“God’s Providence”

Ryan M. Hurd
Franciscus Junius
Saturday, January 1st 2022
Jan/Feb 2022
by Franciscus Junius
translated by Ryan M. Hurd

The following is a translation of Franciscus Junius’s De Providentia Dei, “God’s Providence,” a short disputation held while he was professor. Abstaining from further introduction about Junius himself, I will add a word regarding the translation below. I have made no effort to establish a critical text and have simply translated from the Kuyper volume.[1] A few notes occur for explanation.

Thesis 1. Aristotle said it with style: people who set their heart on proving to themselves with drawn-out arguments “that some providence is,” actually deserve whips, not words; a reply from an executioner, not a philosopher (nor, I add, a theologian). And what is more: if “that fire is hot,” something we perceive with touch; or “that noonday is light to our sense perception,” something we perceive with sight, do not require demonstration, then much less will divine providence require it. For nothing more is or must be persuasive [to give assent], for Christian men drawing from God’s word (Eccl. 5:5; Wisdom 8; Isa. 10:15; Matt. 6:30–32; 10:19; Luke 12:11–12) as well as for pagans (even for creatures without speech), gathering from the natural light of reason (Rom. 1:10; Job 12:7, etc.; Ps. 19:1) and especially from the arrangement, order, and conservation of all things. Hence, skipping over the question “whether providence is” (an sit), we proceed to the question “what it is” (quid sit)—but not without first noting “what the word ‘providence’ signifies.” The term is usually taken sometimes in a broad way, and other times more precisely. Taken more broadly, it includes the eternal decree of creation, governance, and ordination and then the execution of such; taken more precisely, it pertains to the economy of created things only.

2. At the moment, we take the word “providence” in this second sense. And we define providence thus: this is the act of the supreme, universal principle (i.e., God), whereby all individual creatures are governed best and led on through unto their order and end (even though they are entirely disordered), for the glory of God. Here, all kinds of causes come into view that we can assign in this analysis. We cannot provide an efficient cause for providence, except maybe within the subject himself (i.e., God), if we settle on his absolutely free will as an efficient cause. The formal cause is the actual perpetual act of governing and ordering all things. The “matter about which”[2] is the whole entire world and the individual creatures which were, are, and will exist therein. And finally, the final cause is for the purpose that all may obtain their end and their perfection, and give way to the glory of God, who is the ultimate end of things.

3. This specific providence which we defined has two “parts”: one is universal (Ps. 104:27; Prov. 15:3; Wisdom 8:1; 14:3; Rom. 11:36, etc.); the other is particular (Deut. 32:10; 1 Kings 17:4; Ps. 23:1; 34:8, 16, 19;[3] Isa. 43:1; Matt. 6:33, 2, 10, 30; 16:19; Acts 9:4; Heb. 1:14; 1 Pet. 5:7, 12, and hundreds of other passages). The first is that whereby God upholds an order of nature (both superior and inferior) determined by him; we often just call this the universal conservation of the world. The latter is that whereby God maintains a particular care for each and every creature, and particularly humanity, especially those who are faithful, whom he deemed worthy of closer attention and for whose good he created everything else. Now this latter work of God, which God effects in created things according to his twofold providence, is also twofold: a work of nature and of grace. We call it a work of nature where God effects in nature (both superior and inferior), and also in the individual things of a nature, according to the specific mode of nature, which he expresses in the nature of things just as in a clear mirror of his own nature. We call it a work of grace where God effects something in elect people according to the good pleasure of his will. He effects a work of nature according to his idea whereby the universal principle is in the nature of things; whereas he effects a work of grace individually, such that the principle for his grace is singular and immediate.

4. Further, we can assign the mode for this latter twofold work of God in various ways. For, (1) the work is ordinary or extraordinary. I call it “ordinary” when it follows the common order of nature or grace; “extraordinary,” when it moves beyond the common order. For example, God fed the Israelites with manna (Deut. 8:3) and quail (Exod. [16:11]), and Elijah with a raven (1 Kings 20:11). These pieces of evidence show his fatherly care toward the faithful. Likewise, he caused the sun to stand still in its own place at the prayers of Joshua, and in the time of King Hezekiah, he made its shadow retrograde ten degrees (Josh. 10:13; 2 Kings 20:11). God has been corroborated by these few miracles. This is in spite of the fact that his own quality has been inlaid within individual creatures naturally, though not to exercise his own power, except insofar as they are directed by God’s present hand, because they are nothing else but instruments whereby God instills continually as far as he wills pertaining to efficacy, and per his free choice he sways toward one action or another. This is just what even the very changing of the times shows.

5. (2) This work is mediate or immediate. It is immediate, when he accomplishes something in the nature as a whole or in its individual parts, either by means (i.e., secondary causes) and beyond them or even against them (where it is suitable). Such a work abundantly serves to shine forth the glory of God and make known his power, as it is not restricted by any means external to him. We call God’s work mediate, when it exists by different means, sometimes by a superior nature, sometimes by one inferior (whether either is common or singular), and even sometimes by individual parts of nature according to the nature and above it, just as is suited to his majesty. Now this is a great testimony of divine goodness, conjoined with his manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10): even though he is the one efficient cause of all things and their end, and even though he has the forms and ideas of all things within his mind, and as a result has such that he alone suffices so this whole world, made out of nothing by him, is conserved and so governed—despite all this, he even willed to communicate with creatures the status of causality (to speak in this way), according to the mode of such creatures.

6. In addition, because these means are not of one kind, we will distinguish them into their respective classes. Some means are necessary, while others are contingent. I call means “necessary” which produce an effect necessarily according to their own determinate nature; on the other hand, means are “contingent” which produce an effect contingently. Given all this, the Philosopher [Aristotle] refers to the former as “definite causes” and the latter as “indefinite causes” (Physics, lib 2, c 5). Among the causes we speak of as necessary, there are two kinds. Some are necessary per se and absolutely—by the necessity of the consequent (as they say); others are necessary ex hypothesi—by the necessity of the consequence.[4] The reason of contingencies is attributed to causes and effects under the concept of their future existences, their causalities, and their chance—all things yet to come, as they are uncertain for us, thus we reserve them in uncertainty, as if they leaned either way. Likewise, the cause of all things that just happen (by chance or accidentally) is uncertain—indeed, those things which can occur due to many causes. For chance is not a determinate cause (Aristotle, Physics, lib 2, c 5). However, a cause per accidens is in those things which are performed for the sake of an end, but without election, and that in contingent things rarely. Now accident differs from chance in this single point: that accident occurs in those things that have election.

7. This position does not conflict with divine providence. Even though with respect to the eternal divine decree just as to the first and remote causes, all things are necessary, nevertheless this necessity does not destroy contingency. This is because even though the supreme cause is necessary (i.e., God’s will), the effect can be contingent, on account of the proximate cause that is contingent and indeterminate. Things are named more due to their proximate cause than to their remote one; and note further that things are more considered in themselves than as they are in some mind, even the divine mind. For instance, we will not call a stone immaterial, even though the stone exists immaterially in the soul or mind. Third, God’s providence does not change the natures of things; rather, he governs all things in line with their natures. Thus, he rules over contingent causes and wills in such a way that they act contingently and act voluntarily. Finally, the very things which are contingent in things have such in this mode, having been so ordained: to providence these things are not contingent, but this is otherwise for others, even though the necessity of providence is preserved intact.

8. So much for the first distinction of the means; now, let us shift to the other. Thus, once again, some means are good, both natural (e.g., substances, motions, actions, and the perfections of things) and voluntary and moral (like civil and spiritual virtues); other means are evil, and disordered in themselves. Each of these God ordains, both good means and evil. This is because despite the fact that evil is not good, the ordination of evil for good is still good. Thus, God both ordains and powerfully effects good things, while he ordains and permits, but does not effect, evil things. However, this permission is not mere permission or even due to impotency—as are so many human permissions. Rather, it is permission from God’s free will, which cannot be thought of as unjust, because God, by right of office, is not fettered to restrain [evil], because he has not been bound to anything by any law. For “who gives, so that it is returned to him?” (Rom. 11:35). (In the disputation following, we will handle God’s permission concerning evil things in detail.)

9. We affirm that both contingent and necessary things (Exod. 21:13), both evil and good things—all these depend upon God’s providence (Isa. 45:7; 2 Sam. 12:12; Jer. 50:25; etc.). Despite this assertion, we are not imagining some fate, akin to the Stoics (as they cavil, making this teaching vile); nor are we inventing necessity out of the continual bond of causes and the implicit series which would be involved in nature. Rather, we determine that God is free and the moderator of all things, the one who for his own ineffable wisdom decreed from eternity that it would occur, and now by his power carries out what he decreed. People who subsume God’s providence within nature’s general flow and utterly senseless fate rob God of his glory indeed, as well as they themselves of a highly useful teaching. For nothing depresses one more than if they are susceptible to some movements in the sky or elements. What is more: establishing this [i.e., presuming a kind of natural fate] does not leave room for the fatherly favor of God nor his judgment—as if bounty one year were not God’s singular blessing, and poverty and famine were not his curse, but just the ways of nature. And this is despite the fact that quite often God proclaims in the law and prophets that he proves his grace and punishment in precisely these ways.

10. Others attack this teaching with equal absurdity when they take away all of people’s deliberations and corrections as genuine means, all under the pretext of affirming God’s universal and particular providence. Solomon teaches us precisely the opposite: “The heart of man,” he says, “conceives his way, and the Lord directs his steps” (Prov. 16:6). He means that we are not at all hindered by God’s eternal decrees, so as to prevent us under his will from monitoring ourselves and dispensing all our affairs. Furthermore, this point does not lack overt rational proof. For he who bound our life within its own limits, at the same time left its care in our charge. He caused us to be prescient of dangers, lest we are taken unawares by surprise, and he afforded us cautions and remedies, whereby we could be subservient to his providence in conserving our own individual lives. This is just as, on the other hand, we invite for ourselves with our neglect and folly those things which he has linked to being bad for us. In this way, God willed to conceal from us all things to come, so that as we face uncertainties, we would not desist opposing ready-made solutions, until we have passed them by or overcome every burden.

11. Many come up with a fiction that is more thin and wicked still; they allege it is bare prescience, making excuse as a cover for God’s wondrous providence. They feel the need to have prescience with the implication of “cause” separated from God’s will or decree, or his eternal declaration. This is even though prescience cannot be the per se cause of things in any way, because things do not come to exist, because God foreknew them as coming to exist. Rather, because he decreed them as coming to exist, therefore they are things that are coming to exist, and then he foreknows them as coming to exist. I am going to ignore the Epicureans who imagine God as idle and lifeless, as well as others, equally unsound, who once made up that God lords over the middle region of the air in such a way that he leaves things below to fortune, seeing the fact that actual creatures, while speechless, still clamor quite enough against such obvious madness.

12. Albeit the fruits of divine providence are various (actually, innumerable), we can still reduce and summarize them into two supreme fruits. One, men learn from divine providence that there is sufficiently full ability within God himself to bless them. Two, they can rest in protection with security of him to whose choice all things are subordinate, which otherwise can be feared as harmful, and to whose authority Satan is restrained not otherwise and with a bridle, along with all his followers. The excessive, overly scrupulous fears cannot well otherwise be corrected or allayed, which we conceive from thence from exposure to dangers, than if we always hold in our minds there is no random power, action, motion among creatures, nor one characterized by fate. Rather, all is ruled by God’s eternal judgment such that nothing comes to pass unless it has been decreed by him who knows and wills it. His will, perfectly just, is the cause of all things for us. This is, of course, not the absolute will that sophists blubber about, separating by a wicked and profane division his righteousness from his power. Rather, it is providence, the moderator of all things, and by it only what is right endures even though his reasons have been hidden from us.

Ryan M. Hurd is a doctoral student at the Theologische Universiteit Kampen and a teaching fellow in systematic theology at The Davenant Institute.

1. Franciscus Junius, “De Providentia Dei,” in Francisci Iunii Opuscula theologica selecta, ed. Abraham Kuyper (Amsterdam: Fred. Muller, 1882), 1:157–160. Kuyper’s text is simply a reprint of Franciscus Junius, Opera theologica, duobus tomis, ordine commodissimo, nempe Exegetico primo, Elenctica altero, comprehensa…2 vols. (Geneva: Societas Caldoriana, 1607).
2. Often called the “material cause” by Junius; note, however, that this is not the material cause as regularly spoken about in the tradition, but the material cause or in fact formal object of a science or knowledge (Junius regularly makes this switch). Cf., e.g., Thomas, ST I q 1 a 7, where God is the “material cause,” as Junius means here, of the theological science.
3. Kuyper’s text has “& 119” here. Because Ps. 34 does not have 119 verses, and because verse 19 of Ps. 34 does speak to God’s providential care for his creatures, Junius was most probably referencing Ps. 34:19 rather than Ps. 119.
4. For a discussion of these and the other italicized phrases in this paragraph, all of which are technical scholastic formulae, see their respective entries in Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).
Saturday, January 1st 2022

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