My theme has arisen from a conversation with one of the congregation about the ways of God, in the course of which I quoted some of my favourite lines from the hymn associated with Samuel Rutherford:
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The years of banishment when his mouth was shut were the years when his richest letters were written, letters that are still read hundreds of years later.
Looking back over life there comes a knowledge and a tremendous sense of the hand of God, and of plans and ways that we would not have chosen but that God has actually led us in for His own purposes.
I know the thoughts that I think toward you … thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jer. 29:11)
The ways of God are very wonderful. Something we always have to remember is that His thoughts for us are only good (and I say this many a time to a person). Always remember you don’t need to be afraid of the will of God, for the will of God is always what is best. He designs it for our happiness, not to harm us. He brings us in ways that are for our good and not to bring hurt into our lives. Hurt comes into life, but that is the result of the Fall, and He uses it for His own purposes.
Job found the truth of that. In the darkest of circumstances, in a desperate condition, he uttered wonderful words: “He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me I shall come forth like gold.” We know, looking back now at Job’s life, the gold that came out of it. And that gold was the knowledge of God and of Christ. He said these wonderful words: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God.” I know that He lives. How comforting these words are to us, and how comforting the thought of the plan of God, especially at a time like this.
A lovely illustration of this comes from Andrew Jewell. He told this to me a few months ago, but I don’t think he has used it in preaching, though I have given him ample time to have that opportunity that I am taking now! In the course of his work he sometimes uses a design connected with a project carried out by a teenage boy. The boy decided to trace three years of the trajectory of a planet, and he found when he looked at the final graph that it had made a beautiful flowerlike design of exquisite intricacy and delicacy. The sight of it is such that it has moved people to tears and given them a feeling that they have not understood but that we do recognize as a sense of God, because it shows the hand of the great Creator, and His design. Think of the perfection that came out of the simple tracing of a planet’s trajectory. And how much more does God weave a plan for us that is perfect.
Of course we say: “Well, it doesn’t always work like that; we mar that plan.” And indeed we do. And there is somebody who tries to make sure that we mar that plan – because we have an enemy. Our adversary, the wicked one, has got a plan also: and his plans for our lives are not good plans. His plans for God’s world are not good. But God always outmanoeuvres Satan.
Satan sets traps for us. But in the words of a verse I came across this week:
When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn. Wherever I go, my enemies have set traps for me. (Psa.142:3)
I think the verse spoke to me because I felt I had fallen into a trap, not set for me by any enemy other than the wicked one, but as a consequence I had acted a little unwisely, and on reflection I wished I had done something different. But I found great comfort in reading the psalm, and just knew that God knew and understood. It was a fairly minor matter. But even in major matters of life when we have made mistakes and have fallen into traps that the enemy has set, we remember how he tried to set traps for Christ, sometimes through the scribes and pharisees, sometimes himself coming to Christ in the wilderness, and sometimes even through his friends, like Peter. But he never was able to trap Christ. We would love to be able to say the same, but we are but human – and God remembers that we are but dust. So what does He do? He weaves even our mistakes, even the times we have fallen into a trap, and somehow weaves it all into a whole, so that in the end we shall look back and see that He made something beautiful out of something that was not beautiful, because the beauty that is imparted to us is the beauty of Christ Himself.
We look at Christ as our great example, and we know that God had a plan for Him. If we had seen that plan of God and had been in Christ’s place we would have said: “This plan is not a good plan, this plan is full of suffering,” and indeed we would have said: “I cannot walk that way.” But of the Lord Jesus Christ it is prophesied:
In the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will,
O my God. (Psa. 40:7–8)
He is our great Forerunner, and He imparts to us a delight in the will of God. He delighted to fulfil the Father’s plan: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” (Jn 4:34) And He went through the Cross. But He came out the other side in the wonder of Resurrection life and His triumph.
And we, in the circumstances in which we are now – they are nothing like Christ’s, are they? They are not easy, but they could be much worse. And there will be an Afterward. God has promised us that in the Afterward “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” (Joel 2:28) He is pouring out His Spirit even now upon us in our individual lives and homes and in our walk with Him, and on us as we come together on occasions like this. And what will be that Afterward? We find ourselves closer to God and not further away, more dependent on Him as individuals, perhaps less dependent on one another – and yet we will rejoice greatly to meet again and to find ourselves still with the glory of God being revealed, and the wonder of His own presence. He is a wonderful Saviour. We can say like Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God.” And we will bless the hand that guided and the heart that planned, even before we get to Immanuel’s land.
To quote from John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.
All is best, though we oft doubt,
What th’unsearchable dispose
Of highest Wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Blessed be His Name, Amen.
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