Today [November 30, 2011] more than a million public-sector workers in the United Kingdom are on strike. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his autumn statement, which made clear the limited prospects for growth in the British economy this year and next, a situation which led analysts to predict that living standards in 2015 will be no higher than they were in 2001. It seems easy then to answer the question, Does Britain have God’s blessing? with the answer, No. And if we ask the corresponding question about the Eurozone, which at the moment appears to exist in a permanent crisis of disarray and indecision, it seems even easier to give the same answer.
But it cannot be right to estimate God’s blessing solely on the basis of economic growth and material prosperity. If prosperity was to be the only criterion, we would have to conclude that countries like China and India, with growth rates in excess of 10% in 2010, must be enjoying God’s blessing to a remarkable degree.
But if we recall Asaph’s dilemma, which he recorded in Psalm 73, it is clear that other factors must be given much greater emphasis. He confessed:
I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment (Psa. 73:3-6).
They appeared to have much of God’s blessing, but they were characterised by pride and violence. How, Asaph seemed to ask, could God be just when he allowed this to happen? But when he went to the house of God, he understood otherwise; his mind was impressed with the fact that death was not the end of God’s dealings with these men; he saw the awfulness of the lost eternity that follows an ungodly life. Clearly such people do not have God’s blessing.
Who then do have God’s blessing? How did David answer the question? ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity’ (Psa. 32:1, 2). At one time those now described as blessed were themselves among the wicked, to one extent or another. Not only were they ‘children of disobedience’ but also ‘children of wrath’ (Eph. 2:2, 3); that is, not only did they disobey God’s law but they deserved his wrath – to be punished by him eternally. They most certainly did not deserve God’s blessing. Yet, when they believed on Christ, their transgressions were forgiven – for he, the true sacrifice, bore their sin away.
This forgiveness is also described as the covering of their sin. The idea is that, when the blood of the sacrifice at the temple was sprinkled, sin was covered over, so that it was now out of God’s sight. Thus, when the sinner believes, the merits of Christ’s sacrifice are applied to him; it is as if God can no longer see his sins. In other words, because Christ has satisfied divine justice, God no longer sees the sinner to be deserving of punishment.
Finally, forgiveness is described as the not-imputing of iniquity, or guilt. If guilt is imputed to us, we must ourselves suffer the punishment due to our sin. If our guilt is not imputed to us, it must have been imputed to another, to a substitute, and that substitute must be Jesus Christ, who suffered instead of sinners. On the ground therefore of what Christ has done in suffering the full punishment due to the sins of those for whom he was a substitute, they must, in strict justice, go free; their sin cannot be imputed to them.
We ought then to be clear that those who have God’s blessing have been forgiven; they have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ to the saving of their souls. Such an individual has, as Matthew Henry writes,
all manner of blessings, sufficient to make him completely blessed. That is taken away which incurred the curse and obstructed the blessing; and then God will pour out blessings till there be no room to receive them. The forgiveness of sin is . . . the reason and ground of all the rest.
Whatever outward good things, such as food and drink, they may receive, no one can be described as having God’s blessing unless they trust in Christ and their sins have been forgiven for his sake. And corresponding to the words of Psalm 32 is the statement: ‘Blessed are all they that put their trust in him’ (Psa. 2:12; see also Psa. 84:12).
Forgiveness, however, is what no one can recognise directly, except God himself. But there are many other descriptions in the Bible of those who enjoy God’s blessing. David also tells us: ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night’ (Psa. 1:1, 2). The main influence on this man’s thinking, as he makes his way through life, is not the counsel of the ungodly; it is the Word of God. And he considers that Word, or portions from it, at various times throughout the day. Under the influence of the Word, he does not linger with the ungodly unless duty – his ordinary employment, for example – detains him; he does not sit down to enjoy the company of those who mock God and his Word, but he delights to sit down with the Scriptures and to hear these Scriptures expounded. As he does so he pleads with God to apply his truth with power to his soul and reveal Christ to him.
With his confidence in God restored when he was enabled to understand better God’s dealings with the wicked, Asaph saw the real blessedness of his own situation and praised the Lord in these terms: ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory’ (Psa. 73:24). No one could be more blessed than to have the assurance of God’s care in this life and a place in heaven at last.
When we consider how few trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and so have their sins forgiven, we can understand how little we can expect God’s blessing on the United Kingdom or on any other country today. The near-universal disregard for God’s law makes this statement unarguable. This disregard is most obvious in the absence of Sabbath observance; in Britain, the Lord’s Day is increasingly treated as just another day, and church attendance accordingly dwindles. What need there is of a spiritual revival!
This feeling that God’s blessing is denied is strengthened by the manifest godlessness of successive governments. Clearly God is not in their thoughts, nor is his law. Otherwise we would not be faced with proposals from both Westminster and Holyrood for so-called same-sex marriages. And these are just the latest in a long line of God-dishonouring measures.
Yet it is clear that there is a remnant according to the election of grace, like the 7000 of Israel who did not bow their knee to the image of Baal. So today there are those who, drawn by divine grace, have looked to Christ for salvation, have been forgiven all their transgressions, value God’s Word and have begun to walk in the way of holiness. They do not, in spite of all the contemporary pressures to do so, bow the knee to the image of secularism, or of false religion, or of some version of Christianity that has been evacuated of most of its spiritual content.
What is more, they pray. And who knows how much God’s wrath against Britain, or China, or other countries is restrained in answer to their prayers? We are told that Elijah ‘was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit’ (James 5:17, 18) – a sign of God’s blessing having returned. What James emphasises is not Elijah’s greatness but that he was a man like ourselves – and God heard him. If we long to see spiritual prosperity in our country and beyond, we must pray earnestly for God’s blessing. ‘Let the whole earth be filled with his glory’ (Psa. 72:19).
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the January 2012 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
‘Christianity is Taught Not Caught’ July 19, 2019
Today more than ever attention focusses on young people. Newspaper headlines of their activities feature everything from revolution to drugs, student sit-ins to the generation gap, hooliganism to hijacking. Not that the news media are unfair or disproportionate: in a year or two the average age in America will be twenty-four. Most of these young […]
On Doctrine and Practice July 16, 2019
A charge that is made repeatedly against historic Christianity is that its stress on doctrine makes it authoritarian, theoretical, and cold. The Christian religion is a practical affair; putting the faith in terms of truth to be believed alienates or repels many who would otherwise be sympathetic. As John Robinson puts it, ‘the effect of […]