Puritan Providence

Section II: Theology Proper (Study of God)
Chapter 10 - The Puritans on Providence

Basic teaching
  • God sustains and rules everything He made.  Heidelberg questions 27-28 are a great comfort.  God uses means to govern, but doesn't have to.   
  • God moves all things to the end He has intended for them - His glory.  The flood is a great example of providence.  
  • The world wouldn't stay standing if God stopped exercising His providence.  
  • Providence extends to the details of our lives (Matt. 10:29-30).  
  • God's foreknowledge is exhaustive (Acts 15:18).  
  • We cannot see the whole picture, but we will.  
  • We can study God's providence to us, to increase our gratitude and the performance of our duties.  
  • Providence brings about the conversion of men (Acts 8:26-39; John 4:1-42).

Fighting about Providence
  • Rome asserted that special canonized saints had a power of secondary providence given them by God.  Puritans rejected this.
  • Socinians denied "God's omniscient foreknowledge of future free actions."  Owen opposed this ably in Vindicae Evangelicae.  Descriptions of God repenting are figurative.  It's not an insurmountable contradiction to affirm that God knows and decrees all things, and that we make free choices according to our nature.
  • Arminians denied God rules over man's will, to affirm man's free agency.  Owen said we should affirm both man's free agency, and God's sovereignty over our choices (Prov. 16:1, 9; Dan. 5:23; Ps. 86:11; Matt 16:18).

Questions about Providence
What about laws of nature?  They exist, but it is God working behind it.
What about sin?  God permits it, but isn't responsible for it, doesn't cause it.
Can we know God's will?  We may get "hints and intimations" from circumstances, but they are "no stable rule of duty nor sufficient discovery of the will of God" (170).
Does it matter what we do?  Yes!  We are responsible to do our duty and use what God gives us to serve Him.

Submitting to Providence
This is an area the Puritans excelled.  There is a gold mine of pastoral wisdom here.

  • "We may groan to God, but we must not grumble against God" (171).
  • Satan tries to exploit our uncertainty and doubt in adversity, so we have to be sure what God's promises are and not rely on "wishful thinking."
  • A blacksmith's tools don't look very attractive, but they shape the metal well.  So is God's providence with us.
  • On Romans 8:28: "I may lack a  thing which is good, but not which is good for me" (173).
  • There are several reasons God may send trials: to stir us to obedience, convict us of sin, keep us from sinning, etc.

Considering Providence
  • Think about your personal history, and how God's timing and provision is shown.
  • Connect life events with God's promises and ways in Scripture.
  • Respond properly to events.  Avoid pride, despair, and trying to figure it all out.  Move to commune with God and trusting Him for His past provisions (1 Sam. 17:37).

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