The Christian Life is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. Rev. John Wagner preaches a chapel message on Lamentations 3:21-24 at RTS Jackson.
That is one of my favorite hymns, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It was written in 1923 by a man named Thomas Obadiah Chisholm. And I would recommend this resource to you as pastors—Dr. Wymond would be well aware of it—It’s called Cyber Hymnal or HymnTime. You can go on this website, and it gives you the names of all the hymns. Very often you’ll be in a congregation where they will be singing hymns that you may not know, so you’ll have a recording of the hymns and the words. But in this particular hymn, they have a note, and it says that according to Chisholm, there were no special circumstances which caused its writing, just his experience and biblical truth. It’s such an inspiring hymn, and yet there was nothing like “Abide with Me,” the death of a family.
The music we sing was written by a man named William Marion Runyan. Runyan says this in that same resource, “This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry its message in a worthy way.” The subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer.
It is an inspiring hymn, and it’s obviously drawn from a passage that we’re going to read now, which is from Lamentations. In Lamentations 3, beginning in verse 21, if you would turn there with me in your Bibles. This is the Word of God:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'”
Amen. And we pray that God would add his blessing to this reading of his Word. Before we turn to our lesson today, let’s once again approach him in prayer. Lord, we thank you that your Word is powerful, sharp as any two-edged sword, and that it does achieve what it sets out to do. We pray that your message contained in here would be one that informs us and inspires us, Lord, and quickens our hearts with love for you, not for anything generated within us by our own hearts, but by the righteousness and the faithfulness of God. In Jesus Christ we pray these things, Amen.
A pastor that cannot revisit the suffering that he’s encountered is one that seems to be uninformed in the pulpit.As I’ve said, this hymn is drawn from this passage, and it’s obviously drawn from Christian experience and biblical truth and prayer in the writing of that hymn. Those are basic ingredients for any Christian growing in the faith. You can get a picture of hardship and suffering, and those are often a part of a Christian faith. As I’ve learned and you will learn, they are the making of every Christian pastor. A pastor that cannot revisit the suffering that he’s encountered is one that seems to be uninformed in the pulpit, and I do not say this of any boasting or pride.
Strong faith can be born in a cauldron of suffering.Strong faith can be born in a cauldron of suffering. I like what John Calvin says. He says, “We see then that God brings light out of darkness, when he restores his faithful people from despair to a good hope; yea, he makes infirmity itself to be the cause of hope. . . . Thus hope, contrary to nature, and through the incomprehensible and wonderful kindness of God, arises from despair.” When you have faith, it’s only with the eye of faith that you can see God’s hand at work in everything. No matter what happens, God brings good out of it. God is in control and nothing happens by accident.
There is no faith without doubt, but there is doubt without any faith.Knowing this gives all of us hope in desperate situations that we encounter. When our faith falters, we rely on God’s faithfulness. There is no faith without doubt, but there is doubt without any faith. But when you look at the faithfulness of God, you can be strengthened no matter what situation you’re facing. Today, I want to ask a question: how does looking to God’s faithfulness help us? How does it? And I want to suggest that in the passages that we’ve read, it does this in three ways. Firstly, it reminds us of the character of God and his presence and his love for us in verse 21. That’s what the picture is. Secondly, I want to say that it renews our faith in verses 22–23. And you have a picture of that. And thirdly, in verse 24, it’s a picture of reassurance. He confirms what our faith is by the words that are there. It reminds us, it renews, and it reassures.
The Historical Context of Lamentations 3
There is a background to this; it doesn’t come out of nothing. There’s a historical background. There are five poems here in the book that describe the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the Weeping Prophet. It was not all good news that he brought, as a matter of fact, it was a lot of bad news. It was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 576 B.C. Matthew Henry says this: “The occasion of these lamentations was the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Chaldean Army and the dissolution of the Jewish state, both civil and ecclesiastical thereby.” It is Jerusalem’s funeral that this is an elegy upon. It’s a funeral.
We don’t know, and if you look in your Bibles, it doesn’t say for sure conclusively who the author is, but we could assume that it could be Jeremiah. If you look in 2 Chronicles 35:25, it says that Jeremiah uttered a lament for Josiah because he’d been killed by the archers. It’s a lament. And the title of this book is not Lamentations. I like what your visiting professor of systematic and historical theology, Dr. Thomas, said about the title. Dr. Thomas said, “Lamentations is not the original name for the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations was the name given to it by the Greek translators who came after the exile when they didn’t know Hebrew well anymore. The original Hebrew title is taken from the first word of chapters 1 and 2 and 4. It is the word how. How in the world can this ever have happened? How could God allow this to take place? It’s meant to convey a sense of profound shock.”
The ruin in Lamentations is caused by the faithlessness of man, but the hope in Lamentations springs from the faithfulness of God.And who did it? It wasn’t the Babylonians, it wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar. It was God. In verse 12 of chapter 1, that’s what it says. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted in his day of fierce anger.” The ruin in Lamentations is caused by the faithlessness of man, but the hope in Lamentations springs from the faithfulness of God. That’s the message in the Psalms, isn’t it, in 42 and 43, it says, “Hope in God, for I shall yet again praise him, my salvation and my God”? As we look at these verses, that’s the background.
Looking to God’s Faithfulness Reminds Us of His Character and Love for Us
It reminds us in verse 21, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” “Reminds,” what does that mean? It’s to put someone in the mind of something. It’s to bring again to mind. “But this I call to mind,” this is a deliberate act of will, this is not somebody who’s looking back and fondly immersing himself in nostalgia. He is calling this to mind, despite the last 10 years, despite everything that’s been recorded in the last three and a half chapters, he recalls God. Despite his spiritual desolation, despite memories of siege and slaughter and starvation, even cannibalism in Jerusalem, when the mothers and fathers of Jerusalem were eating their own children, he calls God’s character to mind.
And it’s a clear, full-orbed view of what’s gone on. He doesn’t deny, question, or ignore the reality of the situation. He doesn’t deny, question, or ignore the reality of the affliction. He doesn’t deny, question, or ignore the reality of salvation. “This I call to mind.” I know this. He says, “This is what I’ve called to mind. My God is faithful, and my hope is in him. I’m sure of what I hope for despite what I’ve seen. I have seen things that you couldn’t believe. I have seen Israel defeated. I’ve seen the Temple destroyed. I’ve seen the people exiled.”
I suppose it would be the equivalent of what was intended on September the 11th: the society, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the people, the crumbling of our nation. He said, “This is what I’ve seen.” What he has witnessed is nothing less than ethnic cleansing. You’ve seen pictures of this in Scotland in the Killing Times, in the 1600s when the covenanters were killed on the hills, the Christians. The Nazis in Germany killing the Jews. You’ve seen it in Kosovo, the Serbs, and now in Syria, the Sunnis, being exterminated by the Alawite clans of Abbas. It’s a grim picture.
And this hopelessness, this hopeless situation reminds him of his helplessness. This hopeless situation reminds him of God’s faithfulness though. God’s faithfulness reminds him of the reason to hope. “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” I like what that great preacher Charles Spurgeon said. He uses this illustration. He said, “At the South of Africa, the sea was generally so stormy that when the frail barks of the Portuguese went sailing south, they had named it the Cape of Storms. But after the cape had been well rounded by bolder navigators, they named it the Cape of Good Hope.” And he says this, “In your experience, you have had many a Cape of Storms, but you have weathered them all. And now let them be a Cape of Good Hope to you.” Your faith has been tried and tested, and that’s what he’s saying here. That’s what I call to mind. I call to mind God’s record, his hand in history.
That’s what the Christian’s life is. It’s a testimony of God’s faithfulness.That’s what the Christian’s life is. It’s a testimony of God’s faithfulness. Can you say that this morning? Can you look back and see the turnings that you took, the things that God has done in your life and how he’s made a difference and how so often it was nothing that you did? But you call it to mind and you say, “Oh, yes, I have not only hope, I have victory.” It reminds you.
I suppose by application, you could say, what do you think about when you’re struggling? Do you think about the struggle or do you think about the faithfulness of God? Is life an endurance contest for you? Or is it something that you can say like one lady once said to me, “I’m one day closer to heaven”? Because that’s the picture, that’s what he’s called to mind. You remember this. I don’t remember who told me this, but whatever struggle you may be facing, you can only think of one thing at a time. Now, you may go back and forth between good and bad, but you’re really only thinking of one thing at a time. And if you fix your mind and your consciousness on God’s faithfulness and you trust in his love, then you have a guarantee. It reminds you of what is always there.
Looking to God’s Characters Renews Our Faith in Him
And one verse I call to mind all the time, no matter what’s going on; it reminds me of God’s character: “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That’s a good reminder, but it’s more than a reminder. It renews. There’s an active aspect to this. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
That hope that’s called to mind is based on the character of God. The steadfast love, the mercies, the loving kindness, that’s the reason to hope. You know, I am no Hebrew scholar, and thanks to Bibleworks, I have a working understanding of Hebrew and Greek. I recommend this tool to you if you haven’t already discovered it. But if you learn no other word from your class in Hebrew, and I hope you learn many other words, you need to learn and know and understand the word chesed. It’s a Hebrew word that has a wealth of meanings.
When I was in Scotland, I learned some Gaelic, and I learned the word for rain. It rains a lot in Scotland, and I think there must be 20 words for rain. But the Gaelic language is much like the Hebrew language. There’s many meanings for one word, and that word chesed, it has these meanings of goodness, kindness, faithfulness, loving-kindness. I know you’ve heard that preached, but it’s true. And that’s what he’s talking about here. It’s steadfast, and it’s talking about loyalty and a devotion within a covenant relationship, and it never ceases because of God’s covenant bond with us.
I know that you’ve heard about Christianity Explored. There’s another program called Christianity Explained. And in the DVD, there’s a picture of a child’s hand, maybe five or six years old in this adult’s hand and the adult is holding the hand of the child. Now, if the child is holding the adult’s hand, he can let go. But if the adult is holding the child’s hand, there’s no way. And that’s the picture here. It’s a guaranteed faithfulness of God’s bond. Because of that guarantee that never lets go, it renews our faith because God’s covenant has no end. It never elapses. Those mercies will never be withheld. They’re endless. I like the way that it puts it in the AV or the King James Version. “It is because of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”
There’s a lot made about the compassion of Christ in the Bible, and there should be. Sometimes we hear these words and we they wash over and so we say, “Oh, I know what compassion means. It means caring.” It is being touched with with a strong sympathy for someone who is suffering, and you have the desire to help. But there’s more to it. If you look at Christ with Mary and Martha, he was touched with their loss, but he actually had the ability to do something about it. And so does God.
How do I know this? Because the Christian church is still here. Because you’re here. Because you’re called forth to the Lord’s service. If the church was not a church on the move and on the march, as John Stott has said, there wouldn’t be any RTS, there wouldn’t be any Reformed faith, there wouldn’t be any Puritans, there wouldn’t be any Free Church, there wouldn’t be any Martin Luther and there wouldn’t be any Catholic Church. But God’s mercies have preserved the church.
I like what Matthew Henry says about the church. He says, “The church of God is like Moses’s bush, burning, yet not consumed; whatever hardships it has met with, or may meet with, it shall have a being in the world to the end of time. It is persecuted of men, but not forsaken of God, and therefore, though it is cast down, it is not destroyed, corrected, yet not consumed, refined in the furnace of silver, but not consumed as dross.” That’s the burning bush, and that’s the symbol of the Church of Scotland and also the Free Church. Nec tamen consumebatur: it burns yet it is not consumed. What is mercy, but not giving us what we deserve, and what is grace and yet giving us what we don’t deserve?
Some of you may have looked at that Christianity Explored video. I think it’s pretty effective. It certainly has worked well in Scotland. And Rico Tice makes the point that in Les Miserables when Jean Valjean has stayed with the bishop overnight, and he’s taken the bishop’s candle sticks, and he’s apprehended by the police and he’s brought back. What does the bishop say? He could have done one of three things. He could have said, “He’s guilty. Punish him, put him in jail.” That would have been justice. He could have said, “He took them, but I’m not going to press charges.” That would have been mercy. But what does he do? He says, “Jean Valjean, did you forget the silverware? I gave you that as well.” And the constable shrugged and left him there. And from that point on Jean Valjean was a prisoner of grace because the bishop believed in him.
God is giving us daily what we don’t deserve. Day by day, his mercies are new every morning. You think about the Israelites in the desert. “Why did you bring us out here to starve?” And God gives them bread from heaven, and he gives them quail, and he gives them things that they don’t deserve. He gives them enough for one day. You ever noticed that about grace? You can’t save it up. Sufficient unto the day, your grace is sufficient for thee, my strength is made perfect in our weakness. God never failed Israel in the desert, and he’s never going to fail us. That faithful provision of love and mercy is renewed each day.
You ever think about each morning when you get up how it’s like a renewal of creation? Do you know what they call it in the Old Testament, sleep? It’s called the little death. You die. You die when you go to sleep, and only God brings you to face the new morning. And he does it out of his grace. It’s a renewal of creation, and it’s a renewal of God’s faithfulness.
What application? Well, the word renew means to resume, restore, replenish, reestablish. I didn’t come up with this alliteration intentionally. That’s what’s in the dictionary, and you can look it up for yourself. But I have this picture each new morning that God waits for us to wake up to him. He’s just sitting there right over us, and he’s like a loving parent watching over a sleeping child. He wants you to wake up because he wants to lavish his love and mercy on you. He longs to show how much he loves you and just shower you with blessings. That’s what you have when you wake up in the morning. That’s what’s renewed. Why is that? Well, Psalm 100: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” It’s renewed.
Looking at God’s Faithfulness Reassures Us That He Is Our Portion Forever
And thirdly and lastly, reassures. “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” That’s reassuring. “Reassure” means to restore to assurance, and assurance means to know with certainty. It’s a pledge. It’s a promise. It’s something that you can found your life on. It’s secure. It’s confirmed. The past, present, or future, there’s no question about it.
One of the things I found in the church in Scotland is that people believed in God, they believed in Jesus, they would come to the church. It’s something we don’t have here. It’s called an adherent. Adhere means to stick to something. These people would be in church every Sunday, they would tithe, they would come to every church function, but they would never join the church because they felt that if they came to communion, which is when they would join, they would not have examined themselves, and there is the possibility that they might eat and drink to themselves damnation. No assurance.
Though you may be distressed, you will not be overwhelmed if your portion is God.But in America, it’s completely different. We have all the assurance in the world. We’re all Christians here, or we think we are we. We know the five points of Calvinism. We know God loves us. We know we’re all going to heaven. It’s not that way in Scotland. And that’s the birthplace of Reformed Protestant faith that we’ve seen. You know, the debt we have for the Presbyterian faith, denomination.
What does he say here? He says, “The Lord is my portion, therefore, I will hope in him.” Helek, it’s a word. It’s a share. It’s a part. It’s a territory. It’s a parcel. It’s actually an award. That’s the language there. It’s the land allotted by the Lord to each Israelite as an inheritance. The Scots are wedded to the ground, and so with the Israelites. And if you look at what he’s saying here, Jeremiah or the author wants no share but the Lord, just like the Levites. That’s what it says in Numbers. It talks about the portioning in Numbers 18:20. “And the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.’”
“Portion” is Levitical priestly language for allotment. Instead of the land that was the inheritance for the Hebrews, the Levites relied on God. That’s their portion. That’s their survival. Matthew Henry says, “Portions on Earth are perishing things, but God is portion for ever.” What is your portion today? Are you trusting in theology? Are you trusting in the PCA? Are you trusting in your prayer life and your service to God and what you do here? That’s no portion. But if your portion is in God, you will not be overwhelmed when it strikes. You will not be overwhelmed when things you cannot expect happen in the day of trouble, though you may be distressed, you will not be overwhelmed if your portion is God.
The great Free churchman, Andrew Bonar, had a diary and Richard Brooks in his commentary on Lamentations records this. He says, “The words of Andrew Bonar are the passage he put on the 14th of October of 1864 when his wife, Isabella, died. He’s writing on the anniversary of her death 20 years later, and he says this, ‘Memorable to me as the anniversary of my beloved Isabella’s departure to be with Christ, and now my son’s son, a child of three days old, has been taken from them. Broken cisterns, broken cisterns all around, but the fountain remains full.” That’s a portion.
You see, the fullness of Christ is felt most keenly in his loss and in ours. The short separations that he’s recording prepare us for final partings. I remember when my dad would go to work. I remember waiting for my dad to come home. And I frequently asked my mom, “When’s Daddy coming home?” I never said, “If Daddy comes home,” because I knew. The point is when your portion is in God, when your portion is in him, you know, and it’s easier to wait when you know it will happen. That’s what faith is. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). You know it’s going to happen because you’re waiting expectantly, waiting for the portion that God will deliver with expectancy. That’s what he’s writing about here.
Your portion is in Jesus Christ, and he has been given to you. You don’t have to earn it by keeping the 613 laws or the Ten Commandments that none of us can keep or all the works that we need to do, and being truly Reformed. He has been given. Jesus is the living Word of God, our great Christian hope, and that’s our portion. That should reassure you. If the foundation of your faith is the rock of Christ, that’s assurance. If the expectation of your hope is trust in Christ, that’s assurance. If the salvation of your soul is hidden in Christ, that’s assurance. That’s a portion to have.
What does it mean to have that portion? You can say, with faith and assurance that “if God is for us, who can be against us? . . . For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31, 38–39). That’s some portion.
It is comforting to know that God’s love for you never changes, never slows, never stops, never runs out.What have we learned in this? It reminds us whatever trials or difficulties you may be facing today, and I don’t know what they are, you will do better if you begin the day with prayer. Prayer brings you into God’s presence and reminds you of what God has done, what he can do, and what he will do for those who love him. God’s great faithfulness to us reminds us to hope only in him.
How does it renew us? God’s faithfulness renews us in a world that seems to always be changing for the worse. It is comforting to know that God’s love for you never changes, never slows, never stops, never runs out. God’s love for you is endless. And God cannot love you anymore, and God will never love you any less. God’s love and mercy renews your faith every day.
God’s faithfulness reassures us. God’s great faithfulness shows you the prize of eternal value that you should seek with all your heart, soul, mind, and that’s Jesus Christ. Jesus is our share, an inheritance because his faithfulness, even unto death, has allotted us a room in the house of many mansions. And Jesus himself has reassured us, “If it wasn’t true, I would have told you” (John 14:2). But by his death and resurrection, he has.
Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, the Lord hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.