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ON THE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND EFFICACY OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD
RESPONDENT: GERARD ADRIANS
I. The consideration of evil, which is called "the evil of culpability" or "of delinquency," has induced many persons to deny the providence of God concerning creatures endowed with understanding and freedom of will, and concerning their actions. These persons have denied it for two reasons: (1.) They have thought that, because God is good and just, omniscient and omnipotent, he would have entirely prevented sin from being committed, if in reality he cared by his providence for his rational creatures and there actions. (Mark x. 18; Psalm cxlvii. 5; Rev. iv. 8; Mal. ii. 17; iii, 14.) (2.) Because they can conceive in their minds no other administration of Divine Providence concerning evil, than such as would involve God himself in the culpability, and would exempt from all criminality the creature, as if he had been impelled to sin by an irresistible act of God’s efficiency. For this reason, then, since a belief in the Providence of God is absolutely necessary, (Luke xii. 28,) from whom a considerable part of his government is taken away if it be denied that he exercises any care over rational creatures and their actions; we will endeavour briefly to explain the Efficiency of Divine Providence concerning evil; and at the same time to demonstrate from this efficiency, that God cannot possibly be aspersed with the charge of injustice, and that no stain of sin can attach to him, on the contrary, that this efficiency is highly conducive to the commendation of God’s righteousness.
II. But in sin are to be considered not only the act, (under which we likewise comprise the omission of the act,) but also "the transgression of the law." The act has regard to a natural good, and is called the material cause of sin; the transgression is a moral evil, and is called the formal cause of sin. An investigation into both of them is necessary, when we treat upon the efficiency of God concerning sin: for it is occupied about the act as it is an act, and as it is done against the law which prohibits its commission; about the omission of the act as such, and as it is against the law which commands its performance. But this efficiency is to be considered: (1.) With regard to the beginning of sin, and its first conception in the heart of a rational creature; (2.) its attempt, and, through this attempt, its perpetration; and, (3.) with regard to sin when finished. The efficiency of God concerning the beginning of sin is either its hindrance or permission; and, added to permission, the administration both of arguments and occasions inciting to sin; as well as an immediate concurrence to produce the act. The Divine efficiency concerning the progress of sin comprises its direction and determination; and concerning the completion of sin, it is occupied in punishing or pardoning.
III. The First efficiency of God concerning sin, is Hindrance or the placing of a hindrance, which, both with regard of the efficiency and of the object, is three-fold. With respect to efficiency: For (i.) the impediment is either of sufficient efficacy, but such as does not hinder sin in the act. (Matt. xi. 21, 23; John xviii. 6.) (ii.) Or it is of such great efficacy as to render it impossible to be resisted. (iii.) Or it is of an efficacy administered in such a way by the wisdom of God, as in reality to hinder sin with regard to the event, and with certainty according to the foreknowledge of God, although not necessarily and inevitably. (Gen. xx. 6.) With respect to the object, it is likewise three-fold: for a hindrance is placed either on the power, the capability, or the will of a rational creature. (i.) The impediment placed on the power, is that by which some act is taken away from the power of a rational creature, for the performance of which it has an inclination and sufficient powers. This is done by legislation, through which it comes to pass that the creature cannot perform that act without sin. (Gen. ii. 16, 17.) (ii.) The impediment placed on the capability, is that by which this effect is produced, that the creature cannot commit the deed, for the performance of which it possesses an inclination, and powers which, without this hindrance, would be sufficient. But this hindrance is placed on the capability in four ways: First. By depriving the creature of the essence and life, which are the foundation of capability. (1 Kings 19; 2 Kings 1.) Secondly. By the ablation or diminution of capability. (1 Kings xiii. 4; Rom. vi. 6.) Thirdly. By the opposition of a greater capability, or at least of one that is equal. (2 Chron. xxvi. 18-21; Gal. v. 17.) Fourthly. By the withdrawing of the object towards which the act tends. (John viii. 59.) (iii.) An impediment is placed on the will when, by some argument, it is persuaded not to will the perpetration of a sin, whether this argument be taken from the impossibility or the difficulty of the thing; (Matt. xxi. 46; Hosea ii. 6, 7;) from its unpleasantness or inconvenience, its uselessness or injuriousness; (Gen. xxxvii. 26, 27;) and, lastly, from its injustice, dishonour, and indecency. (Gen. xxxix. 8, 9.)
IV. The Permission of sin is contrary to the hindering of it.
Yet it is not opposed to hindrance as the latter is an act which is taken away from the power of a creature by legislation; for, in this case, the same act would be a sin, and not a sin—a sin as it was an act forbidden to the power of the creature, and not a sin as being permitted, that is not forbidden. But permission is opposed to this hindrance, by which an impediment is placed on the power and the will of the creature. This permission is a suspension of all impediments, that, God knows, if they were employed, would in fact, hinder the sin; and it is a necessary result, because sin might be hindered by a single impediment of this description. (1.) Sin, therefore, is permitted to the power of the creature, when God employs none of those impediments which have been mentioned in the third thesis of this disputation: on which account, this permission has the following, either as conjoint or preceding acts of God. The continuance of essence and life to the creature, the preservation of his power, a care that it be not opposed by a greater power, or at least by one equal to it, and, lastly, the exhibition of the object on which sin is committed. (Exod. ix. 16; John xviii. 6; 1 Sam. xx. 31, 32; Matt. xxvi. 2, 53.) (2.) Sin is permitted also to the will, not by the suspension of every impediment suitable to deter the will from sinning, but by not employing those which in reality would hinder, of which kind God must have an immense number in the treasures of his wisdom and power.
V. The foundation of this permission is, (1.) The liberty of choice, which God, the Creator, has implanted in his rational creature, and the use of which the constancy of the Donor does not suffer to be taken away from this creature. (2.) The infinite wisdom and power of God, by which He knows and is able to produce good out of evil. (Gen. i. 2, 3; 2 Cor. iv. 6.) And therefore, God permits that which he does permit, not in ignorance of the powers and the inclination of rational creatures, for he knows all things; (1 Sam. xxiii. 11, 12;) -not with reluctance, for it was in his power, not to have produced a creature who possessed freedom of will, and to have destroyed him after he was produced; (Rev. iv. 11;) -- not as being incapable of hindering, for how can this be attributed to Him who is both omniscient and omnipotent? (Jer. xviii. 6; Psalm xciv. 9, 10;) not as an unconcerned spectator, or negligent of that which is transacted, because even before any thing is done, he has already gone through the various actions concerning it, and has, besides, an attentive eye upon it to direct and determine to punish or to pardon it. (Psalm lxxxi. 12, 13.) But whatever God permits, he permits it designedly and voluntarily, His will being immediately concerned about its permission, which permission itself is immediately occupied about sin, which order cannot be inverted without injury to divine justice and truth. (Psalm v. 4, 5.)
VI. We must now, with more distinctness, explain, by some of the differences of sin, those things which we have spoken thus generally about hindering and permitting. (1.) The distinction of sin, from its causes, into those of ignorance, infirmity, malignity, and negligence, will serve our purpose. For an impediment is placed on a sin of ignorance, by the revelation of the divine will; (Psalm cxix. 105;) on a sin of infirmity, by the strengthening of the Holy Spirit; (Ephes. iii. 16;) on a sin of malignity, by "taking away the stony heart, and by bestowing a heart of flesh," (Ezek. xi. 19,) and inscribing on it the law of God; (Jer. xxxi. 33;) and on a sin of negligence, by a holy solicitude excited in the hearts of believers. (Jer. xxxii. 40.) From these, it will be easily evident, in the suspension of which of these acts consists the permission of sins under each of the preceding classes. (2.) The distinction of sin according to the relation of the law which commands the performance of good, and of that which prohibits the commission of evil, has also a place in this explanation. For, against the prohibitory part, an offense is committed, either by performing an act, or from an undue cause and end, omitting its performance—against the perceptive part, either by omitting an act, or by performing it in an undue manner, and from an undue cause and end. To these distinctions also, God’s hindering and permitting may be adapted. For Joseph’s brethren were hindered from killing him; but they were induced to omit that act from an undue cause and end. (Gen. xxxvii. 26, 27.) Absalom was hindered from following the counsel of Ahithophel, which was useful to himself, and hurtful to David; but he did not abstain from it through a just cause, and from a good end. (2 Sam. 17.) God hindered Balaam from cursing the children of Israel, and caused him to bless them; but it was in such a manner that he abstained from the former act, and performed the latter with an insincere and knavish mind. (Num. 23.)
VII. We shall more correctly understand the reasons and causes both of hindering and permitting, if, while distinctly considering in sin the act, and the transgression of the law, we apply to each of them the divine hindrance and permission. But though, in sin, the act and the transgression of the law are inseparably connected, and therefore neither can be hindered or permitted without the other; yet they may be distinguished in the mind, and God may hinder and permit sometimes with regard to the act or to the transgression alone; at other times, principally with regard to the one of them or to both, and these his acts may become objects of consideration to us. God hindered Elijah from being forcibly brought to Ahaziah to be killed, not as that was a sin, but as it was an act. This is apparent from the end and the mode of hindering. From the end, because it was His will that the life of His prophet should be spared, not lest Ahaziah should sin against God. From the mode of hindering, because he destroyed two companies, of fifty men each, who had been sent to seize him, which was a token of divine anger against Ahaziah and the men, by which sin is not usually hindered as such, but as it is an act which will prove injurious to another: but through Grace, sin is hindered as such. (2 Kings 1.) God permitted Joseph to be sold, when he hindered his murder. He permitted his vendition, not more as it was a sin than as it was an act; for by the sale of Joseph, as it was an act, God obtained his end. (Gen. xxxvii. 1, 20; Psalm cv. 17.) But God hindered David from laying violent hands on Saul, not so much as it was an act, as in reference to its being a sin. This appears from the argument by which David was induced to refrain. "The Lord forbid," said he, "that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed." (1 Sam. xxiv. 7.) God permitted Ahab to kill Naboth, rather as it was a sin than as it was an act; for thus Ahab filled up the measure of his iniquities, and accelerated the infliction of punishment on himself; for, by some other way than this, God could have taken Naboth to himself. (1 Kings 21.) But Abimelech was hindered from violating the chastity of Sarah—both as it was an act by which indelible grief would have been brought down upon Abraham, whom He greatly loved, and as it was a sin; for God was unwilling that Abimelech should defile himself with this crime, because "in the integrity of his heart," he would have done it. (Gen. xx. 6.) On the contrary, God permitted Judah to know Tamar, his daughter-in-law—both as an act because God willed to have Christ born in direct descent from Judah, and as it was a sin, for it was the will of God thus to declare: Nothing is so polluted that it cannot be sanctified in Christ Jesus. (Gen. xxxviii. 18.) For it is not in vain that Matthew has informed us, that Christ was the Son of Judah by Tamar, as he was also the Son of David by the wife of Uriah. (Matt. 1.) This matter when diligently considered by us, conduces both to illustrate the wisdom of God, and to promote our own profit, if in our consciences, we solicitously observe from what acts and in what respect we are hindered, and what acts are permitted to us.
VIII. Beside this permission, there is another efficiency of the providence of God concerning the Beginning of Sin, that is, the Administration or management of arguments and occasions, which incite to an act that cannot be committed by the creature without sin, if not through the intention of God, at least according to the inclination of the creature, and not seldom according to the events which thence arise. (2 Sam. xii. 11, 12; xvi, 21-23.) But these arguments are presented either to the mind, (2 Sam. xxiv. 1; 1 Chron. xxi. 1; Psalm cv. 25,) or to the senses, both external and internal; (Job 1 & 2; Isa. x. 5-7;) and this indeed, either by means of the service or intervention of creatures, or by the immediate act of God himself. The end of God in this administration is—to try whether it be the will of the creature to abstain from sinning, even when it is excited by these incentives; (for small praise is due to the act of abstaining, in those cases in which such excitements are absent,) and, if it be the will of the creature to yield to these alluring attractions, to effect his own work by the act of the creature; not impelled by necessity, as if He was unable to complete his own work without the aid of the creature; but through a desire to demonstrate his manifold wisdom. Consider the Arguments by which the brethren of Joseph, through their own malice, were incited to will his murder: these were—Joseph’s accusation, by which he disclosed to his father the deeds of his brethren, the peculiar affection which Jacob cherished for Joseph, the sending of a dream, and the relation of it. Consider also the Occasions or opportunities, the mission of Joseph to his brethren at his father’s request, and the opportune appearance of the Ishmaelites who were traveling into Egypt, (Gen. 37.)
IX. The last efficiency of God concerning the Beginnings of sin, is the divine concurrence, which is necessary to produce every act; because nothing whatever can have an entity except from the first and chief Being, who immediately produces that entity. The concurrence of God is not his in, mediate influx into a second or inferior cause, but it is an action of God immediately flowing into the effect of the creature, so that the same effect in one and the same entire action may be produced simultaneously by God and the creature. Though this concurrence is placed in the mere pleasure or will of God, and in his free dispensation, yet he never denies it to a rational and free creature, when he has permitted an act to his power and will. For these two phrases are contradictory, "to grant permission to the power and the will of a creature to commit an act," and "to deny the divine concurrence without which the act cannot be done." But this concurrence is to the act as such, not as it is a sin: And therefore God is at once the effector and the permittor of the same act, and the permittor before he is the effector. For if it had not been the will of the creature to perform such an act, the influx of God would not have been upon that act by concurrence. And because the creature cannot perform that act without sin, God ought not, on that account, to deny the divine concurrence to the creature who is inclined to its performance. For it is right and proper that the obedience of the creature should be tried, and that he should abstain from an unlawful act and from the desire of obeying his own inclinations, not through a deficiency of the requisite divine concurrence; because, in this respect, he abstains from an act as it is a natural good, but it is the will of God that he should refrain from it as it is a moral evil.
X. The preceding considerations relate to the Beginnings of sin. In reference to the Progress of sin, a two-fold efficiency of divine providence occurs, direction and determination. The direction of sin is an act of divine providence, by which God wisely, justly, and powerfully directs sin wherever he wills, "reaching from one end to another mightily, and sweetly ordering all things." (Wisdom viii. 1.) In the divine direction is likewise contained a leading away from that point whither it is not the will of God to direct it. This direction is two-fold, unto an object, and unto an end. Direction unto an object is when God allows the sin, which he permits, to be borne, not at the option of the creature, towards an object which, in any way whatsoever, is exposed and liable to the injury of sin; but which he directs to a particular object that sometimes has been no part of the sinner’s aim or intention, or that he has at least not absolutely intended. (Prov. xvi, 9; xxi, 1.) Of this we have a signal example in Nebuchadnezzar, who, when he had prepared himself to subjugate nations, preferred to march against the Jews rather than the Ammonites, through the divine administration of his divinations. (Ezek. xxi. 19-22.) Direction unto an end is, when God does not allow the sin, which he permits, to be conducive to any end which the creature intends; but he uses it for that end which he himself wills, whether the creature intend the same end, (by which he would not still be excused from sin,) or whether he has another purpose which is directly contrary. The vendition of Joseph into Egypt, the temptation of Job, and the expedition of the king of Assyria against the Jews, afford illustrations of these remarks. (Gen. i. 20, 21; Job 1 & 2; Isa. x. 5-12.)
XI. The determination of sin is an act of divine providence by which God places a measure or check on his permission, and a boundary on sin, that it may not, at the option and will of the creature, wander in infinitum. This mode and boundary are placed by the circumscription of the time, and the determination of the magnitude. The circumscription of the time is, when the space of time, in which the permitted sin could continue, is diminished and circumscribed so as to stop itself. (Matt. xxiv. 22.) In this part also, regard must be had to the act as such, and to the sin as such. (i.) God places a boundary to the duration of the act, when he takes the rod of iniquity from the righteous, lest they commit any act unworthy of themselves; (Psalm cxxv. 3;) and when "he delivers the godly out of temptation." (2 Pet. ii. 9.) (ii.) God places a boundary to the duration of the sin when he "hedges up the way of the Israelites with thorns," that they may no longer commit idolatry; (Hosea ii. 6, 7;) when "He commands all men every where to repent," among "all nations, whom he suffered, in times past, to walk in their own ways." (Acts xiv. 16; xvii, 30.) A boundary is fixed to the magnitude of sin, when God does not permit sin to increase to excess and assume greater strength. This also is done with respect to it as an act, or as a sin. (i.) In the former respect, as an act, God hindered "the wrath of their enemies from swallowing up" the children of Israel, though he had permitted it to rise up against them; (Psalm cxxiv. 2, 3;) He permitted "no temptation to seize upon" the Corinthians "but such as is common to man;" (1 Cor. x. 13;) He hindered the devil from putting forth his hand against the life of Job; (1 & 2;) He prevented Shishadk, the king of Egypt, from "destroying" the Jews, and permitted him only to subject them to servitude. (2 Chron. xii. 7-9.) (ii.) In respect to it as a sin, God hindered David from contaminating himself with the blood of Nabal and his domestics. which he had sworn to shed, and with whom he was then in a state of contention. (1 Sam. xxv. 22, 26.) He also prevented David from going forth to battle in company with the army of Achish, (xxvii, 2; xxix, 6, 7,) to whom he had fled, and "before whom he had reigned himself mad," (xxi, 13,) thus, at the same time he hindered him from destroying his own countrymen, the Israelites, and from bringing disasters on the army of Achish. For he could have done neither of these things without the most flagrant wickedness; though the sin, also, as an act, seems thus to have been hindered.
XII. On account of this divine permission, the offering of arguments and opportunities in addition to permission, also on account of this direction, determination, and divine concurrence, God is said himself to do those evils which are perpetrated by men and by Satan: To have sent Joseph down into Egypt, (Gen. xlv. 8,) -- to have taken the property of Job, (1 & 2,) -- to have done openly "and before the sun" what David had perpetrated "secretly" against Uriah. (2 Sam. xii. 11, 12; 16.) This mode of speech is adopted for the following reasons: (i.) Because the principal parts, in the actions which are employed to produce such effects, belong to God himself. (ii.) Because the effects and issues, which result from all these, even from actions performed by the creature, are not so much in accordance with the intention of the creatures themselves, as with the purpose of God. (Isa. x. 5-7.) (iii.) Because the wisdom of God knows, if an administration of this kind be employed by him, that will certainly arise, or ensue, which cannot be perpetuated by the creature without wickedness; and because His will decrees to employ this administration. (1 Sam. xxiii. 11-13.) (iv.) A fourth reason may be added—Because God, who is the universal cause, moves into the effect with a stronger influence than the creature does, whose entire efficacy depends upon God.
XIII. Lastly, follows the efficiency of divine providence concerning sin already perpetrated; which consists in its punishment and remission. This efficiency is occupied about sin as it is such: For sin is punished and pardoned as it is an evil, and because it is an evil. (1.) The Punishment of sin is an act of the providence of God, by which sin is repaid with the punishment that is due to it according to the justice of God. This punishment either belongs to the present life, or to that which is to come. (i.) The latter is the eternal separation of the whole man from God, and his anguish and torture in the lake of fire. (Matt. xxv. 41; Rev. xx. 15.) (ii.) The punishment inflicted in this life, is either corporal or spiritual. Those chastisements which relate to the body, and to the state of the animal life, are various; but the enumeration of them is not necessary for our purpose. But spiritual punishment must be diligently considered; which is such a punishment of a previous sin, as to be also the cause of other subsequent sins, through the malice of him on whom it is inflicted. It is a privation of grace, and a delivering up to the power of evil. But Privation is either that of habitual grace, or that of assisting grace. The former is through the blinding of the mind, and the hardening of the heart. (Isa. vi. 9, 10.) The latter is the withdrawing of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, who is wont, inwardly "to help our infirmities," (Rom. viii, 26,) and outwardly to repress the temptations of Satan and the world both on the right hand and on the left; in this holy service, he also engages the ministry and the care of good angels. (Heb. i. 14; Psalm xci. 11.) A Delivering Up to the power of evil is, either "giving sinners over to a reprobate mind" and to the efficacy of error, (Rom. i. 28; 2 Thess. ii. 9-11,) or to the desires of the flesh and to the lusts of sin, (Rom. i. 24,) or lastly to the power of Satan, "the god of this world," (2 Cor. iv. 4,) "who worketh powerfully in the children of disobedience." (Ephes. ii. 2.) But because from this punishment arise many other sins, and this not only according to the certain knowledge of God, by which He knows that if He thus punishes, they will thence arise, but likewise according to his purpose by which He resolves thus to punish—hence occur the following expressions: "I will harden the heart of Pharaoh," &c. (Exod. iv. 21; vii, 4.) "Notwithstanding, the sons of Eli harkened not unto the voice of their father, because it was the will of the Lord to slay them." (1 Sam. ii. 25.) "But Amaziah would not hearken to the answer of Joash, king of Israel; for it came of God, that he might deliver them into the hand of their enemies, because they sought after the gods of Edom." (2 Chron. xxv. 20.) This consideration distinguishes the governance of God concerning sins, so far as it is occupied concerning either those sinners who are hardened, or those who are not hardened.
XIV. (2.) The Pardon or remission of sin is an act of the Providence of God, by which the guilt of sin is forgiven, and the punishment due to sin on account of its guilt is taken away. As this remission restores, to the favour of God, the man who had previously been an enemy; so it also causes the Divine administration respecting him to be afterwards entirely gracious, so far as equity and justice require. That is, through this pardon, he is free from those spiritual punishments which have been enumerated in the preceding Thesis; (Psalm ii. 10-12;) and though not exempt from corporal chastisements, yet he is not visited with them through the anger of God as the punisher of sin, but only through the desire of God thus to declare that He hates sin, and besides so to chastise as to deter the sinner from again falling into it. (2 Sam. xii. 11-13.) For which reason, the government of Providence with regard to this man is entirely different from that under which he remained before he obtained remission. (Psalm cxix. 67; 1 Cor. xi. 32; Psalm xxxii. 1, 6.) This consideration is exceedingly useful for producing in man a solicitous care and a diligent endeavour to obtain grace from God, which may not only be sufficient to preserve him in future from sinning but which may likewise be so administered by the gracious Providence of God, as God knows to be best fitted to keep him in the very act from sin.
XV. This is the efficiency of Divine Providence concerning sin, which cannot be accused of the least injustice. (1.) For with respect to the Hindering Of Sin, that which is employed by God is sufficient in its own nature to hinder, and by which it is the duty of the creature to be hindered from sin, by which also he might actually be hindered unless he offered resistance and failed of the proffered grace. But God is not bound to employ all the methods which are possible to Him for the hindrance of sin. (Rom. 1 and 2; Isa. v. 4; Matt. xi. 21-23.) (2.) But the cause of sin cannot be ascribed to the Divine Permission. Not the efficient cause; for it is a suspension of the Divine efficiency. Not the deficient cause; for it pre-supposed, that man had a capability not to commit sin, by the aid of Divine grace, which is either near and ready; or if it be wanting, it is removed to a distance by the fault of the man himself. (3.) The Presenting of Arguments and Occasions does not cause sin, unless, per accidens, accidentally. For it is administered in such a manner, as to allow the creature not only the spontaneous but also the free use of his own motions and actions. But God is perfectly at liberty in this manner to try the obedience of his creature. (3.) Neither can injustice be ascribed with any propriety to The Divine Concurrence. For there is no reason in existence why God ought to deny his concurrence to that act which, on account of the precept imposed, cannot be committed by the creature without sin; (Gen. ii. 16, 17;) which concurrence God would grant to the same act of the creature, if a law had not been made. (5.) Direction and Determination have no difficulty. (6.) Punishment and Pardon have in them manifest equity, even that punishment which contains blinding and hardening; since God is not wont to inflict it except for the deep demerit and the almost desperate contumacy of his intelligent creature. (Isa. vi. 7; Rom. 1; 2 Thess. 2, 9-12.)
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