In this rubric, “Taking Heed To The Doctrine,” we wish to call attention, first of all, to the doctrine of God’s providence in sin. We believe this subject to be pertinent. It is surely a fact that the doctrines of the sovereign government of the Lord over all things and sin have been a “bone of contention” throughout the ages. The Pelagian would solve this problem by simply denying God’s absolute sovereignty and maintaining the will of man as wholly independent of the Lord. He confuses man’s freedom with man’s sovereignty. He denies the organic connection between Adam and the human race. He has no eye for the headship of the first father of the human race. According to the Pelagian conception of things, the will of man, as far as its root is concerned, is good. That will is not affected by the sin of Adam. The sinner can will to be good. He can will to be regenerated or not to be regenerated. This also explains why Arminius was compelled to interpret Romans 7 as if the unregenerated man is speaking in that chapter. The will I of the sinner is inherently and essentially good. All things, therefore, are dependent upon this will of man. However, with this conception we simply lose God as the sovereign Ruler over all things, and have no eye for the stern and undeniable reality that all men sin and that only few are saved. Let the Pelagian try to explain the absolute corruption of the whole human race and that only a few choose the way that leads to life and glory everlasting. Is it not an amazing phenomenon that, if all men are born with a will that is inherently and essentially good, only a few choose the way that leads to everlasting life and glory? Besides this Pelagian conception, we must also deal with the deterministic conception of things. This conception goes to the other extreme. It explains this problem simply by denying the responsibility of man. According to this view man is merely a machine. He is moved about by God’s own hand without any action on his part. In this operation of God, man is wholly passive. This is the deterministic conception. This presentation we do and must also reject. It has no place in its system for man as a moral, responsible being.
In Reformed circles, in connection with this problem of God’s providence and sin, we are faced, first of all, with the weak infralapsarian conception of sin. When we insert the word “weak” here, we realize that our confessions are infralapsarian. And we endorse those confessions. They are not weak. How is this possible? Now we must bear in mind that these confessions are Reformed. We must also bear in mind that they are strong presentations of the truth. They declare emphatically that the Lord does not will to bestow faith upon the reprobate, that the Lord has sovereignly willed to leave them in their misery, does not will to save them. This is strong language. We can surely endorse this. Only, we believe that Scripture teaches us that we must go beyond this. The Word of God does not merely teach that the Lord, be it sovereignly, does not will to save and bestow faith, but it also holds before us that the Lord sovereignly hardens and prepares vessels of wrath for everlasting ruin and destruction. The word, “infra-lapsis” means literally: under the fall. The exponents of this doctrine place election and reprobation, in God’s counsel, under or as following the fall of man. The fall, corruption of the human race, is their starting point. They begin with this in the counsel of God. They prefer to speak of sin as taking place with God’s permission, and, therefore, believe that the Lord has elected and reprobated out of a fallen humanity. Reprobation, then, is God’s sovereign decree to leave people in sin and death, if only we bear in mind that this decree of God is strictly sovereign. The motive prompting this infralapsarian view is to avoid presenting God as the author of sin. And, let us bear in mind, we share this concern with our infralapsarian brethren. We, too, want to avoid making the Lord the author of sin. The Lord is too pure of eyes that He should ever behold iniquity. Nevertheless, this infralapsarian view of sin and grace is surely not satisfactory. First of all, it does not explain the strong expressions in Holy Writ that touch upon this matter. We need not at this time call attention to these strong expressions in the Word of God. And we may add that also the infralapsarian brother himself will concede this. When I speak of the “infralapsarian” brother, I do this, in the first place, because our confessions are infralapsarian and, secondly, because I will always welcome into our fellowship a strong, sound infralapsarian. However, his view does not do justice to the strong expressions of Holy Writ. Secondly, this view does not answer to its purpose. The infralapsarian purposes to avoid making God the author of sin. And, we repeat: we appreciate and share this concern. But, I ask you, what is more cruel: a God Who causes man to fall, or a God Who can prevent his fall but nevertheless leaves him in his sin and perdition? If a person is perishing in a burning house and I am able to deliver him out of that burning house am I, then, not responsible for his perishing in that inferno? Thirdly, infralapsarianism has no eye, fundamentally, for the antithesis. Dualism, as well as the antithetic conception of things, speaks of light and darkness, life and death as contrasted with one another. What, then, is the difference between them? The antithesis explains this contrast as originating in the one source, the one and only true God, whereas dualism presents them as having a twofold origin, always opposing one another and with the issue, therefore, constantly in doubt. Infralapsarianism places sin in God’s counsel without trying to explain its origin, views it independently of the Lord. Surely far better is the supralapsarian conception of this matter. This view places, in God’s counsel, the decree of election and reprobation before the fall of man. Creation and man’s fall are but God’s sovereign means to realize His sovereign decree concerning the salvation or perdition of man. And I assure you that, also in connection with sin, I would rather begin with God than without the Lord or with the devil. Beginning with God, we are perfectly safe.
This problem of God’s providence and sin is a difficult problem. We do not deny this difficulty. And neither are we so presumptuous as to believe that we can explain it. The difficulty of this problem does not lie in the proposition as such. God is sovereign and man is a responsible being. This is clearly the teaching of the Word of God. We must never confuse these thoughts or detract from them. These truths must stand, must also be preached and taught in all their significance. Our churches have been accused of failing to lay sufficient emphasis upon the responsibility of the sinner. Of course, we need not be too alarmed because of this accusation. On the one hand, this accusation is absolutely untrue. And, on the other hand, to be accused of this simply means that we are in good company. The enemy of the truth has always hurled this charge against the defenders of the truth and of the Word of God. So, these truths must stand and they must be preached and taught. The difficulty, however, lies herein: how can the holy God direct the actions of iniquity, all these actions, so that we do not lose sight of man’s responsibility and yet maintain that the Lord is holy and righteous. God may work sin, but man does the sin. God is never the author of sin. An author is one who does something voluntarily and willingly. An author is one who delights in his activity. God is never the author of sin. Man is the author of sin. I repeat: we do not purpose to solve this problem. But we do desire to discuss the question, in order that we may receive comfort from the Scripture’s presentation of sin and the providence of God. We cannot solve the problem. But we may and can surely say something about it. Fact is, we must face the problem. God is God. This is Scriptural. We cannot avoid this truth. That would be folly. And sin is sin. That, too, is a reality. Also this fact we cannot deny or avoid. This, too, would be folly. We speak of the reality of sin. Indeed! Sin is a universal phenomenon. Sin characterizes the entire human race. None is exempt. And think of all the misery which this phenomenon of sin leaves in its wake. Think of all the diseases and of death. Think of all the wars and rumors of war, and of all the misery which these wars leave in their wake. Think of all the social unrest, of all the economic unrest, of all the hatreds characteristic of all the children of men. All these disturbances and hatreds are reported daily, over the radio and in the news on television. And the daily papers are full of them. What a folly it would be to ignore the reality of sin! God’s providence and sin. And we must surely face them in the light of each other.
The truth of God’s providence and sin is surely confessional. We must surely maintain our confessions. We may not and cannot deny them. It is, therefore, proper that we turn, first of all, to our confessions. We read of this truth in our Heidelberg Catechism, in questions and Answers 26-28 in Lord’s Day 9 and 10, and we quote:
Answer 26: . . .and further that He will make whatever evils He sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for He is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.
Question 27: What dost thou mean by the providence of God? Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand.
Question 28: What advantage is it to us to know that God has created, and by His providence doth still uphold all things? Answer: That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and that in all things, which may hereafter befall us, we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from His love; since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.
This providence of God is also held before us in our Confession of Faith. We read in Article 13 of this Confession:
We believe that the same God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment: nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For His power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when deeds and wicked men act unjustly. And, as to what He doth surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into, farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which He has revealed to us in His Word, without transgressing those limits. This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; Who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under His power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in Whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded, that He so restrains the devil, and all our enemies, that without His will and permission, they cannot hurt us. And, therefore, we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance.