A new worship has taken hold in the world with new altars. It makes temples out of banks, out of global businesses, finances houses and stock exchanges. Almost gone from us is the worship of gods of wood and stone, the sun or the moon, or the mythical beings of Mount Olympus. In their place are pounds, Euros, and dollars. The only thing worth having is money. The author, Martin Amis, recently observed that class is no longer as important in English society as the amount of money each person has. Money has won in England, he maintains. Lust, avarice and greed are now our gods, the driving force of our devotions. We all bow our knees before the impulses of greed and epicurean luxury; mammon exceeds and overrides all other forms of worship. There can be no halt to this movement until every nation is subjugated under one rule and dictated to in all aspects of its life. Every tie of nationality, every bond of family or race, every distinction of religion must be dissolved. All must be melted into one great universal fellowship and kingdom of men.
As in Part One, we need first to remind ourselves it is not sinful in itself to be rich. Although many in and outside professing Christian circles may seek to persuade us otherwise. We need only think of Abraham or King Solomon to see that in Scripture, wealth has often been a blessing of God. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation to Timothy about the rich is quite straightforward.
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).
It is difficult to have riches and not to be inordinately attached to them. It then only takes some unexpected turn of events to reveal this to us. We will recall the account of the rich young man in the Gospels, when challenged to follow Christ “went away grieved for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). After this incident: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). Rich men are not shut out of the Kingdom of God on account of their wealth, but find it difficult to enter because of their love of it. That which men find difficult God makes possible. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).
There are those who assume that if someone has become rich it inevitably follows that this has been at the expense of the poor, whether of nations or individuals. For everyone who is rich, someone else is deprived. This is simply not true and cannot be substantiated by any facts. At the same time, we cannot excuse the many oppressive sins of the rich. “Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” (James 2:6-7) Yet, all men sin, rich and poor, all succumb to the temptation of covetousness in their own unique ways. I can love and trust the last penny in my pocket. In Psalm 37, we are told (vv.1-2) we are not envy the workers of iniquity and that they shall soon be cut down like the grass.
Envy is not quite the same as jealousy. Jealousy, when applied to God, relates to preserving His own rightful position and honour. “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). By jealousy, when speaking of men, usually we have in mind a negative attitude towards others who have something we would rather like ourselves. This can be material prosperity, academic or social standing, or some kind of skill, anything to which we take a fancy. When we come to speak of envy something more is involved. Envy goes beyond wanting another man’s goods for ourselves. As with jealousy, it begins with being covetous towards that which others possess and progresses to deep resentment that anyone should have more than we do or be better than we are. This progresses to an obsessive desire to reduce or even confiscate what they have, even although this does not necessarily improve our own position. In other words, the object of our envy should be harmed in some way ostensibly to our benefit.
This kind of thinking is often based on the false assumption, already referred to, that because a man has riches, it follows that he is thereby depriving someone else and making him poor. In a wider context it may be assumed that the existence of rich nations means that other nations are necessarily thereby impoverished. The reality is that all this has very little to do with righteous outrage at imagined injustice. More often than not, it is pure and simple envy directed at the rich. We cannot assume poverty is invariably caused by the rich who make others poor by unjustly taking their share of the things of this world. That the rich frequently oppress the poor goes almost without saying. Matters are far less straightforward than this. No one in history was ever lifted out of poverty by confiscating the wealth of the rich. As has been well said, this just makes everyone poor.
Envy always creates conflict. To be wealthy, successful or superior is in itself seen as a crime by the envious. It is thought axiomatic that when men are rich, then their advantage must have been gained by some underhand or even criminal means. This can be the case, but is not always true. Such prejudiced generalisations generally stem again from pure envy and hardly hidden greed.
Envy is often justified by sociologists. Common petty criminality among the young, vandalism and rioting, also euphemistically renamed as ‘anti-social behaviour’ is explained by sociologists as being caused by the deprivation experienced by the perpetrators. Hatred and resentment have been elevated to attributes of a social conscience.
Our modern living is saturated with envy and its effects upon our society are corrosive. Envy calls for the levelling of all things in terms of wealth, access to education and jobs, housing, social standing; no one must have a greater advantage than anyone else. Superiority in others is intolerable. All must have prizes regardless of merit. Yet we are called upon to live as though envy is non-existent. Envy is turned into a virtue. It parades as ‘upholding the cause of the poor’, ‘healing unjust social structures’, ‘providing justice for the oppressed’, and much more in a similar vein. These values are propagated by lies, indoctrination, guilt manipulation, the orchestration of public opinion in television and the media. Should the self-righteous babblings of the envious continue to gain ground, then our countries are doomed. The utopian ‘new Jerusalem’ promised by the quasi messianic leaders of our countries is based on the politics and economics of envy and spells nothing but ruin.
Human pride, adding inches to our stature in the eyes of others, greed, ostentation that we have not even paid for, boasting with something that does not even belong to us – these things are ruining us. Those who show off with possessions that really belong to other, usually indifferent and avaricious banks, should not complain when the day arrives for them to step up to the till. In this sense governments encourage theft and punish honesty. Thieves and looters, appalling though their behaviour is, are only doing what they have been encouraged to do by example – grab, grab, grab. Looting is not the province only of the apparently poor. Delivering the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture, the present mayor of London, proclaimed that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and labeled greed a “valuable spur to economic activity”. “Greed is good!” he cried and presumably covetousness is no longer a sin. The Bible says, “For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.”
(Psalm 10:3) He is forgetting what greed did to the City of London so very recently. This will not raise our nation up, but bring it tumbling down to hell.
Covetousness according to the Bible is sin. Covetousness is idolatry and at the root of all kinds of evil; it defiles our world in its abominable glory. It is forbidden by the Tenth Commandment and designated idolatry in Colossians 3:5. Only rarely does anyone preach about such matters. This canker eats away the pulpit and the pews. It should find no place in the heart of any of us. It is this that is at the heart of the current economic collapse – consume, consume, consume – borrow, borrow, borrow – an end in itself that keeps the economic balloon in the air. The bubble bursts only to be re-inflated. We so very conveniently forget that much begins with covetousness and seldom with legitimate need. It is the desire to possess more and more, obtain better and better, and by any means, and this takes over the sinful human soul. It is a life-goal that puts all others in the shade, the pursuit of material things for the sake of what they are in and of themselves. So many who profess to follow Christ have been sucked up into this destroying vortex, a tornado of never-ending desire, − never satisfied, never fulfilled, always hungry. Here is a refusal to be content in whatsoever God-given state we find ourselves (cf. Philippians 4:11). But it is the pathway of death.
Maynard Keynes, the economist, discredited in the eyes of many, but still widely followed by some, is remembered for this notorious remark: “In the long run, we are all dead.” There, of course, our debts cannot follow us, or so he thought. Debt repayment belongs to the future and the future will never happen. Kick the can down the road, tomorrow never comes. “If the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die”(1 Corinthians 15:32), is certainly a logical lifestyle for the godless man. Why burden ourselves with the repayment of debt. Governments clear debts by printing more money calling it ‘quantitative easing’ and debasing the currency. It is pure theft.
So we return to our Psalm (verse 21): “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.” The contrast here is not between the wicked borrowing and not paying back and the righteous man clearing his debts. Instead nothing is said about the righteous man having any debts to pay, but instead of taking, the godly man even provides for those in need of his mercy from his own resources. The apostle Paul gives guidance in this respect in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” What a different atmosphere we breathe here. God provides for us that we in turn might be merciful to others.
It is difficult to avoid all debt in the world in which we live. Few of us will have led debt free lives. Nevertheless, we ought not to burden ourselves in a way that God does not require of us. We ought not to become reconciled with an ‘enjoy today but pay tomorrow’ way of life. The rule should be as much as lieth within us to: “owe no man anything” (Romans 13:8). Should we be forced to contract a debt or mortgage, we ought then to try to pay it off in the speediest possible time. The pathway to financial ruin is debt, yet our modern economies and family budgets thrive on it. Household debt in the UK is said to amount to £1,429, 624,000,000. Taken as an average it means that each adult owes, including mortgages, £28,489. Not everyone is borrowing simply to meet the rising cost of living but to maintain the excessive way of living we have become accustomed to. We are prepared to make ourselves the slaves of others simply to satisfy inordinate lusts and desires rather than attend to legitimate needs. The desire to make debts, and to avoid or delay for as long as possible their repayment only postpones the day of ruin. Governments set the pace. At the moment the UK national debt stands at £1.2 trillion and is steadily rising. It is the equivalent of 74.5% of our gross national product.
The financially promiscuous, the dishonest, the financial oppressors, casino investors are always bailed out but the prudent and careful are left to pick up the bill. Bankers, politicians of every colour and creed having created a parasitic economy soon find the parasite is eating its host so that it too dies. The marks of a godly society are very different. God promised to bless Israel would they but keep His Law.“For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee” (Deuteronomy 15:6).
According to the Scriptures, the godless appear on the surface to prosper at every level, achieving their ends by wicked means. For the present, God allows it and so they assume what they do is right. There is no lightning bolt from heaven. “They say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth” (Ezekiel 8:12). The rich man “...lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. ... He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it” (Psalm 10:9 &11). Many godless are rich, some less so, some live on very little, but they seem not to suffer the troubles and distresses of God’s people. Martin Luther observed in his Preface to Commentary on Galatians: “Satan does not rage against the lives and opinions of whoremongers, thieves, murderers, perjurers, rebels against God, and unbelievers. Rather he gives them peace and quietness; he maintains them in his court, with all sorts of pleasures and delights, and gives them everything they want. In the same way in the early days of the church, he permitted all the idolatries and false religions of the whole world to be quiet and untouched and he maintained, defended and nourished them. It was only the church and religion of Christ that he attacked on every side.”
These people build their empires great and small on deceit and crooked deals and they prosper – at least, for the time being. In order to prosper in the same way as they do, we need to enjoy their blessing. Those who do not walk with them are excluded. According to the Bible, this prosperity is temporary and illusory. They may flourish as the field for a season, but then they will be quite suddenly and dramatically cut down as grass. We have no reason to envy such people, quite the opposite and most certainly we should not seek to emulate or join them.
The saints, prophets and apostles who have spoken out throughout the ages, to this day are defamed, not heeded. They are miserable other-worldly doom-mongers, loony conspiricists, mad pessimists who are out to shut off the human race and from the blessings of the modern world. They are not to be tolerated and are unworthy of any serious attention. The world is continually looking for a Balaam of some kind to bless, to speak God’s benediction on its lusts and passions. Compared with the great mass of mankind, the people of God have always toiled with difficulties, opposition and hatred and seem to have made little headway against the stream of evil and those holding sway over the hearts and minds of men. When there has been a surge forward, internal apostasy gains ground, setting her back to where she was. As dreams, myths and delusion is the way the world judges our faith.
There is ample evidence presented to us every single day that at the highest level of wealth acquisition, global commerce, the kings of gold and silver, the money-lords, bankers, mercantile speculators, global traders conspire to defraud and plunder. Acknowledging no creed or country, holding governments and nations to ransom they are the great men of the earth. Governments dare not offend them. Countries make war and peace as the money men determine. As we have seen here in Europe most recently the purse-strings of some nations are now directly in the hands of global powers. To be excluded from or banned this distribution of power is far worse than excommunication by a medieval Pope. To refuse to be allied to the United Nations, the IMF or the World Bank and other similar organisations is tantamount to being at war with the rest of the world. The will of these international organizations demands the full participation and co-operation of everyone in order to operate; but a maverick country would spoil things for everyone else. Their will overrides the wishes and distinctive creeds and customs of individual nations. It will demand the subjugation of all religious and moral codes to its own laws. Setting itself up as god, nothing will be allowed to thwart its plans.
We observe today a godless global power at work that clamours for a common code of law, a common currency, and this will not stop until all the nations of the earth are under its rule. All this is clearly found in Scripture for those who care to look for it. This movement seeks to dissolve every tie of nationality, every family bond, every belief system it cannot bend to serve its own ends. It will secure the purse strings of the nations in the hands of a global international power. The only law of these men is that of self-interest and worldly gain. The people of God are as nothing, the nation is nothing, the Bible is nothing, faith is nothing, moral and religious scruples of any kind are nothing, everything is nothing that cannot be used to that one great end the accumulation of massive wealth and concentration of power.
We must ever hold before our eyes what the Bible teaches. The complete collapse of the worldly systems of politics, power and affluence will be one of the most spectacular events in world history. The Bible has more to say about this than of any other occurrence in secular history. They will not be reformed or reconstructed. They will not be changed in any way, but done away with, judged. That which men have worshipped, that in which their souls have delighted will be brought down within the space of one hour. The kings of the earth shall wail and mourn as their Babylon burns. “And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.” (Revelation 18:11).
Every government shall find its lifeblood draining from her. Contemplating the burning of everything they hold dear, they are alarmed at the consequences of the ensuing ruin. The merchants of the earth will be full of tears and grief at the collapse of that which made them rich. That which they believed would continue forever has come to a disastrous end. The stock markets are shut; the computer screens blank; the finances houses deserted; the banks full of worthless bits of paper. They weep not because of their sins, not because of the suffering they have brought upon so many people, they weep because their market has collapsed and is gone – “for in one hour so great riches is come to nought” (Revelation 18:17). Heaven shall echo with the loudest halleluiahs, whereas on earth there will be nothing but weeping and mourning. Alas, alas, alas – the only sound to be heard.
When the burnt embers of all the vaunted schemes of men, all their boasted wealth and wisdom, lie in ashes at their feet, then all that the saints of God, all that the prophets and apostles have predicted, all that the Word of God has proclaimed all along – all will be shown to have been true. By their own thoughts and deeds, godless men will stand condemned. All that will be heard will be the howling and loud lamentation of deep despair at their irrecoverable loss. Envy them? I don’t think so.
The renunciation of the world system by genuine believers will be shown to have been justified in the face of the ruin of the world’s boasted greatness. In that day sorrow and joy shall change places. Our sorrow shall be changed to joy, their joy to enduring sorrow. There shall be a multitudinous company of people celebrating “the salvation, and the glory, and the power of God.” We should be clear that heaven’s estimation of the world in which we find ourselves is very different to that entertained by most of our fellow men. That which is the object of their fondest love is the object of God’s fiercest wrath. That for which men strive and work, that for which they willingly become slaves, is that which God most severely censures. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
As in other verses in this Psalm here is both a command and a promise. We are to delight in the Lord and the promise is that He shall give us the desires of our heart. God’s children are to miss out on nothing not even the desires of our hearts.
It must be clear to us that biblical teaching stands in a clear antithesis to all that we see of the godless world around us. Let remind ourselves that the clash is not between secular and spiritual, or temporal and eternal, because all these things were created by God and then pronounced very good (Genesis 1:31), but between darkness and light, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between good and evil. There can be no compromise; there is no area of grey in the middle; there is just black or white. One thing we must remember is that godliness and righteousness will and must triumph because it is the truth and has the reality of God behind it. How this will all unfold is explained in the Old and New Testaments. Far from being pessimistic and looking for failure at every turn, we see that God’s purpose shall endure despite the wickedness of men’s hearts. Everything taking place on earth contributes to this end. Towards the end at some point, it may well appear that everything that is of God is about to be exterminated from the face of the earth, but this should not deceive us; it is all preparatory to a horrendous period of an outbreak of God’s wrath and judgement upon all that He abhors in this world. This will and must lead to His triumph and the salvation of many. We look forward to that day when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
Sadly, there are so many who profess to be Christian, many who claim to have a personal knowledge of Christ, who seem to make no such distinction. Their way of life, their aims and ambitions are much the same as everyone else around them. Despite the fact that the Bible is clear: “the whole world lieth in wickedness”. Nevertheless, they consider the never-ending pursuit of the same goals as the ungodly around them and similar lifestyles is a quite acceptable way to live. Indeed, it shows them to be the same as others. They seem to have no problem with this and think it speaks rather for their faith.
The words of the puritan, Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), are worthy of our attention: “It is the baseness of our nature we can wonder at shallow things. There cannot be foolery, but there will be many about it presently, and stand admiring every empty idle thing that the nature of man is carried away with; whereas indeed there is nothing worthy of admiration but the wonderful love of God. ... Now whatsoever may make wonderment is in Jesus Christ, whose name is Wonderful.” − in A Description of Christ.
Many would have us believe, there is not really that much wrong with the world at large that cannot be cured. It can and will be changed, either by some kind of revival at the end of the age or by continued reformation until it becomes the Kingdom of God on earth. The Bible gives us no such expectation. Those who entertain such hopes will become increasingly disillusioned as time goes by. God’s wrath is unfolding even now against the iniquitous world-system as we find it and in due course it will not be renewed or reformed but destroyed and replaced, folded up as a garment to be replaced at the end by “a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). This does not mean that our work in until then is in vain, far from it. It means that when we are found preaching the Gospel in obedience to our Lord’s last command, making disciples, it is part of that great sweep of God’s purpose that can only end in triumph through Christ our Saviour. The cause of the Gospel shall be victorious and no human being can halt it however hard they try, whatever wicked schemes they devise, to whatever lengths they go to persecute the people of God.
Where there is the presence of the Lord Jesus, in any heart, there all idols perish. Just as when the Philistines of old brought the ark of God into the house of Dagon and he repeatedly fell onto the ground, so all heathen idols fall at God’s presence. Where there are idols still active in the heart, where they are set up and still worshipped, we can be sure Christ is not present. In the closing words of his first epistle, the apostle John writes:“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”He then concludes: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1 John 5:19-21)
Although the world was created by God, apart from Him we will not find our delight in anything that He has made. To the extent that creation reflects the glory of His Person and that all He made is given us richly to enjoy, we rejoice and delight. The mountains, valleys, the streams, the birds, the animals, the flowers, the companionship of other human beings, but we can truly delight in none of them unless we have first found our delight in God Himself. Unless we see them as the work of our Saviour’s hand.
First and foremost, the regenerate soul finds its delight in God Himself. Augustine of Hippo expressed it like this in his Confessions: “Thou dost arouse us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it find rest in Thee.” We rejoice in sins forgiven, we rejoice in all the gifts of God’s grace, but these are not an end in themselves, matters do not end here. Rather, that we may at last find our way to God through His Son and delight in His Person and in all that He is, but that He might delight also in us and be glorified.
It is not simply that we cannot find, or ought not to find our delight in anything else. To delight in God is that which enables us to delight in everything else. Even as there is an accompanying threat to statements in this Psalm respecting the wicked and the workers of iniquity, for those who obey the Lord’s entreaties and commandments there is an ensuing blessing. Verse 4 reads: “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
Enjoying the desires of our own hearts comes only as we enjoy and rejoice in the Lord. The reason for this is quite clear. As we come closer to God, as we begin to despise the things God despises and as we begin to desire only those things God desires, so surely our will, what we crave, will converge with God’s will. We shall only desire those things that God wants. Our will and desires become identical in their aspirations to the will and desires of God. God gives us what we desire because it is also what He desires. Only when we have a soul that first delights in God Himself, do other things take on their proper perspective.
What can take away our sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Shall He then not be to us more precious than anything we find in this world? If we hold our Saviour indeed to be precious, how can we give the things of this world a place in our hearts they do not warrant, good though they may be? He is not in the same league. He is incomparable. Where would we be without Him? Lost, lost sinners destined for unspeakable damnation. How then can we hold Him in the low esteem we do by placing on the goods of this world such a high value? Silver and gold never bought us such a Saviour. What price shall we put upon our Saviour’s head? Thirty pieces of silver?
Much that we know about those presently governing our country, much that they do will make us angry. We can see they provoke the wrath and displeasure of God continually and unless there is change they will in the end bring disaster upon our nation. There is an arrogance and wickedness lying behind so much present legislation. Our government ought not to worry too much about losing our votes as for the most part they have lost them already. They ought not to worry about us angrily demonstrating on the streets; this is unlikely to happen either. We shall throw no Molotov cocktails, burn no shops, set no bombs; but then they know this of course and therefore feel they can abuse us. They are in truth bullies and cowards who yield to terrorists and trouble-makers. Anger we may have, but we shall not give way to it in order to repay evil with evil deeds of our own. We have no need to resort to evil deeds in the name of righteousness. This would indeed be a contradiction of all that we hold precious.
Knowing that it is with God ultimately that evildoers have an argument and with us only because of that, why should we expend our limited energies in anger when God already has the matter in hand? It is not our anger; it is not our wrath they should worry about, but that of God. As yet they do not seem to have seen much of it, but “he seeth that his day is coming” (v.13). The wrath of God is a doctrine jettisoned these days by many of the evangelicals who once held to it, or it is rarely mentioned by them because they are embarrassed by it. Some excuse God’s wrath by saying He hates the sin, but loves the sinner – but this is certainly not what the Bible says. The sinner cannot be separated from his sin as he is responsible before God for everything he does. His whole being is intimately bound up with it. He cannot wake or sleep without sinning. Sinning is all his business, all his nature. Who then is to blame for his sin but the sinner? He does everything willingly and often with great enthusiasm.
Is not then God’s love, His mercy, His grace towards us in Christ magnified the more in our eyes? God’s anger continually burns against the sinner and all his deeds. “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). God’s wrath is as much to be expected against the sinner and his sin as is His love for men and women in Christ. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Those who shake their fists in the face of God’s sovereignty shall be brought low until all acknowledge Christ as Lord. The majesty of God they now so despise will come over them in great dread. “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”(Revelation 6:15-17)
What many do not recognise is that even as God’s grace is mercifully still revealed to the benefit of all men − how else would the earth continue to turn on its axis; the stars, moon and sun stay in the sky; how yet the Gospel still be widely preached, but for how long? – But so too is His wrath revealed. God’s wrath was revealed from heaven with the greatest of intensity as our Saviour hung upon the cross and bled and suffered and died. Never up until that point in time had God ever so expressed His great displeasure against human sin than at Calvary. God’s wrath is still right now being revealed among us. In Romans 1:18, we read: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The chapter lists in some detail some of the most abhorrent human sin, all of which we will recognise as common to our day.
Romans chapter 1 makes special mention of homosexuality both among men and women as being something of particular abhorrence. Given the vehemence and the aggressive nature of those engaged in these practices today, we ought to take special note of verse 28. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” It would seem clear from this verse that the rapid spread of sin in our land over recent decades has come about because God has lifted His hand and permitted wicked men to prosper, to do largely as they please. Having refused the testimony of His Word over many decades, having refused the prompting of conscience and nature, having refused to fear Him, God has said, “Get on with it and pay the price.” Our current prime minster has recently said that the recognition of same sex ‘marriage’ is an indication of the kind of country we live in. Surely, he is right, although not in the sense he means. We have become degenerate, a godless nation taking a delight in that which is abhorrent to decent people and awakens the wrath of God. There seems to come a point when the wickedness of a nation reaches a point of no return, the cup is full. This would go a long way to explaining the present low spiritual ebb in Britain and many western nations today, both in churches and among the people as a whole. Homosexuality appears in this passage to be a marker after which “God gave them over to a reprobate mind”, after which He gives the nation up to its sin. Goodbye mercy, goodbye grace! The consequences for our nation of facing God’s wrath in this way are horrendous. Some of the price will be paid as the inevitable results of such sin, whether this is in the spread of sickness and disease, or the general disintegration morally and physically of our country. It may well be that God will not actively intervene in acts of judgment, would that He did, for this would signify His desire to call men still to repentance. Seared consciences, no fear of God before men’s eyes, the removal by God of His pure Word to enable the spread of apostasy especially among those previously close to the Gospel, and so little vital and true preaching, all these are signs of God’s gross displeasure with our nation. “You do not want my truth”, says God, “you shall not have it. You will not believe the truth then accept a lie.”
Between verse 28 and the end of the chapter there appears a list of sins ensuing from God’s giving up of a people. In verse 29, we read men are filled with these awful things, but they do so in the full knowledge of what it is they are doing. “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1:32). From this chapter we can see that the promotion of homosexuality releases in its wake a host of other evils as God turns His back on us. Homosexuality, sodomy is the ultimate sign of the deepest hatred of God on the part of those indulging in it. Aggressive humanist and secularist organisations are full of such people. This is how we should understand these matters and we must expect that God will deal with our nation in His anger, giving us up to our wilful sin. It is not that God is in any sense vindictive, but rather that He will exert His dominion as Lord of all. This will include vanquishing all His enemies and destroying all that is evil. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). There will be much rejoicing among the saints of God when in that last day God’s majesty, sovereignty, and righteousness shall be vindicated.
Nevertheless, we know our God to be full of mercy. “It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). He is gracious towards those who repent and trust Christ and will receive them. As the apostle Paul faced the Jews with the Gospel of Christ in Corinth, they opposed him. From then on he determined to preach to the Gentiles. To the blaspheming Jews he said: “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). The Gospel has been preached, the Scriptures have been freely available in our land for centuries. Does our generation reject Christ, do they blaspheme His precious Name? Then the consequences must be on their own heads! Those of us who have testified over the years to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus are free of their blood. They are determined to tread a pathway to eternal destruction; they have made their choice. As he turned from the Jews, God met Paul.“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10)
It may still be that there are many in Britain yet to be gathered in or should we turn our attention elsewhere? It may be time to shake the dust from our feet as did Richard Baxter on the bridge over the Severn at Bridgnorth. We shall at least for the present, as God grants us the strength, continue to sound out the message of salvation in Christ though faith in Him alone in the expectation that even now many may yet be saved. Never is the Word of God preached in vain. To those who believe, it is to their salvation; to those who refuse, it is a testimony against them. Yet, many years later when writing to the believers in the same city of Corinth, Paul was able to say:
“Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
The question still remains: if we not to give place to anger, what then shall we do? How can we know what we should do in these circumstances? What of the pathway we should take? Psalm 37 provides us with a very clear answer (vv.5-6).
We are not then to give way to anger, difficult although this may be for some of us. Again we face a command and a promise… to commit our way unto the Lord. The promise is that … he shall bring to pass (verse 5).
The German poet and playwright, Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811) gave up a successful military career in 1799 in order to live according to a Lebensplan – a life plan. Life, he believed, was to be improved upon or directed. He wrote “I have set myself a goal that will require, if I am to achieve it, the constant application of all my energies and every minute of my time.” Yet this life of self-direction was turbulent, restless and ended in tragedy. Life, he thought, should be enclosed and planned by human reason. He wrote to his fiancée, Wilhelmine: “…if human reason is not adequate to comprehend us, our souls, our lives, the things around us, if even after thousands of years we are still doubtful whether there is any such thing as right -- can God ask of such creatures that they be responsible?” Kleist clashed head on with the German Romantic writers Novalis, Tieck, Schlegel, and others. His own plays and poetry were influential as a precursor to the realist, naturalist, expressionist, and also existentialist movements. Where would all this lead him, as his own life was clearly not in his own hands? This he tried to contradict perhaps, by choosing his own time of death, shooting himself as part of a suicide pact with Henriette Vogel, a friend.
In some senses, the pathway we tread is none of our business; it is definitely not something over which we have the last word. We have no say in the day of our birth or the circumstances of our upbringing, nor ultimately in the day of our death. There are then all too many events, some small, some great – a sickness, a war, or something else that comes upon us unexpectedly. There are so many things beyond us that significantly mould the road our life will take. The prophet Jeremiah prayed, " O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). The mistake that Kleist made, one made by men since the dawn of time, was that he imagined he could take upon himself powers over his own life and existence that are only in God’s hands. He thought he could take the place of God in the ordering of his own life. This is the difference between unbelievers and genuine believers. The godless man thinks that if he strives hard enough, plans well enough, uses his brain − although rarely taking matters to Kleist’s extreme − he will accomplish what he wants and acquire what his heart desires – and maybe he will.
The believer does not strive, does not need to strive, he commits his pathway into the hands of Another, knowing that “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). That which is received other than from the hand of God can really do our souls no good. The children of Israel “lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:14-15). Many have today lean souls because of inappropriate, if not intrinsically sinful longings. They obtain what they always wanted, but have not received that which God would have given them. Do we complain about our lot? We tempt God. Are we dissatisfied? We are in danger of despising His goodness towards us. What matters is not what we receive but who gives it. What matters is not where we are in life, but how we came to be there.
The godly Puritan, Richard Baxter (1615-1691) wrote the following words. He was a man who knew suffering and persecution, who was reviled throughout his life, but who was someone who gave himself unstintingly to spreading the Word of God. Baxter’s are not the words of mere paper-thin sentimentality, but those hammered out on the anvil of adversity. A note accompanied the poem. “This Covenant my dear Wife in her former Sickness subscribed with a Cheerful will.”In sickness or in health, in life or in death what better way can there be than that mapped out for us by our Saviour as He takes our hand in His? “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4).
Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet
Thy blessèd face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet
What will Thy glory be!
Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Saviour’s praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him
If we would know joy in adversity, riches of the soul when in need, quietness in persecution, strength in times of testing, serenity in sickness, peace when faced with death, then we must be able to say with the Psalmist, “I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand” (Psalm 31:14-15). There often comes a point when all striving ceases, where human strength fails, and vain reason leads us nowhere. Trusting where we cannot see is better than sight itself. Resting in Him when our own striving has failed us is far better than the strength of youth. Then looking back at our foolish fretting and worry, meditating on how God brought to pass, we bow our head and worship and bless Him and say with Abraham’s servant,“I being in the way, the LORD led me” (cf. Genesis 24:26-27).
Often, when we have been used to relying on our own resources for so long, we have constantly neglected to lay matters before the Lord, then it takes a cataclysmic failure to bring us to trust and rest in Him completely. Yet, if we have the eyes to see it, God can be seen at work ordering even the smallest details of our lives. Seeing God take care of details is His invitation to trust Him in all things. Praise Him for that. How often we have brought distress to ourselves, to those around us, because of failure to trust, to commit and then to rest! We have stepped out presumptuously. In spite of ourselves we have still found God at work even then, protecting us from the results of our own folly. Praise Him for that too. The best route, one we are unlikely to have found still less chosen for ourselves. Perhaps we feel we continually fall short, justifiably. Maybe we believe we have missed God’s best, perhaps we have. Yet, despite our inevitable failings, it could also be that the path we follow is indeed God’s best.
The sovereignty of God over His creation cannot be compromised and certainly not by anything we may do. It covers everything; it is comprehensive, all-inclusive in its sweep - in its breadth as in its length. It reflects all that He is: comprehensive in His knowledge, unchanging in His being, independent in His doings, and certain in His purposes. What needs to dawn upon our souls is that the purposes of God also enclose us personally and all to His glory. All that we have and are in Christ was determined before the world’s foundation. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”(Ephesians 1:11-12)
The sovereign purpose of God is not something that operates outside us and apart from us. The prophet Jeremiah was given a specific task to do by God. It was something God had planned for him long before he was even born. In this sense God’s servants are not an ad hoc volunteer force. “Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”(Jeremiah 1:41-5) In essence the same is true for each one of us. God knows us better than we know ourselves for He made us, and He made us to fulfil the role He has preordained for us. It therefore makes very good sense to trust ourselves to Him to that end. Better it is to work with God than against Him. In either case we serve Him, to our blessing or to our damnation.
He knows all things, what is, what was, what could be. God’s powers do not stop with what He knows. He determines also down to the last detail what will be. What is future is as certain to Him as all that is past. Nothing exists apart from Him. Everything is sustained by Him. Facts are what God says they are, not only because He knows what they are but because He determines what they are. There is no plan for the world apart from His, He is the ultimate power behind all things and His holy, sovereign plan alone will prevail against all who oppose it. And within this sovereign plan, we too have our place, purpose, and meaning. We can therefore with complete confidence “commit our way unto the Lord”, knowing that…he shall bring to pass (v. 5).
God does not take over where the power and counsels of men come to an end, whether they are ours in our own personal lives, but also on the macro scale of the world of godless men. Nothing men do around us is in the end determinative of what happens to us. We do not add the omnipotence of God to that which is worked by men. Every detail of the created world, every aspect of human existence is subject to His will and that includes every detail of our lives. For this reason, panic is excluded, unnecessary. God is not moved by contingencies for with Him there are no areas of neutrality or unstable fortune that are outside His own being and to which he must respond or react. He is independent, absolute, over all, above all. Apart from God’s eternal plan and purpose, the universe can have no stability, no meaning. Unbelievers must be challenged with this picture of God and with nothing less. We can draw comfort in the face of human evil that the machinations of evil men cannot succeed. It is God who brings all things to pass. Happy is the man who walks with God and not contrary to Him, whose life and pathway is committed to His safekeeping. We are safe in Him.
The temptation in the face of the godlessness around us on every hand is to take matters into our own hands. What can we do? We would cope with life; we would do the work of God, but in the arm of the flesh, relying on our own strength and resources. Let us get on with what God seems so reluctant to undertake. This is the route to calamity and failure. Of course, we do not speak like that, but is it in our hearts? We panic because we are at heart control freaks. We panic when we realise that we do not have everything under our own fingertips, we cannot change the course of events and if we do not intervene they will surely take a downward turn. How much the world needs us! Why do we have such an elevated view of ourselves and our own importance? We panic too because we would take upon ourselves a role that belongs to God alone, of ordering all things and bringing about the triumph of the Gospel. Would we prefer to run the show? Do we then know better than God? Shall our thoughts prevail against His? Fighting sin and evil within us and around us is essentially not our battle and is beyond us; we are certainly not adequate to it. We have neither the understanding nor the knowledge, nor do we have the strength. There is no way we can take on the might of evil men that surround us. Challenge Satan on our own? We should be so foolish!
This is not to suggest we should on the other hand sink into a state of passivity, do nothing and suppose God will do it all without involving us. This is very far from being so. We are very much involved as all our thoughts and actions are enclosed by the will of God. We are to commit our way unto the Lord consciously; to get up and go out fully persuaded that what is about to happen to us will be brought about by the leading and working of God our heavenly Father. The question is not, what can I do to bring about the will of God, but having committed my way unto the Lord, what will He now bring about as I walk with Him? Do I have the eyes trained to discern His working? To such eyes His hand in the affairs of everyday life is unmistakable, from the great things to the small.
In David, the Lord found a man after His own heart to rule His people (1 Samuel 13:14). We know well the account of David and his battle with Goliath. Goliath was a giant, a huge man. So too are our foes and we ought not to underestimate them. Goliath had weaponry commensurate with his size. “And the staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam; and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him” (1 Samuel 17:7). Under normal circumstances this would have been more than enough to crush a young whippersnapper like the boy David. My friends, we do well to weigh up our foes; humanly speaking they have more to draw on than we and can soon enough crush us. What outraged David so much was, who does this uncircumcised Philistine think he is “that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (verse 26). We too are outraged that the godless men of our generation should think to defy the living God and destroy His people. This was in itself the reason why David knew that he would gain the victory, not because it was his own personal battle but “seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God” (verse 36). Goliath had defied God so that it was no longer a personal battle, but God’s. David had tried on Saul’s armour for size. It did not fit and was far too heavy and would have serious hampered him. Human weaponry on the same level as our enemies cannot prevail. Summon all the help we can, we will never win relying on resources upon which others rely. Do this and we shall surely be routed.
David prevailed against Goliath and slew him as he would have done a wild beast attacking his flock of sheep. It was Goliath’s turn to be outraged as David approached him, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods” (verse 43). Loud let them decry us, let them mock, for we shall yet triumph over them in Christ, whose battle it is. Hallelujah! We can enjoy the same confidence as David once we recognise: first, that it is the honour of our God and His Christ that is the central issue in contention; second, that the battle is the Lord’s and not ours.
“This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:46-47)
There were good kings and there were bad kings in Israel and Judah after David had gone. One good king in Judah was most certainly the young king Jehoshaphat. Of him it is said,“And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; But sought to the LORD God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 17:3-4) When he was threatened by the Moabites and the Ammonites, Jehoshaphat was unnerved and fearful, but he sought the Lord. There come times for us all when we may fear the attacks of the wicked, those who wish us only harm and our response must also be to seek the Lord. Jehoshaphat’s prayer is most interesting and reflects much of what we have been saying thus far. “And said, O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?”
(2 Chronicles 20:6).
The whole of Judah stood before the Lord, “with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (verse 13) and their king – what a blessing it is to have godly leaders. Then Jahaziel, one upon whom came the Spirit of God, echoes some of the words of David.“And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's. To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD” (verses 15-18).
Jehoshaphat stood before the people and uttered these words: “Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (verse 20).
This young king then did something quite extraordinary. He assembled a choir to sing praises unto the Lord as the army marched forward. However, their praise and worship of God had already been present from the very start (verses 18-19), even as they sought the Lord’s face. What a wonderful example to us. Let not our enemies grind us down. Let them not see long and fearful faces, but a people whose confidence is in the Lord, who face them loudly singing His praises. Let us sing as Israel sang, “Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever” (verse 21). Let us begin in praise and worship, let us continue in it, let us end in it. Then let God’s enemies flee before the His people. “And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten” (verse 22). Then the fear of God fell upon the nations round about “when they had heard that the LORD fought against the enemies of Israel” (verse 29).
We are to commit our way unto the Lord, knowing that he shall bring to pass. The question now arises as to when this happens how we can rightly assess or interpret what God is doing in response to our conscious trust in Him. The prophet Ezekiel was told of Israel they “have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 12:2). Jesus spoke in parables because “because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:11). Paul records that to the Jewish nation, “God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear; unto this day” (Romans 11:8). To some it is given to understand, to some it is not given (Matthew 13:11).
We are given the promise:
To see we need light. It is impossible to read in complete darkness. We are told that the Lord Jesus came “to give light to them that sit in darkness” (Luke 1:79). Indeed, He is the light of the world and “he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). Followers of Christ do not walk in darkness. They see. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6) Believers have that light within them, and it is this light that enables us to see, to know, to understand, to judge and read aright what is now going on around us and what will yet come upon the earth as we read the Word of God and see His purposes working out.
This light also enables us to see the hand of our loving heavenly Father working and guiding the events of our daily lives. All things come upon us from God, good or bad. Let us remind ourselves how Job answered his wife. “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Nevertheless, good or bad we have this assurance, “…we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God always has the very best in mind for us. Because of His love for us in Christ, how can He do anything else? “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Some of us will have experienced some pretty traumatic and difficult things during our lifetime; others of us may have that yet to come. One thing we know of our Saviour’s love, “…having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). This will ever be so. Jesus promised: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
If there is to be light within, there must be light between us and God Himself. As we each and everyone come into this world we are estranged from God; there is darkness between and no light. That which is darkened by sin cannot stand before God. The terrible thing is that there is nothing we can do in the way of good works to persuade God to smile upon us and to receive us however hard we may try. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.
Horatius Bonar (1808-89)
Nor is there any need for us to try to persuade God to accept us, for we are accepted into God’s favour by grace alone, through faith which in itself is a gift of God, and not by our own righteousness. The righteousness of faith God imputes to us without works. We do nothing but simply receive. There is no remedy for the troubled conscience, for healing the rift between us and God, until we take hold of the forgiveness of sins that is by grace, freely offered in Christ. We rest alone on the righteousness of Christ, on His merits and without ours. The righteousness that allows us to have fellowship with God is found only in Christ and we receive it alone when God imputes it to us by His grace. Christ alone can stand before God and we only in Him.
In the first volume of his Latin works, Martin Luther describes how he had come to hate the righteous God who punishes sinners, harbouring a blasphemous anger against God and ‘he raged with a fierce and troubled conscience’. Luther goes on to explain how he found peace through reading the Word of God.
“At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith … Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory … And I treasured the word that had become the sweetest of all words for me with a love as great as the hatred with which I had previously hated the word ‘righteousness of God.’ Thus that passage in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.”
This question of how we are counted as righteous before God is one that lies at the heart of the Gospel. It was so in the Scriptures, at the Reformation and is still where the line is drawn between truth and falsehood. Are we made righteous to be in and of ourselves acceptable to God, or are we counted righteous by the merits of our Saviour? There are so many Bible passages answering this question, it is amazing that it still is necessary even to list some of them. However, this doctrine so long at the heart of evangelical and reformed belief is now being called into question by those who ought to defend it and often in the interests of dubious alliances.
Roman Catholic theology, and that of other similar groups, insists that personal righteousness must be taken account of when speaking of our standing before God. We are made righteous to some degree and not only declared to be so. It is here that there has been a muddying of the waters by many evangelicals, often in the interests of ecumenism. Change here, however slight it may seem, indicates a break from the central teaching of the Christian Gospel that all is of Christ when it comes to being right with God. So has begun yet a further drift into apostasy, evidence of the tragic death throes of evangelicalism.
We must not confound what Christ has done for us and what He does in us. It is not the latter that saves us. Let just a few verses suffice, including the passage to which Luther alludes above.
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:21-28)
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3-5)
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
The distinction between what Christ has done for us and what He does in us is made clear in the following passage in Ephesians 2 (verses 8-10).
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
We began in faith, we must continue in faith. What God has done for us in Christ is received and applied by faith, what He will work in us is also received in faith. Paul writing to the Colossians says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Colossians 2:6). He makes this even clearer in the Galatian epistle: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) What began with an initial act of faith continues as an unfolding process in faith. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). In that day we shall be what we would be, namely like our Saviour.
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”(1 John 3:2-3)In the meantime we seek to live lives that are pure and pleasing to God in the sure and certain knowledge that He will complete in us that which He has planned. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
The light that enables us to see the hand of our heavenly Father leading, guiding and bringing things to pass also enables us to interpret and to judge aright those things we see as we take the Scriptures into our hands and readand are instructed by them. It was as he took the Scriptures into his hands that Martin Luther found the way of salvation as the Holy Spirit enlightened his mind to see it and his heart to accept it. The Scriptures show us what is at our feet and also the way ahead. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Without the Scriptures we shall make little sense of what we see. They also prevent us from taking a wrong pathway. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). Verse 31 of our Psalm says something similar: “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide”. So then, we see that there are two elements in the process of discerning and understanding what God is doing around us and beyond us and what we are to do in any given circumstance. He enables us to see what is going on, opening up events before us, preventing us from sliding. He opens our minds and hearts to the Word that we may find some explanation and direction. Everything may not be clear to us all at once and this brings us to the next part in our Psalm, we are rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him, (verse 7). About some matters we are given a vast panorama in Scripture, even if some of the details are unclear to us. About other matters we are given detailed up to the minute instructions but little else.
The righteousness progressively worked in us by God is that which enables us to increasingly see and judge all things. This is our light, Christ within us, leading, guiding events, and that our hearts burn within us as He opens up the Scriptures to us as He did along the Emmaus road (Luke 24:32). The sun is at its brightest and most forceful when it is highest in the sky at noonday. Our mind will be clearest, our sight and understanding most perceptive when Christ is all to us and occupies a place that no other can. “And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday”.
Having learned how to commit our way unto the Lord, to trust Him to bring all things to pass, having learned how to judge and discern in the light He gives …
We see how godless men are ensconced in their seats of power, covered in their mountains of wealth. They move only to spread their sphere of influence and that not for good. That would not be so bad, but we are obliged to listen how they daily mock and oppress the Lord’s people – chase them out of their professions, initiate vexatious lawsuits, scorn the Scriptures, praise the evil-doer and worst of all, blaspheme the Name of our Saviour, going on to boast their own invincibility. It all sickens us to the pit of our stomach. It angers us, so that we can hardly bear to see the faces of these people or hear the sound of their voices as they outline their preposterous God-hating proposals. We feel we should stop our ears, bind closed our eyes. What then shall we do? This was a question David asked himself. “For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD'S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” (Psalm 11:2-4)
We should combat sin, wickedness and evil influences wherever we find them, but we are not to allow our anger to drive us to evildeeds, nor seek to rectify the situation by schemes of our own. Such was the action of Moses, who slew a man ill-treating one of his own people. The response of his fellow Hebrews was not exactly what he expected. When he later found two Hebrews fighting, word had already got around about his previous activity. One of the men said: “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14; cf. Acts 7:35) Seeking to escape Pharaoh’s wrath, Moses spent the next forty years watching sheep in the backside of the desert, learning to be the meek man he became. Then in God’s time and when Pharaoh was dead, God remembered His covenant with the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The angel of the Lord spoke to Moses in a burning bush and called him to the task in hand. He was a man of now eighty years of age. His time of preparation in God’s school was twice the length of time spent in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. Now, Moses, rather than being brash and bold, was so convinced of his own inadequacy for the task that he needed his brother to speak for him.
“But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee” (Exodus 4:1).We should recognise our own inadequacy and impotence and should not rush out, as we imagine it, to serve God. So many take the work of God upon their own shoulders, without being asked, without being equipped by God for it and without being sent.
We shall often find our loudest protests will go unheeded. It is as though few want to hear, or can hear. No one wants to be disturbed; everyone seems to have been lulled into a dangerous dreamlike state, spiritual zombies. A great cloud of stubborn deafness has silently descended, ears are deaf, eyes are blinded in the darkness, consciences are seared and immune to any uncomfortable pangs. Others there are who have been led astray. They believe they have found the truth, instead they have given heed to fables, lies and to those who pretend to speak for God. They have listened to those who say they are apostles and prophets and are no such thing! “Foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:3). Who is sufficient for these things? Who can break through this impenetrable wall? God does His own work at His own pace, unrestricted as we are by time. He does it in His own way, using methods that demonstrate His own power and bringing to nothing the striving of men.
We all too often harbour thoughts of our own self-importance. We think to take on Goliath in Saul’s armour, our own strength and the resources of ungodly men to accomplish God’s work. We are not indispensible to God, but amazingly he deigns to use us in His service, but in His time and in His way. The puritan minister, Richard Greenham (1535-94) (Works, p. 212) wrote, “it is not the neglect of the ordinary means, but the pulling away of our confidence in them; that we might rest only in the power and goodness of God.”
We are to rest in the Lord, to wait. We are to remain where he has put us in His hand, knowing that in the time appointed he will use us in bring His purposes to pass. We are to wait. Wait can mean to stand still in the expectation that something is about to happen, to remain in readiness. It also carries the meaning of serving, such work as a waiter does, acting only under instructions. If we combine all these meanings then it becomes clear what is expected of us, resting in Him, expecting something to happen, we are only then to go forward and serve Him.
Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) wrote:
“We must not put all carelessly upon a providence but first consider what is our part; and, so far as God prevents [goes before] us with light, and affords us help and means, we must not be failing in our duty. We should neither outrun nor be wanting to providence. …When things are clear, and Gods’ will is manifest, further deliberation is dangerous, and for the most part argues a false heart.” (Works Vol.1, p,209)
If we do not rest in the Lord what we do will fail. If we do not expect something to happen, it probably will not or will be something we did not anticipate and for which we are not prepared. We are to wait patiently for God, but also to use the means He has provided. In one of his letters, Samuel Rutherford (1600-61) wisely wrote: “Duties are ours, events are the Lord’s” (Letters of Samuel Rutherford, p.238). We do not wait to see what would transpire before acting in the sense of seeing which way the cookie crumbles. The puritans spoke of ‘waiting on providences’ by which they meant making sure the situation was timely in God’s providence before taking any action. A belief in God’s providence was no argument for inaction, rather for confidence that God would use our actions for His purposes. These puritans clearly felt that it is presumptuous of us to rely on God to work whilst at the same time neglecting the means He has given. The puritans were not fatalists, neither should we be, but they feared sin and sloth. As a result of our direct relationship with God to us is given the privilege of co-operating with Him in the fulfilment of His purposes.
We move forward in faith, using the means He has given, in the strength He gives through His Spirit. Paul encouraged the Corinthian Church and we can encourage others with these words. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:-57-58) Done in this way it cannot be in vain for the battle is not ours but the Lord’s. We can face the ungodly and wicked men of our age as did the apostles, and so should we do. “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:41).
Living in the midst of a godless, Christ-hating society, the Lord’s people have no reason to be fearful.
We have: a different approach: trusting the Lord; a different perspective: delighting in the Lord; a different pathway: committing our way unto the Lord; a different peace: resting in Him
The world has not run out of control and evil men shall not win the day. What happens to us in our birth, our life, in our passing should the Lord tarry, all these things are determined not by the actions of men, but by the will of our loving heavenly Father.
It is as though a great drug-induced sleep has fallen over our whole nation. Some do not see that much is wrong, others imagine everything is fine. Some see that much is very much wrong, but have battened down the hatches. They do not want to know, they do not want to hear. The reality of life is more than they can bear to think about. They immerse themselves in life, occupy themselves with continual activity, or follow their interests with little care for what is going on outside their own private world. Or they submerge themselves in and endless pursuit of their own pleasures until they can no more and depart this life. It is like shouting fire! fire! to the occupants of a burning house and all refuse to listen. Desperate warning cries go unheeded or if they are heard the shouter is told to keep quiet as everyone in the house wants to sleep. Yet we shall continue to shout, continue to cry aloud, if it be thereby that just one will listen and be saved, plucked as it were as ‘a brand plucked out of the fire’ (see Zechariah 3:2).
Sometimes it is as though the whole world has gone completely crazy, as though all the world’s rulers have taken leave of their senses. It reaches the point of the Kafkaesque at times, things are happening to us and to others without any apparent rational explanation and there seems little we can do about it. We are all the time grasping at thin air. The Swiss playwright, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, set his play The Physicists (1962) in an idyllic home for the mentally ill, where towards the end in a surprising twist of events it appears that even the head of the institution is also delusional. A profoundly depressing play, it expresses the hopelessness of all mankind. Peter Weiss set his play Marat/Sade (1963)in the historical Charenton Asylum in France after the Revolution (1808). It is a play within a play directed by the notorious Marquis de Sade, and supervised by the bourgeois director of the hospital, Coulmier. The play within the play takes place during the Revolution and culminates with the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (13th July, 1793). The actors are the inmates of the asylum assisted from time to time by the nurses. The whole performance is chaotic with the performers continually bringing in their own private opinions. The Revolution seems to have changed nothing; certainly it did nothing for these inmates. The play breathes despair, nihilism, violence and, of course, sadism. To understand the world as a lunatic asylum where the inmates have taken over is an oft repeated notion, almost a cliché. This would be true, were it not for one fatal omission. The world will not end with a sigh or with a bang.
Good wise righteous government cannot exist outside the rule of Christ. There is no peace, no right order for man outside of Him. Those who understand rulership as patronage and plunder, even should they profess to do it in the name of their country or of ‘democracy’, it is but an instrument that pampers their passions and greed, whilst the populace at large is left high and dry. Someone once truly said:
“I know no safe depository of power among mortal men for the purposes of government. Tyranny and oppression, in Church and State, under every form of government, - social, civil, ecclesiastical, monarchical, aristocratical, or democratic, - have sooner or later, characterised governments of the earth, and have done so from the beginning.”
Nothing but the rule of heaven can save our fallen world from the pestilential morass created by incompetent and oppressive governments.
The politicalsovereignty, the dominion, rulership, government of the world currently exercised by the authorities of the earth, albeit by God’s appointing, shall one day pass into the hands of our Lord and Saviour to whom it all rightly belongs. “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) The countries and empires of this world will not left as they are and simply be Christianized and then left to carry on as they were. No, having shown themselves to be utterly unworthy of God’s trust, the authority they have will be taken from them and put into the hands of Christ, the true sovereign of the world. The voice of true worship shall then be heard:“We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.”(Revelation 11:17)
This is what we pray for: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
This is what the prophets of old foretold, Isaiah, Daniel. “…the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.”(Isaiah 9:6-7)
This is the kingdom set up by the God of heaven, which shall consume and break all other kingdoms and stand forever. It is the kingdom Daniel saw:
“And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”(Daniel 7:14)
This is the kingdom foretold of Jesus at His birth:
This is the Kingdom of which Jesus Himself spoke: