The Hammer in Wittenberg

| October 31, 2017

1. The Providence of God

For the past number of Sundays, a handful of 4-6th grade boys and girls have gathered together at South Woods to study the providence of God. The curriculum their teacher uses, My Purpose Will Stand, defines providence in this way: “God is present and active in all His creation. His eye is watching. His hand is working to uphold and govern all creation to fulfill all His purposes.” The first week of the study investigated the passages of the Scriptures that refer to the eyes of the Lord (ex. Prov 15:3; Ps 11:4). Then it covered passages concerning the hand of the Lord (Heb 1:10; Deut 3:24).

That definition makes plain that the Lord’s hand does not move aimlessly, but works to do particular things, namely, to uphold and govern all creation to fulfill all His purposes. While elaborating somewhat, the Second London Confession defines providence similarly: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, arranges and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by His perfectly wise and holy providence, to the purpose for which they were created.”[1]

This blog post could list a number of definitions of providence. But, in essence, orthodox theologians maintain that nothing occurs outside the purview of God’s purposes. To say anything otherwise would be to flirt with Deism. Yet God’s not playing goalie. Nor is He asleep (Psalm 121). He’s perpetually alert and aware, directing and guiding all things for His purposes.

2. The Psalmist and the Providence of God

As my friend Josh says, the Psalms form the liturgy of our emotions. In that book of Hebrew poetry we find biblical parameters to guide our responses to the Lord. And these parameters include how believers ought to think about and be affected by the gracious providence of God.

For example, in Psalm 145:5, the Psalmist writes, “On your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Elsewhere in Psalm 77:12, the Psalmist notes, “I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” Without question, Psalm 77 focuses on God’s deliverance of the children of Israel during the Exodus. However, the Psalmist models for us and therefore encourages us to ponder all of God’s work. While God worked mightily to overthrow Pharaoh, His wondrous works didn’t then cease.

Therefore, if we’re to follow the Psalmist in pondering all God’s work, we’re to be historians of the Divine. The first place we go, of course, is to meditate upon His wonders in saving a people for Himself through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. But that does not mean we can’t also meditate upon more recent works of the Lord. As a current evidence of God’s guiding hand, one might ponder and give thanks for the parents the Lord gave him or her. Or for the church they worship with. This is reflecting on the day–to–day as if it were a result of God’s providence, as if God’s hand did not shorten at the close of the canon.

3. The Reformers and the Providence of God

Which brings us to that which we celebrate today. What about the wondrous works of God between the biblical record and last month? Do we read church history as if men and women planted churches, wrote glorious theological works, and preached rich sermons in their own strength? We should not. God’s aversion to aloofness means that He’s chosen to use means to accomplish His purposes. The key to a spiritual reading of church history is reading it as if it were the unfolding of the providence of God. And if God is directing all things through providence, and we’re to meditate on all His works, we also ought to study church history.

The Maker of the heavens and the earth governed each and every movement of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and Bucer. Further, the good these men accomplished were fundamentally wondrous works of the Lord. I’m not sure what else you’d call the recovery of the gospel message or the translation of the Scriptures into the tongue of the people.

Today, some might claim that the celebration of the Reformation is hero worship. You might deem it that, but let’s be clear about who the hero is. 500 years ago today, God nailed 95 theses to a door in Wittenberg. He used a hammer named Martin Luther.

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1. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: In Modern English (Cape Coral, Fl.: Founders Press, 2017), 19.