The God who digs downward to deliver us.
Removing something usually involves a painful undertaking, and Christ is the only one holding the spade.
Among the more obscure works that has proven informative and insightful during my sermon series through 1 and 2 Kings is John Cumming’s Expository Readings on the Books of Kings. Cumming was a Scottish minister, churchman, and lecturer throughout the 1800s who became known for his out-spoken stance against the Roman Catholic Church and his near-obsession with eschatology. His broadside of Catholic polity and doctrine is easily understood just in glancing at some of his published works, including titles such as The Romish Church a Dumb Church (1853) and Ritualism, the Highway to Rome (1867). This conviction stirred no small amount of controversy in his day. As did his preoccupation with the End Times.
Cumming, unfortunately, held to a view of eschatology which found the fulfillment of biblical apocalyptic events in his own day. This perspective saw incidents such as the French Revolution and the Great Famine of Ireland not only as historically momentous but also as scripturally consummate. This held belief resulted in Cumming’s testimony that the Lord’s Second Advent and Day of Judgment would occur within the latter half of the 19th century — which, of course, was untrue seeing as we’re all still here.
Not to make an excuse for Cumming, but a cursory examination of pulpit exposition among his contemporaries would likely prove that his preoccupation was shared by none too few preachers. Be that as it may, any oration which pretends to have the Second Coming of Christ “figured out” is a farce, plain and simple. No one can predict when that day will happen, neither are we meant to. Jesus made that abundantly clear to his apostles prior to his ascension (Acts 1:7–8). Anyone claiming to have “data” on Jesus’s return is lying to you and themselves. I’ll share more thoughts on that in an article posting on Wednesday. But despite his untoward eschatological preoccupation, there is still much benefit to be gleaned from Cumming’s words. We ought not throw out the baby with the bath water, as the saying goes. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from his Kings expositions, in which he affirms the necessity of believing the bad news first before the good news can really be seen as “good.” He writes:
Before we can be convinced of the need of a Saviour, we must first be convinced of the evil, the intensity, and the ruinous results of sin. The foundation of a high edifice must be dug deep in the earth. Sin must taste to my heart very bitter before the Redeemer’s coming will ever taste very sweet, and if you at this moment have deep convictions of sin, it is not a proof that God has forgotten you, but that the Angel of the everlasting covenant is stirring the stagnant waters in order that he may impregnate them with all the elements of enduring healing. The man who is most to be pitied, and whose position is the most perilous, is he who thinks he is better than most people, and that he has a very good heart, and that, he never did anything very wrong; and he has no trouble in his conscience, and no twitches there — nothing to indicate that anything has gone wrong; that man is under the awful opiate of peace peace, when there is no peace at all. But if there be in you a conscience accusing, rebuking; reasoning of righteousness, temperance, and judgment; pleading with you to seek forgiveness, and urging and stirring you to do so by the certainty of death, judgment, eternity — blessed soul, favoured one! God is now digging the deep foundation of a glorious structure, and beginning in your heart that beneficent work which will culminate in everlasting blessedness to you and in eternal glory to his own great name.
I am grateful for the violent image of God “digging the deep foundation” in my soul as the preparatory work for his work in me. Digging downward necessitates a process of removal. Removing something usually involves a painful undertaking. Such is the Spirit’s ministry in and on those who’ve been bought by Christ. Such is the work that’s promised to be carried through to completion until the Lord does, indeed, return. “Being confident of this very thing,” St. Paul writes, “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Your deliverance and mine is found through a process of digging downward, and Christ is the only one holding the spade.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
John Cumming, Expository Readings on the Books of Kings (London: Hall, Virtue, & Co., 1859), 128–29.