That It Makes God the Author of Sin
1. The Problem of Evil.
2. Instances in Which Sin Has Been Overruled for Good.
3. The Fall of Adam Was Included in the Divine Plan.
4. The Result of Adam’s Fall.
5. The Forces of Evil Are Under God’s Perfect Control.
6. Sinful Acts Occur Only by Divine Permission.
7. Scripture Proof.
8. Comments by Smith and Hodge.
9. God’s Grace is More Deeply Appreciated After the Person Has Been the Victim of Sin.
10. Calvinism Offers a More Satisfactory Solution of the Problem of Evil Than Does Any Other System.
The objection may be raised that if God has foreordained the entire course of events in this world He must be the Author of Sin. To begin with, we readily admit that the existence of sin in a universe which is under the control of a God who is infinite in His wisdom, power, holiness, and justice, is an inscrutable mystery which we in our present state of knowledge cannot fully explain. As yet we only see through a glass darkly. Sin can never be explained on the grounds of logic or reason, for it is essentially illogical and unreasonable. The mere fact that sin exists has often been urged by atheists and skeptics as an argument not merely against Calvinism but against theism in general.
The Westminster Standards, in treating of the dread mystery of evil, are very careful to guard the character of God from even the suggestion of evil. Sin is referred to the freedom which is given to the agent, and of all sinful acts whatever they emphatically affirm that “the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is. nor can be the author or approver of sin.” (V; 4.)
And while it is not ours to explain how God in His secret counsel rules and overrules the sinful acts of men, it is ours to know that whatever God does He never deviates from His own perfect justice. In all the manifestations of His character He shows Himself pre-eminently the Holy One. These deep workings of God are mysteries which are to be adored, but not to be inquired into; and were it not for the fact that some persons persist in declaring that the doctrine of Predestination makes God the author of sin, we could let the matter rest here.
A partial explanation of sin is found in the fact that while man is constantly commanded in Scripture not to commit it, he is, nevertheless, permitted to commit it if he chooses to do so. No compulsion is laid on the person; he is simply left to the free exercise of his own nature, and he alone is responsible. This, however. is never a bare permission, for with full knowledge of the nature of the person and of his tendency to sin, God allows him or allows him to be in a certain environment, knowing perfectly well that the particular sin will be committed. But while God permits sin, His connection with it is purely negative and it is the abominable thing which he hates with perfect hatred. The motive which God has in permitting it and the motive which man has in committing it are radically different. Many persons are deceived in these matters because they fail to consider that God wills righteously those things which men do wickedly. Furthermore, every person’s conscience after he has committed a sin tells him that he alone is responsible and that he need not have committed it if he had not voluntarily chosen to do so.
The Reformers recognized the fact that sin, both in its entrance into the world and in all its subsequent appearances, was involved in the divine plan; that the explanation of its existence, so far as any explanation could be given, was to be found in the fact that sin was completely under the control of God; and that it would be overruled for a higher manifestation of His glory. We may rest assured that God would never have permitted sin to have entered at all unless, through His secret and overruling providence, He was able to exert a directing influence on the minds of wicked men so that good is made to result from their intended evil. He works not only all the good and holy affections which are found in the hearts of His people, but He also perfectly controls all the depraved and impious affections of the wicked, and turns them as He pleases, so that they have a desire to accomplish that which He has planned to accomplish by their means. The wicked so often glory in themselves at some accomplishment of their purposes; but as Calvin says, “the event at length proves that they were only fulfilling all the while that which had been ordained of God, and that too, against their own will, while they knew nothing of it.” But while God does overrule the depraved affections of men for the accomplishment of His own purposes, He nevertheless punishes them for their sin and makes them to stand condemned in their own consciences.
“A ruler may forbid treason; but his command does not oblige him to do all in his power to prevent disobedience to it. It may promote the good of his kingdom to suffer the treason to be committed, and the traitor to be punished according to law. That in view of this resulting good he chooses not to prevent the treason, does not imply any contradiction or opposition of it in the monarch.” 1
In regard to the problem of evil, Dr. A. H. Strong advances the following considerations: “(1) That freedom of will is necessary to virtue; (2) that God suffers from sin more than does the sinner; (3) that, with the permission of sin, God has provided a redemption; and, (4) that God will eventually overrule all evil for good.” And then he adds, “It is possible that the elect angels belong to a moral system in which sin is prevented by constraining motives. We cannot deny that God could prevent sin in a moral system. But it is very doubtful whether God could prevent sin in the best moral system. The most perfect freedom is indispensable to the attainment of the highest virtue." 2 Fairbairn has given us some good thought in the following paragraph: “But why did God create a being capable of sinning? Only so could He create a being capable of obeying. The ability to do good implies the capability of doing evil. The engine can neither obey nor disobey, and the creature who was without this double capacity might be a machine, but could be no child. Moral perfection can be attained, but cannot be created; God can make a being capable of moral action, but not a being with all the fruits of moral action garnered within him.”
Throughout the Scriptures we find numerous instances In which sinful acts were permitted and then overruled for good. We shall first notice some Old Testament examples. Jacob’s deception of his old, blind father, though a sinful act in itself, was permitted and used as a link in the chain of events through which the already revealed plan of God that the elder should serve the younger was carried out. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were permitted to wrong the Israelites, that by their deliverance God’s wonders might be multiplied in the land of Egypt (Exodus 11:9), that these things might be told to future generations (Exodus 10:1, 2), and that His glory might be declared throughout all the earth (Exodus 9:16). The curse Balaam tried to pronounce upon the Israelites was turned into a blessing (Numbers 24:10; Nehemiah 13:2). The proud, heathen king of Assyria unconsciously became the servant of Jehovah in executing vengeance upon an apostate people: “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so,” Isaiah 10:5-15. The calamities which befell Job, as seen from the human viewpoint appear to be mere misfortunes, accidents, chance happenings. But with further knowledge we see God behind it all, exercising complete control, giving the Devil permission to afflict so far but no farther, designing the events for the development of Job’s patience and character, and using even the seemingly meaningless waste of the storm to fulfill His high and loving purposes.
In the New Testament we find the same teaching. The death of Lazarus, as seen from the human viewpoint of Mary and Martha and those who came to mourn for him, was a very great misfortune; but when seen from the divine viewpoint it was “not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby,” John 11: 4. The manner of Peter’s death (which apparently was by crucifixion) was to glorify God (John 21:19). When Jesus crossed the sea of Galilee with His disciples He could have prevented the storm and have ordered them a pleasant passage, but that would not have been so much for His glory and the confirmation of their faith as was their deliverance. Paul, by his stern rebukes, made the Corinthians “sorry unto repentance,” “after a godly sort ;“ “for godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret; but the sorrow of the world worketh death,” 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10. The Lord often temporarily delivers a person over to Satan, that his bodily and mental sufferings may react for his salvation, (1 Corinthians 5:5). Paul, in speaking of the adversities which he had suffered, said, “Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel,” Philippians 1:12. When he saw that his “thorn in the flesh” was something which had been divinely sent upon him, “a messenger of Satan to buffet him,” so that he “should not be exalted over much,” he accepted it with the words, ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that instance God made the poison of the cruelest and most sinful monster of all time to be an antidote to cure the apostle’s pride.
To a certain extent we can say that the reason for the permission of sin is that, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Such deep, unfathomable grace could not have been shown if sin had been excluded.
As a matter of fact we gain more through salvation in Christ than we lost by the fall in Adam. When Christ became incarnate, human nature was, as it were, taken into the very bosom of Deity, and the redeemed reach a far more exalted position through union with Christ than Adam could have attained had he not fallen but persevered and been admitted into heaven.
This general truth was expressed by Calvin in the following words: “But, God, who once commanded light to shine out of darkness, can marvelously bring, if He pleases, salvation out of hell itself, and thus turn darkness itself to light. But what worketh Satan? In a certain sense, the work of God! That is, God, by holding Satan fast bound in obedience to His Providence, turns him whithersoever He will, and thus applies the great enemy’s devices and attempts to the accomplishment of His own eternal principles.3
Even the persecutions which are permitted to come upon the righteous are designed for good purposes. Paul declares that “our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17. To suffer with Christ is to be more closely united to Him, and great reward in heaven is promised to those who suffer in His behalf (Matthew 5:10-12). To the Philippians it was written, “To you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but else to suffer in His behalf,” Philippians 1 :29; and we read that after the apostles had been publicly abused, “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name,” Acts 5:41. The writer of the book of Hebrews stated this same truth when he wrote, “All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit to them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness,” Hebrews 12:11.
“The acts of the wicked in persecuting the early Church,” says Dr. Charles Hodge, “were ordained of God as the means for the wider and more speedy proclamation of the Gospel. The sufferings of the martyrs were the means not only of extending but of purifying the Church. The apostasy of the man of sin being predicted, was predetermined. The destruction of the Huguenots in France, the persecution of the Puritans in England, laid the foundation for the planting of North America with a race of godly energetic men, who were to make this land the land of refuge for the nations, the home of liberty, civil and religious. It would destroy the confidence of God’s people could they be persuaded that God does not foreordain whatever comes to pass. It is because the Lord reigns, and doeth His pleasure in heaven and on earth, that they repose in perfect security under His guidance and protection.”4
Many of the divine attributes were displayed through the creation and government of the world, but the attribute of justice could be shown only to creatures deserving punishment, and the attribute of mercy or grace could be shown only to creatures in misery. Until man’s fall into sin, and redemption from it, these attributes, so far as we can learn, had been unexercised and undisplayed, and consequently were unknown to any but God Himself from all eternity. Had not sin been admitted to the creation these attributes would have remained buried in an eternal night. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun. Sin, then, is permitted in order that the mercy of God may be shown in its forgiveness, and that His justice may be shown in its punishment. Its entrance is the result of a settled design which God formed in eternity, and through which He purposed to reveal Himself to His rational creatures as complete and full-orbed in all conceivable perfections.
Even the fall of Adam, and through him the fall of the race, was not by chance or accident, but was so ordained in the secret counsels of God. We are told that Christ was “foreknown indeed (as a sacrifice for sin) before the foundation of the world,” 1 Peter 1:20. Paul speaks of “the eternal purpose” which was purposed in Jesus Christ our Lord, Ephesians 3:l1. The writer of Hebrews refers to “the blood of an eternal covenant,”13:20. And since the plan of redemption is thus traced back into eternity, the plan to permit man to fall into the sin from which he was thus to be redeemed must also extend back into eternity; otherwise there would have been no occasion for redemption. In fact the plan for the whole course of the world’s events, including the fall, redemption, and all other events, was before God in its completeness before He ever brought the creation into existence; and He deliberately ordered it that this series of events, and not some other series, should become actual.
And unless the fall was in the plan of God, what becomes of our redemption through Christ? Was that only a makeshift arrangement which God resorted to in order to offset the rebellion of man? To ask such a question is to answer it. Throughout the Scriptures redemption is represented as the free, gracious purpose of God from eternity. In the very hour of man’s first sin, God sovereignly intervened with a gratuitous promise of deliverance. While the glory of God is displayed in the whole realm of creation, it was to be especially displayed in the work of redemption. The fall of man, therefore, was only one part and a necessary part in the plan; and even Watson, though a decided Arminian, says, “The redemption of man by Christ was certainly not an afterthought brought in upon man's apostasy; it was a provision, and when man fell he found justice hand in hand with mercy," 5 Out of the ruins of the fall God has built a new spiritual creation far more glorious than the first.
Consistent Arminianism, however, pictures God as an idle, inactive spectator sitting in doubt while Adam fell, and as quite surprised and thwarted by the creature of His hands. In contrast with this, we hold that God fore-planned and fore-saw the fall; that it in no sense came as a surprise to Him; and that after it had occurred He did not feel that He had made a mistake in creating man. Had He wished He could have prevented Satan’s entrance into the garden and could have preserved Adam in a state of holiness as He did the holy angels. The mere fact that God fore-saw the fall is sufficient proof that He did not expect man to glorify Him by continuing in a state of holiness.
Yet God in no way compelled man to fall. He simply withheld that undeserved constraining grace with which Adam would infallibly not have fallen, which grace He was under no obligation to bestow. In respect to himself, Adam might have stood had he so chosen; but in respect to God it was certain that he would fall. He acted as freely as if there had been no decree, and yet as infallibly as if there had been no liberty. The Jews, so far as their own free agency was concerned, might have broken Christ’s bones; yet in reality it was not possible for them to have done so, for it was written, “A. bone of Him shall not be broken,” Psalm 34:20; John 19:36. God’s decree does not take away man’s liberty; and in the fall Adam freely exercised the natural emotions of his will.
The reason for the fall is assigned in that “God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy on all,” Romans 11: 32; and again, “We ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead,” 2 Corinthians 1 :9; and it would be difficult to find language which would assert the Divine control and Divine initiative more explicitly than this. For wise reasons, God was pleased to permit our first parents to be tempted and to fall, and then to overrule their sin for His own glory. Yet this permission and overruling of sin does not make Him the author of it. It seems that He has permitted the fall in order to show what free will would do; and then, by overruling it, He has shown what the blessings of His grace and the judgments of His justice can do.
It may be well just at this point, to say something more about the nature of the fall. Adam was given a most favorable opportunity to secure eternal life and blessedness for himself and his posterity. He was created holy and was placed in a world free from sin. He was surrounded by all the beauty of paradise and was graciously given permission to eat of all the fruits with the exception of one, which was certainly no irksome restraint. God Himself came down into the Garden and was Adam’s companion. In unmistakably clear language Adam was warned that if he did eat of the fruit he would certainly die. He was thus placed under a pure test of obedience, since the eating would not in itself have been either morally right or wrong. Obedience is here set up as the virtue which, in the rational creature, is, as it were, the mother and guardian of all the others.
But, in spite of all his advantages, Adam deliberately disobeyed, and the threatened sentence of death was executed. This plainly includes more than the dissolution of the body. The word “death” as used in the Scriptures in reference to the effects of sin includes any and every form of evil which is inflicted in punishment of sin. It means primarily spiritual death, or separation from God, which is both temporal and eternal — a loss of His favor in all ways. It meant the opposite of the reward promised, which was blessed and eternal life in Heaven. It meant, therefore, the eternal miseries of hell, together with the fore-tastes of those miseries which are felt in this life. Its nature can be partly seen in the effects of sin which have actually fallen upon the human race. And finally, the nature of the death which fell upon Adam and his descendants can be seen by contrast with the life which the redeemed have with Christ. It was a death which caused sin instead of holiness to become man’s natural element, so that now in his unregenerate nature the gospel and all holy things are repulsive to him. He is as utterly unable to appreciate redemption through faith in Christ, as a dead man is to hear the sounds of this world. That the death threatened was not primarily physical death is shown by the fact that Adam lived many years after the fall, while spiritually he was immediately alienated from God and was cast out of Paradise. In his fallen state man is terrified by any appearance of the supernatural. And even in regard to physical death, that was also in a sense immediately executed; for though our first parents lived many years, they immediately began to grow old. Since the fall, life has become an unceasing march toward the grave. Says Charles Hodge, “In the day in which Adam ate the forbidden fruit he did die. The penalty threatened was not a momentary infliction but permanent subjection to all the evils which flow from the righteous displeasure of God.” 6
Furthermore, the whole Christian world has believed that in the fall, Adam, as the natural and federal head of the race, injured not only himself but all of his posterity, so that, as Dr. Hodge says, “in virtue of the union, federal and natural, between Adam and his posterity, his sin, although not their act, is so imputed to them that it is the judicial ground of the penalty threatened against him coming also on them . . . To impute sin, in Scriptural and theological language, is to impute the guilt of sin. And by guilt is meant not criminality, or moral ill-desert, or demerit, much less moral pollution, but the judicial obligation to satisfy justice,” 7 His sin is laid to their account. Even infants, who have no personal sin of their own, suffer pain and death. Now the Scriptures uniformly represent suffering and death as the wages of sin. It would be unjust for God to execute the penalty on those who are not guilty. Since the penalty falls on infants, they must be guilty; and since they have not personally committed sin, they must be guilty of Adam’s sin. All those who have inherited human nature from Adam were in him as the fruit in the germ, and have, as it were, grown up one person with him. By the fall Adam was entirely and absolutely ruined. The state of original righteousness or holiness in which he was created was lost and its place was taken by an overwhelming state of sin, which was brought about as effectively as one puncture of the eye involves the person in perpetual darkness. The wrath and curse of God rested upon him and he was possessed with a sense of guilt, shame, pollution, degradation, a dread of punishment, and a desire to escape from the presence of God.
In fact, there is a strict parallel between the way in which the guilt of Adam is imputed to us and that in which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, so that the one illustrates the other, We were cursed through Adam and were redeemed through Christ, although we were of course no more personally guilty of Adam’s sin than we are personally meritorious because of Christ’s righteousness. It is utterly absurd to hold to salvation through Christ unless we also hold to damnation through Adam, for Christianity is based on this representative principle. Unless the race had been cursed through Adam, there would have been no occasion for Christ to have redeemed it. The history of the fall, recorded in a manner at once profound and childlike in the third chapter of Genesis, has, therefore, universal significance. And Calvinism alone does justice to the idea of the organic unity of the human race, and to the profound parallel which Paul draws between the first and the second Adam.
We believe that God actually rules in the affairs of men, that His decrees are absolute, and that they include all events. Consequently we believe that nations and individuals are predestined to all of every kind of good and evil which befalls them. When we get the larger view we see that even the sinful acts of men have their place in the divine plan, and that it is only because of our finite and imperfect nature, which does not comprehend all the relations and connections, that these acts appear to be contrary to that plan. To illustrate this, when we see the sheet music running through the player piano we readily understand how it is used; but if we were to find the same paper apart from the piano and had never seen it used, we might readily conclude that it was only wrapping paper, and poor wrapping paper at that, for it would be full of holes. Yet when it is put in its proper place it produces the most beautiful music. Unless we do believe that God has ordained the whole course of events, and that the courses he has outlined for our individual lives are good ones, we are certain to become discouraged in times of adversity. Like Jacob of old who in the face of the apparent misfortunes immediately before meeting his favorite son, Joseph, concluded, “All these things are against me,” we may become discouraged when perhaps at that very time the Lord is preparing great things for us.
The Scripture doctrine, as stated before, is that God restrains sin within certain limits, that He brings good out of intended evil, and overrules the evil for His own glory. Since God is infinite in power and wisdom, sin could have no existence except by His permission. God was free to create, or not to create; to create this particular world-order, or one entirely different. All evil forces are under His absolute control and could be blotted out of existence in an instant if He so willed. The murderer is kept in life and is indebted to God for the strength to kill his victim, and also for the opportunity. When Jesus said, “Get thee hence, Satan,” Satan immediately went; and when Jesus commanded the evil spirits to hold their peace and come out of the possessed persons, they immediately obeyed. The psalmist expressed his confidence in God’s power to overrule sinners when contemplating their works, he wrote, “He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh; the Lord ‘will have them in derision,” 2: 4. Job said, “The deceived and the deceiver are His,” 12:16; by which he meant that both good and evil men are under God’s providential control.
Unless sin occurs according to the divine purpose and permission of God, it occurs by chance. Evil then becomes an independent and uncontrollable principle and the pagan idea of dualism is introduced into the theory of the universe. The doctrine that there are powers of sin, rebellion, and darkness in the very nature of free agency, which may prove an over-match for divine omnipotence, imperils even the eternal safety and happiness of the saints in glory.
Luther expressed his belief concerning this question in the following words: “What I assert and contend for is this: — that God, where He operates without the grace of His Spirit, works all in all, even in the ungodly; and He alone moves, acts on, and carries along by the motion of His omnipotence, all those things ‘which He alone has created, which motion those things can neither avoid nor change, but of necessity follow and obey, each one according to the measure of power given of God: —thus all things, even the ungodly co-operate with God.” 8 And Zanchius wrote, “We should, therefore, be careful not to give up the omnipotence of God under a pretense of exalting His holiness; He is infinite in both, and therefore neither should be set aside or obscured. To say that God absolutely nills the being and commission of sin, while experience convinces us that sin is acted every day, is to represent the Deity as a weak, impotent being who would fain have things go otherwise than they do, but cannot accomplish His desire.” 9
One of the best of more recent comments is that of E. W. Smith in his admirable little book, “The Creed of Presbyterians.” “Did we believe that so potent and fearful a thing as sin had broken into the original holy order of the universe in defiance of God’s purpose, and is rioting in defiance of His power, we might well surrender ourselves to terror and despair. Unspeakably comforting and strengthening is the Scriptural assurance of our Standards (V:4) that beneath all this wild tossing and lashing of evil purposes and agencies there lies, in mighty and controlling embrace, a Divine purpose that governs them all. Over sin as over all else, God reigns supreme. His sovereign Providence ‘extendeth to the first fall and all other sins of angels and men,’ so that these are as truly parts and developments of His Providence as are the movements of the stars or the activities of unfallen spirits in heaven itself. Having chosen, for reasons most wise and holy though unrevealed to us, to admit sin, He hath joined to this bare permission a ‘most wise and powerful bounding’ of all sin, so that it can never overleap the lines which He has prescribed for its imprisonment, and such an ‘ordering and governing’ of it, as will secure ‘His own holy ends,’ and manifest in the final consummation not only His ‘almighty Power,’ but His ‘unsearchable Wisdom” and His ‘infinite Goodness’” (p. 177).
And Floyd E. Hamilton has written: “God created the human being with the possibility of sinning, and He has the power to interfere at any time to prevent the evil act. Even though He has no purpose to work out in the permission of the act the very permission of the act when He has the power to interfere, places the ultimate responsibility for the act squarely upon God. Moreover, if He has no purpose to work out, then He is certainly reprehensible in not preventing the act! It is attempted to avoid this conclusion by saying that God does not interfere because to do so would be to take away manes freedom. In that case man’s freedom is regarded as of more value than his eternal salvation! But even that does not remove the ultimate responsibility for the permission of the evil act from God; God has the power to prevent the evil act, has no purpose to work out in permitting it, but nevertheless, in order to protect man’s freedom, allows man to bring eternal punishment upon himself! Assuredly that would be a poor kind of a god!” 10
Hence God Himself is ultimately responsible for sin in that He has power to prevent it but does not do so, although the immediate responsibility rests on man alone God is, of course, never the efficient cause in the production of sin. Augustine, Luther and Calvin often stressed this truth of God’s full and sovereign control when proving that the present course of the world is the one which from eternity God planned that it should follow.
The good acts of men then are rendered certain by the positive decree of God, and the sinful acts occur only by His permission. Yet it is more than a bare permission by which the sinful acts occur, for that would leave it uncertain whether or not they would be done. Concerning this subject David S. Clark says: “The most reasonable explanation is that the sinful nature will go to the boundary set by the permission of God; hence God’s bounding of sin renders certain what and how much will come to pass. Satan could go no farther with Job than God permitted; but it is certain that he would go as far as God allowed.” 11 And in accordance with this is the statement of W. D. Smith: “When it is known, certainly, that it will be done unless prevented, and there is a determination not to prevent it, it is rendered as certain as if it were decreed to be done by positive agency. In the one case, the event is rendered certain by agency put forth; and, in the other case, it is rendered equally certain by agency withheld. It is an unchangeable decree in both cases. The sins of Judas, and the crucifixion of the Saviour, were as unchangeably decreed, permissively, as the coming of the Saviour into the world was decreed positively. Prom this you can perceive the consistency of the Confession of Faith with common sense, when it says, that ‘God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably foreordain whatsoever comes to pass,’ etc. You perceive, also, that this is clearly reconcilable with the following sentiment, ‘He is not the author of sin,’ etc.” 12
Augustine expressed a similar thought when he said: “Wherefore those mighty works of God, exquisitely perfect. according to every bent of His will, are such that, in a wonderful and ineffable way, that is not done without the will of God which is even done contrary to His will, because it could not be done at all, unless He permitted it to be done; and yet, He does not permit unwillingly, but willingly. Nor, as the God of goodness, would He permit a thing to be done evilly, unless, as the God of omnipotence, He could work good even out of the evil done.” 13
Even the works of Satan are so controlled and limited that they serve God’s purposes. While Satan eagerly desires the destruction of the wicked and diligently works to bring it about, yet the destruction proceeds from God. It is, in the first place, God who decrees that the wicked shall suffer, and Satan is merely permitted to lay the punishment upon them. The motives which underlie God’s purposes and those which underlie Satan’s are, of course, infinitely different. God willed the destruction of Jerusalem; Satan also desired the same, yet for different reasons. As Augustine tells us, God wills with a good will that which Satan wills with an evil will, — as was the case in the crucifixion of Christ, which was over-ruled for the redemption of the world. Sometimes God uses the wicked wills and passions of men, rather than the good wills of His own servants, to accomplish His purposes. This truth has been very clearly expressed by Dr. Warfield in the following words: “All things find their unity in His eternal plan; and not their unity merely, but their justification as well; even the evil, though retaining its quality as evil and hateful to the holy God, and certain to be dealt with as hateful, yet does not occur apart from His provision or against His will, but appears in the world which He has made only as the instrument by means of which He works the higher good.” 14
That this is the doctrine of the Scriptures is abundantly plain. The sale of Joseph into Egypt by his brothers was a very wicked act; yet we see that it was overruled not only for Joseph’s good but also for the good of the brothers themselves. When it is traced to its source we see that God was the author. it had its exact place in the divine plan. Joseph later said to his brothers, “And now be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life . . . So now it was not you that sent me hither but God . . . . And as for you, ye meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,’ Genesis 45:5, 8; 50:20. It is said that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, Exodus 4:21; 9:12; and the very words which God addressed to Pharaoh were, “But in every deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee my power, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth,” Exodus 9:16. And to Moses God said, “And I, behold I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians and they shall go (into the Red Sea) after them; and I will get me honor upon Pharaoh and upon all his host, and upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen,” Exodus 14:17.
Shimei cursed David, because Jehovah had said, “Curse David”; and when David knew this, he said, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for Jehovah hath bidden him,” 2 Samuel 16:10, 11. And after David had suffered the unjust violence of his enemies he recognized that “God hath done all this.” Of the Canaanites it was said, “And it was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, to come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, that they might have no favor, and that He might destroy them, as Jehovah commanded Moses,” Joshua 11:20. Hophni and Phinehas, the two evil sons of Eli, “hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because Jehovah was minded to slay them,” 1 Samuel 2:25.
Even Satan and the evil spirits are made to carry out the divine purpose. As an instrument of divine vengeance in the punishment of the wicked an evil spirit was openly given the command to go and deceive the prophets of King Ahab: “And Jehovah said, Who shall entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner; and another on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Jehovah, and said, I will entice him. And Jehovah said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of his prophets. And He said, Thou shalt entice him, and shalt prevail; Go forth and do so. Now therefore (said Micaiah), behold, Jehovah hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets; and Jehovah hath spoken evil concerning thee,” 1 Kings 22:20-23. Concerning Saul it is written, “an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him,” 1 Samuel 16:14. “And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,” Judges 9:23. Hence it is from Jehovah that evil spirits proceed to trouble sinners. And it is from him that the evil impulses which arise in the hearts of sinners take this or that specific form, 2 Samuel 24:1.
In one place we are told that God , in order to punish a rebellious people. moved the heart of David to number them (2 Samuel 24:1, 10); but in another place where this same act is referred to, we are told that it was Satan who instigated David’s pride and caused him to number them (1 Chronicles 21:1). In this we see that Satan was made the rod of God’s wrath, and that God impels even the hearts of sinful men and demons whithersoever He will. While all adulterous and incestuous intercourse is abominable to God, He sometimes uses even such sins as these to punish other sins, as was the case when He used such acts in Absalom to punish the adultery of David. Before Absalom had committed his sin it was announced to David that this was the form which his punishment was to take: “Thus saith Jehovah, Behold I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house; and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of the sun,” 2 Samuel 12:11. Hence these acts were not in every way contrary to the will of God.
In 1 Chronicles 10: 4 we read that “Saul took a sword and fell upon it.” This was his own deliberate, sinful act. Yet it executed Divine justice and fulfilled a divine purpose which was revealed years before concerning David; for a little later we read, “So Saul died for his transgressions which he committed against Jehovah . . . . He inquired not of Jehovah; therefore He slew him and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse,” 1 Chronicles 10:14. There is a sense in which God is said to do what he permits or impels His creatures to do.
The evil which was threatened against Jerusalem for her apostasy is described as directly sent of God, 2 Kings 22:20. The psalmist recognized that even the hate of their enemies was stirred up by Jehovah to punish a rebellious people, Psalm 105:25. Isaiah recognized that even the apostasy and disobedience of Israel was in the divine plan: “O Jehovah, why dost thou make us to err from thy ‘ways, and hardenest our hearts from thy fear?” Isaiah 63:17. In 1 Chronicles 5:22 we read, “There fell many slain, because the war was of Jehovah.” Rehoboam’s foolish course which caused the disruption of the kingdom was “a thing brought about by Jehovah,” 1 Kings 12:15. All of these things are summed up in that passage of Isaiah, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I am Jehovah that doeth all these things,” 45: 7 and again in Amos, “Shall evil befall a city and Jehovah hath not done it?” Amos 3:6.
When we come to the New Testament we find the same doctrine set forth. We have already shown that the crucifixion of Christ was a part of the divine plan. Though slain by the hands of lawless men who did not understand the importance of the event which they were carrying out, “The things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled,” Acts 3:18. The crucifixion was the cup which the Father had given Him to drink, John 18:11. It was written, “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad,” Matthew 26 :31. When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, they spoke of “His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,” Luke 9:31. Concerning His own death Jesus said, “The son of man indeed goeth, as it bath been determined; but woe unto that man through whom He is betrayed,” Luke 22: 22; again, “Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes?” Matthew 21 :42; and never did He teach more plainly that the cross was in the divine plan than when in the garden of Gethsemane He said, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt,” Matthew 26:39. Jesus deliberately surrendered Himself to be crucified when He might have called to his defence “more than twelve legions of angels,” had He chosen to have done so, Matthew 26:53. Pilate thought that he had power to crucify Jesus or to release Him as he pleased; but Jesus told him he could have no power against Him at all except it were given him from above, John 19:10, 11.
It was in the plan of God that Christ should come into the world, that He should suffer, that He should die a violent death, and thus make atonement for His people. Hence God simply permitted sinful men to sinfully lay that burden upon Him, and overruled their acts for His own glory in the redemption of the world. Those who crucified Christ acted in perfect harmony with the freedom of their own sinful natures, and were alone responsible for their sin. On this occasion, as on many others, God has made the wrath of man to praise Him. It would be hard to frame language which would more explicitly set forth the idea that God’s plan extends to all things than is here used by the Scripture writers. Hence the crucifixion on Calvary was not a defeat, but a victory; and the cry, “It is finished,” announced the successful achievement of the work of redemption which had been committed to the Son. That which “stands written of Jesus in the Old Testament Scriptures has its certain fulfillment in Him; and that enough stands written of Him there to assure His followers that in the course of His life, and in its, to them, strange and unexpected ending, He was not the prey of chance or the victim of the hatred of men, to the marring of His work or perhaps even the defeat of His mission, but was following step by step, straight to its goal, the predestined pathway marked out for Him in the counsels of eternity, and sufficiently revealed from of old in the Scriptures to enable all who were not ‘foolish and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken,’ to perceive that the Christ must needs have lived just this life and fulfilled just this destiny.” 15
Other events recorded in the New Testament also teach the same lesson. When God cast off the Jews as a people it was not a purposeless destruction, nor in order merely that “they might fall”; “but that by their fall salvation might come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy,” so that they in turn shall also embrace Christianity, Romans 11:11. The blindness of one man is said to have been, not because of his own or his parent’s sin, but in order to give Jesus a chance to display His power and glory in restoring the sight, or, as the writer puts it, “that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” John 9:3. The Old Testament statement that the very purpose which God had in raising up Pharaoh was to show His power and to publish abroad his name is repeated in Romans 9:17. This general teaching is climaxed with Paul’s declaration that “To them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.
No one can rationally deny that God foreordained sin if, as the Scriptures assert, He foreordained the crucifixion of Christ, and these other events to which we have referred. That sinful acts do have their place in the divine plan is repeatedly taught. And if any persons are inclined to take offence at this, let them consider how many times the Scriptures declare the judgments of God to be a “great deep.” Hence those who hastily charge that our doctrine makes God the author of sin, bring that charge not only against us, but against God Himself; for our doctrine is the clearly revealed doctrine of the Scriptures.
God’s relation to sin is admirably illustrated in the following paragraph which we shall take the liberty of quoting from W. D. Smith’s little book, What Is Calvinism? “Suppose to yourself a neighbor who keeps a distillery or dram shop, which is a nuisance to all around — neighbors collecting, drinking, and fighting on the Sabbath, with consequent misery and distress in families, etc. Suppose, further, that I am endowed with a certain foreknowledge, and can see, with absolute certainty, a chain of events, in connection with a plan of operations which I have in view, for the good of that neighborhood. I see that by preaching there, I will be made the instrument of the conversion, and consequent reformation, of the owner of the distillery, and I therefore determine to go. Now, in so doing, I positively decree the reformation of the man; that is I determine to do what renders his reformation certain and I fulfill my decree by positive agency. But, in looking a little further in the chain of events, I discover, with the same absolute certainty, that his drunken customers will be filled with wrath, and much sin will be committed, in venting their malice upon him and me. They will not only curse and blaspheme God and religion, but they will even burn his house, and attempt to burn mine. Now, you perceive that this evil, which enters into my plan, is not chargeable upon me at all, though I am the author of the plan which, in its operations, I know will produce it. Hence, it is plain, that any intelligent being may set on foot a plan, and carry it out, in which he knows, with absolute certainty, that evil will enter, and yet he is not the author of the evil, or chargeable with it in any way....In looking a little further in the chain of events, I discover, that if they be permitted they will take his life; and, I see, moreover, that if his life be spared, he will now be as notorious for good as he was for evil, and will prove a rich blessing to the neighborhood and to society....Therefore, upon the whole plan, I determine to act; and, in so doing, I positively decree the reformation of that man, and the consequent good; and I permissively decree the wicked actions of the others; yet, it is very plain, that I am not in any way, chargeable for their sins. Now, in one or the other of these ways, God ‘has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass’” (P. 33-35).
And Charles Hodge says in this connection: “A righteous judge, in pronouncing sentence on a criminal, may be sure that he will cause wicked and bitter feelings in the criminal’s mind, or in the hearts of his friends, and yet the judge be guiltless. A father, in excluding a reprobate son from his family, may see that the inevitable consequences of such exclusion will be his greater wickedness, and yet the father may do right. It is the certain consequence of God’s leaving the fallen angels and the finally impenitent to themselves, that they will continue in sin, and yet the holiness of God remain untarnished. The Bible clearly teaches that God judicially abandons men to their sins, giving them up to a reprobate mind, and He therein is most just and holy. It is not true, therefore, that an agent is responsible for all the certain consequences of his acts, It may be, and doubtless is, infinitely wise and just in God to permit the occurrence of sin, and to adopt a plan of which sin is a certain consequence or element; yet, as He neither causes sin, nor tempts men to its commission, He is neither its author nor approver.” 16
We are often permitted to fall into sin, that, after being delivered from it, we shall appreciate our salvation all the more. In the parable of the two debtors the one owed five hundred shillings and the other fifty. When they had nothing with which to pay the lender forgave them both. Which of them, therefore, would love him most? Naturally the one to whom he forgave most. As Jesus spoke this parable they were seated at meat and the application was made to Simon the Pharisee and to the penitent woman who had anointed His feet. The latter had been forgiven much and was profoundly grateful, but the former had received no such favor and felt no gratitude. “To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little,” Luke 7:41-50.
Sometimes the person, like the prodigal son, will not appreciate the Father’s home nor respect His authority until he has experienced the ravaging effects of sin and the pangs of hunger, sorrow and disgrace. It seems that man with his freedom must, to a certain extent, learn by experience before he is fully able to appreciate the ways of righteousness and to render unquestioned obedience and honor to God. We have quoted Paul’s statement to the effect that “God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy on all,” Romans 11 :32, and that the sentence of death was passed within us that we should not trust in ourselves but only in God, 2 Corinthians 1: 9. The creature cannot adequately appreciate God’s mercy until he has been rescued from a state of misery. After the lame beggar had been healed by Peter and John at the door of the temple, he appreciated his health as never before, and “entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.” And after being delivered from the power and guilt of sin, we appreciate God’s grace as we never could have otherwise. We read that even our Lord Jesus Christ in His human nature was made “perfect through sufferings,” although He was, of course, totally separate from all sin.
The real difficulty which we face here, is to explain why a God of infinite holiness, power, and wisdom, would have brought into existence a creation in which moral evil was to prevail so extensively; and especially to explain why it should have been permitted to issue in the everlasting misery of so many of His creatures. This difficulty, however, bears not only against Calvinism, but against theism in general; and while other systems are found to be wholly inadequate in their explanation of sin, Calvinism can give a fairly adequate explanation in that it recognizes that God is ultimately responsible since He could have prevented it; and Calvinism further asserts that God has a definite purpose in the permission of every individual sin having ordained it “for His own glory." As Hamilton says, “If we are to accept theism at all, the only respectable kind is Calvinism.” “Calvinism teaches that God not only knew what He was doing when He created man, but that He had a purpose even in permitting sin.” And what better explanation than this can be advanced by any one else who believes that God is the Creator and Ruler of this universe?
In regard to the first fall of man, we assert that the proximate cause was the instigation of the Devil and the impulse of his own heart; and when we have established this, we, have removed all blame from God. Paul tells us that God “dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.” Our mental vision can no more comprehend His deep mysteries than our unaided physical eyes can endure the light of the sun. When the Apostle contemplated these things he broke forth, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past tracing out!” And since our human intellects cannot soar to such stupendous heights, it is ours to adore with reverence, fear, and trembling, but not to explain, that mystery which is too high and too deep for even the angels themselves to penetrate. Let us remember also that along with this sin, God has provided a redemption graciously wrought out by Himself; and no doubt it is due to our limitations that we do not see this to be the all-sufficient explanation. The decree of redemption is as old as the decree of apostasy; and He who ordained sin has also ordained a way of escape from it.
Since the Scriptures tell us that God is perfectly righteous, and since in all of His acts upon which we are capable of passing judgment we find that He is perfectly righteous, we trust Him in those realms which have not yet been revealed to us, believing that He has solutions for those problems which we are not able to solve. We can rest assured that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and as His plan is more fully revealed to us we learn to thank Him for that which is past and to trust him for that which is future.
It avails nothing, of course, to say that God foresaw the evil but did not include it in His plan,— for if He foresaw it and in spite of it brought the world into existence, the evil acts were certainly a part of the plan, although an undesirable part. To deny this foresight makes God blind; and He would then be conceived of as working something like the school boy who mixes chemicals in the laboratory not knowing what may happen. In fact, we could not even respect a God who worked in that manner. And furthermore, that view still leaves the ultimate responsibility for sin resting upon God, for at least he could have refrained from creating.
That the sinful acts of men have their place and a necessary place in the plan is plainly seen in the course of history. For instance, the assassination of President McKinley was a sinful act,— yet upon that act depended the role which Theodore Roosevelt was to play as President of the United States; and if that one link in the chain of events had been otherwise, the entire course of history from that time to the end of the world would have been radically different. The same is true in the case of Lincoln. If God intended that the world should reach this state in which we find ourselves today, those events were indispensable. A moment’s consideration will convince us that all of even the apparently insignificant events have their exact place, that they start rapidly growing influences which soon extend to the ends of the earth, and that if one of them had been omitted, say fifty years ago, the world today would have been far different.
A further important proof that Paul taught the doctrine which Calvinists have understood him to teach is found in the objections which he put in the mouths of his opponents,— that it represented God as unrighteous: "Is there unrighteousness with God?” Romans 9:14; and, that it destroyed man’s responsibility: “Thou wilt then say unto me, Why doth He still find fault? For who withistandeth His will?” Romans 9:19. These are the very objections which today, on first thought, spring into men’s minds, in opposition to the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination; but they have not even the least plausibility when directed against the Arminian doctrine A doctrine which does not afford the least grounds for these objections cannot have been the one that the Apostle taught.
1. Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, p. 250-252.
2. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 357.
3. The Secret Providence of God; reprinted it Calvin's Calvinism, p. 240.
4. Systematic Theology, I., p. 545.
5. Theological Institutes, II., ch. 18.
6. Systematic Theology, II., p. 120.
7. id. P. 193.
8. Bondage of the Will, p. 301.
9. Predestination, p. 55.
10. Article II, The Reformed Faith and the Presbyterian Church.
11. A Syllabus of Systematic Theology, p. 103.
12. What Is Calvinism, p. 32.
13. Quoted in Calvin's Calvinism, p. 290.
14. Biblical Doctrines, article, Predestination, p. 21.
15. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, article, The Foresight of Jesus, p. 73.
16. Systematic Theology, I., p. 547.