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  • Writer's pictureRick Appleton

The First Cause

The Westminster Confession of Faith, speaking of God’s work of providence, says,  

… in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the First Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (5.2).  

We know that very effect must have a cause. Here we see that an effect may have more than one cause. God, (being the Uncaused Cause), is the First Cause for every effect; but He uses  secondary causes to bring about His desired effects. For example: God gives light to the earth; but He uses the sun and the moon to give that light, “the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night (Jeremiah 31:35; cf. Genesis 1:3,14-16). God is the First Cause, the sun and moon are secondary causes.

God’s providence is not limited to the sun and the moon. It extends to all creatures and all their actions (SC 11; Psalm 103:19; Matthew 10:29-31). That includes all human beings and all their actions. Therefore, both God and man can be causes for the same action, God being the First Cause, man being a secondary cause. For example, Jospeh confesses that it was God who sent him to Egypt (Genesis 45:5-8); and that his brothers sold him into Egypt (Genesis 45:4-5). Joseph’s brothers, motivated by envy, freely acted in selling Joseph to Midianite traders who subsequently brought Joseph into Egypt (Genesis 35:27-28). God used the actions of Joseph’s brothers (and the Midianite traders, etc.) to accomplish His own plans.

Both God and Joseph’s brothers acted as causes for the same effect. Yet, the quality of their actions differed, even as their intentions differed. Joseph told his brothers, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph’s brothers did evil according to their evil intentions. God did good according to His good intentions.

The sinfulness of any action is attributed to the creature, and not to God; because sin proceeds only from creatures, and not from God (James 1:13-17). The goodness of God and the sinfulness of man in the same action are illustrated by the crucifixion of Christ. Peter declares that Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” and yet tells the Jews, “You have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23). God is the First Cause, and He sinlessly uses secondary causes to accomplish His good plans.


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