Sunday, February 13, 2022

Standing on the Premises

No, that is not a typo, nor are we referring to the “many dwelling places” in heaven.

Now, there are indeed promises given in scripture so plainly that only unbelief can cause us to miss the benefit of them. For example, in Old Testament times God showed his care for Abraham, the “father” of those who believe, by condescending to put himself under oath. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

Christ was similarly gracious when speaking of things he knew his hearers would find hard to believe, by prefacing such statements with “Truly truly I say to you ...” These are promises we can count on.

But there are times when mature faith is encouraged to think and act in the light of its knowledge of God’s character as revealed in scripture when it has no specific promise on which to rely, a faith which enables those who possess it to be at peace when others panic. Or it may inspire a courage that urges a believer to undertake a project that he believes will please the Lord even though others do not share his/her vision, and there may not even be an example of a person doing exactly that thing in scripture.

Examples of standing on a premise will follow.

The Value of a Premise

Your dictionary will give several definitions of a premise, one of which will show that when we are thinking logically we may use a premise to arrive at a conclusion as to what another person is likely to say or do. We think of their past words or actions as having given us an insight as to their nature, customary behavior and/or their attitude toward us, and we build on that premise. We dare not speculate how God will act, but premises can reassure those who are fearful.

An illustration of this is found in Judges 13:15-23. The angel of the Lord had visited Manoah’s home in human form in order to confirm a prediction that his wife would bear a son. He gave them both instructions concerning the way the child was to be raised. Manoah, not knowing his visitor’s true identity, invited him to stay for a meal. The visitor declined, but said a burnt offering to God would be appropriate. In the flame rising from the altar, the angel, whose name was “Wonderful”, made his exit. Manoah then believed he had been in the presence of deity. He was filled with fear and said, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” His wife calmed him, reasoning from a recent premise. It assured her that “If the Lord had desired to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering ... shown us all these things ... told us such things as these at this time.”

Using a similar method the Lord Jesus sought to teach his disciples (and us) not to fret over tomorrow’s need for clothing or food. The premise for the former was to “consider the lilies of the field”, more gloriously clad than Solomon with all his resources. The premise for the latter was the way God provided for the birds of the air. The priority of his followers was to seek “the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and their needs would be adequately supplied.

A Famous Example

George Muller thought that only a few Christian people in his day seemed to be trusting God to look after them when they were in dire financial or material need. This was in spite of the fact that they appeared to be seeking first the kingdom of God. But they were given to worrying about where the next meal would come from or how they would clothe themselves and their families. They needed a living demonstration that God was true to his revealed character; his word could be trusted. One day Muller read the statement that God was “a Father of the fatherless.” He decided to build a small orphanage and let people see God provide for the daily needs of those in his care. He thought it necessary to avoid pleading for support, but he would provide interested friends with a journal recording how his plan had worked out on a daily basis.

The first orphanage became several, and Muller’s faith became an inspiration to many to work for the Lord at home and overseas without a guaranteed salary or pledges of support. My point is this: Psalm 68:5 is not a promise but a premise which encouraged Muller to believe God would provide if he acted in his name, for his glory and the strengthening of the faith of God’s people. He knew God.

A Personal Experience

The small ocean liner arrived at the east coast of Africa and I found myself gazing over the ship’s guardrails at the bustling port of Mombasa. There was no one to welcome my wife and me with our three little boys, the eldest in Grade 1. There would be no one to help us through customs, show us where we could safely eat or sleep, etc. Perhaps others were also feeling alone in the world at this point, but I was me and I was asking some serious questions of me. Was I really sure God wanted me here at this point in time? Frankly, NO. There was not a verse in the Bible that could assure me, not one that referred specifically to Mombasa, Kampala or the hundreds of miles between the two. There were some great verses, promises that had been enough to make us begin the long journey from the outskirts of Toronto to this point. I believed those general promises on which all Christian missionaries could rely. But I now needed also some reassurance that had a unique and special meaning for me.

My feeble faith could find support in thinking through past events in my life in which I had learned something of God’s nature, consistent behavior and attitude. These were enough to dispel present fears. Manoah’s wife had encouraged her husband with just one recent premise which was like a threefold cord — the Lord had not killed them so far, had accepted their sacrifice and also revealed some of his plans to them; was he likely to destroy them? The Lord had brought me and mine to this time and place. Was he likely to let us go it on our own now? I learned to rest on the promises, but also to gratefully review the premises — former mercies — I had experienced.

The most wonderful demonstration of God’s nature was the cross: Since he “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” [that is the premise], then “how shall he not ...”

I leave you to complete Romans 8:32 for yourself.

— Colin Anderson, “Trusting the Premises of God”, May 2014

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