Q.14: What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are His most holy,1 wise,2 and powerful preserving3 and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.4
2Psalm 104:24; Isaiah 28:29
3Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 103:19
One way of considering the subject of God’s decrees is to ask the question: How does God relate to every created thing? Of course, we just spent several questions considering the fact that God relates to every created thing as its Creator. There is a great Creator / creature distinction embedded in the design of all things. However, this notion of God as Creator in relation to all things only addresses origins and design. The natural follow-up question remains: How does God still relate to every created thing? This will be the subject of our study today.
The Baptist Catechism breaks up this discussion into two sections. Just as the catechism started with a discussion of creation in general and then narrowed the focus to the creation of man, it also starts with a discussion of providence in general and then narrows the focus to God’s providential dealings with man. This week, we will simply be considering providence in general.
The Sovereign God
Another way to consider God’s decree is by considering His sovereignty. In God’s sovereignty, He created all things and, thereby, established His dominion over them. In love, He uniquely created man, stamping him with His very image. Likewise, God continues to exercise His sovereignty by His great works of providence in all created things. His special act of providence toward man is one of life, love, and redemption.
“The Calvinist finds peace in the conviction that behind God’s all-encompassing providence is the full acquiescence of the triune God. The sovereign grace and love that went to Calvary has the whole world in its hands. God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ is the essence of who God is,” (Beeke, Living for God’s Glory, pg. 40).
All things that come to pass, even the murder of the only perfect Man to ever live, are part of God’s great decree. He not only allows the evil and calamitous events of our world to come to pass. He decreed that they would and, in His goodness, He has given them purpose and meaning that we could never fully grasp.
The Supernatural God
Some assume that God’s relationship to the current state of created things is like a watch on a beach. God molded and shaped it. He fastened it all together. He even put his mark on the back of it so that people could know who made it. Then he wound it up, set it down, and walked away. This view of God and His relationship to all created things is a modern, naturalistic perversion of who God is and how He relates to the cosmos.
There is no such thing as a natural world, if we are to define natural the same way that Darwin and his predecessors have. There is nothing that just is or just does. When we say that man knows who God is because the whole of creation tells of His glory, we do not merely mean that God designed the cosmos so that men seeking for Him might discover clues in it. God does not leave the reception of His glory to the finite, fallen faculties of man to be discerned from mere clues. God is always, ever acting in every atom of His creation. If a stone attests to the glory of God and a man recognizes the glory to which it attests, God has both acted through the stone and through the man to case the attestation and the recognition. God both speaks and opens the ears of those to whom He speaks.
The Immanent God
Whatsoever comes to pass in this world then is God acting in this world. God has determined whatsoever comes to pass, and He is working it all toward His entirely holy will. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds,” (Ps. 145:17; NASB). Even that which is evil, though God ordains from eternity past that it shall come to pass, though men mean it for evil God means it for good (Gen. 50:20). The most evil deed ever committed, the murder of Christ, was used of God to bring about the greatest good ever wrought.
“Everything depends on God as the primary cause both of its substance and circumstances (Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:37-38). God often works through means, though He does not need those means. His providence both preserves all things (Ps. 104:19-20; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3) and governs all things (Ps. 29:10; Gen. 50:20),” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pg. 163).
The All Wise and Holy God
How does God ensure that all of His acts are holy and good? God has infinite, eternal wisdom. In all of His works, His unsurpassed wisdom is on display. In love and mercy, He has ordained that we should be able to ascertain some of His great wisdom. We can fathom some of the wisdom behind His choices, but the whole of His counsel is to us entirely inscrutable (Rom. 11:33).
“This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great,” (Isa. 28:29; NASB).
In His wisdom and holiness, God has decreed that whatever comes to pass, regardless of any appearance of evil in its design, is nevertheless designed to accomplish God’s perfect and good design. The Baptist Confession states this doctrine most succinctly:
“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin,” (The Baptist Confession, 5.4).
The All Powerful God
God’s providence is not only holy and wise. His meticulous and purposeful government of all things also required a third trait. God’s providence is girded not just with holiness and wisdom but also with infinite power. God is infinitely capable of accomplishing all He has ordained will come to pass.
As we saw in our study of creation, by His mere word, all things sprang into existence. Likewise, by the word of His power, all things are upheld. Indeed, it is through the Person of the Son that God has determined to hold all things together:
“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb. 1:3; NASB).
God rules all of His creation with absolute sovereignty. He is infinitely capable in His unsearchable wisdom and absolute holiness. In His absolute sovereignty, He governs both His creatures and all of their actions. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all,” (Psalm 103:19; NASB). There is nothing that occurs within the whole of creation apart from the decree of God. Every bird and every hair that falls to the ground does so only how and when it has been eternally determined by the God of glory (Mt. 10:29-31).