Chapter 5: Of Divine Providence (Para. 1-3)
We come to chapter 5 of the Confession titled “OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.” We will be looking at what the framers of our Confession had to say on this subject under four headings. In paragraph 1, we find “The Doctrine Stated,” that is the doctrine of Divine Providence stated. In paragraphs 2 and 3 the Confession speaks of “The Means Incorporated.” Then in our next study we will come to paragraphs 4 through 6 in which we are told that “Sin Is Also Included.” Finally in paragraph 7 the London Confession include something from the Savoy Declaration which is not found in the Westminster Confession, that which I’m calling, “The Church Highlighted.”
First of all then, paragraph 1 : The Doctrine Stated. Note what the Confession says in chapter 5, paragraph 1: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy.”
Now the first thing we see in this paragraph under this heading of The Doctrine Stated is what I am calling “The Essence of Divine Providence.” The framers of the Confession answer the question, what is Divine Providence? And they answer that question in these words: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things.” So here, building upon the previous chapter, that chapter through which we were reminded that God created all things, the Confession now tells us that the same God who created all things through His infinite power and wisdom of which we heard in chapter 2, this same God who created all things is presently preserving and governing all those things which He created. He did not create the universe and then leave it to run itself. He is presently preserving and presently governing all that he created. What has been, what presently is, and what will in the future be going on, is not the result and will not be the result of blind chance. It is not the result of either bad luck or good luck; it is not the result, as the deists teach, of God creating the universe and then leaving it to run solely on the basis of the natural law of which He created in it. According to the Confession, God is presently and actively upholding, directing, disposing and governing all the creatures and things which He has made. That’s what the Confession tells us is the essence of Divine Providence, that God is presently and actively upholding, directing, disposing and governing.
Now in order to see that this is indeed a biblical perspective, turn to Hebrews chapter 1. Now notice what the writer to the Hebrews says, beginning in verse 1 of Hebrews chapter 1 : “God, having of old times spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers ways, hath in these last days spoken unto us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world, who being the effulgence of His glory and the very image of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power.” So according to the inspired words of the writer to the Hebrews, God not only made the world, He is also presently upholding all things that He made. The universe is not somehow holding itself together; it is not being held together solely by the laws of nature which God created in it. In this passage the upholding is an active process and God is the one who is doing the acting. The word, which is translated “upholding,” is a present active participle from the word PHERO, that Greek word from which we get our English word, ferry: it means to bring, to bear or to carry.
And here in Hebrews 1: 3, we find the writer speaking of an active process in which God is bearing or carrying all things. This what he’s describing, namely, that God has his universe as it were in his hands, and He is bearing it, He is carrying it, He is upholding it. And the one acting in this process is God Himself, in this context, God the Son. He is actively bearing along; He is actively carrying all things by the word of His power. The universe is not functioning on the basis of chance; it is not functioning on the basis even of natural law. We are being carried along because God is carrying us.
In Nehemiah 9:6 we read these words: “You are Jehovah, even You alone. You have made heaven and the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all things that are thereon, the seas and all that is in them.” But notice the writer does not simply stop with creation, “and You preserve them all.” He is not simply speaking of what God has done in the past. Even though he is speaking of what God has done in the past, he moves from what God has done in the past in the creation of all things, and he speaks of His present preservation of all that He made. What God created in the past He now preserves.
Over in Psalm 36:6 David says to God: “O Lord, You preserve man and beast,” again an active verb of what God is doing. God’s creatures are not being preserved by the principle of natural selection, by the principle of survival of the fittest; we are not being preserved by natural laws, even those natural laws which God created in His universe. We are being preserved by the acting of God Himself. But not only are we being preserved (in the words of the Confession “upheld”), by God, the universe is also being governed by God. God is not simply preserving the universe but then sitting back and leaving its government to His creatures, or leaving its government to natural forces; God is both preserving and governing that which He made.
In Psalm 115, beginning in verse 1, the inspired Psalmist says this: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Your name give glory for Your lovingkindness, and for Your truth’s sake. Wherefore should the nations say, “Where is now their God?” But our God is in the heavens; He is doing whatsoever He pleases.” God is not sitting in the heavens watching the universe do for itself; God is actively doing in the universe, in His creation, that which pleases Him.
In Psalm 135:6 we read this: “Whatsoever the Lord pleases, that has He done, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” Even the heathen king Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:35, that king who thought that he was the sovereign ruler of all of the kingdoms of the earth, even he came to understand that God “does according to His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and that none can stay His hand or say to Him, what are You doing.” He understood that God was the sovereign ruler, not just of heaven but the sovereign ruler, the acting ruler of the earth.
In Isaiah 46:10 God says of Himself, “My counsel shall stand, and I shall do all My pleasures…. I have spoken, and I will also bring it to pass…. I have purposed, I will also do it.” Now in this passage God is speaking of bringing Cyrus the Persian to overthrow the Babylonians and to release Israel from Babylonian captivity, an event that actually happened in history. God has purposed to do this, and He tells us in this passage that He will govern the movements of kings, of nations, of armies in order that it would come to pass just as He has purposed. So you see, God is not only preserving the universe and simply sitting back and allowing the universe to govern itself. God is very active in the governing of all that He has made.
In the Acts 17:25, Paul speaks of God in these words : “The God who made the world and all things therein, He being Lord of heaven and earth,” not just made the world and all things therein, not just Lord of heaven leaving the universe to its own government, no, notice, “He being the Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands; neither is He served by men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He Himself is giving to all life and breath and all things.” God is presently active in giving all things to His creatures. Note further, “and He made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation, that they should seek God, if perhaps they might feel after Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move, and have our being.”
He is so much involved in the governing, the hands-on governing of His universe that all that we have is directly from Him, and every movement of our very lives is in His hands, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” So what is the essence of divine providence? Not only has God created, not only has God made all things, that same God by the exercise of His infinite power and infinite wisdom is presently preserving, that is, carrying along, upholding what He has made and, in addition to that, He is directing, disposing and governing it as well. God did not simply create the universe and then go on vacation and leave the universe to do for itself. God is presently, as we speak, upholding us, preserving us, governing us, and that is what is the essence of divine providence.
But in addition to describing the essence of divine providence, the framers of our Confession go on to speak of the extent of divine providence, not only what is divine providence, but how far does divine providence extend. Look at paragraph 1 of chapter 5 again: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least.” So how far does divine providence extend? According to our Confession, the God who, according to chapter 4 created or made the world and all things therein whether visible or invisible, according to chapter 5, upholds, directs, disposes and governs all that He created. Whatever He created, whatever we see in chapter 4 that He created, that is what He is upholding, that is what He is directing, that is what He is disposing, that is what He is governing – all creatures and things from the greatest even down to the smallest, all things. And it is clear from the Word of God that this is an accurate statement.
In Psalm 104 we find an entire Psalm which speaks of God’s care over all of His works : verses 6 – 9 speak of God directing the waters of the flood in Noah’s day; verses 10 – 13 speak of God sending water to His creatures; in verses 14 – 17 we find God providing vegetation, we find these words: “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and the herb for the service of man.” God is involved in the smallest of things. Continuing to speak of God’s providing for His creatures, the Psalmist says in verse 27: “These all wait for You, that You may give them their food in due season. You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die.” Now does that sound like an absent God? That sounds like a God who is involved in the very nitty gritty of what we are.
We learn from Hebrews 1:14, and Job 1:12, that the good angels and even the evil angels are subject to God’s government. Now please turn with me Job chapter 12. Notice in Job 12 how God does what the Confession says He does. Notice in Job 12 how God directs, disposes and governs even the mighty one of the earth. Job 12, beginning in verse 13: “With God is wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding. Behold, He breaks down, and it cannot be built again; He shuts up a man, and there can be no opening. Behold, He withholds the waters, and they dry up; again He sends them out, and they overturn the earth. With Him is strength and wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are His. He leads counselors away stripped and judges He makes fools. He looses the bonds of kings and He binds their loins with the girdle. He leads priests away stripped and overthrows the mighty. He removes the speech of the trusty and takes away the understanding of the elders. He pours contempt upon princes and loosens the belt of the strong. He uncovers deep things out of darkness and brings out to light the shadow of death. He increases the nations, and He destroys them; He enlarges the nations, and He leads them captive. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth; He causes them to wander in a wilderness where there is no way. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man.” Clearly according to this passage if this was all that we had, and all of the Word of God that addressed this subject, clearly God directs, disposes and governs all of His creation from the smallest even to the greatest.
In Proverbs 21:1, we are told that “the king’s heart is in the hand of Jehovah; as the watercourses, He turns it withersoever He wills.” Just as easily as God can change the course of a river, just that easy, God can move the kings of the earth to do what He bids them to do. And then there is that Matthew 10:29-31 passage listed in the Confession, that passage which speaks of God’s directing even the fall of the tiny sparrow, and His disposition of even the number of the hairs upon the heads of His people.
So just taking this brief look at these few passages, and there are many more, makes it clear that the God who created all things is presently upholding and directing, and disposing, and governing all the things that He has created, from the greatest of them even to the least. God does not just govern the movements of the planet. He governs all of His creation, even down to the smallest microscopic element that makes up you and makes up me.
But now having looked at the essence of divine providence – that God upholds, directs, disposes and governs, and having looked at the extent of that divine providence – that God upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, the Confession now moves on to “The End or the Goal of Divine Providence.” And here we find the answer to the question, “to what end or toward what goal is divine providence aiming?” And under this heading I want you to notice two such goals of divine providence articulated here in paragraph 1.
First of all, the framers of the Confession stated that God’s providential governing of the universe is a wise and holy providence and that God’s providential governing is according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will. These statements make it clear that who God is is reflected in how He governs. Since God is an all-wise, most holy, all knowing, unchangeable God, those attributes of who God is will be clearly reflected in the characteristics of His government. He does not govern in a different way than who He is; who He is, is reflected in how He governs. But sandwiched between those two statements concerning the character of divine providence, the Confession goes on to say, “to the end for which they were created.”
And here the framers of our Confession are seeking to indicate the unbreakable connection between God’s person in chapter 2, God’s decree in chapter 3, God’s creation in chapter 4, and now God’s providence in chapter 5. They are seeking to show this unbreakable connection between who God is and what God has decreed, and what God created, and now how God governs. Since God is who God is, since He does have infallible foreknowledge, and since He is immutable, that is, since God cannot change that which He decreed from the foundation of the world, that which He has foreordained to come to pass, and that for which He created all things, He is now moving toward those ends through His upholding, His directing, His disposing, and His governing of all creatures and all things. Not only has God in the past foreordained, not only has God in the past created all things for a specific end, He is now in the present governing all things in a way which will lead to that desired end, and that’s what’s being said here in the Confession.
We’ve been told in previous chapters that He decreed all things that shall come to pass, then we were told in chapter 4 concerning His creation that He created all things, well now we’re being told in chapter 5, connecting the thought back to those chapters, that He is now presently governing all things in a way which will lead to that desired end that He decreed. That is what the framers of our Confession are seeking to communicate here in this statement. God had a purpose in His decree concerning all things. God had a purpose in His creation of all things. He is not now leaving His creation to reach that desired end on its own. God is presently and actively governing His creation in a way that those desired ends will be accomplished.
But now in the last phrase of paragraph 1, we come to the second end of divine providence. The Confession says this in the last phrase of paragraph 1: “to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy” or, in other words, God is upholding, He is directing, He is disposing, He is governing all creatures and things in order to bring glory to Himself. He is doing this in order to bring glory to Himself. And this goal we have seen articulated several times in our study already.
In chapter 3, we saw that God has foreordained some unto eternal life, and some unto condemnation in order to bring glory to Himself. In chapter 4, we saw that God created the world and all things in it in order to bring glory to Himself. Now here in chapter 5 we see that God is governing all of His creatures, He is governing all things, which He made in order to bring glory to Himself, and there is no question that the Word of God teaches this truth. In speaking of Christ, Paul says this in Ephesians 1:11 & 12: “In whom also we were made a heritage having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end; to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory.” God chose a people, Paul tells us, and that people was given to Christ, and Christ redeemed that people to bring glory to God. Turn to Isaiah chapter 63, and here the prophet is rehearsing God’s dealings with Israel of old, and notice what he says, beginning in verse 11 : “Then He remembered the days of old, Moses and His people, saying; where is He that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He that put his Holy Spirit in the midst of them, that caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses? that divided the waters before them.” Now for what purpose did He do these things? “To make himself an everlasting name, that led them through the depths as a horse in the wilderness so that they stumbled not, as the cattle that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused them to rest, so did You lead your people.” Notice for what purpose did God do this – “to make Yourself a glorious name.” God did what He did with Israel to bring glory to Himself.
We find the same truth recorded in Exodus 9:16. God says to Pharaoh in that context, “For this cause I have made you to stand, to show you My power and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Why did Pharaoh act the way he did in the face of those ten plagues in Egypt? Why did he act the way he did? Why did he continue to stand in his stubbornness? Why? Because God caused him to stand in order that God might be glorified through him – “For this cause I have made you to stand,” He says to Pharaoh. For what reason? “To show you My power and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth.”
So here in paragraph 1 of chapter 5, we find the doctrine stated, that is, the doctrine of divine providence stated. First of all, the essence of divine providence, what is divine providence? It is God upholding, directing, disposing and governing His creation. Second, we have seen the extent of divine providence, how far does God’s government extend? The Confession tells us God upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least. That leaves no room for anything else, does it? And finally, the end of divine providence, what is the end, what is the goal of divine providence? The goal of divine providence is to produce the end for which all things were created, and to the praise of the glory of God’s wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy. In short, God is governing this universe in order to bring glory to Himself.
Now having looked at paragraph 1 under the heading, “The Doctrine Stated,” we come now to paragraphs 2 and 3, “The Means Used.” Notice what the Confession goes on to say in paragraph 2: “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without His providence; yet by the same providence He orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.” Now here in paragraph 2, the framers of the Confession began with a reiteration of something which has already been said back in chapter 3, and you will notice as we go through this Confession that the framers of this Confession keep reminding us of things that they’ve already said because the Confession builds upon that which has been said previously. So here they are reminding us of something they have already said. Notice back in paragraph 1 of chapter 3 what the Confession has already said : “God has decreed in Himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass.” Now reflecting that which is clearly taught in the Bible, the Confession tells us that all things which come to pass, all things which come to pass in time, come to pass in time because from all eternity God unchangeably decreed that they would come to pass. That’s why they are coming to pass now; because in eternity past God decreed that they would. That what is happening in the universe now is happening because God decreed it before the world was and, in addition to that, because God is presently governing the universe in a way which is producing that which He decreed.
And here in paragraph 2 of chapter 5, the Confession reiterates that truth: “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, that is unchangeably, and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without His providence.” The first cause of all things which happen is God. God has decreed that it happen. God has created it so that it will happen, and God is presently governing His universe so that it will happen. Now, that being so, the framers of the Confession tell us that nothing happens by chance. There is no place in that statement for anything else, nothing happens by chance, nothing happens apart from the workings of divine providence. This is the truth which is reiterated here in paragraph 2 of chapter 5, and the truth which is clearly taught in the Word of God.
For instance, turn with me to Proverbs 16, Proverbs 16:33. By inspiration of the Spirit, Solomon says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” So according to this Proverb, when the lot is cast to make a decision, why does it turn out the way that it does? Why did the lot in Acts 1:26 point to Matthias rather than Barsabas? Because God had decreed that Matthias be Judas’ replacement, and because God was making His will known through His governing of the casting of that lot, and the disciples knew that this was what was going on. Before they cast lots to determine which of these 2 men would become an apostle in Judas place, this is what they prayed, Acts 1:24, “And they prayed and said, ‘You Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom you have chosen, reveal to us who you have decreed to be Judas’ replacement, show of these two the one whom you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away that he might go to his own place,’ and they gave lots unto them, and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” The disciples understood that the casting of this lot was under the government of God. They understood that the outcome was not just a matter of chance. They understood that God had already determined, God had already decreed, which man was to replace Judas, and that He would reveal His mind through His directing of this lot.
In Acts 2:23, speaking of Christ, Peter says this to the Jews, “Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of lawless men, did crucify and slay.” Peter understood that, even though wicked men had killed our Lord, in the words of our Confession, “The first cause of His death was the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” Peter understood what is reiterated here in paragraph 2 of chapter 5 of our Confession. He understood that in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, that is, the first cause, “All things come to pass unchangeably and infallibly, so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, and without His providence.” Peter understood that even though the hands of men nailed our Lord to the cross, the first cause of His crucifixion was the decree of God.
But now moving on from the certainty of God’s decree reiterated there in paragraph 2, the second thing we find in paragraph 2 chapter 5 is “The Use of Means Stated.” “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without His providence,” in spite of that truth, our Confession goes on to say, “Yet, by the same providence He orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely or contingently.”
Now the point, which the Confession is making here, is that although from the beginning God has decreed the end of all things, and although God is presently governing all things to bring about that end which He has decreed, God also governs all things in such a way that means are used to bring about those ends. God has not only decreed the end. He has also ordained the events in time which will lead up to that end, and He is governing His universe in a way in which He uses second causes to obtain the ends which He, the first cause, has decreed. So He has decreed things as the first cause. Now in the governing of His universe He has means, which are called second causes here, to bring about that which He has decreed.
In order to see that this is so, turn to the passage listed in our Confession, Genesis 8:22. God has just destroyed the world by a flood. In Genesis 8:21 He smells the burnt offering sacrificed by Noah, and He says in His heart, “I will not again curse the ground anymore for man’s sake, neither will I again smite anymore everything living as I have done.” So in the will of God, the earth will remain and man will be provided for; that is what God has decreed for man as long as the earth remains. Now notice what God said in Genesis 8:22, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.” So God has decreed that man will be provided for, but notice, not provided for by manna falling from heaven, but provided for through the means of the natural laws which God has established in His universe – planting and harvesting, cold weather and hot weather, summer and winter, day and night. What God had decreed in eternity past through these God-instituted means is being worked out in time. God is still governing all creatures and things, and in this passage He tells us that He will use these natural laws, which He has established. In the governing process, the God ordained end would be reached through the use of these God-ordained means.
Turn to Acts 27, another passage which speaks to this issue of the use of means. In this passage Paul is on a ship bound for Rome, 275 men on board with him, a great wind storm comes, the ship is about to sink, all hope of being saved is gone. Now notice what is being recorded, beginning in Acts 27:21:
And when they had been long without food, then Paul stood forth in the midst of them and said, “Sirs, you should have listened unto me, and not have set sail from Crete and have gotten this injury and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve, saying, ‘Do not fear Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold God has granted you all them that sail with you.'”
So clearly, God had decreed that not one man on this ship would be lost; the angel revealed that to Paul. But now look down to verse 30, “And as the sailors were seeking to flee out of the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under cover as though they would lay out anchors from the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, ‘except these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ Then the soldiers cut away the ropes to the boat and let them fall off.” Now apparently the angel of God in addition to revealing to Paul that God had ordained that none on the ship be lost, he also revealed to Paul that the means of delivering them from death was to remain on the ship. In verse 44 we learn that all escaped safe to the land. So God did not only decree the end of their deliverance, He had also ordained the means toward that end, and He was governing this situation through the use of those means, even though some of the sailors were doing what you would expect, even though some were abandoning ship because they thought there was no hope. God caused Paul to find that out, and to warn them, and the deliverance which God had decreed came to pass. Why? Because the means were used; had they stepped outside the means it would have not come to pass, but God ordained it, decreed it in such a way that it did come to pass.
Turn back to 1 Kings chapter 22. In verse 28 the prophet tells king Ahab that God has decreed that he would die in the upcoming battle against Ramoth Gilead. Now notice what happens over in I Kings 22:34: “And a certain man drew his bow at random, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the armor,” and of course we know because of that the king died. Now before the world was, God had decreed the death of Ahab on this very day; to accomplish that end, God used means. He directed the arrow of a man who simply shot into an incoming army in the hopes of hitting just anyone. He was shooting at random; he probably wasn’t aiming at anyone in particular, but even though, because of God’s decree, Ahab’s death on that day was certain, and because He had decreed it, it was going to come to pass. Yet God providentially ordered the second cause of this arrow shot at random to accomplish the end, which He had decreed.
We learned in chapter 3 that God has ordained some to eternal life, but in Luke 13:5, Jesus tells His listeners, “unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.” In Matthew 5:20, He says to His disciples, “except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Even though God has ordained some to eternal life, He has also ordained the means to that end. The first cause of our salvation is God, but God has ordained a second cause for all who will be saved, and that second cause is turning from our sin and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ with a result being a righteousness greater than the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.
Another example of what is said here in paragraph 2 of chapter 5, “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or outside, or without His providence; yet by the same providence He orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely or contingently.” When God decrees that a thing come to pass, it will certainly come to pass, but that does not do away with the second causes, the means which God uses to accomplish that which He has decreed – the means of the Word of God, the means of prayer, the means of faith, repentance. We would do well to leave God’s decrees to God, praising Him that He is the first cause, but spending our time focusing on the second.
But now having looked at the certainty of God’s decree reiterated and then the use of means stated, we come quickly to paragraph 3, ‘The Exception to that Rule Made.’ Notice what the Confession goes on to say in paragraph 3 of chapter 5: “God in His ordinary providence makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above and against them at His pleasure.” Now the point of this paragraph is that, although God for the purpose of accomplishing what He has decreed, although God normally uses means, what the Confession calls second causes, that is not always the case. In God’s governing of His universe, in His directing of all creatures and things in a way that would accomplish the end for which they were created, even though God normally uses ordinary means, He is not bound to the use of means. He is free from that if He pleases. He is free to accomplish His decrees without, above, and against those means if it pleases Him.
And here you would remember such passages as II Kings 6:6, where God caused a metal axe head to float. Now God has created the earth with a law of gravity. That’s not something that just happened. God created the earth with the law of gravity. But here He works against that natural law which He created to cause this borrowed axe head to be recovered. In Romans 4:19-21, God works against the physical laws of procreation, which He Himself established. He gives Abraham and Sarah children long after they could no longer naturally have children. In Hosea 1:7, God says this; “I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by Jehovah their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.” God says, I will not use the ordinary means that I normally would use in the deliverance of My people in this situation; my deliverance will be a miraculous deliverance.
In Daniel 3:27, the flesh and the clothes of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were not burned by the fire of a furnace which was exceedingly hot. God delivered these three men apart from, and even contrary to, ordinary means. He did the same thing when He caused the hungry lion to have no interest in eating Daniel, which was contrary to the nature that He had created in those lions.
So the point is that, even though God in the accomplishing of that which He has decreed, upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things, and even though He normally does that through the use of second causes, through the use of means, God is not bound to the use of such means. For what God has created and established in His creation is not sovereign. It is God who is sovereign; it is God who rules over His creation rather than God being ruled by His creation. What a great God we have!
Chapter 5: Divine Providence (Para. 4-7)
Now we come to our studies in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith that bring us into the middle of chapter 5 of our Confession, the chapter titled, “OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.”
After the Confession describes the Person of God, it moves on to the activities of that God Who is described — the first such activity being God, from all eternity, decreed of all that should happen in time; the next activity being God’s creation of the world and all things in it. Now in chapter 5, we come to a discussion of God’s working out in time of the blue print that He before time decreed, that which we call, “Divine Providence.” From all eternity, God decreed all that should come to pass in time. Then He created the world, and now He is governing all things in accordance with His eternal decree, fulfilling the purpose for which He created all things.
In our previous study, we looked at the first three paragraphs of chapter 5. In paragraph number 1, we found the doctrine stated, that is, The Doctrine of Divine Providence Stated. First of all, the framers of the Confession identified The Essence of Divine Providence, that is, what is Divine Providence. And according to our Confession, it is God upholding, directing, disposing and governing His creation. The second thing the framers of the Confession did in paragraph 1 is to identify The Extent of Divine Providence, that is, how far does God’s government extend. And according to paragraph 1, God upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures and things from the greatest even to the least. And finally in paragraph 1, The End of Divine Providence, that is, what is the end or what is the goal of Divine Providence. And according to paragraph 1, the end or the goal of Divine Providence is two-fold: first of all, to produce the end for which all things were created and then, secondly, to the praise of the glory of God’s wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy. In short, the framers of the Confession tell us that God is governing the universe, which He has created for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself. So in chapter 5, paragraph 1, The Doctrine of Divine Providence Stated– “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy.
In our previous study, we also looked at paragraphs 2 and 3 under the heading of The Means Used, and we noticed that paragraph 2 begins with the framers of our Confession reiterating what was said back in chapter 3 concerning the Certainty Of God’s Decree. Notice how paragraph 2 of chapter 5 begins: “Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without His providence.” That is, what is happening in the universe now is happening because God decreed it before the world was, and because God is presently governing the universe in such a way that is producing that which He decreed. We are reminded that what God has decreed in eternity will certainly come to pass in time. But then the framers of our Confession go on to make it clear that, although from the beginning God has decreed the end of all things, and although God is presently governing all things to bring about the ends which He has decreed, God also governs all things in such a way that means are used to bring about those ends which He has decreed. God has not only decreed the end, according to our Confession, He has also ordained the events in time that lead to those ends that He has decreed. He is governing His universe in such a way in which He uses Second Causes To Obtain The Ends, which He, the first cause, has decreed. Paragraph 2 goes on to say: “Yet by the same providence He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”
And then, in paragraph 3, we find The Exception To That Rule, chapter 5, paragraph 3: “God, in His ordinary providence makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at His pleasure.” Although God, for the purpose of accomplishing what He has decreed, although God normally uses means, what our Confession calls second causes, this is not always the case. He is free to accomplish His decreed ends without, above and against those means as it pleases Him. Now that is a very quick review of what we looked at in our previous study.
Now we come to the last half of chapter 5, still looking at the subject “OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE”. Having looked in paragraph 1 at The Doctrine Stated, in paragraphs 2 and 3, The Means Used, we come to paragraphs 4 through 6, and we are told in those paragraphs that Sin Is Included and, then, in paragraph 7, The Church Highlighted.
First of all, Sin Included. that is, with respect to Divine Providence and, remember, that is our subject. With respect to Divine Providence, sin is included. And in paragraph 4, we find a general statement concerning this truth. Notice how the framers of our Confession begin chapter 5, paragraph 4: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that His determinate counsel extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men.” Now the point being made here is that, in the words of paragraph 1, God’s upholding, directing, disposing and governing all creatures and things from the greatest of them, even unto the least, is not just speaking of His directing and disposing His creatures to do the good things that they do, but His providential governing of His creation extends itself even to their sinful actions. Now I know that this is a hard concept to grasp, but it is a truth that is clearly revealed in the word of God.
Turn to I Chronicles, chapter 21, verse 1: “And Satan stood up against Israel and moved (and this word means to entice, to allure, to instigate) David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, ‘Go number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know the sum of them.’ ” Down to verse 7: “And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He smote Israel. And David said unto God, ‘I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now put away I beseech Thee the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.’ ” In this passage we read of King David’s sinful numbering of the fighting men of Israel. In verse 7, God judges Israel for that sin, so clearly it is sin. In verse 8, David understands that what he has done is sin against God, and back up in verse 1, even though David would not have been aware of it, Satan himself was the instigator of David’s sin. Notice verse 1: “And Satan stood up against Israel and moved (incited, instigated) David to number Israel.” So, in the words of the Confession, here is an example of sinful acts, both of angels and men: Satan moved David to do it, and David sinned in yielding to Satan’s temptation.
Now turn to a parallel passage in II Samuel 24, a parallel passage of this same event. Notice what is recorded, beginning in verse 1, II Samuel 24: “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them saying, ‘Go number Israel and Judah.’ And the king said to Joab the captain of the host, who was with him, ‘Go now to and fro through all the tribes of Israel from Dan even to Beersheba and number the people, that I may know the sum of the people.’” Verse 10: “And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in that which I have done. But now, O Lord, put away, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.’ ”
Now did you notice anything in this passage that was different from the parallel passage in I Chronicles 21? Both are an account of the same event. Did you notice the different emphases of these two passages? In I Chronicles 21, Satan moved David to number Israel; here in II Samuel 24, we are told that God moved David to number Israel. Satan sinned in tempting David; David sinned in yielding to that temptation but, in the words of chapter 5, paragraph 1, of our Confession, directing, disposing and governing both their actions was God Himself. Now don’t jump to the wrong conclusion here; we will get to that in a few moments. But this is a clear example, in the words of paragraph 4, chapter 5, of God’s determinate counsel extending even to the simple actions of men and angels.
Another example of this truth is found in I Chronicles chapter 10. Now here, on Mount Gilboa, Saul is in his final battle with the Philistines. Notice what is recorded in verse 4, I Chronicles chapter 10: “Then said Saul unto his armor- bearer, ’Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised (speaking of the Philistines) come and abuse me.’ But his armor-bearer would not, for he was very afraid. Therefore Saul took his sword and fell upon it.” Now here is the account of the suicide of King Saul. Saul’s final action was to sin against God by breaking God’s sixth commandment. Now notice what is said down in verses 13 and 14 of this same chapter, I Chronicles 10: “So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord, which he kept not; and also for that he asked counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire thereby, and inquired not of the Lord. Therefore He slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.” Up in verse 4, Saul killed himself; here in verse 14 we’re told that God slew him. In the words of chapter 5, paragraph 4, here is the determinate counsel of God extending itself even to the sinful action of Saul. Saul killed himself, but God was directing, disposing and governing Saul’s action.
Another example is found in I Kings 22, verses 22 and 23, where we are told that Jehovah put a lying spirit in the mouth of all of Ahab’s prophets. The prophets upon whom King Ahab was depending for direction were giving him bad advice, and these prophets were being enticed to do this thing by wicked spiritual beings who knew that they were leading Ahab astray. And this clear passage tells us that God Himself was behind the scene, directing, disposing and governing the actions of these wicked angels and prophets.
And, of course, the clearest example of this truth is found in Acts chapter 2 and in Acts chapter 4, passages that we have already read in another context. In Acts chapter 2, verse 23, speaking of the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter says this: “Him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay.” In Acts chapter 4, verses 27 and 28, we read these words: “For of a truth in this city against Thy holy Servant Jesus whom You did anoint, (speaking to God), both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together to do whatsoever Your hand and Your counsel foreordained to come to pass.” The most heinous sin ever committed (the murder of the Son of God by lawless men) was not an action that was somehow outside God’s governing of His creation. Even this most unthinkable sinful action was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God and was that which God Himself had foreordained to come to pass.
So you see, even the sinful actions, both of angels and men, are included in the all creatures and things, which God upholds, directs, disposes and governs. And notice back in paragraph 4 of chapter 5, how the framers of the Confession go on to make sure that this statement is not misunderstood. For of course there has been, as you would expect, much misunderstanding concerning this truth. After clearly stating the truth, they go on to say: “…and that not by a bare permission, which also He most wisely and powerfully bounds (or limits) and otherwise orders and governs, in a manifold dispensation of His most holy ends.” The point being that the sinful actions of angels and men are not in a passive way simply allowed by God, but rather God is actively directing, disposing, and governing these sinful actions. God permits sin, yes, Acts 14, verse 16: “Who in the generations gone by allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.” But He does not simply sit back and permit sin; according to the Confession, He bounds it, that is, He limits it, He orders it, He governs it, and that to produce His most holy ends. And clearly God does limit sin.
In Psalm 76, verse 10, the Psalmist says to God: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; the remainder of wrath (that is, that portion of the wrath of man that would not bring glory to God) You restrain.” So God limits man’s sin. Man cannot do anything he wants to; God limits; He bounds; in the words of the Confession.
In II Kings 19, verse 28, God says to the Assyrian King Sennacherib: “Because of your raging against Me, and because your arrogancy has come up into My ears, therefore I will put My hook in your nose, and My bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back.” So God does not simply sit by and passively permit sin. He is active in restraining, in ordering, and in governing sin. And He does so in a way that will produce that which He has decreed, and He does so in a way that will be consistent with that for which He has created the world.
Remember, in Genesis 45 verse 5, that Joseph understands that the sinful actions of his brothers were God’s means to preserve the lives of the family of his father Jacob. Even though his brothers sinned against Joseph, even though his brothers sinned against God in selling Joseph into slavery, Joseph understands that God was behind the scenes, working good from their sin. He said, “God did send me before you to preserve life.” “God did send me,” not you sent me; even though that is true, he understood that God was behind the scene. He said, “God did send me.” And later on, in chapter 50 of Genesis, verse 20, he says, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.” He understood that, even though his brothers were sinning against him, and sinning against God, that God was behind the scenes, directing, disposing and governing in a way that it worked out for good.
In Isaiah chapter 10, even though the king of Assyria is driven in his empire building by very sinful motives, God is behind the scenes, directing and disposing and governing those sinful actions to produce that which God has decreed. In Isaiah 10, verses 6 and 7, God says this, speaking of the Assyrian emperor, the Assyrian king: “I will send him against a profane nation and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he does not mean so, neither does his heart think so, but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.” The Assyrian’s king’s motives were sinful; he was out to get all the plunder, and all the booty, and all the spoil, and all the territory, and all the slaves, and all the soldiers he could get. He was out to do this for himself. He was not going, thinking he was going as God’s means, as God’s instrument, but God was directing and governing the sinful actions of this Assyrian king to work out in time what He had decreed back in eternity.
Chapter 5, paragraph 4, goes on to say, “yet so,” even though God’s determinate counsel extends itself to all sinful actions of both men and angels, “yet so, (in spite of that) as the sinfulness of these acts proceeds 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.” Here the framers of the Confession make the same point that they made back in chapter 3 and in paragraph 1. Even though God has decreed all things that come to pass, and even though God is presently governing all creatures and things, and even though “His determinate counsel extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions of both angels and men,” God is not the author, and God is not an approver of sin, but rather sin proceeds “only,” according to the Confession, “from the creatures and not from God.”
I John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” James 1, verses 13 and 14: “Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted of God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no man. But each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.” Two truths, which are very difficult to put together with our limited human understanding: God’s providential governing of all things extends even to the sin of angels and men, but God is not the author or the approver of that sin — both true, but very difficult to reconcile. Listen to the words of Robert Shaw in his commentary on the Westminster Confession: “Full elucidation of this obtuse subject, so as to remove every difficulty, surpasses the human faculty. We are certain that God is concerned in all the actions of His creatures, we are equally certain that God cannot be the author of sin, and here we ought to rest.” Even though we can’t understand it, God says that both things are true. That should be enough.
Moving on to paragraph 5, we learn that God’s governing of all things not only extends to sin in general, but more specifically to the sin of God’s children. Notice what the framers of the Confession tell us in paragraph 5: “The most wise, righteous and gracious God does oftentimes leave for a season His own children to manifold temptations and the corruptions of their own hearts, to chasten them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may 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 other just and holy ends. So that whatsoever befalls any of His elect is by His appointment, for His glory and their good.”
The point of this paragraph is that God, in His directing, disposing and governing of all creatures and things in His government, which extends even to the sinful actions of angels and men, that God, oftentimes for His own glory and for the good of His people, for a period of time, not permanently, but for a period of time, oftentimes allows His own children to fall into various temptations and trials and thus experience the sinfulness of their own heart. The Confession goes on to list several reasons why God would do such a thing.
First of all, the Confession says, to chasten them for their former sins, to reveal to us how corrupt our hearts really are, thus to humble us, to cause us to depend more upon Him, to make us more watchful against future sin, and for other just and holy ends — other reasons which are right and holy.
In order to see that the framers of our Confession are making an accurate statement here, turn to II Chronicles chapter 32, verse 24: “In those days Hezekiah was sick even unto death; and he prayed unto the Lord, and He spoke unto him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah did not render again according to the benefit done unto him for his heart was lifted up; therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.” Verse 31: “Howbeit, in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.”
Now, if we were to turn to Isaiah 39, we would see the account of King Hezekiah, after God had delivered him from his fatal illness, showing all of Israel’s treasures to the ambassadors of Babylon, and then the judgment that came because of that. And we could read of all that happened on that occasion, and the consequences of all that happened.
But here in this II Chronicles 32 passage, the summary of the reign of this great king, one of the most righteous kings in Judah, we’re given a peek at how God was working behind the scenes in this situation, what God was doing, which would not have been known to Hezekiah. As we saw up in verse 25, having some past struggles with pride, God now leaves Hezekiah for a time, to try Hezekiah, to reveal to Hezekiah the sinfulness of his own proud heart. And of course God knows that the king would show all of these treasures of Israel to the ambassadors from Babylon because that would be an opportunity for him to exercise the pride that is resident in his heart. But the point is that this is an example of what our Confession tells us about God leaving His people for a time to trial and temptation.
In the II Samuel 24, verse 1, passage, God left David to be tempted of Satan, tempted to number Israel, apparently for some previous sin because the passage is introduced with these words: “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and He moved David against them, saying, ‘Go number Israel and Judah.’ So some sin of David, some sin of the nation, had kindled God’s anger, so God leaves David for a time to be tempted of Satan to number the military might of the nation.
Look over to II Corinthians, chapter 12, a very familiar passage to most of us. In this passage Paul is left to this thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, so that he would not become proud because of the experience that he had previously had. Notice in II , chapter 12, beginning in verse 7: “And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, (revelations that are spoken of earlier in the chapter) that I should not be exalted over much, (here’s the reason– that I should not be proud; that I should not be exalted over much) there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted over much. Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from me, and He has said unto me, ’My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” another example of God bringing something into the life of one of His children in order to produce a good effect in that child.
Remember in Luke 22, verses 31 and 32, Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to have him, that he might sift him as wheat. Now Jesus did not say to Peter, Satan’s request has been denied; He tells Peter that He is praying for him that his faith would not fail. Jesus did not remove Peter from this trial, from this temptation; He’s left him in it for his own good, and for God’s glory — another example of what the Confession is speaking of here.
And that is true of all of us, all of us who are the true people of God. Oftentimes God leaves us to struggle with temptation, to struggle with our remaining sin, not that He Himself tempts us. We’re told in James 1 that He tempts no man but, oftentimes, He leaves us to temptations and trials, which come from other quarters. But one thing we know when that happens. He does it, not for our harm, but He does it for our good. And Paul makes that clear when he says in that very familiar passage of Romans 8:28: “And we know that to them that love God, all things (even those difficult places, those difficult situations into which God places us) all things work together for good.”
Moving on to paragraph 6, we learn that God’s governing of all things not only extends to sin in general, not only extends to the sin of His children, but also extends to the sin of the wicked. Notice what the framers of the Confession add in paragraph 6, chapter 5: “As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as the righteous judge, for former sin does blind and harden; from them He not only withholds His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understanding, and wrought upon their hearts, but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others.” Very sobering statements; very sobering statements.
The first thing we’re told in this paragraph about God’s dealings with the wicked and the ungodly is that God, as the righteous judge, for former sin does blind and harden them. And here our Confession is making reference to passages such as Romans 1 where, because of their sin and because of man’s refusal to turn from his sin, God gives man up to their sin. For instance in Romans 1, verse 24: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness…” They wanted sexual impurity; God gives it to them for judgment. Romans 1:26: “For this cause God gave them up to vile passions.” Romans 1:28: “And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind…” You don’t want to understand about Me, you shall have what you want.
Also Romans 11, verses 7 and 8, speak of wicked men being hardened and given a spirit of slumber. The point of the Confession being that, in directing and disposing and governing all things, including the sinful actions of men, one way that God works in the wicked is to give them what they want, to give them up to their wickedness, to harden them in their sin, to give them a spirit of slumber that they may not wake up to what really is.
And very much the same thing is said later on in paragraph 6; notice what the framers go on to say: “From them He not only withholds His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understanding, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan.” Note especially those last words: “And withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan.”
Another thought God said to the Psalmist in Psalm 81– notice what God says to the Psalmist beginning in verse 11: “But my people hearkened not to my voice; and Israel would none of Me. So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart, that they might walk in their own counsels.” Here is a description of God giving men over to their own lusts; here is a description of God giving men what they want; they wanted to ignore Him; they wanted to ignore His word; they wanted to do their own thing; God deals with them by giving them exactly what they want.
We find the same principle in II Thessalonians, chapter 2. Notice what Paul says beginning in verse 8, II Thessalonians 2: “And then shall be revealed the lawless one whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to naught by the manifestation of His coming; even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God sends them a working of error that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Here are men who refuse to embrace God’s truth. They refuse to receive that truth from God, which would save them. They prefer to believe the lie of the evil one; they prefer to believe the philosophy and the thinking of this world system and, as judgment, God gives them exactly what they want. You want to believe a lie, here is a lie. Verse 11: “And for this cause God sends them a working of error that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” The point of the Confession being that, in directing and disposing and governing all things, including the sinful actions of men, one way God works in the wicked is to give them what they want. They want their own way and that is exactly what God turns them over to.
And notice the last phrase of paragraph 6: “…whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others.” That’s the sobering part of this text; that’s the part that some of us need to take heed to — “whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others.” When men refuse to have God in their understanding, and God gives them what they want, God gives them up to the point that, even that, which God uses as a means of grace in some, are a means of further damnation for others.
Remember what Paul says in II Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 15 and 16: “For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life.” The same apostle, the same gospel message, to some a savor unto life, to others a savor unto death.
Speaking of the coming Messiah, Isaiah says in Isaiah 8:14: “And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence, to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.” This one who is coming, who is a sanctuary, who is a place to hide from the wrath to come, will also be for some a stone over which they would stumble.
In 1 Peter, chapter 2, verses 6 to 8, we find the same thing: “Because it is contained in scripture; ’Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that believes on Him shall not be put to shame.’ For you therefore that believe is the preciousness, but for such as disbelieve, the stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, for they stumble at the word being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed.” In the words of the Confession, “They harden themselves, even under the means which God uses for the softening of others.” And God’s sovereign governing of all things, as He directs and disposes and governs, in a way which even extends to the sinful actions of men, the very means which will work for the salvation of some, the very Savior which will be displayed for the salvation of some, will lead to the further hardening and damnation of others. These things are all part of God’s providential governing of all His creatures.
But then finally, paragraph 7, The Church Highlighted. Now in our last study I made the statement that this paragraph was not contained in the Westminster Confession. I’m not sure why I thought that because that is not true, and I would like to make that correction. This paragraph is very much a part of the Westminster Confession. Notice how the framers of the Confession conclude this chapter in paragraph 7: “As the providence of God does in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it takes care of His church, and disposes of all things to the good thereof.” Now the point being made here is very simple; the point being made is that, even though in the words of paragraph 1, God upholds and directs and disposes and governs all creatures and things, and even though His providential government extends even to the simple actions of men, God’s primary focus in the governing of His creation is the well being of His church. And to find that principle stated, turn to II Chronicles, chapter 16, and notice what God’s prophet Hanani says to King Asa, verse 9. The prophet says to the king: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth,” for what purpose? “to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” Hanani makes it clear that the primary focus of God’s dealings upon the earth is His people.
Another passage which reflects this principle is found in Proverbs 2, verses 7 and 8: “He lays up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to them that walk in integrity, that He may guard the paths of justice, and preserve the way of His saints.” Speaking of His people under the old covenant, God says in Isaiah 43, in verse 1: “But now thus says the Lord, that created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel, fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine; When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your stead. Since you have been precious in my sight, and honorable, and I have loved you; therefore will I give men in your stead and peoples instead of your life. Fear not; for I am with you.” God, speaking to His people, makes it abundantly clear that His focus is to take care of His people.
Now turn to one final passage in the New Testament. Of course Romans 8:28 applies here, but turn to I Timothy, chapter 4, verse 10. Paul says this: “For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God.” And notice how God is identified here: “who is the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe”– “specially of them that believe.” Now there is much that can be said about this passage, but one thing is clear, and only one thing needs to be said with reference to our study. In God’s dealing with His human creatures, He is a unique Savior to His believing people and, in a special way, a way in which He takes care of no one else, He takes care of us. Even though He upholds and directs and disposes and governs all creatures, and all things, and even though His providential government extends to all things, God’s primary focus in the governing of His creation is the well being of His church and, with that, we should be comforted.
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