3 A Biblical Look at the Argument of Second Causes

Masterminding an action, governing it, and ensuring its fulfillment makes one responsible for the action. It matters not whether the mastermind was the one doing the action or merely engineering the action. He is still held accountable for the action. To claim that God masterminds, governs, and ensures the sinful actions of men but is in no way responsible for those actions is ludicrous. Both are responsible.

 

An analogy might be a man who masterminds the robbing of a bank.*[1] He formulates the plan, provides the necessary materials, and has his friends put his plan into action. He himself does not rob the bank; his henchmen do. When captured by the police, will not the mastermind also be held accountable for the robbing of the bank? Even though the mastermind was only the primary cause and did not personally rob the bank, he is still held responsible.

 

Calvinists argue that we cannot apply our standards to God. Some have gone so far as to conclude that God is not subject to any standard. Arthur W. Pink, a leading Calvinist of years ago, notes, “Yet, let it be pointed out, on the other hand, that God is sovereign, high above all law, and by no means tied by the restrictions which He has placed on His creatures.”[2] Elsewhere he says:

But though His creatures are bound by the laws He has prescribed them, God Himself is not. God is under no law, but is absolute Sovereign. … God possesses supreme authority, and when He pleases sets aside His own laws, or issues new ones contrary to those given previously. … Learn then, that God is bound by no law, being above all law.”[3]

 

Thus, some Calvinists believe God to be independent of any standards, including His own.

 

Nevertheless, Calvinists are also fond of saying that “God is not less than His creature, man.”[4] This is true, but it also means that man will not possess a higher standard for justice and morality than God. How then is it that Calvinists argue that man holds himself to a higher standard for justice and righteousness than God? Are we to assume that man’s sense of what is right and wrong or what is just and unjust is greater than God’s understanding? How is it that these standards are written on man’s heart so that man’s conscience condemns his wrong doing (Rom. 2:14–15), but God is incapable of such a self-realization? How is it that Calvinists expect us to believe a doctrine which necessitates that man exceed God in his ability to control his actions and hold himself to a rigid standard?

 

The argument of second causes depends upon a belief that God’s omnipotence means that He is capable and free to do anything at all regardless of whether it is in accordance with His moral character. When this assertion is accepted as truth, the argument of second causes is justified in the Calvinist mind. However, we must never forget that God binds Himself to act according to His moral character of perfect holiness and righteousness. He always acts according to His laws and standards (Psa. 145:17). Man is not given a separate standard for holiness. Instead, man is judged against the standard that God has for Himself (1 Peter 1:16). For this reason, when we say that God is all powerful, we mean that He is capable and free to do anything which is in accordance with His moral character and can do nothing to the contrary. Titus 1:2 reminds us, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;” (emphasis added). Paul, in writing to Titus, clearly states, not that God will not lie, but that God cannot lie.

 

According to Calvinist doctrine, we would be justified in questioning which laws God chooses to break. For example, is God’s standard of truth too confining for Him? Does God choose to break this law and lie to us? If this is a genuine possibility, then how can we be sure of anything God has told us? If God can lie, but He has told us in His Word that He cannot, then how are we to believe all that is written in the Word of God? Wouldn’t this thinking naturally lead us to doubt God and His Word?

 

Obviously, the ideas inherent in the argument of second causes are worthy of consideration. They possess the potential to undermine everything we as Christians have ever known or believed about God. The Calvinist argument of second causes is not Scriptural in that it wrongly assumes that God is so high above everything that He can do whatever He likes without fault or blame. It misses the truth that God, powerful as He is, remains subject to His own divine character and laws which do not allow Him to do what is wrong (James 1:13).

 

That God rejects the argument of second causes is clear to see when we examine Scripture. In 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12, we read the story of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, his plot to kill her husband Uriah, and God’s judgment upon him. David determined to have Uriah killed in 2 Samuel 11:14–15, “And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.”

 

Even though David did not personally kill Uriah, he was still the one held responsible by God in 2 Samuel 12:9, “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.” God considered David’s actions no different than if David had personally killed Uriah with the sword.

 

David was the primary cause of Uriah’s death; the Ammonites were the secondary cause. Nevertheless, God judged David! If it was just for God to judge David as the primary cause of Uriah’s death, then it must also be just to judge God as the primary cause of man’s sinful actions. Anything different, and God would be guilty of using a double standard for judgment. Surely, none would be so brash as to argue that God has a different standard of justice and holiness for His creation than He has for Himself. Again, God does not hold His creation to a higher standard than He does Himself.

 

The argument of second causes is unscriptural. David’s testimony proves that God sees no distinction between primary and secondary causes of sin. In God’s eyes, the primary cause is still responsible and will be held accountable for his actions. Thus, if John Calvin is correct when he says that God is the primary cause of sin, then God is responsible for sin. This would make God the author of sin.

 


  1. The Calvinist has a tendency to redirect his focus from the point being discussed to the validity or accuracy of the analogy. The author understands that no analogy is perfect, but it can still assist us in visualizing the basic point being made.
  2. Pink, The Divine Covenants, 176.
  3. Pink, A. W. Pink's Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. VI, 99.
  4. Dave Hunt, Debating Calvinism, 12.

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A Biblical Look at the Argument of Second Causes Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Zebell. All Rights Reserved.

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