“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled”
Jesus Christ urges us into activity. The activity is urgent, vehement; it is the most energetic activity that one could possibility imagine, therefore Jesus employs the metaphor of hungering and thirsting.
There no need more basic to the physical man than food and water. When these are not available there is starvation and dehydration. It will prove fatal unless supplies are found. There is pain and suffering as the body cries out for moisture and nutrition.
Therefore Christ is teaching us that if we truly acknowledge with submission all that God says about who and what we are – there will be a hunger and thirst arising from the starved and withered soul.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled”
I want to be blessed by God; you want to be blessed by God. But God’s favour does not come upon our lives when we are passive – we must do something we must actively pursue righteousness. But we will not pursue this unless we sense our need. Do we realise our need – only then will there be a hunger and a thirst after righteousness.
Let us appreciate the emphasis – He is not telling us that success belongs to the powerful, the rich, the educated – in this case the blessing is for the righteous. This is what God wants us to pursue.
How desperate was the plight of the Prodigal Son! Wallowing among the pigs, eating the food that they ate; competing with them for his breakfast, dinner and supper; grovelling in the mud. What pain was he in to drive him to such despair? Only then did He experience a greater hunger; for home, for family, for Father; then he came to himself. When will we learn that all that we derive pleasure from in this world is grovelling with the pigs? Oh for a hungering for that which really counts – grace, forgiveness, righteousness!
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled”
Pilate the Roman Governor of Judaea was anxious. He was tasked with keeping order in one of the most troublesome of all the Roman territories. He was entering Passover time when hundreds of thousands of Jews were flooding into Jerusalem. Nationalistic fervour would be at its highest and mixed with religious energy this was a heady cocktail. He was aware of the stories of a Messiah, the great deliverer whom the Jews longed for.
As day broke on the eve of Passover Pilate was approached by a delegation from the Sanhedrin. However much he despised these Jewish leaders he could not ignore them. If unrest broke out during Passover his soldiers would never be able to hold back the mobs and he would lose his credibility. These Priests and Pharisees were demanding that Pilate execute a man who claimed to be the Messiah, the miracle worker called Jesus who hailed from Nazareth.
Knowing the Sanhedrin as he did, Pilate recognised their jealous motivation and the innocence of Jesus. On interviewing Jesus Pilate became increasingly convinced of His innocency. All that morning he laboured to find a way to set Jesus free. He offered another prisoner to the people, a murderer called Barabbas thinking that the choice would be for Jesus. But the demand from the increasingly angry mob was that Barabbas must be released that Passover. He remonstrated but his words could not prevail. His wife had a disturbing dream and warned her husband against executing this just man. Cleverly, the Jewish leadership threatened the Governor by the warning him that acquitting Jesus would put him at odds with Caesar; in other words ‘there will be a heavy price to pay for going against us’. Pilate finally made his fateful decision washing His hands in a public show of defiance passing the guilt onto the Jews.
But still it was him that made the choice. He crucified Jesus.
He crucified Jesus after looking into his eyes of love and pity.
He crucified Jesus after seeing the pain his soldiers had already inflicted in the torture chamber.
He crucified Jesus sinning against his conscience and pressurised by the crowd.
And so Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified.
Just as Pilate is defined by his tragic choice so men and women in their millions are eternally defined by their response to Jesus Christ. Some accept Him as Saviour while others reject Him.
What is your choice?
Can you look into those eyes of love, can you look into the face of one who embracedthat fearful death for you and refuse Him as your Saviour?
“Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.” Psa 102:13
By the 1730’s the fires of the Reformation in England had been virtually extinguished, leaving behind the embers of Protestant formalism. In just 40 short years since the remarkable deliverance by King William, securing the liberties of these islands, the nation was wallowing in the mire of religion without true faith. As a consequence the morals of the nation had sunk, it seemed, to an all time low. It was an alarming situation that caused concern among many, but no-one it seemed, had the answer for these perplexing problems.
The mining community at Kingswood, on the outskirts of Bristol, was symptomatic of the problems of the age. The people lived in such filth and deprivation that few would go near their villages. On occasions they rioted in the streets of Bristol, giving vent to their frustration.
But God had the solution for Kingswood and for England with all of the social, moral and spiritual evils that prevailed. During the Easter season in 1735, a young Oxford student called George Whitefield was converted. He had been a zealous and spiritually minded young man who joined himself to John Wesley’s Holy Club. It was while reading a book written by a Scot, Henry Scougal called “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”, that Whitefield’s conscience was alerted to the inner need of his soul:
“God showed me that I must be born again or be damned. I learned that a man may go to Church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet not be a Christian…God soon showed me that ‘true religion is a union of the soul with God, and Christ formed within us’ “.
What was most remarkable was the conversion of a little known Welsh schoolmaster, who had no contact whatsoever with Whitefield, also in 1735. Howell Harris was in his own words, an arrogant and proud young man who despised his parents and was full of his own self importance until he heard a sermon when the vicar said these words which pricked his soul:
“If you are not fit to come to the Lord’s table you are not fit to live and you are not fit to die”.
Consumed with a mighty passion for souls Harris began preaching outdoors to as many as would listen to him. He travelled across an extensive area of South Wales and by 1739 had established 30 societies where the converts fellowshipped together. The clergy denounced him, he was twice refused ordination by the Church, but he carried on on convinced that his rejection by the establishment made him all the more useful.
When Whitefield returned to England in 1738, after his first missionary journey to the American colony of Georgia, he discovered that many of the clergy were not disposed to permit him into their pulpits. Shortly after his conversion and ordination Whitefield had preached from many pulpits, before his departure across the Atlantic. But the clergy were glad to see him go and were equally alarmed with his return. This popular and enthusiastic young preacher was a considerable threat to the comfortable status quo which they presided over and derived their living from.
Whitefield, however, heard of Howell Harris and was inspired by the success of his outdoor preaching. He saw an opportunity of reaching the nation, by-passing the normal procedures of Church preaching.
In Bristol, he decided to begin this new phase of his ministry among the Kingswood colliery community, because they had no access to a Church. Even he could not have anticipated the results as the Spirit of God blessed these efforts, not only among the miners but throughout Bristol. There was something about the love, the gentleness and the spirit of the young well dressed clergyman that caused this community, despised and feared by so many, that brought hundreds to faith in Christ. After six weeks Whitefield was preparing to leave Bristol, because his heart was entwined with the needs of orphans in Georgia, but the work had grown to vast crowds in Kingswood alone of over 20,000, in addition to other meetings throughout the city and societies had been established for comfort and fellowship. These societies in Bristol were the beginnings of the Methodism and were modelled after the pattern established in Wales by Howell Harris.
There was only one man Whitefield could entrust this work to, as he prepared to take his leave; his old friend, the forceful and resourceful John Wesley who had been converted himself just a few months earlier. The rest we can well say – is history.
The impact of the young Oxford academic and the rather aloof and profligate Welsh schoolmaster in 1735 cannot be overstated. These two young men converted at the same time would have lives and ministries that moulded and shaped the course of a nation, that had lost her way.
Perhaps God this year, as we are travelling through this difficult period of history, will raise up two young men, from unlikely backgrounds, infuse them with the power of Spirit and give them the voice of a prophet, shaking our arrogant and godless nation to the core. He did it almost 300 years ago – He can do it again. Is there anyone to say that He won’t or that He can’t?
In those years God bypassed the Church and her clergy. He did a new thing but yet the message was the same as that of old, but the power was different. Are we not slumbering in a kind of religious apathy, too interested to maintaining our ground, afraid of being too enthusiastic in a cause that must demand our hearts and our souls? Does the Church not need to be awakened by the God who can do a new thing?
These pioneers of the 18th Century revival known as “The Evangelical Awakening” in Britain and “The Great Awakening” in America were men of prayer who lived in the presence and fear of God. Whitefield spent hours on his knees pouring over his Bible and Matthew Henry’s comments, saturating his soul with truth. Only such a life of meditation could have prepared him for the burden of the being the first celebrity figure of the modern era when the poor and the rich from two continents flocked to hear him preach, and preach he did on thousands of occasions and only eternity will reveal the souls he won for Christ.
Lord – awaken your slumbering careless Church and turn the course of this decadent foolish nation that is slipping onward towards the darkness.
The book of Psalms gives us a profound insight into the devotional lives of the ancient Hebrew people. Where the history books supplies us their history and where the prophetic books record their sermons the Psalm book shows us their hearts. There are two aspects to the devotional life of the ancient Hebrew people in the Psalm book. The first relates their praises. The Psalm book was God’s hymn book for the Old Testament Church. But the second and largely overlooked purpose of the Psalm Book was to record the prayers of God’s people. Some of these prayers were for public worship, so that all the people could join in. But others were personal prayers. And it is these very personal requests which lead us into the heart and soul of the individual. Therefore, the Psalm book can help us pray. These prayers, which are recorded under the superintendence of Holy Ghost inspiration teach us how to pray. Therein lies their value.
Let us, therefore, think about this prayer of David.
1: DAVID’S APPROACH
Verses 1 & 2
“Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.”
a) His Cry
This was no mere formal prayer. These words were born out of desperate need, therefore he cried out. But this was not a cry of hopelessness because his words were directed to the Lord.
b) His Confidence
He had total confidence in the one whom he was addressing, describing God as his rock. A rock is a place of shelter as well as a firm foundation. David prayed as one who believed in this means of grace that had been afforded him.
c) His Concern
David feared being without God and without grace. He knew that if abandoned by the Lord he would go down into the pit of eternal destruction. Therefore, he sought God earnestly as one who needed grace in his life. The remainder of the Psalm will demonstrate that David had serious issues with those who were threatening him, but his first concern related to his own spirituality. He was not a figure consumed with rage and hatred. There was a deeper burden upon his heart as there is in what are known as the Imprecatory Psalms (the Psalms of Judgement). Therefore, his chief interest, as ours ought to be, was for his own eternal welfare and his personal acceptance by God.
d) His Craving
David’s hunger and thirst for God are illustrated by the gestures of his hands and the direction in which they were pointed; he lifted them up towards the holy oracle. The oracle was the ark of covenant, the symbolic place of God’s abode in holiness and glory. For the third consecutive Psalm David refers to his deep-seated longing for the place where God was worshipped. He expressed his love for the house of God (Psalm 26:8) and his desire to dwell in this sacred place all the days of his life (Psalm 27:4). Now in a time of deep need he is lifting his hands, when making his appeal to the God who dwelt between the cherubims. The place where he directed his hands was significant; where the priests ministered, where the blood was shed and applied, where the God of glory rested. Today in our longing for God we look heavenward to the place where our High Priest claims the merits of His blood on our behalf. The lifting of the hands is, highly significant. Lifted hands are empty, outstretching and never clenched. Today, we must come to God emptied of self, and vain ambition, praying that God would fill these hearts of ours with Himself and His glory.
2: DAVID’S APPEAL
“Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts. Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up.”
As David comes to the burden of his prayer, his concern for his own spirituality persists. The evidence of grace in his life is powerfully demonstrated by his wish that he would not be like the hypocritical and deceptive wicked people who encircle him. This is so unnatural. Mankind desires revenge and justice in a way that does not take account of one’s own frailties and tendencies. David’s displays deep humility is praying that his heart would not drift into the evil mindset that so plagued others. He needed divine protection; our testimony can only be preserved by the grace of God, a fact we must be aware of as we are encircled by the ungodly secularism of this wicked age.
David pleaded with God to execute His divine justice upon those who opposed Him and His truth with their wicked words and deeds. He identified a natural progression here as he asked God to give them what their wickedness deserved. He was not in the business of exercising himself with a cruel and vicious vendetta against his foes; rather he was entrusting the matter in the hands of the supreme judge. We observe wickedness all around us as our nation slips away from its moral and biblical roots. We can with justification pray that God would deal with the LGBT obsession that is overrunning the media, the crime of abortion and the apologists for terrorism. There has recently been reporting of Dr Lisa Cameron, a Scottish Nationalist MP, who has been trolled on social media and has even had her elderly relatives threatened because of her pro-life stance. Her position reflects the deep-seated wickedness of our society and ought to inspire us to pray for divine intervention.
David was provoked to pray these words, not because he personally had been dishonoured. This was a deeply spiritual man who had a keen sense for God and His honour, and such self-interest was not a motivator. He was rather interested in the honour of God therefore he wanted God to intervene because these people did not regard His works. They behaved as if there was no God, as if He was an irrelevance and that they could behave as they liked. The wicked heart of man never changes. In the moral landscape of this generation we observe a God who is dishonoured. On this account we must be provoked into requesting that He would arise and vindicate His honour for the glory of His name.
3: DAVID’S ASSURANCE
“Blessed be the LORD, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed. Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever.”
a) His Relationship with God
There is little value in talking to someone who never listens and in making our appeal to a court which ignores our arguments. David was deeply aware that the court of God had a deep interest in these matters and that the judge was his heavenly Father who always hears and listens to the cries of His children. It is this confidence born out of the precious relationship we have with God which gives us the greatest of confidence as we make our appeals to Him
b) His Reliance upon God
As he addressed God as His rock at the beginning of his prayer, David, as he nears the close, comes back to this theme by calling the Lord his strength and his shield. His confidence and assurance were resolute and unwavering, the peace of a praying saint.
c) His Rejoicing in God
His prayer was closing off with praise, that arose from a heart that bursting with thanksgiving. He knew that God would not abandon him, therefore despite the darkness of the hour he was a happy soul. We can leave the place of prayer with thanksgiving that all will be well. His comment that God is the saving strength of His anointed is founded upon the covenant. God makes a covenant with his anointed and David as King was anointed, chosen by God to this position. Our joy is grounded upon the covenant keeping God of mercy who has promised us to His Son, the anointed Messiah, under the terms of the eternal covenant of grace. While we not always rejoice in our circumstances, we can never leave off rejoicing in our Saviour and the promises which flow through Him to us.
d) His Resources from God
David, in concluding His Psalm thinks about the people, the precious flock that God had entrusted him with. He prays for their salvation, the preservation of their inheritance, that they would be fed and nourished. He knew that every resource for the future governance and provision of his nation must come from God.
This is a prayer of utter and total dependence upon God, from whom all blessings flow. A true prayer of faith.
“One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.“
As with the Psalm 26, where David expressed his love for the habitation of God’s House, the Psalmist in this place makes the worship of God the ultimate desire of his life. As we travel out of lock down, after a time when public gatherings were closed to us, God is reminding us of the true value of meeting with God’s people in His house, with stirring and memorable words, from a Psalm, which I must confess is my favourite.
DAVID’S DESIRE FOR THE LORD’S HOUSE
1: PASSIONATE DESIRE
This was David’s ONE desire, the one object that filled his mind and permeated all of his ambitions – to dwell in the house of the Lord. This Psalm reveals that David had many problems and trials as he was writing. He compared his enemies to cannibals who seemed fierce enough to pick the flesh from his bones (v2). In the third verse he related the hosts which were arrayed ominously against him. Yet – his one desire was not for the defeat of his foes, for the vengeance of God, for the preservation of his own life even. Oh no – his first priority which trumped all other concerns was the ambition to know God through worship.
This is true passion for God. Any ambition which takes precedence over the natural instinct for survival is born out of true love.
In the midst of life with our many concerns, worries and fears may we be filled with such an all consuming passion – to know God.
2: PRAYERFUL DESIRE
This desire that David had was expressed through prayer. He desired of God that he would dwell in His house. This perhaps indicates that he was cut off from worship through the regular ordinances by virtue of the persecution he was experiencing. The Psalm may have been written when he was being hunted by Saul. It is also possible he penned these words when Absalom had driven him from his palace and seat of Government in a terrible act of rebellion. In both cases He was hunted and accused wrongfully as he was in this Psalm. David when surrounded with murderous foes, their sharp swords and forked tongues was cut off from the means of grace and it grieved his soul. Therefore he prayed for a return to the sanctuary.
We have felt a little of this pain, when we were unable to gather in this fashion, and we prayed then for a return to God’s House. But we continue to feel the pain for those who even yet cannot assemble publicly for the worship of God. Therefore we pray for circumstances which will make it possible for all of God’s people to assemble on the Lord’s Day. This situation which prevents us from gathering as one body, without singing, and without being able to distribute and receive the Sacrament is far from perfect. Therefore we must continue to pray for an end of this virus – so that God’s people can resume the normal and regular business of worship.
But in praying for a return to God’s House – David was desiring a preparation of heart and soul in order that he might meet with the Lord. Even when away from God’s House he was spending his time in communion with the Lord, in order that he might be prepared in spirit.
The desires are what we truly are. Desires, become thoughts and thoughts become actions whether they be good or bad. It was David who wrote in the Psalm 37 – “delight thyself in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of thy heart”. Therefore a life of living and dwelling in the presence of God, through our private devotions and personal testimony cultivates godly desires which will make the season of public worship all the more precious.
3: PERMANENT DESIRE
This desire that David had was permanent. He wished to dwell in the House of God all the days of his life. While it was physically impossible for him to dwell in the Tabernacle all of the time, nevertheless he wished for this spirit, this desire to never leave his soul. And most importantly he never wanted to be cut away from the means of grace ever again. There is a desire for consistency here that we ought to take to heart. Solid Christians are dependable and earnest, consistent and reliable – predictable in the best sense possible because their zeal and love for God is so constant…I know that God’s dear people who still are unable to worship God with the corporate assembly are feeding off this desire for God, which never leaves their souls despite the circumstances in which they find themselves.
4: PURPOSEFUL DESIRE
Now we come to the climax of the text. This one thing that David desired of the Lord all the days of his life was bent upon knowing more of God. The temple was not erected so he was certainly not motivated by the grandeur of the place. God continued to dwell beneath fabric, as he had done since the days of Moses. David was a man with true spiritual sensitivity who wanted to behold and see the beauty of the Lord. This was his desire.
As we worship among God’s people this is the purpose – not merely to be with others, not just to occupy our accustomed place, not to perform ceremonies or even to listen to sermons. We come to see the beauty of the Lord. Every praise, every prayer, every sermon, every time we taste the communion wine and feel the broken bread on our tongues, even every conversation as we leave God’s House should lead us to Christ.
I came across these words written by James M. Boice on Psalm 27:4, written in 1994 (hence the reference to audio tapes!) but even so they couldn’t be more relevant.
“There is something to be experienced of God in church that is not quite so easy to experience elsewhere. Otherwise , why have churches? If it is only instruction we need, we can get that as well by an audio tape or a book. If it is only fellowship, we can find that equally well, perhaps better, in a small home gathering. There is something to be said for the sheer physical singing of hymns, the sitting in the pews, the actual looking to the pulpit and gazing on the pulpit Bible as it is expounded, the tasting of the sacrament, and the very atmosphere of the place set apart for the worship of God that is spiritually beneficial. Isn’t that true? Haven’t you found a sense of God’s presence simply by being in God’s house? I do not mean to deny that God can (and should be) worshipped elsewhere. But I am suggesting that that the actual physical worship of God in the company of other believers can be almost sacramental”
Sitting at home watching an online broadcast is not the same as sitting among God’s people in His house. We have proved that to be be true. We are thankful for the ability to be able to reach our people with God’s Word, we are so glad that those who are unable still to worship can share our ministry and yet we all are aware that communing with the body of Christ is impossible without our public gatherings.
Richard Sibbes the Puritan preacher talked about God being everywhere, filling heaven and earth and yet being especially present when His people gather, in such a way that is not true anywhere else. For that reason the House of God becomes the very gate of heaven itself.
Oh how beautiful Jesus Christ is!!! He is the bridegroom, the all-together lovely one, He is the Good Shepherd, the Saviour, the bright and morning star, he is the alpha and omega, he is the King and Kings and Lord of Lords, he is the Lamb of God, he is the Son of God. He is my lover, the lover of my soul. He is my shield and my defender, He is my exceeding great reward. David had experienced something of the Lord’s glory, commencing the Psalm with the testimony
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, the Lord is the strength of my life”
This knowledge of God had such a profound impact upon him, he was a man at peace – I shall not fear he cried out despite my enemies because the Lord is with me. Though all be darkness He is my light, though I am weak yet I will be strong through Him. This only served to whet his appetite for more of the Lord, more of his glory, more of his beauty.
We too live in a dark world yet we will never be in darkness as long as we have the Lord, we have peace in our hearts knowing that He is our strength and our song, therefore on account of this we yearn for him, we long for him.
But there is something else besides. Do we not sense our spiritual barrenness today. Where there is drought the streams dry up, the river beds are exposed. The country is longing for water. We long for the presence of God because without His presence we are a barren people.
His purpose was not just for the Lord’s beauty but he wanted to enquire after Him. There was a seeking of the Lord, and this theme runs throughout the entire Psalm concluding with David’s great encouragement that we should with courage wait on the Lord. He didn’t speak of courage to face his foes but he did refer to courage when seeking God. This is because it takes great strength of character to lay every worry and fear down at the feet of Jesus Christ. If he is such a wonderful Saviour then He is present to listen to us, to carry our crosses, to sympathise with our woes, to mend our brokenness, to heal our backslidings, and grant every request that is conformed to His will. This is walking with God. This is faith.
In the Scriptures we read of people who yearned for God. Moses pleaded for the glory of the Lord, the woman of Shunem took to running to the prophet after the child of her old age died (testifying that all was well even though her heart was broken), the Syrophenician woman cried out after the Lord even though the disciples discouraged her, Mary and Martha came to Jesus in sorrow and with questions and the Apostle Paul simply, said, “that I might know him.”
Tonight in His house let us be encouraged to wait on Him.
The twelfth of July celebrations, not only in Ulster, but everywhere in the world where the Orange Order has established itself, commemorate the legacy of one King of England, William 3rd, Prince of Orange. It is sad, that in the life of our nation, this tiny corner of these islands, which comprises a population of 1.7 million, should be the last place in Britain which recognises the significance of this great English King in a meaningful way.
This is an opportune time, to think about our history, by asking the question, “Who was the Prince of Orange?”
William Prince of Orange was a continental Gentleman, from German ancestry, possessing a French principality, the hero of the Dutch, with an English princess as his wife and with a mother who was an English and Scottish Princess. His wife, Mary, was a Stuart, and the Stuarts were the British royal family in the 17th Century. She was in fact the daughter of James 2nd, the same James that William defeated at the Boyne. William and Mary were the only joint monarchs in English and British History. William’s mother was the daughter of Charles 1st which meant that James 2nd as well as being his father-in-law was also his uncle. These connections were critical, however, as they gave him legitimacy when England required and demanded a new King.
Being Dutch, was a highly significant fact in the forming of King William’s character and convictions. I imagine that the Prince of Orange understood the plight of the Ulster Protestant Planters in the 17th Century, particularly because of his Dutch Protestant heritage. Less than fifty years before William’s battles in Ireland, 100,000 Irish Protestants were massacred by the Irish uprising of 1641. In the two years before William arrived in Carrickfergus in the Spring of 1690, the Ulster Protestants were at war with the armies of James. It was a life and death struggle, because freedom itself was at stake. The Prince of Orange would have understood this as his people in The Netherlands had their own fair share of battles for survival.
To appreciate his Dutch Protestant influences let us think a little about William’s Great Grandfather, William the Silent, as he was known. William the Silent was the founder of the Netherlands as an independent nation.
At the time of the Reformation the Netherlands was a crowded nation of 3 million people. It was part of the Spanish Empire of Charles 5th. Charles 5th, in his attempt to destroy Protestantism established the Inquisition, known as the Spanish Inquisition. With many people in the Netherlands having converted to the teachings of Luther and Calvin, this Inquisition acted brutally. Dutch Protestants, were burned, strangled and even buried alive. By Charles’ abdication in 1555 it is estimated that he martyred 5,000 Protestants in Holland. He bitterly learned, however, the gross miscalculation and folly of his actions. His hobby was the making and the collecting of clocks:
“How foolish I have been to think I could make all men believe alike about religion, when I cannot make two clocks keep the same time.”
His son Philip 2nd succeeded him. Philip 2nd was determined to rule Protestant England. When he failed to marry Elizabeth 1st, he sent his vast Armada, which was defeated by a storm, the “Protestant winds”; these same winds would carry William 3rd to England in 1688. The Dutch Protestants however, were not to escape. Thousands were killed, thousands were deprived of lands and businesses, thousands fled to Germany, England and elsewhere.
William the Silent was not a quiet man. His nickname arose from a specific incident where he kept silent. He was a man noted for his grace. He was a German by birth, who inherited family estates in the Principality of Orange near the town of Avignon in the South of France. He had been a close adviser of Charles 5th but had converted to Protestantism. Recognising the tragedy that was taking place in the Netherlands he was determined to lead the people into freedom. As a result, the Dutch went to war against the might of the Spanish Empire. They flooded the dykes, the sea rushed over the land and they fought a successful naval war. Charles 5th offered an enormous reward for the head of William the Silent. In 1584 he was assassinated. The little children cried in the streets. He was fondly remembered for his steadfast character. In 1609 the suffering people of the Netherlands finally gained their independence and William the Silent became known as the founder of the Dutch Republic. The motto of his house was “I will Support” or “I will Maintain”.
Let us now move forward about 70 years to 1672. The Netherlands was a Republic, she had no King. She was protected from the Catholic powers of Europe by an alliance with two Protestant nations – England and Sweden.
But Protestantism in England was not as secure as once it was. Charles 2nd was the King, a most immoral man, who had inclinations towards Romanism. But there was one strong man in Europe at this time – Louis 14th. He was determined to make France stronger in Europe. He persuaded Charles 2nd to break his treaty with the Netherlands and join him in a war against this little Protestant nation. To his disgrace Charles agreed.
The plan was that France would invade by land and the English navy would secure sea supremacy. It looked highly likely that the Netherlands would crumble and this nation less than 100 years only would lose its hard-fought freedoms.
It was at this critical juncture that the Netherlands looked once again to the House of Orange for leadership, and in particular to the future William 3rd of England.
He was appointed Captain and Admiral General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Louis and Charles offered William the throne of Holland if he accepted their terms. He was a man who had the heart of a true Protestant – the no surrender spirit. William replied that he would lie in the last ditch before capitulating to their requirements and surrendering the hard fought freedoms that the people of the Netherlands had earned.
Against all the odds and with the help of God Almighty the Netherlands defeated England and France and preserved her independence. Suddenly the Prince of Orange became the undisputed Protestant leader of Europe – and seeds were planted in English Protestant hearts – perhaps this man will be our King one day.
After the death of Charles 2nd his brother became James 2nd of England. He officially converted to Catholicism. Protestantism was now at a crisis. With Roman Catholicism paraded on the streets in a fashion not seen since the Reformation the dark and bloody spectre of Queen Mary began to raise her head.
The leading Bishops of the Church of England appealed to the Prince of Orange to cross the channel and be their King.
Louis 14th policy of Imperialism had persuaded the Catholic powers of Europe not to intervene. No-one trusted Louis, therefore no-one was in a rush to support an ally of the mighty French monarch. German Protestant leaders, however, offered their support to William.
The Prince of Orange, therefore, made the crucial and history making decision that he would send an expedition to England.
On the 10th October 1688 he declared his noble intentions:
“This expedition is intended for no other design but to have a free and lawful Parliament assembled to which all questions might be referred touched the establishment of the Protestant religion and the peace, honour and happiness of these nations upon happy foundations.”
His fleet was carried across the English Channel to Torbay in Devon by the helpful “Protestant winds”. His flagship carried a banner with the inscription:
“For the Protestant Religion and Liberties of England I will Maintain.”
He appealed to the English army and navy to support him in this venture:
“We are come…to secure these nations from Popery and slavery…you are only made use of as instruments to enslave your nation and ruin your Protestant religion…you will in the first place consider what you owe to Almighty God, and next to your country and to your posterity”.
He also issued another appeal to the men of England:
“Our duty to God obliges us to protect the Protestant religion…Therefore gentlemen…and fellows Protestants welcome to my camp…it is our principle to die in a good cause, than die in a bad one.”
James fled England for Ireland, realising he no longer commanded the support of his nation just as he fled Ireland after the defeat at the Boyne. The contrast between the two men could not have been greater.
William was crowned with Mary as William 3rd and Mary 2nd of England.
The Parliament duly convened, drew up a Bill of Rights, which continues to be a most important legal document, underpinning the British Constitution.
This was the first human rights document of the modern era. It required all laws to be made by Parliament, it gave subjects the right to petition the King without fear and it provided for free parliamentary elections.
Whether William 3rd was German, French, Dutch, English or Scottish is of little relevance. He was a Protestant with a passion for freedom, a rare commodity in the 17th Century. His Protestant convictions moulded him into a character who believed that freedom is a God given right that we must cherish. The Bill of Rights that arose out of “The Glorious Revolution”, transformed the course of history. With the expansion of the British Empire these principles were exported across the world. Today we find the influence of the Bill of Rights in nations across the continents of our world, chiefly within the Commonwealth. The most famous example outside the Commonwealth is the United States of America, whose declaration of Independence and subsequent Constitution were shaped by King William 3rd’s settlement. Interestingly, even the founders of the Irish Republic were shaped in their thinking by the principles of freedom which the Prince of Orange brought to these islands and this world.
We all owe a great debt to this stalwart and courageous champion of faith and freedom. Today we thank God for his memory.
The memory of William, Prince of Orange, also gives us hope for the future. In times of bitter persecution for the people of Holland God gave them a brave leader in William the Silent. His influences continued not only in Holland but in his family. His Great Grandson, in turn became an even greater leader who provided hope for Protestants across Europe, in Britain and Ireland, in times when it seemed the flames of the Reformation were burning low. With the Ulster planters still reeling from the ravages of 1641, with the Scottish Covenanters being murdered and deported in their thousands, with godly men like Bunyan and Baxter in England suffering greatly – God intervened and sent William Prince of Orange to establish the freedoms that we continue to enjoy today.
Therefore, we are reminded that cause of the Gospel and of God is not finished. God is still writing the story of the Church. He will continue to raise up His men in His time.
Let us trust the sovereign God of history who continues to govern the present, and the future as well as the past.
“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things”
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God…” Psalm 46:3
I grew up in the town of Coleraine, situated along the banks of the River Bann, Co. Londonderry. The fast-flowing currents of the Bann divide the town with its banks connected by two bridges. The river is not just a feature of Coleraine’s geography but it has played a key role in the development and the economy of the area. Being the first proper place where the river could be bridged certainly made the area conducive to settlement. Coleraine was also a very suitable inland location, for receiving large vessels. When I was a boy ships laden with their cargoes of coal were a regular feature of life. Those boats had sailed in from the sea, along the Bann Estuary, before docking at the Port of Coleraine. While times have changed, the coal boats are no longer bringing their wares, and the once busy port is largely silent, the river teeming with life as the salmon, sea trout and thousands of eels make their annual pilgrimage in from the sea towards Lough Neagh and onward to the tributaries, continues to flow silently through the heart of the town. Coleraine is one of many towns in Ireland defined by the presence of a river and the bridges which span the watery currents.
In the 46th Psalm we read about a river which makes glad the city of God. Here our thoughts are lifted upward, away from earthly rivers and the dwellings of men. The city of God is descriptive of the church of Jesus Christ, the New Testament parallel to Old Testament Jerusalem. As the ancient pilgrims prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, we pray for the good of God’s people, the church of the living God. The river, therefore, is the Gospel, the only source of spiritual life. Ezekiel in one of his many visions, saw a river, growing in strength, bringing healing and life wherever it flowed (Ezekiel 47). Revelation, which mirrors Ezekiel in so many ways, likewise reveals a river flowing with the water of life, which issues from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22). This is the river, which the church is situated alongside. We dare not stray from this river. It is our source of life.
As we return to God’s House after being shut out for so long, we must rejoice because there is a river.
The river is full of life. Fish swim beneath its surface, and vegetation rich with foliage and fruit thrive beside its banks. As Christians, we have spiritual life because of the Gospel river. The church would have no right to exist without the Gospel. Indeed, the survival and growth of Christianity throughout the centuries can only be explained by the miraculous power of this life-giving message, that Jesus saves.
The river provides a free drinking supply. Water is such a simple commodity, yet it is the very essence of human life. Yet man has polluted the waters by adding his effluents and filth, and thereby removing the life-giving power. Where rivers have become polluted, living along their banks have become a curse rather than a blessing. The Gospel river is a pure stream, “clear as crystal”, as John saw in his vision. The church must present this clear message in order that a dying world might drink therefrom. But sadly, in some cases, man has polluted the pure stream by adding in his own rationalistic thinking, denying the message its spiritual vigour. For those unfortunate enough to be under the ministry of unbelieving clerics, who preach a message of works and natural philosophy, the river has become a curse. If men and women are to have hope today, let us bring them to the pure river of God, in all of its simple and glorious beauty, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31) – “Ho everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters…without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).
As Christians we must drink of these waters often. As we read the Scriptures and meditate thereon, as we sit under the ministry of God’s Word and as we receive the sacraments we drink spiritually, by faith, from this fountain. It was the Saviour Himself who said to the woman of Samaria – “But whosever drinketh of this water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
The river carries people away. In bygone days the rivers represented transport and communication. Indeed, the river was the ancient equivalent of a high speed super broadband connection. With the river came opportunities for trade and travel. Travelling offered the prospects of new life, a new beginning. Living in Ireland we are all too aware that many of our ancestors chose to take a dangerous voyage across the Atlantic in search of better prospects. Another form of travellers took their leave also, not to find new life for themselves but to bring new life to others. They were the missionaries who left home and family to travel along the pure stream of the Gospel, bringing hope to parts the world living in heathen darkness. It is true that colonisation, much maligned today, was not always to the advantage of indigenous peoples. That is not the whole story, however. Across the world, remnants of the British Empire, owe their rule of law and their democratic structures to the foreign invaders. With the empire, however, came the missionaries, who captured the hearts of the local populations with the purity and satisfaction of the Gospel river. Long after the colonisers left with their mixed legacy the Gospel remained, with the dramatic difference that it brought to many hearts.
The river rises in higher realms before emptying itself out through the valleys and onward to the seas and oceans of the world. The Gospel river, flows from the throne of God. It began in the eternal counsels of God’s will. This salvation, that accomplished redemption for a fallen and depraved race, through the sacrifice of the Son of God in human flesh, is so remarkable – that it could only have originated in the mind of infinity. Such grace is so unearthly, so utterly unselfish, that only a higher realm above human society could have created such – “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
The Gospel river, rises in the everlasting hills, flows through the valleys of human civilisation, brings life and transformation before emptying out in the vast ocean of eternity. There the human race in its entirety will be either rewarded or condemned according to what they did with this Gospel of grace. Some will hear the words “Come ye blessed of my Father”, while others will be sent away – “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matthew 25). This Gospel river carries us onward to the judgement day, to heaven or to hell, because it represents not only privilege and promise but responsibility.
In the Psalm 46 the river of God represented peace and security for a people passing through days of deep and dark trouble. Therefore, the Psalm commences with the timeless words:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore will not we fear…there is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God”.
We have travelled through uncertain and troublesome days. If we were told one year ago that tens of thousands would be dead in our own nation and hundreds of thousands worldwide, before another twelve months have passed – we would have been paralysed with incredulity and horror. These days have come and we are still faced with the possibility of a second wave but the people of God have experienced the peace of a God who never fails, because we have positioned ourselves by this Gospel river which has made glad our hearts.
Let us sit by the edge of this river today and gaze upon its beauty and vitality. Let us drink and be satisfied. Let us, carry the message to others who are dry and barren, bringing hope to the hopeless. Let us sail upon this river to others who have never received its vital supply. Let us as a Church never leave or pollute this pure stream of truth. Above all, let us make our calling and election sure by knowing that we have the spring within our souls, that the river has become part of our lives through faith in Christ alone.
This week the UK Parliament, by a majority in the House of Lords and the House of Commons finally decided to ratify the Abortion regulations, drafted by the Northern Ireland Office in response to the ultimatum enshrined in law, which was established by the Creasy Amendment, passed in Parliament last summer. The road to this moment has been controversial and complicated but for the unborn in Northern Ireland the outcome is straightforward — DEATH.
NORTHERN IRELAND IS NOW THE LAST REMAINING JURISDICTION WITHIN THE BRITISH ISLES WHERE ABORTION HAS BEEN LEGALISED BY THE LAWS OF MEN AND WOMEN.
This is, in spite of the fact that a majority of Northern Ireland MPs voted against, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to reject the regulations and a majority of respondents to the consultation, from Northern Ireland , rejected the proposals.
The contradictions of abortion came to my mind this past week when I read about a lady whose duck eggs, purchased in a supermarket, hatched out to produce three ducklings. It was an experiment with duck eggs and an incubator which yielded quite astonishing rewards. When new life appears, especially from the most unlikely source there is a cause for celebration, even in the life of a humble duck.
Under normal circumstances pregnancy is greeted with celebration and even tears of joy. It is a moment that promises much by way of hopes and dreams. Motherhood and Fatherhood has begun. There is clearly something more precious, more profound in the beginnings of human life, enveloped in the womb of the mother, than the simple duck encased within the shell. As human beings we instinctively know that this is so.
Tragically, for some, new life in the womb is not greeted with happiness – an unwelcome interruption to life, an unplanned pregnancy, abandoned by a selfish partner who won’t accept his responsibilities, sexual immorality, a discovery that the baby will be handicapped in some way or most tragic of all, sexual abuse. Our hearts must go out to the women who feel they cannot enjoy motherhood. Some of these women go on to have their children and never regret the decision that they made. Some have gone on to be the most vociferous campaigners for the pro-life position because they have learned through experience that new life must be celebrated. Others choose what is clinically termed “termination”. And termination it is – finality – no new life – death. While the circumstances may not be ideal – life has been formed – and to choose death over life is never a happy or a good option. Not for the mother and definitely not for the baby.
Of course the mother has rights but doesn’t the baby have rights also? The greatest of all rights – to enjoy the gift of life. These rights need to be balanced. Women who struggle with the implications of a pregnancy they did not want – need care, counselling and especially the Gospel, which will bring grace and forgiveness. But the death of the child should not be considered to be a viable, reasonable and moral alternative.
But is abortion death? Is the foetus a baby? Is the pregnant woman a mother?
Dr Bernhard Nethanson, who campaigned for and then helped establish the abortion industry in the United States, and who later became an ardent pro-life advocate, explained that in 1949 when he was trained as a medical student, he was taught that whether the foetus was a person, or not, could not be scientifically proven. That was a matter of religious faith. Dr Nathanson explained, however, that the emergence of modern technologies enabled the development of a new branch of science called foetology, the study of the unborn child. This study has given parents the opportunity of seeing their unborn baby alive and moving within the womb. Scanning devices can identify the various parts of the foetus’s body and convinces us without a doubt that the life within the womb is indistinguishable from us and is very much a part of the human community. Indeed, scientifically, even the human embryo which has not yet reached the foetal stage of development possesses all of the characteristics, which make that life human. To argue that the life in the womb is not really human is totally inconsistent with reality and with science.
On this matter, as with with all issues, the Scriptures hold the key.
Writing in the Psalm 139 thousands of years ago David described his body as being protected by God within his mother’s womb. He wrote about being fearfully and wonderfully made when in that embryonic stage of development. He even described God as having designed his body and character, recording all of his members in a book. He was comforted by the fact that God knew him, though he was yet unborn, all of those thoughts were gracious and precious.
This is just one of a number of passages, which reveal a God who knows and cares for the life of every unborn child because all are loved by him. God recognises and loves human life though yet unborn.
It is totally contradictory that those who condemn the Bible for being unscientific, chose to reject science when that science is inconsistent with their own moral code; when all the while the Scriptures have been totally consistent reiterating an age old truth that we lived before we were born.
Abortion is officially the biggest single cause of death internationally. The world looks back to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and other genocides committed by mankind with rightful horror. Yet the most ‘civilised’ societies and ‘advanced’ communities justify the removal of millions of lives from the womb. Never was the issue of rights and freedom more important and rightfully so. Yet the human life in the mother’s womb does not even have a legal right to exist. We have lived through weeks of severe lockdown in order to preserve life and have willingly accepted the sacrifice for the greater good. Yet babies in the womb have no protection in the place which God through nature has designed for their nurturing and safety.
When will society and especially our lawmakers waken up to the cruel inconsistencies and contradictions of abortion?
The Hebrew Day of Atonement was the holiest and most sacred moment in the calendar of the ancient Jew.
This was the day when the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil of the sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant was housed. The acceptance of the High Priest by God on this day was the sign that the sins of Israel were covered and that they nationally had peace with God.
Therefore the Day of Atonement was a time of assurance. Fears were calmed because atonement was accomplished.
There is nothing more important for us as Christians than knowing that we have eternal life. As with the Jews on this ancient day full of solemn ritual we are sure because of the atonement.
The importance of atonement and assurance is exemplified by the two goats which formed a central feature of the day.
The High Priest cast lots to determine which beast would be sacrificed on the altar and which creature would be the scapegoat. In both animals we observe the work of Christ; one represents the atonement accomplished by Christ and the other is our assurance through Christ.
In the goat sacrificed we observe Christ and His work of atonement. This comes first because assurance is impossible without Calvary. The word atonement means to cover, and the only covering for sin is the blood of Christ which was shed at cross. The simple creature was slain upon the brazen altar and then the High Priest stepped into the Holy of Holies bearing the shed blood. Sprinkling the blood upon the veil and upon the mercy seat guaranteed acceptance by God.
“O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid in thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinners’ stead,
Didn’t bear all ill for me,
A victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me”.
Anne Ross Cousin
The High Priest, turning his attention to the living creature placed both his hands upon its head and performed the most remarkable ceremony:
“And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21).
This was the visible and emotional moment of assurance. The blood had been shed to make atonement, now the scapegoat bearing their sins would be sent into the wilderness never to return. Similarly, we by faith lay our hands upon the head of Christ, confessing our sin, and thereby experience the separating of those sins from us, as far as east is from the west. The debt is cancelled, the guilt is removed and we have peace with God.
“Black lives certainly matter, the innocent victims of terrorism must matter and the future of babies yet unborn definitely matter.
There is a common thread which runs through all of these situations that are unfolding in the world and in our society today – the desire of the human heart to know and experience justice.
But yet we are also reminded that there is a sense of injustice in the world. There is deep division in the world, and this division is reflected in societies and cultures right across this globe.
As we look out at our broken and fragmented world with its injustices and divisions I am reminded that men and women – whether their skin colour is black or white, whether in Northern Ireland parlance – they are orange or green – the need is the same – there must be reconciliation with God, and it is this lack of reconciliation with our Creator which is the cause of murder, of social unrest, of sectarian division, of hatred, selfishness and thousand other problems.
This is where we come to the heart of man’s greatest need.”
2nd Corinthians 5:20 “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”