Archive for the Suffering Category

God Our Help in Ages Past and Years To Come

Posted in Heaven, Hymns, John Bunyan, Puritans, Suffering, The Pilgrim's Progress, Valley of Vision on January 29, 2015 by kevinwilkening

My younger brother’s thirteen year old daughter, Eilise, has been diagnosed with a pinealblastoma: an aggressive brain tumor. After hanging up the phone, having heard the news through my brother’s breaking voice, and our short but meaningful tear-filled conversation, I was reminded once again of The Pilgrim’s ProgressThe Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory that was written by John Bunyan, and published in February 1678.

I began thinking particularly of a couple sections. First, when night is falling, and Christian has entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian finds himself in the middle of the valley amidst gloom and terror, but then he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Christian makes it through the night trusting that God is with him. Then, he leaves valley as the sun rises on a new day.

The second is when Christian and Hopeful, having just visited Vanity Fair, are traveling along a particularly rough section of road. They leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow. However, there is a rainstorm that forces them to spend the night, and in the morning, they are captured by Giant Despair who takes them to his Doubting Castle where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant Despair wants them to commit suicide, but they endure his misery until Christian realizes that he has a key called Promise, which will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key, they escape. Eventually, Christian and Hopeful come upon some shepherds in the Delectable Mountains. And the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land.”

What a helpful allegory for the Christian life. I love The Pilgrim’s Progress for several reasons. However, the one I will highlight today is that this story reminds us that our lives are all pilgrimages, or journeys, or voyages. And all pilgrimages, journeys, or voyages have real danger, and put us in real peril. However, for the Christian, the peril is never experienced apart from God’s grace. Oh, for more grace!
valleyofvisionHere is a Puritan prayer entitled “Voyage.” I have posted this before. However, it is the prayer that I immediately think of when my friends or family find themselves in the midst of this life’s raging storms. So, today I pray this for my brother and his family, and to The Lord of the Oceans!

O Lord of the Oceans,

My little bark sails on a restless sea, grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely; suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course; let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals; bring me to harbour with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo unspoiled.

I ask great things, expect great things, shall receive great things. I venture on thee wholly, fully, my wind, sunshine, anchor, defense.

The voyage is long, the waves high, the storms pitiless, but my helm is held steady, thy Word secures safe passage, they grace wafts me onward, my haven is guaranteed. This day will bring me nearer home, grant me holy consistency in every transaction, my peace flowing as a running tide, my righteousness as every chasing wave.

Help me to live circumspectly, with skill to convert every care into prayer, halo my path with gentleness and love, smooth every asperity (harshness) of temper; let me not forget how easy it is to occasion grief; may I strive to bind up every wound, and pour oil on all troubled waters. May the world this day be happier and better because I live.

Let my mast before me be the Saviour’s cross, and every oncoming wave the fountain in His side.  Help me, protect me in the moving sea until I reach the shore of unceasing praise.

In the words of the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.” ~ O God, Our Help in Ages Past ~ by Isaac Watts, 1719.

My brother, may our faithful God grace you on your pilgrimage, and shelter you in the midst of your current storm.

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God Our Help in Ages Past and Years To Come

Posted in Books, Grace, Heaven, John Bunyan, Mercy, Puritans, Suffering, The Pilgrim's Progress, Valley of Vision on March 15, 2013 by kevinwilkening

This has been a particularly difficult couple of weeks. My best friend’s father passed away. A good friend’s mother passed away. Yesterday, my sister-in-law’s father suffered a severe stroke and it looks like he may not make it through the day. In addition, last night the Neely’s one-month old son passed away. All of this sorrow and heartache has once again reminded me of The Pilgrim’s ProgressThe Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory that was written by John Bunyan, and published in February 1678.

I was thinking particularly of a couple sections. First, when night is falling, and Christian has entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian finds himself in the middle of the valley amidst gloom and terror, but then he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Christian makes it through the night trusting that God is with him. Then, he leaves valley as the sun rises on a new day.

The second is when Christian and Hopeful, having just visited Vanity Fair, are traveling along a particularly rough section of road. They leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow. However, there is a rainstorm that forces them to spend the night, and in the morning, they are captured by Giant Despair who takes them to his Doubting Castle where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant Despair wants them to commit suicide, but they endure his misery until Christian realizes that he has a key called Promise, which will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key, they escape. Eventually, Christian and Hopeful come upon some shepherds in the Delectable Mountains. And the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land.”

What a helpful allegory for the Christian life! I love The Pilgrim’s Progress for many reasons. However, the reason screaming most loudly to me this morning is: our lives are all pilgrimages, or journeys, or voyages. And all pilgrimages, journeys, or voyages have real danger, and put us in real peril. However, for the Christian, the peril is never experienced apart from God’s grace and His enabling power. Oh, for more grace!

Here is a Puritan prayer entitled “Voyage.” I pray this for my friend, and to my God!

O Lord of the Oceans,

My little bark sails on a restless sea, grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely; suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course; let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals; bring me to harbour with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo unspoiled.

I ask great things, expect great things, shall receive great things. I venture on thee wholly, fully, my wind, sunshine, anchor, defense.

The voyage is long, the waves high, the storms pitiless, but my helm is held steady, thy Word secures safe passage, they grace wafts me onward, my haven is guaranteed. This day will bring me nearer home, grant me holy consistency in every transaction, my peace flowing as a running tide, my righteousness as every chasing wave.

Help me to live circumspectly, with skill to convert every care into prayer, halo my path with gentleness and love, smooth every asperity (harshness) of temper; let me not forget how easy it is to occasion grief; may I strive to bind up every wound, and pour oil on all troubled waters. May the world this day be happier and better because I live.

Let my mast before me be the Saviour’s cross, and every oncoming wave the fountain in His side.  Help me, protect me in the moving sea until I reach the shore of unceasing praise.

In the words of the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.” ~ O God, Our Help in Ages Past ~ by Isaac Watts, 1719.

My friends, may our faithful God grace you on your pilgrimage, and shelter you in the midst of your current storm.

Eschatology Helps Us Understand Why We Struggle and Gives Us Hope

Posted in Eschatology, Hope, New Creation, Revelation, Suffering, theology, Uncategorized on August 28, 2012 by kevinwilkening

We (CHBC) have been walking through the Book of Revelation together for the past six months. Here is an article from Steven Witmer about how eschatology (the study of the last things) is a sure source of Christian contentment. Stephen Witmer is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has written for Themelios, Reformation 21, and The Gospel Coalition, and is the author of Good Book Guide to Jonah and Leaning Forward: Living Restlessly and Patiently Toward Our Eternal Future (forthcoming). I have posted his full article below, or you can read it here.

Eschatology helps us understand why we struggle and gives us a certain hope as we wait for Jesus and the new creation. In the first article of this series, I introduced two biblical and practical categories: restlessness and patience. These postures of heart are not optional add-ons for the Christian; they’re essential if we are to persevere as Christian believers in this world as we wait for the world to come.

In a sobering plea, Paul tells Timothy to come quickly, “for Demas, because he loved this present age, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (my translation of 2 Timothy 4:10). Because Demas loved this present age rather than the age to come, he didn’t last in gospel life and gospel ministry. Demas stands in stark contrast to Paul himself, because Paul lasted. He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). It was focusing on his eternal future that sustained Paul: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul was anticipating the crown of righteousness he would receive at the return of Jesus.

Those restless for the last day persevere to the end. Church history has proved this over and over again: the greatest Christians have been those most in love with the future new creation. Richard Baxter testified that as he grew older, he meditated more frequently upon the “heavenly blessedness,” and that he preferred to “read, hear, or meditate on God and heaven” more than any other subject. Restless Christians are the ones who persevere.

At the same time, Christians wait patiently for the new creation. If we’re not patient, recognizing that this world is not our home and that difficulties are inevitable this side of eternity, we won’t last when troubles come. Living with a false assurance that health and wealth are our right in this world, we’ll grow disillusioned when we experience sickness and poverty instead. J.C. Ryle understood this clearly. He said,

We are all too much disposed to think a time may come when we shall have a season of repose and not be harassed with these vexations and disappointments. Almost every one supposes he is tried more than his neighbors; but let us not be deceived—this earth is not our rest; it is a place for working, not for sleeping. Here is the reason that so many run well for a time, and seem to have the love of Christ in their hearts, and yet, when persecution or affliction ariseth for the word’s sake, they are offended. They had not counted the cost; they had reckoned on the reward without the labor.

As Christians, we live in the “meantime” between the first and second comings of Jesus, content with dissatisfaction. A proper blend of restlessness and patience keeps us persevering in our pilgrimage through this life to a better world. But sustaining a biblical restlessness and patience is no easy task. Given the challenges we face, what resources help us live leaning forward toward the new creation?

Two Grounds of Christian Restlessness and Patience

Our hearts simultaneously move in two directions as we contemplate the desirability of our eternal future with God and come to an assured conviction that what we’re waiting for is really, really good—in fact, way better than anything we’re currently experiencing. We become very restless. And we become very patient. A passion for the new creation produces both feelings simultaneously.

I proposed to my future wife, Emma, on October 21, 2005. By that time, I was certain that if she agreed to marry me, our wedding would be the entrance into a great marriage, and that life with her would be much better than life without her. What effect did this conviction have upon me? It made me willing to wait patiently for our wedding on April 13, 2006. I didn’t tire of the wait and cancel the engagement. If necessary I would have waited far longer than I actually did.

I must say, however, that my belief that marriage to Emma was going to be wonderful simultaneously created a dissatisfaction with my single life. I was restless for my married future. Some things that formerly satisfied me as a single guy (e.g. eating large quantities of ready-made meals while watching movies by myself) began to lose their appeal. When we’re fully convinced of the surpassing greatness of the new creation, we become patient and restless for it at the same time.

There’s a second ground for generating the restlessness and patience to which the Bible calls us: strong confidence that we’re actually going to receive what we’re waiting for. In the months after Emma accepted my marriage proposal, seeing her wearing the engagement ring afforded me strong confidence that on our wedding day she would say “I do” rather than “I don’t.” That confidence had two simultaneous effects on me. First, it increased my restlessness with the single life. My habits began to reflect less the life of a bachelor and more the life of a married man. I was leaning toward marriage because I was confident the wedding would occur.

Second, because I was certain I was going to be married, I was able to wait patiently for my wedding day. If I hadn’t been sure, I would have been phoning Emma every few hours and asking, “Are we still on?” Perhaps I would have tried to move the wedding to an earlier date before she changed her mind. But in reality I didn’t feel that way at all. My confident expectation that Emma would marry me created a sense of security that produced patience. It also undergirded my resolve to be sexually pure before marriage. I didn’t feel the need to rush things, because I knew God was preparing to give me a wonderful gift in his perfect time.

Source of Confidence

So where do Christians gain solid confidence that God will bring them to the new heavens and new earth? This is where inaugurated eschatology is so intensely practical and hope-giving. Inaugurated eschatology is a term that describes the New Testament’s proclamation that Jesus Christ has already brought the kingdom of God and won the victory through his cross and resurrection. His victory is accomplished and requires only full implementation in the future. This truth is the ground of Christian confidence in God’s good future; therefore, it sustains both a restless and patient “leaning forward.”

Suppose you’re in a world championship tic-tac-toe tournament. You’re up against last year’s world champion, and you know he’s very good. Are you confident you’ll win? Not at all. You have honed your competitive skills with long hours of practice. Your favorite Number 2 pencil is sharpened and ready for action. But you have no assurance you’ll win.

The match begins. You place an X in the upper right hand corner of the board. And then, bizarrely, your opponent places his O right under your X. Pouncing on his unexpected blunder, you place an X in the upper left hand corner of the board. Now you sit back in your chair, waiting for your opponent to take his turn and surveying the board.

Are you confident now? You’d be crazy not to be! You’ve won the game! It’s over!

Let me qualify: You have not yet won the game, because it still has to be played out for your victory to be implemented. But so long as you play out your last moves correctly, there is no possible way for your former-world-champion opponent to win this game. Your victory has been achieved, though not yet fully implemented. At this moment you are already the new world champion . . . but not yet fully so. It would be a mistake to get so caught up in celebrating your victory that you dance away from the game and fail to complete it. But it would also be a mistake to fail to recognize that a crucial turning point has occurred. You now have a sure ground of confidence.

Christian confidence is grounded in the remarkable, pivotal fact that Jesus Christ hasalready brought the kingdom of God we’re waiting for and already won the victory over God’s enemies we’re longing for. Christians can be confident in this life as we wait for the life to come, because Jesus’ victory has been secured.

The Magnitude of His Mercy

Posted in Film, Grace, Mercy, Sovereignty, Suffering on April 6, 2011 by kevinwilkening

Vertus Hardiman hid a shocking secret under a wig & beanie for over 80 years. He was experimented on at age of 5 by a county hospital in Indiana during 1927. Vertus was one of ten children, all experimented on with radiation that day.

But what is more amazing is his response to this tragedy. He states, “I think He [God] wanted this story to be told. I think He wanted it told … to show the magnitude of His mercy.”

(HT: Thabiti Anyabwile)

Tsunami, Sovereignty, and Mercy

Posted in Japan, John Piper, Sovereignty, Suffering, Tsunami on March 11, 2011 by kevinwilkening

I am headed out of town for eight days (for anyone thinking this would be a good time to rob Kevin’s house … say “hello” to my in-laws, my four children, and my white german shepherd [Sheba] who loves meat!!).

In all seriousness, before I left I wanted to post an article published by John Piper on Tsunami’s entitled, Tsunami, Sovereignty, and Mercy. This article is not specific to the current earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, however it reminds us of who God is, and His compassion and mercy towards those who are suffering.

The waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me. . . This God—his way is perfect” (2 Samuel 22:531).

After the loss of his ten children owing to a “natural disaster” (Job 1:19), Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). At the end of the book, the inspired writer confirms Job’s understanding of what happened. He says Job’s brothers and sisters “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). This has several crucial implications for us as we think about the calamity in the Indian Ocean.

1) Satan is not ultimate, God is.

Satan had a hand in Job’s misery, but not the decisive hand. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job (Job 1:122:10). But Job and the writer of this book treat God as the ultimate and decisive cause. When Satan afflicts Job with sores, Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10), and the writer calls these satanic sores “the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). So Satan is real. Satan brings misery. But Satan is not ultimate or decisive. He is on a leash. He goes no farther than God decisively permits.

2) Even if Satan caused the earthquake in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas, he is not the decisive cause of 100,000+ deaths, God is.

God claims power over tsunamis in Job 38:8 when he asks Job rhetorically, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Psalm 89:8-9 says, “O Lord . . . you rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” And Jesus himself has the same control today as he once did over the deadly threats of waves: “He . . . rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24). In other words, even if Satan caused the earthquake, God could have stopped the waves.

3) Destructive calamities in this world mingle judgment and mercy.

Their purposes are not simple. Job was a godly man and his miseries were not God’s punishment (Job 1:18). Their design was purifying not punishment (Job 42:6). But we do not know the spiritual condition of Job’s children. Job was certainly concerned about them (Job 1:5). God may have taken their life in judgment. If that is true, then the same calamity proved in the end to be mercy for Job and judgment on his children. This is true of all calamities. They mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. Suffering, and even death, can be both judgment and mercy at the same time.

The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:131 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Another example is the curse that lies on this fallen earth. Those who do not believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as, merciful, though painful, preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis.

Who suffers from this fallen world of natural disasters? All of us, Christians included: “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). For those who cast themselves on the mercy of Christ these afflictions are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And when death comes, it is a door to paradise. But for those who do not treasure Christ, suffering and death are God’s judgment. “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

For children, who are too young to process mentally the revelation of God in nature or Scripture, death is not the final word of judgment. God’s commitment to display his justice publicly means that he does not finally condemn sinful people who could not physically construe natural or special revelation (Romans 1:20). There is a difference between suppressing revelation that one can mentally comprehend (Romans 1:18), and not having a brain sufficient to comprehend it at all. Therefore, when small children suffer and die, we may not assume they are being punished or judged. No matter how horrible the suffering or death, God can turn it for their greater good.

4) The heart that Christ gives to his people feels compassion for those who suffer, no matter what their faith.

When the Bible says, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), it does not add, “unless God caused the weeping.” Job’s comforters would have done better to weep with Job than talk so much. That does not change when we discover that Job’s suffering was ultimately from God. No, it is right to weep with those who suffer. Pain is pain, no matter who causes it. We are all sinners. Empathy flows not from the causes of pain, but the company of pain. And we are all in it together.

5) Finally, Christ calls us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it.

That is the meaning of mercy—undeserved help. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Therefore, pray earnestly for Scott Purser and his team as they investigate the best way that the Global Diaconate can mercifully respond with the love of Christ to the calamity around the Indian Ocean.

In the merciful hands of Almighty God,

Pastor John

A Letter on Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

Posted in Faith, Grace, Guido de Bres, Prayer, Sovereignty, Suffering, theology on January 11, 2011 by kevinwilkening

This week we have received some difficult news: we have be informed that Dann Green’s Father, Harold Green, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer (inoperable stage 4 pancreatic adenocarcinoma). Our hearts hurt with the Green family. Our prayers bombard the throne room of heaven on their behalf. We are praying specifically that God would lavish incessant and abundant grace on this family!

At the same time, I came across this letter written in 1567 from the author of the Belgic Confession to his beloved wife before his fateful execution (HT: Tim Challies). From this letter, I was vividly reminded that when pain and suffering come our way, this is the faith that we should long to display. For the glory of God and the good of God’s people, we must learn to suffer well. However, we must learn to trust the sovereignty and the providence of God before we enter our season of suffering, for often times it is too difficult to learn these truths of God after our suffering is upon us.

Letter of Comfort from Guido de Brès to His Wife:

The grace and mercy of our good God and heavenly Father, and the love of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, be with you, my dearly beloved.

Catherine Ramon, my dear and beloved wife and sister in our Lord Jesus Christ: your anguish and sadness disturbs somewhat my joy and the happiness of my heart, so I am writing this for the consolation of both of us, and especially for your consolation, since you have always loved me with an ardent affection, and because it pleases the Lord to separate us from each other. I feel your sorrow over this separation more keenly than mine. I pray you not to be troubled too much over this, for fear of offending God. You knew when you married me that you were taking a mortal husband, who was uncertain of life, and yet it has pleased God to permit us to live together for seven years, giving us five children. If the Lord had wished us to live together longer, he would have provided the way. But it did not please him to do this and may his will be done.

Now remember that I did not fall into the hands of my enemies by mere chance, but through the providence of my God who controls and governs all things, the least as well as the greatest. This is shown by the words of Christ, “Be not afraid. Your very hairs are numbered. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground without the will of your Father. Then fear nothing. You are more excellent than many sparrows.” These words of divine wisdom say that God knows the number of my hairs. How then can harm come to me without the command and providence of God? It could not happen, unless one should say that God is no longer God. This is why the Prophet says that there is no affliction in the city that the Lord has not willed.

Many saintly persons who were before us consoled themselves in their afflictions and tribulations with this doctrine. Joseph, having been sold by his brothers and taken into Egypt, says, “You did a wicked deed, but God has turned it to your good. God sent me into Egypt before you for your profit.” (Genesis 50). David also experienced this when Shimei cursed him. So too in the case of Job and many others.

And that is why the Evangelists write so carefully of the sufferings and of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, adding, “And this was done that that which was written of Him might be accomplished.” The same should be said of all the members of Christ.

It is very true that human reason rebels against this doctrine and resists it as much as possible and I have very strongly experienced this myself. When I was arrested, I would say to myself, “So many of us should not have traveled together. We were betrayed by this one or that one. We ought not to have been arrested.” With such thoughts I became overwhelmed, until my spirits were raised by meditation on the providence of God. Then my heart began to feel a great repose. I began then to say, “My God, you have caused me to be born in the time you have ordained. During all the time of my life you have kept me and preserved me from great dangers and you have delivered me from them all – and if at present my hour has come in which I will pass from this life to you, may your will be done. I cannot escape from your hands. And if I could, I would not, since it is happiness for me to conform to your will.” These thoughts made my heart cheerful again.

And I pray you, my dear and faithful companion, to join me in thanking God for what he has done. For he does nothing that is not just and very equitable, and you should believe that it is for my good and for my peace. You have seen and felt my labours, cross, persecutions, and afflictions which I have endured, and have even had a part in them when you accompanied me in my travels during the time of my exile. Now my God has extended his hand to receive me into his blessed kingdom. I shall see it before you and when it shall please the Lord, you will follow me. This separation is not for all time. The Lord will receive you also to join us together again in our head, Jesus Christ.

This is not the place of our habitation – that is in heaven. This is only the place of our journey. That is why we long for our true country, which is heaven. We desire to be received in the home of our Heavenly Father, to see our Brother, Head, and Saviour Jesus Christ, to see the noble company of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and many thousands of martyrs, into whose company I hope to be received when I have finished the course of my work which I received from my Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray you, my dearly beloved, to console yourself with meditation on these things. Consider the honour that God has done you, in giving you a husband who was not only a minister of the Son of God, but so esteemed of God that he allowed him to have the crown of martyrs. It is an honour the like of which God has never even given to the angels.

I am happy; my heart is light and it lacks nothing in my afflictions. I am so filled with the abundance of the richness of my God that I have enough for me and all those to whom I can speak. So I pray my God that he will continue his kindness to me, his prisoner. The One in whom I have trusted will do it, for I have found by experience that he will never leave those who have trusted in him. I would never have thought that God would have been so kind to such a poor creature as I. I feel the faithfulness of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I am practicing now what I have preached to others. And I must confess that when I preached I would speak about the things I am actually experiencing as a blind man speaks of colour. Since I was taken prisoner I have profited more and learned more than during all the rest of my life. I am in a very good school: the Holy Spirit inspires me continually and teaches me how to use the weapons in this combat. On the other side is Satan, the adversary of all children of God. He is like a boisterous, roaring lion. He constantly surrounds me and seeks to wound me. But he who has said, “Fear not, for I have overcome the world,” makes me victorious. And already I see that the Lord puts Satan under my feet and I feel the power of God perfected in my weakness.

Our Lord permits me on the one hand to feel my weakness and my smallness, that I am but a small vessel on the earth, very fragile, to the end that he would humble me, so that all the glory of the victory may be given to him. On the other hand, he fortifies me and consoles me in an unbelievable way. I have more comfort than the enemies of the gospel. I eat, drink and rest better than they do. I am held in a very strong prison, very bleak, obscure and dark. The prison is known by the obscure name “Brunain.” The air is poor and it stinks. On my feet and hands I have irons, big and heavy. They are a continual hell, hollowing my limbs up to my poor bones. The chief constable comes to look at my irons two or three times a day, fearing that I will escape. There are three guards of forty men before the door of the prison.

I have also the visits of Monsieur de Hamaide. He comes to see me, to console me, and to exhort me to patience, as he says. However, he comes after dinner, after he has wine in the head and a full stomach. You can imagine what these consolations are. He threatens me and says to me that if I would show any intention of escaping he would have me chained by the neck, the body and legs, so that I could not move a finger; and he says many other things in this order. But for all that, my God does not take away his promises, consoling my heart, giving me very much contentment.

Since such things have happened, my dear sister and faithful wife, I implore you to find comfort from the Lord in your afflictions and to place your troubles with him. He is the husband of believing widows and the father of poor orphans. He will never leave you – of that I can assure you. Conduct yourself as a Christian woman, faithful in the fear of God, as you always have been, honouring by your good life and conversation the doctrine of the Son of God, which your husband has preached.

As you have always loved me with great affection, I pray that you will continue this love toward our little children, instructing them in the knowledge of the true God and of his Son Jesus Christ. Be their father and their mother, and take care that they use honestly the little that God has given you. If God does you the favour to permit you to live in widowhood with our children after my death, that will be well. If you cannot, and the means are lacking, then go to some good man, faithful and fearing God. And when I can, I shall write to our friends to watch over you. I think that they will not let you want for anything. Take up your regular routine after the Lord has taken me. You have our daughter Sarah who will soon be grown. She will be your companion and help you in your troubles. She will console you in your tribulations and the Lord will always be with you. Greet our good friends in my name, and let them pray to God for me, that he may give me strength, speech, and the wisdom and ability to uphold the truth of the Son of God to the end and to the last breath of my life.

Farewell, Catherine, my dearly beloved. I pray my God that he will comfort you and give you contentment in his good will. I hope that God has given me the grace to write for your benefit, in such a way that you may be consoled in this poor world. Keep my letter for a remembrance of me. It is badly written, but it is what I am able to do, and not what I wish to do. Commend me to my good mother. I hope to write some consolation to her, if it pleases God. Greet also my good sister. May she take her affliction to God. Grace be with you.

At the prison, April 12, 1567.

Your faithful husband, Guy de Brès, minister of the Word of God at Valenciennes, and presently prisoner for the Son of God at the aforesaid place.

He was hung on May 31, 1567.

William Cowper’s Suffering Songs

Posted in Grace, Hymns, Music, Suffering, William Cowper, Worship on January 3, 2011 by kevinwilkening

As we begin 2011, some have already entered this year with suffering. It is for you that I record this entry.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, “We may be in heaviness through many trials at this present time, and we may be weeping as we go along … We are promised that the day will come when the ‘Lamb which is in the midst of the throne … shall lead us unto living fountains of water’ and that God Himself ‘shall wipe away all tears from our eyes …’ ‘Thank God we are in His hands. It is His way of salvation and not ours. Let us submit ourselves to God, let us be content to be in His hands, and let us say to Him: Send what Thou wilt, our only concern is that we may ever be well-pleasing in Thy sight” (Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones ~ page 232).

If you are suffering this New Year let me encourage you with a brief description of the life of William Cowper.

In November of 1731, William Cowper (said “Cooper”) was born in Hertfordshire, England. Three of his brothers and two sisters died in infancy, and two days before his sixth birthday his mother died in childbirth, leaving him one infant brother and a father.

In 1753 he fell in love with a woman named Theodora, but her father forced an end to the relationship, and would not allow them to marry. In large part, due to this event, and his natural disposition towards depression, he became exceedingly melancholy, and resolved to end his life. He tried to hang himself, but the weight of his body broke first an iron pin, and then a wooden spar. The third attempt was almost successful, but just as he went unconscious, the noose broke, and his body slumped to the floor.

In 1763 he had to be institutionalized in St. Alban’s Asylum for two years. However, it was during this time that the wonder of God’s grace began to radically affect him, and he became a lover of the gospel, and of Jesus Christ. For the rest of his life he would continually fight against the recurrence of these fits of depression.

However, it is because of William Cowper’s deep discoveries of grace that we have hymns like “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” and “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” Carefully read these words.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.

 

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never failing skill

He treasures up His bright designs

And works His sovereign will.

 

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

 

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

 

Blind unbelief is sure to err

And scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.

 

There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;

And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;

And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

 

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;

And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;

And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

 

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power

Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more;

Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

 

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;

Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

 

Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

 

Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be,

For me a blood bought free reward, a golden harp for me!

‘Tis strung and tuned for endless years, and formed by power divine,

To sound in God the Father’s ears no other name but Thine. Amen.

 

Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning. And when it comes, it comes with a song. Not a cheap or juvenile song, but a deep and weighty song. It does not gloss over tragedy, or pain, or loss. When the sails of joy go up, the heartaches of life, which once threatened to capsize the boat, become ballast deep in the belly of the ship to make the keel cut deep through the waves and guide the ship through rougher seas ahead.

 

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