Providence

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The Wonders of Grace (Spurgeon on the Savior’s interaction with the Centurion)

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

“When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour.” Matthew 8:10-13

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“. . . [I]n the narrative before us, he marvelled at the faith of the centurion. From this we learn that we ought not to be so engrossed with the wonders of science and of art, or even with the wonders of creation and of providence, as to become indifferent to the marvels of grace. These should occupy the very highest place in our estimation. The seven wonders of the world are nothing when compared with the countless wonders of grace. That man must be foolish who does not admire the works of God in nature; he is frivolous who does not trace with awe the hand of God in history; and he is even more unwise who despises the masterpieces of divine skill and wisdom which are to be seen in the empire of grace. In the kingdom of God the wise man only wonders once in his life, but that is always: fools think not so, but they are void of understanding. The museum of grace is richer than that of nature. A heart broken on account of sin is a far greater wonder than the rarest fossil, whatever it may tell of ancient floods of the sea or convulsions of the land. An eye that glistens with the tears of penitence is a greater marvel than the cataract of Niagara, or the fountains of the Nile. Faith that humbly links itself to Christ has in it as great a beauty as the rainbow, and the confidence which looks alone to Jesus, and so irradiates the soul, is as much an object for admiration as is the sun when he shineth in his strength. Talk not of the pyramids, the Colossus, the golden house of Nero, or the temple of Ephesus, for the living temple of God’s church is fairer far. Let others glory in the marvels they have seen but be it mine to say unto my Lord, ‘I will praise thee, for thou hast done wonderful things. Thy love to me was wonderful. Surely I will remember thy wonders of old.’”

C. H. Spurgeon, “A Blessed Wonder,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 16. Originally preached on June 12, 1870. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1870), 337–338.

* Paolo Veronese, “Jesus & The Centurion,” in The Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain; public domain; accessed on 10/23/17 here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jes%C3%BAs_y_el_centuri%C3%B3n_(El_Veron%C3%A9s).jpg

Scenes Of God’s Glory From The Cancer Ward

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, For I am desolate and afflicted.” Psalm 25:16

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Authentic Christianity – a living relationship with Christ by faith – is built for real life with all its trials and difficulties. I was practically reminded of this during a recent visit to a believing friend who is currently fighting cancer. Although she is in the hospital in a state far from our home, we were in her area for the preaching of God’s Word, and so decided to visit and encourage her. Even as I type that last phrase, I’m smiling, for what occurred was that my wife, Naomi & I, were the ones who were encouraged. Seeing the reality of the faith of this suffering sister and her devoted husband demonstrated afresh the reality of the Lord’s mercies in the crucible of pain.

From Anger To Praise

Our friend’s cancer was diagnosed shortly after her husband lost his job. Like many of us, this brother was initially dismayed and angry: Why would God allow this to happen now? As he recounted his past bitterness, I thought to myself: “Brother, I’m certain I would’ve harbored hard thoughts too.” Yet our Father “knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14.) It turned out, that the severance package was generous and in God’s good providence, the family insurance continues for a year. What seemed at first to be a major blow, turned out to be the Almighty’s gracious supply for His children’s needs. In addition, the husband was set free from normal working responsibilities in order to care for his wife. Truly, “a man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9.)

Praising From The Sickbed

From her sickbed, this sister repeatedly spoke of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Her husband agreed and could only lament his former doubt. He spoke with the quietness of conviction, affirming that the Lord is to be trusted and is doing all things well. How can people going through such a severe trial praise the Lord? The answer is that it is nothing short of supernatural!

In times of stress and difficulty, Christ’s people have a decided advantage:

  • The Lord promises to never leave or forsake them (Hebrews 13:5.)
  • He died to remove their sins and rose again to give them eternal and abundant life (1 Cor. 15:3-4; John 10:10.)
  • His Spirit lives within them and empowers them to glorify God from the fiery furnaces of this world (John 14:16-18.)
  • They also have the settled assurance that the Lord providentially works all things for good (Rom. 8:28-30.)
  • God works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11) and that will is directing history toward the inexorable enthronement of His glorified Son, Jesus Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16.)
  • Part of that will also dictates that His people will be eternally with Him, sharing in His glory and serving in His heavenly administration (John 17:24-26; 2 Tim. 2:11-13.)

As Isaac Watts put it:

Plunged in a gulf of dark despair
We wretched sinners lay,
Without one cheerful beam of hope,
Or spark of glimm’ring day.

With pitying eyes the Prince of grace
Beheld our helpless grief;
He saw, and, O amazing love!
He ran to our relief.
[i]

Glory, Glory, Glory

Present sufferings cannot compare with believers’ future glory (Rom. 8:18.) The Holy Spirit used Paul to write these words. By his own experience, he was an authority on human suffering. Sorrow may endure for the night time, but for the believer, joy cometh in the morning. The great eternal morning when the Lord will come to receive His saints to Himself (John 14:3.) Bodies that are now afflicted with diseases like cancer, will then be clothed with immortality (1 Cor. 15:42-55; 2 Cor. 4:17-5:8.) Spirits that are plagued by the inward struggle against sin will enter into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:11, 15-23.) As Robert Murray M’Cheyne poetically envisioned it:

When I stand before the throne

Dressed in beauty not my own,

When I see thee as thou art,

Love thee with unsinning heart,

Then, Lord, shall I fully know—

Not till then—how much I owe.[ii]

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[i] Isaac Watts, The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1998).

[ii] Robert Murray McCheyne, The Works of the Late Robert Murray McCheyne, Vol. 1. (New York: Robert Carter, 1848), 360–361.

* J. Hodgson Lobley, “The Special Surgical Auxiliary Hospital At The Star & Garter Hotel,  Richmond (UK)” (1918): Accessed here.

Serve The Lord Where You Are, Believer! (C.H. Spurgeon)

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

“Providence, which arranged your surroundings, appointed them so that, all things being considered, you are in the position in which you can best display the wisdom and the grace of God. Now, if you can once accept this as being a fact, it will make a man of you. My Christian brother, or my dear sister, it will enable you to serve God with a force which you have not yet obtained, for then, instead of panting for spheres to which you will never reach, you will enquire for immediate duty, asking, ‘What does my hand find to do?’ You need not use your feet to traverse half a nation to find work, it lies close at hand. Your calling is near at home; your vocation lies at the door, and within it. What your hand finds to do, do it at once, and with all your might, and you will find such earnest service the best method in which you can glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘A large family,’ says one, ‘what can I do?’ Train them in the fear of God; these children are yours to serve the Lord withal. What nobler service can a mother render to the republic upon earth, and to the kingdom in heaven, than to educate her children for Christ? ‘Working in a large factory with ungodly men, what can I do?’ Needless enquiry! What cannot the salt do when it is cast among the meat? You, as a piece of salt, are just where you should be. Immure Christians in monasteries and nunneries! why it is like putting salt into a strong iron box and burying it in the ground. Nay, but the salt of the earth must be cast all over that which is to be conserved by it, and each of us must be put in a position where our influence as a Christian will be felt. ‘I am sick,’ says another, ‘I am chained to the bed of languishing.’ But, my friend, your patience will magnify the power of grace, and your words of experience will enrich those who listen to you. Your experience will yield a richer wine than ever could have come from you had you not been cast into the wine-press and trodden by the foot of affliction. I tell you, brethren, I cannot go into instances and details, but it is a most certain fact that all about you, though it be a blind eye, a disabled arm, a stammering tongue, a flagging memory, poverty in the house, or sickness in the chamber; though it be derision, and scorn, and contempt, everything about you is yours; and if you know how to use it rightly, you will turn these disadvantages into advantages, and prosper by them.” C.H. Spurgeon, “Things Present,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 15. Originally preached on May 9, 1869. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1869), 273-274.

Mercy in Everyday Tragedies – Or Why I’m thankful For The Lord’s Providential Plans

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

The horrible news of yet another terrorist attack – this time in Paris, the iconic “city of light” – fills the headlines globally. In this age of mass information and communication our screens are inundated with unwanted scenes of carnage and pitiable sorrow. Beyond globally publicized tragedies – some natural and some manmade – there are the innumerable smaller trials that afflict ordinary folks. We all know people that are ill with cancer; or dealing with the loss of a loved one; or struggling with the breakup of their families (divorce, wayward children, private addictions to multiple soul-destroying vices, etc.); or enduring financial reverses such as the loss of a job.

"Kain" by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lovis_Corinth_Kain_1917.jpg

(“Kain” (1917) by Lovis Corinth, image is public domain.) 

Seven Billion Sufferers In Need Of A Deliverer

   What can one say? Such difficulties are endemic in this fallen world and evil is all too real. That’s where the Lord’s faithfulness comes in: He is an inexhaustible salve to heal the wounds of a broken creation, filled with countless sad stories emanating from sinfully defective people. Only the knowledge of His sovereign control over the world, overruling wickedness and its attendant suffering, can give us peace to endure and confidence to overcome. Just as the Man of Sorrows who died on the cross is now the risen Lord of glory, even so this present world of calamity is going to give way to an unshakeable kingdom of glory, righteousness, and justice.[i]

A History Of Violence

   Earlier this week, as I devotionally read through a somewhat obscure genealogy in 1 Chronicles, I was reminded afresh of the Almighty’s providential mercies towards His people. Amidst numerous unfamiliar names, 1 Chronicles 7:20-24 this remarkable vignette appears:

The sons of Ephraim were Shuthelah, Bered his son, Tahath his son, Eladah his son, Tahath his son, Zabad his son, Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead. The men of Gath who were born in that land killed them because they came down to take away their cattle. Then Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him. And when he went in to his wife, she conceived and bore a son; and he called his name Beriah, because tragedy had come upon his house. Now his daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen Sheerah.

The quotidian activities of earning a living in mundane agricultural pursuits were suddenly disrupted by violence. Cattle raiders murdered Ephraim’s sons – his heirs and earthly hope for the future. As a father, I cannot imagine the grief that such an event would bring. No stranger to this type of pain[ii], Matthew Henry writes: “Nothing brings the aged to the grave with more sorrow than their following the young that descend from them to the grave first, especially if in blood. It is often the burden of those that live to be old that they see those go before them of whom they said, These same shall comfort us.”[iii] Indeed, how could a father go on after such a tragedy? The passage offers some help:

  1. Ephraim was comforted by his brothers, 1 Chron. 7:22. In times of sorrow, physical family can offer help and comfort; how much more ought spiritual brothers and sisters offer to one another during trials? 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Col. 4:8, 11; 1 Thes. 5:11, 14.
  1. The Lord comforted him by giving him another son, 1 Chron. 7:23. True, this son was no replacement for the children who were gone – this is evidenced by the boy’s name “Beriah”[iv] – but it did ensure the preservation of his family line by giving him an heir.
  1. The Lord carried on His purposes for the Ephraimites, 1 Chron. 7:24-29. In spite of the murders and opposition, Ephraim and his descendants continued to develop the land and found notable cities like Upper and Lower Beth Horon. They would prosper, just as the patriarch Jacob prophesied.[v]

We’ll Always Have Paris

From The Getty Library, public domain.

(From The Getty Library, public domain.)

  Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a terminal illness, or another type of setback or trial, the believer can rejoice in the certainty of the Lord’s purpose to glorify His people. How ever horrible the catastrophe, the Lord will lovingly carry out His will for those who have received Him through faith in Christ. As Romans 8:28-39 famously expresses it:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Crime And Punishment

   Were the murderers of Ephraim’s children ever brought to justice in this world? The Scriptures are silent on this point. Nevertheless, God’s word repeatedly declares that those who flout the mercy that He offers in Christ will inevitably stand before a higher tribunal: The Lord’s own Great White Throne.[vi] For those who have trusted Christ, He has already suffered judgment in their place.[vii] This is the only way to evade eternal punishment for our sins. One way or another, no one escapes the providential dealings of the holy God.

ENDNOTES

[i] Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15; and 2 Peter 3:10-13.

[ii] Henry’s first wife died in childbirth; he also had three children die in infancy. For more information, see here http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bhenry2.html Accessed on 11/17/15; or the excellent biography, Allan Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, available here: http://www.christianbook.com/matthew-henry-his-life-and-influence/allan-harman/9781845507831/pd/507831?event=ESRCG

[iii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 566. [Italics original.]

[iv] The translators’ offer these meanings of the name: “On misfortune” NASmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for misfortune.” NIV’11; “In tragedy” NKJVmg.; “Beriah sounds like the Hebrew for disaster” ESVmg.; “Beriah sounds like a Hebrew term meaning ‘tragedy’ or ‘misfortune.’” NLTmg.

[v] “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.” Genesis 49:22-26.

[vi] Rev. 20:11-15; see also John 5:17-47; Acts 17:29-31.

[vii] John 5:24; Rom. 8:1.