“Therefore, know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)
As you read this article, you will already know more of God’s providential dealings with men than I do. Articles are, of course, written some time in advance of publication. As I write, we have not even reached the 4th of July 2004. Many events hidden from me are fully known to you. For instance, the United States just handed over “sovereignty” in Iraq to an interim Iraqi government. Will this work or end in chaos? You have a much better idea than I do. I wonder if President Bush will be re-elected. For you this is old news. The Dow closed today at 10,435.48, but will it be above 10,000 when you read this article? The list goes on and on. My favorite baseball team, the Red Sox, are six and a half games behind the Yankees in the American League East. I have no idea who will win the 2004 World Series, but all of you do. All this is common knowledge to you, but it is hidden from me as I write this article.
I think you get the picture. We only know what God has ordained for the future when it has come to pass.
The Heidelberg Catechism asks in question 28: “What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds all things?” The answer is: “That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.”
I want to highlight the words, “and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father...” This good confidence is impossible if we base our assurance on circumstances. This is a very unstable foundation for hope. If we simply hope for the best we will be profoundly worried and despairing when trials come, as they certainly will.
We are told to place our confidence for the future not on circumstances but on our faithful God and Father. Certainly, God is faithful. He can be relied upon. He will never change in His love towards us.
The faithfulness of God: what a wonderful comfort. Our God will be the same in 2005 as He was in 2004. Has He loved and cared for His people in the past? Sure, He has. Has He ever let His people down? Of course not. If God were suddenly to abandon us to all the terrors of this sinful world, to sink or swim as we can, God would have to change. He would, in effect, have to become a different God. This can never happen.
When God says, as He does in Deuteronomy 7.9 that His mercy extends to a thousand generations, He points us to the future, even the far future. It means that God will be faithful to us all our lives. It means He will be faithful to our children and our more distant descendants as long as they trust in God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s promises have no expiration date. We do not have to fear for ourselves or our covenant children.
God promises to guard us from evil. He guards us from the evil of our own hearts and the evil that surrounds us. We read in II Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.” The Greek word used here for “establish” has two meanings. The first is “to make stable, place firmly, set fast.” The second is “to strengthen, make firm.” When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, God is faithful to ensure that we never fall away from His grace or become too weak to endure either temptations or trials. He will not, at some point, suddenly let us go.
Sometimes Christians endure horrible trials. We know from experience that the horrible things that can happen to an unbeliever can also happen to any one of us. This is true, but God’s purposes are different. With the unbeliever, God deals harshly - a small foretaste of the wrath of God they will experience forever into eternity.
When these same events happen to Christians, their purpose is entirely different. They are trials which our faithful God knows are necessary for the strengthening of our faith. We read in Psalm 119:75, “I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” When God afflicts us in this coming year, He does so out of faithfulness. He sends trials for our good. As His children, we need the occasional spanking. We also need His faithful discipline so that we will mature in our faith.
Hard times are not punishments. The punishment for sin is everlasting damnation in hell. Christ already suffered this for His people on the cross. God’s faithful afflictions are loving, and are designed to keep us in the faith and growing in grace.
We read in Lamentations 3:22, 23: “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” The only reason we are not consumed is because the Lord is faithful. Jeremiah then goes on to say, in effect, that we will never be destroyed. Why? Because God’s mercies are new every morning, His faithfulness is great. God faithfully shows His grace to His people. He ensures that they shall never be destroyed.
This means that however much God allows us to be tested and tried, His purpose will never be our destruction, but rather our growth. He faithfully renews His mercies every day.
Another verse repeats this thought. We read in I Corinthians 10:13, “No trial has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tried beyond what you are able, but with the trial will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” You will notice that I have replaced the word temptation with the word trial. This is permissible in the Greek. Why won’t we be subjected to trials too great for us to bear? This verse says God is faithful to His people and will not allow us to face trials greater than we can bear without His help. His faithfulness will keep us through our trials and out the other side.
Even when we sin, God is faithful to His promises to forgive us. John writes in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we come to God confessing our utter sinfulness before Him, He has promised to forgive us. He faithfully keeps this promise.
Having seen God’s faithfulness to us, how should we respond to the year 2005? The answer is found in Philippians 4:11 13, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
God calls us to contentment. The Greek word Paul uses for contentment means something like “to have enough.” He learned that he could be content to reckon he had enough regardless of his circumstances. He trusted God to provide whatever he needed. Whatever he did not have was because God in His wisdom and mercy knew it would not be good for him.
This kind of contentment in the midst of trials did not come from Paul’s own character. He freely admits it comes from God. Therefore, he adds the words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The ability to be content with whatever God sends our way is a gift from God. It is an ability that we should beg of Him when we find ourselves worried or desperate. This grace of God allowed Job to declare in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
Therefore, everything that comes to us in this coming year will be for our ultimate good. As Question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism says, God “so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation.”
Just because the future is unknown to us does not mean it is dark and dangerous. Our faithful God is in control and watches over us.
In the midst of this muggy summer heat, New Year’s Day seems farther off to me than it really is. But whether we are talking about the day I am writing, the day you are reading, or perhaps some distant day when this magazine is discovered in a dusty corner of an attic, God’s promises are always true. The future for Christians is always bright and each day is a day closer to heaven.
Rev. David A. Dawn lives in Aberdeen, South Dakota and pastors both the First Reformed Church of Aberdeen and the Oranien Reformed Church of Leola, both in South Dakota and both RCUS.