“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”
We have seen that God is actively sovereign over all that happens in His creation such that whatever comes to pass comes about through His working all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). In other words, the Lord has a decree that establishes what takes place in time, and He executes this decree or plan in His works. The works through which God executes His decree, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s summary of biblical, Reformation doctrine, are His works of creation and providence (WSC 8). Having considered the Lord’s work of creation, we may now move on to our study of His work of providence.
As we look to Scripture, we see that the divine work of providence can be subdivided into divine preservation and divine governance (see WSC 11). When we speak of God’s providential activity of preservation, we are referring to His sustaining of the existence of all created things. One of the most significant distinctions between our Creator and His creation is that while He is self-existent, His creation is not. God derives His very being a se—from Himself. He depends on nothing else for His existence and, in fact, it is impossible for Him not to exist. He has the power of being in Himself, and all else that exists does so only because He grants being or existence to it.
All of that is a more complicated philosophical way of saying that creation does not and cannot exist on its own. Not only does it depend on God for the beginning of its existence, but it depends on the Lord for its continuing existence. If God were to decide anything in creation should not exist anymore, it would immediately vanish into nothingness. Everything that exists in creation exists only because He preserves its very being.
God’s providential preservation is taught in many places in Scripture. In today’s passage, for example, Nehemiah confesses that the Lord preserves heaven and earth and everything in them (Neh. 9:6). Hebrews 1:3 explains that God “upholds the universe by the word of his [Son’s] power.” Contrary to the belief of many people, then, the universe is not a self-sustaining system. It would not be here if there were no God to preserve it. Moreover, none of us would be here either. We are radically dependent beings who live and move and have our being only on account of the good pleasure of God. We owe everything that we have and are to His sustenance.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism that whatever “is in heaven and upon the earth, is daily given, preserved, and kept for us by God”; thus, “it is our duty to love, praise, and thank Him for it without ceasing.” Knowing that God preserves all things, even our very existence, should motivate us to a life of thankfulness. We should seek to be continually grateful to God for all that He has given to us. Without Him, we would have nothing.