God’s Providence as Preservation
God’s preservation is that aspect of His providence according to which God by His omnipresent power upholds all things, so that they continue to exist.
This, so we maintained in our previous article, means that the immanent-transcendent God upholds all things. We saw that the truths of God’s immanence and His transcendence lie at the basis of the truth that God upholds all things by the Word of His power.
We are now ready to discuss that upholding power as such.
In the first place, we must be careful not to separate between God and His power. God and His attributes are one: God is His attributes. When, therefore, we speak of the power of God, we are speaking of God Himself. Emphatically it is God Himself, not merely a certain abstract power of God, that upholds all things. God upholds all things by the Word of His power.
In the second place, this means that God literally holds all things in His almighty hand. This is the only reason why they continue to exist. This is indeed a tremendous wonder. If God for a split second withdrew from His creation, all things would fall back into nothing. All things round about us and we ourselves are in the hand of God. God with His infinite Being touches the being of every creature from moment to moment, holding it in existence. To be sure, God’s providence is not a continued or repeated act of creation. For creation means that God calls the things that are not as if they were. But just as the Word of. God in each creature constitutes the substance of that creature, so that all creation is a Word of God, and just as that omnipotent Word which God spoke at the beginning has no existence and no power apart from Him, so God continues to speak the Word that causes each creature to be. And through that Word of His power the Being of God so touches the substance of all creatures, and of each creature according to its increated nature, that all creatures together, and each individually and in its own place, continue to be. That the Being of God touches the being of every creature exactly in such a way that the Being of God remains distinct from the being of the creature is because the God of Providence is the Transcendent One. And yet as the Immanent One, God with all His infinite Being is in all things. Not physically and materially are we to conceive of this immense and immanent God, as though God is so great and so expansive that He fills all things, so that a part of Him, so to speak, touches every creature in the world. But God Himself, the “whole” infinite God, is in all things, upholding them all by the Word of His power.
Such is the idea of God’s providence as preservation.
And the significance of this ought to be clear. In the first place, even from this point of view all things are providential. We are not as a rule aware of this. If not doctrinally, then in our practical, everyday life we are easily inclined to distinguish between things that are providential and things that are not providential. If a small creature or an ordinarily insignificant and unnoticed event suddenly plays a very significant role that changes the course of our life or turns the tide of history, we will sometimes say, “Wasn’t that providential!” The implication is that other things are not providential. But this distinction is false. All things are providential. The only trouble is that as a rule we are so blind and so unmindful of the operation of God’s providence that it takes a very striking event to make us open our eyes and take notice of God’s providence. And what I mean to emphasize in this connection is that even from the point of view of preservation the God of providence is very near us. God Himself upholds every creature. God is all around us! He is in the sun that shines, in the rain that falls, in the lightning that flashes and the thunder that rolls. He operates in every blade of grass on which we trample so thoughtlessly. The God of providence is in the flower of the field in every bird and beast and insect, in the very germs that infect us. He is in the very air that we breathe, so that if He did not hold that air in existence, there would be no air to breathe. He is in the very cells of the blood that courses through our arteries, so that if He did not uphold that blood, there would be no blood to form our blood stream. He is in the very heart that pumps that blood,—the heart that we say operates “involuntarily,”—so that if He did not uphold it, it would not even be there to beat. He it is that upholds our very mind,—that mind that seems to think its thoughts spontaneously; and if He did not bear our mind by the Word of His power, it could not think. By His omnipotent Word He upholds and keeps in existence our will that chooses; and if He did not, there would simply be no will to choose. Indeed, God is not far from any one of us; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being!
In the second place, in this light we can also see a little more clearly the intrinsic connection between preservation and government. In fact, this very truth of divine preservation brings us into the sphere of God’s providential government automatically. For it ought to be evident that if God holds in His almighty hand the very existence of the creature, then He has that creature completely in His control. In fact, one cannot conceive of a more complete government than that of the divine Governor Who holds in His power the very existence of the creature and of all other creatures that stand related to it, that affect it. Surely, that creature,—nor any other creature that is related to it and affects it,—that creature cannot so much as move apart from His almighty hand.
In the third place, what a comfort there is here for the child of God. The more clearly the Christian is aware of God’s nearness, the more assured he ought to be. For that God Who is so near is the God that is filled with lovingkindness toward him, while He is filled with wrath against the wicked. The God Who is as near to us as the mind with which we think of Him is the God Who is for us!
God’s Providence as Government
We must now discuss the second aspect of God’s providence, and that which receives the lion’s share of attention in Article XIII of our Confession, namely, divine government of all things.
This divine government means, according to Article XIII, that God rules and governs fall things according to His holy will, so that nothing happens without His appointment.
Now what is implied in this?
We have already discussed the subject of God’s holy will as our Confession presents it here as the standard of God’s providential government; and we need not repeat what we stated in that connection. Let us only remind ourselves that this “holy will” is the eternal counsel of God and that is always characterized by infinite divine holiness, that is, not only freedom from sin and imperfection, but, positively, perfect divine Self-consecration. Hence, the ultimate goal of God’s counsel is the glory of His own name. And that ultimate purpose of the glory of His name God determined to achieve in His revelation of His Son in the flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord, and through Him the realization of His eternal covenant of grace with His elect in the new heavens and the new earth, and that too,—along the deep way of sin and grace, death and resurrection.
And God’s government means, very simply, that God Himself executes His counsel and achieves the purpose of His holy will. It means that God so controls and directs all things in their existence and development and all their activity, individually and in relation to all other things, that the counsel of His will is realized, His eternal good pleasure is accomplished, and the goal of His counsel is attained.
Let us understand this very clearly. For this is what our Confession means when it speaks of God’s “appointment.” This term appointment does not refer in this connection to God’s counsel. For our Confession speaks of God’s counsel when it mentions that all things are governed “according to His holy will.” It does not refer to God’s planning, God’s deciding, God’s determining, of events. It rather refers to the happening of the events themselves,—in time, in this world. It refers not to the counsel, but to the accomplishment of the divine plan. It means not that God planned events merely, but that He actually brings them about, orders all things. These events are His “ordinances.”
Such is the positive idea of God’s government.
God did not conceive of and plan all things, and then say, so to speak, “Let us hope that all things work out according to plan.” But He works out His counsel. Nor are we ever to imagine that God had a plan which centered around a purpose in Adam, but that He also had a substitute plan, involving Christ, in case things did not work out right with Adam and the first creation. Such notions are after all in their deepest root Deistic, for they put God outside of His own creation and outside of history.
(to be continued)