The 3rd Rail: God Does Good, Men Do Evil

KH LogoBy Ken Hamrick

See all the posts in the series, ‘The 3rd Rail’

It is possible to put so much emphasis on one Biblical principle that another equally important Biblical principle becomes obscured in the shadow, and eventually rejected. Baptist Centrists going all the way back to Andrew Fuller have recognized this problem in the teachings of our Necessarian (Calvinist) and Libertarian (Traditionalist & Arminian) brothers. This unbalanced emphasis is evident in how either side presents their support from Scripture. Fuller stated it well:

If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency; for, on the same ground, another person might embrace that which I reject, and reject that which I embrace, and have equal Scriptural authority for his faith as I have for mine. Yet in this manner many have acted on both sides: some, taking the general precepts and invitations of Scripture for their standard, have rejected the doctrine of discriminating grace; others, taking the declarations of salvation as being a fruit of electing love for their standard, deny that sinners without distinction are called upon to believe for the salvation of their souls. Hence it is that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that it is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us […][1]

Southern Baptists would do well to heed such wisdom. If we cannot return to a place where revelation is given more authority than human reasoning, then the latter may tear us apart. Fuller also spoke of a two-sided Biblical truth that neither side can fully accept:

…It appears to be the same controversy, for substance, as that which in all ages has subsisted between God and an apostate world. God has ever maintained these two principles: All that is evil is of the creature, and to him belongs the blame of it; and all that is good is of Himself, and to Him belongs the praise of it. To acquiesce in both these positions is too much for the carnal heart. The advocates for free-will would seem to yield the former, acknowledging themselves blameworthy for the evil; but they cannot admit the latter. Whatever honour they may allow to the general grace of God, they are for ascribing the preponderance in favour of virtue and eternal life to their own good improvement of it. Others, who profess to be advocates for free grace, appear to be willing that God should have all the honour of their salvation, in case they should be saved; but they discover the strongest aversion to take to themselves the blame of their destruction in case they should be lost. To yield both these points to God is to fall under in the grand controversy with him, and to acquiesce in his revealed will; which acquiescence includes “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.”[2]

Unless God graciously intervenes to suppress the evil and effect the good, men would continually be as sinful as possible. Because mankind sinned in Adam, all men are depraved, and there is no good within us apart from God’s intervening grace. Therefore, if there is to be anything good within human events, God must intervene and bring about the good. However, those parts of God’s plan that include allowing sin to occur need no divine intervention, as men are naturally quite willing to sin on their own.

All that happens that is evil is foreseen of God and permitted, while all that happens that is good only happens because God has decided to cause it to happen. All good is caused by God in some way, while all that is evil is of the creatures alone and is not caused by God in the same sense. In both cases, creatures freely choose; but in the case of chosen good, the ultimate credit must go to God, while in the case of chosen evil, the ultimate credit rests with the sinner.[3]

A man is saved only due to God suppressing sin and effecting the good, persuading the man by His grace to come to the cross in repentant faith. God is the author of our faith and the only One to whom credit is due. But the man who perishes has only his own rejection of God’s call to blame. God can suppress evil and effect good, but He is under no obligation to do so. For reasons that only He knows, His plan, which is being perfectly carried out, includes allowing sin and evil to do their damage to an extent. Were this not so, there would have been no betrayal, no cross, no Savior.

Dr. Eric Hankins disagrees that men are “totally depraved:”

The story of God’s relationship with humankind is fraught with frustration, sadness, and wrath on God’s part, not because humans are incapable of a faith response, but because they are capable of it, yet reject God’s offer of covenant relationship anyway. To be sure, they are not capable of responding in faith without God’s special revelation of Himself through Christ and His Spirit’s drawing. Any morally responsible person, however, who encounters the gospel in the power of the Spirit (even though he has a will so damaged by sin that he is incapable of having a relationship with God without the gospel) is able to respond to that “well-meant offer.”[4]

In this paragraph, Dr. Hankins comes close to the truth, but not close enough. It is true that humans are capable of “a faith response,” and “yet reject God’s offer of covenant relationship anyway.” But this applies to all men equally, and not to only the unwise, imprudent, rebels. We are all unwise, imprudent rebels, rejecting God and His offer until He does a work of preparation in our lives and hearts to successfully bring us to repentant faith. Telling us that men are “able to respond to that ‘well-meant offer’” only brings us back to the original dilemma: “The story of God’s relationship with mankind is fraught with frustration, sadness, and wrath on God’s part, not because humans are incapable of a faith response, but because they are capable of it, yet reject God’s offer of covenant relationship anyway.” Of course, Baptist centrists would agree that all men are capable—but the problem remains that they will not come even if capable, unless God overcomes their resistance by fully persuading them. Unless God has so drawn the sinner as to fully persuade him, he will with utter certainty exercise his “ability to choose between two options” by choosing to reject God. In fact, this he does daily.

God knows everything about every man—every thought before we think it. He knows exactly what persuasions would be necessary to bring any man to his knees in repentant, surrendered faith. No man is too hard for God to convert by mere non-coercive means. And yet, He only provides enough persuasion to result in conversion in the case of some and not all. Since no man will choose God unless and until God brings enough persuasive influence to bear to successfully result in the man choosing God, then it is God alone who decides who will choose Him, through the use of selective disparities between the level of influence that God knows will result in conversion and a level that He knows will not result in conversion. Thus, the traditional Baptist middle position is once again vindicated, as there is no contradiction between the free will of the sinner to respond and the sovereign, selective grace of God in ultimately deciding the destinies of men.[5]


[1] Andrew Fuller, “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle, 1988), vol. II, p. 367.
[2] Ibid., p. 330.
[3] Adapted from “Beyond Traditionalism: Reclaiming Southern Baptist Soteriology,” accessed at https://sbcopenforum.com/2017/07/06/beyond-traditionalism-reclaiming-southern-baptist-soteriology-3/#footnote5-return
[4] Eric Hankins, “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology”, Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, (Spring 2011, Vol. 8, No. 1), p. 94.
[5] Adapted from “Beyond Traditionalism: Reclaiming Southern Baptist Soteriology.”

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