The truth of God’s providence is readily admitted.

It is simply a fact that God alone is God. Out of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things. His alone is the glory now and forever. Anyone of reformed persuasion will have no difficulty, as such, with the providence of God, and will surely answer affirmatively when confronted with the question whe­ther the Lord reigns in the heavens above and upon the earth beneath.

This is particularly true among us as Protestant Reformed Churches. To be sure, the question relative the providence of the Lord and sin is an intricate question and should be properly explained and clari­fied. Nevertheless we may say that, as Protestant Reformed Churches, because of our emphasis upon the sovereignty of God and the particular character of the grace of God, we proclaim without hesitation that God always reigns and that all things work together for the good of the elect people of God.

However, to live and practice the providence of the Lord is often quite another thing.

To express agreement with the doctrine of divine providence is not too difficult. Scripture, we must remember, is so plain in its teaching with respect to the divine control over all things. And it is so easy to believe in the providence of God as long as the wa­ters do not reach unto our lips; so easy to cry out: Whom shall I fear? when there is no enemy in sight.

But, when conditions change and we must person­ally suffer affliction and misery, it becomes increas­ingly, yea, very difficult to say this confession, not to mention the difficulty of proclaiming and living it! Indeed, to live and practice this confession is indeed humanly impossible, can be done only through divine grace. We are of the earth earthy, even irrespective of sin, dependent upon the earth. Also spiritually we are from below. Hence, it requires grace, much grace, even unto the end, to live God’s providence, really to receive all things out of God’s hand, always to rely upon and trust in the Lord, to believe that all things work together unto our good.

That we can derive comfort from the providence of God only by grace lies in the nature of the case.

God’s grace is exclusively particular, is it not? The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked. This means that this curse is upon the ungodly in all that he is and does and possesses. He is never an ob­ject of divine grace or love, and the curse of the alone living God pursues him relentlessly into the grave throughout his entire life. Never will the wicked be able to point to a single moment or incident in his life and say that at that particular moment he exper­ienced the love and mercy of the Lord. Hence, it lies in the very nature of the case that the comfort of the providence of God is only for the people of God and can be experienced only in the way of grace and faith.

But, if this we may say and confess, then we sure­ly need not fear for, if God be for us, then nothing can be against us.

According To Scripture and the Confessions

The Confessions.

Our Heidelberg Catechism discusses the provi­dence of God in Lord’s Days 9 and 10. The question of Lord’s Day 9: “What believest thou when thou sayest, I believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?, is answered as follows: “That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Who of no­thing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; Who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence) is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but He will pro­vide me with all things necessary for soul and body: and further, that He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.” In Lord’s Day 10 the truth of the providence of God is treated properly. Question 27: “What dost thou mean by the providence of God?”, is answered as follows: “The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures, so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand.” And question 28: “What ad­vantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things?” re­ceives the following beautiful answer: “That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from His love; since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.”

This truth, as we all expect, is treated in the thir­ty seven articles of our Confession of Faith. It is surely mentioned in Art. 12 which discusses the truth of Creation, and we quote: “We believe that the Fa­ther, by the Word, that is, by His Son, hath created of nothing, the heavens, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto Him, giving unto every crea­ture its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator. That He doth also still uphold and govern them by His eternal providence, and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God. He also created the angels good, to be His messengers and to serve His elect; some of whom are fallen from the excel­lency, in which God created them, into everlasting perdition; and the others have, by the grace of God, re­mained steadfast and continued in their primitive state. The devils and evil spirits are so depraved, that they are enemies of God and every good thing, to the utmost of their power, as murderers, watching to ruin the Church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all; and are, there­fore, by their own wickedness adjudged to eternal damnation, daily expecting their horrible torments. Therefore we reject and abhor the error of the Sadducees, who deny the existence of spirits and angels: and also that of the Manichees, who assert that the de­vils have their origin of themselves, and that they are wicked of their own nature, without having been cor­rupted.” The following article, Article 13, treats this wonderful truth properly, and again we quote: “We believe that the same God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment: nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For His power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And, as to what He doth surpas­sing human understanding, we will not curiously in­quire into, farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing these limits. This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; who watches over us with a pa­ternal care, keeping all creatures so under His power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all number­ed), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded, that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without His will and permission they cannot hurt us. And therefore we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance.” end of quote.


Calling attention to this truth of the Providence of God as set forth in the Holy Scriptures, it is bea­utifully set forth by the late Dr. H. Bavink in his Reformed Dogmatics, III, pages 1-3, and we quote: “When God had finished His work upon the seventh day, which He hath made, He rested upon the seventh day from all His work which He had made, Gen. 2:2, Ex. 20:11, Ex. 31:17. Thus Scripture describes the tran­sition from the work of creation to that of preserva­tion. That this resting of God does not have its cause in weariness, or that it does not consist in an idle look­ing on is repeatedly plainly and clearly expressed by the Holy Scriptures, Is. 40:28, John 5:17. Creation is for God no work and preservation is no rest. The resting of God merely expresses that He has made an end of the bringing forth of nova genera, Eccl. 1:9, 10; that the work of creation in actual and narrow sense, as productive rerum e nihila, was finished; and that He rejoiced with divine pleasure in this com­pleted work, Gen. 1:31, Ex. 31:17, Ps. 104:31, etc. The work of creating now passes over into that of preservation. Both are essentially distinguished in Scripture to such an extent that they are placed over against each other as labor and rest. And then again they are so intimately related and connected that the work of preservation can be called creating, Ps. 104:30, Ps. 148:5, Isaiah 45:7, Amos 4:13. For pre­servation is also a divine work, not less great and glo­rious than that of creating. God is no Deus otiosus, He always works, John 5:17, and the world has no existence in itself. From the moment of its beginning it exists only in and through and unto God, Neh. 9:6, Ps. 104:30, Acts 27:28, Rom. 11:36, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3, Rev. 4:11. Although distinguished from His be­ing, it is in its existence never independent; indepen­dence would be non-existence. The entire world stands under God’s control with all that is in it and happens in it; summer and winter, day and night, fruitful and unfruitful seasons, light and darkness, everything is His work and is formed by Him, Gen. 8:22, Gen. 9:14, Lev. 26:3ff., Deut. 11:12ff., Job 38, Ps. 8, Ps. 29, Ps. 65, Ps. 104, Ps. 107, Ps. 147, Jeremiah 3:3, Jeremiah 5:24, Matt. 5:45, etc. Scripture does not know an independent creature; this would be a contradiction in itself. God provides for all crea­tures, for animals, Gen. 1:30, Gen. 6:18, Gen. 7:2, Gen. 9:10, Job 38:41, Ps. 36:7, Ps. 104:27, Ps. 147:9, Joel 1:20, Matt. 6:26, etc., and particularly also for men. Ho beholds them all, Job 34:21, Ps. 33:13, 14, Prov. 15:3, forms their every heart and considers all their works, Ps. 33:15, Prov. 5:21; they are all the work of His hands, Job 34:19, the poor and the rich, Prov. 22:2. He deter­mines the habitation of all, Deut. 32:8, Acts 17:26, inclines every heart, Prov. 21:1, controls all their paths, Prov. 5:21, Prov. 16:9, Prov. 19:21, Jer. 10:23, etc., does with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth according to His pleasure, Dan. 4:35. They are in His hands as clay in the hand of the potter, as a saw in the hand of him who uses it, Isaiah 29:16, Is. 45:9, Jer. 18:5, Rom. 9:20, 21. In a very particular sense does His providential control include His peo­ple. The entire history of the patriarchs, of Israel, of the congregation, and of every believer verifies this. What people had meant to be evil God meant it unto good for them, Gen 50:20; every instrument, prepared against them, shall not succeed, Isaiah 54:17; even the hairs of their head are all numbered, Matt. 10:30; everything works together for their good, Rom. 8:28. Thus all of creation stands in the power and under the control of God; both, chance or fate, are unknown to Scripture, Ex. 21:13, Prov. 16:33. It is God who works all things after the counsel of His will, Eph. 1:11, and renders everything subject to the revelation of His virtues, and the honor of His Name, Prov. 16:4, Rom. 11:36. All this the Scripture sum­marizes so beautifully when it repeatedly speaks of God as of a King, Who rules over all things, Ps. 10:16, Ps. 24:7, 8, Ps. 29:10, Ps. 44:5, Ps. 47:7, Ps. 74:12, Ps. 115:38, Isaiah 33:22, etc. God is a King, the King of kings and the Lord of lords; a King, who in Christ is a Father for all His subjects, and a Father, who is also king over His children. Whatever is found among the crea­tures, in the animal- and human- and angelic world, in the family and society, of care for and love unto and protection of the one for the other, is a faint re­flection of God’s providential care over all the works of His hands. His absolute power and His perfect love are the proper object of faith in the providence of God according to holy writ.”—end of quote.

Its Idea

The word: providence.

First, this word occurs in holy writ. We read in Acts 24:2: “And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto his nation by thy providence/’

Secondly, the word (providence in the English and “voorzienigheid” in the Holland) implies two things, The word itself means literally: to see be­fore or beforehand. This is the literal meaning of the English “providence” as well as the Holland “voor­zienigheid.” A second meaning of the word, derived from the first is: to make provision, to provide, and thus to care for someone in his needs and wants. These two meanings are inseparably connected. We make provision, for example, for the winter. This implies that we see beforehand, look into the future, consider what we will need and act accordingly.

A threefold interpretation in Christian theology.

The providence of God, for example, has been in­terpreted as a divine “seeing beforehand”. Under­standing this not in the Arminian sense of the word as if God’s knowledge is merely foreknowledge, a knowing of the things before they occur and dependent upon them, but simply in the sense that the Lord knows all things before they occur, even as He knows whatever shall occur in your life and mine, we may safely say that, thus understood, the providence of God is simply one of the Lord’s communicable attri­butes, the divine attribute of His omniscience, that He knows all things. We will undoubtedly recall that God’s omniscience is one of God’s communicable at­tributes. Hence, to say that the providence is simply God’s knowing of all things implies that we identify it with this attribute of God.

Others interpret the providence of the Lord as signifying His counsel. They proceed from the thought that the Lord’s omniscience is more than merely a “seeing beforehand”. They declare that the Lord not only knows beforehand what will happen, but also that He has determined them, that He not only knows what will happen but also that they occur exactly as He knows them. The knowledge of the Lord, then, is not determined by the things that are seen, but the things that happen and are seen are de­termined by the knowledge of God. God’s knowledge is strictly a divine foreknowledge, not merely because the Lord knows things beforehand, but also in the sense that this knowledge of God is strictly foreknow­ledge, precedes the things and sovereignly determines their existence. Hence, they interpret the providence of God not only as merely “foreknowledge” as if the Lord is merely an idle spectator of all events, but al­so as that eternal wisdom of the Lord whereby He has sovereignly willed and determined all things from before the foundation of the world. Thus understood, the providence of God is His eternal and sovereign counsel.

A third interpretation of this concept: providence of God, is that which is commonly held today. Fact is, the counsel of the Lord is executed and fulfilled. He realizes the things He eternally determined.

Hence, God’s providence is therefore the work of God whereby He controls and sustains and directs all things. According to this view the providence of God must not be identified with the counsel of the Lord but is therein distinguished from it that it is the real­ization of that counsel and will of Jehovah.

What it is.

Now it is simply a fact that the word: providence, does not occur in holy writ with reference to God. It is true that the word appears in Acts 24:2, but there it is used with respect to Felix. Moreover, the meaning of the word in Acts 24:2 speaks for itself. The word, however, does not appear in holy writ with reference to the Lord. God simply does not know the things as we do, neither is His knowledge merely foreknowledge in the sense that He simply “sees be­forehand”. The things have no existence apart from God. It is not true that they exist and the Lord now takes cognizance of them. Thus the Arminian pre­sents the matter of salvation as if God saw before­hand who would believe and who would not believe, electing then those who believe and rejecting those who believe not. We repeat: nothing exists apart from God and this also includes faith and unbelief. The believer has no existence apart from the Lord; the same must also be said of the unbeliever, and I emphatically mean: unbeliever. Hence, when Scrip­ture speaks of “foreknowledge”, as in Romans 9, we must bear in mind that this is strictly foreknowledge, that this knowledge, also eternally, precedes the exis­tence of the things. God’s foreknowledge is not mere­ly a “seeing beforehand”.

Nevertheless, although Scripture does not use the term: providence, its idea surely appears abundantly in the divine Scriptures. This we have already shown. The word: trinity, for example, does not appear in the Scripture either, but the truth which is expressed by this term is taught throughout the Word of God. The word: providence, denotes God’s preservation and government of all things. And it is simply a fact that the term, providence, has become the generally accepted term to denote this divine preservation and government. We define God’s pro­vidence as the almighty and omnipresent power of God whereby He in and through all creatures exe­cutes His counsel, sustains all things, and directs all things so that they, without a solitary exception, must work together unto the attainment of the goal which He has set before Himself in His everlasting counsel. As we have seen, and shall also presently see, Scripture speaks everywhere of this almighty and omnipresent power of God.

H. Veldman