Saturday, 11 July 2015


Aids to introduce the psalms sung in worship.

John Brown of Haddington, 18th century Scottish theologian.

This psalm was, perhaps, composed on the occasion of his son Absalom's death, 2 Sam. 18; or on the occasion of the death of Goliath the champion and duellist of Gath, 1 Sam. 17. We have in it,

(1.) David's hearty thanksgivings to God, for his pleading of his cause against his and his country's enemies, and for giving him a complete victory over them, ver. 1-6, and his excitement of others to join with him therein, ver. 11-12.
(2). His triumph in God as the righteous judge of the world, protector of his people, and the destroyer of his implacable enemies, ver. 7-10, 15-18.
(3.) His requests for further grounds of praising God as his own deliverer, and the confounder of his enemies, ver. 13-14, 19-20.

While I sing these subjects, let me chiefly consider the blessings of redemption, the victories of my Redeemer over sin, death, and hell; and believe that I, through him, shall be more than a conqueror. Let the ruin of transgressors effectually admonish me to stand in awe of God, and at the furthest distance from sin.

John Cumming, 19th century Scottish Presbyterian.

David lifts up this expressive anthem of praise to God, 1, and blesses him for the aids which he had experienced in wrestling with natural and with spiritual enemies.
In verses 5 to 10, he declares that all his fellow members of the body of Christ shall obtain similar support and deliverance.
In verses 11, 12, he calls upon the nations of believers to unite with him in praising the Lord.
In verses 13, 14, he implores for himself the pity and the interposition of his heavenly Father. In the remaining part of the Psalm he triumphs in the prospect of the establishment of the kingdom of Christ on the ruins of all his enemies, and adds his prayer to this effect.

Let us sing this Psalm, rejoicing in the general overtures of deliverance made in Jesus, and praying that we ourselves may be personally delivered from the guilt and the power of sin.

William Romaine, 18th century evangelical Anglican

This psalm treats of the wonderful work of God in delivering Christ from all his enemies, and from death especially. A right understanding of this deliverance, and faith in it, will lead us to praise God for it at all times : Because he will give us reason to sing of our own deliverance through him from all our sins and foes and miseries : And this will keep our hearts in tune to praise the Lord,

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Demise of Biblical Preaching

Who would deny that the following words are applicable to our age and to much of professed evangelicalism.  They are in fact from a sermon preached at the ordination of Professor Dwight, in New Haven, 1861, when Dr Hawes of Hartford, Connecticut declared:

 "Instead of coming right out in the strength of God, with the naked sword of the Spirit, to do battle with sin and error, it is too common for the preachers of our day to study to be ingenious, original, elegant ; to make literary sermons, great sermons, popular sermons, as one says. To this end, instead of confining itself within its proper commission, that of delivering God's message in God's way, it ranges abroad over creation to find novel and strange subjects ; and then it seeks to handle them in a new and original way; decking them out in tropes and figures, and all fine things ; just suited to make the whole exhibition elegant and popular, it may be, but utterly ineffective and powerless as to all spiritual impression.

But not to dwell longer on lesser, though really important matters, let us come at once to what is believed by many to be a chief cause of the diminished power of the pulpit — it is DROPPING from its inculcations the great distinguishing doctrines of grace; not stating, explaining, proving, and applying them as themes for sermons, but substituting for them essays and speculations about matters and things in general ; giving them a religious turn, but not aiming to break up the fallow ground of the hard, unregenerated heart by bringing to bear upon it the distinctive, searching, saving truths of the Gospel. Without admitting this to be true to the extent to which some carry it, it must be acknowledged that there is a tendency in this direction in the pulpit of the present day. The doctrines in question are not popular. The discussion of them is accounted dry and dull. The demand is for something more exciting, more entertaining and tasteful; and the modern pulpit is too much inclined to fall in with this demand ; to discuss literary and ethical questions, questions of social and moral reform, or other matters of curious and novel character, instead of bringing forward and giving prominence to the old, and, as some would say, worn-out doctrines of depravity, regeneration, sovereignty, election, justification, together with the character and work of a crucified, atoning Christ, as the great central point of all Gospel truth. It is rather rare, I think, that the people hear a thorough-going, out-and-out discussion and application of these and other kindred doctrines from the pulpit.

It is even boasted by the enemies of evangelical religion, as one of the favorable signs of the times, that the stern orthodoxy of a former day has been obliged, under the pressure of public sentiment and the increase of light, to soften down or conceal some of its more severe and offensive points, and to be more pliant and accommodating in its inculcations from the pulpit. This, I fear, is true to an extent which a due regard for the teachings of God's Word and the interests of religion would by no means justify. It is just what might be expected from the spirit of the times in which we live, that thorough, searching, humbling views of evangelical doctrine and duty should be unpopular. A luxurious, pleasure-loving, money-getting, skeptical age can have no liking for the plain, discriminating truths of God's Word. Its demand is rather for smooth things, for the prophesyings of deceits, and the holding forth of such views of God and his government, of the soul and its destiny, as are suited to soothe and flatter men in their worldliness and sins. I do not know whether the present is exactly the time which the apostle predicted should come, when men would not endure sound doctrine, but would heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and, turning from the truth, would be turned unto fables. But certain it is that there is much in the character of the present times which strongly resembles this. Teachers of all sorts are multiplied as they never were before, and they teach all sorts of things in the shape and name of religion, and great numbers are ready to run after them, carried about by every wind of doctrine, ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. In the meantime there is a growing demand to lower the standard of God's truth, to bring down the high and holy principles which constitute the vital power of the Gospel."

Quoted in "Hints and Helps in Pastoral Theology." By William S. Plumer. 1874

Monday, 6 July 2015

Correction: Covenant Fellowship Plan of Action (5)

The ex-Moderator who said that evangelicals who oppose woman’s ordination should leave was not the liberal ex-Moderator who attended the induction at Stornoway; this in fact is a different liberal ex-Moderator. The liberal ex-Moderator who attended the induction is however a supporter of the new legislation recognising active homosexuals in ministry.

Covenant Fellowship Plan of Action (5)

CFS see themselves as the defenders of the establishment and offer to intervene in congregational situations where the members are unhappy or the Session are considering whether they should leave:

“We would like to offer support to congregations which have been divided and damaged by this issue of same-sex relations and to those who are considering leaving the Church of Scotland. We would be happy to meet with Kirk Sessions or congregations in these circumstances and to offer support and encouragement. The message has been widely disseminated that either we stay in the Church, in which case we are tainted and share in the sinful disobedience of the Church at this point, or, we leave the Church. We would appreciate the opportunity to present a third option, namely, remaining in the Church as part of a movement which rejects the decision of the General Assembly and is committed to working for its reformation. We refuse to be compromised but we remain with integrity as those who support the stand being taken by CFS.”  (Underlining added – RMW)

In the first place they offer to work with those divided and damaged by secession.  These terms are emotive, suggesting that the majorities who have left have been divisive and motivated by something other than a concern for truth and a desire to obey the clear teaching of Scripture.  It might also be argued that at the local level those who refused to leave with their minister and the majority or totality of their eldership are the very ones who have proved to be divisive and have, by their adherence to the denomination, damaged the true church. 

In those situations where congregations have left there have sometimes been attempts by the spin doctors of the denomination to portray those remaining as committed to the broad church and its agenda.  Congregations who have remained suddenly find themselves featured on the denominational website celebrating their refusal to defect.

We see this in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis.  Suddenly a liberal former Moderator is interested in attending the installation of the new minister, to show true unity within the broad denomination. Would he have repeated before this congregation his words of invective delivered at the time of the G.A., “Ministers and elders who discriminate against women should “get out” if they are not willing to adhere to the Kirk law…”  It seems that the liberal policy of excluding biblical evangelicals who oppose woman’s ordination can be laid aside in the interest of unity in the face of the ordination of active homosexuals.  I wonder if the congregation in Stornoway would be happy to have this ex Moderator preach in their evangelical pulpit – I presume not, but I might be wrong. 

In another case where the majority of the active members left to form a new congregation the denominational HQ sent an official to “explain” at a congregational meeting of those who refused to leave the Kirk’s law that excludes active opposition to woman’s ordination. There was even a situation where Scotland’s largest evangelical congregation left but the denomination have produced a new congregation by busing in those who were happy to take over the beautiful newly furnished property.  Was there even one member from the former congregation who remained? Whom would CFS counsel in that situation?

CFS dismiss without biblical argument the claim that those who remain in “are tainted and share in the sinful disobedience of the Church at this point”.  But is it not the case that there is such a thing as guilt by association?  “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”  (1 Tim 5:22) Paul is saying that the recognition of those who should not be ordained is to take part in their sin – guilt by association.  Rather than recognise such false elders we are to refuse them status and thus keep ourselves pure.  Similarly, “if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”  (2 John 1)  Receiving a false teacher and welcoming them, (ex-Moderators included), is to take part with them in their wicked work – guilt by association.  CFS have to show from Scripture that remaining in denominational fellowship with doctrinal and moral apostates does not involve guilt by association.  I do not believe that such a case can be made from Scripture.

CFS speaks of itself as “a movement which rejects the decision of the General Assembly and is committed to working for its reformation.”  Is it only this decision, on accepting active homosexuals in membership and ministry that they reject?  Presumably not, but the danger of this narrow focus is that it thereby appears homophobic.  How will CFS enable congregations to “work for reformation”?  Will it list other decisions of the G.A. and programs of the denomination that must also be resisted?  The fine sounding words must be backed by action and not just pietistic rhetoric.

“A church that ceases to exercise biblical discipline ceases to be a church” (R C Sproul).  I believe that Sproul means ceases to exercise biblical discipline as an agreed policy rather than the occasional failures that might exist in any denomination. A denomination that systematically and knowingly refuses to exercise biblical discipline, and passes laws that enshrine this as a principle, is engaging in sinful disobedience.  CFS have not sought to demonstrate how any congregation can fail to be tainted by a willing and voluntary decision to remain united to such a denomination, particularly in cases where their elders and minister are urging them to separate from apostasy.  I also wonder whether the offer of support and encouragement from CFS to those who refuse to follow the guidance of their local elders is not thereby enabling the very schismatic divisiveness that they claim to stand against.  
I for one would be perfectly happy to meet with those who are considering their future, even to engage in a public debate with representatives of CFS before these congregations, but I doubt that this is the kind of meeting that CFS envisage.

New Directory for Public Worship (6)


Editor’s comment: The New Directory is very full in detailing public confession. It does so by giving both seed thoughts and examples of prayers under three headings: our sins against God, against our fellow men, and against the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

I will modernise as far as possible and conform scriptural quotations to the ESV.

Confession of Sins against the Gospel AND the Holy Spirit.

1. O God, who has commanded the light to shine out of darkness, we confess and lament that we have loved the darkness rather than the light :
that we have turned away from the knowledge of the Son of God :
that we have let sin gain dominion over us ;
not walked in the Spirit :
not cared to be saved from ourselves :
followed the judgments of men :
feared their disapproval and not yours :
neglected your grace in our temptations :
not trusted your strength in our weakness.

2. Almighty Father, who has so loved us that you gave your Son over to death for us, we mourn that his death has awakened so little love in our hearts for you:
so little gratitude to Him :
that our sins do not alway bring us to His cross;
We have little desire to be wholly consecrated to His service :
to live humbly working for you.
We can hardly work for Christ without worldly recognition.

3. O Heavenly Father, we mourn over our earthliness
of heart :
that we seek our own success even in your work :
we care too much for pleasure, and too little for Christ :
we fear punishment more than offending Him :
when burdened and distressed, we do not come at once to Him for refuge and rest :
we have been ashamed to confess Him, because of the mocking of men :
when His cause was unpopular :
when it meant earthly loss :
that the love of Christ does not control us,
that our hearts are cold towards Him,
our hearts are so slow to trust Him.

4. O God, who has sent your Spirit to bear witness in our hearts to the truth and love of your Son, and to work in us your holy will, we lament that we have not profited, as we ought to have done, by His gracious ministry :
that we have, by our carnal and worldly desires, crushed the good impulses, and turned aside from the vision of a heavenly life, that have come from your inspiration :
that we have not exercised the gifts of your Spirit,
or made use of the powers of usefulness in the service of our fellow-men you have provided :
that we have often resisted the gracious workings of your Spirit,
that we have hardened our hearts against the good example of your servants, and been deaf to their words of appeal :
that we have grieved your Spirit by our coldness, by our unwillingness to repent and believe in your Son, by our wilful opposition to your truth :
that we have often quenched your Spirit within us, preferring the traditions of men, and the customs of the world to the truth and holiness of your Gospel, holding by the forms of past thought when you wouldst have led us unto a further knowledge of your ways :
that we have not walked in your Spirit but have often trusted to our own wisdom :
have been guided by worldly expediency and the counsels of the sinful nature :
that we have indulged the appetite of the body in opposition to holy impulse.

5. O Lord, who has in your great mercy given us a day of rest in which to meet you,
we mourn that we have often neglected it :
have not made it a time of fellowship with you:
a day for thought and reverence :
an opportunity of rising into your pure life :
for rising above work and anxiety :
above self and our own needs and aims :
for the study of your Holy Word and the lives of your saints [holy servants]:
for the worship of our Father in Heaven :
for the examination of our hearts and lives :
for preparation for Eternity, and your judgment.

6. O God, who is never weary in your loving kindness [steadfast love] to us,
we mourn that we grow weary of your day and your service :
say when will it be done that we may buy and sell :
men make it a day of sloth, or work, or entertainment,
we have in thoughtlessness sacrificed the rest of others :
have forgotten the needs of our servants [those employed by us].
Your claim on their worship.

7. O our Lord and Saviour, who alone is the Bread of Life,
how little do we feed on you :
we come to your table with weak faith and doubting hearts :
prepare ourselves so carelessly for it :
although you so lovingly invite us, we neglect it, absent ourselves without reason:
we sometimes partake carelessly, irreverently :
we make resolutions and immediately forget them :
we come without expecting new grace from you:
we depart without regret that we have missed it.

How Do We Relate to Professed Evangelicals in the Church of Scotland?

I had filed this away to put in the blog after the 2015 G.A. of the Church of Scotland, and forgotten it!  I found it challenging, as I struggle to know how to deal with those who remain in and offer implicit support for an apostate denomination. 

These words of Fairbairn, in a forgotten treasure of pastoral advice, show that while we must at an ecclesiastical level remain at a distance from those who compromise with doctrinal and moral error, we nevertheless at a personal level must seek to maintain a loving and caring brotherly attitude towards them.  In the heat of polemics that is easily forgotten; in the desire to maintain fraternity the opposite error is to think that their unity in error with those who themselves are apostate should make no difference in corporate and ecclesiastical relationships.  Is it wrong to see this issue having different outcomes on the corporate and personal level?  Hopefully, Fairbairn can teach us something:

“There is still another distinction to be made, and in that another principle of direction to be found, in respect to the exercise of Christian love ; which is, that we are not called by it to countenance or show ourselves indifferent to any error or delinquency into which, whether as individuals or as Churches, they may have fallen. Love rather requires us to give a clear and unequivocal testimony against the evil, and seek its removal.

It was, doubtless, through an infirmity, a defection from the gentle and forbearing spirit of the gospel, that Paul and Barnabas fell out between themselves, since in the matter of dispute no vital truth was at stake. But it was no infirmity, it was a noble proof and exhibition of love, when Paul withstood Peter to his face at Antioch for acting in a manner which tended to mislead the disciples; or when he rebuked the Churches of Galatia for their weakness in suffering themselves to be withdrawn from the simplicity of the faith, and the Corinthians for their party strifes, and abuse of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

There may be sections of the Protestant Church so far removed from what we take to be the proper ideal of a Church of Christ in creed or government, that we could hold no direct or ostensible fellowship with them. Fidelity to the cause of truth and righteousness seems to require that, in that respect, we should stand aloof; love itself compels us to show, by the position we occupy, or the testimony we at fitting times deliver, wherein we conceive them to be in error; and openly to fraternize with them might naturally be construed into an indifference toward our points of disagreement.

But if in such communities we meet with individuals who by their spirit and behaviour give evidence of being true disciples of Christ, holding by the great principles of His gospel, and living to the glory of His name, we should then fail in our duty if we did not eye them with affection, and declined to reciprocate the feelings of kindness and goodwill which they may exhibit toward us. The Master, as appears from their spirit and behaviour, has accepted them; who are we, that we should dispute the propriety of His choice, or disown the seal which He has put upon them? Though they will not follow with us, nor may we follow with them in what is peculiar to us both, yet in what is common, in what concerns the fundamental principles of the faith in Christ, the repression of iniquity, the advancement of righteousness in the world, it is in accordance with the spirit of the gospel that there should be brotherly recognition, harmony of thought and action.

How much may not be learned in this respect from the bearing and procedure of Christ Himself? The spirit of love which was exemplified in His course was not more remarkable for its depth and fervency in one direction than for its tenderness and forbearance in another. Himself the light of the world, in whom dwelt all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, there was necessarily an immeasurable gulf between Him and those about Him as to the degrees of knowledge and spiritual discernment respectively possessed by them. There would have been so even if the disciples had made the most diligent improvement of their privileges; but as matters actually stood, the distance was much greater than it might have been. In spite of Christ’s endeavours to teach them, their notions of divine things continued to be crude; their minds remained full of misapprehensions respecting the nature of His kingdom ;  and indications were ever and anon appearing of the carnal tempers and sinful misgivings which cleaved to them.

Yet how meekly did Christ bear with them under all! With how gentle a hand did He try to remove from their minds the clouds of darkness and prejudice which rested upon them! How gladly did He avail Himself of the opportunities which arose to impart to them the truth as they were able to receive it! And, again, how considerately did He hold His hand when He saw that they were incapable at the time of receiving more!

Altogether, we have here most valuable materials for our guidance, peculiarly valuable for the time and circumstances in which we live. If the spirit of our Lord's behaviour is imbibed, it will dispose us, whenever we perceive the honest and childlike heart of faith, to bear with much that may appear weak and defective; and to be more ready to convey instruction and dispense blessing, or should that be impracticable, to make due allowance for personal imperfections and failings, than in a feeling of actual or fancied superiority to boast it over others. 

Were this but more generally done, were the truth, without being less firmly held, more frequently combined with the meekness and gentleness, the patient and considerate spirit of Christ, it might conciliate more hearts ; not the interests of the truth, but rather those which are opposed to it, would suffer by such line of behaviour."

Patrick Fairbairn, Pastoral Theology, (1875) page 36