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.”