If true freedom consists in abiding in one’s element, then, would He be free, must likewise abide in an element fitted for His mode of being. What, then, may this element be? And the answer is ready: His own glorious self. In self He must live, move and rest would He be free. For He is eternal God, a being of infinite perfection, inclusive of all that is superbly true, lovely and good, uncaused yet the cause of all things and constituting in relation to these things the one single point of divergence and convergence.
God, then, is free and dwells upon the high peak of eternal and infinite joy and bliss because He forever wills to select His very own being as the infinite sphere in which to live, move and abide; as the one eternal fountain with which to nourish forever His divine mind and to satisfy the infinite longings of His being. God is free, finally, because He dwells forever in the light emitted by His very own self and takes that self of His as His only law and the standard of all His conduct. He is, therefore, righteously free.
Because God wills and does rest in self, He is free in every conceivable respect and in all these respects and in relation to His creatures, infinitely, eternally, independently and sovereignly free. These are matters we wish to elucidate in this essay.
We set out by answering a question which someone may raise, to wit: If God is free as God in that He rests in self, how then can the conviction be escaped that (regenerated and sanctified) man, who likewise comes to rest in God, is likewise and for this reason free as God? In replying we set out with the assertion that (regenerated and sanctified) man resting in God, rests in one other than self. God, on the other hand, resting in God, rests in self. The divine being and the God reposing in this being are numerically one and the same. Taking the name God as the signification of personality, God and His being can be distinguished between but not separated. God, then, dwells, rests, rejoices and glories in self; loves, contemplates, explores and comprehends a being of which the divine ego constitutes the divine personality. Further, God rests in self as God. The light He dwells in is the sum total of His glories as reflected by His divine consciousness. It is therefore, a light of a kind no man can approach, the God no man hath ever seen (2 Tim. 6:16). God, then, being one with God, has immediate access to His own being which He contemplates, wills and loves as God, that is, with a mind, will and heart equal to the infinite greatness, majesty, power and resources of His being. Resting in self as God He is infinitely, independently, sovereignly, gloriously free. He is free as God.
The God in whom man rests is one other than man, to wit, man’s Maker and Redeemer. In Him man moves, lives, and abides; Him man knows, contemplates, wills, and adores as creature. The light, therefore, which man can approach and in which he dwells is the glory of God not as seen and comprehended by the divine mind but as reflected by what Scripture calls a glass—the Word and creation—and in the glorious future by God’s own face—the heavenly mode of revelation. Man, then, in that he rests in God as creature is but finitely free. His freedom is of a kind compatible with his mode of being, not with that of Him in whom he rests. The air, to illustrate, is to the eagle and the sparrow the element in which both live, move and enjoy freedom. In this one element the last-named bird is not free as is the former. It is free in a manner congruous with its mode of existence. Not the sparrow but the eagle swoops from giddy heights down upon its prey, or remains for many a consecutive hour upon the wing. So, too, man, though he rests in God, his freedom has its bounds for man is creature. His judgments are not unsearchable and his ways past finding as the judgments and ways of God.
Let us now contemplate the various phases and the nature of the freedom of God. He is free, as was before said, in every conceivable respect. God is socially free. His imminent social freedom accrues from His being one in essence yet nevertheless distinguished in three persons. The term person is the signification of a rational-ethical substantiality. It is that in a rational being addressing itself as I and constituting the subject of all action done in, by and through this being. God is the one single essence in which are three such substantialities—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—constituting the one God. Yet the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, and likewise the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son. They differ, not, however, as to the properties possessed by each—“They are all three co-eternal and co-essential; one in truth, in power, in goodness and in mercy” (Confession, Art. 7)—but as to the relation each sustains to the other. The Father is eternal Father. He by a necessary and eternal act within the Divine being is the eternal ground of the existence of a second person called Son, like unto His and possessing in virtue of the aforesaid act, known as generation, the divine essence, majesty, glory, power, knowledge and wisdom. And the Father together with the Son by a necessary and eternal act within the divine being constitute the eternal ground of the existence of a third person like unto themselves called Spirit, possessing in virtue of the aforesaid act, known as spiration, the divine essence. Therefore, the Son is the word, wisdom, the express image of the Father, the brightness of His glory, equal unto Him in all things. And the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For as no man knoweth the things of man save the spirit of man that is in him, so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 11:10, 11). The Father, then, lives the divine life, thinks, wills and loves with the one Divine mind, will and heart as Father; the Son as Son; and the Spirit as Spirit. And the Father has fellowship with the Son and the Son with the Father in the Spirit; and the Spirit knows the Father and the Son in Himself, so that generation and spiration constitute the basis of an imminent, divine, social life of the highest possible type. And because the three persons ever delight in acting in agreement with the laws governing the relation the one person sustains to the other, God is socially free.
God, further, is independently (immanently) socially free. For generation and spiration are acts done in agreement with uncreated and hence eternal impulses of the eternal nature of God. The saints, too, constitute a blessed company socially free. For its members are taught by the Spirit to live in obedience to divine law governing the relation redeemed man sustains to his Redeemer and to his neighbor, to wit, the law of love. However, the social liberty of this blessed company is a creation of the Almighty, and abides because He so wills. It accrues from the observance of law of which God is the author. It (this freedom) is an exhibition of impulses of a nature cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, and the issue of hearts upon whose tables was written the very law of liberty. It consists, finally, in man’s being introduced into the blessed society of the triune God to have the hallowed social instincts of his redeemed nature satisfied by the light radiated by God’s face and reflected by those rendered by God’s grace children of the light.
God, further, is self-sufficiently, socially (immanently) free. It cannot be otherwise, for He is a being of infinite perfection, alone and fully capable of satisfying the infinite social instincts of His nature, and, therefore, able to do without the companionship of man. True, He does crave, with the heart of a father, the fellowship of His children. However, this crave cannot be accounted for by an appeal to some limitation in His being. For He is the unlimited God and altogether sufficient to His unlimited self. Aside from this, man could not possibly serve as the supply house of the Almighty. For He is creature, the product of an almighty, sovereign will, the crystallization of an eternal divine idea, who loves, serves, rejoices, seeks and selects God, because God first loved, served, rejoiced in, selected and sought him. Hence, for God to delight in the companionship of His redeemed is to delight in Himself.
God is religiously free. His religion consists in serving self. And so He does with all the infinite energy at His disposal. Self He seeks, loves, wills and adores with all His heart, with all His mind, with all His soul and with all His strength. The sum total of all His works, those tending to (ad intra) as well as those tending from self (ad extra) are done solely in the interest of self. He is, must be, in the highest possible degree, a self-centered being. For should He serve one other than self, He would serve one inferior to the highest good. All things He does, must do, for the sake of His name. All things, the sinner and the saint, sin and grace, angel, man and beast, creation and redemption, election and reprobation, Christ and the devil, heaven and hell,—must be made to promote His interests and to redown to His glory. So He wills they shall and so they therefore do. Hence, God created man good, “and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his creator, heartily love Him and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him” (Catechism, answer to the sixth question). He constitutes the redeemed a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; “that they should show forth the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 3:9). The believers are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of their faith might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, I Peter 1:7. He raises up Pharaoh that He might show His power in him, and that His name might be declared throughout all the earth, Rom. 9:11. He endureth the vessels of wrath to show wrath and to make His power known. He prepares the vessels of mercy to make known on them the riches of His glory, Rom. 9:22, 23. He will that His name be magnified forever, I Sam. 12:22. He chose Jerusalem that His name might be there, II Chron. 6:6. He wills that from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same His name shall be great among the gentiles; that in every place incense shall be offered unto His name, and a pure offering: for His name shall be great among the heathen, Mai. 1:11. He sends a curse upon them who refuse to give glory unto His name. Therefore He empowers His chosen ones to say: I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart. I will shew forth all thy marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee; I will sing praises to thy name, O thou Most High, Psalm 9:1, 2.
God, then, serves self. And because He serves, wills, seeks self, and recognizes self as the only legitimate goal, purpose and end of all His engagements, He is free. True, He loves and seeks the creature. And the most marvelous exhibition of the seeking love of God is the Christ and His cross. For the cross presupposes a death-deserving sinner, a hater and mocker of God. And Christ is God who seeks this sinner through the cross and takes him to His bosom. However, He seeks and saves as one already possessing the thing He appropriates. For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, so that He must recognize self as the only possible goal of all His strivings.
If the freedom of God consists in self-service, it follows that man to be free must serve God. However, the only kind of service in which God can take delight is one patterned after the service He gives self. It is one rendered by him who thinks of God as God thinks of Himself, who seeks and loves and serves Him for the same reason that He seeks, loves, serves and rests in Himself, for the reason, namely, that He is the highest good, and therefore must be served and adored for His name’s sake. It must be a service arising out of a heart contemplating God as the fullness of life, light and power, as the fountain of all that is good, as a being who can only give and not receive in that of Him and through Him all things are, as a being therefore who prepares in the hearts of men the praises in which He delights, as a being finally sufficient unto self, who could therefore dispense with the service of men and still be supremely happy. These are the thoughts which when believed and lived constitute the nucleus of true religion. And true religion is true freedom.
God is independently, religiously free. His self-service is eternal. Its support, its impulse, its dictator, its content and object is the divine self and none other. Redeemed man, on the other hand, is dependency religiously free. He himself is a creation of the Almighty. The mode of expression of His religious impulses is likewise determined by God. He tells His people that and how they shall serve Him and works in them the service they render.
Attention must now be directed to God’s sovereign freedom. Thus far we have been using the term freedom as the synonym of well-being and happiness. True freedom was defined as the blissful state of a being abiding in his element. Sovereign freedom, however, has to do with the determinate will of God and must be linked up with His eternal counsel. God eternally thought and willed all that is, was, and shall be in time. The world and all its fullness together with the behavior of every living creature was eternally present before the mind of the Almighty. It is this immanent, mental and volitional activity of His that is responsible for the counsel, which may be defined as a great all-embracive thought-structure to be realized in time so that all phenomenon, sin included, all events, all behavior,—that of the sinner and of Satan as well as that of the saints—must be associated with the mind and determinate will of the great God. Such are the plain teachings of Scripture. . . . Who work- eth all things according to the purpose of His will, Eph. 1:11. The sea was made to take its decreed place when God break up the earth for it, Job 38:10. Christ was affixed to the cross by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts 2:23. Judas betrayed Christ as it was determined, Luke 22:22, 23. The time of the making of one blood all nations of men, and the bounds of their habitations are matters determined, Acts 17:23. Likewise the destruction of Judah, Joh. 17:12. That the heathen dishonor their own bodies among themselves must be linked up with the Divine will, for God gave them up, Rom. 1:24. Likewise the hardening of the ungodly, Rom. 9:18, the rejection of Esau, Rom. 9:13, the raising up of Pharaoh, Rom. 9:17. ‘Christ, further, is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, Luke 2:24. It seemed good in the sight of God to hide the things of the kingdom from the wise and the prudent and to reveal them unto babes, Matt. 11:26, 27. The saints were predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. God made known unto them the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He hath purposed in Himself, Eph. 1:5-9. It is God that worketh in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure, Phil. 2:13. Paul prays that God would count them worthy of calling and fulfill faith in power, II Thess. 1:11, 12. Them to whom all things work together for good are the called according to His purpose, foreknown and predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, Rom. 8:28, 29. Sarah was told that the elder (Esau) should serve the younger (Jacob) in order that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth, Rom. 9:10, 11.
In that God had from eternity all things before His mind and since His mind and will constitute the cause of all phenomena appearing in time, the conviction cannot be escaped that He, aside from His creations, is in Himself absolutely blissful. But the matter we now wish to emphasize is that the counsel of God is the eternal product of a sovereign and absolutely free will. This divine will implies: (a) that God, engaged in fixing the contents of His counsel, was in a position to exercise a choice; (b) that God, so engaged, takes account of absolutely no one or thing but Himself, that His will, therefore, is the sole determining factor and moving cause of every decision and of the entire contemplated course of action; (c) that, finally, He is the cause of all things distinct from His own being. This Scripture expresses by saying: “He has mercy upon whom He will have mercy and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18).
Let us elucidate these matters. That the counsel is free implies that God was not acting in obedience to some eternal urge of His being in deciding to create. He could also decide not to create. If not, the counsel would not be free but necessary as are those immanent divine acts called generation and aspiration. Once having decided, He was, of course, compelled to execute the decision made. However, the element of compulsion was supplied solely by the decision and may never be interpreted as an urge of His nature necessitating the decision.
This counsel is also free respecting every phenomenon of time. That is, the sole factor responsible for its entire content is the determinate will of God and no creature or phenomenon (sin included) distinct from His own being. Finally, the counsel of God is absolutely sovereign. It is the cause of every phenomenon (sin included); of the world, its fullness and its history. Its realization constitutes the extension in time eternal of a thought-structure.
That the deliberating God is absolutely free and sovereign is plainly taught by Paul in Romans, chapter 10. The apostate Jews of Paul’s day said, that whereas they were the seed of Abraham, they were children and thus insisted that the divine will was affixed to and controlled by their lineage. The factor determining the direction of the course of divine favor was their descend. God in selecting His children was compelled to confine Himself to the one race and to save every member of it. The apostle, on the other hand, insists that all are not children because they are the seed of Abraham. Then there were those who taught that the efficient cause of God’s love for those whom He calls His sons is the virtue of these sons, and that the efficient cause or the determining factor of His hatred for the wicked is their wickedness. God’s will, then, so it was argued, is in this case, attached to, ruled and governed by the attitude which man may be assuming toward God. He, then, is compelled to will to love such as choose to love him. Those hating Him, He must likewise will to hate. His will, then, is not free but subordinate to that of His rational creatures. The apostle’s refutation reads: “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:10-13). The apostle, then, denies that the goodness of Jacob and the wickedness of Esau had moved, incited God to love the former and to hate the latter. For He hated Esau before his birth, before “he had done any evil.” Likewise Jacob, God’s love for him preceded his birth and hence his doing of any good. Therefore the sole necessity, the only moving or efficient cause, the sole determining factor of the above-cited love and hatred is the determinate will of God. “. . . . that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth.” Esau’s wickedness, it is plain, was not the compelling, the commanding factor of God’s hatred for him. The sole necessity was the divine will or decision. He hates whom He wills and loves whom He wills. It is a will operated upon or influenced by absolutely nothing. If so, it certainly follows that no thing or phenomenon can be cited as in any respect responsible for the decision to hate Esau and to love Jacob. That is to say, God hates because He wills, and He wills to hate for reasons reposing in Himself only. And what holds true of the will to hate or to love must, to be sure, be made to apply to the entire counsel. It is absolutely free.