As long as our doctrinal understanding is undeveloped we are ill equipped to face the intellectual, emotional, and practical challenges that meet us every day. Think of Paul's description in Ephesians 4:14-16 of immaturity in knowledge and its effects:
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.Crucially, as long as we are like this, there is will be no stability in our Christian walk. Instead, tossed to and fro by the waves, immature believers are carried about by every wind of doctrine. The solution to this is for the church to be confessional, speaking the truth of the gospel in love. Not only were they troubled by instability but the young believers at Ephesus were also impressionable, fair game for the craft and cunning of false teachers.
The same means intended to deal with their instability would also deal with their vulnerability to error. What this of course means is that as we grow in knowledge so we are better able to discern and reject error.
And so it is when we come to the doctrine of providence.
Consider the following on providence and sanctification the Westminster Confession 3:5:
The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.Is this how I view temptation? Do I discern it it God's design to work all this together for my good? What about those periods of emotional flatness? Or a felt sense of God's absence? (Even though by Word and Sacrament we see his pledge never to leave nor forsake his people).
How easy it is to be troubled by our circumstances because we have not developed a robust biblical, and essentially comforting (read "soul strengthening") view of the providence of a good and faithful God.
Our culture has taught us that the world operates by chance, that our lives are ultimately unguided. In this atmosphere we appear to live and move and have our being. And then there are versions of providence that encourage to view God as frustrated, limited, and thwarted. This is the God who is almost sovereign.
The Heidelberg Catechism (Questions 26-28) not only affirms, summarises, and explains the doctrine of God's providence, it also takes us by the hand and shows us the application of it. A Christian instructed about God's providence should know that it teaches us to be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for the future to have good confidence in our faithful God and Father.
Knowing and applying this gracious teaching about God's providence gives strong consolation in times of trial, adversity and grief. Consider the words of Sarah Edwards as she wrote to her daughter Esther on 3rd April 1758 to break the news of her husband's death:
"What shall I say: A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be."We cannot respond like this without knowing about God's providence from his Word. This is precisely the point that Paul underlines in Romans 8:28. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." We know this! We know it because God has revealed it.
And consider also the words from Ryland's hymn (which to me personally when I read them a few years ago on the back of a Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth magazine in the library of Gordon Conwell Seminary were a timely help). What confidence we can have in a God who is Almighty and a Father who is Faithful:
Sovereign Ruler of the skies
Ever gracious, ever wise
All my times are in Thy hand
All events at thy command
He that formed me in the womb
He shall guide me to the tomb
All my times shall ever be
Ordered by his wise decree
Times of sickness, times of health
Times of poverty and wealth
Times of trial and of grief
Times of triumph and relief
Times the tempter's power to prove
Times to taste a Saviour's love
All must come, and last, and end.
As shall please my heavenly Friend.
Plagues and deaths around me fly.
Till he bids I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Til the God of love thinks fit.
O Thou gracious, wise and just
In They hands my life I trust
Thee, at all times, will I bless
Having Thee, I all possess