According to His Holy Will (continued)
We have already emphasized that our Confession in its teaching concerning God’s providence, and especially concerning God’s providential government of all things, proceeds from the idea of God’s will, His counsel. That counsel is the norm, the standard, according to which the Lord (governs all things. All things are not left to themselves. They are not left to chance, or fate. But God, the intelligent and willing God, has appointed the place, the function, the history and development and the purpose and goal of all creatures, both individually and in relation to all other creatures, as well as in relation to the ultimate goal of His counsel. Moreover, that Will of God is sovereign. It is absolutely independent and free: It has its source and reason in God’s own good pleasure, so that all that the Most High pleases to decree He wills, and so that all that He wills He also accomplishes, and that too, exactly as He willed it. This sovereign will of God’s good pleasure is the standard of all the activity of God’s providence: “He rules and “governs” all things “according to his holy will.” Nothing ever takes place without His “appointment.”
Moreover, it is evident that our Confession understands this in the all-comprehensive and all-inclusive sense of the word. From this counsel and will of God nothing is excluded. No creature, great or small, and no event, significant or apparently insignificant, exists or moves outside of God’s counsel. No action, either of the brute creature or of the moral, rational creature, man or angel, lies outside the scope of the divine decree. That this is indeed the position of our Confession is evident from the fact that in this article the question of the sins which are committed and the unjust actions of devils and wicked men in relation to God’s government is confronted. To this we shall give our attention later. But now we merely want to call attention to the fact that in the statement that “nothing happens without his appointment,” our Confession obviously includes also all the actions of the moral creature, be those actions good or evil. Moreover, in the latter part of the article our Confession calls attention to the fact that even such apparently insignificant things as the hairs of our head, to which we do not give a thought when they fall, and the two-for-a-farthing sparrows, are all included in that will of God. And indeed, the moment we begin to exclude even the least significant item from that will of God—considering now that even we can frequently see that some of the most significant events of history are brought About through a chain of apparently insignificant circumstances—I say, the moment we exclude the least significant item from the divine counsel, at that moment we have denied and made impossible any conception of the sovereignty of God’s will. If the Most High does not govern all things, without exception, according to His holy will, then His government of nothing is completely sovereign and sure.
Our Confession, however, emphasizes that this will of God is holy. And this is a very significant point in this connection.
Before discussing the meaning of this truth, we may, make some observations about its mention in this particular setting.
In the first place, we observe that here again the truth concerning the counsel of God and its holiness is fundamental in relation to all that we believe and confess concerning God’s providential activity. God’s will is His decree, His counsel, His eternal plan and purpose regarding all things; God’s providence is the will of God in action, His counsel in its execution in time and history. It follows, therefore, that if the will bf God is holy, the activity of His providence is also holy. The latter proceeds from the former. The holiness of the former implies at once the holiness of the latter. If God’s will were unholy—which, we add at once, is utterly inconceivable—then His government also would be unholy, and it could not be said that “he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner.” And, on the other hand, if it would be maintained that the divine government is not characterized by infinite ethical perfection, it would also have to be maintained that the will in which that government roots and which motivates and actuates that government is also unholy. Such, therefore, is the relationship between the two, God’s counsel and His government.
In the second place, this holiness of God’s will is a matter of implicit faith. Faith confesses and maintains the holiness of God’s will a priori. It is important that we understand this and remember it, especially in connection with our consideration of the relation between sin and God’s counsel and God’s providence. Faith does not inquire whether or not God is holy; it proceeds out of the assured knowledge and firm confidence that He is the Holy One. Faith does not investigate whether or not it can be maintained that the God Who providentially rules and governs all things is holy in all His ways; it rather acknowledges spontaneously that no matter what God decrees and no matter what He providentially brings to pass, He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner. Faith does not make the confession of the holiness of God and of. His counsel dependent on the ability of the puny human intellect to understand the relation between the divine counsel and providence and the unjust actions of devils and wicked men; it rather simply accepts and confesses from the heart the holiness of Him Who is the incomprehensible God. Faith does not ask idly, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” It rather affirms: “God forbid!” Faith cannot raise the haughty question, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” But to that question it responds with Holy Scripture: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to shew hi; wrath, and to make his, power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory . . .?” Rom. 9:19-23.
I say it is important that we understand this position of faith and bear it in mind, especially with a view to our later discussion of what our Confession teaches concerning God’s providence and sin. We must certainly not make our confession of the holiness of God’s will dependent upon our own rationalistic attempts to explain the facts of the sinful actions of men and devils in relation to God’s sovereign will. Nor—and this is the much more frequent error—must we rationalistically exclude. the unjust actions of devils and of wicked men from the sovereign will and providence of the Most High in sham piety in order to maintain what seems to us to be the holiness of God. For then we do not maintain the holiness of the Incomprehensible One at all, but the holiness of one who is but an idol of our own imagination.
In the third place, we may note that the Confession’s broaching of the truth of God’s holy will is rather negatively orientated. This aspect of the truth seems to be viewed here almost wholly from the viewpoint of the question concerning the relation between God’s providence and sin. In fact, in this connection we may note that the entire truth of God’s providential government is treated rather negatively. When the article speaks, of the unspeakable consolation which this doctrine affords us, that unspeakable consolation is depicted in. a negative way. It consists in this, that the devil and all our enemies “cannot hurt us.” Let me point out here, in parentheses, that these two matters are related. Do riot forget that those attempts of the devil and all our enemies to hurt us belong exactly in the category of the unjust actions of devils and wicked men to which our Confession refers earlier and which it includes in the ordering and execution of the work of God, Who rules and governs all things according to His holy will.
Now, to be sure, we can understand and sympathize with this rather negative approach of our Confession. On the one hand, it can be explained from the desire to maintain the absolute sovereignty of God’s providential government of the world over against those who denied it, and who denied it by making the charge that this was a corrupt doctrine because it makes God the author of sin. I say, we can understand and sympathize with it from this point of view. For this same foul calumny is still brought against this truth today. And it is characteristic of the Reformed faith eagerly to engage in polemics in the defense of the truth of Scripture. On the other hand, from a more practical point of view we can understand and sympathize this approach of Article XIII because it was written exactly at a time when the “devil and all our enemies” were seeking to hurt God’s people and destroy God’s cause. And at such a time what affords more unspeakable consolation than that rather negative assurance that “the devil and all our enemies . . . cannot hurt us?”
Nevertheless, there is a deeper and more positive side to the truth of then holiness of God’s will. And from this point of view we now call attention to the meaning of the holiness of God’s will.
In general, first of all, the holiness of God’s will follows from the fact that there is perfect harmony between God’s will and God’s Being. God is good. His Being is the implication of all infinite perfections. He is a light, and in Him is no darkness at all. In God there is no evil, only pure goodness, truth, wisdom, righteousness, love. And because God’s will his always in harmony with His Being, God’s will is good, perfectly holy. Negatively, this implies that God can never will anything sinfully on the contrary, His will is eternally opposed to all that is evil. Even when it is God’s sovereign will that sin and evil shall exist, the will of God is perfectly holy and good. The sin and evil which according to God’s eternal counsel are given a place in the whole of the scheme of the universe and its history are always tile object of His divine and holy hatred. It can never be said that God has delight in evil.
Positively, that holiness of God implies that He is eternally consecrated to and seeks Himself and the glory of His own name, and that too, of the name of Him who is the implication of all perfections. This, implies not only that all that God wills He wills in a holy manner, so that in all He wills God never delights in the evil as such. But it means also that in all the execution of His counsel God always maintains His own holiness in all His dealings with the rational, moral creature. Never for a moment can the creature stand in rebellion against that perfect holiness of God with impunity. God always reveals Himself, according to His own counsel, as the God Who delights in Himself as the Holy One, and Who therefore loves and blesses those who are in harmony with the holiness of His own will, while He hates and curses all who stand opposed to Him. But ultimately this holiness of God’s will implies that all things must, willingly or in spite of themselves, stand in the service of the revelation of the glory of Him Who is a light, in whom is no darkness at all, and that too, in the highest degree, i.e., in the day of the final realization of His everlasting tabernacle with men in Christ Jesus and the day of the everlasting destruction of the ungodly.
In this connection we must remember that the counsel of God’s providence i.e., God’s counsel in general with respect to all things, is never to be separated from His purpose of election (and reprobation) in Christ Jesus; The purpose of God’s will is to unite all things in Christ as the Head of the new creation and to preserve and, perfect His covenant and His everlasting kingdom, unto the glory of His name. Unto that end all things in heaven and on earth have their place in the will of God—creation, the fall, sin and grace, devils and angels, wicked and righteous, evil things and good things. All things are destined to serve that one purpose of the glorification of all things, when the tabernacle of God shall be with men.
And therefore, God’s people, that is, those who love Him, those who in Christ Jesus are in harmony with His holy will, that is, those who are the called according to His purpose, knowing that God’s holy will is characterized by electing and redeeming grace, on the one hand, and by reprobating wrath, on the other, may find unspeakable consolation not only in that the devil and all their enemies cannot hurt them, but in this, that all things must work together for good unto them that love Him.