Comfort in Trials

“Madam, when you have come  to the other side of the water, and have set down your foot on the shore of glorious eternity, and look back again to the waters, and to the wearisome journey, and shall see in that clear glass of endless glory nearer to the bottom of God’s God’s wisdom, you shall then be forced to say, ‘If God had done otherwise with me than He has done, I would never have come to the enjoying of this crown of glory’.”

From the ‘Letters of Samuel Rutherford’, one of those who suffered greatly in Scottish Covenanting times for their stand for biblical principles, writing to another sufferer in the same persecution.

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The Peculiar Nature of Christian Longings.

The longings  of the christian are something which only the saved can understand. Here, the unbeliever is baffled. God’s ways are too high for the unbeliever to relate to. They can be, for a time, difficult even for the believer to understand. This applies especially in the  way God works to increase the  believer’s longings for Himself.

The fundamental thing about christian longings is that the enjoyment of these longings does not depend on the fulfillment of them. Hunger for food is a delight when there is a meal coming up; otherwise hunger can become torture. The christian’s longings will all be fully satisfied when he or she passes into His immediate presence of Christ at death, but just to have these longings here in this world is an unspeakable delight in itself. These longings are never as strong as we would like them to be, but are often so feeble that we feel ashamed, and humbled. But then their very feebleness generates another mark of true christian longings: a longing for more longing. Yes, the question the christian must ask himself or herself, is not, ‘Is  my longing for Christ sufficient?’, because it can never be sufficient while we are in this world, but, ‘Have I got a longing for more longing?’. This is something right outside normal human experience, but is a sure sign to the christian that he or she is truly RightWithGod.

To have this peculiarly christian kind of longing is not only a delight, but a strengthener of our faith, because those who have it know that it is something given to them by God, and something  which He gives only to His own true children. It is part of the ‘secret’ between themselves and God, and a sure sign that He has bound Himself to them in an everlasting and unbreakable covenant: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David (Isaiah 55:3).” David was a foreshadowing of Christ. The fact of a secret between us and God is not something which we, in our weakness, imagine, but a reality: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them  His covenant (Psalm 25:14)”.

Does God actively work in our lives in order to nourish and increase the longings that we  have for Himself? Yes He does, but again, not in the ways that we act if we sought to increase a loved one’s longing for us. We would buy flowers, give gifts, say nice things, write nice things and treat with tender love. God may sometimes bless us even beyond our asking; he is able to do that and will do it according to His sovereign will and wisdom, but sometimes He does it in the strangest way imaginable: by withdrawing the sense of His presence. We will look at that next time, but that will not be for two to three weeks. I am going to land far away, which I have never been to, in order to give a course of lectures to students of theology. Please remember me.

 

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Love for God

Before we go on to the peculiar longings of the christian, we must look at the nature of  christian happiness. The root and fountain of this happiness is love for God. It is a mark of maturity in our spiritual lives when we find in ourselves a true love  for God Himself, not just for what He has done for us in the gospel, but a love for God Himself. The natural man, in his unconverted state, can do many things by his own efforts in the way of reformation of character and conduct. In every person who is born again, born of God, there will be a reformation of character and conduct, yet,  reformation is not conversion. Reformation is a work of man, but  conversion is a result of the new birth: a work of God. The  main difference between the person who is born again and and the person who is not, is that the born again person is able, however feebly, and it is feebly at best, to truly and sincerely love God. This is something which the natural man cannot do.

Usually this love centres on God the Son, who came into this world as a man, and suffered and died on the cross in the place of  sinful human beings, in order to bring them into a relationship of love and friendship with God. He is our blessed Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, now ascended to the right hand of God the Father where He ever lives to represent us, or, as the bible says, ‘intercedes’ for us: “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25)”.

Sometimes this love centres on God the Father. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said to them, “After this manner therefore pray ye; ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’ Matthew 6:9”. One of many texts which indicate that there is now a special Father/child relationship between believers and God the Father. We may add Galatians 4: 4-6: “God sent forth His Son….to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God has sent forth the the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father’(same word in two different languages)”.

We have a very special relationship, of course, with the Holy Spirit. As soon as we are saved, He comes to dwell within us, applying to us the benefits of all that Christ has purchased for His people on the cross. Our bodies become the ‘temple’ (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit working within that enables us to love God.

This new love for God eventually develops into a love and adoration of God as triune, the great ‘Three in One’, the impenetrable mystery, which is beyond our finite minds to understand. However, that fact that we cannot understand the Trinity must not cause us to abandon meditation upon the wonder of the Trinity. We would be doing ourselves a great spiritual disservice if we did that. Christians ‘grow’ in the christian faith by meditation upon mysteries, such as the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ, the God/man, and the Three-in-One nature of the eternal God. These things feed and satisfy the born again soul, and lead to that greatest of human experiences: Love for God, and the enjoyment of Him.

We will get to the  longings which result from love for God next time,  if the Lord will.

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