The Credit Crunch
For several months now the financial world has been in crisis. Banks large and small, particularly in Europe and the USA, have been in dire straits. Many have had to go cap in hand to their respective governments for massive bailouts; these have included the second-largest American bank Citigroup, which has been granted $306 billion of government guarantees in addition to cash injections of $45 billion. Ordinary people have also felt the effects of the banking crisis as it has become more difficult to borrow money, in particular for house purchase. And as confidence wanes in the general economy, unemployment levels are rising.
We were told repeatedly that ‘boom and bust’ had been eliminated from the British economy, and it was assumed that economic growth would continue across most of the world for the foreseeable future. On this presumption, enormous risks were taken, not least in the banking sector. But much of the surge in prosperity has come to an end with a vengeance, and some major economies are in recession. Many people will suffer hardship and many others will have to live rather more frugally than they have been used to.
Many in the Western world, in particular, have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in recent generations. No longer do such people have to ask: ‘What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ These needs have been so easily satisfied that it might be more appropriate for many to ask: How can we spend our money? Accordingly, almost endless opportunities have arisen for indulging ‘the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life’ (1 John 2:16).
Thus today, almost universally, everyone wants to find enjoyment away from God. They have never heard, and would not appreciate hearing, the words of David: ‘Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart’ (Psa. 37:4). Quite simply, they are totally incapable of understanding that anyone can find delight in God or in any of his ways; they have never heard of anyone whose deepest desires were satisfied by God. Indeed this generation is supremely ignorant of God and the revelation he has graciously given in the Scriptures. It therefore lacks the knowledge, clearly provided in that revelation, of the purpose for our existence. Summing up the testimony of Scripture, the Shorter Catechism tells us that ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever’1.
Our enjoyment of what is ‘seen and temporal’ must be subordinate to glorifying God. To reverse the order is sheer idolatry. The worship of gods of gold and silver, and of wood and stone, may not be Britain’s besetting sin in 2009; yet idolatry is prevalent – for we may define idolatry as giving someone or something a higher place in one’s heart than we give to God. Thus everyone is in danger of idolising themselves and those nearest to them, and of idolising their possessions – which does indeed make idolatry a besetting sin today. But if man is to begin to glorify God, he needs a change of nature; he needs the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, which takes place in connection with the Word of God, whether read or heard.
Satan does all in his power to encourage sinners to go on neglecting God and living for this world, deceiving themselves into thinking that there is nothing beyond this life. He does all in his power to prevent them coming to a knowledge of the truth, turning from their sins and living for eternity. In the words of Scripture,
the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Cor. 4:4).
Satan knows perfectly well what are the effects of the gospel, which speaks of salvation through a crucified and risen Redeemer, and he will use all kinds of temptations and distractions to prevent sinners escaping the darkness of his kingdom.
Yet the duty of sinners is clear; it is to be found in the Bible, which is God’s revelation to a lost world. It would be particularly appropriate for those caught up in the consequences of the credit crunch, and other difficulties that people experience in this world, to be asking: ‘How should we then live?’ (Ezek. 33:10). And the next verse provides an answer for them and for everyone else, whether particular difficulties have befallen them or not: ‘Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?’ And this call is introduced with particular emphasis: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live’.
We are all on our way to eternity; we should think of this life as short and uncertain. The answer to the Psalmist’s question: ‘What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?’ (Psa. 89:48), is obvious. So we ought to think of this short, uncertain life as an opportunity – to find Christ and salvation through him. Then, however difficult this life may be, we will have a blessed eternity, where we will be perfectly blessed in enjoying God fully.
If bankers and economists working for governments could have foreseen the looming downturn, they would have been under an obligation to prepare for it. But they did not see it coming, and so they did not prepare. Nor do the vast majority of people today see ahead of them the inexpressibly more awful disaster of being sent away to a lost eternity.
How should we then live? The Bible is full of instructive answers. But we may listen for a little to some biblical answers Jonathan Edwards gave in 1733, in ‘The Christian Pilgrim’, a sermon on Hebrews 11:13,14: ‘And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country’.2 ‘In confessing that they were strangers,’ he told his congregation,
they plainly declared that this is not their country; that this is not the place where they are at home . . . We ought not to rest in the world and its enjoyments, but should desire heaven. We should ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matt. 6:33). We ought above all things to desire a heavenly happiness, to be with God and dwell with Jesus Christ. Though surrounded with outward enjoyments and settled in families with desirable friends and relations, though we have companions whose society is delightful and children in whom we see many promising qualifications . . . yet we ought not to take a rest in these things as a portion . . .
We should travel on in the way of obedience to all God’s commandments, even the difficult as well as the easy, denying all our sinful inclinations and interests. The way to heaven is ascending; we must be content to travel uphill, though it be hard and tiresome and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh. . . Even if we could go to heaven with the gratification of our lusts, we should prefer a way of holiness and of conformity to the spiritual self-denying rules of the gospel.
Edwards’ final section is entitled, ‘An exhortation so to spend the present life that it may only be a journey towards heaven’. He counsels:
Be persuaded to travel in the way that leads to heaven – in holiness, self-denial, mortification, obedience to all the commands of God, following Christ’s example . . . Let it be your daily work, from morning till night, and hold out in it to the end . . .
He then gives these motives:
How worthy is heaven that your life should be wholly spent as a journey towards it . . . This is the way to have death comfortable to us . . . No more of your life will be pleasant to think of when you come to die than has been spent after this manner . . . If our lives be not a journey towards heaven, they will be a journey to hell . . .
And finally some directions:
(1) Labour to get a sense of the vanity of this world . . . (2) Labour to be much acquainted with heaven . . . (3) Seek heaven only by Jesus Christ . . . (4) Let Christians help one another in going this journey.
- The Westminster Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008 edition), p.5.
- The sermon appears in Edwards’ Works, Volume 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974 and reprints), pp. 243-6.
The editorial of the Free Presbyterian Magazine, January 2009 with the permission of the editor, Kenneth Macleod. Note 1 and links added.
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