What to do in a minority
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
6 Jun, 2024

Today’s church finds itself not only exiled from places of prominent usefulness, but also under attack from multiple sources. At the same time, it is itself beset with many vulnerabilities. Low levels of commitment and spirituality within its members and leaders, coupled with inarticulateness in proclaiming the gospel message, mean that the church is ill equipped for the pressures and assaults of an increasingly aggressive secular society. Although unlike Covenanting times, when the threat of armed physical violence was real, there remain ways in which our situation today echoes David’s experience in Psalm 86, where he describes many strong enemies assembling against his small forces and poised to destroy him. “O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul …” (Psalm 86:14). In a sermon on this prayer of David’s, the blind Edinburgh preacher Archibald Skeldie brings God’s perspective to bear. In the following updated excerpt, Skeldie discusses the significance of the numerousness of David’s enemies in God’s sight, before offering suggestions as to how to respond as a threatened minority.

David says that his enemies “assemble themselves together.” He mentions their “assembling” for two reasons.

The numerousness of enemies is no match for God’s power

First, for the glory of God’s power. The weaker the defending side, and the stronger the assailing force, the more obvious is the power of one who defends the weaker against the stronger. The power of God Almighty is manifested, when His saints and servants are brought to such extremity that they can neither help themselves, nor find help from others, against their many and mighty persecutors. He who manifested His power in Paul’s weakness in the hour of temptation, declares His power by protecting His saints in time of persecution. As one commentator says, “The Lord will not deny His safeguard to His saints while they are straited with necessity.” Instead He graciously helps them.

Remarkable is the example of Hezekiah and his people. The army of the Assyrians was known to be great, Hezekiah was conscious of his weakness, and that weakness was not unknown to his enemy, who told him that he had neither riders for horses, nor counsel for war. The power of God who protected Hezekiah was manifested, not only in promising him security, but likewise in actually ensuring his safety in the destruction of his enemy. Hezekiah, so weak in the sight of Sennacherib, seemed foolish in holding out a walled city against him. He would have judged him mad, if he had ventured to come in open field against him. Yet the power of God was magnified, whose bridle was always in Sennacherib’s lips, so that he could not go beyond His permission, just like a horse can only go where his rider wishes. The church of God complains in the 83rd Psalm of the confederacy of many enemies, who not only sought the ruin of God’s people, saying, “Let us root out Israel from being a nation,” but broke out in pride against the Lord Himself, saying, “Let us take for our possession the mansions of God.” The church requests their destruction by humble prayer so that God would be magnified in His glorious power.

The numerousness of enemies is an opportunity to trust God more fully

The second reason for David to mention the “assembling” of his enemies is to declare his trust and confidence in God. The multitude of his enemies is so far from chasing him away from God, that it maketh him run all the more to God, by earnest prayer and settled confidence. As by His power He is able to protect him, so by His mercy He will compass him (Psalm 32:10).

David well knew how powerfully this argument would prevail with God, that the one who is pursued by many enemies, and trusts in God, should be protected by the power and mercy of God. Basic humanity will teach people not to betray but rather to protect to the utmost of their power those who commit their lives to their care. Much more will the tender mercy of our gracious Lord move Him graciously to protect all those who “put their trust under the shadow of his wings.”

How to respond to being outnumbered by enemies

Various things are set out in Scripture for us to take note of.

Every one of God’s people should well observe what unique experiences they have had of God’s favourable protection. What makes David unafraid of the multitude of his enemies is when he considers how he has previously been delivered from the fury and rage of his enemies. Basil summarises David’s position in a similar psalm (Psalm 27), “Because I have received so great experience and proof of divine help, then, albeit twice or thrice so many press to overwhelm me, yet being guarded by this hope, I will withstand all those evils with invincible courage.”

The Lord Himself exhorts His people to trust in Him, with a promise of security and safety. “Trust in the Lord, and ye shall be established; believe his prophets, and ye shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20).

Don’t be deceived by appearances. If we look at the experience of His saints, it may justly be said, “None of them that trust in him, shall be desolate,” because those who trusted in Him were always delivered: “Our fathers that trusted in him were not ashamed.” We must not withdraw our confidence from God, when we see no appearance of help at the hands of men! Instead we should all the more rely on Him, with trust and confidence. He usually sends His relief when there is least appearance of it.

Mutual enemies can agree in opposition against God. Although the enemies of David were proud, and their pride and ambition caused them dissensions and strife amongst themselves, yet they can combine themselves to be David’s persecutors. It is the nature of proud men, so far as they are proud, to presume on their own worth, and think all others contemptible. They presume on their own wisdom, so they think nothing done well other than their own words and works, or else what somehow or other takes their fancy. They are so concerned about their own honour and wealth that they care nothing if others are brought to ruin and disgrace. It is a wonder then that they can assemble with others for one united purpose! Yet we see that though Pilate and Herod were mutual enemies, they can be friends when Christ is to be crucified. Though there is mutual hatred betwixt the Pharisees and Sadduces, they can conspire together when Christ is persecuted. The proud persecutors of the saints of God are set to work by Satan for one end, to destroy the kingdom of Christ, even though those who have a hand in the business all have their own worldly, devilish and other motivations, ambition, cruelty, and covetousness.

How to act in view of imminent threat

When the Covenanters of Britain and Ireland hear of the assembling of enemies from various quarters, there are three things which they should earnestly lay to heart.

Carefully strive to keep peace amongst yourselves

First, Covenanters should labour to be of one mind in the essentials of religion, and in the service and worship of God. They should mutually defend one another, according to thair Covenant. They should remove from themselves all excuses which may hinder them from advancing the cause of Christ — none who has power should claim to be weak, nor should those who have wealth claim poverty, but every zealous Christian should count it his honour and happines that God has furnished him with ability, and by His providence offered him opportunity, to honour Christ and advance His kingdom.

Christians are called to peace, in one body. They should let the peace of God rule in their hearts at all times, but especially when their peace is troubled by cruel persecutors. Abraham thought it not time to argue with Lot, when they were in the land of the Amorites. The Athenians and Thebanes had their mutual jealousies, yet they packed up all their dissensions when they were invaded by Philip, King of Macedonia, the enemy of the liberty of all Greece. This is especially important when you remember that usually distraction is a dolorous omen of destruction. Union makes strength, but division brings weakness. If we are true to ourselves, and keep that peace which we have sworn in our Covenant, and which is required of the disciples of Christ, we will have less need to worry about all the enemies of the cause of Christ.

Do what you can to hinder enemies assembling

Secondly, when the people of the Lord hear of their enemies assembling, they should labour as much as in them lies, to hinder them coming together. It was wise of the Romans to fight with the army of Hasdrubal before the army of Hannibal. It is a great deal safer to deal with the individual parts of an army than the complete body. In the time of Edward I of England, one of the Scottish noblemen, with 8,000 of our people, vanquished in one day 30,000 of the English, who were divided into three bands. It would have been more difficult, if they had all been joined together.

Humbly entreat the Lord to be here to help

Thirdly, when we hear of the assembling of various people from various quarters, our humble prayer should be to the Lord, “That he would be present in the assembly of his saints,” that so they would be protected and defended against the assemblies of their cruel enemies. “If God be one our side, who is against us?” Abijam was more encouraged that God was with his people than he was afraid of the huge number of Jeroboam’s army against his people.

But while we entreat the Lord by prayer, we must look well to two things.

For one thing, we should not be excessively afraid, or fainthearted, when we are fewer in number, seeing it makes no difference to the Lord to vanquish by few or by many. There are frequent passages to this effect in the Book of Judges, and in the Books of the Kings.

The other thing is, even if in God’s providence our numbers are greater, yet we must not lean on the strength of man, but to the help and assistance of God. Neither the greatness of number, nor the goodness of the cause for which they fight, will make people prevail aginst their enemies if they have greater confidence in their own strength than in the help of God. I actually think that when Jehosaphat was threatened by his enemies, he could have raised a greater army than all the kings who were his enemies, and yet he says, “Lord, we know not what to do, but our eyes are towards thee.” “Chariots and horses may run to the battle, but the Lord of hosts giveth victory.” If we find access to God by prayer, then any time we are threatened by our enemies, we may expect His protection and deliverance, according to David’s observation, “When I cry, then mine enemies shall be turned back; this I know, for God is for me.”

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