The consummation of all things will certainly usher in the perfect world, the New Jerusalem in the new creation in which righteousness shall dwell, and in which the tabernacle of God shall be with men. But that state of eternal perfection and heavenly glory, it must be remembered, does not lie in direct line of development and progress with this present world. It is the kingdom of heaven. It is the world in which all things shall be forever united in Christ, as the Head of all, the Firstborn of every creature, through whom and unto whom all things were created. From our present world it differs, not only in that sin and death, suffering and sorrow shall be no more, but also in its heavenly character. It is elevated to a place of existence as much higher than our present earthly universe as Christ is higher than the first man Adam. The first Paradise was an image of that eternal state of heavenly perfection, but it was not its beginning, in the sense that the latter is the final development of the former. And, therefore, it is not the direct goal of the providential government of God as it is discussed by this tenth Lord’s Day of the Heidelberg Catechism: it will be realized only through the wonder of God’s grace. To be sure, the general providence of God, according to which “as it were by His hand, he upholds and governs heaven and earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand,”—this general providence may not be separated from the wonder of God’s grace, whereby He raises all things to the higher level of heavenly perfection, and that, too, through the deep way of sin and death and the final catastrophe. The counsel of predestination and the counsel of providence, though they may be distinguished, are one counsel. God’s providential government is such that all things in the present world are subservient to the realization of His eternal covenant and kingdom. But this may not be understood as if the providence of God as such leads up to the world that is to come. Between our world and the eternal world of heavenly perfection stands the Christ, the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. And even as the Church must pass through death into the glorious resurrection, so the present world must pass through the destruction of the final catastrophe, in which the very elements shall burn, into the perfection of the new heavens and earth, in which righteousness shall dwell.
Hence, the meaning of history is not that all things tend to make progress in the direction of the perfect world, as evolutionistic philosophy would have us believe. Nor is the end of God’s providence the realization of the original creation ordinance, the full development of the original paradise, in spite of the opposition of Satan, and through a certain power of common grace. Again the meaning of history is not that this world develops in the direction of the kingdom of heaven, so that it will finally merge into the glorified creation. But it certainly is the proper stage that is set for the realization of God’s purpose of predestination, election and reprobation, the revelation of the Son of God, the cross and the resurrection, the cause of God’s covenant, the bringing forth and the gathering of the Church, the wonder of grace; and that, too, in antithesis to sin and darkness, the devil and his host, the man of sin culminating in the antichrist of the latter days; and through it all for the highest possible revelation of God’s own covenant of friendship, the glory of the life of the triune God. That all things in their cosmical unity and organic- development may be subservient to this purpose of the antithetical revelation of the wonder of God’s blessed covenant of friendship, and shall have served that purpose, when the fullness of Israel and of the Gentiles shall have come in, the measure of the suffering of Christ shall have been fulfilled, and sin shall have become fully manifest as sin,—that is the end of God’s providence, and the meaning of history. When that end is attained, the fashion of this world may pass away, the glorious liberty of the children of God may be revealed, and also the creature may be delivered from the bondage of corruption to which it is subjected in order to participate in the glory of the saints in the new heavens and earth.
Unto this end the world was adapted from the beginning, and is preserved and governed by the hand of the Almighty ever since.
For in the beginning the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ created all things with a view to Him, Christ, and to the realization of the wonder of His grace and His everlasting covenant, through the way of sin and death, and along the antithetical lines of election and reprobation. For Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him all fullness should dwell.”. And it was “the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.” . He created the world a kosmos, not a mere aggregate of many separate creatures, but one organic whole, interrelated and inter-dependent, rising in an ascending scale from the an organic to the organic, the brute to the rational creature, and with its center in man, who was created after the image of God, and in whom the whole creation was united to the heart of God. For man, thus formed after God’s image, stood in covenant-relation of friendship to his Creator, in his heart was the spiritual-ethical center of the kosmos, and through him all creatures were comprehended in the covenant of God. They found in man their priest-king, and all must serve him, that he might serve his God. (Netherland Confession, Art. XII).
But this original state of earthly perfection was not destined to continue. A breach was struck into harmonious relation of the kosmos to God by sin. We say that it was not destined to continue, by which we mean that it was not the purpose of the good pleasure of God. For, to be sure, even though Adam fell by his own willful disobedience, he fell according to the eternal purpose of God, and under the all controlling direction of God’s providential government. If it be confessed that God, “as it were by his hand,” upholds and governs all things, it dare not be denied that He did so from the beginning, and that it was by His providence that the breach of sin was struck into the original relation of creation to Himself. This does not deny man’s responsibility, but it does make him, even in his ethical life and choice, dependent upon God. Even when the devil beguiled the woman, and she ate of the forbidden fruit, and she gave to Adam, and he fell, God was governing all things “as it were by his hand.” However, we must remember that the breach was of an ethical nature; it was struck in the heart of man. Sin did not, and could not possibly destroy the essential, organic relation and unity of all creatures. Even though man violated the covenant of friendship with his God, and became an enemy of God, loving the lie, perverse of will, unclean in all his desires and inclinations, God still continued to uphold and to govern “as it were by his hand,” the universe as a kosmos, and that, too, in such a way that man stands at the head of the earthly creation even in his sin, and all creatures must serve him.
However, quite in harmony with the altered spiritual-ethical relation of man to God, he and the whole creation with him were placed under the curse. God’s government of the world in sin is such that all things are “vanity and vexation and spirit.” And also through this governmental act of God’s providence the present world becomes the stage for the enactment and revelation of the wonder of God’s grace, and the realization of His purpose of predestination, election and reprobation. The judgments of God upon the fallen world that are pronounced immediately after the fall, may not be considered as merely punishments for sin. For, first of all, the punishment of sin is eternal death in hell, not mere temporal suffering. And hell could not be prepared immediately after the fall: God’s counsel of salvation must first be realized, and the root sin of Adam must have become fully manifest in all the horror of its iniquity in the ripened fruit borne by the whole human race. Besides, it must not be forgotten, that the temporal punishments mentioned in Gen. 3:15ff. are announced after the promise of redemption, the protevangel, had been proclaimed: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Adam fell upon Christ, and the covenant that was violated by the first man, is maintained, established, and raised to a higher level in the second Man. For Him and His revelation the stage of the present, fallen world is set. All things become vanity, but even in their vanity, or rather exactly in their vanity, they must serve the purpose of God’s counsel of predestination in Christ, the firstborn of every creature. Temporal death, the return of his physical nature to the dust, is inflicted upon man, in order that generation after generation may disappear from the stage, after they have served God’s purpose. The “sorrow and conception” of the woman are made very great, which (if the expression is taken literally, and not as a hendiadys) means that the reproductive capacity of the race is greatly increased, so that all things hasten to the end. And the “sorrow” of the woman does, indeed, witness of the fact that we can only bring forth children of wrath by nature, yet, for the believing woman this sorrow is not without hope, for she is still blessed in bringing forth children when she bears her sorrow with her eye on the promise. Even the relationship between the man and the woman is placed under a curse, for while the woman’s desire shall always be to her husband, the latter shall rule over her.. This sentence can hardly have reference to the fact that the man is the head of the woman, for this is not due to the curse, but to creation: “For Adam was first formed and then Eve,” . But this original relationship is now placed under a curse, so that man’s rule becomes one of pride and boastful cruelty and tyranny. While the woman violated the proper relation to her husband by deciding the matter of the forbidden fruit by herself, and by tempting and deceiving him, everything that concerns her relation to him after the fall is now subjected to suffering and humiliation. Her desire shall be to her husband even in her sorrow and subjection. And, quite in accord with the sinful and cursed condition of fallen man, all creation is put under the bondage of corruption. The ground is cursed. And this implies that it shall henceforth bring forth thorns and thistles, representative of all obnoxious weeds, so that the toil of man in eliciting the necessary sustenance from the soil is greatly increased. Man shall eat thereof only in the sweat of his face, and in “sorrow ail the days of his life.” . The cursed earth shall henceforth produce corruptible food for his corruptible body, so that in the sphere of corruption he eats and drinks corruption unto death. But this also refers to all the suffering of the groaning creation, to earthquakes and volcanoes, hail and fire, destructive winds and floods, scorching heat and drought; locusts and other pests that destroy all the toil of the husbandman in one day. And the creature is made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same, i.e. by the will of God, . Thus creation is sustained and governed by God, in its cosmical coherence and unity, and directed in its course of organic development, in the sphere of vanity, and bearing the curse. And thus the Heidelberg Catechism rightly speaks of this present world as “this valley of tears,” and in describing the government of God in the present Lord’s Day mentions rain, but also drought, fruitful, but also barren years, health, but also sickness as coming “not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”
And thus the stage is set for the antithetical revelation of the wonder of grace in Christ and of the covenant of God’s friendship. God reveals Himself, not only as the Creator, Who calls the things that are not as if they were; but also as the Redeemer, who quickens the dead. He calls the light out of darkness, righteousness out of corruption, life out of death, heavenly glory out of the desolation of hell. And all this He realizes through Christ, the cross and the resurrection, the exaltation at the right hand of God, and the coming again in power; and in the elect Church, chosen unto everlasting life, that they might be to the praise of the glory of His grace in the beloved. With His elect He realizes His eternal covenant of friendship. But at the same time there is upon that world in sin and vanity an operation of God’s anger and fierce wrath, along the line of reprobation, whereby the ungodly are given over unto foolishness and ungodliness, unto religious and moral degradation, and the vessels of wrath are fitted unto destruction. And thus arises the antithesis, not of nature and grace, but of sin and grace, of light and darkness, of Christ, and Belial, of righteousness and unrighteousness. For the creatures are upheld and governed by God in their cosmical coherence and unity, elect and reprobate are of one blood, and they have all natural things in common. But they differ fundamentally in their spiritual-ethical relation to God. And while the ungodly develop and live and act from the spiritual-ethical principle of sin, using all things as means to give expression to that principle, and creating a world full of the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, they that are called to fight the good fight of faith, are living from the principle of regeneration, representing the cause of the Son of God in the world, strangers and pilgrims by virtue of their heavenly calling, and seeking the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. This is the meaning of history. And thus the twofold harvest of the world grows and ripens: the tares and the wheat must grow up together. And when the harvest is ripe, the Lord of the harvest will come and reap, will gather the wheat into his barn, and destroy the tares with unquenchable fire. Then the stage may also disappear, in order to make room for the eternal House of God in the new creation! Such is the end of God’s providence.
And thus the believer may place his firm trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fully confident that nothing shall separate him from his love, “since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.” For he knows that all things in the present world, all things literally, in heaven and on earth, and more especially also the things that appear evil, must work together for his eternal salvation. For he knows that it is the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that too, as the eternal Father of Christ our Lord, who made all things out of nothing, and according to His sovereign good pleasure; and that as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a view to Him and His Church, and with a view to the antithetical revelation of His covenant of friendship, He upheld and governed the universe from the very beginning, so that nothing ever thwarted or frustrated the realization of His eternal counsel; and that He still upholds and governs the same by His almighty and omnipresent power. He understands that the world to come is not the final development of the present world but the final revelation of the wonder of grace; and refusing to be deceived by any theory of common grace, as if some .kind of a perfected paradise, the realization of the ‘original creation ordinance, were still to be expected, he will have nothing of the idealistic philosophy of the world, loves not the world, neither the things that are in the world, but seeks the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. In the meantime, he understands his calling, and by grace he is willing to serve God’s purpose even in this world, that he may represent the cause of the Son of God to the praise of the glory of His grace in the beloved, and that, too, over against a world that lieth in darkness. And unto this purpose he makes all things subservient, in Church and State, in home and school and society. He does not go out of the world, but in the world he serves the Lord Christ.
In this attempt and purpose it is sometimes given him to prosper. He may live as a believer in his home, with his wife and children. He may establish his own school, where his children are educated according to the principles of the Word of God. He may promote the proclamation of the true gospel. He may even exert some influence in society and in the State. God gives him the means and the power to realize the purpose of his calling. And in this prosperity he is thankful. More often, however, he shall meet with the power of opposition, and he shall have to fight the battle of faith, suffering with Christ in that battle. Moreover, he too, partakes of the suffering of this present time in general, of drought and barren years, of sickness and sorrow and death, of war and destruction, of famine and pestilence. But in all these things he may be patient, and give thanks in all things, confident that “all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand,” that “nothing shall separate us from his love,” that “all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move,” and that further “he will make whatever evils he sends upon me in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.” That is the comfort and victorious power of faith in God, the Father, Almighty Maker of heaven and earth!