The Doctrine of Providence - Part 1
Why Do We Believe That? • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 1:07:09
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Introduction – Review
The past couple of weeks, we've spent our time together looking at the doctrine of creation.
We saw that the Bible teaches, therefore we believe, that God created the universe out of nothing, only by His word.
He's the author of all things, both visible and invisible, both in the heavens and the earth.
Everything he created was good, and He created all things for His glory.
This morning as we continue our study of Systematic Theology, I want us to turn our attention to the Doctrine of Providence.
Today, we're going to begin by focusing on two questions…
What is the Doctrine of Providence?
How does the Doctrine of Providence affect our daily lives?
1. What is Providence?
In essence, Providence is God's ongoing relationship with his creation.
The Heidelberg Catechism (1533) Question #27 asks – What do you understand by the providence of God?
Answer – "God's providence is His almighty and ever-present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand."
In layman's terms, providence is the belief that God, in His goodness and power, accompanies, directs, governs, preserves, and upholds all creatures, all actions, and all things, from the most massive star in the galaxy to the smallest molecule in existence.
God, our Creator, and eternal King governs all things to the praise of the glory of His goodness, justice, mercy, power, and wisdom.
Throughout the Bible, from cover to cover, we see the teaching that God is the one who gives life, cares, leads, observes, preserves, protects, renews, rules, saves, teaches, upholds, and works for all of His creation, and especially for His chosen people, the Elect.
Look with me at Psalm 104 in its entirety...
I will praise the Lord. Lord my God, you are very great. You are dressed in glory and majesty. You wrap yourself in light as if it were a robe. You spread the heavens out like a tent. You build your palace high in the heavens. You make the clouds serve as your chariot. You ride on the wings of the wind. You make the winds serve as your messengers. You make flashes of lightning serve you. You placed the earth on its foundations. It can never be moved. You covered it with the oceans like a blanket. The waters covered the mountains. But you commanded the waters, and they ran away. At the sound of your thunder they rushed off. They flowed down the mountains. They went into the valleys. They went to the place you appointed for them. You drew a line they can’t cross. They will never cover the earth again. You make springs pour water into the valleys. It flows between the mountains. The springs give water to all of the wild animals. The wild donkeys satisfy their thirst. The birds of the air build nests by the waters. They sing among the branches. You water the mountains from your palace high in the clouds. The earth is filled with the things you have made. You make grass grow for the cattle and plants for people to take care of. That’s how they get food from the earth. There is wine to make people glad. There is olive oil to make them healthy. And there is bread to make them strong. The cedar trees of Lebanon belong to the Lord. You planted them and gave them plenty of water. There the birds make their nests. The stork has its home in the pine trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats. The cliffs are a safe place for the rock badgers. The moon serves to mark off the seasons. The sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, and it becomes night. Then all the animals of the forest prowl around. The lions roar while they hunt. All of their food comes from God. The sun rises, and they slip away. They return to their dens and lie down. Then a man gets up and goes to work. He keeps working until evening. Lord, you have made so many things! How wise you were when you made all of them! The earth is full of your creatures. Look at the ocean, so big and wide! It is filled with more creatures than people can count. It is filled with living things, from the largest to the smallest. Ships sail back and forth on it. The leviathan, the sea monster you made, plays in it. All of those creatures depend on you to give them their food when they need it. When you give it to them, they eat it. When you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you turn your face away from them, they are terrified. When you take away their breath, they die and turn back into dust. When you send your Spirit, you create them. You give new life to the earth. May the glory of the Lord continue forever. May the Lord be happy with what he has made. When he looks at the earth, it trembles. When he touches the mountains, they pour out smoke. I will sing to the Lord all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May these thoughts of mine please him. I find my joy in the Lord. But may those who sin be gone from the earth. May evil people disappear. I will praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.
See, through God's providence, he's actively involved in his creation at every moment.
God hasn't abandoned his creation; He tends to it and sustains it by his infinite power and sovereign wisdom.
All things come from him. All things are directed by him. All things are for his good. May God be given the glory forever! Amen.
From this verse, we see that God's providence causes all that has been called into existence to continue, and he does it by…
1. Sustaining it
2. Working in and through it
3. Directing it for his good purpose
These three avenues are called…
Let's take a few minutes and look at each of them a little closer.
"All things come from him…"
A. Preservation: God Upholds and Sustains All Things
Although the word preservation is not used in scripture, it's the term we use to say that God sustains all created things and maintains the properties which He created them to have.
Preservation means that he's preserving his creation.
And because God is preserving all things, he also causes them to maintain the properties with which he crafted them.
For example, God preserves water in such a way that it continues to act like water.
He causes grass to continue to act as grass, with all its distinct characteristics.
God is actively preserving this acrylic pulpit causing it to maintain its properties.
It's solid… (knock), it's clear, but I have no reason to expect it to dissolve into water spontaneously, do you?
Providence says this acrylic pulpit will continue to maintain its form and properties… UNLESS or UNTIL it's acted upon by another part of creation, such as fire, at which time it could become a disfigured pile of waist.
Therefore, we shouldn't think of God's preservation as a continuous new creation: he doesn't create new atoms and molecules every second for every existing thing… but rather preserves what has already been created.
Christ is the exact likeness of God, who can’t be seen. He is first, and he is over all of creation. All things were created by him. He created everything in heaven and on earth. He created everything that can be seen and everything that can’t be seen. He created kings, powers, rulers and authorities. Everything was created by him and for him. Before anything was created, he was already there. He holds everything together.
In the past, God spoke to our people through the prophets. He spoke at many times. He spoke in different ways. But in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one whom God appointed to receive all things. God made everything through him. The Son is the gleaming brightness of God’s glory. He is the exact likeness of God’s being. He uses his powerful word to hold all things together. He provided the way for people to be made pure from sin. Then he sat down at the right hand of the King, the Majesty in heaven. So he became higher than the angels. The name he received is more excellent than theirs.
These passages indicate that if Christ were to cease his sustaining activity, all things in the universe, except for the triune God, would instantly cease to exist.
This is what Paul says in Acts 17:28 when he says, "In him, we live and move and have our being."
· Without Christ, nothing would have come into existence; that's the doctrine of creation.
· Without Christ, nothing could/would continue to exist; that's the doctrine of preservation.
If he really wanted to, he could hold back his spirit and breath.
So, number one, God preserves or upholds and sustains all created things.
"All things are directed by him"
B. Concurrence: God Works in and Through All Things
Concurrence is the aspect of divine providence that describes how God works in and through all things, particularly the actions of created things.
In concurrence, we see divine agency and human agency running alongside each other in specific actions.
Concurrence means that created things cooperate with God in every action.
He directs their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do.
In other words, things that happen are, first and foremost, events that God causes to happen; yet, God works through the distinct properties of each created thing so that these things themselves bring about the results that we see.
This is what we refer to as "primary" and "secondary" causes.
The divine cause of each event works as an invisible, behind-the-scenes, directing cause and therefore can be called the "primary cause" that plans and initiates everything that happens.
But the created thing brings about actions in ways consistent with the creature's own properties, methods that can often be described by scientists who carefully observe the processes or even by us as laymen.
Therefore, these creaturely factors and properties can be called the "secondary" causes of everything that happens, even though they're the causes that are evident by observation.
We see this clearly in…
In your heart you plan your life. But the Lord decides where your steps will take you.
“Why are you men doing this? We are only human, just like you. We are bringing you good news. Turn away from these worthless things. Turn to the living God. He is the one who made the heavens and the earth and the sea. He made everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. But he has given proof of what he is like. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven. He gives you crops in their seasons. He provides you with plenty of food. He fills your hearts with joy.”
Notice verse 17: The secondary cause of the growth of the food and the gladness of their hearts were the rains from heaven and the fruitful seasons.
The rain caused the food to grow, and the fruitful seasons made their hearts glad.
But behind those secondary causes, there's a primary cause, God.
He did good by giving rains and fruitful seasons.
“He is the God who made the world. He also made everything in it. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples built by hands. He is not served by human hands. He doesn’t need anything. He himself gives life and breath to all people. He also gives them everything else they have. From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us. ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’
Wait a minute, pastor… you might be thinking: "Didn't my parents decide when and where I was born?"
They did… but this text says that behind the secondary cause of your parents giving you life and deciding where you'd be born, there was a primary cause, God.
He gives life, and He decides when and where you live on planet earth… in God, you live and move and have your being.
This means that we should be thankful for all that God does in and through us.
And not only us, but the things around us… if it rains, we should thank God, and if crops grow, we should thank God.
We should stand in awe of the vastness of God while thinking through this deep, deep doctrine.
How big is God that not even a single snowflake can fall without God having a say in it?
Everything, even inanimate objects, work in cooperation with God's purpose and plan.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth.’ He tells the rain, ‘Pour down your mighty waters.’ He stops everyone from working. He wants them to see his work. The animals go inside. They remain in their dens. The storm comes out of its storeroom in the heavens. The cold comes from the driving winds. The breath of God produces ice. The shallow water freezes over. He loads the clouds with moisture. He scatters his lightning through them. He directs the clouds to circle above the surface of the whole earth. They do everything he commands them to do. He tells the clouds to punish people. Or he brings them to water his earth and show his love.
God is behind EVERYTHING! The snow, the ice, and all that we see or don't see.
That should give us enormous comfort and allow us to sit here, amazed at the enormity of the God we belong to and serve.
"All things are for his good. May God be given the glory forever"
C. Government: God Rules and Directs All Things
The third aspect of Providence that Scripture teaches is government.
God governs the world and directs ALL THINGS to their appointed purpose and end. (repeat)
In other words, the world and everything in it are not ruled by chance or by fate but by God, who directs history and creation toward its ultimate goal. (repeat)
Scripture sums this up repeatedly by speaking of God as the Creator-King who governs all things.
The Lord has set up his throne in heaven. His kingdom rules over all.
At the end of that time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven. My mind became clear again. Then I praised the Most High God. I gave honor and glory to the One who lives forever. His rule will last forever. His kingdom will never end. He considers all of the nations on earth to be nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven. He does what he wants with the nations of the earth. No one can hold his hand back. No one can say to him, “What have you done?”
God is the one who’s steering the ship of history to its destination, and Christ's purpose of bringing the world to that goal will happen, LISTEN... at its appointed time!
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. He appointed them to be saved in keeping with his purpose.
We have been set free because of what Christ has done. Through his blood our sins have been forgiven. We have been set free because God’s grace is so rich. He poured his grace on us by giving us great wisdom and understanding. He showed us the mystery of his plan. It was in keeping with what he wanted to do. It was what he had planned through Christ. It will all come about when history has been completed. God will then bring together all things in heaven and on earth under one ruler. The ruler is Christ. We were also chosen to belong to him. God decided to choose us long ago in keeping with his plan. He works out everything to fit his plan and purpose. We were the first to put our hope in Christ. We were chosen to bring praise to his glory.
Notice in these verses the different aspects of God's divine government.
First, God's governing activity is universal and doesn't merely extend to his own people.
It extends to all matters and to all men everywhere… that which is good and that which is not good.
Ephesians 1:11 says that he works "all things according to the counsel of his will."
Second, God is good in his government.
Romans 8:28 says that God works for the good of those who love him.
That good that we see in Romans 8:28 is referring to God's purpose in conforming his children to the image of his Son (verse 29).
Third, God is personally concerned about those who are his.
Again, Romans 8:28 shows that this governing that God does is mainly concerned with God's own children.
Fourth, God is sovereign in his government.
This means that he and he alone determines his plan and knows the significance of each of his actions.
The Lord has set up his throne in heaven. His kingdom rules over all.
Or, as we saw in Daniel chapter 4… "He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"
· And so why does this matter?
· Why do I believe this is so important?
· Why are we studying this?
Because it means everything!!!
It means everything for our life and faith in Christ.
Think about it for a second …
TRUST – Belief in God's providence means that we can trust God for all things because he has already handled our biggest problem… sin.
As believers in Christ, we cling to the conviction that the God who rules the world is the same loving and compassionate Father who in Christ has forgiven us of all of our sins.
He's accepted us and adopted us as His children and will one day receive us with joy into His glorious presence forever.
As Christians, even in our suffering and tears, we look forward with joy to the future with faith in our Heavenly Father's hand of providence.
God's providence is a source of consolation and courage, hope and humility, and yes, trust.
TRUST – In Him, you can trust so completely and have no doubts that He'll provide you with everything necessary for body and soul, that He'll turn and use to your good whatever adversity He sends in your life.
He's able to do so because He's almighty God and willing to do so because He's a faithful Father.
PATIENCE – God's providence also means that we can be patient in adversity, suffering, and uncertainty.
Because we know that God is working and that he's working for our good, we can patiently wait, knowing that he hasn't forgotten about us.
So far from forgetting us, he has ordained everything in the universe for us.
What a God, what a Savior!
GRATITUDE – Moreover, it means being thankful for whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.
Whether it is prosperity or poverty, we know that God has ordained things for the good of those who love him.
That's why we can be thankful that God has seen to it that we're in the circumstance that we're in today, December 6, 2020.
While we may not understand all of the reasons for the circumstance, we can know that God knows and that God is at work in our lives even now to bring us closer to him and more closely conformed to the image of his Son.
It's why Paul can say to the Thessalonians…
Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.
HOPE – Finally, looking to the future, God's providence means that we can have firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing can ever separate us from His eternal love.
We have a hope that no one else in the world has because we've been given a promise that no one else has.
That God will work all things for the good of those who love him.
And God, who loves us so deeply and unconditionally, and works out everything for our good, will never leave us, never forsake us, and never allow us to be separated from him, not even for a millisecond.
What hope. What a savior!