The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section V.2-7

Section 1 made clear that the doctrine of providence, that is, the sovereign will of a personal God, eliminates both chance and fate. Sections 2-6 “of the Confession are directed against certain erroneous inferences which men have drawn from the doctrine stated in section 1 of this chapter. Here we are taught (1) that God’s absolute sovereignty does not destroy the integrity of man’s liberty, (2) nor does it deny the operation of second causes, (3) that God is, however, free to overrule these “laws” (and causes) when he pleases, (4) that God ordered even the fall of man without himself doing any evil, and (5) that God’s sovereignty extends to the inward operations of man’s heart (in both the saved and the lost) without participation in sin.”1 The sections that follow elaborate on these issues.

“Section II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly (Acts 2:23); yet, by the same providence, he orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (Gen. 8:22; Ex. 21:13; Deut. 19:5; I Kgs. 22:28, 34; Is. 10:6-7; Jer. 31:35).” These sections reaffirm the idea that God predestines the means as well as the end of his sovereign work in history. “The bible teaches that all things are certainly determined, but that God’s providence arranges events according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. God does not decree an auto wreck apart from its causes; caution is the usual cause of safety, and wrecks are caused by recklessness.”2

Clark quoted the following from Zanchius’ ‘Absolute Predestination’. “In consequence of God’s immutable will and infallible foreknowledge, whatever things come to pass, come to pass necessarily, though with respect to second causes and us men, many things are contingent, i.e., unexpected and seemingly accidental.’ Thus the term ‘contingent’ refers to man’s way of looking at events, or more explicitly to man’s incomplete knowledge of how the events were caused.”3 “Section III. God in his ordinary providence makes use of means (Is. 55:10-11; Hos. 2:21-22; Acts 27:31, 44), yet is free to work without (Job 34:10; Hos. 1:7; Mt. 4:4), above (Rom. 4:19-21), and against them (II Kgs. 6:6; Dan. 3:27), at his pleasure.” God, in being independent of the means, is free to employ or not employ them to his own ends.

Furthermore, creation and providence are inseparable, since he sustains what he has created by the very modes of their original constitution. God is likewise free to re-create all that he has made in his sovereign redemptive plan. “It is in the execution of the same unchangeable plan that God first created every thing, endowed it with its properties, determined its mode of action and its mutual relations to all other things, and ever afterward continues to preserve it in the possession of its properties and to guide it in the exercise of them. Even in the writings of the prophets and apostles, who wrote under the control of a specific divine influence, rendering even their selection of words infallibly accurate, we can plainly see that the spontaneous exercise of the faculties of the writers was neither superseded nor coerced.”4

It is sometimes remarked that an inerrant and infallible inspiration of holy scripture must somehow violate the free actions of the human authors, but such a charge fails to understand the doctrine of providence. “The providence of God is either ordinary or miraculous. In his ordinary providence God works by means, and according to the general laws established by his own wisdom: we are, therefore, bound to use the means which he has appointed, and if we neglect these, we cannot expect to obtain the end. But though God generally acts according to establish laws, yet he may suspend or modify these laws at pleasure. And when, by his immediate agency, an effect is produced above or beside the ordinary course of nature, this we denominate a miracle.”5

“Section IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men (Rom. 11:32-34; II Sam. 16:10; 24:1; I Kgs. 22:22-23; I Chron. 10:4, 13-14; 21:1; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28), and that not by a bare permission (Acts 14:16), but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding (II Kgs. 19:28; Ps. 126:10), and otherwise ordering and governing them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends (Gen. 1:20; Is. 10:6-7, 12); yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceeds 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 (Ps. 1:21; I Jn. 2:16; Js. 1:13-14, 17).”

“That the providence of God is concerned about the sinful actions of creatures must be admitted. Joseph’s brethren committed a most wicked and unnatural action in selling him to the Midianites; but Joseph thus addressed his brethren: (Gen. 45:5). The most atrocious crime ever perpetrated by human hands was the crucifixion of the Lord of glory, yet it is expressly affirmed that God delivered him into those wicked hands which were imbrued in his sacred blood.”6 “God’s relation to sin is not that of bare permission; in fact, as Calvin shows in his ‘Institutes’, II, iv. 3 and III, xxiii. 8, permission in the case of the Almighty has no specific meaning; the proof texts cited in the Confession and many other passages not cited amply support the creedal statement.”7

“Section V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God, does 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 (II Sam. 24:1; I Chr. 24:1; II Chr. 32:25-26, 31); and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends (Ps. 73; 77:1, 10, 12; Mk. 14:66-72; Jn. 21:15, 17; II Cor. 12:7-9).” “The providence of God, instead of causing sin or approving it, is constantly concerned in forbidding it by positive law, in discouraging it by threatenings and actual punishments, in restraining it  and in overruling it against its own nature to good.”8

“Section VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins does blind and harden (Rom. 1:24-28; 11:7-8), from them he not only withholds his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts (Dt. 29:4), but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had (Mt. 13:12; 25:29), and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin (Dt. 2:30; II Kgs. 8:12-13), and withal, gives them over to their lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan (Ps. 81:11-12; II Th. 2:10-12); whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others (Ex. 7:3; 8:15, 32; Is. 6:9-10; 8:14; Acts 28:26-27; II Cor. 2:15-16; I Pet. 2:7-8).”

“In Scripture, God is frequently said to harden wicked men for their former sins. This he does, not by infusing any wickedness into their hearts, or by direct and positive influence on their soul in rendering them obdurate, but by withholding his grace, which is necessary to soften their hearts, and which he is free to give or withhold as he pleases; by giving them over to their own hearts’ lusts, to the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; and by providentially placing them in such circumstances, or presenting such objects before them, as their corruption makes an occasion of hardening themselves.”9  “That the general providence of God, embracing and dealing with every creature according to its nature, consequently, although one system, embraces several subordinate systems intimately related as parts of one whole.

The principle of these are, the providence of God over the material universe; the general moral government of God over the intelligent universe; the moral government of God over the human family in general in this world; and the special gracious dispensation of God’s providence toward his Church.”10 “Section VII. As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of his church, and disposes all things to the good thereof (II Chron. 16:9; Is. 43:3-5, 14; Amos 9:8-9; Rom. 8:28; I Tim. 4:10).” “These sections teach also that there is a relation of subordination subsisting between these several systems of providence, as means to ends in the wider system which comprehends them all. Thus the providential government over mankind in general is subordinate as a means to an end to his gracious providence toward his church (Rom. viii. 28).”11

Hodge also elaborates on this last point, by referring to what has come to be called biblical revelation, but also the growth and strengthening of the church following upon the close of that special revelation, as the former is a sure hope for the church of the latter. “The history of redemption through all its dispensations, Patriarchal, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Christian, is key to the philosophy of human history in general. The race is preserved, continents and islands are settled with inhabitants, nations are elevated to empire, philosophy and practical arts, civilization and liberty are advanced, that the Church, the Lamb’s bride, may be perfected in all her members and adorned for her Husband.”12 This in turn is for the equipping of the church to proclaim, work, and pray that the Lord’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10 Cf. Mt. 16:15-20).

1. Williamson, (48-49)

2. Clark, (62)

3. Ibid., (64)

4. Hodge, (96)

5. Shaw, (111)

6. Ibid., (112)

7. Clark, (67)

8. Hodge, (100)

9. Shaw, (113)

10. Hodge, (101)

11. Ibid., (101)

12. Ibid., (101)

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