Scripture on God’s Government and Sin (Continued)
When we turn to the New Testament Scriptures with this question as to the relation between God’s government and sin, we are immediately reminded of what Scripture says concerning the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And Scripture speaks clearly on this subject.
The apostle Peter in his sermon on Pentecost Day, emphasizes, on the one hand, the wickedness and the guilt of the crucifixion, and places the responsibility for this central sin of the ages squarely upon the “men of Israel” who are addressed in his preaching: “Him . . . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” On the other hand, he emphasizes that the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ was nevertheless the work of the God of our salvation, and that all the wicked work that was accomplished in connection with our Lord’s crucifixion was by no means outside of the sovereign counsel and government of God. Thus we read in Acts 2:23, the passage which is quoted only in part above: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Here, therefore, within the confines of one brief statement of Scripture, the two truths of the responsibility of wicked men for their own wicked deed of the crucifixion of our Lord and of the sovereign government of the God of our salvation over that wicked deed stand side by side. And it is to be noted that they stand side by side in such a relation that the wicked deed of the crucifixion could not have been accomplished were it not for the sovereign counsel and government of God. The determining factor is the counsel of God, not the will of man, as far as the event of the crucifixion is concerned. Moreover, that determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God is accomplished by God Himself. It is God Who, according to and by His determinate counsel and foreknowledge, delivered our Lord Jesus Christ over into the hands of wicked men to be crucified and slain. This text, therefore, places the event of the crucifixion squarely in the domain not only of God’s sovereign counsel but also of His sovereign government, according to which He executes His own counsel.
It is not my purpose at present to enter into the question of the relation between these two, the government of God and the responsibility of man, or into the question of how God is not the author of sin while He sovereignly governs sin according to His determinate counsel. We are interested solely at present in the question what Scripture has to say on the subject. The Confession teaches us to be content “that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word, without transgressing these limits.” Hence, I merely want to let Scripture speak on this question. And it is plain beyond a shadow of a doubt that this passage places that central event of the crucifixion, that sin of all sins, that climax of all the sin of the ages, squarely in the control of God’s government, so that if it were not for the government of God, the sin of the crucifixion would never have come to pass. Whatever else may or may not be said about the subject of the relation between God’s work and man’s deed, the facts stand plainly before our eyes in Scripture; they cannot be denied. This certainly does not belong to the hidden things of God; it is literally revealed in Scripture. And if we are disciples of Christ, as the Confession puts it, we will learn this revealed truth of His Word.
The same truth is emphasized in a most beautiful way in Acts 4:23-28. I say “a most beautiful way” because here this truth occurs in the prayer of the church, and therefore not as a matter of cold, dogmatical reasoning, but as a truth vital in the faith of the persecuted church of the apostles’ time, as a truth that was a source of comfort to the church and the occasion of thankful praise. The setting of this prayer is the persecution of Peter and John by the chief priest and the elders at the time of the healing of the lame man. And when the apostles had been threatened and warned not to speak at all nor teach in. the name of Jesus, but had nevertheless insisted that preach they must, they had been let go, whereupon they returned to the company of the believers and reported to them what had taken place. But let the passage speak for itself: “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?
(to be continued)