THE WORD providence may be used in four different senses: (1) God; (2) God’s care for His creatures; (3) an exceptional manifestation of God’s care; and (4) a grace of Christian character. In this article, we will use it in the second sense – God’s watchcare for His creatures. Although some deny, and others pervert the meaning of God’s care for His creatures, every consecrated child of God knows from the Scriptures and from personal experience that he is a subject of God’s providential care.
God’s providential care may be divided into two main categories: (1) His general care for the world (Matthew 5: 45); and (2) His special care for His consecrated people (Psalm 37: 23) (Psalm 91: 4 [feathers refers to God’s providences, and wings to the Old and New Testaments]) (Romans 8: 28). Let us consider the seven elements of God’s providential care for His creatures:
Arranges and Supplies their Needs
(1.) God arranges for the supply of, and actually supplies the needs of His creatures (Psalm 145: 15, 16). For example, God made the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, and thus supplied all their need for food and shelter; similarly, through the ark, He provided for Noah and his family; He prepared Caanan for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel, and through it supplied their need for food, clothing and shelter throughout the Jewish Age; and He did the same for Jesus, the Apostles and the other brethren throughout the Gospel Age. God has continued to supply the secular and religious needs of His people in our times, as all of them can testify.
(2.) God preserves His people. He does this, first, by shielding them from evils that are too strong for them, thus He allows no calamities or temptations that are too strong for them to bear to come to them (1 Corinthians 10: 13). The Bible illustrates this in the case of Joseph and his experiences with his brothers, with Potiphar, the latter’s wife and his jailors; of Moses and Israel being delivered from Egypt; of David in his wars; and of Jesus, the Apostle Paul and other brethren throughout the Gospel Age.
Second, God providently delivers His people amid evils that they are able to bear, by strengthening them to overcome amid them (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9). Bible examples of such cases include the three Hebrew youths being delivered in the fiery furnace; Daniel being delivered in the lion’s den; and Jesus’ victories in His temptations and calamities. Undoubtedly, we can all recount God’s acts of preserving us amid calamities and temptations in helping our weakness by His grace.
Directs their Course
(3.) God directs the course of His creatures. God does this in a general way with the world, by setting various metes and bounds to its experiences so that they are kept within the sphere marked out for them in His plan (Psalm 76: 10, second part). Accordingly, He does not allow Satan or others’ plots and schemes to go beyond the limits of what that plan marks out for them. Though Satan and various conquerors have sought to blot out certain peoples, God has providentially prevented this from happening.
But God especially directs the course of His people, both collectively and individually (Proverbs 3: 6). Though numerous examples could be given, we note the remarkable example of Samuel Crowthers. Born a black early in the nineteenth century in an African tribe, he was captured and made a slave on a ship. When his slave-ship was captured by a British man of war, he was brought to England a free man. He became a Christian in the home of his adopted father, was educated, and then trained for missionary work in Africa, where he was sent, and became instrumental in converting many thousands of natives.
Overrules their Untoward Experiences for Good
(4.) God overrules the untoward experiences of the world and His people for their ultimate good. He manipulates the world’s experience with evil for their good (Psalm 76: 10, first part). This can also be seen in God’s working good to His people out of their untoward experiences (Philippians 1: 12). Many examples from the Bible and history could be cited, from the greatest to the least of His people. Their untoward experiences made them nobler characters and better witnesses for the Truth, thus blessing themselves and others.
Restrains His People from Evil and Unprofitable Deeds
(5.) God restrains His people from evil and from unprofitable deeds by the circumstances that He brings into their lives. For example, when the brethren selfishly clung to the pleasant associations at Jerusalem, God removed various hindrances from their enemies which brought about persecution, resulting in the brethren being scattered abroad where they found new and fruitful fields of service (Acts 8: 1, 4-8); the Apostle Paul’s five years’ imprisonment, which enabled him to write seven of his epistles; and the restraints imposed upon the Apostle Peter for his denial of the Lord and acting with dissimulation at Antioch kept him humble. We see this same principle in others, and doubtless all of us can testify to such providential restraints in our lives.
Disciplines His People
(6.) God disciplines His people. The Apostle Paul describes God’s disciplinary acts to His people (Hebrews 12: 1-12). It would have been better had the translators used the word discipline rather than chastise or chastisement, for the latter gives the thought of punishment, whereas the proper thought is training amid hard conditions. Jesus never did wrong, but He was disciplined, trained amid hard circumstances (Hebrews 5: 8). But with the rest of God’s people, their disciplining also includes rebukes and corrections for their faults (Psalm 119: 71).
Chastises for Wrong-doing
(7.) God chastises the world and His people for their sins. Under the natural law God providentially punishes worldly sinners (Isaiah 59: 18). Many examples in Scripture and history illustrate this principle. And under the law of their Covenant, He punishes the sins of His people (Colossians 3: 25). Apart from our Lord, every one of God’s people have suffered some punishment, for all of them have sinned more or less. Of course, the more willfulness in one’s sin, the more punishment will be received.
Degrees of Divine Providence
There is a difference in the degree in which Divine providence acts toward the various classes of God’s people – the higher the class, the more graciously they are treated. God also treats the individuals of each class the more favorably as they are more loyal than the others; yet He does the best that can be done for each individual.
God uses inanimate and animate beings as the agents of His providence. Sometimes they are inanimate things; other times they are animate beings, such as lower animals; still other times He uses human agents, some of whom at the time are unconscious of their use as such; and finally, at times He uses spiritual agents who protect, lead, restrain, encourage and correct us by their providential interpositions, sometimes known to us and sometimes unknown to us as so doing (Hebrews 1: 14).
Purpose of Divine Providence
God’s purpose in connection with His providences is: (1) to manifest to us the glories of His character as they are displayed in His acts; (2) to give us the benefits that flow from the seven elements of His providential care, as explained above; (3) to give the witnesses of our providential favors a greater appreciation of Him, encouragement and joy; and (4) to help the world in the next Age, as they consider Him, to derive instruction, encouragement and stimulation in good from His agents, and hope for similar favors in their interest.
Many have had difficulty in understanding God’s providences in permitting sin and evil. But the Bible teaches that the experience with sin and evil on the part of mankind and fallen angels is educational. They are learning by experience its terrible nature and effects, so when they experience righteousness, its blessed nature and effects will educate them to love and cleave to it.
But why are the righteous permitted to suffer? Again, the Bible teaches that their sorrow and sufferings are educational. Their experiences are teaching them mercy toward fallen man and an unbreakable faithfulness and obedience toward God, thus preparing them for their present and future missions, and for their future inheritance.
God’s relation to good and evil has providentially been that of a Giver, Spreader and Upholder of truth, righteousness and holiness, and that of an Abhorrer and Opponent of sin and error.
Fruits of Divine Providence
The fruits of Divine providence are manifold. It has brought every feature of God’s plan up to the present to a successful completion, and we may be confident that Divine providence will bring to a successful completion the future features of His plan. May we praise and thank God for His marvelous providences!