A sermon preached at the thanksgiving service on the 50th anniversary of Evangelical Times (Hayes Town Chapel, 4 February 2017): ‘The righteous shall see it and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord’ (Psalm 107:42-43).
An understanding of theprovidence of God proves his love.Life in this world displays to us the love of God. Creation carries the message ‘the Lord is good to all’ (Psa.145:9); ‘he makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good’.
The goodness of God ought to lead all peoples to repentance. Yet men choose to praise and serve themselves rather than their Creator. They wish to forget God and, after long forbearance, God may leave them to do so.
But, as certain as the sun will shine tomorrow, providence can work against the ungodly. The judgments of God can fall on careers, on possessions, on houses and families (Deuteronomy 28:15-20). ‘Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities are afflicted’ ((Psalm 107:17).
Today we are living in a generation where young people are encouraged to think they can do what they like and find happiness their own way. It is a lie. Our Creator has given us commandments how we are to live, and his commands come from love for our welfare and benefit.
Young people are to keep the fifth commandment, and honour their father and mother, so ‘that it might be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth’. No one has a right to life, and the Creator may cut life short whenever he pleases. God’s government and his commandments run hand in hand.
In the end, Christ says, the person who defies God will be ‘ground to powder’. ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’.
Lessons of providence
But Psalm 107 is speaking about what believers learn from providence. They learn the amazing truth that the great Creator has so dealt with them that they understand ‘the lovingkindness [or ‘steadfast love’] of the Lord.
Love directs providence for the people of God; love which began before the foundation of the world, when the Father gave a people to his Son, for whom Christ became the surety and for whom he died.
United to that Saviour, the believer says, ‘He loved me, and gave himself for me’. For these same people, Jesus rose again, and is now seated at the Father’s ‘own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion’. God ‘has put all things under his feet, gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:20-23).
This is not just a future prospect. To his disciples Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and earth is given unto me’. This is a present reality. In the midst of all the affairs and events of this changing world, Christ rules the whole creation with an eye to his glory in his church.
He told Abraham that ten righteous people would have preserved Sodom from destruction. The city of Corinth was as corrupt as Sodom, but God had more than ten people there — not yet Christians, but destined to be. So instead of destroying it, we read that the Lord said to Paul, ‘I have much people in this city’ (Acts 18:10).
In June 1940, there were some 300,000 British troops trapped at Dunkirk. No one knows why German panzer divisions did not advance to overwhelm them, but there was prayer in Britain and God preserved a nation.
Paul knew that the love of God directs providence. Held in a Roman prison near the end of his life, he was, humanly speaking, in the hands of Nero. But listen how he describes himself: he is ‘Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ’ (Philemon 1). He belongs to the One who rules in heaven and earth.
An unbeliever looking at what Paul was suffering for Christ — troubled on every side, persecuted, delivered unto death for Jesus sake — might think, as Festus did, that Paul must be mad. But Paul says, ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us … nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:37-39).
So we look at the last 50 years in the light of the truth that God almighty is in charge of all history.
We see that none of God’s promises and words have failed
This has always been true. When Israel was to go into the land of Canaan, and Moses sent spies ahead to assess the situation, the report of the majority was that the fortified cities and the giants were too great and too many. But God said to Moses and to Joshua, ‘I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee’.
Years later, towards the end of the book of Joshua, we read the testimony, ‘There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass’ (21:45).
As we look at the past half century, we can surely see a great deal that has failed. How much has failed in our nation! Leaders have failed; plans have failed; wars have tragically failed; banks have failed; our national British Broadcasting Company has failed in the purpose of its existence. The entrance hall of Broadcasting House has an inscription for all to see: ‘This temple of the arts and muses is dedicated to almighty God by the first governors of broadcasting in the year 1931. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace and purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness’!
We who are believers have also reason to say there has been too much of failure in our service for Christ. We have built too much with wood, hay and stubble. Where good has been achieved — and it has been achieved — it has been the work of Christ and not of ourselves.
All that Christ says and does is forever: ‘heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away’ (Mark 13:31); ‘there failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken’.
We have seen God answering prayer
You notice the repeated refrain in verses 6, 13, 19 and 28 of Psalm 107, ‘they cried [or ‘cry’] unto the Lord’. But the praying did not start with the individuals; it started by God’s providence, which caused them to pray. ‘Then they cried…’
Prayer is born out of need. It is God’s mercy bringing us to an end of ourselves, to depend on him. Prayer is mysterious but we know there is a certain connexion between providence and prayer.
Speaking of the prayer of individuals, Jesus says, it takes place behind closed doors, where the Father sees in secret. But the promise is that results will be open (Matthew 6:6). What is the difference between results men may get, and results which are God’s work through men?
I believe that, where results are of God, these results last; and the means God uses will be people who say, ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory’ (Psalm 115:1).
If we were to give instances of answered prayer, it would confirm that every good thing, everything that has truly advanced the cause of Christ, has been connected with hidden, humble prayer.
Whether it be the growth of churches or missionary endeavour, Christian publishing, Christian medical work or the care of the elderly, where it exists and is prospered we can be sure there is a sure relationship with prayer.
To be concluded
Iain H. Murray is a well-known author and international conference speaker. He helped found the Banner of Truth Trust, whose ministry he has engaged in for many years.