Thursday, 23 March 2017



Aids to introduce the psalms sung in worship.

John Brown of Haddington, 18th century Scottish theologian.

Behold here, (1.) David, tempted by his timorous friends to escape to some mountain, and hide himself from the fury of Saul, or of Absalom, as if that were his only safe course now when his enemies were exerting themselves to the uttermost, and all things were in disorder and confusion, ver. 1-3. (2.) David baffling the temptation by a resolute profession of his trust in God, as the observer of all men; as the holy and righteous punisher of the wicked, and friend of the godly, ver. 4-7.

Let no temptation decoy me from my duty. Let no danger deter me from it. While Jehovah, my reconciled God and Father, manageth and judgeth the world, my safest course is to commit myself to him in well-doing. Let the just vengeance of God upon sinners deter my heart from sinning, and his kindness to his people encourage me to holiness in all manner of conversation.

John Cumming, 19th century Scottish Presbyterian.

The Psalmist, under the pressure of outward distress and inward trial, overcomes his invitations and tendency to seek refuge in any thing below, and resolves to trust entirely on his God.

David reasons with his own heart, in verse 3, and sets forth the worst possible state of things in which the people of God may be placed ; and yet he finds consolation and confidence in the great truth, that the righteous are not only, at all times and under all circumstances, seen, but favoured and protected of God, and destined to triumph in the end. He remembers the destiny of Sodom and Gomorrah, once wealthy and flourishing, but now burned up and destroyed ; and then the destiny of Lot, for a season in trouble, but now in heaven. 

Trust in God is the surest refuge in trouble.

William King Tweedie, 19th century Free Church of Scotland. See:,William King

In times of calamity to the Church and people of God, this psalm may be sung to encourage the soul in seeking and expecting deliverance from God.

Ver. 1–5 The believer’s safety amid assaults - the Lord is his defence.  Ver. 6-7 The portion of the wicked – divine favour for the upright.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

J P Lilley on the Lord’s Supper

J P Lilley on the Lord’s Supper

Usually after I have preached on a theme or topic, or even on a particular passage, I follow up after the sermon by reading some new material that has not been part of my preparation.  Too often when we read in preparation we are mining for ideas, quotes and illustrations to use in our sermons and we actually fail to benefit fully from what we are reading. 

It is also good to read widely on theological issues and that does not necessarily mean only reading the latest and most cutting edge writings. Too many pastors think that they know a topic when they have merely read a recently published, watered down and popular book or a couple of books on that issue. Far better to return to an issue frequently, to return to the seminal and classical works on that topic and to see this as part of a life-long process of learning and maturing our understanding. This is not the same as “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7) It means building on a commitment to truth and in my case building on a confessional commitment to Reformed orthodoxy.

So after preaching last Lord’s Day at communion on Matthew 26:27-28 I refreshed myself by turning to a work by an author that I had never previously read. 

James Philip Lilley (1845-1931) was pastor at the (United) Free Church of Scotland, Knox Church, Arbroath, 1874-1918. A ministry that length was not without its trials and early in his ministry (1880) there was an acrimonious divorce from his wife.  Lilley was exonerated by his presbytery and continued to faithfully serve the congregation for a total of 44 years, producing a number of excellent evangelical theological works and translations. These publications included: The Gospel of God; The Lord’s Supper; The Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Servants; The Principles of Protestantism;Your Comforter: Chapters for the Young on the Work of the Holy Spirit;The Pathway of Light; The Pastoral Epistles; and various translations from the Dutch of several of Andrew Murray’s Works.

I turned to “The Lord's Supper; a Biblical Exposition of its Origin, Nature, and Use” (1891). What a rich source of inspirational teaching from a book that I personally have never seen mentioned or recommended.  A forgotten gem! Of course Dr Lilley uses the rather florid language if the 19th century, but the core content is excellent, thought provoking and challenging. Setting forward a Calvinistic and richly experiential perspective on the Lord’s Supper, it well repays the reading.

What is interesting is that although I did not read it as preparation for preaching, it nevertheless made me want to preach its contents and share its insights.

The book is available free for download:

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Lord’s Supper: Re-enactment or Representation?

Lord’s Supper: Re-enactment or Representation?

What we do when we come to the Lord’s Supper is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper. A re-enactment is an acting out of a past event.  Police stage a re-enactment of a crime, with someone of the same race and gender, height and hair colour, following the exact route of a victim in the hope that this will stimulate memories and bring forward possible witnesses.  Those who stage battle re-enactments dress up in the period costumes of the armies and use replica weapons of that age to refight a particular battle.

But we do not need to re-enact the Lord’s Supper.  We do not need to replicate the time, (evening), the place, (an upper room), the cup, (with or without handles, wooden, clay or metal?), the seating, (reclining at a low table), the kind of wine, ( what was its ABV, from what kind of grape was it made?)

We do not re-enact the Last Supper but we seek to represent the Last Supper, and the N.T. practice of the Lord’s Supper, in biblical simplicity.  We strip back the non-essentials to focus on what is vital, the bread and wine given to God’s people as a means of grace.

This emphasis on biblical simplicity means that a Roman Catholic High Mass fails in its representation of what Jesus instituted, adding as it does its vestments, its bells, its incense,  and its semi-magical incantations.

But we should also ask whether the traditional Scottish communion season equally fails to represent the Lord’s Supper in biblical simplicity, with its infrequency, its protracted five days of services, its fast day, its visiting minister presiding at the table, its numerous visitors who in the past could number hundreds and swamp the local fellowship, its “tickets” or communion tokens allowing a believer to participate, and its thanksgiving service following the day of communion. Even in its present somewhat abbreviated form this does not present the Lord’s Supper in biblical simplicity.

Both the High Mass and the Presbyterian communion season depart from biblical simplicity, but they are wrong in different ways. 

The High Mass is essentially wrong; the various additions are unbiblical and can never be justified in any circumstances.  It is wrong in essence as it turns a memorial into a sacrifice.

The Presbyterian communion season is circumstantially wrong; the various aspects of the communion season are not wrong in themselves, but they are unnecessary and perhaps detrimental to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. 

It is not wrong to have a day of fasting and spiritual introspection, but it is not necessary to do so before communion.  It is not wrong to have visiting preachers and if they preach to have them preside at the Lord’s Supper, but it is not either necessary or beneficial to replace the regular pastor with visiting ministers at the Supper.  It is not wrong to bring vast numbers together from various churches to hear the Word, (Christian conferences), but it detracts from the celebration of unity in Christ of the local fellowship. It is never wrong to have a service of thanksgiving, but it is not a necessary conclusion to the Lord’s Supper to do so on the day following.

This is not to deny that these communion seasons could be accompanied with blessing, after all despite the additions, the Word and Sacrament, both means of grace, were set forth.  It is however to raise the question of whether our traditional additions were an unfortunate example of us being wiser than God and thinking that we somehow needed to supplement the simple celebration of the Lord’s Supper for “real” blessing to occur.

The Scottish communion season is now passing.  Fewer churches see the need or the benefit of these biannual or quarterly celebrations.  There is a movement for more frequent and simpler celebrations of the Lord’s Supper.  Who knows, we eventually may return to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a weekly aspect of our normal service, following the pattern that Calvin wished to see in the churches of Geneva: whenever the Word is preached, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.  In this way the centrality of the cross, Christ’s work of atonement received by faith alone, our union with Christ and with his people, and the anticipation of his coming again will be constantly kept before the people of God.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Education Not Entertainment

Education Not Entertainment

This Sunday I was preaching on 2 Peter 1:2

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

Peter, writing to Christians troubled by persecution from without and heresy within, begins his epistle with this wish-prayer that speaks to their needs.  God’s grace will sustain and sanctify them and his peace will support them through troubled times.  The measure of God’s blessing is that he will give it in abundance. We accept dribbles; God wishes to give a deluge!  Referring to the Christmas season I said that God was not Scrooge, and he does not ration his blessings of grace and peace.  You only ration what is in short supply and God has an infinite supply of grace and peace to give.

But also with reference to the Christmas season I noted that the means through which these blessings are enjoyed is a deep, personal, experiential knowledge of God the Father and the Lord Jesus.  Men want experiences; God wants education.  The knowledge spoken of is not a dry cerebral, intellectual knowledge but a deeply personal knowledge that comes through the Word.

This, in part, is why I support the Continental Reformed attitude to Advent rather than the more severe Scottish Reformed attitude.  The Continentals accepted the celebration of the Nativity, but the Scots originally banned it. Advent season gives us an opportunity to focus in depth and in detail on the messianic prophecies and the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.

However, the sad reality is that for many churches Advent is more about entertainment than education.  It is the silly season, when we can do silly things in church, wear silly hats in “worldship”, and focus on getting everyone to feel good.  Sadly, I have enough experience to realise that many churches that “keep Advent” do not use it to preach the Gospel.  On the very Sunday when they have larger attendance they have less of a message – the focus is on entertainment not education.

For those who do not keep Christmas, and I respect their convictions, are they doing enough throughout the year to match the christological focus that Advent can provide? For those who keep Advent, are they making it an opportunity to encourage their members to a deeper knowledge of God our Father and Jesus our Lord, and thus a deeper experience and enjoyment of both his grace and his peace?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Prayer at the Lord's Supper for the Holy Spirit's Work

Prayer at the Lord's Supper for the Holy Spirit's Work

I love the simplicity of this prayer for use in the Lord’s Supper.  In the biblical and Reformed understanding it is not the elements that are changed by the Holy Spirit, but they may be used by God to convey blessing to his hungry people.  This is not so much the Holy Spirit coming down to us, but his lifting us up to Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The emphasis here is on the unity in fellowship of Christ’s people, a unity that leads to service.  However, the ultimate expression of that unity awaits Christ’s return which is also an aspect of the message of the Lord’s Supper:

“Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, and bless these your gifts of bread and wine, that the bread we break and the cup of blessing that we bless may be the communion of the body and blood of Christ.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, that we may be bound in fellowship to all who share this feast, united in service throughout the world.  Keep us faithful in your service until Christ comes in final victory, that we may feast with all your saints in the joy of your eternal Kingdom.”

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

National Day of Prayer 2016

National Day of Prayer 2016

The Free Church of Scotland has called for a national day of prayer:

“Scotland can be considered by many to be a post Christian nation, many have no understanding of the good news of Jesus and at times the challenge of making the Gospel known can seem like an impossible task. But we believe the brave new world of Scotland is not a reason for us to panic; rather it is a reason for us to pray. As Os Guinness states, “The ultimate factor in the church’s engagement with society is the church’s engagement with God”

On the 30th of November 2016 – St Andrews’s Day – we invite all our members to get together for the specific purpose of praying and worshipping God together. In order to facilitate this we are urging all congregations to open their buildings for prayer and worship for a period throughout the day or to meet together in small groups across the country. We would also encourage youth groups, small groups and Bible study groups to consider joining together for a dedicated time of prayer.”

Would it not be an excellent expression of spiritual solidarity if other Reformed and evangelical churches within Scotland also participated in this day of prayer. The Free Church may have initiated this planned day of prayer, but surely we hope that other denominations, even if acting only at a congregational level, would also participate in this spiritual exercise.

While we await the promised resources I append an example of how this has been done in the past, citing the Act of Assembly of 1690:

“Let us, therefore, humble ourselves by fasting and praying;—let us search out our sins, and consider our ways, and confess these and our other sins with sorrow and detestation;—let us turn unto the Lord with fasting and weeping, and with mourning;—let us firmly resolve, and sincerely engage, to amend our ways and doings, and return unto the Lord our God with all our heart, and earnestly pray that, for the blood of the Lamb of God, our sins may be forgiven, and our backslidings healed, and we may yet become a righteous nation, keeping the truth, that religion and righteousness may flourish, and love and charity abound, and all the Lord's people may be of one mind in the Lord; and in order to all these, that the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, and that the preaching of the Word and dispensing of the sacraments may be accompanied with the wonted presence, power, and blessing of the Spirit of the Lord;—that the Lord would preserve and bless our gracious King and Queen, William and Mary, and establish their throne by righteousness and religion, and grant to these nations peace and truth together; and for that end, bless and prosper his Majesty's councils, and forces, by sea and land, and these of the princes and states his allies, for God and his truth;—that inferior rulers may rule in the fear of God, and judges be clothed with righteousness; and that many faithful labourers may be sent out into the Lord's vineyard; and they who are sent may find mercy to be faithful and be blest with success; —that families may be as little churches of Christ; and that the Lord would pour out his Spirit on all ranks of people, that they may be holy in all manner of conversation, and God may delight to dwell amongst us, and to do us good.”

Please visit the Free Church website where resources for congregational use will be made available:

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Slide Continues

The Slide Continues

Having departed from the biblical position that marriage is a covenant relationship, exclusively between a man and a woman, and accepted that practicing homosexuals in civil partnerships or gay “marriages” can be ministers, the Church of Scotland has courageously decided to draw a line in the sand. It seems that those who are in relationships that are neither regular marriages, civil partnerships nor gay “marriages” are ineligible for induction to local churches:

It seems that the minister in question is living with a partner but not in either of the approved unbiblical relationships.  There is inconsistency here – both civil partnerships and gay marriages are contrary to Scripture, so why not an irregular relationship.  (The news report does not make clear whether this is a heterosexual or homosexual relationship.) Why are two unbiblical practices approved but a third rejected?

A Church of Scotland spokesman explains, “The Church of Scotland requires its parish ministers to adhere to church common law, tradition and practice.” Noticeably absent is the requirement to adhere to Scripture!

A further question arises.  If the individual is violating church law, tradition, and practice, why does he still hold office in the denomination?  Even by the liberal denomination’s unbiblical standards he is living in fornication. Needless to say there will be no discipline.