Saturday, November 29, 2008

What the duty of holding fast means

This post looks at the text that heads up this blog. Revelation 2:24-25 “I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”

Undoubtedly we live in an evil day. What we have in these words from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ is valuable counsel for His Church in the midst of an evil day. “That which ye have already, hold fast”. To hold fast implies that when we make a sincere and open profession of the truth there will be significant opposition in our way and there will be great difficulties and even danger in fulfilling this duty.

Holding fast also implies that in an evil day our main responsibility and duty is to retain and maintain the heritage or deposit of truth with which we have been entrusted: “I will put none other burden upon you”. “Hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This is our basic duty. It may take all of our energy just to swim against the high waves of opposition and iniquity, even just to hold our ground. The man who slackens to attend to anything else while swimming against the tide will never succeed in either task by which his attention is divided.

Christ gives us “none other burden”, we are not to take additional burdens from anyone else. Men love to add burdens, the Pharisees piled duties upon the people which blinded them to the real necessities of their responsibility towards God. “I have spoken to them the great things of my law, but they were accounted as a strange thing”. The apostolic Church could say of their synodical decrees “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things’ (Acts 15:28).

In a day of small things men like to add new burdens in the Church of God. They bring in inventions of their own, innovations in the worship of God which are neither commanded nor necessary. These are the burdens of men and they hinder rather than help us in holding fast. It is gross disobedience to “teach for doctrines the commandments of men”. Others will remove from the testimony and water down the whole counsel of God in order to make the truth more palatable to a rebellious age. This too is forbidden. We are to maintain the whole truth and nothing but the truth: “that which ye have already, hold fast”. “Earnestly contend for the saints once delivered to the saints”.

Men also like to bind burdens on the people of God which will detract from a careful and holy profession of Christ. There were trends in the Church in Thyatira which encouraged walking closely with the world, conforming in certain areas to whatever was required in the trade guilds such as eating in the temples of idols. No doubt there were those who could justify it from the perspective of building bridges with the world but the truth is, as in our own day, that those who advocate running to the same places of sinful pleasure with the world are not extending the influence of the Church in the world but rather that of the world in the Church. Such are seeking to weaken the grip of the Christian and even wrestle out of their grasp the burden that Christ has given to them. In the natural world we often see a bird find a morsel of food, no sooner than he can make away with it in his beak he is pursued by another and then by several birds harrying and chasing to see if they can make him drop his prized meal. So it is with the Christian, no sooner does he take up a profession of the Saviour and the world, the flesh and the devil are all upon him to see if they can make him lose that which he must hold fast.

What we must hold fast
We must hold fast the full deposit of truth and sound words as it has been once delivered in the Scriptures. This is emphasised throughout the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

We must not seek to hold merely the bare minimum; we have not been called to reduce the burden for our own ease. The Church must hold to all that it has received. If we do not maintain our heritage what deposit of truth will there be for future generations? We must seek to hold fast in order to pass the deposit of truth on to the succeeding generation, that is truly guarding or preserving it. That is truly holding fast.

The Church must be agreed on the confession that it is collectively holding fast (Hebrew 10:23 & Philippians 3:16) hence the value of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms which are accurate summaries of the truth. Hence also the value of subscribing all of these truths and professing them to be our own personal confession, ‘holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience’. There is a sacred deposit of truth, the form of sound words. This must be maintained and asserted at all costs. Many believe that the old truths are outworn and must give place to new ideas. They believe that we can improve on what we have received. They believe that we must lower the biblical standard so that we can arrive at something more acceptable to a greater number of people. Needless to say, this is not holding fast the truth.

One vital way of holding fast in this connection is the instruction of the young within the Church. They must receive the knowledge of the truth. A great encouragement in this work is Isaiah 59:21: “My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever”. This promise guarantees the continuance of a profession of the truth but it does not thereby take away our responsibility to instruct our seed. That responsibility is enjoined in Deuteronomy 29:29 “those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law”. This is a solemn duty and privilege. Fathers, elders, ministers must be vitally concerned that the children of the visible Church are immersed in the truth. (Deut 6:1)

God willing, we may be able to look at how we must hold fast in a future post.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Persecution of the Bible

An article recently published on the Persecution of the Bible. It looks at the persecution of the Scriptures at the time of the Reformation, those who were burnt at the stake for possessing them or translating them and how this persecution continues in our own day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why are ministers subject to so many trials?

Luther said that that it is prayer, meditation, and temptation that contribute to make a theologian or minister. Trials, testings and temptation have a key role in divine providence. William Cunningham in his Theological Lectures is the best expositor of what Luther was emphasising in this phrase, see here and here.

"Luther places prayer first, and this was nothing more than is justly due to its paramount importance; it is the imperative and primary duty of all who desire to become acquainted with theology, and qualified for the office of a minister of the gospel, to abound in prayer and supplication. It is quite true that men without piety and without prayer may read many theological books, that God may uphold and sustain them in the ordinary exercise of their faculties when directed to these objects, as when directed to any others, and that they may thus acquire a large measure of acquaintance with theological topics, and be able to discuss them and dispute about them. It has often been remarked, and the remark is undoubtedly true, that many men have written ably and convincingly in defence of the truth of the Christian revelation, in opposition to the attacks of infidels, who never understood or comprehended the leading truths contained in the revelation which they proved to have come from God, and who of course derived no real permanent benefit from the revelation which God had given them.

You can have no thorough and intimate acquaintance with divine truth, and especially you will be very ill fitted to explain and apply it for the benefit of others, unless you have had some practice in actually bringing it to bear upon the resistance of those temptations with which all believers are assailed in their journey towards Zion. All the principal truths revealed in Scripture are intended to be instrumental in leading men—those to whom they are made known —to receive Christ Jesus the Lord, and thereafter to walk in him, in opposition to all the obstacles which the devil, the world, and the flesh may interpose. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and is continually to be employed in the spiritual warfare; and the man who has not had the benefit of temptation in the sense in which we have explained it, is like one who has learned the use of the sword only from written instructions, without having tried to handle or to wield it, and who, of course, is still very unfit for defending himself against the assault of enemies, and still more unfit for instructing others in the art of self-defence.

The whole doctrines of God’s word have a practical tendency; they have all been revealed to us for practical objects, and they should be all employed for producing practical results...This process of actually applying the word of God and the doctrines which it contains to their great practical purpose in the formation of character and in the regulation of conduct, according to the actual circumstances in which men are in providence placed and the temptations they are called upon to encounter, produces a clear, impressive, experimental acquaintance with divine truth, which cannot be acquired in any other way, and which peculiarly fits them for communicating clear and impressive conceptions of them to others; and it is held as a maxim applicable to all branches of knowledge, that an acquaintance with any subject which qualifies and entitles a man to become an instructor of others, must be thorough and extensive, such as to give him the clearest, fullest and most impressive conception of it himself...Hence it is not uncommon to meet with persons who have not read much, and who have had but little mental cultivation, but who have been long in the habit of applying the word of God and the doctrines of the gospel to the object of being enabled to resist temptation and be directed in difficulties, to be comforted in trials, and to be guided and encouraged in their spiritual progress, and who, by the study of the Bible, and by this process of practically applying it, have acquired an intimate and thorough knowledge of the word of God and of Christian truth, have attained to a clearness of conception on those subjects, and hold their views with a firmness of grasp which many book-learned theologians have never reached, and which all the ingenuity and sophistry of error cannot diminish or impair.

This is a process which ought to be ever going on, and which will certainly not impede but greatly promote your more formal studies in theology. As private Christians, you are bound to be continually resisting temptation, mortifying sin, and growing in grace; and by carrying on this process through the unceasing application of the word of God and divine truth, and by the reflex act of observing the operations and affections of your own mind while the work of bringing divine truth to bear upon it is going on, you will undoubtedly acquire much real practical available knowledge of the word of God and of the truths which it was intended to unfold, and this knowledge is of essential importance to all who are allowed to be put in trust with the gospel. Divine truth is then only applied to its right purpose when it is employed in this way, then alone is it fully seen in its proper light and in its true character, and no one therefore can be regarded as possessed of a full and competent knowledge of it unless he has seen and watched the process of its being subjected to such experiments.

It is your imperative duty, in accordance with the injunction which Paul gave to Timothy, to flee youthful lusts, which war against the soul, to be avoiding every appearance of evil, to be even already enduring hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, i.e. to be mortifying pride and ambition, self-confidence, self-conceit, envy, and worldliness, and to be cultivating and cherishing in your souls all the fruits of the Spirit. In this work you will have temptations to resist and difficulties to encounter. You must employ the whole armour of God, especially the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, i.e., under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you are to be ever employing the word of God and the truths which it unfolds; and by carrying on this process faithfully and conscientiously, and by reflecting on its nature, its manifestations, and its results, you will not only grow in grace and in meetness for heaven, but you will acquire a much more thorough insight into the word of God and the truths of Scripture, and be much more fully prepared than otherwise you could have been for wielding the sword of the Spirit for the conversion of sinners and the edification of Christ’s body.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The place of the law in the gospel

“The law of God has its place in the book, and its use in the work of God. ‘By the law is the knowledge of sin’; and the Spirit, who convinces of sin, uses it in that department of His work. A due regard to the glory of God demands that it be so used. Sinners are not to be saved on a misunderstanding as to what they are, and as to what they merit. They must know Him against whom they have sinned. They must know what is justly due to Him from them as His creatures. They must be made acquainted with their iniquity as well as guilt, as sinners. And through the coming of the commandment sin must ‘revive’ in their consciousness, so that they know that they are desperately wicked, as surely as that their persons are condemned to die. Without this they can have no conception of gospel grace. Any hope attained to without this, can only be based on a misunderstanding, and must involve dishonor to God. God is not to be conceived of as one who has to study man’s convenience only, instead of supremely consulting his own glory. It should be an aim of preaching, therefore, to bring sinners to plead guilty before God; to feel themselves, in excuseless guilt, shut up to the sovereign mercy of Him against whom they have sinned. The attainment of this may be the result of a moment’s working of the power of God, or it may be reached only after a protracted process; but to this all must come who are reconciled to God.” -James Begg