I want to show that it is a no-risk view of providence which alone retains the integrity of the Christian faith in terms of its internal coherence and the comprehensive respecting of the biblical data regarding God’s sovereignty. Here are just a few sample texts which affirm God’s absolute rule, which is accounted for by a no-risk view of providence: the entire universe, all of nature, angels and even Satan, all of the nations, every human person and his/her choices, every animal and its choices, all events that appear to be “accidental,” all the sinful acts of man and Satan.
Here is part of an account of an incident involving General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s chaplain, the Confederate officer, Dr. Robert Lewis Dabney:
Dr Dabney rode with General Jackson into the very thickest of the fight, on many a hard fought field. The men used to say of their soldier-preacher, “He does not mind it any more than we do.” The gallant Major Nelson frequently met Dr. Dabney and discussed with him his doctrine of “Special Providence,” and when on one occasion he heard him directing his men who were under heavy fire to shield themselves as far as possible behind trees and a convenient stone wall he rode up to him and with a graceful military salute said, “Major Dabney, every shot and shell and minnie strikes just where the Lord permits. And you must excuse me, sir, for expressing my surprise that you are directing your men to shelter behind trees and a stone wall and to put such things between themselves and Special Providence.” But Dr. Dabney promptly replied: “Why Major, you do not understand the doctrine of ‘Special Providence.’” I believe it and teach it with all of my heart but I look upon the trees and that stone wall as a very “special Providence” for the men at this time and I am simply acting on the doctrine when I direct them to avail themselves of these “Special providences.” Major Nelson was convinced and accepted the doctrine of “Special Providence” as Dr. Dabney expounded it.
This account reveals two things about the doctrine of “Special Providence.” First, how common a view it was at that time (although not necessarily in such an Augustinian form) and second, how misunderstood it was then, as now, as being a Christianised version of Stoic fate. Major Nelson was under the misapprehension that the doctrine would lead to idle thinking and idle action (both, interestingly, denied by the Stoics) and it took Dr. Dabney’s answer to show him that the reverse was true—it energized believers!
I want to show that it is a no-risk view of providence which alone retains the integrity of the Christian faith in terms of its internal coherence and the comprehensive respecting of the biblical data regarding God’s sovereignty. Here are just a few sample texts which affirm God’s absolute rule, which is accounted for by a no-risk view of providence: the entire universe (Ps 103:19; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11), all of nature (Ps 135:6–7; Matt 5:45; 6:25–30), angels and even Satan (Ps 103:20–21; Job 1:12), all of the nations (Ps 47:7–9; Dan 2:20–21; 4:34–35), every human person and his/her choices (Exod 3:21; 12:26–36; 1 Sam 2:6–8; Ezra 7:27; Gal 1:15–16), every animal and its choices (Ps 104:21–30; 1 Kgs 17:4–6), all events that appear to be “accidental” (Prov 16:33; Jon 1:7; Luke 12:6), all the sinful acts of man and Satan (Gen 45:5; 50:20; 2 Sam 24:1; 1 Chr 21:1).
What Is Providence and Why Is It Important?
Both the definition and the pastoral entailments of the classic doctrine of providence are set out in the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):
Question: What do you understand by the providence of God?
Answer: The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, and rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty and everything else come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
Question: What advantage comes from acknowledging God’s creation and providence?
Answer: We learn that we are to be patient in adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and trust our gracious God and Father for the future, assured that no creature can separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand, that without his will they cannot move.