Prison, Providence, And The Lesson Of John The Baptist

Our understanding of God’s Providence, His divine guidance and care to fulfill His purposes, often comes into question when we find ourselves in a dilemma where we can’t understand our circumstances. Said another way, there may be times where we find ourselves in senseless situations that are completely out of our control. Our need is dire, and we have no choice, but to throw ourselves at the mercy of a Sovereign God. (Which is where we all must get to eventually, some get there sooner than others.)

We often think of providence in a lighthearted, purely positive sense, where God’s supernatural care gets us out of jams. For instance, we’re late for work, but every redlight turns green, or in terms of near misses, such as the lightning strike was eight feet from my house, or that out of control car missed my bumper by inches. 

Looking at scripture, one recurring theme where we see God’s providence, turns out to be far from lighthearted. It’s found repeatedly in prison stories where His people are unjustly thrown, facing death, enduring awful conditions, and their faith is stretched in ways we can’t imagine. It’s exactly where God wants them, they’re in His hands. The outcome uncertain, but God… It’s through the furnace of affliction where we must learn to trust Him, and where He receives the most glory. 

By the way, prison can take many forms. We don’t have to be behind bars or facing execution to be trapped in a desperate place. Whatever form prison may take in our lives, it’s precisely where God’s people must learn to trust, wait, and depend on Him. It’s where we cast our burdens upon Him for He cares for us. And we have an Advocate interceding, the Man of Sorrows, who has been there. 

When we think of the many prison situations in the Bible, we often remember the positive outcomes. For example, Joseph (falsely accused and jailed, but God…), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (framed to a fiery furnace, but God…), Daniel (in the lion’s den, but God…), Paul in chains…

But what about the negative outcomes? What about all those martyred for their faith, like Stephen? What about John the Baptist – losing his head? 

God’s plans and purposes are not always positive from the standpoint of our desired outcome. God ultimately provides deliverance for His people through Christ and the cross, where the ultimate injustice, the ultimate mishandling of a trial, the ultimate wrongful death, brings total forgiveness and healing to prisoners of sin. Through his death and resurrection, Christ our Substitute, saves us from the eternal punishment and death we all deserve (mercy), while at the same time providing eternal life that we don’t deserve (grace). 

We may live through difficult and senseless times, we may be rescued from whatever prison we’re in, or we may die like John the Baptist, but God…through Christ, has provided eternal life to those who put their faith and trust in Him. Though we may die, yet shall we live in eternal joy. Life in the presence of the One we can worship and enjoy forever. That, my friends, is the ultimate providential care and guidance that He uses to accomplish His purpose. Christ is worth dying for. And on our journey to the Celestial City, we too must learn, to live is Christ, but all praise be to God, to die is gain. 

New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

“Lamentations” is a book of sorrow, pain, anguish, and judgment. But Jeremiah, despite his depression and being brought very low (v. 18), still exults in Jehovah’s faithful love and mercy. Are these contradictions? They seem to be, but of course are not. When we “recall to mind” (v. 21) the great faithfulness of our God, we see clearly that his mercies are “new every morning.” How encouraging this is! The Lord’s daily love and compassion call for daily praise and daily worship!

“Great is your faithfulness.” We must often repeat these four great words to ourselves and to others. Yes, men wrong us, and there is much evil in the world. But we must not allow sin and wrong to overcome us with such anxiety that we forget how indebted we are to the “rich mercy” of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Note verse 26:“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” This holy “salvation” is all wrapped up in the one, precious Savior of sinners, “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Those who know and love Christ are the recipients of abounding grace and measureless mercy. Believers can truly say with much rejoicing, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

God’s love is steadfast, and his love never ceases; Yahweh’s great mercies will never come to an end; every single morning we can be assured that God will be faithful to us. Is not this great cause for praise to Christ Jesus? Yes, and we are glad to read this: “It shall be well with them that fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). “Well” means no wrath, no judgment, no rejection, but acceptance, love, favor, and mercy through the finished work of Calvary’s bloody cross. When we camp around Calvary our personal depression seems so small and insignificant compared to the Lord of life dying as our Substitute. His death and resurrection assure us of real victory over all sin, all depression, and all the fretting of this life. Let’s praise our Savior anew every morning! “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (Romans 16:27).

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

Sing, Meditate, Be Glad

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“I will sing unto Yahweh as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet; I will be glad in Yahweh.” Psalm 104:33-34

Here is one of my favorite texts in all of the Bible. How precious are these words, and all of this psalm. Surely you can feel the exuberance of the psalmist in writing of our “very great” Creator (v. 1). Indeed, all creation loudly proclaims Yahweh’s praise (v. 24). Note in our text that we are to sing “to” the Lord, meditate “of” him, and be glad “in” him! Those little words describe experimental Christianity about as well as words possibly can. Correct? Surely, by the Holy Spirit’s blessing, you see this and feel its spiritual power!

The elect of God are not afraid to sing. They may not have great voices or have much harmony, but they still sing “to” the Redeemer (he’s our audience). We often “sing to the Lord” riding down the road, don’t we? We sing in our homes, we sing at work, as well as in church services with other believers. We humbly sing “as long as we live.” We cannot do otherwise.”Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God” (Isaac Watts). We cannot sing unless we truly know Christ! Without Christ we only sing the world’s ditties. But true children of God get excited about the songs of Zion, which bring joys, gladness, and holy rejoicing to God’s people beyond expression (1 Peter 1:8). Our meditation “of” the Savior is a daily delight, the psalmist calling it “sweet.” Holy meditation is never sour or boring, though some may think it is. For sure, John Newton was right when he wrote, “Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is known from quickened hearts!

“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). The psalms are full of Yahweh’s praise (like Psalm 104), so we gladly sing them. We regularly sing hymns like “How Great Thou Art,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.” What a wonderful spiritual song is “Amazing Grace,” one of the most beloved of God’s children. How precious are the “spiritual songs” of the Old Testament (Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32, 1 Samuel 2, etc.). All true hymns truly praise “HIM” who is the Savior!

Come, poor sinners, come away;
In meditation sweet,
Let us go to Golgotha,
And kiss our Savior’s feet.

Him, your fellow-sufferer see;
He was in all things like to you.
Are you tempted? So was He.
Deserted? He was too.
                   Joseph Hart

Jesus, before Thy face I fall,
My Lord, My Life, my Hope, my All;
For I have nowhere else to flee,
No sanctuary, Lord, but Thee.
                       Samuel Medley

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A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

The Attributes of God

book-1210030_1280A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet” (Psalm 18:9). “Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and justice are the habitation of his throne” (Psalm 97:2).
 

The greatest study one can ever make is to study the character of Almighty God as revealed in Scripture. We know that YHWH is the great four-letter “name” of the living God (with vowels supplied it is written Yahweh). God’s “attributes” and perfections are so glorious, no one can ever fathom them.

I began studying God’s attributes and compound names in 1972, and immediately began teaching them in various church meetings, not only here in Georgia, but in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. These were some of the most blessed, enriching times I have ever experienced in the gospel ministry. None of us can ever study “who God is” too much. No wonder A. W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Absolutely!

“Concerning the character of God,” Bro. Henry Mahan once said, “what gross mistakes men make. I believe it is a mistake about the person of God himself that is the root and foundation of all mistakes in theology.” How solemnly true! Yahweh is transcendent, infinite, eternal, immortal, invisible, wise, sovereign, holy, just, righteous, yet is longsuffering, kind, gracious, loving, and merciful.

David said Yahweh “bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet.” Darkness? Yes, but we also read, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). No darkness! “The darkness and the light are both alike to thee” (Psalm 139:12). Both alike? What mystery! How can we understand this unless we believe wholeheartedly in God’s absolute self-sufficiency? God’s ways and works are indeed “past finding out,” aren’t they? They can never be fully explained by any creature. This alone is pure sovereignty.

“Clouds and darkness are round about him.” Then we are told, “A fire goes before him, and burns up his enemies round about” (Psalm 97:3). “Darkness,” yet “fire.” The purpose for fire is “to consume and burn up,” and it is the exception when it does not, as in the case of Moses when he saw the burning bush “not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). Along with mystery, we note what glorious majesty and honor belong to the Lord our God! “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Do we really believe this? His holiness burns in splendor, his righteousness is like the great mountains, and his vengeance shall be known to all his enemies.

The Lord Jesus Christ was “God manifest in the flesh,” the God-Man wondrously concealing his attributes as needed. Yet, he was fully God and fully man. Christ is our Mediator, and no sinner could ever “approach” the living God apart from this one Advocate (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 2:1). Otherwise, the all-consuming holiness of Jehovah would burn up all sinners immediately! Sinners do not flippantly do business with a holy God. Is this what you believe?

Yet, in condescending mercy, our Lord Jesus Christ says to sinners, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Yes, by faith “go to Jesus,” for what rich grace, love, and mercy flows to poor sinners through the cross of Calvary. This is why we exclaim with Paul, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). “O the depth,” so let us all bow in holy wonder and holy worship of our thrice-holy God.

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Shipwreck and Apostasy

ship-wreck-1882087_1920A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“Wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

The two men named by Paul are sad examples to us. We are warned in Scripture not to judge or be critical of others (James 4:11), but we are also admonished to “judge ourselves.” “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be condemned” (1 Corinthians 11:31). What a word of warning not to “suffer shipwreck concerning the faith.” How seriously do we take this? “Wage the good warfare” implies constant diligence.

“Apostasy” means “rebellion, revolt, falling away, to depart from” (see Acts 21:21 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3 for the two occurrences of the Greek word apostasia)The warnings and admonitions of Scripture are for our benefit. We are always, as true believers, to “rejoice in Christ” and his full and free salvation, yet we must never neglect those portions of God’s word relating to our obedience. Christians always, with Paul, “glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but we must also heed the warnings about “leaving our first love,” and becoming “lukewarm” (Revelation 2:4; 3:16). We are admonished clearly, “Walk worthy” and “Walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 4:1; 5:15).

We should all desire, by the grace of God, to finish our race faithfully, being well-pleasing to the Lord. Don’t we honestly want to hear Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), with no desire to be like Hymenaeus and Alexander? We are not saved by works, yet we know that we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Not “by works,” which are of the flesh, but certainly “unto good works,” which are of the Spirit. “Showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2:10). Yes, “adorn the doctrine,” proving our faith, never living a contradictory, unholy life. By both our belief and behavior, we thus avoid “shipwreck” and being an “apostate.” As Paul says, “Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

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January 22, 2018

Afflictions Are Limited

alone-boy-child-256658 (1)A Scripture Meditation by W. F. Bell (1948-2018)

“Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.” Nahum 1:12

The entire human family, including God’s elect, will at times suffer various afflictions; however, our great and wise God, “according to the multitude of his mercies,” assures us that they are limited (see Lamentations 3:31-33). The rod does not last forever. Just as the prophet Nahum (“comfort”) gave a message of comfort to the nation of Judah in the seventh century B. C., revealing that Jehovah would eventually remove the Assyrian rod from their land, so too we are assured that the trials and sorrows of God’s people will one day come to an end: “Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more.” Thus we have this comforting promise to us in the New Testament:”Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Note, “receiving!” 

It was C. H. Spurgeon who once said, “Our Father in heaven takes away the rod when his design in using it is fully served.” Yes, whatever that “design” is, our merciful God will some day take it away. So, let us “be of good cheer,” looking to our Lord Jesus Christ alone, who knew all about afflictions of soul and body when hanging on the tree of Calvary as our Substitute. Dying for his people, “the just for the unjust,” he was identifying himself with us in all of our afflictions, according to 1 Peter 2:23-24; 3:18. What wondrous love, mercy, and condescension this was from our precious Savior!

Whatever trials we are facing today, let us learn anew that “in the faith” we must look beyond our present circumstances to a brighter day. Satan, our enemy and adversary, will not win in the end, so we are admonished: “Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:9-11).

“These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”
John Newton (Gadsby’s #295)

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