Good That I Was Afflicted? (Newton)

Sometimes during a hard and heavy trial there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Just when you think the trial may be going away like a storm passing, just when you think the sun might finally be coming out, another dark cloud blows in and the trial is back – sometimes with a vengeance.  That’s when you think, “What’s it all worth?”  That’s when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  That’s when tears come at random during the day.  That’s when you can sort of understand why people might want to just give up and die.

God’s promises speak to this.  Although they don’t take the storm of trial away, they do provide shelter during the storm of trial.  God’s promises don’t always immediately show us the light at the end of the tunnel, but they do give us a firm reminder that there is a Light at the end of it!  God’s promises give us reason to get up and go on with life by his grace and strength.  John Newton talked about this well in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend facing a hard trial.  These words are for all Christians facing affliction:

“Many are the trials and exercises we must expect to meet within our progress; but this one consideration outweighs them all: the Lord is on our side.  And if he be for us, none can be against us to harm us.  In all these things we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Afflictions, though not in themselves joyous, but grievious, yet, when sanctified, are among our choice mercies.  In due time they shall yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness, and even at present they shall surely be attended with seasonable and sufficient supports.”

“One great desire of the believer is to understand the great word of God more and more; and one principal means by which we advance in this knowledge is the improvement we are enabled to make of our daily trials.  The promises are generally made to an afflicted state, and we could not taste their sweetness, nor experience their truth, if we were not sometimes brought into the circumstances to which they relate.  It is said, ‘I will be with them in trouble’; but how could we know what a mercy is contained in these words unless trouble was sometimes our lot?  It is said to be the believer’s privilege to glory in tribulation.  But we never could know that this is possible unless we had tribulation to glory in.”

“However, this is a matter of joy and glory indeed, to find peace and comfort within when things are disagreeable and troublesome without.  Then we are enabled to set our seal that God is true, then we learn how happy it is to have a refuge that cannot be taken from us, a support that is able to bear all the weight we can lay upon it, a spring of joy that cannot be stopped by any outward events.”

“A great part of the little we know of our God – his faithfulness, compassion, his readiness to hear and answer our prayers, his wisdom in delivering and providing when all our contrivances fail, and his goodness in overruling everything to our soul’s good – I say, much of what we know of these things we learned in our trials, and have therefore reason to say, ‘It was good for us to be afflicted’ (Ps. 119:71).”

And, as the Lord has brought us safe through thus far, we have good ground to trust him to the end.  We know not what is before us.  Perhaps we may meet greater difficulties by and by than we have ever yet seen.  But if we keep in mind who has delivered us from the lion and the bear, we may face the Philistine also without terror.  God will be with us, and strengthen us with strength in our souls.  It is our wisdom to keep close to him, that, when the evil day comes, we may have confidence before him in all our troubles.”

John Newton, Works Volume 6, p. 35-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Why Does God Make Us Wait?

Quite often waiting is very difficult.  In our instant culture, most of the time we don’t even like waiting one week for a package to come in the mail; we get impatient if our internet is a tiny bit slower than usual or if our data connection isn’t lightning fast.  Waiting can be frustrating!

When it comes to the Christian faith there is a lot of waiting involved.  God’s people are already justified, but not yet fully sanctified.  We have been saved, but we don’t yet have full and complete deliverance.  We have the promise of eternal life but don’t yet experience it.  God promised that he will glorify all of his people, but that’s something for which we still wait.  Christ will come again to make all things new, but we don’t know when.  Therefore we wait and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”  Sometimes in the Christian life, waiting is hard and we get impatient.  We even ask: “Why does God make us wait so long?”

William Gurnall answered this question with another question:

Why does God make any promise at all to his creatures?  This may well be asked, considering that God is free from owing any kindness to his creatures; till, by the mere good pleasure of his will he put himself into covenant bonds, and made himself, by his promise, a debtor to his elect.  This shows that the former question is flippant and over-bold, as if some great rich man should make a poor beggar that is a stranger to him his heir, and when he tells him this, the poor man asks, ‘But why should I wait so long for it?’

Truly, any time is too soon for him to receive a mercy from God that thinks God’s time in sending it is too late.

Gurnall goes on to say that impatience in waiting for God’s promises to come true arises from our selfishness since we prefer our own contentment and satisfaction before God’s glory.  Impatience also arises from ingratitude and forgetfulness (Ps. 106.13).

To combat spiritual impatience, we need to pray for more hope and patience.  Here’s Gurnall again:

“Patience is the back on which the Christian’s burdens are carried, and hope is the pillow between the back and the burden, to make it sit easy.”

God wasn’t obligated to make any good promises to sinners like us.  But in his sovereign and free mercy, he did promise salvation and all the blessings that go with it. Therefore, it’s fitting and right to be patient and to say that his timing is best.  And we put on “the hope of salvation as a helmet,” knowing he will keep his promise (1 Thes. 5:8)!  “And this is what he promised us – eternal life” (1 John 2:25 NIV).

The above-edited quote by William Gurnall is found in volume 2 of The Christian in Complete Armor, p. 151-2.

Shane Lems

The Precious Promises of God

Chapter 26 of A Puritan Theology is a wonderful resource on believing, applying, and praying God’s covenant promises.  The chapter is broken down into two main sections: the right understanding of God’s promises and the right use of these promises.  In other words, we should know God’s gospel promises and we should rightly apply them to our Christian life.  Here are a few edited and summarized quotes that are quite helpful and edifying.

“The promises are the grounds of our hope, the objects of our faith, and the rule of prayer.”

“A divine promise declares God’s goodwill, purpose, and intention toward sinners.  It reveals what the Lord will do on our behalf; not what he hopes to do or will attempt to perform, but what he has already committed and bound himself to accomplish for us.”

“A promise of God is both the ground of present comfort and the expectation of future blessings.”

“The root of divine promises is the sovereign goodness of God by which he purposes and engages himself to do good to sinners, not because of any merit in them, but out of free grace, since even the condition required (faith, repentance, or the like) is itself of God (2 Tim. 2:25; Acts 13:48; John 6:44-45, 65).”

“Some of God’s promises offer encouragement (Is. 40:31), some give comfort (1 Cor. 10:13), some bring rewards (Ps. 84:11), and some bring privileges (John 1:12).”

“God’s promises are precious because he is the author who gave them and Christ is the one who purchased them.  They are precious in the free manner in which they are given and in the great and inestimable profit that flows from them.  They are also precious because they promise eternal glory and virtue, and because through them we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).”

Indeed, knowing, believing, and living according to God’s gospel promises makes the Christian life sweet even in and through the bitterness we all encounter.  It is good for us to memorize the “promise” verses in Scripture to help us find strength when we’re weary, hope when we’re downcast, courage when we face danger, and joy when trials come.  After all, each promise of God finds its yes and amen in Jesus, the one who died and rose again to save sinners – the one who is coming again to take his people home.  But based on his promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell (1 Pet. 2:13 HCSB).

Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

shane lems

One Of The Great Mistakes Of Pietism

Product Details These are great words from a great book by Louis Berkhof: Assurance of Faith.

“It was one of the great mistakes of the Pietism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that, in seeking the assurance of faith, or of salvation, it divorced itself too much from the Word of God.  The basis of assurance was sought, not in the objective promises of the gospel, but in the subjective experiences of believers.  The knowledge of the experiences that were made the touch-stone of faith, was not not gathered from the Word of God, but was obtained by an inductive study of the subjective states and affections of believers.”

“In many cases these were not even put to the test of Scripture, so that the true was not always distinguished from the counterfeit.  Moreover, there were unwarranted generalizations.  Individual experiences and experiences of a very dubious character were often made normative, were set forth as the necessary marks of true faith.  The result was that they who were concerned about the welfare of their soul turned attention to themselves rather than to the Word of God, and spent their life in morbid introspection.”

“It is no wonder this method did not promote the assurance of faith that fills the heart with heavenly joy, but rather engendered doubt and uncertainty and caused the soul to grope about in a labyrinth of anxious questionings, without and Ariadne-thread (string) to lead it out.  This method of seeking assurance by looking within rather than by looking without, to Jesus Christ as he is presented in Scripture, and by making the experiences of others, especially of those who are regarded as ‘oaks of righteousness’ normative, has not yet been abandoned entirely in our circles.  Yet it [this method] is a most disappointing one.”

“If we would have the assurance of faith, the first great requisite is that we make a diligent study of the Bible, and more particularly of the glorious promises of forgiveness and salvation.  After all it is only in the Word of God and in the living Christ, as he is mirrored in the Word, that we find the objective basis for the assurance of grace and perseverance to the end.  The free promises of God are the foundation of our faith, and it is only on the strength of these that we place our trust in Christ as our Savor.  These promises are absolutely reliable and have their confirmation in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).  These promises are not only sure, but also unconditional, i.e. they are not conditioned by any work of man.”

Well said.  If you don’t have all the feelings, emotions, and spiritual experiences of other Christians, don’t despair.  Feelings, emotions, and spiritual experiences didn’t die on the cross for us; they cannot save us – Jesus did, he can and does.  If you truly trust in him you are saved, even if you don’t always feel it.  In other words, solid assurance has to do with an empty tomb, not an emotional fervor. 

shane lems