WCF 5.2 — Pastoral Comments

Posted on Jun 5, 2018 by admin

5.2   Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;1 yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.2

1 Acts 2:23; 2 Gen 8:22; Jer 31:35; Ex 21:13; Dt 19:5; 1 Kgs 22:28, 34; Isa 10:6–7.

We have already been introduced to the concept of “second causes” in chapter 3 of our Confession. In the present paragraph, we have, for the first time, an explicit reference to what was implicitly understood, namely, the first Cause. God is the first Cause, i.e. the initial cause of everything that comes to pass. He has immutably decreed all things that will come to pass, and all will indeed come to pass as He has decreed.  Has He not declared: “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa 46: 9-10)?

How are these things brought to pass? Our Confession teaches us that, they are brought about by second causes in God’s providence. What are second causes? They are anything in the created universe appointed by God to produce effects in one way or another. Every effect must have a cause. These causes are second causes so long as they are not uncaused. Only God is the uncaused Cause.

There are, as we are given to confess, three kinds of second causes, namely, the necessary, the free and the contingent.

The sun and the rotation and revolution of the earth are examples of necessary second causes that brings about different weather types and harvest seasons (cf. Gen 8:22; Jer 31:35; Isa 55:10).

A loose axe head or a stray arrow which “by chance” killed someone is an example of free second cause (cf. Ex 21:13; Dt 19:5; 1 Kgs 22:28, 34).

Prayers which are answered accordingly are examples of contingent second causes. When Paul announced to the centurion on the ship to Italy that all in the ship would survive only if the sailors remained in the ship, he essentially made the condition a contingent second cause to God’s purpose of preserving all in the ship.

It should also be noted that the manner in which God controls His creatures and their actions is usually consistent with the nature of the creature and its mode of action. We say “usually” because God does sometimes work miracles. Miracles are essentially changes and motions that are not limited by the laws of nature. But in general, God works within the bounds of the laws of nature which He has set in place, be they physical, chemical, biological or spiritual. We know this to be true from experience. We are, for example, conscious of acting freely according to the law of our constitution as free agents. In the same way, God’s control of inanimate objects is always consistent with the properties of the substances that make up the objects. This is the basis for the study of empirical science. Had God not chosen to work out His providence according to the nature of second causes, the study of science would be meaningless if not impossible. Indeed, it would be impossible for man to live with constancy and stability were it not that God has chosen to work out His Providence according to the knowable nature of second causes. Thank God for His wisdom and power so demonstrated!

Extracted and translated from:
Westminster Confession of Faith — With Brief Pastoral Comments
© 2018 by Pilgrim Covenant Church
Translation and posted with permission
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