What Difference Does it Make What I Do? – 1689 5:2-7 | Sam Waldron

by | May 31, 2022 | Systematic Theology


In this short blog post, we come once more to Chapter 5 of the 1689 which is entitled “Of Divine Providence.” Paragraphs 2-7 of this chapter all address questions raised by the doctrine of divine providence stated in paragraph 1. Greg Nichols put these questions clearly. Paragraphs 2 and 3 answer the question, What difference does it make what I do?  Here is the Confession’s answer:

Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

1689 5:2

Here the Confession explicitly confirms that it does matter what we do because God’s providence does not ignore or over-ride second causes and conditions but works through them. Certain actions on our part will have certain results. This is how providence works through second causes and necessary and free conditions.

God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure.

1689 5:3

The main point here is that we must use the means because God ordinarily makes use of means. Thus, again, it matters what we do. Of course, according to the Confession, God’s hands are not tied by such means. He can work without them as in some miracles, above them as in other miracles like the feeding of the 5000 from the contents of the little boy’s lunch, and even contrary to them if he wishes. He can—if He sees good—make iron axe heads float.

Understanding that God controls the world through means should keep us from three things.

  1. A miserable anxiety and complaining about life–Everything is under the control of the living God. If you believe that, it will keep you from an anxiety and complaining which will make your lifestyle miserable.
  2. A paralyzing fatalism—What difference does the use of means make? All the difference in the world because God has ordained the means.
  3. A ruinous presumption—Do not presume that you will see the results and the outcome without using the means. Do not expect that God will save your loved ones unless you pray for them. Do not expect to be safe unless you take precautions.  The means to salvation are repentance and faith.  The means to profit is labour.  The way to heaven is holiness and walking the narrow way.

Another question is commonly raised about God’s providence: If God is in control of all things, how can God blame me for my sins?  The answer to this is explained in paragraph 4:

The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

1689 5:4

Though all sinful actions are included in God’s over-ruling providence, the actual sinfulness comes from the creature not from God. The reason is that God’s purpose in the sinful actions is holy, while the purpose of the creature is wicked. The sin is, thus, our fault. God neither authors nor approves of sin.

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