Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 10
Lord's Day 10
What do you understand by the providence of God?
God's providence is
His almighty and ever present power,
whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds
heaven and earth and all creatures,
and so governs them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and barren years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
riches and poverty,
indeed, all things,
come not by chance
but by His fatherly hand.
What does it benefit us to know
that God has created all things
and still upholds them by His providence?
We can be patient in adversity,
thankful in prosperity,
and with a view to the future
we can have a firm confidence
in our faithful God and Father
that no creature shall separate us
from His love;
for all creatures are so completely in His hand
that without His will
they cannot so much as move.
Q. & A. 27 and 28 The Lord Reigns
- The previous LD already spoke of God's providence. It referred to God's providence and his counsel. We should now say something about this counsel of God. For God works both in creation and in his providence in accordance with his counsel. In this respect God operates like a wise builder. Such a builder does not begin to build until he has carefully assessed and determined everything that belongs to the building process. So also God, before he made or began anything, determined everything in his eternal counsel. Holy Scripture calls this God's foreknowledge (prescience), purpose, definite plan, decree, good pleasure. God's Counsel Is the Totality of His Eternal Decree about Everything that Will Happen in Time.
- This counsel is:
eternal: God's works are known to him from of old (Acts 15:18);
sovereign: God does what seems good to him (Ps 115:3);
wise: God in his counsel chooses the best means to the highest end (Rom 11:33);
efficacious: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isa 46:10);
all-encompassing: He “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).
- Knowing that God has determined all things from eternity does not entitle us to sit back to see what will happen. For God's counsel does not abrogate our responsibility. The Lord, in his counsel, maintains man as a rational, moral being. Acts 2:23 mentions in one breath the definite plan and foreknowledge of God and the actions of man. Further, the Lord did not merely determine the end of all things in his counsel, but also the means whereby the end will be reached, and we are called upon to use those means. God's counsel also took sin into account. Sin was not a disappointment, a set-back for him. But neither is God the author of sin. Sin is the act of man and guilt for sin falls on man. Thus, sin cannot prevent God from reaching his goal, but must serve to reach that goal (Gen 50:20; Acts 2:23).
- God began his creation and continues to work with it in accordance with this counsel. For the fact that he rested on the seventh day did not mean that God ceased to work (God always works [Jn 5:17]), but that he left off creating. He did not add new creatures to creation, but began to lead creation to his goal. God, therefore, continued to work.
And if you should ask what it is that he does, then the answer is, first: He Upholds all things. He preserves (conserves) all thing from corruption. God causes (not: permits) all things to exist: some, such as man, he causes to exist mediately (by means); some, such as angels, immediately (without means); others, such as the sun, moon, etc., by themselves; yet others, such as animals, man, etc., according to their kind (Heb 1:3).
Further, we say: He Governs all things (Ps 93:1). He rules all things and guides them to his goal. Nothing is excluded from this government, not even sin, even though God is not the author of sin and is not guilty of the sins that are committed. Art. 13 of the BC states: "For his power and goodness are so great and beyond understanding that He ordains and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even when devils and wicked men act unjustly."
We can, therefore, say of every one of man's actions that God does it and that man does it. But God and man do not act in the same manner and for the same purpose in that action. For example, when in former days a “surgeon” used a leech to draw the poisoned blood from a person's limb, it might be said that the leech healed the person, or that the surgeon did it. But the leech did it only to satisfy itself, whereas the surgeon did it to help the patient. That is how the Lord caused Joseph to be sold into Egypt and his brothers did the selling. The brothers sinned in doing so, since they did it entirely to indulge their hatred; but God wrought a great work in so doing, in order to keep his people alive (Gen 50:20).
God normally governs in accordance with established rules. This makes it possible for us to take precautions. We are obliged to do so, for God's governance of all things does not abrogate our responsibility.
- Do you wonder how God does all this? By Working together with all Things. His power flows as first cause in all powers, which work in the world as second cause. But in so doing, God does not demand of any creature that it act contrary to its nature or will.
Ivy, a monkey and man, all three can climb a tree. And when they climb, it is God's power which allows them to do so. But that power operates in a different way in each of them, so that each creature acts in accordance with its own nature and pursuant to its own will. That is how God also works together with all our thoughts, words and actions. Prov 16:1 states: "The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord."
This applies also to our sinful thoughts and deeds, but the responsibility for the sins rests upon us. God does, indeed, give the power by which we sin, but We use it to sin (see Isa 10:5-7).
- We refer to all of this work of God concerning his creation as his Providence. It is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures.
- Providence provides rich comfort for those who know God in Christ as their Father. They know that because of God's providence nothing can happen to them by chance. There is no such thing as chance, even though we sometimes use that word (Lk 10:31). We must make the confession about the providence of God true in our lives, so that, acknowledging God's hand in everything, we are patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity and, as regards the future, have confidence that nothing can separate us from God's love.
- To be thankful does not mean having a pleasant feeling and displaying a satisfied disposition. Rather, it means that we use God's gifts in accordance with the rule of thankfulness (the law!) and serve the Lord with those gifts.
- To be patient does not mean that we must bear suffering impassively, without emotion. Instead, it means that we must bear the cross willingly and for the Lord's sake.
- Note that the Catechism speaks of common things: rain and drought, leaf and blade, etc. He who does not see the hand of the Lord in everyday things, but only in extraordinary ones, does not live out of the faith which is confessed in this LD.
B. Cross References
- The confession of the providence of God in art. 13 of the BC is beautiful. In this art. we confess, in connection with the inscrutability of God's rule, that we are content to be “pupils of Christ.”
- The comfort of God's rule is confessed also in the Forms for the Baptism of Infants and of Adults (Doctrine of Baptism). There we confess that God provides us with all good and averts all evil or turns it to our profit.
- During the time of the special revelation, God often did miracles, unheard-of deeds. We may no longer expect them today. But God still does spiritual miracles every day: he regenerates men and revives the church.
- The belief that the taking of special precautions conflicts with the confession of the providence of God.
- The belief that only natural events are subject to the providence of God, and not man's moral actions.
- The idea that one can only say that sin is permitted by God.
- Naturalism (which denies the existence of miracles).
- Supranaturalism (which purports to explain miracles).
- Expecting signs and miracles in normal times.
- What is God's counsel? What names does Scripture use for it?
- Which attributes of God's counsel do you know? What does Isa 46:10 say?
- Does God's counsel abrogate our responsibility? What does Acts 2:23 say?
- Did God's counsel also take sin into account? Does that not make God the author of sin?
- What does God do with creation after he created it? What does it mean when we confess that God still upholds everything? What does it mean that God still governs everything? Does God also rule over sin? How does he uphold his creatures? What does Heb 1:3 say? Does God's rule abrogate our responsibility?
- What does the fact that God works together with all things mean?
- What, then, is God's providence?
- To whom does this confession provide comfort? What is that comfort?
- What does it mean to be thankful? What does it mean to be patient?
- Wherein must we acknowledge God's hand?