How Are We to Understand the Efficacious Permissive Decree of God Regarding Sin?

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DavidSW

Puritan Board Freshman
Hey guys! I'm a long time lurker but a first time poster here at the Puritan Board! Please let me know if there are any administrative details that I need to take care of. I have a few questions regarding how the permissive decree of God is efficacious. Let me open with this quote from Charles Hodge:

"The decrees of God are certainly efficacious, that is, they render certain the occurrence of what He decrees. Whatever God foreordains, must certainly come to pass. The distinction between the efficient (or efficacious) and the permissive decrees of God, although important, has no relation to the certainty of events. All events embraced in the purpose of God are equally certain, whether He has determined to bring them to pass by his own power, or simply to permit their occurrence through the agency of his creatures. It was no less certain from eternity that Satan would tempt our first parents, and that they would fall, than that God would send his Son to die for sinners. The distinction in question has reference only to the relation which events bear to the efficiency of God. Some things He purposes to do, others He decrees to permit to be done. He effects good, He permits evil. He is the author of the one, but not of the other. With this explanation, the proposition that the decrees of God are certainly efficacious, or render certain all events to which they refer, stands good." - Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Ch. IX

My questions are essentially summed up in the following: What makes the permissive degrees of God certain? Let me be more specific.

The WCF and LBC clearly teach that God has ordained and decreed everything that comes to pass, including the fall and individual human sin. My questions are related to how we are to understand "ordain" and "decree" in relation to the permissive language that most Reformed believers have adopted. In the bold text above, it appears to me that Hodge is suggesting that God determined to bring evil to pass simply by permitting it. It seems clear that Hodge is seeking to prevent God from becoming the author of sin, which is something that most of us also deem important.

I have always understood that God "ordains" an individual's sin in the sense that He actively permits man to continue in sin and uses those sins for His own purposes and glory. I believe that acknowledging God as active in permitting these sins is important, because it distinguishes between the Arminian view, which is essentially that God passively permits sin in order to preserve man's free will. Is my view of God's ordaining sin too soft? Should we understand "ordain" in more of a deterministic sense? Man obviously does not have libertarian free will, but even the fallen man has the ability to choose, to a degree, in which way they express their rebellion against God. Is it to much of a stretch that suggest that, for example, while God certainly predestined the Crucifixion of His Son (Acts 2 and 4), He did so by orchestrating and permitting the actions of inherently sinful men rather than placing in them a desire to crucify our Lord? I understand that God gathered Herod, Judas, Pilate, etc. together for his own predestined purposes, but I have a difficult time believing that He determined their sin in an effectual manner outside of his diving foreknowledge and active permission.

Similar questions may be asked about the fall. In what way did God decree that the fall would take place? The majority of what I have read on this from Reformed sources essentially says that God created Adam with the ability to either sin or not sin. While God did not coerce Adam to sin, He did render Adam's sin certain in His eternal decree. Should we understand that Adam's sin was rendered certain because of God's infallible foreknowledge as to the fact that the fall would take place, or did God have a more active role in the fall? The foreknowledge suggestion seems a bit soft, but I believe it can still qualify as rendering the fall certain as God's foreknowledge of future events cannot be violated. If, however, we suggest that God in some way actively brought about the fall, don't we ultimately make God the author of sin and evil regardless of how much we talk about primary and secondary causes? Is there some middle ground here that I am missing?

We all understand that anything decreed by God will come to pass, and that everything that comes to pass is decreed and ordained by God. When God's decree involves human sinfulness, may we suggest that this decree is effectual because God actively permits the sin, and certain because his infallible foreknowledge has determined that it will take place? I fully embrace the fact that sometimes God uses sinful actions to further his purposes. At this point, however, I am only comfortable with God being the "first cause" in the sense that He orchestrates the events necessary to accomplish His will through human sin. I really struggle with God being the "first cause" in the sense that He in some way "forces" (I know, not the best word) man to sin, even understanding that the natural man is already dead in sin so it would not technically be coercion.

Of course, I understand that the standard for truth is not how comfortable I am with it, so tell me, am I way off here?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
What is permitted is certain because it is ordained by God. Hodge was guarding against what was called "bare permission." Bare permission taught that God merely foresaw it as happening and allowed it to happen while having no active involvement in it. The Confession of Faith teaches that God positively ordained it and overrules it for His glory. Nothing could be certainly future unless it was determined to come to pass.

The word "permitted" is used because there are things which are contrary to the holy nature and preceptive will of God. E.g., Thou shalt not kill; yet killing is used in God's providence to terminate an individual's life. It is called "permission" because God Himself prohibits the action so far as man's involvement is concerned; but so far as God's purpose is concerned He is using that action to serve His moral government in the world.

So far as "sin" is concerned, there is the action and there is the moral quality of the action which makes it sin. Picking up a hammer and striking another object is morally indifferent in itself. It it were a nail being driven into a piece of wood to construct a house it would be seen as a lawful action; if the nail were driven into a person's head to maliciously take away human life it would be seen as criminal. The same physical action is used in both cases, and without God's active providence it would be impossible for the individual to exert physical force to do either one. So the action as such requires divine concurrence. But the moral quality of the action comes because the individual swinging the hammer is under the law of God and specifically breaks the commandment of God when he applies the physical force to a person's head.

The same applies to the first sin. Adam was left to the freedom of his own will. God was under no constraint to supply grace to prevent man from sinning. In fact, the requirement of perfect obedience and the state of probation appropriately left man to act without divine grace so as to properly test him to see what he would do with what he had been given. Providentially Adam could not eat of the forbidden fruit without the concurrence of God supplying strength. Yet Adam himself chose to eat of the fruit and used his strength to eat it. God did not constrain him to choose it nor did He internally determine his will to eat it. Adam moved himself in accord with his own desire. God permitted it, having ordained it for His own purpose of manifesting His grace and justice. But Adam committed the unlawful act and death ensued as the appropriate wages of the action.
 

DavidSW

Puritan Board Freshman
Rev. Winzer,

Thank you so much for your very thorough reply! It is very helpful. So would you say that God's "active" part in a man's sin is simply His concurrence and the fact that absolute nothing in the universe can happen without God's eternal decree (at least) permitting it? That certainly makes sense to me. Do you think that in any way God places upon a man the desire to commit a certain sin to further His purposes, or do you simply believe that God permits man's depravity to lead him to sin and therefore accomplish God's decreed will?

Thanks for your guidance and wise counsel!
 

Toasty

Puritan Board Sophomore
God does not force people to sin, but He can make a plan that nothing will stop a particular person from acting according to his wicked desires.
 

Toasty

Puritan Board Sophomore
The same applies to the first sin. Adam was left to the freedom of his own will. God was under no constraint to supply grace to prevent man from sinning. In fact, the requirement of perfect obedience and the state of probation appropriately left man to act without divine grace so as to properly test him to see what he would do with what he had been given. Providentially Adam could not eat of the forbidden fruit without the concurrence of God supplying strength. Yet Adam himself chose to eat of the fruit and used his strength to eat it. God did not constrain him to choose it nor did He internally determine his will to eat it. Adam moved himself in accord with his own desire. God permitted it, having ordained it for His own purpose of manifesting His grace and justice. But Adam committed the unlawful act and death ensued as the appropriate wages of the action.

Was Adam's desire the determining factor of whether he would sin?
 

DavidSW

Puritan Board Freshman
God does not force people to sin, but He can make a plan that nothing will stop a particular person from acting according to his wicked desires.

I tend to agree with this. Would it be accurate to say that when God hardened Pharaoh's heart, He was simply withholding the grace necessary for Pharaoh to repent and obey rather than actively causing Pharaoh to desire to rebel against God? Either way the effect would be the same, yet in my opinion, the text seems to imply more than a simple withholding of grace. Thoughts?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Do you think that in any way God places upon a man the desire to commit a certain sin to further His purposes, or do you simply believe that God permits man's depravity to lead him to sin and therefore accomplish God's decreed will?

God never gives sinful desires to men. God is all holiness. He hates sin. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity and cannot look on evil. He cannot so much as conceive sin in His pure being. That is why it is important to maintain "permission."
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Was Adam's desire the determining factor of whether he would sin?

I can't discern the broader context of your question. Are you asking if it was the decisive factor in relation to God's decree being decisive? Or are you asking if his "desire" was the decisive factor in relation to other parts of his psychology?
 
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