Providence, Prayer and the Powers that be
Christians confess that God is the Author of salvation and also of providence in general. The idea behind ‘providence’ is that of tending to something with an eye to the future. So it is with God and the universe. Having made all things, the Almighty maintains them in being, and directs their every action to His own glory, as the One who knows the end from the beginning. To believe otherwise is to deny the God who has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture and throughout history.
God’s Care of the Church
There is a special providence of God which embraces the church, as the body of Christ, and takes care of its every need for time and eternity. This providence is expressed most clearly in the well-known words of Paul: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) Because of this providence we need not fear for the church, although sometimes we are tempted to; the Lord will ensure that “a seed shall serve him” (Psa. 22:30), whatever the intentions of His enemies may be.
As well as what we view with our eyes, we should remember that there is a secret providence whereby God orders the inner life of every individual, including the ungodly. “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” (Prov. 16:1) This providence extends to the greatest among men: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Prov. 21:1) An awesome and humbling truth, which should make us think – and make us thankful!
The Place of Prayer
The fact is that God is in absolute control of the events which take place in this world, for He has decreed them all. To know and believe this is of great comfort to the Lord’s people, who are often tried and afflicted in their personal experience. But it may raise a question in our minds concerning the practice of our faith: if God is sovereign, and has predestined everything, is there anything left for us to do? In particular, is there any point in prayer and making our requests known to God? Surely, whatever has been appointed will come to pass, whether we pray or not?
It ought to be enough for us that the Lord in His word repeatedly commands us to pray and encourages us with His promises. We see how godly men and women in Scripture prayed, and obtained wonderful answers. We note too that Christ Himself prayed and taught His disciples to do the same. Our Saviour says: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9) In addition we may say this: the same God who has decreed the end has decreed the means to that end. The prayers of His people have a place in His decree, being woven into the fabric of His eternal plan; they proceed from the Spirit of grace and of supplications. When God promised Israel that He would restore them and their desolate land, He also said, “I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them” (Ezek. 36:33-37). Prayer is the forerunner of divine blessing; our need is to have the mind of the Lord, or a biblical warrant for our requests.
We should not be surprised then to find Paul writing these words for the guidance of Christians: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Tim. 2:1,2) The early New Testament church found itself in an environment where the civil power was not well-disposed towards the Lord’s cause, yet God would be pleased to save some rulers and to influence others in a way which would be beneficial for the gospel. So the believers prayed, with much boldness and confidence, as believers always should.
The Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” If those who aim to eradicate biblical religion were wise, they would do everything in their power to prevent the Lord’s people from praying. Yet to do that would be to admit the very thing they wish to deny: that there is a God in heaven who takes note of all that is done on earth, and who rules in the affairs of men, for the help of all who cry to Him!
The EU Referendum
In the last two months we have witnessed two remarkable things which we believe the Lord wrought in answer to the prayers of His people. On 23rd June the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union was held. Despite the parties and politicians overwhelmingly backing ‘Remain’, and despite the dire warnings given during the campaign of an economic downturn, the increased risk of terrorism and even the possibility of a third world war, a clear majority voted for ‘Brexit’. In the aftermath David Cameron, who had staked a lot on the result going the other way, felt it necessary to resign as Prime Minister. It is telling that he spoke of the introduction of same-sex ‘marriage’ as one of steps he was most proud of during his time in office.
The reasons why Christians voted to leave the EU no doubt differed from those which persuaded our fellow countrymen to do the same thing. We were concerned not only with the loss of national sovereignty but with the fact that our involvement in the EU, with its strong Roman Catholic influence, endangers our Protestant identity. As an institution the EU gives no honour to God, and its laws are not founded upon God’s law. Despite a serious drift over recent decades, the UK still gives official recognition to the Christian faith, as seen most clearly in the monarchy and in the existence of established churches. We wish to see that recognition retained.
No-one can predict exactly what form Brexit will take. We must pray that the Lord’s hand will be upon our new Prime Minister Theresa May and the ministers charged with the preparations and negotiations. Above all we must pray that God would bring about national repentance and a return to Christian moral values in our public life, and that He would maintain the integrity of the UK for the good of His cause.
The Named Person Scheme
On 28th July the Supreme Court ruled on the Named Person scheme, which had been subject to a judicial review launched by a number of Christian and other organisations and individuals. It was our view that this scheme, which permits state intervention in a family when a ‘state guardian’ has a concern for the “wellbeing” or “happiness” of a child, was likely to have harmful consequences, threatening as it does the God-given role of parents in the raising of their children, and also our religious liberty. Our sincere belief was that a just outcome of the review would be for the scheme to be brought to a halt; we are sure that many came to the throne of grace with that plea.
Certainly the Act which had set up the scheme had been unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament. Certainly the judicial review had failed in both houses of the Court of Session. Yet the decision of the Supreme Court was a unanimous one: the data-sharing provisions of the Named Person scheme breach the right to a private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, making it unlawful in its present form. Since these provisions are “not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”, they have been struck down. The judgment also contained this most significant statement: “The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.” The full Judgment and the Press Summary can be found here.
It was the first time the Supreme Court had prevented a major piece of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament from coming into force. Legal action may now follow where sensitive information concerning individuals has been shared without their permission under pilot versions of the scheme. The Scottish Government has a few months to come up with a revised scheme, present it to the Supreme Court for approval, and then introduce the necessary legislation at Holyrood. Prayer should continue, that all the objectionable aspects of the scheme will be removed when it takes its final form.
Let us rejoice that the Lord is able to deliver His church from those who war against her, being “the governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28). And let us never forget that He does so in answer to the prayers of His people, and give Him the praise: “and call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Psa. 50:15).