Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. David Fagrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD
27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
The word providence means “to see beforehand” or “to provide for.” God knows everything before it happens, because in His eternal counsel He planned everything (Palm 33:10-11; Acts 15:18). “I am God, and there is none like Me… I have planned it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-10). God’s providence (or sovereignty) is His almighty and everywhere present power upholding and working “all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Dan. 4:35; Prov. 21:1). God ordinarily works according to the order He has established in nature “as when He sustains us by food and heals us of disease by medicine [Isaiah 38:21]” (Ursinus). God can also work in a manner different than the established order of nature, as when He does His miracles, like parting the Red Sea, or turning water into wine.
The greatest miracle is redemption from sin through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit. God’s providence includes all things–herbs and grass (Psalm 104:14), rain and drought (Amos 4:7), fruitful and barren years (Hab. 3:17), meat and drink (Acts 14:17), health and sickness (Ex. 15:26), riches and poverty (1 Sam. 2:7)–even things that appear to happen randomly or by chance (Ex. 21:13; 1 Kings 22:34; Prov. 16:33). Jesus said not even a sparrow “falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matt. 10:29). Whatever happens, “whether it be good or bad, comes to pass not by chance, but by the eternal counsel of God, producing it if it be good, and permitting it if it be evil” (Ursinus). God permits evil for the good of His chosen people. So, Joseph could say to his brothers, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
28. What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds, all things?
That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.
Knowing that God controls all things by His providence has three practical benefits for us as God’s children: (1) it helps us to exercise patience in adversity: “in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75). (2) It helps us to be thankful in prosperity: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other” (Eccl. 7:14). (3) It helps us not to worry but to trust our Father’s perfect plan for our future (Jer. 29:11; Matt. 6:25-34). No creature shall separate us from God’s love in Christ, since all creatures do only what God “determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). We cannot suffer any harm except what God permits. Then He makes that harm work for our good. “He who did not spare His Own Son… how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).