Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 5, 1971
NUMBER 13, PAGE 6b-7

Questions And Answers

Send All Questions To: Eugene Britnell - P.O. Box 3012, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203

While studying (Acts 3:17, 18) in a class which I was teaching recently, I was asked to harmonize the providence and foreknowledge of God with the free moral agency of man. In speaking of the crucifixion of Christ, Peter said, "And now, brethren 1 know that in ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But the things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled." In a previous sermon, Peter said, "him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay." (Acts 2:23 ASV).

Perhaps some comments on this subject will be of interest to the readers of this column.

It is difficult for the finite mind to comprehend all of the characteristics or attributes of God, but to believe in the omniscient God is to accept the fact that He can know the things of the future. I believe that man is free to choose whom he will serve, and control every thought and act of life, and yet God has the power to know what he will do from the beginning. Even we can come close to that in our relationship with others. We can know a person well enough that by considering all of the facts we can predict with a fair degree of accuracy what that person will do or how he will react in almost any situation. Of course God can know man and his future with absolute accuracy.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is an interesting lesson concerning the foreknowledge of God. They did not have to sell him, and they could have killed him as they first thought to do. When Joseph finally made himself known to his brethren in Egypt, he said, "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance." (Gen. 45:5-7) Did God know that they would sell him? Yes. Did God use their cruel deed in His plan? Yes. Were they free to act as they did? Yes.

Another example of what we are discussing is the conduct of Judas. Read Matthew 26:14-25, 47-50:27:15; Acts 1:25. God knew from the beginning that one would betray Christ, and yet Judas was free to act as he did.

Concerning Acts 3:17,18, I find the following statements interesting and informative: "Peter admits that the rejection of Christ was done through ignorance, but he does not allow that this is a sufficient excuse. Ignorance has many degrees, and may arise from many causes. It may be willful. It may be a consequence of cherished prejudices, and then it is guilty ignorance. `The Jewish multitude were ignorant from want of teaching, their rulers from mental perverseness in looking only on one part of the prophecies concerning the Messiah.' For the treatment of the relation of `ignorance' to `guilt,' compare Paul's teachings in chapter 17:30; 1 Tim. 1:13 . The point which Peter dwells on in these verses is, that in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, men appeared to act on their own will and to carry out their own plans; but the deeper fact was that they accomplished the Divine purposes and fulfilled the divinely given prophecies. Scripture writers do not discuss the harmony between Divine sovereignty and man's free-will; but they show us man acting freely, and then draw aside the veil, and show us God's purpose accomplished by that very action that seemed to be so free. And the explanation is this — that all God's plans are formed upon perfect consideration of all that will occur; and this includes the Divine knowledge of how men will act, in their free will, in particular circumstances. To him who knows man altogether, the precise way in which every man will act, under every set of possible circumstances, must be fully anticipated.

"Man is free to act on various motives. He does act by motive. He may be moved by differing motives. He will act upon that which seems to be strongest. The strength of a motive greatly depends on the disposition and character which it urges. There appear to be a vast multitude of motives. Probably they could be greatly reduced by classification. The complexity and difficulty of knowing how a man will act in given circumstances does not arise from our inability to estimate his motives, but from our inability to judge how particular motives will influence him. We can tell by what considerations the Sadducees, Pharisees, and priests were moved to secure the death of Jesus. It is this acting of men on motive that gives moral character to their acts, and so brings on them the possibility of guilt.

"All human motives, circumstances, and characters are known to God. The circle of motives that can possibly appeal to man's moral nature God completely spans. The precise circumstances under which motives urge in any given case, he fully knows and accurately weighs. The force which, under every set of circumstances, every motive will gain on every particular character and disposition, he perfectly estimates. And, though it is an almost impossible conception, we must conceive of God as looking down the long 'stream of time,' leaving his creatures free to act in all situations, and yet knowing beforehand the decision of every free will in every conceivable case. This is the marvel of the Divine foreknowledge,

"All Divine plans are formed upon this perfect estimate. Especially apply to the redemptive plan. In view of what would happen, and what men would do, the plan of redemption in the slain Lamb was formed before the foundation of the world. Man worked out his own prejudice and passion in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and God worked out his plan of saving the race by the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. That we might know of this overruling, the prophecies of Messiah were given. So we see how man's guilt remains in his freedom to act on motive; and yet God's purposes remain unchanged by all men's willfulness, since the willfulness was all foreknown and estimated." (The Pulpit Commentary, Volume 18, page 119).