Suffering: But God said no…

Written by R.C. Sproul

images (8)I am astonished that…

…in the light of the clear biblical record, anyone would have the audacity to suggest that it is wrong for the afflicted in body or soul to couch their prayers for deliverance in terms of “If it be thy will….” We are told that when affliction comes, God always wills healing, that He has nothing to do with suffering, and that all we must do is claim the answer we seek by faith. We are exhorted to claim God’s yes before He speaks it.

Away with such distortions of biblical faith!

They are conceived in the mind of the Tempter, who would seduce us into exchanging faith for magic. No amount of pious verbiage can transform such falsehood into sound doctrine. We must accept the fact that God sometimes says no. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.

Never did a man pray more earnestly than Christ prayed in Gethsemane.

Who will charge Jesus with failure to pray in faith? He put His request before the Father with sweat like blood: “Take this cup away from me.” This prayer was straightforward and without ambiguity—Jesus was crying out for relief. He asked for the horribly bitter cup to be removed. Every ounce of His humanity shrank from the cup. He begged the Father to relieve Him of His duty.

But God said no.

The way of suffering was the Father’s plan. It was the Father’s will. The cross was not Satan’s idea. The passion of Christ was not the result of human contingency. It was not the accidental contrivance of Caiaphas, Herod, or Pilate. The cup was prepared, delivered, and administered by almighty God.

In all our prayers, we must let God be God.

Jesus qualified His prayer: “If it is Your will….” Jesus did not “name it and claim it.” He knew His Father well enough to understand that it might not be His will to remove the cup. So the story does not end with the words, “And the Father repented of the evil He had planned, removed the cup, and Jesus lived happily ever after.” Such words border on blasphemy. The gospel is not a fairy tale. The Father would not negotiate the cup. Jesus was called to drink it to its last dregs. And He accepted it. “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

This “nevertheless” was the supreme prayer of faith.

The prayer of faith is not a demand that we place on God. It is not a presumption of a granted request. The authentic prayer of faith is one that models Jesus’ prayer. It is always uttered in a spirit of subordination. In all our prayers, we must let God be God. No one tells the Father what to do, not even the Son. Prayers are always to be requests made in humility and submission to the Father’s will.

The prayer of faith is a prayer of trust.

The very essence of faith is trust. We trust that God knows what is best. The spirit of trust includes a willingness to do what the Father wants us to do. Christ embodied that kind of trust in Gethsemane. Though the text is not explicit, it is clear that Jesus left the garden with the Father’s answer to His plea. There was no cursing or bitterness. His meat and His drink were to do the Father’s will. Once the Father said no, it was settled. Jesus prepared Himself for the cross.

Part 1. Some Considerations Toward Defining: THE GREAT SABBATH DEBATE

Taken from, Defining the Debate
Published From
Written by R. C. Sproul


[In the thoughts listed below, R. C. Sproul presents several considerations regarding questions on the Sabbath,  and he does so from almost an entirely historical Reformed context. Unfortunately, for whatever his reasons, Sproul “airs” these respective historic positions more from a political pulpit than a prophetic one, perhaps charitably reflective of the passionate feelings that resonate with this subject. But I am not convinced that the “Reformed Perspective” in this matter is either entirely conclusive or comprehensively correct.  There are many other considerations then the historic reformed thought that need to be considered and weighed. These considerations include, but are not limited to, the dispositions of the ten commandments, and the placement and context of the fourth commandment itself.  Further, there are also other contextual parameters to consider, such as the declaratives that are given in scripture as to the fourth Commandment’s fulfillment, usage and observance. Also, the fourth Commandment’s relationship and import to the gentile converts needs to be scrutinized, especially from the context of  Pauline thought and passages which seem to be in contradistinction to Old Testament thought and practice. In fact, the entire relationship of the Sabbath to the Covenants needs to be examined and precisely dealt with. Only dispensational positions can be categorically tossed out, as they are predicated upon misunderstandings of the nature of Scripture, the Covenants and their relationship to the works of the law as pertaining to the ongoing life of the Christian. In short, this is an immense area of study in which the Christian church, I believe, has woefully fallen short in its consideration and deliberations.  To those of you who perhaps feel you are in a quandary on the subject, you are not alone, and I leave you with the admonition to act in faith and in the knowledge that you feel you have, “being fully convinced in your own mind.” As I see new materials come out which I believe are helpful on these matters, I will post them as appropriate. –MWP]  

The question of Sabbath observation, historically,

…has provoked many debates and controversies involving separate issues. The first great debate about the Sabbath is whether, as an Old Testament ordinance particularly emphasized in the Mosaic covenant, it is still obligatory in the context of new covenant Christianity. Augustine, for example, believed that nine of the Ten Commandments (the so-called “moral law” of the Old Testament) were still intact and imposed obligations upon the Christian church. His lone exception with the commandment with respect to the Sabbath day. Since Paul spoke about keeping Sabbaths or not keeping Sabbaths as a matter adiaphorous (indifferent), Augustine was persuaded that the Old Testament Sabbath law had been abrogated. Others have argued that because the Sabbath was instituted originally not in the Mosaic economy but in creation, it maintains its status of moral law as long as the creation is intact.

The second major controversy is the question about the day of the week on which the Sabbath is to be observed. Some insist that since the Sabbath was instituted on the seventh day of creation, when God rested from His labors, and since the Old Testament Israelites celebrated the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, which would be Saturday, we should follow that pattern. Others have insisted that the New Testament changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week because of the significance of the resurrection of Jesus on that day. They also point to the New Testament practice of Christians coming together on Sunday as the Lord’s Day for worship. The argument focuses on whether the Sabbath is a cyclical command that requires worship and rest on every seventh day or whether it is specified to a particular day of the week. John Calvin argued that it would be legitimate to have the Sabbath day on any day if all of the churches would agree, because the principle in view was the regular assembling of the saints for corporate worship and for the observation of rest.

Within the Reformed tradition, the most significant controversy that has appeared through the ages is the question of how the Sabbath is to be observed. There are two major positions within the Reformed tradition on this question. To make matters simple, we will refer to them as the Continental view of the Sabbath and the Puritan view of the Sabbath. Both views acknowledge that the Sabbath is still in effect. Both views agree that the Sabbath is a time for corporate worship. Both agree that the Sabbath is a day of rest when believers are to abstain from unnecessary commerce. But two areas are in dispute between the two schools and the most important of these is the question of recreation. Is recreation a legitimate form of rest-taking, or is recreation something that mars a sacred observation of the Sabbath day?

The Puritan view argues against the acceptability of recreation on the Sabbath day. The text most often cited to support this view is Isaiah 58:13–14 and following: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The crux of the matter in this passage is the prophetic critique of people doing their own pleasure on the Sabbath day. The assumption that many make with respect to this text is that doing one’s own pleasure must refer to recreation. If this is the case, the prophet Isaiah was adding new dimensions to the Old Testament law with respect to Sabbath-keeping. Whereas the rest of the Old Testament law is virtually silent with respect to recreation, this text in Isaiah is cited to indicate a further revelation from God about Sabbath observance — a prohibition of recreation.

There is another way to understand Isaiah 58, however, following the thinking of those who hold the Continental view of the Sabbath. The distinction in Isaiah 58 is between doing what is pleasing to God and doing what is pleasing to ourselves in opposition to what is pleasing to God. Presumably, what is in view in the prophetic critique is God’s judgment against the Israelites for violating the Mosaic law with respect to the Sabbath day, particularly regarding involvement in commerce. There were Israelites who wanted to be able to buy and sell seven days a week, not simply six days a week. Therefore, they violated the Sabbath commandment by seeking their own pleasure, which was to do business on the Sabbath rather than to do that which was pleasing to God. According to this view, the text has nothing to say directly or indirectly about recreation on the Sabbath day.

There is an old story, which may be apocryphal, that when John Knox came to Geneva to visit John Calvin at his home on the Sabbath, he was shocked to find Calvin engaged in lawn bowling. If the story is true, it may indicate that the theologian most devoted to Sabbath-keeping in history, Calvin, did not see recreation as a violation of the Lord’s Day, but as a part of the rest-taking or recreation that is to be part of this day. Recreation would never have been acceptable to Calvin if it had interrupted or supplanted the time devoted to worship on the Sabbath.

One other point of debate remains between the two sides on this issue. It has to do with works of mercy performed on the Sabbath. The example of Jesus is cited, that on the Sabbath He engaged not only in worship and rest but also in works of mercy. Such works brought Him into conflict with the Pharisees over the question of Sabbath-keeping. Some have drawn the conclusion that since Jesus performed works of mercy on the Sabbath, the Christian is obligated to do the same. However, the fact that Jesus did works of mercy on the Sabbath, though it clearly reveals that it is lawful to do so on the Sabbath, does not obligate us to do such works on the Sabbath. That is to say, Jesus’ example teaches us that we may do works of mercy on the Sabbath but not that we must do such works on the Sabbath.

All of these issues continue to be examined and debated as the church seeks to understand how God is best honored on this day.