That is a question for the ages, isn’t it? Most of us, I’m sure, have heard that term used our entire lives as Christians and as Constitutional Patriots. But what is “Divine Providence”, really, and has it changed the course of mankind’s history over the ages? The Christian blog, “GOT QUESTIONS”, answers the question, “What is Divine Providence?” as follows:
“Divine Providence is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe. The Doctrine of Divine Providence asserts that God is in complete control of ALL things. He is sovereign over the universe as a whole (Psalm 103-19), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Psalm 4:8). This doctrine stands in direct opposition to the idea that the universe is governed by chance or fate.”
Our Founding Generation pondered this concept and accepted the reality of “Divine Providence”, and it’s obvious that this doctrine helped formulate the political concepts that led them, with God’s direction (His ‘Divine Providence), to establish this unique, this imperfect, this special, this God blessed nation in which we Americans, whether we call ourselves Christians or something else, have been blessed to live. Ben Franklin, the senior Statesman and a Founding Father during the Constitutional Convention, on June 28, 1787, reflected for the ages:
“I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth---that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice,
is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”
I have stood several times in the very room, in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, now called INDEPENDENCE HALL, where Franklin posed that penetrating question. To be in the same room where the ‘great ones’ of our early history debated what kind of ‘future’ they would bequeath to their descendants—to us—always made me feel both humbled and awed. To realize that the Constitutional Republic that those wise men, with their spirit of compromise and trust in that very “Divine Providence”, birthed right where I stood, always brought tears to my eyes. It still does.
Our Bible teaches us that God, through His “Divine Providence”, accomplishes His perfect will for human history. We are taught that to assure that His purposes are always fulfilled, He governs the affairs of men and uses His natural, created order, which we call “the laws of nature”. These laws, by themselves, have no power inherent to them, but they ARE the eternal principles that our Creator has set in place to assure that HIS universe, and everything therein, works normally. God’s “laws” are only called “laws” because our Creator God decreed them into existence from the beginning.
Some Christians contend that our Creator God had no “input” into the formation of the United States of America back in 1787, and that it was strictly human “free will” that established our country originally. Of course, mankind does have “free will”, but those of us who are Christians understand that God is SOVEREIGN; “We know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Does God mean “all things”, in His Word? Yes, He means ALL things, for He is NEVER out of control. Those of us who know history realize that the future of the U.S.A. was PRAYED OVER, debated, compromised, codified, written, signed, and sent out for ratification to the several States that had been struggling to survive under the Articles of Confederation.
It had been 15 years since the first blow for freedom had been struck in the sinking of HMS Gaspee in 1772, and 12 years since “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was fired on April 19, 1775. But in God’s “Divine Providence”, the history of Americans in general, and HIS people in particular, began long before those momentous events. God’s Providence, His Divine Miracles, led to the successful formation of our Republic, and assured that millions of men and women who lived long after these events (including my wife, my kids, and my grandchildren), would be granted that life by one of God’s true and recorded miracles, which occurred during a raging storm in 1620 on the churning Atlantic Ocean, from the deck of a 90 foot sailing ship, a worn and decrepit freighter converted into a passenger ship named MAYFLOWER.
Our Thanksgiving Holiday will be here before we know it. I suggest that it’s proper for those who have some sense of history to think of the struggles and sacrifices of the Mayflower Pilgrims who have become inextricably interwoven with the history of “Thanksgiving”. Surely we all have many reasons to “give thanks” to our Creator—to our LORD and Savior—for all of His blessings upon us individually, and despite the apparent political turmoil around us, upon our nation. Millions of people alive today, including my own wife, kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, have reason to be thankful for one of God’s real miracles—for having been included in His “Divine Timetable”, for without it they would not be here—they would never have lived!
My late mother-in-law was an excellent genealogist, and traced her own family lines back to King Alfred the Great in late 9th century England. Some of her lines traced back to three Christian Separatists who traveled to the bleak shores of North America on the Mayflower during that harrowing 66 day voyage across the stormy Atlantic. One of them, a young indentured servant named John Howland, almost didn’t make the entire voyage, and was a “hairsbreadth” away from drowning. The past surely dictates the future, and had John Howland drowned, his “future”, and our recent history, would have been profoundly different, because he would have died childless, and my wife would never have been born. Neither would millions of others, including some well known people whose names are part of American history.
We in the 21st century can only imagine with a degree of incredulity and a bit of horror the living conditions inside the Mayflower, with 102 passengers and about 30 crewmen crammed into very small spaces. One passenger and one crewmember died during the voyage to The New World (one baby was born), and John Howland almost became the third fatality. But God, in His “Providence”, willed otherwise. Of the 102 “Saints and Strangers” aboard Mayflower, only perhaps half of them were committed “Separatists”, Christians who belonged to Pastor John Robinson’s congregation in Leiden, Holland, to which they had fled (first to Amsterdam for a year or so, and then to Leiden for about 11 years) to escape persecution by the Church of England. The others were recruited by The London Merchant Adventurers, mostly in England, before the final voyage to “New Plimoth”, and were a mixed bag of military and trades people whose skills would be needed to establish a new colony. These “Strangers” were not “separatists” like members of Pastor Robinson’s congregation were, and most were probably either non-Christians or only nominal Christians at the time.
After a serious delay caused by the unseaworthiness of a smaller companion vessel named “Speedwell” (which was to have accompanied Mayflower to The New World with more separatists, but couldn’t), the voyage finally began late in the sailing season. Mayflower sailed alone, and as William Bradford later wrote in his great journal, “Of Plimouth Plantation”, her 102 passengers “…left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place near twelve years (Leiden); but they knew they were “pilgrims”, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”
Several weeks into the voyage, with storms and rough seas becoming common, and with seasickness and poor sanitation almost overwhelming them, John Howland decided, during one violent storm when the Mayflower was at sea anchor, to go up onto the deck in violation of Captain Jones’ orders to stay below decks. Just then a huge wave struck Mayflower, causing Howland to lose his balance and fall overboard into the frigid Atlantic. The crews’ shouts of “man overboard” were almost lost in the howling wind, but God’s “Providential Miracle” took control. As Howland sank beneath the water, his hand grasped a topsail halyard (rope) that had been trailing (providentially) beneath the water. He grasped that rope with all his strength as the crewmen pulled him back to the side of the ship, and then thrust a boathook into his coat, thereby hauling him up over the rail to safety. Howland was ill for a few days, but lived a long life, dying in 1672, aged about 80 (I’ve been to his grave in Plymouth, Mass.). Every Pilgrim on board claimed it was “the hand of God that reached out and saved him”. Was it pure happenstance, or God’s Providential Miracle? I know what I believe. What do you think?
People have asked, ever since the time of the Pilgrims, what impelled them to embark on such a potentially dangerous venture, which ultimately caused the deaths of about half of them by the end of the first terrible winter of 1620/21? Here is what Governor William Bradford later wrote as the most compelling reason of all: “Lastly (and which was not the least), a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
Apparently, these “Pilgrims” were willing to be just an “advance guard” for others to follow and complete the work to which these “separatists” were all committed, accepting the risks and dangers involved, as they began to build God’s “City Set Upon a Hill”. Just as obviously, they believed the Apostle Paul’s assurance, in Philippians 1:6, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion….” These Pilgrims knew, and faithful Christians today also know, that our Triune God, our Creator, IS in control of all things, and that He is sovereign over ALL things (for if he is not, then He is NOT God). Let us as Christians rejoice and give genuine thanks on this upcoming special Thanksgiving holiday that our God did bless the efforts of those imperfect but faithful Pilgrims. It will soon be 400 years since the voyage of Mayflower in 1620 and the planting of the first colony that honored God in the New World. Let us also pray that 400 years from now, our descendants will “give thanks” that we did all we could to preserve the legacy of the Pilgrims. That responsibility is ours. Let’s not disappoint the future; let’s not be so apathetic in preserving our, and our future’s freedoms, that our far off descendants will CURSE US for having condemned them to a life of socialist tyranny and mediocrity!