Prevenient Grace (The Preceding Presence of God)
by Lawrence W. Hilliard

"Lord of the world, if it were possible to imagine a fraction of a second without your influence and providence, of what avail to us were this world, and of what avail to us were that other world? Of what avail to us were the coming of the Messiah, and of what avail to us the resurrection of the dead? What would there be to delight in, in all of this, and what would it be there for?" —Rabbi Abraham "The Angel" 1776, Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber, pg. 116

"Were God to withdraw His supporting hand and preserving power and influence, creatures would soon come to destruction and perish; the whole fabric of the world would at once fall to pieces."
—John Gill

Judaic and Christian theology affirm that if one solitary second could be independent of God, that isolated moment would leave man alone with his narcissistic nature, having no defensive capability against such inherent evil and demonic influence. Man's fallen nature, guilt, and indwelling sin, as an unbearable albatross, would expunge his last fragile breath. "...if every soul is subject to these abominations of wickedness, as the Apostle Paul declares (Rom. 3:10-17), we see what would happen if the Lord were to permit human lust to wander according to its own this manner the Lord by His providence restrains the perversity of our nature, so that it may not burst loose; but He does not purge it inwardly." (John Calvin, Institutes, II, III.3). Only the prevenient (Lat. praeveniens, "to go before, to be beforehand") grace of God preserves man. The prevenient grace of God is a reality that exists prior to our sense of needing such grace. Prevenient grace is the priority of God's preceding presence. "For Thou dost meet (Heb. qadam, "precedest him, come before, to be beforehand") him with the blessings of good things;..." (Ps. 21:3) "My God in His lovingkindness (Heb. hesed, "steadfast, unchanging love") will meet (Heb. qadam) me; God will let me look triumphantly upon my foes." (Ps. 59:10, 79:8). Such grace precedes all human decision and endeavor. It is antecedent to all human action or sin. God's eternal grace precedes His creative works, securing a redeemed creation unto His glory alone. "...grace is eternal. Grace was planned before it was exercised, purposed before it was imparted." (A. W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead, p. 64). From the matrix of God's eternal grace all aspects of salvation were decreed, forever independent of creation, human history or personal volition (Eph. 1:4, II Tim. 1:9, II Thess. 2:13). "...that, by free grace, salvation was given to us which we did not at all deserve; for, if God chose us before the creation of the world, He could not have regard to works, of which we had none, seeing that we did not then exist." "...God purposed with Himself from the beginning. He, therefore, gave that which, not induced by any merit, He appointed to those who were not yet born, and kept laid up in His treasures, until He made known by the fact itself that He purposeth nothing in vain." (John Calvin, Notes on II Timothy 1:9). The prevenient nature of God’s grace secures us in the womb (Job 10:10- 13, Ps. 139:13-15), delivers us into the world (Ps. 22:9, 71:6), preserves us from the manifold dangers attendant to infancy (Ps. 22:10, Isa. 46:3), designed the character of our days with a salvific purpose to lead us to trust Him (Ps. 139:16), delivers us from myriad dangers attendant to death (Ps. 68:21) and secures the redeemed in the contemplative love of God (Ps. 40:5, 139:17-18, 144:3). "But for the prevenience, or priority of God’s grace, all would be lost." (Philip Hughes, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, pg. 481). The priority of God’s grace is to lead man to repentance (Ex. 34:6-7, Rom. 2:4), yet man is so obtuse in his understanding of God, due to his sinful rebellion (Jer. 4:22, 5:4, 8:7, Rom. 1:21, Eph. 4:17-18) that he cannot perceive or acknowledge the grandeur of such grace extended to him. "Grace is not merely bestowed when we pray for it, but grace itself causes us to pray for it. Even the beginning of faith, the disposition to believe is affected by grace." "Through the fall free will has been so weakened, that without prevenient grace no one can love God, believe on Him, or do good for God's sake,..." (The Synod of Orange 529 A.D.). Our acknowledgement of the prevenient grace of God is obscured under the salvific affects of redemption. "But just because grace changes the disposition, and so enables man, hitherto enslaved to sin, for the first time to desire and use his free will for good, it lies in the very nature of the case that it is prevenient. Also, as the very name imports, it is necessarily gratuituous; since man is enslaved to sin until it is given, all the merits that he can have prior to it are bad merits, and deserve punishment, not gifts of favor. When, then, it is asked, on the ground of what, grace is given, it can only be answered, 'On the ground of God's infinite mercy and undeserved favor.'" (Phillip Schaff, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, p. LXVIII) God is to be praised continually for such preceding grace. "Reader, it will be a happy thing for thee if,..., thou canst see both providence and grace preceding thee, forestalling thy needs, and preparing thy path. Mercy, in the case of many of us, ran before our desires and prayers, and it ever outruns our endeavors and expectancies, and even our hopes are left to lag behind. Prevenient grace deserves a song;..." (Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 1, pg. 352)

"There exists in the Universe a certain force which controls the whole." "It is the source of the existence of the Universe in all its parts. That force is God...blessed be His name!" "...God is called ‘the life of the Universe’... ‘and he swore by the life of the Universe.’" (Dan. 12:7).
—(Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, Pt. 1, Ch. LXXII)

It is an axiom of Jewish and Christian theology that God is never in abeyance from His creation or creatures. The doctrine of His preserving Providence is a foundational truth of Judaism and Christianity. A universe created by God for His glory (Prov. 16:4, Isa. 45:7, Aboth 6:11, Rom. 11:36, I Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:16, Rev. 4:11) is incessantly inhabited by God, "‘Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord." (Jer. 23:24) "Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for me? And where is a place that I may rest?’" (Isa. 66:1, Acts 7:48-49) "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him?" (John 1:10) "He is present and active in His universe not because He is organically one with it, but because He is the Master of it, the universe being pervaded, enveloped, and sustained by the mystery of His will." (Isidore Epstein, The Faith of Judaism, pg. 141) All of creation stands to God in a contingent relationship, having no innate capacity for its continuance. As creation had a beginning, from the fiat of God (Ps. 33:6, 148:5) its continuance is not inherently secured. "The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength; indeed, the world is firmly established (Heb. kun, "fixed, steady, firm, constant, to maintain"), it will not be moved." (Ps. 93:1, see also Ps. 89:11, 119:90) The Hebrew word "kun" is used as a passive verb to indicate that security, stability, and coherence are not inherent in this world. The power of preservation must derive exclusively from creation’s source, God. The world is held secure and firmly established due solely to the power of God’s Word. "Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He commanded and they were created. He has also established (Heb. amad, "remains steadfast, endure, caused to stand") them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away." (Ps. 148:3-6) Throughout the billions of years and within the billions of galaxies the power that created all things also sustains the entire universal order. "As the soul sustains the body so God sustains the world." (Midrash R., Lev. IV.8) Not a single atomic particle is devoid of God’s preserving providence, "For the spirit of the Lord fills the whole earth, and that which holds all things together is well aware of what men say." (Wisdom of Solomon 1:7, written by an anonymous Alexandrian Jew between 200 and 100 B.C.) "By his own action he achieves his end, and by his word all things are held together." (Ecclesiasticus 43:26, written in approximately 190 B.C. by Jesus ben Sira, a Jewish teacher living in Jerusalem) In Colossians 1:17 the Messiah is declared to be the cohesive bond that holds the universe together: "And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." "...the action of gravitation, which keep in their places things fixed and regulates the motions of things moving, is an expression of His mind." (J. B. Lightfoot, 1828-1889, Professor of the Greek New Testament, Trinity College in Cambridge, England, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, pg. 156). Not a vague power or unifying principal but the Eternal Christ is the bond which maintains the cohesion of all matter and the preservation of all creation. The existence of matter necessitates the reality of God. The antecedent causative is the coherence of each nanosecond and distant galaxy.

"...though there [in heaven] God makes the most glorious displays of himself, yet he is so immense and infinite that he is not to be comprehended and circumscribed in any place whatever;..."
—John Gill, 1697-1771, The Gill Commentary, notes on I Kgs. 8:27

The reality of God’s presence makes the universe a cosmos and not a chaos, "Every particle of matter and every point of space require God’s immensity [i.e., God transcends all spatial limitation, His Being cannot be contained or localized] to maintain them in their existence." "The relation of God to space is such that God, the Infinite having the ground of his existence in himself, is present in every point of space repletively, and sustains space by means of his immensity." (Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, pg. 162) Nothing can set bounds to God’s being, He is neither circumscribed or enclosed by space or spatial existence. God is not sequestered to a distinct locality, or confined within celestial frontiers however immense. He is not encompassed or shut in by creation. Distances of light years present no demarcation to God. God transcends every limitation of space, thus it is impossible to escape the Divine Presence. "With an earthly king, when he is in the bedchamber he cannot be in the reception-hall; but the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the upper regions and the lower. As it is said, ‘His glory is over the earth and heaven’ (Ps. 148:13), simultaneously; and it is written, ‘Do not I fill the heaven and the earth?’" (Jer. 23:24, Midrash to Ps. XXIV.5; 103a) If God were confined to any locality or was limited by the expanse of light years, He would not be God. "His immense [is] in no wise circumscribed by space." (R. L. Dabney, professor of Theology, Union Theological Seminary, 1853-1883, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 44). God immeasurably encompasses the most distant galaxies, enveloping the perimeter of the cosmos.

God contains all the universe, He encloses the created order, enveloping it in His all-pervading presence. Such is the immensity of God! God is frequently called in Rabbinic literature "Makon", i.e., "The Place." R. Ammi said: "Why is God given the appellation of ‘place’? Because He is the place of the world, and the world is not His place [i.e., He fills the world but the world does not contain Him]." (Gen. R. Wayeze, LXVIII, 9) "God Himself is called a place, by reason of His containing things, and being contained by nothing whatever..." (Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Egypt, 20 B.C.-50 A.D., Som. 1:62-64) "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!" (I Kings 8:27, II Chron. 2:6) We who occupy a portion of earth and utilize a daily amount of air and water, live sequential lives moving from infancy to maturity. The conception of boundless, measureless and infinite is only faintly imaginable by our limited conceptual frame. Though we use the terms boundless energy, unlimited wealth, infinite patience, and perpetual motion, we do so only as adjectives of hyperbole. Since we cannot occupy two time sectors simultaneously, just seconds apart, we are perplexed by the idea of One who can inhabit time, throughout the aeons, being present within each second and yet outside time in eternity forever. "...he testifies in another place, where he says, ‘Here am I, I stood here before you.’ (Ex. 16:16). For he declares here that he stood before any created being: and he who is here is also there, and in other places, and everywhere, having filled every place in every direction, and having left nothing whatever destitute of himself: for he does not say, ‘Here I stand and there, but now also when I am present do I stand there also at the same moment;’ not being moved of changing his place so as to occupy one place and to quit another, but using one intense motion." (Philo, The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain, XVII.67-68) This is a God that shatters our cultural monograms of a manageable, adaptable Being. The God of immensity and infinitude will not conform to us. He is the eternal God of incomprehensible greatness. "Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable (Lit. Heb. "and of His greatness there is no searching out")." Ps. 145:3. (Job 11:7, Isa. 40:28) The unsurpassed, immeasurable nature of God’s supremacy is beyond human comprehension. To be graced with a molecule of knowledge regarding God's eternal nature, reveals the greatness of His condescension. "No mortal can fathom His Greatness with any amount of searching..." (Redak, Medieval Jewish Rabbi, quoted from The Book of Psalms, Vol. 3, pg. 536, translated and edited by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg)

Existing eternally outside time God enters time’s structure and creation’s order to possess it as we would grasp an object in our hands, but with God there is no exertion of energy. All creation and might (I Chron. 29:12, Ps. 89:13) the entire creation (Ps. 95:45, 102:25, Isa. 45:12, Heb. 1:10) the preservation of all life (Ps. 104:27-28, 145:14-16) the breath of life (Job 12:10, Dan 5:23) the history of man (Ps. 31:15) the leaders of the nations (Prov. 21:1) and His redeemed inheritance (Deut. 33:3, Ps. 37:23-24, 95:7, 139:10, Isa. 49:16, 51:16) are all secured in the epicenter of God’s hands. Using anthropomorphic language, the Hebrew word yad ("hand") denotes the all-embracing sovereignty of God over all His creation. "For thy almighty hand, which created the world out of formless matter,... great strength is thine to exert at any moment, and the power of thy arm no man can resist, for in thy sight the whole world is like a grain that just tips the scale or a drop of dew alighting on the ground at dawn." (The Wisdom of Solomon 11:17, 21-22) In the New Testament Jesus Christ is called the "pantakrator" (Lit. Gk. "the one who has His hand on everything"). Pantakrator is translated "almighty" in Rev. 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 14, 19:6, 15, 21, 21:22, II Cor. 6:18. This title is used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew name of God, El Shaddai. Nothing that exists, whether angelic, demonic, human, material, or climactic, can continue in being outside the purview of God’s powerful, sovereign hand. God is not an aloof potentate who sits serenely divorced from the scene of His creation. From the moment nililation was transformed by His Fiat, the world has been directly supervised and controlled by the constancy of His sovereign power. "How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation." (Dan. 4:3, Ps. 145:13, 146:10) "It needs to be emphasized that God is not present in creation as a king in his realm or a captain aboard his ship. He does not act upon the world from a distance; but with his whole being he is present powerfully here and everywhere with respect to his essence and power." (Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, pg. 162). Within time and throughout all eternity the redeemed are always within the purview of God's preserving presence. The risen Christ affirms that He will be with His people throughout all the fluctuations of life, "...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:20). This promise encompasses all aspects of time and the endless ages to come. "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God... and the faithful will abide in Him in love, because grace and mercy are upon His holy ones." (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1, 9)

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come
tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
When we've been there ten-thousand years bright shining as the sun
we will no less haste to sing God's praise than when we first begun."
—John Newton

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