A Certain Providence

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As we begin a new day, uncertain of when lockdown will be eased, uncertain about the school year, uncertain when you can go back to work, uncertain about your paycheque, uncertain about your health, uncertain when the church will gather and what that will look like, let me provide a word of certainty: God is at work. And as Anton recently reminded us, brother and sister, you’ll be okay.

I know you know that but, if you are like me, you need the reminder. Martin Luther once commented that, for the reformation of the church to be lasting, we must “beat the gospel into our heads.” So Luther-like! And he was right. How prone we are to forget, not only the gospel, but also the implications of the gospel. Implications such as the truth that God loves his elect and that our destiny is the inheritance of Christ and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3–5; Romans 8:28–39). Our heavenly Father is indeed working all things in accordance with his will for our good unto his glory. This biblical certainty has emboldened saints through the ages, in times both asdifficult and in times far more difficult than ours. Even the often acutely depressed William Cowper could take comfort that “behind a frowning providence, [God] hides a smiling face” (from his hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”). Amen and amen!

When Christians speak of “providence” we are using a word that means “to see beforehand.” One of the earliest appearances of God’s mysterious foresight is in the story of Abraham and Isaac. When Abraham brought the sharp blade to his only son’s throat—his beloved son—God stopped him, showed him a ram caught in the thicket, and instructed him to offer this substitute in Isaac’s place (Genesis 22:9–13). Talk about a gospel picture!

Abraham responded, “The Lord will provide,” or “Yahweh Jireh.” The Lord “saw” what was needed and he provided. He saw all this before there was a thicket, before there was a ram, before there was a mountain. God “saw” and made a plan for this before he spoke, “Let there be light.” For, you see, before the foundation of the world, our triune God said, “Let there be a Lamb” (see Revelation 13:8). And he did this because he had chosen for himself a multitude to be his lambs(John 10:11–15; John 21:15–17). Yes, God is in control, and he is at work for the welfare of his flock. We are in good hands. We are in God’s hands (John 10:27–30).

John Flavel writes of the Christian’s joy upon realising God’s goodness behind what he called “the mystery of providence.

Providence … has so much excellence and sweetness in it that I may call it a little heaven…. How often have the hearts of its observers been melted into tears of joy at the beholding of its wise and unexpected productions! How often has it convinced them, upon sober recollection of the events of their lives, that if the Lord had left them to their own counsels they had as often been their own tormenters, if not executioners! Into what and how many fatal mischiefs had they precipitated themselves if Providence had been as short-sighted as they! They have given it their hearty thanks for considering their interest more than their importunity, and not allowing them to perish by their own desires.

I do not know what your prayers—your “importunity” toward the Lord—are on this day. But I do know, as Flavel reminds us, that God’s great interest is our good for his glory. He has seen our situations we will encounter today and he has already seen what we will face in the future. But more so, he has planned, and has already provided for these. So, if today we experience what appears to be a “frowning providence,” be certain that God is hiding his smile, knowing the glorious good that awaits us.

Remembering with you,

Doug