Hebrews 13:5 For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Most comforting words.
Paul was quoting from Deuteronomy 31:6-8, where Moses was commissioning Joshua in readiness to cross over into the Promised Land. He said, “Be strong and of a good courage . . . for it is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you nor forsake you. Fear not, neither be dismayed.”
He could equally well have been quoting from 1 Chron.28:20, where David was commissioning his son Solomon in respect of building the Temple. “Be strong and of a good courage, and do it; fear not nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.”
The promise was repeated by the Lord in Isaiah’s day (54:10) “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord who has mercy on you.
Words such as these have been rendered into song by those who have gained comfort and strength from God’s word.
“I will never, never leave thee,
I will hold thee by my hand,”
Though mountains move, the hills depart,
His faithfulness will stand.
(597 in CSSM choruses)
I will never leave thee, tho’ clouds obscure the way,
Neither will I forsake thee, however dark the day;
My eye shall ever guide thee,
My right hand shall uphold thee,
In triumph I will bring thee to Eternal Day.
(891 in Elim choruses)
But this is where we have to stop for a moment and consider God’s promise within the contexts of Scripture. To whom was God speaking these comforting words? To take the words and sing them as though they applied at all times, under all circumstances, regardless of how we live our lives is to promote serious error. There is the Responsibility Factor to consider.
We must now observe from numerous situations in Biblical history the fact that God withdrew from His people when they caused Him grief.
Our first example will be King Saul. In 1 Samuel 16:14-16, 23, 18:10, and 19:9 we read about the result of Saul’s disobedience.
“Now the spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” The young man David was called to assist Saul by playing on his harp. “And it came to pass when the evil spirit was upon Saul, that David took the harp, and played with his hand, . . . and the evil spirit departed from him.” Later we learn that “an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul and he prophesied in the midst of the house.” False prophecy was therefore possible under such conditions. Furthermore, Saul’s condition was shown to be sinister, because “the evil spirit from the Lord was upon Saul as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand . . . and he sought to smite David even to the wall with his spear.”
Our Lord said, “Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” (Luke 12:48) Saul had been given kingship. He could hardly have been given more. Therefore when he reneged on his responsibilities, the consequences were more drastic than on lesser mortals.
On a more generalised level, we read in Isaiah 54:7, “For a small moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you.” So the Lord does forsake His people at times, but always with the tenderness of drawing them back to Himself when lessons have been learned.
Take the case of King David. He was another “to whom much was committed.” After his sins of murder and adultery, he repented in deep contrition, and writes in Psalm 51:11-12, “Cast me not away from your presence; take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a free spirit.”
This brings us to the crux of this message, namely the Responsibility Factor, the possibility of God withdrawing Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, from a person’s life under certain conditions. The Old Testament contains many examples of this, and we do well to ponder the implications.
“Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for I have hoped in your judgments.” (Psalm 119: 43) The Psalmist is aware of his responsibility, and knows that his life-style will dictate whether or not the “words of his mouth” will be “acceptable” in the sight of the Lord. (Psalm 19:14)
Speaking of Israel, Isaiah said, “But they rebelled, and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them.” (Isaiah 63:10-11) Jeremiah received the Lord’s word, saying, “Be instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul be alienated from you; lest I make you a desolation, a land uninhabited.” (Jer.6:8) As God’s chosen nation, they were indeed amongst those “to whom much was given.”Therefore, any defection from following the Lord with a whole heart was likely to bring down swift and summary judgment.
Hosea, prophesying to Israel, had this to say, “I will go and return to my place until they acknowledge their offence and seek my face. In their affliction they will seek me earnestly, saying, ‘Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn and He will heal us; He has smitten and He will bind us up.’” (5:15-6:1) Malachi had the same message for the returning nation of Judah, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, says the Lord of hosts.” (3:7) Our Lord had the same message for His people, when sitting on the Mount of Olives, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. . . You shall not see me henceforth until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matt.23:37-38) 2,000 years has passed by, but the Jewish people are still holding out against saying this to their Messiah. Hence the desolation remains, even if they have achieved nationhood.
Paul, quoting Isaiah (65:2) said of Israel, “All day long did I spread out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” (Romans 10:21) The patience of the Lord has been remarkable. And still He waits for His people to show Him that heart-felt desire to serve Him with a single eye. Remember how Samuel spoke to Israelwhen attacked, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, and put away strange gods from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord and serve Him only, He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”(1 Sam.7:3) The same message was delivered to all Israel by Solomon when dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem. “If they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul, and pray unto You . . . You will forgive Your people who have sinned against You.” (1 Kings 8:48-50) Moses wrote in Psalm 90:13, “Return, O Lord; how long? And let it repent You concerning Your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with Your mercy.” Isaiah provokes the people to righteousness by saying, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Some may say, “Yes, this was all very well in Old Testament days, but as Christians we stand more surely in the Lord. We no longer live under law, but under God’s grace.” Such sentiments abound in certain quarters today, but one can only say that it is by no means a reflection of New Testament theology. One only needs to refer to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:7. “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. He who sows to his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap eternal life.”
In Ephesians 4:30 Paul tells his brethren, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption.” Remember how David prayed, asking God not to take away the Holy Spirit from him? It is equally true of us all today, that if in any way we should grieve the Holy Spirit, we shall find a withdrawing of God’s presence. If of our own volition we demand, as the prodigal son, to go the way of our flesh, our Father will not stop us. But He is ever watchful, waiting for us to come to our senses and return. Then he meets us half way. Such is the character of God, ever merciful to the repentant sinner, but always righteous in His judgments on His people.
The Psalmist said, “Forty years long was I grieved with that generation, and said, It is a people who err in their heart, and they have not known my ways, wherefore I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” (Psalm 95:10-11) All but Joshua and Caleb of that generation died in the desert, and failed to reach the Promised Land. But lest anyone should think that this again is just Old Testament theology, no longer applicable in today’s Christian world, let us turn to Hebrews 3 & 4, where Paul quotes from this Psalm. After recalling the events of history, he says, (4:11) “Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of disobedience.” There is a spiritual “rest”, into which we have the promise of entering. But theResponsibility Factor demands obedience, a wholehearted life of love, trustworthiness, and faithfulness towards the One who suffered such pain that we might have life in His name. It is therefore not a foregone conclusion that this “rest” will be the end result of one’s life. A lesson may be learned from Ezekiel’s words. “Because you have not remembered the days of your youth but have grieved me in this respect, [of that already mentioned,] therefore behold I will bring your way upon your own head, says the Lord God, that you cease committing these abominations.” (Ezek.16:43) In other words, God’s judgments are seen to be restorative rather than justpunitive in a believer’s life. God’s prodigals often need the privations of the far country to bring them to their senses. As Isaiah received of the Lord, “For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies I will gather you.” (Isa.54:7)
Jesus looked around Him in the synagogue at the Pharisees who were on tenterhooks, waiting for Him to “transgress the law” (as they interpreted it) and thereby accuse Him. “When He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch forth your hand.’ And he stretched it forth and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out seeking how they might destroy Him.” (Mark 3:1-6) Jesus’ grief was because of the hardening of their heart. Making reference to this, Paul spoke about Israel in Romans 11:25, when he said, “A hardening in part has befallen Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” The Greek word for ‘hardening’ is POROSIS, a medical word from the old world, which now finds itself in that condition doctors call OSTEOPOROSIS, a hardening of the bones in old age, a tendency towards brittleness, and easy fracturing. It explains quite graphically what happens spiritually to a person’s heart when the mind is no longer responsive to God’s love, mercy, and grace. The hardening is a process. It doesn’t occur all at once, but is a progressive experience, happening so slowly that it may be almost unnoticeable.
We are reminded of Charles Darwin’s words about himself.
“I had gradually come by this time, that is 1836 to 1839, to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindus.”
“The Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events. They differ in many important details, far too important, as it seemed to me, to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses, and by such reflections as these – – I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.”
“I was very unwilling to give up my belief; I feel sure of this. – – Unbelief crept on me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress.”
At the end of his life he rued the day he left behind “the faith of his fathers.”
To conclude this study, we need to ask ourselves a few sobering questions. Have we been given “little” or “much”? Few if any of us can boast of “kingship” like Saul and David, but on reflection, many of us, after “counting our blessings” will be surprised to see what bounty we have received from the Lord. Is our return in like measure to the gracious gift? Our readings from the Scriptures should bring us to the point where we ask ourselves whether we truly “rest” in the Lord, or whether we might be said to “wallow” in the dangerous waters of self-satisfaction, not fully realising that the Lord is looking for a reasonable “return on His investment”, to use a modern expression based on the Parable of the Talents.
Remember David’s experience of life after his sins of murder and adultery. Although his own repentance was true, and the Lord’s forgiveness sure, yet his family suffered in many ways, culminating in the treason and death of his son Absalom. We could well be reminded of a similar train of events in the British royal family. In the case of our Queen, she made a solemn oath at her coronation in 1953, to be “protector of the faith”, which meant complete separation from Rome, whilst giving support and protection to the English Church. But in the following years, she visited the Pope, wearing black, and then the Pope was given a royal welcome in this land, the first such visit by a Pope since the Reformation. Later still, she was to visit a syncretistic service of many “faiths”, seeming to endorse a New Age approach. Prince Charles has spoken of his desire to be “Protector of Faiths” if he accedes to the throne. One only needs to recall the way in which the royal family has fallen apart to see that the Divine Hand has been withdrawn.
And this brings us to our last quotation, from a prophecy given by Alex Buchanan on 9th July 1975.
“Sombre indeed are the faces of my holy ones as they look upon your land. They are aghast at the sin that has become so rampant within this nation, a nation once great, a nation once given by me the opportunity to demonstrate righteousness to a great part of the world. You began, but speedily failed; so has your empire disappeared. There is grief in my heart as I look upon your land, where once my name was honoured, but has now become a prey to any foul spirit. The spirit of harlotry is deep within your land. As I look in my own church for a bride fair and chaste, even there is harlotry and sin and every form of indiscipline. These things bring grief to my heart and cause the holy ones to stand amazed that I do not immediately and fully judge those who perpetrate such things. They also see the position of my hands, for whereas once my hands were around your country in protection, now are my hands changed, and they are above and pointing to judgment, for I am opening the way for the workers of iniquity to come, and I give them liberty to damage and harass your land because you have rejected my protection.”
From the Throne of England, down through the Church, to the individual level, there has been a terrible downslide during the last half of the 20th century. None of us can attempt to remedy this malaise nationally, even though we are enjoined to pray for the Government and Royal Family. But when it comes to the personal level, each one of us is confronted by The Responsibility Factor. How then shall we respond to the Divine call? Can we truthfully say, “He will never leave me or forsake me,” or are we in need of some spiritual spring-cleaning?