The Apostles’ Creed (10)

Herman Veldman is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

The truth of the providence of God is not mentioned in our Apostles’ Creed. This, however, does not mean that this conception must therefore not be maintained by the church of God and by us. There are also other truths that are not mentioned in this creed, truths such as the Trinity, divine predestination (election and reprobation), the depravity of the sinner, the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments as the means of grace, etc. This truth, although not mentioned in this creed, is surely implied in it. Our Heidelberg Catechism, mentioning this truth in Lord’s Day 9 and devoting an entire Lord’s Day to it (Lord’s Day 10) is surely not in error when treating this subject as it does. That God created all things surely implies that He also upholds all things.

In this connection we wish to make a few preliminary observations. First, the word or term providence is not scriptural. The only place where the word occurs is Acts 24:2, and there the word is used as applied to Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. This fact itself, however, need not discredit the word as far as its being used by us is concerned. Fact is, other terms we use, such as Trinity and attributes, are not scriptural either. What is more serious is that we may well question the correctness, propriety of the term itself. The word providence means literally, “foresight, to see before hand.” We use the word provide, provision, in that sense. Looking into the future, considering the future, we then make the necessary provisions. God, however, is not simply characterized by foresight in the sense that He knows and sees the things beforehand. It is true that Scripture speaks of God’s foresight. In Scripture God’s foresight is creative. Things are as and because the Lord knows them. In the Arminian sense the Lord simply knows and sees beforehand, things are not as and because the Lord knows them, but the Lord knows them as and because they are. God, of course, is the sovereign, unconditional Cause and Worker of all things. All things are not only made but also upheld and governed by His eternal will and counsel. This truth a truly Reformed man will always maintain with all that is in him.

Secondly, what a tremendous difference one word can make. We read at the conclusion of Answer 27: “yea, and all things come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.” What a difference it is, at the end of this answer, when we read the word “divine” instead of “fatherly.” That the Lord causes all things to come into being by His divine hand applies to the ungodly as well as to the godly. However, there is nothing particularly comforting about this. The thought that God, the living God, the Wholly-Other, is God alone, Who always seeks and maintains Himself, rules over all things, such as herbs, grass, rain and drought, etc. . . . ., is for the wicked a most frightening thought because this means that in all things God is against them. Then nothing is for them. But if we change the word “divine” into “fatherly” and read this answer as we have it in Lord’s Day 10, then this answer becomes most wonderful, because it is then my heavenly Father Who is always caring and providing for me, in rain and in drought, in health and in sickness, in prosperity and in adversity, in and through all things. This is the comfort of the providence of God.

It is because of the providence of God that we, according to the beginning of Answer 28 are patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity. Our Heidelberg Catechism defines the providence of God as the almighty and everywhere present power of God whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven and earth and all creatures. And then, after asking in Question 28: “What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things?” we read that we may be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity.

How far short we fall of this! Indeed, we know the truth so well. How well we know that God’s power is almighty and everywhere present. How well we know, in times of heat and cold, that both are of the Lord. How well we know in times of storm and tornado that we are in God’s hand. How well we know in times of sickness and death that the Lord has given and that He takes away. How well we know that all crop failures, wars and rumors of wars are controlled and directed by the Lord Who does all things according to His sovereign will and purpose. Should the Lord take from us our dear one and we are asked whether the Lord has done this, there would be none among us who would answer in the negative. Indeed, we know all this so well. And yet, how little we experience this truth! Of course, the doctrine of creation demands the doctrine of God’s providence. This doctrine, we have observed, is not mentioned in this Apostles’ Creed. However, the fact that God made all things means that all things are dependent upon Him and can therefore continue to exist only by God’s continuous providence. God’s creation means that all things are called into existence by the irresistible word of God’s power. God’s providence also implies this mighty word of God’s power. It means that the same divine power causes all things to continue to exist. But why do we experience this so little? It is because of our carnality, because all afflictions, etc., are contrary to our carnal pleasure and desires.

What is the basic purpose of the providence of God? First of all, this purpose is certainly not to realize the kingdom of God in the postmillenarian sense. According to this theory history, then, finds its meaning in the gradual development of all things in the direction of the kingdom of God upon the earth. In the development of the present world and of human culture and civilization the kingdom of God is gradually coming and being realized until the kingdom of this world shall have become the kingdom of God and of His Christ. God’s government of this world is such that it leads to the goal of the perfected kingdom of God. Think of all the emphasis today upon a social gospel, also as advocated in Reformed churches, to make this world a better place in which to live. What an impossible view! It is completely contrary to what Scripture everywhere holds before us in regard to the development we must expect of this world as well as its end. Iniquity will abound, the means and forces of this world will be pressed into the service of ungodliness, and the faithful will be few and will have no standing room in the midst of the world. All creation is under the curse of God, and the creature is in the bondage of corruption and subject to vanity. There simply is no material in this world for a perfected kingdom of God. This view denies the antithesis, according to which everything is being worked out by God in this world along the lines of election and reprobation. Instead of all things developing toward the kingdom of God and of His Christ, all the forces and institutions of this world are especially being used by the forces of evil for the realization of the kingdom of the antichrist, and the danger is great that the latter may be viewed as the kingdom of God. And instead of improving with all its boasted culture and civilization, the world is characterized by corruption, apostasy, hatred, war, and destruction more than ever before. Instead of improving, things are ever becoming worse.

Secondly, God’s providence (and we must also reject this) is viewed as maintaining a sort of interval period. This view presents God’s providence as a matter of common grace. According to this conception the Lord maintains His original creative ordinance. The Lord had commanded Adam to dress and to keep the garden, as His covenant friend and co-worker. It was man’s calling to cultivate the earth and all its fullness, to employ all its powers and gifts and talents as the servant of God, to explore and develop and bring to light the hidden wonders of the universe, and thus to bring the world to its highest possible perfection. This was the original creation ordinance of God. And now the Lord maintains this original creation ordinance by His common grace. Satan attempts to destroy this present world, deprive God of the glory of His Name, would frustrate this plan of God (when, I ask you, does the devil attempt to destroy this world? It is this world which he would exactly preserve and maintain.) But now the Lord intervenes with His common grace, checks the power of sin in man, exerts a good influence upon man, enables him to do much good in the world, and thus continues to maintain His original creation ordinance or idea. Man continues to function as a cultural being, busies himself in culture, develops himself and all things, all the powers of the earth, strives to make this world a better place in which to live. And this is also the social gospel which is making increasing headway also in the church world today.

This view, too, is impossible. First of all, as we have already remarked, the devil certainly never at tempts to destroy this world, to plunge it into ruin and chaos. What he did attempt was to gain this world for himself and make it his kingdom with Adam as its head, ruling it as his representative, even as the Antichrist will presently represent the devil. Secondly, it surely was never God’s intention to maintain an original creation ordinance or idea. The Lord never retraces His steps, does not simply maintain what once was. We refer the reader to that passage which we have quoted several times in the past, namely Ephesians 1:9-10. Here we read that it was the mystery of God’s will to gather together all things in Christ, and therefore not simply to maintain an original creation ordinance or idea. And potent is surely what we read in Colossians 1:15-19: “Who 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 should all fullness dwell.” What a potent, wonderful passage this is! We should note the following. Christ is before all things. The apostle here is speaking of the eternal Son of God but as according to His human nature, inasmuch as He is the Head of the Church. That He is before all things is true as in God’s counsel, inasmuch as, historically, He is not before all things but was born in the fullness of time. And it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell, and that all things were created by Him and for Him. The Lord does not simply preserve an original creation ordinance or idea, but all things occur, including sin, to serve the Christ. God would glorify Himself in the highest possible way, in the way of sin and grace. This is supralapsarianism? It is and it is surely in harmony with the Word of God.

The Lord willing, we will continue with this wonderful truth of the scriptures in our following article.