Perhaps one of the most consistent messages we have been learning from the Lord recently in our regular studies of Scripture together is the marvellous faithfulness of God’s promises in the face of the manifest (and multiple) flaws of his people.
Bob’s preaching in 2 Samuel has highlighted the persevering grace of God to build a dynasty out of the house of David according to his covenant promise to ‘establish the throne of his kingdom forever’ (2 Sam 7:13), despite David’s sin and its calamitous consequences within his own household. We have seen the remarkable faithfulness of God through Paul, in his provision and preparation of men like Timothy to guard the health of churches, many of which had scorned and rejected the apostle in his very hour of need, ashamed of his gospel and his stand of faith. And in the story of Jacob perhaps above all, we have surely been touched by the wonderful condescension of the LORD, the God of Abraham and Isaac, whose presence followed this man wherever he went, richly providing for him and surrounding him with his divine protection despite all the dysfunctional mess of his covenant family’s life — because God had promised that it would be so.
'Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and ... I will not leave you until I have done what I promised to you.' (Gen 28:15)
There can surely be no greater encouragement for the spiritual progeny of Jacob, (the offspring of Abraham through faith in Christ Jesus) than to know that ‘the God of Jacob is our fortress’, and that therefore we too are people who can stand just as confidently on the promises of God, despite all our flaws, our failings and our all-too-frequent foolishness.
As a fellowship we have been living through days of real testing of late, and we may be sure that many trials still lie ahead of us. Our hearts have been sad as we have had to part from our former denomination, and although we have known an almost unprecedented level of congregational unity, for which we thank God, there have been those who have left us at this time, and however few, each one has been painful. Yet, as a congregation we have covenanted together not only to profess Jesus Christ, but to confess him as Lord of his church, and therefore not only to believe the word of God, but to act upon its commands conscientiously. As J I Packer has put it ‘Captivity of conscience to the Word of God, that is, to the absolutes of God's authoritative teaching in the Bible, is integral to authentic Christianity.' And so, in seeking to stand with the authentic Christian church throughout the world, we have sought to 'walk with the Lord, in the light of his word', not away from him on the trajectory the Church of Scotland has set for itself.
"When God calls his people to follow where he leads ... he will never abandon those who are his. Not ever."
It has been hard, and it will remain hard, to be seen by some of our Christian friends as having gone 'beyond the pale'. But let us not forget that the call to true discipleship has always been the call to 'go to him, outside the camp, and bear the reproach he endured' (Heb 13:13). We can obey, because we trust him. And it is truly a wonderful comfort to know that when God calls his people to follow where he leads, to trust in his sure word, then however flawed they may be, and whatever folly they may create for themselves, he will never abandon those who are his. Not ever.
'The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them' (Psa 34:7). That is a promise! The angels of God met a worn and weary Jacob on his way back to Canaan after fleeing Laban; so today 'are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?' (Heb 1:14). The promises of God to his people are sure and certain. They may be ancient, but they are not forgotten, not a single one of them. They are still powerful, and they belong to all who are his, for his is an everlasting covenant. Indeed, far from diminishing since the days of the great saints of old, our hope rests on even better promises, a better hope through which we draw near not only to angels, but God himself, through our Lord Jesus Christ who is 'able to save to the uttermost (that is, at all times and completely) those who draw near to God through him' (Heb 7:25; cf 7:19; 8:6).
We need to be reminded of those 'precious and very great promises' of God all the time, as Peter says in his second letter, but especially in times of testing. The next months for us as a fellowship are naturally going to be difficult, and it will be easy to be fearful and lose heart. Some of us, especially those in leadership, will experience wounding criticism, and there will be those who malign us all publicly. We also face uncertainty about the long term use of our building which will be a big worry for some; we shall do all that we can reasonably do to remain there, for the sake of the gospel in our city, but in the end we have to entrust it all into the hands of the Lord. And we can, for he knows the way that we take, and when he has tried us, we shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).
None of these things are easy. But it is when things are tough that our faith is put to the test and we discover if we really do believe and trust the promises of God, if we really are standing on the promises, as the old hymn says, not just mouthing them emptily. So, let us encourage one another, and build one another up by reminding ourselves regularly of the great and precious promises that are ours in Christ in all circumstances. Let me leave you with just a few on which we may stand together as a fellowship:
'... do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.... But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before me, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.' (Matt 10:28-32) That's a promise!
'... do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For ... your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.' (Luke 12:29-32) That's a promise!
'You did not choose me, but I chose you ... that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.' (John 15:16) 'Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.' (1 Cor 15:58) That's a promise!
Friends, we are not alone. The Church of Jesus Christ around the world stands with us in our time of need, and together with them we also are standing: standing on the promises of God.
Standing on promises, words that can't fail,
when in the storms of doubt, dark fears assail,
my hope is anchored fast, within the veil;
sure in his living word, I'll always prevail!
Promises old, promises true,
sealed by the Saviour for me!
Touched by his grace, forever I'll be
standing secure in God's promise to me.
Yours in the security of our promising Saviour,
William J U Philip