Tuesday, November 07, 2006

WCF Chapter V: On Providence IV

On Reformation Day, I was thinking about how God had providentially brought together many and varied people, events, and even an invention to bring about the Protestant Reformation of the church. I posted an entry about some of my thoughts which included Chapter V of the Westminster Confession of Faith: On Providence. My friend, MissM, commented:

My head does not understand IV. I believe it because I know God and that He is good and just but I don't fully comprehend it. I need to pull it apart.

So, in the interest of "pulling it apart" I am going to further divide Chapter V, Section IV into even smaller sections so that we can pull it apart together. I do not pretend to have all the answers--far from it! What I will do is provide the text from the section along with the Biblical references provided by the Westminster divines along with some insights I have gleaned from reading G.I. Williamson's classic volumes on The Westminster Confession of Faith and The Shorter Catechism along with other commentaries such as Thomas Vincent's The Shorter Catechism Explained by Scripture.

I expect this to take some time; partly because of the importance and depth of the subject matter and also because of the real life time constraints of every day life. It's a subject that requires care and deserves development, so I'm going to take it nice and slow.

Before we get to that, though, let's begin with some definitions of Providence:

From the Shorter Catechism:

Question 11:

What are God's Works of Providence?

Answer:

God's Works of Providence are His most Holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.

From the American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster, 1828:
PROV'IDENCE, n. [L. providentia.]

1. The act of providing or preparing for future use or application.
Providence for war is the best prevention of it. [Now little used.]

2. Foresight; timely care; particularly, active foresight, or foresight accompanied with the procurement of what is necessary for future use, or with suitable preparation. How many of the troubles and perplexities of life proceed from want of providence!

3. In theology, the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures. He that acknowledges a creation and denies a providence, involves himself in a palpable contradiction; for the same power which caused a thing to exist is necessary to continue its existence. Some persons admit a general providence,but deny a particular providence, not considering that a general providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence, is a source of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is often understood God himself.

4. Prudence in the management of one's concerns or in private economy.

And last, from Vincent's Shorter Catechism explained by Scripture:

XI. Ques. What are God's works of providence?

Ans. God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.

Q. 1. What are the parts of God's providence?

A. The parts of God's providence are—

1. His preservation of things. "O Lord, thou preservest man and beast." — Ps. 36:6.

2. His government of things. "Thou shalt govern the nations upon the earth."— Ps. 67:4.

Q. 2. What is it for God to preserve things?

A. God preserveth things—

1. When he continueth and upholdeth them in their being. "O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven; thou hast established the earth, and it abideth; they continue this day according to thine ordinances."— Ps. 119:89-91.

2. When he maketh provision of things needful for their preservation. "The eyes of all wait upon thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satiafiest the desire of every living thing."— Ps. 145:15-16.

Q. 3. What is it for God to govern things?

A. God governeth things when he ruleth over them, disposeth and directeth them to his and their end. "He ruleth by his power for ever, his eyes behold the nations; let not the rebellious exalt themselves."— Ps/ 66:7. "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."— Prov. 16:9.

Q. 4. What is the subject of God's providence?

A. The subject of God's providence is—

1. All his creatures, especially his children. "Upholding all things by the word of his power."— Heb. 1:3. "His kingdom ruleth over all."— Ps. 103:19. "One sparrow falleth not to the ground without your Father;— ye are of more value than many sparrows."— Matt. 10:29, 31. "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and if God clothe the grass of the field, shall he not much more clothe you ?"— Matt. 6:26, 28, 30.

2. All the actions of his creatures.

(1.) All natural actions. "In him we live and move."— Acts 17:28.

(2.) All morally good actions. "Without me ye can do nothing" — John 15:5); that is, nothing that is good.

(3.) All casual actions. "He that smiteth a man that he die, and lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand, I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee."— Exod. 21:12-13.

(4.) All morally evil actions or sins.

Q. 5. How doth God's providence reach sinful actions?

A. 1. God doth permit men to sin. "Who in time past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways."— Acts 14:16. "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence."— Ps. 50:21.

2. God doth limit and restrain men in their sins. "The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."— Ps. 76:10. "Because thy rage against me is come up into my ears, therefore I will put my hook into thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back," &c. — 2 Kings 19:28.

3. God doth direct and dispose men's sins to good ends, beyond their own intentions. "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, I will send him against an hypocritical nation," (namely, to chastise it for its sin) "howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so," &c.— Isa. 10:5-7 "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to save much people alive."— Gen. 50:20.

Q. 6. What are the properties of God's providence?

A. 1. God's providence is most holy. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in ail his works."— Ps. 145:17.

2. God's providence is most wise. "O Lord, how manifold are thy works?" (speaking of the works of providence, as well as creation) "in wisdom hast thou made them all"— Ps. 104:24.

3. God's providence is most powerful. "He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand."— Dan. 4:35. "He ruleth by his power for ever."— Ps. 66:7.

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