Always in the Majority

“Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

(Jeremiah 33:2–3)

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, among other things going on in our country that are wicked and ungodly, I can’t help but think of John Knox, the great reformer of Scotland.  Chiseled in the wall regarding Knox are the words: Un home avec Dieu est toujours dans la majorite, which means “One man with God is always in the majority.”  These words were written of Knox concerning him as a man of prayer.  That isn’t all the man is known for, but surely this is a wakeup call for the people of God to be a people of prayer.   As Samuel Rutherford reminds us: “Grace withereth without adversity.  The devil is but God’s master fencer to teach us to handle our weapons.”  Our greatest weapon is prayer (Eph. 6:18).  Let us learn to handle it well.

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Standing Firm, Pressing On with Joy

The Christian life is undoubtedly, among other things, one of endurance (Heb. 10:36).  In Christ by grace through faith we have need of pressing on in Christ by grace through faith (Heb. 12:1).  Our lives hidden in Jesus are continuously a matter of faith or believing the Word of God and clinging to it and hanging on or living by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Dt. 8:3; Mt. 4:4).  Our lives are in need of continual confession of sin and repentance and faith.  Those justified by faith continue to live by faith.  We are those who must continually think on our ways and turn our feet to the Lord and His ways (Ps. 119:59).  Such a life is “hard” with suffering (Heb.10:32 ) and especially hard as a “struggle against sin” (Heb. 12:4) in which we must not grow weary (2 Thess. 3:13; Heb. 12:3).  In fact, in many places God’s Word calls us to hold fast and stand firm as the children of God in a world hostile to us where we are exiles and strangers and pilgrims (Ps. 119:19, 54; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11; Heb. 11:13-16).  We live in a place that is not our home and that seeks to turn us away from our pursuit and new love and so we have need to remain steadfast and firm (Ex. 14:13; Ps. 119:51, 61; 1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 6:13; Phil. 4:11).  Our sin within, the devil, and worldliness all strive hard against us to entangle us and weigh us down.  Life in Christ by the Spirit unto the Father is a life of turning again and again to the Word and to prayer and the sacraments (in public worship) for the strengthening of our hearts by grace (Heb. 13:9).  Otherwise we will not be able to stand firm in the grace of God (1 Peter 5:12) amidst enemies that seek to destroy and deceive and detain us in our pursuit of Godliness and Holiness unto the Lord.  Standing firm in the faith is indeed a hard struggle for which we must put on the “armor of God” and carry our “sword” and look continually unto God in prayer (Eph. 6).

Interestingly, God has also given elders to the Church who are to “hold firm” (Titus 1:9) to the Word of God and thus provide stability for the sheep as those who know and believe and love and proclaim and defend the truth, the Word of God, in which the people of God are sanctified (Jn. 17:17) and enabled to stand fast and not grow weary.  In other words, the Church is and is to be a pillar and buttress of truth where the saints are enabled to grow to maturity and not waver in the faith.  Godly elders help us to hold fast our confession firm to the end.

The Spirit and the gifts are ours, the Father’s smile is upon us in Christ Jesus, and our Savior died and lives to save us to the uttermost.  We have need of endurance in holding fast our confession (Heb. 4:14; 6:18; 10:23; Rev. 3:11).  United to Christ, we have enemies that seek to undo us and entice us and weigh us down.  But greater is He who is in us than He who is in the world.  The fight against sin, the devil, and worldliness are indeed wearying.  There might be times when we are ready to throw in the towel.  In fact, we very much relate to the apostle Paul who considered it better to be at Home with the Lord than in this life of sin and misery where it is hard.  But, like Paul, we leave our time in God’s wise and Fatherly hands.  He has planted us here and bids us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the glory to come.  He promises us that He is with us and that His grace is sufficient.  How do we keep going in this life and not grow weary?  We must ever keep looking to Christ — backwards to the cross of Christ, upwards to the intercession of Christ, and forwards to the coming of Christ.  We must attend to the means of grace since that is what God has ordained to strengthen or give life to our hearts for pressing onwards and upwards to the goal (Phil. 3:14).  We will run the race with endurance only as we devote ourselves to the public gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day, to the private exercises of reading and meditating upon God’s Word and prayer.  It is in this way that we walk by the Spirit and live in reliance upon Him, humbly waiting for and walking with our God in Christ Jesus.

And let us remember that this holding fast our confession of Christ and enduring in the midst of enemies is not joyless.  We are not those who walk around in a perpetual sullen state; rather, we are those who rejoice in the Lord always.  We are those who like Paul and Silas are able to pray and sing hymns to God even at midnight in a prison (Acts 1625; cf. Ps. 119:62) because our joy isn’t tied to our circumstances.  We count it all joy and a privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake and in Christ.  We don’t delight in our suffering and various trials but in our sovereign and loving Father who works all things together for our good.  May the Lord teach us and give us what Jeremiah Burroughs calls the “rare jewel of Christian contentment” so that we might have that “sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

God’s Steadfast Love

Aside

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.”

(Psalms 119:41–42 ESV)

Psalm 119 has captivated many hearts, souls, and minds over the years, including Martin Luther who said he would not part with one leaf of it for the whole world.  Church of England pastor, Charles Bridges, has written perhaps one of the best expositions of this most precious and soul-stirring, mind-renewing, faith-strengthening psalms concerning true piety.  There are other great ones, but Bridges is one of my favorites.  Here is what he had to say about Psalm 119:42…

“What is the salvation which he had just been speaking of?  The whole gift of the mercy of God — redemption from sin, death, and hell — pardon, peace, and acceptance with a reconciled God — constant communication of spiritual blessings — all that God can give, or we can want; all that we are able to receive here, or heaven can perfect hear after.  Now if this comes to us — comes to our hearts — surely it will furnish us at all times with an answer to him that reproacheth us.  The world casts upon us the reproach of the cross.  “What profit is there that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts?” (Mal. 3:14).  What is there to counterbalance the relinquishment of pleasure, esteem, and worldly comfort?  The mere professor can give no answer.  He has heard of it, but it has never come to him.  The believer is ready with his answer, ‘I have found in the Lord’s salvation pardon and peace — “not as the world giveth” — and such as the world cannot take away.  Here, therefore, do I abide, finding it my happiness not to live without the cross, and testifying in the midst of abounding tribulation, that there are no comforts like Christ’s comforts.’

But there is a far heavier reproach than that of the world — when the grand accuser injects hard thoughts of God — when he throws our guilt and unworthiness — our helplessness and difficulties, in our face… Free grace has saved me — an unspotted righteousness covers me — an Almighty arm sustains me — eternal glory awaits me.  Who shall condemn? “Who shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?” (Rom. 8:33-39).”

This reminds me of the great hymn “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Bancroft:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

The Fear of the Lord

Two words leave a bad taste in the mouth of many in our self-serving culture today.  They are submission and service.  Such words taste bad to all who are not converted as new creatures in Christ.  But in Christ our nature and view are changed, and we are now able to look upon the culture with new eyes.  We now, by the grace of God, want to submit and serve one another as we are called to do. The apostle Paul describes submission and service of one another as hallmarks of the Christian family, both universally and locally in churches and families.  William Gouge, a Puritan pastor who served for forty-five years at St. Ann Blackfriars in London and was a member of the Westminster Assembly, says that this submitting and serving one another flows from the fear of God.  Gouge explains the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:21

“The fear of God is both the efficient cause that moves a true Christian willingly to perform all duty to man, and also the purpose that he refers everything that he does…

First, the fear of God is an awe-filled respect of the divine majesty.  Sometimes it arises from faith in the mercy and goodness of God.  When the heart of man has once felt a sweet taste of God’s goodness, and found that all happiness consists only in His favor, it is struck with such an inward awe and reverence, that it would not displease His majesty for anything.  Rather, it would do whatever it knows to be pleasing and acceptable to Him… Sometimes again, awe and dread of the divine majesty arises from distrust.  When a man’s heart doubts God’s mercy, and expects nothing but vengeance, the very thought of God strikes an awe or rather dread into him, and so makes him fear God.

From this double cause of fear, where one is contrary to another, has arisen that usual distinction of a filial, or son-like, fear, and a servile, or slavish fear… The filial fear is such a fear as dutiful children bear to their fathers.  But the servile fear is such as bond-slaves bear to their masters.  A son simply fears to offend or displease his father, so that his obedience is joined with hatred.  Such a man fears not to sin, but to burn in hell for sin… This slavish fear is plainly a diabolical fear, for the devils so fear that they tremble (James 2:19)… We must serve the Lord without this fear (Luke 1:74).  There is nothing acceptable to God in this fear to submit one’s self.  Therefore, it is the filial fear to which this clause refers…

By this clause, ‘in the fear of the Lord,’ the apostle implies that it is the fear of God which moves men in good conscience to submit themselves one to another… A true fear of God makes us respect more what God requires and commands than what our corrupt heart desires and suggests.  It subdues our unruly passions, and brings them within the compass of duty.  It makes us deny ourselves and our own desires, and, though through the corruption of our nature and inborn pride we are loath to submit, yet God’s fear will bring down that proud mind and make us humble and gentle.  It will keep those who are in authority from tyranny, cruelty, and too much severity, and it will keep those who are under subjection from giving half-truths, deceit, and conspiracies.

Behold how necessary it is, that a true fear of the Lord be planted in men’s hearts, in the hearts of kings and all governors, in the hearts of subjects and all people, whether superiors or subordinates.  Where no fear of God is, there will be no good submission to man…

Happy is that kingdom where magistrates and subjects fear the Lord.  Happy is that church where ministers and people fear the Lord.  Happy is that family where husband and wife, parents and children… fear the Lord.  In such a kingdom, church, and family, everyone will submit themselves to the mutual good one of another.”

~ From “Building a Godly Home: A Holy Vision for Family Life” edited and modernized by Scott Brown and Joel Beeke

Oh how we need this filial fear of the Lord today in the church and in the world.  I need it more and more in my own life.  What a wonderful thing to pray for ourselves and our families and our churches and our nation.  

Do Not Grow Weary

In recent news the hostile subject of marriage has come before the Supreme Court of our country.  There is no question that our country is divided over the issue of marriage, with the balance sliding more and more in the wrong direction.  The Bible is clear on the definition of marriage (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25; Mt. 19:1-12; Eph. 5:22-33) with all of its benefits.  Of course there are many, whether on blogs or television or radio, who misquote and misunderstand Scripture.  They, like the devil himself, seem skilled in twisting the words of God and are like the blind leading the blind.  Nevertheless, with all that is going on in our country over the issue of marriage it can be quite maddening as well as disheartening to say the least.  What can the righteous do when the foundation seems to be shaking?  What can the people of God do when it seems that the wicked are prevailing, whether it is in the case of marriage or any other subject?  How are we to live in this present evil age?  Well, there are several things to consider.  This is by no means an exhaustive list for Christians.  But it is at least a start…

1. Let us remember where we live (Gen. 3; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:2; 1 Pt. 2:9; 1 Jn. 5:19).  It is good to be honest.  This world, including America, is fallen and sinful.  We live in a place where evil is present and seemingly prevailing.  We praise God that we have been delivered from such a place by grace through faith in Christ and that we are secure in Him with the Holy Spirit as our guarantee.  But let us not forget where we temporarily live.  This place is not paradise.  This place is full of men and women, boys and girls, who are evil and who do evil things, even with a smile on their face.  We would do the same but for the grace of God!  But let’s be honest about where we live.  We shouldn’t expect anything different from those who are evil.

2. Let us remember who is on the throne (Ps. 2; Rev. 4-5).  Don’t loose heart.  There is a righteous King ruling and reigning who knows all and sees all.  No one is getting away with anything.  The battle belongs to the Lord and He will win in the end.  It is the Lord who laughs last.  We must hold fast to our confession and be ready to give a defense.  The Lord reigns and is sovereign.  Let us remember that we have a Father who knows what He is doing and is working all things together for our good.  Our sovereign Lord knows how to keep us and defend us and bring us safely home, even though it is through the valley of the shadow of death.  We need not fear any evil because the Lord our Shepherd is with us to the very end.

2. Let us pray down heaven (Ps. 7, 10; Dan. 6, 9; Heb. 4:16; Rev. 5:8; 8:1-5).  In so many of the psalms we have David or others who find themselves in distress.  It seems their first recourse is prayer.  They run to the throne of grace for help.  In fact it seems that all throughout the Bible God’s people pray in regards to the injustice and wickedness and sin they see all around them and even within them.

3. Let us not forsake the assembling for worship (Ps. 73; Heb.10:23-25).  The worse thing to do in times of difficulty or crisis is to abandon corporate worship.  Forsaking the gathering together of the saints is detrimental to our spiritual vitality, especially when we realize that we are in spiritual warfare and are not playing a game.  Worship gives us the right perspective and it is where the Lord teaches us and rebukes us and corrects and trains us and calms us.  There our Lord grants us contentment and joy in Him so that the things of this world tend to fade into the background and we once again have the right perspective.  Worship is meant to stir us up and encourage us to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering because he who promised is faithful.

4. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus (Heb.12).  The Christian life is one of struggle and weariness.  The race of faith is difficult as we learn daily.  How will we endure as we face the increasing hostility of the world in things such as marriage and all else?  We must keep our eyes on the “founder and perfecter of our faith”.  He despised the shame and joyfully accepted the abuse and is now at the right hand of the throne of God.  Let us also remember where our heart is and our eternal home.  Let us not trade in such a great salvation for such meagerness as this world.  Let us be even willing to suffer and die as we struggle against sin, knowing that our Father has our holiness and good in mind.

5. Let us speak the truth and do good (Mark 1; Rom. 1; 1 Peter 4:12-19).  Those to whom the apostle Peter wrote lived under ungodly civil government and were surrounded by an ungodly society.  How were they to handle it?  They were not to be surprised, to rejoice for being associated with Christ and sharing in his sufferings, to consider themselves blessed, and to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”.  If we must suffer, then let it be for doing what is good and righteous.

6. Let us remember that this is not our home (Heb. 11:13-16; 13:14).  Here we have no lasting city and are therefore not tied to it.  We are citizens of heaven more than we are citizens of this earth.  And we await with eagerness and joy the great Day when Christ will return to get rid of evil once and for all and usher in the New Heavens and Earth where we will spend eternity with our Lord and Savior.

7. Let us trust God, His power, & His design (Acts; Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Thess. 1).  We are told that the gospel is the power of God to salvation and that faith comes by hearing through preaching.  And we know that the Holy Spirit is God and will prevail whenever and wherever He chooses.  Let us not doubt the power of God but boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  There is no other hope for us or for our country.  Let us leave it to God and faithfully believe, know, love, & proclaim the Word of God.  We don’t have to do this with screaming however.  Let us proclaim the gospel boldly and winsomely and calmly and patiently though uncompromisingly, knowing full well that God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword and is living active.  His Word works whether we see it or not.  Let us trust and obey.

Fight the good fight of the faith and run the race with endurance and know that the same grace that has brought us safe thus far will lead us safely all the way Home.  Our God is a mighty fortress whose truth and Kingdom are forever.

We always have every reason to “give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and…sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” (Psalms 7:17).

Mighty Weakness

Douglas Bond, in The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, explains how the Scottish Reformer, though he was intent on silencing the enemies, he was equally intent on empowering the weak through education.  Bond writes of Knox:

“John Knox had a vociferous tongue and, when provoked, as we have seen, he could lay on the invectives against wickedness and the enemies of Christ and His church.  But it is important to observe that he reserved his thunder for the influential elite.  For the commoner, however, Knox had nothing but compassion and patience…”

Knox sought to defend and educate the weak, those the current establishment in the church and country sought to suppress.  Reading Bond’s comments on the Scottish Reformer, I couldn’t help but think that John Knox was so much like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who reserved his most fierce words for those who were of their “father the devil” (John 6:44) and his most tender words for those who knew themselves to be sinners in need of His sovereign saving grace.  Bond says that Knox “saw himself as a weak man made mighty by God’s grace…”  Such is the attitude fostered by those who are followers of Christ.  It is when we are weak that we are strong because God’s grace is sufficient.  And John Knox sought to promulgate that truth to those who were weak so that the joy of the Lord would be their strength.  To do so, among other ways, Knox set about the task of educating the people with the Word of God.  Bond continues… 

“Medieval religion had worn itself out attempting to dazzle the masses with images and candles, vestments and ceremony, but Reformation Christianity was a religion of the Word, and Knox wanted that Word accessible to everyone.  Rich or poor, male or female, he was determined that Christ’s glory be known in all Scotland through literacy.  Hence, he urged the nobility, ‘Of necessity it is that your Honors be most careful for the virtuous education and godly upbringing of the youth of the realm.’ He saw the grand objective of education as ‘the advancement of Christ’s glory,’ and urged that Christ-centered education be established for the ‘continuing benefit of the generations following.’

“To accomplish this, Knox, in the Books of Discipline, established the first national education system in the Western world.  Hence, the prototype nation for universal literacy is Reformation Scotland, and every one of the ‘public’ schools throughout the land — awkward though the fact may be to moderns — was distinctly Christian, with the Bible in English and ‘the catechism of Geneva’ as the curriculum.”

What was the objective of Knox in this?  It was to empower the weak to acknowledge their weakness and turn away from themselves and cling to Christ Jesus and so grow in his grace and knowledge.  Bond concludes his book on John Knox with these encouraging words to those who know they are weak but God is strong:

“How can strength ever be wanting for the least saint who finds his might in the fullness of God’s omnipotence?  What might God do in our world if ordinary Christians acknowledged their frailty and found rest in God’s grace and power?  Knox, the quintessential ‘simple, sincere, fervent, and unfeigned’ man, summed up what happened in his world: ‘God have his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.’  May he do the same in our world.  And may we be Christians, like John Knox, who know our mighty weakness, turn from ourselves, and find strength in the inexhaustible power of God alone.”

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

~ 2 Cor. 12:10

The Blood of the Eternal Covenant

Rick Phillips, in his commentary on Hebrews, gives a wonderful description of the doctrine of the atonement and its importance in our lives:

The atonement is a repulsive subject to many; they flinch to think that God would require blood-shedding in order to achieve his goals. There is hardly a more arresting sight than that of human blood being spilled.  People see blood and they faint.  They stumble upon a crime scene, perhaps, or a traffic accident, and stop dead in their tracks to realize they are looking at a stain of human blood upon the ground.  Blood is the very presence of death and suffering and lament.  Yet it is with the shedding of his own Son’s precious blood that God makes his most important and essential and final statements to this world, statements we must hear and receive if we are to come to God for salvation.

 

The first statement that the blood of Christ makes is God’s holy judgement on our sin.  It is only, really, when we see the blood of the Son of God spilled upon the earth that we comprehend anything of the sinfulness of sin. The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote: “From hence we see what is the evil of sin.  How great it is that has made such a breach between God and my soul that only such a way and such a means must take away my sin.  I must either have lain under the burden of my sin eternally, or Jesus Christ, who is God and man, must suffer so much for it.”  J.C. Ryle adds, “Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction.  Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood and agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matt. 27:46).”

 

Second, the blood of Christ also shows the great magnitude of God’s love for us.  It is in dimensions appropriate to a cross that Paul speaks of God’s love in Ephesians 3:18, praising its width and length and height and depth.

 

Third, the blood of Christ proclaims God’s full involvement in our world, at every level… In light of the cross of Christ, the accusation that God is far off and aloof from the reality of this world is in fact the greatest of all blasphemies.  For the cross displays God’s involvement in this world in a way that is not only far greater than we could demand, but is far more gracious than we could imagine.