Providence and Prevenience
There is a difference between providential grace and prevenient grace. Providence is how God provides for the sustenance and provision of his creation.1 God “sees to” (Gen. 22:8, 14) what is needed to sustain the world and to provide for individual persons. How God’s providence affects each person’s life is profoundly mysterious. When and where and into what family one is born is a question of providence. Why one person is born into a Hindu family in India in 1765, while another person is born into a Christian family in Canada in 2015 are matters of providence. God’s providence carries varying degrees of spiritual responsibility. One born into a devout Christian family will be held to more stringent account than one born into a Buddhist environment. One who is given opportunity to hear the Gospel throughout their life will be judged differently from someone who has never heard the name of Jesus.
Jesus’ parable of the faithful and wise servant is about more than material possessions; it involves stewardship of God’s grace. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Not all are given equal opportunity and the same ground on which to stand. Some are given more and some are given less. With the gift of ‘more’ comes an increased requirement for return and response. These are matters of Divine providence.
If providence is where God places us, prevenience is the multifaceted ways God meets us. Everyone receives the same grace that goes before salvation. But opportunities for response differ. Nevertheless, God extends himself to everyone, persistently and patiently. This distinguishes Christianity from other world religions that teach that if humans first move toward God, God will respond. Christianity reverses the order; God always acts first, thereby enabling response.
God initiates the good work of grace and peace.
Redemption and new creation always begin with God’s initiative. Nothing reveals this more than the conviction that the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world. God always acts first. The Holy Spirit awakens persons to their need for salvation, convicts them of sin, and applies the atonement of Christ as they respond in faith. For John Wesley, spiritual awakening is more than mere conscience.
"There is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly devoid of the grace of God. No man living is entirely destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. Every man has some measure of that light … which lightens every man that comes into the world. And every one … feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary to the light of his own conscience. So that no man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath."2
An uneasy conscience, an increasing awareness of right and wrong, and awakening spiritual awareness are God’s gracious gifts to everyone. This confidence has important implications for evangelism in the Wesleyan spirit.
David Busic is a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.
1. The word providence comes from two Latin words: pro, which means “forward,” or, “on behalf of”; and, vide, which means “to see.” Providence is sometimes distinguished into two categories of “general providence,” or God’s care for the universe, and “special providence,” God’s intervention in the life of people.
2. John Wesley, The Works of the Rev. John Wesley (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, n.d.; and Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958, concurrent editions), VI, 512.
Holiness Today, September/October 2020
Please note: This article was originally published in 2020. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.