HC 28 — The Advantage That Comes From Believing in God’s Providence

Question 28: What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things?

The Heidelberg Catechism, being closer to the Medieval Church than it is to the modern Church that came in with the Enlightenment breathes with a devotional air. Throughout the HC the Catechizer will provide this kind of question and answer in order to make sure that student comprehends what we might call the cash value of the doctrine. The HC is not interested in an abstracted theology that doesn’t have traction in every day life. As such we get these kind of questions. Here we find a rich and still practical theology.

Here, the interest is making sure that the student understands the impact of the truth of God’s providence as in the life of the believer. Urisinus and Olevianus as the Catechizers desires their students to take the truth of God’s providence and find daily comfort in their lives from the belief of this Doctrine.

The question once again pushes the student in the direction that all of their living is conditioned by the Creator, Sustainers, and Governor of all things. There is no living absent of God’s providence and control. Indeed, it is the case that in God we live, and move, and have our being. All of our lives are lived out before the face of God to whom we must give an account. For the Catechizer’s the God of the Bible is not remote but closer to us than our next breath.

It is good to return to these realities if only because modern man lives as if the sky above him is bronze with no notion of the reality of God. The Christian is a different kind of man. He knows that all of life is life as dictated and directed by the kind and merciful providence of God. All of life is riven with the testimony of the God’s divine control and we as God’s people should find the benefit/advantage of that truth.

Answer: That we may be patient in adversity;8 thankful in prosperity;9 and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father,10 that nothing shall separate us from His love;11 since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.12

The Catechizers are brutally honest. God’s providence does not erase the reality of adversity that we face in our lives.

Ps. 39:10, Remove Thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of Thine hand.

However, with their confession of God’s providence the sting is taken out of the adversity the Christian faces because the Christian knows that any and all adversity is adversity that is under the direction and control of God the Father Almighty. We do not live in a world that is dictated by chance, fate, or bad luck. All that comes into our lives, including our adversity, comes into our lives as fashioned by God’s providence.

8Rom. 5:3, And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience hope.

Even in our adversity the Christian can glory because we know that as God’s providence is directing all things the final outcome of that adversity will work in us godly character, and one of the things that the Christian desires above all else is godly character.

God’s providence is also intended to cause us to lift our eyes in gratitude when God determines to bless us with prosperity. The tears of heaven sent adversity may last through the night but the joy of heaven sent prosperity cometh in the morning.

What a glory that we should be given the instinct to be thankful to our benevolent God when He heaps prosperity upon us.

9Deut. 8:10, When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He hath given thee.

Thankless Christians when soaked with prosperity is a terrible oxymoron.

This truth of God’s providence of course makes a completely dependent people shut up to God’s wisdom as to what is best for us. This embrace of the doctrine of God’s providence has the ultimate purpose, in terms of the advantage it is to be to God’s people, to work in us a placing of our firm trust in our faithful God and Father. God the Father Almighty knows what is best for us — both in terms of adversity and prosperity — and this providence of God is intended that we invest our reliance upon Him who has shown His faithfulness to Himself and us in providing His Son as a surety that we did not deserve. If our lives were only characterized by daily adversity (God forbid) the reality that God the Father Almighty has provided the prosperity found in providing Jesus Christ as our deliverance announces that God has shown Himself faithful in His providence.

1 Thes. 5:18, In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

This firm trust in God driven by confidence in His exhaustive providence is to fill us with the confidence that nothing shall separate us from His love.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This reality that we, as the people of God the Father Almighty, can be separated from the love of God for His people reminds us that it is God’s love for His people as conditioned by love for Himself, that everything that comes into our lives by way of God’s providence is from the hand of God who is expressing His love to us in His providence as it unfolds in our lives.

The hard thing in all this is the ability to continue to believe in God’s goodness and love for us when providence brings adversity. It is at those times when we will be tempted to question a providence of God that is anchored in His love for us as conditioned by His love for Himself.

This is why it is good to learn our catechism and the truths therein before being visited by a hard providence because when we are in the hot box of a hard providence it is even more difficult to learn the truth being taught here. When parents are holding a child born crippled at birth it is hard at that point to lean on God’s providence if we have not already learned it. When persecution comes knocking it is hard at that point to lean on God’s providence if we have not already owned it. When wasting disease visits us it is hard at that point to lean on God’s providence if we have not already learned it. Let us pray earnestly that we might get this doctrine in the very marrow of our bones.

The catechism ends here reminding us again that “all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.12″

Every event that happens in creation serves God’s purposes because every event that happens in creation has no reality apart from the reality that God gives it in His providence. Whether we consider the malevolence of our arch-enemy;

12Job 1:12, And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.

Job 2:6, And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.

Or rather we consider the movement of Satan’s armies;

Matt. 8:31, So the devils besought Him, saying, If Thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.

Or rather we consider the operation of any secondary cause;

Isa. 10:15, Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood

Nothing happens in all creation apart from our Father’s leave. Nothing can come into our life apart from our Father’s leave.

Let us briefly ask what we would have to say if all this were not true. We would have to say that

1.) God is not God since God by definition is one who has totalistic and exhaustive sovereignty. If God’s providence is not true than God would not be worth worshiping since he would be just some kind of celestial bystander who would be as taken by surprise at the events that enter into our lives as we are. Take pity on those who worship a God who does not have the kind of providence that we learn in our Heidelberg Catechism.

2.) We would have to cower in fear of man. If God’s providence is not true than we are fools to cross tyrants or the wicked in our lives. It is God’s providence that gives us the courage to have no fear of man. It is God’s providence that causes us to realize that man can do nothing to us apart from God’s leave. A lack of confidence in God’s providence would make cowards of all of us.

3.) We would go mad with the grief that enters into our lives. It is only confidence in God’s goodness and providence that steadies us when hardships and persecutions come into our lives. If we really lived in a time plus chance plus circumstance world we would not be able bear up under the burdens of this life. Only the reality of God’s providence provides a backdrop wherein we can press on when life presses us down.

4.) We would not continue to contend for the crown rights of Jesus Christ in every area of life. Were we not confident of God’s providence we would not strive to bring every area of life under His authority. Apart from God’s providence we would hunker down and not risk great things for the glory of God, being fearful of what might come into our lives absent a God who controls all things.

God’s providence works in us both to accept hardship as from the hand of God while at the same time energizing us to contend, compete, and contest for the glory of our great God.

O Sovereign God,

We thank thee with all our being for your providence. We thank you that it is true that all our life is conditioned by you and dependent upon you. We pray that we might grow to adore you more and more because of your providence in our lives. We pray that you might keep us from being like Job’s wife who assigned wickedness to you because of what you ordained for Job and His family. Grant us thy favor to be confident in your goodness no matter come what may. Help us to be like our Father Job, who, despite the hard providence in his life refused to curse God. Help us to be like our Father St. Paul who was driven on by the confidence in your providence to never cease in opposing your enemies at every turn.

Grant us your grace, in light of your providence, to never surrender.

In Christ’s name we pray 


HC Question 27 — God’s Providence

Question 27: What dost thou mean by the providence of God?

Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God;1 whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures;2 so that herbs and grass, rain and drought,3 fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness,5 riches and poverty,6 yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.7

In Question 27 we are still dealing with the work of the Father confessed in the Apostles Creed. We now have moved from the creation work of God the Father Almighty to His ongoing work of sustaining (upholding) and governing His creation. The word the Catechizers use for God’s continuous work of upholding (sustaining) and governing His creation is “providence.”

This idea of providence was once central to the ways Christian’s spoke. If you listen carefully, the way we currently speak lacks this idea of providence. Instead, you will hear the idea of “luck” falling out of people’s mouths. And while we don’t want to be too exacting when we deal with people, it simply is the case that “luck” in our thinking has often replaced the idea of God’s total and overweening providence. This is to be expected from a people who have lost awareness of living in God’s presence. “Luck” bespeaks mindless chance, whereas “providence” reminds us that all things happen by God’s almighty and everywhere present power. We live in a world that pulses with God’s providential control exercised as by His upholding and governing all things.

Heb. 1:3, Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

The reality of God’s providence reminds us we do not live in a world upheld and governed by dark chaos and old night. The world and the events of the world do not unfold randomly or haphazardly but unfold as ordered by God the Father’s everywhere present power. This providence of God reminds us that God is always present — always present as a Father to His people and always present as an exacting judge to the reprobate. God the Father Almighty is never in need of anything from His creatures and is the one who;

giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.

Acts 17:25–28

Were humans wise they would, upon learning this, fall on their faces to worship He who upholds and governs all things.

The fact that God the Father Almighty upholds and governs all things reminds us that God is not absent from the world He has created. God is present and is not silent. His presence is attested to by all that happens. The idea that God upholds all things communicates the truth that the continuance of the cosmos and everything in it is dependent upon God the Father Almighty. The idea that God governs all things communicates the truth that this continuing cosmos is ordered and ruled by the God whose power and person is always and everywhere present.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in [c]hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall [d]fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness [e]shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Psalm 139

Whereas before we have been considering God’s Almightiness (Omnipotence) here it is God’s omnipresence (everywhere present at all times) that is emphasized.

As Question 27 ends we return to the matter of God’s everywhere present power with a litany of examples explaining the exhaustiveness of God’s upholding and governing. It is God’s the Father’s almighty upholding and governing hand that accounts for;

herbs and grass, rain and drought,3 fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness,5 riches and poverty,6 yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.7

We should not miss here that the Catechizer’s insist everything — both what we call blessing and what we call tragedy — come to us ordered by God’s sustaining and upholding. This life for the Christian is ordered by a personal God whose sovereignty is total and complete.

This is a truth that is required to be embraced by faith. For example, it is only faith in God’s goodness and providence that carried and carries me through having a much loved grand-daughter who was born broken and damaged with severe cerebral palsy. Can I receive even this as coming from the hand of God the Father Almighty who upholds and governs all things by His mighty hand or shall I begin to conclude that somehow God was absent from such a sorrow filled reality? If God is absent from the bumps and bruises of life then when those times come where is the Christian to turn? To the fates? To the idea that somehow Satan overcame God? To some kind of idea that teaches, “well, God didn’t want this but, you know, sometimes God is sovereign enough to not be sovereign.” Away with all such foolishness. If God is God then away with ideas of “bad luck,” or “chance” or anything else. If God is God let us praise His name by kissing the Shepherd’s staff when in His wisdom He wields it upon us. If God’s providence is not true in just this kind of manner then I have no interest in worshiping God. All things are from the Lord God omnipotent. And while I may struggle with some of those realities (a broken grand-daughter for example) at the end of the day I must join with my Father Job and say;

Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Other faith traditions (Arminianism) who seek to lessen God’s sovereignty don’t solve the problem of evil. Instead what they give you is the reality of the evil as combined by a God who can’t do anything about it. One ends up with not only the evil but also a severely diminished God hardly worth worshiping.

When God chooses to send to His people drought, barren years, sickness, and poverty, God’s people must be equipped in knowing that God is good and that this good God has sufficient reasons yet unknown and undeclared to us as to His purposes for the drought, barren years, sickness, and poverty that are providentially sent and ordered for our lives. We must remember that our good God will “will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage.”

The Scriptures that explicitly teach that God the Father Almighty, in His work of providence, does indeed governs all that comes into our lives is taught explicitly in Scripture;

A.) God’s providence and rain

3Jer. 5:24, Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in His season: He reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.

4Acts 14:17, Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

B.) God’s Providence and sickness and health;

5John 9:3, Jesus answered, Neither hath this (blind) man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

C.) God’s providence in wealth and poverty;

6Prov. 22:2, The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.

Job 1:21, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

D.) There is no such thing as chance. God providentially ordains all;

7Matt. 10:29–30, Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Eph. 1:11, In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.

Christians have a choice. They can either worship the God of the Bible who by His providence upholds and governs all things and so be realistic about the word “sovereignty” or they can worship a god of their own imagination.


One final word here. When it comes to God’s providence we insist that though we affirm God’s providence we admit that we don’t always know what God is doing in His providence. There is, within some expressions of Christianity, a knee-jerk pseudo-prophetic inclination for people to think they can always interpret God’s providence. Some people are inclined to think they can file through God’s filing cabinets are hard drives and be able to tell you why a hardship comes into your life. While, it is certainly true that there are times when we may be able to trace out the lineaments of what God is doing in His providence, we need to be careful about falling into a “this is that” mentality. It simply is the case that we often do not know why God is doing or has done what He is doing or has done. For example, I will never know, in this life with certainty, why God wounded my Grand-daughter Ella. Similarly, there are many things that will come into our lives that we will have to wait till the eschaton arrives in order to understand. Be wary of people who think they can tell you what every piece of God’s providence in our life means. They can be well intended and fruit-cakes at the same time.

Heidelberg Catechism Q.) 26 — God the Father Almighty; Creator of Heaven & Earth

Question 26: What believest thou when thou sayest, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”

Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them;1 who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence)2 is for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt but He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body;3 and further, that He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage;4 for He is able to do it, being Almighty God,5 and willing, being a faithful Father.6

We recall as we come to question 26 that we are in section II of the Heidelberg Catechism which is titled “Our Deliverance.” This section is committed to explaining how great a salvation we have in Jesus Christ in delivering the Christian from their sin and misery (Section I). The methodology used to do so for the next 33 questions and answers is to break down the Apostles Creed as to what it precisely mean when one confesses the Apostles Creed.

We must say at the outset that this methodology foists precision on the mind. We learn, via this method, not only the greatness our our deliverance from our sin and misery but also what exactly the Apostle’s Creed means. This explanation of the Apostle’s Creed that is given in the HC separates Biblical Christians from those who are repeating the Creed with a foreign accent. Because of the precision of the explanation we will get in this section we no longer can accept a vanilla Christianity that has a “Kumbaya” feel. By the time the Catechizers are finished with this section certain expressions of Christianity are ruled as contrary to the intent of the Apostle’s Creed and the Scriptures. This is not accidental.

When the Creed was written it was written for a specific part of Europe that found people of different expressions of Christianity living cheek by jowl next to each other. One purpose of the Catechism was to educate those who would use the HC how it was that they were different from Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, and Lutherans. There are questions and answers in the HC while not explicitly mentioning the differences between Calvinism and these other sub-expressions of Christianity are clearly attacking these other sub-expressions of Christianity as being inadequate.

The HC is interested in teaching its students to be Calvinists. It does not apologize for doing so. In the process once the HC is understood the confessor will inevitably want to see other sub-expressions of Christianity re-think their errant view.

One more thing here. Because of the precision of the HC we are no longer allowed to think that just because ten people affirm the Apostle’s Creed that therefore all ten affirm the Apostle’s Creed in its proper meaning.  The catechizers are teaching here that reciting the words of the Creed is only significant inasmuch as those confessing the Creed are filling those words with the same meaning.

With that introduction we turn to the question;

Question 26: What believest thou when thou sayest, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?”

The Apostle’s Creed has three strophes that can be broken down according to each member of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This reminds us that to affirm the Christian faith is to affirm a set of doctrines as gathered from Scripture. Christianity is the life of the mind before it is the life of experience, feeling, or emotion. The HC teaches us that in order to claim Christianity we have to know our doctrine — know what we believe and why we believe it and what we don’t believe and why we don’t believe it.

The central basic truth about the Father that all Christians to be Christian must confess is that the Father is “almighty” (Sovereign, Omnipotent) and that this Almighty God is the creator of the cosmos. This one simple truth is denied by everyone in the Christian community except for the Reformed. The idea that God the Father is almighty, is the heart that beats in Calvinism. The Calvinist, following Scripture, believes that God,

Isaiah 46:10 Declares 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: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

For the Calvinist God is never envisioned as waiting upon man to react. God is always the actor and man is always the re-actor. The Calvinists believes that all depends upon the Sovereign God. The Calvinist believes that in God we live, and move, have our being.

The HC puts it this way in the answer;

Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them;1 who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence)2 is for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt but He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body;3 and further, that He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears, turn out to my advantage;4 for He is able to do it, being Almighty God,5 and willing, being a faithful Father.6

1.) Note that by referring to the Father as “the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” chases off any notion of trinitarian subordinationism in the Godhead. From eternity past the Father has been the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There never was a time when the Lord Jesus Christ was not eternally begotten of the Father. Right out of the gate Arian doctrine (Jehovah Witnesses) is ruled out of bounds.

2.) Note next that this Almighty Father is only known to us in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father can be known only through the Son and the Father and Son can only be known as taught in the pages of the Bible. If anyone wants to know the Father they must know the Son.

All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Mt. 12:27)

3.) Thirdly, note that the Almighty God is the Creator God. The HC will go on to teach that the Son is known for His work of Redemption and the Spirit is known for His work of Sanctification. The Father is known for the work of Creation. However, these realities should not be too woodenly construed since any work of any member of the Trinity finds all the members of the Trinity participating. (This is known as the Doctrine of perichoresis.)

4.) When the HC teaches of God that;

“He of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence”

They appeal to passages like, Gen. 1 and 2 as well as;

Ps. 33:6, By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.

Here we find eliminated the possibility of what has come to be called “theistic evolution.” The HC does not allow anyone who confesses it to believe in this 19th century doctrine that teaches that God co-operated with or orchestrated the Big Bang so as to create, by means of evolution with its mechanism of natural selection considered in its macro sense, the cosmos. This would eliminate men like Tim Keller from being accepted as a member in a church that embraced the HC.

5.) The troika of creation, sustaining (upholds) and governing is found in this answer. God is the creator, sustainer, and governor of His cosmos. This teaches us, contra to Deism, that upon creation God did not wander away leaving His creation to itself. No, The Father Almighty, not only created the Cosmo by His divine fiat Word also sustains (upholds) and governs His cosmos. This teaches that that the Father Almighty, “Maker of heaven and earth” is personal. He continues to be involved with His creation via the means of sustaining the cosmos as well as directly governing the affairs of men.

Ps. 115:3, But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased.

Matt. 10:29, Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

6.) This answer also teaches us the distinction between God and His creation contra all expressions of pantheism. God is the creator God, distinct from His creation.

7.) Note in this question that those who confess the HC understand that God is only the God of anyone by means of their coming under the safety of Christ His Son.

“is for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father;”

John 1:12, 16, But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.

Heb. 1:3, Who (Jesus Christ) being the brightness of His (God the Father Almighty) glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Only those in Christ can call Almighty God their “God and Father.” Those who are not in Christ only know the Almighty God as Judge and as a celestial terrorist as against them. For those outside of Christ the “Almightiness of the Father” is only unto them the reasons for night sweats and nightmares. There is only safety from the Almighty Father as in Jesus Christ who purged our sins.

8.) Note that once in Christ we boast of our dependent relationship;

on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt but He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body;3

Christians understand that the Almightiness of God the Father is a source of rest and a reason to put off panic. We understand the truth of the Apostle’s creed teaches us that God is the God who provides. Being confident of that how is it that those who affirm and embrace the Almightiness of God could ever fear of what man can do to us? Because of this truth, the Christians who can get this truth in their marrow will be characterized as fearless — never cowering before men or their threats.

The embrace of this Doctrine throughout history explains why Tyrants have hated having Calvinists living in their Kingdoms. Calvinists do not bend to the capricious will of Tyrants because they know that God will provide them with all things necessary for body and soul. Tyrants have no means to instill fear in the garden variety Calvinist.

Rom. 8:15–16, For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.

9.) Note that the Catechizers affirm that God provides for us body and soul. This affirmation rules out any kind of Christianity that is characterized as being concerned only about our souls as if God is unconcerned with our physical existence. The God who provides for our souls provides for our bodily existence. God likes matter. He made it and so provides for it.

Matt. 6:26, Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

10.) God the Father’s Almightiness extends so broadly that it is understood that God, while not being the author of evil, is the one who controls everything that comes into the life of His sons and daughters. The evils that God, the Father, sends upon us, in this valley of tears are evils that turn to our advantage and so from the perspective of eternity are a blessing to us.

Ps. 55:22, Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.

This is strong medicine. The Calvinist believes so absolutely in the Almightiness of God the Father that he understands that nothing comes into His life except through the hands of a sovereign God who loves us for the sake of Christ. For the Calvinist this is not a time plus chance plus circumstance world.

“Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

For the Calvinist the Devil is God’s Devil on a long leash. For  the Calvinist God’s Sovereignty is not some after-thought. Again, as mentioned earlier this turns the Calvinist into human steel. He knows the world is personal and that it is chock full of God’s intention. If this is true and if God is a Father to His people — the Church, then what fear does the Calvinist have of a world, a devil, a circumstance that each and all belong to God the Father Almighty?

11.) Note that the Catechizers refer to this life as “valley of tears.” The Calvinist, while optimistic because of God’s Almightiness, names the world for what it is. The world is often a “valley of tears.” This reminds us to be realistic about what this world is. However, even in the valley of tears, evil is turns out to our advantage. As such, among the tears, there is continuous reasons to rejoice.

12.) The Catechizers round out this question by reminding us of the character of the God we serve.

for He is able to do it (turn all things to our advantage), being
Almighty God,5 and willing, being a faithful Father.6

Note again here that God’s Almightiness is only a treasure to us — His people — in light of His being a faithful Father and He is only a Faithful Father in light of the fact that we flee to Christ to discover that the Almighty God is our Defense and sure help in time of need only because we are the younger brethren to the magnificent and glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

Rom. 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.

Rom. 4:21, And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.

Matt. 6:26, Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

HC question 26 has the effect of delivering us from effeminate non-Reformed views of the doctrine of God. The contemporary Christian world is awash is weak doctrines of God that deny, implicitly or explicitly, the reality that God is always angular and never will be made smooth. The God of the Bible is a ferocious God who can never be tamed, and yet this wild God is our God for the sake of Jesus Christ. This irrepressible, unpredictable, Almighty God is a God to His people whose intent is always to the end of glorifying Himself by pursuing His people’s good.

Is your understanding of God the Father Almighty, this understanding? If it is not search the Scriptures to see that these things are so.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother with worshipping any other explanation of God.








Heidelberg Catechism — Q. 25

Several years ago I began a project of providing a simple commentary of sorts on the Heidelberg catechism. I got up to question 24 before I tailed off. Recently, I have had one of the Father’s in the Church suggest that I should take this back up again. So, I have decided to do so for the benefit of the whole Church. I will try to do a question and answer daily. There may be days I do more. I figure if I can accomplish 5 questions a week I can finish this is less than 4 months (since I already have 24 questions finished.) Those previous entries on the Heidelberg catechism are listed under “Caleb’s Baptism” on Iron Ink for those who desire to peruse those.

I hope this can be of benefit to folks. Allow me to say that there are works out there on the Heidelberg Catechism. Herman Hokesema’s “Triple Knowledge” is excellent but in three volumes it will probably task most families. G. I. Williamson’s commentary is also solid. Current readers will want to keep before them that in the work that is being attempted here I have family devotions in mind. As such I am not going to be all Herman Hoeksema writing three volumes. (Though I highly recommend Hoeksema’s work for mature believers.)

With that let us turn to question 25 today;

Question 25: Since there is but one only divine essence,4 why speakest thou of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

Answer: Because God hath so revealed Himself in His Word,5 that these three distinct persons are the one only true and eternal God.

We know that God in one divine essence from the Scripture’s themselves. In Deuteronomy 6:4, as one example, we have the famous Hebrew Shema. The Hebrew word “Shema” means “Hear” and it opens the passage cited;

4Deut. 6:4, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.

Every Hebrew child would have been taught this from the crib. The reason it was pounded into their head, besides being true, was because the Hebrews lived in and among polytheistic and henotheistic cultures. These cultures owned pantheons of gods and so it was easy for Israel to take up this pagan polytheism. In order to ward such destructive influence off the Hebrew people repeatedly recited the Shema.

In question #8 however, the query is to the Trinitarian character of God. We are taught here that the One God of Heaven and Earth is spoken of as “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” thus introducing plurality into the One God who is and who reigns forevermore. The question asks why we speak this way.

And the simple answer provided is that this is the way that God Himself speaks of Himself in Scripture. Here, Zacharius Ursinus, with assistance from Caspar Olevianus (Authors of the Heidelberg Catechism) teach us that we are to be dependent upon the Scripture for our understanding of God.

They appeal to Scripture as follows for finding plurality in the Godhead. As you read the Scripture here keep in mind that if we had only one verse in Scripture to this end the doctrine might be more difficult to grasp. However, with the cumulative impact of the varied Scriptures we see a constant theme develop in the unfolding of Redemption that there is plurality in the One only God.

5 Gen. 1:26, And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Note the plural pronoun “us” and “our” above. God is singular but the pronouns are plural. Now there are those who will try to diminish the importance of these plural pronouns or who will try to explain them away but doing that becomes more and more difficult as the Scriptures begin to pile up in a Trinitarian direction.

They next cite

Isa. 61:1, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.

Here the plurality is found in the combination of the utterance of the ideal Servant of Jehovah (“upon me” … “anointed me”) speaking. That this ideal Servant of Jehovah is God is seen when this very passage is taken up by Jesus who is the Messiah in Luke 4 at the beginning of His ministry and who is later anointed by God with the Holy Spirit in His Baptism to the end of accomplishing His Messianic assignment.

Here we find a harmony of interests among the members of the One God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, work without contradiction in achieving the same task. The Father anoints. The Spirit of the Lord is the anointing. The Son is the anointed one.

John 14:16–17, And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Here again we see plurality in the one only God. The Son, who Scripture teaches is very God of very God, prays the Father to the end of being provided another Comforter (a Comforter like Himself) to be with the Church forever. The Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father and and the Son dwells in the body of Christ to the end of glorifying the Son that the Father might be known. Once again we see the divine harmony of interest.

1 John 5:7, For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Here we have a clear claim of unity in diversity. The Word was one of John’s ways of referring to God the Son. Here God’s plurality, as supported by the other passages, is undeniable.

John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.

Again, note the plurality. Jesus the God-Man is speaking instructs His disciples that God the Spirit will come as sent by the Father in the name of the Son. Again, note the harmony of interests among the members of the Trinity. This is important to keep in mind because other lesser forms of Christianity will often times try to create a conflict of interest among the members of the Trinity.

Matt. 28:19, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Here again is plurality. Jesus the God-Man Messiah is speaking. Jesus uses the Greek singular for the word “name” and yet the singular name that is cited is plural –“Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

2 Cor. 13:14, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

We will end here. There are many more passages from Scripture we could easily cite that declares the trinitarian nature of the one only God. Here the plurality of God is explicit.

The doctrine can be a confusing doctrine resulting in significant, even if unintended, errors. For children the best way to teach is by trying to be as simple but comprehensive as possible. As such we would do well to teach our children the summary of the great American Presbyterian Dr. B. B. Warfield:

(1) “there is but one God,”

(2) “the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each God,” and

(3) “the Father and the Son and the Spirit is each a distinct person.”

“When we have said these three things, we have enunciated the doctrine of the Trinity in its completeness.”

Naturally, as the children grow there will be a need to explore this doctrine even more. We will want them to understand something of the personal properties of each member of the Trinity which distinguishes each member of the trinity from the other. We know from Scripture, for example, that the Father eternal begetting of the Son, the Son’s eternal generation from the Father, and the Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father and the Son. (Known as “paternity,” “filiation,” and “spiration.” We will want them to know about the fellowship they can have with each person of the Trinity (See John Owen’s work).

The doctrine of God as One and Many is a doctrine that one could spend a life in discovering and probing. There is no end to the depths that are found in this doctrine and frankly no exhausting of the errors that can arise from improper understandings.

In conclusion the doctrine of the plurality in the One only God is embraced because it is taught in God’s revelation of Himself in the redemption record of Scripture. In the plurality of the One only God we find God as both transcendent and God as immanent. We find God both High and lifted up and God who shared in our flesh and blood. We find a fuller understanding of the Cross and a deeper appreciation for our ongoing sanctification.

Indeed, without Plurality in the One only God, we would have a religion that is not Christianity and would therefore be some form of paganism.

“We thank thee magnificent God that thou hast revealed thyself as One and Many. We thank thee that a proper Trinitarian understanding colors and forms all of our thinking about all of reality. We beg of thee that you would enlighten those pagan religions which deny your Trinitarian reality. As such we pray for Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons who each deny your Trinitarian character. We thank you that because of your Trinitarian character you are a personal God who has not and never will forsake His people. We bless you One only God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

In Christ’s name we pray,




McAtee Contra a Detractor who is Contra the Athanasian Creed

Recently I stumbled upon the offerings of a recently retired pastor from a denomination that has historically Reformed roots. I thought I would interact somewhat with the the musings of this honored retiree. I have deleted portions that were descriptive of the gathering described. The context is a Episcopalian Church service the retired minister (RM) had attended.

Retired Minister (RM) wrote,

It being Trinity Sunday the priest in a strong and affirmative voice read the Athanasian Creed … I had never heard it read aloud in worship before. Frankly, I was appalled.

The Athanasian Creed is part of my tradition (Reformed), one of three ecumenical creeds (along with the Apostles’ and the Nicene)…. by now it is almost never recited or even referred to in worship, a ghost of the past, buried in the back of hymnals, hymnals that in many churches, if they have them at all, are never opened…

Bret responds,

We have hymnals. We open them weekly. As a congregation we together confess Christ weekly, in a responsive fashion from either the Confessions (3FU) or the ecumenical creeds as found in the back of the hymn books. A brief explanation is then given after the Congregational Confessional recitation. The old creeds are not everywhere forgotten and the back of some hymnbooks, where the saints who have gone before reside, are still visited. Though, on the whole, I’m sure the retired minister is probably correct. It is likely the case that not only is the laity unfamiliar with what lies buried in the back of those hymnals, but I would guess the Pastorate likewise is clueless. I would argue that therein is one reason why the contemporary Church is so inert.

RM wrote,

I will simply raise some questions that occurred to me when I heard the creed read aloud in worship and let you answer them.

Fair enough. RM provides the questions and Bret provides some answers.

RM wrote quoting the Athanasian Creed,

Here’s how the Athanasian Creed begins (in the Book of Common Prayer translation): “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” My own denomination has given the creed a more modern translation, which reads better but seems also designed to take some of the edge off the language of the creed. It reads in the part I just quoted: “Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith. Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally. Now this is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in trinity, and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence.” This seems to obscure the flow from the desire for salvation to the requirement for salvation, which is, according to the creed, adherence to the catholic faith; and which, strengthening the point, must be kept “whole and undamaged” (integram inviolatamque); which the creed defines as worship of the Trinity, “neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance (Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam separantes). In other words, if you don’t have the right view of the Trinity, you will perish eternally.

Here’s my first question, one that came unbidden to me as I listened to the reading of the creed: isn’t this salvation by theology?

Bret Responds,

As personal belief is always inclusive of and is embracing some kind of theology we would have to ask, with more then a little incredulity, if what is being suggested by RM is that salvation has nothing to do with belief? (i.e. — Theology?)

If salvation doesn’t have some relation to proper belief (theology) then what are the parameters for membership in the covenant community?

If salvation does not bear relation to Trinitarian theology then why aren’t Mormons saved? Why aren’t JW’s saved? Why aren’t Socinians saved? Why aren’t Sabellian Modalists saved? Why aren’t Arians saved? (All Trinitarian Heresies.)

Now, of course we are not saved by perfect Theology, or by a perfect understanding of the Trinity. (Who then could be saved if perfect theology was required to be saved?) However even Jesus taught that there was correspondence between Salvation and Theology when He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

Now, all the Athansisan creed requires is that our knowledge of God includes his Trinitarian reality. Surely, a retired minister of a storied Reformed denomination would not suggest that epistemologically self conscious Unitarians like Servetus could be saved or epistemologically self conscious polytheists can be saved?

RM continues to ask probing questions,

And, if so, just where is this taught in the Scriptures?

Bret responds,

I’m not sure what is being asked in terms of what is being sought.

I don’t think he is asking where in the Bible the Trinity is taught.

Maybe what is being asked is, “where is salvation by theology taught in Scripture?”

If that is what is being asked then I would offer passages like John 17:3 cited earlier. Jesus said that eternal life (salvation) is knowing God. Scripture teaches that God is Trinitarian. Hence, one can not know God if one does not know Him according to His Trinitarian reality.

Or maybe what is being asked is, “Where does the Scripture teach that the Trinity must be embraced in order for one to be saved.” The answer to that question, I think, would be, “which member of the Godhead would we delete the ascription of deity from all the while still believing that we could remain Christian?”

If we don’t embrace the Trinity, how is Christianity still Christianity? And if Christianity is no longer Christianity then how can we speak in terms of a salvation that is Christian?

To which the answer would be … “And this is eternal life that they may Know thee, the Only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

RM asks,

And, further, what kind of God would punish his creatures eternally for failing to get an abstruse theological point right? What sort of justice is that? What sense does it make?

Bret responds,

The Trinity is an abstruse theological point?

I’m sure the Sabellians, the Arians, the Modalists, the Socinians, and any number of assorted heretics throughout Church History will be glad to hear that the Trinity is not a theological point worthy of getting wrong or right.isn’t

One wonders what other abstruse theological points are not worthy of a creature being punished eternally for failing to get? Why aren’t the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection, or the Ascension, or Pentecost, the Deity of Christ, Justification by Faith alone, Original Sin, Imputation, or any number of other core Christian doctrines also abstruse theological points that can be dismissed as points over which a nice God would never punish His creatures eternally? One wonders, what theological points in Redemptive history aren’t abstruse so that they really aren’t necessary to believe since a nice God won’t throw body and soul into hell for failing to get abstruse theological points?

Question — What Kind of God would punish his creatures for failing to get an abstruse theological point right?

Answer — A Just God?

Maybe the only creatures who will be punished eternally are those people who think abstruse theological points have eternal implications.

RM continues citing more of the Athanasian creed,

But this is only the beginning of the creed. It has two parts, the first a sort of puzzle poem to the Trinity:

The Father is uncreated,
the Son is uncreated,
the Holy Spirit is uncreated.

The Father is immeasurable,
the Son is immeasurable,
the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.

The Father is eternal,
the Son is eternal,
the Holy Spirit is eternal.

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.
So too three are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

And on it goes, ending the first part with, “Anyone then who desires to be saved should think thus about the trinity.” The creed then turns to the two natures of Christ… As it does it doubles down on the theme that salvation depends on having the right theology. Again I quote from the older translation: “Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation : that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess : that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds : and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man : of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.” Once again the argument is that salvation requires right thinking, and right thinking requires the right view of a certain theology. What of those Christians who lived in the four centuries before the time of the Council of Chalcedon? Were they saved like Abraham by a grace extended to those who lived before the revelation of the Trinity and the Two Natures? Is this what Jesus came to call us to: the right theology of the incarnation? Just asking.

Bret responds,

Are not those with greater light more accountable than those with lesser light? Doubtless those with lesser light will be held to a standard not inconsistent with God’s full revelation but still as those who had less light. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required. Those Christians who lived with lesser light and still threw themselves upon Christ’s mercy, trusting Christ alone for salvation, will doubtless be saved. But living in a time of less light is no excuse to us who live in a time of more light to suggest that doctrines like the Trinity are inconsequential and shouldn’t be taught as a core doctrine of the Christian belief paradigm.

I might ask if Jesus is calling us to a wrong theology of the Incarnation? Is Jesus calling us to ignore the doctrine of the Incarnation as inconsequential and abstruse? Since the work of Christ is related to the right doctrine of the Incarnation, I do think that Jesus is calling us to a right theology of the Incarnation.

Does our Retired Minister have doubts about the Trinity? The Two Natures of Christ? The doctrine of the Incarnation? Doubtless he is perfectly orthodox on these matters but just wonders if the Church is majoring on the minors when it teaches Christian doctrine.

Retired Minister,

The creed ends this second and last section with another warning in the case that the hearer has missed the first two: “This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.” … I wondered for a moment whether in that little church (where the Creed was read) at that moment I was witnessing the death of a creed. And I wondered if it mattered.

Bret responds,

The death of the Athanasian Creed may not matter, but when “Christians” quit confessing and believing the truth contained in the Athanasian Creed eventually, someday, one might find that it matters a great deal more than they thought.

Really, it is more than a passing strange Christianity for one to deny the necessity of affirming the Trinity, for one to deny the necessity of affirming the Virgin Birth, for one to deny the necessity of affirming the hypostatic union of Christ? Surely the Christian faith is more than that, but just as surely it is never less than that. Just as surely, not everyone in the pew is going to be as conversant with these doctrine as Doctors of the Church, but that fact doesn’t make these great theological truth any less important or necessary.