Assurance That We Are Not Orphans
On July 1, 1643, the Westminster Assembly convened across the street from Parliament in London. We would normally be studying the faith of that period of history right now in combined summer Sunday School class. Don’t worry, I plan to resume our summer adult Sunday School class for part 3 of that next year. The man who was elected to serve as the Convernor (think, Moderator) of that impressive Assembly was William Twisse (1578-1646). And he was invited by both houses of parliament to begin that historic Assembly with a sermon. The passage he chose was John 14:18, which is part of our sermon text for this Sunday. The wonderful text he chose was: “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”
Does it surprise you, as we approach the July 1 anniversary of the convening of this towering assemblage of talent, that the subject would be the tender work of the Holy Spirit?
Twisse was selected, likely because he was the largest theological figure of his day. He was known for contending for the faith against the various errors of the day. He was a one-man Arminian-buster, known for his subtle and logical prowess. Thomas Fuller eulogized his abilities in these words: “. . . a divine of great abilities, learning, piety, and moderation . . . His plain preaching was good, his disputing better, his pious living best of all . . . Good with the trowel, but better with the sword, more happy in polemical divinity than edifying doctrine.”
Yet, in this sermon and with this biblical passage, he wished to set the tone for the Assembly, which gave us our doctrinal statement, by reminding his friends of God’s presence. Specifically, he charged them to remember the work of the Spirit of Truth, who had not left them as orphans.
In that day, to be an orphan meant no protection from the elements, no social net, no home, no child labor laws, and a tooth and claw existence for a young person. This term could also be used of one who was left friendless or a disciple without a master.
Christ’s church in that trying time, Twisse believed, would be cared for and attended by the Holy Spirit as children, not deserted as orphans.
In this sermon (delivered originally to both houses of parliament—envision a gathering of all branches of our government as in a State of the Union address—one historian noted, “he exhorted his learned auditory to a faithful discharge of their duty, and to promote the glory of God and the honour of his church.”
Immediately prior to hearing that his death was imminent, Twisse smiled with confidence and said, “Now, at length, I shall have leisure to follow my studies to all eternity.” Whenever you remember our doctrinal standard, remember that its incubator was the assurance: “I will not leave you as orphans.”
I hope this short message will remind us of three enduring truths:
- We can learn from our forefathers; the past is our friend (far from an oppressor), especially in challenging times. We should resort to what our great-grandparents did more often than to follow what our grandchildren suggest.
- Even great theology and theologians need to be guided by God’s Word. God’s Word gives us truth for living. And God has ordained simple preaching as one of his chief methods of informing our minds as to how we should live.
- We need frequent reminders of God’s kind fatherhood.
Do you need to be reminded today that God has not left you as an orphan? If a mighty assembly of theologians needed that reminder, most all of us would like to hear those words as well. Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans,” but will give you a Comforter. That promise still applies.