The Plans of God
My theme has arisen from a conversation with one of the congregation about the ways of God, in the course of which I quoted some of my favourite lines from the hymn associated with Samuel Rutherford:
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The years of banishment when his mouth was shut were the years when his richest letters were written, letters that are still read hundreds of years later.
Looking back over life there comes a knowledge and a tremendous sense of the hand of God, and of plans and ways that we would not have chosen but that God has actually led us in for His own purposes.
I know the thoughts that I think toward you … thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jer. 29:11)
The ways of God are very wonderful. Something we always have to remember is that His thoughts for us are only good (and I say this many a time to a person). Always remember you don’t need to be afraid of the will of God, for the will of God is always what is best. He designs it for our happiness, not to harm us. He brings us in ways that are for our good and not to bring hurt into our lives. Hurt comes into life, but that is the result of the Fall, and He uses it for His own purposes.
Job found the truth of that. In the darkest of circumstances, in a desperate condition, he uttered wonderful words: “He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me I shall come forth like gold.” We know, looking back now at Job’s life, the gold that came out of it. And that gold was the knowledge of God and of Christ. He said these wonderful words: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God.” I know that He lives. How comforting these words are to us, and how comforting the thought of the plan of God, especially at a time like this.
A lovely illustration of this comes from Andrew Jewell. He told this to me a few months ago, but I don’t think he has used it in preaching, though I have given him ample time to have that opportunity that I am taking now! In the course of his work he sometimes uses a design connected with a project carried out by a teenage boy. The boy decided to trace three years of the trajectory of a planet, and he found when he looked at the final graph that it had made a beautiful flowerlike design of exquisite intricacy and delicacy. The sight of it is such that it has moved people to tears and given them a feeling that they have not understood but that we do recognize as a sense of God, because it shows the hand of the great Creator, and His design. Think of the perfection that came out of the simple tracing of a planet’s trajectory. And how much more does God weave a plan for us that is perfect.
Of course we say: “Well, it doesn’t always work like that; we mar that plan.” And indeed we do. And there is somebody who tries to make sure that we mar that plan – because we have an enemy. Our adversary, the wicked one, has got a plan also: and his plans for our lives are not good plans. His plans for God’s world are not good. But God always outmanoeuvres Satan.
Satan sets traps for us. But in the words of a verse I came across this week:
When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn. Wherever I go, my enemies have set traps for me. (Psa.142:3)
I think the verse spoke to me because I felt I had fallen into a trap, not set for me by any enemy other than the wicked one, but as a consequence I had acted a little unwisely, and on reflection I wished I had done something different. But I found great comfort in reading the psalm, and just knew that God knew and understood. It was a fairly minor matter. But even in major matters of life when we have made mistakes and have fallen into traps that the enemy has set, we remember how he tried to set traps for Christ, sometimes through the scribes and pharisees, sometimes himself coming to Christ in the wilderness, and sometimes even through his friends, like Peter. But he never was able to trap Christ. We would love to be able to say the same, but we are but human – and God remembers that we are but dust. So what does He do? He weaves even our mistakes, even the times we have fallen into a trap, and somehow weaves it all into a whole, so that in the end we shall look back and see that He made something beautiful out of something that was not beautiful, because the beauty that is imparted to us is the beauty of Christ Himself.
We look at Christ as our great example, and we know that God had a plan for Him. If we had seen that plan of God and had been in Christ’s place we would have said: “This plan is not a good plan, this plan is full of suffering,” and indeed we would have said: “I cannot walk that way.” But of the Lord Jesus Christ it is prophesied:
In the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will,
O my God. (Psa. 40:7–8)
He is our great Forerunner, and He imparts to us a delight in the will of God. He delighted to fulfil the Father’s plan: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” (Jn 4:34) And He went through the Cross. But He came out the other side in the wonder of Resurrection life and His triumph.
And we, in the circumstances in which we are now – they are nothing like Christ’s, are they? They are not easy, but they could be much worse. And there will be an Afterward. God has promised us that in the Afterward “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” (Joel 2:28) He is pouring out His Spirit even now upon us in our individual lives and homes and in our walk with Him, and on us as we come together on occasions like this. And what will be that Afterward? We find ourselves closer to God and not further away, more dependent on Him as individuals, perhaps less dependent on one another – and yet we will rejoice greatly to meet again and to find ourselves still with the glory of God being revealed, and the wonder of His own presence. He is a wonderful Saviour. We can say like Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God.” And we will bless the hand that guided and the heart that planned, even before we get to Immanuel’s land.
To quote from John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.
All is best, though we oft doubt,
What th’unsearchable dispose
Of highest Wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Blessed be His Name, Amen.
Keeper of the Vineyard
My vineyard, which is mine, is before me. (Songs 8:12)
I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” (Isaiah 27:3)
These verses bring to us very vividly the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, who keeps His own vineyard. His vineyard is His church: His church worldwide, His church in our country, and our own churches. He is the Lord of the vineyard. And if you are in any way a gardener or a vine dresser, you will know how precious you can be about your garden and your flowers. I remember reading in Amy Carmichael that she had made a garden, I think a kind of indoor garden on a tray, which she had given to somebody else to keep, but when she came back after a length of time it had all withered and died. She remembered thinking to herself that if that other person had made the garden themself they would have kept it better; they hadn’t cared for it.
How comforting it is for us to remember that the vineyard of the church is Christ’s own. It is His own planting, and it is planted in a rich and fertile soil, rooted deeply into Calvary. He is the Master; He is the One who cares; He loves His church. It’s a tremendous, incomprehensible love for all mankind, and so how much for those who are His own! And He waters His vineyard night and day lest any harm it. I pray that all of you where you are in your own home are finding that there is water, the living water; that Christ is caring, God is caring, for you; and that your soul is being fed wherever you are, whether you are a new Christian or a mature one. We need that daily manna, we need the care of Christ.
And in this let our confidence be rooted, that He loves. In the face of all anxiety, worry and fear for the future, we are in the hands of a loving heavenly Father, and all is well, for He is a safekeeper.
But there is another verse that says:
They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. (Songs 1:6)
This verse also brings to us immediately a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. He keeps His vineyard in the sense of our lives, but He didn’t keep His own. He gave it, He suffered, He was a willing sacrifice. He shared our sorrows and far more that we cannot share in. He did not please Himself. He left His Father’s side and came to a world of woe, worse than what we are experiencing just now.
While following the book of Leviticus recently in my Daily Reading Bible, I have been reading some chapters quite carefully and am very struck by the fact that in the Aaronic priesthood those of his family who had any scar, any blemish or any physical defect at all, were not allowed to minister in the Holy Place. No animal could be offered that had the slightest scar or blemish upon it: each one had to be perfect.
And I thought of how these people must have felt who were not allowed to minister as their brothers were – how rejected they must have felt, and with what a different view of God than what has been given us through Christ! The holiness of God had to be emphasized – and it still is to us. Our way of approach is through Jesus Christ, who is the perfect sacrifice, and because of Him we can approach God and find Him as our heavenly Father.
And I thought of the Lord Jesus Christ: His form was marred, His visage was scarred, more than any man’s. He was not presented in an outward sense as perfect. He was wounded so that He was hardly recognizable. He could say: “I am a worm and no man.” And yet in becoming that sacrifice, with such suffering, He has opened a door for all the lame, the blind, the halt, the weary, the burdened, the sinful. Blemished within and without, with all our defects, we find the way into the Holy Place is not barred; indeed, the way into the very inner sanctuary, the deep presence of God, is open to us because of that Christ who, while a bleeding sacrifice, was innocent and perfect in His inner being.
And from Him there still shines out to us the perfection of beauty, the perfection of holiness, that causes us to become one with Him and with His Father.
You might be finding at this time God very close to you. It might suit your temperament to have a lot of aloneness and solitude. But there are others that will be struggling: struggling with temptation, struggling with their own temperament, struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. Come to Him just as you are. Come and find the great Redeemer. Come and find the solace, the comforter, the strengthener, the peace. Remember again His words to us:
“Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” (Matt.14:27)
Amen. God bless you all,
We Would See Jesus
Easter greetings to you all at a very different Easter.
Usually at this time of year we would be having a baptismal service, the church would have been crowded and we would have been celebrating the bringing in of the harvest, the fruit of the gospel in our midst and many professing their faith in Christ and the wonderful truth that Christ has died and has risen again.
The text in my mind for today is a well-known and well-loved one;
‘We would see Jesus.’ (John 12:21)
It’s probably one of the earliest texts that I remember seeing because, as a very tiny child, I was taken to services in a pub in Port Glasgow - I would have said ‘converted pub’ but it wasn’t very converted! It still had wines, beers and spirits across the windows, but inside on the wall behind the platform were these words, ‘We would see Jesus’ and I studied them as a child many times.
They were the words that were spoken in John’s gospel by the Greeks that came to Philip shortly before the crucifixion and said to him ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’
They have also been made particularly meaningful to many of us in Struthers Memorial Church as they were the last sermon spoken by our minister before he died, two or three days after preaching this sermon. As he spoke on that occasion I remember he held his arms wide open and said that he longed to embrace us all in the love of Christ. His own natural sight by then was growing dim but two or three days after saying these words; ‘We would see Jesus,’ he saw Him face to face. As his earthly vision had grown dim, his spiritual acumen and seeing had grown sharper as he brought to many of us the awareness of the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For many of us, where we are now, much has been stripped from our normal lives and we have been deprived of our gatherings together. Solitude with Christ is wonderful; to find Him in the aloneness is exceedingly precious but when we come together it is like the putting together of live coals and there can come an intensity of God’s presence and, for those who are newer to the faith, there is tremendous strength that comes from gathering together. But just as these people came to the disciple Phillip and said to him ‘Sir, we would see Jesus,’ that is the cry in many of our hearts, probably an increasing cry for many of us - we would see Him. We have had glimpses but we would see Him far more clearly.
We long to see some of our loved ones again but this is nothing compared to our longing to see Him. But we do not choose the way he reveals Himself to us, that is His choice.
For some currently working in the danger line there will be an increased awareness of that Man of Sorrows who has carried our griefs, who has borne our burdens, who understands the need of this present hour and that none of us are unaffected by it. We are all affected in different ways. For many of us in the church we have friends or relatives who are deeply involved in the caring services and for whom our prayer goes up continually to God.
And so, at a time like Easter, we are particularly aware of that Man of Calvary who shows Himself, to us in His crimson robes, dipped in blood, but robes that speak to us of His victory, speak to us of forgiveness and cleansing and righteousness and we are aware of that Man who has tasted grief for us; The Son of God.
However, this resurrection day, we cannot but be joyful in the knowledge of that risen Christ - in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, He has arisen again. His garments are white, they are splendid, they are glistening.
He is still Lord. He is Lord of this world in its brokenness, in its grief, in its perplexity. He is unmoved, he is unchanged. His arms are wide open to embrace us, to embrace you, to embrace those who are seeking for help and asking, perhaps for the first time in their lives, ‘Where is Peace?’. Asking, perhaps, some of you in whom they see that peace, asking for its source and echoing these words to Phillip; ‘We would see Jesus’.
We lift our eyes and we see Him - we see Him as He lives at the right hand of the Father and makes intercession for a world in need. He has not left our world. He is making intercession for our church, for our lives and our prayer is that increasingly we will show Him forth that others may say to us; ‘We would see Jesus.’
'I will take Him' sung by Gordon Tyler
'When I Survey' sung by Emma Rukin
Blessed be His name,
This is Palm Sunday, normally a time of rejoicing, albeit with a knowledge of a coming sorrow, but it is a time of rejoicing in the Christian calendar and we would normally be together, praising God.
This Palm Sunday is different and yet it actually yields us more of an opportunity to identify with something of Christ’s own spirit and the faith of the son of God, that one who is the Faithful Witness spoken of by the apostle John in the book of Revelation. (Rev. 1:5)
Faith is the rope between us and God.
Spurgeon speaks of the fact that without faith there is no link between us and God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. He that comes to God must believe He is and He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. (Heb 11:6)
We follow Him who rode into Jerusalem, full of faith that His kingdom would come, although a dark valley lay between Him and the realisation of that vision.
He said; ‘The cup that my father has given me, shall I not drink it?’
So, while others were proclaiming Him and praising Him and rejoicing, we see Him riding in on the donkey and we can feel something of the isolation and loneliness of His spirit. He knows that the praise will change soon to shouts of ‘Crucify Him’ but His inner being is apart with God, that together with God He may accomplish His task.
O the forlornness of the Godhead as the separation looms.
Now we - though separate one from the other, and feeling at times very isolated in our inner spirits, a prey betimes to the Enemy's attack - we cannot be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Neither things past, present, or to come can separate us from Him.
(cf Romans 8:38-39)
Let us be much apart with Him in our spirits over this Holy Week and draw courage and strength from our beloved Captain who was made perfect through suffering.
God bless you all,
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