14 September 2010

Words to the discouraged and overwhelmed - only

For me, it has been a season of tremendous internal tumult. Steady waves of late-thirty-something questions have struck their blows against an already failure-battered stern. This is no kitschy, hipster, I'm-so-much-cooler-because-of-my-crisis attempt at relevance (or whatever). It is an honest revelation of a soul on the verge of breaking up. But, amidst the who am Is, what am I doings and maybe its already to lates, the grace of God appeared and ministered to another man under a broom tree.

In this season, God's means of grace to me were the nearly 400 year-old words of Puritan Richard Sibbes in his exposition of Isaiah 42:1-3. This is the triumph of Christ; the bruised reed he will not break, the smoldering wick he will not snuff out until he brings forth judgment to victory. Through Christ's horrific and justifying death, God's favor is ever towards His children.  "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:29-30)

These final words in "The Bruised Reed" are offered as a summary, an encouragement and a commendation to every weary follower of Christ: put this on your reading list.
In conclusion and as a general application to ourselves of all that has been said, we see the conflicting, but yet sure and hopeful, state of God's people. The victory lies not with us, but with Christ, who has taken on him both to conquer for us and to conquer in us. The victory lies neither in our own strength to get it, nor in our enemies' strength to defeat it. If it lay with us, we might justly fear. But Christ will maintain his own government in us and take our part against our corruptions. They are his enemies as well as ours. Let us therefore be `strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might' (Eph. 6:10). Let us not look so much at who our enemies are as at who our judge and captain is, nor at what they threaten, but at what he promises. We have more for us than against us. What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory? None is here overcome but he that will not fight. Therefore, when any base fainting seizes on us, let us lay the blame where it ought to be laid.
Discouragement rising from unbelief and the ill report brought upon the good land by the spies moved God to swear in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest. Let us take heed that a spirit of faint heartedness, rising from the seeming difficulty and disgrace involved in God's good ways, does not provoke God to keep us out of heaven. We see here what we may look for from heaven. O beloved, it is a comfortable thing to conceive of Christ aright, to know what love, mercy and strength we have laid up for us in the breast of Christ. A good opinion of the physician, we say, is half the cure. Let us make use of this mercy and power of his every day in our daily combats: `Lord Jesus, thou hast promised not to quench the smoking flax, nor to break the bruised reed. Cherish thy grace in me; leave me not to myself; the glory shall be thine.' Let us not allow Satan to transform Christ to us, to make him other than he is to those that are his. Christ will not leave us till he has made us like himself, all glorious within and without, and presented us blameless before his Father (Jude 24).
What a comfort this is in our conflicts with our unruly hearts, that it shall not always be thus! Let us strive a little while, and we shall be happy for ever. Let us think when we are troubled with our sins that Christ has this in charge from his Father, that he shall not `quench the smoking flax' until he has subdued all. This puts a shield into our hands to beat back `all the fiery darts of the wicked' (Eph. 6:16). Satan will object, `You are a great sinner.' We may answer, `Christ is a strong Saviour.' But he will object, `You have no faith, no love.' `Yes, a spark of faith and love.' `But Christ will not regard that.' `Yes, he will not quench the smoking flax: `But this is so little and weak that it will vanish and come to naught."  Nay, but Christ will cherish it, until he has brought judgment to victory.' And this much we have already for our comfort, that, even when we first believed, we overcame God himself, as it were, by believing the pardon of all our sins, notwithstanding the guilt of our own consciences and his absolute justice. Now, having been prevailers with God, what shall stand against us if we can learn to make use of our faith?
According to our faith, so is our encouragement to all duties, therefore let us strengthen faith, so that it may strengthen all other graces. The very belief that faith shall be victorious is a means to make it so indeed. Believe it, therefore, that, though it is often as smoking flax, yet it shall prevail. If it prevails with God himself in trials, shall it not prevail over all other opposition? Let us wait a while, `stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD' (Exod. 14:13).
The Lord reveal himself more and more to us in the face of his Son Jesus Christ and magnify the power of his grace in cherishing those beginnings of grace in the midst of our corruptions, and sanctify the consideration of our own infirmities to humble us, and of his tender mercy to encourage us. And may he persuade us that, since he has taken us into the covenant of grace, he will not cast us off for those corruptions which, as they grieve his Spirit, so they make us vile in our own eyes. And because Satan labors to obscure the glory of his mercy and hinder our comfort by discouragements, the Lord add this to the rest of his mercies, that, since he is so gracious to those that yield to his government, we may make the right use of this grace, and not lose any portion of comfort that is laid up for us in Christ. And may he grant that the prevailing power of his Spirit in us should be an evidence of the truth of grace begun, and a pledge of final victory, at that time when he will be all in all, in all his, for all eternity. Amen.


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