The Artful Study of Strange Providences for Our Contentment

For Lord’s Day, February 4, 2017

Dear Saints,

Next Wednesday night we will begin studying Thomas Watson’s, The Art of Divine Contentment, and I plan to use our weekly (Lord-willing) e-devotions/Pastor’s Posts to share the “cliff notes” of Jeremiah Burrough’s, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment along the way as a companion complement of sorts to our midweek corporate devotion.

(Image source: http://news.psu.edu/story/141913/2011/12/14/research/probing-question-how-are-museums-keeping-changing-times)

Watson’s theme verse for the book is Philippians 4:11, which reads in part: ... I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Notice that contentment is not something that comes naturally—it must be learned by deliberate study and purposeful practice, especially when difficult providences are displayed before us.

In anticipation of our study on contentment, tonight I’d like to share another nugget from William S. Plumer in his treatise on Providence entitled, Jehovah-Jireh. In the section of his book about God’s special providence over saints is a subsection that reads as follows: XI. When means have been blessed to conversion of his people, how strange the providences of God which lead to their growth in grace! In this subsection, he quotes this “paradoxical” poem by someone he does not name [John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, see P.S. below]:

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.

 

Yea, more ; with His own hand He seemed

Intent to aggravate my wo ;

Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,

Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

 

‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,

‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’

‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,

‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’

 

‘These inward trials I employ

From self and pride to set thee free,

And break thy schemes of earthly joy,

That thou may’st seek thy all in me.’

The Lord truly works in mysterious ways in bringing us nearer Him Who is the Way and the Truth to give us more of His abundant life as He reveals His mysteries to us. With that in view, as we prepare for Watson’s, Art of Divine Contentment let us close with more words by Plumer a little later on in his book:

It is a divine art to view the hand of God in everything.

Let us develop a keen eye for God’s wise and skillful brushstrokes while then stepping back a bit to behold His whole picture that we are simply a part of, so that we would become masterfully artful at studying our Master’s hand and learn to appreciate what we’re looking at.

Semper Reformanda,
Pastor Grant

PS: The context of Newton’s poem is striking: “He and his friend William Cowper had embarked on a project that was to become the Olney Hymns Collection, but not long into the project, Cowper went insane.  Newton wrote that it seemed as though God was going out of his way to make life difficult for him and then realized that even through adversity, God continues to work.” (Source, with the lyrics put to music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cnEDUMfPXs)