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chapter 4: On the Divine Operations, or Actions Involving External Objects 1 - Gershom Carmichael, Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael 
Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael, ed. James Moore and Michael Silverthorne (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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On the Divine Operations, or Actions Involving External Objects1
In which the transition to this subject is explained
In the first chapter we demonstrated the existence of God from the visible operations of God. We should therefore look rather more closely at the modes and conditions of his operations. It is not necessary at this point to prove that all that exists outside of God owes its being to divine efficacy. We believe this has been adequately made out above where we demonstrated that God exists. For we included in the notion of God the idea that all things depend upon him; and in the same passage we also showed (to anticipate the objection that we are arbitrarily assuming such a universal principle) that this same thing is necessarily connected with the divine infinity and thus with the divine independence itself. Here we shall simply make a few small points about the mode of divine efficacy and its specific ways.
On the properties of divine operations
As to the manner of divine efficacy, it is certain in the first place that God is a free agent; that is, whatever he does, he does in accordance with a deliberation of reason and a resolve of will. It is true that if God is to be formally called an agent or an efficient, an effect must exist outside of God, apart from his will which is eternal. And in this sense some kind of distinction can be made between the will of God and external action. Nevertheless we are right to say (despite objections in some quarters) that the manner in which God produces anything at all apart from himself is by willing. For one cannot conceive of any action intermediate between the efficacious will of God and the existence of the effect produced in its own time.
But God not only operates freely in all things, he also operates independently, so that he does not borrow from any other cause either sufficiency of willing or efficacy of will to produce an effect outside of himself. Hence it also follows that God is irresistible in his operations; what other cause can check the operation of him on whom all other causes absolutely depend, that is, from whom they draw both their existence and their active force?
On divine creation and preservation
We proceed to take note of the different kinds of divine operations. Every operation or efficacy either terminates in the actual being or existence of a created thing in that the thing exists rather than does not exist (is simply nothing), or it terminates in the introduction of some change in a permanent subject, whose existence it takes for granted.
Now since all the efficacy of which any trace is found in created agents is of the latter kind, we should not be surprised if we experience great difficulty in conceiving the other efficacy on which the very existence of continuing things depends, if it seems so incredible to men who are tied to their imaginations that any effect at all is produced from nothing; and if it seems still more incredible that an effect already produced cannot go on existing but will return to nothing, unless it is preserved in its existence by continuation of the same efficacy by which it was first produced.
These things (I say) are difficult to conceive, for the reason that we may not find any such thing in created agents open to our observation. For they produce nothing except from preexisting matter, nor effect anything other than a change in the arrangement of that matter or that subject by which it passes to a different state. This new state, though normally attributed to the influence of a mutative cause, persists after the action of that cause ceases; and in fact does not exist completely until the mutative action is finished. This is the origin of the common prejudice which conceives of an action as something which precedes the existence of an effect, and need only continue until the effect begins to exist; once the effect has been produced, it is assumed to exist thereafter of itself.
It is indeed not surprising that a cause whose only effect is the alteration of a given subject, is required to take no further action than the making of the change. Some argue that the need for continuous divine operation for the continued existence and activity of created things is removed by the fact that things continue to exist or operate after the created cause to which they attribute their continued existence and operation ceases.2 It is clear that these people have not noticed how little is really due to the efficacy of created causes. For things which are said to be formed by them draw neither their substance nor their active force from them; just as a watch does not borrow from the craftsman either its material or the force of gravity or elasticity by which its wheels move.3 But since the actual substances of things no less than the changes which occur in them, finite spirits no less than their thoughts, bodies no less than their movements, are at an infinite distance from supreme perfection, we conclude from what we said at ch. 1., sec. ii, that they are no less distant from independence. And thus they are creatures, or effects, that is, things which need an external efficacy to determine them into existence, an efficacy which, as soon as it is exercised, makes at least the first existence of the effect contemporary with itself.
But if at any one instant these effects need the efficacy of an external cause to exist, there is no reason why they do not stand in equal need of the same efficacy at all moments at which they exist thereafter. For however many effects are produced, they would never become independent or self-sufficient, and there is no necessary connection between the existence of an effect for this moment and its existence at a following moment. And you cannot argue that, once created, things exist until they are annihilated in a new action by God. For as annihilation does not have a positive outcome, it is not a positive action, and can only be conceived as a suspension of preserving action; such action therefore is necessary to the continued existence of a created thing.
The conclusion of all this is that every single thing accessible to our observation, whether spiritual or physical, derives its existence from the creative efficacy of God as long as it exists, and ceases to exist only when God no longer exercises that efficacy. We do not think it necessary to spend time on a fuller explanation of this, nor to pursue more carefully the distinction between creation and preservation. For the same action which terminates in the actual existence of a created thing, is called creation in the first moment of the effect’s existing, preservation in subsequent moments.
I am aware that many writers on these subjects take pains to emphasize at this point that all finite things necessarily had some first moment of their existence, and thus were at some time created in the sense in which creation is distinguished from preservation. We believe by faith that the world and all that is contained therein had its beginning at a finite interval of time in the past; and it is self-evident that no dependent thing can be eternal, in the sense in which we have claimed this prerogative for God, that is, in such a way that in his essence he transcends all succession and embraces it all in his own virtue. But just as nothing seems to prevent God from bringing into being a permanent thing with which no succession coexists, in which case there is no room to distinguish between creation and preservation, so perhaps it has not been convincingly demonstrated that God cannot bring into existence a succession which is infinite in both directions and a permanent thing which is coexistent with the whole of it. It is enough to have proved that every single finite object, that is, every single thing that is other than God, has as much dependence on God as it has being at any time or place.
On divine government
But if God is the first and original cause of all permanent things, we cannot doubt that all the changes that occur in things also take their origin from him. How the divine operation acts on them is given the general name of government.
The need to recognize his government and to allow that it extends to all events is quite clear from what we have said. For anything that happens implies an adequate cause by which it is determined to exist; but it cannot be determined into existence by something in which, antecedent to the existence of the effect itself, there is nothing which requires it to exist rather than not to exist. Anything therefore that is effected necessarily implies a cause which is antecedently determined to effect it, and the same has to be said about this cause itself and about its being determined to operate, until we ascend all the way to a first and independent cause. Either we must stop at God, who decides a given event, and thus determines it by the efficacy of his decision, or we must seek some other principle which is independent of this determination. For determination can no more arise from indifference than a thing can spring into being of its own accord from nothing.
Since therefore, as is clear from the demonstration above, there is no other principle which is independent of God, we must admit that all the changes which happen to things, no less than their actual substances, must be attributed to the efficacy of the divine will as first and adequate cause. If in producing these changes any created cause exercises, or seems to exercise, any efficacy, the efficacy of this created cause too, such as it is, must be sought in God as the first agent.
When the more sensible of the Scholastics recognized this actual dependence of all created causes, they thought that, to explain it, they needed to assert a double action of God in every single action of a creature, namely: previous concurrence, or (as it is more correctly called by others) precursive concurrence, by which God determines a creature to act; and simultaneous concurrence, by which he enters into a creature’s action and advances it and produces an effect, the creature being the subordinate cause. Government, in the special sense of the term which some recent writers have introduced and by which God is said to dispose, with wisdom and power, all the actions of all creatures to ends predetermined by his eternal counsel, is not a particular action but the harmony of all divine operations.
But there were some among the ranks of the Scholastics who took the view that previous determination by a first cause could not be reconciled with the liberty of action of a second cause, and rejected previous concurrence in the free actions of rational creatures, admitting only simultaneous concurrence; while others, rejecting both, recognized only one form of dependence of a second cause on a first, namely its creation and preservation.4
But both parties are wasting their time. For even on the latter supposition, a creature can do nothing to which he is not determined by nature or by dispositions which are either directly or indirectly derived from the first cause, unless another independent principle is admitted, or (which is no less absurd) a causeless effect is imagined springing from nothing.
And on the former supposition, while the absolute primacy of divine operation is denied, the same absurd notions have to be swallowed, and at the same time the divine operation has to be said to be subordinated to the determination of the other independent principle or of some freakish accident. Some writers deny that God is the first Cause by which a creature is determined to the specific nature as well as the exercise of the action, but hold that God is determined by the creature so far as the former is concerned, in order to fit in his concurrence. These writers’ speculations would be far more worthy of God, if they plainly denied any such concurrence; so that even if God were not lord over his creatures, he would at least not be subject to them. And indeed if a creature could be determined to an action by any other source than God, there is no reason why he should not also receive the power from some other source to carry out the action.
But if we leave the subtleties of the Scholastics and attempt to follow the simplicity of nature in framing this question more plainly, it seems one should argue as follows.
From the beginning God produced various substances of various kinds, endowed with various modes or dispositions. He continues to preserve them and the modes with which they have been endowed, except so far as they are changed, either by God himself working according to the order of Nature or sometimes beyond it, or by themselves, or by other created causes. I say by themselves or by other created causes, because various changes naturally flow from the various created substances, variously modified and arranged (or at least they take them up in a regular manner). These may be changes in the substances themselves or in other substances of the same or of a different kind, to which they are duly applied. These substances are therefore said to effect those changes, or to be the causes of them, and we must not pretend that there is any intermediate action here between the cause itself as it is finally disposed and duly applied to a suitable subject (if this is different from the cause) and the effect, i.e., the change which is produced in the subject by the force of the cause so disposed.
As for how a created cause becomes effective, it is obviously requisite that at the very moment at which the effect, namely the change of a given subject, is to be produced, God should preserve the cause, together with all the dispositions of it which are needed for its operation, applied also to the subject, if that is external to it, in the manner we described. This action of God, so far as it relates to the action of the created cause which arises from it, is rightly called predetermination or precurrence.
Furthermore, for the effect to be actually produced, not only must God not place in the subject any obstacle to the change which flows naturally from the force of the cause so disposed, he must also preserve the Subject under that change. This action of God, in relation to the action of a created cause, may be called concurrence.
As these things are very simple, and abundantly obvious from the principles laid down above, I do not see what more needs to be said on this question, at least in the cases in which some true efficacy is allowed to created causes, or what we need to add to this doctrine to prove the dependence of the created cause on God in every way, as much in action as in existence. Thus we here assert a truly efficacious, and, if you like, a physical, determination, though we do not think that those new and peculiar actions of the first cause which the Scholastics imagine here, should be introduced, except in those actions of a created cause for which a fresh infusion of supernatural grace is required.
Many have been driven (I think) to devise these new and peculiar actions on the part of the first cause with regard to every single one of a creature’s actions, because they have thought that the structure of a Creature is quite permanent, but its actions are momentary and soon passing, and not uniformly exhibited by creatures which have the same structures. But these people have given little thought to the fact that created minds are continually in flux, and every moment new thoughts are formed in them or new ideas imprinted upon them from outside, the traces of which remain in the mind and interact with ideas previously settled there, and dispose the mind to be continually initiating some new act.5
I have said that this is the situation when a true efficacy belongs to created causes; but one may suspect that such efficacy is much less common than is usually thought. It seems incontrovertible that in their internal actions (in which the subject is not different from the cause) created spirits exercise some true efficacy. But in the case of effects which are attributed to actions outside of themselves, whether they are actions of created spirits or of bodies, it is not equally clear whether they recognize any truly efficacious and properly so-called cause except God, operating in the regular circumstances of created things according to the laws of nature established by himself. There is no need to fear that on this hypothesis even the most ordinary effect will turn out to be miraculous. One should not speak of any causeless effect as miraculous except those which reveal themselves as above and beyond the general laws of nature, or for which no creature supplies the occasion in accordance with those laws. In fact since so many common effects of nature cannot be attributed, with any likelihood of truth, to the true efficacy of any created cause, the doctrine of occasional causes is by no means to be rejected.
But in the cases in which one should assert the true efficacy of a created cause, particularly in the internal actions of created spirits, I am not afraid that any intelligent person will complain that too little is here attributed to the first cause. More trouble perhaps would be given by the difficulties raised by those who contend that when we apply the doctrine just taught to the evil actions of a creature, too little is attributed to the creature and too much to God. They ground the former criticism by arguing that the assumption of determination takes away the liberty which is needed to rightly impute an evil action to a rational creature and oblige him to render an account of it. They ground the latter criticism in the contention that the operation of God which was asserted above in general of all causes, scarcely seems able to be reconciled with the divine sanctity, when it is applied to evil actions on the part of created causes.
Enough has been said to clear up the former difficulty, I think, in our Supplements and Observations to Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen, especially at pp. 35–36, above. But to show that we cast no aspersion on the divine sanctity by the doctrine given above, we will suggest three points for careful consideration.
1. God has given rational creatures such indications of duty and of the way to happiness that if they weighed them in a fair balance according to the rule of reason, they would choose what is pleasing to God and salutary for themselves. Now since God has never taught anyone that evil is to be done, nor urged it, nor commended it, i.e., since he has never signified to anyone that he wishes evil to be interpreted as a symbol of love and devoted affection toward himself or to be connected with the happiness of an agent, but has signified everything that is directly contrary to this, it is obvious that God cannot be called the author of any wicked action, according to the genuine sense of this word.
2. Insofar as providence which the doctrine given above attributes to God is related to evil actions by rational creatures, it is more permissive than effective; and it can be affirmed in a reasonable sense that God concurs in them negatively rather than positively. For God has endowed each rational creature with a certain unlimited appetite for happiness by which he continually aspires to the greatest pleasure which he can obtain and the most absolute immunity from pain. But he has also imprinted ideas on him by means of various objects, various pleasures, and the opposite pains, some of which, though aroused by things of no particular significance, affect the mind quite vividly. There is no evil in this in itself: even though these ideas represent pleasures to be pursued or pains to be avoided which would run contrary to duty, yet they do not by themselves determine the mind to go in that direction. The mind is endowed with a faculty of reason; if it used it in a manner worthy of a rational nature, it would easily understand that the prospect of more excellent pleasures and the avoidance of more serious pains pull it in the opposite direction; and if the ideas of them were present to the mind with appropriate vividness, it would certainly choose the better direction. And yet so long as a mind which is finite and thus not incapable of error is left to itself by God, a mind, that is, which does not have sufficiently vivid ideas of the highest pleasures or pains impressed upon it by God’s benevolence, it is held captive by lower ideas and enticed in the wrong direction.
3. It can also rightly be said that an action of a rational creature, however evil it may be, is not evil in so far as it proceeds from God; i.e., it is only on the part of the creature and not on the part of God that it involves neglect, contempt, or hatred of God himself (in which all moral evil consists). To the contrary, in whatever God determines that a creature do, he seeks to manifest the glory of his own infinite perfection, and thus gives evidence of his love and tender care for him in determining the very action by doing which the creature betrays his neglect or even hatred.
The reader will perhaps notice the absence of the solution which is invariably offered here by most of those who share our views in this matter, a solution that is derived from the distinction between a positive action and its evil, which is said to lie in privation.6 But perhaps those who rely on this solution have in mind only general ideas of certain modes of acting, instead of the individual actions which are in point here. For otherwise it seems they could hardly deny that there are innumerable individual actions which, at least where a law exists, cannot fail to be bad, either simply or in the given circumstances which the agent cannot change. And therefore in doing these actions a man sins, not because he does not add rightness to them, which those actions do not admit, but because he does things from which he ought to have completely abstained. If anyone nevertheless thinks that this well-known solution will be useful to him in defending the truth, he may use it so far as we are concerned, but we thought we should try to remove the difficulty without its help.7
If anyone does not find these arguments fully satisfying, let him reflect how dim is the sight of the human mind, and how unequal to unravelling the grounds of God’s purposes. Let him not think that the clear and obvious should be called into doubt simply because he does not have the capacity to dissipate the darkness.
Containing the epilogue of natural theology and the transition to moral philosophy
We have considered the physical government of God, which extends to all creatures of every kind; and we have abundantly shown that rational creatures and their free actions are not exempt from it. Likewise it is clear from what we have said, that his physical government in no way conflicts with his moral government, of which only rational creatures are suitable objects and only with respect to their free actions. By his moral government God, as supreme Lord, gives laws to his rational creatures, publishing them with the sanctions of rewards and punishments and enforcing them by dispensing those rewards or punishments. It should be the purpose of all our meditation on God, to learn to conduct ourselves in accordance with these laws, lest we should not glorify as God him whom we know as God, and be found at some time without excuse.8 It is not for this forum, but for the forum of ethics to inquire into the duties which this law requires (insofar as they are known by the natural light) and to infer them from the perfections of God and from the nature and character of man and of the things which assist human life. And thus practical philosophy will begin where the theoretical philosophy of God ends.
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[1.] The subject matter of this chapter falls under the heading of Providence of God in the systems of the Reformed dogmatists or scholastics, e.g., Turretinus, Institutio theologiae, pp. 526 ff.; and Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, ch. XII, pp. 251 ff.
[2.] Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 256 ff.; Malebranche, The Search after Truth, pp. 448 ff., 657 f.
[3.] The three sentences preceding were a footnote in Carmichael’s text.
[4.] The manner in which God concurs in human actions, by initiating an act and by producing its effects, was debated by the Reformed scholastics. A number of theological opinions on this subject are reviewed in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 258–60.
[5.] This paragraph was a footnote in Carmichael’s text.
[6.] Reformed dogmatists employed the notion of privation to explain sin or corruption in accordance with the Augustinian doctrine that God cannot be the source of sin or evil. But they qualified this position by insisting that sin is not mere privation but an active privation or propensity. See the Leiden Synopsis and other writings cited in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 323–35.
[7.] This paragraph was a footnote in Carmichael’s text.
[8.] Cf. Romans I.20.