On the Providence of God

by Wilhelmus à Brakel

Having observed the creation of all things in general, and of angels and humans in particular, we now proceed to the Providence of God over all His creatures. By this, we do not mean just God's foreknowledge or His unchanging plan for all things, as discussed in Chapter 5. Instead, we mean the execution of that plan, His active care and arrangement. Look to Genesis 22:8, where it is written, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering."

  • Providence is also referred to as ordination, as in Psalm 119:91.
  • It is God's way, as in Psalm 77:14.
  • God's hand, as mentioned in Acts 4:28.
  • God's sustaining, as in Hebrews 1:3.
  • God's working, as in Ephesians 1:11.
  • God's rule, as in Psalm 93:1.
  • God's care, as in 1 Peter 5:7.

Description: II. The Catechism clearly and piously describes Providence as follows: "The almighty and omnipresent power of God, by which He still upholds heaven and earth, as well as all creatures, as though by His hand, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and all things, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand, come to us. Therefore, we must be patient in all adversity, thankful in prosperity, and have a 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 they cannot move or act against His will."

It is a Divine Power: It is God's power, not only because Providence is executed by the Almighty but also concerning the exercise of that power outwardly in His creatures. Thus, it is emphasized in Mark 5:30, "Jesus, knowing... the power that had gone out of Him."

Almighty: It is an Almighty power. When we consider the magnitude of the universe, the countless creatures, the unimaginable diversity of their nature, form, existence, and persistence of each thing in its essence or nature, all movements of creatures, both living and rational, as well as lifeless, the intricate order of each thing in its motion, and how one thing sets another in motion and advances it, we will be lost in amazement at the infinity of God's power and wisdom by which all is sustained and governed. Through this power, God accomplishes all that He wills irresistibly, and no one can hinder it. As Isaiah 14:27 says, "For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?" Isaiah 46:10 adds, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose."

Omni-Presence: It is the omnipresent power of God. Not only in relation to the omnipresent Being of God but also concerning the outgoing power within creatures. God's power not only flows in a general sense into everything, not only touches the first underlying causes, which then further generate and work out the movement and action in other underlying causes. Instead, that power permeates the existence of every creature, passing through underlying causes to the ultimate consequence, and touches it directly concerning that power. Thus, there is nothing, and nothing moves without God's power being in it and manifesting in it. If only we had clear vision, we would see it in everything.

The Existence of God's Providence: III. The existence of God's providence in all things is so evident in both nature and Scripture that anyone who denies it can be considered nothing better than an atheist or, at best, a blind mole.

  1. From Nature: See this in nature; it will tell you, as Job's testimony confirms in Job 12:7-9. "But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?" (a) Examine every object that you encounter from every angle until you perceive the almighty and omnipresent power of God within it. Each thing declares that it does not possess its essence and existence by itself, that it is created by God, and therefore, it can no more exist by itself than it can create itself, as both require the same power. If it were independent of God, it would stand and act by itself, alongside God. (b) Observe the entire order present in the universe—how each entity has its role and does its work without interfering with others, how they all cooperate. There is no confusion among creatures of various natures and motions. Lifeless creatures remain orderly in their movements, and this is done without their knowledge. Consider how precisely the sun, moon, and stars follow their orbits, their rising and setting times, and how tides rise and fall on schedule. Birds know when to come and go; every flower knows when to bloom. All types of creatures persist, either in their essence or in their nature through procreation, so that not one has been missing since the creation of the world until now, as Isaiah 40:26 says, "Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing." (c) Pay attention to the rise and fall of kingdoms, the outcomes of wars, unexpected events with significant consequences, prophecies and their fulfillments, as well as the extraordinary plagues upon particular wicked individuals, unexpected outcomes for the godly, answers to their prayers, and all the marvelous ways by which various matters are carried out in nature and grace. Anyone who cannot see God's hand in all these is truly blind. (d) Consider the common sense and acknowledgment of all people in whose hearts this knowledge of God is impressed. Although the degree of recognition through observation may vary among individuals, and while some may strive to become atheists and deny everything, this knowledge still resides in their hearts and cannot be completely erased. Those who are as senseless as Nebuchadnezzar when it comes to recognizing God's providence in all these matters, we hope they may regain their senses, so that, like him, they can say: Daniel 4:35, "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" (e) Indeed, one who acknowledges a deity must also acknowledge His providence, for one establishes the other.
  1. From the Scripture:

Just as God's providence is evident in nature, Holy Scripture abundantly demonstrates it, to the extent that no one who regards the Bible as God's Word has ever dared to deny it. However, some twist and distort the Scripture in such a way that they hold onto the words while undermining the very essence of the matter. In the following sections, many verses will arise; consider Ephesians 1:11 alone, which says, "He works all things according to the counsel of His will." Even the most senseless person would dare to claim that he could govern the world much wiser and better than it is currently administered. He might not let it rain in the sea because there is already enough water there. He wouldn't tolerate so many mountains, rocky places, and barren lands. He would treat the good favorably and the wicked with severity. Poor soul! He would plummet from the sky as quickly as Icarus and Phaëton and turn everything upside down. God does nothing in vain; in every work of God, there is unfathomable wisdom, and each serves a wondrously useful purpose. The angels see it and glorify God for it. The enlightened observe it wisely, believe everything from the beginning, and investigate it thoroughly. A fool finds everything too lofty. The ways of the Lord are just, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them, Hosea 14:9. Look at the sin in the world, and you'll find your answer.

IV. The acts of God's providence can be categorized into these three:

  1. Preservation.

  2. Cooperation.

  3. Governance.

  4. Preservation:

Preservation is God's immediate inflow of power, by which all creatures, in general, and each little creature, in particular, are preserved in their existence. God sustains living creatures not only by providing them with their ordained food and drink, but God also infuses an immediate sustaining power into each of them, without which the nourishment would be in vain. This is evident in Acts 17:28, which states, "In Him, we live and move and have our being." Colossians 1:17 affirms, "All things consist together through Him." Hebrews 1:3 adds, "He upholds all things by the word of His power."

Happens either without or through means.

V. If this sustaining immediate influence were to cease for but a moment, the creature would vanish into nothingness in an instant, for no creature can exist independently of God, and the term "creature" implies this. Job 6:9 states, "If He withdraws His hand, it is finished with me." Psalm 104:29 adds, "When You hide Your face, they are troubled; when You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust." God has created some creatures in such a way that, apart from this inflowing sustaining power, they need no other means for their existence. Others He has created in a manner where they require other means, such as earthly things. Among these, there is a complex interconnection of subordinate causes, where the lower causes repeatedly use means provided by the higher ones, and, in turn, become causes for those beneath them. Hosea 2:20, 21 illustrates this: "I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth. And the earth shall hear the grain... and they shall hear Jezreel." God has ordained food and drink for the sustenance of living creatures, and He Himself arranges for it. Psalm 36:7 mentions, "You preserve man and beast." Psalm 147:9 states, "He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens that cry."

God does not need these means, nor can these means sustain a creature without His sustaining influence. Instead, God employs them to demonstrate His wisdom, power, and goodness so that intelligent creatures may better perceive His hand, rejoice in it, and glorify God for it.

Whether ordinary or extraordinary.

VI. God ordinarily employs means, but at times, God acts extraordinarily to display His supreme authority and freedom. a. Sometimes, He sustains something through otherwise insufficient means. For example, God sustained Elijah, the widow, and her son for an extended period with only a small amount of meal and oil, as seen in 1 Kings 17:10, and so too, the Lord Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish, as mentioned in John 6:9, 10. b. God has also sustained some individuals for a period without food and drink, such as Moses, Elijah, and Christ, each for forty days. Exodus 34:28, 1 Kings 19:8, and Matthew 4:2 attest to this. c. God has sustained some by inhibiting the natural workings of their environment. For instance, God preserved the three young men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:17) and delivered Israel from Egypt by parting the waters of the Red Sea, making them stand like walls on either side until the Israelites had safely crossed on dry land (Exodus 14:22). Similar events occurred at the Jordan River (Joshua 3:16). The Lord made the sun stand still (Joshua 10:13) and caused it to go backward ten degrees (2 Kings 20:11).

  1. Cooperation

VII. The second act of Providence is cooperation, "concursus," the convergence of God's power with creatures in their motion. Creatures have received from God their own independent existence, and thus, their own motion. They move; humans walk, speak, work—they do these things themselves. But just as every creature exists by the inflowing sustaining power of God and would not exist without it, every creature also operates by the influence of God's cooperating power, without which it would not move. For whatever a thing is in existence, it is the same in its motion; both existence and motion are dependent on God.

In a sustaining, preceding, and subsequent power.

By the cooperation of God, we do not mean: (a) The inflowing power of God sustaining everything in its essence and capabilities, stopping there, and leaving further movement and direction to the creature. Instead, it is a sustaining, preceding, and subsequent power that flows into the moving creature, influencing both the creature and its motion. (b) We do not mean a general, ordinary, indistinct, or uniform influence that would not determine how a creature acts now, here, or in any particular way, but would be determined by the creature, flowing in only where and as it pleases. For example, the sun works with a uniform influence on earthly things, affecting plant growth, the reproduction of animals and humans, a foul odor, and a fragrant flower. While the objects and effects differ, the working influence remains the same. (c) We do not mean a persuading or dissuading influence, presenting opportunities or removing them. Instead, we refer to a physical, one might say, natural, immediate, and powerfully effective influence causing the creature to move. (d) Cooperation is not mediated, like a craftsman working through tools or the moon receiving light from the sun and illuminating earthly things. Rather, it is immediate. God flows into moving creatures through His own power and His very being, penetrating not only to the first subordinate cause next to Him but also touching the effect in relation to Him immediately. Although creatures are considered means in God's hands in relation to one another, the cooperation itself is immediate. (e) Nor should one conceive of cooperation as if God were moving alongside or beside the creature's action, like two horses pulling a cart. This would suggest that the creature works independently through a capability given by God in its nature, with God merely joining the action of the moving creature, both operating independently with separate powers. Instead, God goes before the creature before it moves, determining it for a particular object, place, and time. Having thus preempted and determined the creature, God continues to work in the creature and its motion, thus achieving His intended purpose.

So, by the cooperation of God, we understand that God not only sustains everything in His being and capabilities with His omnipotent and omnipresent power, but also, with a special, physical, natural, immediate, and directly touching operation, precedes each creature concerning its motion. He determines and sets it in motion before it moves, sustains it in that motion, and penetrates into all secondary causes and their motion, right up to the final effect.

VIII. The Socinians, Roman Catholics, and Remonstrants deny this; therefore, we must demonstrate it more clearly. The truth of this is evident both from Scripture and nature.

  1. From Scripture. It is evident throughout the Scriptures, the entire Bible. See Acts 17:28. A clear distinction is made between the being of the creature and its movements, and it is established that the creature moves in God just as it exists in God. To move in God is to work through the influence of God's power. Also, consider Psalm 139:13, 14: "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Job 10:10, 11: "Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews." See also Proverbs 21:1: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will." Just as streams of water have their flow, but God controls where they go, the heart of the king, no matter how high above his subjects, is not independent of God. The king may have his own intentions, but the Lord inclines him to do what He wills. Add to this Isaiah 10:15: "Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!" Just as an axe, saw, and staff cannot move themselves but are moved by another, so, says the prophet, is every creature, every human. God moves them according to their nature through His cooperating influence. The Lord makes His sun rise, Matthew 5:45. The Lord fought against Sisera, causing the stars to move from their courses, Judges 5:20. David acknowledged this: "You equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me," Psalm 18:40. Philippians 2:13: "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

From Reasons.

IX. 2. It also becomes apparent from reason and nature itself. (a) It is an undeniable rule: the manner of operation follows the manner of being. Now, in being, every creature depends on God; therefore, in their movements as well. (b) Either humans are entirely independent of God, which is the most absurd notion, and it contradicts the very idea of being a creature not to depend on one's Maker, or if they are dependent, they are also dependent in every motion. For otherwise, they would be independent in that matter, and if they could be independent in one matter, they could be in others, and ultimately in everything, which goes against the nature of a creature. (c) If God did not flow into the movement of every creature, there would be no need to pray, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," (Psalm 51:10) or "Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground," (Psalm 143:10) or "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!" (Psalm 141:3). There would be no need to pray for victory in war or any other matter. But because we must pray, it is clear that God flows in with His cooperation. Then we would also have no reason to thank God when we receive a blessing, whether physical or spiritual, because if God did not do it, we could not thank Him. We would have to direct our thanks either to ourselves or to some other creature that had accomplished it. (d) Then God would not be a Lord but a servant of the creature, just like the sun, which the person uses as they please and when they please. Thus, God would have to be ready with His universal influence whenever the creature determined it and would have to use His influence as the creature wished. It would not be a matter of God's will but rather the will of the human being. This contradicts James 4:15.

God is not the cause in such a way that all creatures would be passive. X. One might wonder whether such cooperation would lead to the idea that there is only one cause of all movements and actions. That God alone works and that humans and all creatures are merely passive, like the strings in a musical instrument that are entirely passive and moved solely by the player. But I reply: Not in the least; for even though creatures are means with respect to other creatures, which God uses to carry out His work and purpose, they are, nevertheless, first-causal agents of their motions and effects, not in relation to God, as if they were independent of Him, but in relation to other subordinate causes and the products of their actions. There is no absurdity in having two causes of different orders for the same effect, especially since it is one and the same effect produced in different ways by both.

To posit one cause, namely God, as the cause of all movements, actions, and effects, and to consider humans as entirely passive and not acting, stems from blindness and ignorance of God's power and wisdom. It is an error refuted by both Scripture and nature, as evidenced by:

  1. From Legislation. Because God has given humans a law with promises and threats, man is not passive but himself a causal agent of his deeds. For God cannot establish a law for Himself, make promises to Himself, or threaten Himself. Since humans have been given a law of promise and threat to guide their actions, they must work themselves, conforming their actions to the promises and threats, in order to receive what has been promised or to avoid the threatened punishments.

  2. From Punishment. If humans were entirely passive in their movements, they could not be punished, for punishment is an act of justice in response to the violation of the law. If humans had done nothing and were merely passive objects of God's action, they would not have committed any wrong. Without wrongdoing, there could be no just grounds for punishment or condemnation.

  3. Otherwise, God Would Be the Cause of Sin. If humans were entirely passive, and God alone the Worker of their movements and deeds, then all actions, both natural and sinful, would be performed by God and attributed to Him. It would be God who walked, talked, wrote, read, prayed, believed, or sinned, not humans. In this scenario, humans would not create idols, they would not use God's name in vain, they would not break the Sabbath, they would not disobey their parents, they would harbor no hatred, anger, or envy towards others, and so on. Humans would not hate God because they would be entirely passive, doing nothing, and all actions would be attributed to God. This idea would be the utmost impiety.

  4. Man Is the Clear Cause of His Deeds. The Scripture plainly states that man walks, sees, hears, and speaks. It acknowledges that man believes, prays, and sins, making him justly liable for his transgressions. It is unnecessary to cite all these verses. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 3:9, "We are God's fellow workers." This is evident in Philippians 2:12-13, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." God is the efficient, causal cause of the work, while man is the formal, subjective cause, producing these deeds from within himself. Therefore, these actions must be attributed to man according to the rule that names are given from the formal cause. In Philippians 2:12-13, man is encouraged to work out his salvation, convicted and exhorted to fulfill his duty, and simultaneously taught about his sinfulness and inability in the spiritual realm. He is warned not to entertain thoughts of his own good will or rely on his own strength to perform good deeds. On the other hand, he should not despair when he recognizes his weakness. Instead, he should be encouraged because God assists him, precedes him by moving in him, and works powerfully within him to grasp that strength and act accordingly.

Objection 1. XI. Does such cooperation make God a cause of sin? I answer, by no means; for a distinction must be made between movement in itself—understood as understanding, willing, seeing, hearing, speaking, working—and the understanding of that movement as being in accordance with God's law. The movement in itself, as natural, is neither good nor bad; it is when accompanied by a law governing its object, manner, and timing that the movement becomes either good or bad. When we speak of God's cooperation, we refer to the movement in itself, as natural, but not in relation to the distortion of that movement, the deviation from the law, and thus not in relation to the evil within the movement. One may be the cause of the movement in another person without being the cause of any evil that might accompany it. The government is the cause that the executioner flogs a thief, but not of any cruelty he might commit in the process. A musician is the cause of the sound of the strings but not of the discordance of the sound, which arises from the string. A rider, urging his horse forward, is the cause of its progression but not of its limping, which is a defect in the horse. Similarly, here, the natural movement is from God, but man corrupts it due to his inner corruption. Therefore, not God but man is the cause of sin.

Objection 2. Doesn't this preceding and determining cooperation of God take away the freedom of man's will? I answer: by no means; for the freedom of the will does not consist in indifference or the ability to act or not act in the same way but in the spontaneous, arising from one's own choice, pleasure, or inclination to do or not do something. God's cooperation causes man to act in accordance with his nature, which is by free choice. In this, God's cooperation and man's will correspond. God inclines the will, and man wills accordingly.

  1. The Government.

XII. The third part of God's Providence is government, by which God directs all things in general and each thing in particular toward the ends determined by Him. That God governs and directs all things is taught throughout God's Word. See Psalm 93:1, "The Lord reigns." Ephesians 1:11, "Who works all things according to the counsel of His will." Isaiah 44:24, "I am the LORD, who makes all things."

In particular, all things can be grouped under four headings: (1) Substances. (2) Magnitude or smallness. (3) Goodness or badness. (4) The outcomes of affairs.

XIII. (1) The first category pertains to substances, which can be either living or non-living. a. Living substances are either intelligent or unintelligent. • Intelligent beings include angels and humans. God governs angels because they are sent to serve. Hebrews 1:14, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" God governs humans in all their actions. Proverbs 16:1, 9, "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." • Unintelligent creatures fall into two categories: those with sentient life and those with only vegetative life.

  • The Lord governs everything with sentient life, such as birds. Matthew 6:26, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Animals, too, are governed by God. 2 Kings 17:25-26, "So the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them." God calls locusts, beetles, caterpillars, and worms "My great army, which I sent among you" (Joel 2:25). Even the fish in the sea are under God's control. John 21:6, "And he said to them, 'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because of the quantity of fish."
  • The Lord also governs all creatures with vegetative life, such as plants, trees, and herbs. Psalm 104:14, "You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth." b. The Lord governs all inanimate creatures: the sun, moon, stars, rain, hail, snow, thunder, lightning, wind, mountains and all their minerals, seas, and rivers. See Psalm 148; Psalm 29:3; Jeremiah 10:13 for more on this.

(2) Large and Small. XIV. The second category pertains to things in terms of their size or smallness. Large things, no more than small ones, can govern themselves, and therefore, they need God's governance. God governs even the smallest things down to the threads on clothes, shoes on feet, and hairs on the head. Matthew 10:30, "But even the hairs of your head are all numbered." Daniel 3:27, "And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed; their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them." Deuteronomy 29:5, "I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet."

(3) Good and Evil. XV. The third category pertains to things in terms of their goodness or badness. All that is good in nature or grace comes from the Lord. James 1:17, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights."

Evil can be either the evil of punishment or the evil of sin. The evil of punishment is from God. God sends and directs the evil of punishment as a just Judge or loving Father. Lamentations 3:38, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" Amos 3:6, "Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?"

The evil of sin is not from God because: (a) He is holy (Isaiah 6:3), light (1 John 1:5), and a Rock whose work is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4). God's ways are just; He is truth and has no injustice (Job 34:10). In Him, there is no unrighteousness (Psalm 92:15). (b) God has forbidden evil and will punish it. Therefore, He is not the cause of sin. We declare this and testify to it wholeheartedly to the entire world. Thus, it is evident that it is slanderous to say that the Reformed Church teaches that God is the cause of sin.

Nevertheless, God governs regarding sin; otherwise, the entire human race would be exempt from God's governance because it sins in its deeds. That God governs concerning sin cannot be denied by anyone who believes in God's Word, from which we will clearly demonstrate this.

The Natural Movements Belong to God.

XVI. To understand God's governance concerning sin, one must consider three aspects of every sin:

  1. The natural movement.

  2. The disorder in that movement.

  3. The guidance toward a good end.

  4. Regarding the natural movement, in and of itself, it is from God, as shown in the second act of Providence, namely, cooperation.

That the guidance of sin (3) toward a good end is from God will be shown shortly.

  1. Human Misuse. However, the disorder, the misuse of God's inflowing power, the corruption of it, and the irregularity in movement, both inwardly and outwardly, are not from God but from man himself. Nevertheless, in sinning, man is not independent because he distorts the influence upon which he depends for his movement.

XVII. God's governance alongside sin can be understood in three aspects: (1) In the beginning, (2) In the progress, (3) In the end.

  1. In the beginning, God permits sin to occur. Psalm 81:13, "Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!" Acts 14:16, "In past generations, he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways." God allows sin, not in a way that He releases the sinner from the law by which they were bound, for then God would approve of sin and couldn't punish it. Instead, God does not prevent the sinner, even though He could and sometimes does. Genesis 20:6, "Then God said to him in the dream, 'Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.'" This is not mere passive observation but active permission, not concerning the sin itself as the object but in the circumstances. It means that God does not compel the sinner's free will by forcing them to act against it. Even when God hinders the sinner and does not allow them to sin, as we have seen in the case of Abimelech, He does not take away free will. God acts upon the person according to their nature, allowing them to act according to their will. Active permission includes the following actions:

(a) God precedes, defines, and continues with His powerful influence in the person, their abilities, and their actions, enabling them to work and move. (b) God allows opportunities to arise that the person would rightly use if they were perfect but, due to their corruption, they misuse. For example, David's desire was inflamed when he saw Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2), or Ahab's anger flared up in response to the words of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 21:20). Even desires are inflamed by the law (Romans 7:8). (c) God justly and freely withholds new grace when the person encounters situations that may lead to sin, refusing to provide strength to resist sin, leaving them in their corrupt state, inclined to commit various sins (Jeremiah 16:13). (d) By a just judgment for past sins, God may withdraw His restraining power that He previously exercised alongside the sinner, leaving them to themselves (2 Chronicles 32:31). (e) By a righteous judgment, God may hand the sinner over to their own lusts, punishing sins with more sins (Romans 1:28, 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11, 2 Samuel 16:11). (f) God may release the devil to exert all his powers on a person, driving them from one sin to another through their inflamed desires (1 Samuel 16:14, 1 Kings 22:22). (g) God may harden the sinner's heart, rendering them unfeeling in their sin. God uses such terms and claims responsibility for it (Exodus 7:3, 13). This hardening is not an infusion of any evil or sinful disposition but a holy, concealed operation that withdraws misused gifts in an extraordinary manner, hiding Himself completely. In this state, the sinner is left with no impression or consciousness of God and their conscience. They are delivered into the grip of their raging passions and set upon by demons. In this condition, the sinner has no choice but to sin continually, and this constant sinning further hardens them. Thus, what Exodus 7:3 attributes to God, Exodus 8:15 attributes to Pharaoh. So, God's governance alongside sin in the beginning is as described.

(2) In the progression determining sin.

XVIII. 2. God's governance also extends to the progression of sin. God sets limits, times, boundaries, no farther, no higher, no longer. We see this in the case of Laban: Genesis 31:29, "It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.'" Esau intended to kill Jacob, but he ended up embracing him (Genesis 33:4). Balaam sought to curse but had to bless repeatedly (Numbers 24). The devil wanted to destroy Job, but the Lord limited his actions (Job 1:12), "And the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.'" (Job 2:6) "And the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.'"

(3) In the end: directing sin toward a good outcome.

XIX. 3. God's governance also extends to the end of sin, either to demonstrate His justice, grace, patience, or mercy, or for the benefit of His children, to humble them and make them wise. Genesis 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Isaiah 10:5, 6, 7, 12, "Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! I will send him against an ungodly nation... Yet it does not so intend... But it is against a godly nation that I have command... So will I do to the house which is called by My name, and which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh."

These outcomes do not arise from the nature of sin. God does not wait until after the sin is committed to decide on these outcomes. Rather, God, having predetermined to glorify Himself in this way and bestow such benefits upon His children, sanctifies human wickedness to achieve these purposes in a holy manner. Just as the sun is not polluted by its influence on a foul odor, God remains holy and works holily concerning sin in its beginning, progression, and end, while humans and demons commit sin. God uses sinners as executioners, lions, and bears, employing their rage to execute His judgments. Thus, He strikes with a crooked stick, achieving straight blows.

Providence governs outcomes.

XX. The fourth category of things over which God's Providence extends includes outcomes, which can be necessary or contingent (accidental), resulting from the free will of humans. This includes the outcome of war, marriage, and the day of death.

The Established Order.

  1. Some outcomes are fixed and necessary, established by the law and order of nature, such as the movement of the sun, moon, stars, eclipses, tides, and the rising of fire and falling of heavy objects. God governs all these. See Psalm 104:19, 20, "He made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night when all the beasts of the forest creep about." Psalm 119:91, "By your appointment, they stand this day, for all things are your servants." However, God can prevent this fixed course and make it different from the natural order. For instance, the Lord caused the sun and moon to stand still at Joshua's request (Joshua 10:13) and made them go back ten degrees for Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:11). The Lord made iron float (2 Kings 6:6) and preserved the three young men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25). Prophetic fulfillments are also sure and certain and cannot be altered by God or creatures (Matthew 26:54).

The Contingent. 2. Some outcomes are contingent, not from God's perspective, as nothing happens by chance since His counsel stands, and He does all His pleasure. However, they are contingent from the perspective of secondary causes, in that they might have turned out differently. They also relate to the connection or relationship between causes and their effects, which might not have been foreseen or controlled. Yet God governs all these contingent outcomes in a fixed and unpreventable execution of His will. This is evident in cases like manslaughter, where the Lord caused the slain to meet the slayer (Deuteronomy 19:5, Exodus 21:13).

What could be more contingent than casting lots? Nevertheless, God governs it and causes it to fall according to His will (Proverbs 16:33). This was evident in the case of Jonah (Jonah 1:7) and Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:42). What could be more contingent than a sparrow falling from the rooftop or a hair falling from one's head? Yet God governs even these (Matthew 10:29, 30). "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered."

Those done by the free will of man.

  1. God also governs all actions done by the free will of man. God does not take away the freedom of the will or force a person to act against their will, but He inclines and directs it, whether through internal inclinations or external circumstances and opportunities, so that people carry out those things which God has determined, according to their own choices and inclinations. We see this in:
  • Psalm 33:15: "He fashions their hearts."
  • Proverbs 16:1, 9: "The answer of the tongue is from the Lord... The Lord directs his steps."
  • Proverbs 21:1: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will."
  • Philippians 2:13: "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Outcomes of war.

  1. God also governs the outcomes of war, sending one people as a punishment for another or both. He does not always grant victory to the strongest in numbers, the wisest, or the bravest, but to whom He chooses.
  • Deuteronomy 32:30: "How could one have chased a thousand, and two have put ten thousand to flight?"
  • 2 Chronicles 14:11: "Lord, it is nothing with you to help, whether with many or with those who have no power."
  • Psalm 33:16, 17: "The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation."

This applies to passages where God is said to deliver one people into the hand of another or to redeem them (Judges 3:8 and Judges 6:1).


  1. God also governs marriages, bringing each person to their spouse. He joins some in anger as punishment for their sins, others for chastisement, and some for mutual comfort in soul and body. The strange and remarkable events surrounding marriage are inscrutable, yet God directs it all according to His predetermined plan. Some marriages hold providential significance for as long as the world stands.
  • Genesis 24:12-14: "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham... Behold, I am standing by the spring of water... Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels'—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac."
  • Proverbs 19:14: "House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord."
  • Matthew 19:6: "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

The day of death.

  1. God determines everyone's age. They will not die earlier or live longer than He has decreed, and they will die in a specific place and manner as God has ordained. God provides sustenance and protection until the appointed time, and no doctor in the world can prolong a person's life even by an hour.
  • Acts 17:26: "And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place."
  • Job 14:5: "Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass."
  • Psalm 39:6: "Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!"

Thus, we have seen that everything, without exception, is governed by God according to His decree. However, God generally accomplishes everything through means, and humanity is bound to those means. When these means are used properly, God usually blesses His ordinances. A godless farmer who diligently prepares his land typically reaps a bountiful harvest, while a godly one who neglects his work will see it go to waste. However, even when godly means are employed, God blesses them. If one refuses to use the means and yet desires a result, they are tempting God.

XXI. This teaching of God's Providence is of great benefit to those who use it wisely. The blind, natural, unconverted person cannot derive any benefit from it; they cannot find comfort anywhere in it. Even if they see, believe in, and seek to strengthen themselves through the Providence of God when facing particular adversity, they cannot. They endure patience by compulsion because they have no other choice. They sit down under a Stoic fate, believing that it had to be, and there's no way around it. They try to want what they can want, as they cannot want what they will. How can the unconverted find comfort in God's Providence when God is against them, and everything happens to their detriment if they do not turn to Him? Therefore, it terrifies them.

Providence is of great benefit.

XXII. However, all the benefits lie for the children of God. The clearer they understand their portion in God, the more benefit they can derive from God's Providence. So, all of you who experience deep, inward, and constant sorrow over sin, who continually turn your eyes to the Lord Jesus to be justified by His blood, whose desire is communion with God, and who seek to love, fear, and obey the Lord despite many doubts and sins—come, I say, sit with me for a while, listen, and let my words enter your ears and hearts.

To become accustomed to contemplating it.

XXIII. 1. Cultivate the habit of seeing the hand of God in everything through much reflection, keen observation, and active belief in God's sustaining, cooperating, and governing role, both in creation and its movements. Behold it as one sees the sun shining through a windowpane. Whether you witness the sunrise in the morning, behold the bright moon and twinkling stars turning in their courses at night, see everything emerging from the earth, take note of all that transpires in the world—be it war, victory, defeat, peace, extraordinary changes, or reversals—whether you are in good health or unwell, experiencing constant adversity or facing one trial after another, whether deliverance and prosperity come your way, whether you are poor or rich, whether someone treats you kindly or with a frown, speaks to you harshly or with kindness, helps and comforts you or turns their back on you, lays snares for you or opposes you, speaks well or ill of you—in a word, from the greatest to the smallest, all happens by God's governance. Endeavor to constantly perceive God's hand at work in every matter.

It is not enough to merely utter these words and believe them as truth; that will not have a profound impact on the heart. I beseech you, strive to develop this truth as a habitual disposition through continuous effort, by constantly presenting and seeing it in your mind's eye. Strive to perceive God's hand at work so continually in and through secondary causes as if they did not exist, and God were the sole immediate actor. Seek to form this habit through active engagement so that seeing God at work becomes effortless for you. Believe me, it takes more effort to learn this than we might think. Our atheistic and worldly hearts continually lead us away from such contemplation and recognition. A dark mist hinders us. Therefore, commit to it, pray for abundant light and keen observation, and persistently engage in this practice. You will discover the tremendous benefit it brings to your soul from all sides. Yet, be cautious not to delve too deeply into the "how" of God's maintenance, cooperation, and governance, for it is unfathomable. Simply believe and observe the matter itself with fresh insights, speak of it, and demonstrate it to others. You will find that you will traverse the world with greater comfort and holiness.

Seeing God's hand in everything.

XXIV. 2. Do not stop at the deeds of Providence alone; accustom yourself to recognizing God's majesty, power, wisdom, righteousness, and goodness in them. All creatures belong to Him, and all motion comes from Him. He reigns over everything in heaven and on earth, no matter how vast the structure, how many creatures, small or great, are within it, and no matter how varied their movements. Let this acknowledgment awaken humble reverence and awe within you. Is He not the Lord, the Lord alone, having everything in His hands to use for or against you? Are not all creatures His servants, responding to their Lord's command? Therefore, fear Him, bow down in awe before Him, and proclaim, "The Lord is God, the Lord reigns." God demands this of you: Jeremiah 5:22, "Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it." Oh, how sweet it is, in the contemplation of the all-working God, to bow down and worship Him!

Not depending on secondary causes.

XXV. 3. Do not depend any longer on secondary causes, do not lean on your possessions, strength, wisdom, or abilities. Do not look to friends or foes for support. Do not rely on ships, fortresses, or soldiers. Do not seek help from various people or means, as if you expected it from them. When God wills, He can change everything about them. What you think will save you may lead to your downfall, and what seemed your ruin may become your salvation. After all, creatures cannot act or move except by the influence of His power. What can they give or take from you? Why, then, do you look to them, when every one of them says, 'It is not in me!'? Moreover, relying on creatures for help is idolatry and a turning away from God. Jeremiah 17:5, 7, "Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord... Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord." Learn this great lesson: let those who do not know God look to creatures and depend on them, but you, in the careful use of means, expect everything from the Lord as means. Look through all creatures to God; this will produce a stable and strong disposition of the heart. Psalm 125:1, "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever."

To fear no creatures.

XXVI. 4. Now, do not fear creatures, for they cannot move or act of their own accord. God alone rules and governs them. If they come upon you, God sends them, determines them, and they can only carry out God's will. God restrains them, and God makes them depart. Who fears a sword, stick, or stone when they lie on the ground, devoid of any hand to set them in motion? If they wish to curse, they must bless; if they intend to blaspheme, they must praise; if they desire to kill, they must kiss, as God wills it. So, if God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31. And He is for you, children of God; so, what do you fear? All enemies are but a dreadful mask before a friend's face. Job 34:29, "When he is quiet, who can condemn?" Therefore, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," Matthew 10:28. How tranquil is a soul that contemplates its enemies while sitting in the shelter of the Almighty and dwelling in the shadow of the Almighty! Psalm 91:1.

Not vengeful.

XXVII. 5. Do not be angry and vengeful toward those who harm you, for the Lord has commanded it; 2 Samuel 16:11. "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head." Who can speak a thing and have it come to pass, unless the Lord commands it? Lamentations 3:37. It is true they do it out of wickedness, but the Lord uses their wickedness as a rod to chasten and strike you. Isaiah 10. Therefore, do not bite the stone that was thrown at you as a dog would, but look higher to the hand of the One who uses them against us. Beware of murmuring against the Lord. Instead of being vengeful or angry with the instrument, consider the rod and the One who ordered it, Micah 6:9. "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me," Job 23:14.


XXVIII. 6. Now, possess your souls in patience, for you need it. Evil does not befall you by chance, even when it happens through people. Even if your own foolishness and sin are the cause, it is still from the Lord, who ordained it over you, who determined it, who carries it out. Therefore, say with quiet submission, "He will complete what he has appointed for me," Job 23:14.

(a) Is He not the absolute sovereign Lord? Do you not grant Him that? Are you not glad that He is? Would you not defend His absolute sovereignty if someone challenged it? If so, why would you desire the chain of His Providence to break because of you? Would you want your will to rule over Him rather than His will over you? If not, how dare you grumble against Him? Be still and let His will be fully carried out over you because it is His will. (b) Is He not your Father? Has He not loved you from eternity? Behold, in love, He sends evil your way. He chastises those He loves, Revelation 3:19. He pities you; He is with you in your distress; He knows your anguish; He sees your tears; He hears your cries; He will save you in His time and His way. (c) The outcome will bring greater glory to His power, faithfulness, and goodness, and you will become humbler in heart and holier. As trials abound, consolations will also abound. Therefore, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus, Matthew 16:24. Do not be irritable, and do not reject the discipline of the Lord. Do not be grieved by His chastisement. Proverbs 3:11. Be silent before the Lord and wait for Him, Psalm 37:7. Say with David, Psalm 39:10, "I will not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it." Yield yourself as clay in the hands of your Maker, and let Him mold you as He pleases. He will guide you by His counsel, and afterward, He will receive you to glory, Psalm 73:24. Is it not good whether He has led you through a sorrowful or joyful path? Blessed is blessed.


XXIX. 7. To use the Providence of God well, this leads to extraordinary gratitude. It teaches you to bring all the good you receive, both for your soul and body, to the Lord as the sole Giver. It reveals God's goodness, faithfulness, and benevolence. It brings joy and prompts praise to God, to tell His virtues to others, and to willingly serve Him with a grateful heart. After all, He has given it, sometimes remarkably and in a wondrous way, and it was solely out of love. As it is from God, it must return to Him. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever, Romans 11:36. Give thanks to God in everything, 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Continually follow David, saying, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits," Psalm 103:2. Oh, how sweet it is to remember past affliction, helplessness, and unworthiness to receive anything, and then to see that the Lord remembers us, that He Himself redeems and grants the desire. This leads to glorifying God and rejoicing in Him.

Quiet confidence.

XXX. 8. Thus, the soul gains good assurance and quiet confidence in God concerning the future. Fiery desires for the physical are restrained. The cross is not feared, and the frantic pursuit of various means to acquire them excessively, immoderately, and sinfully is stopped. You entrust it to the Lord's hands and are content with how He makes it, for you know it will be well. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:5. He cares for you, 1 Peter 5:7. He will complete it for you, Psalm 138:8. Behold, such benefits can be derived from the Providence of God. Therefore, who is wise? Let him consider these things. Let him understand and meditate on the kindness of the Lord, Psalm 107:43. Who is wise? Let him understand these things; who is discerning? Let him know them, Hosea 14:9.

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