The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘assurance

Assurance

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Having recently preached on the topic of assurance, I found this article from the Jollyblogger interesting. He concludes:

So, what do you think? Have I just completely misunderstood Edwards? Am I making excuses for myself? Or is there in truth, as I suspect, a better means of assurance and a better way of spirituality than we have been offered in the religious affections – the way of objectivity as embodied in the teachings of Luther and Calvin, as opposed to the subjectivity embodied in Edwardean religious affections?

For those wrestling – personally or pastorally – with issues of assurance, I think this article raises some excellent questions. As I see it, there is an objective foundation for assurance, and there are some objective indications for the existence of saving faith, but many of those objective indications have a subjective element, in the sense that they are part of our experience. To swerve toward the objective alone, stripped entirely of the subjective, leaves us with a religion that could consist only in mental assent rather than genuine faith; but to abandon the objective in order to rest on the subjective can leave us subject to every whim of soul, every assault of Satan, every tremor of feeling, every trouble of body.

The Jollyblogger is not suggesting that Edwards made the latter error, but I think some of those who follow Edwards might have gone further in that direction than he would have done.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 May 2012 at 07:57

Back from Zambia

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Many thanks to those who prayed. I had a great time in Zambia.

Flying out Wednesday evening, I arrived early Thursday morning and then flew north to Ndola where Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of the Grace Reformed Baptist Church collected me. By the end of the day – having spent some time at one of the compound churches, Mapalo Reformed Baptist Church, here Pastor Marshall labours with a heart for his needy people – I had arrived at the Kaniki Bible College, a couple of miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (and therefore supplied with a helpful bevy of armed police officers), for the National Annual Reformed Baptist Youth Conference 2012 on the topic of Assurance of Salvation.

It was a slightly tricky start as schools had only just finished, and consequently people were still arriving on Thursday evening when Matthews Fikati, a local pastor, kicked things off with a sermon on 1 John 5.13. Matthews was energetic and direct, very much in earnest. A slight concern as I heard him was that I was also beginning my series with a sermon on 1Jn 5.13. However, as Matthews preached it became clear that he was setting out to accomplish something different while still setting the tone, and in doing so laid a foundation for all that would follow.

My ministry began on Friday morning. Each day began with a prayer meeting at 6am followed by a ‘rise and shine’ exercise session to get the blood flowing at 6.30am. The main days had two morning sessions (followed by discussion groups) and one evening session, and I closed with a single sermon on Monday morning. I therefore preached six sermons on the topic of assurance, beginning with 1Jn 5.13, on the fact that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable and possible. I went on to look at false foundations for assurance, before defining four key marks of true assurance of salvation: accepting God’s divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin; devotion to the glory of God; increasing, persevering holiness; and, love for the saints. The Sunday services were attended by the sponsoring churches, keeping their Lord’s day in company with the conference attendees. I finished the series on Monday morning with a brief send-off address from 2Tim 1:12, identifying the substance of true assurance of salvation.

In the three evening meetings I was preaching three evangelistic services, taking a variety of topics: I considered the putting away of sin by Christ’s sacrifice from Heb 9.26, the questions that we must ask concerning the judgement to come from Is 10.3, and the conference between mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, which was conducted at Calvary from Ps 85.10.

During the afternoons there were three sessions: one on making and choosing friends, one of making Scriptures our daily companion, and one on young people and pornography (at least as much a problem in Zambia as here in the UK). These were taken by local pastors or conference leaders, and were more interactive sessions, with lots of solid, practical advice.

All told, it was an excellent conference. Toward the end it became apparent that the Lord was blessing the ministry, as some of the group leaders reported that there were a good number attending who had come under conviction of sin and were seeking – and some professing to find – the Lord Christ, and a similar blessing on several troubled and doubting saints, whose minds were made clear and whose hearts were made warm. In the kindness of God, the whole ministry sometimes fitted together in ways beyond human planning. For example, one report came concerning a young woman for whom the sermon revealing inconclusive grounds of assurance had made plain that she never was a child of God, and who therefore sought Christ as presented in all his saving fullness.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out here that these were the same kind of sermons (some of them the very same sermons, or at least the same in substance) I preach here in the UK, preached with no discernible difference in intent, tone, spirit and expectation by the preacher, and yet the sermons at which people shrug and shuffle here seemed to produce more rapid and discernible effects there. I hasten to add that the friends organising the conference are not inclined to judge too quickly, and would be the last to offer ‘numbers,’ as it were, but are competent and careful assessors of such things. For a preached accustomed to seeing little apparent effect from his ministry, such an experience is deeply humbling and a cause for great rejoicing and renewed prayer that the sovereign Lord who is willing to bless in one place would be pleased to bless in another.

Also instructive was the arrangement and constitution of the conference. Some of the attendees were very young, others well into their twenties. The conference is organised and managed by an older group of responsible young men and women who pretty much run everything during the conference itself. The conference draws from a wide number of churches, and some of those attending are just recently off the streets, have never heard the gospel before, or have other particular needs, while some come from mature Christian homes and churches. Whereas I can imagine some trying to exclude the former for the sake of the latter (or just to make life easier), here the organisers embraced all the workload associated with such a ministry (I think the preaching might have been the easy bit!), working tirelessly to marshal the attendees, to keep things moving at a reasonable pace, to entertain and feed the hordes, coping with everything from sickness to theft with a boldness and tenderness that was genuinely commendable. Oh, for a few of these to serve in our churches! I was grateful to be serving with such gracious and determined and hard-working hosts. One young couple, the Tholes, were even appointed as my guardians for the conference, and a greater care I could not have received as I navigated through all my duties.

We parted with many expressions of mutual affection, and I headed back south for Lusaka by road, graciously chauffeured by none other than Conrad Mbewe, who – with his wife, Felistas – had also been in the area preaching at a conference for another church. I had a delightful four hours or so with Conrad and Felistas, exchanging news of mutual acquaintances, and – for me – an opportunity to pick their brains about a variety of issues of interest.

Monday evening saw me arrive safely at the home of James & Megan Williamson (LION of Zambia), serving in Zambia and sent out by the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. It was through James that I first came to Zambia, when I taught last year at the Copperbelt Ministerial College. That night was punctuated by the rather unfortunate children of the Williamson clan who – with one exception – all fell victim to an attack of vomiting between the hours of 10pm and 8am the following morning. Quarantined for my own safety in a nearby lodge, I spent some of my time reading and writing while the Williamson succumbed, cleaned, and recovered in some kind of sequence. Mercifully, James and I were spared, and spent some time running errands and meeting friends. It was very useful to see the kind of challenges and opportunities that James & Megan have.

While James oversees various efforts, including a newer ministerial college in Lusaka itself, Megan has particular responsibility for the Hope for the Afflicted orphan ministry, and I spent three hours on Wednesday morning touring Kabanana, the compound where most of the sponsored children are found. Some of the needs are grievous. Two scenes stick out: the room barely six feet square which is the entire living space (including cooking, eating, sleeping – everything) for a family of five, and the skeletal father of the mother of some of the children, who sat weakly on the floor in a fly-infested room eating fly-ridden food, occasionally hanging on to a chair as he was wracked by coughing. I walked out thinking that perhaps I had come across my first ever case of tuberculosis.

A few hours in such a place does wonders for one’s sense of priority and thankfulness for material blessings, without forgetting that the crying need is for the gospel to be taken. A few handfuls of healthy food look like a feast when you have seen a pack of kids scavenging on a rubbish dump. The orphan ministry is taking on more children.

Another observation: just because we do not have such abject poverty on our doorsteps does not mean that we do not have the poor with us. I remember that, after reporting on my previous visit, and issuing a challenge as to our response to need in our own area, someone retorted that the people near us are not really poor, are they? Such an attitude is the very one that cuts the nerve of merciful endeavour. There are homes of squalor, misery, loneliness, crime and abuse all around this and many towns in the UK, and the gospel, prompting and ministered with loving care to the whole man, is just as much the need here as there, and might bear just as much fruit.

Wednesday afternoon ended with my collection by Pastor Kasango Kayombo of Ibex Hill. Kasango had been one of the students at the Copperbelt Ministerial College when I was in Zambia before, and is now pastor of a church meeting at Old MacDonald’s Farm, the home of Don & Christine MacDonald who have made it their business to rescue some of the needy boys from the streets of Lusaka and give them homes and care for them, teach them and train them and preach the gospel to them. Several of the members and a few other friends had gathered and I preached at the midweek meeting, accompanied by some beautiful singing, on John 11, finding at least as many lessons for myself as for others as we took our faith to the school of Lazarus’ tomb.

Heading home, I had a surprise visit from Pastor Kabwe, who was himself in Lusaka for a day or two, just as I was packing, and then I headed to the airport at 6.15am the next morning, waved goodbye to James, who returned to his full house and full hands, and stepped into a plane which kindly deposited me about 10 hours and 5000 swift miles later in London, where I was shortly reunited with my family.

I had been reading a gift from my wife in my spare moments, Henry Morton Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone, and could not help but marvel with gratitude at the ease, speed, safety and comfort with which I accomplished my journey to the heart of Africa, compared with his. With barely a bite and few discernible health issues, I arrived home with a heart full of thankfulness to God, with the hopes of further trips to serve my Zambian brothers and sisters, and with prayers not just for continued fruit there, but for a grant of God’s Spirit and evidence of blessing in the work that we have to do here.

Thank you for your prayers. Do continue to seek God’s blessing on the work that has been, is being and will be done.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 April 2012 at 15:36

The pastor’s burden

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John Angell James’ wrote The Christian Professor to describe the true profession of faith with its peculiar qualities and particular challenges. In a chapter on “The Dangers of Self-Deception,” he is speaking not only of how easy it is to be self-deceived, but of how dangerous it is to the one who is so deceived, and the difficulty of the one so deceived realising his self-deception. Therefore he speaks, almost as an aside, of the pastor’s role in this regard, of helping men to know their own hearts and their state before God:

. . . some ministers feel it to be the greatest perplexity of all their pastoral avocations, to give answers to people, who come to advise with them on the subject of making a profession. If from suspicion that their hearts are not yet right with God they dissuade them, they may be discouraging those whom they ought to receive and encourage — sending away a babe that ought to be laid in the bosom of the church — breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking flax. While on the other hand, if they encourage the inquirer to come forward, they may be strengthening the delusion of a self-deceived soul, and become accessory to the ruin of an immortal spirit. Some conscientious men have found and felt this to be the very burden of their lives, and from which there is no way of gaining relief or ease—but by laying down the marks of true conversion, begging the questioner to bring forward his heart to this test, stating what is implied in a Christian profession, and making him, as has been already said, responsible for the judgment of his own case, and all its consequences too.

There is little that so burdens a pastor as the need to be a right and true counsellor at this point.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 9 August 2011 at 08:00

Newton to Ryland: a humble confession

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Here is a further snippet from Wise Counsel (Banner of Truth, 2010, p380-381: do buy it).  This is one of Newton’s last letters to his long-time friend.  His eyes failing but his faith growing, Newton writes with humble honesty about his failings and his faith in Jesus Christ. We may not be able to speak of crowded and attentive congregations, but who can deny the continued blackness of a heart struggling against sin, and the comfort of a Christ who will by no means cast out those who come to him?

I am still favoured with a crowded, attentive, affectionate and peaceful auditory and we are not without tokens of the Lord’s gracious presence in the midst of us. And though I am a poor creature still, though my best is defective and defiled, and my imagination, which I call my thorn in the flesh, is sadly wild and ungovernable, though I live upon daily and hourly forgiveness, yet perhaps it was never better with me upon the whole, than at present. My trials are few. My temporal mercies are many; I hope my sense of them is heightened by contrast, when I look around me, or when I look back to my state of wickedness and misery in Africa, which has seldom been two hours together out of my waking thoughts, since I last left that dreary coast in the year 54. Indeed, I need not look so far back as Africa, for alas! the proofs I have had of the depravity and deceitfulness of my heart, have been much stronger since I knew the Lord, than before! How often have I sinned against light and love, and a sense of multiplied obligations! I have been remarkably a child of Providence, but my experiences have not been so much diversified. I have not suffered much from the fiery darts, and black temptations of Satan. On the other hand, I have no raptures or high consolations to speak of. I never was for an hour like the apostle at a loss to know whether I was in or out of the body. The sin of my nature cleaves close to me as my skin, and infects all I say or do. But it is given to me to believe that the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin, and that when He said, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’, he meant as He spoke, and will make his word good. Upon this rock I build. Other refuge have I none. If He was strict to mark what is amiss, He might justly cast me off now in my old age, and forsake me, when my strength faileth; be He has said, ‘In no wise.’ Thus Noah when in the ark had the comfort of knowing that he was safe, but I suppose he did not derive much comfort from the circumstances of his voyage.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 25 June 2010 at 10:52

Wider reading

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Under the pseudonym John Ploughman, Charles Spurgeon published earthy articles in his magazine, The Sword & Trowel, which were later collected into two volumes, John Ploughman’s Talk and John Ploughman’s Pictures.  These two volumes are themselves now collected to form Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom: Or, Plain Advice for Plain People (Banner of Truth, 2009).  They were intended to be humorous (but not light), simple, colourful and blunt.  Read today, the stance may seem a little condescending and the humour lacking subtlety, but the points are still made very effectively.  Spurgeon takes broad swipes at all manner of vice, and stands up without apology for virtue.  It is practical religion, with the emphasis on practical, although the Christian underpinnings of the proposed morality float readily and naturally to the surface.  There seems to be something distinctively Victorian about the relentless nature of his genius, and it can be a little overwhelming at times (paragraph after paragraph of the same point made using waves of different illustrations and analogies) but it is also the reason for its effectiveness.  As a study in how to communicate truth to a chosen audience, it is brilliant.  Spurgeon seeks to enter the world of those to whom he is writing – adopting the appropriate frame of reference, vocabulary, tone, humour – and use it as a means to do good men’s souls and bodies.  It should be read, then, in two minds: with one, we ought to take the plain advice; with the other, we should learn how to give it.  In both regards, Spurgeon serves us well.

Not a new book, this, but a reset volume: John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 2009).  This work has been available for a long time, but the previous edition had somewhat poor paper quality and binding which was quite quickly chewed up (I replaced mine at least once).  For those who do not know it, it is divided into two parts.  For some, the second part is the easier introduction, being a little more popular in style, and consisting of ten short chapters taking readers through the ordo salutis (order of salvation, the sequence of events in God’s saving sinners).  The first part – on the necessity, nature, perfection and extent of the atonement – is not more or less profound but is denser and perhaps a little less accessible to those not accustomed to Murray’s style.  The author never wastes a word: there is no flab in his writing, which makes it brief and clear and crisp (a tonic for the mind) but also means that concentration and acuity are required for reading.  Some will appreciate this, others will find it more difficult.  For all willing and able to penetrate to the substance, this volume will prove a rich treat, a draught of pure, cold water when there is so much brackish fluid swilling around.  Murray reaches the heart by way of the mind: here we see that the truth makes us free indeed, free not least to honour and adore the God of our so great salvation.  This ought to be required reading for all who desire to know the how and why of God’s gracious dealings with sinners, and this newly reset edition will make it all the more accessible and attractive.  If you already have it, consider investing afresh in this clear and readable edition.  If you do not have it, you have no choice: go and get one.

Fire from Heaven: Times of Extraordinary Revival (Evangelical Press, 2009) by Paul E. G. Cook is a curious combination of topical and historical material, in which instruction and application is interwoven with and arises from historical detail.  Mr Cook focuses on the period 1791-1840 and the unusual works of God that occurred in England during this time.  Assuming much of the vocabulary of revival, he contends that revival does not differ from the essence of normal religious experience, but in its degree, both intensively and extensively (he insists that revival is a Christian experience, but does tend to focus on its impact outside the church).  Mr Cook rightly emphasises a ‘supernaturalistic’ view of salvation, bemoaning the impact of Finneyism, and calling saints not to seek revivals, but to seek God himself.  The historical material is enlightening and moving, carefully researched and clearly laid out.  The didactic material is earnest, even passionate, but some readers would doubtless wish to nuance or disagree with Mr Cook.  What none will deny is the vibrant and vigorous godliness, tinged with a sense of eternity, which clearly characterises the subjects of this stimulating book, and which ought to stir up a sense of holy desire for more of the same in every true saint.

Kevin DeYoung gives us a title that I suspect no one else ever will: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Or, How to Make A Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (Moody Publishers, 2009).  This is a straightforward, popular treatment concerning the knowledge of God’s will for our lives.  DeYoung attempts to make plain what we can know and how we can know it, and what we can’t know and how to get on with life anyway.  He exposes some of the nonsense (however well-meaning) identified in his elaborate sub-sub-title, and urges God’s children to get on with doing the known will of their heavenly Father, not looking for guidance where God has never given it, but using sanctified common-sense to work hard and plan well and trust fully.  Some will feel that he is not quite ‘spiritual’ or mystical enough, while others will fear that he has left open a door for continuing revelation (he has, incidentally, after a fashion).  Probably a book to read yourself before you put it into the hands of others, to ensure that it meets the particular needs in question, but a helpful, short, straightforward, straight-talking volume.

James Fraser of Brea was born in the north of Scotland in 1639 and converted shortly before his twentieth birthday, though not without much agony of soul.  From his longer autobiographical memoir is extracted this Pocket Puritan volume, Am I A Christian? (Banner of Truth, 2009).  Here he identifies twenty “objective grounds” for doubting whether he is genuinely converted, with his Scripture-soaked answers to each.  Those who suffer similar trials and wrestle with similar doubts and fears may find here either specific answers to their own particular questions, or at least a sound method to follow in examining their own standing.  There is some sweet balm here for wounded souls, for Fraser pulls no punches in dealing with the stark realities both of sin and of grace.  (Fraser’s use of the word ‘conversion’ is interesting, and also treated here, and there is a brief biographical note.)

I recommend unstintingly Psalm 119 For Life: Living Today in the Light of the Word by Hywel R. Jones (Evangelical Press, 2010).  Having its genesis in a series of expository studies in the Chapel of Westminster Seminary (California), our author walks us through each stanza of Psalm 119.  Each chapter is brief, with a veiled but evident deep understanding of the text supporting the clear and pointed explanation and application.  Dr Jones brings out the full-orbed relationship of a saved man and his saving Lord, not least in the matter of faith and obedience.  Excellent as a daily devotional, a pattern for Bible study, or just as a refresher for the soul, this is a volume of rich poetry and rich piety.  Take it up and read it.

The One True God (3rd edition, revised and expanded, Granted Ministries Press, 2009) is a spiral-bound but solid workbook by Paul David Washer intended to bring readers face-to-face with the God of the Bible: the student effectively undertakes his own exegesis.  The questions demand Scriptural answers, the concern being to hear what God says about himself.  At the same time – and it is plain from the very structure of this work – there is an evident appreciation of the stream of historic Biblical Christianity, within which this volume stands.  Fourteen lessons deal with specific attributes of the Godhead, asking questions, giving space for answers, and providing a brief summary.  More technical vocabulary is explained where necessary.  The section on the names of God is a little gem.  Perhaps best for group study under a competent guide, this also function well as an individual workbook, and well serves the intended aim of promoting an encounter with God through his Word.

One of many Calvin biographies that was produced in the quincentennial year, Bruce Gordon’s Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009) is an outstanding contribution to the field.  Thoroughly-researched and broad of scope, situating Calvin in the theological, cultural and political currents of his time, this stands very well alongside older and other more current biographies.  It is a modern treatment in the sense that hero-worship is very far from the agenda.  Indeed, one sometimes gets the sense that – so keen is our author to avoid hagiography – there is something that borders on relish when the feet of clay are uncovered.  Determined to be fair and frank, Dr Gordon provides a corrective to more defensive biographies but sometimes falls short in the empathy/sympathy department.  There is more evident interest in the man than in his God.  Again, this may be because, to write what certainly deserves to be one of the academic standards, one is obliged to bow to the standards of the academy.  Still, Calvin the man and the minister are here before us, warts and all.  We see Calvin as he saw himself and as others saw him, and should be left delighted in and grateful for the enduring kingdom which Christ himself rules.

Toplady on assurance

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It has long been a settled point with me, that the Scriptures make a wide distinction between faith, the assurance of faith and the full assurance of faith.

1. Faith is the hand by which we embrace or touch, or reach toward, the garment of Christ’s righteousness, for our own justification.-Such a soul is undoubtedly safe.

2. Assurance I consider as the ring which God puts, upon faith’s finger.-Such a soul is not only safe, but also comfortable and happy.

Nevertheless, as a finger may exist without wearing a ring, so faith may be real without the superadded gift of assurance. We must either admit this, or set down the late excellent Mr. Hervey (among a multitude of others) for an unbeliever. No man, perhaps, ever contended more earnestly for the doctrine of assurance than he, and yet I find him expressly declaring as follows: “What I wrote, concerning a firm faith in God’s most precious promises, and a humble trust that we are the objects of his tender love, is what I desire to feel, rather than what I actually experience.” The truth is, as another good man expresses it, “A weak hand may tie the marriage knot; and a feeble faith may lay bold on a strong Christ.”

Read the whole thing at Heavenly Worldliness.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 April 2010 at 08:29

“When earthly passions wax and wane”

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Pentecost  L.M.

When earthly passions wax and wane,
When earthly pleasures rise and fall,
To God above I still can call,
To where my hope and love remain.

When in the stormy seas of life
I stand beset on every side,
I – naked, cold, and stripped of pride –
Come to my God who calms my strife.

When winds of doctrine toss me round
And understanding’s eye is dim,
In humble prayer I fly to him,
To him in whom my hopes abound.

When in confusion I despair,
When human hopes and plans have failed,
In Christ’s bright glory, even veiled,
I find my joy and solace there.

When things against me all conspire,
I know that I need have no fear,
For in such times my God is near,
He will refine me in his fire.

So praise the Lord, rest in his hand,
The fear, the pain, the hurt shall pass,
And he shall guide you safe at last,
For in all things your good is planned.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 December 2009 at 20:30

Posted in Hymns & psalms

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Gardiner Spring on “Christian Character” available again

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Gardiner SpringGardiner Spring’s classic work on The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character is one of the most careful and discerning short works on the marks of true Christianity.  Clearly standing in the tradition of Edwards’ Religious Affections and Alexander’s Thoughts on Religious Experience it remains an outstanding treatment of those things which in and of themselves are no sure indications of having passed from death to life, and those things which invariably mark, in some degree, a true child of God.

Solid Ground Christian Books have recently republished this title.  It has apparently been edited and updated.  To be frank, that does not always improve some of these classics, and it is to be hoped that – in this instance – the editor has done less harm and more good.  As long as all is intact, this would prove an excellent addition to the library of pastors who do not have their own copy, and a very useful means of men and women examining their own souls to know whether or not they have a true hope of heaven.

For more of Spring, including a brief review of elements of this book, see this post on “What is a true Christian?

(By the way, Spring is one of those authors of whom – with my limited knowledge – I would presently say, “If he wrote it, you will not suffer by reading it.”)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 November 2009 at 20:31

Reasons why some will not come to Christ

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Gary Brady, on one of his myriad blogs, outlines a sermon by Benjamin Beddome suggesting at least eight sinful reasons why some will not come to Christ.

  1. Some men will say they have no need to come to Christ.
  2. Others imagine they are already come to Christ; and the act being performed, they have no need to repeat it.
  3. Some previous engagement is another excuse which sinners make for not coming to Christ.
  4. Some say they have tried but cannot come to Christ.
  5. Others who are deeply bowed down in spirit, do not so much plead their inability, as their unfitness and unworthiness.
  6. Some stumble at the austerities of religion, and the dangers to which it will expose them.
  7. It is the fear of some that if they do come to Christ, they shall either be rejected, or dishonour him.
  8. Many who do not come to Christ now, purpose to do so hereafter.

Gary fills out the headings with Beddome’s good, sound, Scriptural sense.  Read it all.

Learn more of Beddome in this excellent book from Banner.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 7 September 2009 at 09:06

Posted in Good news

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The touchstone of sincerity

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John FlavelMy father put me on to this.  It is taken from John Flavel writing on “The Touchstone of Sincerity: or, The Signs of Grace, and Symptoms of Hypocrisy,” in The Works of John Flavel (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968) 5:599.

Flavel says that sincerity lies at the heart of true religion.  However, it is easy for sensitive Christians to torture themselves unnecessarily.  They imagine that they are far worse than they actually are and therefore fail to recognise the grace and sincerity that God has actually worked in them.  Sin remains in the best of the saints.  Every Christian struggles with particular sins; we tend to be slow and dull in fulfilling our Christian duties; fears and doubts perplex us at times; and, hypocrisy and sinful motives still plague us.  John Flavel suggests that many of our problems about discerning whether we are genuine or not would be resolved if we sat down and in a calm spirit gave an honest answer to each of the following six questions.

  1. Do I seek the approval of God as I live out my life, as I pray, as I worship, as I do good works?  Or do I seek principally the approval and applause of men?  Think of Paul whose aim was ‘not as pleasing men, but God’ (1Thes 2.4; Col 3.23).
  2. What restrains me from committing sin?  Is it the fact that my sinning would bring shame and reproach on me now and place my soul in danger and bring me distress in the future?  Or is it because I fear God and therefore hate sin because it is against him?  Think of Joseph (Gen 39.9) and compare with Psalm 19.12-13 or 119.113.
  3. Do I rejoice to see God’s work advancing in the world and his glory promoted by other men and women?  Or do I have reservations and regrets because I have no share in the credit and honour of it?  Again, think of Paul (Phil 1.18).
  4. Although some Christian duties are hard to carry out and require much self-denial, do I nevertheless desire to fulfil those duties?  In my heart do I sincerely desire to do all the will of God, even though I am unable to follow that pattern perfectly?  David was a man whose heart was set on doing all God’s will (Ps 119.4-6).
  5. Am I an ‘all-weathers’ Christian?  Am I sincerely determined to pursue Christ and holiness even if I face opposition and adversity?  Or do I conduct myself in such a way that I am overly-concerned to protect myself and play safe?  Is there a secret reserve in my heart that holds me back from hazarding all for Christ?  This is contrary to the practice of the saints (e.g. Ps 106.3; 44.17-19; Rev. 22.11).
  6. What is my attitude to secret sins and secret duties?  Do I make no conscience of committing secret sins and neglecting secret duties?  Or am I conscientious in following the rules and patterns of integrity laid out in God’s word?  (See Ps 19.12 again and also Mt 6.5-6).

Flavel concludes: “A few such questions solemnly propounded to our hearts, in a calm and serious hour, would sound them, and discover much of their sincerity towards the Lord.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 28 August 2009 at 23:08

Becoming and being a Christian

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2009 at 15:30

What is a true Christian?

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[I have recently been addressing the subject, “What is a true Christian?”  as part of a series on becoming and being a Christian, intended to help those who are asking the question, “Am I a new creation in Christ?” answer it from a Biblical perspective.]

The apostle John wrote his gospel so that we might know that Jesus is the Christ, believe, and be saved (Jn 20.31).  He wrote his first letter so that believers might “know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1Jn 5.13).

There are many things which the world – and many religious people in the world – assumes are certain marks of true Christianity.  These fool many into imagining that they are true believers when they are not.  Even many Christians build their assurance on these things, and find that they fail them when they need them, because they form no sure foundation.  These are inconclusive indications.

Gardiner Spring’s excellent The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character or here [or, for Logos users, here] suggests seven things that are not, in themselves, conclusive marks that a professed work of grace is true or false.

Visible morality. Upright character is no sure indication of love to God.  A fair appearance does not necessarily indicate true heart righteousness (1Sam 16.7).

Head knowledge (mere speculative knowledge or intellectual perception) as opposed to spiritual understanding of the truth (Rom 1.21; 2.17-20; Jas 2.19; 1Cor 2.14).

A form of religion.  Many have the appearance of religion without the reality, the form without the power (2Tim 3.5; Mt 25.1-12; Is 58.2-3).  The Pharisees are the prime example of such people: a great reputation for religion, but a heart far from God.

Eminent gifts.  Some have great natural abilities (and, perhaps, verbal dexterity – the gift of the gab – is something that is often taken to indicate a heart for God), which they employ even in religious contexts (again, the gift of ready speech is one that people often mistake as a sign of true godliness).  Balaam and Saul both enjoyed eloquent prophetic experiences without entering the kingdom (Mt 7.22-23).  Bunyan became “a great talker in religion” before he became a true believer, and several of his characters in Pilgrim’s Progress demonstrate the same problem.

Conviction for sin.  We must be careful here.  Conviction for sin is necessary for salvation but not necessarily joined with salvation (note also that many Christians feel conviction for sin far more acutely after they are saved than before, and that some who are brought up in godly homes and converted young may have relatively little clear and distinct sense of sin).  Awareness of and a sense of guilt concerning sin do not mean that a man is saved or will be saved (Jude 14-15).  Ask King Saul, King Ahab, or Judas.

Strong assurance.  There is a difference between believing you are saved and believing in Christ and therefore being saved.  It is possible for someone entirely persuaded that they are right with God to be wrongly persuaded (Mt 3.7-9).

Notable time or manner of one’s professed conversion.  Even unusual and distinctive experiences do not demonstrate that one’s profession of faith is genuine.  There are some who live and die trusting in the memory of a moment – perhaps some warm and fuzzy feeling, or raising a hand or walking an aisle or responding to a call – without ever having known true spiritual life.

There is almost nothing more dangerous than to imagine oneself saved and yet to remain unsaved.  There is nothing more blessed than to know oneself a Christian grounded on a solid foundation, as the Spirit witnesses in the heart and to the work he is accomplishing in those whom he indwells.  To recognise these inconclusive indications for what they are liberates the true believer from the tyranny of mere subjectivism, and strips away the flawed and rotten supports on which we – and others – too often build our hopes.

What, then, are the Scriptural indicators that a genuine work of grace has taken place in the heart of a sinner?  When John writes his letter, he does so in carefully-planned circles.  Like an aircraft circling the same territory, John notes the same heart-terrain repeatedly.  At least four indispensable indications of true Christianity become plain as we circle through John’s letter.

The first is a humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin (1Jn 1.7 – 2.2; 2.12-14; 3.5, 6, 23; 4.2, 9-10, 13-16; 5.1, 5, 10-13, 20).  A Christian man has an accurate view of himself as a sinning sinner.  He acknowledges the just judgments of a holy God (Ps 51.4; Lk 15.18; 18.13).  This Spirit-wrought conviction of sin leads to genuine repentance as his heart breaks over godlessness, he becomes crossrevolted by his sin and turns from it and forsakes it because it offends the Lord God (Jl 2.12-13).  With repentance is joined faith in Jesus as presented in the gospel in his might and majesty, his meekness and mercy.  Faith receives Jesus, looks to Jesus, comes to Jesus, flees to Jesus, leans upon Jesus, trusts in Jesus, holds to Jesus, and rests upon Jesus.  Let us remember that this is the essential point and gives birth to all that follows: the dying thief never had an opportunity to manifest the other three marks of saving faith (though he would have done had he lived), but still the Lord assured him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23.43).  Whoever trusts in Jesus, though he believes one moment and dies the next, has his life hid with Christ in God.

The second is a humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory (1Jn 1.3-5; 2.12-15; 3.1-2; 4.12-13, 19; 5.1-2).  A radical reversal of priority has occurred: the idol Self is toppled and God reigns in the heart.  A change has occurred: a heart that by nature is enmity with God (Rom 8.7) has been replaced by one that loves God entirely (Lk 10.37).  The man who lived for self now lives for God, offering himself as a living sacrifice (Rom 12.1-2).  Gratitude for grace received and delight in God himself issues in joyful service of the shining-sunLord of glory.  This is a man convinced of God’s excellent glory, for its own sake: he would, if called upon, serve without reward for he recognises God’s worthiness to be served: Romans 11.36 seems entirely pleasing and proper to him, for God in Christ is now at the pinnacle of his thinking and feeling and doing.  The testimony of such a man’s heart is “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73.25-26).  He believes it, knows it, pursues it, and repents afresh because he does not know and feel and prove it more.  He is concerned for God’s name and God’s people and therefore his time, energies, graces, gifts, faculties and efforts are consecrated to God, whether in the apparently spectacular or the genuinely mundane (1Cor 10.31).  His chief end and great delight is to glorify God and to enjoy him now and forever.  God in Christ is all in all to him, and he longs to know and feel and prove it more.

The third is a principled pursuit of godliness with an increasing attainment in holiness (1Jn 2.3-8, 15-16, 19, 29; 3.3, 6, 10, 24; 4.13; 5.2-5, 21).  The hypocrite likes the reputation of holiness, but the true child of God is satisfied only with the substance.  He considers his ways, and turns his feet back to God’s testimonies (Ps 119.59).  The world no longer sparkles as it did – or, at least, his attraction to it and affection for it have been fundamentally altered – and now he lives for God, called to be holy as God himself is holy (1Pt 1.16).  The daily-breadbonds to sin have been broken, and the persistent habit of unmortified sinning has been shattered because of his union with Christ. The new root brings forth new fruit (Mt 7.20; 12.33-35).  His obedience – though not yet perfect – is universal (throughout the whole man), habitual, voluntary and persevering.  He has taken up his cross, and continues to do so daily, as a disciple of a crucified Christ (Mt 16.24-25).  He pursues Christlikeness – it is the burden of his private and public prayers.  He increasingly manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23); he has no love for the world (Jas 4.4); the previous pattern of conformity to, company with and compromise for the sake of the world is over (2Tim 3.4; 1Cor 16.33).  This is not sinless perfection, but laborious progress.  It does not mean that a Christian faces no battles but rather than he fights great battles, opposed as he now is to a raging and committed enemy of malice and power (Rom 7.13-25).  Sometimes he wanders; sometimes he is on the back foot; sometimes, grievously, he backslides.  However, the tone and tenor of his life is one of advance.  The trajectory of his life over time is upward.  The points plotted on his spiritual graph are not a seamless upward curve, and there are painful plateaus, but the line of best fit indicates persevering progress over time as sin dies and godliness is cultivated.

A fourth mark that John identifies is affection for and attachment to God’s redeemed people (1Jn 2.9-11; 3.10-18, 23; 4.7-11; 4.20 – 5.2).  This is more than natural affection (just liking them), mercenary attachment (what you can get out if it), party spirit (a gang mentality), or mere presence (just turning up at the right place at the right time).  The true Christian loves God’s people because they are God’s people, even though they are unlovely in themselves.  In that sense, he needs no other reason, and yet he has several.  He loves them because of what they are to God, loved by him and saved by Jesus, and it is therefore Godlike to love them.  He loves them because of what they are in themselves, marked out increasingly by the image of God, by likeness to the Jesus whom he loves.  He loves them because of what they are to him, members together with him of the one body of which Jesus is the saving and sovereign head (1Cor 12.12-14, 26-27).  He loves not in word only: it is manifest in his thoughts and deeds (Eph 4.1-6, 12-16, 25-32).  He is a true churchman: he does not simply “do church” but views and responds to the saints individually and gathered together with affection, commitment, service and investment.  He is not a spectator but a servant, concerned not just to get out but to put in.

These four marks will invariably be present in a true child of God.  They will not be perfect until glory, but they will be present now.

We cannot afford to be fooled, imagining ourselves saved when we are not.  This is a most desperately dangerous condition to be in, and a devastating conclusion to daw.

We do not need to be confused, either always doubting or building on a wrong foundation.  We can know whether or not we are saved.

John writes so that we can be sure, knowing ourselves saved and enjoying eternal life.

If these marks are not in your heart and life, then you are not a Christian, whatever you claim or imagine, and you should not fool yourself nor dishonour Christ by claiming his name without walking in his ways.  You blaspheme Jesus and expose him to scorn by taking the label of a true believer but living apart from his gracious power and saving wisdom.  The hypocrite gives men a reason to scorn and deride true religion by pretending to what he does not have.  We see this written on a large scale when those professing to be a true church depart from the truth, teach their own concoctions, live without godliness, and give occasion for men to blaspheme.  “Call that Christianity!”  No!  No, it is not Christianity – it is an empty masquerade that gives opportunity for sinners to deride or despair of Jesus, which leaves your hands with the blood of men upon them, and which will ultimately damn you if you are not saved from it.  It is better to know yourself outside than falsely to imagine yourself inside: you must therefore flee to Jesus, and acknowledge your need, repent of your sin, and trust in the Saviour.

But if these things are present in you and true of you then you are a Christian, and you should not dishonour Christ by denying the source of grace in you.  Some doubting and fearful saints are terrified that they will lay claim to God’s grace in Christ without having it, and so walk in shadow if not in darkness, robbed of joy and neither being blessed nor blessing others as they might.  But consider: these things simply do not grow in the soil of the unregenerate heart, and to possess them without a Christian testimony is to know the privileges of the kingdom without wearing its livery.  It might give the impression to some that the fruits of grace can grow in natural soil, and imply that unconverted men can attain to true godliness and genuinely Christian morality, and so prompt a despising of the work of God’s Spirit.  Others might be profoundly discouraged, imagining that a man can show marks of true holiness but not really be saved, and so wonder if they can ever truly testify, “I am his, and he is mine.”  Friend, if you have these things in you, then honour the God who put them there by owning yourself saved of God, and live accordingly.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139.23-24).  If you need Jesus, go to him now and you will be saved.  If you have Jesus – if he has you – then hold fast, love him, serve him, and rejoice in him, for you are a child of God, and he will keep you to the end, perfecting that which he has begun in you.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 23 April 2009 at 10:56

Trusting in Christ – past, present, future

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Yesterday morning I completed the current segment of our studies in the Christian family by wrapping up some issues of training our children with regard to their social and cultural development.  Beginning with Luke 7.36-50 we noted that our Lord criticizes Simon (a comparative criticism, contrasting him with “the woman of ill repute”) for being rude – he was a poor host, running contrary to God’s will, and so sinned.  The lack of social grace is an indicator of a much more substantial absence of grace.  While we recognise a difference between Scriptural absolutes and cultural standards (the holy kiss will not get you very far in the typical British congregation), there is an application of the absolutes taking into account the culture in which we live.

We therefore looked at some of the issues that social and cultural development must address, both in terms of our relationships to other people and our ability to contribute to the society and culture in which God puts us.  It was a very cursory glance, but an attempt to at least sketch out some of the issues.

I closed by urging parents not to miss the mark: we do not aim at our own reputation as ‘good parents’ with ‘good children’; not social acceptability by eradicating the worst excesses and expressions of sin; not good citizenship in terms of civic responsibility and awareness and contribution; not even good churchmanship, as if we should teach behaviours that get children under the radar of even thoughtful churches; but genuine conversion.  This is about Jesus, about pointing our children – even by means of these things – to the Saviour of sinners and model for righteousness.

In the morning service, we continued to look at the marks of a true Christian.  Having exposed some inconclusive indications of a genuine work of grace last Lord’s day, I dealt with the first two indispensable indicators of a genuine conversion – those things which, according to the apostle John, must be present for a man to know himself saved, even if they are not perfect.

The first is a humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin.  A Christian man has an accurate view of himself as a sinning sinner.  He acknowledges God’s just judgments; Spirit-wrought conviction leads to genuine repentance; with repentance is joined faith in Jesus as presented in the gospel.

The second is a humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory.  A radical reversal of priority has occurred: the idol Self is toppled and God reigns in the heart.  Gratitude for grace received and delight in God himself issues in joyful service of the Lord of glory.  The testimony of such a man’s heart is “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73.25-26).  He believes it, knows it, pursues it, and repents afresh because he does not know and feel and prove it more.

Two more will follow, God willing.

In the evening, I sought to use our celebration of the Lord’s supper to point forward to Christ’s return, in accordance with Christ’s command and promise.  From 1 Peter 1.13 we considered Hoping in Christ’s revelation.

What should a Christian be expecting? Grace, as the complement and completion of grace already received: the crowning glories of God’s undeserved and unmerited goodness – the incorruptible inheritance received, perfected salvation enjoyed, total vindication granted, and incomparable glory bestowed.

When shall we receive it? Grace is not a distinct commodity, but is bound up in Jesus, and this grace is being brought to us at Christ Jesus’ revelation.  Our expectation is connected with the coming of Christ in glory.  All the grace we anticipate is in and with him, and our blessings are entirely tied up in the person of Jesus.

What should be out attitude? A settled and vigorous frame of spirit that rests entirely in God’s promised grace in the risen, reigning, returning Christ the Lord.  The command to rest our hope fully in this grace being brought to us at Christ’s unveiling is a call to a fixed perspective, a complete dependence, a certain assurance, a joyful expectation, a constant encouragement, and should issue in a childlike obedience.  Christ is coming, and we should live in the light of it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 April 2009 at 09:25

A tale of two Sundays

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A bit of catching up . . .

I have begun a series on Becoming and being a Christian.  I started it a couple of weeks ago with a sermon on Isaiah 45.22 on Looking to Jesus.

Afterwards we looked at 2 Corinthians 5.17, on being A new creation in Christ.  In dealing with that we looked at what Paul says about our position: “If anyone is in Christ.”  Many are without Christ, which makes every other good and privilege to be ultimately dust and ashes in our mouths.  There are those who are with Christ, and they are enjoying the blessings of being in the very presence of the risen Jesus.  But no one will be with Christ without being first in Christ – united to him by a saving connection, enjoying new life in him.

Then there is the matter of our condition: “new creation.”  This speaks of a radical, thorough, divinely-worked reality, in which the Almighty works not with nothing but against everything in us to change our antagonism and give us a new heart.  Men try to rehabilitate, but only God can regenerate.  We must be a new creation before we can live as one: we cannot earn new creation by trying to live like Christians.  Salvation comes first.

Finally, Paul offers an explanation: “the old has gone and is gone for good; look! the new has come and keeps on coming.”  The old nature has been dethroned and Christ reigns.  A transformation has taken place – the Christian has new light, understanding, will, desire, purpose and destiny.  There is a note of wonder as the persecutor-turned-preacher marvels at God’s grace in Jesus Christ in saving sinners from the darkness and bringing them into his marvellous light.

Last Sunday, we came on to the subject of A true Christian.  How can I know if I am a new creation in Christ?  Am I a true child of God?  The apostle John wrote his gospel so that we might know that Jesus is the Christ, believe, and be saved (Jn 20.31).  He wrote his first letter so that believers might “know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1Jn 5.13).  I had intended to show the things that the world and many religious people assume are certain marks of true Christianity, but which fool many and which will fail those who rely on them when trials come, things which are no sure mark of a genuine conversion, before moving on to the positive indications of genuine saving faith.

However, the sermon took off in the first moments, and I spent the hour dealing with seven things (developed from headings in Gardiner Spring’s excellent The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character or here [or, for Logos users, here] – sorry, not too many hard copies around!).  Visible morality, head knowledge, the form of religion, eminent gifts, conviction for sin, strong assurance, and a memorable or notable experience of alleged conversion, individually or in combination, do not indicate the genuine nature of a professed work of grace.  Unbelievers who assume they are saved on this basis are being fooled; believers who build their assurance on this flawed foundation will find it fails when they need it.  I got no further, closing by urging sinners to acknowledge their need and flee to Jesus, and calling upon the people of God to hold fast to the finished work of Christ, the promises of God, and the reality of the Spirit’s renovating work.  I hope to go on to the four positive indications of genuine saving grace, as spelled out by the apostle John, next Lord’s day.

Over the last few lessons of our adult Sunday School we have been working from Luke 2.52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  We have used this as a framework to consider the parents’ responsibility to train their children with regard to intellectual, physical, spiritual and social or cultural development.  We hope to finish off this section next week before the Easter break, picking up afterwards with the training and admonition (required primarily of fathers as heads of households) commanded in Ephesians 6.4.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 31 March 2009 at 13:47

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Samuel Pearce and John Ryland Jr.

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Michael Haykin directs us to a new blog devoted to the writings of John Ryland Jr. and gives us a tasty morsel from the seraphic Pearce, the young preacher so highly esteemed by Ryland, Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliff, William Carey, et al.  Pearce, when dying, wrote to Fuller and asked, “How can I be a Christian, and not submit to God?”  This is the spirit we need to be faithful and fruitful in our day.

On the Ryland site is a sermon on the indwelling of the Spirit from Romans 8.9.  You can catch something of the flavour of Ryland’s ministry from the following section, in which, having distinguished between “the flesh” and “the Spirit”, he begins to delve into what it means to be indwelt by the Spirit, and how we can know whether or not he truly dwells in our hearts:

The best evidences that we have the Spirit of Christ, which I can mention, are such as follow:

A spiritual and endearing discovery of Christ to the soul. producing an abiding sense of his excellence and glory, so that the way of salvation by him appears divinely excellent and worthy of all acceptation.

A spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of the divine testimony concerning Christ and the gospel. John vi. 69. 1 John i. 1-3.

A union of heart with the Redeemer, acquiescing in the glorious ends of his mediation; entering into his views of the controversy between God and man, resting satisfied with his decision; glad that God is justified, his law magnified, justice secured, and grace delightfully displayed.

An habitual regard to Christ in our daily walk with God; not only acknowledging our need of his mediation at our first return to God, but from day to day looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life; loving to draw nigh unto God by him, through the assistance of the Spirit of grace.

A true conformity of temper and disposition to our blessed Lord, and to the genuine tendency of his gospel. How Iovely was the whole of his temper and conduct! How impossible it is, we should discern its beauty, and not be concerned to imbibe and imitate it.

A spirit of love, ardent zeal, genuine philanthropy, activity for God, and resignation to God, meekness, gentleness, self-denial, and love to enemies. He could not, indeed, set us an example of repentance. But his gospel tends to inspire and increase it, all through life, and to promote tenderness of conscience.

It is a strong evidence that we have the Spirit of Christ, when we have a proportionate regard to the different branches of evangelical religion, both towards God and man: having respect to all his commandments, and not being partial in his law. Christ’s was an obedient spirit.

The continual tendency of all discoveries from the Holy Spirit will be to strengthen us in holy practice and to excite an irreconcilable hatred of all sin, and an insatiable thirst after perfect conformity to the Saviour.

If we have the Spirit of Christ, we shall love his cause, delight in his image, seek the welfare of his people, long to promote his kingdom, and rejoice to see others called. We shall set our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. We shall live here as strangers and pilgrims, who seek a better country, that is, an heavenly one.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 October 2008 at 10:18

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