Collect of the Day
O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
III. Dr. Clark Asserts that the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility to each other presents no difficulty for his thinking and that the two are easily reconcilable before the bar of human reason. He expresses surprise that so many theologians find an insuperable difficulty here. In his second examination little was said on this matter (3:11-4:7; 47:13-16), but in the first examination it received considerable attention. Reference was then made to Dr. Clark's article “Determinism and Responsibility”, which appeared in the January 15, 1932, issue of The Evangelical Quarterly. In that article he said that it had been stated by his denomination—at that time The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.—“that the reconciliation of man's free agency and God's sovereignty is an inscrutable mystery”, but he added: “Rather the mystery is—recognizing that God is the ultimate cause of man's nature—how the Calvinistic solution could have been so long overlooked” (p. 16). In the first examination he made the remark that the Stoics had already solved this problem.
It needs hardly to be said that “the lazy man's argument” does not hold. In other words, the fact that God foreordained from all that comes to pass in time, and in his providence brings it to pass without fail, does not deprive man of freedom and thus absolve him from all responsibility. To say that it does is to destroy the problem. An obvious truth, on which all Reformed theologians are agreed, is that the exercise of human freedom is itself included in the divine decree of foreordination; in a word, that this decree embraces means as well as ends. There is also perfect agreement among Reformed theologians on the presupposition that human responsibility is a corollary of divine sovereignty; that is, that man is responsible to God because God is sovereign. Again, not one Reformed theologian teaches that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are actually contradictory. However contradictory they may seem to the finite and sin-darkened minds of men, both are taught unmistakably in Holy Writ, and this must mean that for the mind of God they are perfectly harmonious.
Nevertheless Reformed theologians readily grant that there are difficulties here which they are unable to solve. L. Berkhof has stated succinctly one aspect of the problem. Speaking of the fact that God not only planned all events from eternity but also brings them to pass by his providence, he says:
Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, and Arminians raise a serious objection to this doctrine of providence. They maintain that a previous concurrence, which is not merely general but predetermines man to specific actions, makes God the responsible author of sin. Reformed theologians are well aware of the difficulty that presents itself here, but do not feel free to circumvent it by denying God's absolute control over the free actions of His moral creatures, since this is clearly taught in Scripture (Systematic Theology, Second Revised and Enlarged Edition, 1941, p. 174).
Berkhof admits the difficulty, but, instead of seeking to solve it, is content to abide by the plain teaching of Scripture. The greatest Reformed theologians have always done likewise.
After setting forth the doctrine of reprobation Paul says in Romans 9:19, “Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth he yet find fault? The point of this objection to the apostolic teaching is that divine sovereignty as manifested in reprobation leaves no room for human responsibility. Paul's answer begins: “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Romans 9:20). Calvin comments:
In this first answer he does nothing else but beat down impious blasphemy by an argument taken from the condition of man: he will presently subjoin another by which he will clear the righteousness of God from all blame.
But they who say that Paul, wanting reason, had recourse to reproof, cast a grievous calumny on the Holy Spirit: for the things calculated to vindicate God's justice, and ready at hand, he was at first unwilling to adduce, for they could not have been comprehended; yea, he so modifies his second reason, that he does not undertake a full defense, but in such a manner as to give a sufficient demonstration of God's justice, if it be considered by us with devout humility and reverence.
And then Calvin says:
He reminds man of what is especially meet for him to remember, that is, of his own condition; as though he had said,—“Since thou art man, thou ownest thyself to be dust and ashes; why then dost thou contend with the Lord about that which thou art not able to understand?” In a word, the Apostle did not bring forward what might have been said, but what is suitable to our ignorance. Proud men clamour, because Paul, admitting that men are rejected or chosen by the secret counsel of God, alleges no cause; as though the Spirit of God were silent for want of reason, and not rather, that by his silence he reminds us, that a mystery which our minds cannot comprehend ought to be reverently adored, and that he thus checks the wantonness of human curiosity. Let uss then know, that God does for no other reason refrain from speaking, but that he sees that we cannot contain his immense wisdom in our small measure; and thus regarding our weakness, he leads us to moderation and sobriety.
It is evident that Paul, instead of seeking to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility by means of human logic, silences those who regard them as contradictory by a strong assertion of divine sovereignty. It is equally clear that Calvin follows faithfully in the apostle's footsteps.
In perfect harmony with his comment on Romans 9:19, 20 is Calvin's comment on the rhetorical question of Romans 11:34, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” Says Calvin:
If anyone will seek to know more than what God has revealed, he shall be overwhelmed with the immeasurable brightness of inaccessible light. But we must bear in mind the distinction, which I have before mentioned, between the secret counsel of God, and his will made known in Scripture; for though the whole doctrine of Scripture surpasses in its height the mind of man, yet an access to it is not closed against the faithful, who reverently and soberly follow the Spirit as their guide; but the cause is different with regard to his hidden counsel, the depth and height of which cannot by any investigation be reached.
In his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek part I, p. 115, Geerhardus Vos compares the teaching of Romans 9:1-29 with that of Romans 9:30-10:21. He says:
For the apostle both are certain: the free, sovereign counsel of God, which does not derive its motives from the works of man, and the full responsibility of man to his Creator. He discusses both in order. An attempt to reconcile the two logically with each other the apostle has not made. And we too may make no such attempt. But it is much more reprehensible still so to pervert and distort the content of Romans 9:1-29 as to fit it somehow into what follows. Both sides must stand next to each other, unreconciled for our thinking, but each in its full right. To wish to explain Romans 9 from Romans 10 is rationalistic exegesis.
In his Outlines of Theology, pp. 221f., A. A. Hodge considers the contention that the Reformed doctrine of predestination is inconsistent with the liberty and accountability of man. He says:
Paul answers this objection by condescending to no appeal to human reason, but simply (1) by asserting God's sovereignty as Creator, and man's dependence as creature, and (2) by asserting the just exposure of all men alike to wrath as sinners.
The reference is to Romans 9:20-24. Elsewhere he says:
We have the fact distinctly revealed that God has decreed the free acts of men, and yet that the actors were none the less responsible, and consequently none the less free in their acts.—Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27, 28; Genesis 50:20, etc. We never can understand how the infinite God acts upon the finite spirit of man, but it is none the less our duty to believe (p. 210).
Abraham Kuyper comments in his Dictaten Dogmatiek, Locus de Deo, part 3, p. 108, on Matthew 26:24, “The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed: it had been good for that man if he had not been born”. Says this outspoken supralapsarian:
Jesus says three things here: (1) this crime with reference to me must be committed, (2) he who is to commit this crime will suffer eternal condemnation, (3) to prevent that he should not have been born and he was born according to the decree. However man may talk, the fact that this culminating sin was included in the decree is not only taught definitely in Holy Scripture by apostles and prophets, but by the Lord Jesus himself, while he who commits this sin, far from being innocent, is punished with everlasting damnation. After these two have been placed alongside each other, the Lord Jesus ventures no attempt at solution; on the contrary, he confronts his disciples still more pointedly with the impenetrability of the mystery by saying: “It had been good for that man if he had not been born.”