Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Having established from Scripture the truth of creation, the question necessarily follows: What is God’s involvement with His creation? The question cries out for an answer. From the viewpoint of our own faith and life, this question cries out for an answer. Looking into a new year with all its uncertainties requires of us the conviction that our heavenly Father is in control.
We live in a valley of tears: so many anxieties, so many cares, so much trouble. In the face of all our sorrows comes the call from Psalm 62:8: “Trust in him at all times.”
The only way you will trust in Him is by seeing that the same God and Father who created is the One who also upholds and governs all things. He does so as your faithful God and Father, so that everything in your life and mine, without exception, comes not by chance but by His fatherly hand.
We stand before the truth known as God’s providence. A more beautiful definition of this truth is not to be found than the definition given in our Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10.
“What dost thou mean by the providence of God?” Answer: “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.”
What a profoundly blessed truth!
How critically important it is that you understand this truth and receive it with application to your own life!
The only way to face the suffering and trials that mark our life on this earth, the only way to live with peace-filled souls, the only way to know the comfort of the gospel, is by seeing God as the absolutely sovereign Lord who upholds and governs all things according to His own wise purpose, and who does so for your sake. He shall save His people in Christ. Not one of them shall be lost. In fact, all things work together for their good.
Upholding All Things
That God upholds His creation is a truth taught throughout Scripture. God holding all things in His hand — a figurative expression, but one that reveals a wonderful truth.
It is the Lord, according to Acts 17:25 and following, who gives unto all life, and breath, and all things. It is in Him that we all live and move and have our being. The whole of Isaiah 40-46 sets forth this same truth in detail. He who has created the things in the heavens “bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.” That is how the Lord upholds and governs the sun, moon, and stars. To His church He promises, “I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
The truth of God’s power in upholding all things is emphatically expressed in Psalm 33.
Verse 6 expresses the truth of creation: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” But in the very next verse the inspired psalmist turns to God’s continued work and says, “He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.” The reference there is apparently to the wonder work of God’s grace as He led His people, Israel, out of the bondage of Egypt through the Red Sea. He upholds and governs His creation by the same Word of power with which He created the universe.
“Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” Again, a reference to that work of God in the past. Then the psalmist once again speaks of God’s continuous work, when he writes, “The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” Our God upholds all things in His vast creation. So teaches Psalm 33.
Does it not stand to reason?
“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” That is the testimony of Hebrews 11:3. God created the world, by the Word of His power, calling all things into being out of no material thing. Where would God put that world of His creation?
We have a place to go with the things that we make. A woman stitches a wall hanging, and places it on the wall. A man builds a cabinet and installs it in the chosen place.
But when God created the world — we speak figuratively — He had to hold it in His hand forever. And that is true not only of the planet called earth. He upholds all things by the Word of His power. That is true of every creature.
It is the Almighty God, Jehovah, who feeds the sparrows. It is Jehovah who gorgeously clothes the lilies with even greater beauty than that of Solomon. And those testimonies of Jesus are applied to you more directly when He says in Matthew 10:30 and Luke 21:18 that not a hair shall fall from your head except by the will of your heavenly Father. He upholds all things, guiding them to the end that He has appointed.
He upholds our bodies. He upholds our souls. He upholds our minds. He upholds all that we are in the world, in relation to others and in relation to the whole world. We continue to exist according to His will, by His upholding power. What a magnificent God we serve!
God, our faithful Father, is directly involved in our lives and in the function of every element of creation. That is the precious truth of Scripture that we lay hold of by faith.
Governing All Things
Our God also governs all things. His directing of all things is inseparably connected with His upholding of all things, as is evident even in the Scripture passages referred to in the paragraphs above.
God governs everything.
That this creation is a moving creation is very evident in this scientific age. We know today much better than in former years that this creation is from every point of view a living creation. That man and the animals are active, moving creatures is obvious. But in recent years we have learned that all creatures move. The cells and atoms that make up each creature are living and moving cells. The soil itself bustles with living organisms, breaking down other organisms, building still others, all serving in the production of the plants and crops. God made nothing that is dead.
When we say that God governs the whole world and all things, we mean exactly that every movement and life, conscious or unconscious, of every creature, is determined by the Almighty God, our Father.
Scientists speak of natural law. But the psalmist in Psalm 104 shows us in what that natural law consists. He enumerates the outworking of what we call “natural law,” and shows that it is all the work of God Himself. In conclusion the singer lifts his praise to God: “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom thou hast made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.”
Natural law is simply our observation of how God makes and upholds and governs things in an orderly way. God has a law for the moon around the earth, and a law for the earth around the sun. If the earth would revolve around the sun in a different way for each revolution, everything would be upset. The psalmist says, “He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.” (Do not say that the psalmist was ignorant of astronomy. He speaks of the sun not in scientific terms, but as we observe that sun going down over the horizon at the close of day.) That takes place by the Word of God.
That is not to say that God is bound by what we call the natural laws of His creation. Sometimes He works apart from those natural laws. Then He reveals Himself in a wonder. But God is pleased to work by such natural laws for our sakes. He upholds and governs all things for our advantage.
God governs all things with a certain purpose in His perfect mind, and toward a certain end which He in wisdom has determined from eternity.
This is another tremendously comforting aspect of God’s providence.
Directing All Things with Purpose
It becomes evident, when we speak of governing, that there is a purpose in the mind of Him who governs. We must not separate the end from the means. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Our Belgic Confession maintains the same truth in Article 13:
“We believe that the same God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, nor give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will” (emphasis mine).
The Westminster Confession of Faith also sets forth this truth very beautifully in Chapter III, Article 1, when it says: “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”
The purpose which He has in view with all the works of His hands is also expressed in Ephesians 1. He works “all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory….”
The outworking of God’s providence is but His ordained way to that end which He has determined from eternity.
But that applies more particularly to your life and mine, who trust in God. All things serve His wise purpose for us. That thorn in the flesh, that God has not removed, is there to serve our salvation and our everlasting fellowship with our heavenly Father. That shameful but forgiven past will serve God’s wise purpose for us, and will serve us on the pathway to glory. Affliction also serves God’s purpose for us. (We simply touch on the relationship between God’s providence and evil. We intend to come back to that subject in our next article.)
The afflictions which God sends our way, the deaths that touch us and our families, the sorrow — all serve God’s perfect purpose, not only for our own life, but for our life as we stand in relation to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The same is true of all the joyful experiences in life.
So we claim this doctrine as our own. We are believers in the sovereign God, who is our Father for Jesus’ sake.
Faith looks to the Scriptures and contemplates what God does, reconsiders what God has done, and from these things concludes what God shall do in the future. Faith sees the God who is unchangeably faithful, bringing about our promised salvation.