Reading God’s Providence Backwards – S.Ferguson

In the thirty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful piece on the providence of God.

His starting point is the sight of and conversation with an old Christian friend, for whom God’s providence had led in ways of affliction and pain after an auto accident, and his own struggle (that is, Ferguson’s) to understand God’s ways with this godly man who had had such an influence on him in his youth.

The Mystery of Providence (Puritan Paperbacks)

It is at this point that Ferguson introduces what he calls “Flavel’s Law”, named after the Puritan who wrote a significant book on the providence of God. He pulls a quote from Flavel that goes like this: “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can only be read backwards.”

I plan to pull a few quotations from this chapter so that we may all benefit from Ferguson’s thoughts on this “law” concerning God’s providence. I believe that Ferguson’s thoughts will resonate with all of us as believers.

This is from the opening part of the chapter:

Of this [his friend’s sufferings] and other experiences in life, I have sometimes thought, ‘It just does not seem to make sense.’

At such times, Flavel’s words have often comforted me and helped me to readjust my myopic spiritual perspective. They have reminded me to fix my mind and heart on God’s wise, gracious, and sovereign rule, and on the assurance that He works everything together for His children’s good, so that I do not inquire too proudly into why I cannot understand His sovereign purposes.

Of course, one occasionally meets Christians for whom the Lord’s purposes are ‘all sewn up.’ They convey an attitude of knowing exactly what He is doing and why He is doing it. Such comprehensive wisdom is difficult to dislodge, but it is often the precocious wisdom of the immature Christian who has not yet learned that while ‘those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children,’ there are also hidden and secret things that ‘belong to the LORD our God’ (Deut.29:29).

God’s ways and thoughts are not ours. We never have them ‘taped.’ As William Cowper knew well, God ‘plants his footsteps in the sea.’ We can no more read in detail God’s secret purposes for our individual lives than we can see footsteps in water or understand Hebrew if we try to read it from left to right. To imagine we can is to suffer from a form of spiritual dyslexia (Kindle ed.).

Related to this (and providentially, I might say!), the “Grace Gems” devotional for today came into my email box as I was preparing this, and it contains an edifying series of “choice quotes” on God’s providence and our afflictions. I add that to this post for your edification too:

“Affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground!” Job 5:6

“Affliction does not rise out of the dust or come to men by chance; but it is the Lord who sends it, and we should own and reverence His hand in it!” (Thomas Boston)

“Those who dive into the sea of affliction, bring up rare pearls!” (Charles Spurgeon)

“The furnace of affliction is a good place for you, Christian; it benefits you; it helps you to become more like Christ, and it is fitting you for Heaven!” (Charles Spurgeon)

“Most of the grand truths of God have to be learned by trouble; they must be burned into us with the hot iron of affliction, otherwise we shall not truly receive them.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles–they believe that Sovereignty hasordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“Afflictions tend to wean us from the world–and to fix our affections on things above.” (John Angell James)

“Poverty and affliction take away the fuel that feeds pride!” (Richard Sibbes)

“The winter prepares the earth for the spring; so do sanctified afflictions prepare the soul for glory.” (Richard Sibbes)

“When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest wines.” (Samuel Rutherford)

“Whoever brings an affliction, it is God who sends it. It is one heart-quieting consideration in all the afflictions that befall us–that God has a special hand in them: “The Almighty has afflicted me!” Ruth 1:21. Instruments can no more stir until God gives them a commission–than the axe can cut of itself without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction; therefore, as Augustine observes, Job does not say, “The Lord gave, and the devil took away,” but “the Lord has taken away.” (Thomas Watson)

“Afflictions add to the saints glory. The more the diamond is cut, the more it sparkles; the heavier the saints cross is, the heavier will be their crown.” (Thomas Watson)

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  1. […] In the thirty-sixth chapter of his book In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson has a wonderful piece on the providence of God (go here for the first post on this). […]

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