We Must Start With Scripture’s View of God – History & Theology, Part 78

In the last BLOG we looked at the starting place for theology and in particular the issue of free-will. If our starting place is with mankind, we see the appearance of free-will and so we set that out as an absolute and then our doctrine of God will always have to leave room for free-will. But if we start off with a biblical study of God we will then see that He is sovereign over all things and so we adjust our doctrine of man to fit with His character. Since God is the Supreme Being in the universe, it is wise to start off with how He has revealed Himself rather than with human beings as the standard. In one very real sense the argument is over once that point is established.

Psalm 50:21 states the issue plainly: “These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.” Isaiah 40:15 is a warning for those who attempt to do that: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. 16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless. 18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?”

When we consider from Scripture that God does as He pleases in the heavens and on earth (Psa 115:3; 135:6) it would seem that those verses and many others describe the fact that God is in control of all that happens in all locations. Isaiah 46:10 is also directly to the point: “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” When we add Ephesians 1:11 to the mix, we see that God has a purpose of His will and works all things according to His will rather than man’s: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Whatever freedom a human being has, it has to be considered within the facts of the character of God as set out in Holy Scripture.

Daniel 4:35 shows us the ability of God to do as He wishes and the helplessness of man to thwart God in what He pleases: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?” This text is taking all of the inhabitants of the earth and putting them on one side of an accounting sheet and God on the other side. Then all the inhabitants of the earth are compared with God, the text tells us that they “are accounted as nothing.” The context demands that this is not just an accounting of worth, but in terms of God carrying out His will on earth. God does according to His will in the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can ward His hand off or question Him in reality. We must remember that the context of this is Nebuchadnezzar who was the mightiest king on earth at the time. God brought him down as He pleased and Nebuchadnezzar could do nothing but what pleased God and so whatever freedom he had at the moment was nothing that could prevent God from carrying out His good pleasure on and through Nebuchadnezzar.

Owen quotes Damascen who said this: “Things whereof we have any power, not to depend on providence, but on our own free will.” Owen responded to this quote and concept by saying that this was

“an opinion fitter for a hog of the Epicurus herd than for a scholar in the school of Christ. And yet this proud, prodigious error is now, though in other terms, stiffly maintained; for what do they else who ascribe such and absolute independent liberty to the will of man, that it should have in its own power every circumstance, every condition whatsoever, that belongs to the operation, so that all things required on the part of God, or otherwise, to the performance of an action being accomplished, it remaineth solely in the power of a man’s own will whether he will do it or no? which supreme and plainly divine liberty, joined with such an absolute uncontrollable power and dominion over all his actions, would exempt and free the will of man, not only from all fore-determining to the production of such and such efforts, but also from any effectual working or influence of the providence of God into the will itself, that should sustain, help, or co-operate with it in doing or willing any thing.”

What we must grasp in this is how far a simple assertion of free will goes. If man indeed has a free will, then God is not free to do as He pleases in heaven and on earth. Moral agents in the heavens and on earth would all be able to thwart the will and purposes of God and do as they please. This is, as Owen says, the idol of free will to be thrust on the throne of God. While it seems like such a small thing to say that man’s will is free in the Arminian sense, it is impossible to avoid the ramifications of what it means for God. We should shudder in horror.

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