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God’s Providence Over The Church & The Nations (A retro-post by John Newton)

And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16.)

“That he is King of kings, and Governor among the nations, is farther evident from the preservation of his people; for the world is against them, and they have no protector but him. The wrath of man, like the waves of the sea, has bounds prescribed to it which it cannot pass. So far as he is pleased to overrule it to his own praise, he will permit it to operate; but the remainder, that is not subservient to the accomplishment of his purpose, he will restrain.* But he works so secretly, though powerfully, by the agency of second causes, that only they who are enlightened by his word and Spirit can perceive his interference.

He permitted Ahithophel to give that counsel to Absalom which, though wicked, was, in the political sense of the word, prudent; that is, it was the probable method of putting David into the power of his rebellious son. David had prayed that the Lord would ‘turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.’* Had the Lord instantly deprived Ahithophel of his reason, this prayer would have been more visibly, but not more effectually answered, than by the counter-advice of Hushai, which, though rash and extravagant, being suited to gratify the vanity and folly of Absalom, rendered the other abortive.† Sometimes the enemies of his church divide and wrangle among themselves, and then one party, to mortify and oppose the other, will protect those whom otherwise they wish to destroy. Thus Paul escaped from the malice of the Jewish council, by the sudden disagreement which arose between the Pharisees and Sadducees,‡ though they came together equally determined to destroy him. At other times, kings and statesmen act so inconsistently with their professed aims, and take steps so directly calculated to prevent what they wish to obtain, or to bring upon themselves what they mean to avoid, that we can only say, they are infatuated. A very small compliance seemed likely to have secured the affection of the twelve tribes to Rehoboam. We are ready to wonder that he could not be prevailed on to speak mildly to the people for one day, with a view of engaging them to be his servants for ever. But when we read that the cause was from the Lord,§ and that, in this way, his purpose of separating the kingdoms of Israel and Judah was effected, the wonder ceases.

Very observable, likewise, was the coincidence of circumstances which preserved the Jews in Persia from the destructive designs of their adversary Haman. If the king* had slept that night, as usual, or if his attendants had read to him in any book but the Chronicle of the empire, or in any part of that Chronicle but the very passage in which the service of Mordecai had been recorded, humanly speaking, Haman would have carried his point. In this manner, by a concurrence of circumstances, each of them, if considered singly, apparently trivial, and all of them contingent with respect to any human foresight or prevention, the Lord often pours contempt upon the wise and the mighty, and defeats their deepest laid and best concerted schemes, in the moment when they promise themselves success.

Many salutary and comfortable inferences may be drawn from the consideration of this subject. Some of them I may perhaps have formerly mentioned, but they will well bear a repetition. We have need to be reminded of what we already know.

1. It should inspire us with confidence. If the Lord of hosts, the Lord of lords, be for us, what weapon or counsel can prosper against us? However dark and threatening appearances may be, we need not tremble for the ark of God. The concernments of his church are in safe hands. The cause so dear to us, is still more dear to him. He has power to support it when it is opposed, and grace to revive it when it is drooping. It has often been brought low, but never has been, never shall be, forsaken. When he will work, none can hinder. Nor need you fear for yourself, if you have committed yourself and your all to him. ‘The very hairs of your head are numbered.’* There is a hedge of protection† around you, which none can break through without his permission; nor will he permit you to be touched, except when he designs to make a temporary and seeming evil conducive to your real and permanent advantage.

2. It should affect us with an admiring and thankful sense of his condescension. ‘Lord, what is man, that thou shouldest be so mindful of him?’ ‘He humbles himself to behold the things that are in heaven.’‡ But he stoops still lower. He affords his attention and favor to sinful men. His eye is always upon his people, his ear open to their prayers. Not a sigh or falling tear escapes his notice. He pities them, as a father pities his children; he proportions their trials to their strength, or their strength to their trials, and so adjusts his dispensations to their state, that they never suffer unnecessarily, nor in vain.

3. How great is the dignity and privilege of true believers. Is the man congratulated or envied whom the king delighteth to honour? Believers are more frequently despised than envied in this world. But they may congratulate one another. The King of kings is their friend. They have honours and pleasures which the world knows nothing of. Their titles are high, they are the ‘sons and the daughters of the Lord Almighty.’§ Their possessions are great, for ‘all things are theirs.’║ They are assured of what is best for them in this life, and of life eternal hereafter. They are now nearly related to the King of kings, and shall ere long be acknowledged and owned by him, before assembled worlds. They who now account the proud happy, will be astonished and confounded when they shall see the righteous, whom they once undervalued, “shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of God.’

4. We may lastly infer the extreme folly and danger of those who persist in their rebellion and opposition against this King of kings, and Lord of lords. Though he exercises much patience and long suffering towards them for a season, the hour is approaching when his wrath will burn like fire. It is written and must be fulfilled, ‘the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.’* Oh! the solemnities of that great day, when the frame of nature shall be dissolved, when the Judge shall appear, the books be opened, and all mankind shall be summoned to his tribunal! Will not you yet tremble and bow before him, ye careless ones, while he is seated upon a throne of grace, and while the door of mercy stands open? Once more I call, I warn, I charge you, to repent, and believe the Gospel. If to-day you will hear his voice, it is not yet too late. But who can answer for to-morrow? Perhaps ‘this night your soul may be required of you.’† Are you prepared for the summons? If not, seize the present opportunity. Attend to the ‘one thing needful.’ Seek his face, that your soul may live. If not, remember that you are warned; your blood will be upon your own head. We have delivered our message, and if you finally reject it, you must answer for yourselves to him whose message it is.”

* Psa. 76:10.

* 2 Sam. 15:31.

† 2 Sam. 17:14.

‡ Acts 23:7.

§ 1 Kings 12:15.

* Esther 6:1.

* Matt. 10:30.

† Job 1:10.

‡ Psa. 113:6.

§ 2 Cor. 6:18.

║ 1 Cor. 3:21.

* Psa. 9:17.

† Luke 12:20.

John Newton, “Sermon XXXVIII: King of kings, and Lord of lords, Rev. 19:16,” in Messiah: Fifty Expository Discourses in The Works of John Newton, Vol. 4, ed. Richard Cecil. (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 430-434.