Category Archives: Theology

The Necessity of Providence

Recently I was checking through the feed of blogs I follow and came across a timely post from a well-known blogging team on the doctrine of providence.  Timely because I recently experienced an accident through which I was able to observe the providence of God (more on that in another post).  This particular blog post began with the following statement: “Reading providence is a fool’s game, yet it never lacks players.”  God’s providence can simply be defined as the manner in which the Sovereign Lord cares and provides for, governs, and orders His creation. The blog author continues:

“Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God’s personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.”

Keep in mind the context of this particular post was supposed to be the doctrine of providence and it’s thesis statement was that “reading providence is a fool’s game”.  After another statement describing how “feelings” of individuals cannot adequately describe one’s relationship or closeness to God when encountering a certain experience, the post then proceeds to reference the account of Jesus walking on the water from Mark 6:46-50.  The following observation is made from this passage, “It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant. Read God’s stance towards you, and discern God’s will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.”

Up to this point in the post, I’m not sure if they’re trying to discourage the observation of God’s providence or the elevation of Christian experience above Scripture, but the author makes the following conclusion:

“Is the Lord “in the storm”? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39  [“Hush! Be still!”]).

But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God’s love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life’s storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).”

Finally, the post is concluded with the following summation:

“Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the “afterwards,” the “later” — as in “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).”

At this point, I’ve asked myself if the blog quoted extensively above is meant to be a polemic against observing God’s providence or if it is an argument for the sufficiency of scripture over against the elevation of experience above God’s written word.  The two issues seemed to be blended and confused, quite frankly leading to misunderstanding the Christian life.  If their argument is the latter case, then I can fully agree; if the former then I must object on the basis of Scripture.

Let me first point out that the post with which I’m interacting provides no scriptural proof against observing God’s providence in the Christian life, but would seem to agree to its potential by stating its occurrence “after the fact”, if at all.  I’d like to provide 3 passages affirming the practice of observing God’s providence in the life of believers.

  1. Matthew 6:25-34 25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

With a simple study of this passage we can glean several details on the Providence of God.  In the context of the Sermon of the Mount, this particular passage is an exhortation against the sin of anxiety.  The first detail is  in verse 26, “Look at the birds”.  Here Jesus is encouraging His hearers (and us) to observe the providence of God over the rest of His creation, in this case the birds.  Note how anxiety is combated with the observation of God’s providence.  Jesus then connects this example of observing the providence of God in operation with the birds to the lives of His followers, “Are you not of more value than they?”  It’s important not to miss the progression of His argument here A) Observe the Providence of God in the life of birds B) God cares for His people more C) God will be providential in providing for them.

Secondly, we Jesus turning from anxiety over food to anxiety over clothing by drawing observation to flowers, “Consider the lilies of the field.”  Here, Jesus directs our attention to the work of God’s providence in clothing the lillies and connects this to unecessary anxiety over the provision of clothing.

2. Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In our second example concerning the ongoing activity of God’s providence, we arrive at a well-known passage in which Christ informs us that it is He who will build His church.  This verse is the response to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus affirms Peter’s confession, concluding that upon it and Peter, as a representative of the apostles, He would build His Church.  Our focus is upon the surety that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  How can Jesus make a guarantee like this if God is not actively providential in both the building and the defense of His church?  Likewise, what comfort can His church take when they are faced with persecution, slander, tribulation, and suffering for the sake of the Gospel if they cannot look with confidence to this promise from Christ?  Therefore, it is with great assurance that we can observe the providence of God in the life of His church as He executes His mission to build His church.

3. Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Finally, we come to one of the great providential and assuring passages for the Christian life; one which was actually referenced in the blog post quoted above.  We see here that “those who love God” can rest assured that “all things work together for good”.  The implication here is not a generic good, but for the good of the believer who loves God and has been “called according to [H]is purpose.”  This means that in the life of the believer, he/she can look to the circumstances which they face, be it death of a loved-one, terminal disease, financial woes, or whatever may come and take great comfort in knowing that God, the providential, sovereign Lord of His creation, is working all things together for good…and for their good too, which ultimately is to make them more conformed to the image of Christ.  It therefore is a great assurance for the believer, regardless of the circumstance, to observe God’s providence working in their life.

In the blog post referenced above the author stated that “Reading providence is a fool’s game”, while I remain uncertain whether that particular post is a polemic against feelings, impressions or “casting lots” and leaving the choice up to God or if it is argument against observing the providence of God in the believer’s life.  But it is clear in the passages above that we see the Word of God pointing straight toward the providence of God as a comfort to the anxious soul,  strength for the church, and a balm for the weary Christian.  Meditating on God’s providence is far from foolish, it’s a necessity.  In closing, three thoughts on neglecting the duty of mediating on God’s providence, by Puritan John Flavel, author of The Mystery of Providence:

1. Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them.

2. Without this we lose the usefulness and benefit of all the works of God for us or others.

3. It is a vile slighting of God not to observe what He manifests of Himself in His providences.

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 30: The Lord’s Supper

1. The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.
( 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17,21 )

2. In this ordinance Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sin of the quick or dead, but only a memorial of that one offering up of himself by himself upon the cross, once for all; and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same. So that the popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominable, injurious to Christ’s own sacrifice the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.
( Hebrews 9:25, 26, 28; 1 Corinthians 11:24; Matthew 26:26, 27 )

3. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use, and to take and break the bread; to take the cup, and, they communicating also themselves, to give both to the communicants.
( 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, etc. )

4. The denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about for adoration, and reserving them for any pretended religious use, are all contrary to the nature of this ordinance, and to the institution of Christ.
( Matthew 26:26-28; Matthew 15:9; Exodus 20:4, 5 )

5. The outward elements in this ordinance, duly set apart to the use ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that truly, although in terms used figuratively, they are sometimes called by the names of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ, albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.
( 1 Corinthians 11:27; 1 Corinthians 11:26-28 )

6. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood, commonly called transubstantiation, by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason, overthroweth the nature of the ordinance, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions, yea, of gross idolatries.
( Acts 3:21; Luke 14:6, 39; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25 )

7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
( 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 )

8. All ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Christ, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table, and cannot, without great sin against him, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto; yea, whosoever shall receive unworthily, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating and drinking judgment to themselves.
( 2 Corinthians 6:14, 15; 1 Corinthians 11:29; Matthew 7:6 )

 

Christ: Mediator of the New Covenant, Part 1

In my last few posts here, we’ve been looking at eschatology, or the study of end things.  We’ve taken a parenthesis in this study to examine some thoughts on what the Bible says about covenants.  This is necessary because of the eschatological system that we paused at, dispensationalism.  If you need a quick review of that system, see here Understanding Dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism is more than just a particular view of the end times.  As stated before, it’s actually a hermeneutic, or science of interpretation.  While hermeneutic might sound like a technical, complicated word, it’s really not.  It’s simply describing the way in which one interprets a particular literary work.  As it relates to the Bible, it is the way, or science/system, of interpreting the Bible.  For a more thorough discussion, see here http://www.bible-researcher.com/baugh1.html

In this post, we continue our look at the New Covenant and its membership by concentrating on the Mediator of this covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ (For an excellent summary of Christ as Mediator see this post: 1689 Chapter 8)  By Mediator, it is meant that Christ “mediates” or acts as an arbitrator, between God (the Father) and man.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.  John Owen, in his commentary on Hebrews, writes “A mediator must be a middle person between both parties entering into the covenant; and if they be of different natures, a perfect complete mediator ought to partake of each of their natures in the same person.”

We are first introduced to this idea of the mediatorial work of Christ in Mark 14 during the upper room Passover meal of Jesus and His disciples,

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

From this passage we can begin to see the connection between the covenant (New) and the death of Christ, i.e. the shedding of His blood.  This is even more explicitly stated in Luke 22:20, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Here we see Jesus making specific reference to the New Covenant and its direct connection to His death.

Similarly the Apostle Paul references this connection outlined by our Lord in his first letter to the Church at Corinth,

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-30

In this particular passage, Paul also references Jesus’ words from the Passover prior to His death.  We see not only the relationship between the New Covenant and Jesus’ death, but also the association with communion, or the Lord’s Supper, with both the New Covenant and remembering Jesus’ death.  This will be important in helping to determine the membership of this covenant.  We have previously asserted (Regeneration) that membership of the New Covenant is limited to the regenerate as evidenced by their repentance and faith in Christ and at this point we must return to that particular question from several posts ago specifically regarding membership in the New Covenant.  As previously stated, only the regenerate belongs to the New Covenant, as seen in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 (It is common language, particularly within Reformed Baptist tradition to assert membership of the New Covenant is limited to the elect, but it would seem clear that it should be more specific, i.e. the regenerate elect).

Despite the promise of the New Covenant in these Old Testament passages, we do not see the inauguration of this covenant until the New Testament, specifically through the death of Christ as noted in the passages above.  So while Jeremiah and Ezekiel inform our understanding of what is to come, it really is incomplete without seeing greater detail that the New Testament provides.  Which brings us to our passage earlier from Paul.  Paul not only quotes Jesus’ statement about his blood and body represented by the wine and bread, but specifically references the New Covenant connection to this communion time.  He follows with this warning, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”  Paul is writing to the Church, i.e. believers, and he is warning them against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.  Just what this unworthy manner has been of some debate, but what is clear is that Paul is exhorting believer’s to do a spiritual examination of their hearts before they share in communion with Christ, remembering His death and longing for His second coming.  This is important guidance for determining who should partake in Lord’s Supper, which has been identified as a sign of membership in the New Covenant.  By way of implication of this passage, it must be exclusive of believers only, those we have who have been regenerated in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Some have argued that membership in the New Covenant is extended to all Israel or all those who are believers and their children.  But this cannot be.  We’ve seen that the New Covenant benefits are for the regenerate and now, on the basis of the New Covenant purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, we see again that only believers are to partake in the Lord’s Supper because for them and them alone it is a sign of their inclusion in the New Covenant.