Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Shadows o Ben Lomond


THE SHADOWS O BEN LOMOND
 

Upon white pillow ma grey heid

No far fae gabbin wi the deid

Aroon ma bed ma faimily stauns

A’ greetin as they haud ma hauns
 

But me Ah’m runnin up the brae

Tae catch the sun at the break o day

And watch the light dance on the loch

Fae the shadows o Ben Lomond


 
 
 
 
Leave me go, don’t haud me back

Let me go runnin up that track

Beneath ma feet yon bluebells squeak

 Their fragrance lifts me tae the peak
 

Aye me Ah’m runnin up the brae

Tae catch the sun at the break o day

And watch the light dance on the loch

Fae the shadows o Ben Lomond


Whit’s that that’s tuggin at ma airm

Ah know it disnae mean me herm

For Ah must go up yon great height

Tae see the loch at the mornin’s light


Aye me Ah’m runnin up the brae

Tae catch the sun at break o day

And watch the light dance on the loch

Fae the shadows o Ben Lomond


 
 
 
 
Well, ma faimily, Ah love ye a’

But noo it’s time an’ Ah must awa

Tae scale the ben, an Ah cannae be late

The Keeper o’ the Loch has set the date


Aye me Ah’m runnin up the brae

Tae catch the sun at the break o day

And watch the light dance on the loch

Fae the shadows o Ben Lomond

Saturday, January 10, 2015

ABRAHAM: God's Comforting Promise


GOD’S COMFORTING PROMISE

14 And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15 for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. 16 And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. 17 Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.’ 18 Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the Lord.” Genesis 13:14-18.

Introduction

“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O what a panic’s in thy breastie!”

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote those words in 1785 after he had upturned a mouse and her nest while he was ploughing a field. He could see that the timid little mouse was in a troubled state! In the poem Burns then begins to look at things from the mouse’s point of view. And he runs a comparison between himself and the wee mouse. He ends his poem to the mouse by saying,

“Still thou art blest compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee;
But oh! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”

In the following I would like us as Christians to know that we don’t have to panic like a little mouse. Neither do we have to “guess an’ fear” about our future – or even the future of the planet earth! Why? Because our sovereign God is in control of all things. Just as He was in control of the plow with which Robert Burns upturned the little mouse’s house!

The general gist of the following is summed up in these words: The LORD comforts the compliant by confirming His Word to them.

Compliance

Genesis chapter 13 began by telling us Abram, after his escapade down in Egypt, is back on track. Chapter 13 ends by informing us that Abram is still on track. Genesis 13:18, “Then Abram moved his tent [etc.] and built an altar there to the LORD.” So it’s not without reason that Abram is called the father of the faithful. However, as we’ve already seen, and will no doubt see in the future, Abram is anything but perfect. For like the rest of us, Abram struggled at times to do the right thing by God. But here in this chapter we see that Abram is compliant to the will of the LORD. For, if you remember, Abram was told to get out of his country (Genesis 12:1).

This meant that he was to get out from his kindred – even from his father’s house. And you know Abram’s father Terah and his nephew Lot left Ur of the Chaldeans and came with him. But Abram’s father died back in a place called Haran. And we’ve already looked at the amicable separation between Abram and his nephew Lot. But for now I want you to notice something that is all too often overlooked today.

The thing too often overlooked is the sovereignty of God in world events. Be it a sparrow dropping from a tree or a hair from your head or bombs from a plane. Or be it the upturning of a mouse’s house with your plough-blade. Be it anything that comes to pass, all things comply with the secret or hidden will of God. That is, whatever things come to pass – come to pass because they have been ordained by God. And this of course is not to say men are not held accountable to God for their actions good or bad. But it is to say that God is still in control!

At no point has He lost control, either in the past, present or future. So this means that when the Christian puts his head on his pillow at night he can sleep! He can sleep because his heavenly Father is watching over him and every atom of the universe.


God is busy even as you sleep working His purposes out. We’re not always privy to how He does this. Therefore, this we’ll call the “secret” will of God. For instance, none of us knows the moment we’re going to die! Neither does anyone know when the Lord is going to return bodily. God has a secret or hidden will – His decretive will. It is secret or hidden from our view (cf. Deuteronomy 29:29). But the Christian should be comforted knowing that God is in control – control of all things. There’s great comfort expressed in the words of the old hymn,   Whate’er my God ordains is right: His holy will abideth.

But there is an even greater comfort to be had by being obedient to God. When you know what God would have you do and you do it, that is comfort to your soul. Take Abram and Lot for instance. Both were compliant to the secret or hidden will of God. However, only one of them was conscious he was doing the will of God and that one was Abram. Abram let his nephew Lot choose where he wanted to live. If Lot went to the right Abram would go to the left and vice-versa. Lot chose to go and dwell in the cities of the plain of Jordan – even as far as Sodom!

Now then, it has to be admitted that both Abram and Lot were compliant to the secret will of God. As we are reminded of the Proverb, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” 16:33. But here’s the difference between Abram and Lot in this instance. Both were compliant to the secret will of God. But only Abram was compliant to God’s revealed will. Abram separated himself from Lot because of what God had already told him to do. Therefore he was being obedient to the revealed will of God. However, Lot saw the whole thing as his opportunity to move from tent-life to city-life. But I want you to see that, though Lot wasn’t focused on the things of God, he was still complying with the will of God, albeit the secret will of God!

God had told Abram to get out from his kindred. The LORD had revealed this to Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans, this is the revealed will of God then. But Lot, as you know, was the last of Abram’s kindred. So when Abram asked Lot to choose where he wanted to go Abram was complying to the REVEALED will of God, wasn’t he?

Both Abram and Lot got themselves entangled in all that nonsense when they went down to Egypt. Abram learned his lesson to “Come out from among them and be separate” 2 Corinthians 6:17. But Lot? Well, he can’t wait to get back in among it all again. So he dashes off to dwell in the cities of the plain. And when he got there? Well he’s like those today who seem to have no confidence in the sovereign power of God in all things. To put it bluntly, they’re too busy looking at the things of the world and not the things of God! Therefore, like Lot in Sodom, their hearts become troubled when they see evil around them! They forget the words of the Shepherd Psalm, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” They forget that Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 16:33b. They forget that Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” All authority over what? Over everything. Even every atom of the universe. Even you and me and the Devil! Therefore since Christ has overcome the world and has all authority in heaven and on earth, Christians should find comfort in this knowledge.

But instead we see Christian book-stores flooded with scary End-times books! However, the Lord hasn’t revealed the date of His return. It’s part of His secret will. You’ll know all about it after He returns like a thief in the night. So why all the scary books? The thing I find scary about these kinds of books is that some of them are written by Christians who claim that God has revealed His secret will in Scripture! They’ve been promoting the any-second-rapture of the church for over one hundred years. So this means that they have been wrong for over the last one hundred years!

How long will it take for them to realize that what Jesus says is true, that no one knows the day or the hour of His return! And with regard to the supposed rapture of the church Jesus prayed these words in John 17:15, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” Does this sound like the entire believing church of Jesus Christ is suddenly going to leave the planet earth to the unbelievers? Anyway, as Abram and Lot were compliant to the sovereign secret will of God, so are all other things. Therefore there is great assurance to be had for the Christian in the knowledge that God has control of all things Whate’er my God ordains is right: His holy will abideth!” But more than that, there is even greater comfort in knowing that you are doing the will of God.

Just before John Calvin died, his friends, noticing he was really sick, tried to get him to lie down in his bed. “What?” replied Calvin, “And have the Lord come for me and catch me idle!” Calvin knew the comfort that comes from consciously complying to the will of God! He was a doer of the Word.

Now, to be sure there’re many mysteries in the world, e.g., the date of Christ’s return, the suffering of the seeming innocent etc. But these and like mysteries are mysteries because God has a secret or hidden will. However, He also has a revealed will which is for our comfort. Look at Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So the general idea then, is that we leave all the mysteries with God. What is a mystery to us makes sense to God so we leave its secret with Him. But those things He has revealed to us in His Word we consciously seek to do! In the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

That should be the constant prayer of the Christian. He ought to pray that the Lord’s will be done on earth – beginning with himself. Therefore every Christian should search the Scriptures to find out what is God’s revealed will – and then go and do it! And if this be the attitude of the Christian he will find great comfort in the Word of God. Because obedience or conscious compliance to the revealed will of God brings comfort.

Comfort

First we need to define what we mean by the word “comfort.” Most of us, I’m sure, think of “comfort” as soft cushions and soft pillows! Most of us think that to “comfort” someone is to give them a soft shoulder to cry on. And no doubt the word “comfort” can be used in this way. But in the following we’re using the word “comfort” the way the Bible uses it, i.e., where comfort means to strengthen, or literally to fort-ify with or fortify together. E.g., the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is the One who strengthens us. He gets alongside us and strengthen us, as in the Lord’s Supper for example. Well, look what’s happening in our text.

Abram is being compliant to the Word of God which has already been revealed to him. “And the LORD said to Abram...” (Genesis 13:14). God spoke to Abram. So the LORD got alongside Abram and strengthened him with words of comfort. However notice that the LORD did this AFTER Abram had complied to what he’d been told to do. So Abram was a doer of the Word of God and God continued to strengthen him.

And what exactly has Abram done? Well, he’s separated himself from Lot – his last kin. Abram now has no blood relatives left with him, no next-of-kin, unless, of course you include Sarai Technically Sarai was Abram’s half-sister, as well as his wife, and she also was barren (Genesis 11:30). But did the LORD tell Abram to divorce his half-sister who was his wife? No! This speaks volumes against those who believe in ongoing revelation, and claim God told them to leave their wife and become a missionary or whatever.

First off God has given us all His revealed will in the form of the Bible. And secondly, though God permits divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts, He hates it. And what better example than Abram and Sarai? The LORD has told Abram to separate from his kindred. Isn’t Sarai Abram’s kindred and his wife? However, there’s no mention of the LORD telling Abram to dump his wife. In fact don’t we hear echoes loud and clear here of what our Lord says in Matthew 19:4ff.? “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” Matthew 19:4-6. And didn’t the Lord give Adam a wife in order to help him, even comfort, i.e., strengthen him? So wives, get alongside your husbands and strengthen them!

Look at this short excerpt from Malachi 2:14-16 which spells out the main purpose of marriage, “The LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth...she is your companion and your wife by covenant...Did He not make them one...and why one? HE SEEKS GODLY OFFSPRING. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce.” Malachi 2:14-16.

So, if we put it all together, the LORD wants a man to find a woman, make an unbreakable covenant with her, leaving his father and mother to raise godly offspring. Therefore God will comfort, strengthen those who are striving to be obedient to Him in marriage. Is this not what’s taking place as we see the LORD invisibly superintend the life of Abram?

Is it not a great comfort then, to know that God always complies with His own revealed will? God is telling Abram He’ll bless his marriage with as much offspring as dust on the earth (Genesis 13:16). God is reminding him of the promise already made that He’d make him into a great nation. By this, of course, is meant the church as Paul says in Galatians 3:7, “Therefore know that only those who are faith are sons of Abraham.” And some other time we’ll look more closely at this along with the fact that Christ is the ultimate Promised Seed of Abram (Galatians 3:16). But for now we are strengthened in the knowledge that God never acts contrary to His own revealed will. However, look what else is happening in our text: Abram did what the Lord had told him to do. He has now separated himself from his nephew Lot. This must have broken Abram’s heart. Abram loved his nephew Lot! But Abram complied with the revealed will of God. He obeyed the LORD. However, is the LORD oblivious to what Abram must be going through at this time? No, the LORD came and comforted him with words of encouragement.

So then, we need to ask: What are the words the LORD uses to encourage Abram? Well, all the LORD is doing here is reassuring Abram with what He has already said. In other words, the LORD is coming to Abram and confirming what He has already revealed to him. Thus, the LORD comforts the compliant by confirming His Promise to them.

Confirmation

Think back to what the LORD has already said to Abram as recorded in Genesis 12:1, “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation [etc.]” Now look at what the Lord is saying to Abram in Genesis 13:14ff., “Lift your eyes now and look... for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth...[etc.]”

Abram has complied with what God has already revealed to him. And now the Lord is comforting him by promising that he will be faithful to His own Word. The Lord does the same thing with us in the Lord’s Supper. He brings us comfort by confirming in the Supper that He will be faithful to His own Word. That’s the way it works!

In the Lord’s Supper the Communicant sees that he or she has a place in the will of God – if he or she has been striving to conform to and do the revealed will of God. If you or I do the right thing by God we get to sleep at night. As Christians we should put our heads on our pillows at night and think about whether what we’re doing in life lines up with God’s revealed will, i.e., the Bible. The comfort comes with the confirmation that you are being compliant to the revealed will of God. But if the Christian discovers he’s done or is doing something in life contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, then he is a troubled spirit. For example look at Abram’s nephew Lot – and what Christian among us cannot relate to this man? We all tend to look at things through the eyes of Lot. He saw the well-watered plain of Jordan. Where Abram is content dwelling in a tent in the hills, Lot wants to go live in the cities of the plain.

Now, you’re going to see in a moment that it was God’s secret will that Lot go there. However, Lot, it would seem, went there for his own selfish reasons. Abram has learned his lesson from the time he went down into Egypt. But Lot, it would seem, is still attracted to the neon lights, the glitter and life-style of the city. It’s easy for us to look at things through the eyes of Lot. Lot followed the desire of his heart. But he wasn’t mindful of the things of God. So he became a troubled spirit. And the LORD would eventually have to send in two of His angels to deliver Lot from Sodom! However, looking through God’s eyes it’s not hard to see God’s grace in sending Lot into Sodom Because like Noah before him, Jonah after him, Lot was a preacher of righteousness.

The Bible calls Lot a “righteous” man (2 Peter 2:7-8). So Lot was a Christian. He was a member of the Christian Church as the Church existed at the time of Abram. And is there anyone who would enjoy living in, say, San Francisco or King’s Cross Sydney witnessing to people involving themselves in the practice of sodomy? Well, that was the mission field Abram’s nephew Lot was sent into by the sovereign God! No! It wasn’t Lot’s intention to go to Sodom as a missionary, but, can you see that it was the secret will of our gracious God that Lot should go there? Lot had one thing in mind but the LORD had another.

So, whatever it is that you’re planning to do, seek confirmation in the Word of God that it’s okay. Otherwise it might just blow up in your face as it did with Lot! Robert Burns expresses this same idea in the same poem I referred to earlier. You’ve probably heard the words:          

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain
For promised joy.

By the way, there are Christians who take great joy in this type of work. But I’m sure you can see the difference between these Christians today and Lot. Lot tended toward self-service whereas Christians living among practicers of sodomy are serving the LORD. And there’s the joy, the joy in doing the revealed will of God as confirmed by His Word. When these Christians put their heads on their pillows at night they can sleep. They know that they are there serving the LORD according to His revealed will. Both Lot & Abram, no doubt, knew beforehand that the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD (Genesis 13:13). No wonder the Apostle Peter says of Lot, “that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds.” 2 Peter 2:8.

So we see then, that Lot in Sodom was compliant to the hidden or secret will of God. Seen through the eyes of God, Lot went exactly where the LORD wanted him to go. But Lot didn’t enjoy one bit being the conscience of Sodom! He had a troubled spirit because he was not consciously complying to the revealed will of God. And neither was anyone else around him. In other words, if Lot had gone to Sodom with the intention of winning the Sodomites over to the God of Abram he would have spared himself the torment of soul! So, to cut the long story short, Lot was a Christian troubled because he was too busy looking at his evil and wicked surroundings and not the kingdom of God like Abram!

So, as we begin to tie it all together, it’s not hard to see that we’re touching on a common problem in the church at large today. Instead of getting on with what we’re supposed to, (i.e., witnessing to the LORD in an evil and wicked time) many are too busy looking at their surroundings. To look at the amount of End-Time books that are flooding the Christian book-stores you’d think the devil was sovereign ruler of the world. We know that the devil, as Peter says, “Walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8. However, James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” James 4:7-8.

Conclusion

Abram was busy consciously complying to what God told him to do. And the word of the Lord came to him reinforcing what He had already promised him. So Abram was happy to move his tent and build another altar and continue worshipping God. He trusted that God had everything under control and would come good with His promises. But Lot? He still had a lot to learn about the revealed will of God never mind His secret will!

So how is it with you? Are you a “Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie, O what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Or are you confident that God has everything under His sovereign control? Are you overly worried about the things around you or are you busy doing something about it, such as everything revealed in Scripture? Are you obedient to the revealed will of God at home, at work, at school, at play? Are you seeking to be obedient to God in your marriage, if you are married?  Are you striving to bring up a godly offspring?

Always remember that the LORD comforts the compliant by confirming His Promise to them.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Politics


Politics

 Voting is compulsory in Australia. Therefore, unlike Scotland where the citizens are free to reject the candidates in an election simply by staying at home, Australians have to drag themselves to the polling booth in order to ‘spoil’ the ballot if they wish to reject all the candidates! Yes, some are not happy with politics and others would substitute ‘politicians’ for ‘Cretans’ in the adage ‘Cretans are always liars’ Titus 1:12. Why would politics cause some to speak so? It might be a whole range of issues including economics, taxes, national roads, abortion, marriage redefinition, refugees and a whole lot more. We try to vote in politicians who share our views on these and such-like issues. Therefore Western political systems depend on the honesty of their political candidates.

Some would claim that an honest politician is an oxymoron. But is this a fair assessment of Western politicians and politics? Well, it doesn’t help the cause of politicians when we see them never directly answer any questions when being interviewed. No doubt they ramble on about their ‘talking points’ out of fear of the ‘gotcha’ questions whereby some interviewers purposely set out to trip them up in their speech. Thus the derogatory term ‘spin doctor’ has been used of certain politicians.

Should Christians give politics a wide berth? I know of at least one Atheist who thinks Christians ought not to become politicians because they cannot separate their religion from their politics! One can only wonder at the arrogance of this sort of anti-Christian view of politics in light of the fact that there is still a Christian majority in most Western nations![i] However, and more to the point, it is thanks to Christianity that we have democracy in the West in the first place! If it is true that the West was built on the back of Christianity then that which is contrary to it would be sand in the gearbox!

Lenin, Marx, and Engels introduced Atheism into Western politics with their different forms of Socialism in which the citizens ultimately serve the State rather than God, by which the God-given rights of the individual began to give way to the imposed will of the collective. (Some Christians still buy into various shades of Socialism!) Then came the ‘thought police’ in the forms of the KGB and SS etc. in the 20th century. These have morphed into the Political Correctness (PC) movement of the 21st where it is now difficult even to discuss issues without being demonized for disagreeing with the narrative of ‘mob thinking’!

The West was built on the Westminster-system of politics which in turn was built upon Biblical principles. Presbyterianism still clearly displays those biblical principles. There is an ‘issue’ (or a motion). There are those who speak for the motion and those who speak against it. There is a moderator (or referee). After the issue has been discussed sufficiently by both sides it is then put to a vote. The majority wins. This is Western democracy in practice! It is Christianity in politics! No one is shouted down and drowned out by ad hominem attacks! This is freedom of speech!

Because of this system we tend to have a two-party system, i.e., those with left wing views of the issues and those on the right. Yes, some politicians are Independents but they too tend to be either left or right on issues. Always remember, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbour comes and examines him." Proverbs 18:17.



Friday, January 2, 2015

"CHRIST MOMENTS"


“Christ Moments”
I love those “Christ Moments” I experience sometimes when I am running. They usually happen in the quietness of the morning. It doesn’t happen often but it’s when I become conscious of my own breathing and notice that each breath is in perfect rhythm with my footfalls. For a moment my running is virtually effortless at which point my subjective thoughts notice and begin to ponder the presence of the Triune God. He is “the God who holds your breath in His hand.” (Daniel 5:23). It is He who gave humanity its very first breath, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) and if He takes “away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Psalm 104:29b.)
In line with the Bible the Atheist Carl Sagan used to say that we are made of the “star-stuff”, or as the line from the old song says, “We are stardust.” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).  We are made of the same material as the rest of creation, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Psalm 33:6.
By “Christ Moments” I mean those little flashes we sometimes get of Christ’s Kingdom, i.e., the Kingdom of Heaven as He has revealed it in His breathed-out Word, i.e., the sixty-six books of the Bible. The Spirit is the “breath” of the Father and the Son (who is also known as the Word). In the future form of the Kingdom of God, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them … there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” (Revelation 21:4b).  “They shall run and not be weary.” (Isaiah 40:31b). Thus, “Christ Moments” are when the presence of God is experienced when your spirit/breath is (spiritually and physically) aware of the presence of the Spirit/Breath of God. It happens when the subjective (you) meets the objective (God). It is the eagle being lifted by the thermals. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31a).
We are not deists! We are Trinitarian. Each person in the Godhead interacts with the Others. God interacts with His creation. He interacts with us. Pay attention to Him! The moments are fleeting, but they are Christ moments! It is us experiencing His “already but not yet” Kingdom. Precious moments. I cherish them! 

(I elaborate more fully about "Christ Moments"  in my 2011 hardcover book "From Mason To Minister" in a chapter by the same name, i.e., "Christ Moments", p. 174.) See - http://www.nordskogpublishing.com/book-through-the-lattice.shtml
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

PHILOSOPHY


Philosophy

 Mention the word ‘philosophy’ and people tend to think of Plato, Socrates and maybe Aristotle. My old professor, who had earned doctorates in theology and philosophy said, ‘There are two general fields of knowledge – theology, the study of God, and philosophy, the study of creation… Christian philosophy is man’s scientific study of God’s universe in nature and in culture as viewed through the spectacles of Scripture (Calvin).’ Francis Nigel Lee.

To ask whether or not one ought to use the Bible to interpret nature and culture is to ask a philosophical question. Related to this question is the ‘chicken and egg’ dichotomy of faith and reason. Which came first? Is it Thomas Aquinas’s ‘I know so that I can believe’ or is it Augustine’s ‘I believe so that I can know’? We believe that Augustine wins here. Faith comes before Reason. For, from Santa to Satan, who has never doubted what they first believed? First we believe (i.e., we have faith). Second we test those beliefs (i.e., we apply reason).

For the child a bite out of a cookie and wrapped presents on Christmas morning may be proof enough that Santa exists. However, as the Apostle puts it, ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’ 1 Corinthians 13:11. The adult knows that the red-suited fat man is simply a cultural myth. But what happens when the adult looks at nature and culture and sees evil? Should he or she wax philosophical about theft, rape and murder and insist that these things are not evil because these kinds of things happen in the animal kingdom and human beings, after all, are just highly evolved animals? Or should he or she view these things through the spectacles of Scripture and see clearly that they are indeed evil? Well, it all depends on whether you believe the Bible to be God’s revelation to us or not. And whether or not you believe in the veracity of Scripture is based upon your presuppositions. A presupposition is a thing assumed beforehand.

Whereas Christian Philosophy scientifically studies God’s universe in nature and in culture through the Scriptures, non-Christian Philosophy does not. Why? It is presuppositional. The former has faith that the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind. The latter has faith it is not. However, note that for both it is a matter of faith first and only secondly comes reasoning. But on what grounds does one accept or reject the Bible as God’s Word? Philosophical! And what is your philosophy based on? It starts with faith and then reasons from it.

Christian Philosophy begins with God, the Triune God, i.e., the Father, the Word/Son and the Spirit. Christian Philosophy sees the Godhead containing three Persons as the original One and the Many, Unity in Diversity, the General and the Particular, and sees His universe in nature and culture. These reflect the Creator. The character of God is the measure of all moral good, while evil is that which is defined by God in His Word. Thus, whether considering Santa or Satan, Christian Philosophy does so from the vantage point of God speaking in His Word by His Spirit. Therefore, ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ’ Colossians 2:8.   

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

MORAL INJURY: That Accusing Conscience


That Accusing Conscience

 “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” Proverbs 28:13. 

Introduction

All of us are guilty of trying to cover up our sins. An example from the Bible would be David and his sins with Bathsheba. David tried to cover up his sin of adultery. He tried to manipulate Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. Uriah didn’t cooperate the way David wanted him to. Next thing David had Uriah sent to his certain death.

Sin is a lustful desire that begins in the heart. Then, like a serpent, it slithers out from you. And once it’s out it’s hard to put the lid on again – yet we try! Sin truly is the opening up of a can of worms. The more you try to cover up your sins the harder it gets.

There’s a certain amount of truth in the saying, “Give a man enough rope and he’s sure to hang himself.” We try to cover our sins because we don’t want others to find out about them. Maybe you don’t want the embarrassment. Maybe it’s to protect your good name. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll end up in prison. But every last one of us who tries to cover our sins knows this, that we are guilty! So we try to hide our guilt, maybe you try to hide your guilt from the police.

Maybe you try to hide your guilt from your neighbour, your family, mum and dad, husband or wife. But more than anything, we try to hide our guilt from ourselves! We’ll even lie to ourselves in our attempt to escape our guilt! We need to know that there is a proper and safe and most importantly, a biblical way to escape an accusing conscience. Otherwise we’ll find life most difficult at times. It will be a struggle to prosper. And we don’t necessarily mean prosper in the financial sense of the word. We’ll be talking more about the prosperity that comes with living with a guilt-free conscience.

In the following I’d like us to consider what it is we are actually doing when we try to cover our sins, when we should be confessing and forsaking them. We need to consider what is going on internally as well as externally.

Sin is given birth in the mind and finds an outlet into the world through our bodies. Adam lusted after the forbidden fruit and then tried to cover his sin with a fig leaf. In the following I want us to mainly focus on what is happening internally when we try to cover our sins. Therefore, we need to look at the conscience, for to cover your sins externally is simply the attempt to appease the internal conscience.

The general gist of what we’re looking at is, The way to remove the obstacle of an accusing conscience is to repent and believe the Gospel.

We’ll look at three things to do with the conscience. We’ll consider how the conscience works. This will deal with under the heading, The Active Conscience. Next we’ll see how the conscience accuses under the heading, The Accusing Conscience. And finally we’ll consider how the conscience may be silence, The Appeased Conscience.

The Active Conscience

An active conscience is a conscience that either accuses or excuses you. Everyone has a conscience, though sometimes it’s more active in some than others. But how does the conscience accuse? First we need to define what we mean by conscience. “SCIENCE” is to know and “CON” means together. Therefore literally “conscience” means “to know together.” Hence to go against your conscience means that you do not have all it together, that you are in two minds about something. It means that something in your mind is gently nudging you. There are times when that something in your mind screams at you – like a schoolteacher we once had – “To get back in line!”

The dictionary says that the conscience is: “[That] faculty by which distinctions are made between moral right and wrong.” Therefore, the conscience is a built-in gauge all of us have. It measures right and wrong. Or, if you will, it’s a little policeman each of carries around with us. He blows his whistle when we’re about to do something wrong. Then he comes and thumps on our door after we ignore him.

What about the flash of guilt when the police point their radar gun at your car? Your mind starts to go into overdrive as your try to think of an excuse! I was stopped in Toronto back in 1977 just after Canada had switched to metric. “Officer, my speedometer still works on the old scale!” “Well maybe this ticket will help you learn arithmetic!”

The conscience is that aspect of us which says, “I shouldn’t have thought/said/done that!” We hardly know our conscience is there until it points its accusing radar gun at us! This is what you call a pang of guilty conscience.

When you think about it, God knows all about the skeletons in your closet. As we try to cover our sins we may end up wrestling our conscience for years on end. However, you should know that the conscience only accuses when there is something wrong.

Our conscience speaks to us and says, “You’ve got a problem here.” It might be instantaneous, “The checkout chick undercharged you for the dog food. Tell her!” Or your conscience may remind you of something from years ago. “What about the time you cheated on the school exam?” ”What about that income tax return you lodged?” “What about that used car you sold?” Well, that’s the policeman knocking on your door.

A person can wrestle for years with the guilt of sin. Perhaps a lie they told that caused pain and anguish to others. Perhaps it was something they stole. Perhaps it was some extra-marital affair they had. Whatever! We never really notice our conscience when we are doing the right thing. It excuses us, (Romans 2:15). It only accuses us when we go against it, when we cross it!

I once worked for a company that seldom commended anyone for doing a good job. However, if anyone did anything wrong they were condemned! That company, like your conscience, always expects you to do the right thing. God commands that everyone be perfect as He is perfect. That’s why He made us in His own image and likeness, perfect! We are supposed to reflect Him. Hence God has given each of us a conscience to keep us in line.

The conscience measures our actions against our highest morals. If you have a low set of morals, your conscience will let you away with more. The highest set of morals are God’s Ten Commandments, the summary of God’s Law.


Now, being made in the image and likeness of God means that we also have God’s Decalogue stamped on our heart. Christian or no, it doesn’t matter, all mankind has the Decalogue engraved on its heart. Romans 2:15 tells us we show by our actions that we have God’s Law written on our heart. In other words, each of us has a copy of God’s code of conduct nailed to the wall of our heart. Yes, the print is obscured by sin, like the house rules on the wall of a grubby pub! Nicotine stains, beer stains, blood stains from pub-brawls make it harder to read the notice on the wall. And the more intoxicated the person is, the less he tends to care about the rules!

Society behaves much like a drunk regarding God’s Law. It tends to use the Decalogue as he would a pub dartboard! Now society does collectively what we do as individuals. Society as a whole tries to muzzle the little policeman whose station is in the head. But what about the practicing Christian? He has more than the little policeman. The Christian has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). Therefore the Christian has a more difficult time trying to silence his conscience. The Christian becomes guilty of grieving and even quenching the Spirit if He ignores God’s Commandments. As the Prophet Micah says: “[The] LORD Has shown you, O man, what is good.”

When we do the right thing we are doing what is good. When we don’t do what is good we begin to hear from our conscience.

The Accusing Conscience

To talk about the accusing conscience is to talk about feelings of guilt. Guilt can be a real thorn in the flesh. None of us likes the feeling of guilt. So we try to appease our accusing conscience, which is to say in the words of Proverbs 28:13 that we try to “cover our sins.”

What is sin? Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Westminster Shorter Catechism question and answer 14. Sin is any failure to measure up to what God requires, or disobedience to His commands. Sin is disobeying or not conforming to God’s Law in any way.

As we sense the guilt of sin we may try to rationalise our sin. We can become preoccupied with our sense of guilt. John MacArthur Jnr. Says,

Deep in our hearts, we all know something is desperately wrong with us. Our conscience constantly confronts us with our own sinfulness. Try as we might to blame others, or seek psychological explanations for how we feel, we cannot escape reality. We cannot ultimately deny our own consciences. We feel guilt, and we know the horrible truth about who we are on the inside.[1]

The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote in the 17th century, “The conscience is the soul reflecting upon itself.”[2] The conscience, then, is you taking the measuring stick to everything you think, say, or do.

Yet we try to reason with our conscience as we try to rationalize our sin. With think things like, “It wasn’t really my fault!” “If only he or she had done this or that!” “If only he or she had been somewhere else!” “If only – if only – if only…”

Sometimes a person cannot get on with their life because of an accusing conscience. They can go over the same old argument day in day out, day after day ad nauseam as they try to get rid of the feeling of guilt. David the Psalmists puts it like this in Psalm 32:3-4, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.” David was trying to cover his sins. He was trying to conceal them.

And all he did was groan all day long! That Puritan Sibbes compared the chastisement of a violated conscience to “a flash of Hell!” When you think about it, Hell is the place where people are preoccupied with a guilty conscience forever! But as Sibbes says we here only experience a flash of Hell!

Occasionally there’s a report on the news of someone turning themselves in to the police. Perhaps someone who has robbed a bank, or murdered someone, or whatever. It can be something they did years ago, decades. I remember seeing one about a woman who had committed a crime back in 1970. However, her conscience finally got the better of her. She couldn’t handle its accusations any longer. So she turned herself in!

We cannot handle an accusing conscience! An accusing conscience is something like a sewer. An accusing conscience reminds us of something vile sludging around beneath the surface. In big cities occasionally a sewer will explode! Methane gas can build up, and if it ignites then Whammo! A heavy manhole cover can fly into the air! Well, in a similar way some people just seem to explode!

Feelings of guilt can cause a person to act in all sorts of abnormal ways. And our verse is telling us that we won’t prosper when guilt is weighing us down. It’s like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress whose burden was a backpack full of guilt that needed to be gotten rid of.

Now, guilt can be felt for a variety of reasons. But every single one of those reasons has to do with right and wrong. In other words, guilt always has to do with morals. This is because the conscience only accuses when there is something wrong.

What if, what if, what if it is you yourself who has been wronged? What if you are blaming yourself for some terrible thing that happened to you? What if you are carrying the guilt of having been abused as a child? “If only, if only, if only I had done what I was told.” Well, there are at least two ways we can look at this

1.    You can plead your innocence before God.
2.    You can continue to reason with your conscience.

Surely the right thing to do is to plead your case before God. God knows what happened to you. If you’re innocent He knows it. He saw it. And the main thing that matters is that God knows that it was you who were wronged. But then there is option 2, which is no option, is it?
For option 2. is to continue to reason with your conscience. And if you do that you will continue tormenting yourself.

But here’s something worth considering, and this is where it gets really difficult. It is sometimes possible that we blame God something terrible that happened to us. “God, why did You let this happen to me?” Now, if we keep in mind that our conscience only accuses us when there is something wrong, we won’t go too far wrong here.

Think about it, it is always wrong to blame God for sin, our sins or the sins of another. God is not the author of sin. God never sins against us. If a person was, let’s say, sexually abused as a child that person shouldn’t blame him or herself. But neither should they blame God. God hates sin! To be sure, the police should be called and child abusers ought to be arrested! And I know that there is no great solace in knowing that the abuser’s conscience will be accusing night and day. However, it’s true.

The Appeased Conscience

How is an accusing conscience silenced? Well, in a word, whenever your conscience accuses you of anything, even something of which you claim to be innocent, see that as your cue to plead before God! In other words, flee to God for refuge every time a pang of conscience hits. Continue to do this and your problem, whatever it is, will leave you. Therefore, run to God for mercy! Now, this doesn’t mean that you just pay God lip service. It doesn’t mean, “O, I tried that, but it doesn’t work!” Fleeing to God means begging Him for mercy.

Nowadays if someone has a pang of guilt we tend to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” We might say, “You need to talk to someone about your problem.” And maybe so! But it’s God we need to talk to. We need to talk to God, not the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. God! Not the priest, the psychologist, the shrink. God! To be sure, a problem shared is a problem halved. So there is some benefit in talking to others about our problems with guilt. However, we need to seek audience with God, and not just to pay Him lip service!

Do you remember the Parable about the Pharisee and Tax Collector? The Pharisee prayed something to the effect, “God, I thank You that I’m so wonderful! I’m a super faster and a brilliant tither. I’m not like other people at all. In my own eyes I deserve better than this. But here I am stuck among a bunch of sinners including this debauched tax-collector!” Is this what we mean by fleeing to God? God forbid! Fleeing to God is pleading for His mercy when you are wracked with guilt and anguish of soul! Fleeing to God is the prayer of the Tax-collector, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” Fleeing to God is repentance. It is turning your back on sin!

You are sinning if you keep on wrestling with your conscience when you should be seeking God. But instead of fleeing to God we tend to keep on going over the same old thing in our head. And when we do this we cannot truly get on with life, because we’re too busy wrestling with our conscience!

It’s like Tarzan wrestling with a snapping crocodile! We’re forever splashing around in the depths of our sins! We are too busy trying to cover our sins without God! But look at Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever confesses and forsakes his sins will have mercy.” It doesn’t say perhaps will have mercy. It says you WILL have mercy! Mercy from what? Mercy from the Hell you’ve been having flashes of!

When you flee to God with your pangs of conscience you are fleeing from Hell. The Word says we are to repent, that is, we are to change our minds. Our minds are no longer to be split in two as we go against our conscience. But rather we are to turn our back on our sins – all sin! The Proverb says, “Confess them and forsake them.”

Look at the Proverb again as we try to tie it all together: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” Proverbs 28:13. We’ve seen that to cover your sins is the same as trying to appease a guilty conscience. I hope that has become clear to you, if wasn’t before. But what would happen if someone covered your sins for you?  Would that appease your conscience? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening when you keep on confessing and keep on forsaking your sins. It means that someone else is covering your sins for you. Why? Because this means that you are asking God to be merciful and cover your sins for you. And God by His grace and His mercy clears you of your guilt, even your guilty conscience! For that’s what happens when you confess your sins. You are exposing it for God to deal with it. And if you are coming before God with your sins, then you should know that God has already dealt with your sins and He has already cleared you of the guilt of that sin! As John MacArthur puts it, “True guilt has only one cause, and that is sin. And sin…is the very thing the gospel is given to conquer.[3]

The Gospel is the Good News of the Grace and Mercy of God in Jesus Christ. It’s the good news that Jesus Christ has delivered us from all our sins. It is the good news that He has conquered sin. It is the Good News that He has covered our sins – with His own shed blood! Christ takes away all our guilt. Yes, even the feelings of guilt! Therefore continue to confess yours sins to God through Jesus Christ and God will have mercy on you and grant you a clear conscience!

Conclusion

Christ’s shed blood sprinkles our hearts “from an evil conscience” Hebrews 10:22. His blood protects us from all accusations – even the accusations of Satan! So, the next time your conscience accuses you – flee to God with it! Don’t wrestle with it. Do what the Proverb says, confess it and forsake it. The more you do that, the less your conscience will accuse you. For “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”




[1] John MacArthur Jnr., Biblical Counseling, p. 104.
[2] John MacArthur Jnr., Vanishing Conscience, p. 44.
[3] John MacArthur, Biblical Counseling, p. 104.