Not even God himself could sink this ship.
Such is what one employee of the White Star Line is reported to have said at the May 1911 launch of the RMS Titanic. Those words might have been considered ill-advised at the time, but they certainly reverberate as a concrete malediction now. The aggrandized view of mankind’s ability to forge an “unsinkable ship” culminated in the ruination of everyone on board. You are likely familiar with this tale, the details of which have become almost anecdotal in popular culture. (Thanks, James!) But to turn that oft-repeated omen on its head, I’d like to state, decidedly, that nothing and no one can shipwreck the gospel of God.
Perhaps that doesn’t strike you as stunningly as it does me. For whatever reason, I find so much comfort in that statement, though. I guess it’s because I am supposed to believe that my generation is apparently spelling the undoing of the evangelical church and society writ large, what with our contrarian views of the institutional church, relative truths, affinity for deconstructionism, and addiction to TikTok. I say that in jest primarily because I sometimes see myself in Progressive’s “becoming your parents” ad campaign. (“Am I hash-tagging?”) But also because, as I see it, notwithstanding the moniker you give to the current generation, even they cannot shipwreck the gospel. Regardless the attending obstacles of our present day, the advance of the gospel has never yet been impeded. God’s plans haven’t been thwarted.
F. B. Meyer, in his commentary on St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, writes:
All through the history of the world God has taken what seemed to be a hindrance and obstacle, and, if only His servants were patient and true to Him, has converted it into a pulpit from which they could better promulgate the truth . . . When you are devoted to Christ, your very bonds will become electric chains through which the pulsations of energy shall go to others, and your very troubles will be pulpits from which you shall preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Storms cannot shipwreck the Gospel; they waft it forward. Its foes contrive ingenious devices to obstruct it, but they awake to discover that all they had done to hinder is used to help. The lines of rail and the rolling stock which the enemy elaborated for incursions of hostile intent, are found to be simply invaluable to bear forward the precious message of the Gospel they would overthrow. It will be found, doubtless, at the end of all things, that the beneficent purposes of God have not been hindered one whit, but promoted and fostered, by all that has been done to frustrate them. This is the mystery of God’s providence — that, so far from being set aside by evil, evil helps by furnishing the material on which the fire of the Gospel feeds, and flames to the furthest limits of God’s universe.1
As I think about it, this is what I endeavored to stress in my recent essay, “Camouflaged sovereignty and concern for God’s Word.” The apparent societal symptoms of the day don’t always mean what we think they mean. There is much more going on behind the scenes, and this is true throughout the history of the world. Flip through a history textbook and in between the weeds of dates and data is the ever-present undercurrent of God’s providential, sovereign concern for all things — chiefly, his own glory. As John Piper states, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” I am not usually one to align myself with Piper, but this point is unerringly true. The events of the present are barely understood as they occur. We are dreadful arbiters of the moment.
But, in the end, that does not matter as much as we think it does. There is a better Arbiter of our days, One who advocates incessantly on our behalf, One whose authority is as vast as the depths of the universe itself, and One whose grip of history is not impugned however decadent this life gets. This Governor of history and life and time itself is accomplishing infinitely more than our near-sighted eyes are able to comprehend.
Consequently, I am patently resolved to exercise steady faithfulness, however imperfectly, in the face of untold ebbs and flows of Christian faith and practice, even among my contemporaries — precisely because I am sure that the success of the gospel of the kingdom of heaven does not ultimately rest on my shoulders. It never has, and it never will. No, that doesn’t mean I am at liberty to be lazy. Rather, it means I am unburdened from fretting over and carrying the weight of the apocalypse. The revelation and enthronement of God’s Son in this realm as the true and better King Almighty is a point-of-fact with which I have no involvement. I’m merely graced with the privilege to announce its coming to the entire world for as long as the good Lord deems necessary. I am afforded deep, abiding respite in God’s providential sovereignty, knowing that all of history bows to the will of the Great Judge. “Storms cannot shipwreck the Gospel.” Neither can whatever else the incumbent vitriol conjures up. The gospel of God’s kingdom is an unsinkable ship whose bow is impenetrable and whose port is secure.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: “Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.” (Rev. 21:3–6)
All of history sings in anthemic chorus to the One who is unperturbed by sin’s swelling tide, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies; his glory fills the whole earth” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8; Exod. 15:11). Praise him, forever and ever. Amen.
F. B. Meyer, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1952), 40, 42.