Part 7 of 11
It is not congruent with God’s will of disposition that one beast feed upon another, or that a beast falls upon a man resulting in his injury or death. It did not fit within God’s dispositional will that a stingray take the life of The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. When the beasts of the animal kingdom behave as they do, as they carry out God’s decretive will, we do not think of them as breaking God’s precepts when they do terrible things to one another and to man, for animals are not made in the image of God. They are following their strongest inclinations as part of fallen creation under the curse of corruption. And we know that “…the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22). We have a glimpse into the future hope of God’s creation in the descriptions of Isaiah when he says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:6, 7). The creation will one day be recreated and then righteousness will reign on the earth.
When we speak about God’s preceptive will, we are not addressing God’s will with respect to the creation or the animal world, but we are speaking of God’s special revelation of His precepts to God’s special creation in His people – those to whom was given the very image of God Himself: mankind, male and female.
The realm of precept-keeping human agency is a realm of glory and blessing. The ultimate example of precept-keeping human agency is Jesus Christ himself. Touching His human nature, Jesus obeyed the precepts of God every moment of His life. From His childhood days of obeying His father’s and mother’s instruction to the times of His suffering, as He fulfilled the eternal plan of His father in heaven through the buying back of those given Him by the father; those under the tyranny of sin and under the rule of Satan. Through the obedience of Jesus the penalty for disobedience – the wrath of God toward godlessness – was paid. Christ is the propitiation for our sins. “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The realm of precept-breaking human agency is a realm of sin, shame and curse. A primary example of precept-breaking human agency is Judas Iscariot – a devil (John 6:70) who, after eating bread with Jesus as a close friend, raised up his heel against him (Psalm 41:9). And although through the agency of Judas and other wicked men, the Lord of Glory was scourged and crucified by the eternal plan of God (Acts 2:23), Judas is still considered as to have been better off had he never been born (Matthew 26:24).
The line of history is populated by those who did as God has commanded and by those who did not. When we gaze back along the line of history through the text of Holy Scripture, we see both. We see righteous Able bringing the best of his goods to the Lord (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4) and we see wicked Cain slaying his brother in anger (Genesis 4:5-8). We see Elijah, the one who was taken to heaven in a chariot (II Kings 2:11) – one who slayed 450 prophets of Baal (I Kings 18), and we see the stoning of Zechariah by the hands of the wicked priests in the court of the house of the Lord (II Chronicles 24:20,21) upon confronting them with their idolatry.
Therefore, whether we consider Jesus or Judas, Able or Cain, Elijah or the idolatrous priests of Jerusalem, we know that they are all fulfilling the decretive will of God and they are carrying out what God has foreordained since before the creation of the world. Yet at the same time, in each case God’s precepts are either obeyed or broken, and as a result blessing or curse is visited upon them. In judgment it is not only taken into account what men have been able to do – which surly comes about because it is part of God’s decretive will – but what man has intended to do. God does not only consider what we have done but also the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Judas was able to deliver his Lord over because of the plan of God, yet the intent of Judas was to deceive and betray; thereupon is the guilt fixed. Please consider the words of John Calvin and Augustine on the same subject: “’Who does not tremble at these judgments, where God works even in evil men’s hearts whatever he wills, yet renders to them according to their deserts?’ And surly in Judas’ betrayal it will be no more right, because God Himself both willed that His Son be delivered up and delivered Him up to death, to ascribe the guilt of the crime to God than to transfer the credit for redemption to Judas. Therefore [Augustine] correctly points out elsewhere that in this examination God does not inquire into what men have been able to do, or what they have done, but what they have willed to do, so that purpose and will may be taken into account” (Institutes, I.XVIII.4).
What was God’s intent in delivering up His son? “[Jesus our Lord] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The intent of God in delivering up His Son was to save His people from their sins.(Matthew 1:21).
What was Judas’ intent in delivering up his master? The intent of Judas was evil, for he certainly had another god before the God of Israel: the god of self-interest. In delivering up his Lord he at least broke the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
At times during the study of the material I am presenting to you, I have wondered: If God’s will is determitive with respect to all things, how does another will function beneath or inside of God’s plan? Part of the answer can be found in the relationship of the members of the godhead as they relate to one another. Question nine of the Larger Catechism asks: “How many persons are there in the Godhead?” and answers, “There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties” (1 John 5:7, Matt. 3:16–17, Matt. 28:19, 2 Cor. 13:14, John 10:30). When the catechism mentions personal properties, it is addressing how the members of the godhead relate to one another. Question number ten reads: “What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?” and answers, “It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, (Heb. 1:5–6, 8) and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, (John 1:14, 18) and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity” (John 15:26, Gal. 4:6).
Therefore we can hear in some of the statements of Jesus how His will related to His Father’s. In John 6:38 Jesus says: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Also in Luke 22:42 Jesus prays: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” The perfect life of Christ was lived in submission to His Father’s will and His love for the Father was shown as He did exactly what His Father commanded (John 14:31). In the same way the Holy Spirit is said to “…not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak” (John 16:13); and that “…He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that [Christ has said]” (John 14:26). The perfect relationship of the members of the godhead is typified by submission to the will of the Father.
In the same way, precept-keeping human agency is typified by submission to the will of God. Please consider some verses from Matthew chapter six; here Jesus answers the request of the disciples to teach them how to pray. “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’” (Matthew 6:9-13). Among the requests made is that the Lord’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is a request that the precepts of God be obeyed here as they are in the heavenly places where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19, Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 12:2). We also find in this prayer the request for daily bread, which highlights the sovereignty of God over all things, including giving us our daily food.
A final category I will touch on concerning God’s use of precept-keeping human agency is the preaching of the gospel and the teaching of His word to children. First – concerning the preaching of the gospel, please consider Romans chapter ten. “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:11-17).
The logical progression moves from: sending the preacher to preaching the gospel to hearing the Word to believing in Christ, resulting in salvation. God has chosen to work though the preaching of His gospel, through human agency, to bring people to Himself. And we cannot think, based upon what Scripture teaches us about God, that He does so because of a need for help, any more than we should think that God created male and female in His image because He was lonely. God has chosen to work through human agency to bring about the proclamation of His Gospel. Indeed, the fate of one man’s soul is dependent upon another’s voice. And while saying this we affirm that while we plant and water as we preach, the Lord makes the seed of faith sprout and grow (I Corinthians 3:5-9).
Second – concerning the teaching of His word to our children, please consider Deuteronomy chapter six. “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant – and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the LORD your God you shall fear” (Deuteronomy 6:1-13a).
Here is highlighted the critical importance of diligently teaching children about the Lord: who He is and what He has done. This teaching will occur at all times: when we are in our houses, when we lie down, when we get up, and when we travel; not only do they hear our words but our children are watching us and learning how they shall live. We must give them an identity based upon who they are as part of God’s visible church, all the time praying that God will make them His. This training in righteousness flows from the righteous lives of the parents. Indeed, “the righteous [one] who walks in his integrity – blessed are his children after him” (Proverbs 20:7)! And finally a promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
So through the agency of the preacher, God saves souls, and through the agency of parents, God trains up His little ones to praise Him. What a blessing that God has chosen to work in this way: that He involves us in the unfolding of His will. Please consider the words of Psalm 119 in closing: “You are my portion, O LORD; I have said that I would keep Your words. I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; be merciful to me according to Your word. I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies. I made haste, and did not delay to keep Your commandments. The cords of the wicked have bound me, but I have not forgotten Your law. At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments. I am a companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts. The earth, O LORD, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:54-67).