Assurance is not a thing that consists in any point, and so incapable of variation. It may be higher or lower, greater or less, obscure or attended with more evidence. It is not quite lost when it is not quite at its highest. God sometimes marvellously raises the souls of his saints with some close and near approaches to them; he gives them a sense of his eternal love, a taste of the embraces of his Son and the inhabitation the Holy Spirit, without the least intervening disturbance; then this is their assurance. But this life is not a season to be always taking wages in; our work is not yet done; we are not always to abide in this mount. We must go down again into the battle, fight again, cry again, complain again. Shall the soul be thought now to have lost its assurance? Not at all. It had assurance before with joy, triumph, and exultation; it has it now, or may have, with wrestling, cries, tears, and supplications. And a man’s assurance may be as good, as true, when he lies on the earth with a sense of sin, as when he is carried up to the third heaven with a sense of love and foretaste of glory.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
The divine testimony concerning man is, that he is a sinner. God bears witness against him, not for him; and testifies that “there is none righteous, no, not one”; that there is “none that doeth good”; none “that understandeth”; none that even seeks after God, and, still more, none that loves Him (Psalm 14:1-3; Rom 3:10-12). God speaks of man kindly, but severely; as one yearning over a lost child, yet as one who will make no terms with sin, and will “by no means clear the guilty.”
He declares man to be a lost one, a stray one, a rebel, a “hater of God” (Rom 1:30); not a sinner occasionally, but a sinner always; not a sinner in part, with many good things about him; but wholly a sinner, with no compensating goodness; evil in heart as well as life, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1); an evil doer, and therefore under condemnation; an enemy of God, and therefore “under wrath”; a breaker of the righteous law, and therefore under “the curse of the law” (Gal 3:10). The sinner not merely brings forth sin, but he carries it about with him, as his second self; he is a body or mass of sin (Rom 6:6), a “body of death” (Rom 7:24), subject not to the law of God, but to “the law of sin” (Rom 7:23).
There is another and yet worse charge against him. He does not believe on the name of the Son of God, nor love the Christ of God. This is his sin of sins. That his heart is not right with God is the first charge against him. That his heart is not right with the Son of God is the second. And it is this second that is the crowning, crushing sin, carrying with it more terrible damnation than all other sins together.
“He that believeth not is condemned already; because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record which God gave of his Son” (1 John 5:10). “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). And hence it is that the first sin which the Holy Spirit brings home to a man is unbelief; “when he [the Holy Spirit] is come he will reprove the world of sin because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9).
Man need not try to say a good word for himself, or to plead “not guilty,” unless he can shew that he loves, and has always loved, God with his whole heart and soul. If he can truly say this, he is all right, he is not a sinner, and does not need pardon. He will find his way to the kingdom without the cross and without a Saviour.
But, if he cannot say this, “his mouth is stopped,” and he is “guilty before God.” However favourably a good outward life may dispose him and others to look upon his case just now, the verdict will go against him hereafter. This is man’s day, when man’s judgments prevail; but God’s day is coming, when the case shall be tried upon its real merits. Then the Judge of all the earth shall do right, and the sinner be put to shame. This is a divine verdict, not a human one. It is God, not man, who condemns; and God is not a man that He should lie. This is God’s testimony concerning man, and we know that this witness is true. It concerns us much to receive it as such, and to act upon it.
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa 45:22), a “just God and a Saviour” (v21). “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:7).
Turn your eye, the eye of faith, to the cross and see these two things—the crucifiers and the Crucified. See the crucifiers, the haters of God and of His Son. They are yourself. Read in them your own character. See the Crucified. It is God Himself; incarnate love. It is He who made you, God manifest in flesh, suffering, dying for the ungodly. Can you suspect His grace? Can you cherish evil thoughts of Him? Can you ask anything further, to awaken in you the fullest and most unreserved confidence? Will you misinterpret that agony and death, by saying either that they do not mean grace, or that the grace which they mean is not for you? Call to mind that which is written—“Hereby perceive we the love of God, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Different days demand their own special testimony. The watchman who would be faithful to his Lord and the city of his God has need to carefully note the signs of the times and emphasize his witness accordingly. Concerning the testimony needed now, there can be little, if any, doubt. An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross, so brazen in its impudence, that the most shortsighted of spiritual men can hardly fail to notice it.
During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until now the whole lump ferments. Look which way you may, its presence makes itself manifest. There is little if anything, to choose between Church, Chapel, or Mission Hall. However they may differ in some respects, they bear a striking likeness in the posters that figure upon and disfigure their notice boards.
Amusement for the people is the leading article advertised by each. If any of my readers doubt my statement, or think my utterance too sweeping, let them take a tour of inspection and study the announcements for the week at the doors of the sanctuaries of the neighbourhood; or let them read the religious advertisements in their local papers. I have done this again and again, until the hideous fact has been proved up to the hilt, that amusement is ousting the preaching of the gospel as the great attraction.
‘Concerts’, ‘Entertainments’, ‘Fancy Fairs’, ‘Dramatic Performances’, are the words honoured with biggest type and most startling colours. The Concert is fast becoming as much a recognized part of church life as the Prayer Meeting, and is already, in most places, far better attended.
The author, Archibald G. Brown, was a student and a contemporary of C. H. Spurgeon. He and Spurgeon were the leading Baptist preachers of late 19th-century London. Under Brown’s ministry, scores were saved and instructed in the capital’s East End. His voice raised in protest against the early features of entertainment evangelism was that of an active servant of Christ, not merely the protest of an idle crank or mere theorist.
The Devil’s Mission of Amusement
‘Providing recreation for the people’ will soon be looked upon as a necessary part of Christian work and as binding upon the church of God, as though it were a divine command, unless some strong voices be raised which will make themselves heard. I do not presume to possess such a voice, but I do entertain the hope that I may awaken some louder echoes. Anyway, the burden of the Lord is upon me in this matter, and I leave it with him to give my testimony ringing tone, or to let it die away in silence. I shall have delivered my soul in either case. Yet the conviction fills my mind that in all parts of the country there are faithful men and women who see the danger and deplore it and will endorse my witness and my warning. It is only during the past few years that ‘amusement’ has become a recognized weapon of our warfare and developed into a mission. There has been a steady ‘down grade’ in this respect. From ‘speaking out’, as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony; then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she has tolerated them in her borders, and now she has adopted them and provided a home for them under the plea of ‘reaching the masses and getting the ear of the people’. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church of Christ that part of her mission is to provide entertainment for the people with a view to winning them into her ranks. The human nature that lies in every heart has risen to the bait. Here, now, is an opportunity of gratifying the flesh and yet retaining a comfortable conscience. We can now please ourselves in order to do good to others. The rough old cross can be exchanged for a costume, and the exchange can be made with the benevolent purpose of elevating the people. All this is terribly sad, and the more so because truly gracious souls are being led away by the specious pretext that it is a form of Christian work. They forget that a seemingly beautiful angel may be the devil himself, for ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor.11:14).
Not a Function of the Church
My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in Holy Scripture as one of the functions of the church. What her duties are will come under our notice later on. At present it is the negative side of the question that we are dealing with. Now, surely, if our Lord had intended his church to be the caterer of entertainment, and so counteract the god of this world, he would hardly have left so important a branch of service unmentioned. If it is Christian work, why did not Christ at least hint it? ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’, is clear enough. So would it have been if he had added, ‘and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.’ No such addendum, however, is to be found, nor even an equivalent for such, in any one of our Lord’s utterances. This style of work did not seem to occur to his mind.
Then again, Christ, as an ascended Lord, gives to his church specially qualified men for the carrying on of his work, but no mention of any gift for this branch of service occurs in the list. ‘He gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers — for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ Where do the ‘public entertainers’ come in? The Holy Ghost is silent concerning them, and his silence is eloquence. If ‘providing recreation’ be a part of the church’s work, surely we may look for some promise to encourage her in the toilsome task. Where is it? There is a promise for ‘my Word’; it ‘shall not return unto me void’. There is the heart-rejoicing declaration concerning the gospel: ‘It is the power of God.’ There is the sweet assurance for the preacher of Christ that, whether he be successful or no — as the world judges success — he is a ‘sweet savour unto God’. There is the glorious benediction for those whose testimony, so far from amusing the world, rouses its wrath: ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.’ Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people, or because they refused to? The gospel of amusement has no martyrology. In vain does one look for a promise from God for providing recreation for a godless world. That which has no authority from Christ, no provision made for it by the Spirit, no promise attached to it by God, can only be a lying hypocrite when it lays claim to be a branch of the work of the Lord.
Antagonistic to the Teaching and Life of Christ
But again, providing amusement for the people is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his Apostles. What is to be the attitude of the church towards the world, according to our Lord’s teaching? Strict separation and uncompromising hostility. While no hint ever passed his lips of winning the world by pleasing it, or accommodating methods to its taste, his demand for unworldliness was constant and emphatic. He sets forth in one short sentence what he would have his disciples to be: ‘Ye are the salt of the earth.’ Yes, the salt: not the sugar-candy nor a ‘lump of delight’. Something the world will be more inclined to spit out than swallow with a smile. Something more calculated to bring water to the eye than laughter to the lip. Short and sharp is the utterance, ‘Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.’ ‘If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; butbecause ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.’ ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’. ‘I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.’ ‘My kingdom is not of this world.
These passages are hard to reconcile with the modern idea of the church providing recreation for those who have no taste for more serious things – in other words, of conciliating the world. If they teach anything at all, it is that fidelity to Christ will bring down the world’s wrath, and that Christ intended his disciples to share with him the world’s scorn and rejection. How did Jesus act?What were the methods of the only perfectly ‘faithful witness’ the Father has ever had? As none will question that he is to be the worker’s model, let us gaze upon him. How significant the introductory account given by Mark: ‘Now, after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.’ And again, in the same chapter, I find him saying, in answer to the announcement of his disciples that all men were seeking for him, ‘Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.’ Matthew tells us, ‘And it came to pass when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and preach in their cities.’ In answer to John’s question, ‘Art thou he that should come?’ he replies, ‘Go and show John those things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.’ There is no item in the catalogue after this sort. ‘And the careless are amused, and the perishing are provided with innocent recreation.’ We are not left in doubt as to the matter of his preaching, for ‘when many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door, he preached the wordunto them.’ There was no change of method adopted by the Lord during his course of ministry; no learning by experience of a better plan. His first word of command to his evangelists was, ‘As ye go, preach.’ His last, ‘Preach the gospel to every creature.’ Not an Evangelist suggests that at any time during his ministry Jesus turned aside from preaching to entertain, and so attract the people. He was in awful earnestness, and his ministry was like himself. Had he been less uncompromising, and introduced more of the ‘bright and pleasant’ element into his mission, he would have been more popular.
Yet, when many of his disciples went back, because of the searching nature of his preaching, I do not find there was any attempt to increase a diminished congregation by resorting to something more pleasant to the flesh. I do not hear him saying, ‘We must keep up the gatherings anyway: so run after those friends, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow. Something very short and attractive, with little, if any, preaching. Today was a service for God, but tomorrow we will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it, and have a happy hour. Be quick, Peter; we must get the people somehow; if not by gospel, then by nonsense. No, this was not how he argued. Gazing in sorrow on those who would not hear the word, he simply turns to the Twelve, and asks, ‘Will ye also go away?’ Jesus pitied sinners, pleaded with them, sighed over them, warned them, and wept over them; but never sought to amuse them. When the evening shadows of his consecrated life were deepening into the night of death, he reviewed his holy ministry, and found comfort and sweet solace in the thought, ‘I have given them thy word.’ As with the Master, so with his Apostles — their teaching is the echo of his. In vain will the epistles be searched to discover any trace of a gospel of amusement. The same call for separation from the world rings in every one. ‘Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed’, is the word of command in the Romans. ‘Come out from among them, and be ye separate and touch no unclean thing.’ It is the trumpet call in the Corinthians. In other words it is COME OUT — KEEP OUT — KEEP CLEAN — ‘for what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?’ ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.’ Here is the true relationship between the church and the world according to the Epistle to the Galatians. ‘Be not ye, therefore, partakers with them. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them’, is the attitude enjoined in Ephesians. ‘Sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world: holding forth the word of life’, is the word in Philippians. ‘Dead with Christ from the elements of the world’, says the Epistle to the Colossians. ‘Abstain from every form of evil’ (RV), is the demand in Thessalonians. ‘If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use’, is the word to Timothy. ‘Let us go forth, therefore, unto him without the camp,bearing his reproach’, is the heroic summons of the Hebrews. James, with holy severity, declares that ‘The friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.’ Peter writes: ‘Not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of living’ (RV). John writes a whole epistle, the gist of which is, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Here are the teachings of the Apostles concerning the relationship of the church and the world. And yet, in the face of them, what do we see and hear? A friendly compromise between the two, and an insane effort to work in partnership for the good of the people. God help us, and dispel the strong delusion. How did the Apostles carry on their mission work? Was it in harmony with their teaching? Let the Acts of the Apostles give the answer. Anything approaching the worldly fooling of today is conspicuous by its absence. The early evangelists had boundless confidence in the power of the gospel, and employed no other weapon. Pentecost followed plain preaching. When Peter and John had been locked up for the night for preaching the resurrection, the early church had a prayer meeting directly they returned, and the petition offered for the two was, ‘And now, Lord, grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.’ They had no thought of praying, ‘Grant unto thy servants more policy, that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation they may avoid the offence of the cross, and sweetly show this people how happy and merry a lot we are.’ The charge brought against the apostles by the members of the Council was, ‘Ye have filled Jerusalemwith your doctrine.’ Not much chance of this charge being brought against modern methods. The description of their work is, ‘And daily in the temple, and in every house they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Then, if they ‘ceased not’ from this, they had no time for arranging for entertainments; they gave themselves continually ‘to the ministry of the word’. Scattered by persecution, the early disciples ‘went everywhere preaching the word’. When Philip went to Samaria, and was the means of bringing ‘great joy in that city’, the only recorded method is, ‘He preached Christ unto them.’ When the Apostles went to visit the scene of his labours it is stated, ‘And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord,returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.’ As they went back to Jerusalem directly they had finished their preaching. It is evident they did not think it their mission to stay and organize some ‘pleasant evenings’ for the people who did not believe.
The congregations in those days did not expect anything but the word of the Lord, for Cornelius says to Peter, ‘We are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.’ The message given was ‘words whereby thou and all thine house shall be saved’. Cause and effect are closely linked in the statement, ‘Men of Cyrene spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus; and the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.’ Here you have their method — THEY PREACHED. Their matter —the Lord Jesus. Their power — the hand of the Lord was with them. Their success —many believed. What more does the church of God require today? When Paul and Barnabas worked together, the record is, ‘The Lord gave testimony unto the word of his grace.’ When Paul, in a vision, hears a man of Macedonia saying ‘Come over and help us’, he assuredly gathers that the Lord had called him to preach the gospel unto them. Why so? How did he know but that the help needed was the brightening of their lives by a little amusement. or the refining of their manners by a collection of paintings? He never thought of such things. ‘Come and help us!’ meant to him, ‘Preach the gospel.’ ‘And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and reasoned with them out of the Scriptures’ — not about the Scriptures, mark, but out of them — opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered and risen from the dead.’ That was the ‘manner’ of evangelistic work in those days, and it seems to have been wonderfully powerful: for the verdict of the people is, ‘These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.’ Just now the world is turning the church upside down; that is the only difference. When God told Paul that he had much people in Corinth, I read, ‘And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.’ Evidently then, he judged that the only way to bring them was by the Word. A year and a half, and only one method adopted. Wonderful! We should have had a dozen in that time! But then Paul never reckoned that providing something pleasant for the ungodly was part of his ministry; for, on his way to Jerusalem and martyrdom, he says, ‘Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.’ This was all the ministry he knew. The last description we have of the methods of this prince of evangelists is of a piece with all that has gone before, ‘He expounded and testifiedthe kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning till evening, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus.’ What a contrast to all the rot and nonsense now being perpetrated in the holy name of Christ! The Lord clear the church of all the rubbish that the devil has imposed upon her, and bring us back again to apostolic methods!
Fails Badly on Two Counts
Lastly, the mission of amusement utterly fails to effect the desired end among the unsaved; but it works havoc among the young converts. Were it a success, it would be nonetheless wrong. Success belongs to God; faithfulness to his instructions to me. But it is not. Test it even by this, and it is a contemptible failure: let that be the method that is answered by fire, and the verdict will be ‘The preaching of the word, that is the power.’ Let us see the converts who have been first won by amusement. Let the harlots and the drunkards to whom a dramatic entertainment has been God’s first link in the chain of their conversion stand forth. Let the careless and tho scoffers who have cause to thank God that the church has relaxed her spirit of separation and met them half-way in their wordliness speak and testify. Let the husbands, wives, and children, who rejoice in a new and holy home through ‘Sunday Evening Lectures on Social Questions’ tell out their joy. Let the weary, heavy-laden souls, who have found peace through a concert, no longer keep silent. Let the men and women who have found Christ through the reversal of apostolic methods declare the same, and show the greatness of Paul’s blunder when he said, ‘I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’ There is neither voice nor any to answer. The failure is on a par with the folly, and as huge as the sin. Out of thousands with whom I have personally conversed, the mission of amusement has claimed no convert. Now let the appeal be made to those who, repudiating every other method, have staked everything on the Book and the Holy Ghost. Let them be challenged to produce results. There is no need. Blazing sacrifices on every hand attest the answer by fire. Ten thousand times ten thousand voices are ready to declare that the plain preaching of the Word was, first and last, the cause of their salvation. But how about the other side of this matter — what are the baneful effects? Are they also nil? I will here solemnly as before the Lord give my personal testimony. Though I have never seen a sinner saved, I have seen any number of backsliders manufactured by this new departure. Over and over again have young Christians, and sometimes Christians who are not young, come to me in tears, and asked what they were to do, as they had lost all their peace and fallen into evil. Over and over again has the confession been made, ‘I began to go wrong by attending worldly amusements that Christians patronized.’ It is not very long since that a young man, in an agony of soul, said to me, ‘I never thought of going to the theatre until my minister put it into my heart by preaching that there was no harm in it. I went, and it has led me from bad to worse and now I am a miserable backslider; and he is responsible for it.’
When young converts begin to ‘damp off’, forsake the gatherings for prayer and grow worldly, I almost always find that worldly Christianity is responsible for the first downward step. The mission of amusement is the devil’s half-way house to the world. It is because of what I have seen that I feel deeply, and would fain write strongly. This thing is working rottenness in the church of God, and blasting her service for the King. In the guise of Christianity, it is accomplishing the devil’s own work. Under the pretence of going out to reach the world, it is carrying our sons and daughters into the world. With the plea of ‘Do not alienate the masses with your strictness’, it is seducing the young disciples from ‘the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ’ (RV).Professing to win the world, it is turning the garden of the Lord into a public recreation ground. To fill the temple with those who see no beauty in Christ, a grinning Dagon is put over the doorway. It will be no wonder if he Holy Ghost, grieved and insulted withdraws his presence; for ‘what concord hath Christ with Belial, and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?’ ‘Come out!’ is the call for today, Sanctify yourselves. Put away the evil from among you. Cast down the world’s altars and cut down her groves. Spurn her offered assistance. Decline her help as your Master did the testimony of devils, for, ‘He suffered them not to speak, because they knew him.’ Renouncc all the policy of the age. Trample upon Saul’s armour. Grasp the Book of God. Trust the Spirit who wrote its pages. Fight with this weapon only and always. Cease to amuse and seek to arouse. Shun the clap of a delighted audience, and listen for the sobs of a convicted one. Give up trying to ‘please’ men who have only the thickness of their ribs between their souls and hell; and warn, and plead, and entreat, as those who feel the waters of eternity creeping upon them. Let the church again confront the world; testify against it: meet it only behind the cross; and, like her Lord, she shall overcome, and with him share the victory.
(By Archibald G. Brown)
Study the covenant of grace. The first rule for relieving slavish fear is to consider seriously and study thoroughly the covenant of grace in which all believers stand. A clear understanding of the covenant’s nature, extent, and stability, along with our interest in it, will go a long way to cure our sinful and slavish fear. A covenant is more than a naked promise. In the covenant, God has graciously considered our fears, doubts, and weaknesses; therefore, he proceeds with us in the highest way of solemnity, confirming his promises by way of an oath (Hebrews 6: 13, 17) and a seal (Romans 6:11). He places himself under the most solemn ties and engagements to his people so that we might take strong comfort from so firm a ratification of the covenant (Hebrews 6:18). He has ordered it so that it might afford strong support and encouragement to our faint and fearful spirits in the midst of trouble from within and without. In the covenant, God gives himself to his people to be their God (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). He bestows himself upon us in all his glorious and essential properties so that we are assured that (in all fears and hardships) he will faithfully perform whatever his almighty power, infinite wisdom, and incomprehensible mercy can afford for our protection, support, deliverance, direction, pardon, or refreshment. God expects us to improve this by faith as the most sovereign antidote against all our fears in this world. “But now thus saith the LORD, that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel: “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee” (Isaiah 43:1-2). “Fear thou not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed, for I am thy God” (Isaiah 41:10).
In the Old Testament, we find the prophet Jeremiah in a state of anguish and sorrow because of Israel’s apostasy and consequent banishment to exile (Lamentations 3:49-50). This disposition we find in both Testaments, among the faithful concerning a condition of apostasy. Our Lord Jesus for one (Luke 19:41). The apostle Paul concerning his fellow countrymen (Romans 9:1). Should this not be the disposition of the godly in our land in these days. Call us not the United Kingdom, let alone Great Britain, but rather Sodom and Gomorrah! Yet we appear to be like unconcerned spectators. Many in our churches are yet without Christ. To others, he is but a faint memory, someone who saved them many years since, now the first love, the zeal for his cause is in a state of desuetude. The church is in a state of apostasy, Christ is absent from us, yet it’s not felt, there are no tears, there is no anguish, no pain. It is also to our misery that we are so soon, so easily pleased with what is less than even a day of small things. It is an evil day.
We pray complaining but we stop long before the Lord of heaven looks down and sees. The godly in Jeremiah’s day exercised no small amount of lament as a result of their guilt and the resultant affliction v15, with unceasing tears. For they knew only the light of his countenance would restore their joy. This is the disposition of the godly when Christ is absent from his people (Luke 5:35; Genesis 22:26; Hosea 12:4; Matthew 15:22f). And here, “mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven” (Lamentation 3:49-50).
1. The Condition: v49f
Darkness has enveloped not just our nation, but the church also. There is a controversy between Christ and his church, we have an angry Jesus in our midst. The evidence of his displeasure? No holiness, no unity, no power, no forgiveness for our brethren, no love for them either (Galatians 5:14f). Christ’s back is turned towards us. If his favour is the sweetness of life, then his anger is the bitterness of death. This was Zion’s complaint (Isaiah 49:14f), yet he assured them he always remembers his elect. But it has been so, so long between his visits. So long that the godly fair think he’s forgotten them altogether, “mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
Hence, we have dissatisfied souls. It is his sovereignty that decrees the time when he will visit, and turn to us again. Meanwhile, our patience and faith are tried, it seems like an eternity to those who care. The word of God, yes, we still have it in abundance, Bible versions, sermons, but what real satisfaction’s gained from them, where’s the profit? The sacraments give us no pleasure (Psalm 6:6). I’ve just returned from a visit to the Ukraine, in an evangelical church there I witnessed a minister at the Lord’s Table and as he served, he had to continually wipe the tears from his eyes, I could hear members of the congregation weeping. When did you last witness such in this country of ours? Is it anything to you that Christ died for your sins? An angel’s presence would not satisfy Moses (Exodus 33:15), nor stem the tears of Mary in the absence of her Lord. Is it anything to you that Christ is absent from the church today? Does not a wife live a solitary life when her husband’s away, all she can think of is when will he return? Yet Christ is absent, he hides his face from us, but there are no tears.
This desertion’s an awful hard pathway, though, it’s wearying. Our duties continue to some degree. Our praying, but it’s hard work is it not? Our evangelical prayer meetings are deplorable, mostly. Oh, there are some exceptions, doubtless. Then the study of God’s word, where are the Christian scholars amongst us, very few Christians today who know their Bibles, very few. The preaching of God’s word? What profit is there amongst us, where are the conversions? Can such insipid, benign lecturing that comes from our pulpits save a soul? I listened to a very gifted, able young preacher a few weeks ago. He waxed very eloquently about the Fatherhood of God, it was from the Bible, it was orthodox, but there was nothing of Christ, nothing of the cross! God is my Father because of Christ and his finished work on the cross, without that there is no Fatherhood of God. There were unconverted people in front of that young man, and there was nothing for them in his message. If that’s the route we’re going in the ministry of God’s word, then we are putting even further distance between us and Christ. God save us from what’s called preaching in the church today. Church attendance is hard work, I hear Pastors telling me how hard it is to get folk out twice on the Lord’s Day. Their families, the church, the nation perishes around them and they’re sitting in front of their televisions or the internet on the Sabbath evening. Then evangelism, is this not hard work also, we visit, leaflet, witness but it’s all mostly fruitless. Believers can’t get the victory over their corruptions and lusts, no success! It’s as though we stand alone, we’re no better than natural men really. How long will it be before daybreak? The darkness prevails, will the Sun ever shine again? “Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
2. The Reason: v49f
Who else can we go to? Necessity knows no law, hunger will break through a steel wall or leap over it. Love will endure anything but absence, loss? The true church knows, has seen Christ in his beauty, she can never rest without him, her eyes have been opened, she sees no happiness in any other. Hence, “mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
This is the disposition of the godly. Vain professors, of course, are strangers to such a disposition. They have no awareness concerning his absence, don’t even notice it. There is no complaint from them of his distance from the church. They have never been touched by a vital work of the Holy Spirit. Some are described by the apostle as “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2Timothy 3:7). O they complain, but it’s not spiritual, their complaints like them are dead, heavy, inactive, some emotion, like a light shower which the wind soon dries and it’s gone. “Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
There are difficulties on the way to heaven, that their hearts don’t understand. They love gold but wouldn’t dig for it. They see heaven in the distance, but there’s a gulf fixed between them and it, they wouldn’t venture to swim across it. If heaven will not drop into their laps, they will not have it. So they sit back in their pews from the cradle to the grave and contrive ways to smooth their evil consciences. The world and its lusts have never dried up in their souls, they still fill their hearts. Christ doesn’t answer their prayers, no worries, they have other doors to knock on. The absence of Christ is not a problem to them. This, “mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50), they do not understand.
So dealing with his absence? We must seek him till he does look down. Take not the slightest modicum of comfort from the world, until we get it from him himself, through his pardoning blood. We must need be resolute till we get a healing and restoring look from heaven. Will God not justify his elect (Luke 18:7)? Here’s the question, do you miss him, does it matter to you that he is absent from the church? Does it concern you that there is no holiness, no power, no unity, no peace in the church? Does it matter to you that your nation is under the fierce and burning wrath of Almighty God? Do you know, understand that only Christ’s returning, firstly, to the church, will avert the awful judgment that’s due this nation of ours? Does it matter to you? “Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
The godly who have this disposition must give him no rest till he comes again in renewing grace and evangelical comfort. We are living in Sodom and Gomorrah, but Lot lived there and lived righteously, we can too. Faith is the victory gotten at Calvary, faith I say, not unbelief. I hear Christians who don’t believe in God’s six-day creative activity, in their cleverness they’ve succumbed to evolution. Then there are others for whom the Bible isn’t enough, they have added to it (yes, I mean the end-time delusion of Pentecostalism’s over-reached triumphalism), one extreme explains the Bible away and the other takes it to ridiculous extremes. The Bible isn’t enough for either of them. The Christian evolutionists lack the humility to bow before Holy Scripture. The madness of Pentecostalism says God’s word isn’t insufficient for them. The unbelief of the church needs nailing to the cross. To sit beneath the cross and weep and wait till he comes again. Until we know his presence, his power, until we know the unity of God’s people healing the brokenness of people caused by those who have sinfully left churches and hurt their brethren, until we love one another in obedience to Christ’s own commandment, until grace flows again, until we’re able to forgive one another from the heart. “Mmine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
For a long time now the church has looked to the world, taken its worldly music into her sanctuaries. Shifted the goal posts, lifted the barriers of God’s holy law to let a flood of unclean people into the house of God. All we’ve done is polluted what is meant to be holy. We have even altered the language of Zion, biblical language). And look where it’s got us? Christ is no longer amongst us, not in pleasure, not in power, not savingly, but in wrath. We have an angry Jesus amongst us. We have looked to the state, the government, we have prostrated ourselves before Queen, Prime Minister and Members of Parliament with our letters, pleading with them, “please save our country”, or, “please save our church from the onslaught of immorality.” We’ve pleaded and prostrated ourselves before unregenerate and ungodly men, who care nothing for either nation or church or marriage. What have we accomplished? What did it get us? Unlimited abortion, euthanasia’s already started, illegitimate children cram our streets, and now the advent of Sodomite marriage by appointment of her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and just about everyone else to do with government, all before whom we bowed the knee and pleaded with for help. Well, will we now see the light, that only as we call, with unceasing tears, upon the name of our sovereign Lord and Christ, and plead with him until he returns to us, will we ever see any change. Until then, Christ is absent from the church in our land today. “Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
Yes, we think the world will love us if we’ll only conform to its mores (Romans 12:1-3). But it won’t. It will only despise us the more. But that’s exactly what many evangelicals are already doing over moral issues we are faced with. They are conforming because they’re frightened of the world. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD (Isaiah 43:10). Whatever the cost or consequence to ourselves. But as along as he, Christ, is absent, we will bend, conform to the mores of the world’s norms. Weep brethren, weep! Howl! Lament! “Mmine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not; without any intermission, till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven“ (Lamentation 3:49-50).
“One might think that in the dark panorama of wickedness, the Holocaust would above all other events give the scientific atheist pause. Hitler’s Germany was a technologically sophisticated secular society, and Nazism itself, as party propagandists never tired of stressing, was “motivated by an ethic that prided itself on being scientific.” The words are those of the historian Richard Weikhart, who in his admirable treatise, ‘From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany,’ makes clear what anyone capable of reading the German sources already knew: A sinister current of influence ran from Darwin’s theory of evolution to Hitler’s policy of extermination. A generation of German biologists had read Darwin and concluded that competition between species was reflected in human affairs by competition between races. These observations find no echo at all in the literature of scientific atheism. Christopher Hitchens is prepared to denounce the Vatican for the ease with which it diplomatically accommodated Hitler, but about Hitler, the Holocaust, or the Nazis themselves he has nothing to say. This is an odd omission for a writer who believes that religion poisons everything, and suggests that his eye for poison in political affairs tends under conditions of polemical stress to wander irresolutely.”
This verse from Isaiah 42:2 is quoted by Matthew in his gospel (Matthew 12:19). What exactly does it mean? Recently a young Australian preacher has been and continues to be pilloried for his presentation of the gospel in Perth, Scotland. In justifying their vilification of this young zealous servant of Jesus Christ the above text has been used in one particular blog at least. The blogger’s point is that Jesus wouldn’t be heard loudly crying in the streets like our Australian brother. Is this a justified use of this text? Well, Isaiah himself received definite instruction to this effect “Cry aloud, do not hold back, lift up your voice like a trumpet, declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). Then at the other end, in the New Testament, we hear of Peter, quite loud and full of the Holy Spirit actually, “but Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, men of Judea, and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words” (Acts 2:14). Then if we consider the numbers of people who Jesus Christ himself addressed at times, he sure as anything wasn’t no whispering preacher. The Sermon on the Mount, sometimes 5,000 men, not counting women and children? So it can’t mean surely what our blogger is suggesting, that our Australian evangelist should have been whispering or even silent. Words are the means of communication and especially when it comes to the gospel. The Son of God was a preacher, and not just the four-walls variety, an open-air preacher even, a loud one, a very loud one. It is, we are also told in the New Testament that it is through the foolishness of preaching that sinners are saved, preaching, not music and drama as yet another Free Church blogger has suggested the Australian street preacher should try his hand at this instead. So what does Isaiah 42:2 cf., Matthew 12:19 mean then, “he shall not lift up his voice?”
(James R Hamilton, 31st, December, 2013)