This Day in Presbyterian History:
Behind a Frowning Providence
William Cowper’s great hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way,” has a verse in it which says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.” Rev and Mrs John Lowrie (Louisa) as missionaries to India would experience this frowning providence in a personal way.
Called by the Lord to the great mission field of India in 1832 when just a student in seminary, John Lowrie was ordained upon graduation by the Presbytery of New Castle of the Presbyterian Church in March of 1833. Marrying his twenty-four year old wife Louisa, he traveled with another couple to New Castle, Delaware. After a season of prayer, they boarded the sailing ship “The Star,” leaving May 30, 1833.
A trip of this magnitude across the ocean normally took four to five months as they were dependent upon the winds. All during the trip, Louisa Lowrie was ill, and it was hoped that as soon as they reached land in Calcutta, India, she would make good progress to health once again. However, upon reaching the field, she grew worse and worse, and finally died November 21, 1833. Talk about a frowning providence. A young consecrated life was taken away.
Her husband, John, greatly bereaved, next had the couple who had traveled with them, become ill. The Western Foreign Missionary Society which had sent all of them out in the first place, encouraged this latter couple to return to the States. The husband on the return trip died and was buried at sea. So John Lowrie was left alone, bereft of friends in this strange land of India. Yet he was determined, despite his grief, to do something of the Lord’s work before he too left the country. Forced to wait for another seven months, he used the time well to learn the language. Then he took passage to Lodiana, India, a thriving city near the Punjab border, where the East India Company had a great military station, arriving November 5, 1834.
For the next four years, he established a mission school and a Presbyterian church in India. During this time, he had the friendship of several Christian laypeople from the military station. Repeated attacks of malaria fever, however, brought him low several times, until he was forced to return to the States in 1838. For the rest of his life, until 1900, he ministered in administrative affairs in the office of the mission society which sent him and his wife out in the first place.
Words to Live By: William Cowper’s last verse reads, “Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.” Frowning providence may be made plain here, or hereafter in heaven. Our place is to trust God now, despite what comes our way, resting in Him.
Through the Scriptures: Psalms 148 – 150
Through the Standards: Proof texts of good works
Philippians 2:12, 13
“Therefore, my beloved, . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (ESV)
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (ESV)
James 2:14 – 16
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of them says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things they needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (ESV)