Fate or Providence?

The following excerpt is taken from Robert Lewis Dabney’s comprehensive biography of Stonewall Jackson where Dabney briefly explains the clear distinction between the worldly, humanistic, unbiblical worldview of fate and that of the true, biblical doctrine of the providence of almighty God. Dabney is writing to explain Jackson’s vibrant trust in God’s sovereignty coupled with his meticulous, industrious lifestyle. Many would see trusting in God and man’s work ethic has opposing ideas, but Dabney shows us this is not so. Frankly, I’ve never read something so succinct, helpful and clear on this topic, so I’ve decided to highlight it here.

An Unbiblical View: Fatalism

“The doctrine of fate is, that all events, including the acts of free agents, are fixed by an immanent physical necessity in the series of causes and effects themselves; a necessity as blind and unreasoning as the tendency of the stone towards the earth, when unsupported from beneath; a necessity as much controlling the intelligence of God as of creatures; a necessity which admits no modification of results through the agency of second causes, but renders them inoperative and passive as the mere stepping-stones of inevitable progression.

The Biblical View: Providence

The doctrine of Providence teaches that the regular, natural agency of second causes is sustained, preserved , and regulated by the power and intelligence of God, and that, in and through that agency, every event is directed by his most wise and holy will, at once according to his plans and to the laws of nature which He has ordained.

Fatalism tends to apathy, to absolute inaction; a belief in the Providence [taught in] the scriptures, to intelligent and hopeful effort. It does not overthrow, but rather establishes the agency of second causes; for it teaches that God’s method and rule of effectuating events only through them (save in the case of miracles), is as steadfast as His purpose to carry out His decree.

Hence this faith produces a combination of courageous serenity, with cheerful diligence in the us of means. Jackson was as laborious as he was trustful, and laborious precisely because he was trustful. Everything that preparation, care, forecast, and self-sacrificing toil could do to prepare and earn success he did. And therefore it was that God, without whom “The watchman waketh but in vain,” usually bestowed success. His belief in the superintendence of God was equal to his industry.”1


Consider also, in closing, the two questions and answers taken from the Heidelberg Catechism dealing with the Lord’s providence––

“What do you understand by the providence of God? (Question 27)

God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.

What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by his providence? (Question 28)

We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love; for all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move”.

1Dabney, R. Lewis. (1866). Life and campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson. New York: Blelock & Co.. pp 99-100.

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