i had the privilege of delivering my second Shorter Catechism lesson this past Sunday. These teaching opportunities are given to the deacons of our church as part of our continued officer training. The lessons have to be within five minutes, with the time gradually lengthened as we get more comfortable with teaching and learn to express ourselves concisely and precisely.
Question 8 is: How doth God execute his decrees? The answer is that God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
If you are familiar with the Catechism, you know that Questions 9-12 unpack the answer found here in Question 8. Because of this, many commentators spend very little time here and immediately move to Question 9. So, i’ll just go ahead and quit here, and we’ll wait on Enroe to explain everything to us next week. Just kidding.
This observation, however, does raise an important point. While a person can clearly see in Questions 8 through 12 a progression of thought from one question to the next; a progression of thought may not be as evident to the casual reader when looking at the Catechism as a whole. The same could be said about the Confession as well. It is extremely important that you understand this crucial point: what is being presented to us by the Westminster Divines in these standards is a SYSTEM. A building project, if you will.
When a construction team is building a house, where do they start? The foundation. They then work from the bottom up. We have already laid the foundation – what is our source of knowledge? The Scriptures. We then asked “What do the Sciptures principally teach?” And the first thing of importance the Scriptures teach is what we are to believe concerning God. Then what followed from that? “What is God?” Then once the nature of God is defined, according to Scripture, the works of that God are then addressed, which eventually includes men, angels, and all the rest. Do you see the progression? Do you see the house being built?
Even though we are still early in our building project with Question 8, we absolutely must understand that we cannot study Question 8, or any other question for that matter, in isolation from what has already preceeded it.
Now recall what we have already said: we said that not only does God have wisdom, but his wisdom is infinite (without bounds), his wisdom is eternal, and his wisdom is unchangeable. Let the implications of that sink in for a moment. If God’s wisdom and knowledge is immediate, infinite, eternal, and never changes, then how in the world can there be anything BUT PLAN ‘A’? And what the Divines are now asking is this: How does God – not the God of our own imagination but the God defined back in Question 4 based on the Scripture – how does THAT GOD now bring to pass in time and space His eternal plan?
God brings it to pass by creating the universe, which, as one commentator states, is the “raw material to accomplish His eternal blueprints” and “in governing and providing for His creation, i.e. providence, He causes the creation to reach His purposes for it.”
Because of the nature of God, the plan is comprehensive. Everything from the creation of the universe, to the fall of man, to the slaughter of Goliath, to the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, to the falling of a sparrow to the ground, to the installation of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln, to the very number of hairs on your head, and for some of us privileged ones, the hairs on our chins as well…All Things are Included! Given the nature of God, how could it be otherwise?
Because of the nature of God, the plan cannot fail. To suggest that God’s plan can fail or that God had to implement Plan B when Israel threw him a curve ball, as the dispensationalists wrongly assert, is to suggest that God can deny himself; which is absolutely absurd! There is no Plan B. There never will be a Plan B. There has never been anything BUT PLAN ‘A’!
As the 19th century American Presbyterian minister William S. Plumer notes:
God’s counsels and thoughts being all infinitely holy, just, and good could not be changed but for the worse and all his perfections forbid any change whatever. All is right when God plans it. All is sure to come to pass because he has planned it. The more they are tried the firmer will God’s word and counsels be found to be. He whose hope of success rests on a failure of the divine purpose will meet a dreadful overthrow. God has promised nothing but what he has determined to perform.
So here’s the point i want to stress to you. You cannot separate the PLAN of God from the NATURE of the God who planned it. So as we progress in our building project, always be bringing forward that which you have learned in previous questions. Otherwise, i guarantee that you will go astray in properly understanding Christian theology, as so many people do.