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Providence and Sin

More serious is Professor Macleod’s condemnation, in his book, Behold Your God (BYG), of Hoeksema’s doctrine of providence as “virtually blasphemous” (p. 131). Macleod is here commenting on Hoeksema’s criticism of common grace’s deviation from the Reformed doctrine of providence.

Hoeksema is treating the question of the relation of the fall of man into sin and death to the providence of God. He is setting forth the truth that the one purpose of God with the creation was its perfection in Jesus Christ in the way of sin and grace. In this connection, Hoeksema denies that an original purpose of God to develop the creation through Adam was unfortunately spoiled by the devil so that the work of Jesus Christ is mere “repair work” (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 235). Then Hoeksema writes:

But with this same conception we can also depart from the truth in a different direction, namely, in that of common grace. According to this theory, God has in mind the creation ordinance; and He still maintains it: the riches of creation must be brought to light under the dominion of man. Satan meant to frustrate this purpose of God through the fall of man. But God through common grace, by which He restrains sin and checks the curse in creation, so that man does not become a devil or descend into hell or fall dead in paradise before the tree of life, counteracts this attempt of the devil and maintains His original ordinance of creation, realizing His purpose. In the meantime, however, the Lord begins a new work, through which the chief purpose of all things is realized and all things will be reunited in Christ Jesus as their head.

Hoeksema criticizes this conception in these words:

Also this conception finds no support in Holy Writ. Besides, it is certainly a dualistic conception: for it proceeds from the erroneous assumption that sin, death, and the curse, instead of being powers which God works, manifestations of His wrath, are powers outside Him and apart from Him, which He must restrain (RD, p. 236).

Macleod is severe in his condemnation of this objection to common grace as unbiblical dualism:

From a Christian point of view this is quite unacceptable; and, when it goes the length of regarding sin as something which “God works,” virtually blasphemous (BYG, p. 131).

Hoeksema makes plain that he does not mean that God “works” sin in the sense that God performs sin. God is not the author of sin. But sin, particularly now the fall of Adam, is included in God’s eternal counsel. God decreed the fall. Also, God governed the fall, as He governs all the sinful deeds of men.

And the providence of God certainly implies that from the very first beginning to the end of the world, that is, till the return of Christ, God governs all things and guides them by His counsel unto the end He has in view. And from the beginning to the end nothing ever occurs in all the world which does not happen according to the counsel of the Most High (RD, p. 236).

Hoeksema is explaining the Reformed doctrine of providence. The Reformed doctrine of providence denies the existence and operation of admittedly hostile powers operating apart from God’s sovereign decree and sovereign government, needing, therefore, to be restrained by a common grace.

Hoeksema is applying the Reformed doctrine of providence to the vital truth of the goal of God with creation and history. The Reformed doctrine of providence, thus applied to creation and history, affirms the express teaching of the Bible in Ephesians 1:9, 10; in Colossians 1:13-20; and in other places, that God’s one purpose with creation and history was, is, and shall be Christ as head of the redeemed church. God has no purpose with creation, that He is now realizing by common grace, alongside this purpose.

Macleod sourly dismisses this view of world-history as “a thorough-going monism” (BYG, p. 131). In fact, it is the Reformed faith’s unique, glorious “philosophy of history.” It is also biblical: “All things were created by him, and for him (Jesus Christ): And he is before all things, and by him all things consist…. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:16-20).

The objection of the Scottish Presbyterian to Hoeksema’s use of the word, “works,” to describe God’s sovereign control of sin, death, and the curse to serve His one purpose in Christ should disappear as soon as Macleod realizes that “works” refers to the decree and power of divine providence. To teach this is not blasphemy.

Or was Martin Luther a blasphemer when he wrote that “since God moves and works all in all, He moves and works of necessity even in Satan and the ungodly. . . . Here you see that when God works in and by evil men, evil deeds result; yet God, though He does evil by means of evil men, cannot act evilly Himself, for He is good, and cannot do evil . . .”?

And did the German Reformer blaspheme when, a little later in the same book, he wrote, concerning the inclusion of the fact of sin in the decree of God:

If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else (The Bondage of the Will, tr. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1957, pp. 203ff.)?

Did John Calvin blaspheme, in his great work, “A Defence of the Secret Providence of God by which He Executes His Eternal Decrees being a Reply to the ‘Slanderous Reports’ (Rom. 3:8) of a Certain Worthless Calumniator directed against the ‘Secret Providence of God,” when he adopted as the very “principle” of his view of God’s government of sin the truth that “those things which are vainly or unrighteously done by man are, rightly and righteously, the works of God!”?

Was it blasphemy of Calvin to go on to affirm that “the fall of Adam was not by accident, nor by chance; but was ordained by the secret counsel of God”? And was it raving blasphemy of Calvin to assert that

All who are in the least acquainted with the Scripture, know full well that a whole volume might be made of like passages of the Holy Scriptures, where God is made the author, as commander, of the evil and cruel deeds done by men and nations. But it is utterly vain to spend more words upon a subject so well known and self-evident (Calvin’s Calvinism, tr. Henry Cole, Eerdmans, 1950, pp. 207ff.)?

Is it blasphemous of the Westminster Confession to teach concerning God’s eternal decree that

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (3.1).

Does the Confession require Presbyterians to blaspheme when it puts on their lips this confession concerning providence:

The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin (5.4)?

Is it blasphemy of Holy Scripture to say of Absalom’s adultery with David’s concubines that Jehovah did it (II Sam. 12:11, 12)? . . . of Shimei’s grievous curse of David that Jehovah God commanded Shimei to curse David (II Sam. 16:10)? . . . of all the loss inflicted on Job by Satan and wicked men that “Jehovah hath taken away” (Job 1:21)? . . . of the most heinous sin ever committed, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, that the wicked did “whatsoever thy (the Lord God’s) hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28)? It should not be overlooked in the last passage that the Holy Spirit extends God’s government of sin to His hand, the instrument of working.

It is a departure from creedal Presbyterianism to teach that God still manages to fulfill an original purpose with the creation by restraining antagonistic forces with common grace. To teach that heaven and hell are locked in a titanic struggle, while denying God’s providential government of the devil and sin, is dualism. It is dualism even though one is willing to add that “eventually, heaven will be completely triumphant” (BYG, p. 131).

Christianity has renounced dualism. Heaven is completely triumphant. Jehovah God is laughing at the enemies raging against Christ (Psalm 2). “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3).

Confusion

If the Presbyterian theologian’s attack on Hoeksema’s doctrine of providence is completely unwarranted, his treatment of the “organic idea” in the Protestant Reformed theologian is hopelessly confused.

In developing the truth of the idea of the end (goal) of all things, Hoeksema maintains that after the fall all “creatures in the natural sense continue to exist in organic connection and affinity.” All men, elect and reprobate, live in close, earthly relationship with each other, “and man ever continues to stand in organic connection with the cosmos, in the midst whereof he moves and develops” (SD, p. 743).

God does not realize His purpose of predestination by physically separating the elect church from the reprobate world. Rather, God realizes His purpose by the process of grace and sin in connection with the organic existence of all things, as this earthly whole – the “cosmos” – is governed by divine providence (p. 744).

From this doctrine of the organic connection of all things earthly, Macleod oddly draws the conclusion that Hoeksema too teaches that God blesses the reprobate wicked so that, in reality, Hoeksema has no quarrel with the doctrine of common grace.

On this view, evil men receive blessings not because of common grace not because of any gracious disposition on God’s part towards them – but because they are so closely connected with the people of God, socially and organically, that God cannot bless the one group without blessing the other. The tares are blessed only because they are inextricably mixed up with the wheat…. But it is difficult to see any conflict between this and the doctrine of common grace (BYG, p. 132).

This makes Hoeksema out to be not only a blasphemer but also a dunce. After all his strenuous opposition to common grace, he has God blessing the ungodly.

What Hoeksema actually wrote, on the very page in the RD referred to by Macleod, is the very opposite of the conclusion drawn by the Presbyterian:

It will readily be understood in the light of the preceding that we cannot possibly speak of a common grace…. The sinful and corrupt creature can qua talis (as such – DJE) never be pleasing to God, but is object of His dislike, wrath, indignation, hatred, and curse…. There proceeds out of the eternal good pleasure of God in Christ an operation of grace upon the elect kernel of our race, in connection with the organic whole of all creatures…. But, on the other hand, the wrath of God abides upon the reprobate shell, outside of Christ. And an operation proceeds from God’s wrath, indignation and repulsion and hardening, whereby this reprobate shell becomes ripe for destruction” (pp. 743, 744).

However one may regard the theology of Herman Hoeksema, it is consistent. There is no place in it for the blessing of the reprobate ungodly outside of Jesus Christ, whether that blessing is deliberate or, as Macleod would have us believe, accidental.

One can only hope here that the readers of Macleod’s BYG will check the original source.

The views and charges of Professor Macleod treated in this and the preceding editorials are serious enough. But the worst is yet to come. If the teachings of the Presbyterian theologian that will be examined next represent Scottish Presbyterianism today, or if they influence contemporary Presbyterianism in Scotland, confessional Calvinism is dead, or dying, in Scottish Presbyterianism.

These are Macleod’s teachings on total depravity, predestination, and particular, limited atonement.

– DJE