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Heidelberg Catechism – Lord’s Day 10

20/06/2014

LORD’S DAY 10

Before you begin: Read Romans 8:28-39.

27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty, everywhere-present power of God,(1) whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures,(2) and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,(3) health and sickness,(4) riches and poverty,(5) indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
(1)Acts 17:25-26. (2)Heb. 1:3. (3)Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:17. (4)Jn. 9:3. (5)Prov. 22:2; Ps. 103:19; Rom. 5:3-5a.

Nothing happens by chance! When I moved into Belfast to take up the pastorate at an inner city church, after twenty years of rural ministry, I was immediately surprised and concerned by the pattern of speech among some, if not most of the church members. They frequently attributed aspects of their life to ‘luck.’ If a relative had recovered from illness, he was ‘lucky.’ It an accident had been avoided, it was just, ‘good luck’ that this had happened. This shocked me! I’d never heard professing Christians speak in such terms – to completely omit the providence of God from their mind and their vocabulary. I attempted to correct this. I gently reminded them in conversation, that luck had nothing to do with their circumstances, – that their blessings were the work of a caring God who sustains and preserves the world and everything in it. I preached on the sovereignty and providence of God. All to no avail. The ‘luck’ word was deeply ingrained in their speech. One kindly lady told me that since she was ‘no longer allowed to say ‘luck’ that she had determined to use ‘fortune’ from now on! I tried to explain that using fortune as a replacement for luck wasn’t a great improvement! She was truly baffled!


Yet how many Christians really understand and appreciate the work of God in providence, understanding that everything that happens in this world is directed and overseen by God – even when catastrophes occur? So our instructor explains what it means to say that our heavenly Father watches over us, cares for us and intimately directs our affairs.
The providence of God is related to his omnipresence. The catechist attributes the providence of God to his ‘almighty, everywhere-present power.’ Acts 17:25-26 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

 
The providence of God is related to his sovereignty. No matter what happens to us, God’s hand is in it! This causes problems for some who think of God solely as a God of Love, who must always do us good and be benevolent to us. But God is also a God of justice. If a man commits a crime and is brought before the court, pleads guilty and is sentenced for that crime, he can hardly complain, for JUSTICE has been done. All of us can be absolutely certain that God will deal with us JUSTLY. We will get the just punishment for our sins that we deserve. But God is his sovereignty may also be merciful to some of us JUSTICE IS DESERVED AND IS OUR RIGHT, – WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO MERCY – it is a free gift. Sometimes, God uses SINNERS, in the committal of their sin, to enact his justice. When he does this he always uses sin sinlessly.
READ HABAKKUK Chapter 1:5FF “Look among the nations and watch— Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you. 6  For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation Which marches through the breadth of the earth, To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.7  They are terrible and dreadful; Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. V12, O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?
What do you think is happening in these verses? ______________________________________________________

Which verses show the sinfulness of the Chaldeans? ______________________________________________________

Who is responsible for their wicked deeds? Read V7 ______________________________________________________

God has raised them up for ‘correction’ of Israel – yet is God’s holiness in any way tainted by this? V13

______________________________________________________

 

The providence of God is a reflection of his immanence. (His intimate involvement in human and world affairs.) The Greek philosophers, and the 19th century deists imagined a transcendent God, who was aloof and untouchable, and uncaring, and who was far removed from human affairs, who like a clockmaker, created the universe, wound it up and stood back from it, with no further involvement. All of these depictions remind us of how our Heavenly Father engages with us. Note how closely involved God is in our world and our lives:

  • He is The Lord of the Harvest. herbs and grass. Following the great flood in Genesis, God made a covenant with Noah, and made this promise: Gen. 8:22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night, shall not cease.”
  • He is The Lord of the Weather, – rain and drought. We might think of the story of Elijah, and how God withheld the rain from the land of Israel in a time of apostasy.
  • He is The Lord of Human Conditions. fruitful and barren years, – we all have times of barrenness, whether temporal (work related, business difficulties etc) or spiritual, – equally there are times when we enjoy spiritual and material prosperity. Whatever our circumstances, we trust The Lord. “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to know. It is well, it is well with my soul.” Romans 5:3-5 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
  • He is Lord of Food and Provisions. meat and drink, We pray, ‘give us this day our daily bread’ – because we know that everything we need to sustain us is ultimately the gift of God, given in common grace, to all mankind. Matthew 6:31-33 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 
  • He is Lord of Health and Wellbeing. health and sickness, In sickness and in health, God is sovereign, and in his providence, determines our path.
  • He is Lord of Wealth and Poverty. riches and poverty. Proverbs 22:2. The rich and the poor have this in common, The Lord is the maker of them all.

The providence of God is an assurance of his omnipotence.
The providence of God is an expression of his Fatherhood. The catechist speaks of God’s HAND. This is important, for a father’s hand is a marvellous illustration of god’s care for his creation. A father’s hand is used for comfort, for safety, for chastisement, for provision.

Having taught us the basics of the doctrine of God’s divine providence, the catechist then shows us how the application that it has for us:-

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,(1) thankful in prosperity,(2) and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love,(3) since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.(4)
(1)Rom. 5:3; Jas. 1:3; Job 1:21. (2)Deut. 8:10; I Thess. 5:18. (3)Rom. 8:35, 38-39. (4)Job 1:12; Acts 17:25-28; Prov. 21:1; Ps. 71:7; II Cor. 1:10.

Knowing that nothing happens by chance, the catechist wants us to apply that in a personal sense, to our own lives, so he selects three areas in which we need to know and appreciate God’s continuing sovereignty:

  • When we are in distress. What is more important in times of sickness, or unemployment, or difficulty, than to know that the kindly providence of God is watching over us, and determining out path. Job 1:21. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • When we are prospering. Sometimes when we are doing well or are, healthy, or prosperous, we tend to think that we have become so by our own efforts. When we are prospering it is good to remember that every good gift we have is given to us by God. Deuteronomy 8:10 When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.
  • When we consider the future and what it might hold for us. The future is a frightening place. For the ungodly and unforgiven sinner, it is especially perilous, for life on this earth is a very short time, and may end in a sudden and unexpected manner, and the sinner find himself standing before a God who executes perfect justice, and administers that justice fairly, in regard to our sin and rebellion. For the Christian too, the future can be unsure, in the sense that we do not know, any more than the ungodly, when this life will end, but we have comfort in knowing that our times are in God’s hands, and the date of our departure is fixed, and when we do depart this life, we enter into our eternal rest. A poet put it like this:

My life is but a weaving, Between my Lord and me, I cannot choose the colours, He weaveth steadily
Oftentimes He weaveth sorrow, And I in foolish pride, Forgetteth He seeth the upper,
And I the underside.
Not till the loom is silent, And the shuttles cease to fly, Shall God unroll the canvas, And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful, In the weaver’s skillful hand, As the threads of gold and silver,
In the pattern He has planned

His illustration of the extent of God’s sovereignty and continuing involvement with and over his creation is well illustrated by his final comment in Q/A28. ‘…since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.’

One of the great thinkers of the medieval church was Thomas Aquinas. Thomas sought to prove the existence of God using philosophical arguments, based on the logic of Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher. One of the arguments that he used is known as ‘God, the Divine Mover.’ Aquinas argued that since all around us we see movement in nature, there must have been a time when someone started that movement, – otherwise, movement would be perpetual, going back awards into infinity. (Ad infintitum). Since it is logical that someone had to start movement, Aquinas argued that proem mover must suggest the existence of God. Complicated and difficult... But our catechist instructor implies the same conclusion. He reminds us that NOTHING MOVES, WITHOUT THE HAND OF GOD MOVING IT. If something moves, whether something large or small, God has willed that it should move, or it would not do so.
Acts 17:25-28 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

Think about it.
Has anything ever happened to you by chance?
Is it possible that God would ever use weather conditions (flooding, drought, tsunamis) to indicate his displeasure with sinful humanity?
What do we mean when we say that ‘God uses sin sinlessly?’

Pray About It.
Father, I am aware of my own human frailty. Help me to rely on you and trust completely in your tender loving care for me, and reassure me that you know me better than I know myself. Teach me to trust you with simple faith, as a child would trust its parent. Amen.
PS – A FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION: What about Ecclesiastes 7:17?
16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

Ecclesiastes 7:17 is the proof-text beloved by Arminians, who believe that God has no control over our lives, and who sits back helplessly while we exercise our free will to kill ourselves. Both textually and theologically they are in error.

In the 1980’s you would have heard this verse preached upon in many evangelistic crusade meetings across Ulster. Many Arminian preachers took the verse out of its immediate context (in fact he preached on the single phrase ‘why should a man die before his time’) and used it to warn audiences that it was possible to sin yourself into an early grave and thus into a premature eternity, contrary to the will of God. Those who make this verse say that are misunderstanding the doctrine of the total depravity of all mankind, for there is not one of us who, in that case, would last until the foreordained time of death for we are all guilty, sinful wretches, deserving of no no favour or pardon whatsoever from God. (To preach a message like this is pointless. Even if we were to admit that a person can experience a shorter life than God intended because of an excess of sin, how would that influence the sinner any more than telling him that his time and day of death is unknown to him? Is the sinner to ‘clean up his life’ so that he can reach the end of his foreordained days? And how, since he is dead in trespasses and sins?)

Theologically, this interpretation blatantly contradicts the doctrine of the Providence of God. That doctrine asserts with the Scriptures, that God made us and cares for us and knows us intimately. He knows us better than we know ourselves, he even knows the number of hairs that are on our head. Even our thoughts are know to him. He foreordained every aspect of life, from the cradle to the grave. The psalmist could rightly say, in Psalm 139:15. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.

Textually, even a cursory look at the context will shed light on the phrase. Solomon in verse 15-18 is warning about the folly of extremes. One can seek to be righteous (and do so to a great degree) – to follow and obey the law, and in doing so, fall totally short of God’s standards which are perfect and thus bring destruction upon the soul. On the other extreme, one can sin recklessly, and get involved in wickedness and waste one’s health, and weaken one’s body, and thus die before one’s three score years and ten are accomplished. But, although from man’s point of view the sinner has destroyed his body, health and life, from God’s vantage point, his plan and purpose has been accomplished. In fact one commentator translates the phrase, ‘Why should you provoke God to destroy you before your time?’

One Comment
  1. Great post brother. I appreciate the sound biblical teaching that magnifies the greatness of our God. Thanks!

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