Providence

*Since God not only created the world but also upholds it, we naturally pass from the doctrine of creation to that of divine providence. This may be defined as that work of God in which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that happens in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end. It includes three elements, of which the first pertains primarily to the being, the second to the activity, and the third to the purpose of all things.

The Elements of Divine Providence

We distinguish three elements:

a. Divine preservation. This is that continuous work of God by which He upholds all things. While the world has a distinct existence and is not a part of God, it nevertheless has the ground of its continued existence in God and not in itself. It endures through a continued exercise of divine power by which all things are maintained in being and action. This doctrine is taught in the following passages:

Ps. 136:25; “Who giveth food to all flesh; For his lovingkindness [endureth] for ever. (Psalms 136:25)”

145:15; “The eyes of all wait for thee; And thou givest them their food in due season. (Psalms 145:15)”

Neh. 9:6; “Thou art Jehovah, even thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all things that are thereon, the seas and all that is in them, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. (Nehemiah 9:6)”

Acts 17:28; “for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:28)”

Col. 1:17; “and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. (Colossians 1:17)”

Heb. 1:3. “who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1:3)”

b. Divine concurrence. This may be defined as that work of God by which He co-operates with all His creatures and causes them to act precisely as they do. It implies that there are real secondary causes in the world, such as the powers of nature and the will of man, and asserts that these do not work independently of God. God works in every act of His creatures, not only in their good but also in their evil acts. He stimulates them to action, accompanies their action at every moment, and makes this action effective. However, we should never think of God and man as equal causes; the former is the primary, and the latter only a secondary cause. Neither should we conceive of them as each doing a part of the work like a team of horses. The same deed is in its entirety both a deed of God and a deed of man. Moreover, we should guard against the idea that this co-operation makes God responsible for man’s sinful deeds. This doctrine is based on Scripture,

Deut. 8:18; “But thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth; that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as at this day. (Deuteronomy 8:18)”

Ps. 104:20, 21, 30; “20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night, Wherein all the beasts of the forest creep forth. 21 The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God. …30 Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground. (Psalms 104:20-21,30)”

Amos 3:6; “Shall the trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid? shall evil befall a city, and Jehovah hath not done it? (Amos 3:6)”

Matt. 5:45; “that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)”

10:29; “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: (Matthew 10:29)”

Acts 14:17; “And yet He left not himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17)”

Phil. 2:13. “for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)”

c. Divine government. This is the continued activity of God whereby He rules all things so that they answer to the purpose of their existence. God is represented as King of the universe both in the Old and in the New Testament. He adapts His rule to the nature of the creatures which He governs; His government of the physical world differs from that of the spiritual world. It is universal,

Ps. 103:19; “Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens; And his kingdom ruleth over all. (Psalms 103:19)”

Dan. 4:34, 35, “34 And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation. 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? (Daniel 4:34-35)”

includes the most insignificant things,

Matt. 10:29-31, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: 30 but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-30)”

and that which is seemingly accidental,

Prov. 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah. (Proverbs 16:33)”

and bears on both the good and the evil deeds of man, Phil. 2:13; “for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)”

Gen. 50:20; “And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20)”

Acts 14:16. “who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways. (Acts 14:16)”

Misconceptions of Divine Providence

In the doctrine of providence we should guard against two misconceptions:

a. The Deistic conception. This is to the effect that God’s concern with the world is of the most general nature. He created the world, established its laws, set it in motion, and then withdrew from it. He wound it up like a clock, and now lets it run off. It is only when something goes wrong that He interferes with its regular operation. God is only a God afar off.

b. The Pantheistic conception. Pantheism does not recognize the distinction between God and the world. It identifies the two, and therefore leaves no room for providence in the proper sense of the word. There are, strictly speaking, no such things as secondary causes. God is the direct author of all that transpires in the world. Even the acts which we ascribe to man are really acts of God. God is only a God that is near, and not a God afar off.

Extraordinary Providences or Miracles

We distinguish between general and special providences, and among the latter the miracles occupy an important place. A miracle is a supernatural work of God, that is a work which is accomplished without the mediation of secondary causes. If God sometimes apparently uses secondary causes in the production of miracles, He employs them in an unusual way, so that the work Is after all supernatural. Some regard miracles as impossible, because they involve a violation of the laws of nature.

But this is a mistake. The so-called laws of nature merely represent God’s usual method of working. And the fact that God generally works according to a definite order does not mean that He cannot depart from this order, and cannot without violating or disturbing it bring about unusual results. Even man can lift up his hand and throw a ball into the air in spite of the law of gravitation and without in any way disturbing its operation. Surely, this is not impossible for the omnipotent God. The miracles of the Bible are means of revelation.

Num. 16:28; “And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that Jehovah hath sent me to do all these works; for [I have] not [done them] of mine own mind. (Numbers 16:28)”

Jer. 32:20; “who didst set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, even unto this day, both in Israel and among [other] men; and madest thee a name, as at this day; (Jeremiah 32:20)”

John 2:11; “This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him. (John 2:11)”

5:36. “But the witness which I have is greater than [that of] John; for the works which the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. (John 5:36)”

*This is an excerpt from the book, Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof (1873-1957).

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