Friday, April 16, 2010

We See But Pieces of the Broken Links of the Chains of His Providence

Letter CCLXXXVII – To the Viscountess of Kenmure



Grace, mercy, and peace be to you.  I know that ye are near many comforters, and that the promised Comforter is near at hand also.  Yet, because I found your Ladyship comfortable to myself in my sad days, which are not yet over my head, it is my part and more, in many respects (howbeit I can do little, God knoweth, in that kinds), to speak to you in your wilderness lot.

I know, dear and noble Lady, that this loss of your dear child (John, second Viscount Kenmure who died in 1639) came upon you, one piece and part of it after another; and that ye were looking for it, and that now the Almighty hath brought on you that which ye feared; and that your Lord gave you lawful warning.  And I hope that for His sake who brewed and masked this cup in heaven, ye will gladly drink, and salute and welcome the cross.  I am sure, that it is not your Lord’s mind to feed you with judgment and wormwood, and to give you waters of gall to drink (Ezek. xxxiv. 16; Jer. ix. 15).  I know that your cup is sugared with mercy; and that the withering of the bloom, the flower, even the white and red of worldly joys, is for no other end than to buy out at the ground the reversion of your heart and love. 

Madam, subscribe to the Almighty’s will; put your hand to the pen, and let the cross of your Lord Jesus have your submissive and resolute AMEN.  If ye ask and try whose this cross is, I dare say that it is not all your own, the best half of it is Christ’s.  Then your cross is no born-bastard, but lawfully begotten; it sprang not out of the dust (Job v. 6).  If Christ and ye be halvers of this suffering, and He say, “Half mine,” what should ail you?  And I am sure that I am here right pon the style of the word of God:  “The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Phil. iii. 10); “The remnant of the afflictions of Christ” (Col. i. 24); “The reproach of Christ” (Heb. ii. 6).  It were but to shift the comforts of God, to say, “Christ had never such a cross as mine:  He had never a dead child, and so this is not His cross; neither can He, in that meaning, be the owner of this cross.”  But I hope that Christ, when he married you, married you and all the crosses and wo (grieved) hearts that follow you.  And the word maketh no exception.  “In all their afflictions He was afflicted” (Isa. lxiii. 9).  Then Christ bore the first stroke of this cross; it rebounded off Him upon you, and ye get it at the scond hand, and ye and He are halvers in it.  And I shall believe, for my part, that He mindeth to distil heaven out of this loss, and all others the like; for wisdom devised it, and love laid it on, and Christ owneth it as His own, and putteth your shoulder beneath only a piece of it.  Take it with joy, as no bastard cross, but as a visitation of God, well-born; and spend the rest of your appointed time, till your change come, in the work of believing.  And let faith, that never made a lie to you, speak for God’s part of it, “He will not, He doth not, make you a sea or a whale-fish, that He keepeth you in ward” (Job vii. 12).  It may be, that ye think not many of the children of God in such a hard case as yourself; but what would ye think of some, who would exchange afflictions? and give you to the boot?  But I know that yours must be your own alone, and Christ’s together.

I confess it seemed strange to me, that your Lord hsould have done that which seemed to ding out the bottom of your worldly comforts; but we see not the ground of the Almighty’s sovereignty.  “He goeth by on our right hand, and on our left hand, and we see Him not.”  We see but pieces of the broken links of the chains of His providence; and He coggeth the wheels of His own providence, that we see not.  Oh, let the former work His own clay into what frame He pleaseth!  “Shall any teach the Almighty knowledge?”  If He pursue the dry stubble, who dare say, “What doest Thou?”  Do not wonder to see the Judge of the world weave, into one web, your mercies and judgments of the house of Kenmure.  He can make one web of contraries. 

But my weak advice (with reverence and correction), were, for you, dear and worthy Lady, to see how far mortification goeth on, and what scum the Lord’s fire casteth out of you.  I know that ye see your knottiness, since our Lord whiteth, and heweth, and plaineth you.  And the glancing of the furnace (The brightness of glowing heat) is to let you see what scum or refuse ye must want, and what froth is in nature, that must be boiled out and taken off in the fire of your trials.  I do not say that heavier afflictions prophesy heavier guiltiness; a cross is often but a false prophet in this kind.  But I am sure that our Lord would have the tin and the bastard metal in you removed, lest the Lord say, “The bellows are burnt, the lead is consumed in the fire, the Founder melteth in vain” (Jer. vi. 29).  And I shall hope that grief will not so far smother your light, as not to practise this so necessary a duty, to concur with Him in this blessed design.

I would gladly plead for the Comforter’s part of it, not against you, Madam (for I am sure ye are not his party [An opposing party to him]), but against your grief, which will have its own violent incursions in your soul:  and I think it be not in your power to help it.  But I must say, there are comforts allowed upon you; and, therefore, want them not.  When ye have gotten a running-over soul with joy now, that joy will never be missed out of the infinite ocean of delight, which is not diminished by drinking at it, or drawing out of it.  It is a Christian art to comfort yourself in the Lord; to say, “I was obliged to render back again this child to the Giver:  and if I have had four years’ loan of him, and Christ eternity’s possession of him, the Lord hath kept condition with me.  If my Lord would not have him and me to tryst (meet by appointment) both in one hour at death’s door-threshold together, it is His wisdom so to do; I am satisfied.  My tryst is suspended, not broken off, nor given up.”  Madam, I would that i could divide sorrow with you, for your ease.  But I am but a beholder:  it is easy to me to speak; the God of comfort speak to you, and allure you with His feasts of love. 

My removal from my flock is so heavy to me, that it maketh my life a burden to me; I had never such a longing for death.  The Lord help and hold up sad clay.  I fear that ye sin in drawing Mr. William Dalgleish from this country, where the labourers are few, and the harvest great. 

Madam, desire my Lord Argyle to see for provision to a pastor for his poor people.  Grace be with you.

Your Ladyship’s at all obedience in Christ,

S. R.

Kirkcudbright, Oct. 1, 1639

Rutherford, Samuel Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2006), 565-68.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dr. Fan Yafeng - Recipient of the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award

Yesterday I had the blessing to be able to attend the ceremony in which Dr. Richard Land was able to give the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award to Dr. Fan Yafeng on behalf of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in the U.S. House of Representatives side of the Capitol of the United States of America. Dr. Yafeng was unable to come, so Bob Fu, of the China Aid Association, received it on his behalf - Mr. Fu was the recipient of the 2007 award
(I blogged about that a few years back).
The speakers at this ceremony were United States Representative Trent Franks, Dr. Richard Land, Dr. Barrett Duke, and Mr. Bob Fu.

Dr. Yafeng is one of China’s foremost legal scholars and advocate for constitutional democracy and he has increased his participation in the activist circuit through open involvement in the defense of persecuted Christians. He has worked closely with Gao Zhisheng, Wang Yi, Zhang Xingshui and Li Baiguang on cases such as the defense of Pastor Cai, Lian Changnian and Tong Qimiao, and he is also a Chinese house church leader (click here for a relevant press release where some of this information is from).

(This picture shows the speakers at this ceremony - from top then left to right: Dr. Fan Yafeng (was skyping from China on the screen in the background), Mr. Bob Fu, Representative Trent Franks, Dr. Richard Land, and Dr. Barrett Duke.)

(Dr. Land and Dr. Fan Yafeng.)

In September of 2006 Christianity Today outlined one example of how Dr. Yafeng is trying to help build a “rule-of-law” philosophy in China. He serves as a legal counselor to pastors and he doesn’t expect to stop persecution from the police, but he states that one of his goals is to get the police to, “think in terms of legality.” His efforts are helping the government to turn into more of a democratic system in incremental steps. In his testimony from yesterday he referred to this philosophy of gradual change of the Chinese culture and eventually the polity of the nation:

After the totalitarian rule for decades…the hearts of the Chinese are full of hatred, and the spirit and the soul of countless Chinese families have fallen apart. Only the Gospel of the Lord and the freedom told by the Bible can bring healing and salvation for the soul of the Chinese…The key is to persuade these angry people to look back to their most fundamental rights, transitioning to the system of maintained stability by the rights-safeguarding movement.

This will make, “an ancient civilization to be a new land for the gospel.” This ultimately leads to the building of what Yafeng described as, “the society that may emerge after the collapse.” In 2005 the Boston Globe drew attention this changing tide in China by quoting Premier Wen Jiabao saying that China is, “surely moving toward democracy.” Dr. Fan has been a vital leader in the work to move this democratic philosophy forward particularly in the "Taishi Village Incident Memorandum". Democracy, in Yafeng’s view, creates a “super-dimension” of belief. He seems to be saying that democracy frees up space in their country for a “free belief space” in which, “unity between tangible church property and intangible free space is reached.” Ultimately this philosophy gives the Chinese people religious liberty to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, not to be confused with a theocracy.

Toward the beginning of Yafeng’s statement he said, “Before I was 15 years old, I sincerely believed in communism.” He continued, “I tried a lot of ideological trends, such as existentialism, Marxism, the Confucian school, the Taoist school, Buddhism, etc., until finally at the end of 1996, when I was…a student of Peking University, brother Wagn Zhiyong, preached the gospel to me. Early in 1997, I made my decision to be converted to Christianity, and in May I was baptized.” He mentioned that this was the most important time in his life, “How amazing the grace that came to me, a sinner…Thank God that He chose me in 1997 so that my soul didn’t go so far as to perish.” In his video testimony, which was slightly different than his written testimony, he even mentioned that his introduction to Reformed theology further strengthened his faith. Praise God for Christ’s work of redemption through the substitutionary atonement that is found in Him alone. It is truly amazing grace that a holy God would pour out His wrath on His own Son in our place if we would only repent and believe!

(In this picture Representative Franks is giving remarks with Dr. Yafeng in the background on Skype and Dr. Land to his right side.)

Yafeng talked about what an honor it is to suffer for Christ as well when he was laid off from his position at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in November of 2009:

I had the honor of suffering for God: oh! how glorious, how joyful! I was willing to carry any cross on my back for my great King and my Savior. I knew deeply that my life was in the hand of God and I knew deeply in Whom I believe. I also believed numerous brothers and sisters would pray for me. So that is a period of time that my heart was full of joy and peace and there was revival in my life.

He describes his work in “rights defense” for the church as a church ministry rather than a legal ministry and that this award has been a wonderful encouragement to him and the Chinese house churches.

Dr. Barrett Duke asked Dr. Yafeng what the the Chinese church most needs from American Christians and Dr. Yafeng said, "Prayer." He also said that the two greatest needs for the Chinese churches are, "spiritual strength and theological training for pastors." That's really what we need here too! Dr. Duke made the gospel very clear, and we were able to pray for Fan and the Chinese churches.

(In this picture Dr. Duke is leading us in prayer for Chinese Christians, and Fu is translating.)

It was a wonderful time to honor God by honoring Dr. Yafeng, and it is my prayer that God will continue to refresh the saints in China to be able to glorify Him as they persevere in their faith and share the gospel with as many as possible. Actually my prayer is the hymn "Speed Thy Servants"!


Speed Thy Servants by Thomas Kelly

Speed Thy servants, Savior, speed them;
Thou art Lord of winds and waves;
They were bound, but Thou hast freed them;
Now they go to free the slaves:
Be Thou with them, ’tis Thine arm alone that saves.
Be Thou with them, ’tis Thine arm alone that saves.

Friends, and home, and all forsaking,
Lord they go at Thy command,
As their stay Thy promise taking,
While they traverse sea and land:
O be with them; lead them safely by the hand.
O be with them; lead them safely by the hand.

When they reach the land of strangers,
And the prospect dark appears,
Nothing seen but toils and dangers,
Nothing felt but doubts and fears,
Be Thou with them, hear their sighs and count their tears.
Be Thou with them, hear their sighs and count their tears.

When no fruit appears to cheer them,
And they seem to toil in vain,
Then in mercy, Lord, draw near them,
Then their sinking hopes sustain:
Thus supported, let their zeal revive again.
Thus supported, let their zeal revive again.

In the midst of opposition
Let them trust, O Lord, in Thee;
When success attends their mission,
Let Thy servants humbler be:
Never leave them till Thy face in Heav’n they see.
Never leave them till Thy face in Heav’n they see.

There to reap in joy forever,
Fruit that grows from seed here sown;
There to be with Him, who never
Ceases to preserve His own;
And with gladness give the praise to Him alone.
And with gladness give the praise to Him alone.

(This is a picture of Bob Fu and I.)