Puzzled by Thomas Watson on Providence

I’m confused, reading the following passage from Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity

II. What this providence is. I answer, Providence is God’s ordering all outcomes and events of things, after the counsel of his will, to his own glory.

[1] I call providence—God’s ordering things, to distinguish it from his decrees. God’s decree ordains things that shall happens, God’s providence orders them.

[2] I call providence the ordering of things after the counsel of God’s will.

[3] God orders all events of things, after the counsel of his will, to his own glory; his glory being the ultimate end of all his actings, and the center where all the lines of providence meet. The providence of God is “the queen and governess of the world.” It is the eye which sees, and the hand which turns all the wheels in the universe. God is not like an artificer who builds a house, and then leaves it—but like a pilot, he steers the ship of the whole creation.

I’m confused at the use of the word ordering/orders. Saying something was ordered by God sounds a lot like saying it was ordained by God, yet Watson seems to think this is the particular point of distinction between God’s decrees and his providence.

Any insight is really helpful – I’ll be teaching the youth at church tomorrow.

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God’s decree is what will happen. God’s providence is how it will happen.

For example, it is God’s decree that a particular individual will be saved. God’s providence is how events are arranged such that the particular individual hears the Gospel and comes to faith.


Joel nailed it, I think. Watson is using “ordered” in a different way than you’re thinking—not as in “commanded,” but as in “arranged.” It almost seems he’s saying that the decree is the “what” and Providence is the “how.”

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Thanks much, both of you. “Arranged” helps a lot, I was thinking of “ordered” as either chronological (not helpful here) or as in giving orders, which is hard to distinguish from ordained.


In place of the word “ordered” substitute “sequenced” and see if it helps.

I’m pretty that’s not quite right, although I haven’t read Watson and don’t know the larger context, so perhaps I’m mistaken on how he is using these terms.

That said, I would understand it this way:

God’s decree ordains what will happen; i.e., it decides everything which will occur in the world.

His providence orders his decree; i.e., his providence is how he causally brings about everything he has ordained.

The reason I understand it this way is that I can’t see Watson speaking of different things with respect to the decree and providence. I.e., I don’t think he’s saying that the decree is only deciding the ends and then providence establishes the means. To distinguish between means and ends is probably incoherent in most cases anyway, since one event can be both.

Rather, when he says “things” he is using the term consistently of everything that happens in creation. God decides those things in advance (decree), then makes them happen via second causes (providence).

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Well, we better solve it quickly, because my guess is @EricWilson is madly checking his phone as we type, to decide what to say as he ends his lesson. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


He’d better be!

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