William S. Plumer, 1865
SPECIAL KINDNESS OF PROVIDENCE TOWARDS GODLY MEN
God is unrighteous to none. Yes, he is good to all
men—but he shows distinguishing kindness to his people. His sun shines upon
both the just and upon the unjust; and he sends rain and fruitful seasons on
both the godly and the unthankful. Yet the secret of the Lord is with those
who fear him. He governs the incorrigibly wicked, though not in covenant
love. Their preservations are reservations for damnation. 2 Pet. 2:9-17. But
the life of the righteous is by the Lord mercifully controlled. It is
ordered in a manner as kind as it is wise. It is so directed that he and all
men shall at last see and say that God is glorified and the eternal good of
the believer promoted. We should expect no less. Surely God will not treat
friends and foes alike. He never confounds moral distinctions. He is the
preserver of all men, "especially of those who believe." "The Lord loves the
righteous . . . but the way of the wicked he turns upside down." Psalm
146:8, 9. "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep
his covenant and his testimonies." Psalm 25:10.
It does not impair the doctrine of a kind and special
providence towards the righteous, that they are often involved in the same
troubling events with the wicked. This often occurs, as inspired writers
admit. "The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether they are
righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious
or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and
people who take oaths are treated like people who don't." Eccles. 9:2. A
pious wife shares with her wicked husband the poverty and misery which his
vices bring on them. An invading army overwhelms saints and sinners, with
evils which are common to all. The event is the same; but the design, uses
and effects are quite different. The purpose of God in afflicting his real
people is to make them more useful, more humble, and in the end more
glorious. His design in afflicting incorrigible foes is to punish them for
their sins, show his wrath, and make them examples of his fearsome justice,
as they have been the thankless receivers of countless mercies. So also
prosperity awakens the gratitude and refines the feelings of the pious
man—but hardens the heart of his wicked neighbor. Thus the prosperity of
fools destroys them.
Nor is it a valid objection to the doctrine of a special
kind providence over godly men—that they are often more afflicted than the
First, though "many are the afflictions of the
righteous, yet the Lord delivers him out of them all." They do not perish in
Secondly, When godly men are "chastened of the Lord,
it is that they may not be condemned with the world."
Thirdly, A wise father gives far higher proof of
strong and continued love to his child by correcting him than by indulging
him, or giving him over to his own follies. Our Father "scourges every son
whom he receives."
Fourthly, All the godly confess that to them, even in
this life, nothing is more pleasant than the effects of sanctified
afflictions; while it is to be lamented that those who lie soft and warm in
a rich estate, seldom care to heat themselves at the altar. "No creature can
be a substitute for God—but God can be a substitute for every creature."
"When we see the peaceable fruits of righteousness, as they hang from the
bough of chastisement—we thank God that he ever planted that bitter root in
Fifthly, By the sadness of the countenance, the heart
is made better. "Those the Lord means to make the most resplendent, he has
oftenest his tools upon."
Sixthly, If we suffer with him, we shall also reign
with him, and all our sorrows shall be found unto praise, and honor, and
glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. So that nothing is more to the
advancement of the solid good of the saints in time and eternity than those
things which grieve them most. On the other hand the triumph of the wicked
is short, their mirth is vain, and it will soon be followed by damnation—a
destruction worse than annihilation. Job 20:5; Ecc. 7:6; Psalm 37:35-37; 2
Thess. 1:9. Even in this world the judgments, which overtake the wicked are
very dreadful. Gen. 4:13; 1 Sam. 31:4; 2 Chron. 26:19, 20; Acts 1:18; 12:23.
But we should be very careful not to misinterpret the
leadings of Providence. No doubt Lot thought that God's providence
pointed him to Sodom; but he was sadly mistaken. It was the well watered
land of the plain that misled him. David knew that God's putting Saul into
his power was no opening for murder.
It should be stated, however, that it is not the mere
event—but the act of Providence explained by the word of God, which is so
beneficial to Christians. Scripture and Providence, like the cherubim over
the mercy seat, look toward each other and reflect light upon each other.
"The word without Providence is sublime writing," but it is a dead letter;
with Providence it is life and spirit.
Providence without the word is a dark enigma. None
can solve it. The best commentary on Providence is the Bible. The best
commentary on the Bible is Providence. The events of a godly man's life are
to him the fulfillings of the Scriptures. In a thousand ways they teach him
the true sense of promises and threatenings, predictions and narratives,
precepts and doctrines. They mightily confirm his belief of the truth.
And let us not forget that neither the word of God,
nor the Providence of God, without the influences of divine grace on the
heart—have a sanctifying power over even godly men. The most striking events
and the most precious doctrines will not profit without the promised aid of
the Holy Spirit. He can bless any truth or any event to our growth in grace,
our comfort and our eternal glory. He is the sanctifier.
Of course, all the benefit derived from the dealings of
God with his people is gracious. Whatever a Christian is, he is by the grace
of God, not by nature. No man deplores his own short-comings more than he.
He abhors himself; he glories in the Cross of Christ; he is clothed with
humility; he is full of kindness; he seeks a heavenly country; his
affections are set on things above.
To such a man the providence of God is special and kind.
Who can doubt it? The Bible often declares it. "My help comes from the Lord,
who made the heavens and the earth! He will not let you stumble and fall;
the one who watches over you will not sleep. Indeed, he who watches over
Israel never tires and never sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you! The
Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not hurt you
by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all evil and
preserves your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both
now and forever." Psalm 121:2-8. "He will keep the feet of his saints." 1
Accordingly inspired men have taught us to pray, "Hold up
my goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not." Psalm 17:5. "Order my
steps in your word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me." Psalm
119:133. The Scripture fully warrants the pious in bringing all their
troubles and sorrows before the Lord. They ask and obtain divine guidance
and divine support in whatever concerns them. Thus they universally believe
with the saints of all ages. Very joyfully therefore do they cast their care
upon the Lord, knowing that he cares for them.
Some things in God's providence towards his people are
truly surprising. None but the wilfully blind can fail to see them. None but
the desperately hardened can fail to be affected by them. Let us notice a
few of them.
I. The interpositions of Providence for his people are
very seasonable. They come at the
very nick of time. Just as Abram is about to make his son a sacrifice—behold
a ram caught in the thicket! Just as Hagar lays down her son to die—God
leads her to discover a well of water to save his life! Just as Saul is
ready to seize David, and there seems to be no escape to the hunted
partridge—that guilty persecutor is called home by an invasion of the
Philistines. The very night fixed by a felon to murder a pious widow in a
retired neighborhood, and rob her house—God sends a stranger to lodge there
and protect her. The very day of his trial for felony, God brings a stranger
from a distance to prove the perfect innocence of William Tennent.
Many times in the life of every child of God does he
receive the very mercy he needs at a time, when longer delay would be fatal
to him. Perhaps for days or weeks he would have fainted unless he had
believed that he should see the goodness of God. At last the crisis comes,
and his faith must now fail or triumph. To sense all is dark. To mere
natural reason nothing is clear. Yet he has hope toward God. Nor is he
disappointed. Enlargement and deliverance came just in time to show that
none ever trusted in God and was disappointed.
A seasonable mercy is a double mercy. The man in health
and without weariness passes by the cooling fountain and cares not for it;
but the poor wounded soldier would give anything for one draught of the
refreshing beverage which nature has provided. It is a time of persecution.
Malice and rage possess the wicked. A city is besieged. The food is
exhausted. God's people begin to suffer. To go forth is death by the sword.
To remain is death by famine. The city is girt by the sea on one side, and
by the merciless foe on all other sides. What shall God's people do? If they
could hold out a month, succor would come. But in less than thirty days,
they will perish of hunger. Just then an unheard of thing occurs. A shoal of
fishes come into that harbor, and all are supplied. The persecutors lose
their prey and their hopes. The city is safe. To God give all the people
II. God's interpositions in Providence are just such as
the Scriptures have led his people to expect.
His word pronounces a blessing on dutiful children. A
child gives up all the means of present personal advancement, perhaps even
of comfort, to serve a parent; yet who, in the end, was thereby a loser,
even in this world? On the other hand, who can find one, who has failed to
show piety at home, and whose life has not been rendered unhappy, possibly
despicable by such conduct? Again, never did even a wicked man show kindness
to a saint of God—but he had his reward. Not only the prophecies—but all the
principles of Scripture are wonderfully carried out by the events occurring
around us every day, especially in relation to godly men.
III. There is an intimate connection between the
providence of God and the prayers of godly men.
Where is the experienced saint who has not had answers
to prayer so striking and so merciful as greatly to confirm his faith in the
promises? And no marvel. For "the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through
the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of those whose heart is
perfect towards him." When lived there a child of God on the earth, who did
not have occasion to record what David wrote of himself? "This poor man
cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles." The
time would fail to tell of Jacob, and Moses, and Joshua, and Samson, and
Jeremiah, and scores of others, whose prayers secured wonderful acts of
providence in their behalf. Nor are prayer and providences separated now.
Whichever way the humble cries of godly men travel, there travel also the
providences of God. "Let Israel hope in the Lord forever and ever."
Alexander Pedan, a Scotch Covenanter, with some others,
had been at one time pursued, both by horse and foot, for a considerable
way. At last, getting some little distance between them and their pursuers,
he stood still and said, "Let us pray here, for if the Lord hear not our
prayer and save us, we are all dead men."
He then prayed, saying, "O Lord, this is the hour and the
power of your enemies; they may not be idle. But have you no other work for
them than to send them after us? Send them after them to whom you will give
strength to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill, O
Lord, save us this one time, and we will keep it in remembrance, and tell to
the commendation of your goodness, your pity and compassion, what you did
for us at such a time."
And in this he was heard, for a cloud of mist immediately
intervened between them and their persecutors; and in the mean time orders
came to go in quest of another. See 2 Chron. 18:31.
IV. Nor is God slack in saving his people even if in
doing it, many wicked perish. What terrible
monuments of his displeasure against his people's enemies did he make of
Cain, and Pharaoh, and Haman, and Herod, yes, of Babylon, and Sodom and
Gomorrah, and the old world! Nor has he ceased to do like things now. Show
me a man of this century, who has spent his breath in curses on God's
people, and I will show you one whose history even in this world has
commonly marked him out as one forsaken, terribly forsaken of God! It is
still true that "he shall have judgment without mercy, who has showed no
mercy." It is still true that "bloody and deceitful men shall not live out
half their days." When their malice is turned against the righteous, their
history is brief; their triumph short, and their doom terrible. As this
world is not the scene of full retribution, all we may expect here is not
ample justice—but mere tokens of what God can and will do, when his hand
lays hold on vengeance. Compare 2 Chron. 18:31-34.
V. In some cases we are able to trace a long series of
causes and events all conspiring to the same result.
The wise men of the East are led to bring from a great
distance the most costly presents—articles easily transported—and lay them
at the feet of the infant Savior—so that he and Joseph and Mary in their
flight to Egypt might have the means of subsistence. Even sometimes to the
vision of mortals, perhaps always in the sight of God, providences are
long chains with many links in them. If one link were lacking, the event
would fail. But it is God's chain and God's plan. The thing is fixed. The
outcome is not doubtful.
VI. So perfect is God's defense of his people that when
appearances all look as if their destruction was imminent, they are still
safe. They have fears within and fightings
without. They have the world, the flesh and the devil leagued against them.
Perhaps there is not a government on earth which has not some anti-Christian
legislation, that might become a trap and a snare to a godly man's
conscience. The thousandth part of all the wars waged, or the conspiracies
formed, and of the blood and treasure expended against Christ's cause—would
have rooted out from the earth any institution ever established among men,
other than the kingdom of Christ. Still it lives, yes, it flourishes. How is
this? The sole answer is, That in Providence, God fulfills his promises, "No
weapon formed against you shall prosper," Isaiah 54:17; and, "Though I make
a full end of all nations, yet will I not make a full end of you—but I will
correct you in measure." Jer. 30:11.
Beziers is besieged. The Protestant cause depends on its
safety. The besieged are secure. The bell begins to ring at midnight. Every
man is at his post just in time to repel the assault with dismay to the foe.
Who rang that alarm bell? Not some faithful sentinel—but a drunken man in a
frolic, not knowing what he was doing. Surely God's hand was strikingly in
Paris is drenched in the gore of Christians. For three
days and nights the blood-hounds of regal and papal persecution devour the
flock of Christ. His people, who are slain, are gathered home to the
Redeemer's bosom. But some of them God would still keep alive for important
purposes. One man takes refuge in an oven. His pursuers search diligently
for him. They are within a yard of him—but they find him not. Why do they
not look into the oven? Just as he entered it, God sent a spider quickly to
weave a thick web over its mouth; he then sent a flow
of wind to fill the web with dust; and so
the bloody men said—Our victim is not here. Thus God saved the life of Du
Moulin. Must he not have been an atheist if he could have denied God's hand
in this affair? Here is the finger of God.
A thief, who had a few moments before stolen a bottle of
warm milk hears a noise, and leaves his bottle in the forest. By this means
a persecuted minister and his wife, as they sit sadly down on a rock and
find it, are able to give food to their little child, ready to die for lack
of nourishment. Marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty.
VII. God often saves his people by leading them to go
where they never intended to go, and where
they are sorry to find they have gone, and to do what they never desired to
do. The life of Augustine in the 5th century, the life of Dr. John Rodgers
of the 18th century, and the life of Rev. William Calhoun of the 19th
century were all preserved from destruction from deadly enemies, who hated
their doctrine, and lay in wait to put them to death on roads, which these
servants of God intended to travel—but from which they unaccountably
wandered. "Living and dying do not go by probabilities."
God has one end—man another. Joseph had no design of
becoming prime minister of Egypt, temporal savior of the world, and so a
type of the great Redeemer, when he told his dreams to his brethren, or when
he went to Shechem. Yet had he failed to do either, he had not stood in his
lot and fulfilled his course. God's ways are unsearchable and his judgments
past finding out.
VIII. Because God is omnipotent and controls all causes, he
can rescue as well without miracle, as with it.
For three successive days does a copious shower put out the fire kindled by
savages to burn alive a prisoner who was a child of prayer. Yet the clouds which
dropped down these rains may have arisen entirely under the influence of natural
causes. Indeed preservation and other blessings secured to God's people in his
ordinary providence are no less safe and certain, and no less fit to be matters
of grateful meditation, than if secured by suspending the laws of nature. To a
considerate mind they are perhaps even more so. By an act of his will, God could
create and send down to each man's door the baked loaves from heaven. Instead of
that he waters the earth so that it can be plowed and broken to pieces. He then
directs men to sow the wheat, and he sends dew and showers to make it sprout and
grow. He then alternately sends the frost and the sun. Perhaps he covers it with
a thick, moist mantle of snow. In the spring he sends the melting sun, and
plentiful showers. He keeps away harmful insects, and destructive vegetable
diseases, and brings the grain to maturity. It is cut; it is dried by the heat
he sends; it soon appears in baked loaves on the table. The devout farmer sees
God's hand in all the process.
When Merlin, the Chaplain of Admiral Coligny, found his
distinguished patron murdered on the melancholy St. Bartholomew's day, he
concealed himself in a hay-loft. In the Acts of the next Synod, over which he
presided, it is recorded that though many died of hunger, he was supported by a
hen regularly laying an egg near his place of refuge. A similar record is made
of another French minister, M. de Luce, and a Swabian minister, John Breng, both
of whom were kept alive in the same way. To a thoughtful mind ordinary
providence is more marvelous than a miracle. The latter is but one act of God,
while the former is a series of divine acts working slowly but most surely.
A noble is suspected of treason. He is arrested and
imprisoned. In the yard to his dungeon between the paving stones springs up a
little flower. He watches it. He waters it. He cares for it. It grows. He writes
the history of its development and growth. This narrative is God's appointed
means of effecting his release. See a little book called 'Picciola'.
IX. God's providence towards his people dates not at the time
of their being called to a knowledge of himself—but long before.
In the formation of their bodies, what goodness appears. No
man has ever been able to suggest how the form or figure of the human frame
could be improved. In this indeed the wicked share the same bounty of God. In
their early infancy how amazing was God's care over them. Think too of the early
and deep impressions which God often makes on the minds and hearts of his
chosen, even years before their conversion. In a solitary forest among huge
rocks, or hoary mountains, or by some gentle stream, or noble river, or vast
expanse of waters, what conceptions of God has many a child had! In an escape
from danger—what a sense of God's goodness has stolen over the hearts of his
people, even before their conversion. John Brown of Haddington tells us of his
deep pious impressions at a sacramental meeting, when he was under ten years of
age. The late Archibald Alexander, when only four years and a half old, was
greatly interested in a sermon on 1 Cor. 16:22. Even where such impressions do
not end in a speedy conversion, they are often very beneficial in preserving the
young from the worst forms of evil.
Nor is anything more wonderful than the means God uses for
the conversion of his people. A sermon, in which the preacher had no
knowledge and no design respecting the spiritual good of any particular person—a
sermon by a weak man addressed to those who had often heard much better
discourses on the same topics—a text of Scripture learned twenty years before—a
little portion of truth found on a piece of wrapping-paper—a sudden death of
some wicked man—the death of some godly man—a pious book—a kind word—a look of
tenderness—the consistent piety of a pious wife, husband or friend—and even the
profaneness of wicked men—have been the means of bringing sinners to repentance.
Many a man has been led to the Savior by truths, which the
preacher did not intend to utter when he began his discourse. Augustine tells us
of a celebrated Manachee who was thus converted under the labors of the bishop
of Hippo. Paul and Silas were not the only prisoners who were honored by God as
the means of converting their hardened jailors. Had the persecution not arisen
at Jerusalem, Philip would not have fallen in with the Ethiopian returning to
his own country and reading Isaiah. So that great man might have died in
ignorance of the true meaning of the prophet. Many a man has gone for no good
end to hear a sermon, and before the discourse was ended has forgotten what he
came for and has begun to cry for mercy.
X. God's providence in raising up good ministers of various
gifts to edify his church is truly striking. It
is the time of the American Revolution. A company is drilling and firing by
platoons. In the ranks is a malicious man, who wishes to have his spite on a
particular family. He loads that man's gun so heavily, that he knows firing it
off will burst the barrel of his gun. Just before firing, he unsuspectingly
calls a lad in the crowd to take his place. The impulsive boy, suspecting no
harm, consents, fires the gun, and his left hand is shattered. Amputation is
necessary. This cruel act gives a new direction to his whole life. His parents
send him to a classical school taught by a pious man. The youth learns well, in
due time becomes a Christian, is finally ordained to the Gospel ministry, bears
the name of the preacher with the silver fist and the silver voice, with great
power addresses thousands in the open air, and dies greatly lamented leaving a
noble posterity behind him. Such was the history of Drury Lacy.
Some boys are pursuing a rabbit. It takes refuge in a hollow
log. While one boy is attempting to cut it out, another puts in his arm, trying
to reach his prey. The axe cripples his hand for life. He is educated, becomes a
herald of salvation and leaves a precious memory in all the land. When Patrick
Henry heard him discourse on the creation, he said it seemed to him as if that
man could almost make a world. His name was James Waddell.
Many a time by the feebleness of their bodies, parental plans
respecting the temporal conduct of their children are defeated, and parental
pity at last consents to their commencing studies which may give them the
learning so useful to preachers of the Gospel. In due time God calls them to a
knowledge of himself and of his Son. Then by his Spirit he calls them to preach
the unsearchable riches of Christ. To others, whom God designs for great
hardships in the ministry, he gives great vigor of constitution, so that they
can bear almost any amount of labor and weariness. How marvelous also is God's
providence in the mental and social character naturally possessed by his people,
so as to fit them to act their several parts in life. In illustration look at
the ministers of Christ. One is timid, and God makes him especially useful to
the diffident in encouraging them, and to the self-confident in awakening
beneficial fears. Another is bold, and he alarms the guilty and encourages the
wavering. One is full of love and so wins the skeptic and melts the hardened.
Another is borne down by an awful sense of the danger of the wicked, and so he
cries aloud and spares not. One is a son of thunder. Another is a son of
consolation. One excels in logic, another in rhetoric. One is best at explaining
the doctrines, another is excellent at exhortation. One does most good by his
pen, another by private conversation, and another in the pulpit. Yet all these
men are giving expression to their respective natural and social dispositions,
now sanctified by divine grace, and turned to a holy work. Like acts of
providence may be noticed in the variety of character displayed by all his
XI. When means have been blessed to the conversion of his
people, how strange the providences of God which lead to their growth in grace!
They are ready to lean on one minister; and God
takes him away and sends another. They think affliction would do them good, and
God makes his mercies overflow. Or they think prosperity best for them, and God
crosses all their plans and spoils their pleasant things. They are
self-confident and fear not falling into sin, and soon a sad lapse fills their
hearts with anguish. They are much afraid of bringing dishonor on their
profession, and their fears are blessed to their preservation from sin. John
Newton, who has often edified the church of God, has well described this matter,
when he says—
"I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
"Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
"I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he'd answer my request;
And by His love's constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
"Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
"Yes, more; with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
"'Lord, why is this?' I trembling cried,
'Will you pursue your worm to death?'
'This is this way,' the Lord replied,
'I answer prayer for grace and faith.'
"'These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set you free,
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you would seek your all in me."
XII. Go among God's people and learn how goodly in many ways
their lot has been. What pious parents
most of them have had. How wonderfully God has led them in many important steps
in life. How pleasant have been their friends and their children. Even the
little ones, whom Jesus has early called to himself, seem still to warm and
nestle in the bosom of parental love. How many good books they have had
to read. What kind and skillful physicians have attended them in sickness. When
disease has come upon them, what good places they have had to be sick in. How
infrequent and short their bodily infirmities commonly are. How seldom have they
suffered for the lack of suitable food, or clothing, or shelter, or any
necessary thing. How marked the hand of God in ordering the general tenor of
their lives. Often have their feet well near slipped—but God has held them up.
They have been in the midst of almost all evil—but it has not been allowed to
sweep them away. How often has God "hedged up their way with thorns, and made a
wall that they could not find their paths." Hos. 2:6. Often they could not
perform their enterprises—which would have proved their ruin. Job 5:12. The
unseen dangers from men and devils, from friends and foes, from darkness and
pestilence surrounding us—are far more numerous than those which are visible.
Could we have seen them all as God saw them, our lives would probably have been
full of misery. How kind his providence in giving us a heart and temper to enjoy
life and its mercies.
XIII. Toward his people, God's providence is exceedingly rich
in spiritual blessings. It embraces a plan
reaching from eternity to eternity. It is set forth in a covenant ordered in all
things and sure, an everlasting covenant, having the Lord Jesus Christ for a
Surety and Mediator. God's loving-kindness laid the foundation of the whole
scheme of redemption. It shall lay the top-stone in glory. It orders everything
aright forever. Thus far the history of redemption has no parallel. It is God's
chief work—the wonder of angels—the joy of saints. The whole subject seems to
abash the faculties of all right-minded creatures. The sea of Jehovah's
compassion and wisdom has never been fathomed by men or angels. Under the
conduct of providence it will be widening its shores and deepening its abysses