“SOME HELP IN LEANING ON GOD’S PROMISES”

Psalm 73.26

 

EXPOSITION:

1.   My friends, the issues that are related to your conscience and the assurance of your salvation can sometimes greatly perplex you.

2.   As I mentioned to you in my message from God’s Word last week, after you have been convicted of your sins by the Holy Spirit, and been drawn to Jesus Christ by God the Father, and have trusted in Jesus Christ to the salvation of your eternal and undying soul, and then after I and this congregation have been persuaded of your soul’s new condition and have baptized you, then begins a time of spiritual growth and the development of your own conscience and assurance of salvation.

3.   But what are you to do if, during this time of your Christian life, you find yourself troubled by a very tender conscience?  What if the assurance of your salvation (and I speak not of that assurance given to you by some fool, but that which is given by the Holy Spirit) is a comfort that seems to elude you?

4.   Jesus said about His Own, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”[1]  Peter wrote about a Christian life characterized by “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”[2]  But the experiences of an abundant life and super abounding joy do not seem to be your experiences.

5.   My friends, it is not surprising that the Puritans, who were often called “physicians of souls,” would prove to be helpful in this type of situation.[3]  You have no doubt heard of the famous British sea captain, Sir Frances Drake.  He served Queen Elizabeth against the Spanish navy, and figured very prominently in the delay and then the defeat of the Spanish Armada.[4]

6.   Frances Drake was the patron and benefactor of Thomas Hooker before he emigrated to New England and there founded the city of Hartford, Connecticut.  It seems that Drake’s wife had some profound issues of conscience and the personal assurance of her salvation.  Though such notable Puritans as James Ussher, of Ussher’s chronology fame, and John Dod, attempted to minister to her, they were unsuccessful.

7.   What I want to set before you today comes directly from Thomas Hooker’s successful dealings with Mrs. Drake’s troubled soul.  Assurance of salvation and salvation are not the same thing.  It is possible to be a Christian and not have full assurance of your salvation.  But there are remedies available for every Christian, so that you might have real, spiritual, Scriptural assurance of your salvation.

8.   Turn, if you would please, to Psalm 73.26.  When you find that verse please stand for the reading of God’s Word:  “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

9.   There are two portions to this verse; that portion which speaks of failure and that portion which speaks of God.

 

1A.   First, MENTION IS MADE OF THE INEVITABLE

The verse begins, “My flesh and my heart faileth”

1B.    It is unavoidable because it is inevitable that your flesh will fail.  It is unavoidable because it is inevitable that your heart will fail.  To deny that both flesh and heart fail a lost man is to deny God’s pronouncements about the sinfulness of every man, the weakness of every man, the state of every man.  To deny that both flesh and heart fail a saved man is to misunderstand what salvation through faith in Jesus Christ really is.

2B.    If you are a Christian, your flesh and your heart have failed you, are failing you, and will fail you, for a number of reasons:

1C.   It could be that your spiritual temperature has cooled off and your communion with God is not what it should be.  It is foolish to deny that this is a problem in the Christian life.

2C.   It could be that God is taking you through a time of affliction.  Psalm 73.14 reads, “For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.”  God sometimes does this.

3C.   Its may be that you are experiencing inward trials and exercises, by reason of your indwelling sin, and the temptations that accompany such a sinful nature.

4C.   Sometimes sickness and disease make the flesh and the heart to fail.  Sometimes the fear of death can cause you to fail in flesh and heart.  Sometimes your flesh and heart fail because you are facing death.

3B.    My friend, failure of the flesh and failure of the heart does not mean you are not a Christian, and does not occur because you are not a Christian.  Failure of the flesh and the heart results from being a man, or from being a woman.  All our hearts fail us and all our flesh fails us.

 

2A.   Next, MENTION IS MADE OF THE ETERNAL

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

1B.    In our English Bible the phrase “but God” appears forty four times.  It might make a good devotional time some day to look up all the verses where “but God” is found.  Does it look dark and dreary?  Are there times of loneliness and discouragement?  Are the storm clouds gathering?  Do you feel beset on every side and your enemies are like dogs snapping at your heels?  Take an afternoon off or an hour apart and think about and then pray about the phrase “but God.”  God will bless you by it.

2B.    We have two phrases that sum up God, the eternal, as opposed to your flesh and heart.

1C.   First, God is the strength of your heart, Christian.  Literally, this phrase declares “God, the rock of my heart,” and alludes to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide, a shelter in the time of storm.  But God is not the strength of your heart because He is a place you can hide.  “. . . when grace is weak, corruptions strong, temptations prevail, and afflictions are many; then does the Lord support and sustain his people, and strengthens them with strength in their souls; and in the moment of death, by showing them that its sting is taken away, and its curse removed; that their souls are going to their Lord, and about to enter into his joy; and that their bodies will rise again glorious and incorruptible.”[5]

2C.   Second, God is your portion forever.  “Allusion is here made to the division of the promised land [among the various tribes and clans and families of Israel].  I ask no inheritance below; I look for one above.  I do not look for this in the possession of any place; it is GOD alone that can content the desires and wishes of an immortal spirit.  And even this would not satisfy, had I not the prospect of its being for ever, Mlwel leolum, “to eternity!”[6]

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   Has your heart failed you, my friend?  Though no one else knows, are you faint of heart?  Remember what Jesus said:  “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”[7]

2.   Perhaps your flesh is failing you.  You may be sick.  You may be dying.  You may be sinning.  Whatever the cause, your flesh is failing you and failure of the flesh can lead to failure of the heart.

3.   Whatever the problem in the first half of the verse, notice the sequence of God’s cure in the second half of the verse:  It begins with the heart.  It centers on God.  It views eternity.

4.   Would you describe yourself, in the privacy of your prayer closet, as a poor doubting Christian?  After we stand to sing, my sermon will provide five rules, borrowed and adapted from Thomas Hooker’s ministry to Sir Francis Drake’s wife, to help you lean on God’s promises.

5.   Please stand at this time as brother Isenberger comes to lead us as we sing.

 

INTRODUCTION:

1.   It will be helpful for you to have your Bible at hand to look at some important verses as we begin.  If you did not bring a Bible, please look on with someone else.

2.   Philippians 1.29, please:  “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”  We usually focus on the reference to suffering in this verse, but this morning I would like you to pay particular attention to Paul’s declaration that it is given to a Christian to believe on Christ.

3.   Now turn back to Ephesians 2.8:  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”  This verse corroborates what Paul writes in Philippians 1.29, plainly stating that faith is the gift of God.  Of course, this refers to saving faith, by which the sinner believes on Jesus to the saving of his eternal and undying soul.

4.   It needs to be stated that it does not take great faith to be saved, only a great Object of your faith.  Jesus is that great Object of faith.  It is also necessary to state that unbelief, which is the absence of faith, and which can be mingled with saving faith, is not the unpardonable sin.  You will remember the grief stricken father’s words to the Lord Jesus Christ, in Mark 9.24:  “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”  And He did.

5.   So, it is possible to come into the Christian life and yet be robbed of the full enjoyment of your salvation.  It is possible to be deprived of the delight that the Savior wants you to have.  How is this possible?  You have doubt mingled with faith.

6.   It can be that you are converted, that I am convinced that you are converted, that you have persuaded this congregation that you know the Savior, yet doubts and fears assail you because you are not making full use of the promises.  You are not leaning on the promises.

7.   What an impact must have been made for the cause of Christ in England when Sir Francis Drake’s wife found real comfort for her soul, true delight for her heart.  How it must have affected her famous husband, their circle of friends and colleagues, and perhaps even the queen of England herself.

8.   Do not, therefore, limit what God can do through you once your joy shines through, once your peace has been restored, once you experience the consolation of God’s promises.

9.   Five rules for the poor doubting Christian, to serve as a guide, to help you lean on God’s promises:

 

1A.   First, PERSUADE YOUR HEART OF THE PROMISE’S BENEFITS

1B.    What is it that your heart wants more than anything else in the world?  Do you want riches?  Do you want fame?  Do you want love?  Do you want friends?  Poor doubting Christian, spend time every day attending to the desires of your heart, persuading your heart of the benefits of God’s promises.

2B.    Do you secretly long for riches?  Recognize that sin is oftentimes a God-given desire that has been distorted and perverted to wicked ends.  So, you desire riches.  Does not the Bible tell us that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine?[8]  Are we not assured that God gives to us that which is more precious than gold?[9]  God gives such to His children.

3B.    Do you secretly desire fame?  What is fame but prestige and recognition by those who are important?  Does not God offer prestige and recognition to those who serve Him?  Listen to what Jesus will say to those who serve Him:  “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”[10]  What could be better than a commendation from the King of kings in front of millions of saints and angels?

4B.    Do you want love?  What could be better than to receive love from God, Who is love?[11]  Ephesians 1.4 reads, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”  That is the love of God.  As well, there is love for one another.  Jesus said of His disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”[12]

5B.    Do you want friends?  Jesus, the friend of sinners, “is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”[13]  I could go on and on, but you see the pattern, do you not?  It is your heart that is unsettled.  It is your heart that does not rest upon God’s promises.  Therefore, it is your responsibility to persuade your heart that God’s promises provide benefits superior to any desire that wells up in your heart.  And do not be so passive that you think you are a slave to the inclinations and affections of your heart.  No!  Persuade your heart of better things, Christian.  It can be done!  It must be done!

 

2A.   As Well, PERSUADE YOUR HEART OF THE WORLD’S WORTHLESSNESS

1B.    If God’s promises are good, then that which is not related to God’s promises is not good.  If what God has pledged for you is of benefit, then what the world offers as a cheap and shabby substitute to lure and entice your heart is not only unwholesome, but nasty and vile and harmful.

2B.    Consider riches.  To be sure, the world has a great deal of glitz and glamor.  But how valuable are the riches of the world . . . really?  According to Jesus, in Matthew 6.19, riches here on earth are subject to corruption and theft.  And how right He is.  Accountants call it depreciation.  Buy a brand new car. The moment you drive it off the show room floor it loses half its value.  And what about the thieves?  WorldCom, Enron, Bernie Ebbers and Ken Lay, and then there is Arthur Anderson.  Billions of dollars stolen.  One of the top accounting and CPA firms in the world no longer exists.  Poof!  It’s all gone, folks.  Investments, IRAs, pensions . . . all gone.  And even if you don’t lose your wealth, you will lose your life:  “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”[14]

3B.    Do you secretly desire fame?  “For what is your life?  It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”[15]  How famous will you be once you are dead?  Do you want love?  The world offers only lust.  “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”[16]

4B.    “Friends, pastor.  I want friends.”  You have got to be kidding.  If the worldly man will walk away, abandoning his wife and children, what do you think he will do to his friends?  If a worldly woman will abandon the man she supposedly once loved, what do you think she will do to her friends?  “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”[17]  Those kinds of friends I do not need.

5B.    I could go on, but you see the pattern, do you not?  You persuade your own heart, by your study of God’s Word, of the benefits of God’s promises and the worthlessness of anything the world has to offer.

 

3A.   Third, ACQUAINT YOUR HEART WITH THE PROMISE’S BENEFITS

What is meant by the benefit of the promises God makes to His Own?  There are two ways of seeing the benefits of God’s promises:

1B.    First, there is no adverse fallout or downside with God’s promises.

1C.   Consider riches, for example.  Is there any negative effect of God’s riches, of the blessings we receive at His hand?  No.  God’s riches are described as gifts that are good and perfect.[18]  But worldly wealth, money, if it is pursued as a personal goal rather than as a byproduct of God’s blessings, can become a false god, and is heading for trouble.[19]  Besides, you cannot serve both God and money.[20]

2C.   Next, consider love.  The way of God’s love is completely different than the world’s way of love.  Consider love between a man and a woman.  According to First Corinthians 13.5, such love as is godly “Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.”  Thus, two Christians who love each other and are not married will not commit sexual sin, but will wait until they are married.  But the way of the world is to mistake lust for real love, to commit sexual sins (called fornication in the Bible), which is not only sinning against God, and against the person you commit fornication with, but is sin against yourself.[21]

3C.   And it is this way with every promise of God contrasted with the way of the world.  There are no adverse effects with any of God’s promises, but there are always not so hidden penalties and costs associated with the worldly counterpart to what God promises.

2B.    A second way of seeing the benefits of God’s promises has to do with timing.

1C.   Have you ever noticed that sin typically has to do with now, right now, right away, immediately, when it comes to receiving, but generally has to do to with later, with delay, with procrastination, when it comes to duty?

2C.   On the other hand, God’s promises are frequently to be seen as eventual fulfillment, eventual realization, eventual compensation, eventual satisfaction, but with duties being performed now, immediately, straightway.

3C.   The way of God’s promises is not bad, by the way, but very good, because God’s way is the way of faith.  We read of Abraham, in Hebrews 11.10:  “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  Did Abraham realize God’s promise in his lifetime?  No.  Was that bad?  No, for he had to live by faith.  And the benefit of living by faith?  He pleased God.[22]  Did you hear me?  He pleased God.

4C.   So you see, receiving the benefits of the promises of God always comes when God decides it is best for you to receive the blessing.  Thus, when you get from God you always get at the right time, in the right way, in the right amount, to achieve the right thing in your life.

 

4A.   Fourth, LOOK TO GOD’S PROMISE RATHER THAN YOUR POWER

1B.    Is not the reason for discouragement and uncertainty and concern about your status before God related to the fact that you are looking to the failures of your flesh and heart rather than looking to the strength of God’s promises?  Of course, it is.  The whole basis for discouragement and disillusionment lies in the fact that you are not getting your way.  And why do you not get your way?  The arm of flesh fails you and your heart grows faint and weary.

2B.    Here is where great error lies when it comes to the promises of God:  Saints think that they need faith in order to benefit from the promise of God.  But that is backwards.  It is supposed to be the promise of God that produces faith.  Turn to Psalm 119.49-50:  “Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction.”

3B.    So you see, God’s people do not receive comfort from the fulfillment of the promises God makes.  No.  We receive comfort from the promises themselves.  I am comforted long before the promise is fulfilled to me.  That means I can be comforted and assured and blessed now, based upon what God says.  Thus, God promises and then I believe and am comforted, encouraged and assured.

4B.    So, what strength is required on my part?  None.  What power must be demonstrated on my part?  None.  What exertion must be engaged in on my part?  None.  To be sure, I must on my part serve God, since Proverbs 16.3 shows, “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”  So, if I want to keep my head screwed on straight I have to serve God.  But it is God’s power that is needed here, not my own.

5B.    So, if you find yourself uncertain and unassured, Christian, you know that you have been focusing on the failures of your own flesh and heart and not the promises of God.  First, persuade your heart of the promise’s benefit.  Next, persuade your heart of the world’s worthlessness.  Third, acquaint your heart with the promise’s benefits.  Fourth, look to God’s promises rather than your own power.

6B.    There is one final recommendation that is just as important as these first four.

 

5A.   Finally, SUBMIT TO THE CONDITION OF THE PROMISES

1B.    Folks, Christians end up making the Christian life more complicated than God ever intended it to be.  To be sure, it is sublime and majestic.  But this life we are given in Jesus Christ is so much simpler than the life the unsaved wretch lives.

2B.    The lost guy has to decide what to believe and when, how much to believe and not believe, who to love and not love, who to befriend and who to take advantage of, who to trust and who not to trust.  But all of this is a no brainer for the child of God.  If God’s Word says it believe it.  Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[23]  Little children?  How hard can it then be, people?  How complex?

3B.    You see, there is no problem with God.  And there is no problem with God’s promises.  God wants your life to be full and joyous.  Why else would Paul have written Philippians 4.4?  “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”  The problem, you see, is with you.  So, when a lost person sees a joyless and depressed Christian, he thinks to himself, “Who wants a life like that?”

4B.    And do not think the problem has to do with how much faith you have.  “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”[24]  If you have any faith you have enough to lay claim to God’s promises.

5B.    In the wilderness, healing from the bites of the fiery serpents came to those who looked to the bronze serpent Moses hoisted on the pole, not to those who considered their own afflictions.  And the solution to your problems associated with assurance will not come from consideration of your problem, but from consideration of God’s promises.

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   What kind of God do you have?  Is He a God of goodness and kindness, a God of grace and mercy, a God of benefit and blessing?  Is not our God that kind of God?  Of course, He is.

2.   Why would God provide for your salvation from sins to have you live a life of misery and wretchedness?  He most certainly did not do that, did He?  Of course, not.

3.   He may allow you to be persecuted and tormented by oppressors.  It may be His plan for you to suffer martyrdom for Jesus’ sake.  But I assure you that whatever He has planned for you, it includes a radiant countenance and a bright smile.

4.   Is all well with your soul?  It is if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior.  Are there issues and problems to be dealt with?  To be sure.  But there is peace and joy and confidence in the goodness and graciousness of your God to go along with it, whatever it may be.  Amen?

5.   Make good use of God’s promises, because God’s plan for you, whatever else He may have in store for you, does not involve you being a poor doubting Christian.



[1] John 10.10

[2] 1 Peter 1.18

[3] Thomas Hooker, The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), dust jacket

[4] Winston S. Churchill, A History Of The English Speaking Peoples, Vol II, (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956), pages 121, 124, 127-129.

[5] John Gill, The John Gill Library, (Paris, AK: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2000)

[6] Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[7] John 14.27

[8] Psalm 50.10

[9] 1 Peter 1.7

[10] Matthew 25.23

[11] 1 John 4.8, 16

[12] John 13.35

[13] Proverbs 18.24

[14] Luke 12.20

[15] James 4.14

[16] James 1.15

[17] Psalm 41.9

[18] James 1.17

[19] Proverbs 28.22

[20] Luke 16.13

[21] 1 Corinthians 6.18

[22] Hebrews 11.6

[23] Matthew 18.3

[24] Matthew 17.20

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