PROVIDENCE

The superintendence and care which God exercises over creation. The arguments for the providence of God are generally drawn from the light of nature; the being of a God; the creation of the world; the wonderfully disposing and controlling the affairs and actions of men; from the absolute necessity of it; from the various blessings enjoyed by his creatures; the awful judgments that have been inflicted; and from the astonishing preservation of the Bible and the church through every age, notwithstanding the attempts of earth and hell against them. Providence has been divided into immediate and mediate, ordinary and extraordinary, common and special, universal and particular. Immediate providence is what is exercised by God himself, without the use of any instrument or second cause; mediate providence is what is exercised in the use of means; ordinary providence is what is exercised in the common course of means, and by the chain of second causes; extraordinary is what is out of the common way, as miraculous operations; common providence is what belongs to the whole world; special, what relates to the church; universal relates to the general upholding and preserving all things; particular relates to individuals in every action and circumstance. This last, however, is denied by some. But, as a good writer observes, “The opinion entertained by some that the providence of God extends no farther than to a general superintendence of the laws of nature, without interposing in the particular concerns of individuals, is contrary both to reason and to Scripture. It renders the government of the Almighty altogether loose and contingent, and would leave no ground for reposing any trust under its protection; for the majority of human affairs would then be allowed to fluctuate in a fortuitous course, without moving in any regular direction, and without tending to any one scope. The uniform doctrine of the sacred writings is, that throughout the universe nothing happens without God; that his hand is ever active, and his decree or permission intervenes in all; that nothing is too great or unwieldy for his management, and nothing so minute and inconsiderable as to be below his inspection and care. While he is guiding the sun and moon in their course through the heavens; while in this inferior world he is ruling among empires, stilling the ragings of the waters, and the tumults of the people, he is at the same time watching over the humble good man, who, in the obscurity of his cottage, is serving and worshipping him.”

“In what manner, indeed, Providence interposes in human affairs; by what means it influences the thoughts and counsels of men, and, notwithstanding the influence it exerts, leaves to them the freedom of choice, are subjects of dark and mysterious nature, and which have given occasion to many an intricate controversy. Let us remember, that the manner in which God influences the motion of all the heavenly bodies, the nature of that secret power by which he is ever directing the sun and the moon, the planets, stars, and comets, in their course through the heavens, while they appear to move themselves in a free course, are matters no less inexplicable to us than the manner in which he influences the councils of men. But though the mode of divine operation remains unknown, the fact of an over-ruling influence is equally certain in the moral as it is in the natural world. In cases where the fact is clearly authenticated, we are not at liberty to call its truth in question, merely because we understand not the manner in which it is brought about. Nothing can be more clear, from the testimony of Scripture, than that God takes part in all that happens among mankind; directing and over-ruling the whole course of events so as to make every one of them answer the designs of his wise and righteous government. We cannot, indeed, conceive God acting as the governor of the world at all, unless his government were to extend to all the events that happen. It is upon the supposition of a particular providence that our worship and prayers to him are founded. All his perfections would be utterly insignificant to us, if they were not exercised, on every occasion, according as the circumstances of his creatures required. The Almighty would then be no more than an unconcerned spectator of the behaviour of his subjects, regarding the obedient and the rebellious with an equal eye.

“The experience of every one also, must, more or less, bear testimony to it. We need not for this purpose have recourse to those sudden and unexpected vicissitudes which have sometimes astonished whole nations, and drawn their attention to the conspicuous hand of heaven. We need not appeal to the history of the statesman and the warrior; of the ambitious and the enterprising. We confine our observation to those whose lives have been most plain and simple, and who had no desire to depart from the ordinary train of conduct. In how many instances have we found, that we are held in subjection to a higher Power, on whom depends the accomplishment of our wishes and designs? Fondly we had projected some favourite plan: we thought that we had forecast and provided for all that might happen; we had taken our measures with such vigilant prudence, that on every side we seemed to ourselves perfectly guarded and secure; but, lo! some little event hath come about, unforeseen by us, and in its consequences at the first seemingly inconsiderable, which yet hath turned the whole course of things into a new direction, and blasted all our hopes. At other times our counsels and plans have been permitted to succeed: we then applauded our own wisdom, and sat down to feast on the happiness we had attained. To our surprise we found that happiness was not there, and that God’s decree had appointed it to be only vanity. We labour for prosperity, and obtain it not. Unexpected, it is sometimes made to drop upon us as of its own accord. The happiness of man depends on secret springs too nice and delicate to be adjusted by human art: it required a favourable combination of external circumstances with the state of his own mind. To accomplish on every occasion such a combination, is far beyond his power: but it is what God can at all times effect; as the whole series of external causes are arranged according to his pleasure, and the hearts of all men are in his hands, to turn them wheresoever he will, as rivers of water. From the imperfection of our knowledge to ascertain what is good for us, and from the defect of our power to bring about that good when known, arise all those disappointments which continually testify that the way of man is not in himself; that he is not the master of his own lot; that, though he may devise, it is God who directs; God, who can make the smallest incident an effectual instrument of his providence for overturning the most laboured plans of men.

“Accident, and chance, and fortune, are words which we often hear mentioned, and much is ascribed to them in the life of man. But they are words without meaning; or, as far as they have any signification, they are no other than names for the unknown operations of Providence; for it is certain that in God’s universe nothing comes to pass causelessly, or in vain. Every event has its own determined direction. That chaos of human affairs and intrigues where we can see no light, that mass of disorder and confusion which they often present to our view, is all clearness and order in the sight of Him who is governing and directing all, and bringing forward every event in its due time and place. The Lord sitteth on the flood. The Lord maketh the wrath of man to praise him, as he maketh the hail and the rain obey his word. He hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.”

“To follow the leadings of providence, means no other than to act agreeably to the law of duty, prudence, and safety, or any particular circumstance, according to the direction or determination of the word or law of God. He follows the dictates of Providence, who takes a due survey of the situation he is placed in, compares it with the rules of the word which reaches his case, and acts accordingly. To know the will of God as it respects providence, there must be, 1. Deliberation.–2. Consultation.–3. Supplication. The tokens of the divine will and pleasure in any particular case are not to be gathered from our inclinations, particular frames, the form of Scripture phrases, impulses, nor even the event, as that cannot always be a rule of judgment; but whatever appears to be proper duty, true prudence, or real necessity, that we should esteem to be his will.”



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