Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Of Providence

Westminster Confession, Chapter 5- Of Providence
1. God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.
2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first Fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.
5. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God, doth often-times leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.
6. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had; and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, giveth them over to their own lusts, the temptatoins of the world, and the power of Satan; whereby it cometh to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.
7. As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures, so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.
(from Creeds of the Church, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

What is the solution to the never ending earthly troubles we experience on a day by day basis? Faith in the providence of God! God's providence extends over all. The most beautiful reality about providence is that it is practical and good for living our lives. When this truth is embraced by the whole being of man, theology gives way to doxology; or to put it another way, it gives us the ability to walk in hope of the glory of God and to stand confident in Him.

Subsection one teaches us that God has never abandoned His creation. Deists believe God created the world and stepped back to let it run its course. Many so-called Christians today do not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They believe in a makeshift god, a god they have molded into their own desires or wants. The biblical and only true revelation of God, is that He is intricately involved in all the affairs of the universe. He has not "stepped back" to watch things run their natural course. It is true that God created the universe with natural laws, and those laws work according to His wisdom and government. It is God who upholds, governs, directs, and disposes all things from the greatest to the least. God works according to His own council and purpose. He alone is most wise and infallible!

In the second subsection, the confession teaches us about the correlation between what is known as the first cause and the second cause. There is the first cause from which all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; yet in His providence God has ordered those things to come about by the nature of second causes. In those second causes all things come either necessarily, freely, or contingently. Admittedly, this is deep, a mystery we cannot probe the depths of. However, we must not pass over any revelation of Scripture on the basis that it is too much to grapple with. We should be diligent to apply our hearts and minds to everything God has given to us, yet, with that said, we know that we will never be able to explain all things. This is good because we are kept humble, and must continue looking to God in faith. Getting beyond "theological terminology," lets enter into everyday life because that is where the battle is fought. Life is real! We are in a real world and we make real choices. We aren't puppets on a string. God brings out His sovereign plan according to second causes. This does not mean he is uninvolved, but if affirms that He works through them. For example, the Father draws people through their own minds, hearts, and wills. This is connected to the third subsection which teaches us about the means which God uses to bring about His appointed end. Why do we pray? We pray because God has ordained it as a means to an end, namely, communion with Himself. However, it is also true that God can and does work above and beyond His appointed means. Consider the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In fact, all of Jesus' life teaches us that God can work beyond his appointed laws and causes. We in our theological boxes should never limit God. It is not right and it is not safe.
Subsection four brings up the issue of evil in the world. This is possibly the hardest thing to grasp in relation to the providence of God. How and in what way does God's providence relate to evil? Does God permit evil? The answer is yes, He however does not just permit evil to happen. He has an end or purpose for which evil exists. Consider the teaching of Scripture, "The Lord has made all things for Himself even the wicked for the day of destruction," and "Does calamity come upon a city unless the Lord has done it." Many are the scriptural proofs helping us to make some sense of evil. Though God permits evil and though He has a purpose for it, He himself is not the author or instigator of evil. He cannot be or He would not be good, holy, and pure. The book of James teaches that God does not tempt nor can He be tempted by evil.

In subsection five, the Westminster Divines bring up the issue of chastening. God in His providence allows His own children to stray. In His good purposes God does at times allow for His children to go into sin. A believers sin causes a loss of fellowship and intimacy with God. In sin believers are left feeling alone, cold in their hearts and affections, and inclined to continue in their sin. This at the time is not pleasant but is used by God to humble us and to show us our desperate standing without His grace. As the book of Hebrews says, "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (Heb. 12:5-11)."

Concerning the hardening of the unregenerate heart, God passes over certain individuals, allowing them to go the way of their corruption. For these people, God has not shown His regenerating power, eternal blessings, or irresistible grace. He turns them over to their own hearts. As the gospel goes out, some will turn away in their sin never to believe.

The church is blessed with God's special providence. In His providence, God takes care of His Church. This is a special point of interest. Romans eight teaches, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth (Romans 8:28-31)." The church is made up of God's elect. They are those for whom Christ died. Who takes care of our lives? It is God! It is God who works to save His people, keeps them from the evil one, and uses them to bring the Kingdom. This is the joy of the church the hope of God's salvation. The church will never be left to herself and this hope will never die.

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