“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
Definition of Providence
Let’s remember what providence is. It does not mean that God just sits idle in heaven, looking over what is taking place in the world. Instead, it means that He runs and overrules all events. His providence extends from the hand to the eye! When Abraham said to his son, “God will provide” (Genesis 22:8) he did not mean that the future event was unknown to God but meant that God would manage the business of His will. It is God’s business to bring perplexing and confusing matters to a good en. Providence, then, consists in action, not merely knowing beforehand what will happen. Some will even grant that God governs the world. But their understanding of His governing is so paltry in that they believe he just gives general movement to the world. He sets things in motion but does not directly govern them.
It is impossible, however, to tolerate this error. Those who espouse such a view believe that in this “universal providence” humanity can change his course according to his own free will. Humanity becomes a partner with God–God starts the action by His power, but then humanity takes over and regulates its actions. In their view, humanity is governed by the power, but not the decree of God. I haven’t even mentioned the Epicureans yet (a pest that plagues the world!). They dream of an lazy and idle God. Others, in older times, believe that God ruled the upper regions of the air, but left the earth to fate.
My intention now is to refute an opinion which a lot of people hold. Such a view holds that God although may have started everything in motion, he does not rule and guide over everything with his wisdom. But, such a view merely makes God the ruler of the world in name only, not in reality. What is meant by God’s rule, except that he regulates the destiny over which he rules? I don’t totally repudiate the idea of “universal providence.” I just want to add to it to make sure that God governs the whole world, not only because he maintains the “natural laws” of the world but also because he takes charge of every one of his works. It is true that each created species is moved by a secret instinct of nature, as if they obeyed the eternal command of God and then spontaneously follow a course which God first appointed. To this phenomenon we can refer to Jesus’ words when he says that he and his Father have always been working from the beginning (John 5:17). Also, Paul says that, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Moreover, the author of Hebrews writes that Christ upholds “all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).
But some hide and obscure the Bible’s teaching about God’s special providence, using the pretext of some general providence. Yet, God’s special providence is clearly taught in Scripture that it is difficult to doubt it. Indeed, those who hold only to a general providence have to modify their doctrine, by adding that many things are done by the special care of God. They confine his special care to certain acts erroneously. God instead regulates single event and all event proceed from his determined counsel so that nothing happens by chance.