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Providence by William S. Plumer (1802-1880)

Calvinistic Articles on the Christian Faith

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PROVIDENCE is the care of God over His creatures. God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions. To deny providence is as truly atheistic as to deny God’s existence. One who neither sees, nor hears, nor knows, nor cares, nor helps, nor saves is no God at all. No right-minded man could worship such a being. Both the Old and New Testaments declare with great frequency God’s providence over the world. In the hand of the Lord is “the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Act 17:28). “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev 19:6). Pious men of all ages have been very much agreed on the general doctrine of providence. They have felt that the world may as well be without a God as to have one who controls it not. God’s providence partakes of His own excellent nature. Because He is supreme, holy, just, good, wise, kind, and almighty, His government is irresistible, kind, wise, good, just, holy, and over all. Nothing escapes the divine notice. Living creatures invisible to the naked eye as well as the great sea monsters alike evince His presence and His power. He never slumbers nor sleeps (Psa 121:4). He calls the stars by their names (Psa 147:4). That which is to us chance is to Him a matter of exact arrangement. He makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He restrains (Psa 76:10). His providence is not extemporaneous1 and conducted by a plan formed from day to day, but by a plan fixed and settled according to a holy, wise, and eternal purpose (Eph 1:11, 3:11; 2Ti 1:9). God does not change His plan: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa 46:10). Very remarkable is the long-suffering of God’s providence. For their sins, God might justly and instantly cut men down; but His longsuffering prevails, and the guilty are spared so as to have time for repentance. The Scriptures forewarn us that God’s doings will often confound us: “Thy judgments are a great deep” (Psa 36:6). “Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known” (Psa 77:19). God saves or He destroys, by few or by many, by the strong or by the weak, by friend or by foe. He is on the right hand, but we perceive Him not. None are more surprised than wicked men when God brings their conduct to its natural end. Nor does He give account of any of His doings. Often He does not even give us notice when He is about to effect His greatest wonders. He hangs the earth upon nothing. He often seems to hang the destiny of empires upon a thing of naught. Both His means and His instruments are commonly such as man would reject. God sees order where we see but confusion, and light where we see but darkness. He has as perfect control over invisible agents as He has over things seen by men. “His kingdom ruleth over all” (Psa 103:19). Many think it vastly strange that God takes the poor from the dunghill and sets them among princes and pours contempt on birth and blood, on prowess and on princes. There is something very wonderful in God’s care of good men. They often speak of it here. They will oftener speak of it hereafter. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way” (Psa 37:23). There is a wonderful connection between the prayers of saints and the providence of God. For thousands of years, one good man after another has repeated the words of the Psalmist as applicable to himself: “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psa 34:6). It does not at all diminish the wonder of God’s care of His people that He protects them without the interposition2 of miracles. All the argument brought against providence from the apparent confusion in human affairs is easily enough answered. In this world, nothing is finished; nothing is perfected. Let men wait until they see Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and the rich sinner beyond the reach of hope, and they will not doubt that there is a God that judgeth in the earth. In one respect, providence is a continual exhibition of creative energy. “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth” (Psa 104:30). Every man on earth is as truly the creature of God as was Adam in the garden of Eden. It seems strange that any should limit or wish to limit the control of God over free agents. The Scriptures clearly show that God as much governs the free acts of malignant men as He does material causes. It is true that both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together; but it was for whatsoever God’s hand and God’s counsel determined before to be done (Act 4:27-28). No power had they against Jesus except as the Almighty lengthened their chain (Joh 19:11). “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psa 115:3). None can stay His hand (Dan 4: 35). Sometimes our minds dwell on great affairs and the vastness of the universe until we almost doubt whether the Most High cares for little things. But when we take the microscope and look at the vast numbers of little creatures too small to be perceived by the naked eye, we find His wisdom, power, and goodness to them as manifest as towards creatures of the greatest size and beauty. And when we look at the Scriptures, the same doctrine is abundantly taught: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Mat 10:29-31). Some have said that the care of so many things, great and small, could not be expected of God. They forget that to create and neglect would be indeed a blot on the divine character, and that it is no labor to the Almighty to take infinite care of His creatures. “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works…The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Psa 145: 9, 15-16). This doctrine of providence cuts up by the roots the spirit of selfsufficiency and vain-boasting. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” (1Co 4:7). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (Jam 1:17). “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phi 2:13). In the Church below and in the Church above, the doctrine of providence fills pious hearts with joy and pious mouths with praise. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11:36). “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev 19:6).

From Theology for the People, William S. Plumer (1802-1880): American Presbyterian minister and author; born in Greensburg, PA, USA.

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