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B.W. Newton

The "Patmos" Series No. 24

Things That Accompany Salvation

Chapter 12: Moral Duties.

Perhaps no Scripture more fully sets forth what should be the practical walk of the children of God than the concluding chapters of this Epistle; and while we feel how the Church has failed to recognize them and therefore not walked according to them, we must remember that the general ruin does not take away our responsibility individually to seek these things and to desire that our steps may be regulated by them.

That the original order and beauty of these things can now be restored, so that the building might again present its proper symmetry and proportion, is impossible: still, this does not hinder our individually seeking them; and while these two thoughts are borne in mind, we may most profitably and blessedly dwell on the precepts here given us, and seek in our measure for that sympathetic feeling spoken of (v. 15); that ability “ to rejoice with them that rejoice, and to weep with them that weep,” etc.

This is no easy thing. We are also exhorted to be “of the same mind one towards another” (v. 16): a oneness of mind and thought and feeling which is the result of the Spirit of God. How difficult is this! How hard to be attained now when there is such diversity on every side: so many diverse springs of thought and feeling; so many different things actuating each mind! Yet still, it is according to the Word to seek this oneness of thought and feeling; indeed, it will constitute one of the chief elements of our happiness in heaven. There will not be a thought or feeling in your heart that will not find a corresponding one in others. How precious will this be, and how to be desired any little manifestation of it now!

Then too we are to be earnest and diligent “not slothful.” “Slothful in business” is not exactly the meaning of this passage. It is rather “in earnestness not remiss;” i.e., whatever we undertake in service to the Lord, we are to do with diligence; with earnestness. We are to do it “energetically:” that is the force of it. It does not allude, as many have thought, to our earthly calling and business. We are not to say “I will be diligent in my earthly calling; this is the sphere in which God has set me to serve Him and He has said I am not to be slothful; so I will be diligent in my business, and in that serve God according to this chapter.” Now that is not the meaning of it at all. It is anything rather than that. It is the very reverse. Anything rather than the thought that all our energies are to be devoted to our earthly calling.

We may feel perhaps, at a given moment, “now I ought to spend this portion of my time in my earthly calling. God would have me engage thus. It is the right thing to do now.” Well, if this question be settled, then do it “with diligence.” But you see, how different will be the thought then—doing it because it is necessary and needful to be done, and so able to look to God in the performance of it—from doing it as the thing which is to engage all our thoughts and energies!

Then, we are to be “serving the time:” i.e., we are to know the how and the when anything is to be done. We are to be alive to opportunities; to seize them; never to let them slip. If you notice anyone wise in his generation; anxious to succeed in the world; mark how carefully he watches every opportunity for getting on; seeks to avail himself of each one, and lets nothing pass which he supposes will be for his profit. Now, just as anxiously should we “serve the time:” be quick to see and avail ourselves of any opportunity in which we may serve God; desiring not to fail in doing it and accomplishing it in the given time.

We are also exhorted with reference to anger—not to avenge ourselves, but to give place to wrath—i.e., to give room for the Lord to act. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” saith the Lord (v. 19). So that we are to leave it to the Lord, and not seek to displace Him from His office in exercising wrath by avenging ourselves; but rather to “heap coals of fire” on our enemy. He may brave out many things for a long time, but he cannot bear “burning coals:” and it will be a great blessing if we be able to avert from him it may be, that wrath which would otherwise be the result of his going on in his own way.

Chapter 13: Social Duties.

The subject of this chapter is one of great importance, but one in which the Church has greatly failed; so that we find it very often not even thought of, that the “powers that be are ORDAINED of GOD!” if this were recognized, what an effect would be produced! If it were felt that the higher powers stand to us in the place of God, and that therefore we can obediently serve Him in recognizing their authority! But often this is forgotten, hence the evil-speaking; the reviling; the “speaking evil of dignities!” Now, it is the path of faith to see God in these relations. It is one of the special promises to Faith, where the eye does not see it and where the world of course would not discern it and where much appears contrary to recognize God, and to trace Him acting towards us. So that if even a tyrant be in power, to remember that he is in the place of God towards us, and be able to say “In this I can own God!” You know Christ Himself did so when, before Pilate, He said “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me except it were given thee from above.” He thus owned Pilate acting towards Him in the place of God; and so, “when He was reviled He reviled not again:” “in His mouth were no reproofs!” Thus, the greater the trial, the greater the opportunity for the exercise of faith and for serving God: for we are to be “subject, not only for wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

Also, we are to owe no man anything not even honour; but to “render to all their dues” (v. 8). If any man claims honor, then we have to honor him: if any tribute, then we must pay tribute. “Owe no man anything” means, that we are to render to everyone his due claim. We should always be in a position to render back to everyone that which they claim of us: e.g., if you lend me anything, and at any given moment claimed it, I ought to be able instantly to render it to you. That is the force of the expression. It does not mean that we are never to lend to another; on the contrary, it is well that the saints should thus act in love and grace one towards another: it is well that there should be called forth friendly intercourse in the kindly exercise of these things; but we must always be able to render that which is claimed of us. These things, the Apostle tells us, may be classed under one great law, viz., “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law,” for “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

Chapter 14: Church Duties.

The subject of Chapter 14, I would dwell on for a moment. We are there taught how we should act towards those who are weak; that we should receive them (v. 1), but we are not “to judge their doubtful thoughts;” i.e., we are not to compel them, in cases where they may differ from us, to see as we do before we receive them. We may seek to enlighten them, This would be right; we ought to do so—to seek by all means in our power to enlighten their consciences, by bringing the light of the Word to bear upon them—but if after all, we cannot succeed, then we are not to judge them, but to leave it with the Lord and receive them. We must not “judge” them.

And this is the reason why the tribunal of Christ is referred to here (v. 10). We are to leave it to that Day. WE have not to judge their doubts, and to decide whether there be more or less sin connected with them. GOD alone knows how far they are responsible for their unenlightened consciences—whether it be occasioned by sin or not—we must leave it; we can only act according to our conscience. We must never act contrary to our conscience: that would be sin! Our conscience may be unenlightened; and we may find, at a future time perhaps, that we acted wrongly in some case; but yet, that was the only way in which we could then act, because our conscience was not further enlightened. So that it might be said “You acted right as you did then, because you acted according to your conscience; but the act itself was wrong, though you could not then have acted in any other way.” See how important it is to have an enlightened conscience! We must seek not to have a morbid one: nothing is much more troublesome; and this is owing to it not being enlightened BY THE WORD. I believe this will be found almost invariably to be the case; because, if a person is not enlightened by the WORD and his conscience becomes sensitive, of course, he will be much troubled: and, if he keep away from the teaching of the Word his conscience does not become enlightened; he must go on his troubled way.

And so with regard to days not commanded in Scripture to be kept (v. 5). The Lord’s day is to be kept, and therefore about that there is NO QUESTION. But, where no direct instruction is given in Scripture, and it is left open to each one to act, we are not in such a case to judge one another. One may say “I think I ought to keep this day.” Another may say “I think I ought not to keep it.” Well each must “be fully persuaded in his own mind” and must not judge another as to these things. They are to be done by each one “unto the Lord;” i.e., with reference to Him. We are to “live” unto Him, and we may “die” unto Him (v. 8). So that there can be no circumstance whatever, in which a believer can be placed, in which he cannot act unto the Lord and serve Him. And as in life we seek that all things should be clone in reference to God, so in death we would desire to suffer its sorrows with reference to Him.

The Sabbath.

Now, to speak of the Day which God has hallowed. The seventh day was not a type of anything “future,” but it had the character of “memorial” of a rest in which God rested; when He could look on Creation and rest in it as “blessed.” Adam and Eve, while they remained in innocency, could look on a certain day which God had hallowed, and say “It is an expression to us of God’s satisfaction in the work of His hands.” A blessed thought is thus connected with the Sabbath as a “memorial” day.

But then, when sin entered, how soon all that was gone! God rested not in creation any more, and therefore the Sabbath was to be contemplated with reference to something “future;” to which Hope might look forward and Faith expect. How gracious of God after the ruin was complete, to introduce this blessed element of comfort to cheer our souls with a future hope; a pledge, that “there remaineth a Sabbath to the people of God” where all is perfect, and which will not pass away because it does not rest in the creature any more, but stands in the perfectness of Emmanuel.

The Sabbath then pointed on to that, and therefore it was continued to man as man; so we find that before the Law was given the Sabbath was kept. Israel did not “gather manna” on the Sabbath day. And, when the Law was given from Sinai, God formally enacted it, and engraved that enactment on the same stone on which were engraved those two great moral precepts “Thou shalt love Me perfectly;” and “Thou shalt not even desire evil!” Two condemning precepts to us; but in Glory how we shall find them inwrought in us, and realize them to be “written on our hearts!”

And in connection with these precepts comes the enactment of the Sabbath; thus giving Israel a certain hope “under the Law,” because there are two things God intends for His true Israel; viz., to give them blessing and rest and joy in this earth; and also a better rest and more perfect joy in Heaven. These two things are never separated. He promised Abraham and Abraham’s seed blessing in the LAND—the earthly Canaan—and they will yet have it, when “God will rest in it and joy over them with singing.” Do not forget the earthly prospects of Israel; but there are higher and more blessed heavenly prospects—far better than anything that could be even in the Land of Emmanuel itself, blessed as that will be—and those two spheres of blessing it is the intention of God finally to give to His people. ISRAEL will have both by and bye. They will have rest in the earth, but they will also look forward to a happier rest in the New Heavens and New Earth in the glory of God.

Then, God gave them His holy Law to test and prove them. He knew that sin was in them, but He wished to make it manifest to them; so He gave them that Law; promising, if they kept it, they should have blessing in earth and Heaven; but He proved them first by blessing in the earth (see Deut. 11). But, when it was proved that they could not attain the blessing proposed to them in the earth, of course it proved that they could not attain the blessings proposed to them in Heaven. But whilst they were tried as to the blessing proposed in the earth, the Sabbath was given, as peculiarly pointing to the blessing in the earth that shall be in the Millennial day; therefore, of course a prominence was given in His dealings with Israel to the seventh day. But when they were set aside, God did not immediately bring in Millennial blessings. They do not come to us. They are reserved for Israel. We have many tears; many adversaries; many trials; many things against us. We have not the outward blessings; we wait to see them given to ISRAEL by and bye; but we are blessed in “heavenly places:” And when the hour comes for those earthly blessings to be given to Israel, our blessing will be with Him Who is risen above the skies: therefore, we look for our “Sabbatism” there, in resurrection glory with Christ. So do you not see how necessarily, while God continues to hallow this day, it should pass on from the seventh to the first day of the week—the day of the Lord’s resurrection—for all our thoughts of the Sabbath are connected with that day. I have no sympathy with those who ask for a deliberate ordinance in Scripture for the change. The first day of the week is denominated by a special title in the Word of God, “the Lord’s day” —a day which peculiarly and especially belongs to the Lord—an expression only applied to two things; the “supper of the Lord” and “the Lord’s day.” It is not the same as the “Day of the Lord,” but a distinct expression appropriated to the first day of the week. Is not this distinct sanction? And do we not find that on that day the saints used to assemble for worship; to “break bread” as it is said?

And what is its typical character? It points on to perfect rest in Glory. But does it embody more than the typical seventh day did? Yes; for the seventh day had the thought of “freedom” connected with it; i.e., rest from the necessity of that which sin had introduced. And it is a blessed thought not to be despised; this negative character of “rest.” But, whenever blessings are given to those who know labor and travail and sorrow here, there must needs be two thoughts not one only. There must always be the thought from what we are delivered; from what we rest; a retrospective view. Israel could look back and say “we have been delivered from Egypt;” but Israel would have thought that a poor deliverance if they had not been brought into the land of glory and rest; so there must always be a positive thought of blessing, as well as a negative one. Thus, while we are redeemed and resting from certain things, we are redeemed to certain things and what are they? All the glory and all the blessing that God has given to Christ, with ability also to “live unto God!”

Think of the difference between the grave of Christ and the day of His resurrection! Standing by the grave of Christ, we see the Holy One in perfect rest. He had known travail, sorrow, persecution; but man’s power could reach Him there no more! It was perfect rest. There can be nothing more perfect than that rest; when you stand as it were by that grave, and thank God that He Who is there doth rest from His labors, sorrow and travail. But suppose we only had fellowship with Him there. Suppose it had only been deliverance from sorrow and trial, where would have been the life, the blessing, the glory? So, Christ did not abide in that grave in which He lay through that Sabbath, but the first day of the week He rose; He entered into glory and then, though indeed the character of the grave remains in that there is no labor, no sorrow, no weakness in connection with earth, so that it is true rest; yet there is also “life unto God.” “In that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.” What is the joy of Christ? To live unto God: to have competent powers for it which He ever had, but which have now no hindrance from earth.

And will not that by and bye be our Sabbath? It will be a rest from all below, but with new powers of “life.” So you see why we keep the first day of the week. It is still hallowed by God; still separated from the rest of time; but what marks it? Two things. First, we rest from the sorrowful necessities of human toil and labor that come in the other six days of the week. As far as we can we rest from them; if not, we destroy its typical character. But secondly, we not only rest from these things, but we “live unto God.” If we can use any thing for the Lord’s service we are bound to use it. It is only rest as regards the necessities of human toil. It has the character of “living to God,” and therefore there is energy connected with it. That is the character of this typical day. How careful then believers ought to be to stamp on it its typical character, and to make that character prominent!

And as regards “living unto God.” It is not always easy to live wisely to God. Merely to have the desire and intention of “living to God” and doing it in a right way are two different things; and here there are often grievous mistakes. Believers say on the Lord’s day, “I do desire to live to God,” and at once perhaps, they devote their energies to something; it may be the instruction of others: something right and desirable. But are they to forget their own souls? How rapid and hasty often is Nature; saying “I will act for God, and do such and such things;” forgetting that it needs a certain preparedness of heart to do them wisely and rightly. How can those echo are famished act with strength and power? How can those who need the torch of light to guide them through their path walk there without it? How can they fight the battles of the Lord, unless the “sword of the Spirit” be in their hands? Now, have we it in our hands? Is every soul among God’s people wise? Is there a skilful hand to wield the “sword of the Spirit?” Ah no! and the hearts of believers often are not strengthened to feed on Christ as revealed in the Scriptures and very uninstructed in the ways of God; and yet they go forth to teach others unstrengthened themselves! unfed themselves! so that it is very often energy unguided and undirected by the Word of God and the wisdom of His Spirit.

And what is the result of energies like these? God may occasionally bless them; but are they the steadfast carefully regulated energies which ought to be found in the Church of God, arising from understood truths: truths which are known in the heart? How blessed is it when hearts, really established in grace and having communion with God, go forth; especially when they are united together! It grieves me often to see how the Lords day is misspent by believers. They are engaged often in occupations which weary body and soul but are not careful to strengthen their own souls by private reading, meditation and prayer, more than they have time for on other days. So how important is this to believers, especially if, as is often the case, during the week they should be tempted into paths of worldliness. I have seen believers working for God on the Lord’s day, and in the week in their leisure hours engaged in the things of the world—the reading, the amusements of the world—and therefore, during the six days of the week what opportunity do they have of being instructed in the Word of God? And if the Lord’s day be so occupied as to keep them away from instruction, how can they gain it at all?

One thing more, as regards our relation to present things in hallowing this day. Surely it is of the deepest moment to us as men, weak in body and very often weak in soul! Suppose the Lord had not in His great mercy and wisdom “hallowed” this day, and therefore not given a commandment to His saints to observe it: then, suppose an earthly master, whom you ought to obey, commanded you to work on that day, you would be obliged to do it! But, if you are able to say “There is a superior claim. GOD has commanded me to rest on that day,” then you gain a period of rest for body and soul.

Others have said “Perhaps it may bear on the Church of God, but has it any relation to the world?” Yes. When men have the Scriptures, we are able to go back to Genesis, and say “The Sabbath was given then to men as men. From the first, God gave the command that there should be a separate portion of time in which men should rest. But, how blessed for those who see it not only as indicating the kindness of God to His creatures, but also as that which typifies our future rest when viewed with the eye of faith. You see, there are two ways in which to view our blessings. First, simply as things which in themselves may be good: but also, in the relation in which Faith may be able to view them, as pointing on to something yet to come. So, while it has a relation to the Church as indicating its privileges, it has a relation to men as men; and therefore, those who break this command break one of the natural relations of God to man as man. Are we to despise this? Is there to be no pity extended to men as men? Does not God feel for His creatures as His creatures? Is He indifferent to their welfare? Does He care for the sparrows and not care for men? It would be a grievous thing if God did not think of the world in its groaning and its trials; but from the very moment when Adam quitted Paradise, He manifested His kindness. So let a soul seek to act on these principles and be guided by these thoughts, and then see whether or not its path will be intelligent. Oh! how blessed is an understanding heart, when indeed the instruction comes from the Truth of God. Such a heart is able to look beneath the sign and see what it indicates! May we then ponder on these things; having a desire to walk now as approving those things that Christ will approve and sanction in the final day, when He will make distinction between what is confused here; and, where there has been any right principle; any right practice; it shall “by no means lose its reward.”

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