Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why the Bible contains difficult passages

Adapted from William Whitaker's Disputations on Holy Scripture

1. Because God intends that we should be stirred up to be persistent in prayer in order to seek His help in interpretation.

2. Because God intends that we might come to know and acknowledge that the understanding of the Word is given by God Himself.

3. Because God intends to stimulate our diligence in reading, meditating upon, searching and comparing the Scripture and making use of the due and ordinary means of understanding and interpretation.

4. Because God wanted to prevent our losing interest in the Scriptures and the temptation to despise it or place small value on it. Our corrupt nature grows weary of easy things and we think we have gone beyond what we have understood completely.

5. Because God intended that the truth would to be sought and found with real effort and labour and to be the more esteemed and valued because of that - things easily obtained are despised but matters of great difficulty are only surmounted with extraordinary effort.

6. Because God wished to subdue our pride and expose to us our ignorance

7. Because God willed that the sacred mysteries of his word should be opened freely to pure and holy minds and that impure dogs and swine be kept from holy things.

8. Because God wished to divert our minds from the pursuit of external things and daily occupations and focus them and our time upon the study of the Scriptures.

9. Because God intended to accustom us to a certain internal purity and sanctity of thought and feeling because this is what we need in order to profit from the Bible. Those who bring profane minds to the reading of the Scriptures do not profit from reading and seeking to understand them but those with holy minds get real spiritual advantage from them.

10. Because God willed that in his church some should be teachers and some disciples. We are more apt to esteem the ministry of the Word which has been ordained for the opening and interpreting of Scripture when God uses it in order to make plain the difficult areas of Scripture (Eph 4:11&14).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hold fast to God's Word

[An extract from notes of a sermon preached on the text "Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" - Revelation 3:11 at the induction of Rev. James Tallach at Kames, 4th May,
1931. The preacher is presumably Rev. Donald Beaton. The notes were published in the Free Presbyterian Magazine in September 1935. Headings have been added to make it easier to read on the internet. This extract shows how we must hold fast to God's Word in spite of all opposition.]

Hold fast so that you do not let it slip

When we are exhorted here to "Hold fast," it is a command, and implies...that you should not hold it loosely so that it might slip. Hold it fast, and although you should lose the world, and even your very life, don't lose your hold. Others held it so fast in Scotland, that they allowed their lives to be taken rather than lose God's Word. Alas, that we should be the offspring of such men and women, when we esteem the Word of God so lightly - the Word that they gave their lives for. How worthless we are when we would not say to any man, who would try to take this Word out of our hands - "Hands off, that belongs to me. It is God's Word, and He gave it to me, and commands me to hold it fast." It cannot be said that you are holding it fast if you let this and that part slip. You must hold it so that not one iota of it will slip out of your hands.

Hold fast so that it it is not take from you

It also implies that there will be some who will try to take it from you, otherwise there would be no reason to ask you to hold it fast, and it is then that you will have to show what grip you have of it, and what value you see in it, and how much you are prepared to sacrifice in order to keep it.

The great enemy of God's truth down through the ages, from the days of Cain and Abel, never ceases to try to take this treasure from God's Church. Satan has done his very utmost to take this Word out of the hands of the Church, and when we look into the history of the Bible, of Cain and Abel, that is what he was trying to do there. What we have there is whether Abel would let go God's truth and hold by the opinions of his own brother, and there are many in the world who think that anything they may devise is a worship good enough for God, and that He is bound to accept of it, but will He?

What was the cause of all the misery that came upon the Old Testament Church? Was it not because they allowed Satan and his false prophets to take God's Word out of their hands. Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, and he was doing this, and so strong was the force he had in the days of Elijah, that when that Prophet of God on Mount Carmel came to try to take the people back to the worship of God, there were over a thousand false prophets to face one man, who was holding fast by God's Word. There is nothing new in our day when you look back on the history of the past.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

wandering thoughts in the worship of God

How often is it that you find your concentration lapsing either in personal devotions or in public worship? Once, a few times or even perhaps much of the time? The most helpful book on this subject is 'A Remedy for Wandering
Thought in the Worship of God' written by the Puritan Richard Steele (recently it has been reprinted by Sprinkle Publications). The following is an abridged extract in slightly updated language from that book. The passage deals with the problem of distraction and the vital duty of watchfulness in every individual part (or ordinance) of worship. Steele calls watchfulness the perpetual or most continual duty of a Christian: this is the garment we must put on every day, in every duty.

Watching in worship
What is the first step in an ordinance? Watchfulness. What is the second step in an ordinance? Watchfulness. The third step? Still watchfulness.

In Prayer
Prayer is a pouring out of the heart unto the Lord; by a distraction you pour it aside. 'My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him' Psalm 62:5. A distraction imposes two masters on the soul to wait on. Rovings in prayer make that which is our most reasonable service the most irrational thing in the world. There is nothing more foolish than speaking to one person while thinking of another.

In hearing God's Word
This is the audible address of the Almighty to your soul. A distraction lets him talk unto the walls. When you come to a sermon, you 'stand on your watch, and set yourself on the tower, and watch to see what God will say to you' Habakkuk 2:1. By a distraction, you are doing almost the same as a servant who stops his ears at the orders that his master is giving.

In reading
In the Scriptures you peruse God's heart in black and white, where you may believe every letter to be written in bleeding love. A distraction neither understands nor applies those sacred letters. Would you read your father's last will in this way, especially in matters that concerned yourself? One chapter, one page, one verse, well read and applied will do your heart more good than a hundred read with half a heart.

In singing psalms
You need to watch in the singing of the psalms. By this ordinance you pay to God the rent of his mercies. With a distraction it is as though the payment is made with a counterfeit coin because it turns the heart to do homage unto the Devil. David had the best resolution: 'Bless the Lord. O my soul, and all that is within me praise his holy name' (Psalm 103: 1). Your melody is debased if the main strength of your soul is not in it.

I am persuaded that God has allowed this ordinance in particular to be slurred again and again, to be neglected by some and rejected by others out of his just judgement because there is such a widespread disregard for doing it with felt, inward grace. Where is the worshipper who actually lets each word and line in the psalms run through their heart as they sing them? The truth is that hardly one passage is felt from the beginning to the end, because if it were what heavenly affection it would produce and leave upon the soul! If you felt something of this you would not part with this ordinance for all the world in either your families or congregations.

In meditation
Here you must watch, or else when the soul is soaring aloft, like the eagle, before you are even aware these darts will strike down the heart again. How hard it is to spend even a quarter of an hour in meditation without a distraction! If there is anything in the imagination or memory, anything in the room, if there is anything in the world, you will have it in withdrawing your heart from God. As a rule, the more spiritual the duty, the more distractions.

The permanent habit of Watchfulness
You can be safe nowhere without watchfulness, at all times, in all places, with all companies, even with no company at all, in all callings: there is a snare for the heart everywhere. 'Wait on thy God continually' (Hosea 12:6) 'Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long' (Proverbs 23:17), especially but not only in your morning and evening sacrifices.

Many praying people are extremely devout and serious in God's service morning and evening, but follow them all day long and hardly one word of God or heaven is in their mouths, as though religion were hemmed up in times of worship. Be in the fear of the Lord, involved, surrounded and swallowed up in the sense and fear of God's glorious presence all the daylong. This will put you in the right spirit for duties of worship. A watchful Christian has his heart ready and on call. It is easily put into tune when it was never out of tune. Holy duties are not unwelcome to a holy heart. A short preface or none at all is sufficient in approaching him with whom you have been conversing all the day. Sometimes, however, the whole work of a prayer is in making God's acquaintance.

Heavenly contemplation

At one point in The Pilgrim's Progress the pilgrims reach the Delectable
Mountains where they were able to view the Celestial City through a glass or
telescope. It is a picture of meditating upon heaven and experiencing
something of a foretaste of that future joy. The Puritans often stressed the
importance of focussing upon heaven, pointing to the doctrine that we have
been made to 'sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus' (Ephesians
2:6). In Colossians chapter 3 Paul develops and applies the doctrine: 'If ye
then be risen wih Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ
sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on
things on the earth'. Puritan ministers also sought to remind their readers
and hearers that as Christians they ought to make much of the fact that
their 'conversation [life] is in heaven' (Philippians 3:20) and that we are
to be changed from 'glory to glory' (2 Corinthians 3:18). The benefit of
this was unfolded by Richard Sibbes who spoke of it as necessary
to holiness, strength and devotion in the Christian life: "If we walk aright
in God's ways, let us have heaven daily in our eye, and the day of
judgement, and times to come, and this will stern the course of our lives,
and breed love in the use of the means, and patience to undergo all

Richard Baxter wrote a whole book on this particular subject entitled The
Saints Everlasting Rest
. Baxter wrote the book during illness and against
the backdrop of the Civil War raging through England. The Saints Rest opens
up the themeby urging believers to 'meditate on the joys above' expressly
seeking to imagine what it will be like to experience them. We need concrete
thoughts concerning glory suggests Baxter or else they are not particularly
fixed: 'get the liveliest picture of them in thy mind that possibly thou
canst', he says, 'meditate of them as if thou wert all the while beholding
them, and as if thou wert even hearing hallelujahs, while thou are thinking
of them; til thou canst say,"Methinks I see a glimpse of glory"'. It is
important to focus closely upon what the Bible teaches and to see by the
means of Scripture, "without these spectacles we are lost, and have nothing
to fix our thoughts upon". John Bunyan held the same point, speaking of the
throne in Heaven as described in the book of Revelation: "We must labour for
more clear Scripture-Knowledge of this Throne; for the Holy Word of God
is...the Magnifying-glass that will cause us to behold with open face the
glory of this Lord".

How are we to have our 'conversation' (life) in heaven? The answer is
perhaps best given in a little Puritan book that was one of the first godly
books that John Bunyan ever read: his first wife brought it with her amongst
her belongings after their marriage: Arthur Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to
. Here life in heaven is explained as an 'inward conversation with
God' that may only be maintained 'by much prayer, reading, meditation, and
heavenly affections'.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Specific Directions for the mortifying of sin

Adapted from John Owen On the Mortification of Sin in Believers

1.Consider the dangerous symptoms of the sin that you are seeking to mortify:
(a) Is it inveterate? Has it been allowed to fester and gain strength for a long time and also become familiar to the mind and conscience?
(b) Does your heart retain a good opinion of itself and think that it can satisfy the conscience with certain evidences of grace while ignoring sin? Does it think that there is mercy without mortifying the sin?
(c) Does the sin gain frequent success against you?
(d) Do the only arguments that you use against the sin relate to its consequences or punishment and not to gospel privileges and motivations?
(e) Is there a spiritual hardening with it?
(f) Has the sin has already withstood God's dealings and chastisements against it?

2.Get a clear abiding sense in your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger and evil of the sin:
(a) Its guilt is aggravated and heightened by the amount of grace and light that you have received and against which you are sinning.
(b) Its danger lies in loss of peace and strength all our days, chastisements and temporal corrections because of it, the peril of being hardened by its deceitfulness, eternal destruction if we are resolved to continue in that sin.
(c) Its evil lies in grieving the Holy Spirit, wounding Christ afresh and taking away our usefulness in our generation.
3.Load your conscience with the guilt of the sin:
(a) In general terms that it is against God's law, that it removes evidence that you are free from the condemning power of sin, that it undermines the truth and purpose of the gospel.
(b) In particular things such as God's infinite tenderness towards you in many instances in gracious providences and especially in recovering you from the hardening power of sin.
4. Get a constant longing in your soul for deliverance from this sin
5.Consider how you are naturally prone to this sin:
(a) It is important to stress that this does not relieve you of the guilt of it but rather aggravates that guilt
(b) It means that you will be better able to watch against it
(c) You will be then be able to deal with the appetites of the body by fasting in watching
6.Consider what occasions and opportunities it takes and watch against them
7.Rise immediately against the first actings of this sin
8.Meditate upon things that will humble and abase you with a sense of your own vileness. Meditate upon the difference between God's majesty, greatness and holiness and yourself. Meditate also upon how little you know Him and Christ in His being and perfections.
9.Do not speak peace to your guilty soul until God does so

1. Act faith upon Christ, on His provision and fulness in expecting relief from Him in the war against your sin
2. Act faith on the death of Christ