WCF 5.4 — Pastoral Comments

Posted on Jun 30, 2018 by admin

5.4   The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men;1 and that not by a bare permission,2 but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding,3 and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends;4 yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.5

1 Rom 11:32–34; 2 Sam 24:1; 1 Chr 21:1; 1 Kgs 22:22–23; 1 Chr 10:4, 13–14; 2 Sam 16:10; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28; 2 Acts 14:16;  3 Ps 76:10; 2 Kgs 19:28;  4 Gen 50:20; Isa 10:6–7, 12;  5 Jas  1:13–14, 17; 1 Jn 2:16; Ps 50:21.

We saw in chapter 3 of our Confession that God’s decree comprehends even the sinful actions of angels and man. Now, as God’s providence is really His outworking of His own decree, it would follow that His providence also extends to “the first Fall, and all other sins of angels and men.” And this extension, we are given to confess, cannot be “by a bare permission” as some might posit in their attempt to exonerate God or to indemnify God from responsibility.

Sinful actions are not only permitted, but providentially ordered and governed by God for His own holy purposes. We know this not only because bare permission is logically incompatible to absolute sovereignty, but also because it is the clear teaching of Scripture. It is, for example, the basis of Joseph’s word of encouragement to his brothers: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). Joseph is clearly saying that the sinful actions of his brothers could not have come to pass without the concurrence or ‘bounding’ of God’s providence.

But if that is the case, wouldn’t God be the “the author or approver of sin”? Well no, the Scripture is clear! God is neither the author nor approval of sin. James is especially instructive on this point: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God,” he insists: “for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (Jas 1:13–14).

The fact is that although all actions are ordained of God and brought to pass by His providential power, the quality of the action is determined by the motive of the creature. God does not do violence to the heart or will of His moral creatures. Moral creatures act according to what they perceived to be the most attractive course of actions. God ordained the external causes that contribute to the creature’s perception, and He ordained the creatures’ actions, but the motive for the actions come from the creatures themselves. This is why the moral creature is held responsible. Thus, we heartily confess that “the sinfulness [of any action] proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God.”

A proper appreciation of this doctrine ought to humble us to the dust and strip away any excuses to sin or nefarious attempts to blame God for our sin and failures. And it ought to stir our hearts to praise Him for His goodness, power, wisdom, holiness and justice!

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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