Do Not Put Your Trust in Princes
In his perfect wisdom and kind grace God has given to his church, from the dawn of time, great and godly leaders. We need only think of Abraham, the father of all who believe, Moses the man of God, and David the man after God’s own heart. Almost the whole of one lengthy chapter in the Bible is devoted to highlighting, even celebrating, the ‘heroes of faith’, men whose lives and faithful, often costly, obedience adorned the life of God’s people throughout the ages (Heb. 11).
This grace gift of godly leaders did not cease when the canon of Scripture was completed. Throughout its history, the church has been blessed with men and women of great faith, godly courage, Christlike grace and stellar intellects to give it leadership as it lives out its calling to be light and salt in a morally corrupt and spiritually dark world. The church has great cause to bless God for its fathers and mothers in the faith who, like the apostle Paul, ‘fought the good fight, kept the faith and finished the race’ (2 Tim. 4:7).
It is salutary then to read in Psalm 146:3-4, ‘Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.’ There has always been within the church a sinful propensity to give undue praise and prominence to men. There is a fine line between blessing God for men whose lives and ministries he has used to bless you and build you up in Christ, and making those men idol substitutes.
There is something in the human psyche that is prone to admiring a person’s gifts above their character. We regularly hear it said that a man’s private life has no bearing on his public life of service. If he has ability, and especially if the ability is adorned with a measure of charisma, then we should not enquire into his private life or hold anything in his private life against him. Sadly, tragically, the Christian church has not escaped this mental and spiritual idolatry throughout its history.
The Bible is littered with statements and warnings similar to what we read in Psalm 146:3-4. The closing words of Isa. 2 echo the same sentiment: ‘Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?’ (Isa. 2:22). This was a besetting sin among God’s old covenant people. No less was it a sin that marred the life of the early new covenant church. The church in Corinth, a church Paul himself had planted, was riddled with the cult of personality. Some in the church were following Peter, others were following Apollos, still others thought Paul was ‘the man’, and still others were following Christ (almost certainly Paul was not praising them). As Paul proceeds to rebuke the Corinthians for their praise of mere men, he does so in a grammatically dramatic way, ‘What (not who) is Apollos? What (not who) is Paul?’ (1 Cor. 3:6). In the following chapter Paul tells the Corinthians how they should think of him: ‘This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor. 4:1). Paul does not use his normal word for ‘servant’, doulos, a bondslave. The word he uses is huperetes, a word often used to describe a third-tier under-rower on a galley ship. He was their father in the faith. His preaching of Christ had come to them in demonstration of the Spirit and with power. Humanly speaking, they owed their eternal salvation to this man. But Paul was only too well aware of how prone even a redeemed life can be to make much of men. This is a sin that God hates with a holy hatred. He will have no flesh to glory in his presence, no matter how gifted, eloquent, intellectually able and greatly used of God that flesh might be (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
The best of men, especially the most spiritually gifted of men, need their fellow believers to remind them constantly, ‘What do you have that you did not first receive?’ (1 Cor. 4:7). And all Christians need to kill the temptation that regularly worms its way into our minds to make more of men than we should. God is not tied to using anyone to fulfil his purposes. He could easily do all his holy will using no-one and nothing.
This is why the Psalmist, after exhorting us not to put our trust in princes, continues, ‘Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!’
Notice the reiterated refrain, ‘the Lord, the Lord, the Lord’.
How often in history, past and recent, have churches and individual believers, given undue place to men, and suffered the consequences. They may well have been gifted and godly men, men God greatly used. But, ‘Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.’
In the Dutch Reformed tradition, every service of worship begins with the words, ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.’ Would that not be a great way to begin every service of Christian worship? Yes, rightly give honour to whom honour is due. But remember that
Every virtue we possess
and every victory won
and every thought of holiness
are his alone.
Do not put your trust in ‘princes’, whether he be a Calvin, an Owen, an Edwards, a Spurgeon, or whomever. To God all praise and glory.
This article was first published in the November 2018 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.
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