Calm confidence during a storm of outward troubles is true strength. Many think it is virtually impossible. Yet by grace, Paul learned the secret of being content in every situation (Philippians 4:11). We live in a culture of discontent. People have their hearts tied to things in this world and when the world is thrown into turmoil so are their hearts. It is not outward troubles themselves that disquiet our heart. The root cause is within not without. How do we get our hearts settled and fixed so that they can be calm during times of trouble?
Richard Cameron (1647-1680) addressed this in his last sermon before he died. The outward troubles that he and his fellow Covenanters faced were intense. Many were anxious or cast down. Persecution was fierce against those who would not conform to the government take-over of the Church in Scotland. Faithfulness meant suffering through fines, imprisonment, banishment and execution. What text of Scripture could Cameron choose as a motto to leave with the afflicted remnant?
It was brief but contained profound depths: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “Many are the mysteries that are contained and wrapped up in the shortest sentences of Scripture”, he said. These brief words forbid us from being disquieted and murmuring against providence – “Be still”. These words also command us to have a fixed and composed heart: “know that I am God”. We are to do this because God is still God and worthy of all our confidence.
1. Why We Lack Inward Calm During Outward Troubles
(a) Love of the world
This makes us fear that we will lose all our possessions. But if we can say with Paul, “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14) then we learn the lesson “I have learned in whatsoever state I am…to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
(b) Fear of men
We may have much love to Christ and faith. Yet, if the fear of men prevails over the fear of God we will be greatly cast down during times of outward troubles. The fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25).
(c) Lack of acquaintance with God
Looking to God and seeing His hand in all our troubles would greatly help to still our minds in every difficulty (Job 22:21).
When the disciples were tossed in the sea their minds were as much troubled as the waves. This was because they were of little faith.
“Some folk’s minds will be in a strange hurry”. They have an excessive, impatient desire to see God fulfil His promises.
2. Why We Must Not Lack Inward Calm During Outward Troubles
(a) It does no good
“What can you profit yourselves, or the Church of Christ either, by your sinful carefulness or by your unbelieving anxiety?” We must not be disquieted about worldly things. David rebukes his soul for being cast down and disquieted within him (Psalm 42:5).
(b) It Involves quarrelling with and murmuring against God
“Be still,” that is, “Beware of murmuring against Me,” says the Lord.
(c) Fretting because of evil doers is foolish
“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath” (Psalm 37:8). Beware of envying the wicked, though everything appears to prosper with them. “Be still,” says God, “for I sit in heaven and am laughing at them all the while.”
(d) Because God is God still
He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. We need to have high and honourable thoughts of Him. How often our thoughts about Him change!
3. What Inward Calm Involves
(a) A fixed mind and heart
Our mind and heart is to be fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 112:7).
(b) A composed spirit
This too requires submission to God.
(c) Past, present and future submission to God and His ways
He that has submission has need of much patience. We should not limit or set bonds to Him, but let Him take His own way in granting that which is most upon our spirits, and fulfilling the desires of our hearts.
submission…will make the soul triumph and rejoice in persecution, famines, and in every trial and tribulation whatsoever.
4. How We Can Have Inward Calm At All Times
(a) Stand in Awe of God
Strive to have much of the awe and dread of God on your spirits. “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4). “Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread,” and then follows the promise, “And he shall be for a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13). O that you would set the Lord always before you! If we looked to the greatness, sovereignty and power of God, and could say, “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge,” we would have a composed spirit. If you are against God He will be against you also.
(b) Beware of sinning or complying with anything sinful
“Stand in awe, and sin not…and be still” (Psalm 4:4). The man that has a good conscience has a good bed to sleep on, were it in a bog, moor, or mountain in the open field exposed to wind and weather. But there is no getting free from a guilty conscience. An evil conscience is never without fears. Many folk venture on sin to get outward peace and quiet, but by getting that they forfeit inward peace and tranquillity of mind. It is true when in providence a man with a composed heart is cast here and there, he thinks that this will ruin him. But when the confusion is past, and he is come to himself, he finds himself better or at least as well as he was before.
(c) Commune with your heart
“Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 4:4). A man that is not talking or communing with himself, either concerning his state or condition, cannot be right.
We must begin and commune with our heart concerning ourselves, and then about the providences of God, and say, “Does this dispensation come from God?” Then, says the soul, “Will God hurt me or do me wrong? No”. If a providential dispensation comes on us before we commune with our hearts, it will be ready to cast us on our backs. But let us trace it back to its first appearance, and examine our hearts about it, and hold our grip, that we may get to the end. Though it seems terrible, yet it may be of great advantage to our soul, and so there may be great calm in the mind all the time.
(d) Strive to have faith in exercise at all times
The least faith in exercise has more strength than thousands of men and armies!… If you have any, use the little you have, and you may get more, and this will tend much to establish and compose your heart in an evil time.
This inward calm is of great benefit. “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD” (Psalm 112:7). If our heart is fixed on God “evil tidings” will not move us completely. We must still look to God for assistance and direction as to how to respond to providence. Yet a pleasant life during such outward troubles is possible with this fixedness of heart. It helps us to praise God and pray to him aright. This sermon is of great value and worth reading through entirely. Cameron expresses the brightest hopes for the future of the Church in Scotland. He also anticipated the end of persecution eight years later. His final words in preaching before he died three days afterwards are well worth weighing:
be patiently waiting on God, and…beware of grudging, murmuring, despondency, fearfulness and disquiet of mind.