“WCF: Providence” (Lesson One: What Is Providence?

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WCF 5.1 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. I. Introduction: A. Providence is one part of God’s Decree. 1. “What are the decrees of God? A. The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (S.C. 7). a. God’s Decree includes all things: “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). b. Even the final destination of every soul: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:3-4). 2. “How doth God execute his decrees? A. God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence” (S.C. 8). a. Creation and Providence are the outworking of His decree. b. Creation is the arena in which God will fulfill His decree/plan. c. Providence is His governing all things according to that plan. “What are the works of providence? A. God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (S.C. 11). 3. Providence covers much ground. In this section, we will answer the following questions: a. What is Providence? b. How can our decisions really be significant if God is the One who ultimately is in control? In other words, are we free to make our own choices, or are our choices determined by God? c. Does God ever work above His ordinary Providence, or in other words, does God still do miracles today? d. If God is sovereign and has determined absolutely whatsoever comes to pass, does this mean that He is also responsible for our sinful choices, as well as those of all men? e. If God is in control, why does He sometimes give His own children over to be tempted and even allow them to practice sin for a time?

2 f. How does God deal differently with the wicked in His Providence? g. Does the Lord take any special care or have special consideration for His people in His plan? B. What is Providence? 1. Definition: a. The word providence comes from the Latin word provideo. (i) The word pro means before, and the word video, from which we get our English word “video,” means “I see.” (ii) Together they mean “to see beforehand.” b. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “foresight; care; especially the foresight and care of God for His creatures” (777). This is true, but we need to be careful how we understand this. c. It doesn’t mean that God looks ahead to see what will happen and then makes His choices. d. It means that God knows the future because He has planned it. 2. Providence is the carrying out of God’s plan, but what’s necessary for this to happen? a. First of all, can all the things God made exist by themselves? Do the things He made need Him anymore? Do we need Him? If God no longer existed – which is unthinkable – would we still exist? (i) No. God must constantly uphold all things or they will vanish into the nothingness from which they came. (ii) The author to the Hebrews writes, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3). b. But is upholding all things enough to carry out His plan? (i) No. God must also direct, dispose and govern all things. (ii) He must have control of what He made to make sure that everything turns out as He has planned. c. Does this mean that God is involved in His creation? (i) Yes. We call those who believe in God, but deny His involvement with His creation, Deists. (ii) Christians believe that God is intimately involved in the Creation. (a) We call this God’s immanence. (b) This is especially true in the Incarnation where God the Son actually becomes a part of this Creation by taking to Himself a human nature. d. What are the things that God must have control of if He is to carry out His plan? (i) All things. (ii) All His creatures, all their actions, and all things, from the greatest of

3 them – such as men and angels – to the least of them – such as molecules of water or grains of sand. e. Is there anything that God is not sovereign over? (i) No. If God wasn’t in control of all things, He ultimately would be in control of nothing. (ii) In Daniel 4:34-35, we read, “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast You done?’” (iii) The psalmist writes, “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps. He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; who makes lightnings for the rain; who brings forth the wind from His treasuries” (Psalm 135:5-7). (iv) And our Lord Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:29-30). (v) Even something as insignificant as a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father. He even knows the number of hairs that are on our heads, because He has determined them. 3. Is God’s plan spontaneous? Does He make it up as He goes along, reacting to the decisions of His creatures? a. No. The Confession says that God is working all things in this world according to His infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel of His own will. b. Do the authors mean the same thing as the Arminians here? Does God know what’s going to happen because He looks down the corridors of time and sees what will happen and make His choices based on what He sees? c. No, God doesn’t need to look ahead. He knew what was going to happen. He knew it from all eternity because it was a part of His eternal plan, a plan which He has always known perfectly and comprehensively. (i) When God does anything, it is according to this sovereign plan: the knowledge of what He was going to do. (ii) “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). 4. The last question is, Why did God plan to do what He did? What was His goal? a. It was to reveal His glory (His wisdom, power, justice, goodness and mercy) to His intelligent creatures – to men and angels – that they might praise Him

4 for it. b. How does God reveal these things? (i) Certainly He does so in His creation, but also in His work of redemption. (ii) He writes regarding Pharaoh, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’” (Rom. 9:17). (iii) The psalmist writes, “Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. And men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts; and I will tell of Your greatness. They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness, and shall shout joyfully of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:39). (iv) Paul writes, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:8-10). (v) His works here certainly include His works of redemption, which include His justice, goodness and mercy. God determined to reveal His glory that all might praise Him. (vi) His providence in simply the working out of His plan to reveal His glory. 5. This lays the biblical groundwork for what we are going to look at in the following weeks. a. God is sovereign, and He has a sovereign plan that includes absolutely everything He has made and everything they do. b. He is guiding everything He has made according to that plan so that He might reveal His glory. c. Next week, we will look at how God’s plan affects our freedom to make choices and whether or not it mitigates our responsibility for our choices.