A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.12: Of Divine Providence

1689conf

Chapter 5: Of Divine Providence

1._____ God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy. 

( Hebrews 1:3; Job 38:11; Isaiah 46:10, 11; Psalms 135:6; Matthew 10:29-31; Ephesians 1:11 )

2._____ Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

( Acts 2:23; Proverbs 16:33; Genesis 8:22 )

3._____ God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure. 

( Acts 27:31, 44; Isaiah 55:10, 11; Hosea 1:7; Romans 4:19-21; Daniel 3:27 )

4._____ The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. 

( Romans 11:32-34; 2 Samuel 24:1, 1 Chronicles 21:1; 2 Kings 19:28; Psalms 76;10; Genesis 1:20; Isaiah 10:6, 7, 12; Psalms 1:21; 1 John 2:16 )

5._____ The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations and the corruptions 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 other just and holy ends. So that whatsoever befalls any of his elect is by his appointment, for his glory, and their good. 

( 2 Chronicles 32:25, 26, 31; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Romans 8:28 )

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

( Romans 1:24-26, 28; Romans 11:7, 8; Deuteronomy 29:4; Matthew 13:12; Deuteronomy 2:30; 2 Kings 8:12, 13; Psalms 81:11, 12; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; Exodus 8:15, 32; Isaiah 6:9, 10; 1 Peter 2:7, 8 )

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

( 1 Timothy 4:10; Amos 9:8, 9; Isaiah 43:3-5 )

Understanding the Confession

I. Summarizing the Doctrine of Providence (para. 1)

Paragraph of 1 chapter 5 of the confession provides a basic and clear summary for the doctrine of providence. Here we can show a basic outline of the summary:

  1. The Author of Providence: “God the good Creator of all things”
  2. The Foundation of Providence: “his infinite power and wisdom”
  3. The Essence of Providence: “uphold, direct, dispose, and govern”
  4. The Objects of Providence: “all creatures and things, form the greatest even to the least”
  5. The Nature of Providence: “By his most wise and Holy Providence”
  6. The Purpose of Providence: to bring things “to the end for which they were created”
  7. The Causes of Providence: 1) God’s Mind – “his infallible foreknowledge” 2) God’s will – “the free and immutable counsel of his own will”
  8. The Telos or Goal of Providence: “to the praise of the glory…”

II. Major Concerns about the Doctrine of Providence (paras. 2-7)

The Doctrine of providence as unfolded in this chapter is very closely related and firmly relations to the doctrine of God’s decree found in chapter 3. The decree is God’s blueprint or plan, and providence carries out that decree by guiding the actual course of history. Where the decree takes place in eternity, providence takes place in history. Because much of this was discussed in our blogs on the doctrine of God’s decree, we will spend just a few moments expounding on the relationship of providence to the use of means and to the care of the church.

A. The Use of Means (paras. 2-3)

Paragraphs 2-3 describe the Use of means in the confession as it relates to divine providence, and within these two chapters we can see three things about the use of means as it relates to divine providence: a concession, an assertion, and a qualification.

The concession is that “In relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably or infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance or without his providence.” The reality and importance of means in the world which God has made do not negate the reality and immutability of his eternal decree. The fatalist and the Arminian argue that, if God ordained everything then nothing we do can make any difference. The Bible reasons in an exactly the opposite way. Since God has ordained all things, the means he ordained do make a difference. The proof of this consists in a comparison of texts cited in our discussion on the decree of God.

The assertion of the confession is that “by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes wither necessarily, freely, or contingently.” A tension is stated here: A course of events consisting of a series of free and contingent events is said to produce a predetermined result. The proof of this statement is the many places in which free or random actions are the necessary conditions  of divinely determined events (see Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 27:23-24, 31; Matt. 5:20; Phil. 1:19). Victory in war is predetermined (Proverbs 21:31), but also careful preparation of equipment (Prov. 21:31) and wise guidance are recommended (Prov. 20:18). Ruth did not merely come across Boaz by sheer coincidence as it may seem (Ruth 2:3), rather God used that coincidence to deliver Ruth as gift to Boaz (Prov. 19:14). Understanding that God controls the world through means should protect us from three things: 1) a miserable anxiety and complaining about life, 2) A paralyzing fatalism that sees all actions as meaningless, and 3) A ruinous presumption which undermines obedience since God will indeed accomplish all his purposes. Yes, God will save every person he attends to, but if you are unfaithful in seeking to share the gospel to all as you have been commanded (Matt. 28:18-20) you should be very weary of facing that holy God in heaven.

B. The Care of the Church (para. 7)

Providence means care or attention given to something beforehand. The confession makes clear in paragraph 7 that the special focus of God’s care and attention in his royal and universal providence is his people, the church (Prov. 2:7-8; Isa. 43:3-5; 14; Amos 9:8-9; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11, 22; 3:10-11, 21). Who if anyone, enjoys God’s special care? It is the church fo Jesus Christ. This is an often veiled but very comforting fact. Where is the focal point of God’s providence of the world? Rome? No. Mecca? No. Jerusalem? No. The focal point is located where God’s temple is and where is his Temple? Anywhere His church is. It is for the sake of the church that everything in life happens for their good, and God’s glory.

 

Resources

1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. http://www.rblist.org/1689.pdf.

Waldron, Sam. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Durham, NC: Evangelical Press, 1999.

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