None Shall Seek Thy Face in Vain (Cowper)

 I just love the hymns and poems of William Cowper.  In fact, I’d recommend a book of his hymns and poems to use as a short daily devotional.  My wife and I have used this one: William Cowper’s Olney Hymns (Curiosmith, 2009). It’s not expensive but it is a great resource.  Here’s a great hymn I read today that I’d like to share:

LOOKING UPWARDS IN A STORM

God of my life, to thee I call,
Afflicted at thy feet I fall;
When the great water-floods prevail,
Leave not my trembling heart to fail!

Friend of the friendless, and the faint!
Where should I lodge my deep complaint?
Where but with thee, whose open door
Invites the helpless and the poor!

Did ever mourner plead with thee,
And thou refuse that mourner’s plea?
Does not the word still fix’d remain,
That none shall seek thy face in vain?

That were a grief I could not bear,
Didst thou not hear and answer prayer;
But a pray’r-hearing, answ’ring God,
Supports me under ev’ry load.

Fair is the lot that’s cast for me!
I have an advocate with thee;
They whom the world caresses most,
Have no such privilege to boast.

Poor tho’ I am, despis’d, forgot,
Yet God, my God, forgets me not;
And he is safe and must succeed,
For whom the Lord vouchsafes to plead.

-William Cowper-

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

When Sin Turns Into An Affliction (Bunyan)

 Israel’s complaining and grumbling began early on in the wilderness years. In fact, if my count is correct, they complained around 5 times in the first year or so after God rescued them from Egypt.  In one instance of their grumbling, God gave Israel what they whined for: meat to eat.  In fact, God said to Israel, “You will eat it [meat] for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it” (Num. 11:20 NLT).

In their hearts, the people of Israel craved, coveted, and longed for the things of Egypt.  This was such a deep heart issue that they wouldn’t listen to God’s word nor would they remember his promise and his provision.  John Bunyan commented on this deep-rooted sinful craving:

But now, how shall this man be reclaimed from this sin? How shall he be brought, wrought, and made, to be out of love with it? Doubtless it can be by no other means, by what we can see in the Word, but by the wounding, breaking, and disabling of the heart that loves sin, and by that means making sin a plague and gall unto the heart.

Sin may be made an affliction, and as gall and wormwood to them that love it; but the making of sin so bitter a thing to such a man, will not be done but by great and sore means.

Bunyan also told a story of a little girl in his town who used to chew on dirty cigar butts she found on the ground.  Her parents tried everything to get her to stop eating the butts – from kind promises to discipline – but nothing worked.  Finally, since nothing else was working, they listened to their doctor.  They took a bunch of dirty cigar butts, mixed them with warm milk, and made the girl drink it.  She took a sip and it made her so sick that she vomited.  After that, she never touched a cigar butt again!  The point is that God sometimes does that to his children when they are infatuated with sin.

Bunyan then wrote,

You love your sin, and neither rod nor good words will as yet reclaim you. Well, take heed; if you will not be reclaimed, God will make you a potion of your sin, which shall be so bitter to your soul, so irksome to your taste, so loathsome to your mind, and so afflicting to your heart, that it shall break your heart with sickness and grief, till sin be loathsome to you. I say, thus he will do if he loves you; if not, he will allow you to go on in your sinful course, and will let you go on eating your tobacco-pipe heads!

In other words,

God can tell how to make that loathsome to you on which you most set your evil heart. And he will do so, if he loves you; else, as I said, he will not make you sick by smiting you nor punish you for or when you commit whoredom, but will let you alone till the judgment-day, and call you to a reckoning for all your sins then.

When our hearts are so in love with the things of this world, so enraptured by sin, sometimes God makes us drink that sin like a nasty elixir which makes us sick to the heart.  When that happens, we must learn from Israel’s mistake and repent!  And we must thank God for making us taste the bitterness of sin now so we can escape its bitterness in eternity.  Finally, we should ask God for forgiveness, for the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, for his Spirit to help us fight sin, and for contentment with the lot God has given us.

The above edited quotes are found in John Bunyan, The Acceptable Sacrifice, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 707.

(NOTE: This is a repost from August, 2016).

Shane Lems

The Difficulty of Rejoicing During Trials (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.)Peter and James both wrote about rejoicing during trials, tribulation, and suffering (1 Peter 1:6; James 1:2).  Yes, God keeps his people even through tribulation.  Yes, he is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Yes, we know that not even trials can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Yes, we believe that we’re united to Christ with an unbreakable bond, and we will one day see him in glory.  Yes, these things give us real and deep joy.  But it’s not always easy to rejoice during a fierce trial.  I appreciate John Huss’ comments on this reality – comments he wrote while very ill and in prison unjustly for his preaching and teaching:

Verily, it is a difficult thing to rejoice with tranquillity, and to count it all joy in the midst of divers temptations. It is easy to quote and expound the words, but difficult to carry them out when that most patient and brave Soldier, although He knew He would rise again on the third day and overcome His foes by His death and redeem the elect from damnation, was yet after the last supper troubled in spirit, and said: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.  Of Whom the gospel saith that He began to fear and to be heavy and sad; nay, being in an agony He was strengthened by an angel, and his sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.

Huss went on:

Yet He, though thus troubled, said to His faithful ones: Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid; let it not be troubled because of my short absence nor let it be afraid of the cruelty of them that rage; for you will have Me for ever, and will overcome the cruelty of them that rage. Therefore, the soldiers of Christ looking to their leader, the King of glory, fought a great fight. They passed through fire and water, yet were saved alive, and received from the Lord God the crown of life, of which James in the canonical epistle saith: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him. That crown, I verily trust, the Lord will make me to share along with you also, warm-hearted zealots for the truth, and with all who steadfastly love the Lord Jesus, Who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.

 Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 252–253.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

It Is The Lord Who Sends Afflictions (Chrysostom)

 I ran across this great quote from Chrysostom on God’s sovereignty in affliction.  These are his comments on Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?” (Geneva Bible).  It’s worth reading a few times!

This text means that if we actually experienced only misfortunes, we would still need to bear them. God is Master and Lord. Does he not possess the power to send us anything? Why did God provide us with our goods? He did not do so because we deserved them. God was absolutely free to send us only afflictions. If he has also granted us goods, why do we complain? Notice how [Job] does not speak anywhere about faults or good actions but only says that God has the power to do whatever he wants. Recall your former happiness, and you will have no problem in bearing the present difficulties. It is sufficient, as our consolation, to know that it is the Lord who sends them to us. Let us not speak about justice and injustice.

 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds., Job, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 13.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Afflictions as Sermons (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism This morning I happend to run across Zacharias Ursinus’ discussion about affliction in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.  The entire section is helpful and worth reading.  Here’s a small sample, one that I thought was especially edifying.  I’ve edited a bit in light of the context to make it easier to read.

The godly are sometimes afflicted on account of sin, not for the purpose of making satisfaction to the justice of God, but that sin may be acknowledged by them, and removed [dealt with], through the cross. They are paternally chastised, that they may be led to a knowledge of their faults. These chastisements are to them sermons, and call to repentance. “When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (1 Cor. 11:32; Ps. 119:71). …He corrects and improves the character of the godly through the cross. 

The godly are afflicted that we may be exercised and tried, that thus our faith, hope, patience, prayer, and obedience, may be strengthened and confirmed; or that we may have matter and occasion for exercising and proving ourselves, and that our faith, hope, and patience, may be made manifest both to ourselves and others. When all things go well, it is an easy thing for us to glory in regard to our faith; but in adversity, the grace or beauty of virtue becomes apparent. He that has not been tested by affliction, what knoweth he? “Experience works hope.” (Rom. 5:4.)

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 72-3). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Poem for the Ill (Toplady)

 Here are a few verses from a poem Augustus Toplady wrote for those suffering with sickness:

Jesus, since I with thee am one;
Confirm my soul in thee,
And still continue to tread down
The man of sin in me.

Let not the subtle foe prevail
In this my feeble hour
Frustrate all the hopes of hell
Redeem from Satan’s power

Arm me O Lord from head to foot
With righteousness divine;
My soul in Jesus firmly root,
and seal the Savior mine.

Proportioned to my pains below,
O let my joys increase,
And mercy to my spirit flow
In healing streams of peace.

In life and death be thou my God,
And I am more than safe;
Chastised by thy paternal rod,
Support me with thy staff.

Lay on me Savior what thou wilt,
But give me strength to bear;
Thy gracious hand this cross hath dealt,
Which cannot be severe.*

As gold refined may I come out,
In sorrow’s furnace tried;
Preserved from faithlessness and doubt,
And fully purified.

*(“Severe” here means “unnecessarily extreme” or “harsh in an unloving way.”)

There are other verses; these are just a few.  The entire poem can be found in the Works of Augustus Toplady, volume six.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

Affliction, Purpose, and Mercy (Bruce)

 I’m enjoying this book of Robert Bruce’s sermons on Isaiah 38 (Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery).  In his first sermon, Bruce explained how the suffering of God’s people is not exactly the same as the suffering of those who are not God’s people.  Here’s what he wrote:

[Hezekiah’s story] teaches us not to measure the favor or displeasure of God by any external event here on earth.  For if we consider some visitation of God upon his child, if we dwell on the nature of the plague or affliction, both its quality and quantity, if we look to the lengthy duration of the plague, in the opinion of onlookers and of the person who is afflicted, after some time he will begin to think he is in a worse case than any of the reprobate.

But however it may be regarded in the heart and judgment of man, it is far otherwise in the judgment and heart of God.  For hidden in the heart of God concerning those who are his children is one purpose, but a very different purpose concerning the reprobate.  I will explain: when the affliction is common to us and to them, the cause for the affliction is by no means the same, neither is God’s purpose the same.  As to the godly, our affliction flows from the favor, love, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus and is directed towards our great profit and advantage, that is, that we being corrected here may not perish in eternity along with the wicked of this world.

On the other hand, the affliction visited on the reprobate flows from the burning wrath and indignation of God, as from the righteous judge; for he is initiating the punishment in this life that will continue for all eternity.

Therefore, as affliction to the ungodly is the harbinger of divine judgment, for those who love him it is a merciful correction.

Robert Bruce, The Way to True Peace and Rest, p.3-4.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015