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The death of Jesus offers another example of how God’s sovereign will ordains that a sinful act come to pass. Edwards says, “The crucifying of Christ was a great sin; and as man committed it, it was exceedingly hateful and highly provoking to God. Yet upon many great considerations it was the will of God that it should be done.”17 Then he refers to Acts 4:27–28: “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (see also Isaiah 53:10). In other words, all the sinful acts of Herod, of Pilate, of Gentiles and Jews, were predestined to occur.
Edwards ponders that someone might say that only the sufferings of Christ were planned by God, not the sins against Him, to which he responds, “I answer, [the sufferings] could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer. [Therefore] even the free actions of men are subject to God’s disposal.”18 These specific examples (which could be multiplied by many more instances19) where God purposefully governs the sinful choices of people are generalized in several passages. For example, Romans 9:16: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (NASB). Man’s will is not the ultimately decisive agent in the world;
God’s is. Proverbs 20:24: “Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can
20. Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees,” 534.
21. Edwards, Freedom of the Will, 399.
man understand his way?” (NASB). Proverbs 19:21: “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand” (NASB). Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Jeremiah 10:23: “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (RSV).
Therefore, I conclude with Jonathan Edwards: “God decrees all things, even all sins.”20 Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, “[He] works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
2. TWO QUESTIONS And I pose two questions as an evangelical who is seeking the glory of God and who longs for a biblical, God-entranced worldview: (1) Is God the author of sin? (2) Why does God ordain that evil exist? What answers did Jonathan Edwards give to each of these questions?
IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN?
2.1 Edwards answers, “If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing…it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”21 But, he argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin.
God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by His “positive agency.” God is, Edwards says, “the permitter…of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted…will most certainly and infallibly follow.”22
23. Ibid., 404.
25. Ibid., 407–9.
He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon. “If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness,” he says, “it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun.”23 In other words, “sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence.”24 Thus, in one sense, God wills that what He hates comes to pass as well as
what He loves. Edwards says:
God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet…it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences.… God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil;
though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he many not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.25 This is a fundamental truth that helps explain some perplexing things in the Bible; namely, that God often expresses His will to be one way and then acts to bring about another state of affairs. God opposes hatred toward His people, yet ordained that His people be hated in Egypt (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 105:25—“He turned their hearts to hate his people.”). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but commands him to let His people go (Exodus 4:21; 5:1; 8:1). He makes plain that it is sin for David to take a military census of His people, but ordains that he do it (2 Samuel 24:1, 10). He opposes adultery, but ordains that Absalom should lie
26. Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees,” 528.
27. Ibid., 542.
with his father’s wives (Exodus 20:14; 2 Samuel 12:11). He forbids rebellion and insubordination against the king, but ordains that Jeroboam and the ten tribes rebel against Rehoboam (Romans 13:1; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 12:15–16). He opposes murder, but ordains the murder of His Son (Exodus 20:13; Acts 4:28). He desires all men to be saved, but effectually calls only some (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26–30; 2 Timothy 2:26).
What this means is that we must learn that God wills things in two different senses. The Bible demands this by the way it speaks of God’s will in different ways. Edwards uses the terms “will of decree” and “will of command.” Edwards
[God’s] will of decree [or sovereign will] is not his will in the same sense as his will of command [or moral will] is. Therefore it is not difficult at all to suppose that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended that virtue or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature. His will of decree is his inclination to a thing not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with reference to the universality of things. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things.26
This brings us to the final question and already points to the answer.
2.2 Why Does God Ordain That There Be Evil?
It is evident from what has been said that it is not because He delights in evil as evil. Rather, He “wills that evil come to pass…that good may come of it.”27 What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end? Here is
Edwards’s stunning answer:
28. Ibid., 528.
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all.… Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it.
There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired.… So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.28 So the answer to the question in the title of this appendix, “Is God less glorious because He ordained that evil be?” is no, just the opposite. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil. The effort to absolve Him by denying His foreknowledge of sin or by denying His control of sin is a fatal error and a great dishonor to His Word and His wisdom. Evangelicals who are seeking the glory of God, look well to the teaching of your churches and your schools. But most of all, look well to your souls.
If you would see God’s glory and savor His glory and magnify His glory in this world, do not remain wavering before the sovereignty of God in the face of great evil. Take His Book in your hand, plead for His Spirit of illumination and humility and trust, and settle this matter so that you might be unshakable in the day of your own calamity. My prayer is that what I have written will sharpen and deepen your God-entranced worldview and that in the day of your loss you will be like Job, who, when he lost all his children, fell down and worshiped and said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD.”
I n this appendix I give pointers, not full explanations. I hope someday to turn this appendix into a small book that gives more help than merely pointing. But since the most common question asked after reading or hearing about Christian Hedonism is “How can I become this kind of person?” I thought I should at least give pointers to where the answer is found. In the end the answer is this: The capacity for spiritual joy is a gift of God. But that answer should not paralyze us, but make us active and hopeful. God has ordained that He act in and through means. In other words, there are paths where He loves to meet His people, for example, in the path of His Word. So I point to some of these paths with the prayer that God will meet you there and grant you the sweetness of His fellowship and the strength of His joy.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)
2. REALIZE THAT JOY
MUST BE FOUGHT FOR RELENTLESSLYFaith has joy at its heart: It is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus (see above). Therefore, the “good fight of faith” is a fight for joy.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.
(2 Corinthians 1:24) I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:25) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7) Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. (1 Timothy 6:12) And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12–13)
If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
(Romans 8:13, NASB)
4. LEARN THE SECRET OF GUTSY GUILT: