THE

SHORTER CATECHISM

EXPLAINED


QUESTION 11. What are God's works of providence?

ANSWER: God's works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.


Q. 1. How does it appear that there is a providence?

A. From scripture, and by reason.

Q. 2. How does the scripture evidence that there is a providence?

A. It tells us, that the Lord preserves man and beast, Psalm 36:6; that he gives "rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness," Acts 14:17; that "he giveth to all, life, and breath, and all things," Acts 17:25.

Q. 3. How may providence be proved by reason?

A. The admirable order and harmony among such a vast variety of creatures in the world, continuing for so many ages, notwithstanding of their different and opposite natures; the accomplishment of future events, exactly according to the predictions of them long before; the revolutions of kingdoms; the orderly returns of seed-time and harvest; and the preservation of a church on earth, against the fury of hell and wicked men: all these plainly evince, to the rational world, that there is a providence.

Q. 4. Can providence be denied without denying the being of God?

A. No; for the same arguments that prove the one, prove the other: to deny that God governs the world, is to deny that God exists, Isa. 41:23.

Q. 5. What is the object of God's providence, or to what does it extend?

A. To all his creatures, and all their actions.

Q. 6. What is God's providence towards the angels?

A. He permitted some of them to fall wilfully and irrecoverably into sin and damnation, Jude verse 6; and established the rest in holiness and happiness, 1 Tim. 5:21.

Q. 7. Are the smallest and meanest of the creatures the objects of God's providence, as well as the greatest and most considerable?

A. God's providence disdains not the meanest worm, more than the mightiest prince: he counts the hairs of our head, Matt. 10:30, as well as the number of the stars, Psalm 147:4.

Q. 8. Does it reflect any dishonour upon the providence of God to take care of the meanest creatures?

A. It can reflect no dishonour upon divine providence, to preserve what infinite wisdom saw meet to create, be it ever so mean in our view, Neh. 9:6.

Q. 9. Does providence extend to all the actions of the creatures, as well as to the creatures themselves?

A. Yes; otherwise the creatures would be independent in their actions; and God would not be in all things the first cause, Gen. 45:7.

Q. 10. Are casual or contingent actions subject to divine providence?

A. What is casual to us, is ordained by God: nothing can be more casual than a lot, yet "the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord," Prov. 16:33.

Q. 11. Are voluntary or free actions subject to it likewise?

A. Yes; for, though "there are many devices in a man's heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand," Prov. 19:21.

Q. 12. How is the providence of God conversant about good actions?

A. Not by compelling, but sweetly inclining and determining the will, both to the action and the right manner of performing it. Phil. 2:13 -- "It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure."

Q. 13. How is it conversant about sinful actions?

A. In permitting them to be done, Acts 14:16; and in limiting and directing them to good and holy ends, contrary both to the nature of sin, and the intention of the sinner, 2 Kings 19:28.

Q. 14. What scripture instance may be given, of God's over-ruling the sinful actions of men to holy ends?

A. The worst action that ever was committed, the crucifying the Lord of glory, was ordered and directed by God, for bringing about the greatest mercy, the redemption of a lost world, Acts 2:23, and 4:28.

Q. 15. What are the works of providence about the creatures and their actions?

A. They are two; God's preserving them, and his governing them.

Q. 16. What is God's preserving work of providence?

A. It is his upholding all the creatures in their being and operation, by the same power by which he made them at first, Heb. 1:3 -- "Upholding all things, by the word of his power."

Q. 17. What would be the consequence of God's withholding from the creatures his preserving providence?

A. They would presently sink into their original nothing, Psalm 104:29 -- "Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust."

Q. 18. What is God's governing work of providence?

A. His directing and leading all his creatures to the proper ends, which he has prescribed and appointed, Prov. 16:9 -- "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."

Q. 19. How do you prove that God governs as well as preserves his creatures?

A. From their dependence upon him for operation, as well as for being; for in him they live and move, as well as have their being, Acts 17:28; and it is expressly said, that "God ruleth by his power for ever," Psalm 66:7.

Q. 20. Does God's governing providence include in it his immediate concurrence with every action of the creature?

A. Yes; God not only efficaciously concurs in producing the action, as to the matter of it; but likewise predetermines the creature to such or such an action, and not to another, Isa. 10:6, 7; shutting up all other ways of acting, and leaving that only open, which he had determined to be done, Ezek. 21:21, 22.

Q. 21. How can God concur with the sinful actions of men, without sin, of which he cannot be the author?

A. Although God not only preserves and supports the faculties with which a man sins, but likewise previously, immediately, and efficaciously concurs to the substance, matter, or entity of the action, yet he by no means concurs to the sinfulness or wickedness of the act, Isa. 10:6, 7.

Q. 22. In what does the sinfulness of an action properly consist?

A. Not in the matter of the action, but in the form of it; that is, not in the action itself, considered as an act, but in the deficiency or swerving of that act from the rule of the law, 1 John 3:4 -- "Sin is the transgression of the law."

Q. 23. How may the difference between the matter and form of an action be illustrated by an example?

A. In the stoning of Achan and Naboth; the matter of the action was the same, namely, the throwing of stones; but the form of the action, in point of conformity or disconformity to the law, was vastly different: the stoning of Achan, condemned by God, and all Israel, was an act of just punishment, agreeable to the law; but the stoning of Naboth, an innocent man, was an act of unjust murder, quite contrary to the law, Ex. 20:13.

Q. 24. From whence then does the sinfulness or viciousness of actions proceed?

A. Although the power of acting be from God, yet the viciousness or malignity of the action is entirely from the inherent corruption of our own nature, James 1:13, 14.

Q. 25. Does not God present the object which is the occasion of sinning?

A. Sin does not arise from the object which God, in his providence, presents to us, but from our own inward depravity, called, "the corruption that is in the world through lust," 2 Pet. 1:4. God delivered Christ to the Jews; he presented him to them; but neither infused that malice in them, by which they crucified him, nor did excite it, but it was entirely of themselves, Acts 2:23.

Q. 26. What are the properties of God's providence?

A. It is most holy, wise, and powerful.

Q. 27. Why is the providence of God called most holy?

A. Because of the infinite holiness and purity that shines in all his administrations, Psalm 145:17.

Q. 28. In what does the holiness of God's providence appear?

A. In bringing glory to his mercy and justice out of sin.

Q. 29. How does he bring glory to his mercy out of sin?

A. In making the worst of sinners become the choicest of saints, as in the instance of Paul, 1 Tim. 1:12, 13, and others.

Q. 30. How does he bring glory to his justice out of sin?

A. By the judgements which he executes upon sinners, even in this life, Psalm 9:16.

Q. 31. Why is the providence of God said to be wise?

A. Because it makes all things subservient to the end which God had fixed for himself, Rom. 8:28.

Q. 32. How is the wisdom of providence manifested?

A. In the exact harmony of all the motions thereof with the word, Hos. 14:9.

Q. 33. Why is God's providence called powerful?

A. Because it cannot be resisted, Dan. 4:35 -- "He doth according to his will, in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what dost thou?"

Q. 34. How does the power of providence discover itself?

A. In bringing about great events, by small and apparently contemptible means: thus, he makes worm Jacob to thresh the mountains, Isa. 41:15; and by the foolishness of preaching saves them that believe, 1 Cor. 1:21.

Q. 35. How is the providence of God usually distinguished?

A. Into ordinary and extraordinary, common and special.

Q. 36. What is the ordinary providence of God?

A. It is his observing the order of things, which he appointed from the beginning, Hos. 2:21, 22.

Q. 37. What is the extraordinary providence of God?

A. It is his going beyond, or contrary to the natural order of things; and such events are called miraculous.

Q. 38. What is a miracle?

A. It is such an astonishing and surprising effect, contrary to the ordinary course of nature, as surpasses the power of all created beings, and can be produced by divine omnipotence only; such as, dividing the waters of the Red Sea and Jordan, making the sun to stand still, raising the dead, giving eye-sight to the born blind, curing all manner of diseases by a word, and the like.

Q. 39. What is common providence?

A. It is that which is exercised about all the creatures in general, Acts 17:28, called God's natural government.

Q. 40. What is special providence?

A. It is that which is exercised about rational creatures in particular, Deut. 30:15-18, called his moral government.

Q. 41. What is the special providence which God exercises about his church and people?

A. His "eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him," 2 Chron. 16:9; and he makes all things work together for their good, Rom. 8:28.

Q. 42. Are not all the dispensations of providence, prosperous or adverse, to be carefully observed?

A. Yes; for "whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord," Psalm 107:43.

Q. 43. How are the providences of God to be observed?

A. With humility and reverence, under a sense of our weakness to penetrate into them, Rom. 11:34; and with gratitude and thankfulness, because there is always some mixture of mercy with judgement in this life, Psalm 101:1.

Q. 44. Is it not dangerous to overlook the operations of divine providence?

A. Yes; for it is said, Psalm 28:5 -- "Because they regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up."

Q. 45. Are not some dispensations of providence very dark and mysterious?

A. Yes; his ways are many times in the sea, and his paths in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known, Psalm 77:19.

Q. 46. In what does the mystery of providence appear?

A. In the mysterious tract, and mysterious outward appearance of it.

Q. 47. How is providence mysterious in the tract of it?

A. In attaining its end by seemingly contrary means; such as making Joseph's imprisonment the step to his being second in the kingdom, and the casting of Daniel into the lions' den, the path to his higher preferment.

Q. 48. In what is providence mysterious in the outward appearance of it?

A. In that "all things come alike unto all;" there being one event to the righteous and to the wicked: and no man knowing love or hatred, by all that is before him in this life, Eccl. 9:1, 2.

Q. 49. How do you prove that love or hatred cannot be known by the outward dispensations of providence in this life?

A. From the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; the rich man, in his lifetime, received good things, and Lazarus evil things; and yet, after death, Lazarus is comforted, and the other tormented, Luke 16:19-28.

Q. 50. Is this seemingly unequal appearance of providence in this life, any reflection upon the wisdom and righteousness of it?

A. No; for, though good men may be sometimes put to a stand by the outward prosperity of the wicked, and the straits and wants of the godly, as Jeremiah was, chap. 12:1 -- "wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?" yet, if the enjoyments of the one, and wants of the other, are laid in the balance, it would be found, that a "little that the righteous man hath, is better than the riches of many wicked," Psalm 37:16.

Q. 51. What is our duty when providence seems to run contrary to the promise?

A. It is to believe the promise, and that providence is running in a direct line to the accomplishment of it, though we cannot see it at the time, as Abraham did, "who against hope believed in hope, and staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief," Rom. 4:18, 20.

Q. 52. Will not dark providences be opened to the saints some time or other?

A. Yes; for, says Christ, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter," John 13:7.

Q. 53. When will the mystery of providence be opened to the saints?

A. It shall be fully unveiled at the end of the day, when the mystery of it shall be finished, and all the labyrinths, in which the saints were led, fully unwinded, Rev. 10:6, 7.

Q. 54. What will be the language of the saints, when the whole mystery of providence shall be explained?

A. They will say, "He hath done all things well," Mark 7:37 -- "Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord spake; -- all are come to pass, -- not one thing hath failed thereof," Josh. 23:14.

Q. 55. What improvement ought we to make of this doctrine of providence?

A. To commit our way to the Lord; to "trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass," Psalm 37:5.


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