THE HEIDELBERG CATECHISM (Lord’s Days 1, 9, 10)
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer 1: That I with my body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will. of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
Q. 26. What believest thou when thou sayest, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence) is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but he will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body: and further, that 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.
Q. 27 What dost thou mean by the providence of God?
A. The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, 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.
Q. 28. What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by his providence doth still uphold all things?
A. That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love: since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.”
In connection with these quotations from our Heidelberg Catechism, we note the following. The Heidelberg Catechism, a wonderful book of instruction, certainly contains several beautiful answers. And these are surely some of those beautiful answers. Already in Lord’s Day 1 the providence of God is set forth. The Catechism begins its instruction by calling attention to this providence of God, comforting us with the thought that we are so preserved in the midst of the world that not a hair can fall from our head with the will of our heavenly Father, and that all things must work together for our good. And the same truth is held before us in Lord’s Days 9 and 10. Answer 26 reiterates what we read in Lord’s Day 1, declaring that the Lord will not only provide us with all things necessary for soul and body, but also that He will make all evils, which are sent me of the Father, turn out to my advantage. And in Lord’s Day 10 the Catechism asks tind answers the question: What dost thou mean by the providence of God? Attention is directed to the fact that nothing comes by chance, that all things happen unto us as sent by His Fatherly hand. And we do well to notice the fact that the Heidelberg Catechism, when discussing the providence of God, emphasizes this truth from the viewpoint of the Church of God and the salvation of that Church. This applies to Lord’s Day 1 and also to Lord’s Days 9 and 10. The Lord preserves all things and all things take place for the sake of His Church. Nothing happens by chance or fate, but all things are constantly controlled, including all the evils that become our lot, by our heavenly Father, Who causes all things to work together for our good.
THE BELGIC CONFESSION (Article XIII)
We believe that the same God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment: nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For His power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And, as to what He doth surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into, farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing these limits. This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby, that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under His power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded, that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without His will and permission, they cannot hurt us. And therefore we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance.
Also in this article emphasis is laid upon the truth that nothing happens by fortune or chance. The article rejects this damnable error of the Epicureans. And it is emphasized, too, that nothing happens in this world without the Lord’s appointment. And the truth is also set forth that our heavenly Father controls all things, SO that all things work together for the good of His Church.
We cannot quote profusely from the writings of the early Church fathers in connection with the providence of God. Neither is this necessary. The late Dr. H. Bavinck, from whom we quoted in a preceding article, wrote that the heathen’s conception of the control of all things in the midst of the world is such that they ascribed it to chance or fate. This is also stated in the confessions we have quoted. Just a few excerpts from the writings of these early Church fathers should be sufficient.
Irenaeus is generally supposed to have been a native of Smyrna. He was bishop of Lyons in France during the latter quarter of the second century. He is supposed to have died about A.D. 202. Whether he died a martyr’s death cannot be definitely determined. We now quote a few excerpts from his writings as they are recorded in Vol. I of the The Ante-Nicene Fathers. In this writing Irenaeus sets forth the truth that the world is ruled by the providence of one God, Who is both good and just:
God does, however, exercise a providence over all things, and therefore He also gives counsel. . . .Again, that they might remove the rebuking and judicial power from the Father, reckoning that as unworthy of God, and thinking that they had found out a God both without anger and merely good, they have alleged that one God judges, but that another saves, unconsciously taking away the intelligence and justice of both deities. For if the judicial one is not also good, to bestow favors upon the deserving, and to direct reproofs against those requiring them, he will appear neither a just nor a wise judge. On the other hand, the good God, if he is merely good, and not one who tests whose upon whom he shall send his goodness, will be out of the range of justice and goodness; and his goodness will seem imperfect, as not saving all; for it should do so, if it be not accompanied with judgment.
And then Irenaeus proceeds to refute the heresy of Marcion who divides God into two, maintaining one to be good and the other judicial, which, so Irenaeus maintains, puts an end to deity.
EXCERPTS FROM VOL. VII OF THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS
Afterwards Epicurus said that there was indeed a God, because it was necessary that there should be in the world some being of surpassing excellence, distinction, and blessedness; yet that there was no providence, and thus that the world itself was ordered by no plan, nor art, nor workmanship, but that the universe was made up of certain minute and indivisible seeds. But I do not see what can be said more repugnant to the truth. For if there is a God, as God He is manifestly provident; nor can divinity be attributed to Him in any other way than if He retains the past, and knows the present, and foresees the future. Therefore, in taking away providence, he also denied the existence of God.
Let the commencement of our work therefore be that inquiry which closely follows and is connected with the first: Whether the universe is governed by the power of one God or of many. There is no one, who possesses intelligence and uses reflection, who does not understand that it is one Being who both created all things and governs them with the same energy by which He created them. For what need is there of many to sustain the government of the universe? unless we should happen to think that, if there were more than one, each would possess less might and strength. And they who hold that there are many gods, do indeed effect this; for those gods must of necessity be weak, since individually, without the aid of the others, they would be unable to sustain the government of so vast a mass. But God, who is the Eternal Mind, is undoubtedly of excellence, complete and perfect in every part. And if this is true, He must of necessity be one.
Another question follows: Whether there be one God or more? And this indeed contains much ambiguity. For not only do individuals differ among themselves, but also peoples and nations. But he who shall follow the guidance of reason will understand that there cannot be a Lord except one, nor a Father except one. For if God, who made all things, is also Lord and Father, He must be one only, so that the same may be the head and source of all things. Nor is it possible for the world to exist unless all things be referred to one person, unless one hold the rudder, unless one guide the reins, and, as’ it were, one mind direct all the members of the body. If there are many kings in a swarm of bees; they will perish or be scattered abroad, while, “Discord attacks the kings with great commotion.” If there are several leaders in a herd, they will contend until one gains the mastery. If there are many commanders in an army, the soldiers cannot obey; since different commands are given; nor can unity be maintained by themselves, since each consults his own interests according to his humors. Thus, in this commonwealth of the world, unless there were one ruler, who was also its founder, either this mass would be dissolved, or it could not have been put together at, all.
These excerpts should be sufficient. We need not doubt but that the early Church fathers certainly maintained the truth that the providence of God is the Lord’s almighty and omnipresent power whereby He, having created the universe, also continues to uphold and govern it even according to His will. However, there are several important details to which our attention ought to be directed. Interesting, of course, is the providence of God when viewed as government. And one cannot deny the importance of the relation between God’s providence and sin. Fact is, sin and misery constitute a terrible reality. What must the Church confess and believe with respect to the Lord’s providence in connection with them? To these matters we certainly expect to call attention in subsequent articles. We do not expect to solve the problem of God’s sovereignty and sin. But we certainly believe that the Scriptures do throw light upon this question.