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Sermon #91 — Romans Series
Title: The Mystery of Providence
Text: Romans 8:28
Subject: Divine Providence
Date: Sunday Morning — June 12, 2016
Reading: Ezekiel 1:1-28
“Hail, sovereign love that first began
The scheme to rescue fallen man,
Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace
That gave my soul a hiding place.
Against the God that rules the sky
I fought with hands uplifted high;
Despised His rich abounding grace,
Too proud to seek a hiding place.
Enwrapt in Egyptian night
And fond of darkness more than light,
Madly I ran the sinful race,
Secure without a hiding place.
But thus the eternal counsel ran,
“Almighty love, arrest that man!”
I felt the arrows of distress
And found I had no hiding place.
Indignant justice stood in view,
To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew;
But justice cried with frowning face,
“This mountain is no hiding place!”
Ere long the heavenly voice I heard
And mercy’s angel form appeared;
She led me on with gentle pace
To Jesus as my hiding place.
Should storms of thundering vengeance roll
And shake the earth from pole to pole,
No flaming bolt shall daunt my face,
For Jesus is my hiding place.
A few more rolling suns at most
Will land me safe on Canaan’s coast,
Where I shall sing the song of grace
And see my glorious hiding place!”
My subject is The Mystery of Providence. I want to show you how God graciously brings chosen sinners to Christ. My text is that blessedly familiar verse in the eighth chapter of Romans – “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Psalm 107 is a sermon written by God the Holy Ghost on my text. This Psalm is a beautiful display of God’s adorable providence in saving his elect.
That Psalm is an allegory picturing God’s ways of grace. You know what an allegory is. It is a parable. It is an earthly picture of a spiritual truth. The allegory may or may not be a fact of history. But its purpose is to illustrate some spiritual truth.
For example: In Galatians 4 Paul uses the story, a historical story, of Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael to represent the covenant of grace and the covenant of works. In Luke 16 our Lord used a fictional story of the rich man and Lazarus to illustrate the life and death of the wicked and the life and death of the righteous. In Psalm 105 David used the story of Israel’s history from Abraham to Canaan as an allegory of God’s salvation of his people. In Psalm 106 he showed us why God’s saves sinners — “For his name’s sake.” And here, we have an allegorical picture of the way in which God saves his people.
The providence of God is simply God’s universal government of all things. In providence God brings to pass what he has purposed in eternity. There is a general providence of God in the world. And there is a special providence of God toward his elect.
God’s general providence is his superintendence and government of the world. We do not believe in the laws of nature. We believe God, “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Our God did not create the world, and then leave it. No. He is actively presiding over all the affairs of the universe. The dew falls and waters the earth by his decree. The grass grows for the cattle in his appointed place. The sparrow is fed from his almighty hand. And the planets are held in their orbits around the sun by the Word of God. This is God’s general providence.
But God’s special providence is something else. It is God working all things together for the good, for the eternal salvation of his elect. Get this if you can, everything that has ever taken place in the history of the universe, since the beginning of time, whether good or evil, has been ruled by the providence of God for your salvation! That is a stupendous thought. And that is what Psalm 107 is all about. Empires have been raised up and empires have fallen by the hand of God, so that he might save us by his grace. This is what God says, “I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life” (Isaiah 43:3-4). Truly, his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways!
Proposition: The temporal blessings of which this psalm speaks are but symbols, types, and pictures of God’s spiritual blessings, blessings of grace for which he is to be magnified and praised.
Four times in this one psalm, the psalmist cries, “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men” (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).
This Psalm is like the Interpreter’s house in Pilgrim’s Progress. There Pilgrim was told that he would see excellent and profitable things. And, truly, if the Lord will give us eyes to see and ears to hear, we will see and hear excellent and profitable things from this song of the redeemed.
Divisions: Let’s now look at the Psalm. There are four things to which call to your attention from these 43 verses:
1. We are called upon to extol and give thanks to God for his goodness (1-3).
2. We are given four illustrations of Divine providence in salvation (4-32).
3. We are given insight into the mystery of providence (33-42).
4. We are exhorted to observe the lovingkindness of God in his providence (43).
1st — We are called upon to extol and give thanks to God for his goodness (v.1).
(Psalm 107:1) “O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.”
David is here speaking to the people of God. Those who have been saved and gathered from among the heathen ought to extol the Lord God for his goodness to them. Why? — Why should we give thanks to the Lord our God? — We should give thanks to the Lord for his goodness. The very name God is but an abbreviation of the word good. God is good. He does good. And he is the Author of all good.
Š All Eternal Goodness.
We should give thanks unto the Lord, because his mercy endures forever. God’s mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. From generation to generation, the sons of men experience the mercy of God in Christ.
Who should give thanks to the Lord? (vv. 3-4).
(Psalm 107:2-3) “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; (3) And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.”
In mercy and goodness our great God has redeemed us with the precious blood of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the hand of the enemy.
Another example of God’s goodness and mercy is that he has gathered us to Christ by effectual power. We had all gone astray. We had turned everyone to his own way. But the Lord observed our ways. And in the fullness of time he gathers his elect to Christ by sovereign power, from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 43:5-6).
(Isaiah 43:5-6) “Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; (6) I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;”
Those who are redeemed of the Lord will, most assuredly be gathered to him. — “I will hiss (call) for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them” (Zechariah 10:8).
The men of the world will not confess the goodness of God, therefore we must. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.” We have found him to be good, and we must say so.
Š Is God good when he takes away, as well as when he gives? “The redeemed of the LORD say so.”
2nd — We are given four displays of God’s goodness, four illustrations of divine providence working in the salvation of his elect (vv. 4-32). The redeemed of the Lord say that God is good and his mercy endures forever. Here the Psalmist displays that mercy in providence.
Prevenient Grace — The mercy of God toward you did not begin when we first believed. God’s mercy actively arranged all the affairs of our lives in order to bring us to Christ. Indeed, he arranged all the affairs of history to secure our eternal salvation. This is his prevenient grace, that grace of providence, which precedes the experience of grace in salvation.
Sometimes God’s good providence appears to us to be hard and rough. But he has a good purpose. In providence he may bring Gomer down to the lowest pit of degradation. He may even use Satan to do it. But his purpose is to exalt her in due time. Before God ever exalts a sinner to his place among the sons of God, he will bring him down in the dust of humiliation. Here are four illustrations of divine providence, four illustrations of God’s prevenient grace.
We were all lost, weary travelers, wandering through the dark, dark wilderness of rebellion, sin, and unbelief through this world, in need of a guide to bring us home to God (vv. 4-9).
(Psalm 107:4-9) “They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. (5) Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. (6) Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. (7) And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. (8) Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (9) For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”
We were lost in the wilderness of sin by reason of our own rebellion and ignorance (v. 4; Ezekiel 20:35; Hosea 2:14).
(Psalm 107:4) “They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in.”
(Ezekiel 20:35) “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face.”
(Hosea 2:14) “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.”
Like silly, ignorant sheep we all went astray. We all went our own way, according to the bent of our will. And we wandered on in darkness, so ignorant that we did not even know our condition.
But God, in his providence, made us hungry and thirsty (v. 5).
(Psalm 107:5) “Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.”
John Gill wrote, “In such a condition are souls, when, like the prodigal, they come to themselves, and are thoroughly convinced of their state and condition by nature; they find themselves starving and famishing, and no provision to be had from themselves or the creature: they hunger after Christ, the Bread of Life, and thirst after his grace, the Water of Life, and the blessings of it; they hunger and thirst after his righteousness, and justification by it; after the pardon of their sins through his blood, and after salvation by him, and an interest in it; after more knowledge of him, and communion with him.”
God knows how to create dissatisfaction in a man’s heart. God knows how to make the prodigal hungry. We found ourselves in desperate need, with no means of provision.
“All my life long I had panted
For a draught from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.
Feeding on the husks around me,
Till my strength was almost gone,
Longed my soul for something better,
Only still to hunger on.
Poor I was, and sought for riches,
Something that would satisfy,
But the dust I gathered round me
Only mocked my soul’s sad cry.”
Then, in the time of our soul’s trouble, we called upon the Lord (v. 6).
(Psalm 107:6) “Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.”
It is a time of trouble when awakened sinners are convinced of sin by the Spirit of God.
Then, the Lord God led us to Christ, our City of Habitation by Christ the right way (v. 7).
(Psalm 107:7) “And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.”
All of this we owe to God’s adorable, wise, and good providence. Therefore, we will praise him (vv. 8-9).
(Psalm 107:8-9) “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (9) For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”
“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.”
None but Christ satisfies the hungry soul.
“Well of water ever springing,
Bread of life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me.
Hallelujah! I have found Him,
Whom my soul so long had craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings —
Through His blood I now am saved!
Prisoners of Hope
We were all prisoners, in bondage to sin, Satan, and the law of God, but Christ set us free (vv. 10-16; Isaiah 9:2; 42:7; 49:9). We were prisoners under sentence of death (v. 10).
(Psalm 107:10) “Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron.”
Our sentence was just (v. 11).
(Psalm 107:11) “Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High.”
God graciously humbled our proud hearts (v. 12).
(Psalm 107:12) “Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help.”
With one afflictive providence after another, the haughtiness of man is laid low. Afflictions will never humble a man. Providential judgment will never bring anyone to repentance. But afflictions and judgments working on us by the power of God with his Word will humble proud, haughty sinners and bring them to repentance. When a man is humbled under a sense of sin, then he is willing to submit to Christ and his righteousness. Then the guilty sinner falls down and pleads for mercy. He has no other hope.
When the guilty, weary, helpless sinner cries for mercy, the Lord sets him free (vv. 13-14).
(Psalm 107:13-14) “Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. (14) He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.”
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray. —
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
All of this, we owe to God’s providence. Therefore, we will praise him (vv. 15-16).
(Psalm 107:15-16) “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (16) For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder.”
“Grace, ‘tis a charming sound!
Harmonious to mine ear!
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book:
‘Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.
Grace taught my soul to pray,
And made my eyes o’erflow;
‘Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go!”
We were all sin-sick souls in need of a healing Physician (vv. 17-22). Sin has made fools of all men (v. 17).
(Psalm 107:17) “Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.”
In our folly we despised the good Word of God; and Christ the Bread of Life was rejected by us. Our sin-sick souls were famishing and ready to die, by reason of our folly (v. 18).
(Psalm 107:18) “Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.”
When we were at the point of death, we called upon the Lord and he saved us (v. 19).
(Psalm 107:19) “Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses.”
Sending his Word, the Word of the gospel, he healed us (v. 20). The gospel is a tree of life. Its doctrines are leaves for the healing of the nations. — So…
(Psalm 107:20) “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.”
All of this we owe to the good providence of God. Therefore, we will offer to him the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, the calves of our lips (vv. 21-22; Hebrews 13:15).
(Psalm 107:21-22) “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (22) And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.”
(Hebrews 13:15) “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”
We were all like seaman on the raging sea, ready to perish, until the Lord God intervened and gave us peace (vv. 23-32). When the Lord God brings us into the deep, and causes us to do business in great waters, there we see his wonders (vv. 23-24; Isaiah 42:10).
(Psalm 107:23-24) “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; (24) These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”
(Isaiah 42:10) “Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.”
God tossed us about in his stormy providence until he made our souls melt within us and brought us to our wits end (vv. 25-27).
(Psalm 107:25-27) “For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. (26) They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. (27) They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.”
Then, and not till then, we called upon him, and he gave us peace, great peace, peace that passeth understanding, bringing us to our desired haven of rest (vv. 28-30).
(Psalm 107:28-30) “Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. (29) He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. (30) Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.”
Alexander Carson said, “It is God who raises the storm; it is God who stilleth it.”
All of this we owe to God’s adorable providence. Therefore, we will give thanks and praise to him (vv. 31-32).
(Psalm 107:31-32) “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (32) Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.”
This is God’s goodness and his wonderful work.
3rd — We are given insight into the mystery of providence (vv. 33-42). David has told us how that God deals with individuals to bring them to saving faith in Christ. Now, he goes deeper into the mystery of providence, showing us how that God arranges the affairs of princes, and nobles, and nations in this world for the salvation of his elect. The Lord God causes the fruitful places to be barren and the barren places he makes fruitful, according to his wise designs of grace for his elect (vv. 33-35).
(Psalm 107:33-35) “He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; (34) A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. (35) He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings.”
He takes the gospel from one nation and gives it to another. When a land is left barren, without a gospel witness, it is because they have despised the goodness of God to them. When a land of darkness and ignorance is given the light of the gospel, it is because God has a people in that land whom he intends to save. How often history has proved this fact. Israel despised the gospel; so Jerusalem is left desolate. Rome once flourished with the gospel; but now she is imprisoned in idolatry and superstition. Ethiopia once was the place of great gospel preaching; now she is the place of gross darkness. But God is not without a witness. He opened the borders of England, then America, then Canada. And the gospel now flourishes in the land of barrenness!
Why do you suppose that America was discovered? It was not just so that England might increase her colonies. It was because God would prepare a place for you and me to hear the gospel!
God makes the hungry and thirsty soul to dwell in a land where the gospel is preached (vv. 36-40).
(Psalm 107:36-40) “And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation; (37) And sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase. (38) He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied greatly; and suffereth not their cattle to decrease. (39) Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow. (40) He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.”
Those he intends to save, the Lord will put in a place where they will hear the gospel.
Where are the flourishing churches of Jerusalem, Asia, and Rome? They have long ago been scattered.
But of these things we may be sure (vv. 41-42).
(Psalm 107:41) “Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock.”
(Psalm 107:42) “The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth.”
(Psalm 107:42) “The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth.”
4th — We are exhorted to observe the great lovingkindness of our great God in his holy, wise, good, and adorable providence (v. 43).
(Psalm 107:43) “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.”
This I say, brethren, “All things are yours; whether…the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”
Whatever God does, he does because of his lovingkindness toward his children in this world.
Let us give thanks to God for his great goodness that he has shown to us. —— Let us cherish the blessings of God upon us. They can be removed as easily as they were given. —— Let us adore the good providence of God. —— This is God’s providence. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind the frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain.
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.”
Now I ask you, child of God, if God has given nations for you, and people for your life, don’t you suppose he is worthy of your trust day by day? — “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
Go home, my friends, trusting the Lord your God, resting in the lovingkindness of God toward you, by which he rules the universe. — “O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good; for his mercy endureth forever!”