PROVIDENCE OF GOD
FIRST. Show what is intended by the providence of God.
SECOND. Prove that God administers over the universe a providential government.
THIRD. Notice the different theories that have prevailed respecting the Providence of God, with the principal arguments by which they have been supported, and show what seems to be the truth upon the subject.
First. Which is intended by the Providence of God.
1. All believers in Revelation have maintained that God administers a providential government, but have differed widely in respect to the manner in which he administers it.
2. It has been common for the different schools, or those who maintain different views upon the subject, to give such a definition of the providence of God, as to take for granted the truth of their own theory.
3. As the quo modo of divine Providence, has always been a subject of debate, it seems important, if possible, to give such a definition of Providence as shall not take for granted the truth of any theory in respect to the quo modo.
4. So to define Providence as to take the truth of either theory for granted, is to maintain by implication at least, that those who reject this particular theory, are altogether infidels in respect to the Providence of God, which is far from being true.
5. The true idea of Providence is, PROVISION. The Providence of God is an adequate provision on his part for the fulfillment of all his designs. In other words, it consists in a sufficient provision for securing the highest practicable well being of the universe. This definition is sufficiently general to cover the whole ground, and yet takes nothing for granted in respect to the quo modo.
Second. Prove that God administers a Providential Government.
Some of the principal arguments in support of the doctrine of divine providence are,
1. Creation could not have been an end but must have been a means to some end.
2. That end, whatever it was, could not be accomplished without a provision for it, either in creation itself, or by exercising a subsequent superintendence and control, or both of these together.
3. The structure of the universe clearly indicates that the end of its creation was to glorify God in the promotion and diffusion of happiness.
4. 'This is manifest from the everywhere abounding proofs of benevolent design, the manifold contrivances for the promotion of happiness.
5. The proof is conclusive that there is a provision in the structure and movements of the universe for the promotion of happiness.
6. As happiness is a good in itself, it is self-evident that the promotion of happiness must have been an end in the creation of the universe. In this remark I include of course the happiness and glory of God.
7. The doctrine of a divine Providence then is a just inference from the fact of creation.
8. The necessities of the universe demand that God should administer over it a providential government.
9. Since God has created the universe, he is under an obligation to administer over it a providential government.
10 All nations have believed that God exercises over the universe a providential control. This is abundantly manifest in their public religious rites.
11. The Bible fully declares that God administers over the universe a providential government, that "He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
Ps. 103:19. 'The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens: and his kingdom ruleth over all.'
Dan. 4:17, 25.; This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.' 'That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.' 'And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?'
12. A great part of the Bible is little less than a history of the Providence of God.
Third. Notice the different theories of divine Providence, with the principal arguments by which they have been supported, and show what seems to be the truth upon the subject.
I. The first theory that prevailed was that of OCCASIONALISM. The occasionalists maintained that all motion or action whether of mind or matter, was the result of a direct, divine, irresistible efficiency. They denied that any creature could be a cause, but that all creatures and things were only occasions of the divine conduct, and that God was properly the only active agent in the universe. This was a philosophic theory, and inclined strongly to Pantheism. It denied the efficiency of the inherent properties and laws of both matter and mind. Some of its advocates went so far as to maintain that the moral character of every act was to be ascribed to God. They maintained that what are generally termed the laws of nature are only the mode of divine operation.
The arguments in support of this theory are:
1. The Bible declares the universal agency of God.
Ans. The Bible does indeed teach that 'God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will;' but it teaches nothing in respect to the modus operandi, which is the very point in question. It is admitted on all hands, that God is in some way concerned in every event of the universe; that he is either actively or permissively in such a sense concerned as that, in an important sense, all events may be ascribed to him. But the question at issue is, in what manner and by what agency does God work everything after the counsel of his own will? Of this the Bible teaches nothing, in respect at least to myriads of events.
2. They allege that God cannot create a system, that shall have the powers of operation in itself.
Ans. It may be true that God cannot create a universe that shall act independently of his sustaining agency; but that he cannot create a universe, that can have the power of operation lodged in its own properties and laws, so that nothing but a sustaining agency is necessary to produce a given result, has not been, and it is presumed cannot be shown.
3. They affirm that the laws of nature can be nothing else than the modus operandi Dei.
Ans. This is a mere begging of the question.
4. They allege that we can conceive of no other way in which God can fulfill his purposes and prophecies.
Ans. 1. If we could not, it would be no proof of this theory. Is it to be supposed, that God does not possess resources of which we have no conception?
Ans. 2. But we can conceive how God can influence moral agents, so as to produce a certain result without subjecting them to the law of necessity.
5. They affirm that this theory exalts God as a sovereign.
Ans. Yes; as an arbitrary and unrighteous one.
6. It is said that this theory impresses the mind with awe, as it brings us to regard God as the efficient agent and actor in every event.
Ans. It does impress the mind with abhorrence, as it ascribes all the wickedness in earth and hell to God, as its efficient cause.
Some of the objections to this theory are the following:
l. It is manifestly inconsistent with any rational idea of moral agency and accountability.
2. It is manifestly inconsistent with our own consciousness. We are as conscious of the freedom of our own actions, and of being the efficient cause of our own volitions, as we are of our own existence.
3. It makes God the only agent in the universe. This I have said is admitted by some, though denied by most of the advocates of this system. But if the theory be true, it is a palpable matter of fact, that God is the only agent, and that all creatures are but instruments. This seems to be implied in the very name of the theory. Occasionalism, or that God is the cause, and creatures the occasion of all action of mind and matter, seems to put the question, that God is regarded as the only agent, beyond a doubt.
4. Another objection to this theory is, that it is wholly inconsistent with any rational idea of moral government, of moral character, and of moral influence.
5. It excludes the idea of infernal agency from the universe, or makes God an accomplice with Satan. According to this theory, Satan could not tempt, without being caused to do so by a direct Divine efficiency. Nor could any creature yield to temptation and sin in view of it, without a direct Divine efficiency, to produce his yielding and sinning.
6. It makes God the author of sin in the worst sense.
7. It impeaches his sincerity and blackens his whole character.
II. A second theory that prevailed, was the MECHANICAL THEORY, or the theory that in creation itself, God had made provision for securing the occurrence of all events, physical and moral, as they actually take place, without any superintendence or controlling exercised over the universe---that in creating both mind and matter, they were constituted with such inherent properties and placed in such circumstances, and impressed with such laws as to secure the final and desired result, without any subsequent interference or control on the part of God. Thus making the universe a vast machine; working out its results by the force of its own inherent properties and laws. This is the direct opposite of the first theory.
The principal arguments in support of this theory are the following:
1. God was able to create such a universe.
Ans. This is taking for granted what needs to be proved. It is by no means self-evident, that it was naturally possible to create a universe like this, containing myriads of free moral agents, whose moral agency implies the power of resisting every degree of moral influence, in such a manner as that a given result would inevitably be secured without superintendence and control.
2. Another argument in support of this theory is that such a creation of the universe as would avoid the necessity of subsequent superintendence and control, is a higher manifestation of the wisdom of God, than could otherwise have been made.
Ans. This also is begging the question. It assumes that a universe so created as to leave God in idleness, without the necessity of superintending and controlling it, would have been the perfection of wisdom. But this is by no means self-evident.
3. Another argument is, that unless this theory be true, the creation of the universe was imperfect.
Ans. This again is begging the question. Because it assumes that the most perfect universe, would be that which should leave God in idleness, without at all concerning himself about its government and control. But this is not self-evident, for it should be remembered that the happiness of God, was infinitely the most important item in the end of creation. If God found a happiness in creating the universe it is not unreasonable to suppose that he takes a great pleasure in superintending and controlling its movements.
If to this it be objected, that God must have been infinitely happy, previously to the work of creation; I answer, that as all eternity is present to God, he always enjoyed the work of creation and providence, and his happiness eternally consisted in the excellence of his character. And the excellence of his character is made up of the aggregate influences which have been and ever will be exerted by him for the promotion of virtue and happiness.
When it has been objected to this theory, as it justly may be, that it excludes the influence of prayer, and sets aside the idea that God interferes with the movements of the universe, in granting answers to prayer, it has been stated, that prayer is a necessary link in the chain of events, as originally established in the constitution of the universe.
To this it may be replied, that the answer either admits what the theory denies, or it is nonsense. The theory denies that God ever interferes in any case whatever, with the movements of the universe. What then can be intended by prayer's being a necessary link in the great chain of events? Is it meant that prayer is necessary to induce God to interfere with the movements of the universe, and so control things as to bring about an answer? If it means this, it admits what the theory denies. Or does it mean that prayer is a necessary link in the great chain of events, sustaining the relation of cause to its effect? If this be its meaning it is utter nonsense; for how can prayer sustain the relation of a cause to a storm of rain, or the stilling of a tempest, or of a fruitful season, or of any physical event whatever?
4. Another argument is, that to say the least it is consistent with the representations of scripture upon the subject of divine providence.
Ans. No. The representations of the Bible manifestly are, that God exercises a superintendence and control of all things. And not merely that he has so constructed the universe as that it needs no superintendence and control.
5. Again, it is asserted in support of this theory, that the Bible virtually asserts it, in saying that "God rested from all his works that he had created and made."
Ans. The Bible only affirms that he rested from the work of creation, and in no case intimates that he sat down in a state of inaction, without exercising any superintending control of the universe which he had made.
To this theory it may be objected:
1. That the laws of matter are uniform, and so far as we can see or conceive, cannot be so accommodated to the government of mind as to produce certain results, without superintendence. 'Therefore, if this theory might be true, were the universe all matter, it cannot be admitted when we take into consideration the fact, that so great a part of the universe is made up of moral agents.
2. It may be farther objected, that it is the doctrine of fate.
3. It is inconsistent with the holiness and happiness of moral beings, as it excludes God from any agency in the government and control of the universe, it annihilates their sense of dependence, and has a manifestly injurious tendency.
4. It is inconsistent with the Bible, which as I have already said, everywhere inculcates the doctrine of a divine universal superintendence and control.
5. It contradicts the general belief of all nations. The expiatory sacrifices, prayers, and multitudes of other public manifestations of belief, demonstrate that all nations have had the conviction that God continually interferes in the affairs of men, and exercises a universally superintending agency in the universe.
6. Another objection to this theory is, that it manifestly sets aside the use and influence of prayer, as a means of procuring blessings from God.
7. This theory is contrary to the experience of all saints.
8. It is inconsistent with the doctrine of the Spirit's influence and agency, in the conversion and sanctification of sinners.
9. It is inconsistent with the Atonement and all divine interference, for the salvation of the world.
10. Its manifestly demoralizing tendency gave birth to the next theory, which seems to take a middle ground between the first two.
III. This theory regards Providence as general and particular.
GENERAL PROVIDENCE is the general provision made in the properties and laws of both matter and mind, for the accomplishment of his designs. It regards both matter and mind, not only as real existences, but as possessing inherent properties and laws, which, however, are not self-existent, and self-efficient, but require the upholding or sustaining power of God.
PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE is that divine interference and control which is required by the exigencies of moral government. This theory maintains that God is directly or indirectly, actively or permissively concerned in every event.
Before adducing the arguments in proof of this theory, I will notice the objections to it.
Obj. I. It is objected, that it is inconsistent with the wisdom of God, to suppose that he has so created the universe as that it will need superintendence and control.
This has been sufficiently answered, in the examination of the second theory.
Obj. II. Another objection is, that it lays God under the necessity of constant exertion.
Ans. 1. This is not a weariness but a pleasure.
2. It is just what the Bible teaches.
3. This objection also has been sufficiently answered, in the examination of the second theory.
Obj. III. Another objection to this theory is, that it represents God as violating his own laws, and by a divine interference, setting aside their regular action.
Ans. 1. He has an undoubted right to violate or suspend the operation of physical law, for wise and benevolent ends.
2. It is not necessary to suppose that he violates or at all sets aside the action of physical law, but simply so interferes as to modify the results of the action of those laws.
Some of the arguments in support of this theory are the following:
l. It better accords with the representations of the Bible.
2. It better accords with the common sense of mankind.
3. It better accords with the general experience of mankind, so far as experience can be brought to bear upon this point.
4. It is more in accordance with the general belief of mankind.
5. Its moral influence is decidedly better.
6. It accords with the facts in the kingdom of grace.
7. It encourages prayer.
8. It seems satisfactory to the human mind.
9. It keeps up an intercourse and sympathy between God and moral beings.
10. It begets faith and encourages dependence upon God.
11. It begets affection for God.
12. It makes us realize his presence and agency.