Category Archives: Providence

“God is a gardener” by Andrew Wilson

“God is a gardener.

We know this from the second chapter of Scripture. “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen. 2:8), and this garden is complete with trees, fruits, vegetables, flowers, rivers, minerals, onyx, gold, birds, animals, human beings, marriage, sex, life, and the presence of God himself (Gen. 2:9–25).

It is not just lush and idyllic—the Greek word for garden here, paradeisos, gives us our word paradise— but enormous as well, and probably mountainous, given that it serves as the source for four rivers.

It is more like a primeval Yosemite than a vegetable patch or a manicured lawn. By planting a garden, placing humanity in it, and walking alongside them in the cool of the day, God is showing us the connection between his creativity, his love, his abundance (every tree that was pleasant to the eye and good for food, every beast of the field, every living creature, and so on), and above all his presence.

Eden is a place of life, love, and harmony because God lives there. The first garden is a temple, and from now on all temples will be gardens.

That might sound like a stretch, until we study the designs of the tabernacle and the temple in detail (which, since they are lengthy and a bit repetitive, most of us don’t). They are full of garden imagery, pointing us to the verdant, lush, life-giving bounty of the gardener God who lives there.

Consider: the temple is made out of cedar trees, “carved in the form of gourds and open flowers,” and the floor is boarded with cypress (1 Kings 6:15–18).

Like Eden, it is guarded by cherubim, built on a mountain, entered from the east, and adorned with gold and onyx (1 Chron. 29:2). The doors of the sanctuary are made of olivewood, carved with palm trees and flowers in bloom (1 Kings 6:31–32).

The bronze pillars are festooned with hundreds of pomegranates, and “on the tops of the pillars was lily-work” (1 Kings 7:20–22).

The panels are set with livestock (oxen) and wild beasts (lions), and as you walk across the court, you find yourself surrounded by fresh water (1 Kings 7:23–29). There is a tree-shaped lampstand outside the Holy of Holies, and a further ten made of pure gold (1 Kings 7:49).

It would have felt like an orchard, a well-watered garden, a paradeisos. It spoke to Israel: the God of the garden lives here. Welcome.

So gardens are places of abundance and divine presence. But they are also places of romance and love. The first marriage and the first love song took place in a garden (Gen. 2:18–25), and this profound mystery is a picture of the love between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31–32).

Numerous biblical couples get together in garden-like places, under trees or at wells or both.

The Song of Solomon is full of plants, trees, flowers, orchards, fruits, fountains, and gardens, reinforcing the connection between our intimacy with God and our intimacy with one another.

This connection, interestingly, is still reflected today, every time a couple gets married surrounded by carnations, arbors, garlands, lilies, trellises, and petals of confetti.

We design our wedding venues like a garden of love, not least because we first knew love in a garden. Yet the garden is also a place of tragedy.

We do not just remember paradise; we remember paradise lost. Eden was not just the garden of love but the garden of love spurned.

Life was rejected in favor of the knowledge of good and evil, marriage was spoiled, and verdant abundance became thorns and thistles and pain in childbirth.

As human beings, we were meant to take the garden with us, filling the earth with the life and harmony we found there, but instead we were exiled from it, frog-marched out by the eastern exit, with cherubim on guard to prevent us from coming back.

From that day on, we lost our unrestricted access to the presence of God, both in the temple-like garden and in the garden-like temple. We have been pining for it ever since.

The human story has been a long and often disastrous series of attempts to get back to the garden.

It is fitting, then—as well as glorious beyond words—that our access back into the garden, with all the abundance and presence and love that goes with it, was secured in two gardens.

The first, which we know as the garden of Gethsemane, reversed the decision of Eden, replacing Adam’s “not your will but mine” with Christ’s “not my will but yours.”

The second, as Jesus stepped out of the tomb just a couple of days later, reversed the consequences of Eden.

Where Adam brought death to everyone in a garden and then went to hide, Christ brought life to everyone in a garden and then made himself as visible as possible.

This connection may be what John is hinting at when he says that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener (John 20:15). In more ways than one, he was.

The result, as Jesus had said while being crucified, is that those who trust him can be brought back to God. “Today you will be with me in [paradeisos]” (Luke 23:43).

We are welcomed into the abundance and vitality of a new and better Eden.

The cherubim blocking your way have been stood down.

The serpent has been crushed.

The garden of love is open, and the Gardener has been preparing a place for you.

When we finally see it, in the final two chapters of Scripture, we get the most delightful sense of déjà vu—there is a river and a tree and leaves and fruit and gold and onyx and a wedding.

And in the midst of it all is God himself, so bright that there is no need for the sun, and so present that there is no need for a temple (Rev. 21:22–23).

Welcome home.”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 81-84.

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“What God tells us about Himself 6,800 times” by John Piper

“God’s name is a message. And the message is about how He intends to be known.

Every time His name appears—all 6,800 times—He means to remind us of His utterly unique being. As I have pondered the meaning of the name Yahweh, built on the phrase “I AM WHO I AM” and pointing to God’s absolute being, I see at least ten dimensions to its meaning:

  1. God’s absolute being means He never had a beginning. This staggers the mind. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is and always was. No beginning.”
  2. God’s absolute being means God will never end. If He did not come into being, He cannot go out of being, because He is absolute being. He is what is. There is no place to go outside of being. There is only God. Before He creates, that’s all that is: God.
  3. God’s absolute being means God is absolute reality. There is no reality before Him. There is no reality outside of Him unless He wills it and makes it. He is not one of many realities before He creates. He is simply there, as absolute reality. He is all that was, eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God, absolutely there, absolutely all.
  4. God’s absolute being means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring Him into being or support Him or counsel Him or make Him what He is. That is what absolute being means.
  5. God’s absolute being means that everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary and dependent. The entire universe is utterly secondary—not primary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
  6. God’s absolute being means all the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to its substance, as an echo to a thunderclap, as a bubble to the ocean. All that we see, all that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing. “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are accounted by Him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:17).
  7. God’s absolute being means that God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who He is. There is no development in God. No progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
  8. God’s absolute being means that He is the absolute standard of truth, goodness, and beauty. There is no law book to which He looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He Himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
  9. God’s absolute being means God does whatever He pleases, and it is always right, always beautiful, and always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on Him from outside Him that could hinder Him from doing anything He pleases. All reality that is outside of Him He created and designed and governs. So He is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of His own will.
  10. God’s absolute being means that He is the most important and most valuable reality and the most important and most valuable person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe.

This is the message of His name. And in the exodus, He establishes a link forever between His name and His mighty rescue of Israel from bondage.

The timing of the revelation of His name is not coincidental. God is coming to save. Israel will want to know who this saving God is.

God says in effect, ‘Tell them that My name is Yahweh, and make clear what this means. I am absolutely free and independent. And I choose freely to save My people. The freedom of My being and the freedom of My love are one.'”

–John Piper, Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 90-92.

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“The new creation will be dust free” by Andrew Wilson

“A Christian understanding of humanity places a strong emphasis on the image of God, and the essential dignity and grandeur that it confers to all people.

We are kings, priests, ambassadors, rulers, made for a little while lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5), and that has crucial implications for the way we treat one another.

But alongside that (vital) emphasis on dignity, there is also an appropriate humility that comes from remembering that “I . . . am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27) and that “he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14).

Knowing that we come from the ground keeps us grounded; the Latin word humus, which means “soil” or “earth,” gives us the words humility and human.

And there is such reassurance in knowing that God, in his compassion and fatherly kindness, sees us not only as princes, expected to rule the world, but also as dust and ashes, expected to fail sometimes and cry out for rescue.

As Hannah sang so beautifully, one of his favorite hobbies is lifting people from the dust and ashes—marginal, broken, poor, and needy people like her, and indeed like me—and seating us with the princes (1 Sam. 2:8). We are dust, and to dust we shall return.

We may find it liberating, unsettling, or terrifying, but it is true nonetheless: one day the cells that compose us will be swirling in the autumn leaves, wedged between sofa cushions, and hidden behind radiators. The same is true of all the world’s most powerful and influential people.

As with Ozymandias in Shelley’s famous poem, their apparently invincible empires will finally turn to dust. So will we. But only for a while.

Ultimately, as Daniel saw, “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Dry bones in a death valley will be filled with divine breath and raised to life (Ezek. 37:1–12).

In Adam we are all dust people, and we decompose accordingly, but in Christ we then rise to become heavenly people for whom dust and decay, mortality and corruptibility, are things of the past.

Paul, describing the resurrection to people who couldn’t quite believe it, explains that “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Our future, Paul says, will be modeled not on the man who came out of the soil but on the man who came out of the tomb.

So get all your hoovering done now. The new creation will be dust free.”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 12-13.

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“Except the Lamb” by Andrew Wilson

“Farm animals are substitutes.

They might be sinfully fashioned as replacements for God, like a golden calf or a bull’s head.

They might represent people in worship, like a ram rising as a smoky offering into the presence of God.

They might take the consequences of sins upon themselves, like the two goats on the Day of Atonement.

But they are imperfect substitutes. They cannot measure up to the reality they represent.

They don’t offer themselves willingly; they have to be sacrificed over and over again, day after day, year after year, giving us a regular reminder of how sinful we are; and although they can cleanse us externally and ritually, they cannot cleanse us internally as well, making us perfectly holy and releasing our consciences forever.

For these reasons, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Livestock always fall short.

Except the Lamb.

There is one farm animal who is worshiped not just by a handful of idolatrous Israelites but by every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 7:9–10).

There is one farm animal who offers Himself so willingly, sheds His blood so unreservedly, and ascends to God so permanently that He is able to take billions of people with Him, straight into the presence of God.

There is one farm animal whose substitutionary offering for sin is so perfect that it can save anyone, cleanse the conscience, and last forever.

In Genesis, a ram substituted for one young man (Gen. 22:13).

In Exodus, a lamb substituted for each family (Ex. 12:3).

In Leviticus, a goat substituted for the nation (Leviticus 16).

In the gospel, a Lamb substituted for the entire human race.

‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29)”

–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 31-32.

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“The centerpiece of worship in heaven for all eternity” by John Piper

“The hosts of heaven focus their worship not simply on the Lamb, but on the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:9). And they are still singing this song in Revelation 15:3 (“They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb”).

Therefore, we can infer that the centerpiece of worship in heaven for all eternity will be the display of the glory of the grace of God in the slaughtered Lamb.

Angels and all the redeemed will sing of the suffering of the Lamb forever and ever. The suffering of the Son of God will never be forgotten. The greatest suffering that ever was will be at the center of our worship and our wonder forever and ever. This is not an afterthought of God. This is the plan from before the foundation of the world.

Everything else is subordinate to this plan. Everything else is put in place by God’s providence for the sake of this plan.

The display of the glory of God’s grace, especially in the suffering of the Beloved, echoing forever in the all-satisfying praises of the redeemed, is the goal of creation and the ultimate aim of all God’s works of providence.”

–John Piper, Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 173–174.

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“The apex of God’s grace” by John Piper

“The implication of Ephesians 1:4–6 is that the grace of God is the apex of His glory. His goal is not just ‘the praise of His glory.’ It is ‘the praise of the glory of His grace.’

That is, the constellation of excellencies that make up the glory of God reach their most beautiful overflow in the expression of grace for undeserving sinners like us. And what has now become clear in the enactment of the new covenant ‘in His blood’ is that the humble, willing, obedient suffering of Christ for sinners is the apex of God’s grace—the place where that grace is most beautifully on display.

So grace is the consummate expression of God’s glory, and Christ in His suffering is the consummate expression of grace. Three times in Ephesians 1:4–6 Paul clarifies that the aim of praising ‘the glory of God’s grace’ is achieved ‘through Jesus Christ’:

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.

‘In Him.’ ‘Through Jesus Christ.’ ‘In the Beloved.’ We know that these phrases are references to Christ’s work on the cross because in the next verse Paul says, ‘In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace’ (Ephesians 1:7).

Therefore, the ultimate goal of God in His saving providence— namely, the praise of the glory of His grace— was achieved through the suffering of the Son of God, who died to deliver us from eternal suffering (2 Thess. 1:9) and bring us into everlasting enjoyment of His glory (John 17:24).”

–John Piper, Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 170–171.

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“This is our pattern when we speak and write for God” by John Newton

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.

I hope your performance will savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers.

If ever such defences were seasonable and expedient, they appear to be so in our day, when errors abound on all sides, and every truth of the Gospel is either directly denied, or grossly misrepresented. And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it.

Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which at most are but of a secondary value.

This shews, that, if the service is honourable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause, and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of His presence is made!

Your aim, I doubt not, is good. But you have need to watch and pray, for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you: he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defence of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate.

If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who, ‘when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.’ (1 Pet. 2:23) This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, ‘not rendering railing for railing, but, contrariwise, blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.’ (1 Pet. 3:9)

The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savour and efficacy of our labours. If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow-creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

If you can be content with shewing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task. But I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of Gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of Hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may He give you a witness in many hearts, that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of His Holy Spirit.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 1: 272-274.

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