Hope for the Afflicted & Confused

November 13, 2017

by John Murray

Enjoy this brief excerpt from John Murray’s sermon on Lamentations 3:21. Preorder O Death, Where Is Thy Sting? today to read more from the first full collection of Professor Murray’s sermons and prayers.

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Lamentations 3 has a great lesson for us. Our interests, affections, aspirations, and hopes must likewise be identified with that to which the Old Testament Zion corresponded: the church of Christ. If we do not identify ourselves—in our interests, affections, aspirations, and hopes—with the church of Christ, then we do not identify ourselves in our faith and affection with him who is the head of the church. You can never separate Christ from his church or the church from Christ. Christ is meaningless apart from his interest in the church; it was for the sake of the church that he came into this world. “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word to present it to himself a glorious church” (Eph 5:25–27).

We cannot possibly disassociate our own responsibility from that which afflicts the church of Christ in our particular day and generation.

And, as we can never think of Christ apart from the church or the church apart from Christ, so our own interest in Christ can very well be gauged by our interest in his church. We can well take up the lamentations of Jeremiah as we may take up the lamentations of another prophet: “Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste” (Isa 64:11). We cannot disassociate ourselves from the situation in which the church of Christ finds itself. There is a corporate responsibility, and we cannot possibly disassociate our own responsibility from that which afflicts the church of Christ in our particular day and generation. We cannot shrug our shoulders and say that we have no responsibility for the plight in which the church of Christ finds itself when our gold has become dim and our wine mixed with water (Lam 4:1; Isa 1:22). There is the grave danger that people in a particular location or in a particular denomination will shrug their shoulders and say that we have no responsibility. My friends, there is a corporate responsibility that we cannot divest ourselves of.

Not only is there this corporate responsibility for the defection and the impurity that are so rampant in the professing church of Christ, but we are responsible for our own individual, personal iniquities. Another prophet said, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me” (Mic 7:9). You cannot read this chapter of the lamentations of Jeremiah without recognizing, on the part of Jeremiah himself, a profound sense of his own sin and the indignation of the Lord against him for his iniquity. “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light” (Lam 3:1–2). There is, here, profound recognition of his own individual, personal iniquity, and frustration in self-humiliation before God.

Not only do we find the reflection in this chapter of the indignation of the Lord against the sin of Zion and even against Jeremiah himself because of his own personal, individual iniquity, but we also find a reflection of those mysterious dispensations of God’s providence that are ever tending to bewilder even the people of God. God’s providences to his people are not all dictated by his anger and indignation. There are indeed providences that are the expression of his indignation for his people’s iniquity, and there are indeed dispensations of chastisement, which, of course, are always for sin and for its correction. But there are also those dispensations of God’s providence that do not find their explanation in God’s indignation against the particular recipients of these dispensations.

If you take, for example, the patriarch Job, God did not visit him with afflictions because of indignation for his iniquity. Not at all! There was something in the unseen spirit world that was the explanation of Job’s affliction. And yet, notwithstanding the fact that the dispensations of God’s providence to him were not dictated by God’s indignation against him, Job could nevertheless say, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him” (Job 23:8–9). Job was encompassed with great darkness and bewilderment because he did not understand at that time the unseen purpose of God in the tribulation that overtook him.

When the people of God have to walk in darkness, and they cannot understand the reason, it causes the bewilderment of heart reflected in Lamentations 3.

So it is often the case with the people of God, as Jeremiah says in this very chapter, “He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old. He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy. Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer” (Lam 3:6–8). And again, “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through” (Lam 3:44). When the people of God have to walk in darkness and have no light in the mystery or the abyss of God’s providential dealings towards them, and they cannot understand the reason, it causes the bewilderment and the distress of heart, mind, and soul reflected in Lamentations 3.

Now all of that is simply by way of introduction, in order to appreciate that pinnacle of praise, of thanksgiving, and of hope that we find in the words of our text. In the face of all this perplexity, darkness, dismay, even bewilderment, in the face of this profound sense of the indignation of the Lord against Zion and against the prophet himself individually, is there any outlet of confidence, joy, and hope for the prophet in this unspeakable situation of grief and sorrow and travail? Yes, there is! “This I recall to mind, therefore have I hope.” And what is the secret of this hope? Jeremiah remembered certain things; there were certain considerations that he called to mind, that entered into his thought, notwithstanding the bewilderment, the darkness, and the dismay that possessed the inmost recesses of his heart and being. Very briefly I’m going to call your attention to these particular considerations that the prophet called to mind. . . .

. . . Preorder John Murray’s collected sermons in O Death, Where Is Thy Sting? to finish reading.

John Murray

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