Thursday, March 20, 2014

Commentary on Lord's Day 10

TENTH LORD’S DAY


Question 27. What dost thou mean by the providence of God?

Answer. The Almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

EXPOSITION

Intimately connected with the doctrine of the creation of the world, is the subject of the providence of God, which is nothing else than a continuation of the creation; because the government of the world is the preservation of the things created by God. We are not to imagine, therefore, that the creation of the world is like the building of a ship, which the architect as soon as it is completed, commits to the government of some pilot; but we must hold this as a most certain truth, that as nothing could ever have existed except by the creating power of God; so it is impossible that any thing should exist, even for a moment, without his government and preservation. It is for this reason that the scriptures often join the preservation and continual administration of all things with their creation. Hence we cannot have a full and correct knowledge of the creation unless we, at the same time, embrace the doctrine of divine providence, concerning which we must inquire particularly.

          I.      Is there any providence of God?
          II.      What is it?
          III.      What does it profit us?

The first and second of these propositions are considered under this question; the third will be considered when we come to treat the twenty-eighth question of the Catechism




I. IS THERE ANY PROVIDENCE OF GOD?

There are three opinions entertained by philosophers respecting the providence of God: 1. The Epicureans deny that there is any providence respecting the affairs of mortals, or those things which are, and are done in the lower parts of the world. 2. The Stoics have devised and substituted for divine providence, an absolute necessity of all things and changes existing in the very nature of things, to which every thing is subject, including even God himself. This necessity they call fate or destiny. 3. The Peripatetics suppose that God does indeed behold and know all things, but does not direct and govern them, but only excites or keeps up the celestial motions, and through them sends down, by way of influence, some power or virtue into the lower parts of nature, whilst the operations and motions so excited are depending entirely upon matter and the will of man.
In opposition to these errors the church teaches according to the word of God, that nothing exists, or comes to pass in the whole world, unless by the certain and definite, but nevertheless most free and good counsel of God.
There are two kinds of proofs by which we may establish the doctrine of the providence of God: these are testimonies from scripture, and the force of arguments.
The testimony which the scriptures furnish in support of this doctrine is contained in such passages as the following: “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are numbered.” “God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Acts 17:25, 28. Matt. 10:29, 30. Eph. 1:11.) There are also many similar testimonies of scripture which prove the general and particular providence of God; for there is scarcely any doctrine more frequently and diligently inculcated than that of divine providence. As a single instance, God reasons in the book of Jeremiah, 27:5, 6, from the general to the particular: that is from the thing itself to the example. “I have made the earth, the man and the beasts that are upon the ground, and have given it unto whom it seemeth meet unto me.” And he immediately adds the particular, “now have I given all these lands into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant.”
The arguments which establish a divine providence are of two kinds. Some are a posteriori, which include such as are drawn from the effects or works of God: others are a priori, that is such as are drawn from the nature and attributes of God. Both may be clearly demonstrated, and are common to philosophy and theology, unless that the attributes and works of God are better and more fully understood by the church than by philosophy. The arguments, however, which are drawn from the divine works are more obvious; for it is through the arguments a posteriori that we arrive at and obtain a knowledge of those which are a priori.


Arguments in proof of the Providence of God, drawn from his works

1. Order cannot proceed from a brutish or irrational cause: for where there is order, there must also be some one that orders and directs. In the nature of things there is order; there is a most judicious arrangement of every part of nature, and a succession of changes and seasons, contributing to the preservation and continuation of the whole. Therefore, this order exists, and is preserved by some intelligent mind; and seeing that it is most wisely constituted, there is a necessity that he who has thus arranged all things, and who governs them by his providence, must be most wise. “He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by name.” (Ps. 147:4.
2. Man, who is as it were a little world, is ruled by a mind and understanding; much more, therefore, is the world governed by divine providence. “He who planted the ear, shall he not hear.” (Ps. 94:9.
3. The natural law, the knowledge of general principles natural to men, the difference between things honest and base, engraven upon our hearts, teach that there is a providence: for he who has engraven upon the heart of man a rule or law, for the regulation of the life, has a regard to the actions of men. God now has engraven such a rule upon the heart of man, and desires us to live in conformity thereto. Therefore he must also govern the lives, actions and events of his creatures. “The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts,” &c. (Rom. 2:15.) Plautus says, “There is verily a God, who sees and hears what we do;” and Homer says, “God hath an upright eye.”
4. The reproofs of conscience, which follow the commission of sin on the part of the wicked, prove that there must be a God who knows the secrets of men, punishes their sins, avenges himself upon their wickedness, and who causes such inward fears and forebodings to arise in the mind. “Their conscience at the same time bearing witness, and their thoughts, the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” (Rom. 2:15; 1:18.)
5. The rewards and punishments which follow the actions of men, testify that there must be some executioner of the laws of nature. There are more pleasant and favorable events accompanying the lives of those who live in moderation, even though they be without the church, than is the case with those who live in profligacy and sensual indulgence; for atrocious crimes are generally followed with severe punishment. Therefore there must be some judge who notices the actions of men, and rewards them accordingly. “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked; so that a man shall say, verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.” “He that chasteneth the heathen shall not he correct.” (Ps. 58:10, 11; 94:10.
6. A great part of the providence of God consists in the establishment, preservation and transfer of kingdoms and empires. These things, however, could not take place if there were no God. “By me kings reign and princes decree justice.” “That the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” (Prov. 8:15. Dan. 4:25.) Cicero says: “Commonwealths are governed far more by the aid and power of God, than by the reason and counsel of men.” There is always a greater number of the wicked than of the good, and more who wish the authority of the law subverted than maintained. Yet civil order is preserved; and republics and kingdoms are perpetuated. Therefore there must be some one greater than all devils, tyrants and wicked men, who always preserves this order against their rage.
7. The excellent virtues, exploits and success of heroes surpassing the ordinary capacity of man, the singular gifts and excellency of artificers which God has conferred upon certain individuals, for the general good and for the preservation of human society, &c., testify that there is a God who has a care for the human race. For these are things which are far greater than any that can proceed from that which is merely sensual; and possess too great an excellence to be merely the acquirements of human industry. There is, therefore, a God who, when he wishes to accomplish great things for the safety of the human race, raises up men endowed with heroic virtues, inventors of arts and counsels; and princes that are brave, good and prudent; and other instruments adapted to the accomplishment of his purposes. And when he wishes to punish men for their sins, he takes away the same instrument which he raised up for their safety. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.” “The Lord doth take away the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet.” “He giveth wisdom to the wise,” &c. (Ezra 1:1. Is. 3:2. Dan. 2:21.)
8. A providence may be inferred from prophecy and the prediction of events. He is God who can declare to men things that are yet future, and who cannot be deceived in his predictions. Therefore he does not only foresee future events, but also directs them that they come to pass, either by his effecting or permitting them: so that he has a regard for human affairs, and governs the world by his providence. “Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good.” (Num. 23:19.) Cicero says, “They are no gods that do not declare things to come.”
9. All things in the world are directed to certain ends and constantly tend to these ends. Therefore, there is some being most wise and powerful, who constantly directs all things by his providence, and brings each one to its appointed end. “Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Deut. 8:3.)


Arguments drawn from the nature and attributes of God

1. There is a God. Therefore there is a providence. This is as truly said as to say, no God, no providence: for to suppose a God who does not rule the world, is to deny God. Yea, to suppose God to exist and not to govern the world, is in direct opposition to his nature; for the world can no more exist without God than it could be created without him.
2. God is so powerful that it is not possible that anything can be done which he does not simply wish; neither can it be done in a manner different from what he desires; but whatever is done must necessarily be done according to his will and direction. Therefore those things which are daily done, are accomplished according to the will of Almighty God, and so by his providence.
3. It belongs to a wise governor not to permit any thing to be done in his kingdom without his will and certain counsel. God is most wise and can be present with all things. Therefore nothing is done in the world without his providence.
4. God is most just, and at the same time the judge of the world. Therefore, he himself bestows rewards upon the good, and inflicts punishment upon the wicked.
5. God is most good; but he who is most good is also most communicable. Therefore, as God created the world from his infinite goodness, that he might communicate himself to it, so in like manner he preserves, administers and governs the world which he created by the same goodness.
6. The ends of all things are good, and ordained of God. Therefore the means also, which are necessary for the attainment of these ends, are appointed by God from everlasting, either absolutely or according to something else.
7. God is the first cause of all things. Therefore all second causes are dependent upon him.
8. An unchangeable foreknowledge depends on an immutable cause. God foreknows all things unchangeably from everlasting. Therefore he foreknows from an immutable cause, which is his eternal counsel and decree. The sum of all is this: God is almighty, most wise, just and good: therefore he ordained and created nothing without some special end and purpose; neither does he cease to guide and direct his works to the ends for which he hath ordained them; nor does he suffer those things to be accomplished by chance, which he made and ordained for the manifestation of his own glory. “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself,” &c. “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” (Ps. 50:21; 77:9. Is. 46:10.)


II. WHAT IS THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD?

Foreknowledge, providence and predestination differ from each other. By foreknowledge we understand the knowledge of God, by which he foreknew, from all eternity, not only what he himself would do, but also what others would do by his permission, viz: that they would sin. Providence and predestination, although they include only those things which God himself will do, yet they differ in this, that providence extends to all the things and works of God, whilst predestination properly has respect only to rational creatures. Predestination is therefore the most wise, eternal and immutable decree of God, by which he appointed and destined every man, before he was created, to his certain use and end, as will hereafter be more clearly shown. But providence is the eternal, most free, immutable, wise, just and good counsel of God, according to which he effects all good things in his creatures; permits also evil things to be done, and directs all, both good and evil, to his own glory and the salvation of his people.


Explanation and confirmation of this definition

Counsel. Divine providence is called in the Scriptures the counsel of God. “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever.” “My counsel shall stand.” “God willing to show the immutability of his counsel.” (Ps. 32:11. Is. 46:10. Heb. 6:17. Also Is. 14:26; 19:17; 28:29. Jer. 32:19, &c.) From these declarations it is evident that by the term providence we are to understand not only the knowledge of things present and future, but also the decree or will and effectual working of God; for the term counsel comprehends an understanding or foreknowledge of things which are to be done, or which are yet future, with the causes on account of which they are or are not to be done; and also a will determining something from certain causes. Providence therefore, is not the bare fore-sight or fore-knowledge of God, but it also includes the will of God, just as πζονοια which we translate providence, signifies with the Greeks, both a knowledge and care of things.
Eternal. Because, as there can be no ignorance nor increase of knowledge, nor any change of will in God, there is a necessity that he must have known and decreed all things from everlasting. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways.” “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done.” “He hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” “We speak the wisdom of God, which he hath ordained before the world.” (Prov. 8:22. Is. 46:10. Eph. 1:4. 1 Cor. 2:7.)
Most free. Because he has so decreed from everlasting, as was pleasing to himself, according to his immense wisdom and goodness; when he had full power to have arranged his counsel otherwise, or even to have omitted it, or to have accomplished things differently from what he determined to do by his counsel. “He hath done whatsoever he pleased.” “As the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in my hands.” (Ps. 115:3. Jer. 18:6.)
Unchangeable. Because neither error nor change can occur with God; but what he has once decreed from everlasting, that being most good and just he wills everlastingly, and at length brings to pass. “I am the Lord, I change not.” “The strength of Israel will not lie not repent.” (Mal. 3:6. 1 Sam. 15:29. Also Num. 23:19. Job 23:13. Ps. 33:11. Prov. 19:21.)
Most wise. This is evident from the wonderful course of events, and things in the world. “With him is strength and wisdom.” “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” (Job 12; 16. Rom. 11:33. Also 1 Sam. 16:7. 1 Kings 8:39. Job 36:23. Ps. 33:15; 119:2–6, &c.)
Most just; because the will of God is the fountain and pattern of justice. “There is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons.” (2 Chron. 19:7. Also Neh. 9:33. Job 9:2. Ps. 36:7; 119:137. Dan. 9:7, 14.)
According to which he effects all good things. This is added that we may know that the counsel of God is not inactive, but efficacious, as Christ declared, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17.)
The working of God is two-fold—general and special. The general working of God is that by which he sustains and governs all things, especially the human race. The special is that by which he, in this life, commences the salvation of his people, and perfects it in the life to come. It is said in reference to both, “God is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe.” “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.” “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,” &c. (1 Tim. 4:10. Rom. 8:14. Ps. 34:15.) God works in both ways, either immediately or mediately. He works immediately when he does what he wills independent of means, or in a manner different from the order which he has established in nature; as when he supports life in a miraculous manner. He works immediately when he produces through creatures, or second cause, those effects for which they are adapted according to the established order of nature, and for which they were made, as when he sustains us by food and heals us of disease by medicine. “Let them take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster upon the bile, and he shall recover.” (Is. 38:21.) It is in this way that God reveals himself and his will unto us through the Scriptures as read and preached. “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” (Luke 16:29.)
This mediate operation or working of God is effected sometimes through good instruments, including such as are natural as well as voluntary; and sometimes through such instruments as are evil and sinful; yet in such a way that what God effects in and through them, is always most holy, just and good: for the goodness of the works of God does not depend upon the instruments, but upon his bounty, wisdom and righteousness. That God works through good instruments, is generally admitted by the godly. There is, however, a diversity of sentiment as it respects instruments that are evil and wicked. But if we would not deny that the trials and chastisements of the righteous, as well as the punishments of the wicked, which are accomplished through the wicked, are just and proceed from the will and power of God; and unless we also deny that the virtues and actions of the wicked which have contributed to the well-being of the human race, are the gifts of God; we must admit that God does also execute his just and holy judgments and works by instruments that are evil and sinful. It was thus that he sent Joseph into Egypt, through his wicked brothers and the Midianites, blessed Israel through the false prophet Balaam, tempted the people through false prophets, vexed Saul through Satan, punished David through Absalom and the blasphemies of Shemei, chastised Solomon by the sedition of Jeroboam, tried Job by Satan, carried Judah and Jerusalem into captivity by the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, &c.
He effects all good things. This he does in such a manner that no creature, great or small, can either exist, or move, or do, or suffer anything without his will and counsel: for by things that are good, we are to understand the quantities, qualities and motions of things, as well as their substance, because all things have been created by God; and are, therefore, necessarily included in his providence.
Permits evil things also to be done. Evil is two-fold—the evil of guilt, which is all sin, and the evil of punishment, which includes every affliction, destruction or vexation which God inflicts upon his rational creatures on account of sin. We have an example of evil under both of its forms in Jer. 18:8. “If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil I thought to do unto them.”
The evil of punishment is from God, the author and executioner thereof, not only in as far as it is a certain action or motion, but also in as far as it is the destruction or affliction of the wicked. This is proven, 1. Because God is the chief and efficient cause of every thing that is good. Every punishment now has the nature of moral good, because it is the declaration and execution of divine justice. Therefore God is the author of punishment. 2. God is the judge of the world, and the vindicator of his own glory, and desires to be acknowledged as such. Therefore he is the author of rewards and punishments. 3. Because the Scriptures every where, with one voice, refer the punishments of the wicked, as well as the chastisements, trials and martyrdoms of the saints, to the efficacious will of God. “I, the Lord make peace and create evil.” “Shall there be evil (that of punishment) in the city, and the Lord hath not done it.” “Rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Is. 45:7. Amos 3:6. Matt. 10:28.)
The evils of guilt as far as they are such, that is, sins, have not the nature of that which is good. Hence God does not will them, neither does he tempt men to perform them, nor does he effect them or contribute thereto; but he permits devils and men to do them, or does not prohibit them from committing them when he has the power to do so. Therefore these things do indeed also fall under the providence of God, but not as if they were done by him, but only permitted. The word permit is therefore not to be rejected, seeing that it is sometimes used in the scriptures. “Therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” “But God suffered him not to touch me.” “He suffered no man to do them wrong.” “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own way.” (Gen. 20:6; 31:7. Ps. 105:14. Acts 14:16.) But we must have a correct understanding of the word lest we detract from God a considerable portion of the government of the world, and of human affairs. For this permission is not an indifferent contemplation or suspension of the providence and working of God as it respects the actions of the wicked, by which it comes to pass that these actions do not depend so much upon some first cause, as upon the will of the creatures acting; but it is a withdrawal of divine grace by which God (whilst he accomplishes the decrees of his will through rational creatures) either does not make known to the creature acting what he himself wishes to be done, or he does not incline the will of the creature to render obedience, and to perform what is agreeable to his will. Yet he, nevertheless, in the meanwhile, controls and influences the creature so deserted and sinning as to accomplish what he has purposed.
He directs all things, both good and evil. All things, including those that are past from the creation of the world—those that are present, and those that are to come, even to all eternity. “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else: I am God and there is none like me.” (Is. 46:9, 10.)
To his own glory: that is, to the acknowledgement of his divine justice, power, wisdom, mercy and goodness.
And to the salvation of his people: that is, to the life, joy, righteousness, glory and eternal happinesss of the church. To these ends, viz: to the glory of God and the salvation of the church, all the works and counsels of God ought, without controversy, to be referred, because all of them give evidence of the glory of God, and of his concern for the church. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” &c. “For my name sake will I defer mine anger.” “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the glory of God should be made manifest in him.” (Ps. 19:1. Is. 48:9. Rom. 8:28. John 9:3.)
We have now given a short explanation of the definition which we have given of the Providence of God, from which the following question naturally arises: Is it a providence that includes all things; or, in other words, does it extend to every thing? The answer to this question is evident, which is, that all things, even the smallest, fall within the providence of God, so that whatever is done, whether it be good or bad, comes to pass not by chance, but by the eternal counsel of God, producing it if it be good, and permitting it if it be evil. But as there are some who are ignorant of this doctrine, whilst there are others who speak against it in various ways, and so cast reproach upon it, we must explain it more fully, and show that it is in perfect harmony with the teachings of God’s word.
The testimonies which prove that all things are embraced in the providence of God, are partly general, such as teach that all things and events generally, are subject to the providence of God; and partly special, such as prove that God directs and governs specially each particular thing. The former asserts and establishes a general, the latter a special providence. Those testimonies which are special have reference either to creatures or to the events which are daily occurring. As it respects creatures, they are either such as are irrational, whether animate or inanimate; or they are rational and voluntary agents doing that which is good or evil. As it respects events, they are contingent, or casual or necessary: for those things which occur are either casual and fortuitous, but only as far as we are concerned who are ignorant of their true causes; or they are contingent in respect to their causes which work contingently; or necessary in respect to those causes which work necessarily in nature. In respect to God however, there is nothing that is casual or contingent; but all things are necessary, although it be in a different manner as it respects good and evil actions


A table of those things which fall under the providence of God



It is proper that we should here append to each separate part or division of the above table, certain clear and satisfactory proofs, so as to leave no doubt upon the mind of any one respecting the truth of what is affirmed.
1. The general providence of God is established by the following testimonies taken from the word of God. “He doeth all things according to the counsel of his own will.” “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “Hath he said and shall he not do it; or hath he spoken and shall he not make it good.” “Thou hast made heaven, and earth, and all things that are therein, the seas and all that are therein, and thou preserveth them all.” “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” (Eph. 1:11. Acts 17:25. Num. 23:19. Neh. 9:6. Is. 45:7.)
2. The history of Joseph furnishes a remarkable proof of a special providence in regard to rational creatures. “It was not you that sent me hither, but God.” “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.” (Gen. 45:8; 50:20.) The history of Pharoah as recorded in the book of Exodus, establishes the same thing. “Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?” “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them, for to-morrow about this time will I deliver them all up slain before Israel.” “The Lord hath said unto Shimei, Curse David.” “And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, &c. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also.” “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will.” “The Lord turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them.” (Ex. 4:11. Josh. 11:6. 2 Sam. 16:10. 1 Kings 22:20. Prov. 21:1. Ezra 6:22.) The Lord also calls the king of the Assyrians, “the rod of his anger,” and adds, “When the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.” “Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not.” “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” “Herod and Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined to be done.” (Is. 10:6, 12. Lam. 3:37. Dan. 4:35. Acts 4:27, 28.)
3. As it respects the providence of God over irrational creatures, be they living or destitute of life, the following proofs may be adduced: “He keepeth all the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken.’ “And God remembered Noah and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark, and God made a wind to pass over the earth and the waters assuaged.” “He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.” “Your heavenly Father feedeth the fowls of the air,” &c. (Ps. 44:20. Gen. 8:1. Ps. 147:9. Matt. 6:20. See also the 37th chapter of the book of Job, and the 104th Psalm.)
4. Of things fortuitous and casual it is said, “And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hands, then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.” “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.” (Ex. 21:13. Math. 10:29, 30. Job 1:21. Prov. 16:33.)
5. Of necessary events, the necessity of which depends, either upon the counsel of God, revealed through his word, we may adduce the following testimony: “These things were done that the Scriptures should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.” “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day.” “It must needs be that offences will come.” “If it were possible they would deceive the very elect.” “My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hands.” (John 19:36. Luke 24:36. Matt. 24:24. John 10:28.) Or if the necessity of these events depend on the order divinely established in nature, or on natural causes, operating by a natural necessity, we may in this case, adduce the following testimonies: “He causeth the bud to spring forth. He bringeth the dew, the frost and the ice. He bringeth forth Mazzaroth in his season; guides Arcturus and the motions of heaven,” &c. “God thundereth marvellously with his voice; he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength. Out of the south cometh the whirlwind, and cold out of the north.” “He watereth the hills from his chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man,” &c. (Job 28:27, 32; 37:5–10; Ps. 104:13, 14, 15.)
The Scriptures furnish almost an infinite number of testimonies of a similar character, which prove that the providence of God embraces all things and every single event. These, however, are sufficient for our present purpose; for it is clearly evident from what has now been said, that all things, the evil as well as the good, the small as well as the great, are directed and governed by the providence of God; yet in such a way that those things which are good are done not only according to, but also by divine providence, as the cause, that is by God willing, commanding and effecting them, whilst those that are evil, as far as they are evil, are not done by, but according to divine providence, that is, not by God willing, commanding, effecting or furthering them; but by permitting them, and directing them to their appointed ends.
The arguments by which we demonstrate that the providence of God embraces all and every single thing, are very nearly the same as those by which we prove that there is a providence.
1. Nothing can be done without the will of him who is all-powerful. Therefore it is impossible that any thing can be done when God does not simply will it, seeing he is all-powerful. But whatever is done must be done either by God simply willing it, or it must be according to his will.
2. It belongs to a wise governor not to permit any thing, which he has in his power, to be done without his will and counsel; and the wiser he is, the more extensive will his government be. But the wisdom of God is infinite, and all things are in his power, according to Is. 40:27. Therefore nothing is done in the whole world which God does not will and decree.
3. All things have certain ends, which are truly good. But all good things are from God, who wills and directs them. Therefore he wills and directs the ends of things. But he who wills the ends, wills also the means for the attainment of these ends. Hence God wills the means, and these simply if they are good, or in a certain manner or respect if they are evil. Seeing therefore that all things which are and are done, are either ends or means for the attainment of these ends, it follows that God, must will and govern all things.
4. There is some first cause which does not depend on any thing else; but which is the ground of all other things. God is this first cause. Therefore all second causes depend upon the will of God.
5. God fore-knew all things unchangeably from everlasting, because he can neither be deceived nor err in his foreknowledge. Therefore the fore-knowledge of God is a certain and infallible knowledge of all things, so that all things come to pass just as God fore-knew they would, and that because he fore-knew them; for his fore-knowledge does not depend upon things created, but upon himself. Hence all events depend upon, and proceed immutably from the fore-knowledge of God.
6. All good things are from God as the first cause. All things made and established in nature, as substance, desires, actions, &c., as far as they are merely such, are good. Therefore they are from God, and are accomplished by his providence.


A REFUTATION OF CERTAIN OBJECTIONS AGAINST THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The first objection respects the confusion, or disorders in nature

Those things which are in a state of confusion are not governed by God, because he is not the author of confusion. There is much confusion in the world. Therefore either nothing, or at least all things are not governed by divine providence. Ans. 1. Whilst there are many things in a state of confusion, there are nevertheless, many things that are wisely ordered and regulated, as the motions of the heavenly bodies, the preservation of the different races of men, and of the different species of animals, the preservation of commonwealths, the punishment of the wicked, &c. Hence it cannot be concluded universally, that nothing is governed by God. 2. As it respects those things which are deranged or confused, it merely follows that this confusion which attaches itself to these things by the malice of devils and men, is not from God. There is, therefore, here also more in the conclusion than in the premises. 3. We reply to the major proposition, that those things which are deranged are not governed by God in as far as this derangement itself is concerned; yet they are governed by him in as far as there is any order discerned in the midst of this derangement. And there is nothing which is, or which occurs, in the world that is so deranged as to leave no marks of the order of divine wisdom, power and justice; for in the midst of the greatest confusion this order may always be clearly discerned. There was, for instance, great confusion as far as the wills and actions of men were concerned, in the death of the Son of God, who was crucified by the Jews; the same thing may be said of the selling of Joseph in Egypt, of the sedition of Absalom, &c., but yet there was at the same time the greatest order, as far as the will and counsel of God was concerned, who delivered his Son to death for our sins, sent Joseph into Egypt, punished David and Absalom, &c. In this way there can be in the same event confusion and order, only in a different respect. It follows therefore, that things confused are not from God, neither are they governed by him in as far as they are deranged and sinful; but in as far as they agree with the order of divine wisdom and justice they both are, and are governed by God.
To this it is objected: That which opposes the will of God is not ruled by God. The will of devils and men is opposed to the will of God. Therefore it is not ruled by God. Ans. There are here four terms in this syllogism; for the major is true of both the secret and revealed will of God, whilst the minor is true of the will of God only as revealed and made known.

The second objection against the providence of God is in reference to the cause of sin

All actions and desires or motions are from God. Many actions are sinful. Therefore sin is from God, and as a matter of consequence the doctrine of a universal providence makes God the author of sin. Ans. There is a fallacy of the accident in the minor proportion; for the actions of the wicked are sins, not (per se) in themselves, in as far as they are actions; but by an accident on account of the want of righteousness, and of the perversity of the will of the ungodly, who do not observe this so as to follow in the action the will of God. For this want of righteousness, and perversity is an accident of the will and action of the creature, which God designs to be effected by the corrupt will.
Obj. 1. But many actions are in their own nature sins. Therefore they are also sins in themselves. Ans. We grant the whole argument as it respects actions prohibited by God, and committed by creatures contrary to the will of God; in so far they are sinful; but not in as far as God wills them, or commands them to be done. For in respect to the divine will exciting or producing them, they are always most just judgment of God; nor are they without manifest contempt of God under the name of sin, so that they may be comprehended under their class. Hence the antecedent is false.
Obj. 2. He who wills an action which is sinful in itself, wills also the sin. God wills actions which are sinful in themselves, as the selling of Joseph in Egypt, the sedition of Absalom, the lying of false prophets, the cruelty of the Assyrians, the crucifixion of Christ, &c. Therefore he wills sin Ans. The major is true of him who wills an action which is sinful in respect to his will, or who wills an action with the same end with which he does who sins; but not of him who wills and performs a work which is sinful in respect to the will of another, or who wills a certain thing with a different end, and that good, seeing that it is in harmony with the nature and law of God. But the actions of the Assyrians and those of other sinners which God efficaciously willed, are sins, not in respect to the will of God, but in respect to the will of man sinning; for God willed all those things with the best end, while men, on the other hand, willed them with the worst. That this answer may be the better understood, and be made to rebut with greater force these cavils, this general rule is to be observed, the truth of which is manifest as well in theology as in moral and natural philosophy: When there are many causes of one and the same effect, some good and others evil, that effect in respect to the good causes, is good, whilst in respect to the evil it is evil and sinful; and good causes are in themselves the causes of good, but by an accident they become the causes of effects which are evil and sinful, or of the sin which is in the effect on account of a certain sinful cause; and on the contrary, sinful causes are in themselves the causes of evil, but by an accident they become they cause of the good, which is in the effect. It is universally true that efficient and final causes make a difference in actions. It is for this reason that the same action, as for instance, the selling of Joseph into Egypt was a most wicked affair in respect to his brothers, and at the same time good in respect to God on account of different, efficient and final causes. And just as the good work of God cannot be referred to the brothers of Joseph, so their wicked deed cannot be ascribed to God.
Obj. 3. That which cannot be done, God absolutely forbidding it, may nevertheless be done when God wills it. Sin, in as far as it is sin, cannot be committed when God does not expressly will it, for the reason that he is omnipotent. Therefore sin must be committed by God willing it. Ans. We deny the consequence, because the major proposition is defective; it does not contain all that should be enumerated. This is wanting, or when he permits it: for sin may be committed when God does not simply will it, but willingly permits it. Or we may say there is an ambiguity in the phrase not willing it, which sometimes means to disapprove of, and prevent at the same time, in which sense it is impossible that any thing should be done when God does not will it, otherwise he would not be omnipotent; and then again it signifies only to disapprove of, and not to prevent, but to permit. In this sense sins may be committed when God does not will them, that is, when he does not approve of them; but yet does not so restrain the wicked as to prevent their commission.
Obj. 4. The want of righteousness in man is from God. This want of righteousness is sin. Therefore sin is from God. Ans. There are four terms in this syllogism, for in the major proposition, the want of righteousness signifies the desertion and withdrawal of grace actively, which is a most just punishment of the creature sinning, and is thus from God; whilst in the minor it is to be understood passively, signifying a want of that righteousness which we ought to possess, which, when it is willingly contracted and received by men, and exists in them contrary to the law of God, is sin which is neither wrought nor desired by God. Briefly: This want of righteousness is from God in as far as it is a punishment; and it is not from him in as far as it is sin, or opposition to the law in the creature.
Obj. 5. Sinners are governed by God. The actions of sinners are sins. Therefore sins are from God. Ans. There is more in the conclusion than in the premises: for this is all that follows legitimately: Therefore sins are ruled by God, which is true in as far as they are merely desires and actions, and are directed to the glory of God. There is also a fallacy of accident in the minor; for actions are sins in as far as they are done by bad men contrary to the law, and not in as far as God influences men to perform them. They are, and become evil, therefore, not from themselves, but from an accident, which is the corruption of him who performs them, just as pure water becomes muddy and filthy by flowing through an impure channel, or as the best wine coming out of a good vessel, becomes sour by being put into an impure vessel, according to what Horace says, “Unless the vessel be clean, that which thou puttest therein, soureth;” or as the riding of a good horseman is halting if the horse be lame. In all these and similar examples, those things which are good in themselves are corrupted by an accident, so that we have the commission of what is called a fallacy of the accident, in as much as it proceeds from the thing itself to that which concurs with it by an accident in this manner: The governing of a lame horse is plainly a halting. The horseman wills and effects the governing of the lame horse. Therefore he wills and works the halting. Or the selling of Joseph by his brothers was a sin. God willed this selling. Therefore he willed the sin.
Obj. 6. God is the author of those things which are done by divine providence. All evils result from divine providence. Therefore God is the author of them. Ans. We grant the whole argument as it respects the evil of punishment; but as touching the evil of guilt the major must be distinguished in the following manner: Those things which are done by the providence of God effecting them, or in such a way that they result from it as an efficient cause, God is the author of them; but not of those which result from the providence of God only by permission, or which God permits, determines and directs to the best ends, as is true of the evil of guilt or crime. For the evils of guilt or sins in as far as they are such, have not the nature or consideration of good, as may be said to be true of the evil of punishment. Hence God does not will those things which are sins, neither does he approve of them, nor produce them, nor further or desire them, but merely permits them to be done, or does not prevent their commission, partly that he may exercise his justice in those who deserve to be punished, and partly that he may exhibit his mercy in forgiving others. “The scripture hath concluded all under sin that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.” “Even for this purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show forth my power in thee.” (Gal. 3:22. Rom. 9:17.) It is for this reason declared in the definition of the doctrine of divine providence, that God permits evil to be done. But this permission as we have already shown, includes the withdrawal of divine grace by which God, 1. Does not make known to man his will, that he might act according thereto. 2. He does not incline the will of man to obey and honor him, and to act in accordance with his will as revealed. “If a dreamer of dreams shall arise among you, thou shalt not hearken unto him, for the Lord your God proveth you.” “The Lord moved David against Israel to say, Go and number Israel and Judah. (Deut. 13:1, 3. 2 Sam. 24:1.) Why did he afterwards punish David? That he might be led to repentence. 3. He nevertheless influences and controls those who are thus deserted, so as to accomplish through them his just judgments; for God accomplishes good things through evil instruments, no less than through those which are good. For as the work of God is not made better by the excellency of the instrument, so neither is it made worse by the evil character of the instrument. God wills actions that are evil, but only in as far as they are punishments of the wicked. All good things are from God. All punishments are just and good. Therefore they are from God, according as it is said: “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it.” (Amos 3:6.) This is to be understood of the evil of punishment. The apostle James says in reference to the evil of guilt, “Let no man when he is tempted (that is when he is enticed to evil) say that he is tempted of God.” (James 1:13.) Only the evil of punishment, therefore, is from God, such as the chastisements and martyrdom of the saints, which he himself wills and effects. “Now therefore be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve your life.” (Gen. 45:5.) But God did not will death. Ans. He did not will it in as far as it is a torment and destruction of the creature, but he willed in as far as it is a punishment of sin, and the execution of his judgment. “Notwithstanding they hearkened not to the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.” (2 Sam. 2:25.

The third objection is in respect to contradictory wills

He who, in his secret counsel, wills and prohibits by his law the same work, in him there are contradictory wills. But in God there are no contradictory wills. Therefore he does not, by his secret determination, will those things which he prohibits in his law, as robbery, murder, lust, theft, &c. Ans. 1. We grant the whole argument in as far as these things are done by creatures contrary to the law, and are sins. In this sense God neither wills nor approves of them, but only in as far as they are certain motions and punishments of the wicked. 2. We must make a distinction in reference to the major proposition; for it is contradictory to say he wills and forbids the same work in the same respect, and with the same end. God wills and forbids the same things, but in a different respect, and with a different end. He willed, for instance, the selling of Joseph in as far as it was the occasion of his elevation, the preservation of the family of Jacob and the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the bondage of the seed of Abraham in Egypt. But in as far as he was sent away by the hatred of his brethren, he did not will it, but denounced and condemned it as horrible fratricide. And so of the other examples we have adduced.

The fourth objection relates to liberty and contingency
That which is done by the immutable decree of God cannot be done contingently and freely, but necessarily. But many things are done contingently and freely. Therefore many things are not done by the immutable decree and providence of God, or else liberty and contingency are taken away. Ans. 1. We reply to the major: that which is done by the unchangeable decree of God cannot be done contingently, viz: in respect to the first cause, or in respect to the same immutable divine decree: yet it may be done contingently in respect to a second and last cause working contingently or freely. For contingency is the order between a changeable cause and its effect: just as necessity is the order between a necessary cause and its effect. Hence the cause must be of the same character as the effect. But the same effect may proceed from a changeable and necessary cause in different respects, as is the case with all things which God does through his creatures; of which both God and his creatues are the cause. Thus in respect to God there is an unchangeable order between cause and effect; but in respect to creatures, there is a changeable order between the cause and the same effect. Hence in regard to God it is necessary, but in regard to the creature it is contingent in the same effect. Therefore it is not absurd that the same effect should be said to be necessary and contingent in respect to different causes, that is, in respect to an unchangeable first cause acting necessarily, and in respect to a changeable second cause acting contingently. 2. We also deny what is said in the major, that that is not done, or may be done freely which is done by the immutable decree of God. For it is not immutability, but constraint; or it is not the necessity of unchangeableness, but that of constraint which take away liberty. God is unchangeably and necessarily good, and yet he is at the same time most freely good: the devils are unchangeably and necessarily evil; and yet they are evil, and do that which is evil with the greatest freedom of the will.

The fifth objection relates to the uselessness of means

It is in vain that means are employed for the purpose of hindering or advancing those things which are done by the unchangeable will and providence of God; such are the counsels, commands, doctrines, exhortations, promises and threatenings of God; the labors, endeavors, prayers, &c., of the saints. But these means are not employed in vain, because they are commanded by God. Therefore all things are not done by the unchangeable counsel and providence of God. Ans. 1. We deny the major, because the first and principal cause being considered, it is not necessary that that which is secondary and instrumental should be taken away; nor the contrary. The reason is because God decreed also to employ means and second causes for the purpose of accomplishing the ends and effects determined upon by himself, and he shows us in his word, and in the order of nature that he wills to use them, and commands us to do the same. Therefore, it is not in vain that the sun daily rises and sets; nor is it in vain that fields are sown, or watered with showers, or that our bodies are refreshed with food, although God creates light and darkness, causes the corn to spring up from the earth, and is the life and length of our days. So also, it is not in vain that men are taught, and that they should study to conform their lives to certain habits or doctrines, although the actions and events that promote our well-being proceed from God only. Therefore means are to be employed; 1. That we may render obedience to God, who has ordained both the ends and the means for the attainment of these ends, and has prescribed them unto us; otherwise we tempt God at our peril. 2. That we may obtain the good things promised unto us. 3. That we may retain a good conscience, even though we do not always obtain the things desired and expected in the use of these means.
2. It is also a fallacy to declare that to be true generally, which is true only in a certain respect; for even where there is nothing accomplished by means, they are nevertheless profitable in this respect, that they render the wicked inexcusable.

The sixth objection has respect to rewards and punishments

Those things which are necessary do not merit rewards or punishments. All good works merit rewards, whilst evil works merit punishment. Therefore good and evil works do not occur necessarily, but changeably. Ans. 1. We grant the whole in relation to second causes, from which many things proceed changeably, and which therefore produce changeable effects. 2. We deny what is affirmed in the minor, that good works merit rewards with God, although they may be rewarded among men, as it is said of Abraham, “If he were justified by works he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” (Rom. 4:2.) 3. We deny the major proposition if it be understood of evil works generally; for that evil works merit punishment, the depravity and corrupt will of man is a sufficient testimony, whether they be necessarily done or not. Aristotle himself, when treating this subject in his Ethics, affirms that the inebriate ought not to be excused in sin from intoxication, and that men are deservedly punished and reprehended for vices, whether of the body or of the mind, of which they themselves are the cause, although they may not be able to avoid or leave them ofbecause they have brought these things upon themselves, of their own word.


Question 28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and his providence doth still uphold all things?

Answer. That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things which may hereafter befal us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.

EXPOSITION

It is necessary that the doctrine of the creation of all things, and of the providence of God should be known, and held:
1. On account of the glory of God: for those that deny the creation and providence of God, deny also his attributes; and in doing this they neither magnify nor praise God, but deny him. Therefore the doctrine of providence should be known that we may attribute unto God the glory of the power, wisdom, goodness and justice which appears in creating, preserving and governing all things.
2. On account of our consolation and salvation, that we may by this means be led, in the first place, to exercise patience in adversity; for whatever comes to pass by the will and counsel of God, and is profitable for us, that we ought patiently to bear. But all things, even those that are evil, happen by the counsel and will of God, and are profitable unto us. Therefore we ought to bear these patiently, and in all things consider and recognize the fatherly will of God towards us. Secondly, that in prosperity we may be thankful to God for the benefits received: for from whom we receive all good things, temporal as well as spiritual, great as well as small, to him we ought to be grateful. Now it is from God, the author of all good gifts, that we have all that we enjoy. Therefore we ought to be thankful to him, that is, we ought to acknowledge and celebrate his benefits. For gratitude bases itself upon the will and justice of God; and so consists in acknowledging and celebrating his benefits towards us, and in making suitable returns for the same. Thirdly, that we may entertain a good hope in regard to all things which may hereafter befal us, so as to rest fully assured that if God by his providence has so far delivered us out of past evils, he will also in future make all things subservient to our salvation, and never so desert us that we perish. In short, the ends of the doctrine of divine providence are: the glory of God—patience in adversity—thankfulness in prosperity, and hope in regard to future things.
From these things it appears that the whole truth of religion, and the very foundation of piety would be overthrown if the providence of God, as it has been defined and explained, be not maintained: Because, 1. We would not be patient in adversity if we did not know that these things are sent upon us from God our Father. 2. We would not be grateful for the benefits which we receive if we did not know that they are given to us from above. 3. We would not have a good and certain hope in relation to future things if we were not fully persuaded that the will of God, in regard to our salvation, and that of all his people, is unchangeable.


Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 146–164). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.