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THE SURE WORD OF GOD

Sermon 3: Submitting to Scripture

John 10:35 The Scripture cannot be broken

If these words of the Son of God are true, and the Scripture cannot be broken, then what we have in the Bible makes considerable demands on all men and women. If Christ is to believed this is the word of the God and Judge of mankind, and it binds everybody to what it says because of its unique authority. They are to obey it simply because it is the Word of God. As God is its Author, Scripture has the authority of God.

THE PLACE OF CONSCIENCE
There are some people who want to make conscience the ultimate authority of conduct. They say what was said to Pinochio: "Always let your conscience be your guide." But some consciences are, in Thomas Boston's words, "too pernickity". They condemn what God's Word does not condemn. Consider, for example, the conscience of the Jehovah's Witness concerning blood transfusions, or the consciences of Roman Catholics concerning "artificial" methods of birth control. Then there are other consciences which are the very opposite and let everything pass. They allow what God's Word condemns. They are less sensitive than they should be. They are too open. Consider, for example, how the Inquisitors burnt at the stake and tortured men and women out of conscience. Consider again the conscience of the cannibal.

All of us have to educate our consciences by Scripture. The Puritan illustration of this is the sun dial which will give a correct reading only when the light of the sun shines upon it. But on a bright moonlit night you can find a shadow upon the surface of a sun dial and read a time, but it would be a wrong reading because it is not a moon dial but a sun dial. The consensus of every age, and the philosophies of men and their religions will cast their own light upon men's beliefs. People behave in accordance with the light which their consciences are given. The Word of God summons the conscience of every generation to the bar of its light and truth.

When Martin Luther was put on trial in a Diet (a church court) at Worms in Germany in 1521 they brought before the Reformer arguments from their traditions, encyclicals and Church decrees. Luther replied: "unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience." The Reformation was not about a free conscience, but about a conscience that had been enlightened by the Bible. As the Shorter Catechism tells us: "The Word of God is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God."

THE PLACE OF THE CHURCH
For the Roman Catholic what he is to believe is told him in the clear and unambiguous answers of his Church's teaching. The late Cardinal Basil Hume of England constantly defended the importance of papal authority. He warned of "the danger that the Catholic community is now losing sight of how the Magisterium, the teaching authority, operates. What matters to me profoundly is the existence of the Magisterium." When hundreds of Anglicans became Roman Catholics at the time the Church of England voted by a small minority to ordain women Cardinal Hume insisted that there could be no doctrinal concessions to the would-be converts: the Roman faith was the faith. In what became a famous catchphrase he put it this way: the new converts would be expected to accept the whole of Catholic doctrine, not just the parts they liked - it was, he said, a question of "table d'hote, not la carte".

Two things must be pointed out. Firstly that the Tradition maintained by the Magisterium is not available to the people. A rule of faith, to be of practical use to men and women, must be accessible and intelligible. But the unwritten revelation to which Rome appeals is not contained in any one volume. It is scattered through the records of nineteen centuries, and includes ecclesiastical documents which are hidden from the common eye in numerous bulky volumes. It is clear, therefore, that it is not possible for Roman Catholics to derive from such sources an intelligent knowledge of their own rule of faith.

Secondly, the Magisterium subverts the authority of the Scriptures. If there are two standards of authority of equal value, the one, explanatory, and an infallible interpreter of the other, it is of necessity the interpretation which determines the faith of the people. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the Pharisees and told them that they had made the Word of God of none effect through their tradition. Consider, for example, those commandments which define our duty to God. The first commandment declares that we must worship God only. The Church of Rome permits the worship of saints, angels and relics. She does so on the basis of a verbal quibble between latria, worship which may be paid to God alone, and dulia, worship which may be paid to saints. In the second commandment God forbids the worship of images. The Church of Rome sets aside the second commandment and allows the worship of images. The force of this commandment is evaded by including it under the first and dividing the tenth commandment up into two, in order to make up the number to ten.

Again, take an example of what the Bible says about Mary and what the Magisterium makes of it. The decree on Mary, of Vatican II states, '...her intercession brought about the beginning of miracles by Jesus'. But if we read the story in John 2, that is not how it appears at all. On the contrary Jesus was showing to Mary on that occasion that he was sovereign in the exercise of his power as the Son of God and would tolerate no interference, not even from her, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come'. What is common to these examples is that the Magisterium has succeeded in making the Bible say the exact opposite to what is it in fact saying. If the magisterium cannot be trusted here where can it be trusted? Are not the Scriptures twisted and tortured in the interests of the church's dogma and tradition?

THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE ALONE
Authority for the Christian is found in the Bible alone. But in what area of our living is the Scripture the normative and authoritative guide? How comprehensive is its authority over me as a believer? Over what parts of our lives is this Word of God to regulate and control us? The answer is over every part. The whole of my life as a Christian and as a human being lies under the enlightenment and dominion of the Word of God. Let us examine some of these areas.

Firstly, the Word of God is the only authority for my beliefs and my theology.

If I want to know what I am to believe about God, what he is like, his attributes, his purposes, his works, what has he done for me, what his plan is for man's redemption, the promises that he has given to Christians, the necessary norms for daily life, the answer to all of this lies in the Word of God.

There are secret things that belong to the Lord, matters about which He has chosen not to give us any information, such as: "how can we know the elect before they profess faith in Jesus? How can you reconcile divine sovereignty with human responsibility? What is the date of the second coming of Jesus Christ? Why should this person's life be full of grief while another's has been green pastures and still waters?" The Bible is silent on those things, so we too must be agnostic about them. Again, the Bible does not speak on every detail of the life of the Church. The Bible does not give us an order of service for worship, nor a manual for daily Bible reading, nor the appropriate size of a congregation, but the Bible does speak about the fall of man, and about predestination, and about what we may do and may not do when a church gathers. It speaks about Adam and Eve, and about hell, and about male headship, so we are never to be silent and sheepish about these matters, but to accept that these are the things God wants us to believe. Such teaching is never given to us to fascinate our intellects. It is revealed in the context of our duty as creatures, our lostness as sinners and our gratitude as the redeemed. God does not give us truth just to exercise our intellects, but to our salvation and a life of good works. We must grow in our grasp of the truth, our familiarity with the teaching of Scripture, and its system of Christian doctrine.

Now it is all very well for men to speak of the perils of dead orthodoxy, and that can be a real peril. There are people whose interest is not in the great foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. They are interested in the conundrum of theology. Let us avoid that. There are people who are animated by the great controversial doctrines that divide Christians, that men fight over, and we must watch that spirit. But we are bound as Christians to make conscience of growing in our grasp of the content of the divine revelation. God has taken such pains to give us his Word. This is a revelation that men can understand, and it is our obligation to use Scripture, to marinate ourselves in those fascinating truths so that they become totally familiar to us. Every Christian should know intimately the doctrines which relate to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He should know of the deity and the humanity of the Son of God. He should know the states of Christ - pre-incarnate, incarnate and exalted. He should know the three offices of the Messiah, Christ the Prophet, Christ the Priest, Christ the King. He should be familiar with the doctrine of justification by faith, that is, that God has constituted a righteousness in the life of his Son Jesus Christ, that he imputes that righteousness to all that believe, and in that gracious act of justification he declares the sinner righteous in Christ. All of us should know that. It is the stuff of believing meditation. These doctrines are not for theologians. They constitute that great body of truth that sanctifies. The apostle Paul has a striking phrase at the very beginning of his letter to Titus, "the truth that leads to godliness" (Titus 1:1). Why do we need the Bible? That we may grow in godliness.

Let us be careful that we are not blown about by every wind of doctrine, but careful that we do not cling to theories that cannot bear the scrutiny of the Word of God. The Bible has the intrinsic right to correct and control us. The issue is not, "what was I taught as a child?", nor is it some religious experience that I have had, nor certain ideas that have been precious to me emotionally. Those cannot set the criteria for what I am to believe for the rest of my life because they are utterly subjective and circular. The issue is, "What has God said?", because Scripture alone has the right to control my religious thinking.

Joss Ackland is a distinguished actor, married for almost fifty years to Rosemary, and the father of seven children. He played the part of C.S.Lewis in the play "Shadowlands." He has, he says, unshakable faith in God. He bases this upon an experience he and his wife had in Africa. They were in the Malawi jungle, and he records in his autobiography, "I Must Be In There Somewhere", that one night they awoke and experienced the same emotion - "one so rich, content and full, that it was beyond understanding, and whatever or whoever stood at the foot of the bed was the awesome reason ... Our lives were never the same." He says today, "I have no idea who or what God is. I don't have a vision of God. I don't think we are intended to know who he is. I'm a hopeless churchgoer. I don't like patterns But I consider myself a religious person." (Sunday Telegraph, June 6, 1999). That is a religion without words, founded upon his own experience. It has significance for no one but himself and his wife, and the fact is that it is not enough to take into the presence of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Secondly - Scripture has the same authority in the realm of ethics and over our daily behaviour

What duty does God want of me? The answer is, obedience to His revealed will. Where is that will revealed regarding great principles of conduct and the sanctities of life? In the Word of God. That is the only ethical rule. We have no right to detract from it. We have no right to add to it. It is the final, definitive expression of what God says is the whole duty of man. We have heard people cry that they are in a great dilemma, and that the choices confronting them are very difficult. They really do not know, they say, what is right and what is wrong. Their problem is one of "guidance". Yet very often their problem is one of obedience. The ethical passages in the Word of God are amongst the most lucid parts of Scripture. The ten commandments have a grand simplicity about them. They are expounded by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount and amplified by the apostles in the great end-sections of the letters to the Romans and to the Ephesians, or as they are found in James' whole letter. They are amongst the clearest sections of Scripture.

This matter of whether I should marry a man who has no interest whatsoever in the Christian life - that is not a matter of guidance, but a matter of obedience to God. The Lord says so clearly in his Word "he must belong to the Lord" (I Cor. 7:39). That is not a sufficient criterion for marrying someone, but it is an indispensable one. So often we make matters of our conduct problems of guidance. We plead to ourselves or to our church that our sins are not like other people's sins. Our sins are beautiful, they are understandable, and defensible - not like the rest. Time and time again we have to return to the authority of Scripture for all our daily conduct.

For example, there is a sex education taught in the Word of God and it is very simple: purity before marriage, faithfulness within marriage. Scripture forbids homosexual activity and even condemns homosexual desire - that whoever looks on a man to lust after him has committed sexual sin with him already in his heart. Again, Scripture teaches there are two grounds for divorce - adultery and desertion by the unbelieving partner. Again, it teaches that human life begins at conception and that the balance of doubt because of the tiny nature of that person during its first weeks of life must always be tilted in favour of the unborn child.

This same Word of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill", also says, "Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6). So the Word of God tests our ethical obedience. Are we, as Christians, keeping the Word of God? Are we careful to obey the Word of God when we are emotionally disinclined? Are we zealous to do what the Bible says when we lie in the depths of depression, when we wallow in self-pity, when we know that there is a duty calling us which is unpleasant and unattractive? Have we the maturity to stamp on our negative emotions in the face of our reluctance and aversion to address ourselves to what God is telling us to do? There is no greater peril in the Christian life than to make our emotions the touchstone for our duties, to wait for a warm feeling to arise before we are kind to our enemies, to pause for the moment of inspiration before we pray, to plead, "God can't expect me to witness when I am feeling like this". Time and again we have to withstand ourselves and insist that, although our will is weak and all spiritual energy has left us, we have to pick ourselves up and attend to the duties that God has bidden us do. Are we obedient enough in face of the tremendous difficulties and obstacles that our feelings can bring in our way? The Word of God is authoritative in the realm of ethics.

I ask you also this, is it not authoritative in the small things as well as in the great? It is one of the true signs of maturity when we are paying careful attention to matters of detail in the Christian life. You remember how our Lord's commendation falls upon men and women who are faithful in little things, and it is at that point that so often we are losing the battle. It may not seem a great problem for you to be at the doors of a church at say, 11 o'clock and 6 o'clock on a Sunday. It may seem a trifling thing to be in your place at the Prayer Meeting during the week. It may be only a small matter to remember the work of missions and support them; to write certain letters; and only a small thing to keep certain promises. But so often it is in these small things that our submission to the authority of the Word of God is being tested.

Thirdly - The Word of God controls our worship, the way we approach God.

The question which the leadership of a church must ask is not what is the most attractive form of worship, nor what is the most moving, nor most fascinating to the stranger who just turns up by chance. The issue is not what is the most exciting worship, but simply what is the most Biblical? That is all; and should you think that the most Biblical is boring, that is a fearful response. Are you getting weary of the living God? All you will have in eternity is God. The one concern in thinking of true worship is how does God want us to approach him? The issue is this, What gives God the most pleasure? That's the question every congregation must ask continually. It is not enough that we are a growing congregation or that we gain much pleasure from our form of worship. We cannot base our arguments upon the fact that our fathers worshipped in a particular way, even for centuries. We cannot plead our own feelings, or such tastes as our love of silence, or preference for a simple form of worship, or our love of ritual or a certain kind of music. How does God want to be worshipped? That is the only question.

There is a vital question that God asks in Isaiah 1:12. The people in Isaiah's day were very religious with much religious activity going on - their sacrifices, their trampling God's courts, their offering incense and keeping new moons, their convocations, and spreading out their hands to heaven. The Lord God looks at all this and he says, "Who has asked this of you?". God views with actual scorn all this religious activity. He says, "Who hath required this of you? Have I asked you to do all these things when you come into my presence? Have I told you, 'Now be sure that you act in these ways'?" The people had failed to ask what was God's will for them when they gathered in his Name.

What is God's will for our worship? The Lord Jesus has instituted two sacraments - baptism and the Lord's Supper. Just two. He has asked of us: "Make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," and there are many records of disciples being baptized in the book of Acts. Christ himself has also given us the Lord's Supper, and said, "Do this in remembrance of Me" and "Do it until I come", not "sacrifice this" but "do this." "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). So two sacraments alone were instituted by the Son of God. Let us make sure that both sacraments are in our congregations, and no more.

There are four marks of a church in Acts 2:42: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Prayer is clearly given considerable significance by the apostles: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone ... I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer" (I Tim. 2:1 & 8). Then Paul also says, "Preach the Word" (2 Tim.4:2). As the congregation hears the Word of God being opened up and applied to them then as one minute follows the next they are convicted of sin and repenting, thanking God for his mercies, vowing to give God better obedience, receiving new insight and expressing their gratitude for that, hearing of the sinner's plight and praying in their hearts for some they know to be lost. So the preaching of the Word is the actual climax of worship. In the Acts of the Apostles you will see that particular emphasis is laid on sermons and on teaching of the Word of God.

Then, to "speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord" is mentioned (Ephs.5:19). There is indeed one occasion when Christians actually singing is recorded in the book of Acts. It was in the prison at Philippi where Paul and Silas were in the stocks (Acts 16:25). There is that single example of Christian praise; we cannot say there is much emphasis in the New Testament on music. But it is not ignored. Then, those are the elements of Biblical worship that God has asked from us in Scripture; in presenting that response to God we know we are giving Biblical worship to God and pleasing him.

So the Bible controls my theology; it controls my behaviour; it controls my worship.

Fourthly - The Scriptures are authoritative for fellowship.

The great Pentecost event concludes with the description of the young New testament Church and its love for one another. How could it assimilate 3,000 men into the 500 that were there when the Holy Spirit came upon them? We are told that those thousands devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship (Acts 2:42). You see the picture? Outside the city wall of Jerusalem there are 300 men sitting and they are listening to Andrew and he is telling them about the life of Christ, his deeds and their meaning. It is like a seminar group, and the people are full of questions, "Why did Jesus say that? What did he mean by doing that?" They are growing together in understanding what the apostle is telling them. But there are sceptics on the fringes of the crowd and they are arguing with Andrew. They don't accept his interpretation of the life of Jesus and are rejecting his teaching. Andrew is patient and kindly with them but they are stubborn rejecting the apostle's witness to the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. Then the fellowship with those men dies. There is no way that it can continue if the apostles' doctrine is rejected. Fellowship in unity depends upon fellowship in truth. The Bible sets out the parameters of Christian fellowship.

The apostle Paul went on a missionary journey to Galatia and there he was in virtual birth pangs for them until Christ was formed in the lives of many of its citizens. Shortly after he had left Galatia to plant a church somewhere else a group of religious men moved in on the Galatian church. That often happens: the cults are expert in picking on novices - the newly religious but untaught people. These men began to speak to the Galatians, saying in effect, "Now, do you really want the blessing of God on your life? Do you truly want to serve the Lord? Do you want the smile of God upon you? Don't you know that the Lord has told us in his Word that we must be circumcised. Are not there judgments on those who refuse to be circumcised? Also, there is the seventh day in the week besides this Lord's Day, and there are food laws to keep, and Jerusalem to visit three times a year. Don't you want everything that God has to give you? Then this is the way."

How orthodox were those people. They had no problem with eternal punishment. They could have gone through every phrase of the Apostles' Creed and said "Amen" to it. Did Paul have fellowship with them? Did Paul say: "This is an interesting example of the ecclesiastical diversity of our rich religious tapestry"? He did not say that. Would he have approved of Richard Foster's visionary emotional state as he cries, "I see a mighty river of the Spirit. I see a country pastor from Indiana embracing an urban priest from New Jersey and together praying for the peace of the world. I see a people. I see a Catholic monk from the hills of Kentucky standing alongside a Baptist evangelist from the streets of Los Angeles and together offering up a sacrifice of praise. I see a people." I do not believe Paul would have been impressed with that rhetoric crying out, "And I see a Judaizer circumcising that old Christian, and putting that family on a kosher diet and checking up that they are keeping the seventh day of the week as a sabbath. I see a people." It was an error-teaching and fellowship-destroying and damnation-bringing people Paul was seeing. Fellowship in the Spirit is only possible if there is fellowship in the truth.

What did Paul say? He said, "I am astonished! I am amazed that you have deserted the One who called you by the grace of God and have turned to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all." Then he takes a deep breath, as it were, and says, "If we or an angel from heaven speak any other gospel, let him be anathema - let him be eternally condemned" (Gals.1:6-9)

Those teacher or false doctrine were living decent lives; they were keeping themselves unspotted from the world; they knew there was a heaven to win and a hell to lose. These people were saying that the divine Christ was their Saviour. What was wrong with Paul? Was Paul being pernickety? Was he a hyper-separatist? No, because the very heart of Christianity and the salvation of men and women was at stake as far as the apostle was concerned. Paul had no problem at all with a boy being circumcised for reasons of hygiene or for mere cultural tradition, or to remove any offence for the spread of the Gospel. In fact Paul had encouraged Timothy to be circumcised for such a reason. For the apostle there were three steps involved in appropriating salvation Firstly, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ Secondly, being justified, that is, declared righteous for Christ's sake. Thirdly, being forgiven for all your sins. Then you may be circumcised as a cultural or evangelistic matter.

The Judaizers in Galatia had a very different approach. They believed: Firstly, a man believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, he is circumcised, and then, Thirdly, he is justified and pardoned.

In other words, it was not enough to have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith alone in the Saviour alone for salvation was not an acceptable doctrine to them. The Judaizers said, "We believers must also do something. There is a contribution which we must also make. Of course, the Lord Jesus has accomplished 95 per cent of our salvation, but we must contribute our 5 per cent too. We have to get circumcised, and eat special foods, refusing others. We keep that seventh day of the week as a special day, just between us and the Lord. Then we are truly right with God." Paul says: "If that is how you get your salvation, you are in as hopeless a state as any unbeliever. If that is how grace comes to you, then it's not grace at all." Just as an anchor chain is as strong as its weakest link, salvation is as strong as the weakest link, and the weakest link is man's contribution, because sin affects everything we men do. Every word we speak, every action we perform, all the sins of omission, all our motivation and best obediences are riddled with and spoiled by self. It is impossible for us to do anything one hundred per cent purely and holily and spotlessly and undefiledly beneath His sight, before whom the angels cover their eyes. When He looks and evaluates anything there is sin, and if our salvation rests in part in Christ and in part on us, we are lost men and women. Our part will always lets us down. For Paul the glory of the Gospel that he brought to Galatia was the great news of what our lovely brave young Saviour did all by himself by his life of spotless submission to the Law of God, in his active obedience under the moral civil and religious laws, and by his passive obedience when he suffered and died his royal death on Golgotha. "By himself he purged our sins," (Hebs. 1:3 A.V.). The only contribution we make is our great need: that is our contribution. "All the fitness he requires is to see your need of Him." Rabbi Duncan said: "Our sin is the handle by which we grasp Christ." We plead our sin and our need, and look away to his inconceivable love. For Paul the whole basis of meaningful Church fellowship rested on the Word 'alone.'

Is it not by Christ alone we are saved? Is it not through faith alone in Him that we are saved? Is it the Word of God alone which we are to believe? Is it by grace alone that we are justified? For Paul those 'alones' are absolutely essential because they give all the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, for Paul, accepting the message of the Word of God determines our fellowship. The Word does it. It is not that we are overly particular people, non-co-operative and awkward, but that we are conscious that the Word of God determines our fellowship, our cooperation in mission and in evangelism, our training of men for the ministry, our magazines and our publishing houses. There is no way that we can fellowship together unless the Word of God has authority over us.

Fifthly - The Word of God has the right to control the emotional life of the Christian

The Bible is a rule, not just for my fellowship, ethics and theology, but it is also a rule for my affections. My experience is the way I react to doctrine, to Christian realities, to providences and day-to-day occurrences, and the corresponding emotions which I have to handle as a Christian believer should. I am sure we have often been inclined to exempt that department of our lives from the authority of the Bible and to assume that whatever the Word of God teaches about doctrine, conduct and worship, surely it does not deal with this mysterious and inward area of our lives which seems so inaccessible and uncontrollable. Now that conclusion is a very great mistake. There is clear teaching in the Word of God that a certain kind of emotional life is normative for a Christian and required by God. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace" (Gals.5:22). What are joy and peace? They are emotions. What did Paul mean when he said: "I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content" (Phils.4:11 A.V.)? Is not that contentment also the normative emotional condition for the Christian - joy, peace, contentment? How far astray we can be in these areas. I am not at all sure that Christians characterised by such graces stand very prominently in our circles. Do we appreciate the contribution which a man or woman controlled by these emotions makes to the life of a congregation? Do we revere members for their contentment? Do we esteem them for their joy and peace? How we should. The extraordinary ability to encourage and uplift the spirit of a minister and a people. Persons known for their joy and peace carry a fragrance throughout the whole world. We never forget them, while those who were as straight as a ramrod, but as cold and hard, leave very different memories. That is the Biblical norm for a personality, at peace with itself, integrated not by birth nor by temperament, nor by psychological techniques, but integrated by the grace of God and so at peace with oneself - that is no mean achievement in this neurotic culture of ours. Peace with God above and the world around, and, as a result, joy and contentment in our lives. These things are not options for a Christian, any more than it is an option for me whether we believe in the deity of Christ or not, because God's prescription for the Christian reaches down into our hearts, souls, minds and strength, that is into our whole psychological condition and emotional life.

Let us put it in terms of the negatives that you find in the Word of God. Think, for example, of the great teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ on anxiety in Matthew chapter 6, and how the Lord rebukes that worry and fretfulness to which men and women are so liable - "the pagans run after all these things" (Matt.6:25-34). The Lord analyzes it and shows how incompatible it is with a life of trust in God. Jesus Christ is virtually saying to us: "Either faith or anxiety - you cannot have both." Remember how the Lord stands before Elijah's depression and addresses him under the juniper tree and says: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (I Kings 19:9). He stands before David's despondency and says to him by his Spirit: "Why art thou cast down, Oh my soul?" (Psalm 42:5). Then he stands before Cain and says: "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast ?" (Genesis 4:6).

God's Word challenges depression. How can a Christian be continually depressed who believes God has put everything that touches our lives, whether in the greatest way or in the slightest way, to be under obligation to work together for our good? How can a Christian be characteristically melancholic while he is testifying to the world: "I have a loving Shepherd who sits at the right hand of God, who is in control of my life, who makes all grace to abound always to me in every circumstance, from whose love I am never, never going to be separated!" How can a Christian who believes that message crack up the moment something goes against him and be so affected that he lose his peace and joy? The Saviour has said: "Why do you worry?" (Matt.6:28). "Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt.6:34). The folly of us Christians who trust in a loving Father dwelling on all the possible things that might happen to us! It is so desperately unbelieving, and simply sub-Christian for us to behave in that way.

Think again of the teaching of our Lord Jesus about phobia and how he so often confronted the disciples saying, "Why are you fearful? Why are you afraid?" They may be in a storm, but He is with them. The enfleshment of the covenant of grace is there in the boat in the same storm as they are. What moral right do they have of being afraid? Hasn't Christ said, "Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me" (John 14:1). Why, then, this feeling that you are useless? Why do you think like that? Why this belief that nobody loves you? How can you entertain thoughts like that as a Christian when you are the apple of God's eye? Why this feeling that nobody likes you?

The Word of God has the right to stand in judgment over my convictions, theology, worship and fellowship, and interrogate me. That living Word can come and looks at my emotions and challenge those too. But only the Scriptures have that right. Nothing else. Then they do much more. They look at this depression, fear, worry and discontentment so very tenderly. God deals with us like a father pitying his children. How weak and ignorant they are. He can understand the frailty. With what a benign and kindly eye God views us when from weariness we have fallen asleep at the time the Lord has asked us to watch and pray. "Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!" (Mark 14:41). How long-suffering the Lord is with Job. When with such bitterness of soul Job blurts out his frustration with God and speaks so foolishly, God comes and lifts Job up and restores him to usefulness and blessing.

Nothing can help us cope with our emotional problems like the Bible can. Don't ever put yourself down because you seem to be failing to overcome a painful shyness, or because of a depression that the doctors and pharmacists are helping, or because of a worrying disposition, irrational phobias and anxieties. Don't rubbish yourself. God bears with people like that. God has greatly used people like this. David Brainard was an extraordinary evangelist, and William Cowper one of the greatest of all hymnists. Both suffered from melancholy. B.B.Warfield's wife was an invalid throughout their marriage, but her husband's care for her did not prevent his being an eminent defender of the Christian faith. It might even have enriched it.

The Word of God comes in all its rich divine authority and scrutinises our lives, challenging them, encouraging and helping us to believe the truth and through this finding love, joy, peace, contentment and deliverance from despair. There is no secret to living the "Happy Christian Life." Know the Bible. Sit at the feet of this Wonderful Counsellor and have Him speak to you, challenging you, and then doing what he has said.

GEOFF THOMAS


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Michael Keen, Department of Information & Library Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth, UK. Email m.keen@aber.ac.uk
Date: 28 June 1999
Disclaimer: Any opinions which are expressed by this information are those of myself and/or the author(s) and do not in any way consitute views held by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK, to whom I am indebted for making this information available.