Re: Providence

Garry DeWeese (
Thu, 09 Apr 1998 14:59:46 -0600

At 01:17 PM 4/9/1998 -0400, Bill Hamilton wrote:
>Garry: Could you point me to a reference on the place of _creatio
>continua_ in Jonathan Edwards' theology? Thanks

The following is from _The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin
Defended_, ed. Clyde A. Holbrook (New Haven: Yale, 1970), pp. 400-402
(italics aare Edwards's):

"That God does, by his immediate power, *uphold* every created substance
in being, will be manifest, if we consider that their present existence is
a *dependent* existence, and therefore is an *effect* and must have some
*cause*; and the cause must be one of these two: either the *antecedent
existence* of the same substance, or else the *power of the Creator*. But
it can't be the antecedent existence of the same substance. For instance,
the existence of the body of the moon at this present moment can't be the
effect of its existence at the last forgoing moment. For not only was what
existed the last moment, no active cause, but wholly a passive thing; but
this also is to be considered, that no cause can produce effects in a
*time* and a *place* in which itself is *not*. . . . Therefore the
existence of created substances, in each successive moment, must be the
effects of the *immediate* agency, will, and power of God. . . .
"God's *preserving* created things in being is perfectly equivalent to a
*continued creation*, or to his creating those things out of nothing at
*each moment* of their existence. If the continued existence of created
things be whollydependent on God's preservation, then those things would
drop into nothing, upon the ceasing of the present moment, without a new
exertion of the divine power to cause them to exist in the following moment."

A few lines later Edwards says that God's preserving activity "is
altogether equivalent to an *immediate production out of nothing*, at each
moment, because its existence at this moment is not merely in part from
God, but wholly from him; and not in any part, or degree, from its
antecedent existence. . . .
"The antecedent existence is nothing, as to any proper influence or
assistence in the afair; and consequently God produces the effects as much
from *nothing*, as if there had been nothing *before*. So that this effect
differs not at all from the first creation, but only *circumstantially*; as
in the first creation there had been no such act and effect of God's power
before: whereas, his giving assistance afterwards, *follows* preceeding
acts and effects of the same kind, in an established order."

Perhaps it is worth noting that Edwards develops this ontology to explain
how all humans share in Adam's original sin. Since any continuent is
really a series of instantaneously created parts which are constituted into
a whole by God's action and power, so the whole of humanity, consisting of
many parts, is constituted into a whole by God's power:

"From what has been observed it may appear, there is no sure ground to
conclude, that it must be an absurd and impossible thing, for the race of
mankind truly to partake of the sin of the first apostacy, so as that this,
in reality and propriety, shall become *their* sin; by virtue of a real
union between the root and branches of the world of mankind. . .
established by the Author of the whole system of the universe. . . . And
therefore the sin of the apostacy is not theirs, merely because God
*imputes* it to them; but it is *truly* and *properly* theirs, and on that
ground, God imputes it to them" (p. 405).

I dare say this is a somewhat different ontology than most of us operate
with, but it is clearly not a logically impossible ontology.

Garry DeWeese