By His Sovereign Will

In 1559 Antoine Chandieu and John Calvin wrote the first draft of the French Confession (also called the Gallican Confession). That same year the Synod of Paris edited and adopted it. In 1571 it was revised and adopted by the National Synod in La Rochelle, France; therefore sometimes this confession is called the “Confession of Rochelle.” It’s really an excellent Reformed confession. Here’s a comforting explanation of providence from article 8:

VIII. We believe that he [the triune God] not only created all things, but that he governs and directs them, disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world; not that he is the author of evil, or that the guilt of it can be imputed to him, as his will is the sovereign and infallible rule of all right and justice; 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.

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; but rather making use of what is revealed to us in Holy Scripture for our peace and safety, 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. And yet he restrains the devils and all our enemies, so that they can not harm us without his leave.

 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 364.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Afflictions as Medicine, Providence as a Whole (Manton)

Many Christians have memorized the great promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).”  Although afflictions and trials usually cloud our judgment and cause us to sometimes second guess this promise, it is true despite our feelings. I appreciate how Thomas Manton commented on this verse:

It [the affliction] shall turn to good. This is the comfort of the people of God, that all that befall them is either good or shall turn to good: Rom. 8:28…. If we have even a little faith, we may know it for the present, and be assured of it before we see it; and if we have but a little patience, we shall know it and find it by experience.

All things work together for good; singly and apart they may be against us, but ‘omnia simul adjumento sunt.’ Poisonous ingredients in a medicine, take them singly, and they are destructive; but as they are tempered with other things by the hands of a skilful physician, they prove wholesome and useful. So all things that befall us, are tempered and ordered by God for good. There is no beauty in a building till all the pieces be get together. We view God’s work by halves, and then his providence seems to be against us; but all together it works for our good. How for our good? Sometimes for good temporal, usually for good spiritual, but certainly for good eternal.

Sometimes for our temporal good: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 NIV)….

For our spiritual good. All affliction is made up and recompensed to the soul; it afflicts the body, but betters the heart: “It is good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71 NIV)….

For our eternal good. Heaven will make complete amends: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17 NIV)….

The above quotes – edited and summarized – are found in Thomas Manton’s Works, Volume 15, p. 128.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Election, Providence, and “All Things for Good” (Sibbes)

  When God says he will safely bring his children to their heavenly home, he means it!  Sometimes the way home is rough and rocky, but the Lord will carry them through everything and safely bring them to his kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18). In theological terms, this means that God orders his providence for the good of his elect.  We’ve heard Paul’s words before: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28 NLT).  Whether he gives to us or takes from us, it all works towards our eternal salvation.  Here’s a great commentary on this truth by Richard Sibbes (I’ve edited it slightly):

Observation: Providence is serviceable to predestination and election

God in election has a purpose to call us out of the world and to save our souls. Providence is a general government of all things in the world. Election is in order to salvation; he has chosen us to a supernatural end and fits us for it by calling and sanctification.

Now, how does providence serve the decree of election? This way: whom God purposes to save he directs providence so that all things shall serve for that end.  Therefore he encourages them with outward things or takes outward things from them in his providence, as may serve his purpose in election to save their souls. He has a purpose to save them, therefore providence works all things for their good, Rom. 8:28. All things, by the overruling providence of God, are serviceable to a higher degree of love that God has for his children, to serve his purpose to bring them to heaven. Thereupon comes the dispensation of riches or poverty, honor or abasement. He takes liberty for outward things concerning this life, to give or take them as they may serve the spiritual and best good of his children.

Use/Application. Therefore God’s children, when they see God intends their good in taking away the things of this life, in letting them bleed, as it were, for their health, they should bless God as well for taking as for giving, as Job did, Job 1:21. And there is as great mercy and love hid in taking away blessings as in conveying of them. …Poverty of estate and poverty of spirit (the disposition of soul) come almost in one word, and indeed in God’s children they are joined together. For he sanctifies all situations and disposes himself towards them. When God has a purpose to save a man, everything shall help him homeward. And it is not a better outward argument to know a man’s state in grace than to see how the carriage of things serve God’s purpose to do good to his soul, when we ourselves are bettered in our inward man by whatsoever befalls us…. God’s children are as gold refined. Those that find themselves refined and bettered, it is evidence that they are God’s; because there is a providence serving their spiritual good, directing all things to that end.

 Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 241.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Aim of God’s Wisdom (VanMastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God Paul’s well-known doxology in Romans 11 mentions the deep (βάθος) wisdom of God (σοφίας…θεοῦ).  In his excellent discussion of God’s wisdom, Peter Van Mastricht (d. 1706) listed eight “aims” of God’s wisdom that Scripture teaches.

Van Mastricth wrote that the wisdom of God is chiefly occupied and concerned…

  1. With the counsels, decrees, predestination, election, and reprobation of God, to which points the text’s exclamation, ‘O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom…!”
  2. With the works of creation, conservation, and governance, concerning which the psalmist says, “In wisdom you made them all” (Ps. 104:24; 136:5.
  3. Especially with the formation of man, the microcosm [little cosmos] (Ps. 139:14-15).
  4. With the uniting and ordering of creatures so different from each other, because of which he is called the God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), who does all things in their own time and measure (Ecc. 3:11).
  5. Especially in the marvelous work of redemption through the Son and Holy Spirit, because of which the Savior is not only named the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:24), but also called the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) into which even angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).
  6. In the mysteries of the Christian faith, which the apostle calls the wisdom of God, distinguished from the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 2:6).
  7. In the gathering and defending of his church against the most cunning attacks of so many and such great enemies, whom by his wisdom he time and again catches in their own scheming (Ps. 59:12; 10:2).
  8. In his most wise direction and governance particular to individual believers.

In other words, God’s wisdom is not an impractical dogma for us to dissect.  Wisdom is an attribute of God that has to do with his decree(s).  Furthermore, God’s wisdom is also evident in creation, providence, salvation, and our own preservation.  And this all brings him glory.  Therefore, when we think about the depth of God’s wisdom, it makes us praise and adore him!

The above very slightly edited quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 262-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

Psalm 121 and the Perseverance of the Saints (Calvin)

 Quite a few places in Scripture teach that God preserves his people.  The perseverance of the saints isn’t an obscure teaching found in one or two obscure verses.  Instead, it’s emphasized both in the Old and New Testaments.  Psalm 121 is one of the clear texts in God’s Word that teach how he preserves his people.  It’s abundantly clear there that God is our “keeper” or “guardian.”  The Hebrew word that is repeated six times in this Psalm is שׁמר, which means “to watch, guard, or keep.”  Here’s how Calvin nicely explained the repetition:

…It is of importance to mark the reason why the Prophet repeats so often what he had briefly and in one word expressed with sufficient plainness. Such repetition seems at first sight superfluous; but when we consider how difficult it is to correct our distrust, it will be easily perceived that he does not improperly dwell upon the commendation of the divine providence. How few are to be found who yield to God the honour of being a keeper, in order to their being thence assured of their safety, and led to call upon him in the midst of their perils!

On the contrary, even when we seem to have largely experienced what this protection of God implies, we yet instantly tremble at the noise of a leaf falling from a tree, as if God had quite forgotten us. Being then entangled in so many unholy misgivings, and so much inclined to distrust, we are taught from the passage that if a sentence couched in a few words does not suffice us, we should gather together whatever may be found throughout the whole Scriptures concerning the providence of God, until this doctrine—“That God always keeps watch for us”—is deeply rooted in our hearts; so that depending upon his guardianship alone we may bid adieu to all the vain confidences of the world.

 John Calvin and James Anderson, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 68.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015