God’s purpose in Joseph’s life involved him going to jail and that for quite some time. Many have lived to bless the days of affliction and distress through which God caused them to go. They discovered, like Manasseh, (II Chronicles 33:12) that affliction often causes us to think upon our ways and to consider the Lord. So it was with the Prodigal son in Luke 15:14-17. The jails of Ulster have been places where the purpose of God has been wrought out in mercy in the lives of those who otherwise would never have been reached with the gospel. Joseph was able to say to his brothers, whose wickedness had been the cause of him being taken as a slave to Egypt in the first place, — Genesis 50:20.
We can learn some very important gospel lessons from the experience of Joseph recorded in Genesis.
I. GOD’S PURPOSE WAS TO PLACE JOSEPH UPON THE THRONE.
“God . . . hath made me . . . . a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt”, Genesis 45:8.
1. In this we have a picture of the purpose of God in the gospel. It is to take poor sinners and place them upon a throne. A far greater throne than that of Egypt. I Samuel 2:8.
Christ asks that His Father bring them to His throne that they may see and share in His glory, John 17:24. All of God’s elect will see Him in all His majesty. All who are saved and washed in the blood of the Lamb are made unto our God “kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth”, Revelation 5:10. We shall literally reign with Him when the Saviour returns to make the kingdoms of this world His.
2. But it is the privilege of the child of God to live now as a king where once he was a poor slave. Romans 6:14. As Joseph ruled where he once had been a poor miserable slave, so the Christian is enabled by God’s grace to rule where once he was a slave to sin and uncleanness. See Joseph sitting upon the throne and imagine all those who had authority and dominion over him in past years now bowing before him in submission. See his brothers coming down and bowing before him, they who had cast him into a pit and sold him into slavery. So it is with the Christian. Upon receiving Christ, he becomes a new creature, “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”, II Corinthians 5:17. He arises out of his prison cell of sin to “walk in newness of life”, Romans 6:4.
I want to consider the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, better known by his later name, Paul the apostle.
Two men in the mid-18th century, both lawyers, Gilbert West and Lord Lyttleton, were determined to destroy the basis of the Christian faith. West was going to demonstrate the fallacy of the resurrection and Lyttleton was going to prove that Saul of Tarsus had never converted to Christianity.
But both men came to the opposite conclusion and became ardent followers of Jesus. Lord Lyttleton writes: “The conversion and apostleship of Saint Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a Divine Revelation.” He concluded that if Paul’s years of suffering and service for Christ were a reality, then his conversion was true, for everything he did began with that sudden change. And if his conversion was true, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for everything Paul was and did he attributed to the sight of the risen Christ. The works of the two men were published in 1747.
Undoubtedly, the conversion of Paul was an event of major importance. That is emphasised by the fact that three times in the Acts of the Apostles mention is made of it, chapters 9, 22 and 26, not to mention Paul’s many references to it in his epistles, 1 Cor 15:8-9; Gal 1:13.
Paul was undoubtedly a very learned man. He spoke of his education and that before a hostile mob of Jews who would have been quick to contradict him if what he said was false.“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God,” Acts 22:3.
Paul was a linguist. He could speak perfectly in Hebrew and Greek. Acts 21:37, 22:2.
His intellect has been acknowledged by all on the basis of the epistles he wrote and which are still amongst us and which have been the fountain of so much good in this world.
Having said all that, I want to point out that this intelligent, learned man was once grossly ignorant of that most important of all knowledge – HE KNEW NOT GOD! When he saw Christ he didn’t know Him!
His ignorance is that of all men by nature! “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” 1 Cor 1:21.
I. PLEASE NOTE THAT DESPITE ALL HIS RELIGION HE KNEW NOT CHRIST!
1. Paul lists his religious upbringing. Php 3:4-6.
2. He puts no value on his ‘religiosity’ in the light of the gospel truth. Php 3:7-8. ‘Loss’ = ‘that which is damaging.’ ‘Dung’ = ‘utter waste, utterly distasteful!’
3. He spent his life trying to show people that mere religious acts would not save! “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” Galatians 2:16. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” Galatians 3:10.
II. BUT PLEASE NOTE ALSO THAT PAUL WAS AN ENEMY OF CHRIST!
“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Acts 9:4.
Saul persecuted Christ. Just what was Christ calling Paul? “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” Matthew 5:44. Those words serve to highlight natural man’s attitude to Christ.
1. Remember: all the time he thought he was doing God’s will.
2. How wrong man can be about this most vital of matters. Romans 3:9-20.
3. This why men refuse and oppose the gospel. It is contrary to all they think! “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear,” Zechariah 7:11. “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. . . . . Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,” Acts 7:54, 57.
III. BUT IN A MOMENT ALL THAT WAS CHANGED.
1. The Saviour revealed Himself. “And the Lord said, I am Jesus . . . ” Acts 9:5. See John 9:35-38. Here is the light that all sinners need!
2. His sins were all pardoned. “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief,” 1 Timothy 1:13. All his religious works had not brought forgiveness BUT Christ can forgive. “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins,” Acts 13:38.
3. That wonderful mercy became the centre of his message. Acts 26:13-18.
Scripture: “Ask ye of the LORD rain in the time of the latter rain; so the LORD shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field,” Zechariah 10:1.
Never was the mercy and grace of God more evident than when we consider the goodness of God to those who have long defied and dishonoured Him by backsliding. Not only is there an urging of them to return and the proffering of much mercy but there is clear and simple instructions as to what they must do in order to enter again into the enjoyment of His bounty. Our text is just one such demonstration of this goodness.
The drought was an evidence of their departure from the Lord, 2 Chron 7:13. How we need simple instruction when we have been away from the Lord. How dark is our understanding and dull is our mind. We are like someone laid low in their bed by an illness. They must learn to use their limbs again. They are as weak as babes until that strength and dexterity returns to their enfeebled legs. Much knowledge has been lost by the people of God today. We need such simple instruction as that set down in our text.
A message preached by Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd) at the afternoon season of prayer in a day of prayer and fasting in Kilskeery Free Presbyterian Church, Lord’s Day, 17th August 2018, marking the 44th anniversary of the opening of the original church building on 17th August 1974.
Scripture: “And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only. And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD. And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh. And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines,” 1 Samuel 7:3-8.
There is no greater mercy shown to God’s people than that when they are restored from backsliding and rebellion. I need hardly say that those thus blessed deserve no such mercy. Rather they deserve to be cut off in judgment.
However, God is not as a man. Isaiah records: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD,” Isaiah 55:8. This is very plain when we consider how He deals with His undeserving people.
Note that while Israel as a whole backslid and departed from the Lord, there was a small remnant which kept alive the pure worship and witness of God, 7:1.
This continued for a long time, verse 2, even 20 years. Twenty years without the Lord is a long time indeed. It was a time of lamentation and morning.
I would have you note that:
I. THIS WAS LAMENTING WITHOUT REPENTING
Note what Samuel said to Israel, 7:3. Idolatry was still taking place!
1. God’s people can feel saddened at the loss of the blessing of former times yet continue in their backsliding. It is humbling but true! They were clinging to that which was robbing them of God’s blessing!
2. It is not their sin they lament over but the misery that it has brought to them. It is easy to mistake this sense of sadness for true repentance. Saul often uttered words of repentance but never repented! 1 Samuel 15:25.
3. I believe that this sadness is prevalent amongst Free Presbyterians today. But we must not think it is repentance! That would be very wrong and harmful, keeping us from enjoying the fruits of true repentance! We can take empty, false comfort from such feelings. Jeremiah 6:14.
II. THERE WAS INSTRUCTION GIVEN AND HEEDED
1 Samuel 7:3-4.
1. There needs to be a putting away of our sinful ways. Isaiah 1:16.
2. There needs to be a preparing of our hearts. They have been soiled and marred and injured by our carelessness and sin. The word here translated ‘prepared’ first appears in Gen 41:32 as ‘established’ and elsewhere as ‘fixed’, Psalm 57:7. Remember what James says, James 1:8. There is instability, a lack of being established and fixed in our ways. Job 17:9. There is a need for a breaking up and a ploughing of our hearts so that there is only one thing rooted and growing there!
3. Only then we can pray. Psalm 24:3-4. 2 Chronicles 7:14.
III. THIS WAS FOLLOWED BY ISRAEL REVIVED AND REVILED
1 Samuel 7:6-8.
1. Here was fulsome confession and repudiation of sin. I believe this pouring out of the water was a denoting of their denial of the old thirsts after sin. 2 Samuel 23:15-16. Here is self-denial. Note the fasting also – again, self-denial. Backsliding is a life without self-denial. Holiness is a life of slaying/denying the flesh, Luke 9:23.
2. Their lives were brought under the rule of God. “And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh,” 1 Samuel 7:6. There was a conforming to and governing by the rule of God’s Word.
3. Holiness amongst God’s people is hated by the devil and his minions. 1 Samuel 7:7. There is reproach that comes with God’s blessing and revival. Hebs 10:32-39.
THE ENEMY. The enemy “heard” of Israel’s actions. They gathered together against Israel. They saw revival amongst the Israelites as a danger, a threat to their existence!
ISRAEL They too heard the enemy’s reaction and were afraid. But they now sought the Lord Who wonderfully intervened on their behalf.
A backslidden people will never see miraculous interventions. But a repentant people will.
4. There was subjugation, restoration and peace. This is what God can do again for us as individuals, congregations and as a denomination if we but follow the example of Israel.
REMEMBER: “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope,” Romans 15:4.
Dear Christian heed God’s Word today and let us turn to Him with our whole heart! Such wholehearted seeking is an indication of God working amongst us. “And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart,” Jeremiah 24:7.
Consider these verses. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not,” Romans 7:18. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Philippians 2:13.
We need this grace. God working in us both to desire His will and also the grace to act and carry our His will.
May the Lord bless us all through His blessed Word.
Here is the audio recording of Mrs Anne Ferguson’s funeral service conducted on Tuesday 14th August in Lurgan Free Presbyterian Church, when some 600 people gathered to sympathise with and support Rev Gordon Ferguson and his family in their bereavement.
Dr Ken Elliott commences with prayer after which Rev David Creane leads the worship. Rev Foster is then asked to pay tribute to Mrs Ferguson. The sermon is preached by Dr Elliott.
I am sure you will sense something of the presence of the Lord amongst the people that day and you will also be blessed.
The written report of Rev. Foster’s tribute can be read here.