Sovereignty and Responsibility
In this chapter I am concerned to establish that there is a significant difference in meaning between the words evil and sin, a difference which profoundly affects the implications of a number of passages of Scripture of great importance to a correct understanding of the basis of divine judgment and human responsibility.
In ordinary conversation, we commonly equate evil and sin and employ the words more or less interchangeably. But in doing so we effectively conceal a distinction between the words as employed in Scripture, thereby creating problems in interpretation which are then resolved only by the very unsatisfactory method of assuming that the text cannot possibly mean what it says. When we learn that God does evil, appoints evil, intends evil, purposes evil, and even creates evil, we seem to be left with no alternative but to explain such passages away. And this we must do, of course, if evil and sin mean the same thing, for we cannot suppose that God is the author of sin. Indeed, we know He is not, for He refuses to listen to those who sin (Isa. 59 2; John 9:31).
Thus we seem to be forced to make a distinction between the two words. But as soon as we decide that this is proper, we come across passages where the supposed distinction is ignored! Thus Habbakuk 1:13 reads, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil and canst not look on iniquity [i.e., sin]." Is this a case of repetition for the sake of emphasis in which evil and sin are synonymous terms, or do we have two separate statements used by the Holy Spirit to drive home the point that God cannot countenance either evil or sin?
Now this problem in the use of terms applies not only in the matter of evil and sin but in the matter of their opposites, goodness and righteousness. Are these also to be distinguished, or are they likewise synonymous terms used indiscriminately?
An examination of many key passages in the New Testament suggests that a real distinction does exist. In the Old Testament the issue is far less clear. But the reason for this may be that the Old Testament is a study of religious experience rather than of the underlying theology which accounts for that experience. It is in the New Testament that the theology of Christian experience becomes explicit, pre-eminently in Paul's Epistles. And it is in the New Testament therefore that we find a certain precision of language that is largely lacking in the Old Testament.
In common parlance we are not precise in our use of many words. The context of the conversation conveys our meaning as a rule, or it may happen that precision of meaning is not important. Thus we may speak of a good man or a righteous man, but we do not stop to consider whether a man may be good who tells a lie to save a friend. During the war under Nazi pressure not a few Christians faced this as a very practical problem. They were being good, but were they righteous? By the same token, when we speak of an evil man or a sinful man, we assume there is essentially no difference, and often we are perfectly right. But yet we know that there are some evil things that must be done which are nevertheless not wicked--like the amputation of a leg in an emergency. An evil act may or may not be sinful, though a sinful act is almost always an evil one. The two facets of a single deed can often be separated by the discerning mind.
It is indeed difficult to distinguish evil and wickedness, and goodness and righteousness, in the abstract. One must consider these words in their context. When man does evil it is usually sinful: when God does evil it cannot possibly be. Clearly the words as used in Scripture are to be distinguished.
The best lexicographers of the Greek (Kittel, Thayer, Liddell and Scott, etc.) have not altogether clarified the situation, and the reader is left to struggle with the problem for himself. There are indeed difficulties, for virtually every "rule" is broken distressingly often.
It is possible that the basic difference from a biblical point of view is that evil and goodness are ethical in character and temporal in effect whereas, by contrast, sin and righteousness are moral in character and eternal in consequence. Evil and goodness apply to relationships between man and man, "horizontal" in bearing and "historical" in effect, whereas sin and righteousness are identified with relationships between man and God, "vertical" in their connection and everlasting in consequence. The former, moreover, relate chiefly to what we do, the latter to what we are. These contrasts are set forth as in the chart below.
In the light of these distinctions between what is wicked and what is only evil and therefore between what is culpable and what is only unfortunate, let us look at what Scripture has to say on the subject and then see if there are general principles that will serve to illuminate satisfyingly the relationship between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. The issue is not merely an academic one; it relates to our sense of the rightness of things, and if God is truly righteous and omnipotent, it is surely proper to expect that in all his ways He will not merely act justly but will be seen to act so.
|Evil and Goodness||Sin and Righteousness|
|Relationship|| Horizontal And
| Vertical And
Man To God
|Relative To||What We Do||What We Are|
When the wicked are fulfilling the purposes of God, how can they justly be held accountable? Not every evil deed is foreordained, for not every evil deed forms part of the predeterminate counsel of God, but it must surely be by his permission. We do know from Scripture that some evil deeds are foreordained, like the selling of Joseph or the crucifixion of our Lord, and that in spite of their predetermination those who performed them were nevertheless held accountable. What kind of justice is it that holds men accountable for an evil deed which it has been foreordained they shall perform? It seems that Paul, when speaking to the Christians in Rome, had been asked this very question, "Who then is morally accountable?" Or as he put it in Romans 9:19: "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who has resisted his will?" On what basis will any man be judged accountable if the sovereignty of God really extends this far?
We have no great problem in understanding the justice of holding men accountable for evil deeds which are performed as free expressions of their own will. Because such actions are humanly initiated, they are in a sense doubly culpable. They are culpable because of the evil they entail, and they are culpable because of the wicked intention which lies behind them. And there is thus an important difference between what is evil and what is wicked. For there are many evil acts which must be performed in society but which are performed normally by people whose intentions are good. The executioner who carries out the sentence of a judge, whose judgment is fitting and is directed towards the good of society, is carrying out an evil act with good intention, for it is undoubtedly an evil thing that a man's life should have to be cut short; yet it may, if it is truly fitting, also be a righteous act. It is an evil thing that a surgeon should have to remove a gangrenous foot and leave a man lame for life, and yet his intention is morally correct if he honestly believes it is the best treatment. An evil deed need not have any aspect of wickedness about it. The amputation of a man's leg is an unfortunate evil but it does not per se involve any moral impropriety that would convert it into a wicked act.
This is not a novel truth. It has been talked about by philosophers probably since man first began to think in abstract terms. But is it simply an abstract idea, interesting but not of practical importance? Or is it an important truth essential to an understanding of what is said in Scripture in connection with good and evil, righteousness and wickedness, reward and punishment? Let us look at some passages which give us very firm guidance in this matter and which provide some amazingly satisfying answers.
First of all, it is very clear that while God can never be accused of committing wickedness, He is often expressly declared to be the author of evil. Because of our confusion in the use of these two words, evil and wickedness, such a blanket statement may well be very disturbing to one who has not examined the matter in the light of the Word of God. Yet, that God does evil is stated so frequently and so unequivocally in Scripture that it is remarkable how few commentators have taken this matter into account except to explain it away. What can one do with such a plain statement as the following? In Isaiah 45:7 it is written: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil. I the Lord do all these things."
Now in the Scofield Bible there is a footnote at this point which correctly explains that the Hebrew word ra' translated "evil" in Isaiah 45:7, is elsewhere translated "sorrow," "wretchedness," "calamities," but never translated sin. God created evil only in the sense that He made sorrow, wretchedness, and calamities, which are assuredly among the fruits of sin but not to be equated with sin, for many evils (earthquakes, for example) have nothing to do with sin. I believe this is a perfectly fair statement of the case as far as it goes, and yet I feel it glosses over a most important aspect of God's sovereignty.
The story of Job suggests that evil does not always come as the direct result of sin. I am not suggesting that Job was not a sinner, for all men are sinners, and Job must be counted as one of them. But the story of Job as set forth in Scripture seems clearly to go out of its way to establish the fact that the calamities that came upon him were not directly the consequence of his unrighteousness nor even of someone else's. They came from Satan, by God's permission.
The first chapter presents the background of the scenario. Job is pictured as performing faithfully what was required of him as head of his household in a time antecedent to the establishment of the Mosaic ritual and of the building of the Temple. He offered sacrifices for his family and himself in a way which I believe we must assume was divinely ordered in those early days; and in Job 1:8 we read the Lord's extraordinary testimony to Satan regarding Job's moral stature, thus confirming strongly his introduction in verse 1 as a man "perfect and upright and one that feared God and eschewed evil." So the Lord said to Satan, "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?" This was God's judgment of the man.
Nevertheless, because of certain circumstances which are revealed to us in Job 1:9-12, of which Job himself was evidently not aware, a series of terrible calamities fell suddenly upon him and devastated him. Job was neither rebellious nor embittered, but it was quite otherwise with his wife who saw herself reduced to ruin on his account. So she said to Job (2:9): "Dost thou still retain thine integrity! Curse God and die." It is interesting to note that even in his utter wretchedness he retained his integrity and his wife observed it with surprise. How could he be so docile? God had unfairly demolished him; why should he want to live any longer? Let him simply curse God to his face and be struck dead...
But Job answered (v. 10): "Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" And then the writer added significantly: "In all this did not Job sin with his lips."
Shall we not receive evil from the hand of God? What an extraordinary statement to make; and Job is immediately exonerated from any suspicion of foolishness or impropriety for having said it. Clearly then, we may here observe a case of evil originating with the Lord for purposes quite other than the punishment of a man's wickedness. Moreover, we have a somewhat parallel circumstance in the New Testament in the case of the man born blind. In John 9:1 ff. we read: "As Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
Here is a case of a manifest evil, blindness from birth, that was not traceable, in this instance, either to the man's own sin or to the sin of his parents. Clearly it was not the Lord's intention to have us suppose that neither the man nor his parents were sinners. In the context the Lord plainly intended his disciples to understand rather that this particular instance of blindness from birth was not directly attributable to human wickedness but was in the strictest sense purely an act of God. It was an evil that God had appointed for a very special purpose. It was not a penalty. It is difficult to know what language the Lord could have used beyond what He did to make this any clearer. And we must conclude, I think, that not all wretchedness or sorrow or calamity is the direct fruit of sin--even though in a sinless world such evils ought never to be necessary, for the exhibition of the glory of God would not need this kind of demonstration.
In Lamentations 3:38 Jeremiah asks a question: "Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?" This is put in the form of a question in the original because Jeremiah is really asking, "Do not both evil and good proceed out of the mouth of the most High?" And clearly the implied answer is, "Yes, indeed."
In Amos 3:6 it is asked, "Shall there be evil in a city and God hath not done it?" It is hardly sufficient to say that evils come about everywhere and always because of human wickedness in city life, though this is undoubtedly a truth. But is it really the truth of this utterance? Would, then, the text not have to say rather that God had permitted it than that He had actually done it?
The Hebrew word 'asah rendered "done" in this passage is a word which may mean "doing" or "making" (nearly two thousand times), or it may mean "appointing." The former is by far the more frequent rendering in the King James Version. But even if one should seek to escape the implications of Amos 3:6 by opting for the alternative rendering of "appointing," we still have to acknowledge that God is the initiator who makes the appointment.
Certainly in Jeremiah 36:3 the purpose of God was to do evil, and the same seems clearly to be implied in Judges 2:15; Isaiah 31:2; Ezekiel 6:10; Amos 9:4; and Micah 1:12. That God "brought evil" upon men is very frequently asserted without apology: Joshua 23:15: 2 Samuel 17:14; 1 Kings 9:9; 14:10; 21:21; 2 Kings 6:33: 22:16; 2 Chronicles 7:22; 34:24; Nehemiah 13:18; Job 42:11; Jeremiah 4:6; 6:19; 11:11, 23; 18:8; 19:3,15; 23:12; 32:42; 35:17, 36:31, 42:17, 44:2, Ezekiel 5:16; 14:22; and so forth. And it is clear that here the evil is a consequence of wickedness, an appointed punishment. But I believe it is only by a strained form of exegesis that we can say the same of Job's case or of the man born blind. And we therefore have to recognize that evil is not always punishment. When man initiates evil it is often sinful and punishable, whereas when God initiates evil it never is.
Evil may in fact be good, seen in the long view, whereas wickedness can never be righteousness no matter how long a view we take. The selling of Joseph is a case in point, for it was an evil in the sense of being Joseph's misfortune at the time, but in the end it turned out for his brothers' good (Gen. 45:5)--but only because Joseph bore the penalty in his own person, and God vindicated him by raising him up, as it were, from the dead. It is indeed God's prerogative to do both evil and good together (Isa. 41:23), and Isaiah presents this circumstance as a challenge that could not be met by false gods.
It is clear therefore that evil per se is not to be equated with sin, and that God has every right to ordain evil as well as good in the working out of his purpose, even as He has the right to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor for the same reason (Rom. 9:21). And the difference does not lie in the clay itself out of which they are made, for both are made "of the same lump." And the evils that sometimes beset us are no more a just dessert of our sins than the blessings which fall to our lot are necessarily the reward of our righteousness.
Then what is it that is punishable in the one who is chosen to be an agent in the working out of some evil cause divinely ordained? Many performed evil deeds in response to the Lord's direct ordination, yet they were punished. But not all were punished; some were even rewarded! Since it is the motive that determines whether an act is punishable or meritorious, such evil actions may sometimes be worthy of reward even as the executioner receives his wages. Indeed, we are likely to reward him well, because he is doing a task that is hateful to ordinary people. Will God then condemn those who similarly perform an evil deed essential to the fulfillment of his purposes simply because the deed itself is evil of necessity? And will He necessarily reward a good deed done under the same conditions?
But what if a man takes pleasure in performing the evil deed? Obviously that is an entirely different matter. It is not the deed that is punished, but the spirit in which the deed is carried out: it is the heart that makes guilty, not the hand. Although the purposes of God are thus carried forward, yet the agent now becomes accountable, not for the deed itself but for the pleasure he experienced in giving free expression to his own inclination to injure a fellow man. The hands of those who crucified the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:23) were wicked not because they crucified the Lord, for this was in express fulfillment of the Father's predetermined plan. They were wicked because they had a wrong reason, a wrong motive, a sinful intention in what they did. They did it because they hated Him without a cause (John 15:25), not because they clearly understood that it was God's will that He be crucified. And this therefore provides us with a paramount instance in which the sinfulness of the world does not lie in the fact that it thwarts the will of God by not doing it, but in the fact that it does not choose the will of God. It is the motive, not the deed, that is culpable.
There is a beautiful illustration of this principle to be found in Isaiah 10:5-12, one verse of which we have already considered. But now let us look carefully at the whole passage, omitting for brevity only verses 9 and 10.
O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so: but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. For he saith, "Are not my princes as good as kings? ...Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols so do to Jerusalem and her idols?" Wherefore it shall come to pass that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria and the glory of his high looks. (my emphasis)Four salient points stand out in this remarkable passage, which is a behind-the-scenes revelation of history as seen from God's point of view. First of all, as we have already noted, the Assyrian was God's servant, his rod and his staff (v. 5). Secondly, he was sent by God to fulfill God's will, which in this case was to perform an evil work upon Jerusalem and the people of Judea, to devastate their city and their land, to slaughter many of their people, and to carry away their wealth and the precious furnishings of Solomon's Temple (v. 6). Thirdly, the King of Assyria clearly had no conscious intention of fulfilling the will of God. In his own heart he was prompted entirely by self-serving motives. He did not for one moment consider the possibility that he was acting under divine compulsion. Though his actions originated with God, his intentions originated entirely in his own mind (v. 7). And finally, he was to be punished, not for his deeds but for the fruit of his proud heart, that is to say, for the motivation which sent him forth to descend upon Judea like a wolf upon the fold (v. 12).
Here then we have a perfect example of the dual perspective of historic events. There is no doubt that we shall see many things in an entirely new light when we see them in eternity from God's point of view. Even now as we look back at the Lord's dealings with ourselves we are aware that some things, taken at the time as incomprehensible disappointments or even tragedies of a sort, have nevertheless turned out for good, even as Joseph's experience did. We begin to discern in retrospect that some who opposed us to our temporary discomfort, and intending our hurt, were actually serving the Lord's purposes. Though they acted as the Lord's rod and staff, they were in the final analysis sent to be a source of correction and improvement, not for our confounding.
But what is an evil, performed according to the Lord's intention, becomes a wickedness when the motive is not in accordance with that intention. Thus we may have the strange situation where a deed is rewarded but the motive is punished. For even such actions as have been conducted (albeit unknowingly) according to the Lord's will may be rewarded, The servant who knows not what his lord does is nevertheless worthy of his wages (John 15:15; Luke 10:7). God is no man's debtor. When the Lord borrowed Peter's boat to teach the crowds of people who pressed too closely against Him along the shore, He respected the fact that Peter made his living as a fisherman, and rewarded him with more fish than he could possibly have caught in the interval (Luke 5:4-6)!
Now sometimes both the reward for the work and the punishment for the motive are carried out by like powers, one therefore fulfilling one purpose and the other another purpose, in a system of checks and balances under the Lord's sovereign control. Thus in Ezekiel 29:18-20 we are told:
Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyre every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyre, for the service he had served against it. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt for his labor wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord God. (my emphasis throughout)Comment is hardly necessary here. The message is clear. So God's checks and balances keep wickedness curbed or punished, while service is rewarded at one and the same time. What is punished is the intent, which Scripture refers to as the "fruit" of a man's doings, reflected by the effect upon the man himself either restraining or confirming in him the bent of his life, the way of his heart. The man who exults afterwards in the revenge he has obtained by punishing his enemy, reveals why he punished his enemy. The father who mourns afterwards, having punished his son, reveals why he punished his son. The act in either case may be very similar, but the effect upon the doer makes all the difference."This seems to be why in Jeremiah 21:14, where the troubles which were to come upon Judea and Jerusalem were in prospect, the Lord said, "I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings."
In more personal terms, Jeremiah (32:19) repeats this warning: "Great in counsel, and mighty in work; for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." And lest any man should suppose himself immune, Jeremiah (17:9, 10) issues that familiar warning: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." Alas, man's intentions are sometimes great but his work is small; or his intentions are "small" but his work is great. In either case the judgment of God is stamped above all on man's ways rather than his works, upon the fruit of his doings rather than upon those doings themselves.
So we have a basic principle here, that evil is not necessarily wickedness, for God Himself does evil, appoints it, intends it, or even creates it where his purposes demand. But with man evil is all too often wickedness also; so frequently is this the case that we have mistakenly equated the two words. When evils are performed by man as a direct result of God's command, they bring no penalty unless the doer takes delight in the harm that is done. In this case he is punished for his intention but not for the deed; he may in fact be rewarded for an evil deed, as Nebuchadrezzar was. If he should perform an evil that the Lord has not commanded and if he should do it with wicked intent, then in due time he will suffer for both the action and the intention, doubly condemned for a wickedness doubly offensive.
There is, of course, another side to this. The Lord's people may perform good deeds and yet the motive may be self-serving. Paul's hypothetical "unloving" gift to feed the poor would profit them but not himself, as he openly admitted (1 Cor. 13:3). In 1 Corinthians 9:16, 17 Paul speaks of the commission he had received to preach the Gospel. Yet he disclaimed any merit in the mere fact of being a preacher. "For though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed unto me." The secret of reward was not obedience--but willing obedience. It is thus quite possible to perform the Lord's will perfectly and yet not receive a reward; moreover, it is quite possible to be punished for doing it, as the Assyrian King Sennacherib was.
Sometimes the good deeds of men are involuntary, acts of kindness done by accident as it were, or unknowingly. Such good deeds are good in themselves but obviously not righteous, and not being righteous they are not meritorious. Similarly, as we have seen, there will be those who will profess to have done many good deeds in the Lord's name who yet will be declared "workers of iniquity" (Matt. 7:23).
Alternatively, there are times when the intention is right but by reason of circumstances actual performance proves impossible. What of these? If intention is what is rewarded or punished, then is the actual doing important in this respect? Is not a man counted guilty merely for secret desires? Indeed, he is. Whoever looks upon a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery but for lack of opportunity (Matt. 5:28), * even as coveting is stealing but for lack of opportunity, and hating is murder (1 John 3:15). The fact that no actual killing has been committed is not important in the judgment of the individual, though it obviously is in the social context. Thus the Jewish people slew the Lord by hating Him--and then crucified Him. Thus the King James Version rightly renders the Greek of Acts 5:30 as "slew and hanged [Him] on a tree" (in that order), and similarly Acts 10:39. This is a profound truth. Moreover, it was a normal practice with the Jews to slay first before crucifying as will be seen by reference to many related passages of Scripture such as Joshua 10:26 and Matthew 23:34. They hated the Lord long before the crucifixion, and their hatred was potential murder awaiting only the proper opportunity.
* The Greek gune, (woman) in this case almost certainly has the common meaning of the "wife of another." See Oepke, in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1, p. 776.But again, the reverse is also true. A kindness fully intended is counted with God as actually done and rewarded as such. The best example is seen in David's desire to build the Temple. So firm was his resolve to build that he set the process in operation and began the preparation and assembly of the needed materials long before the Temple construction was begun. Yet because he was a man of war (1 Chron. 28:3), the Lord would not allow the desire of his heart to be fulfilled in the actual building of it. When the day finally came to consecrate the House of God of which David had dreamed, his son Solomon said to the people (1 Kings 8:17-19): "It was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. But the Lord said unto David my father, Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name thou didst well that it was in thine heart. Nevertheless, thou shalt not build the house; but thy son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house unto my name." So David did well, just as much as the faithful servant in Luke 19:17 who was commended for having actually "done well."
Paul states this as a general principle. Thus in 2 Corinthians 8:12 he writes: "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." The widow who cast in two mites which was everything that she had (after all, she might have put in only one of them) had in fact given more than all the rest who cast in a mere pittance of their abundance (Luke 21:2).
How satisfying this all is! How appropriate! The only necessity is that we assume that God is precise in his revelation and that He requires us to distinguish between things that differ: between intention and deed, and therefore between wickedness and evil. Paul recognizes the difference between goodness and righteousness when he points out the simple truth that in a time of emergency a man will more readily give up his life for a good man than for a righteous one! Goodness in man is appealing; righteousness is forbidding. In Romans 5:7 he writes: "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." It is true!
A good deed has primarily an historical significance on a horizontal plane and on a short-term basis, as between man and man. A righteous act has a vertical dimension with ultimate reference to God and to eternity. It was against Bathsheba and Uriah her husband that David did an evil thing (Ps. 51:4), whereas the unrighteousness of his act was essentially against God. It was in this sense he could speak of it as being "against Thee, and Thee only..."
There is something cold and harsh about righteousness when it has reference to relationships between men. There is something warm and kind about goodness. A good man can lie to save a friend and thereby confirm our sense of goodness in his nature. There is a real difference between these two terms, as there is between evil and wickedness.
So we seem to have a partial solution to a troublesome problem in the minds of many people. The wicked are punished even when their evil acts fulfill the will of God and are performed under his direction. The Lord's children are fully rewarded even when all they have accomplished is but a pitiful fragment of their earnest desire. What they have longed to do, as David longed to build the Temple, they may never be permitted to see done; yet there is no doubt that when God sees that their longing is pure and holy, it will be counted as though fulfilled. The "if only" of all worldly aspirations that fail to be realized becomes the "well done!" of all spiritual aspirations that failed only because of circumstances. Perhaps in heaven we shall be surprised to find many greatly rewarded who seemed in fact never to have achieved anything, while those who stand unrewarded in God's Judgment will undoubtedly find themselves in no position to quarrel with that assessment when they realize that God is not a judge of action but a judge of intention.
Here then we begin to discern the meeting
place of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, of Predestination