In our preceding article we concluded our discussion of the question whether the days of Genesis 1 are periods or ordinary days. And this also concludes our discussion of the doctrine of creation. We now wish to call attention to the doctrine of the providence of God. This follows naturally from the discussion of creation. The doctrine of Cod’s providence has, of course, many interesting features. The material on this subject as set forth by the early Church Fathers is not as rich as that which pertains to the means of grace and the doctrine of creation. The material, however, is certainly abundantly sufficient to be of great interest to our readers.
We wish to begin this discussion by quoting, at length, from the late Prof. H. Bavinck. He writes on this subject in his Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. II, pages 551, ff., and we quote (we translate from the Holland):
When God had finished His work upon the seventh day, which He had made, He rested upon the seventh day from all His work, Gen. 2:2, Ex. 20:11, 31:17.Thus the Scripture calls attention to the transition from the work of creation to that of preservation. That this resting of God does not have its cause in weariness, nor in an idle looking on, is clearly expressed by Holy Writ again and again, Is. 40:28, Job. 5:17. Creation is no work for God and preservation is not resting. The rest of God only indicates that He made an end of the bringing forth of new things, Eccl. 1:9, 10; that the work of creation in the proper and limited sense of the word, as a producing out of nothing, was finished; and that He delighted Himself in this completed work, Gen. 1:31, Ex. 31:17, Ps. 104:31). The work of creation now goes over into that of preservation. Both are distinguished so essentially in the Scripture that they can be placed over against each other as labor and rest. And, yet, they are so closely related and connected, that preservation itself can be called creating, Ps. 104:30, 148:5, Is. 45:7, Amos 4:13. Fact is, preservation itself is also a Divine work, not less great and glorious than creation. God always works, John 5:17, and the world has no existence in itself. From the moment of its beginning it exists only in and through and when God had finished His work upon the seventh day, which He had made, He rested upon the seventh day from all His work, Gen. 2:2,Ex. 20:11, 31:17. Thus the Scripture calls attention to the transition from the work of creation to that of preservation. That this resting of God does not have its cause in weariness, nor in an idle looking on, is clearly expressed by Holy Writ again and again, Is. 40:28, Job. 5:17. Creation is no work for God and preservation is not resting. The rest of God only indicates that He made an end of the bringing forth of new things, Eccl. 1:9, 10; that the work of creation in the proper and limited sense of the word, as a producing out of nothing, was finished; and that He delighted Himself in this completed work, Gen. 1:31, Ex. 31:17, Ps. 104:31). The work of creation now goes over into that of preservation. Both are distinguished so essentially in the Scripture that they can be placed over against each other as labor and rest. And, yet, they are so closely related and connected, that preservation itself can be called creating, Ps. 104:30, 148:5, Is. 45:7, Amos 4:13. Fact is, preservation itself is also a Divine work, not less great and glorious than creation. God always works, John 5:17, and the world has no existence in itself. From the moment of its beginning it exists only in and through and unto God, Neh. 9:6, Ps. 104:30, Acts 17:28,Rom. 11:36, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3, Rev. 4:11. Although distinguished from its essence;, it is never independent in its existence; independence would be nothingness. The whole world, with all that is in it and happens in it, stands under God’s control: summer and winter, day and night, fruitful and unfruitful years, light and darkness, all is His work and is formed by Him, Gen. 8:22, 9:14: Lev. 26:3v., Deut. 11:12v., Job 38, Ps. 8, 29, 65, 104, 147, Jer. 3:3, 5:24, Matt. 5:45, ff. The Scriptures know no independent creature; this would be a contradiction in itself. God cares for all creatures, for animals, Gen. 1:30, 6:19, 7:2, 9:10, Job 38:41, Ps. 36:7, 104:27, 147:9, Joel 1:20, Matt. 6:26etc., and especially also for people. He sees them all, Job 34:21, Ps. 33:13, 14, Prov. 15:3, forms their every heart and takes note of all their works, Ps. 33:15, Prov. 5:21; they are all the works of His hands, Job 34:19, the poor and the rich, Prov. 22:2, He determines their every dwelling,Deut. 32:8, Acts 17:26, inclines their every heart, Prov. 21:1, directs all their paths, Prov. 5:21, 16:9, 19:21, Jer. 10:23 etc., and does with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth according to His pleasure, Dan. 4:35. They are in His hands as clay in the hand of the potter, as a saw in the hand of him who draws it, Is. 29:16, 45:9; Jer. 18:5; Rom. 9:20, 21.
His providential control is directed very particularly towards His people. The entire history of the patriarchs, of Israel, of the church (gemeente, H.V.), and of every believer is proof of this. What men thought evil against them, God meant it for their good, Gen. 50:20; every weapon that is formed against them shall not Prosper, Is. 54:17; even the hairs of their head are all counted, Matt. 10:30; everything works together for good unto them, Rom. 8:28. Thus all that which has been created stands in the power and under the control of God; both, chance and fate (toeval en noodlot, H.V.), are unknown in the Scriptures, Ex. 21:13, Prov. 16:33. It is God, Who works all things according to the counsel of His will, Eph. 1:11, and makes everything subservient to the revelation of His virtues, to the glory of His name, Prov. 16:4, Rom. 11:36. All this the Scriptures comprehend very. beautifully in such a way, that they repeatedly speak of God as of a King, Who rules over all things, Ps. 10:16, 24:7, 8, 29:10, 44:5, 47:7, 74:12, Ps. 115:3, Is. 33:22 etc. God is a King, the King of kings and the Lord of lords; a King, Who in Christ is a Father for His subjects, and a Father, Who is also King over His children. All that which takes place among the creatures, in the world of animals and people and angels, in the family and state and society, of caring for them, loving them, and the defending of the one by the other, is a weak picture of God’s providential control over all the works of His hands. His absolute power and His perfect love are the proper object of faith in God’s providence in the Holy Scriptures.
To this testimony of Scripture must be added the testimony of all peoples. The doctrine of the providence of God is a mixture, known in part by all men out of God’s revelation in nature. It is an article of faith in every religion, also in the most adulterated religion; whosoever denies it, undermines religion; without it there is no place anymore for prayer and sacrifice, for faith and hope, for trust and love. Cicero asks, Why serve God, if He care not for us whatever. Also philosophy has often recognized and defended this providence of God. Yet the doctrine of providence was therefore not the same in heathen religion and philosophy as it is in Christendom. With the heathens this faith in providence was more theory than practice, more philosophical than religious dogma; it did not reach unto them in need and in death; it always tossed to and fro between chance and fate. Whereas God, for example, according to Plato was no creator but only he who formed the world, his power found its boundary in finite material. Although Aristotle repeatedly speaks of his faith in God’s providential control, yet this coincided with him with the working of the causes of nature; the Godhead stands as a lonely spectator outside of the world, without will, without action, and the creature cannot expect from it any help or love. The Stoic identified providential care with nature, and, according to the Epicurean providence was in conflict with the salvation of the Gods. It is true that some exerted themselves to escape both, chance and fate; but it is a fact that fate always exerted itself behind and above the Godhead, and fate penetrated from below into the lower creatures and the smaller events of life.
The Christian’s faith in God’s providence is not of this nature. To the contrary, it is a source of comfort and hope, of trust and courage, of humility and confidence, Ps. 23, 33:10 ff., Ps. 44:5 ff., Ps. 127:1, 2, Ps. 146:2 ff., etc. Faith in providence rests by no means only upon God’s revelation in nature, but more much upon His covenant and promises; it has for its foundation not only God’s righteousness, but above all also His compassion and grace; it presupposes the knowledge of sin, much deeper than among the heathens (surely the heathens do not know sin, H.V.), but also the experience of God’s forgiving love; it is no cosmological speculation, but a glorious confession of faith. Correctly, therefore, Ritschl has brought this faith in providence in close connection with faith in salvation. Faith in God’s providence is not for the Christian an article of natural theology, to which later saving faith is added. But it is saving faith which causes us, first of all, to believe with all our heart in the providence of God in the world, causes us to. see the meaning of it and to taste the comfort of it. Faith in God’s providence is therefore an article of Christian faith. For the natural man there are so many objections to be lodged against God’s control of the world that it is extremely difficult for him to cleave to it. But the Christian has beheld the special providence of God in the cross of Christ, and experienced in his own heart the forgiving and regenerating grace of God. And from out of this new, sure experience in his own life he now glances over his entire existence and over the entire world, and he .discovers in all things, not a chance or fate, but the guidance of God’s fatherly hand. Nevertheless, although all this has been unfolded correctly by Ritschl, saving faith, on the other hand, may not be identified with or seek its solution therein. Special revelation is to be distinguished from general revelation, and saving faith in the person of Christ is another than general faith in God’s control in the world. It is exactly through faith in Christ that the believer is in the position, notwithstanding all problems, to hold fast to the truth that that God, Who rules over the world, is the same loving and merciful Father, Who forgave him all his sins in Christ, adopted him to be His child, and will cause him to inherit the everlasting salvation. And faith in God’s providence is then no imagination but certain and sure, it rests upon the revelation of God in Christ and carries with it the conviction, that nature will be in the service of grace and the world will be in the service of the kingdom of God. Thus it looks gladly through all misery and suffering into the future; although all the problems are not solved, faith in God’s fatherly hand always lifts itself up out of the depths and causes one to glory even in tribulations.
Although this is a lengthy quotation from the late Professor H. Bavinck, we wanted to quote it, to give our readers a general resume of this doctrine of the providence of God as set forth by this theologian. We expect, of course, to call attention to several details of this doctrine as developed and confessed throughout the ages.
Incidentally, we may remark that the word, providence, as used to designate this doctrine, does not appear in Holy Writ. The attempt has been made to give this word a Scriptural character by appealing to such passages as Gen. 22:8, I Sam. 16:1, Ezek. 20:6, Heb. 11:40. There are also instances in the Scripture where the idea of making provision appears with respect to man, as Rom. 12:17, 13:14, I Tim. 5:8. And the word, providence, also occurs in Acts 24:3. But this does not take away the fact that Scripture nowhere speaks of a providence of God. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that we may not therefore use the term. Terms such as Trinity and Attributes do not appear in the Word of God either. However, the term, providence, as such is an objectionable term. The word, providence, is a compound word, and it means: to see before, or before-hand. Years ago, when it was common to burn coal to heat our homes, we would order coal before the winter set in, would supply ourselves with the necessary fuel before-hand. This, we understand, hardly applies to the Lord. The Lord does not merely see “before-hand.” The Arminian, we know, is devoted to this type of terminology, speaks of God’s election and reprobation as upon foreseen faith and unbelief. God, then, saw before the time that the one would believe and that the other would not believe. And He elected the believer and reprobated the unbeliever. But this is not the language of the Scriptures and of our confessions. God does not simply adapt Himself to foreseen circumstances, but He does and works all things after the counsel of His own will. And we are surely acquainted with the fact that this sovereign and almighty control and direction of the Lord throughout the universe and also in the lives of all the children of men is most clearly and definitely taught in the Word of God. Yet, this term, providence, has been given a place in the dogmatical terminology of the church of God. Of course, that the Lord provides for all creatures is surely according to the Word of God. But He does this according to the sovereign counsel of His own will. We define the providence of God as that almighty and everywhere present power of God whereby He sustains and directs all things to that end which He has determined for them from before the foundation of the world. And we do well to understand that this applies most emphatically to all things, including all the moral-rational acts of all His moral creatures, including all the powers of sin and darkness.