by A. A. Hodge
1. What is the etymology and technical usage of the term PROVIDENCE, and what is the relation which Providence sustains to God’s eternal Decree?
Providence, from pro and video, literally means foresight, and then a careful arrangement prepared beforehand for the accomplishment of predetermined ends. Turretin defines this term as in its widest sense including (a) foreknowledge, (b) foreordination, and (c) the efficacious administration of the thing decreed. In the technical theological as well as in the common usage of the word, however, it is restricted to the last sense, namely the execution by God of his eternal decree in time, by means of the second causes he has originated in creation. Foreordination gives the plan and is eternal, all-comprehensive, and unchangeable. Creation gives the absolute commencement of things in time. Providence includes the two great departments (a) of the continued Preservation of all things as created, and (b) of the continued Government of all things thus preserved, so that all the ends for which they were created, are infallibly accomplished.—See “Conf. Faith,” chap, v., and “L. Cat.,” Q. 18, and “S. Cat.,” Q. 11.
2. State the true doctrine of PRESERVATION.
Turretin says, L. 6, Ques. 4.—“Conservatio est, quâ Deus creaturas omnes in statu suo conservat, quod fit conservatione essentiæ in speciebus, existentiæ in individuis, et virtutis in operationes.”
Preservation is that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator upholds all his creatures in being, and in the possession of all those inherent properties and qualities with which he endowed them at their creation, and of those also which, they may subsequently have acquired by habit or development. That is, both the being, the attributes of every species, and the form and faculties of every individual are constantly preserved in being by God.
3. State the arguments which establish the conclusion that a constant exercise of divine energy is essential for the preservation of all creatures
1st. This truth appears to be involved in the very conception of a creature in his dependent relation to his Creator. The creature is one who has the whole ground of his being in the will of his Creator. Being thus absolutely dependent, he can no more continue than he can originate his own being.
2d. This is implied in the sense of absolute dependence, which is an essential element of the religious sentiment which is an invariable characteristic of human nature.
3d. It is taught in Scripture. “In him we live and move and have our being.”—Acts 17:28. “By him all things consist.”—Col. 1:17. “Upholding all things by the word of his power.”—Heb. 1:3; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 63:8; 69:8, 9.
4. State the Deistic and Rationalistic view as to the nature of Preservation
They regard the action of God in the matter of the continued preservation of the creature as merely negative—a not willing to destroy. This view represents the Creator as exterior to his creation in the same manner in which a mechanician is exterior to the machine he has made and set in motion. It regards the system of second causes as dependent upon the great First Cause only at the beginning of the long line, in the indefinitely remote past. They maintain that in the beginning God created all things and endowed them severally with their active powers as second causes, and adjusted them in a balanced system, but then left them to act, independently of all support or direction from without, according to their nature, in their relations, as a man may leave a wound up-clock.
5. State the objections to that view
1st. This view, as above shown, is inconsistent with the essential relation of the creature as an effect to the Creator as a cause. God is the only ens a seipso. The only cause of the creature’s being is the will of the Creator. As long as he so wills that cause exists. If he should cease so to will the cause would be vacated and the effect consequently cease.
2d. This view is to an unworthy degree anthropomorphic. It involves a deplorably unintellectual failure to apprehend the essential difference between the relation to the creation sustained by God, and that sustained by man to the work of his hand. A man is necessarily exterior to his work, and even when present capable of directing his attention only to one point at a time. But God is omnipresent, not as to his essence only, but as to his infinite knowledge, wisdom, love, righteousness, and power, with every atom of creation for every instant of duration. The creature is always interpenetrated as well as embraced in the divine thought and will, and ever is what it is and as it is because of God.
3d. This view obviously removes God so far from the creation as to be irreligious in its practical effect. This also has been uniformly its influence as historically ascertained.
4th. It is obviously opposed to the entire spirit of the Scriptures, and to those special texts above quoted.
6. State the view as to the nature of the divine agency involved in PRESERVATION, which stands at the opposite extreme to the above
The extreme position opposite to the Deistical one above stated is that Preservation is a continued creation. That creatures or second causes have no real continuous existence, but are reproduced every successive moment out of nothing, in their respective successive states, conditions, and actions by the perpetual efflux of the “vis creatrix” of God. Thus the state or action of any created thing in one moment of time has no causal relation to its state or action in another moment, but the sole, perpetual, and immediate cause of all that exists is God himself.
The foundations of this doctrine were first laid by Des Cartes in his views of the relation of the creation to the Creator, viewing the former as sustained by the latter by a continued creation. These views were pushed to the furthest extreme consistent with Theism by Malebranche, in the doctrine of “Occasional Causes,” and of “our seeing all things in God,” and were carried to their legitimate, logical conclusion, in absolute pantheism by Spinoza.—Morell’s “Hist. of Modern Philosophy,” Part I., ch. 2, § 1.
President Edwards teaches the same doctrine incidentally in his great work on “Original Sin,” Part IV., ch. 3. He says that the existence either of the substance, or of the mode, or of the action of any created thing in any one moment of time has no causal connection with its existence, state, or action the next moment. He says that what we call “course of nature is nothing separate from the agency of God.” He illustrates his doctrine thus: “The images of things in a glass, as we keep our eye upon them, seem to remain precisely the same, with a continuing perfect identity. But it is known to be otherwise. Philosophers well know that these images are constantly renewed, by the impression and reflection of new rays of light; so that the image impressed by former rays is constantly vanishing, and a new image impressed by new rays every moment, both on the glass and on the eye.… The image that exists this moment is not at all derived from the image which existed the last preceding moment.… the past existence of the image has no influence to uphold it so much as for one moment … So it is with bodies as well as images.… their present existence is not, strictly speaking, the effect of their past existence, but it is wholly, every instant, the effect of a new agency, or exertion of the powerful cause of their existence.”
7. Show that this doctrine is false and dangerous
1st. If God is continually creating anew every creature in every moment of time in its successive states and actions, and if the state or act of the creature in one moment has no causal relation to its state or act in the next moment, it is evident that second causes are only modifications of the First Cause, and that God is the only real Agent in the universe, and the immediate and sole cause of whatever comes to pass. This obviously logically involves Pantheism, and as a historical fact leads to its adoption.
2d. It is inconsistent with our original and necessary intuitions of truth of all kinds, physical, intellectual, and moral. Our original intuitions assure us of the real and permanent existence of spiritual and material substances exercising powers, and of our own spirits as real, self-determining causes of action, and consequently as responsible moral agents. But if this doctrine is true these primary, constitutional intuitions of our nature deceive us, and if these deceive us, the whole universe is an illusion, our own natures a delusion, and absolute skepticism inevitable.
3d. It immediately cuts up by the roots the foundations of free agency, moral accountability, moral government, and hence of religion.
8. State the several points in the true doctrine of Providential Preservation
The true view stands intermediate between the two extremes above stated. It involves the following propositions:
1st. Created substances, both spiritual and material, possess real and permanent existence, i.e., they are real entities.
2d. They possess all such active or passive properties as they have been severally endowed with by God.
3d. The properties or active powers have a real. and not merely apparent, efficiency as second causes in producing the effects proper to them; and the phenomena alike of consciousness and or the outward world are really produced by the efficient agency of second causes, as we are informed by our native and necessary intuitions.
4th. But these created substances are not self-existent, i.e., the ground of their continued existence is in God and not in themselves.
5th. They continue to exist not merely in virtue of a negative act of God, whereby he merely does not will their destruction, but in virtue of a positive, continued exercise of divine power, whereby they are sustained in being, and in the possession of all their properties and powers with which God has endowed them.
6th. The precise nature of the divine action concerned in upholding all things in being and action is, like every mode of the intercourse of the infinite with the finite, inscrutable—but not more mysterious in this case than in every other.—Dr. Charles Hodge’s “Lectures.”
9. How may the Scriptural doctrine of Providential GOVERNMENT be stated?
God having from eternity absolutely decreed whatsoever comes to pass, and having in the beginning created all things out of nothing by the word of his power, and continuing subsequently constantly present to every atom of his creation, upholding all things in being and in the possession and exercise of all their properties, he ALSO continually controls and directs the actions of all his creatures thus preserved, so that while he never violates the law of their several natures, he yet infallibly causes all actions and events singular and universal to occur according to the eternal and immutable plan embraced in his decree. There is a design in providence. God has chosen his great end, the manifestation of his own glory, but in order to that end he has chosen innumerable subordinate ends; these are fixed; and he has appointed all actions and events in their several relations as means to those ends; and he continually so directs the actions of all creatures that all these general and special ends are brought to pass precisely at the time, by the means, and in the mode and under the conditions, which he from eternity proposed.
Turretin, L. 6, Quæs. 1, says, “The term Providence embraces three things p?????s??, p???es?? et d?????s??—the cognition of the mind, the decree of the will, and the efficacious administration of the things decreed—knowledge directing, will commanding, and power executing.… Hence Providence may be regarded either in the antecedent decree, or in the subsequent execution; the first is the eternal destination of all things to their appointed ends; the second is the temporal government of all things according to that decree; the first is an act immanent within God; the second is an act transient out of God. We here treat for the most part of Providence in the second sense of the term.”
“Conf. of Faith,” Chap. v.; “L. Cat.,” Q. 18; “S. Cat.,” Q. 11.
10. State the proof of the fact of such a universal Government derived from a consideration of the divine perfections
1st. The stupendous fact that God is infinite in his being, in his relation to time and space, and in his wisdom and power, makes it evident that a universal providence is possible to him, and that all the difficulties and apparent contradictions involved therein to the eye of man are to be referred to our very limited capacity of understanding.
2d. God’s infinite wisdom makes it certain that he had a definite object in view in the creation of the universe, and that he will not fail in the use of the best means to secure that object in all its parts.
3d. His infinite goodness makes it certain that he would not leave his sensitive and intelligent creatures to the toils of a mechanical, soulless fate; nor his religious creatures to be divorced from himself, in whose communion their highest life consists.
4th. His infinite righteousness makes it certain that he will continue to govern and reward and punish those creatures which he has made subject to moral obligations.
11. State the argument derived from the innate religious constitution of mankind
The religious sentiment when analyzed is found to embrace (a) a sense of absolute dependence, and (b) a sense of immediate moral accountability. The sense of absolute dependence naturally and actually leads all men of all nations and conditions to cling to the conviction of the immediate presence and providential control of God throughout the universe and in every event. To be without God in the world is to be in a condition in which the elementary demands of human nature are denied. The sense of moral accountability leads all men to believe in a universal and supreme moral government present in the world, protecting the good, and restraining and punishing the wicked. If God is not actually and immediately present in nature and in human history, then we can not know him, and he neither controls nor protects us, and hence obedience is neither due nor possible, and morality, religion, and prayer are all alike vain delusions.
12. State the argument from the intelligence evinced in the operations of nature
The great inductive argument for the being of God is based upon the evident traces of design in the universe. Now, just as the traces of design in the constitution of nature proves the existence of a designing mind in the relation of creator, so the traces of design in the operations of nature prove the existence of a designing mind in the relation of providential ruler.
The material elements, with their active properties, are all incapable of design, yet we find all these elements so adjusted in all their proportions and relations as to work harmoniously in the order of certain general laws, and we find these general laws so adjusted in all their intricate coincidences and interferences, as, by movements simple and complex, fortuitous and regular, to work out harmoniously everywhere the most wisely and beneficently contrived results. The mechanical and chemical properties of material atoms; the laws of vegetable and animal life; the movements of the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; the luminous, calorific, and chemical radiance of the sun; and the instinctive and voluntary movement of every living thing upon the face of the earth, are all mutually acting and reacting without concert or possible design of their own; yet everywhere bringing forth the most wise and beneficent results. As the designing mind can not be found in any of the elements it, of course, can not be found in the resultant of the whole together. It can be looked for only in a present personal God, all-wise and all-powerful, who directs alt things by the present exercise of his intelligent power in and through the creature.
13. How may this doctrine be established by the evidence afforded by the general history of the world?
If the constitution of human nature (soul and body), in its elemental relations to human society, proves a designing mind in the relation of creator, exactly so must the wisely contrived results of human association, in general and in individual instances, prove the exercise of a designing mind in the relation of providential ruler.
Individual men and communities, it is true, differ in their action from the elements of the external world, inasmuch as they act, 1st, freely, self-moved; and 2d, from design. Yet so narrow is the sphere both of the foresight and the design of every individual agent, so great is the multiplicity of agents, and the complications of interacting influences upon each community from within, from every other community, and from the powers of external nature, that the designs of either individuals or communities are never carried beyond a short distance, when they are lost in the general current, the result of which lies equally beyond the foreknowledge and the control of all. But the student of history, with the key of revelation, clearly discerns the traces of a general design running through all the grand procedures of human history, and at points even visibly linking itself with the actions of individual agents. God’s providence, as a whole, therefore, comprehends and controls the little providences of men.
14. State the Scriptural argument from the prophecies, promises, and threatenings of God
In innumerable instances has God in the Scriptures prophesied with great particularity the certain occurrence of an event absolutely, and he has promised or threatened the occurrence of other events contingently upon certain conditions. This would be a mockery, if God did not use the means to fulfil his word.
It is not reasonable to object that God simply foresaw the event, and so prophesied, promised, or threatened it, because the event is frequently promised or threatened contingently, upon a condition which does not stand in the relation of a cause to that event. God could not foresee one event as contingent upon another which sustains no causal relation to it. The truth of the promise or threatening in such a case can not depend upon the natural connection between the two events, but upon God’s determination to cause one to follow the other.
15. Prove from Scripture that the providence of God extends over the natural world
Ps. 104:14; 135:5–7; 147:8–18; 148:7, 8; Job 9:5, 6; 21:9–11; 37:6–13; Acts 14:17.
16. Prove from Scripture that it includes the brute creation
Ps. 104:21–29; 147:9; Matt. 6:26; 10:29.
17. Prove from Scripture that it extends to the general affairs of men
1 Chron. 16:31; Ps. 47:7; 66:7; Prov. 21:1; Job 12:23; Isa. 10:12–15; Dan. 2:21; 4:25.
18. Show from Scripture that the circumstances of individuals are controlled by God
1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 18:30; Prov. 16:9; Isa. 45:5; Luke 1:53; James 4:13–15.
19. Prove that events considered by us fortuitous are subject to the control of God
1st. A fortuitous event is one whose proximate causes, because either of their complexity or their subtlety, escape our observation. Every such event, however, as the falling of a leaf, is linked with the general system of things, both by its antecedents and its consequences.
2d. Scripture affirms the fact.—Ex. 21:13; Ps. 75:6, 7; Job 5:6; Prov. 16:33.
20. What distinction has been made between a general and a special providence, and what is the true view of the subject?
Many men admit that God exercises a general superintending Providence over affairs, controlling the general current, and determining great and important events, while they regard it superstitious and derogatory to the sublime dignity and greatness of God to conceive of him as interesting himself in every trivial detail. Many who do not clearly understand themselves feel and practically judge of all events in their relation to divine Providence in like manner.
But this whole mode of conception and feeling springs from a very low anthropomorphic view of God’s attributes and manner of action, as it there could be with the absolute Cause and the infinite Ruler the same difference between little things and great things as there is with us; as if to him, as to us, a multitude of details were more burdensome, or less worthy of attention, than some grand result. A general and a special Providence can not be two different modes of divine operation. The same providential administration is necessarily at the same time general and special for the same reason, because it reaches without exception equally to every event and creature in the world. A General Providence is special because it secures general results by the control of every event, great and small, leading to that result. A Special Providence is general because it specially controls all individual beings and actions in the universe. All events are so related together as a concatenated system of causes, and effects, and conditions, that a general Providence that is not at the same time special is as inconceivable as a whole which has no parts, or as a chain which has no links.
21. Prove that the providential government of God extends to the free acts of men
1st. The free actions of men are potent causes influencing the general system of things precisely as all other classes of causes in the world, and consequently, on the principle indicated in the answer to the preceding question, they also must be subject to God, or every form of providence whatever would be impossible for him.
2d. It is affirmed in Scripture.—Ex. 12:36; 1 Sam. 24:9–15; Ps. 33:14, 15; Prov. 16:1; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1; Jer. 10:23; Phil. 2:13.
22. Show from Scripture that God’s providence is exercised over the sinful acts of men
2 Sam. 16:10; 24:1; Ps. 76:10; Rom. 11:32; Acts 4:27, 28.
23. What do the Scriptures teach as to God’s providential agency in the good acts of men
The Scriptures attribute all that is good in man to the free grace of God, operating both providentially and spiritually, and influencing alike the body and the soul, and the outward relations of the individual.—Phil. 2:13, 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:9, 10; Eph. 2:10; Gal. 5:22–25.
It is to be remembered, however, that while a material cause may be analyzed into the mutual interaction of two or more bodies, a human soul acts spontaneously, i.e., originates action. The soul also, in all its voluntary acts, is determined by its own prevailing dispositions and desires.
When all the good actions of men, therefore, are attributed to God, it is not meant, 1st, that he causes them, or, 2d, that he determines man to cause them, irrespectively of man’s free will; but it is meant that God so acts upon man from within spiritually, and from without by moral influences, as to induce the free disposition. He works in us first to will, and then to do his good pleasure.
24. What do the Scriptures teach as to the relation of Providence to the sinful acts of men?
The Scriptures teach—
1st. The sinful acts of men are in such a sense under the divine control that they occur only by his permission and according to his purpose.—1 Chron. 1:4–14; Gen. 45:5 and 50:20. Compare 1 Sam. 6:6 and Ex. 7:13 and 14:17; Is. 66:4; 2 Thess. 2:11; Acts 4:27, 28; 2:23; 3:18.
2d. He restrains and controls sin.—Ps. 76:10; Gen. 50:20; Is. 10:15.
3d. He overrules it for good.—Gen. 50:20; Acts 3:13.
4th. God neither causes sin, nor approves it, he only permits, directs, restrains, limits, and overrules it. Man, the tree agent, is the sole responsible and guilty cause of his own sin.
Turretin sets forth the testimony of Scripture upon this subject thus—
1st. As to the beginning of the sin, (1.) God freely permits it. But this permission is neither moral, i.e., while permitting it physically, he never approves it; nor merely negative, i.e., he does not simply concur in the result, but he positively determines that bad men shall be permitted for wise and holy ends to act according to their bad natures.—Acts 14:16; Ps. 81:12. (2.) He deserts those who sin, either by withdrawing grace abused, or by withholding additional grace. This desertion may be either (a) partial, to prove man’s heart (2 Chron. 32:31), or (b) for correction, or (c) penal (Jer. 7:29; Rom. 1:24–26). (3) God so orders providential circumstances that the inherent wickedness of men takes the particular course of action he has determined to permit (Acts 2:23; 3:18). (4.) God delivers men to Satan, (a) as a tempter (2 Thess. 2:9–11), (b) as a torturer (1 Cor. 5:5).
2d. As to the progress of the sin, God restrains it as to its intensity and its duration, and as to its influence upon others. This he effects both by internal influences upon the heart, and by the control of external circumstances.—Ps. 76:10.
3d. As to the end or result of the sin, God uniformly overrules it and directs it for good.—Gen. 50:20; Job 1:12; 2:6–10; Acts 3:13; 4:27, 28.
25. What are the THREE general classes in which all theories as to God’s Providential Government may be embraced?
1st. Those views which remove God from all present active agency in the creation, and assert the entire independence of second causes. 2d. Those theories which more or less explicitly deny the real agency of second causes and make God the only real agent in the universe. 3d. The middle or Christian view, which maintains all the principles on this subject taught in the Scriptures as: The real efficiency of second causes, especially the moral freedom and accountability of man in his acts, and at the same time the universal, efficient control of God, whereby in perfect consistency with the attributes of his own nature, and with the several properties of his creatures, he determines and disposes of all actions and events according to his sovereign purpose.
26. State the Mechanical Theory of Providence
This view supposes that when God created the universe he endowed all the various material and spiritual elements with their respective properties and powers, that he then grouped them in certain combinations and proportions, and so made them subject to certain general laws. The world is thus a machine, which the maker has so calculated that it works out of itself all his purposes. Having wound it up he leaves it to itself. God is the first cause in the sense of his being the first member in an endless series of causes always flowing on further and further from their source. Some of these philosophers confine this rigid mechanism to the physical world, and regard the free wills of men as an absolutely indeterminate element embraced in the general mechanism of the world. The majority however deny free agency, and regard man as one of the cosmical elements not essentially different from the rest.
All providential interferences and all miracles therefore would be impossible. To suppose any necessity for such interferences would be to suppose some radical defect in God’s work—that either he must nave been incapable of precalculating all necessary combinations, or that he was unable to execute a machine that would run of itself. Prof. Baden Powel says, “It is derogatory to the idea of infinite power and wisdom to suppose an order of things so imperfectly established that it must be occasionally interrupted and violated.” And Theodore Parker says, “Men have their precarious make-shifts; the Infinite has no tricks, no subterfuges—not a whim in God, and so not a miracle in nature.”
27. Expose the fallacy of that view
1st. It is opposed to the plain teaching of God’s word as set forth under Questions 15–24. 2d. It is essentially irreligious, and materialistic. It fails to recognize the education and discipline of free intelligent agents as the great end to which the universe as a system of means is adapted. It separates the souls of men from God, it makes prayer a mockery, revelation impossible, moral accountability a prejudice, and religion a delusion. 3d. It is based on a miserably shallow anthropomorphic idea of God. It conceives of the universe simply as a mechanical system of causes, and as sustaining the same relation to God that a human work does to its maker, who is necessarily exterior to his work. It utterly fails—1st. To apprehend the real indwelling of the Creator in the creation as an omnipresent, ever-active, and controlling spirit, a personal agent making law by working through law for the purpose of accomplishing elected ends. 2d. To apprehend the true nature of the universe in relation to its highest ends as a moral system designed for the instruction and development of free, personal, moral agents, created in the image of God.
A system involving an established order of nature, and proceeding in wise adaptation of means to ends, is necessary as a means of communication between the Creator and the intelligent creation, and to accomplish the intellectual and moral education of the latter. Thus only can the divine attributes of wisdom, righteousness, or goodness be exercised or manifested, and thus only can angel or man understand the character, anticipate the will, or intelligently and voluntarily co-operate with the plan of God.
Occasional direct exercises of power, moreover, in connection with a general system of means and laws, appears to be necessary not only “in the beginning,” to create second causes and inaugurate their agency, but also subsequently, in order to make to the subjects of his moral government the revelation of his free personality, and of his immediate interest in their affairs. At any rate, such occasional direct action and revelation is necessary for the education of man in his present state. A miracle, although effected by divine power without means, is itself a means to an end and part of a plan. All natural law has its birth in the divine reason, and is an expression of will to effect a purpose.—“Reign of Law,” by Duke of Argyle. The “order of nature” is only an instrument of the divine will, and an instrument used subserviently to that higher moral government in the interests of which miracles are wrought. Thus the “order of nature,” the ordinary providence of God, and miracles, instead of being in conflict, are the intimately correlated elements of one comprehensive system.
28. What classes of philosophers have actually or virtually denied the real efficiency of second causes?
All Pantheists, of course, regard all second causes as modifications of the First Cause, and God the only real agent in the universe. Des Cartes, although a believer in God, and in the real objective existence of material as well as spiritual agents, nevertheless held that they were created anew every moment in all their successive states and actions, and so virtually made second causes only a modification of the First Cause. His disciples deduced therefrom the theory of occasional causes, making changes in the second cause merely the occasion upon which the First Cause exercises its efficient agency and accomplishes the effect. This led to the Pantheism of Spinoza. Dr. Emmons, of New England, held in connection with the “exercise scheme “the doctrine of divine efficiency. That we know nothing in the human soul but a series of exercises connected with an obscure thread of consciousness. God is the real cause creating each moment each of these exercises in their successions, the good and the bad alike, just as a musician blows the successive notes on a pipe at his will.
To this class of speculations belongs the theory of “Concursus,” which prevailed so long in the Church.
29. What doctrine was represented by the phrase “general and indifferent concursus,” and who were its advocates?
Theologians were occupied during many centuries with debating the question as to the nature of the “concursus,” or inflowing and co-working of God in second causes.
The Jesuits, and with them the Socinians and Remonstrants, maintain that this “concursus” is only “general” and “indifferent”; that is, that it is common alike to all causes, quickening them to action, but indifferently, i.e., the first cause is, as it were, a mere general stimulant to the second cause, leaving each one to determine its own particular mode of action. This they illustrate by the general quickening power of the sun, which sheds the same radiance universally and indifferently upon all earthly objects, which radiance is the common principle of all life and all movement. Where this radiance is absent there is no life. Yet it is indifferent to any particular form of life or movement—and every particular germ germinates after its own kind under the quickening power of the same sun.
This theory obviously admits the preservation of the essences and active powers of all things by God, but it virtually denies by omission all real providential government. According to this view, God created and preserves all things, and they in turn act spontaneously according to their nature and tendencies without his control.
30. What doctrine was expressed by the phrase “concursus simultaneous and immediate”?
This phrase expresses an act of God whereby he co-operates with the creature in his act, as a concause, in the production of the act as an entity. In support of this view, and in opposition to the bare admission of the above-explained “concursus general and indifferent,” the disciples of Thomas Aquinas in the Roman Church and all the Lutheran and Reformed theologians agreed. The question however remained a point of difficulty and of difference as to which is the determining factor in this dual causality. Does God determine the creature in every case to act, and to act as he does and not otherwise, of does the creature determine himself?
31. What doctrine was expressed by the phrase “concursus, previous and determining,” and who were its advocates?
Hence the Reformed or Calvinistic theologians maintained in addition the doctrine of “Precursus,” or of a “Concursus, previous and determining.” This signified a divine energy acting upon the creature, and in every case determining it to act, and to act precisely as it does. Some applied this to such human actions as are good, others more logically applied it to all actions of every kind whatsoever.
32. How did the Reformed theologians attempt to reconcile this doctrine with the freedom of man and with the holiness of God?
As to the freedom of man, they—1st. Pleaded mystery. 2d. They pleaded that the two facts, (a) that human action is free, and (b) that God efficiently governs that action, are both certainly revealed in Scripture and therefore must be mutually consistent whether we can reconcile them or not. 3d. They argued that the modus operandi of this divine concursus in every case varied with the nature of the creature upon which it is exerted, and that it is always perfectly consistent with the nature of that creature, and its modes of action. “Therefore since Providence does not concur with the human will, either by the way of co-action, forcing an unwilling will, nor by the way of a physical determination, as though it were a thing brutish and blind, devoid of all judgment, but rationally by turning the will in a manner congruous to itself that it may determine itself, it follows, that the proximate cause of each man’s action being in the judgment of his own understanding, and spontaneous election of his own will, it exerts no constraining force upon our liberty, but rather sustains it.”—Turretin, L. 6, Q. 6.
“Moveri voluntarie est moveri ex se, i.e., a principio intrinsico. Sed illud principium intrinsicum potest esse ab alio principio extrinsico. Et sic moveri ex se non repugnat si, quod movetur ex alio. Illud quod movetur ab alio 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.”—Thomas, Vol. I., 105, 4, quoted by Dr. Charles Hodge.
As to the holiness of God in relation to the sinful acts of his creatures they held: 1st. That sin originates in a defect or privative cause. 2d. That there is a difference between the mere matter of the act as an entity and its moral quality. God is an efficient concause of the former, but not of the latter, if it be evil. They illustrated this by the use of an illy-tuned instrument in the hands of a skilful player. The player is the cause of each of the sounds in their order, but the derangement of the instrument alone is the cause of the discord. 3d. Hence the relation of God’s providence to the evil actions of man, is very different from its relation to their good actions. In the case of the latter he gives the grace which communicates the moral quality, as well as co-operates in the production of the action. In the case of the former his concursus is confined to the matter of the act, the sinful quality is derived from the creature only.
33. State the several objections which lie against this theory of concursus
1st. It is an unsuccessful attempt to go beyond the mere facts taught by Scripture in the search of an explanation of the manner in which God acts upon the creature in effecting his ends.
2d. This theory tends to the denial of the real efficiency of second causes, and therefore tends to Pantheism. This was a danger less appreciated by the Great Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than it has of necessity come to be in our day. It is of the highest importance that we hold both the correlated truths of the real efficiency of second causes, and of the controlling providence of God, of human freedom and of divine sovereignty, and then leave the question of their reconciliation to the future.
34. How far do the Scriptures teach any thing as to the nature of God’s providential government?
The mode in which the divine agency is exerted is left entirely unexplained, but the fact that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions is expressly stated and everywhere assumed, and many of the characteristics of that government are set forth.
It is declared—
1st. To be universal.—Ps. 103:17–19; Dan. 4:34, 35; Ps. 22:28–29.
2d. Particular.—Matt. 10:29–31.
3d. It embraces the thoughts and volitions of men and events apparently contingent.—Prov. 21:1; 16:9, 33; 19:21; 2 Chron. 16:9.
4th. It is efficacious.—Lam. 2:17; Ps. 33:11; Job 23:13.
5th. It is the execution of his eternal purpose, embracing all his works from the beginning in one entire system—Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11; Ps. 104:24; Isa. 28:29.
6th. Its chief end is his own glory, and subordinately thereto, the highest good of his redeemed church.—Rom. 9:17; 11:36; 8:28.
7th. The Scriptures teach that the manner in which God executes his providential government must be consistent with his own perfections, since “God can not deny himself,” 2 Tim. 2:13.
8th. Also congruous with the nature of every creature effected thereby, since all free agents remain tree and responsible.
9th. Also that God in the case of the good actions of men gives the grace and the motive, and co-operates in the act from first to last.—Phil. 2:13. But in the case of the sinful actions of men he simply permits the sinful action, restrains it, and then overrules it for his own glory and the highest good of his creation.
35. How can the existence of moral and physical evil be reconciled with the doctrine of God’s providential government?
The mystery of the origin and permission of moral evil we can not solve.
As to physical evil, we answer—
1st. That it is never provided for as an end in itself, but always a means to an overbalancing good.
2d. That in its existing relations to moral evil as corrective and punitive, it is justified alike by reason and conscience as perfectly worthy of a wise, righteous, and merciful God.
36. Show that the apparently anomalous distribution of happiness and misery in this world is not inconsistent with the doctrine of providence
1st. Every moral agent in this world has more of good and less of evil than he deserves.
2d. Happiness and misery are much more equally distributed in this world than appears upon the surface.
3d. As a general rule, virtue is rewarded and vice punished even here.
4th. The present dispensation is a season of education, preparation, and trial, and not one of rewards and punishments.—See Ps. 73.
Excerpt Hodge, A. A. (1878). Outlines of Theology