Persecution: What the Future Holds – Owen Strachan

What the Future Holds by Owen Strachan | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015The fourth featured article in the August issue of Tabletalk on the theme of persecution is written by Dr. Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology and church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Dr. Strachan addresses “What the Future Holds” in his article, and he presents a very realistic picture of what Christians can expect in this country. He lays out four main points, all of which are worth reading and contemplating.

What I really appreciated, however, was the way in which Strachan closed out his thoughts. These words especially, it seems to me, are worth our careful pondering.

There will be no retreat of the church. We will never stop witnessing unto life. We will never cease to minister the gospel. We will not forget the holy Apostles. We remember how they welcomed the jail cell, the Roman prison ship, the hair-raising tribunal. In any and all settings, they preached Christ. They went so far as to believe that God had not only permitted such moments, but had appointed them for His glory (Acts 5:41). They saw suffering with Christ as a privilege, much as this challenges our material sensibilities. We must not forget that if the church is unsettled, it is not by accident. It is by divine design, and it will be used for divine purposes.

While we live, like the priests of old in fallen Jerusalem, we may weep (Ezra 3:11–13). We cannot forget the millions of babies driven into the afterlife at abortion clinics. We cannot erase the suffering felt in fatherless homes and families detonated by selfish sin and bitter divorce. We cannot help but think back to past days, happy days, that celebrated the good of religious people and did not seek their undoing. All these trends speak to fallenness. All of them deserve our tears.

We will weep. But we will also dry our eyes. We will rise to our feet. Whether in a gated community, a busy city, a tense workroom, a chilly playgroup, or a prison cell, we will never cease to speak and to minister the gospel. The gospel was not made for quiet days and easy questions. It was made for the toughest stuff, the worst of times, the hardest of circumstances.

What does the future hold? The future will bring suffering. The days will be evil, as they have been (Eph. 5:16). But the future is bright, because God is real. The church must take heart. We have a living Lord. When history concludes, we will reign with unbroken bodies in a world of love. We will worship the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the earth. There is no life like this life. There is no hope like this hope. There is no God like our God.

A History of Persecution – George Grant – August “Tabletalk”

A History of Persecution by George Grant | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015This month’s issue of Tabletalk centers on the theme of persecution – persecution against Christians and the Christian church.

The second main article on this subject covers the history of persecution, and is written by Dr. George Grant, pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN. I found this broad treatment to be profitable and provide you the link to it here on the Ligonier website.

Here are a few paragraphs from Grant’s article:

The horrific ruthlessness of ISIS, the brazen cruelty of Boko Haram, the obsessive repression of the North Korean Juche, the vicious terrorism of al-Qaeda—I confess that when confronted with the persecution of my Christian brothers and sisters around the world in recent days, I am shocked. But I know I shouldn’t be. Long ago, the Apostle Paul asserted, “All those who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). There is no way around it. Persecution is inevitable.

Throughout church history, believers have suffered persecution and obscurity. They have been beaten, ridiculed, defrocked, and defamed. They have suffered poverty, isolation, betrayal, and disgrace. They have been hounded, harassed, and murdered. The heroes of the faith have always been those who sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and reputations for the sake of the gospel. Indeed, persecution and martyrdom have been among the church’s highest callings and greatest honors.

In the first three centuries of the church, from Nero to Diocletian, Roman imperial and provincial persecutions were fierce. Tradition tells us of gladiators in the Colosseum, lions in the Circus Maximus, and staked pyres in the Forum as threatening the earliest believers. They were forced into a precarious, often secretive existence, living on the margins of society and meeting in catacombs, caverns, and copse (thicket of trees) hideaways. Yet they persevered. As Tertullian quipped, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

I also appreciated this section at the end of the article, where Grant treats how Christians must respond to persecution:

Merciful service in the face of suffering is “often the glue that holds together the varied fragments of the confessing church,” Romanian pastor Josef Tson says. It affords the church “strong bonds of unity, compassion, and tenderheartedness,” Russian evangelist Georgi Vins says. “In the face of tyranny, oppression, and humiliation, the church has no option but to be the church,” Croatian pastor Josep Kulacik asserts. “Disguised as evil, persecution comes to us as an ultimate manifestation of God’s good providence,” Bosnian Christian leader Frizof Gemielic says, “because it provokes us toward a new-found dependence upon His grace, upon His Word, and upon His people. It is in that sense a paradoxical blessing perhaps even more profound than prosperity.”

August “Tabletalk “: What Is Christian Persecution? Tom Ascol

What Is Christian Persecution? by Tom Ascol | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-August-2015This past weekend I began digging into the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries devotional magazine. While the daily devotions continue to take one through the wisdom literature of the Bible, focusing on the theme of worship, the featured articles are on the theme of persecution.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject with his editorial “Blessed are the Persecuted.” After pointing out that here in America opposition to Christians and the Christian faith is on a rapid rise, he encourages us with these words:

As Christians of conviction, we will continue to fight for our constitutional freedoms. Yet, in the final analysis, we must always remember that ultimately we fight not against men but against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). Ultimately, we fight on our knees, praying for all who are in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:2). We are citizens of our nations, and we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As such, we can pray for national leaders even when we must vote against them. We pray for the persecuted and for our persecutors. We love our enemies while praying for their defeat—their coming to the end of themselves in repentance and faith (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 4:12–13).

In the face of persecution, we must not lose hope. We must not fear our enemies but fear the Lord as we stand our ground in the battle ahead. Jesus told us we would be persecuted, but He also told us He has overcome the world (Matt. 5:10–12; John 16:33). Regardless of whether we ever die as martyrs for our faith, we are all witnesses of Christ. Though they may imprison us, shun us, despise us, or kill us, they can never really hurt us. For we conquer by dying—humbly dying to self that we may, under any persecution our Lord sovereignly allows, boldly proclaim Christ and Him crucified. And when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, not for being obnoxious, we can count ourselves blessed. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Christians are not so much in danger when they are persecuted as when they are admired.”

The first main article on persecution is by Dr. Tom Ascol and has the titled found above – “What Is Christian Persecution?” Here are a few of his profitable thoughts on this topic:

So, Christian persecution can include a wide variety of responses to believers—from scorn, hatred, and ridicule to physical violence, imprisonment, and death. But for such opposition, no matter how mild or severe, to be regarded as persecution in the biblical sense, it must be provoked by the believer’s devotion to Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

This helps make sense of Paul’s statement that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12) and Jesus’ promise that His followers will face persecution “for my sake and for the gospel” (Mark 10:29–30). Every Christian should expect to experience persecution, not all in the same way, but all for the same reason—because of uncompromising devotion to Jesus.

Our Lord experienced opposition. Hatred against Him led to His crucifixion. Those who follow Him must realize that by identifying with Jesus, we are inviting into our lives the very opposition that came against Him. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Followers of a persecuted master will themselves be persecuted. When we intentionally live according to the way of Christ, we can count on meeting opposition from those who hate Christ. Whether that opposition comes in severe forms of physical violence, imprisonment, and loss of life or in comparatively benign forms of a low grade on a school paper, loss of position on a sports team, or being mocked by family and friends, if it is provoked by submission to Christ and obedience to His commands, it is Christian persecution.

For the full article, use the Ligonier link above.

“Opposition to Him (Jesus) will inevitably touch us.” – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonTaken from chapter 44 of Sinclair Ferguson’s work In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, Kindle ed.). The chapter is about growing through persecution and suffering, and is titled “Growing Strong in the War Zone.” In it Ferguson references Peter’s first epistle, with its clear reminder to believers that to be a Christian means to suffer for Christ’s sake.

Suffering, he [Peter] underlined, is a basic element in the structure of the Christian life (1 Peter 4:12).

Faith is tested and proved genuine through trials ( 1 Peter 1:6-7). Like gold refined in a furnace, trials can cleanse and purify the Christian. The persecution that is intended to destroy you actually has the opposite effect – it makes you rely more on Christ and draws you to live closer to Him. The person who suffers in the flesh for Christ is the person who rejects the enticements of sin (1 Peter 4:1-2). When you have faced up to the cost of discipleship – socially, materially, even physically –  a new decisiveness enters into your lifestyle.

Suffering also provides the theater in which Christians demonstrate – by the radically different way they respond to opposition – that they belong to a counterculture or, better, to a Jesus culture. They submit to government, not for its own sake but the Lord’s ( 1 Peter 2:13). They submit even to harsh taskmasters because they want to follow in the steps of Christ, who left an example ( 1 Peter 2:18-21).

…Peter’s bottom line is this: don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12).

But how can twenty-first-century Christians in the Western world be un-surprised in times of suffering? We can do so only by being delivered from a faulty understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus was crucified by this world. To become a Christian by definition means to follow a cross-bearing Savior and Lord. It means to be identified with Him in such a way that opposition to Him will inevitably touch us.

Paul said that he bore on his body the marks of Jesus (Gal.6:17). So perhaps we should ask [These lines are taken from a poem written by Amy Carmichael.]:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned Me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

Are you are marked man or woman?

Premillennialism, Revelation 20, and the Great Tribulation – D.J. Engelsma

Also in the March 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer,under the rubric “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass”, Prof. (emeritus, PRC Seminary) David J. Engelsma delves deeper into the errors of premillennialism by taking on its explanation of Revelation 20, a key passage for a proper understanding of the doctrine of the last things (eschatology) and the believer’s hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Among the serious errors that Engelsma addresses in this article is the error of teaching that the NT church (Christians) will avoid the “great tribulation” (trial of persecution) at the end of this age. Properly showing how dangerous this is to the life and hope of the believer, Engelsma makes these comments – comments that ought to alert us to our true hope of the one coming of Christafter the tribulation – indeed, to deliver His own out of the midst of this fierce battle with its great personal cost.

Let every Reformed, indeed Protestant, reader take note that premillennialism has the coming great tribulation fall upon the Jews.  We Christians will be exempt, for we, of course, are supposed to be in the air somewhere or other while the tribulation rages.  All Christians will have been raptured before Antichrist rampages on the stage of world history.

…This exemption of the church and the Christian from the persecution of Antichrist is an outstanding sin of premillennial doctrine.  The sin is eminently practical.  Premillennialism does not prepare God’s people for the looming threat of persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of the antichristian world-power.  In this respect, premillennialism is one with postmillennialism.  Both of the millennial errors assure the church of the 21st century that she has nothing to fear, or prepare for, with regard to suffering the great tribulation.  Premil-lennialism tells the church that she will be raptured prior to Antichrist’s raging in the world, and that the object of his hatred will be the Jews.  Postmillennialism preaches to the church that, whoever the Antichrist was and whenever he carried out his antichristian work, Antichrist and his fulminations are safely in the past.

     Exempting the church from the persecution by Antichrist helps explain the popularity of the two millennial errors.  Humans shrink from persecution, especially from that persecution about which our Lord said, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

     Nevertheless, this is altogether the wrong attitude of Reformed Christians with regard to the coming persecution.  The believer should regard it an unspeakably great privilege to be counted worthy by the Savior to confess that Jesus is Lord in the face of the greatest attack on God and His Anointed in all history, and to seal this confession with his suffering and even with his blood.  And the divine reward for this spiritual battle against the beast and this faithfulness to Jesus will be correspondingly great.  This reward is described in Revelation 20:4-6:  resurrection in the soul at the moment of death into the life and glory of heaven, where they reign with Christ.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 140

Psalm 140As we get ready to meet the Lord in His holy house this day of rest and worship, we consider the Word of God in Psalm 140. This prayer-song is attributed to David and my study Bible adds the heading, “David prays to be delivered from Saul and Doeg.” It may be that this psalm was written during that period in David’s life, but we do not know for sure.

What is certain is that David was in the midst of severe persecution, suffering the violence of wicked people who sought his destruction. Through both words and actions these proud and wicked men were trying to overthrow him. In the midst of these circumstances David cast himself upon his God in prayer.

Psalm 140

Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man;

Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.

They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah.

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings.

The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me. Selah.

I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord.

O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.

Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked: further not his wicked device; lestthey exalt themselves. Selah.

As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.

10 Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again.

11 Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.

12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.

13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.

Psalm 140 is a faithful reminder to us as believers and as the church of Jesus Christ that this present life is one of spiritual battle and suffering for the cause of Christ. We have heard this message in many other previous psalms, but here once again we are given notice that we can expect to suffer persecution in this world. Those who trust in Christ are marked people, and the wicked who surround us hate our Lord and therefore hate us who follow Him.

The wicked devices which these hateful and proud sinners use are no different from the time of David. Still today violent men imagine mischiefs in their heart and gather together for war against God’s people (v.2). Still today they sharpen their tongues like serpents, slandering the saints at every opportunity (v.3). Still today they purpose to overthrow the church and lay traps to bring her to ruin (vss.4-5).

Do we recognize these actions of the wicked? Or have we forgotten the battle we are in and laid down our weapons? Have we become too friendly with the ungodly so that they count us as one of their own and leave us alone? Let David’s potent words remind us of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged! Let us take the shield of faith into the battle, showing plainly on Whose side we are aligned and in Whose name we fight the good fight (Eph.6:10ff.)!

But again we also note that when God’s people are surrounded by wicked enemies and abused in their proud hatred, they present themselves to the Lord and cry out to Him in their need. Thus did David here, at the outset: “Deliver me, O LORD…; preserve me….” That he did only because he believed that God was sovereign over these wicked men and over all their evil. If he did not hold to that firmly, he never would have taken this burden of persecution to the Lord. But he knew that these enemies of the church were also in the Lord’s hands, not being able to move or speak without the Lord’s will.

And, you will notice, he also knew that this God was his God, the strength of His salvation, His Shield and Defender (vss.6-7). God had saved him from his sin in His mercy and grace in Christ and brought him to His side – in covenant fellowship and for battle! David was confident that this “for-him” and “with-him” God would maintain this afflicted man’s cause and this poor man’s right (v.12).

And so he brought his supplications to the feet of the throne of sovereignty and sovereign grace, the throne of his heavenly Father. And, yes, he besought the Lord for deliverance and preservation (vss.1-4), as we must too. Of course! While we know we will suffer for the cause of God in this world, we do not want to be overcome. We do not want the wicked to triumph and boast against the Lord of their victories. We do not want to give in to their evil devices and hurt the cause of our Lord. And so we pray earnestly for conquest and keeping.

Yet note that David also prays for more in the face of these foes. He also asks that God will turn the evil of the wicked on their own head, that they will be judged by God and thrown into hell (vss.9-11)! This is considered harsh and un-Christian in our day. Such imprecations (calls for cursing) are said to be part of OT times but not befitting the NT age of the church. But this is wrong. Did not our Lord teach us a parable about seeking the heavenly Judge for vindication (Luke 18:1-8)? And does not the fifth seal of Rev.6 reveal the rightness of such prayers for divine vengeance (vss.9-10)?

Yes, of course, we pray these petitions carefully, not flippantly, and with the proper attitude (see Ps.139:19-22).  But we may and must pray them. And as the end gets nearer and persecution increases, such supplications will also more and more be part of our prayers to the Lord.

Finally, let us notice that David also ends on the theme of thanksgiving to and certain hope in the God of his salvation, v.13. He had no doubt about the outcome of his battles and the great war of the ages. God was and is the Victor. And we may know that even more certainly, as we stand in the victories of our triumphant Savior, Jesus Christ. Through our crucified, risen, ascended, seated and soon-coming Lord we are more than conquerors over all evil and evil men. So we too in the absolute certainty of being in our Savior’s presence someday give thanks to His Name.  Is that not also why we worship Him this day?

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 140 through music, I encourage you to listen to some versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Deliver me from evil,
Preserve me, Lord, from wrong;
Against the foes that gather
Be Thou my helper strong.
From those who plot to hurt me
And spread their treacherous snare
Preserve me, Lord, and keep me
Safeguarded in Thy care.

2. O Lord, I have confessed Thee
To be my God alone;
O hear my supplication
And be Thy mercy shown;
O God the Lord, my Saviour,
My shield amid the strife,
Let not the wicked triumph
Who plot against my life.

3. Let evil smite the evil
And cause their overthrow;
The needy and afflicted
The Lord will help, I know;
Thy saints, redeemed from evil,
Their thanks to Thee shall give;
The righteous and the upright
Shall in Thy presence live.

Thousands Flee as Terrorists Take Over Iraq’s Christian Heartland – Gleanings

Thousands Flee as Terrorists Take Over Iraq’s Christian Heartland | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com.

Persecuted church - Heb13In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding the renewed, radical Muslim advances in Iraq and the peace we enjoy in our own country we sometimes forget that there is a long-standing Christian presence in Iraq and that these Christians are suffering greatly for their faith.

Christianity Today’s “Gleanings” section (“Important Developments in the Church and the World”) recently carried this story (June 16, 2014) and it ought to have our attention.

May we remember to pray for these persecuted believers (see the image here), as well as for the entire persecuted body of Christ throughout the world.

Thousands of Christians have fled Iraq’s second-largest city as an Islamist terror group solidifies its control over Christianity’s main remaining stronghold in the struggling nation.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an Iraq and Syria-based Sunni offshoot of al-Qaeda, took over Mosul (pop. 1.8 million) earlier this month, the BBC reports.

Most of Mosul’s remaining Christian population of 3,000 fled for safer areas, according to World Watch Monitor.

…”Things are so bad now in Iraq, the worst they have ever been,” writes Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. “The Islamic terrorists have taken control of the whole of Mosul which is Nineveh the main Christian stronghold. The army [has] even fled. We urgently need help and support. … We are in a desperate crisis.”

J.Calvin on Psalm 119:157 – “…We rather begin to howl among the wolves.”

Calvin PreachingAlso for our meditation on Psalm 119:153-160 today we provide these comments of John Calvin on v.157, which provide us with much food for thought on this Lord’s Day of rest as well as throughout this coming week of work and spiritual battle in this world. May God use it for our spiritual encouragement.

157. My persecutors and oppressors are many.

The Psalmist here as in other places testifies, that although he had been provoked by many injuries, yet he had not departed from the right way; which, as I have elsewhere observed, was an evidence of great and singular constancy. It is an easy matter to act well when we are among the good; but if wicked men afflict us, if one man openly assault us by force, if another rob us of our property, if a third circumvent us by wiles, and a fourth attack us by calumnies, it is difficult for us to persevere in our integrity, and we rather begin to howl among the wolves. Besides, the license which is allowed them of doing what they please without the fear of being punished, is a powerful engine for shaking our faith, because, when God thus winks at the wicked, he seems to abandon us for a prey.

The Prophet therefore, by God’s testimonies, means not only the rule of holy and righteous living, but also the promises. Lord, as if he had said, I have not turned away from the path of integrity, although the conduct of the wicked has presented me with a temptation to do so; nor have I shaken off nay confidence in thy grace, but have waited patiently for thy succor. Both these are necessary. For although he who has suffered wrongs may contend against the malice of his enemies by his well — doing, and may refrain from every act of retaliation, yet, provided he does not depend wholly upon God, this uprightness will not be sufficient to save him.

Not that any man behaves himself in a manner so moderate, except he who leans upon God and waits upon him as his deliverer; but granting that such could be the ease, there would not be sufficient power in this half virtue to save him. The salvation of God is reserved for the faithful who ask it in the exercise of lively faith. And whoever, persuaded that God will be his deliverer, pillars and supports his mind on the divine promises, will endeavor also to overcome evil with good.

Sunday Worship Preparation: Psalm 119t (Resh)

Psalm119tFor our worship preparation this Lord’s Day we consider the next section (the twentieth) of Psalm 119, which consists of verses 153-160. This stanza in the psalmist’s love-song on the Law-Giver and His law is headed by the transliterated Hebrew word “Resh”, since the eight lines in this section all begin with this Hebrew letter (comparable to our “r”). As we meditate on this part of Psalm 119, may we consciously apply these words to our worship of our Triune God and Father this day. Here is the Word of God which we love in this place:

RESH.

153 Consider mine affliction, and deliver me: for I do not forget thy law.

154 Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word.

155 Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.

156 Great are thy tender mercies, O Lord: quicken me according to thy judgments.

157 Many are my persecutors and mine enemies; yet do I not decline from thy testimonies.

158 I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word.

159 Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness.

160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

What we notice at the outset here is that the psalmist’s suffering and persecution are on the foreground. He speaks of “his affliction” (misery, poverty), which we know at this point from the rest of the psalm is the pain of being pressed by wicked law-breakers, especially because he is a law-keeper (vss.153, 157, 159). Notice how in v.157 he states that these wicked persecutors and enemies are “many”! Not merely a handful were opposing him in his Christian life, but many were opposing him and seeking to bring him down. Many were trying to lead him out of his love and liberty of God’s law into the bondage of sin and enmity against God.

Do we also feel that pressure of the unbelieving world about us? Do we bear the reproach of Christ because we are law-abiding citizens in God’s kingdom?

But by the power of God’s grace he was resisting and holding firm to God and His way of life. The love of God for him was his strength in abiding in love for God and His Word. He had not forgotten God’s law (v.153). He had not declined from His testimonies (v.157). He knows how true and righteous God’s law is (v.160). God’s Word is reliable and faithful, and he has depended on it for all his needs. He even asks God to “consider” (see, perceive, inspect) his love for His precepts. And by the power of this divine love the psalmist even expressed love for his enemies (out of supreme love for God!). Note vss.155 and 158: as he beheld these transgressors, he realized that salvation was far from them because they did not seek God’s statutes; he was grieved deeply because they did not keep God’s Word. He had pity on them – and no doubt prayed for them!

Do we have the same attitude toward our enemies and God’s? Or do we simply turn our backs on them? That is easy to do, but it is not the way of love for God or our neighbor. Their rebellion and reproach should turn into our pity and prayers.

Finally. notice once again too the psalmist’s earnest prayers to the Lord. I count eight (8) petitions in these eight verses. That reveals that while he was committed to God and His way, he was also deeply conscious of the difficulty of that way. He knew well the power of the enemy and the weakness of his own flesh.Though faithful, he dared not trust himself.  Besides, he also knew the Lord’s tender mercies to him in Christ (v.156). And so he casts himself on the Lord. “Consider mine affliction, and deliver me! Plead my cause (as my defense Lawyer), and deliver me!” And three times he prays for quickening (making alive, renewal). Why that request so often? Because he knew the deadness of his sinful nature and sensed his spiritual life waning under the pressure of persecution. He needed and wanted the revival of his new life in Christ. “Quicken me!”

Are these also our petitions? Are we keenly aware of our own insufficiency to stand in this battle against law-breaking and for law-keeping? Or have we become too self-confident, too casual, too careless in the battle? Then we are destined to cave in to the wicked’s pressure. Then we will collapse spiritually and fail to love God and His Word as we ought. But let us realize the strength of the foe, the weakness of ourselves – and the God of our salvation – and pray to Him for grace to withstand and to stand! Then the psalmist’s testimony will be ours.

Psalter1912If you wish to reflect on the wisdom of this Word of God through music, you are encouraged to make use of our Psalter and this versification of this 20th stanza of Psalm 119. Here are the lyrics; you will find the piano accompaniment at the link provided.

1. Regard my grief and rescue me,
For I do not forget Thy laws;
As Thou hast promised, save me, Lord;
Redeem my soul, and plead my cause.

2. Far is salvation from the men
Who do not seek Thy statutes, Lord;
Great are Thy mercies, quicken me
According to Thy holy word.

3. I bear the spite of many foes,
Yet from Thy law I do not swerve;
I saw the faithless and was grieved,
For they Thy word do not observe.

4. Behold how I Thy precepts love!
In kindness, Lord, revive Thou me;
The sum of all Thy word is truth,
Thy word abides eternally.

Sunday Worship Preparation: Psalm 119p (Ain)

Psalm119pAs we continue to use the books of Psalms, and specifically Psalm 119 at present, for our worship preparation on the Lord’s Days, we come to the sixteenth (16th) section of this precious psalm. This stanza, covering vss.121-128, is headed by the Hebrew letter “Ain” of “Ayin” (a silent sound, though formed in the back of the throat), because in this acrostic psalm each verse of this stanza begins with this letter. As we prepare to worship our sovereign King, let us meditate on these verses, hiding them in our hearts:

AIN.

121 I have done judgment and justice: leave me not to mine oppressors.

122 Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.

123 Mine eyes fail for thy salvation, and for the word of thy righteousness.

124 Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy, and teach me thy statutes.

125 I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies.

126 It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law.

127 Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.

128 Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.

As we look at this Word of God through the inspired psalmist, we see immediately on the foreground the persecution he was facing. This time he refers to the wicked as “oppressors” (vss.121,122). They were pressing down on him, pressuring him to conform to their proud ways and follow the path of voiding (breaking) God’s law  (v.126). This is always the way of proud sinners. They  (we, by nature!) do not want God and His law to rule us, so we try to make it void. Proudly we break every commandment. And because such lawless sinners love company, they pressure other people to join us in breaking God’s precepts. We see this so plainly in our society today.

But God’s grace makes us different! Grace made this psalmist different from these proud oppressors. By grace alone he stood up to this pressure and stayed conformed to God and His law. He did judgment and justice (v.121); he loved God’s commandments above gold (and the favor of men, v.127); he esteemed God’s precepts to be right in every way and hated every way of falsehood (v.128). He was determined to stay faithful to his God and love Him and His testimonies through all the persecution. That is a strong faith. That is a powerful obedience. That is the mark of a child of God. That, my friends, is a testimony to the amazing work of God in His people. Do we know this work? Is it evident in our lives? Are we also so determined in the face of the pressure we feel day in and day out?

But we see again here a humble child of God. Full of love for his God; sure of his stand on God’s law; determined as ever to keep God’s ways. O, yes! But, not self-reliant. Not Mr. “I-can-do-this-alone-now-that-I-am-saved”. No, he is humble, acknowledging his reliance on God and His grace alone. Notice how he expresses this in this section. Immediately after pointing out the hardship of facing the world’s pressure he cries out, “Mine eyes fail for thy salvation!” (v.123). That’s simply another way of saying, “I need Thy grace, Lord!” Here is a God-centered, Christ-focused, grace-reliant child of God. Are you and am I, as we stand surrounded by proud sinners? Are we standing on self, or on God? We will not last very long in the battle for God’s law if we are standing on self. God and His grace are what we need.

And then too, note his humble prayers. Taking the position of a servant (vss.124,125), he seeks the Lord for mercy (he is a sinner yet in need of forgiveness) and for understanding to know God’s law in his own heart so as to be able to keep them in his own life. Prayer – what a simple yet powerful means to maintain our walk of faith and obedience! Have we sought the Lord at the throne of grace yet today? Will we before we enter His courts of praise and prayer? Are we conscious of the battle before us, even on this day of rest? The oppressors about us will not be stopping their pressure on us today. So, as God’s servants, we had better not stop fighting for God’s ways and praying for grace!

In that way we will also find rest for our souls. Christ, our Rest-Giver, is waiting for us to come to Him (Matt.11:28-30).

For those who wish to meditate on this section of Psalm 119 through music, I point you to this versification found in the Psalter used for worship in the PRC. The lyrics are posted below; piano accompaniment may be found at the link provided.

1. I have followed truth and justice;
Leave me not in deep distress;
Be my help and my protection,
Let the proud no more oppress.
For Thy word and Thy salvation,
Lord, my eyes with longing fail;
Teach Thy statutes to Thy servants,
Let Thy mercy now prevail.

2. I am Thine, O give me wisdom,
Make me know Thy truth, I pray;
Sinners have despised Thy statutes;
Now, O Lord, Thy power display.
Lord, I love Thy good commandments
And esteem them more than gold;
All Thy precepts are most righteous;
Hating sin, to these I hold.

And, for those who love the old Dutch psalms, I also include this video of a Dutch choir singing a versification based on three verses of Psalm 119.