Today we continue our series on Gospel Convergence; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
Everywhere, but totally hidden
In the past year or so I have slightly changed my approach to choosing my preaching material. My preference is to preach those sections of Scripture that are often avoided; therefore I have worked my way through books such as Ecclesiastes, Haggai, 2 Peter, and Jude. However, in the past year I have attempted to preach the more familiar parts of the Bible. One familiar book that I have been preaching from is that of Ruth. The book of Ruth is the perfect example of what the Confession tackles in chapter five – Divine Providence.
Of the book of Ruth, LaSor, Hubbard and Bush write ‘God is everywhere – but totally hidden in the purely human coincidences and schemes…the book stresses that God works behind the scenes’ (Old Testament Survey, pg. 525). This is what we observe in the Confession too as it sets out the doctrines of the entire Canon.
A Strange Kind of Providence
The Confession asserts:
God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for which they were created, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy. (pg. 41)
Or more succinctly, in the words of Paul, all things have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).
The Confession proceeds to explain that this providence is executed through two causes; the first cause being God himself, and the second cause being other means. In other words, God is the first cause of all things, providence occurs at his direction. However, this providence is then seen (albeit vaguely sometimes) in our world through means. Perhaps the best illustration of this is Peter’s accusation in his speech on the day of Pentecost:
Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed (Acts 2:23)
Even though God has chosen to execute his providence by way of means, he is not constrained or limited to or by these means. In fact, ‘God, in His ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at His pleasure.’ (pg. 42) An example of this would be Daniel and his three friends escaping the normal consequences of being thrown into a pit of hungry lions and a fiery furnace respectively (Dan. 3, 6).
The Worst of Times are not Wasted
While this may be the assertion, it leaves plenty of questions unanswered for us in the here and now. But these questions the Confession gladly tackles. It argues that God’s determinative counsel is not limited to good things, but extends over the fall initially, and all other sinful acts. Moreover, these sinful acts don’t happen by way of mere permission, but are bound, ordered and governed by him. Yet in all of it God is not the author, nor approver of sin (pg. 42).
The Confession’s argument is seen in the narrative of the book of Genesis. Joseph is slandered, lied to, abused, sold, imprisoned, forgotten and falsely accused by all manner of people, including his very own brothers. However, the testimony of Joseph and the author of Genesis is powerful:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (50:20).
Thus, in the shadow of divine providence, even the most trying times and those periods where sin abounds and dominates, God is orchestrating the story bringing about the growth, maturity and development of his people. The Confession states, ‘So that whatsoever befalls any of His elect is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good’ (pg. 43). Or in wording borrowed from John Piper’s book on Ruth (A Sweet and Bitter Providence, 2010, pg. 24): the worst of times are not wasted in God’s economy.
Providence to another Destination
The Psalmist assures us that the LORD hates the wicked (Ps. 11:5). These are hard words for a people who follow the God of love, and yet rather than diminishing God’s love they magnify it. Sin, evil and wickedness will not go unpunished and God’s providence (among other things) ensures this is so.
Sinners will not escape; God will harden their hearts, blind their eyes and hold them for judgement of all that they have perpetrated. Scripture testifies to this in the narratives of Exodus as God promises to harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21) and then repeatedly we read of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened (7:13; 8:15, 19, 32). This is reaffirmed by Paul in Romans as he teaches the church these truths in his letter (11:7-8).
Comfort and Confidence
All of this then is to inspire comfort and confidence in the people of God, no matter what circumstances they face because they are all under the divine providence of God. As the Confession concludes:
As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of His church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof. (pg. 44)
Longman and Dillard in introducing the book of Ruth contend that ‘the attentive reader finishes the book knowing that God’s hand has guided the events of this story’ (Introduction to the Old Testament, pg. 149-150). The Confession contends that the attentive reader of Scripture should finish the book knowing God’s hand guides the events of the story, and by implication God’s hand guides the events of every story. In other words, because of God’s divine providence there can be comfort and confidence for his people.