The Dark Providences
T.D. Higgins is a member of Reformed Baptist Church of Elizabethtown and a frequent contributor to "Doctrinal Shorts."
"Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word." Ps. 119.67
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith concludes its remarks concerning the providence of God in regards to the elect with the following statement: "So that whatsoever befalls any of his elect is by his appointment, for his glory, and their good" (2LBCF 5.5). This is a remarkable statement. It is easy for us to understand how some of the things that befall us in this life redound to the glory of God and operate for our good. The promotion received, the happy birth of a child, and the bliss of abundant provision are all works of providence which cause us to bless God for his goodness. The Scripture, though, teaches us a more magnificent truth: all the events of our life, and all the events in the lives of those around us, occur by the appointment of the Most High for his glory and for our good.
This is the truth that the Psalmist sings in Psalm 119.67. Consider the sentence: "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word." From what did he stray before his affliction? The word of the Lord. In other words, he was in a time of sin before his trial. After this affliction, he says that he kept the word of Lord, meaning that he repented of sin and pursued holiness before God. The implication of this statement is that the affliction he suffered was the catalyst by which the Holy Spirit wrought that great work of mortification in his soul.
This seems counter-intuitive at first glance. Does not this concept of affliction in the midst of impenitent living sound like kicking a man while he is down? Would it not make more sense to gently encourage and uplift? After all, one of the sweetest promises for the saints is this description of our Lord: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench" (Is. 42.3).
Yet all through Scripture, we see that God appoints afflictions for his saints for his glory and their good. Both of those purposes are really one: when God glories himself in his saints, it is necessarily for their good. Why? Because God glorifies himself in the church by purifying her so that she may have no "spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5.7). The Apostle Peter puts it this way: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1Pet. 1.6-7).
Gold does not come out of the earth shiny and beautiful. It must purified and cleansed. So too the remaining corruptions of our indwelling sin must be purged away, so that we may be spotless and without blemish. Of course our Lord will not break a bruised reed; yet oftentimes there is pain accompanying the healing. In the midst of the clouds of these dark providences, it is difficult for us to see anything other than the pain. But as the old hymn says we must "trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey." Consider these words from the Prince of Preachers: "Ah! You want always to see through Providence, do you not? You never will, I assure you. You have not eyes good enough. You want to see what good that affliction was to you; you must believe it. You want to see how it can bring good to the soul; you may be enabled in a little time; but you cannot see it now; you must believe. Honor God by trusting him." (C.H. Spurgeon, sermon entitled "God's Providence")