We concluded our last article with a quotation from Rev. H. Hoeksema’s Dogmatics. Writing on that phase of God’s providence which is known as Government, Rev. Hoeksema writes that God, when creating the world, did not have all kinds of possibilities in mind, but was moved and prompted by only one purpose. And that one purpose was, not to perfect all things in the first Adam, who was of the earth, earthy, but to bring them to final perfection in Christ, Who is the Lord from heaven. The final goal of all things, as conceived by God in His eternal counsel, is the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. This is the only purpose conceived by God in His eternal counsel and will. And the providence of God certainly means that, from the very first beginning to the end of the world, that wonderful return of our Lord Jesus Christ, God governs and guides all things by His counsel unto that end which He has in view. And, from the beginning of the world even unto the end, nothing ever happens which does not happen according to that counsel of the Most High. God is one and therefore His counsel is one, and also His purpose is one. This is surely Scriptural. It is certainly emphasized in Isaiah 46:10: “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” This passage certainly emphasizes that the Lord’s counsel shall stand, that He is never influenced by anything outside of Himself, and that therefore the entrance of sin into the world must never be divorced from this sovereign will of the Lord. And this truth is also beautifully set forth in Eph. 1:9-10: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” This passage needs no clarification. Here we are told that it was the mystery of God that He should gather together all things in Christ. Hence, it was not the Lord’s purpose to gather together all things in the first Adam and then in the second Adam, should the first Adam fail, but to gather together into one all things, in heaven and on earth, in our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s eternal counsel, therefore, never knew any other purpose, than this uniting of all things in Jesus Christ.
GOD’S PROVIDENCE AND SIN
This aspect or phase of God’s providence is commonly known as concurrence or cooperation. It cannot be said that the word, “cooperation,” conveys to us a Scriptural idea of the truth. There are those who like to quote I Cor. 3:9, and we quote: “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” It is, of course, especially the first part of this text which they like to quote. But, in the first place, it must be said that this cannot be considered to be a true translation. A better translation would read: “For we are labourers together of God.” The idea of the text is that the apostles were labourers together, not with God, but because of God, of God. It is God Who caused them to be labourers together, with one another. And, in the second place, this is emphasized in the latter half of the text, where we read that, the church is called the building of God. We repeat: it can hardly be said that the word, “cooperation,” conveys to us a Scriptural idea. We surely cannot maintain the thought that God and man work together, that the Lord and man may be compared to a team of horses, each doing his part. But, as is the case with the word, “providence”, which word does not appear in the Bible with respect to the Lord’s control over all things, so also this word has found its way into the terminology of the church throughout the ages. And when we speak of “cooperation” we mean that work of God whereby He realizes His will and counsel also through the acts of all His moral-rational creatures. It is well, however, that we devote a few articles to this phase of the providence of God: God’s providence and sin.
We may certainly say that the sovereign government of the Lord over all things and sin has been a “bone” of contention throughout the ages. The Pelagian would solve this problem simply by denying God’s absolute sovereignty and maintaining the will of man as wholly independent of the Lord. He confuses man’s freedom with man’s sovereignty. According to the Pelagian conception of things, the will of man, as far as its root is concerned, is good. He can will to do good. And, all things are dependent upon this will of the sinner. However, with this conception we simply lose God as the sovereign Ruler of the universe, and have no eye for the stern reality that all men sin and that but few are saved. The deterministic conception of this problem goes to the other extreme, and explains this problem simply by denying the responsibility of man. According to this view, man is merely a machine. He is moved about by God’s own hand without any action on his part. This operation of God simply takes place through the will of man. Man is wholly passive. Such is the deterministic conception. Also this presentation we must wholly reject: such a conception has no place for man as a responsible, moral being.
In Reformed circles, in connection with this problem, we are faced, first of all, with the infralapsarian conception of sin. The word “infra-lapsis” means literally: under the fall. The exponents of this doctrine place election and reprobation, in God’s counsel, as following the fall of man, prefer to speak of sin as taking place with the Lord’s permission, and therefore believe that God has elected and reprobated out of a fallen humanity; reprobation, then, is merely God’s decree to leave people in sin and death. The motive prompting this conception is to nullify the charge that God is the author of sin. However, this infralapsarian view of sin and grace is surely not satisfactory. We, when making this statement, are aware of the fact that our confessions are infralapsarian. But we are also aware of the fact that the supralapsarian view of sin and grace has always been allowed. Firstly, this view is unsatisfactory because it does not explain the strong expressions of Holy Writ touching upon this matter. And, incidentally, the infralapsarian concedes this point. Secondly, it does not answer to its purpose. The infralapsarian purposes to avoid making God the author of sin. But, I pray you, what is more cruel: a God Who causes man to fall, or a God Who can prevent this fall but nevertheless leaves that man in sin and perdition? Thirdly, the infra-lapsarian view is fundamentally dualistic. Dualism, as well as the antithetic conception of things, speaks of light and darkness, life and death, as contrasted with each other. But the antithesis explains this contrast as originating in the one source, the only true God, whereas dualism presents it as having a two-fold origin, light and darkness always opposing one another, with the outcome ever in doubt. We declare that infralapsarianism is dualistic because it places sin in God’s counsel without explaining its origin, as independent of the Lord. Far better is surely the supralapsarian view of things. This view places, in God’s counsel, the decree of election and reprobation before the fall of man. Creation and man’s fall are but God’s sovereign means to realize His sovereign decree concerning the salvation or perdition of man.
This problem of the providence of the Lord and sin is difficult. The difficulty of this problem does not lie in the propositions as such. God is sovereign, and man is a responsible, moral-rational being. This is clearly the teaching of the Word of God. We must never confuse or detract from these two fundamental principles. Both must be maintained. But the difficulty lies here: how can the holy God direct the actions of iniquity so that we do not lose sight of man’s responsibility and yet maintain that God is holy and righteous? God may work sin, but man does the sin. Now we do not purpose to solve this problem. But we do desire to discuss this question and to inquire of the Word of God what it has to say about it.
We have already called attention to the Scriptural significance of God’s providence, both from the aspect of preservation and government. The Lord preserves all things, in the absolute sense of the word, and He also governs all things, leading them to that one determinate end which He has willed from before the foundation of the world. However, we must also face the reality of sin. The fact of sin as such we surely cannot deny. Even the most optimistic of men must acknowledge the fact of sin. One may refuse to glorify God, and have no consciousness of sin in the true, spiritual and Scriptural sense of the word. Yet, who would have the courage, the brazen effrontery today to lay claim to perfection — such an one must be viewed as well nigh beside himself. The daily murders, the constant presence of wars and rumors of war speak but too emphatically of the jealousy and hatred governing the children of men. Apart, however, from the natural man, who does not discern spiritual things, and therefore surely does not discern the reality of sin, anyone who has learned by the power of the grace of God what it means to be a sinner, understands the fact of sin and iniquity. What a tremendous phenomenon is this reality of evil! At the dawn of creation, when all the handiwork of God united in singing praises unto the Lord, when not a solitary defect marred the whole creation, sin entered this world and caused all things to become subject unto the curse of the Almighty. Death and destruction it left in its wake. Sickness, misery, care and sorrow are our lot, every man’s lot. Moreover, there is also the fact of sin itself. We all are conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses. What an iniquity abounds upon the face of the earth! Scripture, and our own experience impress upon us the reality that the powers of hell and darkness are ever attempting to subject this earth unto themselves. And, what is more, it seems that they may continue unmolested, mocking at God and His Christ, and making of the church of God the plaything of the ages.
Having God’s providence and sin clearly before us, we face the question: what is the connection as such between them, as according to the Scriptures, without as yet discussing the question how they are actually related to one another? And then we would remark, in the first place, that the child of God demands a Scriptural explanation of God’s providence of sin. I must have an explanation of the reality of sin, and I must have this explanation from the Scriptures. I must have this explanation, first of all, because of the fact of the power of sin. We must contend with this power of sin within our lives. But we must also deal with the power of sin in the world round about us. That wicked world hates God, His Christ and His Church. Seemingly they may proceed unmolested in their wickedness. And it is for the child of God of the greatest significance whether God is God, or whether that world rages against the Lord as having power in itself, and that therefore the cause of God’s righteousness must remain in doubt even unto the end. So, the child of God must have, an explanation of this problem as revealed to him in the Scriptures. The Lord willing, we will continue with this discussion in our following article.