• Today's Daily Devotion
Sabbath Rest: John Witherspoon’s Providence
Providence. Our modern-day dictionaries define this word as “fate,” “luck,” or “destiny.” Today, its use seems very formal, but ...

Sabbath Rest: John Witherspoon’s Providence

Providence. Our modern-day dictionaries define this word as “fate,” “luck,” or “destiny.” Today, its use seems very formal, but references to Providence appear over and over again in the colonial vernacular. Providence obviously meant much more to the sons and daughters of Puritans than our modern-day definitions. Providence was a name for God, not a flippant reference to good fortune. George Washington used the term many times to explain seemingly unexplainable circumstances. One of the rules of civility taught Washington to speak of God in only the most respectful terms. Providence was a term of respect.

And unlike the deist belief that God created the earth and then washed his hands of any involvement in humanity, the colonists looked for examples of Providence’s intervention in their lives.

“There is not a greater evidence either of the reality or the power of religion, than a firm belief of God’s universal presence, and a constant attention to the influence and operation of his providence,” Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon stated from his Princeton, New Jersey, pulpit. “It is by this means [Providence] that the Christian may be said, in the emphatical scripture language, ‘to walk with God, and to endure as seeing him who is invisible,’” he explained.

Witherspoon was one of the greatest ministers of the revolutionary age. He held a strong belief in the intervention of Providence. After all, Providence had led this Scottish immigrant to America to accept the position of president of Princeton College (now University). Witherspoon had long abhorred mixing the sacred with the secular, but by 1774, he concluded liberty was a spiritual matter, not just a political one. Providence had led him into politics.

Witherspoon delivered his first sermon with political overtones in May 1776. “The doctrine of divine providence is very full and complete in the sacred oracles. It extends not only to things which we may think of great moment, and therefore worthy of notice, but to things the most indifferent and inconsiderable,” he said.

Witherspoon turned to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:29, 30 (KJV): “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

Thus, Witherspoon believed Providence ruled over all his creatures. God had allowed the crisis with England to take place. Providence was guiding the colonies. And in Witherspoon’s own life, Providence guided his path. A month after delivering this message, John Witherspoon was elected to the Continental Congress, just in time to address the issue of independence.


God, I praise you for your providential hand. Thank you for caring about the tiniest details of my life.

“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”

(Matthew 10:31).

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