Read Isaiah 10:5-15 and compare its clarity and simplicity to Zanchius’ elaborate attempt to distance God from evil (underlining mine).
“POSITION 3.—God, as the primary and efficient cause of all things, is not only the Author of those actions done by His elect as actions, but also as they are good actions, whereas, on the other hand, though He may be said to be the Author of all the actions done by the wicked, yet He is not the Author of them in a moral and compound sense as they are sinful; but physically, simply and sensu diviso as they are mere actions, abstractedly from all consideration of the goodness or badness of them.
Although there is no action whatever which is not in some sense either good or bad, yet we can easily conceive of an action, purely as such, without adverting to the quality of it, so that the distinction between an action itself and its denomination of good or evil is very obvious and natural.” (Zanchius)
What of John the Baptist’s executioner? The executioner used an axe to behead John. A generic swinging axe with no connection to a moral being might be considered in an amoral ABSTRACT vacuum; BUT when this axe is placed in the CONCRETE hand’s of a human executioner it cannot be legitimately separated out in this way (cf. Isaiah 10:5-15). More from Zanchius:
“In and by the elect, therefore, God not only produces works and actions through His almighty power, but likewise, through the salutary influences of His Spirit, first makes their persons good, and then their actions so too; but, in and by the reprobate, He produces actions by His power alone, which actions, as neither issuing from faith nor being wrought with a view to the Divine glory, nor done in the manner prescribed by the Divine Word, are, on these accounts, properly denominated evil. Hence we see that God does not, immediately and per se, infuse iniquity into the wicked; but, as Luther expresses it, powerfully excites them to action, and withholds those gracious influences of His Spirit, without which every action is necessarily evil. That God either directly or remotely excites bad men as well as good ones to action cannot be denied by any but atheists, or by those who carry their notions of free-will and human independency so high as to exclude the Deity from all actual operation in and among His creatures, which is little short of atheism.
Every work performed, whether good or evil, is done in strength and by the power derived immediately from God Himself, ‘in whom all men live, move, and have their being’ (Acts 17.28). As, at first, without Him was not anything made which was made, so, now, without Him is not anything done which is done. We have no power or faculty, whether corporal or intellectual, but what we received from God, subsists by Him, and is exercised in subserviency to His will and appointment. It is He who created, preserves, actuates and directs all things. But it by no means follows, from these premises, that God is therefore the cause of sin, for sin is nothing but auomia, illegality, want of conformity to the Divine law (1 John 3.4), a mere privation of rectitude; consequently, being itself a thing purely negative, it can have no positive or efficient cause, but only a negative and deficient one, as several learned men have observed.” (Zanchius)
Is there a law which says that God may not (actively) cause sin? Is it a “want of conformity to the Divine law” for God to display His wrath and to make His power known? God’s unconditional raising up of Pharaoh as a vessel of wrath to demonstrate His power, wrath, and hatred of sin and unbelief is not “a mere privation of rectitude.” God said this to Pharaoh:
“For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you.” (Romans 9:17)
God’s RIGHTEOUS DISPLAY OF POWER in Pharaoh is obviously not “a thing purely negative.” Contrary to Zanchius, God’s power in Pharaoh is positive and efficient causation.
“So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens.” (Romans 9:18)
Romans 9:18 teaches that just as God’s mercying is unconditional, positive, and efficient; SO ALSO is God’s hardening unconditional, positive, and efficient. And what type of response does this Biblical truth elicit in God-haters?
“You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (Romans 9:19)
“Every action, as such, is undoubtedly good, it being an actual exertion of those operative powers given us by God for that very end; God therefore may be the Author of all actions (as He undoubtedly is), and yet not be the Author of evil. An action is constituted evil three ways—by proceeding from a wrong principle, by being directed to a wrong end, and by being done in a wrong manner. Now, though God, as we have said, is the efficient cause of our actions as actions, yet, if these actions commence sinful, that sinfulness arises from ourselves. Suppose a boy, who knows not how to write, has his hand guided by his master and nevertheless makes false letters, quite unlike the copy set him, though his preceptor, who guides his hand, is the cause of his writing at all, yet his own ignorance and unskillfulness are the cause of his writing so badly. Just so, God is the supreme Author of our action, abstractedly taken, but our own vitiosity is the cause of our acting amiss.” (Zanchius)
God commanded Pharaoh to let His people go, and Pharaoh said: NO. Is Pharaoh’s “action of no” to be considered as an abstract action apart from Pharaoh’s concrete contumacy and rebellion? Certainly the culpable sinfulness and vitiosity arises from Pharaoh’s actions. And it is God who is the efficient cause of these sinful actions as sinful actions (as is clearly seen in the case of Pharaoh; cf. Romans 9:17-24). Sinful actions as sinful actions? What do I mean by that? I DON’T MEAN that God is pleased with sin as sin. I mean that God causes sin for the purpose of “displaying His power, wrath, and hatred of sin and unbelief.”
a. In eternity past, God (in order to more fully reveal to the elect His saving love towards them) purposed to create a people for displaying His power, wrath, and hatred of sin and unbelief. [Exo 9:14-16; Psa 73:17-18; Pro 16:4; Jer 6:28-30; Hab 1:6-11; Rom 9:17,21-23; 1Pe 2:8]
b. Every person without exception is either a vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath. There is no one about whom God is undecided. [Isa 45:23; Rom 9:22-23; 14:11]
c. The Father determined to include the elect and the reprobate in one common fall, that they should be equally ruined and undone, equally guilty and defiled, and equally in need of a righteousness that neither could produce on their own. [Rom 3:9-12,23; 5:12-14; Eph 2:3]
d. God actively causes the reprobate to hate His glory, persecute His people, and oppose His gospel, that He may justly punish them. [Exo 7:3; 9:12; Jos 11:20; 1Sa 2:25; Psa 105:25; Rom 9:18; Rev 17:17]
e. God does not have any love toward the reprobate or any desire to save them, for God does not show love at the expense of His justice. The good things that God gives to them in this life lead only to their destruction, increasing their guilt for their thanklessness to God. Jesus Christ did not die for the reprobate in any sense, and they do not benefit in any sense from His death. Scripture, in speaking of God’s love for “all men” and “the world” is not speaking of all men without exception. Rather, these words refer to God’s love for all men without distinction – that is, regardless of their nationality or status. [Psa 2:4-5; 5:5-6; 11:5; 73:11-12; 92:7; Pro 3:32-33; 11:20; 12:2; 16:4-5; 17:15; Joh 3:16; 15:22; 17:9; Rom 9:13; 1Ti 2:4; 1Pe 2:8; 1Jo 2:2; 4:10]
f. God uses the preaching of the gospel as a special means of hardening the reprobate. [Isa 6:9-12; Mat 13:13-15; Mar 4:11-12; 2Co 2:14-16]
g. Contrary to the aspersions of the enemies of God, this doctrine of reprobation does not make believers exalt themselves over other men; instead, it humbles them and causes them to tremble before Almighty God, thankful that He has graciously numbered them among the elect rather than the reprobate. [Rom 9:15-16,23,29; 1Co 4:7; 2Th 2:11-13]