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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The gospel doctrine of providence
Text:LD 10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 7
Hymn 55
Psalm 67
Hymn 1
Hymn 9

Scripture reading:  Job 1
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 10
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

One of the most comforting teachings of the Christian faith is found here in Lord’s Day 10 of our Catechism.  This is one of the most encouraging doctrines we have.  When we go through difficult times in our lives, this is a biblical teaching from which we can draw so much to see us through.  Many of us have been through big disappointments, either with people or with circumstances.  Many of us have been through times where it seemed like it was just one disaster after another.  Some of us have had health difficulties – it seemed like there was no end in sight.  Some of us continue to face that as a daily reality.  Others among us have faced challenges and difficulties with family members.  You were or are deeply concerned about them for one reason or another.  Then there is our enemy, death.  We’ve watched loved ones slowly taken from us through terrible deadly diseases.  We’ve seen loved ones suddenly taken from us through accidents and other tragedies.  In all these kinds of challenges, the doctrine of providence is there to encourage us.  It’s there to encourage you today, if you find yourself right now going through some trial.  We have this biblical teaching not only to help us begin making some sense of what we’re going through, but more importantly so that we can still trust and praise God, even when we’re in the middle of a raging storm.

Brothers and sisters, we’re considering the doctrine of providence in the context of the Apostles’ Creed.  This follows from what we believe about “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”  If we go back to Lord’s Day 7, we’re reminded that this is all part of what a Christian must believe.  This is part of “all that is promised us in the gospel.”  You’ll remember that the word “gospel” literally means “good news.”  The good news given us in Scripture includes the doctrine of providence.  This is a gospel doctrine and as such, we must believe it, and, as we believe it, it renders comfort to our hearts. 

So this afternoon, let’s listen to the teaching of God’s Word about the gospel doctrine of providence.  We’ll consider: 

1.      What this doctrine teaches

2.      Who this doctrine is for

3.      Why God reveals this doctrine     

When we talk about what the Bible says about providence, one of the places that people often turn to is the story of Job.  Job had it all.  He was wealthy.  He had been blessed richly by God in material things.  Along with his wife, he had seven sons and three daughters, whom he all loved dearly.  He was healthy and strong.  Everything was going right in Job’s life.  Then one day everything began to be turned upside down.  All his wealth is snatched away from him.  His beloved kids die.  Then his health worsens.  He gets these awful sores from his head to his feet – an awful itching that he just can’t rid of.  And Job is in the dark as to why all this happened.  Nobody tells him.  There’s no prophet who comes to Job to let him know why.  There’s no message, no revelation from God.  Job is just left there all on his own with no clue as to why.  He doesn’t have access to the big picture, to the whole story.    

There’s a story from early on in World War II about a Spanish man who wanted to come to Britain, supposedly to study the Boy Scout movement.  This happened in 1940, early in the war.  The British knew that he was really a spy for the Germans, but they allowed him to come and study the Boy Scouts.  However, they also used him to deceive the Germans.  On one occasion, they took the Spaniard on a flight up to Scotland.  This early in the war, the British Royal Air Force was thread-bare, they hardly had any aircraft to speak of.  However, on his way up to Scotland, the British made sure the Spaniard had a window seat and he saw squadron upon squadron of Spitfire fighter aircraft.  The sky was full of them.  What the Spaniard didn’t know was that there was only one squadron and it was diving in and out of the clouds, coming at the aircraft in which he was seated from all sorts of different angles.  As he was heading back to London, he saw the same thing.  It appeared that the Royal Air Force had hundreds of Spitfires.  The spy sent his report to Berlin:  the British were armed to the teeth with fighter aircraft.  The Spaniard had no idea of what was going on behind the scenes. 

The same thing happens in the first chapters of Job.  Job has no clue of what is going on.  We know – we know, because the story is told us in Scripture and we get the big picture revealed there.  We know how the whole scenario was prepared for Job.  But he didn’t know that, he didn’t have access to that revelation as we do.  Yet he trusted God.  Though he was clueless as to what was happening, he didn’t fault God.  In fact, the opposite.  In fact, he blessed God’s Name, he praised him in the midst of his trials. 

Job could do this because he understood God’s providence.  Perhaps he didn’t have it as well-developed or expressed as we find it in the Catechism.  But he understood the broad contours of it.  He knew the content of this doctrine.

So what is the providence of God?  It’s easy to state it in a simple way.  In fact, I’ll explain it first for the kids.  You kids can listen up here and your parents can ask you about this later.  What is the providence of God?  God is in control of everything that happens.  That’s the simple explanation.  Providence means that God is in control of everything that happens.   We believe that God is in control, not just of a few things, but of absolutely everything.  He takes care of us, and he takes care of everyone and everything.

Now that’s the simple definition, the milk for the children or people new to the faith.  We can expand on that; we can go on to meat for adults who’ve been Christians for a long time.  God’s providence means that he is sovereign, he is in control of all things that happen in heaven and on earth.  There is no place in the universe that falls outside of God’s providence.  So we can add geography to our definition, just as the Catechism does.  His sovereign power is present everywhere – it extends to all places.

We can expand further on that by noting that the Bible teaches that God’s providence includes absolutely everything.  Things that are undesirable to us, things that we might call bad, they too are included in God’s providence.  So the Catechism poetically mentions leaf and blade, rain, fruitful years, food and drink, health and riches – but it also mentions drought, barren years, sickness, and poverty.  When we say that God’s providence covers all things, we really do mean “all things” – there are no exceptions.  There are powerful illustrations of this in Scripture. 

We could think of the story of Joseph in Genesis.  Joseph gets thrown in a pit by his jealous brothers.  He gets sold to slave traders.  He ends up working for an Egyptian and then falsely accused of attempted rape.  Joseph goes to prison, but eventually is brought to become second in command of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.  You know the story of what happens afterwards, of how his brothers come to him looking for food.  When he finally reveals himself to them, they’re deathly afraid because of what they did to him.  But he doesn’t exact revenge, because he sees God’s hand in all of this.  He sees God’s providence, even in the wicked actions of his brothers and in the false accusations made against him.  That’s one powerful illustration of how God’s providence includes things that we might call wicked or evil, things that we might look at in a negative light. 

The most powerful illustration though is found in the New Testament.  Wicked men make false accusations against Jesus of Nazareth.  They conspire and engineer his death on the cross.  They were responsible for their actions.  But yet later on the apostles preach that this was all in God’s providence too.  God providentially worked through the wicked actions of the Jewish religious leaders to bring us salvation through our Saviour.  Here we have the ultimate reason why the doctrine of providence is a gospel doctrine – because it figures into the saving work of God through Christ.  God being in control of all things led to our reconciliation with God through the blood of the cross. 

Brothers and sisters, today too, as we experience trials, let us always remember that God is in control.  He is in control everywhere.  He is in control all the time.  He is in control of everything.  Our God is powerful and mighty, there is no one like him.  Now believing this doesn’t by itself resolve all our questions.  There will be times where we struggle with this doctrine.  I have struggled with it at times.  Horrible tragedies can come into your life when you really wrestle with believing that God is in control.  You may be tempted to doubt because what you’re going through is so awful that you find it hard to believe that God could be in control of this.  At times like that, go to the Word of God.  Read the story of Job again.  Remember that Job didn’t have the big picture.  Yet he trusted God.  He understood who he was and he understood who God was.  That’s really the key in times of doubt.  We are little children.  We are not high and mighty humans who’ve got everything all figured out.  We are like toddlers in God’s world.  We have to see that.  We toddlers have a Father, a great Father.  Our Father has everything figured out.  He knows how things are and he’s making things happen.  Our Father is infinitely more grown up and powerful than we will ever be.  This is what we have to grasp from the Word of God.  We have to be humble and trust our Father.

Let’s move on to consider who this doctrine is meant for.  Well, first of all, it’s not meant for absolutely everyone on the face of the earth.  God is in control of all things that happen in all people’s lives.  This is true.  But the doctrine of providence goes on to state that he works all things for good in the lives of only some.  This doctrine of providence is good news only for some people. 

Romans 8:28 is one place where God reveals who those people are.  Scripture says there, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The doctrine of providence is meant for those who love God.  It’s meant for those who are called according to his purpose.  In other words, the biblical teaching of God’s providence is intended for Christians. 

We find that biblical teaching in the Catechism’s summary as well.  In Lord’s Day 9, we confess that God is our Father on account of Christ.  In order for that to be true, we need to believe in Christ.  We need to rest and trust in all his work on our behalf. 

In QA 28, we find Romans 8:39 paraphrased.  The Catechism says that no creature shall separate us from the love of our faithful God and Father.  But listen to what Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Did you catch the last part?  It is the love of God “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  We can only be sure of God’s love if we are in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If we are looking to him in faith, trusting only in his perfect life and his perfect sacrifice made for us, then we can be sure that God is our Father.  Through Christ, we can be sure that God has a hand of power and a heart of love. 

You see, God’s power means so much more when we are sure of his love.  When we trust in Christ, we are reconciled to God, we have fellowship with him.  We are brought into his family and we are his children and heirs.  No one and nothing can harm us.  All because of Christ. 

This highlights again the need for faith.  Faith:  that’s not only to know what the Bible says, not only to believe that what the Bible says is true, but also and above all to believe that what the Bible says about Jesus Christ is true for you, for you personally.  Believe that and you become the recipient of so many blessings and privileges.  Right at the top of the list is this precious teaching of God’s providence – the confidence that he’s in control of your life.  He was in control from the moment you were conceived.  He’s been in control every day, every year.  He will continue to be.  No one, nothing, no circumstance can separate you from the loving hand of your Father in heaven.  All because of Jesus our Saviour.  Brothers and sisters, continue to look to him in faith, and this comfort and these blessings are all yours.

Last of all this afternoon we want to consider why God reveals this doctrine.  Following the summary of biblical teaching in our catechism, we can see at least four reasons.  All of them are very concrete and practical. 

First of all, he gives us this doctrine so that we would acknowledge him in all our ways.  Note what it says in QA 27.  The Catechism lists all those things, “leaf and blade” and so on, and then it says that these things come not by chance, but by his Fatherly hand.  Nothing happens by chance.  As Christians, we should acknowledge that at all times.  Because we love God and want to honour him, we should be careful in our speaking.  We ought never to give the impression that we believe in luck or chance.  There is no such thing.  Therefore words such as “luck” and “lucky” ought to be thrown in the garbage can for Christians.  It’s odd how we would never dream of taking God’s name in vain, but many of us don’t think twice about speaking about being lucky.  It’s even more odd how many of us find expressions like “Oh my gosh” to be offensive, and yet still use the word “lucky” in everyday conversations.  Proverbs 3:6 teaches us that we should acknowledge God in all our ways, and one way to do that is by getting rid of luck and instead speaking of God’s blessings in our lives.  Do that, whether we speak with believers or unbelievers.  Loved ones, being conscientious about that would be honouring to our God, showing him and the people around us that we love him and take him seriously in our lives.

Second, the Catechism says that this doctrine is designed to make us patient in adversity.  Adversity means hard times.  When things go south, this doctrine is there to make us patient.  We can wait on God, knowing that he has a purpose in this trial.  If God is in control, we don’t have to throw a temper tantrum and impatiently demand the end of whatever it is that’s making life hard.  He knows what he is doing, even if we do not.  In other words, this doctrine is designed to help us trust him through tears, trust him through adversity.  We may be in a storm in the middle of the lake, but he who controls the waves and the wind will bring us through to the other side.  Trust him in adversity. 

The flip side is where we find the third reason.  Sometimes things go well in our lives.  Sometimes things happen the way we prayed they would happen.  Sometimes God even blesses us with things we never asked for – he just richly and graciously provides.  At times like that, the worldly response is pride.  When things go well for worldly people, they’re quick to take the credit for themselves.  They boast about their accomplishments and think that they deserve all the praise for making things turn out so good.  Some Christians might do that too, forgetting entirely about God and his sovereign control.  But other Christians might take a hybrid approach.  God did his part – he gets some of the praise, but I did my part too and so I also deserve some praise.  I can give God praise and be proud.  I can share the credit with God.  This is no better than the worldly approach.  Loved ones, God is jealous for all the praise, all the thanksgiving.  As the Bible says: let him who boasts, boast in the Lord, and in the Lord only.  Soli Deo Gloria is the Latin expression you often hear, to God alone be the glory.  This is what needs to be firmly fixed in our minds and hearts.  When God’s providence brings us prosperity, we give him thanks.  We give him all the credit.  We bring him the praise and the glory.  This doctrine is not meant to turn us inwards, but outwards.  It’s not meant to keep our eyes on earth, on the horizontal, but to direct them up to heaven, to the vertical.                     

Finally, this doctrine is designed for us as we consider what the future holds.  You don’t know what will happen tomorrow or any day in this coming week.  I pray not, but tragedy could strike.  A loved one could be taken away by death.  Someone you really trusted might disappoint you and let you down.  But there may also be good in the days ahead.  Sometimes smooth sailing can distract us from where our focus needs to be.  In Proverbs 30, Agur prays to God and asks only for what he needs.  Only give me what I need, he prays, “lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is Yahweh?’”  He looks to the future and he knows to whom he must look.  He must look to God with confidence today and always.  So it is with us.  This doctrine of providence is there so that, as we look to the future, we’re committed to placing our trust in our faithful God and Father.  Whether what lays ahead are hard times or good times, we want to be focussed on him only, trusting in his love, and walking in his ways.

Brothers and sisters, this is one of the most comforting teachings we have from the Scriptures.  What we have in the Catechism faithfully summarizes this teaching.  I’ve sometimes read this Lord’s Day with people in the hospital, or people facing other trials and challenges.  This is comfort food for pilgrims on their journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.  I urge you to eat up this spiritual food and let it nourish you, not only for the week to come, but for your whole life long.  Trust your faithful God and Father.  Because you have Christ as your Saviour, trust his love, trust his power.  Trust that he is in control of every single detail of your life, that he is working all things together for good in your life, because he loves you in Jesus Christ.  AMEN.           


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for revealing this doctrine of providence to us.  We’re so glad and thankful that you are in control of everything in our lives, every day, everywhere.  We trust your control because we have Christ as our Saviour, and thus we’re assured of your great love for us.  We’re assured that we are your children, and you are our powerful and loving Father.  Help us with your Spirit so that we trust you more.  Help us when we face adversities.  Please help us to be patient and to wait on you.  Help us not to doubt your love and power at such times.  Please help us too in prosperity.  We ask for your grace so that we would be humble and give you the thanks and praise your name deserves.  We want to acknowledge you in all our ways – we know that we need the help of your Spirit to do that.  Please work in us with your Spirit and Word so that we would always give witness to your place in our life.  Father, we also ask that you’d help us to trust you for the future.  We don’t what the future holds, but you do.  Help us to have that firm confidence that whatever happens, nothing can separate us from your love.  Thank you for being our faithful God and Father.  Thank you for this comforting gospel doctrine of providence.      


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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