Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Secret Things and the Revealed Things 3

Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

More than one commentator, or theologian, or even the men I have spoken to about this verse, have pointed out that its primary emphasis is not on the secret things that belong to God but the things that are revealed. They belong to us; they are ours and they are our children’s for ever, in order that we, knowing them, may put them into practice and follow them. This verse is far more about grace than ignorance. I fear I have been guilty of some imbalance so far in stressing what are some of the secret things that belong to the Lord, but I have used the theme of secrecy to speak of all the things we do know. Our problem is reconciling what seems to all of us to be contradictory truths. However, in this third session I must redress the balances and present to you the things that are revealed, that belong to us today, that are utterly sufficient for our whole pilgrimage to glory. What is revealed to us is . . .

WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?

At this point there are rich answers. The advice is utterly unambiguous. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” (Acts 16:31). We have heard of Jesus. We have been told that he is the promised Messiah, the God-man, the Son of God, there are four gospels of his life, and many epistles that describe his great achievements, and we have responded to them, we have moved in and believed the testimony God has given us about him. We believe the claims the New Testament makes about Christ, that he is God’s Son, that he became the Lamb of God and took away the sin of the world, that in him is eternal life. First of all we have become gripped by that message. We believe that it is true. We have to start there, with this immense fact of the magnetic uninventability of Jesus of Nazareth.

Then we have moved beyond that. We have committed ourselves to Christ. We have believed into him. We have put our trust in him. We have come to rely upon him; we have come to follow him; we have become his disciples. We discover that he is a many-sided person and because of that our faith in him must also be many-sided. There are as many perspectives to saving faith as the multi-perspectival Christ himself. If I would state that in the baldest terms it would mean that we’re to believe in the two natures of Christ, as God and man, that we believe in the three states of Christ as pre-incarnate, humiliated and exalted, and that we believe in the three offices of Christ as prophet, priest and king. Now I don’t expect that dangling that skeleton before you will do you much good, barely stated in that way. I will say it in another way. I will put some flesh on it . . .

i] We believe on the Lord Jesus Christ the Prophet. We commit ourselves to this great teacher, sent into the world by its Creator with a message, and he has faithfully delivered it, everything the Father has given him to say to us, the parables the sermons, the claims and the promises. We have them in the New Testament and we believe them. Never man spake like this man, and we in faith place our understanding and our minds absolutely under the authority of what he has said. For us he can say nothing wrong. I mean by that that the first great hallmark of the Christian believer is that he believes a thing to be true because the Lord Jesus has said it. He is a pupil who is following a great rabbi. He is a disciple following an infallible teacher. He is in the school of Christ listening to and heeding this divine and omniscient speaker, and believing in Christ is first of all believing in Christ his tutor. Do we believe everything Jesus says? Do we believe it because Jesus says it? We submit to his authority. We follow Jesus the great teacher. That is where faith begins.

ii] We believe on the Lord Jesus Christ the Priest. What has Christ the Priest done? He has made himself the once and for all sacrifice for our sin. He has given himself for us. He has met the whole cost of our redemption. He has become the great argument with which a sinner can go to God and say to him, “Forgive me for Jesus’ sake.” I’m asking have we such confidence in what Jesus Christ did in his dying love, when he said at the end, “It is finished” that we go to God with this argument, and with none other argument than Jesus’ blood? Do I go to God and say “Pardon my sins,” and all my plea that he hear and answer me is the great atonement that Christ has made on the cross? Can we today contemplate the great white throne of judgment in all it splendour, and all its purity, and all its omniscience, and all its intelligence, and know that it is appointed for me at my death to be there facing God. Yet I can look steadfastly at it and say, “Any man who can go there with the blood of Christ as his single plea doesn’t need to be afraid.”

Have we that kind of confidence in what Christ has done? You understand that faith is not that I can go there without fear. It is not that, that I don’t tremble at the thought of dying and being judged by the Almighty, but faith is this. I might not be sure whether or not I have Christ, but what I know is this, that the man who has him doesn’t need to be afraid of condemnation. He knows that for the believer in Christ there is no condemnation. That is what our faith is. It is such faith in the blood of Christ that we are sure that those who are covered by it have nothing to fear, even when we are not infallibly sure that we ourselves are covered with it. It is such confidence in that blood of Christ that we envy those whom we know are covered by its provision, even though there are moments or background thoughts that suggest we are not totally confident that we ourselves have it. So, I say, we follow Christ the infallible teacher, and we trust the Lord Jesus as the great Priest and sacrifice. Then there is this:

iii] We believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Shepherd King. We trust in everything he does in us and to us and for us, everything he allows to happen to us. We submit to his total sway over our lives. We take what he gives and we love him still. We say with Job, “Though he slay me yet will I trust him.” We have that faith that says his will for our lives is what we want. It controls our daily living; we are subject to its dictates; we must follow his guidance. If he opens doors for us we say, Thank-you. If he closes doors for us we say, Thank-you. We accept his daily providential control of our lives, even when our hearts are breaking. When he says Don’t, we don’t. When he says Stop, we stop. We obey his imperatives because he is our Lord. And I must ask whether we have such faith in the King that we are content to be ruled by him, to be the sort of person doing the sort of work we do with all our might and to his glory? Have we such faith in the King that it is to him we look for deference and vindication? At last he will protect us and deliver us from all our enemies?

So we have faith in Christ the infallible teacher, and faith in Christ the great high priest and sacrifice, and we have faith in Christ the great governor and ruler of our lives. We submit to his rule and rejoice in his protection. That is believing in the Lord Jesus of the Bible, the Lord Christ of the three great offices he holds in the kingdom of God, offices he has been given by his Father, and then there is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as God, the LORD Jesus, Jehovah Jesus, the God who is Jesus, that we say to him, “My Lord and my God.” We bow before him. We fall at his feet. We worship in wonder, love and praise. Do you worship Jesus? It is not enough to have a high understanding and a high regard for him. It is not enough even to worship through him, but we worship him. We confess with our tongues that he is Lord. There is none on earth that we desire but him, and seeing him in heaven is all our hope.

Is there something else? Is there something else to believing on the Lord Jesus Christ? I am saying to you that the person who is trusting in Christ like that has no need of anything else. That man has eternal life. That man is saved. That man has every spiritual blessing. If he has Christ then he needs nothing else. There is no ‘Christ and’ there is just Christ. There is faith alone; there is grace alone; there is Christ alone, and there’s no plus. We are not told believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will feel ecstatic, or you will feel a high. It says, “ . . . and you will be saved.” Do we see the New Testament telling us that when Philip and Nathanael and Andrew and Peter came to Christ that they had great feelings? Is there any emphasis upon their feeling tremendous elation? There is no such emphasis at all. Of course many Christians have known a great sense of peace at the time of their conversion, and that is perfectly legitimate and perfectly healthy and quite possible, but the mistake is to make that normative and the sure proof that you have become a real Christian.

There are many Christians who simply cannot tell at what moment in a month or year they took possession of Christ because that moment was not registered by feelings of euphoria. There was no consciousness of a burden rolling off. I am seeking to encourage them and saying that there is no promise anywhere than whenever a sinner is converted and believes in Christ that he is going to have gut feelings of elation. We may have them but we may not, and if we don’t then we are not to say, “Woe is me; I am not a believer.”

Let me be careful. There is, of course, a tremendous reality about walking with God. There is the reality of communion with God. There are times when the peace of Christ fills a place, and the world is so wonderful afterwards. There is the surpassing reality of a hearing and answering God, and a guiding God, and a loving God, and a great comforting God. I am not going to reduce the living God to a system of propositions and logic. He lives! He is not remote from our daily experience. There is God answering, and God opening doors, and God upholding us – very often in elementary ways. There is God giving us grace to bear loss, and giving us boldness and a stammering tongue to speak his word, giving us wisdom to overcome certain problems, and giving us patience in the midst of difficulty – all that is real. But my point now is this, that a man is saved from the dominion and guilt and penalty of sin if he has Christ. I am saying let’s not deny our Christian standing because we haven’t yet had those other blessed phenomena. Those things are not necessary for salvation. They are not necessary for great usefulness in the cause of the gospel. What is necessary is that I have Jesus Christ, that I am in Jesus Christ, that I am united by faith to the Saviour, that I am trusting in him. That is all. That I am his, that I belong to him because I have simply, in my mind and in my heart, committed myself to him as my prophet, priest, king, my Lord and my God, that I have done that, that there has been a movement within me begun and sustained by the Holy Spirit of self-commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. If there’s that then I have become a Christian. I am a child of God for ever. I am in his hands, and he will never let go of me because he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.

About this point – of what I must do to be saved – there is such lucidity in the New Testament. What must I do? What great mountain must I climb? What great depths must I plumb? What great price have I got to pay? What achievement must I effect? What experience must I have? “Come unto me!” That is the total biblical answer to the question what must I do to be saved. Go today in his name to the throne of God and say to God, “I’ve looked at my past . . . I’ve looked at all that’s been, and I’m appalled by it. It is indefensible. I want it covered in the name of Jesus. Go to God and say as you look forward to all the possibilities of your future, “I won’t be able to cope with parenthood, and sickness and the loss of those I love and growing old and dying all by myself. I need the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” You express your faith in prayer to God in the name of Jesus because prayer is simply the articulation of our faith. So we know what we must do to be saved. Then there is another matter which is not at all secret.

HOW THEN SHOULD I LIVE?

We often make that question sound so mysterious, and very complicated, and difficult but it is not at all a secret thing. Are we really perplexed in the 21st century as to how we should behave and live? What about the Ten Commandments? “You shall have no other gods before me . . . You shall not make for yourself an idol . . . You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain . . . Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy . . . Honour your father and your mother . . . You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour. You shall not covet.” Aren’t those commandments plain, and simple, and wise, and clear? In the original Hebrew they number 173 words. In the European Union’s regulations on the importing of cauliflowers there are almost 30,000 words. With the decline of the Ten Commandments our land has entered the age of lawyers and litigation. I once went to see our Member of Parliament (who has since passed away) and he fobbed off my concerns by saying, “We want to build a compassionate society.” But he was quite unable to define what compassion and caring means. Men mock God as lawgiver but still hope that people will behave themselves. Wales is afflicted with increasing sin, but a decreasing sense of sin.

But we are not limited to knowing how we should live by the Ten Commandments alone. The Lord Jesus Christ amplifies and clarifies them in the Sermon on the Mount. He shows his disciples the inward nature of God’s requirements, that we can sin in our hearts, that feelings of anger are a sin – even if they never register on our faces or in our voices. We can lust after another person in our hearts without ever touching that person. We can break the tenth commandment by being utterly discontented with what we have and aching for something that another person has – though we never say a word about it. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

Then there are issues of guidance about eating and drinking and places of amusement and how we surf the world wide web and sport and fashion and how we spend out money and time. The Christian has great freedom, but we are also members of one another. So Paul again gives us advice to help us in these areas. The Christians in Corinth was very aware of their freedoms and they had a slogan, “Everything is permissible.” They were confident that if something was not clearly forbidden in the law of God then it was permitted. Paul doesn’t deny the slogan and the truth it contains, but he does add two qualifying clauses, “but not everything is beneficial” and “not everything is constructive” (I Cor. 10:23). Bring in those criteria and judge your choices also by that, he says. Then he says to us all, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (I Cor.10:24). There is your own liberty, but is certain conduct really beneficial in the light of your place and usefulness in the kingdom of God? Is it really constructive to be engaged in that? I am saying that in Christian conduct there are such additional helpful principles as to how we face some rare dilemmas.

I am declaring that there is absolute clarity when the apostle Paul explains how Christians are to live. Usually at the conclusions of his letters Paul addresses parents, and husbands and wives, children, employers and employees. “Be this kind of person,” he’s saying to them. He gives us the moral requirements that have to characterize the elder and the deacon. “Behave like this,” he’s saying to them. Then he addresses the whole congregation with the requirements of the Christian life. I’ll read to you those words that were read so well in the Royal Wedding earlier this year, in what was the high spot of that ceremony for many of us, such an unusual and splendid choice of a Scripture reading, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Roms. 12:9-21).

I ask you again, are we Christians really perplexed as to how we are to live? Have we no guidelines for our behaviour? That is not our problem. In my experience of myself and of others many of the great difficulties that we propose to other people as being problems of guidance are in fact problems of fundamental conflict with the law of God. We pretend often that we don’t know God’s will; “Shall I marry this person who has only a passing interest in the Christian religion?” That is not a problem of guidance. That is a problem with your own attitude to specific teaching in God’s word. Time and again we find ourselves in pseudo-dilemmas of that kind. We pretend that there is ambiguity, that we think it is all very complex about when life begins, about abortion, and about euthanasia, and we know surely in the depths of our own conscience that it is not lack of clarity. It is our own hypocrisy and pretence.

I know only too well that every human being caught on the horns of those dilemmas thinks that his involvement in them is unique, and that whereas the law applies to every other Christian facing that problem, yet his case is different. We imagine that our infidelities . . . we imagine that our unwanted pregnancies . . . we imagine that our unlawful liaisons . . . we imagine that our infatuation with a married person . . . we imagine that all ours are different. They are pure. They are beautiful. They are not like the others. Yet you and I must stand before the unambiguousness of God’s word, before the utter stark clarity of that law which says, “This is the way, and you walk in it.”

I think that believers ought to be taught Sunday by Sunday how to handle their own problems because of the clarity of biblical teaching, and it is a mistake on the part of God’s church to pretend that it is so complicated to live this Christian life that we must replace our churches with counseling centres. It is only because we have lost our confidence in the Bible and so lost our way, and we are pretending that Christian ethical decisions are hidden from us, that they are a secret thing that belongs to God. So we imagine that abortion, and self-pity, and festering worry, and discontentedness, and perplexity are problems that require specialist attention. The divine answer is here in the Scripture and in the word preached in all its clarity. The problem is to accept it, and to handle it, and to say to ourselves, “There is no ambiguity here. God’s will is clear.”

I don’t know these things only from the angle of counseling others. I know this from the intimate hypocrisies of my own heart. I know that one can so easily create pseudo-dilemmas, and one can pretend that there’s no way anyone can find out the answer to a problem or some ethical principle. “It is all a mystery!” I am saying that those great principles of God’s word, and the powerful moral axioms of the Bible are amongst its least ambiguous elements. There are great paradoxes: where did sin come from? When will be the end of the world? How can God be sovereign and man be held responsible? Those are secret things that belong to God, but there is nothing secret about the sanctity of life, and we must be careful lest we try to make an ethical decision a problem of guidance, or of pastoral counseling, or a matter of prayer when it is a more straightforward matter of obedience. Then there is one more thing . . .

WHERE CAN I FIND CONTENTMENT?

I believe that we are now living in the most affluent and the most discontented generation in our history. You see the restlessness in the craving for non-stop entertainment, for drugs, for ‘exciting’ new relationships, and for alcohol. People are discontented and they long for peace of mind; can a ‘little pill’ from the doctor provide it? Contentment is not one of those secret things. It is not hidden. Paul tells us that he learned it; Jesus Christ taught him contentment, by his example and by his words. In other words, Paul was not contented because of his upbringing, the stability of his home, his environment. It was not because he was favoured with a certain personality. Contentment is not a matter of genes and chromosomes. If you plead, “My mother was restless and her mother before her, and I get my discontentedness from them” then that is no justification. You can overcome your family traits. You may not blame your upbringing, and you may not blame your personality. You may not think that if only you had the second blessing, Holy Spirit baptism, that after that you’d be contented. You learn it. That is what Paul did. It did not come to him on the Damascus road, one minute a restless bundle of energy, irritable and driving on and on, and the next moment laid back and everything hanging loose. Paul learned it. He did not pick it up speaking in tongues; he learned it, and if he learned it then every Christian may learn it. How do we learn it? I will tell you, without money and without price. It is no secret; it is revealed. What you learn first of all is . . .

i] Being discontented is a sin. Learn that. Charge your consciences with that. It is a sin against our whole Christian position. We preach that our Lord is a good Shepherd, that he leads us besides the still waters, and our hope is, “green pastures are before me that yet I have not seen.” He works all things together for our good, we say; our best things and our worst things must work together for our good. Then of course some things happen and it is right to grieve. Grieving and being discontented are not the same thing. Jesus wept, but Jesus was not discontented; he was not petulant and self-pitying. He groaned over Jerusalem’s folly, “Oh . . . Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” Let’s grieve; let’s break our hearts; let’s wish ourselves accursed for our brethren’s sake that they might be delivered, but let’s not parade a discontented spirit for months, because then we are saying “Jesus is mistaken to do this . . . he is wrong to allow this to happen to me.” Let us say to ourselves, “Now you are being discontented and that is a sin.”

ii] We can learn the possibility of being contented, just like Paul. Maybe one day he was sitting in a meeting and one or two men were speaking. One man began to speak to them about Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want.” The man said to them all that this was wonderful, “for us all to have such a Shepherd, and whatever our circumstances he will provide all we need richly. Isn’t it wonderful to have such a Shepherd?” he said to them, Paul listening in the second row. “Do our lives reflect this fact?” He challenged them about their trust in God. Were they sinning by not trusting in his wisdom and love? Paul listened very thoughtfully. He wondered whether he was trusting God as he should. Was he a discontented man? Jesus has promised that his sheep would not be in want. “I can become a contented man,” He thought. “I should be a contented man.” He took the thought on board; he learned to become increasingly contented, and so do we, maybe not as suddenly as the imaginary scene I have described of Paul learning it. Maybe you learned it over a period, seeing one truth, and experiencing something else, and fitting them together, seeing the connection and saying, “I must become a more contented person.” Then . . .

iii] We take our stand on this great principle, “Thy will be done.” I think that that is where contentment grows. There is the commitment of our hearts to that very simple principle that what I want in my life is the will of my Lord, and as long as I know that it’s God’s will I won’t quarrel. There is no way that we as Christians can say, “I delight to do thy will O Lord,” and then, all of a sudden, when God gives us his will we are in all kinds of anguish, getting upset, and annoyed, peeved and plaintive.

I know that theologically today this is the clearest response I can make. God is sovereign and he deals with me always and only through Christ my loving Saviour. Everything that touches me has first to get the approval and permission of the friend of sinners, Jesus Christ. It cannot touch me at all without his first commanding it, “Go ahead and touch him.” That was the case with Satan wanting to smite Job and God finally agreeing and saying, “So far . . . but no further.” So it is with the trials the Lord agrees to permit to come into your life.

That’s the most fundamental pastoral and comforting truth I can make from this pulpit, but I realise that when you are down in the valley of the shadow, or in the vortex of suffering and pain it is then immensely difficult. But I know there is no other way. My heart’s commitment, and the centring of all my emotions on this, that what I want in my life is the will of God.

Very often that is the reason we are not contented Christians. We don’t want God’s will. We don’t really like God’s will. We want our own will, and I would suggest to you that if we alter our perspectives and stand on that principle, “Thy will be done,” then we would learn many things. We would be taught each day as we rise that it is a day that the Lord has made. We’ll have nothing today but God’s will. Nothing can take from us the providence of God. We’ll have nothing but the cup that God has filled to overflowing.

You see the marvel of that? “Every day will I bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name for ever and ever.” For each day I am experiencing what is God’s will for me. Every day I am taking the cup which he has filled for me. He has put it in my hand. Each day is the Lord’s workmanship. It is one that he has made for me. When you feel, “It’s not a good day today” then you add to yourself, “but he’s made it.”

I have to try, when there are tremendous emotional currents running through my life, shattering providences, and my family is muddled, and my friends are disoriented by unbelief, then, in the agony and emptiness of my providence to say, “Thy will be done.” Let me lay hold of that in my desolation: this is the Lord’s will; this is God’s cup; this is the Father’s hand giving it to me. I have to try to keep myself there. This is the day the Lord has made. I will be glad and rejoice in it.

8th August 2011 GEOFF THOMAS