How Providence Reconciles God’s Sovereignty & Man’s Free Will

Acts 2:22,23

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): The death of Christ was ordained by the eternal counsel of God.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): God not only foreknew that it would be, but determined that it should be.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): Yet this did in no way excuse those who were instrumental in His death; for notwithstanding God’s determinate counsel concerning it, he tells the Jews, “ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” The determination of God, as it does not necessitate to, so it does not excuse any from sin.

CHARLES SIMEON (1759-1836): We shall be ready to say, “If what these people did was only what God’s hand and counsel had determined before to be done, we must not condemn them: they were only instruments in the hand of a superior power: and if there be any evil in what they did, it must be traced to Jehovah himself, whose counsel had decreed it, and who, by His power, stimulated them to the commission of it.” But all this is quite erroneous. Though God had ordained these things, he never instigated any man to the commission of them; he only elevated men to situations, where, if they were so disposed, they might execute all the evil that was in their hearts, and left them at liberty to follow their own will.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): It never occurred to Peter that the counsel of God deprived men of the responsibility and guilt of their actions. No neither need it ever occur to you. If anyone shall say to you, “When anything is according to the foreknowledge and counsel of God, how can God blame the doer of it?” you may tell him that he has first to explain to you what he means; and if he says there is a difficulty in it, ask him to tell you what the difficulty is―the inspired apostle Peter could see none; but when he was most vehement in charging these men with guilt, yet, at the same time, he said that it was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Surely, he was a bad pleader to introduce into his argument anything that could be readily construed into an excuse for those he was accusing. But there is no real excuse in it; the free agency of man is as true as the predestination of God; the two truths stand fast for ever. It is the folly of man to imagine that they disagree. If you do wrong, you are accountable for the wrong; and if there is a providence which ordains everything—as certainly there is—yet that providence takes not away from any man the full responsibility for aught that he does.

JOHN CALVIN: Man falls according as God’s providence allows, but he falls by his own fault.

THOMAS WATSON (1620-1686): There are three things in providence: God’s foreknowing; God’s determining; and God’s directing all things to their periods and events.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Let us notice, secondly, the place where Christ was born. It was not at Nazareth of Galilee, where His mother Mary lived. The prophet Micah had foretold that the event was to take place at Bethlehem, Micah 5:2. And so it came to pass.

JOHN CALVIN: Nor is the Providence of God less wonderful in employing the mandate of a tyrant to draw Mary from home, that the prophecy may be fulfilled.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” Luke 2:1. That which Augustus designed was either to gratify his pride in knowing the numbers of his people, and proclaiming it to the world, or he did it in policy, to strengthen his interest and make his government appear the more formidable; but Providence had another reach in it. All the world shall be at the trouble of being enrolled, only that Joseph and Mary may.

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): It was, humanly speaking, the most unlikely thing in the world that Jesus should be born here; for Bethlehem was not the place of Joseph’s residence, but Nazareth in Galilee. But the decree requiring that every one should repair to his own patrimonial city to be enrolled, Joseph, being of the house and lineage of David, goes up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth in Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, and Mary with him, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there waiting for his registry, “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered,” Luke 2:1-7.

THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): There is a clock with which Providence keepeth time and pace, and God Himself setteth it.

JOHN GILL: And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,” Luke 2:2. Such an enrollment had been determined on by Augustus when he was at Tarracon in Spain twenty seven years before; but he was diverted from it by some disturbances in the empire, so that it was deferred to this time, in which there was a remarkable interposition of divine providence.

J. C. RYLE: The overruling providence of God appears in this simple fact―He overruled the time when Augustus decreed the taxing, and He directed time of the enforcement of the decree in such a way, that Mary must needs be at Bethlehem when “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Little did the haughty Roman emperor, and his officer Cyrenius, think that they were only instruments in the hand of the God of Israel, and were only carrying out the eternal purposes of the King of kings.

MARY WINSLOW (1774-1854): By the most trivial and mean things, in His all-wise, wonderful providence, He performs His wonders and accomplishes His purposes.

WILLIAM JAY: Mary thought of nothing but accompanying Joseph. Joseph thought of nothing but obeying the order of the governor. The governor thought of nothing but the mandate of the emperor. The emperor only obeyed his vanity and pride; yet all these ignorantly but unitedly conduced to fulfil the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. How freely men can act, and yet how necessarily! How real, and yet inexplicable is the concord between human liberty and the certainty of events!

MATTHEW HENRY: See how man purposes and God disposes; and how God’s providence orders all things for the fulfilling of the Scripture, and makes use of the projects that men have for serving their own purposes, quite beyond their intention, to serve His.

ALEXANDER CARSON (1776-1844): The more we give ourselves to the study of Providence, the more clearly will we be convinced that Jehovah reigns on earth as well as in heaven.

J. C. RYLE: 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.


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