His Achievement Are We
“O, THE DEPTH Of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgments, and untraceable His ways! For, who knew the mind of the Lord? or, who became His adviser? or, who gives to Him first, and it will be repaid him? Seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen!” (Rom.11:33-36).
This is not a passage “to fall back on when everything else fails,” but one that needs to be in the fore-front of all our thinking. As with the events of Israel’s history, everything that happens in our lives and throughout all the eons is out of God and through Him and for Him. What is written here concerning the experiences of one group of people is true of everyone.
Indeed, it is evident that “whatever was written before,” throughout the Hebrew scriptures, is representative of God’s ways with ourselves, insofar as His direction and control of human affairs is concerned. If this were not the case, those things could hardly have been “written for this teaching of ours,” and it could never be “that through the endurance and the consolation of the scriptures, we may have expectation” (Rom.15:4).
It is consolation and a source of joyful expectation to realize that man today is no more the master of his fate and captain of his soul than were his ancestors before him. For “the Supreme is in authority in the kingdom of mortals” (Dan.4:17), and “according to His will is He doing” (Dan.4:35). Were it otherwise the Scriptures could never help us to endure; they would not console us, and could never afford us expectation out of our own failures and sufferings.
It is significant that the best-known Bible stories, such as Joseph and his brothers and the terrible troubles of Job, focus directly on the work of divine providence. The explicit testimony of God’s Word is that He is operating all.
According to the apostle’s rhetorical question—since no one at any time already knew the mind of the Lord, or became His adviser, informing Him of things of which He as yet had not been aware, or were in need of repayment inasmuch as they had given Him something first—this is why the riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God are so deep, His judgments inscrutable, His ways untraceable. Again, none knew His mind, advised Him, or gave anything to Him first, seeing that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen! (Rom.11:36).
It is clear, then, that in this passage the thought is, all that is, and all that happens, is out of, through, and for God. The words “the all,” in any text, refer to all that is in view, all that is comprised in the subject at hand, or true in the nature of the case. Therefore, by means of the illuminating rhetoric which Paul employs in this marvelous passage, he clearly manifests the universal scope of that which brings glory to God for the eons.
That these words are used in a limited way in certain other passages (e.g., Col.3:8), is quite irrelevant. The question is: What is the scope of “the all” in Romans 11:36?
Outside of God Himself (cp “it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him . . . ”; 1 Cor.15:27), there is no exception to this “all” of Romans 11:36, nor can there be. For if just once, even concerning a trivial matter, someone had already known His mind when He as yet had not informed him, or if at any time someone had advised Him of something of which He had hitherto been ignorant, or had given something to Him first that He had not already dispensed, then indeed some things would not be out of God. But since Paul’s whole point is that such an idea could never be true, we can be sure that all is used universally in this passage.
FOREKNOWLEDGE AND PROPHECY
Since all that exists and all that occurs is out of, through, and for God, it is evident that God knows all. He could hardly be ignorant concerning anything that found its origin, ultimate cause, and purpose in His own counsels. Future events are as much an object of God’s knowledge as past events. Therefore, the Scriptures having explicitly declared that He does know all (1 John 3:20), there is no sound reason to suppose that anything is excluded.
What God foretells He first of all foreknows, and it is evident He foreknows only that which He will bring to pass Himself. He can hardly rely upon man to help Him out! He fulfills His own word. Surely He has a perfect knowledge of all the great number of prophetic events recorded in the Scriptures, though these events should be ever so complex in themselves, and connected with innumerable other events of equal complexity before and after them.
Prophecy always declares that the events foretold shall come to pass, often insisting that they must occur (e.g., Luke 24:46; Rev.1:1). Though the prophetic word in itself does not cause events to happen, this fact is very far from being of any aid to the concept of free will.
The sheer existence of prophecy constitutes absolute proof that the events it predicts will be caused to happen. For events without a cause would be unpredictable, and our subject is predictive prophecy. Events which shall and must take place can never be events of free will. Events of free will, according to their supposed nature, never have to occur, and it can never be said that one day they will happen, for there is always a “chance” they will not! In the nature of things, they would be absolutely unpredictable, even by God Himself.
By itself, therefore, prophecy constitutes a complete disproof of the theory of human free will. Furthermore, all prophetic events are connected with countless other events upon which they depend for their existence. And these events as well are themselves dependent upon countless antecedent events for their own existence, and so forth. This is true of all things, throughout all time, “up to the fountain, God,” Who alone is self-existent.
To say that the foreknowledge of an event is certain and infallible and yet the foreknown event itself is quite uncertain and may therefore never occur, is completely unsound. For if the event that is foreknown to occur does not occur, the foreknowledge is not foreknowledge.
In order for an event to be known, there must be evidence of that which is to be known. But if any future event should truly be an unnecessary event, that is, one that does not have to occur, the future existence of that event would be absolutely without any evidence whatsoever. It could not be, and therefore would not be, an object of knowledge. The event would not be evident, and so could not be seen to be evident or to say the same thing, it could not be known. One who has infinite strength of sight and infinite capacity of discernment will be able to see all that there is and all that, in fact, will be, quite perfectly indeed. Yet such abilities will not enable anyone to observe evidence which does not exist. To the contrary, they will enable the one who has such abilities to discern with absolute certainty that there is no evidence whatever of any and all unnecessary events.
To claim that things which God knows will occur may not occur, is contradictory. To say, as some have claimed, that He may have ways of knowing of unnecessary events even though we cannot conceive of such things, or at the same time that God knows a thing to be certain, He also knows it to be uncertain, is as foolish as to say that, for all we know, God may know contradictions to be true.*
It is impossible for anything to occur that would disprove God’s foreknowledge, and thus make it fore-error. His foreknowledge must be correct; it is not enough that it simply turn out that way. At the moment it is subjected even to possible failure, it no longer has to be true. And at the moment in which it no longer has to be true, (1) it is then possible that it may become false, and (2) it then becomes quite uncertain that it is correct; that is, any convictions of it which may yet be entertained, become fallible opinion, and they are no longer knowledge.
Consequently, then, it is impossible that something even could occur which would prove God’s foreknowledge mistaken. No man at any time can even possibly do a single thing that, if done, would disprove His foreknowledge. And divine omniscience would indeed be subjected to possible failure in the instant that it became possible for man to act contrary to it. Yet, as we have shown, this would make it contradictory to itself, and therefore nonexistent.
No clear mind can understand the nature of both free will and foreknowledge and believe in them both. The whole subject is really quite simple: According to the fundamental claims of its own advocates, events of “free will” never have to occur. And yet, foreknown and prophesied events always have to occur. These concepts are mutually exclusive. The latter one is scriptural; consequently, the former must be mythical. And men have been turned aside to myths (2 Tim.4:4). “As to the faith, they swerve” (1 Tim.6:21). Yet we are not to be heeding myths (1 Tim.1:4).
DESIGNATION BEFOREHAND AND “PREDESTINATION”
In the Authorized Version, proorizo is translated predestinate,” as well as “ordain” and “determine before.” The Concordant Version translates it uniformly as “designate beforehand.” This is its sense; it simply speaks of what is designated or specified (cf Acts 11:29). Man often fails to accomplish his plans, the things he designates to accomplish. But God’s plans, the things He designates to occur in His own wise counsels, always come to pass, for it is He Who fulfills them all (Isa.46:9-11).
In the Scriptures, the expression “designate beforehand” is only used in reference to a few subjects, all of them of great consequence. Yet it should never be inferred from this that these are the only things God designates beforehand. For God’s counsels are concerned with all (Eph.1:11). Concerning matters yet to occur, His “counsels” speak of His plans—those things which, in the nature of the case, He has designated to accomplish. The issues involved in this great question cannot be resolved by merely noting that only a few matters are directly spoken of as being designated beforehand. This is especially so when even these are not truly accepted as the work of God (e.g., Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27,28).
The question is this: Does God operate all (Eph.1:11)? or, absolutely speaking, Is there any other God (or Placer) except One, “the Father, out of Whom all is” (1 Cor.8:4-6)?
Along with the expression the “sovereignty” of God, “predestination” has been the traditional expression which has been employed by many in order to express their belief (or disbelief) in God’s deity or subjectorship, His regulation of man’s actions.
Certainly, we ought to believe that it is the Deity Who regulates man’s actions, for the scripture declares, “By Him, actions are regulated” (1 Sam.2:3). This is also true concerning man’s “spirit” and “heart” (Prov.16:2; 21:2), “from [which] spring the outflowings (“issues,” AV) of life” (Prov.4: 23). Indeed, “Yahweh has made everything for its own pertinent end, Yea even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov.16: 4). “I know, Yahweh, that not to a human is his way, Not to a man who is going is it also to prepare his march” (Jer.10:23). For it is our God Who directs our steps (Prov.16:9).
As Benjamin Warfield wrote, “Our difficulties with Predestination arise from a, no doubt not unnatural, unwillingness to acknowledge ourselves to be wholly at the disposal of Another. We wish to be at our own disposal. We wish ‘to belong to ourselves,’ and we resent belonging, especially absolutely, to anybody else, even if that anybody else be God. We are in the mood of the singer of the hymn beginning, ‘I was a wandering sheep,’ when he declares of himself, ‘I would not be controlled.’ We will not be controlled. Or, rather, to speak more accurately, we will not admit that we are controlled.
“I say that it is more accurate to say that we will not admit that we are controlled. For we are controlled, whether we admit it or not. To imagine we are not controlled is to imagine there is no God [no Placer]. For when we say God, we say control. If a single creature which God has made has escaped beyond His control, at the moment he has done so he has abolished God. A God who could or would make a creature whom he could not or would not control, is no God. The moment he should make such a creature he would, of course, abdicate his throne. The universe he had created would have ceased to be his universe; or rather it would cease to exist—for the universe is held together only by the control of God. . . .
“The only justification, for making anything is that we both can and will control it. If a man should manufacture a quantity of an unstable high-explosive in the corridors of an orphan asylum, and when the stuff went off should seek to excuse himself by saying that he could not control it, no one would count his excuse valid. What right had he to manufacture it, we should say, unless he could control it?
“It is purely this idea of control which people object to when they say they object to Predestination [or, the deity of God]; not the idea of previousness, but purely the idea of control. They would object just as much if the control was supposed to be exercised without any previous intention at all.
“They ought to object much more. For a control exercised without intention would be a blind control. It would have no end in view to justify it; it would have no meaning; it would be sheerly irrational, immoral, and maddening. That is what we call Fate. Say intention, however, and we say person; and when we say person we say purpose.”*
UNIVERSAL GRACE AND GLORY
Since God is so marvelously wise, the end which He has purposed will be a wise end; since He is good, it will be good; since He is love, it will be full of love; since He is just, it will be right.
He can never become All in any who remain all in themselves. Yet to become All in all is His very purpose. Therefore, He sees to it that all moves toward this goal, the fulfillment of His purpose, to become, “All in all” (1 Cor.15:28). Whatever occurs has a place to fill toward this end. Thus significance, justification, and purpose are given to all; there are no purposeless events in all the universe at any time. This is our theodicy; only thus can we harmonize and vindicate even the temporary existence of evil with the goodness and deity of God.
Interminable evil simply cannot be. Indeed, it is not the justice of God that requires an “eternal hell “, but the myths of man. It is God’s good news that reveals His righteousness (Rom.1:17; 3:21); horrible predictions about everlasting burnings can never make it known. And the good news is, since all are in need (“for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God”; Rom.3:23), that “being justified gratuitously in His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus” is “for all” (Rom.3:22,24)!
Then through these considerations too, besides the other plain passages of glad tidings for all, it becomes evident that the doctrine of endless punishment, even as that of unpurposed eonian evil, is perfectly false, and is impossible to reconcile with the divine attributes.
It is for these reasons, in light of these scriptural considerations, that we believe as we do. In the Scriptures, human affairs are not left to chance but are to be accounted for on causal grounds. Indeed nothing whatsoever can be accounted for except on this basis. And since divine causality is what the Scriptures reveal concerning all, we need not apologize for the Word of God, or for our faith in its testimony. Instead, it is in a recognition of these things that we glory in God and in His Son.
May we ascribe all the glory to God for all our achievements, and with much thanksgiving, being aware that He is doing all things well, “the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will” (Eph.1:11).
*1 Portions of the preceding two paragraphs were adapted from FREEDOM OF THE WILL, Jonathan Edwards, pp. 74-76: Robert Carter and Brothers (1881)
*2 SELECTED SHORTER WRITINGS, Volume 1, “Some Thoughts on Predestination,” pp.103-106: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. (1970)
This publication may be reproduced for personal use
(all other rights reserved by copyright holder).