Ignorance of the Future
James Smith, 1856
"Not knowing what will happen to me." Acts 20:22
"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth!" Proverbs 27:1
Though the apostle was inspired by the Holy Spirit, there were some things which he could not do, and some things which he did not know. He could not heal Trophimus, so he left him at Miletus, sick; and he was now going up to Jerusalem — but he did not know what would happen to him there. He knew in general, that in every city he would suffer persecution — but with the particular results of this journey he was not acquainted.
It is just so with us, for we do not know what a day may bring forth. We are ignorant of the future!
It may be prosperous — or it may be adverse.
We may suffer much from sickness — or we may enjoy sound health.
We may meet with accidents — or we may be graciously preserved from them.
We may be losers by calamity or wicked men — or God may set a hedge about us, as he did about Job.
We may be bereaved of our children, other near relatives or dear friends — or we may soon be summoned by death to appear before God ourselves!
What may be our lot in future — we do not know. We are profoundly ignorant of it. But all is arranged — and arranged by our good, gracious, and infinitely wise God. Nothing is left to 'chance'. Still, all is hidden from us, and this is in order to prevent carnal security on the one hand, and despair on the other. We should never feel secure, or say with Job, "I shall die in my nest!" Nor with David, "My mountain stands strong, I shall never be moved!" But rather attend to the admonition of Paul, "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed — lest he fall."
Neither should we despair, for the darkest night may usher in a bright and beautiful morning. The late and cold spring may introduce an abundant and glorious harvest. The sharp winter may end in a lovely summer. To despair is to sin; whether it be in reference to providence or grace. The God of providence is abundant in goodness; and the God of grace is rich in mercy unto all who call upon him.
To doubt the goodness of God is to question the excellency of his nature and the truth of his promises; to despair of the mercy of God is to reflect upon the merit of Jesus, and the love, the infinite love, of the Father's heart.
All events are so ordered by our God as to encourage confidence, hope, and prayer. God alone, as revealed in Jesus, should be our confidence. We may trust in him. We ought to trust in him. We must trust in him — or be wretched. We should hope, for our God requires it, encourages it, and rewards it. We never can sink too low to hope. Our circumstances can never be such as to forbid hope. We should pray; pray for all that we need, and against all that we fear. Prayer will be found to be . . .
a relief in trouble,
a solace in sorrow, and
a medium of blessing to our souls.
Whatever may happen in the future, into whatever circumstances we may be brought — we should exercise confidence in God, hope still in his mercy, and plead earnestly at his throne of grace, believing that he has ordered all things in love, arranged all in infinite wisdom, and will overrule all for our ultimate good. "My times are in your hands!" Psalm 31:15
What should our ignorance of the future produce? It very frequently produces what it ought not. As for instance, it produces anxiety. Because we do not know exactly what is appointed for us, or for our families, we are full of anxiety respecting them. This is wrong, decidedly wrong!
If God was not infinitely good,
or if he were not a father to us,
or if he had not made so many great and precious promises,
or if he had not bidden us cast all our cares upon him —
then we might have cause to be anxious. But to be anxious now, is sin. The holy apostle says, "I want you to be without concerns."
Because we are ignorant of the future, we sometimes become depressed, and give way to gloom or despondency. Nothing can be more dishonorable to God, or injurious to us! To despond, when perhaps the future may be bright and beautiful. To give way to gloom, when we are assured that the grace of Jesus is sufficient for us, and that his strength shall be made perfect in our weakness.
Our ignorance of the future should produce simple dependence upon God. Realizing the fact, that I do not know what is before me, or even what would be best for me — I shall . . .
lean on the Lord's arm,
trust in the Lord's Word,
depend on the Lord's faithfulness,
and leave all to the Lord's love.
I may well depend on him — after he has safely led so many through the roughest paths and greatest difficulties. I may well depend on him, when I know that he has never failed or forsaken those who trust in him, and has pledged his Word that he never will. Yes, I should exercise a simple, child-like dependence on God, in every step of my journey through this desert land.
Our ignorance of the future should check presumption. We are prone to speculate and presume. We are often misled by appearances. We sometimes lose sight of our own weakness. We forget that our adversary the devil goes about as a roaring lion, and that we are ignorant of his devices. Like Israel, we proceed in a certain course without a divine warrant, we go against the foe in our own strength, or we imagine that we can manage our concerns by our own wisdom. This is presumption, and such presumption as our ignorance of the future is calculated to check!
Our ignorance of the future should prevent foreboding. I do not know God's purposes — but I should judge of them from his perfections. I do not know his pre-appointments — but I do know his promises; and therefore I should never give way to foreboding. My Savior forbids it, and the prohibition flows from the tender love of his heart. He says to all who believe on his name, "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them! But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own!" Matthew 6:31-34
Our ignorance of the future should fix our attention on present duties. Every day brings its own duties with it; and our concern should be to perform the duties of each day, in that day. Many people, while endeavoring to pry into the future — neglect the present. The happy man lives day by day. Whatever appears to be a present duty — should have present attention. Could you visit any sick person today? Do not put it off until tomorrow. Could you relieve any person today? Delay not to do it. Could you speak or write for Jesus today? Let it be done today. Beware of delay! Never postpone a duty — if you have an opportunity to perform it, for you do not know what things may befall you.
Our ignorance of the future should lead you to prepare for the worst. If you are prepared for the worst — you may calmly and quietly meet all the rest. See to it, that you are cleansed from all guilt, that you have your wedding garment on, that your lamp is bright and burning — and then let what will befall you along the way — all will be right at the end.
Now observe, first, though we do not know what may befall us — God does, and he is our Friend, our Father, and our God. As our Friend — he will watch over us; and as our God — he will supply our need. Whatever may happen to us — we shall never be friendless, fatherless, or Godless; and, therefore, we can have no reason to be dejected or cast down.
Secondly, though we do not know what may befall us — we do know that all shall be well with us. This should satisfy us. More, it should fill us with gratitude, and excite in us the strongest confidence.
Thirdly, if we do not know how it will be with us in time — we do know how it will be with us in eternity. All will be well, and well forever then. However rough the road, however trying the journey — the rest, the peace, the pleasures of our eternal home, will more than make up for all.
There are no long, dark nights, in that perfect land.
There are no sighs or sorrows in our Father's house.
There are no trials or troubles in our Savior's glorious kingdom.
There are no wants or woes before the eternal throne.
"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!" Revelation 7:16-17. It is well with them now, and so it will be with us when we have done and suffered the will of God here below.
Fourthly, nothing shall happen but what God has appointed, and will overrule. He fulfills all that is appointed for us.
There may be 'accidents' with us — but there are none with God.
Our plans may be frustrated — his never can be.
Our purposes may be broken off — but his counsel stands for ever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Everything happens under his eye, and is ruled and overruled by his wisdom and power!
Finally, let the worst happen to us — we are still in union with Christ, and beloved of our God. Suppose the worst, the very worst. Enemies, trials, troubles, crosses, sickness, death itself — we may yet ask with Paul, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Romans 8:35-39. Glorious persuasion this! Blessed, thrice blessed confidence, thus forcibly expressed!
Beloved, let us then go forward into the future, leaning on our beloved; and let us rejoice in the fact that though we do not know what may befall us — yet he knows! And so deep is his interest in us, that he will not allow anything to harm us — but will cause all things to work together for our good.
We should suffer as Paul did, supported by the assurance that "Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands!"