J. Gresham Machen (“The Christian View Of Man”)


“What is the real difficulty here? Is it the difficulty of harmonizing the free will of the creature with the certainty of the creature’s actions as part of God’s eternal purpose? No, I do not think that that is the real difficulty” (J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View Of Man, p.44).

Machen does not think it is too difficult since he will just say that the “free actions of the creature” are made certain by “sovereign permission” or a “decreeing to permit” etc. But what I don’t recall reading by any who make these unbiblical arguments is how this alleged “sovereign permission” is any different than a mere expression of divine prescience. In other words, the Calvinistic phrase “sovereignly decreeing to permit” does not look any different than the Arminian doctrine that the free actions of men are made certain because God merely foresees the actions as certain through the telescope of time.

It’s like the Calvinists will seem Biblical when it comes to God ordaining the non-sinful actions of angels and men, but when it comes to sinful actions, then at this point they dispense with their veneer of orthodoxy and replace it with their heterodox idol (image) made like unto corruptible man. This Calvinistic corruptible man is like unto a wizard or sorcerer who knows by prescience what a given man will do, and by this prescience makes a given man’s actions certain.


“The real difficulty is the difficulty of seeing how a good and all-powerful God ever could have allowed sin to enter into the world that He had created. That difficulty faces not only the consistent and truly Biblical view of the divine decree which we have tried to summarize this afternoon, but it also faces the inconsistent views that we have rejected. It can never be used, therefore, as an argument in favor of any one of those inconsistent views and against the consistent view.

For both, the problem remains. How could a holy God, if He is all-powerful, have permitted the existence of sin? What shall we do with the problem? I am afraid we shall have to do with it something that is not very pleasing to our pride; I am afraid we shall just have to say that it is insoluble. Is it so surprising that there are some things that we do not know? God has told us much. He has told us much even about sin. He has told us how at infinite cost, by the gift of His Son, He has provided a way of escape from it” (pp. 44-45).

Of course, God does not allow — He actively causes. Plenty of clear Scripture show that sinful actions are caused by God and so when we read about places the book of Acts where God “allowed” or “permitted” the nations to go their own way, we know that this is what is commonly known as an anthropopathism. Anyways, Machen thinks that this “allowance” of sin may call into question the goodness of God. But where, pray tell, doe Machen get his definition of what constitutes the goodness of God? Machen implies that a “good God” would not “allow” sin into the world He created let alone actively cause sin to enter into His creation.

Machen is ignorant that God actually wants to show His wrath and to make His power known. God wants to glorify Himself through the Person and Work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the Lamb Of God who was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but revealed in the last times because of us, His people (1 Peter 1:20). Again, God wants to cause sin to enter by means of Adam and He wants to display His wrath in some vessels in order that He may also make His powerful glory and mercy known to other vessels (cf. Romans 9:22-23).

He wants His people to know His mercy by creating some people for the purpose of glorifying Himself in their eternal destruction. We know that Christ did NOT die for the vessels of wrath so created. The vessels of mercy, who were born into this world as children of wrath just as the others, know that it is the work of Christ alone that makes the difference between eternal destruction and eternal salvation.

This is very simple to understand. The perplexity revealed in Machen’s words shows Machen’s difficulty does not lie in any alleged “high” and “very complex” doctrine that the babe or mature Christian would have difficulty with. Rather, what Machen (or any other unbeliever) finds difficult is NOT that it is “complex,” but that it is OFFENSIVE to those wonderfully confused regarding the Creator/creature distinction that’s put forth in all its simplicity in verses like the following:

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth.” So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens. You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the One forming it, Why did You make me like this? (Romans 9:17-20)

Some Calvinists say Paul’s “O man” whom he is rebuking is a babe in Christ or something. They would say that when Paul says “You will then say to me…,” he is referring to a newly regenerate person or to someone who has (“innocently and ignorantly”) been following heretical teaching for many years. But clearly Paul is dealing with and addressing the kinds of objections that are put forth by unbelievers. It’s true that Paul is writing to the believers in Rome in this letter, but many times in this letter to believers he puts forth the various objections that come from the mind of unbelief. For instance:

“What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Let it not be! We who died to sin, how shall we still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

Here’s a quote from Archbishop Whately that echoes pretty much what Machen said above. The quote comes from page 227 of A.A. Hodge’s Outlines of Theology. Whately writes:

“I would suggest a caution relative to a class of objections frequently urged against Calvinists drawn from the moral attributes of God. We should be very cautious how we employ such weapons as may recoil upon ourselves. It is a frightful but undeniable truth that multitudes, even in Christian countries, are born and brought up in such circumstances as afford them no probable, even no possible, chance of obtaining a knowledge of religious truths, or a habit of moral conduct, but are even trained from infancy in superstitious error and gross depravity. Why this should be permitted neither Calvinist nor Arminian can explain; nay, why the Almighty does not cause to die in the cradle every infant whose future wickedness and misery, if suffered to grow up, he foresees, is what no system of religion, natural or revealed, will enable us to satisfactorily to account for” (Essays on some of the Difficulties of St. Paul. Essay 3d, on Election).

Now comes my “What??” in response to Whately. Evidently Whately never heard of that system of revealed religion called Biblical Christianity. Whately says the Calvinist and Arminian cannot explain satisfactorily why God does not cut short in the cradle, the life of those who are deemed wicked. But what do the Scriptures say?

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth.” So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens” Romans 9:17-18).

There you go Whately. Yet this Scriptural answer probably will not satisfy Whately (or those who think like him), since it will most likely be found unthinkably offensive and blasphemous to say that such a “tyrannical” and “monstrous” God as this exists. The God-haters — Whately, Machen, and those who believe like them — do NOT want the God of Biblical Christianity to be their God.