God's Decrees and Divine Providence
Philippians 2:13; Romans 8:28; Ps. 65:4
Our prayer for this lesson is that we might know and understand that God is in control of all the conditions and events of our lives.
See also: 46:9-l0; Dan. 4:35; Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:9,11
Even before the beginning of time and things that we know - the just, wise and all holy God purposed within Himself that which He would do and bring to pass in the future, would be carried out only by His power and providence. God has not only created all things by His decrees but also preserves and upholds them by His providential purpose. Because of the finite knowledge of man there is much that we are not able to comprehend of the nature, the mode, and reasons of the will, and actions of the infinite God. Then too, because of the natural corruption of the human heart, many revolt against the sovereignty of God and try to make excuses for their sins and rejection of God’s wonderful plan and purpose for man and all of creation.
Man cannot comprehend God!
Q. Why did God create man in the first place?
He certainly didn’t need us.
Q. Why did God create man the way we are?
We just naturally rebel against God – it’s our nature. But why?
Q. Why did God allow sin?
He didn’t have to.
A. I have no answer, only these thoughts: Isa. 55:8-9; Rom. 9:20; Eph. 1:11
The decrees of God can be called His “Purpose” or “Plan” for the ages. In the creation, preservation, and government of the world, God had a plan, and that plan was just, wise and holy, tending both to His own glory and to the happiness of His creatures. As God is eternal, His thoughts, purpose and plan must be eternal. As God is also infinite, He needed not to go outside Himself as to the plan or execution of any of His purpose. All parts of God’s plan must be determined of Him, as to their nature, limits, time, sequence, and relation to each other of the whole. And, as God has such absolute control over all things, His knowledge that they will be, must proceed from His purpose that they shall be. God’s decrees and their being carried out to completion is not based upon what the creature might think to do. God alone is in complete control of the universe and all its creatures, both now and forever. The decrees of God are not conditioned upon the actions of man, be they righteous or wicked (Eph. 2:10;3:11; Phil. 2:13; Act. 2:23, 4:27-28).
The scriptures recognize both the sovereignty of God, and the free agency, and accountability of man. The Bible makes no attempt to reconcile the two (Rom. 9:20). That we cannot point out the harmony between them is a proof, only of our ignorance, and limited capacity because both are true (Isa. 40:13-14,21-22,25,28; Dan. 4:35; Rom. 9:11,15-18; Acts 17:30).
The decrees of God are not conditioned upon what men do - or desire (Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 14:24,27). There are those of the past, and of the present, who deny that God can know what a free agent will choose, or do, before he acts, or wills. They do not realize that although man has a will it is free only to sin because of his depraved nature. We cannot ourselves know what we might do because of the condition of our heart (Jer. 17:9). Arminians think that God must await our decision before He can decide how He is going to respond. There are some Arminians who maintain that God does not know the free actions of men, not because He cannot know them, but because He chooses not to. This would make man greater than God – and that is NOT SO! If by His will, God could refrain from knowing certain facts of His creatures, would have to change His nature. What God knows will come to pass because of His decrees, must necessarily take place. Otherwise, He would know a thing as future which will not be future.
One last difficulty connected with the doctrine of decrees, in the mind of some, would be the existence of sin. Did sin accidentally occur, was it simply foreknown or was it a part of the plan and purpose of God, that it should exist? We know that God had the power to prevent it if He so chose. But amid all the darkness, we can see that God is so over-ruling sin as to cause it greatly to redound to His glory and the happiness of His creatures. So we rest our case in the justice, wisdom, and goodness of God.
Associated with the doctrine of Creation is that of Providence. By acts of creation, God brings into existence all things and confers upon them their respective qualities. By acts of Providence, He simply preserves these creations, or permits or causes decay or change in them as He has purposed; and at the same time, He directs, controls, and guides them in accordance with the nature He has given them, and the laws He has imposed upon them. Providence and Purpose are similar but distinct. The Purpose of God is His predetermined plan as to what shall be done in His creation by Himself or by others. But Providence is the actual doing, or permitting the things thus purposed, and securing the ends thus designed. The purpose is formed in eternity; the providential acts are performed in time.
The world is not self-existent and independent but is sustained by the life and power of Christ (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). The world came into existence only through the will and power of God and can only remain in being as God continues His hand on every aspect of it. God is always present with His creation. He loves and cares for His creation. The omnipresence, infinite knowledge, and goodness of the Almighty God, therefore render necessary His providential care over His creation. Sin is the only thing that can hinder God’s benevolent care. Sin by demanding the punitive exercise of God’s justice, may change into punishment and misery that which otherwise would be happiness and joy. Deut. 28:1-14 tells us of blessing, while 15-68 tells of cursing for not harkening to the voice of God. God modifies His actions toward man only to correspond with the modified relation sin has introduced. Therefore, as the ruler of the universe, He inflicts the punishment which sin has made necessary.
God’s care and rule is declared over the phenomena of nature, such as over clouds, wind, rain, hail, snow, ice, cold, frost, thunder, lightning, storm, earthquakes, and all other natural events (Acts 14:15-17; Matt. 5:45). The beasts of the field, and the birds of the air are said to be carefully watched over by Him. But men are His special care. He provides the food for their bodies, and in a peculiar way watches and rules over their souls and lives. This He does with respect to the wicked, as well as the good. His care extends to individuals, to families, to nations, and throughout the world. It appears not in great events only, but in those exceeding small (the electronic microscope reveals the atoms, the building blocks of the whole universe).
It is impossible for us to comprehend, much less to explain, the manner of God’s providential action. Ignorance is however, no reason for believing that it does not exist. The action upon the material universe is more purely mechanical, and governed by the operation of physical law. So far as life of any kind, whether vegetable, animal, or spiritual is concerned, God’s law must still be actively enforced. Although the providential action of God is complicated by the various aspects of the nature of man, it is still consonant with the holiness, justice, and goodness of God. We need to recognize that God acts according to His nature, in acting upon all things according to theirs. Man must have freedom of choice, or he would not be responsible for his actions. But this does not forbid the use of inducements to any specific action, nor the placing of man in circumstances which would influence, or control his acts (Ps. 110:3; Jn. 6:44; I Cor. 4:7). There is a General, Common, or Universal Providence, and a Special, or Particular Providence. By General providence is meant the general care which God takes of the universe and all it contains. By special providence is meant the minute care by which the decreed events of God’s choosing are brought to fruition.
This doctrine magnifies God in His wisdom, power, and sovereignty. It puts Him on His throne where He should be and is – ever and always. There are no crises with God, no perplexing problems to ponder, no forces beyond His control. He moves with majestic step toward the consummation of His eternal purpose in Christ to the praise of His glory.
The true believer is humbled at the sight of such a great God, and his soul is bowed in adoring wonder and worship. This doctrine will save the believer from undue familiarity with God in prayer and other acts of devotion. Some men pray as if God were on their level; to them He is not the August Being the Scriptures represent Him to be. To them He is “the man upstairs.” or other irreverent terms. But the Scriptures say that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.” (Ps 89:7).
It is only upon the basis of these decrees that we can believe that “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28) or pray “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).