The Providence of God is Our Consolation

Some words of wisdom from two Princeton men on how a right understanding of and faith in the Providence of God is a great comfort to us amidst the troubles and trials of our daily pilgrimage in this earth.

“A firm faith in the universal providence of God is the solution of all earthy troubles. It is almost equally true that a clear and full apprehension of the universal providence of God is the solution of most theological problems.” — B.B. Warfield, “God’s Providence Over All” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1, p. 111

*******

”Men are prone to think of God, says the excellent Melancthon, as of a shipbuilder, who, when he has completed his vessel, launches and leaves it. In opposition to this error of the Epicureans and Stoics, we are to be reminded that God never abandons his work, but is as much with it the last day as the first. This governing presence of God with all his creatures and all their actions, is called Providence, from a Latin word which means to see beforehand….

The view which we here take of Providence, regards the universe of mind and matter, not as a machine, wound up and left to run its career of centuries, without the Maker’s care, but as requiring and receiving at every moment his mighty influence, a stream of power perpetually proceeding from the Godhead. The very essence of God is, therefore, everlastingly present with every atom and every spirit. This is exactly accordant to those places in Scripture where God is spoken of as the universal cause, and is said to do those things which are done, secondarily, by creatures. Ps. 104:8, 30. And to this is referred the supporting of life in the most insignificant birds. Matt. 10:29. Enough has been said in regard to this primary acting of divine Providence, in preserving all things. How God does this it would be madness for us to inquire. The simplicity of the divine acts causes them to elude our faculties. He wills it, and that is enough; just as at the beginning he willed creation. What we chiefly need is to bear this in mind, with daily faith, awe, and thankfulness. Such is God’s preserving of the creature, as a part of Providence….

It is our privilege, not only to hope in Providence, with regard to the lesser affairs of life, but to recognize it — to see God’s hand in our daily walk, with wonder and love. ‘They that observe providences, shall have providences to observe.’ The simple faith of the patriarchs saw God’s hand in every thing that befell them; and so might we. I appeal to aged and observant Christians, whether the happiest persons they ever knew, have not been those who were most ready to eye God in all the events of life: in health and sickness, in business, and in family occurrences. Let us hope in Providence. Let us hope mightily. ‘But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.’ Do days look dark? O remember, every cloud is governed by the God of truth and the God of power. The house in which you dwell is not without a master.” — James Waddel Alexander, “The Providence of God a Ground of Consolation” in Consolation, pp. 37, 40-41, 54-55

Lessons from Job by William S. Plumer

The person of Job is referenced in many ways throughout William Swan Plumer's classic volume Jehovah-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence (1867), but there is one chapter where lessons are gleaned in particular from his remarkable experience that we can greatly benefit from today.

 In chapter 15, titled "Alternate light and darkness in providence, illustrated in the case of THE GREAT MAN OF UZ," Plumer examines the doctrine of providence as reflected in the life and trials of the patriarch. The chapter is brief but golden; it is a short but profitable read. The concluding observations are very valuable and practical lessons from which we can all benefit. 

1. How vain are all merely earthly possessions! How unstable is popular favor! How uncertain are riches! How soon our pleasures may be followed by pains! When parents rejoice at the birth of a child, they know not how soon they may weep over his dead body without an assurance that his soul is saved. Solomon thoroughly tried the world. His sober inspired judgment was that all was vanity. The sooner we reach that conclusion ourselves, the wiser shall we be.

2. Let us always be more afraid of sinning against God than of offending our nearest earthly friends. Job instantly repulsed the wicked assaults of his wife, saying, "Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh." Job ii. 10. To his own disciple, Peter, Jesus was compelled to say: "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God but those that be of men." Matt. xvi. 23. No human friendship may for a moment interfere with our fidelity to God.

3. Although God generally chooses the poor as his children, yet he offers mercy to the rich, and receives all such as humbly seek his grace. Job's riches did not debar him from the kingdom of heaven. By reason of depravity riches tend to alienate the heart from God; yet sovereign grace can remedy that evil. He, who is rich in this world's goods, and also rich in faith and good works, is loudly called to sing the praises of Jehovah. Nothing but almighty power could thus make the camel go through the eye of the needle, or preserve the soul from the burning flames of insatiable covetousness.

4. Weight of character and a high order of talents are by no means confined to the enemies of God. "Why should they be? Piety is wisdom. Who ever stood higher for wisdom in council, for soundness of judgment and for prowess in war than did the man of Uz? In proportion to the number of consistent professors of religion, there cannot be found any number of men who surpass God's people for calmness of inquiry, soberness of mind and practical wisdom. True religion is worthy of the most earnest and solemn attention.

5. Good men are not always good in proportion to the degree of light which they enjoy. Job is supposed to have lived before the time of Moses, under the obscurity of the patriarchal dispensation; yet he was a burning and a shining light. He neither saw nor heard many wondrous things well known to us. Yet how far did he and Abraham and Enoch and other ancient worthies excel the great mass of even good men of these latter days. Truly we ought to blush for our short-comings. Guilt is in proportion to light. Surely then we must be very guilty for our sad deficiencies.

6. When malice, or envy, or suspicion, or evil sur- mising exists, no established reputation, no want of evidence of guilt can "tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue." By a long and holy life Job had given incontestible evidence of the purity of his character. His friends could bring no proof of his criminality in anything. Yet they charged him with cruelty, rapacity and hypocrisy. Such wickedness has not yet left the earth. It is no new or rare thing for the best men to be charged with the basest plans, principles or practices. It will be so until grace shall reign through Jesus Christ over all hearts. A propensity to evil thoughts and evil speeches is among the last faults of character from which even good men are delivered.

7. If friends accuse us falsely and act as enemies, let us not forget to pray for them. Job set us the example: Job xlii. 8. Enmities arising between old friends are generally more violent than others. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle." Prov. xviii. 19. But we must not yield to passion. We must forgive and seek blessings on those who falsely accuse us and cruelly entreat us. It was not till Job prayed for his accusers that God turned his captivity. Let us never carry a load of malice in our hearts. It is worse than any evil we can suffer at the hand of man.

8. When our characters are assailed, we are at liberty to use Christian measures to remove an evil report. It is then best to leave the whole matter in the hands of God. Lawsuits for character may be lawful and sometimes expedient. But when bad passions are excited no character is so unspotted that malice will not spew out its venom against it. We may deny our guilt; we may call for evidence against us; we may bring evidence of innocence; but with men of heated imaginations and strong prejudices, evidence never has its just weight.

9. It is very dangerous to become involved in a labyrinth of reasoning concerning God, his character and providence. Things which are revealed belong to us and our children. We may safely follow where-ever revelation leads; but we are no judges of what is proper to be done under the government of God. The attempt to criticise the divine proceedings is always a failure and iniquity.

10. It is important to study the Scriptures and learn all we can concerning the plans and providence of God. Had Job clearly known what we by patient study may learn, it would have removed much of the pungency of his grief. God's word is a light and a lamp. Let us walk by it.

11. What is the grief of each one? Is it poverty, poor health, want of reputation, loss of religious comfort? Whatever it be, take for an example of suffering affliction Job, the narrative of whose trials was written for our comfort. Like him, let each one say of the Almighty, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Job xiii. 15. Never was pious confidence in the Lord misplaced. Never did any trust in him and was confounded.

12. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. The greatest secret God ever reveals to his people is the mystery of redemption. Of this Job was not ignorant. By this he triumphed. His own language is explicit: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another." Job xix. 25-27.