Online Text Sermon - Through Fire and Water to a Wealthy Place, Psalm 66 vv.10-12
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Through Fire and Water to a Wealthy Place (Time not certain)|
|Text||Psalm 66 vv.10-12|
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"For thou, 0 God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" Psalm 66:10-12.
1. THE DOCTRINE of EXPERIENCE
2. COMMON EXPERIENCES
It is clear that these words refer to God's personal dealings with His people in this world. We are, therefore, face to face with the subject of God's dealings with His people, and it brings us into the whole realm of experience.
We have had occasion to notice on a previous occasion that there are three elements within the normal Christian life: doctrine, practice and experience. Doctrine is first, because that is what gives us our knowledge of God, infallibly. Practice is vital, because if we simply know but do not practice, we are nothing more than 'a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal'. In addition to doctrine and practice there must be experience. God brings home to the lives of His people the things which they know out of his Word.
1. THE DOCTRINE OF EXPERIENCE
PERSONAL AND UNIQUE TO THE INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER
Let me say one or two things about experience as a whole. The first point to notice about Christian experience is this: it is absolutely personal and unique to the individual believer. That is not true of the other two elements of the Christian life. The doctrines of God's Word are something we hold in common. They are the same for you as for me; they are the same for us as for our grandparents. They will be the same truths which our great-grandchildren will also hear, God willing. They are true for people in the West and in the East, true for the Jew and true for the non-Jew. Doctrine is uniform and so also is Christian practice. The Ten Commandments are the same for all: all generations, all colours of men, all nationalities of men. These things - doctrine and practice - do not vary, but experience varies immensely.
Let me use an illustration which may make it clearer. Let us suppose there is a family in which there are six sons. If the family is not wealthy it will be quite common for older children to hand down their clothes to the younger children because, in a sense, they are going to have to fit and they can be made to fit. That is something that God never does with experience. The experiences of one of His children are not made to be a second-hand vehicle or garment for others of His children. God's dealings with individuals are unique to that individual; that is why there is such tremendous stress and emphasis put in the Bible upon experience.
You will recall, for instance, how varied are the experiences of Scriptural characters and how immensely they differ. That's the first thing - experience is personal. No two of you have ever, will ever, go through the identical same experiences in life.
GOD'S SECRET AND PROVIDENTIAL WILL FOR EACH BELIEVER
The second thing to notice about experience is this. We may refer to it as God's secret and providential will for each Christian life. The doctrine and the practice are the revealed will but the experience is not revealed until we are brought into the enjoyment, or else the suffering, of it. Experience is something we cannot anticipate beforehand.
When you look at characters like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, all lineal descendants (one generation after the other), we notice that their lives are quite distinct. God's providential will for, let us say, Isaac was manifestly different from His providential will for the others. Abraham was called to forsake a country; Isaac was called on to re-dig the wells; Jacob was called on to be a sojourner in another country; Joseph was called upon to prepare for a famine. So it is in the lives of every one. That shows us how important it is to know the Bible and to be able to apply it to our own personal lives because we cannot take our experiences at second-hand from others.
There's another lesson from this and it is that we must believe that God has something in mind for you, personally, to do. We are not as Christians dealt with by God 'in the mass'. He doesn't look at us as we look at a crowd in a football stadium, just 'a sea of faces'. He has a particular, personal plan for every one and that plan is distinct for every one. This is why I had us singing in Psalm 57, "To God who doth all things for me perform most perfectly". God has a perfect personal plan, fitted for each individual. We ought to believe that, because it is Scriptural.
Take, for instance, the Apostle Paul. He says something which we are apt to read rather too readily and to pass over rather too quickly. To the Philippians he says this; his great concern is "that I may apprehend, that for which also I am apprehended of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3, 12). What does he mean? He means that Jesus Christ has laid His hand upon him to fulfil something which no other created being can do. It is a distinct, personal work for God which only he can do - so it is for you. There are things that each of you can do that I can't do.
Then, of course, there is this side to it. It means that you should take a look at your neighbour sitting beside you and you should be very kind because you never know what personal dealings God may be putting that other person through, who may, for all that you and I notice, be calm, cool, collected, serene - and troubled. That smile may conceal deep inward concern, conviction and anxiety. It may be covering up God's profound workings within the soul - similar to what we read in Job chapter 7 - so that he would choose strangling and death rather than his life (v. 15), and appealed to God and said, Why do you treat me like a sea? (v. 12). Or, Why do you treat me like a whale? (v. 12). Watching me night and day. Let me swallow down my spittle for a moment without staring at me (v. 19). He was conscious of God's eye upon him and that is an awesome realisation. I say then, it should make us kind.
Why does God put us through experience? Why is it not enough to have the Bible? Well, the answer is obvious enough. It is because, in theory, we all believe the Bible to be true, right and correct. If I were to state any of the doctrines of the Bible, or any text of Scripture, of course, you and all God's people sitting in church would say, "Amen. I believe that is so." But now, when we go out there into the cold world, in the real, live situations in which we have to live our Christian life, it is quite another thing to put into practice the things we know to be true and right from the Word of God. That is why experience is essential.
THE 'THEATRE OF OPERATIONS'
The experience that God sends upon us is the 'theatre of operations'. If you want to use the illustration of an army, you notice that the soldiers are drilled. They are taught to march this way and march that way, they are taught to use a gun and they are taught to use all the weapons in the armoury. They practise firing at targets and jumping over obstacles, hiding themselves behind barricades and all that soldiers have to do. They do this in their training and in their campaigning at home. The test of the reality of having learned or not learned all that they have been taught in their training ground at home is when war breaks out. So it is with you and with me. This world is the arena of our conflict. This world is the theatre of war. God places each of us in the circumstances in which He does place us in order that we might have experience of the problems of working out His Word in practice and that is what makes the difference between man and man.
Here is what makes the difference between Christian and Christian. They all say 'Amen' to the Bible, they all say 'Amen' to the doctrine, they all endorse the Westminster Confession - but they don't all work it out in the experience in which they find themselves at home, at work, amongst the godless, or whatever their circumstance may be. This is the reason why you and I need experience. It is in order that we might learn to put into active obedience those things which we endorse as being right, in theory at any rate, from the Word of God. So then, in the text, which is Psalm 66, 10-12, we notice that this all comes clearly to light and what I have been saying about experience exactly fits what God is telling us concerning His method and His procedure with His own people in this world. Let's glance at those verses.
"Thou, 0 God, hast proved us" (text) - that is to say the first thing He tells us is that God puts His people to the test. You know how school children have to have tests. It is essential to have examinations because if you and I don't get examinations, you know what happens, we don't concentrate the same. If I were to set an examination every month, let us say, people would listen to sermons more diligently than they do. So it is at school. If we never had tests and examinations, you and I and all of us, we would simply listen with half an ear, as we often listen to things on the radio or glance at things on the television. They pass in front of us, they go in one ear, and they go out the other. However, if we had a test, if we had an examination, then we concentrate in a different dimension altogether.
That is why God puts these trials upon us - "Thou hast proved us" (text) - God puts us in a real live situation. We have the theory, we have the doctrine, now He puts us in the 'theatre of operations' with the specific intention of doing what He says: "Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried" (text). It is with a view to their purification. The method of taking silver from silver ore - or any metal that I've heard about - from the ore of that metal, is you throw it into a container and then you heat it with a great heat. All the scum rises to the top after which you get a tool of some kind and remove the scum. You do it again, removing more scum and thus refine the silver. So does God. The experiences are in order to remove the scum of the human heart which is still, alas, in us.
He goes on, "Thou broughtest us into the net" (text). You see there's also another way of doing it: not simply by trying us like silver but by placing us in a net - "Thou laidst affliction upon our loins" (text). What's this? This is God putting us in a situation of complete frustration. There are situations in life in which you are entirely frustrated - in a net, unable to move. Even a strong animal like a bull caught in a net is entirely frustrated. It might try its best to tear its way free but it cannot. God will do that to His people as an experience: He will place them in a situation at times in which they feel they are completely in bondage. They can't open their mouth, they're in a net and they can't move a muscle. They are paralysed, immobilized, with their feet stuck in the mud.
INSTRUMENTS OF GOD
He goes on -"Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads" (text). God may very well at times use carnal sinners in order to deal with us as His people. Evil men, cruel men, may be the instruments of God for riding over our heads - a painful experience.
FIRE AND WATER
Then he puts it another way, "We went through fire and through water" (text). These two elements - fire and water - although helpful to the life of man and essential to our life as men and women in this world, they are intensely dangerous elements.
I was once speaking to a woman who escaped near drowning in the sea. She told me how vividly she remembered it. She went down the first time and then came up. Then down the second time - still conscious you understand, still thinking - her mind wondering now how long would she survive this dreadful experience. She was rescued on the third occasion of going down. You can have experiences like that. Or, of being in a house that's on fire and you're rescued like 'a brand from the burning'. Well, that is the way the Psalmist puts it: Yet, at the end of it all - "But (notice that but), thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (text) or a place of abundance.
The doctrine there is this: all the trials of a Christian's life are aimed at one principal purpose and that is with a view to enriching the soul. "Thou didst bring us" at last, he says, to "a wealthy place" (text). All our trials are for our strengthening and our enrichment. They are to make us wealthy. What sort of wealth is this? Not, of course, material wealth, although sometimes even that may come into it too even as it did with Joseph in the end and some others. The kind of wealth which is aimed at here, is spiritual wealth: wealth of Christian character, wealth of godliness, wealth of spirituality, wealth of holiness, wealth of the knowledge of God, wealth of prayer. Nothing teaches us to pray like 'felt problems' and the anguish of difficult experiences in which God places us for a time in the fire - then we really pray, do we not? We cry out. How many of my prayers are formal? Ah, but you wait till God puts me in the fire for a few days, then I'll pray.
I pray 'red-hot prayers' like lava coming from a volcano. Then do I cry, then do I lay hold upon the promises of God! This is the way the Psalmist puts it. God, he says, brings us through all of these trials and all of these experiences and the purpose is in order to bring us at length to 'a wealthy place'.
2. COMMON EXPERIENCES
I want to apply the doctrine which you have in this text and to do so to four particular experiences that the Lord's people may go through - and will go through - and many of you can say have often gone through. Let me tell you what they are and come back to them.
First of all, one common experience of the people of God is what I shall call divine humblings. The second is divine chastenings. Then the third one is to be Christians given over to their own lusts for a time. Fourthly, what I shall call the ploughing up of our corruptions by the ploughshare of God's private dealings with the soul.
These experiences are not confined to one or two; they are the commonplace experiences of all those who are travelling to the heavenly city. God will prepare us for heaven by affliction here below. There is only one way to become spiritual and that is to be under God's 'rod' and under His 'private dealings', under His 'personal dealings' in a manner described here and elsewhere in the Word of God: "For thou, 0 God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but" we came at last to this "wealthy place" (text). Let me deal briefly then with these four applications of the text.
(a) DIVINE HUMBLINGS
The first of them, you will recall, is what I have described as divine humblings. It is the will of God, from time to time, to humble His own people and to make them realise their nothingness in this world and even in the eyes of God. You remember John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The pilgrims at one point on the journey came to the 'Valley of Humiliation'. It was the will of God at that time that they should be mortified, so it is with us all. There are times in our lives when we shall have to learn to eat a large slice of 'humble pie'. We will be made to drink 'the waters of affliction'. This consists of being put in a situation in which you will appear to yourself and to others in your very worst light. The experience is that of taking pictures with a camera. You know every so often you take a good picture but most of them are really not worth seeing more than once. However, every so often, you get a good one and the reason is that somehow the light was just correct. When you go to a professional photographer, one of the things he does is to spend a lot of time getting the light right. Every so often God deliberately puts us in a situation in which we feel and know ourselves to be in the worst possible light, and men see us, as it were, half naked - and we hate it
I remember once, myself, being invited to preach at a conference in England. I'll never forget it. It did me more good than anybody else - more good perhaps than most experiences I've had in life. I can tell you it was absolutely mortifying - everything went wrong. I lost my way to the meeting and was late. I saw well over a hundred people - nearly all ministers - waiting for me to speak, and I had very ignominiously to come to the platform and speak. The overhead light was so dim I couldn't read my notes. I had to invent it as I was going along, if you please; I won't tell you the whole of it, it was exceedingly painful. That's what I mean by the 'Valley of Humiliation'. God will do that to us but, oh my friends, there is a wealthy place at the end of it all.
Let me tell you what the wealthy place is after you have gone through the 'Valley of Humiliation'. It is this: you learn to care less about men's opinion of you and you learn to be glad only of God's opinion of you. "With me it is a very small thing," says Paul, "that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgement" (1 Corinthians 4, 3). Let me ask you, my beloved friend, have you learned that lesson, or are you very, very self- conscious about what 'they' think? Well, the 'Valley of Humiliation' is the place to learn how to get beyond the fear of man and the 'too-much respect' for man's judgment.
(b) DIVINE CHASTISEMENTS AND CHASTENINGS
Secondly, let me speak about divine chastisements and chastenings, These are God's use of His providential rod of correction to make us smart in our hearts and consciences for sin that we have done. I will say this, my friends, in the lives of some Christians I meet from time to time, I fail to see evidences of God's rod of correction. You can tell in an ordinary child, can't you, whether that child has been properly disciplined at home or not? You can tell - there's something about the child's face. I can't describe how we know but we know instinctively. You know a child that has been corrected from a child who has never been properly corrected, you can somehow tell. The child who has been chastened at home has, as it were, a humble expression, a humbled demeanor. So it is with God's children. If you meet Christians who have none of this, you know that they are 'bastards' and not God's sons because all those who come into His family must pass under the rod - "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12, 6). What is the wealthy place? Chastening, my friend, produces sweetness of Christian character and makes us wondrously kind to one another.
(c) LUSTS AND IDOLATRY
The third of these applications is this: God, at times, gives His people over to their own lusts and to their own idolatry in order that they might learn by painful experience how foolish they are to disobey His written Word. There are many such texts. Let me give you one or two that show you that this is so. We are very familiar, are we not, with a verse that goes like this: "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106, 15). We're not talking about the world out there; we're talking about the people of God. He can at times, and may well at times, give us over to some great 'love' of something which we ought not to have. He may give us over to it. He may give it to us if He sees that these are things that we desire too strongly. Very well, says God, take it and eat it - "It was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter" (Revelation 10, 10). That is how God deals sometimes with His children.
Take Psalm 81 - "So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels" (Psalm 81, 12). These things are written, of course, for our learning and they are to warn us. What is the wealthy place that we come to if ever we go through that experience? I trust it is that we learn not to 'play with fire' anymore: that we learn not to go after our own idols anymore. We are content to bear Christ's gentle yoke and to see that His revealed will is the only way of salvation.
(d) PLOUGHING UP OUR CORRUPTIONS
Fourthly, our text needs to be applied like this. My friends, there is such a thing as the experience of God ploughing up our corruptions. He ploughs up the human heart. He doesn't do this all the time, of course, because He knows we could not bear it. If, however, you and I are to make any real progress in the things of the Spirit, we have got to know ourselves. Self-knowledge is very painful knowledge because we have a marvellous impression about ourselves and don't we all think there is nobody on earth quite as good as I am or as you are? That wickedness is in us all and by painful experience God shows us what is in us. Do you remember the text about Hezekiah? God left him, for a time, that he might know what was inside himself. That's the doctrine here - the ploughing up of our corruptions: showing us what we are in our true fallen hearts.
This idea of ploughing, of course, is a true one. As I close, let me develop that illustration a little further. I suppose the ploughing time must be in the early spring. We've all seen the tractor going up and down the field - making long furrows in the black soil. From side to side goes the plough. The man with the tractor knows his work - straight furrows across the field. What do you see? A host of birds follow the tractor. Why do they follow the tractor? Because the ground is full of worms! So is our heart - a can of worms. As God ploughs up, by some humbling experience, the heart within us, so He shows us what is in man. Did He not do this to Isaiah - "I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6, 5). Did He not do this to the Apostle Paul - "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7, 24)
George Whitefield preached on a certain occasion and, as usual, it was a magnificent sermon. He came to the door and was told, "Sir, that was great preaching." He replied, as you know very well, "The devil told me that, sir, whilst I was still in the pulpit."That's the trouble with us all: there is too much self-love within us. God deals with us in this way of experience in order to give us solid Christian character without which we would certainly become proud and haughty Pharisees. May it be your experience and mine, to take with kind patience and gratitude all those humbling things through which God is pleased to put us so that, at last, we may truly bear the image of Christ.
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