Thursday, March 10, 2016

Stephen Charnock: God's Providence is for our Comfort

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), 98–101.

"If all the providence of God be for the good of the church, if his eyes run to and fro to shew himself strong for them, it affords matter of great comfort. His providence is continual for them, Zech. 4:2. He hath seven pipes to convey kindness to them, as well as seven lamps whereby to discern their straits. His providence is as vast as his omniscience. The number of pipes belonging to the candlestick of the church is exact according to the number of lamps. The church’s misery cannot be hid from God’s eye, let it be in what part of the earth soever, for his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, and his sight excites his strength. Upon the sight of their distressed condition he watches only for the fittest opportunity to shew himself strong for them. And when that opportunity comes he is speedy in the deliverance of them: Ps. 18:10, ‘He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.’ He doth not only ride upon a cherub, but fly. His wings are nothing but wind, which hath the quickest and strongest motion, which moves the greatest bodies, and turns down all before it. What is for the good of the whole hath an influence upon every member of the body.

1. It is comfort in duties and special services. Nothing shall be wanting for encouragement to duty, and success in it when God calls any to it, since all his providence is for the good of the church. Let there be but sincerity on our parts, in our attempts of service upon God’s call, and we need not fear a want of providence on God’s part. God never calls any to serve his church in any station, but he doth both spirit and encourage them. God hath in his common providence suited the nature of every creature to that place in which he hath set it in the world; and will he not much more in his special providence suit every one to that place he calls them to, for the service of his church? He did not forsake Christ in redeeming his church, neither will he forsake any in assisting his church. When Joseph of Arimathea would boldly demand the body of our Saviour, providence made the way plain before him; he meets with no check, neither from Pilate nor the priests, Mat. 27:58, Mark 15:43.

2. In meanness and lowness. It is one and the same God that rules the affairs of the whole world, of the church and of every particular member of it. As it is the same soul that informs the whole body, the meanest member as well as that which is most excellent. Not the meanest sincere Christian but is under God’s eye for good. The Spirit acts and animates every member in the church, the weakest as well as the most towering Christian. Baruch was but the prophet Jeremiah’s amanuensis or scribe, and servant to Jeremiah (who was no great man in the world himself), yet God takes notice so of his service, that he would particularly provide for him, and commands Jeremiah in a way of prophecy to tell him as much: Jer. 45:5, ‘I will bring evil upon all flesh, but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey, whithersoever thou goest.’

3. In the greatest judgments upon others. In an epidemical judgment upon the whole nation of the Jews, God would have a special care of Baruch. If he should cast his people far off among the heathen, and scatter them among the countries, yet even there he would be a little sanctuary unto them. His own presence should supply the want of a temple, so he is pleased to express himself, Ezek. 11:16. But how is it possible the great God can be but a little sanctuary? His eye is upon them to see their danger, and his hand upon them to secure them from it. His promise shall shield them, and his wings shall cover them, Ps. 91:4. While he hath indignation, he hath a secret chamber for their security, Isa. 26:20, an almighty shadow under which they abide, Ps. 91:1. In times of the most devouring danger he hath a seal to set upon their foreheads as a mark of his special protection. We never have so much experience of God’s care and strength as in times of trouble: Ps. 37:39, ‘He is their strength in time of trouble.’ He is a friend who is as able as willing, and as willing as able to help them, whose watchfulness over them is as much above their apprehension as it is above their merits.

4. In the greatest extremities wherein his people may be, there are promises of comfort, Isa. 43:2. Both in overflowing waters and scorching fires he will be with them; his providence shall attend his promise, and his truth shall be their shield and buckler, Ps. 91:4. That surely is a sufficient support; Christ thought it so, when he only said to his disciples, ‘It is I, be not afraid,’ John 6:17, 18. What though there be a storm, a darkness, and trouble, ‘It is I am he.’ The darkness of the night troubles not the pilot whilst he hath his compass to steer by. If all his providences be for the good of them that fear him, he can never want means to bring them out of trouble, because he is always actually exercised in governing that which is for their good, and till he sees it fit to deliver them, he will be with them. Great mercies succeed the sharpest afflictions, Jer. 30:5, 6, 7, &c. When there should be a voice of trembling, and men with their hands upon their loins, as women in travail, and paleness in their faces from the excess of their fears, in that day God would break the yoke from them, and they should serve the Lord their God, and David their king. Though the night be never so dark, yet it is certain the sun will rise and disperse its light next morning, and one time or other shew itself in its brightness. We have no reason to despond in great extremities, since he can think us into safety,—Ps. 40:17, ‘Lord, think on me,’—much more look us into it; his thoughts and his eyes move together.

5. In fear of wants. The power of the government of the world cannot be doubted. His love, as little as it seems, since it hath moved him to prepare heaven to entertain his people at the end of their journey, it will not be wanting to provide accommodation for them upon the way, since all things, both good and bad, are at his beck, and under the government of his gracious wisdom. His eyes run to and fro through the whole earth, not only to defend them in dangers, but supply them in wants, for his strength is shewed both ways. Doth he providentially regard them that have no respect for him, and will he not employ his power for, and extend his care to them that adore and love him, and keep up his honour in the world? He will not surely be regardless of the afflictions of his creatures. His people are not only his creatures, but his new creatures; their bodies are not only created by him, but redeemed by his Son. The purchase of the Redeemer is joined to the providence of the Creator. If he take care of you when he might have damned you for your sins, will he not much more since you are believers in Christ? And he cannot damn you believing, unless he renounce his Son’s mediation and his own promise. A natural man provides for his own, much more a righteous man: Pro. 13:22, ‘A good man leaves an inheritance to his children,’ much more the God of righteousness, a God who hath his eye always upon them. His eye will affect his heart, and his heart spirit the hand of his power to relieve them. He hath ‘prepared of his goodness for the poor,’ Ps. 68:10.

6. It is comfort in the low estate of the church at any time. God’s eye is upon his church even whilst he seems to have forsaken them. If he seem to be departed, it is but in some other part of the earth, to shew himself strong for them; wherever his eye is fixed in any part of the world, his church hath his heart, and his church’s relief is his end. Though the church may sometimes lie among the pots in a dirty condition, yet there is a time of resurrection, when God will restore it to its true glory, and make it as white as a dove with its silver wings, Ps. 68:13. The sun is not alway obscured by a thick cloud, but will be freed from the darkness of it. ‘God will judge his people, and repent himself concerning his servants,’ Ps. 135:14.* It is a comfort to God to deliver his people, and he will do it in such a season when it shall be most comfortable to his glory and their hearts. The very name Jerusalem some derive from Jireh Salem, ‘God will provide in Salem.’ The new Jerusalem is the title given to God’s church, Rev. 21, and is still the object of his providence, and he will provide for it at a pinch: Gen. 22:14, ‘Jehovah Jireh,’ God will raise up the honour and beauty of his church; great men shall be servants to it, and employ their strength for it when God shall have mercy on it, Isa. 60:10, 12; yea, the learning and knowledge of the world shall contribute to the building of it; ver. 13, ‘The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir-tree, the pine-tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary. It shall be called the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel, that she may know that the Lord is her Saviour, and her Redeemer, the mighty one of Jacob.’ As Christ rose in his natural, so he will in his spiritual body. If Christ when dead could not be kept from rising, Christ now living shall not be hindered from rising and helping his church. His own glory is linked with his people’s security, and though he may not be moved for anything in them because of their sinfulness, he will for his own name, because of its excellency: Ezek. 36:22, ‘I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for my holy name’s sake.’ As sorrows increased upon the Israelites, the nearer their deliverance approached.