Sovereign Sawyer

Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) was the first professor at Princeton Seminary. He taught there for 39 years. He greatly influenced Charles Hodge, who named his son A.A. Hodge after his mentor.

Regarding “Divine efficiency in human acts” Archibald Alexander writes:

“There are some who maintain that all human actions proceed from God, as their first cause, and that man can act only as he is acted upon. Upon this theory, it does not appear how man can be an accountable moral agent; for though his actions may be voluntary, and performed in the exercise of reason, yet as he does not originate them, they can scarcely be considered his own.” (Outlines of Moral Science)

Compare the following passage of Scripture with the statements of Archibald Alexander:

“Woe [to] Assyria, the rod of My anger! And My fury is the staff in their hand. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath. I will command him to plunder, and to strip off spoil, and to trample them like the mud of the streets. Yet he does not purpose this, nor does his heart think so. For it [is] in his heart to destroy, and to cut off not a few nations…Shall the axe glorify itself over him chopping with it? Or shall the saw magnify itself over him moving it? As [if] a rod [could] wave those who lift [it]. As [if] a staff [could] raise [what is] not wood!” (Isaiah 10:5-7, 15)

What are some necessary conclusions drawn from the arguments of Mr. Alexander? The saw (i.e., Assyria) is able to move itself apart from any moving of the sawyer — that is, the saw shall indeed “magnify itself over him moving it.” It is clear from this passage in Isaiah that Assyria is NOT the ultimate metaphysical originator of his own actions (and yet, he is morally accountable for these actions). There is no way for the saw to move unless the Sovereign Sawyer moves it.

If Assyria IS the ultimate metaphysical originator of his own actions, then Assyria would be God. And the irony is that IF Assyria is God, then he would NOT be accountable to anyone or anything for his self-originating actions.

So, the actions of Assyria are NOT “considered his own” in the ultimate metaphysical sense — that is, not unless a staff has the power or ability to raise what is not wood, or that a rod is able to wave or swing the arm of the one lifting it. But they ARE “considered his own” actions in the morally culpable sense. How can this be? Study carefully, thoughtfully, and deliberately Isaiah 10:5-15 in order to determine the basis for Assyria’s being “an accountable moral agent.” In ascertaining the basis for moral culpability or accountability one does NOT ask, “Is the Assyrian axe the Holy, Just, Righteous, and Omnipotent Woodsman?” Rather, the question IS, “Did the Assyrian axe, chop?” In other words, the question concerning moral accountability is NOT, “Is Assyria God?” The question is, “Did Assyria transgress?” If they did transgress, then they are accountable.

Compare another Biblical passage with the assertions of Alexander:

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth. So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens. You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this? Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, out of the one lump to make one vessel to honor, and one to dishonor? But if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction, and that He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory, whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations.” (Romans 9:17-24)

Pharaoh was “acted upon” by God’s omnipotent power being displayed in him. God’s powerful display is witnessed in His unconditional, active, and irresistible hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. The Apostolic critic objects to God this way: “Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” Or, as Mr. Alexander stated the objection: “… it does not appear how man can be an accountable moral agent.”

Alexander wrote that “for though his actions may be voluntary, and performed in the exercise of reason, yet as he does not originate them, they can scarcely be considered his own.” Alexander’s comments imply that Pharaoh’s actions “can scarcely be considered his own” if he is only a pot and not the Potter. Said another way, Alexander’s comments imply that for Pharaoh’s actions to be “considered his own” Pharaoh must actually be the Potter Himself (or at least be the ultimate self-moving and self-originating pot who has the power and authority to make himself a vessel of his own choosing.)

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