Christians are people of faith and trust. We have faith in God, we trust Jesus Christ, we are led by the Holy Spirit. Our whole lives are wrapped up in our relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John Downame (1571-1652) was an important Puritan theologian and writer. He explored the meaning of faith and of Christian life. He wrote a big book, A Guide to Godlynesse, or a Treatise of a Christian Life (London, 1622; also 1629). Here, Downame seeks to “describe the duties of a godly life, in which we ought to serve our Lord and Master, but also to show the means whereby we may be enabled hereunto, and how we may remove the impediments which otherwise might hinder us from entering into, or proceeding in the ways of godliness” (“To the Christian Reader”).
An important segment of this book is Downame’s discussion: “Of Trust, Faith [Affiance], and Hope in God” (105). Downame tells us: What is Trust; Why We Trust; and How to Trust.
What is Trust
Downame uses the old meaning of “affiance” as “faith” and “trust” when he writes about our “special duties” as Christians. These duties are to “adhere and cleave unto God with all our hearts,” our “chief and principal” duties being “affiance, the love and fear of God” (105). By this faith and trust in God, we “adhere and cleave” to God “when as knowing, acknowledging, believing, and remembering the omniscience, omnipotence, all sufficiency, truth, and goodness of God towards us.” This is a “mouthful”! But Downame is reminding us that the One in whom we trust is the great God—all-knowing, all-powerful, and sufficient for all things—who we know is true and good to us. In God we obtain all good and are preserved from all evil. We can’t imagine our trust could be better-placed than in the God of the Scriptures whose goodness to us, never fails! Thus, said Downame, David wrote: “Trust in the Lord, and do good” (Psalm 37:3) and Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Our trust is a complete clinging of our hearts to God, seeking not our own understanding—but God’s; and from this trust, we seek to do good according to God’s will.
Why We Trust
When we trust God, we receive “diverse gracious promises made unto us.” Our trust is not just a “shot in the dark.” It is a trust in God—who is all true and all good; and who makes promises to us on which we can rely!
The first promise is that when we trust in the Lord, “we shall be greatly rewarded” (Hebrews 10:35). This is not a “prosperity gospel”—promising wealth or fame or financial success—as some preach today. The great reward we have from trusting in the Lord is that we receive “all God’s mercies and favors.” Said David: “He that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compasse him about” or “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord” (Psalm 32:10). Nothing can be a better outcome of trust than receiving God’s mercy and steadfast love for our lives. When we trust we are surrounded by the most blessed gift we can imagine!
Second, when we trust in the Lord “we shall be sustained and preserved by his providence.” The invitation and promise is: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee; he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22; cf. 125:1). This precious promise opens up our whole lives to be lived for God! As we live and have burdens to bear, we can trust God to sustain us and preserve us through all our days. God’s providence means God’s guiding and involvement in our lives. To believe God is with us in these ways means we can give ourselves fully to loving and serving God, fully confident that God is with us and supporting us, every step of our way!
Third, said Downame, we trust because “we shall have the good things of the earth for the present, and eternal blessedness in the life to come.” Blessings come to those who trust in the Lord (Jeremiah 17:7; Psalm 34:8). We can trust in the Lord “for the obtaining of all good, and the avoiding of all evil” (Psalm 37:5). Then, as Luther memorably memorialized it for us in his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble: therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).
No matter what our life is like, we trust in the Lord. Downame said that “when we have means, we must put our affiance [trust] in him…though they be weak and insufficient, knowing that he is able to give virtue and vigor unto them, seeing we live not by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth.” Though it seems our resources are small, our prospects bleak, Downame reminds that we know God can energize what we have as we trust God and seek to live by God’s word in our lives.
Downame continues that God “is able in the famine to feed us with ravenous birds, which in their own nature are more fit to take away our meat, than to bring any unto us” (105-106). Here Downame hearkens back to the story of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, whom God fed—in the midst of a famine—by the ministry of ravens: “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening” (1 Kings 17:6). We might have been frightened had we been in Elijah’s hungry state and seen ravens hovering around and flying down toward us! But the ravens brought food to the prophet and his life was sustained! How odd—but God used birds who, said Downame, were by nature more likely to take away food, than to give food—all to protect the life of God’s servant who was trusting in the Lord! We never know what means God may use to bless us, even when our situations look hopeless in themselves!
Then, also, Downame reminds us that “if our means be many and mighty, yet we must not trust in them, but using them as sent of God to serve his providence in our sustentation and preservation, we must put our whole confidence in him, and rest alone in his blessing upon them, without which they shall never does us any good” (106). When we have what we need—we should not trust in what we have as being all we need! Instead, we use the resources God gives to serve God as God sustains and preserves us. We put our whole confidence in God; and trust God’s blessings upon what we have been given to use for God. Without God’s blessings on the things we have—“they shall never do us any good”! We trust in the Lord!
Finally, our word of hope is that “neither must we less trust in the Lord” when we appear to have no means to help ourselves. For we know God is “true [to] his promise, and will never fail us if we put our trust in him, and in himself alone, all sufficient to preserve and defend us in their absence, as well as in the presence of them.” We remember David’s trust as “he walked alone in the vale of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). Downame cites other biblical examples: the three children in the fiery furnace, Daniel in the Lions den (Daniel 3 and 6); Peter guarded by soldiers, and Paul and Silas when they were in the stocks (Acts 12 and 16) as well as Abraham having God’s promise of a son, who “against hope believed in hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18; Gen. 17:4). We trust in the Lord, even when all seems “impossible” from our “human point of view”!
How to Trust
In the midst of all things, we trust in the Lord. How do we trust God in all things?
Downame suggests first that we should often consider “God’s saving attributes.” These include “God’s omnipotence, and all-sufficiency, whereby he is able to relieve and preserve us;” God’s “providence” which in God watches over us as God’s children, to work “all things to our good” (Romans 8:28); God’s “mercy, bounty, goodness” and the truth of God’s promises through we “we may be assured” of God’s “good will and readiness to help us.” Focusing on who God is and what God does gives us confidence to trust God in all things!
Second, we can trust by observing “God’s mercy and goodness in time past,” shown both toward others and toward us. We remember God’s “freeing us from evil and procuring our good.” What God has done for others…God will do for us. David confirmed his trust in God by remembering God’s goodness toward Israel’s ancestors: “In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame” (Psalm 22:4-5). So, said Downame, “when he could with no comfort rest upon God in his present sense and feeling, he remembered “Gods wonders of old, in delivering his people Israel, and drowning their enemies in the red Sea” (106-107; Psalm 77:14-15). The Apostle Paul also shared this trust that God who had delivered him in the past would “deliver him out of like afflictions in the time to come” (2 Cor. 1:10).
Third, we can trust God as we “fear and serve” God. We are to walk before God in holiness and righteousness. It is those who have received the Covenant of grace and protection who receive God’s promises of provision and preservation. The Psalmist said: “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield” (Psalm 115:11). As we live according to God’s will for us, in obedience and service to God—trusting in the Lord—we experience God’s covenantal grace and promises to preserve and help us.
Trust in the Lord! This is not a mere platitude or slogan. This is a vital, living attitude and action which focuses our Christian life and is the way we live every day of our lives, in every situation along our ways. We know the God in whom we trust. We know why we can trust God. We know how to trust God. We live as the Psalmist lived: “Trust in the Lord, and do good” (Psalm 37:3)!
Dr. Donald K. McKim currently lives in Germantown, TN and is an Honorably Retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Some of his publications include: (with Jim West), Heinrich Bullinger: An Introduction to His Life and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2022); Everyday Prayer with the Puritans (P&R, 2021); Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (P&R, 2020); Living into Lent, new edition (Westminster John Knox Press, 2020); Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (P&R, 2019). Several of his other articles can also be found at The Presbyterian Outlook https://pres-outlook.org/