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Providence Defined (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
July 6, 2023 4:00 am

Providence Defined (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 6, 2023 4:00 am

What is the doctrine of God’s providence? Is the extent of His sovereign care different for Christians or the same for everyone? Hear the answers on Truth For Life when you join Alistair Begg for a short study of the providence of God.



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Welcome to Truth for Life where today we are beginning a short study on the providential care of God.

The series is titled Intended for Good and today Alistair Begg is exploring the extent of God's providence, asking the question is it different for Christians or is it the same for everyone? We're going to read together from Proverbs and chapter 16. We'll just read I think the first nine verses of Proverbs 16. The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the Spirit.

Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord.

Be assured he will not go unpunished. By steadfast love and faithfulness, iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord, one turns away from evil. When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Amen. Father, as we often pray, what we do not know, teach us. What we do not have, please give us. What we are not, kindly make us for your Son's sake.

Amen. We're beginning, because of the providences in my own life in the past week or two weeks, with the doctrine of providence itself. And we can tackle this now and perhaps on one other occasion under the heading of providence, thinking largely tonight in terms of its definition. And the ninth verse of Proverb 16, which reads in the ESV, as you will see if you have your Bible open, the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps, is a verse that many of us have known in the authorized version.

And I think in the authorized version, it has a sort of syntax to it that I find easier to remember and actually more definitive in its terminology. The authorized version reads, A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps. A man's heart, a person's heart, devises their way, but the Lord directs their steps. Now, that is essentially the doctrine of providence in a verse and in a nutshell.

In terms of defining it, Louis Berkhoff has done as good a job as anybody, so let me remind you of Berkhoff's definition. Providence, he writes, is that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the creator, number one, preserves all his creatures. Number two is operative in all that comes to pass in the world. And number three directs all things to their appointed end.

All right? So the operation of the divine energy whereby the creator preserves all his creatures is operative in all that comes to pass in the world and directs all things to their appointed end. The Westminster Confession in the Shorter Catechism puts it as follows, God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful, preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. And in the New City Catechism, which appears routinely in our bulletin and which we worked through for a year, some of us together, we remind ourselves that the answer to the second question, who is God, we learned as follows, God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, unchangeable in his power and perfection, in his goodness and glory, in his wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will. Now when you take just those three statements, and they are representative of a great amount of defining material in that regard, you realize that it would be impossible to say that there is anything vague or sketchy about it.

It is very straightforward. Indeed, it is a very clarity of that kind of definition that causes some people to respond with resistance and with unbelief. And I don't mean now just those who would not believe even in the fact that God is creator, but some who would say, Yes, I do believe that, but however, I do not believe that concerning his providential care. And so at the risk of incurring your displeasure or testing your patience unduly, I want to rehearse for us the extent of God's providential control—the extent of it.

And I have ten points that I'm going to give to you. I'm not going to extrapolate from them, but I'm going to give you them, and hopefully there'll be a Bible verse to go along with them so you can search the Scriptures to see if this is so. God's providential care extends over the entire universe at large. Over the entire universe at large. When Nebuchadnezzar, remember, under the judgment of God, was out roaming around in his yard like a brute beast, and he finally came to his senses and he raised his eyes to heaven, and he acknowledged that he was under the jurisdiction of Almighty God, this is what Nebuchadnezzar said of God. God does, according to his will, among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say to him, What have you done? Secondly, over the entire physical world.

Over the entire physical world. That whatever the Lord pleases, Psalm 135, he does, both in heaven and on earth, and in the seas and in all the deep. His providence, thirdly, extends over the affairs of the nations. Again, look at Psalm 22. Kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

When you read Paul, his encounter at the Areopagus in Acts chapter 17, Luke records it for us, and you have the very same thing that Paul is saying there. God has established humanity. He has appointed the bounds and habitations of everyone in the entire world. There's nothing haphazard or chaotic about it from God's perspective. Fourthly, he is providentially overruling the time of our birth, the place of our birth, the nature of our birth, and our lot in life.

That's Psalm 139. O Lord, you have searched me and you know me, you know everything about me, and you put me together in my mother's womb. You have formed me, and you have fashioned me. So the doctrine of providence says that your very DNA is under his providential control. And my teaser this morning about what it would have been like if God had made us something other than human was not an original thought, but I was reading this past week in what is just an amazing book by John Flavel, called The Mystery of Providence.

If you've never read it, you should put it on your shelf. And he, in a quite purple passage, addresses the providence of God in our birth and in our upbringing. And he does so in some great detail. And it is in that context that he says, It is because God wrote all of you in his book or painted your body according to his model which he drew of you in his own gracious purpose before you had a being. So the Creator drew out a picture of you before there was even a you. And, says Flavel, have you thought about what he might have done if he had used a different model? And have you thought about what he might have done if he had not painted you as he has done?

Question. Had an eye or an ear or a hand or a foot been wanting in the plan, you would now be sadly aware of the defect. And the world had been but a dungeon to you without the windows of your eyes. There is a world of cost bestowed upon your body.

You might have been cast into another mold and created a worm or a toad. I recall, he says, Luther's story of two cardinals riding in great pomp to the Council of Constance. And by the way, they heard a man in the fields bitterly weeping and wailing. And when they came to him, they found him intently viewing an ugly toad. And asking him why he wept so bitterly, he told them his heart was melted with this consideration, that God had not made him such a loathsome and deformed creature. In the hymn, which begins, When all thy mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys, it has my favorite verse, Unnumbered comforts to my soul, Thy tender care bestowed, before my infant heart conceived, from whom those comforts flowed.

God is providentially in control of our birth and our lot in life and the family into which we were born and, yes, the day of our death. And he goes on, and you won't necessarily like this, but I find it quite funny, because he's writing, what, seventeenth century, and he says, you know, you should be thankful about the way in which things have fallen out for you. He says, Suppose your mothers had brought you forth in America among the savage Indians who haired together as brute beasts and are scorched with heat and starved with cold, being naked, destitute, and defenseless.

How poor and miserable and unprovided with earthly comfort would you have been? I'm not sure that England was that great in comparison, to tell you the truth. It's rather jingoistic on his part, but nevertheless, he's making the point it's not haphazard.

It's not a haphazard. You didn't just show up, and God looked down from him and said, Oh, look where she is. Look where he was born. Fifthly—sorry, that was a diversion—fifthly, the providence of God extends over all of our outward successes and failures. Our outward successes and failures are under his providential care. In Psalm 75, not from the east or from the west, it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. God is sovereign in that.

Fifthly, he is over in his providential care things that are seemingly accidental or insignificant. His providence extends to that which we would be tempted to say is inconsequential, beyond his ken and beyond his care, but not so. The lot is cast into the lap, Psalm 16, but every decision is from the Lord. Seventhly, his providence extends to the protection of the righteous.

Psalm 121, I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.

He made heaven and earth. When Paul writes to the Philippians, he reminds them, My God will supply all your need according to his riches in glory. Eighthly, his providence covers the supply of all of the needs of God's people—not simply their protection but their provision. And really, the doctrine of providence jumps immediately out of the Bible in Genesis 22, when Abraham is confronted with a question he really didn't want to have to tackle, when his son says to him, Well, we seem to have everything for the fire, but we're just missing one essential ingredient.

We don't have a lamb. And Abraham responds in introducing, essentially, the doctrine of providence. Listen, son, God will provide a lamb.

His providential care will take care of this, as of course it did. His providence extends to providing answers to our prayers, sometimes coming soon, sometimes never coming, apparently, sometimes coming after we've died. But that's why we're encouraged to ask and to seek and to knock. And tenthly, his providence extends to the exposure and the punishment of the wicked.

Raging coals, the psalmist says, will be brought down on the heads of the wicked. Now when you allow those things just to settle in your mind, you realize that this is so far removed from deism as could ever possibly be. The idea that there is a God somewhere somehow who started everything off, wound everything up like an old grandfather clock, and rang the bell, and then went away.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jim Panker says that what we have here is a picture of purposive personal management with vital hands-on control. God is completely in charge of his world, his hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute. So the providence of God extends to all people, the entire world, and that in a general sense, and in a particular and personal sense to his own people, to the church, as with a big C, and therefore to those who are included in Christ and thereby in the church. Now, when you say that, a number of things immediately strike one.

At least they strike me. First of all, that what I've just said to you, if you think about going back out into tomorrow amongst the routine of your life and amongst friends and family members, surely what I'm just affirming here is absolutely radical. I mean, this is a radical notion, isn't it, in the environment, in the philosophical milieu in which we live our lives?

To go out and to affirm that the providence of God extends to all places and to all occurrences. That notion alone flies in the face of the kind of worldview that is pervasive in our day. I don't need to spend time reinforcing just how different the perspective is in our world. If you listen just to the weather forecast, you get it there in a very small way.

Well, let's see what Mother Nature has for us. If you listen to the gulf, you say, well, apparently the gulf gods were not looking favorably on things. If you just listen to people talk, they betray from their own lips their view of the world. They either believe themselves largely to be held in the grip of fate, a blind impersonal force that controls them over which they have no opportunity to respond, or that they regard themselves as just somehow or another being caught up like a cork on the ocean or a tumbleweed in the winds of Albuquerque. Now, the deism that was prevalent at the end of the nineteenth into the twentieth century has been replaced, at least in Western thought, by the pantheism of today.

The pantheism of today that suggests that God does not stand out of time, that he is not beyond his creation, but somehow or another he's wrapped up in his creation, and since we are part of his creation, we are thereby ipso facto part of God, and if we're looking for God, then maybe what we ought to do is just look inside of ourselves. If we don't go there, then we might be tempted to take on the opportunities that Hinduism has provided for us so that the discovery of life and the meaning of life is all wrapped up in an endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Marxism is not dead. Life has meaning for the Marxist in the endless class struggle for a classless society.

And the nihilism that is represented in a lot of contemporary comedy is so vastly removed from what we're affirming here. You see, what the Bible tells us is this, that God—this is Ephesians 1—that God, who is the creator God and the sustainer of life, is operating according to his own purpose, to work out everything according to the counsel of his will. The Westminster Confession reminds us that the ultimate end of the providence of God is the manifestation of his own glory. So that what God is actually doing is about himself, that what God is actually accomplishing is in relationship to himself, that God is interested in all whom he has made. But he doesn't have the selfish fascination that many of us have in trying to explain our lives in a way that leaves out his eternal counsel. So it's radical, but also this affirmation is thoroughly biblical.

Now, you must read your Bibles and see whether you agree with me that the doctrine of providence is not a theological construct that some theological eggheads have chosen to press down on the pages of Scripture. But rather, when you read your Bible, you discover that it is, if you like, one of the melodic lines of Scripture. And once you hear this melody, once you get this melody in your mind, you'll hear it again and again and again. You'll find yourself saying, Oh, you know what that is?

That's that same melody line. That's God's providential care. That is God's providence in my life.

That is why that has happened. And so when you read these things, as Bridges says, the doctrine of providence is not like the doctrine of the Trinity to be received by faith, because he says, experience gives a demonstrable stamp of evidence, even in all the minutiae of circumstances which form the parts and pieces of the divine plan. What does he mean by that? He means that we ought to expect that in everyday events, in the everyday events of our lives, we will find ourselves saying, with Proverbs 16, 9, a man's heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps, and does so—and this is vitally important—without infringing on our liberty and without relieving us of responsibility.

Okay? This is not Islam. This is not fate. This is not some blind, remote monad who is operating from way out there and beyond.

This is the personal creator God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as he orders the events of life, he does not infringe upon our liberty, thereby we make decisions, nor does he relieve us of responsibility, so that we are then able to say that our sin is God's fault. No, it's never God's fault.

It's always our fault. Well, you say then, how is it that he directs our steps? Well, you must read your Bible. He doesn't operate in a mechanistic way. The grace of God is not operating like some kind of lifeless machine. No, the providence of God is at work personally, thoughtfully, individually, directing the free acts of people in devising their way. You're listening to pastor and Bible teacher Alistair Begg on Truth for Life as we are exploring the subject of God's providence.

We'll hear more tomorrow. We are greatly encouraged here at Truth for Life, and the reason we're encouraged is because so many of you from all over the world have come alongside us as brand new truth partners. On behalf of Alistair and our entire team, thank you for your passion to see unbelievers converted, believers established, and local churches strengthened. Truth partners are the backbone of Truth for Life. Without the month-to-month giving we received from truth partners, this program would not be heard.

And if you didn't have the opportunity to become a part of this critical team last month, it's never too late. You can sign up right now at truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or call us at 888-588-7884. Truth partners who commit to giving $20 a month or more can request both of the books we recommend each month without any additional donation.

That's a great way for you to build a library of high quality books over the course of a year. Today we're recommending a book called Dream Small, The Secret Power of the Ordinary Christian Life. Our culture tells us that the way for us to make the biggest difference in our world is to reach for the stars, to climb to the top of the ladder. The Bible, however, teaches that the first will be last.

So how do we reconcile these two ideas? That's the topic of this book, Dream Small. As you read the book, you'll learn how to reassess your goals and priorities away from worldly measures of success and greatness, and measure instead what matters to God. Request your copy of Dream Small today when you sign up to become a monthly Truth Partner or when you give a one-time gift at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. How can we make sense of God's providence in the face of tragedy? Join us tomorrow to hear the answer. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-06 05:28:24 / 2023-07-06 05:36:44 / 8

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