From Rutherford Hall -- By: Jerry O’Neill

Journal: Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal
Volume: RPTJ 03:1 (Fall 2016)
Article: From Rutherford Hall
Author: Jerry O’Neill

From Rutherford Hall

Jerry O’Neill

President of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary

I hope you will enjoy this edition of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal. We had a great conference earlier in the fall where we heard professors teaching on Chapter 5 of our Westminster Confession of Faith entitled, “Of Providence”. In this edition of the Journal, you will see the fruit of the labors of our faculty members.

Sometimes, even in Reformed circles, we get sloppy with our speech. For example, when two people find one another after being separated in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, we hear remarks from brothers and sisters in Christ who say, “That was providential,” or “That was very providential.” At one level the first of these quotes is correct. It certainly was God’s providence that that the two people were able to find one another in such circumstances.

But the problem is that statements like those above seem to imply that God’s providence only includes the things that turn out well from our perspective. What if the two individuals had not found each other? Would that, also, have been “providential”? Would it have been “very providential?” The Westminster Confession of Faith begins Chapter 5 with these words, “God the Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence.” This summary of Biblical teaching on the subject of providence is clear. If the two people mentioned above had not found each other, that would have been God’s providence as well.

The thoughtful believer will not call one thing “very providential”, and other act “providential”— or perhaps not providential at all! But he will make a distinction between a “kind providence” and a “stern providence”. Even then, though, we must realize that for the believer, God works all things out for good. In that sense, even the worst things that happen to a believer are “kind providences” as our sovereign Lord works out all things for our good and His glory.

The seventeenth-century Puritan Thomas Watson in his book All Things for Good (originally entitled A Divine Cordial), referring to what I have called “kind providences” and “stern providences”, calls these “the best things” and the “worst things”. Per Romans 8:28, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, both the best and the worst work for our good. But even for those that do not love God, who are not called according to His purpose, God is still directing and governing all things according to his most wise and holy providence.

From Rutherford Hall, ...

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