We concluded our last article by calling attention to the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between the providence of God and sin, between the holiness and the righteousness of God. That the Lord is absolutely sovereign and that therefore the reality of sin must be understood as having been willed by the alone sovereign God is surely Scriptural. Of this there cannot possibly be any doubt. His counsel, we read in Isaiah 46:10, shall stand and the Lord will do all His good pleasure. The crucifixion of our Lord, that heinous deed by wicked hand, occurred by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, according to Acts 2:23. On the other hand, however, God is holy and righteous and sin must be viewed as wholly foreign to the Lord. Passages such as Job 34:10 and Habakkuk 1:13speak for themselves. God is light and there is no darkness in Him. And, our God is surely a consuming fire. And so the question is surely pertinent: how is it to be harmonized with our God, Who never beholds iniquity, that sin is nevertheless never to be explained as independent of Jehovah, Who has formed the wicked, mind you, the wicked, unto the day of evil? Indeed, we must surely say something about this. And we can say something about it. To be sure, we cannot fathom this mystery, understand it intellectually. And neither do we propose to offer such an explanation. But we can say something about it. And this we can do because Scripture leads us in this. And we must take God at His Word, and this refers to all of His Word.
In close connection with the question how God’s providence and sin must be understood in relation to one another is this question: what is freedom? We must never confuse freedom as held before us in the Word of God with moral sovereignty, that we control and determine our eternal destiny. This is the error of the Pelagian and also of the Arminian. Pelagianism denies the organic connection between Adam and the human race. It is individualistic. Whereas the Reformed truth emphasizes that we act as we act because of what we are, the Pelagian would have us believe that we are and become what we will to be. The sinner is inherently good and becomes evil because he wills and chooses it. Of course, he stands here before the insoluble mystery (insoluble as far as he is concerned) that the whole human race is evil and that only a few are saved. If it be true that every man is inherently good and is able to choose the good as well as the evil, why is it that more do not choose the good and why is it that more are not saved? The Pelagian simply explains the responsibility of man as his free will. When speaking of the sinner’s free will, he understands it to mean that man must be free to choose between good and evil in the sense that he is able to choose either of the two. To deny this, according to the Pelagian, implies that man’s responsibility is denied. He would maintain that the Lord cannot hold the sinner responsible for his wickedness unless that sinner be able to choose the good which he rejects. Now we must certainly maintain that man always chooses between good and evil, and that he is also free in that choice. He never chooses sin because he is forced to do so; the sinner always sins freely. This, however, does not imply that that sinner is able to choose the good as well as the evil. Today it is no longer understood that one can be responsible for his action without being able to choose the good. If, we understand, the responsibility of the sinner must mean that he is able to choose both, the good and the evil, then there is simply no responsibility, inasmuch as the Scriptures plainly teach that it is impossible for him to choose the good.
This Pelagian conception of man’s freedom, that he is able to choose both, the good and the evil, is surely impossible. How impossible this view is in the light of Scripture! The fact remains that, according, to the Word of God, not man determines his course of action, but the Lord. This is a Scriptural truth so clearly stated in the Word of God as to tolerate no contradiction. We are born dead in sins and in trespasses, and the flesh cannot desire the things which are of the Spirit. Clearly and emphatically the apostle writes in Romans 8:6-8: “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” We understand, of course, that the carnal mind here refers to the natural man. I do not determine the action of my heart, but my heart determines all my action. Throughout Scripture we have the repeated refutation of all Pelagianism. The Pelagian claims that he is and becomes what he wills to be. The Scriptures, however, teach that a corrupt tree brings forth corrupt fruit. The tree does not become corrupt because of its fruit, but the fruit is corrupt because of the tree. The fruit does not determine the tree, but the tree determines the fruit. An apple tree, for example, does not become an apple tree because of the apples, but the apples appear because it is an apple tree. Indeed, throughout the Word of God we have the repeated refutation of all Pelagianism. Every thought and every desire, every emotion of the soul, every action of the will is controlled and directed by God so that there is no action within me which is independent of the Lord. This is surely taught everywhere in the Word of God. Are not all the hairs of our head counted, and does not the Lord clothe every lily of the field? It is particularly in the book of Proverbs that we have this truth stated clearly, although the apostle writes emphatically in the ninth chapter of his epistle to the Romans that God is the Potter and that man is the clay. We read in Proverbs 16:1: “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” When the man of God speaks here of the preparations of the heart he refers to the deliberations which man has before his consciousness and from which he must choose. And notice that the answer of the tongue, his decisive choice, is from the Lord. The Lord alone determines our course of action. The same thought is expressed in Proverbs 16:9 where we read: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” Or, as we read in Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord as rivers of water. He turneth it whithersoever He will.” We must bear in mind here the power of an eastern monarch as he held absolute sway over the life and death of his subjects. Note that his heart, the deepest fountain of his spiritual life is controlled by the Lord to do only what and as He wills. And this same truth is also held before us in Proverbs 19:21: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” To this we may add that throughout the Word of God the same truth is always held before us. Permit me again to quote Isaiah 46:10: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.” Does not Isaiah, in chapter 45, speak of Cyrus as His anointed, His servant, and does he not mention him centuries before the appearance of this heathen, idolatrous Persian monarch upon the stage of history, declaring in verse 4: “For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel Mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou has not known. Me”? Let the critics of infallible inspiration explain this phenomenon! Indeed, all of Scripture condemns the proud and vain heresy of Pelagianism. I say: the proud heresy of Pelagianism. Always man seeks to maintain himself. Always he will claim to be able to be what he wills to be. Always he will deny that he can never of himself seek the kingdom of God and of heaven and the things that are above! And, yet, Pelagianism is everywhere condemned in Holy Writ. Are we not conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses? How, I ask you, can this dead sinner ever choose the things of God and of His kingdom, the kingdom of heaven? Can the deaf hear because he wills to hear? Can the blind see because he wills to see? Can the dead live because he chooses to live? Now we can understand the Word of God as recorded in John 14:17: “Even the Spirit of truth; Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” Indeed, the world cannot receive Him. We do not read that they not receive Him, however true this may be. Of course, the wicked world does not receive Him. They always reject Him. But we read here in this Word of God that they cannot receive Him. To receive Him is for them an impossibility. Why? The Pelagian maintains that they can receive Him and do not possess Him because they refuse to receive Him. And the Arminian concurs. The world cannot receive Him because they see Him not and know Him not. The world does not know Him, has never experienced Him, So, to receive Him one must first be received of Him, experience Him as dwelling in his heart. He must first enter into our hearts.
That true freedom is not to be understood in the Pelagian and Arminian sense of the word is therefore abundantly clear from the Word of God. To this, however, we may add the following. God is free in the absolute sense of the word. Will anyone attempt to refute this? He cannot do evil. Wickedness is surely far from Him. Need we quote Scripture in support of this? We read in Habakkuk 1:13: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” That the Lord cannot look on iniquity does not mean that He does not see it, is not aware of it. But it does mean that He cannot look upon it in the sense that it in any sense appeals to Him. The apostle John writes in the first chapter of his first epistle that God is light and that in Him is no darkness at all. And to this he adds in verse 6: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness we lie, and do not the truth.” And in James 1:13 we read: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.” Indeed, the Lord is far from evil. Even as a moth is immediately consumed when contacting the light, so the Lord lives eternally in the light, is Himself light, and no sin or sinner can live or stand before Him. And, yet, God is free in the absolute sense of the word. This surely cannot mean that the Lord is able to choose the evil as well as the good. That He is free means that He unhindered and unmolested wills and maintains Himself. And we must bear in mind that the Lord’s freedom surely determines our freedom. This is not freedom that I can do whatever I please. It is surely not the desire of the bird to be in the water, as well as in the air or of the fish to be in the air as well as in the water. And, spiritually, it is surely not the desire of the reborn child of God to be Lord himself. This was Adam’s sin, to be equal with God, and the result was that he plunged himself and all mankind into sin and became the object of the curse of God. The sinner has the power to choose both, the evil and also the good? Indeed, the child of God looks forward to the day when he shall inherit everlasting life and glory. Why? Because in that day he will no longer be able to do evil and choose iniquity. How he longs to be delivered! How in this life he is plagued by sin and evil, that he cannot perform the good he wills and that he commits the evil he hates. Then, in everlasting glory he will be free, perfectly free. Free also to do evil? No! Then sin will have become for him everlastingly impossible.