[B08] The Apostles' Creed: God's Providence

One of the truths we all need to learn more fully, more realistically, is that this is God’s world. In theory all Christians hold this to be true, but it is not as living a faith as it ought to be. It does not affect our lives, our conduct, as vitally as it should. In fact, we associate God with this world and its affairs but little more, probably in many instances not as much, as we do the architect and the house for which, ten or twenty years ago, he drew the plans, and supervised the construction. Like St. Paul and Luther we need to learn to see God more clearly everywhere in His world. He is still the owner of it. His autograph is written all over it. He still keeps it by the constant going forth into all its parts of His almightiness.

Table of Contents

8. God’s Providence

Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, and Thou preservest them all. — [Neh.] 9:6.

Come and see the works of God…. He ruleth by His power forever; His eyes behold the nations; let not the rebellious exalt themselves. — [Ps.] 66:5, 7.

We have given some thought to the wonders of creation. We believe the teaching of Scripture that the existence of all things is due to a creative act, or a series of creative acts, of almighty God. But the thoughtful person has not gotten rid of all difficulties when he has settled for himself the great question of the beginning of things. We recognize that we are living in, are, indeed, a part of, a wonderfully intricate universe. Everywhere there are laws, forces, operating. Everywhere continual changes are going on. But with all the change there is regularity, perpetuity, and identity discernible in creation. In all this we have a second wonder little, if any, less remarkable and mysterious than that of the origin of things itself.

How shall we account for the continued orderly, active existence of all things? There are mysteries here which no reach of human mind can approach and solve. Sir William Hamilton says, “A God that man could understand would be no God. And a world that man could understand would be a toy.” What is this but another way of repeating the prophet’s words, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” But in this, as in all other things good for us to know, we are not left in the dark as to the needful essentials. Nature gives us some hints as to the solution of the problem. And many minds on which the light of Revelation never shone have come to the logical conclusion that only the same infinite Power which brought forth this world could keep it, and produce the results with which we are acquainted. Revelation confirms this. It tells us that God the creator is also the keeper and ruler of that which He created.

The continuous exertion of almighty power by which God keeps in regular working order the things He created is set forth in various terms in the holy Scriptures. In the language of the Church, we usually call this Divine presence in nature, and control over it, by the name of Providence. In this term Providence two thoughts are included neither of which dare be overlooked, nor yet confounded. They are these, God preserves the world He created, and He governs it. Accordingly, we will take as our subject the profound, but comforting, truth that God preserves and governs His world.

This Is God’s World and He Preserves It

One of the truths we all need to learn more fully, more realistically, is that this is God’s world. In theory all Christians hold this to be true, but it is not as living a faith as it ought to be. It does not affect our lives, our conduct, as vitally as it should. In fact, we associate God with this world and its affairs but little more, probably in many instances not as much, as we do the architect and the house for which, ten or twenty years ago, he drew the plans, and supervised the construction. Like St. Paul and Luther we need to learn to see God more clearly everywhere in His world. He is still the owner of it. His autograph is written all over it. He still keeps it by the constant going forth into all its parts of His almightiness.

There is an usurper in God’s universe. And just as a false claimant for one of the thrones of earth brings confusion and suffering, so does the usurper in God’s world bring confusion and suffering. This note of discord, the friction, suffering, and death resultant therefrom, is found in every sphere of which we have any knowledge. It is found in the world of matter; it is found in man, and affects him in body and soul. But these things do not belong to Satan. He claims them. He offered to give them all to Christ if He would serve him. But this was but one of the numerous progeny of lies of which he is the father. This world, in the most emphatic and absolute sense, belongs to God.

And God has His world in charge. There are those who exalt the laws of nature into deities. Others would not dethrone God, or rob Him of the honor of creating all things; but believe that He originally established the laws regulating all creatures, and impressed on these laws so permanently their character and operative force, that it is no longer necessary for Him to interfere in the affairs of the world. That this view is not Biblical need not be told those who know their Bibles. God did not only originally create things, but to His sustaining hand all things owe their continued existence. God is just as truly and vitally connected with the preservation of the world as He was with its production.

As St. Augustine said a millennium and a half ago, God is not a workman who completed His work, and then turned it over to some one else. Much less did He turn it over to an impersonal, irrational, mechanical force. God is not an absentee landlord. He is not a mere spectator of the universe He brought forth. By a continuous exercise of His omnipotent will, by a steady giving forth of His almighty power, God sustains what He once brought forth. St. Paul, writing to the Colossians, after telling them, in chapter one, that Christ was the image of the invisible God, the creator of all things, says: “And by Him all things consist,” that is, hold together, or continue in being.

What do men gain in an intellectual way but confusion by taking away God from their thoughts of the world’s preservation? They have to make law, which they spell with a capital “L,” equivalent to the Biblical conception of God, which bemuddles the mind, for, outside of God, law has no personality, no intelligence, no faculty for self-direction. We avoid all these befuddling subterfuges of unbelief, or of self-vaunting reason, when we follow the teaching of Jesus, and account for the world, both as to its creation and preservation, by ascribing it directly to God’s own personal activity.

All things great and small outside of God Himself are creatures. Creatures have no independent existence. They are not self-originated. They have no power within of self-sustentation. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Without God there could be no life, without Him no life can continue. Without God no stalk of grass could grow, no flower bloom. We speak of our human volitions, of our doing this or that, or refusing to do this or that, because we willed to do, or not to do, certain things. We have the power to will, and within certain limits, to execute our volitions; but without God’s presence, and the constant operation of God’s sustaining power we could not take a step, raise a hand, or draw a breath. And that which is true of man is true of all creatures. God clothes the grass, it is said; He gives it its form and fashion; He paints the rose, and puts the perfume in the arbutus. God does not only preserve the earth as a whole, but each part of it; just as He created the whole by creating the separate parts. Supercilious human wisdom smiles disdainfully at such a faith as this, but it is what God Himself teaches; and we, with childlike simplicity, accept it.

What a different conception men generally would have of God, what a different relationship they would sustain to Him, if, instead of thinking of God as a King enthroned in some far off unknown sphere, or as One who occasionally draws near to his people, at times of public service, for instance, or in seasons of dire distress, they lived in the consciousness of God’s abiding presence, and recognized the working of His power in all things. Luther said, the world is full of God. In the alternation of day and night, in the procession of the seasons, in the trees laden with fruit, in the fields waving with golden grain, in storm and sunshine, we ought to see the operation, not of a blind, unfeeling force; but of a force which is the outgoing of the wisely and lovingly directed will of Almighty God. How differently most of us would feel and act if we realized this nearness of the Divine, and that His movements were directed to us personally. Rightly realized, this would make our labor a continual benediction from the hand of God, our suffering would partake of the nature of a sacrifice, and the eating of our daily bread would be almost sacramental.

This Is God’s World and He Governs It

God does not only preserve His creation so that it continues to exist and perform its preordained functions, but He is still present with creation. He has oversight of it, and so controls it that there is a constant gradual unfolding of His plans, and a constant accomplishment of His will. Indeed, so intimate, so real, is God’s administration of the world He has created that it may be appropriately called a continuation of His creative work. This administration of affairs extends from the movements of the spheres to the growth of the grass and the painting of the lily; from world government, and the plan of redemption to counting the tears which fall from the eyes of His afflicted. Jerome was wholly at fault when he taught that God’s greatness precluded His participation in the, so-called, smaller affairs of the world.

The personal administration of God’s affairs is generally considered under the head of general providence, or world-government; and special providence, or the care of his children. It is of the former that we shall here specially treat.

The subject of world-government is a great one, incomprehensibly great. Why, is it not a fact that men, who spend their lives at the task, cannot fully straighten out, and gather up, the loosened ends of the tangled skein of mere human government? There are currents of influence which can be read with approximate correctness only in the light of history. There is always great diversity of opinion among men as to which set of governmental principles will bring the greatest returns in the form of prosperity and happiness to the subjects for whom they are to be administered. What shall we think, then, of that government which includes all governments? which has to do with the control of the myriad spheres which people infinite space? of that government which is the higher law which controls the rise and fall of human empires, and the material well-being of nations? but is concerned also, and concerned especially, with the moral and spiritual forces of the universe?

To add to the complexity of the Divine government, we must bear in mind the problem of human freedom, and the further fact that there is a far-reaching, mighty kingdom the object of which is the defeat of God’s government. And these varied lines of influence, so diverse in their nature, so conflicting in their objects, are surging back and forth in alternating success and failure; but God gathers up the reins, and so controls and overrules them that, at every stage of the conflict, His honor is being vindicated, and His will done. Men are able but imperfectly to see a very small segment of the cycle of events which we call history; but with God a thousand years are as but a day, and He sees that every step in world-affairs is a step toward the ultimate goal He has set.

This is a subject so great that its serious contemplation staggers the human mind. But, fortunately, we are not required fully to comprehend it, only to believe it. The only point which it is essential for our peace of mind, our rest of heart, to grasp is this that God is wholly in charge of His universe; that He has not forsaken it, or us. He who speaks of mere chance or accident blasphemes God. He who knows only the rule of blind, impersonal force has made for himself a god that has no real existence. There are forces at work which we call laws, but they are not self-originated, there is no power within them for self-perpetuation, they are not independently operative; these laws are but the unvarying operation of forces going forth perpetually from the inexhaustible reservoir of God’s own personal power.

All this rests on the firm foundation of God’s revealed truth. “By Him all things consist” (Col. 1:7). If God should, for one moment, withdraw His sustaining hand, the nice adjustments which are the marvels of science; the sustaining and moving forces which are the admiration and dream of the philosophic mind; the beneficent arrangements of a kindly productive nature which give us our sustenance, would all fall into chaos; for God “upholdeth all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:13).

God’s providence, His control of affairs, extends to what we are prone to consider the every day results of natural conditions. The Divine Master tells us with His own lips that it is our Father who is in Heaven that maketh his sun to shine, and the rain to fall (St. Matt. 5:45). And again, that it is He who giveth form and fashion to the springing grass which perisheth in a day (St. Matt. 6:26). Seed time and harvest, summer and winter, are the gifts of God’s hand.

The comforting, heartening, part of all this is that we are assured that all these things, the least together with the greatest, form but the setting, are God’s personally controlled agencies, for carrying out His still higher and final plans for the good of the special objects of His concern, the children of His love — mankind. All things are ours. The heavenly bodies move for us. The sun shines for us. The rain falls for us. The earth was made fruitful for us.

God shall continue to govern thus, suffering some to walk, for a time, in their own ways; overruling a sin-cursed earth, till all enemies are put forever beneath His feet, and His complete sovereignty vindicated, and He, the eternal God, shall be all and in all. Then, around His throne shall be gathered, eternally to praise Him, those who have here learned to know His name, own His power, and adore His grace; and forever it will be given them to enjoy the fruits of the beneficent reign of Him who is the “King of nations” (Jer. 10:7).

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles’ Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0