. “Lazy, cold and dead prayers are condemned. Many pray, and care not whether God hears them or no; they pour out, not their desired before the Lord, but naked single words, and do but take the name of God in vain”.

This should condemn distracting thoughts and wandering of spirit in prayer. Not only is the whole man and whole strength not set on work in these prayers, but not any at all of the spirit is there, but the heart gone a-whoring after thoughts of vanity. Now, can the man pour out that which is not within? The spirit is gone out after other lovers, in so far it is a non ens [non-entity], there is not a spirit of adoption within and therefore he cannot pour it out.

Vehemence and crying in prayer are both necessary and natural. Do we feel the need that we are expressing? Hunger and extreme necessity cannot afford to be modest or understated.

An arrow drawn with full strength has a speedier flight; therefore the prayers of the saints are expressed by crying in Scripture. Christ prayed with strong crying or war-shouts and tears. The cry adds wings to the prayer. It is effectual – ‘this poor man cried, and the Lord heard and saved him from all his fears’. Vehement prayer is importunate”.

In James 5:16 it is fervent as well as effectual, and this word fervent, as Rutherford explains, literally points to “prayer possessed with fervour of spirit”.

Heavenly Violence in Prayer

Fervent, vehement prayer has a holy violence. It is called “wrestling, as Jacob by prayer wrestled with God. Now, in wrestling, the whole man is employed and all his strength, all the bones, nerves, legs and arms of the soul are set to work in praying.” Jacob had a princely power over the Angel and prevailed; “he wept and made supplication unto Him” (Hosea 12:4). Do you and I know anything of this kind of prayer? Are we content to go on with prayers that make no real requests or demands of God? And do we expect such prayers to be effectual? To expect a harvest without sowing or ploughing is impossible.

Rutherford had definite, clear and high views of God’s sovereignty. He did not think of holy violence in prayer as changing God’s mind. He knew that “wrestlings, prayings, complaining, gracious missing, cannot earn the visits from on high, nor fetch down showers upon the desert”. Prayer is the watchtower into which we enter like Habakkuk during adversities in providence (Habakkuk 2:1 and 3). Here we ask the meaning of Providence and seek to submit to His secret will.  As Rutherford wrote to one correspondent: “I hope that you have been asking what the Lord means, and what further may be His will, in reference to your return”.

Rutherford outlines various ways in which there is a heavenly violence in fervent prayer.

Prayer binds God that He cannot depart. It lays chains on His hands and builds a wall or a hedge of thorns in His way that He cannot destroy His people (Isaiah 64:7; Ezekiel 22:30). If a Moses or a Samuel should intercede by prayer that the Lord would spare the land, his prayer should be a hedge or a wall to stand in the way of justice to hinder the Lord to destroy His people.

Prayer is a heavenly violence to God expressed in various powerful expressions; as,

(1) The faithful watchmen pray and cry to God so hard that they give the Lord no rest, no silence, till He establish Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:6-7).

(2) Praying is a sort of striving with the Lord: “I beseech you…strive with me, in prayers to God for me” (Romans 15:30).

(3) Jacob by prayer wrestled with the Lord; and the Lord, as if He had been straitened, says, “Send me away, dismiss me. And Jacob said, I will not dismiss thee, till thou bless me:” (Genesis 32). This is well expounded by Hosea 12:4. Jacob had a princely power over the Angel, and prevailed, he wept, and made supplication to him. [He] is a Prince Which may note either a princedom in prayer over God, which is the true reason of the name Israel; or, as others think, he stood right up. His prayer did not bow nor was broken when a temptation lay on him as heavy as a mill-stone. Even when the Lord said He would depart from him, yet he prevailed under that weight. So, (Exodus 32:10) when Moses was praying for the people, the Lord said to Moses, “Let me alone that I may destroy them.”

…prayer is a prince, and a mighty, wrestling, prevailing king, that hath strong bones, and strong arms, to be victorious with God. We know the parable of the widow, (Luke 18) who by importunity obtained of the unjust judge that he should avenge her of her adversary. The scope of that parable is that prayer without fainting puts such a labour and trouble on God that He must hear and answer the desires of His children. Thus, the Lord resembles Himself to a master of a family gone to bed with his children, who yet being wearied by the knocking of his neighbour, cannot choose but rise in the night, and lend him bread to strangers come to his house.

Encouragement in Prayer

Such prayer prevails; it is effectual. The importunate widow obtained her request and the master of a family will grant the request of his neighbour by reason of his continual knocking (Luke 18:1-8; 11:8). Will God not hear His elect who cry unto Him day and night (Luke 18:7)?

Hence, praying in the Word is expressed by knocking, where the strength of the arm is required; instant praying is resembled by the two most masterful elements – fire and water. It is resembled by fire that cannot be kept under (Psalm 39:3)…”while I was musing the fire burned”. The fire flamed out in praying (verse 4), “Lord make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is”. It is resembled by water, hence that frequent expression, “to pour out the soul before the Lord”. If the mouth of a vessel full of water be turned up and opened, the water cannot but come out, just as the floods cannot but flow.

We find it discouraging when we compare our own prayers against the fervour that Rutherford commends. Yet he uses this theme of heavenly violence to encourage. Some are discouraged; they do not have the bodily strength or other means to serve Christ as they would. “But if you can pray, you set the whole wheels of Omnipotency on work, for the building of the Lord’s house.” “It was not Ahasuerus, nor the grace that Esther found in the eyes of the king, that saved the whole church of the Jews from destruction, but the prayers of Esther and her maids. It is true, an angel brought Peter out of prison, (Acts 12) but what stirred that wheel in heaven? Here’s the cause, “Prayer was made without ceasing to God for Peter, by the church” (Acts 12:5)”.

Do not despise earnest and vehement wrestling, and fervent, persevering and patient prayer. “Prayer,” says Rutherford, “can put a reeling and tottering on king and court; pope, prelate and Babylon: we are to pray the king of the bottomless pit, the man of sin, the graven images of apostate Rome, out of the world”.

Everyone who has the spirit of adoption, though poor and rejected of men, by prayer has powerful influence on all the nations of the earth, on all Europe, on the ends of the earth, on the hearts of the Jews, on Turks and Indians. Prayer can reach as far as omnipotency, accompanied by the wise decree of our Lord. And the poorest girl or maid that can pray lends a strong lift to heighten the footstool of Christ’s royal throne. Children and poor maids, by prayer, may put the crown on Christ’s head, and hold up His throne, and may store and increase heaven by praying, “Thy kingdom come,” and enlarge hell, and fill the pits with the dead bodies of Christ’s enemies; and may, by prayer, bind kings in fetters, chain up and confine devils, subdue kingdoms.

Conclusion

This is the spirit of prayer that animated those who prayed for the Second Reformation to come in Scotland as a spiritual revival (read more about Scotland’s Greatest Revival). How does it compare to prayer as we know it? As Thomas Watson put it: our prayers do not need eloquence but violence.

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

The quotations above have been extracted and updated from The Trial and Triumph of Faith and The Power of Faith and Prayer. The latter has just been issued in kindle format but is also available in paperback here (or for those in North America here).

In this book of sermons, Rutherford expounds Matthew 9:27-31. He shows the faith and prayer of the two blind men that follow Christ crying for help.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

What is Political Sovereignty?

What is Political Sovereignty?

What is Political Sovereignty?
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
17 Jun, 2016

Political sovereignty is not usually a widely and hotly debated topic. Yet the question of whether the EU undermines sovereignty dominates discussion. How do we define sovereignty and does it matter? We can get some help from past thinkers who have helped to shape our constitutional heritage.

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers. Such principles helped the Covenanters to resist autocratic rule. They remain relevant today. Samuel Rutherford published a key statement of these principles in Lex, Rex (The Law and the King). This book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power.

It contained such a powerful argument that Charles II ordered it to be burnt by the hangman. Rutherford was charged with treason, dismissed from his post and placed under house arrest. He only escaped execution through being seriously ill. Rutherford said that “he would willingly die on the scaffold for that book with a good conscience.”  Why would he risk so much for a complex book about political government?

 

Political Sovereignty Flows From God

Sovereignty is the power of government by laws.  An important aspect of Rutherford’s book is that God is ultimately sovereign. “Sovereignty, and all power and virtue is in God infinitely”. True sovereignty belongs to God not man. “All civil power is immediately from God in its root”. Rutherford demonstrates this from Romans 13:1 “the powers that be are ordained of God” as well as Romans 13:5 and 1 Peter 2:13. Power must be exercised to the glory of God: “all in authority…are obliged to procure that their subjects lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty”.

 

Political Sovereignty Flows From God to the People

God has given this power of government (limited by His law) not to one or two but to the people as a whole “united in society”. “Though this power were principally given to the people, it is not so given to the people as if it were the people’s power, and not God’s, for it is God’s power”. The people may grant and withhold this authority to their rulers but it is limited by constitution and law not unlimited. Rulers are under the rule of law as much as anyone else.

The God-ward Aspect of Voting

 

Political Sovereignty Flows From God and the People to their Rulers

Sovereignty flows from God to the people and from them to their rulers. The people do not surrender their sovereignty to the ruler but rather delegate rule within the limits of the law and constitution. Thus, the ruler only holds power in trust for the people. They exercise it for a limited period of power and then return it to the people who exercise it once more. Rutherford argued: “It is false that the people do, or can by the law of nature, resign their whole liberty in the hand of the king. They cannot resign to others that which they have not in themselves”.  Another implication of this is that rulers cannot give away sovereignty since it is not their’s to give. It can never become the exclusive possession of those who govern.

This diverges starkly from the broadly secular tradition in Europe that shaped the Enlightenment. That tradition envisages every individual surrendering their sovereignty to the ruler. It can entail an almost blind obedience to the ruler. This reflected an historic over-emphasis in some parts of Europe on the “sovereignty” of the ruler.

Rutherford maintained that the “law has a supremacy of constitution above the king.” The constitution gives rulers their power: “therefore, he must be king by a politic[al] constitution and law; and so the law, in that consideration, is above the king…The king is under law…because there is no absolute power given him to do what he listeth, as man.”

if you give to a king a prerogative above a law, it is a power to do evil as well as good; but there is no lawful power to do evil

There is no Lawful Power to Do Evil

 

Political Sovereignty Must be Able to Flow Back to the People

Sovereignty can be reclaimed by the people since it has only ever been lent. Intrinsic to this notion is that the people must be able to withdraw this power by exercise of the vote. This is the normal method of the people exercising their sovereignty. There must be accountability.  This means an ability for the people to hold to account those who exercise power on their behalf.

it is their own power in the fountain; and if they give it for their own good, they have power to judge when it is used against themselves, and for their evil, and so power to limit and resist the power that they gave.

According to this view the idea of “pooling sovereignty” amongst sovereign nations is not lawful since it does not allow for full accountability. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Rutherford said that power is strong wine and men are easily drunk on it. If power is abused in this way the people should recover what belongs to them.

But if the king have royalty mediately, by the people’s free consent, from God, there is no reason but people give as much power, even by ounce weights, (for power is strong wine and a great mocker,) as they know a weak man’s head will bear, and no more. Power is not an immediate inheritance from heaven, but a birthright of the people borrowed from them; they may let it out for their good, and resume it when a man is drunk with it.

This means that the people must have their conscience rightly informed and exercised to judge the conduct of those to whom they lend power.

The people have a natural throne of policy in their conscience to give warning, and materially sentence against the king as a tyrant, and so by nature are to defend themselves.

No Power to Oppress

 

Conclusion

Rutherford laid down the true bounds of freedom within the rule of law.  He opposed the absolute rule of men with their arbitrary unaccountable decisions. We are still in need of these priceless principles. As Rutherford concluded the preface to his treatise: “Lord establish peace and truth”.

 

Find out more about Samuel Rutherford and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.