RUNNING RED LIGHTS by Al Baker

Running Red Lights
BANNER OF TRUTH ONLINE
September 29, 2016
‘David sent messengers and took her . . . he lay with her.’ – 2 Samuel 11:4.

When Israel clamored for a king, Yahweh relented and gave them Saul, but after Saul’s disobedience, God promised another king after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). When Paul the apostle was addressing the Jews at Pisidian Antioch, reviewing the salvation history of Israel, he referred to David as a man after God’s own heart, one who would do His will (Acts 13:22). So, how could a man after God’s own heart, who wrote these marvelous Psalms, who expressed a profound depth of holiness and zeal (Psalm 22, 47, 63), fall into the grievous sin of adultery and then exacerbate the problem by having his adulteress’s husband murdered? The answer-David ran nine red lights God had graciously put before him.

Red light number one. Israel was in the midst of war with the nation of Ammon when the Arameans sided with Ammon against Israel. David gathered his army and crossed the Jordan River at Helam and routed the Arameans (2 Samuel 10:15-19). The Ammonites had not yet been conquered so the war continued, but David was not there in the war theater. It was the spring of the year, after the rains, when the roads are dry, that armies would typically move out of camp and face their enemies. David stayed home. He sent Joab to conquer the Ammonites (2 Samuel 11:1). In other words, David was neglecting his kingly responsibilities. Take away-stay in the fight. Stay busy. Idle time in hotels, coffee shops, or restaurants are breeding grounds for licentious behavior.

Red light number two. ‘Now when evening came, David rose from his bed,’ (2 Samuel 11:2). What? Why is David in bed at 6 p.m.? Why is he not managing his kingdom, meeting with his key men? Answer-because David is the king and he can do whatever he pleases. If he wants to slack off his work routine, no problem. He knows the peace and prosperity of the kingdom is due to his able leadership (apparently he has forgotten that all he has and is is from God’s benevolent hand). Take away-Get up early. Never sleep past 6 a.m. Do the hard and most important tasks first. Never be enamored with your position, money, or power. It can vanish quickly like the frost at noon day.

Red light number three. David walked around on the roof of his house. Is it too much to imagine that due to the height of a king’s palace, towering over other nearby buildings, that David had observed lurid scenes before? Again, David has too much time on his hands. He reminds me of prideful Nebuchadnezzar who is walking around on the roof of his palace and sees the vast city he has constructed and congratulates himself on his mighty accomplishments (Daniel 4:28-33). He suffers insanity for a season, as a consequence. Maybe David was looking for something. Maybe he had seen Bathsheba before. Take away-eschew pride. Resist it. Run from it. Resist also the fleshly impulse to look for the other woman at work, lingering at the break room, hanging out at her office, taking her to lunch or for a cup of coffee. Eschew brazen pride. It is a killer of men, their wives, and their children.

Red light number four. David saw a woman bathing. He also noticed that she was beautiful. It is one thing to see a beautiful woman and re-direct your eyes to the task at hand.. It is another thing to linger with your look. Take away-a lingering, lustful look may very well be what catapults you into the bed of destruction.

Red light number five. David sent for her. He could do that because he was the king, and people do what the king commands them to do. He saw her, lusted after her, and sent for her. Take away-all the prayer and praise, all the writing of the Psalms were no match for the pride of the king. He was going to do exactly what he wanted to do. All your Bible reading, all your prayer, all your meetings, all your profound and moving times with God are no match for your lust if you keep running red lights.

Red light number six. David was told that the woman is Bathsheba, the wife of another man, and by the way, not merely the wife of any man, but the wife of one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:39) Talk about treachery! At the very least, since Bathsheba was married to such a humble faithful servant of the king, surely David should have backed off. Take away-the more red lights you run, the easier it becomes to run the next one. You just don’t consider, at this point, that you are running rapidly to rapacious disaster.

Red light number seven. David sent messengers. He had already done that once. He sent them again. This time, however, it was not to inquire but to take. While they were on their way, David had a few minutes to think about what he was planning to do. He could have stopped. He could have contemplated how this would destroy his family and credibility in the kingdom, but after running seven red lights, he is gaining speed toward destruction. Take away-unchecked lustful passion will overpower sound thinking every time.

Red light number eight. She came to him. There was still time to call it off. Yes, there was this beautiful young woman, whom he had just seen naked, one for whom he was lusting mightily, but he could still have walked away, sent her home without touching her. Take away-men who commit adultery are like sheep being led to the slaughter. They may be powerful men in business, church, or government but they can be woefully weak in the presence of a beautiful woman.

Red light number nine. He lay with her. He did it. He committed adultery and now everything will change for David, Bathsheba, their respective families, and the kingdom. Take away-you never sin in a vacuum. Libertarianism is not the real world. Your actions do matter to your nation, community, church, and most of all, to your family. How many children have been emotionally and spiritually traumatized by the sexual sin of their parents.

Are you too close to someone other than your spouse? Run for your life. Flee to Jesus. Ask Him for mercy. Don’t be a fool. I promise you, you will regret your actions for the rest of your life. Can you be forgiven? Of course you can, and some of you have fallen into this sin and you know you are forgiven, been restored to your loving Saviour. But the consequences remain. They will never leave you in this life. Don’t go there.

THE FOLLY OF FAILING TO FILL THE HOLES by Al Baker

The Folly of Failing to Fill the Holes
BANNER OF TRUTH online
September 30, 2016
‘For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.’ – 2 Samuel 19:6

All men are tempted by the big three-women, children, and power. We see the big three and the damage they can do in the life of King David. We saw last week the folly of running red lights. God put before David at least nine ‘stop lights’ to keep him from his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba, but in his folly he went for it and brought devastating consequences upon his family and kingdom. Next week we will look at how men pridefully pursue power.

Men battle not just the folly of other women or the pursuit of power, but also the folly of failing to fill the holes they eventually see in their children. Take David’s dealings with his son Absalom as a sad example. I see at least seven holes in Absalom’s life upon which David failed to act.

Hole number one. Samuel tells us that David had many wives (2 Samuel 5:13) though he does not give us the exact number. Scripture records eight of them and one, Maacah, was the mother of Absalom (2 Samuel 3:3). Absalom was born long before David’s adultery with Bathsheba but David’s problems with women did not merely begin there. Absalom would have witnessed his father’s undisciplined life with many different women. Take away-your children are not stupid. They see what you are doing. They are watching your every move, how you get too close to women who are not their mother.

Hole number two. Half brother Ammon lusts after half sister Tamar (Absalom’s full sister) and rapes her. Absalom plots vengeance against Ammon, eventually murdering him. While justly angry at Ammon’s violating of his sister, Absalom’s fratricide was unjustified. David did nothing to stop Absalom. Take away-teach your children to appeal to God ordained authority to right the wrongs they see or experience. They must never gain the idea that vigilante justice is acceptable.

Hole number three. After discovering that Absalom had committed fratricide, David did nothing to discipline his son. The narrative of the text is now making clear that David favored Absalom over all his other children. He mourned the departure of Absalom and was glad that Ammon was now dead (2 Samuel 13:39). Take away-never play favorites with your children. Never allow them to engage in vengeful actions against anyone, especially their siblings.

Hole number four. David was conned by Joab, his nephew, the captain of David’s army. Joab sent a widow woman from Tekoa to set up David with a bogus story about one of her two son’s killing the other son, asking David to protect her son against retribution, something he agrees to do. She then draws the noose around David’s neck by challenging him for being inconsistent. If he would protect her son from retribution why would he not protect his own son and bring him back from exile? Take away-do not spare your children the discipline they need. Do not indulge them in their wickedness. Stop it early. It is much easier to discipline a three year old that a sixteen year old.

Hole number five. Absalom was a strikingly handsome man who lived a privileged life as the king’s favored son. The long story of Absalom (taking up seven chapters of 2 Samuel) reveals how David repeatedly coddled and indulged his son. After David foolishly recalled Absalom, though still requiring him to live away from the king, Absalom demanded that Joab visit him. When Joab was slow to answer, Absalom had Joab’s field burned, destroying his crop of barley. Joab caved. So did David, granting Absalom full access to his presence. Take away-failure to do the difficult business of discipline, leaving unchecked the undisciplined life, will lead inevitably to more and more outrageous demands and family disruption.

Hole number six. Daddy David allowed Absalom access to opulence. Though Absalom has a long history of irresponsible and reckless behavior, David still allows his favored son a chariot, horses, and a posse of fifty men. Second Samuel 15 reports that Absalom hung out daily with his posse at the gate, siding with the people as they came to present their cases before David, suggesting not too subtly that he would make a much better king than David. Thus Absalom stole the hearts of the people from the king. David seemed to not know how to form the word ‘No,’ on his lips as he spoke with Absalom. The favored son wanted to leave town for Hebron and David let him go. This, of course, is the time and place where Absalom raised the insurrection against his own father, usurping the kingdom from him. Take away-the grace of expanding freedom is fine when you are dealing with an obedient child; but when you have one who is serially disobedient, manipulative, and deceiving, you have no choice but to hem him in with the law. ‘No, you cannot go there. No you cannot have a car. No, you cannot wear that short dress.’

Hole number seven. We read in 2 Samuel 18,19 the story of Absalom eventually being killed in battle and the kingdom restored to David. However when David hears that his favored son, the one who has caused him untold heartache, is dead; David weeps profusely, uncontrollably, and unwisely. Joab severely rebukes David, suggesting that David would be happy if all his people and faithful leaders were dead, as long as his beloved Absalom was still alive. Take away-do not allow yourself to be blinded by your children’s rebellion. Behavior you would never approve in others, you may possibly allow in your children, perhaps because you are misguided, thinking that you are to be your child’s best buddy. Don’t go there. When law nor grace have worked and your rebellious older child is utterly disrupting your family life; in order to save the rest of your children and to maintain the peace in your family, you may have to remove the wayward child for a season from your home.

And last but certainly not least, you must never forget to pray for your children, asking God the Holy Spirit to take out the rebellious heart that loves sin and hates God, what I like to call the cobra heart (Psalm 58:4); and to give them the heart of Jesus in regenerating grace. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Pray for your children. Evangelize your children. Ask God to give them a new heart which loves God and hates sin.

BOOK REVIEW: GOOD & ANGRY by David Powlison

Book Review: Good and Angry
Sep 29, 2016 | Erik Raymond

Writing a book on anger would seem to be a recipe for trouble. After all, you are bound to make some people upset! Thankfully, David Powlison maintains a steady, faithful hand in his treatment of the subject in his new book, Good & Angry. The subtitle helps flesh this out a bit: redeeming anger, irritation, complaining, and bitterness. Certainly none of us could use any help in any of these areas . . . right? Powlison is known for his helpful and convicting books. Good & Angry does not let you down.

Perhaps when you see those two words next to each other they appear out-of-place. Good and angry? Here’s the gist. God demonstrates his anger (wrath). God is also perfectly holy and pure. Therefore, anger is not inherently bad. But so often we, as fallen creatures, get angry, and it is sinful. What gives? Powlison shows us that we have an anger problem. We get angry about things we shouldn’t and not get angry at the things that we should. Thankfully, God is remaking his people to be more like his Son Jesus. There is hope for people with an anger problem.

The book divides neatly into accessible bites. But I should hasten to add, these bites are not comfortable. Like a providential and sanctified rock in the shoe, Powlison makes us a bit uncomfortable before he helps to be comforted. The sections fall into a diagnostic into personal anger (section 1), a definition of anger (section 2), a path forward (section 3), and a look at some particularly hard cases of anger (section 4).

Powlison writes winsomely about an off-putting topic. He fills the book with Bible references and explanation. He also deftly deploys illustrations and stories that make his point. Another thing about Powlison that I’ve noticed in his other books as well: you trust him. As I read I feel like he cares about the topic at hand and the reader. He spends the time to think through how to apply the principles as well as carefully handle God’s Word. I suppose this trait could be an overflow of his counseling ministry. Whatever it is, it makes reading his books a real pleasure.

Three chapters I want to recommend include:

chapter 2: Do you have a serious problem with anger? This chapter basically shows that you don’t have to be a loud person to be an angry person.

chapter 9: Good and Angry? Here we are reminded that God can be both good and angry therefore we should be after it also.

chapter 13: Eight Questions: Taking your anger apart to put you back together. These are diagnostic questions to get at the root of our anger and then help to fix the problem biblically.
Finally, the book has a number of questions at the conclusion of each chapter as well as a regular reminder to take notes and write down questions. This would make this book helpful for personal reading and small group settings.

 

I FOUND THE GOSPEL IN COMMUNIST ROMANIA–AND THEN SHARED IT WITH THE MAN THE GOVERNMENT SENT TO KILL ME

I Found the Gospel in Communist Romania
And then I shared it with the man the government sent to kill me.
Virginia Prodan/ SEPTEMBER 23, 2016
Like most people, I was born with a hunger for truth and freedom. Unfortunately, I was born in Communist Romania under the brutal totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu’s Romania was a land of lies, where simply questioning a government directive could lead to imprisonment, physical torture, and—in some cases—death.

Needless to say, we lived in a constant state of anxiety and mistrust. Anyone could arbitrarily denounce a neighbor, classmate, or family member for making “anti-government” statements. The government even had spies planted in the churches. The best way to avoid trouble was to remain silent, question nothing, and try to blend in.

For years, I watched my parents and relatives play the part of “good citizens” while privately whispering their contempt for the government. I wondered, Why do people always speak in whispers? Why are they so afraid to speak the truth?

‘Do you go to church?’
The more fear battered those around me into silence, the more obsessed I became with finding the truth. After graduation, I went to law school and became an attorney. But my job—assigned by the government—consisted of little more than rubber-stamping newly-created communist rules and regulations. It was demoralizing.

One evening a client came in to discuss some paperwork related to a property settlement. We had been meeting for months now, and frankly, I was exhausted. But this particular client never seemed to get discouraged. He always smiled, and he had a sense of contentment unlike anything I had ever seen. It was as though he were somehow oblivious to all of the misery that surrounded him. He radiated joy and peace, and for some reason, it troubled me.

Without thinking, I confessed, “I wish I had what you have in your life. I wish I had your sense of peace and happiness.”

“Do you go to church?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “On Christmas and Easter. Why?”

“Would you like to come with me to my church this Sunday?”

My first instinct was to decline. After all, the communist government was notoriously anti-church. Under Ceausescu’s rule, Christians were frequently arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Church buildings were bulldozed, their land confiscated to make room for Ceausescu’s palace. Anyone who questioned his anti-God stance was either thrown in jail or “disappeared.” For all I knew, this could be a trick to test my loyalty. I paused briefly to consider my next move. Then I saw once again that look of peace and contentment. I wanted that—so much so that I decided it was worth the risk.

Training and Support for Your Ministry
The next Sunday I visited his church. As soon as the choir finished the opening song, the pastor read John 14:6—“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I could not believe what I heard. Someone was claiming to be the truth?

As the pastor continued to describe the truth of Jesus Christ, I felt as though the verses he shared were written specifically for me. Looking across the aisle, I saw my client. He smiled, nodded, and gently patted his Bible as if to say, “Now do you understand?”

I did. Without realizing it, I was beaming back at him. For the first time in my life, everything made sense. I had spent years searching for the truth, but I had been looking in the wrong places—law school, the government, the justice system. I suddenly realized that truth was something that came not from law books, but from God himself: the Creator of the universe—my Creator, the source of all life, peace, and happiness.

Barely able to contain my excitement, I accepted the pastor’s invitation to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. From that moment on, I would dedicate my life to pursuing and speaking the truth, no matter the cost.

My Greatest Test
Shortly after I was baptized, I began defending fellow Christians facing imprisonment for transporting Bibles across the Romanian border, sharing their faith, or worshiping privately in their own homes.

This quickly made me a target. Many days I awoke to find my tires slashed. Clients and friends—even my children—were threatened. My daughters and I were held under house arrest for almost a month. I was kidnapped, bullied, pushed into moving traffic, and beaten by the secret police. For their own protection, friends and coworkers began keeping their distance. My faith was tested daily. My greatest test, however, was yet to come.

Late at night, after a long day in court, Miruna, my legal assistant, peeked into my doorway: “A big man in the waiting room says he wants to discuss a case.” She shrugged. “That’s all he will tell me.”

I was taken aback at how enormous he was. As he sat down in front of my desk, his eyes seemed to bore a hole straight through me, and a sneer formed at the corner of his mouth. Slowly, he pulled back his coat and reached into a shoulder holster, withdrawing a gun.

“You have failed to heed the warnings you’ve been given,” he said, aiming at me. “I’ve come here to finish the matter once and for all.” He flexed his fingers, and I heard a distinctive click.

Advent Devotions for Your Church!
“I am here to kill you.”

My hands shook. Fight-or-flight instincts pinged in my brain. My chin trembled. An image flashed through my mind: my assistant arriving in the morning and finding my lifeless body on the office floor.

I was alone with my killer. And yet, I was not. I began silent, fervent prayers, recalling God’s promises. His Spirit breathed peace into my panicked heart. Then I sensed his message: Share the gospel.

I considered the man before me. Behind those hate-filled eyes was a creation of God. He had an immortal soul, and he needed to know about the love God has shown in Jesus Christ. At once emboldened, I met my killer’s eyes. “Have you ever asked yourself: ‘Why do I exist?’ or ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘What is the meaning of my life?’ I once asked myself those questions.” My voice stayed calm and did not waver.

He slid his gun back into the holster. I leaned forward. “You are here because God put you here, and he has put you to a test. Will you abide in God or in the will of a man—your boss, President Ceausescu, who requires you to worship him? God has given you free will to choose.”

His eyes softened. My heart thumped even faster, and my confidence rose.

“The truth is that we have all been corrupted and gone away from God.” He nodded. “We all are sinners, and our sin has determined our future. Hebrews 9:27 says, ‘People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.’ ”

His mouth fell slightly open, and his hands relaxed.

“But the good news is that God has prepared a way out for every one of us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ ”

As I continued to talk with him, he appeared smaller and more peaceful.

Finally, he brought his hand to his forehead and said, “You are right. The people who sent me here are crazy. I do need Christ.” He promised, “I will come to your church as a secret brother in Christ. I will worship your powerful God.”

And with that, my killer walked away saved—a brother in Christ. He went on to enroll in seminary, and we have even kept in touch. He, like me, had found the Truth. And neither of us will be afraid to speak it ever again.

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Virginia Prodan is an international human rights attorney, and an Allied Attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom. She is the author of Saving My Assassin (Tyndale).

SUPREME IMPORTANCE WITHOUT SWOLLEN HEADS

Supreme Importance Without Swollen Heads
Sep 30, 2016 | Kevin DeYoung

An insightful word from the British physician and brilliant essayist Theodore Dalrymple (a pseudonym):

No doubt the decline of religion accounts for the rise in self-obsession and self-importance that is everywhere observable. One of the great advantages of the Christian philosophy was that it managed to reconcile the unique importance of each man with humility. Every man was important in the eyes of God, and in that sense was at homes in the universe because the universe was expressly created for being such as he. His every action was known to God, and was therefore not without significance, however ordinary in other respects it might be; moreover, death itself was not without meaning, nor was it the end of his existence.

Yet, by comparison with the author of his being, he was infinitely small, as indeed was every other human being. However scholarly a man might be, God, being omniscient, was infinitely more knowledgeable; howsoever powerful a man might believe himself, it was finally God who disposed, so that all human power was both illusory and transitory. In the midst of life we are in death, the funeral service of the Church of England puts it; and it might have added, in the midst of importance we are insignificant.

I am not here concerned with whether this outlook is philosophically justified: with whether God exists, and if He does, with whether he is more interested in our doings and more solicitous of our welfare than He is with those of an ant, for example. All I am concerned to point out is that the religious outlook referred to above manages the difficult feat of assuring a man of his supreme importance without giving him a swollen head. (The New Vichy Syndrome, p. 63)

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Sadly, I fear we Christians are quite adept at subverting our own biblical anthropology in favor of the same self-obsession bedeviling this age of social media. And yet, we have the resources at our disposal to embrace a happier way of life, by recalling what the Bible would have us not forget: in the midst of importance we are insignificant.

HOW TO PRAY A PSALM

How to Pray a Psalm
Sep 29, 2016 | Justin Taylor
A practical illustration from Don Whitney’s little book, Praying the Bible, using Psalm 23:

You read the first verse—“The Lord is my shepherd”—and you pray something like this:

Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us.

And you continue praying anything else that comes to mind as you consider the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Then when nothing else comes to mind, you go to the next line: “I shall not want.” And perhaps you pray:

Lord, I thank you that I’ve never really been in want. I haven’t missed too many meals. All that I am and all that I have has come from you. But I know it pleases you that I bring my desires to you, so would you provide the finances that we need for those bills, for school, for that car?

Maybe you know someone who is in want, and you pray for God’s provision for him or her. Or you remember some of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and you pray for their concerns.

After you’ve finished, you look at the next verse: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2a). And, frankly, when you read the words “lie down,” maybe what comes to mind is simply, “Lord, I would be grateful if you would make it possible for me to lie down and take a nap today.”2

Possibly the term “green pastures” makes you think of the feeding of God’s flock in the green pastures of his Word, and it prompts you to pray for a Bible teaching ministry you lead, or for a teacher or pastor who feeds you with the Word of God. When was the last time you did that? Maybe you have never done that, but praying through this psalm caused you to do so.

Next you read, “He leads me beside still waters” (v. 2b). And maybe you begin to plead,

Yes, Lord, do lead me in that decision I have to make about my future. I want to do what you want, O Lord, but I don’t know what that is. Please lead me into your will in this matter. And lead me beside still waters in this. Please quiet the anxious waters in my soul about this situation. Let me experience your peace. May the turbulence in my heart be stilled by trust in you and your sovereignty over all things and over all people.

Following that, you read these words from verse 3, “He restores my soul.” That prompts you to pray along the lines of:

My Shepherd, I come to you so spiritually dry today. Please restore my soul; restore to me the joy of your salvation. And I pray you will restore the soul of that person from work/school/down the street with whom I’m hoping to share the gospel. Please restore his soul from darkness to light, from death to life.

You can continue praying in this way until either (1) you run out of time, or (2) you run out of psalm. And if you run out of psalm before you run out of time, you simply turn the page and go to another psalm. By so doing, you never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, you never again say the same old things about the same old things.

So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers.

A PURITAN APPROACH TO CHURCH HISTORY (CHRISTOPHER NESS–1621-1705)

A Puritan Approach to History: Christopher Ness (1621-1705)
Posted by Bob McKelvey on Sep 29, 2016 at MEET THE PURITANS

Christians with even a little knowledge of church history are likely aware of Augustine’s famous work, The City of God. In it, he presents his philosophy of history as he views God moving everything from creation to consummation while in cosmic warfare with Satan. Within this universal history exist two kingdoms, of God and this world. The City of God exists as the Christ’s kingdom driven by the love of God. The City of this World comprises the remainder of the world under the rule of Satan and driven by the love of self. This society of pilgrims from all peoples exists side–by–side with the multitudes until the end of the world when Christ returns.

Less well known, if at all, is the writing of English Nonconformist Christopher Ness (1621-1705) who published a Compleat and Compendius Church History (1680). Like Augustine, he conveys the same sense of universal history and cosmic conflict fought between God and Satan. In his dedication to the Lord Mayor Robert Clayton of London, Ness presents his thesis as he seeks to unfold a treatise of:
GOD wageing War against the DEVIL, from the Beginning of the World to the End thereof, and God all along (as is meet) Obtaining the VICTORY: ‘Tis a pleasant Spectacle to behold Christ and Antichrist contending for Mastery: To be an Universal HISTORIAN, (as I presume your Lordship to be) is the most Effectual Means to make Wise for both Worlds.

The full title of the work explains much about its contents, as lengthy Puritan titles often did: A Compleat and Compendious Church-History: Shewing how it hath been from the beginning of the world to this present day: being an historical-narrative how the power and providence of God, according to his promise, hath hitherto confounded all the damnable plots of the Devil.

Ness tells us that the evil plotting in this world stems from the inward cause of enmity promised in Genesis 3:15 and the outward cause of the devil, “the Malignant Adversary of Mankind” and father of all the wicked. Such continual and wrathful enmity cannot thwart the triumph of the church, which “hath lost (now and then) a Battel, but never a War.” Of all the weapons possessed by the wicked, none “shall prosper” and the gates of Hell “though in a Combination of all its power and pollicy” shall not prevail against the church which “is Invincible, and can never be Demolished either by Angry Men or Enraged Devils.”

Ness unfolds the work setting forth the devil’s schemes against the church and how God providentially from Adam to the “Popish-plot” against the sixteenth-century Reformation gained the victory faithful to biblical prophecies and promises. In this manner, he conveys agreement with Marian exile, John Foxe (1516–1587), whose philosophy of history manifests itself in Christus Triumphans (1556) and Actes and Monuments (1579). Foxe reflects the historiography of fellow Marian exile, John Bale (1495–1563) and Lutheran Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520–75). Similarities to Ness are also seen in French Catholic Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) who published his Discourse on Universal History the year after him (French, 1681; English, 1686).

Ness ends his Church History with a prophecy from the book of Revelation “shewing how the Church shall be Preserved to the End of the World.” In it, he does not identify a personal Antichrist but a multinational and conglomerate one. This included all that is politically and ecclesiastically antichristian including the church of Rome as the Western Antichrist and Islam as the Eastern Antichrist. With hope in the millennium to come, Ness maintains the gradual rise and overthrow of Antichrist, the latter of which will occur at the hands of kings and according to the vial judgments of Revelation 16. Such thinking reinforces A Discovery of the Person and Period of Antichrist, published the previous year (1679) by Ness.

Ness knew the universal conflict of which he wrote personally. A Cambridge grad and preacher (at Yorkshire then Leeds), he was eventually removed under the Great Ejection of 1662, was later excommunicated on several occasions, and once faced a warrant for his arrest for illegal printing. He was able to continue preaching in different contexts but not without difficulty and at times even in hiding. Yet, he remained faithful in his own battle to the end, eventually buried (1705) in Bunhill fields alongside notable fellow Puritans as Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, and John Bunyan.

The church today needs a sense of universal history and of fighting within a cosmic conflict. Let us take hope that God moves all things to their final end, that no scheme of Satan will stop Christ from building his church, and that we may lose some battles but win the war triumphant in Christ.