He was born in 1712 and reared a Calvinist in Geneva. He came from a well-to-do family and his mother died when he was an infant. He had one sibling, a brother seven years his senior. His father loved his brother but despised him. He gave us cold baths, weekend cottages, and the notion that sports build character. He also gave us sordid, untoward things like totalitarianism and the state as our father, the one who provides our education and care for the poor. He had several mistresses, one of whom bore him five children; and due to his exalted view of himself, being far too important to be relegated to things like caring for children, he abandoned them all, leaving them to die. He was credited as the major catalyst for the French Revolution and though he died ten years before it began, his ashes were spread in the Pantheon in Paris out of respect for him. I am referring to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
He left the faith of his fathers, and entered into a godless way of life which has destroyed millions in the last two hundred and thirty years. While none of you reading this have succumbed to the unbelief of Rousseau, you nonetheless are prone to wander from the faith. You are prone to doubt and unbelief. Why? For at least two reasons. First, you are affected by the post-modern concept of reality, that a god resides within each of us, and that our primary task is to get to know the god within, to think good thoughts of him, to get in touch with the deity within. But you know nothing of life-changing power from within. Our most profound thinkers, even our best philosophers, can only diagnose problems. They cannot bring necessary change. Second, you tragically begin in the wrong place. You tend to begin with yourself or your circumstances. Consequently your view of God is far too small. He is an anaemic, effeminate, weak, local, tribal, Johnny-come-lately deity. He cannot help you when the chips are down, when you find yourself in despair.
This is not the God of the Apostle Paul. Instead, Paul speaks of a strong, transcendent, all powerful God who is mighty to save and deliver. The construction of the first seven verses of Ephesians 2 is quite emphatic. Paul begins by putting the object at the beginning of the sentence, verses 1 to 3, next placing the subject, But God, at the beginning of verse 4, and then adding the predicate, made us alive together, after that. Paul goes on to stress three vital words – mercy, love, and grace. Mercy has the idea of pity, compassion, seeing someone in need and having the ability and desire to relieve the suffering. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is a good example of mercy. He was deeply moved within by the suffering of Mary and Martha. The love Paul mentions is the feeling and consequent action of God toward sinners. Jesus prays to His Father in John 17:26, “and I have made Thy name known to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith Thou didst love Me may be in them, and I in them.” The Apostle John says, “And this is love. Not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,” 1 John 4:10. And the word grace means pardon for the guilty, the one justly condemned. Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency in 1974 comes to mind as an example of grace.
What makes God’s mercy, love, and grace even more remarkable is what Paul lays down about us in verses 1-3, saying that we were dead in our sins, that we walked according to the spirit of the age, that we were under the control of the devil, that we creatively indulged the desires of our flesh and mind, and thus deserved judgment in hell.
Dear Christian, the two greatest words in all of Scripture are But God. The waters had covered the highest mountains, killing all cattle and beasts, but God preserved Noah in the ark, along with all the animals with him. David was on the run from Saul, living in the mountains and wilderness, as Saul sought daily to kill him, but God did not allow David to fall into his hands. While we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly, though some may dare to die for a righteous man, but God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God to godless men who put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross, but God raised Him from the dead, putting an end to the agony of death.
Can you not therefore be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong? Can you not do all things without grumbling or disputing? Can you not obey Jesus who said, “Do not worry about anything. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” Can you not trust God to save your loved one? Can you not trust God to sustain you in a terrible marriage? You may say, “You have no idea how hard-hearted and wicked my brother is.” But God … You may say, “My marriage is hopelessly broken. I have tried everything.” But God …
Jesus told the man with the possessed son (Mark 9:14ff) “All things are possible to him who believes.” This cannot mean that God will do anything we ask, if we only have enough faith. Paul prayed three times for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, and God said, “No.” Jesus prayed for the cup to pass from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Father said, “No.” What Jesus means here is this – if you have faith in the great God of Scripture, the One described as the author of salvation, creation, and providence; then He will give you the grace to do what you ought to do. He will give you the grace to do all those things He is calling you to do. He may not heal your marriage, but He will give you grace to love your spouse sacrificially. He may not remove your illness but He will give you grace to go through the pain and dying process, coming out the other end with great peace and joy.
Most of us live far below what God has for us. Begin with God, not your circumstances. Be strong, stand firm in the faith, act like men. Do all things from a spirit of love.
Al Baker is the pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
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