Over the past century, we’ve seen multiple attacks on the doctrine of the providence of God. The truth is though these attacks are unwarranted. The providence of God is a great comfort to the people of God. John Flavel, a prominent Puritan writer and author of The Mystery of Providence, said of Providence, “”It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straights, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them in all the states and through all the stages of their lives.” Clearly understanding this doctrine is vital. In this article, I’ll trace the doctrine of providence in the Bible, in church history, and then conclude by explaining how a biblical understanding of Providence will help us in our daily lives as Christians.
Providence in the Bible
God is the all-powerful Creator. This means that He also preserves and governs in the universe. Though the term providence is not found in Scripture, it has been traditionally used to summarize God’s ongoing relationship to His creation. When we accept the biblical doctrine of providence, we avoid four common errors in thinking about God’s relationship to creation. The biblical doctrine is not deism (which teaches that God created the world and then essentially abandoned it), nor pantheism (which teaches that the creation does not have a real, distinct existence in itself, but is only part of God), but Providence, which teaches that though God is actively related to and involved in the creation at each moment, creation is distinct from him. The biblical doctrine does not teach that events in creation are determined by chance (or randomness), nor are they determined by an impersonal fate (or determinism), but by God, who is the personal yet infinitely powerful Creator and Lord.
Wayne Grudem helpfully offers the following definition of providence. He says, “God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he 1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; 2) cooperate with created thins in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and 3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.”[i]
Under the general category of providence we have three subtopics, according to the three elements in the definition above: 1) Preservation, 2) Concurrence, ad 3) Government.
God keeps all created things existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is “upholding the universe by the word of his power.” The Greek word translated “upholding” is phereo, “carry or bear.” This is commonly used in the New Testament for carrying something from one place to another, such as bringing a paralyzed man on a bed to Jesus (Luke 518), bringing wine to the steward of the feast (John 2:8), or bringing a cloak and books to Paul (2 Timothy 4:13). It does not mean simply “sustain,” but has the sense of active, purposeful control over the thing being carried from one place to another. In Hebrews 1:3, the use of the present participle indicates that Jesus is “continually carrying along all things” in the universe by his word of power. Christ is actively involved in the work of Providence.
In Colossians 1:17, Paul says of Christ that “in him all things hold together.” The phrase “all things” refers to every created thing in the universe (v.16), and the verse affirms that Christ keeps all things existing- in him, they continue to exist or endure. Both verses indicate that if Christ were to cease his continuing activity of sustaining all things in the universe, then all except the Triune God would instantly cease to exist. Such teaching is also affirmed by Paul when he says, “In him we live moved and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and by Ezra, “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” (Neh. 9:6). Peter also say that “the heavens and earth hat now exist” are “being kept until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 3:7).
One aspect of God’s providential preservation is the fact that he continues to give us breath each moment. Elihu in his wisdom says of God in Job 34:14-21, “If he should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
15 all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust.
16 “If you have understanding, hear this;
listen to what I say.
17 Shall one who hates justice govern?
Will you condemn him who is righteous and mighty,
18 who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’
and to nobles, ‘Wicked man,’
19 who shows no partiality to princes,
nor regards the rich more than the poor,
for they are all the work of his hands?
20 In a moment they die;
at midnight the people are shaken and pass away,
and the mighty are taken away by no human hand.
21 “For his eyes are on the ways of a man,
and he sees all his steps.
God, in preserving all things he has made, also caused them to maintain the properties with which he created them. God preserves water in such a way that it continues to act like water. He causes grass to continue to act like grass, with all its distinctive characteristics. He causes paper to act like paper so that it does not spontaneously dissolve into water and float away or change into a living thing and begin to grow! Until it is acted upon by some other part of creation and thereby its properties are changed (for instance, until it is burned with fire and it becomes ash), paper will continue to act like paper so long as God preserves the earth and the creation that he has made.
We should not think of God’s preservation as a continuous new creation: he does not continuously create new atoms and molecules for every existing thing every moment. Rather, he preserves what has already been created. We must also appreciate that created things are real and that their characteristics are real. For example, if I bump my head against a rock, I do not just imagine that it hurts—it does hurt. Because God keeps this rock maintaining the properties with which he created it, the rock has been hard since the day it was formed, and (unless something else in creation interacts with it and changes it) it will be hard until the day God destroys the heavens and the earth (2 Peter 3:7, 10-12).
God’s providence provides a basis for science: God has made and continues to sustain a universe that acts in predictable ways. If a scientific experiment gives certain results today, then we have confidence that (if all the factors are the same) it will give the same result tomorrow and a hundred years from tomorrow. The doctrine of Providence also provides the foundation for technology: I can be confidence that gasoline will make my car run today just as it did yesterday, not simply because “it has always worked that way,” but because God’s providence sustains a universe in which created things maintain the properties with which he created them. The result may be similar in the life of an unbeliever and the life of a Christian: we both put gasoline in our cars and drive away. But he will do so without knowing the ultimate reason why it works that way, and I will do so with knowledge of the actual final reason (God’s providence) and with thanks to my Creator for the wonderful creation that he has made and preserves.
God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act like they do.
This second aspect of providence, concurrence, is an expansion of the idea contained in the first aspect, preservation. In fact, some theologians such as John Calvin treat the fact of concurrence under the category of preservation, but it is helpful to treat it as a distinct category.
In Ephesians 1:11 Paul says that God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” The word translated “accomplishes” (energeo) indicates that God “works” or brings about” all things according to his own will. No event in creation falls outside of his providence. Of course, this fact is hidden from our eyes unless we read it in Scripture. Like preservation, God’s work of concurrence is not clearly evidence from observation of the natural world around us. In giving scriptural proof for concurrence, we will begin with the inanimate creation, then move to animals, and finally to different kinds of events in the life of human beings.
- Inanimate Creation. There are many things in creation that we think of as merely “natural” occurrences. Scripture says that God causes them to happen. We read of “fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!” (Psalm 148:8). Similarly, “For to the snow, he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.
7 He seals up the hand of every man,
that all men whom he made may know it.
8 Then the beasts go into their lairs,
and remain in their dens.
9 From its chamber comes the whirlwind,
and cold from the scattering winds.
10 By the breath of God ice is given,
and the broad waters are frozen fast.
11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
12 They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
13 Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen.” (Job 37:6-13)
Again, the Psalmist declares that, “Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the deeps” (Psalm 135:6), and then in the next sentence he illustrates God’s doing of his will in the weather, “He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain
and brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Psalm 135:7).
God also causes the grass to grow: “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth” (Psalm 104:14). God directs the stars in the heavens, asking Job, “Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?” (Job 38:32). Moreover, God continually directs the coming of the morning (Job 38:12), a fact Jesus affirmed when he said that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).
- Scripture affirms that God feeds the wild animals of the field, for, “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed” (Psalm 104:27-29; Job 38:39-41). Jesus also affirmed his when he said, “Look at the birds of the air. your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matt. 6:26). And he said that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground without your Father’s will” (Matt. 10:29).
- Seemingly Random or Chance Events. From a human perspective, the casting of lots (or its modern equivalent, the rolling of dice or flipping of a coin) is the most typical of random events that occur in the universe. But Scripture affirms that the outcome of such an event is from God: Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.”
- Events Fully Caused by God and Fully Caused by the Creature as Well. For any of these foregoing events (rain and snow, grass growing, sun and stars, the feeding of animals or casting of lots), we could give a completely satisfactory “natural” explanation. A botanist can detail the factors that cause the grass to grow, such as sun, moisture, temperature, nutrients in the soil, etc. Scripture says that God causes the grass to grow. A meteorologist can give a complete explanation of factors that cause rain (humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, etc.) and can even produce rain in a weather laboratory. Scripture says that God causes the rain. A physicist with accurate information on the force and direction a pair of dice was rolled could fully explain what caused the dice to give the result they did—yet Scripture says that God brings about the decision of the lot that is cast.
This shows us that it is incorrect to reason that if we know the “natural” cause of something in this world, then God did not cause it. Rather, if it rains, we should thank him. If crops grow, we should thank him. In all of these events, it is not as though the event was partly caused by God and partly by factors in the created world. If that were the case, then we should always be looking for some small feature of an event that we could not explain and attribute to God. But surely this is not the correct position. Rather, these passages affirm that such events are entirely caused by God. Yet we know (in another sense) they are entirely caused by factors in creation as well.
The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs, and works through, the distinctive properties of each created thing, so that these things themselves bring about the results that we see. In this way, it is possible to affirm in one sense events are fully (100 percent) caused by God and fully (100 percent) caused by the creature as well. However, divine and creaturely causes work in different ways. The divine cause of each event work an invisible, behind-the-scenes, directing cause and therefore could be called the primary cause that plans and initiates everything that happens. But the created thing brings about actions in ways consistent with the creature’s own properties, ways that often can be described by professional scientists who carefully observe the process or by us. These creaturely factors and properties can, therefore, be called the “secondary” causes of everything that happens, even though they are the causes that are evidence to us by observation.
- The Affairs of Nations. Scripture also speaks of God’s providential control of human affairs. We read that God “makes nations great, and he destroys them: he enlarges nations and leads them away” (Job 12:23). “For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28). He has determined the time of existence and the place of every nation on earth (Acts 17:26; 14:16). And when Nebuchadnezzar repented, he learned to praise God, “24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” 28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months, he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:24-35).
- All Aspects of Our Lives. It is amazing to see the extent to which Scripture affirms that God brings about various events in our lives. Our dependence on God to give us food each day is affirmed every time we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), even though we work for our food. Paul looking at events with the eye of faith affirms that “my God will supply every need” of his children (Phil. 4:19), even though God may use “ordinary” means such as other people to do it.
God plans our days before we are born. Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Job 14:5, “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,” This can be seen in the life of Paul, who says that God “had set me apart before I was born” (Gal.1:15), and Jeremiah, to whom God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew, you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
All our actions are under God’s providential care, for “in him we live and move” (Acts 17:28). The individual steps we take each day are directed by the Lord. Jeremiah confesses, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23). We read that “a man’s steps are ordered by the Lord” (Prov. 20:24), and that “a man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9). Proverbs 16:1 affirms, “The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
All of these passage and more, reporting both general statements about God’s work in the lives of all people, and specific examples of God’s work in the lives of individuals, lead us to conclude that God’s providential work of concurrence extends to all aspects of our lives. Our words, our steps, our movements, our hearts, and our abilities are from the Lord.
This should not lead us to deny the reality of our choices and actions. Again and again, Scripture affirms that we do cause events to happen. We are significant, and we are responsible. We do have choices, and these are real choices that bring about real results.
One approach to these passages about God’s concurrence is to say that if our choices are real, they cannot be caused by God. But the number of passages that affirm this providential control of God is so considerable, and the difficulties involved in giving them some other interpretation are so formidable, that it does not seem that this is the right approach to them. God causes all things to happen, but he does so in such a way that he upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices, choices that have real and eternal results, and for which we are held accountable. Exactly how God combines his providential control with our willing and significant choices, Scripture does not explain to us. But rather than deny one aspect or another, we should accept both in an attempt to be faithful to all the teaching of Scripture.
We have discussed the first two aspects of Providence, 1) preservation and 2) concurrence. This third aspect of God’s providence indicates that God has a purpose in all that he does in the world and he providentially governs or directs all things so that they accomplish his purposes. Psalm 103:9, “His kingdom rules over all.” Moreover, “he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing’” Paul affirms that “from him and through him and to him are all thins” (Romans 11:36), and that “God has put all thing sin subjection under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:27). God is the one who “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), so that ultimately “10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11). It is because Paul knows that God is sovereign over all and works his purposes in every event that happens that he can declare that “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The Puritans and the Providence of God
John Flavel often mediated on the Word of God and the providence of God. His familiarity with Scripture is outstanding. In many ways, The Mystery of Providence is a tapestry woven from biblical principles and history, with additional illustrations and practical illustrations. It reveals Flavel’s vast knowledge of every page of Scripture.
Failure to meditate on God’s providence is sinful for it diminishes our praise of God. Moreover, we rob ourselves of the nourishment our faith receives from such meditation. We slight the God who acts in Providence. Meditation on God’s providence is essential if we are to come to God in prayer and know how to address Him. But how can we learn to meditate on God’s providence? Flavel offered the following four directions.
- Work hard at remembering and exploring the providence of God toward you. We should do this by extensively tracing God’s ways through our life and counting the blessings He has poured out on us. We do this intensively also; Flavel advised, “Let not your thoughts swim like feathers upon the surface of the water, but sink like lead to the bottom.”[ii]
Each Christian’s life is a marvelous story written by God for our reading and edification. John Norton (1606-1663) said that if the least of God’s saints, who had walked with God for only a few years, could write down all of Lord’s dealings with him, it “would make a volume full of temptations, signs, and wonders: a wonderful history, because a history of such experiences, each one whereof is more than a wonder.”[iii]
Flavel also counseled readers to explore the timing of God’s actions and the care that timing expresses. Think about the means He has employed with you—a stranger or even an enemy rather than a friend, an evil act rather than a benevolent one. Consider the ways “all things” work together for believers (Romans 8:28); that “a thousand friendly hands are at work for them to promote and bring about their happiness.” In particular, we should trace the relationship between prayer and providence, to see how “providences have born the very signatures of your prayers upon them.”[iv]
2) Trace the connection between the providence of God in your life and the promises of God in His Word. Doing this will confirm the reliability of Scripture and teach us what course of action we should take in a given set of circumstances. The Christian’s rule of life is God’s revealed will (in Scripture), not His secret will (which comes to expression in Providence). As the latter unfolds, we discover that God is always faithful to His promises.
- Look beyond the events and circumstances of providence to God as author and provider. Think of the attributes and ways of God (His love, wisdom, grace, condescension, purposes, methods and goodness). Recognize how he reveals these attributes and things in His dealings with you. Remember too that God often works out His purposes through painful trials. He is sovereign in all things, gracious, wise, faithful, all-sufficient, and unchanging, which is precisely what we need to remember in the darkness of affliction, “God is what he was, and where he was.”[v]
- Response to each providence in an appropriate way. Even in sorrow, biblically instructed believers will always experience an element of comfort and joy. For no element of God’s providence should be viewed as a mark of His enmity against us. God’s heart is full of love, whilst the face of Providence is full of frowns.” The Christian who realizes the Lord is near (Phil 4:5) will see all these things in proper perspective.
But what we are to do when the providences of God seem to conflict with his promises First, we must learn how to resist discouragement. God is teaching us patience. It may not yet be God’s time to act, or He may be delaying to increase our appetite for the blessing for which we long. What are we to do? We must remember that He is bringing about a greater blessing: our willingness to depend entirely on God and His good pleasure. Our loving Father delights to come to us when we are the end of our resources. Perhaps we are not yet ready to receive the blessing. If all His mercies are of grace and we do not deserve them, we must learn to wait for them.
Second, we must learn not to assume that we fully understand God’s way and purposes. “There are hard texts in the works, as well as in the word of God,” Flavel said. “It becomes us modestly and humbly to reverence but not to dogmatize about them; a man may easily get a strain by over-reaching.”[vi] In Psalm 73, Asaph depended on his depression by trying to understand all the intricacies of God’s ways; the same can be true for us. Trying to solve mysteries that are too great for us will only breed suspicion of God, darkness of spirit, and tempt us to take matters into our own hands. That leads us to trust in providence and to reject the wisdom and love of God.
Mediating the right way on God’s providence leads to ongoing communion with God, since He, “manifests himself among his people by providences as well as ordinances.”[vii] A chief pleasure of the Christian life is to trace the harmony of God’s attributes as he expresses them in His providences.
Such meditation also serves to “over-power and suppress the natural atheism that is in your hearts.”[viii] As a wise and compassionate pastor, Flavel knew that some true believers were afflicted with doubts about God’s goodness and even His very existence. Meditations on the providence of God can prop up our faith as we trace the clear lines of God’s loving care and mighty power in our lives.
In this way, faith is supported by what we have seen of God in the past. The young David drew strength for his conflict with Goliath from his memories of the providence of God in the past (1 Sam. 17:37). A spirit of praise then breathes sweet melody into our lives, and Christ becomes more important to us since all of God’s mercies come to us only in and through Him. With melted hearts, inward poise, and an increased devotion to holiness, we are thus equipped to face death, which Flavel knew is often a time of considerable inner turmoil and special temptation from Satan. Dying is one of the two most difficult acts of faith (the other is coming to Christ for the first time). But the dying believer who is able to rehearse the blessings of God’s providence in his or her life will surely know God’s peace.
Flavel closes with this basic and practical advice: learn to record in writing the providences of God in your life, “For by doing so you will preserve the memory of them for future meditation and encouragement.[ix] Flavel said, “Providences carries our lies, liberties, and concernments in its hand every moment. Your bread is in its cupboard, your money in its purse, your safety in its enfolding arms: and sure it is the least part of what you owe, to record the favors you receive at its hands.”[x]
How the Providence of God relates to the Christian life
Do not be afraid but trust in God. Jesus emphasizes the fact that our sovereign Lord watches over us and cares for us as His children. Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” If God feeds the birds and clothes the grass of the field, he will take care of us. Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
David was able to sleep in the midst of his enemies because he knew that god’s providential control made him “dwell in safety,” and he could say, “ In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalm 4:8). Many of the Psalms encourage us to trust God and not to fear because the Lord keeps and protects his people. Psalm 91 (“he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High…”) or Psalm 121 (“I lift up my eyes to the hills”) Because of our confidence in God’s providential care, we need not fear any evil or harm, even if it does come to us—it can only come by God’s will and ultimately for our good. Thus Peter says that “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). In all of this we need not worry about the future but trust in God’s omnipotent care.
- Be Thankful for All Good Things That Happen If we genuinely believe all that all good things are caused by God, then our hearts will indeed be full when we say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). We will thank him for our daily food; indeed we will “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Our faith should be strengthened as we consider God’s providence—how our loving father carefully governs our lives. As you study providence, there are five principles that you should keep in mind. The following five points are from Amazing Grace by Dr. Timothy George and originally shared at Crossway’s blog:
- The doctrine of providence reminds us that God is the sovereign Lord of history. It is important to remember that God is the creator and judge of the world, moving it toward an ultimate goal that we cannot fully grasp. For this reason, we must remember not to align our faith with any particular political movement or institution.
- We often see the pattern of providence only in retrospect. We are often so overcome by grief or anger about our circumstances that we struggle to see how these experiences fit into God’s plan for us. Remember the story of Joseph? Surely Joseph wondered about the goodness of a God who allowed all of those things to happen to him. And yet through those trials, God raised up Joseph and saved the entire nation of Israel.
- God uses suffering and tragedy as occasions to display his glory. It is easy to doubt God’s love during times of tragedy. But behind the suffering, we are able to experience the love of a wise father who has promised never to leave or forsake us.
- God’s grace is sufficient when the answer is no. When we are denied requests or experience afflictions, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we come to know more deeply the sufficiency of God’s grace.
- The cross is the place where grace and providence embrace. No other place can confirm the truth of Romans 8:28 like the cross of Jesus. Tortured and abandoned, Jesus experienced the ultimate betrayal and sacrifice. We look back on the event as a triumph, for God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ that day. We can be sure that he will also take the broken pieces of our lives and piece them together into a beautiful, whole mosaic.[xi]
The Puritans writings on Providence are easy to read, yet they are deeply thought provoking. They are biblically focused; they throb with a sense of God’s ongoing activity. They are rigorously Reformed, yet they are wonderfully sensitive to human pain. They were written for people living in a time of social, political, and religious upheaval in the seventeenth century. They were written for people who knew a great deal of angsts that we moderns often mistakenly view as peculiarly modern or even postmodern. The Puritan writings also apply to people in the twenty-first century who suffer massive change. More than that, they spell out clearly some biblical principles that Christians today desperately need to hear.
- God is in control of His universe.
- God is working out His perfect purposes, also in my life.
- God is not my servant.
- God’s ways are far more mysterious and wonderful than I can understand.
- God is always good; I can always trust Him.
- God’s timetable is not the same as mine.
- God is far more interested in what I become than in what I do.
- Freedom from suffering is not promised in the Christian gospel.
- Suffering is an integral part of the Christian life.
- God works through suffering to fulfill His purposes in me.
- God’s own purposes, not mine, are what brings Him glory.
- God enables me to read His providences through the lens of His Word.
- I have few greater pleasures than tracing the wonders of God’s ways.
Little wonder, then, that Sedgwick admonishes us with the words of Psalm 37:5, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.”[xii] The God of the Bible, the God of sovereign providence, He alone is worthy of such trust.
This article first appeared in Theology for Life Winter 2016-2017 Issue. To download the rest of the issue click here.
[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), 315.
[ii] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:417.
[iii] John Norton, Abel Being Dead Yet Speaketh (London, 1658), 5; quoted in Michael P. Winship, Seers of God: Puritan Providentialism in the Restoration and Early Enlightenment (Baltimore, Md.: John Hopkins University Press, 1996), 16-17
[iv] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:418-19
[v] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:428.
[vi] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:435.)
[vii] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:436.
[viii] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:442
[ix] Flavel, Mystery, in Works, 4:496
[x] Flavel, mystery, in Works, 4:496
[xi] Timothy George, Amazing Grace, January 2011, accessed 21 November 2016. https://www.crossway.org/blog/2011/01/five-principles-of-providence/
[xii] Sedgwick, Providence Handled Practically, 34.)