There is an old proverb that goes like this: “Promises are like pie crusts, lightly made and easily broken.” While this may be true concerning the promises people make, the reality could not be more different when it comes to the promises of God. The promises of God are sure, certain, and infallible because they are founded upon his nature and character. Unlike his commands, God’s promises do not tell us what God requires of us, but rather what God, in his goodness and grace, purpose and power, has already committed, covenanted, and engaged himself to accomplish for us. Andrew Gray (1634–1656) defines a promise as “a glorious discovery of the good-will of God towards sinners, and moreover, a purpose and intention, and, if we may say, an engagement, to bestow some spiritual or temporal good upon them.” Thus, God’s promises are his solemn and verbal commitment and engagement to do us good. “The promises of God are a storehouse of blessings and a chest of goodwill bequeathed to us by our heavenly Father” (Beeke and La Belle). Because God’s promises are founded upon his nature, which includes his power, there can be no division between his intention and his engagement with regard to his promises.
As David Clarkson (1662–1686) points out: “God’s saying, is God’s doing. His promises are one with his performance of them. He is just as willing to perform as to promise. There is no distance between his saying and his doing.” Therefore, if we want to live the life of faith we must learn to lean more on the promises of God and less upon circumstance, experience, sense, or reason. The latter, like a weak crutch, will break under us, but the former will uphold our faith in the midst of the most adverse circumstances. As Edward Leigh (1602–1671) says, “The right use of the promise is a means to sweeten all our afflictions, confirm our faith, excite us to well-doing, and to breed contentment of mind in all states and conditions and circumstances.” So how can we rightly use, personally appropriate, and practically apply the promises of God? Here are six brief suggestions.
1. Collect the Promises
Mine the Scriptures for promises applicable to your particular situation, whether it be one of sickness or suffering, trial or temptation, affliction or adversity, worry or anxiety, doubt or unbelief, or whatever. As Edward Leigh says, “The promises are a rich mine of spiritual and heavenly treasures; a garden of the most precious flowers and medicinal herbs; they are as the pool of Bethesda for all diseases, for all sort of persons, and at all times.” Mine the Scriptures for its precious promises, store them up as if in a treasure chest, and return to them again and again as a means of divine support and comfort. In Lamentations 3:21–23 the prophet says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
2. Seek Christ in the Promises
3. Ponder the Promises
Rightly using the promises means firmly fixing our minds on them and meditating upon them and chewing on them until we taste the sweetness of them. As William Spurstowe (1605–1666) said, “One promise thoroughly ruminated and meditated upon is like a morsel of meat well chewed and digested, which distributes more nourishment and strength to the body than great quantities taken down whole.” Most importantly of all, consider that in Christ all of the promises of God have been made to you—yes, made to you, you personally, by the eternal, omnipotent, immutable, and faithful God, and that they will be fulfilled for you more certainly than certainty itself. Let us be like the Psalmist who said, “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Psalm 199:148).
4. Believe the Promises
Meditation on the promises must be joined with faith. Believing the promises is more than merely intellectually assenting to them. For how great is the gulf that separates the assenting “faith” of devils (James 2:9) and trusting faith of a true child of God (Romans 4:13–24). Believing the promises of God means assenting to their truthfulness, trusting in their goodness, delighting in their sweetness, and feeding on their fatness. Believing the promises entails not just a general faith or intellectual assent, but rather welcomes them, embraces them, kisses them, leans on them, cleaves to them, feeds on them, delights in them, and hopes in them. Faith draws its confidence and comfort from the promises, regardless of what sense or circumstance suggest. We need to be like Abraham who “did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:19–21).
5. Pray the Promises
To faith must be added prayer. Edward Leigh says the promises are “the grounds of our hope, the objects of our faith, and the rule of prayer.” Praying the promises goes to the very heart of rightly using the promises. Praying the promises means using the promises of God as the ground and rule upon which we plead for the very blessings promised in his Word. Samuel Clark (1599–1683) writes, “God’s promises to us must be the grounds of our prayers to him. When God makes a promise, we must make a prayer.” The promises of God nourish, strengthen, and inform faith and such faith honours the God who promises: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 1:6). To pray in faith, believing that we will be heard, believing that God will reward those who seek him, is simply to plead the particular promises of God in prayer. It is to be like David who asked God to bless his house on the basis that God had already promised to do that very thing (2 Samuel 7:28–29): “And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” As Andrew Gray (1634–1656) says, “A Christian that believes the promises can take the promise in his hand and present it unto God, and say, ‘Fulfil this promise, since you will not deny your name, but are faithful.’”
6. Wait for the Promises
Finally, all of our prayers to God for the fulfillment of his promises to us must be characterized by humble and patient submission to his sovereign will and wisdom, trusting him to use what ways and means he sees fit, in what seasons and times he judges best, and to what ends he deems will bring him the greatest glory and his children the greatest good. Wilhelmus À Brakel (1635–1711) counsels, “therefore wait patiently for fulfillment and be neither impatient nor sorrowful, for that issues forth from unbelief in the promises of the God of truth and dishonours him, or is due to a lack of submission to his wisdom. God is glorified both in his veracity and fatherly wisdom when one is quiet and nevertheless actively waits upon him. Therefore, ‘though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry’ (Hab 2:3).”