IV. The Shorter Catechism-Q & A 11-12 Providence
Q and A #11.
Q. 11 What are God’s works of providence?
A. 11 God’s works of providence are, His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.
God’s person is inseparable from His actions. There are some things which God cannot do. God can only act consistent with His own character. Q & A 4 seeks to answer the question as to God’s being and character. Here we are simply to understand that God acts in harmony with that character. The first thing we should note is that providence consists of both preserving and governing all that He has made. Firstly, without His preserving all things they would not continue to exist. All that exists is every bit as much dependent on His preservation, as much as on His creating. All philosophies like Deism, which suggest that God somehow created the whole universe like a clock and then left it to its own internal devices are false. Secondly, He not only preserves all things, but He also governs all things. Nothing is static. All things were created with a place and purpose in His sovereign plan and decree. There is nothing in all creation that escapes our heavenly Father’s preservation and governance (Mt. 6:25-34; 10:29-31).
The second major point which the catechism emphasizes is that God does this preserving and governing based on three things. Firstly, as was noted above, it is inseparable from His holy, that is separate and pure, character (Ps. 145:17). Secondly, His preserving and governing of all things is based on His wisdom. Nothing that happens is generic. Everything happens because God’s wisdom determined it to happen (Is. 28:29). Finally, this preserving and governing is made possible because God is all-powerful. God is one, with nothing in Himself which is hidden from any other attribute of His character. When He exercises His power, which is always, He does so as He who is holy and wise. Furthermore, He alone is the standard of what is holy and wise. Man may devise something in his core or heart, but this does not always find fruition in his actions. This is not the case with God. In fact, man does indeed devise things in his heart, but it is God who ultimately determines his course (Pr. 16:9). “His kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19b).
Q and A #12.
Q. 12 What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. 12 When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.
Many have objected to the designation ‘covenant of works’ for a number of reasons. Firstly, the most obvious objection is the fact that the word for ‘covenant’ does not occur in the Genesis account of creation. In fact, the first occurrence of the word is with Noah (6:18). However, the word ‘Trinity’ nowhere occurs in the scriptures, but no orthodox believer would suggest that the proof is not present for the doctrine. Secondly, the covenant with David, as we find it in II Samuel 7 and I chronicles 17, also does not include the word, but other scriptures do speak of it as being a covenant relationship (Cf. II Sam. 23:5; Ps. 89:3). In the same way, other scriptures, either directly or indirectly, refer to God’s relationship with Adam as a covenantal one (Hos. 6:7). Jeremiah draws a connection somewhat indirectly by referring to the “covenant for the day, and My covenant for the night” (33:20-21, 25-26). This might refer to Noah (8:22), but just a few verses earlier, Jeremiah also refers to sun and moon as light-bearers with another word used for covenant, namely ‘statute’, and this further aspect of light-bearing does not occur with Noah (Cf. I Kgs. 11:11; II Kgs. 17:15; Ps. 50:16; 105:10).
Thirdly, and directly related to the first point, if all the elements of a covenant are present then this is all that is required to make the point. Of chief importance is the second point above-that all the elements of a covenant relationship are indeed present in this relationship between God and Adam. O. Palmer Robertson did a seminal job of demonstrating a truly biblical definition of God’s covenants with humanity, both before and after the fall, as “a bond in blood sovereignly administered” (‘The Christ Of The Covenants’, pp. 3-15). The relationship with Adam was clearly a bond of life and death (2:15-17), and one which was also clearly sovereignly administered. It was not a contractual relationship which they negotiated as equals. God initiated the relationship from the moment man was created as his vice regent, and the promises and conditions were given by Him. The commands given to humanity were to exercise dominion as His stewards, and to that end to be fruitful and multiply (vv. 26-27; 2:5, 15, 18). God blessed this relationship. He also gave the promise that that earth would also be fruitful and multiply to fulfill this covenant (vv. 29-30).
Humanity was also given a specific probationary test, a prohibition to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To this end Robertson also makes a very important point, that this covenant relationship wasn’t just about the probation test, but it was also a relationship which included the promise of life, which spelled out humanity’s place in the universe. Whereas the Westminster Confession calls this relationship “a covenant of works” (Ch. VII.), this has the danger of only focusing on the probation test. The catechisms speak of a covenant of life, which does also speak to the positive outcome of this covenant of works, but also to the other aspect of the life present from the beginning of this covenant relationship. Robertson prefers the designation of ‘Covenant of Creation’ (Ibid. pp. 67ff.). However, such a designation might very well serve the opposite problem of not capturing the idea of the probation test as clearly being a matter of works. There is also a danger in the contrast with the subsequent covenants being called various administrations of the covenant of grace, that this first covenant did not stem from grace, something which Dr. Murray pointed out, and Robertson also reiterated (Cf. Murray, ‘The Covenant Of Grace,’ Robertson, pp. 56-57).
The first covenant was also an expression of God’s unmerited favour. God did not need to create the world or humanity, and He didn’t need to establish a relationship. Furthermore the promises which this covenant contains were promises which He in no way was required to give. By the same token, Robertson refers to the subsequent covenants as administrations of the one covenant of redemption, for in these covenants God expressed His grace in redemption of a portion of fallen humanity. Whatever the designation, it is certainly the case that there were these two aspects to this covenant relationship. As Robertson points out, the Larger Catechism, even more so than the Shorter, elaborates on what constituted this covenant of life, namely, dominion, marriage, and the Sabbath (Cf. Robertson, pp. 56-57, 67ff.; WLC. Q & A 20; WSC. Q & A 12). Furthermore, the Westminster Shorter Catechism makes the important point that this covenant of life is a “special act of providence” which God exercised “toward man in the estate wherein he was created” (Q. 12). In other words, this was part of His governance of all His creatures (Q. 11). In making this statement, we declare that God’s providence is inseparable from His covenant.