If we examine the secret places of our hearts, it is probable that all of us would agree that the thing which gives us most concern and unrest is our lack of positive certainty, the weakness of our faith, the demon of doubt which sometimes eludes the sword of the spirit in our unskillful hands to wound us in our most vulnerable place.
Faith indeed we have, and unhesitatingly we affirm this, and in faith we stand, for this alone constitutes us righteous before God, but we have to walk by faith, and not by sight. It is easier to stand than to walk.
Everything depends, so far as our spiritual life and stability are concerned, upon Gods declarations; we have no visible proof and no experimental means whereby we can prove the ultimate value of what we believe. If we are wise, we are suspicious of subjective experiences, promptings from within and the "guidance" talked of by popular religionists. Without rejecting the possibility, we treat such things with reserve, for few of us are sufficiently mature to be sure from whence such promptings come.
Words are our daily bread--certainly we believe that they are declarations of God, but except for their vivifying effect upon our spirits (the realisation of which is dependent upon our walk) they are just words, so far as our human realisation is concerned.
We see around us a world system which to the thinking man presents no aspect of permanence. We, in ourselves, are no different from the great majority of mankind. We suffer the same physical ills, we share many of humanitys dreads and fears, and unfortunately we are carried along all too often by humanitys hopes and aspirations, even when we suspect that these run counter to Gods intentions. Few of us possess that certainty which should make us settled, immovable--we are not sufficiently sure. We think that if we could only know, beyond all shadow of doubt, we should be more stable and more steadfast.
And yet a fellow-saint of ours, an ordinary man (apart from the operation of Gods spirit) speaks and writes words which vibrate with certain assurance, and which make the fullest possible confidence in God the only logical conclusions for all the speculations of our faith.
And his assurance is not merely academic, for on a ship driven headlong by a tempest and in imminent danger of destruction he fights his way onto the wind-swept deck to say to the panic-stricken crew "Sirs . . . . I believe God!" A confidence that can remain unshaken in dire physical danger is a more valuable asset than intellectual assent to a religious formula, nevertheless such a confidence must spring from complete mental conviction. That Paul possessed this is evident from his writings.
Certainly, few professed believers trouble to read what Paul wrote, and many of those who do, prefer to quarrel about his words rather than believe them, or alternatively to write off much of his teachings as being intended for persons of much lower spiritual attainment than theirs, but this foolishness and ignorance in no way detracts from the value of these declarations of God which He inspired Paul to record.
Practically all our spiritual difficulties would disappear if we really did believe God, and had an unshakable conviction concerning God, an unswerving confidence in God and a certain expectation in Him.
And if we have not all of these the fault is our own.
Few of us try to know God as we should, or to under stand His declarations or to acknowledge Him as God. We readily listen to many voices and we build up for ourselves systems of belief from many sources. Popular preachers claim to declare Gods Word, and we too readily absorb the nonsense so freely disseminated from the pulpit and the religious press, but how often do we personally check these statements against Gods declarations to find out what God says?
The sacred Scriptures are today looked upon as a sort of handbook to religion, which could exist very well without them: a collection of sayings, a happy-hunting ground for those who delight to take texts out of their contexts and array them in pretty moral applications of negligible spiritual value. Is it any wonder that so many lack confidence in God and are "tossed about by every wind of doctrine."
The vital truth of Gods revelation has always been opposed not only by mistranslations but by inferences based partly on Scripture but mainly on mans philosophy and speculation. This, unfortunately, is so even among many who profess to be teachers of truth. It is a constant danger against which to guard.
Going back to Pauls basic epistle, that to the Romans, we find that it commences with a reference to those who do not glorify God as God, who are vain in their reasonings and whose unintelligent heart is darkened, and we are warned against "discrimination of reasonings," but how few heed the warning. If we apply for membership of a religious organisation, we are not asked if we believe God, but if we accept the doctrinal assumptions of that organisation. Even if we attach ourselves to a group of Scripture students we shall find ourselves quickly in disfavour if we do not accept all the deductions of their leader, without question. But if we care to look at I. Corinthians we shall see the statement that" The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain" (3 20). Naturally we reject the reasonings of the foolish, but this passage is talking of persons of discretion and intellectual attainment. . . . the reasonings of the wise! Even the wise men of the world realise the force of this, and distrust their own deductions. Was it not Ovid who took as his guiding rule the phrase Credite Rebus-- "believe the facts." We could learn from him.
The basic fact is that God is God, and Paul says that those who do not acknowledge Him thus are "vain in their reasonings" as a consequence. If we do not have a complete conviction concerning the absolute supremacy of God, all our thinking will be tainted with doubt, our deductions or reasonings concerning Him will be liable to grave error, and this doubt and error will strike at the root of our confidence and assurance.
We ought to give God the place in our thoughts which He already occupies in the material universe. There, He is supreme, His will is unquestioned, His acts unchallenged, and all is entirely dependent on Him. Read again the last five chapters of the book of Job--they should be as salutary for us today as they were for him so long ago, and a firm foundation for our confidence could be laid if we said, as Job did, "I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be restrained."
If this is truth at the natural level, which is beyond all denial, how much does it not gain in value for us when it is elevated to the spiritual level! There, also, God is supreme, His will paramount, His love all-embracing, His Word sure.
God is not only "operating the entire universe in accord with the counsel of His will" in the sense that He controls the paths of the planets and the rotation of earths seasons. He is completely Master of every circumstance in which mankind may find itself.
Fear and unrest grip the nations, the professing church has become a great house filled with vessels "some indeed to honour, but some to dishonour," and the majority of men, doubtless in the vanity of reasoning, dishonour God and worship the Slanderer and to all appearances good is being overcome by evil.
But (and we must always remember this) God does not have to resort to emergency action to meet these threats to His Sovereignty. He is shaping everything according to His purpose, He is carrying out His intention, He is Supreme, He is GOD.
There are many and contrary views regarding the freedom of the human will, but the great fact is often lost sight of that Gods will is the only will in the universe that is really free. He can do whatever He wills, but men cannot. Furthermore He is the only One Who can do what He has said He will do... and He is doing it!
We can draw added confidence by looking back over the pages of history, for since the beginning of creation all has been shaped and directed to the carrying out of Gods purpose. Nothing has gone contrary to His intention, despite all the opposition to His revealed will, and everything has fitted into its pre-determined place. The earthly life and death of our Lord are a vivid object lesson of how God makes the wrath of men to praise Him.
Through Paul, the man who believed God, the declaration is given that God is working everything together for the good of those who are loving Him. If we love Him we should acknowledge Him as GOD, and not reason away His declarations, or allow ourselves to be led away by teachers whose theories do not stand up to the acid test of Scriptural fact. We are not asked to believe teachers, however good, for the best of them are no more than human, and like all of us, are prone to be enamoured of their own deductions, however sincere they may be. Each of us must know the Scriptures for ourselves, taking every help that comes to us from those gifted in exposition, of course, but not allowing ourselves to become "followers" of any of them, for whoever does so becomes sectarian. We are to be followers of God.
Personal belief may sound simple, but like most simple things it is profound. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. It is only by personal belief that the righteousness of God becomes ours by faith in Christ. If we believe in our hearts that God has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead--the vital belief--then we should go on to believe God completely.
We ought to be able to say with Paul "I know Whom T have believed, and am persuaded that he is able... ." If we can, we shall remain settled, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Serenely confident, eagerly anticipating, fully assured--" certain sure."
Look back to Job again--" Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!"
And hear this question and answer, "What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword . . . . Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor messengers nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor the future, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
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