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§ 2. Government.

Statement of the Doctrine.

Providence includes not only preservation, but government. The latter includes the ideas of design and control. It supposes an end to be attained, and the disposition and direction of means for its accomplishment. If God governs the universe He has some great end, including an indefinite number of subordinate ends, towards which it is directed, and He must control the sequence of 582all events, so as to render certain the accomplishment of all his purposes. Of this providential government the Scriptures teach, (1.) That it is universal, including all the creatures of God, and all their actions. The external world, rational and irrational creatures, things great and small, ordinary and extraordinary, are equally and always under the control of God. The doctrine of providence excludes both necessity and chance from the universe, substituting for them the intelligent and universal control of an infinite, omnipresent God. (2.) The Scriptures also teach that this government of God is powerful. It is the universal sway of omnipotence which renders certain the accomplishment of his designs, which embrace in their compass everything that occurs. (3.) That it is wise; which means not only that the ends which God has in view are consistent with his infinite wisdom, and that the means employed are wisely adapted to their respective objects, but also that his control is suited to the nature of the creatures over which it is exercised. He governs the material world according to fixed laws which He himself has established; irrational animals by their instincts, and rational creatures agreeably to their nature. (4.) God’s providence is holy. That is, there is nothing in the ends proposed, the means adopted, or the agency employed, inconsistent with his infinite holiness, or which the highest moral excellence does not demand. This is all that the Scriptures reveal on this most important and difficult subject. And here it were well could the subject be allowed to rest. It is enough for us to know that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions, and that his government while absolutely efficacious is infinitely wise and good, directed to secure the highest ends, and perfectly consistent with his own perfections and with the nature of his creatures. But men have insisted upon answering the questions, How does God govern the world? What is the relation between his agency and the efficiency of second causes? and especially, How can God’s absolute control be reconciled with the liberty of rational agents? These are questions which never can be solved. But as philosophers insist upon answering them, it becomes necessary for theologians to consider those answers, and to show their fallacy when they conflict with the established facts of revelation and experience. Before considering the more important of the theories which have been advanced to explain the nature of God’s providential government, and his relation to the world, it will be proper to present a brief outline of the argument, in support of the truth of the doctrine as stated above.


A. Proof of the Doctrine.

This doctrine necessarily flows from the Scriptural idea of God. He is declared to be a personal being, infinite in wisdom, goodness, and power; to be the Father of Spirits. From this it follows not only that He acts intelligently, i.e., with a view to an end, and on sufficient reasons, but that He must be concerned for the good of creatures rational and irrational, great and small. The idea that God would create this vast universe teeming with life in all its forms, and exercise no control over it, to secure it from destruction or from working out nothing but evil, is utterly inconsistent with the nature of God. And to suppose that anything is too great to be comprehended in his control, or anything so minute as to escape his notice; or that the infinitude of particulars can distract his attention, is to forget that God is infinite. It cannot require any effort in Him, the omnipresent and infinite intelligence, to comprehend and to direct all things however complicated, numerous, or minute. The sun diffuses its light through all space as easily as upon any one point. God is as much present everywhere, and with everything, as though He were only in one place, and had but one object of attention. The common objection to the doctrine of a universal providence, founded on the idea that it is incompatible with the dignity and majesty of the divine Being to suppose that He concerns himself about trifles, assumes that God is a limited being; that because we can attend to only one thing at a time, it must be so with God. The more exalted are our conceptions of the divine Being, the less shall we be troubled with difficulties of this kind.

Proof from the Evidence of the Operation of Mind everywhere.

The whole universe, so far as it can be subjected to our observation, exhibits evidence of God’s omnipresent intelligence and control. Mind is everywhere active. There is everywhere manifest the intelligent adaptation of means to an end; as well in the organization of the animalcule which it requires the microscope to reveal, as in the order of the heavenly bodies. This mind is not in matter. It is not a blind vis naturæ. It is, and must be the intelligence of an infinite, omnipresent Being. It is just as much beyond the power of a creature to form an insect, as it is to create the universe. And it is as unreasonable to assume that the organized forms of the vegetable and animal worlds are due to the laws of nature, as it would be to assume that a printing-press could be constructed to compose a poem. There is no adaptation or relation 584between the means and the end. Wherever there is the intelligent adaptation of means to an end, there is evidence of the presence of mind. And as such evidence of mental activity is found in every part of the universe, we see God ever active and everywhere present in all his works.

Argument from our Religious Nature.

The Scriptural doctrine of a universal providence is demanded by the religious nature of man. It is therefore an instinctive and necessary belief. It is banished from the mind, or overruled only by persistent effort. In the first place, we cannot but regard it as a limitation of God to suppose Him absent either as to knowledge or power from any part of his creation. In the second place, our sense of dependence involves the conviction not only that we owe our existence to his will, but that it is in Him that we and all his creatures live, move, and have our being. In the third place, our sense of responsibility implies that God is cognizant of all our thoughts, words, and actions, and that He controls all our circumstances and our destiny both in this life and in the life to come. This conviction is instinctive and universal. It is found in men of all ages, and under all forms of religion, and in all states of civilization. Men universally believe in the moral government of God; and they universally believe that that moral government is administered at least in part, in this world. They see that God often restrains or punishes the wicked. Did this man sin, or his parents, that he was born blind? was the utterance of a natural feeling; the expression, although erroneous as to its form, of the irrepressible conviction that everything is ordered by God. In the fourth place, our religious nature demands intercourse with God. He must be to us the object of prayer, and the ground of confidence. We must look to Him in trouble and danger; we cannot refrain from calling upon Him for help, or thanking Him for our mercies. Unless the doctrine of a universal providence be true, all this is a delusion. Such, however, is the relation in which the Scripture. and the constitution of our nature assume that we stand to God, and in which He stands to the world. He is ever present, all-controlling, the hearer and answerer of prayer, giving us our daily mercies, and guiding us in all our ways. This doctrine of providence, therefore, is the foundation of all practical religion, and the denial of it is practically atheism, for we are then without God in the world. It may be said that these religious feelings are due to our education; that men educated in the belief of witches and 585fairies, or supernatural agencies of any kind, refer events actually due to the operations of nature to the intervention of spiritual beings. To this it may be answered, First, that the sense of dependence, of responsibility, of obligation for mercies received, and of the control of outward events by the power of God, is too universal to be accounted for by any peculiar form of education. These are the generic, or fundamental convictions of the human mind, which are manifested in more or less suitable forms, according to the degree of knowledge which different men possess. And secondly, it is to be considered that the argument is founded on the truth and justness of these feelings, and not on their origin. It is in this case as it is with our moral convictions. Because our knowledge of what is right or wrong, and the opinions of men on that point, may be modified by education and circumstances, this does not prove that our moral nature is due to education; nor does it shake the convictions we entertain of the correctness of our moral judgments. It may be, and doubtless is true that we owe to the Scriptures most of our knowledge of the moral law, but this does not impair our confidence in the authority and truth of our views of duty, and of moral obligation. These religious feelings have a self-evidencing as well as an informing light. We know that they are right, and we know that the doctrine which accords with them and produces them, must be true. It is, therefore, a valid argument for the doctrine of a universal providence that it meets the demands of our moral and religious nature.

Argument from Predictions and Promises.

A fourth general argument on this subject is derived from the predictions, promises, and threatenings recorded in the Word of God. Those predictions are not mere general declarations of the probable or natural consequences of certain courses of action, but specific revelations of the occurrence of events in the future, the futurition of which cannot be secured except in the exercise of an absolutely certain control over causes and agents both natural and moral. God promises to give health, long life and prosperous seasons; or He threatens to inflict severe judgments, the desolations of war, famine, drought, and pestilence. Such promises and threatenings suppose a universal providence, a control over all the creatures of God, and over all their actions. As such promises and threatenings abound in the Word of God; as his people, and as all nations recognize such benefits or calamities as divine dispensations, it is evident that the doctrine of Providence underlies all religion, both natural and revealed.


Argument from Experience.

We may refer confidently on this subject to all experiences. Every man can see that his life has been ordered by an intelligence and will not his own. His whole history has been determined by events over which he had no control, events often in themselves apparently fortuitous, so that he must either assume that the most important events are determined by chance, or admit that the providence of God extends to all events, even the most minute. What is true of individuals is true of nations. The Old Testament is a record of God’s providential dealings with the Hebrew people. The calling of Abraham, the history of the patriarchs, of Joseph, of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, of their deliverance and journey through the wilderness, of their conquest of the land of Canaan, and their whole subsequent history, is a continuous record of the control of God over all their circumstances, — a control which is represented as extending to all events. In like manner the history of the world reveals to an intelligent eye the all-pervading providence of God, as clearly as the heavens declare his majesty and power.

B. The Scriptures teach God’s Providence over Nature.

We find that the Bible asserts that the providential agency of God is exercised over all the operations of nature. This is asserted with regard to the ordinary operations of physical laws: the motion of the heavenly bodies, the succession of the seasons, the growth and decay of the productions of the earth; and the falling of the rain, hail, and snow. It is He who guides Arcturus in his course, who makes the sun to rise, and the grass to grow. These events are represented as due to the omnipresent agency of God and are determined, not by chance, nor by necessity, but by his will. Paul says (Acts xiv. 17), that God “left not himself without witness” even among the heathen, “in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” Our Lord says (Matt. v. 45), God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He clothes “the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven.” (Matt. vi. 30.) In like manner the more unusual and striking operations of natural laws, earthquakes, tempests, and pestilences, are said to be sent, governed, and determined by Him, so that all the effects which they produce are referred to his purpose. He makes the winds his 587messengers, and the lightnings are his ministering spirits. Even apparently fortuitous events, such as are determined by causes so rapid or so inappreciable as to elude our notice, the falling of the lot; the flight of an arrow; the number of the hairs of our heads, are all controlled by the omnipresent God. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” (Matt. x. 29.)

Providence extends over the Animal World.

The Scriptures teach that irrational animals are the objects of God’s providential care. He fashions their bodies, He calls them into the world, sustains them in being, and supplies their wants. In his hand is the life of every living thing. (Job xii. 10.) The Psalmist says (civ. 21), “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.” Verses 27, 28, “These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them, they gather: thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good.” Matt. vi. 26, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” Acts xvii. 25, “He giveth to all life and breath, and all things.” Such representations are not to be explained away as poetical modes of expressing the idea that the laws of nature, as ordained of God, are so arranged as to meet the necessities of the animal creation, without any special intervention of his providence. It is not the fact, merely, that the world, as created by God, is adapted to meet the wants of his creatures, that is asserted in the Scriptures, but that his creatures depend on the constant exercise of his care. He gives or withholds what they need according to his good pleasure. When our Lord put in the lips of his disciples the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He recognized the fact that all living creatures depend on the constant intervention of God for the supply of their daily wants.

Over Nations.

The Bible teaches that the providential government of God extends over nations and communities of men. Ps. lxvi. 7, “He ruleth by his power forever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” Dan. iv. 35, “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” Dan. ii. 21, “He changeth the times and the seasons; He removeth kings and setteth up kings.” Dan. iv. 25, “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it 588to whomsoever He will.” Is. x. 5, 6, “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is my indignation, I will send him against an hypocritical nation.” Verse 7, “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so.” Verse 15, “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as though it were not wood.” The Scriptures are full of this doctrine. God uses the nations with the absolute control that a man uses a rod or a staff. They are in his hands, and He employs them to accomplish his purposes. He breaks them in pieces as a potter’s vessel, or He exalts them to greatness, according to his good pleasure.

Over Individual.

The providence of God extends not only over nations, but also over individuals. The circumstances of every man’s birth, life, and death, are ordered by God. Whether we are born in a heathen or in a Christian land, in the Church or out of it; whether weak or strong; with many, or with few talents; whether we are prosperous or afflicted; whether we live a longer or a shorter time, are not matters determined by chance, or by the unintelligent sequence of events, but by the will of God. 1 Sam. ii. 6, 7, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, He bringeth low and lifteth up.” Is. xlv. 5, “I am the Lord (the absolute ruler), and there is none else; there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.” Prov. xvi. 9, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” Ps. lxxv. 6, 7, “Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge (ruler): he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” Ps. xxxi. 15, “My times (the vicissitudes of life) are in thy hands.” Acts xvii. 26, God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed (i.e., the turning points in history) and the bounds of their habitation.

God’s Providence in relation to Free Acts.

The Bible no less clearly teaches that God exercises a controlling power over the free acts of men, as well as over their external circumstances. This is true of all their acts, good and evil. It is 589asserted in general terms, that his dominion extends over their whole inward life, and especially over their good acts. Prov. xvi. 1, “The preparations of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” Prov. xxi. 1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.” Ezra vii. 27, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord.” Ex. iii. 21 “I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.” Ps. cxix. 36, “Incline thy heart unto thy testimonies.” Ps. cxiv. 4, “Incline not my heart to any evil thing.” A large part of the predictions, promises, and threatenings of the word of God are founded on the assumption of this absolute control over the free acts of his creatures. Without this there can be no government of the world and no certainty as to its issue. The Bible is filled with prayers founded on this same assumption. All Christians believe that the hearts of men are in the hand of God; that He works in them both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.

The Relation of God’s Providence to Sin.

With regard to the sinful acts of men, the Scriptures teach, (1.) That they are so under the control of God that they can occur only by his permission and in execution of his purposes. He so guides them in the exercise of their wickedness that the particular forms of its manifestation are determined by his will. In 1 Chron. x. 4-14 it is said that Saul slew himself but it is elsewhere said that the Lord slew him and turned the kingdom unto David. So also it is said, that he hardened the heart of Pharaoh; that He hardened the spirit of Sihon the king of Heshbon; that He turned the hearts of the heathen to hate his people; that He blinds the eyes of men, and sends them strong delusion that they may believe a lie; that He stirs up the nations to war. “God,” it is said, in Rev. xvii. 17, “hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” (2.) The Scriptures teach that the wickedness of men is restrained within prescribed bounds. Ps. lxxvi. 10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” 2 Kings xix. 28, “Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou 590camest.” (3.) Wicked actions are overruled for good. The wicked conduct of Joseph’s brethren, the obstinacy and disobedience of Pharaoh, the lust of conquest and thirst for plunder by which the heathen rulers were controlled in their invasions of the Holy Land; above all, the crucifixion of Christ, the persecutions of the Church, the revolutions and wars among the nations, have been all so overruled by Him who sitteth as ruler in the heavens, as to fulfil his wise and merciful designs. (4.) The Scriptures teach that God’s providence in relation to the sins of men, is such that the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature and not from God; who neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. 1 John ii. 16, “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father (not from Him as its source or author), but is of the world.” James i. 13, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” Jer. vii. 9, “Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?”

Thus the fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions, is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. And that fact is the foundation of all religion. It is the ground of the consolation of his people in all ages; and it may be said to be the intuitive conviction of all men, however inconsistent it may be with their philosophical theories, or with their professions. The fact of this universal providence of God is all the Bible teaches. It nowhere attempts to inform us how it is that God governs all things, or how his effectual control is to be reconciled with the efficiency of second causes. All the attempts of philosophers and theologians to explain that point, may be pronounced failures, and worse than failures, for they not only raise more difficulties than they solve but in almost all instances they include principles or lead to conclusions inconsistent with the plain teachings of the word of God. These theories are all founded on some à priori principle which is assumed on no higher authority than human reason.

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