WCF 4-5: Creation and Providence

Dear Church Family,

Sometimes you will hear people talk about having a “worldview” – a word that is derived from the German, “weltanschauung.” Fundamentally, it refers to how one views the whole of life and basic existence. Foundationally, it begins with one’s view of origins and authority (where we come from and who’s in charge). And so, the starting point of a “biblical worldview” – and we might even go so far as to say, the essence of a “biblical worldview” is an understanding of God’s relationship to His creation – how did God create the world and how does God govern that which He created?

We have explored the truth of Scripture that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) – how in eternity past, God has unchangeably ordained whatever comes to pass (WCF 3.1). This understanding of God’s sovereignty may lead us to a logical question: exactly how does God bring about that which He has decreed?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us the short answer: God executes His decrees in the works of creation and providence (WSC 8). Chapters 4 & 5 of the Westminster Confession of Faith elaborate upon this answer by explaining God’s work of creation in the past and His continuing work of providence. These are the two chapters that we recently studied in our adult Sunday school class.

Creation

The fourth chapter of the Westminster Confession makes two general points about God’s work of creation by speaking to the creation of the world and the creation of man.

First, God created the world and all things. We find the historical record of God’s creation of the world in the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1. Specifically, the confession enumerates several points (WCF 4.1): all three Persons of the Trinity were active in creation; the purpose of creation is to reveal God’s eternal power, wisdom, and goodness; God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing); God created the world ‘very good;’ and, He created the world in the space of six days.

When we discussed this portion of the confession in the Sunday school class, we mentioned several of the different views of how God created the world and every living thing. Yet, we also examined how understanding the six days of creation as being ordinary calendar days as we experience them is the simplest and most apparent reading of the Biblical account. The Bible doesn’t speak of creation as a process, but as an historical event: God spoke all things into existence miraculously and immediately.

Second, God created man, male and female, in His own image. We find the historical record of God’s creating man in His own image and likeness in the first two chapters of Genesis. In the garden, Adam and Eve were originally created in innocence and holiness. That is to say, the law of God was written on their hearts and while they continued to obey God, they experienced an intimate relationship with the Creator and had dominion over the creatures.

There are at least two erroneous views about the origin of man that have gained special attention: (1) theistic evolution – some have sought to hold to a middle ground between the theory of evolution and the divine work of creation by proposing that God used an evolutionary process to create man from lower life-forms; (2) a denial of the historicity of Adam – the basic premise of this false assertion is that the origin of mankind cannot be traced back to two distinct people. Both of these views are at odds with the Biblical account of the creation of man.

Providence

The fifth chapter of the Westminster Confession explains how it is that God governs His creation and upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). While the historical account of creation in Genesis 1-2 shows how God created everything immediately (apart from means by directly speaking everything that exists into existence), we know also from Scripture that God continues to govern and uphold His creation by use of particular means.

The Confession speaks of this by describing God as the ‘first cause’ and how He uses ‘second causes’ to providentially govern and uphold all His creatures and all their actions. These second causes that God uses to order the events of history include the physical laws of nature, the decisions of rational creatures, and even the repentance or rebellion of human beings.

Understanding that God is able to work miraculously (apart from means) as He pleases, but that He ordinarily works through secondary causes to accomplish His purposes, helps us to maintain a balance in understanding the providence of God and to not fall into one of two ditches of error.

On one side of the proper understanding of the providence of God is the ditch or chance, the notion that things happen randomly or apart from God’s governance. Deism, the belief that God may have created all things, but that He does not continue to govern His creation in any way, is one form of this error. Arminianism, the belief that man is able to choose God of his own free will, is another form of this error. Though many Arminians would probably not admit it, the denial of the doctrine of predestination and election is a direct affront to the Bible’s assertions regarding the sovereignty and providence of God.

On the other side of the proper understanding of the providence of God is the ditch of fatalism, the notion that things happen meaninglessly by mechanical fate. Fatalism is a form of determinism that some Christians are in danger of falling into. The danger is that, even as we confess that God governs and upholds all things by the word of His power, we may begin to think of God’s providence as a mechanical force. Thus we may arrive at some false conclusions: if God governs all things, then man is not responsible for what he does; if God governs all things, then it doesn’t matter what I do; or, if God governs all things, then He must be the author of sin.

In order to combat these false conclusions, the Westminster Confession goes to great lengths to help us understand one of the keys to finding assurance and comfort in God’s providence and governance. While those who do not belong to Christ may relate to God only as the Judge of mankind, believers are able to relate to God in Christ also as a loving Father. So, while to some it may be a terrifying thing to consider that our days are determined by another, for the believer it is a great comfort to know that our days are determined by one who is good, who loves us and cares for us, who has our best interests in mind.

God holds the whole world – and all the actions of His creatures – in His hands. And they are good hands! The same God who created all things by the word of His power also causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Let us praise God for His wonderful work of creation and for His continuing to uphold and govern that same creation – for our good, and for His own glory!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch