63, Traquair Park West,
EDINBURGH 12, Scotland.
Dear Brother Larsen:
Although it may not be directly provable from Scripture, your view that while God controls every detail of men's lives, He has not pre-determined every detail, or fixed it rigidly, has my entire support. I rejoice that you have written so forcibly and so clearly. Long have I waited for someone to do so. You may recollect that I, put forth similar opinions in a pamphlet ("Light and Heat") in 1941. But the majority of our friends have had their intelligence darkened by false teaching on certain very elementary themes. I trust, therefore, that you will have patience while I set forth in some detail what the Scriptures have taught me concerning these very important matters.
The root of all the mischief is contained chiefly in an article which appeared as far back as December, 1913, in the magazine "Unsearchable Riches," entitled "Free Moral Agency." It is not stated who was the author. To a superficial reader, the article appears to be unimpeachable. Passages are quoted from the Authorized Version of Proverbs and Psalms to "prove" that all the steps of mankind have been pre-arranged and devised by God. No doubt the A. V. text was utilized because at that time there was no Concordant Version. But the extraordinary thing is that no effort appears then to have been made to correct certain very evident errors in the A. V., errors which are vital in this discussion. What is also very extraordinary is that after the lapse of thirty-three years, there does not appear to have been any effort made to correct the errors of this article, which has long been issued as a pamphlet, and is still being issued. Once these errors are removed, it will be seen that the Scriptures leave plenty of room for a far grander theory and view namely, that which you have put forward, and the blighting curse of fatalism is removed.
This article makes much of Psalm 37:23, "The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord." It is shown that the word good is not in the original, and that the passage is general, not particular. The reasoning, for reasoning it is, is that the steps of ALL men are ordered of Jehovah, although this is exactly what is not stated. That the verse could quite well mean that when the particular man's steps are prepared or ordered, it is from Jehovah, has not even been taken into account.
But the tragic blunder is that the Hebrew word for "man" does not appear in the verse at all. The writer has probably been so dazzled by the significant fact that the Hebrew word for good is not found in the original that he has not taken the trouble to read what term the Hebrew has for "man." The words Adam (human being) and Aish (man) are not used. Instead we find Geber. As verb or noun this root occurs about 350 times in the O. T. Dr. Bullinger's Companion Bible marks every occurrence and shews in his Appendix No. 14 how it should be distinguished from other words rendered by "man." This term signifies a STRONG MAN, and so the Oxford Hebrew Lexicon rightly renders. It is therefore evident that the expression does NOT refer to all men, as all men are certainly not strong men. The verb is used of the flood waters which "prevailed exceedingly" (Gen. 7: 19); of Israel and Amalek who "prevailed" (Ex.17:11); "His merciful kindness is great" (Ps. 117:2); "they were stronger than lions" (II Sam. 1:23); he shall confirm the covenant" (Dan. 9:27). The noun is used of the "mighty men" of Gen. 6:4; of Nimrod, "the mighty hunter" (10:9); "the mighty men of valour" (Jos: 1:14,and freq.); "how are the mighty fallen!" (II Sam. 1); "all the mighty men of wealth" (II Kings 15:20); "the four chief porters" (I Chron. 9:26); "men of war" (II Chron. 13:3); "let the weak say, I am strong" (Joel 3:10); "a poor man that oppresseth the poor" (Prov. 28:3; literally, "a strong one destitute and extorting from poor ones.").
The term appears to mean anyone who is in some way strong, or predominant, prominent, superior, or masterful. He is better than others in some way. There is therefore some small excuse for the A. V. inserting the word good. Such a man is not outstanding on account of his morality, but for his strength or position. He does not appear to represent any class in our modern society, and this is the reason why versions have not rendered the terms exactly. There is an urgent need of an exhaustive study of these special Hebrew terms.
Rotherham renders at Ps. 37:23 thus:—"From Yahweh are the steps of a man made firm, When with his way he is well pleased." This shows what a different construction can be placed on the verse, provided the word geber is properly rendered.
Another important text which has been grossly misrendered to bolster up this most mischievous doctrine is Provo 20:24:—"Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?" What the Hebrew states is, "From Jehovah the step makings of a STRONG ONE; and a human being — how will he understand his way?" Here again, not a word is said about ALL MEN, or about all the steps. And the likelihood is that the writer of the Proverbs was describing, in particular, his own experiences. Compare another verse upon which our false teaching is based, Prov. 16:9:—"A man's heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps." Literally, this is, "Heart of human is devising his way, and Jehovah is preparing his step." Here again the words "all" or "always" are not found. The whole chapter, like the whole book of Proverbs, is specially applicable to and to be understood by the righteous and wise ones.
Jer. 10:23 is also made use of. Closely rendered it has, "I know, Jehovah, that not for a human being is his way; not for a man to go and to direct his step." The prophet had found this out by bitter experience. It is quite true that men cannot direct their steps always, and I do not think the man can be found who would claim to do so invariably. But to reason that because men cannot direct their steps, these are always directed by Jehovah, is to create a positive assertion from a negative basis. That God can direct anyone on occasion cannot be denied. Certain evil events in the O. T. are explicitly stated to have been "from Jehovah." But is that sufficient reason for claiming that everything comes directly from Him?
That God has prepared good works beforehand for the saints to walk in is undeniable (Eph. 2:10). That all the saints are walking in good works is not so certain. I think we are all acquainted with saints who are walking in some evil ways and works. But to liken this verse, as having reference to the saints, to verses in the O. T. which are alleged to refer to all men, as the article "Free Moral Agency" does, is to travesty Scripture altogether. In the Psalms and the Proverbs there are continual instructions and inducements to the righteous and the "kindly ones" (chasidim; A. V. "saints") to carry on with good works, into which Jehovah directs them. It is the steps of these people that are constantly said to be in Jehovah's hands. The feet of some were set in slippery. places (Ps. 73:18). Their steps were not established. All through Ps. 78:9-66 the steps of the rebellious people described were everything but established. The same applies to those mentioned in Rom. 3:12-16. There were some described in Ps. 125:5 who "turn aside unto their crooked ways, "whom Jehovah would lead forth with the workers of iniquity." Says David in Ps. 139:3 "Thou winnowest my path and makest to benefit all my ways," but can we say the wonderful knowledge shown by Jehovah and His attention was just as much for the "wicked" of verse 19? Did David petition (Ps. 140:4) to be kept from the wicked and violent man—that very man whose steps Jehovah had established? It is the meek whom Jehovah will guide in judgment (Ps. 25:9), while "All the paths of Jehovah are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies" (v. 10). It is the man who deeply respects (fears) Jehovah whom He will "teach in the way that He shall choose" (v. 12). It is the man who rolls his works unto Jehovah whose thoughts (i.e. devices or plans) will be established (not the lawless one; Prov. 16:3). It is the foolishness of man that perverts his way not the leading of Jehovah (Prov. 19:9). A child should be trained up in the way he should go (Prov. 22:6); it is not enough to "leave him to God" in a spirit of resignation or indifference. "So Jotham became mighty" (II Chron. 27:6). Why? Because the steps of all men are established by God? Not at all; but "because HE prepared HIS ways before Jehovah his God." "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:6). The one follows upon the other. This statement would be meaningless if the ungodly, who does not acknowledge Jehovah, received the same guidance as he who seeks Jehovah's face. Surely such verses teach very plainly that direction or guidance is contingent upon acknowledgment of God. And do not we, God's people, in experience find that this is true?
The article "The Problem of Evil" refers to the "oft repeated statement" that "All things are of God." But in the five verses cited it will be found that the "all things" are always limited. And in the 1933 volume of "Unsearchable Riches" it is maintained that the word "all" in such passages is "never absolute." It will be observed that in the 1944 Concordant Version the expression "the universe" appears to have dropped out. The reason for this we know not, but such an expression savours more of exegesis than translation. God can easily be operating the all things in accord with the plan of His will, without actively directing every step of every being of every kind. When a King rules or controls a country he does this in a general way only, leaving the administrative function to his servants and officials. A King or a President might step in on occasion when things were getting out of hand. But he never plans every step of everyone of his subjects.
It would be a distinct improvement could the Greek term boule, in its dozen occurrences, be rendered by "plan." This would suit every verse beautifully an would make sense where the "counsel of His will" is hardly intelligible. The verb is rendered "plan" at times. We were marked out before and according to a purpose of Him operating certain all things in accord with the PLAN of His will. God can operate His plan and control everything, without actively directing the steps and moves of all people. He can operate these "all things," whatever they are, and yet at the same time leave men a certain amount of liberty to choose their own ways.
That the steps of all men are NOT directed by God is clearly shown by James 4:15. Hebrew believers were not to ignore the Lord's wishes, but were to be doing this or that "should the Lord be willing." Suppose they proceeded to a certain town to trade or spend some time, without seeking to know the Lord's will or asking His guidance, would they not be acting contrary to God's will? To reason that God's intention or plan was that they should be disobedient and ignore His will would be to make revelation far too sophisticated for the ordinary simple believer. God does not publish His own will with the intention that His own children disobey it.
I shall now cite the very painful case of a Christian brother who was formerly a strong supporter of the teaching found in the article "The Problem of Evil," and who wrote a number of brief articles for the magazine "Unsearchable Riches" a few years ago. I shall call him Mr. Captive, as he has become, unfortunately, Satan's bondman. This is what he wrote me some time ago, "About two years ago I discarded Unsearchable Riches, The Bible, and all other religions built exclusively upon mythology. Jehovah to me does not exist, except as an old Jewish Idol God, more cruel and forceful than the many other gods of that time. I once worshipped your God of love, but when my eyes were opened, my brains were tested, I saw one who was just a myth, one who drowned a world, burnt a city, covered a poor man with boils, crucified his own and only son. I used my reason. . . I studied the origin of all these religions, and saw exactly where I was off the rails. . . I would like to turn your mind toward Reason, Logic, and Facts, three items seldom found in your so-called Sacred Scriptures. . . "
If we can aver that this poor man has been directed into such frightful steps simply because this is God's sovereign will, this man who was well taught in the Scriptures and stout in defending them at one time, would it not be true that such a calamity might possibly fall upon anyone of us at any time? James declares very clearly (1:13) that God is not triable (apeirastos) by evil things, yet HIMSELF is trying no one. But each one is being tried when, by his own desire, he is being drawn away and being lured. Thereafter, the desire, conceiving, is bringing forth sin. Poor Mr. Captive has been lured by sins of some kind, not lured away by our God. It is not God that has started him off on this slippery path, but his own desires. If God's published Word and Will are not sufficient to convince him now, what else can God do but leave him to his own choice and ways?
Some are seeking to maintain that God does not merely permit evils to overtake human beings, but that He actively and directly imposes evils upon men and leads them into evils. But we may not overlook words in the N. T. which have a meaning equivalent to "permit." What about the verb eaO? "God, who makes the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them; who in the bygone generations LEAVES (eiasen; aorist) all the Nations to be going (on) in their ways, although He leaves (another verb, aphEken) Himself not without testimony, doing good acts, giving showers from heaven and fruitful seasons" (Acts 14:16-17). This verb is defined as "permit without interference." The A. V. generally renders by "suffer." That God left or permitted the Nations to go in their own ways is not to be disputed, and it is quite as clear that He is still permitting them to proceed along the same lines. The fact that He gives harvests shews the direction in which He does not neglect them. "The times indeed, then, of that (great) ignorance condoning (or overlooking) God, as to the present is charging men—(that) all everywhere be changing their mind." (Acts 17:30). Yet in spite of this solemn charge, can we say that the great bulk of mankind does not continue to go on in its own ways? Paul hoped the Lord would "permit" certain things (I Cor. 16:7) and the writer to the Hebrews hoped likewise (6:3). Here the word is epitrepo. The Lord had to tolerate or bear with a faithless and perverted generation, according to Matt. 17:17 and Luke 9:41, where the verb is anechomai. God still suffers or tolerates a world that is strangely indifferent to His very existence.
It is quite true that the Scriptures never teach that God did "permit" evil to enter the universe. But it is just as true that never in the Scriptures is there the slightest reference to any Problem of Evil. That there is a mystery regarding the origin of Evil is beyond dispute. Never once, however, does any writer of the Scriptures allude to any mystery, or shew any inclination to probe the matter. The Lord Himself was silent on this weighty point. Paul reasoned out various other important matters, but is also silent regarding evil. But there are not lacking human beings who think themselves clever enough to spin from isolated verses some sort of a theory to account for the presence of evil. Have you ever observed that the passages or verses used are woven together, and are forced to mean far more than they necessarily state? There are Secrets that God has been pleased to reveal to men, and we can delight in these. But at the same time there are things which God has not revealed, secret things which belong to Jehovah our God. Let us avoid all possibility of acting towards our God with any shadow of irreverence.
Paul presents us with a clear and well reasoned out treatise on Sin and Righteousness. Theories regarding Evil, however, are one and all based upon scattered verses, which may or may not be germane to the subject. Upon Isaiah 45:7 an immense superstructure has been reared. "I One-creating evil" has been made to mean "I create ALL evil" (and no one else does so). Human beings too can create (I Peter 2:13). Human beings undoubtedly are creators of many evil things and evil desires. The LXX at Isa. 45:7 reads "creating evils" (ktizon kaka). There is in this chapter no further allusion to the contents of verse 7. Isaiah had a splendid opportunity to clear up certain mysteries which bother modern man, but he avoids the matter completely.
Another verse which may require a little elucidation is I John 3:8, literally, "he who (is) doing (the) sin out of the slanderer (or adversary) is, seeing that from beginning the slanderer is sinning." Now are we quite in order in inferring that the beginning referred to is that of Satan? What a pity John had not inspected the word "his" (autou) after "beginning." And precisely what is the connection between the two clauses, joined by "seeing that"? Why should the sin-doer be out of the Devil, because of the fact that it was from his beginning that the Devil sinned? Is there any logical connection? Some commentators have stated it this way, that sin-doers are of the Devil, for the reason that from their own beginning as human beings the devil is sinning.
There are many points upon which our curiosity is not satisfied. Some things are simply not our business. The present age is notably one in which people will not brook ignorance. Experts we must have upon every matter.
The current theory regarding the Eons is largely based upon sheer guesswork. No one yet can present a logical explanation of Heb. 9:26 or Heb. 1:8 (for the eon of the eon). The same serious flaw which we found and condemned in other sects we encounter here: the guess becomes "the truth."
That God can and does forsake or leave alone individuals and whole nations is amply proved from the word azab (ozb) in the O. T. God left Hezekiah alone, to try him, that He might know all in his heart (II Chron. 32:31). "Then... I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them." (Deut. 31:17). "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Psalm 22:1). "For Jehovah. . . . forsaketh not His saints" (Psalm 37:28). That the word means "leave alone" rather than "forsake" is shown at Judges 2:21, which should read, "the nations which Joshua left alone when he died." "I have forsaken Mine house, I have left Mine heritage" (Jer. 12:7). "Thou wilt not leave My soul in the unseen" (Psalm 16:10). "Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken" (Psalm 37:25).
The meaning of this word is destroyed if it is true that all the time God is actively directing the steps of those whom He leaves alone or forsakes.
"Wherefore God gives them up (paredoken), in the lusts of their hearts, unto uncleanness, that is (tou), to be dishonoring their bodies among themselves, those who alter the truth of God in what is falsehood" (Rom. 1 :24-25, and cf. verses 26 and 28). "Now God turns and gives them up (paredoken) to be offering divine service to the host of heaven" (Acts 7:42). "Those who, having become past feeling, give THEMSELVES up (paredoken) to wantonness, unto all unclean action, in greed" (Eph. 4:19).
There is all the difference in the world between God, the thrice holy One, positively directing human beings into such foul steps, and merely leaving them to their own choice. But some minds cannot perceive the difference.
Another passage which has probably been wrongly understood by many is Acts 15:17-18, which in the A. V. reads thus: ". . . . saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." This statement does not appear to have any direct connection with what precedes or follows. The C. V. follows the reading of Codex Alexandrinus, "The Lord is saying, 'Who is doing these things.' Known to the Lord is His work from the eon." The Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus read "Doing these things known from eon." The 1944 C. V. slightly alters to ". . . Known from the eon to the Lord is His work." Cunnington reads, "Saith the Lord, doing these things which were known from of old." Rotherham (1st edition, 1872) has, ". . . says the Lord who does these things—known from antiquity." I should incline to the- reading of the R. v., "Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from the beginning of the world," provided we put it this way, "Who maketh these things knowable (or to be known, so that they can be known; gnosta), from obscurity."
Wherefore, continues James, seeing that God has made these things known or to be known from obscurity, that the Nations should seek the Lord, my decision is that the Gentiles should not now be harassed if they seek Him.
The A. V. and the C. V. have preferred a conflate reading, which does not clear up the sense. Doubtless what the Lord does is and must be known to Him. But we do not require to assume or infer that He had every detail "cut and dried" from obscurity.
Would not our God seem far more wonderful if He could at any time cope, and cope successfully, with any and every situation which might arise, during the reign of Sin and Evil? He declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), and has revealed the main out, lines of great things to come. But what is never stated is that all the intermediate steps have been rigidly planned out. Strictly, the original Scriptures never present God as the Almighty. The Greek term pantokrator means, all-controller, all-wielder, like the beautiful Old English Al-wealdened. As you affirm, God controls everything. But we are under no necessity to believe that He has planned every wink or sneeze or yawn, every chew or bite or breath. Must we believe that every foul utterance of man, every unclean thought or act, every murderous intent, is directly instigated by God? That such teaching is very much out of harmony with what the Bible says is proved by the fact that this abominable teaching leaves no room for the grand Greek word proskarterEsis, well rendered by "perseverance," and its verb. Now any system of teaching which does not leave room, and ample room, for the exercise and for the efficacy of prevailing prayer, through perseverance, must be rigidly ruled out as erroneous. It will be very difficult to find, among the ranks of the Concordant people, many who have any experience of true perseverance in supplication before God. They try to maintain that they do really believe in prayer, but this term bewilders them. This alone ought to be sufficient to prove that their teaching is wrong and sadly deficient. You were very right to state that "these fatalistic notions are a curse in the Reconciliation movement." The Devil has seen to it that much fine teaching has been spoilt by foul weeds getting into the good soil.
If it is our God Himself who enjoins upon us perseverance in petitions before Him "on every occasion" (see Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; and Col. 4:2), surely He must have made provision for the results. Surely He must be amenable to strong petitioning, to that holy boldness and freedom of speech (parrhEsia). But if God has planned out every step of our lives, and the lives of all mankind, there is not, and cannot be, any need for perseverance.
O the folly of concentrating upon the knowledge of God's ways and purposes, and neglecting the experimental daily knowledge of God! It is of those who take the trouble to seek Him out that He becomes rewarder. Far too many students are setting mere knowledge above the acquisition of true wisdom.
To many devout people it appears to be humiliating to find that God is One capable of changing His mind. Surely this is very different from saying that His essence remains the same, as spirit, while His nature does not alter. No doubt while on earth the Lord had the same freedom to change His mind that others had. Why should not God, in whose image we are made, change His mind? To do so, shews Him not as a weakling, but as extremely human. Has not God revealed Himself as human, in a Human Being? He is not far from anyone of us. Indeed, He is very close to Humanity. The human race is His kindred.
Has it come to be a humiliation to believe what God has revealed concerning Himself? If it is God Himself who tells us that He can "repent" or rather "change His mind," let us believe Him, in simple trust. To speak of God repenting is not very suitable, as this word has taken on a theological nuance connected generally with sins. It is much better to render both the Greek metanoeO and the Hebrew equivalent nacham by "change the mind" or "change the attitude." To render the Hebrew word by both repent and console is to destroy concordance. These words are not interchangeable. But we can bridge the gulf by saying "change the mind" or "change the attitude" or "change the outlook." It is just here that it requires a major operation to get the student of Scriptures to comprehend that terms utilized by God have only one inherent meaning. Was the divine vocabulary so meagre that God could not find different terms for different ideas? Is it the same thing to exhibit repentance as to exhibit consolation? Jehovah was not by any means consoled because He had made man' kind. "It repenteth me that I have made them." (Gen. 6:7), or rather, "I change My mind that I have made them." Not only so, but He suffered grief. We must not seek to get rid of such expressions by calling them examples of the figure Anthropopatheia, or Condescension, as though God were only artificially simulating human feelings. Did God suffer no grief when His Son was slain? It is quite misleading in Acts 26:23 to read "that Christ should suffer," or "if it be the suffering Christ" (C. V). The word used is pathEtos, which means "capable of suffering." That was the kind of Messiah the prophets and Moses foretold, but far from the kind of Messiah the Jews expected. And in His suffering, did not the Son mirror the Father?
Jehovah changed His mind about setting up Saul as king (I Sam. 15:11). God changed His mind about the evil He had said would bring upon Nineveh (Jonah 3:10) after He had plainly revealed that the city would be destroyed in forty days. The O. T. knows nothing about any distinction between God's revealed will and His hidden intention. The people of Nineveh "believed God," and did not look upon His threat as a trick. When they turned from their evil way, God was quite justified in changing His mind and sparing them. Other cases of God "repenting" or changing His mind are to be found at Ex. 32:14, Jer. 18:8, 10, 20:16, 42:10, Ps. 110:4, 135:14. In the Piel or Fiol conjugation, the word is generally rendered in the A. V. by "comfort." This makes perfectly good sense, but it must be understood as a state of mind produced through a change being made. "And David comforted Bath-sheba his wife" (II Sam. 12:24). That is to say, he induced her to change her mind or attitude. All Jacob's sons and daughters rose up to comfort him when Joseph was missing, but he refused to be comforted (Gen. 37:35). They failed to get him to change his mind about Joseph. "For Jehovah shall comfort Zion" (Isa. 51:3), but He will do so by changing their mind, with regard to Himself, to their evil past, and to their evil state. This is something more than mere comfort. It means an entire new out look. He will even comfort all her waste places. That is, even their outlook will be changed.
As then, the Scriptures clearly reveal that God can and does change His mind, we come to just where He has left room for His people to supplicate Him with perseverance. We realize that many steps in our lives are not rigidly fixed and pre-determined. As you say, "God permits us to live on a low spiritual plane, if we want to be there." God leaves it to us whether we shall serve and honour Him, or whether we shall drift and quench His spirit. That we are enjoined not to be quenching the spirit (I Thess. 5:19) implies that we can quench His spirit. And have we never done this in our lives? Nor are we to be sorrowing the spirit, the holy (spirit) of God in which we are sealed unto deliverance day (Eph. 4:30). Are there not also certain things which can hinder our prayers? Can it be our God who sends these hindrances? The leader of an Irish sect of Brethren which tended much to mysticism ended his days greatly respected by his followers, but unknown to most of them, practicing some of the unmentionable vices of the flesh alluded to in Rom. 1:27. Could it ever be the will, or the intention of our God, that these things should be so? Assuredly not! God's will and intention for His saints is plainly stated in Rom. 12:2, "but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for you to be testing what is the will of God, (namely) that which is good and well able to please (euareston) and mature." The will of God cannot consist of anything tainted by evil. That many do not obey verses 1 and 2 is clear to all. How can we test what is God's' will (that which is good, etc.) if everything that happens is His will, including much that is evil?
Observe on how many occasions the apostle Paul shews himself as dependent on the prayers of the saints. Earnestly does he entreat the brethren (Rom. 15:30-32) to struggle together with Him in the prayers to God that he should be rescued from the unyielding ones in Judea, that his dispensation which was unto Jerusalem might be well received, that he might come to the Romans with joy through God's will, and be resting with them. In other words, they were to beseech God that He might make these things His will for Paul. Had Paul been a rank fatalist like almost every member of the concordant or reconciliation sect, he would never have troubled the Roman saints with this "struggling." Victorious prevailing supplication has now-a-days gone almost completely out of fashion. Paul's instructions are being disobeyed with impunity, and no one seems to care. Who is there to fulfill his words in Eph. 6:18-20? Where is there the vigilance and perseverance concerning all the saints? Where is there the supplication that others may speak the truth with boldness? How often do we encounter an Epaphras, always struggling for the saints in the prayers, that they may stand mature and fully assured in everything willed of God (Col. 4:12)? Why, can God not attain this end apart from the prayers of the saints? It would seem that He relies on these prayers for this purpose. See also verses 2-4 of the same chapter, and I Thess. 5:25.
That the instructions given in I Tim. 2:1-2 have simply been shunned for centuries is notorious. Are they ever obeyed in gatherings of believers who reckon themselves as "advanced"? It is left to worldly Churches to give some kind of obedience to Paul's directions. How can our poor prayers have the effect of permitting our lives to be mild and quiet? Yet Paul puts these instructions "first of all." Very evidently Paul firmly believed that "Prayer Changes Things."
Not upon some vague "will of God"—rigidly predetermined from ancient eons, did Paul depend so that he might be granted to Philemon's home, but he relied on the prayers on those who lived there. (Phm. 22).
All this means that our prayers have a great deal to do with what is to happen. Things non-essential to God's fixed plans can be moulded into God's will through our supplications. Spiritually, we are seated. with Christ in the heavenly places. Should we be enduring, we shall be reigning with Him in the coming eons. With such a high destiny, why should not we, who are family-members of God, (Eph. 2:19) even in some small measure be used to co-operate with God in forging and formulating some of those minor links which are not directly the subject of prophecy? If, both naturally and spiritually, "in Him we live and move and have our being," why should the Ideal of all perfect Fatherhood not make! some of the humble petitions of His own children His will? Any good human father would do as much, and gladly.
The very fact that God tells us to supplicate Him is proof that He requires our petitions and depends upon them. In this there is unlimited scope for everyone of us, provided we cast aside the ensnaring coils of fatalism.
One would think, that if God were the only agent in bringing about spiritual blessing in revivals and periods of special illumination, He would scatter these rays equally over all countries. But the plain fact,is that it is men and women mainly in or from Nordic lands who are at the root of these movements. Very largely, God has left it to the members of His Church to carry-on this, work, through the power inherent in His word.
We could all, each one of us, accomplish one hundred times more than we are doing. It is according to the power working in us that He is able to do excessively above all that we are requesting or apprehending (Eph. 3:20). But who believes that statement? Fatalism is Satan's choice weapon to destroy that power.
That God does not operate His universe to the last trivial detail is very well illustrated by the divine Law of Marriage. "What God yokes together, let not MAN be separating" (Matt. 19:6) is the divine principle. In what way, however, does God effect the yoking, and to what extent? One would think that if God directly chose each yoke pair, He would choose ideal partners. This no doubt does happen occasionally, but in general it certainly does not. That God, as a faithful Creator, would grant to His own people suitable mates is not denied, provided He is earnestly approached in prayer. But we must admit, and the fact is undeniable, that the great mass of human marriages is nothing more or less than the working out of the natural law of human selection, almost entirely upon a fleshly basis. God has set this general law in operation, just as He has set all other natural, laws in operation. These laws He keeps in control, yet leaves them to carry-on in accord with nature. The Lord had just been saying, "the two shall be for one flesh." God views man and wife as one flesh, not two. The yoking is, therefore, not necessarily spiritual. Even upon the creation of Woman, although Jehovah God found for Adam "a helper as his counterpart or complement" (Gen. 2:18,20), Adam exclaims, "This time it is bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh." (Verse 23). This union must have been ideal, as God did act directly in this one case.
Amid all God's natural laws, evil is operating. Nature brings about famines, storms, plagues, want, distress, and so on. But can we aver that God plans that any specific human being must fall into any specific evil? Is it not more like the facts that God leaves evil and nature to carry on their operations, according to natural laws? True, on special occasions, God can and does intervene to bring a certain evil upon a certain person or nation. Even the "showers and fruitful seasons" (Act 14:17) are subject to nature's law, as sometimes some nations do not enjoy these. Yet on occasion, God can certainly "go out of His way" to feed an individual who is starving.
In marriage, flesh draws to flesh; there is more or less of mutual attraction, sometimes no doubt partly of spirit as well as of flesh. A great many marriages, especially in this age, though perfectly honour' able, are very shallow affairs, and cannot produce much happiness or lasting harmony. In general, God does not choose each one's life partner deliberately, but merely leaves His own laws of nature to operate, and to the extent of His own law, the yoke is a yoke. Does God directly plan the remarriage of divorced parties? Sometimes a man chooses a woman who turns out to be a thorough virago or termagant. Are we to infer that this is God's specific choice for him and for him alone? After a time the woman dies. The man, his nature still the same as before, marries again, a woman who makes an ideal counterpart. Is this again God's specific choice? Would it not be more in accord with fact to say that God sets His laws in motion, and "leaves" mankind to go on in its own ways, making its own choices, taking its own path, within certain time and place boundaries? To a great extent God leaves us all to this law of natural selection. I could travel to my work each morning by four or five different routes or methods: Is it God who chooses and directs how I go each time? Does He really need to bother about such trivial details? We might work ourselves into a state of extreme nervous exhaustion by worrying about God's minute by minute "will" for us.
If God chooses all the marriage steps of all men and women, He appears to be acting very fitfully and almost at random. In India children are "married" at a ridiculously early age. Is that God's specific will for them? In some eastern countries the partners are artificially mated, before they even see each other.
That God directly leads all mankind into their erring and erratic ways is extremely difficult to swallow.
Or to take another assumed example. A company of earnest men form a version of God's word, on the most consistent lines known to them. Later on, it is discovered that this is very defective in many ways. It was God who directed them to this work, and led them through it. Then they improved their labours and turned out another edition. But this also was found honeycombed with errors of a different sort, and the edition was again scrapped. Nevertheless, it also was claimed as "from God." Yet again was it found necessary to make a thorough revision of the work, and the laborious and painful task was again undertaken. Could it be that each of these labours was directly from God and directly ascribable to Him? Is that the way in which He operates? How could it be claimed that He was the "Author" of each of these very imperfect efforts?
In this day when many nations all over the world are shackling themselves by curtailing the liberty of their subjects, when so-called democracy is becoming a farce and a failure, let us shake ourselves free of the slavery of fatalism, and come into some of the glorious freedom of the children of God. The doctrine that all men's steps have been pre-arranged of God is a perversion of Scripture, most seductive and most dangerous.
Reverting now to Eph. 1:11, are we strictly in order in asseverating that the "all things" which God is said to be operating, cover every minutest happening in the whole history of the universe? According to I Cor. 12:4-6, there are diversities of graces, of services, and of operations, but the same God Who is operating "the all" in all. Verse 11 will shew that this refers only to the saints. In Eph. 1:10 it is not specifically stated whether "the all" to be headed up in the Christ includes the dead. The whole passage as it stands might be understood as referring only to believers. What God is operating in accord with the plan of His will might be in connection with His own people, the subjects of the chapter. We do not require to jump out of the context and claim that "the all" refers to everything in all time and to everybody who ever lives. The verse could quite well mean that God is operating all things necessary to the plan of His will, or operating all things which are in line (kata) with His plan. Or Paul might have meant that all that God is operating, He is operating in accord with a plan He has made. It may be salutary to bear in mind that there is an explanation of Rom. 8:28 somewhat different from the usual and popular one. Can we truly say, do we really experience as a fact, that every little or big event in our lives is working for good? We know some believers who have taken their own lives. It will not do to reason that this was working for good in the resurrection life. To those loving God, He is working all things together for good, to those called (or rather, callable; klEtois; some will be called in the future) according to a purpose, seeing that (hoti) whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand. . . . . He calls also. . . He justifies also. . . . . He glorifies also. Are not these the glorious steps that work together for good to us? We require to take a dispassionate and unselfish view of the passage, excluding rigidly views that are really based upon our selfish wishes.
Finally, I must bring forward one clear and indisputable statement from Holy Writ to shew that God is not operating everything that happens in this world. Jeremiah (ch. 7:31) tells us that the children of Judah had done evils in Jehovah's sight, even burning their sons and daughters in the fire, "which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." See also ch. 19:5, and ch. 32:35. Literally, "nor did it ascend upon My heart."
Now, if these horrible and inhuman practices did not as much as come into Jehovah's heart or mind, how possibly could He have planned that Judah would commit them? God did not determine or direct that Judah should commit such crimes. It is not God who determines in advance the evil acts of mankind. I quote from the article, "Free Moral Agency," "Man goes the way that God desires; his steps have been prearranged and are all ordained of the Lord." When we think of it, surely this is the most slanderous teaching that could be put forth to destroy the faith of believers. It is one of Satan's old lies, dressed in quasi-scriptural language.
May God's lovable saints be delivered from this frightful travesty of the truth!
ALEXANDER THOMSON Last updated 8.10.2008