Trust Not in Man

by Brian Carpenter

I am being providentially hindered from writing my intended post this week, so I thought I’d use my hindrances as an opportunity to write a brief essay on what the Lord is teaching me through the things he’s leading me through.

There are some serious theological errors afoot in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) and other Reformed denominations that have their genesis in the teaching of men like Norman Shepherd, a former professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and N.T. Wright, an Anglican scholar.  What you end up with is a teaching that advances a kind of sacramentalism which has more in common with Rome than it does with historic Protestantism.  I and a handful of other men are attempting to deal with these things in the church courts and by writing publicly about them on our blogs.  Needless to say, the Evil One is stirring up resistance wherever he can, and doing what he can in our personal lives and our churches to attack us.  Here’s some of what I’m learning through this process.

First of all, men will fail you.  You can almost count on it as a certainty that human institutions and divine institutions which are staffed with human beings will fail in some manner.  Sometimes they fail utterly.  People don’t understand their job.  They are swayed from doing the right thing for all sorts of reasons.  They don’t want to spend the time and energy necessary to learn and then to think about what they’ve learned and apply it.  Sometimes doing their jobs means that painful consequences will arise, and they shrink from those consequences.  “Better to let sleeping dogs lie,” they reason within themselves. “If I do what I’m supposed to do, there will be no end of trouble.”  Augustine writes about this phenomenon in Book I, Chapter 9 of The City of God:

In this matter a uniquely heavy responsibility rests on those to whom this message is given by the prophet: “He indeed will die for his sin, but I will require his blood at the hand of the watchman” (Ezek. 33:6)  For “watchmen”, that is, leaders of the people, have been appointed in the churches for this purpose, that they should be unsparing in their condemnation of sin.  This does not mean that a man is entirely free from blame in this regard if, without being a “watchman”, he recognizes, but ignores, opportunities of warning and admonishing those with whom the exigencies of this life force him to associate—if he evades this duty for fear of offending them, because he is concerned for those worldly advantages, which are not in themselves discreditable, but to which he is unduly attached.

Sin-ridden, dysfunctional human social systems have a sort of way of working that does “work.”  They do function, after a fashion.  But they function sinfully and ultimately destructively.  The man or woman who stands up and says “No, I will not go along with this!” is throwing handfuls of sand into the delicate machinery.  The system will do what it can to overcome, punish, and remove such people.  What that really boils down to is a love of one’s own peace and ease over a love of the truth.  But many fall into exactly that trap.  So social workers don’t protect the interests of the people under their care, prosecuting attorneys and judges don’t enforce the laws they are supposed to enforce.  Shepherds don’t watch over the flock of God under their care.  Those who point these things out are labeled as troublemakers.

If we are to be people of integrity, how shall we respond to this fact?  Well, it takes a healthy trust in God.  I just received a lot of encouragement on that front today.  Our house came with a small, 400 square foot house in the backyard, and also with a very good renter.  It makes a little income each year for us and helps pare down the mortgage.  Today, after lunch, I took the garbage out to the alley behind the house and found that the heating and air conditioning repairman was there, doing repairs to the boiler in the rental house.  I’ll call him Fred.  I’ve known Fred for a few years.  We talk infrequently, whenever we see each other around town, but we always speak warmly to each other when we do speak.  Fred is a very godly man.  He’s an old-fashioned Pentecostal.  He loves the Lord and he loves the Bible and he sincerely wants to be holy, but he is also gentle and mild-mannered.  I always love talking to him.  His example always encourages my heart.

We started talking in my backyard today and Fred told me a story he never told me before.  He owns a piece of property on the edge of town.  Two of his neighbors have been at absolute enmity with him for years.  One of them is a local professional man whose profession I choose not to name.  This man has been bitter at God for years because his wife got cancer.  By extension he has a great antipathy towards the Lord’s people, and doubly so for Fred because he tried to share the gospel with him.  The other is a man whose wife had some occult experiences while she was dying of cancer.  They proudly related her experiences to Fred.  She even referred to herself as a “seer.”  Fred became very alarmed and warned them most seriously not to dabble in the stuff they were dabbling in and exhorted them to turn to the Lord Jesus in repentance.  He specifically exhorted the man to begin interceding on behalf of his wife against these demonic influences.  They didn’t take too kindly to it.  The lady died, but her husband was also very embittered towards Fred.

This man and the other both got together and made it their mission in life to run Fred and his wife off their land.  Their primary method of operation has been the nuisance lawsuit.  Fred has been in court 60 times in the last 10 years.  Each of those times the case was dismissed (the professional sued him for causing his erectile dysfunction, for instance, and the other guy sued him for driving down the road too slowly.)  But each time he got sued, Fred had to get a lawyer and go to court.  Each of these episodes cost him $3,000.  They put cameras up on their property, all pointing at Fred’s house and yard.  They put up powerful lights that shined on his house at night.  They were trying to bait him into shooting out the lights so they could sue him or have him arrested for destruction of property.  Once, when the wind had blown down one of their cameras, they tried to pin it on Fred.  Though the camera belonged to Neighbor A, Neighbor B was the one who called the sheriff and complained that Fred had damaged it.  The sheriff came out and took pictures of the camera, unbeknownst to the camera’s owner.  The owner later took the camera home and shot it, then took pictures of the bullet hole and took it to the sheriff to try and accuse Fred of destruction of property.  The sheriff produced his own photos showing the camera with no bullet holes in it.  Of course, the system failed at just this point and the man was not charged with filing a false report.  Fred didn’t even know this had happened until years later.

Fred believed that the Lord wanted him to turn the other cheek and leave room for the vengeance of God.  He and his wife suffered a lot of emotional distress and spent upwards of $100,000 on lawyers in the last ten years.  He really wanted to cut and run at one point, but he said with tears in his eyes that the Lord told him to stay put.  If he left when he wanted to, he would be leaving hurt, and would never see the power of God to resolve this thing.

Well, to make a long story short, it turns out that the professional man has been hiding money from the IRS.  He’s facing a $2.6 million dollar fine plus $800,000 in back taxes and the possibility of a long prison sentence.  The other guy went bankrupt and is trying to sell his house.  Here’s the kicker.  Both properties are up for sale and the owners are desperate to sell.  Both properties aren’t selling because they can only be accessed through Fred’s land.  Both men thought they had an easement which allowed access, but that has turned out to be wrong.  There is not and never was an easement through Fred’s property.

Both Fred and his wife have said that they would cheerfully forgive these men if they came and asked for it.  Though Fred didn’t specifically say it, I get the idea that he would be amenable to some sort of fair resolution concerning the easement if they would sincerely repent.  But one of the marks of wicked men is that when they intentionally set out to wrong someone, they end up hating the one they have wronged even more than they did at the beginning.  I think they do this in order to justify themselves to themselves.  The funny thing is that even though they are in this pickle, the men still refuse to even be civil to Fred.  So Fred just sits and waits.  Neither man has much money to spend on frivolous lawsuits just now, so his life is much more peaceful and much less expensive.  Both men desperately need his goodwill, but are unable even to ask for it.

Perhaps they will eventually come to saving faith in Christ.  Perhaps not.  We’ve agreed to pray for that result.   What’s important to note is that the Lord is in the process of delivering Fred and dealing with the wicked men who have oppressed him.   All he had to do was stand still and wait in order to see the salvation of God in this circumstance.  I don’t know how it will end.  Maybe Fred will grant them the easement.  Maybe he won’t.  That’s between him and the Lord.  But I do know that when human beings and human institutions fail, the Lord is not stymied or defeated.  He will not suffer his children to be oppressed forever.  It is for precisely this reason that we are told in Scripture that we ought not put our trust in man, but in God.  God alone can be trusted.  If you are in a difficult place right now, if you are being harassed by an enemy, either seen or unseen, do not despair.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Do not fret.  It only leads to sin.  Do not allow your heart to be embittered.  The Lord will deliver you one way or another, and that in his good time.

Recommended further reading:

Thomas Watson: The Art of Divine Contentment
John Calvin: Sermons on the Beatitudes
J.I. Packer: A Quest for Godliness

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