Divine Providence, John Westley Sermon 67
Condensed by Russell Earl Kelly, PHD, August 25, 2018
“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Luke 12:7.
Comments by Russell E Kelly:
Wesley does not define “providence” as God overriding man’s will. Later in this sermon he says that God commands all heaven to “assist” man
in obeying Him.
“Providence” literally means “fore-sight in Latin (pro-video). God knows the end from the beginning, not because He causes all things to happen, but because He is Omniscient and not limited in time. (#6) He “sees” and “knows” (#12, 13) rather than compels.
The real discussion beginss at point #14. Instead of God forcing creation to obey Him, He “manages” it and “co-operates” with it. When Wesley says “God does whatsoever pleases Him” he does not mean as an absolute sovereign. Managing nature includes the life-death cycle where God allows the sparrow to die to feed the raven.
Points 15 and 16 are the most important of the sermon. When God created man in His own image, He gave man free-will to do good or evil. Forcing man to obey would be contrary to God’s character and God cannot go against Himself.
Point 16 “Whereas all the manifold wisdom of God (as well as all his power and goodness) is displayed in governing man as man; not as a stock or stone, but as an intelligent and free spirit, capable of choosing either good or evil.”
In point #18 Wesley says “He takes particular notice of all their tempers, desires, and thoughts, all their words and actions. … Nothing relative to these is too great, nothing too little, for His attention.” In this sermon Wesley never approaches the predominant idea of providence and sovereignty because he is constrained by his thoughts on the image of God in man.
Wesley’s closing words in point #29 only mention God’s peculiar care.
I agree will Wesley on this sermon.
- Divine providence: “That all things, all events in this world, are under themanagement[not direct control] of God.” [manage; point 14]
- … yet the conceptions which most of them entertained concerning it were dark, confused, and imperfect; Yea, the accounts which the most enlightened among them gave, were usually contradictory to each other.
- For only God himself can give a clear, consistent, perfect account
- In the verses preceding the text (even the very hairs of head are numbered) (Lk 12:7), our Lord had been arming his disciples against the fear of man (Lk 12:4). … He guards them farther against it, by the consideration of anover-ruling providence: “sparrows” (Mt 10:29, 30) “Not one of them [sparrows] shall fall on the ground without you Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Note: God does not cause the sparrows to die, but He knows when they die.
- … implying, that nothing is so small or insignificant in the sight of men as not to be an object of the care and providence [foresight] of God
- There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation, which is of deeper importance than this. And, at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood….
- The omnipresent Godsees and knowsall the properties of the beings that he hath made.
- He knowsall the animals of the lower world … He knows all the hearts of the sons of men, and understands all their thoughts: He sees what any … either thinks, or speaks, or does; yea, and all they feel. [the sparrow that falls]
- He is infinite in wisdom as well as in power: And all his wisdom is continually employed inmanagingall the affairs of his creation for the good of all his creatures. … His power being equal to his wisdom and goodness, continually co-operates with them.
And to him all things are possible: He doeth whatsoever pleaseth him, in heaven and earth, and in the sea, and all deep places:
And we cannot doubt of his exerting all his power, as in sustaining, so in governing, all that he has made.
Note: The cycle of life and death affects all life. God “sustains” and “governs” the cycle. Is this how Westley views “govern”? The sparrows that die are not “sustained” – the feed the ravens.
- ONLY he that can do all things else cannot deny himself:He cannot counteract himself, or oppose his own work.
**Note: God limits His own governing power in order to be consistent with His own character.
Were it not for this, he would destroy all sin, with its attendant pain in a moment. He would abolish wickedness out of his whole creation, and suffer not a trace of it remain. But in so doing he would counteract himself; he would altogether overturn his own work, and undo all that he has been doing since he created man upon the earth.
***For he created man in his own image: A spirit like himself; a spirit endued with understanding, with will or affections, and liberty; without which, neither his understanding nor his affections could have been of any use, neither would he have been capable either or vice or virtue. [Without will or affections] He could not be a moral agent, any more than a tree or a stone.
If, therefore, God were thus to exert his power [to override the will], there would certainly be no more vice; but it is equally certain, neither could there be any virtue in the world.
Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence be it spoken), the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. He cannot thus contradict himself, or undo what he has done. He cannot destroy out of the soul of man that image of himself wherein he made him: And without doing this, he cannot abolish sin and pain out of the world. But were it to be done, it would imply no wisdom at all; but barely a stroke of omnipotence. Whereas all the manifold wisdom of God (as well as all his power and goodness) is displayed in governing man as man; not as a stock or stone, but as an intelligent and free spirit, capable of choosing either good or evil.
Notice Wesley use of “assist” rather than “compel.”
Herein appears the depth of the wisdom of God, in his adorable providence; in governing men, so as not to destroy either their understanding, will, or liberty. He commands all things, both in heaven and earth, TO ASSIST man in attaining the end of his being, in working out his own salvation, so far as it can be done without compulsion, without over-ruling his liberty.
An attentive inquirer may easily discern, the whole frame of divine providence is so constituted as to afford man every possible help, in order to his doing good and eschewing evil, which can be done without turning man into a machine; without making him incapable of virtue or vice, reward or punishment.
- Meantime, it has been remarked by a pious writer, that here is, as he expresses it,a three-fold circle of divine providence, over and above that which presides over the whole universe.
[NOT GENERAL PROVIDENCE OVER INANIMATE CREATION].
We do not now speak of that over-ruling hand which governs the inanimate creation, which sustains the sun, moon, and stars in their stations, and guides their motions;
[NOT GENERAL PROVIDENCE OVER THE ANIMAL WORLD]:
We do not refer to his care of the animal creation, every part of which we know is under His government, “who giveth food unto the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him …
… but we here speak of that superintending providence which regards the children of men. Each of these is easily distinguished from the other, by those who accurately observe the ways of God.
- ALL MANKIND:He careth forthe very outcasts of men: It may truly be said …
- II. Hetakes more immediate care of those that are comprised in the second, the smaller circle; which includes all that are called Christians, all that profess to believe in Christ. … The God whom they even profess to serve, does, in some measure, maintain his own cause; so that the spirits of darkness do not reign [as sovereign] so uncontrolled over them as they do over the heathen world.
- III. Within the third, the innermost circle, are contained only the real Christians; those that worship God, not in form only, but in spirit and in truth. Herein are comprised all that love God, or, at least, truly fear God and work righteousness; all in whom is the mind which was in Christ, andwho walk as Christ also walked. The words of our Lord above recited peculiarly refer to these. It is to these in particular that he says, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” He sees their souls and their bodies; he takes particular notice of all their tempers, desires, and thoughts, all their words and actions. … Nothing relative to these is too great, nothing too little, for His attention. He has his eye continually, as upon every individual person that is a member of this his family, so upon every circumstance that relates either to their souls or bodies …
- … See that you have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. It is so long as you do this that you are the peculiar care of your Father which is in heaven.
Note: Even those nearest God’s will are only under His “peculiar care.” Though far from thorough, I agree with Wesley in this sermon.