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1. Define the term providence.
See Confession of Faith, Chapter V., and L. Cat., question 18, and S. Cat., question 11. Providence, from pro and video, literally signifies foresight. Turrettin defines this term as including, in its widest sense, 1st, foreknowledge ; 2d, foreordination; 3d, the efficacious administration of the thing decreed. But in its common and technically proper sense, providence designates simply God's temporal preservation and governing of all things according to his eternal purpose.
2. What are the three principal theories respecting the relation which God sustains to the universe ?
All the various views respecting God's relation to the universe entertained among men may be classed under one or other of the following heads, and in general terms stated as follows:
1st. The deistical, including those views which admitting more or less fully that, when God created the universe, he communicated their inherent properties to all material elements and to spirits, and made them in their interaction subject to certain general laws, so constituted, as to bring forth in the ceaseless evolutions of events all his preordained ends, yet deny that God continues in immediate contact with each individual creature, or that he is now concerned in constant supervision and control of their actions and their destinies. His relation to the universe thus is like that of the maker, not of the keeper of a watch. The actions of men, therefore, must either be mechanically determined like those of material bodies, or entirely fortuitous and beyond the influence of God.
2d. The pantheistic, including all those various views which regard God as the only being in the universe, and the creature as in reality without separate existence, property, or agency, as only phenomenally distinct, and essentially more or less transient modes of the one universal divine being.–See above, Chapter I., question 35.
3d. The true doctrine, established by Scripture and sober philosophical induction, occupies intermediate ground between the above extremes. The Christian theory of providence agrees with the deistical in maintaining that, at the creation, God endowed every element, material or spiritual, with inherent properties after its kind, and made them all subject to general laws, thus constituting them in a real sense efficient second causes. On the other hand, it maintains, in opposition to the deistical theory, that God continues to support and control second causes in their action, and so to adjust the general laws which prevail in the several departments of nature as to direct all events, whether the actions of free agents or of unconscious matter, to the accomplishment of his own will.
As God is infinite in his relation to time and to space, it is evident that the difference between the Deistical and Christian views of providence does not turn upon the question as to the time when God makes provision for the determination of each individual event, but upon the question as to the nature of his relaion to the creation. We maintain that the creature “lives, moves, and has its being in God," and that God, in the full exercise of his infinite wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and power, so directs and controls the actions of free agents freely, and of necessary agents necessarily, as at once not to coerce the nature of the agent, and yet infallibly to determine all things according to his eternal purpose.
3. Wherein does preservation consist ?
Preservation is that continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator upholds all his creatures in being, and in the possession of all their inherent properties and qualities with which he has endowed them at their creation, or which they have subsequently acquired by habit or development.
4. On what ground is it assumed that the universe would not continue to exist unless constantly upheld by God?
The old theologians held that, as the creature as such is not self-existent, it could no more continue to be than it could commence to be of itself, since the cause of its being is out of itself. This rationalistic argument, although logically plausible, is not certain. As by the law of inertia a body once moved ab extra will continue to move until stopped ab extra, so it might be that a being once created might continue to exist until annihilated ab extra.
This doctrine, however, is eminently congruous to that sense of dependence which is an essential element of our religious nature, and it is clearly affirmed by Scripture.--Heb. i., 3 ; Neh. ix., 6; Job x., 12; Ps. civ., 27-30; Acts xvii., 28.
5. State the argument for God's providential government of the world derived from his own 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.
6. State the argument from conscience.
Conscience essentially involves a sense of our direct moral responsibility to God as a moral governor, and this, together with a profound sense of dependence, constitutes that religious sentiment which is common to all men. But if God be a moral gove
ARGUMENT FROM INTELLIGENCE EVINCED IN NATURE.
ernor, he can execute that function in relation to a being constituted of body and soul, and conditioned as man is in this world, in no other conceivable way than through a comprehensive providence, at once spiritual and physical, general and particular.
7. 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 atons; the laws of vegetable and animal life; the movements of 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, nor in the resultant of all combined, it must be found in the presiding control of the Creator.
8. 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.
9. 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 fulfill 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.
10. Prove from Scripture that the providence of God extends over the natural world.
Ps. civ., 14; cxxxv., 5–7; cxlvii., 8–18; cxlviii., 7, 8; Job ix., 5, 6; xxi., 9-11; xxxvii., 6-13; Acts xiv., 17.