Sunday should have been a really encouraging day – and indeed it was. Entering St Peters in the morning I was greeted by a young lady who had become a Christian after the previous Sunday services. There is almost no joy like that. We also received news of a new baby in the congregation, born healthy as the first child of a lovely young Christian couple. We rejoiced with those who rejoice. And we wept with those who wept. It was fantastic to see new people in church, including some who had never been before, and those who are not believers. Dominic Smart preached a really helpful and positive sermon. The praise was lovely, the prayers heartfelt, the church full and the fellowship of the Lord’s people sweet. In the evening Michael Ots preached with clarity and vision before he began the CU’s week of mission. It was such an encouraging day.
But, (and you knew there would be a but), when the Lord seeks to build up, the devil is always seeking to knock down. And he had a busy time afterwards! Sometimes when the Lord blesses a church, it is as though a fresh wave of water comes and cleans away some of the calm surface (stagnant?) water which was previously there. Sometimes underlying issues are exposed. Sometimes one is made aware of ones own weaknesses, vulnerability, character defects and sin, which become all too apparent.
This morning I woke to find that there were a series of posts placed upon social media about me. You know the kind of thing, “I’m finding him more and more vile. I’ve also met many people he’s attacked in the most ungracious terms….. He’s universally disliked….. Why do I dislike him so much? Because he single handedly put me of christianity for years. His approach isn’t how I operate in life…….Robo is a very public figure in Scotland. Vile views. He brings christianity into real disrepute….I hate the thought of burning books but I’d burn his.” I wouldn’t get too involved with Robertson. He is brain dead. ” I think what depressed me most was that these were posted on the page of a clergyman who had trained at a good UK evangelical institution. It was not just that he allowed them, but that he ‘liked’ them.
Sorrow and Anger
When you are faced with this kind of thing there are almost immediately two reactions; the first is to fear that there is an element of truth in them, and then to be depressed that you have let the Lord down, and become a stumbling block to others. The second is to indulge in an immediate self-justification and to get angry and be tempted to hate back.
I think the thing that surprises me most is the level of hatred that such language displays. And I note that such hatred is often done in the name of love. It’s a paradox that I cannot quite get my head around. There is of course a sense in which it is right to hate in the name of love. God, who is love, hates evil. As the prophet says – Habakkuk 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.
Hating in the Name of Love
But we humans are not pure and for us to hate other humans is just wrong. I have noted that there is an increasing tendency to be intolerant in the name of tolerance, to oppress in the name of freedom, and to hate in the name of love. I am also faced with this paradox. The Bible tells me, and experience confirms it, that the evil of my own heart, is far worse than any name caller or abuser can state. And yet God does not name call or abuse. He warns, he rebukes, he exhorts, he forgives, he loves and he restores. In Christ alone my hope is found. And yet in his name, in the name of his love, how much hatred is spewed forth from those who despise his Word, and loathe his people.
Encouragement in Discouragement
So there was a great encouragement yesterday, followed by great discouragement – have you not had that experience? and then? What do we do? We look away from ourselves and our circumstances, we turn to him, and we are encouraged – even in our discouragements. This is what I read this morning:
Acts 22 – 22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this.
The hatred of the Lord’s people and of the Lord’s word is not new! It has been ever thus. Why should it be any different today?
And then I read this in John Flavell
“how is this tree battered with stones, and loaded with sticks, that have been thrown at it, whilst those t grow about it, being barren, bearing harsher fruit, escaped untouched! Surely if it’s fruit had not been so good, it’s usage had not been so bad………. I think I see how devils and wicked men walk round about the people of God, whom he has enclosed in his arms of power, like so many boys about an orchard, whose lips and mortar to have a sling at them. But God turns all the stones of reproach into precious stones to his people; they bear the better for being thus battered……. Let me be very fruitful to God in holiness, and ever abounding in the work of the Lord, and then whilst devils and men are slinging at me, either by hand or tongue persecutions, I will sing amidst them” (The Heavenly Use of Earthy Things)
And my Psalm for the day was:
PSALM 101 C.M.
1 I’ll praise your love and justice, LORD;
I’ll praise you cheerfully.
2 I’ll strive to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?
Within my home the life I lead
will show a blameless heart.
3 My eyes will view no worthless thing;
from sin I will depart.
I hate what faithless people do;
it shall not cling to me.
4 All wicked people I’ll avoid;
from evil I’ll stay free.
5 I’ll put to silence everyone
who slanders secretly;
I will not tolerate the proud
who act so haughtily.
And finally this prayer in the Valley of Vision –
in a world of created changeable things,
Christ and his Word alone remain unshaken.
O to forsake all creatures,
to rest as a stone on him the foundation,
to abide in him, be bourne up by him!
For all my mercies come through Christ,
who has designed, purchased, promised,
How sweet it is to be near him, the Lamb,
filled with holy affections!
When I sin against thee I cross thy will, love, life,
and have no comforter, no creature, to go to.
My sin is not so much this or that particular evil,
but my continual separation, disunion, distance from thee
and having a loose spirit towards thee.
If I oppose the Word I oppose my Lord
when he is most near;
if I receive the Word I receive my Lord
wherein he is nigh.
O thou who hast the hearts of all men
in thine hand,
form my heart according to the Word,
according to the image of thy Son,
so shall Christ the Word, and his Word,
be my strength and comfort.
The Love that Persists
And so we head into the week – encouraged, discouraged, bruised, battered, confused, cheered, weak and yet strengthened. There is a Love that will not let us go…and so on we go – from glory to Glory!