Living by Faith in God and His Word
It is one of the conceits of the carnal mind that it thinks itself capable of discerning and understanding the designs of God. The unbeliever thinks he fathoms God and finds the Almighty wanting. The deluded believer hesitates to embrace the teaching of Scripture unless he thinks he perceives the divine design in it. Those of a mature and spiritual frame of mind are not so haughty as to believe that they can trace the ways of God with full understanding. This is not to say that the spiritually mature walk through life in blind ignorance of the ways of God. It is rather the case that as we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, the realisation increasingly dawns upon us that our God works in ways deeper, higher, more powerful, loving, and wise than we could ever expect or imagine. In short, the spiritual man understands that he lacks capacity to fathom the divine designs.
The Apostle Paul exclaims that the wisdom and knowledge of God are profoundly rich, while the Lord’s judgements are unsearchable, and His ways are unfathomable (Rom. 11:33). It should humble us when we realise that the ways of our God are so magnificent that our poor finite and fallible minds cannot take them in. Such a realisation should also alert us to a most practical truth regarding how we are to understand choices and make decisions in our lives.
Our calling and care are not that we discover or seek knowingly to follow the deep, hidden designs of our God. The Lord does not reveal to us all of His plans and purposes (Dt. 29:29). We are not to endeavour to fathom the divine designs; we are rather to follow the divine directions. Indeed, it is only as we hear and follow the clear commandments of our God that we attain a growing approximation of knowledge of the designs of God. We may put the matter in another way: In our pilgrimage through this world, we do not proceed by our beholding the face of the Lord so much as His back side. It remains for us now as true as it was for Moses when he wanted to behold the glory of God (Ex. 33: 18ff) that no man can behold the face of God and live.
Our God ever goes before us, preparing our way by His grace and power (Mk. 14:28). The way He prepares for us is in accordance with His perfect will. Yet it may to us appear dark, stormy, chaotic. We do not perceive the perfection until we are well into the divine way walking by faith. If we wait to see the perfection of the way before we enter into it or pursue it unreservedly, we shall never set out on that way, or if we do set out, we shall grow fearful and discouraged by our not seeing the perfect divine design of the way soon enough, and we shall seek some other course.
The matter may be illustrated by biblical examples. The career of the Apostle Paul, for instance, appeared full of failure and needless anguish. Yet, he was walking not by his perceiving the design of the Lord but rather by this obeying the directives of the Lord. Paul knew that the course of his life was set before him by the divine directive that he was to serve as a chosen instrument to bear God’s name before the Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel, and to suffer much in doing it (Acts 9:15,16). What is the design in that? Paul did not know prior to his setting out in obedience to the heavenly directive, but came to see the profound design in the course of his obedience to the Lord’s commands. We, too, now see that design, at least in part. God planned, purposed, and accomplished the planting of many Gentile churches through Paul, and, at the same time, the Lord taught the apostle by what he suffered that Christ was worth any cost (Phil. 3:7,8; 4:11-13).
The supreme example, of course, is Jesus himself. Our Saviour took many turns in his earthly life which perplexed and frustrated His disciples. The divine design was certainly hidden from the disciples at such turns, and whether even Jesus perceived them as the Son of Man we cannot always be sure (Mt. 24:36). But what is clear is that our Redeemer pursued the clear commands of His Father, as is evident from Jesus citing Scripture at some of those critical turns. Thus, the Son of Man pursues his way to the cross, enduring all cost – the abuse of enemies, the betrayal of one of the twelve, the abandonment of the rest of the disciples.
Why did he do it? He tells us that He was doing so in fulfilment of Scripture, saying that it is written: I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered (Mk. 14:27; Zech. 13:7). The design of this way of sorrows and suffering was, prior to Christ’s resurrection, not clear to the disciples. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus it became so gloriously clear that the disciples went about turning the world upside down in their proclamation of the gospel.
It is not bad that we are called to hear and heed the voice of the Lord directing us by his Word, without our seeing the design of the things He calls us to do. For our calling is not so much to know the way and understand all of its turns, but rather is to know the divine Lord of the way. Our following the voice of the living God is infinitely better than our seeing and understanding any course set before us. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to run the race set before us, fixing our eyes not upon the course, but upon the Christ (Heb. 12:1,2). Our calling is to follow the Lamb of God wherever He may go (Rev. 14:4), to follow the living author and perfector of faith (Heb. 12:2), knowing that thereby we are following the good Shepherd who knows the way perfectly, and who, by His laying down His life for us, has borne the cost of the way, drawing out its sting, and replacing it with sweetness. Too often we sit paralysed and perplexed in our Christian walk, trying to discern divine design before we act, failing to realize that the design is to be drawn out in the living characters of our steps as we walk by the directives of our Lord. Let us rather hear and heed divine directives; then we shall behold divine design for our good.
Four Meditations from John Owen September 26, 2023
This is a reprint of an article that was first published in the Banner of Truth magazine, July – August 1968. His words remain searching and pertinent today. * * * The Value of the Gospel No men in the world want help like them that want the Gospel. A man may want liberty, and […]
Peacocks and Rutterkins: Calvin the Colloquial Communicator August 31, 2023
John Calvin is thought of, principally, as a theologian. Of course, he was that. But, as Andrew W. Blackwood once told me, in his day he was first of all considered a preacher. Too few of his sermons have been preserved.1 English translations are mainly in 16th century English!2 Nevertheless, the more I read them, […]