How God Combats Wickedness in the World

By Ligon Duncan

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 4:25-26)

What’s going to be our plan to combat the wickedness of Cain? Who would have thought that the antidote would be well, there’s going to be this line of covenant children. That’s going to be the stratagem that God brings into the world to combat the wickedness of Cain.

Surely, we would have wanted to set up some organizations, some institutions, some trust funds, some educational — I mean you can imagine all the things that we would have thought of to combat the influence of Cain. But God’s plan was to bring this covenant child into the world named Seth who was going to rear godly children, who were going to rear godly children, who were going to rear godly children, who were going to rear godly children. And by that God fought back against the wickedness of Cain.

Now there’s a story like this in our own experience not too far away. Last century in Scotland, at the beginning of the century, the state of the church in Scotland was in very, very sad order. Evangelical preaching was rare. A naturalistic, rationalistic form of preaching was almost universally experienced in the churches. And what was God’s plan to attack that state of affairs in Scotland? It was the same plan that we see here in Genesis 4. And it came with the birth of some covenant children. I’d like to share that story with you.

Ian Murray tells it in his wonderful biographical introduction to William Cunningham’s historical theology: “At the beginning of the 19th century, weakness, slumber and death almost universally characterized the pulpits of the church of Scotland. A scattered Evangelical remnant still remained within her ranks. But for more than half a century they had struggled unsuccessfully to turn back the tide of moderatism and worldliness which had entered the national church early in the eighteenth century. The religion of the moderates, as the prevailing clerical party was called, was a cold appeal to virtue and morality accompanied by a lordly contempt of the Evangelical message and fervor. Their only article of faith seemed to be that God existed for the benefit of man. The godly, but somewhat eccentric, Dr. Kidd of Aberdeen was once called to preach at an ordination service of a student, an Evangelical student, but in the presence of a predominately moderate Presbytery. He delivered a perfect satire aimed at the typical clergyman of the day. ‘My young brother,’ he began, ‘you have now been set apart to the office of the holy ministry. Whatever you do, be sure that you don’t overwork yourself. Why should you die before your time? There are some foolish people, as you may be aware who go in for Sabbath schools and prayer meetings and Bible classes. But my beloved young brother, I counsel you carefully to avoid all that sort of nonsense.'”

You can imagine the reaction from the crowd as they heard him preach in that way. But it was said in those days that a moderate sermon was like a fine Scottish winter day – cold, clear and brief. Murray goes on, “In the previous century the Erskines and Bostons had raised an unheeded warning against this kind of natural religion and by the end of that century, a full third of the Scottish people had ceased to listen to the men who stood in the pulpits once occupied by the Reformers and martyrs.”

This was Scotland’s condition in 1800, and yet by the 1840’s such was the spiritual transformation that an unbiased English observer like C.H. Waller, once Examining Chaplain to Bishop Ryle and principal of the London School of Divinity, could describe the revived Scottish church, the Free Church, as “the nearest approach that he knew in the history of the church universal to apostolic conditions of faith and learning.” It is the movement which resulted in that transformation which we refer to as the third reformation and we shall be particularly interested in the part played by two men whose best works are shortly to be republished.

Now Murray goes on to say that there three things that God used to bring reformation and revival in that setting. I will give you a hint at the other two, but I won’t read about them. The second thing that he mentions is the conversion of Thomas Chalmers in 1809. Thomas Chalmers had been a moderate clergyman in a tiny, obscure parish near St. Andrews University. He was more interested in mathematics than he was in theology, and the Lord converted him on his deathbed. And then brought him back from his deathbed to minister for many more years in the church of Scotland.

The third thing that he mentions is the publication of a book by Thomas McRee called The Biography of John Knox. And that book found its way to the shelves of laymen and women all over Scotland, and it is said that that book worked in their hearts almost like Homer’s stories worked in the hearts of the Greeks, causing people to aspire to be like these great reformational heroes that John Knox talked about in his own time, and which McRee talked about in his books.

But the first thing that Murray says was used by the Lord to bring about reformation and revival was this: “Within a short span of years three events occurred which mark the beginnings of a new and better day. The first was the birth of a succession of infants whose names were later to be revered all over the land. James Buchanan in 1804, William Cunningham in 1805, R.S. Camblish in 1806, James Bannerman in 1807, James Begg in 1808, Horatious Bonar in 1808, A. Moody Stewart in 1809, Andrew Bonar in 1810, Robert Murray McCheyne in 1813, George Smeeten in 1814.”

Those names may not mean much to many of you here, but those were the men, those were the first order Evangelicals that God raised up all in a tiny span of years and thirty years later they would break forth on the Scottish scene and they would be used by God to bring life into the hearts of men and women.

What was God’s stratagem against Satan there? The birth of covenant children, nurtured under the truth of God, who broke forth on the scene, preaching and living the word of God. God’s covenant promises working out in His plan, His program of mercy. That is the bright spot in the story of this dark human descent into sin, even the story we see here in Genesis 4.

Perhaps we should begin praying that the Lord will in our own day raise up a generation of mighty men who know the Lord, who will proclaim His word fearlessly and faithfully. And perhaps we shall see reformation and revival in our own land.

Read the full sermon here.

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One thought on “How God Combats Wickedness in the World

  1. Reblogged this on REFORMED CHURCHES IN THE PHILIPPINES and commented:

    “God’s stratagem against Satan… The birth of covenant children, nurtured under the truth of God, who broke forth on the scene, preaching and living the word of God. God’s covenant promises working out in His plan, His program of mercy. That is the bright spot in the story of this dark human descent into sin, even the story we see here in Genesis 4.” – Ligon Duncan

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