GOD’S PROVIDENCE AS GOVERNMENT (cont.)
We must still consider briefly two more elements in connection with God’s government as an element of divine providence.
In the first place, we must remember that the positive motivation of God’s government is His grace over His people in Christ Jesus our Lord. This must never be overlooked. God’s providence must never be conceived of as a mere cold, bare display of a certain irresistible power whereby all things are rigidly and inexorably controlled, purely for the sake of the manifestation of a sovereign power. Nor, certainly, must God’s providence be confused with a “common grace,” whereby God still has in mind the creation ordinance, maintains it, and brings to light the riches of creation under the dominion of man. According to this theory God is favorable to all men, and, in spite of Satan’s diabolical attempt to frustrate God’s creation-purpose, God by common grace restrains sin and checks the power of the curse in creation, so that there remains much good in man and in creation, and so that God realizes His ordinance and purpose of creation. In this view there is essentially no room for the work of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. That work is a new work, separate and different from the “common grace” work and purpose of divine providence. Nor, by the way, should we allow ourselves to be misled by the idea that “common grace” and “providence” are but two different terms for the same reality. In the past it has sometimes been suggested that the whole common grace controversy really revolved about terminology, and that what we want to call “providence” others want to call “common grace.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. We must always remember, of course, that words and theological terms have meaning, and that this meaning is inevitably carried by those terms. To confuse providence with a certain “common grace” inevitably conveys the idea that there is a common favor, or grace, of God displayed to mankind in general in that work of God’s providence. And then, of course, we confront the question: what grace do the reprobate receive in God’s providential government of things? The answer is: absolutely none! And the reason is that through His providential government God, on the one hand, realizes His counsel of reprobation, sets the wicked in slippery places, and casts them down into destruction.
There is indeed grace displayed in God’s providence and motivating His divine government of the world; but that grace is His one grace over His people in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This stands in close connection with the truth which we have already explained, that it is according to God’s holy will, His counsel, that God governs all things. God had before His mind but one purpose. That purpose was to bring all things to perfection in Christ, the Firstborn of every creature, and that too, as the first begotten from the dead. The goal fixed in God’s eternal good pleasure was the new creation, in which righteousness shall dwell forever, the creation of which Christ shall be the everlasting Head in Whom all things are united. That sole purpose of God’s eternal counsel constitutes the goal of His divine government of all things in time. It is with a view to that goal and the realization of that purpose that governs all things, in harmony with His counsel, from the very first beginning unto the end of the world, the consummation of all things at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the very beginning nothing in all the world ever occurs which does not happen according to His counsel and by His divine government. And in His government of all things the Almighty follows an absolutely straight course toward the goal. There are no accidents. There are no interfering powers. There are no unforeseen circumstances. There are no mistakes. There is never any retracing of the way. There is never any possibility that things might have been accomplished in a different, a better way than that which the Lord follows. There is essentially never any spoiling of God’s work, any frustrating of His purpose. Through all the events and circumstances of history God’s almighty hand is on the helm of the ship of the universe, and He pilots that ship from the beginning of Genesis 1 over the ocean of history to the harbor of the consummation of all things in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, following a straight, undeviating course.
All this implies the second element which we must consider yet in connection with God’s government of all things, namely, that this government is all-comprehensive: nothing is excluded from it. Our Confession could not phrase this any more succinctly. It tells us literally: “. . . nothing happens in this world without his appointment.” Our Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes the same thing, Lord’s Day X: “. . . he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that . . . . . all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” And again: “. . . since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.” It is plain, too, that our Confession means this in the most inclusive sense of the word, namely, that absolutely no creature and no event is excluded from God’s government. All the brute creation, all the living and moving creatures, all rational, moral creatures, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, including righteous and wicked, whether men or angels,—they all are under the sovereign control and direction of God’s government. That this is indeed the meaning of our Confession is plain not only from the plain statement, “. . . nothing happens in this world without his appointment.” But that by this “nothing” our Confession means exactly nothing is clear from the fact that immediately after this statement the article deals with the relation between God’s providence and sin. This can only be because the Confession includes the acts of devils and of wicked men under the government of God. Otherwise this problem would never arise.
Hence, to this particular aspect of God’s government we must give our attention next time, D.V.