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.

A Family Day…of Worship

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

What’s Missing from Your Home?

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

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

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

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

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

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

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

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

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

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

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

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

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

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

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

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

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

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

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

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

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

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

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

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

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

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

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

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

What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?

There’s no shortage of people offering personal transformation and life-hacking. It’s all about the power of positive thinking, planning and self-belief. It’s breezy and simplistic, offering instant and effortless change with a few tweaks. Personal reformation is entirely different. It is all about grace not self-help. It doesn’t masquerade as a quick fix in a few easy steps; it is extensive and lifelong. It is being transformed by the renewing of our mind and working out God’s perfect will in practice (Romans 12:2). It involves applying all that God requires to our hearts, lives and families.

Personal reformation is certainly extensive; it applies to our heart and outward conduct. It relates to all of our lives at all times, in all of our interactions with others. It involves seeking God and His glory in all things (1 Chronicles 22:19; 2 Chronicles 20:3). It is spiritual, a concern for fervent zeal and the real power of godliness in the heart and life, not just a formal outward profession.

Personal reformation was strongly emphasised during the Second Reformation and at the time of the Westminster Assembly. We can learn much from their concern to see the Word of God influencing our lives. The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was crucial to the Westminster Assembly and the kingdoms of England and Scotland at this time. The climax of this vow to God has much to teach us about some of the key themes of personal reformation. As we will see, to take the Solemn League was not simply to swear an oath but to commit to every day personal reformation and holiness.

1. Repentance

The Covenant speaks of “our unfeigned desire to be humbled for our own sins, and for the sins of these kingdoms”. There is a sincere confession of sin in personal reformation (1 John 1:9). When we look into Scripture and compare it with our own lives, it should leave an abiding impression and make us want to change (James 1:21-25). It will bring us to humble ourselves before God (Psalm 38:3-4; Joel 2:12-13). We will be conscious that our deceitful hearts naturally do not want to identify and expose sin (Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 19:12-13). We will want to be humbled for our own sins in particular not just sin in general.
There will be serious concern in case we are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). When we discover our sins we will want to turn from them (Ezekiel 18:30-31). The sins of the society around us will not be an excuse to make us say that we are not as bad. Rather we will be humbled for these sins and those of the professing Church. We will mourn over them (Ezekiel 9:4). This is because we cannot separate ourselves from them; we have been involved in them to some extent. It is no comfort to know that the sins of the nation are only worse versions of what is in our own hearts (Ezekiel 6:11).

2. Valuing the Benefit of the Gospel

The Covenant goes on to mention some of these personal and national sins. One of these is not having “valued the inestimable benefit of the Gospel”. We live in a nation and society that despises and neglects the gospel (Matthew 11:16-24). But is the gospel an invaluable benefit to us or do we live as though it is just an add-on extra to a comfortable life along with many other benefits? What does the gospel mean to us on a daily basis? Is it the basis of all our confidence? Do we feel that we have moved on from it to other things or is it like a jewel that sparkles with new beauty every time we look at it? Appreciating the gospel according to its invaluable benefits is obvious if our lives are shaped by it.

Part of valuing it properly is when we labour for its “purity and power”, as the Covenant puts it. In other words we are concerned for its influence on others too. We are especially alarmed when it is distorted or not properly proclaimed. Yet we cannot merely rest in the idea that it is purely declared without seeking that there would be real spiritual power accompanying it.

3. Walking Worthy of Christ

We value the gospel and labour for its purity and power when we not only seek to “receive Christ in our hearts” but also strive “to walk worthy of Him in our lives” (Ephesians 4:1-2; Colossians 1:10). If we do not live out the gospel in our attitudes, actions and words we are effectively denying its power (Philippians 1:27). We are dishonouring Christ as Saviour if we do not strive to walk worthy of Him (Colossians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).

When we think that it doesn’t matter how we live because forgiveness is freely available it devalues the gospel and turns the grace of God into an incitement for sin (Jude 1:4). As Edmund Calamy put it, sinning against the gospel is even more serious than sinning against the law. How much do we value the precious promises of God if we are not willing to “cleanse our selves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1)? We need to lay aside every weight, including those predominant sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:1). This is why the covenant says that these things are “the causes of other sins and transgressions so much abounding amongst us”. Christians not living as they should means they are not salt and light and add to rather than restrain the corruption of the world around them.

4. Sincere Desires

Personal reformation involves sincere desires and resolve. They covenant speaks of “our true and unfeigned purpose, desire and endeavour”. Unless we want to reform and plan to reform it will not happen. The danger is of making promises and resolutions but then not following through on them. We need to act on our sincere purpose. There will not be perfection but there ought to be sincere attempts even though these will come short of what we desire. Edmund Calamy says that it is like shooting an arrow, if one does not hit the target, short another and then another until you are successful.

5. All of Life

This reformation is “for ourselves and all others under our power and charge”. We are not just to be concerned for ourselves but that others for whom we have responsibility would reform themselves too. Personal reformation doesn’t mean that we think only our individual reformation matters. Personal reformation isn’t just a private matter but it is to be “both in public and in private, in all duties we owe to God and man”. It must affect our job, family life and all our dealings with other people just as much as our duty to God.

6. Changing the Way We Live

Personal reformation means change and transformation. We will want to “amend our lives” as the covenant puts it. There will be things we need to start doing and things we need to stop doing according to the Word of God. If it’s just about reading books and discussing Christian things and we don’t want to go further than this – it isn’t reformation.

7. Reform as Much as Possible

The covenant has a very striking expression that “each one” is “to go before another in the example of a real reformation”. We ought to be an example to each other. We should hold fast to whatever reformation we have attained and seek to go further (Philippians 3:15-16). We should seek to encourage others to go further in this too, and be an example to them (Philippians 3:17). As Herbert Palmer put it, we are not to wait for others “but strive to excel others” almost to outdo them. We are to be “patterns to others, and lights to direct and excite [encourage] others to follow us”.

8. Depend on the Help of the Holy Spirit

We cannot engage in personal reformation on our own or in our own strength. We must humbly beseech “the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit for this end”. Edmund Calamy warned those who swore to the Solemn League and Covenant:

You must not take it in your own strength but in God’s strength. As it is taken in God’s presence, so it must be taken with Gods assistance, with self-abasement, self-denying, self-humbling hearts; you must take it joyfully and tremblingly; rejoicing in God and in his strength, and yet trembling for fear of your own unworthiness and unsteadfastness in the Covenant.

Besides prayer for such strength we must also seek a blessing on our endeavours for personal reformation. Private prayer and spending time in meditating on the Word is an essential aspect of this. As the Scottish Church put it at the time of the Second Reformation:

It is most necessary, that every one apart and by themselves be given to prayer and meditation, the unspeakable benefit [of this] is best known to them who are exercised [in it].

This is because it is the great special means by which fellowship with God is maintained and advanced. It also prepares is in the right way for all other spiritual duties.

9. Wider Reformation

Those who composed the Covenant believed that if Christians were personally reformed it would have a tremendous influence on the Church of Jesus Christ and the nation as a whole. National and personal reformation, Humphrey Chambers preached, “should always go together”. What indeed would things look like if even a small quantity of Christians lived as they should?

Conclusion

We ought to long that our consciences and conduct would give a clear witness to personal reformation in our own experience. The men of the Second Reformation were so concerned about this that they devoted days to prayer and fasting for God’s help in reformation, including on the personal level. On one of these an ordinary believer named Ralph Josselin wrote in his diary: “Oh Lord, never was there more need of personal reformation than now; stir me up to it”. That spirit is exactly what we need now too.

If you have been challenged about personal reformation by this article why not sign up for our “Reforming Yourself” email course? Each working day of the week get a brief reminder of some key truths for personal reformation. It lasts for around 6 weeks.

Sign Up Here.

 

 

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?
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.
23 Nov, 2018

Blind zeal is not of course a good thing. It’s not informed by knowledge of the truth (Romans 10:2). It can achieve a lot and go a long way but all in entirely the wrong direction (Galatians 1:14). So what can we possibly learn from it? Well, have you never felt rebuked by the dedication and devotion others have to a false religion or sect? It can be a challenge to our self-satisfied complacency and make us think about true zeal. Shouldn’t the truth make us equally if not more passionate and dedicated? It’s true that blind zeal is often self-directed because it’s about earning salvation. But shouldn’t salvation by faith alone produce true zeal in us (Titus 2:14)? Zeal is important (Galatians 4:18). But does the Bible teach that true zeal can learn from false zeal?

Yes, Micah 4:5 says, “For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.  Micah seems to point forward to a time under the gospel when converts will seek to renounce all heresies and sects. Instead they will adhere constantly and zealously to God and the profession of the Christian religion. As George Hutcheson notes though, it seems that they will provoke themselves to this by the example of idolaters being steadfast in their ways of false religion. This is evidence of the glory of the Church and provides encouragement for the godly. Israel had various periods of apostasy where they adopted the false religious practices of the heathen nations around them. Here is a promise of a better time when the Church will prove to be constant in the true religion. We live in unsettled and changeable times and there is a great need for being constant. There is false religious zeal in New Atheists and other activists as well as those who profess a false religion. Instead of troubling us, their commitment to a bad cause should be a spur to us in devoting ourselves in the cause of truth.

 

1. True Zeal can Learn Constancy

Constancy in adhering to the true religion is the great glory of a Church. It is  an encouragement to the godly, to whom backslidings are a sad affliction.

 

2. True Zeal can Learn Dependence on God

The Christian profession and religion consists in walking in the name of the Lord. This means professing and practicing according to the revealed rule “the name of the Lord our God”. It means not seeking to be wise above what is written or doing these things in our own strength (1 Samuel 17:45; Psalm 118:11). We will have the encouragement we need from God. The phrase “his name is the same as “the light of the Lord” i.e. light for direction and comfort (Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 2 is a parallel passage).

 

3. True Zeal can Learn Resolution

Those who seek to walk in these paths and adhere to them should make certain their claim to God by covenant. They ought to be filled with great affection toward their covenant God. To our duty in the right way we need to renew our resolutions and motives frequently. This will maintain our sharpness. Thus, they draw reasons for new resolutions from those that serve idols.

 

4. True Zeal can Learn Constant Perseverance

Eternal resolutions, or resolutions of constant perseverance are fitting for so high a duty as walking in God’s name. There can be no reason for us to be weary in this. The benefits of being constant in it will only appear greater as time goes on and comes to an end. It says “we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.

 

5. True Zeal Must Expect to See Blind Zeal

Even in the days of the gospel, there are still many who are so blindfolded and deluded they do not see the glory of Christ’s kingdom. Instead, they obstinately follow their idols. It says “all people,” that is, many, “will walk in the name of their god”.

 

6. True Zeal can Learn from Blind Zeal

The Lord’s people should (and by grace will) be far from being unsettled or drawn away by the multitude who forsake the true God. Instead, the steadfastness of idolaters is a motive for those who seek God to renew their own resolutions for greater obedience and faithfulness. Their blind zeal towards that which is no god may teach us our duty towards the true God (see Jeremiah 2:10-11).

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.

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection
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.
21 Sep, 2018

​Perfectionism is ruining a generation. In a world that places maximum value on performance, status and image anything less than perfection is failure. Perfectionism has been increasing over the generations and is an epidemic hitting millennials the hardest. A recent study by psychologists advances this conclusion. “This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies”, they say. Their definition of perfectionism is “an irrational desire for flawlessness”. This enormous peer pressure can lead to depression and suicide. In seeking to perfect the imperfect self, millennials are focussed on the wrong things in the wrong way. They are focussed on image and success rather than spiritual and moral concerns. They have no place for grace, only merit. It prompts the question: how do we strive for true perfection while resisting perfectionism?

In one sense perfection is a goal in the Christian life (Matthew 5:48; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:15). But grace teaches us that God is working with the imperfect to bring them to ultimate perfection in eternity (Ephesians 5:26-27). Grace doesn’t despise perfection but neither does it worship it or expect to achieve it in our own strength. Paul expresses this in a helpful way. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after” (Philippians 3:12). Yet Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres.

Paul is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection in these, even though that is beyond this life. Those who (like Paul) have attained the most of any, still come short. As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. Paul emphasises this in the context of the false apostles who were seeking perfection through circumcision and conformity with the ceremonial law. Paul discards that but also shows how he still has not arrived at perfection in this the things of Christ, he is striving towards it. The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments Philippians 3:12.

 

1. We Will Always be Striving After Perfection

Those who have made greatest progress in the knowledge of Christ and in conformity with him, are far short of what they should be. This is how it was with Paul. “Not as though I had already attained“, he says.

 

2. We Should be Conscious of Our Imperfection

Believers ought to be conscious of this imperfection and also acknowledge it sometimes. They may be kept humble by this and brought to aspire to further growth. They will also desire that others may be preserved from dangerous mistakes concerning them or of a high esteem of themselves. This is what Paul does when he says, “Not as though I had already attained“.

 

3. Our Imperfection Should Encourage Not Discourage Us

We are conscious in the right way of falling-short of what we should be when we are not discouraged by this.  Instead it should incite us to make swifter progress toward the mark. Thus, Paul says “but I follow after”.

 

4. We Should Strive for Perfection Even Though it is Not Attainable in This Life

Though perfection in holiness is not attainable in this life, we are still to aim at no less. Paul followed after in order that he might lay hold of that perfection which was yet lacking.

 

5. Striving for Perfection is Our Gracious Response to Christ

Any motion towards that which is spiritually good comes entirely from Jesus Christ. His grace first lays hold on us in our effectual calling. It infused principles of a new life in us when we were dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Through this we are made to exert ourselves in the way of holiness. Thus, Paul is first apprehended by Christ and then follows after to apprehend. “I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus”.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from James Fergusson

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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.

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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?

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.

You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness

You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness

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

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

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

 

1. What is True Contentment?

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

(a) It Involves Moderate Desires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. How is Godliness Gain?

(a) It Extends to All Kinds of People

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

(b) It Extends to All Kinds of Conditions

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

(c) It Extends to All Kinds of Activities

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

(d) It Extends to This Life and Eternity

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

 

3. Why is There no Contentment Without Godliness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Godliness Sets Our Affections on More Excellent Things

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

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

(d) Godliness Gives Us Access to All the Promises

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

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

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

(e) Godliness Helps Us Put Sin to Death

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

 

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from James Durham

Special Offer on James Durham’s Collected Sermons

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

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.

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?

Are We Getting Holiness Wrong?
James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) was originally from the Black Isle, Ross-shire. He was imprisoned on the Bass Rock for ‘illegal’ field preaching but survived the times of persecution.
13 Jul, 2018

We can have the right doctrine of holiness; one that takes it as seriously as Scripture does. But in relation to its practical outworking and in our assumptions concerning it, we may have got it wrong. No doubt there could be many ways in which we could do this. We may fall into the error that we can contribute something, that there is a place for our personal merit. Or perhaps we subtly divorce holiness from happiness and find ourselves in a constant conflict between the two. This is a serious mistake because holiness is the only way to true happiness. If we secretly equate happiness with sinful pleasure or our own will rather than God’s, we have gone badly wrong.  We can only look at a few ways in which we may be inclined to get holiness wrong.

James Fraser of Brea takes an honest look at himself, searching into his motives and attitudes. The discovery is startling, while he values holiness he has certain attitudes that are hindering his progress. The evil one is insinuating false notions that confuse and divert. The following are only a few of the many things that Fraser identifies. Of course free unmerited grace must always be in view.

 

1. Thinking Repentance is Only Inward

In thinking that the essence of true repentance consists in contrition for sin more than in turning in heart and practice from it. When I have not found myself in a mourning, sorrowful spirit but limited in my affections, I have not turned from sin. I was still taken up with trying to sorrow for it, thinking there was no true repentance without this. When I have mourned I depended on this, thinking it was sufficient. But repentance mostly consists in turning to God, mourning is only the manner of this act of turning (Joel 2:12; Isaiah 58:6; Proverbs 21:3).

I have neglected the outward practice of repentance under the pretence that the Lord requires the heart. But we should serve the Lord both in body and in spirit. It is true, we should not rest in the outward, or mainly look to that but should look to the heart mostly; yet the outward act should not be neglected.

 

2. Wallowing in Self Pity

After falls and slips, Satan has sought to keep me astonished and confused by what I have done. In this way I was kept from getting up to my feet and going forward. Those who fall when they are running in a race lose much time and are far behind while they think about what to do. The best way is to get up, consider our ways, mourn, seek pardon, and then go to work. This is how it was with Joshua, God told him to get up and do his work rather than lie on his face (Joshua 7:10). When David sinned, he immediately goes to repentance: “I have sinned, yet now, Lord, forgive.”

 

3. Emphasising Holiness But Not Practising it

It is wrong to neglect to obedience in dependence on grace by resting in a resolve to do and it and mere thoughts of how good it is. Either I thought this was enough or else through complacency have not expected difficulty in practice. Yet those who know, approve and teach God’s requirements to other while neglecting it themselves, “say and do not” (Romans 2:13-14, 18; Matthew 7:21; Jeremiah 2:19- 20). Thus my thoughts delighting in obedience have not been so much to practise as to delight the understanding in dwelling on such subjects.

 

4. Rebranding Sin

Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, by gilding vices with the lustre and appearance of virtue, under spiritual pretences. I have been tempted to carelessness and excess under the pretence of avoiding
unthankfulness and not using Christian liberty. I have neglected to have the heart rightly affected with the evil of sin, because repentance consists more in turning from sin than in sorrow for it. I have avoided prayer when not in the right spirit in case I make the easy yoke of Christ a grievous burden. Sin has
prevailed in these ways and when it has overcome it appeared in its own clothing. The grace of God may be turned into lasciviousness (2 Corinthians 11:14; Romans 6:1). We have been “called to liberty” but we are not to use this to give opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13).

 

5. A Legalistic Spirit

There is nothing does me more damage than a legalistic spirit or spirit of bondage. Satan presses duties in a violent way, presenting God as a hard master and an austere judge. He presents God as one that commands and requires duties in the way that tyrannical rulers make laws to entrap the subjects. He makes it seem as though God is urging hard duties and putting new wine into old bottles with the greatest threats and no promise of help. I am urged to obey hastily without being given time to breathe and extreme perfection is required or else it will not be accepted at all.  Finding the Lord’s yoke so hard, I have either cast it off or sometimes engaged in it disheartened. Nothing has influenced me worse than
this. Talents have been slighted because God was viewed as a hard master. The Lord has not been served because our yoke is not made light. There is aversion and lack of love to God due to sinful fear (1 John 4:18).

 

6. Trying to Establish Our Own Righteousness

Satan and my own heart have held me fast for a long time in the snare of seeking to establish my
own righteousness. When my heart has been in a good condition, with a felt sense of what I lack and desiring to obey it has resolved to use specific means to obtain this. I have found Satan deceiving me in this by making me love these duties, means, graces and obtaining them because it is the produce of my own desire and resolve. Thus, they have been my own (as it were) and my choice. I have despised other means because they were not my own choice. I have therefore been grieved when favour come in a different way and valued such mercy less. When I have fallen into sins I resolve to avoid I have grieved more because my resolutions have been broken and my will thwarted than because God has been wronged or my soul endangered. Thus God has been provoked to break down these resolutions and cast down the tower that reached to heaven (Proverbs 19:3; Romans 10:3; Mark 14:37; Isaiah 10:7; Psalm 58:3).

 

7. Thinking Holiness is All About Hardship

When difficult duties have been urged such as mourning, fasting, diligence etc. I have been brought to
think that the purpose of the command was mostly to bring hardship on myself. I obeyed more often for this reason than to obey God’s command. It was like pagans who cut themselves or Roman Catholics who whip themselves and it did me harm. It engendered hard thoughts of God and made me do duties in a spiritless way and without spiritual benefit because I only sought hardship for myself.

 

8. Not Avoiding “Little Sins”

I have not avoided “little” evils, fearing that this would be like tithing “anise and cumin” (Matthew 23:23).

 

9. Focussing On Outward Sins Rather than Inward Corruption

In striving against the outward acts of sin I have not been considering the inward corruption of the heart. I have been “making clean the outside” but neglecting to cleanse it within; cutting the branches, and sparing the root (Matthew 23:25-26). I have not profited in holiness because the fountain has not been cleansed.

 

10. Depending on Our Own Strength

Going on in duties in my own strength without looking for divine assistance, has done me great harm. When I have gone on in confidence of my own strength the Lord has chastened me for my presumption, as
it was with Peter. When duties have been difficult I have become discouraged because I was relying on and looking to my own strength.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from James Fraser of Brea

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 Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
25 May, 2018

Many things around us seem to conspire to bring us down to the depths of discouragement. We can see plainly that things are not as they ought to be. Perhaps we look for fruit from our patient efforts to sow seed with others and it doesn’t appear even promising. So we become weary in well-doing. Ministers are easily tempted to discouragement in the midst of their labours. It’s also not difficult to become discouraged due to things within, especially our spiritual state and progress. How do we get out of being sucked into the spiral of despair? The only all-sufficient source of help is in divine grace.

John Welwood (1649-1678) suffered much though he was only in his twenties. The following extract is from one of the many letters he wrote during his trials and persecution. He was moving from place to place all over Scotland, preaching as he could. (More information about his life can be found at the end of this article). He was an especially powerful preacher and his sermons were said to have “a fiery earnestness”.

 

1. Nothing Should Discourage a Christian

I know nothing that should discourage a Christian. There is not one discouragement in all the Word of God, but His encouragements are many. But through our folly and unbelief we lose the comfort of them.

 

2. Our Guilt and Ignorance Should Not Discourage Us

Should guilt discourage us? He has made Him “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ says to the Father that if the Christian owes anything to Him, “put it on my account”. “The blood of sprinkling speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

Should wrath discourage us? He has “redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Should our ignorance discourage us? Though we are as beasts before Him, yet he is continually with us and leads us like a flock. Our safety lies not in our wisdom and leading, but in His. Though we are foolish, our pilot is skilful and careful.

Does a body of sin and death discourage us? Indeed we have reason to cry out, “O wretched ones that we are!” “Who shall deliver us from it?” (Romans 7:24 and 8:2) It deadens us and deceives us, inclining little to what is good but a lot to what is bad. It makes us disinclined and slow to do our duty, and puts us out of the right condition for it. And if we say, we will be wise, yet it is far from us. Yet His grace is sufficient for us.

 

3. Sufficient Grace for These Discouragements

Our safety does not depend on grace within us, but grace outside us. If He would leave us to ourselves for only a day, how far wrong we would go. He has given us this promise, that his grace shall be sufficient for us. It is by this grace that we stand. It is by this that “we are made more than conquerors” in all the assaults and temptations that come from without, from Satan and from the world. It is He who keeps us from temptations and delivers from evil.

We should not therefore be discouraged by a body of sin and all the enemies that join with it. We should “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might”. He is with us as a mighty One.

 

4. Our Poor Growth in Grace Should Not Discourage Us

Does our small growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ discourage us? That is indeed our great complaint “our leanness, our leanness”. It is fitting that folk grow downwards in low thoughts of themselves, for He dwells with the humble.

The more folk have of grace, the more they see of corruption. The more they have of faith, the more they see of unbelief. It is fitting that folk have such workings within them, to keep them watching and wrestling. What an evil condition we find ourselves in when we have no such work to do. Besides, many times we make an idol of grace and prize it more than the Lord Jesus as the author of it. He may say unto us, Am not I worth more to you than however much grace? The God of all grace is ours. The fountain is ours; we are complete in Him.

 

5. Sufficient Grace is in Christ Not Us

It is fitter that He has our treasure than we should have it ourselves. We would desire to have all at one everything we need for the whole journey. This is still the aim of our hearts, and we would have a stock of grace within us so we would not be beholden to Christ for continual supply. We think it a poor life to live like beggars and to be like minors that must have a tutor.

We think that what is in our hand is surer than what is in Christ’s hand. But Adam had his stock in his own hand and he soon played the bankrupt. Though we had as much grace as possible we would undermine ourselves if His grace were not keeping us each day and moment. It is not our grace and worthiness that commends us to God, only the righteousness of Christ. We are obliged to God for the grace we get, not He to us. If He will keep us with little in hand, we ought to be content and not fall out with him because he will not fill oure purses with money, since we have access unto the treasure house.

 

6. Our Lack of God’s Felt Presence Should Not Discourage Us

Does God’s withdrawing discourage us? Sometimes there may be many fogs and clouds in our world below when all is fair weather above. Though our feelings say that His love changes there is “no variablness, nor shadow of turning” with Him. He loves us when He hides His face as well as when He smiles. He has many wise and holy purposes in all the afflictions we meet with. They are to be ballast for us. One would think it strange to see sand bags being cast into a ship but it is necessary for the ship would be blown over without this. We would go wrong if we lacked the ballast of affliction. Our hearts are ready to become unwatchful in a fair day. Afifictions give us the experience of God’s power, love, wisdom, and faithfulness in bearing us up under them, ordering them for our advantage and delivering us out of them.

 

John Welwood

After hiding in Moray and Fife and other parts of the country, Welwood was banished to Perth in 1679. Sadly he only survived in Perth for three months before contracting an illness and dying at the age of thirty. During his short time there he continued to preach, mostly to families who would come to visit him in the place where he was staying.

On his death bed he said that such was his assurance that he had no more doubt of being in Christ “than if I were in heaven already”. At another time he said: “Although I have been for some weeks without sensible [felt], comforting presence, yet I have not the least doubt of my interest [salvation] in Christ”.  

The morning he died, when he observed the light of day, he said: “Now eternal light, and no more night and darkness to me”. His gravestone had the following inscription: “A follower of the Lamb through many tribulations”.

Read more from Covenanters

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 Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
27 Apr, 2018

Pop psychology believes that the worst thing we can do is not think positively about ourselves. Apparently we just need to have the right mindset and then we can do anything. Our negative thoughts then become “the lies we tell ourselves”. Biblical wisdom is far different. It reveals glorious truths and realities that provide us with more motivation than we could imagine. Yet it also reveals the uncomfortable truth about ourselves, leaving us with nowhere to hide. Unless we come to terms with this we will only deceive ourselves. The most glorious thing that the Bible says we can have is fellowship with God. Yet it is hindered by the greatest lie.

Both of these are brought together in one verse. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). Hugh Binning opens up the most glorious privilege and the greatest lie.

 

1. True Religion is in Fellowship with God

True religion consists not only in the knowledge of God but especially in conformity to Him and communion with him. Communion and fellowship with God is the great goal and design of the gospel. It is the great result of all a Christian’s efforts and progress. It is not only the greatest part of religion, but its very reward.

Godliness has its own reward of happiness without borrowing from external things. This sweet and fragrant fruit which perfumes the whole soul with delight and fills it with joy, springs out of conformity to God. This means assimilation of nature and disposition, some likeness to God imprinted on the soul again in holy affections and dispositions. It also means our will coinciding with the will of God, drowning it in the sea of His good pleasure and having His law in the inward parts.

What is the root of this conformity except the knowledge of God? This has the power to transform the soul into His likeness. You see then where true religion begins lowest and by what means it grows up to the sweet fruit of that eternal joy that shall be pressed out of the grapes of fellowship with God. So then, whatever is declared by God to us in His word concerning Himself is not only presented for our knowledge. It is especially also a pattern for imitation and an inflaming motive for our affection. This is the very substance of the verse “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

 

2. True Religion is Becoming More Like God

The end of your knowing God is to become more like God. Let us consider that we know only as much about God as we love, fear and are conformed to Him. Any knowledge which is not doing this or does not have this goal will serve no other purpose except to be a witness against us.

If you want fellowship with God then consider what you engage in and what kind of person He is. The intimate knowledge of one another is presupposed in all true friendship. You must know what God is if you want to have communion with Him. There is no communion without some conformity and no conformity without knowledge of Him. Therefore, as He is light, so the soul must be made light in Him and enlightened by Him. We must be transformed into that nature and made children of light who were children of darkness. Now, as there is a light of understanding and wisdom in God, and a light of holiness and purity, so there is in our souls, opposite to these, a darkness of ignorance, unbelief, sin, and impurity of affections. Now, “what communion can light have with darkness?”

Looking often on God until our souls are enlightened and our hearts purified advances the soul to the closest conformity with God. This gives the soul greatest capacity for blessed communion with God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

 

3. The Greatest Lie

There is nothing in which men allow themselves to be so easily deceived as in religion (the matter of greatest concern). The eternal welfare of their souls consists in this. There is no delusion either so gross or so universal in any other thing as in this thing. Delusion together with self-love (which always hoodwinks the mind and will not allow serious impartial self-examination) are at the bottom of this vain persuasion.

If anyone says they are a Christian they really say that they have fellowship with God.  In so far as you pretend to be Christians and yet do not profess holiness you fall under a twofold contradiction and commit a twofold lie. The first is between your profession and practice and the second is in your profession itself.

Your practice is directly contrary to the very general profession of Christianity. You affirm you are Christians and yet refuse the profession of holiness. You say you hope for heaven and yet do not so much as pretend to godliness and walking spiritually. Without this the name of Christian is empty, vain, and ridiculous.

This is the greatest most dangerous lie. It is the greatest lie because it takes in the whole of someone’s life. It is one great universal lie, a lie composed of infinite contradictions and innumerable individual lies. Every step, every word and action is in its own nature contrary to that holy profession. But all combined together it makes up a black constellation of lies—one powerful lie against the truth. And, besides, it is not against a particular truth but against the whole complex of Christianity.

Error is a lie against the particular truth it opposes but the whole course of an ignorant, ungodly life is one continued lie against the whole body of Christianity and Christian truth. It is a lie extended across the length of many weeks, months and years against the whole fabric of Christian profession. There is nothing in the calling of a Christian that is not retracted, contradicted and reproached by it.

O that you could examine your ways and see what a cluster of lies and inconsistencies is in them. See what reproaches these practical lies cast on the honour of your Christian calling. They tend by their very nature to disgrace the truth and blaspheme God’s name. It is no less than a denial of Jesus Christ and a real renunciation of Him. It puts you outside the refuge of sinners and is most likely to keep you outside the blessed city where nothing that makes a lie can enter (Revelation 21:27). What shall then become of them whose life all along has been but one continued lie?

 

4. The Greatest Lie We Can Tell Ourselves

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Some are ready to think too highly of themselves. They do not see themselves in  a way that may intermingle humble mourning. Rather, they measure their attainments by their desires. Now, indeed, this is in effect, and really to say, “we have no sin” ( 1 John 1:8). We are infinitely below either our duty or our desire, and need to be reminded of this often in order not to be drunk with self-deceit in relation to this.

Are there not many Christians who, having experienced sorrow for sin and comfort by the gospel and engage in religious duties who stop in this without desiring further progress? They think that if they keep that attainment all is well with them. They make few endeavours after more communion with God, or purification from sin. This makes them degenerate into formalism. They wither and become barren and are exposed by this to many temptations which overcome them. Is this not to really say, “we have no sin?”

Do not your walk and frame of spirit imply as though you had no sin to wrestle with, no more holiness to aspire to, as if you had no further race to run to obtain the crown? Do not deceive yourselves, by thinking it sufficient to have so much grace as may (in your opinion) put you over the line. As though you would seek no more than what is precisely necessary for salvation. Some may find that this is a self destroying deceit and they have not in fact passed over that line between heaven and hell.

 

5. True Religion is Beautiful in Practice

There is nothing so contrary to religion as a false appearance. Religion is a most complete thing, harmonious in all its parts. It is the same inside and out, in expression and action, all corresponding together. Now, to mar this harmony and to compose it out of dissimilar parts and make one part contradict the other is to make religion ugly and deformed. This happens when the course of a man’s life, in ignorance, negligence, and sin declare what is contrary to the profession of Christianity.

Practice is real knowledge because it is living knowledge. It is the very life and soul of Christianity when nothing more is needed except the intimation of God’s will to move the whole being. This is what we should all aspire to and not satisfy ourselves in our poor attainments below this.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Hugh Binning

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.

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Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
15 Mar, 2018

​In a world constantly seeking the retreating mirage of satisfaction in the things of this life we need to know where to find true spiritual satisfaction. Samuel Rutherford said that seeking such satisfaction in this world is like digging into cold ice expecting to discover warm fire. Spiritual satisfaction is in Christ and what He has done alone. As Calvin put it: “The whole of God is found in him, so that he who is not satisfied with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God.” Not to be satisfied with Christ involves “detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above his perfection”. They are “ungrateful” who “seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ”. It is vital therefore to rest in this satisfaction. How can we assure ourselves that we are those who are only satisfied in Christ?

This is a question that Thomas Hog of Kiltearn (1628–1692) sought to answer for the benefit of others. He does not give an exhaustive but rather a helpful and suggestive answer. The eleven observations he makes are worth pondering further and comparing with Scripture and our own experience. Hog was imprisoned several times including on the Bass Rock. Here he had some time for prayerful reflection as he suffered for Christ. These points have been transcribed from a manuscript in the National Library of Scotland with a little updating of the language.

 

Marks of those who, being lost in themselves, are fit for the consolations of Christ

1. They will acknowledge and not extenuate sin.

2. No earthly comforts can satisfy.

3. Searching sermons are most acceptable and searching Scripture texts are most sweet.

4. No creature can satisfy (no not even an angel) until Christ Himself comes.

5. They all think that they themselves are the chief of sinners.

6. They would take peace with God without all external comfort, indeed they would take Christ with all external crosses and troubles.

7. The least relationship to Christ and benefit from Him will be more sweet and acceptable than to be in any relation but His.

8. The least appearance of opening a door of mercy humbles and melts the heart more than any other thing.

9. They do not doubt Christ’s power, but because of their unworthiness as to whether He will have mercy.

10. All earthly contempt and crosses [trials] are thought light and easily borne. The saddest afflictions are thought nothing in comparison of their [formerly] lost condition.

11. They will not be content with peace without grace, with justification without sanctification.

 

About Thomas Hog of Kiltearn

Hog was a Highlander who also ministered in Ross-shire. Forced to leave his congregation in 1662, he moved to Auldearn near Nairn, where he continued to minister in private. In 1668 he was  imprisoned for some time for preaching at “illegal meetings” or conventicles.

After his release he continued to preach but was arrested in 1677 and imprisoned in the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. When he sought release due to his poor health Archbishop Sharp had him put in the lowest and worst dungeon in the place. Yet his health recovered in these circumstances.

After a later release he had further periods of imprisonment until he was banished from Scotland in 1684. In 1691 he was able to return to the parish of Kiltearn but only for one year. He was buried underneath the threshold of the church door. He also requested the following inscription: ‘This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring an ungodly minister in here.’

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How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?

How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?

How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
12 Jan, 2018

Could there be any question more important? But you don’t hear a lot of people asking it these days. Some people think it’s unhelpful, unsettling and unnecessary to ask such a question. But if we are wrong on the matter of greatest personal concern to us––wouldn’t we want to know? Sometimes people think it’s just a case of believing the gospel and seek to convince struggling souls to do this. But you can believe these things to be true and still not be assured they apply to you. Perhaps we are also functioning at a low level of assurance. The truth is that we cannot expect to have high levels of assurance while we have low levels of obedience. The more we find the evidences of faith working by love in our lives and hearts, the more assurance we can enjoy.

One book in particular has been of supreme help in this area: William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest. The subject of the book is assurance of salvation and it seeks to give various tests by which someone may know that he is a Christian and in doing so also sets out very clearly the way of salvation.

“Great Interest” doesn’t just mean that the book deals with the matter of greatest importance to a Christian and his chief concern. It is a legal term and means to have a valid stake or share in something to our benefit. Guthrie’s book deals with how the Christian may know whether he has a valid legal claim. The claim that matters is one within the Will and Testament or Covenant that the Lord Jesus Christ graciously makes with His people. Guthrie helps us to put ourselves in a courtroom trial where we are under Scripture as a judge to determine if our claim is true.

Guthrie opens the book with a concern that there are many “pretending, without ground, to a special interest in Christ”. On the other hand many others “who have good ground of a claim to Christ are not established in the confidence of His favour, but remain in the dark without comfort, hesitating concerning the reality of godliness in themselves”. This state of affairs prompts two questions – 1. How can someone know if they are in Christ and whether or not he may lay genuine claim to God’s favour and salvation? 2. What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest?

Guthrie’s book was highly commended by John Owen. He said that it contained more theology than everything he himself had written. Thomas Chalmers said it was the best book he had ever read. It was the favourite book of Scottish homes for many generations. Here is a video of someone explaining how it was helpful to them personally.

 

1. Assurance is Possible

It is important to be clear that assurance is possible, and more easily attained than many realise. It is of the utmost importance to be “savingly in covenant with God”. Scripture must be the rule by which we are able to judge whether or not this is so.

Only a few, however, seem to reach this assurance. There are many different reasons for this:

  • Far too many are ignorant of the different ways in which God works.
  • Others deal deceitfully with God and their own conscience in holding on to sin.
  • There is also a lazy apathy that resists the effort of examining ourselves, but it is “a work and business which cannot be done sleeping”. Assurance must be laboured after, it is not something that falls effortlessly into our laps.
  • Many are ignorant concerning what evidence will satisfy the quest for assurance, despite the fact that it is clear in Scripture.
  • Some are looking for entirely the wrong evidences, such as attaining sinlessness or continuous rapturous prayer.
  • Many that are struggling to attain assurance can make the following mistakes: (a) they think that all who are in Christ know that they are; (b) they think that all who have assurance have the same degree of certainty; (c) they think that this persuasion should be continuous; (d) they think that a person must be able to answer every objection against their assurance.
  • Others believe that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost and put themselves beyond pardon. Guthrie defines what this is (and what it is not) very carefully and helpfully from the Scriptures.

Guthrie speaks of the different ways in which people are drawn to Christ. Some indeed may be drawn lovingly or called suddenly in a very direct way. The “ordinary” way involves being humbled by conviction during which the conscience is awakened till the soul is full of concern about salvation and driven from resting in anything of themselves, to casting their all on Christ for salvation. This is carefully distinguished from the temporary convictions of those that fall away.

 

2. Faith and the New Birth as Evidence

The first evidence that Guthrie calls for in this trial is faith. Faith is vital in the matter of assurance – indeed all other marks are worthless without it. Yet it can be mistaken. It is not as difficult or mysterious as men sometimes think; the Scriptures speak of it as a simple trusting, resting, and looking. It can be found in various marks of submissive obedience and devotion to Christ. “If men but have an appetite, they have it; for they are blessed that hunger after righteousness”. Thus Guthrie identifies the marks of true faith but also distinguishes it from false faith.

The second set of evidence called upon relates to the new birth. There is a total renewal when a man comes to saving faith in Christ. In mind, heart and will he is changed from being self-oriented and self-serving to serving and glorifying God. Attitudes to all aspects of life are renewed whether it is work or worship, relationships, recreation or eating and drinking. There is a respect to all of God’s commandments, submission to and valuing of Christ alone that hypocrites never have despite the outward similarities with believers that they may seem to possess.

 

3. Getting Assurance

The great question in the minds of many, however, is why some believers doubt. Guthrie opens this up in considerable depth dealing with God’s sovereignty and our own responsibility in these matters. He speaks of twelve areas where different levels of experience may be enjoyed but where assurance may be obtained.

Part Two of the book also proceeds to deal with the second question raised: What should we do if we cannot find in ourselves the marks of a saving interest? Many may believe that they have closed in with Christ in the gospel very few, however, really have. Yet there is a duty that lies on all under the terms of the Covenant of Grace as it is preached to all. There must be a “coming” on our part. “God excludes none if they do not exclude themselves”. “It is a coming on our part, and yet a drawing on His part”. What is it to close with God’s offer of salvation in the preached covenant? It means to recognise the full guilt of sin, our need of salvation and the impossibility of any salvation outwith God’s appointment in Christ. We must “quit and renounce all thoughts of help or salvation by our own righteousness”. Faith is humble though resolute, hearty rather than mere mental assent though it must depend upon knowledge.

 

4. Personal Covenanting

The Covenanters and Puritans found great benefit in personal covenanting with God. Usually this involved explicitly accepting of Christ and confessing sin and expressing satisfaction with the gospel way of salvation. The covenant was often renewed at Communion seasons and times of difficulty or desertion. Guthrie counsels those who lack assurance to make a covenant explicitly with God, writing down and speaking their acceptance in order that they may return to it in times of doubting. The author patiently removes any obstacles or objections that readers may have about covenanting, showing that it has clear scriptural warrant. The covenant was to be no mere decision card that was signed off unthinkingly. It was a solemn holy vow before God dealing with our never-dying souls to be taken with due meditation and consideration. Guthrie compares the covenant to marriage vows between the soul and Christ, as a way of formally confessing with the mouth the same covenant that the believer makes in the heart.

 

5. A Summary of the Book

The following is a helpful summary of The Christian’s Great Interest prepared by William Guthrie himself. The language has been slightly updated for the benefit of understanding.

Q. 1. What is the great business a person has to do in this world?
A. To make sure of a saving interest in Christ Jesus and to live in a way that is consistent with it.

Q. 2. Do all the members of the visible church not have a saving interest in Christ?
A. No, in truth only a very few of them have it.

Q. 3. How will I know if I have a saving interest in Him?
A. Ordinarily the Lord prepares His own way in the soul by a work of humbling and shows you your sin and misery. He makes you so concerned about it that you long for Christ Jesus, the physician.

Q. 4. How will I know if I have got a true sight of my sin and misery?
A. A true sight of sin makes a person take salvation to heart above anything in this world. It makes them reject all relief in themselves, seen in their best things. It makes Christ who is the Redeemer, very precious to the soul. It makes a person afraid to sin afterwards and makes them content to be saved on any terms that God pleases.

Q. 5. By what other ways may I discern a saving interest in Him?
A. By the heart going out seriously and affectionately towards Him as He is held out in the gospel. This is faith or believing.

Q. 6. How will I know if my heart goes out after Him aright, and that my faith is true saving faith?
A. Where the heart goes out aright after Him in true and saving faith, the soul is pleased with Christ alone above all things, and is satisfied with Him in all Him three offices, to rule and instruct as well as to save; and is content to cleave to Him, whatever difficulties may follow.

Q. 7. What other mark of a saving interest in Christ can you give me?
A. Those who are in Christ savingly are new creatures. They are graciously changed and renewed in some measure in the whole man, and in all their ways are pointing towards all the known commands of God.

Q. 8. What if I find sin now and then prevailing over me?
A. Although every sin deserves everlasting vengeance, yet, if you are afflicted for your failings and confess them with shame of face to God, honestly resolving to strive against them from now on, and seek pardon from Christ, you will obtain mercy and your interest stands sure.

Q. 9. What will the person do who cannot lay claim to Christ Jesus or any of those marks spoken of?
A. Let them not rest until they make sure of a saving interest in Christ.

Q. 10. How can someone make sure of an interest in Christ if they never had a saving interest in Him before?
A. He must take his sins to heart and the great danger into which they have brought him. He must take to heart God’s offer of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus and heartily accept God’s offer by retaking himself to Christ, the blessed refuge.

Q. 11. What if my sins are especially heinous and worse than the ordinary?
A. Whatever your sins may be, if you will close with Christ Jesus by faith, you will never enter into condemnation.

Q. 12. Is faith in Christ only required of men?
A. Faith is the only condition on which God offers peace and pardon to men; but be assured, faith, if it be true and saving, will not be alone in the soul, but will be attended with true repentance, and a thankful pursuit of conformity to God’s image.

Q. 13 How will I be sure that my heart does accept God’s offer and Christ Jesus?
A. Go and make a covenant explicitly and speak it all by word to God.

Q. 14 How will I do that?
A. Set apart some portion of time, and, having considered your own lost condition, and the remedy offered by Christ Jesus, work up your heart to be pleased and close with that offer, and say to God expressly that you accept that offer and for Him to be your God in Christ. Give yourself up to Him to be saved in His way, without reservation or exception in any way and that from now on you will wait for salvation in the way that He has appointed.

Q. 15 What if I break with God afterwards?
A. You must resolve in His strength not to break, and watch over your own ways, and put your heart in His hand to keep it and if you break, you must confess it to God, and judge yourself for it, and flee to the Advocate for pardon, and resolve to do so no more. You must do this as often as you fail.

Q. 16 How will I come to full assurance of my interest in Christ, so that it may be beyond question?
A. Learn to lay your weight on the blood of Christ, and study purity and holiness in all kinds of conduct. Pray for the witness of God’s Spirit to join with the blood and the water. His testimony added to these will establish you in the faith of an interest in Christ.

Q. 17. What is the consequence of such closing with God in Christ by heart and mouth?
A. Union and communion with God, every good here and His blessed fellowship in heaven forever afterwards.

Q. 18. What if I slight all these things and do not lay them to heart to put them in practice?
A. The Lord comes with His angels, in flaming fire, to render vengeance to them who do not obey His gospel. Your judgement will be greater than that of Sodom and Gomorrah and so much the greater that you have read this book, for it will be a witness against you in that day.

 

Conclusion

Thomas Chalmers gave a good summary of the book in his commendation. He spoke of Guthrie’s “intimate acquaintance…with the spiritual life, and his clear, affectionate, and earnest expositions of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel”. It is also full of “powerful and urgent appeals to the conscience” that awaken concern about this matter of “infinite importance”. It seeks to avoid the possibility of the reader continuing to deceive themselves while constraining them to seek after full assurance. Guthrie himself closes this plain yet deep and short but full little book with a sublime crescendo.

O blessed bargain of the new covenant, and thrice blessed Mediator of the same! Let him ride prosperously and subdue nations and languages, and gather in all His jewels, that honourable company of the firstborn, that stately troop of kings and priests, whose glory it shall be to have washed their garments in the blood of that spotless Lamb, and whose happiness shall continually flourish in following Him whithersoever He goes, and in being in the immediate company of the Ancient of days, one sight of whose face shall make them in a manner forget that ever they were on the earth. Oh, if I could persuade men to believe that these things are not yea and nay, and to make haste towards Him, who hasteth to judge the world, and to call men to an account, especially concerning their improvement of this gospel. ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus.’

FURTHER READING

You can read William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest online for free at the CCEL.org website.

Read more articles from William Guthrie

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

All of Guthrie’s teaching and pastoral experience were poured into The Christian’s Great Interest – his only book. The remarkable fact that is has gone through more than eighty editions and been translated into several languages testifies to its value. This book describes in a clear and attractive style what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. In the first part, he looks at how someone is drawn to Christ, what the evidences are of true saving grace, and the difference between a true Christian and a hypocrite. In the second part he describes how to ‘close’ with Christ, and deals with various objections, difficulties, and doubts.

 

Available from Banner of Truth

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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.

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What Are Your Priorities for the New Year?

What Are Your Priorities for the New Year?

What Are Your Priorities for the New Year?
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.
27 Dec, 2017

At this time of year, many people stop and reflect. They review the past and take stock. Then they set their priorities for a coming year. If people commit to this in outward things as well as their personal life how much more is it necessary in spiritual things? Priorities are significant because they identify what is really important to us. They rise above mere resolutions or wishful thinking. This is a biblical activity. Paul tells us of how he considered the future in the light of the past. He tells us that he had only one real priority and he was determined to pursue it.

Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres. In Philippians 3:12, he is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection, even though that is beyond this life. Even those who have attained most come short. This should encourage us as we review our imperfect attainments.

As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. We should not be discouraged but rather encouraged to strive for better progress towards the mark.

In verses 13-14 Paul uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look back to estimate what ground they have covered. Rather, they forget what is behind and bend their bodies forward. They aim their heart, eye and whole direction, straight towards the finish of the race until they attain it. Paul was sustained in this race by hope of the rich reward (purchased by Christ) to which he was called. What was Paul’s one priority? Progress in the knowledge of Christ and the “holiness” without which none of us shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Is it ours? Will it be ours in 2018? How do we live our lives under the influence of this supreme priority? The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments on these verses from Philippians 3.

 

1. Knowing Christ and Holiness is the Supreme Priority

We must be seriously inclined towards progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness above all other things. We must not do this superficially and only by the by. It was Paul’s one thing: he said “this one thing I do (or mind)”.

 

2. We Must Pursue this With Our Full Energy

The Christian who wants to make progress in the way to heaven is like those who are running in a race.

(a) The Runner Does Not Look Back to Estimate Progress

The Christian who wants to make progress is like the runner does not cast his eye back to reckon how much of the way is already past.They may review of what has been done already not only to be humbled for shortcomings but also to see reasons for praising God and encouragement (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Christian is not to be so taken up with it as to rest on it. There is no reason to be puffed up with pride as if enough has already been done or anything else that would impede further progress. In this way Paul speaks of “forgetting those things which are behind”, as if he had done nothing.

(b) The Runner Looks Forward

The runner is mostly taken up with the part of the way still to be run and they bend forward in it. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress must take time to reckon up how much of  the way still lies ahead. They assess what sins are yet to be mortified; what duties are yet almost untouched; what hard activities they may yet be called to undergo. The more we see of these kind of things, the more effort we must make in advancing forward. Thus, Paul speaks of “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

(c) The Runner Keeps Looking at the Finish

The runner keeps his eye on the mark and steers his whole progress towards it. He does not turn aside or stop due to any difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix their eye on the end of the race. That goal is perfection in holiness. They must aim all their actions and attempts at that mark and press forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way. This is what Paul did: “I press toward the mark“.

 

3. Considering the Reward Inspires Greater Progress

The thoughts of the prize and worth of the reward give strength to the runner, making them run faster. Heaven and glory is the rich prize – a free reward of grace (not earned by merit) – for the Christian (Romans 6:23). The Christian who wants to make real progress should have this much in their thoughts. This heartens us against all hardships and discouragements, faintings and failings we are assaulted with and tempted to. This is what Paul was doing: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling”.

 

4. The Reward is All of Grace

Heaven and glory are only given as a reward to those who continue in their Christian progress until they come to the end of the race. Yet it is in no way merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s poor efforts but from above, from God’s high grace. They receive this through the merits of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul calls it “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ“.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from James Fergusson

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

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How Does Faith Help Love?

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No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

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REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

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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

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What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?

What Does a Modern Day Pharisee Look Like?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
10 Nov, 2017

No one wants to be a Pharisee. It’s the ultimate religious insult. No doubt we have our own idea of what a modern-day Pharisee looks like. It’s probably the type of Christian with whom we strongly disagree, their standards and convictions are far removed from ours. It’s easy to apply the Pharisee label without thinking much about it. We ought to be careful, however, before identifying others with the enemies of Christ. What was it about the Pharisees that Christ Himself opposed? This will tell us what we need to know about where the term applies today. Perhaps modern Christianity isn’t as immune as we might think from strains of the Pharisee virus.

It’s possible for any type of professing Christian to place undue weight on outward activities and things that identify us as religious. Sometimes these are things we may scarcely think about or question but they have been given considerable importance. They could be what is considered trendy just as much as what is considered traditional.

It is highly important to identify the spirit of the Pharisees today. The Lord Jesus Christ has such solemn things to say about them that we need to ensure that we avoid their characteristics. The general stereotype is that Pharisees were obsessed with being ultra-holy. True, they were interested in outward conformity to their own man-made regulations but they weren’t interested in heart holiness and entire conformity to God’s law. Christ actually says that they weren’t strict enough when it came to righteousness. What is more He says that we must be “exceed” the Pharisees when it comes to righteousness or we will not “enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The Pharisees and scribes took great effort in making great outward profession of holiness of life. The truth is, however, that they only made conscience of outward obedience only (Matthew 5:21) and even then, only in relation to certain commandments (Matthew 15:3). There is a tendency to try to get around obeying God’s requirements by championing our own man-made slogans and rules. A true Christian must first be clothed with the righteousness of Christ and have their sins forgiven in Christ. They must be justified freely by grace without the works of the law. They then seek to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith by true and sincere obedience, inwardly as well as outwardly. They desire to obey all of God’s commandments. They want to make further progress in holiness all the days of their life.

Their righteousness must outstrip that of the Pharisees and scribes. First, they must have the righteousness which is of God by faith in Jesus Christ reckoned to their account. Second, they also should manifest an inherent righteousness, sincerely pursuing a holy life before God and man. These are the ways in which their righteousness must far exceed the superficial righteousness of the Pharisees.

The most solemn warnings Christ gives against the Pharisees are found in Matthew 23:1-36. Frequently they take the form of “woes” (eight in total). In other words, He is warning them of God’s judgment for their hypocrisy. Of course, He was able to read their hearts but their conduct and words were very obvious too and these exposed the true state of their heart.

David Dickson has some key insights into Christ’s words in this chapter. It is a long article but it makes for vital reading. Here we highlight the main aspects of the Pharisee virus that we must avoid like the plague.  Where we see heart religion and careful godly living ignored, it has an opening. Where man is exalted and worldly desires masquerade under religious language and man-made practice we ought to be warned. We must of course, avoid those who alter the true gospel.

 

1. Pharisees Don’t Make their Life Match their Convictions

Christ warned about false teachers (Matthew 23:1-3).

(a) People must be warned to beware of contracting the plagues of false teachers who will not amend their conduct.

(b) We ought still to obey the truth of God’s Word even though it may be promoted by false teachers; it is still God’s truth (v2).

(c) People are more in danger of following the example of the sinful life of false teachers rather than any commands of God they may teach. They need to be warned not to follow the works of such false teachers.

(d) Someone may obey what God commands but not for the purpose for which God has commanded it. In the sight of God this is no better than not doing it. Although the Pharisees did many works that were commanded in the law, yet they did them to be seen of others and to earn merit before God. They were more careful about the outward ceremonies of the law than observing the moral duties of justice and mercy. What they did was therefore counted as though they had not done them. Christ says that “they say, and do not”.

 

2. Pharisees Urge Moral Duties without the Gospel

The Lord shows how the Pharisees urged moral duties without reference to the gospel (which is the only way by which such duties can be done) (v4).

(a) The law is intended to lead us to the gospel where grace and strength for righteousness and new obedience. Otherwise it is an unbearable yoke. It is here called a heavy burden, and grievous to be borne. And therefore to press moral duties on a people without teaching them how to draw strength from Christ for obedience is to bind heavy burdens on their shoulders.

(b) Hypocrites command people with least compassion which does not enable them to give obedience. They do not seek to help them by wise teaching, example or prayer. Therefore Christ says “they will not move [the burdens they impose] with one of their fingers”.

 

3. Pharisees Care More About Appearances than Reality

Pharisees had ways of appearing to be religious before others. One was to enlarge their phylacteries (items they would wear containing verses of Scripture) (v5). The first is their vain ostentation of holiness and ambitious seeking of vain applause of men, to which end they did write the words of the law on the borders of their garments, as if it had been all made up of love of the law.

(a) Hypocrites take greater effort to seem religious than to be religious. They strive to please others with appearances rather than to please God in truth. They “do their works…to be seen of men”.

(b) Hypocrites are most concerned about making a show of outward religious practices and outward aspects of duties that have been commanded, while neglecting the substance.

 

4. Pharisees Love Status and Celebrity

Pharisees love to be given status and to be hailed as a prominent teacher (v6-7). The Pharisees were vain and sought preeminence in all things above other people. We should not esteem any mere man too highly any gifts he has or any good we have received through him. It takes away from God’s glory when we attribute too much to men (v9-12).

(a) Although the Lord does not condemn respects and reverence due to men according to their callings and places, yet he condemns those who love take pride in them.

(b) Hypocrites and vain men least worthy of respect or honour most desire respect.

(c) Christ does not condemn ways of distinguishing individuals for order and for the sake of their office from others. He condemns those who exalt themselves over their brethren in outward dignity (v8).

(d) Those who seek to exalt themselves above their brethren in the same office are offensive to Christ. He alone must have the preeminent. He has appointed a ministry in the Church and made them equal in office as brethren (v8).

(e) We are very ready to ascribe something to ourselves if we are able to profit others by any gifts given to us. Christ says not to be called Rabbi, or Master. The meaning is, do not take to yourselves more than is the creature’s due. When you teach others by God’s gift bestowed on you and anyone ascribes to you any more than is due, see that you do not permit it this sacrilege.

(f) All the authority, light and success of teaching flows from the powerful teacher Christ, “for One is your Master, even Christ”. Anything given to the creature above its place is taken sacrilegiously.

 

5. Pharisees Hinder the Salvation of Others

Christ pronounces a woe on the Pharisees for hindering the gospel (v13).

(a) Men by nature are exiles from heaven and from the grace of God offered in the gospel. Yet by ministering the Word and ordinances of God in the right or wrong way, the door of heaven is opened or shut. The Pharisees, says Christ, shut the kingdom of heaven against men.

(b) It is a fearful charge against false teachers that they do not come to Christ themselves and also divert others by their bad example or doctrine.

 

6. Pharisees Combine Religion with Covetousness

(a) Just as ambition and hypocrisy go together, so do ambition and greed (v14).

(b) Simple, ignorant and helpless souls are the prey of corrupt Church leaders. This is nothing new.

(c) The most cursed behaviour that can be devised may be cloaked with the pretence of religion.

(d) The more plausible the pretence put upon a wicked course of action, the greater the sin (and  the punishment. Christ say that they will “receive the greater damnation”.

 

7. Pharisees Make Many Converts, But Not to the Genuine Gospel

The Pharisees had a blind zeal to poison others with their errors and make converts to their sect (v15).

(a) False teachers are more busy to draw others to their error than teachers of the truth are
diligent in drawing others to the truth.

(b) The more effort and haste in false zeal that someone shows in perverting others from the truth, the more wrath abides on him.

(c) The more someone advances in error and superstition, the more he is the child of hell and Satan. Such errors have their origin in hell and Satan is the father of error, superstition and heresy. Christ said that the Pharisees made their converts “the child of hell”.

(d) Young converts who drink in superstition being persuaded by learned false teachers are far more taken with their false opinions. They are more addicted to these false superstitions than their teachers because they believer them to be the truth.

 

8. Pharisees Define Sin According to their Own Ideas

The Pharisees actually believed they could take the name of God in vain. They said that if they swore an oath “by the temple” it was not binding but if they swore “by the gold of the temple” it was (v16). Christ shows (v20-22) that this was altogether wrong.

(a) Church leaders that corrupt religion and fearfully mislead people become “blind guides”. This is despite the fact that their office requires that they should be wise and seeing guides.

(b) These corrupt hypocrites fostered swearing by created things such as by the temple, altar, gold and gifts.

(c) Corrupt Church leaders make things to be sin or no sin as it serves their purpose. Here they made an oath by the temple to be nothing and an oath by the gold of the temple to be binding.

(d) To make light of any oath as not binding opens a door to superstition and perjury.

(e) When men depart from the rule of God’s Word in determining sin, they prove themselves foolish and blind

(f) Superstition and error blinds the mind, and stupifies the heart.

 

9. Pharisees Only Give Partial Obedience

The Pharisees vaunted their precise keeping of the law in the smallest things while they despised the law in the greatest duties.

(a) It is no new thing for hypocrites to major on small matters while rejecting the most weighty duties. The Pharisees tithed anise and omitted mercy. Yet doing those greater duties does not liberate us from our obligation to do the smallest duties, one authority obliges us to do both. Christ say that they ought still to have done these but “not left the other undone” (v23).

(b)  Hypocrites being strict are more ridiculous than someone refusing to swallow a fly while swallowing a camel.

(c) Those who take it upon them to teach others the way to heaven need to know it well themselves; for it is a fearful charge to be found blind guides.

 

10. Pharisees Pretend to be Holy but are Not

The Pharisees deceived the people with an appearance of holiness when there was nothing of the kind in them (v27-28).

(a) Hypocrites may carry their wickedness so fair that men may be deceived: for they may seem very beautiful outwardly, when inwardly they are filthy, like tombs plaistred12 without, and full of rottenness within.

(b) God will not be deceived by hypocrites, but will find them out. In His time He will expose them to the world and pour out wrath on them, for Christ says “Woe unto you”.

 

11. Pharisees Honour the Godly of the Past but Hate the Godly of the Present

The Pharisees pretended to honour the saints of the past (v29-30) but in the meantime hated the godly in the present. Indeed they were about to murder Christ Himself.

(a) The world loves dead prophets better than the living: the living reprove their sin more directly than the dead.

(b) Gross hypocrites pretend to love good men and yet do not love goodness. They can condemn their fathers’ faults and yet practise the same themselves. They are like those who said: “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers of the blood of the prophets”.

 

12. Pharisees are on their Way to Hell Unless they Repent

He condemns them and threatens them with hell (v33).

(a) When the Lord makes a reckoning, he will declare the sin of the wicked to their face.

(b) It is good to show the obstinate the difficulty of being saved if they can by any means they can be driven to seek salvation.

(c) The end of Christ’s enemies shall be condemnation in hell.

Find out more about David Dickson 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.

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How Far Should Reformation Go?

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

How Does Faith Help Love?

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

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

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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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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

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.