John MacArthur on Providence

An excerpt from an interview with John MacArthur entitled “Practical Concerns in the Local Church”

Here is the link.


Interviewer: What is your perspective on the belief that the Holy Spirit leads us by nudging us, or whispering to us or giving us dreams, things like that?

MacArthur: Uhhhhhmmm, well, I think the Holy Spirit does lead us but there is no way to perceive that that’s happening. Right?

Interviewer: Yeah

MacArthur: I don’t have a red light that goes on in my head and goes round and round and round when the Holy Spirit is leading. I don’t know when the Holy Spirit is leading. I don’t know when I’m following my impulses or desires or whatever. I have no mechanism to know that.

But in retrospect I see that, and I categorize that in the Providences of God.

My life is just one amazing act of divine providence after another, after another, after another, after another, after another … every single day of my life unfolds in ways that are so well planned by the Divine Mind that I’m in a sort of exhilaration day after day, after day over what happens in my life.

So I don’t know when the Spirit is leading at the time the Spirit is leading. I can say you know, I think I should go preach over there. I do that every day. Friday they brought me a big list of people who want me to come and speak, and what did I do? Did I begin to go into some kind of mantra and say ooooooohhhhhmmmmm and see if I could induce the Holy Spirit to know what to do? No, I just look at it and say “I can’t do that” “I don’t think I can do that” “that wouldn’t be a priority,” “maybe I should do that.”

And you know what happens if I’m open and want to do God’s will? It’s amazing how in retrospect I could say, “wow, it was absolutely critical that I be there because look what happened when I got there, because this happened and that led to this and this led to that,” and that’s how my whole life has unfolded.

There is no mechanism that we posses that tells us at the moment when the Holy Spirit is leading us in some supernatural way. But that in retrospect we will be able to discern by the Providences of God that unfold.

Interviewer: Yeah that’s a great distinction to make. I think the first time I ever heard you preach, the message you did was your message on how to know the will of God. And you basically said, “look: line up with scripture” (I’m giving you the really short version) “and do what you want to do, and as long as you are being obedient to what God has clearly commanded, He will lead you by providence.”

I think the mistake a lot of charismatics make is looking for special revelation, when God doesn’t lead us by giving us new special revelation. He leads us by providence, but He is just as active in leading us.

John MacArthur: How different would my life be if you weren’t in it? It would be dramatically different, it would be profoundly different. Grace To You wouldn’t be what it is, the books I write that you edit wouldn’t be what they are.

Interviewer: And my life would be profoundly different

John MacArthur: The clarity of theology that we hammer out together…

And yet how, from a human standpoint, serendipitous the fact that we met?

Interview: Exactly, and the fact-

MacArthur: in a motel in the dead winter of Chicago, a motel with no heat- and I had to take the carpet off the floor to put on the bed to stay warm all night.

Interviewer: yeah

MacArthur: yeah

Interviewer: And then I also booked you into a lousy accommodation in India once too.

MacArthur: Thank you very much, on my anniversary.

Interviewer: that’s right…

MacArthur: with my wife.

Interviewer: It’s your 30th anniversary no less, wasn’t it?

You talk about how serendipitous, I almost didn’t come to hear you the first time-

MacArthur: No, no, I know that story.

I was speaking at Moody, he was on the Moody Press, and he made the crack to somebody “I’m not going to hear some lame brain talk about the will of God. Everybody that comes to Moody talks about the will of God.”

Then he had his eye on this girl, Darlene, and she comes up to him and says “Oh Phillip, would you like to come to chapel and listen to John MacArthur” “OH YES! YES.”

Interviewer: That is exactly what happened.

I had never head of him, and it’s John MacArthur Jr., he’s a 5th generation preacher, and I said “somebody should tell Jr. that everybody who speaks at Moody talks about God’s will for your life.”

MacArthur: And then we hit it off, and then you worked on the book on the family, and then we drove to Minneapolis, remember that 8 hour drive, and we became friends, and then we invited you here.

Man, my whole life is like that and God has surrounded me with people like that constantly.

I’m not really interested in mystical stuff, I’m not interested, I don’t expect the Holy Spirit to give me special impulses or special revelation.

Interviewer: Yeah I have a similar question, from someone who is asking about Bible Study and this applies there as well: what is the balance between the Holy Spirit’s illumination and our need to study a passage with commentaries and teachers and things like that?

MacArthur: Well the Holy Spirit never illuminates anything to me that I don’t understand. I have to understand it before the illumination kicks in. There is a certain illumination that is salvific- in other words being regenerated is, in itself, the source of illumination. When I pick up the Bible and read God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, sin, man, redemption, blah blah blah I get it. So there is a generic kind of illumination and revelation and you could leave it at that level. You could get the milk of the word and say okay, I’ve been illuminated on the milk of the Word, I get it. I understand the simple the things of scripture. As many as received him became the sons of God, so far I can read that and understand it I can read other things and understand them.

But for me to dig down and to enjoy the full illuminating possibilities of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I have to dig deep into the scripture. It’s what I grasp that he illuminates, it’s what I understand that he illuminates. So yes, there is a sense in which I”m illuminated enough to understand scripture at its basic level, the milk level as Paul would call it, but to get to the meat level I’ve gotta dig down in it

And you just experienced this this week, right? Going through a passage, I’m saying things you haven’t thought about with regard to that passage, but now all of a sudden when I say it the way I say it, you say, “wow i understand that. I get it.” The lights go on, I get it.
That’s because you’re being illuminated, which means the life giving Spirit is awakening you to the reality of that truth that you now understand in a fresh way.

Interviewer: and sometimes a teacher like you is one of the instruments the Spirit uses to illuminate.

MacArthur: it can be a book, it can be listen to someone’s speech. I mean the Lord has given teachers to his church for that.

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