by Geerhardus Vos
The eternal work of God by which He causes the created universe, as far as its substance is concerned, to continue to exist. Concerning its power, He causes it to operate, and concerning its operations, to reach the goal intended by Him.
2. What is the relation of this works of God to His other works?
a) Providence differs from creation modaliter [in its mode], insofar as creation effects the transition for the universe from nonexistence to existence. Providence, in contrast, is the cause of the continuation and continuing operation of the already established existence of the universe and of the powers already present in it.
b) Providence is the execution of the decree of God, insofar as the decree is related to the continuing existence and the natural development of the created universe and because the decree has a willing and efficacious side closely connected with the universe.
c) Providence belongs to the ad extra works of God and in particular to the works of nature, which are to be distinguished from the works of grace. Therefore we do not speak of the works of grace under God’s providence. This distinction has not always been made by theologians, for even those who speak of the opera naturae [works of nature] and the opera gratiae [works of grace] classify miracles, which are in the closest connection with the works of grace, under providence.
3. What is the basis for the doctrine of God’s preservation of the universe?
a) On the continual representation of Scripture that the creature, although possessing a real existence, nevertheless at no moment and in no respect can be independent of God. If it existed of itself, then so far as its being is concerned it would be like God.
b) On the doctrine of divine immanence, according to which God with His eternal power and divine nature can be excluded from nothing in creation. Therefore it will not do to exclude Him from the ongoing existence of the substance of creation.
c) On the explicit declarations of Holy Scripture (see Neh 9:6; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).
4. Is providence, as far as preservation is concerned, a purely negative work, consisting in the fact that God does not destroy the created universe?
No, it is a positive work, for only of God can it be true that He remains where He always is. God alone is absolute being. That the universe exists is not in itself sufficient grounds for its continuing to exist. For this, a new work of God is necessary, which we call preservation. Failure to appreciate that necessity is based on a deistic concept of God and on a deistic worldview. The biblical, Reformed doctrine navigates between the two extremes of pantheism and deism.
5. How does it come about that we are so inclined to fall into this deistic error, as if given with the existence of a thing is its continuing existence, unless a positive act of destruction intervenes between the two?
Because we have made for ourselves a god in our image and our likeness. Our relation to things outside of us is more or less deistic. When we have made something, then the sufficient grounds for its continuing to exist seem to us to lie in the fact that it exists. We do not then preserve it further, but it remains because it is. That way of thinking we then transfer to God. Of course this involves a huge petitio principii. For that something continues to exist when it is made by us does not depend on the fact that it exists, but exclusively on the preserving power of God.
6. What is the opposite extreme with respect to the doctrine of preservation?
That in a pantheistic fashion the continuity of the substance of the universe is abolished, and the universe is seen as being created every moment by God out of nothing. Preservation thus becomes a continuous creation. Supporters of this view are:
a) Many old dogmaticians, who desired to lay the emphasis on the creaturely and dependent existence of the universe. Therefore they call conservatio [conservation] a creatio continua [continuous creation]. For example, Ursinus, Heidegger, Alsted, Rijssen do this. This was not wrongly intended, but is, however, less happily formulated.
b) Many who under this formulation conceal a pantheistic worldview. One can already find the principles of this view in Descartes, which is then given a pantheistic coloring later in Malebranche and in Spinoza became a full-blown pantheism. Jonathan Edwards, who brought the sovereignty of God dangerously close to the borders of pantheism, defended this opinion in his book on original sin.
7. What objections must be brought against this identification of creation and preservation?
a) It abolishes all continuity in the existence of things. The element of what is abiding, of permanence, thereby disappears from the concept of substance. The universe comes into existence anew every moment; its existing at moment A is in no regard the basis for its existing at moment B, etc. So then, for B it is also completely indifferent whether an A instead of a P or a Q preceded. The real connection between moments of existing falls away.
b) The opposition between this opinion and the biblical view lies completely on the line of the opposition between pantheism and theism. According to this theory everything flows constantly out of God, everything must be created anew every moment. Since time is divisible into infinity, no one can determine a limit for how short the moments of creation are and so finally they will become so short that there no longer remains any room for existence, that is, the universe is constantly being created, but it never actually is. This comes dangerously close to the illusionism that asserts that finite things are an illusion.
c) This theory can also lead to Idealism. Fundamentally, here all Vermittelung [mediating] of things by each other is abolished, just at the point where it is most obvious, namely in the continuing existence of identical objects. If A in moment A is not the basis for the existence of A in moment B, how then will A ever be able to be the basis of B? In other words, how will we be able to maintain causality as real?
d) This theory becomes its most dangerous if its consequences are drawn for the life of man. It breaks up that life into a number of unconnected parts and thereby takes away the basis for moral life, for continuity of character, and for the responsibility of man.
8. How then ought we to think about the preservation of God?
As the act by which He, by a positive expression of His will, causes a thing, as it already exists or in connection with that existence, to remain itself. This does not mean that what exists in moment A does half the work necessary to perpetuate itself, and God does the other half. It is not a divided work. Rather God works so that He makes use of the existence of A in moment A in order to cause this identical A to continue to exist in moment B. Beyond this, the way in which this occurs must remain incomprehensible for us. We may not, however, abandon the continuity of things. As we shall see, this same co-working of God with what already exists returns in connection with other acts of providence.
9. What then ought to be considered as belonging to preservation?
a) First of all, maintaining the substance of things, both spiritual and material, and of both in their specific identity. The continuity of spirits is other than that of matter, and God preserves both of them according to their nature.
b) Besides matter and spiritual substance, there is, however, still more reality.
There is form, attribute, power, and still more. The question arises, therefore, as to whether maintaining these belongs to preservation. The answer, in brief, must be the following: Insofar as these things are not active powers or actions, their maintenance must be subsumed under the category of preservation. On the other hand, insofar as they are nothing other than active powers, they belong to the act of concursus, if one will continue to make a logical and clear distinction between preserving and co-working. Gravity, for example, is, as far as we know, always at work; it is identical with its action. There is as well, however, a latent or dormant gravity, not active as such, that would thus fall under preservation. It appears, then, that with regard to powers God need cause their action to continue only by concursus. It is, however, extremely difficult to indicate the boundary between latent and constantly active powers. Scripture does not distinguish between such things, and we may therefore be satisfied with pointing out this distinction in general.
c) Many also reckon the maintenance of type for organic genera and kinds to preservation. One should bear in mind, however, that here creation (creationism) in part and co-working and governing in part intersect, and that further the identity of kinds and genera cannot be called an identity in the strict sense, but only a similarity, unless one explains the propagation of individuals in a realistic fashion.
10. What is the second work of providence?
Co-working, which has reference not to the substance of things but to their action. If substance and activity differ, then with respect to the latter a specific immanence of God must exist, an immanence that at least modaliter [as to its mode] differs from that with respect to the former. The same arguments that are valid for preservation can be made for co-working. God may no more be excluded from the activity of things than from their substance. When Charles Hodge maintains that the theory of concursus seeks to make comprehensible what is incomprehensible, that is not the case, at least it does not have to be the case. Nothing more is present in the postulate of concursus than in that of preservation. We see that both must be accepted, but how that is so we comprehend as little for the one as the other.
11. What grounds, besides what has been mentioned, do we have for assuming a co-working of God?
a) Scripture says that we are not only in God but also live and move in Him.
b) God works in all of nature down to the smallest and most insignificant matters, or what are such for us (Psa 104:21; Matt 5:45; 10:29; Acts 14:17). If we were to accept that God in a deistic fashion lets nature work of itself, then all these texts would have to be taken figuratively and the consolation of our religion and worship would be lost.
c) The entire teleology of nature and of history speaks of an immanent working of God (cf. Job 12:7–9; Dan 4:35).
d) Every individual has only to look at his life history to discern that there was a higher hand that governed it. At this point faith in God’s co-working is most closely connected with our dependence upon Him. He directs even our free acts, and however far above our comprehension may be the manner in which he does that, in any case it must be a co-working, a concursus. Not matter, not fate, not chance can affect us, if our freedom is to be maintained, but only the co-working of God (Psa 104:4; Prov 16:1; 21:1).
12. How are we to think about this concursus?
Here, too, two extremes will have to be avoided, deism and pantheism. According to the first, the powers and the laws of nature certainly come from God and as such are not necessary for God but now work of themselves such that God remains excluded. That eliminates God’s immanence. According to the other extreme, God alone does everything in nature, that is, there are not two causes that work together; the laws of nature and the powers of nature are just abstractions from God’s modes of working. Thus, nature and God are identified. That can happen (like the theory of preservation as creatio continua) in a twofold manner:
a) In the consistent pantheistic sense, so that God is not only immediately all power and motion of the universe but is also the ground and the substance of the universe.
b) In the sense of inclining toward pantheism, so that the universe is certainly distinguished from God substantially but the power of the universe is still viewed exclusively as divine power; God = nature.
13. What must be urged against this opinion that inclines toward pantheism?
Although there are glimmers of this view in Zwingli and Calvin and other Reformed theologians, one can still not say that they were conscious of eliminating the action of second causes. In their views we have to do more with dangerous formulations than real error. Nevertheless, Reformed theology must guard against such formulations much more than against deism, because our basic principle does not drive us in the direction of the latter, but toward pantheism. We note:
a) That this conception, as if God is the only acting cause in the universe, is based more on a philosophical concept of the absolute than on scriptural grounds.
b) That this conception is in conflict with the experience that we acquire from our own inner actions. We know ourselves as causa secunda [second causes] and will have to assume that, after discounting the difference between the activity of spirit and the activity of matter, something similar to what we call (spiritual) causality also takes place in material substances when we act.
c) That this conception brings us extremely close to Idealism and pantheism. It is inconsistent to posit a universe outside of God in which God nevertheless is the only acting cause. If He is thus made the doer of all doing, then one must also go a step further and make Him the being of all being.
d) That this conception is irreconcilable with the rational responsibility of man, insofar as that responsibility depends upon the causality of our will.
14. What must be maintained regarding concursus?
a) That it, like preservation, has to do with what is already created. In creating, God has placed powers in substances. These are realities, however uncertain we may be about the kind of reality that is to be attributed to them. There is something in the earth by which it exercises an attracting power. God has created it there and connected it in a certain way with the matter of earth. Just as He preserves the matter that makes up the earth, so He co-works together with that power that is joined to matter so that it endures. It is not God in the literal sense who attracts in the earth, but rather the earth itself that attracts by the concursus of God.
b) It is not a physical or metaphysical power but His omnipotent will by which God exercises His concursus, the same will by which He created the universe and preserves it. Making this distinction avoids the pantheistic formulations that hyper-Calvinistic theology has often fallen into. If God as causa prima [first cause] acts in the universe by physical or metaphysical power and if, as in fact is the case, this physical or metaphysical power is completely sufficient to explain what is effected, then no place remains for causae secundae [second causes], unless one divides power in two and attributes half to God and the other half to the creature. If, on the other hand, one holds that God is to be distinguished from the universe, not only with respect to substance but also with respect to its activity, then we arrive at recognition of the fact that what is at work propro sensu [in the proper sense] in the universe is the power not of God but of the universe, and that this power, however, at every point and in every moment, is dependent on the omnipotent will of God and without that will cannot express itself. In this way both the transcendence and the immanence of God are maintained, although here too we must confess our ignorance regarding the way in which God’s omnipotent will is involved in the power of the creature.
c) What we call the laws and the powers of nature is a reality, a propensity placed in things by God to act and also to act in this way and not otherwise. These wills and powers are made suitable to the matter to which they belong. There is congruence between them and the substances to which they adhere. However, we may not go so far as to think of these laws and powers as already given with these substances or as inseparably bound to them. In that case the difference between preservation and concursus would vanish. And it would be impossible for God to change natural law, to abolish it, without changing or destroying substance. By His omnipotent will God can join to the same substance new and different powers than were previously proper to it. He follows the order of nature as He Himself has established it, but He by no means does that because He cannot do otherwise. It is important to keep this in view for describing the concept of miracle. It has been observed, correctly, that in an absolute sense no miracles exist for God. For Him it is no more miraculous for iron to float on water than for it to sink. He can exercise the influence of His will on the co-working factors involved so that iron floats and just as well exercise that influence so that it sinks. When, however, by His will He exercises other such influences, that is always accompanied by a real change in the powers of things themselves, for these really exist and are not simply the power of God.
d) How we ought not to think of God’s concursus follows from what has already been said. Different wrong conceptions must be rejected:
1. Concursus is not general and indifferent (concursus generalis et indifferens), as the Jesuits, the Socinians, and the Remonstrants maintain. This general concursus is thought of as a neutral power imparted by God to all causae secundae [second causes], as the result of which they can act, while, further, the manner of their action is dependent on the kind of causae secundae. The sun imparts the same heat and power to grow to all plants on earth, yet these plants do not all grow in the same way because they differ from each other in kind.
The motives for this conception lie on an ethical terrain. One wished to keep God free from co-working in sin and to leave room for the liberum arbitrium [free will]. One distinguished between materia [matter] and forma [form] in the act of sin. The former was attributed to God, who effected it by His concursus generalis et indifferens, the latter (the form) came from man. (Even Reformed theologians, like Gravemeijer, make use of this distinction). Although we ought to have all respect for the first motive mentioned above and to recognize every difficulty of the problem that emerges for us through the presence of sin in the world, nevertheless we can only see in this generalizing of concursus a failed attempt to maintain God’s holiness at the expense of His absoluteness. God is kept free from evil (at least apparently), but at the same time He is kept apart from a part of the activity of the creature. God with His eternal power and capability also cannot be excluded from that doing by which His general influence becomes specific. There is in sin not only a metaphysical substrate as a real act; there is also reality in the form of sin, activity that is specifically culpable, and even of this culpable activity it is the case that it cannot be initiated or carried out against God’s will and without His concursus. It is much better here to let what is inexplicable stand in its inexplicability than to make do with solutions that do not do justice to another, acknowledged truth.
2. Neither is concursus to be conceived of as partial, so that God and the creature would share the activity involved. The same act, it is to be emphasized much more, is at the same time entirely an act of God and entirely an act of the creature. It is an act of God in its entirety insofar as there is nothing in it that does not depend on His eternal will and insofar as at each moment of its occurring it is determined by this will. At the same time it is an act of the creature insofar as by the creature and from its center the will of God causes the act to occur and be manifested as a reality. As on so many other points where we deal with the relationship between the finite and the infinite, here we encounter two spheres into which one and the same object falls without the one limiting the other. Just as the infinity of space is not the infinity of God and still is borne by the infinity of God and does not limit the infinity of God, so also the activity of second causes is not the activity of God in a proper sense but is nonetheless borne by the activity of God without limiting the activity of God. God can do everything and the creature can do everything in the same instance, since the spheres of doing are different and need not exclude each other.
3. From what has been said it is now also excluded that the activity of God and that of the creature may be placed entirely on the same line. God’s activity has the primacy in order. Also, it is not to be thought that God pairs His concursus with the act of the creature as the same causa occasionalis [occasional cause]. We must rather affirm the following for concursus—with respect to the working of the creature God’s activity is:
a. Concursus praevius sive praedeterminans [prior or antecedent co-working]. In created things there is not a principle that works of itself and to which God then attaches. Rather, in every specific case the first impulse to activity and movement comes from God. God is first active before the creature can act. Every action and reaction of things that interact with each other depends in this way on God’s omnipotent will. When a spark and gunpowder come in contact with each other, then all the conditions for an explosion are supplied by the preservation of God that maintained the particular powers of both, but those powers cannot cause this new phenomenon of an explosion by reacting with each other unless God co-works per concursum praevium [through prior concursus]. It is obvious that this prae [before] in praevius does not mean priority in time. It is entirely a question of order. It must be noted further that this concursus praevius does not terminate on the action of the creature, but on the creature itself.
b. Concursus simultaneus [simultaneous concursus]. Once the action has begun, the efficacious will of God must also accompany it reciprocally at every moment if it is to continue. This concursus simultaneus, in distinction from the concursus praevius, does not concern the creature but its action. While the Jesuits among Roman Catholic theologians wanted to conceive of the concursus only as simultaneous and thus deny a concursus praevius, some Reformed theologians have accepted the latter as applying only to good and gracious actions and for the rest remained satisfied with the demands of a concursus simultaneus. However, one cannot make a distinction here between good acts and acts that are not good. With respect to their reality they are on the same line, and if a good action cannot take place without a concursus praevius, so the same must be maintained about an evil action.
c. Concursus immediatus, that is, an immediate concursus. We often make use of means to bring about some action, and although God uses means for His governing in order to realize His purpose, this cannot be said with regard to concursus. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by letting fire rain out of heaven, that is a mediate act of governing, but at the same time it is God’s immediate concursus by which He enables fire to fall, to glow, to burn, to consume. In all the means that His governing utilizes, God’s concursus is therefore immediately active. This immediateness is further described in detail by dogmaticians as an immediateness quoad suppositium and quoad virtutem. The first means an immediacy with respect to a being, the second an immediacy with respect to power. When God exercises His concursus, no other being, no other thing, interposes itself between this concursus and its object, as, for example, the sculptor places his chisel between himself and the block of marble. Even the causa secunda [second cause], although action is rightly attributed to it, does not in this way lie between God and the result. God’s act adjoins and is involved directly in what is done. With respect to power God’s concursus is likewise “immediate.” It is not as if power issues and is separated from Him in order to be then further transferred apart from Him, to bring other power into action and thus cause a certain final action to exist. Rather, in every transposition and transmission of power, God is present at every moment with His concursus praevius and simultaneus. Here, too, the power that really belongs to causae secundae [second causes] does not form a link between God and the end result.
15. After considering what belongs under preservation and co-working, what belongs to the governing of God as a unique act of providence?
This question is not so easy to answer as it appears at a first glance. It may not be denied that the three spheres of providence more or less touch each other. With regard to God’s preservation and co-working we have already seen that. That is even clearer with respect to the distinction between co-working and governing. Thus one may reason as follows: Given that God preserves things in their being, preserves the powers resident in them, and by His concursus praevius [prior concursus] maintains them in their action and generally works through second causes, that is, His providence does not belong to the opera gratiae [works of grace] but to the opera naturae [works of nature] and does not rest on immediate intervention but on the use of powers previously placed in the world, what then remains for His governing? Consequently, some have proposed to apply another scheme than the old conventional one to providence. Many distinguish only between conservatio [preservation] and rectio or gubernatio [ruling or governing]; see the Heidelberg Catechism; see also Keckermann, Alting, Heidanus, Maresius. They then reckon concursus as belonging to gubernatio, ruling. Conversely, however, one could just as well classify the latter with the former, that is, be able to think of the gubernatio as taking place by concursus. Nevertheless, it occurs to us that room remains for a distinction. One may note the following:
a) That God concurs still only means that He causes the natural powers to work when they work and to work as they ordinarily work. To say that does not yet specify the way in which these natural powers interact or group themselves, on which the end result will depend entirely. That fire glows and burns is already determined by concursus, and for that no special act of God’s governing is needed. That fire must burn me precisely in the moment that I come in contact with fire by moving myself toward it, or that fire from heaven must strike me, does not in itself lie in the specificity of the power of nature. To regulate this happening would therefore fall to God’s ruling. In other words, in the area of natural science, where one adheres strictly to the laws of nature and seeks to explain everything from its natural causes, there still remains a large area of possible connections and groupings of the powers of nature not already determined by the laws of nature. In the language of the world one calls that the area of chance. We have already treated this concept earlier. It was defined there as the occurrence of things whose causes for us are unknown and indeterminable. Chance, then, has an exclusively subjective meaning. That the lot falls this or that way is for us chance. Still, we do not maintain that there are no natural causes for its falling as it does. From the vantage point of God’s governing, however, we could speak of chance in a more objective sense, namely as the occurring of those things that are not already determined by natural causes—occurrences, thus, whose determination is not entirely given by causae secundae [second causes]. The Latin word for “chance,” accidens, seems to be connected with this concept (from ad [toward] and cadere [to fall]). It would be called chance in this more than subjective sense, for example, if someone crosses the street and a roof tile falls on his head. His crossing the street had natural causes, the falling of the roof tile likewise had natural causes, but that he was crossing the street just when the roof tile fell at that exact spot is called chance, for it was an accidentia [accident], a coinciding of these two series of natural occurrences.
Now it is obvious that in this instance also we may not speak of chance from a Christian and theological standpoint. The use of this word is and remains a worldly way of speaking. God collocates and arranges the series of things so that they occur and coincide. At the basis of occurring there is everywhere an apponere, an arranging. The fact that on a strictly scientific basis room remains for chance shows sufficiently that there is also a place in the doctrine of providence for a divine governing along with preservation and co-working.
b) Apart from the above considerations, we do not have the least guarantee that God does not sometimes intervene immediately in the course of the universe by introducing a new power, no guarantee that He could not, for example—besides by providentia ordinata [ordained providence], by natural causes—also in a direct manner make a rain cloud move through the air so that it deposits its raindrops on our fields. Meteorology and physics, in general, certainly do not start from that idea, and everywhere where miracles do not appear, one must allow them the right to insist on the demand that there must be natural causes and to investigate according to demand. That is their prerogative and their method of investigation is based on it. Without it they certainly could not have made such advances as they have made in the modern era. Thus the full right remains for them, as much as they can, to trace back to natural laws the movements of rain clouds, the flashing of lightning and whatever more of such phenomena. We on our standpoint cannot believe otherwise on the basis of Scripture than that this quest will never succeed completely. We accept that there is a sphere of God’s direct governing in which He is at work along with preservation and concursus, a third element that does not let itself be searched or classified. Considered from this viewpoint, too, the doctrine of providence thus gives us occasion to continue to speak of governing.
c) Here and there among dogmaticians an idea comes to the fore that the governing of God is specifically that action that leads the action of second causes to the end determined for them. Governing would then have in view the outworking of things more than their working. That they work and how they work would flow from concursus, that they with this specific working power would reach a specific end should be attributed to governing. It is, however, not clear that a new act of God is necessary for this. One cannot really distinguish between the quality of working and the result of working. That second causes work in just this or that way is the same as saying, in other words, that they reach this or that goal.
d) We ought to assign miracles, as well, to the governing of God, were it not rather that miracle belongs to the area of supernatural revelation, of the order of salvation. In any case, miracles do not belong to concursus, for they are not expressions of the natural power that is in things and appears under given circumstances. We will discuss the concept of miracle further later.
16. Is the immanence of God dependent on the scope of this immediate governing of God?
No. One has so presented it as if the concept of a governing of God would only be the correlate of our ignorance about second causes. According to this representation, we speak of a directing by God where we are not in a position to explain phenomena from the ordinary order of nature. However, the more natural science expands its boundaries, draws new spheres into its domain, and investigates the laws that govern there, to that same degree in proportion the domain that falls under God’s free governing will contract. In its development, then, science would have to result in a systematic banning of God from His creation. The more science, the less faith in the providence of God.
This representation is totally false. It stems from a deistic conception of the relation between God and the universe. It has causae secundae [second causes] working outside of God’s almighty will. In opposition, we must maintain that God’s immanence would not be damaged in the least if natural science had already succeeded in drawing everything within its scope and in explaining every phenomenon, with the exception of miracle, on the basis of fixed laws. Even then it would not be these laws, and not these powers reduced to these laws, to which the course of the universe would be attributed, but exclusively to the will of God, who has established these laws, who preserves them, who has placed them in time and space and arranged them in a way that accords with His plan to realize their working in each other and with each other. God’s governing in its proper sense would not vanish. It would simply be absorbed in concursus, and we would still stand just as far as always from the deistic caricature of the universe.
Logically it may most certainly be conceived that God has drawn His governing of the universe completely within fixed lines that He does not cross. A law is simply the manner of His working. That everything is to be explained from the laws of nature would thus simply mean that everything has been arranged by God as working in a series of His workings without it thereby ceasing to be God’s working.
17. Which two errors are opposed to this doctrine of the governing of God and at the same time to each other?
The pagan idea of fate and the equally pagan idea of chance. The difference between the former and the Christian idea of God’s governing lies in the teleological character of the latter. The difference is not as if in governing there were an element of uncertainty. Providence is just as inexorable (one may use this term) as fate. Nothing escapes it; it is never thwarted. But, as the word indicates, it involves foresight; it rests on the decree of a self-conscious, all-wise God, who forms His plans and carries out His plans. If everything happens according to His counsel, then this is so because the content of that counsel is arranged with wisdom for the goal He has planned. He foresees the needs of His plan. Pagan fate, on the contrary, is something that works with blind certainty, to which gods and men are equally subject. It is on a line with pantheism, insofar as pantheism teaches an unconscious absolute.
Chance has already been discussed. These extremes touch each other, for one can say that no more terrible fate for the universe can be conceived than that it would be abandoned to chance in the sense of the absence of causality. Carried out consistently, this so-called “casualism” then leads to atheism, just as teaching on fate leads to pantheism.
18. How far does governing extend?
This must be answered in different ways. If by governing one means that act of providence distinguished from preservation and concursus, then one can naturally not make it general. If we speak of conservatio [preservation], concursus, and gubernatio [governing] as three distinct acts, then we will then have to define governing as follows: “The governing of God is the action of His providence by which, everywhere it is necessary, He gives to causae secundae [second causes], maintained by Him in their existence and in their powers while they are working under His concursus, a specific direction or combines them in a certain way for reaching the end intended by Him.”
If one otherwise understands under God’s governing in the widest sense everything that He does in the created universe in order to bring to pass His plan for it, then naturally nothing can be excluded from this governing of God. Then, however, it includes much more than is only ascribed to governing by definition in the strict sense. Not only does it assimilate concursus entirely, but conservatio [preservation] as well may be viewed under this aspect, for by their continuing existence things also serve a goal. Governing, then, is identical with providence seen from its teleological side. It is a concept formed to express that God’s hand is in everything, that in the unity of His consciousness and His will He comprehends all parts of the course of the universe, that under His approval and by His power everything occurs that occurs. Governing as such is that side of God’s decree by which it is realized.
For the scope of God’s governing, concretely considered, we need only refer back to what has been said about the doctrine of the decree. All the rubrics taken up there may be discussed in connection with the doctrine of providence. And Scripture teaches us that nothing is excluded from God’s governing, be it small or large, free or necessary, good or evil. Only the Socinians and a part of the Arminians, and in a certain sense Roman Catholics and Lutherans, deny this all-inclusive governing of God. Amongst the ancients, Jerome agrees with them. For pagans the opinion was widespread that the gods concern themselves only with what is important and ignore what is less important. Magna dii curant, parva negligunt. [“The gods care about great matters, but ignore small ones”] (Cicero, Aristotle). Jerome thought that one diminishes the majesty of God if one holds that He knows every second how many mosquitoes are born and die, how many flies there are on earth, etc. Over against that way of thinking stands the decisive witness of Scripture (Pss 36:7; 145:15–16; Matt 10:29–31). Likewise to be taken into consideration here: One is thinking of God’s heavenly majesty precisely in an earthly fashion if one wants to grant for it the quantitative distinction between great and small. If one applies that distinction to God, that is a “dangerous and evil distinction.” A third objection against every exception to the principle of the universality God’s governing lies in the close connection that one thing has with another. One has expressed that paradoxically by saying that no particle of matter can move without all the matter in the universe sharing in that movement and feeling something of it. That is exaggeration, but in it is this element of truth, that nothing is indifferent to or superfluous for the whole. The universe is an organism and in an organism one cares for the small as well as the large parts. Moreover, it has frequently proven to be the case that small matters in the course of the world can occasionally be of incalculable importance, and the historical evidences for that are well known.
19. May one not speak of a special governing of God toward His rational creatures?
Yes, God governs them by addressing their consciousness by means of law-giving. This fact is perhaps important enough to provide occasion for it as a subdivision of the doctrine of governing. One should note, however, that this special governing does not exclude the concursus of God and His governing in other respects. When God writes His law in the heart of man, then He must:
a) Continually preserve that law there.
b) Again and again influence by co-working when that law bears witness.
c) When the law exercises influence on us, convincing us and bending our will, then in that case, too, the co-working of God cannot be lacking, provided it is a real working.
d) God must, by His direction in such circumstances, bring us to the place where we are confronted with His law. The governing of God by laws in the sphere of rational life is thus, again, not one that encroaches upon the all-encompassing reality of His providence.
20. What is the relationship between God’s providence and moral evil?
Concerning that we note the following:
a) Lutherans deny concursus praevius [prior concursus] in general in order to avoid the difficulty this issue raises.
b) Some Reformed do not deny concursus praevius in general, but do deny it with respect to moral evil.
c) Lutherans have appealed to God’s foreknowledge, where the question at issue is how God, without waiting for the first movement of the freely acting creature, can exercise His concursus simultaneus [simultaneous concursus].
d) For the further course of sin, Lutheran dogmaticians likewise seek to safeguard God from co-responsibility with the proviso that God only co-works ad effectum [with respect to realization or outcome], not ad defectum [with respect to fault or defect], ad materiale [materially], not ad formale [formally].
e) In all these respects Roman Catholic theology, which first worked out in detail teaching on concursus, agrees with the Lutheran conception.
f) f) The best and the most Reformed dogmaticians hold to concursus praevius as well for moral evil.
g) At the same time, concerning sins they have also wanted to distinguish between causa efficiens [effecting cause] and causa deficiens [faulting cause], between formale [formal] and materiale [material].
h) Against these restrictions we must remark that they are in part unsatisfactory, in part wrong. Regarding the distinction between causa efficiens and deficiens, it is wrong insofar as it seems to represent the activity of God with respect to sin as entirely negative and thereby carries the danger of reducing sin to something negative. In order to keep God pure, so it is said, we may not rob sin of its reality and of its positive character. As far as the distinction between formale and materiale is concerned, this is certainly right, but it does not explain how then God is active with respect to this formale.
i) With regard to the course of sin as indwelling habitus [disposition] and actus [act] in man, we must confess our ignorance when the question is raised about the relationship between that course and God’s providence. Illustrations that have been produced in abundance only apparently solve this problem. In contrast, of the activity of sin in its consequences it may be said with the old theologians that these are determined and directed by God.
j) That unknown, about which we have just reminded, is expressed by the dogmaticians as actuosa permissio peccati, “active permission of sin.”
From - Reformed Dogmatics by Geerhardous Vos