Providence - A Summary of the Christian Faith by Henry Eyster Jacobs - Chapter 5

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Question: Have miracles been wrought by Satan and his adherents?

The magicians in Egypt wrought wonders (Ex. 7:11, 12), and the false prophet in Rev. 19:20. The Israelites, in Deut. 13:1-5, are warned against being misled by errorists notwithstanding their signs and wonders.

(You can find other chapters of Jacobs’ book here.)

Chapter 5 - Providence

1. What is Providence?

God’s administration of created things.

Since Creation gives being, and Providence preserves and directs it to its end, the latter is only the continuation of the former. Hence Scripture frequently joins them.

Ps. 121:2, 3, 4 — “My help cometh from Jehovah, who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved, he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold he that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” So also Ps. 146:5-10; Acts 17:24-28.

3. Against what errors must it be constantly maintained?

Those of Epicureans and Deists, who acknowledge a Creator, but teach that all things occur by the operation of forces implanted in Nature from the creation, as though, to use a figure of Augustine, God were a shipbuilder who delivers the vessel, when finished, into other hands, and has for it no further care, or a carpenter who erects a house, and then entirely relinquishes it to its owner.

4. What proofs can be given from Scripture for the reality of Providence?

It is found or presupposed on every page. Only a few passages need be cited.

Matt. 5:45 — “Your Father who is in heaven maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.”

Matt. 6:26 — “Your heavenly Father feedeth them.” Matt. 6:30 — “If God so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”

1 Peter 5:7 — “Casting all your anxiety upon him; for he careth for you.” Acts 17:28 — “In him we live and move and have our being.” Heb. 1:3 — “Upholding all things by the word of his power.”

5. Are there other arguments that might be cited?

(a) It is involved in our conception of the Divine Attributes, as the Goodness, Wisdom, Power, and Justice of God. His Goodness implies His constant communication of blessings to those He has created. What sort of Wisdom would it be to create a universe and leave it? Or is it consistent with Omnipotence to limit its sphere to the beginning, instead of deeming it coextensive with the entire sphere of derived being? So also, as supremely just, He can allow no punishment to be inflicted undeservedly, or reward to be given without merit.

(b) From the constancy of Nature, and the perpetuity of creatures amidst the changes which centuries bring with them.

(c) From the adaptation of creatures to their place, and of parts and functions of creatures to their perpetuity and welfare.

(d) From the general purpose of human history, which everywhere shows divine purpose directed towards a given end. The rise and fall of empires, the wonderful preservation of the Christian Church against the plots of enemies and the indifference of its friends, etc.

6. With what objects is Providence occupied?

With all. Nothing is so great as to be beyond it. For angels are beneath its control (Ps. 91:11; Heb. 1:14; 1 Thess. 4:16). Nor is anything so small and unimportant as not to have a place in its plans. For it has to do with young ravens (Ps. 147:9), sparrows (Malt. 10:29), frogs and vermin (Ex. 8:13,18), lilies and grass (Matt. 6:28,30), the hairs of our heads (Matt. 10:30), our tears (Ps. 56:8).

7. What error does this disprove?

The modified casualism of Jerome who taught that it was beneath God’s Majesty to regard the humbler creatures. With God the distinction of great and small that obtains among men disappears.

8. What practical application of this universality and particularity of Providence is made by Holy Scripture?

The doctrine that it is not simply the life of each individual that is regarded, but that, in each individual life, each stage and step are explicitly and separately considered.

9. Cite proofs.

(a) As to the beginning of man’s life, Providence is described, as active in man’s conception.

Ps. 139:15, 16 — “My frame was not hidden from thee when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my unformed substance, and in thy book they were all written, even the days that were ordained for me.” Job 10:8 — “Thy hands have framed me and fashioned me.” And in his birth.

Ps. 71:6 — “By thee have I been holden from the womb; thou art he that took me out of my mother’s bowels.”

(b) As to the progress of man’s life.

Food.

Ps. 145:15 — “The eyes of all wait upon thee,and thou givest them their meat in due season.”

Undertakings.

Prov. 20:24 — “A man’s goings are of Jehovah. How then can man understand his way?”

Calling in life.

Jer. 1:5 — “Before thou earnest out of the womb, I sanctified thee: I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.”

Marriage.

Prov. 19:14 — “A prudent wife is from Jehovah.”

Children.

Ps. 127:3 — “The fruit of the womb is his reward.”

Protection from danger.

Ps. 127:1 — “Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

Protection from diseases.

Ps. 91:3 — “He will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.”

(c) As to the end of life.

Job. 14:5 — “His days are determined; the number of his months is with thee; and thou hast appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass.”

Ps. 139:16 — “The days that were ordained for me when as yet there was none of them.”

10. Does this mean that God has set limits to man’s life and otherwise determined its details irrespective of any agency of man himself?

God’s Providence, comprehending all the circumstances of man’s course and the manner in which in every future contingency man would exercise his freedom, does not absolutely exclude man’s agency. There are limits beyond which man has no freedom. Since the fall no one by any compliance with divinely-appointed conditions can reach the age of a thousand years. Human strength has its utmost limits (Ps. 90:10). But within these limits it is God’s will that man’s free agency be a factor, according to which the period which God would otherwise have appointed may be abbreviated (Ps. 55:23), or lengthened (Eph. 6:3), by His Providential activity. Accordingly, theologians distinguish between “the natural” and “the preternatural limits of life,” and distinguish the latter into “the limit of grace” and “the limit of wrath.” ‘The limit of grace,” however, does not always indicate a lengthening of life. Sometimes the abbreviation of life is a blessing.

Is. 57:1 — “None considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.”

11. Is it, therefore, absolutely necessary that every one die at the particular time and by the particular disease which proves fatal?

No. For such doctrine would deny the efficacy of prayer, and the truth of God’s promises with respect to obedience, and of His threats with respect to disobedience. The preternatural limit of life is always hypothetical, including the condition of godliness or ungodliness, and the use or contempt of means.

12. But if Providence is occupied with all things, does this mean that it has something to do with the wicked deeds of men?

Undoubtedly. For while God gives them no aid, He foreknows them, sustains the nature that sins, permits them, limits them and overrules them for good.

13. What acts are comprised in Providence? Three. Of these two are immanent, or occurring

within God, Foreknowledge and Predetermination; and one is transient, viz., the execution of what has been predetermined.

14. But does not this imply succession in God?

No, for the order is anthropological, in order to enable us, by the analogy of what occurs in man, to distinguish what must always be kept separate in our consideration of God.

15. How is the Foreknowledge to be distinguished from the Predetermination?

Foreknowledge comprises all things, bad as well as good. But Predetermination pertains only to what is good.

16. Can anything that God has foreknown occur otherwise than He has foreknown it?

No, for He is omniscient.

17. Must not His foreknowledge, therefore, he the cause of the events foreknown?

By no means. For God foreseeing the end from the beginning is, in those things He has left to human liberty, determined, in His foreknowledge, by the future decision of man. The event does not depend upon God’s foreknowledge, but God’s foreknowledge depends upon the event. The foreknowledge of God is the record of the result of the exercise of free choice by the creature; for to God the future is ever present. If the free choice of the creature were otherwise than it is, God’s foreknowledge of the event would differ. The foreknowledge of God no more brings necessity to things foreknown, than my sight of a house has built it.

18. How is the execution of what has been predetermined effected?

In three ways, viz., by preservation, concurrence and government.

19. What is Preservation?

Since God’s presence pervades all things, their existence continues by His omnipresent power. Were He to withdraw His hand, they would return to nothingness. “The continued existence of creatures is more dependent upon God’s presence, than rays of light upon the sun” (Calovius).

Col. 1:17 — “By him all things consist.”

Heb. 1:3 — “Upholding all things by the word of his power.”

Acts 17:28 — “In him we live and move and have our being.” Ps. 104:29, 30 — “Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created.”

This preservation, beyond individuals, belongs also to species. Generation after generation passes away, individuals die, but their places are supplied, and the race remains.

20. What is Concurrence?

Nothing, either great or small occurs, without God’s active co-operation (Job 10:8,9; 1 Cor. 12:6; Acts 17:28). Applied to human acts, this implies:

(a) A certain degree of liberty with respect to man’s free will. For otherwise God would not concur or cooperate, but would only operate.

(b) The activity of God in and through that of the creature. The effect is produced neither by God alone, nor by the creature alone, but, at the same time, by God and the creature. God is the First Cause; creatures are second causes. God acts through second causes, not only by creating and sustaining them, but especially by imparting His energy to all their actions.

21. What qualification must be attached to the explanation of this concurrence?

The abuse of the energy communicated by God, in its application to sinful ends, comes entirely from the creature. This abuse God permits; for otherwise, the freedom of man’s will would be denied. God concurs with the effect, not with the defect of an action.

22. What is meant by Government? God’s control of all acts of second causes.

23. In what different ways does this occur?

(a) By permission. God sometimes places no insuperable barrier in the way of those abusing their free will.

Ps. 81:12 — “I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart, that they might walk in their own counsels.”

Acts 14:16 — “Who suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways.” Rom. 1:24, 28 — God permits even when he does not will what is permitted. (b) By hindrance. God sometimes prevents the actions of creatures from reaching the end they would otherwise attain by the natural exercise of the powers He has allotted them, or by the use of their free wills. ‘ An illustration is seen, where, in Dan. 3:21, the fire did not harm the three faithful confessors of the only true God, or where, in Num. 2.2, 11, Balaam’s purpose to curse Israel is thwarted, or, in 2 Kings 7:6, where the counsels of the Syrians are thrown into confusion.

(c) By direction. All actions of creatures, good and bad, are guided to the ends which He has designed. God has a plan; and every act of man’s will is made to contribute to its ultimate result. He brings forth good out of evil, and converts evil into good. Saul went forth to seek asses, and, through God’s direction, returned a king. The sons of Jacob sold Joseph into slavery, who, as governor of Egypt, became the means of saving the entire family from famine.

Gen. 50:20 — “Ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”

The Jews crucified Christ, and through His death, salvation is prepared for the race, and the highest glory resulted for him whom they hated (Acts 4:27, 28).

(d) By determination. God appoints certain limits to the strength and activity of creatures (Job 1:12; 2:6; 1 Chron. 21:27).

24. Is Providence occupied with all things in the same way?

No. God disposes events in one way with respect to the good and in another with respect to the wicked. The former are the objects of His especial care and guidance. Providence considered with respect to them is sometimes called “Special Providence” (Matt. 10:31; Heb. 1:14; Deut. 32:9J 5; Ps 3318; 37:19,25; 91: n).

25. What is meant by the distinction between Ordinary and, Extraordinary Providence?

Ordinary Providence designates God’s regular operation through second causes. Extraordinary, refers to His activity either independently of second causes, or through these causes in an unusual way.

26. What other term designates Ordinary Providence?

“Law of Nature.” When second causes have been observed to act uniformly under given circumstances and conditions, this uniform method is called “a law.” Day has been found to follow night, and summer winter, without exception, in the experience of mankind; and, hence, we deduce the rule or law, according to which all our expectations conform.

27. What caution must be observed in the tracing of “laws”?

The widening of experience often shows that the method accepted as law is not absolutely uniform, but changes under conditions that had not been observed before. The inhabitant of the tropics may know nothing of the solidification of water at a low degree of temperature. An uneducated man would deny the possibility of lighting a candle with a piece of ice; and yet the chemist can do it by attaching to the wick a pellet of sodium. Superficial observation shows that cold contracts objects; but wider observation shows that from 39 degrees Fahrenheit until the freezing point, the law changes. Only a few years ago, the possibility of holding a conversation half way across a continent would have been derided, as would also have been the assertion that the eve could, under certain circumstances, penetrate a human body and see objects on the other side. A so-called “law” is not, therefore, God’s ordinary way of working; but it is an inference based upon man’s observation. It is the result attained by generalization from the widest sphere of facts that have fallen beneath the experience of the one who undertakes to state the law, 28. But if human experience were to haze all the details, so far as the past and the present are concerned, could God be bound in the future to the rules underlying such details?

This would make God the creature and subject of law, and would virtually deny that there is a God. For God is nothing, if not supreme and sovereign. He who has fixed the so-called “laws of nature,” could just as readily have ordained other laws, varying from them, and, when and where He pleases, He can act through them extraordinarily, or dispense with them altogether.

29. What, then, is extraordinary Providence?

A miracle. It may be defined as a suspension of a’ law of nature, i. e., an activity that varies from the mode that has heretofore fallen under man’s observation. Second causes may be employed in an extraordinary way, so that their activity may be accelerated or retarded; or God may act without them.

30. Upon what then does the possibility of a miracle depend?

Upon the freedom of God. “God works miracles in order to testify that He is omnipotent, and above nature. The ordinary course of things testifies that Nature has an Architect, who is wise, kind, righteous, viz., God. But He acts outside of and beyond this order, as when He raised the dead, or made the sun stand still, or turned it back, in order that we may know that He is Almighty, and stronger than the whole world, and that He can bring aid from outside of the natural order” (Melanchthon).

31. Upon what does the necessity of a miracle depend?

It stands and falls with the necessity of Revelation; for Revelation is a miracle. The order of Nature, violated and disarranged by sin, is restored by God’s working over and beyond the sphere of purely natural causes. The two fundamental miracles are Creation and Redemption. The working out of what was introduced by Creation having been interrupted by sin, every miracle, since the fall, points to and centers in Redemption. The necessity for a miracle was introduced by sin. A low view of the extent and significance of sin results in the denial of the necessity of the miraculous. Where human guilt is passed over lightly, the need of a Redeemer is depreciated. The denial of the possibility of the miraculous is grounded, therefore, not so much in intellectual, as in moral difficulties. The strongest arguments are those which appeal more to the conscience than to the understanding.

32. What is the great proof of the reality of miracles?

The Person of Christ, the miracle of miracles (1 Tim. 3:16); and next to this, the regenerate life of the child of God, proceeding from that of Christ ( 1 Cor. 6:11).

33. From what standpoints is the possibility of miracles attacked?

(a) From that of Atheism, which in its denial of God, necessarily denies that His Supreme will orders all things, and also makes exception to this order. The most widespread form of Atheism, and the one whose attacks on miracles is most frequently heard, is Materialism, with its assertion that there is neither God, nor mind, nor purpose in the universe.

(b) From that of Deism, with its conception that when the clock is wound up it henceforth runs forever of itself, and that God acts in nature exclusively through the forces He once placed there. The world, according to it, has been so framed, that there can never be a variation from what ordinarily occurs. What ordinarily occurs must always occur; and what ordinarily does not occur, can never occur. Such are its postulates.

(c) From that of Pantheism, where God is degraded to a mere personification of the powers of Nature.

34. Does the exposure of pretended miracles in any way affect the argument for the miracles recorded and prophesied in Scripture?

They only point to faith in the miraculous as grounded in the very nature of man’s mind. What they abuse and mislead, finds its true end and satisfaction within the limits fixed in Holy Scripture. The detection of counterfeits does. not disprove the value of genuine coins.

35. But have not miracles been wrought by Satan and his adherents?

The magicians in Egypt wrought wonders (Ex. 7:11, 12), and the false prophet in Rev. 19:20. The Israelites, in Deut. 13:1-5, are warned against being misled by errorists notwithstanding their signs and wonders. These may have been nothing more than inexplicable facts transcending the experience of their witnesses, or as supernatural power may be conceded temporarily to the wicked in order that, in the conflict, God may be glorified, by counterbalancing and overcoming their very highest efforts and achievements by the still greater supernatural power with which He interferes for man’s deliverance. Every so-called Satanic miracle may be interpreted, however, by a more than usual acquaintance with purely natural resources, as though some one were to appear among uncivilized people and would use wireless telegraphy.

36. Are miracles then evidences of the truth of the cause for which they are wrought?

Not in themselves. A miracle attracts attention, awakens reflection, leads to investigation, and brings the cause proclaimed to the test of Holy Scripture (Gal. 1:8.) “Miracles are seals of doctrine; as, therefore, a seal torn from a letter proves nothing, so miracles, without doctrine, are not valid” (Gerhard). See Chapter Xiii, 21-23.

37. What distinction was made by the Scholastics?

Into miracula, or miracles properly so called, and mirabilia, or apparent miracles. The former are deeds utterly surpassing natural powers, and wrought, therefore, only by God (Ps. 136:4). The latter were explained as wrought by the application of natural agents in a mysterious way, so as to excite astonishment, and to be regarded as miraculous.

38. Into what two classes have miracles been divided?

Into Miracles of Nature, and Miracles of Grace. The former were wrought by God in matters subject to sense, as when Christ raised the dead, and stilled the tempest, or when He Himself arose from the tomb. The latter are wrought within men for their salvation, or pertain to man’s relation to God. The former are subordinate to the latter.

John 14:12 — “Greater works than these shall he do, because 1 go unto the Father.”

The awakening of one born in sin to spiritual life is more wonderful than the quickening of Lazarus. All external miracles wrought by Christ and His Apostles were for the purpose of bringing men under the influence of spiritual power to justify, regenerate and glorify them.

39. What particular practical application is to be made of the doctrine of Providence?

It leads to a correct estimate of second causes. On the one hand, they are to be diligently used, as the ordinary means through which God communicates His gifts and blessings (i Thess. 4:11; 2 Cor. 3:10, 11; Matt. 4:7). On the other hand, we are not to rest in them; but, in our faithful discharge of the duties of our callings we may be assured that God has ways of caring for us and of rendering our work effective far above all we can ask or think (Ps. 127:1, 2; Matt. 4:4; 6:25-39; Phil. 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7).

(You can find other chapters of Jacobs’ book here.)

Originally published at: Comfort for Christians

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