What better way to start off my blog this year than with some reflections on divine providence, and what better source of Scripture's teaching on the subject as understood by the Reformed consensus than the fifth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith?
As the father of a 6 yr. old daughter and a 2 1/2 yr. old son—with another child in its 8th week of brewing who I hope will be a boy so that I could name him "Cauvin Paul"—providence has weighed heavily upon my mind these days. I must also confess that I am of the sort that is not endowed with a measure of imperviousness to anxiety and worry, especially as pertaining to the welfare of my family, so reviewing Scripture's teachings on this subject has been a tremendous comfort to my soul.
What does the fifth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith teach us regarding the doctrine of divine providence?
I. God the great Creator of all things does 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.
Everything that is part of reality (which excludes nothing) derives its being from God. From the seemingly insignificant to the grandiose, every creature moves along its path of existence according to God's desired pattern, the particulars never moving beyond God's set abstractions. This is why a dog does not meow and a cat does not bark, why the unity of a human sperm and egg cell does not result in a baby chimpanzee, and why the unregenerate can never choose to seek God.
The intricacies apparent in the known universe betrays the hand of an infinitely artistic, wise, and loving God who has not created just to leave His creation running on its own steam, but is actively involved in every minute detail, all to the resounding of the creature's praise of its Creator.
II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
III. God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.
God orders the universe primarily through ordinary and natural means, i.e. second causes. Mysticism is always on the lookout for God working in the first cause capacity, and this is apparent in the delusions found in many of the Pentecostal and Charismatic groups. Luther refers to this as a "theology of glory," wherein the creature oversteps his boundaries in an attempt to peer into God's secret counsel when wisdom admonishes him to extract the worship that is due God from the latter's ordinary dealings through second causes.
What is a second cause? Well, to put it simply, you are not reading this blog because a computer suddenly appeared in your room ex nihilo (first cause). A chain of events was put in place by God's second causes so that you may be in possession of that computer: the computer company was given enough profitability to manufacture computers and distribute them for purchase, whoever spent for your computer was given the physical and mental strength to earn the money that was used for the purchase, etc. A necessary second cause is an ice cube melting under the noonday sun, a free second cause is me marrying my lovely wife, and a contingent second cause is a guy arriving home safely if he does not drive after having too much to drink.
But God is free to work miracles (first cause) and Scripture is replete with such examples.
IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof 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.
God is not the author of sin, but He also did not merely "allow" it in a deistic sense. If every creature is dependent on God for its being—its very existence—then the energy that was required to commit the first sin must have come from God Himself and the unfolding of all that followed did not leave Him baffled for He never had a Plan B.
V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they 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 sundry other just and holy ends.
See: The Utility of Indwelling Sin
VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, does blind and harden, from them He not only withholds His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in 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.
Each of us, believer and unbeliever alike, are not as evil as our hearts' potential would allow. You are not a serial killer not because you are better in the state of your heart than the one who is but because God has put a restraint on the extent of the manifestations of the latent corruption that is a part of who you naturally are as descended from the First Adam. And it is within the divine prerogative to grant a new heart fashioned in the likeness of Christ to one, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, and to leave another in his depraved state, proceeding to a natural, ever-increasing wickedness culminating in death and destruction.
VII. As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of His Church, and disposes all things to the good thereof.
The trials, persecutions, and hardships peculiarly experienced by the child of God in the clutches of the world, the devil, and indwelling sin may seem to cast a dark shadow upon the truth of divine providence, but it is precisely in the sharing with the sufferings of Christ that the taste of present blessing and future glory become all the more sweeter.
These truths are an anchor to my soul when the wind and wave of anxiety, worry, and doubt threaten to dislodge me from a position of peace and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ who has promised never to leave nor forsake me—and my growing family.