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Home arrow 50 Yrs Among The Baptists arrow Justification and Kindred Subjects: Chapter 21
Justification and Kindred Subjects: Chapter 21 PDF Print E-mail
Written by J.H. Oliphant   

I mentioned in a previous article that I object to the words “Absolute predestination of all things.” It puts no difference between God’s attitude to sin and his attitude to holiness. If his relation to sin and holiness be not the same, we ought not to use words that imply such a thing. The London Confession says: “God hath decreed in himself from all eternity, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever come to pass.” This language, disconnected from any other words, would be open to the same complaint: but they explain, “Yet so as thereby God is neither the author of sin, nor has fellowship with any therein,” etc. This confession traces holiness to God as its cause, and denies that sin is from him as its cause. They hold that God’s attitude to sin is not the same as his attitude to holiness. But if we speak of sin as being predestinated in the same manner we speak of holiness as being predestinated, use the same words with respect to both, we need not be surprised if we are understood as holding that God is the author of sin.

God’s attitude to events has been distinguished into “positive” and “negative,” “efficacious” and “permissive.” I think this distinction will, perhaps, help us, in some degree, to understand the subject. Although I do not think that God’s attitude to sin is always, if ever, barely permissive, I think his relation to sin is such that its movements, or that part of the history of this world that is made by sin, is not governed by chance nor determined by the devil.

Positive or efficacious decrees include everything of which God is the author, both in providence and grace. All his conduct is in harmony with his eternal decree. A change of purpose can come, only, from new knowledge, and he that acquires new knowledge is not perfect in wisdom, and ignorance is a blemish. Any being whose purposes ever change is necessarily imperfect; but God is a perfect being, and has been such from all eternity, and will be so to all eternity; hence his purposes never can change, and he works all things after the counsel of his own will. He made the universe what it is, and all the infinite variety of beings in it, according to his eternal purpose. Every act of God in his providence or grace is a matter of his positive decree. The regeneration and resurrection of his people are no more matters of POSITIVE DECREE THAN IS ANY ACT OF GOD IN PROVIDENCE. When he acts on men or IN MEN POSITIVELY, it is never to make them evil or more corrupt and sinful. God’s dealings with Pharoah, the kings of Canaan, Ahab, Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, David, Rehoboam, Joseph’s brethren, the Jews who sought the life of Christ, furnish no evidence that God makes men to be evil; but in some way he GOVERNED, DIRECTED, LIMIITED, and BOUNDED the conduct of these men. Where God acts positively in men it is for their improvement. It is a merciful and gracious act of God to make a sinful man to be holy, to improve or better his condition and better his state and case morally to work in men “to will and to do right.” So the Bible ascribes every gracious quality in men to the efficacious grace of God. If men love God it is because of his love to them.

We do not trace sin in men to the same cause. The evil in men’s lives and nature is not from God; if so, then all difference between right and wrong would be destroyed. Let us study well the difference between right and wrong. God’s attitude to sin expressed by “negative” or “permissive” is the NOT ACTING OF GOD. The positive act of God is not necessary to make men do wrong, it is only necessary that all restraint be removed. Holiness results from God’s acting upon or within men; sin from his NOT ACTING. A stone is no more certain to fall, when that which supports it is removed, than man is to sin when God’s grace is withheld. It is as natural and certain that men will sin when not kept by the Lord, as it is that a stone unsupported will fall. David said, “Keep me as the apple of thine eye; hold up my goings in the paths, that my foot slip not.” God’s attitude to his people is positive, efficacious; he is ever acting positively and efficaciously in them, and thus they are kept from falling. When we see others walking in sin, let us not boast we too would do so if we were not supported by grace. We are sure that if left to ourselves and to evil influences we will fall into ruin; and we are just as sure that if we do persevere to the end it is because of the positive and active presence of God. Jesus said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” He meant that gracious and providential influences would be withheld, and as a certain result confusion would come to that city.

By damming up water at one point we will find it will break out or over at another. It is the nature of water to flow; he that dams it need not cause it to run some other way. So if God restrains men from sin in one direction, they will sin in another. If men in sin be so environed that they are not thieves and murderers they may be self-righteous Pharisees. It is better for society that men be Pharisees and Arminians then that they be outlaws, and yet both are wrong. Better that we have a score of sects broken off from
Rome, and so her political power taken from her, than that she retain power to persecute the custodians of truth, although these sects teach Arminianism, and are as truly wrong as Rome itself. It is better for us as it now is than for Rome to rule politically. I must think that God in some way has divided the enemies of truth, and thus given liberty to his people.

Had Ahithophel’s counsel been taken (2 Samuel xvii. 1-3) David would have been destroyed. (See chapter xvi. 23). But David had prayed God to defeat this counsel, and so he did; Hushai advised another way, and as a result Absalom was hindered from going that day, but he went another day. The damming of the water here changed the time of its running, and so directed events as to secure David and the kingdom and destroy Absalom. It is plain here that God took more concern in evil things than barely to permit them.

A part of Daniel’s speech to Nebuchadnezzar: “They shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, * * * and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” Read Jeremiah xxvii. 5, 6; also Daniel iv. 34, 35. We find the hand of God rules the nations of earth. We do not learn from these places that God is POSITIVELY or EFFICACIOUSLY WORKING IN THE KINGS of earth to do right, but that he is directing events so as to determine who shall be our rulers, and the course of the governments of earth. So that chance is not on the throne, nor is Satan so enthroned as the ruler of events as to give direction to the rise and fall of nations, nor so as to determine what the political history of the world shall be; nor yet so as to absolutely exclude
the providence of God from ANY EVENT WHATEVER.

It is certain that the open path in the Red Sea in some sense directed the steps of Pharoah and his army, and this is a good illustration of God’s power to direct the steps of wicked men without lessening their guilt, or destroying the liberty of the will. They saw the open path that the children of Israel had traveled and were encouraged to try it and were thus led to their own ruin. This same principle was manifest in the overthrow and death of Ahab, and many other cases. How often was Saul hindered from killing
David, and as a result, he sought another method.

We read in many places of God’s hardening the heart of Pharoah; one remarkable text is Joshua xi. 20.---“It was of the Lord to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly,” etc.

Another remarkable text is Deuteronomy ii. 30---“But Sihon, king of Heshbon, would not let us pass by him; for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hands.” These cases illustrate how the steps of evil men are managed by the Lord, and that the course of men is not determined in every sense by the enemies of God. I would not understand that God made their hearts sinful or evil by a POSITIVE or EFFICACIOUS influence. He “hardened the spirit of Sihon, and made his heart obstinate;” by this is not meant that God made him to be evil, but it certainly means that God had more concern in the course of Sihon than that of BARE PERMISSION. I suppose if God would freeze our earth he would not do so by sending a POSITIVE COLD but by removing those things that keep it warm. If the sun would forsake the solar system we would all soon perish with cold; and so if God forsakes a man he would soon descend into vice and ruin. By hardening these men is meant that the course they pursued was, in some sense determined by the Lord, and that they were not BARELY PERMITTED to do as they
did. Darkness and light are both consequent upon the motions of the sun. The motions of the sun determine where it shall be dark and cold as truly as it determines where it shall be light and warm. Both these consequences are equally determined, as to their extent and certainty and duration by the sun, yet not as to their cause. The sun is not the cause of darkness, yet the sun controls it, limits, bounds, and determines it, so that darkness in this world is no more a matter of chance than is light. Yet none would think for a moment that darkness comes from the sun as its source, and there is as little reason for believing that sin is from God as its cause. “In him is no darkness at all.”---1 John i. 5. The darkness of sin is not from God as a cause, and yet its existence and movements are consequent upon the movements of God. So that certainty reigns as truly in all the domain and motions of sin as it reigns in the works of God.

Frost and ice are not made by the sun; there is nothing in them that indicates that the sun is their cause. So there is nothing in sin that indicates that God is its cause. God may determine when and under what circumstances he will forsake, or withdraw, providential restraints from men, and thus determine in some sense, the time of their fall, and yet not be the cause of it.

The people would have slain Jesus sooner but were hindered. So if God’s purpose fixed on an hour for his death it must have been in the sense that he determined when all restraints should be removed.

In the case of Sihon, king of Heshbon, also the kings of Canaan, we must remember their cup of iniquity was already full, and God’s hardening of their hearts was rather a penalty for past sin than a making of these men to be sinful. So of Pharoah. His iniquity in oppressing the seed of Jacob had cried to heaven against him; and so when we read of God’s hardening his heart we must not understand it was to make him sinful.

The case of David’s numbering Israel (2 Samuel xxiv. 1.), “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, go number Israel and Judah.” This text seems to imply a positive act of God in moving David to sin, but note the anger of the Lord had been kindled against Israel and Judah before this, and this was rather a judgment for past sin than anything else. See also 1 Chronicles xxi. 1.---“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” Considering all that is said of this matter, this circumstance is no proof that God is the author of sin.

God is so concerned in and with sin as that we may trust him at all times to protect and care for us. He is so concerned as that this is not a world of chance, by any means, or to any extent.

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