God’s Providence and Sin
We remarked in our last article that the child of God must have a Scriptural explanation of God’s providence and sin. He must have this explanation, first of all, because of the fact of the power of sin. Sin is so universal and such a terrible reality. To ignore it is simply impossible. Sin has all men within its grasp. And no man is exempt from its results, death and the curse of the living God. With these remarks we are concluding our last article.
However, the soul of the child of God also cries for an answer to this problem from the viewpoint of God. I must have an explanation also because of God. For He is my God. Him I love, the eternal and only true God. As I am confronted by the reality of sin, I must have an explanation exactly because I am a child of God. Does the Lord delight in iniquity? But is He not good? Or, does sin exist independently of that eternal Jehovah? Or, if God be sovereign, the only Ruler of heaven and of earth, how must we explain that the world may continue in its course of evil and mad iniquity? To answer that the Lord permits these things to happen does not satisfy, because the Lord does not merely permit anything to happen. He works all things according to the counsel of His sovereign will. But, to say that the Lord does iniquity would be in conflict with His adorable holiness and perfection. Then again, to give sin a place independent of the Lord would be a denial of His sovereignty. And because my soul thirsts after the living God, because I desire that that God remain God, I must have an answer to the question concerning sin in connection with the providence of God. Indeed, I do not demand an answer because I would curiously pry into the secrets of the Lord, because I would understand with my finite and limited mind the ways of the Lord. The text: “For of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things,” must surely be applied also to the reality of sin and iniquity. In other words, also the fact of sin must somehow impart comfort to the child of the living God.
In answer to this urgent question, it must be maintained, first of all, that God is really God in all the operation of His providence. We cannot emphasize too strongly that this must be understood in the absolute sense of the word. The Lord does not only support and sustain all things, but He is also absolutely sovereign in His Divine government. We may and must surely maintain that there is nothing more certain than the word of His mouth. When He speaks it is, when He commands it stands. All things take place through that almighty word of the Lord. In general this truth is conceded. Scripture states it so plainly, so as to tolerate no discussion or dispute, that even all the hairs of our head are numbered, and that a sparrow does not fall from the house-top without the will of the Father.
However, we must be absolutely consistent with this truth of God’s sovereign control over all things. We must also understand that the reality of sin, too, takes place by the providence of the Lord. Concerning this truth, Scripture does not leave us in doubt. The Word of God speaks plainly to this effect. Do we not read in the Scriptures that God forms the light and creates the darkness, yea that He makes peace and creates evil? Joseph is brought into Egypt through the abominations of his brothers, but when these brothers finally appear before him in Egypt he declares unto them very plainly that God turned all their evil thoughts unto good. Repeatedly we read in the Scriptures that God hardens the hearts of men. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart and even proclaims unto Moses that He will work in Pharaoh’s heart unto that end, and this is also announced to the monarch of Egypt, — surely, Scripture employs a language here in this connection which we otherwise would never have dared to take upon our lips. The king’s heart, we read in Proverbs, is in the hand of the Lord as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will. Was it not the Lord Who caused David to count the people, and we all know how Shimei cursed David when he fled from before Absalom; yet David himself declares that this cursing by Shimei was of the Lord. Godless hands nailed the Lord Jesus Christ to the accursed tree, but nevertheless He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Upon the question whether sin is independent of God, or whether this power of evil occurs alone through the providence of God, so that the Lord from moment to moment is realizing His counsel, there can be but one answer, without a single moment’s hesitation: There is no evil in the city which the Lord does not perform. He, He alone, also now, is the Cause, the supreme Cause of the existence of all things; every curse, every evil thought, every rebellion of sinful man is of the Lord, not only from eternity, but He also realizes His counsel, even unto the minutest details, from moment unto moment.
Yet, confessing this truth of God’s Word, this connection between God’s providence and sin, we come seemingly into irreconcilable conflict with the holiness and righteousness of God. We cannot escape the word of the Lord in Job 34:10: “Far be it from God, that He should do wickedness; and from the Almighty that He should commit iniquity.” Or, turning toHabakkuk 1:13 we read: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” And the apostle John writes so uncompromisingly in his epistle that He is a Light in Whom is no darkness. Hence, the Lord God and sin must certainly be viewed as excluding one another. There is in God nothing that resembles iniquity. The Lord is truly a Light, He is Light, the overflowing fountain of all good. How now is it to be harmonized with our God, Who doth not behold iniquity, that nevertheless sin is not to be explained as independent of Jehovah, Who has formed the wicked, note well, the wicked unto the day of evil?
When discussing the question how the providence of God and sin must be understood in relation to one another, another question forces itself upon our attention: What is freedom? Many are of the opinion that freedom and responsibility are inseparably connected, and they understand freedom in the sense that the natural man, the sinner, is able not only to choose the evil but also the good. To do justice to the concept, responsibility, the ability of the sinner to choose the good must be maintained. However, we must never confuse freedom with moral sovereignty. This is the error of the pelagian. He simply explains the responsibility of man as his free will. And when he speaks of man’s free will, the pelagian means that man must be free to choose between good and evil in the sense that he is able to choose either of the two. Now it must certainly be maintained that man always chooses between good and evil, and that he is also free in that choice. But today it is no longer understood that one can be responsible for his action without being able to choose the good. Of course, this pelagian conception of things is wholly impossible. It is impossible, first of all, in the light of the Word of God. The fact remains that, according to the Word of the Lord, not man determines his course of action, but the Lord. This is a Scriptural truth so clearly taught in the Word of God as to permit no contradiction. We are born dead in sins and in trespasses, and the flesh cannot desire the things that are of the Spirit. I do not determine the action which I pursue, but my heart determines this action. Throughout the Word of God we have the 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 independent of the Lord. The Scriptures state this truth very clearly, especially in the book of Proverbs. We read in Prov. 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 in order before his consciousness out of which he must choose. Notice that the answer of the tongue, his decisive choice is from the Lord-He alone determines our course of action, The same thought is stated in verse 9: “A man’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will.” We must bear in mind 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 so that he does only what the Lord wills. And this we also read in chapter 19:21: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” Throughout Scripture the same truth is ever held before us.
Besides, we must never confuse true freedom with the ability to choose the good as well as the evil. God is surely free in the highest, the absolute sense of the word. Yet, the Lord cannot do evil. He is a Light in Whom is no darkness. God’s freedom consists herein that he unhindered and unmolested wills and maintains Himself. And we must also bear in mind that God’s freedom determines our freedom. This is not freedom that I can do whatever I please. This is surely not the desire of the reborn child of God to be lord himself, and that he also be able to do evil. It is 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. But the desire of the reborn child of God is to serve God alone; and then I will be perfectly free when I will be able to serve the Lord perfectly and unmolested by sin, in purity of heart and life. Understanding all this, we conclude that man’s responsibility does not consist in this, that he is able to do the good as well as the evil; if this were man’s responsibility, then we would never be able to speak of man as a moral-responsible being, and this for the simple reason that the natural mind is enmity against God, is not subject to the law of God, and neither indeed can be.
So, we must always maintain that responsibility is never sovereignty. Indeed, we shall not say that the child of God is a slave of grace, because slavery belongs in the sphere of sin, and my freedom is the service of God, to Whom I am adapted and Whom to serve is life everlasting. But man by nature is surely a slave of sin, is not truly free, is a slave in the full sense of the word, who must walk in iniquity, who cannot desire aught but evil, who is wholly darkness in all his desires and deliberations. This we must confess. And the Lord does all His good pleasure.
Nevertheless, the providence of God and sin are so related to one another that sin is always a deed of man and never of God. Man, although never sovereignly free, is morally free. To be sure, he does not possess the true freedom of the service of Jehovah. Fact is, only Adam, in the state of perfection, was able to choose the good and the evil. The natural man is unable to choose the good, can choose only the evil. The reborn child of God, as in heavenly perfection and immortality, cannot choose the evil, will never again be able to choose the evil. Man, however, although never sovereignly free, is morally free. This demands some elucidation. The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our following article.