Samuel Rutherford’s Love for Truth, Pt 1

Believe God’s Word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your seas.

Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction, I always look for the wine.

Do not focus your thoughts among the confused wheels of secondary causes, as -‘O, if this had been, then this had not followed!’ Look up to the master motion of the first wheel. In building, we see hewn stones and timbers under hammers and axes, yet the house in this beauty we do not see at the present, but it is in the mind of the builder. Even so we do not presently see the outcome of God’s decrees with his blessed purpose. It is hard to believe when his purpose is hidden and under the ground. Providence has a thousand keys to deliver His own, even when all hope is gone. Let us be faithful and care for our own part, which is to do and suffer for Him, and lay Christ’s part on Himself and leave it there; duties are ours and all events are the Lord’s.

Faint not; the miles to heaven are but few and short.

If your Lord calls you to suffering, do not be dismayed, for He will provide a deeper portion of Christ in your suffering. The softest pillow will be placed under your head though you must set your bare feet among thorns. Do not be afraid of suffering for Christ, for He has a sweet peace for a sufferer. God has called you to Christ’s side, and if the wind is now in His face, you cannot expect to rest on the sheltered side of the hill. The greatest temptation out of hell is to live without trials. Faith grows more with the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withers without adversity. You cannot sneak quietly into heaven without a cross. They cut away the pieces of our corruption. Lord, please cut, carve, and wound; Lord, do anything to perfect Your image in us and make us fit for glory! We need winnowing before we enter the kingdom of God.

O what I owe to the file, hammer, and furnace! Why should I be surprised at the plough that makes such deep furrows in my soul? Whatever direction the wind blows, it will blow us to the Lord. His hand will direct us safely to the heavenly shore to find the weight of eternal glory. As we look back to our pains and suffering, we shall see that suffering is not worthy to be compared to our first night’s welcome home in heaven. If we could smell of heaven and our country above, our crosses would not bite us. Lay all your loads by faith on Christ, ease yourself, and let Him bear all. He can, He does, and He will bear you. Whether God comes with a rod or a crown, He comes with Himself. “Have courage, I am your salvation!” Welcome, welcome Jesus!”

Your heart is not the compass that God steers by.

What fools are we who, like new-born princes weeping in the cradle, know not that there is a kingdom before them; then let our Lord’s sweet hand square us, hammer us and strike off the knots of pride, self-love, world-worship and infidelity, that He may make us stones and pillars in His Father’s house.

— Samuel Rutherford

The Wisdom of Elizabeth Elliot, Pt 4

There is nothing worth living for unless it is worth dying for.

Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.

The will of God is not something you add to your life. It’s a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.

I do know that waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts. It’s easy to talk oneself into a decision that has no permanence – easier sometimes than to wait patiently.

Where does your security lie? Is God your refuge, your hiding place, your stronghold, your shepherd, your counselor, your friend, your redeemer, your saviour, your guide? If He is, you don’t need to search any further for security.

Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ashes.

If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to allow it to be used as God means it to be used, then we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours”, but only ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinguish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves. Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, and many letting goes.

To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice, and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fact.

– Elizabeth Elliot

The Wisdom of Elizabeth Elliot, Pt 2

Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty and to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.

Does it make sense to pray for guidance about the future if we are not obeying God in the thing that lies before us today? How many momentous events in Scripture depended on one person’s seemingly small act of obedience! Rest assured: Do what God tells you to do now and you will be shown what to do next.

Maturity starts with the willingness to give oneself.

God is God, and because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, which is unspeakably beyond my highest views of what He is up to.

This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift and a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.

Often a Christian man or woman falls prey to that cruel and defeated spirit, wondering how to find marriage– who, when, and where? It is on GOD that we should wait, as a waiter waits–not for but on the customer–alert, watchful, attentive, with no agenda of his own, ready to do whatever is wanted. ‘My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.’ (Ps. 62:5) In Him alone lie our security, our confidence, and our trust. A spirit of restlessness and resistance can never wait, but one who believes he is loved with an everlasting love and knows that underneath are the everlasting arms, will find strength and peace.

– Elizabeth Elliot

The Wisdom of Elizabeth Elliot, Pt 1

The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.

Faith does not eliminate questions, but faith knows where to take them.

I have one desire now – to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.

I have realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray, ‘Thy will be done’.

God never witholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful — “severe mercies” at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.

We women are women, and my plea is, ‘Let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is’.

– Elizabeth Elliot

The Sweetness of the Gospel

If God has paid for all my sins, every one of them, and the work is finished by the one-time death of the Son of God, then this and this alone is the sweetest and best news that could ever be heard.
– Mack Tomlinson

The gospel does so much more than rescue us from hell and save us for heaven. It also takes possession of our lives and remakes them into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. This is God’s ultimate purpose for every one of his blood-bought and dearly loved children.
– Ian Hamilton

The blood of the God-Man is the mystery of godliness. The Cross was the breaking of God’s alabaster box, the fragrance of which has filled heaven and earth. Judge God’s love only by His unspeakable gift, not by your condition, feelings, or thoughts.
– Andrew Bonar

William Cowper on Prayer

What various hindrances we meet,
In coming to the mercy seat!
Yet who that knows the worth of prayer,
Wishes to be often there?

Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.

Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.

While Moses stood with arms spread
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when, through weariness, they failed,
That moment Amalek prevailed.

Have you no words? Ah! think again;
Words flow easily when you complain,
And fill your fellow creature’s ear,
With the sad tale of all your care.

Were half the breath thus vainly spent,
To heaven in supplication sent,
Your cheerful song would oftener be,
‘Hear what the Lord has done for me’.

– William Cowper

Worldliness, Pt 2

Supernatural power

While we may expect unregenerate men to have no discernment on this issue, it has to be a matter of concern when – given the prominent warnings of the New Testament – the demonic ceases to be a vital part of the belief of professing Evangelicals.

For the apostles, understanding the existence and wiles of Satan was essential to Christian living: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might … For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age’ (Ephesians 6:10, 12). This teaching determines the biblical view of human need.

Non-Christians are in a condition of blindness and bondage. They are under a power greater than the will of man and from which only Christ can set them free. Here was the recognition which led the apostles to repudiate all the world’s methods for winning disciples. Supernatural power had to be met with supernatural power: ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

Darkness and confusion

The biblical revelation on evil spirits is no less relevant to the way in which the church is to defend herself against the demonic. We are constantly warned that Satan works principally through doctrinal deception and falsehood. He was the inspiration for all the false prophets of the Old Testament: ‘He is a liar and the father of it’ (John 8:44).

His great intent is to bring darkness and confusion into the church as he did among the Jews. It was a lie of Satan which brought judgement into the infant church at Jerusalem (Acts 5:3). It was Satan who at Paphos opposed Paul on his first missionary journey by using a sorcerer ‘to turn away the proconsul from the faith’ (Acts 13:8).

The church at Corinth was in danger of allowing ‘a different gospel’ to be unopposed because ‘the serpent who deceived Eve by his craftiness’ was working to mislead her (2 Corinthians 11:3).

False prophets arise within the church yet they do not appear as such: ‘And no wonder!’, writes the apostle, ‘For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). The idea that Christianity stands chiefly in danger from the forces of materialism, or from secular philosophy, or from pagan religions, is not the teaching of the New Testament. The greatest danger comes rather from temptations within and from those who, using the name of Christ, are instruments of Satan to lead men to believe a lie. ‘False christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect’ (Matthew 24:24).

Resolute resistance

No one can rightly believe this without seeing the seriousness of error. Wrong belief is as dangerous as unbelief. To deny the deity and the work of Christ will shut men out of heaven as certainly as will the sin of murder (John 8:24; 1 John 2:22-23).

To preach ‘another gospel’ is to be ‘accursed’ (Galatians 1:6-9).Those who support heresies ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (Galatians 5:20-21).This means that a large part of the preservation and defence of the church lies in resolute resistance to falsehood and in forthright teaching of the truth. Such warnings as ‘beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:12), for they ‘shut up the kingdom of God against men’ (Matthew 23:13), run right through the New Testament.

The apostles, filled with the Spirit of Christ, suffered no toleration of error. They opposed it wherever it arose and required the same spirit of all Christians. Eusebius, the early church historian, wrote of their outlook: ‘Such caution did the apostles and their disciples use, so as not even to have any communion, even in word, with any of those that thus mutilated the truth, according to the declaration of Paul: “An heretical man after the first and second admonition avoid, knowing that such a one is perverse, and that he sins, bringing condemnation on himself”.’

Consistent with love

Yet today this kind of witness against heresy and error, if not altogether silenced, has become muted to an extraordinary degree. ‘Even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing’ (Wells, No place for truth, p.10).

The explanation often given by Evangelicals for the lack of confrontation with error is that a harsh militancy has done more harm than good. As Christians, it is said, we do not want to be party to the kind of strident controversy which has too often marred the faith. Dr Billy Graham has often blamed ‘fundamentalists’ for this fault.

But the fact that what the New Testament says on love has been ignored, is no reason why its injunctions against error should not be obeyed. That some have followed these injunctions in a contentious spirit is no excuse for others not to follow them at all.
A biblical contending against error is fully consistent with love; indeed it is love for the souls of men which requires it. The command to contend for the faith is not abrogated because some have failed to speak the truth in love.

Be watchful

However, there would appear to be a far more probable reason for the contemporary absence of opposition to error. It is the way in which the instrumentality of the devil in corrupting the truth has been so widely overlooked.

In this, as I have already said, we differ widely from Scripture. Instead of believers in the apostolic age being directed to listen to all views ‘with an open mind’, they were told how to ‘test the spirits, whether they are of God’ (l John 4:1). For there are ‘deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons’ (1 Timothy 4:1); false teachers ‘who will secretly bring in destructive heresies’ (2 Peter 2:1). There are words which ‘spread as a cancer’ (2 Timothy 2:17).

– Iain Murray

Worldliness, Pt 1

What is worldliness?

Worldliness is departing from God. It is a man-centred way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man’s fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be a ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.
Worldliness is the mind-set of the unregenerate. It adopts idols and is at war with God. Because ‘the flesh’ still dwells in the Christian he is far from immune from being influenced by this dynamic.

It is of believers that it is said, ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to another’ (Galatians 5:17). It is professing Christians who are asked, ‘Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ (James 4:4) and are commanded, ‘Do not love the world’, and ‘keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 2:15, 5:21).

Apostasy generally arises in the church just because this danger ceases to be observed. The consequence is that spiritual warfare gives way to spiritual pacifism, and, in the same spirit, the church devises ways to present the gospel which will neutralise any offence.
The antithesis between regenerate and unregenerate is passed over and it is supposed that the interests and ambitions of the unconverted can somehow be harnessed to win their approval for Christ. Then when this approach achieves ‘results’ – as it will – no more justification is thought to be needed. The rule of Scripture has given place to pragmatism.

Converted to the world

The apostolic statement, ‘For if I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10), has lost its meaning. No Christian deliberately gives way to the spirit of the world, but we all may do so unwittingly and unconsciously.

That this has happened on a large scale in the later-twentieth century is to be seen in the way in which the interests and priorities of contemporary culture have come to be mirrored in the churches — the antipathy to authority and to discipline; the cry for entertainment by the visual image rather than by the words of Scripture; the appeal of the spectacular; the rise of feminism; the readiness to identify power with numbers; the unwillingness to make ‘beliefs’ a matter of controversy – all these features, so evident in the world’s agenda, are now also to be found in the Christian scene.

Instead of the churches revolutionising the culture, the reverse has happened. Churches have been converted to the world. David Wells has written: ‘The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognise as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself. … It may be that Christian faith, which has made many easy alliances with modern culture in the past few decades, is also living in a fool’s paradise, comforting itself about all the things God is doing … while it is losing its character, if not its soul’.


This same worldliness has come to affect the way in which the gospel is often presented to the unconverted. Leonard Sweet has pointed out that Evangelicals and liberals are often similar in the inducements which they propose to their hearers why they should become Christians. Both offer such things as more success in life, a happier marriage, an integrated personality, more meaning to existence, and so on. In other words, the reasons for becoming a Christian are pragmatic and they are presented with stories of how it has worked for others.
The subject of worldliness, however, has a deeper bearing. Human conduct is not capable of being understood so long as it is imagined that man is self-contained and insulated from any power other than his own. Worldliness, it is true, is the outcome of man’s fallen nature, but the same fall which introduced that nature also brought man under the control of Satan and demonic powers. Worldliness is no accident; it is the devil’s use of such idols as pride, selfishness, and pleasure, to maintain his dominion over men.

The malice of Satan

What Satan proposes for man’s happiness is, in truth, the result of implacable malice towards the whole human race. He means to exclude God and to destroy men, and the system he has devised to do this is so subtle that man is a willing and unconscious captive: ‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him’ (John 8:44).

Scripture says a great deal on the reality of the demonic, and yet the subject is today largely passed over in silence. Human wisdom has no place for the very idea and diverges completely from the revelation in Scripture.

The devil is a mere fable and superstition, so men believe; according to Scripture he is the unseen enemy who constitutes the greatest problem for men in general and for the churches in particular. Man is in the midst of a supernatural conflict; and the adversary – ‘the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2) – is vastly superior to all the intelligence and energies of men. – To be continued

– Iain Murray

Keep Yourself in the Love of God

Satan is ever at work attempting to lead Christians into apostasy. He blinds their minds, inflames their lusts, pours out his temptations, involves them in false and corrupt reasonings, transforms himself into an angel of light, and uses signs and lying wonders, all to support his delusions. Satan never tires and never goes on vacation. Dr D M Lloyd-Jones said: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the condition of the professing church today is that the devil is being forgotten’.
Keep Yourself in the Love of God

The idea that professing Christians may not be true Christians is something not easily acknowledged in the present climate of the church. One finds it even more difficult to believe that ministers, with acknowledged gifts and abilities, whose teaching may have been blessed to many, could after all be themselves devoid of true grace. The fact that error and apostasy appeared so early on in the history of the New Testament church was to be a solemn warning to the church in later ages. We find that in a very short time after Pentecost, error was creeping in, for example, to the church in Corinth and to the churches of the Galatians. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are full of warnings of the readiness of some to apostatise from the truth. The Epistles of John and the Epistle of Jude warn Christians of the danger of falling away. The threat of apostasy is highlighted in the letters to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3. How frequent the promise there is made ‘to him who overcometh’.

Satan is Behind Apostasy

If that was true of the church in the age of the apostles, what will become of us, if we cease to be watchful and not use the means of keeping ourselves from falling away? The enemy of our souls is ever active in this respect. His malice is made clear by John Owen in his treatise on ‘The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel’: ‘Satan is ever at work attempting to lead Christians into apostasy. He blinds their minds, inflames their lusts, pours out his temptations, involves them in false and corrupt reasonings, transforms himself into an angel of light, and uses signs and lying wonders, all to support his delusions. Satan never tires; he never goes on holiday’. Dr D M Lloyd-Jones said: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the condition of the church today is that the devil is being forgotten’.

Jude, in his General Epistle, gives us solemn warnings about apostasy but goes on to apply the preservative. At the outset of the Epistle he tells us that he was about to write on ‘the common salvation’ (v3) when something came to his attention which required urgent action. His focus was drawn to threats that caused him to exhort his hearers ‘to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints’. He was aware of Satan using men as instruments of this apostasy. ‘There are certain men crept in unawares’. It was like someone slipping poison into a glass. Certain men were perverting the grace of God and turning it into sensuality. He goes on to speak of their doom which is as certain as what happened to Israel in the wilderness, the fallen angels and Sodom and Gomorrah. (v 5-7).
Protection from Apostasy

Following all the warnings Jude addresses his readers with the remedy (verses 20-21). ‘But ye, beloved’. There must be a distinct difference as far as true believers are concerned. We are to go in the opposite direction from the apostates. There is one central remedy set before us: ‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’. If we were to follow some modern translations of verses 20-21 we would be considering four imperatives – build, pray, keep and look. But the original points to only one imperative – keep, and then to three participles – building, praying and looking. There is the what we are to do, and then the how we are to do it.

1. What We Are to Do
‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’. How is this possible? Two things are implied:

1) It is because God has set His love on us that we are Christians. There is no salvation outside that consideration. We are the objects of the benevolent love of God to hell deserving sinners. The apostle John said: ‘We have known and believed the love God hath to us.’ (1 John 4.16). Hold on to that. Keep yourselves in ‘the faith that worketh by love’.

2) It is because God’s love for us has become His love in us. ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us’ (Rom 5.5). In His love to us He imparts to us His own nature. We are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’. (2 Pet 1.4). That nature is love. The commandments are the imprint of his nature and therefore we keep his commandments. Love becomes the moving power or principle within us. ‘God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him,’ (1 John 4.16). There is a reciprocal love in the relationship. Jesus said: ‘As the Father hath loved me so have I loved you, continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love;even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.’ (John 15.9-10). The triune God comes to love us with a love of complacency.

2. How We Are to Do It
Three things are required:

1) ’Building up yourselves on your most holy faith’. We are to build on the only true foundation and as stones we are being fashioned into the temple of the church, which is Christ’s body. Instruction in the truth and spiritual illumination are the means for preserving our souls. ‘Gospel truth is the only root from which gospel holiness grows’ (John Owen).

2) ‘Praying in the Holy Ghost’. There is saying prayers, as Saul the Pharisee did frequently, but only when he was wrought upon by the Holy Spirit could it be said, ‘Behold he prayeth’ (Acts 9.11). Prayer is the vital breath for maintaining the spiritual life.

3) ‘Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life’. The Lord Jesus Christ has given eternal life to His own. (John 17.2) It is ‘the life proper to the age to come’ and it has entered our souls in this present age. ‘Ours is a religion’, said J G Vos, ‘whose centre of gravity lies beyond the grave in the world to come’. That is where our focus must be.

Keeping Short Accounts

The Puritans used to say: ‘Keep short accounts with God and men’. The truth is that there is no such position as standing still in the Christian life. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ (Phil 2.12-13). If we are not going forward we are going back and that is where the seeds of apostacy are liable to be sown in the soul. The neglect of warnings leads to a false sense of security. We need to be constantly reminded that only ‘he that endureth to the end shall be saved’ (Matt 10.22). It is by faith that we will overcome. But ‘the faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance’. (John Murray). According to Hebrews 10.37-39, if one perseveres in faith he will gain his life; if he shrinks back he will prove himself reprobate. In the words of R L Dabney, ‘the saint is a penitent until he reaches heaven’, and surely Philip Henry was right when he said, ‘I will take my repentance to the gates of heaven’.

– John J. Murray

Characteristics of True Faith, Pt 2

The next characteristic of true faith is that it stands on the promises of God, trusting in the promises. The writer is still talking about the faith of Abraham but now he brings in Sarah. Both had to be committed to the promise because it pertained to their offspring. ‘Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed’ (v11).

It seemed an impossible situation; Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. She was well past the age of child bearing. When frst hearing the news of an heir, unbelief had a temporary hold and her faith wavered: ‘Sarah laughed within herself’ (Genesis 18:12). ‘And the Lord said unto Abraham, “Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall of a surety bear a child, which I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord?”‘ (Genesis 18:13-14).

What brought about the change? She stopped looking at the problem and started looking to the Lord, ‘because she judged him faithful who had promised’ (v11). She took her mind off 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 (Hebrews 11:3). He promised and he will bring it to pass. Abraham and Sarah had a child.

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’ (11:7). 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 and Isaac was the best gift God had given to him. In Isaac, the promise was to be fulfilled and yet he was to be taken away. Does providence run 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’ (Genesis 22:13) and ‘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 these 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 and entire, wanting nothing’ (v3-4).

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 Peter 1:6-7). The genuine element in the faith is proved by a process similar to that of refining and is found to be more valuable 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’ (Hebrews 10:35). The writer then goes on to say, ‘we are not of them that draw back’ (v39), after which he immediately introduces us to the gallery of faith, of whom it is said ‘these all died in faith’ (Hebrews 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 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 (Hebrews 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!

– John J. Murray