FEAR AND FAITH
Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel on Sunday January 2nd, 1955, the text being the Motto for the New Year.
"What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee." Psalm 56, verse 3.
THIS psalm is described as " Michtam of David." Some think the word means "golden " and that this was a tribute to a wonderful deliverance of the psalmist. There is in every psalm, which is "Michtam", some reference to resurrection and this certainly would make it golden. David wrote it when he was in the hands of the Philistines. He had fled from Saul only to find himself sore afraid of Achish, king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:12) and it may well be that in seeking refuge with Achish he was out of the will of God. It was when he was delivered from Achish that he wrote this psalm. The Chief Musician was instructed to set it to a certain tune "Jonath-elem-rechokim " which means: " The silent dove of far off regions." What the tune was like we have no means of knowing and if we knew it, it is doubtful whether we should like it.
David was in very great fear and when you study the psalm and the circumstances in the record in Samuel it is possible to appreciate something of its characteristics. The first verse should read: " Have pity on me, 0 God, for man pursues fiercely after me; all day long he is fighting and harassing me." The idea of pursuit is that of a wild beast pursuing its prey. Relentlessly, persistently, panting he presses on in pursuit, gradually gaining on his victim until at last the victim will be paralysed with fear and unable to escape. There are fears that pursue us like that! Sometimes it is the harvest of our folly and sin. So far as we are concerned we hate the very memory of our mistakes and sins, but they are on our heels nevertheless and although we have grown from youth to maturity yet still the relentless nemesis is on our trail and we wonder how much longer we can continue.
In the second verse the words in the second part should be: "For many are they who fight against me haughtily." This is not so much pursuit as pressure. The pressure comes down from above and is oppressive to the soul such as anxiety, illness, desolation, loneliness or melancholy. Domestic situations, local troubles, national affairs and international horizons all bring pressure. From above, perhaps in more ways than one, they press down on the soul. Fear becomes a burden from which we do not often escape during the day, while in the night it stalks in our dreams, arouses us in the darkness and weighs upon us heavily with dark foreboding.
Then there is the fear of the words of others. The psalmist refers to this in verse 5: " Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather themselves together . . . they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul." There are many fears that arise from what we think people will say about us, how they will view our actions, and strangely enough the more right a man is the more likely it is that his friends will be turned to foes. The sweet counsel David had had with Absalom became the very ground of new fears. The confidences we have given to others, the communicating of our souls and then the rift comes and fears start within us. And how different meanings are given to our words, with what prevarication they give a new setting to our statements and as we hear what we feel to be untrue, we realise how helpless we are to overtake the subtle gossip; but what fears are aroused!
None could assess what all this meant to David. Indeed none can tell what fears mean to others; we can but judge by what they mean to us. They have caused David many tears and these he would have God preserve in a bottle as a memorial in heaven of the terror and the fears that had possessed him.
Now all this has some relation to us because we are living in a world of fear.
These same fears attack us. We have personal fears, domestic fears, and social
fears, fears that arise out of the folly of the past, fears from misunderstandings,
fears from the talk of others. Human nature is very much the same in every age.
And we have fears that embrace a wider field. We have this week seen the approval
by the French Assembly of the rearming of Germany. What it means we cannot tell.
An armed Germany devastated France in 1870, it did it again in 1914, and it almost destroyed her in 1940. What will this new liberty mean in days to come? Nobody can say. And what will be the effect of all this on Russia? Every effort will be made, we may be sure, to disrupt the economic life of western Europe and that may be the least of our troubles. When we were thinking over the motto for this year we felt that such a world situation must be taken into account and that the answer to it in the Word of God should be the attitude we ought to adopt. "Hence in the day of my fear, I will confide in Thee"
Most people when they think of trust in this connection feel that it means that one must submit to what happens and put up with it, sure that one day these evil things will pass away and later some compensation will be offered to the struggling saint of God. That is a wresting of the word of Scripture; we are doing to God precisely what we feel our enemies do to us! Trust in God is a positive attitude implicit with action. And the first step is that in faith we reach a firm conclusion concerning
1) THE CHARACTER OF GOD
It is a philosophic fact that our view of God is basic to all life. Who and what God is, will either be the unveiling of what we ourselves are or what we desire to be. Experimentally this is the beginning and the end of our dealings with God. We can find nothing sure in ourselves or in anything we can see or touch. All our speculations will leave us speculating, but certainty in believing that God is, is known to those who seek God in His own appointed way.
God is known by His Word. If there are attacks on the Bible it is because its enemies know how important and far reaching is its influence. For us, as the children of God, the Bible has been proved a sure guide. As we have followed its revelation we have found it to be a moral and spiritual map of the human heart and the disclosure of the secrets of God in relation to ourselves. If we have believed the promises of God we have found how worthy they were to be believed. This wonderful book that diagnosed our condition relative to God and therefore relative to reality has shown us the way out from our sins, their judgment and their power
The character of God has been shown us in Jesus, His Beloved Son: " He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." God in action, within the human, on the stage of the temporal; this is Jesus, God's Beloved Son. He commands our confidence in the Divine character: " For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." " God commendeth His own love, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Through Him then we have come to know the dependability of the Divine attitude towards us. In Christ is the sum of the Divine mind for us for time and for eternity.
Finally God has in His Son imparted to us who believe, the gift of the Holy Spirit. His Spirit bears witness with us, that we are the children of God. As such we are the heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ and to all the wealth we have in Christ the Holy Spirit indwelling the child of God bears perpetual witness. Walking in the light of the Spirit, we have those unmistakable confirmations of the Spirit that bring us the stabilising truths of the unshakeable integrity of God. It is for us at the beginning of this year to take hold of God in the simplicity of faith in the revelation of the written word, the Living Word and the Indwelling Spirit. He who takes hold of God reaching an irrevocable decision concerning His absolute love and goodwill to us His redeemed, will find the assurance a tremendous help in every day this year when we are afraid.
2) THE COOPERATION WITH GOD
The child of God has to learn the experimental secret of twin emotions. The same day on which he is afraid is the same day on which he is to trust. Fear goes hand in hand with faith. When we surrender to fears we deprive ourselves of all the resources of God. In fear we are surrendering to our circumstances, yielding to the domination of the moment, seeing our lives within the narrow confines of a few fleeting years and making ourselves subject to the tyranny about us. But God requires us to heed the word of the psalmist. In every circumstance that arouses fear we are to turn to the God of whose character we are sure and we are to co-operate with Him in the arena of our fear. Faith links us with all that God is, fear drags us down to the helpless condition of our own hearts. Fear makes possible the thing we fear. Faith makes available all that God is.
In every situation that unnerves, disturbs,or threatens our peace, our first concern should be to establish anew our confidence in God and to believe that this is exactly the situation in which faith is to be exercised. If we are assured of the character of God now, then in every occasion of fear throughout the year we may and should make it our first concern to face it in strong faith in Him. In this congregation there are almost certain to be some who will this year face the solemn article of death, others are going to be shaken to the foundations by the realisation of some terrible disease of the body. Some will face sudden bereavement, others will be dumbfounded by some shattering blow. Whatever the onslaught, however paralysing the blow, let us make it our concern to face it with faith in our Heavenly Father. Before we rush off to tell our friends, and to ask their sympathy let us arm ourselves with unshakeable faith and the more difficult it may be to do so, the more persistent let our effort be, for faith is the secret.
Once we have stood on the solid ground of faith in the unfailing God we shall be lifted to the heights of victory in the note of praise. Let us be sure that every crisis in life, every desperate challenge, every dark place is the site of a praising heart. God will give this to the man whose faith in Him is strong, whose faith is the gift of God out of the knowledge of God's right and title to our confidence. When the children of Israel began to sing and to praise, their enemies were overcome. Let us see to it that every day before we are broken and beaten by fear we have the victory in praise. See to it that every day begins with praise and in the midst of conflicts of experience that may be bitter, desperate and overwhelming let us long not so much for deliverance out of our trials, but for praising hearts that deliver us in them. Paul and Silas in gaol in Philippi, with backs bleeding, held fast in the stocks began to sing and to praise. Prisoners who could but groan heard them and then an earthquake opened the prison doors! The praising heart stepping out of gloom, misery and self pity will draw to itself the omnipotence of God. In every day of fear let us be ahead of the fear with a note of praise.
3) COURAGE FOR THE CONFLICT
The psalmist was under great pressure. His foes were far stronger than himself, but not stronger than God. In like manner they may press us around as did the Syrians at Dothan, but if we are co-operating in faith and in the spirit of praise, God will give us the courage we need. Life at some point or other tests out to the full the qualities of our manhood and womanhood. Courage is a great quality.
All through the centuries the witness of God has gone forward on the courage of God's servants. Courage is the rational control of fear. It is the declaration of the man of God that the purpose of God in any human life is so great that no matter what may be the cost it must be achieved. If God permits issues and crises that arouse our fears, it is our duty as it is our privilege to face them with high courage, unconquerable determination and unshakeable faith. In the records of the human race there are inscribed great deeds of courage. On the battle field men have carried through achievements of which their fellows never thought them capable. In the quieter walks of life men and women have held on doggedly, not only facing death but sometimes even greater challenges. Madame Guyon a mystic of the 17th century, put in prison for her suspected heresy, wrote a poem entitled " A Little Bird I am ". The first stanza was as follows:
"A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air:
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him Who placed me there:
Well pleased a prisoner to be
Because, my God it pleases Thee."
That is courage of the highest quality springing out of a deep experience of God. Many of us will find in 1955( and in 2003! ed.) days when fears will be strong and we shall need great courage. Men and women need courage to die, but they need greater courage to live. When in moments of great testing and trial the child of God lifts up the heart to God for courage to see it through, for tenacity, perseverance and persistence, then indeed we draw to ourselves the avalanche of Divine omnipotence. And what God intends us to become as we pass through the fires will certainly be achieved. Finally in the psalm we find
4) THE CONSECRATION OF THE PSALMIST
Times of fear are to eventuate in a new dedication to God. I observed at the beginning that these " Michtam " psalms have a suggestion concerning resurrection. In this psalm the reference is in the conclusion. "Thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life?"
Every occasion of fear in our lives rightly faced in praise and faith and courage, will mean a removal of the shrouds of the life of the flesh and an enabling that we may walk in newness of life. The thing that caused us to fear was really the opening of a door into a new experience of spiritual life and capacity. " Fear not the lions for they are chained, " shouted the porter at the House Beautiful to Christian, and when he had ventured the hazard he found himself at a place of new revelation. It is always so. The things that lay us low are opportunities of high spiritual privilege and experience. Bereavement may break our heart and life may never again be the same. Dare we believe that in spiritual experience it can be better not worse? On the other side of these experiences through which our human lot must pass there are possibilities for men and women of strong faith and courage. The site where we stand dumbfounded need not be the site of despair. There God would meet us, there God would pledge Himself anew to us, a husband of the widow, the Father of the fatherless and there too He would receive us in a new dedication.
Great is our opportunity and wonderful our privilege. Life is bound to heap up its difficulties, disasters, handicaps and sorrows, but none of them need break the child of God. Have faith in God, have indeed the faith that God had when He gave His Son to be the Saviour of the world. Face the challenge with courage believe within the disaster there is a door that opens up a vista never yet known. Link with every fear the faith of God and press on courageously -- dedicating life afresh to Him!
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