We continue our study of Great Doctrines of the Bible by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) by examining chapter 13 entitled, “The Providence of God.”
MLJ defines providence as “that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator upholds all his creatures, is operative in all that transpires in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end” (143). There are three aspects to God’s providence: preservation, governmental, and concurrence.
Preservation means that God is sustaining all of creation by his word of power (Col. 1:17). He continually keeps his work of creation in existence and operation. Psalm 104:28-30 states it this way:
When you [God] give it to them [the creatures He has made], they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
God not only created everything, but it’s by his provision that everything remains, for if he were to hide his face and remove his sustaining activity then all would cease.
The governmental aspect of God’s providence refers to his activity whereby he takes everything to his desired end and purpose. As Daniel 4 clearly says, “He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (v.35).
All of creation is moving toward God’s purposes, and, thankfully, all the power of evil or even the will of man cannot thwart it. MLJ argues, “If we did not believe that God controlled everything, there would be no point in praying– we would not pray for sunshine, we would not pray for rain; we would not pray for health and for the control of disease. Prayer, in a sense, would be ridiculous if we did not believe in the doctrine of providence” (143).
The third aspect of God’s providence is concurrence, which is “the co-operation of God and His divine power with all the subordinate powers according to the pre-established laws of their operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do” (145). Some refer to this as the idea of “second causes.” For example, the laws of nature ensure certain things will happen. If I drop a book, the law of gravity says that book will fall to the ground. I could drop a book 1000 times with the same result each time. So, gravity is the second cause of my book falling, because behind the laws of nature is the Lawmaker himself providently working through the second causes he put in place. Gravity does not work independently of God, which is why it’s referred to as a second cause.
Scripture teaches us that God is the one behind these second causes. Matthew 5:45 says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (see also Psalm 104:20-21). One might say that the sun shines on us because the earth’s spin puts us in position to receive the sunlight. Or, one might say that rain comes when there’s build-up of moisture into clouds that eventually get heavy enough to drop back to the ground. Certainly, the earth’s spin and the build-up of clouds cause sunshine and rain, but they are only secondary causes. God is orchestrating these events to happen according to his will so he can send the sunshine and rain on the just and unjust.
At times, God supersedes the normal laws of nature (since he wrote the laws he’s certainly able to do so). When he does this, we typically call it a miracle. For example, God can heal through secondary causes or miraculously. He gives mankind the ability to figure out how the body works and then create medicine that protects and heals from disease. God can heal someone of cancer through medical treatments such as surgery or radiation. However, he might supersede all the natural processes and heal without any secondary causes…to which we would say God miraculously healed someone. Either way, all the praise and glory go to our God!
Knowing about God’s providence gives utmost confidence in him. If we don’t believe in God’s providence, then promises like Romans 8:28 simply are not realistic. If we don’t believe in God’s providence, then prayer makes little sense. And, if we don’t believe in God’s providence, times of trial and difficulty will be cause for doubt.
Praise God for his providential care for all of his creation, specifically his children!
Next time, we’ll cover chapter 14, “The Creation of Man.”
Other posts in the “Great Doctrines of the Bible” series:
- Mind, Heart, and Will: Examining the Great Doctrines of the Bible
- How Can We Know Anything About God?
- Does the Bible Claim to be Authoritative?
- The Existence and Being of God
- The Warnings and Comforts of God’s Attributes
- A God We Can Trust
- Lloyd-Jones On The Mystery Of The Trinity
- The God Who Knows: The Eternal Decrees of God
- What Does the Bible Say About Angels?
- Who is Satan?
- The Creation of the World