The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘providence

Pandemics, panic and peace

with one comment

[On Wednesday 5th August 2009 I wrote a piece with the title above. It was based on a sermon preached during the swine flu epidemic. Having had my attention drawn to it again recently, I hope that the substance of the article, reproduced below, will stand the test of the years passed and the new pressures.]

In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond? God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.

Think clearly.

Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6). This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful. God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales. Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused. Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge. God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10). He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.

coronavirusSecondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease. Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes. The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25). Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always. His actings and permissions are absolute. His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16). All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us. Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.

Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures. It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45). It is an instance of common grace. God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received and trustingly employed. So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21). Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him. Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality. In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!” True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them. Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!” Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them. Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.

Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses. Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone. It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12). God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10). Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15). To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable. This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20). It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15). It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7). It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear. Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8). In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.

Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how. Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes? Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish? When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made. We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified. His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8). His name will be made known. One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).

Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.

Prepare to live. Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11). Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers. When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands. Like Christ, we are to go about doing good. It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10). Be ready to preach. Let your deeds be matched and explained by words. Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways. Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever. Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved. Be ready to pray. Begin now. Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul. Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days. Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death. Pray for the salvation of many. Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16). Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.

church bellPrepare to die. John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Take these things as intimations of your own mortality. Heed them as a call to readiness. Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12). The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things. There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15). Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27). If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon. If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away. Life is brief, and eternity beckons. That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.

The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus. She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment. When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin. The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well. That is preparation both for life and for death.

Listen to a sermon on this topic here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 March 2020 at 18:15

“Respect the Authorities”: Specific Counsels 5 and 6

with 5 comments

Manage the expectations and approach the throne

With all this in mind, we must manage the expectations. Those who rule on the earth do not have the answers; they are not our saviors. There seems to be a constant temptation for the people of God to believe that if only we can marshal enough rich and important people, if only we can obtain enough celebrity endorsements, if only we can generate a big enough wave of public opinion, then we can help the church out of its troubles. But such men and women, however well meaning, cannot sustain or prosper the church in the world. Again, it is to look for apples on an orange tree.

Earthly authorities and celebrities are not the answer to the needs and pursuits of the church, any more than the world is its home and destiny. There are certain things that we can and should expect of civil governments, and there may be certain times when the church, through appropriate spokespeople given appropriate opportunities, might remind government of its obligations to God. But human authority and power are not the solution to the church’s problems. The kingdom of God is not yoked to any nation, party, policy, platform, coalition, or organization and will not rise or fall with any kingdom of the earth:

Through the rise and fall of nations
One sure faith yet standeth fast:
God abides, His Word unchanging,
God alone the first and last.

Or, singing of the providence of God:

The kingdoms of this world
Lie in its hand;
See how they rise or fall
At its command!
Through sorrow and distress,
Tempestuous storms that rage,
God’s kingdom yet endures
From age to age.

As we wrestle with these things, we need to remember that God does know what He is doing. Even those things that men mean for evil He has intended for good. Kings and kingdoms rise and fall by His divine and all-wise appointment. Even the individual activities of rulers are not outside his control:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD,
Like the rivers of water;
He turns it wherever He wishes. (Prov. 21:1)

We may look at some of those who have risen to prominence or power, who have abused that platform horribly, and wonder how this can be securing the glory of God or the good of men. Often the answer will simply be that we do not know, and we may never know. Perhaps heaven itself will not make plain the answers to all the questions we may now have.

But we must bow before God. Our hopes for the kingdom of Christ—whether the advance of the gospel or the health of the church itself—hang upon the divine King and not upon mortal men. Ultimately, we are waiting upon Him and waiting for Him.

That being the case, we should approach the throne. Prayer ought to be our first port of call as the church—whether institutionally or individually—in dealing with the civil magistrates. We should pray and give thanks for the rulers and authorities themselves, seeking “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2), able to live as saints without unnecessary difficulties or distractions. We should pray to God for His appointments, that His glory and our peace might be secured. We should pray concerning the Lord’s kingdom, that all God’s purposes would be accomplished for the ingathering of the elect and the building of His church. We should pray for the equipping of the church in all her circumstances, whether at peace or persecuted, not looking to worldly powers nor relying upon worldly means to accomplish kingdom ends. We should pray that the Lord would fill us with His Spirit and give us bold speech, enabling the saints to be witnesses for Christ in every circumstance that we face, not looking to or relying upon worldly means (Acts 4:8, 31). We do not trust in legislation, adjudication, or intimidation to obtain the things we desire for the glory of God and the good of men, but on the proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus with power from on high. To that end we should remember who is on the throne and call upon Him. We pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

We remember that there is One who sits enthroned above the earth, and He is our God and our King.


Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness ( or or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 July 2015 at 08:29

God gets involved

with 2 comments

“We’re in trouble,” he said. “Hurry and put on your life jackets.”

. . .

We are not dealing with God as though He were a machine. He is personal, and as we pray He does not respond mechanically, but as the Personal-Infinite God. The point is that He is there. And He can, and does, act into the universe He has made.

Francis Schaeffer, speaking in chapel, Wheaton College, the fall of 1968.

Read the whole story of God’s gracious intervention here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 8 June 2012 at 11:28

Of providence

leave a comment »

Charles Spurgeon on God’s providence:

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphis over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. He that believes in a God must believe this truth. There is no standing-point between this and atheism. There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleases—a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.

Thanks to JT for the reminder.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 January 2012 at 11:03

Posted in While wandering . . .

Tagged with ,

Of parkour and providence

with one comment

Yesterday started in humbling fashion. As some of you will know, I was struck down with a violent virus a few weeks ago now. Said virus left me weak as a kitten and unable to exercise, with the result that I am now marginally less weak and out of shape to boot. After a little light jogging and cycling, the time had come to go back to the early morning workouts with a few friends.

In my absence, our base of operations had shifted to another, more local park. We started with the usual runs and sprints and pyramid drills of sit-ups and press-ups, and that was painful enough, prompting more than a few giggles from my uberfit friends.

But then we moved on to the new element. Apparently, this park is the only one for miles around with a parkour training environment (for more on the insanity of free running, see something like this). Now, there are many things at which I am not good, but rarely do I find something at which I am so natively and staggeringly inept as parkour. I was built for rugby, you see, and all this whip-thin and whippet-supple stuff passed me by.

There were many low points. There were the chin lifts when a man who once claimed to be my friend asked why I was wearing the face of a constipated monkey. There were other lifts I was supposed to be doing, when I ended up dangling helplessly. Working back and forth hanging underneath a series of rungs, I asked how many would be a good number.

“Chris managed six,” said Carl, “And I have done three.” I had a go, and thought my two was pretty impressive.

“Chris can go across the whole set of rungs and back six times,” explained Carl. “You managed two single rungs.”

We did some practice leaps over some kind of fence apparatus. I now have parkour shin, the result of landing on said shin on top of the fence in mid-leap. I barely spared myself landing on a far more painful part of the anatomy. At one point, required to hurtle up a ramp and leap from the top, I backed off . . . and off . . . and off.

“Where’s he going?” asked Chris.

“It’s alright,” said Carl, “I think it’s his run-up.”

Needless to say, this rather spoiled my focus.

Anyway, determined to accomplish something of value, I was again dangling off something, by now bruised and bleeding, and feeling my wedding ring cutting into my finger. I took it off and placed it with my other valuables in the bag, and eventually the painful hour was over.

I headed home, glad to be back in the swing of things, but wishing I could swing and not merely hang. As I headed to the front door, crossing the fruitful sward, I pulled my keys from my bag and heard a little ping. It sounded as if I might have dropped something, but I kept moving. When I got in and sorted myself out, I realised that I was not wearing my ring. Searching through the valuables, I realised what that little ping had been. It was the sound of my keys catching on the ring and catapulting them into the grass as I walked to the door.

Searching ensued. I was due in London at 1030, so there wasn’t much time. Seeking to behave calmly, I gave myself the customary loofahing and donned the appointed garments. I headed back out with the help of Thing One and a rake and some urgent and brief prayers. We began to search. I combed the grass. I began wondering how much metal detectors cost. Thing One searched with his boy rake, chopping and flinging in such a way that if he came anywhere near the ring it would probably disappear into the middle distance at some velocity. The tension began to mount. My wife could see I was grieved, and was trying to be supportive. I would soon need to leave. Thing Two wandered out to watch the fun, carrying a breakfast-type snack of mini-weetajobbies of indeterminate brand. He gazed at me in some fascination as I continued to scrutinize the ground (as, probably, did many of the neighbours). He got closer. As usual when he is meant to be eating but has found something else to entertain, the lip of the bowl began to droop at more of a pouring angle. Pretty soon he would begin to shed weetajobbies. I lunged for the bowl but it was too late, and a couple of the little blighters succumbed to the irresistible pull of gravity. I opened my mouth to suggest that such clumsiness was unhelpful and stooped to pick up the lost breakfast.

There, lying precisely between the two fallen weetajobbies, was the lost ring. I scooped up them and Thing Two with some joy, kissed a cheerful goodbye to the wife, Things One and Two and the newborn Thing, and leapt into the vehicle to speed Londonwards in order to deliver a lecture on John Bunyan to one hundred Dutch students. On my finger – a sore and bruised but altogether happier and properly clad finger – was my wedding ring.

Such are the kindnesses of God, even in the dropping of breakfast cereal.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 April 2011 at 15:34

Review: “Unbroken”

with 5 comments


Laura Hillenbrand

Random House/Fourth Estate, 2010/2011, 496pp., hardback, $27/£20

ISBN 978-1400064168/978-0007378012

This is a hard book to read. It is not the occasional profanity that makes it so, so much as the searing – sometimes very ugly – honesty and gripping profundity. The author, as far as I know not herself a believer, tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a wild kid with an unbroken spirit and a knack for finding trouble, to a teenager discovering a gift for distance running that carried him to the Olympics (he seemed destined to be the first man to break the four minute mile until WWII intervened), to a highly-skilled bombardier in a B-24 Liberator over the Pacific in the war against Japan, to a castaway adrift on a raft in a shark-infested ocean for 47 days, to a brutalised POW in a series of Japanese concentration camps, to an apparently free man chained to his hatred, to an alcoholic who could not break free of his guilt and anger. Zamperini was finally broken, but it was grace that broke him, and made him truly whole. He heard – very unwillingly at first – Billy Graham preach, and Christ broke in upon his untamed spirit and emptied him of self before granting him a strength that he had never had before. Very skilfully and engagingly written, you will find your pulse rising and falling with the twists and turns of the story; you might suck in your breath, hold your head in your hands, clench your fists, and weep tears as you read. The book showcases the heights and depths of the human spirit, prompting us both to consider that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that we are fearfully and deeply depraved. For those with eyes to see, the story is a stunning study in providence. That superintending wisdom and power preserves a gifted, vigorous, self-reliant rebel, guiding him slowly but surely to the cross of Jesus Christ, and changes him into a gifted, vigorous, Christ-reliant servant who preaches the gospel to his once-torturers and sets out to find others who, like himself, need the best of friends and a true Saviour. A treat especially for those who appreciate stirring biography and (perhaps mainly military) history, elements of this telling might take it outside the orbit of some. Nevertheless, read and recommended with that awareness, I believe that this is a story worth reading, for it ultimately reveals a God worth praising.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 18 March 2011 at 08:42

The cheerful giver

with 7 comments

Are you and I afraid to give of our substance to those in need, to invest money, time and energy in the needy? Do we feel that it is foolish, risky, or pointless? Here is an answer from Jonathan Edwards to such unfounded fears:

When men give to the needy, they do as it were sow seed for a crop. When men sow their seed, they seem to throw it away. Yet they do not look upon it as thrown away because, though they expect not the same again, yet they expect much more as the fruit of it. And if it be not certain that they shall have a crop, yet they are willing to run the venture of it; for that is the ordinary way wherein men obtain increase. So it is when persons give to the poor. Though the promises of gaining thereby, in our outward circumstances, perhaps are not absolute; yet it is as much the ordinary consequence of it, as increase is of sowing seed. Giving to the poor is in this respect compared to sowing seed, in Ecc. 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” By withholding the hand, the wise man means not giving to the poor (see verse 1, 2). It intimates, that giving to the poor is as likely a way to obtain prosperity and increase, as sowing seed in a field.

The husbandman doth not look upon his seed as lost, but is glad that he has opportunity to sow it. It grieves him not that he has land to be sown, but he rejoices in it. For the like reason we should not be grieved that we find needy people to bestow our charity upon. For this is as much an opportunity to obtain increase as the other.

Some may think this is strange doctrine; and it is to be feared, that not many will so far believe it as to give to the poor with as much cheerfulness as they sow their ground. However, it is the very doctrine of the Word of God, 2 Cor. 9:6, 7, 8, “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly: and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”

It is easy with God to make up to men what they give in charity. Many but little consider how their prosperity or ill success in their outward affairs depends upon Providence. There are a thousand turns of Providence, to which their affairs are liable, whereby God may either add to their outward substance, or diminish from it, a great deal more than they are ordinarily called to give to their neighbors. How easy is it with God to diminish what they possess by sickness in their families, by drought, or frost, or mildew, or vermin; by unfortunate accidents, by entanglements in their affairs, or disappointments in their business! And how easy is it with God to increase their substance, by suitable seasons, or by health and strength; by giving them fair opportunities for promoting their interest in their dealings with men; by conducting them in his providence, so that they attain their designs; and by innumerable other ways which might be mentioned! How often is it, that only one act of providence in a man’s affairs either adds to his estate, or diminishes from it, more than he would need to give to the poor in a whole year.

God hath told us that this is the way to have his blessing attending our affairs. Thus, in the text, Deu. 15:10, “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him; because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and all that thou puttest thine hand unto.” And Pro. 22:9, “He that hath a bountiful eye, shall be blessed.” It is a remarkable evidence how little many men realize the things of religion, whatever they pretend; how little they realize that the Scripture is the Word of God, or if it be, that he speaks true; that notwithstanding all the promises made in the Scripture to bounty to the poor, yet they are so backward to this duty, and are so afraid to trust God with a little of their estates. Observation may confirm the same thing which the Word of God teaches on this head. God, in his providence, generally smiles upon and prospers those men who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.

From Jonathan Edwards on Christian Charity

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 10 November 2010 at 11:45

%d bloggers like this: