How Can God Govern Over All Things?: The Means of Providence -- By: Thomas G. Reid, Jr.

Journal: Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal
Volume: RPTJ 03:1 (Fall 2016)
Article: How Can God Govern Over All Things?: The Means of Providence
Author: Thomas G. Reid, Jr.


How Can God Govern Over All Things?:
The Means of Providence

Thomas G. Reid Jr.

Librarian and Registrar
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Introduction

In Gordon Clark’s (1902–1985) discussion of the providence of God as described in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Chapter 5, Clark recounts an interesting story.

My uncle once hired a chauffeur to drive him around a mountainous part of Turkey. As the chauffeur kept up too fast a speed around the sharp curves along the precipices, my uncle urged more caution. But the Turk replied that the date of their deaths was fated; and if this was the day, caution would be of no use; whereas[,] if this was not the day, caution was unnecessary.1

Clark then wryly observes, “The Turk was clever, but not Calvinistic.”2 Why? Because God’s providence is always worked out according to means, which helps to undergird the responsibility mankind faces for its choices in life.

The teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith on the subject of the means of providence is found in Chapter 5, Paragraph 3, which reads, “God[,] in His ordinary providence[,] maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them[,] at His pleasure.”

In considering these means of providence, three questions need to be raised and answered.

What Is The Correct Definition Of The Means Of Providence?

God is pleased to use two basic means in order to further his work of providence. One is the primary or direct means, in which God Himself works in an extraordinary way to accomplish His purposes in providence. The other is the secondary or indirect means, in which God works through other beings or things to accomplish His purposes in providence. A. A. Hodge (1823–1886) explains why the word “causes” may also be used of this phenomenon, since the word “means” may be defined: “through the agency of second causes subject to his [God’s]

control”.3 But Calvin is right that “there is no strict or systematic distinction” between the two means or causes.4

A classic example of the difference between the two means of providence is found in Acts 12:20–24. A crowd from Tyre and Sidon proclaimed King Herod to be a god and not a man (verse 22). “Because he d...

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