Saturday, May 30, 2009

sad divisions that make us lose the fair scent of the Rose of Sharon

"One day when he [Samuel Rutherford] was preaching in Edinburgh," says Robert Woodrow, "after dwelling for some time on the differences of the day, he broke out with: 'Woe is unto us for these sad divisions that make us lose the fair scent of the Rose of Sharon', and then he went on commending Christ, going over all his precious styles and titles about a quarter of an hour; upon which the laird of Glanderston said, 'Ay, now you are right; hold you there'."

Rutherford mentions the same concern - that sad times and energy in combating divisions and defections may cloud the loveliness of Christ if we are not careful - in the Trial and Triumph of Faith. He says,'the truth is, while we endeavour to gain a grain-weight of truth, it is much if we lose not a talent-weight of goodness and Christian love'. Rutherford was such a resolute defender of the truth, however, out of devotion to Christ as King and Head of the Church. We ought not to run to the other danger of abandoning any contention for the faith and the truth because there is a temptation that we may not keep it in balance with everything else.

Rutherford is very wise in his counsel. He says that we need to keep the glory of Christ in view together with the condition of the times so that we know what we are contending for. It is lack of love for Christ that hinders faithful contending. 'Christ hath too many occasional friends; but the ground of all is this, "I love Jesus Christ, but I have not the gift of burning quick for Christ." Oh, how securely should faith land us out of the gun-shot of the prevailing power of a black hour of darkness! Faith can make us able to be willing, for Christ, to go through a quarter of hell's pain'. We also need to view free grace lest we think of ourselves more highly than we ought and think that we earn something by faithful contending.

Listen to Rutherford's commendation of the Rose of Sharon.

Should Christ, the condition of affairs we are now in, the excellency of free grace, be seen in all their own lustre and dye, we should learn much wisdom from these three. Christ speedeth little in conquering of lovers: because we have not "seen his shape at any time," we look not upon Christ, but upon the accidents that are beside Christ; and therefore, few esteem Christ a rich pennyworth. But there is not a rose out of heaven, but there is a blot and thorn growing out of it, except that one only rose of Sharon, which blossometh out glory. Every leaf of the rose is a heaven, and serveth "for the healing of the nations;" every white and red in it, is incomparable glory; every act of breathing out its smell, from everlasting to everlasting, is spotless and unmixed happiness. Christ is the outset, the master-flower, the uncreated garland of heaven, the love and joy of men and angels. But the fountain-love, the fountain-delight, the fountain-joy of men and angels is more; for out of it floweth all the seas, springs, rivers, and floods of love, delight, and joy. Imagine all the rain and dew, seas, fountains, and floods, since the creation, were in one cloud, and these multiplied in measures, for number to many millions of millions, and then divided in drops of showers to an answerable number of men and angels;—this should be a created shower, and end in a certain period of time; and this huge cloud of so many rivers and drops, should dry up, and rain no more. But we cannot conceive so of Christ: for if we should imagine millions of men and angels to have a coeternal dependent existence with Christ, and they eternally in the act of "receiving grace for grace out of his fullness," the flux and issue of grace should be eternal, as Christ is. For Christ cannot tire or weary from eternity to be Christ; and so, he must not, he cannot but be an infinite and eternal flowing sea, to diffuse and let out streams and floods of boundless grace. Say that the rose were eternal; the sweet smell, the loveliness of greenness and colour must be eternal.

Oh, what a happiness, for a soul to lose its excellency in His transcendent glory! What a blessedness for the creature, to cast in his little all, in Christ's matchless all-sufficiency! Could all the streams retire into the fountain and first spring, they should be kept in a more sweet and firm possession of their being, in the bosom of their first cause, than in their borrowed channels that they now move in. Our neighbourhood, and retiring in, to dwell forever and ever in the fountain-blessedness, Jesus Christ, with our borrowed goodness, is the firm and solid fruition of our eternal happy being. Christ is the sphere, the connatural first spring and element of borrowed drops, and small pieces of created grace. The rose is surest in being, in beauty, on its own stalk and root: let life and sap be eternally in the stalk and root, and the rose keep its first union with the root, and it shall never wither, never cast its blossom nor greenness of beauty. It is violence for a gracious soul to be out of his stalk and root; union here is life and happiness; therefore the Church's last prayer in canonic Scripture is for union, (Rev. 22:20.) "Amen: Even so, come, Lord Jesus." It shall not be well till the Father, and Christ the prime heir, and all the weeping children, be under one roof in the palace royal. It is a sort of mystical lameness, that the head wanteth an arm or a finger; and it is a violent and forced condition, for arm and finger to be separated from the head. The saints are little pieces of mystical Christ, sick of love for union. The wife of youth, that wants her husband some years, and expects he shall return to her from oversea lands, is often on the shore; every ship coming near shore is her new joy; her heart loves the wind that shall bring him home. She asks at every passenger news: "Oh! saw ye my husband? What is he doing? When shall he come? Is he shipped for a return?" Every ship that carrieth not her husband, is the breaking of her heart. What desires hath the Spirit and Bride to hear, when the husband Christ shall say to the mighty angels, "Make you ready for the journey; let us go down and divide the skies, and bow the heaven: I will gather my prisoners of hope unto me; I can want my Rachel and her weeping children no longer. Behold, I come quickly to judge the nations." The bride, the Lamb's wife, blesseth the feet of the messengers that preach such tidings, "Rejoice, O Zion, put on thy beautiful garments; thy King is coming." Yea, she loveth that quarter of the sky, that being rent asunder and cloven, shall yield to her Husband, when he shall put through his glorious hand, and shall come riding on the rainbow and clouds to receive her to himself.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

schism undoubted in the body of Christ

Although Carl Trueman seems to have a more shrewd insight into what makes the Church of Scotland evangelical tick, several Free Church ministers here, here and here are inviting them over to the Free Church, in some cases with a glimmer of a promise of relaxed distinctives. Some of the comment makes reference to the scandal of schism. Yet it seems strange that only last week the Free Church General Assembly approved the December Commission of Assembly's removal of the suspension of the Free Church (Continuing) Ministers in 2000. We have no affiliation to either but the matter is extremely baffling. What is strange is that it was expressly stated: "strictly on the grounds that the FCC is a denomination distinct from and separate from the FCS as affirmed in the judgment of the Court of Session in the finding referred to above." "Were these men not now a separate and fully-operative church apart from the FCS there would be good reason for regarding their suspensions as still valid and such action as proposed here for the FCS to take would not be called for". The logic is impenetrable. It is strange because it is unclear how ecclesiastical discipline can be lifted purely on the basis that the parties are now in a separate denomination. Does this not give open licence to anyone to become a fugitive from discipline in that simply because they are within a different denomination? Does it not also undermine the church discipline if censures can be lifted without repentance on the behalf of the parties involved? This is acknowledged as a difficulty but said to be only a temporary departure from the principle that evidence of repentance is due from parties under discipline prior to their being restored. Not only this but it is expressly said that it is difficult to see how these suspensions can have any meaningful purpose for the FCS now, although this is not to admit that they were inappropriate when imposed'.

The FCS does not see the fact that the FCC is in direct competition as a censurable offence either. "The fact that the FCC may still claim to be the FCS, and thus the rightful successors to the 1843 Free Church, should not be regarded by the FCS as a barrier to removing the suspensions or undertaking any of the other proposals set out in this report".

All of this, apparently, should demonstrate that "the FCS will show publicly that they value highly the unity of Christ’s visible church and the interests of the gospel". Rather than recognise a schism and seek to heal it, they believe the best way to heal it is to recognise the other party as a separate denomination and this apparently removes the schism and restores peace. The fact that they go on to dwell upon resolving property issues shows that this motivation lies behind this action.

We can see how very far Scottish Presbyterianism has drifted from the true concern of the Westminster Divines and the Second Reformation, represented by James Durham, Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie for the unity of the visible Church. Most presbyterian denominations in Scotland with their constant cycle of fraternal niceties seem to think that this constitutes unity and smoors over the fact of schism. The Westminster Divines were of an entirely different view. As James Walker records, when the Independents proposed to the Westminster Assembly a friendly co-existence and occasional communion, it was resolutely declined with the explanation. "That will be no plain and total separation," said the former ; "we shall be working substantially towards the same end." "So,"it was answered, "might the Donatists and Novatians have pled, and indeed almost all the separatists who have figured in the Church's history. Such separation was unknown in the apostles' time, unless it were
used by false teachers : all who professed Christianity then held communion together as one Church. If you can join with us occasionally in acts of worship, you ought to act with us in joint communion, not in separated congregations. God's way of revealing truth to such as are otherwise minded, is not by setting men at a distance from each other. That you should be a distinct Christian organization, taking members from our Churches who may have scruples of conscience, is schism undoubted in the body of Christ."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CofS General Assembly requires evangelicals to sin

This is what is behind the accurate Scotsman headline 'Kirk orders ban on gay minister debate'. Evangelicals adhere to what the ordination service in the Church of Scotland outlines: that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the supreme rule of faith and life in the Church of Scotland. They are now being asked not to adhere to the Scriptures and denounce homosexuality as a sin. They have ruled that no members can speak in public on the issue of openly homosexual, non-celibate ministers. Only the Church and Society, HIV/Aids Project and Mission Discipleship committees can speak out on the broader issue of human sexuality. The General Assembly has instructed all authoritative bodies within Scotland's national church to avoid any public comment on the matter -- including press releases, briefings to the media, and blogging -- and to avoid taking any decisions in relation to 'contentious matters of human sexuality, with respect to Ordination and Induction to the Ministry of the Church of Scotland, until 31 May 2011'. They have done this while insisting that the induction of Scott Rennie proceeds.
What we are witnessing is the outworking of the controversial Life and Work editorial which stated. 'The dissenters who have taken ordination vows to preserve the unity and peace of the Church perhaps ought to 'agree to differ' on this and allow the Church of Scotland to remain a broad and inclusive church that can celebrate its diversity while remaining true to the Gospel.' They are being forced to agree to differ. In terms of the ordering of the Assembly's business evangelicals have been ambushed and outflanked and in terms of so-called 'unity', patronised and whitewashed. One evangelical was quoted as recognising this - members were now "effectively prevented from speaking out in public on this". This cannot possibly bind anyone authoritatively, apart from the fact that

two-thirds of the presbyters within the Church had no vote upon it their ordination vows resist it. Evangelicals must protest and speak out or else they are complying with sinful terms. The Lochcarron-Skye overture noted that "a lengthy period of reflection has elapsed without a resolution of the issue". This is now to be extended.

In commending the motion, the Rev Angus Morrison (once a very conservative evangelical) said any split in Church ranks would be a "deeply flawed" solution to the issue. "It is comparatively easy to split a church, but the challenge of healing the divisions is of an entirely different nature," he said. "The notion that these tensions within a church can best be solved by going separate ways is deeply flawed. It is a path rather to the multiplication of problems."  The idea is to let things cool down and take the momentum out of separation.
The decision has not gone under the Barrier Act which would make it constitutional as happened with the ordination of women which was passed with the consent of a majority of Presbyteries on 22nd May 1968. This may yet happen. The fact is that it was even before that point for evangelicals to realise that Scripture had been cast aside. This happened constitutionally, when the Confession was modified. It also happened in 1843 when a schism was made by those remaining in the CofS with those who realised that the constitution of the CofS could only be maintained outwith the Establishment.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The CofS and the rejection of the Bible

This is an addition to the previous post commenting on the recent debate.
What we see is that when Scripture is abandoned, all wisdom and reason are set aside any argument will do to defend personal preference, "they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?" (Jer. 8:9)


The Church of Scotland was once known as the fairest daughter of the Reformation on account of the purity and extent of her adherence to Scripture.

In the Scots Confession (1560) the Reformers write, "if any man will note in this our confession any article or sentence repugnant to God's holy word, that it would please him of his gentleness, and for Christian charity's sake, to admonish us of the same in writing; and we, of our honour and fidelity, do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from his holy scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss".


The Church of Scotland long ago abandoned this position and in doing so abandoned any moral claim to be known as the true heirs of such men. How infinitely far from it they are now. We ought to have the spirit of mourning.


"how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!...Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself.   The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation". (Lam 1:1. 9, 10). 


The Church of Scotland has set out a clear stall

says Alyson Thomson, head of communications, "it is a modern church for a modern Scotland. The commission is delighted that the Church has, as Scott Rennie requested, taken an honest look at itself over the issue of sexuality and decided that the values of fairness, equality, dignity and respect are of more worth than those of ignorance and intolerance." The tone of this reflects the tone and type of argument adopted by those defending Rennie throughout the public portion of the debate.

The arguments are emotive, sociological and fallacious. The stall is anything but clear in terms of clear thinking and arguing.

First we have the fallacy of appealing to novelty (argumentum ad novitatem). This assumes that what is modern is good, correct or superior simply because it is modern.
This is also seen in the language used by the media to describe evangelical opposition under the label "traditionalists". The assumption is that because what is modern is good - the only reason you oppose it must be because you think that what is old and traditional is good.

It is entirely inflammatory and incorrect to describe the opposition as ignorant and intolerant. It is another fallacy, this time one that employs insultive, compromising or pejorative language to influence the judgement of others. It is also an ad hominem personal attack. Don't listen to the arguments of these people they are intolerant and ignorant. It doesn't matter how well the opposition reason then, they have been characterised as ignorant and shouldn't be listened to.

Then we have George Cowie of the Aberdeen Presbytery saying: "Are we to tell people that because of the way God made you, you must live alone and not have a life's companion?" This is the naturalistic fallacy or appeal to nature, which claims that what is, is what ought to be. Even Richard Dawkins can see the problem with this kind of argument, saying that a society that uses nature as a moral compass would be "a very nasty society in which to live". The point about this kind of argument is that it ignores the reality of sin, especially original sin. It assumes that what is "discovered" in the natural realm takes precedence over clear statements of Scripture. This is natural theology not only gone mad but gone very bad. Cowie goes on to exacerbate things by saying: "It was once considered to be an illness, or a lifestyle choice. Many, many people now consider it part of an individual's make-up."
This is the fallacy of the argumentum ad populum, appeal to majority thinking. This too is logically fallacious. Just because a belief is widely held does not mean it is correct; the more people that believe it doesn't increase its accuracy.

Reverend (sic) Lindsay Biddle of Affirmation Scotland, a group which supports gay and lesbian clergy, said: "Scripture does not address homosexuality, much less condemn it." There is no qualification of this or explanation. It is truly remarkable. It is the kind of argument that one thinks that if you assert it often enough, people will accept it, even though you don't defend it.

Rennie himself was describing his opponents as "those that don't want any change,".
He added: "We don't stone women, we don't stone adulterers, we've moved on from that." This is the idea that the position held by evangelicals is stone age and therefore to be dismissed. What has the mode of civil punishment of certain crimes which are always denounced as sin by Scripture to do with whether or not homosexuality is sinful? The idea is to insinuate that the opposition are like the Taliban.

Rev David Court and Rev Dr William Philip of the Fellowship of Confessing Churches, who opposed Rev Rennie's appointment said: "We deeply regret the decision of the General Assembly, which has brought great shame on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church by publicly proclaiming as holy what God, the Bible, and orthodox Christianity all down the ages, and all over the world, unambiguously call sin.

"This is about far more than just sexuality. The very nature of the Christian gospel is at stake."

Rev Steven Reid, said:

"I think it deepens the divide. That's an accurate assessment of the situation we are in. There have been issues down the years, issues to do with the scriptures, and this has brought them to a head...For those of us who hold the scriptures to be the supreme rule of faith, the decision seems to fly in the face of that belief." The argument here is based on Scripture, which is an appeal to an authority above men's thinking.

Friday, May 22, 2009

the presbyterian downturn in Scotland

As many wait to see what the Church of Scotland will make of biblical morality at the end of this week there are other indications of a downturn on the ecclesiastical scene in Scotland.

Some of the debate turns upon what it means that 'the act of Ordination and Induction the Church of Scotland declares that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the supreme rule of faith and life in the Church of Scotland'. The evangelicals have a tight interpretation of this but the response by the Aberdeen Presbytery notes that this statement 'has its origins in the first of the Articles Declaratory which declares, ‘The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation; receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life; and avows the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic
faith founded thereupon.’ The presbytery goes on to assert that the word of God is not 'synonymous with the Scriptures', 'but it can, in part, be discerned from the Scriptures through prayer and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit'. This, they believe allows for widely varying interpretations according to individual experience.

It shows that the confessional revision movement has ultimately arrived at the point where no statement can express meaningfully the diversity of views within the Church of Scotland without being so vague as to mean that Scripture is interpreted entirely differently.

The Free Church have found this in their discussions with the CofS which some in the FC General Assembly unsuccessfully attempted to bring to a close. The idea of an associate presbytery had been dropped as unworkable, and there are no overt moves towards integration because the fundamental problem is still the authority of Scripture. The Convener of the Committee said, however, 'we have to take risks some times'. Which is no doubt exactly the objection in the minds of those trying to suspend the discussions. The question was asked as to why the joint report says 'both churches stand in the Reformed tradition'. The Convener responded: 'That is what they claim. It may be a different understanding to us'. A response which shows that they have entangled themselves in the same net as the evangelicals within the Church of Scotland by allowing vague statements to cover contrary positions. It isn't far from here to accepting a vague statement that covers contrary positions on the Scriptures also.

Yet there are problems of contrary positions within the Free Church itself. It's position and constitution couldn't be much clearer on paper. The most obvious is in relation to worship where a special General Assembly is expected to debate in 2010 whether the FC can adopt musical instruments and hymns. The strange thing is that those pushing overtly for the latter are bound by ordination vows which bind them solemnly to assert, maintain and defend the purity of worship in the Church which was clearly explained to them at ordination and induction to exclude hymns and musical instruments. There was a clear encouragement of freedom of expression on this which was contrary to those vows. ID Campbell picked up on the fact that the regulative principle was being skewed in the report by a reference to the primacy of Scripture. He pointed out: 'This report affirms the primacy of Scripture. Primacy is something you start from. Scripture is a finality not a primacy'.

'We have taken serious vows regarding a particular position on worship. We’re now being asked to approve a process in this report that begs serious questions. We seem to be asked to reinvent the wheel. It seems to be predetermining the outcome. He did not think he could approve a report that would allow songs of human compositions and instruments.'

Others defended the idea that one could have taken these vows and then challenge the Assembly for Scriptural proof of the position. This is absurd, if someone has taken vows and changed their minds it is not their business break their vows and then to change the Church's mind so that the vows can be changed.

Alex Macdonald raised an interesting point which was that in the period 1900 – 1904 'there was no focus whatsoever on the presence of worship, the practise at the time was to use psalms, hymns and instruments. It was not viewed as a fundamental principle of the Free Church'. This reveals the influence of the spirit of the Declaratory Act on the 1900 men and the fact that they were willing to allow everything to continue without correction to ensure that the property would be secured. This ambiguous position is the root of the current movement.

Some were arguing that it is not a constitutional matter - simply a case of changing legislation as had been done in the 19th Century. The Westminster Confession, however, requires singing of psalms only. Further the vows are part of the constitution and the Animus Imponentis was clear. The fact that the change is to be approved by a plenary Assembly and to go through the Barrier Act will make the change constitutional. Dr Kennedy would have separated from the FC if this step had been taken to constitutionalise impure worship. Why? The Free Church would have departed from its constitution and he could no longer keep his ordination vows by being part of it. The same will be the case for the FC now. Once this legislation goes through the procedure envisaged it can no longer be regarded as having a constitution equivalent to the FC of 1843.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Art of Living Well to God

Apparently it was Aristotle who coined the phrase 'the art of living well'. He said that 'those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these gave only life, those the art of living well'. When we consider these matters from a higher perspective we will see that it is God who gives life and he must teach us how we are to live well. The Reformation philosopher Petrus Ramus built upon Aristotle's phrase in his Commentariorum de religione christiana (1576), he defined theology as ars bene vivendi “ the art of living well”, which he divided into “the need for proper faith” and “the actions of faith, man’s observance of God’s laws”. This showed that it was not a philosophical question but rather a matter that could only come from revealed truth. William Ames, who popilarised the ideas and method of Ramus, improved upon the phrase by defining theology (Marrow, pp.1-3) as the 'art of living well to God'. He, together with William Perkins, was very much a pioneer of the practical theology of the Puritans. Ethics must have a summum bonum - a highest good, God himself is the standard and highest good. The Westminster Divines defined this well in speaking of man's chief end as being to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. The art of living well is summed up in that.

This was very much the concern of the puritans. Hence their commitment to spiritual diaries which allowed them to examine their lives. To the Puritan the art of living was the highest art form, as Owen Watkins indicates, this was the principle that lay behind Puritan autobiographies, ‘that the only masterpiece worthy of the name was to be achieved in the most complex and difficult of all forms of creative endeavour: a human life’ (Watkins, p.1). This is also why the puritans laid such stress upon sermons full of practical and experimental divinity. It was through authentic experience of the Word of God that the saint would live the life exemplified in Scripture. John Owen shows the progression of the experience of the Word. It begins with divinely assisted understanding, then follows ‘a spiritual sense of the goodness, power, and efficacy of the word and the things contained in it, in the conveyance of the grace of God unto our souls...By the one...our minds are refreshed; and by the other, our souls are nourished’. ‘To complete the experience intended, there follows hereon a conformity in the whole soul and conversation unto the truth of the word, or the mind of God in it, wrought in us by its power and efficacy’. Puritan sermons were therefore weighted towards application or the 'uses'of the doctrine of Scripture.

The puritan George Swinnock has a book which is rather like Thomas Watson's 'The Godly Man drawn with a scripture pencil'. The book is called 'The Christian Man's Calling' and in it he writes: 'I have drawn the saint's picture, by which thou mayest perceive somewhat of the beauty of his person, and the excellency and loveliness of his life. This indeed is the true life, all other but the shadow of living'. Godliness is a Godlikeness, bearing the image of the One who is entitled 'The Beauty of Holiness' and who clothes his own people in holy beauties from the womb of the morning. It is a likeness to Christ and a conformity to His image. To me to live is Christ. Living must be done in dependence upon the Son of God who loved His people and gave Himself for them. John Willison writes: O that we could learn the heavenly art of living by faith on the Son of God, by continued dependence on him, and making application to him for righteousness and strength; righteousness for removing our guilt, and justifying our persons before God ; and strength for performing duties, conquering lusts, and bearing crosses!'

Where is this found in the New Testament? The people of God are his 'workmanship' (poiema) which means a created thing. They are 'created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them' (Eph 2:10). In Titus 2:10 the saints are to 'adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things' - they are to have an order and arrangement in their lives that corresponds to the truth of Scripture. There is an order in beauty - the best things in the best order, the most attractive things in the most attractive order. They live 'as it becometh the gospel'. The beauty of the gospel in its perfect wisdom and grace, the manifold wisdom and grace of God, is reflected in their lives. Swinnock says that man is made to be the mirror of God's glory: 'Man is made as a glass, to represent the perfections that are in God. A glass can receive the beams of the sun into it, and reflect them back again to the sun. The excellencies of God appear abundantly in His works; man is made to be the glass where these beams of divine glory should be united and received, and also from him reflected back to God again.'Who would not desire this?

The life of faith is available to all. The poorest among us, and the least educated can travel this road to Heaven. The poor may have little opportunity to become wealthy or honourable, but they can live a truly happy life through faith! They can live such a life just as much as the greatest princes and learned educators. Whoever you are, if you desire to lift up your condition and change the few days of your pilgrimage into happier and longer days, faith is the art of living well, and living long! (Samuel Ward)

Monday, May 18, 2009

How one small nation changed the world

This is the title of a conference to be held later this year: Scotland's Global Impact - How one small nation changed the world! There is nothing of the religious impact upon the world made by Scotland in this conference, however. Unfortunately the Scots have the counter-legacy of the Englightenment to own up to also - as this book demonstrates.

Yet when President Mbeki of South Africa addressed the Scottish Parliament in 2001, almost all the historical links that he cited between the two countries were related to missionaries. Wherever Presbyterian churches exist throughout the world, Scotland's influence is witnessed, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. David Bogue in 1818 was so bold as to say: ‘Scotland has since the Reformation sent more saints to heaven than any country in Europe of the same population.’ We wonder if he would have been confirmed in this when he saw the fuller effects of the Scottish missionary movement. I recommend Chapter 8. The Hope and Scotland's Missionaries in Iain Murray's The Puritan Hope for further reading.Scotland’s first foreign missionary, Alexander Duff, declared: "Oh, what promises are ours, if we had only faith to grasp them! What a promise is that in the Great Commission – Go and make disciples of all nations, and lo I am with you, even to the end of the world! We go forth amongst the hundreds of millions of the nations; we find gigantic systems of idolatry and superstition consolidated for thousands of years … they tower as high mountains. But what does faith say? Believe and it shall be. And if any Church on earth will realise that faith, to that Church will the honour belong of evangelising the nations, and bringing down the mountains."

It was a clear eschatology that gave rise to this movement. Murray says: "The theological impetus which lay behind the new missionary era came from the Puritan books of the seventeenth century, which must be classified as Calvinistic." In his commentary on Psalm 72 David Dickson cites nineteen benefits that will ensue as the gospel prospers in all nations so that they call Christ blessed.

I wonder if more prayers have been made from Scotland in the past for the conversion of the Jews, an event that will certainly change the world. Iain Murray comments:

The future of the Jews had decisive significance for them because they believed that, though little is clearly revealed of the future purposes of God in history, enough has been given us in Scripture to warrant the expectation that with the calling of the Jews there will come far-reaching blessing for the world. Puritan England and Covenanting Scotland knew much of spiritual blessing and it was the prayerful longing for wider blessing, not a mere interest in unfulfilled prophecy, which led them to give such place to Israel

There is no place for pride, however, Scotland's own darkness is now so profound that it will not be long before she requires missionaries herself.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Keeping a Spiritual Diary

Keeping a spiritual diary is a practice that has often appeared wherever puritan piety is found. John Coffey and Paul C. H. Lim in the The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism describe the early Puritans in this way: "They prescribed a demanding regime of personal devotions, including godly reading, psalm-singing, prayer, fasting and spiritual meditation. They recommended practices of self-discipline, including keeping a spiritual diary and private covenanting." Isaac Ambrose in his Prima: The First Things in Relation to the Middle and Last Things, published in 1674, emphasised the importance of a spiritual diary and gave an example from his own. Thomas Goodwin found the practice helpful in his seven year struggle for personal assurance - during which time he was "intent on the conviction God had wrought in him, of the heinousness of sin, and of his own sinful and miserable state by nature; of the difference between the workings of natural conscience, though enlightened, and the motions of a holy soul, changed and acted by the Spirit, in an effectual work of peculiar saving grace. And accordingly he kept a constant diary." An excellent post on Puritan Diary keeping is here. I wonder if it is significant that in the past they kept private diaries and today we maintain public weblogs? 
It was also a feature of later piety. Jessie Thain's Diary is a good example. John Macdonald of Ferintosh - the apostle of the North - writes as follows.
'Among the many omissions of my past life [he was c.36] which I have to lament, that of not keeping a diary, containing some account of the Lord's dealing with my soul, and of the work of my ministry, is not the least. I was chiefly prevented from this by a false humility, and was not thinking anything done in me or by me worthy of being recorded; and as reckoning myself so far behind those who usually kept such diaries that it would be presumptuous on my part to attempt anything of that kind. I now find, however, that this was a mistake, and I have no doubt that Satan was at the bottom of it; for if the Lord wrought in me and by me in any measure, however unworthy I am -- and none is more so, as He knows, on the face of the earth -- His work deserves to be recorded, and some account of it might be serviceable to myself, useful to others, and conducive in some measure to His glory. I would, therefore, in future endeavour to keep some account of my labours, with anything in my own soul, in providence regarding me, or in my success in the vineyard, which may be deserving of notice. And I begin with this year (1816).'

Friday, May 01, 2009

Praying for the Reign of Grace Over All the Earth

The Larger Catechism asks the question
Question 191: What do we pray for in the second petition [of the Lord's prayer]?
Answer: In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

The Southern Presbyterian William Swan Plumer, a good commentator and an attractive experimental writer writes on this subject in 'The rock of our salvation' and provides a prayer that illustrates this spirit.

God's people can pray for the reign of grace over all the earth. Such supplications are agreeable to the will of God. Psa. 122:6. The first three petitions of the Lord's prayer embrace the same subject. There is too little united, hearty calling on God. All the progress hitherto made in bringing men to a saving knowledge of the Redeemer has been in answer to the fervent cries of the children of God. There is nothing more powerful for good than prayer.

There should be a much deeper tone of piety in all the churches. Love is too cold. Faith too often staggers. Repentance -sheds too few tears. Joy has but few feasts. Pity for the perishing too seldom stirs the soul to its depths. Adoring views of God have too little power over men's minds. Hope is too feeble to impart much animation.

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts ! The whole earth is full of thy glory. Blessed be the Lord for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, and for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun,and for the precious things put forth by the moon, and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, and for the precious things of the earth, and the fulness thereof. Still more would we bless thee for the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush, and for thy precious loving-kindness, and for the precious seed of gospel truth, and for the precious promises, and for precious faith to believe thy word, and for the precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, and for the precious death of thy saints, and for the precious name of Jesus, which is as ointment poured forth, and for the precious blood of the Son of God, through whom we have redemption. Look in mercy on this dark world. Remember Zion. Make Joseph a fruitful bough, whose branches run over the wall. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion. Bring back the captivity of thy people, that Jacob may rejoice and Israel be glad. Thou hast set thy Son on thy holy hill of Zion. Righteousness is the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. Hasten the time when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young .lion and the fat- ling together, and a child shall lead them; and the cow and the bear shall feed, and their young ones lie down together, and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the nations shall learn war no more, and thy ancient people the Jews and the fulness of the Gentiles shall be brought in; when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ; when the Lord shall call them his people which are not now his people; when the angel shall fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.

Lord God of hosts, cut short the work in righteousness. Let the ploughman overtake the reaper, and let a nation be born in a day.

"Pity the nations, O our God;
Constrain the earth to come ;
Send thy victorious word abroad,
And bring the strangers home."

We are indeed asking great things, but we do it at thy command. We ask no more than thou hast promised to thy Son, and no more than he has purchased by his most precious blood, and no more than he himself intercedes for in heaven. Amen.