November 16, 2008

There Are Dark Providences, Part II

It is the presence of the dark providences in the universe and in our lives that go a long way to make up what John Flavel called 'the mystery of providence'.  Thomas Boston addressed himself to the same problem in a series of sermons on Ecclesiastes 7:13:  'Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight which He has made crooked'.  They were published after his death under the title The Crook in the Lot.

When adversity comes into our lives, we tend to react in one of two ways.  We may say that it is from a source other than God and He has no power to stop it; or we may say it is an evidence of God's anger against us.  Either way we are guilty of casting aspersions on the character of our Father and consequently of perverting our attitude to Him.  'A just (right) view of afflicting incidents', says Boston in the opening sentence of his work, 'is altogether necessary to a Christian deportment under them'.  He continues: 'That view is to be obtained only by faith, not by sense; for it is the light of the Word alone that represents them justly, discerning in them the work of God, and consequently designs becoming the Divine perfections'.

The Christian, although he is justified, remains a sinner in the midst of a fallen world.  He is subject to 'all the ills that flesh is heir to'.  Some of the consequences of his past sins affect his life.  He is subject to the discipline of his Heavenly Father.  Satan concentrates his attack on him.  the world under the control of the evil one is hostile to him.  His suffering are compounded because he is a Christian.  'In the world', our Lord warned his disciples, 'you will have tribulation' (John 16:33).

The Bible leaves us in no doubt that sufferings is a normal part of the true Christian life. Hebrews chapter 11 portrays the suffering witnesses of the Old Testament.  The New Testament presents us with our great Example who was 'made perfect through sufferings' (Hebrews 2:10), and also with the many followers who 'became partakers' in His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13).  The whole emphasis in the teaching of the early church was on 'rejoicing in the midst of sufferings.' It is 'through much tribulation' that we enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22).

The Westminster Confession of Faith contains in its chapter on Providence this judiciously-worded paragraph on God's dealings with His own children:

The most wise, righteous and gracious God, does often times leave for a season His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their own hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

Sadly such teaching seems far removed from the outlook that prevails in large parts of the Church today.  The impression is given that the purpose of the Christian life is enjoyment. Everything that stands in the way of that is to be eliminated.  People are looking for a problem-free Christianity.  The health, wealth and success gospel is having a field day.  Purveyors of such views becomes apparent when suffering, sorrow of disappointment comes.  Then it becomes clear what we need a faith that is grounded in God's Word.

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