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Providence Defined (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
July 7, 2023 4:00 am

Providence Defined (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 7, 2023 4:00 am

How can we make sense of God’s providence in the face of personal trauma or worldwide tragedy? How do we trust His will and His way when suffering and devastation are unrelenting? Hear the answers to these questions on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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How do we understand or make sense of the idea of God's providence when we're facing personal trauma or worldwide tragedy? How do we trust His will and His way when suffering and devastation are unrelenting? We're exploring the answers to these questions today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from Proverbs 16. We're focusing on verse 9.

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, 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. 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 a pso facto part of God, and if we're looking for God, then maybe what we ought to do is just look inside of ourselves.

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. It 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.

Now, let me just give you some illustrations from the Bible. Consider all that unfolded from Jacob's decision, his free decision, to prefer one of his sons over his other sons. Why did he do that?

I don't know. That's what he wanted to do. It was his free decision to give Joseph that particular coat. And as a result of his free decision, he could never have imagined what an amazing outcome there would be as a result of that. Now, imagine the scene of pain and loss for another one when the young girl is carried away into captivity in the house of Naaman. How did her parents feel?

They had no control over that. The marauding hordes came in and took her away as they took Daniel and his friends away, and there she was, captive in the house of Naaman, bold enough to say, if my master Naaman would only go to the prophet of God, he would find that he had an answer there for him, for his sickness. And what about Ahasuerus when he couldn't sleep at night in Esther chapter 6, and he decided to read a book, not just any book, but a big boring book, the Chronicles, and that he not only read the book, but he read the part in the book that involved the situation that resulted in the whole resolution of the problem. Was he pre-programmed to read the book? Was there a big sign up on his wall that said, read the book of the Chronicles?

Was there something done there for Joseph that says, this is what you're supposed to do, Joseph, when you come down for breakfast in the morning, tell all your brothers and tell your dad that you had this dream about them all bowing down to you. And God pre-programmed to do that. No, he just did it.

He just did it. Were the Ishmaelites pre-programmed to buy Joseph as a slave? No, they bought him as a slave, because he was a good business opportunity. Was Potiphar pre-programmed to take him into his home? No, he took him into his home, because he was good-looking and handsome and strong and everything else. And as they all exercised the freedom of their will, as they devised their way, the Lord was directing their steps.

We could go on and on and on, couldn't we? The amazing providence that's involved in Acts chapter 8, when Philip is redirected from his usefulness, in order that he might then be at the right place at the right time, presumably somewhat reluctant, I would think. Why do I have to go to this road? What am I going to do up there? I'm a very effective evangelist over here.

Well, I'm going to go ahead, guided and helped. And then a man reading. Reading what?

Reading Isaiah. How do I know what it means? I don't know what it means. I wish there was somebody to tell me what it means.

And there's the person to tell him what it means. And what about the inconsequential beginning that led to such a transformation in the town of Samaria when Jesus sat down at a well, because he was tired, while his friends and his followers decided to go and get food, and he just said to a lady, do you think I could have a drink of water, please? The providence of God was ordering the steps of the Son of God. Radical, biblical, and finally, profitable. Profitable. It's profitable because it allows us to ponder the dark side of things. Because in the back of our minds, there is the inevitable question, isn't there? Job's wife gives occasion to this in Job, and Job says to his wife, he says, listen, shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In other words, he's saying, does the providence of God only operate on the upside, and it doesn't operate on the downside? Does the providence of God only cover that for which we have reason to immediately say, oh, I get this and this is wonderful, or does the providence of God not cover it when we are, like Cowper, subjected to these deep darknesses? Well, of course, the answer is the latter, not the former.

And in that, there's scope for an entire study, but you'll be glad to know we're not going to do it. But let me borrow just two phrases from the late John Murray, where he says, the providence of God is often a dark and impenetrable abyss to us. The providence of God is often a dark and impenetrable abyss to us. Now, when you read the psalmist, you realize that it is full of lament. Oh God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture? The psalmist says, I envied the wicked.

These people that seem to do everything wrong, and I'm supposed to do everything right, and I can't make sense of it. Your providence is a dark and an impenetrable abyss. And when that is the case, we have to be aware of the fact that God's way and God's will is best. So better the sadness and the loss that humbles us than the success and the encouragement that makes us proud. You see, the dark providences of God—or the bright ones, for that matter, as we've said to one another—are seldom self-interpreting.

They're seldom self-interpreting. Something comes into our life, an event comes into our life that just completely knocks us off our horse. And the temptation is for us immediately to say, Well, I can figure this out.

I know why this is. The chances are we don't have a clue why it is. And we may find out in a week, we may find out in a year, we may find out in 20, and we may never find out until eternity, and even then God may choose not to disclose it to us. And so we're forced to say, Here I am in the grip of the mystery of God's providential dealing with me, but I need to recognize that while it may be an impenetrable abyss to me, it is not an impenetrable abyss to God. That's why the Scriptures say, He knows the way that I take. So that I have to learn to say, I do not know, but I do know that God knows.

I do not know, but I do know that God knows. That was the way Jesus dealt with his disciples. He said to them, Why do you worry about this, and why do you worry about that? Don't you realize that your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things? Do you remember Corrie Ten Boom, when she asked her dad for the ticket for the train journey to Amsterdam or wherever it was, and it was like three weeks out, and he said, Yes, fine, I've got you covered.

And then she kept annoying him day after day. Do you have that ticket? Where's the ticket? Do you have a ticket? And eventually he said to her, he said, Corrie, listen, I told you, I have the ticket. On the day you travel, the ticket will be there. Trust me, I'm your father. Do you worry about your death?

On the day you travel, the ticket will be there. Do you worry about your retirement or the prospect of the onset of dementia? Do you worry about a loss of whatever it might be?

Providence is the only soft pillow. The awareness of the fact that I am prepared to say I do not know, but I do know that God knows. And then when that fastens into my heart, a number of things follow. We've noted them before.

Let me rehearse them for you as I close. Number one, when we recognize this, prosperity then should never be the occasion of pride. Nobody who believes the doctrine of Providence should walk around with a fat head. Nobody who believes the doctrine of Providence should walk around and be singing, you know, to think I did all that, and may I say not in a shy way, oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way. The person who says that, they don't understand Providence at all. They don't realize that it is God's Providence that sets you up, and it's God's Providence that brings you down. So, prosperity should not be the occasion of pride. Uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic.

Why? Because of the Providence of God. Tonight, as last Sunday night, and the Sunday night before that, and every Sunday night to come until the Lord returns, God is enthroned over all the political, military, social, economic forces of the entire world.

Or he isn't. So if he is in charge of all of that, why do you watch this amazing ebb and flow in conservative evangelicalism here in America? I guarantee that if the elections had gone a different way, there would be a whole other bunch of nonsense spewing forth from everybody, just in the same way, as if somehow or another, God in his Providence had abandoned the process. And for those who were disappointed with the results of the election, God in his Providence is in charge of all of these things. Now, you see what a difference that makes, and how it transforms people.

And what an encouragement is for a pastor when you finally realize that people in the congregation get it. And this, I think, is my favorite letter. I've kept this letter from the 7th of July, 1995, and I always read it at this point, and I will stop, because we've gone on more than enough we need. And this was written by a young lady in our church—remember her?—who had systemic scleroderma, the skin condition that had just eventually closed her down, just gradually took over her life.

She wrote this on the 4th of July, interestingly. Dear mom, dad, family, and friends, first and foremost, I want to tell you how much I love you and how grateful I am for the love and care you've given me. It isn't easy to think about leaving you, but since we know the time is approaching, I would like to share some requests with you and trust that you will carry them out. My hope is that this will make a difficult time a little easier for everyone.

That's amazing in itself, isn't it? She's concerned that her passing will not be so distressing, and she thinks she can help them with that. I'd like my memorial service to be simple at Parkside. If the church hall is available, I would like you to have a reception following the service.

I would prefer not to have a wake at all. I know this may be important to you, as you're from a Catholic background, and I respect that. However, I would like a closed casket, perhaps with some pictures. It's difficult expressing all that this life and my future eternal life mean to me. This verse expresses a little of my feelings and my gratitude to God for the life, the family, and the friends He has given me. And what verse does she use? You gave me life and showed kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit. In the providence of God, she says, I have devised my way. The Lord has directed my steps.

And she concludes, it's strange yet appropriate that I'm writing this to you on Independence Day, for I am anticipating the day when I will truly be free in the Lord. The answer to this, loved ones, is not quietism. It's not passivity. And don't make that mistake. Don't fall foul of the idea that the doctrine of providence means that you just sit in a big couch now for the rest of your life, and He'll take care of everything.

No. Says Murray, one of the grossest distortions of the sovereignty of God in His decree in providence is that of passive quiescence, fatalistic inactivity, stoical indifference. This attitude of mind is notorious for its frequency, but it is disastrous in its results. So when I'm uncertain about the mystery of God's work, then I want to hold most closely to His revealed will. In other words, I want to bring what I don't know into the light of what I do know. And a final word to Calvin. The Christian solace is in this, to know that His heavenly Father so holds all things in His power, so rules by His authority and will, so governs by His wisdom, that nothing can befall unless He determines it.

That involves the good, the bad, and the ugly. Tempted and tried, we're oft led to wonder why it should be thus all the day long, when we see others living around us, doing their best. They're getting on fine, and yet they're wrong. They defy God. And remember the frame, further along we'll know all about it, and further along we'll understand why. But cheer up my brother and live in the sunshine, because we'll understand it all by and by.

But probably not tonight. Most of our awareness of the providence of God we have learned by looking in the rear view mirror, rather than looking through the windscreen. When we fully embrace God's providence, there's no room left for pride or panic or passivity. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life.

He'll return in just a minute. It's no surprise that we live in a world where the focus is increasingly on personal achievement, acquiring wealth, finding career success, even fame. The Bible on the other hand teaches that those who run hard to win their own life will lose everything in the end.

So how should we live? You'll find out as you read the book Dream Small, the secret power of the ordinary Christian life. This is a fascinating book that illustrates how when we live life to fulfill God's plan for us, that will lead you straight into the arms of the one who is life himself. Here's what Alistair had to say about the book. This book took hold of me in chapter one and tightened its grip until by the end I was compelled to take up the challenge to Dream Small.

I invite you to join me. Request the book Dream Small when you make a donation today. You can give a one-time gift at truthforlife.org slash donate or arrange to set up automatic monthly donations when you go to truthforlife.org truth partner. By the way, if you're taking a road trip this summer and you'd like to listen to Truth for Life on the radio, you don't want to miss a single program because you're traveling while you're away from home and you want to listen to Truth for Life on a local radio station, you can find the time and station call letters where the program can be heard by visiting truthforlife.org slash station finder.

Just key in the zip code, the city name, or even a local landmark, you'll find a list of stations in your area that broadcast Truth for Life. Now here's Alistair with a closing prayer. Well, gracious God and Father, in a multitude of words, we pray that you would help us to navigate our way to a secure confidence in you, the providential governor of our earthly pilgrimage and our eternal destiny.

All of us have things in our lives, past, present, and that will be there in the future, that are inscrutable. And I'm personally so very thankful that it is not the job of the pastor to explain the unexplainable, but for us in childlike trust and believing faith to acknowledge when we do not know, we still know that you God know it all. And so we bring the sad parts and the broken parts, the hard-to-understand bits and pieces of our lives, and we lay them down before you. And we pray for your help, that we might rest, that our solace may be, just as has been stated, in your providential care. Hear our prayers, O God, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship with your local church this weekend. The crucifixion of Jesus, it's a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching story. How could that be God's plan for His own Son? Join us Monday 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 / 2023-07-07 07:43:07 / 2023-07-07 07:52:01 / 9

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