WCF Chapter 5: Of Providence

WCF Chapter 5: Of Providence

It might seem strange that the confession’s teaching on providence deals mainly with its darker side. Of course, everything the confession says about God’s redemption of humanity could also be considered under the heading of providence. But providence does often rattle our faith. Yes, our heavenly Father providentially cares for his children (Matt. 6:25–34). But sometimes his care feels lacking. How can we make sense of providence when God leaves “his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts”? 

God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). We study God’s decree—his eternal plan—to grapple with his sovereign foreknowledge. We reflect on God’s providence—his working all things—to appreciate his present involvement in our world. God has not left us to fend for ourselves.

Still, the relation of God’s decree and his ongoing work in this world raises challenging questions. We wonder how providence affects human choices. We struggle to relate providence to human sin. And, if God works all things for the good of the church, why does providence sometimes seem hard even for Christians? We can’t answer all these questions to the satisfaction of our curiosity. We can’t perfectly harmonize Scripture’s teaching on how a good God can be totally in charge of a broken world. But trying to understand God’s work in our world can help us develop more mature trust in him.

How Does God’s Providence Work? (5.1–3, 7)

“God, the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things.” The living Word who created everything still “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). Nothing is outside of God’s control. King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that God “Does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35). The king discovered that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (32). Truly God is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” To him belongs “eternal dominion” (1 Tim. 6:15–16).

Because God is the “First Cause” of everything, even “second causes” are under his control. God is involved even when his hand is invisible. Nothing can evolve independently or be emancipated from the Creator. God commonly uses means to work his will. Skilled doctors are merely instruments in the great Physician’s hands. But God isn’t bound to means. God can work without means, as when Jesus raised Lazarus with his mere voice (John 11:43–44). God can work above means, as when he provided a son for aged Abraham and barren Sarah. God can work against means, as when he preserved his servants in a fiery furnace (Dan. 3:27).

And God’s providence is not only sovereign, it is also good. He governs according to his perfect “wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” No one else has a fraction of the qualifications to unfold world history. And God’s goal is perfect. God’s providence brings him glory and promotes the good of the church. We can’t always see how. But we believe that he will glorify himself (Lev. 10:3) and that, because of his rich love for the church, he will, at the close of history, present her to himself perfect (Eph. 5:25–27).

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