Explanation and confirmation of this definition.
Divine providence is called in the Scriptures the counsel of (rod. “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever.” “ My counsel shall stand.” “God willing to show the immutability of his counsel.”
(Ps. 32:11. Is. 46:10. Heb. 6:17. Also Is. 14:26; 19:17; 28: 29. Jer. 32:19, &c.) From these declarations it is evident that by the term providence we are to understand not only the knowledge of things present and future, but also the decree or will and effectual working of God ; for the term counsel comprehends an understanding or foreknowledge of things which are to be done, or which are yet future, with the causes on account of which they are or are not to be done ; and also a will determining some thing from certain causes. Providence therefore, is not the bare fore-sight or fore-knowledge of God, but it also includes the will of God, just as; which we translate providence, signifies with the Greeks, both a knowledge and care of things.
Because, as there can be no ignorance nor increase of knowledge, nor any change of will in God, there is a necessity that he must have known and decreed all things from everlasting. “ The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways.” “ Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done.” “ He hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” “ We speak the } wisdom of God, which he hath ordained before the world.”
(Prov. 8:22. ; Is. 46:10. Eph. 1:4. 1 Cor. 2:7.)
Because he has so decreed from everlasting, as was pleasing to himself, according to his immense wisdom and goodness ; when he had full power to have arranged his counsel otherwise, or even to have omitted it, or to have accomplished things differently from what he determined to do by his counsel. “ He hath done whatsoever he pleased.” “ As the clay is in the potter's hands, so are ye in my hands.” (Ps. 115:3. Jer. 18:6.)
Because neither error nor change can occur with God; but what he has once decreed from everlasting, that being most good and just he wills everlastingly, and at length brings to pass. “ I am the Lord, I change not.” “ The strength of Israel will not lie nor repent. (Mal 3 : 6. 1 Sam. 15 : 29. Also Num. 23:19. Job 28: 13. Ps. 33 ; 11. Prov. 19: 21.) Most wise. This is evident from the wonderful course of events, and things in the world. “ With him is strength and wisdom.” “ the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” (Job 12:16. Rom. 11: 33. Also 1 Sam. 16:7. 1 Kings 8:39. Job 36 : 23. Ps. 33:15 ; 119:2-6, &c.)
Most just because the will of God is the fountain and pattern of justice. “There is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons.”
(2 Chron. 19:7. Also Neh. 9:33. Job 9 : 2. Ps. 36:7 ; 119:137. Dan. 9:7, 14.)
According to which he effects all good things. This is added that we may know that the counsel of God is not inactive, but efficacious, as Christ declared, “My Father worketh hitherto, arid I work.”
The working of God is two-fold general arid special. The general working of God is that by which he sustains and governs all things, especially the human race. The special is that by which he, in this life, commences the salvation of his people, and perfects it in the life to come. It is said in reference to both, “God is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe.” “ As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.” “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,”
&c. (1 Tim. 4:10. Rom. 8:14. Ps. 34:15.) God works in both ways, either immediately or mediately. He works immediately when he does what He wills independent of means, or in a manner different from the order which he has established in nature; as when he supports life in a miraculous manner. He works immediately when he produces through creatures, or second cause, those effects for which they are adapted according to the established order of nature, and for which they were made, as when he sustains us by food and heals us of disease by medicine. “Let them take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster upon the bile, and he shall recover.”
(Is. 38:21.) It is in this way that God reveals himself and his will unto us through the Scriptures as read and preached. “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.”
This mediate operation or working of God is effected sometimes through good instruments, including such as are natural as well as voluntary; and sometimes through such instruments as are evil and sinful; yet in such a way that what God effects in and through them, is always most holy, just and good: for the goodness of the works of God does not depend upon the instruments, but upon his bounty, wisdom and righteousness. That God works through good instruments, is generally admitted by the godly. There is, however, a diversity of sentiment as it respects instruments that are evil and wicked. But if we would not deny that the trials and chastisements of the righteous, as well as the punishments of the wicked, which are accomplished through the wicked, are just and proceed from the will and power of God; and unless we also deny that the virtues and actions of the wicked which have contributed to the well-being of the human race, are the gifts of God; we must admit that God does also execute his just and holy judgments and works by instruments that are evil and sinful. It was thus that lie sent Joseph into Egypt, through his wicked brothers and the Midianites, blessed Israel through the false prophet Balaam, tempted the people through false prophets, vexed Saul through Satan, punished David through Absalom and the blasphemies of Shemei, chastised Solomon by the sedition of Jeroboam, tried Job by Satan, carried Judah and Jerusalem into captivity by the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, &c.
He effects all good things. This he does in such a manner that no creature, great or small, can either exist, or move, or do, or suffer anything without his will and counsel: for by things that are good, we are to understand the quantities, qualities and motions of things, as well as their substance, because all things have been created by God; and are therefore, necessarily included in his providence.
Permits evil things also to be done. Evil is two-fold: the evil of guilt, which is all sin; and the evil of punishment, which includes every affliction, destruction or vexation which God inflicts upon his rational creatures on account of sin. We have an example of evil under both of its forms in Jer. 18:8. “If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil I thought to do unto them.”
The evil of punishment is from God, the author and executioner thereof, not only in as far as it is a certain action or motion, but also in as far as it is the destruction or affliction of the wicked. This is proven,
1. Because God is the chief and efficient cause of everything that is good. Every punishment now has the nature of moral good, because it is the declaration and execution of divine justice. Therefore God is the author of punishment.
2. God is the judge of the world, and the vindicator of his own glory, and desires to be acknowledged as such. Therefore He is the author of rewards and punishments.
3. Because the Scriptures everywhere, with one voice, refer the punishments of the wicked, as well as the chastisements, trials and martyrdoms of the saints, to the efficacious will of God. “ I, the Lord make peace and create evil.” “Shall there be evil (that of punishment) in the city, and the Lord hath not done it.” “Rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
(Is. 45:7. Amos 3:6. Matt. 10:28.)
The evils of guilt as far as they are such, that is, sins, have not the nature of that which is good. Hence God does not will them, neither does he tempt men to perform them, nor does he effect them or contribute thereto; but he permits devils and men to do them, or does not prohibit them from committing them when he has the power to do so. Therefore these things do indeed also fall under the providence of God, but not as if they were done by him, but only permitted. The word permit is therefore not to be rejected, seeing that it is sometimes used in the scriptures. “Therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” “But God suffered him not to touch me.” “ He suffered no man to do them wrong.” “ Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own way.”
(Gen. 20:6 ; 31:7. Ps. 105:14. Acts 14:16.) But we must have a correct understanding of the word lest we detract from God a considerable portion of the government of the world, and of human affairs. For this permission is not an indifferent contemplation or suspension of the providence and working of God as it respects the actions of the wicked, by which it comes to pass that these actions do not depend so much upon some first cause, as upon the will of the creatures acting ; but it is a withdrawal of divine grace by which God (whilst he accomplishes the decrees of his will through rational creatures) either does not make known to the creature acting what he himself wishes to be done, or he does not incline the will of the creature to- render obedience, and to perform what is agreeable to his will. Yet he, nevertheless, in the meanwhile, controls and influences the creature so deserted and sinning as to accomplish what he has purposed.
He directs all things, both good and evil. All things, including those that are past from the creation of the world those that are present, and those that are to come, even to all eternity. “ Remember the former things of old : for I am God, and there is none else : I am God and there is none like me.”
(Is. 46:9, 10.)
To his own glory : that is, to the acknowledgement of his divine justice, power, wisdom, mercy and goodness.
And to the salvation of his people : that is, to the life, joy, righteous ness, glory and eternal happiness of the church. To these ends, viz : to the glory of God and the salvation of the church, all the works and counsels of God ought, without controversy, to be referred, because all of them give evidence of the glory of God, and of his concern for the church. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” &c. “For my name sake will I defer mine anger.” “ We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the glory of God should be made manifest in him.”
(Ps. 19:1, Is. 48:9, Rom. 8:28, John 9:3.)
We have now given a short explanation of the definition which we have given of the Providence of God, from which the following question naturally arises : Is it a providence that includes all things; or, in other words* does it extend to every thing ? The answer to this question is evident, which is, that all things, even the smallest, fall within the providence of God, so that whatever is done, whether it be good or bad, comes to pass not by chance, but by the eternal counsel of God, producing it if it be good, and permitting it if it be evil. But as there are some who are ignorant of this doctrine, whilst there are others who speak against it in various ways, and so cast reproach upon it, we must explain it more fully, and show that it is in perfect harmony with the teachings of God's word.
The testimonies which prove that all things are embraced in the providence of God, are partly general, such as teach that all things and events generally, are subject to the providence of God; and partly special, such as prove that God directs and governs specially each particular thing. The former asserts and establishes a general, the latter a special providence.
Those testimonies which are special have reference either to creatures or to the events which are daily occurring. As it respects creatures, they are either such as are irrational, whether animate or inanimate ; or they are rational and voluntary agents doing that which is good or evil. As it respects events, they are contingent, or casual or necessary : for those things which occur are either casual arid fortuitous, but only as far as we are concerned who are ignorant of their true causes; or they are contingent in respect to their causes which work contingently; or necessary in respect to those causes which work necessarily in nature. In respect to God however, there is nothing that is casual or contingent; but all things are necessary, although it be in a different manner as it respects good and evil actions