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Providence

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prov´i - dens :

I. PROVIDENCE DEFINED

II. DIFFERENT SPHERES OF PROVIDENTIAL ACTIVI TY DISTINGUISHED

III. BIBLICAL PRESENTATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE

1. Divine Providence in the Old Testament Scriptures

(1) Providence in the Pentateuch

(2) The Historical Books of the Old Testament

(3) The Psalms

(4) The Wisdom Literature

(5) The Book of Job

(6) The Prophetical Writings

2. Divine Providence in the New Testament

(1) The Synoptic Gospels

(2) The Johannine Writings

(3) The Book of Acts and Other New Testament History

(4) The Pauline Epistles

(5) The Petrine Epistles, and Other New Testament Writings

3. Old Testament and New Testament Doctrines of Providence Compared

(1) The New Emphasis on the Fatherhood and Love of God

(2) The Place of Christ and the Holy Spirit in Providence

(3) The New Emphasis upon Moral and Spiritual Blessings

IV. DISCUSSION OF THE CONTENTS OF THE BIBLIC AL DOCTRINE

1. Different Views of Providence Compared

(1) The Atheistic or Materialistic View

(2) The Pantheistic View

(3) The Deistic View

(4) The Theistic or Biblical View

(5) The Divine Immanence

2. The Divine Purpose and Final End of Providence

3. Special Providence

(1) Spiritual, Not Material, Good to Man the End Sought in Special Providence

(2) Special Providence and "Accidents"

(3) Special Providence as Related to Piety and Prayer

(4) Special Providence as Related to Human Cooperation

(5) General and Special Providence Both Equally Divine

4. Divine Providence and Human Free Will

(1) Divine Providence as Related to Willing Wills

(2) Divine Providence as Related to Sinful Free Will

5. Divine Providence as Related to Natural and Moral Evil

6. Evil Providentially Overruled for Good

7. Interpreting Providence

8. Conclusion

LITERATURE

I. Providence Defined.

The word "provide" (from Latin providere ) means etymologically "to foresee." The corresponding Greek word, πρόνοια , prónoia , means "forethought." Forethought and foresight imply a future end, a goal and a definite purpose and plan for attaining that end. The doctrine of final ends is a doctrine of final causes, and means that that which is last in realization and attainment is first in mind and thought. The most essential attribute of rational beings is that they act with reference to an end; that they act not only with thought but with forethought. As, therefore, it is characteristic of rational beings to make preparation for every event that is foreseen or anticipated, the word "providence" has come to be used less in its original etymological meaning of foresight than to signify that preparation care and supervision which are necessary to secure a desired future result. While all rational beings exercise a providence proportioned to their powers, yet it is only when the word is used with reference to the Divine Being who is possessed of infinite knowledge and power that it takes on its real and true significance. The doctrine of divine providence, therefore, has reference to that preservation care and government which God exercises over all things that He has created in order they may accomplish the ends for which they were created.

"Providence is the most comprehensive term in the language of theology. It is the background of all the several departments of religious truth, a background mysterious in its commingled brightness and darkness. It penetrates and fills the whole compass of the relations of man with his Maker. It connects the unseen God with the visible creation, and the visible creation with the work of redemption, and redemption with personal salvation, and personal salvation with the end of all things. It carries our thoughts back to the supreme purpose which was in the beginning with God, and forward to the foreseen end and consummation of all things, while it includes between these the whole infinite variety of the dealings of God with man" (W. B. Pope, Compendium of Christian Theology , I, 456).

II. Different Spheres of Providential Activity Distinguished.

The created universe may be conveniently divided, with reference divine providence, into three departments: first, the inanimate or physical universe, which is conserved or governed by God according to certain uniform principles called the laws of Nature; secondly, animate existence, embracing the vegetable and animal world, over which God exercises that providential care which is necessary to sustain the life that He created; and thirdly, the rational world, composed of beings who, in addition to animate life, are possessed of reason and moral free agency, and are governed by God, not necessitatively, but through an appeal to reason, they having the power to obey or disobey the laws of God according to the decision of their own free wills. This widespread care and supervision which God exercises over His created universe is commonly designated as His general providence which embraces alike the evil and the good, in addition to which there is a more special and particular providence which He exercises over and in behalf of the good, those whose wills are in harmony with the divine will.

III. Biblical Presentation of the Doctrine of Providence.

The word "providence" is used only once in the Scriptures (Acts 24:2 ), and here it refers, not to God, but to the forethought and work of man, in which sense it is now seldom used. (See also Romans 13:14 , where the same Greek word is translated "provision.") While, however, the Biblical use of the word calls for little consideration, the doctrine indicated by the term "providence" is one of the most significant in the Christian system, and is either distinctly stated or plainly assumed by every Biblical writer. The Old Testament Scriptures are best understood when interpreted as a progressive revelation of God's providential purpose for Israel and the world. Messianic expectations pervade the entire life and literature of the Hebrew people, and the entire Old Testament dispensation may not improperly be regarded as the moral training and providential preparation of the world, and especially of the chosen people, for the coming Messiah. In the apocryphal "Book of Wisdom" the word "providence" is twice used (Wisd 14:3; 17:2) in reference to God's government of the World. Rabbinical Judaism, according to Josephus, was much occupied with discussing the relation of divine providence to human free will. The Sadducees, he tells us, held an extreme view of human freedom, while the Essenes were believers in absolute fate; the Pharisees, avoiding these extremes, believed in both the overruling providence of God and in the freedom and responsibility of man (Ant. , XIII , v, 9; XVIII , i, 3; BJ , II, viii, 14). See PHARISEES . The New Testament begins with the announcement that the "kingdom of heaven is at hand," which declaration carries along with it the idea of a providential purpose and design running through the preceding dispensation that prepared for the Messiah's coming. But the work of Christ is set forth in the New Testament, not only as the culmination of a divine providence that preceded it, but as the beginning of a new providential order, a definite and far-reaching plan, for the redemption of the world, a forethought and plan so comprehensive that it gives to the very idea of divine providence a new, larger and richer meaning, both intensively and extensively, than it ever had before. The minutest want of the humblest individual and the largest interests of the world-wide kingdom of God are alike embraced within the scope of divine providence as it is set forth by Christ and the apostles.

1. Divine Providence in the Old Testament Scriptures:

(1) Providence in the Pentateuch.

The opening sentence of the Scriptures, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," is a noble and majestic affirmation of God's essential relationship to the origin of all things. It is followed by numerous utterances scattered throughout the sacred volume that declare that He who created also preserves and governs all that He created. But the Israelite nation was from the beginning of its history, in the Hebrew conception, the special object of God's providence and care, though it was declared that Yahweh's lordship and government extended over all the earth (Exodus 8:22 ). The Deuteronomist (Deuteronomy 10:14 ) uses language which implies that divine possession of all things in heaven and earth carries along with it the idea of divine providence and control; and he also regards Israel as Yahweh's peculiar possession and special care (Deuteronomy 32:8 ).

This special providence that was over the elect nation as a whole was also minute and particular, in that special individuals were chosen to serve a providential purpose in the making of the nation, and were divinely-guided in the accomplishment of their providential mission. Thus Abraham's providential place in history is set forth in Nehemiah 9:7 , Nehemiah 9:8 . Jacob acknowledges the same providential hand in his life (Genesis 31:42 ; Genesis 48:15 ). The life of Joseph abounds in evidences of a divine providence (Genesis 45:5 , Genesis 45:7 ; Genesis 50:20 ). The whole life-history of Moses as it is found in the Pentateuch is a study in the doctrine of divine providence. Other lives as set forth in these early narratives may be less notable, but they are not less indebted to divine providence for what they are and for what they accomplish for others. Indeed, as Professor Oehler remarks, "The whole Pentateuchal history of revelation is nothing but the activity of that divine providence which in order to the realization of the divine aim, is at once directed to the whole, and at the same time proves itself efficacious in the direction of the life of separate men, and in the guiding of all circumstances" ( Old Testament Theology ).

(2) The Historical Books of the Old Testament.

In a sense all the books of the Old Testament are historical in that they furnish material for writing a history of the people of Israel. See ISRAEL , HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE . The Pentateuch, the Poetical Books, the Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, all furnish material for writing Old Testament history; but there is still left a body of literature, including the books from Joshua to Esther that may with peculiar fitness designated as historical. These books are all, in an important sense, an interpretation and presentation of the facts of Hebrew history in their relation to divine providence. The sacred historians undertake to give something of a divine philosophy of history, to interpret in a religious way the facts of history, to point out the evils of individual and national sin and the rewards and blessings of righteousness, and to show God's ever-present and ever-guiding hand in human history - that He is not a silent spectator of human affairs, but the supreme moral Governor of the universe, to whom individuals and nations alike owe allegiance. To the Hebrew historian every event in the life of the nation has a moral significance, both because of its relation to God and because of its bearing on the providential mission and testing of Israel as the people of God. The Book of Judges, which covers the "dark ages" of Bible history, and is an enigma to many in the study of God's hand in history, shows how far God must needs condescend at times in His use of imperfect and even sensual men through whom to reveal His will and accomplish His work in the world. While therefore He condescends to use as instruments of His providence such men as Samson and Jephthah, it is never through these that He does His greatest work, but through an Abraham, a Joseph, a Moses, an Isaiah, through men of lofty moral character. And this is one of the most notable lessons of Old Testament history if it be studied as a revelation of God's providential methods and instrumentalities. Among these historical writers none has given clearer and stronger expression to God's providential relation to the physical world as its preserver and to the moral world as its Divine Governor than the author of Nehemiah. "Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all.... Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go. Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:6 , Nehemiah 9:19 , Nehemiah 9:20 the King James Version). His words reflect the views that were entertained by all the Old Testament historains as to God's hand in the government and guidance of the nation. Hebrew history, because of the divine promises and divine providence, is ever moving forward toward the Messianic goal.

(3) The Psalms.

The poets are among the world's greatest religious teachers, and theology of the best poets generally represents the highest and purest faith that is found among a people. Applying this truth to the Hebrew race, we may say that in the Psalms and the Book of Job we reach the high-water mark of the Old Testament revelation as to the doctrine of divine providence. The Psalmist's God is not only the Creator and Preserver of all things, but is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God, a Being so full of tender mercy and loving-kindness that we cannot fail to identify Him with the God whom Christ taught us to call "our Father." Nowhere else in the entire Scriptures, except in the Sermon on the Mount, can we find such a full and clear exhibition of the minute and special providence of God over His faithful and believing children as in the Psalms - notably such as Psalm 91 ; 103 ; 104,139 . Psalm 105 traces God's hand in providential and gracious guidance through every stage of Israel's wondrous history. Thanksgiving and praise for providential mercies and blessings abound in Psalm 44 ; 66 ; 78 ; Psalm 85:1-13 ; Psalm 138:1-8 . While the relation of God's power and providence to the physical universe and to the material and temporal blessings of life is constantly asserted in the Psalms, yet it is the connection of God's providence with man's ethical and spiritual nature, with righteousness and faith and love, that marks the highest characteristic of the Psalmist's revelation of the doctrine of providence. That righteousness and obedience are necessary conditions and accompaniments of divine providence in its moral aspects and results is evidenced by numerous declarations of the psalmists (Psalm 1:6 ; Psalm 31:19 , Psalm 31:20 ; Psalm 74:12 ; Psalm 84:11 ; Psalm 91:1 ; Psalm 125:2 ). This thought finds happiest expression in Psalm 37:23 the King James Version: "The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord, and he delighteth in his way." The inspired poets make it plain that the purpose of divine providence is not merely to meet temporal wants and bring earthly blessings, but to secure the moral good of individuals and nations.

(4) The Wisdom Literature.

The doctrine of providence finds ample and varied expression in the wisdom Lit. of the Old Testament, notably in the Book of Proverbs. The power that preserves and governs and guides is always recognized as inseparable from the power that creates and commands (Proverbs 3:21-26 ; Proverbs 16:4 ). Divine providence does not work independently of man's free will; providential blessings are conditioned on character and conduct (Proverbs 26:10 the King James Version; Proverbs 2:7 , Proverbs 2:8 ; Proverbs 12:2 , Proverbs 12:21 ). There cannot be, in Old Testament terms of faith, any stronger statement of the doctrine of divine providence than that given by the Wise Men of Israel in the following utterances recorded in the Book of Proverbs: "In thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:6 ); "A man's heart deviseth his way, but Yahweh directeth his steps" (Proverbs 16:9 ) "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of Yahweh" (Proverbs 16:33 ); "A man's goings are of Yahweh" (Proverbs 20:24 ); "The king's heart is in the hand of Yahweh as the watercourses: He turneth it whithersoever he will" (Proverbs 21:1 ); "The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but victory is of Yahweh" (Proverbs 21:31 ). See also Proverbs 3:21-26 ; Proverbs 12:2 , Proverbs 12:21 . The conception of providence that is presented in the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to reflect the views of one who had had experience in sin and had come into close contact with many of life's ills. All things have their appointed time, but the realization of the providential purposes and ends of creaturely existence is, wherever human free agency is involved, always conditioned upon man's exercise of his free will. The God of providence rules and overrules, but He does not by His omnipotence overpower and override and destroy man's true freedom. Things that are do not reflect God's perfect providence, but rather His providence as affected by human free agency and as marred by man's sin (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 ). "I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to do good so long as they live: And also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 3:12 , Ecclesiastes 3:13 ; see also Ecclesiastes 3:14 ); "The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God" (Ecclesiastes 9:1 ); "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" (Ecclesiastes 9:11 ). The same conclusion that the author of Ecclesiastes reached as to how human life is affected by divine providence and man's sin has found expression in the oft-quoted lines of the great poet:

"There's a Divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will."

(5) The Book of Job.

The greatest of all the inspired contributions to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, the Book of Job, demands special consideration. It is the one book in the Bible that is devoted wholly to a discussion of divine providence. The perplexities of a thoughtful mind on the subject of divine providence and its relation to human suffering have nowhere in the literature of the world found stronger and clearer expression than in this inspired drama which bears the name of its unique and marvelous hero, Job. Job represents not only a great sufferer, but an honest doubter: he dared to doubt theology of his day, a theology which he had himself doubtless believed until experience, the best of all teachers, taught him its utter inadequacy to explain the deepest problems of human life and of divine providence. The purpose of this book in the inspired volume seems to be to correct the prevailing theology of the day with regard to the subject of Sin and suffering in their relation to divine providence. There is no more deplorable and hurtful error that a false theology could teach than that all suffering in this world is a proof of sin and a measure of one's guilt (see AFFLICTION ). It is hard enough for the innocent to suffer. To add to their suffering by them that it is all because they are awful sinners, even though their hearts assure them that they are not, is to lay upon the innocent a burden too grievous to be borne. The value in the inspired Canon of a book written to reveal the error of such a misleading doctrine as this cannot easily be over-estimated. The invaluable contribution which this book makes to the Biblical doctrine of providence is to be found, not in individual and detached sayings, striking and suggestive as some of these may be, but rather in the book as a whole. Statements concerning God's general abound in this inspired drama - such these, for example: "Who knoweth not in all these, that the hand of Yahweh hath wrought this, in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?" (Job 12:9 , Job 12:10 ) ; "Who hath given him a charge over the earth? or who hath disposed the whole world?... He shall break in pieces mighty men without number, and set others in their stead" (Job 34:13 , Job 34:14 the King James Version).

But the special contribution of the Book of Job to the doctrine of divine providence, as already indicated, is to set forth its connection with the fact of sin and suffering. Perplexed souls in all ages have been asking: If God be all-powerful and all-good, why should there be any suffering in a world which He created and over which He rules? If He cannot prevent suffering is He omnipotent? If He can, but will not prevent suffering, is He infinitely good? Does the book solve the mystery? We cannot claim that it does. But it does vindicate the character of God, the Creator, and of Job, the moral free agent under trial. It does show the place of suffering in a moral world where free agents are forming Character; it does show that perfect moral character is made, not by divine omnipotence, but by trial, and that physical suffering serves a moral end in God's providential government of men and nations. While the book does not clear the problem of mystery, it does show how on the dark background of a suffering world the luminous holiness of divine and human character may be revealed. The picture of this suffering man of Uz, racked with bodily pains and irritated by the ill-spoken words of well-meaning friends, planting himself on the solid rock of his own conscious rectitude, and defying earth and hell to prove him guilty of wrong, and knowing that his Vindicator liveth and would come to his rescue - that is an inspired picture that will make every innocent sufferer who reads it stronger until the end of time. See also JOB , BOOK OF .

(6) The Prophetical Writings.

Nowhere in all literature is the existence and supremacy of a moral and providential order in the world more clearly recognized thin in the writings of the Old Testament prophets. These writings are best understood when interpreted as the moral messages and passionate appeals of men who were not only prophets and preachers of righteousness to their own times, but students and teachers of the moral philosophy of history for all time, seers, men of vision, who interpreted all events in the light of their bearing on this moral and providential order, in which divine order the Israelite nation had no small part, and over which Israel's God was sovereign, doing "according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth." While each prophetic message takes its coloring from the political, social and moral conditions that called it forth, and therefore differs from every other message, the prophets are all one in their insistence upon the supremacy and divine authority of this moral order, and in their looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and the setting up of the Messianic kingdom as the providential goal and consummation of the moral order. They all describe in varying degrees of light and shade a coming time when One born of their own oppressed and down-trodden race should come in power and glory, and set up a kingdom of righteousness and love in the earth, into which kingdom all nations shall be ultimately gathered; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. God's providential government of the nation was always and everywhere directed toward this Messianic goal. The language which an inspired writer puts into the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar, the heathen king, is an expression, not so much of the Gentileconception of God and His government, as it is of the faith of a Hebrew prophet concerning God's relationship to men and nations: "He doeth according to his will in army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (Daniel 4:35 ). The providential blessings which the prophets promise to the people, whether to individuals or to the nation, are never a matter of mere omnipotence or favoritism, but are inseparably connected with righteous conduct and holy character. The blessings promised are mainly spiritual, but whether spiritual or material, they are always conditioned on righteousness. The Book of Isaiah is especially rich in passages that emphasize the place of moral conduct and character in God's providential government of the world, the supreme purpose and end of which are to establish a kingdom of righteousness in the earth (Isaiah 33:13-16 ; Isaiah 35:8-10 ; Isaiah 43:2 ; Isaiah 46:4 ; Isaiah 54:14-17 ). Divine providence is both personal and national, and of each it is declared in varying terms of assurance that "Yahweh will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rearward" (Isaiah 52:12 ). Each of the major and minor prophets confirms and re-enforces the teachings of this greatest and most truly representative of all the Old Testament prophets.

2. Divine Providence in the New Testament:

(1) The Synoptic Gospels.

The Synoptic Gospels furnish the richest possible material for a study of the doctrine of divine providence. They recognize in the advent of Christ the fulfillment of a long line of Messianic prophecies and the culmination of providential purposes and plans that had been in the divine mind from the beginning and awaited the fullness of time for their revelation in the Incarnation (Matthew 1:22 ; Matthew 2:5 , Matthew 2:15 ; Matthew 3:3 ). In His private and personal life of service and prayer Christ is a model of filial trust in the providence of the heavenly Father (Matthew 11:25 ; Matthew 26:39 ; Mark 1:35 ; Mark 6:46 ; Luke 3:21 ; Luke 11:1 ). His private and public utterances abound in declarations concerning God's ever-watchful and loving care for all His creatures, but above all for those creatures who bear His own image; while His teachings concerning the Kingdom of God reveal a divine providential plan for the world's redemption and education extending of necessity far into the future; and still beyond that, in His vision of divine providence, comes a day of final judgment, of retribution and reward, followed by a new and eternal order of things, in which the destiny of every man will be determined by his conduct and character in this present life (see our Lord's parables concerning the Kingdom: Mt 13:24-50; Mark 4:26 ff; Luke 14:16 ff; also Mt 24 and 25). The many familiar utterances of our Lord, found in the Synoptic Gospels, contain the most essential and precious of all the New Testament revelations concerning the providence of the heavenly Father ( Matthew 5:45 ; Matthew 6:26-34 ; Matthew 10:29-31 ; Luke 21:16-18 ).

(2) The Johannine Writings.

John's Gospel differs from the Synoptic Gospels in its mode of presenting the doctrine of providence chiefly in that it goes back to the mind and purpose of God in the very beginning (John 1:1-5 ), whereas the Synoptic Gospels simply go back to the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Both the Gospel and the Epistles of John in their presentation of divine providence place the greatest possible emphasis on divine love and filial trust, the latter rising in many places to the point of positive assurance. The Book of Revelation is a prophetic vision, in apocalyptic form, of God's providential purpose for the future, dealing not so much with individuals as with nations and with the far-reaching movements of history extending through the centuries. God is revealed in John's writings, not as an omnipotent and arbitrary Sovereign, but as an all-loving Father, who not only cares for His children in this life but is building for them in the world to come a house of many mansions (Jn 14:1-20).

(3) The Book of Acts and Other New Testament History.

The historical portions of the New Testament, as contained in the Acts, and elsewhere, while not eliminating or depreciating the element of human freedom in individuals and nations, yet recognize in human life and history the ever-present and all-controlling mind of that God in whom, it is declared, "we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28 ). The career of the first distinctive New Testament character begins with these words: "There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John" (John 1:6 ). But not only John, the forerunner, but every other individual, according to the New Testament conceptions, is a man "sent from God." The apostles conceive themselves to be such; Stephen, the martyr, was such; Paul was such (Acts 22:21 ). New Testament biography is a study in providentially guided lives, not omitting references to those who refuse to be so guided - for such is the power of human free agency, many who are "sent from God" refuse to go upon their divinely-appointed mission. The Day of Pentecost is the revelation of a new power in history - a revelation of the place and power which the divine-human Christ and the Holy Spirit are to have henceforth in making history - in making the character of the men and the nations whose deeds are to make history. The most potent moral force in history is to be, from the day of Pentecost on, the ascended incarnate Christ, and He is to be all the more influential in the world after His ascension, when His work shall be done through the Holy Spirit. This is the historical view of providence as connected with the person of Christ, which the New Testament historians present, and which we, after 19 centuries of Christian history, are warranted in holding more confidently and firmly even than the Christians of the 1st century could hold it; for the Christian centuries have proved it true. What God is in Nature Christ is in history. All history is becoming Christian history, thus realizing the New Testament conception of divine providence in and through Christ.

(4) The Pauline Writings.

No character of whom we have any account in Christian literature was providentially prepared for his life-work and providentially guided in accomplishing that life-work more truly than was the apostle Paul. We find, there. fore, as we would antecedently expect, that Paul's speeches and writings abound in proofs of his absolute faith in the overruling providence of an all-wise God. His doctrine of predestination and foreordination is best understood when interpreted, not as a divine power predetermining human destiny and nullifying the human will, but as a conception of divine providence as the eternal purpose of God to accomplish an end contemplated and foreseen from the beginning, namely, the redemption of the world and the creation in and through Christ of a new and holy humanity. Every one of the Pauline Epistles bears witness to the author's faith in a divine providence that overrules and guides the life of every soul that works in harmony with the divine will; but this providence is working to secure as its chief end, not material and temporal blessings, but the moral and spiritual good of those concerned. Paul's teachings concerning divine providence as it concerns individuals and is conditioned on character may be found summed up in what is perhaps the most comprehensive single sentence concerning providence that was ever written: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28 the King James Version). Any true exposition of the New Testament doctrine of divine providence that may be given can only be an unfolding of the content of this brief but comprehensive statement. The greatest of the Pauline Epistles, that to the Romans, is a study in the divine philosophy of history, a revelation of God's providential purpose and plan concerning the salvation, not merely of individuals, but of the nations. These purposes, as Paul views them, whether they concern individuals or the entire race, are always associated with the mediatorial ministry of Christ: "For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever" ( Romans 11:36 ).

(5) The Petrine Epistles, and Other New Testament Writings.

The Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, are all in entire accord with the teachings of the other New Testament writings already considered. Peter, who at first found it so hard to see how God's providential purpose in and for the Messiah could be realized if Christ should suffer and die, came later to see that the power and the glory of Christ and His all-conquering gospel are inseparably connected with the sufferings and death of the Messiah (1 Peter 1:11 , 1 Peter 1:12 ). No statement concerning God's providence over the righteous can be clearer or stronger than the following utterance of Peter: "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And his ears unto their supplication: But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?" (1 Peter 3:12 , 1 Peter 3:13 ). The purpose and end of divine providence as viewed in the Epistle of James are always ethical: as conduct and character are the end and crown of Christian effort, so they are the end and aim of divine providence as it cooperates with men to make them perfect (James 1:5 , James 1:17 , James 1:27 ; James 2:5 ; James 5:7 ). The apologetic value of the Epistle to the Hebrews grows out of the strong proof it presents that Christ is the fulfillment, not only of the Messianic prophecies and expectations of Israel, but of the providential purposes and plans of that God who at sundry times and in divers manners had spoken in times past unto the fathers by a long line of prophets (Hebrews 1:1 , Hebrews 1:2 ; 11:7-40; Hebrews 13:20 , Hebrews 13:21 ). It would be difficult to crowd into one short chapter a more comprehensive study of the lessons of history that illustrate the workings and the retributions of the moral law under divine providence than is found in the Epistle of Jude (see especially Judges 1:5 , Judges 1:7 , Judges 1:11 , Judges 1:14 , Judges 1:15 , Judges 1:24 ).

3. Old Testament and New Testament Doctrines of Providence Compared:

From this brief survey of the teachings of the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures concerning the doctrine of divine providence, it will be seen that, while the New Testament reaffirms in most particulars the doctrine of divine providence as set forth in the Old Testament Scriptures, there are three particulars in which the points of emphasis are changed, and by which new and changed emphasis the doctrine is greatly enriched in the New Testament.

(1) The New Emphasis on the Fatherhood and Love of God.

The God of providence in the Old Testament is regarded as a Sovereign whose will is to be obeyed, and His leading attributes are omnipotence and holiness, whereas in the New Testament God is revealed as the heavenly Father, and His providence is set forth as the forethought and care of a father for his children. His leading attributes here are love and holiness - H is very omnipotence is the omnipotence of love. To teach that God is not only a righteous Ruler to be feared and adored, but a tender and loving Father who is ever thinking of and caring for His children, is to make God lovable and turn His providence into an administration of Almighty love.

(2) The Place of Christ and the Holy Spirit in Providence.

The doctrine of providence in the New Testament is connected with the person of Christ and the administration of the Holy Spirit, in a manner that distinguishes it from the Old Testament presentation of providence as the work of the one God who was there revealed in the simple unity of His nature without distinction of persons. If it be true, as some theologians have taught, that "God the Father plans, God the Son executes, and God the Holy Ghost applies," then it would follow that providence is the work exclusively of Christ and the Holy Spirit; but this theological formula, while it has suggestive value, cannot be accepted as an accurate statement of Biblical doctrine with reference to divine providence. Christ constantly refers creation and providence to the Father. But He also said, "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5:17 ), and the New Testament writers attribute to Christ the work both of creation and providence. Thus Paul: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Colossians 1:16 , Colossians 1:17 the King James Version). Although this and other passages refer to Christ's relation to general providence, including the government of the physical universe, yet it is only when the divine government is concerned with the redemption of a lost world and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the hearts and lives of men, that the full extent of Christ's part in divine providence can be realized. The saving and perfecting of men is the supreme purpose of providence, if it be viewed from the New Testament standpoint, which is that of Christ's mediatorial ministry.

(3) The New Emphasis upon Moral and Spiritual Blessings.

The New Testament not only subordinates the material and temporal aspects of providence to the spiritual and eternal more than does the Old Testament, but Christ and the apostles, to an extent that finds no parallel in the Old Testament, place the emphasis of their teaching concerning providence upon man's moral needs and eternal interests, and upon the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, the establishment of which in the hearts and lives of men is the one great object for which both the heavenly Father and His children are ceaselessly working. To be free from sin, to be holy in heart and useful in life, to love and obey God as a Father, to love and serve men as brothers - this is the ideal and the end for which, according to the New Testament, men should work and pray, and this is the end toward which God is working by His ceaseless cooperative providence.

IV. Discussion of the Contents of the Biblical Doctrine.

1. Different Views of Providence Compared:

There are four distinct conceptions of providence as it concerns God's relation to the ongoing of the world and to man, the rational and moral free agent whom He has placed upon it, namely, the atheistic, the deistic, the pantheistic, and theistic or Biblical view. See also GOD , I, 4. The last named view can best be understood only when stated in comparison and contrast with these opposing views.

(1) The Atheistic or Materialistic View:

Atheism or materialism, stands at one extreme, affirming that there is no God, that the material universe is eternal, and that from material atoms, eternally endowed with certain properties, there have come, by a process of evolution, all existing forms of vegetable, animal and rational life. As materialism denies the existence of a personal Creator, it, of course, denies any and every doctrine of divine providence.

(2) The Pantheistic View:

Pantheism stands at the other extreme from atheism, teaching that God is everything and everything is God. The created universe is "the living garment" of God - G od is the soul of the world, the universe His existence form. But God is an infinite It, not a personal Being who can express His existence in terms of selfconsciousness - I , Thou, He, Providence, according to pantheism, is simply the evolution of impersonal deity, differing from materialism only in the name which it gives to the infinite substance from which all things flow.

(3) The Deistic View:

Deism teaches that there is a God, and that He created the world, but created things do not need His presence and the exercise of His power in order to continue in existence and fulfill their functions. The material world is placed under immutable law; while man, the rational and moral free agent, is left to do as he wills. God sustains, according to deism, very much the same relation to the universe that the clock-maker does to his timepiece. Having made his clock, and wound it up, he does not interfere with it, and the longer it can run without the maker's intervention the greater the evidence of wisdom and skill on the part of the maker. God according to deism has never wrought a miracle nor made a supernatural revelation to man. The only religion that is possible to man is natural religion; he may reason from Nature up to Nature's God. The only value of prayer is its subjective influence; it helps us to answer our own prayers, to become and be what we are praying to be. If the Divine Being is a prayer-hearing God, He is least not a prayer-answering God. The laws of Nature constitute God's general providence; but there is no other personal and special providence than this, according to deism. God, the deists affirm, is too great, too distant, too transcendent a Being to concern Himself with the details of creaturely existence.

(4) The Theistic or Biblical View:

The theistic or Biblical conception of providence teaches that God is not only the Creator but the Preserver of the universe, and that the preservation of the universe, no less than its creation, implies and necessitates at every moment of time an omnipotent and omnipresent personal Being. This world is not "governed by the laws of Nature," as deism teaches, but it is "governed by God according to the laws of Nature." "Law," in itself, is an impotent thing, except as it is the expression of a free will or person back of it; "the laws of Nature" are meaningless and impotent, except as they are an expression of the uniform mode, according to which God preserves and governs the world. It is customary to speak of the laws of Nature as if they were certain self-existent forces or powers governing the world. But shall we not rather say that there is no real cause except personal will - either the divine will or created wills? If this be true, then it is inconsistent to say that God has committed the government of the physical universe to "secondary causes" - that is, to the laws of Nature - and that these laws are not immediately dependent upon Him for their efficiency. The omnipresent and ever-active God is the only real force and power and cause in the universe, except as created wills may be true and real causes within their limited bounds. This view of God's relation to the created universe serves to distinguish the Biblical doctrine of divine providence from the teachings of materialists and deists, who eliminate entirely the divine hand from the ongoing of the universe, and in its stead make a god of the "laws of Nature," and hence, have no need for a divine preserver. Biblical theism makes ample room for the presence of the supernatural and miraculous, but we must not be blind to a danger here, in that it is possible to make so much of the presence of God in the supernatural (revelation, inspiration, and miracle) as to overlook entirely His equally important and necessary presence in the natural - which would be to encourage a deistical conception of God's relation to the world by exaggerating His transcendence at the expense of His immanence. That is the true theistic doctrine of providence which, while not undervaluing the supernatural and miraculous, yet stedfastly maintains that God is none the less present in, and necessary to, what is termed the "natural."

(5) The Divine Immanence.

This idea of God's essential relation to the continuation of all things in existence is perhaps best expressed by the term "immanence." Creation emphasizes God's transcendence, while providence emphasizes His immanence. Pantheism affirms God's immanence, but denies His transcendence. Deism affirms His transcendence, but denies His immanence. Biblical theism teaches that God is both transcendent and immanent. By the term "transcendence," when applied to God, is meant that the Divine Being is a person, separate and distinct from Nature and above Nature - "Nature" being used here in its largest signification as including all created things. By the Divine Immanence is meant that God is in Nature as well as over Nature, and that the continuance of Nature is as directly and immediately dependent upon Him as the origin of Nature - indeed, by some, God's preservation of the created universe is defined as an act of "continuous creation." By the Divine Immanence is meant something more than omnipresence, which term, in itself alone, does not affirm any causal relation between God and the thing to which He is present, whereas the term "immanence" does affirm such causal relation. By asserting the Divine Immanence, therefore, as the mode of God's providential efficiency, we affirm that all created things are dependent upon Him for continued existence, that the laws of Nature have no efficiency apart from their Creator and Preserver, that God is to be sought and seen in all forms and phases of creaturely existence, in the natural as well as the supernatural and miraculous, that He is not only omnipresent but always and everywhere active both in the natural and the spiritual world, and that without Him neither the material atom, nor the living organism, nor the rational soul could have any being. He not only created all things, but "by him all things consist," that is, by Him all things are preserved in being.

2. The Divine Purpose and Final End of Providence:

What, then, let us ask, do the Scriptures teach as to the purpose and end of God's providential goverment of the world? Back of this question is another: What was the divine motive and supreme thought in the creation of the universe, and what the final cause and end of all things in the mind and purpose of God? If we can think God's thoughts after Him and discover this "final cause" of creation, with even approximate accuracy, then we shall find a principle that will illuminate at least, if it does not fully explain, the methods and mysteries of providence. We venture to affirm that the controlling thought in the mind of God in establishing this order of things, of which we are a conscious part, was to create a race of beings who should find their highest happiness by being in the highest degree holy, and who should, in proportion as they attain their highest holiness and happiness, thereby in the highest degree glorify their Creator. The Creator's highest glory can be promoted only by such beings as are at once rational, moral, free, holy. There are unconscious, unthinking, unmoral forms of existence, but the motive and meaning of the universe is to be found, not in the lower, the physical and animal, but in the highest, in the rational and moral. The lower exists for the higher, the material and animal for the spiritual and moral. A being whose character is formed under the conditions and laws of intellectual and moral freedom is higher than any being can be that is what it is necessitatively, that is, by virtue of conditions over which it has no control. Character that is formed freely under God's government and guidance will glorify the Creator more than anything can which is made to be what it is wholly by divine omnipotence. These things being true, it follows that God's providence in the world will be directed primarily and ceaselessly toward developing character in free moral agents, toward reducing sin to the minimum and developing the maimum of holiness, in every way and by every means compatible with perfect moral freedom in the creature.

The possibility of sin in a world of free agents and in a state of probation is unavoidable, but to say that sin is possible does not mean that it is necessary. See CHOICE ; WILL . The final cause and end, the purpose and motive, of divine providence, then, are not the temporal, material and earthly happiness of men, but the highest ultimate moral good of free beings whose highest happiness is secured through their highest holiness - which means first, their obedience to the holy will of God as their Father, and secondly, loving and self-sacrificing service to their fellow-men. This ever-present and all-dominating moral purpose of divine providence determines its methods and explains, in part at least, what would otherwise be its mysteries. With this conception of divine providence the general trend of Biblical thought is in entire accord. In the light of Christ's revelation of God as a holy and loving Father who regards all men as His children and whose chief concern is to develop holiness and love in those whom He loves, we may define divine providence as Infinite Wisdom, using infinite power to accomplish the ends of infinite holiness and love. The originating and determining cause of divine providence is, in the New Testament conception of it, always to be found in the love of God, while the final cause is the glory of the Father as realized in the holiness and happiness of His children.

3. Special Providence:

By the doctrine of special providence, according to the best use of that term in theological literature, is meant as already indicated, that minute care and ever-watchful supervision which God exercises over His obedient and believing children in things, both small and great, which are designed to secure their ever-increasing holiness and usefusness. God's general providence is and must be special, in that it descends to particulars - to the minute details of creaturely existence - and is always and everywhere active. But the Scriptures teach that there is a more special care over and ordering of the lives of the spiritually good than pertains to the wicked, who have not the fear of God before their eyes. The following Scriptures set forth in unmistakable terms the doctrine of a special providence exercised by the heavenly Father over and in behalf of the righteous: "A man's goings are established of Yahweh; and he delighteth in his way" (Psalm 37:23 ); "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:6 ); "There shall no mischief happen to the righteous" (Proverbs 12:21 ); "But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33 ); "To them that love God all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28 ). The following points seem to be plainly involved in any statement of the doctrine of special providence that can claim to be faithful to the teachings of the Scriptures;

(1) Spiritual, Not Material, Good to Man the End Sought in Special Providence.

A mistaken and hurtful notion has long been prevalent to the effect that special providence is designed to secure the secular and earthly good, the material and temporal prosperity, of God's children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Material blessings may indeed come as a special providence to the child of God (Matthew 6:33 et al.), but that "good" which all things work together to secure for them that love God is mainly spirtual good, and not financial or social, or intellectual, or temporal good, except as these may secure ultimate spiritual good. Indeed, God's special providence make take away wealth and bring poverty in its stead in order to impart the "true riches." It may defeat rather than further one's worldly hopes and ambitions; may bring sickness rather than health, and ever death instead of life - for sometimes a Christian can do more good by sickness or death than by health or continued life - and when that is the case, his sickness or death may well be interpreted as a special providence. "Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." Many of the Old Testament promises do, it is true, seem to have special reference to material and temporal blessings, but we should remember that the best interpretation of these is to be found in the New Testament, where they are (as, for example, when quoted by Christ in the Temptation) interpreted as having mainly a spiritual signifigcance. When our Lord speaks of the very hairs of our heads being numbered, and declares that if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without the Father's notice, surely we, who are of more value than many sparrows, cannot drift beyond His love and care, His words might be interpreted as teaching that God will save us from physical suffering and death; but such is not His meaning, for, in the very same context He speaks of how they to whom He thus pledges His love and care shall be persecuted and hated for His name's sake, and how some of them shall be put to death; and yet His promise was true. God was with them in their physical sufferings, but the great blessing wherewith He blessed them was not physical, but moral and spiritual.

(2) Special Providence and "Accidents."

Another still more mistaken and hurtful notion concerning special providence is the association of it with, and the limitation of it largely to, what are called "accidents," those irregular and occasional occurrences which involve more than ordinary danger and risk to life. The popular notion of special providence associates it with a happy escape from visible dangers and serious injury, as when the house catches on fire, or the horses run away, or the train is wrecked, or the ship encounters an awful storm, or one comes in contact with contagious disease or the terrible pestilence that walketh in darkness. A happy escape from injury and death on such an occasion is popularly designated as a "special providence," and this regardless of whether the individual thus escaping is a saint or a sinner. We cannot too strongly emphasize the fact that God's special providence is not a capricious, occasional, and irregular intervention of His love and power in behalf of His children, but involves ceaseless - yea infinite - thought and care for those that love Him, everywhere and in all the experiences of life.

(3) Special Providence as Related to Piety and Prayer.

God's special providence is conditioned upon piety and prayer though it far transcends, in the blessings it brings, the specific requests of His children. While we may properly pray for things pertaining to our temporal and physical life with the assurance that God will answer such prayers in so far as He deems best; yet the Scriptures encourage us to make spiritual blessings the main object of our prayers. "Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness," is the essence of the New Testament teaching on this subject; but we should not overlook the fact that this divine injunction is both preceded and followed by the strongest assurances of the most minute and ceaseless provision for all our temporal and physical wants by the loving heavenly Father. "Therefore take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?... For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these thin


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Providence'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/isb/p/providence.html. 1915.


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