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Written by J.H. Oliphant   

 

THE GOSPEL MESSENGER—MAY 1893

MY DEAR BROTHER: The words of Isaiah xlv. 7, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil,” are urged as proof that sin and righteousness are equally of the Lord, but I can see nothing in the expression to show that sin and crime are referred to. We should not be misled by a bare expression. The word “evil” has many meanings, not the least of which is its application to God’s moral government of the world, and his providential dealings with men and nations. The disturbances of nature, such as storms and earthquakes, are called evils, as well as famine, pestilence and sword. The tempest that God sent to bring Jonah to obedience was called an evil (Jonah i 8), and so was the seventy years’ captivity, which was also sent for disobedience (Dan. ix. 12). In the text the word occurs in connection with the prophecy that God would direct an ambitious king to deliver his people, and before whom their enemies should be as dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow. There was no intimation that God would instill wickedness into the hearts of any; even Cyrus, who was to execute God’s counsel, was denominated “a ravenous bird from the east.”

“What?’ asks Job, “shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” He does not refer to God as giving an evil heart or sinful inclinations, for the Lord did not move him to sin in thought, speech or behavior, as it is said, “In all this, Job sinned not.” The good he refers to was the prosperity that made him “the greatest man of all the east,” and the evil was the misfortunes that came upon him in the loss of property and family. He accepted these trials as some of the “terrible things in righteousness,” by which God becomes “the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea.” The words in Joh v. 19, “He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee,” and the expression, “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling,” recognize trouble, and plague, and pestilence—the terror by night and the swift arrow by day—as evils, and that from all such evil forces the Lord is able to protect and deliver his people. On the other hand, when be declares that “Evil shall slay the wicked,” he means that He will bring on them a calamity or evil providence that will prove their destruction, as the Psalmist explains, “God shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea the Lord our God shall cut them off.” God says, in Jer. xviii. 11, “Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you; return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your doings good.” This evil that the Lord frames is not in these people, or for them to commit, but against them. Already their way was evil and their doings not good, and for this he punishes them
In Amos iii. 6, it is asked, “Shall there be evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it?” but this does not teach that God is the author of the debauchery, and crime, and wickedness that darkens the history of cities. It does not show that the iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Babylon and Damascus, of Nineveh and Jerusalem, was of the Lord, but it designates the punishment that only waits till their sins are full. It means the coming of an enemy to destroy, whether it he fire falling from above, famine and pestilence within, or an advancing army with weapons of destruction. The whole chapter shows that God will visit Israel for his transgression, and such was the evil that he brought upon the nations of Canaan when the cup of their iniquity was full to the brim. It was thus the rod of his power came upon Israel in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and when the Romans overwhelmed Jerusalem, but it was because their sins were great and their evil ways had made them ripe for destruction. The prophecy concerning Cyrus and his deliverance of the Jews, already alluded to, was written a hundred and fifty years before his time, yet it designates his name and work, showing the infinite wisdom and power of God in bringing captivity or other evil on his people fur their sins, and when they are sufficiently humbled, in finding a Cyrus, or some one else, to let them go.

The prophecy of Micah before Ahab and Jehoshaphat is cited as evidence that the Lord instigates evil conduct in certain men. “The Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouths of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee.” There is nowhere any mention of the Lord making any one to be sinful, not even the lying spirit that appeared before him and volunteered to mislead Ahab. Instead of the Lord working evil in the heart of Ahab, we learn (1 Kings xxi. 25), “That there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things, as did the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. The four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal had been slain by Elijah at the brook Kishon, but the four hundred prophets of the grove had been spared, and were, most probably, the four hundred that deceived Ahab, and into whose mouths the lying spirit had entered. Ahab was fitted by his sin for destruction, and the four hundred false prophets had been false prophets since the time of the depraved and wicked Jezebel. So, a careful study of these Scriptures will discover no evidence that any sin or evil proceeded from the Lord. While he controls and directs evil men and spirits, he does not give them evil hearts and sinful inclinations.

Second Samuel xxiv. 1, is also cited as proof that God’s predestination embraces the wickedness of men as a cause of it, “And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah.” The evidence that it was the Lord who “moved David” is weak and vague. In this expression, “he moved David against them,” is explained in the margin to be “Satan” who moved David to this deed, and 1 Chron. xxi. l, in describing the same circumstance, says clearly, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” These two passages are the only Scriptures on the subject, and we should not make one antagonize the other, especially since the evidence of one so greatly outweighs the other. David’s confession, after he had numbered the people, confirms this view of it. His heart smote him for this sin and the blame he felt was bitter to his soul. His words admit no thought of God having tempted him to evil. He said unto the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done; and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.” He prays the Lord to take the sin away, but feels and claims it as his own. And when the pestilence which he chose as a punishment, was sore in the land, again he confesses, ‘Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; * * let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me.” If David, the chief actor and chief sufferer in this affair, ascribes the sin wholly to himself, should we, at our distance, interpose an objection or insist upon a different interpretation? The words, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel,” forbid all thought of God acting wantonly, or that he was pleased in prompting David to commit sin. There is nothing here or elsewhere in the Bible to support such a view of God’s character. He is constantly represented as providing wholesome laws and precepts for Israel, and never as inclining their hearts to evil. The fact that God hardened the hearts of the king of Heshbon, and the kings of Canaan, so that they were destroyed by Israel, only show that, like Pharaoh, the cup of their iniquity was full, and that they were ripe for destruction. These nations were filled with idolatry and sin, and the country they inhabited had long before been given to Israel for a possession. These Scriptures do not show that the Lord made these people wicked, but simply that he directed their steps, which is freely admitted. In this sense we understand the Lord sent bands of Moab and other people to destroy Judah and remove them out of his sight for their awful idolatry and cruelty in filling Jerusalem from end to end with innocent blood.—2 Kings xxi. It was through the anger of the Lord that the wicked king, Zedekiah, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, “stiffening his neck and hardening his heart from turning to the Lord,” until Judah was cut out from his presence by the overthrow of Jerusalem, when the temple was burned, its treasures of gold and of brass taken, and Zedekiah, with his eyes put out, was bound in chains and carried captive to Babylon. There is nothing in these Scriptures to show that God gave wicked hearts to these rulers, but they exhibit his chastising rod that reaches every violator of his law. It was the Lord who gave Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, because they harkened not to His words, but he set a limit to their captivity, when his sword would be unsheathed against Babylon, showing that God reigns among the nations, exalting whom he will, and casting whom he will down to the ground. The doings of Nebuchadnezzar in opposing Israel is spoken of as his great sin (Isa. xiv. and Hab. ii). Read the eloquent language of Jeremiah chapter 1, expressive of God’s wrath against Babylon and the Chaldeans.

The history of evil kings teems with evidence that God often employs them to execute his judgments, thus making the wrath of man to praise Him. How often has he directed evil rulers to chastise His people, and at other times to do them good. Frequently has he brought wicked nations against each other for their mutual destruction, but I remember no evidence of his giving them evil and corrupt hearts.

If these reflections are correct, they show how untenable is the position that the wickedness of mankind receives its origin and impetus from God. The brother who is inclined to think this position scriptural, will concede that it has an element of weakness and uncertainty that does not belong to any other important Bible truth. Take, for instance, the source of holiness and good things. That these are from the Lord, do not admit of doubt. The Bible as a unit declares this fact, and here all his people see eye to eye. It declares that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.” And again, “All their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” If there was a counterpart to these, saying that “Every sin and wickedness cometh down from the Father,” and that “All their unrighteousness is of me, saith the Lord,” there could be no controversy. All the logic of the world could not set such passages aside; but there are no such Scriptures. Speaking expressly of obedience and the Christian walk, the apostle says: “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” If any Scripture declared that it was the Lord working in men that caused them to stain their lives with sin, it would be conclusive that good and evil sustain the same relation to the decrees and providences of God, but we find no such expression in God’s word.
Hundreds of pages might be transcribed, showing God as working much good for his people and in them. He works in them that which is well pleasing in his sight. He covers them with the robe of righteousness, shines in their hearts and sheds his love there, and they are made to believe by the working of his mighty power. He purifies their hearts and makes them blameless in the day of Christ. Scriptures that ascribe goodness to the Lord are as the stars for multitude, but those that may seem to trace evil to his character, such as have been examined in this article; give a testimony that is feeble, uncertain and inconclusive. Besides, such an interpretation places these passages in opposition to hundreds of Scriptures that definitely indicate the source of sin, so far as it is necessary for us to know. Our best aims will be to seek that grace that can save us from it and its deadly power. Let us attribute to it no good and lawful origin, or make apology or excuse for its existence. May it become exceedingly sinful to us, and deserving of all blame. Then God’s grace will shine resplendent when it lifts a poor soul from the horrible pit and miry clay.

The dear Lord ever bless his people, and give them charity and love, and the desire to know and reverence his everlasting truth.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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