Monday, 18 September 2017

Real Faith is Enduring Faith by Rev J.J.Murray

There are many misconceptions of faith abroad today. Some think of it as a commodity. They say:'I wish I had your faith'. Others think of it as simply the means of salvation, to deliver us from hell. Much of the evangelistic preaching in recent years has been directed in that way. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved'. A decision is made and it is as if there were no further implications for an on-going life of obedience. Many are under the impression that there exercise of faith frees them from the law. 'Once saved, always saved.' Such faith is superficial.

Is this the faith that is so highly extolled in Hebrews 11 in particular? In that eulogy on faith Abraham is given the chief place. He is more fully portrayed than anyone else in the gallery. He is the father of the faithful. Reference is made to him some ninety times in the New Testament. He is the pattern we are to follow. There are three things in particular in his life that demonstrates the nature of true faith.

1 True faith changes our whole perspective

In God's dealings with Abraham we have the beginning of the redemptive activity that will lead to the unfolding of the Covenant of Grace. We see three things:
1 The Divine initiative   Abraham is a shining example of the divine initiative. At the time of his call he was living in Ur of the Chaldees, 'worshipping other gods' (Josh 24.2), and in pagan darkness.  He had no thought of the true God. Suddenly, as we are told in Acts 7.2, by the  martyr Stephen: 'The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia'.  He is described as the 'the God of glory' because His glory is His self-manifestation. What kind of reaction this must have produced in Abraham's mind! It was like the revelation that Isaiah had in the temple. It was a sovereign revelation and call, and he was given grace to respond to it. So it is for everyone that 'born of the Spirit'.

2 Absolute obedience  'By faith Abraham, when he was called...obeyed.' (Heb 11.8) It was an efficacious call.  He had not fulfilled the purpose of his creation, which is to glorify God. He had dethroned the living God and set up idols of his own imagination. God's call was to bring Abraham back to allegiance to Himself and there must be an immediate and unqualified response.  He had to come out from among the pagan worshippers and make God his own God and his inheritance. The Word of God became everything to him. He did nothing that was not by the command of God. As Thomas Manton observes: 'Faith is the life of our lives, the soul that animates the whole body of  obedience'.

3 Separation to God  Abraham's whole perspective changed. He was living for the things of this life and the riches and honours of it. He began to live life in terms of his final destiny. He was set free from the desire to make this world his home. God promised him an inheritance. This inheritance was a 'better country' and 'a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God'. It is the fatherland or the homeland where God dwells. He has prepared it for His people and He is their ultimate inheritance. The whole plan is beautifully portrayed in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, where we see Christian fleeing from the City of Destruction and journeying on to the Celestial City.

2 True faith stands on the promises of God

The second characteristic of true faith is trusting in the promises of God. The writer is still talking about the faith of Abraham but he brings in Sarah.  Both had to be committed to the promise because it pertained to their offspring. 'Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed' (v 11).  It seemed an impossible situation. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. She was past the age of child bearing. When first hearing the news of an heir, her faith wavered: 'Sarah laughed within herself' (Gen 18.12). Unbelief had a temporary hold. 'And the Lord said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord'. (Gen18.13-14). What brought the change? She stopped looking at the problem and started looked to the Lord, 'because she judged him faithful who had promised' (v11). She took her mind of the problem to the Promiser. He became the object of her faith. 'True faith', says Sinclair Ferguson. 'takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself'. Is anything too hard for the Lord? He created the world out of nothing. (Heb 11.3). He promised and He will bring it to pass. Isaac was conceived in  the normal way.

3 True faith is tested

The third characteristic of true faith is that it is tested. 'By faith Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac'. (11.17). There is a Jewish tradition that Abraham was tested on ten different occasions. If so, certainly this must have been the most painful. The commandment forbade the taking of life. Isaac was the best gift God had given to him. In Isaac he had everything he longed for, and yet he was to be taken away. It was through him the promise was to be fulfilled. Is providence going contrary to the promise? But Abraham believed that the God who had promised was able to raise him even from the dead. He did in effect offer him in will, heart and affection. God accepted the will for the deed, 'for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me'  (Gen 22.13). 'From hence also he received him in a figure' (v19).

As Christians we should not be afraid of trials and troubles. Indeed an undisturbed life is great cause for concern. James begins his Epistle with the words:  'My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (trials) (James 1.2). It is the great common experience of the Redeemer and the redeemed. There is a purpose in it. 'Knowing this that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect an entire, wanting nothing'. ( v 3-4).  Trials and tribulations blow away the chaff and produce endurance in a life of undivided obedience.   Peter, in his First Epistle, speaks of rejoicing in our great salvation,  and then he  brings in a caution, 'though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations. That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ' (1 Pet 1.6-7). The genuine element in the faith is proved by a  process similar to that of metal-refining and is found to be something more precious than the precious metals. The result is what meets the approval of God and redounds to His glory.  

Many passages of Scripture warn us of the dangers of a temporary faith and a faith that fails. The faith of the Hebrew Christians was wavering,  'Cast not away your confidence' (Heb 10.35). The writer goes on to say, 'we are not of them which draw back' (v 39) and then immediately introduces to us the gallery of faith, of whom it is said 'these all died in faith' (Heb 11.13). Faith dominated their lives while trials abounded. As John Calvin says their achieving such triumphs with limited resources ought to put us to shame. Luther puts it in his own way: 'When Abraham shall rise again at the last day, then he shall chide us for  our unbelief, and will say:I had not the hundredth part of the promises which ye have, and yet I believed' (Tabletalk, 2009, p233).

The 'cloud of witnesses' are there to stir us up to endure unto the end (Heb 12.1-4). This faith, as Luther maintained, is an operative grace, it is an overcoming grace  and ultimately it is a victorious grace. God grant that it may be ours!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Fully Known and Fully Loved

Over the last weekend we have celebrated the Lords Supper.  This is always a special time in the experience of every believer.  We are reminded in a very visual way of Christ's sacrifice on the cross - how His body was broken and His blood shed.  In our own Free Church tradition there is often a reluctance to come forward to the Lord's Table.  While this can lead to some believers never publically professing, it has, certainly in the past, meant that people take this step seriously and conscientiously.  As John Kennedy said of Highland Christianity: 'They were grave not gloomy. They had the light cheerfulness of broken hearts.  They did not, like others take it for granted that they were "the Lord's," they could not, like others speak peace to themselves; but, unlike many others, they were dependent on the Lord for their hope and joy.' 

Kirsteen and I were delighted over the weekend that our oldest son was given the strength to profess Christ publically for the first time.  I have often wondered why James hasn't done this before but we never pushed him and hoped that in time, he would be given the strength.  Parenting is like a long distance endurance race.  Often you feel exhausted and alone.  Often you feel that you are having little impact.  Then occasionally you are reminded that all your prayers, and all the times you had family worship with squirming kids who were long past their bed time, all the late nights holding a little hand through a cot, all the bed time stories all count for something.  Of course we love our children regardless of whether they profess or not, but to see my own son seated at the Lords Table brought a tear to my eye today. The Lord has very graciously allowed James to overlook a very imperfect example from his father and look to the Lord who alone saves.

In his Memoirs Dr Thomas Guthrie talks about one of his parishioners, a weaver named 'James Dundas' who lived on the north-west boundary of the Arbirlot Parish.  Guthrie claims Dundas lived an isolated existence and had no society (beyond his wife) but that of God and nature.  Like others in rural Scotland at that time Dundas was known as a bit of a poet and known for 'lofty thoughts, and a singularly vivid imagination.' 

Guthrie relates a story about Dundas and a loss of assurance on a Communion Sabbath; 'He rose, bowed down by a sense of sin, in great distress of mind; he would go to the church that day, but being a man of a very tender conscience, he hesitated about going to the Lords table; deep was answering to deep at the noise of God's waterspouts, and all God's billows and waves were going over him; he was walking in darkness, and had no light.  In this state he proceeded to put himself in order for church, and while washing his hands, one by one, he heard a voice say, "Cannot I, in my blood, as easily wash your soul, as that water wash your hands?" "Now Minister," he said, in telling me this, "I do not say there was a real voice, yet I heard it very distinctly, word for word, as you now hear me.  I felt a load taken off my mind, and went to the Table and sat under Christ's shadow with great delight" (Memoir and Autobiography, 1896, p 115).   

We were reminded by Chris Davidson this morning from Psalm 139 of a God who relentlessly pursues sinners.  As deep as sin goes, grace goes deeper.  Where sin abounds grace much more abounds.  The Lord's Table reminds us of a God who has not just come to earth to save us, but a God who has gone to the cross.  At the Cross we see a Saviour who loves us more than we can ever imagine.  This morning Chris quoted Tim Keller who said on his book about marriage; 'To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.'  Surely this is what the Lord's Supper is all about - to be known in all our sin and yet loved by our Saviour is surely the greatest love of all.