THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD—PRESERVATION
We must understand God’s Immanence and Transcendency.
The immanency of the Lord signifies that God is in all things. This is taught us, for example, in: “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.” And, this immanence of the Lord is surely held before in a passage as : “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. Thou has beset me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me. Such is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee. For Thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.” The transcendency of Jehovah emphasizes the truth that the Lord is above all things. This truth is taught us in : “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and the heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” And this same truth is also revealed to us, for example, in : “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, .as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”
However, it is well that we distinguish correctly between these two aspects (immanence and transcendency) of the providence of God. We must not view these conceptions as contrasts. We must not say that God is immanent but also transcendent. We should bear in mind that the immanence of the Lord does not mean that He is all things (pantheism), but that He is in all things, that GOD, as God, is in all things, that God alone can be in all things and that He is in all things exactly because of His divine transcendency. God’s immanence implies that He, by His power and Spirit, is in contact, in constant touch with and control of all things, of every creature and every part of that creature. This, of course, emphasizes, we understand, the transcendency of the Lord.
God’s providence is commonly defined as the Lord’s omnipresent and almighty power. This divine omnipresent and omnipotent power is again commonly understood as consisting of His immanence and transcendency. The transcendency of Jehovah signifies that He is above all things. This, however, we must not understand in a local, geographical sense of the word. God, then, is in the heavens or in heaven and we are upon earth. The (Lord, then, begins where the creature or world comes to an end. The Lord, therefore, is transcendent, the highly exalted one in a local, geographical sense of the word. This conception, we readily understand, is quite impossible. The transcendency of the Lord emphasizes the truth that the living God is above all things in an essential sense of the word. The Lord is essentially, because of the very nature of His being and existence, the highly exalted one, and can therefore never be contained or comprehended by the creature. The creature is temporal and local; the Lord is eternal and sovereignly free. The creature is finite; Jehovah is infinite. The creature is ever dependent; the Lord is absolutely independent. Hence, God is essentially highly exalted above all things, is not bound to or by any laws of time or space. God cannot be placed into any classification with the creature and cannot be compared to any creature. He is God and He alone.
This also enables us to understand that it is because of the Lord’s transcendency that He is immanent, in all things. It is only because He alone is God that He, as God, can sustain every living creature, in the heavens above, upon the earth beneath, or in all the waters under the earth.
The divine preservation of all things is everywhere taught in holy writ. We read in, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold; Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” In : “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” In we read: “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?” And already quoted is the passage of : “Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.”
Divine preservation implies, in the first place, that the Lord, by His almighty and omnipresent power, continuously sustains and preserves all things. God’s Being sustains all other beings. Everywhere all things are affected by God’s almighty power. He is continuously in contact with every creature, animate or inanimate. Every bird and its ability to sing and fly, the horse and its swiftness and strength, the lion and its power to tear and destroy, man in all his speaking and hearing and seeing, in all his thoughts and deeds; every living creature is continuously activated and sustained by the alone living God. If the Lord were to withdraw His arm or hand the world would be reduced instantly to nothingness.
Moreover, Divine preservation also implies that He continuously sustains every creature according to the peculiar essence of each particular creature. We will have more to say about this when we discuss the element of cooperation (another aspect of the providence of God). Only, we may declare already at this time that the providence of God does not abolish or nullify a creature’s peculiar essence or being. God preserves the bird as bird, the horse as horse, the lion as lion, the tree and plant as tree and plant, man as man.
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD—COOPERATION
The word, “cooperation”, can be misleading.
The word itself means: to work along with, to help. This would suggest the thought that God and man cooperate, work together, that man helps the Lord.
This, we readily understand, is surely impossible. First, we can hardly speak of the wicked world as cooperating with the Lord. The wicked world hates the living God and surely has no intention of furthering the Cause of the Lord and of His Son in any sense of the word. This speaks for itself and needs no elucidation. Secondly,can hardly be quoted as a passage in support of such a cooperation on the part of the people of the Lord. We read in that passage: “For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” The Dutch translation of this text reads: “Want wij zijn Gods medearbeiders; Gods akkerwerk, Gods gebouw zijt gij.” And literally we read: “For we are laborers together of God.” On the one hand, it should not escape our attention that the apostle declares that the Church of the living God is God’s husbandry, God’s building, and this surely implies that the Church of God is exclusively the work of the living God. And, on the other hand, the word “together” does not refer to the apostles and the Lord, but to the apostles. They are co-laborers, labor together. And they are such co-laborers, not with God, but of God. And that they are co-laborers of God surely signifies that it is God who causes and enables them to work together. Thirdly, Scripture certainly emphasizes the truth that what we are we are by the grace of God. This hardly needs any elucidation at this time. Any conception as if we in any sense of word cooperate with the Lord, work with Him, help Him, and that the work of God in us is ever dependent upon man’s part is surely foreign to all the teachings of holy writ. The doctrine of sovereign election, particular atonement, utter depravity, irresistible efficacy of grace, perseverance of the saints certainly excludes any idea of human cooperation. Indeed, the keynote of all of holy writ is surely and beautifully given us in and .
In that first passage we read those beautiful words: “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” And in that other beautiful passage we hear the Word of God as follows: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace; Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: 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.” And we could also refer the reader to.
Nevertheless, the word “cooperation” has been adopted in Reformed Theology and Dogmatics as an element of the providence of God and can be retained if correctly understood.
We do not expect at this moment to enter into a detailed exposition of this conception. This, the Lord willing, we will do later.
We can say at this time, however, that “cooperation” views the providence as it does not destroy but maintains the human being and all rational beings (angels and demons) as moral-rational beings. They “cooperate” in the sense that they serve and must serve, and that as moral-rational beings, the counsel and will and purpose of the Lord. God preserves all creatures, also man, in harmony with the peculiar essence of their being. Hence, the providence of the Lord is such that also all the wicked powers of sin and darkness must serve the purpose and will of the Most High. Their moral-rational nature is not destroyed or annulled. Man certainly functions according to the lusts and desires of his own heart and mind. He does, to be sure, be it in a limited sense of the word (no one would care to maintain that the devil can do as and what he pleases), as he wishes to do. Nevertheless, however true it may be that man is a moral-rational being, that the providence of the Lord does not destroy or ignore man’s moral-rational nature, that he is therefore responsible and accountable for all his acts, he must cooperate, serve God’s counsel and purpose, be instrumental in the hands of God unto the Divine realization of His counsel and will. The Lord is constantly realizing His counsel and will, not merely in spite of the devil and all his host (also this is true) but also through all the powers of sin and darkness.
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD—GOVERNMENT
The word “government,” as referring to the third element in the providence of God, emphasizes the thought that God governs all things, controls and leads and directs all things to His own determinate end.
Time, and all the things contained in time, is like unto a ship which is sailing for a definite haven. There is a sovereignly divinely willed and determined end or goal for all things. In fact, there is but one divinely sovereignly willed goal. And that goal is the Lord’s glory of His Name as He will ultimately realize it in the new heavens and the new earth. God has willed the greatest glory of His Name (the greatest as He could conceive of it), and He realizes this goal antithetically along the lines of election and reprobation, of sin and grace. That end all creatures must serve, either willingly and voluntarily or unwilling. God is the one supreme captain, the only governing potentate, the one and only living God who does all His good pleasure and who directs this ship of Time unto the eternal haven, the day when Jehovah shall attain, also publicly, unto the greatest glory of His Name.
This truth is surely Scriptural. All of holy writ presents to us this presentation. We will merely quote: “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
God’s Providence and “Common Grace”.
It is also in connection with the doctrine of the providence of the Lord that we are confronted with the erroneous teaching of “Common Grace”. This fact surely need not surprise us. It is simply a fact that the providence of the Lord deals exactly with God’s control over all things and therefore also with the things of this present time. Rain and sunshine, health and sickness, prosperity and adversity all demand our attention when we deal with God’s providential care over all things. And it is particularly in connection with Government that we would call attention to that which the theory of “Common Grace” would offer us. This theory would really make a separation between the various elements of God’s providence, especially between Preservation and Government. Indeed, it does not deny either Preservation nor Government. The advocates of Common Grace certainly believe that the Lord preserves and sustains all things, and also that God directs things to His own determinate end or goal. Nevertheless, they make a dualistic separation between the two. On the one hand, then, they believe in God’s Government, that the Lord will create new heavens and a new earth and that He is directing the affairs of this world unto that end. But, on the other hand, they also believe in a certain Preservation which is viewed not in the light of God’s determinate end, but as running parallel with it. God, then, preserves through Common Grace this earthly creation which otherwise, because of sin, would have become either a chaos, or hell, or nothing—all three possibilities are mentioned. Through this Devine preservation the Lord is able to maintain His “original creation idea,” so that the world is able to function as the Lord had originally intended. This original purpose of God with respect to creation and the development of all things under man is thereby preserved. Unto that end God, first in Paradise, by means of His Common Grace restrained the working of sin and death in Adam, yea, caused Adam to retain part of his original righteousness, so that Adam was not immediately destroyed. And, in the covenant with Noah, the Lord enters into a covenant fellowship with the world over against the devil, thereby restraining the devil in his evil intention, making this world livable, and thereby maintaining the original creation idea. And, on the other hand, the Lord also carries out His purpose of election and reprobation and works unto the realization of His eternal and heavenly Kingdom. The result of this theory of “Common Grace” is that two spheres are created in this life, exclusive of each other and running parallel. On the one hand, there is the earthly sphere, maintained by God’s common grace. In this earthly, worldly sphere the sinner does much good, and cooperation between the children of light and those of darkness is possible and even desirable. And, on the other hand, there is the spiritual sphere in which only the people of God serve and please the Lord. On the one hand God is simply maintaining His original creation idea; and on the other hand He is working with a view to His eternal Kingdom of Heaven. Besides, we are, furthermore, presented with a dualistic conception of the living God entering into covenant fellowship with the wicked world in order to frustrate and restrain the wicked purposes and designs of the Prince of the powers of the air.
Let us by all means maintain the Scriptural presentation of the providence of God! The providence of God, we have seen, is distinguished as: Preservation, Cooperation, Government. And these three phases or elements are one. From the very outset God has His purpose before Him. This purpose He sets out to fulfill, the realization of His eternal Kingdom in the way of sin and grace. Unto that end all things must and do cooperate. And, with a view to that end the Lord sustains every creature according to its own peculiar nature. This divine realization of His eternal purpose occurs without a single mishap or detour, from the beginning even unto the end. Nothing retards the Lord. There is never a pause in this divine execution of His counsel and will. All things, including sin and all the powers of sin and darkness serve this purpose of God as moral-rational creatures, to be sure, but nevertheless as instruments in the hands of the alone sovereign God. Such is surely the teaching of holy writ. And this we must maintain.