William S. Plumer, 1865


God is unrighteous to none. Yes, he is good to all men—but he shows distinguishing kindness to his people. His sun shines upon both the just and upon the unjust; and he sends rain and fruitful seasons on both the godly and the unthankful. Yet the secret of the Lord is with those who fear him. He governs the incorrigibly wicked, though not in covenant love. Their preservations are reservations for damnation. 2 Pet. 2:9-17. But the life of the righteous is by the Lord mercifully controlled. It is ordered in a manner as kind as it is wise. It is so directed that he and all men shall at last see and say that God is glorified and the eternal good of the believer promoted. We should expect no less. Surely God will not treat friends and foes alike. He never confounds moral distinctions. He is the preserver of all men, "especially of those who believe." "The Lord loves the righteous . . . but the way of the wicked he turns upside down." Psalm 146:8, 9. "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies." Psalm 25:10.

It does not impair the doctrine of a kind and special providence towards the righteous, that they are often involved in the same troubling events with the wicked. This often occurs, as inspired writers admit. "The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether they are righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who take oaths are treated like people who don't." Eccles. 9:2. A pious wife shares with her wicked husband the poverty and misery which his vices bring on them. An invading army overwhelms saints and sinners, with evils which are common to all. The event is the same; but the design, uses and effects are quite different. The purpose of God in afflicting his real people is to make them more useful, more humble, and in the end more glorious. His design in afflicting incorrigible foes is to punish them for their sins, show his wrath, and make them examples of his fearsome justice, as they have been the thankless receivers of countless mercies. So also prosperity awakens the gratitude and refines the feelings of the pious man—but hardens the heart of his wicked neighbor. Thus the prosperity of fools destroys them.

Nor is it a valid objection to the doctrine of a special kind providence over godly men—that they are often more afflicted than the wicked.

First, though "many are the afflictions of the righteous, yet the Lord delivers him out of them all." They do not perish in their affliction.

Secondly, When godly men are "chastened of the Lord, it is that they may not be condemned with the world."

Thirdly, A wise father gives far higher proof of strong and continued love to his child by correcting him than by indulging him, or giving him over to his own follies. Our Father "scourges every son whom he receives."

Fourthly, All the godly confess that to them, even in this life, nothing is more pleasant than the effects of sanctified afflictions; while it is to be lamented that those who lie soft and warm in a rich estate, seldom care to heat themselves at the altar. "No creature can be a substitute for God—but God can be a substitute for every creature." "When we see the peaceable fruits of righteousness, as they hang from the bough of chastisement—we thank God that he ever planted that bitter root in our garden."

Fifthly, By the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better. "Those the Lord means to make the most resplendent, he has oftenest his tools upon."

Sixthly, If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him, and all our sorrows shall be found unto praise, and honor, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. So that nothing is more to the advancement of the solid good of the saints in time and eternity than those things which grieve them most. On the other hand the triumph of the wicked is short, their mirth is vain, and it will soon be followed by damnation—a destruction worse than annihilation. Job 20:5; Ecc. 7:6; Psalm 37:35-37; 2 Thess. 1:9. Even in this world the judgments, which overtake the wicked are very dreadful. Gen. 4:13; 1 Sam. 31:4; 2 Chron. 26:19, 20; Acts 1:18; 12:23.

But we should be very careful not to misinterpret the leadings of Providence. No doubt Lot thought that God's providence pointed him to Sodom; but he was sadly mistaken. It was the well watered land of the plain that misled him. David knew that God's putting Saul into his power was no opening for murder.

It should be stated, however, that it is not the mere event—but the act of Providence explained by the word of God, which is so beneficial to Christians. Scripture and Providence, like the cherubim over the mercy seat, look toward each other and reflect light upon each other. "The word without Providence is sublime writing," but it is a dead letter; with Providence it is life and spirit.

Providence without the word is a dark enigma. None can solve it. The best commentary on Providence is the Bible. The best commentary on the Bible is Providence. The events of a godly man's life are to him the fulfillings of the Scriptures. In a thousand ways they teach him the true sense of promises and threatenings, predictions and narratives, precepts and doctrines. They mightily confirm his belief of the truth.

And let us not forget that neither the word of God, nor the Providence of God, without the influences of divine grace on the heart—have a sanctifying power over even godly men. The most striking events and the most precious doctrines will not profit without the promised aid of the Holy Spirit. He can bless any truth or any event to our growth in grace, our comfort and our eternal glory. He is the sanctifier.

Of course, all the benefit derived from the dealings of God with his people is gracious. Whatever a Christian is, he is by the grace of God, not by nature. No man deplores his own short-comings more than he. He abhors himself; he glories in the Cross of Christ; he is clothed with humility; he is full of kindness; he seeks a heavenly country; his affections are set on things above.

To such a man the providence of God is special and kind. Who can doubt it? The Bible often declares it. "My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth! He will not let you stumble and fall; the one who watches over you will not sleep. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never tires and never sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not hurt you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all evil and preserves your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever." Psalm 121:2-8. "He will keep the feet of his saints." 1 Sam. 2:9.

Accordingly inspired men have taught us to pray, "Hold up my goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not." Psalm 17:5. "Order my steps in your word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me." Psalm 119:133. The Scripture fully warrants the pious in bringing all their troubles and sorrows before the Lord. They ask and obtain divine guidance and divine support in whatever concerns them. Thus they universally believe with the saints of all ages. Very joyfully therefore do they cast their care upon the Lord, knowing that he cares for them.

Some things in God's providence towards his people are truly surprising. None but the wilfully blind can fail to see them. None but the desperately hardened can fail to be affected by them. Let us notice a few of them.

I. The interpositions of Providence for his people are very seasonable. They come at the very nick of time. Just as Abram is about to make his son a sacrifice—behold a ram caught in the thicket! Just as Hagar lays down her son to die—God leads her to discover a well of water to save his life! Just as Saul is ready to seize David, and there seems to be no escape to the hunted partridge—that guilty persecutor is called home by an invasion of the Philistines. The very night fixed by a felon to murder a pious widow in a retired neighborhood, and rob her house—God sends a stranger to lodge there and protect her. The very day of his trial for felony, God brings a stranger from a distance to prove the perfect innocence of William Tennent.

Many times in the life of every child of God does he receive the very mercy he needs at a time, when longer delay would be fatal to him. Perhaps for days or weeks he would have fainted unless he had believed that he should see the goodness of God. At last the crisis comes, and his faith must now fail or triumph. To sense all is dark. To mere natural reason nothing is clear. Yet he has hope toward God. Nor is he disappointed. Enlargement and deliverance came just in time to show that none ever trusted in God and was disappointed.

A seasonable mercy is a double mercy. The man in health and without weariness passes by the cooling fountain and cares not for it; but the poor wounded soldier would give anything for one draught of the refreshing beverage which nature has provided. It is a time of persecution. Malice and rage possess the wicked. A city is besieged. The food is exhausted. God's people begin to suffer. To go forth is death by the sword. To remain is death by famine. The city is girt by the sea on one side, and by the merciless foe on all other sides. What shall God's people do? If they could hold out a month, succor would come. But in less than thirty days, they will perish of hunger. Just then an unheard of thing occurs. A shoal of fishes come into that harbor, and all are supplied. The persecutors lose their prey and their hopes. The city is safe. To God give all the people praise.

II. God's interpositions in Providence are just such as the Scriptures have led his people to expect. His word pronounces a blessing on dutiful children. A child gives up all the means of present personal advancement, perhaps even of comfort, to serve a parent; yet who, in the end, was thereby a loser, even in this world? On the other hand, who can find one, who has failed to show piety at home, and whose life has not been rendered unhappy, possibly despicable by such conduct? Again, never did even a wicked man show kindness to a saint of God—but he had his reward. Not only the prophecies—but all the principles of Scripture are wonderfully carried out by the events occurring around us every day, especially in relation to godly men.

III. There is an intimate connection between the providence of God and the prayers of godly men. Where is the experienced saint who has not had answers to prayer so striking and so merciful as greatly to confirm his faith in the promises? And no marvel. For "the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards him." When lived there a child of God on the earth, who did not have occasion to record what David wrote of himself? "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles." The time would fail to tell of Jacob, and Moses, and Joshua, and Samson, and Jeremiah, and scores of others, whose prayers secured wonderful acts of providence in their behalf. Nor are prayer and providences separated now. Whichever way the humble cries of godly men travel, there travel also the providences of God. "Let Israel hope in the Lord forever and ever."

Alexander Pedan, a Scotch Covenanter, with some others, had been at one time pursued, both by horse and foot, for a considerable way. At last, getting some little distance between them and their pursuers, he stood still and said, "Let us pray here, for if the Lord hear not our prayer and save us, we are all dead men."

He then prayed, saying, "O Lord, this is the hour and the power of your enemies; they may not be idle. But have you no other work for them than to send them after us? Send them after them to whom you will give strength to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill, O Lord, save us this one time, and we will keep it in remembrance, and tell to the commendation of your goodness, your pity and compassion, what you did for us at such a time."

And in this he was heard, for a cloud of mist immediately intervened between them and their persecutors; and in the mean time orders came to go in quest of another. See 2 Chron. 18:31.

IV. Nor is God slack in saving his people even if in doing it, many wicked perish. What terrible monuments of his displeasure against his people's enemies did he make of Cain, and Pharaoh, and Haman, and Herod, yes, of Babylon, and Sodom and Gomorrah, and the old world! Nor has he ceased to do like things now. Show me a man of this century, who has spent his breath in curses on God's people, and I will show you one whose history even in this world has commonly marked him out as one forsaken, terribly forsaken of God! It is still true that "he shall have judgment without mercy, who has showed no mercy." It is still true that "bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." When their malice is turned against the righteous, their history is brief; their triumph short, and their doom terrible. As this world is not the scene of full retribution, all we may expect here is not ample justice—but mere tokens of what God can and will do, when his hand lays hold on vengeance. Compare 2 Chron. 18:31-34.

V. In some cases we are able to trace a long series of causes and events all conspiring to the same result. The wise men of the East are led to bring from a great distance the most costly presents—articles easily transported—and lay them at the feet of the infant Savior—so that he and Joseph and Mary in their flight to Egypt might have the means of subsistence. Even sometimes to the vision of mortals, perhaps always in the sight of God, providences are long chains with many links in them. If one link were lacking, the event would fail. But it is God's chain and God's plan. The thing is fixed. The outcome is not doubtful.

VI. So perfect is God's defense of his people that when appearances all look as if their destruction was imminent, they are still safe. They have fears within and fightings without. They have the world, the flesh and the devil leagued against them. Perhaps there is not a government on earth which has not some anti-Christian legislation, that might become a trap and a snare to a godly man's conscience. The thousandth part of all the wars waged, or the conspiracies formed, and of the blood and treasure expended against Christ's cause—would have rooted out from the earth any institution ever established among men, other than the kingdom of Christ. Still it lives, yes, it flourishes. How is this? The sole answer is, That in Providence, God fulfills his promises, "No weapon formed against you shall prosper," Isaiah 54:17; and, "Though I make a full end of all nations, yet will I not make a full end of you—but I will correct you in measure." Jer. 30:11.

Beziers is besieged. The Protestant cause depends on its safety. The besieged are secure. The bell begins to ring at midnight. Every man is at his post just in time to repel the assault with dismay to the foe. Who rang that alarm bell? Not some faithful sentinel—but a drunken man in a frolic, not knowing what he was doing. Surely God's hand was strikingly in this matter.

Paris is drenched in the gore of Christians. For three days and nights the blood-hounds of regal and papal persecution devour the flock of Christ. His people, who are slain, are gathered home to the Redeemer's bosom. But some of them God would still keep alive for important purposes. One man takes refuge in an oven. His pursuers search diligently for him. They are within a yard of him—but they find him not. Why do they not look into the oven? Just as he entered it, God sent a spider quickly to weave a thick web over its mouth; he then sent a flow of wind to fill the web with dust; and so the bloody men said—Our victim is not here. Thus God saved the life of Du Moulin. Must he not have been an atheist if he could have denied God's hand in this affair? Here is the finger of God.

A thief, who had a few moments before stolen a bottle of warm milk hears a noise, and leaves his bottle in the forest. By this means a persecuted minister and his wife, as they sit sadly down on a rock and find it, are able to give food to their little child, ready to die for lack of nourishment. Marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty.

VII. God often saves his people by leading them to go where they never intended to go, and where they are sorry to find they have gone, and to do what they never desired to do. The life of Augustine in the 5th century, the life of Dr. John Rodgers of the 18th century, and the life of Rev. William Calhoun of the 19th century were all preserved from destruction from deadly enemies, who hated their doctrine, and lay in wait to put them to death on roads, which these servants of God intended to travel—but from which they unaccountably wandered. "Living and dying do not go by probabilities."

God has one end—man another. Joseph had no design of becoming prime minister of Egypt, temporal savior of the world, and so a type of the great Redeemer, when he told his dreams to his brethren, or when he went to Shechem. Yet had he failed to do either, he had not stood in his lot and fulfilled his course. God's ways are unsearchable and his judgments past finding out.

VIII. Because God is omnipotent and controls all causes, he can rescue as well without miracle, as with it. For three successive days does a copious shower put out the fire kindled by savages to burn alive a prisoner who was a child of prayer. Yet the clouds which dropped down these rains may have arisen entirely under the influence of natural causes. Indeed preservation and other blessings secured to God's people in his ordinary providence are no less safe and certain, and no less fit to be matters of grateful meditation, than if secured by suspending the laws of nature. To a considerate mind they are perhaps even more so. By an act of his will, God could create and send down to each man's door the baked loaves from heaven. Instead of that he waters the earth so that it can be plowed and broken to pieces. He then directs men to sow the wheat, and he sends dew and showers to make it sprout and grow. He then alternately sends the frost and the sun. Perhaps he covers it with a thick, moist mantle of snow. In the spring he sends the melting sun, and plentiful showers. He keeps away harmful insects, and destructive vegetable diseases, and brings the grain to maturity. It is cut; it is dried by the heat he sends; it soon appears in baked loaves on the table. The devout farmer sees God's hand in all the process.

When Merlin, the Chaplain of Admiral Coligny, found his distinguished patron murdered on the melancholy St. Bartholomew's day, he concealed himself in a hay-loft. In the Acts of the next Synod, over which he presided, it is recorded that though many died of hunger, he was supported by a hen regularly laying an egg near his place of refuge. A similar record is made of another French minister, M. de Luce, and a Swabian minister, John Breng, both of whom were kept alive in the same way. To a thoughtful mind ordinary providence is more marvelous than a miracle. The latter is but one act of God, while the former is a series of divine acts working slowly but most surely.

A noble is suspected of treason. He is arrested and imprisoned. In the yard to his dungeon between the paving stones springs up a little flower. He watches it. He waters it. He cares for it. It grows. He writes the history of its development and growth. This narrative is God's appointed means of effecting his release. See a little book called 'Picciola'.

IX. God's providence towards his people dates not at the time of their being called to a knowledge of himself—but long before. In the formation of their bodies, what goodness appears. No man has ever been able to suggest how the form or figure of the human frame could be improved. In this indeed the wicked share the same bounty of God. In their early infancy how amazing was God's care over them. Think too of the early and deep impressions which God often makes on the minds and hearts of his chosen, even years before their conversion. In a solitary forest among huge rocks, or hoary mountains, or by some gentle stream, or noble river, or vast expanse of waters, what conceptions of God has many a child had! In an escape from danger—what a sense of God's goodness has stolen over the hearts of his people, even before their conversion. John Brown of Haddington tells us of his deep pious impressions at a sacramental meeting, when he was under ten years of age. The late Archibald Alexander, when only four years and a half old, was greatly interested in a sermon on 1 Cor. 16:22. Even where such impressions do not end in a speedy conversion, they are often very beneficial in preserving the young from the worst forms of evil.

Nor is anything more wonderful than the means God uses for the conversion of his people. A sermon, in which the preacher had no knowledge and no design respecting the spiritual good of any particular person—a sermon by a weak man addressed to those who had often heard much better discourses on the same topics—a text of Scripture learned twenty years before—a little portion of truth found on a piece of wrapping-paper—a sudden death of some wicked man—the death of some godly man—a pious book—a kind word—a look of tenderness—the consistent piety of a pious wife, husband or friend—and even the profaneness of wicked men—have been the means of bringing sinners to repentance.

Many a man has been led to the Savior by truths, which the preacher did not intend to utter when he began his discourse. Augustine tells us of a celebrated Manachee who was thus converted under the labors of the bishop of Hippo. Paul and Silas were not the only prisoners who were honored by God as the means of converting their hardened jailors. Had the persecution not arisen at Jerusalem, Philip would not have fallen in with the Ethiopian returning to his own country and reading Isaiah. So that great man might have died in ignorance of the true meaning of the prophet. Many a man has gone for no good end to hear a sermon, and before the discourse was ended has forgotten what he came for and has begun to cry for mercy.

X. God's providence in raising up good ministers of various gifts to edify his church is truly striking. It is the time of the American Revolution. A company is drilling and firing by platoons. In the ranks is a malicious man, who wishes to have his spite on a particular family. He loads that man's gun so heavily, that he knows firing it off will burst the barrel of his gun. Just before firing, he unsuspectingly calls a lad in the crowd to take his place. The impulsive boy, suspecting no harm, consents, fires the gun, and his left hand is shattered. Amputation is necessary. This cruel act gives a new direction to his whole life. His parents send him to a classical school taught by a pious man. The youth learns well, in due time becomes a Christian, is finally ordained to the Gospel ministry, bears the name of the preacher with the silver fist and the silver voice, with great power addresses thousands in the open air, and dies greatly lamented leaving a noble posterity behind him. Such was the history of Drury Lacy.

Some boys are pursuing a rabbit. It takes refuge in a hollow log. While one boy is attempting to cut it out, another puts in his arm, trying to reach his prey. The axe cripples his hand for life. He is educated, becomes a herald of salvation and leaves a precious memory in all the land. When Patrick Henry heard him discourse on the creation, he said it seemed to him as if that man could almost make a world. His name was James Waddell.

Many a time by the feebleness of their bodies, parental plans respecting the temporal conduct of their children are defeated, and parental pity at last consents to their commencing studies which may give them the learning so useful to preachers of the Gospel. In due time God calls them to a knowledge of himself and of his Son. Then by his Spirit he calls them to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. To others, whom God designs for great hardships in the ministry, he gives great vigor of constitution, so that they can bear almost any amount of labor and weariness. How marvelous also is God's providence in the mental and social character naturally possessed by his people, so as to fit them to act their several parts in life. In illustration look at the ministers of Christ. One is timid, and God makes him especially useful to the diffident in encouraging them, and to the self-confident in awakening beneficial fears. Another is bold, and he alarms the guilty and encourages the wavering. One is full of love and so wins the skeptic and melts the hardened. Another is borne down by an awful sense of the danger of the wicked, and so he cries aloud and spares not. One is a son of thunder. Another is a son of consolation. One excels in logic, another in rhetoric. One is best at explaining the doctrines, another is excellent at exhortation. One does most good by his pen, another by private conversation, and another in the pulpit. Yet all these men are giving expression to their respective natural and social dispositions, now sanctified by divine grace, and turned to a holy work. Like acts of providence may be noticed in the variety of character displayed by all his people.

XI. When means have been blessed to the conversion of his people, how strange the providences of God which lead to their growth in grace! They are ready to lean on one minister; and God takes him away and sends another. They think affliction would do them good, and God makes his mercies overflow. Or they think prosperity best for them, and God crosses all their plans and spoils their pleasant things. They are self-confident and fear not falling into sin, and soon a sad lapse fills their hearts with anguish. They are much afraid of bringing dishonor on their profession, and their fears are blessed to their preservation from sin. John Newton, who has often edified the church of God, has well described this matter, when he says—

"I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.

"Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

"I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he'd answer my request;
And by His love's constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

"Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

"Yes, more; with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

"'Lord, why is this?' I trembling cried,
'Will you pursue your worm to death?'
'This is this way,' the Lord replied,
'I answer prayer for grace and faith.'

"'These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set you free,
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you would seek your all in me."

XII. Go among God's people and learn how goodly in many ways their lot has been. What pious parents most of them have had. How wonderfully God has led them in many important steps in life. How pleasant have been their friends and their children. Even the little ones, whom Jesus has early called to himself, seem still to warm and nestle in the bosom of parental love. How many good books they have had to read. What kind and skillful physicians have attended them in sickness. When disease has come upon them, what good places they have had to be sick in. How infrequent and short their bodily infirmities commonly are. How seldom have they suffered for the lack of suitable food, or clothing, or shelter, or any necessary thing. How marked the hand of God in ordering the general tenor of their lives. Often have their feet well near slipped—but God has held them up. They have been in the midst of almost all evil—but it has not been allowed to sweep them away. How often has God "hedged up their way with thorns, and made a wall that they could not find their paths." Hos. 2:6. Often they could not perform their enterprises—which would have proved their ruin. Job 5:12. The unseen dangers from men and devils, from friends and foes, from darkness and pestilence surrounding us—are far more numerous than those which are visible. Could we have seen them all as God saw them, our lives would probably have been full of misery. How kind his providence in giving us a heart and temper to enjoy life and its mercies.

XIII. Toward his people, God's providence is exceedingly rich in spiritual blessings. It embraces a plan reaching from eternity to eternity. It is set forth in a covenant ordered in all things and sure, an everlasting covenant, having the Lord Jesus Christ for a Surety and Mediator. God's loving-kindness laid the foundation of the whole scheme of redemption. It shall lay the top-stone in glory. It orders everything aright forever. Thus far the history of redemption has no parallel. It is God's chief work—the wonder of angels—the joy of saints. The whole subject seems to abash the faculties of all right-minded creatures. The sea of Jehovah's compassion and wisdom has never been fathomed by men or angels. Under the conduct of providence it will be widening its shores and deepening its abysses forever.