Does God cause or permit evil? Clark Quick Quote | God’s Hammer.
Here are some helpful comments from Gordon H. Clark which answer the question of how one can know good works from evil ones. Emphasis in bold is my own.
What then are good works? Are they those actions a benevolently intentioned gentleman may happen to enjoy? Is a substantial donation to an orphanage, hospital, or church a good work? Strange as it may seem to non-Christians, and even to uninstructed Christians, the answer is that these actions are not necessarily good. They may be good; but again they may not be. What then makes a work or action good?
Two requirements must be fulfilled before an act can properly be called good. The [Westminster] Confession says, “Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.”
The first part of this section teaches that unless we had the Bible, it would be impossible to know what is good and what is evil. To be sure, the heathen know that there is a distinction between right and wrong; and they regularly violate their consciences; but they do not know in particular what acts are right because their consciences are unenlightened. The Biblical revelation is essential to a knowledge of what works are good (“Good Works,” Essays on Ethics and Politics, p. 104; originally published in The Southern Presbyterian Journal, February 9, 1955.).
The following quotes are taken from Gordon H. Clark’s essay, “Determinism and Responsibility.” In the essay, Clark endeavors to, and succeeds in demonstrating that man’s responsibility is not based on his having a so-called free will. The arguments in this essay are further developed in Clark’s book, God and Evil: The Problem Solved. I highly recommend both the essay, in its entirety, as well as God and Evil to anyone who has ever wrestled with how God’s sovereignty fits with man’s responsibility in a sinful world. May these quotes inspire you to read both of these small but significant works! Emphasis in bold is my own.
Clark writes, concerning “Free Will”:
…[I]t is well to note and emphasize that the reason – and has anyone found any other really basic reason? – for introducing the concept of freedom, either in its most extreme form of power of contrary choice or in some more modified form, is to hold man morally responsible. Could it be shown that man’s responsibility does not necessarily depend upon freedom, theology would be freed from an annoying problem. Well can we imagine the groanings which cannot be uttered if generations of young theologues were to be summoned before us to describe the tortures they endured in trying to reconcile God’s omniscience with free will. The Presbyterian and Reformed churches do not believe in free will. They substitute the concept of free agency, meaning that a man is a free moral agent when he acts in conformity with his own nature. Even so, some have stated* that the reconciliation of man’s free agency and God’s sovereignty is an inscrutable mystery. Rather the mystery is – recognizing that God is the ultimate cause of man’s nature – how the Calvinistic solution could have been so long overlooked.
*In the Brief Statement of the Reformed Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1902; compare Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, pp. 251-252; also the four questions A.H. Strong cannot answer, Systematic Theology, I, p. 366 [Clark 40-41].
Later, Clark quotes, then comments on Calvin’s Institutes:
“… [H]ow exceedingly presumptuous it is only to inquire into the causes of the Divine will; which is in fact, and is justly entitled to be, the cause of every thing that exists. For if it has any cause, then there must be something antecedent, on which it depends; which it is impious to suppose. For the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what He wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because He wills it. When it is inquired, therefore, why the Lord did so, the answer must be, because He would. But if you go further, and ask why He so determined, you are in search of something greater and higher than the will of God, which can never be found [III, xiii, 2.].”
God is sovereign; whatever he does is just, for this very reason, because he does it. If he punishes a man, the man is punished justly and hence the man is responsible. This answers the form of argument which runs: Whatever God does is just, eternal punishment is not just, therefore God does not so punish. If the objector mean [sic] he has received a special revelation that there is no eternal punishment, we cannot deal with him here. If, however, he is not laying claim to a special revelation of future history, but to some philosophic principle which is intended to show that eternal punishment is unjust, the distinction between our positions becomes immediately obvious. Calvin has rejected that view of the universe which makes a law, whether of justice or of evolution, instead of the law-giver supreme. … God in such a system is finite or limited, bound to follow or obey the pattern. But those who proclaim the sovereignty of God determine what justice is by observing what God actually does. Whatever God does is just. What he commands men to do or not to do is similarly just or unjust [46-47].
An argument similar to the one Clark describes has shown up on this blog. Basically, it runs thus: Whatever God does is just, God holds man responsible for sin, holding man responsible for predetermined sinful actions is unjust, therefore God does not predetermine sinful actions of men. The third premise is not found in Scripture; it is only found in the philosophy of man. As such, it cannot be introduced into a system of deductive truth from God’s Word. If one is to discover truth about God’s dealings with men, one must rely solely on the Word of God.
Not only do denominations differ over their interpretations of various Biblical doctrines, but also within each denomination individual members have their personal peculiarities. Therefore when ministers assemble for a sedate colloquium or college students get together for a friendly bull session, and a question on Biblical doctrine arises, the discussion is bound to be interesting.
Within the past year two such meetings took place-one almost exclusively of ministers and professors, the other almost exclusively of students. It may not be so surprising that the subject of divine guidance and right conduct was taken up at both meetings, but it is worthy of note that in the first meeting a minister from a liturgical and rather formal denomination and in the second meeting some students from much more informal groups, expressed similar sentiments on the Christian’s relation to the law of God. It may also be worthy to note that few of the ministers agreed with the minister, while most of the students agreed with the students. Continue Reading