Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

“The Outer Court of the Kingdom of Grace”

Some time back, I wrote a little in exploration of the relation, or ordering, of creation to redemption from an exegetical point of view. I recently was listening to John Webster’s Kantzer lectures from 2007, “Perfection & Presence: God with Us, according to the Christian Confession” (mentioned previously here), and he very nicely gets at something similar from a dogmatic point of view. Providence cannot be treated in isolation from its ordering to Christ’s redeeming work and his Lordship–which is to say, from the covenant: “[t]he goal of providence is the union of all things in Christ.”

I’ve transcribed part of the relevant portion below (beginning around the 45-minute mark and extending to around the 48-minute mark), but the rest of the lecture, and the rest of the lectures in the series, are well worth listening to.

But, third: God doesn’t accompany creatures merely as one who reacts to the way they dispose of themselves; God governs creatures in his providence. His presence shapes the course of creaturely history, bestows on it the form and direction which are essential if creaturely being is to attain its given end. God’s work of governance endows creaturely being and activity with sequence, connection, coordination, and definite character. It makes it into an economy, or an order of reality. God’s governance is sovereign, incomparable, and incommunicable. “Is there a God besides me?” he asks in Isaiah. But because it’s his governance, the governance of the loving and purposive Creator, it doesn’t degrade but elevates the creature. The God who is the king of all the earth is the object of our praise.

Well, these brief remarks on the traditional threefold division of providence into preserving, accompanying, and governing return us to the suggestion that providence is as it were the outer court of the kingdom of grace. Sometimes scholastic dogmatics distinguished God’s universal or essential rule from his personal or economic rule. The distinction, as you’ll readily see, is one between his providential disposing of all things and his special ordering of the history of the people of God in the sphere of the covenant. If we lay the material out in that way, it’s crucial, of course, that God’s universal rule not be allowed to stand as an independent theme. When that happens, it just become ripe for rationalist reduction. The goal of providence is the union of all things in Christ. He is the one for whom all things are created.

There is therefore a necessary incompleteness to God’s providential presence. It finds its completeness only in Christ’s Lordship, which is not one small region of the universal rule of God; it is its universal consummation. The coordination of the work of nature and the work of grace, the ordering of providence to the economy of redemption, are both rooted in the unity of the triune God. The basic rule in the doctrine of providence is: there is one God. The God who is present to all creatures, whose presence maintains, accompanies, and orders all creaturely occurrence, is the one who summons Israel his people; who is present as Immanuel; and around whose spiritual presence the church now gathers. All God’s works, in other words, are held together by the singularity and unity of their agent. In providence, we encounter no other God than the Father who wills that there should be creatures, the Son who redeems creatures from death and draws them into his kingdom, and the Spirit who perfects them for their final end. And with that, of course, we arrive at the inner circle of God’s presence, which is the history of the covenant.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.