The Providence Of God
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” -- Romans 8:28
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.”
Divine providence is the daily, constant, sovereign rule of our God over all things for the accomplishment of his eternal purpose of grace in predestination. Predestination is the sovereign, eternal, immutable, unalterable purpose of God almighty, by which he ordained and ordered, according to his own will and good pleasure, all things that come to pass in time. Divine providence is the accomplishment of God’s sovereign will and purpose. Providence is God bringing to pass in time (sovereignly, absolutely, and perfectly) what he purposed in eternity. Predestination is God’s purpose. Providence is God’s execution of his purpose.
Be sure you understand the doctrine of Holy Scripture with regard to the providence of God. Nothing in the universe happens by luck, chance, fortune, or accident, or by blind fate. Everything that comes to pass in time was purposed by our God in eternity, and is brought to pass by his wise, adorable, good providence. Nothing comes to pass in time that God did not purpose in eternity, in sovereign predestination. Nothing comes to pass in time except that which God sovereignly brings to pass in his providence. And that which God predestinated in eternity and brings to pass in his providence is for the good of his elect and the glory of his name. This is clearly and incontrovertibly the teaching of Holy Scripture (Ps. 76:10; Pro. 16:4, 9, 33; 21:1; Dan. 4:34, 35, 37; Isa. 46:9-11; Rom. 11:33-36).
This delightful, soul-cheering doctrine is taught and exemplified throughout the Word of God; but it is nowhere stated more clearly and explained more fully than in Romans 8:28. – “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” May God the Holy Spirit, who inspired these words, effectually inscribe them upon our hearts for the glory of Christ, enabling us in all things to believe, worship and give thanks unto our God.
A Delightful Persuasion
First, the Holy Spirit speaks of a delightful persuasion, a persuasion which the apostle Paul assumed (assumed because he was inspired of God to make the assumption) that all true believers have in common. He says, “We know…”
The word “know” in this sentence refers to a knowledge beyond speculation, theory, doctrine, or even sound judgment. It is the knowledge of a confident, assured persuasion based upon fact and experience. Paul says, “We” (all believers) “know.” How do we know? What is the basis of this knowledge? Is this a pipe dream; or a matter of established fact?
This is a matter of established fact. We know these things by the revelation of our God in Holy Scripture (Ps. 84:11; 91:1-16; Pro. 12:21; Hos. 2:18). We know these things and walk in the comfort of God’s providence because of the inner witness and anointing of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things, by whom we have the mind of Christ (1 John 2:20; 1 Cor. 2:16). We know the wisdom and goodness of God’s adorable providence, because we have experienced it. Evangelist Rolfe Barnard used to say, “We only believe what we experience.” He was exactly right. Are you persuaded, really persuaded of what Paul teaches us here? If you are, you have a persuasion that will keep your soul in peace. Indeed, this is the only persuasion that will keep your soul in peace - “When sorrows like sea billows roll.”
A Divine Providence
Second, the Holy Spirit here reveals a divine providence by which all things are ordered, ruled, and disposed of in time. -- “We know that all things work together for good…” Providence is God’s government of the universe. This is a subject of deepest importance. If we have a proper view of God’s providence, we will see the hand of God and the heart of God in everything, in all the experiences of our lives. Let us never talk like the unbelieving Philistines who said, “It was a chance that happened to us” (1 Sam. 6:9). Believers do not talk like that. Believing souls ascribe their sorrows, the judgments of God, and even the cursing of their enemies to the hand of their heavenly Father’s wise and good providence (Job 1:21; 1 Sam. 3:18; 2 Sam. 16:11-12).
God is not idle. He is the one person who is always on the job. He never needs to rest, recuperate, or regroup! God almighty, our God and heavenly Father, is always at work, governing the world. Ignorant, unbelieving rebels often think, “God is not doing a very good job of running this world.” I have often heard fools say, “If God is running everything, then this or that would not happen.” I have frequently heard preachers and religious leaders speak of sickness, poverty and war, sin, crime and cruelty, famine, earthquakes and death, as things over which God has no control. Nonsense!
Could not the Almighty easily put an end to these things? Of course, he could, and soon shall; but God almighty will not be dictated to by his creatures. Who are we that we dare set ourselves up as instructors to the all-wise God? He “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” I do not pretend that any child of God discerns the depth of God’s providence, or understands how all the works of providence are meshed together. Faith does not demand an accounting from God. Faith bows to him.
We recognize that God’s providence is mysterious (Rom. 11:33-36). His judgments are a great deep. His ways are past finding out. But these things are certain: -- God always has his way. -- His ways are not our ways. -- His way is always right and best.
God’s providence is as minute as it is mysterious (Matt. 10:30). Our God has ordained the number of hairs on the heads of all. Not even a worthless sparrow falls to the ground without his decree. God’s providence is all-inclusive. God rules everything, great and small, everywhere, and at all times. Our God is in control of all inanimate matter. He who created all things rules all things. At his word the Red Sea parts and a path of dry ground is made in the Jordan River for his people. “The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” When his servants were cast into the burning and fiery furnace, he made the fire as cool and comfortable as the evening breeze for his own.
Our great God is in total control of all irrational creatures. At his bidding frogs, flies, and locusts filled Egypt; and at his bidding they left. He prepared a whale to swallow his servant Jonah and directed the whale to the right place to spit him out. At his command the rooster crowed for the sake of his fallen saint, Peter. It is written, “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; his kingdom ruleth over all!”
Our God and heavenly Father controls (absolutely and totally) all rational creatures too. He controls all men and women everywhere, good and bad, in the good they do and in the evil they perform. All angels, all demons, and Satan himself are under the total control of our God (Ps. 76:10; Isa. 14:24-27). Nothing in God’s universe breathes or wiggles contrary to his decree (Isa. 46:9-13). Satan is not a rival to our God, but his vassal!
We have no trouble believing that God controls good things and good people; but those are not the things that bother us. It is the bad stuff that disturbs us. I want to know who is in control of wickedness and evil. That is the One I will worship. Many have a lot of trouble with this. They do not understand that God truly is God, as fully in control of hell as he is in heaven, as totally in control of wickedness as of righteousness (Pro. 16:4, 33; 21:1; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
What about sin? What about the fall? “God allows sin because he is able to overrule it for his own glory. God is not the Author of sin; but he is the Controller and Director of sin. God is not the Causative Force, but the Directing Agent in the sins of men. Men are rebellious; but they have not pushed God off his throne. They are not out from under his control.” -- (C. D. Cole)
God’s providence is mysterious and minute; and God’s providence is good! “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” No event in history is isolated from any other event. We may not be able to see how; but all things are connected to all other things. -- “All things work together.”
What does Paul mean when he says that? He does not necessarily mean for us to understand that all things work together for the immediate, temporal good of God’s elect, though I am convinced that is true. Paul’s doctrine in Romans 8 is this: -- All things work together for their spiritual, eternal good, both individually and collectively.
That which is truly good for us very often appears to be the exact opposite. It appeared to be a very bad thing for Paul to be on his way to Damascus; but nothing could have been better. He was doing that which was utterly horrible; but God was doing that which was perfectly good. That woman with an issue of blood for twelve, long years was brought by that which appeared to be very bad to touch the Lord Jesus by faith. Seated with Christ in Glory, she praises him for both the grief that brought her to him and the grace she found in him.
This is what I am saying: It is good for me to know Christ and be found in him. If God has to cripple me, or cripple my child to get my attention and then turn my eyes and my heart to Christ, that is good! It is good for me. It is good for me to fellowship with God and walk humbly before him, however he arranges it. It is good for me to be a blessing to others, however God is pleased to bring it to pass. It is good for me to be weaned from this world, however the Lord is pleased to wean me. It is good for me to be a better pastor and preacher, regardless of the cost. It is good for me to continue in the faith, no matter what else may be lost. It is good for me to finish my course with joy, no matter what sadness may be experienced in the course. It will be good for me to die in the faith, though I must die to self day by day. It will be good for me to rise in glory and be like Christ, no matter what my heavenly Father has arranged to bring it to pass.
Whatever God sees fit to use to accomplish these things for us and in us is good! At your leisure, read Psalm 107 again. There we are given a detailed view of God’s providence. “All things work together for good.” As a wise, skilled pharmacist mixes medicine, our heavenly Father wisely mixes exactly the right measure of bitter things and sweet to do us good.
Too much joy would intoxicate us. Too much misery would drive us to despair. Too much sorrow would crush us. Too much suffering would break our spirits. Too much pleasure would ruin us. Too much defeat would discourage us. Too much success would puff us up. Too much failure would keep us from doing anything. Too much criticism would harden us. Too much praise would exalt us. Our great God knows exactly what we need. His providence is wisely designed and sovereignly sent for our good! Let him therefore send and do what he will. By his grace, if we are his, we will face it, bow to it, accept it, and give thanks for it.
“I welcome all His sovereign will,
For all His will is love.
And when I know not what He does,
I’ll wait for light above.”
God’s providence is always executed in the wisest manner possible. We are often unable to see and understand the reasons and causes for specific events in our lives, in the lives of others, or in the history of the world. But our lack of understanding does not prevent us from believing God. We bow to his will, which is evident in his works of providence, and say, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
All God’s works of providence are executed in perfect holiness and righteousness. Even the way he uses the evil works of men and devils is totally free of sin on his part. Though he has predestined and permits deeds of wickedness, sin cannot be imputed to the Almighty. Let men think and say what they will, these two things are plainly revealed in Holy Scripture: (1.) “All things are of God” (2 Cor. 5:18). (2.) “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Ps. 145:17).
God’s providence demands and deserves our unceasing praise. “We should give to him the glory of all; observe with wonder and gratitude, the various steps of it (his providence) respecting ourselves and others; and put our trust in him for things temporal and spiritual; and at all times cast our care upon him, who cares for us; seeing it is, and always will be, well with the righteous, in time and to all eternity.” – (John Gill)
A Designated People
“We know that all things work together for good.” If we stop there and read no further, we would be forced to say, “That is not so.” The simple fact of the matter is that all things do not work together for good to everyone. There are many against whom all things work for evil. The text makes sense, and is true only when the entire sentence is read, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
God’s providence, in all its details, is designed and accomplished for his elect, those who love him and are the called according to his purpose. Whenever we think about God’s providence, we must never forget that divine providence is for a designated people. Everything that is, has been, or shall hereafter be is brought to pass by the hand of our God for the good of his people. Who are these people? Can they be identified with certainty? Indeed they can. You cannot identify God’s people in this world by their clothes, their church, their creed, their confession, their conversation, or even their conduct. But they can be identified.
God’s elect are identified by their faith (Phil. 3:3). "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." God’s people are identified by their love. They are a people who love God. In many respects believers and unbelievers are very much alike, especially if the unbeliever is religious and moral. But here is a marked distinction. True believers, and they alone, love God ((Rom. 8:7). We love God in his revealed character (1 Cor. 16:22). We love him because he is who he is, and does as he does. We love our God in all his relations to us. We love him as our Father, our King, our Portion, and our Inheritance. Without question, all who love God recognize and confess that our love for him is caused by his love for us (1 John 4:19); but we do love him. With Peter, we declare, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”
Believers are also identified by their calling. -- “Them who are the called.” Let the Arminian, the free-willer, try as he may to get around the eighth chapter of Romans, here it stands to declare forever the glorious gospel doctrine of God’s free, sovereign, effectual, irresistible grace in Christ. Those who believe are “them who are the called”. If language means anything, this text asserts that there are some people in this world who are called and others who are not called. Our faith in Christ and love for God is the result of this call (Eph. 2:1-4).
A Declared Purpose
Fourth, here is a declared purpose, according to which God almighty rules, governs, and disposes of all things. - “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” We are not left to figure out what that purpose is. It is plainly stated in verses 29-31. -- "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?"
This grace by which we believe, by which we love God, by which we are called, this great providence which works all things together for our good is according to God’s eternal purpose to save us. The evidence of our calling is our faith in and love for God as he has revealed himself to us in Christ. The evidence of our election and redemption is our calling. The cause of our election, redemption, and calling is God’s sovereign, eternal purpose of grace toward us in Christ (2 Tim. 1:9-10).
He who is God indeed is the God of providence, the God who rules all things, and rules all things well. How we ought to trust him! Ever remember, our heavenly Father is God all-wise, good, and omnipotent. He is too wise to err, too good to do wrong, and too strong to fail.