The Strength of the Lord in the Righteous

The following is from John Owen’s sermon Righteous zeal encouraged by divine protection (source).

Nebuchadnezzar sets up his great image, and the next news you hear, the saints are in the furnace (Dan 3:20). You seldom see a fabric of human-invented worship, but either the foundation or top-stone is laid in the blood of God’s people. “The wisdom” (religion, or way of worship) “that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (Jam 3:17); — when the other is “earthly, sensual, devilish, bringing along envying, strife, confusion, and every evil work,” verse 16. Persecution and blood is the genuine product of all invented worship. I might from hence name and pursue other observations, but I shall only name one, and proceed.

Observation. When false worship, with injustice by cruelty, have possessed the governors of a nation, and wrapped in the consent of the greatest part of the people who have been acquainted with the mind of God; that people and nation, without unprecedented mercy, is obnoxious to remediless ruin…

Observation. God will certainly give prevailing strength and unconquerable defence unto persons constantly discharging the duties of righteousness, especially when undertaken in times of difficulty and opposition.

The like engagement to this you have made to (Eze 3:8-9). Neither was it so to the prophets alone, but to magistrates also. When Joshua undertook the regency of Israel in a difficult time, he takes off his fear and diffidence with this very encouragement (Jos 1:5). He saith, he will make them a wall, — the best defence against opposition; and that not a weak, tottering wall, that might easily be cast down, but a brazen wall, that must needs be impregnable. What engines can possibly prevail against a wall of brass? And to make it more secure, this brazen wall shall be fenced with all manner of fortifications and ammunition; so that the veriest coward in the world, being behind such a wall, may, without dread or terror, apply himself to that which he findeth to do. God will so secure the instruments of his glory against a backsliding people, in holding up the ways of his truth and righteousness, that all attempts against them shall be vain, and the most timorous spirit may be secure, provided he go not out of the Lord’s way; for if they be found beyond the line, the brazen wall, they may easily be surprised. And, indeed, who but a fool would run from the shelter of a brazen wall, to hide himself in a little stubble? And yet so do all who run to their own wisdom, from the most hazardous engagement that any of the ways of God can possibly lead them unto. It is a sure word, and forever to be rested upon, which the Lord gives in to Asa (2 Chro 15:2), “The Lord is with you, while ye be with him.” An unbiased magistracy shall never want God’s continued presence. Very Jeroboam himself receives a promise, upon condition of close walking with God in righteous administrations, of having a house built him like the house of David (1 Kings 11:38). What a wall was God to Moses in that great undertaking, of being instrumental for the delivery of Israel from a bondage and slavery of four hundred years’ continuance? Pharaoh was against him, whom he had deprived of his sovereignty and dominion over the people. And what a provocation the depriving of sovereignty is unto potentates needs no demonstration: to the corruption of nature which inclines to heights and exaltations, in imitation of the fountain whence it flows, they have also the corruption of state and condition, which hath always inclined to absoluteness and tyranny. All Egypt was against him, as being by him visibly destroyed, wasted, spoiled, robbed, and at length smitten in the apple of the eye, by the loss of their first-born. And if this be not enough, that the king and people whom he opposed were his enemies, — the very people for whose sakes he set himself to oppose the others, they also rise up against him, yea, seek to destroy him. One time they appeal to God for justice against him, (Exo 5:21), “The Lord look upon you, and judge.” They appeal to the righteous God to witness that he had not fulfilled what he promised them, — to wit, liberty, safety, and freedom from oppression; but that rather by his means their burdens were increased: and in this they were so confident (like some amongst us), that they appealed unto God for the equity of their complaints. Afterward, being reduced to a strait, such as they could not see how possibly they should be extricated from, without utter ruin (like our present condition in the apprehension of some), they cry out upon him for the whole design of bringing them into the wilderness, and affirm positively, that though they had perished in their former slavery, it had been better for them than to have followed him in this new and dangerous engagement (Exo 14:11-12); — that generation being, as Calvin observes, so inured to bondage, that they were altogether unfit to bear with the workings and pangs of their approaching liberty. Afterward, do they want drink? — Moses is the cause. Do they want meat? — this Moses would starve them (Exo 15:24, 16:7). He could not let them alone by the flesh-pots of Egypt; for this they are ready to stone him (Exo 17:3). At this day, have we too much rain, or too short a harvest? — it is laid on the shoulders of the present government. It was no otherwise of old. At length this people came to that height, as, being frightened by the opposition they heard of and framed to themselves in that place whither Moses would carry them, they presently enter into a conspiracy and revolt, consulting to cast off his government, and choose new commanders, and with a violent hand to return to their former condition (Num 14:4) — an attempt as frequent as fruitless among ourselves. When this would not do, at length, upon the occasion of taking off Korah and his company, they assemble themselves together, and lay, not imprisonment, but murder to his charge; and that of “the people of the Lord” (Num 16:41). Now, what was the issue of all those oppositions? what effect had they? how did the power of Pharaoh, the revenge of Egypt, the backsliding of Israel prevail? Why, God made this one Moses a fenced brazen wall to them all; he was never in the least measure prevailed against; — so long as he was with God, God was with him, no matter who was against him.

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