WSC Q. 11

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STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 11. — What are God’s 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.

Scripture References: Ps. 145:17; Ps. 104:24; Heb. 1:3; Ps. 103:19; Matt. 10:29, 30.

Questions:

1.
What is the meaning of the word “providence?”

The meaning of the word providence is that of care, the ability to foresee what is coming and to make provision for it.

2. What are the parts of God’s providence?

The parts of God’s providence are: 1. His preservation of things (Ps. 36:6). 2. His government of things (Ps. 67:4).

3. How does creation and providence differ?

Dr. Charles Hodge states, “Creation, preservation, and government are in fact different, and to identify them leads not only to confusion but to error. Creation and preservation differ – first, as the former is the calling into existence of what did not exist, and the latter is continuing, or causing to continue, what already has a being; and secondly, in creation there is and can be no cooperation, but in preservation there is a concursus (harmonious cooperation) of the first, with second causes. In the Bible, therefore, the two things are never confounded. God created all things, and by Him all things consist.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Pg. 578)

4. To what does God’s providence extend?

a. All His creatures, especially His children.
b. The actions of His creatures.

5. Does His providence extend to all the actions of His creatures?

Yes, it extends to all actions. To hold otherwise would be to say that the creatures would be independent in their actions and then God would not be the first cause of all things.

6. If providence includes all actions of men, does this mean the sinful actions as well as the good actions?

Yes, even the sinful actions of men are controlled by God’s providence but this does not make Him responsible for their actions. God permits men to sin (Acts 14:16). God limits and restrains men in their sins (Ps. 76:10). God directs and disposes men’s sins to good ends. beyond their own intentions (Isa. 10:5,6,7)

7. What is the purpose of God’s providence?

The purpose of God’s providence is the manifesting of God’s own glory.

THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD AND THE WORD
In Article 13 of the Belgic Confession, its section on Divine Providence, there appears the following words, ” … to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing these limits.”

There has always been a danger in the church of Jesus Christ to become confused as to the doctrine of providence. Some believers in Christ, recognizing that God is Sovereign and convinced of His preserving and governing powers, take it to mean that they should wait on the providence of God to discover their duty. They forget that the providence of God shows us the path of God and does not point out our path. They forget that our rule of faith and practice is the Word of God, not His purpose fulfilled in a providence. Goodwin stated it this way: “We are not to go in businesses merely by providences, for we shall find that oftentimes providences do lay fair occasions for sinning. When Jonah was to go to Tarshlsh, he had the fairest providences that could be; he found a ship all ready; ay, but he went against the word of God. Never be ruled by providences, they may be temptations and probations; be ruled by The Word of God alone.”

Indeed we are “to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word.” We are not to get involved in the non-Christian conceptions of chance. It should be quite significant to the Christian that even Hitler mouthed the word “providence” many times. We recognize though with Berkouwer that “no one can believe in the Providence of God without knowing the way to God through Jesus Christ.” But we are to further recognize that the ways in which we walk will be ways that must be consistent with The Word of God. We must not wait on providence to lead us but recognize that God’s revelation has come to us through His Word.

The Providence of God affords us great comfort. It tells us that God directs us. It tells us that He watches over us. It tells us that He restrains us. But all these things are done within the limits of The Word of God and are not the ruling factors in our lives but the great thought behind our actions, actions taken according to His Word – i.e. that God is always in control of His world.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

God Preserves and Governs Us

With scant information available for some historical Presbyterian person, place, or event, we turn our attention back to the historic Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Today, March 23, we look at one of the most comforting catechetical answers which is found in the whole catechism, namely, question and answer 11.  It reads, “What are God’s works of providence? Answer: God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.”

The heart of God’s providence is found in those two verbs “preserving” and “governing.”  The first activity of providence is found in the truth that our Creator God “preserves” His creatures.  The writer to the book of Hebrews tell us in chapter 1:verse 3 that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (ESV)  Paul told us in Acts 17:28 that “in him (God) we live and move and have our being.” (ESV)  The prayer of Nehemiah 9;6 which records the Levites prayer, acknowledged “You are the LORD, you alone.  You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them: and you preserve all of them.” (ESV)  We may not always understand how this happens, but the Bible declares that it does happen, and for that we can be at rest.

Further, the second activity of providence is that he “governs” us.  A reflection on that well-known text, which every Christian should have memorized, Romans 8:28, is good here.   Paul  writes that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  The “all things”  of the context include the sufferings of this present life.   We simply need to be patient and discover the “good” which is coming to us.

The character of such providence as is described above, is “holy, wise, and powerful.”  Here are the attributes of God with relation to both his person as well as  his preservation and governing of His creatures and their actions.  Knowing this, we can be at peace because we know that his preserving and governing will not be contrary to holiness, wisdom, or divine power.

The subjects of providence are “his creatures and all their actions.”  We ourselves might have questions about how God’s providence relates to moral evil in the world, but both Scripture and the Westminster Standards teach that the sinfulness of any action proceeds from the one who is doing it, never from God.  In purposes far beyond our understanding, God has permitted, limited, and overruled all of these evil actions for the accomplishment of her holy ends.  A good example is Peter’s conclusion regarding Christ’s sacrifice in Acts 2:23 when he said, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  It is clear. Lawless men crucified Jesus on the cross.  Yet all of it was by the ordering of the sovereign God.

Words to Live By: A firm belief in this doctrine of God’s providence will comfort the true saint of God to live and act in full assurance that he is always in God’s hands.

Through the Scriptures: Judges 16 – 18

Through the Standards: Christ’s Exaltation according to the Confession

WCF 8:4k – end:
“On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also He ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.”

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