Great Is Thy Faithfulness

December 31, 2017 / No. 3913

Dear Radio Friends,
On this last day of the old year we are going to consider together a lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah. To lament means to mourn aloud with grief or to express one’s complaint. And this is exactly what the prophet Jeremiah does in this chapter and in this book of the Bible. He mourns over the desolation and destruction that had befallen Jerusalem and Judah. He raises his voice of grief over the captivity into which this nation had been taken on account of her apostasy. In verse 14 of Lamentations 3 Jeremiah informs us that he was a derision to all his people and that they mocked him with their song. This was true, and more. He was even cast into a pit, for days standing in mud up to his knees. This prophet had been beaten and imprisoned because he spoke the words Jehovah had placed upon his lips. He spoke words of condemnation and destruction upon Judah for the sins she had been committing before the face of God. The people and the rulers hated him for that. Not that Jeremiah took pleasure in speaking such harsh words. He was required to do so by God Himself. He could not help but speak these words. He was Jehovah’s mouthpiece. So he was persecuted for the sake of the truth—and in the book of Lamentations he raises his lamentation to God.
But why consider a lamentation at the end of this year? Because in the midst of his mourning, Jeremiah brings to mind a blessed truth that gives God’s people joy on this last day of the year. That truth is contained in Lamentations 3:22-23: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” These verses teach us this blessed truth: God is faithful! In this past year God has proved Himself faithful to His people. Even though we see society and the church slowly crumbling and falling apart, we can say: God is faithful! His mercies toward you and me have been new every morning of this year gone by! That knowledge gives us confidence and joy as we stand at the close of this year and look back across the year. It is that confidence we consider today using the confession of praise raised in our text.
Great is Thy Faithfulness
I. Faithfulness
As we look back across the year 2017 in retrospect, we certainly can confess together God’s faithfulness to His people in Christ. When we in our weakness have so often strayed from God, He has again in His faithfulness towards us preserved us in our faith. Even in those times when we were the least deserving of it, God held us in His mighty hand and led us. But we must understand what is fully implied in this concept of God’s faithfulness if we are really to understand its beauty. Only when we fully understand everything that is included in God’s faithfulness towards us are we able to stand on this old year’s night and exclaim: “Great is thy faithfulness!”
You see, from eternity God has established His decree. In that decree He has chosen a certain people unto Himself in Christ. God did not leave that choosing up to man. He is God, who determines all things. God chose to Himself out of the human race a certain number of individuals who together would make up His church—the body of Christ in this world. As these individuals are born throughout the generations of this world, God, by His sovereign and free grace, calls them to faith and repentance. He sends forth the Spirit of Christ into their hearts and works in them faith with its fruit: true repentance over sin. He then unites them to the body of Christ in this world, so that they stand together in this world with other elect believers, the church. With these believers in their generations God establishes His covenant with its promises. God enters into an intimate bond of love and fellowship with them, a bond in which He becomes their God and Father and they His people, the very children of His family. That is God’s covenant.
With that covenant God has made a promise to His church, and through her to every believer. We read of that promise of God’s covenant in Deuteronomy 31:8: “the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” God speaks these words repeatedly to His people in the Bible. In His great love toward His people, in His covenant blessing toward them, God makes a promise to them: no matter in what way I lead you in this world, you need never fear, because I will never leave you alone. I will always be there for you. God’s covenant, established long ago with Abraham, is accompanied repeatedly through history with His oath. God swears by His name that He will never leave or forsake His saints chosen from eternity in His unchangeable will and called to be His people in this world. In other words, God swears an oath to us, His church: “By My name, I will never leave you or forsake you!” We must understand all of this if we are truly going to understand God’s faithfulness! Because, you see, God’s faithfulness speaks of His constant and abiding adherence to the oath that He swears to us. That God does not forsake His people is not because of anything they have done to deserve this. If it were not for God’s faithfulness towards us, we would be consumed, you and I! “I am Jehovah, the unchangeable One, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” God tells us in Malachi. But God is faithful to you and me because of who He is and because of the oath He swears to us.
This oath God has kept throughout all ages. Oh, it is true too that God pruned many out of His covenant and church. There is no doubt about it that God even cut off the nation of Israel and Judah as a whole. But this took place only because the wicked far outnumbered the righteous. These nations slowly, through the course of time, became filled with unbelievers instead of believers. They still looked at themselves as the people of Jehovah. They still boasted of that. But they were not looking in faith for the coming Messiah. The sacrifices they offered were merely outward oblations and nothing more. This is what happened with Judah in the time of Jeremiah. There may have been a few yet who looked for salvation, but the vast majority of the people in Judah lived in unbelief and sin. While boasting that they were the people of God, they lived in the same sins—even worse—that the wicked nations around them did. God prunes individuals from the vine of His church and covenant when they walk in disobedience and sin. And when a church institute itself is filled with wickedness (as was Judah), God cuts out of the vine of His covenant the institute as well. But, this does not mean that God is not faithful to His covenant with His elect people who live in faith.
The elect, who are characterized by faith, are always preserved by God’s almighty hand. God’s promise is always to His chosen people in Christ: “I will not leave you. I will not forsake you in your needs. I am your Father, and you are my children, whom I love with an eternal, unchangeable love!” God’s people in every generation hear that promise and cling to it! They need to, because believers know their own sin and their own failures in this life. They know that they do not deserve this favor and love of God in their lives. But they believe! They believe that God will never leave or forsake them—because of what Christ has done for them! In Christ God’s faithfulness is revealed to you and me, fellow saints! We believe that! We believe that Christ has died to deliver us from sin, and that He has taken away our guilt. We believe that God views us ever in Christ alone. For Christ’s sake, therefore, we are preserved in our lives. For Christ’s sake you and I have been preserved in our faith in the past year.
In this last day of the year, therefore, we hold fast, we cling tenaciously, to God’s covenant promise to us. And we rejoice in the name of our God: He is Jehovah, the faithful one! Look at the events of 2017. Look at society. In this past year it has become more lawless. Almost every week or so we hear of a mass shooting. Abortion, adultery, rebellion are the order of the day. Immorality abounds. A couple of generations ago our children ran and played outside with all the neighbors with no fear of kidnapping. Now every parent has to sit outside with his children to make sure no one steals them away. Our society has become an unsafe place in which to live. There is the constant threat of war, for example, from ISIS or North Korea. We read of terrorist strikes in this world, something from which our own country is not exempt. There is corruption in big business affecting the lives of thousands. There is lack of financial security.
This same lack of security is found in many churches of today. The error in all its various, sometimes subtle, forms that places man above God. There is the attitude of tolerance toward sin. There is a growing attitude of anger and resentment toward the church that strives to maintain the Word of God. Apostasy and an ungodly lifestyle prevail in the church as a whole. When we review the year that is past, we can at times verge on the point of despair. Where is this world going?
But God has been faithful to His people, has He not? It is not as if we have not stumbled in this year that is past. Every person has his own personal struggle with sin. This year has not been wholly one of joy and happiness for us. We must deal with sin as it has entered into our own relationships. We must deal with sin in those whom we love. Sin causes strife! Besides, we must deal with a sin-cursed earth in which we find sickness and even death. We struggle with age, we struggle with infirmities and illness. It all has been there in this past year. But one thing is certain for us as believers who stand now in the last hours of this last day of 2017: God has been faithful! He has not suffered our foot to be moved. He has not allowed us to fall away from faith, even though we deserved it. He has held us in the palm of His mighty hand and He preserves us. And in those times when we were about ready to give up even crying out in despair, then God has born us up. He never leaves us. We experience His presence! And when we suffer for righteousness’ sake, then God also gives us a calm reassurance that it is well with our soul! Such is the faithfulness of God toward us.
II. Mercy
This faithfulness is revealed to us in what Jeremiah says in verse 22 and the beginning of verse 23: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning.” Again, as we reflect on this past year we truly can say that God has been both merciful and compassionate toward us. God’s mercy is His attitude of grace and love toward His elect people in Christ, by which He takes pity on us in the misery of our sin. If there is anything that stands before the heart of a believer on this last day of the year it is his own unworthiness before God. We have transgressed God’s commandments every day. We have not loved Him as we should, and we have not loved our neighbor as we should either. When we look at our sin, we see our guilt before God. We deserve to be consumed in God’s justice. We deserve to be punished for sin—eternally. But we are not. And we are not because of God’s mercy. God has chosen us in His great love for us from eternity. He has called us to be a people unto Himself in this world. Yet, He knows our sins, our human frailty. He also sees what a tangled mess that we can make for ourselves—and that we have made for ourselves again in this year gone by. We wallow about in the misery that sin causes us. He knows we are not happy there. He knows that when we sin we make ourselves miserable in life. God pities us when He sees us in our sin. He feels sorry for us and what has become of us in Adam! In that pity for us God reaches down in His mercy and draws us out of the misery of sin and gives unto us the joy of salvation in Christ. He does that over and over again!
This is how God’s mercy ties in with His compassion. God’s compassion is His love—but it is His love from the point of view of God’s affection toward us. He is a God who is kindly affectioned toward you and me and therefore a God of tenderness, a God of kindness. He is filled with benevolence toward us His children in Christ. That is a beautiful picture of God that our text draws for us. Believers are those whom God has chosen from all eternity. He has loved us with an eternal love in Christ. That love does not change. He does not despise us one minute and love us the next. He does not in anger over our sins seek revenge on us, though we deserve it. But God is compassionate towards us—always and ever. And in that compassion God shows to us His mercy. It is a tender mercy! In His faithfulness to you and me God is gracious towards us, loves us, and is merciful towards us. In this past year all of these were revealed by God to you and me in our lives. How grateful we can be tonight. God’s mercies and compassions fail not!
Notice that these words, mercy and compassion, are in the plural. Jeremiah speaks of God’s mercies and His compassions! He does this because he has in mind the different acts of mercy and compassion God has shown us in our lives. In this past year God has shown to His people countless acts of compassion and mercy. These have not failed us. God shows that to the faithful church of Jesus Christ. The church has been preserved in the faith in this past year. God has given His people, yet, the truth of His Word. And He has given them the desire to hear that truth as it is revealed in the Scriptures. He has worked in them faithful adherence to that truth.
God has not failed His people in their homes and families in this past year either! If we were left to ourselves, there too we would be consumed. We sin within our own homes and families. Sins that are not made known to others perhaps, but are there nonetheless. But God’s mercy and compassion have not failed us there either! They are, in fact, new to us every morning. Every day anew we witness God’s unfailing faithfulness towards us, His people! Instead of leaving you and me in our sin and watching us fall, God pities us every day anew and preserves us in our generations. Despite the weaknesses found even in believing households, even in believing parents and children, God upholds them in His great love and mercy. Every day anew that is true! It has been true throughout this old year. God has preserved us in our own lives too. Look at our individual sins, people of God! The sins of our hearts—the secret sins that no one else knows about. How often God has shown His mercy and forgiven us—again and again and again. We cannot begin to list the times we have received forgiveness from our faithful God.
God has done this in the midst of our afflictions too. How often would not our struggles with sickness, age, infirmities, and the pressures of life consume us! But God in these too always upholds us with His strong right arm. He never leaves us or forsakes us! We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. He cares for us and leads us. Maybe the way He leads us is not known. Maybe it is hard. He does not promise us that it will not be a difficult way, but He does promise that He will be with us every step of the way. And that is what we have witnessed this past year again.
Certainly we can confess with Jeremiah that God’s mercies and compassions fail not, that they are new every morning. What a wonder that Jeremiah in all his affliction and pains and sorrows could confess that! But how he experienced that in life too. Just as we have in this past year.
III. Praise
It is the end of 2017. We stand on the very eve of a new year once again. Time like an ever-rolling stream. It seems as if this year has just begun…and now it is over already! We have seen our share of joys and we have seen our share of sorrows and burdens. But we do not stand here discouraged! We have bright hope for tomorrow. Jesus comes. Neither do we stand on this last day of the year with sorrow. We do not look at 2017 through negative eyes. We look at it knowing that God has again been faithful! What a wonderful God we have! How good He has been to us again.
What then shall we say tonight? “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father!” I will lay my head on my pillow tonight and when I awake it will be another year, a new year. But as I close my eyes upon the old year, that hymn will be in my heart and on my lips: Great is Thy faithfulness! That is our confession today. No, that is our song of praise to God! All praise and glory be to God in this year gone by. Lord God, we extol Thee—and not ourselves. Great is Thy faithfulness!