In the past few weeks, one of the topics covered in our Sunday School class was the reformed doctrine of Providence. This doctrine can be summarized as God not only knowing what will happen, but causing it to happen. Therefore, we can say that God’s providence extends to the bad things that happen to us as well as the good things. However, this is not to say that God is the author of sin and evil. Hodge’s Systematic Theology kicks on its chapter on providence saying;
“God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and their actions. Providence, therefore, includes preservation and government. By preservation is meant that all things out of God owe the continuance of their existence, with all their properties and powers, to the will of God.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith is the clearest way I could communicate with you where I stand regarding God’s providence. (If you want a copy of the WCF, you can download it here)
i. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold,(1) direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things,(2) from the greatest even to the least,(3) by His most wise and holy providence,(4) according to His infallible foreknowledge,(5) and the free and immutable counsel of His own will,(6) to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.(7)
- (1) Heb 1:3
- (2) Da 4:34,35; Ps 135:6; Ac 17:25,26,28; Job 38,39,40,41
- (3) Mt 10:29,30,31
- (4) Pr 15:3; Ps 104:24; Ps 145:17
- (5) Ac 15:8; Ps 94:8,9,10,11
- (6) Eph 1:11; Ps 33:10,11
- (7) Isa 63:14; Eph 3:10; Ro 9:17; Ge 45:7, Ps 145:7
ii. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;(1) yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.(2)
- (1) Ac 2:23
- (2) Ge 8:22; Jer 31:35; Ex 21:13; Dt 19:5; 1Ki 22:28,34; Isa 10:6,7
iii. God, in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means,(1) yet is free to work without,(2) above,(3) and against them,(4) at His pleasure.
- (1) Ac 27:31,44; Isa 55:10,11; Hos 2:21,22
- (2) Hos 1:7; Mt 4:4; Job 34:10
- (3) Ro 4:19,20,21
- (4) 2Ki 6:6; Da 3:27
iv. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men,(1) and that not by a bare permission,(2) but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding,(3) and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends;(4) yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.(5)
- (1) Ro 11:32,33,34; 2Sa 24:1; 1Ch 21:1; 1Ki 22:22,23; 1Ch 10:4,13,14; 2Sa 16:10; Ac 2:23; Ac 4:27,28
- (2) Ac 14:16
- (3) Ps 76:10; 2Ki 19:28
- (4) Ge 1:20; Isa 10:6,7,12
- (5) Jas 1:13,14,17; 1Jn 2:16; Ps 1:21
v. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled;(1) and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.(2)
- (1) 2Ch 32:25,26,31; 2Sa 24:1
- (2) 2Co 12:7,8,9; Ps 73; Ps 77:1,10,12; Mk 14:66-72; Jn 21:15,16,17
vi. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden,(1) from them He not only withholdeth His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts;(2) but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had,(3) and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions of sin;(4) and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan,(5) whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.(6)
- (1) Ro 1:24,26,28; Ro 11:7,8
- (2) Dt 29:4
- (3) Mt 13:12; Mt 25:29
- (4) Dt 2:30; 2Ki 8:12,13
- (5) Ps 81:11,12; 2Th 2:10,11
- (6) Ex 7:3; Ex 8:15,32; 2Co 2:15,16; Isa 8:14; 1Pe 2:7,8; Isa 6:9,10; Ac 28:26,27
viii. As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so after a most special manner, it taketh care of His Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.(1)
- (1) 1Ti 4:10; Am 9:8,9; Ro 8:28; Isa 43:3,4,5,14;
What this means is that everything that happened since before creation to now, God planned and ordained. Not only that, but He made sure that it would happen. So, the fall of Satan, the fall of mankind, the martyrdom of Christians, the reformation movement, the murdering of the Jews by Hitler, September 11th, the death of my mom, all of this happened not because of chance, but because that is what God willed, planned, and ordained to happen. Nothing we could have done would have prevented it.
I find this to be infinitely comforting because God having control over all that happens, means that whatever I go through He is there with me as I face it. It also means that God planned the trials and therefore, has a purpose for the hard times in our life. Even though God doesn’t always tell us His reasons, I find great comfort knowing that my trials are part of God’s will and plan for my life.
How does the realization of this doctrine affect your outlook on tough times?
If you don’t agree with this doctrine, what role do you believe God plays in the preservation and government of His creation?