Of Providence

DSCN3386Providence, Berkhof

THE IDEA OF PROVIDENCE. Providence may be defined as that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end. This definition indicates that there are three elements in providence, namely, preservation (conservatio, sustentatio), concurrence or cooperation (concursus, co-operatio), and government (gubernatio)  …..But while we distinguish three elements in providence, we should remember that these three are never separated in the work of God. While preservation has reference to the being, concurrence to the activity, and government to the guidance of all things, this should never be understood in an exclusive sense. In preservation there is also an element of government, in government an element of concursus, and in concursus an element of preservation. Pantheism does not distinguish between creation and providence, but theism stresses a twofold distinction: (a) Creation is the calling into existence of that which did not exist before, while providence continues or causes to continue what has already been called into existence. (b) In the former there can be no cooperation of the creature with the Creator, but in the latter there is a concurrence of the first Cause with second causes. In Scripture the two are always kept distinct.

The French Confession of Faith, 1559

Article 8: The Providence of God

We believe that he not only created all things, but that he governs and directs them (Ps 104; Job 34:14-15;John 5:17; Heb 1:3), disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world (Gen 27:20; 2 Sam 2:6; 1 Kgs 22:34; Ps 75:6-7; 115:3; 119:89–96; 139:2–6, 13–18; 147; Prov 16:4; 21:1; Isa 10:5-7; 45:7; Lam 3:37-38; Matt 10:29; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 14:17; 17:24, 26, 28; Rom 9:11; Eph 1:11; Jas 4:15); not that he is the author of evil, or that the guilt of it can be imputed to him (Job 1:22; Ps 5:4; Hos 13:9; Gal 5:19-21; 1 John 2:16; 3:8), as his will is the sovereign and infallible rule of all right and justice (Job 1:22; Ps 5:4; 45:6; 119; Rom 9); but he hath wonderful means of so making use of devils and sinners that he can turn to good the evil which they do, and of which they are guilty (Gen 45:8; 50:20; Job; Acts 2:23-24, 27; 4:27-28; Rom 8:28). And thus, confessing that the providence of God orders all things, we humbly bow before the secrets which are hidden to us, without questioning what is above our understanding (Rom 9:19-20; Rom 11:33); but rather making use of what is revealed to us in Holy Scripture for our peace and safety (Job 1:21; Ps 10:14; 37:5; Rom 5:3-4; 8:28–29; 2 Cor 4:7-18; 1 Thess 5:18; Jas 1:1-3), inasmuch as God, who has all things in subjection to him, watches over us with a Father’s care, so that not a hair of our heads shall fall without his will (Matt 6:25-34; 10:30; Luke 21:18). And yet he restrains the devils and all our enemies, so that they can not harm us without his leave (Job 1:12; Job 2:6; Gen 3:15; Isa 45:1-8; Matt 8:31; John 19:11).


Belgic Confession of Faith, 1561

Article 13: Of Divine Providence

We believe that the same [or this good] God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them, according to his holy will (John 5:17;Heb 1:3; Prov 16:4; Ps 104:9; 139:2), so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment (Jas 4:15; Job 1:21; 1 Kgs 22:20; Acts 4:28; 1 Sam 2:25; Ps 115:3; 45:6; Amos 3:6; Deut 19:5; Prov 16:1, 9, 33; 21:1; Ps 105:25; Isa 10:5-7; 2 Thess 2:11; Ezek 14:9; Rom 1:28; Eph 1:11-12; Gen 45:8; 50:20; 2 Sam 16:10;Gen 27:20; Ps 75:6-7; Isa 45:7; Prov 16:4; Lam 3:37-38; 1 Kgs 22:34, 38; Exod 21:13); nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed (Jas 1:13; 1 John 2:16). For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner even when the devil and wicked men act unjustly (Matt 8:31-32; John 3:8; Job 1:21; Isa 10:5; 45:7; Amos 3:6; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28). And as to what he doth surpassing human understanding we will not curiously inquire into it further than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God which are hid from us (1 Kgs 22:12-23; Rom 1:28; 11:33–34; 2 Thess 2:11), contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word without transgressing these limits (Deut 29:29; 1 Cor 4:6).

This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power (Matt 8:31; Job 1:12; 2:6) that not a hair of on our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow [un petit oiseau], can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father (Matt 10:29-30), in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission , they can not hurt us (Gen 45:8; 50:20; 2 Sam 16:10; Rom 8:28, 38-39).

And therefore we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance.


Heidelberg Catechism, 1563

Of God the Father and our Creation

Lord’s Day 9

26. What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth with all that in them is, who likewise upholds, and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father, in whom I so trust as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul; and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this troubled life, He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.


Lord’s Day 10

27. What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.

28. What does it profit us to know that God created, and by His providence upholds, all things?

That we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.

 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1643-1649

Chapter V: Of Providence

1. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold (Neh 9:6; Ps 145:14-16; Heb 1:3), direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things (Dan 4:34-35; Ps 135:6; Acts 17:25-26, 28; Job 38-41), from the greatest even to the least (Matt 10:29-31; 6:26, 30), by his most wise and holy providence (Prov 15:3; 2 Chr 16:9; Ps 104:24; 145:17), according to his infallible foreknowledge (Acts 15:18 [TR]; Ps 94:8-11; Isa 42:9; Ezek 11:5), and the free and immutable counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11; Ps 33:10-11), to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy (Isa 63:14; Eph 3:10; Rom 9:17; Gen 45:7;Ps 145:7).

2. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly (Acts 2:23; Isa 14:24, 27); yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (Gen 8:22; Jer 31:35; Exod 21:13; Deut 19:5; 1 Kgs 22:28, 34; Isa 10:6-7).

3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means (Acts 27:31, 44; Isa 55:10-11; Hos 2:21-22), yet is free to work without (Hos 1:7; Matt 4:4; Job 34:20), above (Rom 4:19-21), and against them (2 Kgs 6:6;Dan 3:27), at his pleasure.

4. 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 (Isa 45:7;Rom 11:32-34; 2 Sam 24:1; 1 Chr 21:1; 1 Kgs 22:22-23; 1 Chr 10:4, 13-14; 2 Sam 16:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28); and that not by a bare permission (John 12:40; Acts 14:16; 2 Thess 2:11), but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding (Ps 76:10; 2 Kgs 19:28), and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends (Gen 50:20; Isa 10:6-7, 12); 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 (Jas 1:13-14, 17; 1 John 2:16; Ps 50:21).

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 (2 Chr 32:25-26, 31; 2 Sam 24:1; Deut 8:2-3, 5; Luke 22:31-32); 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 (2 Cor 12:7-9; Ps 73; 77:1-12; Mark 14:66-72; John 21:15-17).

6. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden (Rom 1:24, 26, 28; 11:7-8), from them he not only withholdeth his grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts (Deut 29:4; Mark 4:11-12); but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had (Matt 13:12; 25:29; Acts 13:10-11), and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasions of sin (Gen 4:8; Deut 2:30; 2 Kgs 8:12-13; Matt 26:14-16); and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan (Ps 81:11-12; 109:6; Luke 22:3; 2 Thess 2:10-12), whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others (Exod 7:3; 8:15, 32; 2 Cor 2:15-16; Isa 8:14; 1 Pet 2:7-8; Isa 6:9-10; Acts 28:26-27).

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 (1 Tim 4:10; Amos 9:8-9; Matt 16:18; Rom 8:28; Isa 43:3-5, 14).


The Second Helvetic Confession, 1566

Chapter VI: Of the Providence of God

1. [1.] All Things Are Governed by the Providence of God. We believe that all things in heaven and in earth and in all creatures, are sustained and governed by the providence of this wise, eternal, and omnipotent God. For David witnesses and says, “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto the Lord, who dwelleth on high, and yet humbleth himself to behold things that are in heaven and earth?” (Ps 113:4-6). Again, he says, “Thou hast forseen all my ways; for there is not a word in my tongue which thou knowest not wholly, O Lord,” etc. (Ps 139:3-4). Paul also witnesses and says, “By him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28); and “of him, and through him, and from him are all things” (Rom 11:36).

2. Therefore Augustine both truly and according to the Scripture said, in his book De agone christiano, chap. 8, “The Lord said, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without the will of your Father’ (Matt 10:29). By speaking thus he would give us to understand whatsoever men count most vile, that also is governed by the almighty power of God. For the truth, which said that all the hairs of our head are numbered, says also that the birds of the air are fed by him, and the lilies of the field are clothed by him (Matt. 6:26-29; 10:30; Rom 12 [?])” (De agone christiano 8).

3. [2.] The Epicureans. We therefore condemn the Epicureans, who deny the providence of God (cf. Cicero, De natura deorum 1.2.3; 1.19.51), and all those who blasphemously affirm that God is occupied about the poles of heaven, and that he neither sees nor regards us or our affairs. The princely prophet David also condemned these men when he said, “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? They say the Lord doth not see, neither doth the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, ye unwise among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? and he that hath formed the eye, shall he not see?” (Ps 94:3, 7-9).

4. [3.] Means Not to Be Despised. Notwithstanding, we do not condemn the means whereby the providence of God works as though they were unprofitable; but we teach that we must apply ourselves unto them, so far as they are commended unto us in the Word of God. Wherefore we dislike the rash speeches of such as say that if all things are governed by the providence of God, then all our duties and endeavors are unprofitable; it shall be sufficient if we leave or permit all things to be governed by the providence of God; and we shall not need hereafter to behave or act with carefulness in any matter. For though Paul did confess that he did sail by the providence of God, who had said to him, “Thou must testify of me also at Rome” (Acts 23:11); who, moreover, promised and said, “There shall not so much as one soul perish, neither shall a hair fall from your heads” (Acts 27:22, 34); yet, the mariners devising how they might find a way to escape, the same Paul says to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these remain in the ship, ye can not be safe” (Acts 27:31). For God, who has appointed every thing his end, he has ordained the beginning and the means by which we must attain unto the end.

[4.] The heathen ascribe things to blind fortune and uncertain chance; but St. James would not have us to say, “Today or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and there buy and sell;” but he adds, “For that which ye should say, If the Lord will, and if we live, we will do this or that” (James 4:13, 15). And Augustine says, in his exposition of the 148th Psalm (Enarrationes in Psalmos), “All those things which seem to vain men to be done advisedly in the world, they do but accomplish his word because they are not done by his commandment.” And it seemed to be done by chance that Saul, seeking his father’s asses, should light on the prophet Samuel; but the Lord had before said to the prophet, “To-morrow I will send unto thee a man of the tribe of Benjamin,” etc. (1 Sam 9:16).


Catechism of the Church of Geneva, 1537; 2nd ed., 1541

What is Meant by this Word Almighty

23. M. In what sense do you give him the name of Almighty?
S. Not as having a power which he does not exercise, but as having all things under his power and hand; governing the world by his Providence, determining all things by his will (Eph 1:11), ruling all creatures as seems to him good.

Concerning the Providence of God

27. M. But why do you call God a Creator merely, while it is much more excellent to defend and preserve creatures in their state, than to have once made them?
S. This term does not imply that God created his works at once, and then threw off the care of them. It should rather be understood, that as the world was once made by God, so it is now preserved by him, and that the earth and all other things endure just in as far as they are sustained by his energy, and as it were his hand. Besides, seeing that he has all things under his hand, it follows, that he is the chief ruler and Lord of all. Therefore, by his being “Creator of heaven and earth,” we must understand that it is he alone who by wisdom, goodness, and power, guides the whole course and order of nature: who at once sends rain and drought, hail and other storms, as well as calm, who of his kindness fertilizes the earth, and on the contrary, by withholding his hand, makes it barren: from whom come health and disease; to whose power all things are subject, and whose nod they obey (cf. for instance Ps 148:8).


Westminster Larger Catechism, 1643-1649

Q. 14. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence (Rev 4:11; Isa 40:12-31), according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will (Eph 1:11; Ps 148:8; Dan 4:35; Acts 4:24-28).
Q. 18. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are his most holy (Ps 145:17; Lev 21:8), wise (Ps 104:24; Isa 28:29), and powerful preserving (Heb 1:3; Ps 36:6; Neh 9:6) and governing (Ps 103:19; Job 38-41; Ps 145:14-16) all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions (Matt 10:29-31; Gen 45:7; Ps 135:6), to his own glory (Rom 11:36; Isa 63:14).
Q. 19. What is God’s providence towards the angels?
A. God by his providence permitted some of the angels, wilfully and irrecoverably, to fall into sin and damnation (Jude 6; 2 Pet 2:4; Heb 2:16; John 8:44), limiting and ordering that, and all their sins, to his own glory (Job 1:12; Matt 8:31; Luke 10:17); and established the rest in holiness and happiness (1 Tim 5:21; Mark 8:38; Heb 12:22); employing them all (Ps 103:20; 104:4), at his pleasure, in the administrations of his power, mercy, and justice (2 Kgs 19:35; Heb 1:14).
Q. 20. What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?
A. The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth (Gen 2:8, 15-16); putting the creatures under his dominion (Gen 1:28), and ordaining marriage for his help (Gen 2:18; Matt 19:3-9; Eph 5:31); affording him communion with himself (Gen 1:26-29; 3:8); instituting the Sabbath (Gen 2:3; Exod 20:11); entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience (Gen 2:16-17; Rom 5:14; Gal 3:12; Rom 10:5; Gal 3:10; 1 Cor 15:22, 47; Hos 6:7), of which the tree of life was a pledge (Gen 2:9; 3:22-24); and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death (Gen 2:17; Jas 2:10).


Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1643-1649

Q. 8. How doth God execute his decrees?

A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence (Ps 148:8; Isa 40:26; Dan 4:35; Acts 4:24-28; Rev 4:11).
Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy (Ps 145:17), wise (Ps 104:24; Isa 28:29), and powerful preserving (Heb 1:3; Neh 9:6) and governing all his creatures, and all their actions (Ps 103:19; Matt 10:29-31; Eph 1:19-22).
Q. 12. What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience (Gal 3:12); forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death (Gen 2:17; Jas 2:19).


We Are Not Ruled By Chance

Do things happen by chance in God’s world? In a word, no , there is no such thing as chance, or fate, or good luck, or bad luck.

A faithful servant of God should be absolutely convinced inside that all things happen by God’s decree and not by chance or by good luck or bad luck.

As a Reformed pastor / theologian put it:

the church teaches according to the word of God, that nothing exists, or comes to pass in the whole world, unless by the certain and definite, but nevertheless most free and good counsel of God.  Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary On The  Heidelberg  Catechism.

There are many testimonies from Scripture to support this truth.

The Apostle Paul reminded the Athenians of God’s work in the details of human life:

24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find  Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Acts 17:24-28

And Jesus reminds us of God’s concern for sparrows and for the number of hairs on our heads:

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29, 30

We are supposed to draw comfort and encouragement from this teaching.

  1. God cares about sparrows and about the number of hairs on my head
  2. I am more valuable to God than many
  3. I should not fear.
  4. I can trust God to provide for my needs.

 Jesus also draws our attention to God’s care for wildflowers and wild grass.

 25 For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:25-27

What comfort and encouragement do we see here?

  1. The birds of the air don’t sow, or reap, or gather into barns.
  2. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
  3. You are worth much more than they.
  4. Therefore, don’t worry about life (eat or drink); nor for your body, as to what you will put on.

And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Matthew 6:28-30 What comfort and encouragement do we see here?

  1. Wild lilies don’t work or spin cloth.
  2. But not even Solomon (the richest king on earth in his time) in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
  3. So, if God so clothes the grass of the field (which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace)
  4. Will God not much more clothe me?
  5. I can trust God for clothing, and for whatever else I need for survival.

Finally, Jesus tells us to get our priorities straight:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Matthew 6:33

Don’t forget the guarantee of all promises: the Son, through whom the lilies, little birds, illnesses, enemies, and everything in heaven and on earth have been created and by the word of His power are upheld (Hebrews 1:3). This Son, who has been appointed heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2), the Father gave to die for you as the guarantee of His love, and He freely, by grace, ordained you to be joint heirs with

His Son. How is it then possible for you to be harmed by any created thing, which can neither live nor move without the direct operation of the Son of God?

All created things exist in Him and are ruled by Him, and you are a joint heir with Him. Should it not be impossible, therefore, for created things to do anything but serve you and work together for your good, even when it appears as though most of them oppose you? The Apostle Paul looks to this guarantee in Romans 8:31, 32: “What more shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”

So be encouraged, brothers and sisters, God has got everything under control. He is working everything out for His glory and for our good.

Source: http://makingdisciplesblog.com/2014/05/04/we-are-not-ruled-by-chance/

God Ordains Whatsoever Comes to Pass – Robert Shaw on WCF 3:1-2

Westminster_Confession_of_FaithTaken from The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith by Robert Shaw

Chapter III. Of God’s Eternal Decree

Section I.–God from all eternity did by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

Section II.–Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.


By the decree of God is meant his purpose or determination with respect to future things; or, more fully, his determinate counsel, whereby, from all eternity, he foreordained whatever he should do, or would permit to be done, in time.

This subject is one of the most abstruse and intricate in theology, and it has been the fruitful source of a variety of controversies in the Christian Church. But whatever diversity of opinion may obtain respecting the details of the doctrine, “no man will deny that there are divine decrees, who believes that God is an intelligent being, and considers what this character implies. An intelligent being is one who knows and judges, who purposes ends and devises means, who acts from design, conceives a plan, and then proceeds to execute it. Fortune was worshipped as a goddess for the ancient heathens, and was represented as blind, to signify that she was guided by no faced rule, and distributed her favours at random. Surely no person of common sense, not to say piety, will impute procedure so irrational to the Lord of universal nature. As he knew all things which his power could accomplish, there were, undoubtedly, reasons which determined him to do one thing, and not to do another; and his choice, which was founded upon those reasons, was his decree.”

That God must have decreed all future things, is a conclusion which necessarily flows from his foreknowledge, independence, and immutability. “The foreknowledge of God will necessarily infer a decree, for God could not foreknow that things would be, unless he had decreed they should be; and that because things would not be future, unless he had decreed they should be.” If God be an independent being, all creatures must have an entire dependence upon him; but this dependence proves undeniably that all their acts must be regulated by his sovereign will. If God be of one mind, which none can change, he must have unalterably fixed everything in his purpose which he effects in his providence.

This doctrine is plainly revealed in the Scriptures. They speak of God’s foreknowledge, his purpose, his will, the determinate counsel of his will, and his predestination. “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.” – Rom. viii. 29. “He hath made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself:” “He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”–Eph. i. 9, 11. ” Christ,” says an apostle, “was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”–Acts ii. 23.

“The decrees of God relate to all future things, without exception; whatever is done in time was foreordained before the beginning of time. His purpose was concerned with everything, whether great or small, whether good or evil; although, in reference to the latter, it may be necessary to distinguish between appointment and permission. It was concerned with things necessary, free, and contingent; with the movements of matter, which are necessary; with the volitions and actions of intelligent creatures, which are free; and with such things as we call accidents, because they take place undesignedly on our part, and without any cause which we could discover. It was concerned about our life and our death; about our state in time and our state in eternity. In short, the decrees of God are as comprehensive as his government, which extends to all creatures, and to all events.”

The decrees of God are free. He was not impelled to decree from any exigency of the divine nature; this would be to deny his self-sufficiency. Neither was he under any external constraint; this would be destructive of his independence. His decrees, therefore, must be the sovereign and free act of his will. By this it is not meant to insinuate that they are arbitrary decisions; but merely that, in making his decrees, he was under no control, and acted according to his own sovereignty.

The decrees of God are most wise. They are called “the counsel of his will,” to show that, though his will be free, yet he always acts in a manner consummately wise. He needs not to deliberate, or take counsel with others, but all his decrees are the result of unerring wisdom. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” “Wisdom is discovered in the selection of the most proper ends, and of the fittest means of accomplishing them. That this character belongs to the decrees of God is evident from what we know of them. They are disclosed to us by their execution; and every proof of wisdom in the works of God is a proof of the wisdom of the plan in conformity to which they are performed.”

The decrees of God are eternal. This our Confession explicitly affirms:–”God, from all eternity, did ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” This is asserted in opposition to the Socinians, who hold that some, at least, of the decrees of God are temporary. Those decrees which relate to things dependent on the free agency of man, they maintain, are made in time. But what saith the Scripture? It expressly declares, that everything which has happened, and everything which is to happen, was known to God from everlasting. “Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world.”–Acts xv. 18. To suppose any of the divine decrees to be made in time, is to suppose the knowledge of the Deity to be limited. If from eternity he knew all things that come to pass, then from eternity he must have ordained them; for if they had not been determined upon, they could not have been foreknown as certain.

The decrees of God are absolute and unconditional. He has not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future; and the execution of his decrees is not suspended upon any condition which may, or may not be performed. This is the explicit doctrine of our Confession, and it is this principle which chiefly distinguishes Calvinists from Arminians, who maintain that God’s decrees are not absolute but conditional.

“It is granted, that some of the decrees of God are conditional, in this sense, that something is supposed to go before the event which is the object of the decree, and that, this order being established, the one will not take place without the other. He decreed, for example, to save Paul and the companions of his voyage to Italy; but he decreed to save them only on condition that the sailors should remain in the ship.–Acts xxvii. He has decreed to save many from the wrath to come; but he has decreed to save them only if they believe in Christ, and turn by him from the error of their ways. But these decrees are conditional only in appearance. They merely state the order in which the events should be accomplished; they establish a connection between the means and the end, but do not leave the means uncertain. When God decreed to save Paul and his companions, he decreed that the sailors should be prevented from leaving the ship; and accordingly gave Paul previous notice of the preservation of every person on board. When he decreed to save those who should believe, he decreed to give them faith; and, accordingly, we are informed, that those whom he predestinated he also calls into the fellowship of his Son.–Rom. viii. 30. That any decree is conditional in the sense” of Arminians, “that it depends upon the will of man, of which he is sovereign master, so that he may will or not will as he pleases, – we deny. “My counsel’, says God, “shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’–Isa. xlvi. 10. But he could not speak so, if his counsel depended upon a condition which might not be performed.” Conditional decrees are inconsistent with the infinite wisdom of God, and are in men the effects of weakness. They are also inconsistent with the independence of God, making them to depend upon the free will or agency of his creatures. The accomplishment of them, too, would be altogether uncertain; but the Scripture assures us, that “the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”–Ps. xxiii. 11. All his purposes are unalterably determined, and their execution infallibly certain. “There are many devices in a man’s heart,” which he is unable to accomplish, “nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”–Prov. xix. 21.

It has been often objected to the doctrine respecting the divine decrees taught in our Confession, that it represents God as the author of sin. But the Confession expressly guards against this inference, by declaring that God has so ordained whatsoever comes to pass as that he is not thereby the author of sin. The decree of God is either effective or permissive. His effective decree respects all the good that comes to pass; his permissive decree respects the evi1 that is in sinful actions. We must also distinguish betwixt an action purely as such, and the sinfulness of the action. The decree of God is effective with respect to the action abstractly considered; it is permissive with respect to the sinfulness of the action as a moral evil.

It has also been objected, that if God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, human liberty is taken away. To this it has been commonly replied, that it is sufficient to human liberty, that a man acts without any constraint, and according to his own free choice; that the divine decree is extrinsic to the human mind; and, while it secures the futurition of events, it leaves rational agents to act as freely as if there had been no decree. This answer, it must be acknowledged, merely amounts to an assertion that, notwithstanding the decree of God, man retains his liberty of action. We still wish to know how the divine pre-ordination of the event is consistent with human liberty. “Upon such a subject,” says Dr Dick, “no man should be ashamed to acknowledge his ignorance. We are not required to reconcile the divine decrees and human liberty. It is enough to know that God has decreed all things which come to pass, and that men are answerable for their actions. Of both these truths we are assured by the Scriptures; and the latter is confirmed by the testimony of conscience. We feel that, although not independent upon God, we are free; so that we excuse ourselves when we have done our duty, and accuse ourselves when we have neglected it. Sentiments of approbation and disapprobation, in reference to our own conduct or that of other men, would have no existence in our minds if we believed that men are necessary agents. But the tie which connects the divine decrees and human liberty is invisible. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us; it is high, we cannot attain unto it.'”–Ps. cxxxix. 6.

It may be further observed, that, although God has unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass, yet this does not take away the contingency of second causes, either in themselves or as to us. Nothing can be more contingent than the decision of the lot, – yet “the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”–Prov. xvi. 33.