Saturday, May 15, 2010

Man's Will or God's Will Be Done ?



OUR studies on the purpose of the eons and the problem of evil
have brought us face to face with the question of man's so-called
free moral agency. To much that has been advanced in previous
papers it might be objected that, according to these views, man is
simply a machine, a plaything in the, hands of God,--a being whose
actions are involuntary or mechanical, moving only as he is moved.
It is argued that, unless man is absolutely free, his
responsibility is entirely destroyed. To meet such possible
objections, and in further elucidation of the truth, we will
endeavor to ascertain from Scripture in what way man is free and
responsible and to what extent.

What does the phrase free moral agency imply? An agent is one
who has power to act; a free agent is one who acts without
constraint; a free moral agent is one who acts as he pleases on
all questions involving the qualities of right and wrong. Now, in
the ordinary acceptation of the phrase, man is not a free moral
agent, he is not free to act according to his own judgment or
pleasure, but all his actions are wholly under God's control. We
will presently substantiate this position by Scripture, meanwhile
we may remark that the fact that God absolutely controls man's
actions does not destroy man's freedom nor his responsibility. God
worketh all things after the counsel of His will (+Eph.1:11); this
could not be true if man had power to act contrary to the will of
God and to resist it indefinitely. Furthermore, the apostle's
reiterated statement that "of him, and through him, and unto him
are all things" is an utter impossibility if any creature can have
its own way and eternally persevere in it. The difficulties that
many experience on the subject arise from failure to see that
man's freedom lies in the sphere of volition, and not in the
sphere of action; his will is free; he is at liberty to choose

p50 Free Moral Agency

and plan, but God controls his acts. Man can purpose and determine
and choose, and according to his choosing he is judged. Hence
wisdom refuses to answer the scorners who call upon her in the day
of their calamity:

For that they hated knowledge,
{And did not choose} the fear of the Lord:
They would none of my counsel,
They despised all my reproof:
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way,
And be filled with their own devices +Prov.2:29-31.

We will now point out the explicitness with which this fact
is brought out in the Book of Proverbs. "A man's heart deviseth
his way: but the Lord directeth his steps" (+Prov.16:9). "There
are many devices in a man's heart: but the counsel of the Lord,
that shall stand" (+Psa.19:21). In other words, man determines all
his wishes, but only those which the Lord designs are carried out.
Another proverb expresses this fact even more forcefully: "Man's
goings are of the Lord: how then can a man understand his way"
(+Prov.20:24)? The great ones of the earth, uniting the supreme
form of wealth and power, are, by virtue of circumstances, most
likely to act as they please, and yet we read: "The king's heart
is in the hand of the Lord as the watercouses: the Lord turneth it
whithersoever he will" (+Prov.21:1). The book of Esther is an
inspired commentary on this text. It tells us what Ahashuerus
wished to do with his Jewish subjects, and what he actually did.
The decrees sealed with the king's seal, which according to
Persian law could not be reversed, was reversed, because contrary
to God's counsel. The whole teaching of the book is summed up in a
single sentence "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole
disposing thereof is of the Lord" (+Prov.16:33). The lot is cast
into the lap; man has his choice; he may plan and scheme and make
preparations as much as he please, but the whole disposing thereof
is of the Lord. Another aspect of the same truth is presented in
+Psalm 76:10: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the
remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain." Sometimes man is allowed
to carry out his devices, and sometimes not; it all depends upon
whether they coincide

p51 Free Moral Agency

with God's plan or not; what He can use for His praise, He allows;
what He cannot thus use, He restrains.

The wise men are not alone in this testimony: the same is
believed and proclaimed by the Hebrew prophets. In perfect harmony
with the teaching of the Proverbs is Jeremiah's declaration: "O
Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in
man that walketh to direct his steps" (+Jer.10:23). +Psa.37:23 is
in the same line, though the Authorized Version has made its
translation accord with popular belief. Thousands of sermons have
been preached from this text, laying emphasis on the word "good."
"The steps of a {good} man are ordered of the Lord." Yet the word
"good" is not in the original. The passage is general, not
particular: "The steps of man are from the Lord: they (his steps)
have been prepared, and his way he (God) desireth; when he falleth
he is not cast down, for Jehovah sustains his hand." Man goes the
way that God desires; his steps have been prearranged and are all
ordained of the Lord. +Ephesians 2:10 contains teaching to the
same effect with reference to the saints: "We are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared
that we should walk in them." The wicked are God's sword
(+Psa.17:13); the seasons of the nations, and the boundaries of
their habitations, have been divinely predetermined (+Acts 17:26)
wicked kings and nations do His mind (+Rev.17:17).

If these Scriptures teach anything, they teach that man is
{not} a free actor. Man may choose, devise, imagine, and he will
be judged accordingly;--filled with his own devices--but his way,
his outward acts are entirely under God's control. Such is the
Bible doctrine of free will. We will now consider some
illustrations of it.

The instances related in +John 7:25-30 and John 8:12-20 are
very remarkable. The chief priests and Pharisees sought to kill
our Lord, and sent officers to take Him. They were fully
determined to destroy Him, and were just as much murderers in
God's sight as if they had actually committed the deed; but God
would not allow the rulers to carry out their wicked purpose. Why
not? "No man laid his hand on Him, because His hour has not come."
They were seeking to precipitate His death, hence were

p52 Free Moral Agency

restrained from accomplishing their intention. Later on, when the
appointed time arrived, the rulers were allowed to carry into
effect their murderous intents, in order that Christ might give
Himself up according to the will of God.

There might be some reasonable question as to whether the
case of our Lord was not altogether exceptional. We shall find,
however, that the case of our Lord is by no means a solitary one.
Forty Jews banded together by a great curse that they would
neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. That very night
the Lord appeared to Paul, assuring him that he would bear witness
in Rome. In the sequel of the narrative we learn how Paul is
delivered and arrives at Rome. But why was not Paul delivered from
the hand of Nero? Let the apostle answer this question. "I am now
{ready} to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand; I
have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith; I have {finished}
my course; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of
righteousness" (+2 Tim.4:6,7). The wrath of the forty Jews is
restrained, because Paul's mission was not finished; the wrath of
Caesar is allowed to vent itself, because Paul's course was
finished. In like manner, Peter is delivered from the hand of
Herod, but is delivered into the hand of his enemies years
afterwards, and the reason is that while Herod's attempt to
terminate Peter's life was premature, the attempt made afterwards
by others coincided with God's appointed time.

We have been led by Scripture to the conclusion that man's
free will lies in the sphere of volition, and not in the sphere of
action. To state it differently, man is unrestrained in the realm
of will, but is restrained in the realm of action. Perhaps it
might be said that, if man's will is free, even though his acts
are controlled by God, may he not remain eternally refractory,
incorrigible, defiant and unyielding? Still others might say that,
if the ultimate subjection of all things to God is spiritual and
internal, rather than merely external, the realm of man's will is
also invaded, and man has no freedom at all.

These objections are the consequence of one-sided thinking
which either ignores or rules out the determining factors. In the
first place, we must take into account the

p53 Free Moral Agency

eternal fitness of things. In creating God had in mind a definite
end as well as a specific immediate purpose for all creatures. Man
will ultimately choose the right, because he was made for the
right, and to suppose that he will remain endlessly wrong, is to
suppose that God's creation will fail of realizing the end
intended, a position which involves the failure of the Creator
rather than of the creature. Man was created for fellowship with
God, so constituted as to enter the bosom of His affections, and
he will realize the purpose for which he was designed as surely as
God's word never fails. Man will be brought to choose the right,
not by pressure of omnipotence, but because he will be led to see
that it is the right, and that the right is the best for him.

In the second place, while man's will is free, he is not
independent; but, as is often said in common parlance, he is the
creature of circumstances. Out of the complex skein of influences
and circumstances which surround us arises that complicity of
motives, almost endless in its variety, moulding the human will,
which throws itself on the side of the considerations which appeal
most powerfully to our interests. Take the following instance
related in the "Peasant Saint."* Not very far from the village
where the saint gained his livelihood as wood-chopper, a widow
with an infant child consecrated herself to a life of austere
asceticism. She built for herself a hovel in the forest, vowing
never to leave her humble abode where she would spend her life in
prayer and reading the lives of the saints. Several years passed
by. One winter the weather was unusually severe, and the woman
suffered severely from the intense cold. One very cold morning the
wood-chopper chanced to pass by, and noticing the hovel knocked at
the door, asking permission to come in and warm himself. A feeble
voice bid him enter. On opening the door the wood-chopper saw the
woman, with the child clasped in her arms, sinking into a lethargy
he knew would be fatal. He tried to persuade her to accompany him
to the village, but the woman would not listen to his arguments,
pleading that she had taken a vow never to leave her abode. While


* "{The Peasant Saint}." {The life story of Sergius of
Radonej, Moscow, 1912}.

p54 Free Moral Agency

with the woman a thought flashed to his mind, and he quickly put
it into execution. Snatching the child away from the mother, he
started to run in the direction of the nearest village; the mother
was roused by the apparent danger to her child, sprang to her feet
and started in pursuit; nerved with superhuman strength to fight
for her offspring, she followed on; the wood-chopper kept up until
he reached a homestead; there he restored the child to its mother
and left her in care of the farmer's family. The woman was warmed
up by the exertion, and her life was saved.

Seizing upon the resources at his command, the wood-chopper
presented to that mother a powerful motive which, dwarfing all
other considerations, induced her to do what was best for herself
and her child. The woman was spurred on to the exertion that saved
her life, by the presentation of an all powerful motive that
controlled her will. God has command of infinite resources, and is
able to present to each and all motives powerful enough to
influence the will in the right direction. He will be able to
present motives for the right which will infinitely outweigh any
that could be presented for the wrong.

The case of Paul is a perfect example of what we have
endeavored to set forth in the foregoing considerations. There is
a tendency to regard his case as entirely exceptional. But the
very opposite of this is the fact. He is a pattern of them that
should believe thereafter (+1 Tim.1:16). A pattern, not in the
sense that every circumstance attending his call would be
reproduced in all subsequent conversions, but in the sense of its
embodying the essential principles of God's dealings in absolute
grace. Between "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious" and the
"grace abounding exceedingly with faith and love which is in
Christ Jesus," is a vast moral distance, and yet Paul traversed
that distance in one instant. He relates his experience in the
third chapter of Philippians. He first describes His former
standing "in the flesh" (vss.5,6), and then contrasts it with his
present standing "in Christ" (vss.8-14). The seventh verse is
retrospective: the apostle transports himself in thought and tells
us of the tremendous change that was wrought in him at the
critical moment of his

p55 Free Moral Agency

life. "Howbeit the things that were gain to me, these have I
counted loss for Christ." "Those things which were gain to
me"--such was his estimate of the things pertaining to his
standing in the flesh; he had "confidence" in them, he esteemed
them "gain}; they loomed up before him as an ideal, a motive
worthy of the highest effort, devotion, sacrifice, a motive strong
enough to master his whole being, to become the driving force, the
ruling passion of his life. "These counted I {loss} for Christ."
Does not this account for the changed course of his life? He
caught a glimpse of something immeasurably higher and better; he
beheld his supposed gains fade one after another in the glorious
light that shone from heaven; they melted away like dross before
the glory of the Risen One, and Paul cast them aside as refuse.
The motives which God was able to present for Christ were
infinitely more powerful than the reasons for fighting against His
cause. The moment he was made to see the true state of the case,
he choose the right way. All that was needed to veer him in the
right direction was to open his eyes to see the truth, and empower
him to embrace it. "Yea verily," continues the apostle, "I {count}
all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things,
and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ." So powerful
were the motives presented to him, that they became the
inspiration of his life and the stimulus of his service. Christ
was the all sufficient motive which wrought the change in Paul.
Surely such motive cannot fail in the case of any one, if only
they can be made to realize it as did Paul. Surely every son and
daughter of Adam would choose life rather than death, when they
fully understand the circumstances of the case.

The motives which influenced self-righteous Saul to cry out,
"Lord, what wilt thou have me do?" are the very motives which, at
the consummation, God will present to the intelligences in the
iron clutches of death. The apostle to the Gentiles exemplifies
God's dealings in pure grace, apart from all else. The first
recipient of unmixed grace portrays its crowning achievement to be
witnessed at the conclusion of the eons. Paul views the
consummation in the light of his own experience (+Phil.2:9-11).
Was it not

p56 Free Moral Agency

the sight of the Risen One that elicited the confession "Lord!"
from the lips of Saul of Tarsus? The vision of the Risen One, as
He is unveiled to the universe by the Father, brings all created
intelligences under the spell of motives that will swing them as
if by magic to the path of filial submission, for it is in the
name of Jesus that every knee bows, and every tongue confesses
Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father." As now in
his people, so then in all creatures, He works both to will and to
do of His good pleasure; He touches first the spring of action, by
fashioning the will in accordance with His, and then the stream of
action, by empowering the will to work His good pleasure.

The exponents of endless torments, in their devotion to
tradition, are constrained to invest this marvelous Scripture with
a meaning that is trite and commonplace. They hold that the final
subjection of all things is the product of power divorced from
love. Having exhausted the; resources of grace in fruitless
efforts to conquer rebellious wills, God is forced to play the
role of a policeman and club His opponents into submission.
According to this, the history of the eons concludes not with a
manifestation of God in all His excellencies, where His manifold
perfections blend in the grand display of love perfected, but with
an exhibition of the failure of love, which, defeated in its
efforts, recedes to the background and makes room for vengeance.
But the fact is, the apostle here presents the ultimate subjection
of all things as the ripe fruitage of the ravishing, self-emptying
act of the Son's obedience unto death, just as in the Colossian
letter the reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth is
the result of peace made through the blood of His cross
(+Col.1:20). Power--unless it be the power of grace--is not as
much as hinted at. The confession of Jesus as Lord is not wrung
from the lips of created intelligences by torture; it is the
spontaneous fruit of hearts melted and won by love, as was the
confession of Saul of Tarsus. Without in the least invading their
freedom, as above explained, God will be able to bring all men
into harmony with Himself, so that at last every knee shall bow
and every tongue shall give praise to God (+Rom.14:11).

A.E. Knock

No comments: