Tuesday, 15 November 2016 10:42

God's 'Delightful' Teaching

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Dear friends, today we have the privilege to consider the delightful Bible-based Christian doctrine of God’s providence. It is all very related to last week’s message on God the Father.  When you and I know, by God’s grace, God as our Father in and through Christ Jesus, we may also be assured of His tender care and provision, His providence in our lives. So for the main text in Scripture with this message we have the words of 1 Peter 5:7. There God’s people are instructed to live humbly before God in dependence on Christ the Saviour, casting our cares or burdens in life upon Him, because He cares so infinitely much for all His people.

 “Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” [1 Peter 5:6&7] Let us consider then the doctrine of God’s providence, learning that He is such a caring God over all His creatures and especially His people. The delightful doctrine of God’s providence is beautifully explained in summary form for us both in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, and in the Belgic Confession, Article 13, which we will also refer to in this message. Considering God’s providence let us think about the explanation of this doctrine, some illustrations of it, and truly benefiting from this doctrine of God and His providence. My prayer is that you will be drawn and compelled by God’s Spirit and Word now to respond in true faith as Peter exhorts in 1 Peter 5:7, “casting all your care upon him [the Lord] for He careth for you”.

First let us think about what the doctrine of God’s providence means.  Literally the word from the Latin means “to see beforehand”.  This is something we need to realize, that nothing in each and all our lives and, in fact, in all of world history and in reference to anything and everything in all the vast universe is unknown to God! It is staggering to realize that with God Triune there is nothing in all the world that He is unaware of and that ever could or would come as a surprise to Him.  So we read in Isaiah 46:9&10 the Lord saying, “I am God and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times, the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”  So this right away should encourage God’s people about the one true God, don’t you think? The Lord God of the Bible, the Triune God in Christ Jesus, is all-knowing about all things, past, present, and future, and never ever in any situation, or with anyone, or with whatever, does He say or have to say: Oh, I didn’t realize this or that, it was something unexpected from my side.

But we need to go on, for God’s providence means much more than this. Not only is God aware of everything always everywhere, but also He actually guides and governs all things, whatever happens anywhere at any time.  The Lord is not someone who simply created this world only to leave it then to itself.  This is the teaching of deism which suggests at best God is like a clockmaker. A clockmaker makes clocks and watches, winds them up, and then never has anything to do with them again unless they break down. But God never just created this world and left it to operate on its own. No. God who created all things maintains and sustains everything He created by His fatherly hand.

The facts are this whole universe, both before and after the fall, from its origin by God’s hand to the present day in every detail of it, is not self-existent in any degree, and never will be. So Paul also states in Acts 17:28, it is in and from God that we live and move and have our being. In Job 34 and Psalm 104 we learn that if God removes His sustaining upholding hand on His creation and everything in it, then this created world and every creature in it, including people, just couldn’t exist any longer. You are plainly mistaken when you think this universe and everything and everyone in it could just keep going as is without God’s supporting ongoing care for this world.  No, regardless what people say and surmise, or what unbelieving scientists may promote, this is the solemn indisputable fact. The whole vast universe, especially also the planet earth, is dependent daily on God for existence itself!

Cast all your care upon the Lord for He knows all things always and He guides and upholds all things always.  But there is still more that brings out the fullness of this delightful doctrine of God’s providence.  What we further need to know and be aware of is how Scripture teaches us God as the God of providence guides all things for the glory of His name and the good of His people now and forevermore.  In other words, the Lord in His providence in an almighty way leads and guides whatever happens in our lives for the wellbeing of His people and the increase of His Church and ultimately for the coming of His eternal kingdom, and all to the endless praise of His great and holy Name, as revealed in Christ Jesus. Yes, even those things that by themselves may seem so contrary and against us, He can have work together for good in ways most amazing and unimaginable. This is such a great comforting doctrine, especially in the times of suffering one or other calamity or setback, humanly speaking. Rightly does the Belgic Confession in Article 13 state about this doctrine of God’s providence that it affords unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, Who watches over us with a paternal care.   Do you hear with me in all this what reasons to cast all your care upon the LORD for this is the gospel truth: God cares for us, does He ever

Doesn’t Jesus also teach us this very truth in Matthew 10:29-30 where He says to His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” In connection with these words from Jesus not only in Matthew 10 but also Matthew 6, someone wrote a little poem entitled, “The Robin and the Sparrow".

Have you heard it before? It goes like this.

Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”
Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”

Is this something helpful now for you to hear and consider in your life’s circumstances even at this time perhaps?

  The delightful doctrine of God’s providence. This Christian truth teaches us that God knows all things beforehand always, and, in fact, He leads and guides all things in this whole world, and that He so much uses His providence for the good of His people. Yes, so that nothing ever is left to fate, and as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, yea, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.  

The great challenge with this doctrine is the question about the things evil and harmful and hurtful that comes to us in our lives. When wicked people do things against us, or calamities come our way, is that too directed by God? Is God the cause of evil? Is He involved in sin and Satan’s ways?  Does the LORD cause those tragedies we hear of every day? How can a good God be participant in evil in any way? 

In answer to that we have to say, as James 1:13-15 makes clear, God is never the cause of evil and in no way ever a participant in evil, though always He guides and controls all things, including evil things.  This may be hard for us to grasp, but it is the wonderful truth taught in God’s word.  Satan and all evil of any kind by anyone can never ever, as one put it, create a space that is free from God’s control or that escapes His purposes. Nothing ever is outside of God’s oversight and ultimate control.  Isn’t that just a most encouraging gospel truth living still in this sinful wicked world here and now? How wonderful to know and be assured from the delightful doctrine of God’s providence that God is infinitely good and yet also infinitely powerful and all-wise, and as such He is fully capable of making use of whatever and whoever in all the world for the purposes of His good pleasure and will.

While we admittedly cannot fully understand this all, how true what Guido de Bres wrote in the Belgic Confession, again in Article 13, in regards to God’s providence even in using things evil.  Nothing happens in this world without [God’s] appointment; nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For His power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And as to what He does surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into it further than our capacity will admit of, but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word without transgressing these limits.  

Why may God’s people, trusting and following Christ as only Saviour and Lord, cast all their cares and worries and burdens and struggles on the Lord time and again? Because God cares for us, does He ever! Why, God gave His own beloved Son to seek and to save sinners like us, even to the death of the cross.  So now, led and cared for by His fatherly hand in and through Christ Jesus, you may know you are guided by One Who is all-knowing and all-powerful, He Who is ever gracious and good and righteous in all His ways. As the LORD of hosts, the One only God with infinite resources at hand is able and willing to use whatever and whoever whenever and wherever He pleases, to accomplish that which is both for the glory and praise of His Name, and at the same time for all His people’s ultimate and eternal good.

So, looking to Jesus, cast all your care upon the LORD as your Father for He tenderly truthfully cares for you for Jesus’ sake. You can bring your sickness to Him, your impossible work pressures, your ongoing family sorrow or marriage trial, or financial need, or this or that unsolvable struggle and deep distress in your life.  God’s providence is about, as the Catechism states in Q&A27, The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby as it were, by His hand, He upholds and governs, heaven, earth, and all creatures, so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.  

What a kind, beautiful, and comforting doctrine is the Bible’s teaching of God’s providence, telling of God’s care over all His creatures, and His special care for all His people.  For non-Christians and heathens the alternative to believing in the God of providence is holding to empty beliefs that are fatalistic, cold, heartless, and comfortless, and simply vain and futile. How we should grieve that the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance is so prevalent in so many forms today, especially also in the teaching of evolution and astrology, and so-called open theism and pagan idolatry which are all lies of the devil, deceiving all too many. What can compare to the true and delightful Biblical teaching of God our Creator being also the God of providence and the mighty Saviour God too? Oh, to be led by the God Who is the Good and Great Shepherd of His sheep, truly you may know He will lead you, no matter what your course in life, in green pastures and through all the ups and downs in life in the way everlasting.  No good thing will He withhold from them that trust and follow Him, and while weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning. 

Cast all your care upon Him, considering the explanation of the doctrine of providence and considering now some illustrations of the doctrine of God’s providence.  Here let me just give some examples from the Bible which is challenging because where do I stop? For there are so many examples. But take the life story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.  When you read about his life including all the hardships and evils he endured yet how God guided all things to make him a great leader in Egypt for the good of His people. It is such an amazing story!  When in Genesis 50 the brothers of Joseph are worried he might act revengefully against them for their past sins against him, Joseph responds in faith saying, “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”  The psalmist mentions how afflictions have turned to his profit by God’s gracious, almighty, fatherly hand. In Psalm 34:19 we read too, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”  The classic Old Testament example of God’s providence working also over and above Satan’s wicked schemes and ways is, of course, the story of Job. That story is not simply a myth, but actual history showing God’s blessed providence to be trusted even in the most difficult and darkest of times. Think too of the beautiful true story of Ruth in the Old Testament. Ruth, who just happened to land in the field of Boaz the first day she gleaned in Bethlehem of Judah.  Clearly, as the book makes known, that was by God’s overruling hand, guiding all things also in her life as she entrusted herself to the one true God and forsook the false idols gods of Moab, her home country by birth.

The amazing fact of God’s providential ways also just with these true examples from Bible history is that God never simply guides us as puppets on a string. But when He chooses to use means, He guides and works together all things of life according to His good pleasure for His great glory and for our ultimate wellbeing.  Another amazing thing about God’s providential ways is how He can and does make use of the simplest and smallest means even to accomplish great things. In the story of Paul the missionary you have that awesome account in Acts 23 about Paul’s nephew becoming aware of a plot by some Jews against Paul’s life with the result that Paul gets escorted by a solider company of 470 men from Jerusalem to Caesarea!   Why, God has used animals even in His kind providence and care for His people.  Think of that ram in the thicket on Mt. Moriah where Abraham went with Isaac. And what about that whale that swallowed Jonah and brought the resistant prophet in the direction he should go? When young David brought a lunch and some food for his brothers on the battlefield, in God’s providence that was so directed that he came there just when wicked, godless Goliath was bellowing out his curses and threats. The rest of the story of how David confronts and conquers that ungodly giant is told in 1 Samuel 17. So many more true stories from Bible history could be told here showing and proving God’s almighty delightful providence in the lives of His people.

The most wonderful and powerful story of God’s providence is that of the Lord Jesus when here on earth.  The Saviour came in the fullness of time, and by God’s providence the Lord guided all things that even when mankind, Jew and Gentile, would so work against Christ and seek for his death and destruction, yet at the same time God was working to accomplish His salvation purposes. The Jewish leaders in plotting Jesus’ death wanted by all means that it not take place during the Passover feast, but by God’s overruling providence it happened just then. God led it so that all the world might see and know Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Let all find refuge in Him to escape God’s righteous judgment against sin and sinners. The point to  take home for ourselves is how while the people involved with Jesus’ crucifixion were each and all responsible for their own actions, at the same time God was in control accomplishing His salvation purposes in His grace and mercy.

Notice how this comes out so clearly in Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:23-24. Speaking of Jesus and Him crucified, Peter declares, “Him [Jesus Christ], being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of [held by] it.”  The gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again shows and proves the delightful doctrine of God’s providence in its fullest light and glory.  Jesus and Him crucified declares to you to cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you! You need no greater evidence, and you will not find greater evidence, than Christ and Him crucified and risen again, so proving God’s providence and the power and beauty of it.

What a caring God the Father is, being willing even to give up His Son to the death of the cross for the salvation of sinners like us! What a caring Saviour the Lord Jesus is, having to forego the Fatherly care and love of God for Himself when He, as Substitute for sinners, would lay down His life and pay the full and just punishment for sin in the sinner’s place.  The Lord Jesus suffered and endured the just banishment of God against Himself that for sinners like us, as many as repent of sin and believe in Christ Jesus as their Savior, might know and enjoy the providential lovingkindness of God in all their ways.  All things were against Christ as Sinbearer in this life that all things might be for us in this life, nothing excepted, through the lovingkindness of God for Jesus’ sake.  It is astoundingly wonderful the way God’s gospel purposes and His providences go hand in hand.

We have in part explained the doctrine of God’s providence somewhat, and given a few illustrations of it, all in promotion of casting all your care upon the Lord for truly He cares for you. What about the third point, truly benefiting from God’s providence?  The gospel truth is, to benefit from God’s providence and know and enjoy its great comfort, faith in God is essential. It is only those who trust and follow the Saviour of sinners as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ who can know the blessings of God’s providence.  If you refuse to repent of sin and will not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as only Saviour from sin, what then?  Instead of having the God of providence as your Saviour God, guiding all things for good in your life, the holy and righteous God must condemn you and cast you away under His just wrath and to eternal punishment.  So the wise man in Proverbs 3:6 also passionately exhorts, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” Dear friends, you won’t have the Christian doctrine of God’s providence be to your damnation rather than your salvation and exaltation, will you? Don’t, I plead with you in Jesus’ Name, discount the gospel of Jesus Christ considering also just the delightful doctrine of God’s providence!  1 Peter 5:7 can only be benefited from when you and I, as Peter says in vs.6, humble ourselves before the Lord, submitting in all our ways to Him and His gospel word. Is that what you do, by God’s grace?

Then too, benefiting from God’s providence, let us remember to be thankful for every providence of God in our lives pointing us and leading us and prompting us in His ways, and away from the paths of sin and ungodliness.  How much God’s redeemed people owe to God’s almighty, splendid, gracious providences in their lives! This is what every true Christian will confess and profess. And what a delight to hear and tell one another of God’s gracious, kind, manifold providences in our lives.  It is one of the joys of Christian fellowship together. Won’t it be a matter of endless delight in heaven for God’s people there to hear from each other the countless stories of God’s providences in their lives? How different in hell for all the wicked and unbelieving there, always at enmity with God and each other, gnashing their teeth in pain and shame and always screaming in pain and endless agony in body and soul. Oh, hear the word of the Lord then in connection with God’s providence when even in His providence God has you now hearing this message, urging one and all: Humble yourselves before God and cast all your care upon Him for He cares for you.

With benefiting from God’s providence, we need to learn also to look not short-term at things, but long-term. Even those dark and dreadful things that may happen in our lives or our lifetime, we need to see in view of God’s ultimate goal and sure promises.  Isn’t that what also guided William Cowper to write long ago:

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm…

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;

the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower… 

In summary, Q&A28 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks how we should benefit from God’s providence. How should it be of advantage for God’s people to know that He has created and by His providence does still uphold all things? The Bible-based Christian answer given is: That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and that in all things which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, [believing] that nothing shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hands that without His will they cannot so much as move.

What a powerful, God-exalting, Christ-honoring, Spirit-glorifying, upbuiding, and comforting doctrine the beautiful doctrine of God’s providence is! Do you, by God’s grace and Spirit, know and demonstrate this too? That means exemplifying in spirit and truth in your confession and conduct 1 Peter 5:6&7, humbling yourself before God, and time and again casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. May God Triune so bless this His word which in His kind providence He grants us to hear. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor               

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