Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?
In the first post on this passage, we saw how extensive the word “who” is. In the second post we saw what it means to “speak” and have it “come to pass.” In the previous post we inquired how God’s primary agency affects the good deeds of men. And in this fourth post, we will attempt to address how God’s primary agency affects the evil deeds of men.
Before anything else, I wish to say that this is a most difficult subject to handle and fools rush in where angels fear to tread. I do not make any statements here lightly. Nor do I wish to say anything unadvisedly. We want to stick to what God Himself through Scripture tells us.
How does God’s primary agency affect the evil deeds of men?
A. God ordains their free evil deeds.
B. God hardens their hearts or inclines their minds to will these acts.
C. God hardens their hearts or inclines their minds to do these acts.
D. Yet God does not coerce them so as to exempt them of true and meaningful responsibility and genuine guilt for these acts. Though foreordained, they are nevertheless free.
E. God is not the Author of Sin.
Here are a number of Bible passages that speak to this subject: Gen. 50:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; Joshua 11:20; Acts 2:23 comp Luke 22:3; Luke 22:11, 24, 21 & 36 comp. Acts 4:27-28. Rev. 16:16-17; Ex. 4:21 (10:17); Deut. 2:30; Rom 11:7-9. See also the Geneva Bible notes on 1 Sam. 2:25 – “So that to obey good admonition is God's mercy, and to disobey them is his just judgment for sin.”
In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge deals with this subject through a doctrine called the concursus. : He says: “(1.) That God gives to second causes the power of acting. (2.) That He preserves them in being and vigour. (3.) That He excites and determines second causes to act. (4.) That He directs and governs them to the predetermined end.”
Hodge then enumerates several things that must be understood having granted the previous four points. Then he concludes by referring to the concursus in its relation to sin. He writes: “All the advocates of the doctrine of concursus admit that the great difficulty attending it is in reference to sin… We can easily see how God can cooperate in good acts, and rejoice in the goodness which is his gift; but how can He so concur in sinful acts as not only to preserve the sinner in the exercise of his ability to act, but also to excite to action, and determine his act to be what it is, and not otherwise? This difficulty was, as has been remarked, freely acknowledged. It was met by defining sin as mere defect. It is a want of conformity to the moral law. As such it requires not an efficient, but only a deficient cause. God is the source immediately or remotely of all efficiency, but is not the source of mere deficiency. In every sinful act, therefore, there was distinguished the act as an act requiring an efficient cause; and the moral quality of that act, or its want of conformity to law, a mere relation, which is not an ens, and therefore is in no way to be referred to God. This is the answer to this objection given by Augustine, and repeated from his day to this. As the same solar influence quickens into life all kinds of plants, whether nutritious or poisonous; as the same current of water may be guided in one channel or another; as the same vital force animates the limbs of the sound man and of the cripple; as the same hand may sweep the keys of an instrument when in tune and when out of tune: so it is urged that the same divine efficiency sustains and animates all free agents. That they act at all is due to the divine efficiency, but the particular nature of their acts (at least when evil) is to be referred, not to that all-pervading efficiency of God, but to the nature or character of each particular agent. That God controls and governs wicked men, determines their wickedness to take one form, and not another, and guides it to manifestations which will promote good rather than evil, is not inconsistent with the holiness of God. He did not infuse envy and hatred into the hearts of Joseph’s brethren, but He guided the exercise of those evil passions, so as to secure the preservation of Jacob and the chosen seed from destruction.”
God’s sovereignty over men is such that their acts are still free, yet it appears from Scripture that their acts are pre-ordained by God in such a way that they cannot not do what is ordained. God’s decree does not violate their responsibility for their actions. We do not say that it violates their “free will” because we do not believe that the will is, in fact, free.
Proverbs 1:17 says, “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.” We take this to mean that if a man sets a trap for his fellow man right in front of the man he intends to trap, then his trap is set in vain. No one is so foolish as to walk into a trap he has seen set for himself. But if God sets the trap (even through the secondary agency of men) it is not set in vain, even when the man watches it being set to catch him.
Ahab’s demise at Ramoth-Gilead demonstrates this fact (1 Kings 22:1-23). All of his false prophets had given him the green light to go up against Ramoth-Gilead. When the prophet Micaiah comes, he speaks the same words as Ahab’s crony prophets, perhaps to spite Ahab or by way of rebuke. Ahab then demands Micaiah to give him the true message from God. This means that Ahab is 100% consciously aware that his prophets’ message is false and that whatever Micaiah says is truly God’s word. In other words, he recognized Micaiah’s prophecy as authentic. Micaiah’s message told Ahab how God had sent a lying spirit into the mouths of his crony prophets to deceive him into going up to Ramoth-Gilead, where he would be killed. In other words, God “spread the net” in the sight of Ahab. God told Ahab that He intended to kill him; God told Ahab that He would lure him into battle at Ramoth-Gilead through his own prophets. Surely no trap was ever set in clearer view of its prey! Yet Ahab still went up to Ramoth-Gilead! If this does not demonstrate God’s absolute control over all things, including men’s minds and wills, nothing does!
Samson’s fall with Delilah is an example of God’s primary agency over the evil deeds of otherwise good men. She spread the net before him repeatedly, yet he kept playing games with her until he actually gave his guarded secret away, knowing full well that he was being ambushed. Why else would he do something so stupid – unless we suppose that he was unwittingly walking in ordained works?
I do not assume to have dealt with this thorny issue in any comprehensive fashion. But I do believe we have been faithful to the Scriptural testimony.