Thursday, February 18, 2016

Stephen Charnock on Trusting God's Providence

An excerpt from Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 55–58:

To trust God when our warehouses and bags are full, and our tables spread, is no hard thing; but to trust him when our purses are empty, but a handful of meal and a cruse of oil left, and all ways of relief stopped, herein lies the wisdom of a Christian’s grace. Yet none are exempted from this duty, all are bound to acknowledge their trust in him by the daily prayer for daily bread, even those that have it in their cupboards as well as those that want it, the greatest prince as well as the meanest beggar. Whatever your wants are, want not faith, and you cannot want supplies. It is the want of this binds up his hand from doing great works for his creatures; the more we trust him the more he concerns himself in our affairs. The more we trust ourselves, the more he delights to cross us; for he hath denounced such an one cursed that maketh flesh his arm, Jer. 17:5, though it be the best flesh in the world, because it is a departing from the Lord. No wonder then that God departs from us, and carries away his blessing with him; while we trust ourselves, we do but trouble ourselves, and know not how to reconcile our various reasons for hopes and fears, but the committing our way to the Lord renders our minds calm and composed: Prov. 16:3, ‘Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.’ Thou shalt have no more of those quarrelling disturbing thoughts what the success shall be.

(1.) Trust providence in the greatest extremities. He brings us into straits, that he may see the exercise of our faith: Zeph. 3:12, ‘I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.’ When we are most desolate, we have most need of this exercise, and have the fittest season to practise it; he is always our refuge and our strength, but in time of trouble a present help, Ps. 46:1. Daniel’s new advancement by Belshazzar but a day before the city was taken by the enemy, Dan. 5:29, the king slain, and (no doubt) many of his nobility, and those that were nearest in authority with him, it being the interest of the enemy to despatch them, was a danger, yet God by ways not expressed preserved Daniel, and gave him favour with the conqueror. God sometimes leads his people into great dangers, that they may see and acknowledge his hand in their preservation. Daniel had not had so signal an experience of God’s care of him, had he been in the lower condition he was in before his new preferment. God’s eye is always upon them that fear him, not to keep distress from them, but to quicken them in it, and give them as it were a new life from the dead: Ps. 33:18, 19, ‘To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.’ God brings us into straits, that we may have more lively experiments of his tenderness in his seasonable relief. If he be angry, he will repent himself for his servants, when he sees their power is gone, because then the glory of his providence is appropriated to himself: Deut. 32:36, 39, ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive.’ No creature can have any pretence to share in it; he delights thereby to blow up both our affections to him and admirations of him, and store up in us a treasure of experiments to encourage our trusting in him in the like straits. We should therefore repose ourselves in God in a desert as well as in the cities; with as much faith among savage beasts as in the best company of the most sociable men;* and answer the greatest strait with Abraham’s speech to Isaac, ‘GOD WILL PROVIDE.’ For we have to do with a God who is bound up to no means, is at no expense in miraculous succours, who delights to perfect his strength in the creature’s weakness. We have to do with a God who only knows what may further our good, and accordingly orders it; what may hinder it, and therefore prevents it. He can set all causes in such a posture as shall conspire together as one link to bring about success, and make even contrary motions meet in one gracious end; as the rivers which run from north and south, the contrary quarters of the world, agree in the surges of one sea. Though providences may seem to cross one another, they shall never cross his word and promise, which he hath magnified above all his names. And his providence is but a servant to his truth.

(2.) Trust it in the way of means. Though we are sure God hath decreed the certain event of such a thing, yet we must not encourage our idleness, but our diligence. Though Moses was assured of the victory when Amalek came armed against him, yet he commands Joshua to draw up the valiant men into a body, himself goes to the mount to pray, and is as diligent in the use of all means as if he had been ignorant of God’s purpose, and had rather suspected the rout of his own than his enemies’ forces. Neither doth Joshua afterwards, though secured by promise in his conquest of Canaan, omit any part of the duty of a wise and watchful general; he sends spies, disciplines his forces, besiegeth cities, and contrives stratagems. Providence directs us by means, not to use them is to tempt our guardian; where it intends any great thing for our good, it opens a door, and puts such circumstances into our hands as we may use without the breach of any command, or the neglect of our own duty. God could have secured Christ from Herod’s fury by a miraculous stroke from heaven upon his enemy, but he orders Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt as a means of his preservation. God rebukes Moses for praying, and not using the means in continuing the people’s march: Exod. 14:15, ‘Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forwards.’ To use means without respect to God, is proudly to contemn him; to depend upon God without the use of means, is irreligiously to tempt him; in both we abuse his providence. In the one we disobey him in not using the means he hath appointed; in the other presumptuously impose upon him for the encouragement of our laziness. Diligence on our part, and the blessing on God’s, Solomon joins together, Prov. 10:4, ‘The hand of the diligent makes rich,’ but, ver. 22, ‘The blessing of the Lord maketh rich.’ So Eccles. 9:1, ‘Our works are in the hand of God;’ our works, but God’s blessing; God’s blessing, but not without our works. It was the practice of good men. Jacob wrestles with God to divert his brother’s fury, yet sends a present to his brother to appease him, Gen. 32:9, 13. David trusts in the name of the Lord his God in his duel with Goliah, but not without his sling; our labour should rather be more vigorous than more faint, when we are assured of the blessing of providence by the infallibility of the promise.

(3.) Trust providence in the way of precept. Let not any reliance upon an ordinary providence induce you into any way contrary to the command. Daniel had many inducements from an appearance of providence to eat the king’s meat: his necessity of compliance in his captivity, probability of preferment by learning the wisdom of the country, whereby he might both have advanced himself and assisted his countrymen, the greatness of the consideration for a captive to be fed from the king’s table, the ingratitude he might be accused of for despising so kind a treatment; but none of these things moved him against a command; because the law of God forbade it, he would not eat of the king’s meat, Dan. 1:8–10, &c. ‘But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat.’ Daniel might have argued, I may wind myself into the king’s favour, do the church of God a great service by my interest in him, which may be dashed in pieces by my refusal of this kindness; but none of these things wrought upon him. No providences wherein we have seeming circumstances of glorifying God, must lead us out of the way of duty; this is to rob God one way to pay him another. God brought Daniel’s ends about: he finds favour with the governor, his request is granted, the success is answerable, and all those ends attained which he might in a sinful way, by an ill construction of providence, have proposed to himself, all which he might have missed of had he run on in a carnal manner. This, this is the way to success: Ps. 37:5, ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass.’ Commit thy way to the guidance of his providence, with an obedience to his precept and reliance on his promise, and refer all success in it to God. If we set up our golden calves made of our own ear-rings, our wit, and strength, and carnal prudence, because God seems to neglect us, our fate may be the same with theirs, and the very dust of our demolished calf may be a bitter spice in our drink, as it was in theirs.

(4.) Trust him solely, without prescribing any methods to him; leave him to his wise choice, wait upon him because he is a God of judgment, Isa. 30:18, who goes judiciously to work, and can best time the executions of his will. The wise God observes particular periods of time for doing his great works,—John 2:4, ‘My hour is not yet come; woman, what have I to do with thee?’—which man is no competent judge of: I will do this miracle, but the season is not yet come wherein it will be most beautiful. God hath as much wisdom to pitch the time of performance of his promise, as he hath mercy at first to make it. How presumptuous would it be for the shallow world, a thing worse than nothing, and vanity, to prescribe rules to the Creator! much more for a single person, a little atom of dust, infinitely worse than nothing, and vanity, to do it. Since we had no hand in creating the world or ourselves, let us not presume to direct God in the government of it: Job 38:4, ‘Where wast thou when I laid the foundation of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.’ Would it not be a disparagement to God to stoop to thy foolish desires? yea, would you not yourselves have a lower conceit of him, if he should degrade his wisdom to the wrong bias of your blind reason?