Why Does God ‘Permit’ Evil? The Secret Purposes of God

Proverbs 16:9; Ephesians 1:11
        A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
        According to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): All events are governed by the secret counsel of God…He governs heaven and earth by His providence, and regulates all things in such a manner that nothing happens but according to His counsel.

GEORGE LAWSON (1749-1820): It is exceedingly dishonouring of God to suppose than any sin can be committed without His permission or any calamity befall men or nations that was not appointed for them in His eternal purpose.

THOMAS WATSON (1620-1686): God would never permit any evil if He could not bring good out of evil.

AUGUSTINE (354-430): Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen; He either permits to happen, or He brings it about Himself.

JOHN CALVIN: Good men, who fear to expose the justice of God to the calumnies of the impious, resort to this distinction, that God wills some things, but permits some others to be done…Good men are ashamed to confess, that what men undertake cannot be accomplished except by the will of God; fearing lest unbridled tongues should cry out immediately, either that God is the author of sin, or that wicked men are not to be accused of crime, seeing they fulfill the counsel of God.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): We read the Scriptures in vain if we fail to discover that the actions of men, evil men as well as good, are governed by the Lord God…God is working out His eternal purpose, not only in spite of human and Satanic opposition, but by means of them.

STEPHEN CHARNOCK (1628-1680): In providence there are two things considerable. First, man’s will. Secondly, God’s purpose. What man’s will intends as a harm in sin, God in His secret purpose orders to some eminent advantage.

JAMES DURHAM (1622-1658): Observe, that often God has one design, and men another; and that God will have His design to stand, and infrustably to take effect…
        From these words, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put him to grief,” Isaiah 53:10, observe that the Lord Jehovah had the main and principal hand in all the sufferings of [Christ]. It was not the Jews nor the scribes and Pharisees, nor Pilate; but it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and to put Him to grief; as is clear, from Acts 4:27,28, “Herod and Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and people of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” In all that they did, they were but doing that which was carved out before, in the eternal counsel of God; and therefore Peter says, in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” The Lord’s hand was supreme in the business.

STEPHEN CHARNOCK: God, by His providence, draws glory to Himself and good out of sin…God orders the sins of men to the glory of His grace.

JAMES DURHAM: This leads us into the vindicating of the sovereign and holy providence of God, in that wherein men have a most sinful hand, they are most inexcusable. Though Judas that betrayed, and Pilate that condemned the innocent Son of God, acted most sinfully; yet the Lord Himself has an active overruling hand, in carrying out His own design; and what Judas and Pilate, with other wicked men, did, was so far from being by guess, that they were the executions of His ancient decrees. And He is most pure and spotless in venting and manifesting grace, holiness and justice, when men were venting their corruptions, impiety and injustice most―Nay, this is a principal diamond in His crown, that He cannot only govern all the natural second causes that are in the world, in their several courses and actings, and order them to His own glory, but even devils, and wicked men, and hypocrites, in their most corrupt and abominable actions, and He makes them subservient to [accomplish] His own holy ends and purposes.

ALEXANDER CARSON (1776-1844): God does the thing: the man does it. In doing the work of the Lord man acts freely, and is justly accountable for doing what is directly appointed for him to do.

JAMES DURHAM: And as it was no excuse to Judas nor to Pilate, that they did what before was decreed of God; so it shall be no excuse to any man in a sinful course, that God has a hand in everything that comes to pass, who yet is just and holy in all.

JOHN CALVIN: Away, then, with that vain figment, that, by the permission of God only, and not by His counsel or will, those evils are committed which He afterwards turns to a good account. I speak of evils with respect to men, who propose nothing else to themselves but to act perversely. And as the vice dwells in them, so ought the whole blame also to be laid upon them. But God works wonderfully through their means, in order that, from their impurity, He may bring forth His perfect righteousness…At the same time, however, it must also be maintained, that God acts so far distinctly from them, that no vice can attach itself to His providence, and that His decrees have no affinity with the crimes of men.

ALEXANDER CARSON: God’s purpose is brought about by those whose only view is fulfill their own purposes. How inscrutable are the mysteries of Providence! How unsearchable are His counsels in the government of the world! Men are His enemies, they hate Him, and disobey Him; yet in all their plans and actions they fulfill His will―men think, and resolve, and act for themselves; yet they fulfill the plans of Jehovah, as much as the sun, moon, and stars. His very enemies in opposing Him, are made the instruments of serving Him.

STEPHEN CHARNOCK: Providence is a great deep…Neither the greatness of His means, nor the wisdom of His workings, can be fully apprehended by men.

ALEXANDER CARSON: This is a depth we cannot fathom; but it is a truth necessary for the honour of the character of God; and one which the Scriptures leave no room for doubt. The sin and misery that are on the earth, the endless perdition of wicked men and devils, are subjects of melancholy consideration to the man of God; but let him be consoled with the thought that Jehovah worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will.

JOHN CALVIN: Let this sentiment remain fixed with us, that while the lust of men exults, and intemperately hurries them hither and thither, God is the ruler, and, by His secret rein, directs their motions whithersoever He pleases.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Let all true Christians lay these things to heart, and take courage. We live in a world where all things are ordered by a hand of perfect wisdom, and where in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, Romans 8:28. The powers of this world are only tools in the hand of God: He is always using them for His own purposes, however little they may be aware of it.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): I know of nothing more consoling than that. In a world in which you can’t tell what tomorrow is going to bring forth, and everything has become so uncertain, here is the great certainty: that God rules and reigns over all, and everything is under His mighty hand.


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