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Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1-Chapter 25-The Providence of God (Concluded)

CHAPTER 25-THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD (Concluded)

In the preceding chapter we sought to define and explain Divine Providence, and to show that God is reigning in every place and over every thing.

God rested from His work of creation, not because He was tired, but because He was satisfied with His work and could pronounce everything good. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (#Ge 2:1-2). His rest did not mean cessation from work, but satisfaction with His work. Since creation He has been at work in sustaining and administering the affairs of His creation. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (#Col 1:17); “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (#Heb 1:3); “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (#Eph 1:11).

THE TWO ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED

If God is not running the world, it is either because He does not wish to or because He is not able to. Let us examine these two alternatives separately.

1. If God does not wish to run the world it means that He has lost interest in it, and the world may be considered an abandoned project. To such a premise no believer can subscribe. The voice of Scripture is against such an idea. God would not give His Son to die for a world He had no interest in.

2. The view that God is not able to run the world is also unreasonable in the light of Scripture. We believe, however, this to be the position many people take, and it is because they do not know or do not believe in the God of the Bible. How often we hear people talk about God trying to do this and trying to do that! This view puts God in the position of a boy with a pair of runaway horses. Any boy who has had horses to run away with him knows what a feeling of helplessness came over him. Now the Scriptures do not at all, in any sense, represent God as distracted and helpless. “He is able,” is the happy refrain of Scripture.

The three Hebrew worthies, when facing the wrath of a heathen king, said: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (#Da 3:17).

“And when he (Darius) came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” (#Da 6:20). And from the den of lions, Daniel answered and said, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt” (#Da 6:22).

To those Jews who thought natural kinship to Abraham was all they needed, the Lord Jesus said, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (#Mt 3:9).

To the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul said, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (#Ac 20:32).

James tells us that: “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (#Jas 4:12).

In beautiful benediction Jude says; “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (#Jude 1:24,25).

Either of the two alternatives makes prayer useless. There is no use praying to a God who has no interest in His creation, nor to a God who is helpless to deliver us.

HOW IS GOD GOVERNING THE WORLD?

In running the world God is not openly and publicly manifesting Himself. He is running the world in Providence and Providence is secret and mysterious.

1. In running the world God is giving the devil an opportunity to reveal himself and to show what he would do if he could. What would the devil do if he were able? He would do exactly what he has tried to do. He has tried to usurp the place and prerogatives of God in government. In the long ago, he said, “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north” (#Isa 14:13). Satan was perhaps the most beautiful and most exalted being in the original creation. If anybody should have been satisfied with his place and position it was he. But he was lifted up with pride because of his beauty and craved more authority. He had a lust for power and sought to seize the reins of government in his own hands.

2. In Providence God is allowing man to reveal himself and show what he would do if he had the power. What has man tried to do? He has followed the example of Satan and has tried to be like God in the matter of authority. In the garden of Eden there were two trees which stood as symbols of two very important truths. There was the tree of life, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (#Ge 3:22). symbolizing the truth that man is not self sufficient, that he is dependent upon God for everything; and there was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”

(#Ge 2:17), symbolizing the truth that man is not sovereign, that he is not allowed to do as he pleases, that he cannot determine for himself what is right and what is wrong, but that God’s word is to determine that. That tree stood as a solemn reminder that God is Lord of creation. God determined what Adam and Eve could have, not they themselves. God had said, You may have this, but you must not eat that. Your life and happiness will depend upon obedience to my word.

Now, Satan came into the garden and told Eve that God had lied; “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (#Ge 3:1); that the truth was, that to do what God had forbidden would mean their good, that to eat the fruit would mean opened eyes (eyes of the understanding), so that they could know for themselves what was right and what was wrong. They would no longer be tied to God’s word about the question of good and evil. He told Eve they would become as gods, knowing (determining) what is good and what is evil.

We are told that Eve was deceived by Satan. She believed his lie and trespassed on God’s authority. She believed that great benefit would come from eating the forbidden fruit. Here is the divine record of the first human sin: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (#Ge 3:6). From this simple but tragic story we get a definition of sin. Sin is entering into competition with God for authority. John says that sin is the transgression of the law of God, and the law of God is His word on any and every subject. Sin is setting God’s word aside as the law of my life, and doing what I please. After the fatal step had been taken by Adam and Eve, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know (determine) good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:” (#Ge 3:22). This can only mean that man had become like God in spirit and aim. He had the spirit of independency and aimed to compete with God for sovereignty and do that which was right in his own eyes; moreover, he would determine for himself what was right.

How often we hear some person ask, “What is the harm of it?” or say, “I do not see any harm in it,” when the thing referred to is expressly forbidden in God’s Word. Why was it wrong for Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Only because God had said “thou shalt not eat of it.” What harm was there in Moses striking the rock at Kadesh? It was wrong only because God had told him to speak to the rock. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.. .And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (#Nu 20:7,8,11). What was wrong with Uzzah putting forth his hand to stay the ark, and keep it from falling off the cart? “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (#2Sa 6:6-7). It was wrong only because God had said that only the priests were to carry the ark, and no human hands were to touch it. What was the harm of King Saul sparing Agag, and the best of the sheep when he destroyed the Amalekites? “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (#1Sa 15:9). It was wrong only because God had commanded otherwise. And so when Saul offered the excuse that he had saved the sheep and oxen to sacrifice unto the Lord, “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (#1Sa 16:22). Insofar as assigning any reason for them, many of God’s commandments are arbitrary, that is, they have their source in the sovereign pleasure of God. To be sure, God has a reason for all He commands, but as an absolute Sovereign He is under no necessity to make them known to His creatures.

PROVIDENCE IS PREVENTIVE

In governing the world God prevents much sin which would otherwise be committed. When we think about the awful amount of sin, and the terrible degree to which sin has gone, and the awful effects of sin, we are apt to think that it would be impossible to draw any more or any worse sins from the heart, the fountain of sin. But God does exert a restraining influence on the wicked so that they do not commit all the sins possible to them. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (#Ps 76:10). To Abimelech He said, “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (#Ge 20:6). If this heathen king had been left to his own heart’s lust, he would have harmed Sarah. A young man, holding an important position and handling much money, was tempted to take a large sum with seemingly no danger of detection; it would be the perfect crime. But on the very day he planned to take the money he found a card on his desk, saying “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (#Mt 6:19). He was stopped cold in his plan, and always regarded the incident as an act of Providence to keep him from taking the money. And, no doubt, the reader as well as the writer can think of times when he, too, was restrained from executing the designs of his heart.

PROVIDENCE IS PERMISSIVE

God permits sinful men to manifest the evil of their hearts. In #2Ch 32:31, we are told that God left Hezekiah: “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” In #Ps 81:12,13, we find God speaking concerning Israel: “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!.” Also: “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (#Ac 14:16); “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (#Ro 1:24,28). A woman, who had been slandered, protested when told that God had permitted it for her good. She maintained that Satan had inspired her accuser. But she needed to learn that God had permitted the work of Satan.

PROVIDENCE IS DIRECTIVE

God directs the sinful acts of evil men to the accomplishment of His own purpose. When God permits the evil in the human heart to come out, He directs its flow in one direction rather than another for the fulfillment of His purpose. In this way sinful acts of men become the holy acts of God. Joseph’s brethren sinned in selling him into slavery, but because of an overruling Providence, he could and did say to them: “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (#Ge 45:8). That which made their act a sinful act was their motive. Joseph says to them again: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (#Ge 50:20).

PROVIDENCE IS DETERMINATIVE

God determines the bounds reached by the evil passions of His creatures and the measure of their affects. God set the bounds to which Satan could go in afflicting Job. “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (#Job 1:12). And to Satan’s second challenge concerning Job, God said, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life” (#Job 2:6). This illustrates what we have in #1Co 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

THE DIVINE OBJECTIVE

What is the Divine objective or purpose in administration? To what end is God running the world? For whose pleasure and profit is the world being governed? What will be the ultimate and manifest results of God’s government?

NEGATIVELY

1. The objective in Divine Providence is not the pleasure and profit of the devil. If we take a short sighted view of the happenings of this world we might think that God is catering to the devil; that His policy toward the devil is one of appeasement. The devil does seem to have a lot of power. Peter likens him to a roaring lion in search of prey. He does seem to be enjoying much success. But look at his latter end and it will be seen that God is not governing for his pleasure and profit. Go to a farm and look at a pen of fattening hogs. It might seem that the whole farm is being run for the benefit of those hogs. They have nothing to do but eat and rest, they have all that a hog can want. But follow those same hogs to the abattoir and your view will be corrected.

2. Nor is the world being run for the good of humanity as such. God is making all things work together for the good of His people, but not for the sake of humanity as a whole. Let us face some facts: millions of people are born in poverty, live in poverty, die in poverty, and will spend eternity in the poverty of hell. And again: millions are born in sin, live in sin, die in sin, and will spend eternity in the hell of sin. We make so bold as to say, that if God is running the world for the good of humanity, He is a colossal failure. Think of the millions of young men under arms today, not of their own choosing, but because of circumstances beyond their control. God’s objective is not human happiness. If it were there would be no bombed and burning cities; there would be no wailing women, starving and crying children, bleeding and dying men on a thousand battlefields.

POSITIVELY

God is governing the world for the highest good; for the greatest and noblest objective. What is the highest good? What is the greatest objective possible? What is the most important thing in the universe? Who is the most important being in the universe? These questions will put us on the right track for the answer to our query, or search for the Divine objective.

1. The highest good is not the pleasure and profit of the devil. He is the enemy of God and of the good. He is not the most important person, and his welfare is not even a part of the Divine objective.

2. The highest good is not the welfare of the human race. Man is the acme of creation, but as compared with God “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?” (#Da 4:35). Paul, speaking of himself and Apollos as workmen of God, confessed they were nothing: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (#1Cor 3:7).

3. The highest good, the greatest possible objective in Divine government is the glory of God. We reach this conclusion by following two lines of approach: first, the duty of man, and second, the testimony of Scripture.

3a) The chief duty of man must be the same as the Divine objective. What God demands of man is equal to what He aims at in government. God would not require one thing from man and pursue another end or objective in His administration. To illustrate: Our government demands from its citizens an all out effort for victory in this war, and what the government demands from its subjects is exactly what the government has for its objective: the winning of the war. Now the chief duty of man is to glorify God. ” Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (#1Co 10:31). “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (#Col 3:23); “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (#1Co 6:20). We are to put God first in our prayers. His glory comes before our needs. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (#Mt 6:9).

3b) The Scriptures declare the Divine objective in running the world to be the glory of God. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (#Re 4:11), tells us that all things exist for the pleasure of God. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (#Ro 11:36) gives us this truth in marvelous language. Weymouth translates it like this: “For all proceeds from Him, and exists by Him, and for Him. To Him be the glory for ever! Amen.” :Dr. Robertson, in his “Word Pictures,” says, “By these three prepositions Paul ascribes the universe (ta panta) with all the phenomina concerning creation, redemption, providence to God, as the source (ex), the agent (di), the goal (eis).” He also says that Alford terms this doxology in verses 33 to 36 “the sublimest apostrophe existing even in the pages of inspiration itself.”

God is the one and only person in all the universe who has the right to act for His own glory. His glory is the rule of all His actions, and His glory is the rule of human conduct. Yes, the chief duty of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Salvation is not primarily for our good, but for His glory. In #Eph 1:6 we read, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,”. And in Eph. 1:11,12: “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” God is saving sinners that He might exhibit the trophies of His grace to an onlooking universe in the ages to come: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (#Eph 2:7).

If the writer knows his heart at all, there are two things he is eminently satisfied with. First, he is satisfied with what Jesus Christ did at Calvary, when He put away the guilt of our sins by the sacrifice of Himself. We are satisfied with it because we believe God was satisfied with it. We own no theory of the atonement except the “satisfaction theory,” by whatever name it may be called. Second, we are satisfied with the providence of God in our life. The road has not always been plain nor pleasant, but we believe His way has been profitable for us.

“God holds the key If all unknown,
And I am glad,
And I am glad.
If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad,
I might be sad.

“What if tomorrow’s cares were here
Without its rest,
Without its rest?
I’d rather He’d unlock the day,
And, as the hours swing open, say,
My will be best,
My will be best.

“The very dimness of my sight
Makes me secure,
Makes me secure.
For, groping in my misty way,
I feel His hand; I hear Him say,
My help is sure,
My help is sure.

“I cannot read His future plan,
But this I know,
But this I know:
I have the smiling of His face,
And all the refuge of His grace,
While here below,
While here below.

“Enough this covers all my need,
And so I rest,
And so I rest;
For, where I cannot, He can see,
And in His care I safe shall be,
Forever blest,
Forever blest.”

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1

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Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1-Chapter 24-The Providence of God

CHAPTER 24-THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

Polytheism, Tritheism, Dualism, Monotheism, and Atheism are religious terms to express the varying beliefs of humanity about God. Polytheism is the doctrine of many gods; tritheism is the belief that there are three gods; dualism is the teaching that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing forces or principles; monotheism is the belief in one God; and atheism is the teaching that there is no God at all. These varying beliefs witness to the sad fact of human depravity, and prove that the human mind is in a state of darkness concerning the true God. If I, myself, were not a Christian with the Bible, I would probably be a dualist. I look about me and see a world of conflict. I see two opposing forces, one good and the other evil. Or I might be an atheist as a result of pure reason, for there really seems to be no Supreme Being. Nobody appears to be in control, but there seems to be many powers competing for dominion. On every hand when people begin to reason, independent of the Scriptures, they ask, If there is a God, who is good and almighty, why does He allow things to be as they are? Why does He not triumph over evil? Why does He not kill the devil? Why does He not stop this war? and so on, ad infinitum.

The Christian believes what he does because he has the Bible and a certain inward experience. And God is the Author of both. The Bible is God’s objective or external revelation, and the experience is God’s subjective or internal revelation. The Bible without this inward experience (truth in the inward parts) will not make one a Christian. On the other hand a religious experience which is out of harmony with the Bible is both false and dangerous. Saul of Tarsus was religious long before he became a Christian, and thought that he ought to do many things contrary to Jesus Christ. People may be subject to evil spirits as well as to the Holy Spirit. Paul judged the Thessalonians to be the elect of God, :”For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake” (#1Th 1:5). As a Christian with the Bible, I am a monotheist, a believer in the one true and living God who is absolutely supreme. The monotheistic religions are the Jewish, the Mohammedan, and the Christian, and all three have at least a part of the Bible. Thus it appears that no people will be monotheistic without the Bible. Man is a religious being by intuition, but he is not a believer in one God by intuition. The idea of one God is a revealed doctrine, found only in the Bible. The cultured and educated Athenians of Paul’s day believed in a plurality of gods. And many of the self styled intelligentsia of this century have gone to the opposite extreme and contend there is no God at all. So without the Bible and a God wrought experience men range in their beliefs all the way from many gods to no God.

WHO IS RUNNING THIS WORLD?

There are four distinct views of the happenings of this world, four theories of how things come to pass. There is the view that things come to pass according to a fixed law, called the law of nature. Those who hold this view are rationalists, and refuse to believe anything that cannot be explained on natural grounds. Their so-called faith is the result of looking through a microscope or examining a test tube. Then there is the view that things happen by a sort of chance. According to this view there is nothing fixed or certain; one thing is as likely to happen as another. There is the third position that everything comes to pass by a cold, impersonal force called fate. And finally there is the Christian view that things come to pass by the Providence of God. According to this view the Creator is also the Administrator.

DEFINITION

Providence may be defined as God’s government of His creation. The government of God in the affairs of the world is a subject of deep importance to the Christian, for by proper views of Providence the believer will learn to look for and will be able to see God’s hand and heart in all his experiences. He will not talk like the uncircumcised Philistine when they said, “it was a chance that happened to us” (#1Sa 6:9); but with Job “And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (#Job 1:21).

God is not idle. The Savior said, “My Father worketh hitherto and I work” (#Joh 5:17). God is the one person always on the job. He is not like the football squad that must take time out to rest and plan the next day. He is not like the tired farmer who must sleep and eat to recuperate strength for another days work. He is not like the prize fighter who must go to hi corner between rounds to be worked over and patched up. Our God knows nothing of weariness and emergencies. “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding” (#Isa 40:28). He is never at wits end; He always knows what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it. He is the one and only person qualified to govern and control His creation.

There are a lot of people who might think that God is doing a bad job in governing this world. Men might propose a lot of changes. Some may think the present situation calls for a new deal. Some might suggest that God kill the devil, and put men like Hitler and other war lords out of the way and replace them with peace loving men. If God is the Almighty and in control, He could easily do any one or all of these things. But He will not be dictated to; “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (#Eph 1:11).

If God its not running this world, who is? If we judge by sight, by appearances, we might think the devil is running things. From another view it appears that the politicians are in command; or, since there are so many “rackets” in the world, it might seem that the racketeer are in the saddle. There is no doubt but that Hitler meant to rule this world, and make all countries contribute to his personal glory, and to the good of his so called superior race. Obviously there is a lot of competition among men for positions of authority. The lust for power is everywhere evident. Now it is freely admitted that Satanic and human agencies have their place and do their work, but over and above all, God is on the throne, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (#Ps 76:10). Men rule; God overrules. Men turn; God overturns.

If He who created the world is not running it, why isn’t He? It must be either because He does not want to, or is unable to. The thinking man will have to admit that God is running the world; otherwise He has either lost interest in it or control over it. Men manufacture articles and lose control over them. A man may be killed in an airplane he builds. He may be poisoned by a medicine he compounds. A mother may be disgraced by a daughter or son born to her. But God is in no danger from His creation. He cannot be disgraced by His creatures, while all who oppose Him will sooner or later find themselves in disgrace and forever ruined.

THE KIND OF WORLD GOD IS RUNNING

It will help us to understand and appreciate Divine Providence if we will take a look at the world God is governing. It has a devil in it, and the devil is more popular with the citizens of this world than is God the Creator. Satan is called the god of this age, and the prince of this world. In the very dawn of human history our first parents deliberately and of their own accord rebelled against the will of God and became the devil’s ally. “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (#Ge 3:8-11). They transferred their allegiance from the God of truth to the father of lies. The Lord Jesus told the hypocrites of His day that they were of their father the devil, and were doing his will. “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (#2Co 4:4).

It must be remembered that the devil operates through Divine sufferance. He is only tolerated not endorsed by God. His activities are circumscribed and ordained for Divine ends. He had to get Divine permission before he could afflict Job, “Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?..And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD” (#Job 1:9,12), or sift Peter, “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (#Lu 22:31).

The world God is running is filled with depraved men and women. Every man, apart from inwrought grace, is an enemy of God. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (#Ro 8:7). None but the born again people are lovers of the true God: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (#1Jo 4:7,8). Now listen to the lips of incarnate truth: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (#Mt 15:19,20).

The world God is running is overrun by fallen angels or demon spirits. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” (#Isa 14:12). “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;” (#2Pe 2:4). “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils” (#1Co 10:20). “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (#Eph 6:11,12).

Now we should be able to understand that God is not running this world as He would run it if there were nobody in it but good people, people in love with Him, and delight to do His will. Our prisons are not run like our children’s homes. Earth is not run like heaven, although God is running both places.

THE NATURE OF PROVIDENCE

1. IT IS MYSTERIOUS.

Everything seems to be in disorder and confusion. As we look at the world we see conflict and there seems to be no plan or order. The world appears to be one vast battle field of conflicting wills and opposing forces. There seems to be no order in the movement of bees to and from the hive, but examine the honey and you will see plan and arrangement and order. And just as bees gather their stores of sweets against a time of need, but are colonized by man for his own good; so men plan and work and yet are overruled by the infinite wisdom of God to His praise and glory.

God tells us that we cannot understand His dealings with us. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (#Ro 3:11). The psalmist says that the judgments of God are a great deep. “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast” (#Ps 36:6). Paul declares “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” (#Ro 11:33). Providence is mysterious and perplexing because the God of Providence is incomprehensible to finite minds, and therefore His ways are too deep for us to understand. We must take Him at His word and I believe that He is too wise to err, and to good to afflict His children without a reason. This is a time of perplexity and many hearts are crying out, “Why doesn’t God do something?” Well, dear heart, God is doing something, but we can’t understand His ways. We have to walk by faith that He doeth all things well. Remember, dear reader, that God keeps the key to all life’s problems.

“Is there some problem in your life to solve,
Some passage seeming full of mystery?
God knows, who brings the hidden things to sight.
He keeps the key.

“Is there some door closed by the Father’s hand
Which widely opened you had hoped to see?
Trust God and wait for when He shuts the door
He keeps the key.

“Is there some earnest prayer unanswered yet,
Or answered NOT as you had hoped ‘twould be?
God will make clear His purpose by and by.
He keeps the key.”

2. PROVIDENCE IS MINUTE.

It covers all things, little things as well as great things. Providence has been defined as God’s attention concentrated everywhere. Man is finite and has such limitations that he can only concentrate his attention on one thing and in one place; God is infinite in space and power and wisdom and can concentrate on everything in every place. His providence is microscopic as well as telescopic. God is interested in the hairs of our head, and in the fall of the little sparrow. A preacher once remarked to his congregation, that the Bible said the hairs of their heads were numbered, but he was afraid some of them did not even think their heads were numbered.

2a) God is in control of inanimate matter. Scriptures abound in illustrations of this. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (#Ge 1:3). “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so” (#Ge 1:9). At God’s word the waters of the Red Sea were divided and stood up in walls; “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left” (#Ex 14:22); at His word they came together again. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen” (#Ex 14:26). At God’s word the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up Korah and his rebellious partners. “And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation” (#Nu 16:32,33). At His word the fires of Babylon’s furnace were rendered harmless to His faithful servants. “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace” (#Da 3:19,20). The very elements are under His control. He sends the rain. “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater” (#Isa 55:10). He calls for a famine. “And the famine was sore in the land” (#Ge 43:1). He withholds the harvest, “For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest” (#Ge 45:6), or gives abundance at His will. “And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (#Ge 45:7).

2b) God has control over irrational creatures. He formed the beasts of the field and brought them to Adam to be named. “And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” (#Ge 2:20). He caused two of every unclean animal to come to Noah into the ark, to perpetuate their kind in the earth; and seven pairs of clean beasts, that Noah might have sufficient for sacrifice. “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth…There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah” (#Ge 7:2-3,9.) God’s control over irrational life was manifested in the plagues visited upon Egypt. “And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (#Ex 7:21). At His biddings swarms of flies invaded the homes of the Egyptians, “And the LORD did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies” (#Ex 8:24), while none came into the homes of the Israelites. “And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be” (#Ex 8:23). At His will Egypt was plagued with frogs and locusts. Daniel was cast into the den of lions, “Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee” (#Da 6:16), but God locked their jaws and Daniel was not devoured. “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt” (#Da 6:22). God opened the mouth of the ass to rebuke Baalam. “And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” (#Nu 22:28). Jonah did not want to be a foreign missionary, so he took a ship to Tarshish; “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD” (#Jon 1:3). God sent a great wind that rocked the boat, “But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken” (#Jon 1:4), and when the sailors threw Jonah overboard, “So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging” (#Jon 1:15). God had a big fish ready for Jonah. “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (#Jon 1:17). He caused the fish to vomit up Jonah just as it reached the shore. “And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (#Jon 2:10). At God’s will the cock crowed three times just when the Lord told Peter it would. “Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (#Mt 26:34). “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (#Ps 103:19).

2c) God’s control extends to men, all men, both good and bad. We have no trouble in seeing that God is in control of the good; “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (#Jas 1:17). The difficult thing for many is to see that He reigns everywhere; “And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (#1Sa 8:7); that He is in control over the wicked as well as the good. God allows sin because He is able to overrule it for His own glory. God is not the author of sin, but He is the Controller and Director of it. Augustine has a very helpful word on this point:

“Men’s sin proceeds from themselves; that in sinning they perform this or that action, is from God who divideth the darkness according to His pleasure.”

God is not the causative force, but the directing force in the sins of men. Men are rebellious, but are not out from under the control of God. God’s decrees are not the necessitating cause of the sins of men, but the foredetermined and prescribed boundings and directings of men’s sinful acts. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (#Ac 2:22,23). An English brother, Percy W. Heward, puts the truth clearly. He says:

“The wishes of sin are the wishes of man; Man is guilty; man is to be blamed. But the all wise God prevents those wishes from producing actions indiscriminately. He compels those wishes to take a certain Divinely narrowed course. The floods of iniquity are from the hearts of men, but they are not allowed to cover the land; they are shut up to the channel of God’s sovereign appointment, and men unwittingly are thus held in bounds, so that not one iota of God’s purpose shall fail. He brings the floods of the ungodly into the channel of His providence to turn the mill of His purpose.”

A PRACTICAL AND COMFORTING DOCTRINE

It is a joy to know that God, our Heavenly Father, is ruling this world. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (#Ro 8:28). This truth would not be possible were He not in control. He can and does assure His children that all things work together for their good;

“The world is wide in time and tide, and God is guide;
Then do not hurry.

“The man is blest who does his best, and leaves the rest;
Then do not worry.”

Let us take another illustration: Here is a farmer who has an artesian well on his place, a huge stream of water that will ruin his place if left alone to spread itself over the farm. There must be a channel for that water to flow through or it must be capped and the water checked. This well can be made an asset if the water can be controlled. He decides to make a channel for that water; he will control it and make that which would injure him to serve him. So he runs a pipe line from that well to his house and with the turn of a faucet he gets water for cooking and drinking and bath. He runs another line to the barn and with the turn of a spigot waters hundreds of cattle and hogs. He runs another line to his grove and keeps it in excellent condition in time of drought. Wherever he needs water he runs a line to it from that well. Now, the human heart is an artesian well of sin. If God did not control it, it would destroy His purpose and overthrow His government. So He makes it run through channels of His purpose. And that which He does not turn to His glory, He holds back. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (#Ps 76:10).

One pipe line from the well of sin ran to Calvary. Human sin is seen at its worst when wicked men nailed the Lord of glory to the tree of the cross. And yet God’s purpose was fulfilled. The death of God’s sinless Son required a terrible amount of sin, but the carnal mind that hates God was equal to it. So God turned human hatred in that direction. He fixed all the details about the death of Christ. “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (#Isa 53:1-12). He was to be crucified between two wicked men. “Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (#Joh 19:18). His garments were to be divided among the soldiers, His vesture was to be the prize in gambling, “And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots” (#Mt 27:35). “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (#Ps 22:18). He was to be given vinegar with gall to drink, “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink” (#Mt 27:34). His bones were not to be broken and it all came to pass just as it had been Divinely planned and predicted. “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (#Ac 4:27,28). What a motley and mighty crowd! And yet all they could do was what God had predestinated to be done.

Yes, dear child of God, our Father rules. Our times are in His hand, so that we can say with the poet:

“Yes, leave it with Him;
The lilies all do,
And they grow
They grow in the rain,
And they grow in the dew
Yes, they grow:
They grow in the darkness, all hid in the night
They grew in the sunshine, revealed by the light
Still, they grow.

“Yes, leave it with Him,
‘Tis more dear to His heart,
You will know,
Than the lilies that bloom,
Or the flowers that start
‘Neath the snow:
Whatever you need, if you seek it in prayer,
You can leave it with Him, for you are His care
You, you know.”

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1

Chapter 21-Providence

Providence

INTIMATELY associated with the doctrine of Creation is that of Providence, which is, however, a distinct method of Divine activity. By acts of Creation, God brings into existence the things which he makes, and confers upon them their respective natures, qualities, properties, modes of existence, and laws of being, thought and action. By acts of Providence, he simply preserves these creations, or permits or causes decay or change in them, to such an extent, and within such limits as he has purposed; and, at the same time, in fulfillment of like purpose, he directs, controls and guides them in accordance with the natures he has given them, and the laws he has imposed upon them.

Providence is also closely allied to Predestination or Purpose; but the distinction between these two is also equally clear. The Purpose of God in his predetermined plan as to what shall be done in his creation by himself or by others. It fixes the events which shall happen, and the methods and agency by which they will take place. But Providence is the actual doing, or permitting the things purposed, and securing their ends thus designed. The purpose also is formed in eternity; the providential acts are performed in time.

But, despite these very obvious distinctions, Providence has been confounded both with the Purpose and Creation; some holding that there is no other Providence except what is involved in Purpose; and others going to the other extreme, and maintaining that Providence is after all only a continual creation, and that there is no other connection between antecedent and consequent events than exists in the Divine efficiency giving every moment renewed existence by acts of direct creative power. Each of these views is opposed to reason and Scripture, which teach that there is a divine efficiency operating in this world differing in many respects essentially from that exercised in creation. This efficiency is displayed both in the preservation and government of the universe, and of the things which are contained within it.

 

I. PROVIDENTIAL EFFICIENCY NOW OPERATING

1. In presenting the proof that providential efficiency is now operating in the world, it is natural that attention should be called to the almost universal belief in the providential action and care of God. This is based upon the same feeling of self-dependence in man to which reference has been made in the proofs of the existence of God. It is the witness to us which God gives, not only that he exists, but that he supports and sustains us in every moment of being.

2. A second proof may be drawn from the world about us. Every argument it has afforded for the being of a God becomes equally conclusive of his providential care. The argument from causation, in tracing back all causes to some being who has the cause of his existence in himself, forces us to find in the present efficiency of such a being, the final ground for all things that now occur. That from design leads us constantly to trace the purpose God has had in view in each event of life, and thus proclaims the presence and efficiency of him who is seen to be working out, even now, the purpose he has eternally formed. Moreover, the evidence that the world now affords that it is not self-existent and independent, proves the presence and efficient energy of one upon whom it depends for the properties, qualities and life of its varied forms, and for their continued existence.

3. The fact, which we have learned, of a creation out of nothing, shows that the whole universe exists only through the will and power of God. Since it could only thus come into being, so it could only remain in being. Any contrary doctrine could only be held by those who deny a creation out of nothing. The history of philosophical opinions shows that this is true. The doctrine of Providence has only been denied by those who have believed in the eternity of matter. It is possible to conceive, in the absence of other proofs to the contrary, that, as man constructed machines, and leave them to work through the laws of nature, so, if nature were self-existent and eternal, and if it possessed of itself all its attributes and qualities, the mere fact that God has given it form would not necessitate his continued presence; he would be acting then, as man does, in subordination to, and in the use of the properties and qualities of matter. But, God may use these things in matter, he does not use them in personal subordination to their properties and qualities; but as himself the sovereign lord. He has given these qualities. He could take them away. He could counteract them. He can destroy them. They exist only because he wills and causes. But such “will” and “causes” is only his providential operation by which he preserves them, and uses them, as their Lord, for his own purpose. His is the exercise of present divine efficiency in them and through them.

4. The nature of God himself also furnishes indubitable testimony to his providential operations. These arise in opposite directions; from the limitations of his nature on the one hand, and its infinity on the other. As heretofore seen, there are some things which God cannot do. He cannot do impossibilities. He cannot confer his own incommunicable attributes upon another. This limitation arises from the fact that he is God, and beside him there can be none else. It is this limitation which makes it possible to create a world which shall be self-existent and independent, and which, as being such, will not need his efficient action for its support and care. To do so would be to confer on it his own nature.

On the other hand, the illimitable nature of God’s attributes makes it impossible that he should not be efficiently present always with his creation. His omnipresence does not simply make him capable of being everywhere. He cannot be absent from his creation. He cannot withdraw himself even if he will. His knowledge of all events within his creation is also necessity of his being. He cannot be ignorant of them if he would. The fact that he does not know of the existence of anything is of itself not only a proof that it does not exist, but that it cannot exist. Because of his goodness also he must wish the happiness of his creatures, and must make provision for that happiness. This arises not from any obligation to them, but from another necessity of his nature. He must be benevolently good. He must beneficently bestow wherever there are objects for such bestowal. the omnipresence, infinite knowledge and goodness of the Almighty God, therefore, render necessary his providential care over his creation. There can be but one thing that can hinder this benevolent care, and that is sin, which, by demanding the punitive exercise of God’s justice, may change into punishment and misery that which otherwise would be happiness and joy. But this, so far from destroying providence, only introduces God as providentially acting in the form of government also, instead of preservation alone. He does not withdraw himself because of this sin. He is still present with the sinner. He continues to know his ways. He exercises providential care, and even sends blessings still upon him. He modifies his action only to correspond with the modified relation sin has introduced. Therefore, as the ruler and governor of the universe, he inflicts the punishment which sin has made necessary. Sin alone has brought into existence this restraining and punishing rule and government. But for it all would be merged into that fatherly care which seeks only to bless, and protect, and guide. The fact that there would be rewards does not prove any other kind of government; for the rewards of God are, after all, but gracious gifts, utterly undeserved, in no respect due except as sovereign bounties, and given under no obligation than arises from his own truth which binds him to his purposes and leads him to fulfill his promises.

5. The Scriptures abound in testimony to God’s providential efficiency in the world. It is given in every imaginable form. General statements are made, as in Nehemiah 9:6, where the Lord is said to have made the heavens and their hosts, and the earth and seas and all that is therein, and to preserve them. Specific rule is declared over all the phenomena of nature, such as over clouds, wind rain, hail, snow, ice, cold, frost, thunder, lightning, storm, earthquakes, and all other natural events; many of which, formerly deemed accidental, are now seen to be governed by inexorable laws of God. The beasts of the field, and the birds of the air are said top be carefully watched over by him. It is even he that clothes the flowers with their beauty by encircling them with his own shining garment of light. But men are his special care. he provides the food of their bodies, and in a peculiar way watches and rules over their souls and lives. This he does with respect to the wicked as well as the hood. His care extends to individuals, to families, to nations, and throughout the world. It appears not in great events only, but in those exceeding small, even to the numbering of the hairs of each one’s head. So minute is the supervision asserted, that some have even thought that the language of Scripture partakes of hyperbole. But the investigations of the microscope have shown that even to the insects the most minute and invisible to the human eye has God given most beauteous forms and perfect outward coverings. His creative care has therefore descended to the things most minute. Thus has the way been opened to the belief that the Scriptures even cannot tell us how minute is the providential care which God is now exercising over his whole creation.

 

II. PROVIDENCE IS NOT CONTINUOUS CREATION.

The evidences of continuous divine action within the world have been so manifest that they may have been led to the opposite extreme of deeming them actually renewed at every moment.

So far as the intention has been to magnify the extent and individual number of the providential acts of God, there is no especial harm in thus loosely talking of them as continuous creations. It might be well said that the power necessary to continue all things in existence is as great as that which would bring them each moment out of nothingness into existent life; and that the particularity with which each of these innumerable existences is looked after and cared for is as minute as if each were at the moment endowed with existence, nature, qualities and powers. So long as we look at the mere glory to God’s creative energy and power, there appears no other objection to the term continuous creation than its loose inaccuracy. But, viewed in other aspects, this doctrine is seen to be not only inaccurate and false, but extremely dangerous.

1. It takes away all the relation of cause and effect. No cause and its effects can have any relation to each other if both be separate creations of God. The former is not productive of the latter, nor the latter the result of the former. The one is not a cause, nor the other an effect. But if this be true, what confidence can we have in any of the phenomena of nature? I determine to accomplish some end. I put forth the energy I perceive necessary. The end is attained. I believe it to be due to my action and purpose. But, according to this theory, the result is an act of God which occurs at the moment. It is not my action. It is not the result of my effort or power, but it is only something which God creates and which seems to have a connection with my purpose and effort, but has not. All reality is thus taken from life. If I find that I am mistaken here, I can have neither belief not confidence in anything. If there be no real cause here, then my mind deceives me when it urges me to seek a cause for all things, and not to rest, as to the universe, except in the belief of an uncaused First Cause. The tendency of such a theory is, therefore, to actual atheism. It seems to begin with a most credulous confidence in the Almighty, only to end in absolute disbelief of everything.

2. It leads to the acceptance of essential pantheism, if it does not drive to actual atheism. Every efficiency here is God himself acting. It is he that everywhere is alone the actor. The phenomena which accompany his actions are only phantoms, not realities. The acorn is not the fruit of the tree. It is his direct production. It is a new creation of his hands. When it is planted, it is neither the acorn, nor the soil, nor the seasons, nor the air, nor anything else which causes a tree to come forth and grow. It is God, who at each moment makes a new creation different from what has preceded, though apparently its successor. God thus becomes the animating soul of the universe, and acts in it as the souls of men do in their bodies.

3. It absolutely takes away all responsibility for sinful acts, and all virtue in those that are holy. These are no longer the acts of the individual. He is deceived when he thinks that he wills them or does them. There are no actions but those of god. Besides, there is no one to be responsible. If the creation is a new one at each moment, the creature who did the act is gone. There is no one to be punished. The curious phenomenon of multiplied contradictions is therefore presented here. There is no action of a man, for it is God that has acted. There is no man that has acted, because the one before us is another creation; and while we have been speaking, he too has disappeared, and another has taken his place. The deed has no character in its relation to man; for the man has not done it. God alone is responsible for it; for it is his act alone, into which has flowed neither the will, nor the power, nor the purpose, nor the activity of man, but only those of God.

4. It takes away all the evidences of outward creation, and introduces pure idealism. We believe in an outward creation because of the effects which, through the sense, it produces upon our minds. But, if everything is a direct creation, these impressions on our minds are themselves direct creations made by God, and not by the outward world. They give no evidence, therefore, of the existence of anything except of God and of the individual who is conscious of receiving them. If they come from God alone, there is no necessity for something outwardly corresponding to them. God and each individual, therefore, may be all that exists. Certainly they are all of the existence of which any one can have any knowledge.

 

III. THE METHOD OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE.

It is impossible for us to comprehend, much less to explain, the manner of God’s providential action. We know no more of this than the manner in which he created. Ignorance of the method of either action is, however, no reason for believing that it does not exist. We, who cannot tell how our own spirits act upon and through our own bodies, may well accept the fact of the action of the universal Spirit, as everywhere operating, though much of the mysterious and incomprehensible is therein involved. A few statements may however be made, upon this subject, of facts which may be known.

1. That this action is universal. It is not limited to certain kinds of creation, but extends to all.

2. That it is not the same on each but accords with the nature of which is governed. The action upon the material universe is more purely mechanical, and governed by the operation of physical law. So far as life of any kind, whether vegetable, animal, or spiritual, is connected with. or composed of matter, these mechanical laws must also be actively enforced. But we know not how far even vegetable life is inseparable from mere mechanical law. Certainly not entirely so, since it is also dependent in some degrees upon the action of voluntary force and labor in man, who is an instrument under God of such life. In animal life we have the phenomena of instinct, as well as of self-acting and voluntary powers. The providence of God must here differ from its relation to mere material substances which are inert, and without senses, or volitions. But we can form no idea of the nature of the specific action thus rendered necessary. In man the providential action of God is further complicated by the extent of his reasoning powers, by the freedom of his will, by his self-control over his affections, by his original capacity to do right or wrong, and especially by his fallen condition. The most difficult problems as to God’s providence naturally arise here. That we cannot solve them does not disprove providence. That the action of providence is in accord with the nature of man, and is consonant with the holiness, justice, and goodness of God, we feel assured. It is well for us to rest in such assurances in matters which we cannot penetrate. It is wise always to recognize that God acts according to his nature, in acting upon all things according to theirs. His own character, therefore, must characterize his actions, which must consequently be holy, just, wise, and good.

3. God’s action must, therefore, accord with the free agency of man. Free agency belongs to the nature of an intelligent moral creature. He must have freedom of choice, or he would not be responsible for his action. The very essence of responsibility consists in the power of contrary action, had one so pleased. God’s providential action cannot, therefore, be such as to destroy man’s freedom of will, or the power of this contrary choice.

But this does not forbid the use of inducements to any specific action, nor the placing of man in circumstances which would influence, or control his acts. Were these influences compulsory, so as to force to action against his will, the freedom of man would be destroyed, and with it responsibility. But, wherever they are only persuasive, so as to lead him to delight in, or to choose a specific course of action, through his own good pleasure, liberty is preserved, and man is accountable for his choice. The providential influences of God are of this nature only. Experience so teaches, and the Scriptures so declare. Man is conscious, at every moment, that his act was the outcome of his own good pleasure. We could have no stronger proof that God has providentially acted in accordance only with our nature, except the word of God himself. This testimony is added, when he not only ascribes our sinful acts to our own will, but declares that he holds man responsible, and will punish him for them.

4. God may, however, originate action in man, by producing some such change as is the result of the exercise of direct power. The man may be conscious of this fact, and may feel assured that this change is not due to himself. In other ways, also, God may directly introduce controlling influences which forcibly originate new purposes in man, and so direct his will, that it finds that which is pleasing to itself far different from the past. But this action of God is of the nature of creative acts, and not of providential. The Scripture so speaks of them, and it may be doubted whether they belong to the realm of providence. Thus the words “creation,” and “creature,” are constantly applied to those who are vitally connected with Christ, because of the new heart which God has given, and of their renewal in the image of God.

But whether these acts are to be regarded as creative only, or as providential also, it is evident that in them the restrictions, arising from his nature, as to creative acts, appear. The compulsion is towards holiness, not towards sin. The new heart is one fitted for God’s service, and it loves him, and desires to obey his statutes. He could not change a heart of holiness to one of sin, without its own voluntary action, any more than he could create a sinful being. He cannot directly tempt to sin, any more than he could make a man with original sin. His own righteous and holy nature is the guaranty of this, and forbids that he should act otherwise.

5. We are thus led to perceive what is the method of God’s providential action as to the sins of men, and what are his relations to them.

One question as to his connection with sin no man can answer, namely, why he has allowed its existence at all. We can have no doubt that he could have prevented it. He can do anything not contrary to his own nature; and in that nature can be found no necessity for its existence. We can, however, see many ends which he has had in view in allowing it in his universe. But with all this, with our present knowledge of his will, we are compelled to confess that we cannot tell why he saw that it was better to admit than to exclude it.

On the other hand, however, no reason can be justly given why he should not have done so when he so purposed. There is nothing in its existence which makes him its author or shows any unholy action on his part in its introduction. Nor is there any evidence of any lack of power to prevent its origination, nor of any want of benevolent love to his creatures in permitting it.

Of the origin of sin in the universe our information is very meagre. We have already seen this as to the fall of angels. That of man, to be hereafter considered, gives us little information beyond as few facts. But, even in these brief statements, we are taught explicitly that sin is not due to any creative act of God, but that it came into existence entirely under his providential government. The dealings of God with it, at present under that providence, show the truth of the above statements. The Scriptures and our own experience are the sources of our information. From these we learn:

(1.) That sin exists only in accordance with the purpose of God. Had he not seen fit, it could never have appeared in the universe. Its presence proceeds from no necessity of his nature, nor from any antagonistic power which he could not resist.

(2.) It cannot occur at any time nor in any form without his permission. While he does not actively originate it, he holds such absolute control over it that no single event in connection with it can take place without his permission.

(3.) It cannot attain any end, however naturally operative towards it, which he has not designed shall be attained.

(4.) It cannot go any further than the limits he has assigned.

(5.) Through it he works out his own righteous purpose, and not the sinful designs of those who are committing the sin which he thus overrules.

(6.) In any one act the ends of himself and the sinner may greatly differ.

(7.) Likewise the same act may be sinful in the sinner, and not sinful in God. This is due to the difference of relations borne to persons and things by God and man. God has supreme control over life and property. Man has not. God may take away life or property by the hand of the assassin or the thief. He only does what it is his right to do. But it is sin in the man through whom he acts, because he has not the right to either of these things.

(8.) The sinful actions of men may be sinful, either from the motives which prompt them, the ends in view, or the means by which they are accomplished. God may concur in such acts, from motives, with ends, and in the use of means which are altogether most holy.

(9.) The concurrence of God with the sinner is limited to the support of the natural faculties, in which support there is neither sin nor innocence; sin consisting not in their use, but in the intention with which they are used, and the object sought by that use.

(10.) The concurrence of God according to the regularity of general laws seems eminently desirable. If, whenever man acted virtuously, his powers of action were sustained, but not so when acting otherwise, there would be really no free agency in man, for he would not have the power of contrary choice and action. On the other hand; there would no longer be such regular action of the universe as seems necessary for the happiness and comfort of mankind. The action of nature would every day be suspended in thousands of instances, and confusion would exist.

 

IV. DISTINCTION IN PROVIDENCE.

There have been several distinctions made as to the providence of God.

1. The most common is that of General, or Universal Providence, and Special, Singular or Particular Providence. By general providence is meant the general care which God takes of the universe and all it contains, in preserving and upholding it under the general administration of the laws he has given it. By special providence is meant the minute care by which some events are supposed to take place immediately under his supervision or by his direct providential action.

It is unquestionably true that the acts of extend to minute objects and specially marked events. But this is no reason for making this distinction which would seem to imply an indifferent, careless providence about all things else. The truth is that providence is of such a nature as to reach every natural event by the operation of general laws. It is a marked proof of the wisdom of God that he can so direct all the affairs of the universe as, without need of special action, to accomplish all the events he chooses. All providence, therefore, is general, because operated through general laws. It is also special, because every individual event comes to pass under God’s own inspection, and through his own will and work.

“A general and special providence,” says Dr. A. A. Hodge, “cannot be two different modes of divine operation. The same providential administration is necessarily at the same time general and special, for the same reason, because it reaches without exception equally to every event and creature in the world. A general providence is special because it secures general results by the control of every event, great and small, leading to that result. A special providence is general because it specially controls all individual beings and actions in the universe. All events are so related together as a concatenated system of causes, and effects, and conditions, that a general providence that is not at the same time special is as inconceivable as a whole which has no parts, or as a chain which has no links. ” [Outlines of Theology, p.266.]

2. A second distinction is into ordinary and extraordinary providence. By the ordinary are meant those acts which, according to general law, commonly occur in every-day life, and which are supposed to display no extraordinary action or purpose. By the extraordinary are meant any acts, such as miracles or prophecies, which are not naturally to be expected, and are due to extraordinary divine intervention.

3. Another distinction is into mediate and immediate. This is similar to the last, except that this looks at providence from the agency of the divine act, whether done directly and without means, or mediately by means. The other views these acts according to their frequency and the impression thus produced by evident divine interposition.

4. A fourth distinction is into physical or real, and spiritual or moral. The former regards providence as exercised about natural objects or things, the latter about persons, especially in their moral and spiritual relations.

 

V. THE UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF GOOD AND EVIL.

The most serious objection to the doctrine of divine providence is deduced from the unequal distribution of good and evil in the world. Blessings are not apparently bestowed proportionately upon the good and afflictions upon the wicked. It has been claimed that this is an evidence that God does not watch over and govern the world. Dr. J. Pye Smith ably answers this objection. {See his First Lines, pp. 162-164.} The following is an abstract of his argument:

1. “A man who would reason fairly cannot but, on the very threshold of this argument, attend to the sinful condition of the whole human race. The sin of man,”

(1.) “Merits the experience of penal evils, in all their variety.”

(2.) “This sin is the cause and occasion, sometimes directly, at other times more indirectly and remotely, of human sufferings.”

2. “Upon the broad scale of observation and history many examples of retribution are to be observed.”

3. “this distribution of good and evil is by no means so unequal as appears to superficial observation.”

4. “Even good men are the chief occasions of their own sufferings.”

5. “Their sufferings are made in the highest degree beneficial to them, as means of religious improvements. ” (Heb. 12:4-11.)

6. “The piety, virtue and good moral conduct of upright persons procure to them, in the ordinary course of affairs, a considerable measure of esteem, regard, kindness and service from their fellow-men; and consequently a much higher degree of personal and social enjoyment than they would have if they were not religious characters.”

7. “The objects which men commonly regard as good in themselves and for their own sakes are in reality not so. They are good only as they are used; only when they are made the means of moral improvements.”

8. “We are very far from being competent judges of the state of the heart, and the degree of real holiness possessed by the subjective individuals: but we know enough to by assured that the reality in these important matters is far from being in accordance with the obvious and superficial appearance. It cannot be doubted that in many instance men acquire credit with the public for great religious excellence which is by no means justly imputed, as to either the degree or sincerity of it; and that deep and humble piety exists in some instances where extraordinary and unfavorable circumstances surround its possessors as with a dark cloud.”

9. “The afflictions of real Christians are instruments of the greatest internal blessings. They are also means of benefit to others by their exhibition of the most edifying examples, and by the weight which instruction and admonition thus receive.”

10. “But we cannot judge of this question with any approach to completeness without bringing into the account the future state. The present state is but the imperfect and preparatory condition of our existence, the period during which all must be done that is to fit us for eternity. All temporal things are as nothing compared with this great issue of all our labours and trails.”

 

Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887

A Brief Catechism of Bible Doctrine-3-Providence

November 7, 2013 2 comments

Providence

 

1. Does God take notice of every thing that takes place?

Yes; nothing comes to pass without His knowledge and permission.

2. When did He determine what things He would do, and what He would permit?

In Eternity; before He had created anything.

3. Has He ever permitted His creatures to do wrong?

Yes, when they have willfully chosen to do so.

4. Has He not, however, warned them of the consequences of sin?

He has always warned them that He would surely punish them if they should sin.

5. Can God be regarded as approving sin under any circumstances?

On the contrary, the Scriptures teach us that He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity.

6. Does He not influence men to do right?

He does; and it is owing to His grace that we do anything that is good.

7. Does He ever make men do right against their will?

He never does; but He so leads them to see and love what is right, that they choose to do it.

 

James P. Boyce-A Brief Catechism of Bible Doctrine

Question 11-Puritan Catechism

March 21, 2013 2 comments

CharlesSpurgeon11. Q. What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are his most holy, (Psalm 145:17) wise, (Isaiah 28:29) and powerful, (Hebrews 1:3) preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. (Psalm 103:19; Matthew 10:29)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon-A Puritan Catechism

 

Confession statement 5

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Published in 1646

The Text used: There has been some updating of Old English words but otherwise no changes have been made to the original texts.

CONFESSION OF FAITH of seven congregations or churches of Christ in London. which are commonly, but unjustly, called Anabaptists; published for the vindication of the truth and information of the ignorant; likewise for the taking off those aspersions which are frequently, both in pulpit and print, unjustly cast upon them. Printed in London, Anno 1646.

V. GOD in His infinite power and wisdom, doth dispose all things to the end for which they were created; that neither good nor evil befalls any by chance, or without His providence; and that whatsoever befalls the elect, is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good.

Job 38:11: Isa.46:10,11; Eccles.3:14; Mark 10:29.30; Exod.21:13; Prov.16:33; Rom.8:28.

The First London Baptist Confession of 1644/1646

God’s determinative Providence

Yet another term may be employed to show how the providence of God touches evil actions, to-wit, determinative. Terminus means a boundary, a limit, and to determinate is to set a boundary. The providence of God then touches evil actions by putting a limit upon them. An illustrative case or two may be rapidly stated.

The devil wanted to get hold of Job, to worry and destroy him. He asked the Lord for an opportunity. God, having purposes of His own to accomplish concerning Job and others, gave the permission but set a limit at Job’s life: “You may take his cows; you may take his camels; you may take his children so far as their earthly health and existence is concerned; you may touch Job himself and cover his body with loathsome ulcers, but the life of Job, the soul of Job, the spiritual standing of Job in the sight of God, oh, devil, you cannot touch.” There God puts an impassable barrier.

B. H. Carroll—The Providence of  God