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Divine Providence

by Arthur W. Pink

The providence of God is His care of and provision He makes for His creatures, with His supervision and superintendence of them. The providence of God in His government of the world is a subject of deep importance to the Christian, for by proper views thereof he will learn to see God’s activities in the daily works of His hands. The depravity of the human heart, especially as it is evidenced in “vain philosophy,” makes a veil out of the physical laws by which God usually conducts His government, a veil which hides Him in His own workings. But the Scriptures represent all physical laws as having their efficacy from the immediate agency of Almighty power, and view God as working in His providence as truly as He wrought in His works of creation. Yet, though Christians assent to this truth, nevertheless they are prone to overlook it in exercise, and thereby to be deprived in great measure of that poise of mind and comfort o heart which a deep and constant improvement of this doctrine is calculated to impart.

Nothing is more strengthening to faith, stabalising to the mind, and tranquilizing to the heart of a Christian, than for him to be enabled to discern the Father’s hand guiding, shaping, controlling all that enters his life; and not only so, but that He is also governing this world , and al persons and events in it. Alas, we are living in an age of terrible skepticism, when most of what happens is attributed to natural causes, while God is more and more banished from the world in the consideration of His creatures. Now it is no only a fact that God governs the world in a general sense, but He also regulates all its affairs, controls all creatures in it, “working all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). Fully is this truth brought before is in the Scriptures, not only in specific statements, but by innumerable exemplifications and demonstrations.

At such a time as this, when Truth is fallen in the streets, and error abounds on every hand, the believer is supported by the knowledge that it is the sovereign will of God heresies should enter and many be perverted by them. Without this view of Divine providence there is no real consolation for the Christian, as he considers the awful ravages which error has made and the sad state poor Christendom is now in. Philosophy combines with agnosticism, superstition with idolatry, to oppose the Lord’s Anointed, while “religion” is now as corrupt as the general morals of the masses. The increasing worldliness of the “churches” (?), the spiritual deadness which prevails even where the Truth is largely maintained, the absence of genuine conversions, combine to disturb and distress; but “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6) supplies a sure resting place for the heart, for this means that even God’s opposers are executing His secret counsels.

God is not shaken by the situation which now confronts our view, nor does the pride, blatancy, and blasphemy of His enemies occasion Him any uneasiness. To the contrary “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Psa. 2:4). It is written “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain” (Psa. 76:10), but only FAITH can receive this grand Truth and enjoy in the heart the precious fruits thereof. That Divine “restraint” of man’s “wrath” is exercised in God’s providence or government of this world, and this is that we wish the reader to be occupied with (D.V.) in what follows. God is not perturbed by anything that is now taking place in this world—either in its political, social, or religious sphere; nor should we be. The helm is still in His hand; and Satan himself cannot so much as touch a hair of our heads without His direct permission.

The advantages of a clear grasp of this foundation Truth of Divine providence are many. First, it delivers the Christian from being carried away by the tide of public opinion. Few things have a greater tendency to lead Christians into error that its apparent success. People in general judge of a cause by its seeming success, and often Christians are greatly influenced by this pernicious principle. Opinions spread by infection, rather than by a thorough investigation of the evidence. But an accurate acquaintance with the ways of Providence, as revealed in Scripture, is calculated to deliver from this prejudice. There we discover that God has often granted much “success” to His enemies, and by it they were hardened in their rebellion. Mere success is no proof of Truth, and lack of success is neither evidence of error nor of God’s displeasure.

Second, a proper acquaintance with the grand truth of Divine Providence should also be of real help in guarding us against having recourse to artifice and craft, in the propagation of the Truth. The Apostle Paul, in spite of all his zeal for the Gospel, disdained all worldly wisdom in his efforts to advance its progress: he commended the Truth to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Then let us stick to the means of God’s ordering and rigorously eschew all human inventions. Temptations to compromise, to lower the standard, to bring in fleshly devices so as to “draw the young people,” are multiplying today. While in Glasgow, recently, the writer seriously offended “a Christian brother” because we asked a personal favour that there should be no special “solo” sung the night we preached in his Hall. Even though it appeared that Christianity were in real danger of being banished from the earth, that would not justify our attempting to assist it by worldly methods, carnal devices, or any means which God has not appointed. We are to fight the Lord’s battles with the weapons which He has put into our hands, and leave the “success” to Him! All the ingenuity of man can not and will not extend the Gospel one inch beyond the limits which our sovereign God has assigned. It is at this point faith is so often tested: faithful preaching being sparcely attended, “churches’ with worldly attractions crowded.

Third, a proper acquaintance with this blessed doctrine of Divine Providence provides consolation amid so much that distresses. The more a true believer ponders the character of the times in which his lot is cast, the more is his heart saddened. The affairs of this world appear to be completely under the dominion of the Prince of Darkness, but in the grand truth of God’s government there is real comfort and solid support for the heart. From it we learn that even the very opposition which is made to the kingdom of Christ is part of the plan of Divine wisdom, and will be overruled for the glory of God and of His Son. It is true that “The whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), yet not I the sense that God has relinquished its government. The wrath of Satan shall be obliged to praise God, and any device of it which has not that tendency, He will “restrain” and not suffer to be manifested.

Two or three years ago we published a series of most excellent papers on the Book of Esther by the late Alexander Carson, which God was pleased to bless to quite a number. In His goodness there has recently come into our hands another volume from his pen, entitled “History of Providence as manifested in Scripture; or facts of Scripture illustrative of the government of God” (1854). As we have personally enjoyed its perusal so much, we desire others to have the same opportunity. It is too lengthy for us to reproduce verbatim, but we trust our selections from it will edify our friends. The first one immediately follows this introductory word.—A.W.P.

The Providence of God

1. The Entangled Ram

“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Gen. 22:13). This was a very extraordinary occasion; and, as the nature of the case did not allow Abraham to be provided with a beast for a sacrifice, we might have expected that God would provide one for him by a miracle. He could as easily have caused a ram to come of himself rom any part of the adjacent country, as He had formerly brought the animals to Noah I the ark. But not so; He did not choose to do the thing by miracle. He furnished the sacrifice by His providence. “A ram caught in the thicket by his horns.” What could be more purely accidental than this? Was there any thing wonderful that a ram should happen to be entangled in the brambles where he was feeding? What could be more natural? Why should it be thought that Providence was concerned in the matter? It is, indeed, a very trifling thing, and a fact easily to be accounted for. But why did it happen on this occasion? Why was not the ram caught yesterday? Or why did it happen before tomorrow? Why was it on this day—in this hour—in this minute? A day sooner, or a day later, would not have answered the purpose. The ram must be caught, and held inextricably fast, at the moment that Abraham needed him.

Why was the ram caught here? Had it been at a distance, or out of the view of Abraham, it might as well not have been caught at all. It is caught at this moment, at this very spot where it is needed. Why was the caught beast a ram, and not a deer, or some other horned animal? Because such an animal would not have answered for the sacrifice that was to be offered. Why was it not a he-goat? Because, though such an animal was a suitable sacrifice in some circumstances, a ram was most suitable on the present occasion. Why was it a male, and not a female? Because, though in some circumstances female animals were employed in sacrifice, yet a male is that usually employed for a good typical purpose. This, then, is the work of God, as much as even the creation of the world. It is a miracle of Providence, and shows us how to read the book of Providence. We ought to see the hand of God in the most trifling things. Nothing is too great for His Providence to effect: nothing is so small as to be below His attention. This fact teaches us also that what God requires from us for His worship, He will supply to us by His Providence.

2. Hagar Expelled

“Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac” (Gen. 21:10). In her design of expelling Hagar from the house of Abraham. Sarah was excited and influenced by her own private feelings and interest alone. She uttered her own sentiments in her own language. Yet she uttered the Truth of God, in God’s words, in a figure. What she said with respect to Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac and herself, was all providentially adapted to express the Gospel in an allegory. The Spirit of God by Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians, expounds this transaction in this sense. The word of Sarah, with respect to her own private affairs, are quoted as the words of inspiration with respect to the nature of the Gospel: “Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman” (Gal. 4:30). Here the words of Sarah are expounded as referring to the Gospel, as fully as if they had no primary reference. It is not said, “What saith Sarah?” But “What saith the Scripture?”

The words employed providentially by Sarah in her own affairs are, in another point of view, the words of Scripture with reference to the way of salvation. In the inscrutable wisdom of God, the words are the words of Sarah and of God—of Sarah, in her own sense, of the Spirit, as a symbolic expression of the Gospel. Men who receive the Truth of God no further than they can comprehend the nature of the thing testified, cannot believe that the allegorical meaning taken out of the expression by Paul was really I the design of the Holy Spirit when the words were used by Sarah, and recorded by Moses. They view the historical document as merely casually adapted to illustrate the point in hand, and, as such, ingeniously employed by the Apostle. But these men wrest the Scriptures, and deny the palpable testimony of the Holy Spirit. Paul does not use the historical fact as casually adapted to illustrate the Gospel, but expressly expounds it as the testimony of the Spirit I the ancient Scriptures—“What saith the Scriptures?” It is used as an argument to convince, and not as an illustration to explain. “Tell me,” says he, “ye that desire to be under the law, do you hear the law?” Is not this proof from the law? After this introduction he proceeds to relate the history in its allegorical meaning. “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (Gal. 4:27-31).

What a wonderful combination of providential events was necessary to fit this history to the shadowing of the Gospel! Abraham must have a wife, a free woman; he must also have a wife who was a slave. He must have a son by this slave, and a son in a peculiar manner by his wife. The slave and her son must be cast out; and not only excluded from the inheritance, but from a residence in the family. The wife must express, with regard to her own affairs, in her own language, language that the Holy Spirit adapts to an allegorical declaration of the Gospel. This surely is Divine wisdom. And this both illustrates and proves the inspiration of the Scriptures. The very words of Scripture, with respect to historical details and circumstances which, in themselves, have no direct concern with the Gospel, are adapted, in the most wonderful manner to express a secondary meaning, known at the time only to the Holy Spirit. The unfeeling demand of Sarah, with respect to her domestic concerns, is, from another point of view, the language of the Spirit figuratively expressing the nature of the Gospel. (Alexander Carson).

Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org

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