Providence

by
Charles Hodge

from
Systematic Theology, I:586-590

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Argument from Experience.

We may refer confidently on this subject to all experience. Every man can see that his life has been ordered by an intelligence and will not his own. His whole history has been determined by events over which he had no control, events often in themselves apparently fortuitous, so that he must either assume that the most important events are determined by chance, or admit that the providence of God extends to all events, even the most minute. What is true of individuals is true of nations. The Old Testament is a record of God's providential dealings with the Hebrew people. The calling of Abraham, the history of the patriarchs, of Joseph, of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, of their deliverance and journey through the wilderness, of their conquest of the land of Canaan, and their whole subsequent history, is a continuous record of the control of God over all their circumstances,--a control which is represented as extending to all events. In like manner the history of the world reveals to an intelligent eye the all-pervading providence of God, as clearly as the heavens declare his majesty and power.


The Scriptures teach God's Providence over Nature.

We find that the Bible asserts that the providential agency of God is exercised over all the operations of nature. This is asserted with regard to the ordinary operations of physical laws: the motion of the heavenly bodies, the succession of the seasons, the growth and decay of the productions of the earth; and the falling of the rain, hail, and snow. It is He who guides Arcturus in his course, who makes the sun to rise, and the grass to grow. These events are represented as due to the omnipresent agency of God and are determined, not by chance, nor by necessity, but by his will. Paul says (Acts 14:17), that God "left not himself without witness" even among the heathen, "in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." Our Lord says, (Matt. 5:45), God "makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." He clothes "the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven." (Matt. 6:30.) In like manner the more unusual and striking operations of natural laws, earthquakes, tempests, and pestilences, are said to be sent, governed, and determined by Him, so that all the effects which they produce are referred to his purpose. He makes the winds his messengers, and the lightnings are his ministering spirits. Even apparently fortuitous events, such as are determined by causes so rapid or so inappreciable as to elude our notice, the falling of the lot, the flight of an arrow, the number of the hairs of our heads, are all controlled by the omnipresent God. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." (Matt. 10:29.)


Providence extends over the Animal World.

The Scriptures teach that irrational animals are the objects of God's providential care. He fashions their bodies, He calls them into the world, sustains them in being, and supplies their wants. In his hand is the life of every living thing. (Job 12:10.) The Psalmist says (104:21), "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God." Verses 27, 28, "These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them, they gather: thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good." Matt. 6:26, "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Acts 17:25, "He gives to all life and breath, and all things." Such representations are not to be explained away as poetical modes of expressing the idea that the laws of nature, as ordained of God, are so arranged as to meet the necessities of the animal creation without any special intervention of his providence. It is not the fact, merely, that the world, as created by God, is adapted to meet the wants of his creatures that is asserted in the Scriptures, but that his creatures depend on the constant exercise of his care. He gives or withholds what they need according to his good pleasure. When our Lord put in the lips of his disciples the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," He recognized the fact that all living creatures depend on the constant intervention of God for the supply of their daily wants.


Over Nations.

The Bible teaches that the providential government of God extends over nations and communities of men. Ps. 66:7, "He rules by his power forever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves." Dan. 4:35, "He does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth." Dan. 2:21, "He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings." Dan. 4:25, "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will." Is. 10:5, 6, "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is my indignation, I will send him against a hypocritical nation." Verse 7, "Howbeit he means not so, neither does his heart think so." Verse 15, "Shall the axe boast itself against him that hews therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shakes it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as though it were not wood." The Scriptures are full of this doctrine. God uses the nations with the absolute control that a man uses a rod or a staff. They are in his hands, and He employs them to accomplish his purposes. He breaks them in pieces as a potter's vessel, or He exalts them to greatness, according to his good pleasure.


Over Individuals.

The providence of God extends not only over nations, but also over individuals. The circumstances of every man's birth, life, and death, are ordered by God. Whether we are born in a heathen or in a Christian land, in the Church or out of it; whether weak or strong; with many, or with few talents; whether we are prosperous or afflicted; whether we live a longer or a shorter time, are not matters determined by chance, or by the unintelligent sequence of events, but by the will of God. 1 Sam. 2:6, 7, "The LORD kills and makes alive: He brings down to the grave, and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich, He brings low and lifts up." Is. 45:5, "I am the LORD (the absolute ruler), and there is none else; there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Prov. 16:9, "A man's heart devises his way: but the LORD directs his steps." Ps. 75:6, 7, "Promotion comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge (ruler): he puts down one, and sets up another." Ps. 31:15, "My times (the vicissitudes of life) are in thy hands." Acts 17:26, God "has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed (i.e., the turning points in history) and the bounds of their habitation.


God's Providence in relation to Free Acts.

The Bible no less clearly teaches that God exercises a controlling power over the free acts of men, as well as over their external circumstances. This is true of all their acts, good and evil. It is asserted in general terms, that his dominion extends over their whole inward life, and especially over their good acts. Prov. 16:1, "The preparations of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD." Prov. 21:1, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turns it whithersoever He will." Ezra 7:27, "Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which has put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD." Ex. 3:21, "I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians." Ps. 119:36, "Incline my hear unto thy testimonies." Ps. 114:4, "Incline not my heart to any evil thing." A large part of the predictions, promises, and threatenings of the word of God are founded on the assumption of this absolute control over the free acts of his creatures. Without this there can be no government of the world and no certainty as to its issue. The Bible is filled with prayers founded on this same assumption. All Christians believe that the hearts of men are in the hand of God; that He works in them both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.


The Relation of God's Providence to Sin.

With regard to the sinful acts of men, the Scriptures teach, (1.) That they are so under the control of God that they can occur only by his permission and in execution of his purposes. He so guides them in the exercise of their wickedness that the particular forms of its manifestation are determined by his will. In 1 Chron. 10:4-14 it is said that Saul slew himself, but it is elsewhere said that the Lord slew him and turned the kingdom unto David. So also it is said, that he hardened the heart of Pharaoh; that He hardened the spirit of Sihon the king of Heshbon; that He turned the hearts of the heathen to hate his people; that He blinds the eyes of men, and sends them strong delusion that they may believe a lie; that He stirs up the nations to war. "God," it is said, in Rev. 17:17, "has put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." (2.) The Scriptures teach that the wickedness of men is restrained within prescribed bounds. Ps. 76:10, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain." 2 Kings 19:28, "Because thy rage against me and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou came." (3.) Wicked actions are overruled for good. The wicked conduct of Joseph's brethren, the obstinacy and disobedience of Pharaoh, the lust of conquest and thirst for plunder by which the heathen rulers were controlled in their invasions of the Holy Land; above all, the crucifixion of Christ, the persecutions of the Church, the revolutions and wars among the nations, have been all so overruled by Him who sits as ruler in the heavens, as to fulfil his wise and merciful designs. (4.) The Scriptures teach that God's providence in relation to the sins of men, is such that the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature and not from God; who neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. 1 John 2:16, "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father (not from Him as its source or author), but is of the world." James 1:13, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man." Jer. 7:9, "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?"

Thus the fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. And that fact is the foundation of all religion. It is the ground of the consolation of his people in all ages; and it may be said to be the intuitive conviction of all men, however inconsistent it may be with their philosophical theories, or with their professions. The fact of this universal providence of God is all the Bible teaches. It nowhere attempts to inform us how it is that God governs all things, or how his effectual control is to be reconciled with the efficiency of second causes. All the attempts of philosophers and theologians to explain that point may be pronounced failures, and worse than failures, for they not only raise more difficulties than they solve, but in almost all instances they include principles or lead to conclusions inconsistent with the plain teachings of the word of God. These theories are all founded on some a priori principle which is assumed on no higher authority than human reason.

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