Articles written by the Minister between 2008 and 2017; the most recent articles are at the top.
■ Right with God
■ Afraid of the Gospel
■ The Incomparable God
■ The Privilege of Prayer
■ Unsearchable Riches
■ A Leader to Follow
■ The Church’s Warfare
■ The Judgement Day
■ The Precious Saviour
■ The Gospel Trumpet
■ A Great Lie
■ Our Latter End
■ Friendship and Fellowship
■ Perfect Peace
■ Building the Church
■ Making our Choice
■ The Gift of God
■ Redeeming the Time
■ The Great Mediator
■ Light in the Darkness
■ Suffer Little Children
■ Revive Thy Work!
■ The Wonderful Gospel
■ Contending for the Faith
■ Our Guilty Secrets
■ Ready for Eternity
■ The Bread of Life
■ The Good Way
■ A Faithful Mirror
■ The Light of the World
■ Hopes and Fears
■ Christ is King!
■ When Illness Comes
■ Removing the Candlestick
■ The Way we Worship
■ A Great Mystery
■ Our Hope for the Future
■ Brotherly Love
■ The Papal Visit
■ Balancing the Books
■ In Time of Trouble
■ Making Idols
■ Looking Forward
■ God’s Saving Power
■ The Fight of Faith
■ The Church and the Word
■ The Grace of Christ
■ The Importance of Creation
■ Waiting upon the Lord
■ Our Day of Rest
■ Repentance Required
■ A New Creature
■ Gracious Words
■ O Taste and See!
■ Old and New
Right with God
This year sees an important anniversary. On 31st October 1517, Martin Luther launched the reformation in Europe when he fixed a document to the door of the church at Wittenberg in Germany. The document contained ninety-five ‘theses’ or arguments which challenged corruptions in the Roman Catholic Church. It was a bold protest against particular errors in teaching and practice and it quickly gained popular support. The Lord was powerfully at work and the movement led to a recovery of biblical truth, and especially the gospel way of salvation.
Central to the gospel is the doctrine of justification. Luther famously said that justification is “the article of a standing or falling Church.” It seems that the devil is only too aware just how important this truth is, and does what he can to corrupt it, in an attempt to undermine the church’s foundation. Sadly his efforts seem to be bearing fruit in the Protestant churches today. Ministers and theologians who ought to know better are giving an uncertain sound, teaching that a man is justified by faith in Christ and by works. But what do the Scriptures say, and especially the apostle Paul?
According to the Bible, justification is the reckoning of a sinner as righteous by God. Paul wrote: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33). In justification, God does not make a man righteous, but declares him to be so, in terms of the unchanging standard of His holy law. Sin is pardoned and the person who was once cast out as a law-breaker is now accepted as righteous and able to enjoy all the riches of salvation. Justification is by God alone.
We also learn that sinners are justified by the crediting of righteousness to them. Paul says, quoting the Psalmist: “David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Rom. 4:6,7). Justification changes a man’s status rather than his nature. God passes a sentence upon us which is the opposite of the condemnation we have earned by our sin. Justification is wholly undeserved by us, and is complete and permanent. Justification is by grace alone.
Scripture shows us that sinners are justified solely through the merit of Jesus Christ. Paul states: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit. 3:5), but by the atoning work which Christ, the Son of God, has done as the Mediator. Coming into this world by taking our nature, Jesus kept God’s law perfectly, which is something none of us could ever do, and suffered its penalty, bearing the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin. Justification is by Christ alone.
Finally we learn that sinners are justified wholly apart from personal works or worth. Justification is granted to all who put their trust in Christ for salvation. Paul says: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). The faith by which we are justified is itself “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Justification is by faith alone.
In the light of these things we must ask ourselves, Am I right with God? It all depends upon our relationship to Christ. We must turn from sin and self and put our trust wholly in the Saviour’s finished work!
Afraid of the Gospel
We all have an aversion to certain things. Perhaps it is a dislike of a certain sort of food, or a particular kind of music, sport or recreation that other people find enjoyable. The aversion can be so strong that it actually takes the form of a fear. If that fear is not a rational one, it is termed a ‘phobia’. For example, there is ‘agoraphobia’, the fear of open spaces, and its opposite ‘claustrophobia’, a dread of confined spaces.
In addition to these familiar phobias we are now hearing of new ones, which are of a very different sort. You will have noticed how we are being warned constantly about the dangers of ‘homophobia’, ‘islamophobia’, and so on. Such terms must be challenged. To have a dislike – or indeed a fear – of unnatural sexual unions or of false religions is not irrational but eminently sensible. It is a wholesome thing to abhor what is morally and spiritually wrong, and indeed soul-destroying. It is wise also to be wary of those who are involved such things – while at the same time showing them the love of Christ and doing all that we can for their good.
Sadly these modern ‘sins’ are well on the way to being made crimes in our land, and punishable by law. It is part of an attempt by an ungodly establishment and powerful elite to construct a new, man-made morality to replace the old, God-given, biblical one. The attempt must be resisted.
These moves are really symptoms of the problem which is common to our race. Deep in the heart and mind of fallen man there lurks an ancient fear. It is a quite irrational one, and very revealing. People are afraid of the gospel. Many do not want to hear it at all. How can we explain this?
Unbelievers know that there is a God, for creation, providence and conscience all testify to this greatest of all facts. As the apostle Paul states, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Rom. 1:19). However they live in denial of this fundamental truth, determined to carry on with their worldly, sinful lives.
The Bible can make sinners afraid when they read it or listen to it. They learn of God’s holy law and their accountability to Him. They are called to leave their sins and warned of a day of reckoning. People know that the Bible is true but they love their sin; Paul says that they “hold the truth in unrighteousness” (v.18). Sinners will seize upon anything which will give some intellectual credibility or moral respectability to their denial of God’s word. They invent a morality of their own – one tolerant of everything except absolute truth and strict righteousness – to quieten their conscience.
Fear of the Bible is often at its most severe when sinners are faced with the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19,20). The self-righteous hate any exposure of their sins that makes them feel ashamed. The law reveals our sins, but in another way so does the gospel; we see what man’s sin did to the sinless Son of God: Jesus suffered on the cross in the place of the guilty and hell-deserving.
Are you still trying to hide from what you know to be the truth – the truth about God, yourself and Jesus Christ? Beware of ‘gospelphobia’: Calvary is good news for sinners, indeed the best news! Christ died to put away sin and bring His people to heaven. Pray that God would give you grace to truly repent of your sins and believe on this precious Saviour.
The Imcomparable God
In difficult and discouraging times the Lord says to His faithful people, “Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9). We should certainly look to ourselves, recognising our sins and confessing them to the Lord, but even more we need to consider God Himself, reflecting on who He is and what He has done. In doing so the believer will get strength and comfort.
Moses was a man who thought much upon the Lord, and there were others in his day who did likewise. We learn that after the exodus from Egypt a great song ascended from the shores of the Red sea. Moses and the children of Israel were joyfully praising God for His mighty deliverance. These words rang out from their lips: “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exod. 15:11). There are those that may be called ‘gods’, in that they represent divine authority in the nation (indeed Moses was one such), but they are nothing in comparison to Jehovah. There is none like Him, for the name of Jehovah is wonderful, and He is excellent in all the earth!
God is excellent in His being. He is “glorious in holiness”. He is excellent in all His perfections but holiness is mentioned more than any other in Scripture. Even the sinless angels are in awe of it, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). It speaks of the uncreated purity of the divine nature. As John says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And God never changes.
At his creation man was holy but since Adam sinned and fell man tends to bring God down to his own level: “thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Psa. 50:21). God delights in that which accords with His holiness: He can only abhor whatever does not. The Bible records divine judgments upon our sinful race – such as the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, the universal flood of Noah’s day and the fire and brimstone which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah – and sums up man’s plight in these solemn words: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
God is also excellent in His worship. He is “fearful in praises”. God has made Himself known in His word, which He has magnified above all His name (Psa. 138:2). We are to tremble at the thought of God’s greatness and our sinfulness; we are to serve Him with “reverence and godly fear”, for “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28,29). God dictates how we are to worship Him. It is sad that in many places of worship the praise is what suits men rather than what pleases God: we need to follow Scripture.
God is excellent finally in His works. He is “doing wonders”. Creation and providence are wonderful works of God, showing forth His goodness, wisdom and power. His most excellent work though is redemption, which is what Moses and the Israelites were celebrating. A great battle had just been fought and a famous victory had been won. Israel did not fight however: the Lord fought for them, and they saw “the salvation of the Lord” (Exod. 14:13,14). It is a picture of the redemption Christ purchased for sinners by His own obedience, and of a salvation that is all of grace.
Are we singing the same song in our hearts as was sung on that day? Is the Lord truly excellent in our eyes? Then we have indeed been taken out of the kingdom of darkness and freed from the bondage of our sin!
The Privilege of Prayer
Do you ever stop to consider what a wonderful privilege prayer is? We are poor sinful creatures – yet the infinite, almighty and most holy God invites us to draw near to Him, and to pour out our hearts to Him as a Father! He promises to be merciful to our unrighteousness and to be gracious to us. If we were more aware of what a blessing prayer is, then perhaps we would spend more time calling upon God than we do. Sincere, earnest and persevering prayer is to be desired, both in the “house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13) and in our own homes.
Prayer is part of the worship of God, and therefore something which is required of us all. It is the most spiritual exercise we can engage in, but at the same time it is the most practical and useful. It is such a simple thing, yet we often find it difficult. Praise and thanksgiving have their place in prayer, and we must always seek forgiveness for our sins. Chiefly though we are to make our requests known to God. What guidance does the Bible give us in this, that we may be sure of receiving our requests?
The Bible shows us why we should pray. It is because we have needs which only God can meet. Paul told the Philippians, “Be careful for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). His meaning was that they should not be anxious over their earthly affairs or distracted by their worldly cares; instead they should cast their burdens upon the Lord, trusting that He would sustain them and satisfy them. The greatest need we have however is salvation from sin and the sanctification of our souls. Our priority in prayer must be to plead, “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10), seeking God’s grace for ourselves and our families, for the church and for the nation.
The Bible also teaches us what we should pray. The apostle John wrote: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14). But how may we know God’s will? The scriptures are there to direct us, showing us what we may lawfully ask for. In particular we have the Lord’s prayer, with its six model petitions, one of which we have already noted.
Even with the Word of God to guide us, we still require divine leading when we make our requests, enabling us to express the desires of our hearts: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself taketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
The Bible finally instructs us how we should pray. It is “with prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18). Here we have the secret of prevailing prayer. It is possible to have the ‘body’of prayer without the ‘soul’; it is not just going upon our knees, but upon the knees of our hearts, humbling ourselves before God. We must always pray in the name of Christ, with the knowledge that He is our Mediator, Redeemer, Intercessor and Advocate. We simply cannot come before God apart from Jesus Christ and the merit of that sacrifice for sin which He completed when He “offered himself without spot to God” (Heb. 9:14) on the cross of Calvary.
Here is a great promise from Christ Himself – one for us to remember when we go to pray: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7). May the Lord be pleased to hear us whenever we cry to Him in prayer!
It has been well said that if our minds were more occupied with Christ, then we would have less room for doubt and discouragement. There are many things in this world to cause the believer to be cast down, especially in a day of spiritual declension like our own: such things must be kept in their place and should not be allowed to deflect us from Christ. Our need is to fasten our eyes and to fix our hearts upon our precious Saviour.
The apostle Paul wrote of the “unsearchable riches” of Christ (Eph. 3:8). In the literal sense they are riches “without a footprint”. Although they are far beyond our reckoning yet in the kindness of God we may know something of them. Paul thought himself to be “less than the least of all saints”, but he was given grace to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ among the Gentiles. They are brought before us in the Bible. What are they?
Christ has riches as God. These riches are unfathomable, as Zophar reminded Job when he said to him: “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7). Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3). Everything that is in God is in Christ: all the divine attributes, powers and privileges belong to Him, as with the Father and with the Spirit.
Behold Christ as the Creator, fashioning the universe: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). See Him too as the Preserver and Governor of everything: “ And he is before all things, and in him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). See Him finally being honoured as the Author of Salvation: “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16).
Christ has riches also as the Mediator. This is what Paul has in mind here. Wonderfully, the eternal Son of God became man, entering space and time as the Redeemer of sinful men. Christ’s riches were not so easily seen then, for, as Paul tells us, “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Paul explains this “mystery of godliness” to the church at Corinth: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The sinless Son of God was punished in the place of His undeserving people, to bless them with everlasting salvation. What amazing riches!
Firstly there are riches of grace which believers enjoy from their Saviour in this life. Christ Jesus “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:31). There is the mighty work of divine grace, beginning with our regeneration, and the several acts of God’s grace, which include our adoption. As the sons of God our hope is that when Christ appears, we will be like him (1 John 3:2).
Then there are riches of glory to be enjoyed with our Saviour in the life to come. At death the souls of believers are made perfect in holiness and go straight to heaven. Their sorrows are over and in the nearer presence of Christ they delight in the most blessed friendship and fellowship. They wait for the redemption of their bodies, which will be made like Christ’s glorious body (Phil. 3:21). This is “the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12).
The riches of Christ are riches indeed. Do you know anything of them?
A Leader to Follow
In our day we appear to be facing a crisis of leadership. In both church and state there are few individuals who are worthy of our respect, and who we feel able to trust. Many of the clergy seem unsure as to what they really believe, and cannot speak with authority on moral matters. Politicians tend to look only to the short term, unlike the statesmen of former times. They make promises which are beyond their ability to fulfil, raising the hopes of the people, and then excuse themselves when they fail to keep them. In a sense it is not surprising that things are as they are. All men are fallible and we were never meant to depend wholly upon them, even the best of them. We must lift our sights higher than this world.
That we all need a leader is clear from the Bible, which says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). Sheep will go here and there as it pleases them, wandering from their familiar pastures and ranging far and wide across the hillside. They may place themselves in great danger. As sinners we are just like that. With our fallen nature we disobey God’s word and break His commandments, putting ourselves “out of the way” (Heb. 5:2).
The wonderful thing is that there is a Saviour for such, One who is able take us from the brink of hell, through all the trials of this life and eventually into heaven itself. In the Bible we find God saying of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, “Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people” (Isa. 55:4). What sort of a leader is Jesus?
Jesus is a good leader. He has His own people who are dear to Him and He has done the greatest possible good for them: He has laid down His life for their sakes. Think of that! The one who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, suffered at God’s hand in the place of sinners. He was made to be sin for them and bore the wrath and curse of God for them. His love to them is such that He willingly shed His own blood to save them.
Jesus is also a wise leader. He knows each and every one of His people wherever they are to be found. He calls them with a mighty voice in the gospel and takes them into His loving care. He knows the strong saints and the weak saints, the cheerful saints and the sorrowful saints. He knows them all and sympathises with them in their every need, trouble and trial. He has abundant and manifold grace to give to each one who seeks it from Him.
Jesus is finally a faithful leader. David, though a king himself, gladly testified, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psa. 23:1). He had full confidence in His faithful Saviour and so he followed Him, even when it was not an easy thing to do so. Jesus has never failed His people, even in one promise. In eternity Christ still leads His people and they still follow Him: “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters” (Rev. 7:17); “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” (Rev. 14:4). Has Jesus called you to Himself and become your Saviour and Lord?
The Church’s Warfare
The church on earth is sometimes referred to as the ‘church militant’, as opposed to the ‘church triumphant’, which is the church in heaven. The term is used in recognition of the fact that for the Lord’s people the scene here is one of spiritual conflict. In the Bible the church is pictured as “an army with banners” (Song of Sol. 6:10), and Christians are called to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). What are the threats facing the church today and against which believers must battle?
One threat to the church is from the state. God ordained the civil power to preserve peace and order in society, so that godliness may flourish. It exists “for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Pet. 2:14). In our day however this is being turned upside down. Immoral conduct of various kinds is permitted, and even applauded, while those who oppose abortion, homosexuality and same-sex ‘marriage’ are regarded as ‘extremists’ and may find themselves penalised by the courts.
To call something ‘extreme’ only makes sense if there is a fixed standard against which it can be measured. Our governments have forgotten that it is the law of God, not the law of man, which determines what is morally ‘right’ and morally ‘wrong’. God’s law has always been and always will be the true measure for human behaviour. Nations which reject this standard bring reproach upon themselves and incur divine anger. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). We must urge our rulers to humble themselves and to bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the “King of kings” (Rev. 17:14).
Another threat is from false religion. The “pure religion and undefiled” (Jam. 1:27) which God has revealed is a blessed thing, but any other religion is the devil’s deception and a curse. It is a wrong idea of tolerance when a Christian country permits the followers of Islam to settle within its borders and practise and propagate their faith, especially when laws are changed in their favour. While we must bring the gospel to Muslims in our midst we must remind our nation of its covenant obligations to God.
A further threat is from the false church. The great “falling away” predicted by Paul (2 Thess. 2:3) led ultimately to the Roman Catholic Church, which is now wooing and beguiling the main Protestant denominations. But, as Paul also wrote, “what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:16). When the gospel is compromised we must speak up and be prepared to stand apart. The glory of God is at stake, and the salvation of men’s souls. Nothing is more important than that!
The final threat is different from the others we have mentioned, for it comes from within. The church’s greatest enemy is to be found in our own hearts, in the form of sin and unbelief. Like Israel in the wilderness we doubt God and His promises. “Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psa. 78:41). Our faith needs to be stirred up constantly, through hearing the Word of God and in prayer.
At a critical time in Israel’s history Moses challenged God’s people: “Who is on the Lord’s side?” (Exod. 32:26). That question needs to be asked of the church today. May we be found faithful to Jesus Christ, our worthy Saviour, whatever the cost may be. The reward is great indeed!
The Judgement Day
The Bible speaks of a day of judgement when we will all appear before God to give an account of our lives. It is easy for us to forget that. We tend to live for the moment, encouraging ourselves with the thought that “to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant” (Isa. 56:12). We quickly dismiss thoughts of eternity – yet the day of judgement is coming!
A judgement is passed on us when we die, in that our soul returns to God and will either be admitted into heaven or cast down into hell. But that judgement is a private one: the world is not a witness to it. We may have an opinion concerning the departed we have known but we cannot tell their final destiny with full certainty. “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (1 Tim. 5:24).
The day of judgement will be a public occasion. All the angels, holy and wicked, will be there, for Scripture says, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” (1Cor.6:3). All mankind, good and evil, will be there, for “every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). God will reveal many secrets on that day. Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul teaches us three great truths about the day of judgment.
The judgement day will show that God is impartial in His dealings. “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:11). The things which impress men have no influence upon the Lord. Status and rank will count for nothing. Wealth and power will not matter. The Jew will gain no advantage from his jewishness, neither will those who have been baptised and brought up within the church be treated with favour for that reason.
The judgement day will show that men are accountable to God for their actions. “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (v.12). All of mankind has had some measure of divine revelation – some knowledge of God and His will for us. Under the Old Testament the Gentile nations had only the light of nature, but they were still accountable to God. The Jewish nation had Scripture too, containing the moral law, so their accountability was greater (Psa. 147:19,20). We are more privileged yet, in that we have the New Testament also. We ought to note Luke 12:47,48.
The judgement day will show that we were aware of God’s standard and that we failed to reach it. Paul says: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (v.13). Let the Jew who puts his hope in the law know that he must keep it perfectly – which he cannot do! Then Paul says. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (vv.14,15). Let the Gentile who is ignorant of the Scriptures heed his own conscience, by means of which God convicts him every time he transgresses His law!
At the last day the Lord Jesus Christ will return and sit on His judgement seat. He will do what is right. We should be so thankful for the gospel of our salvation! In the wonder of divine grace, the very One who is our Judge is also an Advocate with the Father for believers, even on the day of judgement. Go to Christ, confessing your sins, and His precious blood will wash them all away, giving you a sure hope of acquittal on that day.
The Precious Saviour
It is obvious that all is not well with our world. But what exactly is wrong with it? It may be humbling for us to admit it, but the real problem is with man himself. Adam was our representative in the first paradise and when he sinned and fell it affected us all: “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19). What does it mean to be a ‘sinner’?
To be a sinner is to be unrighteous. Our mind, will and affections are opposed to God and we devote ourselves to the things which He forbids. The Word of God declares us to be filled with “all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness” – and much more (Rom. 1:29-31).
To be a sinner is to be corrupt. The truth about our race is that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). This bias towards evil is present from our conception. When David repented of his adultery he acknowledged, “I was shapen in iniquity” (Psa. 51:5). All our actual sins spring from the polluted fountain of our corrupt hearts.
To be a sinner is to be guilty. We have broken God’s law and are liable to its penalty. If it is a serious thing to break the law of the land then it is far more serious to disobey God’s law, every commandment of which is “holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). When we do so we contract a debt we cannot pay and are in danger of eternal punishment.
Our sin leads to misery. However happy we may appear to be with life, the reality is that we are spiritually dead and in danger of everlasting ruin. By our sin we have lost our likeness to God and our friendship with Him. The prospect before us is to be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:9).
Our plight being so serious, only God can provide the remedy. The Bible reveals that in His love to mankind God has sent a Saviour into the world. His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, became man in the womb of the virgin Mary. Before her child was born the angel said to Joseph her husband: “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This is the good news of the gospel!
Jesus is our great Redeemer. To redeem means to buy back what is captive. We are in slavery to sin, the world and the devil, and God, being righteous, requires a ransom for our deliverance. The Redeemer had to be man so that He could obey God’s law and suffer its penalty on behalf of sinners; the Redeemer had to be God so that His obedience and suffering would be of sufficient value to save a countless number from their sins.
Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and then died on the cross, shedding His own innocent blood. He was “once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). Just before He died He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30): His sacrifice was complete and the proof is that “he rose again the third day” (1 Cor. 15:4). By His death Christ has satisfied God’s justice and put away all the sins of His people. He has removed the enmity between God and men and opened up the way for the hell-deserving to return to God.
How may we benefit from what Christ has done? We need a new heart, for Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). We must confess our sin to God and ask His forgiveness, like the publican who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). We must trust in Christ alone for righteousness and acceptance with God. Go to God just as you are, looking to the precious Saviour, and you will find pardon, peace and eternal life.
The Gospel Trumpet
What should the church be doing in a day of small things like ours? However difficult the times may be the church’s commission never changes. Jesus said to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Ministers may be tempted to try new methods but their model will always be the apostles, who said, “we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). So Paul charged Timothy: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2).
The church is to proclaim the gospel of Christ unceasingly and must go on pleading with God to bless it. The prophet Isaiah was a faithful man of God ministering in a time of great spiritual decline. The Lord commanded him: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet” (Isa. 58:1). The church has been given the gospel ‘trumpet’. How should it be ‘blown’?
The gospel trumpet should be blown publicly. Preaching is a part of public worship. On the Sabbath day and on the weekday when God’s people are gathered together in the name of Christ ministers are to expound the Holy Scriptures accurately and apply them to the hearts and lives of their hearers. This proclamation ought to be pursued beyond the church building too, where that is possible: “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets” (Prov. 1:20). In Ephesus Paul taught “publickly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
The gospel trumpet should also be blown boldly. There is no excuse for timidity here: the eternal welfare of men is at stake. When the Jewish leaders forbade the disciples to speak in Christ’s name their response was to beseech the Lord to “grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29). We should follow their courageous example, remembering that “the fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25).
The gospel trumpet should also be blown urgently. Time is hurrying on and we will all soon be in another world. The next sermon a minister preaches may be the last sermon someone in his congregation will ever hear. The need to repent of sin and believe in Christ must therefore be pressed upon every unconverted man and woman, boy and girl: “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
Finally the gospel trumpet should be blown plainly. Sin has made us “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11) and “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25), yet sadly the preaching of the church often lacks clarity. Do we hear of God’s glory and perfect holiness? Do we hear of man’s sinfulness and utter inability to save himself? Do we hear of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? When the message is unclear it is unlikely to have any lasting effect. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8).
In our dark day let the Lord’s people unite in prayer that the gospel trumpet would sound among us again with awakening and converting power!
A Great Lie
It is said that if you tell a lie often enough people will eventually believe it – even though it may be a very big lie. One such lie facing us today concerns the origin of man. Throughout the media we find people who assert that the universe is the product of a ‘big bang’ and that we have descended from primitive forms of life. This process has taken billions of years and is the result of pure chance. So despite the world’s complexity, beauty and harmony there is no infinitely-wise Creator who designed it all.
The name for this idea is ‘evolution’ – a never-ending chain of gradual development which has led from molecules to man. It is only a theory but it is presented as though it were a fact. The apes are said to be man’s closest living ancestors and using a few bones and a lot of imagination scientists have made drawings of various ‘ape-men’ – the supposed ‘missing link’ between humans and apes. The theory of evolution has now influenced generations of young people in our schools and universities.
The theory of evolution can only be termed “science falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6:20). Despite its many good uses science cannot discover man’s origin. To understand where we came from we must listen to the One who was there when man first appeared. The Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning God...” (Gen. 1:1). God was there before everything else and by His almighty power He brought all things into being out of nothing. Having created the conditions necessary for life He then made the plants and animals in all their amazing variety. Finally He made man, male and female, in His own image. He placed our first parents in a paradise, to glorify Him and enjoy His friendship.
The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve rebelled against God, breaking His commandments, and thereby our race was plunged into sin, death and divine wrath. As a result God placed a curse upon the whole creation. Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord (Gen. 3:8) and now people hold to evolution out of a desire to avoid God. They would like to believe that there is no Creator to whom they are accountable so that they may live their lives just as they please.
Evolution, regardless of how many believe in it, is a false theory and a menace to mankind. It leaves us with no final authority and no fixed standard of behaviour. The law of God on marriage, the family and the sanctity of life is disregarded and abortion, adultery and homosexuality are all justified. Every man does what is “right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6).
Much of the suffering and sorrow in our society is a direct consequence of our disobedience to the commandments God gave us for our safety, prosperity and happiness. Moreover if we follow the lie of evolution then we are left without any real purpose in this life or hope for the next. Is there any light to guide us out of this darkness?
A ruined creation, with sinful man at its centre, requires a complete renewal. Men may try all they can to restore the planet but the real remedy is the one which has been provided by the Lord Jesus Christ in His redeeming work completed at Calvary. The Bible says, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). If Jesus has saved us from our sins then we may look forward to “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). Do you have this hope?
Our Latter End
One of the tragedies of our modern day is that having rejected the real explanation for man’s origin people make light of their own impending demise. We do not like to dwell upon death in our thoughts or our conversations. Churches may be full at funerals but few mourners have serious thoughts at such solemn times. Death has become a ‘taboo’ subject – and the devil is delighted. Moses had to say regarding the ungodly of his own day: “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29).
It is often overlooked that the Bible teaches us not only the right way to live but also the right way to die. It is the only place where we will discover the truth about death. There are two great things we need to know about this “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26).
Firstly death must be seen as a departure. Some say that death is the absolute end; others say that we will come back in another life; many say that we simply cannot know. However when Paul was aware that his life was drawing to a close he said, “the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). He viewed his approaching death as like a ship loosing from its moorings or a tent being taken down. He would be moving on and going elsewhere.
Death therefore is not an extinction of our being but a translation. The soul is separated from the body, leaving this world and entering the next. After death a man’s mortal remains go into a grave but his soul has already gone into eternity. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7).
Secondly death will bring us instantly to our destination. At death the sentence comes forth from God: either admission to heaven or banishment to hell. Some believe that after they die they will spend a period in purgatory, supposedly a place of fire which refines the soul; others imagine that they will enter into an unconscious state. However Jesus spoke of two places only for the departed, arrived at immediately upon death by souls that are fully conscious. Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom”: the rich man died “and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:22,23). These are both final destinations: it is either “everlasting punishment” or “life eternal” (Matt. 25:46).
When faced with these two alternatives it is of course natural for us to prefer heaven to hell. But what idea of heaven do we have? Many think of it as a continuation of earthly delights, free from every harmful consequence. They know nothing of the real heaven! Heaven is a holy place where Jesus Christ is all the glory, for “the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 20:23). Paul desired “to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). As a sinner he had trusted in Jesus as his own Lord and Saviour and been forgiven; now he wanted to be with Him. For every believer death means to be “absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Can you say that this is your great desire?
Friendship and Fellowship
A sense of belonging is a good thing to have. It is often missing in our modern world where nothing seems to stay the same for very long. Changes, many of them unwelcome, are happening all the time to the places we know and the people we love. Many of our island communities are in decline, with the neighbourliness which once characterised them, and sadly families are increasingly affected by divorce and division. We know of course that in the end death will dissolve all our earthly ties. Are there any bonds that will last?
Christians know that there are such bonds. The Bible reveals that God has a people in this world who are united to Him and destined to dwell with Him and with one another for all eternity. By Adam’s fall we were all made sinners, separating us from a holy God, our carnal minds being “enmity” against Him (Rom. 8:7). We are under condemnation and liable to eternal punishment but in His love God has chosen some of our sinful race to eternal life and by His grace He has drawn them to Himself. Christians know and enjoy God: they have friendship and fellowship with Him.
All the blessings of salvation come to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. He is “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matt. 11:19). Being the Son of God He became man and lived a perfect life which He gave up on the cross that He might pay the price for sin. By His sacrifice Christ has established a friendship between God and men which will endure forever. The wonder of the gospel is that though we have offended Him repeatedly and refused Him for so long the Lord is willing to be on good terms with us!
We perhaps see the Lord’s love most clearly with the likes of king Manasseh, Saul of Tarsus and the thief on the cross. Yet the love of Christ is the same to each one of His own: it needs to be for we are all lost sheep, unable to recover ourselves from the plight we are in and unwilling even to acknowledge it and the reason for it. But God commends His love toward us in that “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). It is a love that joins us to the Saviour.
Even as believers we may go badly astray. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15) but soon one denied Him and all deserted Him. However Christ in His love did not cast them off but went after them and restored them, as the good shepherd of the sheep. He says to each of His own, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). Truly Jesus is “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).
The friendship believers have with Christ leads to fellowship with Him and with each other (1 John 1:3). We may be close to other Christians, sharing our burdens with them in the knowledge that they are sympathetic to us and will try to help. How much more should we confide in Jesus Christ, who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15) and is “able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18)!
Our fellowship with Christ flows from God’s gracious work in our hearts. We must use the means whereby we may have communion with this loving and generous Friend: in the Bible we hear His voice and in prayer He hears ours. May we value this privilege more and more until the day break and the shadows flee away and we see Jesus face to face!
It is true to say that we live in a troubled world. Every day it seems there is news of conflicts, violence and calamities of various kinds. Is it possible to be at peace in such a world? And do we have peace when we look beyond it to the world to come? We will only enjoy true confidence for time and eternity when we turn to the word of God and consider carefully the message of the gospel. In the Bible we learn of the Saviour Jesus Christ who has established peace between a holy God and sinful men. What that peace is we may gather from words spoken by Christ to His disciples in the upper room.
The peace of Christ is a personal peace. He said to His disciples, “My peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). To wish one another peace is a common form of greeting but Christ’s words are more than that: He is actually bestowing His own peace. His precious gift of peace is nothing less than the peace of God which “passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). Christ brought about peace with God by His sacrificial death. He “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20) by paying the price for our sins. Christ’s atonement, completed at Calvary, removed the enmity which exists between God and men on account of their sin and achieved reconciliation with God for all believers.
From peace with God comes the peace of God. This is produced by the Spirit of Christ who is sent into our hearts when we are born again. The Spirit sprinkles the atoning blood upon our conscience. Trusting in Christ and His merits, growing in grace and assured of God’s love, we are blessed with an inner peace. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:13).
The peace of Christ is a permanent peace. Jesus also said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you.” A peace which lasts forever! What a wonderful gift! If we have received it then our gratitude to God should be seen in true holiness of life. As the Psalmist put it, “he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly” (Psa. 85:8). God will not go back on His promises; neither should believers go back on their vows. Thankfully Christ, as “the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), is able to preserve this bond of peace when we go astray: He enables us to repent of our sin and obtains a pardon for us.
The peace of Christ is a powerful peace. Jesus said finally to His disciples: “not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Jesus does not promise peace instead of war but peace in the midst of war. Believers are engaged in spiritual conflict which may be severe at times. They are wrestling against the world, the flesh and the devil. Yet just as Christ once said to the wind and waves, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39) so He is able to give calm to our souls in every situation. That is something worth having!
Do you know Christ’s peace in your heart? It belongs to every believer who is walking with the Lord. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa. 26:3). If you have this heavenly peace then may it be a witness to yourself and to others that you are among the Lord’s chosen ones.
Building the Church
Jesus said to His disciples‚ “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). These are encouraging words for the Lord’s people. Knowing that Christ owns and builds the church we may have complete confidence that the project will be successful. But how will Christ build His church?
Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is instructive here. Having told the Corinthians that they, in common with the rest of the church, are “God’s building” (v.9), Paul then goes on to speak of the church’s foundation. He is in no doubt as to what it is: “other foundation can no man lay that that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v.11). This foundation was laid when Christ gave Himself to the cursed death of the cross to atone for His people’s sins. Yet in between these two statements Paul says this: “as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation” (v.10) .
There is a sense therefore in which Paul built the church at Corinth. He built it as a minister. However Paul was very aware of the difference between his work and God’s work in the building of the church: “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:5,6)
It is amazing that the Lord, who has all the power necessary to build His church, should choose to employ frail, sinful men as instruments in this great work. What a privilege for those who are “labourers together with God” (v.9) – and what a responsibility! The obvious question now is, What does Christ require His servants to do that His church may be built? What is the ‘planting’ and ‘watering’ which will lead to an increase?
Paul answers that question earlier in the Epistle. Ministers are to proclaim the good news of the Saviour Jesus Christ. “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel... it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe... we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1:17,21,23,24) Recognising that God alone is able to save men’s souls we must plead with the Lord that He would bless the preaching of the gospel to the hearts of those who hear it.
The Christians in Ephesus heard Christ and were taught by Christ to their eternal benefit (Eph. 4:21). This took place through the preaching of Paul and other ministers. God has given to His servants the ministry of reconciliation. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:20,21). The Bible is the only manual for our preaching and from it we must declare the doctrines which are necessary to be known and believed for salvation.
In a difficult and discouraging day like ours there is a temptation to try other ways of building the church. The result will only be “wood, hay, stubble” (3:12). It is not better methods we need but better men. We need to be less worldly, more prayerful and more like Christ. Then perhaps our preaching will be “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (2:4) and the church will be built up again in our land. May the Lord grant it!
Making our Choice
Even if one wanted to it is hardly possible to ignore the referendum on Scottish independence which is due to take place on September 18th. The campaigning has been going on for months, if not years, and of late the media have been giving the subject plenty of attention. Literature has dropped through letterboxes and homes have been visited. There is no doubt that the referendum has been a major talking point – which is not surprising given the importance of the issue.
For all the words spoken by the politicians and pundits there has been little discussion of the place religion will have in the Scotland of the future. That is surely significant. The sad fact is that our Christian heritage which was once so highly valued is now something of an embarrassment to those who occupy positions of power. As Christians we want to see the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ having a prominent place in our national life but the trend in modern Britain is to remove religion from the public sphere so that it becomes a private matter only.
How should believers view the referendum? We must realise that the referendum is not an election. We are not choosing an individual to represent us for a few years but making a decision about our country’s identity which could have consequences for generations. On this occasion especially we must be guided by scriptural principles.
In the first place the Bible teaches us that Christians should serve the Lord in everything they do (Col. 3:17). For most people all that counts in making decisions is what suits themselves. By contrast believers are to be obedient to God’s will in all things, seeking His glory. We are not to follow the wisdom of this world but to endeavour to have the mind of Christ. We will get this as we humble ourselves and pray, “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me” (Psa. 25:5). We ought to honour the Lord with our vote.
Then the Bible teaches us that Christians should place the Lord’s cause above everything else (Psa. 122:6; 137:6). Many will be tempted to vote one way or the other by promises that they or their fellow men will be better off in this life. Yet Jesus tells His disciples to “take no thought” what they shall eat or drink or wear. He says: “seek ye first the kingdom of God...and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:31-33). The kingdom is “not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). Our main priority must be spiritual, not material.
What is particularly worrying about the proposals for independence is that the constitutional changes they envisage have the potential to open the door even wider than it already is to the harmful influences of Romanism and secularism. As a nation which has covenanted with God the solemn truth is that the more we depart from His ways the more His judgments follow us. “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted” (Isa. 60:12).
Finally the Bible teaches us that Christians should remember that the Lord is in control of everything (Eph. 1:11). Whatever the outcome of the referendum there is comfort for the church of God in the truth of divine providence. We may be confident that His cause will remain and that His people will be eternally safe. Let us make sure that we are among them.
The Gift of God
Have you considered how many good things you receive from God? Do you ‘count your blessings’? Many fail to appreciate just how indebted they are to the Lord but the Bible leaves us in no doubt: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (Jam. 1:17). What does God give us?
We owe our very existence to God. Paul said, “he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). God made the world and He made it fruitful, providing our necessary food. He grants us our health and strength too. These are God’s gifts and we should thank Him for them. How kind He is to us when we do not deserve even the least of all His mercies! Yet is there not much more to life than our bodily needs?
It is not uncommon to find people who have every material comfort but are not content. Deep down they despair of life because it seems to have no ultimate meaning or purpose. It is to this situation that the Bible speaks with such clarity. It has a wonderful message for us all which goes to the very heart of things.
Perhaps you ask yourself at times, What will bring me real joy in the place of sadness? Where may I find true peace of mind and freedom from fear? How can I have a lasting hope for the future? We need to understand that these things are also the gifts of God. They are the gifts of His grace. Listen to these words of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken to His disciples:
“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2,3); “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27); “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11 ) .
How may these priceless gifts be ours? There is only one way. We must receive the greatest gift of all, Jesus Himself, and salvation in Him.
We are all sinners by nature and it is our sins that have separated us from the friendship of God; indeed they are taking us down to hell. But God gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ that sinners might be saved. Jesus died on the cross to pay the debts His people owe to a holy and just God and to reconcile them to Him forever. Jesus is the “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46) for “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Have you turned from your sins and trusted in the Saviour? Does He dwell in your heart by faith? Only then will you enjoy the bountiful blessings of a gracious God. You will know the forgiveness of your sins. You will be a child of God. You will have eternal life.
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Some miss salvation because they never seek it and some miss it because they seek it in the wrong place. Others miss it however because they seek it in the wrong way. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “If thou newest the gift of God” (John 4:10). May that precious gift be yours.
Redeeming the Time
How do you use your time? Do you use it well? Time is the most precious commodity we have and yet so many people waste so much of it, spending their days in frivolous pursuits which bring them no real benefit. Other people devote their time to more important things – to their work, their family, their community or even their religion – and yet at the end of their lives they have gained nothing and lose everything as they leave this world. What is the wisest and best use of our time?
The Bible says that we are to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16). In common with every other aspect of our lives we have ‘sold’ our time to sin and we need to ‘buy’ it back. However we have no currency with which to pay the price a holy and just God demands. We must look instead to the Lord Jesus Christ and His death at Calvary by which He has redeemed poor sinners: we must be born again by the mighty grace of God. While we cannot have our lives over again this spiritual rebirth will mean that our remaining years will be wonderfully different from our former years.
With all our sins forgiven, and with a new heart to love the Lord, we are called to take advantage of every occasion to glorify His name and to do good to our fellow men. A godly zeal will enable us to achieve much even if our time is short. In what ways should we redeem our time?
Time spent in worship is always a good use of our time, whatever the devil may tell us. We should be regular in our private devotions and in attending the public means of grace, remembering that Scripture says, “seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). By the preaching of the Word our faith is strengthened and our souls are sanctified; by prayer we obtain blessing for ourselves and others. Is knowing, enjoying and following the Lord the most important thing in your life? It will be our employment in heaven and so it should be our chief concern here.
Time spent in witnessing is a profitable use of our time too. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30). We are called to confess Christ by godly lives and gracious lips, seeking to gain others to the Saviour. When those we speak to seem to pay no attention we may feel as though our efforts are in vain but we are not to give up: God is glorified in any case and He will bless the truth to some. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (Ecc. 11:6 ).
Time spent in works of charity is never wasted time. It is wasted time if we have no faith in Christ or regard for the glory of God or if our deeds are contrary to Scripture. But if we are right with God and adopted into His family then our gratitude will be evident in works of true kindness done to others, especially those who are of “the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). So Paul encouraged the Galatians: “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).
In a selfish age let us follow the example of our selfless Saviour, “who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Such a use of our time will not be without its reward. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name” (Heb. 6:10).
The Great Mediator
Have you ever been involved in a conflict? In a serious dispute? I am sure that you have. At the time both you and your opponent were convinced that you were in the right. Probably the matter was sorted out eventually, although it is possible that a sense of hurt remains to this day. Sadly there are some disputes which are never properly resolved; the bitterness and hatred grow and reconciliation never comes.
You will be familiar with the role of a mediator – a third party who is brought in to try and sort out a dispute between two other parties. In this way conflicts in the home, the workplace or even between nations may be resolved. Sometimes the mediator succeeds and sometimes not.
Are you aware of the great conflict in which we are all involved? It is the conflict between God in His perfect holiness and man in his utter sinfulness. In this conflict the fault is entirely ours, for God is always just. Yet a Mediator has appeared to settle this dispute – a most glorious and successful Mediator. Paul identifies Him: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ is God and man in two distinct natures yet He is one divine Person. He is the ‘middle one’, the ‘daysman’ or ‘umpire’ desired by Job (Job 9:33) and by everyone who is truly aware of their sin. How is this Mediator suited to us?
As sinners we need an interpreter with God, one who is able to teach us His will. In this great dispute the ignorance is entirely on our part. Sin has blinded our minds to the truth and to the way of salvation. Christ by His Spirit is able to tear away the veil which is upon our heart and to give the Word of God an entrance, so that we are “illuminated” (Heb. 10:32). He graciously gives to His people a saving knowledge of God.
We also need a peacemaker. The most awesome aspect of Christ’s work is that He “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). By His own obedience He has satisfied the offended justice of God and pacified the divine wrath against sin on behalf of His people. He “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). He has freed those who believe on Him from the guilt and power of sin and removed every obstacle in the way of their reconciliation to God. He graciously gives them a new heart and spirit so that they desire peace with God on God’s righteous terms.
We must also have an intercessor. God’s purpose in saving His people is to conform them to “the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Regeneration does not remove sin from our hearts: there remains within us every potential to disobey God. Yet when we sin “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Our encouragement is that Christ never ceases to love His own and that He “ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). His merit is infinite and the benefits He has won for His people will certainly be theirs. As believers we come short of God’s glory but thanks to Jesus Christ our reconciliation with God is maintained. He graciously subdues our wills that we might become more holy and obedient to God, until at last we are glorified together with Him.
Do you enjoy peace with the Most High? Are you at one with Him? Be sure that you have truly repented of your sins and have placed your trust in Christ the great Mediator alone for salvation.
Light in the Darkness
Over what felt like a long period recently (but was only a few short weeks) we experienced some very gloomy conditions. Storms raged and the heavens were black with rain clouds: sometimes it looked like night when it was actually day. Now things have become a little brighter. The days are starting to lengthen and we are able to look forward to the Spring.
We can learn a lot from the natural world if we care to study it. When God opens our spiritual eyes we understand that the universe is His handiwork and we see His imprint upon our own planet in particular. In the different times and seasons which God in His wisdom sends there are lessons for us. We may glean something from the darkness and the light.
In the first book of the Bible we have the account of creation. To begin with there was darkness but when God said “Let there be light” the earth was illuminated (Gen. 1:2,3). Light was necessary if life was going to exist. God provided the sun to be a permanent source of light and eventually He created man in His own image and likeness and placed him in a paradise.
As “God is light” and “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) so the first man Adam was righteous in his character and holy in his walk. Then sin entered his heart and Adam and his posterity descended into spiritual and moral darkness. Fellowship with God was no longer possible for “what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). A reconciliation was needed and wonderfully even there in the garden of Eden a Saviour was revealed who in time would restore the broken friendship (Gen. 3:15).
What began as a glimmer of gospel light became a bright beam when the Son of God entered our flesh and proclaimed, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). When Christ suffered for our sins on the cross there was a physical darkness over the whole earth yet a spiritual light shone above the Saviour’s blessed head in the form of those words which proclaimed, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Luke 23:38).
With our sin-darkened minds we can only know salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit who through the gospel of Christ brings about a new creation patterned after the original one: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). This regeneration is of God’s irresistible grace and neither the darkness of this world, nor our own flesh, nor even the devil himself can overcome it. Therefore every believer in Christ may look forward confidently to the perfect state of heaven where “the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23).
Things may appear dark for the cause of Christ in our land just now. The church is certainly passing through difficult times. Her numerical strength and doctrinal purity are declining. There are changes in her worship and there is a growing worldliness among her members. Christians also face persecution from an increasingly ungodly society.
At the beginning of a new year we should not let such trends dishearten us. The church has a bright and glorious future! If as believers we truly wait upon the Lord then He will surely light our candle and enlighten our darkness (Psa. 18:28). For Christians it is ever true: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5).
Suffer Little Children
The raising of children is of tremendous importance. They will form the society of the future and although we may not appreciate it that society is being shaped now. What it will be like depends largely on the views and values those who will belong to it adopt in their formative years; that in turn depends on the instruction they are given.
There are all sorts of ideas as to how children should be brought up. The truth is that in this matter, as in everything of significance, we are not left to our own devices. The raising of children is one of those “good works” for which the Scriptures have been given to equip us (2 Tim. 3:15,16). If we are wise we will consider what they have to say.
The first question which must be settled is this: To whom do children belong? Parents will of course reply, “They belong to us!” We also find the state increasingly asserting an ownership over the young. In one sense however neither is correct. The Bible says that first and foremost children belong to God. “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (Psa. 127:3). Sons and daughters are precious gifts from God which are loaned to their parents for a season that they may prepare them to serve Him in their adult lives.
Some parents think that their children must be given a free rein and allowed to decide every issue in life for themselves. They train up their children in the way they would go – which is sadly the way of sin. Other parents think that their children must be pushed into whatever walk of life will bring them the most ‘success’. They train up their children in the way they could go – which is sadly the way of the world.
When we turn to the Word of God we find that it says: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). The right way is the one described by Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8). The chief aim of every parent in raising their child ought to be that he or she would be converted and become a faithful believer.
To this end the Bible instructs parents, particularly fathers, to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The minds of the young must be fed and their morals shaped by the Word of God. Parents are to ensure that this is carried out in a consistent manner in home, school and church.
The great need for all boys and girls, just as for adults, is to come to Christ for salvation. Children are sinners too. How encouraging then that Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16)! Parents bring their children to Christ not merely by having them baptised but by instructing them faithfully, chastising them lovingly, praying for them diligently and showing them a godly example. It is a great task and much grace is needed to fulfil it. Yet the Lord gives help to those who seek it.
Parents should follow the example of David with his own sons and daughters: “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psa. 34:11). To do so will bring blessing to the family, to the church and to the nation.
Revive Thy Work!
In recent years the spiritual declension in our land has been gathering pace. Living at such a time as we do it is our duty to pray with God’s servant Habakkuk: “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). But what are we seeking when we ask God to revive His work? What do we expect to happen? It is good to have a zeal for God but we require knowledge also.
Believers rightly lament the falling attendances at public worship, the lack of young people in their congregations and the sheer ungodliness of our present society. Many Christians think that the problem lies in these things. They imagine that a revival will deal with such difficulties and then the church will flourish. Yet they are wrong. It may be humbling for us to acknowledge it but the fact is that we need to look closer to home.
Revival actually begins with the people of God. It is there that the real problem is found and there that it must be sorted out. The Bible must have its proper place again in our lives so that we no longer ignore the truths it contains but do the will of God from the heart. When Scripture has a living authority over our thoughts, words and actions then the current dire situation will be transformed.
Revival must firstly be personal. David prayed, “Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word” (Psa. 119:154). When we are burdened by the sinful world around us and the world of sin within us we realise that only the Spirit of God working the grace of God in our hearts can give us the likeness to Christ that we are meant to have.
Has God kindled a flame of faith, hope and love in your soul by His regenerating power? Then thank Him for it. He will surely preserve it and prosper it. But do not neglect the means which God has given whereby that precious flame may be kept alive. Feed it with the pure oil of the Word of God. If you feel that the fire in your soul is not burning as it should be then pray earnestly to the Lord that He will strengthen you and make you a brighter and better witness for Christ.
Revival must then become ecclesiastical. When the cause of Christ is low faithful saints unite in calling upon God: “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Psa. 85:6). How does the Lord respond? When God revives His cause, “Truth shall spring out of the earth” (v.11). In a time of revival Christ raises up those who take the lead in cleansing His temple: the church recognises her errors and abandons unscriptural beliefs and practices, no longer seeking to justify them.
Revival must finally be national. Habakkuk prayed for Judah when trouble came from the Chaldeans because of Judah’s sins. Our own nation has enjoyed much blessing since the Reformation but we have gone back upon the solemn vows we made to God. The result is that we are now enduring divine chastisement in the form of various difficulties.
All is not lost however. God only chastens those whom He loves (Heb. 12:6). He is calling us to heartfelt repentance – something essential to true revival. The way to God is open through the mediator Jesus Christ. May the Lord “visit this vine” (Psa. 80:14), forgiving us and cleansing us from our sins and making us more fruitful in holiness, to His glory.
The Wonderful Gospel
There are many remarkable things about the universe in which we live. Its existence is a miracle for it came about by divine wisdom and power. Our own planet is fascinating with its beautiful features and its breathtaking variety of living things, great and small.
Man himself is a marvel, being God’s greatest handiwork, and our lives are full of blessings which are granted by our Maker. We have family, friends, work and leisure. These things can become familiar and routine but we should never cease to be amazed at the goodness of God.
There is a greater wonder yet though. Despite all that we enjoy there is something very wrong with this world. Across the globe every day tragic events take place, bringing hardship to millions. Countless evil deeds are done, many of which go unpunished. Everyone of us grows old and frail and eventually we die. In the end our lives seem to lack real purpose and meaning. What has brought about this sad situation?
The truth is that we are a fallen race. Sin has entered our hearts. It began with the first man Adam who represented us in the first paradise. When he ate the forbidden fruit in Eden we sinned in him, sharing his guilt and his sentence: “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Because of our sin we deserve to be punished by a holy God.
Is there a remedy? Yes – in the gospel of Christ! Sadly many have little time for this greatest of all good news. They view the gospel as outdated, irrelevant and even offensive; they would be happy if it was never proclaimed again. Yet to us the gospel is wonderful.
It is wonderful that there is a gospel. The gospel was not made up by men but sent down to us poor sinners by a loving God. We do not deserve it: how could we? We should praise God continually that He did not cast off mankind but showed mercy, choosing a people for Himself. He invites us all to come to Him for forgiveness, friendship and fellowship.
It is also wonderful what the gospel reveals. The gospel makes known salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Christ was foretold in the Old Testament as the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), the child named Immanuel (Isa. 7:14) and the man of sorrows bearing our griefs (Isa. 53:3,4). In the New Testament we see Him incarnate, paying for our sins by shedding His blood at Calvary.
Such is the corruption of our nature that left to ourselves we cannot believe the gospel: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14). If we are to see the way of salvation then God must open the eyes of our understanding. Our need is to pray to the Lord that He would bless the preaching of the gospel each Sabbath.
Above all it is wonderful what the gospel does. The gospel changes men’s hearts and lives – forever. It lifts them out of the dunghill and sets them with princes, to enjoy the “exceeding riches” of God’s grace in His kindness towards His own (Eph. 2:7). Believers are thrilled to think that such a Saviour came into such a world to save such wretches as they are!
Have you seen the Saviour’s glory? Are you looking to Him as the only Mediator? Are you trusting in His redeeming work? If you possess eternal life in Christ then you will agree how wonderful the gospel is.
Contending for the Faith
These are testing times for Christians. The spiritual declension in our land has been so great over the last few generations that by now most people know very little of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see government and the media giving false religions an equal place with the Christian faith, secularists working to completely remove Christianity from our national life and atheists attempting to undermine all belief in God.
Turning to the church we also see a change for the worse. It is not just the falling attendances or the many divisions, regrettable though these things are. They are but the symptoms of something far more serious.
I believe it is true to say that in recent decades there has been a marked decline in reverence for the things of God on the part of professing Christians. We have all been guilty of this to some degree – letting things slip in our lives. At the same time spiritual discernment has waned. The two things are connected of course for we read in the Bible, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psa. 111:10): where there is no real awe of God there will be no obedience to His Word or appreciation of His ways.
The result has been a flood of worldliness and compromise coming into the church. Doctrine has been diluted so that no-one is offended, with salvation made out to be an easy matter resting in our own hands. Worship has become a creature of fashion, more of a man-pleasing entertainment than a solemn adoration of the Most High. Discipline has been all but abandoned and sin is overlooked, forgetting the fact that we all need correction at times to keep us in the narrow way which leads unto life.
What are we to do? These words of Scripture are for us today: “Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). As ever the problem lies within our own hearts: it is there that the drift takes place and there that the recovery must begin. Do we really believe God’s Word? Do we do everything we can to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit? Do we truly love the Lord Jesus Christ? If we attend humbly and prayerfully to these things then we will be sure to have a greater zeal for God’s honour and be more willing to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3).
Standing for truth and righteousness is never easy. The world demands that we accept such immoral things as homosexuality, accusing us of ‘discrimination’ and ‘bigotry’ if we do not, but our conscience tells us that we cannot condone what is sinful and that we must speak up against it. Even more ought this to be the case when these issues are found within the church, as they are in the Church of Scotland at present.
In such situations conflict is not only advisable but essential. It is the duty of all God’s people, not only ministers and elders, to stand up for the faith. How did things go so badly wrong in the church and in the nation? Because believers first tolerated a little error, then accepted gross error until finally they became indifferent to error altogether.
We must be willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads us by His Spirit as He speaks to us through His infallible word. This sometimes means going forth to Him “without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13:13). Yet it is surely better to be among the few that are with Christ than among the many that are without Him. May God give us all the strength we need to be faithful to our Lord and Saviour, whatever the cost.
Our Guilty Secrets
Over the last few months there have been some shocking revelations concerning a number of prominent public figures. Among them are an entertainer who had passed away and a politician and a cleric who are still with us. The conduct of these three involved paedophilia, perverting the course of justice and homosexuality respectively.
These people knew that what they were doing or had done was wrong and they hoped that they would not be found out – but they were. The truth is that if we have guilty secrets then one day we will be found out. And we all have guilty secrets of some sort. There are thoughts, words and deeds which we would prefer others not to know about.
When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit they may have thought that they were alone – that there was no-one else around to see what they were doing. How mistaken they were! And how quickly they were made to realise their mistake! God soon called out to Adam saying, “Where art thou?” (Gen. 3:9). The Lord knew exactly where our first parents were of course and precisely what they had done but He wanted them to know that He knew. He punished them for their sin.
We speak of God as ‘omniscient’. By that we mean that He knows everything: the past, the present and the future; what is seen and what is unseen. The Psalmist brought out this truth when he confessed: “ O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.” (Psa. 139:1,2) There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that is hidden from the gaze of God.
There are those whose consciences are so numbed by repeated sin that they hardly bother to hide their immorality any more. Others try to cover their evil deeds but they will not succeed: whether in time or in eternity every one will be exposed. “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after” (1 Tim. 5:24). Let Moses’ words to Israel be a warning to us: “behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).
There are people who live out their lives here in the fear that something they have tried to hide will become known to others. They cannot imagine how they would ever cope with the shame. But disgrace before men is nothing compared to the “shame and everlasting contempt” which awaits sinners at the judgment day (Dan. 12:2).
What are we to do with our guilty secrets and indeed our sins in general? We must take them all to God now, seeking His forgiveness. The Bible gives us every encouragement to do so. It sets before us a precious Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who took the place of sinners and bore their guilt. By His cross Jesus has made an atonement or ‘covering’ for sin, hiding it from God’s view; when we trust in Him and His saving work God pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight.
So there is good news for us, whatever our guilty secrets. Please remember that. However shameful your past or your present may be there is salvation in Christ. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Ready for Eternity
We do not think nearly enough about eternity. That is a strange thing for we surely all have an interest in the subject. It is an inescapable fact of our existence that one day we will leave this present world and enter the world to come. The solemn truth is that as death leaves us so judgment will find us: as it is with us when we die so it will be with us forever. We must prepare for our dying day.
At death our bodies will return to the earth but our spirits will return to God who gave them (Ecc. 12:7). He will “judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Psa. 96:13). These things ought to sober us and make us consider the state of our souls. As we are sinners by nature and practice the thought of being judged by an infinitely holy and righteous God should make us tremble.
The fact is if we are to enter heaven when we die and not hell as we deserve then we need a righteousness to match God’s own. How is that possible? If we are left to ourselves then of course it is impossible. The sin of so many is that they imagine that somehow they can do enough and be good enough for God. However hard they try they are bound to fail.
What is the answer to our fearful plight? While David said to the Lord, “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness” (Psa. 119:142) Daniel was told how one day the Messiah would “bring in everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24). The good news is that what God demands of sinners He has graciously provided for them through His own dear Son!
The confidence of every true believer is that there is a Saviour who freely bestows His own perfect righteousness upon the guilty. Those who lived before Christ’s coming were looking to Him by faith. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). Paul tells us that Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). Job knew that his redeemer would “stand at the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19:25).
It has always been the same for sinners. There has only ever been one plan of salvation, the covenant of grace; one Saviour, Jesus Christ the Mediator of that covenant; and one way to be saved, through faith in Him and not by our own works. It is for this reason that Scripture speaks of Christ as “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).
To save sinners the Son of God took our nature but remained the same divine Person. He suffered and shed His blood once to pay for sin when He died at Calvary but the benefits of His atoning work have been applied by the Holy Spirit to believing sinners ever since Adam fell. So it will be until the end of time when all God’s elect will have been gathered by the gospel, pardoned and cleansed of every sin and made perfect in Jesus Christ.
When our Lord was on the mount of transfiguration the voice came from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). God the Father does not, will not and indeed cannot find any fault with Christ’s righteousness and so He will never find fault with those to whom that righteousness has been reckoned – not for all eternity!
Time is passing quickly; a new year has begun. If you are still unsaved then may you soon come to know repentance for your sin and faith in Christ and His righteousness. Then you too will be ready for eternity.
The Bread of Life
While we marvel at the things which Jesus did while He was in the world we are also amazed at the things which He said. The two go together of course, being the words and deeds of the only begotten Son of God who came in our nature to save sinners. As no-one ever lived like Christ so no-one ever spoke like Christ. His sayings were with such authority and such simplicity, such wisdom and such grace.
On one occasion Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fishes. The next day, knowing what was in their hearts, He told the people to give more attention to the needs of their souls than their stomachs. He proclaimed: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Let me ask you a question in the light of these precious words. Is there an emptiness in your soul? Is there a hunger in your heart? When we have not eaten for a while we experience a natural hunger and God meets our need with His kind provision, giving us our daily bread. We should thank Him for His faithful supply, which is undeserved by us. Yet as the Bible teaches and as we know within ourselves, there is much more to life than food and drink.
Uniquely of all the creatures which God made you and I have a never-dying soul as well as a body. We are made to know and enjoy God and we simply cannot be content apart from Him. By our sin we have lost that fellowship with God which enriches and fulfils human life. Try as we might to find happiness in this world, all its possessions and pleasures yield nothing of lasting value; we are left with mere husks that can never bring peace and contentment to our souls.
Yet here is One saying to us, “I am the bread of life.” He promises that if we come to Him then our souls will be filled and we will be truly blessed. This is the Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, dying on the cross for sinners to take away their guilt and reconcile them to God and offering Himself to us now in the gospel. In Him God is gracious. Have you embraced Jesus Christ personally in the arms of saving faith? Does your soul feed upon Him daily in the Word of God? This is our most necessary food.
Lazarus was a man who enjoyed the bread of life even though he was a beggar with only the dogs of the street for company. He looked for crumbs each day in order to survive but at the same time he trusted in Christ and his soul was saved. When he died he went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), which is heaven. The rich man dined on plenty each day but neglected his soul. Sadly when he died he went to hell (Luke 16:23). Which example are you following?
Jesus Christ is the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Those who taste of Christ and His grace in the gospel find lasting joy; their prayer is, “evermore give us this bread.” The Lord will not deny them and they will be eternally satisfied in their Saviour. Come to Christ and your heart will never hunger again.
The Good Way
The Bible shows us how during a time of religious declension God spoke to Israel through His faithful servant Jeremiah. He exposed the folly of the backsliding prophets and priests and challenged the people, warning them and then urging them with these words: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16).
This is a message for our own day. The Christian faith has long enjoyed a privileged place in Scotland but now the gospel seems to be an embarrassment to many and a sinful, man-centred pride is evident. Yet the result of this unbelief is that the vital questions which face us all go unanswered: Who made me? What is my purpose in life? What will happen to me when I die?
Scripture teaches us that God has put us here to glorify and enjoy Him but sin has entered our hearts and made a separation between us and God, bringing death. We are pilgrims on the way to eternity. If we are to reach heaven it must be by the good way God has set out in His Word – in the ‘old paths’ of grace and godliness. How can we find this good way?
To find the good way we first need to stop. We must pause and consider which road we are on. Although there are many paths in life there are really only two ways and ultimately only two destinations: the “broad” way that leads to destruction and the “narrow” way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13,14). Which are you on?
To find the good way we then need to look. We must apply our minds to the truth as it revealed to us in the Scriptures. The broad way is the way of rebellion against God and in our natural state we are all travelling it. The narrow way is the way of faith and obedience to God and we will not take it unless there is a great change in our lives through the work of His grace.
To find the good way we also need to pray. To know God’s saving grace we must call upon Him in the name of Jesus Christ. Nowadays we are told that all religions lead to God but the truth is that there is only one way to Him and it is by His Son, the loving Saviour who died at Calvary to put away sin and reconcile the guilty to God.
Having found this good way we finally need to walk. Those who walk in the old paths are promised rest for their souls. The path of grace is a sure one; never has anyone walked in it and not found peace and joy and hope. But the path of godliness must be walked in too, else it is doubtful whether we are actually in the path of grace.
Christ speaks very tenderly to sinners when He says to them: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). That is surely grace. Yet in the next verse He says: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” That is surely godliness. The one leads to the other. It always does.
Jeremiah had to report the defiant response of the people: “We will not walk therein.” Sadly the same stubbornness is found today yet refusing God’s gift of salvation is the greatest sin we can ever commit. Seek then the old paths and the good way; you will never regret it.
It is now sixty years since our Queen began her reign. She acceded to the throne on 7th February 1952 when her father King George VI died. She was crowned Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on June 2nd 1953 in a ceremony full of traditional pomp and splendour.
There was an important spiritual aspect to the coronation. The Queen promised to maintain “the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel” and “the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.” She was presented with a Bible by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and was told: “Here is Wisdom, this is the royal Law; these are the lively oracles of God.”
Whatever views we hold on the monarchy as an institution we may all agree that this Diamond Jubilee is a milestone in our nation’s life. We should be thankful for the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed during the Queen’s long reign and it is perhaps fitting that there was a special holiday on June 5th to mark the occasion. But do we know of a much more significant jubilee – the one which is found in the Bible?
In Scripture the word ‘jubilee’ (or ‘jubile’) refers firstly to a trumpet, perhaps made of ram’s horn, which was blown noisily throughout Israel every fifty years. It announced the beginning of a special year, the year of jubilee. The jubilee was a time of celebration because of blessings which were enjoyed then but not at other times. There were three such blessings, showing us God’s goodness in His providence and grace.
In the jubilee the ground was to lie fallow and recover its strength. “Ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed” (Lev. 25:11). The jubilee followed the ordinary seventh-year sabbath of rest for the land, so there were two barren years. But God gave enough in the sixth year to cover the period without harvest. He is always able to provide. The psalmist could say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psa. 23:1). Do we like David obey God’s precepts and trust in His promises?
In the jubilee debts were cancelled and landed property was returned to its owners. “In all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land” (Lev. 25:24). The poor had an opportunity to begin again. It is a solemn fact that as sinners we owe an incalculable debt to God; we have forfeited our lives by our disobedience. Yet the gospel announces a full pardon and restoration to those who look to God for mercy. “All things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). What a blessing!
In the jubilee slaves of every sort were given their freedom if they wanted it. “He shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee: And then shall he depart from thee” (Lev. 25:40,41). So Christ came “to preach deliverance to the captives” (Luke 4:18), saying to sinners, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). By the Saviour’s death believers are set at liberty.
The wonder of the gospel ‘trumpet’ is that under its sound there is a perpetual jubilee for sinners. Yet our own time in this world is brief and uncertain. So do not delay. Repent and believe the gospel!
A Faithful Mirror
The Word of God may be likened to various objects. In the Bible itself it is compared to a lamp, a fire, a hammer and a sword. Each of these emblems teaches us something precious about the Holy Scriptures.
In the first Chapter of the Epistle of James we have yet another illustration. James compares the Word of God to a familiar household item: a mirror. It is a comparison well worth considering.
It is just possible that there are homes without a mirror. If a person has no mirror then we may be sure that he will be untidy and even dirty in his appearance. It is the same with the Word of God; where there is no Bible people will tend to live lives which are disordered and defiled.
Mirrors are easy to obtain and many homes have several. But are they used as they should be? James says: “For if any man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass” (v.23). Standing before a mirror may become a mere routine. As we wash and dress we glance at ourselves but we hardly take in what we see. We are in a hurry. Other things seem more important.
Many people are like that with the Word of God. They read the Bible or hear the gospel preached but then they let the word slip. The truth makes no lasting impression upon them, especially the great truth that they are sinners and deserving of the wrath of God. They never act upon what they hear. As James also says: “For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was” (v.24). It really is very difficult to remember your features clearly when you have no means of viewing them! Similarly we can only know our true spiritual likeness when we are able to gaze into God’s Word.
How do we make good use of a mirror? By coming to it frequently, noting carefully what we see in it and, being guided by it, dealing with our blemishes. James gives us the spiritual parallel: “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (v.25).
The Word of God is “the perfect law of liberty” because of the holiness of its teaching and the power it has to deliver us from our bondage to sin. When the Scriptures are blessed to us they act in a wonderful way. They become a mirror of our soul, accurately reflecting our character and revealing our true motives. They reprove our sin, convincing us of our corruption within and of our inability to please God by our own efforts. Unlike some mirrors the Scriptures never flatter to deceive.
They are utterly faithful in what they portray. That is doubtless why some people do not want to read the Bible or listen to the gospel!
The Bereans were commended by God because they “searched the scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11); indeed God’s Word should be our study “all the day” (Psa. 119:97). Always pray before you read the Bible: “Lord, send thy Holy Spirit to make me aware of my guilt and to lead me in the way everlasting.” May God in His grace bring us to Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and the only Saviour from sin.
The Light of the World
What a sad world we live in. Tragic events seem to occur all the time. There are earthquakes, famines, floods and other disasters. Many blame God for these things. Yet there are good things too. We have a measure of health and strength; we have peace, prosperity, friendship and family. Strangely God is not thanked for these things.
Have you noticed how easily men misuse the blessings they get from God? We tend to put them to the service of self and sin. This is what Adam did. God placed him in a paradise with everything he needed (Gen. 2:8). Though Adam was God’s servant he enjoyed the friendship of his Maker too as he walked in the light of truth and righteousness. Adam delighted in all God’s works and his own work of keeping the garden was no toil but a labour of love.
Yet before long Adam gave heed to Satan who appeared in the guise of a serpent. He chose the path of rebellion against God and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – even though God had said, “thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). The darkness of sin and unbelief entered Adam’s soul and he lost the knowledge of God with which he had been created. From then on he hid from God and devoted himself to evil purposes. This has been the story of mankind ever since.
The wonderful thing is that God immediately shone a light into this darkness and has done so ever since. Adam learned of the Seed of the woman who by personal suffering would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). What a beautiful picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, dying at Calvary for the sins of His people and destroying “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14)!
Wherever you look in the Bible Christ appears as our light. He is the Star out of Jacob (Num. 24:17), the Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2) and the bright and morning star (Rev. 22:16). He is truly “the light of the world” (John 8:12), a mighty Saviour shining in His saving grace upon sin-darkened lives.
When the gospel is blessed to us it is like a strong light entering a dark room. The dirt and mire are shown up. Things hidden in corners and long-forgotten are revealed. Do your sins trouble you? The sins of your heart as well as the sins of your hand? You must come to the light (John 3:20), repenting of your sins. God will give you “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
When a sinner is converted to Christ there is a great change. Paul sums it up in this way: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). An obligation rests upon every Christian to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9) and this this can only be done by pursuing holiness.
How humbling it is to read the words which Jesus spoke to His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14)! Let us look to the Lord for salvation and seek to be among those who “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:15,16).
Hopes and Fears
Every New Year our thoughts are mixed. We look back over the past year with both sorrow and joy, reflecting upon sad events but also the Lord’s kindness to us. We look forward to the year ahead, thankful for God’s precious promises but mindful too of how frail and fickle we are. We need to pray with Christ’s disciples, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).
For each one of us our earthly lives are a blend of hopes and fears. That is only to be expected in a fallen world. But the situation differs greatly depending upon our relationship to God. We may summarise it by saying that for those who reject the gospel of Christ their fears should be greater than their hopes, whereas for those who have believed to the saving of their souls their hopes ought to be greater than their fears.
The unconverted have every reason to fear now. As sinners their guilt before God is great and they are liable to His avenging wrath. If you are outside of Christ then whatever your hopes for the future this is the solemn reality. That is why the Bible warns us to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7). Before the gospel came to them the Gentile nations dwelt in darkness, “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). If even under the preaching of the Word the Saviour’s dying love and redeeming blood mean nothing to you then how great is your darkness!
The children of God have no reason to fear in the end. They have their enemies in this life but by His cross the Lord Jesus Christ has conquered them all. So Paul was able to write to the Corinthians: “For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23). Victory indeed!
Believer, do you fear the world? You should not. Certainly the world opposes your witness but Jesus says, “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Hoping to share in His triumph you should have the attitude of the Psalmist: “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me” (Psa. 56:11) .
Believer, do you fear your flesh? You are right to do so, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Your old nature will never improve but you are “a new creature” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and hope one day to be like your Lord. In all your striving against sin remember this: “he will subdue our iniquities” (Mic. 7:19).
Believer, do you fear the devil? You are wise to be wary of him for he “walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Do not face him in your own strength but “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). With all God’s people you have this encouraging hope: “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom.16:20).
Believer, do you fear death? Do not fear it unduly. Though “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26) it will be destroyed: indeed it has been already, for Christ by His own death has drawn “the sting of death” which is sin (1 Cor. 15:56). You have the sure and comforting hope of a glorious resurrection to everlasting life.
In the year now begun may we all know a good hope through grace.
Christ is King!
In a day such as ours when there is change all around where should we look for comfort? We will not find it in the world for the world is the source of change; the only thing certain about the world is that it will come to an end. Neither can we find comfort in the church for it too is subject to change. We must look instead to the Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, who is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).
Such is the confusion in the church and in the world today that many are asking, Is Christ really in control? With the spread of false religion, idolatry and immorality of every kind perhaps even some believers are tempted to think that the Lord has let things go. What does the Bible teach?
Wherever we go in the Scriptures we behold a sovereign God. He sovereignly made the world out of nothing by the word of His power (Heb. 11:3). He sovereignly redeemed a people from their sins through the blood of His Son (Col. 1:14). And He sovereignly preserves and governs everything in the creation (Matt. 10:29-31).
Scripture teaches that Christ is King of the world. This is the rule of divine providence. As the only begotten Son of God Christ occupies the throne of heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit. “For God is King of all the earth.... God reigneth over the heathen” (Psa. 47:7,8). This universal and invincible dominion is surely a token that God is able to fulfil all His promises.
According to our physical sight it is only too apparent that many are wilfully disobedient to God’s law. However with the eye of faith we are able to perceive the hand of God at work in history, directing the course of events and taking special care of His church. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Psa. 145:17).
Scripture also teaches that Jesus Christ is King of the church. This is the rule of divine grace. Christ is the living Head of a living people who have been renewed by the Spirit and are joined to Him by faith. There are churches which have rebelled against Christ and been forsaken by Him; there are also those within true churches who know nothing of reconciliation to God. Christ is not in reality their Head.
God the Father has said to God the Son, “rule thou in the midst of thine enemies” (Psa. 110:2). Christ rules His own subjects by His word of grace, which He blesses to their souls by His Spirit. He conquers their hearts and brings them into a willing and loving subjection to Himself. He protects them from their foes, enabling them in time to overcome them all. So we gladly affirm: “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isa. 33:22).
Finally Scripture teaches that Christ is King of the nations. In His providence He causes His gospel to be published in all the world and in His grace He gathers His people out of every land, so that over time His rule is seen everywhere. “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him” (Psa. 72:11). This is God’s sure promise and this is what we pray for and hope for. May the Lord hasten it in His time.
When Illness Comes
There are events in life which show us what weak beings we are. In our heart of hearts we know that we are fading flesh but somehow we are loathe to admit it. We may acknowledge the truth intellectually but we are not willing to live our lives accordingly.
The Bible has much to tell us about man’s mortality and the reason for it. Death is “the wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23) and after it is “the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). In the light of this David was right to pray: “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am” (Psa. 39:4). Likewise Moses: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).
Sometimes the Lord has to bring the reality home to us in His providence for our lasting good. Illness is something that can be a spur to serious thought about our souls and we may learn some important lessons from the occasion when Christ was in the house of Simon Peter, one of the apostles (Luke 4:38,39). Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a great fever and the family pled with Jesus that He would help her.
It is surely appropriate that we pray for the sick and especially for those who are close to us. While we pray earnestly for their recovery we do so in an attitude of submission to God’s will: we praise Him whether He is pleased to grant healing or not, in the spirit of Job who said, “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Christ is the master Physician; He understands our frame and He knows what is best for us.
We can imagine the woman’s condition: a high temperature, a racing pulse and a burning skin. Yet what might have been fatal to her was nothing to Christ. He stood over the woman and rebuked the fever, causing it to depart. At the same time He touched her hand (Matt. 8:15), taking hold of her and lifting her up (Mark 1:31).
This reveals our Lord’s power and His fellow-feeling with us. We may enjoy Christ’s nearness when we are laid aside on a sickbed. Christ works the bodily ills of His people for their spiritual good – a comforting thought when we are brought low. We should therefore pray that God would sanctify to us His dealings with us. And while we may not be able like the Lord to heal the sick we should show them every sympathy.
Immediately the woman was healed from her ailment she rose from her bed and attended to Christ and all who were in the house. She was so thankful to the Lord for what He had done for her and she wanted to show Him her gratitude.
It is important that we ask ourselves this question: Why do I desire good health? For some people it is so that they can continue to indulge themselves in the good things of this life: that is selfish. For others it is so that they can contribute to the life of their family or society: that is better but it still misses the mark.
The right reason for wanting health and strength is that we may “walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psa. 116:9). We are here to seek salvation and to serve Christ in His kingdom. Let us remember that.
Removing the Candlestick
“We now know better than the Bible.” Not the remark, as we might have expected, of some unbelieving scientist or godless politician but of a commissioner to the Church of Scotland General Assembly at its meeting in May. We do not know who the person was – but the Lord certainly does.
The statement was made during a debate on the suitableness for church office of those who are in same-sex relationships. The Assembly voted for an ‘inclusive’ trajectory which allows those in same-sex relationships who were ordained before 2009 to be inducted into pastoral charges and which is likely to lead in two years’ time to the general acceptance of such people for ministerial training, ordination and induction: a wicked decision indeed.
In plain terms the finding gives the green light to practising sodomites to preach the Word of God, administer the sacraments and pastor Christ’s flock within the Church of Scotland. It was a significant departure from the church’s traditional beliefs and from the clear teaching of Scripture.
Consider these Old Testament texts: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination” (Lev. 18:22); “There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel” (Deut. 23:17).
Consider too these New Testament passages: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:26,27); “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9,10) .
Often those who advocate change in the church’s moral outlook make out that the Bible does not have much to say about homosexuality. They obviously have a problem in their approach to the Bible: just how often does God have to say something before we are meant to take note of it?
No church has any business in approving what God has forbidden or blessing what God has cursed. Such action incurs His wrath and invites His judgment. Churches which become liberal in this way, refusing to heed the warnings in God’s Word, die spiritually – however long they may endure organisationally. They are ecclesiastical corpses: their life has gone.
Christ said to the church at Ephesus, which had left her first love: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 2:5). The church gave no heed: her gospel light was extinguished and her apostasy became complete.
The moral confusion which the national church has plunged itself into is not what Christianity stands for. Neither does her action help those who are ensnared in such sin or struggling with temptation. God’s people must say loud and clear that what has been done is wrong and act accordingly. May the Lord help us all to make a stand and to honour His Holy Name.
The Way we Worship
The worship of God is an important subject for Christians. Indeed there is nothing more important for us, for the simple reason that the church exists to worship God. The Lord says of her: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isa. 43:21). Our calling is to glorify God’s great and holy Name and this is to be seen especially in the worship we offer to Him.
To worship God is to declare Him to be the supreme object of our esteem and affection. It is to say from the heart with the Psalmist, “O God, who is like unto thee!” (Psa. 71:19) and, “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” (Psa. 73:25). But how exactly are we to worship God?
This matter divides Christians and even churches. Part of the problem is that as sinners there is self in all that we do: we bring our likes and dislikes to the debate. But personal preference cannot be our guide here. Jesus said: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). What is it to worship God in truth?
Every element used in our worship must have biblical warrant if it is to be acceptable to the Lord. In the Old Testament God says: “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:32). In the New Testament it is the same, as shown by our Lord’s words to the disciples in the Great Commission: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). This is known as the ‘regulative principle’ of worship.
According to the second commandment man-made additions in worship are ‘graven images’ and the seed of idolatry. If there is something they want to include in worship people tend to say, “Surely there is nothing wrong with it?” The question which should really be asked is, “Is there anything right with it?” In other words, does God approve of it? That a person may be sincere in his intentions is not the point.
We can apply this principle to what we sing. We have a command to sing: “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing” (Psa. 100:2). But what are we to sing? The Psalms are clearly appointed for praise: “Let us...make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psa. 95:1,2). Yet two verses tell us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). What does this mean?
In several places in the Bible three terms are used to describe what is essentially one thing (e.g. Exod. 34:7; Deut. 30:12; Acts 2:22) and so it is here. We might also ask, What would “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” have meant to the Christians to whom Paul wrote? They would have recognised these terms as referring to existing compositions, namely the Psalter. In our English Bible, each of Psalms 120-134 is titled “A Song of degrees. Psalms 115-118, sung at the end of the Passover, are called a hymn (Matt. 26:30). Jesus and His apostles sang nothing but psalms.
These psalms, hymns and songs are all “spiritual” or “Spirit-given”. Which hymn-writer could claim that for his compositions? The Psalms, being the inspired Word of God and appointed for singing, are suitable for the praise of God. They are full of doctrine and experience and they are full of Christ. Let us seek grace to sing them to God’s glory and our profit.
A Great Mystery
In our day many of the most valuable things are under attack. The Word of God is denied, the gospel is decried and the Sabbath is desecrated. Marriage is also suffering at the hands of the ungodly. First there was easy divorce which was followed by widespread cohabitation. Then there were civil partnerships. Now it seems that homosexuals must be allowed to ‘marry’ in church. What an awful state of affairs!
Why is marriage so under attack from an unbelieving world? It would be safe to assume that it must be something precious to God and important to His eternal plan. And so it is, as the Bible reveals. It is worthwhile noting a few important things about marriage.
Firstly there is its origin. Marriage is not something devised by man for his own convenience, such that it can be altered by him if it suits him better. God instituted marriage in the garden of Eden before man’s fall. Having made a man He then made a woman and brought her to the man (Gen. 2:22). One man and one woman. That is God’s pattern.
Secondly there is its purpose. Marriage is designed chiefly for three reasons. The obvious one is procreation, or the continuance of our race. God blessed our first parents and said to them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). The marriage union provides a loving and stable environment for the rearing of children.
The main purpose of marriage however is companionship. Before He made a woman the Lord said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). Marriage involves friendship and fellowship and the beauty of the relation is that husband and wife with their differing qualities complement and enrich one another. There is a mutual support and traditionally promises are made to this effect when a wedding takes place. A man is leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife: so close and intimate is the marriage bond that Scripture says they shall be “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Marriage is also meant to provide a holy seed for the church. When a couple marry “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39), sharing faith in God and striving to keeping His Word, they have covenant promises from God which they are able to plead at a throne of grace as they bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). God said to Abraham: “ I will...be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7).
Finally there is its symbolism. Marriage reflects the tie between the Lord Jesus Christ and His dear people. When Paul ends his treatment of marriage in his Epistle to the Ephesians he says: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31). Christ is the heavenly Bridegroom and the church is His bride. She has delightful communion with Him in the means of grace. In all her experiences, whether it be of joy and gladness or sorrow and affliction, she is aware of His love and knows that it will last forever.
No wonder then that the devil wants to destroy marriage! Let us defend this institution which God has appointed for man’s temporal benefit and by which He teaches us a wonderful spiritual truth. And if we are married let us thank the Lord daily for our partners in life.
Our Hope for the Future
As one year ends and another begins it is good to take stock. A man who has a business must do this literally: he needs to know what resources he has left and whether they are sufficient to enable him to continue trading and make a living in the days ahead. If they are not then he may be forced to wind up his business – something which happens frequently when the economy is in recession as it is now.
We find ourselves as a nation going through a period of spiritual recession too. We are all aware of the symptoms: the rejection of our Christian heritage, dwindling congregations, few people being converted and individual believers struggling to maintain their course in an ungodly society. Is there any hope for Christ’s cause in our land? Certainly there is, when we take stock as we should. We find to our encouragement that there are limitless resources available to us.
Firstly we must be clear where our resources do not lie. They are not to be found in ourselves. This is the mistake we are always making. We trust in our gifts and abilities and believe that by our zealous effort we can turn things around. We do this even as we pray that the Lord would come to our aid!
Pride has ever been the enemy of man and of the church. Ezekiel Chapter 16 contains a great lesson. There the Jewish nation and church of the Old Testament is represented by a female child, whose humble origin and growth to adulthood illustrates how the Lord loved Israel, “the fewest of all people” (Deut. 6:7) and brought them up to greatness. He preserved them in Egypt, covenanted with them at Sinai, led them through the wilderness and gave them the land of Canaan. There they enjoyed prosperity and fame among the surrounding heathen nations.
Yet tragically things went wrong. The Jews committed idolatry, turning even the good things God had given them to wrong uses. The Lord threatened judgment upon them for their covenant-breaking but promised mercy to the remnant who would turn from their wickedness.
This is a reminder that the only solution to sin is repentance and a renewing of our covenant with God, whether on the part of individuals, churches or nations. We long to see it in our day. God is able to bring it about, if it please Him, and we pray that He will.
Our real resources are to be found in God alone. Our great hope for the future is God’s everlasting covenant, established with Christ and in Him with all His spiritual seed. This covenant is “ordered in all things and sure” (2 Sam. 23:5), for it is maintained by God Himself. It is all our salvation and should be all our desire. God’s covenant cannot fail, neither can the church which is embraced by it be overcome.
The Lord says to His backsliding church in every age: “I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God” (Ezek. 16:62-63). What grace God shows to His unworthy people, even when they have departed from His ways! Let us truly humble ourselves and pray to God for His help.
It has been said that love makes the world go round. Certainly relationships only work when people have the right attitude to each other. It is just the same in the church, as we discover.
In the Bible we are exhorted to “let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). The church is God’s family (Eph. 3:15) and is described as “the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), being made up of sinners who have trusted in Christ. Believers are adopted by God as His children and are to regard themselves as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Amazingly the Lord Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call us His brethren (Heb. 2:11). What condescension!
A well-ordered family is a delight to behold. Likewise when the church functions as God intended it is a beautiful thing. Ministers, elders, deacons, members and adherents have their respective roles. Some teach and others learn. Some rule and others obey. Some serve and others benefit. But brotherly love binds them all together. It is necessary for the prosperity and well-being of the church.
Brotherly love ought to be fostered by us all. We should “put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14). We should “be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10). Divisions can come into any family, even God’s family. Think of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39,40), or Euodias and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2). We should be willing to forgive those who wrong us, as Peter indicates: “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). We should know nothing of a bitter or vengeful spirit.
Brotherly love is proper among Christians because we share the same origin. We are all born in Zion (Psa. 87:5). There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all (Eph. 4:4-6). Believers are a new and holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9): the various differences which would ordinarily keep us apart have been overcome by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Brotherly love is appropriate among Christians because we have the same occupation. We are all “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1). We study the Scriptures, we pray to the Lord and we praise His Name. We have a common interest in godliness. We are comrades in arms, fighting against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Brotherly love is fitting among Christians because we belong to the same home. We are all heirs of heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). It is a home we have never seen yet it is precious to us and we long to be there. We should be helping each other to make progress to the blissful mansions above.
When we are joined to Christ by faith we are also joined to His people. A saving change is evidenced by a love for the people of God. John says: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20). We glimpse something of Christ formed in other believers and are drawn to them as a consequence.
Brotherly love will be present in the glory above, when other loves have failed. To love our fellow-believers is a preparation for heaven. Oh for a greater love to all the Lord’s people in all our hearts!
The Papal Visit
Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit Britain from 16th-19th of September. Most people, whether politicians, churchmen or members of the public, are either indifferent to the prospect or looking forward to it. Only a few voices have been heard speaking out.
Judging by the general silence most professing Christians do not appear to have any great difficulty with the visit. They see it simply as a religious leader visiting his flock. The Pope will come and the Pope will go and that will be it. But is it right for us to have such an easy view of the matter? What should our attitude to the papal visit be?
We must say at the outset that we do not believe that the Pope is to be regarded as just another leader of just another church. Not for nothing does our Westminster Confession of Faith identify the Pope of Rome as “that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.” The reformers knew what they were talking about. They noted that the Bible warns of a great apostasy to occur in the church, resulting in the rise of a powerful, pseudo-Christian figure who would be a rival to Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 1 John 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:3,4). They realised that the papacy alone matches the description.
Because of its blasphemous claims we too unhesitatingly affirm that the papacy is the Antichrist. This gives us sufficient reason not to welcome the Pope. But there is also the fact that the Pope is being invited to our country by the Prime Minister with the approval of the Queen: it is a formal visit by the head of the Roman Catholic Church to an officially-Protestant country which has once and for all rejected the popish religion.
Our attitude to the papal visit therefore must be to oppose it vigorously. We are thankful that there are some who have raised their voice in protest and plan to mount a Christian witness in various locations during the visit. At the very least the matter ought to have a place in our prayers.
We should pray even now that the papal visit will not take place. As far as we can see this would be the best outcome of all. Why should we assume that what men arrange to happen is bound to happen? Our God is sovereign and He is able to bring to nought the ambitions of those who defy His own cause. He will do so, if it pleases Him, as His people humble themselves before Him and call upon His Name.
We should pray that if the Lord does permit the papal visit to take place then we will take the opportunity to make Christ and his salvation known. 2010 sees the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation when Popery was abolished in Scotland and the stand of John Knox and others provides us with a noble example. We are being given a great opening to remind our countrymen of our precious Christian heritage!
We should pray that if the papal visit does take place then many will learn the difference between true and false religion. While the spectacle of a papal tour with its pomp and ceremony may impress some, it has nothing to offer to man’s empty heart. The gospel of God’s grace in our Lord Jesus Christ may not have outward show but it has mighty, lifechanging power. It is what sinners really need. Let it be preached!
Balancing the Books
As we all know the recent General Election led to the formation of a coalition between two of the three main political parties in the United Kingdom, the first since the Second World War. It remains to be seen how long this agreement will last, particularly when it was entered into more out of convenience than conviction. Such is often the way in politics.
The greatest task facing the new Government is the economy. We have been told repeatedly that our country’s finances are in a parlous state and must be sorted out. The solution will not be easy or painless but if things are not put right then we are headed for disaster.
There is an obvious parallel between our national situation and our individual lives as they are lived out before the face of God. We would do well to consider this.
Firstly we have all contracted a massive debt to God. It is from God that we have our being for “he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). He has been good to every one of us, providing for our needs and showing us kindness and forbearance. In return we owe Him perfect obedience in worship and service. Yet what have we done with our lives?
We have surely dishonoured God in every way. We have broken His laws and perhaps denied His very existence. Even when outwardly we have done what the Lord requires we have not sought His glory but our own. Each of us has a multitude of sins which are all on record and a mountain of guilt which needs to be removed, as the Psalmist was only too aware: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psa. 130:3). Yet we quite unable to pay off our debt!
Secondly we are all running a huge deficit before God. We not only have a bad record but also a bad heart. The carnal or unregenerate mind we inherited from Adam is “enmity against God” and is not subject to His law (Rom. 8:7). This means that each day, in thought, word and deed, we “add sin to sin” (Isa. 30:1). We cannot do otherwise.
Many are hoping that in the long run their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds. They accept that they have done wrong in the past and are resolved to do better in the future. They have now added religion to their lifestyle. Yet we all ‘spend’ more by our sin than we ‘earn’ by our uprightness for there is in reality “none righteous, no, not one” and “none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10,12). We are bankrupt!
Finally we are all facing a fearful destruction from God. What will a holy and righteous God do to sinners? We are not left in any doubt when w e turn to the Bible. There will be “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Rom. 2:8,9). We shall be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9), suffering eternally in hell because of our sins.
Praise God, there is a way to balance the books! It is not by our own doing but through the sinner’s glorious Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. By His obedience in life and death He has provided a full salvation for all who repent of their sins and believe on His name. In Christ our spiritual debt is cancelled, our deficit made up and our destruction averted. All by His grace! Be sure that you do not ignore this the only remedy for sin.
In Time of Trouble
The people of God, although saved from their sins, are not immune from difficulties as they live out their lives here below. The Psalmist spoke of troublous times and he had his share of them. Christ told His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33), and they certainly did. At the same time however the Lord assured His chosen ones of His peace and encouraged them to consider the victory which He was to accomplish at Calvary.
Christians today are in the same situation. Some believers stumble because their experience does not match their expectation. They are confident in God as their Father, in Christ as their Saviour and in the Spirit as their Comforter: accordingly they hope for an easy path to glory – but find that their way is far from smooth. We have seasons when we ascend mount Pisgah and get a sight of the promised land – but we also have seasons when we descend into the valley of Baca and our eyes are filled with tears. Scripture must be our guide from here to heaven.
As Christians we may encounter situations which try our belief in the goodness of God. Providences such as poverty, sickness and bereavement can do that. When such things come upon us we are tempted to murmur and to complain against the Lord on account of His dealings, imagining that we could arrange things so much better!
Whatever bitter things are in our cup they do not match what was endured by Job. When he suffered a sore loss he still worshipped God, recognising His sovereignty over all things: “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He was wonderfully submissive to the Most High, saying: “shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2:10). Job is an outstanding example of the sufficiency of divine grace.
We may also find ourselves facing conflict as Christians. In the “last days” we are promised “perilous times” (2 Tim. 3:1). Satan must have his “little season” before he meets his end (Rev. 20:3,10) and we are seeing something of it now. Spiritual deception is rampant. As people are increasingly ignorant of the Bible and our national history the Church of Rome is reasserting herself, persuading many that she represents true Christianity. Our duty is to make a stand in an evil day and not to leave our ground; we are to lift up a banner for the sake of the truth (Psa. 60:4). When we do so we may expect opposition, even persecution.
Perhaps you wonder as a believer, How long will my present trial last? If only I knew the outcome of it things would be so much easier to bear! But when Daniel asked the same he was told, “Go thy way, Daniel” (Dan. 12:9). He was to be obedient to God, devote himself to His service, trust in His covenant faithfulness – and be patient.
God is training up His children for their eternal inheritance. In our difficulties we pour out our hearts to Him and we enjoy His help; God does not spare us from trouble but promises to deliver us out of it when we cry to Him. And we may say that all the warfare and all the waiting of the believer is worth it: one moment spent in the nearer presence of our King will more than compensate for all the troubles we had in this life. May the Lord enable you to be strong for Him and for His cause.
Various surveys tell us that Christianity is in decline in our nation. It seems that just about everywhere congregations are dwindling and church buildings are closing. The masses have lost their interest in the Bible and the gospel is an embarrassment to our government. When did you last hear a politician speak with boldness of his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?
Yet despite all this people have not given up worship. They are merely directing their devotion elsewhere – to their idols. It may appear extraordinary but it is even possible to attend church regularly and yet be guilty of idolatry. Such things may come as a shock to some. Let us therefore explain carefully what we mean.
When men cease to believe in the true God they do not then believe in nothing; rather they they believe in anything. They bow down before the false gods of their own choice. Man has done this since the fall, with images “made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). Men have “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (v.25).
In our modern age, when we are too sophisticated or have too much of a conscience to prostrate ourselves before idols of wood, stone or metal, we make idols more suited to ourselves. They turn out to be as many and as varied as we are. What are they?
Idols are not confined to those objects which men fashion with their hands and look upon with their eyes: we also create idols in our minds. We may idolise a fellow human being, a branch of learning or entertainment, or even an emotion or sensation. Today’s idols include sportsmen and film stars, science and music, drink and drugs. Time, attention and money are being lavished on these things.
In fact an idol is anything which has an improper place in our hearts and lives, taking the position that God demands and deserves. It may even be something as lawful and good as our work or family. God says, “Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod. 34:14).
In a way idolatry confirms Christian teaching about man. Our soul being made in the divine image we are restless and discontent without God. We find that we must worship something. Blinded by his sin man dwells in spiritual darkness, hiding from the knowledge of God which has been given to him and also perverting it. How we need the Scriptures to lead us to an understanding of God and His saving grace! Truly they are “a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19).
In conversion God ‘shines’ in our hearts to give “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Jesus is truly “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), for He is God in our flesh. We should bow the knee to Christ alone, worshipping Him and seeking salvation through His great mercy. Let us be wise and “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14)!
Another year has arrived and in the Lord’s goodness we have been spared to see its beginning. What this year will contain is known only to God. It is a solemn thought that there may be those who read these pages who will not see the end of 2010; it could be any of us.
Doubtless you have made certain plans for the weeks and months ahead, as we are all bound to. Sadly we have the tendency to do this in our own strength. In our pride we purpose to do many things and to accomplish our ambitions – but in our folly we do not take God into our reckoning!
The Bible addresses this sinful attitude. To those who say, “To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain,” it says: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.” We ought to say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (Jam. 4:13-15). It is simply a fact that our times are in God’s hand and what happens in our lives is subject to His providence.
As you look forward what are your great hopes for this new year? There may be some who have little hope. Their lives are full of trouble of one sort or another. Work is a drudge. Sickness is a worry. Family life is fraught. Time for relaxation is rarely found. If they have a hope it is that a better society might be created one day. In a year when a general election is due they may pin their hopes upon politicians. They do not consider that the problem that must first be dealt with is found within ourselves.
Most of us have rather better circumstances. We find our work fulfilling. We have a measure of health and strength. We enjoy the company of those who love us. We have abundant opportunities for leisure. Yet despite these good things, none of which we deserve, many are not content, especially in a time of recession. In a year when the economy is expected to recover their hope is that they will have an even greater abundance of possessions. They live in neglect of God, giving no thought to death and eternity.
There are those whose confidence is in their religion, whatever it might be. It carries them through the bad times and makes them thankful in the good times. Strangely what people believe does not seem to matter so much as that they believe: our religion may be anything so long as it gives us some peace and hope. In a year when a papal visit is expected the hope of many is that such a powerful figure will help put the world to rights.
If we think for a moment we will easily see the folly of these attitudes: ignoring the state of our own hearts, making light of our latter end and trusting in any sort of religion we please. Should we not be seeking to know the truth about ourselves, our futures and our God?
Scripture teaches us that it is sin that has brought sadness, frustration and confusion into our world. Our rebellion against God has robbed us of satisfaction of soul, a sense of purpose and true hope. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Saviour for the guilty and hell-deserving. He lay down His righteous life at Calvary to bear away the sins of many. Those who do not know Him are lost, “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). But those who have trusted in Him, repenting of their sins, have “everlasting consolation and good hope through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16). They have every reason to look forward. May you be among them!
God’s Saving Power
We all tend to take pride in our abilities. Indeed man has accomplished some remarkable things through the centuries. But where do we get our abilities from? Do they not all come from God? And what do we have in comparison with Him? Think of God’s great power. We see it in creation, for “He hath made the earth by his power” (Jer. 10:12); God made everything out of nothing. We see it also in providence, for “He ruleth by his power for ever” (Psa. 66:7); God reigns over the affairs of men and nations. Truly He is the Almighty.
The greatest display of God’s power is to be seen in redemption. Think back to the Old Testament and the time of Israel’s captivity in Egypt. When plagues struck the Egyptians in judgment this was “the finger of God” at work (Exod. 8:19) but when the Israelites were finally brought out of the house of bondage it was by God’s “hand” (Exod. 15:6). In the salvation of the church God actually makes bare His holy “arm” (Isa. 52:10). What is involved in this greatest of all His works?
Firstly there is Christ, who is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). As the eternal Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ has divine power yet becoming man as the Mediator He was obedient unto death, being “crucified through weakness” (2 Cor. 13:4). However in this way He satisfied divine justice for His people and made an end of sin, destroying the devil’s power. As a result Christ has “abolished death” for believers (2 Tim. 1:10). Our Saviour lives “after the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16) and He has eternal life to give to the guilty and hell-deserving. Our need is to be joined to Christ!
Secondly there is the gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel is literally the “dynamite” of God: however it is not a destructive power but a constructive one. Through the preaching of God’s word we hear Christ’s voice. We come to know this precious Redeemer who mends broken hearts and rebuilds shattered lives. Jesus repairs the damage done by sin and restores men to God, never to fall again. Salvation is to be had by turning to the God who is rich in mercy. By the gospel our minds are enlightened in the knowledge of the truth and our wills are renewed, so that we freely choose Christ as our Lord and Saviour. He welcomes all. “God is mighty, and despiseth not any” (Job 36:5).
Thirdly there is grace, which is “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:19). This is what makes the gospel powerful. We have no ability at all to save ourselves but by grace we who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) are born again and enabled to repent and believe the gospel. United to the Saviour we enjoy a risen and ascended life, with glory to come! Our affections are set on things above and we look for the return of Christ in power and glory.
Do you know the power of God in the salvation of your soul? Have you passed from death to life spiritually? If you have then you will be worshipping and serving the Lord with gladness. If you have not then remember that this is the one thing that you cannot do without.
The Fight of Faith
The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). He was passing on his wisdom as a man of God who had fought a good fight himself over many years and was now finishing his course (2 Tim. 4:7). As a young gospel minister Timothy needed sound counsel, labouring as he did against much opposition.
Paul’s words also have application to the people of God in general. The fight of which he speaks is one in which all believers are involved by virtue of being called to eternal life. We have an interest in this fight, if we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and have enlisted in His service. Our passage from this world to the next is not an easy one: there are enemies we must face and obstacles we must encounter before we reach our home in heaven. We cannot afford to sit back or take our ease here. What is there to encourage us in the conflict?
We may say firstly that the cause of Christ is the best cause of all. The fight of faith is a good fight in a way which no other fight is. The Lord approves it, for He has made this known in His Word. The Scriptures reveal God’s eternal purpose to glorify Himself by sending His only begotten Son to save helpless sinners. By suffering the wrath of God in their place, even unto death, Jesus has reconciled the guilty to God. We enjoy salvation by faith in this precious Redeemer and we endeavour to persuade others to turn from their sins and trust in Him too.
Christ’s cause is unique in that it has eternal consequences. There are other ‘good causes’ in this world but their objects are temporal. They aim at relieving hunger, disease, poverty and so on. However nothing is more important than the welfare of men’s souls. We need to remember this in the current climate. People are saying that biblical religion is at best an irrelevance and at worst a hindrance. They label Christians as troublemakers and extreme. Yet to promote the gospel is to do the greatest good for a bad world. Never let the devil persuade you otherwise.
Secondly we may say that if we are for the cause of Christ then Christ will be for us. All Christians are soldiers, clad with spiritual armour and bearing weapons which are mighty through God. All are to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Some Christians are at the front of the battle, preaching and teaching the Word of God. Others serve elsewhere in the ranks, praying and witnessing for the Lord. Wherever the Lord sees a sincere faith and a godly life He will be present in power and will grant His help in time of trouble. “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty” (Zeph. 3:17).
Thirdly we may say that the cause of Christ will prevail in the end. At times things appear to go against it. Isaiah once lamented: “judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter” (Isa. 59:14). But the Lord saw the situation – and He still does. We need Hezekiah’s confidence: “with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (2 Chron. 32:8).
Our own church is faced with a testing situation. We may be tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness and to be fearful of the future but it is our duty and privilege to trust in the Lord like the Psalmist: “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me” (Psa. 57:2).