The Providence of God

We concluded our preceding article by calling to a definition of miracles which defines them as supernatural works of God. And we concluded that this distinction does not hold. One who believes in the providence of God does not distinguish between natural and supernatural works of the Lord. The Word of God calls even the most common events the works of God, as in Ps. 107:23-32 and throughout the Scriptures. 

Miracles have also been defined as the immediate works of God. This, as we have noted, is Hodge’s definition of the miracle. We may concede that miracles are immediate works of God. But is it not just as true that all the works of God are immediate, that all events and happenings are Divinely immediate? To be sure, the Lord works immediately when He gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, causes the lame to walk, raises the dead to life, restores calm to an angry and turbulent sea by the word of His mouth. But is not everything affected by the immediate operation of the Lord? It is surely the Lord Who causes the sun to rise and set every day; it is He Who causes the seed to grow in the bosom of the earth and produces the harvest. That the food we eat nourishes our bodies and the water we drink quenches our thirst is surely not because this food and drink are able to do this of themselves. The Lord always works immediately. Constantly and without ceasing He touches every phase of the world’s existence; in Him we, and all things, move and live and have our being. Not a sparrow falls from the housetop without the will of our heavenly Father, and no man can make a single hair white or black. Hence, we cannot define a miracle as an immediate work of God. It is true that miracles are works of God which strike our attention as being extraordinary. However, their extraordinary character does not lie in the fact that they are immediate works of God. If this were true, then everything would be a miracle, because everything is immediate. That we often fail to see the wonder works of God in all the things that take place all around us is not because these works are not truly wonderful, but only because we are dull in our hearing and seeing; we often have no eye for the wonders of the Lord! 

Finally, a third group would seek the essence of the miracle in its mysteriousness, that we cannot understand or comprehend it. Now it is, of course, true, that we cannot comprehend the miracles. But it is also true that we cannot comprehend anything. We cannot understand even the most common event. All of life, every phase of it is beyond our comprehension. Concerning this Rev. Hoeksema writes as follows in’his Dogmatics, Locus II:

It is true that we cannot understand how the Lord can multiply the few loaves of bread in His divine hands, so that a veritable multitude can be fed thereby. But no more does it lie within the limits of my conception how a seed can fall in the earth and die, in order to bring forth fruit a hundred fold. It is certainly true that my mind is amazed when the Savior calls Lazarus out of the grave after he has been four days asleep in the dust; but no less does the birth of a little child transcend my boldest comprehension. How the Lord Jesus at the wedding of Cana could change water into wine is certainly a mystery for us; but it is no less incomprehensible for us how the vein can produce grapes and in that way change different elements into wine. In other words, it does not make any difference for my understanding whether God by His almighty power operates in the common and known way upon the vine and causes it to bring forth grapes, or whether by the same almighty power He works upon water to change that into wine. When the sun and the moon stand still upon the word of Joshua, we confess that we cannot comprehend this phenomenon; but when the Lord every morning anew causes the sun to rise on the eastern horizon, that work of God too transcends my comprehension. It is true that also according to the significance of one of the original words of wonder in Holy Scripture, the miracle causes us to stand amazed and draws our special attention. But the cause of this must not be found in the fact that we comprehend the common events and acts of God’s providence, while the wonders transcend our comprehension: but much rather in this, that we become so accustomed to the daily works of God’s omnipresent power that we usually pay no attention to them. In the miracle God certainly performs something special, that exactly through that special character draws the attention. Nevertheless, neither in the so-called supernatural, not in the immediate character, nor in the incomprehensible character of a wonder can the proper idea of a miracle be found.

The essence of the miracle must be sought in its relation to the grace of God. The miracle belongs in the sphere of God’s grace. The miracle is essentially a sign. And it is a sign of God’s grace. We believe that this is the teaching of Holy Writ. The essence of the miracle cannot be sought in its “supernatural” character, because we cannot maintain the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Neither can the miracle be defined as an immediate work of God, inasmuch as the Lord always works immediately. And we have also observed that the essence of these miraculous works of God cannot be sought in the fact that we cannot comprehend it. We cannot comprehend anything. Besides, Scripture itself connects the miracle with the grace of God. That Christ is born of a virgin is called a sign in Is. 7:14. And what a mighty sign this is! Isaiah, in Is. 7, had called upon the wicked Ahaz to ask of the Lord a sign in the depth below or in the height above. But Ahaz had refused because he hates the living, knew only too well that the Lord would give him any sign he asked, but had determined to seek help from the king of Assyria. Thereupon the fearless prophet had proclaimed to Ahaz that the Lord Himself would give him a sign, namely the birth of Immanuel from a virgin. It is obvious that this sign would be greater than any sign the wicked king could have asked either in the depths below or in the heights above. And is it not a striking phenomenon that our Lord’s appearance in the flesh should be accompanied by a host of miracles. One can hardly doubt but that all these miracles are essentially related to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in our flesh and blood. 

God’s grace is the Wonder of God. The penalty of death was executed by God upon Adam and Eve and upon the entire human race when our first parents, Adam and Eve, ate of the forbidden fruit. Death passed upon them and upon all mankind. They became, in themselves, objects of wrath. They also became wholly corrupt. Created in the image of God, they became the image of the devil. They did not merely lose this image; it was changed into the image of the devil. Their light became darkness, their love of God became hatred and enmity against Him, their knowledge of God became the lie; they were filled with corruption and spiritual death. They also died physically. It is true that they did not die in the sense that their corpses lay at the foot of the tree. But they did die physically in the sense that this power of physical death began to reign in their bodies. They became subject to physical death. We must maintain this Divine visitation of God’s curse upon the entire human race. There is no such thing as “Common Grace.” Scripture does not speak of any injection of common grace into Adam and Eve, checking the process of death and enabling them to do good in the sight of God. But the Word of God does teach us that we are all conceived and born dead in sin and in misery and that the carnal mind is enmity against God, not being subject to the law of God, neither being able to be subject unto it. Now the grace of God is that wonderful operation of God whereby He translates the whole creation, fallen in sin and under the curse of God, into the glory of His eternal kingdom and everlasting covenant. This heavenly renewal of all things in heavenly immortality is the purpose of God, which He willed from before the foundations of the world. With that purpose in mind He created all things. This is stated emphatically in Eph. 1:9-10: “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him.” And there are no detours in the Lord’s realization of this purpose. Unto that end He certainly created Adam mortal, that is, so that Adam could fall. Adam was the first Adam and serves the purpose of preparing the way for the second Adam, the Lord out of heaven. Sin and death must enter this world as the way through which God would lead all things into heavenly glory and immortality. And the grace of God is that wonder operation of God whereby He, through sin and death, leads the world of His eternal election into that glory of His everlasting kingdom and covenant. 

Of this Wonder of the grace of God the center is Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is Himself, centrally, this Wonder of Divine grace. For, He is Immanuel, God with us. He is God, breaking through our night of sin and death and of the curse. He is Immanuel, taking upon Himself our flesh and blood, and assuming all our sins and guilt, becoming sin for us, Who Himself knew no sin. And His incarnation, of course, is accompanied by the Wonder Sign of all ages, the conceiving of a son by a virgin. Inasmuch as the eternal Son of God takes upon Himself our flesh and blood it is, of course, imperative that our Lord Jesus Christ take upon Himself our flesh and blood without the will of man. Today the virgin birth is denied by wicked modernism, and this in spite of the fact that the Lord accompanied this birth with a sign that could not possibly be misunderstood or contradicted! Wicked modernism today declares that the conceiving of a son by a virgin was really unnecessary, that the Son of God could have assumed our flesh and blood through the will of man, could have had an earthly father as well as an earthly mother. But imagine how wicked modernism would have reacted had Jesus had an earthly father as well as an earthly mother! In Bethlehem, however, the eternal Son of God breaks through our sin and death, enters into our human flesh and blood, with all the sins of all the elect of all the ages upon His shoulders. Grace is the wonder operation of God which breaks through this accursed world. And in Immanuel the everlasting God breaks through the night of our sin and guilt and death. It is therefore understandable that this coming of the Son of God into our flesh and blood should be accompanied by the wonder sign of the virgin birth. Only once in all the history of God’s covenant did the eternal Son of God take upon Himself our flesh and blood. So, this unique birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is accompanied by the unique sign, never having happened before and never to happen again, of a virgin, as virgin, giving birth to a son. It is the will of the Lord that the world must be without excuse. They must receive a sing that cannot be contradicted, except by wicked unbelief. Indeed, Bethlehem is centrally the the Wonder of Divine Grace, centrally in Himself. But this is not all. This Immanuel is also centrally the Wonder of Divine grace in His death and resurrection. But to this we will call attention in our following article as we conclude our articles on the miracles in Holy Writ.