William S. Plumer, 1865


God's providence is over all creatures; over fixed and planetary stars; over angels and devils; over saints and sinners; over animals, and birds, and fish; over globes and atoms; over heat and cold; over war, famine and pestilence; over heaven, earth, and hell. Having enumerated the living creatures that God has made, the psalmist says, "All of them wait for You to give them their food at the right time. When You give it to them, they gather it; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send Your breath, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth." Psalm 104:27-30. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights." James 1:17. "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?" 1 Cor. 4:7. It is because of this universal providence of God that his people cry, "Be not far from me, O Lord—O my strength, hasten to help me." Psalm 22:19. And every pious man cries, "My cup runs over," and "He loads me daily with benefits." Psalm 23:5; 68:19. Where is the man that can number up either his sins; or what are still more numerous, God's mercies to him? Compare Dan. 4:35.

God's providence is also over all the actions of all creatures. If any one could act independently, he would be a God. If Jehovah does not govern a man for a day, that day the man is a God. Independence is one of the essential attributes of Jehovah. Whoever has it is God. To put a single act of any creature beyond divine control would be an admission that besides the Most High there is some other God. Satan could do nothing against the holy man of Uz until the Almighty granted him permission. Job 1:12.

The Bible adopts two methods of teaching the universality of God's providence. In one it asserts it as a great truth. "He is a great King over all the earth." Psalm 47:2. "His kingdom rules over all." Psalm 103:19. "By him all things are held together." Col. 1:17. "He upholds all things by the word of his power." Heb. 1:3. "He has on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords." Rev. 19:16. To him death and hell have no covering. Job 26:6.

Again the Scripture descends to particulars, and declares that over each being and event, God exercises sovereign control. "Can the One who shaped the ear not hear; the One who formed the eye not see? The One who instructs nations, the One who teaches man knowledge—does He not discipline?" Psalm 94:9-10. He never slumbers, nor sleeps, nor goes on a journey. He is ever awake. His ear is ever open to the cry of his people. He is never sick, never weary. He faints not. His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. He numbers the very hairs of our heads. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without his notice. He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heaven. "He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When God fixed the weight of the wind and limited the water by measure, when He established a limit for the rain and a path for the lightning." Job 28:24-26. He directs journeys and makes them prosperous. 1 Thes. 3:11; Romans 1:10. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man. Psalm 104:14. He does not cattle to decrease. Psalm 107:38. He "covers the sky with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, and causes grass to grow on the hills. He provides the animals with their food, and the young ravens, what they cry for." Psalms 147:8-9

He calls the stars by their names. He marshaled all the host of heaven. He spreads the clouds in the heaven. He is the father of the rain. He clothes the grass. He gives snow like wool. He scatters the hoarfrost like ashes. Who can stand before his cold? He hunts the prey for the lion. He sends out the wild donkey free. He gives the beautiful feathers to the peacock and plumes every fowl of heaven. He gives the horse his strength, and clothes his neck with thunder. He shuts up the sea with doors that it breaks not forth. He enters into the springs of the sea. He knows the place and the bounds of light and of darkness. Angels, men, sun, moon, stars, fiery meteors, the heavens, the waters beneath us, dragons, fire, hail, snow, vapor, stormy winds, mountains, hills, trees, beasts, cattle, creeping things, flying fowl, kings, counselors, senators, all people, young men and maidens, old men and children, lightning and earthquakes—all, all obey his voice and do his will.

Nothing ever goes beyond his grasp. Under his control the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the prudent, nor favor to men of skill. Promotion comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south—but God is judge of all. Whom he will, he exalts; whom he will, he abases; whom he will, he kills; whom he will, he makes alive. As a partridge sits upon eggs and hatches them not, so is man in all his cares and toils without God's blessing. Under his government a horse is a vain thing for safety, nor shall he deliver any by his great strength. He delights not in the power of a man. Without him nothing is holy, without him nothing is wise, without him nothing is strong. He is a rock.

To us many things happen by chance. We neither foresee nor design them. We neither expect nor desire them. To us much is accident. The Scriptures so admit. Deut. 22:6; 1 Sam. 6:9; 2 Sam. 1:6; Luke 10:31. Indeed, the Bible says in so many words that time and chance happen to all. Eccles. 9:11. But to God, everything is part of a universal plan. "The lot is cast into the lap—but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." Proverbs 16:33. When the cup of Ahab's iniquity was full, and God determined to call him to judgment, a man "drew a bow at a venture, and smote him between the joints of the armor;" and he died. God can kill without instruments, or with instruments which seem to us despicable. So also he can save by many, by few, or by none. Under the shadow of his wings the darkest conspiracies can do us no harm. The belief of this made David say, "The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom should I be afraid? When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell. Though an army deploy against me, my heart is not afraid; though war breaks out against me, still I am confident." Psalm 27:1-3. And when he was old he said, "You have covered my head in the day of battle." "By you have I run through a troop—by my God have I leaped over a wall." 2 Sam. 22:30. David always ascribed his victory over the bear and the lion to the wonderful providence of God; and well he should, for he was but a lad when he slew them.

Beza somewhere mentions no less than six hundred wonderful acts of providence towards himself in the troublous times, in which he lived. In that terrible battle, when by his folly and obstinacy Braddock was both defeated and mortally wounded, a savage deliberately aimed his deadly rifle seventeen times against Washington, yet not a ball hit him. Even the Indian was struck with amazement and said, "The great Spirit will not let that man be hurt." Compare 1 Chron. 18:31, and Proverbs 16:7.

Man is immortal until his work is done.

Cyrus was king of Persia and captor of Babylon. Two centuries before his birth God thus spoke concerning him, "I call you by your name, because of Jacob My servant and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things" Isaiah 45:4-7.

Again says God by Amos (3:6) "If a disaster occurs in a city, hasn’t the Lord done it?" Death is God's servant. The pestilence is his rod. The wicked are his sword. Famine is his scourge. If the earth becomes iron and the heavens brass, and glow like a furnace, it is at the bidding of God. If blight and mildew, the caterpillar and the palmer-worm cut off the hope of the farmer, they are the messengers of the Lord Almighty. Death and hell have no power but from him. He carries the keys of them both. He opens and none can shut. He shuts and none can open. His wisdom is unsearchable. There is none like him. His providence is felt everywhere. He rules all men good and bad, great and small. "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." Proverbs 21:1. The reference in this text is to the custom of irrigating gardens by conducting the water in little canals, which can easily be closed, so that the gardener makes the water run in any direction he pleases. In like manner God controls the heart of the king and of every man, as the gardener checks and controls these little rivers of water. Phil. 2:13.

God could not surely defend and protect his people—if their enemies were not within his grasp. It does not impair free agency for God to present an irresistible motive either to a godly man or to a wicked man. With the former the fear of God has power sufficient to restrain him from sin. With the wicked, regard to health, honor, or wealth, have restraining power. In neither case is there a suspension of free agency. If God does not sway the hearts of the wicked so as to secure their doing that which He has determined to effect or permit, are they not independent beings? But the Scripture leaves no room for doubt on this point. Acts 2:23; 4:28; 2 Sam. 17:14. If any man were independent of God, then the promise of Satan to our first parents would be fulfilled, and men would become as gods. But the Scriptures are explicit, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." "A man's heart devises his way—but the Lord directs his steps." "Man's goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his way?" Proverbs 21:1; 16:9; 20:24.

It was the Lord that "turned the heart of the Egyptians to deal harshly with his servants." Psalm 105:25. It is also said of the Jews that the Lord "caused them to be pitied by all who held them captive." Psalm 106:46. Because God controls the free acts of wicked men, it came to pass that the vacillating Pilate, who pronounced Jesus Christ innocent, was yet prevailed on to deliver him to death—but was as firm as a rock in refusing to alter the inscription on his cross, saying, "What I have written, I have written." When Shimei cursed David, that holy man said, "Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him." 2 Sam. 16:11. God took away restraint from the evil heart of that vile dog, and let him loose to bark at the royal fugitive. So the pious Jeremiah devoutly said, "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man, who walks, to direct his steps." Therefore, if men hate and vex us, it is because the Lord removes restraints and lets them loose upon us.

When God planted the Jews in Canaan, he told them that all, who were able, must go up to the holy city three times every year to worship him. They had wicked enemies all around them, who cordially hated them, and desired their extermination. But God said, "Neither shall any man desire your land, when you shall go up to appear before the Lord your God thrice in the year." Ex. 34:24. This promise was well kept in all their generations. But this could only be by Jehovah putting his almighty hand on the hearts of the nations, and softening for the time their animosities against his people. God can make even the worst of men not to wish us any harm, and yet they may all the time be perfectly conscious of free agency. God led Absalom and his coconspirators to choose foolish rather than wise counsel, whereby their wicked plot was utterly defeated. 2 Sam. 17:14. Whenever the Lord wills, "he turns wise men backward." Isaiah 44:25. He causes bad men to punish themselves. Thus sang David, "The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden. The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands" Psalm 9:15, 16.

The punishment of the wicked is thus terribly portrayed, "The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly." Proverbs 5:22, 23. "They that sow to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." Gal. 6:8.

So also God uses the wicked to punish each other, and then for their own wickedness he punishes them. Thus when the Jews apostatized and became sadly degenerate, decreeing unrighteousness and writing grievousness, to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor, that widows might be their prey, and that they might rob the fatherless, God sent a mighty heathen prince to punish them. This is his prophetic address to that haughty and terrible monarch, "Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say—I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood!" Isaiah 10:5, 6, 7, 12, 15.

Thus God "makes the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain." He permitted men and devils to combine for the death of Jesus Christ, yet out of that event he has brought eternal redemption to countless millions, and eternal glory to the Godhead. But when they combined to keep him in the tomb, it was not possible that he should be held of death. Their malice and machinations were impotent. He burst the bars of the grave, arose by his own power and ascended up on high, leading captivity captive. Nor should this doctrine offend any one. When Pilate said to Jesus, "Know you not that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you?" Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above." John 19:10, 11. Nor does this doctrine destroy a just accountability—but rather establishes it. The very next words of Jesus are, "Therefore he who delivered me unto you has the greater sin;" thus clearly declaring that though the sin might seem to him small, yet it was sin.

Indeed if God does not hold the hearts of the wicked in his hands, and entirely control them, how can the pious pray for deliverance from wicked men with any hope that they will be heard and answered? But believing this doctrine, they may well ask God to save them, knowing that if he chooses, he can make their enemies to be their friends, and their persecutors to be their deliverers. This he has often done. This he still does, sending his people's foes bowing unto them. He, who made the raven feed Elijah, can never be at a loss for instruments of good to his chosen people, or of wrath to his enemies. If it was not beneath him to make an insect or a world, it is not beneath him to govern them to wise and holy ends.

If he should resign his control over anything even for an hour, no mortal can trace the consequences. And if he were utterly to forsake any work of his hands, no creature can calculate the mischief that would ensue; for in him we live and move and have our being. So that he alone is "Lord of all." Demons, as tempters, have mighty influence; but the feeblest child of God, clad in innocence, upheld by grace, and guided by Providence—need not fear a million demons. Satan is bound with a chain. He is the proprietor of nothing. Though he is called the God of this world and the spirit that works in the children of disobedience; yet the meaning of such language is that the desires and motives and aims and hearts of the men of this world are pleasing to Satan, who is at the head of the kingdom of darkness, and who sways a scepter of malignant power over the ungodly. Blessed be God, he has not abandoned the world, bad as it is, to the reign of demons.

Nor has God resigned any part of his government to fate or chance, both of which are blind, and have no intelligence, and of course no wisdom. He governs by a plan, which is never altered—simply because it is his plan, and therefore can never be improved. Both fate and chance as agents are nothing, and know nothing, and can do nothing. Over all the earth presides one who has all and infinite perfections. Just such a supreme ruler as the pious mind would desire for all the world, just such a ruler it now has and ever shall have.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit—as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be evermore. Amen.