He Must Afflict Us – An Experimental Application of the Sovereignty of God in Providence

Psalm 119:71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.

INTRODUCTION

It is within the last year that many within Shepherd’s Fellowship Baptist Church have learned to drink deeply from sorrow, affliction, disease, despair, and some of you have even suffered divine chastisement because of besetting sins. Your lot in life has played out its divinely predetermined order and as it has done so, it has reminded you again that you are a fallen sinner whose existence is grounded in the roots of a cursed, fallen creation that has been subjected to futility by the providential hand of God (Rom. 8:20). As those of you watch and care for other Christians who are afflicted with trials, you can’t help but take note of those who weather the storm of trials without wavering. You realize that those Christians who are constantly burdened by anxiety, and despair can and should be contrasted with those who find themselves in those same afflictions yet are without those same worries. The result of studying their different behavioral responses will eventually narrow down to one common denominator: One misunderstands the sovereignty of God in providence whereas the other has within their bones what the great revivalist Jonathan Edwards called, “a God-entranced worldview.” A God-entranced worldview can be beautifully described by reading the answer to Question # 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism, which says that,

The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand. [1]

When a person believes, embraces, and practically lives out that statement, they have a God-entranced worldview.

But let’s continue on with the contrast. One saint believes and shows forth that God is always sovereign and the other denies such by their weak-faith behaviors. One believes that God is the first-cause of all things, including evil, and the other is tossed here and there when it comes to that controversial issue. The anxious, despairing saint believes that at one minute God is in control and the next He’s not, yet the saint who has a God-entranced worldview understands that the Almighty is in the heavens and that He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). One has absolute certainty that God decrees the end as well as the means to the end, yet the other continues to call into question the justice, integrity, and righteousness of God in light of their suffering and affliction, thus begging for a personal interview with the Almighty so that God can explain why candy doesn’t grow on trees and why the oceans aren’t made of chocolate milk! [2] (Job 38-41) For one person, when life is going well, you see them with God’s people exhibiting a false joy and a false peace, yet when a crook appears in their lot in life, they disappear and withdraw from fellowship, only to sink into despair, like those who have no hope because ultimately their spiritual house is built on sinking sand (Matt. 7:26-27). For the God-entranced person, they begin with the understanding that they must accept not only good but also adversity from the Lord (Job 2:10). And when calamity comes into their life like a flood, they don’t retreat into despair and unbelief, but instead they marshal an army of prayer warriors to who have sharpened their implements and skills of spiritual warfare through years of spiritual battle (Eph 6:10-20). As disaster plagues them, they are emboldened by the Holy Spirit to join with the gathered assembly of saints so that they will find encouragement, comfort, and love expressed through the work of that local church as that church turns to the Master for their marching orders. The God-entranced person knows that nothing can separate them from the love of Christ. Neither tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword can successfully sever the Holy and eternal tie that God has fixed with His elect (Romans 8:35-39).

The Psalmist had a God-entranced worldview and this is most evident in 119:71. His mind was fixated on the theme of the Scriptures and His pure delight was found in meditating upon God’s Holy law (Psalm 119:70, 97, 113, 163, 165). He had drunk deep from God’s providence and had come to understand that the experience of humiliation and affliction was for his benefit (cf. Rom. 8:28). The arrogant and wicked man of verse 69 had afflicted him as God had determined yet he didn’t return evil for evil, but instead sought instruction (v. 71), application (v. 69), and love (v. 70) for God’s precepts (v. 69), law (v. 70), and decrees (v. 71). This brings us to three things that need to be extracted from verse 71 so that we can further develop this God-entranced worldview:

  1. It is good that God afflicts us so that we can see His love displayed in discipline.
  2. It is good that God afflicts us so that we can learn about His sovereignty in providence.
  3. It is good that God afflicts us so that we can learn how He purifies us.

TEACHING/APPLICATION

I. It is good that God afflicts us so that we can see His love displayed in discipline.

Psalm 119:71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.

Matthew Henry states on Psalm 119:71:

That it has been the advantage of God’s people to be afflicted. David could speak experimentally: It was good for me; many a good lesson he had learnt by his afflictions, and many a good duty he had been brought to which otherwise would have been unlearnt and undone. Therefore God visited him with affliction, that he might learn God’s statutes; and the intention was answered: the afflictions had contributed to the improvement of his knowledge and grace. He that chastened him taught him. The rod and reproof give wisdom.”

Many a saint in this cursed world has been tripped up by the barbwire of worldliness. In the midst of that worldliness, the Great Shepherd has taken the crook of His staff to lovingly pull you back to the safety of the flock of God so as to keep you from the wolf (John 10:1-14). God is the “Divine Rememberer”, One who takes special notice of you in your low estate of self-serving sin and misery. He takes notice of you not because of any inherent quality within you, but because the steadfast love that He set upon you was determined to be so from the foundation of the world (Psalm 136:23). A.W. Pink says,

“Who remembered us in our low estate.” There are some who may read these lines who will think of another application of these words: the time when you left your first love, when your heart grew cold, and when your life became worldly. When you were in a sadly back-slidden state. Then, indeed was your estate “a low” one; yet even then did our faithful God “remember” you. Yes each of us has cause to say with the Psalmist “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (23:3). [4]

God takes special notice of your low estate of selfish sin by correcting you with His chastening hand of affliction. The writer of Hebrews says,

Hebrews 12:5-11 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Yes, it is good for you that you have been afflicted because in the process of that affliction you learn that the Sovereign King of the universe loves you as one of His children. Just as a child is reproved and disciplined by his earthly father because that father wants to show that they truly love their child so your heavenly Father disciplines your unrepentant heart because he also desires to save your soul from a life of sin, misery, and death (Rom. 6:23). As Proverbs 13:24 states, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. In a similar way, God loves those whom He has chosen, so much that when you are in unrepentant sin He pulls you back to the safety of the fold through purposed and designed affliction. Isaiah confirms this when he says, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” (Isaiah 38:17 NIV) And Jesus said the same to His church in the first century,

Revelation 3:14-19 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”

Affliction designed by the Sovereign for the sole purpose of ridding you of your unrepentant sin is sorrowful at the moment, “yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11) However, lest we make the error in thinking that every afflicted saint be under God’s rod because of their secret unrepentant sin, we must carefully discuss the fact that God afflicts us so that we can learn about His sovereignty in providence.

II. It is good that God afflicts us so that we can learn about His sovereignty in providence.

Matthew Henry also said in regards to Psalm 119:71, “. . . it has been the lot of the best saints to be afflicted. The proud and the wicked lived in pomp and pleasure, while [the Psalmist], though he kept close to God and his duty, was still in affliction.” [5] Indeed brethren, God has seen fit to afflict the best of saints with grueling and painful cross-bearing in spite of holy and pious lives. Those who have sought the Savior with the most exertion have often found themselves to be treated like the scum of the earth (1 Cor. 4:13). Paul and Silas were obedient to God and for their reward, they were severely whipped and beaten by the Roman authorities and thrown into prison with their feet securely shackled. Yet, in spite of this, they sang praises to God while they were suffering severely for the sake of the gospel. Acts 16:25 says that after their imprisonment, at “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;” (Acts 16:25) Paul had something in the midst of affliction that many Christians today do not have, and that is a full understanding of the God-entranced worldview. This is contained in the often, purposefully glossed over statement in his letter to the Ephesians, where he said, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will . .” (Eph. 1:11).

The apostle knew and understood the blessedness of persecution because he knew that in some strange, unexplainable way, one of God’s primary means for growing His church and His people in grace is through staining the ground with their blood and affliction. Paul knew this when he confessed, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Phil 1:12-14)

For although Paul suffered in many ways, he did not lose heart. God continued to strengthen his feeble knees day by day, and as a result he looked forward to his eternal reward, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Divinely sent afflictions are not always because of God’s chastening hand in response to unrepentant sin, but instead He often sends affliction for the purposes of strengthening our faith, thus maximizing His own glory. A beautiful example of this is found in John 9:1-3. The Pharisees had erroneously taught that when one is born with deformities or physical maladies it is because of some specific sin they committed in the womb. Jesus corrects their error by pointing to a sovereignly-ordained reason, one that surpassed the unbelieving minds of the Pharisees, “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Men born blind from birth show forth God’s glory in their affliction, especially when they willingly give glory to Him for life, breath, and all things. And so you, dear child of God give glory to God in the midst of your God-ordained afflictions, because you have learned that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and in light of either event, you, as Job did, cry out, “Blessed be the name of the LORD”! (Job 1:21)

Those who are found in Christ know that they can sing praises when the hurts of this fallen world cause them to drink deeply from the well of God’s sovereignty in providence because they know that their times are in His hands and not in their own (Ps. 31:15). Suffering, trials, and affliction are blessings from the Lord because this is when the church shines in all her brilliance as Christ’s beautiful bride, thereby making her calling and election sure (1 John 3:18-19; 2 Peter 1:10). And so now we look at point number three, where we learn that it is good that God afflicts us so that we can learn how He purifies us.

III. It is good that God afflicts us so that we can learn how He
purifies us.

God does with the clay as He wishes. He forms, molds, and fashions us with the intent of displaying us as trophies of His marvelous grace (Rom. 9:23). But the trials those trophies must be taken through serve as a means to polish and refine their shine so that they can reflect God’s glory to an ever greater degree. God’s precious children do not become angry with God, but accept their affliction by faith, and as Job did in the midst of affliction, they too serve God with good works of service and praise by saying, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) This is what Jesus meant when He said to “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

Again, Paul didn’t lost heart in the midst of suffering, but knew that it was designed for strengthening, purification, and to ensure humility on his part, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When my baby dies, when cancer comes, when a near-fatal car accident almost claims the life of my dear Christian brother, it keeps us humble and subservient to God, whereby we continually petition Him in prayer; and as that prayer ascends as a sweet-smelling aroma to Him, it serves to destroy our pride and maximize His glory! Indeed, Pink correctly said, “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity” , for as the wearied and downtrodden saint presses onwards through life so does the sanctifying and purifying hand of God press out of that saint the remaining dross as a means to further educate that saint as to the doctrine of God’s providence thus stimulating further works of service and piety to Christ. Our dear Lord sends trials our way to develop patience in us, as James says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) This is why the Psalmist could exclaim, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75)

CONCLUSION

The wearied saint is strengthened in the grace of God by the power of the Spirit as God steadily works through the instrumentality of divine chastisement, sovereign affliction unto glory, and purification through painful removal of the sinful dross of pride and selfish autonomy. When other saints intercede in behalf of that weary and afflicted soul through a continued, bold approaching of the throne of grace to find help in time of need (Heb. 4:16), the afflicted one hears the voice of the Savior, runs to Him like a prodigal Son, and finds joy and contentment as His communion with God is restored, strengthened, and purified. My prayer is that God will, through affliction, press out of you what is necessary, strengthen the weakness that remains in your feeble souls, and encourage you through the continual, spiritual renewing of your mind, as your dependence upon Him increases through the predestined struggles that occur in your life.

Prayer: Our Sovereign King, pierce your people with trials lest they rebel against you and bring reproach upon the good name of Christ. Afflict them so as to display your glory and not their folly. Afflict them so as to drive them unto desperation when they wallow in their sinful autonomy and reject your precepts. As you drive them through the refiner’s fire of affliction and thus melt away the filthy dross, may they be encouraged that the same afflictions are present in their brethren, and may they know peace by the giving of it through your divine, holy, and comforting presence. In Christ’s name, amen.

[1] See this beautiful Reformed and early catechism HERE.

[2] These last few lines are parody phrases crafted by the Discomfitor, who, although now defunct, had a blog that hilariously parodied some of the antitheistic arguments made by the internet atheologian John Loftus. See here.

[3] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Psalm 119:71. Electronic edition, Bibleworks 7.0.

[4] A.W. Pink, Comfort For Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), 31.

[5] Ibid. [6] Pink, Comfort for Christians, 32.

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2 Comments on “He Must Afflict Us – An Experimental Application of the Sovereignty of God in Providence”

  1. Joel Says:

    Dustin, great post. In fact, I’m going to be counselling someone tonight concerning the purpose of afflications and I’m going to use some of your words from this article.


  2. Joel,

    I pray that the Lord used some of the words fitly spoken from this post to help that dear soul you were ministering to. God bless brother and thanks for your kind comments!


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