“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” Martin Luther

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is it So...

This is a wonderful poem written by my good friend Al Hartman which he was kind enough to allow me to share with the readers of this blog.

Is It So...

Is it so, Thou hast forgiv'n
All my heart contrived amiss,
Hell denied, replaced by heav'n,
Is it so, I'm granted this?

     Is it so Thou'st borne for me
     Sentence more than I could bear,
     Taking my reproach and shame,
     Paved for me a drawing near?

Became Thou, LORD, the very sins
Which made the rift 'twixt Thou and me,
Crimes of my fathers, and that I'd done,
Ill deeds present and yet to be?

     Bore Thou, then, my sins' own curse,
     By cruel suff'ring on the tree,
     Damn'd by Father faithf'ly served,
     To the grave that 'waited me?

No tomb e'er could fast Thee hold,
For that damnation Thine was not,
But taken on for Father's sake,
And by it Thou His seed begot.

     The time was set before the world,
     Thy stay beneath the ground would be,
     Telling, thus, to earth and heav'ns
     Mercy and truth have met in Thee.

Yea, Thou wast raised and hast aris'n,
Conqu'ror o'er all death and hell,
Trump'ting grand redemption won,
And to death its final knell.

     Ascended now, and seated fair
     At Father's throne Thou dwell'st in wait
     Until Thy foes be all subdued
     And judgment fall before His gate.

Redeemer righteous, holy Thou,
How look you on this worm I am?
Seeing my vile heart and mind,
Turn Thou away, O spotless Lamb!

     What? Say'st there's no corruption now?
     No sin's vile stench and ugly stain?
     That Thou hast borne it all away,
     Until no remnants yet remain!

But, e'en so, I'm undone, my LORD,
Naked with no claim to lay.
What? Hast thou me with right'ness wrapped?
Clothed in Thy garb, Thou bidd'st me stay?

     O, wondrous grace! O, love sublime!
     O, mercy so unparalleled!
     That one so undeserving should
     Be thus embraced and thus be held.

When time has passed fore'er away,
And we His own the Great King know,
I shall with wonder e'er proclaim,
O yes, all creatures, it is so!

[by grace, through faith. al Hartman, April 19, 2012]

Friday, April 13, 2012

Is God the Author of Sin?

Over the last year or two I have seen an increasing trend within Reformed circles where God is being named as the author of sin. I must admit that I do not have a great deal of charity in dealing with this proposal, nor do I desire to have such. Nor do I believe that any Christian should be charitable in dealing with this error within our ranks. It is one thing if this cancerous seed has been planted in their minds and they are seeking to vet the truth, it is another consideration entirely if upon having studied and considered this matter they are advocates of it. Some seem to be inclined to treat this as if it is merely a matter of differing opinion and one in which unity can still be found. But I think it has more gravity then that. In fact, this is such a grave offense that I think its proponents may indeed be charged with and found guilty of committing the unforgivable sin. We will get to the consideration of the larger topic at hand, but I want to drive home the point that this is not something to be scoffed at. If, in the end, we agree that God is not the author of sin then I don’t believe there is any way that those who hold to such an opinion are not guilty of the aforementioned sin. We will start this study with an understanding of what the unforgivable sin entails.

“Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” Mk. 3:28-29
(See also, Matt. 12:31-32; Lu. 11:14-23, 12:10)

So what does this mean, how does one know if they are guilty of such a grievous sin? To start with, notice that the entire passage begins with the call to pay attention, as is seen in the word assuredly or verily. This is like an exclamation point at the beginning of the passage making us aware that it is introducing a statement “which not only expresses truth or fact… but an important, a solemn fact, one that in many cases is at variance with popular opinion or expectation or at least comes as a surprise.”[1] So with our hearts awoken and our minds fixed to hear the message what are we told? We are told that there is a sin which even the blood of Christ will not blot out, he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness; not because Christ doesn’t have the power to do so, but because it is the will of God that this especially heinous sin is not forgiven. “Indeed, there is one spot so black that Christ’s blood does not wash it away, and that is the sin against the Holy Spirit; not that there is not enough virtue in Christ’s blood to wash it away; but he who has sinned that sin will not be washed; he condemns Christ’s blood and ‘tramples it underfoot’ (Heb. 10:29).” [2]

The context of the passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is found in the verses immediately preceding the quoted verses. As William Hendriksen tells us, the context shows us that the “scribes are crediting satan with that which the Holy Spirit, through Christ, was achieving. Moreover, they are doing this willfully and deliberately. In spite of all the evidences to the contrary they still affirm that Jesus is expelling demons by the power of Beelzebul. Not only this, but they are making progress in sin… Now to be forgiven implies the sinner be truly penitent. Among the scribes here indicated such genuine sorrow for sin was totally lacking. For penitence they substituted hardening, for confession plotting. Thus by means of their own criminal and completely inexcusable callousness, they were dooming themselves. Their sin is unpardonable because they were unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon… When a man becomes hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to His pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition.” [1]

Matthew Poole wonders if this specific sin can even still be committed, a fact which I affirm, and one which he does too though through other texts which discuss the sin unto death (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-27; 1 Jn. 5:16), though Poole puts some rather lengthy qualifications in place (not all of which I can agree with). Just the same, he affirms that the sin committed here, later affirmed by him to be of the same nature, at least in part, to the sin unto death, is that they “blaspheme at the highest rate imaginable, ascribing that to the devil which was proper to God alone.” [3]

David Brown agrees as well when he says that, “The Pharisees… in charging Jesus with being in league with hell they were displaying beforehand a malignant determination to shut their eyes to all evidence…, and in spirit committing the unpardonable sin.” [4]

We see plainly then that the unpardonable sin is to assign credit to the devil for the work of the Lord. In the same manner it would be true that we are equally guilty when we assign evil to the Lord. If on the one hand attributing the good works of God to satan is unforgivable then it stands to reason that the converse is also necessarily true. For how could there be less offense when it is, in essence, the same sin; if not truly worse? If it is an unforgivable offense that we are belligerent in attributing good to satan then how much more so when we say that God is the author of evil? That He leads men to sin? Or that He leads men into temptation? How much worse can it be when we then conclude that those works of evil, flowing forth from the Lord, are then used for good? At best I see no difference in reasoning or severity and at worst I see a great deal more that can be attributed to these willfully obstinate hearts.

In the end, this consideration is best summarized not just in a consideration of the actual act of attributing evil to the work of the Spirit; the larger consideration is that one who does so has clearly denied the Lord. I am not necessarily speaking of one who does so in ignorance for there seems to be an obvious qualifier here that it is a knowing and ongoing willful act of defiance which convicts a man of this sin. Their denial of Jesus Christ allows them then to pit themselves against Him and to claim evil in place of His holiness.

Now, we can proceed forward to see what the evidence is that would say God is or is not the author of sin and if, in our conclusion, those that embrace such thought are right to fear for their souls as a result of our previous consideration. We will consider four primary elements of this overall topic: 1) Does God tempt man? 2) What are permissive decrees? 3) Does God cause man to sin? 4) Is God the author of sin?

Does God Tempt Man?

As part of the assault waged with regards to this topic we hear that God leads men into temptation so that they may be blessed to achieve God’s will through those temptations. Of course the statement in and of itself seems rather absurd and illogical. But that not being a sufficient argument against such a statement per se, we may consult the word of God, for the Bible speaks to this matter specifically in Jas. 1:12-16, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.” I had someone recently tell me that this passage proves that God tempts man, but that He does so through secondary causes. My fellow saints, when we look at the plain speech of Scripture and see where it says that God does not tempt man and then interpret it to mean that He actually does, I have no choice but to say that we are standing on shaky ground if such faulty exegesis is allowed to stand unanswered. Do your diligence in reliance on the Spirit to apply the truths of holy writ to your heart and then take the plain evidence provided at face value and embrace it.

There is nothing in this passage that is ultimately difficult to grasp. What would cause the difficulty? That we are told that a man that endures temptation shall receive the crown of life? Does that lead us to assume then that God is tempting man so that we may be blessed to receive our reward from Him? Notice that directly after the statement is made that the natural sinful default of our hearts, which would assign blame to God for temptation, is refuted. No such thing exists. Thomas Watson addresses temptation and puts the consideration under the heading of “The evil of temptation is overruled for good to the godly.” [5] Right away we are given a taste of what is being taught in this passage which we will come back to shortly.

First let us look at what is being refuted through the declarative statement that God does not tempt man. If not from God then where does it stem from? The Bible is clear that temptation is a result of our indwelling sin wherein we lust after wicked desires which eventually finds opportunity to be acted upon and finally ends in sin which leads to death. The accusation against God is from one who has failed in his battle with temptation and looks to shift blame not just to someone else but to God Himself. Adam did this in the Garden (Gen. 3:12). Sure, he veiled his accusation as really filing a complaint against his wife, but it was ultimately an accusation against God. It was God, says Adam, who dared to give the woman to him in the first place, the woman whom thou gavest to be with me. But then, just as now, God did not accept the blame; and then, just as now, there was a just punishment for Adam's sin which is laid at the feet of the guilty party. God answered Adam and made it abundantly clear that the fault was his, he had willfully ignored the command of God and had abused the good thing that God had given him, God said because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. This is the exact same scenario being played out in the book of James. We, as guilty sinners, are so depraved in our hearts that even when we should be stricken with sorrow for the sin we have committed against God we look to blame Him by saying in effect, “Hey, I wouldn’t have sinned had you not put the temptation there in the first place.” But rather than agreeing that the temptation itself proceeds from God, we are told that the temptation didn’t come from Him at all. Simon Kistemaker says, “James is not interested in explaining the origin of evil, for he knows that not God but satan is called the tempter… He [says]… that God, who created all things, is not the cause of evil. In His holiness God stands far above evil and cannot be influenced by it…; it is impossible for God to be tempted. Because of His perfection, God has no contact with evil, and evil is powerless to bring God into temptation. Moreover, God does not tempt anyone. God hates evil and therefore does not lead anyone astray…; He will not do what He hates… [Each] man is responsible for his own sin… [James] deprives man of any excuse to place the blame on someone or something else. He says, in effect, that the cause lies within ourselves… Our desires lead us into temptation, and if we are not controlled by the Spirit of God they lead us into sin.”[6] The responsibility for sin is not only ours as a result of the act but in the very temptation that draws us into sin. Sin, from start to finish is the result of the wicked heart of wicked man acting upon their wicked inclinations. It has nothing to do with God, the blame is entirely ours.

But some will say, “If this is true then why does Christ ask that God not lead us into temptation in the Lord’s Prayer? That is proof enough that God tempts man!” But then this is not saying at all that God ever has or ever will lead us into temptation. When it says in Matt. 6:13, “lead us not into temptation;” it is asking that God would deliver us from our temptations, not that He would cease to lead us into them. Kistemaker says, “of course in this petition Jesus does not say that God is tempting us, because that is impossible. Jesus teaches us that we must ask God to keep us from falling into temptation.” [6] Particularly this point is driven home by the words that end the petition, but deliver us from evil (or the evil one, the meaning and the impact are the same). The words end up being the same as if it had said, prevent us from falling into temptation and restore us when we fail. It is an undeniable truth that Scripture interprets Scripture and that as such there is no possible way to look at the Sixth Petition in the Lord’s Prayer and assume it means that God leads us into temptation when James tells us plainly that He does not. The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 106 sums it up by saying, “In the sixth petition…, we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.” There is no such doctrine to be found in the word of God that man is tempted by God either personally or through any other means.

Now that doesn’t mean that enduring temptation isn’t used by God for the good of His saints, this is abundantly clear in Jas. 1:12. Turning back to Watson he says, “[…] temptations are overruled for good to the children of God. A tree shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted; so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace. Temptations are overruled for good in eight ways: (a) Temptation sends the soul to prayer. (b) Temptation to sin is a means to keep from the perpetration of sin. The more a child of God is tempted the more he fights against the temptation. (c) Temptation works for good, as it abates the swelling of pride. (d) Temptation works for good, as it is a touch-stone to try what is in the heart. (e) Temptations work for good, as God makes those who are tempted, fit to comfort others in the same distress. (f) Temptations work for good, as they stir up paternal passion in God to them who are tempted. The child who is sick and bruised is most looked after. (g) Temptations work for good, as they make the saints long more for heaven. (h) Temptations work for good, as they engage the strength of Christ.” [5] So when James tells us there is a benefit to enduring temptation it is not in vain, there a great many ways that God uses to grow us as we endure the Siren of our wicked hearts.

Still, there is more good news. It is not only a great comfort to our hearts that our holy God will never tempt us, it is not only good news that He will use temptation for our good, but the exclamation point is that He will not even allow us to be tempted beyond what it is possible for us to resist. Rather than being the cause of our temptation God is Himself a preventive cure for temptation! See 1 Cor. 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.” I have seen some try and use this passage as proof that God places temptation in our lives. But 1 Cor. 10:13 must be seen in light of the passage in James and the entire witness of the word of God. It is not saying that God places temptation in our lives; it is saying that even the temptation in our lives, which is not unique to each man individually, which was brought on by our own sin, is restrained by God so that His children are not given more than they can reasonably bear in their pursuit of pious living. This is, ultimately, an encouragement so that the faithful will not lose heart in trying times and in their battles with sin. Calvin says, “[…] he exhorted them to be of good courage as to the past, in order that he might stir them up to repentance, so he also comforts them as to the future with sure hope, on the ground that God would not suffer them to be tempted beyond their strength. He exhorts them, however, to look to the Lord, because a temptation, however slight it may be, will straightway overcome us, and all will be over with us, if we rely on our own strength. He speaks of the Lord as faithful, not merely as being true to His promises, but as though he had said: The Lord is the sure guardian of His people, under whose protection you are safe, for He [ever] leaves His people safe.” [7]

It is important that we also understand the context here; it is found just a few verses earlier (9-12) where Paul instructs the Corinthians not to tempt (test the patience of) Christ. He is referring to the happening in Num. 21:6-9 where the Jews had risen against God, where they had accused Him of treating them badly, and where the people had lost faith in God and were more content to lean upon themselves rather than Him. Calvin says, “Let us… take notice, that the fountain of that evil against which Paul here warns us is impatience, when we wish to go before God, and do not give ourselves up to be ruled by Him, but rather wish to bind Him to our inclination and laws.” [7] Verse 12 concludes with Paul telling us let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. Again Calvin says, “The Apostle concludes from what goes before, that we must not glory in our beginnings or progress, so as to resign ourselves to carelessness and inactivity. For the Corinthians gloried in their condition in such a way, that, forgetting their weakness, they fell into many crimes.” [7] Once again, the fault for their sin and being led away in their lust is laid at their own feet as it is through the entire Bible. But the great hope we have is that we may lean on God; there is absolutely no cause to lean on our own ability and when we do it only leads us into sin. This is why Paul gives the ultimate encouragement against those sins by pointing us to God. It is God who restrains us from being tempted beyond our ability to withstand it and it is this fact that allows us to have a sure hope that we will indeed be able to withstand the wiles of the devil and our hearts; therein we may successfully mortify sin.

If God tempts man then not only is there no assurance for believers, but we have reason to doubt whether God is even on our side in the whole affair. If God Himself is directing temptation and sin into our lives what hope do we have of deliverance? What chance do we have to withstand temptation if God is the one who is actively working to cause us to fail? We know the answer is that were such a thing true we would have no hope at all. But the sure hope of the Bible is that God does not tempt us and will restrain us from having to face more than we are able to bear. We see this practically applied in the case of Job. Satan came seeking to destroy Job and to bring him down; he came hurling accusations that Job was nothing more than a hireling of God who only gives obedience because the Lord gives him so much in return. Thus God permitted satan to come against Job in order that His faithfulness might be shown in the sustenance of Job. But even when God permitted satan to do this He restrained him every step of the way saying, Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person. Later when satan came back for a second round God said yet again, Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life. (Job 1:12; 2:6) God restrained what satan was able to do in order to lead Job away into sin. Even when that crafty devil thought he had another Adam on his hands, God sustained Job against the wicked invite of his wife to Curse God and die. God was proven faithful in the life of Job and as a result Job himself remained faithful as well. The same principle holds true for us all, we are upheld by the mighty hand of God and through His abundant grace and care for us we are able to withstand temptation and to mature in the faith being ever more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.

What are Permissive Decrees?

We start with a wonderful definition from Berkhof, “It is customary to speak of the decree of God respecting moral evil as permissive. By His decree God rendered the sinful actions of man infallibly certain without deciding to effectuate them by acting immediately upon and in the finite will. This means that God does not positively work in man ‘both to will and to do,’ when man goes contrary to His revealed will. It should be carefully noted, however, that this permissive decree does not imply a passive permission of something which is not under the control of the divine will. It is a decree which renders the future sinful act absolutely certain, but in which God determines (a) not to hinder the sinful self-determination of the finite will; and (b) to regulate and control the result of this sinful self-determination. Ps. 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30.” [10]

I have wondered if part of the issue here is that from the perspective of the Reformed faith we have fought the error of free will to such a point that we deny that man has a will at all. I have seen a plethora of Reformed believers fall into this error when discussing soteriology. We are not pre-programmed robots without a will. Adam failed the probationary period in the Garden where he truly had free will having been created purely in the image of God. He failed, and thus through his Original Sin we are all now born in sin, his transgression being passed along through ordinary generation. But that didn’t negate the will. That meant that the will was now depraved and that left to its own devices it would only, indeed could only, choose sin. God is sovereign over whether we sin but the two concepts work together in unity. Boettner explains it this way, “[…] man is constantly commanded in Scripture not to commit [sin], he is, nevertheless, permitted to commit it if he chooses to do so. No compulsion is laid on the person; he is simply left to the free exercise of his own nature, and he alone is responsible. This, however, is never a bare permission, for with full knowledge of the nature of the person and of his tendency to sin, God places him or allows him to be in a certain environment, knowing perfectly well that the particular sin will be committed. But while God permits sin, his connection with it is purely negative and it is the abominable thing which He hates with perfect hatred.” [12]

Calvin recognizes this same thing when he says, “It is abundantly evident that the external temptations…, are sent to us by God. In this way God tempted Abraham, (Gen. 22:1,) and daily tempts us, that is, He tries us as to what we are by laying before us an occasion by which our hearts are made known. But to draw out what is hid in our hearts is a far different thing from inwardly alluring our hearts by wicked lusts.” [11]

God controls the environment and allows things to be placed in our path that try our faith. He knows that we will sin, but it is exclusively the wicked desires of our own heart which lead us to take advantage of the opportunity to sin; God did not compel us to sin by placing the opportunity for sin in our path. In other places in Scripture, especially in dealing with the lost, God totally abandons man as a result of their rejection of Him and their love for sin. We see this in the book of Hosea where God abandons Israel for a time and their entire society reaches deep into the depths of depravity. We see this again in Rom. 1:18-32 which leaves these men accomplishing remarkable amounts of realized sin.

Does God Cause Man to Sin?

There are those within the ranks of professed Christianity that think that God causes man to sin so that good may come of that sin. But I ask those men to consider the plain truth of Scripture. In Rom. 3:8 and 6:1 Paul chastises the Romans for thinking that they should sin so that grace may abound. Literally, the concept being taught here was that we should sin so that God may bless us more. Paul’s reply to such thinking was to tell them emphatically to stop. “The very suggestion that the end justifies the means, that grace may be produced by living in sin, is so thoroughly obnoxious to Paul that he answers it by making use of one of his characteristic, blunt rejection formulas, ‘By no means.’ For a Christian, continuing to live in sin is not only impermissible, it is impossible!” [15] If Paul so vehemently rejects such thinking from men how much more so would he stand opposed to the suggestion that God Himself is guilty of this? But more so, do we think that God is a hypocrite? That He tells us in His infallible word not to think this way ourselves while actively violating that command Himself?

Ah! But of course there is the perennial objection that God hardened Pharaoh and thus caused him to sin (Ex. 7:13-14; 9:16), thus God must make man sin. Everything we have discussed so far works together in one cognitive theme, including the current point under consideration. In the same way that we discussed whether or not God tempts man we can now consider whether or not He makes man sin. In the same way each man was led away by his own lust in the previous consideration we see here too that the same holds true. My friend, Hone Phillips, who was kind enough to help me refine this paper, as were some others, had this to say, “[…] when Calvin speaks of the “external temptation” he is not talking about temptation really but [temptation] being placed by the decree of God into a place where we should obey and where we are expected by God to obey but, because of our sinful rebellion, we choose to do our own thing. Pharaoh is a good example. Commanded of God to let the people go he already determined he would not. By God's permissive decree he was confirmed in his natural desire. Pharaoh sinned; God ordained the result, but Pharaoh takes the blame for his willful rejection of God's command.” We also must consider the sovereign plan that was enacted by God through Pharaoh; even more than just a just an abandonment of Pharaoh as a result of his sin, God had specifically raised Pharaoh up so that when he refused God and was hardened in his heart God would overcome him and thus display His invincible power to all of mankind. Even though God had a purpose for allowing Pharaoh to exist and to obstinately oppose Him, the fault for the sin and the hardness of heart still stood as a witness against, and the sole responsibility of, Pharaoh himself.

But the hardening of the wicked is not just there mentioned, we also see it in God hardening the hearts of the Israelites as is mentioned in Isa. 6:9-10. In both instances the blame is found in the depraved hearts of sinful men achieving their desired end and God has hardened them from grace as a result of their sin. He withholds the good and pure from them and abandons them to achieve their sinful desires. Rather than making them sin so that the charge of evil may be laid at the feet of the Lord it is actually quite the opposite, not only is the sin theirs to bear but the Lord is abandoning them to the true desires of their heart as a just punishment for their obstinate rejection of Him; but that is what they want. Franz Delitzsch says, “It is not only the loving will of God which is good, but also the wrathful will into which His loving will changes, when deliberately and obstinately resisted. There is a self-hardening in evil, which renders a man thoroughly incorrigible, and which, regarded as the fruit of his moral behavior, is no less a judicial punishment inflicted by God, than self-induced guilt on the part of man. The two are bound up in one another, inasmuch as sin from its very nature bears its own punishment, which consists in the wrath of God excited by sin.” [16] They sin as an expression of their hearts in defiance of God and He judiciously hardens their hearts against salvation.

This concept is in perfect harmony with the Reformed doctrine of Double Predestination. In fact, in Rom. 9:14-24, Paul shows us this exact thing and even uses the example of Pharaoh to do so. All of mankind is fallen; we are all totally depraved sinners worthy of God’s wrath. Yet God chose some in mercy, through no merit of their own, for salvation, and others He has justly punished for their sins and sentenced them to eternity in hell. We all deserve the latter but a gracious God has given some the luxury of the former. It is the exact same thing being shown in our current consideration. God did not cause them to sin but He does justly punish them for that sin and an immediate display of that wrath is found in His abandoning them to the wicked desires of their own sinful hearts. But, this is not to be misunderstood as only a bare permission to sin. God justly punishes them for their sin and actually hardens their wicked hearts that they will not repent of their sins and thus displays His wrath against them that they may never taste the sweetness of His mercy. Calvin says, “The word hardens, when applied to God in Scripture, means not only permission, (as some washy moderators would have it,) but also the operation of the wrath of God: for all those external things, which lead to the blinding of the reprobate, are the instruments of His wrath…” [17]

I think it is obvious to us all that we would be in great error is we were to think that the hardening of the wicked was the cause of their sin rather than the just punishment of their sin. To assume that the hardening caused these men to sin is to put the cart before the horse. As a result of their sin, the hardening of their hearts leaves them hopelessly lost in their sins, though for the time they are perfectly content to have it be so. If the opposite were true then the God of the Bible would be a brutal beast that makes man sin and then punishes him for what he neither wanted nor willfully enacted himself; make no mistake about it, this is the sure and undeniable result of any doctrine of God that forgets to include the vital truth of God’s justice. What He exercises in wrath against sinful man is well deserved and long sought after.

Is God the Author of Sin?

It cannot be denied that sin exists in the world. It also cannot be denied that God is sovereign and in control of all things, to include sin. But those two things don’t mean that God is the author of sin. Within the Reformed faith this truth has always been zealously guarded. Yet there is an ever increasing number within our ranks that are arguing that God is indeed the author of sin. John Calvin called men who embrace such heresy “fanatics,” and I tend to agree. I can recall a couple of years ago I was attempting to show a man that God is not the author of sin and being that he attended a PCA church I attempted to persuade him partially through reasoning that the Reformed faith has always embraced such truth. His response was shocking in that he told me his church actually preached that God was the author of sin and that neither he nor they cared whether or not it was a Reformed doctrine. I leave room for the fact that he may have exaggerated or may have even been just plain wrong as to the view of that particular church, but this much remains true: something he has encountered within the Reformed faith has left him to comfortably assume his position and to assume his church does the same. That may be a result of inadequate preaching or it may be the result of willfully skewed doctrine, I don’t know. Whatever the cause this is a problem that we are seeing advance within our ranks and one that for the glory of God and the good of the Church must be stopped dead in its tracks.

To begin with I want to take a moment to consider a specific attribute of God. This attribute is so vital to this consideration that should we refrain from addressing it we will have failed to adequately consider the matter before us. The attribute that must be considered here is God’s holiness. Herman Bavinck says that God’s holiness is “said to consist in ‘moral perfection, purity’… When the word holy is ascribed to God it does not signify one definite attribute. On the contrary, God is called holy in a very general sense: in connection with every revelation which impresses man with God’s exalted majesty. Holiness is synonymous with divinity. Jehovah is God, and not man…, the God or the Holy One of Israel. God’s holiness is revealed in His entire relation to His people, in election, in the covenant, in His special revelation, in His indwelling among them, etc… God is… what His law reveals Him to be… Holiness, which is the very foundation of Jehovah’s peculiar relation to Israel, and which claims Israel’s undivided service, finally culminates most gloriously in the fact that in Christ God gives Himself to the church, which He redeems and purifies from all iniquities.” [8] Holiness isn’t just a base concept that determines one attribute of God; it is a culmination of other attributes as well, such as His goodness and His righteousness. Holiness expresses the relation of God to man and gives us the idea of being set apart; it places His moral perfection in contrast to the depravity of sinful man. He does not partake in sin and as a picture of His holy sinless character He gave us the law. The law showed us that a perfect God expects perfect obedience to a perfect law which displays His perfect character. So important is this attribute of God that it is the only attribute that is mentioned repetitiously three times (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). R.C. Sproul says, “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of His glory.” [9] I have been reading for hours trying to find a way to adequately describe and condense what other men have written on this topic. I must admit that my heart burdens me as I write this and try to accomplish that definition, one that is exceedingly difficult to provide. Yes, we have the base concept within our language that holy means pure, and it does; it just means so much more than that. It is a word that is beyond our finite ability to totally grasp. The nature it expresses in God is not a nature that He shares with man; holiness is a foreign concept to us. We gain a glimpse of it and we gain a partial understanding of it, but we have to admit that in order to comprehend this to any satisfactory degree we have to wait until we reach heaven. It may be altogether impossible to consolidate this into one paltry paragraph; it is just too expansive of a term. But, where we will use this is in relation to the ethical nature of God wherein He is sinless perfection. How does a perfect God, untainted by sin, who provides a perfect law and demands perfect obedience to that law become the author of sin? Keeping this attribute in mind, let us look to the word of God to see what it says.

To say that the proposition that God is the author of sin is ludicrous is to put it nicely, for if we call it what it is then the truth is that it is nothing more than blasphemous heresy. In the history of the Church I do not know of a single reliable Reformed theologian or pastor that asserts such a thing… not one. In fact, I am willing to say that if you come across one that you have thought was so and this is what they claim you may immediately cast them into the other pile. The simple fact is that the entirety of the Reformed faith has always claimed that God is not the author of sin, nor can He be, and have always defended this truth with vigor. Whether we are to look to our Confessions, or read the mountain of books they have left for us, one thing always comes back as true, we do not ascribe to such a debased philosophy of sin and God. For the Reformed mind we have always recognized God’s holy nature as opposed to the sin of man; a reality which leaves man exclusively responsible for his sin and he alone bears the guilt for his transgression.

Louis Berkhof shares the Reformed view as follows, “God’s eternal decree certainly rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain, but this may not be interpreted so as to make God the cause of sin in the sense of being its responsible author. This idea is clearly excluded by Scripture (Job 34:10). He is the holy God, Isa. 6:3, and there is absolutely no unrighteousness in Him, Deut. 32:4; Ps. 92:16. He cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no man, Jas. 1:13. When He created man, he created him good and in His image. He positively hates sin, Deut. 25:16; Ps. 5:4; 11:5; Zech. 8:17; Lu. 16:15, and made provision in Christ for man’s deliverance from sin. In the light of all of this it would be blasphemous to speak of God as the author of sin.” [10]

Calvin says with regards to Jas. 1:16, “This is an argument from what is opposite, for as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose Him to be the author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to Him, and according to His nature; and from Him all good things come to us. Then, whatever evil He does, is not agreeable to His nature… But if God is in all things and always like Himself, it hence follows that well doing is His perpetual work.” [11]

I could go on indefinitely sharing from reliable Reformed authors that agree with the witness of the word of God and declare the utter impossibility that God is the author of sin. But what is more pressing is that this is now being vehemently attacked from within our ranks; the devil has made his way inside the walls and is slaughtering souls from within. Lorraine Boettner shows how the opponents of Calvinism have always used this argumentation as an attempt to stop the march of the doctrine of Predestination. He says, “The mere fact that sin exists has often been urged by atheists and skeptics as an argument not merely against Calvinism but against theism in general.” In fact, says he, if it was not for the assault of these men we would not even need to be contemplating such a thing. “[…] were it not for the fact that some persons persist in declaring that the doctrine of predestination makes God the author of sin, we could let the matter rest…” [12] What used to be the assault from the lost and Arminian alike is now the assault from those who claim to have the same mind as we. They search the Scriptures over trying to find any scrap of text they may divorce from the rest of the Bible and use to explain their view. Reason does not persuade them, the doctrine of the Church does not persuade them, and the character of God does not persuade them; they have hardened themselves to believe that God is the cause for their sin.

One of the things they claim is that the Bible says nowhere that God is not the author of sin so it must remain a possibility that He actually is. I would argue of course that the Bible does say that precise thing, though not in those exact words. Their vulgar hearts lead them to seek a self-demanded precision where the Scripture isn’t willing to provide it. Nor do I think it odd that the Spirit saw fit to leave such a precise declaration out of the Bible. The entire word of God stands as a witness to the positive doctrine that God is holy, perfect, cannot sin, and that He sanctifies His people. What would be the reason for the negative declaration when the entire thrust of Scripture declares the same by default? Of course there is no reason at all to put such a thing in the Bible because it is already easily understood as the antithesis of biblical truth.

One of the passages that I have recently seen our opponents use is found in Isa. 45:7, after all it does say, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” That then must be proof that God is the author of sin. But you would think with even a marginal understanding of Scripture we would read a passage such as this and realize that if that assessment is true then the rest of Scripture is a liar. If the rest of Scripture is right then such a conclusion must be wrong; Scripture interprets Scripture. We can start with looking at some translational issues first. I think perhaps anyone interested in studying this verse must get their hands on a copy of the Amplified version. Here we will see that the context and the definition are both accurately portrayed in a way that our modern English translations will often miss. It says, “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace [national well-being. Moral evil proceeds from the will of men, but physical evil proceeds from the will of God], and I create [physical] evil – calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.” That puts a different spin on this altogether. Physical evil, or calamity, is what they are addressing where the KJV leaves off simply at evil. If you go back to the original word which is ra’ah you will see that there are a number of variants which can apply to this word such as trouble, adversity, affliction, or harm, to punish; in fact the root word means to spoil. It is not speaking of evil in the sense of sin but is used more in the sense of a malediction. We see the same word used in the same way by Naomi, even in the same context, in Ruth 1:21, “I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” There the word is translated as afflicted but it is the exact same thing with the exact same application and meaning. You can find the same thing in Num. 11:11 and Mic. 4:6. Calvin explains it by saying, “Fanatics torture this word 'evil' as if God were the author of evil, that is, of sin; but it is very obvious how ridiculously they abuse this passage of the Prophet. This is sufficiently explained by the contrast, the parts of which must agree with each other; for he contrasts 'peace' with 'evil,' that is with afflictions, wars, and other adverse occurrences. If he contrasted 'righteousness' with 'evil,' there would be some plausibility in their reasonings, but this is a manifest contrast of things that are opposite to each other. Consequently we ought not to reject the ordinary distinction, that God is the author of 'evil' punishment, but not of the 'evil' of guilt." [13] It is obvious that Isa. 45:7 is in perfect harmony with the rest of Scripture and in no way declares that God is the author of sin.

It is not as if the word of God doesn’t tell us in plain language that God cannot sin or be associated with sin in any way; in fact, not only is He not the author of sin, but He utterly hates sin. Everything we see from God is perfectly pure, even in creating man we were created good. (See this in passages such as Gen. 1:27, 31; Job 34:10; Ps. 5:4-6; Jas. 1:17-18; I Jn. 1:5.) And this is a truth which the Reformed Confessions are all equally harmonized in attesting to. We will take a look at these now:

WCF 3.1: God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

WCF 5.4: The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

WCF 6.1: Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptations of satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.

Boettner explains, “The Westminster Standards, in treating of the dread mystery of evil, are very careful to guard the character of God from even the suggestion of evil. Sin is referred to the freedom which is given to the agent, and of all sinful acts whatever…” [12]

The Belgic Confession, Art. 13: We believe that… God, after He had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that He rules and governs them according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment; nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For His power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that He orders and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even then when devils and wicked men act unjustly…

The Canons of Dordt, Art. 5: the cause or guilt of… unbelief, as well as of all other sins, is no wise in God, but in man himself…

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 3, Q. 6: Did God create man so wicked and perverse? By no means; but God created man good, and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 3, Q. 7: Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature? From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Heidelberg Catechism, LD 4, Q. 9: Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform? Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.

Zacharias Ursinus explains, “[…] in the first pace…, God created man without sin, and is therefore not the author of sin, or of our corruption and misery… Man, by the instigation of the devil, violated this command of God; and from this proceeded our depravity and misery… But God, by creating man in His own image, gave him the ability to render that obedience which he justly requires from him in His law. Wherefore if man, by his own fault and free will, cast away this ability with which he was endowed, and brought himself into a state in which he can no longer render full obedience to the divine law, God has not for this reason lost His right to exact the obedience which man is duty bound to render Him. God therefore justly punishes us, because we have cast away this good by transgressing His commandments, and because he threatened punishment in case His law were violated.” [14]

It is an unmistakable truth that the entire witness of the Reformed faith attests to the fact that God is not, cannot, and will never be the author of sin. He does not create sin and He does not cause sin. Because He permits sin and has ordained to use it to His glory in spite of its existence, is not the same thing as being responsible for it. Yes, God is sovereign; we all consent to that fact. But that sovereignty doesn’t mean that He so stifles man’s will that they are not themselves guilty for their own sin.


God permits sin to exist, He permits men to willfully commit sin as a direct violation of His declared will, and He justly holds them accountable for doing so. If those that claim that God is the author of sin were right then God would have no claim on justice; He would be the most unjust deity imaginable. Operating under such a false concept, the wicked charge that God fabricates sin, causes man to sin, and then sends them to hell for doing what He has forced them to do. To claim such a thing is to deny the entire nature of God; to claim such a thing is so utterly repugnant to Christianity that there can be no doubt but that we must always defeat such a proposition every time it rears its demonic head.

The evidence is clear regardless of where you seek to find your proof: God is not the author of sin and He neither tempts man nor causes him to sin. It is vital to the health of the Church today that we stand just as staunchly opposed to such claims as godly men have done throughout the history of the Church. But more than that, we are not just making a stand against something; we must realize that what we stand for is the pure and undefiled character of God as He has revealed it to us in His word. If God is not pure, and we are not advocates of that purity, then all of the doctrines we have embraced are for naught.

In the beginning of this study I proposed that if all of the evidence is clearly presented and one were still to embrace such heresy then they were, in my belief, guilty of the unforgivable sin. Such obstinacy would at the very least show that one should fear for the security of their soul. I pray that if you have been struggling with this you will fear for your soul and succumb to the plain truth of Scripture and reason. Cast yourself before the Lord in an utter abandonment of this doctrine and self in hopes that He will have mercy in light of your ignorance. If you see all of the evidence provided and still wish to insist that God is the author of sin then my reply is that your blood be upon your own heads (Acts. 18:6). Now and forever more may God be true, but every man a liar (Rom. 3:4). Soli Deo Gloria!

Works Cited:

[1] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, vol. 2, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 137 – 140
[2] Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Supper, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2009, pp 35
[3] Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol. 3, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2010, pp 55 – 57
[4] David Brown, JFB Commentary, vol. 3, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, pp 73 – 74
[5] Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2008, pp 32 – 37
[6] Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, vol. 11, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 48 – 50
[7] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 20, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 325 – 333
[8] Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1997, pp 209 – 215
9] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, Wheaton, IL, 1998, pp 26
[10] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1968, pp 105; 220
[11] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 22, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 288 – 291
[12] Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, Philipsburg, NJ, pp 228 - 229
[13] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 8, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 402 – 403
[14] Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, Philipsburg, NJ, pp 27 – 67
[15] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, vol. 6, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 194 – 195
[16] Franz Delitzsch. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 7, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1969, pp 199 – 201
[17] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 19, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp 362

Scripture Cited:

Old Testament:
Gen. 1:27, 31; 3:12; 22:1; Ex. 7:13-14; 9:16; Num. 11:11; 21:6-9; Deut. 25:16; 32:4; Ruth 1:21; Job 1:12; 2:6; 34:10; Ps. 5:4-6; 11:5; 78:29; 92:16; 106:15; Isa. 6:3, 9-10; 45:7; Hosea; Mic. 4:6; Zech. 8:17

New Testament:
Matt. 6:13; 12:31-32; Mk. 3:28-29; Lu. 11:14-23, 12:10; 16:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30; 18:6; Rom. 1:18-32; 3:4; 3:8; 6:1; 9:14-24; 1 Cor. 10:9-12, 13; Heb. 10:29; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-27; Jas. 1:12-16, 17-18; 1 Jn. 1:5; 5:16; Rev. 4:8

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Numbered With the Martyrs - The Fate of the Apostles (Part 4)

We continue our look at the martyrdom of the apostles by ending with the apostle Peter; as always I am thankful to the faithful John Foxe for recording these for the benefit of history. I intend to write one more final post after this that will be the conclusion of this series on Christian martyrs (at least for the time being).

"[...] ten persecutions [were] stirred up by Nero about the year of our Lord threescore and four. The tyrannous rage of which emperor was very fierce against the Christians, 'insomuch that (as Eusubius records) a man might then see cities full of men's bodies, the old there lying together with the young, and the dead bodies of women cast out naked, without all reverence of that sex, in the open streets...'

In this persecution, among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome... Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city. Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping said, 'Lord, whither dost thou go?' To whom He answered and said, 'I am come again to be crucified.' By this, Peter, perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned back into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified in the same form and manner as the Lord was."

What beautiful reverence and devotion for our Lord! Not only was he willing to heed the call to martyrdom for the sake of his Lord but he was so humble in spirit that he would not even allow himself to be martyred in the same manner as the Lord. Peter, a man who refused to be called a disciple of Christ when the Jews seized his Lord, a man that denied his Lord three times only to have Christ look him in the eye so that he was cut to the heart and ran off in sorrow and shame; this Peter now ran to the cross and refused to be crucified in a manner that could even be perceived as placing him on equal footing with the Lord. It is truly amazing the work the Spirit performed in this man's heart! In the end, Peter was the picture of a faithful servant and he ended his life as an immensely godly man that will forever stand as an example to us all.

I pray, that if we are to face persecutions that we would all be so faithful when it is our turn at the knife. To our dying breath may we all learn to glorify our holy God so that our piety may stand as a witness to the rest of the world that the Lord has breathed life into our lifelss hearts and is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Numbered With the Martyrs - The Fate of the Apostles (Part 3)

We now continue with the martyrdom of the apostles by looking at the apostles Paul and Andrew.

"Paul, the apostle..., after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also [under the persecution of] Nero. Abdias, declares that unto his execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death. They, coming to Paul instructing the people, desired him to pray for them, that they might believe; who told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptized at his [tomb]. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers made, gave his neck to the sword."

"When Andrew, through his diligent preaching, had brought many to the faith of Christ, Ǽgeas the governor, knowing this, resorted to Patrae, to the intent he might constrain as many as did believe Christ to be God, by the whole consent of the senate, to do sacrifice unto idols, and so give divine honors unto them. Andrew, thinking good at the beginning to resist the wicked counsel and doings of Ǽgeas, went unto him, saying this effect to him: 'that it behoved him who was judge of men, first to know his judge which dwells in heaven, and then to worship Him being known; and so, in worshipping the true God, to revoke his mind from false gods and blind idols...'

But Ǽgeas, greatly therewith discontented, demanded of him, whether he was the same Andrew that did overthrow the temple of the gods, and persuade men to be of that superstitious sect which the Romans of late had commanded to be abolished and rejected. Andrew did plainly affirm that the princes of the Romans did not understand the truth and that the Son of God, coming from heaven into the world for man's sake, has taught and declared how those idols, whom they so honored as gods, were not only not gods, but also most cruel devils; enemies to mankind, teaching the people nothing else but that wherewith God is offended, and, being offended, turns away and regards them not; and so by the wicked service of the devil, they do fall headlong into all wickedness, and, after their departing, nothing remains unto them, but their evil deeds.

But the proconsul charged and commanded Andrew not to teach and preach such things anymore; or, if he did, he should be fastened to the cross with all speed.

Andrew, abiding in his former mind very constant, answered thus concerning the punishment which he threatened: 'he would not have preached the honor and glory of the cross, if he had feared the death of the cross.' Whereupon sentence of condemnation was pronounced; that Andrew, teaching and enterprising a new sect, and taking away the religion of their gods, ought to be crucified.

Andrew, going towards the place, and seeing afar off the cross prepared, did change neither countenance nor color, neither did his blood shrink, neither did he fail in his speech, his body fainted not, neither was his mind molested, nor did his understanding fail him, as it is the manner of men to do, but out of the abundance of his heart his mouth did speak, and fervent charity did appear in his words as kindled sparks; he said, 'O cross, most welcome and long looked for! with a willing mind, joyfully and desirously, I come to thee: because I have always been thy lover, and have coveted to embrace thee.'"

As always, the witness of the martyrs is especially convicting. What examples they leave for us in their death! These two godly men are no different.

Paul, the great evangelist, in the moments just preceding death, still shares the Gospel and still leads souls to Christ. It was not enough that when required to give an account for the talents he had been left that he would return a million fold what he had been given; no, these two men were just as important to him as the first two men; the work for Paul was not done until he was home with our Lord. Love for God, love for his fellow man, such a beautiful display of love from man who was a persecutor of Christians! Paul was a man who loved nothing more than pleasing his Lord and winning souls and he lived that as the reality of his life until the very last breath he took.

Andrew did the same and I will not recap that. This is not to diminish what that great man of God did but because I want us to focus on a different aspect of Andrew's martyrdom. You see, we have an account of what Andrew's dying words were; what the state of his pious mind was before the Lord called him home. Herein we see that Andrew recognized that he was but a sojourner, passing through the land for the sake of Christ, but eager to be home with his Lord. He did not cling to life in desperation, he was not dragged kicking and screaming, he did not hurl profanities in the direction of those wicked men; no, he displayed the heart of Christ even in that most perilous situation he found himself in, for our dear brother Andrew found honor in being crucified for Christ's sake and welcomed the chance to be with his God in heaven.

How, my fellow saints, do we compare to a witness such as this? Are we leading souls to Christ? Are we clinging to this life in desperation? Are we being faithful to the race the Lord has set before us? If we cannot answer positively to these things then the accounts we have just read stand as a damning indictment against us. We may not all be called to bring nations to Christ, but it is sure that we are all called to at least attempt to bring whomever the Lord has placed in our paths knowing that He will apply salvation to the hearts of every single man that has been numbered with the elect. If the love of this world and the things therein are claiming your heart then you have taken your eyes off of heaven. it is undoubtedly true that these two thngs can be lumped into one singular consideration: we do not seek to lead souls to Christ because we ourselves have a low view of the prize we're after. In far too many cases we are more in love with this world than with our Lord and we simply live for self along with anything that will gratify that end.

I leave you with this singular question, one which only you and our Lord can truly answer: What would be your witness to the world if the Lord saw fit to put you in the position of Andrew and Paul?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Study of Romans - Rom. 1:3

Note: There is a matter of debate as to whether the “concerning” is in relation to the gospel (vs. 1) or to the promise... through the prophets (vs. 2). All of my commentaries are in agreement here and fall on the side of the gospel. I think with the connection of the gospel and the prophets already having been clearly established in the preceding verse, there is no real need to debate the matter at all, the essence is one in the same. Hodge voices the same opinion when he says, “The sense in either case is the same.”

“Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord…”
¨      This is a remarkable passage, by which we are taught that the whole gospel is included in Christ, so that if any removes on step from Christ, he withdraws himself from the gospel. For since He is the living and express image of the Father, it is no wonder, that He alone is set before us as one to whom our whole faith is to be directed and in whom it is to center… We hence learn, that he who has made a due proficiency in the knowledge of Christ, has acquired everything which can be learned from the gospel; and, on the other hand, that they who seek to be wise without Christ, are not only foolish, but even completely insane. John Calvin
¨      Paul confesses Jesus to be God’s Son. He means that the Savior was God’s Son entirely apart from and antecedently to His assumption of the human nature. Exactly how it was possible for the completely intact and glorious divine nature of the Savior to dwell in intimate union with His human nature, the latter burdened with the load of our guilt and all the unspeakable agonies this condition implied, surpasses human comprehension. William Hendriksen
¨      [This shows] the excellency of the gospel, that it does not treat of vulgar and ordinary matters as of the gods of the Gentiles, of the actions of [mere men]; but of the Son of God Himself. Matthew Poole
¨      [Jesus] is the sum and substance of the Gospel: He is here described by His relation to God, His Son, of the same nature with Him, equal to Him, and distinct from Him; by His usual names, "Jesus Christ", the one signifying a "Savior", the other "anointed", and both, that He was anointed of God to be the Savior of His people; and by His dominion over the saints our Lord, not merely by creation, but by redemption and grace, and happy is the person that can claim interest in Him, as is here done. John Gill
¨      Christ is called the Son of God because He is consubstantial with the Father, and therefore equal to Him in power and glory. The term expresses the relation of the second to the first person in the Trinity, as it exists from eternity. It is therefore, as applied to Christ, not a term of office, nor expressive of any relation assumed in time. He was and is the Eternal Son. Charles Hodge

“[…] which was made of the seed of David…”
¨      Two things must be found in Christ, in order that we may obtain salvation in Him, even divinity and humanity. His divinity possesses power, righteousness, life, which by His humanity are conveyed to us. Hence the Apostle has expressly mentioned both in the summary he gives of the gospel, that Christ was manifested in the flesh – and that in it He declared Himself to be the Son of God… That he specially notices the descent and lineage of Christ from His ancestor David, is not superfluous; for by this he calls back our attention to the promise, that we may not doubt but that He is the very person who had been formerly promised. So well known was the promise made to David, that it appears to have been a common thing among the Jews to call the Messiah the Son of David. This then – that Christ did spring from David – was said for the purpose of confirming our faith. John Calvin
¨      Had He not been a descendant of David He could not have been the Messiah, for prophecy concerning Him must be fulfilled. William Hendriksen
¨      Christ – as the seed of David and the Son of God – the grand burden of the Gospel. [This] was the predicted Messianic line, Jesus of Nazareth behooved to come of it, if He was to have any just claim to be ‘the Christ of God…’ The apostles were at pains to bring this claim of Jesus… to be their predicted Messiah under the notice of their countrymen, in their earliest dealings with them (Acts. 2:30-32; 13: 22-23; 2 Tim. 2:8). JFB, David Brown
¨      […] in regard of His divine subsistence, he was begotten and not made; in regard of His manhood, He was made and not begotten. When he says the Son of God was made, &c., it is undeniably implied, that He did exist before His incarnation, and was the Son of God before He was the Son of man. This place proves clearly these two truths: 1. That in the person of Jesus Christ there are two natures. 2. That there is betwixt these a communication of properties; here the Son of God is said to be made of the seed of David; and elsewhere the Son of man is said to have come down from heaven (Jn. 3:13). Matthew Poole

“[…] according to the flesh.”
¨      […] he adds this, that we may understand that He had something more excellent than flesh, which He brought from heaven, and did not take from David, even that which he afterwards mentions, the glory of the divine nature. Paul does further by these words not only declare that Christ had real flesh, but he also distinguishes His human from His divine nature… John Calvin
¨      […] not by transmutation of Him into flesh, but by an assumption of human nature into union with His divine person…, [this] supposes that He had another nature, otherwise there would have been no need of this limiting and restrictive clause. John Gill
¨      The limitation…, according to the flesh, obviously implies the superhuman character of Jesus Christ. Were He a mere man, it had been enough to say that He was of the seed of David; but as He is more than man, it was necessary to limit His descent from David to His human nature. Charles Hodge

Personal Summary:

What a beautiful picture we are being drawn in the beginning of this epistle. After having presented us with his qualifications to the office of Apostle and having set an example for us to have a servantile devotion to our Lord, he then joined the concerns of the Old and the New together in unity; now he begins to show us the fulfillment of what he had previously mentioned. The Old and the New are joined together by the Gospels and Christ Himself is the glorious essence found therein. What a beautiful time we live in that the types and shadows are removed and we see the true hope we have in Jesus Christ! Philip Doddridge says, “I would take every opportunity of promoting in your minds, and my own, the highest regard to this blessed and evangelical dispensation with which God has favored us; relating chiefly to His only begotten and beloved Son Jesus Christ, our great anointed Savior, our ever honored Master and Lord…"

Christ is here being well qualified as the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, the Savior of God’s elect; both truly man and truly God as was necessary for our salvation. Charles Hodge spends quite some time discussing the Sonship of Christ in his commentary on this verse; if you have access to that I would recommend you read it. We must spend time in our lives meditating on who Christ is, who the Bible claims He is, and why that is or is not important to us. If we’re only able to recognize that salvation comes through Christ we do a good thing; if we recognize why that is and what He accomplished to bring that blessed truth to bear then we do better. (If you are interested in diving a little deeper into the study of His Sonship then I will provide this link to a study on Ps. 2:7 where it was thoroughly discussed http://dannystudyofpsalms.blogspot.com/2010/07/psalms-27.html.)

I was listening to a sermon by Herman Hoeksema one time and he said, “The beauty of salvation is not that we are forgiven our sins primarily, as important as that is, the beauty lies ultimately in Christ restoring us to communion with the Father.” The Gospel message shows us this truth, we find intimate union with our Triune God and the beauty that leads us to this reality is found in Christ Himself. To contemplate who Christ is and what He has done for His people could overwhelm a pious mind, it is beyond unfathomable that He would bear so much pain for our sakes! But oh the tender heart that our Savior displays towards His Father and towards His people. He gave his life for a bunch of wretched undeserving sinners at great cost to Him and at zero cost to us. If you have marveled at the Gospels then marvel at Christ who is the very foundation, the essence, the beauty, the hope, the life everlasting that we find therein. Without Christ being truly God and truly man, without Christ being the very focus of that good news we would have nothing more than a vain mythology just as the wicked accuse us. But, if true, and we know by faith and the clear testimony of Scripture, which appeals to sanctified reason, that He was and is the Eternal Son, then we have a certain unshakable hope that we have been saved and that we will be glorified with our God in heaven for eternity. What a blessing it is to serve our Lord! To imagine the gospel apart form Christ is to abandon Christianity altogether, to descend into the abyss of insanity, it is to relinquish our salvation entirely. To abandon the two natures of Christ is to equally descend into those pits of insanity and any exercise of religion at that point would be the fruitless exercise of false religion. Christ is our everything and without Him there is no hope; only justifiable condemnation. Because of Christ we are true children of the true God and we may come running with all our cares and desires before Him crying, Abba Father!

With convicted hearts may we behave towards our Lord even as Matthew Henry describes Paul, he says, “Observe, when Paul mentions Christ, how he heaps up His name and titles, His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, as one that took a pleasure in speaking of Him; and having mentioned Him, he cannot go on in his discourse without some expression of love and honor…” Overwhelmed by His love may we embrace Him in our hearts and share Him with the world as men that take pleasure in speaking of Him and as those compelled to give some expression of love and honor. Praise be to our Lord and Savior!

Inadequate Words

Lord, how can I write my thoughts on you?
Inadequate they are through and through.
How can I show my love in a poem such as this?
When every word is but a speckle in a great abyss?

In a fragmented life you are the greatest part,
How can I convey this with words or in art?
I cannot, I must admit, my precious Lord,
Convey how deeply in this life you’re adored.

In a poem I cannot reasonably articulate your priceless gift,
Between my heart and my pen there is a rift.
Your condescending love came with such a great price
So in awe I merely thank you for your Son Jesus Christ.

In wonder I stand amazed that a man such as I
Would be pardoned his sin and his destruction passed by,
I love you, I thank you, I Kiss the Son,
My words are a sacrifice for the omnipotent One.

Happily I am…

Grateful for gracious giving of grace,
Omnipresent occupier of time and of space,
Delivering daily the damned from their sin,
Saving the wretched, like me, from the state they are in.

(Based on Ps. 2:12)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Reformed Doctrine of Common Grace

This is a paper designed to discuss the Reformed doctrine of common grace which is being attacked with vigor in many circles today. I don’t imagine that it will be as inclusive as some would hope, but I will at least attempt to touch the general principles espoused by this doctrine. We will look at 1) what it addresses, 2) the evidence that supports its claims, and 3) its historical claim within the Reformed faith. In seeing some of the attacks that are being leveled at this doctrine and its advocates I have noticed a great lack of understanding in what is even being proposed here. My hope is to explain what is actually being taught here and hopefully in the end those that oppose it will at least be informed and can then make up their mind as to whether or not they are still in disagreement or not.

What Does the Doctrine of Common Grace Address?

To even begin a conversation on this topic we must first understand what it deals with in the first place. Louis Berkhof gives wonderful insight into this, he says, “The origin of the doctrine of common grace was occasioned by the fact that there is in the world, alongside of the course of the Christian life with all its blessings, a natural course of life, which is not redemptive and yet exhibits many traces of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The question arose, How can we explain the comparatively orderly life in the world, seeing that the whole world lies under the curse of sin? How is it that the earth yields precious fruit in rich abundance and does not simply bring forth thorns and thistles? How we can we account for it that sinful man still “retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior”? What explanation can be given for the special gifts and talents that with which the natural man is endowed, and of the development of science and art by those who are entirely devoid of the new life that is in Christ Jesus? How can we explain the religious aspirations of men everywhere, even of those who did not come in touch with the Christian religion? How can the unregenerate still speak truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives?” [1]

At least in part this line of thought has existed for a very long time, even among the Greek philosophers. Take the case of Heraclites for example. Heraclites was amazed at the order of the world and eventually this led to a realization that had a profound impact on all of our lives. We see this in his saying, “It is impossible to step in the same river twice.” What he meant by that was if you step in a river and then step back out, by the time you have stepped back into the river it has flowed on, making it impossible to step in the same river twice. Each time you step back in you are, in essence, standing in a new river; or, at the very least, a changed river. This may seem like philosophic rambling but indeed it pointed even the lost Greek philosophers to recognize an important truth. The truth which was espoused by these men was that the world is in a constant state of flux; thus, if there was not a Creator and a Controller for the universe everything would be in a state of perpetual chaos. This, when built upon by successive Greek philosophers, came to be known as “logos.” This, now, is a term we are very familiar with as Christians; it is literally translated in our bibles as “the Word” (Jn. 1). Logos to the Greek was significant because it was, at the very least, the idea of God; though they didn’t recognize God and worshipped idols instead. It was the force that kept everything in nature working in good order as it should be. Without logos the world would deteriorate into a chaotic mess and so this idea became very essential to their philosophic ideals. The apostle John later used this term, borrowed from the Greek philosophers, to describe to us who Christ is: He is God and the one who created the world, the one who sustains its order. To the mind of the time this was a significant claim, especially to the Jew who viewed the logos not merely as a word but as a deed, to speak was to do. Christ was the fulfillment of those vain philosophic thoughts, He was relevant to Jew and Gentile, He was the one who kept order in the created universe for both the lost and the saved alike.

So whether it is the Reformed man or the philosopher, the question, in part or in full, is relevant and it is one that necessarily needs to be answered. There cannot be just a base indifference to this topic as if it didn’t exist. It does exist, and the reality is that there is order in the world, there is blessing to the lost as well as the saved; as Michael Horton says, “[…] all of us – believers and unbelievers alike – are simultaneously under a common curse and common grace.” [2] We should know whether or not the Bible gives us a doctrine to account for this reality. In the next section we will see if that evidence exists or not.

Biblical Evidence for the Doctrine of Common Grace

At this point many of you are defaulting to your New Testaments in order to confirm or rebut me. But that isn’t our starting point, that isn’t where we see this doctrine presented initially, for this is a concept that goes much further back, in fact it goes all the way back to at least the Noahic Covenant. The text we will be addressing is Gen. 8:21-22, “And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” Here God made a unilateral covenant with mankind at that time; not with Noah alone, not with the elect specifically, and not for redemptive purposes. As we know, we see the rainbow as a perpetual sign of this covenant for all of mankind, not just for the saints. Furthermore, lest we cave in to the argument that would object to this doctrine based on the word ‘grace’ I think it important to realize that this passage speaks to grace specifically, as we will soon see.

John Calvin has this to say about the passage under our consideration, “[…] here it behooves us more deeply to consider [God’s] design; for it was the will of God that there should be some society of men to inhabit the earth. If, however, they were to be dealt with according to their deserts, there would be a necessity for a daily deluge. Wherefore, He declares, that in inflicting punishment upon the second world, He will so do it, as yet to preserve the external appearance of the earth, and not again to sweep away the creatures with which He has adorned it. Indeed, we ourselves may perceive such moderation to have been used, both in the public and special judgments of God, that the world yet stands in its completeness, and nature yet retains its course. Moreover, since God here declares what would be the character of men even to the end of the world, it is evident that the whole human race is under sentence of condemnation, on account of its depravity and wickedness.” [3] Calvin went on to say much more here, especially in detailing that there is an outward virtue displayed by almost all men though spoiled by the state of their hearts, but it is important to notice two things: (1) that all of mankind is under a curse and a blessing alike (As Dr. Horton pointed out earlier), and that (2) God acknowledges that the state of man is continually mired in sin. Calvin spends some time discussing how deep this depravity extends so that we cannot mistake that it is a state of total depravity and not merely occasionally sinful thoughts or behavior. Yet God still graciously extends this covenant to all of mankind though our actions deserve only God’s wrath wherein He would presumably wipe the earth clean day by day. Keil and Delitzsch present the idea of what God was doing here in terms of a need for His grace and a forbearing God granting that grace to all of mankind insofar as He would not destroy them in their entirety again as long as the earth existed. They say, “[…] because [the thoughts of men] are evil from his youth up, because evil is innate in man…, he needs the forbearance of God.” [4]

Michael Horton says this regarding the Noahic Covenant, “After the fall, God might have legitimately disowned His creation but for the eternal and unconditional agreement of the Trinity for the redemption of a people. Both to call out his new people He has chosen and to care even for the rest of humanity hostile to His purposes, God has unconditionally pledged His common grace to all of creation… God swears to uphold creation in its natural processes even in the face of human depravity.” [2] With this thought and doctrine firmly rooted in our bibles, even extending all the way back to the Noahic Covenant, we can now look at Matt. 5:44-48.

“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

To start with, we will indeed have to deal with the topic of God’s love for mankind in general. I know, everyone is now cringing worried that this will now descend into some liberal rant about God’s love of all men equally. That is not the case, it is not Biblical to take such a position, and it is neither the idea proposed here or indeed anywhere in the Reformed faith; we do not rewrite our Bibles to exclude the word ‘hate’ from it. (See my posted study on Ps. 5:5 for further clarification on the concept of hate in a godly sense, http://dannystudyofpsalms.blogspot.com/2012/01/psalm-55.html.) That aside, let us see how this text validates the doctrine of common grace.

Michael Horton says, “First of all, the human race is not divided at the present time between those who are blessed and those who are cursed. That time is coming, of course, but in this present age, believers and unbelievers alike share in the pains of childbirth, the burdens of labor, the temporal effects of their own sins, and the eventual surrender of their decaying bodies to death. And they also share together in the common blessings of life, such as fruitful wombs and vines, abundant natural resources, marital pleasures, and liberty to realize temporal dreams. Fundamentalists need to learn that salvation and damnation are not the only two categories in Scripture. There is in this present age a category for that which is neither holy nor unholy but simply common.

Jesus affirmed this third category for this present moment in time: common grace answering to the common curse, in which God sends rain on the just and the unjust alike and calls us to imitate His generosity towards our enemies… God’s goodness in watering everybody’s garden underscores God’s kindness in bestowing such temporal goods on people who are not and never will be His friends. In other words, common grace is not saving grace. In fact, unbelievers will use God’s patient restraint of His wrath not as an opportunity to embrace His Messiah, but as evidence that there is no judgment in the offing and they can therefore go on in their sins (2 Pet. 3:1-9). God does not simply hate unbelievers and leave them to their own devices; he feeds, clothes, heals, and cares for them, and He sends them many earthly pleasures. Yet this does not lead us to conclude that God’s love and care for everyone in common grace is the same as his love and care for His elect in saving grace.” [2]

William Hendriksen likewise confirms this same truthful reality, “It is far more meaningful to say ‘He causes His sun to rise’ and ‘He sends rain’ than ‘the sun rises’ and ‘it rains.’ The way Jesus says it we are made to look beyond the action to the One who causes it, and also beyond the fact as such to the reason that brings it about, namely, the Father’s love for mankind… In order to make the marvelous nature of the Father’s love stand out all the more conspicuously the two pairs of objects are arranged chiastically (X-wise), the emphasis falling neither on the evil or the good... Now it is certainly true that men respond differently to the blessings by means of which the Father reveals His love. There is no common gratitude. It is therefore also true that those who reject the gospel use God’s blessings to their own hurt. However, all this cannot cancel the fact that the love of God for earth-dwellers, good and bad, is impartially revealed in the blessings of sunshine and rain and all their beneficial results… None of this should be regarded as a denial of the fact that there is indeed a love of God that is not shared by all. [A host of] passages prove this beyond any doubt… [Jesus] indicates even more definitely that it is the Father’s perfection that we should strive to imitate; that is, perfection here specifically (as the preceding context indicates) in the love He shows to all.” [5]

I could keep citing commentary after commentary on this but then you could go read them yourselves and I will have accomplished very little. So, with these two representing others it is vital that we understand what is being said here. Yes, common grace is affirmed by the Scriptures and by these exegetes in their commentary on those Scriptures. But there is a more important point to be had then simply a base acknowledgment of this doctrine, the real question becomes why is this doctrine taught in the word of God? Is it simply to satisfy a vain questioning where we hope to understand why, or how, the lost are not immediately destroyed for their sin and even flourish in the world while retaining a trace of the good and the true? No, it is not that; at least not entirely. In both of these passages we’ve cited here the larger message is God’s love for mankind, His care for them in spite of their sin, and the fact that it stands as a model for how we are to relate to the rest of the world. To see how some treat this topic leaves you wondering if they are of the assumption that we should quarantine the lost until God decides to send bolts of lightening down upon them. We are a part of the world, and we are to interact with that world, we are to care for that world, we are to show the love the Father has for us to the world. It doesn’t mean that we don’t tell them they are sinners and that we don’t preach Christ crucified as the only hope of eternal salvation. But it does mean that we function alongside one another and that we are to care for them as much as is possible in spite of the fact that we are not in our hearts the same. Common Grace teaches this principle abundantly to God’s people. Undoubtedly where such a concept is fully embraced the Spirit blesses that place with an outpouring of converts who have become accustomed to the kind hand of their Christian counterparts. In the same way that God taught us to be kind and to pay fair wages to laborers by not muzzling the ox (Deut. 25:4; 1 Cor. 9:9), He teaches us here to be kind and gentle and loving to the world around us. Rather than thinking we must reject this doctrine to guard the holy nature of God we can freely embrace it and know that for the lost who takes advantage of God’s love for His creation that in and of itself stands as a damning charge against them. If they abuse the good and the pure then it is their lot to answer for their sin before God, but it is not right that we reject clear biblical truth to prevent the unpreventable.

The Historic Verity of Common Grace Within the Reformed Faith

I recently saw an article wherein it was urged that since all people could cite this theologian or that as proof of their position that no-one should ultimately claim that there is a specific Reformed perspective regarding common grace in general. This much is true: there are people on both sides of this debate within Reformed Christianity. But that does not mean that there is not a Reformed consensus either. To err on the one hand and claim that all Reformed Christians believe this is untenable, but so too is erring on the other side and not citing a consensus on the matter at all. The same can be said in discussions on Eschatology, the same can be said in discussions on the Supra/Infra debate, and the same can be said on a number of issues. But divergent opinions do not negate the reality of a majority opinion in any of those issues either.

Horton testifies to this fact of Reformed thought when he says, “Although the concept of common grace has been challenged in some circles, it has been generally recognized by Reformed theology as a crucial aspect of biblical teaching. Although the specific term common grace is rather recent, the substance is not. Whenever Christians confess their faith in God’s benevolent providence toward a world under sin and judgment, we encounter this doctrine.” [2]

Louis Berkhof says, “[Calvin] developed alongside of the doctrine of particular grace the doctrine of common grace. This is a grace which is communal, does not pardon or purify human nature, and does not effect the salvation of sinners. It curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men. Since the days of Calvin the doctrine of common grace was generally recognized in Reformed theology, though it also met with occasional opposition… Up to the present Kuyper and Bavinck did more than any one else for the development of the doctrine of common grace.” [1]

As anyone who has read “The Stone Lectures” by Kuyper can see, his embrace of common grace led to his view of how we are to interact with the world around us and how Calvinism specifically was able to influence that world. And this is a vital understanding to capture here. Without the doctrine of common grace we are left to assume the positive of what was before mentioned, namely, that God hates the sinner and leaves them and this fallen creation to operate in a state of chance. But it is impossible that such an act would be able to affect the lost alone, we too are affected by such a thing detrimentally. If God is not actively working in history to bring about His will and to maintain order and blessing then all we are left with is the logical chaos that Heraclites saw through his theory. But, when God is personally active in the world sincere order ensues and is maintained. It does not mean that the effects of sin are not punished in the temporal as well as in the eternal state of man; it only means that their sin is restrained, God’s creation is preserved, and that we as men do not have to fear another purge as was the case in the flood. We all operate under the curses and blessings of this present time; without God specifically bringing that to pass only curses would exist, if existence were to continue at all.

Charles Hodge adds, “That there is a divine influence of the Spirit granted to all men, is plain both from Scripture and from experience… To the general influence of the Spirit (or to common grace) we owe: 1. All the decorum, order, refinement, and virtue existing among men… 2. To the same divine agent is due specially that general fear of God, and the religious feeling which prevail among men…, 3. The Scriptures refer to this general influence of the Spirit those religious experiences, varied in character and degree, which so often occur where genuine conversion, or regeneration does not attend or follow.” [6] I heard it objected many times by many people that there is only one form of grace and that it extends exclusively to the elect. At least in part that is true if we are speaking of saving grace, but theologically there are a number of considerations under the larger heading of grace. Charles Hodge mentions no less than seven distinct considerations under that heading. In fact, for Hodge it is apparent that common grace is only a part of the consideration in dealing with this doctrine, to fully consider his thoughts on the matter you would also have to dive into things like preventing grace, which we will not endeavor to accomplish today.

Francis Turretin also addresses this topic, though under the heading of providence. He says, “[…] we believe that all things without exception are under divine providence: whether heavenly or sublunary, great or small, necessary and natural or free and contingent. Thus nothing in the nature of things can be granted or happen which does not depend on it. The reasons are: (1) God created all things, therefore He also takes care of all things. For if it was glorious for God to create them, it ought not to be unbecoming in Him to take care of them. Nay, as He created, He is bound to conserve and govern them continually, since He never deserts His own work, but ought to be perpetually present with it that it may not sink back into nothingness.” [7]

In all of these cases the argument is presented in a manner that leaves no room for doubt; this is the majority opinion of the Reformed faith. That a group of Christians wishes to diverge from that thought has no ultimate bearing on the rest of us confirming this truth in unity.


There can be no mistake about this doctrine as being truly biblical and as truly embraced at large by the Reformed faith. It gives us such a valuable and necessary insight into the heart of our God, into the way we are to treat the lost world, and in the very order and existence of nature itself. Indeed I would argue that once you toss this doctrine to the side it becomes likely that you are casting a great deal of Christian character and dogma to the side as well.

But, even if after I have given this presentation one should still persist in refuting the doctrine of common grace, I ask only that you learn to debate the topic, which may be beneficial if engaged with knowledge and wisdom, with an irenic nature that is becoming of a Christian. I recently watched a debate between Dr. Wayne Grudem and a Presbyterian pastor named Ian Hamilton. They were not afraid to admit similarities anymore than they were afraid to staunchly contend for their position. But in the end Pastor Hamilton left the entire debate with this one righteous thought: if you cannot behave in a manner that glorifies God than you need to be quiet (I don’t know if I captured his words precisely but that was the gist of it).

May the truth of God’s word infect all of our hearts and may He be glorified now and forever more, Amen.

Sources Cited:
[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1968, pp 432-446
[2] Michael Horton, “Introducing Covenant Theology,” Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2009, 111-128
[3] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 1, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp. 283-286
[4] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, pp 150-151
[5] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, pp 312-319
[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1997, pp 654-675
[7] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 1992, pp 497-498