Herman Veldman is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
We concluded our preceding article with the remark that God is and remains sovereign. We would conclude this series of articles by calling attention to this sovereignty of God in connection with the truth of God’s providence. Our remarks will be brief.
There are certain scriptural passages that are very pertinent in the treatment of this subject. We read inPsalm 73:18: “Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down into destruction.” Another text is Psalm 92:6-7: “A brutish man knoweth not; Neither doth a fool understand this. When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever.” In Isaiah 6:8-10 we read: “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” And a final passage is Acts 2:23: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Let us now look at these passages somewhat in detail.
Notice, in the first place, how the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty is emphasized in these passages. In Psalm 73 the psalmist informs us that the Lord did set them in slippery places. To be sure, of the wicked we read that they are prosperous, have no bands in their death, their strength is firm, are not in trouble as other men, are not plagued as other men, that their eyes stand out with fatness, and they have more than their heart could wish. Yet, all this prosperity is held before us by the psalmist as “slippery places,” and it was of the Lord Who had set them upon them. InPsalm 92 we read of the brutish man that he springs as the grass, and that he flourishes. But this occurs, we read, that he may be destroyed for ever. It is the Lord Who causes him to prosper and to flourish, but in order that he may be destroyed for ever. There is surely no grace of God in all his prosperity. This sovereignty of the Lord is also emphasized in Isaiah 6:8-10. Isaiah is sent by the Lord to make the heart of this people fat, make their ears heavy, shut their eyes. The prophet is not sent by the Lord with a general, well-meaning offer of salvation. God sends him to harden them, make their ears heavy and shut their eyes. They must not be converted, they must not be healed. This is God’s sovereignty. And how vividly this truth of God’s sovereignty is held before us in Acts 2:23. Mind you, Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of the Lord. The crucifixion, therefore, was planned and sovereignly willed by the alone living God. God is truly absolutely sovereign in all the ways of the wicked.
Secondly, however, we should also notice how these same passages hold before us the truth that man is a moral-rational, responsible being. When we read inPsalm 73 that the Lord sets the wicked upon slippery places, this, we understand, does not mean that these wicked are set upon these slippery places as stocks and blocks. The Lord never violates man’s moral-rational nature, never causes that sinner to act contrary to his own inclinations and desires. Of these men who are set upon slippery places, according to Psalm 73:6 we read that pride compasseth them about as a chain, that violence covers them as a garment. This is their sin and responsibility. It is true that the Lord sets them upon slippery places, but we must always bear in mind that these wicked also themselves choose these slippery places, and that this is controlled and directed by the sovereign will of the living God. This is also applicable to Psalm 92. It is true that the wicked spring as the grass and that the workers of iniquity flourish in order (God’s purpose) that they may be destroyed forever, but we must again bear in mind that the wickedspring as the grass and that the workers of iniquityflourish. The Lord does not set innocent people upon slippery places. He does not fatten innocent people for the day of slaughter. And the same is true, of course, also of Isaiah 6. It is true that the prophet here speaks of the sovereign, wholly unconditional work of the Lord, that Isaiah is commissioned by Jehovah to make the hearts of the people fat, make their ears heavy and to shut their eyes. It is true that, according to Isaiah 6:10, they must not be converted and healed. However, we must bear in mind that their hearts are made fat, their ears are made heavy and their eyes are shut. And this implies that the Lord, although working sovereignly (this is always true of the Lord), works sovereignly through the sinner as a moral-rational being. That their hearts are fat, their ears heavy and their eyes shut does not mean that they do not hear and understand and see intellectually, but that they do not understand, hear and see spiritually. They are sinners, responsible sinners, but absolutely controlled and directed by the alone sovereign God. The sinner is always responsible for all his actions. This is everywhere taught in the Word of God. Reprobation we would define as that absolutely sovereign decree of God whereby He wills a sinner who perishes because of his sin. Condemnation rests upon sin. One can condemn only a violator of the law. Reprobation, however, never rests upon sin. Indeed, we read in Romans 9: “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated,” before either did good or evil. And finally, this also applies to Acts 2:23. To be sure, we read here that Christ was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. However, we also read that the Lord Jesus Christ was taken by wicked hands and slain. That the world (Jew and Gentile) crucified the Lord of glory was surely because they delighted in it. This was their sin and for it they are held accountable. Indeed, God’s providence and sin are so related that the sinner remains a moral-rational being, but always under the sovereign control of the alone living God.
What a wonderful comfort this is! Now we know that the church of the living God, and, of course, every child of the Lord is always safe in the midst of the world. Yes, viewing the sinner subjectively, he always acts in harmony with his own personal will and desires. However, viewed in the light of the alone sovereign God, the wicked are but chess pieces, moved and controlled by God even as He wills. Now we understand that not a hair can fall from our heads without the will of our heavenly Father.
Article II of the Apostles’ Creed reads: “And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord.” This article begins the second part of the Apostles’ Creed, and the part of this creed which concerns our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Incidentally, our Heidelberg Catechism discusses this second part of the Apostles’ Creed in the Lord’s Day 11-19. Lord’s Day 20 begins to discuss the third and last part of this creed, concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and, in connection with the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Church.
It is well to bear in mind that in this second part of the Apostles’ Creed, the church of God speaks of its faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have already called attention to the fact that the first article in this creed does not refer to the Father as He is the first person of the divine trinity. In our discussion of this first article of the Apostles’ Creed, and as explained in Lord’s Day 8 of our Heidelberg Catechism, we warned our readers against the error of tritheism, that there are three gods. We do not read in this creed of our faith in God the Father, in God the Son and then in God the Holy Spirit. But we read of our faith in God the Father, and then of our faith in Jesus Christ and finally of our faith in the Holy Ghost. The name, God, is mentioned only in the first article of this creed. This first article speaks ofGod, the Father, and this refers to the Triune God. Hence, the Apostles’ Creed speaks of the Triune God, revealed as our Father in the work of creation, and then revealed as our Redeemer in Christ Jesus and finally revealed as our Sanctifier in the Holy Spirit. Hence, this also suggests and means that the second article in this creed does not simply refer to the Eternal Son as the second person of the Trinity. In this second article, however, the church confesses its faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that we read here of this Lord Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son. But this merely serves to emphasize that only Gods only begotten Son could become and be this Lord Jesus Christ. That this second article of the Apostles’ Creed refers to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head and Savior of His people, is abundantly evident from what follows about Him in this creed: we read of His conception, birth, suffering under Pontius Pilate, and death, resurrection, and exaltation into the right hand of God, and His return to judgment upon the clouds of heaven.
This second part of our Apostles’ Creed covers Articles 2-7 of this creed, and, as we have stated above in Lord’s Days 11-19 of our Heidelberg Catechism. In this part of the creed the following doctrines are treated: the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ is discussed in His Names, Offices, Natures, and States. His names, offices, and natures are treated in Lord’s Days 11-13. Lord’s Day 11 calls attention to the name Jesus. Lord’s Day 12 calls our attention to the name Christ, and also asks the question: why art thou called a Christian? And in Lord’s Day 13 the catechism calls our attention to the name Lord. In Lord’s Day 14-16 we are instructed in regard to Christ’s state of humiliation, although in Lord’s Day 14 our attention is also directed to the truth of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And, finally, in the Lord’s Day 17-19 we are instructed with respect to Christ’s state of glorification or exaltation, His sitting at the right hand of God, and His return, bodily and visibly, upon the clouds of heaven, in all his glory and majesty.
We understand, I am sure, that this treatment of the doctrine concerning our Lord Jesus Christ is very brief. Yet, it is surely also very complete. The fathers had a remarkable ability to express much in few words. This is also evident here, in this Apostles’ Creed. To this truth, now, and other truths concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, we will call attention in subsequent articles. We also plan to show the distinctive character of these truths as set forth in this creed and as held before us in the scriptures, the Word of God.