February 12, 2013
i. God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.
Having created the universe, God did not simply leave it behind or let it run down. On the contrary, he continues to care for, sustain, and superintend the things that he has made. This is the doctrine of the providence of God.
As is characteristic of Calvinism, the Westminster Confession is all-encompassing in its description of the scope of God's providence. If we ask what stands outside his sovereign oversight, the answer is nothing. God's ongoing governance of his creation includes every created thing and every action or interaction that takes place throughout the entire span of the universe.
This maximal definition of providence immediately raises all kinds of questions. What about human freedom? Is there any meaningful place left for personal decision-making? And what about the problem of evil? If God directs and disposes everything, doesn't that make him the author of sin--everything from the Fall of Adam itself to the latest school shooting?
The Confession will get to these and other thorny questions in due course, but its starting point is a definition of providence that lets God be God. We will never resolve the mysteries that come with divine providence by admitting that some things are out of his control.
In taking this view, the Westminster Divines were on solid ground biblically, for the Bible makes the strongest possible claims about the power of God to make everything happen according to the purposes of his eternal will. They were also on solid ground pastorally. The words they chose to describe this doctrine-- words like wisdom, goodness, and mercy--make it perfectly clear that God's providence is praiseworthy.
Dr. Philip Ryken, formerly pastor of Philadelphia's historic Tenth Presbyterian Church, is the president of Wheaton College.