Herman Veldman is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
We were busy in our preceding article with a discussion of the basic purpose of the providence of God. And we called attention to the fact that this basic purpose is certainly not to realize the kingdom of God in the postmillennial sense of the word. Neither is this basic purpose to be viewed as maintaining a sort of interval period. It was particularly the latter conception with which we were busy as we concluded our article. We noted that it surely was not the devil’s intention to destroy this world, as the theory of common grace contends in this view. And it certainly was not the Lord’s intention to maintain an original creation ordinance or idea. This view is emphatically refuted by the passages we quoted, Eph. 1:9-10 and Col. 1:15-19. And now we continue with our discussion.
Thirdly, whereas the Lord would maintain His original creation ordinance through common grace (as this theory maintains), this implies that He will maintain this original creation ordinance as long as His operation of a common grace functions. When the Lord withdraws this common grace, the world will plunge into ruin. But why should the Lord withdraw His common grace? What happened? Did the will of the sinner finally prevail over the will and desire of the Lord that He should finally withdraw the operation of His common grace?
Finally, it simply is not true that God interceded with His common grace, checking the power of sin which enables the sinner to do much good, exerting a good, wholesome influence upon man. Fact is, we are all conceived and born dead in sin and in misery; fact is, God’s curse descended upon the earth and upon the human race; fact is, mankind is ever developing in sin and iniquity, even as we read it very clearly in Romans 1.
What is the purpose of God’s providence? This: to glorify Himself in the highest possible manner, in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, in the way of sin and grace. This is the purpose of God’s providence: to establish His kingdom in Christ Jesus, in everlasting life and heavenly immortality, and that all things may serve that purpose, including sin and all the powers of evil and darkness. The Lord never retraces His steps, never moves in a circle, knows no detour; all things lead to His glory and this occurs in and through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.
And now we also understand the wonderful fruit of this providence of God, as expressed in Answer 28 of Lord’s Day 10. Now we may be patient in adversity. Patience is not stoicism, indifference, forced subjection. Patience is that power of the grace of God whereby we, also and particularly inwardly, are willing to endure all affliction and adversity and persecution for God’s sake, knowing that all things work together for good unto the glory of God’s Name. And now we can also be thankful in prosperity. Mind you, not thankful for prosperity, thankful merely for the good we receive. But we can be thankful in prosperity. When the Lord prospers our way, makes our way “voorspoedig,” makes it possible for us to conduct our worship services, maintain our own schools, our mission endeavors, to exercise our calling as the people of the living God, we shall be thankful to God, knowing that it is He Who enables us to function as His people in the midst of the world.
How wonderful this is! Are not all things against us? Is not that which we eat and drink weighed down by the curse of God? Is it not true that dying we die, and that we are headed inexorably for and into the grave? Is it not true that the people of God are hated and persecuted, that the powers of sin and evil far outnumber us, that affliction and distress are our lot in the midst of the world? Is it not therefore true that if there be a divine providence, a divine government, that the Lord appears to be against us, that He is leading us inexorably into the grave, that He allows the forces of darkness to play with us as a cat plays with a mouse, according to their hearts’ desire? And all these things work together for our good? Does not faith take hold of that which the eye cannot see, the ear cannot hear, which can never enter into the heart of man? Does not faith take hold of something which is humanly quite impossible? Do we not believe that all things work together for an everlasting and immortal glory that is heavenly? And this surely means that this is a glory which lies hopelessly beyond our reach? Yes, we are patient in adversity, but this adversity never leaves us as long as we continue in this valley of the shadow of death. We are thankful in prosperity, but we look forward to a city that no human eye can see. We believe in life everlasting, but it can be attained only through death. Indeed, how wonderful, how unspeakably wonderful is this providence of God!
How can we speak of, believe in this providence of the Lord which lies completely beyond all human understanding? It has been revealed!
First, it is revealed in Christ Jesus.
How can we believe something which no eye can see, no ear can hear, no heart can grasp and discern? How can we speak of this providence of God when there appears to be nothing in life to substantiate or imply it? To what can we possibly cling? After all, the Christian is a thinking, discerning Christian. He surely knows what he believes. He can and must give an account of what he believes. But how can he know? And then we say that he knows this, first of all, because of what is revealed in God’s Word concerning our Lord Jesus Christ.
What we believe is expressed in Article 1 of our Apostles’ Creed. We read: “I believe in God, the Father, Almighty.” And then we read in Answer 26 of Lord’s Day 9: “That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . .” So, this almighty Creator and Governor of the universe is our Father in our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, all this is revealed in Christ Jesus. He alone is our sole ray of light, our only beam of hope. He entered for us into all our misery and guilt and distress and afflictions. In fact, He entered into an unfathomably great and profound misery, far beyond all our human understanding. He bore the wrath of God upon all our sins and trespasses. But this is not all. Appearing as the Servant of Jehovah in the midst of the world, He was also the Man of Sorrows as far as the world is concerned. He was despised and rejected of men, hated by all. If ever a person’s position was hopeless in the midst of the world, His was hopeless. He was God’s servant, perfectly and preeminently. And yet, was there ever one as maligned and maltreated as He? Yet He was glorified. He was raised from the dead and for this there is indisputable evidence. The Lord saw to it that there is not an event in the history of the world which is supported by greater proof. He was glorified at the Father’s right hand. In Him life was called out of darkness, immortality out of mortality, incorruption out of corruption, honour out of shame, light out of darkness. All that we read in this wonderful Lord’s Day, in connection with the providence of God, is revealed in Him, the Captain of our salvation and the Finisher of the faith.
Secondly, we read in Answer 28: “since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.”
When we speak of the providence of the Lord we make a three-fold distinction. First of all, God’s providence is the preservation of all things. This refers to the almighty and everywhere-present power of God whereby He sustains, as by His hand, every living creature in harmony with each creature’s particular nature or being, the flower as flower, the tree as tree, etc. Then, we also speak of God’s government. This refers to the providential power of God whereby He leads and guides all things to their divinely appointed end. And, thirdly, the providence of God also includes what is known as cooperation. This word is not exactly a happily chosen word. When we speak of cooperation, we certainly cannot mean that the Lord and man cooperate, that they labor and function together, that each does his part, although it is conceded then that the Lord certainly does the greater part. However, cooperation means that every moral-rational creature, whether willingly or unwillingly, is active, consciously active, but as under God’s almighty, everywhere-present and sovereign control. We now call attention to this cooperation.
We call attention, first of all, to some scriptural passages. In II Samuel 16:5, 10, in connection with Shimei we read: “And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who then shall say, Wherefore hast thou done so?” In Genesis 50:20 we read: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Indeed, Joseph’s brethren had thought evil against Joseph. But the Lord had meant it unto good to bring to pass to save much people alive. And then we read in Acts 2:23: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” To be sure, Jesus was taken, crucified and slain by wicked hands. Nevertheless, He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Two truths are mentioned here: God’s determinate counsel and the sinner’s wicked action.
We must surely maintain the following. First, the sinner is and remains a moral-rational being. We distinguish between sovereign freedom and moral freedom. We also speak of man’s responsibility. Responsibility must never be confused with sovereign freedom. Man’s responsibility can never mean that the sinner is able to choose either the good or the bad, and that therefore he is held responsible because, being able to choose the good, he chose the evil. He certainly chooses between the good and the evil. The winner always chooses. This is scriptural. But this does not mean that he can choose both. This can never be man’s responsibility because we are all conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses. Responsibility (notice the word itself) is man’s ability to respond, his ability to respond to God’s revelation of Himself, if only we bear in mind that he can only respond with an emphatic No, the rejection of the living God. He always chooses between the good and the evil, but he can never choose the good, only the evil. Man, or the sinner, if you will, remains a moral-rational being. When he sinned, as in Adam, he did not become an idiot, did not lose his power to think and reason. He does what he does because he chooses to do it. And in this choosing of the evil (he can never choose the good) he is never forced, coerced, never compelled to act contrary to his own will and desire. He always does what he does freely, is never forced or driven. He never acts contrary to his desire.
The Lord, however, is and remains sovereign. To this, however, we must call attention in a following article.