The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘means

Pandemics, panic and peace

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[On Wednesday 5th August 2009 I wrote a piece with the title above. It was based on a sermon preached during the swine flu epidemic. Having had my attention drawn to it again recently, I hope that the substance of the article, reproduced below, will stand the test of the years passed and the new pressures.]

In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond? God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.

Think clearly.

Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6). This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful. God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales. Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused. Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge. God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10). He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.

coronavirusSecondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease. Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes. The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25). Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always. His actings and permissions are absolute. His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16). All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us. Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.

Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures. It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45). It is an instance of common grace. God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received and trustingly employed. So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21). Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him. Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality. In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!” True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them. Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!” Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them. Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.

Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses. Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone. It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12). God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10). Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15). To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable. This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20). It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15). It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7). It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear. Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8). In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.

Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how. Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes? Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish? When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made. We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified. His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8). His name will be made known. One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).

Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.

Prepare to live. Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11). Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers. When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands. Like Christ, we are to go about doing good. It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10). Be ready to preach. Let your deeds be matched and explained by words. Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways. Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever. Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved. Be ready to pray. Begin now. Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul. Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days. Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death. Pray for the salvation of many. Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16). Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.

church bellPrepare to die. John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Take these things as intimations of your own mortality. Heed them as a call to readiness. Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12). The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things. There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15). Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27). If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon. If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away. Life is brief, and eternity beckons. That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.

The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus. She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment. When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin. The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well. That is preparation both for life and for death.

Listen to a sermon on this topic here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 March 2020 at 18:15

Pandemics, panic and peace

with 2 comments

Death is in the headlines.  Michael Jackson seemed to think he was God.  Bobby Robson was, in his time, as much the Geordie Messiah as Kevin Keegan.  At a Swiss clinic, Dignitas clients play God with their own lives.  And, up and down the UK, and in many other countries (some far less equipped to deal with the problem), disease runs rampant, and men panic over the pursuit or lack of God-like control over their health.

swine flu (samples)In a culture increasingly obsessed, at least in popular media, with doomsday scenarios, the swine flu statistics and reaction can be bewildering.  The country is generally described as “unprepared” (sometimes the adjective “woefully” is thrown in for good cheer).  The government seems to veer between crying “We’re coping” on the one hand, and “We’re doomed” on the other: the net effect is the agitated cry of a frantic Corporal Jones: “Don’t panic!”

In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond?  God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.

Think clearly.

Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6).  This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful.  God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales.  Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused.  Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge.  God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10).  He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.

swine flu (close up)Secondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease.  Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes.  The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25).  Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always.  His actings and permissions are absolute.  His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16).  All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us.  Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.

Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures.  It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45).  It is an instance of common grace.  God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received swine flu (child and pig)and trustingly employed.  So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21).  Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him.  Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality.  In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!”  True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them.  Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!”  Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them.  Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.

Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses.  Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone.  It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12).  God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10).  Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15).  To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable.  This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20).  It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15).  It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7).  It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear.  Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8).  In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.

Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how.  Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes?  Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish?  When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made.  We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified.  His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8).  His name will be made known.  One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).

Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.

Prepare to live.  Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11).  Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers.  When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands.  Like Christ, we are to go about doing good.  It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10).  Be ready to preach.  Let your deeds be matched and explained by words.  Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways.  Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever.  Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved.  Be ready to pray.  Begin now.  Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul.  Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days.  Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death.  Pray for the salvation of many.  Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16).  Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.

church bellPrepare to die.  John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  Take these things as intimations of your own mortality.  Heed them as a call to readiness.  Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12).  The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things.  There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15).  Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27).  If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon.  If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away.  Life is brief, and eternity beckons.  That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.

The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus.  She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment.  When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”  There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin.  The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well.  That is preparation both for life and for death.

Listen to a sermon on this topic here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 5 August 2009 at 09:32

The invention and use of gospel means

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It is easy to snipe across established boundaries.

Some of us look at men whom we consider too pragmatic, and assure ourselves that if they had any principle they would not do what they do, and they would of course be less successful.  From the other side we look at men whom we consider frigidly principled, sterile and fruitless but self-assured and unshakeable in their conviction that their very ineffectiveness is a mark of their faithfulness.  Perhaps, for many genuinely Reformed Christians, our accusations of mere pragmatism (even where legitimate in degree) mask the fact that our principles are not practically employed as they ought to be.

john-angell-james-2John Angell James addresses men who ought to be in earnest for the salvation of souls in the following excerpt from his excellent book, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times.  He calls us neither to abandon true principle nor to embrace mere pragmatism, but to cultivate a holy pragmatism in accordance with Scriptural principle, and so to seek to accomplish the ends God has given us by the invention and use of means that accord with Scripture.  It is not pleasant reading, but it is good medicine.

But this touches a THIRD thing implied in genuine earnestness, and that is the studious invention and diligent use of all appropriate means to accomplish the selected object. An earnest man is the last to be satisfied with mere formality, routine, and prescription.  He will often survey his object, his means, and his instruments: will look back upon the past to review his course, to examine his failure and success, with the causes of each; to learn what to do, and what to avoid for the future.  His enquiry will often be, What next?  What more?  What better?  And as the result of all this, new experiments will be tried, new plans will be laid, and new courses will be pursued.  With an inextinguishable ardour, and with a resolute fixedness of purpose, he exclaims, “I must succeed-How?”

And shall we ministers possess nothing of this earnestness, if we are seeking the salvation of souls?  Shall dull uniformity, stiff formality, wearisome repetitions, and rigid routine, satisfy us? Shall we never institute the inquiry, “Why have I not succeeded better in my ministry?  How is it that my congregation is not larger, and my church more rapidly increasing?  In what way can I account for it that the truth as it is in Jesus, which I believe I preach, is not more influential, and the doctrine of the cross is not, as it was intended to be, the power of God unto the salvation of souls?  Why do I not more frequently hear addressed to me, by those who are constantly under my ministry, the anxious inquiry, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’  I am not wanting, as far as I know, in the regular discharge of my ordinary duties, and yet I gather little fruit of my labours, and have to utter continually the prophet’s complaint, ‘Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?'”  Do we indeed indulge in such complaints!  Have we earnestness enough to pour forth such lamentations?  Or is it of little consequence to us, provided we get our stipend, keep up the congregation to its usual size, and maintain the tranquillity of the church, whether the ends of the ministry are accomplished or not?  Are we often seen by God’s omniscient eye pacing our study in deep thoughtfulness, solemn meditation, and rigorous self-inquisition; and after an impartial survey of our doings, and a sorrowful lamentation that we are doing no more, questioning ourselves thus?  “Is there no new method to be tried, no new scheme to be devised, to increase the efficiency of my ministerial and pastoral labours?  Is there nothing I can improve, correct, or add?  Is there any thing particularly wanting in the matter, manner, or method of my preaching, or in my course of pastoral attentions?”  Surely it might be supposed that such inquiries would be often instituted into the results of so momentous a ministry as ours; that seasons would be not unfrequently set apart, especially at the close or beginning of every year, for such a purpose.  The result could not fail to be beneficial.

Here it may be proper for us to look out of our own profession, and ask if the earnest tradesman, soldier, lawyer, philosopher, and mechanician, are satisfied to go on as they have done, though with ever so little success?  Do we not see in all other departments of human action, where the mind is really intent on some great object, and where success has not been obtained in proportion to the labour bestowed, a dissatisfaction with past modes of action, and a determination to try new ones?  And should we who watch for souls, and labour for immortality, be indifferent to success, and to the plans by which it might be secured?  In calling for new methods, we want no new doctrines; no new principles ; no startling eccentricities; no wild irregularities; no vagaries of enthusiasm, nor phrensies of the passions; no, nothing but what the most sober judgment and the soundest reason would approve; but we do want a more inventive, as well as a more fervid zeal in seeking the great end of our ministry.  Respectable but dull uniformity, and not enthusiasm, is the side on which our danger lies.  I know very well the contortions of an epileptic zeal are to be avoided, but so also is the numbness of a paralytic one; and after all, the former is less dangerous to life, and is more easily and frequently cured, than the latter. We may, as regards our preaching for instance, examine whether we have not dwelt too little on the alarming, or on the attractive themes of revelation? – whether we have not clothed our discourses too much with the terrors of the Lord? and if so, we may wisely determine to try the more winning forms of love and mercy: or whether we have not rendered the gospel powerless by a perpetual repetition of it in common-place phraseology? whether we have not been too argumentative? and resolve to be more imaginative, practical, and hortatory: whether we have not addressed ourselves too exclusively to believers? and determine to commence a style of more frequent and pungent address to the unconverted: whether we have not been too vague and general in our descriptions of sin? and become more specific and discriminating: whether we have not been too neglectful of the young? and begin a regular course of sermons to them: whether we have not had too much sameness of topic? and adopt courses of sermons on given subjects: whether we have not been too elaborate and abstract in the composition of our discourses? and come down to greater simplicity: whether we have not been too careless? and bestow more pains: whether we have not been too doctrinal? and in future, make all truth bear, as it was intended to do, upon the heart, conscience, and life.

Nor must the inquiry stop here.  There ought to be the same process of rigid scrutiny instituted as to the labours of the pastorate.  We must review the proceedings of this momentous department, for here also is most ample scope for invention as to new plans of action.  Perhaps upon inquiry we shall find out that we have neglected various channels through which our influence might, have been poured over the flock committed to our care, and shall discover many ways in which we can improve upon our former plans, in the way of meeting the inquirers after salvation, giving our aid to Sunday schools, setting up Bible classes, or visiting the flock.  What is needed is an anxious wish to be wanting in nothing that can conduce to our usefulness, a diligent endeavour to make up every deficiency, and a mind ever inquisitive after new means and methods of doing good.  Could we all but adopt the plan of setting apart a day at the close of every year for solemn examination into our ministerial and pastoral doings, with the view of ascertaining our defects and neglects, to see in what way we could improve, to humble ourselves before God for the past, and to lay down new rules for the future, we should all be more abundantly useful than we are. And does not earnestness require all this?  Can we pretend to be in earnest if we neglect these things?  The idea of a minister’s going on from year to year with either little success, or none at all, and yet never pausing to inquire how this comes to pass, or what can be done to increase his efficiency, is so utterly repugnant to all proper notions of devotedness, that we are obliged to conclude, the views such a man entertains of the design and end of his office are radically and essentially defective.[1]


[1] John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1993), 45-49.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 20 February 2009 at 18:09

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