Thursday, 31 January 2013

Privilege of prayer

Adolph Saphir
In every place, and at all times, we may come into His presence. In the name of Jesus we appear before His throne of grace, and He beholds us in Him, and loves us as His children. Though we cannot express in words what our souls desire and long for, we know that He interprets and hears the language of our heart. To Him we may confide what we could intrust to no human friend; where all earthly help is of no avail, we can ask His almighty succour. The thoughts and doubts which rise within us we can spread out before Him, to sift, to correct, to change them; the sorrow that lies too deep for human ministry we can bring to Love, omnipotent and all-compassionate. And we know that we can never weary Him with our approach, and that not one thought or petition will be overlooked by Him; all good that we ask will be granted abundantly, and with overflowing and tender mercies. 

And this is not all. Had we no petitions to offer, no gifts, no consolations, no deliverances to ask, what a privilege is prayer, were it merely to stand before the Lord, to be in the presence of the Holy and Blessed One, to behold with open face His glory, and to know that He sees and loves us, and that, through the blood of Christ, we have been brought into the circle of eternal life – one with all angels and saints! ’ (Adolph Saphir [1877], The Open Secret, John F. Shaw, pp. 59-60).

A sad summary of life

Remember that man’s life does not consist in what he has, but in what he is. Serve Jesus and the church. Oh, let not the best years of your life be years in which you have little communion with God, and in which you do little for Christ! ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’ Let not your biography be summed up: ‘He turned to God in his youth, he then became lukewarm, being engrossed in the cares and the business and the social demands of the world, and a short time before his death he saw his mistake, and felt that one thing was needful. For years his spiritual life was barely sustained by the prayers of friends and the weekly services of the sanctuary. He might have been a pillar in the church, but he was only a weight.’ This be far from you. Oh, serve the Lord with gladness, be strong, quit yourselves like men, and abound in the work of the Lord. ‘Draw nigh to God’ (Adolph Saphir).

Adolph Saphir on the Song of Solomon

In the Song of Songs we may read a description of the soul’s varying experience. That Song does not describe the marriage of the Lamb. The Bride is sometimes in Jerusalem, then in the mount of Lebanon; now and at night-time wandering in the street, now in the wilderness, now in the garden, now in the fields, now in the house. Sometimes she is left desolate; sometimes she seeks and does not find; she calls, and He does not answer. Then again she rejoices because she hears the voice of the Beloved, and is assured of His never-changing faithfulness. At times she is deeply conscious of her unworthiness, and takes to heart the bitter reproaches of the watchmen; at other times the loyal spirit bursts forth in exultation, and she is persuaded that she is the chosen one, beautiful in His sight. The Song of Solomon describes, therefore, the experience of the pilgrim state; and though there are in this book Old Testament aspects which perhaps will be fully understood only when Israel is converted and restored, and though since the Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Ghost we have received deeper and fuller disclosures, yet is this Song a most precious and fragrant divinely-inspired commentary on this word: ‘Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you’ (Adolph Saphir [1877], The Open Secret, John F. Shaw, p 25). 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Elijah, the preacher

In 1 Kings 17:1 Elijah appeared suddenly to Ahab, passed on the Lord’s message and then went and lived in another obscure place. Yet his short message has lessons for us as preachers. The first is Elijah’s understanding of who the Lord is.

It is clear from Elijah’s opening words that he knew that his God was alive and aware of what was going on. The prophet knew that his God was not like the inert gods of the pagans. But he also knew that his God was not like the impressions that were being given about him in the northern kingdom of Israel at that time. The rulers of Israel for several decades had imagined that they could manipulate God and his ways for their own ends. They had their own reasons for erecting and supporting alternative places of worship in Dan and in Bethel. Yet all they were doing was demeaning the authority of the living God and their actions revealed that they were indifferent to what he regarded as important. All this flowed from the fact that they did not believe he was alive.

Second, Elijah recognised that he was accountable to God. We can see this outlook in the prophet’s words, ‘Before whom I stand.’ We are not told where Elijah was when said this – he may have met Ahab in a royal dwelling or he may have met him in an open space. The one thing that is clear is that Elijah did not worry too much about being in the presence of an earthly king. Standing includes the idea of showing great respect and Elijah recognised that he was accountable for his actions. So he never forgot that he was in the presence of God, no matter who else was in the room.

This self-description by the prophet also highlights the sense of authenticity that he had. Elijah knew he was different from the false prophets, whether of Baal or any other god. He had stood and heard more than once the Lord’s call to him to serve in particular ways, and this awareness made him brave in his actions. He had no doubts about the role God had mapped out for him.

There is another element that this self-description reveals about Elijah and that is his consciousness of the authority he had as the Lord’s messenger. The Lord had given him a message to say, and a difficult message at that, and this was sufficient authority for Elijah. When a person senses this authority he will speak to anyone, even if the message from God is threatening, as it was here.

Third, his message from God confronted the sins of the time. It is obvious that Elijah had a message of judgement, but we can ask, ‘Why was there a particular form of judgement involving the dew and the rain?’ The answer is that the message about Baal claimed that he was in charge of the seasons, that he was able to control the elements in order to give good harvests. We can see how the prophet’s short message spoke directly to the situation facing the people of Israel. As Elijah was later to ask them, the choice was between Baal and its worldview and Yahweh and his covenant commitments. God’s message always confronts contemporary culture – that was the case in Elijah’s day and it is the same today. The promised judgement, passed on by Elijah, showed that Yahweh was mighty and Baal was non-existent. We must do the same. There is little point in preaching about the threats of a century ago (unless they are still here). We have to be relevant when calling people to repentance.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Facing 2013

Message from January 2013 congregational newsletter  

Who knows what 2013 will bring? I have heard that statement many times, usually with the emphasis that no-one knows. From a Christian point of view, the question can be a statement of unbelief because we know that God knows what will happen in 2013 (and in 2113, should Jesus not have come back by then).

The other implication of the question is that some would like to know what will happen because they imagine they could change things beforehand (which, of course, is an impossibility – no-one can change what will happen). But would we really like to know the future? Think of all the problems, tragedies and turmoil that have happened in 2012. There have been so many that probably we have forgotten about most of them. Imagine we had been presented with a list of them on January 1st 2012, and we had to spend the weeks and months waiting for them to occur. We would not have been able to handle it. It is actually a blessing from God that he keeps the future hidden from us, whether on personal, ecclesiastical, national or global levels.

Of course, some will ask, ‘Why does God not do something about the future and prevent such negative things from happening?’ Does God mind us asking him this question or ones like it? The answer is no. After all, Jesus was once asked about the future and he replied by saying that there would be wars, earthquakes, famines and family troubles, as well as persecution of his people, and I suppose those things have occurred every year since he was asked that question.

What would we expect God to do in a year in which both the British and Scottish governments intend to enact laws that are contrary to his Word? What do we expect God to do in a society that has materialism as its god and uses his Day as a means of accumulating more? What do we expect God to do in a wealthy community in which there is an underclass struggling to find even the basic things of life and where numerous children go hungry day after day? What do we expect God to do in a country where human life is demeaned by abortion, and where incredible numbers of his image bearers are treated with disdain? Do we expect God to bring peace on earth when we have huge companies in the West (and elsewhere) manufacturing weapons and selling them to other nations to use in their internal and external wars? What do we expect God to do with his professing church which treats his Word as a book only fit to be ignored? There is one thing certain – we don’t have the moral authority to tell him what to do.

Yet has he told us anything about what he will do? He has. He has informed us that he will listen to our prayers, which is an open invitation to pray as much as we want. (How many will take God up on this offer?) He has informed us that he will meet with those who seek him through his appointed means, which at the very least is an encouragement to be in church as often as possible. He has informed us that his kingdom will continue to grow through the conversion of sinners, which is sufficient reason to be confident in the gospel. He has informed us that when iniquity comes in like a flood, the Lord will raise up a standard against it. Well, the flood is flowing, so we should be looking for the standard. He has guaranteed that there will be summer and winter, springtime and harvest, despite what global warming may bring about. He has promised that there will be common grace (his general kindness to all) and saving grace (the blessings of the gospel). And he has said that there will be trials and tribulations, perhaps severe ones, but he offers to take us through them and to use them to prepare us for another world.

Who knows what will happen in 2013? God does, and he knows what to do and what not to do. And that is sufficient reason to begin the year by putting our souls and bodies into his care.