Providential Comfort

Providential Comfort

Recently, I was told that an old friend of mine had a major stroke. He was paralyzed suffering from a state of immobility. My heart felt sad at the news of his paralysis for he loved to teach the truth of God's grace, to disciple men, and debate the truths of God. I cannot fathom the thoughts and emotions that my friend felt, but he, like myself, has always been a committed believer of the sovereignty of God. In that truth, I know he found comfort.

For those who have suffered or are suffering, there is no greater comfort than to know that God, in His divine providence, is our heavenly Father. All believers of God's word can find comfort in God's declarations and promises by knowing that He will bring them to pass (Isaiah 46:9b-ll; cf. Psalm 33:11; 115:3). Seeking comfort in the doctrine of providence during times of suffering and everyday life has always been a part of Christianity and continues today as part of the Reformed teaching in the catechisms and confessions.

The central theme of the Heidelberg Catechism is the comfort of all believers. In the first question, the catechist asks, "What is thy only comfort in life and death?"[1] The catechumen answers that he not only belongs to Christ in life and death, having been saved by Christ, but also that God "Preserves" him so that nothing can befall him apart from the Father's will. Furthermore, everything believers experience in life is used by God for a believer’s salvation (Matthew 6:25-34;10:29-32; Romans 8:28-30).[2]

Those who believe this have not only received the Holy Spirit but also have a desire to serve and live for God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 12:1-2). The Heidelberg Catechism, after defining the providence of God in question and answer 27, continues in the theme of comfort by asking, "What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things?"[3] The catechumen is then explained with three benefits.

First, believers learn patience during times of adversity or suffering. Since God is in control of all things, we know that He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28-30) and through tribulation we learn to put our hope in God (Romans 5:3-5).

Second, we are given a reason to be thankful to God in our prosperity. Every good that we receive comes from God (James 1:17). Moreover, our prosperity reminds us to remain humble before God and bless Him (Deuteronomy 8). We should "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us" (1Thessalonians 5:18).

Third, a belief in God's providence provides believers with an assurance of salvation. Since He is in control, we know "that neither death nor life, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Whom the Father calls, Jesus has given eternal life, and no one can remove them from God's hand (John 6:37-39; 10:28-29). For what man can argue with the Lord or whose counsel will stand before Him (Proverbs 21:30; Isaiah 44:6-8; 46:8-11)?

The Belgic Confession and Canons of Dordrecht march in lockstep with the Heidelberg. In them, Reformed believers are taught that God has not given the creation up to chance. There is no such thing as luck or mere coincidence. Rather, "nothing happens in this world without his appointment."[4] Because of this truth, the Belgic says, "this doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation." [5] The Canons of Dordrecht, when discussing the preservation of the saints and their assurance, touches on our trust in God providentially fulfilling His promises:

"The assurance [of persevering in the faith], is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in God's promises, which he has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit, that we are children and heirs of God (Romans 8:16); and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works. And if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort, and that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge or earnest of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable." (Emphasis added) [6]

God is the one who preserves us in His providence. He is the one who establishes a man's steps (Proverbs 16:9; 20:24). His purposes will stand (Proverbs 19:21). All His elect will persevere to the end because of His providence, and believers can find comfort in the truth.

In the Westminster Catechisms and Confession, the truth of God's providence is elaborated on further. Following the questions on God's eternal decrees, the Westminster Larger Catechism briefly turns to providence and states, "God's works of providence are His most holy, wise, powerful preserving, and governing all His creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to His own glory." [7] Also, the confession ends with this truth, "As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures, so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof." [8] All those who make up God's people will be saved (Matthew 1:21). They will come to Him (John 6:37). All their experiences will result in their salvation, their good (Romans 8:28-30).

This truth of God's providence as a means of comfort has always been a part of the Reformed tradition as seen in the catechism and confessions. It has always been a part of the church and will be for all time. For what child of God does not find comfort in the Father's hand?

My friend died three days after his stroke. His suffering in this world ended. He loved to teach the Reformed faith and always recalled God's sovereignty and providence during tough times. He followed in the footsteps of those before him by relying on God as the Scriptures teach and the catechisms and confessions reiterate. Like him, all believers should be able to find comfort in God's providence, for in it we are given an assurance of our faith, a necessary patience in times of adversity, and a spirit of thankfulness in times of prosperity. Let us all trust in God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

  1. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1 ↩︎

  2. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1 ↩︎

  3. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 28 ↩︎

  4. Belgic Confession, Art. 5 ↩︎

  5. Belgic Confession, Art. 5 ↩︎

  6. Canons of Dordrecht, Head V, Art. 10 ↩︎

  7. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 18; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 11 ↩︎

  8. Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 5, art. 7 ↩︎