Direction in Disturbing Days

Direction in Disturbing Days

I meet regularly with a group of Christian men for discussion and encouragement. Over the last few years, many of our conversations have been geared toward the times we live in, and the proper response of a godly man to the various challenges of our day. Politics and government often come to the fore. There are so many voices in the public square who tell us our duty, but those voices are in such disagreement on the Christian’s role in cultural matters. Today I came upon a letter from John Newton to his young friend John Ryland Jr. about this subject, and I appreciated the simplicity with which Newton addressed the matter when, in his day, war was coming from the French revolutionaries, and the British government was prompted to act:

Great things are upon the wheel. But though the Lord’s path is in the great waters, my path of duty seems plain enough. I am to preach the Gospel, mourn over my own sins, and the sins of professors and of the nation, and to stir up as many as I can to stand in the breach by prayer. I hope many are thus employed. For the rest, I know that the Lord reigns, that the wrath of man, so far as permitted to act, shall praise him, shall be overruled to the accomplishment of his wise purposes, and that the remainder thereof he will restrain. All the designs of men, which do not coincide with his, shall be frustrated. In the mean time, he will be a sanctuary to them that fear him. He bids his people not to be terrified. They are warranted to trust in him, though the earth should tremble, and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea. Public measures, whether right or wrong, are under his direction, If sword, famine, pestilence, or discord, go through the land, he sends them. If he take wisdom from the wise, or courage from the bold, I cannot wonder that they do not prosper, when the Lord has forsaken them. Sennacherib and Cyrus were God’s servants; no less so, than Moses or Joshua. They performed his commission and they could do no more.

 If I were lawfully called to civil office, I would endeavor to acquire proper knowledge, and to use every means in my power to serve my country. At present, I wish to serve it by prayer, and by employing my influence to soothe angry spirits, and to cultivate peace on all sides. Let the dead bury the dead, and the potsherds of the earth strive with each other, I am a stranger and pilgrim among them. My commonwealth is in a different kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.*

It’s not that Newton did not care what happened in his native country of England. He certainly cared a great deal. But he knew that he was not in control of the various happenings in it. The best way for him to deal with the difficulties of his nation was to pray, and find comfort in the sovereign ways of God, whose path was in the deep waters. If trials came upon his countrymen, it was the Lord’s doing, and He had a good purpose for it. If repentance came to the people, it was the Lord’s doing, and He had a good purpose for it. Newton was fully convinced that a mighty God was very much the ruler of the world. He did not need to thrash about, and be filled with anxiety over every disturbance. God was at work then, and He still is today. We would be better served to take at least this encouragement from John Newton. God’s people should be a praying people in the age we live in. We will serve our nation well if we pray hard, trust in the Lord’s providential care, and know that He does all things well. We’ll certainly be a more peaceful church, and less stressed by the news of the day.

* Quote from Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, Banner of Truth, 2009.