Thursday, January 20, 2011

the transcendent love of Christ

Christ’s love made Him willing to suffer for us. And for us He has
suffered all miseries that all our sins had deserved and cruelty could
inflict. He who with one word caused the vast fabric of heaven and earth
to start out of nothing, who was King of kings and Lord of lords, who
had heaven for His throne and earth for His footstool, was, out of love
to us, content to take upon Him the form of a servant, and to live in such
a poor condition as He had not a cradle when born, nor a place to lay His
head while He lived, nor a sepulchre to bury Him when He died. He who
was the King of glory, the splendour of whose glory dazzled the eyes of
seraphims, nay, whose glory is above the heavens, was, out of love to us,
willing to be “despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53. 3); to be accounted
as “a worm, and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people”
(Psa. 22. 6, 7). He who was adored by the glorious host of heaven, was
the Object of their eternal praises, yea, and “counted it not robbery to be
equal with God,” was, out of love to us, content to be “numbered
amongst transgressors,” to be reviled and slandered as a wine-bibber, a
glutton, a Sabbath-breaker, a blasphemer, a madman, and possessed with
the devil.

He in whose presence was fulness of joy, and from whose smile
spring rivers of pleasures, was, for love of us, willing to become “a Man
of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” yea, and it seems with nothing else;
we never read that He laughed. He whose beauty was the glory of
heaven, the brightness of His Father’s glory, the sight whereof transports
those happy spirits that behold it into an eternal rapture, was, for love to
us, by His suffering so disfigured as He seemed to have no form nor
comeliness in Him, nor beauty that any should desire Him; “He gave His
back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: He
hid not His face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50. 6).
He in whose sight the heavens are not clean, who was of purer eyes
than to behold iniquity, was, out of love to us, content to “bear our sins
in His body upon the tree,” to be “wounded for our transgressions,” and
to have all our iniquities laid upon Him. This love made God, blessed
for ever, willing to be made a curse, the glorious Redeemer of Israel toTHE LOVE OF CHRIST 107
be sold as a slave, and the Lord of life to die a base, accursed and cruel
And, which is above all, He who was His Father’s love and delight,
who was rejoicing before Him from eternity, and in whom alone His soul
was well pleased, did, out of love to us, bear the unconceivable burden
of His Father’s wrath – that wrath which was the desert of all the sins of
the elect, which would have sunk the whole world into hell, the weight
whereof made His soul heavy unto the death, and was a far greater
torture to Him than ever damned soul felt in hell (if we abstract sin and
eternity from these torments), the burden whereof pressed from Him that
stupendous, bloody sweat and made Him, in the anguish of His
oppressed soul, cry out to heaven, “My God, My God, why hast Thou
forsaken Me?” and cry out to earth, “O! have ye no regard, all ye that
pass by? See if there be any sorrow like My sorrow, wherewith the Lord
has afflicted Me in the day of His fierce wrath.”

No, Lord, there was no sorrow like Thy sorrow, no love like Thy
love. Was it not enough (dearest Saviour) that Thou didst condescend to
pray, and sigh, and weep for us perishing wretches? Wilt Thou also
bleed and die for us? Was it not enough that Thou wast hated, slandered,
blasphemed, buffeted? but Thou wilt also be scourged, nailed, wounded,
crucified. Was it not enough to feel the cruelty of man? Wilt Thou also
undergo the wrath of God? Or if Thy love will count nothing a sufficient
expression of itself, but parting with life, and shedding that precious
blood, yet was it not enough to die once, to suffer one death? Wilt Thou
die twice, and taste both first, and something of the second death, suffer
the pains of death in soul and body?

O the transcendent love of Christ! Heaven and earth are astonished
at it. What tongue can express it? What heart can conceive it? The
tongues, the thoughts of men and angels are far below it. O the height,
and depth, and breadth, and length, of the love of Christ! All the creation
is nonplussed; our thoughts are swallowed up in this depth, and there
must lie till glory elevate them, when we shall have no other employment
but to praise, admire and adore this love of Christ.

David Clarkson

Monday, January 17, 2011

more benefit from the private means than public?

Sometimes people either say or think "I enjoy God more in private, than in the public means of grace. Why should I attend the public means when I can get more benefit in private?"

Is it not an easy thing for a man to think that God is most enjoyed when his heart is most affected? It is possible a man’s heart may be more affected when God is less enjoyed; such is the deceit of our hearts. God is most enjoyed where God is most served. But, now, suppose God were more enjoyed in private than under public ordinances, I do but suppose it, yet were this no reason why a man should lay by the public ordinances: for you are sometimes in your closet at prayer, and there you enjoy God; sometimes you are below at dinner and supper, and you have some enjoyments of God there. But, I pray, tell me, whether do you enjoy God more at your ordinary dinner and supper or in your closet in prayer? Surely I enjoy God more in my closet in prayer. And is this a reason why you should never dine and sup again? Yet, notwithstanding, how do people reason thus: I enjoy God more in private, therefore I must lay by the public.

William Bridge. Vindication of Ordinances (Works, 4:141-42).

In his sermon David Clarkson says that "the presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God". "David saw as much of God in secret as could then be expected, but he expected more in public, and, therefore, as not satisfied with his private enjoyments, he breathes and longs after the public ordinances, for this reason, that he might have clearer discoveries of the Lord there" (Ps. 27:4; Ps 63:1-2) "Public ordinances are a better security against apostasy than private, and therefore to be preferred: an argument worthy our observation in these backsliding times. He that wants the public ordinances, whatever private means he enjoy, is in danger of apostasy" (see 1 Sam. 16:19).

Clarkson deals at length with objection of more benefit being obtained in private.

Obj. But notwithstanding all the arguments brought to prove public worship is to be preferred, I find something to the contrary in experience; and who can admit arguments against experience? I have sometimes in private more of God's presence, more assistance of his Spirit, more joy, more enlargement, more raised affections; whereas in public I often find much dullness of heart, much straitness and unaffectedness, therefore I cannot so freely yield that public worship is to be preferred.

Ans. I shall endeavour to satisfy this in many severals.

1. Experience is not a rule for your judgment, but the word of God; that is a fallible guide, this only infallible. If you press your judgment always to follow experience, Satan may quickly afford you such experience as will lead you out of the way. Be scrupulous of following experience when it goes alone, when it is not backed by the word, countenanced by Scripture. It has deceived many. Empirics are no more tolerable in divinity than in physic. As there reason and experience, so here Scripture and experience, should go together. Those that live by sense may admit this alone to be their guide, but the event has often proved it a blind one. Those that live by faith must admit no experiments against Scripture. Nay, those that are but true to reason will not admit a few experiments against many arguments. You find this sometimes true in private, but do you find it so ordinarily? If not, here is no ground to pass any judgment against what is delivered. It may be a purge or a vomit does sometimes tend more to your health than your meat and drink; will you therefore prefer physic before your ordinary food? It may be in some extremity of cold you find more refreshment from a fire than from the sun; will you therefore prefer the fire, and judge it more beneficial to the world than the sun? Experience must not rule your judgment here, nor must you be confident of such apprehensions as are only granted upon some few experiments.

2. It may be your enjoyments in private were upon some special occasion. Now some special cases make no general rule; nor are they sufficient promises to afford an universal conclusion. For instance, it may be you enjoyed so much of God in private, when you were necessarily and unavoidably hindered from waiting upon the Lord in public ordinances. Now in this case, when the people of God bewail the want of public liberties as an affliction, and seek the Lord in special manner to supply that want in private, he is graciously pleased to make up what they are deprived of in public, by the vouchsafements of his quickening and comforting presence in private. So it was with David in his banishment, yet this did nothing abate his esteem of or desires after the public ordinances; far was he from preferring private duties before public, though he enjoyed exceeding much of God in private. Nor must we from such particular cases draw an universal conclusion; either affirmatively, that private is to be preferred; or negatively, that public is not to be preferred.

3. These enjoyments of God in private may be extraordinary dispensations. These the Lord does sometimes use, though seldom, though rarely. Now, such extraordinary cases are exceptions from the general rule, and such exceptions do limit the rule, but not overthrow it. They take off something from the extent, nothing from the truth of it. It holds good still, more of God is enjoyed in public than private; except in rare extraordinary cases, ordinarily it is so. And this is sufficient, if there were no other argument to establish the observation as a truth, public worship is to be preferred before private.

4. It may be thy enjoyments in private are the fruits of thy attendance upon God in public. It may be the assistance, the enlargement, the affections thou findest in private duties, are the returns of public worship. The benefits of public ordinances are not all, nor always, received while ye are therein employed; the returns of them may be continued many days after. The refreshment the Lord affords his people in public worship is like the provision he made for Elijah in the wilderness, 1 Kings xix. 18, 'He arose and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days.' When the Lord feasts his people in public, they may walk with the Lord in the strength thereof in private duties with more cheerfulness, with more enlargedness, more affection, many days after. Those that know what it is to enjoy communion with God in his ordinances, know this by experience. When the Lord meets you in public, find ye not your hearts far better disposed to, and in, private duties? Now, if the assistance you find in private be the fruits of your waiting upon God in public, this should rather raise your esteem of public worship than abate it. That which is objected tends to confirm this truth, so far should it be from hindering you to subscribe it.

5. There may be a deceit in thy experience. All those joys, affections, enlargements, which men find in duties, are not always from the special presence of God. There may be a great flash of spirit, and much cheerfulness and activeness from false principles; some flashes of fleeting affections, some transient and fading impressions, may fall upon the hearts of men, and yet not fall from above. The gifts of men may be sometimes carried very high, even to the admiration of others, whenas there is little or no spiritual life. Vigour of nature, strength of parts, enforcement of conscience, outward respects, delusive joys, delusive visions, ungrounded fancies, deceiving dreams, yea, superstitious conceits, may work much upon men in duties when there is little or nothing of God. When men seem to be carried out with a full gale of assistance, it is not always the Spirit of God that fills the sails. A man may move with much life, freedom, cheerfulness, in spiritual duties, when his motion is from other weights than those of the Spirit.

Nay, further, not only those potent workings which are ordinary, but extraordinary, such as ecstasies and raptures, wherein the soul is transported, so as to leave the body without its ordinary influence, so as it seems without sense or motion; such inward operations on the soul as work strange effects upon the body, visible in its disordered motions and incomposed gestures. Such workings as these have been in all ages, and may be now, from the spirit of darkness transforming himself into an angel of light; and therefore, if such private experiences be produced to disparage the public worship, the public ministry, or any other public ordinance of God (however they pretend to the Spirit of God), they are to be rejected. The deceits of our own hearts, or the delusions of that envious spirit, who has always shewed his malice against God's public worship, should not be admitted, to render this Scripture truth questionable, that public worship is to be preferred before private. And, indeed, the experiences of ordinary personal assistance in private duties, if it be made use of to this end, is to be looked upon as suspicious; you may suspect it is not as it seems, if this be the issue of it. Those assistances which come from the Spirit of God have a better tendency than to disparage the public worship of God, which himself is so tender of. And this should be the more regarded, because it is apparent Satan has a design against God's public worship, and he drives it on in a subtler way than in darker times. He would thrust out one part of God's worship by another, that so at last he may deprive us of all. Mind it, then, and examine thy experiences, if there be a deceit in them, as many times there is. They are of no force against this truth, public worship is to be preferred before private.

6. It may be the Lord seems to withdraw from thee, and to deny thee, spiritual assistance in public worship for trial; to try thy love to him, and the ways which most honour him; to see whether thou wilt withdraw from him and his worship, when he seems to withhold himself from thee; to try whether thou wilt serve God for nothing, when thou seemest to find nothing answerable to thy attendance and endeavours. This is the hour of England's temptation in other things, and probably it is so in this as well as others. If it be so with thee, thy resolution should be that of the prophet, Isa. viii. 17, 'I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob.' If this be thy case, thy esteem of his public worship should hereby be rather raised than abated, since this is the way to comply with the Lord's design in this dispensation, the way to procure more comfortable returns, more powerful assistance than ever.

7. You may enjoy more of God in public, and not observe it. As there may be a mistake in thinking you enjoy much of God in private when you do not, so there may be a mistake in thinking you want the presence of God in public when indeed you have it. It is not the improvement of parts, enlargement of heart, flashes of joy, stirrings of affections, that argue most of God's presence; there may be much of these when there is little of God. It is a humble soul, one that is poor in spirit, that trembles at the word, that hungers and thirsts after Christ, that is sensible of spiritual wants and distempers, that is burdened with his corruptions, and laments after the Lord and freer enjoyments of him. He whose heart is soft and pliable, whose conscience is tender, it is he who thrives and prospers in the inward man. And if these be the effects of thy attendance upon God in public worship, thou dost there enjoy much of God's presence, whatever thou apprehend to the contrary. These are far more valuable than those affections and enlargements by which some judge of the Lord's presence in his ordinances; for these are the sound fruits of a tree of righteousness, whereas those are but the leaves or flourishes of it, which you may sometimes find in a barren tree. So far as the Lord upholds in thee a poor and hungering spirit, a humble and thirsting heart, so far he is graciously present with thee; for this is it to which he has promised a gracious presence in his ordinances, Isa. lxvi. 1, 2. The Lord speaks here as though he were not so much taken with the glory of the temple, no, not with the glow of heaven, as with a spirit of this temper. As sure as the Lord's throne is in heaven, this soul shall have his presence. The streams of spiritual refreshments from his presence shall water these valleys, whenas high-flown confidents, that come to the ordinances with high conceits and carnal boldness, shall be as the mountains, left dry and parched. See Mat. v. 8-6. You may enjoy the presence of God in public, and not observe it. Now, if thy experience be a mistake, no reason it should hinder thee from yielding to this truth, that public worship is to be preferred before private.

8. It is to be suspected that what you want of God's presence, in public worship, is through your own default. Not because more of God is not to be enjoyed, more spiritual advantage is not to be gained in public ordinances, but because, through some sinful miscarriage, you make yourselves incapable thereof. Let this be observed, and your ways impartially examined; and you will find cause to accuse yourselves, instead of objecting anything against the pre-eminence of public worship. There is so much self-love in us, as we are apt to charge anything, even the worship of God itself, rather than ourselves; yea, when ourselves ought only to be charged and accused. The Lord's hand is not straitened, &c. The worship of God is the same, the Lord as much to be enjoyed in it; no less comfort and advantage to be found in it than formerly (and formerly more has been enjoyed therein than in private); how comes it, then, that there is any occasion to object against it? Why, our iniquities have separated between us and our God.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the best reading that ever I had

"MY Dear Friend, At present I am busy about my Bible; being suffered to live to read it over once again.. Two things have occurred to me in the present perusal, in both which I am enabled to triumph. The one is a deeper discovery of the horrible state I am in through sin; so that, as a child of Adam, I feel nothing in my self but the working of corruption by and under the law, dead to God; but all are alive to sin every faculty at work to bring it forth-the mind-the heart-the senses, yea, the very imagination, in prayer disturbing, distracting, quite lawless-I can do nothing but cry out, Rom. vii. 24. Reading verse 25, I get my second lesson, and find employment for my Jesus. A body of sin and death like mine wants an almighty Saviour, and I am learning to put more honour upon His 'Word and work daily. I find more need of Him than ever, and it is some true joy that He is most exactly suited to my desperate case; having no hope but in His blood, not one ray but in His righteousness, no strength but in His arm, no happiness but out of His fulness; I am led even to triumph in what He is to me; I would lay myself at His foot, and would bless His dear name that He has become all my salvation, and glory in Him that He is now all my desire. It is the best reading that ever I had: self was never so brought down, and so crucified daily; nor did I ever see so much reason to magnify the person of God-Jesus. In this spiritual crucifixion of self and sin-in this true growing up out of self into Christ-may the Holy Spirit teach you to profit daily.
Pray for yours, in our common Lord.-William Romaine

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Reformation Attainments

In 1910 the Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church passed a resolution called "A Declaration anent Reformation Attainments, and the Church’s Relation thereto". It was a means to "humbly record, with gratitude to Almighty God, the great goodness and mercy with which He graciously visited Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the Reformations from Popery and Prelacy, the spirit of wisdom and understanding He bestowed on the men who were instrumentally used in accomplishing His will during those memorable periods, whereby they were led to grasp, with eminent light and ability, the great doctrines and principles of religious, social, and civil liberty contained in the Bible, and the magnanimity, fortitude, and patriotism wherewith He enabled them to uphold and vindicate the same against inveterate enemies".

It uses the language of the Free Church Act of 1851 to recognise that while not absolutely satisfactory in that the Church was hindered from "realising fully the attainments that had been reached during the Second Reformation" and the failure of the civil power "in adequately acknowledging the Lord’s work done formerly in the land", there is much reason to be thankful for the Revolution Settlement of 1690. "For it would be in a high degree ungrateful to overlook the signal and seasonable benefits which the Revolution Settlement really did confer upon the Church, as well as upon the nation".

The Synod added their comments "The Synod heartily concur in the above statement of the Church in 1851, and they declare that, in their humble judgment, the fact that the “Rescissory Act” has
been left unrepealed on the Statute Book leaves the Presbyterians of Scotland in a dangerous position, and that effective steps should be taken for its repeal along with all the other pernicious cognate Acts of that period of our history".

In seeking the repeal of this Act and desiring that the covenants would have been acknowledged in the Revolution Settlement, the Synod were acknowledging the perpetual obligation of the Covenants. There is also a reference to renewal of the national covenant before the time of 1638. "Our fathers found the renewing of the National Covenant repeatedly during this period a source of much strength in their opposition to their enemies and of maintaining unity among themselves."