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Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1-Chapter 25-The Providence of God (Concluded)

CHAPTER 25-THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD (Concluded)

In the preceding chapter we sought to define and explain Divine Providence, and to show that God is reigning in every place and over every thing.

God rested from His work of creation, not because He was tired, but because He was satisfied with His work and could pronounce everything good. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (#Ge 2:1-2). His rest did not mean cessation from work, but satisfaction with His work. Since creation He has been at work in sustaining and administering the affairs of His creation. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (#Col 1:17); “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (#Heb 1:3); “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (#Eph 1:11).

THE TWO ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED

If God is not running the world, it is either because He does not wish to or because He is not able to. Let us examine these two alternatives separately.

1. If God does not wish to run the world it means that He has lost interest in it, and the world may be considered an abandoned project. To such a premise no believer can subscribe. The voice of Scripture is against such an idea. God would not give His Son to die for a world He had no interest in.

2. The view that God is not able to run the world is also unreasonable in the light of Scripture. We believe, however, this to be the position many people take, and it is because they do not know or do not believe in the God of the Bible. How often we hear people talk about God trying to do this and trying to do that! This view puts God in the position of a boy with a pair of runaway horses. Any boy who has had horses to run away with him knows what a feeling of helplessness came over him. Now the Scriptures do not at all, in any sense, represent God as distracted and helpless. “He is able,” is the happy refrain of Scripture.

The three Hebrew worthies, when facing the wrath of a heathen king, said: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” (#Da 3:17).

“And when he (Darius) came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” (#Da 6:20). And from the den of lions, Daniel answered and said, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt” (#Da 6:22).

To those Jews who thought natural kinship to Abraham was all they needed, the Lord Jesus said, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (#Mt 3:9).

To the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul said, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (#Ac 20:32).

James tells us that: “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (#Jas 4:12).

In beautiful benediction Jude says; “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (#Jude 1:24,25).

Either of the two alternatives makes prayer useless. There is no use praying to a God who has no interest in His creation, nor to a God who is helpless to deliver us.

HOW IS GOD GOVERNING THE WORLD?

In running the world God is not openly and publicly manifesting Himself. He is running the world in Providence and Providence is secret and mysterious.

1. In running the world God is giving the devil an opportunity to reveal himself and to show what he would do if he could. What would the devil do if he were able? He would do exactly what he has tried to do. He has tried to usurp the place and prerogatives of God in government. In the long ago, he said, “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north” (#Isa 14:13). Satan was perhaps the most beautiful and most exalted being in the original creation. If anybody should have been satisfied with his place and position it was he. But he was lifted up with pride because of his beauty and craved more authority. He had a lust for power and sought to seize the reins of government in his own hands.

2. In Providence God is allowing man to reveal himself and show what he would do if he had the power. What has man tried to do? He has followed the example of Satan and has tried to be like God in the matter of authority. In the garden of Eden there were two trees which stood as symbols of two very important truths. There was the tree of life, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” (#Ge 3:22). symbolizing the truth that man is not self sufficient, that he is dependent upon God for everything; and there was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”

(#Ge 2:17), symbolizing the truth that man is not sovereign, that he is not allowed to do as he pleases, that he cannot determine for himself what is right and what is wrong, but that God’s word is to determine that. That tree stood as a solemn reminder that God is Lord of creation. God determined what Adam and Eve could have, not they themselves. God had said, You may have this, but you must not eat that. Your life and happiness will depend upon obedience to my word.

Now, Satan came into the garden and told Eve that God had lied; “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (#Ge 3:1); that the truth was, that to do what God had forbidden would mean their good, that to eat the fruit would mean opened eyes (eyes of the understanding), so that they could know for themselves what was right and what was wrong. They would no longer be tied to God’s word about the question of good and evil. He told Eve they would become as gods, knowing (determining) what is good and what is evil.

We are told that Eve was deceived by Satan. She believed his lie and trespassed on God’s authority. She believed that great benefit would come from eating the forbidden fruit. Here is the divine record of the first human sin: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (#Ge 3:6). From this simple but tragic story we get a definition of sin. Sin is entering into competition with God for authority. John says that sin is the transgression of the law of God, and the law of God is His word on any and every subject. Sin is setting God’s word aside as the law of my life, and doing what I please. After the fatal step had been taken by Adam and Eve, “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know (determine) good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:” (#Ge 3:22). This can only mean that man had become like God in spirit and aim. He had the spirit of independency and aimed to compete with God for sovereignty and do that which was right in his own eyes; moreover, he would determine for himself what was right.

How often we hear some person ask, “What is the harm of it?” or say, “I do not see any harm in it,” when the thing referred to is expressly forbidden in God’s Word. Why was it wrong for Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Only because God had said “thou shalt not eat of it.” What harm was there in Moses striking the rock at Kadesh? It was wrong only because God had told him to speak to the rock. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.. .And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (#Nu 20:7,8,11). What was wrong with Uzzah putting forth his hand to stay the ark, and keep it from falling off the cart? “And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (#2Sa 6:6-7). It was wrong only because God had said that only the priests were to carry the ark, and no human hands were to touch it. What was the harm of King Saul sparing Agag, and the best of the sheep when he destroyed the Amalekites? “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (#1Sa 15:9). It was wrong only because God had commanded otherwise. And so when Saul offered the excuse that he had saved the sheep and oxen to sacrifice unto the Lord, “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (#1Sa 16:22). Insofar as assigning any reason for them, many of God’s commandments are arbitrary, that is, they have their source in the sovereign pleasure of God. To be sure, God has a reason for all He commands, but as an absolute Sovereign He is under no necessity to make them known to His creatures.

PROVIDENCE IS PREVENTIVE

In governing the world God prevents much sin which would otherwise be committed. When we think about the awful amount of sin, and the terrible degree to which sin has gone, and the awful effects of sin, we are apt to think that it would be impossible to draw any more or any worse sins from the heart, the fountain of sin. But God does exert a restraining influence on the wicked so that they do not commit all the sins possible to them. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (#Ps 76:10). To Abimelech He said, “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (#Ge 20:6). If this heathen king had been left to his own heart’s lust, he would have harmed Sarah. A young man, holding an important position and handling much money, was tempted to take a large sum with seemingly no danger of detection; it would be the perfect crime. But on the very day he planned to take the money he found a card on his desk, saying “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (#Mt 6:19). He was stopped cold in his plan, and always regarded the incident as an act of Providence to keep him from taking the money. And, no doubt, the reader as well as the writer can think of times when he, too, was restrained from executing the designs of his heart.

PROVIDENCE IS PERMISSIVE

God permits sinful men to manifest the evil of their hearts. In #2Ch 32:31, we are told that God left Hezekiah: “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” In #Ps 81:12,13, we find God speaking concerning Israel: “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!.” Also: “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (#Ac 14:16); “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (#Ro 1:24,28). A woman, who had been slandered, protested when told that God had permitted it for her good. She maintained that Satan had inspired her accuser. But she needed to learn that God had permitted the work of Satan.

PROVIDENCE IS DIRECTIVE

God directs the sinful acts of evil men to the accomplishment of His own purpose. When God permits the evil in the human heart to come out, He directs its flow in one direction rather than another for the fulfillment of His purpose. In this way sinful acts of men become the holy acts of God. Joseph’s brethren sinned in selling him into slavery, but because of an overruling Providence, he could and did say to them: “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (#Ge 45:8). That which made their act a sinful act was their motive. Joseph says to them again: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (#Ge 50:20).

PROVIDENCE IS DETERMINATIVE

God determines the bounds reached by the evil passions of His creatures and the measure of their affects. God set the bounds to which Satan could go in afflicting Job. “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (#Job 1:12). And to Satan’s second challenge concerning Job, God said, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life” (#Job 2:6). This illustrates what we have in #1Co 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

THE DIVINE OBJECTIVE

What is the Divine objective or purpose in administration? To what end is God running the world? For whose pleasure and profit is the world being governed? What will be the ultimate and manifest results of God’s government?

NEGATIVELY

1. The objective in Divine Providence is not the pleasure and profit of the devil. If we take a short sighted view of the happenings of this world we might think that God is catering to the devil; that His policy toward the devil is one of appeasement. The devil does seem to have a lot of power. Peter likens him to a roaring lion in search of prey. He does seem to be enjoying much success. But look at his latter end and it will be seen that God is not governing for his pleasure and profit. Go to a farm and look at a pen of fattening hogs. It might seem that the whole farm is being run for the benefit of those hogs. They have nothing to do but eat and rest, they have all that a hog can want. But follow those same hogs to the abattoir and your view will be corrected.

2. Nor is the world being run for the good of humanity as such. God is making all things work together for the good of His people, but not for the sake of humanity as a whole. Let us face some facts: millions of people are born in poverty, live in poverty, die in poverty, and will spend eternity in the poverty of hell. And again: millions are born in sin, live in sin, die in sin, and will spend eternity in the hell of sin. We make so bold as to say, that if God is running the world for the good of humanity, He is a colossal failure. Think of the millions of young men under arms today, not of their own choosing, but because of circumstances beyond their control. God’s objective is not human happiness. If it were there would be no bombed and burning cities; there would be no wailing women, starving and crying children, bleeding and dying men on a thousand battlefields.

POSITIVELY

God is governing the world for the highest good; for the greatest and noblest objective. What is the highest good? What is the greatest objective possible? What is the most important thing in the universe? Who is the most important being in the universe? These questions will put us on the right track for the answer to our query, or search for the Divine objective.

1. The highest good is not the pleasure and profit of the devil. He is the enemy of God and of the good. He is not the most important person, and his welfare is not even a part of the Divine objective.

2. The highest good is not the welfare of the human race. Man is the acme of creation, but as compared with God “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (#Da 4:35). Paul, speaking of himself and Apollos as workmen of God, confessed they were nothing: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (#1Cor 3:7).

3. The highest good, the greatest possible objective in Divine government is the glory of God. We reach this conclusion by following two lines of approach: first, the duty of man, and second, the testimony of Scripture.

3a) The chief duty of man must be the same as the Divine objective. What God demands of man is equal to what He aims at in government. God would not require one thing from man and pursue another end or objective in His administration. To illustrate: Our government demands from its citizens an all out effort for victory in this war, and what the government demands from its subjects is exactly what the government has for its objective: the winning of the war. Now the chief duty of man is to glorify God. ” Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (#1Co 10:31). “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (#Col 3:23); “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (#1Co 6:20). We are to put God first in our prayers. His glory comes before our needs. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (#Mt 6:9).

3b) The Scriptures declare the Divine objective in running the world to be the glory of God. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (#Re 4:11), tells us that all things exist for the pleasure of God. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (#Ro 11:36) gives us this truth in marvelous language. Weymouth translates it like this: “For all proceeds from Him, and exists by Him, and for Him. To Him be the glory for ever! Amen.” :Dr. Robertson, in his “Word Pictures,” says, “By these three prepositions Paul ascribes the universe (ta panta) with all the phenomina concerning creation, redemption, providence to God, as the source (ex), the agent (di), the goal (eis).” He also says that Alford terms this doxology in verses 33 to 36 “the sublimest apostrophe existing even in the pages of inspiration itself.”

God is the one and only person in all the universe who has the right to act for His own glory. His glory is the rule of all His actions, and His glory is the rule of human conduct. Yes, the chief duty of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Salvation is not primarily for our good, but for His glory. In #Eph 1:6 we read, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,”. And in Eph. 1:11,12: “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” God is saving sinners that He might exhibit the trophies of His grace to an onlooking universe in the ages to come: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (#Eph 2:7).

If the writer knows his heart at all, there are two things he is eminently satisfied with. First, he is satisfied with what Jesus Christ did at Calvary, when He put away the guilt of our sins by the sacrifice of Himself. We are satisfied with it because we believe God was satisfied with it. We own no theory of the atonement except the “satisfaction theory,” by whatever name it may be called. Second, we are satisfied with the providence of God in our life. The road has not always been plain nor pleasant, but we believe His way has been profitable for us.

“God holds the key If all unknown,
And I am glad,
And I am glad.
If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad,
I might be sad.

“What if tomorrow’s cares were here
Without its rest,
Without its rest?
I’d rather He’d unlock the day,
And, as the hours swing open, say,
My will be best,
My will be best.

“The very dimness of my sight
Makes me secure,
Makes me secure.
For, groping in my misty way,
I feel His hand; I hear Him say,
My help is sure,
My help is sure.

“I cannot read His future plan,
But this I know,
But this I know:
I have the smiling of His face,
And all the refuge of His grace,
While here below,
While here below.

“Enough this covers all my need,
And so I rest,
And so I rest;
For, where I cannot, He can see,
And in His care I safe shall be,
Forever blest,
Forever blest.”

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1

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Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1-Chapter 20-The Will of God

April 17, 2015 2 comments

CHAPTER 20-THE WILL OF GOD

In all intelligent beings there is a will, men and angels and God have wills. In men the will is the faculty of the mind by which choice is made of a future action determined upon. In willing a man has the purpose of action in view. And his will is the cause of the action, else he would be a mere machine or automation. If I take a gun and shoot another man, the will worked before the hand did; the purpose was before the act. But if I am held by another man, and a gun is placed in my hand, and another hand moves my finger to pull the trigger, that is not my act because I did not will or choose to do it. In that act I was not a responsible being, but a mere machine or tool of another.

In God the will is the attribute by which He determines and executes future events. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (#Joh 6:39). His will includes “whatsoever comes to pass,” hence everything that comes to pass is providential and not accidental so far as God is concerned. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (#Eph 1:11). The sparrow does not fall without the will of God.

Webster defines Providence as an event divinely ordained. Now it is well known that events happen in sequence, that is, they are related in order of time and one event is the cause of another event. So it seems evident, that if some events are ordained then all events are ordained. It is usual for men to distinguish events as providential and accidental. Even Christians are prone to classify their experiences either as providential or accidental. They associate providence with good things, and accident with evil things; therefore, they speak of having an accident. The Rickenbacker party regarded their rescue at sea as providential, but the writer regards the whole of their experiences as providential. The fall of their plane into the sea was as much providential as was their rescue. We need to see God’s will in our afflictions as well as in our blessings. Job was speaking of both “And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (#Job 1:21). And when his wife pleaded with him to curse God and die, “But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (#Job 2:10). And when he had lost all earthly comforts; seeing God’s hand in it all he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (#Job 13:15).

The will of God includes the wicked actions of sinful men, but does not take away their blame worthiness. We may not see how this can be, but the Scriptures declare it and we should believe it. The Scriptures were not written to confirm our reasoning but rather to correct it. On the day of Pentecost Peter said, concerning Jesus, “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel (will) and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (#Ac 2:23). And on a later occasion he said that “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel (will) determined before to be done” (#Ac 4:27,28). We may not be able to see how God can will or determine a sin without becoming the author of sin, but the fact remains that the greatest of all sins, the slaying of the Son of God, was divinely ordained.

DISTINCTIONS IN THE WILL OF GOD

Theologians have made many distinctions in the will of God; some of them are false, others are vain and useless, but there is one distinction that is necessary, and which will prove helpful in rightly dividing the word of truth. This is that which distinguishes between God’s decretive will and His preceptive will, or His will of purpose and His will of command. God’s will of purpose is always done; His will of command is often left undone. God’s will of purpose cannot be thwarted, for this would mean His dethronement; His will of command is often violated, for men are in rebellion against Him. If the human will is greater in power than the Divine will then, of course, this human rebellion will succeed and God will be dethroned. If human rebellion can overthrow the government of God, we have no supreme Being at all. To further amplify the distinction between God’s decretive and preceptive wills we will consider each separately.

GOD’S WILL OF PURPOSE

1. It is eternal. God is not forming any new purposes, for His counsels are of old: “O LORD, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (#Isa 25:1). His purpose in Christ is said to be eternal: “According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:” (#Eph 3:11). What is to be will be, therefore, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (#Ac 15:18).

2. It is effectual. God’s will of purpose is always accomplished. God is not man that He should engage in wishful thinking. There are no mere wishes with Him which He cannot perform. “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: That I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (#Isa 14:24-27). For example, back in eternity God willed or determined the death of His Son, and centuries after time began we see Him controlling and directing the free actions of sinful men to bring this event to pass. Moreover, He predestinated and predicted the detail when, where, and how His Son should die. And so in the four gospels we are told that this and that was done to Him that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

3. It is immutable. God never changes His will of purpose. There are only two possible reasons for anybody changing his will; it must be either because he sees that what he purposed was not wise, or that he sees it cannot be accomplished. But neither of these reasons can apply to God. He was All wise in planning and is All powerful in performing.

Prayer does not change God’s will, but it does change things. Changes wrought by prayer are all within the circle of God’s purposing will. “And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (#Ro 8:27). Answered prayer is made in the energy of the Holy Spirit. A man may pray without the Spirit and get what he asks for, but it would not be in answer to prayer. Two generals on opposing sides may pray for victory in the coming battle, but both could not be praying in the Holy Spirit, and it is possible that neither of them are. In all true prayer this thought is implied or expressed: Not my will but Thine be done.

“Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
O lead me by Thine own right hand,
Choose out the path for me.

“I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might;
But choose Thou for me, O my God,
So shall I walk aright.

“Take thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill;
As ever best to Thee may seem,
Choose Thou my good and ill.

“Not mine, not mine the choice,
In things of great or small;
Be Thou my guide, my guard, my strength,
My wisdom, and my all.”

4. God’s will of purpose was the cause of our conversion. I am a converted or saved man. I have been born again. What is the explanation of this tremendous change? Back of every performance or action there must be a will. Did I will myself into a new man? Did some other man effectually will my second birth? “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (#Joh 1:12,13). Saving faith does not originate with our parents, nor with ourselves, nor with some other man; it is the gift and work of God. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (#Jas 1:18).

GOD’S WILL OF COMMAND

1. God’s preceptive will refers to what He has prescribed as our rule of thought and conduct. The will of God is expressed in all Divine law. In Eden it was God’s will that determined what kind of law would be given to Adam and Eve. At Sinai God did not consult Moses or the children of Israel about what laws they would be under. In a democracy the people make their own laws through chosen representatives who serve in legislative halls. This gives rise to pressure groups and class legislation because men are selfish; they do not love their neighbors as themselves. But in our relation to God we are not dealing with a democracy but with a Theocracy. In God’s will of command we have the sovereignty of authority; in God’s will of purpose we have the sovereignty of power.

2. It is God’s will of command and not His will of purpose that men are responsible to perform. It was His will of purpose that Christ should be crucified, but it was not His will of command. In putting Jesus Christ to death men were fulfilling the purpose of God, but they were not obeying any command of God. There can be no sin in doing what God has commanded. Peter tells us that they put Christ to death with wicked hands; “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (#Ac 2:23); therefore, they were not obeying a command of God. What God purposes is the determining factor; what He commands is our duty. It seems easy for men to see this distinction in everything except religion. A man who can see only one side of the truth will say, “If it is God’s will or purpose to save me, He will save me; therefore, I will sit down and do nothing about it.” Now this same man would not dare reason this way about other things. Concerning this year’s crop, God’s will of purpose determines the harvest, but His command is to plow and plant, cultivate and reap. God’s will of purpose determines whether we live or die: “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (#Jas 4:15), but it is His will of command that we regard the laws of health. Nobody quits eating because he believes God’s will of purpose determines whether he lives or dies. God’s will of purpose will determine the outcome of this war, but it would be foolish to sit down and say: “If it is God’s will we will win, if not we will lose; therefore, let us strike and stop mining coal and producing steel.” God’s will of purpose determines the result of our witnessing for Christ. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (#Ec 11:6). “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (#Isa 55:10,11). It is God’s will of command that we sow beside all waters, to preach the Gospel to every creature, and His will of purpose will take care of the results and make it accomplish what He pleases.

It is God’s will of purpose that determines whether I am saved or not, but it is folly to sit down and say that if I am one of the elect I will be saved; therefore, I need not take any interest in the matter. God’s will of command is to repent and believe, and this is every man’s responsibility. We are commanded “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” (#2Pe 1:10). We are commanded to “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (#Lu 13:24). The man who takes no interest in his soul and has no concern for his salvation; if he persists in this attitude will surely land in the lake of fire; for he that believeth not shall be damned. Much of God’s will of purpose belongs to His secret will, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (#De 29:29).

C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 1

Chapter 13-The Decrees of God

The Decrees of God

 

The decrees of God may be defined as that just, wise, and holy purpose or plan by which eternally, and within himself, he determines all things whatsoever that come to pass.

I. This purpose or plan is just, wise, and holy. Since it is formed by God it must have this character. His nature forbids that anything otherwise shall proceed from him. Though what he permits may be unrighteous, or foolish, or sinful, these characteristics belong to it because of others; while his will, purpose, or plan continues just, wise, and holy.

It is needful that this fact be always remembered.

1. Since, on account of the ignorance of man, there must be much in connection with this subject, which cannot be comprehended; because (1.) man’s finite knowledge cannot compass the nature, and mode, and reasons of the will, and action of the infinite God, (2.) because of the difficulty of reconciling the free agency and responsibility of man, with the pre-existent knowledge and purposes of God, and (3.) because of the perplexities which arise from the existence of sin in a world planned, created and governed by a holy, all-wise, and almighty God.

2. The same fact should also not be forgotten, because of the natural corruption of the human heart, which makes it (1.) revolt against the sovereignty of God, (2.) seek refuge from the condemnation justly due to sin, and (3.) endeavor to find excuses for continuance therein.

It is our duty, therefore, (1.) to seek to learn all the facts made known by reason and revelation, (2.) to accept them, (3.) to recognize them as the testimony of God, (4.) to admit that our knowledge is still imperfect, (5.) to believe that further information will still further remove the difficulties, (6.) to refuse on account of the difficulties to reject what God has actually taught, and (7.) amid all, to believe that whatever that teaching is, it must accord with justice, wisdom and holy perfection, because it is God of whom these things are affirmed.

II. These decrees are properly defined to be God’s purpose or plan.

The term “decree” is liable to some misapprehension and objection, because it conveys the idea of an edict, or of some compulsory determination. “Purpose” has been suggested as a better word. “Plan” will sometimes be still more suitable. The mere use of these words will remove from many some difficulties and prejudices which make them unwilling to accept this doctrine. They perceive that, in the creation, preservation, and government of the world, God must have had a plan, and that that plan must have been just, wise and holy, tending both to his own glory and the happiness of his creatures. They recognize that a man who has no purpose, nor aim, especially in important matters, and who cannot, or does not, devise the means by which to carry out his purpose, is without wisdom and capacity, and unworthy of his nature. Consequently, they readily believe and admit that the more comprehensive, and, at the same time, the more definite is the plan of God, the more worthy is it of infinite wisdom. Indeed they are compelled to the conclusion that God cannot be what he is, without forming such a purpose or plan.

III. Any such plan or purpose of God must have been formed eternally, and within himself.

1. It must have been eternally purposed, because God’s only mode of existence, as has been heretofore proved, is eternal, and therefore his thoughts, and purpose, and plan must be eternal. The fact also that his knowledge is infinite, and cannot be increased, forbids the forming of plans in time, which, as they become known to him, would add to that knowledge. It is also to be remembered that the plan must precede its execution, but as time began with that execution, the plan must not have been formed in time, and must be eternal.

2. In like manner, also, was it formed within himself. He needed not to go without himself, either for the impulse which led to it, or the knowledge in which it was conceived. He had all knowledge, both of the actual and the possible, all wisdom as to the best end and means, all power to execute what he devised in the use, or without the use of appropriate secondary means, and free will to select, of all possible plans and means, whatever he himself should please, and the impulse which moved him existed alone in that knowledge and will.

IV. By this plan or purpose God determined all things which it included.

This is manifestly true, even if all things whatsoever were not thus embraced.

To say the least, all the parts of it, as well as the whole, were known to him. But this knowledge, apart from any decree, determines, marks out, and fixes the nature, limits, time, sequence and relation to each other of the whole, and of all the parts. Things which are known by God as future, must certainly be future. A determination, or decree to bring them to pass, and even their actual existence, does not make them more certain.

But whence is God’s knowledge of the futurity of any events, except from the knowledge of his purpose, to cause or permit them to come to pass? The knowledge of the futurity of any event, over which any one has absolute control, is the result of his purpose, not its cause. And, as God has such absolute control over all things, his knowledge that they will be, must proceed from his purpose that they shall be. It cannot be from mere perception of their nature, for he gives that nature, and in determining to give it, determines what it shall be, and thus determines the effects which that nature will cause. Nor is it from mere knowledge of the mutual relations which will be sustained by outward events or beings, for it is he that establishes these relations for the accomplishment of his own purposes. To say that this nature and these relations are from God, and are not from his purpose, is in the highest degree fatalistic, for it would involve that they originate in some necessity of the nature of God, because of which he must give them existence without so willing, and even against his will. In this way alone could God be said to know, and yet not to purpose them. His knowledge would arise from knowledge of his nature, and of what that nature compels him to do, and not from knowledge of his purpose and of his will involved in that purpose. This, and this alone, would make equally certain and known what will come to pass, without basing that knowledge upon his purpose; but it would not only be destructive of his free agency and will, but, from the nature of necessity, would make the outward events eternal and prevent the existence of time, and the relation to it of all things whatsoever.

V. This plan, or purpose, includes all things whatsoever that come to pass; not some things, but all things; not all things in general, but each thing in particular.

So interwoven are all these things, that the lack of purpose, as to any one, would involve that same lack as to multitudes of others, indeed as to every other connected in the slightest degree with the one not purposed.

This is evidently true as to all subsequent events; but it is equally so as to those that are antecedent, for these thus connected antecedent events have been established with efficient causative power, relative to all their effects. God knows the existence of this power; he has in fact ordained and bestowed it. He knows also what will be its effects. With this knowledge, God must, therefore, either allow them to act, because he purposes that the result shall follow, or he must hinder, or restrain, or accelerate their action because he would change the effect. In each case he purposes, in the one to effect, in the other to permit, and his purpose thus extends to all things. Any limitation of his purpose involves limitation of his knowledge, and this cannot be true of the omniscient God.

To such an extent is the force of this realized, that it is admitted by all, that, in the mechanical universe, and even in the control of the lower animals, this is true. But the free agency of man, and of other rational and moral agents, is supposed to prevent God’s purposing, or willing, all things with reference to them. It is said that such purposing would take away that free agency, and consequent responsibility.

The Scriptures recognize both the sovereignty of God, and the free agency, and accountability of man. Consciousness assures us of the latter. The nature of God, as has just been shown, proves the former. The Bible makes no attempt to reconcile the two. Paul even declines to discuss the subject, saying, “Nay but, oh man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Rom. 9:20. The two facts are plainly revealed. They cannot be contradictory, they must be reconcilable. That we cannot point out the harmony between them is a proof, only of our ignorance, and limited capacity, and not that both are not true. It is certain, however, that, whatever may be the influences which God exercises, or permits, to secure the fulfilment of his purposes, he always acts in accordance with the nature, and especially with the laws of mind he has bestowed upon man. It is equally true, that his action is in full accord with that justice, and benevolence, which are such essential attributes of God himself.

Acting, however, upon the belief that the purpose of God, accomplishing his will in his rational creatures, is inconsistent with their free agency, several classes of theologians have presented theories in opposition to the scriptural doctrine of decrees above set forth.

1. The most objectionable theory is that of the Socinians, who deny that God can know what a free agent will choose, or do, before he acts, or wills. They maintain that the will is, at the moment of its choice, in such perfect equilibrium, that there are no tendencies in any direction which prevent an absolute freedom of choice. No knowledge, therefore, of the will itself, nor of the circumstances which surround its action, will enable any one to say, before it is exercised, what will be its choice. Its act, therefore, is entirely undetermined and indeterminable, until the free agent wills. It cannot even be known beforehand by God himself.

The objections to this theory are obvious.

(1.) It is based upon a wrong conception of the nature of free agency; for it supposes each act of the will to be an arbitrary choice. But such arbitrary choice is not found even in God. As regards man, we know, from consciousness and experience, that his will is influenced by motives. Indeed, so truly is it governed by the nature of the man, and the attendant influences, that even we can predict his will and action in many cases, and only fail to do so perfectly in all because of our limited knowledge. The omniscient God cannot fail to know everything that affects the decision, and, therefore, what the decision will be.

(2.) This theory is also opposed to the independence of God. It supposes him to have made beings of such a nature, that his own actions and will must depend upon theirs, and that he must await their decision, wherever it will have any influential bearings on anything future, before he can know or purpose what he himself will do.

(3.) It is also manifest, from what has been said under the first objection, that this theory is opposed to the omniscience of God. It expressly puts a limitation, upon that omniscience, by declaring that he is limited in his knowledge, at least, so far as not to know beforehand the decision of the will of his creatures. But ignorance of this would also involve ignorance of all things in the future, with which it may be connected. This would, in a world inhabited by free agents, constitute no small part of all that will occur.

(4.) It is opposed to the instances mentioned in Scripture of the prediction beforehand by God, even of the bad actions of certain men. See as to Pharaoh, Ex. 7:3, 4; Hazael, 2 Kings 8:13; Judas, Matt. 26:21; Peter, Matt. 26:34, &c., &c.

(5.) It is opposed to the power of forming habits, which is a matter of universal experience. Such habits, when known, constitute a source of information, upon which, to some degree, reliance can be placed in foretelling what any man will do. A perfect knowledge of his habits, as well as of all else that influences, would secure infallible prediction of the choice. God has this perfect knowledge, and if he cannot foreknow the decision, it must be because it is not true that habits can be formed which according to the law of habit will influence and control.

2. Another theory has been advanced by some Arminians, who maintain that God does not know the free actions of men, not because he cannot know them, but because he chooses not to do so.

(1.) The first objection to this theory is, that, were it true, it would not give greater freedom to the will, than does the orthodox statement.

Though this theory honours God more than the former, it is inferior to it with respect to the object for which it is introduced. If it could be true as the first theory claims, that so indeterminate is the future will of a free agent, that even God cannot know it, then that future will would certainly be entirely under the control of the free agent, and he would to the utmost extreme be free. His will would be in absolute equilibrium in the act of choosing. Neither would any motive exist to influence that choice. It would be thoroughly arbitrary.

But the second theory has not this advantage, for it does not suppose this condition of equilibrium. In claiming, that God does not choose to know, what he might know if he should so choose, it admits that there are the same surrounding circumstances and conditions, and the same prevailing motive, through foresight of which God could know if he should so will. But, if this be true, there can be no state of equilibrium. The certainty of what will occur is as much fixed as though known to God. It is not his knowledge of these things, and of their certain result in the act of the will, that makes it certain what it will be. It is the fact, that these things are such as they are, which makes it possible for him to know them. If he barely determines to permit what his knowledge perceives will surely take place, the event is not made any more certain by that knowledge, than it was before. Unquestionably, therefore, so far as the permissive decrees of God are involved, this theory has no advantage over that of the Scriptures.

The same fact is true as to God’s effective decrees, for the fact that God does not choose to know the result, does not prevent his introduction of active influences towards that result. Because a man does not know the decision which a judge will make in a case in court, and does not choose, because of the impropriety of so doing, to ascertain from the judge what will be his decision, he does not, therefore, refrain from using all proper arguments to influence the judge. There can be no reason why God, in ignorance of what will be the decision, could not exert every influence which would be possible if that decision were known to him. He could only exert such influences as, under the circumstances, would be just and right. He could do this only in accordance with the nature of his creatures, in strict conformity to the laws of the human mind. Therefore, it may be affirmed as true, that, even under his efficient decrees, when he knows the result, his creatures are left as f’ree as they could be, were that result unknown to him.

(2.) The chief objection, to this theory is, that it is based upon a wrong conception of the relation of the will of God to his nature. That will does not confer the attributes of his nature, nor does it control them, but is itself influenced by them. God knows all things, not because he wills to know them, but, because, from his nature, he has infinite knowledge, knowledge of all things possible, and knowledge of all things certain. If, by his will, he could refrain from knowing, he would change his nature. As well speak of a man not choosing to see, with his eyes open, the objects presented to his sight, as of God not choosing to know anything, whether that be only something which is possible, or something which in any way has been made certain.

3. There is, beside the theories already referred to, the ordinary Arminian theory. This is, that God knows all things that will come to pass, but does not decree all, but only some of them. The decisions of free agents are among those things which he is supposed not to decree.

(1.) The manifest objection to this theory is, that it does not accord with the statements of the Bible. This will be subsequently shown, by the passages of Scripture which will be advanced, in proof of the various points involved in the ordinary Calvinistic theory.

(2.) But a second objection will be found in the fact that this theory does not thus secure that freedom from certainty in the decisions of free agents, which is the great reason of the objections to the decrees of God concerning them.

If by decreeing such decisions, is meant effectively causing them, it is true that God does not decree all things; for, while he effectually causes some, he only permissively decrees others. Hence the objection to the word “decree,” and the previous suggestion of the words “purpose” or “plan.”

But, if God knows that any event will occur, and can prevent it, and does not, it is evident that he purposes that it shall exist, and makes it a part of his plan.

His knowledge of the futurity of any event makes it as certain as any purpose he could form effectively to cause it. That knowledge is perfect and infallible. What he knows will come to pass, must necessarily take place. Otherwise, he would know a thing as future which will not be future. His knowledge of it would be false. He would be himself deceived. To suppose, then, that he knows it as certain, when it is not certain, is to deny his infinite knowledge, and to reduce this theory to the plane of one or the other of those previously mentioned.

(3.) Neither does this theory accomplish another object for which it is introduced, namely, to secure such a relation of God to any free act of man as shall take away the influence upon it exerted by his decree

His decree to permit it, is as hidden from his creatures as his knowledge that they will so act, and can have no other influence upon them than that knowledge.

The only apparent advantage is that God is supposed thus not to interfere with their free agency, so as to destroy their accountability. But we have seen that, so far as the permissive decree is concerned, the knowledge of the event is as effective in making it certain, and in influencing the free agent, as would be any decree, purpose or plan of God. It is only when the decree is effective, and introduces the means for its accomplishment, that the free agency is affected. In this case, God does not destroy the free agency, although he exerts an influence towards the result. But that God is thus active, sometimes, as in his gracious influences upon men, is held as firmly by Arminians as Calvinists. In all such gracious acts, both parties claim that he is both merciful and just. Calvinists extend these no further than do Arminians, for they deny as strenuously as others, that God acts effectively to lead men to wicked decisions and deeds. So far as the nature of God’s actions upon free agents is concerned, both parties agree. But the Arminian theory, in asserting foreknowledge without purpose, and in alleging that the foreknowledge is all that there is in God, is contrary to the relations of God’s will to his knowledge, as well as to the statements of Scripture about the decrees of God; and while it leaves the event equally certain, supposes fully as much influence over the will of the creature, and has equal difficulty in reconciling the free agency, and consequent responsibility, with the inevitable certainty of the event.

The chief difficulty connected with the doctrine of decrees arises from the existence of’ sin. According to that doctrine, sin has not accidentally occurred, nor was it simply foreknown, but it was a part of the plan and purpose of God, that it should exist. The difficulty is freely admitted. In this respect the dispensation of God is surrounded with “clouds and darkness.”

The following statements, however, may be made:

(1.) That its being a part of the purpose or plan of God, renders its presence no more difficult of explanation than that he should have foreknown its appearance, and not exerted his unquestioned power to prevent it.

(2.) That, amid all the darkness, we can yet see that God is so overruling sin as to cause it greatly to redound to his glory and the happiness of his creatures.

(3.) That even without any explanation of it, we can rest in our knowledge of the justice, wisdom, and goodness of God.

(4.) That we cannot see how its possible entrance into the world could have been prevented, consistently with the creation and putting upon probation of beings with moral natures, endowed with free will, and necessarily fallible because mere creatures; while the right thus to put on probation, without such influence as would make his creatures certainly persevere in holiness, is one which none could justly deny to God. But that which God could possibly (under any contingency) permit, cannot, if it has actual existence, militate against his pure and holy character.

The Scriptural authority for the doctrine of decrees will appear from the following statements and references, gathered with slight modifications from Hodge’s Outlines, pp, 205-213:

1. God’s decrees are eternal. Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:4; 3:11; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Cor. 2:7.

2. They are immutable. Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:9.

3. They comprehend all events.

(1.) The Scriptures assert this of the whole system in general embraced in the divine decrees. Dan. 4:34, 35; Acts 17:26; Eph 1:11.

(2.) They affirm the same of fortuitous events. Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:29, 30.

(3.) Also of the free actions of men. Eph. 2:10, 11; Phil. 2:13.

(4.) Even the wicked actions of men. Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28; 13:29; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude 4; Rev. 17:17. As to the history of Joseph, compare Gen. 37:28, with Gen. 45:7, 8, and Gen. 50:20. See also Ps. 17:13, 14; Isa. 10:5, 15.

4. The decrees of God are not conditional. Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 14:24, 27 ; 46:10; Rom. 9:11.

5. They are sovereign. Isa. 40:13, 14; Dan. 4:35; Matt. 11:25, 26; Rom. 9:11, 15-18; Eph. 1:5, 11.

6. They include the means. Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2.

7. They determine the free actions of men. Acts 4:27, 28 ; Eph. 2:10.

8. God himself works in his people that faith and obedience which are called the conditions of salvation. Eph. 2:8 ; Phil. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:25.

9. The decree renders the event certain. Matt. 16:21; Luke 18:31-33; 24:46; Acts 2:23; 13:29; 1 Cor. 11:19.

10. While God has decreed the free acts of men, the actors have been none the less responsible. Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27, 28.

Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D.D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887

God’s determinative Providence

Yet another term may be employed to show how the providence of God touches evil actions, to-wit, determinative. Terminus means a boundary, a limit, and to determinate is to set a boundary. The providence of God then touches evil actions by putting a limit upon them. An illustrative case or two may be rapidly stated.

The devil wanted to get hold of Job, to worry and destroy him. He asked the Lord for an opportunity. God, having purposes of His own to accomplish concerning Job and others, gave the permission but set a limit at Job’s life: “You may take his cows; you may take his camels; you may take his children so far as their earthly health and existence is concerned; you may touch Job himself and cover his body with loathsome ulcers, but the life of Job, the soul of Job, the spiritual standing of Job in the sight of God, oh, devil, you cannot touch.” There God puts an impassable barrier.

B. H. Carroll—The Providence of  God