Thus far we spoke of God’s providential government only with respect to the world as it exists and moves. He controls and directs every movement and all the activity of the creature, anorganic and organic, brute and rational, good and evil. But God’s government of the world also implies that He directs the course of its history and development, from its beginning to its end, and that according to His eternal good pleasure, and unto the end He has in mind and determined upon before the foundation of the world. When a big ocean liner leaves the harbor and plows through the waves of the Atlantic, there is within the ship a veritable world of activity and movement, of men and machines, of passengers and crew, all under the direction of the captain; but with all its life and activity aboard, the ship also makes progress from the point of its departure toward its destination, and this, too, is under the government of its chief officer. The same is true of God’s providence with relation to the world. Creation is teeming with life and activity, and all its movement is directed as by the very hand of God; but it also makes history. Like the ocean liner, the world God finished on the sixth day of creation week was destined to make progress, to pass through a certain course of development. It was designed to cross the ocean of time, and to advance from its beginning in creation to the destination God determined for it in His eternal good pleasure. It proceeds through the ages from the alpha of creation to the omega of its consummation. And when we speak of God’s providential government we also mean that it is He Who directs this entire course of the world throughout the ages of history. He is the Captain aboard this ocean liner of the universe, and so governs its course, that it advances along a straight path, without ever deviating from it, toward its final destination.
It is an important question, the answer to which determines for us the meaning of history, as well as the proper “world and life view” of the believer in regard to the present world and his own position and calling in it, what may be the end, the destination of our universe according to God’s eternal purpose. What is the meaning of this present age? What is the pattern of all things? Whither are we drifting, and what is the proper evaluation of all the labor and toil of the creature, particularly of man? Is there really such a thing as progress, and is man, with all his strife and effort, with his toil and suffering, his culture and civilization, his war and bloodshed and destruction, really accomplishing something, attaining to a certain goal? If so, what is the goal toward which he is advancing? What is the final purpose of all things in our present world, and what may be the proper position of the Christian and his calling with respect to this world?
And here we may at once discard as false the answer of evolutionistic philosophy to the question regarding the direction in which the world is moving, and the end that is to be attained. Its answer is that the world is constantly moving in the direction of the highest possible perfection by way of gradual development. It is evident to all, even to the unbelieving philosopher, that the present world, such as it is, with all its suffering and death, with all its hatred and strife, with all its corruption and crimes, with its war and bloodshed, cannot be the final, the ideal, certainly is not the perfect world. There is something, there is a good deal that is wrong. But we are making progress in the direction of the perfect world. And when we reflect whence we started, and consider the aboriginal state of the savage whence we ascended step by step the steep and difficult road of advancement and improvement, of culture and civilization, of social and political as well as moral reform, we have good reason to congratulate ourselves, and to be filled with hope for the future that the end shall be attained, the world of social and political prosperity and peace, from which all hatred and strife shall be banished, and in which suffering, perhaps even death, shall be overcome, and all men shall enjoy the more abundant life. He that believes the Word of God cannot for a moment agree with this philosophy of evolutionism. For it ignores the fact of the fall of man, and all its consequences. The meaning of history is certainly not that of gradual progress toward the highest possible perfection of the present world. The goal and direction of God’s providential government is not that of evolutionistic philosophy. And the Christian cannot possibly cooperate toward the attainment of its ideal.
The same holds true for modern postmillenialism. We are not thinking now of this conception as opposed to that of premillennarianism, still less must we be understood as declaring ourselves in favor of the latter. We are not at present concerned with the unbiblical teachings of postmillennarianism concerning the second coming of Christ, the final judgment and the resurrection of the body. It is rather the postmillennarian view of God’s providence, of His government of the present world, with relation to the kingdom of God, and, therefore, its conception of the meaning of history, that concerns us here. For, according to it, this relation of God’s providential government to the coming of the kingdom of God is such that, if they are not identical, the former at least supplies the basis and forms for the latter: in the development of the present world and of human culture and civilization the kingdom of God is gradually coming, until the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our God and His Christ. “God has not confined himself to distinctively religious and Christian agencies in building his kingdom in the world. ‘The earth is Jehovah’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein’ (), and therefore all facts and forces are at his disposal in his works of providence and grace. Our whole expanding, progressive civilization, therefore, may be viewed as a means of extending his kingdom. Though this civilization is not the kingdom itself, yet more and more as it is progressively Christianized will it be merged into the kingdom, and the two may finally become practically identical when The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ’ ( ). Civil government, from this point of view, is an instrument of God for protecting and extending his kingdom ( ).
Commerce is a powerful means of knitting the world into unity and brotherhood. All trains and ships are shuttles weaving the world into one web. Great inventions readily lend themselves to this service. The first book printed on the printing press was the Bible, and the press has been a powerful gospelizer ever since. Every inventor practically lays his machine at the feet of Jesus Christ as the wise men laid their gold and frankincense and myrrh at the feet of the infant Jesus. Steam and electricity are turning the wheels and flashing the currents of the world for him, railways are speeding their trains across the continents and steamships are plowing the seas for him, the airships spreads its wings for him, the sewing machine sews for him, the typewriter writes its messages, telephone and telegraph have enmeshed the globe in a network of wires that is the great nervous system of humanity and flashes everywhere its truth and grace, and wireless telegraphy shoots his messages through the ether around the earth. Even swords and guns and all our mighty modern engines of destruction, as we have already seen, may fight for his kingdom and help to bring in its universal peace. Our developing science and art are contributions to his kingdom. All truth is religious and comes from God, as all our light shoots from the sun. The kingdom of God is enthroned in the intelligence of the mind as well as in the loyalty of the heart and we are to love the Lord our God with all our mind. This means that we are to be open and hospitable to all truth from whatever source it comes and use it in unveiling God’s glory and furthering his kingdom. So, all true art is religious, for it discloses the beauty of God. God is beautiful, and so he has built a beautiful world and is building a beautiful kingdom. There should be no unfriendliness between our science and our theology, and between our art and our worship. The beauty of the Lord our God should be upon us in all that we think with our minds and do with our hands. The growing social sense of the world, leveling artificial and unjust distinctions and privileges, letting all men out to liberty and brotherhood, and earnestly endeavoring to build a social order that will give the means of a worthy and beautiful life to every human being, is a long step towards the kingdom of God on earth, a highway along which the redeemed shall come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.”(1)
This beautiful postmillennarian idealism, then, finds the meaning of history in the gradual development of all things in the direction of the kingdom of God on earth. God’s government of this world is such that it leads directly to the goal of the perfected kingdom of God. But the following objections must be raised against this view: 1. It is quite contrary to the picture Scripture everywhere gives us of the trend of development we must expect of this world, as well as of its end. Iniquity will abound, the means and forces of this world will be pressed into the service of ungodliness, the faithful will be few, and will have no standing room in the world. 2. It closes its eyes to the fact that all creation is under the curse, and that the creature is in the bondage of corruption, and subject to vanity. There is in this world no material for a perfected kingdom of God. 3. It denies the, antithesis, according to which God works out His counsel in this world along the lines of election and reprobation. 4. It forgets that all the forces and institutions of this world are also, and especially, used by the forces of evil for the realization of the kingdom of antichrist, and is in grave danger of looking upon the latter as the kingdom of God. 5. It seeks the kingdom of God in outward forms and institutions, rather than in the power of grace and regeneration, and forgets that in this world the scope of the kingdom is limited to the sphere in which the Spirit of Christ dwells. 6. And to this we may add that it closes its eyes to reality and actual experience, for with all its boasted culture and civilization the world is characterized by corruption, apostasy, hatred, war and destruction more than ever before.
A peculiar view is offered by those who present God’s providential government of this world as a matter of common grace. According to this view, the goal of God’s government of the present world is the realization of His original creation ordinance, through man as His covenant friend and co-worker, and to the glory of His name. Man’s calling was to “cultivate” the earth and its fullness, to employ all his powers and gifts and talents as the servant of God to explore and develop and bring to light the hidden wonders and forces of the universe, and thus to bring the world to its highest possible perfection. This was the original creation ordinance of God. But Satan, intending to deprive God of the glory of His name, makes an attempt to frustrate this plan of God, and to ruin the present world, by tempting man, causing him to fall into sin and death, and making him an enemy of God. In this attempt he is apparently successful, for the friend of God, who was king of creation, heeds the word of the devil, rejects the Word of God, and falls into sin and death. And Satan would have been completely successful had God not intervened by His common grace. Adam and Eve would have perished right there and then in Paradise, would probably have been cast into hell at once, the beautiful creation of God would have turned into a chaos, and God’s original ordinance of creation would never have been realized. But God immediately intervened by His common grace. He restrained the process of sin, of death, and of the curse. The result is. not only that man did not die on the day he ate of the forbidden tree, but also that creation was preserved against sinking into a chaotic state. Moreover, man did not become as totally and absolutely depraved as he undoubtedly would have become, if this common grace of God had not intervened. And this operation of restraining grace continues throughout the history of this present world. On its basis and by virtue of its power, God could enter into a covenant with all men, outside of Christ, the sign of which He gave in the rainbow that spans the heavens. And in this covenant man is God’s partner and co-worker over against Satan, for the purpose of realizing the original creation ordinance of the Most High and frustrating the attempt of the devil to rob God of His glory. Thus man is able, apart from Christ and regeneration, to accomplish much good in the present world, to cultivate the earth and all its powers, press them into his service in science and art, in industry and commerce, and build the proud structure of culture and civilization through the common grace of God. At the same time God carries out His purpose of salvation in Christ, gathers His Church, and establishes His kingdom in the world that is thus preserved and developed through this power of common grace, and the latter is therefore subservient to the former. The fruits of common grace shall even be carried into the New Jerusalem. However, toward the end God will withdraw the restraining influence of common grace, the world will rush headlong into corruption and destruction, and the man of sin, whom Christ will consume by the brightness of His coming, will appear. The original ordinance of creation having been realized, the world will be destroyed to make room for the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness shall dwell for ever. The meaning of history, and the goal of God’s providential government with respect to the present world, according to this view, is the realization of the original creation ordinance of God.
Many objections may be raised against this thoroughly dualistic conception of history, but for our present purpose the following may suffice. 1. There is no original ordinance of creation which Satan attempted to frustrate. God’s eternal purpose with all things is never any other than that which is actually attained. When He created the world His purpose surely cannot have been, and was not, that the earth and its fullness should be brought to its highest possible perfection and development under the first man Adam, and without sin. He had in mind the higher realization of His glory and of His eternal covenant in and through the second Adam. And this purpose He realizes even through the temptation of the devil and the fall, death and the curse, through the wonder of His grace. 2. Sin is ethical, and could not possibly have resulted in the reduction of the world to a chaotic state. Even though the spiritual-ethical relation of man to God was radically changed, so that, instead of being the friend of God, he became his enemy and the ally of Satan, there is no reason why God should not sustain and preserve him, together with all the world and its powers, in essentially the same relationship as before the fall. 3. Satan certainly intended to deprive God of His glory through the temptation of man, but not by reducing the world to chaos, but rather by subjecting man and all the earthly creation to himself, and causing man to develop all the powers of creation in the service of sin and iniquity. And this is, indeed, the purpose of fallen man, and the spiritual character of the kingdom he is establishing, and of the cultural structure he is building. 4. Sin is not a process of corruption in the human nature that can be checked in its course, so that man is only half depraved: it is the total corruption of the whole nature, the subversion of the image of God, the radical change from light to darkness, from righteousness to unrighteousness, from life to death. This corruption the first man, and all men in him, suffered the day he ate of the forbidden tree, according to the testimony of all Scripture. 5. Death and the curse are not powers that operate in themselves, apart from God, so that God must restrain them in their course of operation, as is the dualistic presentation of the theory of common grace. They are inflicted by God Himself. 6. Even if there were an original creation ordinance, i.e. a purpose of God to bring the present world to its highest possible perfection, God Himself has rendered this for ever impossible by laying the curse upon the whole creation, so that the creature is in the bondage of corruption and subject to vanity, and man moves within the limits of his death cell from which he can never escape except through Christ. It is true that with the limited natural light and power left to him he still cultivates the earth and performs many wonderful things, but it is all subject to vanity: to build a perfect world he neither has the power nor the materials after the fall. 7. Even in as far as fallen man cultivates the earth and builds his house of culture, of science and art, of industry and commerce, he is not a co-worker with God, nor is the house he is trying to build to the glory of God. The contrary is true. He employs God’s powers and talents and means and all the riches of God’s world in the service of sin and Satan, to oppose God and His Christ, and to glorify himself. And so he increases his guilt daily, and also very really works out his own destruction. 8. Nor does the Bible teach us that God restrains the power and manifestation of sin in the course of the organic development of the human race by a certain gracious operation of His Spirit. The very contrary is true. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness,” Rom. 1:18. And in his wrath He gives them over, so that they become “vain in their imaginations,” and their foolish heart is darkened,. “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts,” vs. 24; and unto “vile affections,” vs. 26; and “unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” vs. 28. And so they become “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” vss. 29-32. The goal of God’s providential government, and the meaning of history, cannot be the realization of a supposed original creation ordinance, with the natural man as co-worker to God’s glory through His common grace.
(1) The Coming of the Lord, James H. Snowden, pp. 112-114.