Tag Archive for 'Providence'

What Providence Isn’t

This is a repost from a little over a year ago. I’ve shortened one quote and added another by John Owen that I recently read.

Providence is that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator upholds all his creatures, is operative in all that transpires in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.

–D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Martin Lloyd-Jones writes about what providence is not at the beginning of a chapter on Providence from the book Great Doctrines of the Bible. I’m going to attempt to summarize his brief warnings, and hopefully won’t confuse the matter.

there are people who claim special providences in their own personal lives. ‘It is most amazing,’ they say. ‘Do you know, this is what has happened to me …’—and they describe to you how certain things seem to have been arranged particularly in order to suit their special circumstances! And then, when you tell them that they cannot say things like that, they resent the whole doctrine of providence.

I’m going to bluntly postulate that this is self-centered extra-Biblical guesswork.

He never really seemed to explain just what he meant until the end (somewhat):

Be careful—it is a warning! Always be careful in your application of any particular event. Let me explain: whenever anything good happens to us or to our country we are all very ready, are we not, to say that it was undoubtedly an act of God—the providence of God. I have explained what the doctrine of providence teaches, but I would warn you that it is dangerous to particularise about any particular thing. … In 1934 German Christians—and very fine Christians among them—issued this statement: ‘We are full of thanks to God that He as Lord of history has given us Adolf Hitler, our leader and our saviour from our difficult lot. We acknowledge that we, with body and soul, are bound and dedicated to the German State and to its Führer. This bondage and duty contains for us as Evangelical Christians its deepest and most holy significance in its obedience to the command of God.’ That surely makes us think, does it not? …

Now those people were absolutely sincere; they were absolutely genuine. They were evangelical Christians, and they believed that! So I think you will agree that we must be a little cautious when we come to make particular claims. … Let us be judicious and cautious, and have a great concern for the glory and the name of God when we claim any particular event as an instance of His special providence either with regard to us or our country.

God orders things in his way for his people mainly for the purpose of our continuation in salvation. We have to be cautious in trying to determine what he’s doing and why. The same goes for affliction. We can usually only go by what the Bible says–that it’s for our continued perseverance, perfection, righteousness (Hebrews 12:4-11, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7). God doesn’t normally indicate to us what he’s ‘teaching’ us if it’s not a consequence of sin. Nor can we usually tell exactly what he’s doing as he orders his web of a multitude of things far greater than we can ever imagine.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
Ephesians 1:11

If this is confusing, reading the whole chapter online may help. It’s one of the better treatments I’ve read on the subject.

Extra Credit:

In a clock, stop but one wheel and you stop every wheel, because they are dependent upon one other. So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.

–Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

John Owen expounds on Zophar speaking to Job in Job 11:12 in Walking Humbly With God:

“Vain man would know the secrets of the counsels of God, the reason of his ways; but, in his attempts after it, he is as an ass, as a wild ass, as the colt of a wild ass;”

Not just an ass (donkey), not just a wild ass, but the colt of a wild ass. That’s pretty emphatic.

Great Doctrines of the Bible by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

What Providence Isn’t

Providence is that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator upholds all his creatures, is operative in all that transpires in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.

–D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Martin Lloyd-Jones writes about what providence is not at the beginning of a chapter on Providence from the book Great Doctrines of the Bible. I’m going to attempt to summarize his brief warnings, and hopefully won’t confuse the matter.

there are people who claim special providences in their own personal lives. ‘It is most amazing,’ they say. ‘Do you know, this is what has happened to me …’—and they describe to you how certain things seem to have been arranged particularly in order to suit their special circumstances! And then, when you tell them that they cannot say things like that, they resent the whole doctrine of providence.

I’m going to bluntly postulate that this is self-centered extra-Biblical guesswork.

He never really seemed to explain just what he meant until the end (somewhat):

Be careful—it is a warning! Always be careful in your application of any particular event. Let me explain: whenever anything good happens to us or to our country we are all very ready, are we not, to say that it was undoubtedly an act of God—the providence of God. I have explained what the doctrine of providence teaches, but I would warn you that it is dangerous to particularise about any particular thing. … In 1934 German Christians—and very fine Christians among them—issued this statement: ‘We are full of thanks to God that He as Lord of history has given us Adolf Hitler, our leader and our saviour from our difficult lot. We acknowledge that we, with body and soul, are bound and dedicated to the German State and to its Führer. This bondage and duty contains for us as Evangelical Christians its deepest and most holy significance in its obedience to the command of God.’ That surely makes us think, does it not? Here is another declaration of theirs in 1933: ‘This turn of history,’ they said, referring to Hitler’s coming into power, ‘we say God has given him to us, to God be the glory. As bound to God’s word we recognise in the great events of our day a new commission of God to His Church.’

Now those people were absolutely sincere; they were absolutely genuine. They were evangelical Christians, and they believed that! So I think you will agree that we must be a little cautious when we come to make particular claims. … Let us be very careful lest we bring God and His cause into disrepute by unwise and injudicious claims. … My point, then, is this: the doctrine is plain and clear, but let us be judicious and cautious, and have a great concern for the glory and the name of God when we claim any particular event as an instance of His special providence either with regard to us or our country.

God orders things in his way for his people mainly for the purpose of our continuation in salvation. We have to be cautious in trying to determine what he’s doing and why. The same goes for affliction. We can usually only go by what the Bible says–that it’s for our continued perseverance, perfection, righteousness (Hebrews 12:4-11, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-7). God doesn’t normally indicate to us what he’s ‘teaching’ us if it’s not a consequence of sin. Nor can we usually tell exactly what he’s doing as he orders his web of a multitude of things far greater than we can ever imagine.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
Ephesians 1:11

If this is confusing, reading the whole chapter online may help. It’s one of the better treatments I’ve read on the subject.

Extra Credit:

In a clock, stop but one wheel and you stop every wheel, because they are dependent upon one other. So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.

–Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Great Doctrines of the Bible by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Happy Are They Who Submit to the Appointments of Their Maker!

How highly does it become us, both as creatures and as sinners, to submit to the appointments of our Maker! and how necessary is it to our peace!

This great attainment is too often unthought of and overlooked; we are prone to fix our attention upon the second causes and immediate instruments of events; forgetting whatever befalls us is according to His purpose, and therefore must be right and seasonable in itself, and shall in the issue be productive of good.

From hence arise impatience, resentment, and secret repinings, which are not only sinful but tormenting; whereas if all things are in His hand, if the very hairs of our head are numbered, if every event, great and small are under the direction of his providence and purpose; and if he has a wise, holy, and gracious end in view, to which everything that happens is subordinate and subservient; then we have nothing to do, but with patience and humility to follow as He leads, and cheerfully to expect a happy issue.

The path of present duty is marked out; and the concerns of the next and every succeeding hour are in His hands.

How happy are they who can resign all to Him, see His hands in every dispensation, and believe that He chooses better for them then they possibly could for themselves!

—-John Newton (who wrote Amazing Grace)

This is the entirety of Happy Are They Who Submit to the Appointments of Their Maker! | Monergism

Earth

Mystery of Providence and Prayer

Mystery of Providence by John Flavel is comprised of three parts:

  1. The Evidence of Providence
  2. Meditation on the Providence of God
  3. Application of the Doctrine of Providence

I had a hard time with the first two sections of this book. Not because it was hard to understand, but just because he listed a bunch of stuff as to what various ‘providences’ are, and how important it is to meditate on them, and again listing a bunch of them and reasons why we should. Since this is my first whole Puritan book, I was disappointed at this point to say the least. Has anyone else felt this way?

But then came section 3. What’s quoted below is a brilliant treatise on asking for things in prayer and waiting for them. What things to ask for; what things to wait for. What things are in God’s will and what things aren’t. It’s not that it was all new–I will write about waiting on God in another post using Proverbs 2 as an example and providence has been a favorite subject of mine for quite some time, it’s just that it’s such a complete and cogent treatment of this subject, so encouraging and so educational that I want to quote part of it. The problem I have is when to end it! So I just picked a place and stopped it where I did. If this subject matter is of interest to you, I’d highly recommend it. I don’t agree with everything he says later on, but what do I know.

You can find it free online or the paperback is $10, a $5 edition (I’m not sure if they’re different) or Kindle is $0.99.

I especially like how he says that we promise things for ourselves and then blame God when we don’t get them.

I have included some information about the book and author below. I’m not sure who wrote the description.

I look forward to reading more Puritan books in the near future.

Though Providence does not yet perform the mercies you wait for, yet you have no ground to entertain hard thoughts of God, for it is possible God never gave you any ground for your expectation of these things from Him.

It may be you have no promise to build your hope upon, and if so, why shall God be suspected and dishonored by you in a case in which His truth and faithfulness was never engaged to you? If we are thwarted in our outward concerns, and see our expectations of prosperity dashed, if we see such and such an outward comfort removed, from which we promised ourselves much, why must God be blamed for this? These things you promised yourselves, but where did God promise you prosperity and the continuance of those comfortable things to you? Produce His promise, and show where He has broken it. It is not enough for you to say there are general promises in the Scripture, that God will withhold no good thing, and these are good things which Providence withholds from you; for that promise (Psalm 84:11) has its limitations, it is expressly limited to such as ‘walk uprightly.’ It concerns you to examine whether you have done so, before you quarrel with Providence for non-performance of it. Ah, friend, search your own heart, reflect upon your own ways. Do you not see so many flaws in your integrity, so many turnings aside from God, both in heart and life, that may justify God, not only in withholding what you look for, but in removing all that you enjoy? And besides this limitation as to the object, it is limited (as all other promises relating to externals are) in the matter or things premised by the wisdom and will of God, which is the only rule by which they are measured out to men in this world, that is, such mercies in such proportions as He sees needful and most conducive to your good; and these given out in such times and seasons as are of His own appointment, not yours.

God never came under an absolute unlimited tie for outward comforts to any of us, and if we are disappointed, we can blame none but ourselves. Who bid us expect rest, ease, delight, and things of that kind in this world? He has never told us we shall be rich, healthy, and at ease in our habitations, but on the contrary, He has often told us we must expect troubles in the world (John 16:33), and that we must ‘through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22). All that He stands bound to us by promise for is to be with us in trouble (Psalm 91:15), to supply our real and absolute needs. ‘When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them’ (Isaiah 41:17); and to sanctify all these providences to our good at last. ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). And as to all these things, not one tittle ever did or shall fail.

If you say you have long waited upon God for spiritual mercies to your souls according to the promise, and still those mercies are deferred, and your eyes fail while you look for them, I would desire you seriously to consider of what kind those spiritual mercies are for which you have so long waited upon God.

Spiritual mercies are of two sorts: such as belong to the essence, the very being of the new creature, without which it must fail, or to its well-being and the comfort of the inner man, without which you cannot live so cheerfully as you would. The mercies of the former kind are absolutely necessary, and therefore put into absolute promises, as you see, ‘And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me’ (Jeremiah 32:40). But for the rest they are dispensed to us in such measures and at such seasons as the Lord sees fit, and many of His own people live for a long time without them. The donation and continuation of the Spirit, to quicken, sanctify, and unite us with Christ, is necessary, but His joys and comforts are not so. A child of light may walk ‘in darkness’ (Isaiah 50:10). He lives by faith, and not by feeling.

You complain that Providence delays to perform to you the mercies you have prayed and waited for, but have you right ends in your desires after these mercies?

It may be that this is the cause you ask and receive not (James 4:3). The lack of a good aim is the reason why we lack good success in our prayers. It may be we pray for prosperity, and our aim is to please the flesh. We look no higher than the pleasure and accommodation of the flesh. We beg and wait for deliverance from such a trouble and affliction, not that we might be the more ready and prepared for obedience, but freed of what is grievous to us and destroys our pleasure in the world. Certainly, if it is so, you have more need to judge and condemn yourselves, than to censure and suspect the care of God.

You wait for good, and it does not come; but is your will brought to a due submission to the will of God about it?

Certainly, God will have you come to this before you enjoy your desires. Enjoyment of your desires is the thing that will please you, but resignation of your wills is that which is pleasing to God. If your hearts cannot come to this, mercies cannot come to you. David was made to wait long for the mercy promised him, yea, and to be content without it before he enjoyed it. He was brought to he ‘as a weaned child’ (Psalm 131:2), and so must you.

Your betters have waited long upon God for mercy, and why should not you?

David waited till his ‘eyes failed’ (Psalm 69:3). The Church waited for Him in the way of His judgments (Isaiah 26:8). Are you better than all the saints that are gone before you? Is God more obliged to you than to all His people? They have quietly waited, and why should not you?

Will you lose anything by patient waiting upon God for mercies?

Certainly not!

The “Mystery of Providence” by John Flavel presents the Puritan perspective on the providence of God in practical terms. The book is really a lengthy meditation and application of Psalm 52:7, which says “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.” From this text, Flavel derives his “doctrine” (falling in line with typical Puritan sermon-structure): “It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them in all the states and through all the stages of their lives.” This theme is then unfolded in in a three-part treatise, covering 1. The Evidence of Providence, in which Flavel seeks to prove and demonstrate the reality of God’s Providential care over the lives of believers by looking at such things as birth, upbringing, conversion, employment, family affairs, preservation from evil, and sanctification; 2. Meditation on the Providence of God, where the author shows that it is our duty to meditate on Providence, directs in how to do this, and then covers ten advantage to gained from this practice; and 3. Application of the Doctrine of Providence, in which the practical implications of the doctrine are considered and the problems and questions arising in peoples minds are answered. Though not as witty or colorful as Thomas Brooks, as astute as Stephen Charnock, or as experiential as John Owen, Flavel does have merits to commend him. Having lived a difficult life, he knew firsthand how to rely on God’s sovereignty in his life. Flavel’s work cultivates a greater awareness of God’s mercy, trust in God’s wisdom, and resignation to God’s will in one’s life. Highly recommended.

About the Author

John Flavel (1627–1691) was an English Presbyterian clergyman. Flavel was born at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire and studied at Oxford. A Presbyterian, he held livings at Diptford (in Devon) and Dartmouth. He was ejected from the latter as a result of the Great Ejection of 1662; however, he continued to preach there secretly. After the Declaration of Indulgence 1687, became a minister of a Nonconformist Church there. He was a prolific and popular author. Among his works are The Mystery of Providence (1678), Husbandry Spiritualised (1669) and Navigation Spiritualised (1671), The Seamon’s Companion (1676), titles which suggest some of his characteristics as a writer. He died at Exeter, Devonshire, on 26 June 1691. Flavel is commemorated in the name of Flavel Road on Bromsgrove’s Charford Estate.

God is Glorified in Everything

Reformed Alert

God is in control. Most Christians believe that. We praise God for when he delivers us from something bad happening. (Or when an athlete wins the competition). “Praise God”. God gets the glory. But so often God is ignored when bad things happen, as if he didn’t have a thing to do with it. Or the people who weren’t shot talk about how God’s angels were there to protect them. So how do the one who were injured or killed or their loved ones feel about that? It’s as if God is the cleanup guy, as if Romans 8:28 is the only Scripture that applies. But God has plans (Genesis 50:20). He doesn’t author evil, but he has planned everything to work for his glory, for our good (Romans 8:28-29), because he is good (Nahum 1:7), just as he is love (1 John 4:16), and Spirit and everything else. We say we give God [all of] the glory, but so many of us don’t when bad things happen.

It has taken a lot of suffering, along with a change in theology I’ll admit, for me to come to believe this, and yet I’m still not the best at articulating or understanding the doctrinal (teachings) aspects of it. (See the links below.) Some won’t go that far doctrinally and none of us will fully comprehend how or why God works this way (Isaiah 55:8-9) until we’re with God face to face. But what a great thing to know that God has a plan and a purpose for everything. For us who do believe God is that sovereign and his providence works to that degree, let’s remember to give God the glory in all things.

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.
Ecclesiastes 7:14

Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
Lamentations 3:37-38 [deals more specifically with punishment of Israel]

The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
Exodus 4:11

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
John 9:1-3

In all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:11c NIV

Also see:
Is God Always in Control?
God’s Providence by James Montgomery Boice

when we get to heaven we shall see the right side of God’s dealings; and when we do we shall say., “Lord, how wonderful are thy works: in wisdom thou hast made them all: glorious are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.” You have been puzzled sometimes to think why that friend was brought into the grave. You have said, Why was I made sick at such a time? Why that trouble and that calamity? That is no business of yours. It is yours to believe that all things work together for one great purpose: that one thing never crosses another. But you must not expect to see it so just yet. Here on earth the machine appears to be broken into pieces, and we can only see it in confusion: but in heaven we shall see it all put together.

–C. H. SPURGEON, God’s Providence, A Sermon Published on Thursday, October 15th, 1908

The Providence Treatise

While I don’t think that declarations and treaties accomplish much of anything, here is one that is interesting and contains a response to the Manhattan Declaration within it:
The Providence Treatise

Contentment and Provision

John MacArthur at Pulpit Magazine is writing a series on Contentment based on Philippians 4:11-12.

In addition to that I’d like to mention that I always used to have Philippians 4:13 memorized without thinking about the context of the two verses before it.

Philippians 4:11-13
Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Jesus did say, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) But I think we need to keep Philippians 4:13 in context. All things is referring to being content in every condition of life. This includes being content in prosperity without being proud, greedy, hungering for more etc.

Then in 4:19 he says, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (emphasis added) Our perception of our needs and what our needs really are may not line up. But He will supply our true needs and we can learn to be content in them through Him who gives us strength.