Providence
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Providence

From Series: The Unseen God, Volume 1

Esther 2:1-4  (ID: 2959)

In this message from the Old Testament book of Esther, our understanding of God's providence is deepened as Alistair Begg explains the clarity, mystery, and security it brings. This principle is both very simple and very complex; when applied in the life of a believer, it deepens our trust in God our Father.


Sermon Transcript:

We’re going to read from the book of Esther in the Old Testament. I invite you to turn there. Chapter 2 and verse 1:

“After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s young men who attended him said, ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the citadel, under custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who[’s] in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’ This pleased the king, and he did so.”

Father, with our Bibles before us, we pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher; that beyond the voice of a mere man, we may hear from you; that you will conduct that divine dialogue which is so mysterious to us, whereby you take your Word and you plant it in our lives and speak to us beyond ourselves and in a way that causes us to ponder the amazing interest that you have in us. Accomplish your purposes this day, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, I’d like to acknowledge before we begin this morning that we’re not making tremendously fast progress through the book of Esther. It was my intention when I began that we would do this in a relatively short order. “How all occasions do inform against me,”[1] and here I am. And I want you to know that we won’t get very far this morning either, so that I might as well just keep the expectations as low as possible from the get-go. Because essentially what we’re being confronted with is the doctrine of God’s providence. And until we really come to terms with that and bow down under the tutelage of the Bible in relationship to it, we’re not really in a position to advance very far in this particular story. So, if it appears that I belabor the point, I do so under duress, as it were—a duress that comes from outside of myself. I, as I say, intended to… I thought that I was going to be able to do this a chapter at a time. But I’m not. So, here we go.

Proverbs 20:1 reads, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink [is] a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Now, those are the words of Solomon, a wise man. And we begin with them because it is very obvious, in the reading of Esther chapter 1, that King Ahasuerus was led astray by his intake of wine. There is a very direct and obvious correlation between the extent of his imbibing and the angry outburst which led to the banishing of a queen whom he loved.

Now, I think it’s fair enough to say that it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. On that particular evening, when passions were running high, when he was in the company of his friends and cohorts and those who served his purposes—especially in light of the fact that his pride had been so deeply wounded—it must have seemed like a splendid plan to issue a decree so that, according to verse 19, Vashti would never come before King Ahasuerus again.[2] That was going to be the end of her. We know nothing of her. She’s banished, not only from his presence but from the biblical record.

But when you come to chapter 2, now time has passed. Some three or four years have elapsed, the historians tell us. And during that time, he—that is, King Ahasuerus—had led what proved in the end to be an unsuccessful military campaign, an expedition against the powers of Greece. And he has now returned, presumably to his palace. And in my mind’s eye, I picture him now standing, perhaps, in the banquet hall that had been marked by all of that finery, all of that opulence, all of that gaiety, frivolity, and, yes, by the passionate outburst which had led to the departure of his queen. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he simply stood there in the absence of all of that, and as he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her, he must have said to himself, “You know, things would have been so different in my life were it not for that moment. If I had reacted differently to her response, she would still be here, and I would be able to enjoy her company.”

You see, his power in Persia was virtually absolute. That was the good news for him but also the bad news for him. What it meant was that he could turn his whim—which he had done in this instance—he could turn his whim into law. But since it was the law of the Medes and the Persians, the law became irreversible. And so, what he did in banishing his queen meant that he was trapped by his own irreversible decree, so that he couldn’t actually have her back even if he wanted.

Some have been tempted to do that. And it is only one’s pride that prevents the man from asking for his queen, his bride, to be returned. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, if he had been propelled forward in time and been able to listen to the music that I enjoy, if he wouldn’t have been prepared to acknowledge that there was a direct correlation between the poetry of Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon and his own heart response to his circumstances. So, he may have stood in the middle of the banqueting hall and said,

But when [s]he’s gone,
Me and those lonesome blues collide.
The bed’s too big,
The frying pan’s too wide.[3]

You see, because

        losing love
Is like a window in your heart.
Everybody sees you’re blown apart.
Everybody sees the wind blow.[4]

[It doesn’t] matter if you’re born
To play the king or pawn,
For the line is thinly drawn ’tween joy and sorrow.[5]

“Breaking up is hard to do.”[6]

And the story here of this miserable king is actually a fairly miserable story. He is prepared to accede to the directives of these young men. They come up with a plan to cheer him up, to lift his spirits. “Why don’t we have a beauty pageant?” they say. “Let’s round up all the beauties. We can get another one for you—probably a younger model, a little better.” And we find he’s there, passively relying on the wisdom of these characters. Glover, the historian, has a wonderful little passage where he says of this man, “He had immense resources in gold and in manpower; and he failed; and at every point the chief source of Persian weakness seems to have been the fact that the man, who had at last to decide everything, was unequal to his task.”[7] The man who had the power to make these huge decisions and who at the end had the power of veto was unequal to the task. In his own personal life, he made a hash of it.

The story is duplicated, gentlemen, again and again and again throughout history. The pages of our newspapers, the diaries of our politicians—tragically, the circumstances of our pastoral leaders—are written, riddled, with this story again and again: the power to proclaim the word and yet no power to prevent the issue.

There are lots of lessons could be learned from this. It’s not our purpose this morning to pause on them. But let’s just take for ourselves, gentlemen, on Father’s Day, one pithy exhortation to suffice. In observing the rash, wine-fueled stupidity of King Ahasuerus, here’s the word: don’t be foolish, be faithful. Don’t be foolish, be faithful.

I was talking with a gentleman yesterday. I said, “Are you going to such and such an event?” He said, “No, I’m not going to go to that event.” This is not a man who professes faith in Jesus. I said, “Well, why wouldn’t you go? Isn’t it a wonderful time?” He said, “It’s a wonderful time if you want to spend at the end of the day, when the conference is over, hanging around carousing with people and going to bars and chatting up women.” He said, “I have no interest in that. I have a wife.” That’s on the test.

You see, because the most important thing that a father can do for his children is love their mother—more than anything else! More than how much we provide for them. More than how much we are able to give to them an education. More than whatever legacy we may leave them. You can leave them everything and never have loved their mother unreservedly, and it’ll be a disaster. No! Don’t be foolish. Don’t toy with these things in your mind. It’s dangerous. Be faithful. ’Cause remember, you made a promise: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish forever, only to be parted by death.

People come to me in the course of pastoral ministry, they bemoan their marriages: “Oh, it’s terrible. You oughta hear about him. You oughta hear about her.” I listen for as long as I can stand it, and then I say, “So, apparently, what you’re telling me is that it’s worse. Is that it?” They say, “Yes.” I say, “Well, you signed up for worse. Get out.” That’s why no one comes to me for counseling. My style, there’s no sensitivity to it at all. You signed up for worse! It gets worse! He had a 32-inch waist. Now he has a furniture problem: his chest has dropped into his drawers. It’s worse!

“Hey, we can get you a younger one!”

That’s enough of that. Let’s get back to the king.

The plan of action is to be executed, and the decision, the suggestion, made by these young men as we’re about to see—in the future—has a significant impact on the way that this plot unfolds. But I want to say three things concerning the underlying doctrine here in this book. It is the doctrine of providence. I want to give you three words in relationship to it. Now, the first word is clarity, the second word is mystery, and the third word is security. All right? When I was studying this week, those were three little subpoints that became a sermon, so here we are. All right?

Clarity

So, the doctrine of providence, as we’ve noted before from Louis Berkhof, which you can get in the bookstore or download for yourself, is by definition, the “continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”[8] If you want it in a shortened form, the final statement at the end of Catechism Question 2 reminds us that “nothing happens except through him and by his will.”[9] “Nothing happens except through him and by his will.”

Charles Bridges, commentating on the way in which this unfolds, says—I found helpfully, and maybe you will too—“In inert matter [God] acts by physical force; in brute animals, by instinct and appetite; in intelligent beings, by motives suited to their faculties; in his redeemed people, by the influence of grace.”[10] It’s a very good and helpful statement, I think. How does God, then, work all things according to his appointed end? Well, it covers everything, from “inert matter” all the way through to “his redeemed people.”

Now, Solomon comments on this—not a comment on Ahasuerus in particular but a general comment concerning the way in which God controls even the affairs in the lives of kings. And in Proverbs 21:1, this is what we read: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” If you have directed streams around your property or just directed a hose pipe in a certain direction, you’ve realized that you can interfere with it in that way. But here, this picture is of the way in which, although the king goes about his business, nevertheless, God’s hand is involved in the matter.

So, let us be clear that this is clear. That’s our first word: clarity. In other words, there’s nothing sketchy or vague about this in the Bible. And it is the very fact that it isn’t sketchy or vague that causes men and women to react to it so strongly, to react to it in unbelief. If, for example, tomorrow, in common conversation, you espouse to somebody over a coffee or driving in a car or taking a trip with somebody that God actually works in everything according to his own eternal purpose and appointed end, it’s almost inevitable that someone will immediately come back with saying, “Well, I can’t see how that could possibly be.” And the phraseology that will be used is “You’re not telling me that, are you? You’re not saying that God did, you’re not saying that God does, you’re not saying…” That’s what they usually say. And if we’re fearful or confused, then we may find ourselves equivocating on the issue. But if we are prepared to submit to the clarity of the Bible, then we say, “Well, actually that is what I’m saying. I am actually confirming that fact.”

Jim Packer puts it very straightforwardly when he says what we’re talking about is “purposive personal management.” “Purposive personal management with total ‘hands-on’ control.”[11] Wow, that’s pretty tight, isn’t it? So, in creation God exercised his divine energy to bring the world into being, and in providence he continues to exercise his divine energy to sustain the universe and to bring things all to their appointed end, which ultimately, as we saw in Ephesians 1, is when everything on heaven and earth will be united in and through the purposes as it relates to Jesus.[12]

It’s important that we realize, too, that in affirming the clarity of the Bible in this, we do so in an environment where the responses of people are largely two.

Anybody that affirms truth in God does so as a result of faith, a faith that is a gift from God by his grace and his goodness.

A certain group of people are deistic in their thinking. They’re deists in their thinking. Essentially, the deist separates God from his world. At the most baseline, communicate-with-your-children terminology, the deist says, “Okay, there was a God who made the world, but he’s had nothing to do with it ever since he made it. He’s not interfered with it. He’s not engaged with it. He simply got it started. He wound the watch up, he laid it on the vanity, and he walked away and left it behind.” What we’re saying is something very, very different from that, isn’t it?

Or, on the other hand, the reaction of pantheism. And many of our friends are actually pantheists without knowing it. The deist separates God from his creation. The pantheist confuses God with his creation. The pantheist actually says that God and creation are one and the same thing. That is why you will find your pantheistic friends, although they may not know the terminology, suggesting that if you look inside of yourself, you will be able to find God. Why? Because God is his creation, and we are his creation, and therefore, in its kind of extreme expressions à la Shirley MacLaine and so on, of an old day—you know, Out on a Limb with Shirley—God is, you know, all around and in and on and through and so on. It all sounds really kind of jazzy when people like to say, “Well, I’m a spiritual person, you know, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a religious person, you know.” You say, “Well, that’s interesting. We can talk about that some more. But if God is his creation, who created the creation?”

Pantheists have no explanation for the existence of anything. The Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”[13] It doesn’t start with a scientific explanation. The reason it doesn’t start with a scientific explanation is because the only way that we can know God is by faith. The writer to the Hebrews says anyone who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him.[14] That doesn’t mean that apologetics can’t help us to chip away at the often-misguided views of our contemporaries. But what it ultimately means is that anybody that affirms truth in God does so as a result of faith, a faith that is a gift from God by his grace and his goodness. That’s why I quoted the children’s hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” I was singing it to myself in the car just the other morning:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.[15]

I sing that to myself regularly, remind myself: “This is your world. You made this. You’re not to be confused with this. You’re not in the tree. You made the tree. You’re not in the monkey. You made the monkey.”

So, when we go out to our friends and we say, “You know, we were studying the book of Esther. It’s a very Jewish book. It’s about a lady,” and some of our friends may say, “I know about that,” we say, “Well, what the real thing about this book is that God the Creator sustains everything by his power.”

Mystery

There’s clarity in it. But secondly and quickly, there is also mystery in it. There is mystery in it, in that God directs all things—he directs the heart of the king, if we stay with Proverbs 21:1—he directs the heart of the king without violating the nature of things. Okay? Without impinging upon causality.

What does that mean? In the case of Ahasuerus, it means this: Vashti was banished because of a free decision made by Ahasuerus. He was not a pawn on a chessboard being moved around by a divine chess player. He was not dangling on the end of a puppeteer’s string. He, in a moment of passion fueled by his excesses, decided that since his pride had been wounded, he didn’t want her as a queen anymore. That was his free decision. It was his free decision to accept the suggestion of his advisors that they would have, then, a beauty pageant whereby he would be able to choose for himself a new queen. He did that.

And when you read on in the story—which I hope, as I’ve suggested to you, you will do—you discover that there are these amazing little coincidences that somehow or another appear to be evidence of the overruling activity of God. So, if your Bible is open, you can just flip forward to Esther chapter 6 and look at verse 1, where it says, “On that night the king could not sleep.” Why couldn’t he sleep? I don’t know. It doesn’t say why he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep. Maybe he had pizza. Maybe he was drinking again. Maybe… Who knows? But he couldn’t sleep.

And so, he did what is not uncommon for people to do: he decided that he would get an audiobook. Right? Some of you do that. You have earphones by your bed. You listen, you fall asleep, you don’t know where you were in the book, and then you waken up, and you still don’t know where you were in the book. But it helps you. And the more boring the book, the easier it will be, presumably, to get to sleep. And so, he—apparently haphazardly—gave orders to bring “the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles.” A real zinger, you know. “Read me about the chronicles of the kingdom!”

Well, what was happening? He decided when he woke up as a result of insomnia that he would have to have something read, so he said, “Why don’t you bring me that book?”—which appeared to be apparently inconsequential, a happenstance. But in actual fact, that was the book that allowed him to read about what had happened with Mordecai, to whom we will eventually come. Without that, he would not have known, and therefore, he would not have exalted Mordecai to the position. It’s kind of mysterious, isn’t it? Because what was actually happening was that God was ordering these events—not ordering them by interfering, as it were.

I had somebody tell me not so long ago that they were trapped in an elevator, and they were supposed to phone their wife, and then the phone wouldn’t work. And as a result of the phone not working, he couldn’t get his wife out of a situation, and because he couldn’t get her out of it, she actually became a Christian, and so he said, “What an amazing thing it is that God stops elevators.” I said, “Okay, fine.” But I went away, I said, “Yeah, he can stop elevators, but no. The elevator just stopped, man.” It stopped because it stopped. And in the economy and purposes of God, that causality was used in order to achieve a far higher end.

Now, you check this, and you’ll find that the pattern is repeated again and again if you follow the kings of the earth, whether it’s Nebuchadnezzar, whether it is the pharaoh, whether it is Ahab, whoever it might be. Or, classically, let me just give you one. I’ll give you an illustration: in Genesis chapter 20, in the story of Abraham and his cute wife and Abimelech. You remember that Abraham—who was, you know, big “I’m trusting God” hero kind of guy—had a little bit of a lapse in Genesis 20 and decided that in this area to which they’d gone in the territory between Kadesh and Shur and in Gerar, he would tell people that Sarah was his sister. And so, Abimelech “took Sarah,” we’re told. And then in Genesis 20:3, “God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold, you[’re] a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she[’s] a man’s wife.’ Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he [says], ‘Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, “She[’s] my sister”? And she herself said, “He[’s] my brother.”’” So they were both in on the lie. “‘In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.’” See, he takes personal responsibility for it. “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me.’”[16]

It’s great, isn’t it? It’s mystery. And the mystery is at its apex when you come to the issue of the kings of the earth conspiring against the Lord and his Anointed. For your homework, just read Acts chapter 4. Read the wonderful account of how it is that the apostles are released from prison, and the people lift up their hearts to God in prayer, and they quote from Psalm 2. And they say, “Why did the nations rage and the gentiles rage, and why are these people opposed to God? Why do the kings of the earth lift up their hands and their hearts against the Lord and against his Anointed One?”[17] And then you step back from it and you say, “When the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord in the exercise of their rebellious will, they were actually setting forward God’s foreordained plan of salvation.” It’s mystery.

Security

So, we affirm the clarity with which the Bible addresses it. We acknowledge the mystery that is contained in it. And finally, just a word concerning the fact that we must accept the security that is here for all who belong to Jesus. The security that is here for all who belong to Jesus.

You see, even when it is obvious to us that the wicked flourish, that evil people seem to be in the ascendancy, that bad seems to be called good and good seems to be called bad, even when we’re disheartened, and even when it appears that everything seems to be so crooked and irregular, the doctrine of providence is in the Bible to say to us, “Remember that God is actually sovereign over all these affairs.”

Thomas Watson, in his Body of Divinity, uses this picture: “Suppose,” he says,

you were in a [black]smith’s shop, and should see there several sorts of tools, some crooked, some bowed, others hooked, would you condemn all these things, because they do not look handsome? The smith makes use of them all for doing his work. Thus it is with the providences of God; they seem to us to be very crooked and strange, yet they all carry on God’s work.[18]

If we don’t understand this, if we don’t come to terms with this, it will have implications in every dimension of our lives: in dealing with sadness, in dealing with suffering, in dealing with the ongoing political machinations of our world and, most pressingly, of our nation. And I fear for American Christianity that doesn’t come to terms with an understanding of God’s providence in the affairs of time. Because when we read our Bibles, it is clear that God often, in history, has made use of the wicked, sometimes to protect and shield his people and at other times to purify and to refine his people. Right? How else do you understand the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar and the forces of Babylon carrying his people away into exile? Anybody on that day would say, “This is a disaster!” And viewed in the immediacy of it, surely it was a trial. But from the vantage point of the backward glance, we see what God was doing. And it is imperative that we come to terms with that if we’re not to go wrong in our understanding of history and of politics.

Even when we’re disheartened and it appears that everything is so crooked and irregular, the doctrine of providence is in the Bible to say to us, ‘Remember that God is actually sovereign over all these affairs.’

Some of us, actually, are so proud that we’re tempted to think that we could order things better if we had the government of the world in our own hands. We talk like that, don’t we? So silly! You can’t even match socks when they come out of the tumble dryer. You want to run the universe? I have no one in mind in mentioning that. I guess it’s just a random foolish observation.

We would harm ourselves if we were able to make our own decisions. We would make wrong decisions. We would have changed the life of Naomi, wouldn’t we? It’s her triple bereavement and her husband’s foolish decision to go away on the understandable decision to get bread. He leaves “The House of Bread,” Bethlehem, in search of bread. What a disaster! She loses her husband, she loses both of her boys. But in the overruling providence of God, this is the mechanism whereby she becomes such a friend to her daughter-in-law Ruth. And then the story unfolds from there.

If you think of David in his sin with Bathsheba, producing a child, and then you remember that he prayed long and hard and pled with God to save the life of his child, and God took the child. Well, anyone says to lose a child is the worst thing in the world. It surely must be. But if that child had lived, that child would have been a permanent monument to David’s shame. There wouldn’t have been a time when somebody wouldn’t have said, “You know that boy? That was the king with Bathsheba did that.” God knows what he’s doing. God knows what he’s doing.

You see, the real issue is whether we actually know God through Jesus—whether we have come to understand that God is not a cosmic principle, that he’s not something inside of us, that he’s not a higher power simply be tapped into, but he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has revealed himself savingly in the person of his Son, and he seeks us out to draw us to himself, to make us his own, and to let us know that he cares for us as no one else cares for us. So we have to learn, then, to trust the providences of God, even when they seem to be contrary to his promises. Because they often do. What are you gonna do in that context? Trust the promise.

I could illustrate it, but our time is gone. One illustration: the end of Acts. The shipwreck scene. Paul. It’s craziness, right? Do you remember as it’s described there by Luke? And God in a vision says to Paul, “Everyone on this ship is going to be saved.”[19] And so they all sit up on the deck and sing songs as they go down the lazy river. Everything is nice now. Everyone’s going… No! No. It says on the fourteenth day, it got even worse than it had been before, so much so that they started to throw things off the ship.[20] So, absolute chaos and mayhem. And the only thing they had to go on was a vision and a promise by God to Paul that everyone will be saved. The providences of God were in direct opposition to the promise of God. What are you gonna do in that circumstance? Trust his promise! Trust his promise. Obey his Word. Trust his promise. It’s the only way to go.

How strangely did God raise up Esther to preserve his people? That’s what he’s doing! Esther goes to the throne as a result of the free decision of Ahasuerus to banish Vashti. She goes to the throne as a result of God creating her DNA and making her really beautiful. She goes to the throne as a result of the guy who has the oversight of the thing taking a shine to her and making sure that she’s got really well looked after.

I must stop. Do you have the point?

During the week… You know I wake up singing songs? Well, that wouldn’t be true. You have to check my wife. I don’t always wake up singing songs. But I often have a song in my mind when I wake up, so I want to be dead honest. She wouldn’t appreciate it if I woke up singing songs. But this week I had a song in mind, and I thought to myself, “I wonder where I got that song from.” And the refrain—I could only remember the refrain—it goes like this:

I trust in God wherever I may be,
On mountains steep, or on the rolling sea,
When billows roll, he keeps my soul;
My heavenly Father watches over me.[21]

It was a blast from my past, a song from my childhood.

I came in one of the days of the week and was forwarded all the stuff that had come in from Truth For Life and went over to Kay’s desk, and in it there’s usually things that people send to me, and in one of them was a book called Songs of the Sawdust Trail by Homer Rodeheaver. Sorry, I don’t mean to be unkind to anyone called Rodeheaver, but it just seems like—it’s like a cartoon character, isn’t it? Homer Rodeheaver, Songs of the Sawdust Trail. Anyway… So, I pulled this out, and after I had done that little thing, to myself—no one cared—but anyway, I did that. Kay’s like, “Okay, read the book.” So, I said, before I opened that, I said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of the Songs of the Sawdust Trail is ‘I trust in God wherever I may be’?”

So then I opened the book. Chapter 2: “I trust in God wherever I may be.” The story of a man called Robert Steele. I can’t read it to you. We don’t have time. His dad dies when he’s young, leaves him a gold watch. His stepfather steals the gold watch from him and treats him shamefully. Robert Steele steals the gold watch back, leaves home, decides he’s going to live his own life, just gonna to do his own thing. His life spirals out of control, and you fast-forward to a day when somebody invites him to come to a mission hall. He said it was a dilapidated kind of place, and he didn’t have much interest in going into it, but he went anyway. They were playing some catchy songs, he said. There was a catchy song—I wouldn’t say it was that catchy, but anyway, he thought it was catchy, and it drew him in. And when he got in there, there was a man, he said, talking about God, who was “our Heav’nly Father”:

I had always had the idea that God was standing over me with a whip, ready to strike the moment you made a false step, but this man said … that was all wrong … [he was] ready to help [me] …. [A] queer lump in my throat was coming …, and … they started the song again: “I trust in God—I know he cares for me.”[22]

And he said, “My eyes were opened, and I suddenly realized.”[23] “All I could understand,” he says, “was that I had found a new Father, and that he had been looking for me for years.”[24]

Have you found a new Father? Do you realize he’s been looking for you for years? Do you realize that he takes the initiative, that “we love because he first loved us”?[25] Or maybe you’re a deist, or a pantheist, or an atheist. Does your view of the world satisfy all the twists and turns and crooked bits and pieces of disappointment and failure and sadness and anxiety? And if not, why do you stick with that view of the world? Why not get yourself another one? Why not bow down and trust your heavenly Father?

Let’s pray.

In the seventeenth century, Samuel Rutherford was a godly minister in Scotland. He died by the time he was sixty-one, the age I am today. And one of his great legacies were letters that he wrote to members of his congregation, many of whom were members of the aristocracy. And he had a particularly long dialogue with a lady called Lady Kenmure, whose marriage was a disaster, who had lived with great bouts of depression and sadness. And in one of his letters to her, he says,

Madam, when you are come to the other side of the water, and have set down your foot on the shore of glorious eternity, and look back again to the waters and to your wearisome journey, and shall see in that clear glass of endless glory nearer to the bottom of God’s wisdom, [then you will] be forced to say, “If God had done otherwise with me than he ha[d] done, I [would never have] come to the enjoying of this crown of glory.”[26]

Gracious God, I pray that you will help us to take Jesus at his word when he says to his disciples, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need these things.”[27] Help us to turn to you in genuine repentance, to repent of our arrogance and our pride, to repent of how we choose to worship our own little substitute gods rather than to bow before you. And grant to us childlike faith and the joy of discovering what it is to be able to name you as “our Father in heaven,”[28] not simply as a result of creation but as a result of your redeeming love, the redemption, in our catechetical question, that is found through the substitutionary atonement provided by Jesus on the cross. And then, let us go out into the week that lies ahead resting and trusting avowedly in the fact that Father knows best. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.


[1] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 4.4.

[2] See Esther 1:19.

[3] Joni Mitchell, “My Old Man” (1971).

[4] Paul Simon, “Graceland” (1986).

[5] Paul Simon, “Flowers Never Bend after the Rainfall” (1966).

[6] Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (1962).

[7] T. R. Glover, The Ancient World: A Beginning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935), 103.

[8] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1939; repr., London: Banner of Truth, 1963), 166.

[9] The New City Catechism, Q. 2.

[10] Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs, 3rd ed. (London, 1850), 2:43.

[11] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs ([Carol Stream, IL?]: Tyndale, 1993), 54.

[12] See Ephesians 1:9–10.

[13] Genesis 1:1 (ESV).

[14] See Hebrews 11:6.

[15] Cecil Frances Alexander, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (1848).

[16] Genesis 20:2–6 (ESV).

[17] Acts 4:25–26 (paraphrased). See also Psalm 2:1–2.

[18] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (1692; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2015), 121.

[19] Acts 27:24 (paraphrased).

[20] See Acts 27:27–38.

[21] William C. Martin, “My Father Watches Over Me” (1910). Lyrics lightly altered.

[22] Homer Rodeheaver, Song Stories of the Sawdust Trail (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1917), 43–44.

[23] Rodeheaver, 44–45. Paraphrased.

[24] Rodeheaver, 45.

[25] 1 John 4:19 (ESV).

[26] Samuel Rutherford to Lady Kenmure, Anwoth, June 26, 1630, in The Letters of Samuel Rutherford: A Selection (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2012), 18.

[27] Matthew 6:32; Luke 12:30 (paraphrased).

[28] Matthew 6:9 (ESV). See also Luke 11:2.

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.