James Chalmers, a Scottish-born Presbyterian missionary, sailed for the South Pacific under the London Missionary Society in 1866. During his thirty-five years of service on the frontiers he lost two wives, but the grief only moved him to greater dedication. He vowed to bury his sorrow in work for Christ. In the spring of 1901, he and Oliver Tomkins were on an exploratory trip along the coast of New Guinea in the Fly River region. The two went ashore and when they did not return a search party went in and came out with the news. Chalmers and Tomkins had been clubbed to death, chopped into pieces, cooked and eaten before the search party even arrived.
What then does Psalm 91:7-12 mean?
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you…Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Could it be that James Chalmers and Oliver Tomkins lacked faith in this promise? No! Hebrews 11:33-35 tell of saints who through faith “escaped the sword,” but verses 36-38 tell of saints who through faith “were killed with the sword.”
Could it be that this promise of safety only applied in Old Testament days but not any more? No! Psalm 44:22 shrieks, “Nay, for thy sake we are slain all day long, and counted as sheep for the slaughter.” Even in Old Testament days the promise seemed vain.
Could it be that Psalm 91 is a prophecy of the Messiah and will only apply to him? Perhaps Messiah will escape the sword? No! Satan tried this on Jesus in the wilderness. He quoted this very Psalm, urging Jesus to claim this promise for himself. Jesus refused and joined the “ten thousand who fall” (v. 7).
What then? I think Jesus is teaching us that promises like Psalm 91 mean this: No ill befalls the saints but what God’s love permits, and even this “ill” will not conquer them. Paul asks, “Shall peril or sword separate us from the love of Christ?” And answers, “No! In all these we are more than conquerors!” The Psalmists proclaimed absolute safety to the saints not because they were naïve, but because under the impulse of the Holy Spirit they felt an indomitable hope that God rules and cares for his people. Evil simply can’t befall them! If it seems to, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put two Psalms together like this:
Psalm 44:22 – "For thy sake we are slain all day long."
Psalm 34:19 – "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."
And didn’t Jesus talk to his disciples just like this?
Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”
Is fear holding you back from a venture with God? Fear not! No final evil can befall you! James Chalmers and Oliver Tomkins are more than conquerors through him who loved them.
With you in the shadow of the Almighty,