Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Sep/Oct 2002

…Providence is the beneficent outworking of God's sovereignty whereby all events are directed and disposed to bring about those purposes of glory and good for which the universe was made. These events include the actions of free agents, which while remaining free, personal, and responsible are also the intended actions of those agents. Providence thus encompasses both natural and personal events, setting them alike within the purposes of God.

Providence has been carefully distinguished from creation. The upholding and directing of all things is understood in Scripture to be subsequent to, and distinct from, their having been made. The distinction is partly sequential: first God created, then he sustained and directed. But it also has moral significance, since Christian theodicy [the defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil] has emphasized the goodness of original creation (Gen. 1) and recognized the radical transformation . . . that creation underwent with the fall. The providence of God is largely concerned with the history of a fallen order, and the confounding of this with creation would immediately attribute sin to the creative goodness of God. . . .

The doctrine of providence provides a bulwark against three major errors:

1.Deism. The deists conceived of God as detached from the present workings of the universe, since he had created it and then left it to operate like a machine. Providence asserts the personal involvement of God in every turn of human affairs, and his constant upholding of all natural processes. Natural law therefore represents merely the constancy and regularity of the divine purposes. The natural order no less than the human expresses God's personal control.

2.Fatalism. This pagan notion is regaining wide currency through popular astrology. While providence personalizes nature, fatalism de-personalizes man. His free actions are free no longer, since the horoscope's predictions (unlike the prophet's) make no allowance for personal response. Providence never denies free personal agency, though it asserts a higher order of purpose alongside it.

3.Chance. Providence asserts the directional and purposeful character of history, and so provides hope to a fallen world. God's hand, as Calvin says, is at the helm. It is customary to speak of providence as general and special (this latter when directed to a special beneficent end), but too much should not, perhaps, be made of the distinction. Scripture speaks of a particular divine concern for the ephemera of nature (e.g. the sparrows of Matt. 10:29-30). Miracle is a special case of providence, when the normal ordering of natural affairs is set aside for a particular purpose.The providence of God displays his benevolence (Matt. 5:45), especially to the believer, who is comforted to be told that all things work together for his good (Rom. 8:28). It is, therefore, in this doctrine that the sovereign character of God becomes the ground of practical hope and comfort to all who trust him.

1 [ Back ] "Providence" by Nigel M. de S. Cameron, taken from New Dictionary of Theology edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer. Copyright (c) 1988 Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515.
Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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