Beware the Natural Ways
Finding Peace in God's Purposes and Plans
The Puritans are blamed for everything from burning witches to being the original no fun police, but the reality is far from that caricature. Largely they were men engaged in the hard work of reconciling the Church of England of the 17th century with the teachings of Holy Scripture, who saw in the Lord Jesus Christ the sweet savor of life itself. Nothing in their mind compared with what was revealed unto them by the Holy Spirit about what the Redeemer had done, and was doing, in their hearts and souls through grace. They were in many ways mesmerized by the bounty of salvation. It was to them like the richest chocolate cake, melt-in-your-mouth barbeque pork, or a Tony’s shake (without the lid). One of my favorite Puritan writers is Jeremiah Burroughs. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly, and an assistant to another of my personal heroes, Edmund Calamy. He in many ways writes the clearest on dealing with suffering and the way to find hope in the midst of trial. For today’s prayer and worship help I want to start us off with a quote of his in order to help us think about how best to handle those dark providences in the power of the Lord’s grace and mercy. Here is the word:
Ordinarily when we are burdened with outward afflictions, we only think of natural helps and comforts. Whereas the way for us to sanctify God’s name, to do what is acceptable to God when any outward affliction comes, is to exercise our faith in the great promise of God in Jesus Christ, upon the great Covenant of Grace that God has made with us in him.
Burroughs’ point here is pretty straight-forward. The unfortunate reality is when we are drawn low our first recourse is often to what he calls “natural helps”, those things which are material, whether they be destructive like the bottle, or innocuous like binge-watching the Office or whatever. We get back from a difficult day at work, run to a different part of the house after a hard discussion with a spouse, or just try and find a quiet place to be alone, and what is our first move? To doom scroll the phone searching for a meme or a distraction. In any of these cases why is it a problem in the eyes of someone like Burroughs? What’s wrong with just spacing out and forgetting for a moment? Or more importantly what does the Bible have to say that might echo the concern of this godly pastor?
In Leviticus 19:4 Moses writes, “Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the LORD your God.” and in 1 Samuel 21:19-21 we have this expanded story that fits with the warning:
Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you His people.
The wickedness that Samuel is talking about is the fact that the people of Israel have sought a king like the Nations around them. God was going to provide His tribe one in due time, but as we all do they got impatient and placed the cart before the horse, and the Lord wasn’t about to ignore it. They would be disciplined by their Heavenly Father, as we would be in a similar situation. Jehovah has not changed in our own day per se in how He deals with His covenant children, and that is part of the hope Samuel has for them (and us) in the midst of the trial. He reminds the Israelites of the danger of moving towards the hollow, cheap, and worthless provisions of the idols. While the graven image in 1 Samuel 12 was a literal human being in Saul the form it took is immaterial to our purposes today. Remember above what Jeremiah Burroughs’ noted. Those “natural ways” in fact lead us away from the promises found in Christ. A common shake head moment in horror movies is when the people running from the danger go to the worst possible places to hide. There is a Geico commercial which highlights this asininity. Yet, we come as our own accuser. How often do we drown our sorrows in a pint of cookies and cream rather than in the warm pages of David’s Psalms? Would it not be better for our souls to grow in devotionally reading Psalm 63 than expanding our waistline through Haagen Dazs? Is it not far better to speak to a fellow believer whose calling it is to bear those burdens with you than to stuff it into your insides only to have it explode out at a later date? The sanctification which comes from taking advantage of prayer, worship, and godly conversation far surpasses all the idolatrous and materialistic answers the world and flesh can provide. They also have the benefit of having the promise of our triune God attached to them in His power and glory.
What we will find in exercising this faith is not only are our actual troubles dealt with in the flourishing of the grace of the Spirit in our heart, but as Paul so wonderfully states it in the opening part of Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
In closing, spend some time today meditating on these truths. We unnecessarily cause anguish and further strengthen the hold of the devil on our hearts by heeding his wish that we forget the promises our holy and righteous God has made to us, His special people in the Covenant of Grace. He has made a claim on your mind and soul. Rest and trust in His attributes and the assurance of His word. For in it is power to handle even the hardest of trials. The gospel is always the answer for our troubles.
For more on this here is a short read:
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church