A sermon preached at the thanksgiving service on the 50th anniversary of Evangelical Times (Hayes Town Chapel, 4 February 2017): ‘The righteous shall see it and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord’ (Psalm 107:42-43).
Someone might say, ‘If God governs everything, then there is no place for prayer’. But the opposite is true. Prayer is an expression of confidence in God, and nothing inspires prayer more than faith in God.
When Daniel was in Babylon he read the promises in Jeremiah 25 that the Jews were to be in captivity for 70 years. He knew that 70 years had elapsed, so did he do nothing? No, he prays! (Daniel 9:2-3). He believed the truth the hymn writer states in the words, ‘Prayer is appointed to convey, the blessings God designs to give’.
We have seen God humbling men
This is another abiding principle. ‘He pours contempt on princes’ (Psalm 107:40). God takes no account of those whom the world calls great; ‘the lofty looks of man shall be humbled’.
We have surely seen this in our contemporary world. The God who gave Herod a sudden death rules today. It is still true that ‘we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath we are troubled’ (Psalm 90:7). ‘The triumphing of the wicked is short’.
But the same principle speaks to the church. One reason why Reformation truth took hold so quickly in the 16th century was that the professing church had become so worldly, greedy and proud that people no longer listened to what she said. The clergy had come to be viewed with contempt and their message had ceased to be authentic. The same thing has happened in our lifetimes.
The Republic of Ireland has seen it with the end of reverence for the Catholic religion. But we see the same in the United Kingdom. When you see clergy depicted on the television, what kind of portrait are they given? A calling which was once honoured has become an object of amusement.
God told the priesthood in the days of Hophni and Phinehas, ‘Them that honour me, I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed’ (1 Samuel 2:30). We see the results of despising God all over Britain. It is before us in the crumbling bricks and mortar of derelict buildings that were once churches. Now in their thousands they stand deserted, closed or turned into premises for anything but the worship of God.
Should we wring our hands at this sight and think Christianity and the Word of God have failed? Not at all! In the end of buildings and fall of denominations, we see the living Word of God: ‘The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?’ (1 Peter 4:17).
When God’s Word is not heard and obeyed, he has other ways to speak. This was what the prophet Micah told his generation, who were failing to hear Scripture, ‘The Lord’s voice cries in the city … hear the rod, and who has appointed it’ (Micah 6:9). Providence is a rod that will be heard.
The world may say that it makes no difference whether a person serves God or not, and whether he or she believes the Bible or not. But, sooner or later, judgments will come ‘and all iniquity shall stop her mouth’.
If men will not believe the seriousness of sin in the sight of God, they will have to learn it by experience. Those who jeer at such warnings will then call on the mountains and rocks and say, ‘Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb’ (Revelation 6:16). But the final judgment is not yet come, which leads to the greatest thing seen in these last 50 years:
We have seen the Lord Jesus Christ calling sinners to himself and taking them to glory
God says of his Son, ‘He shall not fail nor be discouraged’. He is doing a work given him to do, ‘bringing many sons unto glory’, and no earthly or demonic power can hinder it. He says, ‘All that the Father gives me shall come unto me’ and ‘I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish’ (John 6:37; 10:8).
One conversion is a marvellous thing to see. If all of us here in this service were asked to name one person they know who has recently become a Christian, what a large number that would be!
What is written in this 107th psalm is being seen today: a people are being redeemed ‘from the hand of the enemy’. They have abandoned the gods of silver and gold, and a great multitude is being gathered ‘out of all lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north and from the south’ (vv. 2-3). Before them is a prepared destination, a place of praise and holiness, where God will love his people as he loves his Son, for ever.
But we only see a very small part of God’s redemptive work
We only see a little, but let us be sure we observe it more. At the death of every believer, ‘The righteous shall see it and rejoice’. Their death calls for song: ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord’; ‘whoso liveth and believeth in me shall never die’. In the words of William Williams:
‘Even today I hear sweet music,
Praises from a blood-freed throng:
Full deliverance, glorious freedom,
Are their themes for endless song…
North and South, in countless myriads,
From earth’s darkest ends they come,
With the dance and gladsome music,
Into heaven’s eternal home.’
All our portraits can be found in this psalm. We all started as wanderers in this world, in need of redemption, and ignorant of the great Shepherd of the sheep. We were not left there because, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me’ (John 10:27). He now leads us and keeps us in ‘the right way’ and fills our hungry souls with goodness.
If I know this Saviour, what comfort I ought to enjoy! But believers do not always enjoy thinking of God’s providence, because Satan can confuse us into misreading providence. The devil may say to you, ‘How can you draw any help from the providence of God in the light of your present cares and circumstances? Just look at all the difficulties, problems and concerns you are facing!’
We need to know how to face such an assault. It is a temptation by no means unique, for many other believers have been misled by it. Jacob cried, ‘All these things are against me’ (Genesis 42:36), and Asaph said in Psalm 77, ‘Is his mercy clean gone, has God forgotten to be gracious?’
They were recovered in the same way that we must be recovered. It is by remembering that God’s greatness and love are not to be judged by feeble sense. He has given us a much surer guide: ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path’. We are to walk by faith, not by sight.
Our every day companion has to be God’s Word and promises. The promise is that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).
For the present, we may not understand how that is true. Providence is commonly only to be understood as we look back, on a future day. Faith does not need to understand the present; it is enough that we follow the same path as Paul and trust in Christ.
‘I suffer these things’, said the apostle speaking of his present circumstances, ‘Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day’ (2 Timothy 1:12). ‘Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.’