************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 13 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on January 19, 2020

Belgic Confession Article 13
Psalm 33
"Divine Providence"

Does God care? Does He still care for the world as He did in the beginning? Does He care for you and me as He cared for Adam and Eve? Or did He turn His back on us after our fall in Adam? Has sin caused Him to move away from us? Has He cast us off like an old toy? Does God treat the world like a sand-castle on the beach, pretty at first, but when the tide comes in and washes over it, it is completely destroyed and soon forgotten?

When God made the world, He made the sun, moon, planets, and countless stars. He made the flowers, trees, tiny bugs, huge elephants, and all the other animals. Says the psalmist,
(Ps 33:6-7) By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. (7) He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.
God made everything for His own pleasure and enjoyment. Do you think God became tired of it after a while? Does He look at it anymore? Did God forget about everything He made when it was severely damaged by sin? Imagine a child with a beautiful coloring book. She is coloring at the kitchen table and spills chocolate milk all over it. After a while the pages dry out but they are brown and dirty and curled. The coloring book is spoiled and you throw it in the garbage. Is this how God has treated this earth and His creation?

With thankful hearts we say a resounding "NO." Do you realize if God had turned away from us, we would not be here anymore. Everything would have collapsed; chaos would prevail just like it did before the time of creation. The earth cannot exist without the Lord. Faithfully He cares for every person, animal, tree, flower, and thing that exists. The only reason we are able to experience the different seasons, hot and cold, rainy and dry, is because God cares for His creation.

In talking about the care of God we are talking about the providence of God. This is what one theologian correctly wrote about divine providence:
"When properly understood, the providence of God is a truth that can give the greatest comfort to God's children, and when misunderstood can give heartache beyond description."
When it is correctly understood, divine providence is an amazing truth, a humbling confession, and a rich comfort. Those are the three points we want to consider this evening: an amazing truth, a humbling confession, and a rich comfort.

I An Amazing Truth
A Sin has spoiled God's creation. What sin has done to creation is far worse than spilling chocolate milk on a coloring book. What an act of grace that God did not become so angry that He took this earth, crumple it up, and toss it aside. In fact, He does the exact opposite: He keeps this world going by preserving and caring for it. But more than this: He also governs the whole world. He causes all things to happen in exact accordance with His will. Says the psalmist,
(Ps 33:11) But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
Here is a reminder that all things come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand. Here is a reminder that all creatures are so completely in his hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved.

Las Vegas talks about games of chance, Lady Luck, good fortune. In a universe controlled by God there is no such thing as chance, Lady Luck, or good fortune. Yet, we often talk like there is. If we have a bad year we might say, "Tough break." You might as well say Lady Luck was not smiling on you or that fortune was not on your side. Of, if we have a good year we might say, "Things turned out really well this year." What we really mean is, "I did well. I was smart, hard-working, ambitious." You might as well say you were lucky and fortunate. Notice, whether it was a good year or a bad year, nothing is said about God and divine providence.

All things come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand. The Confession says,
nothing can happen to us by chance
but only by the arrangement of our gracious
heavenly Father.
We do not always see this or understand this. It often is not clear to us why God causes us to be sick or brings about financial hardship or hinders us from being of service in His kingdom. God does not tell us why He does such things. However, He does know what He is doing for He cares for all things. This is what Article 13 of the Belgic Confession is all about.

B Did you notice the word "good" in the first sentence of Article 13: "We believe that this good God ..." God is good. And, He created all things good. This good God "did not abandon them to chance or fortune." This creation does not exist independent of God; it does not have life and existence in and of itself. God is not like a clockmaker who, after fashioning a grandfather clock with its intricate gears and springs and weights, winds it up and leaves it to run on its own. That's a false theology known as deism; that's what Thomas Jefferson believed -- that God is not involved with His creation; that He leaves it to run on its own without Him; that for sure He does not interact with humanity.

We are entirely dependent upon our good God. If He let go of creation for a split second, the sun would darken, the law of gravity would no longer function, our hearts would stop, and our existence would end. But the good Lord does not do this. From the beginning of time until now He has carried and preserved His creation by the word of His might. What an amazing truth this is! How terrible it would be for God's children if they had to conclude God is not involved, that He has let them go.
This past Summer we went to visit the kids in Sioux Falls. Our hotel had a swimming pool which was much enjoyed by the grandkids. Ruth introduced our grandson Anden to spidering around the pool. He was so excited by this that he sometimes forgot to always keep one hand hanging on to the side and down he would go. Ruth grabbed him and pulled him back to safety.
Do you think God does any less for His creation or His children? The Lord has not walked away from what He has made.

The doctrine of providence teaches that by His power our good God preserves, cares for, and governs His creation. Says the Confession, God
"leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement."
Our good God does this. Isn't this amazing? The Creator and Ruler over all does this for us. He does so as the beloved Lord and precious Savior who cares for us and loves us.

II A Humbling Confession
A It becomes clear that we are to confess the providence of God with humility. That is our second point this evening. We need to be humble because we do not know or understand everything.

Insurance companies correctly refer to unusual events such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves, thunder storms, lightning, and blizzards as "an act of God." But they don't go far enough. Divine providence teaches us that everything that happens is an act of God. What is natural and normal is as much an act of God as is the occasional extra-ordinary event. Consider how intricate and balanced our universe is so life is even possible.

God's activity in day-to-day nature is something we must see and believe. Not just extra-ordinary events but all events come to us from His fatherly hand. All are God's work. All display His power and His goodness forever.

Rain comes to us from God. That's why we pray for rain and snow and are so thankful to God when it falls. The changing seasons come to us from God. Seedtime and harvest are in God's hands. The miracle of new life and birth are God's gift so we praise Him for every baby. Electricity and flowing electrons, water that flows downhill rather than uphill, trees that blossom and produce fruit -- these are evidences of God's providence. But most people don't see this, don't realize this, and dismiss this as nothing more than natural laws at work. But we know better.

In humility, with humility, we confess God's providential care and concern each and every single day.

B Humility is also required when we consider the relationship of divine providence to sin. Our Confession notes,
Yet God is not the author of,
nor can he be charged with,
the sin that occurs.
For his power and goodness
are so great and incomprehensible
that he arranges and does his work very well and justly
even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.
The article then goes on to say that we are to be content with learning only those things revealed in God's Word.

Let me give three examples. First is Judas. Judas betrayed the Lord and yet it was appointed for him to do so (Jn 17:12). So do we say, "Poor Judas, he didn't have a chance"? Second is Pharaoh. Pharaoh had his heart hardened by God (Ex 14:8), and yet paid for his own sins. Third is the Jews at Pentecost. Jesus was handed over to them by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and yet Peter says they put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23). Three instances of God's plan, yet it was men and not God responsible for the sin that occurred.

We believe in divine providence. So we can rightly declare that God uses the sins of men to accomplish His purposes. Yet, God is not the author or originator of sin.

Humility, congregation, humility. Do we understand sin and the existence of evil? No. So in humility we are careful not to speak of the hidden things of God in such a way as if they have been revealed to us. We don't brazenly say it is God's will that someone die from cancer or be deformed in the womb. We don't brazenly say it is God's will that President Trump is impeached. We don't know the hidden things of God. So be careful and humble in your declarations. What should receive emphasis in such painful cases is that God works all things for the good of His people. And, that pain and hurt is the result of disobedience to God's Word.

III A Rich Comfort
A The last paragraph of Article 13 speaks of the error of the Epicureans. Epicurus was a Greek philosopher of the third century B.C. He taught that the gods do not involve themselves in the affairs of men. Rather, they sit around Mt. Olympus, happily passing the time in tranquility. The Confession explains it this way: "the Epicureans ... say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance." Doesn't this sound like the deism of Thomas Jefferson? Amazing, isn't it, that the same old heresies keep coming around?

According to Epicurus, what humans must do in this life is imitate the happy tranquility of the gods. How? Like the gods, don't be overly concerned with life's affairs. Instead, be self-reliant, self-assured, self-saved, self-serving, live on your own and for yourself; eat, drink, and be merry; pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Does any of this sound familiar? Isn't this the mindset of so many in our world today who live only for self and pleasure? And, isn't this a denial of Q & A 1 of the Catechism which declares, from Scripture, that I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ?

B The teaching of deism and Epicurus is a great departure from the language of the Bible and the Belgic Confession of Faith. God is involved with you and me and this world and everything in creation. All things come not by chance but from His Fatherly hand. The Catechism, in Lord's Day 10 states the Christian's response:
We can be patient when things go against us
thankful when things go well,
and for the future we can have
good confidence in our faithful God and Father.
Do you hear the three points? Under God's providence be patient, be thankful, be confident.

The Belgic Confession says something similar. It tell us this doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort. And then it goes on to say,
He watches over us with fatherly care,
keeping all creatures under his control,
so that not one of the hairs on our heads
(for they are all numbered)
nor even a little bird
can fall to the ground
without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest,
knowing that he holds in check
the devils and all our enemies,
who cannot hurt us
without his permission and will.
What a wonderful, comforting declaration.

You are admitted to the hospital. A relationship fails. Things are not going so well at work. You do not get the position you so badly wanted. The doctor says the "C" word to you -- cancer. Whatever trial you encounter, know that all things are part of God's plan. Know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

This same doctrine must be our guiding light when things go well. When the hospital is a place you never need, when your medicine cabinet has no prescription drugs, when your relationships blossom and deepen, when your job is rewarding and enjoyable then we must see these things too as coming from the Father's hand.

Whether times are good or bad, rain or drought, fruitful or lean years, health or sickness, prosperity or poverty, food and drink or hunger and thirst be comforted that God is involved. Be comforted He is involved as the almighty God Who is able to do anything. Be comforted He is involved as the Father Who loves us in Christ. Be comforted he is involved and present in all of your life.
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