I wish to draw your attention to these words in the Book of Joshua: “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (1:9).
You have been learning what all the true servants of the Lord learn with respect to their ministerial duties: that in yourself you are but an earthen vessel. Oftentimes you will be saying, “Who is sufficient for these things?” You will also feel dismayed when you are attacked by your spiritual enemies, not least by Satan, who does his utmost to hinder the servants of the Lord in their work. Here then is a wonderful word of encouragement for you: “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
These words, spoken by Moses, made it clear to Joshua that the Lord was calling him to the great work of leading the Children of Israel through the wilderness. It was indeed Moses who said, “Have not I commanded thee?” but these words were from God in the first instance. Joshua was sure that it was the Lord who called him to the onerous work in which he was now to engage.
This evening, a solemn charge has been laid upon you in being inducted as the pastor of this people. While the Presbytery has inducted you, it is God Himself who has called you to this place. God called you by His grace; He called you also to be a minister of the gospel; now He has directed you to this place. “Have not I commanded thee?”
We see that the exhortation given is this: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”
Be strong! This is the first part of the exhortation. But you are increasingly conscious that you are but an earthen vessel. You feel more of your innate helplessness, and that without the Lord you can do absolutely nothing to His glory or for the good of His Cause. What are you to do in your weakness? You are to wait on the Lord!
“Wait on the Lord, and be thou strong,
and He shall strength afford
unto thine heart; yea, do thou wait,
I say, upon the Lord” (Ps 27:14 metrical).
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa 40:31). Wait on the Lord; He will not fail you.
The next part of the exhortation reads: “Be of a good courage”. No doubt Joshua, although a skilful soldier, was discouraged from time to time. Like every child of God he had his own personal discouragements on account of indwelling sin. He also had many discouragements because of the fractiousness of the people. Nevertheless, and indeed because of such experiences, Joshua was told, “Be of a good courage”. And so the Lord is saying to you this evening, whatever your discouragements may have been, or are:
“Be of good courage, and He strength
unto your heart shall send” (Ps 31:24 metrical).
Furthermore, the Lord is exhorting you in this manner: “Be not afraid, neither be dismayed”. Joshua was not only a skilful soldier but also a most courageous one, yet surely there were times when he was afraid and felt dismayed. Thus it is with the good soldiers of Jesus Christ, especially those in the forefront of the battle: there are times when they are afraid, even very afraid. Now, what is the Lord saying to you when you experience fear? Is it not this, “Be not afraid”? How often the Lord says to His people, “Fear not,” but it is especially to His ministering servants in the vanguard that He says, “Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed”.
One great reason why the Lord’s servants are not to be afraid or dismayed is that the Lord is with them. “For the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest”, said Moses to Joshua. The great Head of the Church says to His ministering servants especially, as He said to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:20). We can be certain that, when the Lord is with a man as he goes on in the path of duty, it will be well with him, whatever difficulties he has to contend with. How many difficulties Joseph had! But “the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man” (Gen 39:2). So, having the Lord’s presence, it will be well with you, as you go on in the path of duty, seeking in His name to serve Him in this place and in this congregation. “If God be for us”, said the Apostle, “who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). Likewise we may say, If God be with us, who can be against us? “Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
Now the servant of the Lord, having such a word spoken to him by the Lord, will certainly experience this: not one thing which the Lord has promised will fail. We read that Joshua, at the end of his days, said to the people: “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you (and he was including himself); all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof” (Jos 23:14). May this be your testimony! Also, may you ever be looking to the One to whom Joshua looked, so that, like him, you would endure to the end and be an effective instrument in the hand of God for accomplishing His purposes of redemption!
1. This is the address made to Rev G G Hutton after his induction to the pastorate of the Inverness congregation on Friday, 23 March 2001.