The reader will notice that the; above subject is formulated differently from the usual formulation. Usually our attention is drawn to the formulation: “God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility”. Essentially there is no difference in expressing problem in these two ways. However, as the problem formulated above it seeks to bring out the impossibility of denying the sovereignty of God sir any way in history. If we confess God’s providence, as it is implied in Scripture we do more than just speak of God’s sovereignty in His counsel, but we also explain His counsel as a living counsel, a sovereign rule executed over all things. That makes the problem of man’s responsibility more acute.
It is the purpose of this article to present the problem of mail’s responsibility and to maintain that the sovereign power and rule of God brings out and maintains man’s responsibility.
Of late we have been reading and hearing about the subject of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility as a mystery. With this is meant that it is impossible for man to harmonize the sovereignty of God on the one hand with the responsibility of man on the other. So far it is easily understandable how that our interpretation of the Scriptural teachings about God’s sovereignty and its emphasis upon man’s responsibility may lead us to such a conclusion. However, it is altogether another matter to dogmatically assert that one’s own teaching of the relation of the sovereign God to man who is responsible is the correct teaching of Scripture. Furthermore, it is another matter to use the conclusion that this is a mystery as an excuse for the failure to study the problem any further.
We should realize that although our finite minds cannot fathom the infinite, nevertheless, we may not despise the teachings of God or say and teach anything contrary thereto. We should realize that although we are dealing with a problem, it is exactly at this point of difficulty that the danger of error is so immanent. Our calling to warn from heresy is in place here especially.
History reveals that many conceptions of the relation of the divine to the human are contradictory to the plain teaching of the Bible. Usually human responsibility is emphasized to make room for the Pelagian and Arminian desire to make man somehow a determining factor in the matter of salvation. Often the emphasis upon human responsibility is nothing more than an emphasis upon the Pelagian teaching human ability.
The problem of human responsibility in. relation to God’s providence arises from the problem of the freedom of the will. Human responsibility implies human freedom. Moral accountability demands a free moral agent. Thus the problem is to explain how such a moral agent, man, is free and accountable to God who is sovereign in determining all things, whose will is free in the sense that no one can resist it.
If we approach this problem from a philosophical rather than a theological point of view we are doomed to failure. G. Watts Cunningham in his “Problems of Philosophy” and in his chapter on the Problem of freedom begins by stating that there was always a controversy in theological discussions about this subject. However, he decides upon the approach, to eliminate the theological setting. He writes, “Enmeshed in its theological setting the problem is practically hopeless from the beginning. There are here so many by-paths not clearly marked, so many labyrinths of traditional feelings and preconceptions, so much vagueness in short, that a straightforward following of the main problem is rendered practically impossible. So we shall arbitrarily leave aside the religious bearing of the problem and endeavor to fix attention upon its simpler and more immediate phases.”
If we believe in the sovereign God of the Scriptures we cannot begin a study of any problem without approaching it from that point of view, that is, asking what the Word of God teaches us. We must consider ourselves in the light of God; our problems in the light of His Word; history in the light of His counsel; our life and accountability in the light of His law and providence.
The Heidelberg Catechism gives us in a brief statement the teaching of the Word of God about His providence. It states that it is 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 all things come, not by chance but by His fatherly hand. For our purpose it is only necessary here to emphasize the point that the Scriptures explain that this almighty power of God also governs the moral actions of mankind. Thus we are not only concerned here with the sovereignty of God in His counsel, in the matter of choice, but with the sovereignty of God in action, His power and the direction of that power in the development of all things.
The Bible teaches us plainly that the governing power of God determines the good and the evil deeds of men.is a proof for his determination of the good deeds of His saints. The text not only says that the good works “were afore prepared that we should walk in them”; it also states that we are His workmanship.
is a very strong statement of the word of God respecting this problem, and which gives definite proof of the determining power of God with respect to moral actions of men. We read, “The king’s heart is in the hand of Jehovah as the water courses; He turneth it withersoever he will.” Out of the heart are the issues of life. The Lord therefore controls the source of the actions of mankind. Everything serves God’s purpose. , “Jehovah hath made everything for its own end; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” There are besides these passages many others which speak of this providence of God, See, for example, ; ; ; .
If we were to leave the subject of God’s providence here without giving the further elucidation of Scripture as to the responsibility of man, we would leave room for the charge that this is determinism.
Determinism contends that man’s will is determined by his nature. It, therefore, denies man’s responsibility, if it does not explain itself further in the light of the truth of Scripture. There is an element of truth in the position of the determinist. Correctly he states that man’s will is largely determined by his nature. Who can deny the reality of heredity and the part it plays in our choice of action. Psychologists are observing a truth and are correct with qualifications in their contention that man is a victim of circumstances. In the Bible the truth of man’s total inability to do any good is clear. He is born in death, and unable to will even to do the good. The truth of Scripture is that man is not morally free and able to will the good. His will is in bondage. In our consideration of the problem of the responsibility of man we must take this truth by all means into our consideration. From the philosophical point of view the freedom of the will is postulated without consideration of the truth of Scripture and the truth of experience. Only a few exceptions of children and mentally incapacitated individuals are made to their assumption that man has a free will. In the Bible there is no such distinction made. The demon possessed are examples of all mankind in the service and bondage of the devil. The miracles of Jesus in casting out the demons is the gospel to us that so He shall deliver us from the bondage of sin.
Nevertheless, each individual is responsible. That is each moral rational creature of God is held accountable before God of the deeds he has done in the body. (Cf.et. al.) Furthermore, the law and the admonitions of the Word of God irrevocably place before mankind their responsibility.
This places the problem squarely before us. We are now committed to the truth of the position of the determinist; yet we must maintain the responsibility of man. We maintain the providence of God and also the responsibility of man. K. Schilder correctly warns us that between “natuurwetten en normen, natuur en Geest, noodwendigheid en vrijheid nimmer een tegenstelling mag worden gezien, die mij of anderen zou machtigen het eene tegen het and ere uit te spelen.” (Heid. Cat. Bijlage, II 25).
We get no further by taking the position of A. Kuyper who distinguishes between absolute providence, that is the theological point of view, and the providence of God from the human subjective side. (Cf. his chapter, “Gebonden toch Vrij, in De Gemeene Gratie, vol. II, p. 387 ff.) If I from my subjective point of view am impressed with my responsibility that does not answer the problem at all how that God from His point of view, from the point of view of the preaching of His law, can hold me responsible.
If we explain human responsibility as human ability we have denied the sovereign power of God and His claim in His Word that there is no possibility of salvation except by Himself, through His Son, Jesus Christ. This position destroys the problem and cuts the Gordian knot.
However, we should not, contend that the problem is a “Gordian knot” for the Scriptures. Our effort should be applied to searching its unfathomable depths.
There are some passages in Scripture which will enlighten us more.explains that God is not the author of sin. He does not determine man so that he forces him to sin. Sin arises out of the heart of man. “The plans of the heart belong to man”. Yet God determines the course. “But the answer of the tongue is from Jehovah.” God made Balaam speak, contrary to his own plans. Yet Balaam sinned and was held responsible for his plan and given no credit for his praise of Israel.
God did not make us with a depraved nature which only gives us the will to sin, to hate God, and our neighbor. He made us in His own image, free to serve Him. The Bible explains the situation very clearly in. There is the explanation that we are responsible for our sin because we have sinned in Adam. Though we now do not have the will to serve God, that does not mean that God deprived us of that will. We deprived ourselves of that freedom in Adam. So we are yet held responsible in the way of righteousness, upon the basis of having the freedom of will in Adam.
In the providence of God all creatures are caused to enter the situation in which they stand condemned before the bar of God’s justice. In the providence of God their responsibility is made plain to them for their sin in Adam and the actual sin which develops from it. So it is ordained and who can speak against the sovereign Lord who has ordained it so and works it out in His providence. Compare.
As new creatures in Christ we are given a new will and ability to fulfill the law of God. We do so now by faith. That faith in Christ also causes us to see how that we could not fulfill our responsibility in our old nature, and cannot even now with a new nature fulfill it in the old. We see the power of our bondage and cry out “who shall deliver?” (Romans 7). Our deliverance is in the mortifying of the old and the putting on of the new.
The solution of the problem is not in ability of the old but in the ability of the new man, which is given m in God’s providence, by grace in Christ.