James 4:7-10 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
A minister came to see me recently. He was suffering from fatigue, and he was entertaining that familiar thought, which ministers sometimes have, that his congregation was being restricted by his own lack of ability. He felt he had brought them as far as he was able, and now it was time for someone else to lead the church further. I asked him if the church were saying that to him, and he told me they were not, though not everyone in the congregation was enthusiastic about his ministry.
Such pastors think the Word of God is being hindered in what it should be doing in the church because of their own “slender apparatus” – as Spurgeon quaintly refers to limited ministerial resources. They play with the matter of moving on and another wagon-master leading these pilgrims through the next stage of the journey.
My initial counsel is to remind men of the apostle’s oft-repeated counsel in I Corinthians 7, “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches” (see vv.17, 20, and.24). One should not lightly throw off a divine vocation. It might have been just three years ago you were telling the world that you believed God was calling you to that congregation. “But now I discover I am ill-equipped!” you say. The treasure is always in earthen vessels. Love the people! Open up and apply the Bible according to your own light and knowledge. Then even the most discerning Christians will grow more mature and will have cause to bless the Lord for their pastor. Thank God that pulpits are full of ministers who, while they have been given only two talents, have been faithful in their stewardship, and today God is in the process of giving them two more. What useful ministries they are having, and how fragrant are their memories.
This minister also had another problem: he looked at his own life and then he considered what was required of a leader in the church in the book of Acts, in the pastoral epistles, and by the example of Christ. The gulf between what he was and what he should be was sapping all his confidence in his calling. “I just feel I’m not a minister,” he said. But no one can survive in the ministry with the absence of such feelings of inadequacy. Once we start thinking that we have become Christ like and on top of the job then we are done for. Our feelings of self-sufficiency will destroy us. Every preacher begins each new year at this point, with a feeling of his own inconsistency, and a sense of amazement that he is still a pastor. He thanks God for veiling his true condition from the people. He knows that if it were possible to project on a screen behind the pulpit his thoughts, imaginations, words and deeds then the watching church would be aghast. When he hears of the fall of a friend in the ministry his first thought is, “There but for the grace of God go I.” How much do ministers owe to this sense of their own impoverishment ? Everything! It drives them to the strength of Christ again and again. It keep them hanging on to him, sometimes, it seems, by their fingertips.
What other advice does one give to those who feel how great is the gulf between how they actually live and how they should be living ? I’m saying that every single Christian feels like that. This is where Satan’s attacks are sharpest:- “You call yourself a Christian while behaving like that ?” James in this section is dealing with distinctive Christian living. He is warning us never to become a friend of the world. “I know that,” you say, “and they describe my problem, just how far I fall short of Christian living. I see the chasm between myself and how a real Christian ought to be living.” But you don’t remain at that point, do you ? That is the end of all hope if we simply acquiesce in our failures. We don’t give in and cry, “Woe!” as we write our letter of resignation. The ordinary Christian is a supernatural person in Christ. Is he not a partaker of the divine nature? Does he not have unfailing access to the indwelling Lord? Is he not being kept by a Saviour’s intercession? Is he not able to do all the things God asks of him through the Christ who strengthens him? Aren’t our expectations to be, “I can be more than a mere conqueror.” He can come through the conflict stronger, loaded with the spoils of victory through the One who loves him. These aren’t mere words are they? This is the reality of Christian experience. It’s the privilege of the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ, let alone those called to be ministers of the gospel. I say we are never simply to accept our weaknesses.
In this section of the letter James gives us a series of exhortations that tell us how to shake off discouragement, and really overcome the world. Not think or dream about it, but actually to do it. There is no way we can live useful and happy lives while ignoring these counsels of the Word of God. Here were people living at a time of enormous vitality in the Christian faith, and like us, surrounded by a vast pagan and even anti-Christian mission-field. Most did not have the luxury of the preacher of moving on to greener pastures. How were they to live so that they overcame the world? The first thing James tells them to do is this:-
1. Submit yourselves to God. (v.7)
You are God’s servant, and you are never to forget that. You will never be more than a servant, even in heaven. We will serve God for ever. Servants frequently do wearisome tasks, because much of our lives is humdrum. We get form letters sent to us each Christmas, and one thing we notice is how similar are the stories of the years which every individual family recounts. Our lives are stories of little changes, and of duties done in routine. Shuffle one family’s letters and it would be hard to arrange them in sequence, except for the occasional births or marriages. If Mary of Nazareth had sent out a form letter at the end of each year how little she would have had to report. The children were growing, and while some of them had got married Jesus was a dutiful son who kept them all sane (!). He was still living at home “and Joseph says he couldn’t cope without him.” That would be Mary’s perspective. Luke tells us that Jesus “went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). Though he were the Son of God he was submissive to imperfect parents.
That is the first lesson we all have to learn, We do not have our own agendas. A servant has the one great task of discovering what his master wants and then doing it. We are not perplexed as to what our Lord requires of us day by day. He has made the programme spectacularly clear in the Bible. God is secretly at work transforming us into the image of his Son. We have been given a new nature, and now we bring every part of our lives under the sway of God, “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor.7:1). We are going to be changed. Change is not easy and it is often painful. That is why many professing Christians will look for a church that suits them, which confirms and rearranges their own prejudices, and will let them go on through life just as they are. An advertising campaign for the American Unitarian Church in the eighties announced, “Now I have found a church that suits me!” The true Christian can never be satisfied with that. He is looking for a church which suits God. He will change himself to please his Lord.
The well known verse of Paul’s, in 2 Timothy 3:16, declares that the Scriptures are useful for four essential aspects of Christian living. For example, for teaching, “Teach me!” cries the disciple – he doesn’t want to go on at kindergarten level. Scripture is also useful for rebuking. “Point out my disobedience to me and rebuke me!” cries the Christian. He doesn’t want to live one minute longer clinging to sins his Lord deplores. The Scripture is useful for correcting. “Correct me!” pleads the servant. If there are attitudes, views and beliefs which are inconsistent with his Saviour’s will then he wants to be corrected. The Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. “Would you train me?” the Christian asks his mighty Maker. The true Christian hungers and thirsts after righteousness, and God trains us to live like that. So the Christian life is one of submission to the will of God as found in Scripture.
It is also one of submission to God as he deals with us in his providence. Sometimes God sends a host of trials into our lives. There was a time in the life of the apostle Paul when he was hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. And all this is by the will of his loving Father in heaven. What was Paul to do? Submit himself to God.
Richard Cameron was a leader of the Scottish Covenantors who refused to desist meeting for worship with other dissenting Presbyterians during persecution times in the seventeenth century. In 1680 he was arrested and cruelly executed. His head and hands were cut off to be paraded on the Netherbow Port in Edinburgh, but before that, they were taken in a sack to a castle dungeon where his father Alan Cameron was incarcerated. They were shaken out upon the floor at the old man’s feet and the father was asked, “Do you know them?” His son’s hands and hair were fair like his own. He kissed them, saying, “I know them. I know them. They are my own dear son’s. It is the Lord. Good is the will of the Lord who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.” That is a glimpse of the Christian life, in its submission to God.
Jonathan Edwards talks of heaven as a world of knowledge, and we often say that there will be no eternal perplexities in heaven, and that is true – nothing in the place of glory will disturb our peace or enjoyment of God. But will there not be inscrutable mysteries even in heaven? Will we not cry out there, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)? I wonder whether we will have explained to us the entire will of God in his dealings with us? Our submission to God is not dependent on having our questions answered, but on the fact that he is Almighty God, and through our sin we have forfeited every right to have an explanation for his providences.
2. Resist the Devil and He Will Flee from You
Could it be that it is the devil who is making you feel dissatisfied and complaining about your providence? Could the origin of your restlessness be Satanic? Could your excuses for your lack of taste for spiritual things, your disaffiliation from the congregation of God’s people, your detachment from Christian work, your prayerlessness, you lack of study of the Bible – could a lot of that be due not to the preacher or the church members or to stress at work or ill health but rather to “the devil’s schemes” (Ephs. 6:11). I suppose during the last forty years we preachers, who have come under the influence of Puritan and historic theology, have stressed that it is with remaining sin that the Christian is fighting. We have judged those whose overwhelming emphasis is upon the battle with Satan and demons to be neglecting a far subtler foe within. Indeed we have been disturbed to hear that some Christians have been told that what is wrong with them was an attack of demons. In fact their condition was a result of their own sinful behaviour, and instead of this being dealt with they were solemnly informed it was one of demonic possession. When they became subjects of crude and futile attempts to exorcise the spirit their difficulties increased. When those efforts failed they felt their case to be hopeless and their futures bleak. They began to view themselves as victims rather than guilty sinners. There are times when the bizarre behaviour of a minister is due to his marital unfaithfulness which he is covering with a smoke screen of ‘a breakdown’ or ‘stress’ or ‘satanic attack.’ So always our first emphasis in dealing with the struggles of Christians is to enlighten them about the battle with remaining sin.
Yet we do not forget the other warfare. Paul ends his magisterial letter to the Ephesians with an exhortation to “take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephs. 6:11), and he proceeds to give them this comprehensive and extraordinary rationale, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephs.6:12). The devil is called Apollyon, the angel of the bottomless pit, and the god of this world. Look at this dark century as it draws to a close, is there not something satanic about the pattern of atrocities and cruelties which have marched down the decades? We would feel ourselves overwhelmed, were it not for the entire armour of God to protect us against such a relentless enemy. It was a warfare Paul knew – “our struggle” he says, standing in solidarity with the Ephesian Christians against the devil’s attacks. He writes of how Satan ‘hindered’ his plans. Wasn’t Peter warned by the Lord that Satan ‘had’ him, and that the disciple had to watch and pray in order to survive. When Peter ignored Jesus’ warning down he fell. “The devil is coming to you,” James says. You can guarantee it. He blinds the eyes of those who do not believe and lets them wander about in the darkness, and then he can turn his attention upon believers. You can guarantee one thing about this new year, that during it there will come times when Satan will come to trouble you just as he did last year.
So what are we to do? “Resist the devil!” This refers to a mind set. The Christian has joined the resistance. An alien power has come into our Father’s world and taken it over, but we are going to resist it. When the Germans invaded and conquered Holland the pastors had to be advised how they were to respond. Dr Klaas Schilder wrote about this in his editorials in “The Reformation” and he told counselled them not to preach about the Nazis and the problems they were causing every single Sunday. However, they were not to ignore them, for example, if they were preaching on the first commandment then they would have to deal with other gods. But they would most effectively resist the evils of Hitler by worshipping the true Lord, and declaring the beauty and peace of his reign. So it is with our resistance to the devil. It will be counterproductive if we spend sermon after sermon preaching on Satan. We would be giving him the oxygen of publicity. How much time is spent in the New Testament letters speaking about him? Very little. You serve the resistance best by speaking much of the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom. For you to live is Christ. All that thrills our souls is Jesus. How is a man best prepared to resist the temptation to leave his wife? He fills his mind with her. He loves her as Christ loves the church. He would lay down his life for her. So you resist the devil by making much of Christ. You resist every effort to leave him as your first love. At a Bible College a teacher gave the students a test in which they had to write a paper on this subject of Jesus Christ and the devil, half an hour on each subject. One student wrote on and on about the Lord Christ finally adding a sentence at the close of his paper, “I have no time for the devil.” That is the solution. Make much of Christ. Think of those familiar words of John Bode in his hymn, “O Jesus I have promised to serve Thee to the end.” He cries:
“O let me feel Thee near me; the world is ever near; I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.
By looking unto Jesus we resist these strong temptations. There were occasions as Martin Luther was translating the Bible into the German language, when he felt the nearness of the devil, once when seeing a most beautiful figure – as we would imagine Jesus to be. Luther, at those times, instinctively threw his inkwell at Satan (who can come as an angel of light), and the mark on the wall is still shown to visitors to the Wartburg fortress. Luther knew his duty of resisting the devil.
But you see there is a promise added to this command. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It is a tremendously encouraging promise. Here is this fourteen year-old Christian girl, and the gates of hell want to destroy her. But if she resists the devil it is not that she’ll escape by the skin of her teeth. That is the theme of modern horror stories – mayhem and scarred people left in the havoc of demonic intrusion. The Bible tells us we are “more than conquerors through our Jesus Christ.” This little girl doesn’t give an inch to Satan and the result is he runs away from a child who is joined to God with bands of unbreakable grace. Satan can do nothing without her consent. Does he know what is going on inside her heart and mind? Not one thing. He is well organised but he is ignorant. This little believer knows far more of the devil than the devil knows of her. In Christ she brings omnipotence against him. If she resists him he will flee looking for some easier work to do. Charles Wesley sings,
“Jesus’ tremendous Name puts all our foes to flight:
Jesus the meek, the angry Lamb, a Lion is in fight.”
3. Come Near to God and He will Come Near to You.
How do we overcome the world? This is the third counsel, “Come near to God.” “But God is everywhere,” someone says, “so how can I come near him?” If you keep him at a distance, steadily ignoring him day by day, he won’t be close to you as a familiar and loved one would be. There was a even a particular congregation, and the Lord Jesus was outside it, knocking for entrance. There is a hymn in which William Cowper sighs, “O for a closer walk with God.” He was conscious of a time when he had been nearer to God. Reckon on this, that you can come near to God. The Lord Christ says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst.” Go to the fellowship of his true people, and there you will find him. Listen to his word being preached, and there you will find him. Sit under the best ministry you can find. Go to his table and he is shown forth in the bread and wine. Enter a quiet room, close the door, kneel before him and pray in Jesus’ name, and you will find him. Whatever you do, do it for God’s glory and with all your might, and as you do it he will be with you – that is how you come near to God. Lift your heart up to him in faith, as you walk, or drive, or fly, or lie on a hospital bed in great weakness and breathe the word, “Jesus.” When temptations are strong and the pull of the world is powerful, come near to God.
You see a promise again attached to this command, “and he will come near to you.” How often had James gone with his family to Jerusalem and visited the temple and the house where Annas and Caiaphas the high priests lived. But though he stood in the street near to them, they never came out and visited him. Last month I went to the Westminster Conference as I do every December. I got out of the tube at Green Park and walked along the paths, under the trees with my friends until we got to Buckingham Palace. The flag was flying to indicate that her Majesty was in residence. We stood at the railings and looked at the building. She was there in one of those rooms behind a curtained window. We were so near to her, but she was no nearer to us than when I am in Aberystwyth. We saw no sign at all of Queen Elizabeth II. But when we draw near to God then he comes near to us – he who sustains everything! He upholds the Milky Way and a million galaxies like it. He is God of the angelic hosts. He is satisfying the desires of every living thing. He is attending to the voices of supplication that ascend from ten thousand hearts, but when we draw near to him in Jesus’ name, then he addresses himself to us as though there were nothing else in all heaven but ourselves. He gives himself wholly to us; his eyes are upon us; his ears attentive; his mind conscious of what our needs truly are and what is the most honourable way of meeting them. Though we feel the room is like refrigerator, and our hearts are like stone, he comes near to us. “We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,” and where we are there he will be.
Thomas Chalmers made it his first duty on rising each morning to appropriate for himself God the Son, his great High Priest. A man will make an appointment to meet with his lawyer because things are so important he must talk with him face to face. A woman will go to a hospital and have a consultation with a leading specialist. They will leave those places stronger from the personal counsels they have received from an audience with men of authority. So it is whenever we meet with the Lord Jesus Christ. We leave his presence holier, stronger, more motivated people. We have left the shadowlands of much of our living, and we have come to Ultimate Reality. Our priorities are clearer, our vision more focused, our hearts warmer, and the flesh is weaker. Because God, to whom we are heading, and with whom we are going to spend our eternity, has come near to us.
4. Get Clean
The fourth thing that James says is, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v.8). Are not these Christians washed already? Have they not been to the laver of Golgotha? Were they not made painfully aware by the Holy Spirit of their defilement and then pointed to the fountain God has opened for sin and uncleanness on Calvary? Have they not known that, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains?” Have they not cried, “Foul I to that fountain fly. Wash me Saviour or I die”? Nothing in all the universe can keep a favoured sinner burdened by his own guilt and shame, and told of the washing away of all those sins in Jesus’ blood, from availing himself by faith of that cleansing. Henceforth his testimony will be,
“I know a fount where sins are washed away.
I know a place where night is turned to day.
Burdens are lifted,
Blind eyes made to see,
There’s a wonder-working power
In the blood of Calvary.”
That is the place the Christian life begins. The Christian is a washed man. A Christian is a cleansed man. He is as much that as he is justified, forgiven and adopted into the family of God. That is not the status of the favoured Christian. That is the status of the mere Christian, the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ has been dipped into that stream which washes and makes him whiter than wool. It is the lie of Satan that would say after every fall, “But not you.” Every Christian sins. And every Christian has been washed. Conscience will tell us we are awful failures. The devil says that we might as well give up. There is no hope. But we must never despair. God will pick us up again. The writer of the Proverbs fell into a sin. Sad. But he fell again. Very sad. Again he fell, and again, and again. Twice more he fell. Seven times in all he fell, but each time God picked him up. He said “though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Prov. 24:16). You think, “What kind of religion is this that God keeps washing us of our sins? It is a religion that encourages license – ‘let us sin that grace may abound.'” No it does not! Golgotha will not let you. Where would anyone be if it were only for past sins there were cleansing? Where sin abounds grace much more abounds. The cross of Christ cleanses us from all our past sins, and all our present sins and all our future sins. If that were not the case there would only be limited efficacy in the blood of Christ. Next year there would have to be a new Calvary, and the year after another Calvary, because only the blood of the Son of God can cleanse us from our sin. The Lord has laid on his beloved Son all our sins, and by him alone we are washed, we are sanctified and we are glorified.
Then what is James saying here when he tells us to wash our hands and purify our hearts? He is not speaking of total immersion. That occurs but once. That gives the foulest the same clean status as the Son of God himself. That comes from the pool of regeneration. James is not saying, “You must be saved and washed all over again.” He knew those words of his Saviour Jesus to Peter when he thought of such an activity: ” A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean” (John 13:10). A part of you is defiled by a sin,” says James, “and again needs to be washed. A divided heart needs to be purified again.” That is what James is saying. At the end of each day we go to God and we say , “Sorry about today. Wash away those sins of today for Jesus’ sake.” And in the wonder of grace your sins are forgiven. Every day we receive cleansing in Jesus’ name. Don’t stop. Never stop confessing your sins. Never doubt that God is faithful and just to forgive you your sins, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, though you have gone with the same sins one hundred times and will go with their shame a thousand times more. Are you a sinner? Are you a double-minded man? Do you sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love”? Then, “wash your hands, you sinner, and purify your heart, you double-minded.” The only Christians there are are sinners cleansed by the mercy of Jesus Christ alone. The only way the Christian is permitted to look back at his sins is to say, “They are all washed sins, and cleansed sins, and purified sins, and purged sins.” We have no other sins.
5. Grieve, Mourn and Wail.
What a text! “I went to church last night.” “What did the preacher say?” “Three things. Grieve. Mourn. Wail.” “Anything else?” “Yes, to turn my laughter to mourning and my joy to gloom.” “Are you going again? He sounds a really cheerful Charley.” “Yes I shall be there every Sunday because he told me what I need to do.”
When Jesus began his public ministry preaching the coming of the kingdom of God he told the people to grieve, mourn and wail. Mark’s gospel, chapter one, says, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news'” (Mark 1:15). What was Jesus first message? “Repent” he said. That is, “Grieve. Mourn. Wail.” Don’t be blase about how you behave. Get out of your post-modernist mind set. You have done wrong in the eyes of the Creator of the universe. His wrath is focused upon you. He has measured you by the standards of his law and you are lost. Only the coming of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into this world, and his becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – only his agonising death on the cross could save you from hell. Grieve that the holy Jesus had to die bearing your shameful sins. Mourn that your guilt nailed the brave young Saviour to the cross. Wail that he entered the lake of fire for you.”
‘My sins, my sins, My Saviour! They take such hold on me.
I am not able to look up, save only, Christ, on Thee:’
Do you know anything of that conviction? Haven’t you ever noticed the gulf between what we sing in our services and what you actually feel? We sing, “I pour contempt on all my pride.” Do you? We sing that grace “saved a wretch like me” Do you feel a wretch? Have you ever felt you were a wretch? We sing, “Sinful, sighing to be blessed.” Have you ever sighed because of your sin, and longed for the blessedness of forgiveness? We sing, “I am all unrighteousness; Vile and full of sin I am.” Do you mean those words? Have you some experienced of the vileness of sin? We sing in the hymn “Beneath the cross of Jesus” of the wonder of “my own worthlessness.” Have you ever felt you were worthless? Look at that gap. These Christian hymn-writers were really troubled by their sin. They had had their eyes opened to it and were seeing it as God himself sees it. And those people who are described for us in the Bible as becoming true Christians, there is not one of them who did not experience conviction of sin as he came to know God for himself. The publican in the temple would not look up to heaven, but smote his breast and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Those three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost were all “cut to the heart” at what they had heard. They cried out in their anguish, “What shall we do?” The apostle Paul tells us he believes himself to be a “wretched man,” and “the chief of sinners” and this he said so soberly at the end of his life, when he had achieved so much for God, and knew God better than anyone has known him.
James is telling this first generation of Christians that a knowledge of God also brings a knowledge of our own depravity, and that really smarts. Can a man, for example, who loves his church, caught in embezzling money in a moment of pressured weakness from that church, take that sin in his stride and not be a broken man? Does not that apply to every wrong action of ours? “Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom,” says James. King David committed some terrible sins. He took a man’s wife, got her pregnant and then arranged for her husband to be killed. Were there days in their new infatuation for one another when they laughed together? While he ignored the other women he had married, and Uriah’s body was scarcely cold in the grave, and the people of the nation looked at him with shame? “David, grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” What do I ask a Christian before he enters the baptistry? “Do you profess repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ?” The Roman Catholic church has again begun to encourage the sale of indulgences to obtain forgiveness of sins. To get your purgatorial sentence remitted make an offering and do a penance – prayer is a penance? That was a scandal in the 16th century and it is a scandal yet. When Martin Luther saw how far this betrayed New Testament Christianity and the once-for-all nature of the cross of Christ he nailed 95 theses up on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517 for public discussion. The first thesis read, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt.4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The Christian is always repenting as he is always trusting. That was the great issue at that time of the rediscovery of the Christian religion. It needed to be declared at the time of the early church, where they were delighting in the positive notes of self-affirmation, joy and praise. They were embarrassed at the note of repentance, as though they had not been redeemed by the death of the lovely holy Son of God. That same issue remains with us today, and any revamping of worship to draw the crowds and expunge from the Christian faith gospel repentance means that what is left is not Christianity. There is no Christianity without repentance. In many pulpits the text announced and applied to the congregation tonight ought to be this verse, in the epistle of James, chapter four and verse 9, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.”
6. Humble Yourselves Before the Lord
Christ was in the form of God and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet he humbled himself to death even the death of the cross. Eternal Majesty humbled himself for you, and cannot you humble yourself for him? Have you tried to work with someone who has his own agenda? He is employed to assist you but he keeps insisting on doing things his way. He does not consult with you. He thinks he knows better than you, in fact, that you have got a lot to learn. There develops great tension between you, but he is the last to see it. So in the end you stop using him. His self-will has made him useless. Servants must serve. We are God’s servants and every servant humbles himself. Every day we arise we ask the Lord what Paul asked him on the road to Damascus, “What shall I do Lord?” (Acts 22:10). That is where humility begins.
Frequently the Lord’s answer will result in our becoming like that minister who came to see me last year with his feelings of great inadequacy. He had left seminary and this was his first church, and he had had many a battle and now there was fatigue, but he wanted to serve the Lord and be used by him. He had asked the Lord that he might grow in faith and love and every grace. But in this strange way the Lord answered his prayer. “I break your schemes of earthly joy that you might find your joy in me.” This deeper sense of his own weakness could become the beginning of a new phase in his life, and of greater usefulness.
When I was 20 years of age I went to a planning meeting for an evangelistic crusade. All the details of such meetings were discussed, and when it was over I walked back to the bus-stop with an elderly Christian gentleman in long coat and a hat. We talked about the meeting and about evangelism, and he quoted to me Ecclesiastes 10:10, “If the iron be blunt and he do not whet the edge, then must he put forth more strength.” And with the power the Authorised Version has for tucking itself in a memory cell I have never forgotten that verse spoken to me by a man at a bus stop. The old gentleman said, “It is not a waste of time for the reaper to pause and sharpen the scythe. So too with us, we ought to be praying not, ‘God use me,’ but ‘God make me usable.’
“It is not great gifts God uses as much as great likeness to Jesus,” said Robert Murray McCheyne. The Lord Jesus humbled himself. The Christian pours contempt on all his pride. he becomes increasingly willing to be where God wants him to be, and do what God wants him to do, for as long as God wills. And for all such men who humble themselves the promise is that “God will lift you up.” I trod on some blue twine as I was briskly walking to the Post Office last month, and down I crashed, Christmas cards flying everywhere. Immediately a group of people, most of them young, gathered around me and asked whether I was all right, and one of them helped lift me up. I was so thankful to him, though embarrassed. I needed lifting and he knew it, and he did it. God always knows when we are down, and God knows how to lift us up. Did he not do it that first great definitive time in salvation?
“From sinking sands he lifted me,
With tender hands he lifted me,
From shades of night
To plains of light,
O praise his name He lifted me”.
And he will not go on lifting us up all throughout our lives? The Lifter Up of the Self-humbling – that is the name of our God.
GEOFF THOMAS 10 January 1999