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Faith The Victory That Overcomes The World

Author
Category Articles
Date February 24, 2006

How do we overcome by faith in the evil day? What was the experience of David in Psalm 13. There are only six verses in this psalm, and it opens in this way, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Let me ask you, do you see David using the shield of faith here in these opening verses? Do you see it? Look carefully and you will see it. What are we listening to? Aren’t we here privy to a man talking to God, face-to face, even to the God who is hiding his face from him? Don’t you see David identifying what his difficulties are, a loss of God, wrestling with ugly thoughts, no joy in his heart, defeat is characterizing his life – “iniquities against me prevail from day to day”? Don’t you recognise that you are meeting a biblical mind here? In other words in the evil day, once we start talking to God about this trial, we are not at our lowest ebb at all. The tide has turned; we are believers who are on our way up again.

Listen to what Sinclair Ferguson says about this. “There are analogies to this in physical health. To know that you are ill is, generally speaking, to be nearer a cure than to be ill without knowing it. Furthermore, a patient who appears to us to be extremely ill may actually be on the road to recovery. I recall talking with a surgeon who had operated on my mother. She had suffered a stroke in the United States and shortly afterward was flown back to her native Scotland. But within a few days she was rushed into hospital and required lifesaving surgery for a hitherto undiagnosed condition.

“Such was my mother’s physical condition following the stroke that the surgeons were uncertain whether she would survive the operation; without surgery, however, she would certainly die. Some time later one of the surgeons spoke with me. He commented vaguely on my mother’s condition but then said: ‘Of course, in her general condition we do not know whether she can live for seven or eight. . .’ I had just seen her; I thought the last word in his sentence might be ‘days.’ To me she looked irrecoverably ill. My heart sank. The surgeon finished his sentence: ‘seven or eight years.’ I was overcome with both joy and amazement; she would live! To my untrained and inexperienced eye, her condition seemed fatal, but in actual fact she was ‘on the mend.’

“The same was true for David. To the untrained eye his condition seemed fatal; he thought so himself. But in fact he was already ‘on the mend.’ To tell God that he has deserted you; to know that you have been thinking with your emotions – these are marks of life, not of death, of hope and not of despair. Why, you are even speaking to God himself about them as though you know he cares!” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Deserted by God?“, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1993, pp. 26&27)

So what does David do? He pleads with God to be merciful to him in these words, “Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall” (vv. 3&4). He makes great requests to God. David believes that God rewards them that diligently seek him, so he asks for God to consider his needs – “look on me and answer, O Lord” – and he also asks for light on this dark place, he hates being in this darkness, but then he thinks far wider than his own feelings and experiences. He tells God that if he should fall away and give up following the Lord all his enemies will celebrate. They’ll have a party! They’ll give one another gifts! “The good Shepherd has lost one of his sheep; he’s been plucked out of God’s hand! Hooray!” David tells God, “I don’t want to sleep in death.” What is all this? He is holding high the shield of faith. He is conquering the enemy. He is coming through this testing time. He will be a stronger man as a result. See how his confidence in God is being restored as he ends the psalm with these words, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me” (vv. 5&6). That is the note on which the psalm ends, it is one of singing to the Lord. How did it begin? “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” but it ends in praise. How has he been delivered? By trusting in God. By taking his concerns and fears and the darkness to God.

Allen Gardiner was a missionary to South America and in 1851 his body was discovered on the coast of Terra del Fuego. He had been shipwrecked and he and his party slowly died of hunger. We know his thoughts during those dark days through the letters he wrote and left behind for his family and the entries he wrote in his journal. There came a time when he was desperate for water; his pangs of thirst were intolerable. There he died all alone, isolated, weak and physically broken and yet one of his last entries his journal were these words, “Psalm 34, verse 10, ‘The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing,'” and his last recorded words were, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”

It is by such trust in God that we are shielded from despair. When Satan fires flaming arrows of doubt, trust God’s power and love by taking up the shield of faith and put out those arrows. Don’t try to defeat doubt by clever reasoning or by gathering evidence. Satan “has sharper reasoning than you,” says William Gurnall. “There is more difference between you and Satan than between the weakest [minded person] and the greatest theologian in the world.” Satan is far smarter than you or me, and he is a master liar. Satan is an expert in twisting arguments, evidence, and statistics to support his lies. He can bring up one hard question after another until your mind spins. Don’t try to out-think or out-argue the devil. Don’t try to answer every question he brings to your mind. Take up the shield of faith! Extinguish those flaming arrows!

A friend once asked his godly mother, “How do we know the Bible is true?” She responded, “That’s from the devil!” That made a deep impact on the young man. From then on he believed the Bible, every passage of the Bible because his Saviour Jesus Christ by his example and his teaching taught him to do so. The Lord has given us an infallible Bible. It is the old serpent who says, “Did God really say?” Doubt of God’s Word isn’t an innocent question; it’s a flaming arrow from the devil. If we try to block doubt with a shield of our own thinking skills, we are using a shield of paper against a flaming arrow. Only the shield of faith can stop the arrow of doubt and put out its deadly fire.

If you believe Scripture only when it fits your standards of evidence and reasoning, then you rate human thinking higher than God’s. The Bible says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). This doesn’t mean God wants you to shut off your brain, or that reasoning is bad. Gurnall says, “Certainly God’s gift of reason can confirm his gift of truth. But faith must not depend on reason, but reason on faith. I am not to believe what the Word says merely because it agrees with my reason; but I must believe my reason because it aligns with the Word.”

Let me close by telling you something more about my friend Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. He was brought up in Scotland in a small family with his father, mother, and elder brother. His mother was almost forty when he was born – by no means ancient, but certainly older than most of his friends’ parents. Partly because of her age his greatest fear during childhood was the fear of losing his parents. His parents and his brother have all died. Each died in different circumstances, and Sinclair learned of their deaths in different ways: of his father’s death, moments afterward, as he arrived to visit him; of his brother’s death, by means of a midnight telephone call from one of his friends; of his mother’s death, as he called Scotland from a telephone in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, en route home in the hope of being with her as she died.

Every death is a shock; terminal illness, such as his father had, or progressive deterioration, such as his mother’s, are illnesses of the living, but in a vague sense ‘expected.’ Sinclair’s brother, however, died late one night without warning. Sinclair remembers lying in bed hours later, so overwhelmed by the shock that he wondered whether he could be sustained sufficiently to be able to visit his mother early the next morning to break her heart with the news. That sad journey, the words that passed between his mother and himself as they clung to each other in the valley of the shadow of death – these are the unforgettable secrets of the soul. But there is something else Sinclair cannot forget about those hours, something that sustained him then and has often done so in other circumstances since. As he lay awake, waiting for the dawn and the hour of the dreaded visit as a messenger of sorrow, some words of Scripture, lodged for many years in my memory, seemed to grow from a seed into a mighty tree under whose branches he found shelter from the storm, comfort in his sorrow, light in his darkness.

Sinclair says this, “I felt those words to be true as surely as if I had heard the voice of God speak them from heaven. Here they are: ‘What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? For I am convinced that neither death neither the present nor the future . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord‘ (Rom. 8:31-32, 38-39). I cannot now imagine living the Christian life on any other basis than this. If the Father loves me so much that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and to my blessing. Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fears may become realities. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? When I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Rom. 5:8). If he has done that, won’t he work all things together for my good? Will he withhold any thing that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?” (cp. Sinclair Ferguson, “Deserted by God“, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1993, pp. 41-43)

In this way, the promises of God become the shield that protects us from those fears that are the enemies of my peace; his promises grasp us and rescue us from danger. Some years ago, a friend of Sinclair Ferguson had the harrowing experience of watching the life-support system, on which his teenage daughter was sustained, being turned off. He and his family walked through a valley of deep darkness that their friends could only observe from the higher, brighter lands. This man’s friends had rarely been so conscious of seeing someone almost visibly supported by the glory of God. After the funeral he said, “We know now we have nothing left to fear.” When the fear of death, the mother of all fears, is banished, other fears begin to recede.

Raise the shield of faith! Reject all the insidious lies that burst into flames in our minds. Trust in Christ. Trust him wholly. Trust him always. Trust him more and more. Trust him in life and trust him in death. Insist on the gospel. Nothing in you can save you. You can go in. You can go in and in. You can go in, and in, and in. You can go in, and in, and in, and in. You can go in, and in, and in, and in, and in. You won’t find a Saviour inside yourself. Only what Jesus Christ has done back there and then on Golgotha, utterly outside of ourselves with no contribution from us at all – that alone saves sinners. The only contribution you make is your great sin and need. Go to him today!

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Deserted by God (ISBN 085151 6912) retails for $12.50 (US), £7.00 (UK and ROW) and can be purchased from the Banner of Truth book catalogue.

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