The Death of Beauty (7)

Celebrating Past Beauty (5)

ww2-146-lPaul Ramsey Article (2)

Make no mistake, Mr. Ramsey had a partisan position with regard to participation in World War II — he was for it.  However, the means by which he pressed his point of view could hardly be more different than those used by today’s Progressive Christians.  For, nowhere in Mr. Ramsey’s article will you find accusations of mental illness in his opponents manifested as a “phobia.”  Nor will you find dark intimations of evil motives due to some sort of “ism.”  Finally, you will not find all of the talking points for his secular political position cobbled together with a throwaway reference to Jesus in order to claim that the piece is Christian.

What you will find is a profound meditation on the nature of the human condition in general and sin in particular.  Along the way he will acknowledge truth and error on both sides of the debate.  But the essential fact here is that Mr. Ramsey seeks to convince those in disagreement or on the fence by the quality of his arguments.  That is, he treats those not or not yet on his side as moral and intellectual equals.

By his own words Mr. Ramsey is in disagreement with “Liberal Protestantism”  on the issue at hand.  His opponents apparently were scandalized by the fact that prosecution of the war required people to engage in unrighteous acts.  Of this there can be no dispute, and Mr. Ramsey does not attempt to do so.  Rather, he points out that by so completely focusing on sin as “unrepentant unrighteousness” they fall prey to the less obvious but far more dangerous and destructive sin of “unrepentant righteousness.”

34+Then+Jesus+said,+Father,+forgive+them,+for+they+do+not+know+what+they+do.+Luke+23-34+(NKJV)The departure point for this argument is Christ’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).  For, this greatest sin (perhaps excepting the “unforgivable sin”) was done entirely by people who believed that their motives were righteous.  For the Jewish leaders they were stopping a false Messiah.  For the Romans they were maintaining peace.  Mr. Ramsey’s point is that Christ’s words were not only applicable to that specific case, but are true in general.  Here is the key excerpt.

Do we not here recog­nize that sin and responsibility may vary inversely, rather than directly, with consciousness, so that greater sincerity actually means greater sin? Our own responsible and sinful implication in social institu­tions must already extend far out beyond the range of our conscious participation, else on what grounds do we make ourselves more consciously sinful by making ourselves more sensitive to the grinding, impersonal results of our common life? And when we are stabbed sharply awake to evil results that have followed from one of our actions, which we certainly did not “intend that way,” should this not give us pause, and bring the reflection that it is not just in this case that we sin not knowing what we do.

Mr. Ramsey’s point is not that, because sin consists of “unrepentant righteousness” then there is no need to be concerned about “unrepentant unrighteousness.”  Rather, it is to argue that by making an idol of our righteousness we can end up participating in greater sinfulness.

Before God, unrepentant unrighteousness and unrepentant righteousness come to the same thing; and an indication that they are judged alike by God is the fact that in history they come in time to the same thing, namely, cruelty. This is the Cross in History from which also, in the light of the Cross of Christ, we learn that man’s deepest sin lies in an unrepentant righteousness that knows not the sin for which it is responsible.

How then, if we must admit that we sin both in our unrighteousness and righteousness, can we avoid becoming incapable of any act or thought lest we thereby sin?  Mr. Ramsey’s answers are:

More fundamental than sorrow for our past sins is a repentant faith which in acting nevertheless waits for the Lord to complete by His Divine Provi­dence the goodness of our finite actions, and which still trusts Him when in His Divine Judgment our action is thwarted and rejected. If we are to be truly forgiven, truly the Father must forgive us.

and:

By the action of God in history, the sinfulness of human actions is judged and corrected, and the goodness of human action saved and incorporated in the Divine Will. Since our judgment about what is good is always infected by our sinful righteous­ness, the act of God in history always has, in rela­tion even to the best of us, an aspect of “otherness,” of being beyond the good and evil of our own mixed, self-defensive human judgments. When we do think we know the will of God for our time, our wills are strengthened, either to do or not to do, by a course of events utterly beyond our control. After each event we must always confess that we have been acted upon more than we have acted, that we have been changed more than we have changed anything, and that the ideals with which we began have not been realized in reality so much as they have been transformed to accord more with reality. By grace are we saved!

Nazi-Capture-Jews-WW2Although Mr. Ramsey’s prose does not achieve the heights of beauty discovered by Mr. Lincoln and Rev. Edwards, it yet is beautiful.  Its beauty lives in the lovely, humble and trusting manner in which he connects our fallen lives on this earth with the judgement and grace found only in God.  And, he meets a great human need by helping those brave but conflicted souls who found themselves called to oppose great evil to bear that terrible responsibility within the context of their Christian faith.


 

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The Death of Beauty (4)

Celebrating Past Beauty (2)

lincoln-2nd-inaug

Abraham Lincoln delivering the Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865)

It is astounding that what I consider to be the most beautiful non-Scriptural theological prose ever written was composed by a politician rather than a theologian.  This Second Inaugural Address may have been delivered on a political occasion, but it utterly transcends the dross of politics.  Rather, at its core, this is a profound theological meditation on the causes and meaning of a truly cataclysmic event in the life of our Nation — the Civil War in which well over 600,000 lives were sacrificed to settle the question of slavery once and for all.

The speech itself is exceedingly short, consisting of only 698 words.  The first 359 words serve as a preamble for the theological meditation of only 339 words.  For the sake of brevity I excerpt only the theological meditation.

… Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Thinking back to the components of beauty for theological prose, what could be a deeper point of human need than that of the millions of lives that had been (and that were still being while the speech was given) scared by this most terrible war in U.S. history?  And, from whom were words of explanation and purpose more needed than that man whose election as President had set into motion that very war?  By bowing humbly to that terrible need Abraham Lincoln was able to compose a theological meditation of terrible beauty.

Although the Civil War still raged at the time of this speech the outcome was no longer in doubt.  In fact, only 36 days later General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House.  So, Lincoln’s primary purpose was to begin the process of healing for a nation that had suffered a grievous, perhaps even mortal wound.  But how could such a goal be pursued given the disunity and hatred of total war?

While living in Washington D.C. Lincoln and his family attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  It is certain that there he would have experienced teaching aligned with the Westminster Confessions.  Thus, as the reelected President pondered his impossible task the theological framework upon which he would draw stressed God’s sovereignty and providential purposes in history.

How though could Lincoln invoke the Christian God Whom both citizens of the Union and Confederacy worshiped?  Lincoln courageously raised this conundrum as the starting point of his meditation.  But, although he included a powerful argument in support of the Union, he yet refused to claim that God was on the Union’s side.  For here the Reformed doctrine of sin’s universality allowed him to see that the sources of this terrible conflict encompassed the entire nation.  Thus, although the specific position on slavery had been decided in the Union’s favor, citizens of both sides were reminded that they shared a common responsibility for the existence of the sinful institution of chattel slavery.  Upon this ground the rightness of the Union’s cause might be maintained but without inciting an attitude of destructive moral superiority.

But it is when Lincoln addresses God’s place in the tragedy that beauty reaches its zenith.  How could there but be the most powerful temptation to blame God for this monstrous war?  That is, how could a kind and loving God have allowed so much terror and death to occur?  Here the humility of the created creature finds voice in Lincoln’s use of Psalm 19:9, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Rather than demanding that God answer at the dock of human pride, Lincoln humbly submits to the reality that God’s purposes are just even if the consequences are dreadful.  That is, “shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”  The answer is a resounding no.  Thus, Lincoln rejects the spiritually destructive temptation to blame God for sin while calling all humanity to repentance for their sin.

It is upon these theological foundations that Lincoln calls to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and to pursue “a just and lasting peace.”  It is therefore on our universal need for a Savior that Abraham Lincoln sought to rebuild the United States.  The miraculous fact is that the nation was indeed rebuilt in spite of Lincoln’s assassination by a Confederate sympathizer on April 15, 1865.

Can there be any doubt that Lincoln’s speech, particularly after his sudden death, encouraged the “better angels” of their natures in both the North and South?  These words, so humbly, so humanely, so worshiply composed and delivered set in motion the events by which a nation riven by hatred could yet be reconciled.  Had God not taught Lincoln utter humility in the crucible war and the school of Reformed theology this speech would have been very different, and a great nation may have been destroyed rather than reborn.


We once again find ourselves riven by seemingly irreconcilable political differences.  It is a sad commentary on the Christian Church that it no longer seems capable of providing the theological resources necessary for healing and renewal.  Were the Church just another human institution there would be no hope.  But it actually is the Body of Jesus Christ, so we wait with expectant hope for resurrection.

iBooks Publish Announcement

For those of you living in the Windows and/or Android worlds, you can download the PDF version from my blog site here.

Christ and CorneliusChrist and Cornelius

I have published an eBook on iBooks.

Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism

Is Jesus Christ a pacifist?  Many Christians believe this to be the case.  However, unless this position can withstand careful Biblical scrutiny it cannot be considered true.  I have subjected this claim to that very standard in this book, and, have found it to be unsupported.  Along the way important issues regarding Biblical interpretation, the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the application of King David’s life to our own times, the first Gentile convert to Christianity and Western Civilization’s crisis, among others, are discussed.

Christ and Cornelius (4)

Peter and Cornelius

NGC2207+IC2163The Two Worlds Touch (Acts 10:17-23a)

God has providentially intervened in the Gentile and Jewish worlds, setting them on a collision course.  No human being could have possibly foreseen the implications of this act.  No human being was ready within context of their own experience to comprehend just what was occurring.  Only in hindsight can we prejudiced, faltering and foolish humans see a sliver of truth about what God has done.  However, without the revelation of Scripture even that tiny sliver would have been obliterated long ago.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

The wonder of this narrative is that it pulls back the curtain and allows us mortals to observe God’s providential engagement in human history.  What we see is both beautiful and disturbing.  It’s beauty arises from the Fatherly love that engages with both Cornelius and Peter at their points of human frailty, gently leading each towards their eventual world-changing encounter.  Its disturbance arises from the at first vague, but ultimately explicit, realization that both Peter’s and Cornelius’ destinies were being directly determined by God.  This intricate but ultimately mysterious interplay between our own wills and God’s providential purpose has been previously explored in “God’s Acts of Providence.”

That significance flowed from God to them, as opposed to being sourced within them.  This too is a reproach to our modern, self-centered mind-set. We too often view our end as beginning and ending with our own desires. The notion that our end is by design to be subordinate to anything else, even the L ORD God, flies into the teeth of the radical individualism that under girds so much of our culture’s life.

But lest we too strongly stress humanity’s subordinate status, the amazing extent to which God apparently bends to accommodate our wills must be accounted. Yes, God’s will is inexorable. But it’s as if it’s inexorable within the context of our free wills.

Isn’t this story precisely that of God’s inexorable providential will intersecting with our one free wills?  I say, yes, without doubt.

21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he called them in to be his guests.

Note how the people within this story exercise their own wills.  The men sent by Cornelius don’t say that Peter must engage with them because of God’s inexorable command.  No, they rather make the very human case that he who sent them is “an upright and God-fearing man,” that is, someone who Peter should consider to be trustworthy.  

Thus, on one level this is a story about human beings from two separate worlds working out the terms by which they might meet in true fellowship.  However, at the deepest level it is the story of God bringing to pass in time that which He had decreed from eternity.

“and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

Once again, I return to “God’s Acts of Providence” for the commentary.

 In the end, we must understand along with Abraham that the human details are not the point. The point is that God in His infinite love, mercy and power has determined to bless all nations. He has also chosen to do so within the context of human will, with all of its frailty, foolishness and fickleness. But He chose to do so before the foundation of the world was laid, deep inside the mystery of His infinite mind. That is, though played out on the stage of history, this is the working out of a predestined plan. Though we may never fully understand we can, no, must worship such a wondrous God.

the-creation-of-man-by-michelangelo

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (19)

praying-israeliteGod’s Promise to David (3)

David’s Prayer: 2 Samuel 7:18-24

What will be King David’s response to this gracious, eternal promise from the LORD God?  Could there be a more clear case for self-congratulation and boasting than had David at this point in time?  After all, the LORD God had purposefully chosen him to be king, and had shown His favor across the years of struggle necessary to reach this point.  And David himself had, through his wisdom and prowess, overcome all his enemies, both internal and external to the nation.

David had participated in banditry and bloody combat, with easily thousands of human deaths either directly or indirectly caused by his actions.  At this point might not a person with this on his conscience be overwhelmingly tempted to respond in self-justification?  That is, to turn God’s blessing to his own purposes, to absolve himself of guilt.

And yet, this is how King David actually did begin his prayerful response.

18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

22 “How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.


I must ask, in this current time of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (et al.) self-promotion, self-congratulation, self-absorption; can there be anything more foreign than this beginning of King David’s prayer?  No.  For this elect soul, this victor over all adversity and adversaries, this bloodied warrior points always and only away from himself and towards the LORD God.

However, there’s a deeper problem that prevents many contemporary people from giving David an open-minded hearing.  That being David is the exact opposite of everything that they believe to comprise morality.  In the view of many David is a far closer to (if not actually being) a war criminal than to a man after God’s own heart.  Thus, the fact that Holy Scripture lifts up this particular man can actually undermine their confidence.  In the next post I will directly address this difficult issue.

For today let’s, as Christians, be clear on the fundamental point.  Regardless of our own feelings, knowledge and opinions, David’s story is in the Word of God.  We do not judge it, nor does our personal sense of morality supersede it.  God has placed it in His Word for our benefit.  Yes, we should first seek guidance from the Holy Spirit in prayer and then use all of our God-given gifts to properly interpret and apply it to our life and times.  But, we Christians must stand with David, a God-chosen pillar of our faith in saying.

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

Humility, thankfulness, and submission to an external, eternal sovereign LORD God…

30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

(1 Corinthians 1:30,31, NIV)

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (4)

David_SM_MaggioreBeginning David’s Story

I will enter into David’s story without covering King Saul’s ascension to the throne as Israel’s first king and his ultimate rejection by God (see 1 Samuel chapters 1 through 15).

Note that, although the Lord has rejected Saul, Saul still continues to reign for an extended period.  Thus, God’s providential plan in this case occurs over time as opposed to suddenly.  Here again, we are witness to God’s sovereign ends being implemented within the context of human will and action.  Thus, we are being asked to hold two apparently contradictory concepts within our minds as David’s story unfolds:

  1. all of eternal import and first causes has been decided before the beginning of time
  2. we still are given the gift of exercising our wills to good or ill.

In my previous reflection on God’s Acts of Providence my emphasis was on, as stated, God’s acts.  In this study of David’s life God’s providence will remain at the forefront.  However, the emphasis will shift to human will and action.

The pacifistic, narcissistic and perfectionistic modes of thought that currently dominate our culture are aligned to deliver a people who are demoralized, pessimistic and irresponsible with regard to the challenges that press powerfully upon their civilization.  Therefore the story of David, a mere man who yet rose to the awful challenges that continually pressed upon himself and his nation has particular relevance.  David fulfilled his purpose not because he was passive, egotistic or perfect, but rather because, as he aggressively used all of his God-given capabilities, he also trusted in God’s promise and clung without ceasing to his hope in God’s grace.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (1)

Michaelangelo-David

Michelangelo’s David

Opening Thoughts

In the first verse of the first Book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the name of David occurs at the twelfth word[1].

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: (Matthew 1:1, NIV)

Thus, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is tied in the most intimate manner with King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart.  And yet, when 21st century Christians seek to interpret the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, this unmistakable bond with an ancient king from the Old Testament is all too often ignored.

David-W&P

We live in an age dominated by pacifistic, narcissistic and perfectionistic modes of thought.  Thus the most natural interpretation of our Savior’s character is “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  While I will not here contend that this sweet Wesleyan phrase is an inaccurate description of Christ’s nature, I will strenuously argue that it is a dangerous falsehood to consider it to be anything even approaching a complete one.  For, if we follow the thread from Matthew 1:1 back to the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, we are confronted by a person who somehow combined the brutality of a warrior with the sensitivity of a poet, and thus is described in Scripture (Acts 13:22, 23, NIV):

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.[2]

And, this Covenant made by God with David is said in the Gospel of Luke to have been completed in Jesus Christ.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32,33, NIV)

And thus the circle is closed between King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


[1] I have previously considered the second patriarch in this verse, Abraham, in God’s Acts of Providence.

[2] Here in Acts the Apostle Paul, in Pisidian Antioch, is summarizing 2 Samuel 7:12-16.

God’s Acts of Providence (60)

22-sun-and-cloud-photosMeditation on God’s Providence (17)

Final Thoughts

One question that burns bright is why have history and predestination?  It would appear that the latter renders the former irrelevant.  There are so many others!  It is here that we are wise to once again listen carefully to John Calvin.

First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination, they penetrate the inmost recesses of Divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself; and investigate, even from eternity, that sublimity of wisdom which God would have us to adore and not comprehend, to promote our admiration of His glory. The secrets of His will which He determined to reveal to us, He discovers in His word; and these are all that He foresaw would concern us or conduce to our advantage.

We should take the most serious note that the Apostle Paul, though fully convinced of God’s predestining action still participated in history with the greatest of energy.  If I had been there to ask all of my “but why” questions there’s no doubt in my mind that the Great Apostle would have finally answered something along the lines of:

But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? (Romans 9:20a).

Yes, indeed, who am I?  The plain fact is that our Lord God has made history and placed us within it.  The Scriptures clearly show that we are to be active participants in history’s unfolding.  Those who came to understand God’s eternal decrees did so in the humility of accepting a hard and perplexing conclusion while continuing to live and act in the world.

The simple fact is that there are places forever beyond the reach of our intellects.  With the continued wise application of theology, science, medicine, philosophy, economics and so forth we can continue to advance our well-being.  However, in order for any of this to truly be wise we must recover the truth that we are, all of us, limited creatures under the authority of the infinite Lord God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Amen!



If you would like to download God’s Acts of Providence, go to the Document Repository page.

God’s Acts of Providence (59)

aloneMeditation on God’s Providence (16)

The Last Question

There is one last question that must be addressed:

Why bother to defend such an obviously outdated, unpopular and disturbing doctrine in the first place?

The answers are simple.  I do so because careful study of the Scriptures has convinced me that it must be true.  I do so because, believing, I have found unexpected, unexplainable peace and release.

For though

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

(Hebrews 10:31)

it is also

… the peace of God, which passes all understanding…

(Philippians 4:7)

that I have actually found there.

The road that I have traveled to arrive at this place has been hard.  For to walk down it has meant to progressively give up on my fantasies of self-sufficiency, of righteousness.  I have found that continually

He must increase, but I must decrease.

(John 3:30)

I still pathetically cling to the filthy rags that remain.  But before my soul’s eyes stands the hope that can never be shaken now that it is in God’s sure hands that my salvation rests.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

(Romans 8:29-30)

 

God’s Acts of Providence (58)

hard-roadMeditation on God’s Providence (15)

The Hard Road from Revulsion to Embrace (4)

Human Free Will (2)

Perhaps we should acknowledge that there are some things we are not sufficient in ourselves to decide and thus should in gratitude accept God’s act on our behalf.  N.L. Rice once again will be quoted.

Again, according to the doctrine of Divine foreordination, God is the author of all that is pure in the Christian’s heart. He saw him “dead in trespasses and sins.” He purposed to renew his heart, not because of anything in the sinner moving him thereto, nor because of any foreseen co-operation on his part, but simply of his sovereign mercy. So that the most devoted Christian, comparing his present condition and character with his former condition and character, must say emphatically with Paul:-“By the grace of God I am what I am.” And of all his good works he must say:-“I labored; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

With regard to the exertion of our wills in secondary matters, the fact that God foreordains ends need by no means imply our loss.  An initial, but substantial discussion of this issue occurred previously.

We are comfortable with the concept by which actions by individuals, organizations and nature influence human acts.  There are laws, social conventions, arguments, economic incentives, natural disasters and so many more means by which this is accomplished.  In all of these cases we recognize that the responses elicited are by agents having free wills.

How much more God, Who knows our every thought and motive, Who has ultimate control over creation itself, is capable of so ordering events such that the acting out of all of our free wills will lead to the end that He has ordained.

Loraine Boettner has developed these ideas in greater detail and scope [20].[1]

The philosopher who is convinced of the existence of a vast Power by whom all things exist and are controlled, is forced to inquire where the finite will can find expression under the reign of the Infinite. The true solution of this difficult question respecting the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man, is not to be found in the denial of either, but rather in such a reconciliation as gives full weight to each, yet which assigns a preeminence to the divine sovereignty corresponding to the infinite exaltation of the Creator above the sinful creature. The same God who has ordained all events has ordained human liberty in the midst of these events, and this liberty is as surely fixed as is anything else. Man is no mere automaton or machine. In the Divine plan, which is infinite in variety and complexity which reaches from everlasting to everlasting, and which includes millions of free agents who act and inter-act upon each other, God has ordained that human beings shall keep their liberty under His sovereignty. He has made no attempt to give us a formal explanation of these things, and our limited human knowledge is not able fully to solve the problem. Since the Scripture writers did not hesitate to affirm the absolute sway of God over the thoughts and intents of the heart, they felt no embarrassment in including the acts of free agents within His all-embracing plan. That the makers of the Westminster Confession recognized the freedom of man is plain; for immediately after declaring that “God has freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” they added, “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.”

While the act remains that of the individual, it is nevertheless due more or less to the predisposing agency and efficacy of divine power exerted in lawful ways. This may be illustrated to a certain extent in the case of a man who wishes to construct a building. He decides on his plan. Then he hires the carpenters, masons, plumbers, etc., to do the work. These men are not forced to do the work. No compulsion of any kind is used. The owner simply offers the necessary inducements by way of wages, working conditions, and so on, so that the men work freely and gladly. They do in detail just what he plans for them to do. His is the primary and theirs is the secondary will or cause for the construction of the building. We often direct the actions of our fellow men without infringing on their freedom or responsibility. In a similar way and to an infinitely greater degree God can direct our actions. His will for the course of events is the primary cause and man’s will is the secondary cause; and the two work together in perfect harmony.

The Scriptures speak with great power and regularity about God’s desire for our right exercising of our free wills.  We must take these teachings with the greatest of seriousness.


[1] Loraine Boettner (March 7, 1901 to January 3, 1990) was an American theologian and author.  Boettner was born in Linden, Missouri. He received a Th.B. (1928) and Th.M. (1929) from Princeton Theological Seminary, and he received the honorary degrees of Doctor of Divinity (1933) and Doctor of Letters (1957). He was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.