Chapter 10: Providence

Table of Contents

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.

1. 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: Psalms 136:25; 145:15; Nehemiah 9:6; Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; 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: Deuteronomy 8:18; Psalm 104:20, 21, 30; Amos 3:6; Matthew 6:45; 10:29; Acts 14:17; 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 (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:34, 35),
    • includes the most insignificant things (Matthew 10:29-31), and
    • that which is seemingly accidental (Proverbs 16:33), and
    • bears on both the good and the evil deeds of man. (Philippians 2:18; Genesis 50:20; Acts 14:16)

2. 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 as really acts of God. God is only a God that is near, and not a God afar off.

3. 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. (Numbers 16:28; Jeremiah 32:20; John 2:11; 5:36)


To memorize:

Passages referring to:

a. Preservation:

  • Psalm 36:6 – Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are [like] a great deep. O LORD, You preserve man and beast.
  • Nehemiah 9:6 – “You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.
  • Colossians 1:17 – He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

b. Concurrence:

  • Deuteronomy 8:18 – “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as [it is] this day.
  • Amos 3:6 – If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
  • Philippians 2:13 – for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.

c. Government:

  • Psalm 103:19 – The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.
  • Daniel 4:3 – “How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation.
  • 1 Timothy 6:15 – which He will bring about at the proper time He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

d. Miracles and their design:

  • Exodus 15:11 – “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?
  • Psalm 72:18 – Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders.
  • Mark 2:10 – “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” He said to the paralytic,
  • John 2:11 – This beginning of [His] signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.


For Further Study:

a. Name some examples of special Providences.

  • Deuteronomy 2:7 – “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.”‘
  • 1 Kings 17:6, 16 – The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook. … The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through Elijah.
  • 2 Kings 4:6 – When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.” And the oil stopped.
  • Matthew 14:20 – and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.

b. How should belief in divine providence affect our cares?

  • Isaiah 41:10 – ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
  • Matthew 6:32 – “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
  • Luke 12:7 – “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
  • Philippians 4:6-7 – Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
  • 1 Peter 5:7 – casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

c. Name some of the blessings of providence.

  • Isaiah 25:4 – For You have been a defense for the helpless, A defense for the needy in his distress, A refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the breath of the ruthless Is like a [rain] storm [against] a wall.
  • Psalm 121:4 – Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.
  • Luke 12:7 – “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
  • Deuteronomy 33:28 – “So Israel dwells in security, The fountain of Jacob secluded, In a land of grain and new wine; His heavens also drop down dew.
  • Psalm 37:28 – For the LORD loves justice And does not forsake His godly ones; They are preserved forever, But the descendants of the wicked will be cut off.
  • 2 Timothy 4:18 – The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him [be] the glory forever and ever. Amen.


Questions for Review

  1. How is the doctrine of providence related to that of creations?
  2. What is divine providence?
  3. What is the difference between general and special providence?
  4. What are the objects of divine providence?
  5. What are the three elements of providence, and how do they differ?
  6. How must we conceive of the divine concurrence?
  7. How far does the divine government extend?
  8. What is a miracle, and what purpose do the scriptural miracles serve?
  9. Why do some consider miracles impossible?
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