A number of weeks ago I had an opportunity to address several Reformed Doctrine classes in a Christian High School on the subject of “Common Grace.” The differences between the Christian Reformed stand and our own were obvious. The usual objections were raised. Probably none of the students were convinced of the error of common grace. The visit did, however, serve to point out clearly the differences between our two denominations on this subject.
I introduce this subject here and now because I noted a clear and logical development in the wrong direction on this subject of common grace. The errors which were maintained are errors against we also ought to be warned in these last days. The one error involved the question of whether God sends sickness. We had been discussing the “first point” of common grace. I had pointed out that if God sends good things upon both elect and reprobate in His grace, then properly He sends the “bad” things, as floods, sickness, etc. in His wrath both on elect and reprobate. At that point there arose very strong objection both from the minister-teacher and the students. “Did God sendsickness?” “Was it not rather true that God permitted the devil to send some of these things?” “What kind of God do we have, what kind of example would He be to us, if He sends these bad things?” “Did Jesus ever make anybody sick? Didn’t Jesus rather only heal people?”
All of this smacks of a dualism and resembles some of the ideas of Pentecostalism, and is surely out of the realm of what is truly Reformed. The question is not simply a difference between the Protestant Reformed Churches and the Christian Reformed Church, but represents a clear departure from that which is truly Reformed. We ought also to be aware of such an insidious error and be warned against it.
John Calvin certainly maintained that God sendsadversities. In commenting on Isaiah 45:7, he writes, “We ought therefore to hold this doctrine, that God alone is the author of all events; that is, that adverse and prosperous events are sent by him, even though he makes the use of the agency of men, that none may attribute it to fortune, or to any other cause” (Commentary on Isaiah).
And does not the Heidelberg Catechism clearly speak concerning this in Lord’s Day 10, question 27: “What dost thou mean by the providence of God? 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, butby his fatherly hand.” What comes by God’s “fatherly hand” is definitely sent by Him.
But of greatest weight is the teaching of Scripture itself. There one can find instance after instance of the fact that God does not simply permit Satan to send evil things upon us, but that God sends that which is termed “evil.” I speak here of the “evils” of sickness, floods, and similar adversities. There is that passage of Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” The contrasts of the text make plain that God is speaking of that which we would term “good” and which we term “evil.” God “creates” these—that is surely stronger even than the term “send.” To the devil is not attributed such power.
With such instruction Amos 3:6 is in agreement: “Shall a trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” The “evil” here again is not “sin” which God has done, but the evils of troubles and afflictions. God did it.
But, did not Christ only heal? Did He ever make anyone sick? Though it is true that we have no record of Christ making anyone sick during His sojourn on this earth, the record also clearly shows that Christ also sends that which men consider adverse. He cast out the demons who entered into the herd of swine which rushed headlong into destruction in the sea (Matt. 8:30-32). He cast out money-changers and buyers and sellers in the temple, twice. He called the scribes and Pharisees the most terrible of names (children of snakes or vipers, Matt. 23:33); He spake terrible woes upon them, suggesting their eternal punishment in hell—something far worse than the sending of mere bodily sickness. And He Himself reminds His disciples that He came not to send peace but the sword (Matt. 10:34). One must bear in mind also that those miracles of healing were performed by Christ not merely because He wanted to heal people—but in order to teach emphatically spiritual truths concerning the way of salvation for God’s people.
One can find many instances in Scripture where Godsends adverse things upon the wicked in His wrath. In fact, Scripture testifies that even those things which God sends upon the wicked which they would call “good” are sent.in His wrath (cf. Ps. 73). We read in Judges 9:23, “Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem . . .” An evil spirit is sent of the Lord also upon Saul (I Sam. 16:14; I Sam. 18:10; I Sam. 19:9). Many passages in Jeremiah teach especially that God sends the “evil” on the wicked and often upon His apostatizing people. We read in Jer. 6:19, “Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.” And again, Jer. 11:11, “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape . . . ” Or, Jer. 18:11, ” . . . Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you . . .” Or, Jer. 32:42, “For thus saith the Lord; Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them.” Or Jer. 45:5, “And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not; for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord . . .”
The testimony of God’s Word is clear throughout. Consistently, it reminds of the fact that God sends these evils upon wicked men, and He sends them also upon His people when He would chastise them for certain walks of disobedience. This is not to say that Satan does not seek to use and direct these same things for his own evil advantage. As with Job, Satan seeks to use adversities to cause God’s people to curse God—though God uses and sends the same things to strengthen His people in their faith.
This is a comforting truth too for the saints. We know and must know that God is ever Sovereign. He not only permits certain things to occur, but His hand directs these. The wicked experience the wrath of God when the “evils” of this time befall them.
But the child of God, too, often experiences the same “evils” upon himself. The floods affect him; sickness befalls; there is suffering and persecution. What must the child of God say? Does God send also this—or does Satan send it? Does God only permit what befalls His saints?
Job has something to say about that. Job faced “evils” such as few children of God ever must endure here on this earth. In. one day he lost all of his possessions and all of his children. The blows struck him one after the other. So terrible was the disaster, that one wonders how any could endure. Would not grief overwhelm Job? Nor was God punishing Job for some sin. Job walked uprightly before God in all his way. That is not to say that Job was without sin. No man born of Adam is without sin on this earth. But Job was a faithful child of God who sought God in all that he did. Nor did Job’s vast wealth lead him to set his heart, on earthly things. When Satan challenged God to afflict Job, insisting that Job only served God because it was profitable to Job, God gave Satan specific approval to touch Job, but within certain limitations. Thus Job first lost all his possessions and his children, and later his health as well.
And what did Job say? In Job 1:21, he beautifully expresses what is the experience of every child of God, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” You see, Job did not say, “Satan hath taken away,” but, “Jehovah takes it away.” Job recognized the hand of God in the sending of adversity upon him.
Again, when Job’s health fails as well at the instigation of Satan, Job’s wife says to her husband, “Curse God and die.” But Job answers, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?” Ah, yes; whoever suggests that we do not receive of God that which is evil, speaks as the “foolish women.” To “receive evil” of God surely means that God has sent that.
But is it that important whether one says that God sends sickness or that the devil sends sickness? It certainly is. If Satan sends all these things, then I can quickly fall into the error of pentecostalism, and with earnest prayer believe that God must deliver me from the clutches of Satan. Each time sickness falls, I would tremble—believing that I had once more fallen into Satan’s hands. What terrible affliction would then be mine!
But thank God! We know and confess that it is God in mercy for Jesus’ sake Who also sends afflictions upon us. True, I don’t enjoy all afflictions which He sends. But I understand that in His divine wisdom, He sends this for my spiritual profit. Did not the Psalmist understand this well when he expressed in Ps. 119:75, “I know? O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me“? The Psalmist knew both that God afflicted—and that it was done in faithfulness. Repeatedly in this Psalm the writer expresses a knowledge of the reason for this too: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept thy word” (Ps. 119:67).
Only because I am convinced that God sends afflictions, can I confess with the Word of God in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Or, II Cor. 4:17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Thank God—He not only permits, but sends afflictions in His wisdom; and when He sends them upon His people, He does so in His love and grace. What an awful thing it is when one, in his desire to defend the false view of common grace, will attribute to Satan what Scripture ascribes to God. Only as I know that whatever befalls me is sent by my God for Jesus’ sake unto my eternal profit, can I find assurance and comfort through every adversity on this earth. Let us never speak as “foolish women,” but in truth according to that Word which God has given His church.