God sustains, upholds, and governs over everything he makes, leading it all to its intended end. This is the theme of Pastor John’s wonderful new book, Providence. This truth is glorious. We are meant to see and savor it for ourselves so deeply that it changes our lives. So we are celebrating these implications on Wednesdays. And there’s a total of ten. Last time, in episode 1589, we looked at how the precious providence of God means that in the suffering of Christians, neither Satan, nor man, nor nature, nor chance is wielding decisive control. God is sovereign over all our suffering. And that means none of our suffering is meaningless. It is always purposeful. It is always measured, always wise, always loving, always working for us an eternal weight of glory. That was implication number six. Here now with implication number seven is Pastor John.
The seventh real-life effect of seeing and savoring the all-pervading, all-embracing, all-governing providence of God is that it makes us alert and resistant to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news but are false alternatives to the God-centered vision of reality and salvation in the Bible. Let me say it another way.
“Joyful faith in the all-governing providence of God is like a spiritual inoculation.”
There is something about the embrace — the joyful, heartfelt, intelligent embrace — of this radically God-centered, God-exalting, God-besotted view of all things that creates a kind of theological antibody against man-centered diseases, false teachings that make too much of man and too little of God. Joyful faith in the all-governing providence of God is like a spiritual inoculation or immunization against much false teaching. And what a gift, what a benefit that is, to the church and to the human soul.
Departure from Biblical Providence
History seems to show that this is so. For example, as Iain Murray describes in his biography of Jonathan Edwards, toward the end of the eighteenth century, convictions about God’s all-governing providence and other God-centered doctrines waned, they declined, in North America. It was the spirit of the age to stress less God’s sovereignty and more man’s autonomy.
In the progress of this departure from biblical providence after the Great Awakening, those congregational churches of new England that came to embrace views of man’s own powers as decisive, rather than God’s powers as decisive, those churches gradually moved into Unitarianism, which denied the deity of Christ, and into Universalism, which basically said that all the faiths of the world are going to lead people to heaven. And much of the deep secularism that one finds in New England to this very day traces its roots back to this process.
In other words, a deep, strong conviction about the all-governing providence of God can be lost. It can. No doctrinal allegiance guarantees protection from spiritual decay; only God himself can keep the heart from drifting away and keep it true.
Bulwark of the Truth
But what the history shows is that, while there is conviction about God’s all-governing providence, and while there is love for this beautiful doctrine, there is a spiritual and theological barrier against drifting into false, man-centered substitutes. It seems that there is something about the truth of God’s all-embracing providence that stands guard over the mind and heart, and keeps her (the heart) alert, and keeps the church alert to tendencies and shifts that swing wide from the plumb line of God’s word.
You can read about the same process in J.I. Packer’s Quest for Godliness. I’ve written down here page 160, where he describes how Richard Baxter, in the seventeenth century, drifted away from an emphasis on certain man-humbling, God-exalting teachings, and how the following generations reaped a grim harvest in the Baxter church in Kidderminster. And you can see the same thing in the nineteenth century in the downgrade controversy surrounding Charles Spurgeon.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:15 that “the church of the living God [is] a pillar and buttress of the truth.” And what I’m suggesting is that part of that bulwark is the church’s stand, embrace, love for the profoundly God-centered vision of reality implicit in the all-pervasive providence of God. When that is surrendered, the church is vulnerable to many man-centered distortions of biblical truth.
So, what I’m saying is that seeing and savoring this providence sends the roots of countercultural conviction so deeply into the rock of Scripture that lovers of this truth are not easily blown over by the winds of false teaching.
Boast in the Lord
Why? One reason I think is that this providence is so contrary to fallen human nature, and so out of step with the prevailing self-exalting culture, that if Christians can break ranks with the world on this point and hold fast to this truth, then they can on any point. Which means, they are safe from much deception from the world.
“Lovers of this truth are not easily blown over by the winds of false teaching.”
Here’s another reason I think that embracing God’s all-governing providence makes us resistant to man-centered substitutes; namely, the sheer enormity of God, the sheer weight and seriousness and authority of God, implicit in this doctrine creates in the soul a spiritual sense, a kind of holy acumen, that can detect in any idea or doctrine or behavior a tendency toward exalting man while diminishing God.
In 1 Corinthians 1:26–31, Paul tells us to remember and to consider our calling. And then he describes this calling in a way that explicitly says that God’s providence in bringing us to himself in this calling was carried out in such a way as to stop the mouth of all man-centered boasting and to awaken only Christ-exalting boasting. In other words, views that put man low in his own boast and put Christ high in our boast — that view will keep us from drifting away from a right understanding of our calling. Here’s what he says:
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29)
And then he flips it and he gives the positive alternative:
Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31)
In other words, God, in his providence, has saved us and called us in a way so that he secures from us self-humbling and Christ-exalting: the self is humbled; Christ is exalted. And I believe that the reality of God’s all-pervading, all-embracing providence does that. And in that way, it is part of the bulwark of the truth that protects us from many false ideas. And that is a great and precious gift.