Interpreting God’s Providences

Ecclesiastes 3:11
       No man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

STEPHEN CHARNOCK (1628-1680): We are too short-sighted to apprehend and judge of God’s works; man cannot understand his own way, Proverbs 20:24, much less the ways of an infinite God. God’s judgments are a great deep, Psalm 36:6; we may sooner fathom the deepest part in the sea, understand all the turnings of those subterranean passages, lave out the ocean with a spoon, or suck into our bellies that great mass of water, than understand the ways of God with our shallow brains. He makes darkness His pavilion; He is sometimes very obscure in His ways. Neither the greatness of His means, nor the wisdom of His workings, can be fully apprehended by men. We have sense to feel the effects, but not heads to understand the reasons and methods of the divine government.

J. H. M. d’AUBIGNÉ (1794-1872): It is too vast for our human minds to trace the Divine purposes in passing events; we can see but in part, and even that little which we do notice is seldom the cause, but merely the effect. We view the great and momentous fruit come to harvest, but see not the seed. We do not discern the connection between the smallest, seemingly insignificant event that may, in God’s infinite wisdom, in the space of two hundred years hence, bring forth a mighty fruit as a consequence.

STEPHEN CHARNOCK: God acts for ends at a great distance from us, which may not be completed till we are dead and rotten. How can we judge of that which respects a thing so remote from us, unless we view it in that relation? God’s aims in former providences were things to come [and] His aims in present providences are things to come.

R. L. DABNEY (1820-1898): A little wisdom and experience will teach us to very modest, in interpreting God’s purposes by His providences. “It is the glory of a Lord to conceal a thing.” His designs are too vast and complex for our puny minds to infer them from the fragments of His ways which fall under our eyes. Yet, it is evident, that He intends us to learn instruction from the events which occur before us under the regulation of His holy will. The profane are more than once rebuked by Him―as in Isaiah 5:12―because “they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands.” And our Saviour sharply chides the Jewish Pharisees: “O ye hypocrites! ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times.”

STEPHEN CHARNOCK: Some providences have their interpretation written in their foreheads, we may run and read: such as His signal judgments in the world, which express the very sin for which they are inflicted; others are wrapped up in a harder shell and more covers, and therefore [require] more labour to reach the kernel; some are too high for our knowledge, [but] none for our inquiry.

JOHN FLAVEL (1630-1691): This is a clear truth that all Providences have relation to the written word…Let us therefore in all our reviews of providence, consider what Word of God, whether it be of threatening, caution, counsel, or promise is at anytime made good to us by His providences.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Let us ask God in every providence, “Lord, what dost Thou mean by this?” for providence is like a hieroglyphic from God—only some eyes can make out the meaning.

THOMAS WATSON (1620-1686): The providences of God are sometimes dark, and our eyes dim, and we can hardly tell what to make of them.

WILLIAM COWPER (1731-1800): God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

STEPHEN CHARNOCK: Inquire into providence, and interpret all by this rule. We must search into it, though we are not able to find out all the reasons of it.

GEORGE OFFOR (1787-1864): The most important events have arisen out of circumstances very different to what reason could have expected. The great Lawgiver of Israel was a poor foundling. The Redeemer of the world was born in a stable. The sublime Revelations of John were written by an exile in a penal settlement. The universal guide to Christian pilgrims* was the unaided work of an unlettered mechanic, while a prisoner for conscience sake. So unsearchable are the ways of God.

AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): King Charles II once said to that great man, John Milton,** “Do not you think your blindness is a judgment upon you for having written in defence of my father’s murder.” “Sir,” answered the poet, “it is true, I have lost my eyes; but, if all calamitous providences are to be considered as judgments, your majesty should remember that your royal father lost his head.”

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): At a word, we shall have profited greatly when we have learned to refrain hasty judgment.

*Editor’s Note: George Offor is referring to The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan.
**Editor’s Note: In 1649, after the victory of the parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell in the Second English Civil War, King Charles I was tried for high treason by Parliament, found guilty, and beheaded. During the next 5 years, John Milton (later author of Paradise Lost) wrote several works in defence of Oliver Cromwell, parliamentary government, and the execution of the king. By 1660, when the monarchy was restored and King Charles II ascended the English throne, Milton had gone completely blind.


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