The entrance of evil into the domain of God is admittedly a deep mystery, nevertheless sufficient is revealed in the Scriptures to prevent our forming erroneous views thereon. For instance, it is flatly contrary to the Word of Truth to entertain the notion that either the fall of Satan and his angels or that of our first parents took God by surprise, or wrecked His plans. From all eternity God designed that this earth should be the stage on which He would display His perfections: in creation, in providence, and in redemption (1 Cor. 4:9). Accordingly, He foreordained everything which comes to pass in this scene (Acts 15:18; Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:11). God is no idle spectator, looking on from a far distant world at the happenings of this earth, but is Himself ordering and shaping everything to the ultimate promotion of His glory—not only in spite of the opposition of men and Satan, but by means of them, everything being made to serve His purpose. Nor did the introduction of evil into the universe take place simply by the bare permission of the Most High, for nothing can come to pass that is contrary to His decretive will. Rather must we believe that, for wise and holy reasons, God foreordained to suffer His mutable creatures to fall, and thereby afford an occasion for Him to make a further and fuller exhibition of His attributes.
From God’s standpoint the result of Adam’s probation was left in no uncertainty. Before He formed him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, He knew exactly how the appointed testing of Adam would eventuate. But more: He had decreed that he should eat of the forbidden fruit. That is certain from 1 Peter 1:19. 20, which tells us that the shedding of Christ’s blood was verily ‘foreordained before the foundation of the world’ (cf. Rev. 13:8). As Witsius rightly affirmed of Adam’s sin, ‘if foreknown it was also predestinated: thus Peter joins together ‘the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23).’ In full harmony with that fact, it is to be remembered that it was God Himself who placed in Eden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! Moreover, as the celebrated Moderator of the Westminster Assembly asked, ‘Did not the Devil provoke Eve and Adam to sin against God in Paradise? Could not God have kept the Devil off? Why did He not? Doth it not manifestly appear that it was God’s will to have them tempted, to have them provoked unto sin? And why not?’ (W. Twisse, 1653). God overruled it unto a higher manifestation of His glory. Just as without night we could not admire the beauty of day, sin was necessary as a dark background on which the Divine grace and mercy should shine forth the more resplendently (Rom. 5:20).
It has been asserted, most dogmatically, by Romanists and Arminians, that God could not have prevented the Fall of our first parents without reducing them to mere machines. It is argued that since the Creator endowed man with a free will he must be left entirely to his own volitions: that he cannot be coerced, still less compelled, without destroying his moral agency. That may sound to be good reasoning, yet it is refuted by Holy Writ! God declared unto Abimelech concerning Abraham’s wife, ‘I also withheld thee from sinning against Me, therefore suffered I thee not to touch her’ (Gen. 20:6). Thus it is very plain that it is not impossible for God to exert His power upon man without destroying his responsibility, for there is a case in point where He restricted man’s freedom to do evil and prevented him from committing sin. In like manner, He prevented Balaam from carrying out the wicked desires of his heart (Num. 22:3 8; 23:2, 20); yea, He prevented kingdoms from making war upon Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 17:10). Why, then, did not God exert His power and prevent Adam and Eve from sinning? Because their Fall the better served His own wise and blessed designs.
But does that make God the Author of sin? The culpable Author, no, for as Piscator long ago pointed out, ‘Culpability is a failing to do what ought to be done.’ Clearly it was the Divine will that sin should enter this world, or it had not done so, for not only had God the power to prevent the same, but nothing ever comes to pass save what He has decreed. ‘Though God’s decree made Adam’s Fall infallibly necessary as to the event, yet not by way of efficiency, or by force and compulsion on the will’ (I. Gill). Nor did God’s decree in any wise excuse the wickedness of our first parents, or exempt them from punishment. They were left entirely free to the exercise of their nature, and therefore fully accountable and blameworthy for their actions. While the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the solicitations of the serpent to eat thereof were the occasions of their sinning, yet they were not the cause thereof—that lay in their voluntarily ceasing to be in subjection to the will of their Maker and rightful Lord. God is not the efficient Author of the sins of men as He is of whatever works of holiness they perform.
That God decreed sin should enter this world was a secret hid in Himself. Of it our first parents knew nothing, and that made all the difference so far as their responsibility was concerned, for had they been informed of the Divine purpose and the certainty of its fulfillment by their actions, the case had been radically altered. They were quite unacquainted with the Creator’s secret counsels. What concerned them was God’s revealed will, and that was quite plain. He had forbidden them to eat of a certain tree, and that was enough. But He went farther. The Lord even warned Adam of the dire consequences which should follow his disobedience—death would be the penalty. Thus, transgression on his part was entirely excuseless. God created him morally ‘upright,’ without any bias toward evil. Nor did He inject any evil thought or desire into Eve. No, ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man’ (James 1:13). Instead, when the serpent came and tempted Eve, God caused her to remember His prohibition! Admire, then, the wonderful wisdom of God, for though He had predestinated the Fall of our first parents, yet in no sense was He the Instigator or Approver of their sins, and their accountability was left entirely unimpaired.
These two things we must believe if the Truth is not to be repudiated: that God has foreordained everything that comes to pass; that He is in no way to be blamed for any of man’s wickedness—the criminality thereof being wholly his. The decree of God in no wise infringes upon man’s moral agency, for it neither forces nor hinders man’s will, though it orders and bounds its actions. Both the existence and operations of sin are subservient to the counsels of God’s will, yet that lessens not the evil of its nature or the guilt of the transgressor. ‘Though He esteems not evil to be good, yet He accounts it good that evil should be’ (W. Perkins, 1587); nevertheless sin is ‘that abominable thing’ (Jer. 44:4) which the Holy One ever hates. In connection with the crucifixion of Christ there was the agency of God (John 19:11; Acts 4:27, 28), the agency of Satan (Gen. 3:13; Luke 22:53), and the agency of men; yet God neither concurred nor co-operated with the internal actions of their wills, and God charged the latter with the wickedness of their deed (Acts 2:23). God overrules evil unto good (Gen. 44:8; Psalm 76:10), and therefore He is as truly sovereign over sin and Hell as He is over holiness and Heaven.
God cannot will or do anything that is wrong: ‘The LORD is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works’ (Psa. 145:17). He therefore stands in no need whatsoever of vindication by any of His puny creatures. Yet even the finite mind, when illumined by the Spirit of Truth, can perceive how that God’s admittance of evil into this world provided an occasion for Him to display His ineffable perfections in a manner and to a degree which otherwise He had not, to magnify Himself by bringing a clean thing out of an unclean, and by securing to Himself a revenue of praise from redeemed sinners such as He receives not from the unfallen angels. Horrible and terrible beyond words was the revolt of man against his Maker, and fearful and total the ruin which it brought upon him and all his posterity. Nevertheless, the wisdom of God contrived a way to save a part of the human race in such a manner that He is more glorified therein than in and by all His works of creation and providence, and so that the misery of sinners is made the occasion of their greater happiness; such is a never-ending wonder.
That way of salvation was determined and defined in the terms of the everlasting Covenant of Grace. It was one by which each of the Divine persons is exceedingly honoured. As the renowned Jonathan Edwards long ago pointed out, ‘Herein the work of redemption is distinguished from all the other works of God. The attributes of God are glorious in His other works; but the three Persons of the Trinity are distinctly gloried in no other work as in this of redemption. In this work every distinct Person has His distinct parts and offices assigned Him. Each one has His particular concernment in it agreeably to Their distinct personal properties, relations, and economical offices. The redeemed have an equal concern with and dependence upon each Person in this affair, and owe equal honour and praise to each of Them. The Father appoints and provides the Redeemer, and accepts the price of redemption. The Son is the Redeemer and the price—He redeems by offering up Himself. The Holy Spirit immediately communicates to us the thing purchased; yea, and He is the good purchased. The sum of what Christ purchased for us is holiness and happiness. Christ was ‘made a curse for us . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (Gal. 3:13, 14). The blessedness of the redeemed consists in partaking of Christ’s fullness, which consists in partaking of that Spirit which is not given by measure unto Him. This is the oil that was poured upon the Head of the Church, which ran down to the members of His body (Psa. 133:2).’
It is a serious mistake to regard the Lord Jesus as our Saviour to the excluding of the saving operations of both the Father and the Spirit. Had not the Father eternally purposed the salvation of His people, chosen them in Christ and bestowed them upon Him, had He not entered into an everlasting compact with Him, commissioned Him to become incarnate, and redeemed them, His Beloved had never left Heaven in order that He might die, the Just for the unjust. Accordingly, we find that He who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son has ascribed unto Him the salvation of the Church: ‘Who hath saved us, and called us . . . according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began’ (2 Tim. 1:9). Equally necessary are the operations of the Holy Spirit to actually apply to the hearts of God’s elect the good of what Christ did for them: He it is who convicts of sin and imparts faith to them. Therefore is their salvation also ascribed to Him: ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth’ (2 Thess. 2:13). A careful reading of Titus 3:4-6 shows the three Persons acting together in this connection: ‘God our Saviour’ in verse 4 is plainly the Father, and ‘He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (v. 5), ‘which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour’ (v. 6)—compare the doxology of 2 Corinthians 13:14!
It is very blessed to ponder the many promises which the Father made unto and respecting Christ. Upon the Son’s acceptance of the exacting terms of the Covenant of Grace, the Father agreed to invest Him with a threefold office, thereby authenticating His mission with the broad seal of Heaven: to the prophetic (Deut. 18:15, 18, and see Acts 3:22), to the priestly (Heb. 5:5; 6:20), and to the kingly (Jer. 22:5; Psa. 89:27). Thus Christ did not run without being sent. He promised to furnish and equip the Mediator with a plentiful effusion of the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 42:1, 2, and see Acts 10:38; Matt. 12:27, 28). He promised to strengthen Christ, supporting and protecting Him in His execution of the tremendous work of redemption (Isa. 42:1, 6; Psalm 89:21). His undertaking would be attended with such difficulties that creature power, though unimpaired by sin, would have been quite inadequate for it: therefore did the Father assure Him of all needed help and succour, to carry Him through the opposition and trials He would encounter. Precious it is to mark how the incarnate Son rested upon those promises: Psalm 22:10; Isaiah 69:4-7; Psalm 16:1; Isaiah 1:6-9.
The Father promised to raise the Messiah from the dead (Psa. 21:8; 102:23, 24; Isa. 53:10), and most blessed is it to observe how Christ laid hold of the same (Psa. 16:8-1 1). Promise of His ascension was also made to Him (Psa. 24:3, 7; 67:18; 89:27; Isa. 52:13): that too was appropriated by the Saviour while still on earth (Luke 24:26). Having faithfully fulfilled the terms of the covenant, Christ was highly exalted by God, and made to be Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), God seating Him at His own right hand. That is an economical lordship, a dispensation committed to Him as the God-man. The One whom men crowned with thorns, God has crowned with glory and honour. The ‘government’ is upon His shoulder.
Christ was assured of a ‘seed’ (Isa 53:10)—His crucifixion must not be regarded as an infamy unto Him, since it was the very means ordained by God whereby He should propagate a numerous spiritual progeny: unto this He referred in John 12:24. The ‘seed’ promised Christ occupies a prominent place in Psalm 89, see verses 3, 4, 31-36 and cf. 22:30. Thus, from the outset, Christ was assured of the success of His undertaking. As there were two parts to the covenant, so the elect were given to Christ in a twofold manner. As He was to fulfill its terms, they were entrusted to Him as a charge; but in fulfillment thereof the Father promised to bestow them upon Him as a reward In the former sense, they are regarded as fallen, and Christ was held responsible for their salvation: they were committed to Him as stray and lost sheep (Isa. 53:6), whom He must seek out and bring into the fold (John 10:16). In the latter sense, they are viewed as the fruit of His travail, the trophies of His victory over sin, Satan, and death; as His crown of rejoicing in the day to come (when He shall be ‘glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe’— 2 Thess. 1:10); as the beloved wife of the Lamb.
Finally, God made promise of the Holy Spirit to Christ. He rested upon Him during the days of His flesh, anointing Him to preach the Gospel (Isa. 61:1) and work miracles (Matt. 12:28). But He received the Spirit after another manner (Psa. 45:7; Acts 2:33) and for a different purpose after His ascension, namely that the God-man Mediator has been given the administration of the Spirit’s activities and operations both world-ward in providence and Church-ward in grace, John 16:7 makes it clear that the Spirit’s advent was dependent upon Christ’s exaltation. That assurance was also appropriated by Christ ere He left this scene: on the point of His departure, He said unto His disciples, ‘Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you’ (Luke 24:49), which was duly accomplished ten days later. In full accord with what has just been pointed out, we hear the Saviour saying from Heaven, ‘These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God’ (Rev. 3:l)—’hath’ to communicate unto His redeemed individually, and to His churches corporately.
The grand design in the Spirit’s descent to this earth is to glorify Christ (John 16:14). He is here to witness unto the Saviour’s exaltation, Pentecost being God’s seal upon the Messiahship of Jesus. The Spirit is here to take Christ’s place. That is clear from His own words to the Apostles: ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever’ (John 14:16). Until then the Lord Jesus had been their Comforter, but He was on the eve of returning to Heaven; nevertheless, He graciously assured them, ‘I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you’ (John 14:18, marginal rendering)—fulfilled spiritually in the advent of His Deputy. The Spirit is here to further Christ’s cause. The word Paraclete (translated ‘Comforter’ in John’s Gospel) is rendered ‘advocate’ at the beginning of the second chapter of his Epistle, and an advocate is one who appears as the representative of another. The Spirit is here to interpret and vindicate Christ, to administer for Christ in His kingdom and Church. He is here to make good His redeeming purpose, by applying the benefits of His sacrifice unto those in whose behalf it was offered. He is here to endue Christ’s servants (Luke 24:49).
It is of first importance to recognize and realize that the Lord Jesus not only obtained for God’s people redemption from the penal consequences of sin, but has also secured their personal sanctification. Alas, how little is this emphasized today. In far too many instances those who think and speak of the ‘salvation’ which Christ has purchased attach no further idea thereto than that of deliverance from condemnation, omitting deliverance from the love, dominion, and power of sin. But the latter is no less essential, and is as definite a blessing as the former. It is just as necessary for fallen creatures to be delivered from the pollution and moral impotency which they have contracted as it is to be exempted from the penalties which they have incurred; so that when reinstated in the favour of God they may at the same time be capacitated to love, serve, and enjoy Him forever. And in this respect also the Divine remedy meets all the requirements of our sinful malady (see 2 Cor. 5:15; Eph. 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:14). This is accomplished by the gracious operations of Christ’s Spirit: begun in regeneration, continued throughout their earthly lives, consummated in Heaven.
Not only is the triune God more honoured by redemption than He was dishonoured by the defection of His creatures, but His people also are greatly the gainers. How that too magnifies the Divine wisdom! It had been wonderful indeed had they been merely restored to their original estate, but it is far more wonderful that they should be brought to a much higher state of blessedness—that the Fall should be the occasion of their exaltation! Their sin deserved eternal woe, yet everlasting bliss is their portion. They are now favoured with a greater manifestation of the glory of God and a fuller discovery of His love than otherwise they would have had, and in those two things their happiness principally consists. They are brought into a much closer and endearing relation to God. They are now not merely holy creatures, but heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The Son having taken their nature upon Him, they have become His ‘brethren,’ members of His body, yea, His spouse. They are thereby provided with more powerful motives and inducements to love and serve Him than they had in their unfallen condition. The more we apprehend of God’s love, the more we love Him in return: throughout eternity the knowledge of God’s love in giving His dear Son to and for us, and Christ’s dying in our stead, will fix our hearts upon Him in a manner which His favours to Adam had never done.
Now it is in the Gospel that the wondrous remedy for all our ills is made known. That glorious Gospel proclaims that Christ is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. It tells us that the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. It announces that sinners, even the chief of sinners, are the ones that are freely invited to come. It publishes liberty to Satan’s captives and the opening of doors to sin’s prisoners. It reveals that God has chosen the greatest of sinners to be the everlasting monuments of His mercy. It declares that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses believers from all sin. It furnishes hope to the most hopeless cases. The prodigies which Christ performed on the bodies of men were types of His miracles of grace on sinners’ souls. No case was beyond His healing. He not only gave sight to the blind and cleansed the leper, but delivered the demon-possessed and bestowed life on the dead. He never refused a single appeal made to His compassion. Whatever be the reader’s record, if he will trust in the atoning sacrifice of Christ he will be saved, now and forever.