Johannes Wollebius on the Providence of God

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in Divine Providence


The actual providence of God is that work by which God not on preserves his creatures, but governs all things with unlimited [immensus] wisdom, goodness, power, justice, and mercy.

I. To deny providence is to deny God.

II. Actual providence differs from eternal providence as the execution of a decree differs from the decree.

III. In eternal providence what God intends to do, in actual providence what he wants, is uppermost.

IV. Providence consists not only of knowledge, but of the governance of all things, from the greatest to the least.

V. The providence of God does not destroy secondary causes, but upholds them.

VI. From the standpoint of providence, events which are contingent with respect to secondary causes are necessary. But it is the necessity of immutability, not of coercion.

VII. The providence of God is very different from Stoic fatalism. Stoic fatalism binds God in the net of secondary causes; Christian [teaching] subordinates secondary causes to the absolutely free will of God, which employs them freely, not of necessity, not because them, but because he wants them.

VIII. Both good and evil deeds are controlled by the providence of God.

IX. Good deeds are controlled by his effective act, under which heading belong the divine prevenience [praecursus] , concurrence [concursus] and support [succursus].

X. Evil deeds are controlled by realized [actuosus] permission, and hence by allowing, limiting, and directing them.

XI. The providence of God is always free from disorder and sin, even in connection with disorderly and sinful acts.

In connection with evil acts two aspects must be recognized: the act itself and its lawlessness. The act itself, as an event in nature, takes place by the effective action of God. Its lawlessness or evil quality [malitia] exists by his realized permission. Sin is controlled by ( I ) being permitted, ( 2 ) being restrained and kept within limits, (3) being directed toward a good result. In none of these cases may God be called the cause of sin; not in making effective the material side of sin, for just as with a horse one thing causes movement and another causes stopping, so it is not the same to be the cause of an action and the cause of the evil quality inherent in the action. Not by allowing a sinful action, for by no law is he required to prevent sin. Not by limiting it; just as anyone who extinguishes a fire, so that it cannot be spread, is not the cause of the fire, so he who puts a limit to sin is not the cause of sin. Not by directing it to a good end; just as preparing a wholesome medicine from a poisonous animal is a most noble art, so it is most glorious for God to bring light even out of darkness, and some good out of evil. It is therefore easy to see how foolish are the falsehoods of those who, in order to vindicate God against stain of sin, fall back upon a bare and empty permission [as all that God has to do with evil acts].

XII. Although Scripture often ascribes the same act to God, the devil, and the wicked, yet sin cannot be imputed in any sense to God. Nor in this matter may recourse be had to [the idea of] a bare permission, but these actions must be understood on the basis of their scope and purpose. In the same action the plans of God, of the devil, and of the wicked are different. The suffering of Job is ascribed to God: “God gave and God has taken away,” said Job; this suffering is also ascribed to Satan, and to the Sabeans and Chaldeans, and the matter must be understood in terms of the purpose of each. The aim of Satan was to reduce Job to desperation; that of the Sabeans and Chaldeans was to enrich themselves by the plunder and spoils of the righteous man; God, however, determined to prove and make manifest the faith of his servant. In the crucifixion of Christ, the aim of Pilate was to remain in favor with the Jews and with Caesar; that of the Jews was to satisfy their hatred and vindictive desires; but the purpose of God was to redeem the human race. Thus it can be said that the others did nothing except what “the hand and plan of God
decreed” (Acts 4: t 8).

XIII. The hardening of the wicked is ascribed to God as a most righteous judgment, so that neither can guilt be ascribed to God nor can the wicked be excused. The wicked are without excuse in this matter, because God harden only those who harden themselves, nor does he make hard [hearts] from soft, but, by righteous judgment, from hardened [hearts] he makes harder ones. They harden themselves by the abuse of the very gifts by which they ought to be turned to repentance; namely: ( I ) The longsuffering of God (Rom. 2:4,5: “DO you presume upon the richness of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing that it is the function of God’s goodness to lead you to repentance? By your hardness of heart, a treasury of wrath in the day of wrath,” etc.). (2) The word of God (2 Cor. 2: 15: “For we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved, and among those who are perishing. To the latter we are the odor of death to death; to the former, the odor of life to life”). (3) The punishments or rod of God, which, like an anvil, makes them more hardened (Jer. 5: 3: “You struck them, but they did not feel sorrow; you consumed them, but they refused to accept correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent”). Thus, because they harden themselves, they are very justly hardened by God, who said concerning Pharaoh: “I will hold his heart, I will make stubborn, and harden, his heart.”

Nor does God harden the hearts of the wicked merely by permission, but also (I) by removing the bonds by which he restrained their desires (Rom. 1:24: “God abandoned them to their lusts”; Rom. 1:28: “God abandoned them to a mentality lacking all sound judgment”). (2) By surrendering them to Satan, as an executioner (I Kings 22:21-22: “Then a spirit came forward and stood before Jehovah, and said, ‘I will entrap him’ (sc. Ahab). And Jehovah said, ‘By what means?’ He said. ‘I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets’. Then he said, ‘You can entrap him; go and do it9”). Just as a magistrate who assigns to an executioner the punishment of a criminal is the cause neither of crime nor of the death of the criminal, so also when God delivers sinners to Satan, blame for the hardening of their hearts and for their death can not be imputed to him.

Johannes Wollebius, Compendium Theologiae Christianae,” in John W. Beardslee III, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1977), 58-61. [Originally published in 1626.]

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