God’s Sovereignty, Foreknowledge, and Human Responsibility in the Death of Christ

Mountains of Brass Cover

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One of the most persistent questions that pastors must address is one regarding the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. I addressed this issue several years ago as an M.Div. student from a philosophical/theological/biblical perspective in a paper titled “If God is Sovereign, Can Man Be Free?” (PDF). More recently I’ve discovered the way in which the 17th-century English Particular Baptist Hercules Collins answered this question. In his discourse on the decrees of God titled Mountains of Brass, Collins addressed the question of how humans could be free and responsible in their murder of Jesus, if God infallibly foreknew what would take place.

God’s determination that Christ should die to save man, laid none under a necessity of sinning, but God foreknew what the malice of the Devil, Jews and Gentiles would be against this person to put him to death. And God did determine not to prevent it, but suffer[1] it, because he knew how to bring glory to himself out of it. It was necessary Christ should suffer. God could not be mistaken in his foreknowledge, or come short of his determinate decree. But this neither took away the liberty of Christ’s suffering, neither did it take away the liberty of the Jews, and their voluntariness in putting Christ to death. God’s decree, Christ should suffer, did infallibly secure the event, but did not annihilate and destroy the liberty of the act, neither in Christ as aforesaid, who freely suffered himself, nor the Jews, who as freely and voluntary put him to death, as if there had been no decree of God at all about his death.[2] The gardener’s foreknowledge that such seeds and roots will in the Spring produce such leaves and flowers, is no cause of their rise and appearance in Spring; but knowing the virtue of such roots, so concludes. So God’s foreknowledge what wicked words would proceed from the root of a wicked heart concerning Christ’s death, is no more cause of those evil acts, than the gardener is the cause of the rise of such flowers in Spring from such roots, because he foreknew the nature of them. God’s foreknowledge that Adam would fall, put him under no necessity of it, but ‘twas done voluntarily and freely. Yet God foresaw infallibly he would fall, and God determined not to prevent it, knowing how to glorify himself by it. So God’s foreknowledge of the Jews putting Christ to death, did not necessitate them to it, but done as freely as if it had not been foreknown, nor any determination of God about it. Thus we have proved those acts of divine providence in time in the world, are the product of God’s eternal purposes.

Hercules Collins, Mountains of Brass: Or, A Discourse Upon the Decrees of God (London: 1689), 6-8.


[1] i.e., allow, let

[2] Mr. Charnock, on the Attributes. This is a reference to Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) whose lectures at Crosby Hall in London on the attributes of God were transcribed after his death and are presently in print as The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996). Collins is most likely referring to Charnock’s discussion of the relationship between God’s foreknowledge of man’s voluntary actions and man’s liberty of the will on pages 446-451 of the above volume.

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