of the Scriptures
Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario, a frequent contributor to “Food for the Flock,” is a retired physician who devotes his full-time to a Bible teaching and conference ministry in Canada and the U.S.
Some years ago, Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, when exiled from his native land, attended a gathering of thousands in the Royal Albert Hall, London, assembled to pay tribute to the Bible. He gave this personal testimony: “From early childhood I was taught to appreciate the Bible, and my love for it increased with the passage of time. All through life, I have found it a cause of unfailing comfort … I glory in the Bible.” His testimony could be reiterated by millions of others who also find it never fails to encourage. The Apostle Paul wrote of the “comfort” (NIV: “encouragement”) of the “Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4). He was writing about the Old Testament, “written aforetime,” but his words are equally true of the New Testament.
In all the circumstances of life, we can find encouragement in the Bible. Whether the path is smooth or rough, the voyage calm or stormy, the day sunny or gloomy; however dark the night or difficult the day, the Word of God gives consolation to the child of God. After all, it comes to us from our heavenly Father, Who knows us perfectly, loves us deeply and cares for us constantly. Let us then consider some of the circumstances in which the Scriptures encourage the saints.
1. FEAR was man’s first expressed emotion after sin entered the garden of Eden: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid” (Gen. 3:10) . Albert Camus, French essayist and Nobel prize winner, described this century as “the century of fear.” Fear arises from many causes: death — and life; the future and its uncertainty; the present and its problems; the past and its results; pain — and even pleasure; failure —and success; the unknown — and also the known. Sometimes there is no apparent reason: “There were they in great fear, where no fear was” (Psa. 53:5: “overwhelmed with dread when there was nothing to dread” — (NIV).
The Bible is the sure antidote to fear. It has been said to contain one exhortation not to fear for every day of the year. Certainly, there are over 70 direct “Fear nots” in the King James Bible. They give encouragement in a wide variety of circumstances that inspire fear. One outstanding example is the great verse in Isaiah 41:10 — given as God’s encouragement to His earthly people in circumstances that caused “the isles” to fear, and “the ends of the earth” to be afraid (v. 5), because of the lightning-like invasion of many countries by Cyrus of Persia, as he overcame the Babylonian empire.
Although today’s circumstances may be different, the encouragement applies equally to God’s heavenly people, whatever their circumstances.
“Fear thou not,” He says to us as to His earthly people. Why? The Lord gives three sure grounds for the alleviation of fear. 1. The Presence of God: “For I am with thee.” The same assurance led David to say in “the valley of the shadow of death”: “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4). 2. The Person of God: “For I am thy God”: the same God, Who, two chapters later, says to the same people: “Thou art Mine” (Isa. 43:1). “I am His and He is mine.” 3. The Power of God: “I will strengthen thee” — to keep thee from fainting; “yea, I will help thee” — to keep thee from failing; “yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” — to keep thee from falling.
Closely related to fear is the problem of: 2. ANXIETY. We are still living in the period described by the poet, W. H. Auden, as “the age of anxiety.” Among the most frequently prescribed drugs in North America are tranquillizers to relieve the anxieties caused by the stresses and strains of life in the end of the twentieth century. Symptoms of anxiety have been reported in over 75 percent of the population of large North American cities. Christians are not exempt. It is the “thief that robs many Christians of the fullness of life Christ intends they should experience.” Does the Bible have the answer? Of course it does! Encouragement is found repeatedly in its pages for those who are anxious and worried. Several times in the latter half of Matthew 6 — in the Sermon on the Mount — the Lord Jesus encouraged His disciples not to be anxious (“Take no thought” — KJV). The basis for this encouragement is twofold: 1. “Your heavenly Father knoweth” (v. 32): He fully understands all our needs even before we tell Him: even before they arise! 2. “Your heavenly Father feedeth” (v. 26): Just as He provides food for the birds and clothing for the lilies and the grass, so He will meet all our need — as He has done until now. In the same passage, the Lord prescribed the remedy for discouragement: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (v. 33). Peter, who was there when these gracious words were spoken, later confirmed the secret for a care-free life: “Cast all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
3. GUILT: The consciousness of sin, and the experience or dread of its consequences are frequent causes of discouragement — even for Christians. Although believers are assured of the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ and through faith in Him (Eph. 1:7; Acts 10:43; 13:38, 38, etc.), they may be more discouraged by sin than unbelievers. Indeed, the more saintly they are, the greater their consciousness of sin: “They who fain would serve Thee best are conscious most of wrong within.” Again we should turn to the Word of God for encouragement —to such great verses as 1 John 2:1: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father” — our “Paraclete,” Comforter, Encourager, Who is called alongside us, Who speaks in our defence and pleads the value of His propitiatory sacrifice at Calvary, which has fully satisfied the claims of a holy God and provides the basis for His being merciful to us. We experience forgiveness and cleansing by confessing our sin to Him: “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Not that any sin could ever take us out of the family of God or shut us out of His heaven: but unconfessed sin is discouraging for it deprives us of the joy of family fellowship.
4. SUFFERING: “God had only one Son without sin, but He has none without suffering.” Some who are most like that Son are called to pass through deepest suffering. Discouraged saints ask: “Where is God when it hurts?” as Philip Yancey asks in his book with that title. Repeatedly, the Bible focuses on the problem of suffering; we can turn to many of its pages for encouragement: e.g., in Job; Rom. 8; Heb. 12; 1 Peter. In Romans 8, we learn that suffering is a great privilege — for we “suffer with Him” (v. 17), with a glorious prospect — of being “glorified together” (vv. 17, 18), and a good purpose, since “all things” —including suffering — “work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (v. 28.)
5. TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS: In the last words of His discourse to His disciples on the eve of His anguish (John 16:33), the Lord Jesus anticipated “tribulation” for them: Greek “thlipsis” —pressure, affliction, trouble — but in the same verse He provided encouragement in that trial: “Be of good cheer” — or courage; “be encouraged.” On what does this encouragement depend? Examine the verse and discover: a. the source of discouragement — “in the world … tribulation”; b. the solution to discouragement” — “in Me … peace” — because “I have overcome the world.” Since the solution is found in Him, the secret of encouragement is obviously what He stated several times in the previous chapter (15): “Abide in Me.” As we abide in Him, day by day communing with Him and deriving strength and sustenance from Him, we not only abide in His love (v. 10) and are filled with His joy (v. 11), but experience His peace (16:33).
6. TEMPTATIONS: Are you discouraged by temptations? By their force? Their frequency? The difficulty in resisting them? If so, you are not alone! But even here, the Scriptures provide encouragement. 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures us that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man”: however great your temptation seems, it is not unique — you are not the only one to experience it. While it may seem almost irresistible at times, God places a limit on it. Satan tries to overwhelm you as he tried to do to Job, but, as in that case, God will only allow him to go so far and no farther — “He will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” He knows the force of the temptation, and He knows the limit of your ability and sets a corresponding limit on the temptation. “God is faithful” — He will remain true to Himself and to His people in every trial. With every temptation, He will provide a way to escape — not out of or under, or round about the temptation — but through it, “that ye may be able to bear it,” not in our strength, but by His divine enablement.
7. DEATH: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Thank God, its destruction is certain. The One Who will destroy it has already conquered it. But in the meantime we are faced with its ravages and the discouragement it causes. Again, however, we turn to the holy Scriptures for comfort and encouragement. They assure us that, for the believer, to die is to be “with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). To be “absent from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). while “the valley of the shadow of death” is both dark and difficult, we can assert, with David, “I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4). The One Who has Himself walked through the valley will be with us all the way and will welcome us on the other side! But is there any encouragement for us as loved ones are taken from us in death? Can we know “Peace, perfect peace; death shadowing us and ours?” Surely we can, for “Jesus has conquered death and all its powers.” Loved ones who knew Him and have been taken from us in death are even now with Him, and we shall see them when we see Him in the morning of the first resurrection: “The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). Meantime, we can be cheered by the assurance that He in whom we trust will not leave us alone in our bereavement, for He has said: “Lo, I am with you alway” (Matt. 28:20); and “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
Discouraged? Downhearted? Depressed? Whatever the circumstances, the Bible has encouragement. It is God’s Word, and it speaks to your every need. Learn its principles! Obey its precepts! Trust its promises! Claim its provision!