Whose Strength?

Some days, we might wonder, “How can any of us continue this way?” The children, our spouses, the relatives or neighbors, our work schedules, these contentious elections, worries about terrorism here and war overseas; the list is endless. Perhaps your trials have dragged on over weeks, months, or even years. Can anyone bear up under such persistent pressure? Where is there strength to carry on one more day? The song writer, Asaph, penned these words:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin summarizes the import of the entire song this way:

[The Psalmist]:

…Extolls the righteousness and goodness of God.

…Confesses that when he saw:

the wicked abounding in wealth, …scornfully mocking God, and cruelly harassing the righteous…

and the children of God […, who] practice uprightness, …weighed down by troubles and calamities, …were pining away…

while God, …did not interfere to remedy [this injustice.]

[This disparity] almost [caused] him to cast off all…religion and [his] fear of God.

[But, the Psalmist] reproves his own folly in rashly…pronouncing judgment, merely [based on] the present state of things…

…He concludes that, provided we leave the providence of God to take its own course, …in the end, …the righteous are not defrauded of their reward, and that, on the other, the wicked do not escape the hand of the Judge.

It is in this context that Asaph declares his own powerlessness to face what seems unjust: the wicked prosper, the godly suffer, and God doesn’t seem to care. Asaph also acknowledges his dependence on God for any ability to stand under this weight. As Calvin explains:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which [the Psalmist] felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said,

“Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to Him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is…necessary for us to consider what we are without God; …We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves. Indeed, all men confess this, [but the majority] think that all which is necessary is that God should aid our [weaknesses], or [give us assistance] when we have not the means…ourselves. [However, the Psalmist’s] confession…is far [stronger] than this when he lays, so to speak, his own nothingness before God.

He, therefore, …adds, that God is his portion…[denoting] the condition or lot with which every man is contented. …The reason why God is represented as a portion is, because He alone is abundantly sufficient for us, and because in Him the perfection of our happiness consists.

Whence it follows, that we are chargeable with ingratitude, if we turn away our minds from Him and fix them on any other object, as has been stated in Psalm 16:4, where David explains more clearly the import of the metaphor.

None of this means that we will escape from trouble in the here and now. We will go through it, and yet we have hope if we do well.

***

The Apostle Paul lived in the truth Asaph wrote about. When commending his service for God to the Church, he said:

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 (ESV)

We can see that Paul’s witness stands to this day. Since our sufficiency comes from Him, will you give up your own methods? Will I? We must rely on the Lord Jesus Christ’s strength alone in these perilous times.

Michael Roe – I Could Laugh (feat. Chris Taylor) – bd’s house 2014, Lyrics

Thanksgiving – 2015

Last Year, we posted “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving Day“.

This year we quote from President James Madison’s 1815 Thanksgiving proclamation:

No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States.

His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days.

Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition…

And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.

An early example of God’s kind providence for what has become the United States is the Patuxet native named Tisquantum, or Squanto. Eric Metaxas relates the miracle of Squanto’s life. The following is a Reader’s Digest version of Metaxas’s story:

Around 1608 an English crew captured a number of Patuxet warriors and sold them into slavery in Spain. One young man, Squanto, was bought by Catholic friars, who treated him well and freed him. Around 1612, Squanto stayed with John Slany in London and learned English customs and language. In 1618, Squanto returned home aboard a ship in return for his services as an interpreter.

After his 10 year journey, Squanto found that the Patuxets had perished from smallpox brought by European ships. Although he was spared from death through his kidnapping, he was not consoled. He tried living with an adjacent tribe but eventually lived alone in the woods.

In November of 1620, the Mayflower passengers, unable to reach Virginia, settled at Plymouth, the area where Squanto had grown up. They had come in search of religious freedom, hoping to found a colony based on Christian principles.

However, half of them died during the terrible winter. They must have wondered how the God they trusted and followed could lead them to these grim circumstances. They considered returning to Europe.

In the spring of 1621, Squanto walked out of the woods to greet them. He spoke perfect English, having lived in London more recently than did the settlers. He knew everything about how to survive in Plymouth; not only how to plant corn and squash, but how to find fish, lobsters, eels, and much else.

The Pilgrims adopted Squanto as their own and he lived with them. He helped broker a peace with the local tribes that lasted 50 years, a staggering accomplishment considering the troubles settlers would face later.

So the question is: Can all of this have been sheer happenstance, as most versions of the story would have us believe? The Pilgrims did not think so. To them, Squanto was a living answer to their tearful prayers, an outrageous miracle of God. Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford declared in his journal that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God” who didn’t leave them “till he died [in 1622].”

Perhaps our reflection on this historical truth can dispel our current distrust of the direction in which we see our country headed.

Not Your Own

We often hear that faith must be personal. “My faith,” they say. People might tell us they’ve persevered through trials due to their faith. Were it to have failed, they would’ve been lost. But they had enough. At least that’s what they say. I don’t know about you, but I get the impression that they think this faith is their own, as if they produced it. As if it were due to strength of character or moral upbringing.

On the contrary, though we must hold faith individually:

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

It is not our faith, it is a gift of God so that we might not boast about ourselves.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

John Calvin comments on this verse:

For by grace are you saved. …God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own…

Not of works. …Many persons restrict the word ‘gift’ to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith [only] is the gift of God, but that salvation [entirely] is given to us by God…

For we are his work. …The apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul’s argument would have no force.

Created to good works. …[Paul] says, that, before we were born, the good works were prepared by God; meaning, that in our own strength we are not able to lead a holy life, but only so far as we are formed and adapted by the hand of God. Now, if the grace of God came before our performances, all ground of boasting has been taken away…

To reiterate, faith is not a result of human will:

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy Romans 9:15-16 (ESV)

To this, Calvin comments:

It is not then of him who wills, etc. …That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favor of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts…that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing… [Emphasis mine]

Therefore faith is not subjective. It is not of ourselves so that we may not boast. Just like the scriptures, faith is not a matter of one’s own opinion.

***

Now, if we accept that faith is not of ourselves, we who profess faith must also realize that we, ourselves, are not our own, either.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

77s – The 77’s – Bottom Line,   Uploaded to YouTube on Apr 6, 2008, posted by Neamberthal, Lyrics