Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Providence - A Baptist Heritage

Grey Bricked Flooring

If you remember back to American History then the name 'Roger Williams' will sound somewhat familiar. Williams came to the New World in 1631 and wasn't fully on board with the pervading idea of the day of a state ran religion. This got him into trouble and in the kind providence of God led to the formation of a new colony. A colony where freedom of religion was woven into its very charter.

This colony, of course, was Rhode Island. And what city would be the capital of this new colony? Providence would play a key role here as well. Literally, Providence. A most fitting name. During his Providence, RI days Williams was, for a brief stint, a Baptist and it was during this time that he was instrumental in the formation of the very first Baptist church on American Soil - First Baptist Church of Providence in 1638.

I share this neat little bit of history to just remind my fellow baptists that we have always been people of Providence. Perhaps we've never even visited Rhode Island, but that's not necessary to appreciate our heritage. It was only a few more decades later when the 1689 London Baptist Confession came out. It has this to say about providence:

CHAPTER 5; OF DIVINE PROVIDENCEParagraph 1. God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy. 
Paragraph 2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without His providence; yet by the same providence He ordered them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. 
Paragraph 3. God, in his ordinary providence makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at His pleasure.  
Paragraph 4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in His providence, that His determinate counsel extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also He most wisely and powerfully binds, and otherwise orders and governs, in a manifold dispensation to His most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceeds only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. 
Paragraph 5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does often times leave for a season His own children to manifold temptations and the corruptions 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 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 other just and holy ends. So that whatsoever befalls any of His elect is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good. 
Paragraph 6. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as the righteous judge, for former sin does blind and harden; from them He not only withholds His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understanding, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which  they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, under those means which God uses for the softening of others. 
Paragraph 7. As the providence of God does in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it takes care of His church, and disposes of all things to the good thereof.

Some of that may be difficult to read in 21st Century vernacular but suffice it to say that Baptists throughout the centuries have viewed God as the one who is control of all things. A healthy understanding of the providence of God is this: That God works all things after the counsel of His will. That in the universe there is not one rogue molecule floating around. Every atom, every proton, and electron, every single thing in the universe is under God’s sovereign hand and is used by Him to bring about His own eternal purposes for His own eternal glory.

This does not make God the author of evil, nor does it make men unresponsible for their actions. Can we not see God as big enough to uphold the universe by the word of His power, and to order and direct all things after the counsel of His will, and simultaneously hold men responsible for the choices that they make in accordance with their own desires? This is the God of the Bible.

I am finishing up Jonah this week. We've spent a few months now walking through this great book together (sermons here). In the final portion of Jonah, we see that God brings things into Jonah's life that are both comforting (the plant) and discomforting (destroying the plant). The point being that God is willing to do things in the lives of Believers in order to get to our hearts. Not because He is punishing us, but because He loves us. Because He refuses to leave us in a state of callousness, He will go to great lengths to prune us of remaining sin, sometimes even sin we didn't know we had!

This does NOT mean that you must see every negative thing in your life as God trying to ‘get you’. That’s a sad view of providence. Rather, it is to see that God is in control of all things and that even the crazy, painful, and difficult moments in your life, God is using for a good purpose.

He is at work in the chaos and the pain. When the kids are crazy and the house is a mess and the bills are late and the washing machine is broken: trust God’s unwavering love for you and His uncompromising commitment to your holiness in Him.

When the pink slip comes in or the checkup doesn’t go as planned or the tornado hits your house but not your neighbor's you must believe in a God who is not just up there wringing his hands, but who is in total control.

This doesn't mean we always have every answer to situations that arise. But it does mean that He is not through with you. He is not done with what He started in you. You see, God didn’t save you from discomfort. He didn’t save you from not getting your feelings hurt. He didn’t save you from bad days. He saved you in Christ from His own holy wrath against your sin.

And while that sin was paid for on the Cross, it’s still something that we struggle with and it’s still something God is pruning in us. God was willing to proactively bring discomfort in Jonah’s life to reveal his heart issue and to show him a clear picture of who He was and His compassion for the Nations. And because God loves us, He brings things into our life, or via secondary means allows things into our lives, for a higher purpose.
So, let us drop words like 'chance', 'luck', and 'coincidence' (and 'mother nature'). And let us recover our Baptist heritage. Let us be sound in our doctrine of providence. And let us give God the glory for all that He brings or allows into our lives knowing that His ultimate purpose is our good and His glory.

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