THE PROMISES OF GOD
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The mayor of a small city, who was up for reelection, was making his usual lavish promises to a group of voters. Because of his poor record he planted members of his organization in the audience to applaud. The effect was spoiled, however, by a shabby looking man in the front row who would burst into laughter after each applause. Finally the mayor pointed to the heckler and said, will the gentleman who differs with me please get up and tell the audience what he has done for the good of the city." As he rose, the mayor's henchmen booed. "Come, come," persisted the mayor, "Speak up and tell these people just one way in which you have tried to help this city." "Well, Mr. Mayor," he said in a loud voice, "I voted against you in the last election."
Promises, promises, promises!, is the three word exclamation that sums up the common man's definition of politics. Someone said that the promises of a political are like a railway car platform-something to get in on, not to ride on. Deception by promise is an ancient art. Modern man cannot claim to have invented it, even if they have perfected it to a science. Centuries ago Ovid said, "Be sure to promise. What harm is there is promises? In promises anyone can be rich."
The whole world, however, has experienced the harm of those who are rich in promises, and poor in performance. In 1914 Germany was under promise to respect the neutrality of Belgium. It was the most solemn of promises. It was a written contract signed by Germany, Britain, and France. Germany violated this promise and started a world war, and a whole chain of promise breaking. Thirteen nations borrowed huge sums of money from the United States. They solemnly promised to repay it, but all but one broke that promise.
Promises, agreements, and treaties are repudiated just as soon as national expediency says they are of no benefit. Both the great powers of the U. S. and Russia have miserable records of broken promises, and of politicians everywhere it can be said what Shakespeare said of Henry VIII, "His promises were, as he was then, mighty. But he performance, as he is now, nothing." The judgement on men and nations alike is that they are, "Giants in their promises but pigmies in their performance."
But let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that all these pigmies are in the realm of politics. They are everywhere, and you and I are also more willing to promise than to perform. People are not committed to back up their promises. The promise to be loyal to your mate until death is broken by multitudes with as little hesitation as a politician breaks his promise to stop spending your money. It is not politics that is corrupt. It is people, and people corrupt everything when their promises cannot be trusted. Great men and women, and great statesmen were those who were conspicuous in their loyalty to their word.
When Lincoln was a member of congress, he was criticized by a friend for his seeming rudeness in declining to test the rare wines provided by their host. The friend said to him, "There is certainly no danger of a man of your years and habits becoming addicted to the use of wine." Lincoln answered, "I mean no disrespect, but I promised my precious mother only a few days before she died that I would never use anything intoxicating as a beverage, and I consider that promise as binding today as it was the day I gave it." The friend sought to argue from the change of circumstances from his youth, but Lincoln said, "A promise is a promise forever."
Men might take an obligation of a promise lightly, but God does not. In Psalm 15 the question is asked, "O Lord who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" Among the list that is given is, "He who swears to his own hurt, and does not change." In other words, one of the highest values in character is keeping a promise even when it hurts, and is to your disadvantage to keep it.
Lincoln not only kept his word, he expected others to do so as well. He once compelled a man to obey God's ideal of keeping a promise that hurts. It was of no credit to his character, however, because he was forced. In order to get any of Lincoln's boys to come to him he offered the child his watch-charm. The boy climbed into his lap and sat. Finally, the gentleman rose to go, and Lincoln said, "Are you not going to keep your promise to my boy?" The visitor asked, "What promise!" Lincoln responded, "You said you would give him that charm." He replied, "Oh, I could not. It is not only valuable, but I prize it." "Give it to him," said Lincoln sternly. "I should not want him to know that I entertained one who had no regard for his word."
Lincoln did not take promises lightly, even if made only to a child. Nor did David Livingstone, the great missionary and explorer of Africa. He once took a long and hazardous journey from the interior of Africa to the Western coast in hopes of opening up a highway for legitimate commerce, and to strike a blow at the illegitimate slave trade. He persuaded an African chief to allow members of his tribe to go along as companions and servants. The chief agreed on condition that he would promise to bring them back.
When they reached the coast they found a British ship, and Livingstone was offered passage home to England by the captain. It was a great temptation. He was ill and had not seen his wife and children for over 2 years. Over against Africa with its swamps, fever, and obscurity, was Scotland with its security, loved ones, and fame. But he had given his word, and so when the ship sailed it carried his valuable maps, charts, and observations, but Livingstone himself was struggling back through the jungle with 27 black men he had promised to lead back. It hurt, but he was a man who kept his promises.
The value of examples like Livingstone and Lincoln is that they allow us to follow the logic of Christ into perfect trust in the promises of God. Jesus would reason on this issue, as He did on so many others: If men, who are sinners, weak, and fallible, can be so loyal in the keeping of their promises, how much more can we trust almighty God to keep His promises? God's record of promise keeping is as good as man's is bad. There are 7,487 promises of God to man in the Bible, and no record of His breaking any of them.
Solomon praises God in the assembly of Israel saying in I Kings 8:56, "Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised, not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He uttered by Moses His servant." Not one word failed. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God endures forever. All that God has spoken shall be as promised. The whole existence of Israel revolved around the promises of God. The very nation was called the Promised Land. The whole history of Israel is an account of their claiming the promises of God, or their forsaking them. God is ever faithful in spite of man's constant wavering. He keeps His promise to Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and to the nation as a whole. The promised Messiah does come, and Gentiles enter in to the promise of God.
J. Ritchie Smith writes, "The Bible opens with the promise of the first coming of Christ, and ends with the promise of His second coming, and all the way between and strewn with promises, as the sky is studded with stars." Peter has wisely grasped the important place of the promises of God in the Christian life. In verse 3 he has said that God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, and now he gets specific, and he says that among those all things the greatest of God's gifts to us for life and godliness are His great and precious promises. In quantity they are great, and in quality they are precious. They are ours Peter says through the knowledge of Him who called us to His glory and excellence.
This agrees fully with Paul who says in II Cor. 1:20, "For all the promises of God find their yes in Him." Jesus fulfilled the promises of God. He sent the promised Holy Spirit, and is the present mediator of all the promises of God to us. Promises are a key issue in Peter's mind. In 2:19 he speaks of the worthless promises of the false prophets who promise freedom, but are themselves slaves of corruption. In chapter 3 he deals with their criticism of the promises of Christ. Where is the promise of His coming these skeptics are saying as they try to destroy faith in the word of Christ. Peter calls attention to the history of God's promise keeping, and that He did judge the world as He promised in the day of Noah, and He will do so again at the coming of Christ.
In verse 9 he says that God is not slack concerning His promise, but is long suffering and not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. The only reason the promise of a new heaven and new earth is not already fulfilled is because God longs for more people to come to Christ to enjoy that eternal kingdom. Do not lose confidence in God's promise because of His love and long suffering to include more in that promise. This is one of the problems the New Testament struggles with. The promises of men are so fragile and easily broken that men tend to lose faith in promises, even those of God, and especially when they are delayed. Hebrews deals with this problem in a large measure due to the danger of Christians wavering in their trust in the promises of God. Heb. 10:23 says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
Great examples of faith are given to encourage them. Abraham struggled not at the promises of God, even though they were inconceivable. He was promised that through his seed the whole world would be blessed, and he didn't even have a son, and was too old to have one. Nevertheless, he took God at His word, and stood on the promise. Paul says in Rom. 4:20-21, "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised."
His wife Sarah is also listed in the great persons of faith in Heb. 11, for she also claimed the promise of God, and stood on it unshaken. Heb. 11:11 says, "By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised." There are many more examples, for faith revolves around the promises of God. The whole Gospel is a matter of God's promise to save us in Christ, and faith in that promise is the only way to salvation. All of the rest of God's power and blessing are also a matter of His promises and our faith in those promises. We cannot advance in faith apart from an increase in the knowledge of God's promises.
Eugenia Price, five years after she came out of darkness into light by yielding her life to Christ, was plunged again into darkness. It was the darkness of depression where she did nothing for two weeks but stare at the floor. She had already written several excellent books, but now she was in the grip of something she could not understand. She was not up against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces of wickedness. It was a long hard battle, but she gained the victory because she clung to one of Christ's promises. She wrote that the most important thing she learned in that 3year battle was, and I quote, "He meant it when He said He'd be with me always." She claimed that promise, and it was the key to her victory.
We must trust God, not in general, but for the fulfillment of specific promises. This is an active and living faith. We are too often content to be passive and general. The song says, "Every promise in the book if mine, every chapter every verse every line." This is not true, of course. Many of God's promises are not for us, but many which we can claim are ours, but we can never claim them until we know them. And so we are back to the key to everything, which is the knowledge of God, and of Christ, and of the promises of God. All of this leads us right back to the Bible as the resource for God's best in all of life. Every road leads us back to the Bible.
Carl Miller said, "The idea that virtue in some way attaches to a mere avowal of religious belief is crass self-delusion. You can believe the Bible from cover to cover, and yet be weak in faith and power because you are ignorant of the promises of God. You can pray for God to grant you wisdom and power, and yet remain weak if you ignore the way to power God has clearly revealed. There is no way back to the revival of Christian power in our nation, or in our churches, or in our own lives, apart from the diligent study of the promises of God. Peter says that the promises of God are the resources for the power to escape the corruption of the world, and the power to enter the experience of partaking of the divine nature.
John Bunyan in his classic Pilgrim's Progress has Christian and Hopeful in Doubting Castle as prisons of Giant Despair. He had beaten them unmercifully and left them half dead without food, light, or drink, from Wednesday morning until Saturday night. About midnight they began to pray, and did so until day break. Then Christian suddenly broke out in passionate speech, "What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty, I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, will open any lock in doubting castle. He tried it, and escaped, and they walked in liberty. This is precisely what Peter is saying. We need not be prisoners of despair, but partakers of the divine nature in freedom, love, and power.
A. W. Pink wrote, "It is surprising how many promises there are in Scripture which the saints know nothing about." Because this is true we let our capitol lie around unused, and not invested. We are wealthy people who live on the edge of poverty because we do not know how rich we are in the promises of God. Vance Havner said, "We are not standing on the promises, but are just sitting on the premises." May God help us all to search the Word to learn of the promises of God, and then stand on them solidly that we might experience all that God wants us to experience of His love, grace, and power.