The Latin etymology of the word Providence is from (Providentia, Pro-videre), and originally meant foresight. The corresponding Greek word (Pronoia) means forethought. By a well-known figure of speech, called metonymy, we use a word denoting the means by which we accomplish anything to denote the end accomplished; we exercise care over anything by means of foresight, and indicate that care by the word foresight. On the same principle the word Providence is used to signify the care God takes of the universe. As to its inherent nature, it is the power which God exerts, without intermission, in and upon all the works of his hands. In the language of the school-men it is a continual creation (creation continua). But defined as to its visible manifestations, it is God's preservation and government of all things. As a thing is known by its opposites, the meaning of Providence is elucidated by considering that it is opposed to fortune and fortuitous accidents.
Providence, considered in reference to all things existing, is termed by Knapp universal; in reference to moral beings, special; and in reference to holy or converted beings, particular. Every thing is an object of Providence in proportion to its capacity. The Disciples, being of more value than many sparrows, were assured of greater providential care. By Providence being universal is intended, not merely that it embraces classes of objects or greater matters, but that nothing is too minute or insignificant for its inspection.
Providence is usually divided in three divine acts, Preservation, Co-operation and Government.1. By preservation is signified the causing of existence to continue.2. Co-operation is the act of God which causes the powers of created things to remain in being. It is not pretended that the existence of the powers of the things are ever separated, but only that they are distinguishable in mental analysis. Co-operation varies with the nature of the objects towards which it is exercised.3. Government, as a branch of Providence, is God's controlling all created things so as to promote the highest good of the whole. To this end every species of being is acted upon in a way confirmable to its nature; for instance, inanimate things by the laws of physical influence; brutes according to the laws of instinct; and free agents according to the laws of free agency. Moreover, as Providence has respect to the nature which God has been pleased to design to each various object, so, in common with every other divine act, it is characterized by divine perfections. It displays omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, holiness, justice, and benevolence. It has been sometimes contended that Providence does not extend to all things, or to unimportant events, and chiefly for four reasons. Such an all-embracing providence, it is said, would (1) be distracting to the mind of God; or (2) would be beneath His dignity; or (3) would interfere with human freedom; or (4) would render God unjust in permitting evil to exist. In reply to these objections against a providence controlling all things without exception, it may be observed that the third and fourth suggest difficulties which press equally, in fact, upon all hypothesis, not only as to providence, but as to creation, and which shall be more fully explained in the sequel.
As to the first objection, that the minutiae of the creation are so multifarious as to confuse the mind of God, we are content to let it refute itself in every mind which has any just sense of divine knowledge and wisdom. The second objection, that some things are beneath God's notice, if it be not a captious cavil, must result from pushing too far the analogy between earthly kings and the King of kings. It is an imperfection in human potentates that they need vicegerents; let us not then attribute such a weakness to God, fancying him altogether such a one as ourselves. Again, it is to this day doubtful whether the microscope does not display the divine perfections as illustriously as the telescope; there is therefore no reason to deny a providence over animalcula which we admit over the constellated heavens. What is it that we dare call insignificant? The least of all things may be as a seed cast in to the seed-field of time, to grow there and bear fruit, which shall be multiplying when time shall be no more. We cannot always trace the connections of things. We do not ponder those we can trace: or we should tremble to call anything beneath the notice of God. It has been eloquently said that where we see a trifle hovering unconnected in space, higher spirit can discern its fibres stretching through the whole expanse of the system of the world, and hanging on the remotest limits of the future and the past. In reference to the third and fourth objections before mentioned, namely, that an all-embracing providence is incompatible with divine justice and human freedom, it should be considered that, in contemplating God's Providence, the question will often arise, why was mortal evil allowed to exist? But as these questions meet us at every turn, and, under different forms, may be termed the one and the only difficulty in theology, it is already considered in the previous chapter of this work, and may therefore require the less notice in the present article. We should in all humility preface whatever we say on the permission of evil (such as, mysticism, in religious bodies) with a confession that it is an inscrutable mystery, which our faith receives, but which our reason could not prove either to be or not to be demanded by the perfection of God. But, in addition to the vindication of God's ways which may be found in the over-ruling of evil for good, the following theories deserve notice: --
1. Occasionalism, or the doctrine that God is the immediate cause of all men's actions. It is so called, because it maintains that men only furnish God an occasion for what he does. It degrades all second causes to mere occasions, and turns men into passive instruments.
2. Mechanism. Many, alarmed at the consequences which occasionalism would seem to involve, have embraced an opposite scheme. They criticise the definition of the laws of nature, and contend that occasionalism derives all its plausibility from adroitly availing itself of the ambiguities of language. They would have us view the creation as a species of clock, or other machinery, which, being once made and wound up, will for a time perform its movements without the assistance or even presence of its maker. But reasons press too far the analogy between the Creator and an artisan. So excellent a man as Baxter was misled by this hypothesis, which evidently is as derogatory to God as occasionalism is fatal to the moral agency of man.
3. The authors of the third scheme respecting the mode in which Providence permits sin sought to be "Eclectics" or to find a path intermediate between Mechanism and Occasionalism. In their judgment, man is actuated by God, and yet is at the same time active himself. God gives man the power of action, and preserves these powers every moment, but he is not the efficient cause of free actions themselves. This they say, is involved in the very idea of a moral being, which would cease to be moral if it were subjected to the control of necessity, and not suffered to choose and to do what it saw to be the best according to the laws of freedom. But it is asked, why did God create men free, and therefore fallible? It were presumption to think of answering this question adequately. It belongs to the deep things of God. But, among the possible reasons, we may mention, that if no fallible beings had been created, there could have been no virtue in the universe; for virtue implies probation, and probation a liability to temptation and sin. Again, if some beings had not become sinful, the most glorious attributes of God would never have been so fully exerted and displayed. How could His wisdom and mercy and grace have been adequately manifested, except by suffering a portion of His creatures to become such as to demand the exercise of those attributes? How else could He have wrought the miracle of educing good from evil? In this connection we may allude to the third chapter of Romans, where as in other passages, it is declared, that the good which evil may be over-ruled to produce, cannot palliate, much less excuse, the guilt of sinners, or of those who say, "Let us do evil that good may come."
Among the proofs of Divine Providence may be reckoned the following: -- 1. One argument in proof of Providence is analogous to one mode of proving a creation. If we cannot account for the existence of the world without supposing its coming into existence, or beginning to be; no more can we account for the world continuing to exist, without supposing it to be preserved; for it is as evidently absurd to suppose any creature prolonging as producing its own being. A second proof of Providence results from the admitted fact of creation. Whoever has made any piece of mechanism, therefore takes pains to preserve it.
Parental affection moves those who have given birth to children to provide for their sustenation and education. It is both reasonable and scriptural to contemplate God as sustaining the universe because He made it. Thus David, having promised that the world was made by God, immediately descends to the course of his Providence. (Ps. xxiii.6.) The creation also evinces a Providence by proving God's right to rule, on the admitted principle that every one may do what he will with his own.
A third proof of Providence is found in the divine perfections. Since, among the divine perfections, are all power and all knowledge, the non-existence of Providence, if there be none, must result from a want of will in God. But no want of will to exercise a Providence can exist, for God wills whatever is for the good of the universe, and for His own glory; to either of which a Providence is clearly indispensable. God therefore has resolved to exercise His power and knowledge so as to subserve the best ends with His creation. "He that denies Providence," says Charnock, "denies most of God's attributes; he denies at least the exercise of them; he denies his omniscience, which is the eye of Providence; mercy and justice, which are the arms of it; power, which is its life and motion; wisdom, which is the rudder whereby Providence is steered; and holiness, which is the compass and rule of each motion." This argument for a Providence might be made much more impressive, did our limits allow us to expand it, so as to show, step by step how almost every attribute, if not directly, yet by implication, demands that God put forth an unceasing sovereignty over all His works.
A fourth proof of God's Providence appears in the order which prevails in the universe. We say the order which prevails, aware of the occasional apparent disorder that exists, which we have already noticed, and shall soon treat of again. That summer and winter, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, day and night, are fixed by law, was obvious even to man who never heard of God's covenant with Noah. Accordingly the ancient Greeks designated the creation by a word which means order (cosmos). But our sense of order is keenest where we discern it in apparent confusion. The motions of the heavenly bodies are eccentric and intervolved, yet are most regular when they seem most lawless. They were therefore compared by the earliest astronomers to the discords which blend in a harmony, and to the wild starts which often heighten the graces of a dance. Modern astronomy has revealed to us so much miraculous symmetry in celestial phenomena, that it shows us far more decisive proofs of a Ruler seated on the circles of the heavens, than were vouchsafed to the ancients. Moreover, many discover proofs of a Providence in such facts as the proportion between the two sexes, the diversities of the continents, as well as human nature and the nature of all things continuing always the same; since such facts show that all things are controlled by an unchanging power.
An objection to proofs of Providence, derived from the order of the universe, is thought to spring from the seeming disorders to which we cannot shut our eyes. Much is said of plagues and earthquakes, of drought, flood, frost and famine, with a thousand more natural evils. But it deserves consideration whether, if there were no Providence, these anomalies would not be the rule instead of the exception; whether they do not feelingly persuade us that that curse of nature is upheld by a power above nature, and without which it would fall to nothing; whether they may not be otherwise necessary for more important ends than fall within the scope of our knowledge.
[Illustration: REV. M. GOLDEN
The High Priest in Church Ceremonial Attire]
A fifth proof of Providence is furnished by the fact that so many men are here rewarded and punished according to a righteous law. The wicked often feel compunctious visitings in the midst of their sins, or smart under the rod of civil justice, or are tortured with natural evils. With righteous all things are in general reversed. The miser and envious are punished as soon as they begin to commit their respective sins; and some virtues are their own present reward. But we would not dissemble that we are here met with important objections, although infinitely less, even though they were unanswerable, than beset such as would reject the doctrine of Providence.
It is said, and we grant, that the righteous are trodden under foot, and the vilest men exalted; that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; that virtue starves, while vice is fed, and that schemes for doing good are frustrated, while evil plots succeed. But we may reply:
1. The prosperity of the wicked is often apparent, and well styled a shining misery. Who believes that Nero enthroned was happier than Paul in chains?
2. We are often mistaken in calling such or such an afflicted man good, and such or such a prosperous man bad.
3. The miseries of good men are generally occasioned by their own faults, since they have been so fool-hardy as to run counter to the laws by which God acts, or have aimed at certain ends while neglecting the appropriate means.
4. Many virtues are proved and augmented by trials, and not only proved, but produced, so that they would have had no existence without them. Many a David's noblest qualities would never have been developed but for the impious attempts of Saul. Job's integrity was not only tested but strengthened by Satan being permitted to sift him as wheat. Passions, experience and hope were brought as ministering angels to man, of whom the world was not worthy, through trials of cruel mockings and scourgings.
5. The unequal distribution of good and evil, so far as it exists, carries our thoughts forward to the last judgment, and a retribution according to the deeds done in the body, and can hardly fail of throwing round the idea of eternity a stronger air of reality than it might otherwise have done. All perplexities vanish as we reflect that, "He cometh to judge the earth."
6. Even if we limit our views to this world, but extend them to all our acquaintances, we cannot doubt that the tendencies, though not always the effects, of vice are to misery, and those of virtue to happiness. These tendencies are especially clear if our view embraces a whole life-time, and the clearer the longer the period we embrace. The Psalmist was at first envious at the foolish, when he saw the prosperity of the wicked; but as his views became more comprehensive, and he understood their end, his language was, "How are they brought into desolation as in a moment; they are utterly consumed with terrors." The progressive tendency of vice and virtue to reap each its appropriate harvest is finally illustrated by Bishop Butler, best of all perhaps in his picture of an imaginary kingdom of the good, which would peacefully subvert all others, and fill the earth. Indeed, as soon as we leave what is immediately before our eyes, and glance at the annals of the world, we behold so many manifestations of God, that we may adduce as a sixth proof of Providence the facts of history. The giving and transmission of a revelation, as the Mosaic and the Christian -- the raising up of Prophets, Apostles and Defenders of the Faith -- the ordination of particular events, such as the Reformation -- the more remarkable deliverance noticed in the lives of those devoted to the good of the world, etc., all indicate the wise and benevolent care of God over the human family. But the historical proof of a Providence is perhaps strongest where the wrath of man has been made to praise God, or where efforts to dishonor God have been constrained to do him honor. Testimony in favor of piety has fallen from the impious, and has had a double volume, as coming from the unwilling. They who have fought against the truth have been used by God as instruments of spreading the knowledge of it, awakening an interest in it, or stimulating Christians to purify it from human additions, and to exhibit its power. The scientific researches also with which infidels have wearied themselves to overthrow a revelation have proved at last fatal to their daring scepticisms. Too many histories, like Gibbons', have been written as if there were no God in the heavens, swaying the sceptre of the earth. But a better day is approaching; and it is exhilarating to observe that Alison, the first British historian of the age, writes in the spirit which breathes in the historical books of the Bible, where the free actions of man are represented as inseparably connected with the agency of God. If we may judge of the future by the past, as the scroll of time unrolls, we, or our posterity, and some think glorified spirits in a yet higher degree, shall see more and more plainly the hand of God operating, till every knee shall bow. Judgments, now a great deep, shall become as the light that goeth forth. The tides of ambition and avarice will all be seen to roll in subserviency to the designs of God. To borrow the illustration of another, "we shall behold the bow of God encircling the darkest storms of wickedness, and forcing them to manifest His glory to the universe."
As a seventh ground for believing in Providence, it may be said that Providence is the necessary basis of all religion. For what is religion? One of the best definitions calls it the belief in a super-human power, which has great influence in the human affairs, and ought therefore to be worshiped. But take away this influence in the human affairs, and you cut off all motive to worship. To the same purpose is the text in Hebrews: "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and He is a rewarder of such as diligently seek Him." If then the religious sentiments thrill us not in vain -- if all attempts of all men to commune with God have not always and everywhere been idle -- there must be a Providence.
In the eighth place, we may advert for a moment to the proof of Providence from the common consent of mankind, with the single exception of atheists. The Epicureans may be classed with atheists, as they are generally thought to have been atheists in discourse, and a God after their imaginations would be, to all intents and purposes, no God. The Stoics were also atheists, believing only in a blind fate arising from a perpetual concatenation of causes contained in nature. The passages acknowledging a Providence in Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, and all the ancient moralists, are numerous and decisive, but too accessible or well-known to need being quoted.
In the last place, the doctrine of Providence is abundantly proved by the Scriptures. Some times it is declared that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will; as much as to say that nothing can withstand His power. Again, lest we may think some things beneath His notice, we read that He numbereth the hairs of our heads, careth for lilies, and disposeth all the lots which are cast. The care of God for man is generally argued, a fortiori, from His care for inferior creatures. One Psalm (xci) is devoted to show the providential security of the Godly: another (xciii) shows the frailty of man; and a third (civ) the dependence of all orders in creation on God's Providence for food and breath. In Him, it is elsewhere added, we live, and move, and have our being. He, in the person of Christ, sustaineth all things by the Word of His power, and from Him cometh down every good and perfect gift. But nowhere perhaps is a Providence so pointedly asserted and so sublimely set forth as in some of the last chapters of Job; and nowhere so variously, winningly, and admirably exhibited as in the history of Joseph.
And nowhere could be found more brilliantly illuminating its substance than in our own hearts and lives. The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. To undervalue God's Providence it is the most dreadful insult that a fool could dare conceive in his mind against God's existence. But the wise hearken to His voice.
My son, if thou wilt receive my words,