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North Side Notes

God's providence over good stuff and bad stuff (WCF 5.4-7)

Posted by Kyle Edwards on

This is part of an ongoing series on the Westminster Confession of Faith, HTC's confessional statement of faith. 

So what's the providence of God all about? The last post in this series dealt with the first half of chapter 5. This hits the second part.

There's so much to say here, but at the same time the topic is so complex and seemingly cerebral that endless chatter might be less than helpful. So much of this discussion concerns God's providence over bad things doesn't give it a cheery tone, which doesn't necessarily help things. 

So I'll just make a few comments about this section instead and try to show at the end how this is important and encouraging for the Christian life. 

God's providence over sin

Scripture says that God is sovereign even over sin and rebellion against God. Section four summarizes it thus

The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath 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 proceedeth 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.

This one's always tricky. God doesn't just merely permit sin; his sovereignty is more robust than that. At the same time, though, he's not to blame for sin either. He's not the cause of sin. It's not easy to work those two points together, but faithfulness to Scripture leads us to affirm that God hardens hearts (Exodus 9:12), yet God himself is perfectly holy (1 John 1:5). 

God's providence over your sin

So what about your sin, the sin of the Christian? Section 5:

The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth 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.

I think Proverbs 3:11-12 is getting at this: "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." In other words, God's way of leaving us to our sin and the consequences thereof are intended to discipline us and protect us from greater danger, as a father disciplines his children.  

God's providence over sin (again)

Scripture says that sometimes God hardens people in their sin (their own sin, mind you) so that they continue to disbelieve. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says, "Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Here's how the Westminster Divines summarized this and other passages:

As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden, from them he not only withholdeth his grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions 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 useth for the softening of others.

God's providence over the church

Most of this chapter has been concerned with God's providence over bad things. Yet it extends to good things as well. Section 7:

As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.

Given the generally sober tenor of this chapter we might have wished more to be said about this. But at least something was said!

And let this be a consolation to you. For the faithful Christian - not the perfect Christian, but the faithful one walking with your Lord by his mercy - his providence means this: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). 

So are you suffering because of your sin? God is using that to show you a better way. Are you suffering because of events beyond your control? God is using even that for your good. You may not be able to see how it's good, and maybe you never will in this life. But God is still sovereign. You can bank on him. 

Tags: providence, sin, sovereignty, suffering