Submitting to God’s Will in Dark Providences
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
10 Mar, 2017

Dark Providences are those events that not only cast a deep shadow but seem inexplicable. They seem to overwhelm us and turn our thoughts upside down in bewilderment. We are lost in trying to find out a purpose in them (Psalm 77:19). “When providences are dark it is difficult to read them” (John J Murray). If they are difficult to comprehend, how much more challenging is it to submit to God’s will that it should be so?  It may seem virtually impossible. Perhaps God does not even seem to be near (Job 23:8-10). Yet it may be that in the confused noise of such dark trials we can discover more of what it is to trust an infinite God through submission. The darkness then becomes to us “the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

Samuel Rutherford looks at the best response to the darkest providence: Christ submitting to the Father’s will in accepting the cup of suffering. The time of Christ’s soul trouble in the Garden of Gethsemane has much to teach us. We must learn to say with Him: “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). This is an updated extract from his book Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself.

We must also bear in mind what Rutherford said elsewhere, that “the Providence of God has two sides; one black and sad, another white and joyful”. “Christ scourged; Christ in a condition, that He cannot command a cup of water; Christ dying, shamed, forsaken, is black: but Christ, in that same work redeeming the captives of hell, opening to sinners forfeited paradise, that is fair and white…Joseph, weeping in the prison for no fault, is foul and sad; but Joseph brought out to reign as half a king, to keep alive the Church of God in great famine, is joyful and glorious”.

1. Submission Looks to God’s Will as Ultimate

Submission must be grounded on looking higher to the will of God, this is what Christ did. Every wheel in a great mechanism moves according to the motion of the highest and first wheel that moves all the rest. Rivers regulate the flow of lesser brooks by their motion.  The principle of motions and ways in all mortals begins at the highest mover, the just and wise will of God. All must say, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done”.

2. Submission Looks to God’s Will as Holy and Wise

Submission in adverse providence must look to the Lord’s wise and holy will as Christ did. David said that Shimei cursed him because the Lord had bidden him do it. Job acknowledged that the Lord had taken away and said: “Blessed be the name of the Lord”. Anyone can say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” when He gives. Most men look to second causes but never rise up to God as the first Mover.

3. Submission Approves of God’s Will being Done

Hezekiah said “good is the word of the Lord” (Isaiah 39:8). It was hard, all in his house would be caried away to Babylon and his sons would be captives. Yet the will of the Lord was good and just, even when the thing willed and decreed of God was bad for him.

4. Submission Will Not Hinder God from Doing what He Thinks Good

Christ will not hinder God from doing what He thinks good. Murmuring is a stone in God’s way. Murmuring is an anti-providence, a little God, setting itself against the true God that causes everything in His wisdom. The murmurer does what he can to stop up God’s way. Old Eli, when he heard sad news, says, “It is the Lord, let him do (I will not hinder Him from doing) what is good in his eyes” (1 Samuel 3:18).  Christ says that He came to do God’s will (Psalm 40:7).

5. Submission Does Not Abolish Our Own Will

Christ did not give away His natural will; rather He submitted in the act of willing. He kept for Himself a submitted will. It is not intended that our will be abolished in hard providences, but that it submits.  We must not quarrel with Justice. Lamentations 3:28-29 gives many sweet signs of a broken will: (a) solitary sadness; (b) silence, the soul not daring to quarrel with God; (c) stooping to the dust, and putting clay in the mouth, for fear it speaks against God’s dispensation (see Job 40:4-5); (d) willingly accepting blows on the cheeks and reproach (Micah 7:9) the man like a well-nurtured child kisses God’s rod. Only a bad soldier follows his captain sighing and weeping. Faith sings at tears and rejoices under hope in the day of adversity.

6. Submission is Our Happiness

It’s the child’s happiness that the wise father’s will is his rule and not his own. Our own will is our hell (Ezekiel 18:31): Christ’s will is heaven. Christ thinks it is best that His Father’s will should stand and His own human will be repealed. “For even Christ pleased not himself” (Romans 15:3). All God’s works of providence are as good as his works of creation. If God would direct my way to heaven through fire, tortures, blood, poverty – though He should trail me through hell – He cannot err in leading (though I may err in following).

7. Submission Prescribes Nothing Except that God’s Will be Done

Christ prescribes no way to His Father but in general “The Lord’s will be done on me” (He says).  “Be what it may, if it is the will of my Father so be it. Welcome black cross, welcome pale death, welcome curses, and all the curses of God that the just law could lay on all my children (and they are a fair number), welcome wrath of God, welcome shame and the cold grave”. The submission of faith subscribes a blank sheet of paper, let the Lord write on it what He pleases. “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in Him”, said Job (Job 13:15). To resign ourselves without exception to Christ is a rare grace of God, and not of ordinary capacity.

8. Submission Takes God’s Revealed Will for Our Rule

In submitting His will Christ makes the prophecies and the revealed gospel His rule. He is willing to be ruled by God’s revealed will in His duty. He is willing that the Lord’s will stand for a law  in His suffered. He willingly submits and will in no way quarrel with everlasting decrees. To be ruled by the one is holiness; to submit to the other is patience. Patience is higher than any ordinary grace in being willing to adore and reverence something more and higher than the commanding, promising, and threatening will of God. It was a grace which was a most eminent in Christ the Lamb of God, dumb, meek and silent before His shearers. The meekest in earth and in heaven, He only never resisted the revealed will of God, but never had any thought, motion or any hint of a desire in Him against the secret, eternal decree and counsel of God.

9. Submission Subjects Natural Reason to God’s Will

Christ submits natural reason with which His natural will might seem to plead under the Lord’s feet. It seems strange: God has many sons but none like Christ. He was an only Son, He never had a brother by eternal generation. He was the only heir of the house, but there never was a son so afflicted as He. It seems against all reason. But Christ says the Father’s will must be done. It’s against submission to put absolute questions on the Lord. We love to have God account for His providence to us and that our reason is the final court of appeal in the ways of the Lord. Though we do not see why, yet there is a cause why He does all He does. Reason is an essential ingredient in all His actions.

10. Submission Acknowledges God’s Infinite Wisdom

The Lord takes many different ways at once in providence. In this very act [Christ’s suffering] He redeems the world, judges Satan, satisfies the law and justice, glorifies Christ, destroys sin, fulfils His own eternal will and counsel. There is a manifold wisdom in Providence as in the work of redemption. In every work that God does He leaves wonder behind Him. None can come after the Almighty, and say, “I could have done better than He”. It is natural to blame God in His working, but impossible to mend His work.

11. Submission is Not Loss but Gain

Christ is no loser by losing His will for the Lord’s; rather His will is fulfilled in that which he feared (Hebrews 5:7). Submitting to providence brings us a hundred fold in this life (Matthew 19:29). He is able to do above (more than abundantly above) all we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). I can ask heaven and He can give more than heaven and above heaven. I can think of Christ, but He can give above the Christ that I can think of, because I cannot comprehend infinite Jesus Christ.

12. Submission Reverences a Higher Providence

Christ is not intent and heart-bent on freedom from death and this black and sad hour but He reverences a higher providence, that Gods will be done. Thus, we are also to look to providence and  not stumble at outward strokes in sad occurrences (Job 9:22; Ezekiel 21:3).

13. Submission Approves God’s Will as Good Even When Things are Worst

Christ declares that even when matters are worst, there is good will for Him in God’s will being done. Christ says (as it were), “I have (God knows) a heavy soul, my strength is dried up like a potsherd. This cup tastes of hell and fiery indignation, the sight of it would kill a man. Yet I’ll drink it. The good and just will of my Father be done. Here I stand, I go no further. To stand still, silence our tumultuous thoughts (since we have a body of sin) and be satisfied with the will of the Lord, is safest. The friends of Paul heard what he must suffer and urged him but “when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). To cease and say nothing more when we see the Lord declare His mind to us is grace. A holy heart will not go one hair’s breadth beyond the Lord’s revealed will.

14. Submission Even Accepts God’s Felt Absence

Christ submits His will to the will of God in soul-desertions: so should we. Christ’s love to His Father is not jealous against the Lord’s dealings in relation to the influences of heaven on His soul. He is willing to lay his soul-comforts in the free-will of His Father. In this He judges the Lord’s will, better than His own will. We have too many complaints against the reality of Christ’s love when He hides Himself.  We are covetous and soul-thirsty after our own will in the matter of soul-manifestations. We idolise spiritual comfort and would gladly have a Christ of created grace rather than Christ, or His grace. When we are thirsting for Christ, it is His comforts, the rings, jewels and bracelets the Bridegroom gives that we seek after, rather than Himself. We desire a never-interrupted  sense of God’s presence, whereas Christ submitted to go without it for a time when He saw this was God’s will. Though we do not and cannot always have an edge of actual hunger, yet we can be submissive to going without, when we see that this is His will.



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