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That God deals righteously even then, when the actuating and influencing operation of His grace is such that it “permits” the saints to deviate from the guidance of grace and to be seduced into sin, so that they comply with the lusts of the flesh and actually fall, implies, in the first place, that the falls of the saints are not to be ascribed to the Lord God. On the contrary, the sins of the saints spring forth from their own sinful flesh and from their own carnal lusts and from the attacks of Satan and of the world. God is not the author of their sins, but they themselves are. When the, saints walk in the path of sanctification and holiness, that is to be ascribed to God and His grace; but when they follow in the paths of sin, that is their own fault, and it is to be ascribed only to their own sinful nature. This theCanons emphasize here when they state that the saints “draw back, by their own fault, from the guidance of grace.” If this were not the case, it could not possibly be maintained that God deals righteously. And this fact should be clearly understood. To present the Reformed doctrine of perseverance as teaching that the sins and falls of the saints are the fault of God’s grace is to present a caricature of the Reformed faith. It is certainly of the very essence of the Reformed doctrine that it surely denies that God is in any sense the author of sin. The Reformed faith maintains this apriori. That is, whether the relationship between God’s sovereign counsel and the sin of man, between His sovereign, irresistible grace and the sin of the elect, between His sure preservation and the sin of those who are preserved,—whether that relationship can be understood and explained satisfactorily and in all its details, or whether this must remain a mystery ultimately, makes absolutely no difference. The Reformed faith maintains that it is blasphemy to charge God with sin. Mark you well, Reformed doctrine does not by this detract one iota from the truth that also the sins and falls of the saints are under the sovereign control of the Almighty, whether a “permissive” or a “directive” control. Reformed doctrine maintains both these truths. That it does so is entirely apart from the question whether it also explains at all the relationship between them. I now emphasize that it simply maintains both truths, and that it is an utterly false charge to force upon the Reformed faith the supposed consequence of its doctrine of sovereignty that it makes God the author of sin. Reformed believers fling this consequence far from them and refuse to accept it. This is the plain teaching of this article, and is in harmony with all that the Canons teach elsewhere on this same subject. God is righteous in all His doings, and to charge Him with unrighteousness is nothing short of blasphemy. Unrighteousness in God is inconceivable. The Almighty is not even in need of defense on this score. He cannot be defended. He is God! Righteousness is His very Being. 

In the second place, this righteous permission implies that God does not violate the nature of His own creature in sovereignly permitting him to fall, but deals with that creature entirely in harmony with the nature which He Himself has given it. The saints are rational-moral creatures, formed by .the Almighty with a mind and a will of their own. As such He always deals with them, also in the work of His grace. To deal otherwise with them would be unrighteous. It would be a violation of God’s own ordinance. Hence, the operation of God’s grace is not upon the creature or in behalf of the creature merely, but it is an operation in and through the very nature of the rational-moral creature, and always in harmony with that nature. Now the saint whom God preserves by the power of His grace is such a rational-moral creature. That God preserves the saint means that He leads that saint inevitably to everlasting glory, and that nothing can ever prevent this. But how does God lead that saint? He does not treat him like a puppet, attach a string to him, and take him to glory without his own mind and will. Nor does he treat him like a wild animal, lasso him, and lead him to glory against his own mind and will. The Lord treats him like a thinking and willing creature, operates in and through his mind and will, and leads him inevitably to glory, but in harmony with the mind and will which He changes by the power of His grace. 

But there is more to this aspect of the truth. That saint remains on this earth always imperfect. According to the new man, he has a renewed mind and will. According to the old man, the operations of sin are still busy in that same saint. And also in this regard God’s dealings with that saint are always righteous. In other words, God does not only deal with the saint in harmony with his rational and moral nature, but He also deals with that saint in harmony with the fact that in his rational-moral nature there are both the principle of regeneration and the operations of sin. 

Various consequences follow from this fact. Some of these are mentioned and treated in the articles that follow, and we will enlarge on them at the proper time. But in the main, the truth is that within the framework of the operations of His grace whereby God leads His saints along the “ups and downs” of the path of sanctification inerrantly to glory, He always deals with them in perfect harmony with His own righteousness. The manner of His dealing with them is according to righteousness. The purpose of His dealings is according to righteousness. And He also vindicates His own righteousness in the consciousness of the saints with whom He deals, causing them to experience and to acknowledge and to manifest that He is a righteous God. 

Thus we may say, in the first place, that His purpose in “permitting” the saints to fall is always to reveal and to magnify ultimately the righteousness that is of God through Christ, the righteousness that is not in any sense of man, the righteousness which is by faith. This is fundamental. Certainly, in the consideration of this subject we must not limit our thoughts merely to the one little detail of the work of God whereby He “permits” the saint to fall. The work of God is one whole. And every detail of that work must be viewed. in the light of the whole work. Now then, the sovereign Lord God so works and so uses the sins and falls of the saints that they must serve the revelation and magnification of the righteousness that is of God in Christ, in the meantime always working thus, that the sin of His saints is never His sin, but always theirs. Is not this purest righteousness then? 

In the second place, the manner of God’s dealings is according to righteousness. Does God simply ignore the operations of sin in the saint? When sin’s activity in the saint becomes very strong, so that the saint wants to follow the inclinations of his old nature and comply with the lust of the flesh, and when he persists in this and does not want to find his strength in divine grace, does the Lord simply act as though nothing bad is taking place? Not at all; He deals righteously, and He lets the saint go temporarily into his own sin. When the saint, having the principle of the new life in him by grace, yet according to his flesh does not want to walk according to grace, does not want to depend. on it, does not want to watch and pray, or perhaps does not want to find all his righteousness by faith in the blood of Christ only, does the Lord simply go on causing that sinner to experience all the blessings of salvation, to have all the joy of salvation by grace only, to have all the assurance of preservation to the end? By no means; if God did that, He would indeed impugn the righteousness and spotless holiness of His own grace. On the contrary, sometimes God lets His saints go in order to teach them to know their own weaknesses when they feel strong in themselves. In that respect God deals with the saints,—always, remember, within the framework of His grace,—according to their sins. When they feel strong in themselves and therefore neglect watching and prayer, they must be dealt with in harmony with their sin in order that they may learn their weakness in self. Sometimes God lets His saints go in order to bring them to a deeper knowledge of their sin, to a deeper awareness of their own utter worthlessness and helplessness, to a more conscious need of the perfect righteousness of Christ’s atoning blood, and to a more heartfelt confession of sin and repentance. Sometimes the Lord lets His saints go and sovereignly lets them fall into very deep sin and into a most terrible and distressing experience of sin’s power in order to deliver them from a persistent sin of character. One terrible experience may serve sometimes to teach the saint a lesson of grace that he never forgets and to deliver him from a certain sin for the rest of his life by showing him the danger of that sin and the horror of it and by teaching him to be constantly watching and praying against it. Was it not thus with the deep fall of Peter in his denial of the Lord? And did not King David learn the lesson of grace in the same hard school of experience, according to Psalm 51

In the third place, God always causes His people to experience and to acknowledge His perfect righteousness at these times when they fall so deeply. They certainly experience, as Article 5 has it, that by such enormous sins they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, and grieve the Holy Spirit. God vindicates His own righteousness in the consciousness of the saints when they sin and fall deeply. They offend God, and they know that they offend God, and they experience the consequences of that offense, and, until by grace they find that offense covered by the perfect righteousness of Christ, they continue to experience that they have incurred a deadly guilt. In close connection with this, it also follows that the saints themselves cannot get rid of that “fault” of their sins on God. They never blame God for their own sin. That is spiritually impossible for them. They know that the guilt and blame of their sin is their own. And therefore also, the saints can never take the attitude: Let us sin that good may come out of it. On the contrary, they pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,”—a prayer which does not mean to ask that the saints shall not be surrounded by temptations, but to ask that they shall not be led to experience all the horrible consequences of succumbing to temptation and of being overcome by it. Hence, humbly conscious of their own weaknesses, constantly seeking their strength in the Lord, being constant in watching and prayer, they are strong in the Lord and safe from these deep falls. 

But in the meantime, in their deepest falls the people of God may ultimately rest in the assurance that God’s grace is stronger than all their sin, that even their sins and falls must be subservient to the purpose of His grace, and that the Lord alone can and does preserve them even through their deepest falls even unto the end. 

—H.C.H.