Thomas Watson (roughly 1620-1686) was ‘one of the most concise, racy, illustrative, and suggestive of those eminent divines who made the Puritan age the Augustan period of evangelical literature. There is a happy union of sound doctrine, heart-searching experience and practical wisdom throught all his works’ (Spurgeon).
The following is abstracted from Watson’s A Body of Divinity.
There is a providence
There is no such thing as blind fate, but there is a providence that guides and governs the world.
What this providence is
Providence is God’s ordering all issues and events of things, after the counsel of his will, to his own glory.
The providence of God is “Regina mundi”, ‘the queen and governess of the world’: it is the eye that sees, and the hand that turns all the wheels in the universe. God is not like an artificer that builds a house, and then leaves it, but like a pilot he steers the ship of the whole creation.
God providence reaches, (a) to all places, Jer 23:23; (b) to all persons, but especially the godly, 1 Pet 5:7; (c) to all affairs and occurrences in the world, Psa 75:7; 147:9; Mt 10:30.
Suppose you were in a smith’s shop, and should see there several sorts of tools, some crooked, some bowed, others hooked, would you condemn all these things, because they do not look handsome? The smith makes use of them all for doing his work. Thus it is with the providences of God; they seem to us to be very crooked and strange, yet they all carry on God’s work.
God’s people are sometimes low. It seems to be out of order that they who are best should be in the lowest condition; but there is much wisdom in this providence, as appears thus: 1. Perhaps the hearts of the, godly were lifted up with riches, or with success; now God comes with a humbling providence to afflict them and fleece them. Better is the loss that makes them humble than the success that makes them proud. Again. 2. If the godly were not sometimes afflicted, and suffered an eclipse in their outward comforts, how could their graces be seen, especially their faith and patience? If it were always sunshine we should see no stars; so if we should have always prosperity, it would be hard to see the acting of men’s faith.
The wicked flourish. This seems to be very much out of order; but God, in his providence, sees good sometimes that the worst of men should be exalted; that they may do some work for God, though it be against their will. Isa x 7. God will be in no man’s debt.
He makes use of the wicked sometimes to protect and shield his church; and sometimes to refine and purify it. ‘Thou hast ordained them for correction.’ Hab i 12. As if the prophet had said, Thou hast ordained the wicked to correct thy children. Indeed, as Augustine says well, ‘We are beholden to wicked men, who against their wills do us good,’ As the corn is beholden to the flail to thresh off its husks, or as the iron is beholden to the file to brighten it, so the godly are beholden to the wicked, though it be against their will, to brighten and refine their graces.
God in his providence permits men’s sins. ‘He suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.’ Acts xiv 16. God permitted their sin, which he never would, if he could not bring good out of it. Had not sin been permitted, God’s justice in punishing sin, and his mercy in pardoning sin, had not been so well known. The Lord is pleased to permit it, but he has no hand in sin.
God does not infuse evil into men, he withdraws the influence of his graces, and then the heart hardens of itself; even as the light being withdrawn, darkness presently follows in the air; but it were absurd to say, that therefore the light darkens the air; and therefore you will observe, that Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart. Exod viii 15.
Providences, which are casual and accidental to us, are pre-determined by the Lord. You have a clear instance of this in I Kings xxii 34. ‘A certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness.’ This accident was casual as to the man that drew the bow; but it was divinely ordered by the providence of God.
God’s providence is greatly to be observed, but we are not to make it the rule of our actions…Providence is a Christian’s diary, but not his Bible.
God is to be trusted when his providences seem to run contrary to his promises. God promised to give David the crown, to make him king; but providence ran contrary to his promise. David was pursued by Saul, and was in danger of his life, but all this while it was David’s duty to trust God. Pray observe, that the Lord by cross providences often brings to pass his promise. God promised Paul the lives of all that were with him in the ship; but the providence of God seemed to run quite contrary to his promise, for the winds blew, the ship split and broke in pieces. Thus God fulfilled his promise; upon the broken pieces of the ship they all came safe to shore. Trust God when providences seem to run quite contrary to promises.
The providences of God are chequer-work, they are intermingled. In the life to come there shall be no more mixture; in hell there will be nothing but bitter; in heaven nothing but sweet; but in this life the providences of God are mixed, there is something of the sweet in them, and something of the bitter. Providences are just like Israel’s pillar of cloud, that conducted them in their march, which was dark on one side and light on the other. In the ark were laid up the rod and manna, so are God’s providences to his children; there is something of the rod and something of the manna; so that we may say with David, ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment.’ When Joseph was in prison there was the dark side of the cloud; but God was with Joseph, there was the light side of the cloud.
The same action, as it comes from God’s providence, may be good, and as it comes from men may be evil. For instance, Joseph being sold into Egypt by his brethren was evil, very wicked, for it was the fruit of their envy; but as it was an act of God’s providence it was good; for by this means Jacob and all his family were preserved alive in Egypt. Another instance is in Shimei’s cursing David. Shimei cursed David, it was wicked and sinful, for it was the fruit of his malice; but as his cursing was ordered by God’s providence, it was an act of God’s justice to punish David, and to humble him for his adultery and murder. As the crucifying of Christ came from the Jews, it was an act of hatred and malice to Christ; and Judas’s betraying him was an act of covetousness; but as each was an act of God’s providence, so there was good in it; for it was an act of God’s love in giving Christ to die for the world.
The providence of God keeps the whole creation upon the wheels, or else it would soon be dissolved, and the very axletree would break in pieces.
His providence is his master-wheel that turns these lesser wheels…It may be, we think sometimes we could order things better if we had the government of the world in our hands; but alas! should we be left to our own choice we should choose those things that are hurtful for us…Let us be content that God should rule the world; learn to acquiesce in his will, and submit to his providence.
You that are Christians, believe that all God’s providence shall conspire for your good at last. The providences of God are sometimes dark, and our eyes dim, and we can hardly tell what to make of them; but when we cannot unriddle providence, let us believe that it will work together for the good of the elect. Rom viii 28. The wheels in a clock seem to move contrary one to the other, but they help forward the motion of the clock, and make the larum strike: so the providences of God seem to be cross wheels; but for all that, they shall carry on the good of the elect. The pricking of a vein is in itself evil and hurtful; but as it prevents a fever, and tends to the health of the patient, it is good; so affliction in itself is not joyous, but grievous; but the Lord turns it to the good of his saints. Poverty shall starve their sins, and afflictions shall prepare them for a kingdom. Therefore, Christians, believe that God loves you, and that he will make the most cross providences to promote his glory and your good.