Calling attention in this rubric, “Taking Heed To The Doctrine,” to the problem of God’s Providence and Sin, we concluded our first article by calling attention to the fact that this truth is confessional. We quoted from Lord’s Days 9 and 10 of our Heidelberg Catechism and from our Confession of Faith, Article 13.
It has been contended recently that all evils do not come to us out of God’s fatherly hand. This would, of course, imply either that the devil is responsible for them or that they come upon us by change. It is plain from our confessions that our reformed fathers wanted nothing to do with this view. In Lord’s Day 9, Answer 26, we read very plainly that “He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage.” This is plain language. Mind you, of these evils we read that it is the Lord Who sends them upon me. And in Article 13 of our Confession of Faith we read that our Father so restrains (holds in check; and this does not refer to an inner checking of sin as our mother church, the Christian Reformed Church, would have us believe) the devil and all our enemies, that without His will and permission they cannot hurt us. And in Answer 28 of Lord’s Day 10 we read that all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move. Indeed, the Scriptural narrative of Job surely verifies this. And there are other passages in Holy Writ which teach us this truth. Psalm 73 surely emphasizes that the Lord is good only to Israel, never to the wicked, that these wicked are always perishing, being set upon slippery places, and that the Lord always holds His people by their right hand, causing all things to work together for their good. What a comforting truth this is! All things are in His hand. And this also includes the devil and all his host. Our God, our covenant God, rules over all. He also rules over all the powers of sin. It is to this truth that we are calling attention in this and subsequent articles.
We must, first of all, of course, have the issue clearly before us. What is meant by the providence of God? The providence of God is not merely the Lord’s preservation of all things. The term “providence,” as applied to God, is not Scriptural. The word occurs only once, I believe, in the Word of God, in Acts 24:2; and in this passage it occurs as applied to Felix, a Roman governor. Of course, that the term, “providence” does not occur in the Scriptures does not necessarily condemn the use of it. The word “Trinity” is not found in the Scriptures either. More serious, however, is an objection that can be lodged against this expression. The word, “providence” means literally: to see before. This could mean, therefore, that the Lord simply saw beforehand what would happen and then acted accordingly. The Arminian view, for example, of election and reprobation is that the Lord saw beforehand who would believe and who would refuse to believe, elected the former and reprobated the latter. This is the Arminian conception of God’s election and reprobation, based upon foreseen faith and unbelief. It is against this Arminian view that our fathers drew up the Canons of Dordt. Now we understand, of course, that God did not simply know beforehand, and that He was not simply influenced by these circumstances of which He had this previous knowledge. However, when we speak of the providence of God we speak of His divinely sovereign control over all things. This providence of the Lord is not merely His preservation of all things. Of course, this is also implied. Speaking, then, of the Lord’s preservation of all things, we refer to that almighty and omnipresent power of God, whereby the Lord, from moment unto moment, sustains and upholds the entire creation and every creature in harmony with its being. The Lord preserves the horse as horse, the plant as plant, man as man, etc. This operation of the Lord must be understood in the absolute sense of the word. It does not merely control and direct the so-called greater events of life, those incidents which, from our viewpoint, cause a sudden and tremendous change in the course of the world’s history and, therefore, sharply draw our attention. We understand, of course, that the distinction between more and less significant events is not to be applied to the Lord. But God’s providence also governs the so-called minor things. Every hair upon our heads is counted by the Lord. Every sparrow is sustained by Jehovah from moment unto moment. No sparrow falls off a housetop except by the will of the Lord. Every worm that creeps, creeps alone by the power of God. What an awe-inspiring thought! Surely we must be overwhelmed by the tremendous thought that God, the terrible and eternal God, so great and highly exalted, incomprehensibly eternal in Himself, the Wholly Other, Who lives eternally in an inaccessible light, Who needeth no man to add unto His glory, Who is everlastingly the all-sufficient One, should concern Himself with the most insignificant worm from moment to moment. Is it not true to a certain extent what has been said: a man’s greatness is not determined by the great things of life but by the minor, less important ones? That the president of our country cannot concern himself with every person’s difficulty and ‘problem is not because of the greatness of the man but because of his smallness. He simply is not able to concern himself with everybody’s problem. And the congregation or church of the living God is called to live this truth. It is indeed proper that the attention of God’s people be directed to this wonderful preservation of the Lord. I do not know of a truth that is better known and yet lived or practiced less than this truth of God’s providence. How well we know that all things are in God’s hand! And, yet, how little this lives in our consciousness, especially when we are in danger or when catastrophes strike us! But too often we live from the “‘principle” of chance, and then we speak of our “luck.” Oh, we surely know better. This word ought never to appear in our vocabulary. So often we proceed from the thought that the providence of God is that act of the Lord whereby He now and then takes a part in the affairs of men, and that we only then must ask Jehovah for help and guidance. If a stone drops immediately behind us, we ascribe it to the providence of God. However, had that stone crushed our head, it would also have been of the providence of the Lord. If we arrive too late at the depot to board a train or at an airport to board a plane, and this train or plane should be wrecked or destroyed with all lives lost, we attribute this to God’s providence. Had it occurred, however, that we would have been among those who lost their lives, this, too; would have been the providence of the living God. And the people of the Lord are surely called to live from the principle that God sustains us and directs our lives from moment unto moment.
However, the providence of God must also be understood as the divine government of all things. When speaking of God’s providence, we also call attention to the element of cooperation. But now we would mention the Lord’s divine government. In His sovereign good pleasure Jehovah has willed the heavenly glorification of His Name. This He has willed in the antithetical sense, in the way of sin and grace, and in the heavenly renewal of all things in heaven and in hell. God’s providence, in the sense of government, is the Lord’s rule whereby He realizes that purpose, and does this through all things. And when we speak of cooperation as a third element in God’s providence, we do not mean that man cooperates, works along with God and helps Him, but that he, through the sovereign and almighty operation of God, takes part in that government of Jehovah as a moral, rational, responsible being. To this, however, we will call attention more specifically in subsequent articles.
This, in brief, is the providence of God. To have the issue clearly before us, we must also call attention to the reality of sin. This fact of sin as such we surely cannot deny. We remarked in our first article that the Pelagian cannot possibly explain the universal character of the phenomenon of sin. The Pelagian, setting forth that the will of the sinner is inherently and essentially good, has no explanation for this universal phenomenon. He denies the organic connection between the reality of sin and the sin of Adam. Why should all men, if the sinner’s will be essentially good, choose for sin? Why is it that there is not one who chooses for the good? Why is it that all men have gone astray, and why is it that there is none that seeks the glory of God? Besides, let the Pelagian explain why all men are conceived and born dead in sin and in trespasses. Indeed, this universal phenomenon can be explained only in the light of the headship of Adam and that, by the curse of the living God, death has passed on to all the children of men. To be sure, no man can deny the reality of sin. Even the most optimistic of humans must acknowledge the reality of sin. One may refuse to glorify God and have no consciousness of sin in the spiritual, Scriptural sense of the word. Yet, who would have the courage, the brazen effrontery to dare to lay claim to perfection? Such a one must surely be viewed as beside himself. The daily murders, the ever-increasing rumors of war, speak but too emphatically of the jealousy and hatred governing the children of men. Besides, anyone who is somewhat acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, and these Scriptures are the light upon our pathway and the lamp before our feet, is surely aware of the terrible reality of sin. And what shall he say who has learned by the power of God’s grace what it means to be a sinner, who spiritually understands the fact of sin and iniquity. What a tremendous phenomenon is this reality of evil! At the dawn of ,creation, when all the handiwork of God united in singing praises unto the Lord, when not a single defect marred the entire creation, sin entered this world and caused all things to break away from the Lord and become subject unto the curse of the Almighty. Death and destruction it left in its wake. Sickness, misery, care, and sorrow are our lot. And all this misery and sorrow is universal in the absolute sense of the word. Moreover, there is the fact of sin itself. Yes, we are all conceived and born in sin. What an iniquity abounds upon the face of the earth! Scripture and also our own experience impress us with the reality that the powers of hell and darkness are constantly attempting to subdue this earth unto themselves. And to this we may add that it seems that they may continue unmolested who mock at God and His Christ and make of the church of God a plaything throughout the ages. Does it not seem to Asaph, the writer of Psalm 73, that there is no knowledge with the Most High, or that He does not concern Himself with all these wicked activities of these powers of sin and darkness? Indeed, we must surely reckon with the phenomenon of sin. We simply cannot possibly ignore it: This is our comfort: we can face this reality of sin as knowing that God, our God, the God of our salvation, is in absolute control.