Providence Defined: 4

But providence is the eternal, most free, immutable, wise, just and good counsel of God, according to which He effects all good things in His creatures; permits also evil things to be done, and directs all, both good and evil, to His own glory and the salvation of His people.

images-13According to which He effects all good things. This is added that we may know that the counsel of God is not inactive, but efficacious, as Christ declared, “My Father works hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17)

The working of God is two-fold — general and special. The general working of God is that by which He sustains and governs all things, especially the human race. The special is that by which He, in this life, commences the salvation of His people, and perfects it in the life to come. It is said in reference to both, “God is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe.” “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous.” (1 Timothy 4:10; Romans 8:14; Psalm 34:15).

God works in both ways, either immediately or mediately. He works immediately when He does what He wills independent of means, or in a manner different from the order which He has established in nature; as when He supports life in a miraculous manner. He works immediately when He produces through creatures, or a second cause, those effects for which they are adapted according to the established order of nature, and for which they were made, as when He sustains us by food and heals us of disease by medicine. “Let them take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster upon the bile, and he shall recover.” (Isaiah 38:21) It is in this way that God reveals Himself and His will unto us through the Scriptures as read and preached. “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” (Luke 16:29)

This mediate operation or working of God is effected sometimes through good instruments, including such as are natural as well as voluntary; and sometimes through such instruments as are evil and sinful; yet in such a way that what God effects in and through them, is always most holy, just and good: for the goodness of the works of God does not depend upon the instruments, but upon His bounty, wisdom and righteousness. That God works through good instruments, is generally admitted by the godly. There is, however, a diversity of sentiment as it respects instruments that are evil and wicked. But if we would not deny that the trials and chastisements of the righteous, as well as the punishments of the wicked, which are accomplished through the wicked, are just and proceed from the will and power of God; and unless we also deny that the virtues and actions of the wicked which have contributed to the well-being of the human race, are the gifts of God; we must admit that God does also execute His just and holy judgments and works by instruments that are evil and sinful. It was thus that He sent Joseph into Egypt, through his wicked brothers and the Midianites, blessed Israel through the false prophet Balaam, tempted the people through false prophets, vexed Saul through Satan, punished David through Absalom and the blasphemies of Shemei, chastised Solomon by the sedition of Jeroboam, tried Job by Satan, carried Judah and Jerusalem into captivity by the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, etc.

Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 152, 153

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