The themes in my previous article were drawn from a series of messages I preached when our nation and world were reeling from various outlets of information and disinformation surrounding national politics and the coronavirus pandemic. Countless articles and blog posts have been written addressing the mindset and actions of Christians during these distressing times. Truly these are times in which the Lord’s people need wisdom, faith, boldness, and restraint, among other graces. I focused upon Truth in a world that is almost purposely filled with lies. We considered the themes of Abandoning Truth, Negotiating Truth, Discerning Truth, and Defending Truth. When I finished preaching that series of messages, I was moved to add one more—Submitting to Truth.
It is important to realize that among the many difficulties which confront us during these troubled days, the difficulty of accurately reading or interpreting Providence is prominent. Without inspired prophets, such as Israel possessed in some of her days of distress, we are left to our uninspired interpretations of what transpires. In most cases, doctrinal truth and even broad principles of practical application are easy enough. It doesn’t take a PhD or an international church commission to discern that abortion, homosexuality, heterosexual fornication, and pornography are moral evils that we should repudiate in our modern context. But mention face masks, vaccinations, airport security check- points, and a host of other prevalent issues and suddenly social media erupts with fiery rhetoric from disagreeing Christians, often with chapter and verse in hand—each claiming to confirm contradictory opinions as necessary applications of God’s truth—all before the watching world. These are matters for which I encourage restraint and grace.
At the outset, I want to live up to my own dictum and confess that I cannot lay claim to an inspired understanding of God’s prophetic timetable, or where we might be on that timetable, or what God’s purposes are in each political or societal event that overtakes us. Specifics are unknown and it is dangerous to pontificate about them, but general principles may be apparent, and of course our own sobriety and humility should always be present. So, with these caveats of uncertainty and caution set before us, I want to address this final point of submitting to truth in these uncertain times.
One general truth that we must rest upon is the sovereign control of God over all things. God sends the rain upon the just and the unjust alike. God raises up Pharaohs and Nebuchadnezzars, as well as Davids and Solomons—and Washingtons as well as Hitlers. Jesus confessed that Pilate’s ability to have Him crucified was a God-given ability and was under God’s sovereign control. So, we can confidently say that whatever circumstances prevail, God has allowed and even ordained them. God does no wrong. When men work evil, He overrules it to accomplish His own perfect will. (And remember, this fallen world and all the sinners in it actually deserve His eternal wrath from the moment of the Fall. Every mercy, every act of common grace, every delay of that final judgment, is just an outworking of His plan of Redemption. If He allows evils and the resultant sufferings to occur in this vale of time, these are gracious reminders of our need of forgiveness and the ultimate realities of His law, and they do not overthrow the truth that He will one day bring all things into judgment). It’s just that sometimes when we see evil seemingly prevailing we start to have questions. This should not surprise us. The Psalms and the Prophets provide us with many examples of such perplexing times for God’s people.
One example that is worthy of our attention is that of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk was called to live and serve in the days leading up to the Babylonian captivity of Judah. The Babylonians were an idolatrous, immoral, and cruel people. How could God allow them dominance over Judah? Habakkuk struggled with this question as well as his own fears about what this might mean for him personally. He plainly said, “I have heard thy speech and was afraid” (3:2). As he honestly opened his heart and his concerns to God, he was thrust back upon basic theology.“Thou hast ordained them for judgment…
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil” (1:12-13). He recognized God’s holiness and His sovereign control, alongside the fact that Judah deserved chastening and judgment. If God used the Babylonians to accomplish this, that was not a sanction of the Babylonians’ interests. God would deal with the Babylonians in His own time and way. This doctrinal appraisal of the situation allowed Habakkuk to pray through the difficulties. He famously prayed that God would “revive (His) work in the midst of the years” and that He would “in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther were among the wonderful answers to Habakkuk’s prayers. This even allowed Habakkuk a great measure of peace when thinking of his own fearful circumstances. One of the greatest texts in all of Scripture on the subject of joy being independent of circumstances is found in the closing words to Habakkuk’s prayer: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (3:17-18). It is perhaps timely for us to remember the context of these familiar verses. These were not conditions that were simply going to “naturally occur.” They were going to be the results of a tremendous, chastening upheaval.
Other examples of God’s prophets calling God’s people to submit to His judgments include Jeremiah’s long and sad ministry, as well as Ezekiel’s ministry to those already in captivity to be content under such chastisements. In each case the chief concern was to return to the Lord in their own hearts and not to assume that everything was well with their own souls based upon their heritage or their outward profession.
Again, we cannot draw direct lines of connection to specific events during these New Testament days, but general principles are still evident. How long can a nation expect the blessing of God when it sanctions the murder of over 60 million babies? How long can a nation expect to live untouched by sorrows or chastening when it moves from condemning homosexual activity to sanctioning its unions in the public square? These are the sad fruits of apostasy and it seems now to many onlookers that social, political, and economic decay and ruin loom upon the horizon. It doesn’t take much imagination, given the events of the past year, to foresee a time when the circumstances that prevailed in the earth before the Flood might prevail again. “The earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:13). Is this a time for Christians to fret and promote uninspired opinions on lesser matters, or is this a time for Christians to humble themselves and examine the condition of their own hearts and the health of the church? I wonder how many professing Christians sat idle during the last century when they were losing a faithful and godly church, but are now moved with great agitation at the prospects of losing a comfortable and prosperous nation? That is a sobering question.
By raising the subject of submitting to truth, I am not suggesting that concerned citizens of a constitutional republic such as the United States should resign their responsibilities or cease engaging in every lawful means of stemming the political and moral decay of this formerly blessed nation. What I am suggesting is that we as Christians take a hard look at majoring on the majors in our ecclesiastical and brotherly discourse and not allow political issues to imperceptibly overshadow our commitment to biblical Christianity.
It may be that in God’s Providence we reap the sad fruits of apostasy once again and that we lose some of the political and material blessings that followed in the wake of the Reformation (if not a worse fate that none could say was undeserved). A healthy church in an unhealthy nation is better than an unhealthy church in a prospering nation.
If such changed times do come upon us, let us look to the examples of those we see in Scripture who faced similar or more difficult trials. Let us meditate upon the lives and testimonies of Daniel and his colleagues. Let us learn from the example of Paul and his companions in the book of Acts. Remarkably these often received fair treatment from civil authorities and the real venom came from apostate or false religion. To be sure, the civil authorities sometimes yielded to other pressures, harshly treating God’s people, and even killing them. But they did so, not because of any disservice the godly had done to them or to their political power. They attacked them in “the things concerning (their) God” (Daniel 6:4-5). That’s a testimony I fear some Christians may be putting in jeopardy in a day when fear and emotion can easily cause us to almost unintentionally engage in misplaced priorities. And in the case of Israel, that often ended in their willingness to pursue inappropriate alliances seeking to ward off calamities that God had ordained. They didn’t submit to the truth about their situation; they bartered the truth trying to improve or preserve their situation. So, the next time current events tempt you to major on the minors, consider picking up a copy of James Buchanan’s Justification, or John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, or maybe just spend an evening with Spurgeon. The day may come when you need to be ready to give a detailed gospel answer to a needy, wayward, or deceived soul in these days where “Truth is fallen in the street.” At that point, a humble testimony will do a lot more good than winning an obscure online argument ever could.