Now let us see what is meant by God’s promises. A promise is different from a fact. Promise is related to the future, while fact is related to the past. Promise is something to be done, while fact is something already done. Promise means that God will do something for man, while fact means that God has already done something for man. Promise means if you do such and such, then I will do such and such. Fact means that God loves us and, knowing our impotence, has accomplished something for us. Many of the promises are conditional. If we fulfill the conditions, we shall receive what has been promised. Facts do not require our supplication. We only need to see that the facts are facts and believe them as such.
Some examples will help to show the difference between promise and fact. For example, the Lord Jesus comforted the disciples by saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me…for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you to Myself” (John 14:1-3). This is a promise. It became a fact when the Lord came again as the Spirit.
Later, the Lord told the disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). This is a promise. This promise became a fact on the day of the Lord’s resurrection when He breathed into His disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:19-22).
Again, the Lord Jesus told His disciples, “And behold, I send forth the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). This is a promise within a promise. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2:1-4). At that time this promise became a fact. However, this promise was conditional; that is, the disciples had to tarry in the city.
Let us use another illustration to show the difference between promise and fact. Suppose A and B were friends. A became sick and unable to work; neither did he have money to buy the things which he needed. B loved A and told him, “Tomorrow morning I will come to do your work and bring you some money to buy the things you need.” This was B’s promise to A. The next morning B did come to A’s house to do the work and also to give him some money to buy the things he needed. This means that B’s promise to A has become a fact. If A believed B’s promise, that is, if he believed B’s word to be reliable, he would have hope and rest from the day the promise was given, and on the following day he would have the practical enjoyment of it.
Principles concerning the Promises of God
God’s Word shows us several principles concerning His promises. Here are some examples:
(1) “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:2-3). This promise is conditional. Not everyone will be well and live long; only those who honor their parents will be well and live long. If a person does not fulfill the condition mentioned here, he will not receive the promised blessing of well-being and long life.
(2) “Now, O Lord God, let thy promise unto David my father be established” (2 Chron. 1:9). The word “established” may also be rendered “fulfilled.” This means that we need to ask God to fulfill His promise; that is, the promise requires prayer in order that it may be fulfilled (cf. 1 Kings 8:56).
(3) “After the number of the days in which ye spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my alienation [margin, the revoking of my promise]” (Num. 14:34). This means that if a man is unfaithful towards God’s promise and does not fulfill the conditions accompanying it, the promise may be revoked. For example, of all the children of Israel who came out of Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua entered into Canaan. The rest died in the wilderness (Num. 26:65). This shows that God revoked His promise to those unfaithful ones. As for Jacob and Joseph, although they died in Egypt, they were buried in Canaan. Because they were faithful to God even unto death, God did not revoke His promise (Gen. 46:3-4; 49:29-32; 50:12-13, 24-25; Josh. 24:32).
(4) “For not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be the heir of the world, but through the righteousness of faith. For if the heirs are of the law, faith has been made void, and the promise made of none effect” (Rom. 4:13-14). This means that if a man apart from God acts by the strength of his flesh or adds something to the promise, it is possible that the promise may become of none effect.
(5) “And these all, having obtained testimony through their faith, did not obtain the promise, God having in view something better concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39-40). And, “For you have need of endurance in order that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:36). This means that we must endure until a certain time, and then we will obtain what God has promised.
From these Scriptures we see the following four principles concerning God’s promises: (1) God’s promise requires our prayer that it may be fulfilled; (2) If God’s promise is conditional, man must fulfill His condition in order to obtain the promise; otherwise, the promise may be revoked; (3) If, apart from God’s promise, man uses the strength of his flesh to act or to add something, the promise may become of none effect; (4) God’s promises are fulfilled in God’s time. ( The New Covenant, pp. 13-16)