IN translating the ninth of Romans, verse nineteen, I felt almost
as if the text before me was faulty. It should surely read "who hath resisted His
will?" Yet the word is not will, but intention. There seemed so little
difference, at the time, that I did not appreciate the concordant rendering myself. Since
then I have been most thankful for it. It helps to solve one of the deepest difficulties
and contradictions connected with the place and problem of evil. To the question, Who hath
resisted His will? we may answer, Many, if not all. But to the query, Has anyone
withstood His intention? the reply is the opposite, for no one can thwart Him. Even
when withstanding His will we are fulfilling His intention.
There are not many passages in God's word like the ninth of Romans.
Seldom are we taken behind the scenes into the realm of the absolute. Much in this chapter
seems to contradict other portions of the Scriptures, because they deal with
processes, as seen by man, while this is concerned with causes, known only to God. God has
a goal. In order to reach it He must have had absolute control from the beginning. All the
intervening process, no matter what it may appear to be to men, must be the working out of
His original intention. He is the great Potter. His creatures are clay. This is true only
in regard to God's intention. Viewed in relation to His will they are not at all the
passive material suggested by the clay. "Ye will not" describes man's
antagonistic attitude toward God's revealed will.
The case of Pharaoh is the classic example of the chasm between God's
will and His intention. His revealed will was very plain. "Let My people go!" It
seemed to be fulfilled in the liberation of Israel. But no one who reads the account and
believes it can escape the conviction that God's intention included more than His revealed
will, and that it involved opposition to that will. This much might be easily inferred if
Pharaoh had been hard-hearted enough to play his part. It is put beyond doubt by the
action of God in hardening his heart.
God's revealed will was limited to the release of Israel. His intention
was to display His own power and glorify His name in all the earth. This is given us as a
specimen of His complete purpose and of the process by which He will attain it. Mankind
does not comply with His will, His saints do not comprehend His intention. Yet He uses
both the opposition and the ignorance to effect His object. No doubt many in Israel were
fervently praying that Pharaoh's heart would soon soften, and he would let them go. God's
answer to their prayer was to harden his heart. They sighed for salvation. He wrought with
a view to His own glory.
It takes little imagination to picture this scene. Its continuous
repetition during the first three eons makes it most important to our spiritual welfare.
The same conflicting forces are at work today. It is quite conceivable how the saints
would have managed the affair. They would have implored Jehovah to compel Pharaoh to let
them go. Perhaps they would call a grand Prayer meeting for this purpose. Perhaps they
would set aside a week of intercession. "We know not what to pray for" was as
true of them as of us. Perhaps they would be "definite" in their petitions, and
insist that He melt the heart of the king, and so remove his opposition.
How much there is of this today! The saints unite in great "world
movements," seeking to soften the heart of mankind, trying to do away with sin,
seeking to abolish the many evils that harass us, uniting against war and vice and
corruption, for all of these are against the revealed will of God. These efforts, we are
told, are practical. They are not mere theory, words without works. Of what use is
such an article as this, for example, to stem the tide of iniquity? Using the same figure,
I would advise all that the tide will be the highest in all history, and that no human
effort will be able to stop it, for it is necessary to fulfill God's intention.
The Israelites hoped Jehovah would soften Pharaoh's heart. What they
wished was to quietly slip out of Goshen into the promised land. They wanted none of the
terrible signs. They did not ask for the passover. Surely they would not have entered the
trap which threatened to destroy them. They did not ask for the miraculous passage through
the Red Sea. The forty years in the wilderness was not of their choosing. The most
illustrious epoch in their history was forced upon them. It was a continuous exhibition of
disobedience to God's will. Yet who doubts for a moment that it was in line with His
Now that all is past and we can get a true perspective of these events,
who would prefer to have Israel's prayer answered? It was not necessary to soften
Pharaoh's heart. It was too soft already. If it had not been hardened the exodus would
have been a flat, uninteresting story, with no outward manifestations of Jehovah's power
or love. Its glory would be gone. Its God would be unknown. The wisdom and power of Egypt
must be exposed by conflict with the wisdom and power of God. His attributes must be
revealed by contrast with the mightiest and wisest of humankind.
The antitype of this marvelous period of Israel's history lies just
before us, only the miraculous manifestations will be far more wonderful than of old. God
is today hardening the world's heart in preparation for that epoch. Men are approaching
the wisdom of ancient Egypt in their knowledge of nature, and are far surpassing it in
power. Shall Jehovah weaken them before using them as a foil to display His might? Rather
it is His wisdom to harden their hearts, so that, in opposing His will, they may fulfill
His ultimate intention.
It is obvious that God could not reveal His intention. He could not
tell Pharaoh that, while He asked him to let the people go, He really did not Want Him to
comply, but desired to use him as a foil for the revelation of His power. This would
actually make a mere machine of him. It was the ignorance of God's ultimate object which
made the whole procedure real to the actors in it. They did not by any means feel or act
as mere puppets, notwithstanding that each an d every one was doing precisely what was
needed to accomplish God's aim.
Too often we are told that, if man has no free will, he is a mere
automaton. This is a mistake. The so-called "freedom" consists merely in the
lack of conscious coercion. Being ignorant of the constraining or restraining
influences which determine his conduct, and altogether unaware of ulterior forces, he
subconsciously yields at the very time that he imagines he is most independent. His
freedom of will is simply ignorant unconsciousness or submission to environment or
In relation to the will of God, men are consciously independent. They
can accept it or reject it, and imagine that no other force but the divinity enthroned
within them has anything to do with their decision. But when we find the niche assigned
them in God's intention they are (thank God!) the most utterly dependent slaves of
circumstance it is possible to imagine. It will be found that, throughout their lives,
they were no more masters of their fate than they were of the date and details of their
The doctrine of man's free will peoples the earth with a race of puny
gods. We object to the dual gods of Persia or the many deities of the Greek and Roman
pantheon, yet these ancient pagans never rose to the absurdity of making every man a god.
The possession of a free, untrammeled, unconquerable will is the exclusive attribute of
deity. Only One God can possess it. Our blessed Lord Himself did not claim it. He came,
not to do His own will, but the will of Him Who had sent Him.
The failure to recognize both of these aspects of divine revelation has
led to incalculable confusion and misunderstanding. Those who reject God's intention rob
Him of His godhood and deify man. Those who confuse His intention with His revealed will
make of Him a love-lacking tyrant, a hard-hearted monster. Others, who wish to believe all
the Scriptures have to say, are not clear how to harmonize His character with the presence
of sin, especially when it becomes evident that sin has a place in the attainment of His
It seems most reasonable, at first thought, that God's will must be
fulfilled in order to reach God's goal. We imagine that any infringement of it forever
forfeits any share in His ultimate purpose. But further reflection will show that God's
intention must be attained, not only through submission to His will, but also through
opposition to its express commands. The highest expression of God's wisdom lies in His
ability to transform every effort against Him into that which is not only favorable to His
plans, but essential to His purpose.
All evil and every sin reverses its character completely when we take
it from the limited light of God's revealed will to the universal illumination of His
intention. This is the reason that we do not hesitate to believe the Scriptures that all
is of God. No sin remains such when completely illumined by His intention. It is a
failure, a sin, and subject to dire penalties when man commits it, but it is no longer a
mistake when it finds its place in God's purpose. The same act which brings shame and
dishonor on the creature, when subjected to the divine alchemy, is transmuted into a
source of glory and peace to God.
Such general observations are apt to be dismissed as bordering on
blasphemy. But let anyone take the great sins in the Scriptures and ponder all their
aspects. Each one is essential to God's plan. But it is better to be specific. Pharaoh is
the great sinner in this scene. He is the one who opposes God's expressed desire. Make him
willing or compliant with God's command, and what is left? In that case God would have
failed in His object. To avoid this He finds it necessary to stiffen the opposition. Jehovah
hardens Pharaoh's heart in order that he my sin against Him! Some insist that God
cannot have such a close connection with sin. They would prefer to fix the blame on
Pharaoh, or on Satan. But, while Jehovah directly causes Pharaoh to sin, by doing so He
Himself avoids failure or sin.
Any lack of discrimination when speaking on these themes is likely to
cause confusion. The same statement may be both true and false. Two directly contradictory
assertions may both be true or both be false, according as they are related to God's will
or to His intention. A beloved brother, who had been meditating on these things, made the
statement that Adam's "fall" was really a fall upward. I would strenuously
object to such a suggestion, apart from an explanation. Adam's sin and transgression and
offense were very bad and degrading when viewed as disobedience to God's will. When
associated with the work of Christ and God's ultimate purpose it was the very best he
could have done. Even its immediate effects were not all evil, for he obtained a knowledge
of good, impossible is his previous condition.
So with sin as a whole. We almost dread to speak of it in relation to
God's ultimate, for few, even of His beloved saints, have seen behind the scenes, and
almost any assertion would be false if related to His revealed will. Is sin good? No!
It is the worst thing in the world. No words can express our horror and detestation of it.
Is sin good? Yes! Not, indeed, in itself, but its effect will be beneficent beyond
anything else this world can give, when combined with the mediatorial work of Christ and
the reconciliation of which it is the occasion.
Perhaps this is why some beloved brethren insist that I teach that God
sins, or is the Author of sin. I have never said this or even thought it, so far as I am
aware. If I have unwittingly done so, I humbly retract and recant. But I am informed that
various passages in my writings on this subject imply it, though they do not express it in
so many words. When I review these passages, I do not see the implication. I did not
intend such a thought. I did not express it. To my own consciousness, I did not even imply
it. Some inferred from the apostle Paul's teaching that they should do evil that good may
come. If he, could be misunderstood, I count it an, honor to be in the same
But what is an implication? Is it not the result of combining what we
think with another's statement? It is reasoning from two premises, one our own and one
supplied by another. In its crudest form the argument may be stated thus: I believe that
all is of God. My inquisitors insist that sin is part of the "all." Therefore, I
believe that God sins. It seems very logical to them. I may object and say that I
do not concur in their conclusions. I may even say that my premise is not mine, but God's.
But no. My scheme is simply an attempt to exonerate Satan and prepare people for the
homage which he will demand at the time of the end! Away with such a fellow from the
This places me in a strange position. I cannot but consider their
deduction a mistake in logic, a transgression of morals, and even an offense. In short, it
is a full-orbed sin. I am eager to acknowledge, however, that it is of God. But even my
small mind, weakened by overwork, and dulled by distress, has not the slightest difficulty
in discriminating between the human and the divine aspect of these acts. God is making no
mistakes. His servants are. He will justify their injustice, not because they are in line
with His will, but because they are carrying out His intentions I have no hesitation in
thanking God for this distressing antagonism, for I know that in His hands it is no error.
Truth such as this needs opposition for its development and dissemination. It takes
friction to rub off the rust of centuries.
I take it to be my duty never to insist on a deduction from another's
words to which he does not assent. It may be impossible for me to see how he can escape
it, but my infirmity is no valid ground for another's condemnation. I find the same
mistake is often made in the study of the Scriptures. A deduction is made from some
passage and held in opposition to the plain teaching of another portion. What am I, that I
should escape this mishandling? I would take it very kindly of my inquisitors, however, if
they would publicly acknowledge that I do not believe that God sins, or is the author
of sin, and that I see nothing in my writings to that effect, but I have always
maintained, with my inquisitor, that this is unscriptural.
I would exhort my inquisitors concerning the form of their indictment.
I have striven to avoid non-scriptural forms of expression when dealing with this theme.
This is difficult to do when writing at length on a single subject. But it is easy to do
when drawing up definite charges. The form of an indictment may condemn those who prefer
it. It may be purposely ambiguous, so as to cloud the issue. Such is the phrase
"Author of sin." The word author is unscriptural. It is an appeal to prejudice.
It seems to smirch God with sin. It may or may not imply that God sins. Some do not think
that it does. Others do. The lack of love that thinks evil injects it into the issue as a
character witness, to fasten the odium of heresy and blasphemy on those who stand for the
The difficulty seems to be that we cannot easily view an act apart from
its moral character. We do not readily see that no act is sinful in itself, but in its
relations. The act of plucking and eating fruit is not necessarily a sin. Yet it was
humanity's primal error. The mistake lay in its relation to the God Who had forbidden it.
If He had commanded it, it would have been commendable. Now that we know that it was
essential to His intention, that He had provided for it before it occurred, that He
arranged everything so that it should occur, we see that, though it was a sin in relation
to His will, it was no mistake in view of His benevolent intention.
Who hardened Pharaoh's heart? Was it good or evil? Was it a sin or not?
Straightforward answers to these simple questions should settle the matter. Until my
judges suggest a more satisfactory solution I shall still believe and teach that God
hardened Pharaoh's heart, that it was necessary to spread abroad His name and fame and
therefore good and just, and also that Pharaoh withstood God's word, which was an evil and
a sin. One act. Two aspects. Bad and good.
Perhaps the greatest example of the distinction between God's will and
His intention is found in the law promulgated from Sinai. Jehovah made known His will in a
complete code of laws, besides the condensed commandments which were carved in stone. The
Jew, who was resting on law, is said to "know the will" (Rom.2:18). But if it
was God's intention that the nation should keep the law, it certainly was a dismal failure
on His part. The broke its greatest precept before it reached them. They dishonored God by
its flagrant infringement.
But, though the failure of the law seems to be contrary to the will of
God, it actually was a fulfillment of His intention. It was really given that "every
mouth may be barred, and the entire world may be becoming subject to the just verdict of
God, because by works of law, no flesh shall be justified before Him, for through law is
the recognition of sin" (Rom.3:19,20). The law which, ostensibly, was to deter from
sinning, actually was given for the detection of sin. It was given to prove that no one
could keep it. Beneath the revelation of God's will in it was His intention that it should
not be kept, but should accomplish its object through its infraction.
"Law crept in that the offense should be increasing" (Rom.
5:20). How differently did Israel, at Sinai, feel about it! They were quite sure that they
would greatly lessen the distance between themselves and Jehovah by their obedience to His
precepts. Why had He told them what He wanted them to do and to avoid unless it was His
will to carry out His instructions? The will of Jehovah was clear. But His intention was
quite concealed. He could not make known His intention at that time without frustrating
This should help us in considering the larger question of sin. Sin is
always against the revealed will of God. No one can possibly find any excuse for sinning
so far as His expressed precepts are concerned. Both conscience and nature add their voice
to restrain us from wrong. But we do sin. How can we be justified unless the sin is, in
some sense, justifiable? We know that it is God's intention to draw His creatures into
loving intimacy with Himself through sin and a Saviour. We know that the temporary term of
sin will leave the world infinitely richer in the knowledge and appreciation of God. It
will bring God immeasurable treasures of love and adoration. As a whole, its results
vindicate its presence for a time. What is true of all sin must be true of every sin.
This truth is the foundation of the doctrine of justification. Because
it has been lost, justification has also disappeared, or has been degraded to a pardon or
an "imputed" fiction. Few believe that God actually justifies believers. They
imagine He only alters the court records, so that no one can legally prove their guilt. It
is of the utmost comfort and satisfaction to know that all that we have done is vindicated
by the part it plays in carrying out His intention. Do not let anyone sell you an
imitation justification! God's is the actual, the genuine, the precious reality.
This is why we insist that all the world has not become
"guilty" before God, as the Authorized Version mistranslates (Rom.3:19). The
entire world is subject to the just verdict of God (C.V.). He withholds this
verdict until the judgment, in the case of the unbeliever. The believer, however, is
pronounced not guilty. He is acquitted, vindicated, justified, by faith. His sins,
though contrary to God's will, were in line with His intention, in order that He might
reveal Himself through them.
All that the usual theology has to offer us at the consummation, even
in the saved, is a partial, patched, repaired and repainted universe. The song of the
saints will be in a minor key, "I was a guilty sinner." Their joy will be
clouded by eternal regret and shame for their part in the tragedy of the eons. The eonian
times will be the eyesore of eternity. Oh! if they only had not been! And so will God's
wisdom and power be questioned, and His glory dimmed for He Himself must be the chief
culprit in the collapse of His creation.
But away with such unworthy thoughts! The consummation will not reveal
a patched, but a perfected universe. We will not be worrying about our past sins, but
overwhelmed with God's wisdom and love in their vindication. Much as they distress us now,
much as we fear them and avoid them and dread the very possibility of further sin, God
will see to it that they will leave no stain, no blot to mar the bliss eternal, but will
blend into His benign designs, and discover to a delighted universe the delicious depths
of love which could not be displayed by any others device, or appreciated by any other
This teaching is also the substructure for a mature experience in the
things of God. It gives stability, a calm confidence in the face of the chaotic conditions
which surround and engulf us. We are not worried, as once we were, by the awful opposition
to God's will, nor do we fear for the fulfillment of His purpose. The flood tide of evil
and sin, however contrary it may be to His will, is essential and indispensable to His
ultimate intention. He is the great Alchemist Who will transmute everything into glorious
gold by contact with the accursed tree.