Home > C. H. Spurgeon, Christian living > On Secondary Causes (and the First Cause)

On Secondary Causes (and the First Cause)


In our modern age at least some people tend to focus on the events that happen (as secondary causes) to the exclusion of the First Cause, the sovereignty of God.  Whereas the ancient pagans recognized that some type of deity lay behind unusual events, and the Puritans and Reformers saw God’s hand in everything, it is all too common in our age for people to look at an event from a naturalistic, “scientific” perspective without any regard to the God behind it all.

As I reflect on some unusual recent events in my own life and that of family, I first consider a great quote from a recently read Charles Spurgeon book —Life in Christ:  Lessons from Our Lord’s Miracles and Parables, volume 1:

When it rained, our good puritanical forefathers said that God had unstopped the bottles of heaven. When it rains today, we think the clouds have become heavy with moisture.  If the Puritans had cut a field of hay, they prayed to the Lord that He would command the sun to shine.  Perhaps we are too wise for our own good.  … These Puritans believed God was in every storm and in every cloud of dust.  They used to speak of a God who was present in everything, but we speak of such things as laws of nature, as if laws were ever anything if there wasn’t someone to carry them out and some secret power to set the whole machinery in motion.

A common response to anyone making a link between a tragic event and any moral issue, is to cite Luke 13:1-5, Jesus’ words, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Often times this is a valid enough point, especially in the face of a catastrophe involving numerous people in a certain geographic location.  Yet we all (believers) experience the chastening and discipline of the Lord, and unbelievers will experience suffering that includes temporal punishments in this life.  In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul described a situation in which the people at Corinth were experiencing sickness and even death as a result of their attitude regarding the Lord’s table.

The Bible actually supplies quite a few additional historical situations to expand on Paul’s application/example of this truth–and which also show that 1 Corinthians 11 is not an isolated and unique event.  As just a few examples I can think of:

  • Joseph’s brothers’ experience in Egypt (Genesis 42-44); they clearly linked their current misfortunes to their previous actions and guilt, their conscience disturbing them.
  • King Asa (2 Chronicles 16), an outward professed believer who in his last years turned away from the Lord, and was afflicted with diseased feet. As verse 12 notes, “Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.”
  • Unbelieving wicked men:
    • 1) King Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 21):  an outwardly ungodly and wicked man who killed his brothers.  Verses 18-19 describe his demise, from the secondary cause of an incurable disease in his bowels.
    • 2) King Herod in Acts 12:23.  Because he did not give God the glory, he was eaten by worms and died.
  • The pagan new residents of Samaria in 2 Kings 17, some of whom were killed by lions. They recognized a “first cause” — quite apart from the modernist mindset that would instead setup a campaign to control the lion population — that the people did not “know the law of the god of the land.”

At root, this modernism / naturalism excludes the work of the Creator and the Sovereignty of that Creator God.  Yet, why is it that certain people, in certain times and places, are stricken with what we now describe as bacterial infections – and yet the diseases are apparently not contagious, as only the one person is afflicted with it?  The modernist here will focus only on the secondary cause: where could I have gotten this infection?  It had to come from somewhere, it didn’t just ‘drop out of the sky’.  When one points out the reality of God’s sovereignty and God’s sovereign purposes,  the response is, “that is how ignorant people think,” as though that dismisses any discussion of the First Cause behind something that happens to one person.

But if we would be wise, as the Puritans and godly believers of old, we should learn the proper attitude with respect to the First Cause, to learn what God has to say to us – to make our afflictions truly “sanctified afflictions.”  When an unusual providence occurs — as for instance a particular sin involving what we say with our mouth, followed shortly after by an unusual illness that affects the voice or the mouth — instead of focusing on the secondary cause (where did I get this illness from?), the “sanctified affliction” perspective recognizes what God has to say, and what we should learn from the chastening.  From the above linked article (“Evidences & Results of Sanctified Afflictions,” posted at Grace Gems), those who benefit from the affliction:

  • recognize the hand of God in it
  • acknowledge His DESIGN in their affliction
  • recognize the principle from which this event proceeds.
  • Have their sins brought to remembrance (Job 34:31-32)
  • Humbly submit to the will of God

From the many quotes available from Reformed teachers, regarding First and Second causes, here is an instructive one from Charles Spurgeon (sermon #2830):

Well, if you are a child of God, I invite you, first of all, to trace your burden back to God. “But it comes from the treachery of Ahithophel, or from the rebellion of Absalom!” I grant you that it does, but those are only the second causes, or the agents–trace the matter back to the Great First Cause. If you do that, you will come, by a mystery which I will not attempt to explain, to the hand of Divine Providence and you will say of every burden, “This, also, comes from the Lord.”

You have probably seen a dog, when he has been struck with a stick, turn round and bite the staff that struck him. If he were a wise dog, he would bite the man who held the stick that dealt the blow. When God uses His rod upon one of His children, even a godly man will sometimes snap at the rod. “But, Sir, surely you would not have me turn upon my God?” Oh, no! I know you will not do that, for you are His child. And when you see that God is holding the rod in His hand, you will cease to be rebellious and you will say, with the Psalmist, “‘I was dumb with silence.’ I was going to speak, but I opened not my mouth because I saw that it was in Your hand that the rod of chastisement was held.”

  1. Gerry
    October 9, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Wonderful and very informative post!

    What a blessing to to have a perfect loving Heavenly Father correct us for our Good and His Glory!

    “If you are without chastening, then you are bastards and not sons.”

    Gerry

  2. October 10, 2018 at 5:27 am

    good one, Lynda

  3. October 10, 2018 at 5:46 am

    Thanks Gerry and Robert.

  4. Neil Schoch
    October 16, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks Lynda for a very interesting post!
    When is God chastening me? Is it just a case of we live in a world that through the fall came sin and as a result some bad things are bound to happen to me?
    Having been born with medical problems, and nothing much has changed in sixty five years, I have often pondered this question.
    A young child had a persistent cold and the group of Christians at the Bible Study decided he must have a demon. So they prayed to cast it out. The cold eventually went away in normal due course. This was over forty years ago and I still love those fellow believers in Christ, but I think they were rather mixed up.
    Getting a cold, even a bad one, is not a necessarily a Satanic attack, nor is it necessarily God deliberately chastening a believer. It is, however, a result of the fall and sickness is one of the results.
    Having said that, I have learnt that if something bad happens to me as a believer in Christ, it has been allowed by God and therefore it is wise to consider what God may have me to learn from the experience. I find it very beneficial to take that attitude throughout my life and have been greatly blessed as a result.
    Spiritual discernment is needed in all things!
    I thank God for His chastening, knowing it is because he loves me and has a wonderful result in mind.
    Blessings, Neil.

    • October 17, 2018 at 10:43 am

      Thanks for sharing, Neil. Good points about the types of incidents you mentioned, and what we learn from these events that happen in our lives.

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