Thursday, March 30, 2017

WCF LC Commentary

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Westminster Larger Catechism #18

Q18. What are God’s work of providence?

Answer: God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.

References: Ps. 145:17; Ps. 104:24; Isa.28:29; Heb. 1:3; Ps.103:19; Mt. 10:29-31; Gen. 45:7; Rom. 11:36; Isa. 63:14

As we consider the proof texts for this statement I think we see the “sovereignty” of God more clearly presented than the “fact” of providence. If one doctrine of the Bible has been diminished though the ages, it is that of sovereignty. Providence is the natural result of a perfect Sovereign. It is here that fullness of the Reformed faith rests. It is the lack of the same that allowed the Roman Catholic Church to descend into the pits of hell and bring about the necessity of the reformation of the sixteenth century. Those seeking another reformation, calling for revival, and declaring the death of the church all deny this eternal truth, as they place the cause of the problem everywhere except at their own feet and the denial of a God who “controls” the minutiae of the universe.

Providence flows from the sovereignty of God and permeates all of creation. The orderly operation of the universe rests not upon “natural” laws, though those were created by God too, but on His continuing to uphold these laws by the power of His Word. I do not understand the use of the plural in speaking of the “works of providence.” I believe God has ceased from His work (creation) and that providence flows from that completed work. God has spoken, it will now come to be by the power of His word alone. I would not second guess the divines on this fine point, but do think they were simply being true to the word of God and as can be seen in the references for this statement, works is plural. With great care less we cause a division in the Holy trinity or enter into modalism here, the work of God the Father was creation, and the ordering of the fulfillment of His plan for the revelation of Himself to the created in history by providence. That this work was done by Christ (the Word) and carried out by the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:1-2) is held in view, thereby maintaining the involvement and unity of the Godhead. Were God unable to sustain this creation without continuing to “work” then He could not have entered into His rest, which is the hope of the elect today, that they too may enter into this rest of God. Therefore I see God’s work as singular, though manifold in manifestation to man though creation and history, as completed, and this work included the continuing preservation and ordering of ALL things for His own glory. Though we live and exist in time, God does not. Then His work being completed, we can view providence as that eternal power of God which brings about what He has already spoken. Some may view this as hyper-Calvinistic or say it is going too far with the predestination spoken of in Scripture, I think not. God’s powerful ordering of the universe extended down to the individual hairs on man’s head, and even into the lesser things of creation, in that God foreordained the death of a sparrow.

Even the heathen speak of this powerful providence as they use such common terms in speaking of the survivors of disasters thusly,”It wasn’t their time yet.” The world thumbs its nose at the audacity of a God who would so interfere in the lives of man. We see this both within the church and without. I recently saw two teenagers in a shopping mall that drove home this point most vividly. The first had on a T-shirt with the vulgar notion expressed in like language: ” S*** happens!” The second, one may assume as being of the kingdom, with a supposedly “Christian” message emblazoned on his T-shirt, the front had the inscription “I can do what God cannot do.” The back finished the foolish idea with these words, “I can turn my back on you.” Though one was of the more common sort, both denied a God who is in TOTAL control of His dominion, and continues to rule as Sovereign.

I recently spoke with a man who had just survived the third accident that all earthly logic denied the possibility of his surviving. He said “God must have something for me to do, for He keeps me alive.” This man isn’t of the faith, and hangs persistently to the faith of his fathers and his American native culture. While he recognizes the providence of God, in bringing about His ends through such ordering of events, consistently fails to bow before the sovereignty of God. It is no different with the elect, and even in Reformed circles we continue to have many who deny one or more petals in the TULIP, with the same blind determination, that man has enough value in himself, to in some way have a say in how things are worked out in his own life. Not so! Man makes his plans in his heart, but God orders his footsteps.

Here we see the TULIP in its fullness perhaps as in no other place. This too is as it should be, for this precious flower wilts and dies as instantly as the fig tree cursed by our Lord when left without God’s sovereignty as both the early and latter rain. Think about each of these classic points, and then name the one that can stand apart from God’s providential ordering and maintenance of it. To deny providence is to deny God in all but existence and enter into the world of the Deitist. To acknowledge providence is to accept a sovereign God, who rules over His Kingdom. But. Alas this is only in theory, as we watch those professing Christ as King, continue to try and order events according as they see right in their own eyes.

Thus while in the natural realm of this temporal existence, the Divines rightly chose the plural, I believe God has spoken, and in this sense it is one Word, and providence is the daily working of this eternal divine Word in history. Though David rightly speaks in the Holy Writ of “the works of God’s fingertips;” Just as the human parts are a condescension on the part of God, that our understanding might be opened, so is this plurality of works. God spoke, and it is done! That God could so speak and all these small details be covered without His continuing to “work” is beyond our finite minds. The Scripture says God rested from His work, and thus the church has had to find another way for this to be true, and yet have God actively involved in what comes to pass. Providence is then the understanding we mere mortals need, thus distinguishing between the work of creation and the work of providence. But then which of us understands how God can be everywhere, is in everything, fills everything, yet still some how contains everything, yet the whole universe is not large enough to contain God? It is an awesome God we serve, who has graciously chosen to reveal Himself to us in this daily care of the smallest point of interest in our own daily lives, and beyond that care for even the insects under our feet and to have also ordered their existence. Rather than deny such a personal and loving God as many are want to do, providence reveals why we should all the more praise His holy name. What comfort we should find in belonging to such a God. How willingly we should be seeking His perfect will for our lives. Amid the storms of life, and the hurt of the circumstances of the moment, God providentially continues to care for us, and is present with us. How bright the fires in our heart should burn to know, that as comforting and sure as His providential presence is, one day we will be in His personal presence.

Dr. Chuck Baynard

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