When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, brimming with joy, he had every reason to be depressed. He longed, always, to travel and take the gospel to new territory, yet here he was, in chains and under arrest and totally hemmed in. Yet this is what he said:
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)
The apparent frustration of the gospel has in fact led to the advance of the gospel. That’s vintage God! And I need to write that sentence again—for me, even if not for you: The apparent frustration of the gospel has in fact led to the advance of the gospel.
It reminds me of a wonderful aspect of the life of John Bunyan. Bunyan spent twelve years in prison in the mid 17thcentury (for the crime of preaching—wonderfully—while not being an ordained Anglican!) during which time he wrote the book which, after the Bible, has possibly influenced Christian faith and life more than any other: Pilgrim’s Progress. Another great Puritan, John Owen, had connections in high places and time and again did all he could to try to get Bunyan freed. He never managed. Had he done so, would the world ever have been blessed with the gift of Pilgrim’s Progress? Yet when Bunyan was released, himself a poor man with no connections, it was Owen who managed to get the book published. That’s double vintage God! And what a wonderful illustration of the truth in William Cowper’s lovely hymn, God moves in a mysterious way: ‘Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.’
Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face. I guess that the lesson for our own times is obvious.
I am writing this just before leaving for my summer holiday. When I get back it will be September and the likelihood is that this time of multifarious restrictions will continue, and probably ebb and flow, for some time. The novelty of doing church online is a novelty no longer! The months of not seeing one another carry a cost. What is the Lord’s plan for us to be a faithful church in these times? How can we? And as I am tempted to think, I wouldn’t do it this way, it is so instructive to remember that I would never have planned to put poor innocent John Bunyan in prison for twelve years, nor the apostle Paul for two or more. Who, other than our God, would have planned that? It’s where it so important and so practically helpful to keep coming back to those two great facets of the nature of our God—that he is both sovereign and good; he is both powerful and loving; he can do absolutely anything he pleases and he will only ever do what is best. Thank God that he does things his way not mine!
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him! Psalm 115:3
Your brother in Christ