We're reading from God's holy word, from Genesis and chapter 22. Genesis chapter 22 and we're beginning at verse 1: "And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt", or it could better be translated 'test', "Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went into the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen". Amen.
Now let's come before the Lord in just a short word of prayer before we come to His word, let us pray. Our Father, we come before You this morning in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and we say with the hymnwriter of old, our Father: To make our weak heart strong and brave - send the fire. To live a dying world to save - send the fire. Oh see us on Thy altar lay, our lives, our all this very day. To crown the offering now we pray, Lord - send the fire. Meet with us we pray dear God. In Jesus name. Amen.
I want you to turn with me to the passage that we read together this morning from Genesis chapter 22. I don't know whether you read the newspaper during the week but I would encourage you to read them, and read the right ones. But when we're reading them, we notice this week that there has been a story about a book that has come out about Lady Diana. The book is entitled: 'Faking it'. It has a number of articles in it about people whom the writer, a philosopher, seems to believe has added to a society in Britain today which is nothing but sentimental. In yesterday's Daily Mail there was this headline: 'Cry-Baby Britain'. The writer wrote: 'A brilliant professor of philosophy blames Diana for Britain becoming a nation of self-indulgent sentimentalists in which feelings' - now listen to this - 'in which feelings come before duty'. He suggests that we have become a nation where feelings are more important than duty.
Again in the Daily Mail, this time in the same article only a day before, about this book, about Princess Diana, there was an article written about religion in Britain. The writer wrote this, he summed religion up by saying this, that it's made up of 'bearded vicars in woolly pullovers, touchy feely services, vacuous sing songs', he said, 'were the symptoms of the victory of sentimentality over the doctrines of religion'. The co-editor of this book, the Reverend Peter Mullen, says that the encounters of old with a terrifying Almighty God have been replaced by blasphemous shams, designed to give the congregations the same buzz as Prozac without the need to turn out on a wet night. He went on to say, 'What goes on in our churches today is not religion', the Anglican clergyman claimed, 'the reality, the purpose and the glory of it all have long since departed'. Even the world, brethren this morning, are noticing that our nation has become a nation that is absorbed with sentimentality. We saw it when Diana died, didn't we? We saw thousands, yea millions of people all over the country mourning for this woman - and that was not wrong, but it seemed to me and it seemed to many, and it even seems to those in the world (who, at times, can be wiser than those in the church), it seemed that there was a confusion of emotion. People were expressing religious feelings and emotions but they had nothing to anchor them in, they had no sure foundation for their faith.
I want to suggest to us this morning, that so often we as the church can imbibe the philosophy of the world. Leonard Ravenhill coined a phrase, he said this: 'As the church goes, so goes the world'. And what he meant by that was this, that whenever the church is on fire for God, whenever the church is really lit for God, it will turn the world upside-down. In other words it's like a thermostat that determines the temperature of the world. And when we have a church that is on fire, just like the Apostles of old, it is claimed that we turn the world upside-down. But yet on the other side of the coin the antithesis is true, that when the church is lukewarm, when the church is apathetic, when the church is becoming more like the world, we have a lessening effect on the world around us.
I've entitled my message this morning, and I believe that it is the message that God has put upon my heart: What is our fuel? F-u-e-l. What is our fuel? Is our fuel in our feeling, or is our fuel in faith? I want to begin this morning by looking at our dilemma of feeling. Our dilemma of feeling. We have become - whether we realize it or not, and I have realized it - I have become more and more sentimental in my spirituality. Much of my spiritual walk, as I go from day to day, and week to week, is becoming more and more self-centred. I can even see it in the songs that I like singing best. Some of the newer songs that we see today - now they're all not wrong, many of them are great - but we notice in some of them a continual self-centeredness. We find that 'I', 'me', 'my' seems to come up more than 'Thou', 'Thee' and 'You, O God'. Some of the songs and some of the choruses that arising today are choruses and songs that could be sung to a boyfriend or a girlfriend as well as our Lord. Now more than ever, the atmosphere of a meeting, the feeling of a meeting, the buzz of a meeting seems to be what is of primary importance - and whether we realize it or not, some of us, and I myself, have begun to live a life on feelings.
Can I ask you this morning, each of you, what is your spiritual life like? I don't know about you - I'd love to get you to put your hand up and admit to this - but I will freely admit to it: that my spiritual life, so often, is like a graph of peaks and troughs. Is that not true? It goes up and down and we're on the mountaintop one day and we can be in the valley the next day. Things can go well, we can be having our quiet times for perhaps two weeks, and then suddenly we fall and we maybe don't have it for another two weeks. Now it seems that my life, and I'll admit it, can be a series of peaks and troughs.
Do you remember the day you got saved? The first day when the Lord Jesus Christ came to you by His Spirit and He came into your heart, He came into your life, and He changed your life for good. Do you remember the buzz that you felt? Do you remember the joy that you had because you had met Christ, because you were now a Christian? You were a changed person, and you were like that for perhaps a couple of weeks or months. But I'm sure, if you're here this morning and you've been saved for a little while, you have lost the feeling of when you were first saved. You've lost the passion, perhaps, you've lost the enthusiasm and the zeal that you had right in the beginning. Some days you're alright, some days you're on the mountaintop, everything's going well, you enjoy your prayer time, you are able, you feel, to witness to your friends in work, you feel that everything is alright. But it seems that those experiences on the mountaintop are few and far between, and those in the valley, those of dryness, those of dearth, those of a seeming lack of spirituality become more and more as we go along our Christian life. And if we're honest with ourselves this morning - and I think, more than ever today, that Christians need to be honest with one another - if we are honest with ourselves, we many times have to force ourselves to pray. We have to force ourselves to read the word of God - it is a chore for us, it is a dearth, it's like walking in quicksand at times - we have to force ourselves to say a word to our loved ones about the Lord Jesus Christ. And many times we do it and there is no feeling in it at all. But, if we are honest, most of the time we don't even do it. We don't pray because we don't feel like praying. We don't read God's word because we don't feel like it. We don't feel like saying to someone that the Lord died for them and that He can save them if they will. And what we do is, as Christians - and I've had to look at myself through the mirror of God's word this week - as Christians do you know what we do? We try to maintain that joy in our lives, we try to work that joy up in our lives. We do the things that we like, to try and infuse into our spiritual walk, our spiritual discipleship, some joy that we feel is so, so missing. But time and time again we lose it! Is that not your dilemma this morning? That is my dilemma of feelings.
I want you to see, this morning, the Bible's demonstrations of faith. Quickly turn with me to Genesis chapter 22, and we see here the Bible's demonstration of faith. Now if you know your Bible this morning, you'll know that throughout the book of Genesis we have the life of Abraham. And here in Genesis chapter 22 we see Abraham and Isaac, and God came to Abraham and He says: 'Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac'. And He basically told him to go, take him to Mount Moriah and sacrifice his only son for God. In this chapter Abraham did it. But, if you like, this chapter is the pinnacle of Abraham's faith, the pinnacle of Abraham's walk with God. This, if you like, was where Abraham, in some measure, had reached spiritual maturity and mature faith. Because if we go back a few chapters and we go to chapter 15, we see Abraham here in a different light. We see in chapter 15 and verse 18 that God promised Abraham something - He said to Abraham, in chapter 15 and verse 18: 'In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying unto him, thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, Euphrates'. He said, 'Abraham, I have given your son, your seed, this land'. Now, Abraham was an old man now, his wife was an old woman now - and we see, in chapter 16, that his wife Sarah began to get worried and it was going through her mind, 'I'm an old woman, I'm too old to have a child. God is promising these things, but can God deliver these things? I'm an old woman'. And because of that she became impatient, and Abraham with her became impatient, and in chapter 16 and verse 3 we see this: 'And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife'. Sarah gave Hagar, her servant, to her husband so that a child and children would be raised up to Abraham in order to facilitate, as she saw it, the promise that God gave. As far as she was concerned she was too old. We see it again in chapter 18 and verse 9, these angels came to the both of them in verse 9: 'And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'. And she laughed at the suggestion that she could have a child in her old age - she had forgotten the promise of God, she forgot that nothing was impossible with Him.
Now I want you to see this, in this first instance that we read about, when Hagar was given to Abraham by Sarah to bear a child, why was it? God had said, 'Listen, I will raise up a seed for you Abraham'. But why did Sarah panic? Do you know why? She felt that God wasn't going to do it. She felt that He couldn't do it, she felt old, she felt unable to bear a child and because of her feelings it brought unbelief. Why did she laugh when the angel came and said to Abraham, 'Sarah, lo Sarah thy wife shall bear a son' - and she was heard to laugh. Why? Because she felt it was impossible, she felt she was too old.
We see it again in the walk of Abraham's life, for in chapter 20 we see another milestone in his walk of faith. And we see that he went unto King Abimelech, you remember, and he had Sarah with him and Sarah was a very beautiful person. And he was worried, he felt worried, he felt fear that Abimelech would see this woman, how beautiful she was, and he would kill Abraham and take Sarah for his wife. So what did he say? He said, 'Sarah is my sister'. And when he told him that, then Abimelech thought he was free to marry Sarah. But God showed Abimelech in a dream that this wasn't so. But why did Abraham lie? Why did he lie? Why did he not believe God? It was this: because he felt Abimelech was going to take his wife off him by killing him. He felt.
We can go further, I could take you from many scriptures this morning - Cain and Abel. Why did Cain offer a bad sacrifice to the Lord? Why did he take of the fruit of the ground and give it to God? Because he felt that the labour of his hands was to be acceptable in the sight of God. Perhaps Abel didn't feel great about bringing his lamb to die and shed its blood for the sacrifice, but that was what God said. It didn't matter what Cain felt.
I could take you to Job this morning. I could take you to a man who had his children taken away, who had his family taken away, who had his cattle, his wealth, his health taken away. Can you imagine how Job would feel? Try and imagine. But what Job was able to do was, he was able to take his feelings and set them aside and he was able to say, 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him'.
But I want to take you to a more important person this morning, in Mark chapter 14, and that's my Lord. Mark chapter 14 - and we're in the Garden of Gethsemane, and let's think about that as we come to the Lord's table this morning. We're in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Lord is in prayer, He is in agony as He looks upon the sins of the world that He will have to bear and it says that He was exceeding sorrowful even unto death, in verse 34. Now I want you to see this: the Lord Jesus Christ who knew no sin, who did no sin and could not sin, He is in the garden and He is looking upon the sins of the world. He is near to death, He is sweating as it were great drops of blood and He says, in verse 36: 'Abba Father, all things are possible unto Thee, take away this cup from Me'. He saw your sin, He saw my sin, and Hebrews chapter 5 and verses 7 and 8 show that He feared - the Lord Jesus Christ saw all this and He feared. And His feelings drove Him to say, 'If it is possible let this cup pass from Me, if there is another way whereby sins could be atoned, take it away!'. But do you know what He did? He was perfect and He let faith override those feelings. Because He said, 'But nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done' - and in Hebrews chapter 5 it says: 'And by this He learned obedience through His sufferings'. Through His sufferings He was able to set the feelings aside and go in faith.
Now here's what I want to leave you with this morning. We've looked at our dilemma of feelings and we have looked at the Bible's demonstration of faith, but look at this: this is our duty, to have faith. Do you know what our mistake is, and my mistake? We make the mistake that joyous feeling equals spiritual stature. We make the mistake to think that happiness equals spirituality, that we should be jumping for joy every minute of the day. We think that that is spiritual joy and therefore we think the antithesis again, that dryness and spiritual sterility means that we are not spiritual whatsoever. It's like finding a piece of jewellery. Women, you've lost your engagement ring, you can't find it anywhere and you sweep everywhere, and you look up and down, and you move everything, and then you find it and you're jumping for joy. And that's like the moment we get saved, we've found something that we've never had. But as the week goes on, and as the months go on, you still have your ring on your finger, but the joy of finding it initially has gone. And that's the same with our salvation, we know that it is still there - but the joy seems to go. It's like the little child that looked out the window one day, on a rainy day, and he said, 'Daddy where's the sun gone?', and he ran up the stairs and looked out the top window and he couldn't find it. And the father took him up on his knee and he said to him, 'Now, son you can't see the sun, but the sun is there, the clouds are blocking the sun out'. Do you know what the clouds can be in our lives as Christians? Our feelings. And if we live a life based on feelings our sky will always be cloudy, they will cover over in darkness. But we ought not to live on feelings, and if we don't live on feelings then our sky, our faith, will know no change whatsoever.
Let me ask you, why do you read your Bible? Do you read your Bible when it's tasteful to you? It's very easy to read your Bible, isn't it, after the meeting? It's very easy to read your Bible after a prayer meeting, or after you've listened to a rapturous song and singing - and so often we think that in those moments, when we do those things, we are the most spiritual, but do you know what the reality is? We are doing these things upon the influence and the fuel of our feelings. That's what happened when you first got saved, you were living on the joy of being saved, right away you'd found something you'd never found before. But do you know what's happening? God is wanting in your life to bring spiritual maturity. God is actually bringing into your life these periods of dryness. Because He wants you, this morning, not to live on your feelings, not to read the word when it just feels good, not to pray when you feel like it - because in those moments you are the most fleshy. But God wants to, as it were, knock from under our shoulder any crutch that we have. He wants us to throw away the crutch of feelings this morning and He wants us to hold unto Him no matter what. God's motive is very simple.
You see we usually look for joy in the Christian life - and let's be honest, this shows me up to be somewhat of what I am - we look for joy in the Christian life, why? For number one. We are even sensual - think about it! - we're sensual in our Christian life, we want to sense everything and feel everything. But God is saying here, He's saying to Abraham, 'If all of these things are gone...' - think of him, as he is about to offer his son, the feelings that are going through his mind, 'My only son' - but he set the feelings aside and he obeyed God in faith. This is the secret of what I'm getting at this morning. God wants to train your will power and my will power - you don't hear that too much these days. God wants to train our will power. It's like the boat, the sailing boat, that is going along in the river and the gust of wind comes and the sailing boat goes, but then when the wind stops the sailing boat stops. And you would look funny on those sailors, if they sat in the boat and there were oars on the boat and they sat there doing nothing. But do you know what? Their strength is increased when they row - and what God is saying here is, He gives us feelings at the start of our Christian experience to keep us on the way. He gives us those little mountaintop experiences, but He is saying - listen - we really grow in the Lord, when He leaves us with the help of His Spirit to by our will power, follow Him wholly. And when we do that it means that no matter what environment He puts us in, no matter what place we find ourselves in, no matter what crutches are taken away, if we don't have any crutches, do you know what happens? We rejoice in the Lord, and what happens is our feelings and our faith run together like two rivers and go into one, do you know why? I hope you're not getting me wrong today, but God help us from a dead fundamentalist faith. Christianity without feeling is not Christianity. But what I'm getting at this morning is this: that our faith should determine our feelings, not vice versa. And when we do that, the feelings and the faith run together and they become one.
Think, just for one moment as we close, on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They would not bow down when the trumpets blew, when the psaltry played, when everything went and everybody in the nation bowed down to that god, that idol, they said: 'We will not bow down'. Nebuchadnezzar said, 'If you don't bow down you're going into that furnace'. Do you know what they said? 'Let it be so. For our God is able to deliver us. He is able' - but listen to what they said - 'He is able, but even if He doesn't we will trust in Him'. Now listen, if they had just said, 'Our God is able to deliver us', and they knew He was going to deliver [them], that wouldn't have been as much faith. Do you know why? Because they would have been living on the feeling of anticipation of being freed. But the real faith came when they knew that, even if He didn't free them, they would have faith in Him. If God was to take away from you today the things that make you feel good, what would you have? May we say with Mary Carmichael:
'Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire.
Let me not sink to be a clod,
Make me Thy fuel, O flame of God'.
The great old Presbyterians paraphrased the 46th Psalm and they went like this, listen to this as we close: 'God is our refuge, and our strength. In straits of present fear therefore although the earth remove we will not be afraid'. And the prophet Habakkuk summed it up by saying this in chapter 3 and verse 17 - listen, the hymn of faith - listen: 'Although the fig tree shall not blossom', think about that, farmer, the fig tree does not blossom, 'neither shall be fruit in the vines, the labour of the olive tree fail and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herd in the stalls'. Listen, if my world around me falls in and I feel awful: 'Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, the God of my salvation, the Lord is my strength' - not my feelings - 'the Lord is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds feet, and He will make me walk upon mine high places'.
Is that your experience? Is it the peaks and the troughs? Or do you walk by faith and not by sight?
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "What Is Our Fuel: Feeling Or Faith?" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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