This past year we got news that our eight-year-old daughter had a spinal tumor. She was having back pain and the specialist ordered an MRI just to make sure that everything was OK. It wasn’t. I walked with the doctor into the hallway. “Based on your experience,” I asked, “Do you think this is malignant?” He replied, “We have to wait for the biopsy results, but it is likely cancerous.” We were reeling as we contemplated the surgery, the treatments, and the agony that awaited all of us.
 
In the Lord’s gracious providence, at that very time, I had a student doing some work on Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686) and specifically his Divine Cordial (1663), written after his ejection for nonconformity under the Restoration settlement when many Puritans faced great persecution. The tract was an exposition of Romans 8:28: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
 
Before the news of our daughter’s tumor, I had decided to read this tract so that I could properly assess my student’s work. My wife and I were listening to it on the way to the hospital that day as Watson delivered to us a medicinal “cordial,” namely, that “nothing hurts the godly” when their inward and outward comforts are troubled. He opens up Romans 8:28 with this claim: “All the various dealings of God with his children, do by a special providence turn to their good." Indeed, argues Watson, “all God’s providences,” being divinely tempered and sanctified, do work together for the best of his saints. This is a Christian’s cordial, “like an invigorating medicinal drink concocted even with ingredients that may be poisonous by themselves.”
 
Regarding the privilege of all life experiences, Watson considers the “best things” such as God’s power, wisdom, goodness, promises, and mercies; the preached word; the prayers of others; the Lord’s Supper; the communion of saints; and the intercession of Christ. But Watson also includes the “worst things” we face as working for our good. Such “medicinal” afflictions teach us, make us more holy, conform us to Christ, draw us nearer to God, increase our happiness, silence the accusations of the wicked, and prepare us for glory. Even when we fall into sin and backslide, our failures work for good as they motivate us to fear God and fight against sin more as we rely on ourselves less and Christ more. 
 
The main reason that everything works for our good is that we have a loving Father who brings sweetness in even the bitterest trial. However, for the wicked, even “good things work for hurt.” In this way, Christians have no reason to complain during afflictions but to be thankful and pursue his glory (1 Cor. 10:31). ”Every bird can sing in spring,” observes Watson, “but some birds will sing in the dead of winter.” In a similar way, “Everyone, almost, can be thankful in prosperity, but a true saint can be thankful in adversity.”
 
Watson then considers the privileged “lovers of God” who must recognize the tendency to wax and wane as they depart from their first love. Therefore, they must stir up their love to God, for the fire “will quickly go out” if it “is not blown up.” Christians then have a special calling: “Let us then ascribe the whole work of grace to the pleasure of God’s will.” Such a calling does not depend on man’s free will, merit, or foreseen faith, but God’s purpose alone. 
 
Indeed, we had to confess that our “first love” needed to be stirred up. In the midst of our worries, we had to see that this affliction came from our loving Father. In the end, our daughter’s tumor turned out to be benign and was successfully removed. I cannot predict how well we would have handled cancer, but even the threat of such was for our good as we awaited the biopsy results. The Lord kindly prepared us for the worst news but instead gave us the best. In the process, we became all the more sensitive to families who must endure the most horrible news even to the point of watching their child die. May the Lord give us all grace to “sing in the dead of winter.”

Herein lies that which all the beauty of the world fades before, and becomes as a thing of nought,—which brings all the outward pomp of ceremonious worship into contempt;—I mean the glory and excellence that lies in the spiritual communion of the soul with God, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, in that heavenly intercourse which is between God and his saints in their worship, by this means.

That's how John Owen (1616–1683) expressed the beauty and glory of public worship in the New Covenant (Works, 9:73 or here). Christians would say "Amen!" to this as they enter and depart their Sunday morning services. If it's true that the Triune God of grace meets with us on Sunday morning, why not on Sunday evening?

Over the years I have taught God's people publicly and privately (Acts 20:20) to worship the Triune God of grace every Lord's Day morning and evening. As a pastor in a denomination that is rooted in the Dutch Reformation, having a second service (most commonly held in the evening) is "just what we do." It's a part of our ethos and practice of faith. In fact, so important is the second (evening) service that the document that regulates our life together as churches, called our "Church Order," requires every United Reformed congregation to hold a second service in its thirty-seventh article (the time on the Lord's Day is up to each congregation). As a pastor of such a church, I have read lots of articles and listened to lots of sermons on the subject. Here's one example.

A while back in my weekly email to my congregation, I gave my people my "Top Ten Reasons to Attend Evening Worship" in an ongoing effort to educate, encourage, and exhort. They are not exhaustive and they apply to my context, in particular, but the principles should be applicable to any who reads this. May God move his people in our time to sanctify the Christian Sabbath, leading to a renewal of evening worship.

  1. God promises to be present in our midst unlike anywhere else in public worship.
  2. This is a practical help for us to sanctify the Lord’s Day with morning and evening bookends.
  3. This lays a foundation for our children to be evening attenders as well when they grow up (and not what the Dutch call a "oncer").
  4. Since the Word of God is the food for our souls, we get “breakfast" and “dinner" every Lord’s Day with two sermons.
  5. We also read through the Old and New Testaments in evening worship with a chapter from each.
  6. We sing through the biblical Psalms together with two Psalms a week [we’ve done this 10+ times in 15 years].
  7. Our evening service is based on the historic form of evening prayer from the Protestant Reformation, thus giving us a sense of the communion of the saints through the ages.
  8. We pray biblically-saturated, ancient prayers together at evening worship, thus giving us a sense of transcendence.
  9. We get to bear each other’s burdens as we lift up prayer requests in each other’s midst.
  10. Since there is no Sunday school after, we have more time to fellowship and enjoy each other’s presence after the evening service.
Several years ago Danny Hyde was interviewed on his background, his introduction to the Puritans, and how to read them (especially John Owen). This was posted on the old MTP site and we repost it here for your edification.
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Hebrews 13.12-13)
The past thirteen years have chronicled a series of triggers that have compelled gospel ministers and congregations to withdraw from the Episcopal Church in the United States for the sake of conscience. This continues now globally in the conflicting pronouncements of the Instruments of Unity (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, The Primates Meeting, and the Lambeth Conference) in the Anglican Communion that may well compel biblically faithful Provinces in the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) movement to repeat the same.
 
I therefore thought it would be good to pause at the half-way point in our reading of the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection, to answer a question concerning “The Great Ejection”: What precisely did the 1662 Act of Uniformity demand of a minister’s conscience that made one of our Anglican forebears unable to conform to this part of the Clarendon Code?
 
Let’s start this week by answering what the Act is itself and the circumstances that led to its drafting. The Act of Uniformity 1662 was one of four acts sponsored by Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon and Lord Chancellor to Charles II all of which were aimed at enforcing uniformity of religion and its practice in the Church of England. The new Act was markedly different in detail to the Acts that preceded it:
  1. The 1549 Act established the Book of Common Prayer as the only legal form of worship in the Realm.
  2. The 1552 Act established the revision of the Book of Common Prayer along more Reformed lines.
  3. The 1559 Act restablished the 1552 Book after the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary. The 1559 Act was part of the Elizabethan settlement that included the adoption of the Thirty-Nine Articles in 1571 as the confession of the Protestant Church of England.
As we saw in the life of John Collins, when Charles II returned to England after the resignation of Richard Cromwell as Lord Protector there were consultations and consideration of proposals throughout 1660-1661 for the uniformity of public prayers and administration of the sacraments for the Church of England that would return to respecting the differing views that had existed up to 1640. On the face of it there was a genuine attempt at compromise which at one point produced an understanding of episcopal ministry that may have been acceptable to many, including Charles himself and many Presbyterians. 
 
Yet with an all too-familiar modern Anglican twist, the Bishops who returned from exile with the king siezed the political momentum in the uncertainty and fear so prevelant in a time of major transition like this. The bishops made sure that the final draft of the new Restoration Act of Uniformity intentionaly used language that secured their position and their agenda and that would marginalize the threat posed by Anglican pastors who were not of the same mind as theirs. The Bishops knew that these men would be bound by their conscience either to refuse the final settlement and withdraw or to accept and seriously compromise their future effectivness. The Bishops exchanged the gospel inheritance of a nation for a bowl of pottage of temporal security for themselves.
 
Next time we’ll examine the reasons Anglican Puritan ministers cited in response that compelled them either to withdraw either into silence or into an underground movement of nonconformity.
Obadiah Sedgwick (1599/1600-1658) was one of the most respected and influential of the English Presbyterians of the seventeenth century. He was a leading member of the Westminster Assembly and took a prominent part in its debates. Barbara Donagan comments that Sedgwick was “an original and assiduous member of the Westminster assembly” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Sedgwick’s covenant theology outlined in detail in his The Bowels of Tender Mercy Sealed in the Everlasting Covenant (London: Printed by Edward Mottershed, for Adoniram Byfield, 1661). One of the many areas where he is very helpful is in discussing the conditionality of the covenant of grace.
 
Of Conditions
In discussing the terms of the covenant of grace Sedgwick frequently used the language of conditionality. He did, however, note that this was an area of “great dispute” (p. 182). In an attempt to minimize controversy he made two important clarifications concerning the way he was using the work “condition.”
 
First, any condition required in the covenant of grace is “freely worked” by God in the hearts of those whom he has decreed to save.(pp. 126. 182). Therefore, the conditionality of the covenant did not render the salvation of any uncertain.
 
Second, the fulfilling of any condition did not in itself “merit” anything from God (so, for example, faith is not a work which “earns” salvation from God) but was simply “a means by which we come certainly to enjoy that which God is pleased graciously to give” (pp. 126, 182).
 
With these two points granted, Sedgwick felt free to say that “every kind of condition is not opposed to grace” (p. 126) and that “the Covenant of grace can admit of a condition…such a condition as is graciously given, and…which will in the nature and use of it exalt all the grace of God” (p. 183).
 
Of Faith
For Sedgwick, faith was the condition of the covenant of grace: “truly this condition is faith, and no other thing” (p. 183). Thus faith “stands as a necessary means in the way of participation of all our saving good” (p. 291). This faith was itself the gift of God, thereby securing the gracious nature of the covenant, and united the believer with Christ, from whom all the other blessings of the covenant, including justification, flowed (pp. 183, 185).
 
Faith was defined as nothing other than a “receiving all from Christ, and resting on Christ” (p. 188). Therefore, even though faith is a condition of the covenant, “yet it is such a condition which God himself doth promise to give unto the sinner: As it is a condition on our part so it is a gift on God’s part: we are to have it, but God is to give it according to his promise” (p. 207). Therefore, “the giving of faith is commensurable with the election of God…and indeed is the fruit and effect thereof” (p. 291).
 
Of Works
If faith is a condition of the covenant of grace, then what about works? Sedgwick was adamant that the very notion of a covenant of grace was opposed to making good works or personal worthiness the cause of salvation, arguing that “A personal worthiness for any good from God is inconsistent with a Covenant of Grace…for according to that Covenant, all is given, and all is freely given…the worthiness of our works, and the riches of God’s grace, do one destroy and remove the other” (p. 355). Nevertheless, he saw good works in the believer as necessary for salvation. Even though they were not the “cause” of salvation, “no man can be saved without them”, since good works are “the way to the kingdom” (p. 62).
 
The importance of good works arose from the very nature of God: “his nature is holiness itself, and he will never set up a Covenant, to make us unlike himself” (p. 133). From the nature of God, then, flowed the renovative aspect of the covenant of grace, namely, “to restore his own image in us again, and to repair his own image in us” (p. 133). Nevertheless, it was not proper to speak of holiness, repentance or obedience as “conditions of the covenant” (p. 187). These were fruits of the covenant but were not to be regarded as proper conditions of the covenant itself.
 
Conclusion
The conditionality of the covenant of grace is indeed an area of “great dispute.” Pitfalls abound on every side. But Sedgwick is a faithful guide. His careful exploration of the conditionality of the covenant of grace is a fruitful model to follow, both in his precise definitions, and in his theological conclusions.
We’ve all seen them, right? Angels, that is. You know, those chubby little children with wings; those cute Precious Moments statuettes; those little guys on your shoulders—one reminding you of good and the other tempting you to what is bad. From the downright silly to sentimental to seriously wrong, from what is found in bookstores and heard on daytime talk shows, angels are big business in our time. This just goes to show how important they are to people’s mindset.
 
Our Reformed and Puritan forefathers thought they were important, too. The Belgic Confession of Faith in its article on creation spends one long line on the creation of the world but an entire paragraph on good and bad angels as well as a rejection of errors about them (art. 12). The Westminster Larger Catechism also gives a basic exposition concerning angels:
Q. 13. What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A. God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice
 
Q. 16. How did God create angels?
A. God created all the angels spirits, immortal, holy, excelling in knowledge, mighty in power, to execute his commandments, and to praise his name, yet subject to change.
In Hebrews 1:1–14 we read one of the most poetic and powerful descriptions of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The writer contrasts angels with our Lord. Angels are glorious, but our Lord is most glorious. They have an excellent name, but he a name that is “more excellent” (Heb. 1:5). They are spirits, but he is the Son. They are servants, but he is the Lord. Yet while the apostolic author seeks to show the superiority of the Son, he does reveal some basic knowledge about angels.
 
They Serve the Lord
The first thing Hebrews 1 reveals is that angels serve the Lord. In the words of the Larger Catechism, “God created all the angels…to execute his commandments” (Q&A 16). There are two reasons why they do so.
 
First, they serve the Lord because they were created by the Lord. In contrast to the only begotten and firstborn Son, Hebrews says, “Of the angels he [God] says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire’” (Heb. 1:7). Here the writer quotes from Psalm 104, which extols God for his created works. A part of that creation is the host of angels. They were “made.” Paul also makes this contrast. God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13–14). This Son is then extolled: “For by him [the Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
 
One of the ways this is so important is with the infatuation today for angelic guidance. There are book galore that tell stories about how angels gave messages to people, how angels saved people from danger, and how angels guided people’s lives. And the purpose of these books is that you would seek them out to do this for you. Let me say to you as unequivocally as possible: Jesus Christ is the one who speaks to us through his Word; Jesus Christ is the one who saves us from sin and from danger; Jesus Christ is the one who guides our lives. Do not seek the creation to do this, seek the Creator!
 
Second, they serve the Lord because they were elected by the Lord. Just as among humanity, so too in the angelic realm God’s decree of election and reprobation was operative (Q&A 13). When Q&A 16 says that the angels are “subject to change,” the proof text that is offered is 2 Peter 2:4. There Peter describes the effect of a prior decree of God. Some angels sinned against God and therefore were cast into hell. We see the same thing in Jude 6, which speaks of “angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” On the contrary, Paul speaks of “elect angels” in 1 Timothy 5:21. All angels, of course, were created to serve the Lord, but it is those especially, chosen by grace, that serve him.
 
Let me pause and reflect upon a practical benefit of this. This means you need not fear demons as if they were almighty beings. They are created. They sinned. They were punished. And most importantly, the Lord within you is greater than them! As James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe [there is one God]—and shudder!”
 
So how precisely do these elect angels serve the Lord as the result of their election?
 
First, by worshipping the Lord: “And when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’” (Heb. 1:6). Recall how this happened. When our Lord was born, who heralded his birth with a song of praise? The angels: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased’” (Luke 2:13–14). Their worship calls us to worship as the four living creatures surrounding the throne of grace in heaven cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8)
 
Second, by executing the Lord’s commands: “Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his messengers a flame of fire’” (Heb. 1:7). The writer describes angels as if they were the wind and fire. The wind and fire are elements of creation, which the Scriptures describe as executing what God commands. When the Lord wanted to redeem his people, he sent a strong east wind that blew all night to split the Red Sea in two. When the Lord wanted to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness he sent fire from heaven to do his will. It is the same way with the angels. They are sent forth like the wind, they execute the Lord’s commands like the fire.
 
Why is this so important for us to meditate upon? If the angels serve God in worshipping him and in obeying his commands, we who have been redeemed from sin by God’s grace need to do so even more, praying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
 
They Serve the Elect
The second thing we learn about angels from Hebrews 1 is that they serve the elect: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14) How marvelous it is that they who serve the Son serve us.
 
We see their service to the elect in announcing to Mary the birth of the Lord himself (Luke 1), in ministering to our Lord in the wilderness after his fasting and temptation (Matt. 4), in announcing the resurrection of the Savior (Matt. 28), in announcing the soon return of our Savior after his ascension (Acts 1), in releasing Peter and John from prison (Acts 5; 12), in guiding Philip to preach to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
 
But how do they minister to us, now? Pay close attention to Hebrews 1:14. The angels are servants of the Lord for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. The author is speaking not of our reception of salvation now, but our reception of salvation not yet. In this life we have the promise of receiving an eternal inheritance. But we only receive that inheritance completely in the life of come. The angels serve us by assisting us in our life of perseverance so that we might endure to the end and receive our inheritance: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master . . . Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:21, 34).
 
John Calvin described this ministry of the angels towards the elect as the “heavenly hosts [being] assigned to be their servants to see to their salvation.” He went on to say, “It is no ordinary pledge of God’s love for us, that He keeps them busily working for our sake. From this there comes an extraordinary confirmation of our faith that our salvation is beyond danger, guarded as it is by such defences. God has the best possible consideration for our infirmity in giving us such helpers to resist Satan with us, and to put forth all their effort in every way to care for us (Commentary on Hebrews, trans. William B. Johnston, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, 12:17). God in his love has sent us angels, who are “mighty in power” (Q&A 16), to guard us from the assaults of Satan and to help us in our fight against him. This ministry is summed up in the words of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 91:11 spoke of their protection: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:11–12).
 
May God grant that we serve him even as the angels. May God grant that we fight against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and especially the devil even as the angels serve us in this fight.

Is it possible to undervalue Christ’s sufferings by overemphasizing the cross? One of my favorite seventeenth century Dutch “Puritans” is Herman Witsius (1636-1708). In his Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, I came across a profound section on the extent to which Christ’s sufferings make satisfaction for our sins (1:210-234). Witsius began this section by noting that an unnamed “learned” and “orthodox” divine (p. 210) had said that the only sufferings of Jesus Christ that made satisfaction for our sins was the three hours of darkness on the cross, in which time he suffered the unmitigated wrath of the Father for us. By contrast, Witsius argued that the sufferings of Christ for us are analogous to his obedience for us: just as all of his obedience from birth to death was accomplished “in our room,” so all of his suffering from the cradle to the grave was likewise done “in our room.”

As I read this section for the first time, my first thought was how easy it is as Reformed Christians to drift unintentionally into false views about the work of Jesus Christ. Since twentieth century Liberals focused on Christ’s life to the exclusion of his atonement on the cross, are we not sometimes at risk of shifting emphasis to the cross to the exclusion of his life? They denied his deity. Let us not react by stressing his deity to the neglect of his true humanity. The New Testament presents Christ’s cross as the centerpiece of the gospel, yet we must never forget that the cross is the apex of a process of suffering in the place of God’s elect people.
Some of us have (rightly) been alarmed by films such as, The Passion of the Christ, as both violating the Second Commandment and as emphasizing Christ’s physical sufferings rather than on the spiritual sufferings involved in bearing God’s wrath for his people (consider this a veiled but shameless plug for Danny Hyde’s book, In Living Color). Yet Witsius argued that all sufferings of Christ, including his birth in a manger, his temptation by Satan, his fatigue from his labors, his agony in Gethsemane, his scourging, his physical suffering on the cross, his torment of soul under the Father’s wrath, and even his time in the grave was all done “in our room.”
 
Witsius is not unique among older Reformed authors on this point, but he wrote with exceptional clarity and precision. The implications of looking to Christ’s sufferings through his entire life as vicarious and “in our room” are huge. Among other things, this is how and why Christ transforms and sanctifies all of our trials to the profit of our souls. Christ’s suffering for you throughout his life is the reason why the suffering in your life now represents the hand of a loving Father rather than the wrath of a just Judge. Sometimes the only effective means of cultivating spiritual joy under hardship and persecution is to consider that we have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings and that it is granted to us not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for his name.
 
So no, it is not likely possible to overemphasize the importance of Christ’s cross. However, is it possible to diminish the depths of divine love to us in Christ by limiting his vicarious suffering to the cross. My hope is that this meditation on Witsius’ teaching on Christ’s suffering would help us rethink the implications of our union and communion with Christ in grace and in glory (Westminster Larger Catechism 65-90), and drive many of your to pick up Witsius and read him for yourselves.
Continuing through the neglected Puritan Thomas Manton's (1620–1677) Christ's Temptation and Transfiguration Practically Explained and Improved in Several Sermons  (Works, 1:258–336), we come to sermon 5, which deals Matthew 4:8-9 (click here for sermon 1, 2, 3, 4).
 
One of the first questions Manton dealt with was how could Satan show Jesus the kingdoms of the world when the "the earth is the Lord's?" (Ps. 24:1) The power that Satan has "is not given, but permitted; not absolute, but limited. It is a lie that Satan can given these things at pleasure" (p. 303). This is a corrective to the kind of demonology I was taught within Pentecostalism that said the devil is "god of this world" in an absolute sense. This is also an encouragement to us that even when Satan does mighty things to deceive, he is still God's devil.
 
Manton then offered up several observations for us to consider. The first is that "we must expect not only to be tempted, but to be often tempted" (p. 307) and therefore we must watch and avoid judgment of others when they are tempted. But also, since we will be tempted, Manton said, "Be not overmuch troubled and dejected...you must make your way to heaven almost every step by conflict and conquest...the more trials the more glory" (p. 307). We don't think this way, do we? We think of the Christian life as always full of happiness and success. Look at Jesus and identify with him, brothers and sisters!
 
Another observation that is so relevant is that how the devil uses the world in temptation. He seeks "to divert us from God and heavenly things, that our time, and care, and thoughts may be wholly taken up about things here below" (p. 309). How much of yout time and energy is spent on your kids' extra-curricular activites? How much time do you spend in the garage fixing up cars? How much time do you spend watching your favorite shows? You may be being tempted and not even know it, Christian.
 
So how can you and I fight back against the Devil? Manton said concerning this particular temptation of Jesus that it teaches us not to believe the Devil's promises (p. 310). His promises are false (p. 312). Instead, rest in "the sufficiency and stability of God's promises" (p. 312). And to do that, let's take up the Word, let's study it, let's listen to it be preached, and let's apply it in life every day.

Congrats to Rick L. in Las Cruces, NM, and Greg T. in Paris, IL! You are the winners of our latest giveaway of Lee Gatiss', The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection and Persecution of the Puritans, which was provided by our friends at The Latimer Trust.

Our newest giveaway is provided by Reformation Heritage Books: Ryan McGraw, Is the Trinity Practical? 

The deadline is May 6. Enter here.

Paul commands us, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5). It is a responsibility of great importance for the people of God to be assured that there is a true and saving work of grace in them, so as to distinguish them from hypocrites. There are certain signs of grace by which a man may discern what he is. In the weeks to follow, I would like to discuss with you assurance by utilizing Anthony Burgess’ (d. 1664) masterpiece, Spiritual Refining: Or a Treatise of Grace and Assurance (vol. 1, vol. 2).
 
 
Experiencing Assurance
Assurance involves a practical and experiential knowledge, which is much more than mere head knowledge. There is a great difference between hearing that honey is sweet, and tasting it. This is what the Bible often means by “knowing” something—experiential knowledge, not mere knowledge in the brain. We need a practical, experiential, and well-tested knowledge of our spiritual condition for several reasons. First, Jesus pressed this point upon those who heard his sermons. Consider his parables on the sower and the soils (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1–13), and the two builders (Matt. 7:24–27). Second, it is easy to make a mistake on this matter, given our tendency to deceive ourselves and have false confidence (Rom. 2:17). Third, it is very dangerous to make a mistake here. Unless you go beyond mere outward morality and religion, you can never enter the kingdom of heaven. Fourth, it is difficult to see the difference between true grace and its counterfeits.
 
Furthermore, there are many advantages that experiential knowledge brings. It gives us an inward feeling and sense of holiness. It’s the difference between seeing a place on a map and going there to see it yourself. It makes our hearts a copy of the Bible, so that all God’s promises and warnings have their echo there. This knowledge of holiness makes us dead to all human greatness and worldly delights. It makes the Word and worship sweet to our souls, and helps us to leave behind empty controversies about religion. It gives us the kind of knowledge that produces godly action. It establishes the truth to us in a way that we will endure persecution rather than let it go. 
 
Obstacles
However, this experiential testing of ourselves faces real obstacles. First, we might approach this question with sinful self-love and self-confidence. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26). Second, we might look at good actions but ignore the motives. Real godliness is inward, not outward (Rom. 2:28). Third, we might test ourselves by false standards. Instead of the Word of God, the Bible, we might take up what is old, or popular, or traditional for our guide. Fourth, we might confuse morality or good manners for godliness.
 
In general, there are three kinds of people who take the name of Christians. Some have only the name but no power so that they deny Christ by their works. Others have some influences and operations of the Spirit of God upon them. But they are like embryos that miscarry before the new birth. Their affections are somewhat moved by the truth (Matt. 13:20–22), but the Holy Spirit does not dwell in them as members of the body of Christ. However, some are part of Christ’s body, and receive a life-giving influence from him, as branches do from the vine (John 15:5). The least of believers is far above the best of hypocrites, because he is born again into a true experiential knowledge of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection. Someone may have experienced something of the power of spiritual gifts for ministry, the bitterness of sin, a desire for spiritual benefits, an enjoyment of the Word, and a change in their lifestyle—but still be unsaved. The true believer has a different heart (Luke 8:15), for spiritual light dwells in him permanently to make him more holy and dependent on the Lord.
 
The Bible presents such clear signs of the state of grace that a godly man who faithfully applies them to himself may by the guidance and help of the Spirit of God become assured that is in that state. That's what we'll discuss in the posts that follow.