THE IDEA OF PROVIDENCE. Providence may be defined as that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end. This definition indicates that there are three elements in providence, namely, preservation (conservatio, sustentatio), concurrence or cooperation (concursus, co-operatio), and government (gubernatio) …..But while we distinguish three elements in providence, we should remember that these three are never separated in the work of God. While preservation has reference to the being, concurrence to the activity, and government to the guidance of all things, this should never be understood in an exclusive sense. In preservation there is also an element of government, in government an element of concursus, and in concursus an element of preservation. Pantheism does not distinguish between creation and providence, but theism stresses a twofold distinction: (a) Creation is the calling into existence of that which did not exist before, while providence continues or causes to continue what has already been called into existence. (b) In the former there can be no cooperation of the creature with the Creator, but in the latter there is a concurrence of the first Cause with second causes. In Scripture the two are always kept distinct.
The French Confession of Faith, 1559
Article 8: The Providence of God
We believe that he not only created all things, but that he governs and directs them (Ps 104; Job 34:14-15†;John 5:17†; Heb 1:3†), disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world (Gen 27:20†; 2 Sam 2:6; 1 Kgs 22:34†; Ps 75:6-7†; 115:3†; 119:89–96; 139:2–6, 13–18†; 147†; Prov 16:4; 21:1†; Isa 10:5-7†; 45:7†; Lam 3:37-38†; Matt 10:29; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 14:17†; 17:24, 26, 28; Rom 9:11; Eph 1:11; Jas 4:15†); not that he is the author of evil, or that the guilt of it can be imputed to him (Job 1:22†; Ps 5:4†; Hos 13:9; Gal 5:19-21†; 1 John 2:16; 3:8), as his will is the sovereign and infallible rule of all right and justice (Job 1:22; Ps 5:4; 45:6†; 119; Rom 9); but he hath wonderful means of so making use of devils and sinners that he can turn to good the evil which they do, and of which they are guilty (Gen 45:8; 50:20; Job; Acts 2:23-24, 27; 4:27-28†; Rom 8:28†). And thus, confessing that the providence of God orders all things, we humbly bow before the secrets which are hidden to us, without questioning what is above our understanding (Rom 9:19-20; Rom 11:33); but rather making use of what is revealed to us in Holy Scripture for our peace and safety (Job 1:21†; Ps 10:14†; 37:5†; Rom 5:3-4†; 8:28–29†; 2 Cor 4:7-18†; 1 Thess 5:18†; Jas 1:1-3†), inasmuch as God, who has all things in subjection to him, watches over us with a Father’s care, so that not a hair of our heads shall fall without his will (Matt 6:25-34†; 10:30; Luke 21:18). And yet he restrains the devils and all our enemies, so that they can not harm us without his leave (Job 1:12; Job 2:6†; Gen 3:15; Isa 45:1-8†; Matt 8:31†; John 19:11).
Belgic Confession of Faith, 1561
Article 13: Of Divine Providence
We believe that the same [or this good] God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them, according to his holy will (John 5:17;Heb 1:3; Prov 16:4; Ps 104:9; 139:2), so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment (Jas 4:15; Job 1:21; 1 Kgs 22:20; Acts 4:28; 1 Sam 2:25; Ps 115:3; 45:6; Amos 3:6; Deut 19:5; Prov 16:1, 9, 33†; 21:1; Ps 105:25; Isa 10:5-7; 2 Thess 2:11; Ezek 14:9; Rom 1:28; Eph 1:11-12†; Gen 45:8; 50:20; 2 Sam 16:10;Gen 27:20; Ps 75:6-7; Isa 45:7; Prov 16:4; Lam 3:37-38; 1 Kgs 22:34, 38; Exod 21:13); nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed (Jas 1:13†; 1 John 2:16†). For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner even when the devil and wicked men act unjustly (Matt 8:31-32; John 3:8; Job 1:21†; Isa 10:5†; 45:7†; Amos 3:6†; Acts 2:23†; 4:27–28†). And as to what he doth surpassing human understanding we will not curiously inquire into it further than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God which are hid from us (1 Kgs 22:12-23†; Rom 1:28†; 11:33–34; 2 Thess 2:11†), contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word without transgressing these limits (Deut 29:29†; 1 Cor 4:6†).
This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power (Matt 8:31; Job 1:12; 2:6) that not a hair of on our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow [un petit oiseau], can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father (Matt 10:29-30), in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission , they can not hurt us (Gen 45:8†; 50:20†; 2 Sam 16:10†; Rom 8:28, 38-39†).
And therefore we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance.
Heidelberg Catechism, 1563
Of God the Father and our Creation
Lord’s Day 9
26. What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”
That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth with all that in them is, who likewise upholds, and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father, in whom I so trust as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul; and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this troubled life, He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.
Lord’s Day 10
27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
28. What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds, all things?
That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.
Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643-1649
Chapter V: Of Providence
1. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold (Neh 9:6†; Ps 145:14-16†; Heb 1:3), direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things (Dan 4:34-35; Ps 135:6; Acts 17:25-26, 28; Job 38-41), from the greatest even to the least (Matt 10:29-31; 6:26, 30†), by his most wise and holy providence (Prov 15:3; 2 Chr 16:9†; Ps 104:24; 145:17), according to his infallible foreknowledge (Acts 15:18 [TR]; Ps 94:8-11; Isa 42:9†; Ezek 11:5†), and the free and immutable counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11; Ps 33:10-11), to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (Isa 63:14; Eph 3:10; Rom 9:17; Gen 45:7;Ps 145:7).
2. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly (Acts 2:23; Isa 14:24, 27†); yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (Gen 8:22; Jer 31:35; Exod 21:13; Deut 19:5; 1 Kgs 22:28, 34; Isa 10:6-7).
3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means (Acts 27:31, 44; Isa 55:10-11; Hos 2:21-22), yet is free to work without (Hos 1:7; Matt 4:4; Job 34:20), above (Rom 4:19-21), and against them (2 Kgs 6:6;Dan 3:27), at his pleasure.
4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men (Isa 45:7†;Rom 11:32-34; 2 Sam 24:1; 1 Chr 21:1; 1 Kgs 22:22-23; 1 Chr 10:4, 13-14; 2 Sam 16:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28); and that not by a bare permission (John 12:40†; Acts 14:16; 2 Thess 2:11†), but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding (Ps 76:10; 2 Kgs 19:28), and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends (Gen 50:20; Isa 10:6-7, 12); yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin (Jas 1:13-14, 17; 1 John 2:16; Ps 50:21).
5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled (2 Chr 32:25-26, 31; 2 Sam 24:1; Deut 8:2-3, 5†; Luke 22:31-32†); and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends (2 Cor 12:7-9; Ps 73; 77:1-12; Mark 14:66-72; John 21:15-17).
6. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden (Rom 1:24, 26, 28; 11:7-8), from them he not only withholdeth his grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts (Deut 29:4; Mark 4:11-12†); but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had (Matt 13:12; 25:29; Acts 13:10-11†), and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions of sin (Gen 4:8†; Deut 2:30; 2 Kgs 8:12-13; Matt 26:14-16†); and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan (Ps 81:11-12; 109:6†; Luke 22:3†; 2 Thess 2:10-12), whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others (Exod 7:3; 8:15, 32; 2 Cor 2:15-16; Isa 8:14; 1 Pet 2:7-8; Isa 6:9-10; Acts 28:26-27).
7. As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof (1 Tim 4:10; Amos 9:8-9; Matt 16:18†; Rom 8:28; Isa 43:3-5, 14).
The Second Helvetic Confession, 1566
Chapter VI: Of the Providence of God
1. [1.] All Things Are Governed by the Providence of God. We believe that all things in heaven and in earth and in all creatures, are sustained and governed by the providence of this wise, eternal, and omnipotent God. For David witnesses and says, “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto the Lord, who dwelleth on high, and yet humbleth himself to behold things that are in heaven and earth?” (Ps 113:4-6). Again, he says, “Thou hast forseen all my ways; for there is not a word in my tongue which thou knowest not wholly, O Lord,” etc. (Ps 139:3-4). Paul also witnesses and says, “By him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28); and “of him, and through him, and from him are all things” (Rom 11:36).
2. Therefore Augustine both truly and according to the Scripture said, in his book De agone christiano, chap. 8, “The Lord said, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without the will of your Father’ (Matt 10:29). By speaking thus he would give us to understand whatsoever men count most vile, that also is governed by the almighty power of God. For the truth, which said that all the hairs of our head are numbered, says also that the birds of the air are fed by him, and the lilies of the field are clothed by him (Matt. 6:26-29; 10:30†; Rom 12 [?])” (De agone christiano 8).
3. [2.] The Epicureans. We therefore condemn the Epicureans, who deny the providence of God (cf. Cicero, De natura deorum 1.2.3; 1.19.51), and all those who blasphemously affirm that God is occupied about the poles of heaven, and that he neither sees nor regards us or our affairs. The princely prophet David also condemned these men when he said, “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? They say the Lord doth not see, neither doth the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye unwise among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? and he that hath formed the eye, shall he not see?” (Ps 94:3, 7-9).
4. [3.] Means Not to Be Despised. Notwithstanding, we do not condemn the means whereby the providence of God works as though they were unprofitable; but we teach that we must apply ourselves unto them, so far as they are commended unto us in the Word of God. Wherefore we dislike the rash speeches of such as say that if all things are governed by the providence of God, then all our duties and endeavors are unprofitable; it shall be sufficient if we leave or permit all things to be governed by the providence of God; and we shall not need hereafter to behave or act with carefulness in any matter. For though Paul did confess that he did sail by the providence of God, who had said to him, “Thou must testify of me also at Rome” (Acts 23:11); who, moreover, promised and said, “There shall not so much as one soul perish, neither shall a hair fall from your heads” (Acts 27:22, 34); yet, the mariners devising how they might find a way to escape, the same Paul says to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these remain in the ship, ye can not be safe” (Acts 27:31). For God, who has appointed every thing his end, he has ordained the beginning and the means by which we must attain unto the end.
[4.] The heathen ascribe things to blind fortune and uncertain chance; but St. James would not have us to say, “Today or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and there buy and sell;” but he adds, “For that which ye should say, If the Lord will, and if we live, we will do this or that” (James 4:13, 15). And Augustine says, in his exposition of the 148th Psalm (Enarrationes in Psalmos), “All those things which seem to vain men to be done advisedly in the world, they do but accomplish his word because they are not done by his commandment.” And it seemed to be done by chance that Saul, seeking his father’s asses, should light on the prophet Samuel; but the Lord had before said to the prophet, “To-morrow I will send unto thee a man of the tribe of Benjamin,” etc. (1 Sam 9:16).
Catechism of the Church of Geneva, 1537; 2nd ed., 1541
What is Meant by this Word Almighty
- 23. M. In what sense do you give him the name of Almighty?
- S. Not as having a power which he does not exercise, but as having all things under his power and hand; governing the world by his Providence, determining all things by his will (Eph 1:11†), ruling all creatures as seems to him good.
Concerning the Providence of God
- 27. M. But why do you call God a Creator merely, while it is much more excellent to defend and preserve creatures in their state, than to have once made them?
- S. This term does not imply that God created his works at once, and then threw off the care of them. It should rather be understood, that as the world was once made by God, so it is now preserved by him, and that the earth and all other things endure just in as far as they are sustained by his energy, and as it were his hand. Besides, seeing that he has all things under his hand, it follows, that he is the chief ruler and Lord of all. Therefore, by his being “Creator of heaven and earth,” we must understand that it is he alone who by wisdom, goodness, and power, guides the whole course and order of nature: who at once sends rain and drought, hail and other storms, as well as calm, who of his kindness fertilizes the earth, and on the contrary, by withholding his hand, makes it barren: from whom come health and disease; to whose power all things are subject, and whose nod they obey (cf. for instance Ps 148:8†).
Westminster Larger Catechism, 1643-1649
- Q. 14. How doth God execute his decrees?
- A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence (Rev 4:11†; Isa 40:12-31†), according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11; Ps 148:8†; Dan 4:35†; Acts 4:24-28†).
- Q. 18. What are God’s works of providence?
- A. God’s works of providence are his most holy (Ps 145:17; Lev 21:8†), wise (Ps 104:24; Isa 28:29), and powerful preserving (Heb 1:3; Ps 36:6†; Neh 9:6†) and governing (Ps 103:19; Job 38-41†; Ps 145:14-16†) all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions (Matt 10:29-31; Gen 45:7; Ps 135:6†), to his own glory (Rom 11:36; Isa 63:14).
- Q. 19. What is God’s providence towards the angels?
- A. God by his providence permitted some of the angels, wilfully and irrecoverably, to fall into sin and damnation (Jude 6; 2 Pet 2:4; Heb 2:16; John 8:44), limiting and ordering that, and all their sins, to his own glory (Job 1:12; Matt 8:31; Luke 10:17†); and established the rest in holiness and happiness (1 Tim 5:21; Mark 8:38; Heb 12:22); employing them all (Ps 103:20†; 104:4), at his pleasure, in the administrations of his power, mercy, and justice (2 Kgs 19:35; Heb 1:14).
- Q. 20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?
- A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth (Gen 2:8, 15-16); putting the creatures under his dominion (Gen 1:28), and ordaining marriage for his help (Gen 2:18; Matt 19:3-9†; Eph 5:31†); affording him communion with himself (Gen 1:26-29; 3:8); instituting the Sabbath (Gen 2:3; Exod 20:11†); entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience (Gen 2:16-17†; Rom 5:14†; Gal 3:12; Rom 10:5; Gal 3:10†; 1 Cor 15:22, 47†; Hos 6:7†), of which the tree of life was a pledge (Gen 2:9; 3:22-24†); and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death (Gen 2:17; Jas 2:10†).
Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1643-1649
Q. 8. How doth God execute his decrees?
- A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence (Ps 148:8†; Isa 40:26†; Dan 4:35†; Acts 4:24-28†; Rev 4:11†).
- Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
- A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy (Ps 145:17), wise (Ps 104:24; Isa 28:29), and powerful preserving (Heb 1:3; Neh 9:6†) and governing all his creatures, and all their actions (Ps 103:19; Matt 10:29-31; Eph 1:19-22†).
- Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
- A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience (Gal 3:12); forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death (Gen 2:17; Jas 2:19†).