GOD’S works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. Providence, therefore, includes preservation and government. By preservation is meant that all things out of God owe the continuance of their existence, with all their properties and powers, to the will of God. This is clearly the doctrine of the Scriptures. The passages relating to this subject are very numerous. They are of different kinds. First, some assert in general terms that God does sustain all things by the word of his power, as Heb. i. 3; Col. i. 17, where it is said, “By Him all things consist,” or continue to be. In Nehem. ix. 6, “Thou, even thou art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is there in, and thou preservest them all.” Secondly, those which refer to the regular operations or powers of nature, which are declared to be preserved in their efficiency by the power of God. See Psalms civ. and cxlviii. throughout, and many similar passages. Thirdly, those which relate to irrational animals. And Fourthly, those which relate to rational creatures, who are said to live, move, and to have their being in God. These passages clearly teach, (1.) That the universe as a whole does not continue in being of itself. It would cease to exist if unsupported by his power. (2.) That all creatures, whether plants or animals, in their several genera, species, and individuals, are continued in existence not by any inherent principle of life, but by the will of God. (3.) That this preservation extends not only to the substance but also to the form; not only to the essence, but also to the qualities, properties, and powers of all created things.
The Nature of Preservation.
This doctrine, thus clearly taught in the Scriptures, is so consonant to reason and to the religious nature of man, that is not denied among Christians. The only question is as to the nature of the divine efficiency to which the continued existence of all things is to be referred. On this subject there are three general opinions.
First, That of those who assume that everything is to be referred to the original purpose of God. He created all things and determined that they should continue in being according to the laws which He impressed upon them at the beginning. There is no need, it is said, of supposing his continued intervention for their preservation. It is enough that He does not will that they should cease to be. This is the theory adopted by the Remonstrants and generally by the Deists of modern times. According to this view, God is seated on his throne in the heavens, a mere spectator of the world and of its operations, exerting no direct efficiency in sustaining the things which He has made. Thus Limborch1 decribes preservation, as held by many, to be merely an “actus negativus . . . . [quo Deus] essentias, vires ac facultates rerum creatarum non vult destruere; sed eas vigori suo per creationem indito, quoad usque ille perdurare potest relinquere.” To this view it is to be objected, —
1. That it is obviously opposed to the representations of the Bible. According to the uniform and pervading teaching of the Scriptures, God is not merely a God afar off. He is not a mere spectator of the universe which He has made, but is everywhere present in his essence, knowledge, and power. To his sustaining hand the continuance of all things is constantly referred; and if He withdraws his presence they cease to be. This is so plainly the doctrine of the Bible that it is admitted so to be by many whose philosophical views constrain them to reject the doctrine for themselves.
2. It is inconsistent with the absolute dependence of all things on God. It supposes creatures to have within themselves a principle of life, derived originally, indeed, from God, but capable of continued being and power without his aid. The God of the Bible is everywhere declared to be the all-sustaining ground of all that is, so that if not upheld by the word of his power, they would cease to be. The Scriptures expressly distinguish the power by which things were created from that by which they are continued. All things were not only created by Him, says the Apostle, but by Him all things consist. (Col. i. 17.) This language clearly teaches that the almighty power of God is as much concerned in the continued existence, as in the original creation of all things.
3. This doctrine does violence to the instinctive religious convictions of all men. Even those the least enlightened live and act under the conviction of absolute dependence. They recognize God as everywhere present and everywhere active. If they do not love and trust Him, they at least fear Him and instinctively deprecate his wrath. They cannot, without doing violence to the constitution of their nature, look upon God as a being who is a mere spectator of the creatures who owe their existence to his will.
Preservation not a Continued Creation.
A second view of the nature of preservation goes to the opposite extreme of confounding creation and preservation. This opinion has been held in different forms, —
1. It is sometimes said that preservation and creation are to be referred to one and the same divine act. So far, therefore, as God is concerned, the two are identical. This ground is taken by many who admit the reality of the world and the efficiency of second causes. They intend by this mode of representation to deny any succession in the acts of God. He cannot be viewed as acting in time, or as doing in time what He has not done from eternity.
2. Others who represent preservation as a continued creation, only mean that the divine efficiency is as really active in the one case as in the other. They wish to deny that anything out of God has the cause of the continuance of its existence in itself; and that its properties or powers are in any such sense inherent as that they preserve their efficiency without the continued agency of God. This is the sense in which most of the Reformed theologians are to be understood when they speak of preservation as a continuous creation. Thus Heidegger2 says, “Conservatio continuata creatio Dei activa est. Si enim creatio et conservatio duae actiones distinctae forent, creatio primo cessaret, ac tum conservatio vel codem, quo creatio cessavit, vel sequenti momento inciperet.” This only means that the world owes its continued existence to the uninterrupted exercise of the divine power. He therefore elsewhere says, “Conservationi annihilatio opponitur. Cessante actione conservante res in nihilum collabitur.” In like manner Alsted3 says, “Conservatio est quaedam continuatio. Quemadmodum creatio est prima productio rei ex nihilo, ita est conservatio rei continuatio, ne in nihilum recidat. Deus mundum sustinet.” Ryssenius (whose work is principally from Turrettin),4 says “Providentia bene alters creatio, dicitur. Nam eadem voluntate, qua Deus omnia creavit, omnia conservat, et creatio a conservatione in eo tantum differt, quod quando voluntatem Dei sequitur rerum existentia, dicitur creatio; quando res eadem per eandem voluntatem durat, dicitur conservatio.” This amounts only to saying that as God created all things by the word of his power, so also He upholds all things by the word of his power.
3. There is, however, a third form in which this doctrine is held. By continued creation is meant that all efficiency is in God; that all effects are to be referred to his agency. As there was no cooperation in calling the world out of nothing, so there is no cooperation of second causes in its continuance and operations. God creates, as it were, de novo at each instant the universe, as at that moment it actually is.
Objections to the Doctrine of a Continuous Creation.
All these modes of representation, however, are objectionable. Creation, preservation, and government are in fact different, and to identify them leads not only to confusion but to error. Creation and preservation differ, first, as the former is the calling into existence what before did not exist; and the latter is continuing, or causing to continue what already has a being; and secondly, in creation there is and can be no cooperation, but in preservation there is a concursus of the first, with second causes. In the Bible, therefore, the two things are never confounded. God created all things, and by Him all things consist. As to the first mentioned of the three forms of the doctrine of a continued creation, it is enough to remark that it rests on the a priori idea of an absolute Being. It is not only a gratuitous, but an unscriptural assumption which denies all difference between will and efficiency, or between power and act in God. And as to the idea that God’s acts are not successive; that He never does in time what He does not do from eternity, it is obvious that such language has for us no meaning. We cannot comprehend the relation which the efficiency of God has to the effects produced successively. We know, however, that God acts; that He does produce successive effects; and that, so far as we are concerned, and so far as the representations of scripture are concerned, our relation to God and the relation of the world to Him, are precisely what they would be if his acts were really successive. It is the height of presumption in man, on the mere ground of our speculative ideas, to depart from the plain representations of Scriptures, and so to conceive of the relation of God to the world as effectually to make Him an unknown Being, merging all his perfections into the general idea of cause.
The objection to the second form of the doctrine is not to the idea meant to be expressed. It is true that the preservation of the world is as much due to the immediate power of God as its creation, but this does not prove that preservation is creation. Creation is the production of something out of nothing. Preservation is the upholding in existence what already is. This form of the doctrine is therefore a false use of terms. A more serious objection, however, is that this mode of expression tends to error. The natural sense of the words is what those who use them admit to be false, and not only false but dangerous.
To the real doctrine of a continuous creation the objections are far more serious, —
1. It destroys all continuity of existence. If God creates any given thing every moment out of nothing, it ceases to be the same thing. It is something new, however similar to what existed before. It is as much disconnected from what preceded it as the world itself when it arose out of nothing, was disconnected from the previous nothingness.
2. This doctrine effectually destroys all evidence of the existence of an external world. What we so regard, the impressions on our senses which we refer to things out of ourselves, are merely inward states of consciousness produced momentarily by the creating energy of God. Idealism is, therefore, the logical, as it has been the historical consequence of the theory in question. If all necessity for the existence of an external world is done away with, that existence must be discarded as an unphilosophical assumption.
3. This theory of course denies the existence of second causes. God becomes the sole agent and the sole cause in the universe. The heavens and earth with all their changes and with all they contain, are but the pulsations of the universal life of God. If preservation be a continued production out of nothing, of everything that exsts, then every material existence, all properties of matter so called, every human soul, and every human thought and feeling, is as much the direct product of divine omnipotence as the original creation. There cannot, therefore, be any causation out of God, or any cooperation of any kind any more than when He said, Let there be light, and there was light. In the same manner He constantly now says, Let men exist with all the thoughts, purposes, and feelings, which constitute their nature and character for the time being, and they are.
4. On this theory there can be no responsibility, no sin and no holiness. If sin exist, it must be referred to God as much as holiness, for all is due to his creating energy.
5. Between this system and Pantheism there is scarcely a dividing line. Pantheism merges the universe in God, but not more effectually than the doctrine of a continuous creation. God in the one case as truly as in the other, is all that lives. There is no power, no cause, no real existence but the efficiency and causality of God. This is obvious, and is generally admitted. Hagenbach5 says, “Creation out of nothing rests on Theism. It becomes deistic if creation and preservation are violently separated and placed in direct opposition to each other; and pantheistic if creation be made a mere moment in preservation.” “In creation,” says Strauss, “God works all, the creature which is thus first produced, nothing.” If, therefore, preservation is only the continuance of the same relation between God and the creature, it follows that God still effects everything and the creature nothing; hence out of God, or other than God, there are no causes, not even occasional. Leibnitz,6 quotes Bayle as saying, “Il me semble, qu’il en faut conclure, que Dieu fait tout, et qu’il n’y a point dans toutes les creatures de causes premieres, ni secondes, ni meme occasionelles.” And again, “On ne peut dire que Dieu me cree premierement, et qu’ etant cree, il produise avec moi mes mouvemens et mes determinations. Cela est insoutenable pour deux raisons: la premiere est, que quand Dieu me cree on me conserve a cet instant, il ne me conserve pas comme un etre sans forme, comme une espece ou quelque autre des universaux de logique. Je suis un individu; il me cree et conserve comme tel, etant tout ce que je suis dans cet instant avec toutes mes dependances.” To make preservation, therefore, a continued creation, leads to conclusions opposed to the essential truths of religion, and at variance with our necessary beliefs. We are forced by the constitution of our nature to believe in the external world and in the reality of second causes. We know from consciousness that we are the responsible authors of our own acts, and that we continue identically the same substance, and consequently are not created out of nothing from moment to moment.
This subject will come up again when treating of President Edwards’ theory of identity, and its application to the relation between Adam and his race.
Scriptural Doctrine of the Subject
Between the two extremes of representing preservation as a mere negative act, a not willing to destroy, which denies any continued efficiency of God in the world; and the theory which resolves everything into the immediate agency of God, denying the reality of all second causes, is the plain doctrine of the Scriptures, which teaches that the continuance of the world in existence, the preservation of its substance, properties, and forms, is to be referred to the omnipresent power of God. He upholds as He creates all things, by the word of his power. How He does this it is vain to inquire. So long as we cannot tell how we move our lips, or how mind can operate on matter, or in what way the soul is present and operative in the whole body, it requires little humility to suppress the craving curiosity to know how God sustains the universe with all its hosts in being and activity. The theologians of the seventeenth century endeavoured to explain this by a general concursus, or, as they called it, influx of God into all his creatures. It is said to be an “Actus positivus et directus, quo Deus in genere in causas efficientes rerum conservandas influxu vero et reali influit, ut in natura, proprietatibus et viribus suis persistant ac permaneant.”7 But what do we gain by saying that the soul by “a true and real influx” operates in every part of the body. The fact is clearly revealed that God’s agency is always and everywhere exercised in the preservation of his creatures, but the mode in which his efficiency is exerted, further than that it is consistent with the nature cf the creatures themselves and with the holiness and goodness of God, is unrevealed and inscrutable. It is best, therefore, to rest satisfied with the siniple statement that preservation is that omnipotent energy of God by which all created things, animate and inanimate, are upheld in existence, with all the properties and powers with which He has endowed them.
§ 2. Government.
Statement of the Doctrine.
Providence includes not only preservation, but government. The latter includes the ideas of design and control. It supposes an end to be attained, and the disposition and direction of means for its accomplishment. If God governs the universe He has some great end, including an indefinite number of subordinate ends, towards which it is directed, and He must control the sequence of all events, so as to render certain the accomplishment of all his purposes. Of this providential government the Scriptures teach, (1.) That it is universal, including all the creatures of God, and all their actions. The external world, rational and irrational creatures, things great and small, ordinary and extraordinary, are equally and always under the control of God. The doctrine of providence excludes both necessity and chance ftom the universe, substituting for them the intelligent and universal control of an infinite, omnipresent God. (2.) The Scriptures also teach that this government of God is powerful. It is the universal sway of omnipotence which renders certain the accomplishment of his designs, which embrace in their compass everything that occurs. (3.) That it is wise; which means not only that the ends which God has in view are consistent with his infinite wisdom, and that the means employed are wisely adapted to their respective objects, but also that his control is suited to the nature of the creatures over which it is exercised. He governs the material world according to fixed laws which He himself has established; irrational animals by their instincts, and rational creatures agreeably to their nature. (4.) God’s providence is holy. That is, there is nothing in the ends proposed, the means adopted, or the agency employed, inconsistent with his infinite holiness, or which the highest moral excellence does not demand. This is all that the Scriptures reveal on this most important and difficult subject. And here it were well could the subject be allowed to rest. It is enough for us to know that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions, and that his government while absolutely efficacious is infinitely wise and good, directed to secure the highest ends, and perfectly consistent with his own perfections and with the nature of his creatures. But men have insisted upon answering the questions, How does God govern the world? What is the relation between his agency and the efficiency of second causes? and especially, How can God’s absolute control be reconciled with the liberty of rational agents? These are questions which never can be solved. But as philosophers insist upon answering them, it becomes necessary for theologians to consider those answers, and to show their fallacy when they conflict with the established facts of revelation and experience. Before considering the more important of the theories which have been advanced to explain the nature of God’s providential government, and his relation to the world, it will be proper to present a brief outline of the argument, in support of the truth of the doctrine as stated above.
A. Proof of the Doctrine.
This doctrine necessarily flows from the Scriptural idea of God. He is declared to be a personal being, infinite in wisdom, goodness, and power; to be the Father of Spirits. From this it follows not only that He acts intelligently, i. e., with a view to an end, and on sufficient reasons, but that He must be concerned for the good of creatures rational and irrational, great and small. The idea that God would create this vast universe teeming with life in all its forms, and exercise no control over it, to secure it from destruction or from working out nothing but evil, is utterly inconsistent with the nature of God. And to suppose that anything is too great to be comprehended in his control, or anything so minute as to escape his notice; or that the infinitude of particulars can distract his attention, is to forget that God is infinite. It cannot require any effort in Him, the omnipresent and infinite intelligence, to comprehend and to direct all things however complicated, numerous, or minute. The sun diffuses its light through all space as easily as upon any one point. God is as much present everywhere, and with everything, as though He were only in one place, and had but one object of attention. The common objection to the doctrine of a universal providence, founded on the idea that it is incompatible with the dignity and majesty of the divine Being to suppose that He concerns himself about trifles, assumes that God is a limited being; that because we can attend to only one thing at a time, it must be so with God. The more exalted are our conceptions of the divine Being, the less shall we be troubled with difficulties of this kind.
Proof from the Evidence of the Operation of Mind everywhere.
The whole universe, so far as it can be subjected to our observation, exhibits evidence of God’s omnipresent intelligence and control. Mind is everywhere active. There is everywhere manifest the intelligent adaptation of means to an end; as well in the organization of the animalcule which it requires the microscope to reveal, as in the order of the heavenly bodies. This mind is not in matter. It is not a blind vis naturae. It is, and must be the intelligence of an infinite, omnipresent Being. It is just as much beyond the power of a creature to form an insect, as it is to create the universe. And it is as unreasonable to assume that the organized forms of the vegetable and animal worlds are due to the laws of nature, as it would be to assume that a printing-press could be constructed to compose a poem. There is no adaptation or relation between the means and the end. Wherever there is the intelligent adaptation of means to an end, there is evidence of the presence of mind. And as such evidence of mental activity is found in every part of the universe, we see God ever active and everywhere present in all his works.
Argument from our Religious Nature.
The Scriptural doctrine of a universal providence is demanded by the religious nature of man. It is therefore an instinctive and necessary belief. It is banished from the mind, or overruled only by persistent effort. In the first place, we cannot but regard it as a limitation of God to suppose Him absent either as to knowledge or power from any part of his creation. In the second place, our sense of dependence involves the conviction not only that we owe our existence to his will, but that it is in Him that we and all his creatures live, move, and have our being. In the third place, our sense of responsibility implies that God is cognizant of all our thoughts, words, and actions, and that He controls all our circumstances and our destiny both in this life and in the life to come. This conviction is instinctive and universal. It is found in men of all ages, and under all forms of religion, and in all states of civilization. Men universally believe in the moral government of God; and they universally believe that that moral government is administered at least in part, in this world. They see that God often restrains or punishes the wicked. Did this man sin, or his parents, that he was born blind? was the utterance of a natural feeling; the expression, although erroneous as to its form, of the irrepressible conviction that everything is ordered by God. In the fourth place, our religious nature demands intercourse with God. He must be to us the object of prayer, and the ground of confidence. We must look to Him in trouble and danger; we cannot refrain from calling upon Him for help, or thanking Him for our mercies. Unless the doctrine of a universal providence be true, all this is a delusion. Such, however, is the relation in which the Scripture. and the constitution of our nature assume that we stand to God, and in which He stands to the world. He is ever present, all-controlling, the hearer and answerer of prayer, giving us our daily mercies, and guiding us in all our ways. This doctrine of providence, therefore, is the foundation of all practical religion, and the denial of it is practically atheism, for we are then without God in the world. It may be said that these religious feelings are due to our education; that men educated in the belief of witches and fairies, or supernatural agencies of any kind, refer events actually due to the operations of nature to the intervention of spiritual beings. To this it may be answered, First, that the sense of dependence, of responsibility, of obligation for mercies received, and of the control of outward events by the power of God, is too universal to be accounted for by any peculiar form of education. These are the generic, or fundamental convictions of the human mind, which are manifested in more or less suitable forms, according to the degree of knowledge which different men possess. And secondly, it is to be considered that the argument is founded on the truth and justness of these feelings, and not on their origin. It is in this case as it is with our moral convictions. Because our knowledge of what is right or wrong, and the opinions of men on that point, may be modified by education and circumstances, this does not prove that our moral nature is due to education; nor does it shake the convictions we entertain of the correctness of our moral judgments. It may be, and doubtless is true that we owe to the Scriptures most of our knowledge of the moral law, but this does not impair our confidence in the authority and truth of our views of duty, and of moral obligation. These religious feelings have a self-evidencing as well as an informing light. We know that they are right, and we know that the doctrine which accords with them and produces them, must be true. It is, therefore, a valid argument for the doctrine of a universal providence that it meets the demands of our moral and religious nature.
Argument from Predictions and Promises.
A fourth general argument on this subject is derived from the predictions, promises, and threatenings recorded in the Word of God. Those predictions are not mere general declarations of the probable or natural consequences of certain courses of action, but specific revelations of the occurrence of events in the future, the futurition of which cannot be secured except in the exercise of an absolutely certain control over causes and agents both natural and moral. God promises to give health, long life and prosperous seasons; or He threatens to inflict severe judgments, the desolations of war, famine, drought, and pestilence. Such promises and threatenings suppose a universal providence, a control over all the creatures of God, and over all their actions. As such promises and threatenings abound in the Word of God; as his people, and as all nations recognize such benefits or calamities as divine dispensations, it is evident that the doctrine of Providence underlies all religion, both natural and revealed.
Argument from Experience.
We may refer confidently on this subject to all experiences. Every man can see that his life has been ordered by an intelligence and will not his own. His whole history has been determined by events over which he had no control, events often in themselves apparently fortuitous, so that he must either assume that the most important events are determined by chance, or admit that the providence of God extends to all events, even the most minute. What is true of individuals is true of nations. The Old Testament is a record of God’s providential dealings with the Hebrew people. The calling of Abraham, the history of the patriarchs, ofJoseph, of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, of their deliverance and journey through the wilderness, of their conquest of the land of Canaan, and their whole subsequent history, is a continuous record of the control of God over all their circumstances, — a control which is represented as extending to all events. In like manner the history of the world reveals to an intelligent eye the all-pervading providence of God, as clearly as the heavens declare his majesty and power.
B. The Scriptures teach God’s Providence over Nature
We find that the Bible asserts that the providential agency of God is exercised over all the operations of nature. This is asserted with regard to the ordinary operations of physical laws: the motion of the heavenly bodies, the succession of the seasons, the growth and decay of the productions of the earth; and the falling of the rain, hail, and snow. It is He who guides Arcturus in his course, who makes the sun to rise, and the grass to grow. These events are represented as due to the omnipresent agency of God and are determined, not by chance, nor by necessity, but by his will. Paul says (Acts xiv. 17), that God “left not himself without witness” even among the heathen, “in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” Our Lord says (Matt. v. 45), God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He clothes “the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven.” (Matt. vi. 30.) In like manner the more unusual and striking operations of natural laws, earthquakes, tempests, and pestilences, are said to be sent, governed, and determined by Him, so that all the effects which they produce are referred to his purpose. He makes the winds his messengers, and the lightnings are his ministering spirits. Even apparently fortuitous events, such as are determined by causes so rapid or so inappreciable as to elude our notice, the falling of the lot; the flight of an arrow; the number of the hairs of our heads, are all controlled by the omnipresent God. “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” (Matt. x. 29.)
Providence extends over the Animal World.
The Scriptures teach that irrational animals are the objects of God’s providential care. He fashions their bodies, He calls them into the world, sustains them in being, and supplies their wants. In his hand is the life of every living thing. (Job xii. 10.) The Psalmist says (civ. 21), “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.” Verses 27, 28, “These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them, they gather: thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good.” Matt. vi. 26, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.” Acts xvii. 25, “He giveth to all life and breath, and all things.” Such representations are not to be explained away as poetical modes of expressing the idea that the laws of nature, as ordained of God, are so arranged as to meet the necessities of the animal creation, without any special intervention of his providence. It is not the fact, merely, that the world, as created by God, is adapted to meet the wants of his creatures, that is asserted in the Scriptures, but that his creatures depend on the constant exercise of his care. He gives or withholds what they need according to his good pleasure. When our Lord put in the lips of his disciples the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He recognized the fact that all living creatures depend on the constant intervention of God for the supply of their daily wants.
The Bible teaches that the providential government of God extends over nations and communities of men. Ps. lxvi. 7, “He ruleth by his power forever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” Dan. iv. 35, “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” Dan. ii. 21, “He changeth the times and the seasons; He removeth kings and setteth up kings.” Dan. iv. 25, “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” Is. x. 5, 6, “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is my indignation, I will send him against an hypocritical nation.” Verse 7, “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so.” Verse 15, “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as though it were not wood.” The Scriptures are full of this doctrine. God uses the nations with the absolute control that a man uses a rod or a staff. They are in his hands, and He employs them to accomplish his purposes. He breaks them in pieces as a potter’s vessel, or He exalts them to greatness, according to his good pleasure.
The providence of God extends not only over nations, but also over individuals. The circumstances of every man’s birth, life, and death, are ordered by God. Whether we are born in a heathen or in a Christian land, in the Church or out of it; whether weak or strong; with many, or with few talents; whether we are prosperous or afflicted; whether we live a longer or a shorter time, are not matters determined by chance, or by the unintelligent sequence of events, but by the will of God. 1 Sam. ii. 6, 7, “The LORD killeth and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The LORD maketh poor and maketh rich, He bringeth low and lifteth up.” Is. xlv. 5, “I am the LORD (the absolute ruler), and there is none else; there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.” Prov. xvi. 9, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” Ps. lxxv. 6, 7, “Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge (ruler): he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” Ps. xxxi. 15, “My times (the vicissitudes of life) are in thy hands.” Acts xvii. 26, God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the tiarth, and hath determined the times before appointed (i. e., the turning points in history) and the bounds of their habitation.
God’s Providence in relation to Free Acts.
The Bible no less clearly teaches that God exercises a controlling power over the free acts of men, as well as over their external circumstances. This is true of all their acts, good and evil. It is asserted in general terms, that his dominion extends over their whole inward life, and especially over their good acts. Prov. xvi. 1, “The preparations of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.” Prov. xxi. 1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.” Ezra vii. 27, “Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD.” Ex. iii. 21 “I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians.” Ps. cxix. 36, “Incline thy heart unto thy testimonies.” Ps. cxiv. 4, “Incline not my heart to any evil thing.” A large part of the predictions, promises, and threatenings of the word of God are founded on the assumption of this absolute control over the free acts of his creatures. Without this there can be no government of the world and no certainty as to its issue. The Bible is filled with prayers founded on this same assumption. All Christians believe that the hearts of men are in the hand of God; that He works in them both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.
The Relation of God’s Providence to Sin.
With regard to the sinful acts of men, the Scriptures teach, (1.) That they are so under the control of God that they can occur only by his permission and in execution of his purposes. He so guides them in the exercise of their wickedness that the particular forms of its manifestation are determined by his will. In 1 Chron. x. 4-14 it is said that Saul slew himself but it is elsewhere said that the Lord slew him and turned the kingdom unto David. So also it is said, that he hardened the heart of Pharaoh; that He hardened the spirit of Sihon the king of Heshbon; that He turned the hearts of the heathen to hate his people; that He blinds the eyes of men, and sends them strong delusion that they may believe a lie; that He stirs up the nations to war. “God,” it is said, in Rev. xvii. 17, “hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” (2.) The Scriptures teach that the wickedness of men is restrained within prescribed ounds. Ps. lxxvi. 10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” 2 Kings xix 28, “Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.” (3.) Wicked actions are overruled for good. The wicked conduct of Joseph’s brethren, the obstinacy and disobedience of Pharaoh, the lust of conquest and thirst for plunder by which the heathen rulers were controlled in their invasions of the Holy Land; above all, the crucifixion of Christ, the persecutions of the Church, the revolutions and wars among the nations, have been all so overruled by Him who sitteth as ruler in the heavens, as to fulfil his wise and merciful designs. (4.) The Scriptures teach that God’s providence in relation to the sins of men, is such that the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature and not from God; who neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. 1 John ii. 16, “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father (not from Him as its source or author), but is of the world.” James i. 13, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” Jer. vii. 9, “Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?”
Thus the fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions, is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. And that fact is the foundation of all religion. It is the ground of the consolation of his people in all ages; and it may be said to be the intuitive conviction of all men, however inconsistent it may be with their philosophical theories, or with their professions. The fact of this universal providence of God is all the Bible teaches. It nowhere attempts to inform us how it is that God governs all things, or how his effectual control is to be reconciled with the efficiency of second causes. All the attempts of philosophers and theologians to explain that point, may be pronounced failures, and worse than failures, for they not only raise more difficulties than they solve but in almost all instances they include principles or lead to conclusions inconsistent with the plain teachings of the word of God. These theories are all founded on some a priori principle which is assumed on no higher authority than human reason.
§3. Different Theories of the Divine Government.
A. The Deistical Theory of God’s Relation to the World.
The first of the general views of God’s relation to the woild is that which has ever been widely adopted by Rationalists, Deists, and men of the world. It is founded on the assumption that the Supreme Being is too exalted to concern Himself with the trifling concerns of his creatures here on earth. He made the world and impressed upon it certain laws; endowing matter with its properties, and rational beings with the powers of free agency, and having done this, he leaves the world to the guidance of these general laws. According to this view, the relation which God bears to the universe is that of a mechanist to a machine. When an artist has made a watch it goes of itself, without his intervention. He is never called to interfere with its operation, except to remedy some defect. But as no such defect can be assumed in the works of God, there is no call for his intervention, and He does not interfere. All things come to pass in virtue of the operation of causes which He created and set in motion at the beginning. According to this view God in no wise determines the effects of natural causes, nor controls the acts of free agents. The reason that one season is propitious and the earth produces her fruits in abundance, and that another is the reverse; that one year pestilence sweeps over the land, and another year is exempted from such desolation; that of two ships sailing from the same port, the one is wrecked and the other has a prosperous voyage; that the Spanish Armada was dispersed by a storm and Protestant England saved from papal domination; that Cromwell and his companions were arrested and prevented from sailing for America, which decided the fate of religious liberty in Great Britain, — that all such events are as they are, must, according to this theory, be referred to chance, or the blind operation of natural causes. God has nothing to do with them. He has abandoned the world to the government of physical laws and the affairs of men to their own control. This view of God’s relation to the world is so thoroughly anti-Scriptural and irreligious that it never has been, and never can be adopted by any Christian church. So long as even the simple words of our Lord are remembered and believed, so long must this doctrine be rejected with indignation. “Consider the ravens; for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?” “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Our Lord, therefore, teaches us to confide in the universal providence of God which supplies the wants and controls the destiny of all his creatures, so that a hair does not fall from our heads without his notice.
B. Theory of Entire Dependence.
Another theory, the very opposite of the one just mentioned, is founded on the principle that absolute dependence includes the idea that God is the only cause. This principle has been widely adopted, even in the Church. It has been strenuously advocated by many theists, not only among the schoolmen, but by some of the Reformers, and by a large class of modern theologians. There was a class of the scholastic divines who were virtually pantheistic in their philosophical views. John Scotus Erigena had taught, in the ninth century,8 that “omnis visibilis et invisibilis creatura theophania, i. e., divina apparitio recte potest appellari.” He had his followers, even in the thirteenth century.9 Those who did not go the length of asserting that “Deus est essentia omnium creaturarum et esse omnium,” still maintained that He so operated in all as to be the only efficient cause. According to Thomas Aquinas, they argued, “Nulla insufficientia est Deo attribuenda. Si igitur Deus operatur in omni operante, sufficienter in quolibet operatur. Superfluum igitur esset quod agens creatum, aliquid operaretur.” Again, “Quod Deum operari in quolibet operante, aliqui sic intellexerunt, quod nulla virtus creata aliquid operaretur in rebus, sed solus Deus immediate omnia operaretur: puta quod ignis non calefaceret, sed Deus in igne. Et similiter de omnibus aliis.”10 Of all the Reformers, Zwingle was the most inclined to this extreme view of the dependence of the creature on God. “Omnis virtus,” be says,11 “numinis virtus est, nec enim quicquam est quod non ex illo, in illo et per illud sit, imo illud ipsum sit — creata inquam virtus dicitur, eo quod in novo subiecto et nova specie, universalis aut generalis ista virtus exhibetur. Deus est causa rerum universarum, reliqua omnia non sunt vere causae.12 Constat causas secundas non rite causas vocari. . . . . Essentiam, virtutem, et operationem habent non suam sed numinis. Instrumenta igitur sunt.13 Viciniora ista, quibus causarum nomen damus, non jure causas esse sed manus et organa, quibus aeterna mens operatur.”14 Calvin did not go so far, although he uses such language as the following, when speaking of inanimate things, “Sunt nihil aliud quam instrumuenta, quibus Deus assidue instillat quantum vult efficaciae et pro suo arbitrio ad hanc vel illam actionem flectit et convertit.”15 He admits, however, that matter has its own properties, and second causes a real efficiency. The whole tendency of the Cartesian philosophy, which came into vogue in the seventeenth century, was to merge second causes into the first cause, and it thus led the way to idealism and pantheism. Malebranche admitted, on the testimony of Scripture, which declares that God created the heaven and the earth, that the external world has a real existence. But he denied that it could produce any effects, or that the soul could in any way act upon matter. We see all things in God. That is, when we perceive anything out of ourselves, the perception is not due to the impression made by the external object, but to the immediate agency of God. And the activity of our own minds is only a form of the activity of God. The first fruit of this system was avowed idealism, as all evidence of the existence of an external world was destroyed; and the second was the pantheism of Spinoza, which Leibnitz calls Cartesianism en outre. It must be admitted that the devout desire of the Reformed theologians to vindicate the sovereignty and supremacy of God, in opposition to all forms of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian doctrine, led many of them to go to an extreme in depreciating the efficiency of second causes, and in unduly exalting the omnipresent efficiency of God. Schweizer16 represents the great body of the Reformed theologians as teaching that the dependence of creatures on the Creator supersedes all efficiency of second causes. “Die schlechthinige Abhangigkeit des Bestehens und Verlaufes der Welt gestattet keinerlei andere Ursachlichkeiten als nur die gottliche, so dass Zwischenursachen nur seine Instrumente und Organe sind, er die durch ihre Gesammtheit wie durch alle einzelnen Zwischenursachen allein hindurchwirkende Causalitat. Dieses ist er vermoge der praesentia essentialis numinis oder doch divinae virtutis, welche das Sein alles Seins, die Bewegung aller Bewegungen ist.” This is Schweizer’s own doctrine, as it is that of the whole school of Schleiermacher, to which he belongs; but that it is not the doctrine of the Reformed theologians is plain from their all teaching the doctrine of concursus, which Schweizer admits to be inconsistent with the assumption that God is the sole cause of all things. It was this false assumption that no creature can act; that dependence on God is absolute; and that all power however manifested is the power of God, which led to the doctrine of a continued creation, as stated when speaking of the efficiency of God in the preservation of the world. It led also to the doctrine of occasional causes; that is, to the theory that what we call second causes have no real efficiency, but are only the occasions on which God manifests his power in a particular way. The world of matter and mind exists indeed, but it is perfectly inert. It is only the instrument or means by which the manifold and everywhere present efficiency of God is manifested. “Consideremus,” says Leibnitz, “eorum sententiam, qui rebus creatis veram, et propriam actionem adimunt, . . . . qui putant non res agere, sed Deum ad rerum praesentiam, et secundum rerum aptitudem; adeoque res occasiones esse, non causas, et recipere, non efficere aut elicere.”17 The same views of the dependence of creatures on God lies at the foundation of the whole system of Dr. Emmons. He held that if any creature were endowed with activity or power to act, it would be independent of God. “We cannot conceive,” he says, “that even Omnipotence itself is able to form independent agents, because this would be to endow them with divinity. And since all men are dependent agents, all their motions, exercises, or actions must originate in a divine efficiency.” This is not to be understood as simply asserting the necessity of a divine concursus in order to the operation of second causes, for Emmons expressly teaches that God creates all the volitions of the soul, and effects by his almighty power all changes in the material world.
Objections to this Doctrine of Dependence.
To this whole doctrine, which thus denies the existence of second causes, and refers all action both in the material and spiritual world to God, it is to be objected, (1.) That it is founded on an arbitrary assumption. It starts with the a priori idea of an absolute and infinite being, and rejects everything inconsistent with that idea. It cannot be proved that it is inconsistent with the nature of God that He should call into existence creatures capable of originating action. It is enough that such creatures should derive all their powers from God, and be subject to his control in all their exercises. (2.) This doctrine contradicts the consciousness of every man. We know, as certainly as we know anything, that we are free agents, and that free agency is the power of self-determination, or of originating our own acts. It contradicts not only our self-consciousness, but the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature. It is one of those laws that we should believe in the reality of the objects of our senses; and that belief involves the conviction not only that they really are, but also that they are the causes of the impressions which they make on our sensibility. It is to put philosophy in conflict with common sense, and with the universal convictions of men, to teach that all this is a delusion; that when we see a tree we are mistaken, that God immediately creates that impression in our mind; or that when we will to move the power is not in us, that it is not we that move, but God that moves us; or when we think, that it is God creates the thought. (3.) As has been before remarked, this system naturally leads, and has led to idealism and pantheism, and therefore is utterly inconsistent with all liberty and responsibility, and destroys the possibility of moral distinctions.
C. The Doctrine that there is no Efficiency except in Mind.
According to this view, there are no such things as physical forces. The mind of man is endowed with the power of producing effects; but apart from mind, divine or created, there is no efficiency in the universe. This doctrine finds its way into many theological, as well as philosophical disquisitions. Thus Principal Tulloch says, a cause is “coincident with an agent.” It “therefore implies mind. More definitely, and in its full conception, it implies a rational will.”18 Physical causes are therefore regarded as the ever operating will of God. “The idea of causation,” he says, “we found to resolve itself into that of the operation of a rational mind or will in nature.”19 Providence is nothing else than a “continued forth-putting of that [originally creative] efficiency.”20 Dr. Tulloch very correctly assumes that a cause is that which has power to produce effects; and that we get our idea of power, and therefore of the nature of causation, from our own consciousness of efficiency. He hence infers that, as mind is the only cause of whieh we have immediate knowledge, therefore it is the only one that exists. But this is a non-sequitur. That mind is a cause, is no proof that elecricity may not be a cause. The facts, as understood by the mass of men are, First, we are conscious of efficiency, or the power to produce effects. Second, the exercise of this power awakens, or gives occasion to the intuition of the universal and necessary truth that every effect must have an appropriate cause. Thirdly, as we see around us effects of different kinds, it is a law of reason that they should be referred to causes of different kinds. The evidence that this is a law of reason, is the fact that men everywhere assume physical causes to account for physical effects, as uniformly as they assume mind for intelligent effects. The theory, however, which resolves all forces into the everywhere operative will of God has great attractions. It makes a way of escape from many of the difficulties which beset the question of God’s relation to the world. Even men devoted to the study of nature get so puzzled by such questions, as, What is matter? or What is force? that they are disposed, in many cases, to merge all things into God. The Duke of Argyle says, “Science, in the modern doctrine of Conservation of Energy and the Convertibility of Forces, is already getting something like a firm hold of the idea that all kinds of Force are but forms or manifestations of some one Central Force issuing from some one Fountain-head of Power. Sir John Herschel has not hesitated to say, that ‘it is but reasonable to regard the Force of Gravitation as the direct or indirect result of a consciousness or a will existing somewhere.’ And even if we cannot certainly identify Force in all its forms with the direct energies of the One Omnipresent and all-pervading Will, it is at least in the highest degree unphilosophical to assume the contrary, — to speak or to think as if the Forces of Nature were either independent of, or even separate from, the Creator’s Power.”21
It was remarked on a previous page that Wallace still more decidedly adopts the same view. In his book on “Natural Selection,” after he had defended Darwin’s theory on the origin of species (except in its application to man), he comes in the end to start the question, What is matter? This question he answers by saying, “Matter is essentially force, and nothing but force. Matter, as popularly understood, does not exist, and is, in fact, philosophically inconceivable.”22 The next question is, What is force? The ultimate answer to this is, that it is the will of God. “If,” says Mr. Wallace, “we have traced one force, however minute, to an origin in our own WILL, while we have no knowledge of any other primary cause of force, it does not seem an improbable conclusion that all force may be will force; and thus the whole universe is not merely dependent on, but actually is, the Will of higher intelligences or of one Supreme Intelligence.”23
This theory is substantially the same as that previously mentioned. They differ only as to the extent of their application. According to the doctrine of “Absolute Dependence,” God is the only agent in the universe; according to the doctrine just stated, He is the only agent, or his will is the only energy in the material world. Matter is nothing. “It does not exist.” It is nothing but force, and force is God; therefore the external world is God, In other words, all the impressions and sensations made upon us, as we suppose, by things without us, are in fact made by the immediate power of God: there is no earth; there are no stars; no men or women; no fathers or mothers. Men cannot believe this. By the constitution of our nature, which no man can alter, we are forced to believe in the reality of the external world; that matter is, and that it is the proximate cause of the effects which we attribute to its agency.
D. Theory of Preestablished Harmony.
Another assumption made by philosophers is, that one substance cannot act upon another substance of a different kind; what is extended cannot act upon what is not extended; matter cannot act on mind, nor mind on matter. It is, however, a fact of consciousness and of daily observation, that, apparently at least, material objects by which we are surrounded are the causes of certain sensations and perceptions, that is, they act upon our minds; and it is no less a matter of consciousness that our minds do act, at least so it seems, upon our bodies. We can move, we can control the action of all our voluntary muscles. This, however, must be a delusion if matter cannot act on mind nor mind on matter. To account for the relation in which mind and matter stand to each other in this world, and for the apparent action of the one on the other, Leibnitz adopted the theory of a preestablished harmony. God created two independent worlds, the one of matter, the other of mind; each has its own nature and its own principle of activity. All the changes in matter, all the actions of our bodies, are determined from a source within the matter and within our bodies, and would occur in the same order in which they actually take place if no created mind were in existence. In like manner, all the varying states of the human mind, all its sensations, perceptions, and volitions are determined from within, and would be just what they are though the external world had no existence. We should see the same sights, hear the same sounds, have the same volitions to move this or that muscle, though there were nothing to see, hear or move. These two worlds, thus automatically moved, coexist, and are made to act in harmony by a prearrangement divinely ordered. Hence the sensation of burning arises in the mind, not because fire acts on the body and the body on the mind, but because, by this preestablished harmony, these events are made to coincide in time and space. From eternity it was determined that I should have a volition to move my arm at a certain time; and from eternity it was determined that the arm should move at that time. The two events therefore concur as immediate antecedent and consequent, but the volition stands in no causal relation to the motion. The volition would have been formed had there been no arm to move; and the arm would have moved, although the volition had never been formed. Leibnitz’s hand would have written all his wonderful books, mathematical and philosophical, and conducted all his controversies with Bayle, Clarke, and Newton, though his soul had never been created.24
E. Doctrine of Concursus.
A far more widely adopted and permanently influential principle is that no second cause can act until acted upon. Nothing created can originate action. This principle, carried to a greater or less extent, was adopted by Augustine, by the schoolmen, by the Thomists and Dominicans in the Latin Church, and by Protestants, whether Lutherans, Reformed, or Remonstrants. It was assumed as a philosophical axiom, to which all theological doctrines should be conformed. “Ad gubernationem concursus pertinet, quo Deus non solum dat vim agendi causis secundis et eam conservat, sed et easdem movet et applicat ad agendum. Praecursus etiam dicitur, nam causae secundm non movent nisi motae.”25 “Prima causa,” says Turrettin, “est primum movens in omni actione, ideo causa secunda non potest movere, nisi moveatur, nec agere, nisi acta a prima; alioqui erit principium sui motus, et sic non amplius esset causa secunda, sed prima.”26 In the production of every effect, therefore, there is the efficiency of two causes, the first and second. But this is not to be considered as involving two operations, as when two horses are attached to the same vehicle, which is drawn partly by the one and partly by the other. The efficiency of the first cause is in the second, and not merely with it. Deus “immediate influit in actionem et effectum creaturae, ita ut idem effectus non a solo Deo, nec a sola creatura, nec partim a Deo, partim a creatura, sed una eademque efficientia totali simul a Deo et creatura producatur, a Deo videlicet ut causa universali et prima, a creatura ut particulari et secunda.”27 “Non est re ipsa alia actio influxus Dei, alia operatio creaturae, sed una et indivsibilis actio, utrumque respiciens et ab utroque pendens, a Deo ut causa universali, a creatura ut particulari.”28
This concursus is represented, first, as general; an influence of the omnipresent power of God not only sustaining creatures and their properties and powers, but exciting each to act according to its nature. It is analogous to the general influence of the sun which affects different objects in different ways. The same solar ray softens wax and hardens clay. It calls the germinating force of all seeds into action, but does not determine the nature of that action. All seeds are thus quickened; but one develops as wheat, another as barley, not because of the solar force, but because of its own peculiar nature. This is all that the Franciscans and Jesuits among the Romanists, and the Remonstrants among the Protestants allow. The Thomists and Dominicans among the former, and the Augustinian theologians generally, insist that, besides this general concursus, there is also a previous, simultaneous, and determining concourse of the first, in all second causes, both in the cause and in the effect; that is, not only exciting to action, but sustaining, guiding, and determining the act; so that its being as it is, and not otherwise, is to be referred to the first, and not to the second cause in every case. On this point, however, the Reformed theologians are not agreed, as Turrettin admits. “Ex nostris,” he says, “quidam concursum tantum praevium volunt quoad bona opera gratiae, sed in aliis omnibus simultaneum sufficere existimant.”29 By previous concursus is meant, he says, “Actio Dei, qua in causas earumque principia influendo, creaturas excitat, et agendum praemovet, et ad hoc potius quam ad illud agendum applicat. Simultaneus vero est per quam Deus actionem creaturae, quoad suam entitatem, vel substantiam producit; quo una cum creaturis in earum actiones et effectus influere ponitur, non vero in creaturas ipsas.”30 It is admitted that these do not differ really, “quia concursus simultaneus, nihil aliud est, quam concursus praevius continuatus.” This previous concursus is also called predetermining. “Id ipsun etiam nomine Praedetermninationis, seu Praemotionis solet designari, qua Deus ciet et applicat causam secundam ad agendum, adeoque antecedenter ad omnem operationem creaturae, seu prius natura et ratione quam creatura operetur, eam realiter et efficaciter movet ad agendum in singulis actionibus, adeo ut sine hac praemotione causa secunda operari non possit, ea vero posita impossibile sit in sensu composito causam secundam non illud idem agere ad quod a prima causa praemovetur.”31
Concursus, therefore, assumes, (1.) That God gives to second causes the power of acting. (2.) That He preserves them in being and vigour. (3.) That He excites and determines second causes to act. (4.) That He directs and governs them to the predetermined end. All this, however, was so understood that —
1. The effect produced or the act performed is to be referred to the second, and not to the first cause. When the fire burns, it is to the fire, and not to God that the effect is to be attributed. When a man speaks, it is the man, and not God who utters the words. When the moon raises the tidal wave, and the wave dashes a vessel on the shore, the effect is to be attributed, not to the moon, but to the momentum of the wave. The force of gravity acts uniformly on all ponderable matter, and yet that force may be indefinitely varied in the effects which are produced by intervening causes, whether necessary or free.
2. The doctrine of concursus does not deny the efficiency of second causes. They are real causes, having a principium agendi in themselves.
3. The agency of God neither supersedes, nor in any way interferes with the efficiency of second causes. “Ad providentiam divinam non pertinet, naturam rerum corrumpere, sed servare: unde omnia movet secundum eorum conditionem: ita quod ex causis necessariis per motionem divinam consequuntur effectus ex necessitate; ex causis autem contingentibus sequuntur effectus contingentes. Quia igitur voluntas est activum principium non determinatum ad unum, sed indifferenter se habens ad multa, sic Deus ipsam movet, quod non ex necessitate ad unum determinat, sed remanet motus ejus contingens et non necessarius, nisi in his ad quae naturaliter movetur.”32 “Concurrit Deus cum naturalibus ad modam causae naturalis, cum causis liberis per modum causae liberae.”33 “Duo sunt causarum genera, aliae definitae et generales, quae eodem modo semper agunt, ut ignis qui urit, sol qui lucet; aliae indefinitae et liberae, quae possunt agere vel non agere, hoc vel illo modo agere: ita Deus naturam earum conservat, et cuni illis juxta eam in agendo concurrit; cum definitis, ut ipse eas determinet sine determinatione propria; cum indefinitis vero et liberis, ut ipsae quoque se determinent proprio rationis judicio, et libera voluntatis dispositione, quam Deus non aufert homini, quia sic opus suum destrueret, sed relinquit et confirmat.”34 To the same effect the “Westminster Confession”35 says: God ordereth events “to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”
4. From this it follows that the efficiency or agency of God is not the same in relation to all kinds of events. It is one thing in cooperating with material causes, another in cooperating with free agents. It is one thing in relation to good acts, and another in relation to evil actions; one thing in nature, and another in grace.
5. The divine concursus is not inconsistent with the liberty of free agents. “Moveri voluntarie est moveri ex se, id est, a principio intrinseco. Sed illud principium intrinsecum potest esse ab alio principio extrinseco. Et sic moveri ex se, non repugnat ei, quod movetur ab alio. — Illud quod movetur ab altero, dicitur cogi, si moveatur contra inclinationem propriam: sed si moveatur ab alio quod sibi dat propriam inclinationem, non dicitur cogi. Sic igitur Deus movendo voluntatem, non cogit ipsam: quia dat ei ejus propriam inclinationem.”36 This is undoubtedly true. Nothing is more certain from Scripture than that God is the author of faith and repentance. They are his gifts. They are blessings for which we pray, and which He promises. Yet nothing is more certain from consciousness, than that faith and repentance are our own free acts. Therefore moveri ab alio is not inconsistent with moveri ex se. On this point Turrettin37 says: “Cum providentia non concurrat cum voluntate humana, vel per coactionem, cogendo voluntatem invitamn, vel determinando physice, ut rem brutam et caecam absque ullo judicio, sed rationaliter, flectendo voluntatem modo ipsi convenienti, ut seipsam determinet, ut causa proxima actionum suarum proprio rationis judicio, et spontanea voluntatis electione; eam libertati nostrae nullam vim inferre, sed illam potius amice fovere.”
6. All the advocates of the doctrine of concursus admit that the great difficulty attending it is in reference to sin. The difficulty here is not so much in relation to the responsibility of the sinner. If sin be his own act, and if the divine concursus does not interfere with his freedom, it does not interfere with his responsibility. When God by his grace determines the will of his people to holy acts, the holiness is theirs. It constitutes their character. When God gives a man beauty, he is beautiful. And if his cooperation in the sins of men leaves their freedom in sinning unimpaired, they are as truly sinful as though no such cooperation existed. This is not the difficulty. The real question is, how can God’s cooperation in sin be reconciled with his own holiness? We can easily see how God can cooperate in good acts, and rejoice in the goodness which is his gift; but how can He so concur in sinful acts as not only to preserve the sinner in the exercise of his ability to act, but also to excite to action, and determine his act to be what it is, and not otherwise? This difficulty was, as has been remarked, freely acknowledged. It was met by defining sin as mere defect. It is a want of conformity to the moral law. As such it requires not an efficient, but only a deficient cause. God is the source immediately or remotely of all efficiency, but is not the source of mere deficiency. In every sinful act, therefore, there was distinguished the act as an act requiring an efficient cause; and the moral quality of that act, or its want of conformity to law, a mere relation, which is not an ens, and therefore is in no way to be referred to God. This is the answer to this objection given by Augustine, and repeated from his day to this. Aquinas38 says: “Quicquid est entitatis et actionis in actione mala, reducitur in Deum sicut in causam: sed quod est ibi defectus non causatur a Deo, sed ex causa secunda deficiente.” Quenstedt39 says: “Distinguendum inter effectum et defectum, inter actionem et actionis avtaxi,an. Effectus et actio est a Deo, non vero defectus et avtaxi,asive inordinatio et exorbitatio actionis. Ad effectum Deus concurrit, vitium non causat, non enim in agendo deficit aut errat, sed causa secunda.” Bucan40 says: “Malorum opera quoque decernit et regit. Tamen non est autor mali, quia mali sic aguntur a Deo, ut sponte, libere et sine coactione et impulsu violento agant. Deinde non infundit malitiam sicut bonitatem, nec impellit aut allicit ad peccandum.” To the same effect Turrettin41 says: “Cum actus qua talis semper bonus sit quoad entitatem suam, Deus ad ilium concurrit effective, et physice. . . . . (quoad malitiam) Deus nec causa physica potest ejus dici, quia nec illam inspirat aut infundit, nec facit; nec ethica, qui nec imperat, ant approbat et suadet, sed severissime prohibet et punit.” As the same solar influence quickens into life all kinds of plants, whether nutritious or poisonous; as the same current of water may be guided in one channel or another; as the same vital force animates the limbs of the sound man and of the cripple; as the same hand may sweep the keys of an instrument when in tune and when out of tune: so it is urged that the same divine efficieney sustains and animates all free agents. That they act at all is due to the divine efficiency, but the particular nature of their acts (at least when evil) is to be referred, not to that all-pervading efficiency of God, but to the nature or character of each particular agent. That God controls and governs wicked men, determines their wickedness to take one form, and not another, and guides it to manifestations which will promote good rather than evil, is not inconsistent with the holiness of God. He did not infuse envy and hatred into the hearts of Joseph’s brethren, but He guided the exercise of those evil passions, so as to secure the preservation of Jacob and the chosen seed from destruction.
Remarks on the Doctrine of Concursus.
The above statement of the doctrine of concursus is designed merely to give the views generally entertained by Augustinians, as to the nature of God’s providential government. Whether those views are correct or not, it is important that they should be understood. It is very evident that there is a broad distinction between this theory of concursus and the theory which resolves all events, whether necessary or free, into the immediate agency of God. The points of difference between the two theories are, (1.) That the one admits and the other denies the reality and efficiency of second causes. (2.) The one makes no distinction between free and necessary events, attributing them equally to the almighty and creative energy of God; the other admits the validity and unspeakable importance of this distinction. (3.) The one asserts and the other denies that the agency of God is the same in sinful acts that it is in good acts. (4.) The one admits that God is the author of sin, the other repudiates that doctrine with abhorrence. The Reformed theologians protested against the aspersion freely made by Romanists, and afterwards by the Remonstrants, that the Augustinian doctrine led by any fair process of reasoning to the conclusion that God is the cause of sin. They quote from their opponents admissions which involve all that they themselves teach in reference to the agency of God in the wicked acts of men. Thus Bellarmin, who freely brings this objection against the Protestants, himself says,42 “Deus non solum permittit impios agere multa mala, nec solum deserit pios ut cogantur pati quae ab impiis inferuntur; sed etiam praesidet ipsis voluntatibus malis, easque regit et gubernat, torquet ac flectit in eis invisibiliter operando, ut licet vitio proprio malae sint, tamen a divina providentia ad unum potius malum, quam ad aliud, non positive sed permissive ordinentur.” As to this passage, Turrettin says, “Quibus verbis nihil durius apud nostros occurrit.” Bellarmin also quotes43 and adopts the language of Aquinas when he says, “Deum non solum inclinare voluntates malas ad unum potius, quam ad aliud permittendo, ut ferantur in unum, et non permittendo, ut ferantur in aliud, ut Hugo recte docuit, sed etiam positive inclinando in unum et avertendo ab alio.” It is of importance, not only as a matter of historical truth, but also for its moral influence, that the fact should be distinctly known and recognized that the Reformed theologians, with all Augustinians before and after the Reformation, earnestly rejected the doctrine that God is the author or the efficient cause of sin.
The objection to the doctrine of concursus is not that it intentionally or really destroys the free agency of man; or that it makes God the author of sin, but (1.) That it is founded on an arbitrary and false assumption. It denies that any creature can originate action. This does not admit of proof. It is an inference from the assumed nature of the dependence of the creature upon the creator; or from the assumed necessity of the principle in question, in order to secure the absolute control of God over created beings. It however contradicts the consciousness of men. That we are free agents means that we have the power to act freely; and to act freely implies that we originate our own acts. This does not mean that it is inconsistent with our liberty that we should be moved and induced to exert our ability to act by considerations addressed to our reason or inclinations, or by the grace of God; but it does mean that we have the power to act. The power of spontaneous action is essential to the nature of a spirit and God, in creating us in his own nature as spirits, endowed us with the power to originate our own acts. (2.) A second objection to the doctrine is that it is an attempt to explain the inexplicable. Not content with the simple and certain declaration of the Bible, that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions, it undertakes to explain how this is done. From the nature of the case this is impossible. We see that material causes act, but we cannot tell how they act. We are conscious of the power to guide our own thoughts, and to determine our own wills; but how it is we exercise this efficiency, passes our comprehension. We know that the will has power over certain muscles of the body; but the point of connection, the nexus between volition and muscular action, is altogether inscrutable. Why then should we attempt to explain how it is that the efficiency of God controls the efficiency of second causes? The fact is plain, and the fact alone is important; but the mode of Gods action we cannot possibly understand. (3.) A third objection is that this doctrine multiplies difficulties. By attempting to teach how God governs free agents, that He first excites them to act; sustains them in action; determines them to act so, and not otherwise; that He effectually concurs in the entity, but not necessarily in the moral quality of the act, we raise at every step the most subtle and perplexing metaphysical questions, which no man is able to solve. And even admitting the theory of concursus, as expounded by the schoolmen – and scholastic theologians, to be true, what does it amount to? What real knowledge does it communicate? All we know, and all we need to know, is, (1.) That God does govern all his creatures; and (2.) That his control over them is consistent with their nature, and with his own infinite purity and excellence.
As this doctrine of Providence involves the question of Gods relation to the world, it is confessedly the most comuprehensive and difficult in the compass either of theology or of philosophy. As the world, meaning thereby the universe of created beings, includes the world of matter and the world of mind, the doctrine of providence concerns, first, the relation of God to the external or material universe; and secondly, his relation to the world of mind, or to his rational creatures.
§ 4. Principles involved in the Scriptural Doctrine of Providence.
A. The Providence of God over the Material Universe.
So far as concerns the relation of God to the external world, the following facts appear to be either assumed, or clearly taught in the Bible.
1. There is an external world, or material universe. What we call the world is not a phantom, a delusive show. It is not ourselves, our own varying states, however produced. But matter is a real existence. It is a substance; that which is, and continues, and has identity in all its varying states. This is of course opposed to pantheism, which makes the external world an existence form of God; to idealism; and to the dynamic theory which teaches that matter is merely force. This latter doctrine is intelligible, if by force be understood the constantly acting will of God, for that is the energy of the divine substance. But in the way in which the doctrine is commonly presented, force is taken as the ultimate fact. Matter is force, it is not a substance, but simply activity, power. But it is self-evident that nothing cannot act, or cannot produce motion, which force does. It is just as plain that there cannot be action without something acting, as that there cannot be motion without something moving, as has been so often said. Force, therefore, does not exist of itself. It of necessity implies a substance of which it is an affection, or manifestation, or property. The real existence of the external world is one of those common sense and Scriptural facts, vouched for by the very constitution of our nature, and which it is utterly useless to deny.
Matter is Active.
2. The second fact or principle recognized by Scripture, is that matter is active. It has properties or forces, which are the proximate causes of the physical changes which we constantly see and experience. This is considered by scientific men almost an axiomatic truth. “No force without matter, and no matter without force.” This is also the general conviction of men. When they take a heavy body in their hand, they attribute its weight to the nature of the body and its relation to the earth. When one substance produces the sensation of sweetness, and another the sensation of acidity, they instinctively refer the difference to the substances themselves. So of all other physical effects; they are always and everywhere referred to physical causes. Such is a law of our nature; and therefore the theory which denies that any physical causes exist, and refers all natural effects or changes to the immediate operation of the divine will, contradicts our nature, and cannot be true. Besides, as we have already seen, that theory logically leads to idealism and pantheism. It merges the universe into God.
These physical forces act of necessity, blindly, and uniformly. They are everywhere and always the same. The law of gravitation is in the remotest regions of space what it is here on our earth. It acts always, and always in the same way. The same is true of all other physical forces. Light, heat, electricity, and chemical affinities are everywhere the same in their mode of operations.
Laws of Nature.
The ambiguity of the words, law and nature, has already been remarked upon. The phrase “Laws of Nature” is, however, generally used in one or the other of two senses. It either means an observed regular sequence of events, without any reference to the cause by which that regularity of sequence is determined; or it means a uniformly acting force in nature. In this last sense we speak of the laws of gravitation, light, heat, electricity, etc. That there are such laws, or such physical forces, acting uniformly, which are not to be resolved into “uniform modes of divine operation,” is, as we have seen, an important Scriptural fact.
The chief question is, In what relation does God stand to these laws? The answer to that question, as drawn from the Bible, is, First, that He is their author. He endowed matter with these forces, and ordained that they should be uniform. Secondly, He is independent of them. He can change, annihilate, or suspend them at pleasure. He can operate with them or without them. “The Reign of Law” must not be made to extend over Him who made the laws. Thirdly, As the stability of the universe, and the welfare, and even the existence of organized creatures, depend on the uniformity of the laws of nature, God never does disregard them except for the accomplishment of some high purpose. He, in the ordinary operations of his Providence, operates with and through the laws which He has ordained. He governs the material, as well as the moral world by law.
The relation, therefore, in which God stands to the laws of nature, is, in one important aspect, analogous to that in which we ourselves stand to them. We employ them. Man can do nothing outside of himself without them; yet what marvels of ingenuity, beauty, and utility, has he not accomplished. Dr. Beale, as we have seen, illustrates God’s relation to physical forces by a reference to a chemist in his laboratory. The chemicals do not put themselves in the retorts in due proportions, and subject themselves first to one and then to another operation. As mere blind, physical forces, they can accomplish nothing; at least nothing implying purpose or design. The chemical properties of the materials employed have their functions, and the chemist has his, evidently not
only different, but diverse; i. e., of a different kind. Professor Henry’s illustration was drawn from the relation of the engineer to the engine. The complicated structure of the machine, the composition and combustion of the fuel; the evaporation of the water, are all external to the engineer, and he to them. The locomotive, although instinct with power, stands perfectly still. At a touch of the engineer it starts into life, and yet with all its tremendous energy is perfectly obedient to his will.
These, and any possible illustration, are of necessity very inadequate. The powers of nature of which man avails himself, are not dependent on him, and are only to a very limited extent under his control. He is entirely external to his works. God, however, fills heaven and earth. He is immanent in the world; intimately and always present with every particle of matter. And this presence is not of being only, but also of knowledge and power. It is manifestly inconsistent with the idea of an infinite God, that any part of his works should be absent from Him, out of his view, or independent of his control. Though everywhere thus efficiently present, his efficiency does not supersede that of his creatures. It is by a natural law, or physical force, that vapour arises from the surface of the ocean, is formed into clouds, and condenses and falls in show are upon the earth, yet God so controls the operation of the laws producing these effects, that He sends rain when and where He pleases. The same is true of all the operations of nature, and of all events in the external world. They are due to the efficiency of physical forces; but those forces, which are combined, adjusted, and made to cooperate or to counteract each other, in the greatest complexity, are all under the constant guidance of God, and are made to accomplish his purpose. It is perfectly rational, therefore, in a world where blind, natural forces are the proximate cause of everything that occurs, to pray for health, for protection, for success, for fruitful seasons, and for the peace and prosperity of nations, since all these events are determined by the intelligent agency of God.
The providence of God is thus seen to be universal and extending to all his creatures and all their actions. The distinction usually and properly made between the general, special, and extraordinary providence of God, has reference to the effects produced, and not to his agency in their production; for this is the same in all cases. But if the object to be accomplished be a general one, such as the orderly motion of the heavenly bodies, or the support and regular operation of the laws of nature, then the providence of God is spoken of as general. Many men are willing to admit of this general superintendence of the world on the part of God, who deny his intervention in the production of definite effects. The Bible, however, clearly teaches, and all men instinctively believe in a special providence. That is, that God uses his control over the laws of nature, to bring about special effects. Men in sickness, in danger, or in any distress, pray to God for help. This is not irrational. It supposes God’s relation to the world to be precisely what it is declared to be in the Bible. It does not suppose that God sets aside or counteracts the laws of nature; but simply that He controls them and causes them to produce whatever effects He sees fit. The Scriptures and the history of the world, and almost every man’s experience, bear abundant evidence to such divine interpositions. We should be as helpless orphans were it not for this constant oversight and protection of our heavenly Father. Sometimes the circumstances attending these divine interventions are so unusual, and the evidences which they afford of divine control are so clear, that men cannot refuse to recognize the hand of God. There is, however, nothing extraordinary in the agency of God. It is only that we witness on these occasions more impressive manifestations of the absolute control, which He constantly exercises over the laws which He has ordained.
The Uniformity of the Laws of Nature consistent with the Doctrine of Providence.
It is obvious that the Scriptural doctrine of providence is not inconsistent with the “Reign of Law” in any proper sense of the words. The Scriptures recognize the fact that the laws of nature are immutable; that they are the ordinances of God; that they are uniform in their operation; and that they cannot be disregarded with impunity. But as man within his sphere can use these fixed laws to accomplish the most diversified purposes, so God in his unlimited sphere has them always and everywhere under his absolute control, so that, without suspending or violating them, they are ever subservient to his will. Certain philosophers do not admit this. To them the control of mind and the reign of law are incompatible; one or the other must be denied. “The fundamental character of all theological philosophy,” says Lewes, “is the conceiving of phenomena as subjected to supernatural volition, and consequently as emninently and irregularly variable. Now, these theological conceptions can only be subverted finally by means of these two general processes, whose popular success is infallible in the long run. (1.) The exact and rational prevision of phenomena, and (2.) The possibility of modifying them, so as to promote our own ends and advantages. The former immediately dispels all idea of any ‘directing volition;’ and the latter leads to the same result, under another point of view, by making us regard this power as subordinated to our own.”44 If the fact that men can use the laws of nature to their “own ends and advantages” is compatible with the uniformity of those laws, the control of God over them for the accomplishment of his purposes cannot be inconsistent with their stability as laws. God rules the creation in accordance with the laws which He himself has ordained.
God’s Providence in Relation to Vital Processes.
Life has ever been regarded as one of the most inscrutable of mysteries. However hard it may be to answer the question, What is life? or however diverse and unsatisfactory may be the answers given to that question, or the explanations proposed of its phenomena, there is little difference as to the facts of the case. (1.) It is admitted that there is a great difference between life and death — between the living and the dead. No one who has ever looked upon a dead body has failed to be impressed with the fearful change involved in passing from life to death. (2.) It is very evident that the difference does not consist in anything which can be weighed or measured, or detected by the microscope or by chemical analysis. (3.) Certain processes go on where life is present, and are never seen when it is absent. These processes are organization, growth, and reproduction. (4.) These processes imply the perception of an end; a purpose or will to secure that end; and the intelligent choice and application of means for its attainment. This is the work of mind. If blind physical force can fashion the eye or the ear, and build up the whole animal body, with all its wonderful interdependencies and relations of parts and organs, and its designed adaptations for what is external and future, then there is no evidence of mind in heaven or earth; then all the works of art and of genius with which the world is crowded, may be the productions of dead matter, or of physical forces.
But if life be mind, or, rather, if vital force be mental force, as indicated by the mode in which it acts, where does that mind reside? In the infinitesimally small germ of the plant or animal? or in something exterior to that germ? These are questions which have ever been demanding an answer, and to which different replies have been made. First, some say that nature itself is intelligent. By nature they do not mean the material world, but the vis in rebus insita. The forces which are active in the world, are conceived of as belonging to a substance or animating principle, or anima mundi. Some who believe in an extramundane personal God, believe that He has created and rendered immanent in the world this natura naturans, which they hold to be the seat of all the intelligence manifested in the works of imature. This is the only God some scientific men are willing to admit. Material nature, it is said, gives no evidence of the existence of a personal Being. We see in nature a mind, a universal mind, but still a mind which only operates and expresses itself by law. “Nature only does and only can inform us of mind in nature, the partner and correlative of organized matter.”45 Baden Powell, in his “Order of Nature,” says, that the elevated views of a Deity as a personal God, and Omnipotent Creator, etc., are conceptions which “can originate only from some other source than physical philosophy.”46
Secondly, some assume that there is in the germ of every plant or animal what Agassiz calls “an immaterial principle,” to which its organizing power is to be referred. Some connect this with the Platonic doctrine of ideas, as spiritual entities, which are the life and reality of all material organisms.
Thirdly, others refer the intelligence manifested in vital processes to God; not immediately, but remotely. Men can construct machines to do intellectual work, without the machines themselves being intelligent. We have orreries, and calculating and typesetting machines, which, apparently at least, do the work of mind. If man can make a watch or locomotive engine, why may not God make watches and engines with the power of reproduction? The analogy, however, between the products of human ingenuity and living organism is imperfect. No product of human art can think or choose. A type-setting machine may be made, when the proper key is touched, to move an arm in the right direction and to the proper distance to reach the required letter; but it cannot be made of itself to select from a confused mass of type the letters one after another, and arrange them so as to form words and sentences. In other words, matter cannot be made to do the work of mind. It is admitted that everything is possible with God, but the contradictory is not an object of power. It is a contradiction that the extended should be unextended, that the irrational should be rational. It is, therefore, inconceivable that matter with its blind physical forces should perform the mental work exhibited in the processes of organization and growth.
Fourthly, the intelligence required to account for the processes of vegetable and animal life is assumed to be in the everywhere present and everywhere active mind of God himself. This does not imply that physical or second causes have no efficiency, or that those causes are merged into the efficiency of God. It simply means that God uses the chemical, electric, photic, and other forces of nature, in carrying on organization and other vital processes in the vegetable and animal worlds. In such processes there is a combination of two specifically different forces; physical and mental. The physical are in the matter used; the mental in God who uses the matter and its forces. Examples of this combination of mental and physical force are familiar. All voluntary motion, on the part of animals, all the works of men, are due to such combination. Walking, speaking, and writing, are possible only so far as mind controls our material organization. In writing, for example, the vital functions are going on in the hand, on which its mobility and susceptibility of nervous impression depend; and the numerous voluntary muscles are called into action; but the guiding power is in the mind. It is the mind that determines what letters and sentences the fingers shall form, and what ideas shall be expressed. In like manner, it is the ever-present mind of God that guides the action of physical causes in the processes of animal and vegetable life. And as it would be unreasonable to refer to the physical forces called into activity, when we speak or write, the intelligence indicated in what is uttered or written, so it is unreasonable to refer to the forces of matter the intelligence indicated in the processes of life.
It is because we cannot raise our minds to any proper apprehension of the infinity of God, that we find it so difficult to think of Him as thus everywhere present and everywhere intelligently active. This, however, ceases to be incredible, when we think of the marvellous cooperation of the mind and body which takes place in rapid talking, or, more wonderfully still, in a child before a piano, taking in at a glance the whole score, noticing the power and position of every note, striking eight keys of the instrument at the same time, and moving fifty or sixty voluntary muscles with the rapidity of lightning, and each at the right time, and with the right force. If the mere spark of intelligence in a child can do such wonders, why should it be thought incredible that the Infinite Mind should pervade and govern the universe?
In support of the view here given, that the intelligence displayed in all vital processes is the intelligence of the everywhere present and everywhere active mind of God, it may be urged, in the first place, that the principle involved in this doctrine is assumed in time simplest truths of natural religion. If God be not thus everywhere present, and everywhere active in the control of secondary causes, there is no propriety or use in prayer, and no ground of confidence in divine protection. In the second place, it seems to be the only way to account for the facts of the case. That the processes of life in vegetables and animals do manifest intelligence cannot be denied. They manifest foresight, purpose, choice, and controlling power. This intelligence cannot be referred to matter, or to physical forces. The most advanced scientific Materialism does not make mind an attribute, or function, or product of all matter, but only of the highly organized matter of the brain. But there is no brain in the vegetable or animal germ. Brain is as much a product of life (and therefore of mind) as sinew or bone.
In the third place, the authority of Scripture may be claimed in support of the doctrine in question. The Bible teaches the omnipresence of God; i. e., the omnipresence of mind. The phrase “God fills heaven and earth,” means that mind pervades heaven and earth, that there is no portion of space in which mind is not present and active. The Scriptures also teach that all things, even the most minute, as the number of the hairs of our head, the falling of a sparrow, the flight of an arrow, are all under the control of God. He also is said to cause the grass to grow, which means not only that He so orders physical causes that vegetation is the result, but also, as appears from other representations, that the organization and growth of the plant are determined by his agency. This seems to be clearly taught with regard to the bodies of men in Psalm cxxxix. 15, 16, “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” However doubtful may be the interpretation of the 16th verse in the original, the general meaning of the passage cannot be mistaken. It clearly teaches that the human body is fashioned in the womb by the intelligence of God, and not by undirected physical causes, acting blindly.
B. The Providence of God over Rational Creatures.
God’s providence, however, extends over the world of mind, i. e., over rational free agents, as well as over the material universe. The principles involved in the Scriptural doctrine concerning God’s providential government of rational creatures are, —
1. That mind is essentially active. It originates its own acts. This is a matter of consciousness. It is essential to liberty and responsibility. It is clearly the doctrine of the Bible which call on men to act, and regards them as the authors of their own acts. This principle, as we have seen, stands opposed, (a.) To the doctrine of a continued creation. (b.) To the doctrine which denies the efficiency of second causes and merges all power into the immediate power of God; and (c.) To the doctrine that free agents are so dependent that they cannot act unless acted upon, or move unless they are moved ab extra.
2. But although free agents have the power to act, and originate their own acts, they are not only upheld in being and efficiency by the power of God, but He controls the use which they make of their ability. (a.) He can, and often does, hinder their action. (b.) He determines their action to be in one way and not in another; so that it is rational to pray that God would incline the hearts of men to show us favour; that He would change the dispositions and purposes of wicked men; and that He would work in us to will as well as to do. No creature, therefore, is independent of God in the exercise of the powers with which He has endowed it. The hearts of men are in his hands, and He controls their action as effectually as He controls the operations of nature. But his agency in the world of spirits no more interferes with the laws of mind, than his agency in the external world interferes with the efficiency of material causes.
Distinction between the Providential Efficiency of God,
and the Influences of the Holy Spirit.
3. The providential agency of God in the government of free agents is not to be confounded with the operations of his grace. These two things are constantly represented in the Bible as distinct. The one is natural, the other supernatural. In the one God acts according to uniform laws, or by his potentia ordinate, in the other, according to the good pleasure of his will, or by his potentia absoluta. The control which God exercises over the ordinary acts of men, and especially over the wicked, is analogous to that which He exercises in the guidance of material causes. whereas his agency in the operations of his grace is more analogous to his mode of action in prophecy, inspiration, and miracles. In the former, or in his providential agency over minds, nothing is effected which transcends the efficiency of second causes. In the latter the effects are such as second causes are utterly inadequate to accomplish. The most obvious points of difference between the two cases are, (1.) In the ordinary operations or acts of free agents, the ability to perform them belongs to the agent and arises out of his nature as a rational creature, and is inseparable from it; whereas the acts of faith, repentance, and other holy affections do not flow from the ability of men in the present condition of their nature, but from a new principle of life supernaturally communicated and maintained. (2.) The ordinary acts of men, and especially their wicked acts, are determined by their own natural inclinations and feelings. God does not awaken, or infuse those feelings or dispositions in order to determine sinners to act wickedly. On the other hand, all gracious or holy affections are thus infused or excited by the Spirit of God. (3.) The providential government of God over free agents is exercised as much in accordance with the laws of mind, as his providential government over the material world is in accordance with the established laws of matter. Both belong to the potentia ordinata, or ordered efficiency of God. This is not the case in the operations of his grace. Holy affections and exercises are not due to the mere moral power of the truth, or its control over our natural affections, but to the indwelling of the Spirit of God. So that it is not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us. It is indeed our life, but it is a life divine in its origin, and sustained and guided in all its exercises by a higher influence than the laws of mind, or an influence which operates merely through them, and according to their natural operations. This distinction between nature and grace, between the providential efficiency of God and the workings of his Spirit in the hearts of his people is one of the most important in all theology. It makes all the difference between Augustinianism and Pelagianism, between Rationalism and supernatural, evangelical religion.
Such are the general principles involved in this most difficult doctrine of Divine Providence. We should be equally on our guard against the extreme which merges all efficiency in God, and which, in denying all second causes, destroys human liberty and responsibility, and makes God not only the author of sin, but in reality the only Being in the universe; and the opposite extreme which banishes God from the world which He has made, and which, by denying that He governs all his creatures and all their actions, destroys the foundation of all religion, and dries up the fountains of piety. If this latter view be correct, there is no God to whom we can look for the supply of our wants, or for protection from evil; whose favour we can seek, or whose displeasure we need dread. We, and all things else, are in the hands of blindly operating causes. Between these equally fatal extremes lies the Scriptural doctrine that God governs all his creatures and all their actions. This doctrine admits the reality and efficiency of second causes, both material and mental, but denies that they are independent of the Creator and Preserver of the universe. It teaches that an infinitely wise, good, and powerful God is everywhere present, controlling all events great and small, necessary and free, in a way perfectly consistent with the nature of his creatures and with his own infinite excellence, so that everything is ordered by his will and is made to subserve his wise and benevolent designs.
1. Theologia Christiana, II. xxv. 7, edit. Amsterdam, 1700, p. 134.
2. Heidegger, Corpus Theologiae, loc. vii. 22, Tiguri, 1732, p. 251.
3. Alsted, Theol. Didaeo. Hanoviae, 1627, p. 283.
4. Summa Theologiae, I. 209; Ibid.
5. Dogmengeschichte, II. Zweite Halfte, p. 288, edit. Leipzig, 1841.
6. Theodicee, II. 386; Opera, edit. Berlin, 1840, p. 615.
7. Hollaz, Examen Theologicum, edit. Leipzig, 1763, p. 441.
8. De Divisione Naturae, lib. iii. 19, edit. Monast. Guestphal. 1838, p. 240.
9. See Rixner’s Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. ii. § 40, p. 72.
10. Summa Theologiae, part I., quest. cv., art. 5, edit. Cologne, 1640, pp. 192, 193.
11. De Providentia Dei; Works, edit. Turici, 1832, vol. iv. p. 85.
12. Ibid. Page 95.
13. Ibid. Page 96.
14. Zwingle, iv. 97.
15. Institutio, I. xvi. 2, edit. Berlin, 1834, vol. i. p. 135.
16. Glaubenslehre der Reformirten Kirche, p. 318.
17. Deipsa Natura, 10; Works, edit. Berlin, 1840, p. 157.
18. Theism; The Witness of Reason and Nature to an All-Wise and Beneficient Creator, by the Rev. John Tulloch, D. D., Principal and Primarius Professor Theology, St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews, edit. New York, 1855, p. 43.
19. Ibid. p. 47.
20. Ibid. p. 93.
21. Reign of Law, 5th ed. London, 1867, p. 123.
22. Natural Selection, pp. 365, 366.
23. Contribution to the Theory of Natural Selection, by Alfred Russel Wallace. London, 1870, p. 368.
24. See his Systeme Nouveau de la Nature; Works, edit. Berlin, 1840, p. 124.
25. Mares, Collegium Theologicum, loc. iv. 29; Groningen, 1659, p. 42, b.
26. Locus vi. quaestio, v. 7, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. i. p. 455.
27. Quenstedt, Theologia, cap. XIII. i. 15, edit. Leipzig, 1715, vol. i. p. 760.
28. Ibid. cap. XIII. ii. 3, vol. i. p. 782.
29. Locus VI. quaest. v. 6.
30. Locus VI. quaest. v. 5.
31. Turrettin, locus VI. quaest. v. 6.
32. Aquinas, Summa, part II. i. quaest. x. art. 4, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 22 of second set.
33. Quenstedt, cap. XIII. i. 15, vol. i. p. 761.
34. Turrettin, locus VI. quaest. vi. 6, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. i. p. 460.
35. Chap. v. sect. 2.
36. Aquinas, Summa, part I. quaest. cv. art. 4. edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 193.
37. Locus VI. quaestio v. 7.
38. Summa, part I. quest. xlix. art. 2, edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 95.
39. Theologia, cap. XIII. i. 15, vol. i. p. 761.
40. Bucan, Institutiones Theologici, edit. Geneva, 1625, p. 142.
41. Locus VI. quaestio vii. 3, 4, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. i. p. 462.
42. De Amissione Gratioe et Statu Peccati, II. xiii. edit. Paris, 1608, p. 132.
44. Comte’s Philosophy of the Science, Lewes, London, 1853, pp. 102, 103.
45. See this doctrine discussed in the Bampton Lectures for 1865, by Rev. J. B. Moxley, p. 96.
46. Edit. London, 1859, p. 249.