The three elements of the providence of God are preservation, cooperation, and government. In our last article we called attention to the Lord’s preservation of all things. In this article we wish to call attention to that phase of the providence of the Lord that is known as government. We wish to reserve our last article for the discussion of cooperation because this aspect of the providence of God concerns the relation of sin to God’s sovereign and constant control over all things. We have mentioned that there are three elements which constitute the doctrine of the providence of God. Really, we may speak of only two elements. What we call ‘”cooperation” is really not a third element beside and in addition to “preservation” and “government.” What we call “cooperation” is really God’s government, but as controlling the acts of all His moral-rational creatures. In this article we wish to call attention to this government of the Lord from a general point of view.
Writing on this phase or aspect of God’s providence, Prof. H. Berkhof, in his Reformed Dogmatics, writes as follows on pages 175-176, and we quote:
1. NATURE OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. The divine government may be defined as that continued activity of God whereby He rules all things teleological so as to secure the accomplishment of the divine purpose. This government is not simply a part of divine providence but, just as preservation and concurrence, the whole of it, but now considered from the point of view of the end to which God is guiding all things in creation, namely, to the glory of His name.
a. It is the government of God as King of the universe. In the present day many regard the idea of God as King to be an antiquated Old Testament notion, and would substitute for it the New Testament idea of God as Father. The idea of divine sovereignty must make place for that of divine love. This is thought to be in harmony with the progressive idea of God in Scripture. But it is a mistake to think that divine revelation, as it rises to even higher levels, intends to wean us gradually from the idea of God as King, and to substitute for it the idea of God as Father. This is already contradicted by the prominence of the idea of the Kingdom of God in the teachings of Jesus. And if it be said that this involves merely the idea of a special and limited kingship of God, it may be replied that the idea of the Fatherhood of God in the Gospels is subject to the same restrictions and limitations. Jesus does not teach a universal Fatherhood of God. Moreover, the New Testament also teaches the universal kingship of God in such passages as
He is both King and Father, and is the source of all authority in heaven and on earth, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
b. It is a government adapted to the nature of the creatures which He governs. In the physical world He has established the laws of nature, and it is by means of these laws that He administers the government of the physical universe. In the mental world He administers His government mediately through the properties and laws of mind, and immediately, by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. In the government and control of moral agents He makes use of all kinds of moral influences, such circumstances, motives, instruction, persuasion, and example, but also works directly by the personal operation of the Holy Spirit on the intellect, the will, and the heart.
2. THE EXTENT OF THIS GOVERNMENT. Scripture explicitly declares this divine government to be universal,
. It is really the execution of His eternal purpose, embracing all His works from the beginning, all that was or is or ever shall be. But while it is general, it also descends to particulars. The most insignificant things,
that which is seemingly accidental,
the good deeds of men,
as well as their evil deeds,
they are all under divine control. God is King of Israel,
but He also rules among the nations,
Nothing can be withdrawn from His government.
In connection with this quotation of Prof. Berkhof, we would make a few observations. First, we have no criticism of what the late professor writes here of the government of the Lord. We may certainly endorse this definition, namely that the divine government may be defined as that continued activity of God whereby He rules all things teleologically so as to secure the accomplishment of the divine purpose. And, secondly, he also declares that “Jesus does not teach a universal Fatherhood of God.” How wonderful it would have been had the late professor been consistent along this line! On the one hand, he declares that Jesus does not teach a universal Fatherhood of God. But, on the other hand, he also taught a universal love of God, and he was also prominent in the drawing up of the Three Points of 1924 by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church at Kalamazoo. And, this universal love of God, according to him, was of such a nature that the Lord would have all men be saved, would lead all men to repentance. However, also according to Berkhof in his explanation of Romans 2:4, the result did not answer to the purpose. This means, of course, that what the Lord purposed to do fell short of fulfillment. In the light of this, it certainly constitutes a glaring contradiction on the part of the late professor when he declares that God’s providence is His sovereign control over all things that the government of the Lord means that He rules all things teleologically so as to secure the accomplishment of the divine purpose. It must surely be apparent that a God Who would save all men but fails in His purpose is not in sovereign and complete control over all things. According to his view, man certainly has much to say as far as his salvation is concerned.
Also of interest, of course, is what Rev. H. Hoeksema has to say in his Dogmatics. After he has set forth the doctrine of God’s preservation, writing of the divine government over all things, he writes as follows, and we quote:
But even so all is not said.
The creation of God, as the Almighty formed it in the beginning, was indeed good. There was no defect or flaw in the works of the Most High. For God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good. It was so formed that it could serve the purpose of its existence. But this does not mean that the end of all the works of God was reached in the beginning. Even the fact that God made the cosmos a living creation that was adapted to development, proves that the end was not yet. The human race was organically created in one man, out of whom millions upon millions were to come forth. Hidden powers were working in creation that must still be brought to light. Creation stood only at its beginning. It must develop and pass through a history. We must therefore not connect the providence of God with creation without anything further, without taking into account the history of the world along the lines of sin and grace. For if we do, we run the danger of harboring the mistaken notion that God from the beginning conceived of a two-fold purpose, the one according to which He wanted His creation to develop normally according to a so-called ordinance of creation, the other according to which He aimed at the final perfection of all things in Christ Jesus. And with this conception it is possible to depart from the truth in two different directions.
On the one hand, it is possible to conceive of the matter as if God really had a double counsel: one in which the Lord purposed to cause His creation to develop normally, in case Adam remained standing in his original integrity; the other in which He provided for the possibility of Adam’s fall and for the salvation of His people in Christ Jesus. And of course, the latter happened. The outcome, of course, was in that case entirely contingent upon the free will of Adam. As far as creation itself is concerned, it is for evermore deplorable that the devil succeeded in his purpose to mar and spoil the beautiful works of God; and the work of salvation is after all repair work. Such a conception is really blasphemous: for it robs God of His honor, and to a large extent gives the devil and the forces of iniquity the victory.
But with this same conception we can also depart from the truth in a different direction, namely, in that of common grace. According to this theory, God has in mind the creation ordinance; and He still maintains it: the riches of creation must be brought to light under the dominion of man. Satan meant to frustrate this purpose of God through the fall of man. But God through common grace, by which He restrains sin and checks the curse in creation so that man does not become a devil nor descends into hell or falls dead in paradise before the tree of life, counteracts this attempt of the devil and maintains His original ordinance of creation, realizing His purpose. In the meantime, however, the Lord begins a new work, through which the chief purpose of all things is realized and all things will be reunited in Christ Jesus as their Head.
Also this conception finds no support in Holy Writ. Besides, it is certainly a dualistic conception: for it proceeds from the erroneous assumption that sin, death, and the curse, instead of being powers which God works, manifestations of His wrath, are powers outside and apart from Him, which He must restrain.
Hence, we must have a different presentation of the matter, and establish at once the fact that God did not have all kinds of possibilities in mind when He created the world, but had before His mind only one purpose. That purpose was not to perfect all things in the first Adam, which was out of the earth, earthy, but to bring them to final perfection in Christ, Who is the Lord from heaven. The final goal of all things which God conceived in His counsel was the new creation, in which righteousness shall dwell for ever, of which Christ shall be the eternal Head in whom all things shall be united. This is the only purpose God ever conceived in His eternal counsel. And the providence of God certainly implies that from the very first beginning to the end of the world, that is, till the return of Christ, God governs all things and guides them by His counsel unto the end He has in view. And from the beginning to the end nothing ever occurs in all the world which, does not happen according to the counsel of the Most High. That is why the doctrine of the providence of God affords us unspeakable consolation: all things are in the hand of our heavenly Father; all things must work together for good to them that love God; and, in the end it will become manifest that all the power of darkness worked together for the realization of God’s eternal purpose in Christ Jesus and to the glory of His holy Name.”