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

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

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
13 Sep, 2019

​More than a few churches lament that commitment is in short supply. It often seems to be the same people who are involved in most things. Thankfully it’s not always the norm. There may be many reasons why people are on the fringes of church life. But there are those who prefer to sit on the sidelines. They are ready with excuses about how busy they are and the amount of things that take up their time. It’s true that the pace of modern life presents challenges in meeting the demands of work and family life. No church should expect burnout. But God has given us sufficient time to meet our responsibilities. Are we merely including church alongside a number of other personal interests and hobbies?

​The apostle Paul lamented the same trend in his own time. Everyone, he said was seeking their own things and interests, not Christ’s (Philippians 2:21). “But”, you say, “church isn’t the same as Christ’s interests”. What does he mean by the interests and things of Christ? He is speaking about their service of faith, holding forth the word of life, serving in the gospel and caring for those in the church and serving one another as part of the work of Christ (Philippians 2:3-4, 16, 17, 20, 22 and 30). Edmund Calamy lamented the same half-committed Christians in his time too. In this updated extract, he explains further how the things of Christ are the things of the Church and how we can know if we are putting Christ’s interests first.

1. Why are the things of Christ’s Church the things of Christ?

  • Because Christ is the husband of the Church, and the things of the wife are the things of her husband.
  • Because Christ has purchased them for us by His death
  • Because of the great love that Christ has to His Church. It is so great that the Church’s interests are His interests, and her injuries His injuries (Acts 9:4).

Those who neglect the things of the Church therefore, neglect the things of Christ.

2. What are the things of Christ?

In general, they are nothing else except the preservation and propagation of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. They involve building up the Church of Christ in truth, purity and unity. But more particularly, the things of Christ are:

  • Christ’s pure worship in Christ’s way
  • Christ’s gospel and its precious truths
  • Christ’s Church governed according to the pattern of Scripture
  • Christ’s day
  • Christ’s godly ambassadors
  • Christ’s Church reformed when corrupted in doctrine, worship and government

3. How do I know if I’m putting my own interests first?

(a) If we seek our own interests and do not care about Christ’s

This is when a Christian seeks their own interests and does not care at all what becomes of Jesus Christ and His cause. They make themselves the principle, rule and purpose of all they do: acting from self as a principle, by self as a rule, for self as a purpose. The people of Meroz were self-seekers in this way and therefore the Israelites were commanded to curse them (Judges 5:23).

(b) If we seek our own interests before Christ’s

This is when a Christian seeks the things of Christ as well as their own, but seek their own things before the things of Christ. They seek their own things first but the things of Christ afterwards. The prophet Haggai complains of the same situation (Haggai 1:2-5, 9-11).

(c) If we seek our own interests more than Christ’s

This is when we seek our own things first, not only before, but more than the things of Christ in terms of what they value and esteem in their love and affection. It is when we prize our own profit and advantage and love our own praise and glory more than the profit, praise and honour of Christ and His gospel. The Gadarenes preferred their pigs before Christ. Those in the parable made light of the call of Christ and preferred their business before Christ and His gospel (Matthew 21:3). Demas forsook Paul and embraced the present world. The Pharisees loved the praise of men, more than the praise of God (John 12:43).

(d) If we seek our own interests when we seek Christ’s

We may seek our own things in seeking the things of Christ. Jehu pretended a great deal of zeal for the Lord of Hosts. But it was only pretended, his zeal was to secure the kingdom for himself. Balaam pretended that if he was offered a house full of gold and silver he would not go beyond the commandment of God. But he loved the wages of iniquity and desired that Balak offered him.

(e) If we seek our own interests when they conflict with Christ’s

When our own interests are in competition with or in opposition to the things of Christ which do we choose? What if we must either part with possessions, liberty, and life, or with Christ and a good conscience? If we choose to part with Christ and a good conscience, rather than liberty, possessions or life, it is sinful self-seeking. The young man in the gospels who forsook Christ rather than part with his great possessions was like this.

(f) If we seek the interests of our body rather than our soul

This is when we bestow all our time, strength, concerns and endeavours in providing for our body which is perishing while we neglect to provide for our eternal soul. It is when we lay up all our treasure on earth, but have no treasure laid up in heaven. It is when we are anxious to live comfortably in this world, but strangely neglect to be concerned about living happily in the other world.

4. How do I know if I’m putting Christ’s interests first?

(a) If you seek them first, best and most

Does seeking your own things take up your time first, best, and most? Are the things of Christ the one thing necessary to which you give your energies or are they only given a little left over time? Does seeking your own things make you neglect the things of Christ or seek after them negligently? If so, it is a sign that you over-value and over-esteem your own things, and undervalue and love the things of Christ. If you pursue the things of Christ first and most, you are putting His interests first.

(b) If you mourn more for the afflictions of Christ’s cause

If you mourn more for personal miseries than for the distress of Zion it is a sign you mind your own things more than the things of Christ.  This frame of spirit is opposite to the true spirit of Ezra, Nehemiah, David, Daniel and Jeremiah who were more afflicted with the miseries of the Church than with their own. If you mourn more for Church desolations than personal miseries, you are putting Christ’s interests first.

(c) If you have courage for Christ and His cause

If seeking your own things takes away your courage for Christ and His cause. If the more you have of the world, the less you stand for Christ and His gospel. If the more honour you have in the world it makes you more fearful. If preserving your own things makes you betray the things of Christ by sinful silence or cowardice, it is a sign you prefer your interests to Christ’s. But if the more wealth you have, the more courageous you are for God, and are glad to have something to lose for Christ’s cause, you are putting Christ’s interests first.

(d) If you are prepared to defend Christ and His cause

If seeking your own things makes you seek out excuses to hinder you from defending Christ, it is a sign of self-seeking. The times in which we live are very sinful and dangerous: the truths and ministry of Christ are trampled underfoot, religion and reformation are neglected. God is calling you to defend His truths and His ministers and ordinances.

Conclusion

It’s easy for the cares and concerns of this world to take over (Luke 21:34). It’s possible to become so involved in things that are not sinful in nature, but still get in the way of commitment to Christ and His cause. If we do allow this, it is to our own spiritual detriment as well as that of the church. As Calamy has shown, the relationship between Christ and the Church is so close (as husband and wife, head and body, king and subjects) that their interests are the same.  Christians may, and ought, to seek their own things in a secondary way to the things of Christ (1 Timothy 5:8). But they must not seek their own things in opposition to the things of Christ. Timothy (Philippians 2:20) was willing to deny himself and exert himself for the church at Philippi. We need to learn from this zeal in correctly aligning our priorities.

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The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
30 Aug, 2019

Two high-profile professing Christians recently announced that they had lost or were losing their faith. As well as great sadness it should prompt serious questions. Some of those questions might be about evangelical celebrity culture and image. Are people sometimes catapulted to a position beyond their spiritual maturity? Are we socialising people into the faith rather than discipling them? Other questions might relate to whether evangelicalism is prioritising feelings over objective truth. What is being taught? Are unsettling and hard questions about truth being passed over in silence? These are all valid questions but first we need to focus on some that are extremely personal to ourselves.

One recent reflection considers not so much what those leaving the faith say as what they don’t say. There is an absence of mention of Jesus Christ in their announcements. This speaks volumes because it is everything in true religion. We read something similar in John 6:66, when many went back and left Christ’s teaching. They were leaving Him and no longer walking with Him. What we think of Christ’s teaching is one test of the reality of our profession. They did not find in Christ what they expected.  In this updated extract from an exposition of John 6:66-69, George Hutcheson draws attention to the questions that arise when others leave the faith. It shows that Scripture tells us to expect times of trial when people abandon the profession they have made.

1. What Does Leaving Christ Imply?

It is the duty of all professing Christians to maintain fellowship with Christ and converse with Him. They must confess Him publicly in the midst of a rebellious generation. Without this, the greatest pretence of secret friendship is of no avail (John 12:42-43). Thus, when people abandon this and do not attend the ordained means as previously, it is an undeniable sign of woeful apostasy, whatever they pretend to be. It was proof of their apostasy who walked no more with Christ that they did not publicly confess Him nor attend His ministry any longer (John 6:66).

2. Would We Leave Christ Too?

When many are defecting from Christ it may shake even the soundest so much that they will need warning and to be strengthened. Therefore, Christ asks if they also would go away (John 6:67). Even the godly have seeds of the same evils which draw others away. An evil example can have very great force, especially when it is widespread. Sin is very infectious, especially when it is maintained with plausible pretexts. It is no wonder therefore if some people are in danger in such a situation. Besides the guilt of their own defection, backsliders are guilty of weakening others.

In one sense Christ does not have an absolute, essential need of any followers, neither does He need to be anxious though everyone would forsake Him. But He still goes to considerable effort to confirm and keep those who are His own. This is why He deals with the twelve disciples in this way, asking a question that will establish them further. However many there may be who defect from Christ and think little of His company, some of a different stamp will still be found. We see this here in Peter (John 6:68).

3. To Whom Else Can We Go?

Since the fall we are so empty and poor that we must have something outside of ourselves to delight and rest in for happiness. If we do not choose Christ, we will put something else in His place. Peter’s question implies that if they went away from Christ, they must go to someone else.

Those who are minded to abandon Christ need to consider first where they will get a better master. If they will change Him, they will surely change for the worse. Nothing better can be found elsewhere. True disciples who know Christ’s unique excellence cannot endure to hear of any separation from Him. Peter’s question implies his abhorrence of going away from such a Lord to any other. All who seek to truly walk with Christ, should strive to learn to know Him to be the best and most excellent of choices.

4. What Do We Believe About Christ?

It is the duty of those who truly profess Christ to stick closely to all truth. In particular they must avow all the truths being opposed in their time; however important they may be. Besides confessing the excellence of Christ’s teaching Peter also confesses His person and office as Messiah. These were the truths being opposed then. They are fundamental truths, but they were reckoned small by those who opposed them.

The more we know of Christ, the more ties we will find binding us to Him which will preserve us from defecting from Him. In particular, the true knowledge of His office and person help us stick fast to Him no matter who may forsake Him.

Christ is the only true Messiah promised to the fathers and appointed by the Father to exercise the office of a king, priest and prophet to His Church. He is anointed with the Spirit without measure for this purpose. His people can expect benefits from all of this, to have fellowship with Him and receive of His fulness. This ought and will make Christ dear to all true disciples.

Christ is the Son of the living God having the same essence by eternal generation. He is therefore able to fulfil all that is required of Him and to give infinite worth to His sufferings. He has received a fountain of life from the Father and can produce and preserve life in His people. All this is implied in His being the Son of the living God.

Mere intellectual knowledge about Christ is not enough in itself to tie our hearts to Him. We must embrace what we know by faith. Peter confesses Christ and this is the reason why he will not go away. When the truth of Christ is confessed on the basis of a resolution to go to no one else it is an act of saving faith. Firm faith in the person and office of Christ, receiving and resting on Him is saving faith in operation. Mere reason does not take to do with the mysteries concerning Christ’s person, incarnation, and offices. Faith must receive them on the basis of divine revelation. Peter therefore says, “we believe and are sure”.

5. Where Else Can We Have Eternal Life?

Those who seek to stand fast in times of defection should have frequent thoughts of eternity. They should think of the life that is stored up there for those who are truly Christ’s. Peter fixes his eye on eternal life, what leads to that and where it may be found.

The doctrine of Christ and of the gospel is the only teaching of eternal life. It not only manifests and brings to light that there is an eternal life. It also offers it and shows the only way to receive it. It is the means of regeneration and producing faith. When embraced it gives a right to eternal life and its first fruits until full possession is reached.

Christ teaching rises above the teaching of all the philosophers as well as the corrupted religious teaching doctrine of the times in which Christ lived. It even rises above the law of Moses when asserted in opposition to Him or without Him.

Those who are seriously about eternal life will cleave to the true doctrine that leads to it. They will not abandon it nor its messengers. Not even in times of greatest defection. The disciples will not leave him, not only because He is the Messiah, but because He has the words of eternal life.

Christ not only the one who taught eternal life with His own authority and power in the days of his flesh. He is the one who has purchased this gospel and gives commission to all that preach it. He makes them effectual as the power of God to salvation.

Conclusion

In contrast to those who leave the faith, our resolve should be to “consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) is the essence of all of the happiness and duty of the Christian. We should not make it anything less. We should not merely socialise people in Christian things but seek that they would be firmly established in “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). It is evident that we have been savingly united to Christ when we hold fast to Him to the end (Hebrews 3:14). We are to hold fast our profession against the opposition that the world, the flesh and the devil make against Him. Christ gives us no reason to throw away our confidence in Him and receiving eternal life through Him alone (Hebrews 10:35).

FURTHER READING

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

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
23 Aug, 2019

If a fulfilling life is a degree of success and a certain standard of living why are those that have achieved this still unhappy? It seems that the more happiness is pursued in itself, the more unhappy people become.  Moments of happiness can be elusive. It’s clear that meaning and purpose are necessary for a fulfilling life–something that is higher than ourselves. It cannot be merely self-defined. But unless that ultimate purpose is the right one it will not truly fulfil our reason for living. How can we know?

Our ultimate authority for answering this must be in God’s Word, which is Truth (John 17:17). Ecclesiastes is the Bible book that deals most with true and false approaches to meaning and purpose for life. There is a contentment in outward things that goes along with the soul enjoying good as coming from “the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

He goes on to speak about other gifts that God gives to the man who is good or pleasing in His sight.  These include wisdom, knowledge and joy (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Only those who are freely pardoned and made righteous in Christ are pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight. These gifts of wisdom and joy do not just relate to outward things of this life but spiritual things also. Spiritual joy flows from being accepted in Christ. But those who neglect God and rebel against Him continue seeking true happiness in the wrong way and the wrong things. For them there is unsatisfying toil and an absence of meaning and fulfilment.

In the following updated extract James Fergusson draws out the implications of this for a fulfilling life as defined by God.

1. A Fulfilling Life is Found Through Understanding God’s Ways

Everyone should be moved to choose God’s way of seeking after happiness when they consider how He gives this freely and abundantly to His people. This description of God’s generosity in giving such blessedness to His own is intended to be a motive for others to seek His way to happiness. God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are good and pleasing in His sight.

The blessedness of God’s people and the misery of others are best seen when they are compared together. One is illustrated by the other here in terms of God giving wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are accepted in His sight but futility and lack of meaning to the sinner (Ecclesiastes 2:26). (The word “sinner” is used here in contrast with those who have been declared righteous by God in a similar way to 1 Peter 4:18).

2. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Acceptance with God

Before someone can expect that full and satisfying provision which God gives to His children they must first be made good in God’s sight. This is only by reconciliation with Him, having Christ’s righteousness imputed, and the renewal of their nature. This is necessary so that they may aim at what is well pleasing in the sight of God.

3. A Fulfilling Life is Found through God’s Free Grace

Whatever the best of men receive from God has not been procured by them or merited by any goodness they have. It is all a free gift. This is true even of these who are accepted as righteous in His sight and whose character and way are most sincere. For even those who are good in God’s sight are given wisdom. Every further degree of grace is a new gift to such a person.

4. A Fulfilling Life is Found through the Wisdom Given by God

There must be wisdom and knowledge before there can be true comfort. People must see their misery and peril together with the remedy provided and how to make use of it. They need to understand their duty and how to fulfil it. They may then be sure that joy will result from such practical knowledge which affects the heart.  There is a relevance in the order in which these gifts are mentioned: first wisdom, then knowledge and joy.

The wisdom and knowledge God gives relates not only to spiritual things but also the ability to manage outward things aright. It is not confined to the first saving grace received, it includes the principles of all grace and every act of grace. It does not just include the things that bring comfort and joy, but joy itself, or the ability and desire to take joy and comfort. These things are a free gift of God. The wisdom, knowledge and joy here include all kinds of approved wisdom, every degree of knowledge and grace. It includes God’s gift of the ability to take comfort in what we know to be true. This provides reasons for rejoicing.

5. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Fellowship with God

People will never find what they are seeking for in earthly things, even though they weary themselves in the pursuit. These things are only truly found in God. Solomon has shown before that during his estrangement from God he was seeking satisfaction for his mind in the study of wisdom. After this he was seeking it in an abundance of earthly pleasures. But he declares that he has been disappointed by all of this. He did not find satisfaction till he came back to his first love, who gives him (and promises to others who choose His way) wisdom, knowledge and joy.

6. A Fulfilling Life is Not Found in Outward Things in Themselves

Those who seek happiness in earthly things may have success in getting an abundance of them: we are told here that they do gather and heap them up.  Yet they are still as far from satisfaction as they were before. They are constantly toiling in gathering and heaping up but never attaining to contentment.

The great toil in obtaining worldly things, the great agony of spirit which results from seeking happiness in them and the great disappointment of not enjoying true satisfaction in them should draw our hearts away from them. This way of life, labouring to gather and heap up, is condemned as futile. It fails to deliver that which those who are accepted before God enjoy.

Those who seek their happiness in things other than the Lord imagine themselves the only free men and that they have much joy in their way of life. But the truth is they are merely slaves to Satan and their own lusts and lack true comfort. The travail or task they have literally means the work and affliction of a slave.

Conclusion

We must not settle for anything less than the fulfilling life that God holds out to us in the Scriptures. When we seek first His kingdom and righteousness all other things will also be added. It does not guarantee a trouble-free life not does it guarantee prosperity. But it supplies the only meaning and purpose that makes life worth living.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from James Fergusson

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.

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

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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?

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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

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

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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.

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
2 Aug, 2019

This false religion is generally welcomed into the home many times in a day and influences the whole family. This isn’t the cults that only knock on the door nor the major religions studied at school. It helps most people understand and define themselves, providing value and meaning to life and the world. All of life can be influenced by it. It seems to guarantee happiness and fulfilment–without Christ. It’s the false religion of consumerism and it is preached by many of the media messages we are presented with each day. Brands do not sell products but self-image: “You are what you consume”. From newspapers and magazines to TV and the internet–it is inescapable.  The cult of choice can easily dominate our lives.

Secular observers have often recognised the way that excessive and obsessive consumption or consumerism has become the new national religion. “Consumerism has shouldered aside other ways of understanding the world—real political visions, organised religion, a pulsating sense of national identity” writes Andrew Marr in A History of Modern Britain. It’s no accident that advertisers exploit spiritual themes such as the brevity of life; even the most mundane products can be marketed as having spiritual value.

Consumerism has pushed further into our whole way of viewing the world. Choice and freedom are the absolutes. Whether it is relationships, identities, genders, philosophies or anything–just choose and try it out. See what suits you, there are other options to experiment with. But in an age of Starbuck’s services, church shopping and limited commitment, where many prefer relevance over reverence–we needn’t think that evangelical Christians are in any way immune from it. In fact the whole approach to church growth movement has, ironically, often mandated a consumerist approach.  Is consumerism the Achan in the camp?

The Bible plainly tells us that consumerism is a false religion. Covetousness and greed are idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). It captures our heart (Matthew 6: 19-21). Consumerism is insatiable and will demand all of our service and devotion; it will not share anything with God (Matthew 6:24). It’s a deceitful false gospel (Matthew 13:22). It makes us discontented while promising a contentment that will never be attained. This is the reverse of what the Bible teaches (Hebrews 13:5). Consumerism reverses the biblical perspective by focussing our attention on the temporary rather than the eternal, the present rather than the future, the earthly rather than the heavenly (2 Corinthians 4:18).

It’s not of course that owning or buying things are wrong in themselves, it’s the impact that this has on us and the time and energy we devote to it. We are constantly, implicitly told each day that Christ was wrong about the value of life not consisting in what we consume (Luke 12:15). Which message do we really believe? How do we live godly in a world of relentless consumerism? In this updated extract James Fergusson has some wise counsel drawn from what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:3 and 5.

 

1. What is Consumerism?

Covetousness is an immoderate desire (Hebrews 13:5) to acquire (Micah 2:2) or to preserve worldly goods (Proverbs 11:24, 26).

 

2. How is it a False Religion?

Whatever thing someone gives the outward or inward worship and service due to God alone is that person’s god. They are guilty of idolatry and giving divine worship to a false god even though they may not think they are doing this. The covetous person is called an idolater (Ephesians 5:5) and consequently riches are their god. This is because they devote to these things their prime affections of love and confidence to an extent that is due to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16; Proverbs 18:11).

The covetous person believes that possessions are a universal good which will completely satisfy (Luke 12:19). But this is only true of God Himself (2 Corinthians 9:8). A covetous person’s desire and attitude towards possessions keep him from making use of them (Ecclesiastes 6:2). Covetous people serve possessions with their heart in the same way as some god is usually served (Matthew 6:24).

Covetousness consists in an immoderate desire to acquire or keep worldly riches. It is not just a sin that provides oil to make all other sins burn, it has a kind of idolatry in it. This is because it draws away our love, trust, fear and joy, from God and from serving Him. Instead we are taken up with and expend ourselves on wealth and riches.

 

3. How Bad is it?

In both Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 covetousness is singled out together with sexual immorality as being especially loathsome and contradictory to a Christian profession. They are corrupt lusts and affections which are said to be on the earth (Colossians 3:5), because they draw the soul down towards earth. He mentions those which are sensual as tending to fulfil our unlawful pleasures.

There is a great affinity and similarity between the lusts of filthiness and covetousness. When someone yields to the former it requires the lecherous person to thirst after and by indirect means purchase worldly goods, to maintain in a special way this lust of uncleanness.

 

4. How Do We Root it Out of Our Hearts?

(a) Put it to Death

Putting sin to death means that a sinner who is conscious of the evil of sin (Acts 2:37-38) honestly resolves (Job 34:31) and endeavours (2 Corinthians 7:11) to subdue sin thoroughly–root and branch–or put it to death. It is not putting to death only one sin but all known sins (Hosea 14:2).

This is done by carefully avoiding the things that give occasion to sin (Job 31:1). It means using every means which may help to subdue it: prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8); hearing the Word (1 Peter 2:1-2) and in some cases, fasting (Mark 9:29). But the primary means is exercising faith in Christ for strength (Philippians 4:13). This is such a necessary activity that the life of glory to be manifested at Christ’s second coming cannot be attained without it. He connects their appearing with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:4) with this by using the word “therefore” (v5) to show that putting sin to death is essential. Putting sin to death is not completed instantly. The best of Christians must make it their daily task to put sin to death.

(b) Avoid Things That Stir it Up

We are set against sin in reality when we pursue it to the den and labour to pull it up by the very roots. We do this by withdrawing from the things which add fuel to it. Paul wants them to go beyond addressing the outward acts to the inward root of evil desire. They must also set themselves covetousness which feeds and nourishes lust.

(c) Don’t Tolerate it

Paul says that sexual immorality and covetousness must not even be named among believers (Ephesians 5:3). This means that they should not name them with delight and without disgust.  It  is of course lawful to name them in order to reprove them, as the apostle does here. He urges this as necessary in those who were saints–separated from the world and dedicated to God. It was therefore most unfitting for them to defile themselves with such filthy lusts.

It is not enough for saints to abstain from practising gross sin outwardly. Their outward abstinence must flow from detesting them inwardly. Outward abstinence may well make someone outwardly respectable but not a sincere Christian.

(d) Value Your True Identity

The only life that is fitting for saints is to keep themselves pure in heart, tongue and hand from the pollution of fleshly lusts and the immoderate love of worldly goods. When professing saints yield to these things they walk unworthy of their high and heavenly calling; they stain their profession; and declare themselves unworthy of the name of saints (Ephesians 5:3).  Paul shows that the behaviour that befits saints is not practising those evils and inward detesting them; this is made evident not speaking of them.

(e) Look Heavenward

Paul exhorts that, being risen with Christ, they would earnestly seek, know and (from knowledge), delight in things which are above (Colossians 3:1-2). Things above are heaven, happiness, and all spiritual graces. They are not to seek and delight in things earthly, such as riches, honours and pleasures. This is because Christ is their Head, their Husband and He is above at the right hand of God. He is completely glorified and entrusted with full power to distribute all things for His people’s good (Ephesians 1:20, 22).

The saving graces of God’s Spirit are things above as well as heaven and glory. These graces come from above (James 3:17) and elevate the heart of those who have them above earthly things. They raise the heart to seek communion with God now so that they may live above with God forever (Philippians 3:20-21).

Heaven and the saving graces which lead us to it are to be sought diligently.  The original word means a diligent search by those who have a vehement desire to have what they seek for  (see 1 Peter 5:8; Mark 12:12). If we seek heaven and heavenly things with this kind of diligence, it will be because we know something of the worth which is in them and know how to value them. We are to set our minds, affections and will on things above  We are to know them, and knowing them to desire them and therefore seek them.

Earthly things and heavenly things are in two opposite sides of the scales:  the more the heart is given to the one, the less it is to the other. We are to set our hearts on things above, not on things on the earth. 

(f) Use the Things of This World Carefully

We may use the world and the things in it and seek after them in a moderate way (1 Timothy 5:8). But we must not pursue these things in opposition but rather in subordination to heavenly things. They must not be sought as our ultimate goal and purpose (Psalm 49:11). They must not be sought by unlawful means (Ephesians 4:28) or by neglecting God’s worship (Matthew 6:33). We must also submit to God when He brings about disappointments in relation to them (Job 1:21).

Since believers are dead to sin (Colossians 3:3) they are not to place their happiness in earthly things or to be sinfully eager in seeking after them. This is a strong argument for not enslaving our affections to earthly things. If this was the case it is proof that sin is still reigning and being kept alive rather than put to death.

Find out more about James Fergusson 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 Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
26 Jul, 2019

​We “have to reconcile two sets of instincts…there are some people who say they are irreconcilable and that it just can’t be done”. Politics is said to be the art of making the impossible, possible. But this week, we heard a political ruler speaking about going beneath the surface of society into the human heart and reconciling potentially irreconcilable instincts. The wisdom of political tradition, he said, could provide “the best insights in how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart”. There are various created natural instincts such as: self-preservation, natural affection, fostering and preserving society and acknowledging and worshipping God. They ought not to compete with one another but the trouble is that they are warped by sin. So we have to contend with the instincts of sin in the heart which will never compromise. We pray for national leaders and long that they would seek a higher wisdom in their unenviable task. For what politician indeed would dream of declaring war on sin?

The Christian knows all about irreconcilable instincts in the heart; desires that are opposed and contrary to one another. Regeneration sets up a conflict between grace and remaining sin. There are sinful desires that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11) and they are deceitful in their operation (Ephesians 4:22). In the following updated extract in relation to Galatians 5:17, James Fergusson opens up this conflict further. He shows how Paul proves that following the instincts of the renewed part of their heart means keeping under the unrenewed part.

Paul says that the renewed, and unrenewed part, or spirit and flesh incessantly oppose and labour to suppress one another. This is because they are two principles that absolutely contrary to each other (John 3:6). Paul goes on to show how they are both supported and assisted with contrary superior powers in verses 19 and 22. This conflict prevents us from completely and effectually doing either the good or the evil to which the will inclines. The flesh or sinful nature always opposes what we seek to do in accordance with the direction of the Spirit. The spirit likewise opposes the directions of the flesh. This is also implied in verse 16.

1. These Instincts are in a Regenerate Person

The regenerate person has a renewed principle of grace in all the faculties and powers of the soul; it has been produced within them by the Spirit of God. In all those parts of the soul, they also have some remainder of sinful corruption that has not yet been put to death. This means that our whole mind, will and affections are partly spiritual, partly carnal, both flesh and Spirit are in us. The two sets of desires are against one another (Galatians 5:17).

2. These Instincts are Constantly Active

None of those powers or principles in the regenerate person are dead, dull, or merely passive. Both sin and grace are working and active. The flesh lusts and the spirit desires. Both of them influence the whole person to work in a way congruous to the nature of these respective principles; the one to good and the other to evil.

3. These Instincts are Completely Opposed

The operation of these two active principles is in flat opposition, the one to the other. Thus, in one and the same person even while they are engaged in one and the same action, there is a conflict and battle between these two contrary armies (Romans 7:19, 21). The lusts of the flesh are against the spirit, and the spirit’s desires are against the flesh.

4. These Instincts are in Every Action

Both these principles combine in all the powers and faculties of the regenerate person. So there is a mixture of their respective influence and efficacy in every action. Though one may prevail over the other in some actions there is not one action to which both of them do not contribute something. If there is not a causal influence there is some measure of active resistance. Their desires are constantly working against each other.

The actions of the regenerate are not perfect and free from some sinful admixture. But there is still a difference between their worst actions and the same actions as done by the unregenerate. The difference is that in the regenerate the flesh does not sweep along with a full gale in its sails but encounters the contrary tide of resistance from the spirit to some degree. Just as the flesh lusts against the spirit, so the spirit’s desires are against the flesh. This means that we cannot do the things we want to do in relation to both.

5. These Instincts are in Spiritual Combat

Unregenerate people may have something similar to this spiritual combat, they may sometimes experience a conflict between their natural conscience and rebellious desires (Romans 2:1). But they do have not the very same combat spoken of here. This combat is not just one faculty set against the other but every faculty, as it is flesh, is set against itself, as it is spirit. This combat is not in the unregenerate because they are wholly flesh (Genesis 6:5) and not spirit at all. This combat is between flesh and spirit not natural conscience and sinful desires.

6. These Instincts are Frustrated in Our Actions

The mutual resistance and opposition of those two opposing parties (flesh and spirit) in the regenerate begins at the very first rise of every action in the understanding, will or affections. It continues and grows ever more fierce as the action progresses towards its full accomplishment by the governing faculties. Not being able to do the things that we would implies that our willing good or evil is more (but not entirely) free from this opposition, compared to our actual doing or accomplishing what we have willed (see Romans 7:18). We cannot do the things we have willed to do.

Conclusion

The better we understand the nature of the warfare within the battlefield of our heart, the better equipped we will be to advance in being Christ-like. Whether or not they are aware of it, the Christian has a constant conflict in every aspect of their inward life and in every action. There are irreconcilable instincts in constant combat (James 4:1-3). One principle cannot prevail unless it is at the expense of the other. There can never be compromise. But the believer has divine help to advance in this warfare. The previous verse (Galatians 5:16) speaks of walking in the Spirit and later we understand that the flesh is a dying enemy (Galatians 5:24). Sin will not have dominion over God’s people (Romans 6:14). In the midst of such unceasing and unremitting conflict there is hope. Who will give deliverance? Paul answers this question, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

Find out more about James Fergusson 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.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
19 Jul, 2019

Empathy is diminishing rapidly in our culture. We’re told that “the average person in 2009 was less empathic than 75 per cent of people in 1979”. Yet 1,500 books available through Amazon apparently have a version of the word empathy in their title. As with other things it seems the more something is talked about, the less there is. Some fear that it is talked up in such a way as to amount to a religion in itself; a belief in the power of “feeling”. Do we just need a little kindness to make everything better? Is that the same as true empathy? How should we think and act biblically about this?

Sympathy is more a sense of pity whereas empathy seeks to put ourselves in the same place as those for whom we have compassion.  This kind of compassion is something that Scripture emphasises (1 Peter 3:8). It makes clear that believers ought to be affected by the experience of others as if it were their own. This is loving our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:37). In particular, we are to experience the affliction of others of the household of faith as if we were afflicted with them (Hebrews 13:3), as members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:26). We have the example of Christ who was troubled and wept (John 11:34-35) in empathy for his mourning friends. 

Empathy can be directed in a good and a bad way. It has limitations and may stop at feelings without moving to right action. When psychologists commend empathy they have no objective standard of when it is right to be empathetic. Nor do they have anything more than a subjective standard for why we ought to experience such feelings. The gospel of Christ, however, provides this standard. It shows the compassion of Christ moved to action and gives a reason why we ought to show compassion (Ephesians 4:32). Empathy isn’t only compassion, however, it experiences joy together with others as well as sorrow (Romans 12:15).

The Church ought to be the place where true empathy flourishes. But true empathy is now sentimentalism. When the apostle Paul speaks of bearing one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2 it comes immediately after the instruction to recover those who are overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1). Compassion means bearing with the weaknesses of others to help them not indulge them. We are truly loving them when we seek their spiritual good and encourage them affectionately but firmly towards holiness. This fulfils the law of Christ, the mutual love that we ought to have another which is not content to see our brother go on in sin (Leviticus 19:17). True empathy is driven by the gospel and the moral standards of Scripture.

James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy in the following updated extract. It focusses on Colossians 3:12 where Paul is speaking of what believers must put on having been emphasising what they must put off and put to death since verse 5. This shows the connection between holiness and true empathy. He emphasises that those who are beloved of God and have received His grace must live in a particular way towards our neighbour. All the graces required in verse 12 are in relation to our neighbour.

1. True Empathy Comes from Grace

There is a necessary connection between the new man or principles of grace in the heart, and the exercise of Christian virtues in the duties we owe to our neighbour. He speaks of their having put on the new man (v10) and therefore urges them to exercise and put on these virtues.

The knowledge of our election leads to holiness not ungodliness.  So he reasons from their election (“put on therefore, as the elect of God”) to their exercise of those virtues, speaking to the truly gracious among them.

2. True Empathy Comes from Holiness

Our holiness must be manifest. Paul joins these two together “the elect of God, holy” the latter is the evidence of the former. Having holiness is a strong motive to spur us towards more holiness. He reasons from their being holy to “put on therefore as the elect of God, holy”.

3. True Empathy Comes from God’s Love

The Lord’s love of approval towards us, delighting in those who are truly gracious, approves of His own graces in them (John 14:21). This love should constrain us to love Him again and show our love in the exercise of those graces which He requires in relation to our neighbour. He calls them beloved, i.e. with the Lord’s love of approval and reasons from their being so beloved: “Put on therefore as…beloved”.

4. True Empathy is Merciful

We ought to have the greatest inward feeling of and sympathy with the misery of others. In urging them to put on mercy, he refers to the inward parts of the body being moved by it. The word expresses such an intense motion of the heart and soul, that the very inward parts are moved by it. [The original word in Greek means the inward parts such as heart, liver etc. being the seat of the emotions]

5. True Empathy is Active

Our sympathy with others in their misery ought to be outward and not merely inward. This is done by helping them in their misery according to our ability, which is the “kindness” that they are to put on.

6. True Empathy is Humble

The grace of humility makes someone have a modest esteem of themselves due to a sense of their own weaknesses (Philippians 2:3). It makes them wish that others would esteem them similarly (1 Corinthians 3:5). Humility is essential for obtaining more grace (1 Peter 5:5). They must, therefore, put on humility of mind.

7. True Empathy is Long-suffering

The grace of meekness makes someone amenable and not easily provoked with the folly, weaknesses, and lesser wrongs done to him by others. Long-suffering moderates anger, even under the greatest abuse. Meekness and long-suffering are necessary graces which help us bear with the weaknesses of others to correct them (Galatians 6:1). They keep us from avenging ourselves (Romans 12:18-19) and in our patience make us possess our souls (Luke 21:19). We are to “put on…meekness, long-suffering”.

Find out more about James Fergusson 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.

How Do I Know What God Commands?

How Do I Know What God Commands?

How Do I Know What God Commands?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
14 Jun, 2019

When you look around you see so many different strands of Christianity and churches. You might have asked the question–”why?” It’s not just because of historical factors–ultimately it’s because there are different answers to the question of authority. What does God require from all Churches and Christians? What has God’s authority as opposed to the authority of mere human beings?

This is of course a huge question but let’s explore it in the most straightforward way we can. The Bible specifically tells us that we will be able to discern what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is (Romans 12:2). Something has divine authority if it is commanded by any law of God or something that is equivalent to a divine law. Some of the London ministers at the time of the Westminster Assembly produced a book (Jus Divinum or The Divine Right of Church Government) which deals with this question. The following is an updated summary of various chapters in that book. There are five different levels of divine authority; they go from a lower level to the highest level.

 

1. Natural Knowledge

Before the Fall the natural knowledge man possessed was perfect in corresponding with the divine law of God’s image within (Genesis 1:26-27). Even after the Fall with the effects of sin in our nature we do have some sense naturally in our conscience and understanding of what God wants. He has put that knowledge there or it is evident from what He has created around us. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-2). Food and weather declare the goodness and the wisdom of God (Acts 14:17). Paul makes it clear to the Athenians that God has been made known to them (Acts 17:27-28). Paul speaks about how this revelation of God’s “invisible Godhead” and attributes leaves people “without excuse” (Romans 1:18-21). They “knew God” but did not act in accordance with this knowledge. The law was also written in their hearts in some measure (Romans 2:12, 14-15). Sometimes Paul even makes an appeal to what nature teaches us when he is speaking to Christians (1 Corinthians 5:1; 11:13-15; 14:7-11, 34-35). In inspiring Scripture the Holy Spirit therefore condemns or commends certain things in relation to natural knowledge. Anything contradictory to natural knowledge in matters of religion is therefore condemned by divine authority and vice versa.

 

2. Bible Examples

There are obligatory examples in Scripture which God’s people are required to follow and imitate. The Holy Spirit has recorded and affirmed such examples for believers to imitate. This is clearer and more specific than natural knowledge. There are many examples in Scripture that we are not obliged to imitate. They are recorded for another purpose. We can conclude that Christ anything to be done that He makes known to His Church and people through an obligatory Bible example.

Christ’s humility in washing the disciples’ feet is intentionally affirmed as an obligatory example. It binds both the disciples and us to do the very meanest service to one another in love and humility (John 13:4ff, 13-15). Christ’s suffering innocently and patiently is an example for all Christians to imitate (1 Peter 2:21-23). Christians are to be generous as Christ was even if it makes them poorer (2 Corinthians 8:9). There are also others ways we follow Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2; 4:32; 1 John 2:6).

The examples of others are for us to follow (1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 6:12; 13:7; James 5:10). The book of Acts for instance is a whole book of examples meant to guide us in relation to the Church. The apostles are frequently said to be those we are to imitate (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 1 Corinthians 4:6-7; 11:1; Philippians 4:9). Certain examples are clearly commanded (3 John 11). These commands clearly prove that many Bible examples are obligatory for us to imitate. When God condemns or commends anything it is virtually the same as requiring or forbidding it.

We have to think through what is essential to the action and what are the circumstances surrounding it. We have to look at what was unique and what is of a moral and abiding nature. In general we can say that if the example of those who are godly and approved in Scripture does not go against the principles and commands of Scripture we should follow it. Here are some principles to guide us:
(a) if an example is commanded or approved we must follow it;
(b) if an example is of a moral nature we must follow it;
(c) if an example is said to be a pattern for us or is the common practice in Scripture we must follow it;
(d) if an example is done by someone in their capacity as a believer (as opposed to fulfilling a particular function) we must follow it; and
(e) if an example is related to extraordinary gifts and calling we must only follow it if we have the same extraordinary gifts and calling.

 

3. God’s Approval

When God approves something it is equivalent to Him commanding it. God cannot approve of something that is against His will. And vice versa, He forbids things by disapproving of them, showing that they are against His will and unlawful. God approves or forbids things in different ways.

(a) Commending or Condemning

God commended Josiah for his zeal in Reformation (1 Kings 23:25). The Angel of the Church of Ephesus is commended for not bearing with those who are evil and hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:2-6). Christ approved the Angel of the Church in Pergamus for not denying the faith when faced with danger and persecution (Revelation 2:13). That becomes a rule for all pastors and churches. God commending is divine commanding. The same churches are also reproved for their failings (Revelation 2:4, 14-15,20; 3:15). The Church of Corinth are condemned for their division and disorder (1 Corinthians 11:17).

(b) Promising or Warning

Christ makes promises to His people (Mark 10:29-30; Matthew 16:19;18-18-20; 20;23; 28:18-20 and John 20:23). He also warns and threatens His people for leaving their first love, tolerating false teaching and lukewarmness (Revelation 2:4-5, 14-15, 20-23; 3:15-16). These teach us what to do and what to avoid.

(c) Rewarding or Chastising

God rewards faithfulness (Exodus 1:17-21; 1 Timothy 5:17). He chastises disobedience (1 Samuel 13:12-14; 2 Samuel 6:6-7; 2 Chronicles 26:16). The Corinthians were chastised for abusing the Lord’s Supper as a divine warning to all Churches in the future to avoid partaking of communion unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:30).

 

4. God’s Actions

Anything God has done in or for the Church of God is of divine authority. For instance, God rested on the seventh day and sanctified and blessed it (Genesis 2:2-3). That action is taken to be significant in instituting the sabbath. The Lord’s Day under the New Testament was instituted by Christ (changing the seventh day to the first day). Christ rose on the first day of the week, He appeared to the disciples on that day and sent the Holy Spirit on that day. These actions (together with the practice of the apostles: Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) have authority in setting apart that day. Likewise the whole ceremonial law is fulfilled by Christ’s death when He cried “It is finished” (John 19:30; Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:14-15).

 

5. God’s Commands

Whatever is commanded or forbidden by God in His Word is either a duty or a sin. We can divide these commands into explicit and implicit.

(a) Explicit

Some of these are obvious such as the Ten Commandments or commandments of Christ (e.g. Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24). Commands that God gives through the inspired apostles are also of authority (1 Corinthians 7:12,25,40; 14:37). Whatever is explicitly commanded by God in plain and evident terms is of divine authority without any controversy. But we do have to consider the nature of the thing commanded and the Lord’s purpose in commanding. Some commands are moral and abiding e.g. honouring father and mother. Other commands are temporary like the ceremonial and civil law for Israel under the Old Testament. Likewise there are things commanded that have a special temporary relevance but can still be binding on us in terms of their principle. Acts 15 forbids the Gentiles from stumbling fellow believers who were Jewish in relation to certain practices. There may be aspects of this that were temporary but the principle of not stumbling others certainly remains. Others are unique to particular situations, like the Israelites “borrowing” gold from the Egyptians (Exodus 11:2).

(b) Implicit

Even the Ten Commandments imply more than the words in themselves state. The commandments that forbid sin also require us to do opposite duties and vice versa. Christ explains the sixth commandment in this way (Matthew 5:21-27,43). It is not only outward actions that are forbidden but also inward actions (Matthew 5:21-22). The same is true in relation to adultery, lustful looks and thoughts are forbidden (Matthew 5:27-30).  Everything implied in a commandment has divine authority.

Implicit commands also include the many things that are clearly deduced from explicit commands. Do ministers have an explicit command to baptise? No, but it is deduced from the command to the apostles and the promise that Christ will be with them always to the end of the world (Matthew 28:19-20).  So we have to draw out the logical consequences of what is commanded in Scripture. No one says that just because we do not have any examples or commands for women to receive the Lord’s Supper they cannot. We infer from the example of whole families engaging in the Passover (Exodus 14) and the fact that male and female are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Paul proves that minsters are to have financial support from the command concerning the ox treading corn and the support for priests (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

 

Conclusion

This survey of establishing what God commands gives us the tools we need. God’s complete will concerning all things that are necessary for his own glory, our salvation, faith and life, is either explicitly stated in Scripture or can be derived from it in a valid way. There are differences within applying this. The Bible limits us to deriving our doctrine and worship from itself alone. If it’s not commanded it’s forbidden. On the other hand there are many commandments and principles in the Bible that teach us God’s will for our lives that are to be applied in the detail of everyday life. By it’s very nature this is much more expansive and requires much wisdom.

We are not to be unwise or foolish but to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). We have a natural tendency not to want to do the hard work of searching out God’s will in Scripture. We also have a sinful tendency to want to limit God’s authority on our lives and activities – even in the life of the Church. The reality is that we are able to experience liberty when we seek God’s commandments (Psalm 119:145).

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Westminster Assembly

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?

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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?

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A Family Day…of Worship

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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.

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
1 Jun, 2019

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

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

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

 

1. Ignorance is Not Bliss

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

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

 

2. Knowledge Alone Will Not Lead to Happiness

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

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

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

 

3. Obedience and Humility Contain Happiness

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

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

 

4. Lack of Obedience Leads to Misery

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

 

Conclusion

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

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from George Hutcheson

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.

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering

How to Recover Our Souls When they are Withering
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
10 May, 2019

​We’ve heard about the decline of Christianity, church attendance and Christian influence. Aspects of this are matters of discussion and debate. Yet decline and increased pressure on the Church are certainly evident. Social and cultural pressures and a moral revolution that sets the agenda and seems to place the church continually on the back foot. Or the challenge of how to communicate the gospel in a world where people mistakenly think it no longer makes sense. There’s a danger that when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity–the potential for inward decline. Has there been a decline of living Christianity in your heart and mine? It’s easy to fall into the temptation of becoming consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. What if our souls have begun to wither and we’ve scarcely noticed. How would we know? More importantly, how can we recover a declining condition?

Christ tells His people who are withering in their souls to be watchful or awake (Revelation 3:2). This is the first step towards reviving a withered soul. As Obadiah Sedgewick puts it there can be “no reformation without diligent and serious consideration”. Those in Sardis were in a dying condition. The powers of truth and grace were extremely faint and seemed to be expiring. There were things “that were ready to die”. Spiritual life needs to be strengthened in such a dying condition. Outwardly things may have looked good to the eyes of others. But it was imperfect and incomplete before God. Their condition required remembering and repenting. Obadiah Sedgewick (a member of the Westminster Assembly) explains the implications of Christ’s exhortations in this updated extract.

 

1. How Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) In Our Profession. The leaves of our profession may wither when we do not have even the previous zeal and diligence for being at services. We may become so remiss in these things as to become something of a stranger to God.

(b) In Our Conversation. We may no longer delight to be with the people of God. When we are with them we avoid profitable conversation about heaven and holiness.

(c) In Our Affections. Christ tells the Ephesians that they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). There was a cooling in the degree of love similar to the decline in the Galatians that Paul speaks of (Galatians 4:15).

(d) In Our Obedience. We obey God occasionally or in a distracted way or with a kind of cold, careless formalism. Before no time was too long and no excuse was sufficient to neglect serving God. Praying did not satisfy without lamenting groanings of spirit or more fervent wrestling with God. But now prayer and other spiritual activities are like a pulse hardly felt. Mere words and just doing the activity is enough.

(e) In Our Understanding. Previously our mind was taken up with delight in meditating on God and Christ, divine truths and ways. Now we are taken up with things that are empty and transitory. These so fill the soul that it becomes almost a stranger to holy meditations. It has almost lost its relish for deep thoughts of God, Christ, or salvation.

(f) In Our Gifts and Abilities. These become rusty and blunt because we want to be comfortable and do not use them aright or else focus them on worldly things.

(g) In Our Graces.  It is worst of all when we are dying in our graces. Physical health may go up and down and so it may be with a Christian’s graces. Perhaps they are not being kept active or being strengthened by spiritual activity.

 

2. Why Do Our Souls Wither?

(a) Error.  If poison gets into the body it weakens and endangers life. Unsound doctrine can do this as it did to the churches of Galatia. When the understanding is corrupted with any error, truth does not have the same power in the soul. Where truth loses its authority, grace will lose its strength.

(b) Sinning. Just as a wound in the body makes us lose blood and endangers our life, so there are things which fight against the soul and wound it (1 Peter 2:11). Sinning not only wounds the conscience but also our graces. Sinning is to graces as water is to fire, nothing is more opposite to grace than sin. When sin gets into the affections it is like a disease which will inevitably be a deadly wound to our graces.

(c) Neglect. Neglecting food makes the body decline. So the people of God may become careless through spiritual pride. They do not keep so close to the Word of life or to the Life itself by earnest and constant communion in prayer. It is no wonder that they become dying people. Just as plants live or die, flourish or decay in relation to how they benefit from the sun, so it is with us and God.

(d) Allowing Spiritual Disease. If ill health in the body is not treated it can become deadly. Unless sin is dealt with it will do the same to the soul. One sin may lead to another. Or the same sin may become stronger. This makes grace wither.

(e) Lack of Self-Examination. Previously we kept a careful watch over ourselves but then we began to think it was not so necessary. We therefore fail to see how either sin or grace is operating. The soul becomes weak. We cannot pray as before, we do not have the love to God and Christ we had before. We do not delight in the means of grace nor mourn over sin as before. We do not do the same good to others as before. Why is this? It is always true that the less searching of heart there is, the less strength of grace there is.

(d) Lack of Humbling Ourselves. Fasting and prayer have been ordained to help preserve our graces. When we neglect them or are careless in them we cannot have the same strength against spiritual corruptions. We therefore fall into spiritual decay.

(e) Laziness. A lazy Christian will quickly prove to be a dying Christian. Grace not exercised will quickly become weak and dying. It is put into the soul by God’s Spirit but there are means to sustain and strengthen it. Grace is like a fire that must be stirred up. He who will not use grace, will quickly lose it or decay in it.  Many Christians do not stir their hearts to believe, lay hold on God, or call upon Him, or to walk before Him. They do not use their knowledge, zeal and love for the good of those around them, including those they live with. They meet together but don’t stir one another up to greater holiness.

(f) Excessive emotion. Excessive fear, grief, anger, joy, agony, desire or worry can all impair grace. Desire for the world, or delight in it, fear of man, or grief for things we have lost can all damage grace.

 

3. Are Our Souls Withering?

(a) Examine Your Understanding. Previously there were strong endeavours to know the truths of God and search out the mysteries of salvation. There was an admiration of holiness and God’s favour. There were sweet meditations on the will of God; the mind was pre-eminently taken up with God and Christ, grace, obedience and heaven. Is it so now? Or do worldly things seem great in your eyes? Are we more concerned for our temporal than for our spiritual good? Are our thoughts of God fleeting and short? Do you desire to know God or see His favour in Christ to you? Where is that high regard for the truths of God? Where is that diligence to know the condition of your soul? Where is that sweet delight you once had to know Jesus Christ as your own?

(b) Examine Your Will and Affections. Time was that your will was flexible and found obedience easy. It was submissive to the divine will and cheerful in the duties of godliness. Your affections were delighted with God’s promises and ravished with love to Christ. You were concerned to please and to avoid offending.  You desired nothing more than God’s lovingkindness and hated all evil. But now your will grows weary and is reluctant to be persuaded. It often conflicts with God’s will. You are slow to pay heed to God’s counsels. Neither God’s mercies nor His warnings have the same effect on you.  You delight less in heavenly things and sin is not hated as it was.

(c) Examine Your Heart and Conscience. In the past conscience was quick to direct and restrain. It sought exact obedience. It was sensitive against doing wrong. It could not rest till peace was found. Is it so now? Can you sin and conscience does not strike you? Has your conscience become sleepy and almost dead?  Can you omit duties or do them carelessly or can you sin and either conscience says nothing or you do nothing?

(d) Examine Your Worship. How precious and delightful the means of grace once were to you. You would rather have spent a day in them than a hundred in other things. They brought powerful impressions on your heart; grief, joy and hope. They helped you conquer sin and temptation and have a more serious diligence in your walk with God. Is it so now? Does the Word warn and you do not tremble? Does it promise good and you do not love it? If your heart seems to be dead it indicates that you are a dying soul.

(e) Examine Your Conversation. Has our religion become just talk, criticism and debate?

(f) Examine Your Graces. When graces are scarcely active or are generally inconstant there is spiritual decline. Your faith does not commit things to God as before, your love is not so settled on Christ as before. Your patience cannot endure, your sorrow is dry and your zeal has become cool. If our physical capacities have become weaker it is an indication of declining strength in the body. The same may be said for our spiritual condition, if our graces are not as vigorous as they were.

 

4. How to Recover Our Withering Souls

God puts grace within the soul and also increases and perfects it. Strengthening grace means recovering the health of the soul. Christ also does this work, it is He who must make our withered branches to flourish again. He does this by awakening us through the Word and not leaving us to continue as we are. Ministers are also appointed to watch for the flock and exhort those who are going astray. Christ supplies strength and grace that enables us to repent and pray. There is renewed grace to go on in holiness and regain our former strength of holy understanding, faith, will, love, desire, fear, and obedience. But there are also means for Christians themselves to use to strengthen grace within.

(a) Serious Consideration. Seriously consider and take to heart your condition. Think about what it was formerly and what it is now; what strength there was then, what weakness there is now (Psalm 119:59). Consider how much glory God had then, what dishonour God has now. Consider what peace of conscience you had then, what wounds in conscience now.

(b) Confession. Go before the Lord and fall down before His footstool with shame, bitter weeping and lamentations. Confess your condition.

(c) Resolve. Resolve that you will not continue in your decayed condition but rather shake off all the causes of having decayed. Put away sin. Turn away from carelessness and slothfulness. If the world has caused your decay, resolve to turn from its allurements.

(d) Reform. Remember where you have fallen from and do the first works again (Revelation 2:4). Go to prayer, reading, holy meditation, spiritual conversation and hearing again.  Stir up those coals and embers of grace. There is life in you yet, exercise faith and repentance.

(e) Fervent Prayer.  The Lord can give the strength you need (Psalm 86:16). Implore Him to pity and help you, to be your strength and salvation. Seek that He would weaken the sins which have so much weakened you. Ask that He would crucify your heart to the world, which has so much crucified your heart to your God. He can increase strength to those who are faint (Isaiah 40:29). He is able to revive and strengthen the holiness that He himself planted in your heart.

(f) Submit to the Word.  Strive for a pliable heart submissive to whatever the Lord will direct you to by His word. Desire to do God’s will. Co-operate with the Word received when it has got into your soul and stirred you in any way. Take note of what impressions the Lord makes on your spirit by His Word. Stir up your heart to embrace them and apply them again and again to your conscience. This is the way to make your weak spark grow into a flame.

(g) Find Strong Christians. Seek out strong and lively Christians who walk in the ways of grace. If they are good and know how to do good they will have hearts to pity you, heads to direct you and arms to bear you up. Listen to their heavenly wisdom in counselling you and their exhortations to you. Follow their examples in careful communion with God. You will be helped by their prayers for you.

 

Conclusion

It is a serious matter when our souls are in a withering condition. We cannot just accept it, we need to address it. It is a matter that Christ takes extremely seriously in the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3). This is one of the various themes of our new forthcoming study course called Outside In. It helps to identify the problem of declining in love and grace and what we can do by God’s grace to return from that condition.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Westminster Assembly

REFORMING YOURSELF

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

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

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How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

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The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

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Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

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How Far Should Reformation Go?

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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?

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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.

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“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.

How to Overcome Discontentment

How to Overcome Discontentment

How to Overcome Discontentment
Andrew Gray (1633-1653) was a gifted young preacher who died after a ministry of only 27 months in Glasgow. His sermons were marked by deep spiritual experience. It was said of him, "...never in the history of our country did a man of his years make so deep a mark."
26 Apr, 2019

In a sinful world it’s natural to be discontented with the way that things isn’t it? What’s wrong with wanting things to be better and how they ought to be? But discontentment is more often focussed on our personal circumstances and what we think we deserve. People can get a wrong idea of contentment as though it is pretending that things are not as they are. But this isn’t true contentment. Being spiritually content involves a full view of what is worst in our situation but still submitting to God’s will in it. Why? Because we are able to compare present realities with greater realities in the eternal purpose of God for us. Discontentment is far easier than contentment, that’s why we need to be armed against it.

As Andrew Gray notes, the apostle Paul calls contentment in all kinds of circumstances a secret (literally, a mystery) which is not easily attained (Philippians 4:11). Previously we have considered why You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness. We also need to know how to deal with discontentment when it arises and even seek to prevent it from rising.

1. What is Contentment?

The whole of time that has been, is or will yet be is only a single moment in comparison to eternity. What is our life, but a small part of that moment? Why then should someone anxiously complain about spending a part of a moment in enduring the most anxious and sad things that can befall them? What poor advantage is gained by discontentment and sorrow? It only renders a person more miserable. Heavenly-mindedness and contentment live and die together; they are two sweet companions, that always go together and cannot be divided.

Content literally means all-sufficient.  Thus the words may be attractively rendered in this way, “I have learned in every state…to be all-sufficient.  Proverbs 14:14  speaks in a similar way of how a godly man shall be satisfied from himself. There is a well-spring of everlasting consolation within the Christian, which makes them endure every anxious condition. “I have learned”, indicates the difficulty of attaining this mystery of divine contentment. Paul was once ignorant of this but now through the understanding and wisdom of God, he has full knowledge of it. “In every state”, indicates that no condition could put him wrong.

Contentment is a sweet and composed frame of spirit in relation to every anxious condition and circumstance we encounter. This grace and duty of contentment includes a holy delight and sweet serenity and calmness of spirit in every condition, even trials (James 1:2; Romans 5:3). It is clear that the Christian is required to be content (1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5; James 4:7).

2. What Damage Results from Discontentment?

(a) It makes us unfit for spiritual activities

It is impossible for a Christian to praise or pray. Praise requires a composed frame of spirit (Psalm 58:7). In 1 Timothy 2:8 it is said that right prayer should be without wrath, not having any murmurings in the heart. Discontentment cuts off three ingredients of prayer: love, fervency, and faith. A discontented Christian cannot be burning with love but rather jealousy. Neither can a Christian exercise faith, because he has taken up so bad an opinion of God, that he cannot rest his confidence nor hope in Him. When people are poring over their present condition so much, they can be fervent about nothing except that being changed. It is certain, that nothing cuts the neck of prayer so much as discontent.

(b) It makes us open to temptation

Discontentment makes us altogether unable to resist temptations. It is impossible for a Christian to be a put sin to death when discontentment is being exercised. Prevailing sin, pride and all other lusts get great victory over such a person. A Christian may lose more by one hour’s discontentment under trials, than he can regain in many months. It is no wonder that temptations prevail because such a person is off their guard and their strength is gone.

(c) It makes us hardened

Discontentment results in lack of tenderness of spirit. Nothing cuts off spiritual sensitivity so much as discontentment. A discontented Christian does not act from the fear or love of the Almighty–the two great principles of tenderness of spirit. When they examined themselves they will find that anxiety and bitterness of spirit have made their hearts to die as a stone within them.

(d) It makes us undervalue God’s mercies

When a Christian meets with that which contradicts his preferences, he loses his esteem of everything previously bestowed on him. Jacob undervalues what he has in this way (Genesis 42:36). Nothing makes a Christian disrespect the most precious and excellent things of God more than discontent.

 

3. How Can We Overcome Discontentment?

(a) Through self-examination

Discontent comes from not exercising self-examination much. We are to be still and examine ourselves (Psalm 4:4). It is the best way to get submission and contentment in any condition. Self-examination has great influence on contentment because it considers accurately our own imperfections. Instead of complaining, we ask why should we complain (Lamentations 3:39)? Self-examination helps us understand the intention behind chastisement and its benefit. It helps us to submit patiently and adore the unsearchable wisdom of God towards us rather than fret against it (Proverbs 19:3).

(b) Through resolve

If we are resolved to bear and submit to any and every trial it has great benefit. When we are chastened we bless God because it is not worse with us. Afflictions often take us by surprise and so we faint in the day of adversity and prove our strength to be small (Proverbs 24:10).

(c) Through heavenly-mindedness

Paul had courage and constancy in affliction because he looked to the things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16 compared with verse 18). Drown the thoughts of your present misery in those precious depths of eternity. Behold so much in heaven that it might infinitely console and make up for all your losses here.

(d) Through looking to God

If we looked to God’s sovereignty and purpose in the trials we face we would be ashamed to dispute and murmur as much as we do. We would rather submit to Him (1 Samuel 3:18; Psalm 39:9; Isaiah 39:8). Do we dare to debate with the Almighty or force the supreme and absolute One to account for His ways?

(d) Through considering the brevity of time

Serious thoughts of the brevity of our life and of time will deal with discontentment. If someone knew they would only endure trials for an hour, or for ten days they might patiently submit. But it is not long before the small period of time between eternity past and eternity future will be swallowed up and there will be nothing but eternity.

(e) Through humility

Pride is the great predominant evil which brings contention (Proverbs 13:10). It is only by pride that we contend with God concerning His dealings with us. It is impossible for a Christian who is not humble to be content. Pride is one of the greatest opposites of being content in any condition.

 

Conclusion

Discontent involves murmuring and complaining against God. This prevents believing trust in God. It also prevents us benefiting from trials. Rather than being sanctified by them and sin being removed, discontentment only increases sin. We can overcome the spirit of discontentment as we focus faith on God and eternal realities. Contentment is learned through a painful and gradual process of experience and through dependence on God and His grace.

Find out more about Andrew Gray 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.

How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way

How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way

How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
29 Mar, 2019

Is it okay to enjoy this life? Some people assume, perhaps without expressing it, that Christians are not meant to enjoy earthly things. Perhaps they feel guilty as though they are always on the brink of idolatry (which is of course a real temptation). We are speaking of enjoying them in a legitimate God-honouring way. Scripture tells us that God has richly given to us all things so that we may enjoy them (1 Timothy 6:17). God has created the senses and the intellectual capacity to appreciate these things. Christians can in fact take a greater delight in what God has provided for them. This is because they see more in them not less. They see the glory, wisdom and goodness of the One who has provided them. They don’t abuse them, expecting the wrong things from them or solely using them for personal pleasure. How do we get a spiritual perspective on the things of this life?

Ecclesiastes has much to teach us about a right perspective on things “under the sun”. It shows that when these things are pursued in themselves and solely for our own pleasure they lose their value. But they can be enjoyed as a gift from God. We can glorify God in all these things, even eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ecclesiastes 2 surveys different ways in which the best possible things of this life can be amassed. Yet it is all unsatisfying in itself. Earthly things cannot satisfy the spiritual needs of the soul. In verses 24-25 this is qualified by the teaching that we are able to enjoy the things God has created. We are told clearly what is good for us in this life; the goal that was sought in Ecclesiastes 2:3. Alexander Nisbet explains how these verses teach us in relation to happiness in this world.

We are to enjoy created things not in excess but in a moderate and holy way. Eating and drinking is what Scripture calls this “our daily bread”. Our “soul is to enjoy good” and this must be what truly satisfies it spiritually. It must mean the sweet fellowship that reconciled souls have with the Lord, while they walk in fear and obedience towards Him. This is emphasised at the close of this book. This is the goal of all eating, drinking and using all the lawful blessings of this life. The grace to use them so as to advance the soul’s good helps us to find sweetness in them. It is all “from the hand of God”. God graciously gives these things and His powerful blessing enables us to use them in this way (see Psalm 104:28). Thus, he shows that happiness is not enjoying outward comforts alone in themselves. It is only in enjoying them in a holy way to help the soul’s good, which consists in fellowship with the Lord. Religion is a friend both to our bodies and spirits.

 

1. We Must Value Earthly Blessings

It is a great blessing from God both to have plenty of created comforts and to be able to make use of them and find sweetness in them. Some are restrained from this by inward and spiritual trials (Job 33:19-20). These may include the Lord withdrawing the felt comfort of His presence (Psalm 102:9 and Psalm 42:3). Others have outward trials that embitter their spirit and take away the pleasure of created comforts (1 Samuel 30:26-27). Other things that may hinder our enjoyment include extreme fears of outward dangers (Psalm 107:18), ungrounded scruples of conscience (Acts 10:13-14) or by miserliness.

The generosity of a good God provides the outward comforts of this life and the capacity to use them and find sweetness in using them. He also gives grace to use them to advance the good of the soul. It is all from our Father’s allocation, our Redeemer’s purchase and our Comforter’s presence and teaching. It is all from the hand of God (verse 24). The name God is plural reminding us of the three persons of the blessed Trinity.

 

2. We Must Value Earthly Blessings Spiritually

If we were to consider the opening words of the verse “there is nothing better then that a man should eat and drink” without considering what follows it might seem to be gluttonous pleasure seeking. But if we join it with the expression immediately following this about the soul enjoying good we understand it in the right way. We see that the eating and drinking commended here are not without regard to the spiritual and eternal good of our souls.

Eating and drinking is no part of our happiness at all, unless the soul is enjoying the good that is appropriate for it. Solomon commends eating and drinking yet not in itself, but as it ushers in and advances some true good to be enjoyed by the soul of man. “There is nothing better than that a man eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good”.

The right use of created comforts (such as food, drink and the like) is not only consistent with but subservient to the soul enjoying suitable true spiritual good. This is when we are in using these things led to think on and long for better and receive strength to praise and serve the Lord. The eating and drinking commended here advances the soul enjoying spiritual good. If we eat and drink and neglect to make our soul enjoy good we are worse than the beasts that perish.

 

3. We Must Not Despise Earthly Blessings

When ministers refute the abuse of lawful things and excessive affection for them they should also assert and make clear the lawful liberty Christians have. Otherwise hearers are ready to go from one sinful extreme to the other (either sinful excess or neglecting the body). Some may mistakenly think that religion is an enemy to their bodily health but this is contrary to Proverbs 3:8. After Solomon has condemned the excess of delighting our senses he commends using them in the right way to assist the soul in enjoying true good in fellowship with the Lord.

The soul and its concerns should be primarily and principally cared for (Matthew 6:33). It is not the Lord’s intention that seeking the good of our souls should make us careless about our bodies. We should rather (out of respect to our soul and our soul’s good) respect the good of our bodies in a moderate and holy manner. We must respect the body and care for it in reference to the soul. Thus, the body may assist the soul in serving its Creator. We ought not to indulge the body so as to neglect the soul or any duty relating to its welfare. This is that golden path in which we may expect some measure of the happiness which the Lord gives His children in this life.

 

4. We Must Teach Others How to Value Earthly Blessings Spiritually

Whenever the Lord makes any of His servants to excel in outward enjoyments or privileges, they should strive to teach others from their own experience. They can teach them how to use these outward advantages for the spiritual good of their souls. People who place their happiness in these things are ready to think that if others would not undervalue them if the knew from experience their imagined worth and sweetness. Solomon seeks to convince everyone that there is no true happiness in making use of these things, except to serve the soul enjoying true spiritual good in fellowship with God. He asserts this truth as someone who was second to none in having plenty of outward comforts and ability to enjoy them.

 

Conclusion

We can avoid the extremes of wanting either to starve ourselves of enjoying created blessings or overdose ourselves on them. We do this with a right perspective that enjoys them in the light of God’s goodness and grace. They can in fact help us to love God more. It’s not easy for us to enjoy earthly things in a spiritual way but Nisbet shows us that God gives grace to be able to do this. And as in so many other things we need to pray for that grace. When we are those who have been redeemed at infinite cost we can see that even our everyday blessings are enjoyed as those who belong body and soul to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Find out more about Alexander Nisbet and read other articles featuring his work.

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Keep Calm in An Age of Anger

Keep Calm in An Age of Anger

Keep Calm in An Age of Anger
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
22 Mar, 2019

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

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

 

1. How to Identify Sinful Anger

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

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

(a) Bitterness

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

(b) Wrath

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

(c) Angry Shouting

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

(d) Evil Speaking

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

(e) Malice

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

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

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

 

2. How to Have Righteous Anger

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

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

 

3. How to Restrain Sinful Anger

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

 

4. How to Watch Against Sinful Anger

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

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

 

5. How to Deal With Sinful Anger

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from James Fergusson

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.

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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.